Week 1 fantasy football slate guide: projecting possible shootouts

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/bal" data-ylk="slk:Baltimore Ravens">Baltimore Ravens</a> running back Alex Collins is in a smash spot in Week 1 (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Baltimore Ravens running back Alex Collins is in a smash spot in Week 1 (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The NFL is finally back. Here we’ll run through every Week 1 game to look at the Vegas lines and totals with the implications for the possible game flow. We’ll also examine one of the key matchups in the game that could dictate start/sit decisions for fantasy football.

Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens (1:00 pm EST)

Total: 40.5
Favorite: Ravens
Spread: -7.5

The Bills have the lowest implied team total of the week at 16.5. The Ravens are tied with the Packers as the second-largest favorite of the week by getting 7.5 points. It makes sense. Baltimore boasted the No. 2 ranked pass defense in Football Outsiders DVOA last season and allowed just five yards per play. Peterman was remarkably sharp in the preseason but last we saw him start an NFL game, he threw five interceptions and was yanked by half. The Bills seem to have some faith in Peterman but this also has the feel of a feeding to the wolves in order to spare Josh Allen, who was pressured on 43 percent of his preseason dropbacks.

Matchup to watch

The Bills allowed an average of 149.2 rushing yards per game and six scores from December on last year, including their playoff loss to Jacksonville. Despite maintaining solid numbers against the pass, the Bills ground defense crumbled to end 2017. The only major additions were former Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who fell off as the years went along and Carolina let walk with little resistance, and young first-round linebacker Trumaine Edmunds. Alex Collins, priced as the RB11 at $26 in Yahoo daily contests, is one of the best plays of the week against this soft rush defense as a heavy home favorite. Collins averaged over 18 touches per game after the Ravens’ bye in 2017.

Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants (1:00 pm EST)

Total: 43.5
Favorite: Jaguars
Spread: -3

The Jaguars are expected to waltz into MetLife Stadium and vanquish the Giants. The 43.5-point over/under is the fourth-lowest of the Week 1 slate. Frankly,  going under wouldn’t be much of a shock given the way these teams play. Jacksonville gets teams off the field in a hurry, ranking No. 1 in the NFL with the lowest time of possession per drive (2:19) on defense. On the other hand, the 2017 Giants couldn’t mount drives to stay on the field with the lowest average time of possession per drive (2:24) on offense. The Giants offense is bound to be an improved unit with Pat Shurmur calling the shots and they will have home-field advantage in Week 1. However, this could easily be a game where Jacksonville squats on the ball on we see fewer than 40 combined points on the board.

Matchup to watch

Much ink will be spilled surrounding the prognostications of the Odell Beckham vs. Jalen Ramsey showdown. Ramsey is one of, if not the best cover corner in the NFL, while Beckham has few peers as a route-runner. Beckham could get a boost from Pat Shurmur’s creative deployment of receivers. Last season, Stefon Diggs lined up on the line of scrimmage on just 24.4 percent of the snaps sampled for Reception Perception, while Adam Thielen lined up in the slot on 40.1 percent. Their deployment as a flanker and big slot receiver helped create matchup advantages across the field. That will be tough feet to pull off against Jacksonville with two shutdown perimeter corners but it can work. If Beckham is tied up outside, that could funnel targets to the middle of the field where Sterling Shepard will line up against former Raiders draft bust D.J. Hayden, who Jacksonville will look to break-in as their new slot receiver.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (1:00 pm EST)

Total: 49.5
Favorite: Saints
Spread: -9.5

The Saints have the highest implied team total of the week at 29.5. New Orleans is in a prime spot here. Not only could this game push for the over, the Saints could realistically hurdle the 9.5-point spread with their stellar offense ready to roll over a Buccaneers defense that has holes at every level. Alvin Kamara is the smash play here. With Mike Gillislee the only other running back on the active roster, Kamara is in line for feature back duties as a heavy home favorite in the Superdome. He’s priced as the RB3 ($37) in Yahoo daily fantasy but easily has a better outlook than any of the other backs in the top-seven. He’s your DFS anchor of the week.

Matchup to watch

Marshon Lattimore was a star in his rookie season, allowing a 49.2 passer rating in coverage. He successfully blanketed Mike Evans in their matchups, as the hulking receiver totaled fewer than 70 yards over two contests against New Orleans. If Evans is tied up again, the ball must flow elsewhere. DeSean Jackson’s slot reps were up from 20.4 percent last season to 36.4 percent in the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus’ Scott Barrett. If that usage holds, he’ll square off with Patrick Robinson, who returns to the Saints after a stellar 2017 in Philadelphia. Chris Godwin is expected to split No. 2 duties with Jackson in 2018 and would draw Ken Crawley, who was solid in his own right last year with a 69.7 passer rating allowed, per TheQuantEdge. It’s tough to pick a game stack candidate in Tampa Bay to pair with your Saints.

