Week 1 2017
Ah, here we are again. Football season is upon us and I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for the Foosball Claus to come and visit. We have a lot that we can take away from last year, but we also need to remember that we won’t have a good dataset on this year until around week 3. The paradox of having the most time for research Week 1, but the least amount of knowledge always kills me. In the offseason, there were a lot of coaching changes, players moved around, a new round of rookies came in, blah blah blah. Even with all of these unknowns, let’s dive into what we can with the data we do have.
I feel like Matthew Berry’s PPR rankings are a joke that I’m not in on. I know he is a senior writer for ESPN and has served as a great mentor for a lot of up-and-comers, but seriously, what the hell are with these rankings? Jordy above both Julio and OBJ is a travesty. Cooper at 15. A-Rob at 30. Oh yeah, Diggs is behind Snead as well. There are plenty of questions to be asked about his other positional rankings as well. Stop being Brady’s butt-boy – he is not #1. #1 is Aaron Rodgers. Fournette should not be ranked ahead of Gurley, Crowell, CMC, or Hunt. Ingram below AP is insane. I like Danny Woodhead as much as the next guy and both the Jets and 49ers suck ass, but Woodhead over Powell and Hyde? Really? You are valuing a guy who is a passing-down specialist that hasn’t been able to play for most of the pre-season above two younger guys that should receive many more touches and are better all-around backs.
I’m also going to experiment with something new this year where I’m going to show the current Vegas total for each team (pulled from FantasyLabs). Everyone should definitely take this with a grain of salt because this won’t really show the movement of the line from the open and it also doesn’t show sharp action. Also, the open spreads shown on Labs don’t actually correlate with the original implied open, so it seems like there is bad data somewhere (I think it is with the original implied open, actually) – I hope that Labs gets this figured out after Week 1.
Scott Barrett also did some wonderful work on target market share in the preseason (all of his work is pretty great, honestly), which I’m including here:
He also did more great work when looking at fantasy points per game by play-caller (this stuff is fire):
Also, just as a refresher from last year, I’m including the overall defensive DVOAs from every team here:
|TEAM||DEF. DVOA||WEI. DEFENSE||RANK||PASS DEF||PASS RANK||RUSH DEF||RUSH RANK|
KC (20) @ NE (28)
It is really too bad that this game is not on the main slate as there are a lot of pieces I love here. As everyone knows at this point, Ware went down with a torn PCL and LCL (these are not fun as I partially tore both of these along with some other stuff before), and Reid has anointed Hunt as his feature back. I was already all over Hunt before this, but now I’m buying even more shares. As Scott Barrett pointed out, “Over the past 13 seasons, Reid’s lead running back has averaged a whopping 18.6 PPR points per game and 20.8 opportunities per game.” PFF also graded Hunt as the overall #1 RB in college last year. Graham Barfield also pointed out that 59% of the PPR RB points that the Pats gave up came out of the pass game where they allowed the 2nd most receptions/game to that position.
With Maclin gone, that means a ton of targets will funnel to Hunt, Kelce, and Hill. We all know that Hill is stupidly athletic, but I have serious doubts about whether he can actually be a #1 WR. We also know that BB hates big plays more than anything – and boy does this man have a lot of hate – so I think he will do everything in his power to scheme Hill out of this game. Between this and the negative game script for KC, I’m expecting a ton of targets to go to Kelce and Hunt. Kelce will be the second piece that BB tries to take away – I’m expecting LB coverage with safety help across the middle – so I think Hunt will be left to his own dangerous devices far more than the other two main players here. This is an excellent spot for Hunt in PPR. The one cause for concern is that in 2016, KC had the 5th-fewest receptions by RBs with 67. I do not have the target numbers, however, and I’m definitely curious about those.
Hogan is another player that I’m all over right now. As Adam Levitan noted, the snap counts went as follows after Edelman went down with his ACL tear in preseason week 3 (PW3) – Chris Hogan 27, Brandin Cooks 26, Danny Amendola 14 and everyone else zero (as an FYI, Mitchell was out for this game). Hogan also saw the most targets, 5, which he turned into 4-70-2 in this game. Yes, it is preseason, but seeing the most snaps and targets is a huge takeaway here. It is also worth noting that NE consistently calls a lot of pass plays – they were 8th overall last year – even though they generally have a very positive gamescript.
NYJ (15.5) @ BUF (25)
For anyone in a league where you get points from yards punted, look no further than this game for your punter. For the 99.99% rest of us, this game looks to be a fantasy wasteland of talent.
The Jets are probably the most talent-deficient team in the league right now, but the Bills are, sadly, not that far behind them. In pre-season Week 3, the Jets played the Giants, and the NYG D ended up with 20 points on 3 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 TDs, 1 safety, and 31 points allowed. What about those 31 points allowed you might ask? Great question – they scored 28 of them in the second half (i.e. the half when starters rest). Also, both TDs for the Giants’ D came during the first half, so against the Jets’ nominal starters.
The Jets will be vulnerable through the air for at least the first part of the air since they are starting two rookie safeties. I had some concerns about TyGod not playing due to a concussion, but thankfully it seems like he will suit up after he practiced on Monday. The Bills will just run it with Shady anyway, but having Taylor in there should force the Jets to remain honest on D. The problem is that the Jets were 1st in DVOA against the run last year. After looking into this some more though, I think he is a sneaky pick here. Yes, the Jets are good against the run, but the Bills o-line is strongest on the left side, which coincidentally lines up against the weakest part of the Jets d-line. Incognito (6th out of 75 overall and 6th in run-blocking) and Glenn (21st out of 76 overall and 36th in run-blocking) anchor that part of the line for the Bills, and they will face off against Wilkerson (89th out of 110 overall and 79th against the run) and Josh Martin (62nd out of 110 overall and 60th against the run) there. The Jets also traded defensive line stud Sheldon Richardson to the Seahawks. Finally and surprisingly, the Bills cut their RB2, Jonathon Williams, who looked pretty good in his short time so far. I’m not sure why they would do this, but they are clearly going to run Shady into the ground this year. For season long leagues, I would start Shady for a couple of weeks and then try to trade him.
