Week 1 gives us one of the most exciting new teams against a team that last year aimed to take the excitement out of every game it played — and there are two very clear and distinctly different ways in which this game can be broken down. We have The Cardinals Perspective, and we have The Lions Perspective.
The Cardinals Perspective:
As you’ve heard by now, the Cardinals want to bring the air raid offense to the NFL – spreading out the field, playing fast, and putting constant strain on the defense. “Pace and space” is the way to think of this offense. When everything works according to plan, they will focus on a heavy dose of four wide receiver sets, asking Kyler Murray to use his pinpoint accuracy to target the short areas of the field in a ball-out-quick attack. This offense will include wide receiver screens, plays designed to get David Johnson the ball in space, occasional shots downfield, and freedom for Murray to take off with his legs and give opponents something else to think about. In looking at this game from a Cardinals perspective, then, there is a decent amount to be excited about. Patrick Peterson is suspended for the first six weeks of the season on the Cardinals defense, and number two cornerback Robert Alford is also set to miss. The Cardinals have a strong pass rush, but they have no depth in the secondary, making this one of the most attackable units in the NFL through at least the first few weeks of the season. With Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones on the other side of this game, the Cardinals perspective would lead us to believe that Arizona will march up and down the field on Detroit, and that Detroit will respond by aggressively hammering the mismatch available to them on the perimeter. This would make Golladay an elite play, and it would make game stacks involving various pieces of this contest potential tournament winners. Hooray for the Cardinals perspective.
The Lions Perspective:
This is a good place to remember that one team alone does not determine the pace and play style of a game. Last season, the Detroit Lions ranked 23rd in pace of play, and no team in the NFL allowed fewer opponent plays per game. Fundamentally, the goal of this Lions team is simple: on offense, they want to chew up clock, focus more on avoiding negative plays than on creating explosive plays, run the ball, control the game, and keep their defense fresh.
While Kliff Kingsbury is going to try to show the league in Week 1 that the air raid can work in the NFL, Matt Patricia is going to try to take the air (raid) out of this game. “Oh, cool — you can spread the field and play fast? Well, watch this.”
Slow, methodical drives will be the name of the game for this Detroit team for as long as this game remains close. Sure, it’s a good spot for downfield shots to Golladay, but I don’t think Patricia wants to try to win a shootout on the road against an offense that wants to trade blows and tire out his built-to-stop-the-run defense.
In the same way Matt Patricia provided a blueprint last year for Bill Belichick of how to slow down the Rams (outmaneuvering them for three quarters late in the year), he will be looking to put an exclamation point on the weekend’s storylines by showing the league how to stop Kliff Kingsbury’s air raid attack. Detroit is completely unexciting in almost every way, but defensively, they are great at communication and at contain, and they do a good job keeping everything in front of them to prevent the big play.
Further helping Patricia execute his strategy is the fact that the Cardinals allowed 4.9 yards per carry last season and gave up 20(!) touchdowns on the ground to running backs. The Lions want to run, and they want to slow down games. They are playing a team with a bad run defense that would prefer to take control by speeding up the game. Patricia’s strategy should be clear.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Personally, I lean more toward the Lions perspective in this spot than toward the Cardinals. You’ll almost certainly be able to find dramatically different, and far more exciting takes on this game, so feel free to fade my thoughts here if you want to look at this game a different way. It’s always scary to fade a potential shootout — though I tend to have a strong read on Patricia; and I feel pretty confident that the only way this game turns into a fire-and-brimstone, have-to-have-it shootout is if the Lions fail to move the field against this still-attackable Arizona defense, and the Cardinals charge out to a three-score lead.
With that, the safest piece in this game – the piece that stands out in all DFS game types – is Kerryon Johnson. Even Kerryon has some question marks (namely: is Detroit going to waste goal line looks on CJ Anderson? Probably…). But even a lower end projection has him around 17 or 18 touches with a few receptions mixed in – a big enough workload for him to matter in this matchup. And if Kerryon emerges with 22, 23, 24 touches in this spot, he could absolutely bulldoze this Arizona run defense on his way to an elite score. He fits into any game flow expectations we could build for this game, giving him a strong floor to go with his strong ceiling and making him a safe, high upside piece on this slate.
I imagine we will see at least 8% to 10% ownership on a lot of these Cardinals pieces, as people want to be the first ones on this exciting offense before the prices begin to go up. Given how much Detroit wants to slow down and grind out games – and given how stellar they were last year against running quarterbacks (only the Broncos allowed fewer rushing yards to the position, with Detroit doing a great job keeping eyes on the quarterback and closing out potential running lanes), I expect to be underweight on the Cardinals myself, and – as a result – I expect to be underweight on builds that lean toward the Cardinals perspective this week. (The Cardinals also play the Ravens next week, before a string of much easier matchups – and I’m hoping that we can get a couple disappointing weeks from this offense before being able to hammer them at lower ownership, and lower price tags, in more attractive matchups.) There is certainly enough of a chance for this game to turn into the type of shootout the Cardinals want, however, that I don’t think it’s a bad play to lean toward that perspective if you want to break down a different path. If building this way, keep in mind a few things:
Arizona wants to spread the ball around || number three receiver KeeSean Johnson may actually finish close to Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk in targets, at a much lower price and lower ownership || David Johnson is going to get 18+ touches with a chance for six or more receptions in space, where he operates best || and if Kyler Murray does break off a long run or two, it’s not at all crazy to think that he could post a week winning score without any of his receivers joining him at the top of the leaderboards. Also, if building with Cardinals players, it is recommended that you include Lions players on that same roster. If the Cardinals put up a big game on offense, it will force the Lions to get aggressive in return, and the matchup sets up well if this ends up being the case. Golladay would be your best bet for a monster game, though Marvin Jones would be worth taking a shot on as well, and you could even hit a game stack approach that includes Matthew Stafford or a total dart throw on the first game from TJ Hockenson (with Danny Amendola also on the field as a “roster for floor, hope for a touchdown” bet). Kerryon is almost certainly the only player I will actively build around from this game; and in regards to the rest of this game, I expect to be underweight compared to the field in any large field, multi-entry play I put together; but I will probably have some exposure if I MME this week, as it is worth taking at least an underweight-against-the-field shot on this game for the upside-potential it has.