The Primer: Week 1 Edition (2019 Fantasy Football)
Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
Line: DET by 2.5
Matthew Stafford: Reports came out that Stafford was playing through a back injury last year, which as we all know, can flare up at any time, though he appears healthy right now. The Cardinals are the ideal game for Stafford to get off on the right foot, as their secondary doesn’t look very good right now. Not only is Patrick Peterson suspended, but Robert Alford had to go to injured reserve, leaving them with just three cornerbacks on the roster. Rookie Byron Murphy, team-to-team jumper Tramaine Brock, and second-year backup Chris Jones. If the Lions and Darrell Bevell know what’s good for them, they’ll attack the secondary. However, the question becomes: Do they want to go toe-to-toe with Kliff Kingsbury’s offense? They could try to play a ball-control style offense because of this, and the lack of talent on the Cardinals front-seven could allow them to do that with their run game. That’s the only concern with Stafford, though he should still be considered a high-end QB2 in a game that has sneaky shootout potential.
Kyler Murray: The Cardinals said they were going to be very vanilla throughout the preseason and not give much away, so why was everyone surprised when they didn’t look great? Murray has a live arm and mobility that can help overcome a weak offensive line, though we haven’t seen anything just yet. The Lions allowed multiple touchdown passes to 10-of-16 quarterbacks last year, though the interesting note here is that they held all but one quarterback to less than 20 rushing yards. It’s also important to note they played against Mitch Trubisky, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, and Dak Prescott, all quarterbacks who present a threat with their legs. That’s a problem because he’s likely going to need his legs against this nasty front four of the Lions that includes Damon Harrison, Mike Daniels, Da’Shawn Hand (who is now questionable), and Trey Flowers. Embracing the unknown is tough for some, but understand that the Cardinals have film on what the Lions hope to accomplish, while the Lions don’t have the same luxury. Murray isn’t the lock that some think in this game, though he’s on the streaming radar with that unpredictability.
Kerryon Johnson and C.J. Anderson: The concern for Stafford’s output in this game stems from the running backs, as they should be able to carve up the Cardinals defense on the ground. This unit saw an average of 27.8 running back carries per game last year, which was easily the most in the NFL (no one else saw more than 25.8 carries). They allowed a ridiculous 30.4 PPR points per game to opposing running backs, which was also the highest mark in the league. It’s important to note that most of the damage was done on the ground, as their marks allowed in the receiving game were all below league average. The concern with Johnson is that we don’t know how much work Anderson will get, particularly around the goal-line, where the Cardinals really struggled last year, allowing a league-high 20 rushing touchdowns. There’s likely enough work to go around between them, but Johnson comes with additional risk in cash game lineups because of it. He’s a high-end RB2 in season-long leagues. Anderson could be netting 12 carries per game this year, which would make him touchdown-dependent, which is possible against the Cardinals. You don’t want to rely on him, but Anderson could spoil a potentially great week for Johnson.
David Johnson and Chase Edmonds: There were a lot of fantasy enthusiasts concerned after watching Johnson run up the middle for minimal yardage during the preseason, like it was a repeat of last year. Again, they weren’t showing anything during the preseason; they legitimately told us that. If this team wants to run 65-75 plays per game, that’s going to amount to a lot of work for Johnson. The issue in this game is that the Lions defensive front is straight-up nasty. Once acquiring Damon Harrison from the Giants last year, they improved dramatically, and they then added Mike Daniels this offseason. After allowing 820 yards on 136 carries (6.03 yards per carry) the first six games without Harrison, they allowed just 777 yards on 203 carries (3.83 yards per carry) with him over the final 10 games. Johnson isn’t likely to get much done on the ground, kind of like last year when he totaled just 49 yards on 15 carries against them with Harrison. He should, however, rack up some receptions while the young receivers learn the ropes. There were just two running backs who eclipsed 45 receiving yards against the Lions last year, so his upside may not be as high as we’d hoped. He should be considered a high-volume mid-to-low-end RB1, though he’s not someone to actively target in DFS. Edmonds is going to have a role in this offense, and it could be similar to Austin Ekeler‘s (8-10 touches per game) in Los Angeles when Melvin Gordon is on the field, though this is not a week to attack the Cardinals backfield.
Kenny Golladay: If he’s going to take the next step in his career, it starts here. The Cardinals are without suspended Patrick Peterson and recently placed Robert Alford on injured reserve, leaving them with three cornerbacks. Golladay will see a mix of rookie Byron Murphy and the unimpressive journeyman Tramaine Brock in coverage. While I like Murphy an awful lot, it’s his first NFL game. Brock has been in the league for nine years and has allowed a touchdown every 16.2 targets, which is not good. There’s a reason he’s on his fourth team in four years. The concern is that Matt Patricia tries to slow the game down with the running backs to keep the Cardinals offense on the sideline, though it’s not enough concern to keep Golladay out of your WR2 slot.
Marvin Jones: While many are going to get excited about Golladay in this matchup, don’t overlook Jones, who had one more target than Golladay in the games they both played last year. Golladay netted 39/601/4 while Jones tallied 35/508/5, much closer than most remember. While there’s a natural progression in Golladay’s career, it’s not as if Jones is “old” at just 29 years old. The mixture of rookie Byron Murphy and below-average journeyman Tramaine Brock with lack of depth on the cornerback roster presents big opportunity for both receivers, should the Lions choose to attack them through the air. That’s where the issue lies, though, as the Cardinals are very susceptible to the run. Knowing this game has a total of 47.5 should give us enough pass attempts to feel confident starting Jones as an upside WR3.
Danny Amendola: Do you think it’s a coincidence Matt Patricia went out and snagged two ex-Patriots in Trey Flowers and Amendola? I don’t. Most don’t realize just how valuable that slot role was last year. Between Golden Tate and Bruce Ellington, who combined to average 9.0 targets, 6.1 receptions, and 59.0 yards per game last year. Amendola may be towards the end of his career, but he can still fill the role they were asking Tate and Ellington to fill last year. We don’t know if the Cardinals will move second-year cornerback Chris Jones into the slot or if they’ll move Budda Baker down from safety, which is what they did last year under a different coaching staff. This game can go in many directions considering the new staff in Arizona, and that filters down to the receivers, as it’s relatively easy to see a scenario where the Lions throw the ball 35-plus times, but it’s also possible they go with a run-heavy approach under Darrell Bevell and throw the ball 25 times. Because of that, Amendola shouldn’t be in fantasy lineups as the clear-cut No. 3 option, though he’s likely going have a bigger role in this offense than most realize.
