Welcome to the Week 1 Preview! Each week, I will do my best to write about all the most interesting players or situations across the league. I will use statistics and logic to back up all of these thought processes. There are no “gut feelings” or biases. I simply state trends and analytics that will be helpful for you setting lineups. You’ll notice that there are different “categories” throughout the article below. Each week, some will change and some will stay the same. It really depends on the slate. If there’s something you’d like to see or have a question about, reach out to me. I’ll do my best to answer any question, especially research related. For example, how many DraftKings points did Jordy Nelson average in 2014? What was the average Vegas total in games that created a 100-yard rusher? Whatever it is, don’t hesitate to tweet me. Finally, I have projections that I will create for each week, which can be viewed below if you are a Pro Member. Enjoy!
High Total Games
Let’s kick off Week 1 with a juicy matchup in New Orleans. Vegas has assigned this game a total of 51 points, with the slim one point edge to the Saints. That would indicate that both teams are projected to score a ton of points. Looking back at last season, targeting games with massive totals was a sound strategy for fantasy owners. In games pegged with a 50 point total or more, fantasy players averaged 11.39 DraftKings points and 8.54 Fanduel points. Compare that with all other games, where the totals fell to 10.05 on DraftKings and 8.54 on Fanduel. It was the Quarterback position that saw the biggest increase in such games, averaging 20.89 (DK) and 19.2 (FD) versus 16.4 (DK) and 15.6 (FD) points per game.
Obviously both Quarterbacks are going to make for excellent plays in week one, but it’s Derek Carr who you’ll get a little cheaper ($7,300 DK | $7,700 FD). In his sophomore season last year, Carr was a surprising fantasy star. Despite finishing 18th overall in fantasy points, he flashed massive upside. He scored 27+ DraftKings points on four seperate occasions last season, a feat that only Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Blake Bortles and Ben Roethisliberger accomplished more. You’d expect to see growth from an already potent offensive attack, that featured Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree both finishing inside the top 27 fantasy wideouts. The only concern is the range of potential outcomes for Carr who was very volatile in 2015. He scored 13 or fewer fantasy points in five games. I’d avoid Carr in cash games, but fire him up in GPPs.
The other end of this matchup is, of course, Drew Brees ($8,100 DK | $8,700 FD). As you can imagine, Brees is going to be quite popular in this game. With his high ownership, it’s probably worth avoiding Brees in GPPs, but he is likely a high-end cash play. Brees scored at least 20 fantasy points in nine different games last season, only one behind the leaders of Cam Newton and Tom Brady. Brees at home is a well-documented opportunity to buy the Saints QB. In 8 games at home last season, Brees fired a 70.33% completion rate while chucking 23 TDs and only 5 INTs. His 2,853 yards accounted for 356.6 yards per game. Compare that to his road games (seven), in which he only completed 65.8% of passes and threw nine TDs and six picks. His yardage was way down, averaging just 288.1 yards per game.
The absence of Calvin Johnson in the Detroit Lions offense opens up massive opportunity. Remember that Johnson saw a whopping 150 targets last season, which was the 9th most in football. Don’t expect the Lions to stop throwing the ball, as QB Matt Stafford dropped by 592 times last season, the 7th most in the league. So where do those 150 targets go?
The logical place would be to Golden Tate ($7,300 DK | $6,900 FD) who was the Lions #2 WR last season. Tate was actually much more efficient than Johnson, hauling in 90 catches (two more than CJ) on just 128 targets. If he can maintain the same efficiency with a big boost in targets, he would certainly be in line for a massive season. In two years with the Lions, Tate is averaging 94 catches, 1,072 yards and 5 TDs.
I probably don’t need to tell you this, but Andrew Luck ($8,300 DK | $8,700 FD) is really good. The Quarterback position is so deep this year and Week 1 will present a few killer value plays. That makes me feel that the top end of the position could go overlooked. Don’t forget about Andrew Luck who is priced as QB2 and missed the final eight games of the season last year. That could keep him under the radar for the time being. In his last four games of 2015, Luck averaged 24.8 DraftKings points per game. For references, Cam Newton finished the season with 25.9 DK PPG and was the highest scoring fantasy player of the year. Luck offers the same high-end upside in another high total game.
Old Faces, New Places
Lamar Miller ($7,000 DK | $7,600 FD) always finds a way to create a hype train before the season. We’ve heard this story before where Miller is primed for a huge season and there is certainly a case to be made for it again this year. He was chronically underused in Miami for four seasons, averaging just 13.5 and 12.1 carries per game the last two seasons. Despite the low usage, Miller finished last season as RB6 in total points and averaged 15.1 DraftKings points per game. There should be no better upgrade for Miller than heading to a Bill O’Brien offense in Houston. In the two seasons under O’Brien, the Texans led the league in rushing attempts per game in 2014 (34.5) and finished 6th last season with 29.2 rush attempts per game. O’Brien is not afraid to feed his lead back. In the last two seasons (32 games), he has had a running back carry the ball at least 18 times in 18 different games.
