The NFL Handbook – Week 1

If you’re reading this, congratulations!

You made it without football, and I hope you enjoyed the serenity.

The quest for a fantasy football championship is about as stressful as needing to be somewhere 10 miles away, in 5 minutes, while stuck in rush hour traffic. And, if you drafted anyone on the Bucs or Dolphins, you got that reminder a few days early.

But, it’s just a game. Thoughts and prayers with those impacted by Irma.

Now, if you’d like to have a little less stress in your life, dominate your fantasy football leagues, or make some money – keep reading.

If not, you’re living in a state of bliss… Or, highly “medicated”. Be that legally or illegally.

In any case, I’ve analyzed the data for each of the 15 NFL games on tap in week 1, and have compiled this handbook to help you identify which match-ups to target in your fantasy leagues, and the best plays should you find yourself in Vegas this weekend.

For the fantasy portion, I’ve broken each team’s fantasy relevant players into four categories:

  1. Ballers –  Either the guys you drafted early, and aren’t benching. Or, the ones with favorable match-ups.
  2. Under the Radar – Guys who may not be hyped, or well-known, but have a good opportunity to produce. *Good for dfs (DraftKings, Fanduel, etc.) as they should have low ownership.
  3. Temper Expectations – Proceed with caution. May be players you’d normally start, or the overly hyped “breakouts”, but might not put up the numbers needed to justify a start.
  4. Bums – It’s a good idea to avoid these guys in your lineups.

You can find my full week 1 rankings here.

For the betting side, I used the opening spread and over/under totals from sportsinsights.com. A lot of the lines have moved in reaction to the money, injuries, etc., but picking and choosing which current odds to use felt a bit too arbitrary. If you have any questions regarding the updated odds, feel free to comment or shoot me an email: leonard@maximizeyourodds.com.

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills

Spread: BUF -9

O/U: 40

Looking for some cruel, and unusual punishment? Make someone watch this entire game from start to finish without changing the channel.

Although, the commercials may be relief.

Luckily, Tyrod Taylor has cleared the concussion protocol, so we dodged a major bullet in either T.J. Yates, or Nathan Peterman starting behind center for the Buffaloes. However, Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, and damn near every exciting player (not named LeSean or Tyrod) is no longer on the Bills roster, and the Jets…

Well, they’re the Jets.

If these two teams combine for eight wins this season, it’ll be nothing short of miraculous.

This one figures to be tough on the eyes if you like good football, but it does have unlimited potential from the fantasy football aspect (I promise I’m not drunk).

Here’s how both defenses fared by position on a fantasy point per game basis in 2016:

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
New York Jets 27th 18 20th 18.6 13th 22.9 26th 9.2
Buffalo Bills 11th 15.7 30th 21.7 10th 21.6 8th 6.1

Based on opposing fantasy production, it may seem as if the Bills were solid against the pass a year ago.

They weren’t.

Buffalo ranked 21st in passing DVOA; they just happened to also face the fewest pass attempts of any team. They also lost their top corner Stephon Gilmore to the Pats, and traded their 2nd best corner Ronald Darby to the Eagles.

The Jets had their struggles defending the pass as well; only five teams allowed more passing touchdowns than the 30 they gave up. But, it wasn’t all bad for this unit as the 3.7 yards per carry they allowed was good for 3rd best in the NFL. Problem is, when playing from behind, the opposing team tends to lean on the run game more than usual… And, Sheldon Richardson is a Seahawk.

Both defenses were among the league’s worst in 2016, project to be among the league’s worst in 2017, and I have a feeling we’ll see plenty of points put up Sunday in Orchard Park.

Taking the Jets +9 for a few reasons:

1. Last season’s numbers puts the Bills as 11-point favorites, and they’re significantly worse in my estimation.

2. Josh McCown isn’t Ryan Fitzpatrick or Bryce Petty, and even without Enunwa, the Jets have some talented, young receivers.

3. Forte and Powell are both more than capable of capitalizing on this favorable match-up, and the Jets ranked 15th in average rush yards before contact a season ago.

I won’t be surprised if this game is over the total of 40 by the end of the 3rd.

Jets 24 – Bills 31

P.S. – The Jets are receiving 47% of the bets, but the line is down a full point. Usually a good indication that the money is on New York, and you should follow suit.

Ballers: Matt Forte, Bilal Powell (PPR), Robby Anderson, Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Jordan Matthews, Charles Clay

Under the Radar: Josh McCown, Jermaine Kearse, Andre Holmes

Temper Expectations: Zay Jones

Bums: Jets DST, Bills DST

Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears

Spread: ATL -7

O/U: 50.5

While the Bears finished last season at 3-13, their defense was actually not terrible. This one could be closer than you may think.

