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The Awesemo NFL Fantasy Matchups Column with Adam Pfeifer: Game by Game Week 1 Breakdown (FREE)

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Welcome to Awesemo’s new DFS and Fantasy NFL Matchups column with Adam Pfeifer. If you want depth and breadth, Adam has got you covered, with almost 13,000 words breaking down the every aspect of each team’s offense and their matchups on the Sunday main slate. He’ll be back each and every week this season to give you the analysis you need for your season long and NFL DFS Fantasy Football Lineups.

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I don’t know what to do with my hands.

Typing is probably a correct course of action, but I digress.

I am just so excited to have football back in my life and even more excited to be bringing you, the reader, this column. Every Thursday over the course of the season I will be breaking down every single game from Sunday’s action, previewing each individual NFL matchup and helping you identify which players are in the best spots to help your fantasy teams. A full game-by-game article is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now so I’m thrilled that Awesemo has provided me with a platform. You will be hard-pressed to find a more in-depth article each week over the course of the season and I truly hope you enjoy it. Week 1 is here so without further ado, let’s break down the slate and get your 2019 campaign off to the best start.

Buffalo Bills @ New York Jets

Total: 39.5

Line: NYJ -3

Bills passing game

Fantasy football’s QB1 during the final six weeks of the regular season, Josh Allen looks to improve in his second season. His rushing upside will always make him an appealing fantasy quarterback, as Allen carried the ball 89 times last year, second-most among quarterbacks, while his eight rushing touchdowns led all signal callers. Allen also averaged 7.4 rushes per game, with 1.8 of them coming from inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. There is a ton of upside in using Allen as a fantasy option because he runs a lot and takes shots down the field, as 19.7 percent of his 2018 pass attempts traveled 20 yards or more down the field, the highest rate in the NFL.

As for the matchup, the Jets were one of only nine teams to allow at least 11 yards per completion last year. They also surrendered the fourth-most rushing yards per game to opposing quarterbacks (22.1), making this an above average matchup, despite the additions of C.J. Mosley and Quinnen Williams. Pass rush is still an issue for the Jets, as they posted the league’s eighth-lowest pressure rate last year at 28.5 percent. This bodes extremely well for Allen, who was under duress on 43.4 percent of his dropbacks in 2018, the third-highest rate in football. With additions to the offensive line and receiving group, I view Allen as a fine cash game play and since he’s priced right with Kyler Murray, his ownership will likely be down in tournaments.

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Finding a consistent wide receiver from Buffalo might be difficult. This is still a run-first team that averaged just 31.2 pass attempts per game last year and Allen only had two games with more than one touchdown pass in his rookie year. John Brown was their big free agent signing, who fits well with Allen’s skill-set. Brown was off to a good start with Baltimore last season, scoring five touchdowns over his first seven games.

However, once Lamar Jackson took over, Brown fell off, ranking 50th in the league in deep targets (30) during Weeks 11-17. Allen will take more shots than Jackson and the two have developed a nice rapport in camp. This gives Allen GPP-winning upside most weeks and the Jets did surrender 11 passing plays of at least 40 yards last year, the eighth-most in football. He’s worth a look against a shaky secondary but my focus might be on the cheaper Cole Beasley.

The veteran slot man joins Buffalo to give them a much-needed intermediate target. Beasley and Allen were on the same page during the Bills’ second preseason game, finding each other five times during the team’s opening drive. He’s just $3,600 on DraftKings and gets a weak New York secondary that allowed 75.5 receiving yards per game to opposing number-two receivers in 2018, the second-most in the NFL. If he sees slot corner Brian Poole, good things can happen, as Poole allowed the second-most touchdowns (4) and second-most yards (552) in slot coverage last season.

Bills running game

Buffalo still figures to be among the league leaders in rushing attempts but they will be divided up between three backs. Not to mention their quarterback will steal goal line work and because you’ll rarely get 20 touches from any of these backs, a short touchdown is huge for their value. Devin Singletary is now the head of this committee with LeSean McCoy off the roster. He’s a talented back who is elusive as hell, forcing 96 missed tackles at Florida Atlantic a season ago.

