Buccaneers Run D3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O16th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D1st DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O11th DVOA/9th Yards per pass
Panthers Run D26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O6th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D13th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O9th DVOA/17th Yards per pass
Here’s a little Q&A regarding Xandamere’s cash game formula (note :: as this is an extension of Xandamere’s course, it is only available to Annual subs; apologies to the Weeklys out there!). This will help you if you feel like you haven’t quite figured out the ins and outs of this yourself.
Showdown Slant ::
Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!
Thursday’s island game has the Bucs traveling to Carolina. This game opened at 51.0 but has since dropped to 49.5, with Carolina installed as 6.5 point favorites. The point drop has all been on the Bucs’ side of the ball, no doubt reacting to their week 1 offensive ineptitude. That’s a big story coming out of Week 1, as the SF/TB game was a popular one for DFS players, but we need to remember two things:
Firstly, Jameis Winston has always been inconsistent and interception-prone
Secondly, the 49ers defense may actually be legitimately good this year
As we approach this Showdown we need to think about whether or not we believe #2, because that will impact how we attack this game. If we think the Bucs are just bad, we’ll want to focus on the Panthers. But if we think the Bucs just had a bad game against a good defense, there’s room to utilize Tampa Bay players at what will likely be at least slightly lower-than-normal ownership.
[ JM’s Note :: On FanDuel — where pricing is so much more flexible, and where you don’t have to multiply salary in the Captain slot — the game is easier, which provides less of an edge. Pricing-related notes and strategies are therefore concentrated on DraftKings, where we recommend that you focus your Showdown play; though the game flow and general strategy elements apply directly to both sites. ]
The Bucs are a fairly simple team to dissect. They want to pass the ball (and don’t really have the talent to run effectively even if they wanted to). Carolina’s defense is a pass funnel, so this is a matchup of the Bucs’ strength with the Panthers’ weakness. We can expect a pass-heavy game plan from Tampa Bay, as usual, and we can expect it to be centered on the trio of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard. But behind the Big 3, it’s worth noting that Breshad Perriman saw 5 targets in Week 1, third down back Dare Ogunbowale saw five targets, Peyton Barber got four(?!?!), and Cameron Brate saw two official targets and also had two additional touchdowns called back due to penalties. Perriman was on the field for 64% of the snaps and can be a deep threat, so he gives a lot of upside at a cheap price, while Cameron Brate is likely to go almost unowned as most people will just see the “official” targets and not realize he played 44% of the snaps and had two other red zone looks (Draftkings noticed as he’s priced up to $4k, but that’s still reasonable if you want to build some rosters that bet on him getting red zone usage).
The Bucs’ run game is worth mentioning here, as while Peyton Barber got the start and played more snaps, Ronald Jones actually took over in the second half and outcarried Barber 13 to eight. Coachspeak says Barber is still the starting running back, but Jones handily outperformed him, and it’s possible he’s moved ahead in the pecking order. Is this meaningful as a road underdog against a strong run defense? Probably not especially meaningful, but it’s worth having at least a bit of exposure to as a low-percentage GPP play in a multi-entry strategy. Finally, Ogunbowale was used entirely as a receiving back and looked good doing it. If we expect the game script to go as Vegas predicts, the Bucs should be trailing and we can pencil him in for similar usage, making him a nice bargain at $2,400.
The Panthers are even simpler to write up. Christian McCaffrey played 100% of the snaps (though backup Alex Arman did vulture a touchdown on his single carry). Carolina’s core receiving trio of D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Greg Olsen all played at least 92.5% of the snaps (which is absolutely insane and extremely fantasy-friendly — those are literally the only four relevant skill players on the Panthers). And Jarius Wright played 60% of the snaps but only drew one target and has not been heavily utilized throughout his career, making him just a dart throw and not a cheap one at $4,400. Of note is that Greg Olsen has not practiced this week with some kind of back injury and, based on his own comments, his status does seem legitimately up in the air. If he misses, backup Ian Thomas becomes a strong value. I can’t believe how short this section is, but that’s how concentrated Carolina’s offense is. The Panthers’ defense is also worth mentioning here as Winston is prone to absolute meltdown games and you can build around that scenario with them.
Thinking about the way this game is most likely to play out is an interesting exercise. The Bucs defense on the road should not present a significant obstacle to Carolina, and it’s worth noting that the Bucs play an aggressive style of defense (poorly), which could help Moore and Samuel break free for big plays. The Bucs defense did pretty well against the 49ers in Week 1, but let’s remember that Jimmy Garoppolo struggled with accuracy throughout the preseason, and the Bucs D allowed 22.2 points per game at home in 2018 versus a whopping 35.8 on the road. It’s football and anything can happen, but Carolina’s Vegas-implied total (currently 28.0) feels fairly safe to me as it’s just hard to imagine the Bucs stopping them. Tampa’s Vegas-implied total (currently 21.5), to me, feels low, but I think their distribution is more of barbell shape than a normal distribution. That is to say, if we get “pick-prone meltdown Jameis,” the Bucs could struggle to do much at all, while if we get let-it-fly, competent Jameis at the helm, we could have a true shootout on our hands. What I mean by all of this is that, if you’re multi-entering, I would view there not being one “most likely to happen” scenario, but two (the Panthers and Bucs both putting up points, or the Panthers putting up points and the Bucs having another poor game), and build for each of them.
I think those two scenarios are, by far, the most likely outcomes, but let’s consider some other options:
- Everyone knows the Bucs are pass-heavy, but touchdowns are the least predictable element of football. What if all the TDs come on the ground? Given how cheap they are, Barber and Jones become slate-relevant players with one TD, and if one of them manages to get in there twice, they’ll be necessary.
- CMC is going to be the highest owned play on the slate. This is for good reason: he’s also, absolutely, the strongest play on the slate. But if you’re feeling contrarian, betting on him flopping is the single biggest stand you can take on this game.
- Panthers onslaught lineups seem highly viable in case we get Bad Jameis. Keep in mind that 5/1 onslaught lineups go under-owned in tourneys.
My favorite captain choice, predictably, is CMC. But in my tournament lineups, I’ll make sure that my CMC lineups are paired with some less chalky plays, since he’s almost certain to be the highest owned captain by a large margin. Given how concentrated each of these offenses is, though, you could make a case for any of the main receivers from either team as a captain. I’ll give the edge to Godwin, Howard, and Moore based on their matchups, but all of them are viable. Finally, if you want to get wild, Ogunbowale would likely see a lot of usage if the Panthers jump out to an early lead, and putting him in your captain spot lets you “play all the dudes.”
Some rules to consider:
- At most 1 defense
- At most 1 kicker
- Pair captain receivers with their QB
- Pair captain Jameis with at least 2 receivers and captain Cam Newton with at least 1 receiver (CMC included here)
- At most 1 of Jones and Barber
JM’s Notes :: As Xandamere noted: CMC is the best play in this game, and is the best captain choice. (Barring injury, he is also likely to put up a high enough score to warrant placement on every roster you build.) But probably 15% to 20% of the time in this game, one of Godwin/Evans goes for a score that could rival CMC, while maybe 5 to 8% of the time one of Moore/Samuel could do the same. In MME play, those thoughts should be kept in mind while building. There is also an “unlikely, but not nearly as unlikely as ownership will surely point to” scenario in which Cam runs in multiple scores, leaving CMC with a strong, but non-monster game, and leading to Cam having the highest individual score on the slate.
Cardinals Run D10th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O5th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Cardinals Pass D10th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass
Ravens Run D2nd DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O2nd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D7th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Cardinals Pass O18th DVOA/19th Yards per pass
In PFF’s run defense rankings heading into the year, the Cardinals ranked one spot behind the Dolphins. That’s good news for the Ravens’ run game.
But let’s step a level deeper and see what that “run game” consists of. Here are the Ravens’ first quarter runs vs Miami last week:
Play 1 :: run with Ingram (first play of drive)
Play 3 :: run with Edwards
Play 5 :: run with Hill
Play 6 :: run with Ingram
Play 7 :: run with Edwards
Play 8 :: run with Ingram
Play 10 :: run with Edwards (first play of drive)
Play 13 :: run with Ingram (first play of drive)
Play 15 :: run with Hill
Takeaway 1 :: nine of the first 15 plays for the Ravens were run plays (60%), before the game got out of hand.
Takeaway 2 :: Ingram // Edwards // Hill are going to be mixed in liberally. Ingram played 25 snaps. Edwards played 29. Hill played 22. Pass routes run :: 12 for Hill // 6 for Gus Gus // 5 for Ingram. Ingram :: 14 carries, zero catches. Edwards :: 17 carries, zero catches. Hill :: seven carries, zero catches.
Of course, another interesting element to consider here is the fact that the Cardinals will push pace; and the 76 plays the Ravens saw last week by controlling the game so thoroughly vs Miami could be in play again this week vs their sped-up opponent. We could easily see another 35+ carries spread across these three backs; but without designed passes to running backs featured as a big part of this offense, and with Jackson likelier to take off with the ball than to dump off to a running back, you’re betting on touchdowns with these guys. The touches and the touchdown potential in this matchup make them worth keeping track of in large-field play; but the floor on all three guys is far too low for any of them to be considered “safe” this week. At least one will likely have a strong game; but you’re guessing on who that “one” will be (and you would be doing so on a week in which there is plenty you don’t have to guess on — including plays with high upside and likely low ownership).
In the pass game, Baltimore essentially split wide receiver snaps last week between their explosive pass-catchers and their reliable veterans for run blocking. They can’t carry over this tendency all season, but until we see something different, we should expect limited snaps for Miles Boykin (18 snaps // 10 pass routes run) and Marquise Brown (14 snaps // 10 pass routes run). As noted last week (and as we saw twice from Brown), both of these guys have the ability to score from anywhere on the field, and this always makes them attractive in large-field tourneys where you have to beat tens of thousands of entries; but both of these guys also have a floor close to zero.
Mark Andrews played only 31 snaps last week; and while he led the team in pass routes run, he didn’t run all of the available pass routes. (In fact, the first two tight end targets of the season went to Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle, as the Ravens run plenty of two-tight-end sets and rotate all three guys.) This team is intent on spreading the ball around to three running backs, three tight ends, and at least three wide receivers; but Andrews can at least claim to be one of Lamar Jackson’s favorite targets, keeping him (as always) in the large-field discussion.
We’ll get to Lamar in the Interpretations section, but first: on the other side of this game, the Cardinals are pretty easy to break down. In any contest where you prefer to lock in some floor to go with your ceiling (this would be cash games for all of us, and — depending on your style of play — likely single-entry and smaller-field tourneys), any team traveling to Baltimore (especially with one of the worst offensive lines in football) should be left alone. But any quarterback who could throw 44 passes in regulation against the slow-paced Lions while possessing the ball for only 25 minutes needs to at least be talked about in large-field tourneys, regardless of opposing defense or environment.
