Week 2 Matchups

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WEEK 1 ROSTER BREAKDOWN

Point Total: 218.66

(Jump to Games)

Reminder: I always write my initial diagnosis of my roster right before games kick off, in order to capture my honest thoughts on the build. Here are those thoughts.

Second reminder: this is my DraftKings roster, as that’s where the majority of my play goes; but the breakdown of thought process is beneficial for all sites and styles of play.

What I Wrote Before Kickoff:

This is one of the rare weeks in which I have a totally different lineup in cash games than in tourneys. I thought from the beginning of the week that this might be the case because of Christian McCaffrey, but I ended up using him in both lineups. The change actually ended up coming from my desire to avoid the wind in Cleveland in cash games, but still take the upside of Antonio Brown in tourneys.

Cash Lineup:

Drew Brees
Carlos Hyde
Alvin Kamara
Emmanuel Sanders
Courtland Sutton
Michael Thomas
Jack Doyle
Christian McCaffrey
Ravens

Tourney Lineup:

Deshaun Watson
Carlos Hyde
Alvin Kamara
Danny Amendola
Courtland Sutton
Antonio Brown
Jack Doyle
Christian McCaffrey
Ravens

Hyde is locked in for me as a 20-touch back in a good matchup, with a game that should favor the run. At only $4500, he’s one of the easiest plays for me on the week, and the only challenge was deciding if game theory called for me to use James Conner over him in cash. Once I started taking the weather into account, Hyde came out on top for me.

I wanted to move off Kamara in tourneys in order to avoid the ownership (my team about an hour before kickoff had David Johnson), but there is just such a low likelihood of Kamara failing. While DJ could outscore him, this is a spot where it makes sense to eat chalk. I also expect Kamara’s ownership to go down in the $2160 tourney, while I expect DJ’s ownership to go up. Since that’s the main tourney I focus on, it makes sense to take the more locked-in overall play. (Plus, I just really, really liked the way salary as a whole worked out on this team.)

Typically, an Amendola/A.B. pairing would make more sense in cash, while going Emmanuel Sanders and Michael Thomas would seem more tourney-driven. But with the wind in Cleveland, I don’t feel it’s necessary to have A.B. in cash. I didn’t need the extra salary, but Sanders is a nice fortification with that $800. He and Sutton can both post a good game together, so that’s not a concern for me.

Sutton was lock-button for me this week, as I talked about on the Square Table and in my Player Grid. No surprise to see him on the team.

Jack Doyle grew on me as the week moved along (as alluded to in the Square Table, and talked about directly in the Player Grid). I like Ryan Griffin about an equal amount, but the money was there and Doyle’s role is so secure. No reason not to go here.

Probably the toughest decision this week was leaving Kareem Hunt off my main team. Up until about 30 minutes before kickoff, I assumed he would be there. But this roster came together and just made so much sense. I expect a big game from Hunt and still have exposure to him — but that exposure now comes from a smaller percentage of my bankroll than I anticipated all along. Christian McCaffrey is obviously no slouch! I love his floor, and he has clear upside for 25+ points if everything goes according to plan.

I wanted to differentiate at defense in tourneys, but the salary just worked out too easily to take the locked-in points on the Ravens. I think the Bengals probably have a 35% chance of outscoring them, at a lower price tag, but there was nowhere I wanted to use that money, so I stood pat there.

Looking Back On This Roster

Obviously, there are two mistakes that stand out here:

1) This was probably only the third or fourth time in the last five years that I have not used the same team in cash games and single-entry/high-dollar tourneys. I had a profitable weekend with such a strong showing in cash games (and I did have that cash team in a pair of less-lucrative tourneys), but I could have had a really nice weekend if I had stuck to my process.

2) Obviously, Hyde over Conner was a mistake in cash. I got too freaked out by the weather, and with A) the Browns having a top-five run defense, and B) the weather seeming likely to limit Conner’s targets, I sided with the guy who had the better matchup. We could still make a strong case that Hyde (who graded out just as highly in preseason this year as Conner, and who was quietly one of the most effective backs in the league last year) was still a strong game theory play in tourneys, given the huge ownership gap and the favorable data points he carried. But at the very least in cash games, I should have sided with the higher guaranteed touches and the superior coaching staff. Up until about 30 minutes before kickoff, I planned to have Conner…but the weather concerns got to me, and I made a misstep there.

While I moved off Conner on my main roster 30 minutes before kickoff, I also dodged a couple bullets at that point.

The first was Ryan Griffin, who had zero catches in spite of being charted with five targets (and actually being targeted seven times in all). He also had two end zone targets — each of which was a miserable throw by Watson to an open Griffin. This is the kind of play that absolutely sucks, and that has to simply be brushed off as variance. If you can roster a guy who will get five to seven targets for only $2800, you have to feel good about the position you put yourself in.

The second was Kareem Hunt, who might be slipping into the “Never in Cash” category. One of the things the NFL Edge has been good at over the years is getting inside coaches’ minds to get a feel for how they will attack a particular defense. The best ever example of this was when we predicted the Jonas Gray game against the Colts a few years back, and a more recent example is the Raiders/Rams game that just took place, for which we looked at the reasons why Jared Cook should see a spike in targets. But while everything lined up this last week for Kareem Hunt to see monster usage, we ended up witnessing the reality of the concerns expressed in the Week 1 writeup of that game (namely: that Sundays will sometimes end this year, and we’ll all wonder how Hunt did not touch the ball more). While the NFL Edge presented all the facts on both sides of the coin for Hunt (the reasons to feel great about his upside, and the reasons to be concerned about his floor), I personally moved more and more toward Hunt in the latter half of the week, believing there was just no way Hunt would fail to see the usage he deserved. In other weeks, this might have been more justifiable; but with so many strong plays available on the week, I’m chalking this one up as a mistake, as I chose to blatantly ignore the concerns I had laid out myself in the article.

Finally, I would like to point out that my boy Courtland Sutton saw five targets — which was more than a chalky Keelan Cole drew this week for the Jags. I was expecting six to eight targets for Cole and five to eight for Sutton; with Sutton seeing five targets (it was actually six, but there was a pass intended for him that was batted down at the line) and showing his huge upside on both catches, he’s a guy I’m marking down as a “strong process play” that simply didn’t hit this week. Similar to Griffin, I’ll always be happy if I’m grabbing six or more targets to a high-upside player for such a small percentage of my salary cap. Remember: spiked weeks matter! If you can grab a low-priced guy with spiked-week potential, and this enables you to also fit in high-priced guys with spiked-week potential, you will win a lot of money over time.

I’m really proud of the overall accuracy of the Week 1 NFL Edge, and of how many things we were able to nail. And while I know a lot of you had a winning Week 1, I also realize some of you had a losing Week 1. For those of you who ran into the wrong plays last week, I want to strongly encourage you to A) assess process first and foremost! — and B) learn from the plays where you made mistakes in your process; but also, be willing to give yourself credit for the places where the process was solid and the plays just didn’t hit. It’s only one week, and we’ll all have losing ones throughout the season; the key is to put yourself in position to win big on the winning weekends — and to put yourself in position for such weekends as often as you can.

The second week of The One Week Season starts today.

Let’s start getting ready.


Week 2 is always one of the most enjoyable weeks of the season for me. The work is still fresh and new; the excitement is still high in the DFS community; and for the first time, we get to begin incorporating huge chunks of new knowledge into the pile of things we already know.

At first glance, it appears that this week’s slate will hinge on the performance of a number of high-priced guys. Not only did guys like Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and James Conner smash this last weekend, but they also find themselves in smash spots once again. Recency bias will elevate ownership on these guys, and these guys are likely to perform well, which makes this an interesting week from a strategy perspective.

While every NFL Edge article is focused on uncovering the players likeliest to have a good game, the second layer we will be looking for this week is broken down into two parts:

1) Which guys have a respectable shot at outperforming the chalk?

2) Which low-priced players open the greatest combination of “floor” and “ceiling” to our rosters.

Obviously, a case can always be made for constructing your rosters in an entirely different manner than the rest of the field (and this week, especially, it seems “the rest of the field” will find themselves using a Stars & Scrubs approach — which means you could go with a more mid-tier roster in tourneys simply to do something that most others aren’t doing). But if rolling with a Stars & Scrubs setup, it will be important to determine whether it makes sense to go with the chalky stars, or if you can instead differentiate by going off the board; and it will be particularly important to ‘think for yourself’ in tourneys on the lower end of the price range. I’m going to dive into a couple thoughts on this, and then we’ll get started with the first game of the weekend.

Thinking for yourself on the cheaper guys:

Typically, when someone like Alvin Kamara is chalk — that is to say, when a high-priced guy with tons of talent and a great matchup is chalk — the reason for this player’s popularity can be boiled down to a simple statement: “This player not only has a high ceiling, but he is also highly unlikely to fail.”

On the other hand, when cheaper guys become chalk (a great example being Keelan Cole last weekend), it is typically less because this player is “highly unlikely to fail,” and more because that simply happened to be the player who everyone started talking about.

If we find that it is necessary to eat chalk at the top, we can still set ourselves apart from the field in tournaments by thinking for ourselves on the lower end of the price range. This may mean going out on a limb in GPPs with a cheap guy who no one else has really noticed; but on a week such as this, that can sometimes be exactly what it takes to win.

Let’s dig in.

Let’s think for ourselves!

And let’s uncover who the good plays are.

Get your Game Notes ready. Let’s go.

*

UPDATES MADE:

Devonta Freeman Out (Sept. 15)

Washington Total Rising (Sept. 15)

Titans’ Offensive Mess (Sept. 15)

Joe Haden Doubtful (Sept. 15)

Marquise Goodwin Out (Sept. 15)

Pats/Jags Question Marks (Sept. 15)

Josh Gordon Out (Sept. 15)


Kickoff Thursday, Sep 13th 8:20pm Eastern

Ravens (
22) at

Bengals (
21)

Over/Under 43.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Ravens Run D
2nd DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O
27th DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
7th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O
26th DVOA/13th Yards per pass
Bengals Run D
23rd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
5th DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D
16th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass

RAVENS // BENGALS OVERVIEW

We open the week with a Thursday night game that pairs two division opponents who combined for only 20 points against each other in Week 1 last season, before closing out the 2017 year with a combined score of 58 in Week 17. Each offense is better than it was last season; but each defense may be better as well.

After finishing in the top eight last year in pace of play, the Ravens ranked 12th in Situation Neutral pace of play in Week 1 (prior to slowing things down with a monstrous lead). The Bengals, on the other hand, followed up their low-volume 2017 season with the second-slowest pace in the NFL in Week 1, and with the fewest offensive plays in the week.

With an Over/Under of 44.0 to open the week, this is not a game we would be particularly drawn toward on the main slate, and it’s not something to attack in cash games; but if you are playing the Thursday slate, there are some interesting tourney pieces in this spot. This is the type of game in which it makes sense to put only a very small percentage of your bankroll into play — but to be willing to take some risks with that bankroll in order to take advantage of the “lower-likelihood, high-upside plays” that may go overlooked in this spot.

RAVENS PASS OFFENSE

In Week 1, the Bengals’ pass defense played a lot of soft zone and cover 4 shell that kept the Colts’ receivers in front of them — allowing Indy to reel off an astonishing 77 plays in regulation (compared to only 50 for the Bengals). Given what Andrew Luck and Frank Reich showed in preseason (a surprising lack of interest in pushing the ball downfield), it would have made sense for a coach to try to take away that area of the field in Week 1. Instead, Teryl Austin’s new Bengals defense was content to allow those short passes to be completed all day. This enables us to feel comfortable predicting that this is simply how the Bengals are set to play: with plenty of four-man rushes, and with deep balls a more dedicated focus than defending short passes.

In Week 1, the Ravens took on a Bills defense that also forces short throws, and we saw Joe Flacco spread the ball around to four different wide receivers, three different tight ends, and two different running backs — with none of these guys seeing more than six targets. This is obviously a hellish setup for fantasy, and would take this entire offense off the board if this game were on the main slate.

The Bengals’ biggest coverage deficiency is in the middle of the field, where their linebackers are unable to hang with tight ends and running backs. Reich and Luck took advantage of this in Week 1 by targeting tight ends and running backs on over 52% of their passes, and it would not be surprising to see a similar approach from Baltimore.

While Baltimore gave playing time to three tight ends, Nick Boyle ran almost as many pass routes (22) as Maxx Williams and Mark Andrews combined (24). Any of these three could grab a touchdown, but Boyle is the best bet for volume.

Javorius Allen also ran 22 pass routes, and he snagged five catches in a blowout win. With Kenneth Dixon back on the shelf, Allen will be the breather back and the third-down back, and he should get a chance to pick up five to seven catches against the Bengals’ linebackers. Allen has receiver-like skills and is a good fit for this matchup.

Following a quiet offseason, Willie Snead surprised last week out of the slot and should be in line for more work over the middle where the Bengals are weakest. He’s an interesting floor play.

Michael Crabtree and John Brown have the toughest matchups on the outside. I wouldn’t feel comfortable projecting either for more than six or seven targets, but each guy has a red zone role, while Crabtree will be used to move the sticks and Brown will have at least one or two deep shots designed for him in this game. Crabtree is the floor play; Brown is the ceiling play.

RAVENS RUN OFFENSE

Alex Collins saved his day with a touchdown on Sunday, but lucky he did, because he played fewer than half the team’s snaps and ran the ball only seven times. Part of this was the blowout, but a larger part of it seemed to be punishment for putting the ball on the ground. With Kenneth Dixon on the shelf this week, Collins should have a clear path to all the early-down work (the Ravens have always been hesitant to trust Allen too much beyond his pass game work). The Bengals looked good against the run last week after struggling in 2017 (22nd in yards allowed per carry), but we should keep in mind that their Week 1 opponent — the Colts — have a bottom-tier offensive line and were starting a fifth-round rookie in the backfield. Especially with Vontaze Burfict still out, I’m sticking with this as a neutral to above-average matchup for running backs; as long as Collins is out of the doghouse this week, his 15 to 20 touches should turn into a solid all-around game on the short slate.

BENGALS RUN OFFENSE

In Week 1, Joe Mixon looked awesome — running smooth and clean, while showing definite burst and quickness he did not have last season. The Bengals’ offensive line looked at least average, and Bill Lazor showed a willingness to feed a huge workload to Mixon, playing him on almost 80% of the team’s snaps and giving him over 20 touches. Mixon also ran 24 pass routes, while Gio Bernard played 12 snaps and ran only eight routes.

The Ravens have a likely top-10 run defense, and they were strong last year against pass-catching running backs, ranking sixth in DVOA, 12th in fewest receptions allowed, and ninth in fewest yards allowed. On the short slate, however, there’s a lot to like about a guy who is going to touch the ball 20+ times with all the goal-line work and a handful of receptions.

BENGALS PASS OFFENSE

A.J. Green dominated work last week against the Colts, receiving 60.52% of the team’s air yards (one year after leading the NFL with 46.3% of his team’s air yards), and running a route on 33 of Andy Dalton’s 34 drop-backs. In a pair of dates last season against Baltimore, Green totaled seven catches for 91 yards and zero touchdowns (on a whopping 20 targets), with the worst of these games (2-17-0) coming with Jimmy Smith off the field (same as he will be this week). The Ravens should tilt all their attention this direction, which creates a tough matchup for Green. He can beat a tough matchup (in both 2015 and 2014 he torched similarly stout Ravens defenses), but his chances of hitting are lowered by this spot.

The rest of the Bengals’ pass attack is a bit of a mess, with John Ross playing only 66% of the Bengals’ snaps last week and Tyler Boyd (a near-every-down player) lacking upside with his limited role from the slot. While Boyd could get lucky with a short touchdown, Ross is the higher-risk/much-higher-reward play between the two. His speed puts him one touch away from a long touchdown every game.

