Last updated: September 5th at 10:58am ET.
Team Totals: Vikings 25.75, Falcons 21.75
Despite its modest total (47.5), Falcons-Vikings offers low-key shootout potential at Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium based in part on Matt Ryan’s historical success indoors. Ryan’s career passer rating jumps from 91.6 to 98.5 in domed environments with a 4.6% to 4.9% TD Rate lift and 3.8% completion-rate improvement. Atlanta invested heavily in offensive line upgrades this offseason – two first-round picks and three significant free agent signings – while the Vikings’ secondary looks more vulnerable than ever with top CB Xavier Rhodes consistently struggling and reliability lacking across from him. … Mike Zimmer’s club doesn’t present favorable running back matchups – Minnesota ranked 11th and 6th in run-defense DVOA the past two seasons – although last year’s Vikings coughed up the NFL’s 12th-most receiving yards per game to running backs (45.8), and Falcons backup RBs Ito Smith, Brian Hill, and Qadree Ollison put no noticeable heat on Devonta Freeman in camp. Although Freeman’s recent injury struggles rendered him an uncomfortable season-long pick, his upside remains intact as lead back in a top-five offense. Prior to 2018, Freeman tallied 1,447 total yards, nine touchdowns, and 49 catches over his previous 16 games. Based on situation and projected usage, Freeman is a confident RB2 in Week 1.
Although Julio Jones’ Week 1 matchup may be billed in some circles as challenging, evidence suggests otherwise after Xavier Rhodes graded out as PFF’s No. 108 corner among 123 qualifiers last year, then got embarrassingly dusted by Arizona’s Damiere Byrd this preseason, appearing to have lost almost all of his speed. In his career, Julio averages 1.06 more yards per catch and 0.72 more yards per target in domes. He also averages a helpful 9.5 more yards per game on the road. Julio is a green-light WR1 and exciting DFS-tournament play at what will likely be undeservedly low ownership. … Touchdown regression hit Calvin Ridley hard down last year’s stretch – he unsustainably scored seven TDs in Atlanta’s initial eight games and only three the rest of the way – and Ridley’s 5.8 targets per game don’t figure to spike on an improved Falcons team that will likely throw less. Until we see on-field proof new OC Dirk Koetter will prioritize increasing Ridley’s volume, he is best viewed as a largely touchdown-reliant WR3 fighting for complementary scraps with Mohamed Sanu. … Austin Hooper’s matchup doesn’t stand out either way – Zimmer’s 2018 defense ranked a dead-middle 16th in yards allowed to tight ends – but Hooper is a serviceable low-end TE1 capable of serving as a high-percentage extension of the running game if Freeman can’t get going against Minnesota’s stout front.
Expect Dalvin Cook to be DFS chalk after he ripped off an 85-yard preseason touchdown run and now faces an Atlanta defense that willingly concedes running back catches as part of Dan Quinn’s scheme. Enemy backs average over seven receptions per game since Quinn became Falcons coach, while Cook has further advantages favored at home on a Vikings team intent on run establishment after hiring outside-zone guru Gary Kubiak and making Garrett Bradbury the second-highest-drafted center in 20 years. … Despite cult hero Mike Boone’s sensational preseason, third-round pick Alexander Mattison won the Vikings’ No. 2 back job going away and will likely be sprinkled in as Cook’s big-back complement in Latavius Murray’s old role. I don’t expect immediate standalone value but wouldn’t rule it out either on such a run-first team. Mattison is a recommended bench stash in season-long leagues. … Zimmer clearly wants to turn Kirk Cousins into a game manager – Cousins’ pass attempts per game dropped from 40.3 to 27.3 after OC John DeFilippo was fired last year – but Cousins has enough room for optimism should Atlanta’s offense get going to be teed up trustingly in two-quarterback leagues. Pressured on a league-high 217 dropbacks last season, Cousins’ pocket will likely be cleaner than usual after last year’s Falcons ranked bottom eight in sacks (37) and bottom seven in QB hits (79) and did almost nothing to upgrade their pass rush this offseason.
Zimmer, Kubiak, and OC Kevin Stefanski’s run-game commitment inarguably threatens Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs’ volume after both finished top ten in the NFL in targets on a 2018 Vikings team that ranked sixth in pass attempts. But it’s also true that, outside of Cook, Thielen and Diggs face minimal target competition within the confines of Minnesota’s offense and remain clear-cut focal points of the passing game, solidifying their floors. As the Falcons never move Desmond Trufant off left corner, the Vikings will be able to easily attack raw RCB Isaiah Oliver (240 career snaps) and slot CB Damontae Kazee, who is converting from free safety. Kazee is much smaller (5’10/184, 4.56) than Thielen (6’3/200, 4.45), and Diggs’ Antonio Brownian route running keeps him matchup proof. They are both fringe WR1 plays, although Diggs’ early-week hamstring injury is worth monitoring. Diggs has struggled mightily when trying to play through soft-tissue ailments in the past. … Athletically-inadequate third WR Chad Beebe probably won’t be much of a factor since the Vikings are intent on implementing two- and even three-tight end sets of Kyle Rudolph, rookie Irv Smith, and do-it-all sophomore Tyler Conklin. Blocking TE David Morgan’s (knee) placement on I.R. likely translates to more blocking assignments for Rudolph while Smith takes route-running duties off Rudolph’s plate. All situational role players on a run-first team, I’m not interested in them in fantasy.
Score Prediction: Vikings 27, Falcons 24