Houston Texans at New England Patriots (1:00 pm EST)

Total: 51.5
Favorite: Patriots
Spread: -6.5

The Patriots vs. Texans tilt is projected to be highest-scoring Week 1 contest with a 50.5-point over/under. It’s the “everybody in the pool” game for the opener and you’ll want to err on the side of playing your New England and Texans players. Of course, this total is no lock. We could fail to hit the over if the defensive improvements made by both teams, whether by free agent adds for New England or an influx of health for Houston, pay immediate dividends. Additionally, Deshaun Watson is returning after a long injury layoff and the Patriots have questions both on the offensive line and at the skill position spots.

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Matchup to watch

The Patriots (9.6) and Texans (8.9) ranked No. 2 and 3 in highest yards per target allowed to wide receivers lined up in the slot last season. Chris Hogan is the favorite to see a boost in slot receiver duties in New England with Julian Edelman out. His slot reps saw a nearly 10 percent jump from 2016 to 2017. Rex Burkhead could also chip-in as a slot receiver. Don’t look now, but Bruce Ellington might just be a Week 1 sleeper. The gifted but oft-injured receiver staved off competition from Keke Coutee in the offseason and ran 67 percent of his routes in the slot last year.

San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings (1:00 pm EST)

Total: 46
Favorite: Vikings
Spread: -6.5

We’ve had a movement on this line. The total went down from a 47-point open to 46 and the Vikings went from a 4.5 to a 6.5-point favorite. Minnesota is clearly expected to not just win but control this contest. A game script like that would set up well for their running game but injuries on the offensive line may prove to be a foil. The Vikings could especially struggle with underrated front seven maven, DeForest Buckner. The former first-round pick totaled 68 disruptions (plays with a pressure or run stuff) last season, per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats tracking data, placing him inside the top-18 defenders in the league.

Matchup to watch

Marquise Goodwin was a fantastic target in the mid-rounds of fantasy drafts this year but don’t be surprised if he gets off to a slow start in Week 1. The speedy receiver should draw coverage from the Vikings shutdown corner, Xavier Rhodes. Goodwin took over 50 percent of his snaps at left wide receiver, which would put him in the crosshairs of Rhodes who lined up at right corner on 70.3 percent of his snaps (via TheQuantEdge). While Goodwin developed into a full-field route runner, he still finished at the 49th percentile in success rate vs. man coverage through his Reception Perception sample. Rhodes was a lights-out in press coverage last season, allowing a paltry 32 passer rating. 

Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins (1:00 pm EST)

Total: 45
Favorite: Titans
Spread: -1

The Titans are expected to vanquish the Dolphins despite being the traveling team here. While this 45-point total is in the middle of the Week 1 pack, it’s conceivable we come under that low threshold. Tennessee’s offense showed little signs of the expected progress in the passing game this preseason. Marcus Mariota was particularly dreadful. His struggles under pressure continued, as he hurled an interception and completed two of six passes when pressured and was sacked on 30 percent of his dropbacks. It’s a good-on-paper matchup for these Titans passing game players but injuries and questions from the top to the bottom of the unit leaves too much to pure faith. You could make the same assertion with the Dolphins on the other side of the field.

Matchup to watch

Tennessee (99) and Miami (98) both ranked inside the top-five in receptions allowed to the running back position last season. The Titans ran a blitz-heavy, man coverage scheme (44.4 percent per PFF) that would encourage short layup throws to the backfield. New defensive coordinator Dean Pees may change this approach in 2018 but Kenyan Drake, who ran a route on 30.2 percent of his plays (per Player Profiler), makes for a good play with five to seven-catch upside. The Dolphins return the same defensive scheme in 2018 and still employ one of the NFL’s worst coverage linebackers in Kiko Alonso. In addition to their struggles through the air, Miami’s run defense was trampled in the preseason to the amusement of one of their former players. Miami will roll out a starting linebacker group that weighs an average of 234 pounds. Mammoth running back Derrick Henry (247 pounds) outweighs them by over 10 pounds. It makes sense for Tennessee to feed Henry and Dion Lewis combined 30-plus touches while their passing game figures itself out. 

Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts (1:00 pm EST)

Total: 48.5
Favorite: Colts
Spread: -2.5

This game features the third-highest projected total of the week. It’s an optimistic look at a Colts team that features an undermanned defense, a banged up offensive line and a quarterback set to start his first game in over a calendar year. Not only could we see the Bengals cover the spread, they can easily pull off the straight road upset.