The Bengals eased in Tyler Eifert last week, playing him on only 23 snaps — though he was used almost exclusively as a pass-catcher, as he ran a route on 18 of those snaps. He has the best matchup against a Ravens defense whose only clear weakness is against the tight end. Eifert will likely need a touchdown in order to really pay off, but if this game stays close toward the end, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Cincy squeeze a few more snaps out of him.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

My first thought here is, “Wow — how did I write so many words about a game I like so little?”

If this game were on the main slate, we could have made much quicker work of it, but since it is on the Thursday slate (and since there are no clearly “good” plays), it required some deeper digging.

In spite of the difficult matchup, Mixon is a solid bet to post the highest score on the slate. His touch floor is just so high, he’s worth a spot on every roster in this game — a game that will likely yield low fantasy outputs all the way around.

Elsewhere on the Bengals: Andy Dalton Under Pressure is not a place I want to look (Dalton has always performed far better with a clean pocket, and the Ravens’ pass rush will make that a challenge), but you could go there simply for differentiation, as it’s unlikely that many will be on him. A.J. Green brings talent-driven upside, while Ross brings likely low ownership and a high ceiling (to go with his obviously low floor). Eifert is safe for a few points, though he’ll likely need a touchdown in order to really be worth a roster spot.

The Ravens have an easier matchup, but they also have a more spread-out distribution of offensive work. The safest projection for Collins is about 85 rushing yards and one or two receptions; if he hits those marks and punches in a touchdown, he’ll be a strong play in such a poor game for offense. Javorius Allen is a dark horse candidate to lead the Ravens’ skill position players in fantasy points, as their coaches should look to get him isolated against Cincy’s linebackers as much as possible.

Elsewhere on the Ravens: Joe Flacco carried over his sharp preseason to Week 1, and he has as good a shot as Mixon to post the top score on this slate. He’ll likely spread the ball around again, but the matchup should filter some targets to Nick Boyle and Willie Snead (similar to last week), while Brown is worth a tourney shot for his guaranteed involvement and big-play upside, and Crabtree should be able to pick up at least four catches for 40 or 50 yards, with room to grow from there.

It’s an ugly game, and it’s likely that an ugly roster will win tourneys. I wouldn’t put much bankroll in play here, but there are some interesting elements to consider in this game.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 16th 1:00pm Eastern

Panthers (
19) at

Falcons (
24.5)

Over/Under 43.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Panthers Run D
26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O
26th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
13th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O
16ths DVOA/3rd Yards per pass
Falcons Run D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
16th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D
30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
11th DVOA/11th Yards per pass

PANTHERS // FALCONS OVERVIEW

Last season, only one team faced fewer rush attempts per game than the Panthers. And while part of this was simply due to the fact that the Panthers play at a slow pace (and thus limit opponent plays), a much larger part was the Panthers’ tough run defense, as teams tilted away from the run and toward the pass. The Panthers finished right in the middle of the pack last year in pass plays faced.

This gives us one major piece of the puzzle for this game. Another major piece, sadly, has been provided by injuries to key Falcons defenders, with impact safety Keanu Neal and impact linebacker Deion Jones both placed on I.R. this week. On the other side, the Panthers have also been dealt a big injury blow, losing Greg Olsen to yet another foot injury and putting him out of action for at least the next several weeks.

PANTHERS PASS OFFENSE

One underrated side effect of the loss of Greg Olsen will be the reemergence of Devin Funchess. Funchess averaged 4.4 targets and 2.4 catches per game in the five weeks last season in which Olsen was healthy. Across the other 11 weeks of the 2017 season, Funchess averaged 8.1 targets and 4.6 catches per game. He will not be a high-efficiency player with Cam Newton throwing to him, and the matchup on the outside is still difficult against Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant (last year, Cam threw three interceptions and only one touchdown in this matchup — with the touchdown coming on a short throw, and with all three interceptions coming downfield). But with D.J. Moore not yet ready for major playing time and literal castoffs Jarius Wright and Torrey Smith filling out the wide receiver depth chart, Funchess is the lead dog in this group, and it’s really not close.

Filling in for Greg Olsen will be promising rookie Ian Thomas — a stud athlete who will try to speed up the most difficult positional transition from college to the pros. Given Norv Turner’s lengthy history with tight end production, and given the way Olsen is used — often lining up in the slot — Thomas should have opportunities this week, in what has quickly become a better matchup for him against the Falcons’ weakened D. I’m penciling Thomas in for five targets in this one, making him an interesting value at only 6.7% of the salary cap on FanDuel, only 5.8% on DraftKings, and only 6.3% on FantasyDraft. It should be noted that the Falcons often use De’Vondre Campbell in coverage on tight ends, and he is still healthy. The Falcons were one of the tougher tight end matchups in 2017, and in Week 17 last year they held Olsen to one catch for 10 yards…on nine targets.

PANTHERS RUN OFFENSE

While the Falcons were tough on wide receivers last season — holding opponents to roughly 95% of league-average fantasy production on all three sites — and were equally difficult on tight ends, they continued to struggle against pass-catching running backs, facing the most targets and allowing the most receptions to the position. In two games against the Falcons last season, Christian McCaffrey led the team in targets (14) and receptions (10). In Week 1, McCaffrey played on 83.8% of the Panthers snaps and ran a whopping 30 pass routes (out of 36 pass plays in all). His carries didn’t quite spike the way preseason action indicated they would, but with C.J. Anderson playing only 12 snaps in Week 1, we should brush that off and pay attention to the overall trend: McCaffrey — regardless of whether or not he is suited to run between the tackles — is a near-every-down player. This is an above-average rushing matchup and a far-above-average receiving matchup for him, with a locked-in workload behind him.

FALCONS PASS OFFENSE

We in the DFS world make a lot of jokes about Steve Sarkisian, but for all his (extraordinary) flaws in the red zone, he really does a great job between the 20s. Last season, the Falcons ranked eighth in total yards and eighth in passing yards, so there is room for fantasy points from this team. The tough part is just how difficult it is to bank on the Falcons turning their opportunities into touchdowns.

This affects Julio Jones most heavily, as he has blowup potential in this spot. In two games against the Panthers last year, the Falcons attacked mercilessly with Julio, targeting him 23 times for an incredible 435 air yards, and an average depth of target of 18.9 yards. (For context: J.J. Nelson led the NFL last year in average depth of target, at 18.1. DeSean Jackson was second in the league, all the way down at 15.8.) Julio’s efficiency was low in this matchup last season (11 catches on those 23 targets, for 198 yards and no touchdowns), but that sort of opportunity is mouthwatering. Matt Ryan’s arm did not look right last Thursday night; but there are no reports of an injury, and as long as he comes out firing this week, Julio will have a chance to explode.

In both matchups against these teams last season, Julio dominated all valuable opportunity, with Mohamed Sanu seeing 17.7% of the team’s targets (compared to 29.1% for Julio), but with 64% of the team’s air yards going to Julio (compared to only 10% for Sanu). While Sanu has outside potential for something like a 6-70-1 line, the likeliest scenario for him is an ancillary role that provides nothing in the way of week-winning upside.

Austin Hooper draws the toughest matchup and has yet to emerge as a consistent threat for this team.

Calvin Ridley played limited snaps in Week 1, as expected, and is not yet on the DFS radar.

FALCONS RUN OFFENSE

The Falcons’ run offense faces a tough matchup against a Panthers defense that saw the second-fewest rush attempts in the league last season and allowed the seventh-fewest rushing yards to running backs. The Panthers also allowed the second-fewest plays per game last year and ranked 32nd in pace of play, which further limits opportunity for this timeshare backfield. As noted last week: Devonta Freeman averaged 16.6 touches per game last season while Tevin Coleman averaged 12.2. Freeman is banged up at the moment (knee), but he is expected to play in this game. Neither of these guys performed well on the ground in this matchup last year, with Freeman averaging under 35 rushing yards per game and Coleman averaging 14 rushing yards per game; though for risk-takers, Freeman did post a 9-85-1 receiving line in Week 17 last year against Carolina — an outlier, to be sure; but at least in the cards.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

Devin Funchess is interesting, as he provides exposure to a lot of opportunity (likely seven to 10 targets) for 10% or less of the salary cap on all three sites. The matchup will still make it difficult for him to hit for any sort of ceiling, but he needs to be noted and at least kept in mind as we move through the slate to see how salary unfolds elsewhere. Ian Thomas is an intriguing salary relief option, even in a tough matchup; and while Cam Newton is likeliest to fail in this spot, he is one of the few guys on my “always worth a shot in tourneys” list. His rushing upside and “Total Game Takeover” ability make him a guy who can win a week for you even in a tough spot. (Obviously, this all makes him a large-field tourney play only for me. But again: the upside is there.)

The crown plays in this game are Christian McCaffrey and Julio Jones. McCaffrey is appropriately priced on all three sites (he’s cheapest relative to the salary cap on FanDuel, but he’s also less valuable on there with 0.5-PPR scoring), and his floor makes him a cash-viable play, while his ceiling keeps him in play in tourneys. He doesn’t pop off the page as a “lock-button, certain-to-smash” guy this week, but with Olsen out and the matchup tilted in his favor, he should see plenty of volume. Julio, of course, should be heavily featured here. Sarkisian has a little bit of “Andy Reid” to him when it comes to “star player usage,” but given the way the Falcons chose to attack Carolina in both games last season, I’m fine taking on that little bit of risk. Julio should see nine to 11 targets and finish near the top of the league in air yards once again.

I’ll be leaving the rest of the Falcons alone myself. Devonta Freeman is the running back likelier to hit if you want to chase talent-driven upside — on limited touches, in a difficult matchup.

SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

Devonta Freeman is going to miss this week’s game now, leaving Tevin Coleman all alone in the Falcons’ backfield. The immediate reaction is to play him, and I think his floor is around 10 points on FanDuel and 11 on DraftKings (i.e., for the price, he has a solid floor, and his ceiling is nice as well). But I do not consider him to be a must-play, for two main reasons.

1) Steve Sarkisian does not use these running backs in the same creative ways Kyle Shanahan did. Last season, Coleman and Freeman combined for 3.94 catches per game.

2) This is a tough matchup, and last year these two combined to average 49 rushing yards per game in this spot.

Again: I think Coleman is a good play. I am expecting around 14 to 18 points, with his floor a little lower and his ceiling at least a touchdown higher. But it is not likely that he will post the type of score (25+) that you “can’t win without.” As such, I’m fine missing out on him if you find a roster approach that gives you more overall upside by taking some savings off his price


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 16th 1:00pm Eastern

Colts (
21) at

WFT (
27)

Over/Under 48.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Colts Run D
6th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Washington Run O
21st DVOA/25th Yards per carry
Colts Pass D
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Washington Pass O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per pass
Washington Run D
17th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O
22nd DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Washington Pass D
6th DVOA/1st Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O
15th DVOA/10th Yards per pass

COLTS // REDSKINS OVERVIEW

This game has been set with a fairly aggressive Over/Under considering that Alex Smith’s average intended air yards in Week 1 was 4.0 (as in…his average pass traveled only four yards downfield), which was the lowest mark of of the week. (Fun trivia: Patrick Mahomes posted the second-highest average intended air yards in Week 1, at 12.7.) On the other side of this matchup is Andrew Luck, who had the third-lowest average intended air yards in Week 1, at 5.4. Washington ranked 23rd in pace of play last season, and Frank Reich came over from an Eagles team that ranked 24th (though the Colts did hurry up the offense in Week 1, ranking fifth in pace of play and eighth in Situation Neutral pace). This game has the potential to be a dink-and-dunk fest, with each team marching slowly up and down the field, and with “quick strikes” and “big plays” being difficult to find.

COLTS PASS OFFENSE

Indianapolis managed to run an incredible 77 plays in Week 1, while Washington ran 75. Those should both prove to be outliers this season. The Patriots ran the most plays per game in the league last season at 67.2, and Washington ranked 26th last year at 61.4. The Colts may end up above-average in total plays this season, but neither team should be considered a big “volume” boost for the other.

This is worth bringing up after it took Andrew Luck 53 passes last week to top 300 yards (319 in all), and with volume in this spot likelier to stay in the “35 to 40 pass” range, it will be difficult for him to post big numbers. Last season, Washington allowed the third-lowest catch rate in the league and was a top five defense in yards allowed after catch. Add in the fact that this game is being played outdoors on grass (where T.Y. Hilton’s career splits are far less favorable), and this is a difficult spot for him. His Week 1 aDOT of 9.8 is encouraging in the context of how short the rest of Luck’s throws were, but it’s still a lower mark than we would like to see on someone with Hilton’s explosive skill set. Ryan Grant will also be involved at receiver, and will offer a decent floor with the volume he seems set to see on underneath passes; though he will need an unpredictable touchdown in order to return any real value.

Similar to the Colts’ Week 1 opponent, Washington is attackable with tight ends. In 2017, they boosted tight end production by 22.7% on DraftKings and 24.1% on FanDuel. In Week 1, Jack Doyle ran an astonishing 55 pass routes, and is locked into heavy volume at only 9.3% of the salary cap on FanDuel, 8% on DraftKings, and 7.1% on FantasyDraft.

By the way: I keep mentioning that profit is easier to find on FantasyDraft, with overlay and weaker player pools. One subscriber mentioned to me this week that he would have won only $70 on the weekend had he stuck to just his FanDuel play. Instead, he played on FantasyDraft as well, and notched $2400 in winnings. If you aren’t yet a FantasyDraft player, now is as good a time as any to hop on there. I have also broken down FantasyDraft strategy for you here.

Alongside Doyle, Eric Ebron ran 25 pass routes and was on the field for a little less than half the team’s snaps. He’s a backseat option, but the matchup is good for him as well, and he carries upside in tourneys.

COLTS RUN OFFENSE

Marlon Mack appears set to return this week, which will make this backfield extremely difficult to trust for now, outside of large-field tourneys. Although Washington was one of the easiest teams to attack on the ground last season, Mack does not profile as a 20-touch back, and it is difficult to know how the Colts plan to use him after all the time he has missed. In Week 1, Jordan Wilkins (46 snaps, 28 pass routes, 15 carries) and Nyheim Hines (37 snaps, 31 pass routes, five carries) split time fairly evenly, and while Mack should eat into their touches, each of them should maintain a role.

If Mack happens to miss another game, it is worth noting that Hines grabbed seven catches last week on nine targets.

In the likelier event of Mack playing, he and Hines each carry big-play upside, but volume will be difficult to rely on.

REDSKINS PASS OFFENSE

Last week, Washington dialed things back to the early days of the forward pass, with Vernon Davis notching the team’s deepest aDOT…at six yards, on his one target. Jordan Reed saw five targets at an average depth of 5.6 yards. Jamison Crowder saw six targets at an average depth of 5.5 yards. Speedster/deep-threat Paul Richardson saw six targets…at an average depth of 3.3 yards. Alex Smith did not throw a single pass that traveled more than 15 yards downfield.

It’s always dangerous to respond too dramatically to a one-game sample size, and there is no way we should expect this passing attack to remain quite so conservative. But Smith has a long track record of being cautious with the football, and no starting quarterback in the NFL last season ranked lower than Smith in Aggressiveness Percentage (which accounts for the percentage of throws to a receiver who has a defender within at least one yard of him). Without any elite downfield route-runners on this Washington team, we should expect Smith to remain conservative in his approach all season — and without Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill available to destroy opponents after the catch, Smith’s ceiling has a cap on it. The same goes for his pass catchers.

Jay Gruden will continue to get short passes into Richardson’s hands in the hopes he can blaze through the defense, while Crowder will continue to supply a solid floor and some touchdown equity. Neither guy is “likely” to hit for an impact DFS day, even in a positive matchup.

