It’s Week 1 of NFL action, the moment that I and many of you have been waiting for all summer long. We’ve done our homework over the last few months, gobbled up every available news item, watched terrible preseason football, and put our fingers in our ears with all of the annoying controversies that make the NFL less fun. But now we’re here and I am OH so ready for this moment of breaking down all of the Week 1 Sunday afternoon matchups to help you see what should be coming, where there may be some spots to attack, and which teams are primed to let you down in a variety of ways.
Every Thursday in The Slant And Go (The Sluggo if you’re A Football Guy), I’ll bring you entirely too many words breaking down how I view each game, the relevant data, and a dash of some of Awesemo’s rankings (which are available for premium members with a $20 off promo code of NFLA20) where applicable. There will be GIFs, there will be tweets that I find interesting from people in media, there will be me baselessly insulting people whom I hate for a wide variety of reasons. But more than anything, you’ll learn how I think about the slate based on the hours of poring over lineups, data, and news that I put in so you don’t have to. All you’ve got to do is read, get my slant, then go. Get it? It all tied together nicely at the end, like The Big Lebowski’s rug.
So without further adieu, let’s get to Sunday afternoon’s 12 game slate.
Washington Redskins (21.88 implied points) at Arizona Cardinals (21.88 implied points)
The Redskins face a notable change offensively with Alex Smith at the helm and Smith’s accuracy minded approach should pay some fantasy dividends, particularly for closer range targets like Jordan Reed, Jamison Crowder, and Chris Thompson. But Smith’s deep ball accuracy was a key part of his 2017 performance in Kansas City and that makes Paul Richardson and Josh Doctson viable places to look. Both players average more than 13.5 air yards per target, a decent indicator of their downfield chances, while Richardson converted those targets at a far better clip than Doctson, posting a 55% catch rate compared to Doctson’s brutal 45% rate. The targets for Crowder, Reed, and Thompson are likely the safest and at palatable prices but overall a matchup versus a feisty Cardinals defense who gave up the 6th least yards allowed in 2017 and should be comparable with new coach Steve Wilks is perhaps not the best place to look overall. I also don’t see a ton of love for Adrian Peterson given Thompson’s usefulness and the Cardinals’ solid 3.5 yards per rush allowed. Peterson is a volume play at this point in his career so he could be useful but I can’t see wanting to go with him over guys who can do more in better matchups.
The Cardinals will move to Sam Bradford at quarterback and he’s looked about as good as he did in Minnesota in a limited series of snaps in the preseason. For the three or so games that he’ll be healthy, Bradford should be accurate and mostly risk averse at the position and that likely means a solid reliance on the ageless Larry Fitzgerald, a player who had as high a target share as any in the league last season at 27% and with even less weapons around him to divert focus. Christian Kirk or Chad Williams stand to be another interesting option at depressed prices, though it’s worth noting that Washington’s pass defense is one of its stronger suits with only a 57.6% completion rate allowed. But there is some logic to Williams or Kirk as a pivot to Fitzgerald with a very cheap price and given how much worse the Redskins were against secondary receivers via Football Outsiders’ DVOA statistic, offering a 31.2% boost on WR2 performance relative to a 20.1% decrease to WR1s. The rush defense for Washington has been far weaker with 4.6 yards per rush allowed, an interesting spot for the returning David Johnson as a pivot to the likely very popular Alvin Kamara. Johnson is an elite play given his running ability and gamechanging ability and volume out of the backfield.
Tennessee Titans (23.5 implied points) at Miami Dolphins (21.5 implied points)
The good news for Marcus Mariota: No matter how he plays this year, he’s won the years-old Draft day battle for hearts and minds against Jameis Winston. The better news: He gets to open his 2018 season with a matchup versus Miami, a team who was defensively horrendous in the preseason and allowed QB-friendly numbers of 6.8 yards per pass, a 64.2% completion rate, and a 4.9% passing TD rate in 2017. They were also one of the worst teams in the red zone, giving up a third worst .63 TDs per red zone visit in 2017. Delanie Walker posted a 22.4% target share last season and, while that should change with new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur of the Rams, his usefulness in that offense could pay dividends with the Dolphins giving a 17.1% performance boost to tight ends via Football Outsiders’ DVOA. A Mariota stack with Walker, Rishard Matthews, or Corey Davis might be an interesting place to look for low owned upside and both Davis and Taywan Taylor may be beneficiaries of the 5.2 targets per game that Eric Decker’s departure leaves on the table. The Dolphins are slightly less bad versus the rush but a big game for Derrick Henry and/or Dion Lewis would also not be surprising here. Henry has not traditionally been a PPR back but DeMarco Murray’s retirement is going to open up opportunity for one of these guys to cash in even if neither ends up being the Todd Gurley in this new Titans attack. The team total isn’t incredibly inspiring here but if the Titans’ offense can force some pace into the game, Mariota and various parts of the offense may be underowned but with some potential for high scores.
