Upon the NFL schedule release in late April, there isn’t any other week that allows more time for DFS preparation than Week 1. Even without the DraftKings salaries being posted before Wednesday, there’s enough data and information to identify players with favorable and unfavorable matchups and begin generating possible lineups. Generally, I don’t plan past Week 3 as the trends from prior year start to become replaced with the narratives of the current season.
These are my general thoughts after seeing the Week 1 salaries along with tidbits of information I found useful. Remember, this is all before the first snap of the preseason taking place so some ideas and thoughts listed below are subject to change (Note: this only covers the main slate and excludes the Thursday opener, Sunday night, and Monday night games. Also, FanDuel has yet to release their salaries as I conclude this article so this focuses more on DraftKings at this point).
Buffalo vs Baltimore (-5; 47)
Buffalo: With uncertainty regarding LeSean McCoy’s playing status due to off the field issues, the state of the Buffalo offense remains a huge question mark. Chris Ivory would assume the lead back duties in the event that McCoy misses time. A new starting quarterback inherits the tough task of facing the Ravens, Chargers, and Vikings to begin the season, all teams that were in the top 5 in fewest FPA to quarterbacks in 2017. Against these stout defenses, the Bills may have a tough time putting points on the scoreboard the first three weeks of the season.
Baltimore: The NFL has presented the Ravens with the team that ultimately knocked them out of postseason contention when the Bills beat the Dolphins and the Ravens lost to the Bengals in Week 17 last year. With revenge in mind, there isn’t much that should scare this Baltimore defense against the Bills offense, especially in LeSean McCoy doesn’t suit up. An Alex Collins, Baltimore defense stack could be an excellent 1-2 punch as this game has the potential to get out of hand whether A.J. McCarron or Nathan Peterman is under center. Last year, Alex Collins had a +2.814 FPPG differential in games the Ravens won, a +2.643 FPPG differential in games at M&T Bank Stadium, and a +4.67 FPPG differential in games the Ravens were favored.
Tampa Bay vs New Orleans (-7; 46.5)
Tampa Bay: The Bucs were dealt a horrible hand back in April when the schedule release had them slated to play the Saints, Eagles, and Steelers the first three weeks. Then it later comes out that Jameis Winston will be suspended for this rough stretch against these opponents that combined for 37 wins in 2017. In 4 starts last year, Ryan Fitzpatrick averaged 258.8 passing yds, 1.5 TDs, and .75 INTs along with 12.5 yards on the ground. He returned value in two of those four starts at his listed $5000 DK salary for Week 1.
New Orleans: With Mark Ingram suspended the first four games, ownership levels for Alvin Kamara are projected to be extremely high at his $8500 DK salary. Vegas has the Saints giving 7 points in a revenge game from Week 17 where the Saints needed a win and a Rams loss to clinch the 3rd seed in the NFC. The Rams fulfilled their end of the bargain while the Saints couldn’t hold up their own. The Saints have an excellent chance to win this game with revenge in mind and Jameis Winston suspended. One of the bigger lineup construction questions for Week 1 will be deciding to pay up for Kamara and his projected increase in volume with a lot of other people, knowing full well that he may be an important piece for cash game and GPP success. Or is it best to fade him, hope he busts and allocate that extra savings in salary to other options that others won’t be able to afford in selecting Kamara.
Pittsburgh vs Cleveland (6.5; 47)
Pittsburgh: There’s something to be said about players who come out of the gate fast. Antonio Brown would be one of those players. Since 2014, he has finished at worst the WR5 for Week 1 averaging 28.18 FPPG in full PPR scoring in Week 1 matchups from 2014-2017. In 2016, Le’Veon Bell was suspended for the first three games and missed a Week 1 matchup vs the Redskins and last year, Bell missed all of training camp and didn’t see action until Week 1 against the Browns. Amazingly, last year’s exact scenario can play out again with Bell expected to hold out and finally suit up against the Browns on September 9th. The odds of Antonio Brown duplicating his Week 1 success seems favorable.
Cleveland: The Browns have added San Francisco’s starting running back, Miami’s heavily targeted slot receiver, and Buffalo’s starting quarterback. Indeed, this roster is vastly improved from the 0-16 bunch not only on the offensive side of the ball but defensively as well. However, there are a lot of mouths to feed when considering the following player’s targets per game in 2017 with the Browns or their former team:
Jarvis Landry: 10.6
Carlos Hyde: 5.5
Duke Johnson: 5.81
Josh Gordon: 8.6
Corey Coleman: 6.33
Browns TE position: 7.63
That’s 44.47 targets per game on a team that threw the ball over 40 times in a game last year just three times and over 45 times once. Even Tyrod Taylor threw over 40 passes only one time with Buffalo in 2017. It’s going to be interesting to see how the targets are disbursed among this talent. One thing is for certain, if Hue Jackson can’t win more than a game with this roster, he’ll need to do more than jump in Lake Erie, he will need to swim away from Cleveland for good.