Jordan Reed is the best bet for impact production here, after he looked healthy in Week 1. The Colts ranked 23rd in DVOA against the tight end last season and allowed middling production. Reed played only about half of Washington’s snaps last week, but his role should continue to grow for as long as he can stay on the field.

REDSKINS RUN OFFENSE

Smith’s anti-gunslinger tendencies make him a perfect quarterback for Chris Thompson, who ran 25 pass routes last week and took five carries in a blowout win. With elite after-catch ability, Thompson was able to turn seven targets on an aDOT of 1.3 yards into a 6-63-1 line. I’m especially excited to target Thompson in a game in which Washington projects to trail; but that type of usage in a big win points to his locked-in role in this offense. His floor is low, but his upside is quietly appealing.

Washington will be telegraphing their intentions to defenses all season long, as 84.8% of Thompson’s snaps were pass plays in Week 1, and 73.8% of Adrian Peterson’s snaps were run plays. In the modern NFL — with all these multi-purpose backs who can strain a defense in a variety of ways — this is obviously sub-optimal; but this is another game that sets up well for Peterson to see quality work with Washington installed as an early six-point favorite. Joe Mixon had his way with this Colts run defense last week, and Peterson should be in line for 16 to 22 touches, depending on how game flow shakes out.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

As I write this, Washington’s Vegas-implied total sits at 25.75, which would put them behind only the Steelers, Saints, 49ers, and Rams. It seems likely that this mark will trickle down before kickoff on Sunday — but if it doesn’t (or if it climbs even higher), we will have one of these spots where we can “trust Vegas in tourneys,” even if we don’t see it ourselves. (The last time we talked about “trusting Vegas in tourneys” even if we don’t see it ourselves was the Houston/Seattle game last season, in which it didn’t seem to make sense that Houston’s team total kept climbing upward on the road at Seattle. That week, OWS family member CubsFan333 stacked that game every which way and captured minuscule ownership on a Texans explosion, en route to a $1.4 million weekend.) I’ll be keeping an eye on Washington’s total to see if it creeps any higher; but barring that approach in tourneys, it’s difficult to get too excited about the pieces of this offense. Crowder is a fine floor play, and Reed provides immense talent at an affordable price tag, but neither jumps off the page. Thompson offers a low floor with his limited touches, but a nice ceiling for the price. Peterson offers a low floor with his limited pass game involvement, but a nice ceiling for the price.

On the Colts’ side, Doyle can be considered a lock-button play this week, as he is likely to once again see a heavy share of the team’s targets, and is too cheap for his role. His chances of price-considered failure are low.

T.Y. Hilton, Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, and even Eric Ebron are all “bet on explosiveness” options, though none of them are seeing the sort of reliable, valuable opportunity they would need to be seeing in order to justify their respective price tags.

SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

Washington’s total is up to 27.25. Hmmmm…

I still don’t see it. But as I talked about above: this is the sort of spot where it makes sense to throw in a few Washington-centric tourney rosters, just in case Vegas is right.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 16th 1:00pm Eastern

Texans (
22) at

Titans (
19)

Over/Under 41.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Texans Run D
23rd DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O
11th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Texans Pass D
8th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O
2nd DVOA/16th Yards per pass
Titans Run D
16th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O
23rd DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Titans Pass D
24th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O
8th DVOA/4th Yards per pass

TEXANS // TITANS OVERVIEW

Vegas held off on producing a line for this game until Wednesday evening, as they seemed to be waiting to make sure Marcus Mariota would get cleared in time for Sunday. With Mariota practicing on Wednesday and looking probable for the weekend, the line has been posted with the Titans as an early, two-point underdog — with Vegas-implied totals opening at 23 on Houston and 22 on Tennessee. After Tennessee allowed the lowly Dolphins offense to score 27 points in Week 1, I expect the Texans’ total to see a jump before Sunday. We were correct last week in all but one of the places where we predicted line movement, and on Sunday we were correct in all but one of our predictions on teams going over their original Vegas-implied total. Deshaun Watson should look better this week with a full game under his belt, and the Titans’ defense is not in the same class as the Patriots’ new-look unit.

TEXANS PASS OFFENSE

Last week in New England, the Texans tried to get DeAndre Hopkins going early with quick slants and bubble screens, but with no Number Two threat to lean on, that was about all they could get off the ground. Will Fuller is expected to return to the field this week, and the Texans will have an opportunity to both A) use Hopkins on short routes while straining the defense deep with Fuller, and B) build off this approach to hit Hopkins deep on double-moves. Last week, the Titans’ pass rush struggled to get any pressure on Ryan Tannehill, allowing him to get comfortable and find his open man. If the Titans again fail to get pressure this week, it could be a long day for them against the extraordinary upside that Watson/Fuller/Hopkins bring to the table.

Last year, Fuller averaged 5.5 targets per game when Watson was under center, and he will carry a low-floor, big-play-upside skill set into this matchup against a Titans defense that appears to be running a man-heavy coverage scheme that is similar to both what the Texans did last year under new head coach Mike Vrabel and what the Titans did last year before Vrabel arrived. Hopkins cannot be contained by man coverage; last season, he posted a 10-107-1 line on the Titans with Watson under center, and an 8-80-0 line without him.

Most of the targets on this offense will flow to Hopkins and Fuller, while Bruce Ellington will see moderate, low-upside volume playing heavy snaps in the slot (he ran a pass route on almost 90% of Watson’s drop-backs last week, though this amounted to only four catches for 37 yards with Fuller out of the game; Ellington did snare a touchdown, but that will be the exception for him, rather than the rule).

Meanwhile, our Week 1 darling-turned-disappointment Ryan Griffin played on over 85% of the Texans’ snaps, pass blocked only three times all game, and ran a pass route on 75.6% of Watson’s drop-backs. As noted in my roster breakdown at the top of this week’s NFL Edge, he also saw multiple end zone targets…all en route to a 0-0-0 line, on five charted (and seven true) targets. (Sheesh.) You cannot ask for better usage than that from a cheap guy with talent-driven upside, but he’ll be tougher to trust this week with Fuller back on the field. He should still see around five targets, but these targets are less bankable than they were with Fuller on the sidelines.

TEXANS RUN OFFENSE

True to projections, Lamar Miller handled the bulk of running back touches last week for Tennessee, taking 20 carries and a pair of targets on a 77% snap rate. He did have only two targets on 32 pass routes run (with Will Fuller missing in action), which speaks to Watson’s aggressive mindset and to the limited involvement Miller will have in the pass game most weeks this season; but he is a 20-touch back who is not impacted heavily by game flow, and he is priced at only 10.8% of the salary cap on DraftKings and 10.1% on FantasyDraft (he is more expensive, relative to the cap, on FanDuel, and there are much better values there). After one week, the Titans appear to be more attackable on the ground this year than they were last year in Dick LeBeau’s safety-in-the-box defense, making Miller a workload-driven floor play with a slim shot at capturing some upside as well.

TITANS PASS OFFENSE

Marcus Mariota is expected to play this week, but of greater concern is the lack of comfort he has shown so far in Matt LaFleur’s new offensive system — stretching back to preseason, and carrying over into Week 1. Mariota has been inaccurate and has lacked anticipation on his reads, while failing to establish any sort of rhythm with his pass catchers.

On a more encouraging note: the Texans have lost starting cornerback Kevin Johnson to I.R., and Corey Davis saw 13 targets last week in the Titans’ loss to Miami. At 39 pass routes run in the game, Davis was targeted on a massive 33.3% of his routes, carrying over the usage he saw last season whenever healthy. The Titans are likely to be without stud left tackle Taylor Lewan, which will make life difficult for their passing offense against J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus, and will lower the opportunities for Davis to hit for a big play. But the usage should be there, and Davis is seeing work all over the formation, and at various levels of the field.

Behind Davis, Tajae Sharpe and Rishard Matthews ran 34 and 27 pass routes, respectively, though they incredibly combined for one total catch on three total targets. One of these guys will see a boost if Davis unexpectedly misses this week with his hamstring injury, though hopefully it doesn’t come to that. If Davis does miss, Matthews would be the preferred upside play, while Taywan Taylor would step into a sizable role that would make him an intriguing speculative play given his monstrous big-play upside.

Behind Davis, the biggest component of this pass attack is the tight end, and with Delanie Walker on I.R. after his brutal injury on Sunday, stud athlete Jonnu Smith will step into a full-time role. The Titans dropped back to pass 41 times on Sunday, and Delanie and Jonnu combined to pass block on only two of those snaps, while seeing 10 combined targets. Houston was a bottom-10 team last season in both yards and touchdowns allowed to the position.

TITANS RUN OFFENSE

We have bad news on the Titans’ backfield:

The Titans were charted with 69 snaps on Sunday.

Dion Lewis was on the field for 49 of them. Derrick Henry was on the field for 20 of them. It appears that these two guys are set to play at the exclusion of one another, which takes away the “Mark Ingram / Alvin Kamara” approach we were hoping the Titans would use. If this team’s ancillary pass game weapons continue to show poorly, perhaps we will see Tennessee expand Lewis’ pass game role while getting him and Henry onto the field together, but for now it appears only one will play at a time. This makes it difficult to establish a quality floor for Henry, as he gets limited pass game involvement and will fall out of the game plan when Tennessee falls behind; and it makes Lewis a dangerous target, as he will have games in which the Titans take an early lead and Henry gets the majority of the work.

Right now, Lewis shapes up as the better bet most weeks, as he is an underrated runner between the tackles, and he puts more strain on the defense with his pass-catching ability. I expect Tennessee to once again slant in Lewis’ favor this week as long as the game remains close. But while the matchup is non-threatening and each guy has ceiling, it will be tough to feel comfortable taking on their floor.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

This is a great bounce-back spot for Watson. The Titans have upgraded their secondary pieces, but this is a team that Watson ripped apart last year for 307 total yards and five total touchdowns. If the Titans fail to fix their pass rush this week, Watson could eat. He’ll be in consideration for me at quarterback in cash games and tourneys, while Fuller will be a tourney consideration for me, and Hopkins will be a guy to consider in all formats. He doesn’t pop off the page this week the way Antonio Brown, Michael Thomas, and Julio Jones do; but that says more about the matchups the other three have than it does about Hopkins himself, and I absolutely expect a strong game.

I’ll consider Lamar Miller as a “floor” piece if I need the savings, and I’ll consider Dion Lewis (and to a lesser extent, Derrick Henry) as “ceiling” pieces in tourneys, but none of these guys stand out as solid overall plays.

Corey Davis is just too cheap for a talented guy who is going to top 10 targets most games, but the Texans’ pass rush and the broken state of this passing attack limit expectations a little bit. He’s still a strong value, even with the concerns.

Jonnu Smith will probably finish behind only Jack Doyle for me this week among “favorite low-priced tight end options,” and with how little value is shaping up on this slate (and with how much guaranteed work Doyle and Jonnu are locked into), it might even make sense this week to roster both guys in cash games in order to fit in as much ceiling as possible in other spots. Although Delanie’s injury occurred on Sunday, all three sites threw us a bone by keeping Jonnu practically free.

SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

Stud left tackle Taylor Lewan is out for the Titans, and right tackle Jack Conklin is out as well. The Texans become a strong DST play with Mariota banged up (and with Vrabel saying that Mariota and Gabbert might both play…). This offense has not looked right, and this is a tough spot.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 16th 1:00pm Eastern

Eagles (
24.75) at

Bucs (
21.75)

Over/Under 46.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Eagles Run D
15th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O
6th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Eagles Pass D
29th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per pass
Buccaneers Run D
3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O
25th DVOA/15th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D
1st DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Eagles Pass O
29th DVOA/24th Yards per pass

EAGLES // BUCCANEERS OVERVIEW

After torching the Saints’ man-heavy coverage scheme last week, the Bucs will be taking on a more sophisticated, zone-leaning Eagles defense. While Dirk Koetter had some solid schemes and route concepts in that thrashing of the Saints’ D, that explosion was due more to individual receivers dusting individual corners than to any sort of concepts that might give the Eagles fits. As such, it is unsurprising (though perhaps a bit insulting to the team) to see the Bucs installed with a Vegas-implied total of only 20.5 at home — good for the seventh-lowest mark among the 26 teams playing on the main slate.

On the other side of the matchup, Nick Foles has run through all of his fairy dust; the Eagles are projected to score only 23.5 points against a truly poor Buccaneers defense. I expect the line to climb a bit higher as the week moves along, but there are obvious reasons to limit expectations.

EAGLES PASS OFFENSE

Although Brent Grimes is closer to retirement than he is to his prime, and Vernon Hargreaves can be comfortably referred to as a draft bust, these are still two starters now missing from what was already a poor Tampa secondary. Last week, we highlighted the deficiencies of this Tampa pass defense, pointing out that they boosted wide receiver production by over 20% last year on DraftKings, FantasyDraft, and FanDuel. Many of us took advantage of that with Michael Thomas and Drew Brees; and while Foles is not exactly the “take advantage of it” kind of guy, we do have a repeat situation this week for Agholor: There are only two NFL-caliber wide receivers healthy on this team (Agholor and Mike Wallace), and Wallace’s skill set is a brutal fit with what Foles is here to do. Last week, we highlighted Agholor in the Thursday night game, and he went on to see 10 targets, for a 29.4% share of the Eagles’ pass attempts. To emphasize just how little interest the Eagles have in throwing to other wide receivers right now: DeAndre Carter played 53 snaps last week and ran 29 pass routes; he received only one target. Until Alshon Jeffrey returns, Agholor will remain a target monster.

Another 10 targets last week went to Zach Ertz, who pass blocked only three times all game. The Bucs allowed limited production to tight ends last season, but this was more about how easy it was for teams to attack them with wide receivers than it was about stout defense. Ertz should be heavily involved once again, as he and Agholor are the current engines of this offense.

EAGLES RUN OFFENSE

Naturally, Jay Ajayi received unpredictable work against the Falcons in Week 1. There was talk afterward that the Eagles wanted to ease him back in off an injury, but as we discussed in this space last week: the Eagles’ desire is to attack a defense in a variety of unpredictable ways. We also highlighted the possibility of the Eagles turning more heavily to Darren Sproles against a Falcons defense that was attackable through the air with running backs, and we saw that play out from the start of the game.

All that to say: we will want to be cautious all season that we do not fall into the trap of “assuming Ajayi is a reliable workhorse,” as there will simply be games this season in which he is not the guy the Eagles want to feature. The comparison we drew last week was to the annual unpredictability of the Patriots’ backfield. That’s how we should view the Eagles.

With that cleared out of the way, however, this would seem to be a good spot for the Eagles to lean on Ajayi. The Bucs were more attackable through the air last year than they were on the ground, but with how miserable Foles has been, it would make sense for Philly to build this week’s game plan around their best back. There is a chance he will see 20+ touches in an above-average matchup.

BUCCANEERS RUN OFFENSE

Peyton Barber played on 48 of a possible 66 snaps last week (72.7%), carrying the ball 19 times. While he didn’t see any targets in the pass game, he did run 16 pass routes, so the opportunity will be there this season for a couple catches each game.

That’s where the good news ends. This Philly defense allowed the fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL last season, while facing only 17.6 running back rush attempts per game. Philly ranked first in the NFL last year in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards. This is not an impossible matchup, but it is a very difficult one.

BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE

With the Eagles’ stout front able to stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback, teams favor a short passing attack as the best means of moving the ball against them — though it will be interesting to see what Tampa opts to do after their deep ball success in Week 1 against the Saints, and after the deep ball success the Falcons were able to have against Philly last week.

