Quick, without thinking: what are the two best things about football? Easy: fantasy football and gambling. Well, and having something to do on Sundays. And chicken wings. And cheerleaders. And — ok, I’m getting carried away. Fantasy and gambling, that’s what we settled on, right? Cool. Well much like peanut butter & jelly or Tom Brady & Gisele, your friend/fellow gambling degenerate Keegs is on a mission to combine two of the greatest things on planet Earth. How? Glad you asked.
Every week, we see the odds of NFL games all over the place. Seattle is 3-point favorites against Green Bay, the over/under for Pittsburgh/Cincinnati is set at 49.5, etc. Sure, you can use those to try and make a few bucks, but what about for fantasy? Believe it or not, gambling lines can tell you A LOT about who you should be trotting out there in your fantasy or even DFS lineup. So each week, I’m here to give you a handful of tips, based on the lines set by our buddies over in Nevada, that’ll hopefully help you towards your ultimate goal of a fantasy football championship. Simple enough? Cool, let’s get started.
Odds via www.bovada.com
Team To Love: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New York Giants @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Line: Tampa Bay -3; Over/Under 44
Last week, the Bucs were handed the unfortunate task of facing one of the league’s top defenses on the road. They struggled to get anything going early on against Minnesota, trailing 21-3 at halftime, and by the time the clock hit zero, Jameis Winston had thrown 3 INTs, Jacquizz Rodgers led the team with just 15 rushing yards, and the Vikings walked away with a 34-17 victory. But in Week 4, when the Bucs return home and welcome in the struggling Giants, I’m expecting a huge bounce back.
Why exactly? For starters, Jameis Winston has only thrown 3+ interceptions in a game 3 times in his young career. And each time he’s done so, he’s come back with a solid performance the next week, never finishing the following games with a passer rating below 85. So despite a decent Giants secondary that’s been essentially the team’s lone bright spot this season, I’m not too down on Winston this week. Mike Evans was also kept pretty quiet against the Vikings, but that’s been a trend this season for #1 receivers.
Enemy No. 1 WRs vs #Vikings so far:
Michael Thomas 5/45/0
Antonio Brown 5/62/0
Mike Evans 7/67/0#RhodesClosed
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) September 24, 2017
Evans still led the team with 12 targets, so Dirk Koetter obviously wasn’t giving up on him at any point, and that bodes well heading into this week’s matchup. And even if the Giants secondary is able to moderately contain Evans — which is MUCH easier said than done — it only stands to benefit the other weapons on Tampa Bay’s offense. In particular, keep an eye on DeSean Jackson, who led the Bucs with 84 receiving yards and also tacked on a TD against Minnesota. He’s been getting a healthy amount of targets (he’s second on the team with 14, behind Evans’ 21) and obviously has the trust of Koetter and Winston, and a defense that’s preoccupied with stopping Evans is his best friend. The Bucs have also worked Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin into the mix, and TE Cameron Brate got into the end zone for the first time last week, too, and finds himself on this week’s RSJ Stream Team. And on the ground, I’m definitely expecting a rebound week from Jacquizz Rodgers, for more reasons than one. First, while the Giants pass defense has been respectable so far this season, their front 7 is as weak as Trump’s Twitter game (sorry, had to throw one in, I’ll #StickToSports now) and they’re allowing a league-high 153 rushing yards per game. Also, some guy named Doug Martin returns from suspension next week, and something tells me his great training camp and multiple Pro Bowl appearances will put him on a fast track to reclaim the starting job pretty quickly once he’s back. This is Rodgers’ last chance to prove himself as a viable backfield option for this team, something he’s yet to really accomplish, and he knows it. I can’t imagine we’ll see another lackluster performance from him, especially with the strong chance that Tampa Bay takes an early lead and can rely on the run game for much of the second half. So with Winston, Rodgers, Evans, Jackson, and Brate all carrying the potential for top 10 performances in Week 4, I’m all in on Tampa Bay.
