Last updated: September 8th at 12:49am ET.
Editor’s note: Below is a full audio reading of this column. While the column will receive updates over the weekend, the audio will not. It was posted on Friday at 11:31am.
Titans @ Browns
Team Totals: Browns 25, Titans 20
Firing up Cleveland’s D/ST is my favorite way to approach the Titans’ offense this week; keyed by an ultra-talented front of RE Olivier Vernon, LE Myles Garrett, DT Sheldon Richardson, and NT Larry Ogunjobi, the Browns piled up five sacks in just over one quarter in their third preseason game, while Tennessee coughed up seven sacks in its regular season dress rehearsal against the Steelers. The Titans’ offensive line is missing LT Taylor Lewan(suspension), searching for any possible solution at right guard, and trotting out pass-pro lability RT Jack Conklin, who tore his ACL last December. Including playoffs, shell-shocked Marcus Mariota has averaged 3.1 sacks taken per game with 23 turnovers over his last 24 starts. … Derrick Henry is a high-risk RB2 option as a five-point road dog in a game where Tennessee may struggle to string together drives and end up falling behind, which would propel passing-game back Dion Lewis into more snaps. It doesn’t help that Henry missed most of camp with a foot/calf injury, curtailing his practice time in new OC Arthur Smith’s offense. If Henry makes it out of Week 1 setback free, he will project as a Week 2 buy-low play back home in Nashville versus the Andrew Luck-less Colts.
With Ryan Tannehill shortening Mariota’s leash on a team that wants to win by running the ball and playing good defense, Tennessee’s passing game is at fantasy dumpster-fire risk raised by the additions of Adam Humphries and second-round pick A.J. Brown plus Delanie Walker’s return from last Week 1’s year-ending ankle fracture/dislocation. Corey Davis and Tajae Sharpe were listed as the Titans’ starting receivers on their post-cuts depth chart. Tennessee’s passing pie is intended to be small, there are many “mouths to feed,” and Mariota’s efficiency has worsened each year he’s been in the league. Considering all of the pressure Mariota projects to face in this matchup, low-aDOT slot man Humphries projects as Tennessee’s best bet for targets on quick-hitting routes designed to counteract the Browns’ pass rush.
One fantasy concern on both sides involves snaps and pace. The Titans finished 29th in offensive plays in Mike Vrabel’s first year as coach, while Cleveland ranked 29th from Weeks 9-17 in a slowed-down offense after Freddie Kitchens replaced Hue Jackson as playcaller. Tennessee’s defense is no pushover after allowing the NFL’s third-fewest points and returns 9-of-11 starters with upgrades at edge rusher (Cameron Wake) and strong safety (Kenny Vaccaro). I ranked Baker Mayfield as my season-long QB3 and would undoubtedly start him, but I’m tempering expectations for a ceiling week. Cleveland’s Kevin Zeitler-less offensive line was an issue this preseason, and in Wake, game-wrecking DL Jurell Casey, and sophomore breakout candidate OLB Harold Landry, the Titans have enough up-front firepower to take advantage. … Expectations should be as lofty as ever for Nick Chubb as a home-favorite bellcow facing a Titans run defense that ranked a middling 15th in DVOA last year with Duke Johnson gone to Houston, potentially unlocking Chubb’s pass-catching upside after Chubb averaged just 2.0 catches per game in his 2018 starts. A locked-in RB1, Chubb correlates perfectly with the Browns’ D/ST in DFS combinations.
The most-severe mismatch on either side of Titans-Browns pits Odell Beckham versus Titans LCB Adoree Jackson and RCB Malcolm Butler, who respectively allowed the third- and eighth-most yards among NFL cornerbacks last season. Plus-sized and physical slot CB Logan Ryan is a tough draw for Jarvis Landry inside, and David Njoku will have his hands full with All-Pro FS Kevin Byard. All of this adds up to a potential funnel situation for OBJ, who the Browns are incentivized to feature as their prized offseason acquisition in front of the Dog Pound. Beckham stated Thursday that a training-camp hip injury has prevented him from “opening up and sprinting,” but he practiced fully all week and wasn’t even listed on Friday’s injury report. … I wound up ranking Landry as a season-long WR4 and view him accordingly here. Landry’s weekly targets were slashed from 11.8 in Hue-coached games to 6.9 under Kitchens, and his volume took another hit when Beckham was acquired. … I expect a top-ten tight end season for Njoku, albeit one flush with ups and downs and touchdown dependency as the Browns’ third pass option at best after Njoku’s targets per game dipped from 6.4 to 4.6 on Kitchens’ watch. … Rashard Higgins won Browns third-receiver duties going away when Antonio Callaway showed up to camp out of shape, then was hit with a four-game suspension. Mayfield and Higgins formed a tight on-field bond last year, connecting on 33-of-43 passes (77%) for 487 yards (14.8 YPR) and four touchdowns. 70% of those completions moved the chains. A technician in the mold of a poor man’s Keenan Allen, Higgins is a Week 1 DFS sleeper at near minimum cost. … Final-cuts trade acquisition Taywan Taylor should fill in as Callaway’s situational deep-threat replacement in September.
Score Prediction: Browns 23, Titans 17
Team Totals: Ravens 22.5, Dolphins 15.5
The Ravens offer DFS team-stack appeal facing Miami’s league-worst roster in a spot where Baltimore should impose its offensive will. Fantasy’s QB8 after replacing Joe Flacco last Week 11, Lamar Jackson grew up 35 miles from Hard Rock Stadium and should feel comfortably at home versus the Dolphins’ nonexistent pass rush, which last year finished bottom four in sacks (31) and moved on from players that accounted for 61% of those quarterback takedowns with zero notable replacements. … Mark Ingram is another critical team-stack piece as lead back for the NFL’s run-heaviest franchise in a game where the Ravens should dominate time of possession. Ingram won’t catch many passes in Baltimore’s offensive style and carries overrated touchdown equity competing for red-zone work with Jackson, Gus Edwards, and perhaps rookie Justice Hill, but I like Ingram’s chances of starting fast in Weeks 1-2 against Miami and Arizona with 20-plus touches squarely in his range of potential outcomes. He’ll be a sell-high candidate thereafter. The Dolphins will start CFL alum Sam Eguavoen and 229-pound Jerome Baker as their top-two linebackers. … Edwards and Hill’s usage is to be determined in complementary roles, but the former is worth stashing in non-PPR leagues and the latter in all formats to see how things go.
Favorites to lead the NFL in virtually every rushing category, pinpointing pass catchers is the toughest part of Baltimore’s stack and unnecessary if Jackson and Ingram hog TDs. Otherwise, I’d round out team builds with second-year TE Mark Andrews, who logged the fifth-most yards (552) by a rookie tight end in the last decade and ranked No. 5 at the position in yards per route run (2.01). He split preseason time with 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst but is clearly a more-dynamic talent and maintains a superior on-field rapport with Jackson. … Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Miles Boykin, and Marquise Brown look like Baltimore’s top-four receivers to begin the year. None are attractive fantasy plays on a run-centric team. The first wideout selected in April’s draft, Brown could eventually become relevant but probably won’t be early on after sitting out large chunks of training camp recovering from Lisfranc surgery. Brown didn’t practice on Friday but is expected to play, albeit likely in a limited role.
Behind Jackson and Ingram, the Ravens’ D/ST is the third-most-critical component of Baltimore team stacks squaring off with a Miami front five that Establish The Run offensive line specialist Brandon Thorn ranked worst in the league before the Dolphins’ tanking front office traded LT Laremy Tunsil. 36-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick has long written checks his arm can’t cash and could be benched at any moment for Josh Rosen. … Miami’s entire passing game is hands off against arguably NFL’s best secondary freshly captained by FS Earl Thomas with Jimmy Smith and Marlon Humphrey at corner. I got a lot of late-August questions about Dolphins pass-catching sleepers, but this team is going to struggle just to hold the ball and sustain drives. If forced to rank their fantasy prospects, I’d go Albert Wilson > DeVante Parker > Jakeem Grant > Preston Williams > Mike Gesicki > Nick O’Leary > Allen Hurns. Not one is usable versus Baltimore. … Ravens 330-plus-pound space eaters Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce should manhandle a Dolphins interior starting two rookies in third-round LG Michael Dieter and UDFA RG Shaq Calhoun. You’re on your own throwing blindfolded darts at Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage.
