Week 1 Matchups

The NFL Edge :: 2019 Edition!

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Back in 2015, I developed an article at RotoGrinders that quickly became one of the research staples of daily fantasy football: the NFL Edge, in which I broke down every game of the weekend from top to bottom, leaning on my knowledge as a former coach and my understanding of each NFL team’s scheme, tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses to uncover the best DFS plays on the weekend. If you are reading this, there is a good chance you have been consuming the NFL Edge for three or four years now — and as such, you know that one of my goals each year is to take the NFL Edge and make it even better than it was before.

Last year, we took the biggest step forward in the development of the NFL Edge to date, migrating the article from RotoGrinders to One Week Season, where we were able to build out this site to specifically account for the unique elements that the NFL Edge presents — allowing readers to navigate quickly from game to game, and allowing readers to develop their own personal notes on each game along the way.

This year, we are taking another massive step forward in turning the NFL Edge into the most valuable research tool in daily fantasy football.

Announcing :: OWS Collective!!!!

With that, let’s get this season underway!

I’ll see you at the top of the leaderboards soon.
-JM


Kickoff Thursday, Sep 5th 8:20pm Eastern

Packers (
21.5) at

Bears (
24.5)

Over/Under 46.0

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Packers Run D
32nd DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O
12th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Packers Pass D
8th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O
27th DVOA/18th Yards per pass
Bears Run D
29th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O
3rd DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D
29th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O
15th DVOA/21st Yards per pass

Showdown Slant ::

Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!

— access Xandamere’s “Mastering Showdowns” course here!
(highly recommended; the data work is stunning!)

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The 2019 football season starts off with the Packers visiting the Bears in a game with a Vegas total of 46 points and the Bears installed as 3 point favorites at home. Before we dive into discussing the game, I want to note something broadly about early season NFL DFS: at no point in the season will we know less than we do in Week 1. We might think we know how teams are going to run their offenses, how usage will flow, and if different elements of a team (offensive line, pass defense, etc.) are projected to be good or bad, but we don’t really KNOW very much at all. What this means is that if you think you have an edge — and by that I mean something that is well-reasoned and supported by data — early in the season is the place to really push it. As the season goes on, we’ll know more about each team’s strengths and weaknesses and how they plan to utilize their players, so early in the season is the time to take some shots. Do you think Matt Nagy has some sneaky plans to get Cordarrelle Patterson highly involved in this offense? Great, now’s the time to make that bet, when nobody else is.

Next, I want to note that this game writeup is being written in late August, before the preseason is finished. I’m writing it with the best available information at hand, but, things can change — we may get new information about a player’s expected role that influences our thinking, or there’s always the risk of an injury forcing a change. If anything changes that meaningfully impacts this game, check back as this article will be updated.

Finally, in the “thoughts that aren’t explicitly about this game” section, I want to note that the big Showdown tournament on DraftKings for this game is absolutely massive: 294,000 entries and a million dollar top prize. That’s as many entries as the week 1 Milly Maker on the main slate. If that doesn’t tell you that Showdown is a huge deal, I don’t know how else to convince you…but what’s relevant here is that the sheer size of this tourney means it is highly likely for first place to be split if we get a “most likely to happen” outcome (or even a “fairly likely to happen” one). Building for what’s most likely to happen gives you the best chance to win, but building for what is unlikely to happen gives you the best chance at a solo win if your oddball scenario should come to pass. For example, in the Super Bowl showdown last year, a lineup with Edelman at captain and no QBs resulted in a solo win of a million dollars…so do you follow the data and use what is most likely to win, or go off the board in hopes of a bigger score if it does hit? That’s a personal choice based on what kind of player you are, but it bears some thinking about as you consider how to attack this Showdown.

All right, back to the game at hand. This is a super interesting game to me for a few reasons. First, both teams have gone through coaching changes. In Green Bay, Mike McCarthy has been replaced with Matt LaFleur, who will install a more creative Kyle Shanahan-esque offense to replace the boring, predictable McCarthy-era offense that relied purely on talent to succeed. In Chicago, defensive mastermind Vic Fangio is gone, but the Bears still have a supremely talented defense and a strong new defensive coordinator in Chuck Pagano. Overall, I expect little to no defensive dropoff from the Bears, and while the Packers offense is likely to be more creative, that is likely to result in more of an advantage against less disciplined defenses than Chicago’s.

Second, we have two very different teams playing. The Packers are on the road and with a lower team total, but the advantage here is that we know where the ball is going: Aaron Jones should be firmly installed as the bellcow back, while the receiver trio of Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Geronimo Allison are locked into massive, Rams-esque snap counts. Jimmy Graham looks washed and nobody else is likely to get much offensive usage, so going elsewhere means you’re just hoping for a broken play or fluke touchdown to a backup guy. The Bears have a higher team total and a better matchup, but they also spread the ball out a lot more, with two (possibly even three) viable running backs and a pile of receivers (Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Trey Burton, maybe even Patterson or Adam Shaheen, who was seeing his snap count increase towards the end of the year). While it’s fairly safe to project the Bears to score more points, we know less about where those points will be coming from.

[ JM’s Note :: On FanDuel — where pricing is just hilariously more flexible, and where you don’t have to multiply salary in the Captain slot — the game is easier, which provides less of an edge. Pricing-related notes and strategies are therefore concentrated on DraftKings, where we recommend that you focus your Showdown play; though the game flow and general strategy elements apply directly to both sites. ]

Let’s start with game flow and what’s likely to happen, as that’s how I like to attack Showdowns. We have the Bears projected to win the game, and they’re going up against a Green Bay defense that is projected to be just about average across the board. When these teams met last year, the Bears lost due to a late Aaron Rodgers comeback in Week 1, and then won at home in Week 15 in a slower, grinding game in which Chicago ran the ball 29 times and passed 28. As I see it, there are two ways this can play out: the Bears take an early lead and go run heavy as they did in last year’s win, or, they remember what happened when they took their foot off the gas in Week 1 of last year and try to keep pushing harder, perhaps trying to build the confidence of Mitchell Trubisky early in a year in which they are expected to be serious Super Bowl contenders. You’ll have to decide for yourself which outcome you think is most likely here, but I’m personally leaning with #1 because that’s what we’ve seen before.

David Montgomery should lead this backfield, and while we don’t know if he’ll see bellcow usage, 14-16 touches seems like a decent floor. What we don’t know is pass game usage, as while Tarik Cohen isn’t really a threat to Montgomery’s receiving role (Cohen is used more as a mismatch piece than as a regular receiving back), newly signed Mike Davis was a receiving back in Seattle and could take this role in Chicago as well. Davis is likely to be involved, and if he’s the guy who gets into the end zone he could pay off in this Showdown at low ownership and a low price. Cohen will be involved as he always is, with a handful of touches designed to get him the ball in space and take advantage of his big play ability. He has slate-breaking upside, but $8,400 is a lot to pay for a back who gets very limited volume and has more guys to share with than he did last season (Montgomery and Davis as other running backs, plus Patterson as another mismatch guy/big play threat).

In the Bears’ receiving corps, Allen Robinson is the clear alpha with a muddied picture behind him. It’s worth noting that A-Rob led the team in targets both times these teams played last year (though without having much success). In an offense that really spreads it out, A-Rob is going to need either a broken play, a touchdown, or more of a shootout than Vegas thinks is likely in order to have a chance at a really big game, especially at his price. Of the Bears’ ancillary receivers, Anthony Miller really stands out to me. Miller played through a serious shoulder injury last year and still managed to score 7 touchdowns. Against a Packers defense that loves to dial up interesting blitzes, dump-offs to the slot receiver are a way for Trubisky to get away from that pressure. Taylor Gabriel is someone who seems to have a reputation of having a lot of big play ability, though this seems to be more perception than reality, as his yards per catch in 2018 was an uninspiring 10.2. He had one huge game last year and that drove his reputation (and his ownership) for the rest of the season, and while every full-time receiver is in consideration on a Showdown slate, I think he’s likely to go overowned here relative to expectations. Trey Burton is interesting as he saw 12 targets in these teams’ two meetups last year but he only caught five balls. Across the season, though, Burton averaged under four targets per game, which seems less than ideal for a guy priced at $6k. Chicago is also an interesting place to look for value, as we have Adam Shaheen at $400 and Cordarrelle Patterson at $1,000. Shaheen started seeing usage in Week 13 and saw increasing snap counts the rest of the season, though at this point we’re not sure if this was due to Miller’s injuries resulting in his declining playing time and Shaheen picking up the slack, or the Bears changing their offense around to use more 2-TE sets (as Burton’s snap counts did not decrease when Shaheen was getting more run). Finally, Patterson is a newly signed Bear, and Matt Nagy surely has some plans for him. He’s another guy that can be schemed into mismatches much like Tarik Cohen. We can expect him to get something like 3-6 touches per week, often on plays designed to get him the ball in space and let him try to make something big happen. It won’t be easy to predict when his big games will happen but he’ll probably put up meaningful scores a few times this season, and at just $1k he brings a lot of upside to the table. He’s my favorite of the value plays in this game.

This game scenario leaves the Packers playing catch-up against what might be the league’s best defense. Aaron Rodgers is elite and is certainly capable of keeping up with anyone, but on the road against this unit is about the worst matchup he can expect all season. The Green Bay run game is the least likely part of the offense to be successful, as while the Packers’ offensive line is projected to be above average, the Bears are an elite run D and I generally try to avoid investing in road underdog running backs with an uncertain pass game role. Jones did see more pass game work last year as the season went on, averaging 4.5 targets per game from Weeks 6 through 11, and I think most football fans would like to see him get bellcow usage as he’s incredibly talented, but as of right now we don’t really know how this is going to shake out. What we do know is that while the Bears are an elite defense, they actually allowed above average production to wide receivers last year, in large part because they saw the fourth-most wide receiver targets as their defense shut down every other position. Davante Adams stands out here as the WR1 who clearly has an amazing connection with Aaron Rodgers, but I’m also intrigued by Geronimo Allison, who has a matchup against Chicago’s new slot corner Buster Skrine. Skrine earned a well below average 57.3 player grade from PFF last season and allowed 75% of passes thrown into his coverage to be completed last season. He should be less of a defensive liability on the Bears than he was last year on the Jets, as Chicago can hide him better and provide support, but this is still an attackable matchup and one that should go somewhat overlooked (relatively speaking, since Showdown ownership is always concentrated).

Of course, football is played by actual guys on a field, so the most likely way for the game to go is not necessarily the way that it actually will go. Some other ways the game could play out include:

  • The Packers get trucked and never really put much of a threat together. In this scenario, onslaught lineups with five Bears make a lot of sense.
  • The Packers are able to get an early lead. This would both open up the Green Bay running game to more volume, as well as result in the Bears throwing more (Aaron Jones and Allen Robinson, especially, become more interesting in this scenario).
  • Mitch Trubisky gets tripped up by Green Bay’s frequent blitzes (he’s a young QB who can be fooled by exotic blitzes, or, he could also exploit them to great success — there’s a lot of potential variance in outcomes here). This ties into the scenario above and I mention it purely to call out that it’s generally unwise to sleep on aggressive defenses that generate a lot of QB pressure.
  • In general, we expect the Bears to score on the ground and the Packers to score in the air, so there’s some value in thinking about just inverting those two things to build lineups that avoid the bulk of the ownership.

This single game writeup is already over 2,000 words, which is ridiculous, so let’s wrap up with some thoughts on captains and some group rules for those of you who are multi-entering in tournaments. My captain exposures will differ depending on which game scenario I’m building for, but overall, my favorite captain choices in this one are Allison (for the matchup), Montgomery, and Miller. Davante Adams is, of course, an elite captain choice, but he’s also phenomenally expensive — if you can make it work while loving the rest of your lineup, have at it, but it’s awfully tough to use Adams in the captain and pair him with Rodgers (doing so only leaves you $4,675 left for the rest of the roster). Normally I like to pair a captain receiver with their QB, but given the prices, there is a scenario in which Adams has a big game but no other Green Bay receiver does, meaning Rodgers puts up only a middling score and isn’t needed in the optimal.