Team To Hate: Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings
Line: Minnesota -2; Over/Under 42.5
If you’re in a rush and don’t want to be charmed by my beautifully crafted literature on this one, just look at the tweet from the previous section. Nobody has really been able to muster up a decent offensive attack against the Vikings so far this year, whether it be through the air or on the ground. Xavier Rhodes has been a black hole for top wideouts so far this year, and to be honest, those numbers above aren’t even fully accurate. Those are just the players’ stats against Minnesota as a whole; these numbers are a bit more indicative of just how dominant Rhodes has been in 2017.
Xavier Rhodes coverage in 2017:
Michael Thomas: 2/22
Antonio Brown: 3/28
Mike Evans: 4/36
0 TD's #RhodesClosed
— t carm (@TCarmTheGoat) September 24, 2017
So you think I’m putting any faith in Golden Tate this week when the Lions travel to Minnesota? For sure not. Most would agree that out of himself and the 3 wideouts mentioned above, Tate is certainly the least talented. You could also argue he has the least talented QB of the 4 in Matthew Stafford, who’s 7th in fantasy scoring among QBs in 2017 but has done so more by minimizing turnovers than amassing the huge yardage totals that we’re used to seeing from him.
And Detroit’s other weapons, while talented, haven’t given me much reason for optimism, either. Especially last week, when they faced an inferior Atlanta defense, and Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, Jr. combined for 11 targets and managed just 5 receptions for 49 yards and no TDs. And if those two were disappointing, I’d need a whole new word for Eric Ebron, who was targeted 7 times and mustered up just 2 catches for 9 yards. Ebron has just 9 catches and 1 TD through 3 games, and sits outside of the top 15 fantasy TEs in 2017. Minnesota has allowed the 10th most fantasy points to tight ends this season, so Ebron isn’t a terrible start for Week 4, but I sure as hell wouldn’t feel too confident about it. And with the Vikings boasting the league’s 3rd best run defense, allowing just 62 yards on the ground per game, I’m not too high on Ameer Abdullah, either. The Wolf echoes that sentiment as well, and has Abdullah listed as his RB29 for Week 4, with teammate Theo Riddick (who failed to log a carry last week for the first time since Week 5 of 2015, and finished the contest with 4 catches for 38 yards) not far behind at RB36. So with the cards clearly stacked against their whole offense going up against one of the league’s top defensive units, I’m out on Detroit this week.
Game of the Week:
New Orleans Saints @ Miami Dolphins
Line: New Orleans -3; Over/Under 49.5
Yes, I recall that I was very high on the Dolphins last week. And yes, I watched them get annihilated by arguably the worst team in football — I even bet the Dolphins -5.5 on top of all that, so yes, it was frustrating. But I’m right back on the horse! And with the Saints and their 31st ranked defense coming to town, I love this matchup for both sides. Now, I won’t lie that this game being played in London makes me a little nervous, because overseas games are always a bit wonky (see: Jags vs. Ravens Week 3), but nevertheless this matchup is too good to ignore.
First, we’ll stick with Miami. Yeah, they looked awful last week. Abysmal. Atrocious. Anything else your little thesaurus can come up with. But this is a team with real talent that could be a fantasy goldmine, and in my uneducated opinion, they just had a rough week. Jay Cutler obviously isn’t the cream of the crop when it comes to QBs, but with the offense he has around him, he doesn’t really need to be. Cutler’s job is simple: help keep the team afloat until its superstars can come through with big plays. That didn’t work last week against the Jets; this week, I think it will. And it all starts with Jay Ajayi, who was a little banged up against New York but is expected to play this week. He left the game early on Sunday but returned, and although he mustered up just 16 yards on 11 carries, doesn’t show any indications that he could be in for long-term issues. And especially with this game being played in London, where he was born and spent the first 7 years of his childhood, expect him to suit up and be effective. And through the air, it still starts with DeVante Parker, who whipped up a solid garbage time performance last week to finish with 8 catches for 76 yards and a TD on 10 targets. This offense is a clear-cut picture with 3 wideouts leading the way — Kenny Stills matched Parker’s 10 targets for 4/51, while Jarvis Landry led the team with 11 targets and turned them into 6 catches for 48 yards. These three are the options that have garnered the majority of Cutler’s trust, and all find themselves on The Wolf’s Week 4 WR rankings — Parker at 14, Landry at 22, and Stills at 49. And against a weak New Orleans secondary, Parker and Landry are must-starts with Stills serving as a boom-or-bust DFS option at best. And provided that Ajayi is active, he’s a solid start against a D that’s allowed over 126 rushing yards per game this season.