The Dolphins are not likely to be a popular option offensively this year but Ryan Tannehill does pick up an A in value in Awesemo’s rankings so yay for him. The Titans have done a good job stopping the run at just 3.6 yards per attempt in 2017 and new head coach Mike Vrabel will likely continue to push that in the right direction. There may be some value for the passing attack with the Titans allowing the most pass attempts per game and allowing scores on 37.3% of drives. Jarvis Landry’s move to Cleveland frees up a ton of targets, meaning Kenny Stills’ 17.4% target share should only grow while Danny Amendola stands to potentially slide into a lower volume version of Landry’s role if he can jel with Tannehill. Devante Parker has suffered from a finger injury that has him already ruled out for week 1 so there will certainly be targets to go around. It’s not a sexy or super inspiring place to look but the Dolphins’ passing attack playing from behind may be a little useful if things break their way.
Los Angeles Chargers (25.38 implied points) at Kansas City Chiefs (21.88 implied points)
The Chargers come in with some degree of Super Bowl hype on their side and a matchup with a Kansas City defense that was bad in 2017 and arguably got even worse, particularly in the secondary. Keenan Allen and his astronomical 27.3% target share should be an immediate beneficiary. Allen was stellar in his first healthy season in a while and with the Chiefs offering up 6.9 yards per pass and a 29.5% DVOA boost to WR1s, Allen might be one of the best wide receiver plays on the board. Hunter Henry’s injury will leave 4.4 tight end targets up for grabs as Philip Rivers’ safety valve, making an interesting spot for either Virgil Green or Antonio Gates to offer up some sneaky and cheap value. Melvin Gordon gets an insane amount of value that should grow even higher if he’s more involved in the passing attack, as head coach Anthony Lynn claims. Gordon stands to be an interesting pivot to the Kamaras and David Johnsons of the world given what should be a high scoring matchup where he’s going to see a bunch of touches. The Chiefs give up a ton of yardage so Rivers, Allen, and Gordon should all be in your mix and it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see Tyrell Williams or Gates or Green have a big day.
The Chiefs and their new big-armed starter Patrick Mahomes are going to have some explosive offensive performances this year…but I’m not as confident for Week 1 in the passing attack. The Chargers generate sacks on 7.6% of drop backs and limited teams to 6 yards per pass last season. With no notable losses and the continued growth of young talent, it’s hard to imagine the defense regressing too much this year. The run defense is a bit of a sieve, however, with a league worst 4.9 yards per rush meaning some potential for Kareem Hunt to come out of the gates strongly. Hunt stands to get a ton of touches and he was incredibly efficient with them last season, more than deserving of receiving the lion’s share of the run game again this year. I like Mahomes and think he’ll have some moments this season but I would only grab a low-owned Hunt from this matchup and let the Chiefs’ passing game prove their worth for someone else this week.
Buffalo Bills (17.25 implied points) at Baltimore Ravens (23.5 implied points)
The Bills are starting Noted Bad Quarterback Nathan Peterman and that certainly won’t stop the Ravens from racking up a ton of ownership as the highest price defense of the week. Baltimore’s defense was really lucky in 2017 with how they generated turnovers despite mediocre sack rates, deflection rates, and forced fumble rates but that may not matter versus a Buffalo team who will have to actively fight from shooting themselves on the foot. LeSean McCoy will see a ton of volume as a function of this offense and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the majority of the offense carried on his back as it was in 2017. From the highest level game theory perspective I could see using McCoy as a leverage play on the likely to be high-owned Ravens but it’s hard to find much motivation to consider the Buffalo offense or get away from the Ravens D.
