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Seahawks @ Rams

Point Total: 41

Spread: -4 Seahawks

The Seahawks have played the Rams 6 times since Jeff Fischer took over as coach, and only once did the point total go over the prescribed 41 points.  QB Russell Wilson’s fantasy production in those 6 games were also muted (see below):

8. Seahawks vs. Rams Table

Even with Wilson’s monster game in week 7 last year his average fantasy score against the Rams in his career is 16.54 f/pts.  The Seahawks also had trouble pass protecting in preseason and so Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn and the rest of the Rams amazing front 7 are likely going to have their way with the Seahawk O-line.  A big game is always possible from but too many factors work against Wilson this week, including the game total and price ($7800).

With Wilson under siege the thought might be to avoid all Seahawk receiving options.  However in 4 of last 6 meetings between the two the Hawks have had a WR go over 90 yards.  Doug Baldwin was one of those WR (he went for 123 yards in week 7 last year) and is only $4600 on DraftKings.  His ability to line up in the slot and take a quick slant might make him a popular target given the pressure Wilson will be under… As much as I’d like to recommend Jimmy Graham I’m going to wait a week.  The Rams defended the TE position better than almost anyone last year (3rd fewest points allowed) and Wilson may not have time to wait for Graham to get open down field.  Graham last faced the Rams at the end of 2013 and recorded a measly 2 catches for 25 yards.

At RB there’s only Marshawn Lynch to consider for the Hawks.  Even though Lynch is one of the only RBs in the NFL who isn’t in some kind of timeshare he’s still failed to record more than 60 yards rushing in his last two games vs the Rams, who were the 7th best team against the RB last season.  At a pricy $7300 there is better value and more upside out there this week.

Nick Foles starts at QB for STL and he might be a better fit for this offense than people think.  Foles loves to throw downfield, in 8 games last year he completed 29 throws of 20 yards or greater and 5 that went for over 50.  He should be a big improvement for the Rams, who only had 43 completions of 20 yards or more in 2014.  The Seahawks allowed the fewest points to QBs in 2014 but might be without star safety Kam Chancellor (holdout).  If Chancellor sits I’m actually keeping Foles in mind week 1, but only as an ultra-contrarian tournament play.

At RB, the Rams looked to be one of the deepest teams in the league but might start the season with third stringer Benny Cunningham carrying the load.  This isn’t a bad thing for fantasy however.  Cunningham is min-priced on DraftKings ($3000) and was a very productive runner in college when he was the feature back.  If Tre Mason (hamstring) can’t go I’d consider Cunningham.  The Seahawks are stout against the run but with a full workload he would be exceptional value.

I’m going to brief in my assessment of the Rams wide-outs.  It’s a horrible matchup and the usage will be hard to predict.  Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin led the Rams in preseason targets with 7 and 5, but Brian Quick—who missed most of preseason—projects as a starter and will cut into that workload.  Of the three Austin is by far the cheapest option at $3300 and offers potential upside with his big play ability.  I like the way the Rams were using Austin in preseason but could only recommend him as a hail-mary tournament option…  My favorite Rams receiving option might actually be TE Jared Cook.  The Seahawks ranked below the league average (17th) in defending the TE in 2014 and the athletic Cook has the talent to beat even the best LB’s in coverage.  With over 20% of Foles’ passes being thrown to the TE position in 2014 Cook could find himself targeted often in this game.

Gameflow: I think you might see an early season shocker here.  The Rams defense is not to be trifled with and Seattle has looked pretty out of synch this preseason.  A massive game for Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald could be incoming.  I also wouldn’t discount Nick Foles having a decent game and burning the Hawks for a big play or two.  If Kam Challencor misses this one, I’m calling for the upset in what should be a close, hotly contested game.

