It’s officially time to celebrate. We’re just a few days away from the greatest (unofficial, for now at least) holiday of the year – the first Sunday of the NFL regular season. Nothing against Christmas or Halloween, but there isn’t another feeling quite like the one you get at kickoff on that first Sunday afternoon. It only gets better this year with FanDuel offering up a $5M Week 1 tournament where the 1st place finisher will become an instant millionaire. Not only do we have an entire season of NFL football ahead of us, but you’ll have a shot at life-changing money each and every week along the way.
For those who are new to the FanDuel primer this season, I’ll be breaking down the week ahead using a variety of research tools available on RotoGrinders.com. This column will evolve as the season wears on, and will highlight different research tools and statistics that I use when building my own DFS teams. I won’t get into many of them in Week 1 since we’re still without any 2015 data, but here’s a quick look at what you can expect as the regular season rolls along:
- Market Watch – The RotoGrinders “Market Watch” tool helps you track the movement in player pricing each week from site-to-site. Sort the page to find the biggest risers and fallers in price each week – this can be a great way to find underpriced value. I’ll highlight a few players with respect to their pricing changes in the Week 2 primer.
- Defense vs. Position – This one is pretty self-explanatory; we’ll highlight matchups for players that are in the most favorable situations based on the defense they’ll be facing in that particular week.
- Consistency & Ceiling – This tool helps to broaden the line between players you should be considering in cash games (high floor) and GPPs/tournaments (high ceiling).
- Targets – Want to know which Colts receiver is seeing the largest number of looks from Andrew Luck? Curious which of the Falcons RB’s is more involved in the offense? Look no further. You can view the total number of targets and touches for WRs, TEs and RBs via the Targets page.
- Vegas Odds – We’ll take a look at the game lines and totals to guide us towards the teams and players with the most fantasy appeal. If you aren’t analyzing Vegas Odds week in and week out, you are doing yourself a huge disservice!
While there is certainly value in using 2014 statistics to prepare for Week 1, the NFL landscape changes quite a bit from year to year, so let’s start with one of the RotoGrinders tools we can fully analyze at this point – Vegas Odds. There isn’t another DFS research tool like this; we allow the Vegas oddsmakers to do the work for us. Those experts understand football as thoroughly as anyone, and for good reason. They have very large sums of money on the line each week, so it’s in their best interest to create accurate spreads and totals. Let’s dig into the Week 1 lines and handpick a few games to analyze.
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Pittsburgh at New England (-7) – 52.0
I won’t dive into the Thursday night game outside of this section, so I’ll use this as an opportunity to break down the NFL regular season opener. If you are new to DFS, be aware that playing Thursday contests requires a different set of strategies. Since players in the Thursday night game always tend to be highly owned (more so than they would if the game was played on Sunday), fading the Thursday night game entirely is often a wise strategy. This certainly isn’t the case across the board, but if the Thursday game ends up being a heavily targeted, low scoring game, you have a huge leg up going into Sunday.
With all of that said, this may be a week where it makes sense to take some shots at Thursday players. A 52-point total is good news for both offenses, and injuries/suspensions on both sides have led to a spike in value for a few low-cost options.
I’m targeting the pass-catchers on the New England side of the ball. With Brandon LaFell on the PUP list, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski stick out as high floor, high ceiling plays against a Pittsburgh defense that struggled to defend the pass last season. The Steelers allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to QBs last season, and they were only marginally better against opposing WRs (ninth-most FPs allowed). Gronk is a matchup-proof target every week, and he’ll see his fair share of work with the New England running game very much in flux until LeGarrette Blount returns. Danny Amendola ($5,600 on FanDuel) could be a very nice source of PPR value as long as LaFell is on the shelf. On the Pittsburgh side, I can see merit to rostering Big Ben ($8,600 on FanDuel), as he won’t likely carry the same ownership percentage as Brady and has an equally high ceiling. Given that the Steelers are 7-point underdogs in a game with a total over 50, projected game flow sets up perfectly for Roethlisberger to air it out early and often. Without Le’Veon Bell to carry the load offensively, Roethlisberger should hit value based on pure volume alone. As for Big Ben’s top target, I’ll likely be steering clear of Antonio Brown, the most expensive option at WR on FanDuel in Week 1. He’ll surely be a popular Thursday night play, but I think there is more upside in playing the fade in this situation (although there is a degree of safety with Brown that you don’t get with other WRs). The Patriots make a calculated effort to take away the opposing team’s biggest offensive threat, and Brown is clearly that player as long as Le’Veon Bell is on the shelf. I’d rather save some cap space and roster another top tier option at WR.
Philadelphia (-3) at Atlanta – 56.0
The Monday night matchup between the Eagles and Falcons sets up to be the most fantasy-friendly in terms of points scored. Not only is the total through the roof, but the 3-point spread shows you that Vegas expects this one to stay close through all four quarters. When I see a game with a high total and a close point spread, I’m usually targeting both offenses with confidence. That is without a doubt the case here, as both teams have a number of noteworthy Week 1 options.