I still think the Bills use Singletary, Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon but the former is only $3,600 on DK in Week 1. The Jets aren’t an elite run defense but their offseason additions should help big time. I still view Singletary as a deep-league FLEX option because he won’t get more than 15 touches and there aren’t many injuries at this point of the year. But his stock is certainly on the rise.

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Jets passing game

Sam Darnold had an up-and-down rookie campaign but things should be better during his sophomore campaign. The Jets added an elite pass-catching running back (more on him later) and a veteran slot receiver to help. Over the final four games of 2018, Darnold averaged 16.9 fantasy points per game, while tossing six touchdowns to just one interception. It is very possible he breaks out in year two but I don’t love his fantasy upside here in Week 1.

The Bills have a top-tier defense and allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing passers in 2018. They were an extreme run-funnel defense, as 39 percent of the yards surrendered by the Bills last year came on the ground, the second-highest rate in the league. Meanwhile, they allowed the ninth-fewest passing touchdowns per game (1.4). New York’s offensive line is still a question mark, while the Bills were top-six in the league in pressure rate last year. He is one of the cheapest quarterbacks you can roster this week, yet I still have no interest. Save Darnold for a rainy day.

Since I’m not enamored with Darnold, you can probably guess my interest in the Jets’ pass-catchers is minimal. Robby Anderson got off to a slow start alongside Darnold last year, averaging just five targets per game and eclipsing 45 yards just once. However, as Darnold progressed as a passer, Anderson benefited, ranking inside the top-10 in fantasy points and averaging 10 targets per game over the final four weeks of the season. There is immense upside with Anderson in the right spot, as he ranked fifth among wideouts in average depth of target last year (17.3), while averaging 15 yards per catch. Nearly 35 percent of his targets came at least 20 yards down the field, which was one of the highest marks in the league.

This, however, may not be the right matchup, as he’ll see plenty of coverage from Tre’Davious White, a burgeoning cornerback. The LSU product allowed a reception once every 17.5 coverage snaps last year, according to Pro Football Focus. And per Player Profiler, White allowed 0.25 fantasy points per cover snap, the best among all qualified corners. With so many great wide receiver plays in the $4,000 range, Anderson is an easy fade for me this weekend.

Jamison Crowder will get the better matchup of the two, as he’ll avoid White. Slot receivers have been heavily involved in Adam Gase’s past offenses and with tight end Chris Herndon suspended for the first four weeks of the season, Crowder’s target potential bumps up a bit. He’s not an awful play in cash games but cheaper wideouts have a very similar floor. Finally, I doubt I’ll use him but with Herndon unavailable, perhaps Quincy Enunwa, a former hybrid player, is used as a tight end.

Jets running game

After a season-long absence, Le’Veon Bell is back and looking to reestablish himself as one of fantasy football’s best. The last time we saw Bell in action he was the definition of a workhorse, leading all rushers in snap share (91.7%), opportunity share (89.3%) and red zone touches (73). We likely won’t see that type of usage in New York and while some people worry about the All-Pro running back showing rust, I absolutely love him in tournaments this week. This slate features an insane amount of great running back plays between $5,000 and $6,000 on DK. And then, of course, you have your bell cows at the high end.

Le’Veon resides in the middle, which could result in many people passing on him. Buffalo was awful against the run last season and because their secondary is so good, opposing offenses just pound the rock against them. In 2018, teams called run 45.4 percent of the time against the Bills, the fourth-highest rate in the league. Meanwhile, only the Arizona Cardinals coughed up more rushing touchdowns per game than Buffalo (1.1), while also allowing the seventh-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. Some will worry about the poor offensive line and new system and while that may be a concern over the course of the season, Bell remains an awesome GPP play in Week 1 against a run defense that needs to improve.

Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins

Total: 37

Line: BAL -5

Ravens passing game

The Lamar Jackson era kicked off last season and we got a glimpse of just how fun he can be, especially from a fantasy perspective. Jackson set the single-season rushing attempt record for a quarterback last season with 147, despite starting just seven games. During his seven-game stretch as the starter, Jackson averaged an insane 17 rushing attempts per game, while reaching 70 rushing yards in six of those games. More importantly, just 20 of his 147 rushes were scrambles, which means Baltimore was designing plays for Jackson, and they’ll continue to do that in 2019 with Greg Roman calling the plays. His elite rushing numbers present Jackson with a higher floor and ceiling in fantasy and he easily has top-10 upside in 2019.

As for Week 1, I’m not sure how you don’t like him. The Dolphins project to be one of the worst teams in the league and surrendered the third-most rushing yards per game to opposing signal callers in 2018 (23.9). Miami’s offense also doesn’t figure to move the ball well against this stout Ravens defense, which should lead to plenty of possessions for Jackson and the Baltimore offense. Perhaps the only concern is that the Ravens’ running game just dominates this game and the backs do most of the damage. But Jackson is going to run, making him a very safe option here in the opening week.

It is tough to get excited about anyone catching passes in an offense that doesn’t plan on airing it out very often. In Jackson’s seven starts last year, he only reached 25 pass attempts once and this doesn’t seem like a game where the Ravens will have to throw the ball very much. Having said that, I don’t believe you need to look to any of these wide receivers, especially in Week 1. I will say, however, that perhaps tight end Mark Andrews could make some sense.

You do have the elite tight ends on the main slate but if you are looking to spend down, Andrews is a talented player who posted three games with more than 50 receiving yards after Jackson took over last year. And in his starts, Jackson targeted the tight end position 30 percent of the time. The linebackers are the weakest point of this Miami defense, as Raekwon McMillian surrendered six touchdowns in coverage last year (2nd-most) and a 143.6 passer rating.

Ravens running game

After an eight-year tenure in New Orleans, Mark Ingram is now rocking the purple and gold with the Ravens. He enters the 2019 season as Baltimore’s top back and though there are concerns that the younger guys will take work away from him at some point this season, it is hard to not like Ingram here to open the season. Since 2014, Ingram ranks second in the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 39, while averaging 4.7 yards per carry during that productive stretch. Now he’s the top back in an offense that called run 47.7 percent of the time last year, the third-highest rate in the NFL.

Meanwhile, no team was more run-heavy after Jackson took over at quarterback. The Ravens are road favorites against a bad team that allowed 1.1 rushing touchdowns and 145.3 rushing yards per game (2nd-most) a season ago. Ingram should have plenty of short-yardage situations, as Miami allowed opponents to see 3.8 red zone scoring attempts per game last year, the second-most in the league. Ingram is a fine RB2/FLEX option in seasonal leagues and a strong cash play in DFS contests, especially at just $5,100 on DK, priced as the RB19. You probably won’t have to use the backup running backs but keep an eye on Justice Hill. The Ravens love his ability to catch passes and he looked fantastic during the preseason.

Dolphins passing game

There aren’t going to be many spots where you love this Miami offense for fantasy purposes this season, and a matchup against the Ravens certainly isn’t one. The Ravens allowed just 1.62 points per drive in 2018, the second-lowest rate in football. They lost C.J. Mosley in the middle of that defense but added arguably the best safety in the league in Earl Thomas. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a gunslinger and will take shots down the field, assuming he’s under center. He had a handful of huge fantasy games with Tampa Bay last year but it was in a completely different system with a way better supporting cast. His 6.9 percent touchdown rate obviously isn’t repeatable and you shouldn’t be using him in any format in Week 1.