The key for throwing deep against Philly is stopping their four-man rush. In 2017, only the Jaguars and Bengals rushed with four men at a higher rate than Philly — which allows Philly to clog up the field with defenders while still getting pressure. If the line can hold long enough, however, there are holes that can be exposed. I expect more mistakes from Fitzpatrick in this game (he was regularly throwing to open guys last week, which won’t be the case this week), but I’m actually high on this offense — and there is a chance ownership will be low even after the Week 1 blowup, as people will be afraid that they are just “chasing points.”

My interest in this offense has less to do with scoring expectations and more to do with the situation it presents:

The Bucs have no real threat in the pass game out of the backfield (Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber combined to see only one total target, on 25 pass routes run between them), and O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate played at the expense of one another. This gives us a small group of available pass catchers for volume to flow to, against a Philly defense that forces teams to the air. If we project a fairly conservative 35 pass attempts for Fitzpatrick and a fairly liberal nine targets for tight ends and running backs, that still leaves 26 theoretical targets for the wide receivers. And if DeSean Jackson (concussion) fails to get cleared in time for this game, that tightens things up even further: Adam Humphries will soak up a few low-upside targets in the slot, and football gods Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will see the rest of the usage. This passing attack will be intriguing from an upside perspective no matter what; but if DeSean Jackson misses this game, it will become intriguing from a floor perspective as well.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

Nelson Agholor should see anywhere from eight to 12 targets in this game against a Tampa defense that got ripped to shreds last week by Michael Thomas. This is not Drew Brees throwing to him, so I’m tempering expectations. But he provides definite floor and obvious ceiling, and he is still a bit underpriced on all three sites. The only other guy in this passing attack I would consider is Ertz, who should once again be heavily involved as one of only two weapons Foles can get the ball to.

Ajayi is not a guy I’ll feel comfortable rostering in cash games as long as Sproles and Corey Clement are healthy, but he does carry week-winning upside if he indeed becomes the driving force of the offense this week. There is a chance the Eagles scheme around him in an effort to hide Foles.

I’m not on board with Barber this week either. But I do like the idea of targeting the Bucs’ passing attack. I imagine I’ll be looking for a more secure quarterback option than Fitzpatrick this week, but all three of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and DeSean Jackson will be appealing to me as upside tourney plays; and if Jackson misses, Evans and Godwin will immediately gain high floors as well.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 16th 1:00pm Eastern

Chiefs (
24.25) at

Steelers (
28.25)

Over/Under 52.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Chiefs Run D
28th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O
14th DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D
2nd DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O
12th DVOA/23rd Yards per pass
Steelers Run D
1st DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O
17th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O
1st DVOA/12th Yards per pass

CHIEFS // STEELERS OVERVIEW

Game of the week? Uh…yeah.

This is the game that will draw the most DFS attention (honestly, it probably won’t be particularly close), and for very good reason. Last week, James Conner and Tyreek Hill were two of the biggest hits on the slate, and each has a better matchup this week. Patrick Mahomes looks like a legit Upside god. Antonio Brown will be featured heavily against one of the weakest secondaries in the NFL. And buried under all those plays are guys like Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt — each of whom has legit week-winning upside.

This game should be a central focus for each of us in our roster builds — as even the rosters on which we use no players from this game will have to account for the fact that this game exists.

CHIEFS PASS OFFENSE

Pittsburgh was one of the best defenses in the NFL last year at generating pressure, ranking fifth in pressure rate when rushing only four guys, and ranking third in pressure rate when rushing more than four. Against a rookie gunslinger in Patrick Mahomes, there will likely be opportunities for turnovers and sacks, and I expect the Steelers to show some exotic pressure looks this week in an effort to confuse Mahomes and force him into mistakes.

With that said: Mahomes has started his career with a game in Denver (last year in Week 17) and a game against the Chargers — which are two of the toughest quarterback tests possible right now. He aced both matchups, posting a combined 540 yards, with four touchdowns, one interception, and only three sacks taken. Mahomes finished second in the league last week in average intended air yards.

Mahomes has also done well against two different styles of defense, and the Chargers’ zone-heavy scheme is similar to what the Steelers like to do. Each defense attempts to create tight windows all across the field — not taking away any particular area, but allowing low catch rates at all levels. Like the Chargers, the Steelers are below-average in stopping yards-after-catch; and like the Chargers, the Steelers present a perfect opportunity for an offensive mind like Andy Reid’s to scheme his best playmakers into the weakest spots of the zone. Tyreek Hill operated as Mahomes’ clear number one target in the preseason, and he hauled in 46.7% of the team’s receptions in Week 1. Travis Kelce has a difficult matchup against a Pittsburgh defense that ranked first in DVOA against the position last season, though he has the talent to beat a difficult matchup. Sammy Watkins is still not integrated into this offense yet, and all signs point to his “blowup games” this season being impossible to predict.

CHIEFS RUN OFFENSE

Well. It happened. Last week in this space, we worried that some Sundays will end this season, and we’ll wonder how in the world Kareem Hunt did not see the ball more. There is no rhyme or reason here. We have a guy who, by many measures, may actually have been the best all-around running back in the NFL last season…and who received only six carries inside the five-yard-line in 2017, and would randomly disappear into a low-volume hole. The matchup is friendly (last season, the Steelers ranked 18th in DVOA against the run and 27th in yards allowed per carry, and they especially struggled after losing Ryan Shazier), and Hunt literally has the upside to post the highest score on the slate. But I’m sliding him into the Cam Newton category for now: “He can always go off…but he is also going to get you some unpredictable duds.”

We’ve seen this before from Andy Reid (most recently with Jamaal Charles and with early-career Kelce). Game Day overwhelms him at times, and usage on certain star players can be anyone’s guess from week to week.

STEELERS PASS OFFENSE

Only three teams in the NFL allowed more passing yards per game last year than the Chiefs, and that was with All Pro Marcus Peters on one side of the field and a healthy Eric Berry at safety. Peters is now with the Rams and Berry is looking doubtful to play this week after missing Week 1.

Only two teams passed for more yards last year than the Steelers.

As we discussed last week, the Chiefs like to take away the short area of the field and force teams to throw the ball downfield.

Here are two charts that should pop off the page to us — each courtesy of airyards.com. The first is JuJu Smith-Schuster’s catch rate by depth of target, compared to the league average. The second is Antonio Brown’s catch rate by depth of target since 2015, compared to the league average.

Each guy sets up perfectly in this matchup — and as an added bonus, the Chiefs are one of the man-heaviest coverage schemes in the NFL (last year, they ran man coverage a league-leading 46.3% of the time, according to PFF). Antonio Brown has traditionally wrecked man coverage in his career, and the last time these teams played (in 2017, with better personnel in the Chiefs’ secondary), he posted an 8-155-1 line on 10 targets. Brown unsurprisingly doubled up JuJu in targets last week, and is the preferred Floor play, but each guy carries a huge ceiling in this spot.

The tight end is not typically featured in this offense, but the matchup is fine for Jesse James or (if he gets cleared) Vance McDonald, as long as Eric Berry is out. James carries touchdown upside and McDonald carries yardage and touchdown upside, but both have low floors.

STEELERS RUN OFFENSE

Only seven teams allowed more rushing yards last season than the Chiefs, and only nine teams allowed more yards per rush attempt. This is a total shift from the matchup James Conner had last week, against a Browns defense that was quietly spectacular against the run last year. Conner touched the ball 36 times last week and played 91.8% of the team’s snaps. Are you kidding?

As long as Le’Veon Bell is out, Conner should be considered a clear value until he reaches Bell’s typical price range. At 13.4% of the salary cap on DraftKings and 13.1% on FantasyDraft, he’s underpriced for his matchup and expected workload. At 11.67% of the salary cap on FanDuel, he is laughably underpriced.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

Mahomes and Tyreek Hill are theoretically difficult to trust in cash games, on the road, in a tough on-paper matchup; but given the way Hill has been used and the way Mahomes matches up with him, we should honestly be surprised if Hill fails in this spot. The matchup is difficult, but Andy Reid will find ways to get Hill the ball in open space. He’s a borderline cash play and a strong tourney play. Mahomes will need to be aggressive in this game to keep up with the Steelers’ offense, putting him into the “borderline cash play, strong tourney play” bucket as well.

Kelce and Watkins have low, price-considered floors, but each has upside. Obviously, Kelce is far likelier to hit for a big game than Watkins.

Hunt has no concerns in terms of talent or matchup, and his price is fair for the upside; but Opportunity concerns keep him out of the Core Player discussion this week.

I will have a difficult time moving off Antonio Brown and James Conner this week, while Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster will have heavy tourney consideration for me as well. Honestly, I would not even be surprised to see these guys hovering around my cash game lineups, either. With how focused the Steelers’ distribution of offensive touches is, all three of Conner/A.B./Smith-Schuster can be used on the same roster together. Last week, these three combined for 93.8% of the Steelers’ catches and carries. That might be the stat of the week. It’s never a poor idea to load up on over 90% of the touches on what could easily be the highest-scoring offense of the week.

SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

Joe Haden is doubtful for the Steelers. This gives a small bump to the matchup for Patrick Mahomes, who already has all the upside in the world.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 16th 1:00pm Eastern

Dolphins (
20) at

Jets (
23)

Over/Under 43.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Dolphins Run D
32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O
29th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
10th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O
30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass
Jets Run D
14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Jets Pass D
31st DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
11th DVOA/17th Yards per pass

DOLPHINS // JETS OVERVIEW

Each of these teams started the year on the right foot, with an out-of-division win. I love that one of these teams will come out of this game at 2-0 — and while it will be incredibly difficult for either of these teams to make the playoffs, I’ll be interested to see where the Jets are able to take their season if they notch a 2-0 start. I was very impressed with Jeremy Bates’ offense on Monday night (more on this in a bit), and the Jets could make noise in the box score throughout the season this year.

DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE

Lost in the excitement of the big Week 1 game from DFS darling Kenny Stills was the fact that he received only five targets — or rather, the same number as Courtland Sutton and Donte Moncrief, and fewer than Dede Westbrook. He will need to be far more heavily involved in order to consistently pay off his rising price tag (he’s still sitting at 10.6% and 10.7% of the salary cap on FantasyDraft and FanDuel, but he has spiked to 11.4% on DraftKings).

Onto a few more positive notes for Stills: the Dolphins are moving him around the formation, and head coach Adam Gase has talked about making sure Stills is being used at all levels of the field. While his greatest DFS asset is his deep ball ability, this does not mesh particularly well with the skill set of Ryan Tannehill. Getting the ball to Stills on short routes will raise his floor, and will create opportunities for him to see seven to nine targets per game.

Behind Stills (or rather…in front of Stills, as two of them saw more targets), Danny Amendola, Jakeem Grant, and Albert Wilson rotated snaps, though Amendola ran 29 pass routes, compared to 18 for Wilson and 14 for Grant. In light of those underlying numbers, Grant’s five catches on seven targets appear more fluky than predictive, while Amendola’s four catches on six targets have room to grow. Amendola showed his floor last week, though it’s fair to question his ceiling. (Note: DeVante Parker is now expected to suit up this week as well. He brings high talent-driven upside to the field; but his floor is low given his career-long inconsistency and the likelihood of the Dolphins rotating him in rather than featuring him right away.)

This passing attack rounds out with rookie tight end Mike Gesicki, who has all the talent in the world, but was used sparingly in the pass game last week, with only 11 pass routes run and only two targets.

The matchup is above-average for all these guys. The big concerns are Tannehill’s affinity for low-upside attempts and the non-aggressive nature of this team as a whole. Miami ranked 29th in Situation Neutral pace of play last year.

DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE

Frank Gore stole 18 snaps from Kenyan Drake last week, but with Drake on the field for 74.2% of the Dolphins’ plays, he appears to be comfortably in the second tier of running back workloads, behind only the elite, 85-to-90% usage guys (the D.J.s, the Gurleys, the Conners/Bells). Perhaps even more importantly, Drake ran a pass route on 24 of Tannehill’s 34 drop-backs.

The Dolphins will rarely project as a high-volume team this season, so Drake’s Week 1 line of 14 carries and three catches should be about where our expectations reside; but with the Dolphins as road underdogs in this spot, Drake gets a small boost in pass game expectations. The Jets were slightly above-average against the run last season and appear set for small improvements this year, but workload is a bigger concern for a guy who costs 11.6% of the salary cap on DraftKings and who is less valuable on FanDuel — where his catches aren’t as valuable, and where the low touchdown expectations for Drake and the Dolphins need to be taken even more fully into account. Drake does show up as a nicer value on PPR-scoring site FantasyDraft, where he costs only 10.8% of the cap. His floor is lower than we would love to grab, but his ceiling remains noteworthy.

Frank Gore should mix in for a handful of carries on his limited snaps. He’ll have a share of the team’s touchdowns this season, but overall upside will typically prove to be thin.

JETS PASS OFFENSE

Miami plays a zone-dominant coverage scheme and blitzes at an above-average rate, while rarely generating pressure on the quarterback. This puts strain on their talented secondary to hold an offense in check for longer than they should have to, and leads to occasional breakdowns on the back end. This is what the Jets should be looking to exploit this week. Only two teams allowed more pass plays of 20+ yards last year than the Dolphins.

This would seemingly create a good spot for the Jets to attack with Robby Anderson, who will make for an interesting pivot off Quincy Enunwa. Against the Lions’ man-heavy coverage tendencies last week, the Jets used Quincy Enunwa’s big body much like a tight end — getting him matched up against linebackers and safeties and working the middle of the field. With the Dolphins leaning more toward zone coverage, it would actually make sense for Bates to change things up this week and try to free up Anderson on some deep shots. After the success Enunwa had last week, he’ll be able to suck coverage into the shorter areas of the field while creating favorable matchups for Anderson deep. This obviously moves into the “trying to get inside a coach’s head” area, and is by no means authoritative, but it pulls Anderson into high-upside, low-owned tourney consideration as an ultra-talented guy who could genuinely see six to eight valuable targets while everyone in the DFS community is looking the other way.

It should also be noted that in Week 1, Enunwa was the clear focal point of the offense, and we know little enough about Bates’ approach at this point that we need to consider that this might remain the case moving forward. With plenty of pre-snap motion and creativity last week designed to throw off the Lions’ scheme, it shouldn’t surprise us if the Jets show something a little different in this game against a totally different Dolphins unit; but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Enunwa ran 21 pass routes last week to Anderson’s 16, and was targeted 10 times to Anderson’s one. Pricing on all three sites was set before Enunwa’s monster-usage game, making him a clear Chalk option this week after a 10-target outing.

Four different tight ends saw at least 15 snaps for the Jets last week. Until that rotation shakes itself out, those guys are obviously nothing but dart throws. Terrelle Pryor played 40% of the team’s snaps and was on the field for 45.8% of Sam Darnold’s pass attempts. If Jermaine Kearse returns this week, Pryor’s workload appears likely to dry up even further.

JETS RUN OFFENSE

Sure enough, Bilal Powell operated as the “lead back” last week — receiving over 60% of the snaps and touches before Crowell took over to salt away the game. Both guys played 24 snaps, with Powell receiving 13 touches and Crowell receiving 10. Our boy Trenton Cannon soaked up seven touches of his own down the stretch, and in a more competitive game those should be divided up between Powell and Crowell, but each guy is seeing too little work to be an appealing option until their prices drop further. Miami did finish bottom-five in the NFL last year in runs of 20+ yards allowed, so there is upside for one of these guys to pop; but the floor is low, and the workload is uncertain.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

At this point, nothing in this game stands out to me as being particularly appealing or valuable, with low, price-considered floors on all the running backs, and with volume questions on all the receivers. Enunwa is the best bet in cash games, given the monster workload he saw last week, though I expect I’ll stay away myself, as there is a genuine chance that Bates is a very good offensive coach; and a very good offensive coach would be tempted this week to use Enunwa more lightly, and to feature Robby Anderson more heavily. This makes Enunwa a tourney-only play for me, while also pulling Anderson into the “week-winning upside” conversation in tourneys. The floor on Anderson is low, in case he is simply not being featured this season the way he was in the past; but the likeliest scenario in this spot is at least five to six targets for him, and he has room to grow from there.