There is a player I love in this game whom I think could be one of the sneakiest plays of the week and his name is Alex Collins. Collins has talked a big game, saying that fantasy players need to “draft him now before it’s too late” and I think for at least this week, he may be right. The Bills give up a ton of yards at 355.1 yards per game and their 4.3 yards per rush were 7th worst in the league. They also allowed runs to turn into touchdowns at a league worst 4.7% rushing TDs per attempt. Collins is relatively cheap, correlates positively with the Ravens defense, and makes a ton of sense to me. Joe Flacco has had a lot of positive reports from camp and his rapport with John Brown has been deemed noteworthy by many. Flacco is an A value in Awesemo’s rankings and versus a team as poor as Buffalo, he may have a shot at being useful along with Brown, Michael Crabtree, or some other new part of the Ravens pass attack in a stack. But I’m mostly targeting Collins here and banking on him to be the guy everyone goes “Why didn’t I play him when it was so obvious???” when all is said and done.
Dallas Cowboys (20.63 implied points) at Carolina Panthers (23.38 implied points)
The Cowboys no longer have the Sword of Damacles that is the fallout of Ezekiel Elliott’s poor life choices hanging over them and that alone should give some hope to the community of Dallas fans that, sadly, I am a part of. Unfortunately, their Week 1 matchup doesn’t strike me as a great spot to start on a good note. Ezekiel Elliott gets as many touches as anyone in the NFL and could be useful despite a pedestrian 4 yards per rush allowed by Carolina last season, particularly if he gets more touches in the passing game. There are some changes in the Panthers’ defensive lineup but with a lot of the same coaching staff other than departed D.C. Steve Wilks, it’s hard to imagine Carolina losing much of their defensive juice. The Panthers are more beatable via the air, a situation in which the Cowboys’ turned over receiving corps may not be ready to take full advantage. Allen Hurns still grades out as the guy who should benefit most targetwise and he was a sneakily good play when healthy for Jacksonville last year, posting a 69.6% catch rate that was noticeably higher than Blake Bortles’ completion percentage. Cole Beasley and rookie Michael Gallup are also in the mix along with Terrance Williams and until we get a regular season understanding of their roles, it’s hard to figure out whom, if anyone, will be the apple of Dak Prescott’s eye. It’s a tough matchup but I think at Dak’s price, he could end up an interesting lower owned stack or one-off play that also provides some rushing TD potential.
The Panthers and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner will immediately seek to rectify some of the Carolina offense’s shortcomings and Cam Newton stands to be an obvious beneficiary. Any bump in accuracy would be a big asset to Cam, as would squeezing the last bit of life out of Greg Olsen and his 5.4 targets per game. Olsen seems to be healthy this year so if he’s not washed up (and as integral as other TEs have been to Turner-helmed offenses), he may end up being a far better play than he was in an injury-riddled 2017. Devin Funchess also stands to break out with the WR1 slot all his to own. Funchess drew a respectable 22.2% target share, got just under 1 red zone target per game, and converted the total picture to 8 touchdowns last year. Another year of experience and some more intelligent efforts to get Funchess into a position to succeed could put him over the top. Preseason hype machine Christian McCaffrey has soared up the charts, even baiting me into this during my long-term seasonlong auction draft last night:
I paid $50 in my auction draft for Christian McCaffrey AMA
— Chris Spags (@ChrisSpags) September 5, 2018
Panthers coaches have declared their desire to get McCaffrey to 30 touches per game, an ambitious goal. But if he gets to 20, up from his 39th ranked 12.3 touches last year, McCaffrey should easily find his way to elite value. The one caveat for all of this Panthers love: The Dallas defense did a good job limiting yards per game last season and seem to only have improved their front seven, which could mitigate some of the Panthers’ offensive upside. But they do seem to be an interesting spot and if both these defenses falter, this game could be more open-ended than it seems.