Houston vs New England (-7; 51)
Houston: The last time DeShaun Watson was on the field, him and Russell Wilson dueled to put up 79 points in what was arguably the best NFL game in 2017. He nearly conquered Tom Brady in Week 3 until Brady connected with Brandin Cooks for a TD with 23 seconds remaining. This matchup lands the Texans in a favorable spot against a team that lost the Super Bowl. In the last 10 years, the losing Super Bowl team is 2-8 ATS in Week 1 action with New England being one of those teams that did cover after a 2011 Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants. That statistic suggests at worst, the Texans should be able to keep it close. The bigger question will be if the teams can once again combine for 69 points given this is Watson’s first game since he tore his ACL. Also, how long will it take for him to feel comfortable on his legs again to activate his rushing upside that saw him average 42 yards a game on the ground in six starts.
New England: With Zach Ertz playing the opening Thursday night game, it leaves Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski as two of the three top tight ends on the main slate. The Chargers have contained Travis Kelce throughout his career thus leaving Gronk as the high end tight end to consider inserting into lineups. With Julian Edelman suspended until Week 5 and Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola out of the picture, Gronk looks to be the familiar target and a safe play to accumulate double digit targets. He turned 10 targets into 8 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown in the Week 3 meeting against the Texans last season.
San Francisco vs Minnesota (-5.5; 47)
San Francisco: The 49ers were cruising to a top 3 pick until they decided to see what they had in Jimmy Garappolo and now that franchise looks to have its starting quarterback of the future. He started from Week 13 on and won all five of those games, including a thrashing against the second best defense in football in Jacksonville that paid San Francisco no respect heading into Levis Stadium. There is definitely regression heading Jimmy G’s way at some point and it could be this Week 1 tilt with Minnesota. He isn’t going to catch teams off-guard any longer, especially against a team in the Vikings that allowed 12.5 points a game at US Bank Stadium in 2017 and a league low 10.3 FPPG to QBs at home.
Minnesota: The Vikings have upgraded their offense with the addition of Kirk Cousins and the return of Dalvin Cook from a torn ACL in Week 4 against the Lions. One player that is an upgrade at US Bank Stadium compared to playing on the road is Stefon Diggs. His dominance at home saw him score under 14 PPR points just once in six games last year. Among wide receivers who played 12 or more games last year, Diggs had a +10.05 FPPG differential at home, the third highest home/away variance behind Davante Adams’ +11.7 differential away from Lambeau Field and Michael Crabtree’s +11.56 differential at the Oakland Coliseum.
Cincinnati vs Indianapolis (-2.5; 46)
Cincinnati: Scroll over game logs from prior weeks of various seasons and the fact remains that more often than not, players that win their games score more fantasy points than those who don’t. Andy Dalton would be the poster boy of this description as no quarterback who played more than 12 games in 2017 averaged fewer fantasy points in a loss than Dalton’s 10.28 FPPG. In fact his +8.894 FPPG differential in losses was the worst such figure among quarterbacks last year. Vegas has this game as essentially a pick em with the Colts giving three points as the home team. With Andrew Luck possibly playing through rust, the Bengals have a chance to squeeze a Week 1 win on the road and the Red Rifle could be an inexpensive choice to return value on both Fanduel and DraftKings.
Indianapolis: The way to attack Cincinnati in 2017 was through the running back and tight end as the Bengals bolstered a secondary in which all positions were in the bottom half of FPA to wide receivers in the 2017 season. That secondary remains intact heading into 2018 and the player that shredded them in the 2017 matchup also remains on the Colts roster. The only difference now is Jack Doyle may have competition for some of the tight end targets with the addition of the wildly inconsistent Eric Ebron from the Lions. The possibility of Doyle being vultured this coming season is small yet possible; Ebron does show flashes of why he was taken with the 10th pick in the 2014 draft. With Andrew Luck returning to the field, tight end targets should increase compared to last year. 29% of Luck’s pass attempts went to the tight end in 2016 compared to just 19% with Jacoby Brissett under center last year.