I’m really wondering how the Bills will line up with their receivers since they have such a lack of talent at both WR and TE and I’m wondering if their dearth will force J-Matt to the outside. Matthews doesn’t do well in that role and the Jets will indubitably focus on him there if that is indeed where he lines up. If he does go there, he would most likely line up against Morris Claiborne (13th out of 110 per PFF), which would then put Juston Burris on Zay Jones. From the little preseason I could watch, I have to say that I was very favorably impressed by Zay, and I think that he will see volume throughout the year due to the negative gamescript that the Bills will find themselves in time and again. He is a rookie, so there will definitely be growing pains, but he did receive the most targets (8) in PW 3, which he turned into 3-28-0. Clay saw the second most targets with 7, and it looks like he will be going against Davis and Lee the 63rd and 84th-ranked LBs respectively (out of 86). Davis is a little better in coverage, however, as he ranked 42nd out of 75 eligible LBs there (Lee was still terrible as he ranked 74th). Also of note, Matthews is fully cleared to play, but missed significant time with a chest injury.
The Bills gave up seven 25+ point performances to RBs last year (Forte, DJ, Ajayi x 2, Latavius Murray, Bell, and Powell), but held their opponent’s lead rusher to <15 DK points in 8 other contests, so they were very boom or bust. I’m not sure how the Jets’ offense will actually work though, as they might try and split touches between Bilal and Forte. The NYJ OC, John Morton, has already stated that he plans to use a committee here, but they did shop Forte and we don’t really have any data on Morton’s play-calling. This is tough to predict, but I’m going to proceed cautiously until we get some clarity around this, especially since Forte out-carried Powell 10-7 in PW 3. One thought that I had about this is, since Forte is now on the trading block, they might have wanted to showcase what he had left to make him seem more attractive. Another thought I had is, could the Jets just run him into the ground for the first couple of games since no team actually expressed interest in the trade?
The Bills were surprisingly robust against WR1s late in the season – perhaps because they gave up so many huge ground games there wasn’t a real need to throw it – but good luck figuring out who is the Jets “WR1” right now. Plus, the Bills got rid of their best CB anyway, so I’m taking last year’s numbers with a grain of salt (they also changed their entire coaching staff). Even though I’m a bigger McCown fan than most, this offense is designed to fail, and he had literally 0 pass attempts in the PW3 game and then got injured in PW4.
BAL (19.75) @ CIN (22.75)
So much depends upon whether Flacco will play here or not. John Harbaugh already confirmed that he will be back, and he did return to practice over the weekend, so I’m optimistic. Even if he doesn’t return, however, it is truly hard for me to like the CIN D here with both Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones out for this game. Furthermore, even with them for most of last year, CIN was a middling 14th in DVOA against the pass and 20th against the run.
Another injury worth watching is Perriman. I had some interest in him this year if he could stay healthy, but he has already missed significant preseason time with a hamstring pull. These can definitely linger and, while the Ravens expect him to play Week 1, I don’t want any shares as he could easily re-injure himself if he isn’t 100% (and I doubt he will be). By default, since the Ravens don’t really have any good options at TE, this should funnel a ton of work towards the WRs, so I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on both Maclin and Wallace. I’m assuming that Maclin will work out of the slot, which will pit him against Darqueze Dennard, who was ranked a lowly 84th out of 110 eligible corners. On the outside, we will have a middling Dre Kirkpatrick and last year’s 1st rounder, Will Jackson. I don’t have much data on Jackson, however, as he sat out all of last year with a torn pectoral. I think Wallace will get a couple of high quality looks here, and it is worth noting that, per Warren Sharp, the Bengals did allow an overall passer rating of 119 on passes thrown deep left. This balloons to 144 and 147 on second and third downs respectively. Assuming that the Ravens will be behind, which Vegas projects, this means that additional targets should be up for grabs, so I do have a fair level of interest in Wallace here.
Woodhead is also somewhat hobbled with a hammy injury. If he cannot play, this will leave West and Allen as the sole backfield options, but it does sound like Harbaugh expects Danny to suit up here. I have a tough time justifying Woodhead’s price of $5200 here. While I think that a path to a 5-50-1 receiving line is there – and this is the minimum return that you would want – I just don’t see a huge ceiling here. Just like with the rest of Cinci’s defense, they are middling against RB receivers as they graded out 14th there as well. BAL also was only 20th in DVOA’s adjusted line yards, so I’m not that excited about this situation.
Dalton has looked at AJ Green early and often so far this preseason and has targeted him 12 times in the 3 quarters that they have worked together. It is worth noting that Eifert has missed all of this time, so it remains to be seen how he will return to the fold. More importantly though, he is already injured with a “little tendonitis in his knee,” which kept him out of PW3 and PW4. He does plan to suit up for Week 1, however, as he did practice on Monday. Assuming he plays, he will be a big endzone threat for Dalton, but BAL did rank 3rd in DVOA against TEs last year with Eric Weddle ranking 2nd in safety coverage (and 1st overall). The Bengals also have one of the worst offensive lines in football, so I expect the TEs to be tasked with blocking more often than expected this year. All-in-all, I think that Dalton will have to target Green to consistently move the chains here, but I don’t truly love the spot.
