Week 1 Matchups

One of the best ways to learn DFS is through the eyes of others — understanding why they made the decisions they made, and taking a look at what worked and what didn’t.

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When I started playing DFS in 2014, I invested countless hours into breaking down the rosters of top DFS players in order to understand their thinking. Back then, there were fewer resources available for becoming a better DFS player, and this approach allowed me to learn what went into a winning roster, and what I should be looking for night in and night out.

In order to replicate this experience for readers, I break down my Core Roster from the previous weekend at the top of each week’s NFL Edge (I use my DraftKings roster, as that is where I focus the bulk of my attention and energy — but the thought processes are applicable to FanDuel and FantasyDraft as well). As a bonus, I write up my roster breakdown on Sunday morning, shortly before games kick off. This allows me to capture my honest, in-the-moment thoughts for you, rather than filtering my thoughts through the lens of the results.

Starting next week, you will find that feature at the top of this article.


DraftKings Ownership Projections  //  FanDuel Ownership Projections

And now, I am proud to welcome you to The One Week Season.

At some point in November of last year, I began to ponder the ways in which I might be able to make the NFL Edge even better — with better structure, and better information, and a more intuitive feel. For a few months I found myself continually grabbing my phone and dashing in new ideas. I could see the layout back then — the way it would be easier to maneuver from game to game, the way readers would be able to capture notes, the way that training could take place amongst the weeds of the week ahead — and it has been a remarkable experience this year to watch those ideas turn into a design that exceeded my expectations, and to then witness that design being built into a site.

When I was a kid, our family would take communion on Christmas morning in our living room, and my dad would say a few words while my sisters and I pretended to listen and stared at the presents under the tree. Over the last few days, more than a few readers have used Christmas Eve to draw an analogy to how they felt waiting for the first installment of the 2018 NFL Edge — and if that is the closest comp for the first article of the season, I guess I’m even more like my dad than I realized. But whether you want to hear it or not, I just want to take a moment to kick off this inaugural article with a thank you.

Thank you to RotoGrinders for hosting my content the last few years. It was an awesome experience to work with so many tremendous men and women, and to find ways to constantly improve alongside you guys.

Thank you to all of my longtime readers — especially those of you who have been hanging out with me since the beginning. I absolutely love putting this mountainous work together for you each and every week (it will be the stuff of legends later in my life; I’ll tell my grandkids about it and they’ll roll their eyes), and I’m pumped to be with you again.

Thanks to all of you who subscribed way back in March under the Early Bird Special, before you had a website you could look at or a clear idea of what you would be receiving.

And thank you to all who have signed up over the past month. The awesome response enabled us to make some early additions to the site that I was hoping to add in the future — ownership projections (initial projections are live!) and an audio version of the NFL Edge (the first installment can be found here).

Finally, if you are not yet a subscriber, I want to make sure you know that the $39 price tag on One Week Season is not here to stay. At the end of Week 2, the price will jump. And as we continue to make additions and enhancements to the site in the future, the price will jump further.

And everyone who signs up under the $39 price tag gets to renew at that price for life.

With that, it’s time to open the first present.

A merry kickoff to you all.

*

UPDATES MADE:

Texans’ Tight End Update (Sept. 1)

(Sept. 8 Will Fuller update can be found below TE update)

McKinnon Tears ACL (Sept. 2)

Seahawks Secondary (Sept. 2)

Martavis Suspended…Again (Sept. 2)

Saints Backfield Updates (Last update: Sept. 8)

Jermaine Kearse (likely) Out (Sept. 2)

Bills // Ravens Line Movement (Sept. 8)

(Major) Weather Concerns In Cleveland (Sept. 8)

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Breaking Down Week 1 Line Movement

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My Week 1 Player Grid (the most important piece of weekly information on the site outside the NFL Edge) is LIVE.


Kickoff Thursday, Sep 6th 5:20pm Eastern

Falcons (
22.75) at

Eagles (
21.75)

Over/Under 44.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Falcons Run D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O
25th DVOA/15th Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D
30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
Eagles Pass O
29th DVOA/24th Yards per pass
Eagles Run D
15th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O
26th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Eagles Pass D
29th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O
16ths DVOA/3rd Yards per pass

FALCONS // EAGLES OVERVIEW

While the opening game of the season pairs a couple of explosive offenses, we should put our expectations for fireworks on hold. Vegas is expecting a relatively modest-scoring game, with each team installed with implied totals under 25.0 — a sentiment backed up by what each defense strives to do. As is the case in literally any game in the NFL, you can bet on talent and hope for things to break your way, but from a big-picture perspective (“What would we expect to happen if we played this slate a hundred times?”), there are a number of elements to point to this as a game from which we would want limited exposure.

FALCONS RUN OFFENSE

Last year under first-year coordinator Steve Sarkisian, the foundation of the Atlanta offense was their rushing attack, as they slowed down the pace of play (20th in the NFL) and kept the ball on the ground at an above-average rate (22nd in pass rate). This led to them ranking 24th in plays per game — leaving volume as a relative concern against an Eagles team that held opponents to the sixth-fewest plays per game in 2017. Philadelphia was also elite against the run last year, ranking sixth in the NFL in yards allowed per carry and third in the NFL in rushing touchdowns allowed — all while facing the fewest rush attempts in the league. While Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman could absolutely A) rack up some points with receptions, B) break off an explosive long play, or C) slip into the end zone for a touchdown, this is a below-average matchup from all angles for both guys. Freeman averaged 16.6 touches per game last year. Coleman averaged 12.2. Philly also ranked 10th in DVOA against running backs catching passes out of the backfield.

FALCONS PASS OFFENSE

The Atlanta passing attack doesn’t have things much easier, against a pass defense that ranked third in the NFL in yards allowed per pass attempt, and that allowed the fifth-fewest receptions of 20+ yards. This Jim Schwartz defense is designed to force short-area throws, and to tackle well after the catch. Only two teams in the NFL allowed a lower average depth of target than the Eagles allowed last year, and they impressively paired this low aDOT with a below-average catch rate allowed. The one benefit of rostering passing attacks against the Eagles is that this defense — because of how stout they are up front — does tend to see above-average pass volume. Last year, the Eagles faced the second most pass attempts in the NFL. They still finished middle-of-the-pack in yards allowed and touchdowns allowed, but if the Falcons follow the blueprint that the Eagles generally force teams to follow (scaling back their rush attempts and turning more regularly to the air), volume could turn in favor of the Falcons’ receiving weapons. Targets on the Falcons should flow to Julio Jones first (seventh in the NFL in targets last year), while Mohamed Sanu (6.4 targets per game last year) and Austin Hooper (4.1 targets per game last year) should pick up the leftovers behind the running backs. Rookie Calvin Ridley enters the season with an uncertain role, and will likely see the field for only about half of the Falcons’ Week 1 snaps on offense.

EAGLES RUN OFFENSE

The Falcons’ speed-based defense remained a work in progress last year, allowing a league-average yards-per-carry mark, while continuing to struggle against running backs catching passes out of the backfield. All things considered, this is a non-notable matchup on paper — a matchup that would neither raise nor lower player expectations if we played out this slate a hundred times. More of an issue for us from a DFS perspective is the uncertain workload distribution we are always forced to deal with from this Eagles backfield, as this is a team — similar to the Patriots — that likes to attack opponents in unpredictable ways, creating a unique game plan (and unique playing time) for each individual opponent. Because of this, the Eagles’ backfield is rarely a recommended DFS investment, and while there has been some noise that Jay Ajayi could take on more of a workhorse role this season, I am reminded heavily of the numerous times over the years people have “finally solved the Patriots’ backfield distribution,” only to be left holding low scores at the all-important RB slot when the weekend ends. Ajayi and primary workload partner Corey Clement notably combined to average only 1.26 targets per game last year with the Eagles in the regular season. With Darren Sproles returning to take on some of the pass game work — against an Atlanta defense that ranked top five in the NFL last year in fewest rushing touchdowns allowed to RBs — it will be difficult to invest in this backfield with confidence.

EAGLES PASS OFFENSE

The Falcons tied with the Eagles last year in allowing the third-lowest average depth of target in the NFL, but they were less impressive than their counterparts beyond that mark — allowing the sixth-highest catch rate in the league and a league-average yards-after-catch mark. This makes them a steady team to target in PPR scoring, as they allow a high completion rate (even if their Expected Yards Allowed Per Target remain below the league average), and this plays nicely to the skill set of Nick Foles, who is more comfortable throwing short passes between the numbers than he is attacking downfield. With Alshon Jeffery set to miss the first game of the season, the remaining options behind focal points Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz will be an uninspiring mix of Mike Wallace, Shelton Gibson, and Mack Hollins; the Falcons allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to tight ends last year, and their defensive philosophy of allowing short-area catches plays nicely to Agholor’s skill set, as he has the ability to take a short catch and turn it into a big play. He shapes up as a potential target monster.

There is also talk that the Eagles will run more “12” personnel (two tight ends) during Alshon’s absence, and that stud rookie Dallas Goedert will benefit the most from the available targets. The matchup remains an obstacle, and tight end is a notoriously difficult position for rookies, but Doug Pederson will have schemes in place to simplify Goedert’s responsibilities and allow him to make plays. He’s a low-floor option on the one-game slate, with a big, talent-driven ceiling if he does in fact step into six or seven targets.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

In the context of the full-weekend slate, the only player I am interested in from this game is Agholor, as his workload- and talent-driven upside are attractive with the combination of Foles under center and Alshon missing. If playing the Showdown slate (the one-game slate that includes only this game), I have no clear favorite between the quarterbacks, while the Falcons’ backfield provides more safety, and the Eagles’ backfield has slightly more upside (if forced to target an Eagles back, I would take a stab on Ajayi, as he appears likelier than Clement to see 18+ touches in this spot). You could also bet on talent with Julio and Ertz, or could bet on a surprising impact game from Sproles in this spot (it wouldn’t be shocking if the Eagles took advantage of the Falcons’ deficiencies by funneling five or six targets his way), but all of these plays would have a negative expected value on the 16-game slate if we played out this weekend a hundred times. Personally, I’m leaving this Showdown slate alone, and if I play any contests that include all 16 games from the weekend, Agholor is the only guy I will roster.

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Kickoff Sunday, Sep 9th 10:00am Eastern

Bills (
15.5) at

Ravens (
23)

Over/Under 38.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bills Run D
24th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
5th DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
28th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass
Ravens Run D
2nd DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
7th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass

BILLS // RAVENS OVERVIEW

As of this writing, the Ravens are the third-biggest favorite on the weekend (seven points), and I expect that by the time Sunday rolls around, there will be at least a couple pieces on the Ravens that are tipping the scales as chalk. This game also quietly pairs two teams that finished top-eight in pace of play last year, and that finished top-eight in “most opponent plays allowed per game.” This should create a volume boost compared to other spots on the slate, and while this is already a game that the field will be targeting, our knowledge of that expected volume boost will allow us to give a small, additional bump to the already-positive factors in this game.

BILLS PASS OFFENSE

Of course, none of the “positive factors in this game” have to do with the Bills’ passing attack, which will feature either Nathan “Five-Picks” Peterman or rookie Josh Allen. In preseason, Allen showed about as expected: uncorking some marvelous deep throws, while displaying poor accuracy (he has never completed more than 60% of his passes in a season — at any level) and being slow to make decisions. Baltimore posted above-average sack and pressure rates last year, and a Bills offensive line that finished 31st in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate last year got worse in the offseason. Baltimore finished second in the NFL in pass defense DVOA last year, and even without stud corner Jimmy Smith on the field, this is a mismatch regardless of who is under center.

Baltimore allowed below-average marks last year in catch rate (elite), average depth of target, yards after catch (elite), expected yards per target (elite), and passing touchdowns (elite). Peterman or Allen will be slinging the rock to Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones or Andre Holmes. None of these guys are more than hope-and-pray options.

Baltimore’s weak spot through the air last year was the tight end, as they ranked 29th in DVOA against the position and finished bottom-10 in yards and touchdowns allowed. Charles Clay will resume his steady, low-yardage-upside, decent-red-zone-usage role.

BILLS RUN OFFENSE

I have a deep desire to like LeSean McCoy this week, as he accounts for only 12.17% of the salary cap on FanDuel and 12.0% on DraftKings (FantasyDraft has him priced a bit higher — north of 13% of the salary cap). The Bills have no clear options behind McCoy to steal passing-down or goal-line work from him, putting him in the same theoretical usage range of guys like Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, and Christian McCaffrey — without the price and/or the Week 1 hype. Right now, however, I am leaning away from McCoy myself, as this coaching staff constantly finds a way to sink his upside, and his 21.6 touches per game last year in a similar setup doesn’t leap off the page behind such a poor offensive line. The Ravens ranked ninth last year in DVOA against the run and sixth in defending running backs out of the backfield. McCoy should touch the ball over 20 times if you want to bet that talent will win out over matchup.

RAVENS RUN OFFENSE

And here, we arrive at one of the spots that will excite the masses. Last year, Buffalo ranked 30th in DVOA against the run and 25th in yards allowed per carry. No team allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Bills. The Ravens are a seven-point home favorite (each of which is a favorable data point for running backs), taking on one of two turnover-prone quarterbacks — which should lead to some short fields and elevated opportunities for up-close scoring chances. After averaging over 16 carries per game and nearly four targets per game during the second half of the season last year, Alex Collins is locked into an early-down role heading into Week 1, and if this game goes according to script, he should top 20 carries and mix in two to four receptions. He is silly cheap as well — maxing out at 11.2% of the salary cap on DraftKings (and registering all the way down at 10.2% on FantasyDraft).

[Note: If you are not familiar with FantasyDraft (where profit is always easier to find!), I have broken down FantasyDraft strategy and scoring for you here. If you’re familiar with DraftKings, it’s a super easy shift to make.]

Behind Collins, Kenneth Dixon should mix in for a few “breather” carries, while Javorius Allen will mix in on third downs and obvious passing situations.

RAVENS PASS OFFENSE

The excitement should run high in this spot as well for camp standout and fantasy darling John Brown. Brown’s stock with the general public is low after his injury-recovery issues in Arizona, but he is currently healthy and has balled out in training camp as the top option for Joe Flacco. Working in Brown’s favor are his price and his big-play skill set. Working against Brown is a Buffalo pass defense that ranked ninth in yards allowed per pass attempt last year and second in passing touchdowns allowed (behind only Minnesota). Buffalo forces short-area throws and tackles extremely well after the catch — holding opponents last year to a below-average YAC rate in spite of ranking top five in shortest average depth of target — a rare and impressive combination. The final bright spot for Brown is the addition of Vontae Davis to the Bills’ secondary. Davis looks washed, and is a much easier corner to pick on than Tre’Davious White, creating an opportunity for the Ravens to scheme some quality shot plays for Brown. His day will likely come down to whether or not he connects on one of the two or three deep shots the Ravens will likely take with him. Relative to salary cap, he is a bargain on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, but is a far less significant bargain on FanDuel.

Behind Brown, Michael Crabtree will retain a role within around 15 yards of the line of scrimmage — working the short area of the field and likely emerging as a top red zone weapon. He should settle in at around six to eight targets per game for this Ravens squad and should carry solid touchdown upside this season. In a game the Ravens should be salting away late, it’s difficult to get excited about the low-volume tight end rotation and ancillary receivers.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

I will have zero pieces of the Bills’ offense, with the possible exception of a few tourney shots on McCoy — though I should make it clear that I believe McCoy’s role makes him rosterable in any matchup, all year. The upside is evident; but on this week, I can grab similar upside in other spots, with a much higher floor.

Alex Collins is playable on all three sites as a core piece — though if we define a “must play” as “a guy you cannot win the slate without,” I do not believe he should be labeled as such. His worst-case scenario in this spot should be around 10 (FanDuel) to 12 (DraftKings/FantasyDraft) points — and while he has upside for a multi-touchdown, 25-point game, his likeliest scenario is to settle in nicely at around 15 to 18 points.

