The NFL Game Breakdown will be a weekly analysis of every game on the NFL schedule in extreme detail. From targets to game flow and other matchup variables, this article will be your one-stop-shop for everything you could ever need to prepare for DraftKings NFL contests.
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PAGE 1: PIT @ NE, CAR @ JAX, GB @ CHI, TEN @ TB, IND @ BUF
Steelers @ PatriotsPoint Total: 52
Spread: -7 Pats
After beating his “deflate-gate” rap Tom Brady will start and gets a Pitt pass defense who was bottom 5 in passing yards allowed, TDs allowed and yards per completion in 2014. New England averaged 38.6 pass attempts per game (7th highest in the league) in 2014, and with LeGarrette Blount suspended for week 1 Brady should benefit from an increased reliance on the pass. The Pats are projected for around 30 points in this game and at $7700 I think Brady has more upside than usual this week.
In 2014 the Patriots really focused their attention on three players in the pass game:
The Pats will be without Brandon LaFell week 1 meaning there will be more targets for vets Julien Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. At $7000 ($1400 more than the next highest TE) Gronk is a borderline must play given that LaFell’s absence means even more targets for the Gronk and a greater than normal chance for a “blowup” game. He’s definitely worth spending up on week 1. Edelman ($6600) is also interesting and for the same reason (increased targets) could have a monster game, watch the news on him pregame however as he’s been dealing with an ankle injury… The player I might be most interested in though is Danny Amendola. He had a solid camp and expects to see an uptick in snaps with Lafell out. At $3700 he could easily see 6-8 targets in this game and have a shot at a TD.
At RB the Pats shockingly released Jonas Gray and will also be without LeGarrette Blount for the opener. That leaves Brandon Bolden, Dion Lewis and James White to carry the load. Guessing the Patriots RB usage is a recipe for disaster. If you want to play running back roulette here I’d go with Lewis since he looked the best of the three in preseason but my advice is avoid and live to fight another day.
On the Steelers side of the ball, both Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell are suspended for this game and will be replaced by Marcus Wheaton and DeAngelo Williams respectively. Bell averaged over 18 carries and 5 targets a game in 2014 meaning Williams should be in for a big workload. New England improved against the run last season but were still only league average (16th) in defending the RB position for fantasy. At $5100 Williams could easily hit 15 points on sheer volume alone… With Bryant out also expect TE Heath Miller to get more involved in this game. The Pats were much worse against defending the TE than they were the WR position and Miller’s 16 red zone targets from 2014 was good for second on the team.
The Patriots as a team did well in shutting down some of the biggest WRs in the game last season. The extra attention on number 1 WR Antonio Brown in this game could free Marcus Wheaton up for a big night. He’ll be getting the start as the WR2 with Bryant out and is extremely affordable at $3800. As for Brown we have to note that Darrelle Revis is no longer with the Pats and super bowl hero Malcolm Butler will likely be in charge of covering him. I expect Brown to get a ton of targets and start up right where he left off last year, when he hauled in 129 passes on an incredible 181 targets. I am wary though. Even without Revis you have to think Bill Belichick will do everything he can to limit Brown. At $8900 I’m advocating limited exposure and like other options better at his price range in week 1.
As for Big Ben you have to expect the Steelers will be throwing a lot with Bell out of the lineup. In 2014 he had the 5th highest number of drop backs and was the 8th most efficient QB in terms of converting opportunities into fantasy points on Pro Football Focus. Even a small addition in volume could result in a big night, and at only $7300 he carries plenty of upside.
Gameflow: I expect the Patriots to come into this game pretty fired up given what has transpired this offseason. You may even see them jump out to a big lead at some point. Still, I expect Big Ben and the Steelers will fire away until the bitter end and eventually and rack up some decent passing numbers. Ultimately though I see a Patriot victory and with some decent fantasy nights from several players on both sides.
