The good folks at Underdog Fantasy dropped a brand new form of NFL Best Ball on us called “Weekly Winners”. In short, this format flips the current best ball games on their heads, as we pivot from a season long game with either cumulative or playoff scoring to a weekly game.
And boy do I love a new strategy game to try to think about.
Before we get into strategy, let’s break down the format. A few things do not change, mainly revolving around the draft:
- 12 team snake draft
- Scoring remains unchanged
- Standard starting lineup positional allocation (QB – RB – RB – WR – WR – WR – TE – Flex)
But lots of things change:
- Prizes are awarded each Week from Week 1 to Week 17
- Scores reset each week
- No Playoffs
- No Prizes for Regular Season Total Points
If you’ve played Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) before, this is essentially like competing in the weekly/daily tournaments in DFS, except that you don’t create a new team each week. The team(s) you draft before the season will simply compete each week for their share of the weekly prizes.
Weekly Winners Strategy
First and foremost with Weekly Winners, I think we want to take a step back and realize just how different this format is to the best ball games we’ve been playing for the last few years, as well as from traditional fantasy football. Of course, there are no waivers or trades or setting your starting lineup (god bless Best Ball), but the only thing that matters in this format is producing extremely high end weekly scores.
It ultimately doesn’t matter if your team is horrible for the entire season if it puts up a monster score and takes down $20k in week 17. The inverse is also true… if your team goes nuts in week 1 and takes home some big cash, the rest of the season essentially doesn’t matter for that team. Sure, you’d love the same team to be able to have big weeks several times over the season, but just one big week from one singular team can make you extremely profitable over all of your drafts into this tournament.
Embrace the Chaos
Like almost any new peer-to-peer strategy game, no one has all the answers to Weekly Winners. We are all going to scramble and rack our brains to figure out the best path forward to crush these tournaments in this new format, but we’ll assuredly look back in a few years at our initial ideas on how to approach this game and laugh at how dumb some of them were.
Knowing that this is a new game with a ton of elements that have never been encountered in the world of fantasy football or best ball means we can really embrace that chaos. If our opponents are gravitating to some of the same strategies, same player combinations or other micro concepts, it can pay off in the biggest way by looking to deviate from what those opponents are doing.
This format in particular really lends itself to outside the box draft strategy.
The first thing that really jumps out when you digest Weekly Winners is the idea of targeting certain scenarios during the season within your drafts. Sure, a totally random collection of players with no real plan or scenario in mind can win in a given week. But our goal is to make things easier on ourselves during the draft and create the cleanest path to a big score. It’s much easier to hit a 4 or 5 leg parlay than it is an 8 leg parlay.
Three particular scenarios jump out to me as the cleanest from a roster construction and upside perspective:
- Optimizing for an individual week of the season.
- Optimizing around one individual team over the course of the season.
- Optimizing for specific divisions
Optimizing for an Individual Week
With the individual week of the season, this is something that has already become part of the best ball landscape as it pertains to Week 17. But with Weekly Winners, we now have access to 17 different weeks and 16 different matchups for an individual team. There are so many different permutations of these games that the field can’t possibly cover them all effectively. That will leave some very under-owned roster builds that can be incredibly +EV if we hone in on them.
Let’s look at an example of optimizing for an individual week. Say you start a draft with Travis Kelce in the first round. You are nearing being on the clock with your 2nd round pick, and you comb through the Chiefs schedule. You see Jaylen Waddle is still on the board, and the Chiefs play the Dolphins in Week 9, and you decide to select Waddle. This doesn’t mean you HAVE to build this team optimizing for Week 9, but you’re certainly already set up very well to do so.
From there on out, you may want to prioritize a maximization of Week 9 upside. You’ve already made a big bet on the Chiefs and Dolphins with your first two picks, so as you work your way down the draft you can break ties with week 9 correlation. If Mahomes is somehow available in the 3rd round, you probably gobble him up. You get to the 5th round, and JK Dobbins is staring you in the face. You select him, and you see the Ravens play the Seahawks in Week 9. So when round 6 comes back around, Tyler Lockett or Jaxon Smith-Njigba make for a perfect fit. This is just one example of a nearly countless number of ways you can build for these types of scenarios. The best part is it’s essentially a freeroll. While you’re optimized for Week 9, it’s not as if the team is dead in the other weeks.
