Winning a tournament in daily fantasy football is all about finding low owned, high leverage spots to separate yourself from the field. This week’s DraftKings (DK) slate is shaped by the DK algorithm not taking into account the Monday Night football games before releasing salaries. As a result, we have the Oakland Raiders underpriced across the board, and Alvin Kamara $1,000 cheaper than he should be in a high total game at the Los Angeles Rams.
I factor my handicaps on games (from an against the spread perspective) heavily into my DFS lineup decisions. The key is avoiding games which will go under, and targetting those which you think will go over the projected total.
With that said, what plays can we look to in cash games, and what plays will separate us in tournaments? I’ll break all of that down below. Be sure to check out our fantasy football rankings as well for values I may have missed.
Cross out games
Identifying who not to play is just as important as who you are going to play in daily fantasy football tournaments. Save for a few players, which I will define below, the following are games I am crossing off my player pool.
Bears at Broncos
I don’t expect any offense in this game. It is a low total with two excellent defenses. The only options I would consider are the Denver Broncos defense and Chicago Bears defense. Allen Robinson is in play for tournaments, as he has proven he can produce with below-average quarterback play.
Plays: Denver defense, Chicago defense, Robinson
Colts at Titans
This is a rough spot for the Indianapolis Colts, coming off an overtime game on the west coast to play on the road against a good defense. I don’t have a good feel for this game from a spread perspective, so I am just staying away. I won’t be surprised if Derrick Henry has another solid game for the Tennessee Titans, but he will be low on my priority list. On the contrary, if you believe the Colts play well in this spot, Marlon Mack will be less than 5% owned. He’d make for an outstanding fantasy football tournament play at that point.
Plays: Henry, Mack
Packers at Vikings
I expect this to be another low scoring, divisional game which won’t yield a high fantasy football output. Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones are under the radar running back plays, but again, I prefer to stay away from what I believe will be a game which goes under the projected total.
Plays: Cook, Jones
Bills at Giants
Surprisingly enough, this has the potential to be a pace up game courtesy of Football Outsiders pace stats. The Buffalo Bills ranked 12th in situation neutral pace, while the New York Giants ranked 21st. In terms of raw seconds per play, Buffalo was sixth while the Giants were third. Those are skewed, however, because both teams were trailing for virtually the entire game. In 2018, the Bills finished 15th and 20th, while the Giants finished 17th and 10th in situation neutral pace and total seconds per play, respectively.
That said, I don’t see where the “fantasy football goodness” lies. This is a bad spot for the Bills, coming off a last-second, come from behind win against a division rival, while I don’t trust Eli Manning to take advantage of his underrated offensive line. Sterling Shepard has been ruled out as well, which is another downgrade to the offense. You might’ve heard Josh Allen pegged as a “cash game” play this week, but I have a tough time getting behind him considering Derek Carr is $200 cheaper. Evan Engram is always in play, but I feel the tight end pool is pretty straight forward this week, something I will touch on below.
Lions at Chargers
I won’t be targeting many Detroit Lions games this year, as we know what kind of playstyle Matt Patricia wants to implement. Both teams played at a slower pace than the league average in Week 1, which is consistent with their figures from 2018. In 2018, the Los Angeles Chargers were 32nd in seconds per play but jumped to 16th in neutral game scripts. That leaves Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen firmly in play for Week 2. The potential loss of Mike Williams this week only increased their fantasy football floor.
Plays: Ekeler, Allen
49ers at Bengals
I can see the argument for wanting to include this game for tournaments. The Cincinnati Bengals showed a very pass-heavy approach in Week 1 at Seattle, which is what you like to see in fantasy football. Meanwhile, despite a poor offensive showing last week, the San Francisco 49ers finished fifth in situation neutral pace, which is in line with their 10th overall ranking in 2018. The Bengals were 14th in situation neutral pace.
I’m choosing to stay away because I believe these defenses are better than most think. The Bengals finished 23rd in Football Outsiders adjusted games lost in 2018. They’re healthy now, which looks to have already improved the level of play. Meanwhile, the 49ers invested heavily in their pass rush, and it is already paying off. I expect both defensive lines to stall enough drives to push this game towards the under.
There are a few plays I am looking at, however. Two of them are on the 49ers side. Matt Breida looks to step into a high workload with the injury to Tevin Coleman in Week 1. The 49ers ranked just 25th in adjusted line yards in week one but were 10th in 2018. At only $5200, his price does not match his projected workload.
The other play is George Kittle, who is part of the “straight forward” tight end pool I referenced above. Kittle had two touchdowns called back last week due to penalties. Jimmy Garoppolo targeted him on 37% of his dropbacks, and he finished with a 0.76 weighted opportunity (WOPR) rating via John Hernsmeyer’s Air Yards website. His WOPR was tied for eighth of all players in Week 1. Kittle projects to be an elite tournament play this week.
