Last updated: September 5th at 4:45pm 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: Saints 30, Texans 23
Texans-Saints is the highest-totaled game on the Week 1 slate (53.0), boding well for Deshaun Watson to immediately capitalize on LT Laremy Tunsil’s acquisition, Will Fuller’s return to health, and Kenny Stills coming aboard as insurance on ankle-hobbled Keke Coutee. As Houston is a seven-point road dog, it’s notable that Watson’s career yards per pass attempt spike from 7.4 when leading to 8.7 playing from behind, and his yards per carry elevate from 4.8 to 6.2 when rallying back from deficits. The strengths and weaknesses of New Orleans’ defense don’t really come into play here. Watson was Establish The Run’s top-ranked quarterback in season-long drafts, and he is the best fantasy quarterback play on the Week 1 fantasy slate. … Comeback game script sets up perfectly for all-purpose dynamo Duke Johnson, who leads all NFL running backs in yards per touch (6.5) since entering the league and should dominate snaps over Carlos Hyde, who will prove useless in fantasy football as an inefficient two-down grinder on a team that can’t run block. Johnson does need Watson to begin accepting high-percentage checkdowns more to realize his full PPR potential, however; likelier to scramble when his downfield progressions are covered, Watson targeted running backs just 4.2 times per game last season. Nevertheless, Johnson is a quality RB2/flex play in PPR leagues with upside for more in this projected shootout at the Superdome.
DeAndre Hopkins has never faced Marshon Lattimore in the pros but figures to draw his shadow on Monday night. Hopkins’ physicality, route creativity, mind meld with Watson, and boundary dominance make him the NFL’s most matchup-proof receiver, however, and like his quarterback, Hopkins eats when chasing points. Hopkins’ career yards per target hike from 7.8 to 8.7 in trail mode, and his touchdown rate (TDs/targets) jumps from to 4.8% to 5.6%. … Will Fuller projects to draw the easier end of New Orleans’ cornerback duo in Eli Apple, who PFF charged with the NFL’s 13th-most yards per coverage snap allowed (1.62) among 117 qualifiers last year. With 11 TDs over his last 16 games, Fuller should be teed up as a WR2 whenever active. Last year’s Saints got torched deep, allowing the league’s tenth-most 20-plus-yard completions (57) and second most of 40-plus (14). … Coutee (high ankle sprain) figures to be limited if he plays, and Stills is in the process of digesting Bill O’Brien’s offense after being acquired on August 31. DeAndre Carter is another candidate for slot snaps. … With Jordan Thomas (rib) and Kahale Warring (concussion) on I.R., Houston’s top-two pass-catching tight ends are Jordan Akins and Jerell Adams. A former baseball player drafted in the 2018 third round, Akins should be rostered in tight end-premium leagues and seriously considered on DFS small slates in this likely high-scoring affair.
The Texans’ trade of Jadeveon Clowney and free-agent losses of Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson enhance matchups for Saints skill players. A better run stopper than pass rusher, Clowney helped key 2018’s No. 1 DVOA-rated run defense. Even as Alvin Kamara lacks the volume upside of fellow top-four season-long picks Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, and Ezekiel Elliott, Kamara does more with less and shouldn’t struggle to capitalize on Houston’s weakened front. Kamara enters his third NFL season with 32 career touchdowns in 31 games. … Mark Ingram averaged 13.3 touches after returning from last year’s four-week suspension, which should be a viable number for Latavius Murray to reach in games where the Saints play with a lead. They project to do so here as seven-point home favorites, making Murray an underrated RB2/flex. Murray stands to benefit immensely upgrading from Minnesota’s leaky offensive line to New Orleans’ top-five group. … While 40-year-old Drew Brees’ 2018 stretch-run fade remains cause for forward-thinking alarm, this may be the best spot to play him all season at the Superdome in a likely shootout against a Texans pass defense that ranked 19th in DVOA, then got worse this offseason. Brees exploded out of the gates last year with a sterling 29:2 TD-to-INT ratio and 8.81 yards per attempt across New Orleans’ initial 11 games, throwing multiple touchdown passes in all but two. The Texans have allowed 2.1 more points per game without Clowney since 2014 (18-game sample).
With burners Ted Ginn and Tre’Quan Smith outside, Michael Thomas looks primed to set a career high in slot-route rate after Thomas led the league in yards per slot route run (3.63) in 2018. Former Jaguar Aaron Colvin struggled mightily in his debut season as the Texans’ slot corner, and the team is praying for a bounce-back year. … Ginn and Smith are low-volume, big-play-dependent dart throws matching up with frequent 2018 Broncos burn victim Bradley Roby and 35-year-old Johnathan Joseph. Ginn and Smith offer low floors but small-slate DFS-tournament appeal. … Weak in coverage at inside linebacker and now missing Mathieu in the back, the Texans were smoked by tight ends all last year. Only the Colts allowed more yards to the position, and just three teams surrendered more tight end touchdowns. Jared Cook’s risk is raised slightly after he missed the final two weeks of camp/preseason with an undisclosed injury, but his matchup and environment are quite conducive to a big first game as a Saint.
Score Prediction: Saints 35, Texans 27