Cincinnati Bengals (21.25 implied points) at Indianapolis Colts (24.75 implied points)
The Bengals are a team who seem to have regressed further than they should based on the talent they have and it’s hard to say whether that’s something which will fully bounce back this season or if Marvin Lewis and co have simply lost the 53 men he’s responsible for guiding. This is as good a spot as any to find out where Cincinnati’s offense stands as the Colts were third worst in yards allowed last season, particularly faltering versus the pass. Andy Dalton and AJ Green are a popular combination who are always underowned and if offensive coordinator Bill Lazor can get that pairing humming in his first full season in the role, the Bengals will cause some problems for the AFC North. Dalton showed some real potential to return to his former occasionally elite form in the preseason. Joe Mixon is another player who stands to benefit from any resurgence by the Bengals; he stands to improve upon his 14.9 touches from last year, get more involved in the passing game (with a very underrated 88.2% catch rate), and pick up some more red zone opportunities. Mixon had some fumbling issues that could hurt him if they continue to present themselves but as a pure volume play, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mixon useful this season and in this matchup, albeit a little less appealing than the pass game. Tyler Eifert’s return will also be an interesting note to watch; if Eifert stays healthy and just maintains Tyler Kroft’s share of the offense from last season, he would be in a tremendous spot to capitalize and reclaim a top 10 TE scoring position. John Ross has also picked up a ton of hype and while he could be a viable deep threat as he picks up Brandon LaFell’s missing targets, I’m not ready to trust him as anything other than a GPP flyer.
The Colts have Andrew Luck back and that’s as good as a win for them in terms of how it portends for their team’s future. But despite Luck’s return, Cincinnati’s defense has tended to be better versus the pass than the run, meaning an interesting opportunity for whomever is healthy and available out of Marlon Mack and Jordan Wilkins. I think Mack is a better option if he’s healthy and on the field but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Wilkins be slightly useful if the Bengals defense gives up the same rushing value it did in 2017 with new coordinator Teryl Austin. TY Hilton will have his weeks and Ryan Grant strikes me as an undervalued play in general but I’m not crazy about the Colts offense in this matchup until I can see if the loss of D.C. Paul Gunther makes the Bengals defense a little more palatable to attack with an airborne offense like the Colts should be under new coach Frank Reich.
Jacksonville Jaguars (23.38 implied points) at NY Giants (20.13 implied points)
The Jaguars’ defense was historically great last year and another year of seasoning should see them only improve; while it’s hard to replicate their league best turnover rate, with their pass rush generating sacks on 9.8% of drop backs and limiting teams scoring on them to a 23.9% rate, best in the league, it does seem like they should be able to do the things that lead to defensive fantasy success. But I also wouldn’t sleep on them offensively; the Giants welcome defensive coordinator James Bettcher from an underrated Arizona unit and that should lead to some improvements over the Steve Spagnuolo shit show of 2017. But these Giants gave up the 2nd most yards per game last year along with a comparably bad 7.2 yards per pass and a 4th worst 5.4% passing TD rate and it’s hard to see that being completely overhauled in time for this season. For that reason, I am into Blake Bortles and, like most of the DFS industry, very into Keelan Cole. We all know by now that Cole was an elite PPR player in his run filling in for the injured Jaguars WR corps at the end of 2017 but he faces a very similar opportunity in 2018 despite what seems like a lot of doubters. Donte Moncrief will see some looks, as will Dede Westbrook and rookie DJ Chark. But Cole’s target share leads me to believe he’ll be the guy Bortles looks for most and that does have value with an offense that can beat up on poor teams. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins also stands to gain some targets with the loss of Marquise Lee and the departure of Marcedes Lewis but he’ll need to maintain a very high amount of volume to be as useful as he was as a centerpiece of the Jets offense last year. Leonard Fournette is the last key piece here and even though the Giants defense was serviceable versus the run, particularly compared to the pass, he got 23.4 touches per game and stands to pick up even more with increased involvement in the pass game. Fournette picks up Bs in points and value from Awesemo and he’s a nice alternative to the higher priced and sexier plays of Alvin Kamara or David Johnson.