On the other side, Stills stands out for his upside, but until he begins to see more targets, I’ll have concerns about his floor; and Amendola showed his floor last week, but we should have concerns about his ceiling. With options on this slate like “Chiefs at Steelers,” “Browns at Saints,” “Broncos vs Raiders,” and “Rams at home,” it will be difficult for a game like this to produce a week-winning score.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 16th 1:00pm Eastern

Chargers (
24.5) at

Bills (
17)

Over/Under 41.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Chargers Run D
21st DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Chargers Pass D
11th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass
Bills Run D
24th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O
31st DVOA/13th Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
28th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Chargers Pass O
7th DVOA/5th Yards per pass

CHARGERS // BILLS OVERVIEW

Each of these teams had a disappointing loss in Week 1, but the Chargers are the team that seems set to rebound, with elite talent on both sides of the ball. I cannot recall ever before seeing a team installed as a seven-point road favorite when traveling West Coast to East Coast for an early start. This is a reminder of just how much better this Chargers team is on paper than the unit across from them in Week 2.

CHARGERS PASS OFFENSE

The Bills have an average defense, after finishing last season 26th in yards allowed per game and 18th in points allowed per game — and while their secondary is absolutely above-average, their run defense maintains serious question marks, and their inability to create pressure puts too much strain on the back end of their defense. Last year, the Bills ranked 27th in pressure rate when rushing four, and they ranked 30th in pressure rate when rushing more than four. This will allow Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen to pick apart the Bills on the short passes that Buffalo likes to force anyway. From an upside perspective, it should be noted that only three teams in the NFL last season allowed fewer yards after catch than Buffalo (on a per-reception basis), but they are perfectly comfortable giving up short completions all day, which is the bread and butter of the Rivers-to-Allen connection.

Last season, only six defenses allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Bills allowed, so this is a tougher spot for Tyrell Williams than he had last week (in a game where he should have smashed, but had a couple of critical drops and mistakes). Williams did play over 75% of the Chargers’ snaps last week, and Travis Benjamin appears unlikely to suit up, which opens a clear path to reliable playing time.

If Benjamin misses, Mike Williams should see even more time on the field (though honestly, things should start trending in that direction regardless). Williams played 53.7% of the team’s snaps last week and ran a pass route on 56.7% of Rivers’ drop-backs. For now, his biggest value will still come in the red zone, where the Bills were excellent last year, allowing the second-fewest wide receiver touchdowns in the league.

Antonio Gates rounds out this passing attack after running a pass route on 42.4% of Rivers’ drop-backs last week. He’s a touchdown-dependent play against a Bills defense that was below-average against the position last year.

CHARGERS RUN OFFENSE

Melvin Gordon played on “only” 75.6% of the Chargers’ snaps last week, which is a lower rate than the other elite, high-priced running back options; but he touched the ball on 38.7% of his snaps, and he is locked into all the work inside the five-yard-line on this offense, against a Bills defense that is easier to score against on the ground than through the air.

While Gordon’s touch total was buoyed by the Chargers being on the field for a massive 82 snaps, there is still no reason to have concerns here from a “floor” perspective. Obviously, we would prefer Gordon to be on the field more than 45 to 48 plays if the Chargers run a more reasonable 60 to 65 plays in this game, but if the Chargers somehow fall behind, Gordon will be involved in the pass game (an awesome 13 targets last week), and if the Chargers are playing with a lead, Gordon will be the engine that runs out the clock. His touchdown equity is huge on a team that has one of the highest Vegas-implied totals on the slate; and while the emergence of Austin Ekeler as a truly viable breather-back and third-down option takes a bit of the shine off Gordon’s workload ceiling, the workload floor still makes him a very safe play, while the touchdown upside drives his ceiling to a respectable place.

BILLS PASS OFFENSE

Josh Allen will take over under center this week, after being the only quarterback in Week 1 (in limited action) to notch a higher average depth of target than Patrick Mahomes notched against the Chargers last week. Allen’s aggressive style and powerful arm will create opportunities for splash plays from the Bills, but the matchup — in spite of what the Chiefs did last week to this defense — is brutal; and Allen’s scheme and weapons are both inferior to what Kansas City was working with. Only two teams allowed fewer passing yards last year than the Chargers. Only two teams allowed fewer passing touchdowns. Only five teams picked off more passes. Even if Joey Bosa misses again, this team has the upside to wreck one of the weakest offensive lines in football, and to confuse one of the least-polished NFL passers.

If you are set on attacking the Chargers with a team that currently has the second-lowest Vegas-implied total on the weekend, Kelvin Benjamin is the best bet for upside after seeing seven targets (one catch) last week.

BILLS RUN OFFENSE

In the Bills’ blowout loss to the Ravens last week, LeSean McCoy earned seven carries and one catch, while playing on only 34 of the team’s 64 snaps. Most of that can be thrown out of the window, as the Bills would like Shady to touch the ball at least 20 times each week; but it will be difficult once again this week for him to see that sort of volume against a talented Chargers offense and a shutdown Chargers pass defense. There is a chance game flow goes off the rails again in this spot, and that Shady is again stuck with limited action behind a poor offensive line. Even with the Chargers being comfortable giving up free yards on the ground between the 20s, McCoy is more “bet on talent” this week than “bank on guaranteed points.” The Bills offense should continue to struggle as a whole, rendering everyone on this side of the ball a tourney-only dart throw.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

Given how good the Bills were last season at preventing passing touchdowns and yards after the catch, there are some other high-priced receivers I prefer over Keenan Allen this week; but his floor is awesome, as he should dominate in the short passing game — making him particularly valuable on DraftKings and FantasyDraft. And he obviously has the talent to still show elite ceiling.

Melvin Gordon put up a few red flags last week in terms of price-considered usage, even with his incredible 13 targets, as he is priced amidst guys who all earn 85% to 90% of their team’s snaps, while Gordon appears set to operate this year at under 80%. He’s an interesting case, however, as his small dip in snap rate is countered by his monstrous share of red zone work. As a good player in a great matchup, with his team installed as a heavy favorite, he’s in play in both cash games and tourneys. He doesn’t pop off the page the way some of these more snap-assured guys do, but he’s absolutely in the discussion at the top end of the price range.

Philip Rivers is solid, though touchdown upside projects to be higher for Gordon than for this passing attack. If going off the board in tourneys in a hunt for upside, Tyrell Williams carries big-play upside, while Mike Williams and Antonio Gates project for enough red zone usage this year to be in the conversation as well.

Finally, the Chargers’ defense is obviously in play. They’re not quite the lock-button option the Ravens were last week, traveling West-to-East for an early start, with Joey Bosa still out; but they’re right there for me alongside the other top options on the slate.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 16th 1:00pm Eastern

Vikings (
23.75) at

Packers (
21.75)

Over/Under 45.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Vikings Run D
27th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O
10th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D
8th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O
6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass
Packers Run D
25th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O
2nd DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Packers Pass D
25th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O
20th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass

VIKINGS // PACKERS OVERVIEW

The flow of this game will obviously depend on the health of Aaron Rodgers, as the entire complexion will change if DeShone Kizer is under center for Green Bay against one of the top defenses in the NFL. Given that Rodgers returned to the game in Week 1, we will approach this writeup with the assumption Rodgers will be out there. If that assumption proves to be incorrect, the entire Packers offense will have to come off the board, and the Vikings’ run game elements will receive a bump up in expected workload and production.

VIKINGS PASS OFFENSE

In Week 1 against a Bears offense that was relying on still-green second-year man Mitchell Trubisky, the new-look Packers defense under Mike Pettine played with six or more defensive backs on the field on an incredible 62.9% of their snaps. Pettine has made a few statements this summer that indicate this will be a regular approach, as the Packers join the other elite teams that are perfectly content to give up yards on the ground if this means they are making things more difficult through the air. Throughout the season, we should see opponents lean more run-heavy against this Packers team compared to season-long averages, which needs to be taken into account when projecting how the Vikings are likely to attack.

Last week, the Vikings threw the ball 36 times while divvying up 27 carries between Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook — ranking ninth in pace of play under new OC John DeFilippo, after ranking 25th last season under Pat Shurmur. Another 30 to 35 passes here is a good expectation for Kirk Cousins and the Vikings this week.

Last week, Adam Thielen was the go-to man for Cousins, and with Thielen seeing a spike in slot usage in both the preseason and Week 1 (53% slot rate last week), it looks like this will continue. Thielen ran a pass route on 97.7% of Cousins’ drop-backs, and he hauled in six catches on 12 targets.

Stefon Diggs saw six targets last week, which should be about his floor this season. He has room to grow from there, and has big-play upside — though the Packers will be aiming to take away perimeter passing routes, which keeps Diggs’ floor in check.

Somehow, Kyle Rudolph has not yet caught the eye of Kirk Cousins, as they didn’t show much rapport in the preseason, and Rudolph saw only two targets in Week 1. The Packers were above-average against tight ends last season, allowing the tenth-fewest yards and the sixth-fewest touchdowns to the position.

VIKINGS RUN OFFENSE

Rounding out this “passing attack” is Dalvin Cook, who saw seven targets last week and grabbed six catches, while running a pass route on 72.1% of Cousins’ drop-backs. While Murray mixed in for 11 carries of his own, Cook played on over 80% of the Vikings’ snaps and was clearly the lead dog in this backfield — soaking up an additional 16 carries of his own. This shapes up as another 20-touch spot for Cook, against a team that invites opponents to run against them and is content to give up shorter passes as well. Some of the team’s carries inside the three-yard-line are still likely to go to Murray, but Cook retains a solid floor with a high, talent-driven ceiling.

Murray could slide into a cheap impact role if Rodgers happens to miss this game, as this would turn game flow more heavily in the Vikings’ favor. Otherwise, he is nothing more than a bet-on-touchdown option. Murray was uninvolved in the pass game last week, with only two pass routes run all game.

PACKERS PASS OFFENSE

To reiterate some statistics from last week:

The Vikings’ pass defense allowed the second-fewest passing yards per game in 2017, and they allowed the fewest passing touchdowns. They also allowed the fewest points per game, the second-fewest rushing yards per game, and the fifth-fewest rushing yards per attempt. Last season, Minnesota was able to get away with rushing only four guys on 73.3% of their snaps (well above the league average of 65.8%), and they generated pressure at a top-ten rate when doing so. The Vikings were top three last season in both catch rate allowed and yards-after-catch allowed per reception.

One of the most important things to remember in DFS tourney play is that a difficult matchup does not make it impossible for an elite player to reach his ceiling; instead, a difficult matchup A) lowers an elite player’s floor, and B) makes it far less likely that this elite player will hit his ceiling. This is the position in which Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams find themselves this week. Each has the talent to still post a big game; but each has a lower floor than usual, and is less likely than normal to approach their ceiling.

Out of 43 total drop-backs last week for the Packers, we saw the following participation percentages among route runners:

97.7% – Davante Adams

93.0% – Randall Cobb

93.0% – Jimmy Graham

79.1% – Geronimo Allison

No other player topped 42%, with Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery sitting right below that mark, and everyone else far behind. If taking a tourney shot on this passing attack, Geronimo Allison stands out as a sneaky bet after seeing eight targets last week and such a high percentage of the passing downs. Rodgers is comfortable feeding his second perimeter receiver (Davante Adams had a few monster games a couple years ago when Jordy Nelson was the clear Number One), and Allison should draw fewer routes against super-stud corner Xavier Rhodes, who is not expected to shadow Adams, but will certainly be on him a decent amount.

PACKERS RUN OFFENSE

As noted last week, Jamaal Williams has topped 82 rushing yards only once in his career (and he has topped 67 rushing yards only twice). A matchup against an elite Vikings run defense would appear to be an unlikely spot for him to post his second career 82+ yard game.

Williams and Ty Montgomery were each involved in the pass game, with 35 routes run between them, though they combined for only two catches on five targets. Unsurprisingly, only seven teams allowed fewer receptions to running backs last year than the Vikings allowed. Only one team allowed fewer receiving yards.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

With a low Over/Under, an elite defense on one side, and a defense on the other side that aims to force teams to the ground, this is not a standout spot for DFS production. But the flip side is that guys like Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Dalvin Cook, Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, and Geronimo Allison all have clear 20-point upside even in this unfavorable setup.

My favorite play of the bunch is Dalvin Cook, who will likely be the only guy I’ll consider in cash games here, as his price tag has not caught up to his usage — especially on FanDuel, where he somehow can be had for only 10.8% of the salary cap, and is priced alongside Isaiah Crowell. (Cook will cost you 12.3% of the cap on FantasyDraft and 13.0% on DraftKings.) While his touchdown upside is capped a bit by Latavius Murray, his overall upside is worth considering at this price.

Thielen is a solid tourney bet, even against a team that is aiming to take away the pass, as the Vikings have such a narrow distribution of targets, we know Thielen will get his looks. He’s unlikely to break your roster with a dud, and he always carries a big ceiling.

Diggs is a little tougher to bet on after how low his volume was in Week 1 — and concerns are heightened by what Green Bay is looking to do on defense; talent would be the justification for rostering Diggs here.

Rodgers, Adams, and Allison are all sneaky upside plays with lowered floors. Allison’s cheap price makes him an interesting “spiked week” target in tourneys, as the difficult matchup doesn’t change the fact that he should still see six to eight targets.

Obviously, this is not a premium game on this weekend. But there are still some interesting pieces to consider.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 16th 1:00pm Eastern

Browns (
20.5) at

Saints (
30)

Over/Under 50.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Browns Run D
20th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O
12th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
19th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O
14th DVOA/9th Yards per pass
Saints Run D
4th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
7th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Saints Pass D
15th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
23rd DVOA/27th Yards per pass

BROWNS // SAINTS OVERVIEW

Last week, the Saints’ man-dominant coverage scheme got ripped apart by the Bucs at all levels of the field. Interestingly, while some of the big plays were the result of clever scheming and zone-based coverage breakdowns, most of the plays by Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and Chris Godwin came simply from these receivers beating their man. Because talent doesn’t evaporate overnight, it’s tough to project this becoming a consistent problem for the Saints (last year, defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore allowed a quarterback rating of only 45.3 on passes in his direction, with five interceptions and zero touchdowns allowed, as charted by PFF), but the lack of pass rush from the Saints in Week 1 could carry over against an above-average Browns line. If that happens, there will still be opportunities for big plays, and for the Browns to keep pace in this game.

BROWNS PASS OFFENSE

Josh Gordon played on 69 of a possible 89 snaps last week, and he ran 47 pass routes (only seven fewer than team leader Jarvis Landry). That’s the good news for Gordon. The bad news was his surprisingly low usage: three targets on those 47 routes run — good for one catch on a 17-yard touchdown. The Steelers are stout on the perimeter, but with Lattimore expected to follow Gordon much of the day, this should be considered a difficult matchup as well.

If Gordon remains in fairly tight coverage for much of the game, Jarvis Landry should again see monster usage, after being targeted on an incredible 37.5% of Tyrod Taylor’s Week 1 passes. The Browns do not want to be a team that passes 40 times per game, but they’ll likely have little choice in this one — on the road, in the dome, against the high-flying Saints offense. This chart from NFL’s Next Gen Stats shows how the Browns used Landry last week — in a far more expansive role than he had in Miami, with work at all levels of the field, and from all areas of the formation. The Browns are treating him like their number one receiver, and we should as well.