Some thoughts on groups to consider:

  • At most 1 kicker
  • At most 1 defense
  • Pair captain QBs with at least 2 receivers
  • Pair captain receivers with their QB (as discussed above, you could consider skipping this for Adams)
  • At most 1 of Montgomery and Davis
  • At most 1 of Cohen and Patterson (I expect they’ll be used in somewhat similar roles here)

Update Added 9/3 ::

It’s looking like Trey Burton may actually miss this game with a groin injury. He’s gotten in two limited practices so far this week, which makes it seem like odds are that he plays, but Nagy says he’s a game-time decision and there’s at least a chance he’s out. If Burton misses, Adam Shaheen becomes a very attractive value play as he should be stepping into a full-time snap count at just $400. Keep in mind, though, that Shaheen’s ownership will be through the roof if this is announced early.

Where this actually gets interesting is if Burton is active. In the first game of the year, it would be easy to see the Bears not giving him a full snap count, which would still make Shaheen an interesting play and also result in him being far, far lower owned. This would be a high risk play as we don’t know for sure if Burton would in fact be scaled back, but if you’re playing the massive GPP, it makes for an interesting contrarian play.

Update Added 9/5 ::

From JM :: Burton is inactive! Xandamere says play Shaheen in cash. If we’re looking big picture and trying to maximize our win rate on the year, this is the +EV play; no need to try to outsmart the field.

In tourneys, even a couple catches for 30 yards could be enough for him to be worth rostering in this game, at his price; though if you’re trying to win the Milly (for example), realize he’ll likely be massively owned, and he’ll need a fluky game to hit ceiling. There are plenty of alternate ways to build for tourneys! Playing Shaheen is the “safe” play, but if you’re looking to take down a tourney, the “safe” play is not always the best play.

(I expect to have 100% Shaheen in cash, 0% in tourneys, because: YOLO. Also because I think that would make the most money if we played this slate a hundred times. In the small sample size of one slate, that’s obviously a risk! But I’m comfortable with it myself. X, meanwhile, expects to have plenty of Shaheen even in tourneys. There are different ways to approach this one, for sure, so find what you feel most comfortable with for your tourney exposure.)

— access Xandamere’s “Mastering Showdowns” course here!

From OWS Collective ::

Jonathan Piech :: One big difference between FD and DK is that kickers are much more pricey on FD. In terms of point per dollar value, QB’s provide the most value (1.12 points/$1000) followed by K (.90), WR (.89), RB (.87), TE (.74). However, if you isolate the most expensive players at each position RB jumps to 1.12 points/$1000 and WR to 1.03.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 8th 1:00pm Eastern

Rams (
25.5) at

Panthers (
24)

Over/Under 49.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Rams Run D
7th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
10th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Rams Pass D
20th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
30th DVOA/8th Yards per pass
Panthers Run D
18th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O
24th DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
26th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O
22nd DVOA/30th Yards per pass

Rams at Panthers gives us a matchup with some elite fantasy names, in a game with the second highest Over/Under on the main slate. At first glance, this appears to be a strong game to build around for core rosters, with a number of pieces that should have a chance to outperform their salary.

We’ll begin with the visiting team, where the Rams have a chance to push around this Carolina secondary. The Panthers are switching to a 3-4 base defense this season with the goal of increasing their blitz disguises and their ability to get after the QB; but honestly, I’m not too scared by that change, as the Panthers don’t have the across-the-board intelligence or talent of (say) Fangio’s 2018 Bears or Belichick’s Patriots to slow down this offense. McVay and Jared Goff should be able to read and execute well enough to hit their normal trajectory — keeping them on track to finish as one of the higher-scoring teams on the weekend.

The Panthers were among the top half of the league last year in opponent aDOT (that is: with the Panthers facing an opponent “average depth of target” of 8.5, they were attacked further downfield than the average team), but this aDOT was not come by honestly, as Carolina ranked near the top of the league last year in short-area targets faced (four to six yards), and near the top of the league in targets 20+ yards downfield (while allowing the sixth most pass plays of 40+ yards). Meanwhile, teams typically avoided attacking the Panthers in the intermediate range.

This means a few things for the Rams’ wide receivers.

Firstly, Cooper Kupp should step right back into heavy involvement, and it won’t be a surprisie if he sees seven to nine targets. This gives him a high floor, and the Rams’ preference for prioritizing him in the red zone adds upside to his plate. (Barring a broken play, he’s likely capped at around 70 or 80 yards; but add in the receptions and the potential for a touchdown, and you could do worse.) Roster Kupp if you are looking for a solid, workload-driven floor with underrated touchdown upside (though of course, you are playing “hope-for-a-miracle ball” if you’re rostering Kupp in search of a tourney-winning score).

Secondly, it means that Robert Woods becomes a little more volatile than normal — though it does, also, make him a little more intriguing. Woods’ route tree can take him all over the field; and while McVay typically allows Woods to operate in the intermediate areas (where he will surely still see a few targets), he is also used close to the line of scrimmage, and he is occasionally used on plays designed to draw the defense in while springing Woods open deep. Woods typically needs a big play in order to post the sort of score you “have to have,” and this does become the sort of spot in which he could have an opportunity or two for such a play. Roster Woods if you are looking for an always-solid floor, with upside. His floor is slightly lower than normal in this spot; but his ceiling is slightly higher as well.

Thirdly, it means that Brandin Cooks should see a couple of his customary downfield shots, and he’ll have a decent chance at connecting. I’m not typically big on rostering Rams receivers, as they come with some of the best floor in DFS, but you’re paying a bit much for the less-than-elite rate at which they go for ceiling. Cooks tends to be good for one or two blowup games per year, however, and it’s not crazy to bet on this being one of those spots. Unlike lesser deep threats in lesser offenses, Cooks rarely posts a dud, making him an interesting deep threat to consider this week. He’s probably guaranteed at least two targets of 20+ yards. If he connects on both, he could wind up topping 100 yards and/or reaching the end zone. Roster Cooks if you are looking for a tourney pivot off more popular receivers in his price range.

As for the L.A. backfield :: Carolina was strong last year vs pass-catching backs, and they were better than average in rushing yards and TDs allowed, as this team is fundamentally stronger up front than they are on the back end. Teams tend to avoid attacking the Panthers on the ground, and this should remain a run-solid unit even with the schematic shift. (Against an 11 personnel team like the Rams, the Panthers will likely be out of base most of the game anyway.) Todd Gurley is a matchup-busting talent; but with workload questions and plenty of other great backs in great spots, there are surer bets this week that can be targeted for the same amount of upside — leaving Gurley as a “bet on talent” play in tourneys, rather than pushing him to the top of the running back pile.

On the Panthers’ side ::

Because Carolina plays slow, teams that can win the possession battle against them can limit play volume. Optimally, we prefer Cam Newton on weeks in which he can either be expected to go run-heavy himself or can be expected to pile up volume through the air. This week, with his ankle a concern, we may see fewer designed runs; and with the Rams finishing eighth in time of possession last year, there is a decent chance that Cam’s passing volume will be capped as well. That’s not the end of the story for Cam, however, as the Panthers may need to get aggressive in order to keep pace with the Rams — with a chance for deep passes to make up for any dip in volume.

The Rams generally did a great job last season forcing teams to throw to the short areas of the field (they were especially willing to give up receptions and yards over the short middle, where both D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel will be used); but as solid as the Rams were at forcing passes to the shorter areas, they did have occasional breakdowns that led to them being one of the more attackable deep passing defenses in the league – with the fifth most plays of 20+ yards allowed.

This season, the Panthers are all-in on Moore and Samuel, and each should see anywhere from six to nine targets in this game. We should also note that it was Samuel, not Moore, who led this wide receiver corps in targets down the stretch last year – both with Cam and without – and it was Samuel who had an average depth of target over three yards deeper than Moore’s. (There have been assorted fantasy reports this offseason noting that Samuel “might even become the lead receiver on this team.” Um. Yeah. Wasn’t he already?) Each of these receivers carries a solid, workload-driven floor – and in this matchup, with Carolina likely needing to score to keep up (against a defense that struggled last year with the big play), each carries a solid ceiling as well.

( In the rest of the passing attack :: Cam will also mix in looks to Greg Olsen (and Jarius Wright…), though with plenty to like at tight end on the slate, it would be fair to take a wait and see approach with Olsen returning from yet another foot injury. )

The rest of this offense, as always, will center around Christian McCaffrey. The Rams are perfectly content to give up yards on the ground (last year, they allowed the most yards per carry in the league), but only two teams allowed fewer receiving yards to running backs, which tightens up CMC’s path to ceiling. If Zeke fails to show up for the Cowboys in time for Week 1, CMC still has the second highest projection among backs (behind only Saquon), but he’s not quite the lock-and-load, set-and-forget play that he usually is at his salary.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I like this game for core builds, and for game stacks in tourneys, as I see it having a strong chance to shoot out relative to other games on the slate. Any of the Rams’ receivers are fair to consider in cash games and tourneys, and Goff is a solid option as well. On the other side: Cam, Samuel, and Moore will all likely make my list. And while there are running backs I like more from a price-considered standpoint, CMC and even Gurley are fine additions to any tourney strategies — with a case even there for CMC in cash.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 8th 1:00pm Eastern

WFT (
17) at

Eagles (
27)

Over/Under 44.0

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Commanders Run D
10th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O
1st DVOA/12th Yards per carry
Commanders Pass D
17th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Eagles Pass O
6th DVOA/3rd Yards per pass
Eagles Run D
19th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Commanders Run O
29th DVOA/27th Yards per carry
Eagles Pass D
1st DVOA/1st Yards allowed per pass
Commanders Pass O
27th DVOA/18th Yards per pass

Well. Here’s a fun one.

Week 1 gives us one of the more lopsided games we could have devised, with an Eagles team that has legitimate Super Bowl aspirations and a Redskins team that is expected to compete for the top pick in the draft. (Note: Washington will absolutely not end up with the top pick in the draft. For all of this team’s flaws, Jay Gruden is always able to find ways throughout the season to keep enough games close that this team is able to pull out some wins.) Washington has major, major question marks on the offensive line with Trent Williams continuing his holdout, and especially if Jordan Reed misses this game (as is currently expected), Washington also has a bottom-three on-paper passing attack. More bad news for the Redskins: the Eagles allowed the fifth fewest rushing yards to running backs last year, while facing the fewest running back rushes. Need more? In 2017, the Eagles allowed the fewest rushing yards to running backs while facing the third fewest running back rush attempts, and in 2016 this team allowed the fourth fewest running back rushing yards while facing the second fewest running back rush attempts. Philadelphia is built from the defensive line out – with the goal of taking away the run, then putting seven guys in coverage to make up for talent deficiencies on the back end. The only way for Washington to consistently move the ball in this spot will be through the short passing game (and of course, if we are searching for a way to grab week-winning upside from every player on our roster – as we should be trying to do – a slot receiver on a slow-paced, run-leaning team doesn’t jump off the page, even if we do like Trey Quinn in general). Washington unsurprisingly carries one of the lowest Vegas-implied team totals on the slate, and on paper, no one from this offense falls into the “good play” bucket.

Things get a bit more interesting when we swing over to the Eagles side, though before we dig in, we should note that with a full slate of games on hand and plenty of underpriced players available to us in Week 1, targeting offensive players on a spread-the-wealth offense against a middling to above average defense will rarely be one of the most profitable strategies available. This becomes even more true when we realize that (as of this writeup) Philadelphia has the highest Vegas implied team total on the main slate. Because the DFS public tends to be such a slave to Vegas totals, we will almost certainly see elevated ownership in this spot, in spite of the fact that the Eagles fundamentally desire to spread the ball around as much as they can, and in spite of the fact that there are other teams with a Vegas implied total only one or two points lower. From a leverage standpoint, then – taking into account expectations versus ownership – Philly doesn’t look like a top team to target.

With that said: there is a reason Philly has the highest Vegas implied total, and there are a few pieces that you can consider in both cash games and tourneys if you’d like.

Eagles rushing attack:

Matchup: As was the case in nearly all areas last year, Washington was middling against the run – providing neither a boost to opposing rushing attacks nor any reason to shy away. We should once again expect this team to be safe to target on the ground with good rushing attacks.

Likeliest outcome: Rookie running back Miles Sanders has had a tremendous summer, with most Philadelphia beat writers expecting him to eventually ascend to more of a lead-back role than we have seen out of the Eagles over the last couple years. Entering the season, however, expectations are that this will continue to be a timeshare backfield, with nobody seeing more than 10 to 12 touches most weeks.

Alternate angles: I don’t expect that we will see this in a winnable Week 1 matchup, but given the number of times this summer that various writers (both local and national) singled out Sanders as “clearly the best running back on this roster,” there should be a point this season at which Doug Pederson decides to change up this team’s approach and start using Sanders as a featured back. If you wanted to bet that this will happen earlier than anyone is expecting, then Sanders could emerge as an ultra-valuable 18+ touch back this week. (There is also a -EV, but still viable idea of targeting Jordan Howard and hoping for a multi-touchdown game.)

