Single-game DFS Week 3: Top picks for primetime games

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Single-game primetime daily fantasy football contests have arrived at Yahoo Fantasy. It’s an absolutely thrilling and different way to approach DFS that pushes managers to be creative in lineup construction when only focusing on single games.

Every week I’ll offer up my general, high-level view of the three island games on the schedule as well as some of my favorite salary-based plays — and of course, my top pick for the all-important SUPERSTAR spot.

Sunday Night Football

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

The Packers are officially back on track. Not that anyone was really, genuinely worried.

The offense got rolling against Detroit after a few slow moments early on Monday night. The defense looked like a genuine issue for about a half but ultimately sent Jared Goff into a tailspin to help the team pull away. It’s a good idea to still question this defense but that performance was encouraging nonetheless.

Sunday night in Week 3 will provide a much bigger test for the Packers against a 49ers team that’s 2-0 yet still doesn’t feel like they’ve played their best ball yet.

The 49ers are 3.5-point home favorites in a game that sports a solid 49.5 projected point total. That feels right. I’d expect a tight game but again, it still feels like we’re waiting to see the best version of this Kyle Shanahan offense.

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The Trey Sermon and Brandon Aiyuk fantasy fiascos have gotten a lot of attention but it goes beyond that. George Kittle has only seen nine targets through two weeks and is only running a route on 76 percent of the passing plays he’s on the field for. That’s troubling usage for a supposed top-three tight end. The entire receiver corps is rotating in and out. Outside of Deebo Samuel, no one on this offense has been consistently strong through two weeks.

Jimmy Garoppolo has had some serious cold stretches through these two games and is mostly playing cupcake football. He’s thrown just 9.1 percent of his passes into tight windows and is averaging 5.1 air yards per attempt (Next Gen Stats). Talk about training wheels.

So yes, I do believe there is a further ceiling for this offense to access, even with Garoppolo starting, given the legitimate talent in place here.

I’m of the belief we see the playbook finally open up against this Packers team. Shanahan can’t afford to not put his foot on the gas against Green Bay. We know San Francisco took Rodgers and co. to task back in 2019 but the defense isn’t anywhere close to that good anymore. In fact, the cornerback room is in such a state Rodgers could easily march down the field against them.

SUPERSTAR pick: Aaron Rodgers ($35)

The 49ers are already in a position where they’re playing musical chairs at the cornerback position. They’re playing Josh Norman for significant snaps. San Francisco isn’t about to fall apart as a defense but they’re certainly an exploitable unit for a player like Rodgers.

Must-play: George Kittle ($24)

The Packers' defense still has some serious holes. Despite the issues with Kittle’s role through the first two games, he can still exploit this unit. The Packers were dusted by the Saints' tight end duo in Week 1 with Juwan Johnson catching two touchdowns and then T.J. Hockenson took them to task last Monday. Again, we’re betting that there’s a deeper version of the San Francisco offense than what we’ve seen so far.

Sneaky cheap option: Brandon Aiyuk ($14)

I know. I know ... but, if someone is playing a cheap receiver from this game most folks are not going near Aiyuk and will just land on MVS at $14. Going any lower to the Lazard/Cobb tier is just going way too far out on a limb for guys who aren’t running enough routes. Aiyuk’s route and snap share jumped from Week 1 to Week 2. Even if the boxscore didn’t show it (no one’s did, outside of Deebo Samuel) we are trending in the right direction here.

The 49ers are going to need more juice to beat the Packers. Aiyuk is their best shot to get it.

Monday Night Football

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

A pair of 1-1 NFC East squads come into Week 3 ready to do battle. While each of Philadelphia and Dallas dropped a game to a quality opponent, overall their offenses have impressed through two weeks.

The line on this game is Cowboys -4 at home with a beefy 51.5-point projected total. We should get plenty of fantasy goodness here.

Jalen Hurts has the Eagles' offense playing quite well to start the year. Philadelphia ranks inside the Top-12 in both offensive and defensive DVOA. Most of Hurts’ damage has come from the ground game but he’s taken steps as a passer too. Week 1 was a better showing against a soft defense but he’s still sporting a 3.9 percent completion rate above expectation. Dallas’ defense is likely somewhere in the middle between San Francisco and Atlanta so this looks like a good setup for Hurts and co.

Miles Sanders actually might be the biggest potential boom here. Dallas hasn’t been run on much but are allowing 4.4 yards per carry to running backs and the third-most catches. Rookie Kenneth Gainwell has stolen some passing game reps from Sanders but the latter has still run 37 routes to 21 for the former.

Things are mostly humming for Dallas. The passing game hasn’t fully popped off just yet but that’s to be expected with Dak Prescott returning from a serious injury and slow offseason.

The real intrigue lies with the ground game. Tony Pollard has totaled 183 yards from scrimmage to just 136 for Ezekiel Elliott. Both have one touchdown on the season. Pollard’s ascension has been due to two reasons.