The only other receiver to see significant run was Rashard Higgins, who ran 41 pass routes but was targeted only four times.

The final piece of the Browns’ talented cache of downfield weapons is tight end David Njoku. Njoku is a stud athlete who can put strain on an opposing defense, but he genuinely relies on nothing but his athleticism to get open — with lazy route-running and zero nuance to his game. Until he strengthens this side of things, I’ll continue being cautious with him against better coverage units; last year, the Saints ranked sixth in DVOA against the tight end and allowed the fewest receptions and yards to the position.

BROWNS RUN OFFENSE

While the Saints have shown that they are comfortable allowing yards on the ground, Carlos Hyde will be at risk of falling out of the game plan by the middle of the third quarter in this spot, as the Saints are likely to jump out to a lead — at which point, the Browns would be forced to go pass-heavy and bring Duke Johnson onto the field for more snaps. Hyde’s talent gives him an opportunity to post a nice game in this spot if he sees 16 to 20 touches, but there is obvious risk that he will fall shy of that mark.

Only six teams allowed fewer receptions last year to running backs than the Saints, but given Duke Johnson’s wide receiver-like skill set, the matchup shouldn’t be a concern. In tourneys, Johnson is an interesting upside target as one of the most efficient per-touch players in the league, in a spot where game flow is likely to turn in his favor. On DraftKings, especially, these are the types of plays we have to start thinking about as pricing tightens up: guys who need the game to work a certain way in order to hit, but who have strong, price-considered upside if things work out correctly.

SAINTS PASS OFFENSE

Last week, we took a look at the way Cleveland struggles to take away short passes, and (before the wind in that game wrecked our well-laid plans) we highlighted the advantage Antonio Brown had against a Cleveland pass defense that ranked bottom five last year in YAC allowed per catch. While Michael Thomas is not quite in A.B.’s range in the yards-after-catch area, he is solidly above-average in YAC at all short areas of the field (see chart below). He’ll be the focal point for this Saints offense once again, and he has all the upside in the world in this spot.

Behind Thomas (17 targets), the wealth was spread thin last week across Ted Ginn (six targets), Ben Watson (four targets), Austin Carr (two targets), and Tre’Quan Smith (one target). This offense belongs to Thomas and Kamara at the moment, and that is really as far as we need to look if hunting for quality all-around plays.

If we take floor out of consideration, Ginn obviously remains in the “upside” conversation.

If Ginn misses this week with his knee injury, explosive rookie Smith will become a very interesting tourney play — stepping into Ginn’s role, with a similar set of skills. But, again: this offense is Thomas and Kamara right now. Everything revolves around them.

SAINTS RUN OFFENSE

Last week, we were spot-on in our original projections for Kamara’s usage, as he saw only 17 total touches (it really is astonishing what this guy can do on so few touches…), but he was on the field for 52 out of a possible 64 snaps, and he ran a pass route on 39 of Drew Brees’ 49 drop-backs. Mike Gillislee and Jonathan Williams combined for only 10 snaps and four carries, and even if the Saints are playing with a lead, they appear set to continue leaning pass-heavy. Gillislee lost a fumble last week, and the Saints thought little enough of Williams to cut him from the 53-man roster and expose him to waivers before adding him back to the team before Sunday. We cannot bank on another 12 targets for Kamara, but it seems genuinely unlikely that he falls shy of eight targets — and if that happens, he should see a slight bump in his carries, up to around 12 or 13. The run game matchup is not the best, but there are so many holes the Saints can expose in this defense through the air and in space that Kamara remains an elite play.

Of course, the same caveats as last week apply: when you pay this sort of price tag for a non-elite workload, you are going to expose yourself to a few price-considered duds. It’s simply more dangerous — from a “floor” perspective — to bet on efficiency than it is to bet on volume. But the other side of that concern is what Kamara showed us last week: he is capable of posting a must-have score without seeing elite usage.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

After digging into exactly what went wrong on the Saints last week (as noted above: it was mostly about a lack of pass rush and Saints defenders simply getting beat), and also digging into the tape from the Browns last week (my God! — could the Browns have been less creative in their route combinations and schematic concepts?), I am not seeing this as a blowup spot for Cleveland. This pulls Hyde out of the wheelhouse where he will be in weeks where the Browns can keep things closer, and it puts Duke Johnson into tourney consideration. I expect Lattimore to clamp down on Josh Gordon, and I expect Njoku to struggle getting open, which makes each guy a “bet on talent in tourneys” option for me this week, with lowered floors. And with the Browns likely to be trailing in this game and those other weapons in a difficult spot, I expect Jarvis Landry to once again see 10+ targets as the Browns try to keep pace. Tyrod Taylor also stands out as an intriguing play this week, as the Browns are all but certain to find themselves in comeback mode in the second half — opening opportunities for Taylor to pile up garbage time passing and rushing yards down the stretch.

The Saints’ offense is in a smash spot against Cleveland, with Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara as the central weapons. Browns’ DC Gregg Williams is incapable of creatively scheming these two out of the game, and he’ll focus on “stopping them after they get the ball.” This is suicide against the Saints, and the trio of Thomas/Kamara/Brees rise to the top of the slate once again.

SATURDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

Josh Gordon is expected to get cut/traded this next week after “breaking the team’s trust.” There are whispers he has experienced setbacks in his quest for sobriety, which is hopefully not the case, simply from a human standpoint; but regardless, he won’t be playing Sunday.

This leaves Rashard Higgins and rookie Antonio Calloway on the field with Jarvis Landry. One way to look at this is that Higgins and Calloway are now underpriced assets; and while Landry played on the outside more last week than he did with Miami (33% last week, which will lead to more coverage from Marshon Lattimore), his targets should become even more locked-in. Of course, stud athlete David Njoku also becomes appealing with this rose-colored view.

From a “JM’s Interpretation” standpoint: My concern here is that the Browns will get blown out of the water, with Lattimore now able to focus on Landry whenever Landry lines up outside (rather than being stuck to Gordon). Njoku still has one of the toughest tight end matchups on the slate, Higgins is not very good, and Calloway is extremely raw. This is a bad coaching staff and a quarterback in Tyrod Taylor who functions better as a high-level game manager than as an aggressive, 40-pass-per-game guy.

I still like Kittle // Doyle // Jonnu more than Njoku, and Landry doesn’t really change for me (as noted in the Player Grid: I like him, but there are a few guys I like more). Higgins and Calloway theoretically have 20-point ceilings, but their likeliest range is six to 14 points on DraftKings and five to 12 points on FanDuel; not bad, but I’ll be aiming higher this week. I do think this gives a slight bump to Duke Johnson, whose floor remains iffy, but who has true 20-point upside in a game where Cleveland will have to pass (and will likely struggle to move through the air outside of Landry). He’s a tourney target.

The bigger fallout, if the Browns do in fact struggle, will be on the Saints’ side. Without Gordon stretching the field and demanding attention, it’s fair to wonder if the Browns are now over-projected at 19.75 points. And if the Browns fall shy of that mark, it’s fair to wonder if the Saints’ ceiling is capped. They should still score four touchdowns (which means Brees // Kamara // Thomas remain very strong plays), but the chances of this turning into a shootout are slimmed; and the chances of the Saints protecting Kamara by grinding out the clock with Gillislee or Williams in the fourth quarter increase.

This obviously does not take Kamara out of the ‘monster floor, monster ceiling’ conversation. But in the tough decision between Gurley and Kamara on sites where pricing is tight, it does give Gurley a small nudge. Same goes for Thomas, chasing Antonio Brown and (to a lesser extent) Julio Jones.

I already had Gurley sliiiightly higher than Kamara, so this just makes that a bit easier to stick with. And I already had Thomas behind A.B. and Julio, so: ditto. But if you had Kamara higher than Gurley, or Thomas higher than Julio, realize that game script becomes slightly less exciting for these guys. Each guy can absolutely post the highest score at their respective position (Kamara more so than Thomas), but their chances of doing so get taken down a half-notch.

Hopefully you are feeling great about where you are at this point, and are in position to wrap up your final thoughts on the slate.

I’ll see you at the top of the leaderboards in a few!


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 16th 4:05pm Eastern

Lions (
21.25) at

49ers (
27.25)

Over/Under 48.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Lions Run D
30th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D
12th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O
17th DVOA/21st Yards per pass
49ers Run D
7th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O
13th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
49ers Pass D
22rd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O
19th DVOA/20th Yards per pass

LIONS // 49ERS OVERVIEW

Each of these teams lost in Week 1, but they lost in very different ways: with the 49ers playing a Super Bowl contender to a respectable score on the road, and with the Lions getting embarrassed by a supposedly bottom-tier team at home. Each of these teams has playoff aspirations this season, and it’s incredibly difficult to get there if you start 0-2. This is likely to nudge each team toward an aggressive style in an early must-win.

LIONS PASS OFFENSE

Last season, San Francisco finished 25th in points allowed per game, while the Lions’ offense finished seventh in points per game. San Francisco has not made significant improvements on defense, and the Lions not only returned all of their core offensive pieces from last season, but they added Kerryon Johnson in the draft and have a healthy Kenny Golladay with a full year of experience under his belt. The Lions’ mid-week implied team total of 21.0 is almost guaranteed to rise as we get closer to the weekend. This reminds me of a Lions-Bears game in 2015 that carried a low Vegas-implied total for each team until Sunday morning, when it was bet up by several points; that game ended up carrying low ownership in DFS that week, and I spent three hours that Sunday in first place in the Milly Maker (before winding up at 12th), with multiple pieces from that game. This 21.0-point total is totally reactionary after Detroit struggled on national television on Monday night. With Jim Bob Cooter still calling plays for Detroit, there is no reason to set our expectations any different than they would have been last year.

If you want to know who the number one receiver is on Detroit: it’s Kenny Golladay. He played 55 of a possible 56 pass plays in Week 1 — four more than Marvin Jones, and eight more than Golden Tate. Obviously, that’s a slim margin separating the three guys, and you could justifiably call any of them the “number one.” But that’s sort of the point. It makes just as much sense right now to call Golladay the “number one” as it does to affix that label to either of the other two.

Here were the target counts among the primary Lions pass catchers last week: Tate — 15 // Golladay — 12 // Marvin Jones — 8 // Theo Riddick 7.

Three tight ends combined for four targets, while Kerryon Johnson saw three targets of his own.

Only one team passed the ball at a higher rate last year than the Lions, and the three receivers are clearly the funnels through which this aerial attack will flow — with Riddick seeing work in the background. If this game goes according to script, Matthew Stafford should throw the ball at least 35 times (a mark he hit in half the Lions’ games last season), and around 70% of those looks should go to the three wideouts.

Last year, San Francisco forced teams to throw downfield and tackled well after the catch, while rating out substantially above-average in Football Outsiders’ metrics on passes over the middle and short middle. On passes to the outside — especially deep outside — San Francisco struggled. This game sets up nicely for around seven to 10 targets apiece for both Jones and Golladay, with big upside for each.

LIONS RUN OFFENSE

On the other hand, we have the Lions’ rushing attack, which failed to get going even before the Jets ran away with the game in Week 1 — an all-too-frequent occurrence for this team over the last few years. Kerryon Johnson played only 16 snaps, compared to 13 for LeGarrette Blount and 41 for Theo Riddick. Riddick’s role will not always be that substantial, so Johnson’s role has room to grow — but for now, this is an ugly, three-way timeshare. The best way to squeeze fantasy value out of this spot is to bet on game flow forcing Theo Riddick onto the field for another huge snap share, but you could also swing the other way in tourneys and dream up a scenario in which the Lions take a lead and are able to establish Johnson. It’s an unlikely scenario, but it can at least be considered in large-field tourneys.

49ERS PASS OFFENSE

Matt Patricia’s “free yards” defense was manhandled by the Jets on Monday night, and they won’t have things any easier against Kyle Shanahan (who also publicly shamed Patricia in the Super Bowl a couple years ago before slowing down at the end). Granted, this 49ers offense is not the unit Shanny boasted in Atlanta — and that becomes even more truthful if Marquise Goodwin (thigh) misses this game.

Last week, Darius Slay slowed down Robby Anderson, and it seems likely that the Lions will try to match up Slay on Goodwin as much as they can if he’s on the field, while shifting Slay over to Garcon otherwise. If Goodwin plays, his connection with Jimmy Garoppolo will make him a tourney-worthy option, but his floor will be lowered by the matchup. In that case, Garcon would become an intriguing option against Nevin Lawson, who allowed a 104.8 quarterback rating when targeted last season and gave up a reception every 8.8 coverage snaps (compared to marks of 55.6 and 10.1 for teammate Slay). If Goodwin misses, realize that this is a downfield passing attack, so even in Slay’s coverage Garcon will retain tourney-driven upside simply by virtue of the targets he would see, while Dante Pettis would step into a full-time role after filling in for 49 snaps last week and seeing five targets of his own.

The most exciting option on this passing attack — regardless of whether or not Goodwin plays (though he’s even more exciting if Goodwin misses) is tight end George Kittle, who ran 33 pass routes in Week 1 and saw nine targets in a tough matchup against the Vikings. Detroit ranked 26th in DVOA against the tight end last season, and they allowed the 12th-most yards to the position in spite of allowing the fifth-fewest receptions. Kittle is especially appealing on DraftKings (7.6% of the salary cap) and FantasyDraft (8.0%), where he costs so little; but even on FanDuel at 9.3% of the cap, he’s in play. Another nine targets is not at all out of the question.

49ERS RUN OFFENSE

Last season, only one team allowed more rushing touchdowns than Detroit, and they finished the season ranked 28th in DVOA against the run. Their game against the Jets on Monday night did nothing to change our assessment of them as an attackable defense on the ground, and with the 49ers likely to be playing with a lead as the game moves along, Alfred Morris will have an opportunity to build on the 35 snaps he played last week. Although Alf saw zero targets (and is rarely going to see more than two or three in a game), he did run 19 pass routes, so he won’t be a total zero in that department this season. On a week with very little value, Morris is a potential 15- to 18-touch back in this spot.

The counterpoint, of course, is that Breida — as we talked about in this space last week, and as he showed on the field on Sunday — is the more talented back between these two. Breida played 30 snaps and handled 11 carries and one catch to Morris’ 12 carries and zero catches. This backfield could remain a timeshare, or could even tilt in Breida’s favor. The matchup is great for either guy. The only concern is the division of labor — with either guy seemingly as likely as the other to come out on top in touches this week.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

Naturally, I cannot carry out a writeup like the one directly above without some people thinking of the old Cheat Code idea from last season: playing two cheap running backs from the same backfield in order to capture guaranteed floor while making room in the budget for high-priced guys. If we project San Francisco for around 65 plays, this should work out to around 26 rush attempts (with a few more added to that number if the 49ers can hold a lead deep into the game). We can probably tack on four catches to that mark, so you would essentially be rostering 26 carries and four catches by taking both guys. I think it’s viable in this matchup (particularly on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, where pricing is tight this week). A few concerns, though:

1) This would prevent you from being able to roster both Kamara and Conner. Or Conner and Gurley. Or Cook and Conner. Or some combination of all three. (And that’s not even to mention Melvin Gordon and Christian McCaffrey.) There is a lot of upside at the running back position this week, and it would be nice to grab some of it.

2) In the case of Crowell and Duke Johnson last season, they’d proven that they were both capable of scoring 15+ points on the same week. I feel that with Breida and Morris, on the other hand, one will tend to have a good game at the cost of the other.

I like each guy on his own — Morris with the lower floor but higher touchdown equity; Breida with more pass game work, but with a smaller goal line role — but I think there’s enough value in other spots to not have to play these guys together.