While Mixon, Gio, and Hill all saw work with the first team, Mixon saw 8 carries to Hill’s 5 and Gio’s 4. Mixon also saw 1 target to the others combined 0, but this feels like a preseason anomaly to me and I fully expect Gio to be heavily involved in that regard come the regular season. Between the committee approach, o-line woes, and BAL ranking 4th against the run last year, I don’t want any shares of this backfield.
PIT (27.5) @ CLE (19.5)
There is some sharp money on CLE here. The Steelers originally were the favorites at -9 points, but have since dropped to -8 points even though they have received 70% of the bets. Most surprising to me is that the Browns total hasn’t risen by a full point, but instead the Steelers total has simply dropped most of that.
I’m very conflicted about Lev Bell here. On one hand, he is amazing and literally smashed the NFL over the second half of last season (I’m removing the AFC Championship Game from this since he hardly played in it – these stats came from FFToday and I put in the DK points based on the numbers):
On the other hand, he didn’t report back to the Steelers until 01-Sep-2017, so he got very few reps in and while Tomlin has declared him in ‘great’ shape, Bell admitted that he was a little winded in practice his first week back. I’m also not sure if Mike Tomlin will punish him at all by doing something like sitting him in the second half. Overall, his ownership will probably be very, very high, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet.
We know that the Browns were pretty terrible against both the run (27th in DVOA) and the pass (29th), so we could simply leverage the passing game here. Fun fact – Big Ben has more passing yards in this stadium than any Browns QB since it was built. While Myles Garrett does look like the real deal, he did miss some preseason time with a foot injury, so I think it will take a couple of weeks before he is fully up to speed. I’m really just not sure how this defense will match-up against this offense. AB is clearly one of the best in the game, and Martavis is now reinstated, so who can cover them? I definitely don’t think Jason McCourty, Jamar Taylor, and Briean Boddy-Calhoun can do it.
The Browns cut Haden right before their PW4 game, and the Steelers picked him up, so I’m sure he wants to have a big game here. Can he though? Haden used to be good, yet last year he ranked only 88th out of 110 CBs.
Hue named DeShone Kizer the starter for the Browns, so I fully expect him to go through growing pains as any rookie does. Having this amazing o-line in front of him will certainly help though. It is also worth noting that he seems to have a connection with Coleman as he targeted him 8 times for a 4-66-0 line in PW3. Since the Browns figure to trail quite a bit in this one, I definitely expect him to air it out more than Hue would like, and Coleman sits at only $4400. Britt is also in play here and he somehow put up 1000+ yards last year with Goff under center, but the lack of chemistry with Kizer concerns me, so I prefer the discount you get with Coleman.
We know that Hue Jackson wants to run the ball. This offensive line is one of the best in the league and clearly built for this (and for protecting young QBs). Outside of last year where the Browns finished 31st in rushing attempts, Hue’s 4 teams before that have all ranked within the top 7 in rushing attempts (7th, 5th, 7th, and 4th per Scott Barrett). Thus, I assume that the Browns will try to control the tempo of the game as much as they can before the Steelers inevitably put their points on the board. Heyward and Hargrave were average d-linemen last year, and the rest of the Steelers’ interior is unimpressive, so the Browns should be able to push them around. Even though the gamescript sets up as more of a Duke Johnson game, he only averaged an additional 1.5 targets/game over Crowell last year, so Crowell definitely does have involvement in the passing game. I think both have upside, but I much prefer Crowell at $5300 to DJ-lite at $4600. We saw DJ-lite score more than 15 just twice last year and never more than 17.6, while Crowell had 4 games of 20+.
ARI (24.75) @ DET (23.25)
According to Labs, there has been a 4.5-point swing in this spread since lines first came out as the Lions were originally favored here (they are now 2 point dogs). I’m not terribly surprised by this since the ARI defense looks #fierce. After watching some tape on him, I really liked their pick of Budda Baker in the 2nd round as he had great play recognition, unbelievably quick closing speed, and strong tackling. I expect that it will take him some time to become a full-time starter, but having him, Patrick Peterson (14th-overall graded CB), Tyrann Mathieu, and Chandler Jones (9th-overall DE) makes for an incredibly strong defense.
So, since the Lions project to trail and will likely have to pass more, how do they end up attacking the Cards? I think that Peterson will shadow Tate for the most part (PP had the most snaps against WR1s out of any CB per PFF), which will leave Marvin Jones on Justin Bethel. Bethel didn’t play enough snaps to officially rank among CBs last year, but would have graded out at a middling 61st with his limited snaps. Everyone loved MJ going into last year, and he put up a monster line of 6-205-2 Week 3 of last year. He was injured for most of the rest of the year and didn’t do much during that stretch. He is fully healthy again, and I feel like the MJ haterade has been drunk by far too many – it is really, really tough for a WR to go over 200 yards in the NFL. Furthermore, the one weak spot in ARI’s D was against WR2s where they ranked 27th in DVOA. He also commanded 37.1% of Stafford’s target share in the preseason. Finally, Boldin had 22 redzone targets for 6 TDs last year – they have to go somewhere (I like Ebron in general for this reason, but the Cardinals were 6th in DVOA against TEs last year). I can have that upside at $4100 here in a game that projects to feature a lot of throwing? Yes please. It’s also worth noting that, per Pat Thorman, no team ran more no-huddle snaps than the Lions this preseason.
