In this weekly article, we’ll use the early betting lines from Vegas to take a deeper look at which games to target and avoid for NFL DFS. Implied team totals have positive correlations with fantasy output, especially for quarterbacks. Plus, we’ll highlight some potentially under the radar teams with high implied team totals despite a lower over/under. Note that these lines will probably change over the course of the week, which is why we call it ‘starting’ points.
LA Rams at Seattle, Total 47.5
This one is going to be great for real football fans. It will help decide the division, for one thing. For another, both teams have excelled this season, Seattle more so on offense, LA more so on defense. It’s a tough matchup for Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, not to mention Chris Carson. LA ranks in the bottom five for fantasy points allowed to all these positions. Given the relatively high point total and narrow spread, I’m currently planning on using these pricey Seahawks in tournament lineups only.
The Rams get a much more favorable scenario, but Vegas doesn’t think this is an easy win necessarily. Jared Goff has been significantly better on the road this season, even when facing good defenses like Miami or Tampa Bay. He’s far cheaper than Wilson, and gets a Top 5 QB and WR matchup for fantasy. That likely means it’s safe to roster one or both of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. Both follow Goff with better road splits, but Kupp has been less productive over the second half of the season. Consider him a more risk/reward play this weekend, with Woods being more of the safe cash-game play. I won’t be trying to predict the usage of Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown in this one (Cam Akers is already ruled out with an ankle injury).
Philadelphia at Dallas, Total 49
Jalen Hurts did not disappoint in Week 15, and is poised to take his place among the winning rosters again here. Dallas gives up the fifth-most overall fantasy points to opponents, and allows the second-most real points per game. If he plays well, the Eagles are going to cover easily. His salary has come up, of course, but given Dallas’ propensity to get beaten on the ground, he’s got a great floor and plenty of upside as well. It’s looking like Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz can both be productive again, as Ertz had the long catches, and Goedert was the leading target-getting (with Jalen Raegor, who picked up an ankle injury of unknown seriousness). Greg Ward scored twice in Week 15, and is probably your safest receiver play from this team. Miles Sanders should be a popular running back option this week, with a very usable mid-range salary and that great rushing matchup I mentioned above.
The Cowboys are also in play, I say with reluctance. You won’t catch me rostering Andy Dalton in tournaments (I think his ceiling is too low), but he has been consistently in the 15-20 fantasy point range over the last three weeks, in which he’s thrown 10 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. It’s hard to project a receiver play from Dallas: they’ve been all over the place in that span. For example, CeeDee Lamb has ranged from 2 to 9 targets, while Amari Cooper had 4-5 catches and scored in Weeks 13&14, only to see just three targets for 10 receiving yards in Week 15. Michael Gallup scored in Week 15, and makes for a kind of low-end boom-or-bust play, but if forced to choose this week, I’d take Lamb.
We don’t get the benefit of a late scratch of Ezekiel Elliott to roster a cheap Tony Pollard this week, something that not nearly enough people took advantage of last week. Pollard’s salary is higher, as if Elliott is already ruled out. The Eagles aren’t a great rushing matchup, but Pollard looked so much better than Elliott, and has any time he’s been given an opportunity this season, that I’m not arguing against him. In fact, there’s some sort of bias that once you miss out on a good thing, you’re more likely to shun that thing in the future, especially when it’s no longer as good a deal. That means that people who didn’t roster Pollard’s big game in Week 15 might be reluctant to chase it at a higher cost. People who enjoyed those cheap fantasy points will probably be going back to the well.
Denver at LA Chargers, Total 48.5
This is another game to target based on both defenses having exploitable weaknesses, leading to the high total and narrow spread Vegas puts on it. Justin Herbert has a great chance to build his Rookie of the Year status in the ninth-best QB matchup, and if he does have a great game, expect Keenan Allen to be part of the reason. He disappeared in Week 15, but he doesn’t have two down games in a row often. I like Allen to bounce-back nicely here, probably at a very low roster percent. Tyron Johnson is breaking out lately, and will probably be the most popular option at WR among the Chargers this weekend. He’s still cheap ($4000 on DK) and has scored in the past two games. Hunter Henry continues to be a nice outlet for Herbert, finally scoring in Week 15. Austin Ekeler could have a bounce-back game too, if he can break a big play or two. His catch rate is a perfect 13-of-13 in the past two games.