Rams 20 – Seahawks 17

Primary Targets:

Benny Cunningham $3000 (if Mason out)

Secondary Targets:

Doug Baldwin $4600
Nick Foles $5300 (if Chancellor out)
Jared Cook $2900 (see above)
Rams D $2800

Chiefs @ Texans

Point Total: 41

Point Spread: -1 Texans

After not throwing any TDs to WRs in 2014 Alex Smith threw two to newly acquired Jeremy Maclin in preseason and looked more aggressive in his downfield targeting.  As we can see below, Maclin was clearly Smith’s favorite non RB-TE target in the preseason:

9. Chiefs Table

The Chiefs will be going up against a Houston D who in 2014 allowed the second most pass attempts per game (38.7), the 13th most passing yards per game (258) and also gave up the 4th most fantasy points to WRs in 2014.  For all those reasons I love Jeremy Maclin as a play.  Maclin is getting almost all of Alex Smith’s attention and should be able to take advantage of Houston’s propensity for giving up big games to the WR position…  I also wouldn’t discount using Maclin in a lineup with QB Smith who is only $6100 but would limit exposure to tournament play.  Smith has averaged 22 yards rushing over the last 2 years and has more upside than people realize … WR Chris Conley is an athletic freak who came on in the final two weeks of preseason and should get snaps in 3WR sets.  If second year WR Albert Wilson can’t play (shoulder) Conley will likely start and becomes a serious tournament option.

The other primary receiver on KC to consider is TE Travis Kelce.  Kelce is coming off of a minor ankle sprain which occurred in the last week of preseason.  The Texans were fantastic against the TE last season allowing the second fewest fantasy points to the position and ILB Brian Cushing looks to be the healthiest he’s been in years.  You can’t discount the possibility of a big game from Kelce, but given the low point total and matchup my enthusiasm on him is tempered a bit week 1… At RB Jamaal Charles will once again be a focal point of the KC passing offense.  In 2014 only five teams allowed fewer completions to RBs than the Texans and you have to think JJ Watt and crew will be willing to sell out to stop Charles.  Charles is expensive this week and I’m siding with other top salaried options at his position over him.

Last season the Texans attempted the third fewest passes in the league, averaging 30.3 attempts per game.  This likely spells trouble for the fantasy prospects of Brian Hoyer who wasn’t exactly efficient in Cleveland last season, compiling a 55% completion rate and 12 TDs/13 INTs over 14 games.  The Chiefs defense were also good at defending the QB position and allowed the second fewest passing yards in the league.  Part of the reason for that success is the presence of CB Sean Smith.  Smith graded out on Pro Football Focus as the 5th best corner in the league and should be covering elite wide out DeAndre Hopkins.  Hopkins had some big games in 2014 but only caught more than 6 catches once (his mammoth week 13 effort against the lowly Titans).  Against a solid pass D I don’t see Hopkins being worth the $7400 you must spend to roster him.

Backing up Hopkins will be Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts.  The two looked interchangeable in preseason, but I’d much prefer the dynamic Shorts as a play if forced to choose.  At $3600 Shorts is healthy and looks to be back in 2012 form when he was one of the best runners after the catch… The Texans simply did not give much work to their TE’s last year and completed only 32 passes to players at that position.  I’d look elsewhere.

Arian Foster’s injury has opened up some opportunity for backup Alfred Blue.  With Donatari Poe, KC’s excellent Nose Tackle, out for this game the Chiefs will be much more susceptible to the run than normal.  However, as we saw in 2014 Blue has limited upside as a feature back, averaging only 12 DraftKings points per game when Foster was out.  He will share snaps with backup Chris Polk and be a cheap ($3600) but TD dependant play.

Gameflow: Houston’s defensive front will be a tough nut to crack but I truly think you’ll see the evolution of the Chiefs offense in this game.  Smith and Maclin looked like they had been playing together for years in preseason and Houston’s biggest weakness is giving up big plays through the air.  With Arian Foster out that should temper Houston’s offense enough to allow Smith and company to pull out a road win.