Abdullah out-snapped Riddick in the latter’s preseason debut, 20-8, with the starters where he saw 13 carries and 3 targets (minor note, Zenner was out for this game). Riddick only saw 1 carry and 1 target, which could be them just easing him in or it might bode ill for his involvement while Abdullah is healthy. Until this shakes out, this backfield seems like a mess to me, and ARI ranked 7th overall against the run and 1st against RB receivers. Abdullah has a very attractive price at $4300, but until we get some more clarity around this, I’m just not sure I can pull the trigger here. It’s also worth remembering that Week 1 last year, when both Abdullah and Riddick were healthy, it was Riddick who saw the goal line touches. I am not touching Riddick at $4700, however.
The Lions allowed multiple receiving TDs in 5 of their last 8 weeks with a total of 14 (!?!) scored during this time. This is reflected in their 32nd overall pass DVOA while also ranking 29th against RB receivers. They were only slightly better against the run in general as they placed 19th there. They are going to be sorely tested here as they still look very suspect as a whole to me.
Fitz has an ideal match-up against the putrid Quandre Diggs here, who ranked as the 94th-worst CB in the league last year. Per Warren Sharp’s stats, you can see that DET was incredibly weak in all short pass areas as they allowed a minimum overall passer rating of 103 in these areas. I would just like to point out, however, Fitz only went over 100 yards once all of last year. He does have multiple TD upside, however, so I think his ceiling is around 8-80-2, which would easily pay off his $5900 salary. Slay is the Lions’ only DB that I have any faith in, and he graded out as the 15th-best CB last year. I’m not sure if they will ask him to shadow John Brown or not this week, so this is definitely something to look more into. Per Barrett’s chart in the beginning, it is worth noting that Arizona’s WR2 is a top-3 scorer for the position and actually averages the most target share out of all WR2s with 20.1% (again, per Scott Barrett). This combined with the fact that John Brown finally looked healthy in PW3 makes for him to be a very interesting leverage play here if Slay will not shadow him.
As I mentioned earlier, DET ranked 19th against receiving backs and DJ is obviously one of the best in the game. This does not bode well for the Lions. Of note, however, is the fact that the Lions only gave up three 20+ point games to RBs last year (part of this stems from how easy it was to score on them through the air), and you are looking for at least 25-30 from DJ at his price. I’m not overly concerned about this as, a) he is DJ, and b) he should easily get at least 25 touches here. Only 2 players went over that mark last year and they predictably put up 19.2 (Howard) and 26.2 (Rawls) points.
OAK (24.5) @ TEN (26.5)
Smart money alert – the Titans have had a 3.5 point swing go their way even though they received just 37% of the bets. This game also has the highest projected total for the weekend at 51, so there is definitely fantasy goodness to be had here.
Good real life news for the Titans here as Corey Davis plans to play Week 1 without being on a snap count. This is also good news fantasy-wise for Eric Decker. Decker has never excelled as the WR1, but he has torn it up as the WR2. OAK was soft against the pass last year and graded out as 25th-worst against the pass per their DVOA, even though they were 4th-best against WR1s (mostly because of 16th-ranked Sean Smith). They were 20th or worse against all other WRs, TEs, and receiving RBs. Again, this sets up well for both Decker and Matthews as they both get average CBs in TJ Carrie (49th) and David Amerson (62nd) respectively. Walker is another option here as he clearly has a ton of rapport with Mariota, and he should feast on the weak LB duo of rookie 5th-rounder Marquel Lee and punching bag Cory James (76th out of 86th qualifying LBs). I am worried about Decker and Delanie cannibalizing each other’s targets, so I’m going to proceed cautiously here. Walker clocks in at $4300, while Decker is up at $5000, and Matthews is the most discounted at $4200. If you are similarly flummoxed, you can just take Mariota at $6800 and hope that he spreads it around enough so that you look like a genius (and the only not bald guy) while everyone else ripped out their hair trying to figure out who to stack with him.
While the Titans have a very good o-line, they will need all the help they can get to handle Khalil Mack. The interior of the Raiders defensive front is much softer, so I fully expect TEN design several runs straight up the gut. I rarely play DeMarco – yes, this does bite me sometimes – and I doubt I will here at $7400. Henry looked very good in the preseason, so I won’t be surprised if this is even more of a timeshare this year.
Even though this is the best line Lynch has ever run behind, I really think that the Raiders will try to manage his touches throughout the year. Thus, I won’t be surprised if they start out the year mixing in Washington and Richard quite a bit. Also, the strength of the Raiders line (left side) actually matches up with the strength of the TEN line here (right side), so this will be a good battle to watch. It is also worth noting that only 1 RB scored more than 20.4 points against them last year, and they allowed only two 20+ games all year. The upside here is clearly worrying IMO.
TEN was pretty bad against the pass anyway – the ranked 27th overall in DVOA, 30th against WR2s, and 30th against receiving RBs – so attacking them that way makes much more sense to me. We can also see this through the Titans allowing 20+ points to at least 1 WR in 13 out of 16 weeks last year (and some weeks they allowed multiple 20+ point scores). They did gain Cyprien (7th overall S last year) and Logan Ryan (17th overall CB), so take last year’s results with a grain of salt, but I do think that attacking them through the air is still the best way to beat them. Outside of Ryan, they are going to start Adoree’ Jackson, a 1st-round rookie, and LeShaun Sims at CB in 3 WR sets (I fully expect this to be the Raiders’ standard formation). While Sims didn’t play enough snaps to officially rank, he was #notgood on the snaps he did play as his grade would have put him 89th among CBs. I have no idea if Logan Ryan will shadow here, but I sincerely hope that he doesn’t as this would put Amari on Sims. If we can predict that this will happen, Amari should have a monster game. With Oakland expected to trail per Vegas, this will put even more emphasis on the pass game.