The Giants offense may be good this year with Pat Shrumur doing everything he can to turn them into the East Coast version of the Vikings but it’s hard to trust them going into a matchup with Jacksonville in Week 1. Saquon Barkley may be able to get something done given that the run game was the one thing closest to a liability for the Jaguars defense but overall I’m not banking on that even as a super contrarian play. The Jaguars also limited WR1 production by 58.4% according to Football Outsiders, making even an explosive “touchdown from anywhere” option like Odell Beckham Jr. not a place I’d want to go even at a deeply discounted price on DraftKings. The Giants, even Eli Manning, will be very playable in coming weeks…but this isn’t it for me.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (20 implied points) at New Orleans Saints (29.5 implied points)
The Bucs are in disarray with Jameis Winston suspended the first few games of the year and there really isn’t much to love with them to start the year. Mike Evans will get targets, someone will get handoffs, Ryan Fitzpatrick will try his best, and ultimately it shouldn’t matter much. But one place I do think could be interesting to look at is Payton Barber, a player who’s snagged the starting role largely due to him being too good to deny down the stretch of 2017 and in this preseason. USC rookie Ronald Jones is the player they invested a draft pick in but Barber was as good as anyone on the team toting the ball last year and he also posted a very useful 84.2% catch rate. The Saints gave up a poor 4.4 yards per rush and if they don’t pull away with the game immediately, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Barber do some damage on the ground and through short range passing designed to keep the explosive New Orleans attack off the field.
The Saints are one of the most appealing options in DFS this week with the highest team total on the board, a Bucs defense opposing them who was worst in the league in yards per game allowed, and a highly efficient offense with attractive players at almost every position. Alvin Kamara will find a ton of ownership as the presumed bellcow back with Mark Ingram sidelined on suspension for the first few weeks. New signing Mike Gillislee may take a few touches but Kamara is the unquestioned alpha dog and a player whose potential for regression in efficiency will almost definitely be mitigated by increased touches and opportunity. But I’m also very into Drew Brees given the Bucs’ 2nd worst 7.6 yards per pass allowed and think he may end up being an interesting pivot off of Kamara’s rushing load. Kamara will get his but Brees and Michael Thomas’s 9.3 targets per game should also be heard from in this game. Ted Ginn also showed some really massive improvement last year and an effectively used Cam Meredith showed in the preseason the value he can add. Brees makes an interesting “pay up to be contrarian” type of play that also serves as a pivot off of Kamara and Tom Brady and that makes him a really interesting option that people may miss out on at volume.
Seattle Seahawks (19.63 implied points) at Denver Broncos (22.38 implied points)
The demise of the Seahawks has been a strong narrative developing this offseason and it’s generally not a great sign when a new punter is the one who excites people the most about your defense:
It’s a good thing Seattle now has a great punter because they’re likely to need him. They had the 4th highest rate of punts on drives starting inside their 35 last year (55.5%) pic.twitter.com/2s8CKHNIod
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) August 20, 2018
But the punting improvement can be a real asset for a defense turning over a lot of its secondary and the return of Earl Thomas, disenfranchised though he may be, may help stop some of the bleeding expected. The offense isn’t the most stirring in this matchup either but they still do have Russell Wilson, 2017’s most productive fantasy QB, a moderately healthy Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, and a real grinder in Chris Carson along with explosive rookie Rashaad Penny. Denver’s defense has also gotten a lot of crap after a down year in 2017 but I also don’t believe their defense is as porous as it seems and the potential for pressure generated by Von Miller and Bradley Chubb will greatly impact the Seahawks’ slack offensive line. The Broncos defense gave up a shocking amount of passing TDs last season but they did a stellar job limiting the rush to 3.34 yards per carry and still held QBs to a top 10 59.9% completion rate. Despite some of the perception issues of the Broncos defense relative to how good they were a few years, it may seem like a good spot to go contrarian with some of the offensive pieces on Seattle’s side but I still think there’s enough life in the Denver defensive side that the Seattle offense is not a place you’d want to look with any sort of confidence.
The Broncos have added Case Keenum to their offensive attack and really anything close to the accuracy he displayed in Minnesota would be a massive value add to the Broncos offense. Ditto rookie RB Royce Freeman who has claimed the starting job to kick off the year. However, I’m not sold that the Seattle defense is a place to attack for them either. For as much turnover as there may be in their secondary (and there are arguments that some of those changes may be for the positive given the age and regression of players like Richard Sherman or Kam Chancellor), the Seahawks were not as bad as they were reported to be in 2017, holding teams to a 7th best 58.7% completion rate and a respectable 4 yards per rush. Their big issue was penalties leading to first downs, giving teams a free set of downs a 2nd worst 45 times last year. There will be targets for Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders (Keenum has favored Sanders thus far but it’s more likely they end up pretty close to even with perhaps a slight edge in target depth and volume to Thomas) but I don’t think the Seahawks are a team to go against for this Broncos squad unless you think the game stays close and Royce Freeman gets there with volume.