No, I’m not foolish enough to think they have a chance at actually winning Sunday, but I also don’t think it’ll be a depiction of the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre.

Here’s how both defenses fared by position on a fantasy point per game basis in 2016:

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
Atlanta Falcons 31st 19 23rd 19.7 16th 23.3 28th 9.8
Chicago Bears 17th 16.7 10th 16.1 27th 25.2 7th 6

The aforementioned not terrible Bears d was actually better (in terms of fantasy) than the defending NFC champs… Wild, huh? They also added Quintin Demps, get Kyle Fuller back from injury, and the front 7 remains largely unchanged (Chicago finished 12th in sacks).

Only four teams surrendered more passing touchdowns than the Falcons, while the 4.6 yards per carry they allowed was good for 4th worst. The return of Desmond Trufant will give this secondary a boost, and the addition of Dontari Poe should help solidify their porous run d.

Regardless, while Mike Glennon seems competent, he’ll be without both of the Bears top-2 receivers from ’16 as Cameron Meredith is done with a torn ACL, and Alshon Jeffery now calls Philly home. So, while Jordan Howard figures to be busy, the Bears simply lack the firepower to truly exploit Atlanta’s weaknesses.

Sunday will mark not only the 1st time we’ll see the non-Shanahan offense for the Falcons, but also the 1st time we’ll see them in a meaningful game since… You know what happened. But, at the end of the day, the Falcons are simply the better team.

The Bears defense/running game should keep them around, but they’re not ready to knock off the defending runner-ups. The total stays under 50.5, though.

Falcons 27 – Bears 23

P.S. Like the Jets, there’s reverse line movement here. The Bears have received just 20% of the spread bets, but the line has moved from +7 to +6.

Ballers: Matt Ryan, DeVonta Freeman, Julio Jones, Jordan Howard, Matt Bryant, Falcons DST

Under the Radar: Mike Glennon, Zach Miller

Temper Expectations: Kevin White

Bums: Tevin Coleman

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals

Spread: CIN -3

O/U: 42.5

Joe Flacco is good to go in week 1, but it’s hard to imagine him being in mid-season form after missing training camp and the preseason. On the opposite sideline, the Bengals ranked 20th in yards per carry, and allowed the 7th most sacks in 2016; they also lost two of their top offensive lineman during the off-season.

None of this a sign of good things to come.

These two divisional foes have combined to score more than 40 points in just 4 of their last 10 match-ups, and tend to give us the prototypical AFC North, beat ’em up style games – which explains why this game had the 3rd lowest opening point total of the week.

Here’s how both defenses fared by position on a fantasy point per game basis in 2016:

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
Baltimore Ravens 10th 15.6 6th 15 23rd 24.1 9th 6.4
Cincinnati Bengals 15th 16.4 19th 18.3 2nd 18.4 29th 9.9

In addition to struggling against the run, the Bengals allowed the 4th most fantasy points to opposing tight ends in 2016, and there weren’t many match-ups a TE would rather face. Cincy surrendered an impressive 72.1 yards per game to the position, 2nd most, and the loss of Vontaze Burfict (who’ll be suspended for three games) doesn’t help.

While Flacco has shown an affinity for his TEs, the Ravens TE situation is as clear as mud at this point. If you’re feeling lucky, and looking for a HR play, Ravens TE “X” is the way to go (Ben Watson, Maxx Williams).

But, it might be wise to employ a wait and see approach here.

Another thing that jumps out were the Ravens struggles against opposing receivers. But, like the Bills, this may be a product of volume. Baltimore faced the most passing attempts of any team (679), but allowed just 6.4 yards per attempt.

They also bolstered their secondary by adding Brandon Carr, and Tony Jefferson.

These teams have similar constructs, but Baltimore has the edge on the defensive side of the ball. Not expecting many points here, so that’s the deciding factor. Ravens cover the +3.

It’s also worth noting that while the Bengals have received 65% of the spread bets, the line hasn’t moved. Typically an indication of even money. So, the public may be backing the Bengals, but the early money looks to be siding with Baltimore.

Ravens 19 – Bengals 17

Ballers: Terrance West, Danny Woodhead (PPR), A.J. Green, Justin Tucker, Ravens DST, Bengals DST

Under the Radar: Giovani Bernard (PPR)

Temper Expectations: Joe Flacco, Jeremy Maclin, Andy Dalton, Jeremy Hill, Tyler Eifert

Bums: Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns

Spread: PIT – 9.5

O/U: 47.5

The Kizer era is upon us, and that’s just one of the things Browns fans have to be excited about.

No, I’m not kidding.