Larry Fitzgerald: There was so much buzz surrounding the Cardinals young wide receivers after the draft, though much of that has died down, which props up the guy who should’ve been all along. Fitzgerald is going to be the steady presence a young quarterback like Murray needs. He’s going to be the safety net over the middle of the field, which just happens to be where the Lions biggest weakness was last year. They snagged Justin Coleman from the Seahawks to fill that void, a cornerback who was a solid contributor for them over the last four years. He allowed a career-high 67.5 percent catch-rate in his coverage last year, though he allowed just two touchdowns on 77 targets. Fitzgerald totaled just 3/28/0 and 4/36/1 against the Seahawks last year, while finishing with 5/55/0 in his game against the Lions. He got a major upgrade at quarterback and offensive system this offseason, so you shouldn’t be too afraid to start him as a relatively safe WR3.
Michael Crabtree: He was just signed two weeks ago, so we don’t know how quickly he’ll catch on to the up-tempo offense, though his matchup isn’t a good one anyway. He’s going to see Darius Slay much of the time, a Pro Bowl cornerback who is often tasked with shadowing top-tier wide receivers. Slay has been known to give up some touchdowns in his coverage, though that comes with the territory. Crabtree has been a touchdown-dependent receiver late in his career, so this may benefit him, though lack of chemistry with Murray, combined with Murray’s risk-adverse mentality doesn’t bode well. It’s best to wait and see where Crabtree is in the offense before thinking about trusting him in fantasy lineups.
Christian Kirk: After not seeing the field with the 1’s in the offense for much of the preseason, you have to wonder where Kirk is in his development. He definitely flashed the ability to play in the NFL last year in bad circumstances, so we shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions. With that being said, them signing Crabtree suggests they felt the need to add another veteran presence into the lineup. Knowing that Kingsbury’s offense will run three- and four-wide more often than anything else, Kirk will be on the field. The Lions snagged Rashaan Melvin this offseason, a solid cornerback to play opposite Darius Slay. While Melvin struggled with the Raiders last year, he was one of the better cornerbacks in football in both 2016 and 2017. It’s unlikely they shadow and we should see Kirk mix into the slot, but there’s simply too much uncertainty to recommend Kirk as anything more than a WR4 in this matchup. *UPDATE* Melvin is looking rather questionable for this game after being extremely limited in practice throughout the week.
T.J. Hockenson: We know how to feel about rookie tight ends in general, though some are excited about Hockenson in his debut. It’d be easier for me to get on board if Stafford didn’t have three competent receivers at his disposal. The Cardinals were also not a team you wanted to target last year, as there was just one tight end who topped 57 yards against them, and even then, it was George Kittle. Without a touchdown, it’s unlikely that Hockenson will live up to the lofty expectations in his debut. The Cardinals allowed a touchdown every 28.0 targets to tight ends, so it wasn’t just yardage. If the Lions are wise, they’ll attack the position the Cardinals are weak at: cornerback.
Charles Clay: Sure, Clay is listed as the starting tight end on the Cardinals depth chart, but does that mean anything considering the personnel Kliff Kingsbury plans on using? He’s going to run a lot of 10 personnel, which doesn’t include a tight end on the field. Clay also just returned a few weeks ago from the PUP list and is likely involved in a timeshare against the Lions. This is not going to be a team to target a streamer on.
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
Line: NE by 6.0
Ben Roethlisberger: It’s time to see what Roethlisberger will do without the services of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, something we haven’t seen in quite a long time. How did he look before Brown was placed into the starting lineup? I did that research this offseason and it wasn’t pretty:
|Player||Games||Top-5 %||Top-12 %||Top-18 %||Boom %||Bust %|
The offense has changed and the game has changed, but his finishes are adjusted for that. He was a streaming quarterback prior to Brown. Some believe he’s going to be fine, but when thinking about playing him this week, you have to ask if this would be a streamable matchup against the Patriots in a worst-case scenario. Roethlisberger played them in Week 15 last year and totaled 22-of-34 passing for 235 yards and two touchdowns, though that game was with Brown, and in Pittsburgh, where Roethlisberger has traditionally played much better. With that, Roethlisberger also has a higher QB Rating throughout his career in night games (97.6 night, 92.7 day). The Patriots are a team that gameplans very well, though it’ll be hard to do that with the new personnel of the Steelers, not knowing how they’ll deploy the receivers. This game does have one of the highest totals of the week, though the Steelers are nearly a touchdown underdog. As you can see, there are plenty of good/bad here, though it all comes back to Roethlisberger without Brown on the road. Due to the correlation, he should be considered an iffy streamer who should at least provide a solid floor.
Tom Brady: While the quarterback on the other side of the field lost a giant weapon in his arsenal, so did Brady. The retirement of Rob Gronkowski isn’t little by any means, and it’ll force the Patriots to change the way they do things. Fortunately, he did get Josh Gordon back from suspension. The Steelers hosted the Patriots in Week 15 last year where Brady didn’t have Gordon, completing 25-of-36 passes for 279 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. There were just three worse fantasy performances against the Steelers last year. However, there were just two quarterbacks who threw for more than two touchdowns against them and one was Patrick Mahomes, while the other was Ryan Fitzpatrick, and it’s important to note that both took place in the first three weeks of the season. In fact, there wasn’t a quarterback who scored more than 20.8 fantasy points against the Steelers after Week 4. The total on this game makes you want to love him, which is what will make him popular, though Brady should be considered a middling QB2 this week who hasn’t thrown more than two touchdowns against the Steelers since back in 2015.