Chiefs 24 – Texans 17

Primary Targets:

Jeremy Maclin $6900

Secondary Targets:

Alex Smith $6100
Travis Kelce $4800
Alfred Blue $3600

Dolphins @ Redskins

Total: 43.5

Point Spread: -3.5 Dolphins

The Kirk Cousins era officially begins in this game for the Redskins and a tough matchup awaits.  In their last preseason game the Dolphins defense recorded 7 sacks and 12 hurries against pocket passer Matt Ryan and the Falcons.  With the addition of Ndamukong Suh freeing up Cameron Wake and Co. from constant double teams, the Fins look like a tough matchup for even elite QBs.  Cousins may be an upgrade over RGIII but he still threw 9 INTS in 6 games and had a horrible 1.1 TD-INT rate in 2014.  Even at his min-priced salary on DraftKings he’s a clear fade week 1.

Alfred Morris is still the lead back in Washington but he’s not someone I can recommend in this game either.  The addition of Suh should improve the Dolphins run D and Morris is the very definition of a one-dimensional back, having only caught 3 passes in a game twice last season.  Rookie Matt Jones will also eat into Morris’ workload.  Jones ran extremely well in the preseason averaging 7 yards per carry, but will probably only see third down and relief work in week 1.  At $3700 he would be an exceptionally risky play.

Desean Jackson missed all of preseason with a shoulder strain but will be ready for this game.  Here’s how he and teammate Pierre Garcon fared when Cousins started at QB last season:

10. Redskins Table

As you can see Cousins didn’t necessarily prefer one over the other and both performed somewhat decent under him.  Still, if I were choosing one to play I’d lean Garcon.  Last year Jackson routinely drew the other team’s best corner and its likely Brent Grimes will shadow Jackson.  It’s a given Cousins will be under constant pressure, and so expect Garcon to see more volume on bubble screens and short slants.

Ryan Tannehill enters his third season as the Dolphins QB and is coming off a terrific preseason where he completed 33 of 41 passes with 3 TDs and zero INTs.  Tannehill and the Dolphins looked very efficient working the short to intermediate routes in the passing game and should benefit from getting to play a Washington defense who was solid against the run but gave up the most fantasy points in the league to opposing QBs in 2014.  Tannehill had one of the lowest yards per attempt (6.92) last season but did average 19.4 rushing yards per game (1.94 f/pts).  At $7400 there’s enough potential for a blow-up game here to make me a buyer week 1.

The largest benefactor of Tannehill’s matchup in this game will likely be Jarvis Landry.  Landry was targeted 14 times by Tannehill in three preseason games, double what any other Dolphin received.  The Dolphins love to get the balls in the hands of their wide-outs in short, high-percentage routes and Landry’s 80% catch rate and ability to run after the catch makes him one of the safest plays at wide-out for week 1.   Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills and Rishard Matthews round out the receiving core in Miami.  I’d avoid all of them week 1 and see how the targets get doled out before investing.

With Mike Wallace and his 10 TDs from a year ago gone athletic TE Jordan Cameron is now easily the Dolphins biggest (6’5 240lbs) and perhaps best red zone target.  With injuries affecting many top TE’s I think Cameron and his meager $3800 salary might make for one of the best upside plays at the position week 1 … As mentioned previously the Redskins may be weak against the pass but gave up the fourth fewest fantasy points to RB’s last season.  I still think RB Lamar Miller is in play this week though due to the Fins affinity for using the RB in the pass game.  In barely 3Qs of preseason action Miller was targeted 7 times, he should rack up the ppr points on DraftKings fairly quickly and possibly see extra carries near the end of the game if the Dolphins have a big lead.

Gameflow: The spread isn’t huge right now but I am of the opinion that the Dolphins could easily turn this game into a blowout.  Washington is once again in turmoil and Kirk Cousins is capable of a multi-turnover game and handing Ryan Tannehill and co. a bunch of easy points.  Look for Suh and the Dolphins defense to lay a pounding on Cousins and for Miami to walk away with an easy win.