Houston Texans (22.25 implied points) at New England Patriots (28.75 implied points)
Here’s another game that immediately jumps off the page as a potential shootout between two teams who were defensively deficient to say the least in 2017. Houston will return DeShaun Watson at quarterback, a player who in his rookie year got sacked, threw picks, and still ran enough and threw downfield for touchdowns at a high enough rate to make him as strong of a QB play as any in the league. The hope is to see less of the sacks and picks with a year of growth and half of last season spent on the sidelines working on the mental game while recovering from an ACL injury. Even if Watson runs a little less than his 5.1 attempts per game as a result of the knee, he should be able to find more value as a true passer with some of the weapons at his disposal. Tops among them is DeAndre Hopkins, a player whose 11.6 targets per game were second in the league in 2017. Hopkins is a dynamic player with a 33.1% target share who also gets 1.3 red zone targets per game, going against a defense who made precious few improvements and gave up 6.8 yards per pass and an 18.9% boost via DVOA to WR1s. Hopkins should be a strong consideration as he picks up an A in points in Awesemo’s rankings. Will Fuller has also shown moments of brilliance and at 15.9 air yards per target, Fuller needs to only break one of the 5 targets per game he got last year to have a ton of value. If the Texans D can’t stop the Patriots pass attack, the Texans will need every bit of Hopkins and Fuller to keep up. Lamar Miller is another interesting play from a price and volume perspective with the Patriots giving up a 2nd worst 4.7 yards per rush last year. However they did improve a bit in their front seven with the addition of Danny Shelton and even with their ragtag group last year they held up shockingly well in the red zone and against rushing touchdowns; Miller may be useful but I’m still targeting the passing game here primarily for those reasons.
As for the Patriots, there’s a lot to love here assuming that the return of JJ Watt doesn’t completely reshape the Texans defense. The Texans were horrendous against the pass last year giving up a third worst in the league 7.6 yards per pass attempt and dead last 6% passing TD rate so they’re going to desperately need Watt to turn the pass rush around and make it easier on the secondary. It’s hard to imagine that being the case from Week 1 though, despite some of the Pats’ offensive line issues and loss of talent this offseason. That makes Tom Brady and his bare bones receiving corps an intriguing, albeit likely to be highly owned, option. The Texans secondary allowed boosts via DVOA to every part of the receiving group, from WR1 to WR3 and the TE, and there should be room for multiple guys here to get theirs. Rob Gronkowski’s 7.5 targets per game last season should only go up with the loss of Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola and the PED-based absence of Julian Edelman, a great reason for Gronk to pick up As in both points and value in Awesemo’s rankings. Chris Hogan is priced up but as a veteran of the offense, he should be a consideration, particularly given Brady’s surprising reliance on him in the red zone with 1.3 RZ targets per game. I can see why people would be on Phillip Dorsett given his absurd 20.3 air yards per target and a very solid 67% catch rate despite that target depth but I’m mostly trusting Gronk and Hogan to be the plays here. I would keep an eye on Cordarelle Patterson too; it’s hard to predict how he’ll be used but if he gets any of the looks that Amendola got last year, he’s a far more explosive player who operates more similar to a short route slot receive than you’d realize. And at this point we all know the Patriots’ running back failures, particularly without Dion Lewis on the roster. Rex Burkhead and James White will make sense as plays at times this year and while I’d slightly favor Burkhead for red zone touchdown purposes, White should get enough targets to get a shot at putting a game together.
San Francisco 49ers (20.25 implied points) at Minnesota Vikings (25.75 implied points)
The Niners come into the season with a lot of heat on them thanks to Handsome Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback and their late season success last year but this team is very much not a finished product even if they hadn’t lose Jerick McKinnon for the season with an ACL injury. And while I’m not out on the Niners overall, I have no interest in them opening the season in a matchup that should be very difficult versus the Vikings defense. Minnesota was tremendous across the board defensively last year, lost no one too crucial to the process, and led the league in yards allowed. They don’t generate a ton of pressure with a middling 6.3% sack rate but they are amongst the best in the league in everything else. Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin will likely see highly contested targets, Alfred Morris and Matt Breida seem locked into a time share until one emerges or gets hurt (Breida is the better player but I get why a coach would trust Morris more)…there will be weeks I love these guys but this matchup versus Minnesota is not one where any of them make sense to me.