James Conner and Jaylen Samuels: After all that talk of a timeshare this offseason, it’s finally time to see what’s actually going on with the Steelers backfield. Conner should be in line for a lot of work, regardless. He missed the game between the two teams last year, when Samuels filled in racking up 142 yards on 19 carries and another 30 yards through the air. He didn’t score but it was the most rushing yardage the Patriots allowed to a running back all season. The only other running back who totaled more than 98 yards on the ground all season was Kerryon Johnson. The Patriots are willing to let you do your secondary thing really well, though we have to wonder if they view the run-game as the priority now. Teams weren’t able to run a whole lot against them with gamescript, as the 4.78 yards per carry they allowed doesn’t quite fit the fact that they allowed the 11th fewest fantasy points to running backs. It doesn’t help that they allowed a rushing touchdown just once every 52.7 carries (only the Bears were better). It’s difficult to keep Conner out of lineups as a high-end RB2, even in what looks to be a semi-tough matchup. It’s not a game where you need to attack him in DFS, though.
Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead: The timeshare will be in full effect for this game, especially when you consider Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman are just making their way back into the lineup. In their matchup with the Steelers last year, the carries were distributed: Michel 13, Burkhead 4, White 2. On the target side, we saw White see seven targets, Burkhead three, while Michel had none. Word out of Patriots camp was that Michel was being involved a lot more in the passing-game, which makes sense considering the player he was at Georgia. If you include Michel’s three-game playoff run, he played 16 games last year, netting 1,267 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. The only player who had as many rushing yards AND touchdowns as Michel last year was Todd Gurley. Knowing he’s playing in a game that has a 51-point total, and that he’s at home as a six-point favorite suggests this could be a massive game. He should be in lineups as a high-end RB2. Since the start of 2015, there’ve been 14 games that White has played without Rob Gronkowski. In those games, he’s averaged 6.6 targets per game and 13.9 PPR points per game. To set a gauge, it took an average of 12.5 PPR points to finish as an RB2 last year, a mark White hit in 12-of-16 games. The Steelers allowed just two running backs to top 50 yards through the air against them last year, though those running backs were fellow elite pass-catchers Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara. With Michel healthy and more involved in the passing game, it could limit White’s floor, though his ceiling is still there and there’s enough potential reward to take the risk on him as a low-end RB2. Burkhead is likely going to be involved more than most think, though it may not be enough to be fantasy relevant without an injury ahead of him on the depth chart.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: It’s time to find out how the Steelers plan to deploy Smith-Schuster in the offense without Antonio Brown around. Will they keep him in the slot as much as possible while trotting out James Washington and Donte Moncrief on the perimeter? That would certainly help him evade Stephon Gilmore in coverage, as he doesn’t travel into the slot. During the Week 17 game when Brown sat out last year, Smith-Schuster played just 31.1 percent of his snaps in the slot, a far cry from his 63.7 percent in Weeks 1-16. The Patriots did have Jason McCourty travel into the slot at times, so they could choose to have him move there when Smith-Schuster does. The two most targeted routes in Smith-Schuster’s tree last year were the curl and slant routes. McCourty shut both of those down very well, allowing just a 35.2 QB Rating against curls and a 31.2 QB Rating against slants. It will be interesting to see if Smith-Schuster can overcome some obstacles in this game, as Bill Belichick has always done a great job slowing down the opposing No. 1 option. Because of that, you shouldn’t be relying on Smith-Schuster in DFS this week. He’s still going to get targeted quite a bit, leaving him on the WR1/WR2 radar, though this may not be his best game of the year.
Donte Moncrief: It appears he’s the No. 2 on the Steelers depth chart, though it may not matter all that much considering the Steelers are going to be three-wide nearly 70 percent of the time, which is among the highest percentages in football. The downside is that he may wind-up with Stephon Gilmore in coverage more than anyone else considering his role on the perimeter. Oddly enough, Moncrief scored a touchdown on Gilmore while with the Jaguars last year, though he was targeted nine times and finished with just four catches for 34 yards. Moncrief will be a touchdown-dependent wide receiver most weeks, so you want to look back to Roethlisberger and project what kind of game you think he’ll have. Considering all the moving parts and potentially brutal cornerback matchup, Moncrief is nothing more than a WR5 option in Week 1.
James Washington: As mentioned in the Moncrief paragraph, it seems like Washington is the No. 3 receiver on the team, though it won’t matter much if the Steelers run three wide receiver sets near 70 percent like they did last year. Washington would see one of Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson in coverage and would likely be left in single coverage. This is big because Washington doesn’t rely on being peppered with targets to produce but can pay-off on one big play. He remains one of the best deep-ball trackers I’ve watched. The Patriots allowed plenty of big plays last year. I’m not trusting Washington anywhere near redraft leagues until I see him play meaningful snaps, but if you’re playing a primetime DFS slate and want a tournament option, he’s one play away from paying off.
Josh Gordon: He’s back with the team and will be playing in Week 1, though we’re not sure it’s in a full-time role just yet after he played quite a bit in the fourth preseason game. He’s still getting back into game shape, though the Patriots lack of options behind Julian Edelman likely means he’ll be out there quite a bit. Unfortunately for him, former teammate Joe Haden will be in coverage. Haden was phenomenal for the Steelers last year, allowing just a 59.6 percent catch-rate in his coverage, with four touchdowns on 94 targets. Keep in mind that’s with him shadowing many top-tier options. Four of the top eight performances allowed to wide receivers last year were slot-heavy receivers. Gordon saw just two targets in their Week 15 meeting last year where he caught just one pass for 19 yards. Before asking, yes, he played the full game. It’s not the best matchup out of the gate, making him a risky WR3 in his first game back.
Julian Edelman: After suffering a broken thumb prior to training camp, Edelman appears to be ready to roll in Week 1. He also had a scare in the final preseason game after landing on his injured hand, though everything seems to be okay. The matchup is great for him in this one, as the Steelers struggled mightily with slot receivers in 2018. Of the 16 starting slot receivers they played, 11 of them finished with double-digit PPR points, while six of them were able to amass 16-plus PPR points, including Edelman who finished with seven catches for 90 yards on 11 targets in their Week 15 matchup. His thumb injury is the only thing that could hold me back from suggesting him in cash lineups, because if I knew he were 100 percent healthy, he’d be a cash-game lock. He should be in season-long league lineups as a rock-solid WR2.