Given the Bills’ focus on taking away deep shots, I’ll stay away from John Brown on FanDuel — though his price is cheap enough on DraftKings and FantasyDraft (and his role and upside are enticing enough) that I will absolutely have exposure to him on those sites, and he may yet end up on my cash game squad. Even in a difficult matchup, seven or eight targets with explosive upside on the cheap is still seven or eight targets with explosive upside on the cheap. Crabtree could surprise with a multi-touchdown game or a broken big play, and Joe Flacco should provide a strong point-per-dollar floor, but I expect the bulk of the statistical beauty in this game to come from the Ravens’ backfield.

There are a number of solid DST plays this week, but I do believe the Ravens are very much worth paying up for, and there is enough value available this week to justify that decision. They will likely be a cash game staple for me, though I may move off them a decent amount in tourneys to take advantage of the volatility of the DST position — playing that volatility against the high expected ownership this squad will grab. Teams like the Bengals, Chargers, and Jaguars are sneaky bets to outscore this unit if things break the right way.

*UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 8 // Full “Updates” List

I broke down the Week 1 line movements in this spot, but since that post, the line in this game has continued to move down for the Bills. This is not a major update, beyond simply reaffirming what we already know (that this is a great spot for the Ravens’ defense, and a good spot for Alex Collins). But continuous line movement like this is very much worth noting.

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Kickoff Sunday, Sep 9th 10:00am Eastern

Jaguars (
22.75) at

Giants (
19.75)

Over/Under 42.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Jaguars Run D
22nd DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O
30th DVOA/27th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D
32nd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Giants Pass O
29th DVOA/30th Yards per pass
Giants Run D
15th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O
17th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Giants Pass D
23rd DVOA/21st Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O
21st DVOA/19th Yards per pass

JAGUARS // GIANTS OVERVIEW

Heading into the week, only two games have a lower Over/Under than this one, indicating a spot without big DFS interest; but that doesn’t mean this game is entirely bereft of quality options. Probably the biggest thing that makes this an iffy proposition for me is simply the question marks that come with the coaching change in New York. For all his flaws as a head coach (and as an offensive mind), Ben McAdoo loved playing at a fast pace — which meant more plays per game…and since the Giants’ offense was so bad, it effectively meant more plays for their opponent. The Jaguars already finished fourth in the NFL last year in plays per game, but it would have been a nice boost if they were playing an opponent that could be expected to allow the fourth-most plays per game in the NFL (as the Giants did last year). For now, we will have to assume that this will no longer be the case.

JAGUARS RUN OFFENSE

As noted by Adam Levitan on Twitter, Leonard Fournette was in on nine third-down plays in the Jags’ Week 2 and 3 preseason games, and he received five targets (for a 5-35-0 line) across 52 preseason snaps. Fournette quietly averaged 23.4 touches per game last year — which was more than Todd Gurley, and was even more than David Johnson in 2016. In this game, he’s a workhorse running back on a favored team, taking on a Giants defense that ranked 23rd in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards last season and 20th in yards allowed per carry, while boosting running back production by at least 5% (compared to league average expectations) on FantasyDraft, FanDuel, and DraftKings. Fournette costs 13.3% of the salary cap on FanDuel and 14.2% on DraftKings, but on FantasyDraft he will require you to invest only 12.9% of your available salary.

[Note: If you are not familiar with FantasyDraft (where profit is always easier to find!), I have broken down FantasyDraft strategy and scoring for you here. If you’re familiar with DraftKings, it’s a super easy shift to make.]

JAGUARS PASS OFFENSE

One of my favorite statistics from the Jaguars last year was this:

They led the NFL in rushing rate, running the ball on a ridiculous 49.49% of their plays (for context: the league average was 42.14% — so the Jags ran the ball at a 17+% increase on the league-average rate), and yet, they still finished 21st in the NFL in pass attempts. This is one of the bonuses of having an absolutely elite defense: your offense ends up with a lot more plays than the average team. In spite of ranking 18th in pace of play, the Jags ranked fourth in plays per game. People often seem to get concerned about the “low volume of the Jaguars’ passing attack” — saying that the Jags are trying to hide Bortles, and that this means volume is too low to trust. The Jags do try to hide Bortles. But because of how many plays they ran last year, they still threw the ball more times than the Rams and the Texans, and I don’t recall people being concerned about volume there.

None of that is intended to pretend like the Jags are going to let loose and go shootout style (this is still a team with below-average passing volume), but it’s not such a big concern that their weapons need to be avoided in quality matchups — especially given the circumstances surrounding this game, as Marqise Lee is done for the year, and his injury did not occur until pricing was set.

Last year, the Giants allowed the most passing touchdowns in the league and the most yards-after-catch in the league. Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook were both significantly below-average in YAC last year (while Donte Moncrief has never been a big threat in this area…or in any area), and each guy posted a below-average catch rate (which can be pinned on Bortles as much as on the receivers). As such, neither guy (or “none of them,” if you want to throw in Moncrief) should be considered a lock for production; but we should see around six to eight targets for both Westbrook and Cole (with Moncrief potentially pushing for similar numbers), which makes each guy intriguing at his artificially-depressed price.

This passing attack wraps up with Austin Seferian-Jenkins taking on a Giants defense that is annually abysmal against the tight end position. Last year, the Giants allowed production boosts north of 30% above the league average to tight ends, across all three DFS sites — second-worst in the league, behind only the Dolphins. ASJ is not a big yardage threat outside of broken plays, but his touchdown ceiling is as high as any tight end outside the higher ends of the price range.

GIANTS RUN OFFENSE

Last year, the Jaguars finished the season ranked 26th in yards allowed per carry, but only three teams allowed fewer rushing touchdowns to the position, only one team allowed fewer red zone touches to the position, and only eight team allowed fewer receptions. Quite simply, the Jags just have an awesome defense (top two last year in points per game, yards per game, and passing yards per game), and an awesome defense means fewer scoring opportunities. Saquon Barkley should debut in a three-down role, and he’ll be able to pick up yards between the 20s. Given his talent and expected workload, he is underpriced on all three sites. But ownership would likely have to slip below 10% before he could be considered a +EV play, as he would likely only post a week-winning score in this spot one out of ten times. (If ownership does project to be low, he’s an interesting tourney play, as his yardage expectations and his workload keep him at a pretty high floor even in a sub-optimal matchup, and he obviously has the upside to hit big if he hits.)

GIANTS PASS OFFENSE

On FanDuel, DraftKings, and FantasyDraft, the Jaguars held wide receivers last year to about 75% of league-average output from the position — an incredible mark that was by far the best in the league. To put that in the context of DFS: a wide receiver would have to see at least a 25% drop in his usual price before he could be considered +EV against the Jags (and even then it would be an iffy proposition, as the reason to roster a low-owned guy is not for him to get you a serviceable score, but is for him to get you a week-winning score…and the chances of that are even lower against the Jags). The one case you could conceivably make here is that Odell Beckham and (to a lesser extent) Sterling Shepard can take a short reception to the house — but even that path gets cut off quickly by the fact that no team in the NFL allowed fewer yards after catch last year than the Jags. The Jags were also a top-three defense against the tight end last season (fantasy points allowed — all three sites). Everywhere you turn, they get you.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

I am excited to roster Fournette in this game — especially on FantasyDraft, where you get an extra FLEX spot and Fournette is cheaper than he is on the other two sites — as he is a true workhorse on a favored team against a below-average run defense. I am also interested in Cole and Westbrook from a “value with upside” perspective, and I will toy around with Austin Seferian-Jenkins, as I love this matchup even if I don’t love his upside in general.

I really wanted to like Saquon in this game — and absolutely, I don’t think he’ll have a bad game — but the Jags just make it too difficult to score touchdowns for us to feel comfortable that he has 100-yard, two-touchdown upside (which we should always be targeting). I’m not against the play, but his chances of posting a week-winning score are slim.

I am much more excited about the Jags’ defense, as this unit ranked second in sacks last season and second in takeaways, and they are likely to go overlooked. On paper, this is not as good of a play as the Ravens (for all his flaws, Eli Manning can limit turnovers and sacks), but again: DST is a volatile position, and the Jags have as much upside as any unit out there.

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Kickoff Sunday, Sep 9th 10:00am Eastern

Bucs (
19.75) at

Saints (
29.75)

Over/Under 49.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Buccaneers Run D
3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O
12th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D
1st DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O
14th DVOA/9th Yards per pass
Saints Run D
4th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O
6th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Saints Pass D
15th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per pass

BUCCANEERS // SAINTS OVERVIEW

This game clocks in with one of the highest Over/Unders on the slate, with the Saints installed as the largest favorite on the slate. Only eight teams in the NFL allowed more points per game last year than the Bucs, and only three teams scored more points per game than the Saints. New Orleans ranked ninth in the NFL in takeaways last year, and the Bucs will be starting Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Saints always draw attention in the DFS community, and the absence of Mark Ingram (suspension) will pull even more eyes to this spot, so don’t expect to fly under the radar by targeting this game — but that does not alter the fact that this is a good game to target.

BUCCANEERS RUN OFFENSE

New Orleans was perfectly happy to give up yards on the ground last year in order to focus on stopping the pass — ranking 28th in yards allowed per carry. Along the way, however, New Orleans faced the ninth-fewest rushing attempts — a function of teams falling behind early, which is the likeliest scenario in this spot. We should expect around 16 to 18 carries for Peyton Barber, with Ronald Jones likely mixing in for around six carries of his own, and with Jacquizz Rodgers the likeliest third-down back after Charles Sims was lost for the season. There is an outside chance that Barber soaks up some of the third down work as well, which would further elevate his floor and ceiling, as a guy who is already a starting running back who costs only 9.3% of the salary cap on FanDuel, 8.5% on FantasyDraft, and 8.2% on DraftKings. Given game flow concerns, his chances of exploding for a huge game are slim, but he’s a strong value across the board.

BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE

Last year, only five teams allowed a lower catch rate than the Saints, but they were otherwise fairly non-threatening to receivers, ranking just below the league average in yards allowed per target. This setup makes wide receivers slightly more valuable on FanDuel than on FantasyDraft and DraftKings against the Saints, as PPR scoring on the latter two sites forces us to shift expectations down a notch against a defense that is elite at preventing catches. New Orleans also ranked fifth in DVOA against the pass and was one of the best teams in the league at preventing passing touchdowns — all while snagging the third-most interceptions in the league. With Chris Godwin emerging as an integral part of the offense, Adam Humphries continuing to maintain a role in the offense, and DeSean Jackson not yet going anywhere, the secondary pieces on this team are mere dart throws with Fitzpatrick under center. It’s easy to simplify things and say that Mike Evans will “obviously remain a target monster,” but it also won’t be unreasonable for him to stick at the 9.1 targets per game he had last year, after averaging 10.7 targets per game the year before. All things considered, this is a “downgrade” spot for Evans — against this solid pass D, with Fitzpatrick under center — but he is a “bet on talent” guy. (I.e., he is -EV on paper, but he does have the skills to pop off in a tough spot if for some reason you feel like chasing.)

Behind these guys, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard form one of the most lethal tight end duos in the league — but much like Doyle and Ebron in Indy, it will be difficult to pinpoint which tight end to target in a given game, especially as Howard is expected to see an expanded role in the passing attack this year. No team in the NFL allowed fewer passing yards to tight ends than the Saints last year.

SAINTS RUN OFFENSE

Last year, here are touches-per-game from some notable running backs:

Le’Veon Bell — 27.1

Ezekiel Elliott — 26.8

Leonard Fournette — 23.4

David Johnson — 23.3 (2016)

Todd Gurley — 22.9

Melvin Gordon — 21.4

Alvin Kamara — 12.6

There are two ways to look at this. There is the obvious, public-sentiment way to look at this: “Kamara smashed on half the touches of these other guys, and he’s going to see expanded touches with Mark Ingram out!” And there is the data-driven way that says, “It is impossible to keep up the extreme efficiency Kamara had last year, but given his incredible skill set, he can be said to justify his price tag with the expected increase in touches.” The Saints have talked in the offseason about not wanting to increase Kamara’s workload too much while Ingram is out, and while it is true that #coacheslie, I will be surprised if he averages over 21 touches per game through these first four weeks of the season. With that said, I will also be surprised if he falls shy of 17 touches per game. Only two teams allowed more rushing touchdowns than Tampa last year, and they ranked 24th in yards allowed per carry.

(Find more on the Saints’ running back situation in the update below.)

SAINTS PASS OFFENSE

Only three teams in the NFL allowed more expected yards per target than the Bucs last year, as they were significantly below-average in both average depth of target and catch rate — each of which plays nicely into the hands of Michael Thomas. Thomas had only two games last year in which he fell shy of eight targets, and he had eight games of double-digit targets. Tampa allowed extraordinary increases last year for wide receivers compared to league-average fantasy point expectations — boosting wide receiver scores on FanDuel by 21.4% (third-worst in the league), and on DraftKings and FantasyDraft by 23.0% (second-worst in the league).

While Thomas saw his targets increase last year even as Brees’ passing attempts went down, the remaining options on the Saints are a quagmire of upside and question marks. Benjamin Watson should run his fair share of pass routes in this one, and the Saints will take some shot plays with Ted Ginn and/or Tre’Quan Smith, giving each guy some solid upside but a low floor. Cameron Meredith is also in the mix, though his role is uncertain after a rough training camp.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

Peyton Barber will be on my radar all week, and while I have no idea if he will end up on my main roster — where about 85% of my money usually goes — I do know I’ll have some exposure to him. On a normal week, he would be a lock-and-load option, but there is a lot of value available this week.

Kamara’s locked-in role in the pass game and his skills are enough to justify his price, but he is by no means a “must play.” If we played this slate a hundred times, he would have some monster weeks simply due to how talented he is, but until we see him top 21 touches in a game, I also have to acknowledge that his floor remains lower than his fellow high-priced RBs who see a lot more usage than him. I expect Kamara to be popular, which makes him a strategic fade in tourneys if you want to play the percentages.

Drew Brees offers a high floor and a high ceiling in a cake matchup with several weeks to prepare. Michael Thomas is the guy to pair him with, as a guy with a high floor and a high ceiling in one of the softest matchups on the slate.

In tourneys, it is also noteworthy that the Saints ranked seventh in sacks and ninth in turnovers forced last year — making their DST an intriguing play, with a lower floor than the top DST options, but with the same ceiling and low ownership.

*UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 2 // Full “Updates” List

The Saints are all but guaranteed to sign another running back before Sunday…and that running back may very well wind up still being Jonathan Williams or Boston Scott. Sean Payton has acknowledged that he wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable heading into the game with such a thin depth chart at running back, but until further notice, this backfield consists of Alvin Kamara and Mike Gillislee.

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Saturday note: Jonathan Williams has been signed from the practice squad. I’m bumping touch expectations for Kamara back down to 18 to 23, since Williams (unlike Gillislee) at least knows the offense; though it’s tough to see too much work being stolen from Kamara. It will be very difficult for Kamara to fail in this spot; though I do think it will prove possible to win a tourney without him if you want to target upside in a different, more unique way.

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If the Saints are at the one-yard-line, or are running out the clock, we’ll likely see a bit of Gillislee in order to protect wear and tear on Kamara’s body; but the “#coacheslie” narrative strengthens in this spot after the Saints said during the summer they want to protect Kamara’s body and not turn him into a full workhorse back through these first four games of the year. Their roster moves contradict this sentiment, as they let go of a pair of guys who showed strong play in training camp and preseason, and they brought in a guy in Gillislee who 1) has a limited skill set, and 2) has very little time to pick up a complicated offense. Gillislee’s snaps will be straightforward snaps, without much nuance or game-planning to them. Add it all up, and our initial projection of “17 to 21 touches” for Kamara should be raised to around “19 to 25.” This bumps up his floor a little bit higher, while also giving him a few extra opportunities to explode for a monster game. Not that he needed the help, as he was already a top play on the slate. But this makes his price that much easier to digest, and makes him a guy I’m slightly more willing than before to move around salary to fit. As we uncovered throughout the article, there are plenty of great running back plays this week, so don’t box your thinking into one approach; but it’s massively unlikely that Kamara posts a disappointing game, and his upside makes him worth the price if you want to go that route.