On the Philadelphia side, Sam Bradford will step under center for his first meaningful game in an Eagles uniform. He’s immediately set up for success; Bradford is affordable ($7,500 on FD is a bargain given his upside), he’s playing in a fast-paced and high-powered offense and he faces off with the defense that allowed the second-most passing yards per game in 2014 (behind only the Eagles). Since this game is expected to stay close, sheer volume shouldn’t be an issue for Bradford. The Philadelphia running game is extremely exciting, but the dearth of viable options in the backfield makes it a somewhat murky situation for DFS. DeMarco Murray is the lead dog, but his workload is still a little unclear given the presence of Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. Murray will be the only back I have any Week 1 exposure to, since he’ll likely be the goal line back and should see plenty of scoring opportunities on the fast track in Atlanta. Jordan Matthews is an excellent $/point (dollar per point) play on FanDuel at $6,800, as he’s first in the pecking order among Philadelphia WRs. He also benefits from spending time in the slot, as he’s routinely matched up with corners who can’t defend him.
The Eagles’ pace of play not only helps the DFS options on the Philly side of the ball, but it also leads to a few extra possessions for the opponent. Atlanta’s offense sees a nice boost as a result, but the fantasy options here are mainly at QB and WR. Philadelphia has been fairly stout against the run over the past two seasons and the defensive personnel have only improved this season, making the Atlanta run game a situation to avoid given the uncertainty surrounding it. However, as three point dogs in an expected shootout, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones both possess big-time upside. The Eagles allowed the most fantasy points to opposing WRs last year and gave up the most passing yards to opposing QBs, so it doesn’t get much better than this for Atlanta from a matchup standpoint. The Eagles’ secondary took a big step in the right direction this offseason, but make no mistake – this defense will still surrender plenty of points.
New York Jets (-3) at Cleveland – 39.5
Looking for high Vegas totals isn’t the only objective here. When you’re picking your defense/special teams unit each week, checking out the projected totals for each team is a great starting point. When you roster a defense, you want to choose a team that has an opponent with a low team total, but there are plenty of other factors that lead to a successful score from your D/ST. You’re also looking for turnover/sack potential, and obviously big points can be scored if you’re fortunate enough to hit on a defensive or special teams touchdown.
To put it nicely, things just haven’t been going the Browns’ way lately. The Josh Gordon saga was a mess, they’ve butchered a handful of early round picks in the last few drafts, and the quarterback situation remains a complete disaster. Luckily for us, we can use this to our advantage. The Jets are my favorite play at D/ST in Week 1, as the Browns lack any real offensive firepower and Josh McCown is certainly not immune to turnovers. As if it wasn’t bad enough to have McCown under center, the Browns boast absolutely no noteworthy talent at WR, which explains why they have the lowest team total of the week. I’d guess that the Seattle and Carolina defenses will be more popular, but the Jets have just as much upside at a slightly lower price tag.
Next up is our Defense vs. Position page, which gives you an idea of how well certain teams defend a particular position. We’re relying solely on 2014 data this week, but personnel changes in the offseason are considered in the recommendations below. This is one of my favorite tools to use each week, and I rely on it more each week as the sample size continues to grow. All player salaries listed below are from FanDuel.
I’ve already touched on Bradford so we’ll keep it short here; it’s just worth reiterating that he’s an excellent option if you aren’t spending up for Aaron Rodgers. Strangely, the Falcons allowed the most passing yards per game to QBs last season, yet they allowed the fifth-fewest passing touchdowns. I’m more apt to believe in the former considering that Atlanta also allowed the most rushing TDs last season (good news for DeMarco Murray!). There should be plenty of scoring to go around for the Eagles both on the ground and through the air.
Especially if you are a GPP player, Ryan Tannehill’s name should be on your radar this week. He’s going to be under-owned considering the number of appealing options at both ends of the salary chart, but if last season is any indication, he’s got one of the top matchups on the board. Not only did Washington allow the most FPs to the QB position in 2014, they allowed the most passing TDs and the eighth-most rushing yards to opposing signal callers. Tannehill showed last year that he’s not afraid to run when the time is right, finishing with over 300 rushing yards for the first time in his career. Even with Mike Wallace out of town, Tannehill’s weapons may be even better this season and a premier Week 1 matchup makes him an excellent against-the-grain play.
The Bengals unleashed Hill towards the end of last season, and we routinely saw him putting up big games when the game script was in his favor. While the Bengals are only a small favorite on the road in Oakland, this looks like a solid spot for the Bengals to let Hill carry it 20+ times. Oakland allowed the most fantasy points to opposing RBs last year, including 15 rush TDs (T-3rd most), making Hill a good bet to cross the goal line on Sunday. Gio Bernard will still be a factor on passing downs and as a change-of-pace back, but Hill is the player you want in this backfield.
In a strange way, Doug Martin and Robert Griffin III have a lot in common. They both set the league ablaze in their rookie years, only to come crashing down to earth in years two and three. The good news for Martin is he still holds onto a starting gig, and showed that he deserved another chance by looking more like the 2012 Doug Martin in the preseason. The Bucs’ offensive line is a concern and Martin’s success will still be game-flow dependent, but his Week 1 matchup sets up well in that regard. Tampa comes in as a three-point favorite at home against the team that drafted directly behind them this year, meaning Martin should still be involved late into the second half. Even better news for the player who hates being called Muscle Hamster, the Titans were the only team in football last year to allow over 2000 yards (to RBs alone) on the ground. They also allowed the second-most rushing TDs and things haven’t improved much on the defensive side of the ball for the Titans, making Martin a solid value play at the RB spot.