Phillip Dorsett: He’s still listed as the starter opposite Julian Edelman, so it’s possible he plays more snaps than the recently returning Josh Gordon. He’ll be on the field in three wide receiver sets and would like match-up with newly-acquired Steven Nelson. The Steelers had an issue with their right cornerback position last year, trying to find the right guy, and it’s clear they think Nelson is their guy after giving him a three-year, $25.5 million contract this offseason. We know Dorsett has speed, but Nelson was phenomenal against the go-route last year, allowing just 5-of-23 passing on them with no touchdowns. One of his biggest struggles, however, is the out-route (119.6 QB Rating), which is the route Dorsett did most of his damage on last year, scoring two of his three touchdowns on them. Dorsett is nothing more than a tournament option in DFS this week, but he’s someone to monitor in redraft leagues if he’s playing a lot of snaps.
Vance McDonald: Many figured (myself included) McDonald would see a big increase in playing time with Jesse James out of town, though offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said, “McDonald is never going to play the full game.” That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. He said that he won’t play much more than last year, which included just two games where he played more than 63 percent of the snaps. Even with that, he was able to rack up five-plus targets in 9-of-15 games. Against the Patriots, that should be more than enough, as they allowed 10 tight ends finish with at least 9.3 PPR points against them, including 100-yard games to both Eric Ebron and Trey Burton, athletic tight ends. McDonald saw just three targets against them last year, finishing with two catches, 13 yards, and a touchdown. Knowing the shift in targets away from Antonio Brown has to go somewhere, we should be able to pencil McDonald into five-plus targets, which calls for at least a low-end TE1 start with upside.
Matt LaCosse: He’s walking into a role where many have succeeded, though not in recent years. There was a time where you always wanted to play the starting Patriots tight end, though that’s not the case with LaCosse. He was a solid receiving option for the Broncos last year, though he’s not a great blocker the way Rob Gronkowski was, which means LaCosse will come off the field at times. Even Gronkowski was becoming a lesser option in the Patriots offense, as the running backs are just so heavily involved. Let’s take a wait-and-see approach with LaCosse, as the Steelers weren’t the most attractive matchup for tight ends last year. The only three tight ends who scored more than 13 PPR points against them were guys who saw 10-plus targets, which LaCosse isn’t getting. The risk isn’t worth the reward. *UPDATE* He didn’t practice in full this week, as he’s dealing with an ankle injury.
Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints
Line: NO by 7.0
Deshaun Watson: What a week it’s been for Watson, who now has a Pro Bowl caliber left tackle and a highly-efficient wide receiver who weren’t on the roster a week ago. The Texans may have sacrificed their future to do it, but they’ve put all their eggs in Watson’s basket. They’re oddly a full seven-point underdog as they head into New Orleans in the game that has the highest total of the week. There are a lot of things going in his favor this week, as there was an average of 188.2 fantasy points scored in games that took place in New Orleans last year, which ranked second to only Los Angeles. The Saints allowed a massive 8.0 yards per attempt last year, which ranked as the fourth-highest mark in the league. They also allowed five rushing touchdowns to quarterbacks, which tied for the most in the NFL. There’s a while lot of good performances against the Saints last year, though seeing six quarterbacks tally 359 or more passing yards is enough for you to stop and say enough is enough. With both DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller healthy, Watson has averaged 288.3 yards and 2.73 touchdowns, as compared to 224.4 yards and 1.25 touchdowns without. Watson is likely the top quarterback on the board this week in what projects to be a shootout in the dome.
Drew Brees: While we may not consider him an elite fantasy quarterback anymore, we are able to pick spots where he’ll perform like one. This is a game that should net massive results for the Saints offense overall, and Brees is where it all starts. The Texans have relied on a nasty pass-rush to hide their deficiencies in the secondary for a few years now, but after trading Jadeveon Clowney away last week, they lost some of their luster up front. Brees lost his center Max Unger, which will hurt, as J.J. Watt and D.J. Reader are no easy task. With a new starting cornerback in Bradley Roby and new starting safety in Tashaun Gipson, the Texans secondary will likely have some growing pains with the lesser pass rush, and we haven’t even mentioned that Brees still has one of the best offensive lines in the game despite the loss of Unger, as he was sacked just 17 times in 2018. The Texans allowed four of the final six quarterbacks they played to score 21.6 or more fantasy points against them. Under the bright lights, in the dome, with an over/under of 53.5 points, Brees should be considered a rock-solid QB1 start this week.
Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde: Running backs don’t need much time to catch-up with an offense, so while Hyde was traded for just last week, it shouldn’t change his role much. Johnson is the one they traded real equity for and the one who should handle most of the work, though Hyde will be involved. Don’t forget the Texans gave Alfred Blue 170 combined carries/targets last year. Most don’t realize the Saints have a very good run defense and that they allowed just 3.22 yards per carry last season, the second-lowest mark in the league. The Texans are likely to catch a break, though, as defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins is still recovering from Achilles surgery and is likely to be out. He is a massive force to be reckoned with up the middle of the field. The Saints did struggle when running backs were targeted out of the backfield, however, as they allowed 1.69 PPR points per target, which was above the 1.55 league average. This applies to Johnson, who’s the much superior option to Hyde on receiving downs. Knowing they’re seven-point underdogs also sides with Johnson as someone who should see at least 12-15 touches. He’s got the look of someone who should post RB2 numbers, especially in PPR formats. As for Hyde, he’s likely going to bust without a touchdown, making him a weak RB4/5 option.
Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray: With Mark Ingram gone, most expected Kamara to get more work, though that shouldn’t have been the expectation. Kamara averaged 14.0 carries per game in the four weeks Ingram was suspended last year and 12.5 carries per game in the ones he was active, which isn’t much of an increase. Add Murray to the mix and you have a similar workload. Against the Texans, the receiving role is going to be much more useful, as there wasn’t a single running back who topped 82 yards on the ground against them, which included games against Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott. Their 3.13 yards per carry allowed was the best mark in football. They were one of just two teams (oddly enough, the Saints were the other) in the NFL that allowed less than 1,000 yards on the ground to running backs. Meanwhile, they allowed six receiving touchdowns to running backs, which tied for the most in the league. There were also three running backs who compiled at least seven receptions against them, which is where Kamara will need to shine. You’re always playing him in redraft but he’s not someone you need to attack in DFS, as the Texans allowed just four top-10 performances last year and no running back finished better than the RB5. Murray is going to have a lot of useable weeks, though this one will be more touchdown-dependent than most, and knowing the Texans are one of the better run-stopping teams on the goal-line, he’s just a middling RB3.
Deandre Hopkins: It should be fun to watch Hopkins compete against now third-year cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who struggled a bit more in his second season than he did his rookie year. After allowing just 53.8 percent of passes to be completed in his rookie year, that number was bumped to 66.2 percent in 2018, though part of that is obviously affected by him covering their opponent’s top option. Hopkins wins in one-on-one, though, which is where the Saints problem lies. Even with Lattimore, the Saints allowed a massive 10 wide receivers to hit the century mark against them last year. Knowing that, it shouldn’t shock you that they allowed 12 wide receivers to score 20 or more PPR points, including two No. 1 receiver performances (Antonio Brown, Calvin Ridley). There was no other team who allowed more than nine 20-point performances. Hopkins is almost always going to be a top-five play at wide receiver, though the matchup with Lattimore is enough to move me off in cash, as Fuller should be able to dust Eli Apple.
Will Fuller: He’s seemingly healthy coming off his torn ACL that he suffered mid-season last year. Not playing in the preseason raises our antennas in DFS lineups, though Fuller isn’t someone you play in cash-games anyway. He has the much better matchup this week, as Eli Apple will be tasked to handle him, while Marshon Lattimore will likely shadow Hopkins. Apple played better for the Saints than he did for the Giants in his first two-and-a-half years, though he’s far from someone to avoid, as he’s allowed 14 touchdowns in his coverage over his three years in the league. If Fuller is healthy, this is a matchup he should win, though with it being his first game back, you wonder if they have him on some sort of snap count, or potentially have him rotate with newly acquired Kenny Stills. Because of that, he’s a risk/reward WR3/4 option.
Keke Coutee/Kenny Stills: Coutee finally returned to practice, though Bill O’Brien hasn’t been too optimistic about his availability in Week 1. Because of that, it’s going to be nearly impossible to recommend him, especially when you know the game isn’t until Monday night. There’s some uncertainty around who the Saints will start at nickel cornerback, but judging by the preseason, it looks like P.J. Williams, who really struggled last year when trying to cover the slot, allowing a 72 percent catch-rate and eight touchdowns on 93 targets in coverage. His 126.5 QB Rating allowed in coverage was the second worst among cornerbacks who saw at least 50 targets last year. You must wonder why the Saints wouldn’t go with Patrick Robinson, who they snagged in free agency last year, but he’s been running with the backups. If Coutee is ruled out, Stills has the looks of a WR4 in his first game with the team. If Coutee isn’t ruled out before setting lineups on Sunday, you can just forget about the situation all together. *UPDATE* We still don’t have clarity on whether Coutee will be available. He’s reportedly moving in the right direction, but that head coach Bill O’Brien isn’t counting on him this week. Even if he does play, it’ll likely be in a limited capacity.
Michael Thomas: Knowing the Texans have been an elite run-stuffing unit, Thomas has more appeal than usual this week. The Saints dialing back the passing attempts limits the upside for Thomas, as there were just six games he saw double-digit targets in 2018. The Texans faced an average of 36.8 pass attempts per game in 2018, sixth-most in the league. Wide receivers accounted for 20 of those targets and knowing that no other Saints wide receiver saw more than 44 targets last year, we can put him down for a big workload in this game. He’ll see a mixture of Bradley Roby and Jonathan Joseph in coverage, which is a big plus, too. Roby struggled in a bigger role with the Broncos last year, allowing a 115.9 QB Rating in his coverage, while Joseph is a 13-year veteran who’d have a hard time keeping up with the young Thomas. He should be in lineups as a high-end WR1 and is safe enough for cash games as well.
Ted Ginn: He’s still the No. 2 receiver in this offense and that has plenty of value, right? Especially when they’re playing a team that saw an average of 20 wide receiver targets per game last year. They did lose Jadeveon Clowney, which will impact their pass-rush, too. Ginn has played in 20 games with the Saints. In those games, he’s been a WR3 or better numbers in 10 of them. Those are pretty good numbers for a guy who’s on a lot of waiver wires. Ginn lines up all over the formation, so he’ll see a mix of the Texans cornerbacks that didn’t allow many top-end performances last year but did allow plenty of competent ones. In a game that has a 53.5-point total, the Saints are going to be throwing more than normal, and Ginn should see five-plus targets. He’s on the WR4 radar.
Tre’Quan Smith: There were five games that Ted Ginn was on the field for in 2018, and in those games, Smith averaged 22.2 snaps while Ginn averaged 39.2 of them. In the games Ginn missed, Smith averaged 41.5 snaps. You can assume Smith grows in his role this year, but Ginn is still listed as the starter and there’s been no talks of that changing. Because of that, Smith is nothing more than a hail mary option in DFS until we see him surpass Ginn in snaps.
Darren Fells: My reaction to both Jordan Thomas and Kahale Warring being placed on injured reserve was, “Bueller?” They’re moving on to backups Fells and Jordan Akins now, though the tight end position hasn’t been utilized under Bill O’Brien even when the starter is healthy. Not just that, but the Saints were the best team in the NFL when it came to defending tight ends, as they allowed just three TE1 performances all season.
Jared Cook: He’s reportedly fit right in with the offense, leaving many to expect fireworks out of the gate. He has the matchup to do it, too. The Texans were among the worst in the NFL at defending the tight end position last year, allowing six 15-plus point performances, tied with the Bucs for the most in the NFL. Looking at the list of tight ends who didn’t post TE1 numbers against them makes sense, too. Geoff Swaim, Charles Clay, James O’Shaughnessy, Mike Gesicki, David Njoku, David Grinnage, Evan Engram (left game early), and Jonnu Smith. You’re not going to put Cook into that tier. He should be in lineups as a rock-solid TE1 and someone who has a lot of tournament appeal.