As for New Orleans, things are getting a little more interesting with Willie Snead returning from suspension this week. Head coach Sean Payton has been unclear on exactly what Snead’s role will be in his return, but with Brandon Coleman playing extremely well in the slot position to this point, there’s no rush to incorporate Snead into the offensive attack just yet. Michael Thomas of course remains the #1 option, coming off of a 7/81/1 performance against Carolina last week. New Orleans smoked the Panthers in Carolina in Week 3, torching a defense that’d only allowed 6 points in 2 games to start the season. Obviously Drew Brees was a huge part of this, throwing for 220 yards and 3 TDs, and he’s The Wolf’s QB3 heading into this matchup. The Wolf has Thomas as his WR7 for Week 4, followed by Snead at 39 and Ted Ginn, Jr. at 51, but with Snead’s role still up in the air, I’d be timid about starting him at least in this matchup. When it comes to the ground game, things get a little more murky. Mark Ingram has clearly been the team’s #1 back this year and leads the team in both carries and yards, but he’s failed to turn that into fantasy production, averaging just 11.5 PPR points per game so far this season. And while he’s clearly outperformed Adrian Peterson so far this season, he has some growing competition in rookie Alvin Kamara. Kamara has the least amount of touches among the 3 backs but has averaged 5.8 yards per carry and is the only back to find the end zone so far, and his 18 targets in the passing game lead the Saints backfield. Ultimately, concerning the Saints this week, after Brees I’m targeting the aerial options: Thomas, Snead, Ginn, and even Coby Fleener, who’s found the end zone twice already this season and is currently The Wolf’s TE12 for Week 4.
Washington Redskins @ Kansas City Chiefs (-7); Over/Under 49
This week’s Monday Night Football game pins Kansas City against Washington, 3-0 vs. 2-1. I always get a little timid going all-in on both team’s in a primetime matchup, but both of these teams have played 1 primetime game so far in 2017 and certainly stepped up to the task — the Skins beat down Oakland last Sunday night, while KC looked pretty solid on Thursday Night Football to open the season. As a Patriots fan, I’ll just leave it at that.
Obviously one of the big actually football-related stories of the season so far has been Kareem Hunt, who took home both AFC Offensive Player of the Month and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month honors for September. And it’s certainly an honor well-deserved, as he’s leading all NFL RBs in rush yards, yards per attempt, 1st downs, and 20+ yard runs, while his 4 rushing TDs have him in a tie for first. He’s the #1 ranked RB in fantasy by far, and even against a Washington defense that’s 2nd in the league against the run, I’m expecting him to tear it up behind one of the most improved offensive lines in football. And I’m also expecting more of the same from Tyreek Hill, who trails only Stefon Diggs and Antonio Brown in fantasy scoring among WRs and should have no problem going after Josh Norman, who’s nursing a sprained AC joint and listed as questionable for the contest (although he’s fully expected to play). And although Travis Kelce hasn’t been the dominant red zone force we’re used to seeing him be, he’s caught 14 of his 18 targets so far in 2017, and Alex Smith certainly won’t let that consistency go unrewarded as the season progresses.