Now, if we played out this slate a hundred times, the Cardinals would end up at around 25 minutes in average time of possession, as “fast play” can limit TOP against a slow-paced team like the Ravens (or the Lions); and as the Ravens are so run-heavy, the TOP gap could be even greater than that. Murray will also be facing a strong pass rush behind a bad offensive line. And while it isn’t apples to apples between last year’s team and this year’s, last year’s Ravens allowed the fifth fewest passing yards and the fourth fewest passing touchdowns. But if Murray pushes for 40 passes again and adds a few runs, there will be some opportunities — especially deeper into the game, when the Ravens may tire out — for good things to happen. With depressed prices, low ownership, and plenty of short-area receptions available in PPR and half-PPR scoring, I’m comfortable giving Murray and one or two of his pass catchers at least a 5% shot at a big game in this spot. Helping matters on our end — if we wanted to target this scenario in large-field tourneys — is the fact that the Cardinals concentrated targets heavily in Week 1, with Larry Fitzgerald seeing 13 looks, Christian Kirk seeing 12, KeeSean Johnson seeing 10, and David Johnson seeing seven.
To be clear: from a pure matchup perspective, none of these guys are in a good spot (there’s a reason the Cardinals enter the week with the second-lowest Vegas-implied team total on the slate). But taking a few swings here in an MME block is not an outlandish idea.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Lamar Jackson long ago worked his way into the “always viable in cash” discussion with the way his legs can be used to elevate floor; and with such an explosive supporting cast around him, the ceiling is attractive as well. He seems certain to go over-owned in tourneys this week; but if you want to play him, realize that it isn’t point-chasey to do so. With how fast the Cardinals play, and with how poor their defense is, there will be opportunities for Lamar once again. The biggest risk is that the running backs take every one of the touchdowns; but even in that lower-likelihood scenario, Lamar should be able to do enough to not crater your rosters. All of that adds up to a likely Tier 1 placement yet again. He’s also the only player from this game who should be thought about in cash games (or probably even single-entry/small-field play).
I’ll fade Ingram this week, simply because his percentage chances of another big game are lower than his price would indicate (i.e., he could hit a big game; but he’s overpriced for the shot), but I could see carrying a very small amount of MME exposure on one of the cheaper running backs in the hopes that Gus Gus punches in a pair of touchdowns or Hill strikes for a couple big plays.
I’ll lean Boykin over Brown this week (and am unlikely to have more than, say, 3% or 4% exposure to that play), as they have about equal shots at posting a big game, and ownership should swing heavily toward Brown.
Sticking with these “lower percentage of exposure, but still a bit of exposure” plays: I’ll probably grab Kyler at 3% or 4% as well (primarily mixed with Boykin rosters, hoping for a surprise shootout), and one of the Cardinals wideouts at maybe 2%. The best way to handle these Cardinals wide receivers would be to pick one and take a stand. There are no matchup-based reasons to target any of them individually, as this is a strong secondary even with injuries piling up at corner. Ultimately, our best bet is to hope the Cardinals bomb here and everyone gets off them before their upcoming matchups with Panthers // Seahawks // Bengals // Falcons // Giants. But given their pace of play and what that can lead to in even the toughest of matchups as plays pile up and more opportunities are created, I will make sure I have at least some exposure in MME builds in case this team hits a week early.
Cowboys Run D29th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Washington Run O21st DVOA/32nd Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D21st DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Washington Pass O32nd DVOA/28th Yards per pass
Washington Run D17th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O18th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Washington Pass D6th DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass
The Cowboys’ new-look offense debuted in Week 1, and while the motion and misdirection wasn’t as heavy as we’ll surely see over time, there were plenty of pre-snap shifts and a decent amount of deception aimed at getting the defense out of position and allowing Dak Prescott to read the defense more easily. As a result of all this, Dak attacked 8.7 yards downfield on average (top 10 in the NFL in Week 1), while passing on play-action on 47% of his drop-backs (only Lamar Jackson had a higher percentage of play-action passes in Week 1). Per PFF, Dak went 14 of 15 for 207 yards and three touchdowns off of play-action, and now he gets a Washington defense that had some communication issues and was out of position a number of times last week against the Eagles.
The matchup for Dallas is not particularly daunting, as this is a Washington team that is pretty much average across the board on defense. Nose tackle Jonathan Allen is out as well; and while Allen is no world-beater, the matchup for the Cowboys would tilt slightly in favor of the pass game if Allen were playing. Now, instead, the Cowboys can attack with equal opportunity for success both on the ground and through the air — and while this makes it slightly more difficult to target guaranteed volume from one side of this Cowboys offense, it should also open up more opportunities for big plays both on the ground and through the air, as Washington’s back end will have to respond more forcefully to the run without Allen, which will open more chances for big play-action plays.
The biggest concerns in this game?
Firstly, there are concerns that Washington simply cannot keep pace. This is a very real concern, as the issues on the Redskins’ offensive line are well-documented, and they will be playing with a pair of one-dimensional backs now that Derrius Guice and his multi-dimensional skill set is sidelined. Only five teams allowed fewer points per game last year than the Cowboys. And whereas Washington capitalized last week on the speed of Terry McLaurin to roast the overmatched Philly secondary, the Cowboys can typically put a cap on big plays, which should force the Redskins to stick to the underneath areas of the field.
We’ll get back to Washington, and what all of this means for their fantasy-relevant (“fantasy-relevant”) players in a moment, but if Washington is unable to get anything going, there is a chance that we see the Cowboys throttle down in the second half on the road to protect their franchise quarterback (“franchise quarterback”) against unnecessary hits in what they hope will be a deep-into-the-playoffs season.
The piggyback concern on this is that the Cowboys seem intent on easing in Ezekiel Elliott for at least one more week. It seems likely that Zeke ramps up to around 80% of the snaps; but as he’s still priced for 95% of the snaps, he’s a “hope for big efficiency” play barring more news on his playing time.
Are these concerns a concern?
Although Washington did have losses at home last year of 12 // 24 // 34 // 24 (vs Colts // Falcons // Giants // Eagles, respectively), this game being played on their home field helps the chances of them keeping things close. Interestingly, however: the clearest path for Washington keeping this game close is for the game to stay fairly lower-scoring, as it’s hard to find many paths to the Redskins putting up a big score and keeping pace with a big score from Dallas.
All of this — the uncertainty on Zeke’s workload, and the limited ways in which this could turn into another five-touchdown Cowboys performance — makes Dallas more speculative than a strictly matchup-based look would cause them to appear. With that said, however: the mismatch is such that you could make some of those speculative plays in tourneys and not feel like you are putting yourself at a disadvantage.
In order to squeeze maximum value from this game in tourneys (i.e., in order to target slate-winning scores, instead of just “rostering a guy and hoping he gets a good score”), you would ultimately want the Cowboys to A) play well on offense, and B) put up points fairly quickly (as — again — we should assume that the Cowboys ease off a bit on the road if they have a big lead heading into the final quarter). In this scenario, Amari Cooper could produce as one of the better wideouts on the slate, and Michael Gallup would be fundamentally underpriced on both sites. (Honestly, Gallup is probably fundamentally underpriced on both sites regardless…) This would also lead to the Redskins chasing points again, against a defense that is designed to push targets to running backs and tight ends. If Jordan Reed misses again, this would once again make Chris Thompson one of the more overlooked/intriguing tourney options to consider. And if Reed plays, Thompson becomes a bit more speculative, but Reed would become an interesting (if less-likely-to-hit) pivot off the more popular cheap tight ends.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I’m not all that interested in betting on Amari or Dak outside of rosters that bet on the scenario laid out in that last paragraph, as each should be in line for a “solid, but not slate-tilting” score in most other scenarios. I’m also not all that interested in the Cowboys’ backfield unless more news comes down the pipe, as this situation introduces more guesswork than we need at the level where Zeke is priced. Given that he’ll almost certainly go over-owned for the uncertainty, the +EV play is to just let others absorb the unnecessary risk. I do like Gallup independent of any game flow scenarios/thoughts, as he’s just underpriced on both DraftKings and FanDuel for his role in this sharp-looking offense.
On Washington’s side of the ball, Thompson is intriguing in tourneys once again (DraftKings only) if Reed is out. I felt comfortable enough last week to include Thompson on even some of my tighter builds, and I could see doing that again if Reed misses. If Reed plays, Thompson becomes a bit more speculative, while Reed — as noted above — becomes an intriguing, though less-likely-to-hit pivot off guys like Hockenson and Waller. (Vernon Davis, of course, isn’t likely to carry the target load Reed would carry, and is just a completely speculative play if Reed is out.)
A shot on Adrian Peterson would be guessing and hoping for a couple touchdowns, unless you completely build your Peterson roster around a scenario in which Washington dominates this game. Trey Quinn is the best bet at wideout for Washington in the shorter areas of the field, though you’ll need a touchdown for him to really pay off.
Colts Run D6th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O11th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Colts Pass D3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O2nd DVOA/11th Yards per pass
Titans Run D16th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O22nd DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Titans Pass D24th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O15th DVOA/10th Yards per pass
This divisional game with an early-week total of 44.5 is going to be the ultimate chess match between Frank Reich and Mike Vrabel, making this game a treat for fans of good old-fashioned football, but making it less likely to produce week-winning fantasy scores.
Vrabel will attempt to show looks to confuse Jacoby Brissett — trying to mix in elements the Colts would not have been able to prepare for. And Reich will try to figure things out on the fly: masking the weaknesses of Brissett while putting him in the best possible position for success. The likeliest scenario calls for this game to start slowly, with scoring picking up throughout — and we should expect the Titans to try to close run lanes against the Colts’ stout line and force Brissett to beat them deep.
On the other side, Matt Eberflus and the Colts defense will likely try to force the Titans to be one-dimensional — essentially trying to make them bring Dion Lewis onto the field, and make Mariota win the game. A.J. Brown showed last week that he shouldn’t be ignored as a potential “win the week on his own” piece in a scenario like this, and Corey Davis does still exist; but given the Colts’ scheme, and given the short passing game the Titans should be comfortable with, we should point out that Delanie Walker is not point-chasey, especially as he has stepped right back into his old rhythm with Mariota. (Of course, as with last week — when it took two TDs for Delanie to produce magic — there are tight end pieces with just a better pure shot at striking for upside.) The wide receivers are less likely to hit for the Titans (the Browns D was just way too aggressive last week, and over-pursuit caught them a few times, which is unlikely to be an issue for the typically-disciplined Colts), though you could probably come up with some sort of tributary in which it made sense to chase.
