Even the best of DFS players fall into bad habits. We BELIEVE we know the game well enough that we start to believe what we want to about players and teams based on recency, confirmation, and other cognitive biases. When we stop looking at the hard numbers, we can start to trust in all kinds of fallacious claims. Numbers don’t lie. By the midseason point here in the CFL most of us know the narratives to follow in making quick lineups.
“The Roughriders defence is awful.”
“The Blue Bombers offence runs through their RB more than any other team.”
“The Montreal offence smells more stagnant than Wascana Lake in the spring.”
“The Edmonton Eskimos have the most pass heavy offence in the league.”
It’s easy to build trashy lineups on Narrative Street and leave your bankroll stuck in the gutter. By now we know who the teams and players are based on their records, and can make strong inferences going forward from here. I’ve amassed the appropriate stats into one document available in the forums, but let’s take an informed look at some of the more interesting offensive game stats and tendencies at the half way marker of this CFL season. It’s time for some Canadian Maple Truth-Serum to put on your stacks of players so they won’t fall flat as pancakes.
Yards Per Play
If you guessed Edmonton would have the highest yards per play and Montreal the lowest, you’d be wrong on both accounts. It’s actually Ottawa’s high flying offence that’s tops in the league at 6.4 yards per play despite having had to start Hank for a few games at QB. Much of this is buoyed by Trevor Harris Tecmo Bowl like performances in the first quarter of the season, but Ottawa can certainly move the ball in a hurry. The bottom end of the league is the surprisingly impotent Argonauts. Despite a wealth of big, fast, and talented receiving targets, Toronto only manages 5.1 yards per play. Maybe the most surprising showing was that of the Roughriders coming in at 5.5 yards per play, good enough to put them right in the middle of the league. The Riders cannot score points, but yet are in the middle of the league in offensive efficiency. More on that later.
Action: Despite having historically good QB’s, Saskatchewan and Toronto have historically bad offences. They cannot make big plays and as such make for questionable cash game plays for their offensive players.
Beyond a teams efficiency in yards per play though, there is also the matter of being able to maintain possession of the ball long enough to sustain drives and score touchdowns. This is where the Roughrider fall flat managing only 173 first downs so far this season. Compare that to the top performing Eskimos and their 224, and you see where the difference is made. Saskatchewan is a full 9 first downs behind the next worst team, being Toronto. The Roughriders cannot sustain drives. They may be able to get yards in chunks as evidence by their reasonable YPP, but they cannot score because they cannot do it consistently. Interestingly, the BC Lions actually have the second most first downs generated despite being over a yard per play worse than the first place Eskimos. It doesn’t get talked about much, but the Lions are quietly, but clearly, the best rushing team in the league.
Action: BC may not always be an exciting offence to key on as no one receiver stands out significantly, but they grind away on drives consistently and make for good cash receiver plays at WR and RB. Avoid Roughriders in cash games almost completely. Naaman Roosevelt may be the only exception to this rule as he seems to be the only target in their offensive game plans. He will make his points on his sheer volume of targets despite rarely gaining first downs or scoring.
In a league that is decidedly passing oriented, and in a season which has seen teams move even more in that direction, the BC Lions have amassed 200 yards more rushing the ball this season than any other team. That’s a whopping 21% more than even the second place team. Given that BC runs an offensive system that features only one RB weekly, and not a committee, the BC starting RB – whether Allen or Johnson – should get a lot of consideration for your lineups. Not surprisingly, the two lowest rushing teams are Saskatchewan who’s badly injured offensive line prevents them from getting first downs, and Hamilton who’s coach considers running the ball a tertiary offensive scheme to attempting a rouge. Running backs from either of these teams can be avoided regardless of price. Most other teams are all within about 100 yards of each other and matchup dependent from week to week. Interestingly, the team that the narrative drives as most running back dependent, being Winnipeg, has the worst yard per attempt average in the league.
Action: As I mentioned before, target BC Lions running backs in cash games. They are usually priced in the 6k range and make for great consistency despite not having great upside as BC does not score on as high a percentage of their drives as is needed for a higher ceiling.
The Argonauts are abysmal. There aren’t printable words excoriating enough to explain how bad this passing offence is. At halfway through the season they sit at 2270 yards – that’s 300 yards fewer than eighth place Winnipeg and 1000 yards fewer than the top ranked RedBlacks. Winnipeg may have started to win games with Matt Nichols at QB, but the credit should go completely to their defense. Some of this may be due to the loss of their starting three WR’s (Dressler, Smith, and Adams), but this passing game has no punch. With most of their starting WR’s still in the 7k range most weeks, they should be relegated to GPP only for now. Ottawa, Edmonton, and Hamilton all lean heavily towards the pass over the run and their QB’s should be your weekly starters. Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell has a lot of narrative push as a great player, but the numbers bear out that Calgary is a mediocre passing offence.
Action: Target QB’s and WR’s from Ottawa, Edmonton and Hamilton. Leave others to sort through the wastelands searching for value in Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Toronto. The bust rates there are high.
Despite having the most prolific yardage offences in the league, it’s not Ottawa, Edmonton, or Hamilton that have the highest percentage of possessions end in points, but Calgary. The Stampeders don’t do anything exceptionally well, but they do manage to score points on over 44% of their possessions. Compare that number to the bottom three teams (Montreal, Saskatchewan, and Toronto all around 25-27%) and you can quickly see why their offensive performers bear consideration despite mediocre yardage totals. Calgary’s scoring percentage is certainly aided by their league best average starting field position on their own 43, but Edmonton sits a close third in scoring percentage at 40.4% despite having the league’s second worst average starting field position. Calgary players may not get as much yardage due to shorter fields to work with, but they will score you touchdowns.
Action: Scoring TD’s is essential to winning GPP’s. It’s fine to pick grinders like Bryan Burnham and Nik Lewis in cash games that give you a solid floor, but to win bigger contests you need scores. Target big play receivers in Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa to get your best chance at the multiple touchdowns you’ll need. Let others wade through the scraps of “value” receivers in Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan chasing the next Jace Davis or Ricky Collins.
Hopefully this quick look at some of the more interesting offensive tendencies will help you make more successful lineups as we move into the second half of the CFL season. Be sure to join in the conversation in the weekly CFL thread in The Forum where there’s always more info, stats and updates than we can include in our regular articles. Good luck in the second half!