I love Kittle this week, and he joins Jonnu Smith and Jack Doyle as too-cheap-for-their-roles tight ends. You could also toss Ian Thomas into that pile, though he requires a little more faith and guesswork. In tourneys, I will also have interest in the 49ers’ number two receiver.

On Detroit’s side, I like Stafford, and I love Golladay and Jones. Because each guy sees his targets primarily downfield, the chances of a dud are higher than they are on someone like Tate; but the upside is silly in this spot. Golladay is especially attractive at under 10% of the salary cap on all three sites. I also like the idea of stacking this game in tourneys. Similar to the way the Bengals stood out last week as a team with an early-week implied total that was just too low, the Lions pop off the page in this one.

SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

Marquise Goodwin is going to miss this game. Dante Pettis will start, and he projects for somewhere in the range of five to eight targets. We don’t know much about Pettis as an NFL player, so this is less of a slam-dunk than most are making it out to be; but it is always a good move in DFS to #TrustShanahan. I’m good with Pettis as a top value option this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 16th 4:05pm Eastern

Cards (
15.75) at

Rams (
27.75)

Over/Under 43.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Cardinals Run D
10th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O
1st DVOA/7th Yards per carry
Cardinals Pass D
10th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O
10th DVOA/18th Yards per pass
Rams Run D
21st DVOA/7th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O
2nd DVOA/2nd Yards per carry
Rams Pass D
11th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Cardinals Pass O
18th DVOA/15th Yards per pass

CARDINALS // RAMS OVERVIEW

As of this writeup, the Vegas-implied totals in this game sit at 29.0 for the Rams and 16.0 for the Cardinals. The Cardinals opened at an implied total of 18.0 and have been rapidly bet down, while the Rams have held steady. L.A. is the largest favorite on the slate, and their defense and run game, in particular, should have game flow going their way.

CARDINALS PASS OFFENSE

Arizona was an embarrassment in Week 1 — at home against Washington — and things will not get any easier this week on the road at the difficult Rams defense. Sam Bradford was extremely unaggressive last week, throwing only one pass deeper than 20 yards and only four passes deeper than 15. Because our gauge of “opportunity” in DFS has to go beyond just volume, and has to instead include type of opportunity, it is important to note here that such a non-aggressive offense severely limits the “opportunity” of the players involved. This goes just as much for Larry Fitzgerald as it does for perimeter weapons, as defenses will have an easier time clamping down on short passes over the middle if there is no threat of deep passes on the outside.

With that said: Fitz is really the only viable target in this passing attack at the moment. In addition to Bradford’s fear of throwing downfield outside the numbers, the ancillary receivers on this Cardinals attack will be matched up with Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. Expect a quick-out passing attack that aims to marginalize the Rams’ pass rush with chain-moving hitters to Fitz. Also, however, expect the Rams to adjust and try to take away those routes. Wade Phillips is not in the business of “playing soft and forcing a team to march slowly down the field.” He wants to force a team into mistakes — and since the easiest way to do this is to take away Fitzgerald (leaving severe mismatches on the outside for the Rams’ defense to exploit), there is a good chance this is exactly what L.A. will aim to do. Easier said than done, of course; but this is a tough spot for the Cardinals’ passing offense altogether.

CARDINALS RUN OFFENSE

If you took David Johnson with a first-round season-long pick or went overweight on him in Best Ball drafts, you should be nervous at the moment, as Mike McCoy showed a surprising lack of creativity in getting the ball to his most dangerous weapon in space. D.J. ran nearly all of his routes from the backfield this last week, rarely lining up at wide receiver — where offensive whiz Bruce Arians used to hammer the mismatches he was able to create. D.J. has true wide receiver skills and can take a defense deep just as easily as he can catch passes in the flats, so it’s a major disappointment to see him limited to such non-creative usage, with every one of his targets this last week coming from out of the backfield. The value D.J. brings to the table at his elevated price is his explosive receiving skills. If he is turned into more of a “1990s running back,” with all his usage coming out of the backfield (behind an offensive line that PFF had rated 27th coming into the season), he will need his price to drop before he becomes a strong play again. He is too good to post duds, but his price is going to fall a bit more before finding its home if his usage remains the same as it was in Week 1.

RAMS PASS OFFENSE

Quietly lost in the splendor of the Rams’ 2017 season was the fact that they really did not pass very often. Their passing play percentage of 55.83% ranked 23rd in the league, and their 32.4 pass attempts per game ranked 24th. As such a monstrous favorite, we cannot expect big volume from this offense — but we can expect the work to flow through four key guys.

Last week, the Rams’ pass route numbers looked like this: Brandin Cooks — 35 // Cooper Kupp — 33 // Robert Woods — 32 // Todd Gurley — 31. Tight end Tyler Higbee stayed in to block on 14 pass plays and saw zero targets on his 19 routes run.

Last week, Gurley took a step back in targets (five) with how easy it was to attack Oakland downfield, as Woods and Kupp both saw nine looks, while Cooks saw eight. This week against an Arizona secondary that still has Patrick Peterson on one side of the field, it will make sense for L.A. to get Gurley more involved through the air, leaning particularly on their creative screen game to get him room to run in space.

Last week, Woods lined up on what would have been Peterson’s side of the field 55% of the time, while Cooks lined up on the opposite side 55% of the time (and would have been matched up on Peterson on only 27% of his snaps). There is no guarantee that L.A. sticks with this alignment all season, but with Arizona foolishly choosing to isolate Peterson on one side, it would make sense this week for McVay to scheme his most explosive receiver away from Peterson the majority of the time. Expect another seven to nine looks for Cooks, with his downfield skill set introducing more risk, but also creating more upside. Kupp will do the same thing every week: provide a solid floor with a quietly reliable share of red zone work. He’s a floor play with decent price-considered upside — though of course, his chances of breaking open a slate for you are slim.

RAMS RUN OFFENSE

Matchup does not matter for Gurley, as his usage is too conducive to blowup games for him to ever be truly taken off the board. He will be the Rams’ primary weapon inside the five-yard-line this season, he will constantly be schemed the ball in space, and he will have opportunities even against great defenses to break off long runs. The Cardinals ranked third best in the NFL last year in yards allowed per rush attempt; but in two games against them, Gurley posted rushing lines of 22-106-1 and 19-74-0, while adding receiving lines of 4-48-0 and 6-84-0. This guy is an upside machine, and while the matchup is not as sweet as Conner’s and the pass game role is not as lucrative as Kamara’s, he is the driving force behind this offense, and he can be counted on for a high floor and a monster ceiling.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

It seems like the Rams’ side of this game will go a bit overlooked in the DFS community this week, in spite of currently boasting the second-highest Vegas-implied total on the slate (only 0.25 points behind the Saints). No single player on this teams stands out as a “must-have,” but a team with the second-highest Implied Total on the slate and only four guys who really see the ball requires our attention. If you are multi-entering large-field tourneys, these receivers should be mixed and matched onto your rosters (I’d probably go overweight on Cooks, since he has the most upside; but Woods deserves tourney consideration as well for his upside, while Kupp is a valuable piece underneath), and Gurley belongs in consideration in all formats. He’s probably unnecessary in cash games, with a tougher matchup than several of his contemporaries; but he remains an ace play in tourneys, especially as a game theory pivot if ownership projects to be low.

I’ll have zero exposure to the other side of this matchup, though I should note that Ricky Seals-Jones ran 36 of a possible 40 pass routes last weekend and saw six targets. If the Rams clamp down on Fitzgerald over the middle, RSJ will really be the only weapon left on this team outside of D.J. I don’t want to trust any pieces from the lowest Vegas-implied total on the slate, but RSJ should at least be mentioned as a tournament dart.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 16th 4:25pm Eastern

Patriots (
23.5) at

Jaguars (
21.5)

Over/Under 45.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Patriots Run D
18th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O
17th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D
17th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O
21st DVOA/19th Yards per pass
Jaguars Run D
22nd DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O
3rd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D
32nd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O
27th DVOA/28th Yards per pass

PATRIOTS // JAGUARS OVERVIEW

It was odd, but also oddly refreshing, to see the Jaguars installed as the favorites in this game when the line first came out. This is a great team, playing at home, and the Patriots are missing Julian Edelman and possibly Rex Burkhead, and are thin at wide receiver.

No matter. Within about a day, this line had already been bet the Patriots’ way, and they have been sitting at -1.0 through the middle part of the week.

This week I went back and rewatched the Patriots’ 24-20 AFC Championship Game win over the Jags, and I saw an extremely physical game, with the Jags moving the ball methodically — applying pressure to various weak points of the Patriots’ defense — and with the Patriots relying heavily on passes to the running back and deep balls to Brandin Cooks. With Cooks gone, it will be interesting to see how New England approaches things this week.

PATRIOTS OFFENSE

Last season in this matchup, Danny Amendola caught seven passes, while James White and Dion Lewis combined for 10 receptions. The Patriots stretched the defense repeatedly with Brandin Cooks, but they otherwise left the perimeter of the field alone, targeting Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett only five times, totaling three receptions for 51 yards.

The game plan there was obvious: take advantage of the mismatch created by Cooks’ speed, and otherwise attack the short and middle areas of the field. It is noteworthy that Rob Gronkowski got concussed partway through that game, but he was a limited part of the game plan even before the injury — seeing three targets and one reception.

It will make sense this week for the Patriots to get Gronk more involved, but the closest thing this offense will have to a “mismatch” is their running backs in space and/or matched up on linebackers. There was one play in particular that stood out to me from that AFC Championship game, in which linebacker Telvin Smith ran step-for-step in downfield coverage with Brandin Cooks; and it will be Smith spending a lot of time on James White in this matchup. It’s not an easy matchup, and White will have to fight for every yard, but with Rex Burkhead in the concussion protocol and Jeremy Hill on I.R., White may be counted on for heavy, heavy snaps. Because he is not a guy the Patriots will feel comfortable banging between the tackles 12 to 15 times (and because Sony Michel will be seeing his first action in a couple months if he is active), this shapes up as an extremely pass-heavy game for New England.

The Patriots will not be able to beat the lethal Jacksonville secondary with “skill,” so they will have to do it with scheme. Look for creative crossing routes and screens, and for the Patriots to try to overload zones with more pass catchers than available coverage men in order to march slowly down the field. The Patriots also tend to save up some trick plays for a defense like this one, typically designed to take shots downfield; Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett can only be expected to combine for around 12 to 15 targets, but each should see one or two chances to take the top off the defense.

I don’t remember the last time the Patriots had a Vegas-implied total this low in a regular season game. This is not a premium spot for offense, by any means; but there will be some opportunity to go around, and White will be a snap hog if Burkhead misses this week.

JAGUARS PASS OFFENSE

The Patriots’ defense was no longer interested in giving up free yards in Week 1, playing tight coverage and getting after the quarterback. Last year in this matchup, the Jaguars attempted to beat the Patriots’ man-heavy coverage scheme with bunch formations and short crossing routes — an approach the Patriots will have to be fine with, as Jacksonville has the weapons to hit them deep if the Pats worry too aggressively about the short stuff. This should allow the Jaguars to move the ball between the 20, with “mistakes from Bortles” being the main thing that could slow them down; but even under Patricia last season, this was a difficult team to score against, and that does not project to change this year.

Donte Moncrief and Keelan Cole operated as the clear lead receivers for this team last week, running 32 and 33 pass routes, respectively, compared to only 23 for Dede Westbrook. Westbrook should see the field a decent amount, but Cole and Moncrief are the better bets at the moment for six to eight targets. Each guy has a chance to be in that range this week — creating a decent floor on Cole, and a long-shot “big day” ceiling on both.

This passing attack rounds out with Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who ran more routes than Westbrook last week and was targeted a healthy five times. ASJ has very little chance of popping off for a big yardage game, but he is a viable end zone weapon.

JAGUARS RUN OFFENSE

Of course, the Jaguars leaned on the run last year more than any other team in the NFL, and that is unlikely to change in this spot.

The big news, then, is the hamstring injury to Leonard Fournette, which knocked him out of last week’s game after only 21 snaps. The Jaguars have said Fournette is likely to play, and they have said they would feel comfortable playing him without any practice time, which creates a headache for trying to decide how to handle this backfield, especially with the game kicking off late. This issue is alleviated somewhat by the fact that no team last year allowed fewer rushing touchdowns to running backs than the Patriots. Even if Fournette plays, it will be difficult to project him for his full allotment of touches, in a matchup that limits upside.

Of course, if Fournette misses, we have a different story, as T.J. Yeldon will step into a big role against a team he matches up well with. Yeldon’s between-the-tackles work leaves something to be desired, but he’s a mismatch against the Patriots’ linebackers, and the Jaguars will look to take advantage of this mismatch by involving Yeldon in the pass game. If things are looking iffy on Fournette heading into Sunday, it will be worth leaving some space open on some tournament rosters for late pivots to Yeldon.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

If you follow the “don’t play wide receivers against the Vikings or Jaguars” blueprint, you’ll make money over time. As I said last week: the reason to target a low-owned player in a bad matchup is if that player has true, week-winning upside. Hogan or Dorsett could pick up 12 to 18 points; but the chances of either guy posting the sort of score that makes a true difference on the slate are incredibly thin.

The Patriots are going to have to force the issue with Gronk this week, though the matchup is unfavorable. The best play on the Patriots will be James White — and if Burkhead does indeed miss this week (we’ll know well before kickoff), White will ascend to the top of the value pile on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, and he’ll even be a viable option on FanDuel with 0.5-PPR scoring. After playing 36 snaps last week and seeing nine targets, his role will only grow if Burkhead is out.

The Jags have some decent pieces in this game, with Cole, Westbrook, Fournette, and even Moncrief all threats to post a quality game; but the floor on each of these guys is low, and there are better options at their respective price points this week.

The big play on this side of the ball would be T.J. Yeldon — who would join White as one of the top value plays on the slate if Fournette indeed misses. The Jags have remained hesitant to give Corey Grant a big workload, and Yeldon would likely be locked into 80% of the team’s running back touches.

SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

No word yet on Burkhead. Fournette is a game-time decision, in a game with a late kickoff. T.J. Yeldon will be an awesome value if he plays, as a potential six- or seven-catch back with at least 15 carries, in a good run matchup. But if you want to go there, you’ll need to have a plan in place for pivoting if Fournette ends up playing.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 16th 4:25pm Eastern

Raiders (
19.25) at

Broncos (
25.75)

Over/Under 45.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Raiders Run D
31st DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O
20th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D
26th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Broncos Pass O
31st DVOA/26th Yards per pass
Broncos Run D
5th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O
24th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Raiders Pass O
5th DVOA/7th Yards per pass

RAIDERS // BRONCOS OVERVIEW

While the Broncos are coming off a home win against the mighty (if only in name) Seahawks, the Raiders are traveling to the thin air in Denver on a short week, coming off an embarrassing home loss to the Rams. The Raiders’ offense looked solid from a schematic perspective, with a variety of formations and creative concepts — putting to rest some of the concerns about Gruden as a play-caller after spending so much time away from the game (his deficiencies as a roster-builder, of course, are a different story…), but in spite of Gruden’s best efforts, Derek Carr showed that his 2017 season is not yet in the rearview mirror. Carr was often spooked by ghosts of pressure, and he repeatedly read the field poorly — failing to see open receivers, and throwing to guys who were covered. Traveling to take on the Broncos on a short week would seem to be a near-impossible task for this offense right now. I’m surprised by the implied total of even 20.0, and I won’t be surprised if it trickles down further throughout the week.