The Saints’ roster moves also signal that they are likely to go a little more pass-heavy this week; this gives a further boost to the stock of Drew Brees and Michael Thomas — while the tourney options from this passing attack all remain firmly in play.

(For Reference: Here are the original Saints RB updates, in case you want to dig back into those)

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Kickoff Sunday, Sep 9th 10:00am Eastern

Texans (
21.5) at

Patriots (
28)

Over/Under 49.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Texans Run D
23rd DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O
3rd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Texans Pass D
8th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O
27th DVOA/28th Yards per pass
Patriots Run D
18th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O
23rd DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D
17th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O
8th DVOA/4th Yards per pass

TEXANS // PATRIOTS OVERVIEW

This game has opened with the highest total on opening weekend, in a matchup between a Houston team that allowed the most points per game in the NFL last season and a Patriots team that scored the second-most points per game in the NFL last year. This game also features the return of Deshaun Watson after his electrifying stretch last season — against a Patriots defense that followed its longtime “bend-but-don’t-break” M.O. in 2017 by allowing the fourth-most yards per game in the NFL, but allowing the fifth-fewest points per game.

TEXANS RUN OFFENSE

Houston’s running back depth chart is…Lamar Miller. That’s really about it. Behind Miller, the Texans have D’Onta Foreman, who is not yet fully healthy, and underwhelming Alfred Blue. Since joining the Texans, Miller has been underwhelming himself, but he is a rare three-down back — and given that he takes up less than 11% of the salary cap on all three major sites (less than 10% of the salary cap on FantasyDraft!), he warrants some attention.

Houston ranked 20th in adjusted line yards last year, and while the Patriots have been analytics-minded in their approach to run defense (i.e., being perfectly happy to give up yards on the ground between the 20s — finishing last year as the number 31 team in yards allowed per carry), their red zone defense shined last year, with only one team allowing fewer rushing touchdowns (and with no team allowing fewer rushing touchdowns than the Patriots allowed to running backs — with only three all season). Add it all together and New England allowed merely average production on FanDuel last year, and slightly below-average production on DraftKings and FantasyDraft. Only three teams allowed fewer receptions to running backs last year as well, so Miller really only checks one box :: sizable, locked-in workload. He does check that box emphatically.

TEXANS PASS OFFENSE

Not that you raced to this article to find out about Lamar Miller. Deshaun Watson is back!

Because of the high-scoring nature of the Patriots’ offense, opposing teams regularly have to pass against them. Only two teams faced more pass attempts last year than the Patriots, and because of this, the Patriots allowed fantasy points to quarterbacks at a rate of 14.7% above the league average on DraftKings and FantasyDraft and 15.4% above the league average on FanDuel. The likely high-scoring nature of this game elevates volume expectations for Deshaun Watson. When combined with his rushing upside and his weapons in the pass game, he is one of the top quarterbacks on the slate.

The Texans lack a clear number three option in the pass game behind DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, with a low-certainty mess at tight end and an underwhelming battle in the slot. With the Patriots doing such a great job limiting receptions by running backs, they also funnel targets toward wide receivers — boosting WRs on FanDuel to a 15.6% increase on league-average scoring at the position last year, and boosting WRs by 14.5% on DK and FantasyDraft.

We all know that the Patriots’ first order of business on defense is to do everything they can to eliminate their opponent’s top weapon. It is noteworthy that these are Hopkins’ last four receiving lines vs NE:

7-76-0, on eight targets

6-65-0, on nine targets

4-56-0, on eight targets

3-52-0, on six targets

Past performance is not a guaranteed predictor of future performance, but those numbers stand out on a player as talented and as integrated into the offense as Hopkins.

Will Fuller averaged 5.5 targets per game last year with Watson under center. He has explosive upside, but his moderate-volume role, his high average depth of target (fourth-deepest in the NFL last year), and his modest catch rate (56%) add plenty of risk to his upside.

PATRIOTS RUN OFFENSE

If this slate started today (more than a week before kickoff), Rex Burkhead would likely be ultra-chalk on DraftKings, as he has been hyped this offseason as a replacement for Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis, and God. Burkhead never topped 15 touches in a game last year (he only topped 11 touches on three occasions), and it should be noted that it is always dangerous to assume we know what the Patriots will do with their backfield — and it is even more dangerous to trust a chalky Patriots running back. With that said: Burkhead ran over 15% of his snaps from the slot last year, making him an obvious stand-in for short-area targets. He also received a respectable seven carries inside the five-yard-line.

Joining Burkhead in the backfield will be at least James White, who is also an obvious candidate to fill in for some of what Edelman leaves behind. Because of his periodic spiked-week usage (like his 10-catch game against Carolina last year in Week 4), it’s easy to overlook the fact that White had only three games last year in which he touched the ball 10 or more times.

Jeremy Hill should work in some short-yardage situations and may even have a bigger role than most are anticipating, and Sony Michel currently appears to be on track for a Week 1 role as well, as he is finally practicing again and has reportedly looked good.

Houston was also above-average against the run last year, though to a non-notable extent — and that hardly matters with the wide receiver-like pass game involvement these backs can have. The iffy volume distribution is a much bigger concern.

PATRIOTS PASS OFFENSE

Indy was the only team that boosted expected yards per targets for wide receivers more than the Texans last year, with Houston allowing one of the deepest average depth of targets in the league as well as an above-average catch rate. The return of some healthy pieces on this defense will help them fix some of their issues, but this is unlikely to be the week their improvements begin to show, against a Brady/McDaniels offense with several weeks to prepare.

Last year the Patriots ran the most plays per game in the NFL and played at the league’s fifth-fastest pace. Houston allowed the most pass plays of 40+ yards last year.

With Edelman missing in action and the Patriots depending on Phillip Dorsett in their second perimeter receiver slot, we should see passing volume funneled heavily toward the running backs, Chris Hogan, and Rob Gronkowski.

Hogan has played as Brady’s clear number one receiver in practice and preseason, and he should operate as the clear top wideout in this game. It is noteworthy that Hogan has reached double-digit targets only twice in 30 games as a Patriot — including stretches when Edelman or Gronkowski were missing — and I’ll be surprised if he averages more than 8.5 targets per game through these first four weeks of the season (with Edelman out), but he will absolutely get looks.

The surest bet on the Patriots this week is Rob Gronkowski, who should see anywhere from seven to 13 targets, and will operate as the top red zone weapon on the team. Only three teams allowed more receiving touchdowns to tight ends last year than the Texans.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

In spite of being a lifelong Patriots fan, they are almost always my least favorite game to write up, and this week was no different. Even with their most targeted wide receiver missing in action, there is no clear workload distribution, as the Patriots simply carry too many weapons — with too much versatility — for us to say with any certainty how their offense will approach things (an especially frustrating reality when we know that they will put up points). I am not on the Hogan hype train to the extent of others, as he is unlikely to average a true “number one WR” workload these next four weeks — though given his low price on all three sites and his matchup, I’m absolutely fine with the play. I am also not on the Burkhead or White hype train to the extent of others, as it should not surprise us if one of these guys has a good game…but it should also not surprise us if it’s not the guy we expect. I’ll be giving strong consideration to both guys on PPR sites (DraftKings and FantasyDraft), but neither is a lock-and-load play for me. From a “floor” perspective, Burkhead is the preferred play. I’ll be surprised if he falls shy of eight or nine PPR points even in a “worst-case” scenario. Gronk is my favorite play on this side of the ball, and while I like to grab the upside of a running quarterback if I pay up at the position, Brady is obviously an extremely strong play here as well.

Speaking of running quarterbacks: Watson is a great play this week — and given that I expect the Patriots to prioritize taking away Hopkins at all costs, I would also be fine rolling Watson without a stacking partner. If stacking him, Fuller and Hopkins are both strong options — but for me, they are confined to tourneys only.

*UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 1 // Full “Updates” List

With the Texans cutting Stephen Anderson, the tight end situation has become a lot more clear in Houston. Jordan Akins is a potential difference-maker down the road, but tight end is a notoriously difficult position for rookies; if he has a role in this game, it will almost certainly be small.

This leaves a healthy Ryan Griffin (a rare event!) as the clear lead tight end — on a team that will likely be playing from behind, and whose top weapon will be the defensive focal point for one of the great defensive minds in history. Last year, Griffin and Anderson combined for a 6-75-1 line against the Patriots (with Watson under center) on nine targets. The vast majority of this damage was done by Griffin, and he is practically free on all three sites.

From a “JM’s Interpretation” perspective: This is by no means a slam-dunk play. But for the price, Griffin clearly joins the conversation among guys like Ricky Seals-Jones, Tyler Eifert, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Colts’ tight ends, etc., as a “guess the volume” play with guaranteed time on the field and a definitely-intriguing ceiling.

September 8: Will Fuller is questionable for this game. If he misses, targets will go up for Hopkins, but defensive attention will land even more heavily on him. Overall, it’s a wash for Hopkins if Fuller misses. Griffin gets a bump up in expected target share. Underwhelming slot option Bruce Ellington will also ascend into the conversation as a guy who could see as many as six or seven targets.

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Kickoff Sunday, Sep 9th 10:00am Eastern

49ers (
20.25) at

Vikings (
26.25)

Over/Under 46.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
49ers Run D
7th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O
2nd DVOA/6th Yards per carry
49ers Pass D
22rd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O
20th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass
Vikings Run D
27th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D
8th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O
17th DVOA/21st Yards per pass

49ERS // VIKINGS OVERVIEW

This game is going to draw a decent amount of hype and attention from NFL fans — with another long look at Jimmy Garoppolo in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, with a new backfield for the 49ers, with Dalvin Cook returning to the field, and with Kirk Cousins taking his first regular season snaps with the Vikings — but this game is less appealing from a fantasy perspective, for a variety of reasons.

49ERS OFFENSE

Jimmy Garoppolo is really good. Kyle Shanahan is really good. The 49ers are going to have a really good offense this year. But it is difficult to overstate how good this Vikings defense was in 2017. No team allowed fewer yards per pass attempt than Minnesota. Only the Jaguars allowed fewer passing yards per game. Only four teams allowed fewer yards per carry than the Vikings last year. Only Philly allowed fewer rushing yards per game. Minnesota allowed only 15.8 points per game last year. The league average was 21.7 points per game. This means that Minnesota held opponents to 72.7% of the league average. The Vikings allowed 19 points at home to the Saints in Week 1 last year. After that, they never allowed more than 17 points at home. They held the Lions to 14 points at home last year and the Rams to seven. I will be surprised if the 49ers crack their Vegas-implied total (20.0, as of this writing), which seems to have been set aggressively to account for the public’s excitement of that team. (The line actually opened even higher, and has been bet down.)

VIKINGS RUN OFFENSE

San Francisco finished seventh in the NFL last year in yards allowed per carry, though their long losing streak did lead to them yielding the 11th-most rushing yards per game. They allowed the fourth-most receiving yards to running backs as well, though they otherwise were fairly non-notable in terms of running back production, and we should head into this game viewing them as a neutral to slightly-above-average matchup for running backs.

“Neutral to slightly-above-average” would be enough for us to be excited about Dalvin Cook this week if he had a guaranteed workload (he costs under 13% of the salary cap on all three sites, and has explosive, talent-driven upside), but there are some question marks heading into this game, as the Vikings mothballed him in the preseason, and there is plenty of chatter — from both beat writers and Vikings coaches — that Latavius Murray will continue to have a role. It should not surprise us if a 26-carry game for the Vikings turns into 16 carries for Cook and 10 carries for Murray — with Murray likely to take at least some of the goal-line work as well. Volume is our closest ally in cash games, which takes both guys out of the discussion, but Cook retains his monster ceiling if his workload unexpectedly spikes, or if his talent allows him to rip off a couple big plays. Murray is a low-floor, touchdown-dependent play.

VIKINGS PASS OFFENSE

Speaking of volume: Only four teams threw the ball at a lower rate of frequency last year than the Vikings, as they were perfectly happy to play legendary defense, take a lead, and bleed the clock dry (Minnesota ranked 25th in pace of play last year).

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the Vikings’ offense is fairly straightforward, from a “usage” perspective, with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs accounting for nearly all of the action at wide receiver. Last year, Diggs had two games of double-digit targets, and eight games with six or fewer targets; Thielen had seven games of double-digit targets, and four games with six or fewer targets. The complication here — heading into Week 1 — is that reports out of training camp have Diggs as Cousins’ preferred target, and with Pat Shurmur gone we are introduced to even more uncertainty in the play-calling and target distribution. That’s enough to make both of these guys risky plays in cash games, but each guy has 25-point upside in tourneys, with 100-yard, two-touchdown potential. San Francisco’s secondary looked worse on paper last year than they actually were, due to a big boost in the touchdown department, but they are a below-average unit in most categories, including catch percentage, air yards, average depth of target, and expected yards per target.

San Fan’s best defensive performances came against tight ends, as they ranked fifth in DVOA against the position and seventh in yards allowed. That should not take Kyle Rudolph off the board, as he will get his four to seven targets in every game (he finished below that range only five times last year, and above that range only twice), and his red zone role is secure. This matchup does lower expectations, however, and makes him a bet-on-touchdown option.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

This game is much more appealing to me from a real-life perspective than from a DFS perspective, and I will be watching it closely to see how this new 49ers offense is presenting itself and to see how this new Vikings offense is presenting itself. I will have no exposure to the 49ers, and I’ll almost certainly have some Vikings exposure in tourneys. The “uncertainty” on several levels for Minnesota removes them from Core Roster consideration for me, but the ceiling remains intact, and I expect at least one of Cook / Thielen / Diggs to post 85+ yards and a touchdown. The talent is awesome on all three guys; the only question mark is the volume — or, more accurately, the distribution of volume with a new quarterback and play-caller, creating more risk than these guys will have for us a few weeks from now when things have started to shake out more fully.

*UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 2 // Full “Updates” List

Sadly, Jerick McKinnon is out for the year with a torn ACL — which he tragically tore on the last play of practice, making a cut in open space. From a micro, Week 1 perspective, this changes absolutely nothing for me. If this were a midseason week with hardly any value, maybe we could convince ourselves that Alfred Morris or Matt Breida could be a difference-maker; but with plenty of strong value to like, I will not be rostering either guy in one of the toughest possible matchups.

From a macro perspective, I expect this season to begin with Alfred Morris in a two-down role, with Breida taking over on third downs and obvious passing downs. But there is a reason I have about 40% exposure to Breida in Best Ball drafts: about a month ago, multiple 49ers beat writers were speculating that Breida was actually going to win the starting job over McKinnon. This guy is good, and he saw 126 touches last year as a rookie behind Carlos Hyde (who quietly had a very strong season — ranking in the top five in the NFL in avoided tackles). Breida then hurt his shoulder and missed most of camp, and the hype fizzled, but he is going to be fully healthy for the start of the season, and we shouldn’t be surprised if he quickly wins a good 60% to 65% of the running back touches in San Francisco.

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Kickoff Sunday, Sep 9th 10:00am Eastern

Titans (
21.75) at

Dolphins (
21.75)

Over/Under 43.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Titans Run D
16th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Titans Pass D
24th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
11th DVOA/17th Yards per pass
Dolphins Run D
32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O
11th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
10th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O
2nd DVOA/16th Yards per pass

TITANS // DOLPHINS OVERVIEW

The Titans travel to Miami as the rare road favorite this week, taking on a Dolphins squad that has one of the most underwhelming rosters in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Titans have a solid defense, an up-and-coming offense, and a great offensive coordinator in Matt LaFleur (coming over from the Rams). The biggest difficulty in projecting this game is the change in defensive coordinator on the Titans from Dick LeBeau to Dean Pees. Last year, the Titans ranked fourth in rushing yards allowed, first in yards allowed per carry, and first in fewest rushing touchdowns allowed — but LeBeau has always favored an extra safety in the box, forcing teams to the air. That could change this year, as Pees has always structured what I call a “tight” bend-but-don’t-break — with the old Patriots mindset of forcing the opponents to take short gains and march all the way down the field with mistake-free football, but with a more aggressive approach than the Patriots defenses tend to have. Tennessee faced the most pass attempts in the NFL last year, and that balance should shift as the new defensive look takes shape.