Drew Lock and Noah Fant make a nice mini-stack this week. The Chargers give up a ton of fantasy points to both positions, and we saw how nicely Lock took advantage of that weakness against Buffalo last week (Fant had 11 targets). He’s the easy bet to repeat a double-digit fantasy performance. Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler continue to take a backseat to Tim Patrick, who isn’t exciting, but is the safest WR pick for Denver. He’ll also likely have the lowest rostership, because we all like the shiny new toys better than the old, boring ones. Speaking of old, boring things, Melvin Gordon scored twice in Week 15, and though that isn’t to be expected every week, he is the Broncos back to roster. He’s averaged well over 5.0 YPC over the last three games, and it might surprise you that he ranks 17th in half-PPR fantasy scoring this season. He’s not quite priced like it.
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Carolina at Washington, Total 44.5
Football Team minus-2.5
These are two offenses that just aren’t scoring a lot of points. Washington’s defense has been surprisingly good, especially against the pass game, but overall allowing the third-fewest fantasy points to opponents. Teddy Bridgewater is a reasonably high-floor QB option, given that he typically gets you a few rushing points, in addition to scoring with his legs in four of the last five games. But as a pure passer, he is a risky option with D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and Curtis Samuel in for a tough day. Samuel is the best tournament play if you’re trying to go contrarian, given that he can’t possibly be as bad as he was last week (so many drops on those nine targets), and his usage is good. He’s also cheapest, which always helps a GPP lineup. I’m not sure why Carolina is interested in getting Christian McCaffrey back, but this is a poor situation for him and even if he ends up active, I’m definitely not spending up for him.
Washington is the small favorite here, but what can you really get excited for? Not the passing game. Antonio Gibson, if active, and/or J.D. McKissic are reasonable options given that Carolina is still one of the best rushing matchups for fantasy, but I don’t like Peyton Barber’s ability to vulture the (few) goal line carries. I’m probably fading all the Washington Offense.
Indianapolis at Pittsburgh, Total 45.5
I would say that this is a terrific AFC defensive showcase game, but the Steelers Defense has been shockingly absent lately. They still rank well in terms of fantasy stats allowed, and allow the second-fewest real points per game, but have just lost to Washington and Cincinnati. That doesn’t scream defense to me. So maybe Philip Rivers, T.Y. Hilton or Jonathan Taylor get hot here, but more likely, the Steelers get back on track and this ends up being a lower scoring game than Vegas projects.
The Colts’ defense has also been one of the best this season, and, again, the Steelers Offense, once looking all-powerful, has had some issues lately. Ben Roethlisberger just doesn’t seem to have the same vision and execution he did earlier in the season, and play-makers like Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster have all but disappeared from fantasy box scores. Diontae Johnson is hanging in there, but for how long? This game is pretty much a whole fade for me, except the defenses. Both are strong candidates for double-digit fantasy points, and they are both priced in a reasonable range (Colts only on Yahoo).
Cleveland at NY Jets, Total 46.5
Baker Mayfield has been terrific the past few weeks, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Browns get back to the run game. Both Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb should be on DFS radar this week, Hunt in tournaments, Chubb in cash games. The Browns’ defense is another option here, and works well in the high-correlation RB-DST stack.
Houston vs. Cincinnati, Total 45
The Texans should have an easier time this week, given the Bengals are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league since they lost Joe Burrow. Their inability to sustain drives, the high number of turnovers they deliver, and their inability to protect the QB should make the Texans’ D/ST one of the best options of the week. But Deshaun Watson, Keke Coutee and Chad Hansen are firmly on the play list this weekend as well. David Johnson shocked with 11 catches on 11 targets in Week 15, a feat I don’t see as repeatable. He could still have some value in this matchup with a mid-range salary on all sites, but I’m not enthusiastic.
Running backs have had their way with Houston, and seeing how good Giovanni Bernard looked against Pittsburgh is forcing me to consider him this week. Samaje Perine is another possibility, with a lower salary and much higher risk. I do figure that the Bengals want to see what they have with him, as long as Joe Mixon is sidelined.
Baltimore vs. NY Giants, Total 45
The Ravens are getting right at the perfect time, and while the Giants aren’t an easy matchup on paper, this Ravens team is so unconventional that it’s hard to apply those standards. Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins, Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown are finding ways to put points on the board. Jackson is lights out right now, so fade him at your own risk. Any of these guys make fine plays regardless of the format.
Kansas City vs. Atlanta, Total 53.5
The Chiefs should tell us something about this new and improved Atlanta defense. We saw it largely stymie the Raiders, Saints and Chargers (though those last two were losses) before second-half Tom Brady broke the mold. Atlanta does remain the best QB matchup for fantasy, if you needed more reason to consider Patrick Mahomes. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are the go-to guys here, expensive, but solid enough to just do it. The wild card this weekend will be LeVeon Bell. He won’t be hindered by Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who will miss at least the last two regular season games, but I do believe in the Falcons’ run defense when it comes to a guy like Bell. I’m targeting the pass game for KC this week, and maybe their D/ST as well.