RAIDERS PASS OFFENSE

The most concerning thing about Carr’s performance on Monday night was just how unwilling he was to attack in tight windows. With Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson trading in one difficult matchup for another, volume is going to be a concern this week. Cooper saw three targets last week while running 47 pass routes. Jordy saw four targets on 47 pass routes. Each guy lined up in the slot last week at least 24% of the time, which will expose these two to more of superstar Chris Harris, Jr. as well.

While that covers the bad news for Oakland’s wide receivers, the good news is that each guy will see an equal amount of time on Tramaine Brock, who is the clear weak link in this unit. Expect Gruden to scheme some opportunities for Carr to pick on Brock, especially with Cooper. Whether or not Carr is able to convert these plays is obviously a different story.

This passing attack rounds out with Jared Cook, who smashed for us on Monday night and is in another good spot here, against a Denver defense that ranked 31st last year in DVOA against the position, and who allowed the third-most tight end receiving yards. Naturally — because he’s Jared Cook — he disappointed in this matchup both times last season, with stat lines of 3-46-0 (on eight targets) and 1-2-0. Oakland averaged 15.5 points and 19.5 completions in those two contests.

RAIDERS RUN OFFENSE

The Raiders’ run offense is equally underwhelming against a defense that puts a heavy emphasis on stopping the run. Last week, Marshawn Lynch played only 24 of a possible 70 snaps, giving way to Jalen Richard for large chunks of the second half with Oakland falling behind. Richard played 37 snaps and ran 28 pass routes, seeing a whopping 11 targets from a skittish Carr. That sort of usage for Richard is nowhere close to bankable, but he’s actually worth a large-field tourney shot or two if multi-entering, as the Raiders could easily fall behind again, and are once more facing a team that is tough on wide receivers.

Generally speaking, however, backfields are best left alone against Denver. That fundamental fact doesn’t change this week.

BRONCOS PASS OFFENSE

With Gareon Conley, Rashaan Melvin, and Leon Hall, the Raiders have an improved secondary over what they were trotting out last season, but they are still well below-average, and are an attackable unit for opposing offenses. All three of Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, and Courtland Sutton find themselves in an above-average matchup this week.

Sanders stole the show last week with 10 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets — carrying over the rapport he showed with Case Keenum in the preseason, and proving that he is healthy right now and ready to reestablish himself as an elite weapon. Even with his price going up this week, he remains a strong play in a matchup he can win, with bankable volume from his new slot-heavy role.

Behind Sanders, Demaryius and Sutton ran neck-and-neck, each seeing 31 pass routes — and while Sutton saw only five targets to Demaryius’ 10, there will be games this season in which those numbers flip-flop. Demaryius is still the better route-runner, and is the more trustworthy piece of this offense at the moment; but Sutton is the superior athlete, and he is going to have some monster games this season. On weeks in which value is thin, I will feel comfortable rostering Sutton in good matchups on all three sites until his price rises.

Last week, Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt split time and low-upside reps at tight end. This passing attack does not extend beyond that.

BRONCOS RUN OFFENSE

The Raiders’ already-poor run defense is in shambles after losing Justin Ellis to I.R. on Wednesday, and a poor Broncos offensive line should be able to open enough holes for Royce Freeman and Week 1 surprise Phillip Lindsay. Freeman played 29 snaps to Lindsay’s 26, and ran 11 pass routes to Lindsay’s nine. Devontae Booker rounded out this trio with 19 snaps and 15 pass routes of his own.

This would be an excellent spot for DFS production if we could bank on one guy seeing all the work, but it’s tough to isolate one standout player from this group, with such a broad workload split. Freeman is the best bet if you are hoping to capture decent workload in a good matchup with potential clock-killing duties at the end; but a lot of faith and guesswork would have to go into that play, and Denver seems set, at the moment, on riding multiple guys each week.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

I will not be going near Raiders players with any significant chunk of my bankroll, though you could make a case that Cooper has week-winning upside, even in a difficult matchup. It has been a long time since the Carr-to-Cooper pairing has shown that upside, but we do know it’s there. I could also see a roster spot justifiably being used on Cook or even Richard, but the other tight ends mentioned in this article stand out to me over Cook; and Richard would require a lot of things to go correctly before paying off again.

On the other side, the Broncos are going to be able to move the ball both on the ground and through the air — and while their ground game is a three-way mess, their passing attack has volume already settled pretty firmly in place for us. Emmanuel Sanders should lead the way once again, making him an option in all formats. Sutton and Demaryius will split around 12 to 18 targets between them, with both carrying upside. Demaryius is the 70/30 favorite to lead in targets between these two, but Sutton has the clearer shot at per-target upside.

The Broncos also appear to be a solid DST play, against a mistake-prone Carr playing on the road. Keenum is interesting as an affordable option with solid floor and upside at the quarterback position.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 16th 8:20pm Eastern

Giants (
19.25) at

Cowboys (
22.25)

Over/Under 41.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Giants Run D
15th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O
18th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Giants Pass D
23rd DVOA/21st Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O
22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass
Cowboys Run D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O
30th DVOA/27th Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D
21st DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Giants Pass O
29th DVOA/30th Yards per pass

GIANTS // COWBOYS OVERVIEW

This game provides us with a marquee matchup, with a pair of non-premium teams. The mid-week Over/Under of 42.0 speaks to how little faith Vegas has in these offenses, as neither of these teams boasts an elite defense. The Giants’ total does seem low. I expect it to creep up a little bit before Sunday night rolls around.

GIANTS PASS OFFENSE

The Giants’ quick-out passing attack matches up well against a Cowboys defense that prioritizes the deep ball and is comfortable giving up passes underneath. This will allow Eli Manning and the still-below-average Giants’ line to avoid the complications created by the Cowboys’ strong pass rush, while creating opportunities for Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard to post big gains on the ground after the catch.

In six matchups against the Cowboys, OBJ has topped five catches only once, and has topped 100 yards only once. Rod Marinelli has shown a tendency in the past to sell out to make sure Beckham doesn’t beat them, which makes Beckham an interesting tourney fade on the Showdown slate. Obviously, Beckham has the talent to dismantle an overmatched secondary; but ownership is certain to be high on him in this spot, and his history of “down” outings against the Cowboys is notable.

If the Cowboys do sell out to slow down Beckham, the primary beneficiaries will be Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. The two ran 41 and 38 pass routes, respectively, last week, and Shepard saw seven targets to five for Engram. From a “what is likeliest to happen” perspective, the nod obviously goes to OBJ being the best bet for a big game; but the gap is smaller than what ownership will likely imply, and Shepard (first) and Engram (second) therefore become the viable tourney pivots off Beckham on the small slate, where it’s really all about strategy if you are trying to win.

If talking about the full-weekend slate, it’s unlikely that any player on a team with a 19.5-point Vegas-implied total is going to pop off the page; but Beckham obviously retains the talent-driven upside to break the slate open. In order to be worth the roster spot, he would need to outscore the expected high ownership of Antonio Brown, Michael Thomas, and Julio Jones.

GIANTS RUN OFFENSE

Saquon Barkley wasn’t on the field quite as much as we would love in Week 1, as he played a strong (but non-elite) 77.5% of his team’s snaps. Much like Melvin Gordon, however, Barkley saw work when he was in there, rushing 18 times and seeing six targets on 29 pass routes.

The Cowboys project to be average against the run this season, and they remained attackable through the air last week with running backs, as Christian McCaffrey hauled in six receptions on nine targets, for 45 yards. In a poor game for offense, the only guy who really stands out as a better play in this game (purely from an “expectations” standpoint) is Ezekiel Elliott. Each of these guys will certainly be highly-owned on the small “slate”; but it won’t be surprising if you need both of these guys in order to win.

COWBOYS RUN OFFENSE

It will be difficult this year to assess “run matchups” against the Cowboys using macro data, as the Cowboys are shaping up to be a unique outlier from a matchups perspective. With how uncreative the scheme and play-calling is for the Cowboys, and with how underwhelming their pass catchers are, teams are going to load the box all year against Ezekiel Elliott, daring teams to attack through the air and crashing down on the Cowboys’ weakened offensive line. While Dez Bryant was really not such an impact force as a wide receiver, he did bring huge value to the Cowboys in this way: giving the defense something to actually worry about outside the numbers.

While this will make matchups difficult for Zeke this season, it does not change his underlying volume expectations, as he will remain one of the most heavily-used running backs in the league. Although he uncharacteristically saw only 15 carries last week, he ran 34 pass routes — which was, incredibly, more routes run than any individual Cowboys wideout. The loaded boxes are no fun; but Zeke has the talent and workload to still rise to the top of the one-game slate.

COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE

This is just sad, really. Cole Beasley is the actual number one receiver on this team, with 31 pass routes run and eight targets — compared to 29 pass routes and three targets for Allen Hurns, and 20 pass routes and one target for rookie Michael Gallup. The Cowboys are so desperate for pass catchers that they gave special teamer Deonte Thompson 20 pass routes and five targets. Beasley will soak up volume over the middle on short routes. The other three will divid up a small pie of perimeter targets.

The Cowboys’ passing “attack” wraps up with Geoff Swaim, who is a quiet candidate to be an impact player on the small slate. Swaim is no one’s idea of an actual impact player, but he ran the most pass routes on the entire team last week, and he carries some low-likelihood touchdown upside if the Cowboys go play-action near the goal line.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

The NFL has really nailed things so far for us, huh? — with all these low-total games in our one-game slates? Longtime readers know that I rarely play small slates myself, as the best strategy on these slates is so completely different from what I’m best at. I’m best at finding the best plays on the weekend and figuring out how to fit them on a small number of optimized rosters. But the best way to win these small slates is to think about what “could” happen, and to then build a large number of teams that take on the sub-optimal plays that could have a big game in the right scenario. As such, the only time I play these small slates myself is when something really stands out to me as appealing — which is absolutely not the case here. But the best on-paper plays in this spot are Zeke, Saquon, and OBJ — in that order. And in order to win the small slate, you’ll probably have to fade at least one of them, and you’ll probably have to hit on someone with a smaller role who happens to pop off for a big game. It’s an ugly game to target; but that’s the way to target it.


Kickoff Monday, Sep 17th 8:15pm Eastern

Hawks (
19) at

Bears (
23.5)

Over/Under 42.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Seahawks Run D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O
28th DVOA/32nd Yards per carry
Seahawks Pass D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O
24th DVOA/25th Yards per pass
Bears Run D
11th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O
8th DVOA/12th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D
2nd DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Seahawks Pass O
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards per pass

SEAHAWKS // BEARS OVERVIEW

As of this mid-week writeup, the Seahawks and Bears are pegged with an Over/Under of 43.5, giving us another small-slate contest this weekend that has a low offensive expectation on both sides of the ball. After losing Doug Baldwin last week, the Seahawks are now so thin at wide receiver that they are considering using running back C.J. Prosise out wide; and on the other side of this matchup, Mitchell Trubisky is still trying to adjust to the shift from the John Fox “bleed out the clock until we lose” style of coaching to the more aggressive Matt Nagy style. This will be an interesting game to watch from a “football fan” perspective, with a pair of 0-1 teams that each need this win to keep their season on track; but from a DFS perspective, this game is underwhelming.

SEAHAWKS PASS OFFENSE

Russell Wilson was under seige again last week, and he must be wondering where all the money went that isn’t going to Earl Thomas, as he is working behind one of the worst offensive lines in football, and is throwing the ball to a washed Brandon Marshall, a gadget speedster in Tyler Lockett, and a blocking tight end in Will Dissly. This roster honestly makes so little sense right now.

Russ will be staring down the Bears’ suddenly ferocious pass rush, and he will be throwing at a Vic Fangio secondary that held quarterbacks to 85% of league-average fantasy expectations last season before adding Roquan Smith in the draft and Khalil Mack via trade. The Bears’ defense is honestly a sneaky, long-shot bet for top DFS score on the slate.

As is the case in any matchup, Russ can make hay with his legs or with his aggressive deep passing; but from a “predicting what is likeliest to happen” perspective, this is a very difficult spot.

Dissly’s big game last week appears fluky in light of the fact that he ran only 20 pass routes — fewer than fellow tight end Nick Vannett. Who knows what random player might catch a random touchdown on a given week for this team, but Brandon Marshall should receive the bulk of the targets, while Lockett has the clearest shot at upside. If upside-hunting on the small slate, it is also noteworthy that Jaron Brown ran 24 pass routes last week and saw three targets to Lockett’s four. (Yeah. It’s that kind of game…)

SEAHAWKS RUN OFFENSE

Chicago was a top ten run defense last year, and they have only improved in the personnel department since then, making this a shaky spot for a split backfield running behind a poor offensive line. Chris Carson has looked like the much better back so far — both in preseason and in Week 1 — but he and Rashaad Penny split snaps and work almost exactly down the middle last week. Pete Carroll has implied this week that Carson will begin to see a larger share of the workload, but it still appears as though the Seahawks are intent on getting their rookie involved as much as they can.

BEARS PASS OFFENSE

The Seahawks’ new-look secondary was exposed last week by the Broncos, just as we expected — though it will be interesting to see if Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears are able to do the same. Trubisky had some poor moments down the stretch this last weekend — messing up his reads, holding the ball too long, and overthrowing targets. But earlier in the game, he also showed a strong command of this offense, and he was able to generally get the ball where it needed to go.

Allen Robinson was an every-down player and appears set for the highest-impact role on this offense after running 45 pass routes last week on 46 Trubisky drop-backs. It’s concerning that Trubisky was only able to complete one of four passes outside the numbers to Robinson (compared to completing three of three inside the numbers), but the usage is definitely in place.

This offensive hierarchy established itself quickly, with Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, and Trey Burton all proving to have immediate, locked-in roles in this offense as well. Miller ran 39 pass routes while Burton and Gabriel each ran 40.

Gabriel had five catches for 25 yards. His longest catch went for 31 yards — while his other four catches lost six yards. The Bears are using Gabriel creatively, getting the ball into his hands behind the line of scrimmage (both out of the backfield and out wide), and big games will come this year as a result. A small, one-game slate provides a good opportunity to take a shot on him in the hopes that this is one of the weeks he hits.

Miller was rarely the first read on Sunday night for the Bears and saw only three targets. Burton, on the other hand, was intended to be a big part of the offense — with six targets and a number of other plays designed to go to him in which he was covered. Even after his Week 1 dud, there is every reason to expect Burton will have a big year.

BEARS RUN OFFENSE

Jordan Howard is far and away the best play on this slate — with the only reasonable competition for “top sore on the slate” being the quarterbacks. Anything can happen in one game, and if multi-entering the Showdown it could make sense to go off the board in your 1.5x multiplier slot; but in terms of what is likeliest to happen, Howard is likely to have the biggest impact in a game with little to like on either side of the ball.

Last week, Howard not only ran the ball 15 times (for a productive 82 yards), but he also hauled in five passes on five targets — showing that his work in the offseason on improving that part of his game is paying off. Howard’s usage last week reminded me of the way Nagy tried to use Kareem Hunt down the stretch last season, and while I’m hoping Howard simply posts a “respectable” game on Monday so that his price can remain depressed until he gets back on the Main Slate, a “respectable” game is likely all you’ll need in this spot.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

On the full slate, there is nothing on the Seahawks’ side of the ball that would stand out to us. If playing the Showdown slate, you may have to close your eyes and simply pick someone from this offense, in the hopes they don’t give you anything too terribly putrid.

On the Bears’ side, Howard is the main guy, with solid opportunity both on the ground and through the air. Tarik Cohen was not nearly as involved in Week 1 as some had speculated he would be (there were whispers that Cohen would take on the “Tyreek Hill” role, but if that went to anyone, it was Gabriel), but he does have the talent for a long score, which makes him quietly viable on a slate like this.

Allen Robinson and Trey Burton should provide the best floor/ceiling combo away from Howard. Gabriel provides big ceiling, but his floor is less enticing.