All things considered, this game is one of the less-exciting tilts on the weekend — and especially with some potential shootouts in play, you don’t want to get caught being too cute with a game like this and leaving piles of obvious points on the board. But in large-field tourney builds — considering the expected style of this game — either Derrick Henry or Marlon Mack could conceivably pile up 20+ points. If we see a favorable, back-and-forth game script, there’s clear potential for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns from one of these guys, even if the game itself is lower scoring. This is not a “high-percentage, lock-and-load bet,” and the floor if you miss is low. But the chances of a big game from one of these guys is higher than ownership is likely to credit, making either fine in the types of tournaments in which floor shouldn’t be a major concern (i.e., tourneys where you have to beat tens of thousands of entries, and where you pretty much have to finish in the top few spots or it really doesn’t matter). Because the Titans are so good at keeping backs out of the end zone, and because the presence of Darius Leonard will limit opportunities for big plays from Henry, I don’t like either guy in smaller-field builds. But it should be noted that they can be played together in large-field tourneys, as a slug-it-out, 17-14 affair could lead to exactly what you need from both backs. (I’ll also note that Henry stands out more to me than Mack, as the Colts defensive line capitalizes on speed and disruption over size, and Henry should blow through a few tackles at the line in this one. If he can shed Leonard in the open field just a couple times, he could land a couple knockout punches.)
The other clear way for this game to play out is for the Colts to break off a couple long plays (short passes that turn into long gains to T.Y. Hilton or — a long-shot, but viable with Funchess now sidelined — Parris Campbell), and for Tennessee to pick up points playing catch-up. As explored last week (or, seemingly every week…) :: downfield passing is unlikely to work vs Indianapolis (only one team allowed fewer pass plays of 40+ yards last year, and only four teams allowed fewer pass plays of 20+), as their Tampa 2 design typically filters targets to RBs and TEs. So if building for this outlier, “Colts score quick points and the Titans are chasing” scenario, Lewis may be your highest-percentage bet. And while that “highest percentage” is still very low (you’d need the Colts to lead by enough that Lewis is forced onto the field, then Lewis would need to be used effectively and play well), it’s still probably higher than ownership will indicate, making Lewis an interesting shadow in an MME block — covering a very small portion of your play. (Such rosters should assume the Colts jumped out to a big lead, so Hilton/Campbell or some other high-upside Colts player should be featured on any Lewis roster as well.)
JM’s Interpretation ::
I won’t lean on anything from this game in cash (Delanie is the closest to cash game viable, but it’s simply more +EV to take a player like Waller, for example — who is a focal point in what should be a pass-heavy, point-chasing game for the Raiders vs the Chiefs — than it is to take an older, touchdown-reliant play like Delanie in a game environment such as this; basically, Delanie in cash introduces more risk than you need in that format), and it’s tough to justify anything from this game in single-entry and smaller-field tourneys where you really want to focus on floor to pair with your ceiling. There are a few scenarios that make sense to build around in MME, however (with the Dion Lewis one interesting to me, as it is unlikely to hit; but if it were to hit, it could hit big, and no one would be on it), and you could pair more optimal plays with two or three Colts // Titans rosters in an MME approach without feeling like you’re leaving expected value on the table.
Seahawks Run D9th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O14th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Seahawks Pass D29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O12th DVOA/24th Yards per pass
Steelers Run D1st DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O8th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D8th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Seahawks Pass O3rd DVOA/4th Yards per pass
Let’s take a look at some of the numbers and unknowns with the Steelers offense as we head into Week 2.
Last year, the Steelers’ point totals on the road were :: 21 // 30 // 28 // 23 // 20 // 17 // 21 // 28
Last year, the Steelers’ point totals at home were :: 37 // 14 // 41 // 33 // 52 // 30 // 17 // 16
We all know that home games are better for scoring expectations for all teams; and we all know that home games are especially better for scoring expectations for the Steelers. We also know that the Patriots’ defense — with their elite coverage unit and their disciplined play — is exactly the wrong type of team for the Steelers to excel against (last five games against the Patriots, the Steelers produced: 16 points at home // 17 points in Foxboro // 24 points at home // 17 points at home // 3 points in Foxboro). We entered the 2019 season with only educated guesses to guide us in our assessment of this offense without Antonio Brown, and we leave the Steelers’ Week 1 game at Foxboro with very little changed in our knowledge/educated-guesses, as that matchup was always expected to be difficult. The bigger sticking point, of course, is the 16-point game from the Steelers last Week 17 at home against the Bengals — a game in which AB missed, and JuJu Smith-Schuster produced a relatively disappointing 6-78-0 line against one of the worst secondaries in the league last year.
With Jadeveon Clowney (the best edge run-stopper in the NFL) added to the mix alongside Bobby Wagner (and to a lesser extent K.J. Wright), Seattle should be able to hold their own against the run this year, and may even prove to be an above-average unit. But the Seattle secondary remains a major weakness for this team; and even if Randy Fitchner goes off brand here and decides to attack heavily on the ground in the early going, the matchup should eventually push the Steelers to the air. (And for what it’s worth: the likeliest scenario has the Steelers showing aggressiveness through the air from jump.)
No matter which way you slice it, JuJu is a very strong tournament play this week, as he’s one of the only players in football whose “likeliest scenario” has him seeing double-digit targets, and whose matchup sets up well for big production on that workload.
In his first regular action in the nominal number two role on the Steelers, Donte Moncrief looked like himself. That is to say: he looked like a talented but unreliable piece who might flash from time to time, but who — like the old days of Jared Cook, or the old days of Eric Ebron — can bomb on his own even when everything goes right. (I’m sure we all have our own Cook or Ebron story. I still remember in 2014 when Cook dropped a wide open touchdown that would have won me a live final qualifier!) In large-field play, we shouldn’t give up on Moncrief yet, as he’ll likely go pretty much unowned, and the targets could be there to some extent yet again; but his paths to a slate-winning score are slim, making it easy to justify looking elsewhere for your “no one is on this guy” tournament plays. I also like the upside of Washington, though this chart gives you a feel for the disappointingly one-dimensional usage he saw last week — usage that produces pretty hit-or-miss results:
Further complicating matters among ancillary pieces is Vance McDonald, who played a respectable 48 out of 67 snaps last week (running 36 of a possible 55 pass routes), and who has all-on-his-own potential to post a big day whenever he gets the ball in his hands. Nothing in this matchup “points to” a big game from him, and there’s a chance that JuJu and Conner soak up so much work that none of these other guys do enough to matter anyway. But all of Moncrief // Washington // Vance can be kept in mind in large-field tourneys.
Last week, James Conner played only 31 of a possible 67 snaps; and while that was almost certainly not the Steelers’ original plan, it is noteworthy that they were so willing to move away from him in catch-up mode (after all: Le’Veon Bell would have been on the field in all situations). This matchup should be considered fairly neutral to slightly-tougher-than-average until further notice. The best path to a big game from Conner — outside a multi-touchdown showing — is for the Steelers to just smash.
In 2018, the only running backs to crack 100 yards against the Steelers were Phillip Lindsay and Joe Mixon — and this defense added soon-to-be-legend Devin Bush in the draft. This is a below-average matchup for Chris Carson; and while the catches last week were encouraging, they were mostly dump-offs, with all of them coming behind the line of scrimmage. Especially with his ownership likely to stay somewhat high after his two touchdowns masked his low yardage output last week, a bet on Carson is a bet on him breaking the slate with another multi-touchdown game or a couple of broken plays. (Though it is fair to note that Carson’s floor is high enough that you’re not killing yourself if you want to chase.)
Obviously — given the immensely run-heavy nature of this offense — there is never a reason to play the Seattle pass game in cash, and it’s tough to justify this unit in small-field tourneys; but if you build around Pittsburgh scoring a lot of points, Lockett (who said he hadn’t been double-teamed the way he was last week since college) could push for eight or nine targets in what could become more of a shootout. As noted last week: going off their 2018 tendencies, the Seahawks will need to fall behind by at least three scores before becoming a truly pass-heavy squad; but while that’s an unlikely scenario, it isn’t crazy to build a few rosters around it in MME. (Even if it misses, Lockett should see six or seven targets and have enough upside to matter on those looks.)
DK Metcalf should be penciled in with about a five-target median projection in this offense, but he could rise or dip on a given week from there. There is obvious upside if you want to chase, but there is nothing that points to this being a spot with elevated expectations. (If Lockett misses, Metcalf becomes much more stable. Still not cash-stable; but at his price, he could be considered even in smaller-field tourneys, while Jaron Brown would even become a deep-tourney flier.)
JM’s Interpretation ::
In order for Ben Roethlisberger to post one of the highest scores on the slate (350+, 3+ TDs), he would need efficiency against the slow-it-down Seahawks, or he would need Lockett // Metcalf to connect on some deep balls and keep some juice going in this game. Given the ability of Russell Wilson to consistently produce big plays when his team falls behind, this is an interesting scenario to build around in large-field tourneys, as a big game from Ben could produce a big game all the way around.
Given the heavy target share that JuJu should command against Seattle’s zone-heavy scheme that typically plays fairly straight-forward, I’m likely to be comfortable with JuJu in cash if we’re isolating him independent of position. Because wide receiver is a more volatile scoring position than modern multi-use running backs, optimal salary allocation often calls for spending up at running back in cash games; but with a few solid backs this week who offer salary relief, you could justify making a move to JuJu in that format. I’ve also found myself building a number of early-week tourney rosters that feature JuJu. We’ll see where he lands on the Player Grid (I rarely include high-priced WRs in Tier 1, for the reasons noted above; but JuJu may prove to be an exception for me this week).
Washington is suited only to large-field tourneys, but he’s intriguing for the upside. (You could replace him with Crief, but in any MME blocks of mine this week I’ll include a lot more Washington. It’s likely that the targets flow elsewhere with Gilmore not on JuJu, and with Crief looking so bad last week.)
Ben isn’t necessary in cash, but he has high enough upside to be considered even in small field tourneys in a bounce-back spot vs a potential pass-funnel defense. If including Ben in a tourney roster, consider including a Seattle pass-catcher or two as well, as Seattle can keep pace through the air if forced to.
I’ll likely have little of Vance and none of Carson (not that neither can have a big game; just that there are likelier spots across the slate), but otherwise I’ll be working through some builds this week that feature a player or two from this game.
Bills Run D24th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O30th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Bills Pass D28th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Giants Pass O29th DVOA/30th Yards per pass
Giants Run D15th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O32nd DVOA/27th Yards per carry
Giants Pass D23rd DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass
Last week against the Jets, the Bills showed a willingness to ask, “What is our best way to win this specific game?” Of course, this sounds like an obvious approach, but the majority of teams in the NFL don’t do this. The majority of teams practice their scheme and then put it up against the opponent, while coaches like Belichick/McDaniels, Mike Vrabel, Doug Pederson, Frank Reich, Andy Reid, and others try to figure out each week what it will take for them to win that particular game, and then adjust to that. If Daboll carries that over to this week (keep in mind, he has coached under both Belichick and Reid — and while the Bills didn’t show many opponent-specific adjustments on offense last year, they were also developing a very raw rookie), it’s interesting to ask “What is the best way to win this game?”