You can look at John Ross, but I feel he will be over-owned due to his big week last weekend. I prefer Tyler Boyd over Ross myself. Boyd should mostly avoid Richard Sherman and Jason Verrett (if he plays) when he slides into the slot. He played just 42% of his snaps in the slot in Week 1, but that figure was 71% last season.
Plays: Breida, Kittle, Boyd
Patriots at Dolphins
I’m not touching this game from a spread perspective, and only have interest in a few players for fantasy football tournaments.
Sony Michel is the first player. This game script sets up to be a Michel game. He didn’t get much run in the blow out last week, which is a bit concerning. However, if he can rumble into the end zone a few times to get them that huge lead, he has a chance to be on a winning tournament roster.
The second player is Julian Edelman. I don’t know what’s going on with Antonio Brown, and they may not need Josh Gordon much in this game. Edelman is Tom Brady‘s “steady Eddie.” He has a very nice price of $6900 and should mostly avoid Xavien Howard.
Brady projects to have probably the cleanest pocket in the league this week. I’m still not going there in tournaments. I’d instead take my chances with Michel getting multiple touchdowns. It isn’t like we do not lack for QB options this week either.
Photo Credit: Field Gulls
Daily Fantasy Football Game Stacks
In daily fantasy football tournaments, the optimal construction when chasing first place is to have correlated lineups with multiple players from each game. There are a few ways you can stack games.
Team A: QB, WR1/TE, RB/WR2/TE
Team B: WR1/TE1, RB/WR1
The above configuration would qualify as a full game stack. You can limit it to just three total players if you’d like, or go for the singular onslaught team stack (QB/RB1/WR1) without “running it back” with someone from the opposite team.
You can also have mini-game stacks in your lineups. Taking the WR1 from two teams in a single game correlates well. Just stacking two opposing pass catchers from the same game is a solid decision. Running backs correlate well with their defense as well.
Identifying which games can go over and under the projected total, not just copying Sportsbooks projections, is essential. Below is a list of games I believe can go over their projected total, with the total in parenthesis.
Seahawks at Steelers (47)
I outlined in my plays and fades article why the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of my favorite plays this week. With all of the focus going to the two-afternoon games (Kansas City Chiefs at Raiders, New Orleans Saints at Rams) I expect this game to fly under the radar.
The Pittsburgh Steelers looked awful in their opener in Foxborough. I see that as more of an indication of how good the New England Patriots are rather than an inditement on the Steelers. There isn’t much to take away from Week 1 in terms of situation neutral pace as the Steelers only ran seven plays in that particular scenario. Last year, however, they were 11th in SNP with Ben Roethlisberger leading the show.
Big Ben should also enjoy a clean pocket in this game. According to Pro Football Focus, “clean pocket rating” is one of the most predictable stats when it comes to quarterbacks. Last year, when Roethlisberger was kept clean, he led the league in passing yards (4,153) and was third in passing touchdowns (29). Pittsburgh still has an elite offensive line, one that should have no problems stifling the Seattle Seahawks front. One last note is Pittsburgh enjoys an elite home-field advantage. From this article by Scott Barrett written on February 17, 2018, Roethlisberger was the highest-scoring QB at home from 2014-2017.
This Seattle defense is terrible. They just got torched by Andy Dalton and the Bengals, at home no less. They don’t adjust well to September road games, with only a 1-8 record in their last nine. It’s a 1:00 PM eastern start, which is a terrible spot for west coast teams. I expect the Steelers to get off to a hot start, and for the Seahawks to have to play catch up.
So who do we play from this game? JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner are your primary targets here along with Roethlisberger. I don’t mind Vance McDonald as he should go virtually unowned. A pivot from the chalky Tyrell Williams will be Donte Moncrief. He is the clear number two in Pittsburgh (90% of the snaps, 21% of the targets) and should see some opportunities to produce as well. James Washington was top five in the league in air yards last week, and if they decide to give him more play due to Moncrief’s ineffectiveness, his current fantasy football projection figures to be way off.
For the Seattle side, Tyler Lockett is your primary target. The Steelers defense has been gashed by slot receivers the past few seasons, as Mike Tomlin is abysmal in his defensive game plan. An underrated target is D.K. Metcalf. He played 78% of the snaps and saw 30% of the targets! Granted, Wilson only threw the ball 20 times, but he is not shy to throw it in Metcalf’s direction. What’s more impressive is he had the third-highest WOPR in the league in Week 1!
I’m not a fan of Chris Carson, as the Steelers have a good run defense and it won’t be a good game script for him. He did receive 100% of the running back targets for the Seahawks in Week 1, so maybe I’m a donkey for not having an interest. I just like other running backs on this slate more.