And on Washington’s side, it all starts with Kirk Cousins, who torched the Raiders for 365 yards passing, 3 TDs, and an 83% completion rate last week. The performance netted him 26.8 standard fantasy points, more than his Week 1 and Week 2 totals combined, and gives me a lot of confidence in him moving forward. The entire Washington offense has seemed to find its grove lately, all sparked by Chris Thompson out of the backfield. With Rob Kelley out with a rib injury, some member of Washington’s backfield needed to step up in his place, and with Samaje Perine seemingly unable to fill that role, Thompson stepped up. He actually did the majority of his damage through the air, finishing with 6 catches for 150 yards and a TD to go along with 38 yards on 8 carries on the ground. Kelley is set to return this week and should regain his 2-down role, making him a solid start once again, but Thompson’s involvement in the passing game and ability to make the most of his limited snaps should at least give him FLEX consideration, and could make him a steal in DFS. And as far as Redskins receivers, neither Jamison Crowder nor Terrelle Pryor have shown much of anything so far in 2017, with both averaging about 7 fantasy points per game and failing to find the end zone in the first 3 games. But both are liable to breakout at any time, and Kansas City’s 24th-ranked pass defense may be exactly what they need to finally make some noise this week, especially with Cousins’ game seemingly coming around.
Los Angeles Rams @ Dallas Cowboys (-6); Over/Under 48
In an early-afternoon matchup at JerryWorld, I like both of these squads to put up some solid fantasy numbers. The Rams were arguably the team to own last week fantasy-wise, torching San Francisco for 41 points and 418 yards of total offense. Jared Goff continued to make Sean McVay look like the best coach in football, throwing for 292 yards and 3 TDs and making his move towards the top 10 fantasy QBs of the season. It’s a little early to be singing Goff’s praises just yet, but with 5 TDs to just 1 INT through 3 games and averaging over 270 yards passing per contest, it’s not unreasonable to begin to think that last year’s atrocious rookie season may have been — dare I say — a fluke. And it certainly helped his cause to play alongside Todd Gurley, who turned 28 carries into his first 100-yard, multi-TD performance since December 2015. Gurley’s now the 2nd leading fantasy scorer among RBs and deservedly The Wolf’s RB3 for Week 4, facing a Dallas defense that’s allowed almost 25 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. And on the receiving side, both Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods topped 100 yards receiving last week, with Watkins finding the end zone twice to lock down his first breakout performance as a Ram. Both were targeted 7 times through the air, 5 more than any other LA wideout, so it’s clear where this team’s priorities lie offensively. And Watkins is undoubtedly the top option of the two, leading the team in receptions and coming in as The Wolf’s WR16 this week.
For Dallas, Ezekiel Elliot bounced back from a disgusting Week 2 to rack up 80 yards and record his first TD of the season, and I think it’s safe to say the previous week’s debacle in Denver was an outlier, not the new normal. Zeke will look to capitalize on a Rams defense that’s 29th in the league against the run and has allowed the 3rd-most fantasy points to RBs in football, and I think he’ll do so just fine. And although he finished with just 183 yards passing last week, Dak Prescott put forth his best fantasy showing of the season, and seems to be trending upwards heading into Week 4 — as long as he has people to throw to. Dez Bryant is clearly still the team’s top option through the air with 11 more targets than any other Cowboy receiver in 2017, but he’s been relatively quiet so far by his standards and is currently just 32nd in fantasy scoring among WRs league-wide. He’s still Dez Bryant, and we really shouldn’t worry, but with few explosive options alongside him on the receiving core, defenses are free to put the majority of their focus into stopping Dez. Guys like Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley will have to step up and identify themselves as prominent weapons if this offense is going to consistently perform to its potential. Regardless, Bryant is The Wolf’s WR10 this week, and remains a must-start along with Dak, Zeke, and Jason Witten, who’s 3rd in fantasy scoring among NFL TEs and is 2nd on the team with 26 targets through 3 games.
Carolina Panthers @ New England Patriots (-9); Over/Under 49
As much as the Pats fan in me wants to say this is a 1-sided pick, I gotta say I think both teams could be in for a solid fantasy day in this one. After all, while the Patriots are firing on all cylinders offensively, they’ve also been trotting out the worst scoring defense in football, and have allowed more fantasy points to QBs and TEs than any other team in the league, and the 2nd most to running backs. This is especially concerning after last year’s championship team led the entire league in scoring defense, allowing just over 14 points per game. This is clearly a different unit than last year’s, and they’ve yet to really figure it out just yet.