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
Line: OAK by 1.0
Joe Flacco: The first game under Vic Fangio has a lot of outcomes, though most of them lead towards a run-heavy approach. The Raiders aren’t a team that’s forced their opponents to throw very much, as they averaged just 29.9 pass attempts per game last year. While the Raiders should be an improved offense this year, the Broncos defense is also going to be much improved under Fangio. On a per-play basis, there was plenty of production to be had against the Raiders, as they allowed a league-high 7.3 percent touchdown-rate and 8.10 yards per attempt, which ranked third highest in the league. But again, knowing that Emmanuel Sanders is coming off Achilles surgery in his first game back and that DaeSean Hamilton might not play with a hamstring issue, it’s not looking great for Flacco. On the road in a game with a low total, it’s best to avoid Flacco, even in a good matchup.
Derek Carr: While Carr now has Josh Jacobs, and Tyrell Williams at his disposal, he’ll also be without two of his starting offensive linemen against the Broncos vicious defensive front. It wasn’t a good line to begin with and losing his best one (Richie Incognito) won’t be good. The Raiders also released Antonio Brown on Saturday, creating a void at the wide receiver position once again. There was a poll with three head coaches in football recently, and when asked who has the toughest defense to read and attack, every one of them answered Vic Fangio. The Broncos secondary doesn’t look mighty impressive, though the Bears cornerbacks didn’t look as good until Fangio arrived, either. If they can get to Carr, it’ll make their weakness a bit less obvious. Carr ranked 23rd among quarterbacks last year under pressure, throwing four touchdowns and eight interceptions. There are going to be weeks to start Carr, though this shouldn’t be one of them.
Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman: We’ve continually heard that Freeman will play a bigger role this year, though we don’t know what that means, as Lindsay was the clear leader in the clubhouse last year. Why are we so quick to write off a running back who averaged 5.4 yards per carry in a subpar offense? Lindsay can do it all, and though he may not be suited for a 20-touch role, getting 14-16 touches in a timeshare is more than enough to deliver. The Raiders added Vontaze Burfict to their linebacker corps this offseason, though he didn’t appear to be the same player in 2018 for the Bengals. He should help upgrade what they had though, which wasn’t great, as they allowed 4.77 yards per carry and 7.0 yards per target, both well over the league average. Lindsay tagged them for 14/107/0 on the ground in Week 2 last year but sputtered a bit in their Week 16 matchup when he was held to 10/46/0. There’s likely a middle ground here, which should bring at least RB3-type numbers. Under a new coaching staff, there’s no certainty, so he stays away from cash games until we see the split. As for Freeman, the last time he was on the field in the preseason, he tallied zero yards on five carries, so not the highest note when fighting with Lindsay for playing time. He’s more of a mediocre RB4 in this game that’s likely to be low scoring.
Josh Jacobs and Jalen Richard: We haven’t heard much about just how much of a timeshare this will be, but we do know the Raiders have said Richard will be involved in the passing game, which makes sense considering he was targeted 81 times last year, though it eats into Jacobs’ upside. The Broncos were a bit up-and-down against the run last year, allowing back-to-back 200-yard games in Weeks 5 and 6, but then allowing just two 100-yard games for the remainder of the season. It’s important to note that one of those games was against the Raiders when Doug Martin tallied 107 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries in a 27-14 Raiders win. Richard also chipped in with 51 total yards and a touchdown in that game, though it was a far cry from the Week 2 game where the Broncos held all of the Raiders running backs (Marshawn Lynch, Martin, and Richard) to just 95 total yards, though Lynch did score. In his first NFL game, Jacobs has a tough test and we don’t know how many touches he’ll get out of the gate, making him a high-end RB3 and not one to trust in DFS cash games. It would help if the Broncos were without starting inside linebacker Todd Davis, who looks iffy to play in this game. Richard saw four-plus targets in 13-of-16 games last year, though the receiving options were dire when compared to the 2019 roster. Jacobs is also a far better pass-catcher than either Lynch and Martin were, so it’s looking grim for the RB29 in PPR leagues from last year.
Emmanuel Sanders: It was remarkable to see Sanders on the field just nine months removed from Achilles surgery, let alone taking an end-around for 19 yards. He’s going to play and seems to be doing well, so we have to approach this like he’s going to play a full complement of snaps. The Raiders seem to be relying on Daryl Worley and Gareon Conley as their starters on the perimeter with safety Lamarcus Joyner covering the slot when opponents go three-wide. There’s no shadowing, so Sanders is likely to see all of them in coverage, though Conley is the only one to be overly concerned about. He was rock-solid in coverage last year, allowing just a 54 percent catch-rate in what was essentially his first season (played 92 snaps in 2017). Worley allowed six touchdowns on just 44 targets in coverage, while Joyner hasn’t been heavy in coverage since 2016. Conley plays right cornerback, an area that Sanders was at just 23 percent of the time last year, though it was a completely different offense. Sanders comes with some risk due to how quickly he’s come back from his injury, but he has the makings of a decent WR3 this week.
Courtland Sutton: While some are saying it’s Sutton’s time to shine, where was he last year? He walked into a massive role when Demaryius Thomas was traded and then an even bigger one when Sanders was injured. He caught more than three passes just three times all season and never finished with more than 85 yards receiving in a game. Yes, he was a rookie, but that’s no excuse. If you want to blame the offense/quarterback, then you’re not going to get much of an upgrade this year. Sutton was losing some first-team reps to Tim Patrick in training camp, though Sutton is still the No. 2 option at receiver as we head into the season. It helps that DaeSean Hamilton is out, as there aren’t many options for Flacco to throw to. If Sutton matches up with Daryl Worley like he did last year in Week 16 when he posted his best game of the season (6/65/1), he can provide some sort of value. The question comes down to whether Flacco is willing to throw the ball into tight coverage or not, as Sutton just didn’t generate much last year. Consider him a touchdown reliant WR4 type play this week with the Broncos shorthanded at receiver.