Miami 31 – Washington 13

Primary Targets:

Ryan Tannehill $7400
Jarvis Landry $5500
Miami Defense $3000

Secondary Targets:

Lamar Miller $5500
Jordan Cameron $3800
Pierre Garcon $5500

Browns @ Jets

Point Total: 39.5

Spread: – 3 Jets

At quarterback for the Jets you could give some consideration to Ryan Fitzpatrick as a play this week.  Fitz “magic” is only $5500 and last year averaged close to 16 fantasy points as the QB of the conservative Texans offense.  Cleveland is very good at limiting big plays though and that is reflected in the fact they allowed the 6th fewest points to QB’s all year.  He’s worth a shot due to price, but limited exposure is recommended.

At wide receiver for the Jets here is how the preseason targets have been doled out with Fitzpatrick at QB:

11. Jets Table

Marshall should be a sneaky play many weeks this year on DraftKings due to the ppr bonus you get for every catch made (1 point per).  However the Browns won’t be an easy test for opposing wideouts, as former Packer Tramon Williams joins a secondary that already boosts elite corner Joe Haden.  Still, there were some big games dropped on the Browns in 2014 and with Fitzpatrick already locking onto Marshall an inordinate amount (shades of Cutler-Marshall from Chicago) a big game here is enough of a possibility to make Marshall an outside the box tournament play for week 1.

At Running Back the Jets Chris Ivory looks to be the unquestioned starter and should receive a healthy workload.  In preseason action he was always the first back on the field and produced 99 yards on 17 carries, good for a healthy 5.8 yard average.  Bilal Powell and Zac Stacy might get mixed in but not enough to play on their own and not enough to seriously damage Ivory’s fantasy stock.  I would project Ivory for 15+ carries in this game, 2-3 pass targets and a pretty decent shot at scoring a td.  At $4100 Ivory’s one of the best values at RB in week 1.

While I see some value in the Jet’s offense for fantasy the same enthusiasm doesn’t exist for me with Cleveland.  Last year in 11 games, while working with Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, Josh McCown only managed to produce 11 TDs, while also throwing 14 INTs.  This year he will guide an offense which has far worse talent at WR and threw the 7th fewest times in the league in 2014.  The Jets may have been one of the worst defensive teams against the QB last year for fantasy but the addition of CB Darrelle Revis and defensive guru Todd Bowles should help reduce points allowed.  I’d avoid McCown at all costs this week and make the Jets one of your targets at defense.

The RB situation in Cleveland has cleared up a bit.  Terrence West was released after the last preseason game and rookie Duke Johnson is questionable with a concussion leaving Isiah Crowell as the opening day starter.  Last year when both Crowell and West played only once did one of them receive over 20 carries and only once did one of them break 100 yards rushing.  At $4600 Crowell is a good play if Johnson sits, but loses some value if he plays.  I’m interested in Crowell week 1 on his own but neither Cleveland back if both are healthy.

The Browns will be fielding one of the weakest wide receiving corps in the league.  Dwayne Bowe, Andrew Hawkins and Brian Hartline will start for Cleveland and if you’re having trouble getting excited you’re not alone.  Last season Cleveland had only one game where a wide receiver went over 100 yards receiving (Hawkins) and now they face Darrelle Revis and the improved Jets secondary in the first game of 2015.  Its best just to avoid looking at this group and move on

Gameflow: I expect both teams to employ a fairly conservative game plan and think we’ll see a final score well under the expected total.  With Sheldon Richardson out Cleveland could have success running the ball and if they do they might force Ryan Fitzpatrick to beat them.  If Fitz and Marshall can continue some of their preseason chemistry I could see Marshall racking up a decent ppr total and the Jets squeaking out a close win.

