Single-game primetime daily fantasy football contests have arrived at Yahoo Fantasy. It’s an absolutely thrilling and different way to approach DFS that pushes managers to be creative in lineup construction when only focusing on single games.
Every week I’ll offer up my general, high-level view of the three island games on the schedule as well as some of my favorite salary-based plays — and of course, my top pick for the all-important SUPERSTAR spot.
Sunday Night Football
Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams
Both of these teams remade their quarterback rooms over the offseason. Unfortunately, only one of them is offering up their most exciting new option in Week 1.
It’s finally time to see what Matthew Stafford looks like in the Rams offense. It feels like the trade happened about 50 years ago at this point. The big reveal is at last upon us. Stafford can have a big debut in this home spot but it’s hard to envision an offensive-fireworks scenario.
With the best defense from 2020 set to face-off with a poorly setup Bears offense, Stafford and co. might not need to do much heavy lifting. The projected total for this contest is just 45.5 and the Rams are a 7.5-point favorite.
You can still project solid stat lines for all the Rams’ front-line players but unless the Bears can keep pace, the Rams passing game won’t have to show all their cards.
I just can’t see how the Bears will be able to hold up their end of the bargain. With the way their offensive line looked in preseason, Andy Dalton is completely set up to fail. How is this non-mobile veteran passer supposed to thrive against the waves of pressure brought on by Aaron Donald and the Rams defense? Dalton gets the ball out quick but the complex zone-based coverages Los Angeles employed last year won’t be giving him many layups.
That said, I am still ok with deploying Allen Robinson in this spot at $17. Robinson is rightly discounted because of a difficult matchup with Jalen Ramsey and the Rams secondary. However, he should still see a dominant target share on a team that’s going to need to throw often in this game. The Bears also do a good job moving Robinson around the formation. He ran out of the slot on almost 30 percent of his routes in 2020 and wasn’t exclusively covered by Ramsey (who isn’t a full-time shadow corner) when the team played last year. You can take advantage of him at a possibly low rostered rate in DFS if others are afraid. But that’s about it when it comes to the Bears.
SUPERSTAR pick: Darrell Henderson ($18)
I expect this Rams backfield to be difficult to project, a back-and-forth committee approach all year. It would make sense that Henderson gets the first crack at it in Week 1. Sony Michel is still likely in the onboarding phase of this system, leaving Henderson to shoulder the bulk of the work in their first outing. Since we expect this to be a defensive-heavy game in which the Rams control the script, there should be plenty of rushing volume to go around.
Must-play: Cooper Kupp ($18)
As Stafford begins his full immersion into the Rams’ offense, he should be dialed into Cooper Kupp early and often. No receiver gets more layup routes against zone coverage than Kupp. Stafford should find these windows comforting, just like he did with Golden Tate back in the day. Chicago’s slot coverage has been the weaker point of their defense in previous years, even when they’ve been at their peak.
Sneaky cheap option: DeSean Jackson ($12)
DeSean Jackson is never going to be healthier this year than he will be in Week 1. Why not get in at this stage? Jackson was apparently on a pitch count for the first time in his career this summer and while he still might only play 20 or so snaps against the Bears, we know it only takes one moon shot for Jackson to repay this salary.
Monday Night Football
Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders
The Ravens’ offense comes into 2021 far less fortified than they hoped. Rashod Bateman is out for multiple weeks, J.K. Dobbins is done for the season and guys like Marquise Brown have been in and out of training camp all summer.
Almost everything that could have gone wrong for Baltimore has gone wrong. In fact, it got even worse on Thursday when Gus Edwards and Marcus Peters reportedly both tore ACLs in practice and are done for the season.
Nevertheless, they’re still a 4-point road favorite over the Las Vegas Raiders. That’s probably because facing a Raiders defense that’s starting from scratch for yet another year is about as soft a landing spot as one could hope for in Week 1. Starting a lineup with Lamar Jackson ($35) and Mark Andrews ($21) as a stack is a good base. Wide receiver injuries also make Sammy Watkins ($13) an interesting cheap flier against this secondary and with the Ravens likely to throw more than usual with their backfield decimated.
With a 50.5-point total in this game, the clear expectation is that the Raiders will be able to “give it back” to Baltimore a little bit. We should project that. People don’t realize that the Raiders offense was quite efficient last year. Las Vegas was the ninth-best offense in passing DVOA and Derek Carr is coming off his best season.
None of that makes me want to mess around with Josh Jacobs against Baltimore in Week 1, but the passing game is interesting. Darren Waller ($28) had the second-highest target share of any pass-catcher last year. Even against a deadly Baltimore defense, he should find some holes over the middle. Las Vegas has enough young, unheralded receivers to use one as a cheap flier to access Waller’s salary.