TITANS RUN OFFENSE

Pro Football Focus rates the Titans as having a top-five offensive line, and LaFleur is going to build on what he learned from Shanahan and McVay in terms of stretching the defense and applying pressure from multiple looks, angles, and levels. This should open up running room quite a bit more than the Mike Mularkey “exotic smashmouth” approach, and should create opportunities for more explosive plays.

The “easy way out” on this Titans backfield is to say that Derrick Henry will take early downs and short-yardage work, while Lewis will soak up third downs and obvious passing situations. I’ve been reading this sentiment a lot from DFS and even NFL writers, but that’s not what Titans coaches or beat writers seem to think. I am going into this game expecting each back to play about 55% of the snaps (with them sharing the field at times), and I’m expecting LaFleur to build on the blueprint that the Saints gave the league last year: giving Henry anywhere from 12 to 22 carries (with three to five targets mixed in), and giving Lewis six to 12 carries and five to eight targets. While there is a chance that each guy can produce under this setup (it’s easy to forget that Lewis averaged over 14 carries per game for the Patriots last year across their last 11 contests, and punched in six touchdowns on the year with a strong 4.98 YPC mark), we should head into the season viewing each guy as a much stronger play in tourneys than in cash games, until we see how each guy is being used. Miami was perfectly average against the run last year, ranking 17th in yards allowed per carry — though they did allow the ninth-most rushing touchdowns and the third-most running back receptions.

TITANS PASS OFFENSE

The public DFS perception of the Dolphins’ pass defense is that it is #bad, after they allowed elevated touchdown reception numbers last year, but this unit finished above-average in receiving yards, air yards, yards after catch, and average depth of target against wide receivers, and they finished top 10 in fewest touchdowns allowed to wide receivers — at an average of 0.69 WR receiving touchdowns per game. Dolphins stud corner Xavien Howard allowed a completion rate of only 52.5% last year, while ranking ranking 15th (out of nearly 150 corners with at least 100 coverage snaps) in passer rating allowed. While the LaFleur / Corey Davis combo has me excited for some monster weeks, Davis is going to have a tough time this week. Same goes for preseason darling Taywan Taylor (whose playing time is weirdly uncertain heading into the year, after he played hardly any snaps with the first-team offense during preseason), while Rishard Matthews is coming back from a late-summer knee surgery. On the road, in a new offense (i.e., “unpredictable workload distribution”), this passing attack needs to be taken off the board in cash games. Talent and scheme still make this a worthwhile consideration in tourneys, with Davis likely sliding into a role that will yield seven to 10 targets most weeks, and with Matthews/Taylor providing spiked weeks from time to time.

Delanie Walker appears set to battle through his toe injury and step onto the field for a matchup against a Dolphins defense that got absolutely flamed by tight ends last year, allowing the second-most touchdowns and the most receiving yards to the position. Over the last four years, these are the only tight ends in the NFL who have topped 1000 yards in a season:

Rob Gronkowski (3x)

Greg Olsen (3x)

Travis Kelce

Delanie Walker

Gary Barnidge

Last year, the Dolphins allowed 999 yards to the position. Incredible.

DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE

Last year, the Titans ranked fourth in rushing yards allowed, first in yards allowed per carry, and first in fewest touchdowns allowed…but as mentioned above, LeBeau’s “safety in the box” defense is gone. That defense not only led teams to avoid running the ball against Tennessee, but it also forced teams to throw to the running back all the time, as Tennessee finished last year allowing the second-most receptions and the most receiving yards to running backs. If the Titans’ defense were set to stay the same, this would actually provide a very sneaky boost to strong pass-catcher Kenyan Drake, as his receiving skills are superior to those of old man Frank Gore. As things stand, however, we head into this game uncertain exactly how the Titans’ defense will aim to funnel action — and while we can comfortably peg them as an above-average run-stopping unit, this does not indicate that they will remain a boon to pass-catching backs. Although Kenyan Drake finished second in the NFL last year in Elusive Rating among RBs, and finished first in yards after contact per attempt (per PFF), the Dolphins have made it clear that they plan to split the workload between Drake and Gore. Drake has all the talent in the world and is a worthy tourney play, but he’s as likely to see 14 carries and two catches as he is to see 19 and six — against what still needs to be considered a stout run defense.

DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE

While the scheme change will impact expectations agains the Titans’ pass defense moving forward, Week 1 gives us a great opportunity to “watch and see what to expect in the future,” as the Dolphins provide limited utility for our fantasy rosters, with DeVante Parker dealing with a finger issue (and struggling mightily through camp previous to the injury), Albert Wilson joining the team as the result of a front office decision without the coaching staff being involved or having any firm ideas on how to use him, and with noted checkdown artist Ryan Tannehill limiting the upside of Kenny Stills.

The one player who stands out to me on this side of the ball is Danny Amendola, who is somehow going overlooked in the DFS community. Multiple beat writers for the Dolphins have suggested this summer that Amendola will lead the team in receptions this year, and while his history of injuries makes this unlikely, he does have enough “Jarvis Landry” to his skill set to be able to fill about 70% of the role that Landry left behind. For as long as he is healthy, we should expect Amendola to soak up an average of around seven targets per game from the slot. Landry also saw the third-most targets in the NFL last year inside the 10-yard-line, and Amendola’s “junk” skill set (i.e., being able to get open and/or make plays in tight, crowded areas of the field) will help him to capably fill that role as well. Only two teams allowed more wide receiver touchdowns than the Titans last year.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

As excited as I am for this Titans offense in 2018 (backed up by close to 50% exposure to Corey Davis in the Best Ball Championship), I will likely leave this offense alone outside of deep tourney shots and Delanie Walker. I toyed with the idea of using Davis on my main DraftKings roster simply because of how affordable he is (and absolutely, his upside makes him viable in tourneys), but his floor in this matchup is still lower than I want near any roster I am using in cash games, high-dollar tourneys, or single-entry tourneys. I’ll also leave Lewis and Henry alone on the massive majority of my bankroll until I see this offense on the field. If this week set up differently, I might take a shot — but given all the value this week (and given the massive score this means we will need in Week 1 in order to take down a tourney), I’m happy to shed low-floor plays on my core roster(s). The big standout on the Titans is Delanie Walker, who feels like he will somehow go overlooked in spite of what a tremendous matchup this is. If Delanie misses, Jonnu Smith becomes an immediate plug-and-play as a high-talent backup who would immediately step into a big role. (Though don’t hold your breath. Delanie is a noted warrior, and is unlikely to miss.)

On the other side of this game, I like Drake a decent amount as a tourney play, simply because of his talent and the fact that I can see Tannehill checking the ball down to him often, but the uncertainty in this matchup with the defensive coordinator change in Tennessee, along with the uncertain workload distribution, are enough to leave me feeling unsafe about him. I wouldn’t argue against a tourney shot on the upside of Kenny Stills or (if he plays) DeVante Parker, but each is truly a shot-in-the-dark play. And finally, I like Amendola as a salary-saver with an underrated floor and solid upside on both DraftKings and FantasyDraft, where his PPR skill set should play nicely.

Actually, not “finally.” I get the feeling I will get asked on Twitter about Mike Gesecki. Gesecki should open the season in a near every-down role at tight end for the Dolphins, but he has struggled throughout training camp to adapt to the professional game. He has awesome measurables and a nice touchdown ceiling, so I wouldn’t argue against a shot on him if you feel like taking it, but he’s not for me, as I’m always looking for quite a bit more certainty than that.

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Kickoff Sunday, Sep 9th 10:00am Eastern

Bengals (
23.75) at

Colts (
23.75)

Over/Under 47.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bengals Run D
23rd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O
22nd DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D
16th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O
15th DVOA/10th Yards per pass
Colts Run D
6th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O
27th DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Colts Pass D
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O
26th DVOA/13th Yards per pass

BENGALS // COLTS OVERVIEW

This game has clocked in with a modest Over/Under and a surprisingly low Vegas-implied point expectation for the Bengals — creating a situation to potentially gain a small edge on the portion of the field that relies too heavily on Vegas totals. There are a few interesting pieces on the Bengals’ side of the ball against a Colts defense that should still be attackable throughout the 2018 season.

This is also a great week for us to get an early feel for the new Teryl Austin Bengals defense and the new Frank Reich Colts offense in a matchup that is less appealing for fantasy, and can therefore become a low-pressure “study situation.”

BENGALS RUN OFFENSE

Only a couple teams faced more rush attempts than the Colts last year, but while the Colts finished near the bottom of the league in rushing touchdowns allowed, they were actually above-average in yards allowed per rush attempt, and the volume was due more to game flow than to teams “going out of their way to attack on the ground.” We should head into Week 1 viewing the Colts as a neutral run defense matchup, and we should still be viewing the Bengals’ offensive line as a trouble spot after they were arguably the worst unit in the league last year — with the additions of Cordy Glenn and rookie Billy Price not quite enough to pull them out of the slums.

Joe Mixon has garnered a lot of hype this offseason after averaging a paltry 3.5 yards per carry last year, and I’m a noted non-believer in Mixon as a self-creator (a sentiment that is backed up by him ranking 100th in the NFL among RBs in PFF’s Elusive Rating last year). I will be underweight on him in the early portions of the year until he proves me wrong — but if you are among the many Mixon truthers, it is worth noting that he received 18+ carries in three of his final five games last year, and he should be good for two to three targets (with potential for more targets if his preseason usage from the slot continues). Again: the Colts are a neutral matchup, so Mixon truthers should feel good about this spot. While touchdowns allowed can be fluky (i.e., I’m not putting too much stock in the Colts allowing an above-average number of rushing touchdowns last year), scoring-position usage is entirely non-fluky. Last year, Mixon ranked second in the NFL in percentage of team carries inside the five-yard-line.

Behind Mixon, Giovani Bernard will continue to play on passing downs, and is a sneaky bet for a bigger role than most are projecting after he quietly averaged 19 touches per game across the Bengals’ last five games last year — three of which were games in which Mixon played. He’s a -EV play on this slate, given his small guaranteed role on a week-to-week basis, but it won’t surprise me if he dashes off a big play or falls into the end zone, and he could be an interesting piece of a low-dollar game stack.

BENGALS PASS OFFENSE

The Colts’ pass defense was an absolute mess last year, allowing the most yards per pass attempt and the most pass plays of 20+ yards, while ranking near the bottom of the league in average depth of target and ranking in the bottom half of the league in YAC allowed per catch. The return of future superstar safety Malik Hooker and the turnover on the coaching staff will make this a unit to watch closely through the first few weeks, but heading into the season I am still bullish on this defense as a unit to attack in the pass game — especially with explosive weapons. In John Ross and A.J. Green, the Bengals happen to have two such weapons.

A.J. Green ranked eighth in the NFL last year in targets per game (8.9), and he ranked first in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards, vacuuming up 46.3% of the Bengals’ total air yards. Last year, the Bengals allowed the most opponent plays per game, leaving their offense on the short end of the volume stick (dead last in plays per game), which provides room for Green’s volume to grow — though it is also noteworthy that Andy Dalton has never proactively funneled targets to Green the way other QBs do with the league’s top receivers; in 2016, Green averaged 10.0 targets per game, but his 2015 and 2014 marks fell shy of his 2017 mark.

John Ross will likely settle in this year at around four-to-seven targets per game (a few short looks each week to get the ball into his hands, and a couple deep looks), and he’ll likely hover around a 50% catch rate. This makes him a boom/bust option, with the Colts elevating his “boom” potential. Tyler Eifert rounds out the viable pass game weapons here, against a Colts defense that ranked bottom-half last year in yards allowed to tight ends, and bottom-five in touchdowns allowed to the position. Expect around 35 to 45 plays from Eifert, with him resting sometimes when the Bengals are between the 20s, but coming onto the field near the end zone — giving him a modest (non-roster-breaking…or, I should say, non-back-breaking…(sorry)) floor, but a ceiling that many may overlook.

COLTS PASS OFFENSE

Outgoing Bengals DC Paul Guenther’s units focused on forcing short passes to the middle of the field (last year, only four teams allowed a shorter average depth of target than the Bengals), while new DC Teryl Austin’s Lions defense focused more on forcing the ball outside, staying aggressive, and tackling well after the catch. A new scheme would create some interesting shifts in our expectations for Bengals opponents this year, so this will be a great week to begin gathering information on forward-looking expectations. For now, we should continue to consider this to be a very difficult matchup for passing attacks, after the Bengals held receivers to 82.4% of league-average fantasy points on FanDuel and 84.2% of league-average fantasy points on DraftKings and FantasyDraft last year (the third- and fourth-best marks in the league, respectively). The Colts’ offensive line ranked dead last in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate last year, while the Bengals are shaping up to have a ferocious pass rush this season after racking up a respectable 40 sacks last year (13th in the NFL).

In spite of all the negative data points for the Colts’ passing attack, T.Y. Hilton and the tight ends all deserve some consideration. Hilton has averaged 9.9 more yards per game on the fast turf at Indy in his career than he has on the road, and on an offense bereft of difference-makers outside of him, he should be fed relentlessly; he’ll have some six- or seven-target games this season, but it won’t be surprising if he has an equal number of 13- or 14-target games. I expect Reich to proactively scheme the ball into his hands, often spacing out the defense in such a way that Hilton has room to run. He’ll have some monster games this year — likely including a couple against good defenses; and if the Bengals’ scheme has shifted to more of a Teryl Austin look than the Guenther look it had the last few years, this will play better to Hilton’s skill set.

The Bengals finished 30th in the NFL last year in DVOA against tight ends — part of a four-year slide that saw them drop from 4th in 2014 to the bottom of the barrel last season. The Colts will work in plenty of “12” personnel this season (two tight ends) under Reich, and Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle will both be used as pass catchers on a team lacking strong secondary options. I expect one of these two to finish as a top-12 tight end this week, but it’s anyone’s guess as to which one will rise. Behind these guys, Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers will split time on the field in low-volume roles.

COLTS RUN OFFENSE

Cincinnati struggled against the run last year, ranking 24th in DVOA and 22nd in yards allowed per carry, but the Colts’ backfield is nothing more than an early-season dart throw. Reich is expected to carry a system similar to the one instituted in Philly, which called for various backs to be featured in various game plans — leaving things unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. The Colts’ backfield is also a mess of question marks, with Marlon Mack dealing with a hamstring injury, Nyheim Hines struggling throughout camp and preseason, Jordan Wilkins showing average but uninspiring skill, and Christine Michael being ever-unpredictable. The Colts will have a number of games this year with a running back who performs well, but unless something changes in this backfield over the next few weeks, value would have to be unbelievably thin on a week before one of these guys could be considered a +EV play.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

I won’t be on Mixon with all the other available value this week (watching preseason film, I still see a guy who is slow to make decisions, who is sloppy in his route-running, and who is average at making guys miss — all on an offense with a poor O-line and a third-down back who is a better pass-catcher and possibly even a better early-down back than he is), but if you are among the many Mixon Truthers, recognize that this is a neutral matchup. Mixon’s locked-in goal-line work is obviously a strong bonus.

I don’t need to pay up for A.J. Green in cash games or single-entry tourneys on a week when it is just as easy to climb up to Antonio Brown and his locked-in volume, but I love Green as a tourney play. Week-to-week volume unpredictability will always keep him out of the discussion of “safest high-priced WRs,” but his upside is mouthwatering in this spot. John Ross and Tyler Eifert are also very worthy tourney targets (each likely has a four-target floor, with nice upside), and it won’t surprise me if I find myself with a handful of teams led by Andy Dalton in lower-dollar tourneys, attempting to capitalize on a high-upside spot that should go fairly overlooked.