Matchup to watch

The Colts cornerback group might be one of the weakest units in the entire league, with veteran journeyman Pierre Desir leading the way flanked by unproven commodities in Kenny Moore, Quincy Wilson and Nate Harrison. Desir should see plenty of A.J. Green lining up at the right corner position. He surrendered a 113.1 passer rating in man coverage and 119.7 in zone, per TheQuantEdge. John Ross also makes for a great ceiling play against the secondary. He carried a whopping 18.4 average depth of target in the preseason. Push your expectations toward the over for Andy Dalton and his pass-catchers in Week 1.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (1:00 pm EST)

Total: 44
Favorite: Steelers
Spread: -4

Most likely thanks to the Le’Veon Bell fiasco, this game dropped from a 47 to 44-point over/under and the spread tightened from Pittsburgh as a six-point favorite to just -4. It’s hard to see why Bell alone would move the line, as his replacements have stepped right into his workload averaging over 20 touches in the games he missed. James Conner should take that mantle with Bell looking unlikely to play and is a must-start in fantasy. Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar notes that the total has not gone over in 18 of the Steelers’ 22 1:00 pm EST road starts over the last five years. Ben Roethlisberger has averaged a 1-1 touchdown:interception ratio in the five games against Cleveland during that span.

Matchup to watch

If the Browns do keep this close and low-scoring, Carlos Hyde should be a big factor. Hyde ran as the clear starter in the preseason. Pittsburgh allowed 5.2 yards per play with Ryan Shazier on the field and 7.1 without him when in their base 3-4 defense last year. He’s worth deploying in this home spot, although he’s plenty risky if Pittsburgh mounts a quick lead.

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers (4:05 pm EST)

Total: 48
Favorite: Chargers
Spread: -3.5

The Chargers have the sixth-highest implied point total of the week at 25.8. We are definitely on shootout alert headed into this contest. Kansas City got toyed with in the preseason and has the deadly combination of a middling pass rush and undermanned secondary. Philip Rivers has a dicey history against Bob Sutton’s Chiefs’ defense but the personnel group is far weaker these days. It’s worth plucking sleepers throughout the Los Angeles offense. The Chiefs could also help push this game over, even with the talent on the Chargers defense. While this is a tough slog for Patrick Mahomes in his first start, LA head coach Anthony Lynn indicated that star pass rusher Joey Bosa may miss Week 1.

Matchup to watch

According to PFF, no team played man coverage more often than the Chiefs in 2018. Keenan Allen cleared the 97th percentile in success rate vs. man coverage in Reception Perception for both 2015 (77.1 percent) and 2017 (77.6 percent). Even if Allen runs a majority of his routes out of the slot against Kendall Fuller, he’s in a clear smash spot. The sleeper here is Tyrell Williams. Back in his breakout 2016 season, he posted an 87th percentile success rate vs. man coverage in Reception Perception. Williams should run a majority of his routes against Orlando Scandrick, who is a nickel back currently miscast as the start left corner. The public loves Mike Williams but it’s more than conceivable Tyrell snags just as many targets as him this week and throughout the season.

Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos (4:25 pm EST)

Total: 42.5
Favorite: Broncos
Spread: -3.5

The Seahawks road trip to Denver comes with one of the lowest projected totals of the week. Seattle’s 19.8 implied team total is the third-lowest on the Week 1 slate. Denver routinely gets off to hot and are 31-3 in their last 34 home games in the first two weeks of the season, per Warren Sharp of SharpFootballStats.com. The Broncos should be able to control this game against a Seattle offense whose best receiver is coming in after a long injury layoff and defense saw a mass exodus of premium talent. That makes Royce Freeman an incredibly appealing play. Even if he loses some passing downs to Devontae Booker, Freeman should push for 17 to 20 touches if his team stays out in front.

Matchup to watch

Doug Baldwin raised the alarm bells on his own by telling us that not only is he currently less than 100 percent healthy after missing most of the offseason practice, he expects to be dealing with his knee injury all season. Not great. Add that to rough Week 1 road matchup against stud slot corner Chris Harris in a game that has the lowest projected point total of the week, it’s fair to be pretty conservative with your expectations for Baldwin to start this year. Tyler Lockett should run most of his routes against Bradley Roby, who is a good player in his own right. We’re more here to monitor usage and deployment for Lockett in Week 1.

Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers (4:25 pm EST)

Total: 42.5
Favorite: Panthers
Spread: -3

The Cowboys and Panthers come into this contest with questions on their offenses, both of which sport slow-paced attacks. These teams ranked 19th and 20th in seconds per play in neutral situations last season. The line has responded with the second-lowest total of the week, trailed only by the hurting the Ravens are expected to put on Buffalo.

