The showdown format in daily fantasy sports has grown immensely in popularity over the last several years and it isn’t difficult to see why. The format allows for massive payouts while not requiring one to have an intimate understanding of every active player on a typical Sunday main slate. However, this should not make one believe that the format is for amateurs. To actually win a showdown format requires careful analysis and strategy. But first, let’s start with the basics.

What is Showdown in Fantasy Football?

The showdown format is a single-game format (usually primetime games such as Sunday and Monday Night Football) that allows users to select a certain number of players (usually five or six) from the two teams playing. The user typically must select at least one player from each team. Kickers and defenses can usually be selected. Depending on the platform, users may be allowed to select a “Captain” position whose points earned are applied to a 1.5x multiplier. Given there are only five or six players being selected from two teams, the winning pot is usually split amongst multiple players.

The Showdown format is not limited to football and is a popular format in other sports such as the NBA, MLB, and Soccer.

General Strategy in Showdown Matchups

First, we need to clarify some terms used in Showdown tournaments. When we say “optimal” we mean the best possible selection on the slate in terms of total points. In standard daily fantasy, it’s rare that you actually need the optimal lineup to win a large-field tournament. There are just so many combinations of potential players based on a massive player pool that optimal lineups are rare. This is not the case in large field showdowns where you need not just the optimal captain selection but the optimal lineup.

Ok, the general strategy in showdown matchups follows a singular mantra:

Can you build a lineup that has a chance of being optimal that’s unique? That is to say, can you construct a showdown roster that is unlike any (or almost any) other entry in the contest and still has a chance of winning? This is not as easy as it may sound.

Imagine you have a great feeling about Kyle Juszczyk being the featured back on the goalline. Since touchdowns return the most points, you put him as captain. The game starts and you see that 0.01% of other users put him as the captain, thereby making your lineup unique. No one else has it. Things get even better when the 49ers call a fullback dive from two yards out for the first touchdown of the game. Then in the second quarter, the 49ers call on the Harvard graduate again on a fullback screen right before the half. You are euphoric. Hysterically calling family and friends. Promising the students at the local high school that you’ll pay for their college education. However, step back, what are the odds that you win this tournament?

Two touchdowns from a fullback are rare, yes, but what are the odds he has the most points of anyone else on the roster?

The 49ers were in the red zone twice. Therefore someone gained yards getting them into the red zone on both trips. The quarterback for San Francisco, god bless him, already has one passing touchdown in this scenario. You need the captain to not just have a great fantasy game, but a better fantasy game than any other skill position player on the roster for either team.

Ways To Be Unique In Showdown

Aside from the captain position, you also have the salary cap to play with. A pro strategy for getting a unique lineup in fantasy showdown is to intentionally not use your entire salary cap. While this seems counterintuitive (the salary of a player is based on expected performance therefore why would you intentionally want a lower projected score?), it’s actually a very solid strategy. Look back at the lineups that you’ve made. When you did your hand build and saw you were not spending the full salary, what did you do? I suspect you went and looked for positions to upgrade. You’re not alone. That’s what most users do in a showdown as well. When you consider the variance of salaries consider this: how many live, unique lineups can you make if you spend exactly 100% of the salary?

This is the ongoing dilemma for daily fantasy football players who want to make a lineup that can win. The hardest thing to do is enter a lineup you think could score more points. However one must wrap their head around it one way or another. Showdown is a statistical game where you’re going to have to intelligently account for the uniqueness of the lineup to be successful.

Rules For Showdown: Avoid Them Like The Plague

Speaking of uniqueness, consider the variability of different NFL games. There are Chiefs vs Bills in 70-degree weather in September and then there’s Steelers versus the Bears on a 12-degree night in November in Chicago. There are no hard and fast rules for which positions to roster in a showdown or what kinds of positions to make captain. Remember when the Patriots beat the Bills despite throwing just three passes?

What’s important to note is that the game script in that situation was, to some extent, predictable. Outside of the windchill that evening being in the mid-20s, there was also wind which ESPN described as, “overwhelming at times.” One punt even went sideways in the game. These are all factors that could’ve been known and adjusted to prior to game time. However, there doesn’t mean there aren’t some best practices.

Fantasy Showdown Best Practices

The situation should be taken into consideration, but see below for some examples of best practices we’ve gathered from our own research and experience.

Get Creative In Low Total Games
While you don’t want to get too contrarian for your own good, extremely low scoring games have some of the most opportunity you are likely to find. Note the example above about Juszczyk above scoring a mythical two touchdowns. If those are the only two touchdowns in the game, it might be enough. Low scoring games inherently have less fantasy points which mean it might not take that much to be the top scoring fantasy player.

Max (1) WR/TE from the same team as CPT WR:

This one is from Adam Levitan who notes that just “7.9% of top-1% finishing lineups rostered more than (1) additional WR or TE in FLEX with a CPT WR from the same team” In other words, if you are making a wider receiver your captain, only pair him with one more wideout or the tight end from the same team your captain wide receiver plays for. This makes intuitive sense: even in scenarios where a team passes with enough frequency to justify rostering more than two pass catchers from the team, it is unlikely that the quarterback of that team will not be the optimal captain.

Second Halves Have Opportunity

While not as exciting as the main slate, platforms now offer second-half showdown contests. Considering that primetime games do not kickoff until at least 8:20 EST, and most of the users are on the east coast, the second half only showdown can end in a lot of unfilled contests which creates the rare overlay with more money per user.

Avoid Sites That Do Not Let You Choose A Captain

If a site you play on has showdown but does not let you select a captain, run. You need the captain spot (along with the salary maneuver we discussed) in order to get unique. Absent those options, things do turn into a crapshoot and you really are just playing roulette.