PHI (24.5) @ WAS (23)
With the mess at running back and the weapons they added in the offseason, it certainly looks like Doug Pederson is looking to go pass-heavy this year. There have been reports all summer of Alshon not picking up the playbook as quickly as the team would have liked, so I’m not sure how comfortable he is in the system yet. Also, with the Eagles trading away J-Matt, which promoted Agholor to starting slot duties, this gives Ertz a huge opportunity on short and medium-depth passing plays. I expect Wentz to target him early and often especially with the chemistry we saw build between them (and he is the only starting receiver that has that chemistry at this point). Ertz is a clear mis-price at $3500. WAS was a lowly 25th in DVOA against TEs last year, and Ertz lit them up for a line of 10-112-0 last December. Agholor wasn’t even targeted in the 3rd week, while Smith only saw 1 target (granted, he has very high value targets due to the type of routes he runs, and he turned this one into 1-50-1). Finally, per Warren Sharp’s football stats, Washington gave up a very high passer rating of 125 to balls thrown deep middle last year – this becomes a jaw-dropping 158 on 3rd downs – so if the Eagles’ coaches are competent, and I’m not guaranteeing that they are, they should take a couple of shots to Torrey Smith in this area.
Just to give you a sense of the backfield – not that anyone will really care – here are the first half carries from PW3: Blount – 3, Smallwood – 4, Clement – 4, Pumphrey – 1. It is worth noting that Wentz did not stay in for the entire first half, and the only people that received carries while he was in were Blount and Smallwood. I’m staying well clear of this shit show until things shake out.
Doctson cannot seem to stay healthy, unfortunately. Coming into this year, I was very interested in his value after last year and due to how he is such a massive red zone threat, but who knows if he will ever stay on the field long enough to make an impact. With Doctson out, Crowder and Pryor manned the 2-WR sets, and they were in for 37 and 34 of Cousins’ 39 snaps respectively. Pryor and Reed paced the team with 4 targets apiece and Crowder followed closely behind with 3. The Eagles probably have the worst secondary in the league, so we should definitely attack them. Pryor and Cousins didn’t seem to mesh all that well during the preseason, but if they did work some magic together in the last couple of weeks, they will tear apart this defense. On one side of the field, we have the newly acquired Ronald Darby. I have no idea if Darby is up to speed on the playbook yet and, regardless of that, he had a down year last where he ranked as only the 68th-best CB, so who knows if he can even return to his previous form. Sadly, this is still a marked improvement over the rest of the secondary. On the other side, we have Jalen Mills. This guy is literally the worst out of all graded CBs last year. 110 out of 110. When they go into 3-wide sets, the slot man (most likely Crowder) will go against Patrick Robinson, the better but still awful 91st graded CB last year. Coming into this, I thought I would like Crowder more, but I’m really not sure if I do at this point. Over his final four games last year he was held to a combined 16 (!) DK points. Over the entire season, he crested the 20 point mark 3 times, but one of those was with the fluky line of 3-102-1. Unless, he sees a lot of volume in this game, he will have trouble paying off his $5600 salary in GPPs. You could make a case for him in cash as he did put up 15+ points 6 times, but I think we can see more guaranteed volume elsewhere.
In regards to Reed, if he is fully healthy, he is always a great option. I can’t for sure say that he is fully healthy though, and I have no idea how good he will be here. He also costs $5900, so you are counting on him to come out guns blazing. The Eagles were 1st in DVOA against TEs as well, but WAS doesn’t necessarily use Reed like a TE for whatever it is worth. The good news is that he will be low owned with all of the uncertainty around him. With how bad the Eagles’ secondary is, Cousins is certainly in play, but the bad preseason does make me a little nervous.
ATL (28.75) @ CHI (21.75)
Adam Levitan made a very good point about the Falcons’ TE situation in that Levine Toilolo out-snapped Hooper 12-11 during Ryan’s 18 snaps in PW3. Other than that, Matt Ryan only attempted 11 throws in PW3 and Freeman was out for the game, so I feel like there isn’t a ton to glean from this game.
I fully expect most teams to attack the Bears through the air this year. Jerrell Freeman graded out as the best LB in the game last year, and CHI has several other very solid pieces in Goldman and Hicks. Furthermore, while their safeties are talented (particularly Demps who graded out as 10th overall, 13th in coverage, and 14th against the run), their CBs are weak. Prince Amukamara graded out a middling 43rd and Marcus Cooper at a truly terrible 101st-worst out of 110 last year. CHI also graded out at 27th in DVOA against WR1s. While the Bears were able to shut down some talented WRs – notably they held OBJ to 5-46-0 and Evans to 4-66-0 – they did allow several large games last year:
I’m excited for what Julio can do here. I would also be interested in targeting a Falcons’ TE if we knew which one would get the bulk of the work as the Bears were 28th in DVOA against them, but per that bit about preseason targets, I just don’t think we know enough about this situation yet.
Between the Bears stout defensive front, the expected regression of the ATL run game in general this year, and Freeman’s concerning workload, I want none of Freeman at $7000. I had to double-check this, but Freeman had 20+ carries only twice all of last year. He could certainly get multiple goal line looks that would pay off his salary here – and boy will I look stupid if that happens – but I’m planting a flag on this one. I much prefer guaranteed touches, and I don’t want to pay a big salary when I’m not even guaranteed 20 touches. Furthermore, the Bears only allowed 3 100+ yard rushers all year last year.
