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Lions @ Chargers

Point Total: 45.5

Spread: -3 Chargers

Matthew Stafford has looked exceptional throughout preseason completing 76% of his passes for over 300 yards and 3 TDs.  He should bounce back in 2015 after a dismal 2014.  However as much as I’d like to suggest Stafford as a fantasy play week 1 the Chargers were one of the best teams against the pass in 2014 allowing a measly 214 yards per game (4th best).  Their secondary, which features elite corner Branden Flowers and safety Eric Weddle, only allowed 3 or more passing TDs in a game 3x in 2014.  With those numbers, it’s hard to see much fantasy upside at the Detroit QB position.

At WR the talented duo of Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate always merit serious consideration.  Calvin   Johnson skipped preseason but is healthy and expected to play week 1, however he also carries a much higher price-tag than his compatriot ($8500 v $6300).  For week one it’s also interesting to note that last season the Chargers were burned badly by some WRs who are similar in style and play to Tate:

13. Lions vs. Chargers Table

You can never discount a big game for Megatron but if you’re only using one Lions receiver this week I might actually lean towards leaving Johnson out of your plans and rolling the dice with the slick Tate for fantasy.

The Lions running back position is one to avoid completely.  Joique Bell came off the PUP list at the end of August and should see the start at RB but will cede work to two and possibly three different backs.  UDFA Zach Zenner was the star of preseason and might grab a few carries, while rookie Ameer Abdullah and incumbent Theo Riddick will likely both see work on passing downs.  Many may want to roll the dice with the talented Abdullah but with four backs legitimately in the mix for work I don’t recommend it.

In week 1 Phillip Rivers will be facing the Lions defense who allowed the third fewest points scored in 2014 and were the fourth best defense in defending the quarterback position.  Rivers actually performed well against tough defenses in 2014 and I’ve charted his fantasy performance against four of the strongest he faced below:

14. Lions vs. Chargers 2 Table

While the matchup says to completely fade Rivers I think he actually makes for an intriguing play.  The Lions gave up the fewest rush yards last season but were only 13th best in pass yards against.  Considering Rivers history of raising his level of play against stronger competition, I’d consider him a decent contrarian pick for your tournament play in week 1.

At running back many may assume Melvin Gordon will get the bulk of the work but preseason tells us a different story.  On the Chargers first drive in their week 3 dress rehearsal against Seattle Danny Woodhead out-snapped Gordon 9-3, which included Woodhead getting two red zone touches.  Head Coach Mike McCoy loves the versatile Woodhead and at just $3700 I think his receiving ability makes him an intriguing ppr play… A similar story can be found at wide receiver for the Chargers.  Phillip Rivers has already referred to newly acquired Stevie Johnson and Keenan Allen as “interchangeable” and in the final preseason game Johnson actually out-targeted Allen 6-5.  At $7100 Allen is priced like an elite receiver while Johnson is barely above the minimum at $3700.  For two players who expect to see similar usage, rostering Johnson over Allen in this contest is a no brainer.

With Antonio Gates suspended the talented Ladarius Green will finally get his chance to start at TE.  At only $3500 I was initially interested in Green as a week 1 play, however preseason has really curbed my enthusiasm.  Green only saw 2 targets in three games and the Chargers made no attempt to work him into their game plans.  I’ll still recommend him based on sheer talent but only as a one-off gpp play only.

Gameflow: This should be a close battle between two well coached teams.  I expect the Lions to stifle the run and the Chargers to at least limit the big passing game of the Lions.  Ultimately this should come down to QB play and who can up their level to push their team through a tough matchup.  I’ll take the experience of Phillip Rivers over the inconsistent Matthew Stafford in this game and say that the Chargers will do enough to get the victory.