Antonio Brown (OUT): *UPDATE* Brown has been released by the Raiders and will NOT play in this game.
After all the off-field shenanigans, Brown is healthy enough to be on the field for Week 1. He’s going to see a lot of Chris Harris Jr. who has been phenomenal covering the slot over the past eight years but will be moving to a perimeter role with the acquisition of Bryce Callahan in the slot. This is a big change, though Harris should be up for at least a competent battle. We know Brown can beat any cornerback in one-on-one coverage, though the question becomes whether Derek Carr can get him the ball, or maybe the better question, is if he has time to. The Raiders offensive line is going to have a tough time against the Broncos pass-rush, which won’t give Brown the luxury of getting deep into his routes. You’re going to play him as a high-end WR2 at worst because he’s someone who could see double-digit targets. In his matchup with the Broncos last year, he saw 13 targets from Ben Roethlisberger, netting just 9/67/0. With all the moving parts and lack of in-game experience with Carr, he’s not someone to target in DFS.
Tyrell Williams: With Antonio Brown gone, Williams is likely going to see a mix of Chris Harris and Bryce Callahan in coverage. Callahan has played well in the slot, though the perimeter may be an entirely different monster. The go-route and post-route were Williams’ most successful routes last year, while Callahan allowed just 2-for-6 passing on them for 39 scoreless yards in 2018. Again, this is different than the slot, so we can’t automatically assume it translates to the perimeter. The pressure of the Broncos front seven shouldn’t allow much time for Williams to get downfield, though he’ll likely get a shot or two. He’s not someone I liked much in the draft process, though he can benefit from the extra time he had with Derek Carr and the removal of Brown. He should be considered a weaker WR3/4 option in this game, as it’s just hard to see a lot of scoring between these two teams, though his floor has increased in the last few days.
Hunter Renfrow: Despite being talked up in training camp, Renfrow saw just three targets in the preseason that netted two catches for 26 yards. He’s clearly the No. 2 option (at best) among wide receivers and when you add in running backs and tight ends, it’s possible he’s the fourth option. The Broncos will have one of Bryce Callahan or Chris Harris Jr. in the slot when the Raiders go three-wide, which makes this a matchup to avoid.
Jeff Heuerman/Noah Fant: It seems like Fant’s time will have to wait, as it’s still Heuerman atop the depth chart entering Week 1. It’s difficult to trust a rookie tight end at all, especially one who may not be a full-time player, even if it’s a great matchup, which it is. The Raiders were absolutely brutal against the tight end position last year, allowing a league-high 10.29 yards per target, while no other team allowed more than 9.26 yards per target. They also allowed a touchdown every 11.4 targets, the second most often. We also know that Flacco has gravitated towards tight ends throughout his career, though there’s not one who’s a clear-cut full-time player which means we can’t play either as a streamer. If you want to choose one of them, Fant is likely the one I’d choose, as we at least know he’s healthy. Heuerman missed a lot of time during training camp with a shoulder injury.
Darren Waller: Considered a sleeper by many, Waller is taking over the role vacated by Jared Cook last year, which included 101 targets. What that doesn’t account for is the increase in weapons around the offense at both wide receiver and running back. The Broncos could be a good matchup for him to come out of the gate strong, however. They allowed a league-high 14.67 yards per reception, which highlights that they have an issue with big plays. They were a bit inconsistent in their performances, as there were five times they allowed a tight end 19.0 or more PPR points, but held every other one below 9.0 PPR points. Waller is essentially a massive receiver at 6-foot-6 and 238 pounds, though he’s never had more than 17 targets in a season, so there’s a lot of uncertainty here. With the Broncos pass-rush, they could ask him to stay in and block more than normal. With the release of Antonio Brown, Waller becomes an interesting streaming option, as his target-floor just increased significantly. He is a borderline TE1/2 this week.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Line: CHI by 3.0
Aaron Rodgers: This Bears defense is a tough one and it’s shown over the last three times Rodgers has taken the field in Chicago. In two of the three games, he’s thrown exactly zero touchdowns. There was a four-touchdown game sandwiched in between them, though he only threw for 179 yards that game. In fact, he hasn’t thrown for more than 274 yards in Chicago since way back in 2014. The new offense should bring a bit of surprise to the matchup, though, and we can’t underestimate the loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio leaving for a head coaching job. With Rodgers not playing at all in the preseason, there’s a chance he needs to knock off some rust, though for a guy with a 4.23:1 touchdown to interception ratio, it shouldn’t take too long. Still, the Bears allowed just four top-12 performances to quarterbacks last year, so even if we’re being bullish on Rodgers, he’s just a middling QB1 this week.
Mitch Trubisky: Similar to Rodgers, we didn’t see Trubisky throw a football this preseason. There’s been reports from beat reporters that Trubisky struggled with interceptions during training camp, but we don’t take Matt Nagy for a fool, right? If he thought Trubisky was struggling, why wouldn’t he have had him play during the preseason? The Packers played Trubisky in Week 15 and allowed him to complete 20-of-28 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns, though the personnel has changed quite a bit since that time. They lost DT Mike Daniels, DE Muhammad Wilkerson, LB Clay Matthews, and LB Nick Perry, but added some serious edge rushing talent in both Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. They also drafted Rashan Gary, though he suffered an injury in the preseason that might affect his availability. With all the moving pieces, it’s likely that Nagy and Trubisky can take advantage of the situation. There were just three quarterbacks who played the Packers last year and finished with less than 15.0 fantasy points. Trubisky can he played as a solid streaming option/high-end QB2.
Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams: We’ve heard rumblings of a timeshare in the Packers backfield, but nothing of substance, as we’ve yet to see both Jones and Williams on the field in Matt LaFleur’s offense. What we do know is that Aaron Jones was the No. 5 fantasy running back from Week 8-14 when he held the starting job, while Williams is a plodder who averages 3.7 yards per carry over his career. Did LaFleur learn his lesson in Tennessee when he finally let Derrick Henry take most of the snaps? We’ll see. The Bears defense was the best in the league at stopping the run last year, allowing just four rushing touchdowns all year. Oddly enough, one was to Williams, who totaled 55 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries in Week 15 when Jones was hurt. It wasn’t just touchdowns, either. The Bears run defense allowed just three running backs to eclipse 57 rushing yards last year. It’s difficult to take a stand on Jones in such a tough matchup, but he should net at least 15 touches, even if there is a timeshare, meaning he should be in lineups as a low-end RB2/high-end RB3. As for Williams, he should remain on fantasy benches.
David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, and Mike Davis: Oddly enough, Montgomery is still listed as the No. 3 running back on the Bears depth chart. Does that mean he’s third in line for touches? Those who drafted him in the top four rounds certainly hope not. The Packers releasing DT Mike Daniels was a shock this offseason, as he’s one of the better interior linemen in the league. They upgraded their linebacking corps, but will it come together right away? In two games against the Packers last year, the Bears running backs ran the ball 53 times for 223 yards and two touchdowns. They also combined for 15 receptions, 96 yards, and a touchdown through the air. That amounts to a solid 68 touches (34 per game), which is where you want to start when distributing the touches among Bears running backs. My guess would be Montgomery 16, Cohen 10, and Davis 8, though that’s purely speculative. Knowing the risk associated with each of them, you have to bump them down a tier. Montgomery should be played as a high-end RB3 with upside for more, while Cohen is a flex-type starter and would benefit if the Bears fell behind. Davis is nothing more than an emergency flex option who is best served on benches as a dual handcuff to both Montgomery and Cohen.
Davante Adams: Did you know there wasn’t a single game last year where Adams scored less than 16.0 PPR points? That includes his matchups against the Bears, where he tagged them for lines of 8/88/1 and 13/119/0. The Bears don’t use Kyle Fuller to shadow opposing No. 1 receivers and I don’t think that changes with Vic Fangio gone. That means the Packers are able to get the matchups they want with Adams, and it’s the reason he’s had so much success against them. Four of his last six games against the Bears have netted at least 88 yards. Last year, Adams lined up at LWR more than half the time, which would be Prince Amukamara‘s side of the field. Adams was targeted on slant routes 26 times last year (the second-highest targeted route in his tree), which happens to be Amukamara’s worst route to cover, as he allowed 9-of-10 passing for 90 yards and two touchdowns on such routes last year. Adams is a WR1 and one who can safely be played in both cash and tournament lineups.
Geronimo Allison: He’s going to be playing the ‘big slot’ role in the Packers newly installed offense, though we aren’t sure how much that role is worth just yet. What we do know is that Rodgers has targeted the slot much more than the average quarterback does, and that the Bears’ biggest weakness on the cornerback unit is their slot cornerback Buster Skrine. He was targeted 72 times in coverage last year, allowing 54 receptions for 630 yards and five touchdowns. That amounts to a 124.2 QB Rating. The Bears are sold on him being better than that in their scheme, but I’m not sold. Allison shouldn’t be in cash lineups due to the uncertainty about the new offense, but he makes for a terrific tournament play. He’s an upside WR4 in redraft leagues.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling: He is going to have the toughest matchup of the Packers wide receivers, as he’ll be on Kyle Fuller‘s side of the field most of the time. Fuller was a Pro Bowl cornerback last year, allowing just a 66.6 QB Rating on passes thrown his way. He’s been a tad inconsistent throughout his career, so I don’t want to say it’s a “must avoid” matchup, but Rodgers isn’t one to take chances. When Adams is matched up with Amukamara and Allison is matched up with Skrine, it’s clear that Valdes-Scantling may be used as a decoy to stretch the field. I’d consider him a WR5 for this matchup and not one you should aim to play.
Allen Robinson: The last time we saw Robinson on the field, he tagged the Eagles secondary for 10/143/1, highlighting what he can do when healthy. The Packers secondary is better than the Eagles was, though, and it showed in Robinson’s game logs, as he totaled 4/61/0 in the first matchup and then 3/54/0 in the second one. The Packers are likely to have up-and-coming cornerback Jaire Alexander shadow him in coverage, which is less than ideal for Robinson owners. Alexander flashed shutdown potential at times last year, though he did struggle down the stretch, allowing Julio Jones to stomp on him for 8/106/2 (with most of that coming in his coverage) in Week 14. While Jones is a different monster, it showed Alexander is beatable. Still, it’s tough to say Robinson should be played as anything more than a semi-safe volume WR3 in this matchup, as it’s the worst among the Bears receivers.
Anthony Miller: Is he healthy coming into this game? If so, the matchup could be a good one. The Packers have Tony Brown and Tramon Williams listed ahead of Josh Jackson on the depth chart, meaning Miller is playing against a young, undrafted free agent (Brown) who’s playing out of position, or against a 36-year-old (Williams). You should have confidence in Miller against either of those guys, though the biggest obstacle is health. If he practices in full by the end of the week, he should be considered a WR3/4-type option who could be the Bears best receiver in this game. Update: The Bears removed him from the injury report, so he should be ready to roll.
Taylor Gabriel: The speedster is going to see a dip in targets this year, as not many realize he saw 92 of them in 2018. He’s going to see a lot of Kevin King, provided King is healthy. He’s been dealing with a hamstring injury throughout training camp, which is not great when traveling alongside Gabriel, who has 4.27-second speed. King is one of the faster cornerbacks in the league, but if he’s still recovering from a soft tissue injury, this could be an area the Bears exploit. The Packers also have a new safety duo, so there could be some miscommunication in the early going. While you’re not going to trust Gabriel in a season-long league, he could make sense in a tournament lineup.
Jimmy Graham: He suffered a broken finger during training camp, curbing some of my enthusiasm about his prospects this year. The matchup against the Bears isn’t a good one, either. There was just one tight end who reached 50 yards against them in 2018, and that was George Kittle, who did it on 12 targets. In two games against the Bears defense last year, Graham totaled just 2/8/0 and 3/32/0. He’s going to be a touchdown-or-bust option most weeks and it’s not likely the Bears are the best team to target for one of those touchdowns, making him just a mediocre TE2 option.