The Browns feature arguably the best offensive line in the game, a solid young back in Isaiah Crowell, and a QB who actually might stick around. Not to mention Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt, and Sammie Coates on the outside to catch his passes.

Defensively, they made a few nice free agent acquisitions along with drafting Myles Garrett (who in typical Browns fashion was injured yesterday in practice), and Michigan standout Jabrill Peppers.

They’re headed in the right direction, but will face one of their toughest tests of the season right out the gates… We all know what the guys in black and yellow are about.

Here’s how both defenses fared by position on a fantasy point per game basis in 2016:

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
Pittsburgh Steelers 5th 14.5 26th 20.5 3rd 18.6 18th 7.6
Cleveland Browns 32nd 19.3 31st 23.7 22nd 24 32nd 12

Kizer draws a tough match-up in his debut, but given the situation he’s in, he’s set up to succeed in year 1, and beyond. It’ll be interesting to see if Cleveland can put up a fight, and I think they will for most of the game. But, even with the Browns defensive improvements, it’s hard to imagine Pittsburgh struggling to score.

Big Ben has a history of struggles against the Browns, yes, but he’s also thrown for over 300 yards in three of their last four match-ups.

Excluding week 17 against the Steelers practice squad, the Browns allowed a 100 yard rusher in two of their last three games. And, chances are, San Diego would’ve swept it had Gordon played. Now sure, there was a fatigue/we haven’t won a game so who cares factor, but the Browns 4.6 yards per carry suggests they just stunk against the run, period.

That Bell guy is pretty good.

Then, there’s Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Joe Haden sporting the black and yellow instead of attempting to cover them. The Steelers just have too many weapons for this young Browns squad.

Pittsburgh covers, and it goes over.

Steelers 35 – Browns 17

Ballers: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Isaiah Crowell, Steelers DST

Under the Radar: Kenny Britt

Temper Expectations: Corey Coleman

Bums: Deshone Kizer, Browns DST

Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions

Spread: DET -2.5

O/U: 48

The Lions exceeded expectations in 2016, while the Cardinals gravely under performed. So, let’s forget about last season for a second, and look at this objectively.

The Cardinals are healthy, and on paper one of the better teams in the league. While the Lions are banged up, and an average team at best.

I believe the recency effect is largely responsible for the opening line here, but even in looking back to last season statistically, the Cards are clearly the better team.

Here’s how both defenses fared by position on a fantasy point per game basis in 2016:

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
Arizona Cardinals 16th 16.6 5th 14.9 29th 25.7 1st 3.5
Detroit Lions 28th 18 9th 15.8 14th 23.2 30th 10.2

At first glance, you might think neither match-up appears too scary, and given the high-powered nature of these offenses this game would be likely to produce a ton of fantasy value…

I don’t believe that to be the case.

Arizona allowed the 2nd fewest yards per carry, the 4th fewest yards per pass, and have one of the best corners the league has to offer in Patrick Peterson. They did struggle to contain opposing 2/3 receivers, however.

Good news for Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay owners.

Thing is, Stafford may not have much time to find them. The Lions allowed the 11th most sacks in 2016, and a major strength of this Cardinals d is getting after the QB (they lead the league in sacks a season ago).

Meanwhile, the Cardinals ranked 7th in yards per carry, and while their passing numbers were down, the logical assumption is they’ll come back to the mean. Detroit allowed the 5th highest yards per carry (4.4), and 5th highest per pass as well (7.2).

There appears to be just one team here with a favorable fantasy match-up, and their moniker rhymes with Schmardnals.

Cardinals win outright, so I’m not blinking twice at +2.5 (good luck finding it now, though) and it stays under the total of 48.

Cardinals 24 – Lions 17

Ballers: Carson Palmer, David Johnson, Phil Dawson, Matt Prater, Cardinals DST

Under the Radar: John Brown, Kenny Golladay

Temper Expectations: Larry Fitzgerald, Ameer Abdullah, Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Lions DST

Bums: Matthew Stafford, Eric Ebron

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans

Spread: HOU -4.5

O/U: 42

Based on the pythagorean win expectation, the three win Jags should’ve been a six win team, while the nine win Texans should’ve been a seven win team.

Funny how that works.

Neither team has a proven starting QB, and while the Texans defense has been their calling card, the Jaguars defense is pretty damn good itself.

Here’s how both defenses fared by position on a fantasy point per game basis in 2016:

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
Jacksonville Jaguars 6th 15 14th 17 6th 19.8 12th 6.7
Houston Texans 3rd 14.4 15th 17.5 5th 19.5 4th 4.7

Closer than you thought, huh?

And, the Texans best defensive back from a season ago, A.J. Bouye, is now a Jaguar. The Texans also lost their top safety, Quintin Demps.

