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: Pittsburgh Steelers
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-8.5); Over/Under 43.5
Jacksonville’s defense is a bit of an enigma at this point. The unit was obviously greatly improved in the offseason through free agency additions like Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye, and it’s shown in the passing game so far in 2017 as they’re allowing just 147 passing yards per game, tops in the NFL. Granted, their only competent QB competition so far has been Marcus Mariota, and they’ve been blessed with matchups against Tom Savage (remember him?), Joe Flacco, and Josh McCown. Nevertheless, the secondary has held strong thus far and is a big part of the reason for Jacksonville’s surprising 2-2 record that has them tied for 1st place in the abysmal AFC South. Their problem defensively, however, has been stopping the run. Teams are running rampant all over the Jags this year, averaging over 165 rushing yards per game against them. And the Jags have allowed 28.1 PPR points per game to opposing running backs, which is the 5th most in football. Seems like the perfect situation for a dynamic running back to have himself a huge game and climb up the fantasy positional rankings.
Enter: Le’Veon Bell.
Although he was a consensus top-2 pick in most fantasy drafts this year, the hype around Bell this season was a little more tempered than previous years. Along with the typical concerns about durability and (Stephen A. Smith voice) THA WEEEEEED, Bell also held out for the majority of the preseason, hoping to ink a long-term extension before the start of the season. And after a lackluster showing in Week 1 against Cleveland, the doubters got even louder, wondering if Bell’s tenure as the league’s top RB could be coming to an end. But in the weeks since, Le’Veon has reminded us how special of a talent he really is, and his fantasy production has risen each week, finally culminating in a 34.6 point outburst against Baltimore last week. He ran for 144 yards, added 42 through the air on 4 catches, and found the end zone twice en route to his first 100-yard, multi-TD game of the season. And against a defense that seems utterly incapable of stopping the run, I’m expecting a monster week from Le’Veon, who coincidentally is The Wolf’s RB1 for Week 5. Great minds think alike, I guess.
And even though Jacksonville’s secondary has been a strong point thus far, Ben Roethlisberger and his posse of weapons don’t really care. The Jags are one of just 3 teams to have only allowed 1 receiving TD so far in 2017, but I’m sure Antonio Brown will put a dent in that statistic on Sunday. And as Bell begins to find success and churn up big plays, the play action will be that much more effective and put a lot of pressure on the back end of Jacksonville’s secondary. Aside from Brown, watch for production out of Martavis Bryant as well as JuJu Smith-Schuster, who’s come on strong as of late and seems to have ripped Eli Rogers‘ slot receiver role right out of his unsure hands. And Jesse James remains a viable TE option against a defense that has allowed the 6th-most fantasy points to tight ends through 4 weeks.
Team To Hate: Chicago Bears
Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears [No line yet]
When I was researching the matchups prior to getting started on this article — I wouldn’t call it “researching” as much as “drunkenly scrolling through the ESPN app before bed” — I fell in love with this one immediately. More accurately, I fell in hate with it, especially after Chicago’s ugly showing on Thursday Night Football against Green Bay. Tarik Cohen has predictably come back down to Earth a bit after his scorching start to the season, and the team’s top fantasy receiver is Kendall Wright, who’s #46 in the league right now. The offense is among the worst in football, scoring just over 15 points per game, and a matchup against the Vikings stout defense solidified the Bears spot as my Team to Hate for Week 5.
And then the Bears announced that Mitchell Trubisky would make his first career start this week.
Now, I completely understand the logic of having Trubisky make his debut this week. First off, last week was the team’s last straw with their $45 million man Mike Glennon, who turned the ball over 4 times and failed to generate anything resembling offensive consistency as a result. And with the team playing on Thursday Night Football last week and Monday Night Football this week, Trubisky will have as much time as possible to get acquainted with the 1st team offense and prepare himself for this week’s matchup. If they were going to make a move like this at any point, now is certainly the time. But unfortunately, it sets the team up for a potential beatdown on national TV this week. Trubisky isn’t a bad QB by any means, but it’s unreasonable to trot him out there for his first career start, surrounded by an offense full of mediocrity and inexperience, and expect anything more than a “meh” performance. Minnesota’s defense, anchored by Xavier Rhodes, also hasn’t allowed any 100-yard receiving games this season despite facing the 3rd-most pass attempts in the league, and I wouldn’t count on any member of Chicago’s ragtag receiving core to change that statistic this week, especially with a brand spanking new QB at the helm. Jordan Howard may salvage a decent performance if given the opportunity, but other than that, I’m out on the Bears this week.