Chargers 24 – Lions 21

Primary Targets:

Stevie Johnson

Secondary Targets:

Golden Tate
Phillip Rivers
Danny Woodhead
Ladarius Green

Ravens @ Broncos

Point Total: 49

Spread: -4.5 Broncos

The point total in this game started out at 51 and has dropped 2-3 points since opening.  A lot of that may have to do with how the Bronco’s offense is now being perceived.  In the Bronco’s last 5 games in 2014 QB Peyton Manning averaged 31 pass attempts and 1 TD per game and only threw for more than 300 yards once in that same span.  Now 39 and in a new offense, I don’t see the upside in Peyton this year that I did in years past and at his price of $8300 I am advocating him as a tournament only play week 1.

The Bronco’s more balanced approach and smaller game totals will also bring down the upside of WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.  Here was their respective lines from the last 5 games of 2014:

15. Lions vs. Broncos Table

In Sanders’ last 5 games from 2014 he never caught more than 6 passes and also failed to record a single TD.  I love the matchup against the Ravens secondary but the price-tag ($7900) on Sanders makes him a complete fade for me.  As for Thomas, his ability to run after the catch and his efficiency in scoring—4th best in converting fantasy points per opportunity on Pro Football Focus—makes him a tournament option.  Even with a few less targets per game Demaryius could pay off for you week 1 against a soft pass D.

With Gary Kubiak now in charge RB is definitely a position to target for the Broncos.  CJ Anderson was the clear lead back in preseason and figures to get most of the work with Ronnie Hillman seeing some relief work and passing downs.  The Bronco’s RBs also figure to be a big part of the passing game.  In Anderson’s last 6 meaningful games of 2014 he averaged 4 receptions and twice had games with 8 catches.  With Peyton’s arm fading Anderson should be a high volume play and has proven he can produce when given the work.  Hillman is also interesting at $3000 but a much riskier option.

In a game with a 49 point total and the Ravens likely playing from behind at some point (they are +4.5 underdogs) I actually like the idea of Joe Flacco as a contrarian tournament play.  Flacco had 5 games where he threw for 300 yards or more passing in 2014 and new OC Marc Trestman should bring some innovation and high percentage passing into the offense.  I see Denver winning this game but Flacco as the possible better QB for fantasy.

At RB Justin Forsett should benefit from a high scoring game as well.  His receiving skill set should be put into full usage by Trestman who coached Matt Forte to a 105 catch season in 2014.  Again, the Bronco’s D is solid but at $6200 Forsett could reach value simply through yardage and ppr totals.  It’s rare I’d recommend you use two RBs from different teams in the same game but in this case it might actually be a good play.

At WR the Ravens will start the season without stud rookie Breshad Perriman, and so veteran Steve Smith will carry the load.  He’ll be flanked by Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown and Michael Campanaro.  As much as I love Smith the Broncos were tough against opposing WRs last season and he will likely see a lot of Aquib Talib (ice up son!).  At $6400 I’d avoid Smith and be more inclined to roll the dice on Kamar Aiken who looks likely be starting alongside him.  Aiken is only $3300 and was the only WR other than Smith to see more than 3 targets or more from Flacco during preseason.

Gameflow: I think the Bronco’s will likely be able to control the pace of play with their strong run game and defense.  Even if Peyton has a subdued game he’s smart enough to know how to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers and move an offense.  Joe Flacco is probably going to be forced to win this game with his arm which will be a tough task against an elite Bronco’s secondary.  I see this one as going under and Denver knocking out a win.

Broncos 27 – Ravens 20

Primary Targets:

CJ Anderson $7000
Justin Forsett $6200

Secondary Targets:

Peyton Manning $8300
Demaryius Thomas $9100
Joe Flacco $6700
Kamar Aiken $3300

Bengals @ Raiders

Point Total: 43.5

Spread: -3 Bengals

On offense the Raiders will be marching out the duel threat of RB Latavius Murray and WR Amari Cooper.  Murray is now the unquestioned number 1 RB in Oakland and will be getting a Bengal’s defense who gave up the 6th most fantasy points to the RB position and only ranked 20th in overall rushing defense.  Murray has the ability to break big gains, will get all the goal line work and is just freakishly athletic.  I love him as a high upside play at only $5700.

