We made it! Happy 2018 NFL season Week 1 folks! This year I will be writing a piece on DFS plays for Draft Kings with a focus on GPPs, in particular, the main slate. The articles will indicate who I think will be the chalk plays, who some pivots or contrarian plays are to get off the chalk, and some punts plays that could either save on salary or are just so far below the radar they might be tournament winning plays if all goes well. Instead of saying “Player A” is chalk, pivot to “Player B,” I’ll just have a chart showing my data for the match-ups with the chalk/pivots/punts listed after that. In this article, pivots can be a pivot from one player to another player at the same position, from one position to another, or just a way to pivot to the other side of a game that everyone else might be stacking.
Simply put, the pivots will not always be direct pivots, more like other ideas to consider in the macro-view of the slate. Each game will have a brief write up and will include the team’s projected point total and spread as of the time of writing. Without further ado, let’s have a look at the Sunday main slate.
Above is the Vegas Implied Scores and Spreads for each game, as well as match-up data I compiled using player strength of opponent roster vs. the positions we are looking at for building DFS rosters. It includes the general match-up, along with what the opponent allowed to that position split into home and away data. Since we’re looking at opponent data, read across the line as such. If you read the BUF line, that is all the data that their opponent (BAL) allowed last year. Red is a bad match-up, orange not good, yellow is neutral, green is good. In the data fields there is dark green which is better than good, and blue which is the most of that stat allowed – ie. NYG gave up the highest average of passing TD while at home last year.
Below is my Chalk, Pivots, and Punts Chart. I used The Quant Edge’s Fanshare Report for a lot of the chalk, as well as my own thinking to determine who the field is likely going to be on this week.
Let’s dig into each game and see what’s the good chalk, where to pivot, and if need be who to punt with.
Buffalo Bills (17.0/+7) at Baltimore Ravens (24.0/-7)
The Bills won’t have any chalk players this week. However, with Jimmy Smith suspended for this one, and BUF already showing a willingness to feed Fat Kelvin a lot of targets, he makes for a decent pivot/contrarian play against the chalky BAL defense. Kelvin Benjamin ($5000) has 5 inches and 35 pounds on his likely coverage man, Brandon Carr, so he should be grabbing tons of Charles Barkley style rebounds in this one. Charles Clay ($3500) also gets a chance to feast against the defense that let Marcedes Lewis score 3 TDs on them last year, and nothing has really changed from a personnel standpoint. BAL is still a team you can target with TEs, making Clay another TE to pivot to go against the chalk. Although Nathan Peterman ($4200) had a dubious rookie season, he finished the 2018 preseason ranked 5th in passer rating, 3rd in comp%, and only threw 1 INT – and won the starting job because of it. He’s the ultimate long-shot/contrarian play to combo with Benjamin – and he’s dirt-friggen cheap. If you believe in Benjamin and Clay, then might as well dive all the way in with Peterman as a punt play.
The Ravens have two obvious chalk picks with their Defense/Special Teams ($3800) and RB Alex Collins ($5600). Buffalo was trash against the run and tough against the pass last year, which sets up well for the Ravens to sit back and play defense against one of the worst offenses on paper this year and run the ball with Collins. If BUF uses White against Crabtree, that leaves John Brown ($3700) to face the declining vet Vontae Davis on most of his snaps, which is a great match-up for Brown. If you want a piece of the Ravens this week and want to get off the chalk, pivot over to Brown in the passing game.
Jacksonville Jaguars (23.25/-3) at New York Giants (20.25/+3)
This looks like a play defense and run the ball type game from the Jags perspective, making Leonard Fournette ($7100) and the Defense/Special Teams ($3700) the top plays here. Neither should see massive ownership, but will get attention. I’ll have some exposure to each. Austin Seferian-Jenkins ($3200) gets to face a team that gave up the second most points to TEs while at home. However, Bettcher is the new DC there, and ARI had been pretty tough on TEs until last year. If ASJ is going to be chalk, then I’ll pivot off him to Keelan Cole ($3800) or Dede Westbrook ($3900) if I want to get passing game exposure with the Jags. UPDATE: It appears Keelan Cole is now in the chalk group, so Westbrook could be a sneakier way to go here.
The Giants should be better under Shurmur, but this spot is too rough to take a chance on. The Jags just don’t allow many opportunities for a given player to score 20+ points. If you’re really wanting to be contrarian, Odell Beckham ($7000) might be worth a look at lower than usual ownership. You could make a case for Saquon Barkley ($6700), but I won’t.
Tampa Bay Bucs (20.0/+9.5) at New Orleans Saints (29.5/-9.5)
This game and the HOU/NE game will be the chalkiest games on the slate. Hard to argue against using any of the chalky picks here, like Alvin Kamara ($8500), Drew Brees ($6800), and Michael Thomas ($7800). Kamara destroyed the Bucs last year, scoring 31 PPR points in each match-up – on 16 and 15 touches respectively. NO will likely scheme Thomas open a lot against the Bucs weak secondary. Thomas didn’t go over 100 yards or score a TD against the Bucs last year, which is something to keep in mind if you want to pivot off him. Ginn is still Ginn; he’s going to run clear out routes and see a few deep shots (if he runs the right route). Meredith is new to the team and hasn’t had much of an opportunity to build report with Brees. Ben Watson ($3100) does have a rapport with Brees, and likely will be his 2nd or 3rd option behind Thomas and Kamara, so this is where I will pivot to get a piece of the action without having to eat the chalk. The Bucs allowed a lot of rushing TDs last year (3rd most in ’17), but have reconfigured their defensive line this year. The Saints have a strong OL and Payton wants to get Mike Gillislee ($3400) “up to speed quickly”. It’s possible he comes in on some goal line carries and could get some extra time to acclimate if this one gets out of hand early. Still, I expect him to be the third back on the field, so he carries a lot of risk to use him, but he is a cheap punt option for those looking for cap relief.