With Eli Manning’s limitations as a downfield passer, and with his ability to limit turnovers with sound decision-making, the best way for the Bills to win would be with an aggressive offensive approach that tries to leave the Giants in catch-up mode. (On the other hand, against a younger, mistake-prone quarterback, it might make more sense for the Bills to lean on the run and force the opponent into mistakes against their solid defense, and take a lead this way.) The matchup sets up nicely for this as well, as the Giants are shaping up to have one of the lesser pass rushes in the NFL, and they don’t have the pieces in the secondary to hang for long periods of time. The Giants were also one of the man-heaviest coverage units in the NFL last year (which is not only better for Allen’s rushing upside, but is also better for his passing, as Beasley and Brown can both shake open in man coverage, and Allen won’t have to read the coverages as much to find his open man).
How are the Giants likely to play this on defense?
In Week 1, with the threat of both Dak and Zeke/Pollard on the ground, the Giants kept bodies in the box, close to the line of scrimmage, in an effort to confuse blocking schemes, while backing off the line of scrimmage in the secondary to keep eyes on the backfield. These are both staples of James Bettcher’s defense, and we should see him deploy plenty of those looks this week. This should allow Allen to pick apart the Giants in the shorter areas in the early going before taking some shots downfield (likely over the middle, where the Giants are weakest) as the game moves along; and while Bettcher’s blitzes will likely get to Allen a few times, they will also create a few opportunities for him to either extend plays and hit shots downfield, or to take off running and pad his floor on the ground.
Because of the weekly uncertainty of how the points on this team will be distributed (whether through Allen’s legs or through the air; and if through the air, then to which receiver? — all of which is part of the reason we prefer these guys in a block in smaller-field and single entry contests, rather than as individual pieces), and because of how much intriguing value there is on this slate in other spots (all on top of the fact that we don’t know for certain that Daboll will indeed lean pass-heavy again), this block may prove to be more Tier 3 than Tier 1 for me this week. But as always, I love the upside in tourneys; and the upside on Brown // Allen as solo pieces can be considered as well.
As for exciting rookie Devin Singletary :: there are too many unknowns for him to be considered safe, even at his depressed price. But :: last week he played 45 of a possible 66 snaps, and he ran 38 of a possible 47 pass routes. If the Giants play back a bit more and try to take away the pass at the sacrifice of the run, Singletary could prove to be a really useful piece in tourneys. A 20+ point game is only about a 7% or 8% bet, but it’s at least in play.
The Giants, meanwhile, are incredibly easy to break down right now, as they have such a narrow range of viable players to distribute touches to. Evan Engram. Saquon Barkley. Sterling Shepard — or, if he misses, Cody Latimer.
Engram had an aDOT of 5.1 last week (reminiscent of the aDOT of 3.0 Jamison Crowder had in this matchup a week ago), and if Shep misses, we should expect Engram to soak up targets and be used as the underneath option. This type of usage limits paths to upside, and it’s tough to call his floor “high” when he’s on the road vs a good defense that won’t necessarily filter targets his way; but volume should be great enough that you can still credit him with paths to upside.
The best matchup goes to Saquon, as the way to attack the Bills is on the ground, where the Bills are fairly average. “Fairly average” is enough to make Saquon one of the strongest raw-point plays on the weekend, and he’s viable in all formats (as is almost always the case). After Pat Shurmur’s criminal underutilization of Saquon last week (including a particularly galling sequence where they went fullback dive on third-and-two and Eli bootleg on fourth-and-two), it’s also fair to expect an overcorrection this week.
Finally: if you want to chase Latimer or Bennie Fowler should Shep miss, realize that week-winning scores vs the Buffalo secondary are immensely rare, especially on the perimeter. You’re guessing-and-hoping for a broken play here.
JM’s Interpretation ::
There is so much value this week, it’s difficult for me to lock in the Bills block on the front end of the week the way I felt I could last week. Allen // Brown // possibly Beasley // definitely the full stack is all Tier 3, and can be considered for the big upside in tourneys of all sizes. We’ll see if the block as a whole makes its way into Tier 1 this week or not…
Saquon is lock-and-load as always in this spot, with a high floor and a high ceiling given his skill set and expected usage. The fact that this game should stay close is beneficial to his cause.
We shouldn’t be nearly as drawn to Engram as we were last week, when he just looked like (by far) the most obvious TE play on the slate. He’s fine for tourneys, but I wouldn’t dust him off in cash.
And there are viable scenarios to build around with Singletary; but outside of those large-field tourney shots, there isn’t anything else in this game that I expect to be drawn toward this week.
49ers Run D7th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O27th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
49ers Pass D22rd DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O26th DVOA/18th Yards per pass
Bengals Run D23rd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O9th DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D16th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O17th DVOA/20th Yards per pass
There are two very clear ways that this game could play out (along with a few other tributaries you could consider), but there is only one scenario that should truly capture our attention in DFS. We’ll hit that scenario in a moment; but first:
Last week, we talked in the NFL Edge and on the Angles Podcast (where they were our cheap defense of the week) about the fact that the 49ers defense might very well be good this year. Their defensive line is one of the scariest in football; their linebackers are smart and talented; and their secondary — while lacking in marquee names behind Richard Sherman (who is still good, but is more technique than talent at this point in his career) — is assignment-sound and not really a matchup-booster when paired with this pass rush. This week, they are taking on the Bengals without A.J. Green (and with Joe Mixon potentially hobbled), while Andy Dalton will be playing behind a poor line that should allow plenty of pressure from this front of the 49ers.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers didn’t have a great training camp on offense, and this carried over into Week 1, where they played poorly against a non-threatening Buccaneers unit. And for how bad the Bengals were last year on defense, they entered last season with most expecting them to be an elite unit; and it is likely this year that they prove to be at least average. The Bengals also showed a level of adaptability on defense in last week’s game (more on this in a bit) that speaks to smart coaching from Lou Anarumo. Anarumo was focused this offseason on coaching and perfecting technique from his players, and while this is not enough to make up for a talent gap against a smart, talented offense, this could be enough for the Bengals to give plenty of trouble to an offense that has shown sloppy play so far in 2019.
Honestly, these two elements drag the “likeliest scenario” for this game down, to a point where we would expect this game to finish under its early-week line of 44.5 more times than not if we played out this slate a hundred times. There are individual pieces in this game that you could lean on with a decently high level of confidence even if those scenarios hold true (George Kittle, to a lesser extent Matt Breida, and if Mixon unexpectedly misses, Giovani Bernard), but what should interest us in tourneys is just how extreme this game could swing to the other side. If you watched the Bengals game against the Seahawks, you’ll know there are reasons to be optimistic about this team.
The Bengals showed an aggressive mindset in their game against the Seahawks, with a wide variety of looks and plays tailored around the specific skills of their individual pieces. John Ross benefited the most from this adaptability from Zac Taylor — as the rookie head coach schemed looks for Ross all over the field and squeezed more production out of him than Marvin Lewis ever thought possible. But even beyond Ross, this offense looked quick and comfortable chewing up yards in Seattle.
If Taylor’s adaptability as a coach stretches into Week 2, one of the shifts we’ll likely see is a heavier focus on the run. While the Bengals were facing a team last week with an above-average run defense and a poor secondary, they will get to take on the 49ers’ wide nine, ears-pinned-back pass rush (full of individual pieces who are much better against the pass than they are against the run). While most of the public’s attention will likely be on Ross, there are reasons to consider “Cincy RB” in tourneys. The best case for us in DFS would be for Mixon to be announced out late, and for Gio to get all the work as a run/pass option in a matchup that sets up well. Though even if we don’t end up with that scenario, Mixon would become viable in large-field tourneys for the low ownership and upside he would pair.
It’s not crazy or point-chasey to go after Ross this week, either, as the Bengals used him creatively, all over the formation and from different sets and motions, and tried to make things easy on him while making things difficult on the defense. Ross is still going to have some boom/bust to his game, so if ownership swings too far, it would be +EV to go underweight and hope he hits one of his duds (especially as his duds have potential to be craters, which opens opportunity to jump past those who overreact to one game). But taking out game theory, Ross is a solid upside piece once again. Tyler Boyd will be featured in the short areas of the field — and while he had a couple opportunities for a bigger game last week, his ultra-low 7.5 yards per reception remind us that he will need a busted play or multiple touchdowns to reach week-winning upside at his price (not impossible, but not “likely,” either).
The Bengals’ defense last week slowed down the Seahawks’ power running game by mixing in usage of five-lineman sets — masking their deficiencies at linebacker while maximizing their strength up front. This exact approach won’t be effective against the 49ers, as Breida’s game is built on getting to the edge in a zone rushing scheme (which, we should note, gives Breida a little jolt of additional upside as well, as he’ll be able to take advantage of a major weakness of the Bengals if the 49ers can get him to the second level); but the big takeaway for me was the adaptability of Anarumo to what the Seahawks wanted to do. (Anarumo also showed this adaptability in heavily double-teaming Tyler Lockett and forcing Russ to beat them through the air with other pieces — a factor that introduces some concern on Kittle as a cash game piece, as he’s the player the Bengals would be most likely to try to isolate this week.)
One way to look at this matchup is to think that Anarumo could be equally adaptable this week against San Francisco (maybe shifting into a big-nickel at times to increase speed to the edges), and could come up with something that will work. Another thought is that he had all offseason to prepare for that first game against the Seahawks, so he may just roll with the base defense and hope Breida doesn’t find cutback lanes to the second level. (Breida is priced almost exactly right on both sites for his median projection; but from a ceiling perspective, he’s an interesting guy to keep on the back burner for cash games, and he’s a strong upside option in tourneys.) I expect we’ll see some mix of those two thoughts this week from the Bengals — but either way, they’ll need some things to go right in order to keep Breida from at least a solid game.
If the 49ers get the run game going, this could also open opportunities for big plays from George Kittle as the 49ers use the run success to get the defense out of position for big pass plays (especially effective with Kittle, as they can boot out and bring him across the field so that he only has a couple of defenders to beat for a long YAC score). This means that Kittle and Breida can be used on the same tourney roster if you want to bet on this balance of play calls for the 49ers going well; and it also can be included in the scenario alluded to above — the one that could really lead to this game mattering on the slate — in which the 49ers and Bengals both put up points, and this game becomes a sneaky way to pick up upside for your rosters.
The rest of the 49ers are pretty “hope and pray” right now, as it has been a while since Jimmy Garoppolo has looked like a guy you would want to bet on for the top quarterback score (or even a top point-per-dollar score) on the slate, while the 49ers pass catchers behind Kittle are merely dart throws after none of them saw more than three targets last week.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I like both of the defenses in this spot in tourneys, as the Bengals may be able to build another winning game plan and capitalize on Garoppolo’s mistakes, while the ferocious line of the 49ers could pile up sacks against the Bengals’ uninspiring offensive line. The likeliest scenario in this game is that a few mistakes, sacks, turnovers, etc. lead to the points not quite keeping up with the potential — making these defenses worth thinking about in tourneys, and making the offensive pieces in this game less intriguing for cash.