Game of the Week:
Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys (-2); Over/Under 52
Boasting Week 5’s highest over/under aside from last night’s Pats/Bucs matchup, this game promises a ton of offense. On one hand you’ve got a top-5 QB throwing to 3 top-tier wideouts, and on the other you’ve got a great young quarterback and one of the league’s top rushers. This matchup is so sexy I want to take it out for a nice dinner and then bring it back to my place and disappoint it so badly that it never calls me again.
Green Bay is coming off an absolute thrashing of the Bears on Thursday Night Football, and will be nice and rested for this late afternoon matchup in Dallas. Aaron Rodgers actually only threw for 179 yards against Chicago, but he tacked on 4 TDs with no picks to finish with a solid 23.1 fantasy points on the night. A pair of those scores went to Jordy Nelson, who finished with 75 yards on 4 catches to pace the Packers passing attack. Jordy’s now the 6th best fantasy WR of 2017 and has been able to maintain his spot as the top aerial option on an offensive unit that’s got no shortage of talent in Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, the latter of whom was knocked out of last week’s game after 2 catches for 13 yards and a TD after this devastating hit by Chicago’s Danny Trevathan.
Danny Trevathan suspended 2 games for this hit Thursday night against Adams pic.twitter.com/ruAKGzc1hG
— Juice Adkins (@RichardJAdkins) September 30, 2017
The hit deservedly landed Trevathan a 2 game suspension, and it landed Adams in the league’s concussion protocol. An MRI on his neck came back negative, and he’s listed as questionable for this week, with Adam Schefter and others reporting that there’s a real chance that he could suit up. Regardless, if I’m looking at Packers wideouts, I’m leaning towards Nelson or Cobb.
Ty Montgomery also left Thursday’s game with an injury, and although it was initially reported as something less serious, we now know he’s dealing with multiple fractured ribs. He’s exploring his options for protective gear and is listed as questionable, but there’s real concern that he won’t be able to play this week. If he doesn’t go, and even if he does, rookie Aaron Jones could be a solid addition for this week, especially as a cheap DFS option. Jones took over as the lead back after Montgomery’s injury on Thursday and finished with 49 yards and a TD on 13 carries, and could certainly capitalize on a Dallas defense that’s allowing over 107 rushing yards per game this season.
Speaking of Dallas, they’re starting to see more and more of the Ezekiel Elliott that took the league by storm a season ago. After bouncing back from a terrible Week 2 showing by putting up 80 yards and a TD against Arizona, he put up similar numbers last week versus the Rams — 21 carries, 85 yards, and 1 TD, along with 4 catches for 54 yards and another score through the air. Zeke is The Wolf’s RB2 this week against a below-average defense, and his success will open up even more opportunity for Dak Prescott and the rest of the Dallas offense. Prescott is well on his way to proving that his impressive rookie campaign was no fluke, and is currently 5th among QBs in fantasy scoring at just under 20 points per game. He’s making good decisions through the air, using his feet when he needs to, and reducing turnovers, and with a young QB that’s really all you can ask for. And he’ll continue to work to try and get Dez Bryant going, who isn’t necessarily having a bad season so far but currently sits at 23rd among WRs in fantasy scoring. And opportunities aren’t the issue; he’s 4th in the league with 40 targets, but tied for 29th with just 16 receptions. He’s still The Wolf’s WR8 this week against a pretty lackluster secondary, but if his unimpressive performances continue, his fantasy WR1 status could be in question moving forward. After Bryant, Terrance Williams has emerged as the team’s #2 wideout, leading the team in receptions so far this season, while Brice Butler has found the end zone the last 2 weeks and is 3rd among the team’s WRs in fantasy output despite just 9 targets on the season. Both could work as respectable DFS options if you need an inexpensive WR option.
Seattle Seahawks @ Los Angeles Rams (-1); Over/Under 47.5
Raise your hand if you had the Rams coming in as 1 point favorites over the Seahawks at the beginning of the season. *Crickets* Yeah, that’s what I thought. The Rams have wildly outperformed expectations this year, currently sitting at 3-1 with the top scoring offense in football. I still can’t figure out if their success this year is showing how good Sean McVay is or just how bad Jeff Fisher is, but either way, what they’re doing is working. Jared Goff finally looks like a #1 overall pick and is currently 3rd in the NFL in passer rating this season, behind only Alex Smith and Tom Brady. It’s a miraculous turnaround from last season’s disappointing rookie campaign, and McVay certainly deserves a lot of the credit. As does Todd Gurley, the current NFL leader in fantasy points and The Wolf’s RB3 for Week 5. Gurley has been an absolute monster through the first quarter of the season, and I see that trend continuing this week. While Seattle’s Legion of Boom is still very much intact, their defensive numbers have been aggressively average this season, especially against the run. The Seahawks are 27th in the league in stopping the run, allowing 134 rush yards per game this season, and that’s more than enough for Gurley to pace this offense on the ground. He’s also done a fair share of damage through the air in 2017, currently sitting at 2nd among RBs in receiving yards and 1st in receiving TDs, so you know he’ll find some way to make an impact for your team. And on the receiving side, Sammy Watkins has strolled in this season and done exactly what he was never able to do in Buffalo — lead an explosive offense through the air. He’s the team leader in receptions, receiving yards, and fantasy points, and he’s deservedly The Wolf’s WR31 this week (actually a little low if you ask me). Seattle has been considerably better against the pass this season, allowing just 184 yards passing per game, so secondary options like Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods aren’t necessarily top options this week, but with so much focus having to fall on Watkins, either could have a breakout game in this one. But based off of what I’ve seen through 4 weeks, in this matchup I like Goff, I like Watkins, and I looooooove Gurley. Workhorse back like you read about.