Eagles passing attack:

Matchup: Washington was squarely and entirely average last year against quarterbacks and wide receivers, neither raising nor lowering expectations for opposing players. This team has enough talent on defense to not be a pushover, leaving our expectations for the Eagles passing attack in roughly its typical range.

Likeliest outcome: Part of the philosophy of the Eagles is that they want to spread the ball around, playing out of multiple looks and putting a huge variety of plays and approaches on film in order to make life difficult on opponents. As part of this, the Eagles have worked to push Carson Wentz away from relying quite so heavily on Zach Ertz. The likeliest outcome this week is that we see Philadelphia spread the ball around aggressively, feeding targets to Ertz, Dallas Goedert (the Eagles are expected to push for the league lead in 12 personnel this year as they try to get Ertz and Goedert on the field together as much as they can), Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, DeSean Jackson, all three running backs, and probably even JJ Arcega-Whiteside, making it difficult for any of these players to post a “have to have it” score.

Alternate angles: Landon Collins was brought to Washington this offseason to help solidify their back end; and one of his responsibilities will be tight end coverage. While Collins is solid in coverage, he has a tendency to struggle against double moves from more athletic tight ends. Kittle, Engram, Henry, and Kelce are all better bets for production this week than Ertz – especially as he is priced for his 2018 volume, and Philadelphia is hoping for Wentz to squeeze fewer targets in his direction; but in tournaments, if you wanted to take on a lower point per dollar floor to potentially catch a surprise blowup, there is a chance that Ertz breaks off one or two big plays. The same goes for Goedert (though of course, volume expectations are different than they are for Ertz), while Jeffery and Jackson carry touchdown and/or big play upside on basically any given week. (The Eagles have used Jackson as more than just a deep threat this summer, and Wentz has shown a good connection with him. Also, for whatever it is worth, Josh Norman has reportedly struggled at times this summer with the speed of Paul Richardson and Terry McLaurin. Five to six targets is a comfortable projected range for Jackson – and this is enough for him to reach upside in basically any matchup. There will also be games this year in which Jackson pushes for eight or nine targets…though these games are likelier to show up in shootouts than in a setup such as this.)

JM’s Interpretation ::

With Washington philosophically having zero interest in getting aggressive on offense, this game is likelier to turn into a dud than it is to turn into a surprise shootout. Outside of perhaps a completely random player unexpectedly ending up on one or two of my large field rosters, I don’t expect to have any interest in the Washington side of the ball – and given the landmines in this game (potential for Washington to turn it into a slower paced contest // potential for Philadelphia to spread the ball around so much that they may not produce any “have to have it” scores), and given that the Vegas implied total will likely provide a bump to Eagles ownership, I expect to leave this side of the ball alone as well, with the possible exception of some DJax shots as part of an MME strategy. I do think that Wentz is viable as well — and while I likely won’t lean on him much (if at all), there are paths to him posting the highest QB score of the weekend even without this game turning into a shootout. Wentz could be used with one of his pass catchers, or — given the way this team spreads the ball around — could be rostered naked.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 8th 1:00pm Eastern

Bills (
19.25) at

Jets (
21.75)

Over/Under 41.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bills Run D
3rd DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O
21st DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
9th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O
25th DVOA/11th Yards per pass
Jets Run D
9th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
11th DVOA/2nd Yards per carry
Jets Pass D
6th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
2nd DVOA/4th Yards per pass

If you were on One Week Season last year, I’m sure you remember how much we loved the Bills offense down the stretch (there were four times in the final six weeks when some version of this passing stack posted a week-winning score) – and you may also recall that in the two games in that stretch in which the Bills failed to go off, we were able to foresee a lower likelihood of success and invest less heavily in this offense. But if you don’t recall all of that – or if you weren’t here last season – you can go HERE for the full breakdown of what to expect from this team. One simple way to sum up this offense is:

“This offense wants the deep ball.”

This offense is coordinated by Brian Daboll (who has coached under Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, while studying offense under Josh McDaniels and Andy Reid) – and while the execution was imprecise at times last year (and was at other times downright clunky), the concepts were exciting and aggressive, and at the helm of it all was Josh Allen, who would begin scrambling the moment his first read was covered and either take off running or chuck the ball downfield.

The games in which Allen and this offense fell apart down the stretch last year (and in which we can expect them to have a tougher time this year) came against disciplined, well-coached defenses that also ranked near the top of the league in fewest rushing yards allowed to quarterbacks.

This week, Buffalo travels to take on Gregg Williams and his obsession with attacking (in preseason, Williams blitzed like crazy in an effort to hide a secondary that has as many question marks as any in the league), and we can expect Brian Daboll to use some of that aggressiveness in an effort to spring big plays.

Daboll won’t attack through the air as often as he should in this matchup, as one of his unfortunate shortcomings is a tendency to be too risk-averse whenever he is not taking shots downfield; but he should attack often enough for the upside on this offense to be very real.

The potential for this game to develop into something exciting is also enhanced by what we expect to see from the new look Jets. Although Adam Gase has not exactly been forthcoming this offseason regarding what we will see from the Jets, we should (as explored at a deeper level HERE) actually see him shift far away from the slow-playing tendencies he had with the Dolphins. This season, with his ascendant quarterback and his intriguing stable of weapons, Gase is expected to pick up the pace, put pressure on defenses, and potentially even show no huddle looks throughout. With Chris Herndon suspended the first few games of the year, the Jets should focus primarily on four weapons: Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, Le’Veon Bell, and Ty Montgomery.

Anderson has the toughest matchup (last year, the Bills allowed the sixth fewest wide receiver receptions and the fewest wide receiver yards, while giving up the fewest pass plays in the league of 20+ yards), though the fact that Gase wants to use Anderson all over the field this year is at least enough for him to not be crossed off our list just yet (more on this below). Crowder will match up in the slot with new addition Captain Munnerlyn – not a shy-away matchup, though not a matchup we would typically go out of our way to target, either [Note :: Munnerlyn has since been released; BUF is a tough team to target with wideouts, but the slot will remain the strongest way to target them]. Crowder should have a solid target floor, and while he will need a broken play or a touchdown for ceiling, he has enough of a path to upside to at least be considered in large field tournaments – especially if you go out of your way to stack this game.

At running back for the Jets, playing time is the big mystery. We shouldn’t expect Bell to take over the 95% role he had with the Steelers, but it is a total guessing game right now as to exactly how much work he will see. After Gase took a much worse on-paper Dolphins team to the playoffs three years ago in his first year in Miami, he is surely entering this season with genuine playoff aspirations, which may lock Bell in as around a 70% player early in the year, allowing him to contribute to this offense while also keeping his legs fresh for a potential playoff run. The chances of Bell falling shy of true workhorse usage are further enhanced by how much this team likes Montgomery. If Bell plays around 70%, Montgomery would likely play around 40% – overlapping with Bell on the field a bit, and taking anywhere from 6 to 8 touches of his own most weeks.

Note :: With LeSean McCoy having been cut, the Bills backfield is down to Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon, and Devin Singletary. Gore is 36 years old; Yeldon had a really poor summer, and most beat writers didn’t expect him to make the team; and Singletary was a revelation in camp, performing above expectations and doing all the little things right. Early in the season, we should expect Gore to rack up anywhere from six to 10 carries, and to likely operate as the short-yardage back, which steals some juice from Singletary; but it should be considered a surprise if Yeldon touches the ball many times, and with the Bills preferring to build their offense off the run, Singletary could easily step into 14 touches in Week 1, with upside for more. He’s not a safe play (the matchup favors the pass; the Bills are road dogs; and there is guesswork on Singletary’s touches), but don’t cross him off your list if you are looking to MME. He’d be worth a shot on 10% or 15% of rosters.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Given the narrow distribution of touches in the passing attack for the Bills and the way this matchup tilts in their favor, I’m sure I will (surprise surprise) have interest in this attack this week. John Brown should settle in at around 5 to 7 targets most weeks, with his work primarily coming on valuable downfield looks. Cole Beasley has also become a favorite target for Allen this summer, and he should settle in at around 6 to 8 looks most weeks – providing floor and occasional touchdown-driven upside. And Zay Jones is the wildcard, likely third in the pecking order now, but still with opportunities for spiked-target (and spiked-production) weeks. In tournaments this week, it is viable to go Allen naked, or to stack this offense in big and small ways. Because of the upside this offense has, and because of how low they are priced and how rarely they are targeted in the DFS community, there is almost no losing right now when you target this team in tournaments: even if they have a bad game one week, that simply lowers their prices and ownership for the next time they go off. Honestly (not that I can, in good conscience, publicly recommend this), I was even comfortable rolling with Bills stacks in cash games down the stretch last year, and I won’t be surprised if that carries over to this year as well.

On the other side, the Bills defense is fundamentally good enough that I won’t be looking to isolate Jets players as individual tournament pieces (especially not on main rosters in smaller field and single entry tournaments), but there is enough underpriced/overlooked juice to this offense that I will almost certainly include some full-on game stacks if I execute any MME play. In that scenario, Anderson would become intriguing, as he is the likeliest catalyst for this game turning into a true shootout: with his big-play upside potentially leading to quick scores, and to the Bills having to increase their aggressiveness in response. (Also — not that this will be a particularly popular or highly-owned game to begin with — but if you wanted to really do something different in a large field tournament, you could stack the Bills passing attack on the same roster as the Jets defense. We know about Allen’s decision-making and turnover issues, and if the Jets happened to score a defensive touchdown off of an Allen mistake, it would only increase the need for the Bills to turn to the pass in order to catch back up.)

I expect to have zero interest in the backfields, as we are unlikely to see a week-winning score from any of the backs in this game (the Bills are expected to open the year with a timeshare that may stretch to three separate players :: see new note above Interpretation || and we’ve already covered the Jets); though there are certainly less likely paths in this game that could lead to one of the backs posting a big score, if for some reason you felt compelled to chase off the board in that direction.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 8th 1:00pm Eastern

Falcons (
21.75) at

Vikings (
25.25)

Over/Under 47.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Falcons Run D
23rd DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O
28th DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D
30th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O
15th DVOA/20th Yards per pass
Vikings Run D
19th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O
4th DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D
26th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O
17th DVOA/12th Yards per pass

Falcons at Vikings is one of the more interesting games on the slate – one of those games in which you really shouldn’t even pay close attention to the Vegas line. There is a fairly broad range of outcomes that this game could have, and wherever Vegas has pegged this line (I’m not even bothering to look before writing up this game), they’re not calling this the “likely outcome” so much as they are calling this a median projection in a broad range of outcomes. There are two distinct ways this game could play out, with plenty of middle ground in between:

The first way:

In 2018, the Vikings defense gave up the fewest passing touchdowns in the NFL while allowing the second fewest touchdowns to wide receivers. The Vikings allowed the ninth fewest points per game, the third fewest points per drive, and the fifth lowest opponent drive success rate. Only two teams in the NFL were better than the Vikings at preventing touchdowns in the red zone; and as has been well documented, both the Falcons and old/new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter have underperformed in the red zone in recent years. (The Falcons have also been miserable in the red zone on the road the last couple seasons.)

Halfway through the season last year, the Vikings fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo because he was passing the ball too much, and this offseason they brought in Gary Kubiak to help offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski institute a run-heavy, outside-zone scheme. The Vikings have shown preseason tendencies (which could mean nothing, but…) that they may be set to run the ball as heavily as Seattle did last year. In fact, although the actual play designs are different, Seattle may prove to be a decent comp for Minnesota this year from a philosophical standpoint, as the Vikings (just like the Seahawks) are hoping to run, run, run, and set up shots downfield.

And finally, although the Falcons were awful on defense last year, they dealt with an outlandish number of injuries. It wouldn’t be crazy to expect this to be an above average unit this year – all of which could lead to a lower-scoring affair then we would want to target in fantasy. (In the Vikings last five games in 2018, only one topped 36 total points – while only one of the Vikings final eight games topped 45 total points).

The second way:

At the start of last season, the Vikings defense looked very different from the dominant unit we had seen the year before. They weren’t dealing with major injuries or with major roster turnover, which sent us on a mission to figure out what was wrong. What we found was simple: this team was having too many communication breakdowns on the back end of their defense, allowing opponents to put together big plays and move the ball more easily than we are accustomed to seeing against them. About partway through training camp this year, Mike Zimmer expressed frustration with his veteran defense, feeling that they were resting too heavily on their reputation, and were not putting in the effort required for them to stay at that elite level.