As for Amari Cooper, preseason settled any doubt as to what his usage will be. Here is a breakdown of QB Derek Carr’s targets for all three weeks played:

16. Raiders WR Table

Cooper is going to be an amazing PPR play this season.  The Raiders were using him much like the Steelers do Antonio Brown in preseason (all over the field) and he’ll receive a lot of high percentage throws every game.  Still, it’s interesting to note that the Bengals allowed the third fewest passing TDs in the league last season and the third fewest fantasy points to WRs.  As much as I love Cooper the solid cornerback duo of Adam Jones and Leon Hall will likely limit his upside a bit and so I’m advocating caution week 1.

QB Derek Carr is good at throwing quick high percentage routes but really struggles with everything else.  In 2014 Carr failed to throw for over 200 yards 10 times and recorded only one 300+ yard passing game.  Cincinnati allowed the third fewest points to the QB position in 2014 and with that type of matchup I simply see no upside at all in rostering Carr week 1… Last season TE Mychal Rivera registered 7 or more catches 4 times.  However with the presence of Amari Cooper I see a lot of those targets getting taken away.  I don’t see enough upside to roster him against a good pass defense.

One out of the box play to consider in this game is the Oakland defense which is only $2300 (the cheapest of all defenses on DraftKings).  Khalil Mack looked ferocious in the preseason and they will be playing at home against an inconsistent and turnover prone offense led by maligned Bengals QB Andy Dalton.  Dalton ($6100) was one of my favorite value plays when prices first came out on DraftKings but he and the Bengal’s first team offense looked increasingly out of synch in the preseason.   Coming off a terrible 19 TD/17 INT 2014 Dalton still has value thanks to the presence of his elite receiving weapons but he’s definitely someone you should have limited or no exposure to.

The Bengals were 25th in the league in pass attempts in 2014 (down from 10th in 2013) and are increasingly becoming a run first team. WR AJ Green gets an improving but burnable Raiders secondary and is someone I’d target in tournaments.  Even if Green doesn’t get a lot of targets the match-up means big plays are possible… TE Tyler Eifert could also be a good option.  With Jerome Gresham gone he’ll have all the work to himself.  He tied Green with 5 preseason targets and should be Dalton’s second option in the passing game.

At RB the Bengals have essentially named Jeremy Hill the starter and left Gio Bernard to fight with Rex Burkhead for snaps on third downs.  Neither Burkhead nor Bernard have enough upside for me to play as their volume expects to be limited.  Hill on the other hand ripped off some monster games vs weak run defenses late in 2014 and gets an Oakland D who gave up the most fantasy points to RBs in 2014.  My fear with Hill is his snaps get reduced if the Bengals fall behind and have to pass more late in the game.  At $7100 Hill is expensive and carries risk but is still a good play due to matchups.

Gameflow: I like the direction the Raiders are headed and am calling for the upset here.  Oakland has two potential studs on offense and a QB who is good at limiting his mistakes.  Their defense is also improving and the front 7 gave opposition fits in the preseason.  Look for Murray and the Raiders D to control the tempo of this game and for the Bengals offense to come up short in a last second drive.

Raiders 20 – Bengals 19

Primary Targets

Latavius Murray $5700
Tyler Eifert $3500

Secondary Targets

Raiders D $2300
Jeremy Hill $7100
AJ Green $7800

Giants @ Cowboys

Point Total: 51.5

Spread: Cowboys -6

QB Eli Manning attempted 601 passes in 2014 and completed over 63% of his throws, the highest totals of his 11 year career.  Manning has torched the Cowboys over his career and last season averaged 25.78 f/pts vs them in the Giants new offensive scheme.  The Cowboys may have improved as a defense last season but the loss of Orlando Scandrick—the 10th best corner in 2014 according to Pro Football Focus—is a huge blow to their secondary.  I love the upside with Eli at his $7400 price tag this week.

As we can see below the Giants may have tipped how they planned to use RBs Shane Vereen/Rashad Jennings/Andre Williams in their week 3 dress rehearsal.