Looking to capitalize on New England’s defensive woes this week will be Carolina, obviously led by Cam Newton. How disappointing has Superman been so far this year? Well, with his 2 TDs to 4 INTs and just 167 yards on the day — against the Saints, of all teams — he’s now 26th among QBs in fantasy scoring this season. Even more amusing is the list of the names that are ahead of him. Blake Bortles. Josh McCown. Hell, Jacoby Brissett has outscored Cam in 1 less game. Despite all this, if Cam’s going to get it together against anyone, it’ll likely be against New England, the only team to have allowed over 1,000 passing yards so far this season. QBs are scoring an average of 24.5 fantasy points on the Pats, so if Cam doesn’t figure it out this week, it may actually be Derek Anderson time in Carolina. Moving on with the Panthers, their top fantasy scorer so far in 2017 has been the elusive rookie RB Christian McCaffrey, who has yet to find the end zone yet in his debut season but is averaging over 80 yards of total offense per game and has almost as many touches (43 compared to 48) as backfield-mate Jonathan Stewart. McCaffrey represents the kind of quick, shifty back that has the potential to give the Patriots defense fits, and The Wolf believes in him too, listing him as his RB12 for Week 4. And although he left last week’s game with a knee injury, Kelvin Benjamin was a full participant at Thursday’s practice and is a virtual guarantee to play on Sunday, aiming to take full advantage of the favorable matchup. Devin Funchess has actually led the team in targets, yards, and fantasy points so far in 2017, and should be considered a fringe FLEX option against a struggling secondary, but Benjamin is clearly the more talented of the two and should certainly get WR2 consideration against New England.
On New England’s side, there’s not much not to love about this offense. The ageless wonder Tom Brady is at it again, leading the NFL in passing through 3 games. As disappointing as the team’s defense has been in 2017, the offense has been equally impressive, leading the league in total offense and trailing only the Rams in scoring. The backfield has been led by Mike Gillislee, whose 4 TDs are tied for the league lead. I’m expecting him to return to form after a disappointing 31-yard showing against the Texans, as Carolina’s front 7 isn’t nearly as formidable as Houston’s. He’ll still get the heavy majority of the goal-line carries, and on an offense that’s a regular customer in the red zone, that carries a whole lot of weight. Fellow backfield mate James White has predictably been the team’s primary passing back, and with Rex Burkhead still “iffy” for Sunday’s matchup, White will likely get a healthy amount of touches through the air. And although I’m sure we’re all excited about Rob Gronkowski finally being productive while staying healthy (knock on wood 800,000 times) and Chris Hogan weirdly being that dude that team’s just keep forgetting to cover, I have to acknowledge the biggest story to come out of last week’s comeback victory — the Brandin Cooks era is upon us. I said it at the beginning of the season: there’s no way Bill Belichick would trade a 1st round pick for a guy unless he planned on utilizing his skill set to the absolute fullest. And after just 5 receptions and zero touchdowns through Weeks 1 and 2, Cooks had his coming out party last week — 5 catches, 131 yards, and 2 TDs, including the game-winner with 25 seconds remaining. Just the fact that Brady unleashed that pass from 25 yards away, on his back shoulder toward the sideline, shows that Cooks has officially gained entry into the Brady Circle of Trust. It’s a very exclusive club that doesn’t accept just anybody these days — just ask Dwayne Allen — but Cooks’ membership should mean a heavy dose of targets for the rest of this season and beyond. Cooks is The Wolf’s WR13 for this week, and I’d personally argue he could be higher. He, along with Gronk, Gillislee, and Brady, are must-starts for Week 4, with White garnering some FLEX consideration and bargain DFS status as well.
Any other odds we should be keeping an eye on? Let me know on Twitter, and make sure to consult the Roto Street Journal for all your fantasy football needs.