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East Coast Offense: Tough Week for First-Round Picks

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Something to Keep in Mind

In Week 1 of 2009, Player A had 15 carries for 57 yards (3.8 YPC) and one catch for 11 yards. He failed to score a touchdown. Player B had 19 carries for 117 yards (6.2 YPC) and a touchdown. Who's Player A? Chris Johnson. Player B would be Julius Jones. It seems obvious in retrospect which direction those two were heading, especially when you consider that Jones played at home against the Rams, while Johnson was at Pittsburgh, but at the time, no one had any idea that Chris Johnson was going to shove LenDale White out of the picture completely and set the record for yards from scrimmage. Actually, Johnson had just two TDs and two 100-yard games through the season's first six weeks. The Titans were 0-6 and their owner had to force their coach to give Vince Young another shot. So don't sweat Michael Turner's rough start at Pittsburgh, and don't assume Arian Foster is a top-10 back. He might be but I'd argue that facing the Colts at home without Bob Sanders (who got hurt on the game's first play) is about as easy a running back matchup as last year's Rams.

Turner wasn't the only disappointing first rounder, though. Besides Johnson, virtually every one of them underperformed:

The only player besides Johnson I'd seen regularly go in the first-round that did damage was Rashard Mendenhall, and most of his production came on one play in overtime no less.

Things to Take Away from Week 1

  • Dez Bryant (12 targets, 8 catches) is already a huge part of the team's passing attack. Miles Austin (11 targets, 10 catches, 141 yards, 1 TD) is still an elite No. 1 and as good a bet as anyone to lead the NFL in receiving. This bodes well for Tony Romo.

  • Wes Welker is apparently healthy. I was a doubter, and while I'm not looking to trade for him, I'm starting to worry my "under 91.5 receptions" bet I made in Vegas on Saturday isn't the lock I thought. My prediction that Welker would have zero TDs was off by a factor of infinity. Double infinity. But my prediction that some of my predictions would be wrong has already been validated. I'm batting .500 at this point.

  • Eric Mangini and Todd Haley want your fantasy teams to lose so badly, they'll sabotage their own real-life teams to do so by not getting carries to their best backs, Jerome Harrison and Jamaal Charles, respectively. Perhaps there's some other reason Peyton Hillis and Thomas Jones are getting so many touches, but none I can think of is plausible. I'm sticking with my theory.

  • Michael Vick (16-of-24, 173 passing yards 1 TD, 103 rushing yards in one half) is good enough to start for a contending team right now and could be big fantasy-wise if that team were the pass-happy Eagles.

  • Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw are both 100 percent healthy and showed good burst and acceleration.

  • The Bears offensive line is absymal, but that just means the Bears will have to throw it a ton because run blocking is more difficult than pass blocking. Either that, or the Lions Ndamukong Suh is already making a huge impact. Incidentally, Devin Aromashodu, not Johnny Knox looks like Jay Cutler's first read.

  • Ray Lewis is still a very bad man (Also give him props on the Old Spice commercials which are genuinely funny, and that's coming from someone who despises commericals and can barely tolerate any).

  • Joe Buck and Troy Aikman don't grasp the concept that using timeouts on defense saves more time than waiting until you get the ball back and using them after the two-minute warning. Buck also doesn't grasp that 2nd-and-1 is better for the offense than 1st-and-10.

Things to Look for in Week 2

  • Tom Brady vs. the Jets "grab and clutch" pass defense. Darrelle Revis was excellent as usual, but Rex left Kyle Wilson and Antonio Cromartie 1-on-1 too often, and they committed a ton of fouls.

  • The Giants running game vs. Indy's super soft run defense. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs could both have huge games, though unless the Giants get to Manning, he's likely to carve up their improving, but still a work-in-progress secondary

  • The overhyped 49ers needing to get back on track against last year's defending champs. Expect San Francisco to slow the Saints down on the natural surface and keep it close.

  • The Steelers run defense vs. Chris Johnson.

Beating the Book

The Redskins covered and won outright last week, so we're off to a good start.

Saints -5 at 49ers

The overhyped 49ers came down to earth in Seattle, but this is a major letdown game for the Saints after a 10-day layoff coming off a decisive win over Minnesota. Moreover, the 49ers will be desperate to get back on track, and I typically like Monday night home dogs no matter what. Back the 49ers.

49ers 20 19

We're 1-0 in this forum and 10-4-2 on the season. We were 10-7 in this forum last season, 131-122 overall. We were 12-5 in this forum in 2008. From 1999-2009 we've gone 1439-1262 (53.3%, not including ties).

The full article comes out on Thursday morning.

Surviving Week 2

My near-death experience backing the Bears in Week 1 brings to mind something I read (in a paper by Jennifer Jay) about the life of another artist (of similar caliber to me), Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky:

[He was] led onto a square and lined up on a gallows. The men were sentenced to be shot; they were given a cross to kiss, the chance to confess to a priest, and then were dressed in peasant shirts and hoods for the execution. The first three men in line were led to some stakes and tied; the soldiers took aim, and held their positions. Soon Dostoevsky heard a drum roll and realized that he, the sixth in line, and his fellow prisoners, were to be saved...

This scene on the square, the staged execution, and the last minute pardon were to have a lasting effect on many from the group. Two even went permanently insane from the psychological trauma experienced as they faced certain death. While the experience was definitely traumatic for Dostoevsky, he internalized the situation much differently. This scene was to serve as a reaffirmation and strengthening agent of his religious beliefs. This close scrape with death gave Dostoevsky a new appreciation of life.