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 4.37.47 PM

Last season Rashad Jennings caught 30 passes over just 11 games, but with Vereen now the obvious passing-back a lot of Jennings’ upside is now gone.  On the other hand, with Eli throwing the ball more and the Giants defense projected to allow a ton of points, I expect Shane Vereen to be on the field a lot.  At $4200, in a high scoring game, I’m definitely interested in rostering him this week.

At WR Victor Cruz has been out all of preseason and looks doubtful to suit up week 1.  That should mean Odell Beckham becomes almost a must play.  Beckham received 13 targets from Eli Manning in the preseason, 8 more than any other receiver, and is going to be featured all over the field.  The Giants project to be behind for a lot of this game and with no Orlando Scandrick it’s hard to see Beckham not having a big game, fade at your own risk… At TE Larry Donnell might be a bit of a forgotten man but once again, expect to see a ton of passing from the Giants.  The Boys gave up the 5th most points to TE’s in 2014 and I like Donnell as a cheap tournament play.

Last year Dallas threw the second fewest pass attempts in the entire league.  QB Tony Romo was still effective for fantasy, ranking third in efficiency stats on Pro Football Focus, but also had limited upside as he only threw for more than 300 yards once.  It’s hard to see Dallas not attacking the Giants incredibly flimsy run defense in this game and thereby limiting Romo’s upside of fantasy.  Romo’s a great QB but there’s simply others I like better at his price this week.

Speaking of efficiency nobody did more with their opportunities last year than Dez Bryant.  Dez graded out as the most efficient WR in the league in terms of turning targets into actual fantasy points on Pro Football Focus.  Last year he burned the Giants for 16 rec. 237 and 2 TDs in two games.  Dez is a great tournament play almost every week due to his efficiency in scoring but I wouldn’t over expose myself to him week 1, there might not be enough targets for a massive game… In 2014 TE Jason Witten recorded his lowest reception total since 2006, and only recorded more than 6 catches on two occasions.  At $4000 you just really don’t get the upside you used to with him, I’m passing.

At RB the Cowboys might have one of the most appealing matchups in week 1 but they also have one of the murkiest workloads.  Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar are all supposed to see work and will now be joined by raw talent Christine Michael.  The Cowboys are supposedly giving Randle first crack at the job in week 1 and he did prove last year he can produce behind Dallas’ behemoth O-line, averaging 6.7 ypc in admittedly limited action.  However, considering Dallas is a big favorite and the Giants gave up the third most fantasy points to RBs in 2014, you have to like Randle as a high-upside, low-owned choice at RB.

Gameflow: This game has the potential for some big fantasy games.  I see Dallas going with a run heavy game plan again in 2015 and likely having a lot of success with it against the Giants.  However, it’s doubtful that Dallas will be able to fully stop Odell Beckham and so no lead they get will be truly safe.  As much as I want to pick the Giants I still see Dallas as the better team and they should be able to do enough to pull out a win.

Dallas 28 – Giants 24

Primary Targets:

Eli Manning $7400
Odell Beckham $9200

Secondary Targets:

Joseph Randle $5900
Dez Bryant $8700
Larry Donnell $3200

Eagles @ Falcons

Point Total: 55

Spread: -3 Eagles

The total for this game started at 51.5 and has moved up to 55, both teams are now projected to score 26+ points and so TDs should be a plentiful.  The Eagles Sam Bradford makes his first meaningful start at QB in two years.  Last season, in 8 full starts as the Eagles QB Mark Sanchez averaged 18.84 fantasy points on DraftKings, with 5 of those games seeing him throw 35+ pass attempts.  At a very affordable $6900 Bradford is definitely an upgrade over the erratic Sanchez and the high-tempo Philly offense, and high point total of this game, makes him one of the safest picks this week.

