Last updated: September 5th at 5:45pm ET
Editors note: Below is a full audio reading of both Monday Night Football games. While the column may receive updates over the weekend, the audio will not. It was posted on Friday at 11:31am.
Team Totals: Broncos 22.5, Raiders 20.5
Sportsbook spreads headed their way as the Antonio Brown saga unfolds, the Broncos visit The Black Hole under defensive-minded first-year coach Vic Fangio, who intends to play ball-control offense with Joe Flacco managing games and rookie OC Rich Scangarello leaning on Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay as the engines of Denver’s attack. Ex-Falcons assistant Scangarello has likened Freeman’s projected usage to that of Devonta Freeman and Lindsay’s to Tevin Coleman as a straight-line-explosive change of pace. Reports from Broncos camp point to a near-even split. Both Freeman and Lindsay are in RB2/flex play against the Raiders, who last year allowed an AFC-high 118.9 rushing yards per game and are without 350-pound plugger NT Justin Ellis (knee, I.R.). … Never a fantasy asset, Flacco is a low-end two-QB-league option even against an Oakland defense depending on top-five reach Clelin Ferrell and second-year DE Arden Key (one sack in 644 snaps last season) to fuel its outside pass rush. The Broncos’ weekly plans will involve limiting Flacco’s on-field impact, and neither his own individual performance nor Denver’s supporting cast create box-score optimism for the low-efficiency 34-year-old passer.
The Broncos’ humdrum passing game doesn’t set up as fertile fantasy grounds as an entity and depends largely on the health of Emmanuel Sanders, who tore his Achilles’ last December and is 32 ½ years old. A truly-healthy Sanders would easily project as Denver’s target leader and a potential fantasy WR3, but I’m personally not buying he’s back to full strength. Sanders also ran nearly 70% of his preseason routes outside, where separation is tougher than the slot. The Broncos’ primary three-receiver set will likely consist of Sanders and Courtland Sutton on the perimeter with DaeSean Hamilton inside. At least one will probably have a fantasy-useful game considering their pass-defense-deficient opponent, but none stands out. For DFS small-slate purposes, I’d bet on Hamilton leading the unit in targets and Sutton to see the most Air Yards. Underrated No. 4 WR Tim Patrick should mix in for at least a handful of snaps. … Jeff Heuerman is considered the Broncos’ starting tight end, but first-round pick Noah Fant should force a timeshare early in the season. Still, this will be a fantasy situation to avoid until Fant emerges.
Antonio Brown was Establish The Run’s No. 1 Shy Away 40 fade and (again) showed why when he threatened GM Mike Mayock physically over about $50,000 in training-camp fines after practicing for 30 total minutes in August due to a strange helmet dispute with the NFL and foot infections. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday that the Raiders plan to suspend him. On the field, Brown is such a dynamic player that his absence would create a ripple effect throughout Oakland’s offense, plummeting the fantasy outlooks of Derek Carr on down to the running game and Josh Jacobs, another member of ETR’s Shy Away fades. Career role player Tyrell Williams would take over as the de-facto No. 1 receiver with rookie PPR sleeper Hunter Renfrow in the slot, diminutive burner J.J. Nelson starting in Brown’s stead, and Darren Waller staying locked in at tight end. I will add necessary updates to this section over the weekend as the Brown saga plays out, but box-score optimism should be limited considering Denver’s defensive prowess. The Raiders are also missing both of their starting guards due to LG Richie Incognito’s two-game ban and RG Gabe Jackson’s MCL tear. Broncos second-year EDGE Bradley Chubb should eat against Raiders turnstile LT Kolton Miller, while towering RT Trent Brown will have his hands full with LE Von Miller’s edge-bending pass-rush moves. We can certainly fire up Denver’s fantasy D/ST.
Score Prediction: Broncos 23, Raiders 17