Pats 33 – Steelers 27
Ben Roethlisberger $7300
DeAngelo Williams $5100
Heath Miller $3300
Tom Brady $7700
Rob Gronkowski $7000
Julian Edelman $6600 (if healthy)
Danny Amendola $3000
Antonio Brown $8900
Marcus Wheaton $3800
Panthers @ JaguarsPoint Total: 41.5
Spread: -3 Panthers
With Kelvin Benjamin out for the year you have to think a few more rushing attempts might be in Cam Newton’s future in 2015. Cam’s 5 rushing TDs in 2014 were the lowest of his career and I expect him to improve on that number this year. Jacksonville was half decent vs the pass in 2015 but gave up the 6th most rushing yards in the league. Newton’s a very intriguing week 1 option with lots of upside due to his potential rushing points.
With Benjamin out, here was how Newton’s pass targets broke down from preseason and what they did with their opportunities:
As you can see TE Greg Olsen is likely to be a target monster this season and nearly doubled the next highest receiver in targets. With DraftKings full point PPR scoring Olsen should be as safe as they come week 1… WR is a much different story for the Panthers. Philly Brown and Ted Ginn will both have a role but their effectiveness might vary. Brown was awful in preseason dropping 4-5 easy passes. Ginn on the other hand is 31 but still one of the fastest players in the league and has a full year of working with Cam under his belt. At $3000 I think Ginn makes for an excellent value play week 1 and should push for 5-6 catches and a handoff or two… The other player to consider in all this is Devin Funchess. Funchess missed most of preseason and the news out of Carolina is that he’ll likely be starting the season as the 3rd WR. In a low scoring game I’m waiting a week before I roster the rookie.
At RB Jonathon Stewart is the clear starter. In 2014 Panther RBs scored a paltry 7 TDs and even as the full-time starter Stewart’s upside will be limited by his QBs running ability. There’s no doubting that Stewart has ability and a good matchup but at his price of $5800 he’ll likely need a TD or two to pay off his salary. I’d rather roll the dice on Cam and not have to worry about whether or not Stewart was getting red zone carries.
Blake Bortles begins his second year as Jacksonville QB. In 2014 Bortles failed to pass for more than 200 yards on 5 occasions and only threw for more than 300 yards once. The Panthers secondary is exploitable but their D-line is much more intimidating and Charles Johnson and crew should be able to exploit a below average Jacksonville O-line. I’d leave Bortles at home and consider using the Panthers defense.
At WR there’s really only one name to mention on Jacksonville. After receiving a whopping 16 targets from Bortles in the preseason (6 more than anyone else) WR Allen Robinson heads into the year as the clear cut number 1 option for the Jags. At 6’3 Robinson has good agility for his size and is going to see a ton of throws from Bortles with Julius Thomas out. He’s only $5400 and could be a big fantasy play even if he doesn’t find the end zone… As mentioned previously TE Julius Thomas is out for this game. It should be noted that Bortles targeted the TE position 11 times in preseason. Clay Harbor figures to play the “move” TE role with Thomas out and saw 7 of those TE targets from Bortles, he’s a semi-interesting play week 1 at his measly $2500 price point.
At Running Back I want nothing to do with rookie TJ Yeldon. Yeldon was a reach pick for me by the Jags and looked wholly unimpressive in the preseason. At $5500 there’s just no way I’d entertain paying that much for a mediocre Running Back in a below-average offense… Third year RB Denard Robinson will likely see a fair share of snaps, including some targets in the passing game. At $3000 he’s got a lot more talent, the ability to break off big plays and is an interesting tournament option.
Gameflow: As with most Jacksonville games I expect this one to be semi ugly with the possibility of several turnovers as well. The Jags are only projected for 17 or so points and will probably struggle to score. The Panthers also looked a tad unorganized in preseason after losing Kelvin Benjamin, but I still expect Cam Newton to be able to carry the load and lead Carolina to what will likely be a somewhat ugly win. It’s not a great game to target for fantasy but there is potential for a player or two to have a big day.
