Well. Here’s a fun one.
Week 1 gives us one of the more lopsided games we could have devised, with an Eagles team that has legitimate Super Bowl aspirations and a Redskins team that is expected to compete for the top pick in the draft. (Note: Washington will absolutely not end up with the top pick in the draft. For all of this team’s flaws, Jay Gruden is always able to find ways throughout the season to keep enough games close that this team is able to pull out some wins.) Washington has major, major question marks on the offensive line with Trent Williams continuing his holdout, and especially if Jordan Reed misses this game (as is currently expected), Washington also has a bottom-three on-paper passing attack. More bad news for the Redskins: the Eagles allowed the fifth fewest rushing yards to running backs last year, while facing the fewest running back rushes. Need more? In 2017, the Eagles allowed the fewest rushing yards to running backs while facing the third fewest running back rush attempts, and in 2016 this team allowed the fourth fewest running back rushing yards while facing the second fewest running back rush attempts. Philadelphia is built from the defensive line out – with the goal of taking away the run, then putting seven guys in coverage to make up for talent deficiencies on the back end. The only way for Washington to consistently move the ball in this spot will be through the short passing game (and of course, if we are searching for a way to grab week-winning upside from every player on our roster – as we should be trying to do – a slot receiver on a slow-paced, run-leaning team doesn’t jump off the page, even if we do like Trey Quinn in general). Washington unsurprisingly carries one of the lowest Vegas-implied team totals on the slate, and on paper, no one from this offense falls into the “good play” bucket.
Things get a bit more interesting when we swing over to the Eagles side, though before we dig in, we should note that with a full slate of games on hand and plenty of underpriced players available to us in Week 1, targeting offensive players on a spread-the-wealth offense against a middling to above average defense will rarely be one of the most profitable strategies available. This becomes even more true when we realize that (as of this writeup) Philadelphia has the highest Vegas implied team total on the main slate. Because the DFS public tends to be such a slave to Vegas totals, we will almost certainly see elevated ownership in this spot, in spite of the fact that the Eagles fundamentally desire to spread the ball around as much as they can, and in spite of the fact that there are other teams with a Vegas implied total only one or two points lower. From a leverage standpoint, then – taking into account expectations versus ownership – Philly doesn’t look like a top team to target.
With that said: there is a reason Philly has the highest Vegas implied total, and there are a few pieces that you can consider in both cash games and tourneys if you’d like.
Eagles rushing attack:
Matchup: As was the case in nearly all areas last year, Washington was middling against the run – providing neither a boost to opposing rushing attacks nor any reason to shy away. We should once again expect this team to be safe to target on the ground with good rushing attacks.
Likeliest outcome: Rookie running back Miles Sanders has had a tremendous summer, with most Philadelphia beat writers expecting him to eventually ascend to more of a lead-back role than we have seen out of the Eagles over the last couple years. Entering the season, however, expectations are that this will continue to be a timeshare backfield, with nobody seeing more than 10 to 12 touches most weeks.
Alternate angles: I don’t expect that we will see this in a winnable Week 1 matchup, but given the number of times this summer that various writers (both local and national) singled out Sanders as “clearly the best running back on this roster,” there should be a point this season at which Doug Pederson decides to change up this team’s approach and start using Sanders as a featured back. If you wanted to bet that this will happen earlier than anyone is expecting, then Sanders could emerge as an ultra-valuable 18+ touch back this week. (There is also a -EV, but still viable idea of targeting Jordan Howard and hoping for a multi-touchdown game.)
Eagles passing attack:
Matchup: Washington was squarely and entirely average last year against quarterbacks and wide receivers, neither raising nor lowering expectations for opposing players. This team has enough talent on defense to not be a pushover, leaving our expectations for the Eagles passing attack in roughly its typical range.
Likeliest outcome: Part of the philosophy of the Eagles is that they want to spread the ball around, playing out of multiple looks and putting a huge variety of plays and approaches on film in order to make life difficult on opponents. As part of this, the Eagles have worked to push Carson Wentz away from relying quite so heavily on Zach Ertz. The likeliest outcome this week is that we see Philadelphia spread the ball around aggressively, feeding targets to Ertz, Dallas Goedert (the Eagles are expected to push for the league lead in 12 personnel this year as they try to get Ertz and Goedert on the field together as much as they can), Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, DeSean Jackson, all three running backs, and probably even JJ Arcega-Whiteside, making it difficult for any of these players to post a “have to have it” score.
Alternate angles: Landon Collins was brought to Washington this offseason to help solidify their back end; and one of his responsibilities will be tight end coverage. While Collins is solid in coverage, he has a tendency to struggle against double moves from more athletic tight ends. Kittle, Engram, Henry, and Kelce are all better bets for production this week than Ertz – especially as he is priced for his 2018 volume, and Philadelphia is hoping for Wentz to squeeze fewer targets in his direction; but in tournaments, if you wanted to take on a lower point per dollar floor to potentially catch a surprise blowup, there is a chance that Ertz breaks off one or two big plays. The same goes for Goedert (though of course, volume expectations are different than they are for Ertz), while Jeffery and Jackson carry touchdown and/or big play upside on basically any given week. (The Eagles have used Jackson as more than just a deep threat this summer, and Wentz has shown a good connection with him. Also, for whatever it is worth, Josh Norman has reportedly struggled at times this summer with the speed of Paul Richardson and Terry McLaurin. Five to six targets is a comfortable projected range for Jackson – and this is enough for him to reach upside in basically any matchup. There will also be games this year in which Jackson pushes for eight or nine targets…though these games are likelier to show up in shootouts than in a setup such as this.)
JM’s Interpretation ::
With Washington philosophically having zero interest in getting aggressive on offense, this game is likelier to turn into a dud than it is to turn into a surprise shootout. Outside of perhaps a completely random player unexpectedly ending up on one or two of my large field rosters, I don’t expect to have any interest in the Washington side of the ball – and given the landmines in this game (potential for Washington to turn it into a slower paced contest // potential for Philadelphia to spread the ball around so much that they may not produce any “have to have it” scores), and given that the Vegas implied total will likely provide a bump to Eagles ownership, I expect to leave this side of the ball alone as well, with the possible exception of some DJax shots as part of an MME strategy. I do think that Wentz is viable as well — and while I likely won’t lean on him much (if at all), there are paths to him posting the highest QB score of the weekend even without this game turning into a shootout. Wentz could be used with one of his pass catchers, or — given the way this team spreads the ball around — could be rostered naked.