There’s something interesting about Matt Forte ($6,100 DK | $6,500 FD) joining the Jets. First of all, he’s been virtually un-talked about since last season. Remember that he was the 9th highest scoring fantasy RB last season despite missing three games. Forte is not only valuable because of his pass-catching ability, but it certainly helps. Only 44 catches for Forte a season ago, did the majority of his fantasy damage on the ground. He could see some additional work through the air this week against Cincy, who allowed 102 receptions to opposing RBs last year. That was the 5th highest mark in the league. This feels like an opportunity to buy low on an overlooked RB with big upside.
The other place those Megatron targets could head, would be to Marvin Jones ($4,600 DK | $5,500 FD) . Jones saw his fair share of targets last season in Cincinnatti, targeted 103 times with 65 catches. The Bengals employed a much more balanced offensive attack, only throwing on 54.2% of passes last season which was the 7th lowest rate in the league. As Jones heads to the Lions who thre on 65.6% of plays last season (most in the league), with 150 targets up for grabs, you can easily see how Jones could have a career season. Jones has done exactly what you’d expect to see from him this preseason, hauling in 7 catches for 90 yards in preseason games #2 and #3, which are the most important games for potential starters.
You’ll want to figure out who is starting at Tight End for the Ravens and consider them as a cheap option this week. Pressumed starter, Ben Watson, went down with a torn achilles on the first play of his preseason and will be out for the year. Unfortunately, there is a cloud of uncertainty around who will replace him. Both Maxx Williams and Dennis Pitta are nursing injuries with their status for Week 1 in question. That could leave Crockett Gilmore ($2.600 DK | $4,900 FD) as the lone tight end remaining to earn the work. In only ten games last season, Gilmore averaged 10.1 DraftKings PPG. I would prefer to roster the Ravens tight end if only one of them were healthy. If two or more suit up this week, I’d avoid the whole situation. Keep an eye on the injury report for more clarity.
Who’s going to be more popular than Dak Prescott ($5,000 DK | $5,000 FD)? If Prescott isn’t the highest owned player of the week, he will be near the top of the list. Prescott will be popular for good reason. He’s priced at the min on both sites and has been one of the most impressive players this preseason. He completed 29 of his 38 passes for 215 yards and three TDs. The exciting part is that he’s a dynamic athlete who can run the ball as well. Prescott piled on another 40 yards and two TDs on the ground. He also has an A+ matchup with the Giants who allowed the second most fantasy points to opposing QBs last season.
If Jamaal Charles is ruled out for Week 1, Spencer Ware ($4,400 DK | $5,400 FD) will make for a compelling option. Kansas City ran the ball 28.1 times last season, the 9th most in the league. They also called a rushing play on 45.9% of their offensive plays, the sixth highest rate in the league. Without Charles suiting up, Ware could potentially be a three-down back with the goal-line duties against the Chargers. San Diego allowed the 8th most fantasy points to opposing RBs last season while allowing the 6th most rushing yards and the second most yards per carry (4.8). Obviously it was a while ago and a small sample, but it’s worth nothing that Ware had his second-best game of the season versus the Chargers last year with 11 carries for 96 yards and two TDs.
In a somewhat surprising move, the Ravens cut Justin Forsett. That leaves Terrance West ($4,100 DK | $4,700 FD) as the presumed starter. West should get the first crack at carries, but with Buck Allen lurking, and Kenneth Dixon returning from an injury in a few weeks, the Ravens RB situation is cloudy at best. With a slightly negative matchup in Week 1 (Buffalo) and a low Vegas total, you may want to “wait and see” on this one.
I’m hoping we get more clarity on Jamaal Charles ($7,100 DK | $8,000 FD leading up to Week 1, but current reports have Charles status and role in doubt. Remember that Charles tore his ACL in Week 5 last season but has been a full practice participant in the week before the season kicks off. Even if his health provides doubt, his role is even more confusing. Many insiders believe it will be Spencer Ware who takes the featured back role in Week 1 against San Diego. I am optimistic about Charles as a season-long option, but if he is active Week 1, I’ll be avoiding the KC RB situation.
Wide Receiver Darts
How about anyone from the Browns/Eagles game? These two teams ranked dead-last and second-to-last in points allowed to opposing WRs last season. Jordan Matthews ($6,700 DK | $6,600 FD) is probably the logical answer here. Matthews seemed to build a rapport with QB Sam Bradford down the stretch of the 2015 season. Matthews finished the last three weeks with 317 receiving yards, which was the 7th most in the NFL in that span, while tacking on 4 TDs which was the most in the league. Edit: Sam Bradford was traded to the Vikings after this was written.
The Ravens WR situation is just as cloudy as the WR situation, but Kamar Aiken ($4,700 DK | $6,300 FD) could be worth a dart throw this week. He is probably the “safest” of the Ravens wideouts compared to 37 year old Steve Smith coming off an Achilles’ tear and Mike Wallace who hasn’t caught on anywhere in the last few seasons. Aiken can play all over the field which would indicate that he will see a ton of snaps. Over the last nine games of 2015, Aiken averaged 16.03 DraftKings points per game which, over the whole season, would have made him WR23, ahead of Mike Evans, Randall Cobb, Amari Cooper and T.Y. Hilton amongst others. Over that same stretch, Aiken saw 89 targets (12th in the league) and tacked on 673 yards (16th in the league).