Score Prediction: Ravens 27, Dolphins 0
Falcons @ Vikings
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 in season-long leagues. As the Falcons never move Desmond Trufant off left corner, the Vikings can easily attack raw RCB Isaiah Oliver (240 career snaps) and slot CB Damontae Kazee, who is converting from safety. Kazee is much smaller (5’10/184, 4.56) than Thielen (6’3/200, 4.45). Diggs was limited throughout the week with a hamstring strain, downgrading him from a fringe WR1 into WR2/3 territory based on his poor history of playing through soft-tissue injuries. Thielen is a top-ten WR1 play worthy of DFS cash-game consideration, especially on the off chance Diggs sits. … 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
Bills @ Jets
Team Totals: Jets 21.5, Bills 18.5
Bills-Jets carries Week 1’s second-lowest total (40) but has been bet up by a point and a half since open and offers at least one compelling DFS-tournament stack in Josh Allen to John Brown versus the Jets’ no-name cornerbacks. Fantasy’s overall QB1 last Weeks 12-17, Allen attempted 20-plus-yard downfield throws at a league-high 19.7% rate as a rookie, while 4.34 burner Brown’s 16.1-yard aDOT ranked fifth highest among players with 40-plus targets. Per Next Gen Stats, Jets “top” CB Trumaine Johnson forced a tight window on just 10.9% of his targeted passes last season, third lowest among 64 qualified corners. New DC Gregg Williams’ extreme blitzing sacrifices coverage players for pass rushers, while Gang Green is imposingly stout up front with Leonard Williams, Quinnen Williams, Henry Anderson, and Steve McLendon on the line, and $85 million ILB C.J. Mosley behind them, creating pass-funnel possibilities. … Correspondingly, Buffalo’s backfield looks like a full fantasy fade based on matchup and expected committee usage. The Bills lack offensive-line continuity after playing musical chairs in the front five throughout August due to C Mitch Morse’s fourth-career concussion, second-round T/G Cody Ford’s inability to nail down a surefire starting role, and LG Quinton Spain’s ankle sprain. Even with LeSean McCoy jettisoned, touches remain up for grabs between rookie Devin Singletary, timeless Frank Gore, and T.J. Yeldon. Let’s look elsewhere for Week 1 running back sleepers.
Buffalo’s three-receiver set is rounded out by Zay Jones and Cole Beasley with Robert Foster in the No. 4/situational deep threat role. One may produce a fantasy-viable game considering Buffalo’s pass-defense-deficient opponent, but it’s anyone’s guess who it’ll be. Jones has cleared 70 yards twice in 31 NFL games. Beasley is a low-ceiling, low-efficiency slot player on a run-first team whose quarterback struggles with accuracy to all levels and tends to put too much mustard on short throws. Foster runs 4.41 and led all rookies in PFF’s predictive yards-per-route run metric last year but will play limited snaps. … Bills tight ends are safe to avoid with Tyler Kroft (foot) sidelined, Jason Croom (hand) on I.R., and rookies Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney as top pass-game candidates while Lee Smith blocks.
Fresh off a sparkling preseason where he completed 17-of-25 passes (68%) for 211 yards (8.4 YPA), two touchdowns, and no picks in Adam Gase’s no-huddle offense, Sam Darnold’s Week 1 matchup is unfortunately among Opening Day’s toughest against a well-coached Buffalo secondary under Sean McDermott that returns 4-of-5 starters after finishing No. 2 in pass-defense DVOA. Last year’s Bills allowed 300-plus passing yards in just 1-of-16 games and the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks by a whopping 1.5-PPG margin. Gang Green’s pass-defense schedule won’t soften for awhile; after Buffalo, the Jets draw Cleveland, New England, Philly, Dallas, New England again, and Jacksonville all in a row. Despite Darnold’s August progress, I’m not betting on QB1 fireworks out of the gate. It doesn’t help that playmaking TE Chris Herndon is ineligible until Week 6. … After not playing a single preseason snap, some beat writers have suggested Le’Veon Bell will share time with Gase-favorite Ty Montgomery early in the year, or at least until Bell shakes off rust. Bell’s patience-based running style requires chemistry with his offensive line, and he hasn’t played live football in 20 months. LG Kelechi Osemele (pectoral), RG Brian Winters (shoulder), and RT Brandon Shell (knee) all missed practice time during training camp, while C Ryan Kalil signed on August 1. As Bell averaged 3.6 missed games per year over his first five NFL seasons, Montgomery should be stashed in all season-long leagues as an RB5/6.
Robby Anderson figures to command Tre’Davious White’s shadow coverage, although Gang Green’s 4.41 speedster won their battle last Week 14 by dusting White for most of Anderson’s 4/76/1 receiving line. Camp reports had Gase scheming more short and intermediate targets to Anderson, which would raise the floor for New York’s historically boom-bust receiver. Anderson’s tough matchup and late-camp calf injury still render him a fringe WR3 play. … From JuJu Smith-Schuster and Deontay Burnett at USC to Quincy Enunwa early last season and Jermaine Kearse late, Darnold has long peppered slot receivers with passes, while Gase’s Dolphins heavily featured Jarvis Landry. All of this should bode well for Jamison Crowder, a sneaky bet to pace the Jets in 2019 targets. Week 1 doesn’t present an ideal matchup – Bills second-year slot CB Taron Johnson was stingy when healthy as a rookie, and Buffalo’s secondary is stout all around – but Crowder should be rostered in PPR season-long leagues as a WR4/5 with WR3 upside. Crowder’s target share should benefit from Herndon’s absence; both operate in the middle of the field. … Signed to a four-year, $36 million extension by Gang Green’s pre-Gase regime, Enunwa’s usage is to be determined as the Jets’ No. 4 pass option. Last year, Enunwa averaged 1.75 yards per route run in the slot but only 1.07 YPPR on perimeter plays. … Texans castoff Ryan Griffin is expected to fill in at tight end until Herndon returns in Week 6.
Score Prediction: Bills 21, Jets 20
Redskins @ Eagles
Team Totals: Eagles 27.5, Redskins 18.5
At home favored by two scores, the Eagles are an elite D/ST play hosting one of the NFL’s most-putrid offenses. As Dwayne Haskins failed to claim Washington’s starting quarterback job, the Skins will trot out 31-year-old Case Keenum on his seventh NFL team without seven-time Pro Bowl LT Trent Williams (holdout) facing a loaded Philly front consisting of DT Fletcher Cox, DE Derek Barnett, DT Malik Jackson, DE Brandon Graham, DT Timmy Jernigan, and DE Vinny Curry. Skins 36-year-old fill-in LT Donald Penn and swinging-gate LG Ereck Flowers arguably make up the worst left side of an offensive line in the league. Keenum’s passer rating nose dove from 94.9 to 52.2 when pressured last season. … Washington’s backfield is even more messy with 2018 1,000-yard rusher Adrian Peterson behind Derrius Guice for early-down work, Wendell Smallwood entering the picture at final cuts, and Chris Thompson changing the pace and dominating passing-down snaps. Based on projected game script, Thompson looks likely to lead Redskins backs in snaps versus an Eagles defense that coughed up the NFL’s second-most running back catches (110) last year. I wouldn’t start any Washington runner in a season-long league but might consider Thompson as a one-percent-owned Draft Kings GPP play.