Optimizing for an Individual NFL Team
Another of one the many things that jumped out in my disturbed brain when I saw this format was the idea of “hitting” on one NFL team in a draft. Whether it’s an expensive stack (I.E. the Bengals) or a cheap offense (I.E. the Commanders), you can draft a team with the assumption this team is going to produce big fantasy outputs, week winning outputs, over the course of the season. And then instead of targeting a specific week for that team, you can build a team doing largely the opposite.
If we work under the assumption that a particular team is going to win you one or two weeks in a given season, we can set ourselves up to benefit from that happening without targeting a specific week, but by targeting as many of their opponents as possible alongside them on a team we draft.
Let’s look at the Bengals in 2022 as an example. There were 3 weeks in 2022 where the Bengals produced week winning fantasy results, and they came in 3 different variations. If we loaded up on Bengals, that would have given us the chance at 3 different weekly take downs in this format last season.
In Week 6, Joe Burrow was the QB1 overall, outscoring the QB2 (Matt Ryan lol) by more than 5 points. In that week, Ja’Marr Chase was the WR1 overall, outscoring the WR2 by 3 points. They played the New Orleans Saints, who scored 26 points. No Saint posted a truly nuclear week, but Alvin Kamara finished as the RB10 overall, and Tre’Quan Smith and Rashid Shaheed both posted top 25 WR scores for the week. Those players could have hit your flex as game stack partners to give you a potentially winning score.
In Week 7, Burrow was yet again the QB1, and Chase was also the WR1. But this week the stack was even MORE powerful, as Tyler Boyd also posted the WR3 overall score for the week (Mecole Hardman was the WR2). Again their opponent did not produce a nuclear week, but by having Burrow, Chase and Boyd you instantly had 3 of the optimal players in your lineup. Tyler Allgeier posted 11 fantasy points as a super cheap RB, and Damiere Byrd was the WR15 overall.
Fast forward to Week 9. The Bengals play the Panthers, and this time it’s not the passing game. Joe Mixon erupts for 51 (!!) fantasy points, more than doubling up any other RB score that week. With Mixon dominating on one side, Terrace Marshall actually popped up for the WR16 overall score as a cheap path to a WR or flex score. If you happened to have paired your Bengals stack with the Bears, you were probably crushing in Week 9 because Fields was the QB1 and Cole Kmet was the TE1.
From years of DFS and best ball, we’ve learned the power correlations within games, and by loading up on a specific team we give ourselves outs to several different weeks of huge scores, but we don’t even have to pick which specific weeks they happen in. On top of that, we can really have fun with this idea by implementing it with a myriad of different offenses. We can target the high powered and expensive offenses, like the Bengals above, but we can also target cheaper offenses too. If a cheap offense breaks out and provides a couple week winning performances, you will have them paired with the truly elite stars at the top of drafts that are better bets to provide nuclear weeks themselves relative to later round peers at the position. Jared Goff, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence, Dak Prescott and Tom Brady all produced QB1 overall scores in a given week in 2022 as mid to late round QBs.
Optimizing for Specific Divisions
One incredibly clean way to build a team with countless different weeks of correlated upside is by focusing in on a specific division in your draft. As you know, every team plays the other teams in their division twice during a season. Naturally, by pairing divisional players that gives you two different correlated weeks for those players. But divisional teams also matchup with the same opponents from other divisions over the course of the season, which can give you a ton of different weeks with several different game stacks and correlations in just one draft.
Let’s take a look at the Ravens as an example. Clearly they are appealing with Lamar Jackson, a newly loaded group of offensive weapons and a new more pass-friendly OC. Obviously they will play the Bengals, Browns and Steelers twice during the season. But ALL of those teams play each team from the AFC South and NFC West. If we draft Mark Andrews in the 3rd round, we know that by focusing that draft on the AFC North, AFC South and NFC West, we are going to create a ton of game stacks over the course of the season. If one or a couple of those games happen to blow up scoring wise over the course of the season, that will set us up beautifully to post a huge score that week because we will have naturally created those correlations on that team.
