We have known all the matchups for 2019 since the conclusion of Week 17. Now we know when the 256 games will unfold and can begin making preliminary plans of attack for the first few weeks of DFS slates. While we won’t have the salaries until around the end of July, it shouldn’t stop us from formulating a tentative gameplan based on what we know about the 32 teams in 2018 and all of the offseason transactions from every roster. Here are some early observations from the first three weeks of the 2019 NFL schedule.
JUST RUN IT
From Weeks 13-17, Ravens running backs rushed the ball 27.2 times per game with no running back carrying the ball more than the 65.6% clip posted by Gus Edwards in Week 13. Add Mark Ingram to the fray with Kenneth Dixon and the aforementioned Edwards and it becomes a headache trying to determine how many touches each will see until we get the first indication in Week 1. In that same timeframe, Lamar Jackson scrambled out of the pocket 14.4 times per game for 73.2 yards and .6 touchdowns and has double-digit rushing attempts in every regular season game he has started in his early career.
2019 commences in Miami against a Dolphins defense that Josh Allen shredded for a combined 18 rushes for 230 yards and two touchdowns in two meetings in 2018. That date at Hard Rock Stadium is followed by subsequent meetings against two teams in the bottom five in rush DVOA in the Cardinals and Chiefs. This early portion of the Ravens schedule presents a good opportunity for Jackson and a rush-heavy offense to find their rhythm against defenses that struggled against the run last year.
Those who want to sort through Baltimore’s cornucopia of running back options may find a nice GPP diamond in the rough out of the bunch. Others may find more comfort with Jackson with the solid floor created by his rushing ability. If he can put together strong passing performances along with utilizing his legs, he can be both cash game and GPP viable and has the potential to be a necessary piece in winning a Milly Maker.
AN IMPROVED NFC NORTH
From 2012-2016, the Packers were all but guaranteed three wins out of a possible four against the Bears and Vikings. Aaron Rodgers was dominant in that stretch, going 15-3 in games that he played to completion against these divisional foes with 2.38 touchdown passes and .38 interceptions per game. With upgraded defenses, these once easy victories were anything but with the Packers going 0-3-1 and Rodgers only throwing 1.25 touchdown passes and .25 interceptions in four games against these tougher opponents last season.
Ironically, the same two rivals that began the 2018 Packers campaign are the same that commence the 2019 season with the first game at Soldier Field instead of Lambeau Field. It could be tough sledding for Rodgers against two tenacious defenses that were in the bottom 3 in FPA to quarterbacks last year along with both being in the bottom 5 in pass DVOA.
After Week 3 against a Broncos defense also in the bottom 5 in pass DVOA, the schedule softens a bit with defenses such as the Eagles, Lions, and Raiders on the horizon. The first few slates have more reliable options than rostering Rodgers against a Bears defense that surrendered 1.31 passing touchdowns per contest in 2018 and a Vikings one that allowed 2 or more passing touchdowns in just two games.
PREPARING TO FEAST
The schedule makers continue to show their lack of creativity with the Giants and Cowboys squaring off to open the season for the fourth time in five years. With key losses on both sides of the ball for the Giants, this may be the easiest of the matchups for the Cowboys which bodes well for Ezekiel Elliott. Prior to Damon Harrison being traded to Detroit last season, the Giants were allowing 83.42 yards on the ground and .85 rushing touchdowns per game to running backs. Post-Harrison, those figures ballooned to 109.22 rushing yards and 1 touchdown per contest.
Zeke’s next two games figure to be just as promising with matchups against the Redskins and Dolphins, teams that ranked 28th and 24th respectively in rush DVOA. Expect the Cowboys to be favored in all three of these contests to inferior competition and Zeke to operate in plenty of positive gamescript. Not to mention a +7.3 FPPG differential with Amari Cooper on the roster and an increase in targets per game from 3.8 in 2017 to 7.0 in 2018, it correlates well for the fourth-year running back to storm out of the gate to begin 2019.
Colts GM Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich are both on the record in expressing confidence that Marlon Mack can be the bellcow back moving forward. Preseason snaps will need to be observed before there is any indication that this belief has a chance of coming into fruition. Especially when Mack only averaged 1.63 targets per game and saw a +9.25 FPPG differential in game the Colts won in 2018.
The Titans will be a tough Week 2 test for the 23-year old but he has some excellent opportunities to show he can work out of the backfield. First, Mack draws the Chargers who gave up the second-most FPA to pass-catching backs; look no further than the carnage James White created in the divisional round to the tune of 15 catches for 97 yards. In Week 3, the Colts host the team that surrendered the most FPA to pass-catching backs and one that is a repeat offender in most running back targets and receptions over the last three NFL seasons in the Falcons.
Mack didn’t exceed $6000 and $7500 on DraftKings and FanDuel respectively last season and it will be curious to see where the sites price him heading into Week 1. If the Colts keep their word and show him evidence of backfield work in the scrimmages, he may be an inexpensive option worth consideration against a Chargers team that was highly susceptible to running backs of the pass-catching variety.
All signs are pointing towards a successful recovery off an ACL tear for Cooper Kupp which means Robert Woods will reassume his duties lining up on the perimeter. The reigning NFC Championships have three games to open the 2019 season that should have Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks salivating.