Kenny Stills was dealt to the Texans, making this passing game a little more concentrated. Perhaps someone like Albert Wilson could make for an intriguing GPP play this weekend. He has massive big play ability, ranking third in the NFL in yards per target last year (11.2) and yards per pass route (3.15). And Fitzpatrick will take plenty of shots down the field, sporting an average depth of target of 10.8, the third-highest in the league. You won’t find many wideouts under $4,000 on DK with the upside of Wilson, but keep in mind that the Ravens allowed the fewest yards per pass attempt in 2018 at 5.8, and just added Earl Thomas.

Dolphins running game

Kenyan Drake is questionable to suit up in Week 1 after suffering a preseason foot injury. If he sits, it will open up every-down work for Kalen Ballage, who has not looked very good during the preseason. Only the Bears were better at limiting fantasy points to running backs a season ago but Ballage could walk into 17-20 touches, which will make someone fantasy relevant, no matter the matchup. With Adam Gase gone, the Dolphins offense should be faster, as Miami ranked 32nd, 22nd and 32nd in plays per game during Gase’s three-year tenure with the team. Despite the awful matchup, Ballage would be worth a look as a FLEX in deeper leagues and an alright DFS play, simply because you won’t find any every-down backs at his price tag.

If Drake suits up, we will likely see both backs get work, limiting their upside as fantasy options. Drake would benefit if Miami is playing from behind, as he caught 73 percent of his targets last year, while averaging 5.9 yards per touch. Neither would be viable DFS options, while Drake would likely only warrant flex consideration in PPR leagues. The spot is just not very good.

Tennessee Titans @ Cleveland Browns

Total: 45.5

Line: CLE -5

Titans passing game

This is another passing game that doesn’t offer a lot of intrigue. Marcus Mariota is coming off a season where he tossed just 11 touchdown passes, as the Titans pounded the rock. Mariota finished 28th among all passers in attempts (331), while averaging just 23.6 per game. Salvaging any fantasy value he has left is his rushing prowess, as Mariota averaged 4.6 rushes per game last year, seventh-most among quarterbacks. He also averaged nearly one red zone rush per game, sixth-best among signal callers.

Rarely will you see me recommend Mariota as a seasonal or DFS option. In 2018, the former Heisman-winner posted eight different games with fewer than 10 fantasy points. That is flat-out disgusting and considering how deep the quarterback position is, you just cannot afford a number that low. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s pass defense is the stronger part of their unit, allowing the seventh-lowest completion rate in football last year (62.7 percent), while only surrendering 1.3 passing touchdowns per game, tied for the fifth-lowest number in football. There is very little upside with Mariota in good matchups, let alone a middling one.

Despite not loving Mariota, the receivers are at least a little interesting. Corey Davis is coming off a year where he dominated the targets, handling 26.4 percent of Tennessee’s targets, which was the eighth-highest rate among all wide receivers. Yet, despite seeing so many targets, Davis struggled with efficiency, ranking 36th among all wideouts in fantasy points per route (0.47). He also sported an 8.9 percent drop rate, the 11th-highest in football. He’ll be the outside receiver in this offense which means he’ll see the toughest cornerback matchups.

This week he’ll get Denzel Ward, 70.7 passer rating in coverage during his rookie year, one of the better marks among all corners. If he struggles with Ward, it could open things up for Adam Humphries, who joins the team as the new slot receiver. I highly doubt you are using him in seasonal leagues but in full PPR DFS sites, he makes some sense, especially at just $4,000 on DK. The Titans are road underdogs and with the way Cleveland’s defense is structured, the middle of the field will be your best bet, as Ward, Greedy Williams and Terrance Mitchell all vacate the boundaries. He likely won’t win you a tournament with his 6.2 aDOT but he could make for a fine cash game option.

Titans running game

Derrick Henry won a lot of people their fantasy leagues down the stretch last year, averaging a gaudy 25.7 fantasy points per game over the final four weeks of the season. Tennessee is another team that is going to heavily rely on the run, as only Seattle called run at a higher rate last season than the Titans (48.5 percent). Because you invested a fourth or fifth round pick on him in drafts, it may be hard to keep him out of your lineups but you should know that Henry is a preferred play in games where the Titans are home favorites. In this case he is the exact opposite, making him a tough sell in DFS lineups, especially full PPR sites.