Meanwhile, the Falcons are coming to town – a team that last year ranked sixth in yards per game, fourth in yards per drive, and sixth in drive success rate. With one of the most dominant individual pieces in the league in Julio Jones, it wouldn’t be crazy to bet that the Vikings have a couple early-season coverage breakdowns again, and that Julio is able to take advantage.

And while the Vikings fundamentally want to run the ball (potentially even more often than they end up passing it), this team has also preached aggressiveness throughout the offseason – planning to layer in a large dose of bootlegs, misdirection, and pocket movement designed to force opponents to defend the entire field while allowing Kirk Cousins to push the ball to the deeper areas with his two elite wide receivers. (The Vikings have also talked up the need for Cousins to be aggressive in his decision-making – pushing him this summer to throw the ball into tight windows and trust his playmakers, rather than waiting for them to come fully open.) And what do you know: the Falcons defense is also all about aggressiveness. It wouldn’t be crazy to think that we could see an aggressiveness-on-aggressiveness matchup lead to some big things happening downfield; and if all of these things come together, it isn’t crazy to think this could turn into the highest scoring game on the weekend.

JM’s Interpretation ::

With the exception of Dalvin Cook (who we will get to in a moment), I will almost certainly avoid this game in cash, where there is just no need to take on a matchup with this broad of a range of outcomes. However, the upside on this game is high enough that I’ll likely mix it into any multi-entry play I execute this week.

Given that the running back position has some clearly attractive options for paying up this week (while wide receiver has some clear value), rosters with both Julio and Stefon Diggs (or Julio and Adam Thielen, or Thielen and Diggs) will likely be very unique, creating a tangible edge if this game shoots out. With the step forward the Falcons should take on defense this year and the likelihood that the Vikings still look like one of the top defenses in the league, a shootout is not the “likeliest scenario”; but the chances are high enough that it would be worth taking a shot in tournaments – honestly, of all sizes – as there are players in this game who have legitimate slate-breaking upside.

Because of his big-play upside against this aggressive team, Diggs is my favorite tournament play of the bunch (Thielen is also completely viable, though his upside tends to be tied to volume a bit more than Diggs – and volume could be a concern throughout the season for this passing offense). I won’t be surprised to find Diggs making a push for even my more tightly constructed rosters – though I will certainly have some Thielen and Julio exposure if I do any multi-entry play in large field tournaments. (If you wanted to go farther off the board, Calvin Ridley wouldn’t be crazy either. That’s probably about as far as I would go myself – leaving other ancillary pass catchers alone, and leaving the tight ends on both sides of this matchup alone. Minnesota was one of the more difficult tight end matchups last year, and Austin Hooper tends to be “hope and pray” even in quality matchups. And on the Vikings side, with this team expected to focus heavily on 12 personnel and expected to spread around their tight end targets, I’m comfortable waiting to see how this unit develops while focusing in my Week 1 rosters on the more obviously strong tight end plays.)

The quarterbacks would only make the cut for me in game stacks (overloading on this game in the hopes that it turns into the highest scoring contest of the weekend – again, not the likeliest outcome, but also not crazy), as a shootout is the only way either of these guys is likely to post a “have to have it” score.

In the backfields:

Devonta Freeman is expected to have a larger share of the workload than he had in the past with Tevin Coleman in tow, though given the matchup, he is also a “game stacks only” piece for me.

Cook, of course, is the one player in this game who can have a case made for him in all contest types. It has been well documented over the last three years that the Falcons are schematically comfortable giving up receptions to running backs, which has led to them giving up the most running back receptions in back-to-back seasons. Cook is a strong fit in this new offense, and he adds a legitimate pass catching role and big-play upside. I am more wary of Alexander Mattison than most seem to be (the Vikings drafted him to take over the Latavius Murray role, and they seem to really like him – opening up a chance for him to stop Cook shy of workhorse usage, while also presenting vulture risk), but even 17 touches from Cook in this matchup would be enough to provide him with solid production – and his big-play upside gives him a chance to turn into a dominant piece. I think that Cook is fine for cash games, and his upside (both in terms of production and potentially touches) makes him enticing in tournaments.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 8th 1:00pm Eastern

Ravens (
23.75) at

Dolphins (
16.75)

Over/Under 40.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Ravens Run D
7th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
14th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
11th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
2nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass
Dolphins Run D
9th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
2nd DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
25th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
16th DVOA/17th Yards per pass

One thing we try to hammer in the NFL Edge are the nuances of daily fantasy football. It isn’t as sexy as the whole, “This guy is the lock of the week” model (and frankly, it probably prevents us from maximizing our ceiling for subscribers; oh well), but DFS is a remarkably layered game; and if our goal is to make our subscribers the best at DFS (it is), then hammering the nuances of daily fantasy football are part of it.

One of the reasons we talk so often on the site about “what is likeliest to happen” in a game is this :: in cash games, single-entry tourneys, and smaller field tourneys (where you should be most focused for building bankroll! — with most of your efforts each week centered around narrowing down the slate to the absolute best plays), you are going to create the highest profit ceiling throughout the course of a season (and throughout the course of your DFS career) by focusing primarily on what is likeliest to happen — with a secondary focus on isolating plays that have a genuine and realistic shot at posting one of the top scores (or top point-per-dollar scores) on the slate. Because of the depth of our research, it isn’t unusual for us to uncover low-owned plays each week that have a high likelihood of success — which enables us to think “what is likeliest to happen” first, and think game theory second. This is the way to build for bankroll-building contests (basically: any contest of 10k or fewer entries, or any contests that are single- or limited-entry; plus cash games of all types).

One way to visualize this is to see each game as a river. So then: not simply looking at “what is likeliest to happen” in each individual game on the slate and comparing this in an apples-to-apples sense; but instead taking things another level deeper (tapping into nuance), and saying, “How much water stays in the main course for this river, and how much water branches into tributaries?” Or rather :: HOW likely is the “likeliest to happen” scenario?

Games in which “a lot of water stays in the main course of the river” (games in which “what is likeliest to happen” is extremely likely to happen) are the games, as a general rule, we would prefer to focus on in bankroll-building contests. (Whereas our MME-type play — while still, optimally, building around a core — would mix in some of the thinner “tributaries” from other games.)

So why is all that written here? (Rather than building out an entire course around those ideas — as could easily be done!) Because this particular game keeps a whole lot of water in the main flow of the river.

Defensively, the Dolphins struggled against the run last year (allowing the third most rushing yards to running backs, while giving up yards to running backs at a 4.5 YPC clip), and they were average (though still attackable) vs the pass. The relative strength of this defense is at linebacker and in the secondary, and while new head coach Brian Flores is aggressive by nature, he and new offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea also have the adaptability and creativity to build their approach on the field around the pieces they have. This should lead to the Dolphins primarily taking a bend-but-don’t break approach on defense in general this season — with this approach applying nicely to this particular game as well, in which they can hope for Lamar Jackson to make a mistake or two that can keep them in this game. This will not, however, change the fact that a helmet-on-helmet, 11-man matchup between the Ravens and the Dolphins favors the visiting team. Even if the Dolphins come up with a creative design for Week 1 to try to disrupt the Ravens, Baltimore will have the edge, with a chance to completely truck the Dolphins on the ground.

On the other side of this game: the Ravens’ defense is fundamentally focused on stopping the run and pushing opponents into second- and third-and long situations; and this week, they will be taking on one of the worst offensive lines in football. Last year, the Ravens allowed the third fewest rushing yards in the league to running backs, at a stellar 3.5 YPC clip, while the Dolphins’ offense has lacked consistency this summer with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. The “broad current” for this game would put the Dolphins in plenty of negative situations early in drives — which would increase the likelihood of Miami drives stalling out.

And while the Ravens are expected to open things up a bit more this season, these stalled drives would lead to the Ravens being able to run the ball with more authority to close out this game in the heat and humidity down south.

With all this talk about rivers and tributaries, we should note that the broadest tributary in this game (while still being a narrower tributary than we can find for “alternate scenarios” in other games) is related to the heat and humidity. It is not easy to go into Miami for a game in September, and perhaps the Ravens will struggle. This is a not-crazy angle, and is an angle that pretty much no one will be on, so we’ll also go a layer deeper with this:

Given what we know about Chad O’Shea: in this tough matchup, he’ll look for ways to exploit whatever weaknesses there are in this defense. And the most glaring weakness heading into this contest is in the slot, where stud corner Tavon Young is dealing with a neck issue expected to sideline him for the season, and either Cyrus Jones or Brandon Carr will be filling in (with neither guy nearly in the class of corners the Ravens still boast on the perimeter, with Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith). Although he missed the entire summer while recovering from last year’s hip injury, Albert Wilson should be able to step directly into slot duties in Week 1. Not that he should be mistaken for a lock-and-load play; but if you were forcing yourself to look to this side of the game assuming a tributary in which Baltimore simply wears down on a few plays and allows something big to happen, Wilson — with the speed to score from anywhere on the field — is the guy who would stand out with the clearest shot at upside. ( As for other pieces on the Dolphins — Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Kalen Ballage, Kenyan Drake (with the two backs projected to roughly split touches), or…boy we’re digging deep; Ryan Fitzpatrick — you’re basically hoping for one of three things: 1) a couple of busted assignments from the Ravens defense; 2) some clever play designs in O’Shea’s debut that catch the Ravens completely off guard, or 3) the Ravens just simply not showing up for this game. With any of these, the tributaries get shallow and dry pretty quickly. ) [ Note :: With Stills traded, we don’t know if the Dolphins plan to feature Jakeem Grant or Preston Williams as the other receiver on the perimeter (it will likely be Williams, given his massive size advantage over Grant; but if that’s the case, it’s unlikely Williams plays a full complement of snaps). Either way, Wilson remains the only player with any on-paper attractiveness. ]

Bringing things back over to the broad, main current here :: Jackson shapes up as a safe, high-upside play, as he is the player through whom this entire offense will run. The Ravens want to curtail Jackson’s rushing a bit this year, but they don’t want to remove what makes him special, and after seeing double-digit carries in every regular season start last year, he should be able to see at least eight rushes in this pristine matchup — with obvious upside for (legitimately) 14+.

Joining Jackson in the backfield is Mark Ingram — who should (given Greg Roman’s history) be expected to settle in as a 15 to 17 carry per game back, with around two to three receptions per game; though these are mean projections, and there is no reason he couldn’t swing toward a bigger workload in a spot like this. Gus Edwards is still around to spell Ingram, and rookie Justice Hill has an explosive skill set that the Ravens will want to involve; but Ingram makes for an intriguing tourney play in this matchup — a guy who could easily top 100 yards and punch in a score, and whose floor is fairly respectable at the price tag (a “bad game” from Ingram would look about like 65 rushing yards and 2-25-0 through the air).

And joining Jackson in the pass game are Miles Boykin and Marquise Brown (each rookie can score from anywhere on the field — theoretically making them viable in large-field tourneys in any matchup; though their tributary grows broader on weeks in which the Ravens can be expected to get more aggressive), as well as Jackson favorite Mark Andrews. The Dolphins // Reshad Jones remained attackable with tight ends last year, allowing a 74.4% completion rate to the position. Again: betting on pass catchers on the Ravens is a bet on either A) a big play or B) the Dolphins somehow forcing the Ravens to get aggressive — but these tributaries do, at least, have some water in them.

JM’s Interpretation ::

This game is pretty straightforward, given how broad the main current is, and how clear the remaining tributaries are ::

Lamar Jackson is viable in cash games and tourneys of all sizes. Mark Ingram is viable in small field tourneys and large field tourneys (I’m not sure I have the balls to play Ingram on a main build or a single-entry shot, as we have to make some assumptions on usage/workload; but he could be an awesome value if he tops 20 touches.) Boykin // Brown // Andrews can be considered in large field tourneys.

Albert Wilson is viable in large field tourneys, whereas the rest of the Dolphins should only be used if you are building around specific scenarios that have the Ravens laying an egg in the heat of Miami (which, obviously, is only worth chasing in large-field tourneys with top-heavy payout structures where you might need something completely different from the field to pass everyone at once).

The Dolphins defense is viable in the scenario above, but should otherwise be avoided.

