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By Matt Kelley (@Fantasy_Mansion)
Special to Yahoo Sports
The Pittsburgh Steelers were the original America’s team. In 1978, Art Rooney was offered the nickname and passed by remarking, “We’re Pittsburgh’s team. We feel strongly about that.”
Fast-forward to 2017, and the Dallas Cowboys have one fewer Super Bowl win than the Steelers (6 to 5), but the Cowboys are definitively America’s team and wear the moniker with pride.
This season, the Cowboys will also be America’s Fantasy Football team. Unfortunately for Cowboys fans, the team must get worse in reality to get better in fantasy. How would less wins equate to more fantasy points? Game script.
What is Game Script?
Game script is a team’s average point differential at any given moment in a game.
As NFL teams build a lead, their play-calling skews pass-heavy. As teams fall behind in the second half, they often abandon the run and throw, throw, throw, and throw some more.
Super Bowl Lessons
Why is this important? Do you remember the Super Bowl? You know, that game where the Atlanta Falcons squandered a 25-point second half lead?
Facing a double-digit deficit, James White posted 45.9 PPR fantasy points. LeGarrette Blount managed just 3.1 fantasy points.
Because of game script.
That Cowboys enjoyed a plus-4.5 game script last season, top-5 in the league. Riding a tailwind of double-digit second half leads throughout 2016, Dallas had 499 run plays (No. 1 in the NFL), coupled with only 510 pass plays (No. 32 in the NFL).
The Cowboys led the league in run plays and finished last in total pass plays facing an unusually effortless schedule, cruising past last-place opponents like the 49ers, Browns and Bears.
A regression is coming. Look for Dallas’ game script to flip in 2017, because its schedule is much more difficult after winning the NFC East and crossing paths with the NFC and AFC West this season. Ezekiel Elliott’s pending suspension only exacerbates the problem.
Meet The Real Dez Bryant
There is a silver lining for Cowboys fans. Dez Bryant is back.
Recall that Bryant scored 10 or more touchdowns in three consecutive seasons from 2012 to 2014. Only a handful of Hall of Fame receivers have accomplished this. To put this feat in further context, both Michel Irvin and Julio Jones have one double-digit touchdown season on their respective résumés.
Bryant is both prolific and efficient. Since 2012, Bryant is one of only two WRs with a +30.0 Production Premium in multiple seasons on Player Profiler.com. Only DeSean Jackson has delivered more fantasy points above expectation than Bryant on any given play, at any given down and distance, on any given Sunday this decade.
Dez Bryant Last 3 Healthy Seasons
92 Receptions for 1,382 Yards
93 Receptions for 1,233 Yards
88 Receptions for 1,320 Yards
More than efficiency, touchdowns drive fantasy scoring. While TDs are more randomly distributed than targets, receptions, and yards from season to season, Bryant’s ability to reach the end is exceptionally stable from one year to the next. Bryant is a TD metronome.
What happened to Bryant the last two seasons? He fractured his foot in 2015, then he fractured his knee in 2016. The NFL is a violent sport and fractures happen. Yet, despite playing on a fractured knee with a rookie quarterback last season, Bryant was one of only six receivers to score 10 or more touchdowns last season, in only 15 games.
2017 Fantasy Outlook
Heading into 2017, Bryant announced to the fantasy world that he is back with an alpha dog touchdown in the Cowboys’ second preseason game. He then glowed over his growing connection with Dak Prescott.
Counterintuitively, the Cowboys have to get bad for Bryant to get good. With Ezekiel Elliott currently suspended for six games and more difficult matchups on the schedule, Bryant’s usage should spike to 2012-2014 levels, when he logged a career-highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
If you like receptions, yards, and especially touchdowns in Fantasy Football, you will love Bryant this season. Draft him with confidence in the late first round.