Their secondary could be brutal.

However, one way to mask a suspect secondary is by getting after the quarterback, and the Texans front 7 may be the best in the league. Bortles was sacked 34 times last season, and pressure probably played a role in his 16 interceptions.

How big that role was depends on the messenger.

The Texans allowed 4 yards per carry, which was just slightly better than average a season ago, and Jacksonville should have more success running the football this season. A combination of the two may just keep the Texans on their heels enough for a few big plays through the air.

On the other side of the ball, the Jags held opponents to 3.8 yards per carry on the ground, and former All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown is unlikely to suit up for the Texans in this one (their offensive line wasn’t anything special with him).

Based on the quality of the defenses, and projected low point total, it’s probably best to avoid this game for fantasy purposes; outside of the defenses and kickers, of course. The Texans were tied for the most field goal attempts per game a season ago, while the Jags finished tied with the 5th most.

The Jags pull off the upset, and it stays under 42.

Jaguars 19 – Texans 16

Ballers: Allen Robinson, Jason Myers, Ka’imi Fairbairn, Jaguars DST, Texans DST

Under the Radar: Blake Bortles, Marqise Lee

Temper Expectations: Lamar Miller, DeAndre Hopkins, Leonard Fournette

Bums: Tom Savage, CJ Fiedorowicz

Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans

Spread: OAK -1.5

O/U: 51.5

This one of the most anticipated games of week 1 for me, and it has the potential to be a classic. A potential AFC playoff preview, two up and coming teams, and two young, dynamic QBs.

Both teams ranked in the top-15 in points per game a season ago, and here’s how the defenses fared by position on a fantasy point per game basis:

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
Oakland Raiders 25th 17.6 22nd 19.6 19th 23.5 24th 8.9
Tennessee Titans 30th 18.4 4th 14.8 30th 26.2 15th 7.3

At first glance, this would appear to be a game to target the guys throwing and catching the passes.

On second glance, maybe not.

The Titans secondary is much improved (on paper), and while they gave up a bazillion passing yards due to facing the 2nd most passing attempts, their 6.8 yards per attempt was pretty respectable.

The Raiders were also Oprahly generous with regard to fantasy points allowed to opposing receivers, but managed to finish 4th in DVOA vs. #1 receivers in real life. So, while they also allowed 7.6 yards per pass, most of that damage was done by TEs, and #2/3 receivers.

Good news for Delanie Walker, but Davis has been out all preseason with a hamstring, and Decker has a gimpy ankle.

We also can’t forget that both Mariota and Carr suffered broken legs at the end of last season.

So, while the match-ups look appetizing, the timing might be a bit off (just a bit under cooked). Still, both QBs should be productive enough to warrant a start.

The Raiders had the largest surplus in actual wins vs. their pythagorean win expectation a season ago; winning 3 more games than the data suggests. They also went 9-1 in games decided by seven or less. All of which tells me they’re not as good as one might think.

The Titans should win this game outright so give me the Titans +1.5, and the under.

Raiders 24 – Titans 27

More reverse line movement. Tennessee has received 40% of the spread bets, but has gone from +1.5 to -3.

Ballers: Derek Carr, Michael Crabtree, Jared Cook, Marcus Mariota, DeMarco Murray, Delanie Walker, Sebastian Janikowski, Ryan Succop

Under the Radar: Jalen Richard (PPR)

Temper Expectations: Amari Cooper, Marshawn Lynch, Derrick Henry, Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Corey Davis

Bums: Raiders DST, Titans DST

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins

Spread: WAS -3

O/U: 48.5

Another week 1 match-up with classic potential.

Ordering a couple more 4k TVs as I write.

While the Redskins have owned the Eagles lately – winners of five straight – the five Ws have come by an average of 6.4 points; so don’t write off Philly just yet. The Eagles should be vastly improved on both sides of the ball, and if Carson Wentz can take a step forward in year 2, Philly might just bring home their 1st NFC East crown since 2013.

Here’s how both defenses fared by position on a fantasy point per game basis in 2016:

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
Philadelphia Eagles 11th 15.7 13th 16.7 31st 26.9 2nd 4.2
Washington Redskins 20th 17.2 28th 21 14th 23.2 23rd 8.6

Strictly from the fantasy perspective… Looks to be pretty one-sided. Washington was pretty bad across the board.

However, I believe they’ll have Josh Norman play more of his natural man role… I hope, I should say, and D.J. Swearinger was pretty damn good on the back end for the Cardinals last season. So, it seems like a safe bet that this unit will show improvements defending the pass.