Chicago should trail for most of this game, but I really have no idea how they will execute a comeback with their pass-catching corps now that Meredith is gone for the season. The one person I’m most interested in here is Zach Miller. The Falcons did pretty well against WRs last year ranking 11th in DVOA against WR1s and 8th against WR2s, but were not great against receivers out of the slot. They also lost Trufant later in the year and now he is fully healthy again. I highly doubt that the “explosive” pair of Kendall Wright and Kevin White have any kind of ceiling, but Wright should have a safe floor at the attractive price of $3100. As Adam Levitan pointed out, Wright had his best year under Dowell Loggains in TEN, so there is at least hope for him. They were also 12th in DVOA against TEs, but that does translate into around 5.5-62-0.5 per game, so I feel like Miller becomes one of the top targets just by process of elimination. If they can also get him matched up against De’Vondre Campbell, even better, as he graded out at a lowly 66th out of 86 eligible LBs.
While the Falcons rank an atrocious 28th against the run, I’m just not sold on playing Howard here. The lack of weapons at WR means that ATL can devote all resources to stopping the run, and with the expected severely negative gamescript, I feel like Howard will see fewer rushes than the Bears would normally care to give him. At a similar price, I much prefer Gurley on this slate.
Due to the pass-catching situation and the ability of ATL to stack the box every single play, I’m going to have a ton of the Falcons D here. I normally like to take home favorites and obviously this is in CHI, but at a price of $3300, this situation is too juicy to pass up. There are several other DSTs I like on this slate (namely HOU and LAR), but I think Atlanta’s offense will consistently put their D in a great spot – and I can’t say that I have faith in Tom Savage and Goff to do the same for theirs. Finally, remember that Kendall Wright is currently the WR1 here. Yeah…
JAX (17.5) @ HOU (22.5)
Here is another game that looks to be a full of shit and not much of a show (I swear I had something for this). Bortles was named the Jacksonville starter over Chad Henne, which drew immediate anger from the Jaguars’ fan base. Let me reiterate, the fans were angry that Henne was not their starting QB. This reaction tells you all you need to know about this QB situation. Both attempted a conservative number of passes (16 for Bortles and 14 for Henne) in PW3, and neither really did much during this time. Bortles did look better with a 12-125-1-1 line, but that doesn’t really jump off of the page. When asked about how many pass attempts would be ideal this year, Doug Marrone said, “zero.” I’m not so sure that this was a joke. Fun fact that no one really cares about – Henne went to a neighboring high school of mine.
It is really tough for me to like Hopkins here. True, anything is an upgrade over Brock Osweiler, but how much better is Tom Savage? I think very little. I fully expect the Texans to try and grind out wins this year with their RBs and defense. With Will Fuller being out, I’m really not sure who they will throw the ball to other than Hopkins and CJ Fied though, so they might be volume plays. As Scott Barrett pointed out, over his career, Bill O’Brien has targeted his WR1 the most out of any active play-caller at 29.3% of the time. Hopkins has one of the worst match-ups on the board this week against Bouye though.
The HOU pass rush is going to be #fierce with Clowney and Watt, so I’m expecting them to force multiple turnovers here. I can’t guarantee that Savage won’t turn the ball right back over though as Jacksonville’s D also looks strong.
TB (23.75) @ MIA (21.25) POSTPONED
This game has been postponed to Week 11 due to Irma, so the sites will have to remove this one from their slates. The players have been marked as out, but I still expect some people to accidentally leave players from this game in their lines.
IND (18.75) @ LAR (22.75)
I fully expect the Rams to win this one. Depending upon the formation, the Colts might have multiple rookies starting here, and they only have 1 other starter that graded out above average per PFF (Geathers at SS). Vontae Davis is also out for the first couple of games, so the Colts D looks very weak. Even with that being said, I have no interest in Goff. He put together a historically bad rookie campaign last year, and he didn’t look much better when he put up a miserable 5-56-0-1 line against the Raiders in PW3.
I fully expect Todd Gurley to have an awesome game here. I originally worried about him not being as heavily involved with the passing game this year since the Rams brought in Lance Dunbar, but with Dunbar out indefinitely, I expect Gurley to be an every-down back. Furthermore, unless Goff takes a huge (and unexpected) step forward, they will have to move the ball on the ground. Finally, IND ranked dead last in DVOA against the rush last year and 31st against receiving backs. If Gurley cannot crush here, he won’t be able to crush anywhere.
Last year, in the lone full game that Scott Tolzien played, he went 22/36 for 2015 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. Dwayne Allen and Moncrief led the way in receptions with 5-49-0 and 6-45-1 respectively (Hilton went 3-54-0). While Hilton is obviously a very talented receiver and can always break a long TD or three, Tolzien has severe limitations as a QB, and I’m hands off here. On a positive note, it seems like Moncrief is finally healthy after having AC joint issues throughout most of the summer.
In that Tolzien game, even in a very negative game script, the Colts did attempt 23 rushes, but they didn’t get very far as their RBs put up a combined 91 yards on the ground #notgood. I’m not sure if Aaron Donald plays here, but if he does, the LAR become one of the best defensive options on this slate.