I will leave the Colts’ backfield alone. I may take a cheap tourney shot on T.Y. Hilton (he would look nice on a Dalton/Green/Ross-or-Eifert roster), and I will probably grab a bit of Doyle and Ebron exposure, while keeping them away from any significant portion of my bankroll for the week. The upside on those two is awesome, but the usage unpredictability will be frustrating this season.

Finally, the Bengals’ defense is a sneaky, deep tourney play. The Ravens will emerge from this article as pretty clearly the best play on the slate, but DST is a volatile position, and the Bengals will be an interesting tourney pivot in case Luck shows some rust in this one and the Bengals’ pass rush is as dominant as it looks like it should be. Guenther’s less aggressive scheme led to the Bengals finishing second from the bottom in turnovers forced last year, but Austin’s more aggressive scheme led to the Lions finishing third in the NFL in turnovers forced.

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Kickoff Sunday, Sep 9th 10:00am Eastern

Steelers (
22.25) at

Browns (
18.75)

Over/Under 41.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Steelers Run D
1st DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
7th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
23rd DVOA/27th Yards per pass
Browns Run D
20th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O
14th DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
19th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O
12th DVOA/23rd Yards per pass

STEELERS // BROWNS OVERVIEW

If you showed me the Browns’ roster, I would tell you they are a seven- or eight-win team. If you showed me the Browns roster and gave me a talented and creative coach — a Belichick or a Pederson or a Shanahan or McVay, or an Andy Reid, or a Matt Nagy…the list goes on — I would tell you this team could push for nine or ten wins. But with Hue Jackson and Gregg Williams, this team still has a long way to go. Having now added talented but widely-reviled offensive coordinator Todd Haley to the mix, the Browns have collected a who’s who of “coaches who have pissed off other coaches, players, fans, and the community at multiple stops.” Way to go.

We’ll start the season with a #fireHue (hey, it worked last year with Bevell; why not try it again?). And with that, let’s dive in.

STEELERS RUN OFFENSE

With Le’Veon Bell set to miss and James Conner stepping onto the field in his place, the original Steelers Run Offense writeup has been replaced with this:

Is James Conner A Must-Play?

(Note: That article is for subscribers only; but we have set up a Special Access account on the site for this week only that is completely free, and that will enable you to access that article and use the Game Notes feature on the NFL Edge. You can sign up for that right here.)

STEELERS PASS OFFENSE

Cleveland did not lack for talent in the secondary last year — and yet, they ranked 26th in DVOA against the pass and 26th in yards allowed per pass attempt. Only five teams allowed more passing touchdowns than the Browns.

The big area where the Browns “shined” is in forcing throws to the short areas of the field, as they faced the lowest average depth of target in the entire league last year. The confusing thing — the thing that makes me wonder how Gregg Williams still has a job — is that the Browns have the pieces for a difference-making pass rush. When you have a difference-making pass rush, you should take away the short throws in order to constantly put pressure on the offense — forcing them to make quick decisions toward difficult areas of the field. Instead, the Browns have a potentially elite pass rush, and then they play off receivers and give them tons of room underneath. (It’s really unbelievable…)

In any case, only three teams in the NFL allowed more YAC per reception than the Browns last year, while Antonio Brown is one of the best in the league after the catch. Last year in his only game against Williams’ failed scheme, A.B. posted an 11-182-0 line, on only 11 targets.

JuJu Smith-Schuster was below-average in YAC at nearly all areas of the field last year, but his skills make that seem more fluky than “forward-looking trend” to me. He is unlikely to be the focal point in this one, with Cleveland ill-equipped to take away A.B., but he has splash potential to go with his modest floor.

The Steelers’ passing attack rounds out with James Washington and (likely) Jesse James (filling in for Vance McDonald, who is not expected to be healthy in time for Week 1). Washington’s role in the Steelers’ offense (stretching the field and seeing a couple deep shots in the old Martavis Bryant role) does not match up well with a Cleveland D that is all about taking away the deep ball. James (or McDonald, if he plays), on the other hand, is set up nicely against a Cleveland D that boosted tight end production by over 27% last year compared to the league average — giving up the second-most touchdowns to the position. Tight end targets are never guaranteed in this offense, but James did go 6-41-2 vs Cleveland on opening week last year (paired with a less exciting 2-9-0 line at the end of the year).

BROWNS PASS OFFENSE

Last year, the Steelers quietly boasted one of the top pass defenses in the NFL — finishing the year first in the league in sacks, ninth in interceptions, and seventh in DVOA. The Steelers ranked eighth in fantasy expectations for quarterbacks, while holding wide receivers to 89.9% of league-average fantasy points on FanDuel and 87.7% on DraftKings. In spite of posting a 13-3 record (and regularly leading games), Pittsburgh faced the second-fewest pass attempts in the NFL last year, while holding opponents to the fewest plays per game in the league. Typically, these numbers plus “against the Browns” would scream “roster the defense,” but Tyrod Taylor is an excellent game manager — savvy when it comes to avoiding turnovers and negative plays. This makes it less likely (though not impossible) that the Steelers create some splash plays on defense — but even if they do not create splash plays, this is a tough spot for Cleveland.

Cleveland appears set to feature Jarvis Landry as heavily as the Dolphins did the last few years, and it should not surprise us if he sees nine to 11 targets in this one. Notably, Pittsburgh was second-worst in the league last year in YAC per reception — which needs to be balanced with the fact that Pittsburgh does not allow a ton of plays, or a ton of receptions…but it does create a slim tournament case for Landry. Josh Gordon will likely play around 30 or 40 plays, but we should expect the Browns to proactively feed targets to him when he is in there, so volume should not be a major concern; I think we can safely expect six to eight looks, making him a risk/reward option in a difficult matchup.

Pittsburgh was also nails against the tight end last season, ranking ninth in receptions and first in touchdowns allowed to the position. David Njoku was a near every-down player in the preseason and appears set for a significant weekly role, but he’s purely a “bet on talent” play in a difficult matchup.

BROWNS RUN OFFENSE

Pittsburgh was much more generous to running backs last year, boosting production by more than 6% over the league-average rate on FanDuel, DraftKings, and FantasyDraft, while ranking 18th in DVOA and 27th in yards allowed per carry. Touchdown expectations should not be especially high in this spot for Carlos Hyde after the Steelers ranked seventh in the NFL last year in points allowed per game, but Hyde ranked fourth in the NFL in 2017 in avoided tackles on the ground, per PFF — behind only Kareem Hunt, Melvin Gordon, and Le’Veon Bell. He had fewer carries than all those guys, and he should get a “two-down starter’s workload” in this one: somewhere in the range of 15 to 20 carries, with two to five targets mixed in. His receiving and scoring upside are lower than fellow value back Burkhead, but his guaranteed workload is higher.

This backfield rounds itself out with one of my great DFS crushes, Duke Johnson. He should find his way onto the field for a good 25 to 30 snaps in this one, between third downs and late-game “catch up” play. As always, he is explosive with the ball in his hands and could post a strong point-per-dollar day on his limited touches; but with so much value available this week, it would be mathematically sub-optimal to take on his obviously-low floor.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

Antonio Brown should be considered one of the clear top plays on the slate, while Ben Roethlisberger and Juju Smith-Schuster are both strong tourney elements to consider. Le’Veon Bell is tempting, but with no discount on his price tag and an uncertain workload, he doesn’t actually make sense unless his ownership projects to be extremely low.

Over the last couple weeks, I have noticed several people mentioning Tyrod Taylor as a strong value play this week, but the numbers don’t really back up that sentiment in one of the toughest matchups a quarterback can have. It will not surprise me if he posts a solid score, but with pricing loose in Week 1, it just doesn’t seem to make sense philosophically to target a “solid score” when it’s pretty easy to make it up to the small number of guys who could genuinely get you 30+ points if things break the right way. Spiked weeks matter.

I do like Hyde quite a bit. He’ll cost you under 10% of the salary cap on all three sites, but the best deal is on DraftKings, where he requires you to spend only 9% of your available money. Burkhead, Hyde, and Barber are all in play for me as salary savers with 15- to 20-point potential.

*UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 8 // Full “Updates” List
Weather in Cleveland projects to be an absolute mess, turning this into a tourney-only game. Slight bump down to Carlos Hyde. Bigger bump down to James Conner. Antonio Brown retains his upside, but his chances of reaching that upside are far lower.

However: here is a counter-point to the meteorologist I quoted in the pod. This is from DFS ace meteorologist Kevin Roth:

PSA on the CLE game. I’ve seen some stuff circulating on Twitter about 7 inches of rain, and that’s not at all the case. We’re looking at maybe an inch of rain, not some torrential monumental downpour.
The winds (20mph, gusts 30mph) are still an issue, but no ark needed.

If we get to Sunday morning and that still appears to be the case (an inch of rain; 20 MPH winds; gusts up to 30 MPH), I’m still calling A.B. one of my favorite plays on the slate. Hyde will rise above Conner for me in my assessment at that point (including in cash games), but all three guys will be very much in play.

I’ll send out a final update on my thoughts here to subscribers with my Sunday Morning Update email, which you’ll find in your inbox about an hour before kickoff.

I dig into these thoughts a bit further in the Week 1 #OWSChatPod at the 1:11:29 mark:

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Kickoff Sunday, Sep 9th 1:05pm Eastern

Chiefs (
22.25) at

Chargers (
25.75)

Over/Under 48.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Chiefs Run D
28th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O
31st DVOA/13th Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D
2nd DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Chargers Pass O
7th DVOA/5th Yards per pass
Chargers Run D
21st DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O
17th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Chargers Pass D
11th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O
1st DVOA/12th Yards per pass

CHIEFS // CHARGERS OVERVIEW

I am very interested to see how the DFS public chooses to interpret/attack this game. On the one hand, we have an Andy Reid offense (always a good bet for fantasy production), with five big names in Mahomes, Hunt, Hill, Watkins, and Kelce. On the other hand, we have a Chargers defense that ranked third in the league last year in points allowed per game, fifth in sacks, and fourth in passer rating. Interestingly, the Chargers were slightly below-average in both average depth of target and catch rate, but they shut down YAC so thoroughly, they still ranked third in the NFL in expected yards per target. It’s a good offense in the Chiefs, in a difficult matchup vs the Chargers.

CHIEFS RUN OFFENSE

Because of a mid-season stretch during which Kareem Hunt failed to score and had unpredictable workloads, it’s easy to forget just how dominant he was with the ball in his hands. He earned PFF’s fifth-highest run rating and fifth-highest elusive rating; he generated more avoided tackles than any other back in the league (and it wasn’t particularly close); and he ranked ninth in the NFL in yards after contact per attempt. Here’s where things get frustrating: In 15 regular season games last year, he had 25+ touches on an awesome six occasions. He also had 16 or fewer touches on four occasions. With Matt Nagy gone (Hunt’s touches spiked dramatically when Nagy took over play-calling), the voice of reason whispering in Andy Reid’s ear is gone as well, so we need to head into the season assuming that this is Jamaal Charles all over again — where some Sundays end, and you wonder how this guy did not touch the ball more times.

From a yardage perspective, the Chargers were very content to allow yards on the ground last season — ranking dead last in yards allowed per carry — though they finished in the top half of the league in rushing touchdowns allowed and were also middle-of-the-pack in receptions allowed to backs. Hunt was also used remarkably rarely inside the five-yard-line last year, with six total carries on the year (for context: nine backs hit double-digit carries inside the five, with Gurley leading the league at 18 such looks).

To leave you with something to ponder, here are Hunt’s stat lines from his two games against the Chargers last year:

17 carries for 172 yards and a touchdown (plus a catch for 11 yards)

24 carries for 155 yards and a touchdown (plus seven catches for 51 yards and another touchdown)

CHIEFS PASS OFFENSE

While there are a lot of positive data points for Hunt (to go with the obvious uncertainty that Andy Reid seems dead-set on pumping into our DFS weekends with his perpetual underutilization of elite weapons), there are far fewer positive data points for the Chiefs’ passing attack. Only the Ravens, Vikings, and Jaguars held quarterbacks to lower fantasy outputs than the Chargers last season, lowering league-average expectations by over 10%. Only the Vikings and Bills allowed fewer passing touchdowns last year (the Chargers gave up only 16 passing touchdowns all season). And only Jacksonville and Minnesota allowed fewer yards through the air.

Patrick Mahomes will run a similar offense to the one that allowed Alex Smith to finish as the QB3 in fantasy last year, though Reid will have plenty of wrinkles to take advantage of Mahomes’ mobility, strong arm, and gunslinger mentality. (Side note: Reid is one of the best “during week” coaches I have ever seen — even if his “game day” coaching is questionable at best.)

Last year, the Chiefs mixed in regular deep shots to Tyreek Hill with short routes designed to get the ball in his hands in space. Against a similar Chargers secondary last year (note: they have upgraded even further with the addition of rookie, future-superstar safety Derwin James), Hill posted games of 5-77-1 and 5-88-1.

Sammy Watkins has failed to mesh with Mahomes this offseason, and has really not provided more than name value for a couple years now — outside of the unpredictable splash game. The Chiefs are likely to take at least a couple deep shots with him in this game, however, if you want to bet that talent will eventually win out.

The Chiefs wrap up their passing attack with Travis Kelce, who has also not clicked as well with Mahomes this year as Hill has — but this is less of a concern given his known role in this offense and his consistent production. The Chargers allowed the second-fewest touchdowns to tight ends last season, but they were otherwise only a bit above-average against the position.

CHARGERS RUN OFFENSE

Last year, Melvin Gordon overcame an offensive line that ranked 26th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards to earn another strong season. The line should remain below-average this season, but should at least improve with the addition of Mike Pouncey, while Gordon is locked into an average of about 21 touches per game — with all scoring-position usage flowing his way (his 14 carries inside the five last year ranked third in the NFL). The Chiefs ranked 23rd last year in yards allowed per carry and dead last in DVOA against the run — though they were awesome at preventing receptions to running backs (their 53 catches allowed to the position was 10 better than any other team). Gordon didn’t top 80 yards on the ground in either game against KC last year, but let’s be real: you don’t roster Gordon expecting yardage, as he failed to top 85 yards in all but three games last season. You roster him for his guaranteed role and his scoring-position usage, which will remain intact in this spot.

CHARGERS PASS OFFENSE

Kansas City enters this season with a reputation for being just an absolutely awesome pass defense to attack, though it is worth noting that KC was above-average last year in receptions allowed, catch rate, yards after catch, and receiving touchdowns. Where KC got annihilated was on deep balls, allowing the deepest average depth of target in the league, and allowing the second-most passes of 40+ yards. Interestingly, KC finished only 10th-worst in pass plays of 20+ yards allowed, which speaks more to breakdowns and broken plays than to serious schematic flaws, but there is no way to get around the fact that the Chiefs’ pass rush is unimpressive and their secondary is currently built from spare parts.

Now, this was an unpopular sentiment when I shared it last year, but it proved to be correct both times, so I’ll share it again:

Keenan Allen does not match up well against the Chiefs — in spite of the vast talent edge he has. I’ll explain:

The Chiefs’ goal is to take away the short area of the field — a scheme built on the idea that they have a strong pass rush…though the reality that they no longer have a strong pass rush gives the quarterback time to locate the receiver who is running his route deeper down the field, where the Chiefs place less of a heavy coverage interest. By an inordinate degree, Keenan Allen sees most of his targets within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage (his highest average depth of target according to airyards.com is actually inside the five-yard-line), while the Chiefs’ average depth of target allowed is a whopping 10.4 yards down the field. In other words: the Chiefs aim to take away exactly what Keenan Allen does — and even though their corners are far less talented than Keenan, the schematic coverage emphasis in “his” area of the field makes it difficult for him to convert his looks the way he typically does. Last year — in spite of lining up away from Marcus Peters the majority of the time, Allen posted the following lines:

5-54-0

5-61-0

Travis Benjamin, meanwhile, went 5-105-0 in one game. This week, Tyrell Williams is the likeliest guy to see targets streaking down the field — the sort of targets that turn into big plays vs Kansas City. He’s a low-floor play, but with definite ceiling. Mike Williams may see a couple deep shots of his own, and he will absolutely be involved in the red zone. And Keenan is a “bet on talent” play, with all the upside in the world — but by the numbers, his chances of hitting in this matchup are lower than most will expect.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

I have heavy interest in Kareem Hunt, with secondary interest in Tyreek Hill and Melvin Gordon. I am fine with the idea of using Kelce, and you have the schematic notes on Keenan Allen and the numbers from last year, but this is a guy who is talented enough to beat a tough matchup if you want to test those waters yourself.