The Redskins will trot out a three-receiver set of Paul Richardson and Terry McLaurin with Trey Quinn in the slot. Keenum’s tendency is to pepper slot receivers – see Tavon Austin’s career-high 106 targets on 2016’s Keenum-quarterbacked Rams, Adam Thielen’s 2017 breakout with Keenum’s Vikings, and Emmanuel Sanders’ 95-catch pre-injury pace last year – suggesting Quinn could emerge as Keenum’s favorite pass option to begin 2019. Quinn also looks to have Washington’s top on-paper pass-catching matchup inside versus Avonte Maddox, who played just 11% of his 2018 snaps at slot corner but is slated to start there in Week 1. Projected negative script works in Quinn’s target-volume favor, and Jordan Reed‘s (concussion) expected absence does too, removing a competing middle-of-the-field presence from Washington’s passing “attack.” … If forced to throw a dart at a Redskins outside receiver, I would take rookie McLaurin, who wasted no time winning a starting job as a third-round pick. Richardson doesn’t create separation and is dealing with a quad injury, whereas McLaurin’s route quicks and 4.35 jets give the Redskins their best chance for a shot play. Eagles LCB Ronald Darby practiced in a bulky knee brace all August coming off last November’s ACL tear, while RCB Sidney Jones struggled mightily in 2018 after missing his rookie season with a torn Achilles’. Philadelphia’s alternative is Rasul Douglas, who ran 4.59 coming out of West Virginia and coughed up 1.88 yards per coverage snap last season, fifth most among 117 qualified corners. … Reed’s seventh known concussion brings 35-year-old Vernon Davis into play as a minimum-price DFS punt. Last year’s Eagles allowed the NFL’s second-most fantasy points to tight ends, and this year’s defense lost MLB Jordan Hicks (Cardinals) and is without WLB Kamu Grugier-Hill (MCL).
Jordan Howard was on my fade list in season-long drafts, but non-PPR fantasy leaguers could do worse as a Week 1 RB2/flex start with Philly favored big at home. Howard is a role player, but that role should be larger than usual this week as the Eagles’ clock-killing grinder. In his career, Howard averages 0.90 rushing TDs in wins compared to 0.22 in losses. … As last year’s Eagles backs collectively averaged 27 touches per game – and this game sets up for a bit more volume than usual – I’m projecting Howard for 16 touches, Miles Sanders for 10, and Darren Sproles for 4 against the Skins. Even as the Eagles’ clear top running back talent, I think Sanders will have to earn his way into RB2/flex value by showing ball security and pass-protection reliability early in the season. It’s still only a matter of time before Sanders takes over as the top dog. … Beginning with most recent, Carson Wentz has touched up Washington for weekly fantasy finishes of QB11 > QB1 > QB5 > QB11 in their last four meetings, and his supporting cast has never been this loaded. Look for Wentz to put the Eagles up before Howard puts this game away.
This is your annual reminder that top Redskins CB Josh Norman does not shadow. Alshon Jeffery still drew Norman in coverage on 7-of-10 targets in last year’s two Washington-Philadelphia games but beat him six times out of seven for 62 yards and a score. Alshon is a bit touchdown reliant – he’s cleared 100 yards in just 2-of-34 games as an Eagle – but this offense is going to score a lot of TDs. … New Redskins SS Landon Collins has had Zach Ertz’s number over their last four meetings, holding Ertz to 50 scoreless yards on nine targets when matched up. That’s just an interesting tidbit, though. Ertz is at worst a top-five TE1 play whenever he suits up. The Skins’ surprising release of pass-coverage maven ILB Zach Brown could bite them here. … This will be DeSean Jackson’s eighth career “revenge game.” His previous seven stat lines when facing his former teams are 5/67/0 > 4/129/1 > 3/102/1 > 4/55/0 > 4/40/0 > 4/126/0 > 5/117/1. (That 4-of-7 hit rate of topping 100 yards ain’t bad.) Jackson suffered a broken left ring finger last week – raising his risk – but his story never changes. D-Jax is a big-play-dependent lid popper with a high ceiling and low floor. … Slot man Nelson Agholor finished below 60 yards in nine of Wentz’s 11 starts last season and hasn’t caught a touchdown pass from Wentz since December 3 of 2017. Agholor is a useful role player but lacks fantasy value in a deep pass-catcher corps. … Second-round rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside showed enough this preseason to earn Week 1 snaps, but he probably won’t get many as the Eagles’ No. 4 receiver. … Dallas Goedert may need an Ertz injury to become fantasy viable this season. Goedert missed most of training camp with a calf injury but is expected to play in Week 1.
Score Prediction: Eagles 30, Redskins 13
Rams @ Panthers
Team Totals: Rams 26.5, Panthers 23.5
Rams-Panthers is tied for Week 1’s fourth-highest-totaled game (50.0) with Todd Gurley as the hottest-button topic on either side after Los Angeles’ offensive engine managed chronological touch counts of 15 > 25 > 14 > 22 > 18 > 5 > 11 over his last seven appearances, perhaps forewarning of similar usage ups and downs throughout 2019 due to “an arthritic component” in his knee. But if there were ever a time to trust Gurley, that time is now before the wear and tear of the season sets in. Public risk aversion will surely drop Gurley’s DFS ownership rate, and neither two-down-grinder backup Malcolm Brown nor third-round rookie Darrell Henderson has a defined role yet. … Perhaps the Rams’ biggest offensive concern is on the interior, where they’re replacing stalwart LG Rodger Saffold and C John Sullivan with Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen, who have combined to play 110 career offensive snaps. Neither played a down this preseason. Along with 2018 pass-protection liability RG Austin Blythe, they’ll try keep middle pressure off Jared Goff versus imposing DTs Kawann Short, Gerald McCoy, and Dontari Poe in a matchup favoring Carolina. The Panthers’ edge rush also looks much stronger after stealing Florida State athletic freak Brian Burns at the 16th overall pick to book end underrated OLB Mario Addison, who quietly has 20 sacks over the past two seasons. Goff was the most pressure-sensitive quarterback in the league in 2018, his passer rating nose diving from No. 4 among 38 qualifiers when kept clean to 28th under duress. Goff’s passer rating also sank from 116.7 at home to 82.7 on the road. … I actually like the Panthers to win this game outright but would prefer taking their first-half side from a sports-betting perspective after the Rams declined to play their starters at all this preseason. I’m expecting some early rust.
But in addition to this game’s high-scoring potential, there are ample reasons to keep the QB1 light on for Goff. Ron Rivera’s 2018 Panthers ran zone coverage at the NFL’s seventh-highest rate, and Sports Info Solutions charted Brandin Cooks with the league’s fourth-most yards per target against zone. His catch rate also rose from 77% to 86% in zone looks. Coming off his career-high 1,204 yards, Cooks is a confident WR2 with WR1 upside. … My 2019 concern with Cooper Kupp has always been a slow start after last November’s ACL tear, but recovery reports couldn’t have been more glowing, and Kupp was on pace for a league-winning 96/1,402/16 receiving line five games into 2018, before injuries took their toll. With Panthers slot-corner duties up in the air between Ross Cockrell, Javien Elliott, and others, Kupp’s on-paper matchup is the best in Los Angeles’ wideout corps. … Robert Woods was last year’s biggest beneficiary of Kupp’s absence, seeing his slot snaps spike. Woods has averaged 0.75 fewer targets per game with Kupp in the lineup over the last two seasons and projects to draw Panthers top CB James Bradberry for most of this one. Woods should hardly be panic benched in fantasy leagues, but I prefer Cooks and Kupp’s chances of having a big Week 1. … Although reports from Rams camp had Sean McVay tinkering with more two-tight end 12-personnel looks, this is a believe-it-when-you-see-it situation. No team in the league has run more three-receiver 11 personnel than Los Angeles since McVay took over as head coach. Gerald Everett is just a Dynasty and tight end-premium-league stash until further notice.
After tweaking his foot in Carolina’s third preseason game, Cam Newton practiced fully this week and will start against the Rams, who last year allowed the NFL’s 11th-most QB rushing yards per game (25.0) and got weaker up front by losing Ndamukong Suh (Bucs) and ILBs Mark Barron (Steelers) and Micah Kiser (torn pec). They’ve resorted to 2018 sixth-rounder Sebastian Joseph-Day at nose tackle, washed-up Clay Matthews as a starter on the edge, and STer Bryce Hager as a first-team inside linebacker. The Rams’ secondary remains strong, but Carolina’s low-aDOT passing game matches up advantageously by funneling short passes to after-catch mavens Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Curtis Samuel. Even if Newton’s designed runs are scaled back due to the foot, he is primed to start fast against one of the league’s softest Weeks 1-4 quarterback slates (Rams > Bucs > Cardinals > Texans). … Whereas the Rams’ front-seven personnel got even weaker after finishing 27th in run-defense DVOA, the Panthers’ offensive line got stronger by replacing liability C Ryan Kalil with stud Matt Paradis and returning butt-kicking run-blocker LT Daryl Williams from a knee injury. On the ground and in the air, expect McCaffrey to eat.