While that’s bad news for Carson Wentz, the ‘Skins also ranked 25th in DVOA vs. TEs, allowing them to put up 73.6 yards per game, and Zach Ertz had the 5th most receiving yards from the TE position a season ago. Swearinger figures to bring improvements in this regard as well, but at least there’s a silver lining.

The Eagles also boast one of the best offensive lines in the game, Blount lead all RBs in rushing TDs a season ago, and the Redskins surrendered fewer rushing TDs than just five teams – you have to like Blount’s odds at scoring Sunday.

For Cousins and co., Nolan Carroll is now a Cowboy (even though they’ll still face him twice), and Leodis McKelvin is also no longer with the team. The Eagles will be pretty young at corner, and old at safety. Bad combination against a prolific passing offense, which should also lead to additional running room against an average run d.

Seems like Philly is due for a win, but they’re on the road, and I’m not quite ready to trust Wentz and this offense to come through down the stretch. The Redskins win, but it’s a push at 3 on the spread. I’m also leaning over.

Eagles 24 – Redskins 27

Ballers: LeGarrette Blount, Zach Ertz, Kirk Cousins, Robert Kelley, Terrelle Pryor, Jamison Crowder (PPR), Dustin Hopkins

Under the Radar: Wendell Smallwood, Torrey Smith, Josh Doctson

Temper Expectations: Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffery, Jordan Reed

Bums: Darren Sproles, Eagles DST, Redskins DST

Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Rams

Spread: LAR -3

O/U: 42

Andrew Luck will miss week 1 (at a minimum), and the Colts traded away Phillip Dorsett while also failing to improve either of their defensive or offensive lines during the off-season… This feels like a punted season.

Meanwhile, the arrow is pointing straight up for the Rams who had a busy off-season, and made drastic improvements to an offense which only has one way to go after averaging the fewest points per game a season ago.

The Colts defense has made everyone look good in recent memory, however, so go ahead and cue up “Started from the Bottom” for the Rams week 1 highlight tape.

Here’s how both defenses fared by position on a fantasy point per game basis in 2016:

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
Indianapolis Colts 26th 17.9 27th 20.8 11th 22.3 22nd 8.5
Los Angeles Rams 24th 17.6 16th 17.8 26th 25.1 6th 5.8

The Colts ranking against receivers is a bit deceiving, as they surrendered the 5th most passing yards per game, 262.5. Their stifling secondary was largely due to the fact that they allowed 64 receiving yards per game to opposing TEs, and 43.7 per game to RBs; ranking 31st in DVOA against both positions.

With 41% of their opponent’s passing yards coming from the RB/TE positions, it only makes sense that there was less opportunity for receivers to produce against them. Yay Math!

They also lost S Mike Adams – arguably the best player in their secondary a season ago so don’t let the numbers scare you into thinking they’re the Midwest version of the Legion of Boom.

Offensively for the Rams, the addition of Sammy Watkins, and Robert Woods will help bolster their receiving corps which combined with a leaky Colts secondary has to benefit not only Jared Goff, but Todd Gurley. Especially considering the Colts allowed 4.7 yards per carry a season ago.

Offensively for the Colts, Scott Tolzien will make just the 4th start of his career Sunday. He’s 0-2-1 with a 66.4 QB rating, 2 TDs, and 7 INTs.

Yikes.

No need to go any further.

The Rams look to be off to 1-0 start in 2017. They’ll cover the 3, and it stays under the total.

Colts 10 – Rams 21

Ballers: Todd Gurley, Sammy Watkins, Rams DST

Under the Radar: Jared Goff, Tyler Higbee

Temper Expectations: Tavon Austin, Robert Woods

Bums: Anything related to the Indianapolis Colts

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers

Spread: GB -3

O/U: 49

The Seahawks have one of the biggest home field advantages in the NFL. In fact, over the past three seasons Seattle is 19-5 playing in front of the 12th man at CenturyLink…

They’re 13-10-1 on the road over that same stretch.

Unfortunately for Wilson and co., this one is scheduled to take place at Lambeau where the Seahawks are 3-10 all-time with their last victory coming back in November of 1999…  DangeRuss was 10 years old.

Here’s how both defenses fared by position on a fantasy point per game basis in 2016:

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
Seattle Seahawks 4th 14.5 2nd 14.6 20th 23.6 5th 5.4
Green Bay Packers 23rd 17.6 12th 16.4 32nd 27.7 21st 8.2

Another interesting tidbit – Rodgers is 5-2 in his career vs. Seattle, he’s averaging just 193 yards passing and 1.3 TDs per game against them. I believe you can expect a similar line Sunday: 200-250 yards, a TD, or two max.