In looking at those deeper levels, however, I like Mixon as a large-field tourney play — a guy who feels riskier than he really is if he’s healthy, and who has enough upside to matter — while I’ll be holding out hope for Mixon to miss this game, and for his status to not be known until later in the week so we can get workhorse Gio at lower ownership. Ross is also in play in tourneys on this side of the ball (especially if you want to bet on points piling up in this game). I’ll likely be underweight against a sure-to-overreact field; but Ross’ Week 1 usage does indicate that his production wasn’t totally fluky, and you can make a clear case for chasing that upside again. (The only other pieces to really talk about on this team are Tyler Eifert and Damion Willis. For Eifert: his matchup isn’t great (as highlighted last week); and with so many tight ends to like on this week’s slate, he’s easy for me to avoid outside of large-field builds that want to bet on this game shooting out and Eifert being involved. The same could be said for Willis — though he’s even more of a long-shot to hit.)
On the other side, Kittle is probably safe enough for cash, though I would look to avoid him in that format myself (even on FanDuel where tight end pricing is so condensed), as it’s likely that Anarumo will be isolating Kittle as a guy he wants to take away. Questions on whether or not the Bengals actually have the pieces to pull off any such plans leave Kittle still very much in play in tourneys — and if Kittle has a big game, it increases the chances of this game environment as a whole being elevated to a point where a couple players on both sides of the ball end up mattering on this slate.
And at least on-paper, the best play in this game is Breida, who should see 14 to 17 touches, and who should be able to turn in a solid score at that level of involvement — with upside for some big plays against the Bengals second level.
Chargers Run D21st DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O13th DVOA/15th Yards per carry
Chargers Pass D11th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O19th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass
Lions Run D30th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O31st DVOA/12th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D12th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Chargers Pass O7th DVOA/8th Yards per pass
Chargers // Lions carries a slightly aggressive Over/Under of 47.5 — with Vegas counting on the offensive aptitude on both sides of this game to outweigh the methodical nature and slow pace of both of these teams. (Last season, the Lions ranked 23rd in pace of play while the Chargers ranked 32nd. No team allowed fewer opponent plays per game than the Lions, and only four teams ran fewer plays per game than the Chargers. The Chargers also struggled with time of possession on the road last year; though they did hit 20+ points in every road game, and at least three touchdowns is a very fair bet here.) If we played out this slate a hundred times, Vegas would probably have this number right; but the general distribution of scores would be right around this 47.5 mark, rather than being spread far and wide across a broad range of outcomes. The Chargers are very likely to score somewhere in the range of 20 and 31 points, while the Lions have the ability to keep pace with the Chargers to whatever extent they are forced to. We wouldn’t see many “65 combined points” shootouts between these two teams, but we wouldn’t see many “wow, that game completely sucked the fantasy life out of my roster” games either.
In spots such as this, then, the next question to ask is whether these teams have a broad or narrow distribution of touches. A broad distribution of touches in a game with a low likelihood of becoming a true shootout would require the players to carry somewhat lower price tags in order to be truly viable; but a narrow distribution would leave us pretty comfortable targeting the game regardless.
On the Chargers’ side, then, we have Hunter Henry (disappointingly) set to miss some time, and we currently appear likely to be without Mike Williams as well.
This points to two truths:
Firstly, we don’t typically like to pay up for wide receivers who see most of their work close to the line of scrimmage and therefore NEED volume and a touchdown in order to smash at their price (Keenan Allen, Michael Thomas, etc.). But…
Secondly, with Henry out and Williams looking iffy, this offense should center around Allen and Austin Ekeler. Allen has seven games across the last two seasons in which he has seen 12 or more targets; and while only two of those came last year, it’s nice to know that Rivers doesn’t mind letting it rip over and over again to his favorite wide receiver. The last time Allen played Detroit, he saw 17 targets and went 15-166-0. And while that was back in 2015 (a season in which four of Allen’s seven fully healthy games saw him hit 13+ targets!), it’s not crazy to bet on him getting there this week. It feels strange for me to say this, given my history over the last two years of preaching caution when it comes to Allen at his price, but he’s very much in play in all contest types this week. Anthony Lynn is not a coach (and Philip Rivers is not a quarterback) who will force the ball to ancillary pieces in the name of “keeping the defense honest.” This team will get the ball into the hands of their best players: Allen and Ekeler.
Ekeler played 48 snaps last week to 16 for Justin Jackson. The Lions are “one of the better run defenses in the NFL,” but almost all of their run-stopping juice comes up the middle, where Snacks Harrison eats. Last year the Lions were very susceptible to runs on the edge (the screenshot below — from Sharp Football Stats — gives a good visual of this), and while this Lions team tackles well and is disciplined in preventing big gains, Ekeler’s role on the ground and through the air give him a high floor, while his ceiling remains intact in just about any matchup as long as the touches are there.
Detroit also had a narrow distribution of looks last week, with targets on the Lions in Week 1 looking like this:
13 — Danny Amendola
9 — Kenny Golladay
9 — TJ Hockenson
All other players :: 4 or fewer
Matthew Stafford threw 45 passes last week, which he is unlikely to throw for this week; but the Chargers are less likely to play off the ball the way the Cardinals did and allow the underneath areas to be so wide open. This could provide a path to Hockenson seeing seven or more targets as a focal point in this “slow-paced game in which the Lions will nevertheless have to score,” while Golladay — in a tougher matchup against a Chargers team that allowed the second fewest wide receiver receptions last year — will likely push for seven or more as well. The Chargers will be without Trevor Williams this week, but this is still a tough matchup on the outside. The bigger matchup boost (of course) is the loss of Derwin James and the space this is likely to free up for Hock against Adrian Phillips. Golladay is a bet-on-talent-over-matchup play. Hockenson — after picking up the 10th deepest aDOT in the NFL in his debut — has plenty of legs as a floor/ceiling piece at his DK price, and as a ceiling piece on FanDuel.
The rest of this passing attack is less attractive. Chasing Amendola would be chasing another monster volume game or a two-touchdown week, as he has such a short-area role and offers so little after the catch, while Marvin Jones is still being used primarily downfield — which is also where Golladay and Hock are likely to be primarily used, making him speculative at best. (He’ll likely have one or two big games this year, but they’re likely to be unpredictable.)
Swinging over to the backfield :: the Chargers filter targets to running backs; but last week we saw a clear split between Blountian C.J. Anderson and ultra-talented Kerryon Johnson (thanks again, Patricia), with Ty Johnson and JD McKissic mixing in on obvious passing downs. Kerryon would be the play here; but with his price still decently high and his role not yet showing any expansion, most of his paths to week-winning upside are relatively fluky.
JM’s Interpretation ::
We’re talking a lot about tight ends in the NFL Edge this week; but while last week this discussion centered around Evan Engram, who was ultra attractive on both FanDuel and DraftKings, most of the discussion this week has mentioned the cheap guys — Waller and Hock. On FanDuel, tight end pricing is so condensed that a lot of this conversation doesn’t apply; it costs so little in additional salary to move up to Kelce (a 33% increase on Hock’s price; 48.2% on Waller’s — compared to over 200% on DK) that it just makes sense in almost all formats to do so, and to let others chase these more speculative plays. But on DraftKings, these guys are so cheap, and are such strong plays, they’re a big part of the conversation this week. I like both Hock and Waller. Hock has the bigger per-play upside, but Waller is the safer bet for floor given what should be locked-in volume as the Raiders chase points. (Waller also has upside with the ball in his hands and as a safe bet for touchdown opportunities.) Both guys are strong. Both guys can be played together.
Hock is the only piece I really love on the Lions, but Golladay could be targeted in large-field play with the expectation that the Lions have to open things up a bit in this spot, and Kerryon can be viewed as a bet-on-talent piece.
On the other side, Allen is surprisingly attractive, and Ekeler remains attractive as well (though he’s more attractive on DraftKings, where his PPR skill set fits better, and where he costs far less relative to the cap). Everything else on this team is “guess and hope in tournaments” only — which, of course, is part of what makes those first two guys appealing.
Vikings Run D27th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O10th DVOA/7th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D8th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass
Packers Run D25th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O2nd DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Packers Pass D25th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O20th DVOA/21st Yards per pass
The Vikings and Packers will match up this week in a game in which big plays and big mistakes will both be difficult to come by. Given the elite levels at which most of these players are priced (with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs STILL priced for their workloads from the first half of last season, with Dalvin Cook priced up after his big Week 1, and with the Packers priced like a team with Aaron Rodgers under center), this game becomes immediately unattractive in cash games, as we have an early-week Over/Under of 44.0 to go with those high prices. Last year the Vikings allowed the sixth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards, the fourth fewest wide receiver receptions, and the second fewest wide receiver touchdowns — and the clearest way for this game to turn into a shootout (which will almost have to happen for any of these core pieces to post a week-winning score at their prices), the Packers will almost certainly need to jump out to a lead and force the Vikings to open things up.
If you choose to attack this game in tournaments, the scenario above (Packers striking quickly and forcing the Vikings to get aggressive with their elite wide receivers) is the highest-upside path to build around — and frankly, trying to isolate individual pieces outside that scenario leaves you doing a bit more guessing than is strictly necessary, even in tourneys. If you do want to isolate some individual players, however:
In nine career games against the Vikings, Davante Adams has never topped 64 receiving yards (a pretty stunning bit of defensive mastery by this squad — especially over the last couple years, when “65+ yards” has typically been a given for Adams). Adams has remained a focal point throughout these contests the last couple years, and he has scored in four consecutive games against the Vikings. He also has the role and ability to buck these trends if you want to chase — but again: his price doesn’t reflect the difficulty of this matchup (and ownership likely won’t fully reflect it either), making him a better piece to build around in “shootout expectation” scenarios than to rely on in core builds.
With the Vikings potentially missing Mackensie Alexander this week, they could be down to Mike Hughes; and with Xavier Rhodes on Adams and a weakened secondary elsewhere, there is an outside shot that Marquez Valdes-Scantling sees more looks and produces accordingly. (MVS had something of a breakout game last year against the Patriots when Stephon Gilmore was on Adams. Of course, Rhodes is not Gilmore.)
Geronimo Allison, Jimmy Graham, and even Aaron Rodgers are just guessing and hoping for the best outside of “Packers jump out to a lead” game stacks. Aaron Jones has a difficult matchup as well and had a concerning and somewhat unexpected timeshare with Jamaal Williams in Week 1. Especially with Rodgers’ tendency to pass the ball close to the end zone, he’s somewhat high-risk as well.