Moore and Samuel both began 2018 playing in rotations, emerged as near-full-time receivers as the season progressed, and enter 2019 as virtual locks to rarely come off the field. Moore led the entire NFL in yards after catch per reception (7.9) as a rookie and is expected to play the “Michael Irvin” X role under ex-Cowboys OC Norv Turner as the favorite to lead Carolina in targets. I wouldn’t overthink whether Moore might match up with Marcus Peters or Aqib Talib. Just start him as a WR2 every week. … Panthers camp sensation Samuel is primed for third-year liftoff as the Alvin Harper to Moore’s Irvin, likely running more deep routes but also mixing in manufactured touches after Samuel parlayed eight carries into 84 yards and two touchdowns last season and logged a dynamic 172/1,286/15 (7.5 YPC) career rushing line in three years at Ohio State. Last year’s Rams allowed an NFC-high 14 completions of 40-plus yards. Perhaps Samuel will be less consistent than Moore, but I love him as a WR3 play who will mix in spiked weeks. … 34-year-old Greg Olsen fractured his foot in September of 2017, returned that November to re-break the foot, broke the foot again last Week 1, then tore his plantar fascia in December. Nevertheless, all signs point to Olsen maintaining a featured role after sophomore TE Ian Thomas endured an injury-riddled August, failing to force a timeshare.
Score Prediction: Panthers 28, Rams 24
Chiefs @ Jaguars
Team Totals: Chiefs 28, Jaguars 24
Chiefs-Jaguars boasts Week 1’s second-highest total (52.0) after Kansas City dropped 30 points on Jacksonville last Week 5 and DC Todd Wash’s personnel worsened this offseason by losing WLB Telvin Smith (retirement), expected Smith fill-in Quincy Williams (knee), DT Malik Jackson (Eagles), and first-team safeties Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church. Patrick Mahomes threw for 313 yards and logged a 4/13/1 rushing line in last year’s Jags meeting but was picked off twice, managing a QB17 weekly finish. Nevertheless, Mahomes’ elite talent, weapons, and scheme combined with Jacksonville’s defensive downgrades cement him as a top-five QB1 play. … LeSean McCoy’s final-cuts reunion with Andy Reid dumped cold water on Damien Williams and Darwin Thompson. The Chiefs aggressively moved to sign Shady the same day he was released by Buffalo and made him the NFL’s 15th-highest-paid back on a one-year, $4 million deal with $3 million guaranteed. McCoy’s history with Reid and easy-to-transition position make it likely he’ll see the field immediately. As last year’s Chiefs backfield collectively averaged 24 touches per game, I am projecting Williams for 13, McCoy for 7, and Thompson for 4 in Week 1. Reid did announce Monday that Williams will start at Jacksonville.
I re-watched Tyreek Hill’s seven targets from the aforementioned Week 5 game, in which Jacksonville held him to 61 yards on four catches. The Jaguars made certain two and even three defenders were in Tyreek’s vicinity early in the game and used Jalen Ramsey to press Hill at the line. Difficult cornerback matchups increase receivers’ volatility, affecting their floors more than their ceilings. Especially in the case of Hill, all he needs is one or two big plays to pay WR1 dividends. … Travis Kelce is my favorite Chiefs pass-catcher play with Ramsey on Hill, coverage-maven Telvin Smith gone, and the Jaguars breaking in two new safeties. Kelce hung 100 yards on eight targets last Week 5, and his on-paper matchup looks much softer in Sunday’s rematch. … Including playoffs, these were Sammy Watkins’ receiving lines in the ten 2018 games where he played at least 15 snaps: 3/21/0 > 6/100/0 > 5/55/1 > 6/78/0 > 2/18/0 > 4/74/0 > 8/107/2 > 5/62/0 > 6/62/0 > 4/114/0. (He registered the six-catch, 78-yard game against Jacksonville.) Over 60 yards and/or a touchdown in 8-of-10 games is pretty, pretty good. One of 2019’s most-underrated season-long picks, Watkins is an underrated WR3 play in Week 1. … I’m in wait-and-see mode regarding Kansas City’s third receiver. The Chiefs kept Demarcus Robinson, exciting second-round rookie Mecole Hardman, and Byron Pringle on their 53 behind Hill and Watkins.
Leonard Fournette was quietly one of August’s biggest fantasy football winners, locking in true every-down bellcow duties as third-down candidate Alfred Blue (ankle) hit I.R. and the Jaguars entered the season with rookies RyQuell Armstead – who caught just 29 passes in four seasons at Temple – and UDFA waiver-claim Devine Ozigbo as the only other true running backs on their 53. Previous pass-game specialist T.J. Yeldon caught 85 balls in only 24 games over the past two years. Fournette’s increased receiving role will help him compensate in negative game script, raises both his ceiling and floor, and makes Fournette an enticing Week 1 DFS-tournament play versus Kansas City, which last year ranked dead last in run-defense DVOA and yielded the NFL’s fifth-most receiving yards per game to running backs (55.1). … New Jaguars OC John DeFilippo’s decidedly pass-first background hints at a potentially significant hike in pass attempts after Jacksonville’s last two offenses ranked 21st and 19th, while Nick Foles should have no trouble upgrading on Blake Bortles’ passing efficiency. Despite his boom-bust track record, I’m confidently starting Foles in two-quarterback leagues behind a Jaguars offensive line that returns four starters and stole widely first-round-graded RT Jawaan Taylor in the second round.
Chiefs-Jaguars is a stack-able game in DFS with Fournette and Dede Westbrook as priority plays on Jacksonville’s side. Low-volume speedsters Chris Conley and D.J. Chark secured the Jags’ two first-team outside receiving jobs, while Westbrook ran 89% of his 2018 routes in the slot, where Chiefs slot CB Kendall Fuller conceded league highs in catches and yards on slot targets last season. Late in camp, DeFilippo called Westbrook “the best route runner I’ve ever been around.” As Conley and Chark are best deployed as role-playing clear-out guys and Jaguars starting tight end Geoff Swaim has 35 catches in 37 career games, you can count on DeFilippo dialing up a lofty target share for Westbrook all year long.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 30, Jaguars 24
Colts @ Chargers
Team Totals: Chargers 25.25, Colts 18.75
Although better coaching and supporting parts provide optimism Jacoby Brissett will improve on his 15-start 2017 – where Brissett managed 13 touchdown passes and 6.6 yards per attempt with a league-high 52 sacks taken – a slow open should be expected in consecutive road trips to the Chargers and Titans, whose defenses last year allowed the NFL’s eighth- and third-fewest points. Perhaps Frank Reich can coach it out of him, but Brissett’s back-breaking 2017 trait was holding onto the ball too long; his 2.97-seconds average time to throw ranked fifth longest among 40 qualified passers. If Brissett can’t shake the habit, he’s going to make the Colts’ offensive line look worse against Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Sportsbooks have dropped Indy’s Week 1 team total by 3.5-4.0 points since Andrew Luck’s retirement was announced. … Marlon Mack’s average routes run spiked from 13.5 to 23.3 in last year’s final four games, then Mack ran ahead of Nyheim Hines on passing downs this August. Week 1’s most-confident fantasy play on Indianapolis’ side, Mack has a real chance at every-down work behind an offensive line that returns all five starters after finishing No. 4 in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards for run blocking. Mack lost a ton of upside when Luck retired, but any receiving increase would save his floor. Since hiring DC Gus Bradley, the Chargers have allowed the NFL’s fourth- (2018) and 12th– (2017) most running back receptions. I don’t think Hines is roster worthy outside of very deep PPR leagues. Mack’s Opening Day matchup and environment aren’t perfect, but he is a respectable low-end RB2/flex play.