But, don’t go benching A-A Ron because:

1. He’s Aaron Rodgers

2. At worst, he’s still likely to finish in the top-15, and

3. He’s Aaron Rodgers

Get your popcorn ready. Rodgers and co. against the Legion of Boom will be fun to watch.

I’m also interested to see how Eddie Lacy fares against his former team. Thomas Rawls is still dealing with a high-ankle sprain, so Lacy could be in line for a ton of work. Based on what we saw of him last season, that may not mean much, but the Packers did allow 4 yards per carry last season.

Russell Wilson went 22-39 with 240 yards, 1 TD, and FIVE interceptions against Green Bay last season… You might not remember, but I guarantee he does. He’s ranked as my #1 fantasy QB this week based on motivation, and the fact that the Packers allowed the 3rd most passing TDs in 2016, and only the Saints allowed more passing yards per game.

With revenge on their mind following last season’s embarrassing 38-10 loss, the Seahawks should take care of business at Lambeau for the first time in the 21st century. Seahawks cover, and it goes over the total.

Seahawks 31 – Packers 24

Ballers: Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, Jordy Nelson, Mason Crosby, Seahawks DST

Under the Radar: Paul Richardson

Temper Expectations: Thomas Rawls*, Eddie Lacy, Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams

Bums: C.J. Prosise, Ty Montgomery, Randall Cobb, Packers DST

Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers

Spread: CAR -3.5

O/U: 48

Based on last season’s stats, I have this game handicapped as a pick ’em. Problem is, neither team will look like last season’s.

The 49ers welcomed Kyle Shanahan, have an entirely revamped offense, and added Elvis Dumervil to go with a healthy Navorro Bowman. The Panthers shored up their offensive line, drafted Christian McCaffrey, and added a few pieces defensively as well.

We can scrap 2016 for these guys, but, I have to do it…

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
Carolina Panthers 19th 17.1 11th 16.2 24th 24.3 31st 11.3
San Francisco 49ers 21st 17.4 32nd 28.1 28th 25.6 13th 6.9

The 49ers defense should be improved strictly on the fact that Chip Kelly is gone and they’ll be able to breathe. San Fran’s defense was on the field for a total of 480 plays in 2016, the most by a hefty margin, and we saw the difference Kelly’s absence made for the Eagles defense a season ago.

It won’t be enough, though.

The Panthers are primed to bounce back after a disappointing season, and they surely remember the 49ers coming to their house and smacking them and their dog last season.

Again, I’m throwing last season’s stats out the window on this one.

Expect Carolina to take care of business, though the 49ers won’t just roll over, and could be a surprise team this year. Panthers cover the 3.5, and it goes over.

Panthers 31 – 49ers 24

Ballers: Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey (PPR), Kelvin Benjamin, Pierre Garcon

Under the Radar: Brian Hoyer, Devin Funchess

Temper Expectations: Carlos Hyde, Greg Olsen, Panthers DST

Bums: 49ers DST

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

Spread: DAL -3.5

O/U: 47.5

Giants/Cowboys is starting to become a week 1 tradition, and for good reason. Last season saw the Giants prevail in a 20-19 thriller, and 2015? Also classic, a 27-26 Cowboys win. In fact, the last five match-ups between the Giants and Cowboys have been decided by a total of 15 points (the Giants covered the spread in all five).

Two division rivals, two good teams, perfect for a prime time week 1 match-up.

Here’s how both defenses fared by position on a fantasy point per game basis in 2016:

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
New York Giants 2nd 12.5 8th 15.7 8th 20.6 20th 7.6
Dallas Cowboys 14th 16.3 1st 14.3 12th 22.7 25th 9.1

Dak Prescott would’ve been a finalist for fantasy football MVP in 2016… If that was a thing. He finished the season as the #6 fantasy QB, and the 8th highest scorer overall.

He was pretty damn good… Except against the Giants.

Dak threw four interceptions on the season, two of them wound up in the hands of Giants defenders. His QBR fell below 70 in five games, two of the five were against the Giants (including a season low 14.8 in week 14).

Then, there’s Dez Bryant. His 2016 against the Giants ended to the tune of 14 targets, 2 receptions, 18 yards… Yes, he played in both games. The only Cowboys to really find any sort of success against this defense a season ago were Ezekiel Elliott, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, and Jason Witten.

But, very few teams found much offensive success against the Giants.

Defensively, most of the Cowboys success was attributed to their dominant run game. Rightfully so. However, their unit actually performed pretty well allowing 3.9 yards per carry and 6.6 yards per pass attempt.

Even though their run game should still rank among the leagues best, they took a major hit losing J.J. Wilcox, Barry Church, and Morris Claiborne. This is a young secondary, with an uninspiring front 7, so regression is to be expected. Keep an eye out on Odell Beckham‘s status, as his absence would obviously be a huge sigh of relief.