Minnesota on the other hand may very well have their way with these Niners, particularly through the air. The addition of Richard Sherman can’t hurt even if his best days are behind him but the Niners’ pass defense was not the best in 2017 as they gave up 6.9 yards per pass and touchdowns on 5% of the pass attempts against them. Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph should all be in consideration as a result. Even if the Minnesota offense curtails Cousins’s volume of throws from his Washington stint, Cousins will have a plethora of options in front of him who should be more than capable of taking advantage of a middling Niners D. The Niners were respectable versus the rush at just 3.8 yards per carry against them so I’m not necessarily looking at Dalvin Cook as much, though Cook or Latavius Murray should be able to punch one in at some point given that the Niners give up a touchdown in the red zone 60% of the time. Overall, I’d likely favor Diggs due to their number of targets possibly evening out after Thielen was such a Case Keenum safety blanket last season but I think you can make a case for a lot of options on the Vikings’ side.
Pittsburgh Steelers (26 implied points) at Cleveland Browns (20.25 implied points)
Last but not least we have a rivalry game in which we don’t really know what we’ll be getting from either offense. Pittsburgh currently is expected to be without holdout Le’Veon Bell in a week where his teammates are publicly bashing him for reportedly planning to not show up until around Week 10 to avoid injury. James Conner would step in but it’s hard to imagine him being as good of an option; Conner caught no passes on one target in 2017 and while he’s shown some more receiving ability this preseason, he’s not the same player as Le’Veon Bell and attempting to use him the way they do Bell will likely not end well. Conner also gets a tough matchup versus a Browns rush defense that was 2nd best in the league at 3.4 yards per attempt last year and should only get better with more experience for Miles Garrett. Overall, Conner strikes me as a fade this week even though I certainly get the logic to playing him. The Browns attempted to shore up their secondary with first rounder Denzel Ward but I’m definitely not seeing that as a game changer against the GOAT Antonio Brown. Brown gets the most targets in the league on a per game basis and the absence of Bell would likely only increase the reliance on his ability to catch the ball in all areas of the field. Juju Smith-Schuster should also see a bigger role this year with the departure of Martavis Bryant freeing up 5.6 targets per game. Juju had a 73.4% catch rate last year and any increase in targets should immediately bump him even higher up the WR rankings. I’m not sure if the yardage will be there to justify playing Ben Roethlisberger given that the Browns overall limited teams to respectable 328.1 yards per game but he should have some interest if you think Brown and Juju carry the load as a pivot off of James Conner but I think there are stronger QB plays to make this week.
As for the Browns, I think they’ve made a lot of positive changes offensively that should pay dividends this year. I’m just not sure it’ll happen in this game. It’s hard to say how the loss of Ryan Shazier will impact the Steelers but they were tops in the league with a 10.1% sack rate last year (a bad sign for a highly sacked QB like Tyrod Taylor) and deflected passes at a 7th best 14.6% rate, two signs that generally portend a defense’s success. They limited offenses to 306.9 yards per game and while their 4.4 rushing yards per attempt were pretty high (perhaps a good sign for the Carlos Hyde Week 1 Truthers), I don’t see the Browns getting enough done versus them to be useful. I’ve come off the Steelers D as a play for the most part out of respect for the improvements on the offensive side with the addition of Hyde, Taylor, and Jarvis Landry as well as the return of Josh Gordon but I don’t think there’s much to love from a Browns perspective this week…even if it wouldn’t shock me to see them come close to a stunning Week 1 win.
There we go, your Sunday Week 1 slate in the books in our first ever Slant and Go. We did it, America. Follow me on Twitter @ChrisSpags, tune in to the Awesemo YouTube for our live before lock on Sunday at 12PM Eastern to hear some more last minute preamble from me on the slate, and I’ll see you guys next Thursday for another 5,000 words on every possible thing I think about football. What a gift to us all.
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Optimizer Groups: Week 7 Sunday NFL DFS Optimal Lineup Strategy on DraftKings & FanDuel – Sunday Update
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NFL DFS Ownership Projections for DraftKings, FanDuel, and Yahoo!
NFL Afternoon Slate Ownership for DraftKings and FanDuel
NFL DFS Sun-To-Mon Ownership Projections for DraftKings and FanDuel