The Ravens defense is viable in all types of contests, even on the road, as the Dolphins are so overmatched.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 8th 1:00pm Eastern

Chiefs (
26.25) at

Jaguars (
22.75)

Over/Under 49.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Chiefs Run D
17th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O
20th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D
22nd DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O
6th DVOA/19th Yards per pass
Jaguars Run D
11th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O
17th DVOA/7th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D
30th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O
1st DVOA/2nd Yards per pass

This matchup between the Chiefs and Jaguars gives us one of the top offenses in NFL history against a team in the Jaguars that last year allowed the second fewest net passing yards per game and the fourth fewest points per game – even with some games down the stretch in which this team showed just pathetic effort.

A game such as this (a matchup of two extremes) tends to have a broader range of potential outcomes than other types of setups, and in large field tournaments you could make a case for building some rosters around some alternative angles; for this writeup, however, we will focus on the likeliest path for this game to follow – and the starting point here is that we should expect Kansas City to score fewer points than they typically score, but more points than most teams score against Jacksonville.

We take a deeper look at what we can expect from the 2019 Jaguars offense HERE, but to summarize: John DeFilippo has taken over as offensive coordinator after getting fired by the Vikings partway through the year last year for throwing the ball too much. And while the Jaguars are still built to win through the run game and defense, we should expect this team to have a more aggressive personality on offense – looking for opportunities to take control of the game on this side of the ball, rather than simply sitting back and allowing opposing offenses to dictate the game. With the Chiefs on tap, we open a fairly safe path by projecting the Jags to do more than just hand off the ball and hope for the best. Last year, the Chiefs faced the most opposing pass attempts per game (39.5 on average!), and giving Foles a projection of at least 35 pass attempts is not crazy in this spot. This is important to think about, as the question this naturally brings up is: who will these passes go to?

DeFilippo has raved about Dede Westbrook this offseason, and beat writers have generally gone on about the connection that Dede and Nick Foles have shown on the field. The Jaguars also have talked openly about how A) they want to keep Leonard Fournette on the field as much as they can, and B) they want to keep him much more involved in the pass game than he has been the last couple years. The Jaguars have still failed to develop a serious threat at tight end, and joining Dede on the field will be Chris Conley and DJ Chark. Conley is primarily a speed guy and a gadget piece, while Chark remains fairly raw.

A case can be made for moving to Conley or Chark as an upside piece in large field tournaments — especially in this matchup (the Chiefs should improve under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo – especially with Tyrann Mathieu running the communication on the back end, and with Frank Clark adding pass rush juice – but they should still be more attackable than most defenses, especially through the air). But with question marks on both playing time and usage for those two, our main focus should be on Dede and Fournette. DeFilippo was comfortable with an extremely narrow distribution of touches in Minnesota, and it’s comfortable to expect him to move Dede around this week and try to load him up on targets. A projection of anywhere from 7 to 10 targets is not crazy in this spot (with upside for even more if this game gets out of hand), and I’m even comfortable giving Fournette 5 to 7 targets of his own.

On the other side of this game, the Chiefs are pretty simple to break down. Given the public’s love for the Chiefs offense, there is a likely leverage play here of simply fading the Chiefs in most contests. Realistically, we will probably still see at least 8% ownership on Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill (we will get a better, more accurate reading on public sentiment for Week 1 when UFCollective’s ownership projections go up; though…given what we know about the DFS community, this is a fair assumption to make). And in order for it to be worth it to take on the downside of any pass catcher against the Jaguars, we would need that pass catcher to have a higher-than-ownership chance of putting up a monster point per dollar score. To put that another way: if Hill (for example) is projected to be owned at around 8%, we would want him to have a greater than 8% chance to post a monster price-considered score in order for this to be a positive leverage play. Given where the price tags sit on these players, the percentages are not on the side of rostering them.

Of course, given the sorts of scores these players are capable of putting up, I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to take some shots on the other side of these numbers. If looking to roster one of the Chiefs, keep in mind that the Jaguars last year allowed the second fewest passing touchdowns and the fewest wide receiver touchdowns, but they allowed the seventh most touchdowns to tight ends. Kelce has the clearest path to a big game here, and if not for how many other tight ends there are to like on this slate, he might even sit at the top of my own list. If we expect the Chiefs to still put up around four touchdowns, after all, it is likely that Kelce – in the best matchup of this bunch – pushes for a decent chunk of this production. (One unique tournament approach this week could even be to roll with two tight ends – as Evan Engram, Hunter Henry, and George Kittle are all in strong spots as well. This could be a unique roster construction that still keeps upside intact.)

As for running back: the Jaguars ranked middle of the pack against the run last year, while showing consistently poor effort down the stretch. It is fair to assume that Jacksonville comes ready to play in Week 1, and there is some fear that Damien Williams will ultimately see his workload capped most games this year at around 17 or 18 touches. Rostering Williams this week is a bit like diving into a pool blind and hoping you find the deep end – though with that said, you should run into lower ownership on Williams; and given that this is the Chiefs we are talking about, the deep end in question is at least rather deep.

Note :: With LeSean McCoy added in KC and a tough matchup on tap, “wait and see” is your best approach in anything but large-field tourneys. Unless you genuinely think Williams gets you a score here that you can’t get anywhere else, the floor isn’t worth taking on in cash games, small-field tourneys, or single-entry tourneys. The McCoy addition does, however, open a case for Williams with a small percentage of large-field play, if going MME, as there is a case to be made that McCoy’s role will be minimal at best in Week 1, and that Darwin Thompson won’t yet steal too many touches. I’m not high on this play for my own rosters, but I’m not high on taking players at Jacksonville, either. If you were leaning Chiefs already, 5% to 8% exposure to Williams in MME play makes a lot of sense.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Although this is the highest over/under game on the slate, it isn’t crazy to think about fading the side of this game that is driving that total, as the Chiefs are still priced at an elite level, and there is a strong case to be made that there are simply better ways to allocate salary this week. That’s where I’ll land myself — with some exposure to Kelce if I dabble in any multi-entry play in Week 1 (though probably lower exposure than the field), and with a few darts on Tyreek Hill in that scenario as well (if we played this slate a hundred times, Ramsey would hold Hill to a disappointing point-per-dollar score more times than not; but a few of the “nots” would turn into monster games — which is a chance worth considering in any MME build).

I do expect the Chiefs to push things on the scoreboard, however (again: my likely lean away from Chiefs in my own builds has more to do with salary allocation than with any expectation that the Chiefs will be shut down); and while there is at least a slim chance that the Jags could look to slow down this game and control it on the ground, everything we know so far about this new Jags offense tells us we can expect them to take some swings. Fournette has potential — in his likely three-down role — to be priced much higher a few weeks from now than he is priced in Week 1. There is a game flow scenario (the Chiefs jumping out to a big lead early) that could put Fournette at risk of a disappointing showing, though even that setup would likely leave him with around five receptions. All things considered, both his floor and ceiling are high.

The same can also be said for Dede, who should be heavily involved and will post some big games this year.

On the MME theme: I would also include a a few shots on Conley and/or Chark if executing a mass-build strategy; and going 1% or 2% exposure on Foles is a fair mathematical bet as well, as he could pop off for the top score on this slate at least once or twice if we played this thing out a hundred times. This approach also leaves room for some shots on Sammy Watkins (or even Demarcus Robinson), as there is a chance that the Chiefs reach (or even pass) their Vegas-implied total of 28.0, and that this comes with the Chiefs having to work the ball through their number two receiver.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 8th 1:00pm Eastern

Titans (
19.25) at

Browns (
24.75)

Over/Under 44.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Titans Run D
2nd DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
8th DVOA/13th Yards per carry
Titans Pass D
27th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
11th DVOA/17th Yards per pass
Browns Run D
30th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O
18th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
15th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O
19th DVOA/13th Yards per pass

Titans at Browns is a fun real-life game between two young teams that have similar mindsets in what should be a gritty, physical battle. The Browns have a new head coach; the Titans have a new offensive coordinator; but there is actually more that we know about these offenses and what they want to do than there is that we don’t know.

We take a deeper look at the Browns’ offense HERE — but the gist of this team is that they want to take control on offense, dictating the game on this side of the game while spreading the ball around and forcing opponents to try to take away ten different things at once. The Browns should come out swinging in this matchup (down the stretch last year, Baker Mayfield threw the ball 37 or more times in three of his final five games, and with Odell Beckham added to the mix, Cleveland will try to land a haymaker early), which brings us to an interesting spot in this game: Mayfield’s matchup.

In 2018, the Tennessee Titans were tough on quarterbacks, allowing the sixth fewest passing yards and the fourth fewest passing touchdowns in the league. But a look under the hood tells a different story, as the Titans had the benefit of playing one of the softest quarterback schedules.

The Titans’ defense is built around disguises, with a mix of man and zone designed to confuse quarterbacks and wear them down mentally as much as physically. Generally speaking, seasoned quarterbacks tend to be better equipped to diagnose and handle such defenses — which can allow them to open a path to solid production.

Although we don’t have a sample from last year of Mayfield facing a similar matchup with Freddie Kitchens calling the plays, he did tear apart the Ravens in Week 17 — and while that defense is more about aggressiveness than aggressive disguises, I’m comfortable leaning toward Baker and Kitchens with extra time to prepare, over leaning toward the Titans coaches. We should expect Baker to have somewhere between an above-average and strong game; and while there are other QBs who have a better shot at topping the slate, Baker landing the top score of the weekend (which is what we should always be targeting at QB, given how condensed pricing typically is at this position) is not a far-fetched possibility.

If Baker does have an above-average to strong game, this should also make his pass catchers worth talking about, where the big problem with targeting these guys in DFS this year can be boiled down to this: in Mayfield’s eight starts with Kitchens in charge, he threw to the following number of players per week: 10 // 9 // 8 // 10 // 8 // 7 // 10 // 8.

Beckham is going to have games this season in which he sees double-digit targets, but we should enter the season expecting him to also have games in which he sees only seven or eight looks. Until we see him prove otherwise, this bounces him out of cash game consideration — but he remains a viable tournament piece, as his spiked-target games may prove to be tied to something the Browns like about a matchup as much as to shootout potential. (With that said: a shootout is massively unlikely here, which does close off one of the clear paths to Beckham picking up a spiked-target game — which means that if you roster Beckham, you’re hoping for his targets to spike for some other reason, or you’re hoping for him to break off multiple big plays.)

Jarvis Landry will hit Tennessee where they are weakest, over the middle of the field, though he will need a broken play in order to hit for upside || Rashard Higgins should typically have a ceiling in the range of around 4-60 || and David Njoku is all about hoping for a big play or a touchdown.

Swinging over to the Browns’ backfield: last year, the Titans were average on the ground against running backs, but they allowed the fewest receiving yards and the fewest touchdowns to the position, which closes off some of the clearest paths to a spiked-week game from Nick Chubb. There is some range to Chubb’s role this year, as he could settle in as anything from a 75% player to a 95% player (again: you can find a deeper look at this situation in the AFC North Preview). Between the matchup and the uncertainty of Chubb’s role, he isn’t a cash game play for me; though if you are in the bucket of fantasy players who expect Chubb to be a 95% back, it is obviously fair to target any back with that sort of snap share even in a difficult matchup; and Chubb does have his standing as a home favorite going for him.

Tennessee’s best chance of staying in this game will be to keep the ball on the ground and evaporate time from the clock; and with their offensive philosophy this year built around running the football, that is precisely what they will try to do. Last year, Cleveland was attackable on the ground, allowing 4.75 yards per carry to running backs while giving up 14 touchdowns on the ground — though with the departure of Gregg Williams and his over-aggressive defenses, it is fair to wonder whether these run game issues will remain. The Browns have the talent on defense to be better against the run than that.

If targeting Derrick Henry, you are effectively betting on a fluky, multi-score Henry game in a Titans loss, or you are betting on the Titans being able to take and hold a lead — allowing Henry to pile up touches and to break off some big plays. For all the apparent Henry love this offseason — with him going in the late-third round of Best Ball drafts — we should point out that he cracked 20 touches only two times last season, and he didn’t top two catches at all; so be sure to consider game flow expectations whenever considering Henry — knowing what you expect to happen in the spots where you roster him.

Of course, the likeliest scenario here is for the Browns to take a lead, and for the Titans to have to turn more heavily to the air as this game moves along. And in order for this Titans passing attack to produce week-winning upside (even at a price-considered standpoint), they would need to take a big and sudden step forward — especially on the road against this Browns defense that allowed the fourth fewest passing touchdowns in the NFL last year.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Although the Titans carried an easy slate of quarterback matchups last year, I would prefer to target my DFS passing attacks in spots where my team has a shot at a shootout, and isn’t playing against a slow-paced team with a bad offense and a defense that is good at disguising its intentions. I don’t dislike the Browns this week; but there are other passing attacks that my style of play will likely draw me toward over this team.