Jacksonville vs New York (N) (4; 44)
Jacksonville: The 2017 version of Blake Bortles was definitely one of the bigger surprises of last season. DraftKings didn’t take him seriously until Week 16 when he was finally priced above $6000 as he reached 3x nine out of 14 games at that point. With a solid receiving corps and his ability to use his legs to gain yards, Bortles has the potential to hit 3x in various games this year as well. The Giants allowed the most fantasy points to quarterbacks last year and at $5600, the possibility of returning value certainly exists in Week 1.
New York: The Giants team that made postseason play in 2016 never recovered at any point last year from their infamous boat trip and getting booted out of the playoffs at the hands of the Packers. Injuries decimated the roster on both sides of the ball along with a team that flat out quit on Ben McAdoo at various moments during the 2017 season. If the 2018 Giants can play at half the level they did in 2016, they could arguably be the second best team in the NFC East. Running back was addressed in a big way with the selection of Saquon Barkley. Odell Beckham Jr. will be welcomed back to the receiving corp with open arms after recovering from ankle surgery that sidelined him beyond Week 5. One of the current debates in the fantasy industry is with both Beckham and Saquon sporting 1st round ADPs in redraft leagues, why is Eli Manning being drafted as late as the 14th round to not being drafted at all? If they both put up numbers that validate their first round selections, then Eli should be a bargain at where he is being drafted. He will certainly be a bargain for the early part of the year at his salary on DraftKings and FanDuel. Unfortunately, Week 1 won’t be one of those instances against a stingy Jacksonville team that allowed the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks last year.
Tennessee vs Miami (2; 45.5)
Tennessee: Matt LaFleur as offensive coordinator will be a nice addition to a Tennessee team that was mediocre and unimaginative on the offensive side of the ball in 2017. With the talent that Tennessee possessed, that team should have averaged better than 20.9 points per game. From a fantasy perspective, the Titans were one of two teams along with the Falcons that didn’t have a quarterback score 20 fantasy points in a single game last year. With LaFleur as offensive coordinator of the Rams, that team scored 29.9 points per game in 2017. He has the talent to put up wicked numbers in Tennessee with the addition of Dion Lewis to compliment Derrick Henry and a healthy Corey Davis who dealt with a lingering hamstring injury throughout last season. Marcus Mariota could be available at a discount on both DraftKings and FanDuel for the early part of 2018 until he performs like the Mariota of 2016. Showing the kickers some love, as quarterbacks coach for the Falcons in 2016 and the aforementioned OC for the Rams last year, Matt Bryant and Greg Zuerlein were the top kickers in fantasy in those years when LaFleur was on that respective coaching staff. This should bode well for Ryan Succop who finished as the 9th best kicker in 2017.
Miami: Jarvis Landry retired his role as the #1 receiver in Miami after he was traded to the Browns, leaving a few receivers to compete for that role. Devante Parker has yet to play a full season with the Dolphins and live up to the draft capital spent on him since being drafted 14th overall in the 2015 NFL draft. In that same timeframe, Kenny Stills hasn’t missed a game and performed more as the second wide receiving option than Parker has when Landry was a Dolphin. Danny Amendola filled in for an injured Juilan Edelman with New England last year and should slide into Landry’s vacated role after being paid $12 million over two years. However, the Dolphins also invested $24 million over three years in Albert Wilson who played just over 60% of his snaps as a Chief in the slot and could cut into Amendola’s snaps. This will be Ryan Tannehill’s first game under center since Week 14 of the 2016 season where he has experience with Parker and Stills but this will be his first game without his target hog in Landry. With the Dolphins expected to play from behind in games this season, Tannehill will be throwing the ball often and time will tell who emerges as his new favorite target.
Seattle vs Denver (-2; 42)
Seattle: Looking at the over/under total of 42, Vegas is anticipating a lower scoring affair at Sports Authority Field. However, this game screams potential shootout considering the legion of boom is no longer and Denver’s defense isn’t exactly the 2015 version that won Super Bowl 50. For that to happen, Russell Wilson will look to continue his absolute dominance of AFC opponents. In four games against the AFC South last year, Wilson averaged a remarkable 30.51 FPPG. Going back further, in 12 games against the AFC since 2015, he has averaged 26.4 FPPG in which Seattle has scored 30.6 points per game and covered the over in 9 of those 12 games. One thing to slightly consider is Wilson’s propensity for a slow start; he hasn’t eclipsed 20 FP in any of his six previous Week 1 starts. He could make for a sneaky tournament play as the competition will see his “tough” matchup and look at other options.