Jets 17 – Browns 13

Primary Targets:

Chris Ivory $4100
Jets Defense $2900

Secondary Targets:

Ryan Fitzpatrick $5500
Brandon Marshall $6600
Isiah Crowell $4600 (if no Duke Johnson)

Saints @ Cardinals

Point Total: 48

Spread: -2.5 Cardinals

Vegas has New Orleans tabbed for 22.5 points in this game and considering Zona’s tough run defense all the Saints points could come through the air.  The Cardinals struggled against the upper tier/elite QBs in 2014 and ranked fourth worst against the pass overall.  I think Drew Brees (12/16 with 2 TDs in the preseason) makes for an excellent play week 1 and should be lower-owned than many other top QB targets.

One of the reasons why I am so high on Brees is because of Brandin Cooks.  Cooks finished preseason with 164 yards and 2 TDs, and showed us firsthand how he can burn teams in multiple ways with his 4.33 speed.  The Cards will no doubt try to counter Cooks with speedy corner Patrick Peterson, but it’s not a matchup you should fear as Cooks can score in multiple ways.  Cooks is one of my primary targets, not just in this game but on the entire slate… Brandon Coleman looks to have the third WR job on the Saints locked up and could also be factor in this game.  Marcus Colston lingers but at only $3000 the 6’5 Coleman is a much cheaper option and could be a popular red zone target if the ground game is ineffective… I want nothing to do with the Saints TE position.  Both Josh Hill and Ben Watson caught TDs in the preseason and figuring out who gets the red zone looks in this game will be infuriating, look elsewhere.

RB Mark Ingram will see a big workload with CJ Spiller out, however Arizona gave up the 6th fewest fantasy points to RBs in 2014 and was overall solid against the run.  DraftKings playbook author Jonathan Bales has suggested here that RBs often struggle against top defenses, more so than any other position.  Given the fact Arizona looked dominate against the run in their final preseason tune up I’m fine benching Ingram week 1… Backup RB Khiry Robinson caught 5 passes in the preseason and with Spiller gone he should see more work in the pass game.  At only $3000, and with added ppr value, he comes with risk but could make for an interesting tournament play.

Almost a full year removed from tearing his ACL and MCL Carson Palmer is back and healthy for the Cardinals.  When Palmer started in 2014 the Cards averaged over 37 pass attempts per game, but were under 30 without him in the lineup.  This is good news for both his own fantasy prospects and also the prospects of his receivers.  Palmer will get the Keenan Lewis-less Saints secondary who gave up multiple 400 yard passing games in 2014.  At only $6500, in a game where Zona is projected for 25 points, there is fantasy potential with Palmer this week.

In the week 3 preseason dress rehearsal Palmer’s targets looked like this

12. Cardinals Table

With Michael Floyd questionable week one (finger) expect to see lots of Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown.  Brown led all Palmer targets in preseason with 8 and looked to be a focal part of the offense.  At only $4500 on DraftKings Brown is cheaper than Fitz and probably carries more upside at this point in their respective careers.  Brown only caught 51% of his intended targets last season but an expanded route tree in week 1 should mean a better completion rate and more fantasy points, he’s one of my favorite value plays.

As you can see from the above the Cards love to use the RB in the pass game.  Andre Ellington remains the starter but I love the metrics and look of David Johnson who truly looks like a more powerful version of Ellington.  Still, I have to assume Ellington is going to greatly out-snap the rookie in a potentially high scoring game.  With the possibility of 6-8 targets and goal line work Ellington should be on your radar for fantasy and a pretty safe option.

Gameflow: As mentioned earlier I think the Saints will have problems running the ball meaning we could see Drew Brees chuck it close to 50 times.  This favours a more fast paced game with lots of chances on both sides.  I could see this one going over the prescribed 47 points, especially if the Cardinals are able to connect on a few big plays.  With Keenan Lewis out I think the Cards will put up just enough points to win a shootout.

Cardinals 27 – Saints 26

Primary Targets

Drew Brees $8000
Brandin Cooks $7100
John Brown $4500

Secondary Targets

Carson Palmer $6500
Andre Ellington $6400
Brandon Coleman $3000
Khiry Robinson $3000