Weekly Winners is the format that arguably rewards uniqueness the most in the entire best ball industry. Initial ADP starts from the ADP generated in the other playoff format contests, and even as our opponents branch out into strategies catered specifically towards this format, we are still going to see patterns in how people construct teams around the ADP for this format. And that creates an even more advantageous opportunity in regards to uniqueness specifically for Weekly Winners. Here’s why:
As soon as the contest closes, ownership is locked in for the entire 2023 season. But given the weekly nature of this format, drafting a team that is very unique is almost like drafting 17 teams that are unique. That’s because you get to wipe the slate clean every single week from a scoring perspective, but the teams do not change. Ownership stays locked in from Week 1 to Week 17.
Think about it from the perspective of “drafting like you’re right“. Even in Best Ball Mania, if we hit on a player combination that is lower owned, that’s great. But if they really crush over the course of a season, they’ll still have high advance rates and be well represented in the fantasy playoffs. They’ll be lower owned than if they were more a popular player combo, but it’s not like you’re sneaking them into Week 17 at 1%. The same goes for players who are only drafted in a small percentage of drafts. They’ll naturally be lower owned than players selected in every draft, but if you outperform over the season, you’ll help those teams advance at a much higher clip than average.
In Weekly Winners, the low ownership on an individual player or combination of players will exist every single week for 17 weeks, meaning you get to take advantage of that 17 different times over the course of a season. If we are “right” about a player or player combination, you get to realize that advantage or leverage for the entire season and at least for multiple weeks.
Let’s say you find this year’s Eli Mitchell. A running back who emerges out of nowhere to project as an RB1 in fantasy on a weekly basis, but he was only drafted in a minuscule percentage of drafts. If you play DFS on a site like DraftKings or Fanduel, if Eli Mitchell were to remain as cheap as what normal 18th round RBs cost, he would be the most popular player every single week in your DFS contests (and you’d still probably play him). But in this format, you get to utilize arguably the most valuable player in all of fantasy every single week for 17 weeks and he will always remain incredibly low owned. The leverage is truly massive.
This format certainly throws a wrench into how we think about ADP. The general perks of ADP value in Best Ball are two fold. We assume the market is generally efficient, and the wisdom of the crowd is pricing players pretty close to where they should be going. Thus, if we get players far beyond their average draft position, we should be getting players who increase our team’s projection and upside, while also giving us some element of uniqueness because most often the player will be paired with a different combination of players that align more with their ADP.
That uniqueness (as aligned above) is definitely still valuable here, and we also do want to have access to players who increase our weekly ceiling. But in this format, many other factors come into play. Even if a player is a big ADP value when it’s your turn to pick, he may not be a fit for that team you’re drafting. Since we are drafting for specific scenarios, constructing very specific teams, sometimes the *best* pick is actually a massive reach by ADP in this particular format. Sometimes the big ADP value is the best pick. It’s going to be wildly variable from draft to draft, so it’s just important to make sure we don’t always prioritize ADP value despite the endorphin rush it gives us.
Single QB or TE teams
I don’t know what this says about me, but the first place my mind jumped to when I started thinking about this format is teams with just 1 QB and/or 1 TE. I would guess that most of our opponents are still going to draft multiple of this position because it’s just instinctual. It’s not to say you shouldn’t draft multiple of them, but this format opens up a whole new world of possibilities, particularly as it pertains to the onesie positions.
Sure, you’re going to assume your team is not winning in the bye week(s) of the QB and/or TE if you only draft one at that position. But we shouldn’t go into this tournament with a plan to try to win EVERY week. We don’t need to build our team ONLY for one specific week, but we do want to optimize for something. And by doing so, we are naturally going to have a week or weeks where that team is just not going to win. And that’s ok. In fact, it’s a good thing.
It’s a similar concept to several that we discussed above. We are making 1 or 2 bets, and then optimizing around it. If we happen to correlate our TE to our QB, we can load up with as much RB and WR firepower as possible, correlating along the way, to give ourselves as many outs to hitting the nuts in the week(s) that the QB + TE give us the optimal output.
