Football is back! Which means that daily fantasy football is back!
For those of us who love to have a little extra rooting interest in each game, Opening Week is a holiday. With the exception of the Thursday night game, we have 30 teams playing in 15 games, and two on Monday night – allowing for a deeper Primetime slate.
Of course, the one major hangup with Week 1 is that it’s hard to predict how each team will approach its respective game, but its our jobs to pick apart each matchup and work through its expected flow.
Sporfolio’s NFL Daily Fantasy Sports game-by-game analysis columns are driven by expected game flow. Based on a combination of our Week 1 NFL picks against the spread and our expectations for a given game, we project the actions necessary to make these picks come to fruition. We aim to pinpoint players integral to our predicted game flow for each game of the week.
Luke May is Sporfolio’s NFL DFS expert, and Mario Mergola operates Sporfolio as the expert for NFL Picks Against the Spread.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
Luke’s DFS Take: This game is so interesting for so many reasons that I’m not even sure where to begin. Could this season actually see the Browns win a game? Maybe they have enough talent to win a few games? I’m of the belief they will be competitive this year and win at least five games, but you just never know with the Browns. It will be interesting to see how Tyrod Taylor does in his Browns debut with what is by far their best offensive unit in years. With Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry and David Njoku, the Browns have some serious talent and that should be a huge benefit to their underrated defensive group. I’m not sure they can beat the Steelers just yet, but we know Big Ben and the Steelers have their issues when playing on the road – especially against teams they are supposed to be easily. Not to mention they are almost certainly going to be without Le’Veon Bell as he continues his holdout. His absence puts James Conner as the starting running back and makes him extremely relevant in the fantasy world. At first glance he is a no-brainer to plug in and play because of the role he could take on, his mild price tag and his matchup with the Browns. There are multiple problems, however. With Bell being absent, it is possible that the Steelers choose to turn their already pass-heavy offense into essentially a pass-only offense. This is especially true in the red zone where they never seem to run the ball. The Steelers have also said that they plan on running more hurry-up offense this year, and with Big Ben calling plays on the fly, do you think he is more likely to call a play where he throws it to Antonio Brown or where he hands it off to James Conner? My expectation is that Bell’s absence boosts Antonio Brown more than anyone and he could easily see upwards of 15 targets in this game. The Browns’ defense should be able to hold their own this season, but nobody can stop Brown with the type of volume I’m expecting him to see this week, and he is very much in play for me.
Mario’s DFS Take: As I’m prone to do, I’m calling for the ‘upset’ in a perceived lopsided game. The problem, however, is that Cleveland has built around its athleticism, and it is possible that it gets contributions from a wide range of options. As usual, this does not bode well for creating a fantasy football lineup. But we can turn to Pittsburgh and hone in on some names we might like to consider. James Conner is going to start in place of Le’Veon Bell as the superstar running back continues his holdout, and he works perfectly for the game flow of an easy Pittsburgh win – if you’re in that camp, which I am not. Regardless, it’s entirely plausible that Pittsburgh forces touches to Conner to prove that it can operate without Bell. I would like Antonio Brown since the Steelers never forget to involve him heavily, but there are reports of strong winds that might affect the game. That might be true, but if Pittsburgh needs to move the football and Bell is nowhere to be found, it will be Brown’s number that gets called.
Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants
Luke’s DFS Take: Upset alert! The hype around this Jacksonville is real and understandable, but after all of last season’s successes, a letdown to kick off the new season seems appropriate. The Giants were simply awful last year but boast an offense that has a healthy Odell Beckham Jr., a healthy Saquon Barkley, a healthy Evan Engram, and a healthy Sterling Shepard. Those four guys make a young and talented core to help get the Giants moving in the right direction under their new head coach. Barkley seems like the most obvious choice of the group because Jacksonville was susceptible to big games on the ground, and his usage as a receiver helps give him a solid floor in his NFL debut. While Barkley is very much in play, Beckham is essentially a must-play. OBJ is the newly highest paid receiver in the league, and something about that seems like it will resonate well with him to allow him to just worry about football and leave behind some of his antics. If you don’t buy into that narrative, I remind you that he is truly one of the best receivers in the league and has fared very well against top opposing corner backs in the past – when he’s kept his head in the game of course – and is priced all the way down at $7,000 this week. That is a gift you will not get again, and I plan on jumping all over it despite the tough matchup. It takes some bold decisions to win these tournaments and a Giants stack could be that game changing move this week. Jacksonville should be able to create some offense as well this week as the Giants’ defense still seems to be lacking in many areas. Leonard Fournette is the obvious answer as he figures to to continue his tremendous workload from his rookie season. Outside of Fournette, there are a few receivers for the Jaguars who have some high ceiling potential in Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook. These guys could make some big plays and return great value at their price tags, but they also could reasonably do nothing if Blake Bortles plays like many expect him to, so they are boom-or-bust options. I am looking forward to this surprisingly high scoring game that should feature one of the biggest upsets of Week 1.
Mario’s DFS Take: I know – because we discussed this one game prior to writing about – that Luke and I are in agreement about New York being poised for the ‘upset’ win on Sunday. For this to happen, Jacksonville’s outstanding defense will have to be beaten. So be it. Defenses don’t always maintain their continuity over the course of an offseason, and I’d be much more willing to sell the Jaguars at their peak then try to buy. The key to this flipping of the script on Sunday is New York’s dual-threat offense of rookie running back Saquon Barkley and superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. Barkley was drafted second overall in April precisely to save an offense that had plummeted quickly. Jacksonville may still be difficult to beat, but Barkley’s ability to contribute in the passing game make him a wild card. Odell Beckham, Jr. is on the radar for a different reason, as the incredibly talented receiver is never one to shy away from fireworks. After a slight standoff, Beckham signed an extension with the Giants and should be wholly focused on the football field. I would argue that, in time, that will change, but Sunday should bring out the best in Beckham. I don’t care about the matchup, as Beckham will be needed to contribute if the Giants have any chance at the ‘upset.’