Panthers 18 – Jaguars 16
Greg Olsen $5300
Allen Robinson $5400
Panthers Def $3100
Cam Newton $7600
Ted Ginn Jr. $3000
Denard Robinson $3000
Packers @ BearsPoint Total: 50
Spread: -7 Packers
Aaron Rodgers is the most expensive QB on DraftKings this week, but with the Packers team total set at 28.5 he could be well worth the investment. Rodgers has dominated the Bears over his career and has averaged 26.08 fantasy points vs them in his last 5 games. The situation gets even worse for the Bears when you factor in that they allowed the second most fantasy points to QBs in 2014 and did little to improve a weak D-line over the offseason. This is basically a beach ball being lobbed to you from 10 feet away while you stand there with a bazooka… play Rodgers week 1.
At WR Jordy Nelson is gone for the season and Randall Cobb is nursing a shoulder sprain but is probable for week 1. Second year talent Davante Adams now becomes a clear starter alongside Cobb and could be a massive play week 1. To demonstrate his potential, here’s what Cobb and Nelson did to the Bears last year:
As you can see, the question isn’t whether Cobb and Adams will both produce it’s just a matter of how much. With WR James Jones back in the mix for GB I’m a little wary that he might eat into Adams’ production but at only $4400 I don’t know how you fade Adams, he’s a great play week 1… Cobb is a different story as his upside is dependent on the significance of his injury. At the time of writing this reports are stating that he will play but that pain might be factor. I’d keep exposure limited this week unless you hear he’s at or near 100% health.
At RB Eddie Lacy is another juicy play. It’s interesting to note that even though the Packers dominated the Bears last season they mostly did so through the air. Lacy only rushed for 98 yards in two games against them, but did score 2 TDs in those games as well. Lacy’s expensive and if you play him you are almost betting that the Packers will choose to move more of their offense through him than Adams. That’s a possibility but not a guarantee. I like using Lacy more in gpps this week and I’d bet he’ll be lower owned than Rodgers and the Packers WRs.
QB Jay Cutler’s miserable 2014 included two games against the Packers where he threw 3 TDs v 4 INTS. The Packers were good in defending against the QB position in 2014 and Clay Matthews and co. will be attacking a Bears frontline who graded out as the 10th worst in the league in pass blocking on Pro Football Focus. Garbage time stats may buoy Cutler this week but that’s not something I want to rely on. Leave Jay at home and consider using the Packers D as a play.
If Chicago is going to beat GB it will be by keeping the ball out of Cutler’s hands and feeding RB Matt Forte 25+ times. The Packers can give up big games to RBs and actually allowed the 10th most yards rushing in 2014. Even if the Bears fall behind Forte can also rack up points through the air (105 catches in 2014). I love the huge workload you are going to get with Forte in this game and think he’s being somewhat overlooked this week.
At WR Alshon Jeffery’s injury status is clouded in mystery (thanks John Fox!). With Brandon Marshall gone Jeffery will be a target monster this season but his effectiveness week 1 might be hard to pin down. I’d recommend forgoing Alshon this week and instead targeting TE Martellus Bennett. As we can see from charting Cutler’s throws from preseason, Bennett is a clear favorite of his:
Bennett burned the Packers for a massive game last season and should be targeted plenty this Sunday, he’s one of my favorite choices at TE… WRs Marquess Wilson and Eddie Royal might also get an uptick in targets with Alshon limited or out. If I had to choose between the two I’d go with the veteran Royal at $3900, but my advice would be to roster Bennett this week and ignore the rest of the Chicago WRs.
Gameflow: The Packers are going to throw all over the field on the Bears. Chicago will try to counter that with ball control and a balanced attack but the score is likely to get out of hand at some point, especially if Green Bay starts off fast. I don’t see the loss of Jordy Nelson hurting the Packers as much as people may think simply because they are so balanced on offense, and one or both of Davante Adams and Eddie Lacy should have huge games. The Packers are likely to run up the score eventually and win going away.