SEA (23.75) @ GB (26.75)
Quietly, the Packers have one of the highest Vegas-implied totals in Week 1 with 27 points, and I think that Rodgers make for a fine contrarian option on this slate. Having all of their starters back and healthy for Seattle certainly makes them a much more dangerous D than what we saw the second half of last year (i.e. after Earl Thomas and Michael Bennett went down), but there are definitely some question marks here that Rodgers can exploit. Also, I think we can count on Sherman to shadow Nelson, and Seattle will probably also use Thomas over the top to limit the big plays, so this should open things up elsewhere. Assuming this configuration, that would put 3rd-round rookie Shaq Griffin on Adams, with Cobb running out of the slot against Jeremy Lane. It is really tough for CBs to immediately come into the NFL and shutdown a WR, so I definitely expect Adams to get some open looks. The match-up of a healthy Cobb against Lane really intrigues me here as Lane was PFF’s 95th-worst CB last year. The Seahawks’ d-line was very scary to begin with (they were 3rd in run DVOA last year), but now that they added Sheldon Richardson, I won’t be surprised if they allow <80 yards per game this year. Thus, I think that the Pack will have to move it through the air here.
On the other side of this game we have Russell Wilson. He just falls into this tier, but Russ has a plum match-up to start out the year. Last year, the Pack gave up the most passing yards and the 3rd-most passing TDs in the league. They also didn’t upgrade their secondary in the off-season, so I don’t expect much to change this year. While their safeties are pretty darn good, their CBs are #bad. They plan to start Davon House and Quinten Rollins, who were PFF’s 100th and 87th-graded CBs last year respectively (out of 110). House got benched after Week 6 of last year due to poor play. Baldwin will be able to spank both of them repeatedly throughout the game. It remains to be seen if Lockett will suit up for Week 1 after his horrific leg injury last year, but he says that he is ready to go. In this case, I expect him to be eased in since he missed all of the preseason games. If he can’t play, Richardson makes for an intriguing dart throw as he played extensively in 2-wide sets during the preseason.
Jimmy Graham should have a field day here as well since GB’s linebacker coverage is also spotty at best. Jake Ryan, their starting LILB, is an average 43rd-best in coverage, while Blake Martinez is an abysmal 70th (out of 75). Their starting outside linebackers don’t offer much hope either. While Nick Perry grades out pretty well overall, his coverage is by far the weakest part of his game, and Clay Matthews graded out an atrocious 96th-worst out of 110 edge defenders last year. Furthermore, it is harder to run on the Packers as they gave up the 12th fewest rush yards to RBs last year (they were 14th in run DVOA), which paired with Seattle’s very bad offensive line, doesn’t instill one with much confidence in their ground game. Finally, as Vegas projects them to trail (I think that this seems reasonable), gamescript dictates that they will throw more anyway. Once we combine all of these factors, it sets up perfectly for Hurricane Russ to hit GB in Week 1.
CAR (26.75) @ SF (21.25)
People forget about how good NaVorro Bowman was against the run last year before he went down. If he kept up his production throughout the season, he would have graded out as an overall top-15 LB and top-5 against the run (and 21st in coverage). All of those big games that SF gave up against the ground game last year? Yeah, they happened after he went down.
CMC has passed Stewart on the depth chart and saw 7 carries to Stewart’s 5 in PW3, and there are reports that much of the offense is built around his abilities. Between this and SF’s perceived weakness against the run, I think we can safely call him McChalkrey (at least among low-end guys). While he is exceptionally valuable in PPR formats, are we really sure that he will get goalline carries? I feel like Stewart is the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge here.
Instead of trying to attack them on the ground, I believe that the Panthers should just throw the ball as the 49ers’ secondary looks spotty at best. If we assume McChalkrey will line up out of the slot, he will face off against K’Waun Williams, who doesn’t have enough snaps to be ranked among CBs. This is probably still better, sadly, than the rest of the secondary. Rashard Robinson, Dontae Johnson, and Eric Reid all look like liabilities back there, and SF was systematically abused across all deep areas of the field last year. They gave up overall passer ratings of 104, 128, and 117 to left, middle, and right respectively. K-Benj at $5900 is definitely in play here (not that this is a large sample or indicative of much, but I do want to point out that he put up 7-108-2 for 32.8 points against SF last year).
Shanahan has a history of getting elite production out of his RBs – case in point, Freeman over the past couple of years – so there should definitely be fantasy goodness to be had here this year even though San Fran figures to trail for a lot of the season. There was talk during training camps of Hyde not being a fit here and potentially even cut, but he has proved all of these rumors wrong with a strong preseason and apparently, “being in the best shape of his life.” In PW3, he played on 20 of 26 first-team snaps where he had 7 carries and 3 targets. The CAR defense has a bunch of elite players, and elite run stoppers, highlighted by Kuechly (2nd-overall LB), Thompson (13th-overall LB), and Kawann Short (3rd-overall DT), so it is tough to truly love Hyde here, especially with the projected very negative gamescript. Playing in his favor is that he is also used in the pass game, and should see a bucketload of touches here. At a miniscule price of only $4600, he needs 60 rush yards and 4-40 receiving to pay off his salary in cash.
Also in PW3, let’s take a look at Garcon’s receiving line – 6-64-0. He had more than double the amount of targets (7) that the next closest guy had (a bunch with 3). Furthermore, as Scott Barrett pointed out, Shanahan heavily targets his WR1 to a tune of 27.2%. Assuming that this game goes according to Vegas, the 49ers will be trailing, so they will have to pass a bunch. This means big things for Garcon assuming that these target numbers translate into the regular season. Marquise Goodwin is another guy who we should at least touch on here. He doesn’t get a ton of targets due to the routes that he runs, but they are very high-value targets, and he went 1-46-1 in PW3 on his 2 targets. Carolina also showed susceptibility to the big play down the middle last year by allowing an overall passer rating of 120 here.