While Elliott leads the backfield by a good gap in routes run (68) they’re actually throwing the ball to Pollard. He’s been targeted on 35 percent of his routes compared to 5.9 percent for Zeke. That leads us to our second reason: Pollard is just better than Zeke out in space right now. It’s hard to deny this. Pollard is averaging 3.5 yards after contact per carry. Zeke is at 2.3.

With Michael Gallup on IR and Amari Cooper banged up, the Cowboys are in need of some more passing game threats. They’re rightly turning to the explosive Pollard in space. I don’t expect this to change. It doesn’t tank Elliott’s fantasy value but he doesn’t have the absurd touches ceiling he has in years past ... which might actually be good for his long-term outlook.

SUPERSTAR pick: Jalen Hurts ($34)

Jalen Hurts has been awesome as a fantasy quarterback mostly on the back of his rushing ability. He ranks 12th in the NFL among all players with 144 yards on the ground. That’s a bankable part of his game every week. Dallas has also allowed the second-most passing yards through two weeks. Dak Prescott is obviously a candidate for this spot as well but the rushing advantage and matchup make me lean Hurts.

Must-play: CeeDee Lamb ($21)

We already knew that Gallups’ absence was going to constrict the target pecking order in Dallas. Now that Amari Cooper is also banged up, things could trend even more in the direction of CeeDee Lamb, who currently ranks second in the NFL with 24 targets. I can’t imagine building a lineup this week without Lamb in it.

Sneaky cheap option: Cedrick Wilson ($10)

If Cooper is limited that could just push more volume Wilson’s way after he ran as the third receiver last week with Gallup out. Wilson took 26 of his snaps from the slot, which could lend itself to seeing some layup looks from Dak Prescott. I put more emphasis on those indicators over his low target total from Week 2.

Thursday Night Football

Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans

The Texans and Panthers have been two of the bigger surprises of the young 2021 season ... for different reasons.

The Panthers have been downright good through two weeks. The defense has been a revelation. Carolina leads the NFL with 19 quarterback hits and is second with a 25 percent pressure rate. Brain Burns looks like this year’s defensive superstar breakout while Shaq Thompson, Jeremy Chinn, and other youngsters are flying around. Joe Brady has Sam Darnold playing solid football with this attack ranking 14th in offensive DVOA. Carolina’s hot start looks sustainable.

The Texans were billed as an expansion-level operation heading into the year but looked verifiably frisky with Tyrod Taylor under center. Taylor is a capable, high-level backup quarterback. Operating on a roster laden with experienced older players, it’s no shock he had them moving the ball for a game and a half.

All bets are now off though, with rookie Davis Mills set to start Thursday night.

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Mills completed just 44 percent of his passes in relief of Taylor in Week 2 with an interception and a fumble. The Panthers are 8-point road favorites but could still clear that with the way their defense is playing heading into a matchup against an unprepared rookie. For just $15 in this single-game contest, I’m actually considering playing them given the rest of the mercurial offensive options in the game.

Considering that Christian McCaffrey should be a lock and the Texans' offense is suddenly a question-mark, this game proves a difficult build. The only player you’d have confidence in deploying from Houston is Brandin Cooks ($21). The veteran receiver leads the NFL with 54 percent of the Texans' air yards. However, we know the quality of those targets just got a lot lower with Mills taking over. Cooks is on the fringe of trust-worthy fantasy territory now.

SUPERSTAR pick: Christian McCaffrey ($41)

If you’re not locking in McCaffrey to your lineups, what are you even doing?

The star back leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 324 and has the most catches (14) among running backs. He’s almost double the salary of the next most expensive player (among guys who will actually play) on the slate. So, it’s going to be a squeeze for the rest of your lineup but it’s worth it.

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey
Christian McCaffrey is a must-play on TNF. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Must-play: DJ Moore ($20)

It looks like DJ Moore is ready to make the final leap into the star-wideout echelon. He’s been awesome to start 2021. While there was a pretty close draw between all of the Panthers' wide receivers last year, Moore is clearly the go-to guy so far, leading the Panthers with 19 targets through two weeks. Next is McCaffrey with 15 and then Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall tied at nine. That’s a big gap. Moore’s 9.4 air yards per target mark has helped smooth out the consistency portion of his game after operating as a vertical weapon in 2020. He should crush this defunct Texans secondary.

Sneaky cheap option: David Johnson ($13)

Yeesh. Hear me out though.

The only $10 I could reasonably make a case for is Anthony Miller since he might be the starting Texans slot receiver with Danny Amendola out. It’s a reach though. At least we know Johnson’s role: He’s the passing-down back on this team. Johnson has run 28 routes through two games. He’s split the gig with a few other guys (like Rex Burkhead, for whatever reason) but he’s the only one drawing any targets. We should expect the Texans to be in more negative game scripts than ever without Taylor on the field. Johnson's tiny salary gives you some projectable volume and allows you to get CMC, Moore, Cooks, and the Panthers defense.

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