Packers 34 – Bears 21
Aaron Rodgers $8600
Davante Adams $4400
Martellus Bennet $4300
Green Bay Defense $3200
Randall Cobb (injury concerns) $8000
Eddie Lacy $7500
Matt Forte $7800
Titans @ BuccaneersTotal: 41 points
Point spread: -3 Buccaneers
The low point spread in this game reflects the fact two rookie QBs will be making their first regular season starts. Let’s get right to the point, I think both of the defenses in this game make for good plays and would avoid both QBs for fantasy.
Jameis Winston in particular is a player I would advocate targeting all year for defensive purposes. Winston can make pro throws, when he has time, but he will be working behind an O-line who was the fifth worst in the league in pass blocking according to Pro Football Focus. He was sacked 7 times in preseason—the most of anyone who played under 100 snaps—and only completed 48% of his passes. You can be certain new Titans DC Dick Lebeau will be bringing complex blitzes all day in this game to confuse the rookie. You simply don’t need to gamble here, avoid Winston this week and consider using Tennessee as a tournament play at defense.
The player on the Bucs I would advocate targeting is running back Doug Martin. Martin looked revitalized in preseason where he ran 20 times for 118 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and a TD. The Titans D gave up the second most fantasy points to RBs last year and gave up some big games to both elite and unheralded RBs, here’s the 5 biggest:
Martin should get the bulk of the work at RB and is quite simply one of the best values of the week for me on DraftKings week 1, he could be in for a big one.
I’m not as bullish on the Tampa receiving options unfortunately. Both Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson are elite talents but both are going to suffer fantasy wise from having a rookie at QB. Evans comes in at $7700 for week 1 and hasn’t practiced since week 2 of the preseason. As the 11th highest priced WR on DraftKings he’s simply too expensive to gamble on. If I was going to take a chance on either them (I’m not) I’d definitely choose Vincent Jackson as he’s only $6000 in salary. Both received 5 targets from Winston during three preseason contests.
On the Titans side of the ball Marcus Mariota looked more settled than Winston in his preseason starts, but still had his shaky moments. At $6000 Mariota is a much more tempting option for daily fantasy since he is capable of 40+ rushing yards every game. However the Bucs actually gave up the least amount of rushing yards to QBs last season and with dominate DL Gerald McCoy looking spry again Mariota might not have a lot of time or space to run. I just don’t see enough upside in him or this game to risk it for fantasy in week 1.
Mariota’s distribution of targets in the first three weeks of preseason shook out like this:
As you can see it appears as if Mariota and WR Kendall Wright already have a connection brewing. At $5100 Wright is not super cheap but he does carry ppr upside and could see 10+ targets over a full game, 7-8 catches 100 yards and a TD isn’t out of the question for him. As far as other options go, I’d love to trust ultra-athletic TE Delanie Walker and rookie WR Dorial Green Beckham but haven’t seen enough from either of them in preseason to make me think big volume is coming their way. They’d strictly be long-shot tournament plays this week.
I’m avoiding the Titans run game completely. Terrence West was picked up off waivers before this game and is likely to split time with Bishop Sankey and goal line vulture Antonio Andrews. This is potentially the lowest upside backfield in the entire NFL for fantasy.
Gameflow: This game probably isn’t going to be the Mano a Mano QB duel people envisioned when these two were drafted. I expect a sloppy contest with turnovers on both sides. I do think Tampa Bay will be able to run the ball against this weak Titans run defense and that might allow the Bucs to keep the ball out of Winston’s hands. Look for both QBs to struggle and for Tampa’s defense and Doug Martin to grind out a win.
Tampa Bay 21 – Tennessee 17
Doug Martin $4500
Kendall Wright $5100
Titans D $2800
Bucs D $2800
Colts @ BillsPoint Total: 46
Spread: -2.5 Colts
Even though this ranks as the 7th highest game total for the week its low by Colts standards, who averaged 27.1 points per game last season. Andrew Luck comes in as the second highest priced QB but has one of the toughest matchups. The Bills defensive front has looked ferocious in preseason, and Stephon Gilmore is an elite talent at cornerback who might take the next step to stardom this year under Rex Ryan. Ryan loves to leave his secondary in man to man in order to exert maximum pressure on the QB. At Luck’s $8300 price-tag I’m fine with limited exposure only this week.