I also like the Chargers’ defense as a salary-saver in tourneys. Sure, Mahomes will have some big plays. But he’s also a candidate to hold onto the ball too long and throw one or two picks — and that’s really the reason we roster a defense.

______________

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Kickoff Sunday, Sep 9th 1:25pm Eastern

Hawks (
19.75) at

Broncos (
22.75)

Over/Under 42.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Seahawks Run D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O
20th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Seahawks Pass D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per pass
Broncos Pass O
31st DVOA/26th Yards per pass
Broncos Run D
5th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O
8th DVOA/12th Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Seahawks Pass O
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards per pass

SEAHAWKS // BRONCOS OVERVIEW

By the time I reach this point in the research and writing of the NFL Edge most weeks, I start getting super hyped for the slate. Most of the questions I had heading into my research have been answered, and my perception of the slate has usually started to seriously take shape. And while there is still plenty of roster building and puzzle solving left to do, the enormous bulk of work — the work that I look back on at the end of the season and say, “How is it possible for me to pull off that amount of research and writing in only two days?” — is finished, setting us up with a clear idea of how the slate should be viewed, and putting us in position to maximize profitability throughout the season.

That’s where I am right now, as we hit the final lap on this article for Week 1. Let’s get it!

SEAHAWKS RUN OFFENSE

Last season, Seattle’s offensive line was an embarrassment to function and taste, ranking 31st in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards, 27th in power rank, and 32nd in stuffed rank. Even with the addition of Duane Brown, PFF has the Seahawks’ line projected as the number 30 unit heading into this season.

Chris Carson will open the season as the Seahawks’ two-down starter in the backfield after running circles around rookie Rashad Penny in training camp, and he showed himself to be capable in limited work last year, with a respectable 60.6 elusive rating on PFF (this would have placed him in the top 20 if he’d had enough carries to qualify). His average yards after contact were unimpressive, however, and the Seahawks’ line is not going to do him any favors. Carson should see a few targets as an outlet, but he’s unlikely to be proactively schemed the ball in the air — requiring him to gain his fantasy points on the ground (and lowering his floor compared to other backs we can consider).

Further impeding the upside of Carson is a backward-thinking Broncos coaching staff that “emphasized stopping the run” last year. While forward-thinking coaches (Wade Phillips being a leader among men in this area) have become more and more willing to trust the analytics and allow gains on the ground between the 20s, Vance Joseph and company have emphasized run stopping — finishing last year as the top defense in the NFL in yards allowed per carry. This is a tough matchup for a two-down back behind an atrocious offensive line.

SEAHAWKS PASS OFFENSE

Russell Wilson will be running for his life again this year — which is bad if you are Russell Wilson or a Seahawks fan, but is actually good for fantasy, as Russ is one of the game’s great self-creators, and one of the masters of the broken play. When the offense breaks down, Russ can put pressure on the defense with his legs and his willingness to take deep shots — often tossing the ball 40+ yards downfield into tight coverage or double coverage and trusting his receivers to come down with the rock.

Denver’s pass rush took a huge step back last year, finishing 22nd in sacks (hey…but at least they stopped the run — right?), and they slipped to 14th in yards allowed per pass attempt, before losing Aqib Talib to the Rams this offseason. Denver did allow a below-average catch rate, YAC rate, and average depth of target, so this is by no means a positive matchup; but it is less imposing than the reputation that precedes it, making Russ a guy to keep in mind in large-field tourneys (his floor is low in this matchup, but he still maintains week-winning upside and should go massively overlooked; as mentioned earlier in this article and throughout this site: the time to take a shot on a sub-optimal, low-owned play is when that play carries week-winning upside — so while Russ is not in the “good play” category, he should absolutely cycle through our thinking in large-field tourneys).

It’s quite a bit more difficult to pinpoint any pass catching options to lean on, with Doug Baldwin proclaiming his knee will not be 100% healthy all year, with Paul Richardson gone, and with Jimmy Graham gone. Only Jacksonville, Cincinnati, and Baltimore were tougher on wide receivers last year in fantasy, and that was with Denver struggling in the red zone — which is not guaranteed to carry over to this year. Tyler Lockett or Doug Baldwin could splash with a big play, but this is a significantly sub-optimal spot, and Russ is best considered “naked” (i.e., paired with none of his weapons) if you take a shot on him in tourneys.

BRONCOS RUN OFFENSE

Seattle was more “name” than “game” last year on defense, ranking 14th in yards allowed per carry and allowing above-average fantasy production to wide receivers on FanDuel, FantasyDraft, and DraftKings…before losing Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor this offseason. Earl Thomas is also unlikely to be on the field, as his holdout continues (Update: Thomas has returned to practice; he will improve this secondary, but communication could be an issue among so many guys who haven’t practiced with their theoretical leader; ultimately, I’m not changing expectations on this matchup in any major way). We’ll get to the Broncos’ pass attack in a moment, but in the run game the Broncos bring in an average (to slightly above-average) offensive line, and even with the offensive coordinator change, they figure to keep their approach pretty similar to 2017, when they ranked middle of the pack in run play percentage and pace of play. By holding opponents to the third-fewest plays per game in the NFL last year, the Broncos were quietly able to rack up the second-most offensive plays per game in the league.

This backfield should be a straight split early in the season between Devontae Booker and rookie Royce Freeman, and while expectations lean heavily toward Freeman taking over the lead job as the season moves along, Booker is expected to retain a role on third downs and in the pass game, limiting Freeman’s later-season upside. This will be a backfield to keep an eye on, as Freeman ran great in the preseason, but we head into Week 1 with uncertainty hanging over this grouping, and with “guess and hope” as the only rationalization for putting one of these backs on a roster. There is a chance that talent wins out early and the Broncos allow Freeman to take around 70% of the running back snaps, but the likeliest path to a strong game for one of these guys is “a long run” or “multiple touchdowns,” neither of which is comfortable to hope for at uncertain volume.

BRONCOS PASS OFFENSE

With no serious tight end threat and running backs who project for minimal pass game roles, the Broncos’ wide receivers enter this season once again with a great fantasy setup, in which we know the majority of the targets will flow through a small group of talented players. Three-wide sets for the Broncos this year will feature Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, and rookie Courtland Sutton (or “Megatron Jr.,” as the Broncos have started calling him — ironic, given that Demaryius Thomas was the original heir apparent to Calvin Johnson, and was dubbed Optimus Prime coming out of Georgia Tech).

Sutton has balled out in training camp, impressing with his football acumen, his route-running, and his hands, and he should have an immediate role — probably looking at four to seven targets most games. This is not enough to provide “floor,” but he will have ceiling every week.

By a variety of measures, Demaryius lost a step last season, and I’m entering this season more cautious on his season-long upside than others are (with Demaryius going in the fourth round of Best Ball drafts, I have 0% exposure to him), but I am a longtime believer in Demaryius, and I’ll be watching him closely early on to see if he has regained some of his quickness and explosion. In training camp, he and Case Keenum did not establish a connection as strong as the one Keenum developed with Sanders, but his target floor sits at about six (there probably won’t be more than one game all year in which he falls shy of that mark), and he’ll have numerous games this year of double-digit targets — with his patented YAC ability.

The real standout in this group is Emmanuel Sanders, who costs 10.0% to 10.5% of the salary cap on all three sites — a bargain for a guy who has averaged 7.7, 8.6, and 8.6 targets per game across the last three seasons. Sanders gutted out an ankle injury for most of the 2017 season, and he is fully healthy at the start of this year — with reports out of Broncos camp that he and Keenum were fully in sync. The Seahawks’ starting secondary projects to be Shaquill Griffin, Byron Maxwell, Tedric Thompson, and Brad McDougald. It is dangerous to simply assume that this no-name secondary will fail to come together — but at least early in the season, we should view this as a unit to attack, especially as the Seahawks’ pass rush has taken steps back as well.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

When I looked at this game pre-research, I had no idea how I would end up viewing it, but post-research it appears to spit out a few obvious conclusions:

1) Russ and Courtland Sutton are strong tourney targets, as guys with potential week-winning upside and low ownership. With Sutton costing only 7.8% of the salary cap on FanDuel, 7.5% on FantasyDraft, and 7.2% on DraftKings, he is also viable in cash if you can stomach the uncertainty; his target projection is not far off from guys like Keelan Cole and John Brown in the same price range, and his upside is just as high.

2) Emmanuel Sanders is a surprisingly enticing play, and is viable in cash games and tourneys — at a discounted price on all three sites.

3) Royce Freeman, Demaryius Thomas, and (to a lesser extent) Seahawks receivers are all viable in tourneys (though none stand out as great plays), and Case Keenum even has some moderate-floor, decent-ceiling appeal as a salary saver at QB.

*UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 2 // Full “Updates” List

Byron Maxwell (listed above as a likely starting corner) has been “sent to I.R.” Before that happened, there were rumors that the Seahawks were considering cutting him, so clearly he was not going to be on the field if they could help it. Ultimately, this changes nothing for us, but it further emphasizes the overflow of question marks in Seattle’s suddenly no-name secondary.

______________

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Kickoff Sunday, Sep 9th 1:25pm Eastern

Cowboys (
19.5) at

Panthers (
22.5)

Over/Under 42.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Cowboys Run D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
16th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D
21st DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
11th DVOA/11th Yards per pass
Panthers Run D
26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O
18th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
13th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O
22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass

COWBOYS // PANTHERS OVERVIEW

This game opened with what appeared at first glance to be a surprisingly low Vegas total (44.5), and as of this writing that total has been bet down to 43.5. Typically, this would be enough for us to assume that ownership will register really low, but there is such a thing a DFS Darlings — players that the DFS community as a whole has decided they love — and Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott each fall in that category, which means at least a chunk of ownership will cycle through this game.

Last season, Carolina allowed 20.4 points per game and Dallas allowed 20.8, and each team averaged under 23 points per game as well — so from those angles, the Vegas total makes sense; especially when we consider the question marks in the Dallas offense. Neither team is particularly aggressive in their Pace mindset, as Dallas ranked 19th in pace of play last year and Carolina ranked dead last. In spite of their slow pace of play, Carolina finished above-average in plays per game…but this was because they held opponents to the second-fewest plays per game in the league.

All of that adds up to “reasons to be concerned about scoring and volume as a whole” for these teams — but that does not mean that scoring and volume on certain, individual players will necessarily be a concern.

COWBOYS RUN OFFENSE

Although the Cowboys will enter this game a bit dinged up on the line, they are still clearly a top-five offensive line, and last year they finished fourth in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards — which is good, because Carolina finished fifth in adjusted line yards last year on defense, and fifth in DVOA against the run. As a function of the Panthers’ low Opponent Plays Per Game and their stout nature up front, this team also faced the fifth-fewest running back rush attempts in the league last year.

All of this adds up to make volume a bit of a concern — even for Ezekiel Elliott, who is one of the only true three-down backs in the NFL, and who (as noted earlier in this article) averaged an incredible 26.8 touches per game last season. On average last year, the Panthers faced only 18.6 RB rush attempts per game, so even if Zeke sees all the work (which he likely will), he’ll need some things to break his way in order to top 21 or 22 carries, in a difficult matchup.

COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE

With the lack of established weapons on the Cowboys’ passing attack, I’m actually comfortable continuing the Zeke discussion down here, as he projects to be more involved in the passing game this year after seeing only 2.6 targets per game in his rookie year and rising up to 3.8 targets per game last year. It will be tough for him to crack the 5.0 targets per game mark, as that would likely require him to follow the Bell/DJ blueprint (that other teams have begun to follow as well) — lining him up in the slot around 10% to 15% of his snaps — but he should have a strong receiving floor. Carolina was middling against pass-catching running backs last year.

The Cowboys’ passing attack is difficult to get excited about in this game, in spite of the quality matchup, as they enter with so many question marks and with low volume expectations. Only two teams ran the ball more often than the Cowboys last year, and with play volume projecting to be an issue, Dak Prescott actually projects for under 30 pass attempts. If we mark down four or five of those as going to Zeke (and another couple as throw-aways), that leaves us with around 21 pass attempts to be distributed to the underwhelming group of Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Terrance Williams, and Blake Jarwin. Betting on any of these guys on your roster is betting on either A) the Cowboys breaking away from their established game plan, or B) one of these guys breaking off a big play. It won’t surprise me if someone from this group posts a usable score — but while my money would be on Gallup as the likeliest candidate, it’s also a total guess, making this a -EV spot with how many clear-strong-plays are available in other spots on this slate.

The uncertainty should lead to low ownership. But from a strategy perspective, it only makes sense to target that low ownership if A) you feel like you can confidently predict which specific guy will have a strong game, and B) you feel like that guy has the potential to post a week-winning score.

PANTHERS RUN OFFENSE

I am a noted non-believer in Christian McCaffrey as an NFL feature back — but while he justified this stance of mine last year, I am very open to changing my stance, and will be watching him closely. In preseason, I still saw a guy who plays slow between the tackles — as if his mind is stuck in mud. He is non-decisive to the hole, which is a big part of what led to him averaging only 3.7 yards per carry last season. He finished 27th last year in Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating, and 45th in average yards after contact. He also runs behind a poor offensive line, which finished 25th last year in adjusted line yards.

That’s the bad news, and it needs to be mentioned because you are likely going to see CMC hyped up this week literally everywhere else you look. (The DFS community is absolutely in love with this guy.)

The good news is that this guy is very obviously sick in space; he is an above-average route-runner; and after playing almost every first-team snap in the preseason, it looks like he is going to be a usage monster this year.

Last year, CMC averaged over seven targets per game. To put that in perspective: he was in the same range as Alshon Jeffrey, Doug Baldwin, and Golden Tate. And while his short-area targets aren’t as valuable as, say, Baldwin’s deep targets, the floor he provides with this level of pass game work is awesome, and his big-play upside in space is undeniable. Only three teams in the NFL allowed more receptions to running backs last year than the Cowboys allowed, and only two teams allowed more yards. If CMC adds the expected 15 to 18 carries he currently projects for, he’ll be a lock-and-load option in cash games on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, and his potential red zone role makes him viable in cash on FanDuel as well. Note: he costs only 11.6% of the salary cap on FantasyDraft, compared to 12.5%/12.8% on FanDuel/DK.

PANTHERS PASS OFFENSE

Only five teams allowed more passing touchdowns than Dallas last year, but they play with a similar philosophy to the Browns: forcing short-area targets, with the intentions of then preventing yards after the catch. The Browns are the only team that faced a shorter average depth of target than the Cowboys last season, and the Cowboys held opponents more than 5% below the league average in expected yards per target.

This does not mix well with the Panthers’ deep-shot philosophy (an approach that should be further strengthened by vertical-minded OC Norv Turner), as only seven teams in the league last year allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Cowboys allowed.

Devin Funchess is primarily used more than 10 yards downfield, D.J. Moore enters this game with uncertain playing time, and the Panthers are otherwise a “spare parts” passing attack. Cam Newton can obviously add points with his legs, and a big play can happen from one of these receivers, but this is a sub-optimal spot.

The place where the Cowboys struggled last year was against the tight end, as only five teams allowed more receptions to the position. In keeping with their defensive philosophy of “keeping the ball in front of them,” however, Dallas ranked middle of the pack in yards allowed to tight ends. This is an above-average matchup for Greg Olsen, but not significantly so. He does look healthy, and will be involved in the game plan — a sentiment enhanced by Norv Turner’s career-long ability to elevate tight ends.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

I will be leaving the Cowboys alone, outside of possibly a cheap tourney roster on Zeke. Longtime readers know that I am a single-entry player — which, for me, means that north of 80% of my bankroll each week is placed on a single lineup — and none of these Cowboys are in consideration for me on that largest chunk of my bankroll. But if Zeke ends up projecting for low ownership, he does still have the talent to smash on lower expected volume in a difficult matchup.