I also expect to avoid Chubb myself; though given that Chubb cracked the first round of Best Ball drafts down the stretch run of summer, it seems many are entering the season believing that Chubb will be a 95% player — and if you are in this camp, you should consider Chubb to be fundamentally underpriced on DraftKings and FanDuel, even in a difficult matchup (especially as that 95% role would mean that Chubb is playing on third downs, and is picking up a few additional receptions along the way).

As for the Titans: yeah. No. I’m more interested in the Browns’ new-look defense — which won’t be forcing Myles Garrett to use only two pass rushing moves, and which should be able to get after the quarterback this year without leaving open lanes in the run game, with a matchup against a timid quarterback in Marcus Mariota who may hold onto the ball too long a few times and allow sacks and potential fumbles to pile up.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 8th 4:05pm Eastern

Colts (
19.25) at

Chargers (
25.25)

Over/Under 44.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Colts Run D
15th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O
22nd DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Colts Pass D
13th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Chargers Pass O
17th DVOA/26th Yards per pass
Chargers Run D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O
31st DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Chargers Pass D
10th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O
32nd DVOA/31st Yards per pass

No game has seen its complexion change more over the last month than this one. The Melvin Gordon holdout has continued throughout the preseason. Derwin James is out for most of the year, removing one of the NFL’s elite defensive playmakers from the equation in this game. And then…yeah, Andrew Luck retired two weeks before the start of the season.

Last season, the Colts played at the fastest pace in the NFL (the Chargers, by the way, played at the slowest pace), but Frank Reich is one of the four or five most adaptable coaches in the NFL – expertly crafting his offense around the players he has, and around the matchup at hand. Because of this, it’s fair to assume that the approach Reich will use for winning games with Jacoby Brissett will be different from the approaches he used with Luck. And although the loss of Derwin James hurts the Chargers, the impact of this loss would have been felt quite a bit more if Luck were under center for the Colts. (Last year, the Chargers allowed the eighth fewest points per game and the ninth fewest yards per game, while ranking eighth in fewest points allowed per drive — and that was not solely because of James.) There is a reason the Colts have one of the lowest Vegas implied team totals on the slate.

The Colts have the pieces on defense to win a slower paced game, and it won’t be surprising if Reich slows down the pace on offense a bit, continuing to focus on a short area passing attack, and trying to mix and match looks throughout the game in order to find opportunities to spring a big-play. The talent (and offensive design) is there for a slim case to be made for players like Jack Doyle (who should be the lead tight end), Eric Ebron (who should see the field plenty in two tight end sets), and Devin Funchess; but the best way to handle this team in Week 1 – against a tough defense, with Brissett under center – is to avoid them in cash games, single entry tourneys, and small field tourneys, while only giving attention in large field tournaments to players who can make something big happen all at once: targeting the speed of T.Y. Hilton, the big-play upside of Marlon Mack, or a potential screen to the house for Nyheim Hines.

Although the Chargers have the talent to be an explosive, aggressive offense, their philosophy as a team is to play slow, methodical football – leaning on the run, slowing down the pace, and working in synergy with their defense to take a lead and gradually close out games. This offense is good enough that you could get some floor from them this week, but if you are targeting week-winning upside, you would likely need Indianapolis to put up points early and force the Chargers to get aggressive. As such (with the exception of one player (possibly two; more on this in a moment)), the Chargers are better suited to game stacks than they are to one-off plays – rostering some Chargers in tournaments alongside explosive Colts players, in the hopes of catching a slim-likelihood blowup between these two teams.

If hoping to isolate an individual Chargers player, the toughest matchups belong to the wide receivers. Last year, the Colts quietly allowed the second fewest receptions and the second fewest yards to wideouts. The goal of this defense is to filter targets away from wide receivers, and to tackle well on running backs and tight ends after the catch. While Indy was elite against wideouts last year, they allowed the most receptions and the most yards in the league to tight ends, and allowed the second most receptions to running backs.

Austin Ekeler figures to be a somewhat popular play, as the Melvin Gordon situation creates an opportunity for us to get a “starting running back” at a discount. There is at least a 50% chance, however, that this turns into more of a 65/35 split with Justin Jackson than into a true workhorse setup for Ekeler. He is appropriately priced (or perhaps even slightly underpriced) on DraftKings for his pass catching role against this defense that filters targets so heavily to the running back – though there is some concern here when looking for upside that the Chargers had a tendency last year to NOT increase targets to running backs when the matchup called for it. Ekeler should have a floor of six or seven points through the air on DK (four to five on FanDuel), making him more than acceptable to consider. With how good Indianapolis is against the run, however (top eight last year in both rushing yards allowed and yards allowed per carry), Ekeler will need a big play, a ramped up pass game role, or closer to a full complement of touches in order to put up the type of score you would regret missing out on. He’s a solid piece, though his likeliest-scenario ceiling is not as high as most will, at first glance, assume.

This all filters us over to Hunter Henry – who is the easiest play in this game to gravitate toward in all game types (cash games, small field tournaments, large field tournaments, etc.). The worst case for Henry this season (assuming health) is for him to finish the year as a top eight tight end, though it honestly wouldn’t be surprising if he cracked the top five or even (heresy, I know) made a push for the top three. There are a number of tight ends to like this week, but if we put Engram, Kittle, Kelce, and Henry into a bucket and stuck our hand in blindly to try to grab the highest score on the weekend, there is at least a 15% chance that Henry would be the guy we would come up with. Some of this, obviously, would come down to touchdowns (the flukiest and least predictable element in DFS), but as long as the Chargers appropriately adjust to this matchup, Henry should clear seven targets, giving him a strong shot at posting one of the higher tight end scores on the slate.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I doubt many people will be on the Brissett Colts this week, even in large field tournaments, and from that angle, it could make some sense to go overweight against the field in multi-entry play. After all, if Hilton (for example) is only 3% or 4% owned, is there a greater than 3% or 4% chance that he posts a big game? With his speed and with Frank Reich calling the shots, there probably is – and you could carry this same thinking to the other big-play threats on this team, and make a case for some large field tournament exposure. I don’t expect to be there at all myself, but this wouldn’t be totally out of place in a large field Week 1 strategy.

A case could also be made for Keenan Allen or Mike Williams, as the volume for Allen and the big-play upside for Williams could theoretically lead to them becoming tourney winning pieces. But because the DFS community does not yet have the respect for this Colts defense that they should have, we should also expect ownership to be higher on these players than their percentage chances of posting a big game. With plenty to like in other spots on the slate, I’m not seeing much to draw my eyes here this week. I’m also sure to be underweight against the field on Ekeler (I don’t think he’ll have a bad game, but there are other players with a higher likelihood of a blowup game, and Ekeler is an easy name for the public to click this week, which should elevate his ownership above his likeliest-outcome expectations), but I do expect to find a steady dose of Hunter Henry on my rosters; and while I have enough respect for Reich (and even for Brissett) that the Chargers probably won’t be my staple defense, there is obviously something to be said for targeting an elite defense against a backup quarterback in the first game of the season.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 8th 4:05pm Eastern

Bengals (
17.75) at

Hawks (
26.75)

Over/Under 44.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bengals Run D
14th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O
23rd DVOA/7th Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D
12th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
Seahawks Pass O
8th DVOA/24th Yards per pass
Seahawks Run D
25th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O
4th DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Seahawks Pass D
17th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O
7th DVOA/16th Yards per pass

As of this writeup, the Bengals somewhat surprisingly have the second lowest Vegas implied team total on the main slate. And sure, the Bengals are without A.J. Green, and they really don’t have much at wide receiver behind him. But this is a team that has potentially upgraded at head coach, has certainly upgraded in play designs, and that averaged 23 points per game last year (a respectable 17th in the NFL). The Seahawks averaged 21.6 points per game allowed at home, and they are not the same defense they have been in the past (they’re not even the same defense they were last year). Seattle is extremely strong at linebacker, but they are expected to have one of the worst pass rushing units and one of the most suspect secondaries in the NFL. A Vegas implied team total of 17.0 is too low, and I’m expecting it will rise before we reach kickoff.

The biggest potential impediment to the Bengals topping 17 points is the ball control style of play that the Seahawks adopted last year and that they appear ready to double down on this season. The Seahawks were the first team in ages to run the ball at a higher rate than they threw the ball, with an offense designed to hammer the defense repeatedly with physical runs before building in play action designed to take shots downfield. Only four quarterbacks had a deeper average intended air yards than Russell Wilson (and two of those four quarterbacks played for the Buccaneers; the other two – if you’re wondering – were our boys Josh Allen and Sam Darnold). Especially against a defense like the Bengals (which finished dead last in 2018 in yards allowed per game while finishing 30th in points allowed per game), Russ carries serious upside with the downfield style of this team’s passing offense – with opportunity available for multiple big plays to hit, and for Russ to pile up points as a result. On the flip side, of course, is the low floor you have to take on in order to chase this upside. While the Seahawks finished fifth in passing touchdowns last year and sixth in yards per pass attempt, they finished 27th(!) in passing yards. Meanwhile, the Bengals allowed the fourth most rushing yards in the NFL last year while allowing running backs to hit them for 4.9 yards per carry. Given how forceful the Seahawks were last year about running even in difficult matchups, there is no reason to expect them to do anything but lean on the run here. If chasing after Russ and Tyler Lockett, then, you’re essentially saying one of two things: either 1) that you think these guys can connect for a big-play on one of their opportunities, or 2) that you think the Bengals will be able to make noise on offense and force the Seahawks to get more aggressive (hint: given what we saw last year, this second scenario would require the Bengals to take a big lead, as Seattle remained committed to the run last year even when falling behind by two scores early). There are better plays on the slate than that first scenario, but Russ and Lockett are absolutely a strong enough connection that it isn’t a crazy play. As for the second scenario: if this is why you are rostering Russ and Lockett, be sure to finish off that thought by bringing back your stack with pieces from the Bengals.

You can find a full breakdown of what to expect from the new Bengals offense here.

We should expect the Bengals to try to be aggressive and score points; and they will likely center their offensive efforts around Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon, and the tight ends – with perhaps three or four targets going to Josh Malone, and with John Ross being given a couple shots downfield.

With the Bengals carrying so little at wide receiver behind Boyd, the Seahawks will have had several weeks to design their Week 1 coverages so that Boyd is always heavily accounted for. The opportunity associated with a number one receiver gives Boyd a path to a worthwhile game — especially against a secondary that carries Week 1 question marks across the board; but expect Seattle to do what they can to force Josh Malone and John Ross to beat them.

The most intriguing play on this side of the ball is Mixon. Mixon saw his volume rise and dip last year based on game flow – still maintaining pass game involvement when the Bengals fell behind, but not seeing the sort of volume you would want associated with his lower-high-end price. But this is also a new coaching staff, and there is an interesting game theory angle here in that Mixon is a potential 22+ touch back in the “Todd Gurley role” for this offense; and because he is a road underdog back (on a team with the second lowest Vegas implied team total on the slate, no less), his ownership will likely be far lower than his percentage chance of hitting his upside. There are, of course, other running backs with a better matchup (though Seattle did allow the third most receiving yards to running backs last year), but from a game theory perspective, Mixon is worth keeping in mind: i.e., not asking, “Who is the best on-paper play?” But rather, “If we played this slate a hundred times, which play would make me the most total money?”

Note :: With Clowney added in Seattle, their run defense will definitely improve. Though…with how overlooked Mixon is going, the case above still stands as well. He’s a guy who could get you 30+ at minimal ownership. Purely through role and matchup, Mixon would top 30+ at least 10 times (possibly 15) if we played out this slate a hundred times. The upside is still worth targeting with a percentage of MME play.

And of course, the most intriguing play in this game as a whole is Chris Carson, who has a pristine on-paper matchup against a Bengals defense that last year allowed the fourth most rushing yards and the fourth most receiving yards to backs. The hype train on Carson has gotten a bit out of control lately given that his carries down the stretch last year in games in which Rashaad Penny played came out to 17 // 16 // 13 // 22 // 19 // 13; but he is the clear and adamant leader of this committee, on a team that wants to run perpetually, and he can comfortably be given a projection of 16+ carries and three or four receptions, with touchdown upside, and with potential for his workload to grow from there if the Seahawks truck the Bengals in this spot.