Houston Texans (22.25/+6.5) at New England Patriots (28.75/-6.5)
This game has the highest implied total of the slate, and so we’ll see lots of these guys on rosters. Deshaun Watson ($6700) went to Foxborough last year and ambushed an unsuspecting Pats team for 300 passing yards and a couple of TDs, along with 41 rushing yards. DeAndre Hopkins ($8300) went for seven catches and 76 yards but will be chalk on name value and projected volume. Bill Belichick likes to take away your best offensive weapon, which will be Hopkins. If I’m going to get exposure to the HOU side in this game, I’m punting with Ryan Griffin ($2800) at TE. He caught a TD last year in this game, as did Bruce Ellington ($3400) who is an even deeper dive punt option. Lamar Miller ($5200) will be locked into a workhorse role, but NE was pretty tough on RB fantasy scoring so I probably won’t pivot to him in very many line-ups, if at all.
With the Pats thinned out receiving corps, it would seem logical to project massive roles for the remaining stars like Rob Gronkowski ($6900) and Chris Hogan ($6100). Rex Burkhead ($4200) has been resting an injury and should be the lead back, but there’s a possibility James White ($4000) stays just as active catching dump-offs to keep the chains moving. Jeremy Hill ($3300) could vulture some goal line carries as well, making Burkhead a little less appealing for me. Gronk went 8/89/1 last year, and Hogan caught 2 TDs, but the role that made the biggest splash was the Brandin Cooks role with a 5/131/2 line. Phillip Dorsett ($3700) is in that role now, and although we didn’t see many deep routes from him in the preseason, he could be the guy going up against Kevin Johnson and putting up those type of numbers. Or, if NE decides to keep everything short, Jacob Hollister ($2500) might be a solid punt as the TE2 that won’t see significant attention by the defenders. Brady is the most expensive QB on the slate, but is worth paying up for in a few line-ups this week.
San Francisco 49ers (20.0/+6) at Minnesota Vikings (26.0/-6)
Pierre Garcon ($4900) should get the easier of the cornerback match-ups of the 2 starting WRs for the Niners and will be low owned. Not sure I’ll bet on any of the Niners’ offensive players this week though. On the other side, Shanahan has worked with Cousins in the past and may able to relay some intel to DC Robert Saleh on tendencies. MIN also has a pretty lousy OL, so there is some opportunity for SF Defense/Special Teams ($2100) to pay off their low price at the DST position if you need the savings.
Dalvin Cook ($6200) may or may not be chalk depending on how much info comes out about his health and JDF’s projected RB usage. As of right now, he may be flying under the radar a bit, and with Reuben Foster suspended for this one, I’m going to take a risk on the uncertainty and hope ownership is low when he explodes this week. Vikings are always tough at home, and with SF losing their top RB a week before the season, it could be a rough opening day for them. MIN could hold them to a low point total and grab a few sacks to score enough to be serviceable.
Tennessee Titans (23.25/-1.5) at Miami Dolphins (21.75/+1.5)
This game will likely go overlooked, and won’t have any glaring high ownership plays. I’m not looking for much to roster from this one. Guys I would consider using are Delanie Walker ($4900) and Danny Amendola ($4200) as those were the only two positions to catch a TD in this low scoring game last year. With Gore nursing an injury now, Kenyan Drake ($5900) could be a solid play as well. He’s capable of an explosive play at any given point during the game.
Cincinnati Bengals (22.75/+3) at Indianapolis Colts (25.75/-3)
This game reached 47 points in Cincy last year, so it’s definitely a viable game to pull players from. Andy Dalton ($5800) is priced as the QB12 on DK, and will likely carry high ownership in a match against Indy’s atrocious secondary. A.J. Green ($7300) will be a popular stacking option with Dalton, and a good play on his own. Joe Mixon ($6100) was popular in best ball, and I am assuming that carries over into DFS week 1 where the match-up seems like a good way to get him going this year. However, Indy was surprisingly feisty against the run at home in 2017. Tyler Eifert ($3400) could be a nice way to get a lesser owned piece of the CIN offense at a reasonably low price. I’ll get my Cincy exposure through Green here, but won’t get over-invested in this game as it has the potential to disappoint with Cincy running the lowest offensive play total last year and Indy likely to take it slow to protect Luck in his first game back.
I’m assuming most folks will be on the Cincy side of this one, which makes it worth looking at the Indy side in case they make it a game. With the RBs all banged up and/or suspended, there could be enough throws to make this interesting from the Colts side. It’s fair to wonder if Reich puts Andrew Luck ($6100) on a pitch count or intentionally slows down the offense for the first game since this is his first game in over a year. Being that it has been a while since Luck has played, I would expect to see him looking for his trusted options in T.Y. Hilton ($6800) and Jack Doyle ($3600). Doyle went for 121 yards and a TD in this game last year, and Reich can scheme Eric Ebron ($3300) open in the Red Zone so both TEs are in play, but could cut into each other’s work. Jordan Wilkins ($3700) may start, or will at least play a role with Christine Michael ($3000) also being a factor. Both are cheap, but not all that attractive with other potential values to be had on the slate. UPDATE: As of time of writing, Marlon Mack ($4800) has been practicing, and could conceivably play. If he does, he’s a superior option to the other two Colts backs, and is someone I would strongly consider, health permitting.