This article last updated 9/5/2018 – Featured image © Getty Images / Mitchell Gunn
Week 1 of the 2018 NFL regular season is upon us, and I want to take a moment to kind of set the tone for what these weekly positional analysis articles should look like. I will be primarily looking through the lens of playing in DFS on FanDuel or DraftKings. If a player has a strong matchup and is in a position to succeed, this will obviously be applicable to both a DFS roster and a season-long roster, but the players identified here will often be ranked based on the value they provide for DFS. I’ll be considering things like value (projected points vs. salary), volatility (player may have great upside, but also great downside), stacking opportunities, exploitable matchups, positive game scripts, and other things that make for a smart play on a DFS lineup.
I primarily play large field tournaments with large, guaranteed prize pools in DFS, so my analysis will also be aimed towards high-risk, high-reward plays. If you were playing a lineup where you only had to beat one other person, or only had to be in the top half of the field to win, you would typically want to target safer plays that are consistent. The same would be true in a season-long league. What I’m saying is that, in a vacuum, where a salary is not in play and you simply want to choose the player most likely to give you a better score than your opponent, these plays may not be the ones I would choose.
Baltimore Ravens ($3800 DK Salary – $4800 FD Salary)
In season-long fantasy football, I rarely draft one of the top-rated defenses because I feel like, in most cases, you have to draft them too early and you’re leaving too much value on the board from other, more valuable positions. I like the idea of “streaming” defenses — this strategy centers around adding and dropping defenses based on their matchup for that week. If they’re in a good position to succeed against a bad offense, many times you can optimize and get the same (or more) amount of points as you would have from one of the top tier defenses. One of the themes throughout the year with my streaming defense strategy in season-long and my defensive selection for DFS will be to pick on the Buffalo Bills.
The week 1 starter at QB for the Bills is Nathan Peterman. I know that the word out of the Bills camp is that Peterman “earned” the starting job, but I do not think he is a viable long-term NFL starter. He couldn’t win the job in college at the University of Tennessee, so he transferred (as a graduate transfer) to the University of Pittsburgh. He had a decent couple of years there, but his professional career has been shaky. He did set an NFL record in his first start, but not for anything good. He threw 5!!! first-half interceptions in his first NFL start against the Chargers before being yanked from the game. The Bills offense is not good. It looks like LeSean McCoy will play in Week 1, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 now and coming off of a year with huge usage, so we’ll see how much he has left in the tank. The offensive line isn’t great, and the receiving corps leaves a lot to be desired.
I think the Ravens are in a good position in week 1 to shut down the Bills offense, get some turnovers, maybe get a defensive score and some sacks, and be the highest scoring D/ST in week 1. I do think the Ravens will be, by far, the most heavily owned Defense in tournaments this week, though, which is a reason to consider some of the other options. Early projections have the Ravens coming in close to 25% ownership, and defense is a pretty volatile position. All it takes is one punt return, one pick-six, or one key injury from the opposing offense to vault an unexpected defense into the top score for the day.
Jacksonville Jaguars ($3700 DK Salary – $4700 FD Salary)
The Jaguars are the second-highest-priced defense on both sites, and also project to have the second-highest ownership percentage. Last year, the Jaguars were so good that it often felt like having an extra flex position when playing them. They created turnovers at a high clip, limited points scored, and scored defensive touchdowns.
This year they open the season against the New York Giants. There is a lot of hype around Saquon Barkley coming into the regular season. This is justified. He’s a legitimate stud and one of the best-looking running backs I’ve ever seen. OBJ just signed a huge contract extension to make him the highest-paid wide receiver in the league. Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard are both healthy and poised to take positive steps forward this year. Eli is an experienced QB who may not be as athletic as some of the other guys who play the position in the league, but he can put his teammates in a position to succeed. I think the Giants offense will have a good year, but I don’t think that begins in week 1. I like the Jaguars to continue their dominance from last year and open up the season with a big game against the Giants.
New Orleans Saints ($3600 DK Salary – $4600 FD Salary)
So far, I’ve put together about 20 lineups for week 1. Some of these will change as news comes out leading into the weekend, and I’ll probably put together another 20 or so before Sunday. As I build these lineups, I consistently find myself liking the Saints as a good fit. The Ravens are my favorite overall defense for the weekend, but they’re going to be so heavily owned that if they succeed and I have them, it doesn’t help me all that much because I’ll be trending up with the entire rest of the field. If they fail, though, and I faded them for another defense, I’m getting positive leverage against the field and as they go down, I’m going up.
Tampa Bay is without Jameis Winston for the first few weeks due to a suspension, so they’ll be rolling out Ryan Fitzpatrick. He has had his moments over the years and has shown that he can play well, but as a whole, he is not terrific, and there is a reason he’s a backup. I think the Saints get a big lead in this game, and they create some turnovers when Tampa Bay tries to force the ball downfield to Evans, Jackson, and Godwin to catch up. When taking projected ownership into account in addition to the matchup and projected game flow, the Saints are probably my favorite week 1 defense.
Carolina Panthers ($3200 DK Salary – $4300 FD Salary)
I don’t think the Carolina Panthers defense is going to be anything special this year, but I’m also not in love with the Dallas Cowboys offense, and I think this is a very interesting leverage play this week. The Panthers defense is going to garner next to no ownership, and they come in at slight savings from the defenses listed above. They are a home favorite and Dallas has an implied team total of only 20 points. Dallas has had some key injuries on their offensive line, and they really don’t have a passing game. Michael Gallup looked good in the preseason and may emerge as a top target for them by the end of the year, but Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, and Terrance Williams aren’t scaring anybody. Ezekiel Elliott is probably going to get 10+% ownership this week due to name recognition, but I don’t think he’s in a great spot to succeed here.
I like Carolina to win the game outright, and I like the chances here of a good day for their defense. I still prefer to pay up for one of the 3 defenses listed above, but I will have a few teams with the Panthers defense featured.