Matchup to watch

The Cowboys offensive line enters this game banged up. It’s unlikely Travis Frederick is dealing with a serious medical issue. his absence will bring Joe Looney into the starting lineup between Zack Martin and Connor Williams, who looked overmatched in the preseason. This in flux interior line will have to contend with the likes of all-star Kawaan Short and the mammoth Dontari Poe. Ezekiel Elliott has a safe floor with a possible 30-touch projection but the sledding could be tough in this one.

Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals (4:25 pm EST)

Total: 44
Favorite: Cardinals
Spread: 1

Alex Smith draws a road spot in his first start for his new team, squaring off against a Cardinals team also breaking in a new starting quarterback in Sam Bradford. This game opened up as a straight “pick ‘em” but has since moved to Arizona as a one-point home favorite. Washington is the safer pick to straight win this game, however. While Arizona experienced turnover on both sides of the ball, Washington comes into this game with offensive difference-makers healthy like Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson healthy.

Matchup to watch

Ricky Seal-Jones ran just 68 routes all of last season but was hype-efficient with his chances, leading all tight ends with double-digit targets in Yards per Route Run. After proving himself as a big play asset in 2017, it looks like Seals-Jones earned himself a promotion this year. He ran as a clear-cut starter during the preseason. The wide receiver convert could get off to a smashing start in Week 1. Washington allowed the fourth-most yards (970) to the position last season.

Arizona Cardinals tight end Ricky Seals-Jones walks into a great Week 1 matchup to assert his sleeper potential (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona Cardinals tight end Ricky Seals-Jones walks into a great Week 1 matchup to assert his sleeper potential (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (8:20 pm EST)

Total: 47
Favorite: Packers
Spread: -7.5

The Bears are walking into a tough spot as a big road dog against a Packers team welcoming back Aaron Rodgers. Despite the game’s high over/under, the Bears are tied for the third-lowest implied team total of the week with just 19.8 points. If the Packers do control this game as projected, Jamaal Williams could easily push 20 touches. With Aaron Jones suspended and Ty Montgomery banged up in the preseason, he is the clear feature back for this heavy home favorite.

Matchup to watch

We didn’t see much production from Allen Robinson in the preseason but we did see him take some reps from the slot and at flanker, which were not staples of his usage in Jacksonville. That’s what we hoped for with this progressive Bears coaching staff. It’s hard to expect him and this offense to come roaring out of the gates but Robinson could push for eight to 10 targets while covered by some of the young corners in Green Bay’s secondary. Robinson should line up across from Kevin King, who struggled as a rookie allowing 2.12 yards per coverage snap (fifth-most among qualifying corners). He’s a risk-tolerant play.

New York Jets at Detroit Lions (7:10 pm EST – Monday)

Total: 45
Favorite: Lions
Spread: -6.5

The line opened up with Detroit as a 6.5-point home favorite and it hasn’t budged. The Lions are sneaky team to use in survival pools with that heavy of spread. Detroit has their issues, especially in the pass rush department, but they’ll begin 2018 against Sam Darnold in his first NFL start. Darnold showed promise but not dominance in the preseason and the Lions should be able to score points against this Jets defense that has no edge pass rush for what feels like the 10th year in a row.

Matchup to watch

Golden Tate gets the Jets in Week 1 and has the best cornerback matchup on the team. Both of New York’s perimeter corners in Morris Claiborne and the newly-signed Trumaine Johnson are coming off solid 2017 seasons. Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay will content with them. If there is a weakness in this Jets secondary, it’s at slot corner with the mercurial Buster Skrine. The veteran nickel back allowed 11 yards per target and a 95.7 passer rating in coverage last season, pet TheQuantEdge. If you need a Lions receiver to hit, Tate as the interior route-runner should be the one you bank on.

Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders (10:20 pm EST – Monday)

Total: 49.5
Favorite: Rams
Spread: -4

The second Monday Night Football game of Week 1 feels like a confident projection to go under. The Los Angeles Rams offense is potent but should mount a lead on a putrid Raiders defense that just sent their best player, by far, packing. An early lead could enforce a ball control approach by LA, leading to less scoring. It’s impossible to project the Raiders offense with much confidence right now. The team will use Seth Roberts as the slot receiver yet again in 2018, minimizing the best usage paths for both Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson. A 24-17 finish is well within the range of outcomes and that would come well under the total.

Matchup to watch

Brandin Cooks smoked the Raiders as a member of both the Saints and Patriots, averaging 146 yards on just six catches and 27.2 fantasy points in two meetings against Oakland in 2016 and 2017. While Rashaan Melvin and Gareon Conley are theoretical upgrades on some of the big lumbering cornerbacks that Cooks torched in those matchups, this secondary is still among the most questionable in the NFL. He’s tough to project week-to-week but this looks like a boom spot. Cooks is the best non-Gurley play on LA this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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