I usually build a Core Roster that I think can win single-entry and high-dollar tourneys, and then I enter this same roster in cash games (with the thinking being: in this way, I am using a roster in cash games that is intelligent and safe, but has genuine upside, instead of using a cash roster that is just “looking to cash” — a too-safe approach that can wreck ROI), but this is shaping up to be the rare week in which I may use a separate roster in cash games than in single-entry and high-dollar tourneys. CMC has a floor that may be just too high to pass up in cash games — but his ceiling is far from guaranteed, making him an intriguing tourney fade, from a strategy perspective.

To be clear: I expect a strong game from CMC. But a monster game is by no means guaranteed, and there are plenty of other (lower-owned) RBs with just as much upside as he has. Someone like Kareem Hunt or Leonard Fournette is looking like an interesting tourney pivot off CMC.

I’ll be leaving the rest of the Panthers alone — though Cam is always a safe bet for tourney upside, and Olsen should rack up respectable stats in this game.

______________

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Kickoff Sunday, Sep 9th 1:25pm Eastern

WFT (
20.75) at

Cards (
22.75)

Over/Under 43.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Washington Run D
17th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O
2nd DVOA/2nd Yards per carry
Washington Pass D
6th DVOA/1st Yards allowed per pass
Cardinals Pass O
18th DVOA/15th Yards per pass
Cardinals Run D
10th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per carry
Washington Run O
21st DVOA/25th Yards per carry
Cardinals Pass D
10th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Washington Pass O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per pass

REDSKINS // CARDINALS OVERVIEW

This is a fairly unattractive game at first-glance, with a lot of question marks on both teams and an early Over/Under of only 44.0, but this late game in the desert may also go overlooked by the DFS community, making it a fun game to dig into as we move through the slate.

REDSKINS RUN OFFENSE

Last season, only two teams allowed fewer yards per carry than the Cardinals, and with new head coach Steve Wilks coming over from Carolina, there is no reason to expect that to change. Washington’s offensive line ranked 21st in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards last year, making this a difficult spot for any running back.

Of course, Adrian Peterson isn’t just “any running back.” He’s a 33-year-old running back who ranked 39th in the league last year in yards after contact per attempt and 31st in PFF’s elusive rating — averaging 3.4 yards per carry along the way. I’m as big of a fan of the AP glory days as anyone, but anyone who hypes up AP as a clear and obvious upgrade over Rob Kelly is not paying attention. If considering AP for your rosters this week, replace his name in your mind with Rob Kelly’s, and see if you would still make the same roster decision against a top-three run D. AP is a touchdown-dependent back who will likely have a couple two-touchdown games this season; but he will also post plenty of five- to eight-point duds.

Chris Thompson will handle third downs, two-minute situations, and a smattering of other looks after averaging 5.4 targets per game last year. The Cardinals allowed the fifth-most receptions to the running back position last year, and Thompson has the talent to pop off for a long play or a big game — though it should be noted that he will have to do so in a low-volume role, placing his floor fairly low.

REDSKINS PASS OFFENSE

Last year, Steve Wilks oversaw a Panthers pass defense that posted below-average marks in catch rate, average depth of target, yards after catch, passing touchdowns, and basically all other passing metrics. He is moving to an Arizona defense that is completely bereft of quality corners behind all-world talent Patrick Peterson — and similar to the way the Panthers used Josh Norman in the past, the Cardinals plan to keep Peterson on one side of the field this year, rather than having him shadow top receivers. Alex Smith should be able to work away from Peterson and have success.

Journeyman (and Wilks favorite) Bene Benwikere will likely man the slot, creating a great matchup for Jamison Crowder — who is the only locked-in reliable wide receiver on this team. It will not be surprising if Crowder clears eight targets, and he’ll have moderate involvement in the red zone this year as well. Paul Richardson and Josh Doctson will each see Peterson about an equal amount, and neither’s downfield skill set meshes well with Smith’s tendencies toward safety. This games shapes up more as an opportunity to see how Washington is planning to use these weapons this year than as an opportunity to load up on perimeter wide receiver plays.

The final piece of this passing attack is a currently-healthy Jordan Reed, taking on an Arizona defense that finished ninth in the NFL last year in receptions allowed to the position. While linebacker and safety coverage skills and speed are a big part of what cause tight ends to have success or failure against a defense, scheme is also a big part of things, and as such it should be noted that Wilks’ scheme allowed the Panthers to finish last season with the fourth-fewest receptions allowed to the tight end position.

CARDINALS RUN OFFENSE

Welcome back, David Johnson.

On a Cardinals team that legitimately has no established weapons behind Larry Fitzgerald (more on this in a moment), David Johnson should step right back into his every-down role, and while the public will likely play things safe here — with concerns about a new coaching staff, or DJ’s long layoff — I see this as a spot to “be greedy when others are being fearful.” There is no reason to expect anything but vintage DJ usage, as there are simply too few options on this offense for the Cardinals to get cute. Mike McCoy is stepping in as OC this year, and while he was not suited to be a head coach, he is a strong and capable offensive mind, and he’ll feature his best players.

From a matchup standpoint, this spot looks great, as Washington allowed the fourth-most yards per carry in the NFL last year. The one big dent in the matchup for DJ comes in the Washington pass defense, which is solid all the way around — including posting average marks last year against running backs. We should see around 25 touches for DJ, and the positive run game matchup makes up for the ding to his pass game looks.

CARDINALS PASS OFFENSE

Washington was quietly awesome against passing attacks last year, and the loss of Bashaud Breeland should not have a major impact, with Quinton Dunbar stepping in to provide serviceable replacement value after allowing a QB rating of 71.2 in limited action last year. Only two teams in the NFL allowed a lower catch rate than Washington last year, and teams strongly preferred to attack Washington on the ground, as they faced the fourth-most rush attempts but the 12th-fewest pass attempts.

From a macro perspective, I have faith in Sam Bradford as an above-average quarterback for as long as he remains healthy — a guy who can make good decisions and make accurate passes — and this should especially benefit slot legend Larry Fitzgerald, whose short-area routes align perfectly with what Bradford likes to do. Further elevating the usage floor for Fitz is the lack of additional weapons, as Brice Butler, J.J. Nelson, and Chad Williams would all be clear number four or five options on nearly every other team in the NFL — instead of battling for number two duties, as they will be doing for Arizona. At least two of these three guys should see significant time on the field, but outside of designed shot plays and a few unpredictable looks as second- or third-reads, these guys will be uninvolved.

Later in the season, the Cardinals will hopefully find a way to work future superstar Christian Kirk onto the field, but Kirk has mastered the slot receiver role like few rookies in the past — and his path to snaps are blocked by one of the best receivers in history holding down his spot in front of him. Until we see the Cardinals find a way to work Fitz and Kirk onto the field together for 50+ snaps a game, he should remain an afterthought for us.

While it will not be unexpected for Fitz and DJ to combine for 16 to 20 targets per game through the early portions of the season, this should still leave around 10 to 15 additional targets for us to play around with in this game — with likely only five to seven of those going to the “number two” receiver(s). This creates an opportunity for college-WR-turned-TE Ricky Seals-Jones to soak up five to seven targets from time to time. RSJ has been on the field with the first team offense through almost all of the preseason, and he is a sneaky bet for four or five looks in this game against a Washington defense that was middling last year in receptions allowed to tight ends, but that allowed the fourth most yards to the position.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

I entered my research for this game expecting to like more than I actually do — and while I expect a solid score from Alex Smith and think that Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed are strong plays, none of these guys jump off the page to me. Reed’s discount makes him the most obvious candidate for a roster spot, but it’s not so difficult this week to find the salary for Delanie Walker in that matchup against the Dolphins, or to climb all the way up to Gronkowski. Reed is on my list, but he’s probably my fourth or fifth option at tight end. Crowder will likely be in my cycle of considered plays, as will Alex Smith, but I don’t expect to put a significant chunk of bankroll behind either.

David Johnson is not a significantly better play than Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt, Christian McCaffrey, or Alvin Kamara this week, and his price is higher than all of them except Kamara (note: on DraftKings, he’s priced higher than Kamara as well). But he is in the same tier as those guys, with his locked-in usage giving him the potential for a monster score. From a salary allocation standpoint, the cheaper guys from that group are better plays; but from a strategy standpoint, DJ’s upside will be tempting in tourneys if he projects for low ownership.

Larry Fitzgerald and RSJ are in consideration as well — with Fitz offering high floor and moderate ceiling, and RSJ offering solid point-per-dollar ceiling but iffy floor. Neither jumps out as a “clear top play,” but each guy is definitely in the mix.

______________

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Kickoff Sunday, Sep 9th 5:20pm Eastern

Bears (
19.5) at

Packers (
26)

Over/Under 45.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bears Run D
11th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O
10th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D
2nd DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O
6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass
Packers Run D
25th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O
28th DVOA/32nd Yards per carry
Packers Pass D
25th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O
24th DVOA/25th Yards per pass

BEARS // PACKERS OVERVIEW

The initial line for this game played into the public’s love of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, with the Packers installed originally as 9-point favorites, with a Vegas-implied total of 28.5; since the line was posted, the Packers’ Vegas-implied total has dropped to 27.75 as eight-point favorites. Aaron Rodgers is awesome. So is Bears’ defensive coordinator Vic Fangio…

BEARS RUN OFFENSE

Last year, the Packers finished the season ranked eighth in the NFL in yards allowed per carry and allowed a rushing touchdown to opposing running backs at a rate of only 0.5 per game. They allowed above-average fantasy production to the position on FantasyDraft, FanDuel, and DraftKings, but that was largely due to them allowing the sixth-most receptions to the position. This creates an interesting situation — and an interesting test to begin the season — for Jordan Howard, who new head coach Matt Nagy has said he wants to feature in the pass game. Howard has struggled with drops at both the college level and the pros, but Nagy has poured praise on him throughout the offseason for his “work” in this area — talking up the extra time Howard has put into become a better receiver. This will be our first opportunity to see if this is a “square peg in a round hole” situation, or if Howard is indeed ready to expand his game.

Last year as the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs, Nagy was a big part of game-planning, but he was handcuffed from play-calling until the last five games of the season, when Andy Reid finally handed over those responsibilities. What happened after that is instructive:

In that first game, Kareem Hunt touched the ball only 12 times (nine carries and three catches), but in the next three games (before basically resting in the regular season finale), Hunt had touch totals of 28, 31, and 33 — an absolutely insane workload, and a reminder that when Nagy says he wants to give Howard a chance to play on all three downs, he likely means it. The Bears’ O-line finished 28th in adjusted line yards last season, but PFF has them ranked as an average unit heading into this year. All things considered, this is not a great spot for Howard, and he doesn’t stand out on the full-Sunday slate on FantasyDraft; but his expected workload does give him big upside, making him a very viable guy to consider in tourneys. He’s also very much in play in the Showdown (one game) and Prime Time (three game) slates.

BEARS PASS OFFENSE

It’s tough to carry over too much from last year’s Packers’ pass defense with Dom Capers now out of the defensive coordinator office, but from a talent standpoint they are non-threatening, and we should head into this year viewing them as a fairly neutral matchup (with room to bump them up or down over the next few weeks).

What we do know is that Nagy has brought in an offensive system that should play to the strengths of Mitchell Trubisky — allowing him to essentially function as the point guard of the offense, getting the ball out quickly on short, well-schemed passes. We don’t have enough exposure to Nagy just yet to say that he can adjust his scheme based on the talent he has, but we do know that the scheme he ran in Kansas City last year will suit the strengths of Trubisky nicely, and Nagy has done a great job of collecting players who can help him replicate what he had to work with in KC.

The Chiefs allowed their offense to flow primarily through three players last year: Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill.

The Hunt role is filled capably by Howard, as discussed above.

The Bears signed Trey Burton to a big free agent contract after he backed up Zach Ertz the last few years, and I fully expect him to finish as a top five tight end this year if he remains healthy. He will play the “F” tight end position (what Nagy calls the “U”), which led to Kelce lining up in the slot on over 50% of his snaps last year. I genuinely believe we can copy-and-paste Kelce’s target expectations for the year into a box labeled “Burton.” He’ll be a big part of the game plan each week, and while Green Bay was above-average against tight ends last year, Burton — at only 7.5% of the salary cap on FantasyDraft — is a lock-and-load cash game play for me on the full-Sunday slate. It goes without saying that he’s a strong option in Showdown and Prime Time slates on the other two sites.

The Hill role is more difficult to predict in this offense, as Nagy has both Tarik Cohen and Taylor Gabriel, who can both take on pieces of that role. “Pieces of that role” will be the key, I believe, as the Chiefs proactively schemed the ball to Hill on short passes each game to get the ball in his hands, and then took a couple shots each game as well. I think the likeliest distribution on this team will be for Cohen to see the short looks and Gabriel to see the deep looks — with each posting a couple big games this season, but with no rhyme or reason to when or how those big games will occur.

Things are further complicated by the arrival of free agent Allen Robinson and rookie stud Anthony Miller. Miller should man the slot — a role that could generate anywhere from four to eight targets per game, with some YAC upside. Robinson has not looked great in camp, but his talent is undeniable.

PACKERS RUN OFFENSE

Chicago was decent against the run last year, ranking 12th in yards allowed per carry and 13th in DVOA — leaving them as a team against which we should neither raise nor lower fantasy expectations.

When Aaron Jones returns from his suspension in a few weeks, this backfield will become difficult to figure out, as Jones has shown himself to be the more talented back between he and Jamaal Williams, but for the moment the early-down work will belong to Williams alone. Williams averaged only 3.63 yards per carry last season, and in eight games working as the lead back, he topped 67 rushing yards only twice; but the workload should be there, as he topped 20 touches in six of those eight games — grabbing five or more receptions in half of them.

Ty Montgomery should work on third downs, but his carries will be limited. He has big-play upside, making him viable in the Showdown slates, but Fangio’s defenses are notoriously disciplined, and broken plays are tough to come by.

PACKERS PASS OFFENSE

Rodgers vs Fangio is one of my favorite matchups, as the Vikings were the only team in the NFL last year that allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Bears, and only four teams allowed fewer passing touchdowns. The Bears were solidly above-average in both average depth of target and yards allowed after the catch, and they held quarterbacks to 84.4% of league-average fantasy production on DraftKings and FantasyDraft last year, while holding them to 85.7% of league-average production on FanDuel.

Here are Rodgers’ five career stat lines against Fangio’s Bears (units that had less talent than this year’s squad):

18 of 26, for 179 yards and four touchdowns

19 of 31 for 252 yards and zero touchdowns

39 of 56 for 323 yards and three touchdowns

22 of 43 for 202 yards and one touchdown

18 of 23 for 189 yards and three touchdowns

As you can see, Rodgers’ floor is lower against the Bears than it is against other teams — making him a riskier investment than normal; but he’s still Aaron Rodgers, which means his ceiling remains intact.

As Rodgers goes, so go his receivers — so the statement from the previous paragraph can be applied here: they are riskier investments than normal, but they do still retain their ceiling. Last year, Chicago held wide receivers to below-average fantasy outputs on all three sites. Davante Adams should finish this season in the top 10 in targets per game — with somewhere in the range of eight to 10 looks on average — and he’ll likely finish the year in the top five in red zone targets as well. Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison are afterthoughts, but Cobb has a decent floor and Allison has a decent ceiling if you’re forced to go here on the Showdown slate. Jimmy Graham is going to take work away from both guys, as the Packers are going to use him in the slot to create mismatches, and are going to use him sporadically between the 20s while featuring him heavily in the red zone. Only five teams allowed fewer touchdowns to the tight end last year than the Bears, but while that lowers Graham’s floor (i.e., making it less likely he will hit), he does retain his ceiling — same as the rest of the Packers pass attack.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

The only strong play on paper from this game is Trey Burton, with Jordan Howard carrying some serious tourney intrigue, and with Rodgers, Adams, and Graham all in the “bet on talent” bucket. Jamaal Williams’ workload makes him a locked-in play on the Showdown slate, but his inefficient production on the ground makes him tough to trust in the bigger slates. You could also try to guess right on usage among Cohen / Gabriel / Robinson / Miller — and you may have to do so if you force in some entries on the Showdown slate — but on paper, all of these guys shape up as iffy Week 1 plays.