It’s easiest to imagine this with the elite QB + elite TE pairings. Patrick Mahomes is one of the surest bets to give us monster weeks at the QB position, and Travis Kelce is the best bet to do so at TE. If we pair them, we have to spent a lot of draft capital, but it would allow us to draft just 1 QB and 1 TE and optimize around them to try to hit the right combination of players on the week(s) when Mahomes and Kelce both blow up.
We do not HAVE to implement this with a QB and TE on the same team, nor do we have to implement it with expensive options at the position. Think about the payoff of the scenario in which Jared Goff produces multiple nuclear weeks, and they coincide with Sam Laporta catching multiple TDs. The stable of RBs and WRs you’ve surrounded them with given their price will offer tremendous upside.
There are so many permutations of this we can test out. You can draft Mahomes without Kelce and drop in another TE while loading up on other Chiefs pass catchers. If Mahomes hits without Kelce having a big game, you are going to get very cheap ceiling games from his ancillary weapons, and you can drop in another TE cheaper than Kelce (let’s say Darren Waller as an example) to produce that TE ceiling game.
Stacking Bye Weeks
The sickos in the Spike Week discord spotted this one immediately, and I totally agree. Similar to the single QB or single TE idea, it can make sense to load up our teams with players on the same bye weeks. Some might consider this to be a death sentence is our other formats of best ball. We may not be able to sacrifice 100-200 points in a given week and still advance and win a cumulative format tournament like Drafters.
But in Weekly Winners, it might actually be MUCH better to sacrifice a week or two in order to be at full strength for the other 15-16 weeks of the season. All it takes is one big week to make your whole season, so if we punt off 1-2 weeks in order to have a slight edge on the field in the remaining weeks, it can be more than worth it.
Is this actually better for Zero RB?
It may feel at first that you need the very top RBs in this format. How else are you going to access the highest ceilings without the highest ceiling RBs?
Funny enough, I think this format *could* be the best for Zero RB in all of Best Ball. The hard part with Zero RB in both cumulative and playoff formats is that you need to hit on uncertain backfields or contingent value backs. That’s hard enough, but not only do you need to hit on them, you need to hit on them for long stretches of the season and particularly during that ever important playoff run and week 17. Or if you’re incredibly lucky, you need your collection of backs to layer together their good weeks. It’s an incredibly tough needle to thread.
In Weekly Winners, you don’t need nearly as much of that to go right. Because you only need to hit in a singular week, these Zero RB type running backs technically only need to hit in one singular week to pay off that individual team. And if they do actually hit for an extended stretch, either due to a long term injury to the starter or by taking command of an uncertain backfield, you have been able to draft a player who projects near the top of the RB player pool in terms of weekly projection and weekly ceiling at a fraction of the cost of the top backs.
X Out the Accumulators?
In our other formats of Best Ball, there is an inherent value in providing ‘usable weeks’. Let’s take Isiah Pacheco from last season as an example. Using our Best Ball Stats, you can see Pacheco offered a ton of usable weeks for your teams (14). While in a totally ideal world, you’d rather have all your players posting more frequent spike weeks, having a running back that is consistently helping you not lose can be beneficial when you’re playing against a very small pool of teams either over the regular season or even in a smaller playoff pod. That’s because you don’t actually need to hit the stone cold nuts every week to navigate the playoff format, but you just need to beat your small collection of opponents.
But Pacheco offered exactly ZERO nuclear weeks, and just 2 spike weeks over the entire 2022 season. He was not hurting your team, but he wasn’t offering you a weekly ceiling that could allow you to post a very top score in any individual week.
In Weekly Winners, that type of production is essentially useless to us. This isn’t to say that you can’t draft Pacheco because 2023 is a new year and maybe he does offer that upside this season, but his 2022 output is an example of something we want to ultimately avoid in this format.
The entire goal is to post massive weekly scores even if it comes at the expense of mediocre or above average scores. So those usable weeks become largely worthless if they’re attached to a player profile that does not offer the nuclear week upside.