Plays: Roethlisberger, Schuster, Conner, McDonald, Moncrief, Washington
Lockett, Metcalf, Wilson
Photo Credit: Washington Post
Cardinals at Ravens (46.5)
I’m going to peg every Arizona Cardinals game this season as a pace up game, which makes them prime targets in fantasy football. Kliff Kingsbury held to his word, running by far the most four-wide receiver sets in the league, finishing first in total seconds per play and sixth in SNP. You won’t be sneaking up on anyone by playing Lamar Jackson, but I do expect the Cardinals to come in lower owned than they should.
I expect Jackson to be the most owned QB on the slate. The value the Raiders create makes it easy to pay up for him this week. He should enjoy a clean pocket against the putrid Arizona pass rush and therefore should dissect their abysmal secondary. If the Cardinals can keep this game remotely close, Jackson should run the ball more as well, making his upside the highest on the slate.
Picking who to stack him with will be difficult. The two most popular options will be Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews. The amount of snaps Brown played last week is cause for concern, especially if he is going to see significant ownership. I would like Andrews more if Travis Kelce and Kittle weren’t in fantastic spots. He is a good pivot off of Darren Waller, however.
You could take a chance on Miles Boykin, but he played just 24% of the snaps and saw a 4% target share. Jackson did seem to show good chemistry with him in the preseason, however. Willie Snead is another off the wall option to stack with Jackson. Snead played 64% of the snaps and saw 12% of the targets. That high snap share could be an inditement, however, as the Ravens destroyed the Miami Dolphins last week.
I think where you get different in stacking this game is by loading up on the Arizona side. Christian Kirk played 93% of the snaps and saw a 22% target share, while Larry Fitzgerald played 95% of the snaps and saw a 24% target share. Both played almost exclusively from the slot, with Kirk playing 76% of his snaps and Fitzgerald playing 92% of his snaps from the slot. The Ravens secondary is banged up, with Jimmy Smith already ruled out and Marlon Humphrey limited all week. It shapes up to be a perfect spot which projected to go under-owned in fantasy football tournaments.
David Johnson projects as a fantastic tournament play this week. He was on the field for 86% of Arizona’s snaps, handled 94% of their RB rushes and 87% of their RB targets in Week 1.
I touched on how fantastic of a play Jackson is above. Opposing QBs correlate well with each other in DFS. If Jackson is going off, that will only help Kyler Murray reach his potential. He passed for over 400 air yards in regulation against Detroit last weekend. Murray will never enjoy a clean pocket, but this Baltimore pass rush is nothing to fear. While they will enjoy their victories given the Cardinals offensive line is well below average, there will be instances where Murray will have time to throw. If Kingsbury lets him run more as well, Murray could have a fantastic game.
Plays: Jackson, Andrews, Snead, Boykin
Kirk, Fitzgerald, Johnson, Murray
Jaguars at Texans (43)
The Houston Texans opened as a (-3.5) point favorites before the Nick Foles Injury. The line shot up to (-9.5) before being bet down to (-8.5). This was an overcorrection as Foles is not worth six points to the spread.
I plan on playing Leonard Fournette in tournaments again. He dominated the touches in the Jacksonville Jaguars backfield last week, despite it being a blow out for most of the afternoon. I also don’t mind pairing him with the Jaguars defense. The Texans offensive line is still inadequate despite the addition of Laremy Tunsil. The Jaguars will be without Yannick Ngakoue, but should still be able to continually pressure Deshaun Watson.
While I prefer my QB’s to play with a clean pocket, that doesn’t apply as much to the mobile quarterbacks. Watson is so explosive that he can produce despite his putrid protection. While DeAndre Hopkins is always in play, I have the most interest in Will Fuller. If we believe Jalen Ramsey can hold his own against Hopkins, Fuller should see the weaker of the two cornerbacks in A.J. Bouye. I think Fuller is even cash viable in this spot.
Plays: Fournette, Jaguars defense
Fuller, Hopkins, Watson
Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated
Chiefs at Raiders (53.5)
This game projects to be the most popular game of the week. Like I mentioned in the opener, the DK algorithm does not adjust for the Monday night games. Because of that, we have a concentrated offense in a projected high scoring game at bargain-bin prices. Josh Jacobs, Waller, Williams, and Carr are all cash game viable.
Of the four, I have the most trepidation with Jacobs. I’m just not sure if he will receive targets if the team is trailing. We didn’t see the Raiders in a negative game script on Monday night, so we don’t know if Jalen Richard will be the exclusive passing down back.