I think the Giants win (even without OBJ), and it goes under the total.

Giants 20 – Cowboys 16

Ballers: Eli Manning, Brandon Marshall, Odell Beckham, Jr.*, Ezekiel Elliott, Jason Witten, Dan Bailey,  Giants DST

Under the Radar: Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram

Temper Expectations: Dak Prescott, Dez Bryant, Cowboys DST

Bums: Paul Perkins

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings

Spread: MIN -3.5

O/U: 47.5

Week 1 is full of match-ups which feature players going against their former employers, but none more notable than Adrian Peterson‘s return to Minnesota donning the Saints black and gold.

We’ll see how big his role in the offense is, but even if he was the feature back, it might not matter against this defense. Here’s how both fared by position on a fantasy point per game basis in 2016:

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
New Orleans Saints 22nd 17.5 29th 21.7 18th 23.5 17th 7.4
Minnesota Vikings 7th 15.4 7th 15.5 4th 19.4 14th 7.2

The Vikings allowed the 7th fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs, but don’t automatically assume AP’s return will be a flop. Minnesota allowed 4.2 yards per carry, and 107 rushing yards per game. Not exactly dominant – the lack of fantasy production was largely due to the fact that they allowed the 3rd fewest rushing TDs.

The Saints have a pretty good offensive line, and averaged 4.3 yards per carry a season ago. So, while this might not seem like a match-up to target on paper, there’s reason to believe that New Orleans will be able to find success on the ground.

The larger issue for this Saints offense will be the absence of Willie Snead (three game suspension).

Flipping the script, it’d be a bit rash to expect fireworks from this Vikings offense that finished 23rd in points per game a season ago. However, if there ever was a match-up for them to dial upon their inner Patriots (Chiefs), it’s this one… Only the 49ers allowed more points per game than the Saints.

Drew Brees is a proven winner, and tends to step up most when the odds are stacked against him, but there’s only so much he can do. The Vikings win, and cover, and it goes over the total.

Vikings 31 – Saints 23

Ballers: Coby Fleener, Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph, Will Lutz

Under the Radar: Sam Bradford

Temper Expectations: Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., Latavius Murray, Vikings DST

Bums: Saints DST

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos

Spread: DEN -5

O/U: 44

The Chargers/Broncos contests have felt a bit like big brother vs. little brother – Denver has won 10 of the last 13 (by an average of 9 points) going back to the 2011 season. Hell, what am I saying? Denver has won 5 of the last 6 AFC West titles, they just own the division.

But, all good things must come to an end.

The Broncos offense was somewhat pedestrian a season ago, putting up the 11th fewest points, and Los Angeles (feels weird not writing San Diego) has quietly become one of the best defenses in the league.

Here’s how both defenses fared by position on a fantasy point per game basis in 2016:

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
Los Angeles Chargers 9th 15.6 25th 20.2 9th 20.8 16th 7.3
Denver Broncos 1st 12.5 21st 19.3 1st 13.5 19th 7.6

Eerily similar.

The loss of Denzel Perryman hurts, but the Chargers have more than enough talent to exercise their demons.

It’ll be a defensive struggle… Very little to be gleaned here from the fantasy side, but I think the Chargers have a legitimate chance to win this one, so they cover, and the total goes under.

Chargers 17 – Broncos 13

Ballers: Melvin Gordon, Brandon McManus, Chargers DST, Broncos DST

Under the Radar: Antonio Gates

Temper Expectations: Hunter Henry, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, C.J. Anderson

Bums: Anyone throwing or catching passes for the Chargers other than Gates/Henry

If you made it this far, much love for reading! Be sure to subscribe, and check me out on Twitter @maxingyourodds

 

*Update: Thursday Night Football*
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots

Spread: NE -7

O/U: 48

 

Final: KC 42 – NE 27

QB:

Team Comp Att Comp % Pass Yds Yds/Att Pass TD Int Sack Rush Yds TD Fantasy Pts
Alex Smith KC 28 35 80.0% 368 10.51 4 0 3 5 3 0 31.02
Tom Brady NE 16 36 44.4% 267 7.42 0 0 3 2 0 0 10.68

RB:

Team Car Yds Yds/Car TD Long Fumble L Rec Yds Yds/Rec TD Long Tar Fantasy Pts PPR
Kareem Hunt KC 17 148 8.7 1 58 1 5 98 19.6 2 78 5 40.6 45.6
Charcandrick West KC 1 21 21.0 1 21 0 1 4 4.0 0 4 1 8.5 9.5
Mike Gillislee NE 15 45 3.0 3 16 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 22.5 22.5
James White NE 10 38 3.8 0 10 0 3 30 10.0 0 26 5 6.8 9.8
Rex Burkhead NE 3 15 5.0 0 14 0 1 8 8.0 0 8 3 2.3 3.3
Dion Lewis NE 2 9 4.5 0 5 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0.9 0.9