The Eagles led the league in offensive plays last year at 70.7 per game in 2014 and so their running backs should also be a good investment.  The problem will be figuring out which one.  To give you an idea of how spread out the work might be here is the distribution of work from the final preseason game, in which all 3 worked into the second quarter:

18. Eagles RB Table

At $6700 Demarco Murray should ultimately lead the committee in touches and be in line for a big game.  He averaged a stout 4.7 ypc last season and the Eagles O-line actually graded out better in run blocking in 2014 than the Cowboys on Pro Football Focus.  His ceiling might be limited by the other backs but he should see enough work in this game to hit value…  The diminutive Darren Sproles might be the most intriguing play from this group.  In 15 games last year Sproles caught 40 passes, scored 6tds and averaged 6.46 touches a game (receptions and carries).  The Falcons gave up 88 receptions to RBs last year, one of the highest totals in the league, and at $3300 Sproles only needs 10 points to hit 3x value on DraftKings, he’s in play for me this week.

Jordan Matthews is the unquestioned number 1 WR for the Eagles this season however he may see a lot of elite corner Desmond Trufant in this game, Trufant graded out as Pro Football Focus’ number 6 overall corner last year.  I wouldn’t worry too much for fantasy however as the Falcons as a team struggled against #1 WR’s last season allowing 14 games of 80 yards or more passing.  Here’s a summary of the five biggest fantasy games against them:

19. Eagles vs. Falcons Table

At $7200 on DraftKings Matthews is priced well under other elite wide-outs this week but will offer similar upside… Rookie Nelson Algholor ($5700) is also a candidate to hit value in this game, but given the Falcons struggles against number-ones I think Matthews is the higher-upside play… Third year TE Zach Ertz missed all of preseason.  If he’s out this week an uptick in targets for Chip Kelly favorite Brent Celek is possible.

The game total and the fact the Eagles allowed some of the most fantasy points to positional player’s last season projects well for many of the Falcons fantasy fortunes.  Here’s how the Eagles fared against the QB, RB and WR in 2014.

20. Eagles vs. Falcons Table 2

A lot of people will be salivating over that table, but I’d be a little wary as the Eagles secondary has improved.  Gone are whipping boys Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher and in are Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond and rookie Eric Rowe.  Given the Eagles strength at LB don’t be shocked if this unit surprises and gives the Falcons offense trouble.  Still, even though I’m high on the Eagles D for 2015 it’s hard to resist using Matt Ryan this week for daily fantasy.  His DraftKings price isn’t super expensive ($7400) and if the Falcons do fall way behind his fourth quarter yardage totals will accumulate fast.

One of the reasons why Ryan will still have a high fantasy ceiling in this game is because of his improved weapons on offense.  Atlanta added rookie Tevin Coleman, an exciting RB out of Indiana and a perfect fit for this high tempo scheme.  He projects to share carries with second year player Devonta Freeman, but of the two I’m definitely more interested in Coleman.  For a tiny increase in price ($4800 v $4300) he offers more big play potential and is the better pass catcher.

The WR’s in this offense is likely where the real fantasy focus should be.  Even with an improved Eagle’s secondary Julio Jones should be in for a big day.  If Roddy White (elbow) can’t go or is limited than Julio becomes the must play off the week at WR.  In two games without Roddy in the lineup last year Julio caught 20 passes for 420 yards and 3tds… The other fantasy play to consider for ATL is Leonard Hankerson, who looked good in preseason and primed to take over the WR3 role in this offense.  If this turns into a shootout Hankerson becomes a very intriguing play on DraftKings where he’s only priced at $3000.

Gameflow: Atlanta’s made improvements but I see the Eagles as the better team.  You might see a slow start from Bradford as he gets his legs underneath him but I expect the Eagles running game and Jordan Matthews to be too much for Atlanta to handle and it should push them into a decent lead at some point.  A monster game by one of the RB’s and/or Jordan Matthews is likely here.  Even if I’m right and the Eagles Defense is successful in limiting ATL’s offense a combination of garbage time and pure volume should allow Matt Ryan to rack up enough points for a decent fantasy day and help Julio Jones’ cause as well.  If I’m wrong, Ryan and Jones might unleash hell and have a day to remember.