A bet on the Vikings’ passing attack would be a bet on extreme efficiency or (again) the Packers jumping out to a lead. The matchup isn’t great against the Packers’ slightly-above-average secondary on an improving defense (especially as Pettine’s blitzes could give Kirk Cousins and his poor offensive line fits), but if you’re betting on a scenario like this, you can pretty much throw matchup out of the window. The Packers did allow 22 touchdowns to wideouts last year (fourth most in the league), so betting on a multi-touchdown game from one of Diggs // Thielen and hoping for yards to pile up from there would be your best way to go.
This swings us to the safest piece in this game :: Dalvin Cook. Cook played only 67.9% of the Vikings snaps last week, but this was affected by the final couple drives when Alexander Mattison began to take over. Cook looks like about a 75% to 80% player; and while we don’t yet know whether or not he will see the bulk of the work near the goal line (it seems unlikely that he will), his integrated role (he’s almost certain to touch the ball at least 20 times in this run-heavy offense) and his score-from-anywhere-on-the-field skill set gives him enough upside to remain in the tourney conversation independent of game flow. The Packers do practice against a similar run scheme each day in practice; but this wouldn’t be enough to scare me off Cook if I were wanting some tourney exposure.
JM’s Interpretation ::
This is not a game I’ll be looking toward heavily myself, as the clearest path to these guys putting up week-winning scores at their respective prices is for the Packers to jump out to a big, early lead, and there are just other bets I would rather make this week. But I will have a little bit of MVS in large-field tourneys, and I’ll toy around with Cook in smaller-field stuff. I also like a large-field shot on the Packers’ D, as they could disrupt the line and force Cousins into mistakes — either because “cautious Cousins” holds onto the ball too long and takes sacks (with potential for a fumble-six), or because the “aggressive Cousins” they’re trying to develop tries to force some throws that aren’t there, leading to interceptions. Because the Vikings are both A) disciplined, and B) run-heavy, this isn’t a staple defense to lean on; but there’s enough upside to think about them as a home unit that may go overlooked in large-field play.
Jaguars Run D22nd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O23rd DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D32nd DVOA/26th Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O8th DVOA/3rd Yards per pass
Texans Run D23rd DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O17th DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Texans Pass D8th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O21st DVOA/13th Yards per pass
Welcome back on the carousel, Jaguars fans!
After failing to lead a touchdown drive across 30 possessions in the preseason (leading to much, understandable hand-wringing amongst Jaguars media and fans), Gardner Minshew stepped in Sunday and looked genuinely #good. While it’s true that the Chiefs are not “the most talented defense in the world,” they are coached by Steve Spagnuolo, who does a good job disguising coverages and giving quarterbacks a decent amount to think about. Minshew consistently read these disguises and made the right throws — and there were a few times when he showed excellent anticipation, throwing before receivers came out of breaks and hitting them in the numbers. We really don’t have any idea if Minshew can keep this up, or if that was a one-game stretch of Minshew Magic; but even if he keeps up that modest level of quality NFL play, we should keep in mind that (even with talented-but-underperforming Aaron Colvin now replaced with burn victim Phillip Gaines in the Texans secondary) Minshew produced an average intended air yards of only 5.5, which means it would take some busted plays or some massive efficiency on his small number of downfield throws for any pass catcher on the Jaguars to become a slate-winning piece. Given the uncertainty and how shallow the tributaries are that lead to “slate-winning upside” from Jacksonville pieces, it’s perfectly acceptable to ignore this team altogether, and to wait for more favorable matchups. If chasing, however, Dede Westbrook will obviously improve on his Week 1 aDOT of 1.1 (ha!), while Chris Conley should once again get some short-area looks and be given an opportunity to make something happen with the ball in his hands. D.J. Chark did his damage last week on only four targets, and he’ll likely need similar efficiency to matter.
Unfortunately for the Jags — who would surely prefer to control a road game like this on the ground — Leonard Fournette has the toughest matchup of the bunch. Last year, the Texans allowed the second fewest rushing yards to running backs, ranked first in DVOA, and allowed only 3.13 yards per carry to backs (which is just unbelievable). Without Clowney (whose main value was as an elite run-stopper), this unit is not quite as formidable, but until we see more, their game against the Saints should be considered an outlier, rather than the new normal for this squad. We don’t know if the Jags will plan to shift more run-heavy without Foles under center; but in this spot, the likeliest scenario is that a tough time on the ground and some points from the Texans will eventually push the Jags to the air regardless. The only justification for playing Fournette in tourneys is the fact that he’ll see all the snaps and should touch the ball a decent amount. It will be difficult for him to come by a monster-yardage or multi-touchdown game, so you’d be betting on a number of things breaking your way.
On the other side of this matchup, Deshaun Watson should be under pressure all day behind his still-shoddy offensive line vs the pass rush of the Jags — and while “under pressure” isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Watson, as it can allow him to move around and make magic happen, it is a fairly safe bet that Bill O’Brien will try to protect Watson in this one if the Texans can take a commanding lead. Watson, Will Fuller, and DeAndre Hopkins are all explosive enough to post a big score in a difficult matchup on limited reps; but your best path to slate-winning upside from this bunch would be to hope that either Chark or Conley has a few big plays on the other side to keep this game close, as this would force the Texans to remain aggressive deeper into the game.
From a “matchups” standpoint, the Texans’ last four games against the Jags have produced point totals (starting with the most recent) of 20 // 20 // 7 // 7. Watson played three of those games and maxed out at 234 passing yards (though he did add 66 rushing yards and a touchdown in that same game, giving him around 22 fantasy points — an unspectacular ceiling thus far in this matchup, but a reminder that Watson can find ways to get things done), while Hopkins has produced lines against Jalen Ramsey’s Jags (starting with the most recent) of 3-50-1 (eight targets), 12-147-0 (16 targets), 7-55-1 (16 targets), and 4-80-1 (13 targets). If the targets are there, Nuk could push for a top score (as is the case in literally any matchup), but the most +EV approach would be to lean on the “if Ramsey slows down Hopkins and he remains under double-digit targets, who else might benefit?” thought process. In this scenario, Will Fuller and (to a far lesser extent) Kenny Stills (or Keke Coutee, if he returns) could pop off for a strong game. I’ll probably have around 3% or 4% Fuller in MME myself, as that’s about the percentage chance of him popping off here for a slate-winning score.
You’re on your own in the Texans’ backfield, of course. In a tough matchup with a split workload, you’d be simply hoping for a fluky play to go your way. Not an impossible bet; but at the running back position, where “near-guaranteed points with upside” is typically easy to come by, it’s not my style of play to lean toward options like this.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Between the strong defenses, the sixth-round rookie quarterback, and the 43.5 Over/Under, there are no pieces in this game that are drawing my eyes in cash games — and I may not have any pieces from this game that I choose to target in small-field tourneys, either (a number of players in this game have potential to post a nice score; but the floor on all those pieces is a bit low for the price, and the chances of this game environment as a whole popping off is incredibly slim, which means you essentially have to guess right on the player you choose). In large-field tourneys, however, I’ll have some slim exposure to Watson // Nuk // Fuller || and I’m likely to bring that back with at least one or two lineups that include Conley // Chark // Dede…or even Fournette “for the workload.” Very little of my bankroll will be invested in this game this week — and the small exposure I do gain will likely be centered around betting on the Jaguars keeping this game close, rather than centered around “trying to isolate one guy who might have a big game in this spot.”
Patriots Run D18th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D17th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O11th DVOA/16th Yards per pass
Dolphins Run D32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O3rd DVOA/2nd Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D10th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O27th DVOA/25th Yards per pass
Hard Rock Stadium has been a house of horrors for Tom Brady in his career, where he has a 6-9 record overall and has won only once since 2012. Against this current Dolphins squad, this is obviously more of a footnote than it is actionable information; but it is something that can be kept in the back of your mind while building rosters this week. (Maybe the stadium can field a pass rush? That would help them slow down Brady.)
Weather shouldn’t be a major factor this week (the Pats will be leaving mid-60s and humid in Foxboro to play in high-80s and humid in Miami; not nearly as difficult of a transition as many other Patriots games at Miami in the past), and if you’re comfortable fading the “Brady at Miami” narrative, we can assess how this game is likeliest to play out otherwise (and you can decide if you have the intestinal fortitude to build any MME blocks with alternate scenarios in which the Patriots just fall flat in Miami).
In a “likeliest scenario” that doesn’t worry about the Patriots’ history in Miami,” there are three clear ways this game could go — and all three ways include the Patriots smashing ::
In this scenario, the Patriots look to get Antonio Brown involved early and often (this is assuming that he plays — which seems likely, as the league is unlikely to move on anything regarding his sexual assault allegations before Sunday, and Belichick is likely being cagey when acting like AB might not be ready by Sunday), and they look to essentially use this game against the Dolphins as live practice reps to help sharpen and prepare them for the rest of the season. This scenario would be outlandish to consider for a lot of teams; but given the Patriots’ approach to things, this scenario is actually very much in play in this spot. In this scenario, AB would become attractive in all formats, while Julian Edelman would have floor to go with touchdown-driven ceiling, and Josh Gordon would have his typical bet-on-efficiency upside as well. The Patriots could also involve James White with this approach (and there is an outside shot that Rex Burkhead’s Week 1 usage would prove to be more than just matchup-based, and that he would be involved in this spot as well).
In this scenario, the Patriots protect their 42-year-old QB and keep him fresh and don’t put anything new on film with AB beyond some simple “practice-type” reps, and just lean heavy on the run. This is a very realistic setup as well, as the Patriots appeared sharp enough in Week 1 that they may prefer to play things close to the vest rather than put new looks on film for future opponents to prepare for. Again: this might be a bit of an outlandish scenario to consider for other teams; but with Belichick/McDaniels regularly mixing in plays and looks designed to specifically confuse future opponents and give them unnecessary things to prepare for (primarily focusing on this strategy once a game is in hand), it would be absolutely on-brand for this team to lean on the ground game this week. If Damien Harris is active this week, it will be an indication that this approach is more likely; though in that instance, there would be so many viable tributaries (Sony Michel getting 20+ touches and all the goal line work // the Patriots protecting Michel’s knees for another week while letting Burkhead split the load // the Patriots deciding to get Harris heavy touches in the second half) that we’re lowering our pursuit of +EV plays with all the guessing. If we do want to A) guess that the Pats go fairly run-heavy as the game moves on, and B) guess on the backfield: it’s likely that Burkhead’s usage last week was game plan specific, and that Michel sees 20+ carries this week. His low pass game role (seven receptions last year, and we can’t believe the “Michel catches passes now” narrative until we see it) and all this other uncertainty leaves him as a fairly speculative option; though the 100-yard, two-touchdown upside is real enough that I won’t totally cross him off my own list in tourneys. If Harris is active, I’ll also have some large-field tourney interest there, as it wouldn’t be outside the realm of viable possibilities that he could get 14+ touches if he’s active and the Pats put this game away early.