NYG (22.25) @ DAL (25.75)
Much like their divisional rivals, the Eagles, the Giants do not have a ground game to speak of. It will be by committee and their o-line folds faster than a lawn chair, which means I’m completely off for fantasy purposes. The Dallas secondary is riddled with question marks at this point as they lost ¾ of their starters from last year. OBJ isn’t practicing as of Wednesday and has to be cleared by the medical staff, so it’s starting to look doubtful that he will suit up for this one. I’m assuming he won’t play, so this means that B-Marsh is in for a massive workload at the very reasonable price of $5100.
Jenkins completely shut down Dez last year as he only put up 2-18-0 on 14 targets. This isn’t a complete shocker as Scott Barrett did some work on WR-CB relationships, and he found that Dez was the most CB-dependent WR in the NFL
The Zeke drama still continues, but he will get to play Week 1. The Giants defense looks very solid again and they were ranked 2nd in run DVOA last year, and 3rd against receiving backs (they only allowed 2 RBs to put up 20+ points on them last year). Among the high-end backs, Zeke will most definitely go overlooked and Vegas projects the gamescript to be in his favor. You have to think about him for these reasons, but it is just too risky for me to go there. In case you were wondering, he put up 20-51-1 and 24-107-0 against the Giants last year.
Just for future reference, I feel like it is definitely worth nothing that Alf Morris had 9 carries to DMF’s 2 in PW3. As Graham Barfield noted, however, DMF was in for every single snap with the first-team offense during Weeks 1 and 2.
NO (22.25) @ MIN (25.75)
Another smart money alert here – the line has remained unchanged with the Vikings being 3.5 point favorites while only receiving 24% of the bets.
During the offseason, I fully believed that Snead would step into a larger role with Cooks getting traded away. This doesn’t actually seem to be the case, however, as he was in exclusively on 3-WR sets, while Thomas and Ginn played in the 2-WR sets. For the 26 snaps Brees was in for during PW3, Thomas played on all of them, Ginn was in for 18, Snead saw 13, and Coleman was in for 9. On these plays, Thomas was targeted the most out of this group with 5, while Ginn saw 4, and Coleman and Snead both saw 2 targets. We also saw Ginn rush for 24 yards, so I think it’s safe to assume that the Saints are trying to get the ball into his hands. Furthermore, Snead has been suspended for the first 3 games, so all other receiving options stand to benefit from this while he is out. While MIN was 8th in DVOA against the pass last year, they were 24th versus TEs and allowed a passer rating of 121 in the short middle. Thus, I like both Fleener and Thomas as options here (Payton should be able to scheme Thomas open here).
NO had an amazing o-line last year as they were ranked 1st in run blocking and 5th in pass protection by Football Outsiders (they guys who do the DVOAs), but it remains to be seen if they can repeat their performance this year. I originally had some doubts especially since they have already suffered a couple of big injuries, but Terron Armstead just got activated off of the PUP list and seems to be ahead of schedule. It remains to be seen if he can play here, but if he can, that will be great news for the Saints. The committee approach makes me a sad panda though, and I don’t see myself taking either Ingram or AP here.
Per PFF, and this is very important, the Vikings were the 5th-most pass-heavy offense after Shurmur took over last year. Thielen and Diggs both saw 5 targets in PW3, while Treadwell saw another 3. Per the earlier chart from Barrett, Bradford has targeted Diggs 33.3% of the time this preseason, which bodes very well for the upcoming year. Furthermore, the fact that NO ranked 30th in pass DVOA bodes very well for this game. Marshon Lattimore is a rookie CB, while Breaux was atrocious last year – he would have ranked 102nd if he had enough snaps – and is apparently on the outs with the Saints. I have no idea how these two will cover Diggs and Thielen. If you want a sneaky stack for a slate that has this game, I would think about Bradford-Thielen-Diggs or some combination thereof. I also don’t hate taking Rudolph here as the Saints weren’t much better against TEs (22nd in DVOA).
Dalvin Cook out-carried Murray 5-2 in PW3, but Murray did see 3 targets compared to Cook’s 1. At best, this is murky and will sort itself out quickly. At worst, this will be a timeshare for the foreseeable future. I’m also making no guarantees on which one will actually be the goalline back. Also of note is that the Vikings’ o-line last year was atrocious. They now have a new starter at each position this year, so I definitely have concerns over how well they can gel.
LAC (19.75) @ DEN (23.25)
I am very interested to see how the Denver D performs this year. Just as a reminder, defensive mastermind Wade Phillips left for the Rams. Towards the end of last year, there were also fights on the sideline as defensive players felt like their offense were leaving them out to dry too many times (they were). I don’t really want to attack their secondary as they were ranked 1st in DVOA and have 2 of the top-3 CBs per PFF. DEN did rank a lowly 21st against the run and look extremely suspect on their right side, however, so there is definitely merit to taking Gordon here.
D-Thom seemed to pull up a little in PW3 and, while it didn’t look like anything serious, he didn’t practice until this Wednesday with a groin pull. He has a long injury history and soft tissue injuries can linger if not allowed to fully heal, so I recommend caution here. I have a lot of love for Manny Sanders in general this year, so if Thomas will play any kind of decoy role, that will just be the icing on the cake. As Scott Barrett pointed out, Mike McCoy ranks 2nd among active coaches in WR2 market share.