______________

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Kickoff Monday, Sep 10th 4:10pm Eastern

Jets (
18.5) at

Lions (
25.5)

Over/Under 44.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Jets Run D
14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O
13th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Jets Pass D
31st DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O
19th DVOA/20th Yards per pass
Lions Run D
30th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O
29th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Lions Pass D
12th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O
30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass

JETS // LIONS OVERVIEW

The Jets enter this game as the rare team to earn a Vegas-implied total under 20.0, as they travel to Detroit to take on a defensive mind in Matt Patricia who is very familiar with them from his time on the Patriots. Detroit and the Jets both played at a below-average pace last year — and while analytics-minded coaches such as Patricia are likelier to play up-tempo, Jim Bob Cooter remains the offensive play caller for the Lions, so we will head into this game assuming that the Lions will continue to play at a below-average pace. Last year, the Lions ran no-huddle over 30% of the time (a rate nearly double the next-highest team), but they rarely snapped the ball quickly, allowing Stafford to diagnose the defense with Cooter in his ear, and to pick apart teams from there.

JETS RUN OFFENSE

The Jets have a new-look backfield with Isaiah Crowell (supposedly) handling early-down work, but their offensive line ranked 29th last year in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards, and Pro Football Focus has them rated as the number 31 offensive line entering this season. Detroit was slightly below-average against the run last year, and Patricia was always comfortable on the Patriots inviting teams to run the ball between the 20s, so the matchup is not a concern; but workload is.

Crowell shapes up on paper as a two-down back — similar to many others mentioned in this article, including some like Carlos Hyde, Alex Collins, and Peyton Barber who have plenty about them to like this week — but throughout the preseason, he saw a lot less time with the first-team offense than Bilal Powell saw, and we will need a couple games before the playing time is made clear. It should be noted that Bilal Powell — by the eye test, by statistics, and by analytics — is a better running back than Crow, and while the Jets have always seemed to like Powell less than they should, they have a new play caller in Jeremy Bates, who is taking over from noted dunce John Morton. This is not data-driven — more of a putting-the-pieces together thing — but it will not surprise me if Powell sees twice as many snaps as Crowell, and if this shapes up as a 65/35 split throughout the early portions of the year, in favor of Powell. As uncertain as this is, I would feel very comfortable betting on this thought in Showdown slates and other small slates, as Powell could have week-winning upside on such a small slate if he indeed sees 15+ touches.

JETS PASS OFFENSE

All signs point to Sam Darnold being under center in Week 1 against a Detroit team that ranked fourth in the NFL last year in interceptions. As noted earlier in this article, Teryl Auston ran a more aggressive scheme on the Lions, and that has never been Patricia’s M.O.; though with Patriots defensive bosses, it can be difficult to separate their personal philosophies from Belichick’s philosophies until we have truly seen them out on their own. With a rookie under center, we at least know that Patricia will have elements in place that attempt to create confusion, and on the small slates, this becomes a defense to consider in tourneys.

With that said, Darnold did not diagnose defenses like a rookie in the preseason, and while there were times when he failed to read things or when he held onto the ball too long, I was more impressed with him as a whole than I was with Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield (Mayfield’s accuracy and athleticism are sick, but he telegraphed throws too often and turned plays hectic too often when his first read was covered; these are fixable issues, and his upside is great, but he definitely has some kinks to work out). We know very little about new play-caller Bates, but from the interviews I have read with him and the articles written about him, he seems like a potentially rising star, so I’m excited to see how this Bates/Darnold pairing develops.

Three-wide sets in Week 1 for the Jets should feature Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, and Quincy Enunwa — and given the extent to which all three of these guys were undervalued all offseason in Best Ball drafts, I expect the public to be fairly low on them in this game. It’s tough to take advantage of that sentiment since this game is not on the main slate, but with no viable tight end weapon available on this team, all three guys should top five targets, and Anderson should work as the clear number one. Last year, Anderson finished sixth in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards, and eight in the NFL in average yards of separation. Anderson does not have the best hands, but he is a really good all-around player with sick big-play potential. The one big drawback for Anderson is that he may be shadowed by Darius Slay, who allowed a quarterback rating last year of only 55.6 (the sixth-best mark in the NFL), while incredibly snagging eight interceptions against only three touchdowns allowed.

LIONS RUN OFFENSE

The Jets were a middling run defense unit last year, and this Lions backfield is shaping up as an ugly timeshare, with Kerryon Johnson taking the early-down carries, LeGarrette Blount handling short-yardage and goal line work, and Theo Riddick handling third downs and pass-game work. In the same way we were able to wrap the entire 49ers’ offense into one writeup in their game against the Vikings, that’s really all that needs to be said here. The matchup is non-threatening, but volume-driven floor is a mess for all these guys. They are only viable as tourney stabs in the smallest slates.

LIONS PASS OFFENSE

Todd Bowles has proven to be a strong defensive coach when he has a top corner who can trail and shut down an opponent’s top receiver, and he has proven to be attackable when he doesn’t boast a top corner. Heading into the season, this appears to be “at other times” for the Jets, after they allowed middling marks last year in yards per pass attempt and DVOA, but allowed the second-most passing touchdowns in the league. Detroit threw the ball at the second-highest rate in the NFL last year, and with Eric Ebron out of the picture (and Luke Willson projecting to take on a very small slice of the pass game pie most weeks), we also have a narrow distribution of targets among Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay. Golden Tate averaged 8.1 targets per game last year and was remarkably consistent, with only three games under six targets; Marvin Jones averaged 6.4 targets per game last year, and had at least five targets in all but two games. Production is more consistent from Tate than it is from Jones, but upside is higher on Jones; deep targets are likelier to turn into incompletions (and a five-target game for a deep target is thus likelier to turn into a dud than a six-target game from a short-area guy like Tate), but it is noteworthy that only the Chiefs faced a deeper average depth of target than the Jets last year — and both teams were way above all other teams in the league in this category. This is a +EV spot for Jones (i.e., if we played this slate a hundred times, he would post some duds in this matchup; but he would also post a higher percentage of monster games than he would in other spots).

Golladay should work into the mix this season with an average of around four to five targets per game, but we’ll likely see big rises and dips, with some two-target weeks and some eight-target weeks. Unless usage shakes out different from what we should expect heading into the season, Golladay will always be too high-risk to bet on with a large chunk of bankroll, but he will also be high-reward enough to warrant consideration on lower-dollar (or “lower-bankroll”) tourney rosters every single week.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

As of this writing, pricing has not yet come out for this game, but if Bilal Powell is priced at $4.5k or under on DraftKings and $9k or under on FantasyDraft, I’ll have interest in him even on the bigger slates that include this game (or, I should say: “If there are bigger slates that include this game”; the popularity of the Showdown slates may mean that the sites will scrap the 16-game, full-weekend slates altogether — so we’ll have to see on that over the days leading up to the weekend). (On FanDuel, where we have only half-PPR scoring, Powell is less attractive.) Powell has a low floor, but there is roughly a 50/50 chance that he’ll see the bulk of the workload — and if that happens, he has the upside to be a difference-maker, even outscoring the other low-priced backs. He’s worth a tourney spot in smaller slates if you can stomach the uncertainty that goes with this play.

Robby Anderson is downgraded by his likely matchup with Slay, and as such he would not be a priority for me on larger slates, but his talent and role put him in play on small slates. Enunwa and Kearse should each be involved — and one of them will benefit if Anderson has a slow game Both will likely go overlooked by many.

Stafford is strongly in play against a Jets squad that boosted quarterback expectations last year by 20% on DraftKings/FantasyDraft and 16% on FanDuel compared to the league average. Tate is a safe play; Jones is riskier but has monster upside and plays nicely in this matchup; and Golladay plays nicely in this matchup and has monster upside, but will enter most games this year with an unpredictable workload.

*UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 2 // Full “Updates” List

Jermaine Kearse is out for the Jets after having abdominal surgery. The starting wide receivers should now be Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and Terrelle Pryor (who had very little practice time this summer with Sam Darnold and a new playbook). While the facts above about this being a potentially-difficult wide receiver matchup did not change, volume focuses even more heavily on a small pool of guys. This also brings Trenton Cannon to mind. This is a long-shot play, but Cannon has a chance to be this year’s Week 1 Tarik Cohen play — a guy no one is thinking of who catches several passes out of the backfield and smashes. Cannon has sick speed (the Jets started calling him their Ferrari in training camp), and he’ll likely see two or three designed touches in this one. If the Jets get Ferrari even more involved in the pass game among their shallow pool of available weapons, we’ll almost certainly see the OWS pennant littered across the leaderboards. He’s worth a risk/reward shot with a small portion of your bankroll for the Monday night slate.

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Kickoff Monday, Sep 10th 7:20pm Eastern

Rams (
26.75) at

Raiders (
20.75)

Over/Under 47.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Rams Run D
21st DVOA/7th Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O
24th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
Rams Pass D
11th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Raiders Pass O
5th DVOA/7th Yards per pass
Raiders Run D
31st DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O
1st DVOA/7th Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D
26th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O
10th DVOA/18th Yards per pass

RAMS // RAIDERS OVERVIEW

This game laughably opened as a pick-em before being quickly bet up to “Rams by 3,” in the pairing of wunderkind Sean McVay and former wunderkind John Gruden. A few quick words:

It can seem like hyperbole when people talk about the game “passing a coach by,” but the NFL truly does change a tremendous amount over the years. Every so often, you can find an interview in which Bill Belichick — who is probably the greatest living football historian — talks about the way a certain defense or strategy has changed; and when you are out of the game for a while, it can be extraordinarily difficult to immediately know the best ways to attack looks and schemes you have never seen before yourself. Of course, it is not unheard of for a coach to return to the sidelines after a lengthy layoff and to have success (Dick Vermeil), and unlike Joe Gibbs (for example), Gruden spent his downtime in the broadcast boost where he was continually immersed in the game. But some of the statements Gruden has made this offseason lead one to wonder if he has kept up with the league as well as he should have. Gruden always had a strong offensive mind, but he has sounded like a cave man at times this offseason. This should be a fun ride to watch — regardless of the outcome. I’m a Gruden fan in general, and “huge success” or “a total train wreck” would be an entertaining journey.

RAMS RUN OFFENSE

Are you kidding?

What is left to say?

While individual metrics (elusiveness, tackle-breaking, etc.) did not credit Todd Gurley with an MVP season, his ability to read the defense and hit it in the right spots in this Sean McVay scheme were incredible. These are elements that cannot be accounted for in analytics, but Gurley can do things in this offense that no other running back could do. Last year, he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns, while finishing eighth in yards per carry and second in total rushing yards, hauling in an additional 64 catches for a wide receiver-like 788 yards and six touchdowns — at a marvelous 12.3 yards per reception. The Raiders do not have the talent on defense to be an above-average force against the run, registering as a neutral matchup. As is almost always the case: Gurley is a full-go.

RAMS PASS OFFENSE

As noted earlier in this article, Jared Goff finished near the bottom of the league last year in pass attempts, though his efficiency was great in this scheme, at 7.8 yards per attempt (seventh in the league) and 28 touchdowns against only seven interceptions. McVay has further stocked the cupboard with offensive weapons as the Rams go for broke — attempting to pay up at other positions to win a Super Bowl while they still have a talented, cost-controlled arm under center. Sammy Watkins has been replaced by superior all-around player Brandin Cooks, while Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods will continue to soak up looks.

The relatively low volume of this pass attack and the locked-in targets for Gurley lower the available targets for all these guys (last year, Watkins finished shy of five targets in over half his games, while Woods finished with five to eight targets in 75% of his games), and Kupp is guaranteed looks as an outlet receiver and third-down maven; but Cooks should have three or four monster games this year, while Woods should have two or three big games of his own. Each is worth a tourney bet in any week, as a guy with true week-winning upside — enough so for you to justify absorbing their inconsistency. Last year, wide receiver expectations were elevated in matchups against the Raiders by a rate of more than 10% over league-average production. They did allow below-average expected yards per target, but they allowed a 10% increase in catch rate compared to league average, and even with Paul Guenther taking over in Oakland with a better idea of how to run things, the talent is not in place for the Raiders’ secondary to experience a rapid turnaround.

RAIDERS RUN OFFENSE

The good news: Wade Phillips does not care about stopping the run. He is going to get after the quarterback and try to lock down perimeter receivers — forcing teams to march down the field without turning the ball over or making mistakes against his aggressive, talented unit. This led to the Rams finishing 30th in yards allowed per carry last season, and even finishing 28th in rushing yards allowed per game (in spite of leading games most of the time).

The bad news: Cave Man Gruden is in love with Doug Martin — he of the 2.9 yards per carry in back-to-back years. (That is not a typo.) I’m expecting talent to win out here, and for Marshawn Lynch — who was a top-15 back last year in elusive rating, and a top-five back in avoided tackles — to clear 16 carries per game this season. If he sees 16 carries and a couple targets in this game, he’s a great option on the small slates; but the uncertainty makes him an iffy proposition on any slate bigger than two or three games.

RAIDERS PASS OFFENSE

Last season, the Rams were just below the top tier in expected yards allowed per target, and they were a top five team in catch rate, while finishing fourth in the NFL in sacks along the way. This year, they have revamped their secondary with Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters (who were “teammates” on the 2016 All-Pro squad). Phillips will let both of these guys gamble, and this defense will generate some seriously fun games this year between their pass rush and the aggressive ball-hawking of these two guys, but one thing to consider here is that the Raiders’ offensive line ranked seventh in adjusted sack rate last year and first the year before, and PFF has them rated as the number seven offensive line heading into this season. That’s not to imply that the Rams will be unable to generate pressure, but it will create some plays in which Carr has more time than the Rams are banking on — which can lead to big-play opportunities against aggressive corners. That’s too thin to make Amari Cooper or Jordy Nelson a viable play on the large slates, but it does provide intriguing boom/bust upside on the small slates. Amari, especially, is worth a slim bankroll investment on small slates for the week-winning upside he has if the Rams break down a couple times.

This Oakland team is not going to involve the running backs heavily in the pass game, and Martavis Bryant is functioning as their low-target number three, which means that in a matchup such as this one — with All-Pro corners on each of their top-two wide receivers — we should expect a volume spike for tight end Jared Cook. The Rams ranked 19th in DVOA against the tight end last season, and while this doesn’t scream “attack,” it was their worst mark against any position.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

Gurley is a full go, while Cooks and Woods are moderate-floor plays with week-winning upside. Goff also carries a moderate floor on his low volume, but his ceiling is enough to keep him in the conversation on the small slates given the offense he is working in. Kupp always carries a strong floor, and he is a preferred weapon in the red zone — which doesn’t ever put him into the “week-winning” conversation, but he can add some nice guaranteed points with respectable upside if you are needing to fill out a roster.

On the other side, Lynch has to be considered on smaller slates, though we should be slightly concerned that Gruden will play Doug Martin far more often than any sane man would. (“Corona! Hooters! Spider 2 Y Banana!”) Amari and Jordy are small-slate tourney plays only, but Cooper has a long-shot chance at breaking the slate open if things go just right. Jared Cook is never exactly “trustworthy,” but he should see a spike in targets in this one, and is a great tight end bet on the two-game slate, where the other three teams do not feature their tight end at all.

*UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 2 // Full “Updates” List

Martavis Bryant has been suspended again. Good thing Gruden traded a third-round pick for him.

If you had him on any deep-shot tourney rosters, be sure to remove him.

______________

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