Run // Pass Smash
In this scenario, the Patriots put up four or more touchdowns with a balanced approach that mixes in Edelman // AB // Gordon // White // Burkhead // Michel (plus a bit of Phillip Dorsett, and James Develin, and maybe even one or two others), which would spread good scores across the board but make it difficult to isolate one single high-end play. The “four or more touchdowns” seems likely, even with this being a division game against coaches who are intimately familiar with the Patriots, in a stadium where the Pats have struggled. The talent gap is just too great for us to consider anything else “likeliest.” But with potential for the Patriots to spread things out (and for them to score “only” four touchdowns, instead of the six or seven everyone will want), there is also a very real chance that in a Run // Pass Smash scenario we don’t see a single “have to have it” score coming from the Patriots’ side of the ball.
JM’s Interpretation ::
The Patriots are one of the top four or five defenses in the NFL, and the Dolphins have no offensive line and no quarterback, while none of their pass catchers have the nuance to their game to allow them to consistently get open against the Pats’ elite secondary. The Dolphins will likely be chasing points, and that’s your best bet for targeting something if you want to hope for slate-winning upside to emerge from this group. Ultimately, any Dolphins plays are just closing your eyes and hoping for the best.
The Patriots seem likely to get AB involved early to try to get him going — though they also seem likely to not put anything too creative on film, in order to save things for other matchups.
The Patriots are also likely to lean on the run in the second half if they have a lead in this one, as it’s probable that they will value deceit and health over “live practice reps” in this spot.
It’s also likely that the public will overreact to the Patriots’ and Dolphins’ Week 1 results, and that ownership will spike higher than the uncertainty should really carry; and yet, it’s also likely that most of the players targeted on the Patriots will produce solid scores, even if the week-winning scores don’t end up showing up. (I.e., most of these guys are high-floor options, even if the chances of them reaching ceiling are lower than many will expect.)
Ultimately, I’ll likely be looking to other spots myself for core builds; but if AB is out there, I’ll mix in some of him this week, and I’m interested in Michel as a potentially overlooked piece with slate-winning upside. (A hundred yards and a pair of touchdowns for Michel is not a crazy, outlier bet.) You could also justify other pieces in this game — though outside of maybe a few Pass Smash lineups with a small percentage of large-field play, my style of play will be pulling me in other directions this week.
Chiefs Run D28th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O24th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D2nd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Raiders Pass O5th DVOA/5th Yards per pass
Raiders Run D31st DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O17th DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D26th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O1st DVOA/7th Yards per pass
Do you play the Chiefs this week? Every week, they’re going to score points; that isn’t the question. The question is, “Is this the best salary allocation?” The question is, “Are the Chiefs overpriced or underpriced this week?” And this week, it really comes down to this: can the Raiders keep up with the Chiefs? Even at Mahomes’ price, it would take a low-percentile game for you to be disappointed in any scenario (i.e., he’ll remain where he always remains: in Tier 1), but in order for him to tilt the slate in your favor, you’ll need the Raiders to keep up. Travis Kelce is still a solid play — appropriately priced on both sites for his median range — even in the event of a slower-paced second half for the Chiefs (with plenty of upside from there), but in order for him to smash, you’ll likely need the Raiders to keep up. Sammy Watkins…well, actually, Watkins requires a bit of a deeper discussion:
For years, everyone in DFS wanted to play Antonio Brown against the “overmatched Bengals secondary,” and for years AB disappointed in those games. And every time one of those games rolled around, one of the things we touched on in the NFL Edge was the ways in which Paul Guenther had the ability as a defensive coordinator to tighten up zones around Antonio Brown and force another player to beat them.
Then we had last year, when everyone wanted to play Tyreek Hill against the Raiders, and we all made sure we remembered those cautionary tales from Guenther’s years with the Bengals. Hill came out of that game with only one catch for 13 yards (six targets), with Andy Reid calling a couple of runs to him (37 yards) to get the ball into his hands. With Hill expected to miss, there should be enough of the latter (creative efforts to get the ball into the hands of Sammy Watkins) for him to still hit a non-crushing floor no matter what happens in this game; but there are reasons to be cautious in regards to his chances of reaching ceiling. I will say that I’m totally comfortable trusting Watkins as an elite, real-life option in this offense (he looked genuinely excellent last Sunday: healthy, and as if the playbook is now second-nature to him after he struggled a bit last year with overthinking things on the field), and Watkins has the upside to break the slate wide open. But the Guenther risk is also very real, giving you an alternate angle to consider in tourneys — especially if ownership on Watkins appears on Saturday as if it will be sky-high (as I imagine will be the case).
We’ll get to Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson in the Interpretations section; but first, let’s swing to the other side, and explore the vital question: can the Raiders keep pace with the Chiefs?
The difference between “protected Carr” and “harassed Carr” is vast, so the first thing we should look at is the Raiders’ offensive line, which held up extremely well against the Broncos while earning strong marks from PFF across the board. We took a look in our preview of this team at the question marks and corresponding causes for potential optimism on this line, and we should like their chances of holding up this week against the less-aggressive, new-look Chiefs. If this is the case, the chances of Derek Carr keeping pace are heightened, and the chances of this game turning into a true week-winner are heightened as well. (While some of this is obviously reactionary, it also helps that the Over/Under in this game has gone up a point and a half already — as you can see on the Advanced Odds tool by clicking on “Line History.”)
All of which brings us to one of the biggest discussions on the week: the Raiders’ offense.
In cash games, the Raiders’ offense is remarkably simple. With the public down on this team, and with their strong Week 1 game taking place after pricing was set for Week 2, prices are low across the board. Tyrell Williams may start this game slow as the Chiefs look to focus on taking away the Raiders’ clearest shot at a big play; but with so little behind Williams (Hunter Renfrow and Ryan Grant have basically zero downfield ability), the targets are sure to be there in a game in which Carr will undoubtedly have to throw more than 26 times. It’s likely that either the Chiefs have a big lead deep into the game and this opens up easy garbage time production for Williams at his cheap price, or that the Chiefs have a lot of points and the Raiders keep pace (in which case, Williams will almost certainly have been involved in that production).
Darren Waller, meanwhile, can effectively be viewed as the Raiders’ number two wide receiver, and his ability to line up at tight end will allow Gruden to align and/or motion him into plenty of mismatches in a game in which the Raiders will have to score points. Waller is sure to be an emphasis in the game plan this week, and after running 25 of a possible 27 pass routes last week and seeing 26.9% of the Raiders’ targets, his floor and ceiling are high for his basement-level price. Both of these guys should be cash game staples across the industry; and if that proves to be the case, the smartest play in cash games is to not try to outsmart the field here, as these plays are just really strong on paper.
We’ll get to the other main piece on the Raiders (Josh Jacobs) in a moment; but first :: the question of whether or not to go all-in with Waller/Williams in tourneys (i.e., whether or not to play them as part of your core in smaller-field stuff; and whether to go underweight or overweight against the field in tourneys). I don’t want to give any definitive statements right now on how I’ll be handling this situation myself, as it’s still early in the week, and we still have the Angles Pod and the Player Grid for me to work through any final thoughts (I’ll also probably update my Collective later in the week with a few more personal thoughts on this game). But basically, in early-week builds, keep this in mind:
We don’t win large-field tourneys with “good scores.” We typically need great scores across the board on our roster. And just because Williams and Waller are great values does not mean they are guaranteed to post great scores.
On the flip side: if one of them posts a big score in this spot — trying to keep up with the Chiefs — it is more likely than not that the other of them posts a big (or at least really solid) score as well. This makes them an attractive Player Block, as we can view their salary in a bundle (18.8% of the salary cap on FanDuel; 15.4% on DraftKings(!!!)) and still see a high floor and a monster ceiling for their price. There might legitimately be a 50% chance that these two combine for 2.5x salary on FanDuel and 4.5x on DraftKings (just now checked our GPP Ceiling Tool; it puts their combined 50th percentile projection at just north of 4x on DK; it has them at just under 2x on FanDuel, where they are obviously a less attractive combo given higher prices and a more touchdown-dependent scoring format; also of note: any tool like this is sure to be cautious in regards to developing situations like the distribution of touches on the Raiders’ new offense, so it’s fair to give a slight bump to projections from there). In an underrated offense with a game environment that will almost guarantee this team is having to stay aggressive, it’s very fair to just call them the best values on the week and go overweight in all formats — essentially saying, “If I’m wrong on this one thing, I’m probably not winning any tourneys; but if I’m right, I’ll be right on both spots and passing a large chunk of the field.”
As for Jacobs :: at 72.7% of the snaps last week, in a role that may be game flow dependent, he’s a bit riskier than he might appear at first glance. (He’ll still be on the field on first and second down if the Raiders fall behind, but the action might flow through the air throughout the second half, and we really don’t know how “schemed” any of Jacobs’ looks in the pass game will be this year.) If he’s a guy that the field appears to be sort of iffy on as we head into the weekend (i.e., if other sites aren’t really talking him up, and if his ownership projections are moderate closer to Sunday), I would avoid him in cash games for the game flow risk; but if every site is talking him up, and if ownership projections are high, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea to just play him in cash games and “not try to outsmart the field” once again. In tourneys: Jacobs is a “hope for a scenario that yields good game flow,” or “hope he breaks off some long runs or touchdowns” option. (He’ll likely produce a solid score regardless. But if you’re chasing a week-winning score, as you should be, one of those scenarios will have to hit.)
JM’s Interpretation ::
I’m not quite there in working through the numbers on the Chiefs; but everything I’m finding right now has the Chiefs needing a high-percentile game in this spot in order to justify being stacked heavily (i.e., Mahomes plus two or even three of his weapons). Obviously, if building for that high-percentile scenario, then, you would want to also build your roster with multiple Raiders, as betting heavily on the Chiefs would be assuming that the Raiders keep pace.
Mahomes and Kelce are both strong in all formats.
I’ll likely avoid Watkins in cash, even if he’s highly owned, as there are plenty of ways to spend salary this week for upside, and I don’t see a need to take on the Guenther risk. I’ll also be underweight on Watkins in MME play (significantly so, if he ends up projected in the 20%+ range, as I think he has a shot to do), but I will have a bit of exposure to him, as he’s a solid play when we take ownership out of the equation. (To be clear: Watkins isn’t a bad play. He simply doesn’t have a significantly better projected range than some other high-priced guys, and ownership is unlikely to reflect that.)
I’ll be leaving the Chiefs’ backfield alone (it’s a guessing game right now as to who will see the most touches between LeSean McCoy and Damien Williams — with no guarantee that either will produce; I guess you could build for a “Chiefs smash” scenario and assume that both running backs put up big scores, though that’s a long-shot scenario) — but if you want to try to “guess right” yourself, you could obviously end up whack-a-moling a big score.