JM’s Interpretation ::

There are simply more aggressive passing attacks than the Seahawks and better passing attacks than the Bengals available to choose from on this slate, which will almost certainly leave me completely off of this aspect of this game. As noted above, Russ carries upside if you want to go there (though I’d rather target QB upside with a higher floor myself), and both Lockett and Boyd are respectable bets to produce. (You could even get crazy if you wanted in this spot. For example: I don’t believe I have ever played John Ross; nor have I ever been disappointed that I didn’t play John Ross, as he has simply not adjusted well to NFL techniques and precision. But he has at least a two-in-fifty shot at a big game here; and I wouldn’t think it was crazy to include him in MME builds accordingly.)

The running backs are more appealing. I’m fading reports that Giovani Bernard is going to steal piles of work from Mixon, as Mixon is just a much better player than his counterpart — which leaves me comfortable targeting Mixon’s upside in at least some large-field builds, as he has the upside to pop at low-ish ownership if given a shot. And of course, Carson stands out as one of the safer bets on the slate, with a lock-and-load 18+ touches in a great matchup, and with additional volume/touchdown upside from there.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 8th 4:25pm Eastern

49ers (
25) at

Bucs (
26)

Over/Under 51.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
49ers Run D
2nd DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O
30th DVOA/32nd Yards per carry
49ers Pass D
5th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O
11th DVOA/28th Yards per pass
Buccaneers Run D
13th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O
13th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D
15th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O
3rd DVOA/5th Yards per pass

Last season, the 49ers ranked 11th in net passing yards allowed per game and 14th in net rushing yards allowed per game, but they ranked 28th in points allowed per game. How did this happen? For starters, San Francisco intercepted only two passes all season – a stunning level of ineffectiveness that was part of this team forcing only seven turnovers all year (for reference: the second worst team in the NFL forced 14 turnovers), which led to the 49ers ranking 24th in drive success rate allowed, 18th in yards allowed per drive, and 26th in points allowed per drive. Only 10 teams allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers, but at 27 touchdowns allowed to wideouts, the 49ers were three touchdowns worse than the next worst team in the league.

Meanwhile, the Buccaneers’ struggles on defense were well documented last year. Only the 49ers and Raiders allowed more passing touchdowns then the Bucs; only the Chiefs, Eagles, Saints, and Bengals allowed more passing yards; only the Bengals, Falcons, and Chiefs allowed a higher drive success rate; and this team also ranked bottom five in turnovers forced per drive and points allowed per drive. No team allowed more touchdowns to running backs last year than the Bucs; only five teams allowed more receptions to wide receivers; only three teams allowed more touchdowns to wide receivers; and only three teams allowed more receiving yards to tight ends.

Both of these defenses are expected to show improvement this year. Todd Bowles is taking over the Buccaneers defense, and there are two main things we should expect him to bring to the table. Firstly, we should see multiple looks from this defense throughout the season, with unique, opponent-specific game plans designed to take away what the other team does best; and secondly, we should see Bowles lean on his typical aggressiveness, which mixes well with the identity of head coach (and former collaborator) Bruce Arians. Bowles and Arians both want to be aggressive, attacking on both sides of the ball and hoping to exert their will throughout the game. This should lead to the Buccaneers doing better this year in takeaways (sixth worst in the NFL last year) and interceptions (19th in the NFL). Though realistically, this team does still have personnel questions, and an aggressive approach from a talent-iffy defense can open the door for big plays, and can help to stimulate a back and forth affair.

The 49ers, meanwhile, are switching to a wide nine base defense – a defense that sometimes leaves lanes open against the run, but that is designed to get after the quarterback as often as possible. Although Nick Bosa may miss Week 1, this team still has a defensive line with the pieces to be special; and with the addition of Kwon Alexander at linebacker and with Richard Sherman now fully recovered from his Achilles injury, this defense as a whole has a chance to surprise this year.

These elements are noted more, however, because there is a chance for one of these units to turn in a quality DFS score at the bottom of the price barrel than because we should be scared to attack this game. This figures to be one of the more popular spots on the slate; and while there are obviously scenarios in which this game becomes lower scoring than most will expect (scenarios potentially worth trying to exploit with some large-field tourney builds), the fundamental aggressiveness of both of these offensive coaches should lead to some big plays piling up throughout this game (with this path widened by the fact that each of these defenses wants to play aggressively as well), making this one of the more obviously attractive games to look toward in Week 1.

Part of the beauty of targeting the Buccaneers offense is that they have a new head coach in Arians who has a long track record of maximizing talent (that is, Arians is going to feed the ball to his best players, rather than wasting touches on players who shouldn’t have the ball in their hands). And while this Buccaneers roster has a lot of talent at the top, it is one of the thinnest rosters in football from a depth perspective. This means that most weeks, volume in this offense will be heavily concentrated on a small number of players. In the passing attack, this is Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard.

This week, Howard runs into one of the toughest matchups he will see all year (last season, only three teams allowed fewer targets to tight ends than the 49ers, and only four teams allowed fewer yards). Howard has matchup-busting ability, but by the research, we should expect an even heavier dose of targets than normal to flow to Evans and Godwin. With very little for the Bucs to target at running back, it isn’t crazy to project Evans and Godwin to combine for around 20 targets. For that matter, it won’t be crazy if we see both of these guys individually push for double-digit targets. The Buccaneers finished near the bottom of the league in nearly every run blocking metric last year, and they have a pair of extremely underwhelming backs in Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones. While one of these guys could theoretically break off a long play or fall into the end zone a couple times, Arians will be centering his game plan around his three elite pass catchers – and given the matchup, Godwin and Evans are the two who stand out the most.

San Francisco is a bit more difficult to get excited about, as this team wants to spread the ball around quite a bit more than the Buccaneers do. Entering Week 1, we should expect Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida to split carries at somewhere between a 50/50 to 60/40 rate. (Honestly, there is not even a guarantee heading into the season that Coleman will end up with the fat end of this split. By all accounts, Breida has been the best back for the 49ers this summer.) The 49ers also have a number of wide receivers that they want to get the ball to, with Dante Pettis, Jalen Hurd, Deebo Samuel, and Marquise Goodwin all carving out space for some looks (on top of the targets that this team wants to filter to running backs). Although the matchup is not particularly daunting, it is difficult to project any of these wide receivers for more than seven targets in a likeliest-ceiling scenario, leaving all of them more as tournament shots than as set-and-forget pieces. Pettis theoretically has the highest upside of the group, though the 49ers like Hurd’s physicality and may try to exploit that near the goal line. Goodwin settles in as an iffy-usage, big-play threat. Samuel is a wildcard – and frankly, with how much 21 personnel this team runs, playing time among all these wide receivers is an open question, leaving them as hope and pray tournament plays rather than guys you should genuinely rely on.

Note :: Hurd is looking unlikely for Week 1, which is starting to tighten up the 49ers’ passing distribution. We’re still looking at a team that wants to target the backs and Kittle, but it should be Pettis and Goodwin on the outside and Deebo in the slot, with all of these guys likely seeing north of 60% of the snaps (and with one of them – likely Pettis  – seeing close to 100%). You could do worse in MME than Goodwin’s downfield skill set or Deebo’s floor/ceiling combo from the slot. These are not staple plays, but they do make some sense.

“Okay, what about Kittle?” Well…that’s a different story.

George Kittle closed the season last year seeing eight or more targets in seven straight games (going 10, 13, nine, nine, eight, 12, 14 – with 70 or more yards in five of those games on the strength of his unique after-catch ability). The Buccaneers, for all their struggles last year, did shave 9% off the league average yards after catch per reception rate, but they also allowed the fourth most yards and the fifth most receptions to the tight end position. From a standard projections standpoint, Kittle comes in a bit lower than some of the other elite tight end options this week; but given the expected aggressive nature of this game and the unique skill set that Kittle has, he’s very much in play in all DFS formats.

JM’s Interpretation ::

On the Buccaneers side, Godwin and Evans stand out as two of the top on paper plays this week, while Jameis Winston is worth considering for the upside available in this game, and Howard is a fine large field tournament piece for his matchup-busting ability. (As for the running backs: you’re flying blind here on a bad backfield with a split workload, leaving these two as nothing more than hope and pray plays.)

On the 49ers side, Kittle stands out as the strongest piece, while the rest of the wide receivers and running backs on this team carry uncertain volume – leaving them as theoretically viable darts in tournaments for the overall upside this game could prove to carry, though leaving all of them as rather iffy options in smaller field tournaments and cash games. There is also a sneaky case to be made in large field tournaments for rostering Jimmy Garoppolo naked – as he is one of the rare quarterbacks, in this offense, who could post a week-winning score without bringing any individual pass catchers with him. —

From OWS Collective ::

:: JMToWin —

This collective ( phi_eagles05 ) does a good job looking at alternate angles. It caught my eye for two reasons. Firstly, he nailed the way the Bears/Packers game ended up playing out. Secondly, he brought up some good points on the tight end matchup for OJ Howard, and the fact that San Francisco didn’t really play many high-quality tight ends last year. He followed that up with, “Curious what JM has to say here.” Which made me curious as well.

Tight end coverage is one of the knottiest elements to figure out in DFS. “Allowed” numbers are obviously flawed, as these are so matchup-dependent. And DVOA numbers are flawed as tight end coverage is so nuanced, given all the different types of tight ends. For example: calling Kyle Rudolph a tight end, and Travis Kelce a tight end, and George Kittle a tight end, and Evan Engram a tight end…it’s like we’re not even talking about the same position or players. Furthermore, teams use linebackers, corners, safeties || man coverage, zone coverage, hybrid coverage, etc. to account for tight ends, and each team’s approach will likely be different against each team they face.

The best way to get about 60% of the picture is to look at fairly large-sample-size “Allowed” numbers, as opponents always look to isolate and attack a good matchup. If a team is easy to attack with tight ends, tight end numbers against that team will spike. A great example is the 2018 Browns, who allowed the most tight end targets in the NFL (11.5% more than any other team!!!), and yet faced only two elite tight ends all season (Travis Kelce and O.J. Howard). In fact, their tight end schedule wasn’t too dissimilar from the 49ers (who faced the fourth fewest tight end targets). The Browns’ schedule included:

Jets
Saints
Chargers
Bengals (twice)
Texans
Pre-Lamar Ravens
Panthers without Olsen

In 2018:

Kyle Rudolph had his fewest targets of the season vs SF

Travis Kelce went 5-72 against Reuben Foster and Malcolm Smith, neither of whom are on the 49ers anymore; he couldn’t get much going against the rest of this defense

Jimmy Graham hit a 54-yarder when Fred Warner got sucked up in play-action; Warner is typically a disciplined player, however; and this week — vs a Bucs team that isn’t much of a threat in the run game but is incredibly strong with the pass — Warner should be coached all week to pay attention to his keys and not get sucked up on play action

Evan Engram (who as a player may be the closest comp to Howard…with the possible exception of Kittle — more on him in a moment) went 2-40 vs Exum Jr., who shouldn’t be in coverage on Howard much now that Jaquiski Tartt is back

Of course, this introduces another layer, as Tartt is the main guy who will be assigned to Howard; and Tartt has played hurt (and missed about half his games) in most of his time under Saleh.

Tartt was extremely strong against tight ends early in 2017 (he held Ertz to one catch for 14 yards; Ertz went 4-34 in all in that game; Jordan Reed wasn’t targeted when Tartt was covering him; Greg Olsen went 2-18 vs the 49ers, and wasn’t targeted in Tartt’s coverage), but he struggled with injuries that year and then missed the second half of the season. Last year, he was in and out of the lineup with injuries and missed several games; so while he didn’t look as dominant individually, it’s fair to question the validity of that.

It is also worth noting that almost all of Tartt’s coverage reps in practice come against Kittle — with Tartt having a chance each day to square off with him one-on-one. Kittle and Tartt work together to refine both of their techniques, and this should help Tartt in his matchup against Howard, as he has a sounding board that is on that same level.

And yet(!) — with all that said — Howard is going to split out wide; Howard is going to go in motion; heck, Howard may even start in the backfield one play and run a route from there. The Bucs have only three guys they really want to throw to (Perriman will get a couple shots, but things won’t center around him), and the Bucs want to throw. They’ll do what they can to get Howard involved, without a doubt; and he could easily break off a big play or two, or catch a couple of short scores (last year, they loved sprinting Howard into the flat near the end zone), or have any number of other things break his way.