Denver: The quarterback carousel will finally end for the Broncos who had Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Payton Lynch all start games at some point in 2017. Case Keenum should provide much needed stability at a position that has been anything but since Peyton Manning retired. Denver faces a Seattle defense that struggled immensely against the run in the final four games of 2017, allowing 579 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns. Assuming he is named the starter, Royce Freeman can be a cheap option at $4500 in a game that should see points put on the scoreboard. He averaged 6.05 yards per carry and crossed the pylons 16 times in his senior year at Oregon.
Washington vs Arizona (PK; 44)
Washington: A lot of the focus in camp is on Derrius Guice and for good reason. However, don’t sleep on Chris Thompson who is returning from a broken ankle he suffered against the Saints. At his 15.88 FPPG clip in 9 games before last year’s injury, he was on pace to finish as RB8 in PPR scoring. He will need Alex Smith to target him more than he was targeting his running backs last year as the Chiefs starter. The Chiefs ranked 31st in RB target share which ranked only better than the Texans. Smith falls into a Washington system that targeted the running backs 22.11% of the time.
Arizona: There is initial hesitation in starting players coming off injury; David Johnson should not be of such concern. If anything, the only thing his wrist injury would have prevented him from doing is work in the weight room. It shouldn’t have prevented him from maintaining his impeccable aerobic conditioning. Bottom line: this wasn’t an ACL tear or other leg injury and he has been in the weight room since April 3rd when he was fully cleared so come September 9th, he will be ready for action. Three of Arizona’s first four opponents are against teams that were in the top 10 in FPA to running backs on the ground. Washington was shredded by such running backs in their final four games in 2017, giving up 654 yards and 3 touchdowns in that span.
Dallas vs. Carolina (-2.5; 44)
Dallas: Philadelphia’s path to the NFC East title was made easier when Ezekiel Elliott’s looming six game suspension was finally enforced. Dak Prescott was certainly impacted by this as he scored 19.63 FPPG with Zeke on the field vs 13.39 FPPG with Zeke warming the bench. With pass catchers that don’t invoke much fear among opponents, it will be curious to see if opposing defenses stack the box on Zeke and make Dak beat them through the air. If so, will the Cowboys utilize Zeke out of the backfield more than they have in the past? Elliott averaged 3.8 targets per game in 10 games last year, up 1.2 TPG from 2016. This number fails in comparison to Le’Veon Bell’s 6.63 TPG, Todd Gurley’s 5.44 TPG, and David Johnson’s 7.5 TPG back in 2016.
Carolina: No running back in 2017 had a higher floor than Christian McCaffery’s 7.8 FPPG in PPR scoring. He and Le’Veon Bell were the only two running backs that scored a minimum of 7 fantasy points each game last year. While he isn’t on that tier of running backs, it’s still one hell of a name to be associated with after a successful rookie season. Early reports out of Panthers camp indicate the team’s desires to give him the ball 25-30 teams a game. He was targeted 7.06 times per game last year so he would be cutting into C.J. Anderson’s carries for that goal to happen. He faces a Dallas team that ranked 13th in FPA to receiving backs. McCaffery has excelled at Bank of America Stadium in the early part of his career, posting 20+ FP games five times last year.
Kansas City vs Los Angeles (A) (-3; 47.5)
Kansas City: Some players own teams and in Travis Kelce’s case, the Chargers own him. Since 2015, he hasn’t found the end zone against the Chargers in six games and is averaging a meager 6.88 FPPG in that timeframe. Tyreek Hill had a little more success in 2 starts last year finding the end zone twice, totaling 19.5 FPPG in two starts. Then there’s Kareem Hunt who smashed in both starts to the tune of 327 yards on the ground and two rushing touchdowns, pounding his way to 32.45 FPPG. How Sammy Watkins and Patrick Mahomes II factor into this equation has yet to be determined. Kelce will no doubt be started in redraft leagues, but for DFS purposes, there are other tight end selections available with better upsides in Week 1.
Los Angeles: Philip Rivers faces a Chiefs secondary that gave up the second most fantasy points to receivers lined up on the left side and the third most fantasy points to receivers lined up in the slot in 2017. On top of that, Marcus Peters is removed from the equation and replaced with David Amerson who allowed quarterbacks a league high 156.3 rating in just six games last year. This sets up well for the veteran quarterback and his receivers. Keenan Allen scored 21.21 FPPG at home and 23.53 FPPG as a favorite last year. He will cost a pretty penny to insert into lineups while a cheaper option exists in Tyrell Williams. A boom or bust option at $4200, he can easily return value with a deep shot and a score.