The Luck-to-Brissett downgrade sent T.Y. Hilton into boom-bust Robby Anderson–Will Fuller territory after Hilton finished below 60 yards in 12-of-16 games the year Brissett started. (And, of course, T.Y. went off for 100-plus yards in the other four.) As RCB Casey Hayward, LCB Michael Davis, and slot CB Desmond King comprise one of the NFL’s premier cornerback units and last year’s Chargers surrendered the NFL’s fifth-fewest yards per game to wide receivers (134.4), Hilton can only be viewed as a low-floor WR2/3. … Devin Funchess earned No. 2 wideout duties in camp but lost virtually all of his fantasy appeal upon Luck’s retirement. … The Colts’ Week 1 depth chart listed Deon Cain ahead of hamstring-hobbled Parris Campbell and Zach Pascal over incumbent slot WR Chester Rogers. I could envision a wide-ranging smattering of No. 3 wideout snaps, rendering none fantasy viable. … Further damaging Colts No. 3-receiver outlooks is the likelihood Reich dials up frequent two-tight end sets with Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle on the field together. Last season, Indianapolis indeed ran 12 personnel at the league’s third-highest rate (34%) during the six games in which both Doyle and Ebron played. Yet Doyle out-snapped Ebron 331 to 164 and out-targeted him 33 to 22 in those games. As Luck’s loss craters the Colts’ passing offense as an entity, Doyle and Ebron will likely cancel each other out as fantasy producers this year.
With Melvin Gordon looking less and less likely to report before midseason, Austin Ekeler should start fast as Los Angeles’ lead back against Indy’s zone defense, which sacrifices short passes to backs, slot receivers, and tight ends in exchange for limiting big plays. DC Matt Eberflus’ unit last year conceded an AFC-high 110 running back receptions, while the Chargers’ potentially putrid and definitely Russell Okung-less offensive line should emphasize high-percentage, low-aDOT throws to offset edge pressure and move the sticks. Ekeler is a confident RB2 play with RB1 upside in PPR leagues. … Gordon missed three games last year in which both Ekeler and Justin Jackson played. Ekeler’s touch counts in them were 17 > 18 > 17 to Jackson’s 3 > 9 > 9, and Ekeler nearly doubled Jackson in first-team snaps this preseason. I’m expecting something between a 60-40 and 70-30 timeshare favoring Ekeler to begin the year. … After allowing the NFL’s 11th-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks in 2018, the Colts return 10-of-11 defensive starters and added Justin Houston, while Philip Rivers will play behind an offensive line missing left tackle Okung (heart) and trotting out four other starters who all grade extremely poorly in PFF’s charting system. Much more floor than ceiling play, Rivers is a two-quarterback-league start only.
We’re assuming rational coaching here – a dangerous proposition – but a lowered-aDOT passing game would play to the strengths of Keenan Allen, whose slot-route rate should rise from last year’s 56% with Tyrell Williams (41% slot) gone to Oakland. Colts slot CB Kenny Moore is a very good player, but he did concede a 79.3% completion rate on slot targets last year. Allen’s route quickness and run-after-catch skills set him up perfectly to attack Eberflus’ zone. … Mike Williams is a bigger question mark in this one. Already touchdown reliant, Williams takes on a Colts secondary that last year permitted the league’s sixth-fewest TDs (13) and second-fewest yards per game to wide receivers (124.6) and is specifically built to eliminate big plays outside. Williams ran a team-high 69% of his 2018 routes on the perimeter. I’m treating him as a touchdown-or-bust WR3 play. … Burner Travis Benjamin and possession threat Dontrelle Inman look likely to share third-receiver duties, although I’d expect heavy doses of blocker Virgil Green in 12 personnel to help compensate for deficiencies on the line. … Like Allen, Hunter Henry is set up to feast on Indy’s zone, which hemorrhaged league highs in catches (103) and yards (1,194) to tight ends last season. Before missing all of 2018 with a torn ACL, Henry ranked No. 2 among tight ends in 2017 yards per route run. He practiced hiccup free throughout August and is poised for 2019 liftoff.
Score Prediction: Chargers 23, Colts 17
Bengals @ Seahawks
Team Totals: Seahawks 26.75, Bengals 17.25
The Seahawks are my favorite Week 1 team stack with Russell Wilson, Chris Carson, Tyler Lockett, and Seattle’s Jadeveon Clowney– and Ziggy Ansah-infused defense as core components. Although Wilson has a slow-start reputation after the Seahawks struggled to figure out their early-season pass protection in past years, 2019’s club returns 4-of-5 starters up front and enters season two post-Tom Cable, the league’s worst offensive line coach. No AFC team allowed more fantasy points to quarterbacks than Cincinnati last year, and only four clubs served up more QB rushing yards. Wilson is due for positive regression in the latter metric after failing to score a single rushing TD for the first time in his seven-year career. … Top five in the NFL in rushing despite missing two games last season, Carson easily held off 2018 first-round disappointment Rashaad Penny and should trample Cincinnati as a near-double-digit home favorite. Per multiple beat reports, Seattle’s coaching staff has made a philosophical shift toward throwing to running backs more, and Pete Carroll identified Carson as one of the best pass catchers on the team. Last year’s Bengals served up the NFL’s fourth-most receiving yards per game to backs (56.3), and this year’s linebacker corps of Preston Brown, Jordan Evans, and Nick Vigil is among pro football’s worst. Per ViSN’s Mike Lombardi, Seattle under Carroll is 14-0 with a +198 point differential in September home games. Fearless Establish The Run rankings guru Pat Thorman placed Carson as a top-five RB1 play on the week.
Injuries to D.K. Metcalf (knee) and David Moore (shoulder) secure slot man Lockett’s target share after Lockett destroyed on 2018 interior routes, catching 26-of-29 slot targets for 454 yards (17.5 YPR) and five TDs. The Bengals lost physical slot CB Darqueze Dennard (knee surgery) to PUP and in his place will trot out B.W. Webb, who is on his eighth NFL team. … Metcalf will try to play despite having his knee scoped in late August. His usage and effectiveness are entirely up in the air, and it’s possible he will be limited to a decoy role running clear-out routes on the perimeter. … Jaron Brown re-signed with the team on Monday after being released at final cuts and figures to play the second-most snaps in Seattle’s wideout corps. Albeit a substandard talent who commanded just 19 of Wilson’s targets in 16 games last year, Brown is an opportunity-based dart throw at or near the minimum on DFS sites. … I expect seventh-round pick John Ursua to open the season as the Seahawks’ No. 4 receiver, playing a slot role across from Lockett with Metcalf and Brown outside in four-receiver 10 personnel looks. Ursua caught 4-of-4 preseason targets from Wilson for 100 yards. He should be rostered in Dynasty and deep PPR leagues. … Tight end jobs are also up for grabs between 2018 early-season star Will Dissly and jack-of-many-trades, master-of-none Nick Vannett with Ed Dickson (knee) sidelined. Dissly might be more interesting if he weren’t coming off a patellar tendon tear.
DFS players interested in Seahawks team stacks shoulder consider “bringing it back” with Tyler Boyd, a lock to dominate Andy Dalton’s targets in ex-Rams assistant Zac Taylor’s Cooper Kupp ian slot role with A.J. Green (ankle) sidelined and UDFA rookie Damion Willis starting outside. The Bengals look likely to play from behind as nearly two-score underdogs on the road, while Seattle was desperate enough at slot corner to trade for Parry Nickerson at final cuts after losing slot maven Justin Coleman to Detroit in free agency. The Bengals’ offensive-line depletion should encourage Taylor to dial up short, high-percentage, chain-moving passes to Boyd. … In 16 career games sans Green, Dalton has a 16:13 TD-to-INT ratio and averages 226 yards per start. He’s a poor two-quarterback-league option at The Clink. … Joe Mixon’s bad news is Cincinnati lost first-round LT Jonah Williams (shoulder, I.R.), LG Clint Boling (retirement), and possible fill-in LG Christian Westerman (retirement), while 2018 first-round C Billy Price got benched in camp and LT Cordy Glenn (concussion) will be replaced by 11th-year veteran Andre Smith, who has one career start at left tackle. Mixon’s good news is he was last year’s RB9 in per-game PPR scoring behind a similarly poor line and draws a Seahawks front missing DE Frank Clark (Chiefs) and DT Jarran Reed (suspension). Mixon is entrenched as a low-end RB1 and contrarian DFS play. … Giovani Bernard opens 2019 as one of fantasy’s top handcuffs, especially after landing a two-year, $10.3 million commitment from the Bengals just before Week 1. No. 3 back Trayveon Williams (foot) is expected to miss the opener, and No. 4 back Rodney Anderson tore his ACL in the preseason finale.