The Rams draw the Panthers, Saints, and Browns, three teams that were inside the top 5 in FPA to perimeter receivers last year. Given Jared Goff’s extreme 2018 home/road splits, those that are concerned the Panthers and Browns matchups are road affairs shouldn’t waste such emotion. Take away the two games against the Broncos and Bears that the California kid averaged 6.07 FPPG in freezing conditions, Goff averaged 22.51 FPPG which reduces an extreme +10.71 FPPG differential in games at the LA Coliseum to +3.3 FPPG.
Woods is the poster boy for consistency as he had 13 straight games of 60+ receiving yards last season along with a home/road FPPG differential of .18. Cooks was more dangerous at home last year but still manufactured 13 catches for 221 yards and a touchdown in two road meetings against the Saints, proof that he can go off against the Panthers and Browns. Given a week 2 meeting at the Coliseum, if Marshon Lattimore is more the 2018 version of himself than the stalwart he was in his rookie year, expect another big outing for Cooks against his former mates.
CONTINUATION OF A ROUGH PATCH
A stretch of Aqib Talib, Patrick Peterson, Tre’Davious White and Xavier Rhodes to conclude a season is a tough one even for a seasoned pro, let alone a young receiver heading into his third NFL season. Add in the lack of a running game, Marvin Jones on IR, and Golden Tate traded and it’s no secret where Matthew Stafford was trying to go with the ball. The unfortunate part for Kenny Golladay is 2019 begins with another vicious stretch.
Golladay squares off with Peterson again when the Lions travel to Glendale, Arizona to open the 2019 season. He was nonexistent in the 2018 meeting with just two catches for five yards. It doesn’t get easier with a Chargers team visiting Ford Field the following week and Golladay dueling with 2x Pro Bowler Casey Heyward.
Golladay has the talent to generate massive production as evidenced by his unexpected 7-146-0 output against a tough Bulls secondary in Week 15. However, the 11-113-0 in the other three games warrants consideration for alternative plans and waiting to roster Golladay in easier matchups against the Eagles and Chiefs in the following weeks.
With Rob Gronkowski retired, George Kittle assumes his seat in the top 3 at tight end alongside Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz. With reliability at the position lacking when only nine tight ends maintained a double-digit FPPG average in PPR scoring last year, these three studs warrant roster consideration every week regardless of their expensive salaries. They made up 18 of the 38 instances where a tight end registered 20+ fantasy points in a game.
Zach Ertz arguably has the tougher of the trio of games to kick off 2019. While the Falcons have contained him to 4.75 catches for 47.75 yards and zero touchdowns in four career meetings, he has exceeded 80 yards in four of his last six games against the Redskins. Travis Kelce encounters a Raiders team that he pummeled in Week 13 as well as a Ravens team that suffered heavy losses on the defensive side on the ball while George Kittle squares off against three opponents that hemorrhaged at minimum 13 FPPG to the position weekly in the Buccaneers, Bengals, and Steelers last season.
ANSWERING THE CALL
Odell Beckham Jr. has moved on from what has become a Giant mess with Dave Gettleman as GM, leaving behind 10.59 targets per game in his time with the Giants. Saquon Barkley will undoubtedly absorb some of these lost targets along with Sterling Shepard. However, don’t forget about the tight end who is at worse the third-best receiving option on a team that should be playing from behind often in 2019.
Evan Engram is a winner in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade as his fantasy stock certainly rises with the transaction. In 12 games that OBJ was inactive since 2017, Evan Engram saw 7.46 targets per game along with 73.75 receiving yards per game vs 5.27 targets and 37.64 yards when they shared the field. Remember how Engram closed out 2018 on a strong note after averaging 3.28 catches for 36.71 yards in his first seven games? It was with OBJ out of the picture that he averaged 5.5 catches for 80 yards in the final four contests.
Trips to Dallas and Tampa in Weeks 1 and 3 respectively present ample opportunities for Engram to continue where he left off. Both opponents were susceptible to tight end damage last season as they both allowed nearly 14 FPPG to the position in 2018. Not to mention the Week 1 matchup couldn’t be better given the 12-148-2 clip he posted in two meetings against the Cowboys last season.
OPPOSING QUARTERBACK QUESTIONS
With Odell Beckham Jr. removed from the equation, opposing defenses should be expected to stack the box against Saquon Barkley and force a venerable but aged Eli Manning to throw the ball. Though Nate Solder stepped up in the second half of 2018, the Giants offensive line still allowed just shy of three sacks per game to compliment the .93 turnovers per game committed by Manning. If you break down his turnovers further, in 15 games that Odell Beckham Jr. was inactive since 2017, Manning allowed 1.2 turnovers per game vs .93 of them in the 16 that OBJ did suit up.
The Cowboys follow that matchup with the Giants against two teams in the Redskins and Dolphins that will head into training camp not knowing who will assume the starting quarterback duties. In Week 2, will it be Case Keenum who was atrocious in Denver or Dwayne Haskins, the rookie out of Ohio State. In Week 3, will it be the gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick who benefitted from a better arsenal of weapons in Tampa Bay compared to Miami or Josh Rosen who struggled in an inefficient Arizona offense and will benefit from a change of scenery in Week 3?
Expect to see plenty of Ezekiel Elliott/Cowboys defense stacks in the first few weeks before their schedule ramps up in Week 4. Like Zeke, this has the makings for the defense to get into a nice groove and propel the Cowboys to what should be a 3-0 start to the 2019 campaign.