If we’re talking “Optimal” builds, Engram (and Henry, and Kittle, and Kelce) are better plays than Howard this week. But if we’re talking guys who could smash anyway, “and who cares if they have a slightly lower floor,” I definitely agree that Howard — with all the moving parts in this matchup, and with his game-breaking talent — is very much in play in tourneys.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 8th 4:25pm Eastern

Giants (
18.75) at

Cowboys (
25.75)

Over/Under 44.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Giants Run D
32nd DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O
10th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Giants Pass D
22nd DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O
13th DVOA/10th Yards per pass
Cowboys Run D
5th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O
7th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D
3rd DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Giants Pass O
10th DVOA/29th Yards per pass

This Week 1 divisional matchup, between two marquee teams seemingly moving in different directions, is a good example of why, when looking at a slate, it is important to rely on more than just Vegas totals:

For all the faults on this Giants team and all the negative press it receives, there are a few positives that we can lean on in regards to the offensive decisions of head coach Pat Shurmur. Going back to his time with the Vikings, Shurmur has been willing to work with a narrow distribution of offensive touches, designing his offense and calling plays so that his best players consistently see the most work. In 2017, this meant that Adam Thelen and Stefon Diggs were consistent focuses of the offense, and last year with the Giants, we saw Shurmur pour his offense through Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram. (Incredibly, there were only two games last season in which a Giants wide receiver outside of this group topped even four targets.) With Beckham gone, the Giants brought in Golden Tate – but Tate is suspended for the first four games of the year, leaving only Saquon, Shepard, and Engram.

Going another level deeper, then: the Cowboys allowed the ninth fewest receptions to wide receivers last season, while giving up the fourth most receptions to tight ends, and allowing the fifth most catches to running backs.

This is not to say that this is an easy matchup or one we would always go out of our way to target. Dallas allowed the seventh fewest yards per game last season and the sixth fewest points per game, while shaving over 4% off the league average yards after catch per reception. But with the Giants almost certain to filter their offense through their best weapons, and with one of their three best weapons having a far more difficult matchup than the other two, Saquon and Engram become two of the most volume-secure players on the slate – with increased value on DraftKings, where their matchup is boosted by the fact that the Cowboys allowed a 4.5% increase on the league average catch rate, and where heavy volume can help make up for a lack of scoring upside. In two games against the Cowboys last year, pairing Saquon and Engram would have averaged you 45.4 points – on pace for 164 points from your roster at a point-per-dollar rate. (In all, these two combined – across two games – for 30 receptions, 398 total yards, and three touchdowns.) In the better game these two combined for (the one in which they each scored a touchdown), they were on a 175 point pace. Now, even with the fact that cheaper players can go for higher salary multipliers, you would be looking for more than that to win a large field tournament; but in smaller field tournaments – and especially in cash games – locking up that much production at that much salary is always a strong play. (It also isn’t outlandish to give the Giants a 40% shot at scoring three touchdowns as a team; and if they were to hit this mark, these two would have a more-than-50% shot at scoring all three of them – making the math pretty solid from an upside perspective, with potential for these two to combine for a 200 point pace.)

You can learn more about our expectations for the new look Cowboys offense HERE, but in looking strictly at the matchup, the Giants will once again be weakest over the middle of the field (they are not shy-away on the outside; but they were above average on the perimeter last year). What does this mean for the Cowboys? Well, last year, Dallas did a poor job using Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper over the middle of the field. If Dallas holds to those patterns, the player with the best matchup is Randall Cobb – an interesting name to keep in mind simply because no one else will have him, though realistically, ceiling is an iffy proposition with Cobb and you would need a broken play in order for him to be worth the roster spot.

There is another train of thought that says that Kellen Moore will find ways to get his best players into the best matchups; and if you feel comfortable leaning toward this thought, Gallup and Amari become very much in play. I would recommend the safe route in cash games – avoiding both Gallup and Amari – but in tournaments, you can make a case for fading the Cowboys’ 2018 tendencies and expecting them to move one of these guys in position to succeed.

Not that the pass game is where anyone’s attention is right now, as it will be all eyes on the backfield for this game in the DFS community. The Giants were fine against the run last year – ranking middle of the pack in yards allowed per carry, rushing yards, and receiving yards. But with how bad this Giants team was as a whole, they tied for the fourth most touchdowns allowed to the running back position.

If Ezekiel Elliott returns to the Cowboys, he is expected to immediately step back into a workhorse role – though realistically, at this point, it would be fair to imagine that he wouldn’t be ready to step directly into his full, monster workload in Week 1, as he will be stepping into a brand new offense. The terminology will be the same, but Dallas is changing enough from a pre-snap perspective that there are timing elements that would make it difficult for him to fully step in, or for him to click right away, making him a risky play.

If he doesn’t return in time, expect Tony Pollard to be one of the most popular plays on the slate. Pollard should step into a monster share of touches, and his upside is notable – especially as his calling card in college was his pass game work.

So is Pollard a must-play if Zeke misses?

Note :: It’s looking likely that a Zeke deal gets done before Week 1 kicks off. We’ll wait until later in the week to update thoughts (any updates will go up at the bottom of this game), as that will allow us to get a feel for what coaches are thinking, and whether or not Zeke will play a full compliment of snaps. If he’ll be anything shy of a 90% player in Week 1, his price is too steep for him to be anything but a hope-and-pray tourney play; but if it looks like he’ll have his typical role, he can be considered his typically-elite self.

In cash games, I would say absolutely. There is no need to try to get cute in this spot.

In tournaments: look, Zeke himself had plenty of 15 point DraftKings and 12 point FanDuel games last season. And the sites were wise enough to not price Pollard at the minimum. There is no reason to expect a bad game from him, and he could easily put up a monster score (if we played this slate a hundred times, he would probably have 20 to 25 games that you would really wish you’d had at his price), but it wouldn’t be crazy to bet on a rookie fourth round draft pick having a less-than-elite first career game making the jump from the American Athletic Conference to the NFL. If you use Pollard in tourneys, you will be using a very chalky play that is nevertheless very strong; and if you fade him, you will risk missing out on a huge point per dollar game, but you will give yourself a shot at passing a large chunk of the field if you can somehow figure out how to allocate that salary better. That’s how I see it, honestly: if you come across something that you think is just a better allocation of salary (after all, this tends to be the loosest salary week of the year, and there are certainly other ways you can save money this week), Pollard would be a fine strategical fade even in smaller field tourneys. But given that he is fundamentally a very strong play, I wouldn’t beat myself up hunting for a different approach if I’m not coming across one. There are plenty of ways to play Pollard and still have a unique roster on the slate.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Although we should not expect a ton of points from the Giants, Evan Engram and Saquon Barclay are both very much worth considering this week – with a pairing of the two even in play on DraftKings in cash games, single entry, and small field play: locking in a large amount of fairly guaranteed point per dollar production.

On the Cowboys, the running back position is probably the only place I’ll have much interest myself, though if I were a multi-entry player by nature, I would probably want to have at least 5% exposure to the Cowboys passing attack, just in case the Kellen Moore offense is a bigger hit than we are anticipating.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 8th 4:25pm Eastern

Lions (
24.25) at

Cards (
21.25)

Over/Under 45.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Lions Run D
26th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O
27th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D
28th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per pass
Cardinals Pass O
29th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass
Cardinals Run D
27th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O
15th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Cardinals Pass D
19th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O
7th DVOA/6th Yards per pass

Week 1 gives us one of the most exciting new teams against a team that last year aimed to take the excitement out of every game it played — and there are two very clear and distinctly different ways in which this game can be broken down. We have The Cardinals Perspective, and we have The Lions Perspective.

The Cardinals Perspective:

As you’ve heard by now, the Cardinals want to bring the air raid offense to the NFL – spreading out the field, playing fast, and putting constant strain on the defense. “Pace and space” is the way to think of this offense. When everything works according to plan, they will focus on a heavy dose of four wide receiver sets, asking Kyler Murray to use his pinpoint accuracy to target the short areas of the field in a ball-out-quick attack. This offense will include wide receiver screens, plays designed to get David Johnson the ball in space, occasional shots downfield, and freedom for Murray to take off with his legs and give opponents something else to think about. In looking at this game from a Cardinals perspective, then, there is a decent amount to be excited about. Patrick Peterson is suspended for the first six weeks of the season on the Cardinals defense, and number two cornerback Robert Alford is also set to miss. The Cardinals have a strong pass rush, but they have no depth in the secondary, making this one of the most attackable units in the NFL through at least the first few weeks of the season. With Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones on the other side of this game, the Cardinals perspective would lead us to believe that Arizona will march up and down the field on Detroit, and that Detroit will respond by aggressively hammering the mismatch available to them on the perimeter. This would make Golladay an elite play, and it would make game stacks involving various pieces of this contest potential tournament winners. Hooray for the Cardinals perspective.

The Lions Perspective:

This is a good place to remember that one team alone does not determine the pace and play style of a game. Last season, the Detroit Lions ranked 23rd in pace of play, and no team in the NFL allowed fewer opponent plays per game. Fundamentally, the goal of this Lions team is simple: on offense, they want to chew up clock, focus more on avoiding negative plays than on creating explosive plays, run the ball, control the game, and keep their defense fresh.

While Kliff Kingsbury is going to try to show the league in Week 1 that the air raid can work in the NFL, Matt Patricia is going to try to take the air (raid) out of this game. “Oh, cool — you can spread the field and play fast? Well, watch this.”

Slow, methodical drives will be the name of the game for this Detroit team for as long as this game remains close. Sure, it’s a good spot for downfield shots to Golladay, but I don’t think Patricia wants to try to win a shootout on the road against an offense that wants to trade blows and tire out his built-to-stop-the-run defense.

In the same way Matt Patricia provided a blueprint last year for Bill Belichick of how to slow down the Rams (outmaneuvering them for three quarters late in the year), he will be looking to put an exclamation point on the weekend’s storylines by showing the league how to stop Kliff Kingsbury’s air raid attack. Detroit is completely unexciting in almost every way, but defensively, they are great at communication and at contain, and they do a good job keeping everything in front of them to prevent the big play.

Further helping Patricia execute his strategy is the fact that the Cardinals allowed 4.9 yards per carry last season and gave up 20(!) touchdowns on the ground to running backs. The Lions want to run, and they want to slow down games. They are playing a team with a bad run defense that would prefer to take control by speeding up the game. Patricia’s strategy should be clear.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Personally, I lean more toward the Lions perspective in this spot than toward the Cardinals. You’ll almost certainly be able to find dramatically different, and far more exciting takes on this game, so feel free to fade my thoughts here if you want to look at this game a different way. It’s always scary to fade a potential shootout — though I tend to have a strong read on Patricia; and I feel pretty confident that the only way this game turns into a fire-and-brimstone, have-to-have-it shootout is if the Lions fail to move the field against this still-attackable Arizona defense, and the Cardinals charge out to a three-score lead.

With that, the safest piece in this game – the piece that stands out in all DFS game types – is Kerryon Johnson. Even Kerryon has some question marks (namely: is Detroit going to waste goal line looks on CJ Anderson? Probably…). But even a lower end projection has him around 17 or 18 touches with a few receptions mixed in – a big enough workload for him to matter in this matchup. And if Kerryon emerges with 22, 23, 24 touches in this spot, he could absolutely bulldoze this Arizona run defense on his way to an elite score. He fits into any game flow expectations we could build for this game, giving him a strong floor to go with his strong ceiling and making him a safe, high upside piece on this slate.

I imagine we will see at least 8% to 10% ownership on a lot of these Cardinals pieces, as people want to be the first ones on this exciting offense before the prices begin to go up. Given how much Detroit wants to slow down and grind out games – and given how stellar they were last year against running quarterbacks (only the Broncos allowed fewer rushing yards to the position, with Detroit doing a great job keeping eyes on the quarterback and closing out potential running lanes), I expect to be underweight on the Cardinals myself, and – as a result – I expect to be underweight on builds that lean toward the Cardinals perspective this week. (The Cardinals also play the Ravens next week, before a string of much easier matchups – and I’m hoping that we can get a couple disappointing weeks from this offense before being able to hammer them at lower ownership, and lower price tags, in more attractive matchups.) There is certainly enough of a chance for this game to turn into the type of shootout the Cardinals want, however, that I don’t think it’s a bad play to lean toward that perspective if you want to break down a different path. If building this way, keep in mind a few things:

Arizona wants to spread the ball around || number three receiver KeeSean Johnson may actually finish close to Larry Fitzgerald and