SUPERSTAR pick: Lamar Jackson ($35)
Even with some of the issues in the skill-position department, Jackson should still get over on this Raiders defense. The Raiders allowed the seventh-highest passer rating in man coverage last year and we know playing man against a mobile quarterback is a problem. I just don’t think the Raiders have done nearly enough to bulk up this annually problematic defense.
Must-play: Ty'Son Williams ($10)
The original play here was Gus Edwards at $15, but Williams is now the last man standing for this week while the Ravens sign every veteran running back off the street. At the stone minimum, Williams should see plenty of touches against a run defense that allowed the ninth-most yards and 24 touchdowns last year.
Sneaky cheap option: Bryan Edwards ($10)
The second-year receiver ran away with the Raiders’ top X-receiver job in training camp. As a likely starter in two-wide sets, he should see the field on 70-plus percent of the snaps, at least. Edwards was pushing that mark in the first three games of last year before he got hurt. They want him to be a big piece of their offense. Even in a non-ideal matchup, his salary makes sense to get access to bigger names and fit both quarterbacks into your lineup.
Thursday Night Football
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
At first glance, I was surprised it was so easy to put together a highly desirable lineup for this game between two potentially potent offenses. You can quite easily build a lineup with Tom Brady, Ezekiel Elliott, two Buccaneers receivers, and one from the Dallas side while still having a little leftover budget.
The 2021 season-opener sports a 51.5-point total with the Buccaneers favored by 8 points. That sounds about right to me.
Tampa comes into this season outrageously fortified after winning the Super Bowl last year. And I believe the rhetoric out of the Bucs that they felt they only started to “figure each other out” late in the season.
I’m expecting the offense we saw from their 2020 bye on up through the Super Bowl to be the norm for this team. Tom Brady threw 22 touchdowns to four interceptions at 8.7 yards per attempt in that range. At a full-season (17 games) clip, that would put Brady at 5,100 yards and 47.6 touchdowns. I think that’s the bare minimum we’re looking at with this Bucs passing offense. The star-studded quality Tampa sports at wide receiver along with solid ancillary players in the backfield and at tight end is truly ridiculous.
We shouldn’t rule out a special season for Brady, one that rivals his 2007 season in New England. Facing a Dallas defense that’s absolutely still trying to find itself in the season opener is about as perfect a runway for this offense to start its 2021 blast-off.
On the Dallas side, while I’m optimistic about the Cowboys’ offense overall, we shouldn’t be shocked if they get off to a slow start in Week 1.
For starters, Dak Prescott hasn’t faced live-game action since Week 5 of last NFL season and on top of that, he spent most of training camp and all of preseason on the shelf. It would be fair to expect him to be a bit rusty in this spot.
On top of it all, facing the Bucs’ defense is no joke. We saw what this unit did to Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl and they were a great unit all last season. They ranked top-five in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and were the best unit against the run.
That could prove problematic for Dallas. It would make sense to saddle up Elliott to carry a huge workload and take pressure off of Prescott. However, if Dallas is trailing most of this game — as I expect — it won’t create many run-first opportunities, and rushing against Tampa is akin to slamming your head into a brick wall as it is. That said, Elliott should still be in essentially every DFS lineup because he’s a threat to clear 20 touches and will get pass-game work. He saw 30 targets in Dallas’ first four games last year when they were playing in mostly negative game script.
SUPERSTAR pick: Tom Brady ($34)
Brady should absolutely smash in this spot. Dallas’ defense should certainly be improved from the nightmare they fielded in 2020 but they’ll still be overmatched against Brady and co. in Week 1. Brady could be the top-scoring quarterback on the board in Week 1. He just makes too much sense for the 1.5x bonus.
Must-play: Antonio Brown ($18)
Bruce Arians just can’t stop espousing his excitement for Antonio Brown in 2021 now that he’s, in the coach’s words, completely healthy and playing at the level he was at with the Steelers. I’m inclined to believe him. Brown has been drafted in seasonal leagues as if he was “just some WR3” on a high-powered offense — but he’s not. At one point, Brown was playing at a top-five all-time level and he was still excellent last year when he was coming off a long layoff from the game. All of the Bucs’ receivers averaged between 6.3 and 7.0 targets per game from Week 14 to the Super Bowl. Brown is just as much a starter as Evans and Godwin. You probably have to choose between the latter two for Week 1 DFS, but Brown should be the lock.
Sneaky cheap option: Blake Jarwin/Dalton Shultz ($10)
As mentioned up top, the salaries aren’t tight enough to truly need a dart throw at this level but if you want to go that route, you can play the Dallas tight end guessing game. Devin White did have his lapses in coverage last year and one of these two guys might sneak their way into the end zone as Dallas tries to play catch-up. It sounds like Jarwin and Shultz might split time at the top of the depth chart.