Do you play the Chiefs this week? Every week, they’re going to score points; that isn’t the question. The question is, “Is this the best salary allocation?” The question is, “Are the Chiefs overpriced or underpriced this week?” And this week, it really comes down to this: can the Raiders keep up with the Chiefs? Even at Mahomes’ price, it would take a low-percentile game for you to be disappointed in any scenario (i.e., he’ll remain where he always remains: in Tier 1), but in order for him to tilt the slate in your favor, you’ll need the Raiders to keep up. Travis Kelce is still a solid play — appropriately priced on both sites for his median range — even in the event of a slower-paced second half for the Chiefs (with plenty of upside from there), but in order for him to smash, you’ll likely need the Raiders to keep up. Sammy Watkins…well, actually, Watkins requires a bit of a deeper discussion:
For years, everyone in DFS wanted to play Antonio Brown against the “overmatched Bengals secondary,” and for years AB disappointed in those games. And every time one of those games rolled around, one of the things we touched on in the NFL Edge was the ways in which Paul Guenther had the ability as a defensive coordinator to tighten up zones around Antonio Brown and force another player to beat them.
Then we had last year, when everyone wanted to play Tyreek Hill against the Raiders, and we all made sure we remembered those cautionary tales from Guenther’s years with the Bengals. Hill came out of that game with only one catch for 13 yards (six targets), with Andy Reid calling a couple of runs to him (37 yards) to get the ball into his hands. With Hill expected to miss, there should be enough of the latter (creative efforts to get the ball into the hands of Sammy Watkins) for him to still hit a non-crushing floor no matter what happens in this game; but there are reasons to be cautious in regards to his chances of reaching ceiling. I will say that I’m totally comfortable trusting Watkins as an elite, real-life option in this offense (he looked genuinely excellent last Sunday: healthy, and as if the playbook is now second-nature to him after he struggled a bit last year with overthinking things on the field), and Watkins has the upside to break the slate wide open. But the Guenther risk is also very real, giving you an alternate angle to consider in tourneys — especially if ownership on Watkins appears on Saturday as if it will be sky-high (as I imagine will be the case).
We’ll get to Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson in the Interpretations section; but first, let’s swing to the other side, and explore the vital question: can the Raiders keep pace with the Chiefs?
The difference between “protected Carr” and “harassed Carr” is vast, so the first thing we should look at is the Raiders’ offensive line, which held up extremely well against the Broncos while earning strong marks from PFF across the board. We took a look in our preview of this team at the question marks and corresponding causes for potential optimism on this line, and we should like their chances of holding up this week against the less-aggressive, new-look Chiefs. If this is the case, the chances of Derek Carr keeping pace are heightened, and the chances of this game turning into a true week-winner are heightened as well. (While some of this is obviously reactionary, it also helps that the Over/Under in this game has gone up a point and a half already — as you can see on the Advanced Odds tool by clicking on “Line History.”)
All of which brings us to one of the biggest discussions on the week: the Raiders’ offense.
In cash games, the Raiders’ offense is remarkably simple. With the public down on this team, and with their strong Week 1 game taking place after pricing was set for Week 2, prices are low across the board. Tyrell Williams may start this game slow as the Chiefs look to focus on taking away the Raiders’ clearest shot at a big play; but with so little behind Williams (Hunter Renfrow and Ryan Grant have basically zero downfield ability), the targets are sure to be there in a game in which Carr will undoubtedly have to throw more than 26 times. It’s likely that either the Chiefs have a big lead deep into the game and this opens up easy garbage time production for Williams at his cheap price, or that the Chiefs have a lot of points and the Raiders keep pace (in which case, Williams will almost certainly have been involved in that production).
Darren Waller, meanwhile, can effectively be viewed as the Raiders’ number two wide receiver, and his ability to line up at tight end will allow Gruden to align and/or motion him into plenty of mismatches in a game in which the Raiders will have to score points. Waller is sure to be an emphasis in the game plan this week, and after running 25 of a possible 27 pass routes last week and seeing 26.9% of the Raiders’ targets, his floor and ceiling are high for his basement-level price. Both of these guys should be cash game staples across the industry; and if that proves to be the case, the smartest play in cash games is to not try to outsmart the field here, as these plays are just really strong on paper.
We’ll get to the other main piece on the Raiders (Josh Jacobs) in a moment; but first :: the question of whether or not to go all-in with Waller/Williams in tourneys (i.e., whether or not to play them as part of your core in smaller-field stuff; and whether to go underweight or overweight against the field in tourneys). I don’t want to give any definitive statements right now on how I’ll be handling this situation myself, as it’s still early in the week, and we still have the Angles Pod and the Player Grid for me to work through any final thoughts (I’ll also probably update my Collective later in the week with a few more personal thoughts on this game). But basically, in early-week builds, keep this in mind:
We don’t win large-field tourneys with “good scores.” We typically need great scores across the board on our roster. And just because Williams and Waller are great values does not mean they are guaranteed to post great scores.