WR:

Team Rec Yds Yds/Rec TD Long Tar Fumble L Car Yds Yds/Car TD Long Fantasy Pts PPR
Tyreek Hill KC 7 133 19.0 1 75 8 0 2 5 2.5 0 4 19.8 26.8
Chris Conley KC 2 43 21.5 0 25 4 0 4.3 6.3
Albert Wilson KC 5 37 7.4 0 13 5 0 3.7 8.7
Demetrius Harris KC 2 15 7.5 1 8 2 0 7.5 9.5
De’Anthony Thomas KC 1 -2 -2.0 0 -2 1 0 1 4 4 0 4 0.2 1.2
Danny Amendola NE 6 100 16.7 0 27 7 0 10 16
Brandin Cooks NE 3 88 29.3 0 54 7 0 8.8 11.8
Chris Hogan NE 1 8 8.0 0 8 5 0 0.8 1.8

TE:

Team Rec Yds Yds/Rec TD Long Tar Fumble L Car Yds Yds/Car TD Long Fantasy Pts PPR
Travis Kelce KC 5 40 8 0 14 7 0 1 4 1 0 4 4.4 9.4
Demetrius Harris KC 2 15 7.5 1 8 2 0 7.5 9.5
Rob Gronkowski NE 2 33 16.5 0 17 6 0 3.3 5.3

DST:

Pts Allowed Total Yds Int Sack Fum Rec Blk FG/Punt Safety Def TD Spec. Tms TD Fantasy Pts
New England Patriots 42 537 3 1 2
Kansas City Chiefs 27 371 3 3

K:

Team FG Att FG Made FG Miss FG % LONG 2nd XP Att XP Made Pts Fantasy Pts
Cairo Santos KC 6 6 6 6
Stephen Gostkowski NE 2 2 0 100% 32 25 3 3 9 9

Kansas City at New England

Can’t ask for a much better match-up to kick off the 2017 season than the defending Super Bowl champs facing one of the few teams in the AFC with a greater than 0% chance of knocking them off the throne.

Deep down, I think we all knew how McGregor would fare against Mayweather, but still… We watched, just in case. No difference here (yes, I just compared the Patriots to Floyd Mayweather).

This is a match-up featuring several guys which were probably taken in the early rounds of your fantasy drafts, but there’s a good chance it doesn’t give us the big fantasy performances we’re looking for.

Why?

Well, the Patriots defense allowed the fewest points per game a season ago at 15.6, and the Chiefs? 7th fewest, 19.4.

Here’s how both defenses fared by position on a fantasy point per game basis in 2016:

Team Rank vs. QB QB PPG Rank vs. RB RB PPG Rank vs. WR WR PPG Rank vs. TE TE PPG
Kansas City Chiefs 8th 15.5 18th 18.3 21st 23.6 3rd 4.6
New England Patriots 11th 15.7 3rd 14.8 7th 20.2 10th 6.6

The are two noticeable areas of weakness for the Chiefs defense – the RB & WR positions.

Kansas City allowed 4.4 yards per carry in 2016 (tied for the 9th most of any team), and 247.4 yards per game through the air (15th). Their defense wasn’t exactly impenetrable, but their 4th ranked red zone scoring defense was the equalizer; KC allowed touchdowns on just 45.61% of opponent’s red-zone trips.

Looking at you Stephen Gostkowski owners.

On the flip side, there isn’t much to like if you’re considering starting any Chiefs. However, it’s worth noting that the Patriots allowed the 3rd most receiving yards per game to opposing RBs (50.1 yards per game).

We’ve all heard of Kareem Hunt at this point, and he gets a boost in this match-up in ppr formats (as does Tyreek Hill). Andy Reid has had all summer to prepare, and I’m sure he has some creative ways to get them involved.

All told, I expect New England to win and cover, and look for this one to go over the total of 48. Based on last season’s stats, I have this handicapped at Pats -15 which seems a little high, but that’s on stats alone. Numbers aside, 10 feels like a logical margin.

Chiefs 20 – Patriots 30

Ballers: Tom Brady, Mike Gillislee, Rob Gronkowski, Patriots DST, Stephen Gostkowski, Cairo Santos

Under the Radar: Chris Conley

Temper Expectations: Brandin Cooks, Alex Smith, Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Chiefs DST

Bums: James White

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