Perhaps comeback mode as lopsided road dogs will propel a non-Boyd Bengals pass catcher to outkick expectations, but generally these are fantasy situations to avoid. Cincy’s tight end target share between C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Eifert, and rookie Drew Sample is to be determined, while Willis and injury-plagued John Ross project as starters outside. Willis is my sleeper from the ancillaries if forced to pick. Starting for A.J. Green, Willis ran 4.48/4.50 forty times at 6-foot-3, 204 at Troy’s Pro Day after ranking seventh nationally in receptions of 40-plus yards as a senior and averaging 15.6 yards per catch. Seahawks LCB Shaquill Griffin and RCB Tre Flowers each allowed passer ratings of over 100 when targeted in 2018.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 27, Bengals 13
Giants @ Cowboys
Team Totals: Cowboys 26.25, Giants 19.25
Pegged by offshore wagering site BetOnline.ag as the NFL’s lone Week 1 starting quarterback who actively works against his own team total, Eli Manning travels to JerryWorld, where Cowboys fans will be especially amped after getting their holdout franchise running back signed and returned to the team. Manning could be benched at a moment’s notice for preseason star Daniel Jones, while Eli is set up to fail facing Dallas’ zone-based defense after managing a 7:12 TD-to-INT ratio versus zone coverage over the last two years (Sports Info Solutions). Over his last six starts against the Cowboys, Eli has averaged just 238 passing yards, 1.3 touchdowns, and 1.0 picks per game. This is a wonderful spot to fire up Dallas’ D/ST, which will remain an elite play in both Weeks 2 (Redskins) and 3 (Dolphins). … Despite his quarterback’s probable struggles and the Giants’ probable negative game script, Saquon Barkley remains a top-three RB1 play against the Cowboys’ zone, which hemorrhaged the NFL’s fifth-most running back catches (6.3) last season, including eighteen to Barkley in these clubs’ two 2018 affairs. Odell Beckham’s departure is a concern for Barkley’s ceiling – he averaged 4.6 fewer PPR points per game sans OBJ last year – but Barkley’s floor is as high as any fantasy back’s due to his colossal usage.
2018 NFL leader in average yards of separation at target (4.4) Evan Engram is poised for a third-year breakout after finishing No. 6 among 30 qualified tight ends in yards per route run (1.83) despite playing hurt for most of last year (MCL, hamstring). Dallas’ zone is vulnerable to tight ends – it served up the NFL’s fourth-most catches to the position in 2018 – and Engram had its number in both meetings on stat lines of 5/81/1 and 7/67/1. Engram is a cinch top-five TE1 play with a realistic shot at leading all tight ends in Week 1 scoring. … Sterling Shepard is the final fantasy-viable Giant, staying in the slot during Golden Tate’s four-game ban to avoid stationary Cowboys outside CBs Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie. At least until Tate returns, Shepard will be an underrated WR3 play each week. He has the most-established rapport with Eli among all Giants pass catchers. … After trading Beckham and losing Corey Coleman (ACL), the once-proud G-Men will embarrassingly trot out some combination of special teamers Cody Latimer and Russell Shepard and journeyman Bennie Fowler at Nos. 2 and 3 receiver.
The Cowboys are a stack-able Week 1 offense against the Giants, who last year finished dead last in the NFC in sacks, then traded top pass rusher Olivier Vernon to Cleveland. A “see-it, throw-it” passer who struggles with anticipation, contract-year QB Dak Prescott is more effective against man-coverage looks, and Giants DC James Bettcher ran man coverage at the league’s seventh-highest rate last season. Because man-based defenses demand pass-coverage players to turn their backs to the offense, dual-threat quarterbacks can capitalize on scrambles. And they did just that against Bettcher’s 2018 scheme, which yielded the league’s seventh-most QB rushing yards per game. … Although midweek reports ticketed August holdout Ezekiel Elliott for just 20-25 Week 1 snaps, I’m skeptical he will be that limited in an offense with which Zeke is quite familiar, especially if this game stays close. Elliott trained his tail off in Cabo by all accounts, and new OC Kellen Moore was on staff as quarterbacks coach last year. The big changes Moore is expected to implement primarily involve pre-snap motion and deception, which should not heavily impact Zeke. Even if exciting rookie Tony Pollard mixes in for 8-10 touches, I am projecting Elliott for 17.5 after 2018 Cowboys running backs collectively averaged 27.5. And this game’s expected positive script bodes well for Dallas’ Week 1 backfield to reach 30 touches or more. The Giants were ransacked for 122.0 rushing yards per game after trading interior dominator Damon Harrison to the Lions last year.
Amari Cooper’s idle August appears to have been precautionary on Dallas’ part; he is back to practicing fully and says he’s experiencing no pain in his foot. Public concerns over the injury remain likely to lower his DFS ownership and make Amari a critical component of aforementioned DFS-team stacks. Another man-coverage predator, Cooper has seen a league-high 67% bump in target rate versus man looks over the last two years (SIS). … After a monster camp and preseason, Michael Gallup appears primed for a year-two leap. Gallup topped 50 yards in only 6-of-18 games as a rookie, but five came after Dallas’ pre-Week 9 trade for Amari, and the Cowboys are missing nearly 30% of their targets from last year’s team. I’m treating Gallup as an upside WR4/flex in season-long leagues and sneaky DFS-tournament play. He should draw primary coverage from rookie CB DeAndre Baker while inconsistent Janoris Jenkins chases Cooper around. … Randall Cobb is tough to push as any kind of fantasy asset with spent ankles and hamstrings and a pedestrian 68/665/5 (9.8 YPR) receiving line over his last 16 games. Cobb made no waves in camp and projects as a low-volume role player in the slot between Cooper and Gallup. … I’m in wait-and-see mode as to Dallas’ playing-time distribution at tight end. Back from a failed season in the Monday Night Football booth, 37-year-old Jason Witten was reportedly outplayed by Blake Jarwin in camp. Sophomore block-first TE Dalton Schultz quietly logged over 40% of Dallas’ 2018 offensive snaps.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 28, Giants 13
Lions @ Cardinals
Team Totals: Lions 24.5, Cardinals 22
Although Kerryon Johnson’s preseason frustrated from the standpoint that he was frequently pulled in favor of C.J. Anderson and rookie Ty Johnson in passing situations – and the Lions claimed passing-game back J.D. McKissic off waivers at final cuts – Kerryon will draw no more-favorable matchup all year than the Cardinals, whose run-defense personnel has worsened after ranking bottom four in 2018 DVOA by losing DE Darius Philon (off field), ILB Haason Reddick (knee scope), OLB Markus Golden (Giants), and leading tackler SS Antoine Bethea (Giants). Lions coach Matt Patricia stubbornly stresses a high-volume rushing attack, and Arizona is an opponent against which Detroit should be able to successfully impose its run-based will. … Although matchup also works in Matthew Stafford’s favor – from top to bottom, the Cardinals’ on-paper defense is worst in the league – Patricia and decidedly run-first new OC Darrell Bevell’s offensive philosophy doesn’t. Stafford’s 3,777 passing yards in his first season under Patricia were an eight-year low, while Bevell’s passing offenses have ranked in the top half of the league in just 3-of-12 years as an NFL coordinator. While Stafford should pass efficiently in this cupcake draw, Patricia and Bevell seem intent on doing whatever they can to cut the number of times Stafford actually throws.