On the flip side: if one of them posts a big score in this spot — trying to keep up with the Chiefs — it is more likely than not that the other of them posts a big (or at least really solid) score as well. This makes them an attractive Player Block, as we can view their salary in a bundle (18.8% of the salary cap on FanDuel; 15.4% on DraftKings(!!!)) and still see a high floor and a monster ceiling for their price. There might legitimately be a 50% chance that these two combine for 2.5x salary on FanDuel and 4.5x on DraftKings (just now checked our GPP Ceiling Tool; it puts their combined 50th percentile projection at just north of 4x on DK; it has them at just under 2x on FanDuel, where they are obviously a less attractive combo given higher prices and a more touchdown-dependent scoring format; also of note: any tool like this is sure to be cautious in regards to developing situations like the distribution of touches on the Raiders’ new offense, so it’s fair to give a slight bump to projections from there). In an underrated offense with a game environment that will almost guarantee this team is having to stay aggressive, it’s very fair to just call them the best values on the week and go overweight in all formats — essentially saying, “If I’m wrong on this one thing, I’m probably not winning any tourneys; but if I’m right, I’ll be right on both spots and passing a large chunk of the field.”
As for Jacobs :: at 72.7% of the snaps last week, in a role that may be game flow dependent, he’s a bit riskier than he might appear at first glance. (He’ll still be on the field on first and second down if the Raiders fall behind, but the action might flow through the air throughout the second half, and we really don’t know how “schemed” any of Jacobs’ looks in the pass game will be this year.) If he’s a guy that the field appears to be sort of iffy on as we head into the weekend (i.e., if other sites aren’t really talking him up, and if his ownership projections are moderate closer to Sunday), I would avoid him in cash games for the game flow risk; but if every site is talking him up, and if ownership projections are high, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea to just play him in cash games and “not try to outsmart the field” once again. In tourneys: Jacobs is a “hope for a scenario that yields good game flow,” or “hope he breaks off some long runs or touchdowns” option. (He’ll likely produce a solid score regardless. But if you’re chasing a week-winning score, as you should be, one of those scenarios will have to hit.)
JM’s Interpretation ::
I’m not quite there in working through the numbers on the Chiefs; but everything I’m finding right now has the Chiefs needing a high-percentile game in this spot in order to justify being stacked heavily (i.e., Mahomes plus two or even three of his weapons). Obviously, if building for that high-percentile scenario, then, you would want to also build your roster with multiple Raiders, as betting heavily on the Chiefs would be assuming that the Raiders keep pace.
Mahomes and Kelce are both strong in all formats.
I’ll likely avoid Watkins in cash, even if he’s highly owned, as there are plenty of ways to spend salary this week for upside, and I don’t see a need to take on the Guenther risk. I’ll also be underweight on Watkins in MME play (significantly so, if he ends up projected in the 20%+ range, as I think he has a shot to do), but I will have a bit of exposure to him, as he’s a solid play when we take ownership out of the equation. (To be clear: Watkins isn’t a bad play. He simply doesn’t have a significantly better projected range than some other high-priced guys, and ownership is unlikely to reflect that.)
I’ll be leaving the Chiefs’ backfield alone (it’s a guessing game right now as to who will see the most touches between LeSean McCoy and Damien Williams — with no guarantee that either will produce; I guess you could build for a “Chiefs smash” scenario and assume that both running backs put up big scores, though that’s a long-shot scenario) — but if you want to try to “guess right” yourself, you could obviously end up whack-a-moling a big score.
As for Robinson and Hardman :: Robinson feels less likely to do much, simply because he has been on the field so much and been used so little; whereas Hardman — given what we saw in preseason — is at least a guy Reid will build a few plays around, likely giving him one or two carries, at least one screen, and at least one designed deep ball. I could see Hardman getting six targets and five touches (three catches, two carries) pretty easily, and with Johnathan Abram now out, it wouldn’t be crazy for him to connect on something big. I currently have some light MME exposure to him.
On the Raiders’ side: I’m currently overweight on Tyrell // Waller in my builds (with about 75% of my exposure on each guy coming on rosters where they’re used as a Player Block; this heavy paired exposure is DraftKings only, of course — given the pricing notes explored above — though each guy is very comfortable as an isolated play on FD), and I’m sure I’ll continue to trend that way as I continue building throughout the week. I’ll be underweight on Jacobs — and in large-field tourneys (at least) I’ll be overweight on Carr; because 300 yards and three touchdowns on 35+ pass attempts is not some crazy outlier (our GPP Ceiling Tool has roughly that level of production pegged as his 80th percentile score — which is just awesome at his price), and you can assume low ownership because: who wants to play Derek Carr?