TY Hilton looked strong in preseason but I could see him having a muted performance week 1. The Bills only allowed one WR to eclipse the 100 yard mark against them last year and defended against the big plays very well. Here’s the 3 biggest games from 2014:
As you can see most of the bigger games against the Bills secondary also came in the first half of the season. In the final 6 games the Bills D only allowed 1 td to wide outs, a stretch which included offensive juggernauts Denver and Green Bay. Given the matchup, and Hilton’s $7600 price tag, I’d probably avoid both him and newly signed Andre Johnson this week as a big game from either seems unlikely.
It will be interesting to see how the Colts work in rookie WR Phillip Dorsett who showed glimpses of his 4.33 speed all preseason. At only $3600 he’s expected to work as the third WR for the Colts but should only be used as a Hail Mary shot for your gpps… In 9 games last year when both Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen were active Allen outscored Fleener 7 tds to 4 and 26 catches to 22. Fleener and Allen might have the worst matchup of all in this one though as the Bills were the best at covering the TE position in 2014. I’m avoiding both.
At RB, Frank Gore begins life outside of San Fran. Gore is a very-underrated pass catcher and last year the Indy starters averaged just under 3.5 catches a game in this offense, a big bonus on DraftKings. However the Bills ranked as the 5th toughest rush D last season, and with last year’s dominant front of Marcell Dareus, Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams all healthy a big day rushing isn’t likely for any Colt RB.
I expect Tyrod Taylor to be a popular target on DraftKings this week due to his cheap price-tag ($5000) and ability to run. Taylor is a fantastic athlete and did rack up 108 yards with his feet in 4 preseason quarters. However, be careful with how much Taylor exposure you have week 1. I don’t foresee many big days coming from the QB of the Bills offense and guessing when they will occur is probably going to be a maddening experience.
The downside of the Bills offense will also spill over into the WR core. Sammy Watkins was out all preseason with an undisclosed injury but is healthy coming into this one. In 2014 Watkins only converted 52% of his 124 targets into catches and ranked quite low in the fantasy points per opportunity category on Pro Football Focus. With the Colts elite corner Vontae Davis likely making things tough for Watkins I’m fine leaving him out of my fantasy plans this week… A cheaper price tag and an emphasis on conservative play calling might make Percy Harvin a more appealing play. Harvin is a great runner and so lots of short screens, slants and handoffs will probably be employed to get him the ball with as little risk as possible. At $4400 his big play capability makes him a decent tournament option… TE Charles Clay is also a consideration. He may not have Gronk upside but he’s cheap, athletic, and will probably be featured on several bootlegs with Taylor at QB. It helps that the Colts were the 4th worst against the TE last season.
The flip side to the Bills passing woes is that the RB’s should see huge volume against a rush defense that has been sliced to pieces by the Patriots two years in a row in the playoffs. Lesean McCoy ($7900) suffered a hamstring injury early in pre-season but news on Wednesday has him healthy and ready to go, he might be one of the safest plays in DFS week 1. A quote from Ryan this year declared that the Bills playbook would feature the most running plays in the “history of man”, and as coach of the Jets only once did his team finish outside the top 7 in total rushing attempts per game. A huge game is in site for the feature back of this offense.
Gameflow: This game is all about conflicting styles. Buffalo will try to run the ball down the Colts throats and eat clock while Indy will want to open up the field on offense and expose the Bills offensive limitations with their D. Ultimately I think the Bills defense will win out. I see Buffalo as limiting Luck and co. enough to keep this game close but also semi-boring from a fantasy perspective. Expect few big plays on either side with the outcome being decided by a late Bills defensive stand.
Bills 21 – Colts 20
LeSean McCoy $7200 (if healthy)
Tyrod Taylor $5000
Percy Harvin $4400
Charles Clay $3700
Andrew Luck $8300
Phillip Dorsett $3600
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