The Cardinals will trot out rookie Byron Murphy and journeyman Tramaine Brock on his fifth NFL team as starting cornerbacks after losing LCB Patrick Peterson (suspension) and RCB Robert Alford (broken leg). Although target volume is a real concern for Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones due to their team’s stone-age offensive approach and acquisitions of Danny Amendola and T.J. Hockenson, Golladay and Jones’ matchup-driven efficiency projections are lofty enough for the former to be teed up as an upside WR2 and the latter as a WR3/flex. … Amendola will likely do more damage to Golladay and Jones’ volume than carve out value himself, pulling 4-6 easy-completion targets per game away from Detroit’s higher-ceiling wideout threats. … Rookie tight ends notoriously struggle for fantasy-relevant production, and Jesse James presents an obstacle for Hockensen after landing a surprisingly-lucrative four-year, $24 million deal to block and collect occasional short-area targets from Stafford. An incredible college-to-pro prospect, Hockenson won the Mackey Award as a redshirt sophomore at Iowa and will inevitably make fantasy noise. I’m just not sure how soon. I’m viewing him as an upside TE2 with major streamer appeal.
Perhaps it’s too hedgy, but I’m approaching this as a wait-and-see week to gauge the efficacy of Arizona’s newfangled Kliff Kingsbury scheme. Due to their turnstile defense, I very much worry the Cardinals will get clocked in time of possession by a run-oriented Lions team that actively strives to control the ball. The lone Cardinals skill player I’d start with confidence is David Johnson, whose diverse skill set raises his floor even if the offense bombs. The Lions’ defense is no pushover, adding DE Trey Flowers, DT Mike Daniels, and slot CB Justin Coleman after DT Damon Harrison helped transform Detroit’s up-front stoutness midway through last year. Arizona was dealt a particularly big blow when RT Marcus Gilbert — arguably their best offensive lineman — banged his knee in Thursday’s practice and was ruled out on Friday. … As for Kyler Murray, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Michael Crabtree, and KeeSean Johnson, it would be difficult to generate any evidence-backed takes beyond deeming the former three volatile DFS-tournament options. I want to see this offense play an actual game and perhaps two – the Cardinals visit Baltimore next week – before jumping on any specific player as a fantasy start. Fitzgerald was Arizona’s lone full-time wideout this preseason and looks like the safest bet. Kirk did average 2.7 more yards per target versus man coverage last season (Sports Info Solutions), and Patricia ran man at the league’s fifth-highest rate. Crabtree admitted he is nowhere near NFL game shape. Rookie WR Andy Isabella had a rough August, missing time with a knee injury and working with the twos and threes.
Score Prediction: Lions 24, Cardinals 23
49ers @ Buccaneers
Team Totals: 49ers 25.25, Bucs 25.25
49ers-Bucs sets up as shootout city with a 50.5-point total hosted by a Bucs team that ranked sixth in offensive plays last season now coached by Bruce Arians, whose final two Arizona offenses finished second and fifth in plays per game. Contract-year QB Jameis Winston’s matchup is mouth watering after San Francisco ranked 27th in pass-defense DVOA, then did virtually nothing to upgrade its secondary. Following repeated early-season benchings, Winston closed 2018 strong with a 13:4 TD-to-INT ratio, 64.4% completion rate, and 7.9 yards per attempt over Tampa Bay’s final seven games and was fantasy’s QB9 during that span. Winston is a high-floor, high-upside QB1 against the pass-funnel Niners. … San Francisco sets up as much stronger versus the run with athletic LBs Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner running free behind DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and D.J. Jones, rendering all Bucs running backs easy Week 1 fades. Tampa Bay also returns 4-of-5 starters from an offensive line that ranked dead last in the NFC in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards. Peyton Barber will likely handle most early-down work with Ronald Jones ineffectively changing the pace and Dare Ogunbowale entering on passing downs. If you’re searching for an RB5 stash, Ogunbowale offers the highest PPR ceiling in the group. Interestingly, Ogunbowale was announced as one of the Bucs’ team captains for Week 1.
As you probably know from the season-long draft process, Tampa Bay’s passing-game distribution has been narrowed severely by Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson’s combined 224 departed targets – a full 14 per game – with new slot WR Chris Godwin locked into a massive playing-time upgrade on last year’s 64% clip. Larry Fitzgerald topped 100 catches three times as Arians’ slot dominator in Arizona, and Reggie Wayne drew a career-high 195 targets in his lone year under Arians in the same role. On Sunday, diminutive 49ers slot CB K’Waun Williams (5’9/189) will try to hang with Godwin (6’1/209) four weeks removed from arthroscopic knee surgery. Godwin saw an increase of 3.0 yards per target versus zone coverage last year, while the 49ers ran zone at the NFL’s eighth-highest clip. … The Bucs signed 4.30-flat lid lifter Breshad Perriman to become a lower-volume version of D-Jax, running clear-out routes so that Godwin and O.J. Howard can eat. Now a full-time player after sharing 2017-2018 snaps with Cameron Brate, Howard was in on 95% of Winston’s dropbacks this preseason. In his first two years, Howard never reached an 80% snap share in an individual game. Howard is a shoo-in top-five TE1 play in this likely shootout. … Mike Evans is a perfect fit in Arians and OC Byron Leftwich’s vertical attack, having finished top five in Air Yards in four straight seasons. Camp reports had 49ers receivers running by LCB Richard Sherman all August, while RCB Ahkello Witherspoon faced repeated 2018 benchings and finished dead last among 123 qualified cornerbacks in PFF’s pass-coverage grades.
This game’s high-scoring probability, Tampa Bay’s depleted defense, and Jimmy Garoppolo’s turnover-plagued summer place Jimmy G among Week 1’s most-compelling DFS-tournament plays at surely-low ownership based on his meaningless-game and practice miscues. Garoppolo’s 8.5 yards per attempt in eight starts for Kyle Shanahan would’ve ranked top five last year, and his opponent has been decimated by 2018 sack leader Jason Pierre-Paul‘s season-threatening neck injury, the releases of DT Gerald McCoy, DE Vinny Curry, and DE Noah Spence, and MLB Kwon Alexander’s (49ers) departure. WLB Lavonte David had his knee scoped on August 5, and NT Vita Vea will try to play through a sprained LCL. … The 49ers return all five offensive line starters after ranking top ten in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards, while San Francisco’s 2018 backfield collectively amassed the NFL’s fifth-most yards from scrimmage. Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida are both legitimate flex starters against Tampa Bay’s abominable defensive front, which is also in scheme transition moving from Mike Smith/Mark Duffner’s 4-3 to Todd Bowles’ 3-4. As last year’s 49ers backs combined for 26 touches per game, I’m projecting Coleman for 14 touches and Breida for 12 in Week 1. Coleman and Breida’s 2019 outlooks each upgraded significantly when Jerick McKinnon (knee) hit I.R.
George Kittle is neck and neck with Travis Kelce as Week 1’s top tight end play facing rookies ILB Devin Smith and FS Mike Edwards and David in coverage. Whereas Kelce must fend off Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins within his passing game, San Francisco’s inability to definitively sort out receiver roles in camp bodes well for Kittle maintaining a dominant target share. … Despite Shanahan’s August mental games designed to get the most out of Dante Pettis, Pettis enters Week 1 as the 49ers’ clear top wideout. In last year’s seven games where Pettis drew at least five targets, his 16-game stat pace was 59/987/11, averaging 16.6 yards per catch. Niners-Bucs has all kinds of DFS game-stack possibilities, and Pettis is a critical component whose ownership will be lower than it should. … The Bucs’ starting cornerback duo of Carlton Davis and Vernon Hargreaves is the NFC’s worst, and no slot corner in the league coughed up more 2018 yards per coverage snap than M.J. Stewart. Although Shanahan has been intent on reducing injury-riddled Marquise Goodwin’s playing time, Goodwin is healthy now and also very much in DFS-tournament play with spiked-week capability and a more-established rapport with Garoppolo than any other 49ers pass catcher. … No. 36 overall pick Deebo Samuel is expected to operate as San Francisco’s No. 3 receiver, and slot man Richie James as No. 4. A cross between Pierre Garcon and Golden Tate, Samuel should eventually earn his way into the starting lineup at Goodwin’s expense. But the 49ers use too many 21-personnel packages with a fullback on the field for their third receiver to be fantasy viable.