Henry caught just 15 passes all of last year and the Browns are five-point home favorites. This team did allow 1.2 rushing touchdowns per game last year (3rd-most), while Henry finished second among all rushers with 13 goal line carries. He won’t be the worst option on FanDuel but on DK where guys like Kerryon Johnson, Chris Carson, Dalvin Cook and Austin Ekeler are priced right around him, Henry won’t make the cut.

Henry’s late-season surge has everyone forgetting about Dion Lewis. The veteran back was once again very strong in the passing game, hauling in 59 passes for 400 yards during his first year with the Titans. You are only ever using him in deeper PPR leagues and you need the Titans to be chasing points. However, if the game stays close, there is no guarantee that Lewis sees the field a ton, especially in a run-heavy offense.

Browns passing game

With another year under his belt and a plethora of weapons at his arsenal, Baker Mayfield is in line for an elite fantasy season and potentially an MVP campaign in 2019. From Weeks 9-17 last year, Mayfield was the QB9 in fantasy, averaging 19 points per game during that stretch. There is so much upside with him because he takes so many shots. Baker finished fourth among all quarterbacks in deep pass attempts last year with 75, despite not starting the first few games of the season. Now with Odell Beckham Jr. in the mix, the sky is the limit for Mayfield in his sophomore year.

Given the skill-set and weapons, Mayfield is always in play but I can’t say he’s my favorite quarterback target here in Week 1. The Titans play slow on offense, ranking 28th in average seconds per play last year (29.52), while their secondary limited quarterbacks to just 15.8 fantasy points per game, which ranked sixth-best in the league. Tennessee also allowed the sixth-fewest yards per play last year at 5.3 and if I’m spending up at quarterback this week, I prefer other options.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t stack Mayfield with Odell Beckham. Now with Cleveland, Beckham is priced as the WR1 on DraftKings for opening week. You know Odell has slate-breaking upside, averaging 18.5 and 19.2 fantasy points per game over the last two seasons. He can take advantage of Tennessee’s cornerbacks, who struggled all of last year. Beckham figures to see plenty of coverage from Malcolm Butler, who surrendered the ninth-most yards (778) and second-most touchdowns (7) while in coverage in 2018. He also coughed up 0.45 fantasy points per cover snap, per Player Profiler. As a result, opposing number-one receivers thrived against the Titans, seeing 8.8 pass attempts per game (4th-most) and averaging 73.5 receiving yards per game (9th-most). They also allowed the 10th-most fantasy points per game to opposing wideouts in 2018. Odell can feast on these vulnerable corners in Week 1.

Jarvis Landry, meanwhile, isn’t going to be someone I look at very often this year. Despite being the only show in town last year and seeing 26.4 percent of Cleveland’s targets, Landry was just 25th in fantasy points per game. He’s been inside the top-10 in targets in each of the last four years but that will surely end if Beckham stays healthy. Landry will still present a solid floor but considering there wasn’t much upside last year, I doubt there is a ton this year with more mouths to feed in the Cleveland offense.

In 2018, the Titans allowed 10th-fewest receptions (4.1), seventh-fewest yards (40.4) and fewest touchdowns per game (0.1) to opposing tight ends. David Njoku is immensely talented but his usage will be inconsistent and when playing DFS, I either spend all the way up at tight end or punt the position entirely. Njoku falls in the middle in a poor matchup.

Browns running game

Nick Chubb is a home favorite and is just $6,400 on DK, making him a very strong play. And as a late-first, early-second round draft pick in seasonal leagues, you aren’t sitting him. From Weeks 7-17, Chubb ranked fourth in rushing yards (823), 11th in rushing touchdowns (6), second in 10-plus yard runs (24) and second in yards after contact (686). He is an incredible player in an incredible offense. Tennessee may be strong against the run but Chubb is looking at 22-25 touches with a potential uptick in passing work with Duke Johnson now in Houston.

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