We talked about how popular Drew Brees will be this week and for good reason. If you’re looking for a pivot on DraftKings, consider Russell Wilson ($7,900 DK | $8,500 FD) who is only $200 less than Brees. To me, Wilson has always been an excellent NFL QB but he is growing into an incredible fantasy QB. First of all, the dual threat. He can beat you through the air and on the ground. Since 2012 (when Wilson entered the league), Cam Newton is the only QB who has rushed for more yards and by a slim major of 2,501 to Wilson’s 2,430. After those two, it’s a huge dropoff:
Also, I don’ think people realize how good Wilson has been through the air, throwing for 4,024 yards last season (12th in the league) and ranked 4th in yards per attempt. Speaking of attempts, Wilson’s passing attempts have risen every year since he entered the league (393, 407, 452, 483). With Marshawn Lynch out of the league, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Seahawks offense lean on Wilson even more this year. The Seahawks are a strong 10.5 point favorite in this game, which will scare off potential owners because of the “blowout factor”. Keep in mind that in the six games last year that the Hawks were favored by 10+, Wilson averaged 23.25 DraftKings points. Compare that to the 21.09 DK points he averaged in all other games.
I’ll be interested to see what Fanduel players do in the second tier of QBs. Derek Carr is priced at $7,700 and will certainly be a popular selection thanks to his matchup with NO and the massive Vegas total. For only $100 more you can buy Kirk Cousins who has shown his ability to be a top-end fantasy player in stretches. The last four weeks of last season, Cousins was tied for the highest scoring fantasy player across all positions:
He will face a Pittsburgh defense in Week 1 that allowed the 8th most fantasy points to opposing QBs last season and this game has the third highest total of the week. This Monday Night game could turn into a shootout, with an under-owned Cousins lurking in your lineups.
Kickers?! Talkin’ Bout Kickers?!
Kickers are weird. If it were up to me, they wouldn’t even be a part of the NFL. However, if you’re playing on Fanduel, you’re going to have to roster a kicker this week. The good news is that every kicker is priced between $5,000 and $4,500 so you can almost always get your favorite guy.
Looking back at last year’s game logs, there are two factors that jump off the screen when choosing a kicker and both have to do with the Las Vegas lines. Kickers on teams with a team total over 24 points last season, averaged 9.3 Fanduel PPG. Compare that to the 8.7 FD PPG that every other kicker averaged. Also, kickers on teams that were heavily favored (seven points or more) averaged 9.7 Fanduel PPG compared to the 8.8 FD PPG that all other kickers averaged.
If we are looking for a kicker on a team with a 24+ projected total and at least a seven point favorite, only one kicker meets that criteria this week and it’s Steven Hauschka of the Seahawks. Seattle will host the Dolphins which is more good new for Hauschka who was significantly better on his home field last season. He averaged 10.4 FD PPG at home compared to 9.2 FD PPG on the road.
The other kicker who comes close to meeting our two-part criteria is Chandler Catanzaro of the Cardinals. Arizona has a healthy 26.25 projected total, but is only a six point favorite (close enough). He is more expensive than Hauschka and will also make a solid play this week. Arizona will also be at home but Catanzaro’s splits are a little closer, averaging 10.2 FD PPG at home compared to 9.8 FD PPG on the road.
Defense Double Dip
Defenses are another volatile position that will drive you crazy from week to week. If you are expected to win a GPP, your defense is likely going going to need to have a big day. To have a big day, they will likely need a defensive touchdown. The most common ways to achieve that is force a ton of turnovers, so that’s what we are going to target on a weekly basis. Nobody turns the ball over quite like rookie QBs. Since 2015, 27 different rookies have started 10+ games in a season. Every single one of those guys averaged at least one turnover per game, but as a group they averaged 1.57 turnovers per game. Compared to their counterparts, rookie QBs are the safest form of turnovers. The rookie QBs expected to start week one are:
Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz
We’ve talked about why Prescott will be popular this week, which means if you’re looking for a contrarian defense, the Giants would fit the bill. Let’s assume something like 25% of owners have Prescott. Would it be so unreasonable for a guy making his first NFL start would struggle against a division opponent? Fading Prescott would be one thing, but actively playing the defense against him would vault you up the leaderboards if be fails to live up to the hype. And this is not just a gut feeling, despite giving up a ton of yards last season, the Giants averaged 1.8 takeaways per game last season which was the 8th most in the league. They are legit ballhawks and strip for fumbles every chance they get. The Giants also forced 1.8 fumbles per game last season, 7th most in the league.
We’ve talked about the concept of a “double dip” in the past, which is pairing a position player who also returns kicks, with his defense. The obvious option this week is Tyler Lockett and the Seahawks defense. The Hawks will be popular and are the chalk defense of the week. Lockett started to gain confidence with QB Russell Wilson towards the end of last season, averaging six targets per game over the last five games. He is also an explosive returner who should see the bulk of the workload on kickoff and punt returns. Lockett could be a solid play in his own right as a WR, but if he breaks a return TD you would earn double points from him and the Seahawks D/ST.