Score Prediction: 49ers 28, Bucs 27
Steelers @ Patriots
Team Totals: Patriots 27.5, Steelers 22.5
Ben Roethlisberger looks like a potentially underrated fantasy play in Week 1’s fourth-highest-totaled game after throwing for 300-plus yards and/or multiple touchdowns in eight straight meetings with New England. No 2018 team played more man defense than Bill Belichick’s Patriots, and Sports Info Solutions has credited Ben with a dominant 35:10 TD-to-INT ratio versus man compared to 13:15 against zone over the past two seasons. Roethlisberger has negative career road splits, but they haven’t translated to post-1pm ET games. Separating early, afternoon, and late-night starts, Roethlisberger’s passer rating (97.6) and yards per attempt (7.94) are easily highest in prime time. … All preseason indications pointed to James Conner keeping bellcow duties behind a Steelers line returning all five starters after Conner was last year’s fantasy RB3 in Weeks 1-10 before myriad injuries set in. Conner’s growth potential can’t be dismissed; this is his fourth football season removed from beating cancer, and I’ve never seen Conner look as explosive and powerful as he did this August. As most signs point to Jaylen Samuels settling in as a handcuff rather than RBBC partner, Conner should be approached as a confident RB1 play at Foxboro.
Newly the Pats’ defensive coordinator following Brian Flores’ departure to Miami, Belichick’s matchup-driven strategies suggest we’ll see 2018 league-best corner Stephon Gilmore chase JuJu Smith-Schuster around the field after New England held JuJu to 40 scoreless yards on ten targets last Week 15. Target volume correlates far better with fantasy production than cornerback matchups, but there’s little doubt JuJu’s Week 1 draw is tough. Gilmore yielded below one yard per coverage snap both on the boundary and inside last year, and he is among the NFL’s few No. 1 corners who will chase top wideouts into the slot. … Donte Moncrief cleanly beat out James Washington for Pittsburgh’s No. 2 wideout role but won’t be taken lightly by Belichick, who assigned top CB Darrelle Revis to shadow Moncrief in past meetings with the Colts while dedicating double teams to T.Y. Hilton. Nevertheless, this game’s high-scoring projection and Moncrief’s secure role keep him playable on one-game DFS slates and as a WR4/flex. … Preseason usage indicated Washington will open the year as Pittsburgh’s No. 4 receiver with Big Ben-favorite Ryan Switzer and perhaps rookie Diontae Johnson mixing into the No. 3 role. Switzer will be a better straight-up fantasy play than Washington until there is a changing of the guard. Washington effectively ran as JuJu’s direct backup in August. … With Jesse James gone to Detroit, Vance McDonald projects as a true every-down player and potential beneficiary of Pittsburgh’s difficult wide receiver matchups in Foxboro. I’m anticipating McDonald’s snaps will spike into the 80% range after he finished third among tight ends in yards after catch (392) despite ranking 20th at the position in snaps.
UPDATE: Although Antonio Brown is ineligible for Sunday night’s game, I thought it would be worth addressing his acquisition by New England briefly in this space. Early chemistry with Tom Brady is a definite concern — Brown has never caught an NFL touchdown pass from a quarterback not named Ben Roethlisberger — but the Patriots successfully incorporated Josh Gordon on the fly into last year’s offense, and Brown’s dynamic talent should boost the efficiency of their pass and run games as a whole.
Based on recent history, Brown acting out to the extent that he sabotages his relationship with Patriots brass can’t be ruled out. I participated in a $1,850 buy-in FFPC draft on Saturday night, and Brown went at pick 2.09. I personally wouldn’t even consider him there. But his WR1-overall ceiling can’t be dismissed. I also think Brown’s negative impact on Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman is being oversold. The Patriots have nothing at tight end, I’ve all along expected James White‘s usage to take a big hit this year, and Sony Michel has been a passing-game afterthought in both college and the pros. There is enough opportunity in New England for Brown, Edelman, and Gordon to warrant every-week fantasy-start treatment on a high-scoring team.
Although Tom Brady has been a Steelers killer for most of his career, Pittsburgh’s defense checked him for yardage/TD/INT lines of 279/1/1 and 298/1/1 in their last two meetings by increasing their man-coverage rates and applying pressure. Last year’s Steelers tied for the NFL lead in sacks (52) and ranked second in QB hits (117), and they pressured Brady on 11-of-37 dropbacks last Week 15. Per Next Gen Stats, Pittsburgh was the only NFL team to finish top five in blitz rate, pressure rate, and sack rate, while New England suddenly has major offensive line questions after losing LT Trent Brown (Raiders) and C David Andrews (blood clots, I.R.). Brady should have gone as a clear-cut QB2 in season-long drafts and warrants being treated accordingly here. … I’ll be interested to see if the Patriots keep five running backs on their active 46 – Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead, and Brandon Bolden – but my instinct tells me Harris might not dress. In that case, I would have increased confidence in Michel’s floor as New England’s virtually uncontested early-down and goal-line runner and as a quality RB2 play with multi-score upside favored at home. … White’s outlook is more that of a PPR-specific flex option after White averaged just 8.6 touches over last year’s final seven regular season games with Michel and Burkhead healthy. Pittsburgh’s running back coverage should improve considerably with the addition of top-ten pick ILB Devin Bush, a 97th-percentile SPARQ athlete with an ubiquitous playing style.
Julian Edelman appeared to aggravate his pre-camp thumb injury in the Pats’ preseason finale but isn’t even listed on this week’s injury report. He’s the most-confident pass-catcher play on New England’s side based on his unbending rapport with Brady and Pittsburgh’s perennial insistence on covering slot receivers with linebackers. Edelman has capitalized for stat lines of 7/90/0 > 8/118/1 > 9/60/0 > 11/97/0 in these teams’ last four meetings. The defending Super Bowl MVP is a rock-solid WR2 play with WR1 upside in PPR. … Josh Gordon is a Week 1 wild card with some questions surrounding his playing time after Gordon practiced for just two weeks following his surprise-early reinstatement. Gordon was largely a non-factor against Pittsburgh last Week 15, managing 19 yards on two targets. I still think Gordon will end up playing most of Sunday night’s game – the Patriots need him to based on their poor wideout depth – and am considering Gordon a high-ceiling WR3 start in this potential shootout. At 6’3/225, Gordon has a massive size advantage on Steelers CBs Joe Haden (5’11/193), Steven Nelson (5’10/197), and Mike Hilton (5’9/178). … With first-round pick N’Keal Harry (ankle) on I.R., the Patriots’ top third-receiver candidates are Phillip Dorsett, Demaryius Thomas, and Jakobi Meyers. Dorsett looks like the best one-game DFS slate dart throw of the group. Thomas is nursing a hamstring injury after tearing his Achilles’ last December, and UDFA rookie Meyers returned to Earth following a white-hot start to camp. … Matt LaCosse (ankle) and block-first sophomore Ryan Izzo are New England’s top options at tight end.
Score Prediction: Steelers 24, Patriots 23
Texans @ Saints
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
Broncos @ Raiders
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, and medical professionals I trust agree. 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‘s Saturday release stripped the Raiders of the best player on their 53 and created a ripple effect throughout Oakland’s offense, which now projects as substantially worse. Fantasy outlooks plummet for Derek Carr on down to the running game and Josh Jacobs, a primary member of Establish The Run’s Shy Away 40 fades. Career-role player Tyrell Williams will be stretched into Oakland’s No. 1 receiver job with rookie Hunter Renfrow and journeyman Ryan Grant competing for time in the slot. J.J. Nelson replaces Brown at X receiver. Darren Waller stays locked in as the Raiders’ primary pass-catching tight end. I wouldn’t expect any fireworks from the Raiders’ downtrodden offense on Monday night, but Williams is worth rostering as a WR4, Renfrow as a deep-league PPR sleeper, and Waller by tight end streamers.
An underrated post-Brown beneficiary is Jalen Richard. The Raiders are now even likelier to spend most of 2019 playing from behind, and Richard is the best pass-catching back on their team. Likened to Charlie Garner by Jon Gruden last year, Richard’s 68 catches were seventh most among NFL running backs. Richard offers underrated standalone PPR value and is a terrific handcuff for Jacobs, who was never a bellcow during his college career.
Score Prediction: Broncos 23, Raiders 16