Eagles 41 – Falcons 27

Primary Targets:

Sam Bradford $6900
Jordan Matthews $7300
Matt Ryan $7400
Julio Jones $9300

Secondary Targets:

DeMarco Murray $6700
Darren Sproles $3300
Leonard Hankerson $3000
Tevin Coleman $4800

Vikings @ 49ers

Point Total: 41.5

Spread: -2.5 Vikings

In his last 5 games of 2014 Teddy Bridgewater was spectacular completing 72% of his passes and averaging 246 yards passing per game.  The 49ers were tough against the QB last season but have sustained numerous losses on defense.  The downside in playing Teddy this weekend is the low point total and of course Adrian Peterson’s return.  The upside is his efficiency and a good matchup.  If you play Teddy it should be strictly as a tournament play as you’re essentially betting against Adrian Peterson getting most of the TDs for Minnesota.

The same argument against using Bridgewater applies to the Minnesota WRs.  In 2014 only two 100 yard receiving games were posted by Vikings WRs and only once did a Viking WR catch more than 6 passes.  Mike Wallace should help bring a big play element to this offense but at $6000 you would be reliant on him springing at least one big play to pay off, I’m fine betting against that.  WR Charles Johnson looked good playing with Bridgewater in the preseason and would be my choice to lead Minnesota WR’s in catches in 2015.  He and Wallace led all Vikings receivers in targets this preseason:

21. Vikings Receiver Table

At $4900 I think Johnson makes for a more attractive play due to price and is someone you could consider pairing with Bridgewater in tournaments.

The main Vikings target for fantasy on offense will be Adrian Peterson.  While the 49ers have been stout against the run in the past the losses of Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Chris Borland and Patrick Willis will have a huge impact and make them very exploitable by elite RBs.  Peterson may be a bit of a question mark but the news out of camp is that he looks just as sharp as ever and is in the best shape of his life.  The Vikings project as favorites and could really rely on the run game to kill the clock and control tempo.  Pairing Peterson with the improving Vikings defense could be a very smart fantasy move week 1.

Colin Kaepernick was one of the most frustrating QBs for fantasy in 2014.  He routinely squandered good matchups for fantasy and only posted three games of 20 fantasy points or more.  There’s always upside with Kaepernick as he averaged 40 yards rushing per game and was one of only three QBs to have a 100 yard rushing game in 2014.  However, with Minnesota fielding an improving defense and a low projected point total for this game I’m fine passing on him week 1.

The Vikings were above-average in limiting opposing WRs points in 2014.  Third year player Xavier Rhodes is developing into a high end corner for Minnesota and with Colin Kaepernick’s inconsistencies in the passing game I’m not sure I want any part of the 49er’s wide-outs.  Neither Torrey Smith ($5900) nor Anquan Boldin ($6100) are cheap and would need big days that I don’t see happening to really pay off… You could take a shot with Vernon Davis at TE in tournaments this weekend.  Coming off a miserable 2014 Davis should be motivated and remains a great deep threat who can routinely beat LB’s down the seam.  A big game is possible but so is a complete dud, you’ve been warned

RB is a position to target for the 49ers.  While the newly acquired Reggie Bush is enticing at $3900 he’s now 30 and his usage is a bit unknown.  I’d rather focus on Carlos Hyde who at only $5300 is the established #1 back, has a good matchup and will get all the goal line work.  Hyde looked good in preseason averaging 5 yards per carry and might get a little overlooked week 1.  Even though the 49ers are underdogs this is projected as a close game and so I’d still look for 15+ carries and a few targets for Hyde.

Gameflow: The depleted San Fran defense should be exploitable by both Peterson and Bridgewater and lead to some decent fantasy days for one or both.  I expect the Vikings to try and control the tempo with Peterson and their defense and for San Francisco to try and do the same with Carlos Hyde.  Ultimately Minnesota is just the more talented team, and with their exceptional young QB they should be able to get a road win.  I expect them to knock out a victory week 1.

Vikings 24 – 49ers 17

Primary Targets:
Adrian Peterson $7700
Vikings defense $2800

Secondary Targets:
Carlos Hyde $5300
Charles Johnson $4900
Teddy Bridgewater $6600