San Francisco 49ers @ Indianapolis Colts (-1.5); Over/Under 44
Indy may be favored in this one, but fantasy-wise they’re a barren wasteland of despair aside from T.Y. Hilton and maybe Jacoby Brissett on a good day. But the Niners, who now have the opportunity to go up against one of the worst defenses in football in a closed stadium, could have themselves a day for you. Brian Hoyer probably isn’t on a ton of fantasy radars, but with this week bringing our first wave of bye weeks (Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, and Kirk Cousins all having a bye week together is clearly a punishment from the fantasy gods) there’s a decent chance you need a streamer for a week or two. Who better than the veteran QB going against the 29th-ranked pass defense in football? He probably won’t carry your team, but he’ll plug that QB hole for a week while your guy rests up for the rest of your championship run. And as far as who he’s throwing to, among WRs that have yet to score a TD in 2017, only Adam Thielen has outscored Pierre Garcon so far. Garcon has been a steady option thus far, averaging about 12 points per game, and as the clear top option in San Fran’s passing game, the TDs are sure to come at some point. Aside from Garcon, Trent Taylor and Marquise Goodwin have emerged as the team’s #2 and #3 options, but neither carry much weight from a fantasy perspective. And finally, there’s Carlos Hyde in the backfield, who’s on pace for career-highs across the board at the quarter mark of the season. He’s listed as questionable with a hip injury that seems to be the kind of ailment that may linger a bit — especially with his heavy usage in Kyle Shanahan’s offense — but as long as he can stay on the field and produce like he has, he’ll be a weapon for you. Hyde is The Wolf’s RB7 against an Indy defense that’s 22nd in the league against the run, and he’s a must-start any time he’s on the field.
Los Angeles Chargers @ New York Giants (-3.5); Over/Under 44.5
Once again, for fantasy purposes I like the underdog here. Frankly, I’m not even sure why the Giants are the favorite here, because they’ve shown virtually nothing in all facets of the game this season save for a decent 2nd half against Philly. The Chargers have been similarly unimpressive, also sitting at 0-4 on the season, but carry a bit more fantasy potential. And it obviously starts with Melvin Gordon, The Wolf’s RB9 for Week 5. Gordon struggled last week against a strong Philadelphia run D, but through Weeks 1-3 was averaging almost 18 fantasy points per game, producing on the ground as well as through the air. He’ll benefit from going up against the league’s 28th-ranked run defense that’s allowing over 142 rushing yards per game in 2017, and I expect him to take full advantage of the matchup. And The Wolf and I seem to agree on the upside of Philip Rivers this week, as he’s got him as his QB8 this week, 5 spots higher than the expert consensus. Rivers’ 2017 season so far has been representative of his entire career — the talent is still there, and he’s going to make some great throws for you, but you gotta take the good with the bad. No game showed this more than Week 3 against Kansas City, when he threw 3 INTs and finished with just 3.5 fantasy points on the day. No bueno. But against a Giants defense that’s been extremely average against the pass and has yet to pick off a pass in 2017, Rivers could be in the exact position he needs to have a breakout game and finally get his team a W. It might be nerve-wracking to do, but Rivers is a great start this week and a great mid-level DFS pick. And it’s been awesome to see Keenan Allen return to form this season after struggling with injuries and inconsistencies for the last few years. He’s 8th in the NFL in receptions and 4th in yards, and leads the Chargers in most receiving categories. His fantasy production has been relatively limited due to having just 1 touchdown through 4 games, but with the Chargers presumably putting up a decent amount of points this week, I’m expecting that to change. Aside from Allen, Tyrell Williams showed last week that he’s capable of a breakout performance when the secondary forgets about him, catching 5 balls for 115 yards and a TD. He’s a FLEX option and a solid DFS pick as The Wolf’s WR28 for Week 5.
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.