The major difference between Dostevsky's situation and mine is that his was less traumatic. While I too was pardoned at the last minute by the inexplicable ruling that Calvin Johnson's clear touchdown was an incomplete pass, at that point, I had nearly made peace with death. The more torturous part was the Bears, down one, in the fourth quarter getting stuffed four times from the one yard-line. It was the Bears scoring the TD and missing the two-point conversion, then inexplicably playing prevent defense against Shaun Hill after not allowing Hill to get even a first down for the five previous series. It was the turnovers, the penalties, seeing Cutler run for his life on every play behind that abysmal offensive line.

It's a terrible thing for the average survivor player to lose his entry in Week 1, but quite another for me to lose five of seven, and more importantly, take down all those who trusted in my advice on the site. At least for the regular player, you curse fate and are done with it, but I still have to muster the enthusiasm for the column for 16 more weeks.

For this week, there's but one obvious team, and that's the Packers hosting the Bills, but keep in mind that 59 percent of those playing the Yahoo! game are on them. Let's call it 60 percent to keep the math simple. Meanwhile, only six percent of Yahoo players are on the Cowboys at home against the Bears. Let's assume you were in a 10-person survivor pool for $100 each. That would mean you started off with $100 in "pot equity." Let's say six people took the Packers, three took other teams and you were the sole backer of the Cowboys (as per the Yahoo percentages.)

If the Cowboys win, and the Packers lose, you'd be one of the final four. (Probably final three as we'll stipulate that one of the other three players loses, too). So your equity would be $333. But if you took the Packers, and they won, but the Cowboys lost, then you'd be one of eight people left (the Cowboys owner and again, we'll stipulate that one of the other three owners loses, too). One eighth of $1000 is $125. So you can see that the payout for taking the Cowboys is far better than the one for taking the Packers. But is it better enough to justify the higher risk?

Well, let's look at what Vegas (or virtual "Vegas," probably Costa Rica) has to say:

The Packers/Bills are -$675/+$475, and the Bears/Cowboys are -$380/+$310. That means you'd have to risk $675 to win $100 on the Packers straight up, and if you bet $100 on the Bills straight up, you'd win $475. If we stipulate that the "true" line is halfway between, i.e., $575 to $100 in the Packers/Bills and $345 to $100 in the Cowboys/Bears, we can figure out the odds. 5.75 to 1 is the same as 5.75 out of 6.75, which is 85 percent. For the Cowboys, it's 3.45 out of 4.45 or 77.5 percent. So is that difference small enough to take Dallas and go for the bigger payout?

There are four possible outcomes here:

Scenario 1Scenario 2Scenario 3Scenario 4
OutcomeGB wins, DAL losesGB wins, DAL winsGB loses, DAL losesGB loses, DAL wins
Odds(.85*.225) 19%(.85*.775) 66%(.15*.225) 3%(.15*.775) 12%
No. remain8 left9 left2 left3 left
Scenario Equity1/8 = $1251/9 = $1110/2=$01/3 = $333
Expected Equity$125*.19 = $24$111*.66 = $73$0*.03 = $0$333*.12 = $40

So the task is to add up how much pot equity one can expect under the various scenarios by taking each team. If you take the Packers, we already showed you have $125 in equity if they win and Dallas loses (Scenario 1 in this example) because eight people would be left. That happens 19 percent of the time, so you'd have $125 * 19/100 = $24. Under the second scenario, let's say there are nine people left, so that's $111 of equity, 66 percent of the time = $73. Under the third and fourth scenarios, you'd have zero, because Green Bay loses. So the total expected equity is $24 plus $73 = $97. In other words, picking Green Bay if you knew six of 10 people took them would give you a negative expected return! Now, let's look at Dallas. Under the first scenario, you get zero because Dallas loses. Under the second scenario, you'd get $111 66 percent of the time for $73 it's the same as picking the Packers. Under scenario 3, you get zero, obviously. But under scenario 4, six Packers entrants are gone, and so is one other, so you're down to the final three. Your equity is thus $333 12 percent of the time or $40. And $40 plus $73 = $113! Your expected equity goes up by $13 by being the sole backer of the Cowboys. That's why it's very important to discount the team that others are picking!

There are two potential problems with the above reasoning: (1) That Vegas' lines actually are designed to split the public betting and not necessarily a true barometer of a team's chances to win; and (2) That just because 60 percent of the Yahoo! pool is picking the Packers doesn't mean your pool will have the same distribution. As for (1), that's true, but if Vegas is way off, and sharps have a much better idea of the real odds, it will lose vast sums of money. So Vegas has as big incentive to be pretty good at setting the lines initially at least certainly better than most people just eyeballing it and guessing. And (2) if there are enough people playing the Yahoo! game (and I imagine there are at least 10s if not 100s of thousands), you can be pretty sure within some small margin of error that it's a fairly representive sample of the whole. Whether that applies in your 10 person pool based in Minneapolis where everyone hates the Packers, is hard to say, but it's useful information generally, and it could even turn out that a higher percentage take the Packers.

So I'm going to have to go with Dallas. I agree the Packers are the better bet, but I can't turn down the payout. It doesn't matter whether you lose in Week 2 or Week 7 you need to play to win the whole thing, and the way to do that is to steer clear of the herd.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind (say if the percentage taking the Packers goes down) before the full article comes out Wednesday night.