If the Raiders offensive line is as good as they showed on Monday night, Carr should have a clean pocket all game. The Chiefs are still getting used to their defensive scheme, and I don’t expect them to be firing on all cylinders in Week 2. My take is the Raiders played their heart out, and we won’t see them play that well again. That is why I’m having second thoughts with them in tournaments this week, but if what we saw on Monday night is who they are, Carr and the Raiders will smash.
For tournaments, I would only include these players in game stacks with each other, as I project them to be too popular for one-off plays. If you want to pair two of them with an under-owned game stack that is also a viable strategy, as long as you make sure you differentiate your line up if you’re including players in this game.
For the Chiefs side, Kelce is one of my favorite plays on the slate. My tight end pool in cash games this week consists of Waller, Kittle, and Kelce, with Andrews and McDonald in their respective game stacks for tournaments. It’s that simple.
Unlike the Raiders, Sammy Watkins received an appropriate price bump. At $7200 he sits as the WR7 on DraftKings. I feel that inflated price will keep his ownership in check, as well as the Rams receivers coming in a few hundred dollars cheaper. I think he’s cash game and tournament viable. It’s always iffy rostering the WR who went off the previous week, but Watkins’ projected role gives him a solid floor in fantasy football.
I will be mostly ignoring Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson. A report came out earlier in the week that Tyreek Hill‘s role could be split amongst the two, making their projections cloudy. If you’re mass multi entering (100’s of line ups), I don’t mind sprinkling these players in your Chiefs stacks. I will probably not go that route myself.
The running backs for the Chiefs are going to go under-owned. Damien Williams handled most of the work in Week 1, with 66% of the snaps, 56% of the RB rushes and 75% of the RB targets. Williams received the touches you want your RB to receive in fantasy football: targets and red zone looks. His price went down from last week, in what is a far better match up. He probably comes in at less than 10% again, making him a fantastic tournament option.
LeSean McCoy will need to rush for over 100 yards and multiple touchdowns for you to make any noise in tournaments. If he does, however, you’re miles ahead of everyone else in the field. I don’t believe I will be taking that risk, but it’s the ultimate leverage play off the Chiefs passing attack and Josh Jacobs. Pairing him with the Chiefs defense will be a combo that could be less than 5% owned.
Patrick Mahomes needs no explanation. If you want to pay up for him in cash games over Jackson, I won’t fight you. You need to get some Chiefs exposure for your cash game teams, and what better way than to take the QB. I will have Chiefs stacks with Mahomes myself. It’s a spot I never want to overthink. Earlier I mentioned how Roethlisberger finished third in passing touchdowns from a clean pocket. Mahomes finished first with 41. He should see another clean pocket in this game. Fire him up.
Plays: Kelce, Williams, Mahomes, Watkins, McCoy
Waller, Williams, Carr, Jacobs
Photo Credit: SB Nation
Saints at Rams (52)
The go-to play in this game will be Kamara. He projects to be one of the highest owned players on the slate. It’s hard to argue with it as well. I don’t mind eating chalk at RB, because their workload is far more predictable than that of wide receivers. That said, if you find yourself behind in your cash games before the afternoon games lock, you will have to pivot off of Kamara, as an 80% owned player won’t help you make up ground. Other than that, play Kamara in cash and tournaments. He’s a fantastic fantasy football play.
The pivot off Kamara is Michael Thomas. This projects to be a pace up game, as the Rams finished third in situation neutral pace in 2018 while the Saints came in at 13th. It’s a tough decision between Thomas and Hopkins at the very top. I don’t know where I’m leaning myself, but both are fantastic plays.
I don’t have much interest in the receiving options after Thomas. I do think Latavius Murray represents an interesting leverage spot in tournaments. The Saints don’t want to make Kamara an every-down bell cow, and they don’t want to put too much strain on the arm of Drew Brees. Giving Murray touches checks both of those boxes. He will benefit more if the Saints can play with a lead as well.
The Rams receivers are so close in weekly projections that it’s wisest to take the one with the lowest ownership in tournaments. I think it will be Robert Woods this week, with Cooper Kupp being the most popular and Brandin Cooks sandwiched in the middle.
If the Rams can keep Jared Goff clean, this game should smash the over. There is a possibility the Saints can pressure him, however. The two new additions along the Rams front received well below average pass blocking grads from PFF. I talked about the worry I had with the Rams interior offensive line in their win total article. If the Saints can get pressure up the middle, this Rams team could underperform from a fantasy football perspective. There are enough other QBs I like this week that I won’t have much if any Goff.
Plays: Kamara, Thomas, Murray
Woods, Cooks, Kupp, Gurley
That is going to do it for this week. If you were behind on your daily fantasy football research, hopefully, this caught you up to speed. Good luck in tournaments this weekend. I hope one of you wins some life-changing money.
James Aguirre is a writer for PFN covering NFL betting and Fantasy Football. You can follow him on Twitter @PFN_James.