Sure, Peyton is a year older and the Denver offense will be a little different under Gary Kubiak, but Demaryius Thomas is still an elite receiver playing with a quarterback who knows how to get him the ball. To be fair, I’m more comfortable with Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson in cash games. With that said, Thomas holds a ton of value as a GPP play, since most of the DFS community will gravitate towards those players in the same price range. Wide receiver is arguably the most volatile position in fantasy football, meaning it can be a great position to try to differentiate your lineup in a large field tournament. Thomas led the league in both total targets and red-zone targets last year, giving him a high floor in addition to his ridiculously high ceiling. Add in the fact that Baltimore was much easier to beat through the air last season (they allowed the fourth-most FPs to WRs and were tops in the league against RBs) and you have yourself an excellent differentiation play.
Julio Jones is in a prime spot to explode in Week 1, facing off with a fast-paced Eagles team at home on Monday night. Philadelphia will make a concerted effort to slow him down but even with a much-improved secondary, I don’t see them keeping Jones in check for long. The Eagles allowed the most FPs to opposing receivers in 2014 and it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see them take that crown again this season due to their style of play.
Welcome back to Value town, parts unknown. I won’t be recommending the Aaron Rodgers’ of the world here, but instead will highlight a few players with price tags that don’t add up to their level of talent, opportunity and/or matchup. The ultimate goal is to find players at the bottom of the salary chart who have the upside to produce at an elite level.
Quarterback – Tyrod Taylor ($5,000)
It’s not often you can find a minimum priced QB with this type of upside, but that’s what happens when Week 1 salaries are released weeks before the games get started. If you want to completely punt the QB spot, Taylor is far and away your best option. He’s looked really good during the preseason and mobile QBs are DFS gold, so what’s not to like? Game flow should also work in Taylor’s favor if the Bills are playing from behind, as he’ll be forced to throw and should be able to find space to show off his wheels along the way. It’s hard to envision Taylor not hitting value if he plays four full quarters of football.
Running Back – Chris Ivory ($6,400)
Ivory finally looks to have the backfield to himself in New York with CJ0K out of town and Stevan Ridley hurt. Bilal Powell will eat up third down work and Zac Stacy may spell Ivory for a series or two, but I expect the Jets’ lead back to act like one in the opener against Cleveland. One of the big problems for Ivory last year was that the Jets constantly struggled to stay in games and were forced to go away from the run more often than not, leading to plenty of games where he hovered around the ten carry mark. Ivory is a guy who needs a big workload (and goal line carries) to be a real DFS asset. If the Vegas total for Sunday’s Jets/Browns game is any indication, Ivory should be involved early and often. At $6,400, he’s one of the top $/point plays at the position. Among the other RB options under $7,500 that stand out are Jonathan Stewart, Lamar Miller and Doug Martin.
The first two names (Adams and Matthews) are fairly obvious options. Adams will fill in as the Packers #2 WR with Jordy Nelson out for the season, and had this information been available before salaries were released, Adams would be a few thousand dollars more expensive. $5,500 is far too cheap for a player with the talent and opportunity that Adams has. The Packers’ offense lit up the Bears in both matchups between these teams last year, and I don’t expect that to change on Sunday. Adams is as close to a must-play in cash games as there is, but there is merit to fading him in large field tournaments.
Jordan Matthews enters his sophomore season as the Eagles’ most exciting receiving option, as basically the entire fantasy community expects him to follow up his strong finish to 2014 with an impressive showing in 2015. Jeremy Maclin is out of town and Zach Ertz is banged up, so Matthews will undoubtedly have his opportunity to shine. The Eagles have one of the highest team totals of the weekend and Atlanta allowed the second-most yards to WRs last season.
Charles Johnson is the against the grain play of this group. Minnesota’s team total isn’t high and the road matchup with the 49ers doesn’t look appealing on the surface, yet Johnson is one of my favorite tournament plays of the weekend. San Francisco’s defense has taken a big step back since last season and several other Minnesota options (Adrian Peterson, most notably) are also appealing differentiation plays. Johnson will see regular snaps alongside Mike Wallace and his big play upside gives him a ton of appeal as a punt play in large field tournaments.
Tight End – Jordan Reed ($5,000)
You know who isn’t complaining about the QB change in Washington? Jordan Reed. He struggled to find much consistency when he played with RGIII, but that wasn’t the case when Kirk Cousins was under center. In the two games Reed and Cousins played together last season, Reed finished with 8-92-0 against Arizona and 5-54-0 against the Titans. I’m fully expecting the Redskins to throw the ball quite a bit (especially in the second half), and can easily envision Reed finishing with double-digit fantasy points. At $5,000 in a watered down TE pool (Gronk plays on Thursday night), Reed is an excellent cap-saving play.