As for Robinson and Hardman :: Robinson feels less likely to do much, simply because he has been on the field so much and been used so little; whereas Hardman — given what we saw in preseason — is at least a guy Reid will build a few plays around, likely giving him one or two carries, at least one screen, and at least one designed deep ball. I could see Hardman getting six targets and five touches (three catches, two carries) pretty easily, and with Johnathan Abram now out, it wouldn’t be crazy for him to connect on something big. I currently have some light MME exposure to him.
On the Raiders’ side: I’m currently overweight on Tyrell // Waller in my builds (with about 75% of my exposure on each guy coming on rosters where they’re used as a Player Block; this heavy paired exposure is DraftKings only, of course — given the pricing notes explored above — though each guy is very comfortable as an isolated play on FD), and I’m sure I’ll continue to trend that way as I continue building throughout the week. I’ll be underweight on Jacobs — and in large-field tourneys (at least) I’ll be overweight on Carr; because 300 yards and three touchdowns on 35+ pass attempts is not some crazy outlier (our GPP Ceiling Tool has roughly that level of production pegged as his 80th percentile score — which is just awesome at his price), and you can assume low ownership because: who wants to play Derek Carr?
Saints Run D4th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O1st DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Saints Pass D15th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O10th DVOA/15th Yards per pass
Rams Run D21st DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O12th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Rams Pass D11th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O14th DVOA/12th Yards per pass
This matchup is a favorite of the DFS community — spiking ownership, generating discussions throughout the week, and making everyone wait until after the late games finish to count any of their winnings. And while the line in this game has dropped two points since it opened (which you can find in the Advanced Odds tool, under the Line History option), it still carries the second-highest Over/Under on the slate, and it is one of our clearest paths to the sort of back-and-forth shootout that can win the week on its own.
The most interesting place for us to start our exploration of this game is with Michael Thomas, as his midseason game agains the Rams last year (12-211-1 on 15 targets) was enough to keep high ownership on him at a high price the rest of the season, even as he topped 100 yards only once in his next eight games (and scored only one touchdown in his final six). In 48 regular season games, Thomas has topped 100 yards only 10 times (which climbs to 12 in 52 if you include playoffs), but three of those games (four including playoffs) went for 150+, which is essentially the hope if you are paying up for Thomas this week. (Touchdowns can boost your ceiling as well, of course — and Thomas can reach slate-winning upside with something like an 8-100-2 game; but as touchdowns are the least predictable element in DFS, you don’t want to build your high-priced strategy around simply hoping for those.) So how likely is it that Thomas goes for 150+?
Part of the reason Thomas so thoroughly deconstructed the Rams in the regular season last year was A) the absence of Aqib Talib in that game, and B) the way Wade Phillips was using Marcus Peters — as more of a coverage corner than as a “play to his strengths” piece who should be allowed to keep eyes on the quarterback. As the Rams moved past that game last year, Phillips redesigned Peters’ role to fit his strengths; and with Talib back on the field in the AFC Championship game, Thomas managed only 4-36-0 (on seven targets) at the Superdome. Thomas’ role in this offense — in what is likely to turn into a high-scoring affair — keeps him in the conversation; but the risks should be noted as well.
We’ll get to the rest of the pass catchers in a moment, but the other main piece on the Saints is Alvin Kamara — who is pretty simple to break down this week against the “happy to give up yards on the ground between the 20s” run defense of the L.A. Rams. Kamara is going to be involved, and his pass game role and explosive ability give him a high floor in this spot, especially on DraftKings where his PPR skill set fits so nicely, and where his price is lower than we are used to seeing. As always, Kamara — who is massively unlikely to blow past 20 touches — is a slightly higher-risk play at his price, as he always needs efficiency to get things done, and he’s always at slim risk of some of the touchdown opportunities going to his complementary back. But his ceiling is high enough to keep him in the conversation in all formats, across all sites.
While the offense should flow through these two, there are “shootout” scenarios or “Thomas gets slowed down by Talib, and the Saints look elsewhere” scenarios in which one of the other Saints pass catchers could see enough volume to be more than just a dart throw. While I wouldn’t build around these scenarios in cash games (and won’t include them in my core), I do like Jared Cook as one of the more exciting overlooked plays on the slate. Cook has monster upside in this offense and will likely put up a few 20+ FanDuel, 25+ DraftKings scores this year — and while there is no guarantee this is a spot in which things click for him, it’s a bet worth considering in tourneys. Ted Ginn is the other higher-percentage bet here, as he would see at least five targets in most of the ways this game could play out, and there are some paths to him reaching for upside again.
The Rams — as one of the most straightforward offenses in the NFL — are easier to get a handle on here, as we can pretty much know what to expect from them at this point:
Todd Gurley is currently unsafe until we see his price drop or until we see his usage rise (which seems unlikely to happen anytime soon); but just because Malcolm Brown was on the field near the goal line last week does not mean Gurley won’t get his opportunities, and even on 17 to 20 touches he could find his way into the end zone three times. It’s early in the week, but Gurley’s current ownership projection sits at under 5% on both sites; and with a current touch projection only two or three digits below Kamara, that gap in ownership is larger than it should be.
The Rams are in a “likeliest scenario” here to push for four or more touchdowns, which keeps their wide receivers where they are almost every week: squarely in the conversation. In engaging in this “conversation,” however, one thing to always question is exactly how much upside you are really targeting with this team that spreads around both touches and touchdown opportunities fairly evenly (or rather, that is to say, how likely are the paths to upside you are targeting?). In 33 regular season games with Sean McVay as head coach of the Rams, this team has produced only 11 games in which one of their wide receivers has seen double-digit targets, and it has produced only six games in which one wideout has scored multiple touchdowns. With Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks (and Sammy Watkins in 2017) all having a share of the two-touchdown games, and with all three of the Rams’ current receivers about equally likely to be the guy who goes for double-digit looks, this unit is almost always a “bet on floor, hope for upside” group at their prices, rather than being the optimal “bet on floor, bet on upside” type of option we would optimally like to target. Because of this, I tend to leave the Rams alone more often than the field — though there are plenty of cases you could make for trying isolate/chase the upside this week.
JM’s Interpretation ::
With so many viable paths to this game turning into a shootout, there are clear cases to be made for both Drew Brees and Jared Goff in tourneys — though with how easy it is for touchdowns to score on either of these teams through other means, each guy is completely unnecessary in cash.
Kamara’s touches are too low for him to be a by-the-book cash game play; but the chances of a dud are slim enough, and his upside is high enough, that I’d be comfortable rolling with him in all formats this week. (Obviously, he has smash potential in tourneys.) Latavius Murray should also be kept in mind in large-field play as a piece to sprinkle in, as his role in this offense can lead to a multi-touchdown game at what should be low ownership.
Gurley is a low-floor play with more ceiling than most are likely to give him credit for — making him interesting to think about with a percentage of large-field play. I’ll likely leave the Rams’ receivers alone myself, for the most part, but any of them could post 25+ FanDuel and 30+ DraftKings points if you want to chase yourself (especially if you think you have a way to isolate which of these receivers is likeliest to go off).
Finally, we clean up this game with guys like Cook (really interesting in tourneys), Ginn (less interesting as people may chase last week’s game a bit, and his boom/bust nature hasn’t changed — though the upside still remains), and the assorted pieces on the Saints that “could score or break off a big play if you get lucky and guess right.” I don’t expect to go to any plays from that final category myself, but Cook (and possibly a little bit of Ginn) will get at least some exposure from me as I look for overlooked ways to potentially grab points from this game this week.
Bears Run D11th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O20th DVOA/25th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D2nd DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Broncos Pass O31st DVOA/27th Yards per pass
Broncos Run D5th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O28th DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D9th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O24th DVOA/23rd Yards per pass
Generally speaking — if we are trying to find week-winning scores at every position in tourneys, the Bears’ spread-the-wealth offense is one of our less-likely bets. We’ll probably get about eight different week-winning scores from skill position players on this offense this year; but those scores will likely be spread across five different players, making it best, in general, to leave these guys alone outside of obvious matchup boosts or game stacks in shootout environments. A Week 2 trip to the thin air of Denver (where the Broncos defense always plays far better) is not an “obvious matchup boost,” and a shootout is particularly unlikely with Flacco and a run-based offense on the other side. More than likely, the Bears have to battle in this game — picking up some chunk plays, but balancing these with a few drives that stall out too quickly and shorten the game enough for the score to end up something like (before looking at the Vegas line for this game) 24-16. Checking the line, this is right about where Vegas has this game installed: with an early-week Over/Under of 40.5 (and with home field advantage for Denver keeping them at only 2.5 point underdogs at the front end of the week).
With the Bears spreading the ball around and squaring off with a run-based team that has a unique home field advantage and an above-average defense (and is coached by a defensive wizard who knows the Bears well), this game screams “stay away” in cash games, and it holds limited appeal in tourneys.
If choosing to chase this spot in tourneys, however, there are a few things you could keep in mind:
The player on the Bears likeliest to see a big workload is Allen Robinson, who could just go totally overlooked on this slate. He’s really no match for Isaac Yiadom on the outside — and that’s a matchup Matt Nagy will look to isolate. If Robinson manages to push for nine or more targets in this spot (not a given, as the Bears are unlikely to be chasing point; but still a possibility), it wouldn’t be crazy to believe he could fall into a hundred yards and a couple scores; and while this is not typically the type of play we focus on in the NFL Edge, the likely gap between “chances of Robinson having a really strong game” and “percentage at which he will be owned” is big enough for him to be considered +EV in a small portion of large-field builds.
Elsewhere on this offense: Mitchell Trubisky // Taylor Gabriel // Trey Burton // Tarik Cohen all have at least a 15% shot at a solid game and a 5% shot at a big game in just about any matchup, making them “technically non-awful darts” (though as this matchup does nothing to boost their expectations, I don’t see myself trying to “guess right” on one of these guys myself). David Montgomery and Mike Davis are dart throws in the mold of the guys listed above — though each carries obvious question marks surrounding role and consistency right now, making them hope-and-pray at best.
On the other side of this game: while we occasionally see a strong game emerge against this Bears defense, such games are rare enough (and unpredictable enough) that it has been -EV the last couple years to try to guess on where those games will come from. After Joe Flacco passed for 268 yards against the Raiders, it’s tough to envision many scenarios in which he goes off in this game vs the Bears. The only way to justify the downside of rostering Flacco in this game would be to bet on a scenario in which he posts the highest score on the slate. If that were to happen, Flacco — as a pure pocket passer — would carry multiples of his receivers with him, so if you choose to bet on some crazy outlier scenario in which the Broncos’ offense goes off, be sure to go all-out with this bet. This scenario (which I am unlikely to bet on myself, unless it’s with less than 1% of rosters — i.e., one out of 150) is also the only scenario in which it really makes sense to chase Courtland Sutton //