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
Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-5); Over/Under 42
I’ve been big on the Steelers before — 2 weeks ago, actually. And how’d that go? Oh yeah: Ben Roethlisberger threw 5 interceptions, Le’Veon Bell rushed for just 47 yards, and the Steelers got smacked at home by Jacksonville. But it’s a new week, and a new opponent, and I’m back on the horse again for Pittsburgh. Here’s why.
Last week, the Steelers faced arguably the toughest test any team can face in 2017 — a road matchup with the 5-0 Kansas City Chiefs. Two early MVP candidates in Alex Smith and Kareem Hunt, a multitude of other offensive weapons that I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about, and a stout defense. And it certainly wasn’t always pretty, but the Steelers were able to leave Arrowhead with a 19-13 victory, knocking off the last undefeated team in football. And how’d they do it? Well for starters, their defense rose to the challenge, holding Smith under 250 yards passing and limiting Hunt to just 21 yards on 9 carries. It was a gritty effort on their part and locks them in as a very startable defense this week against a Bengals offense that still doesn’t have it all quite figured out, especially on the ground. But on the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh was once again led by their Killer B’s. Big Ben didn’t exactly deliver his most explosive performance by any means, but he got up over 250 yards on the day, and over 60% of those went to the NFL’s leading receiver Antonio Brown. Targeted 10 times on the day, he finished with 8 catches for 155 yards and a TD, good enough to lead all WRs in fantasy scoring for the week. And Bell was predictably incredible as well, turning 32 carries into 179 yards and a touchdown, and tacking on a few receptions for a dozen yards as well. I expect Big Ben and Brown to continue their strong performances this week, but they should take a back seat to Bell, who’ll go up against a defense that’s allowing over 103 rushing yards per game in 2017. It should be another field day for Le’Veon.
And if you’re scouring the waiver wire or looking for a low-risk, high-reward DFS play, look no further than JuJu Smith-Schuster, who’s developed a major role in Pittsburgh’s offense over the past few weeks. Eli Rogers hasn’t been the slot weapon Mike Tomlin hoped he’d be, and with Martavis Bryant reportedly unhappy with his role on the team and requesting a trade, Smith-Schuster has lucked his way into a #2 WR role on one of the better offenses in the AFC. Cincinnati’s secondary hasn’t been particularly generous to receivers this season, which explains Schuster’s spot as The Wolf’s Week 7 WR54 a bit, but I still like him more than Bryant both this week and moving forward.
Team To Hate: New York Giants
Seattle Seahawks (-5.5) @ New York Giants; Over/Under 40
Yes, I’m aware the Giants beat Denver on Sunday Night Football last week. And frankly, I couldn’t care less. The Giants roster is dwindling week by week and the shit winds are about to morph into a full on shit tornado (RIP John Dunsworth aka Jim Lahey).
It was cute for the Giants to get a W under their belt in primetime, but I don’t see a ton more on the horizon for them. Odell Beckham, Jr. and Brandon Marshall are done for the year. Eli Manning was just voted the most overrated QB in football in a players survey. Frankly, the team’s running game, thought to be their biggest weakness heading into the season, may be the team’s only “strength” 6 weeks into the year. Orleans Darkwa has burst onto the scene in recent weeks and now leads the team in carries, rushing yards, and rushing TDs, and he’s coming off a 21 carry, 117 yard performance against Denver. But going up against Seattle and returning home, where they’re 0-2 this year, I don’t like the matchup for Darkwa. Seattle’s numbers against the run this year aren’t impressive by any means, but with guys in the box like Sheldon Richardson, K.J. Wright, and Bobby Wagner going up against one of the league’s weaker offensive lines, I’m not seeing a lot of success for the Giants run game come Sunday.
And the aerial attack is in even more trouble. The secondary trio of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas is talented enough to shut down even the most explosive receiving core, so they shouldn’t have much trouble bottling up Sterling Shepard and… well, nobody else, really. Giants WRs were targeted just 5 times against Denver, resulting in 2 catches for 22 yards on the day. Not good! Shepard’s likely return will help the depleted receiving core, but he alone isn’t enough to fill this team’s WR void by any means. The only noteworthy receiving performance from the Denver game came from tight end Evan Engram, who finished with 5 catches for 82 yards and a score, but against a defense that hasn’t allowed much fantasy production to TEs (12.3 PPR PPG) and doesn’t have many other weapons to worry about, I’m not expecting much of a performance out of him. Count me out on the Giants this week.
Game of the Week:
Atlanta Falcons @ New England Patriots (-3); Over/Under 55
Wooooo baby. This is the one we’ve been waiting for. The Big Kahuna. The rematch of the greatest sports game ever played. And on national television no less. We must’ve been very good boys and girls this year. This matchup really has a ton going on. Oddly enough, it has an eerily similar line to Super Bowl 51, when the Patriots entered at -3 with an over/under of 58. And this is really a matchup that should bode well for both teams’ offenses, making for a bona fide shootout and a fantasy scoring extravaganza in Foxboro on Sunday.
First, we’ll start with the Patriots. In the same poll I mentioned previously that named Eli Manning the most overrated QB in football, another question was asked: Which QB will win the most Super Bowls in the next 10 years? The runner-ups were the guys you’d expect to hear: Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr, Dak Prescott, etc. But the #1 answer with 21% of the vote? Tom Brady. Yep, 40-year-old Tom Brady is the league’s choice to win the most Super Bowls in the next 10 years. Math isn’t my strongest subject, but by my calculations Brady will be 50 in 10 years, and no modern NFL quarterback has played past age 44. Will Brady be the first? Signs certainly point to yes for now, as the ageless wonder currently leads all NFL QBs in passing yardage while cracking the top 5 in completions, attempts, touchdowns, and passer rating. And arguably his most impressive feat has been leading a team with the one of the league’s worst statistical defenses to a 4-2 record, outdueling QBs like Drew Brees, Deshaun Watson, and Josh McCown (lol sorry I had to, the dude threw for over 350 yards last week). Even more impressive still might be the fact that he’s done all of this after losing Julian Edelman in the preseason, having to look for other weapons to fill Minitron’s shoes. Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan have done an excellent job of just that, and have become fantasy weapons in the process. Both find themselves in the top 10 among WRs in fantasy scoring this season, joining Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson as the only teammates in the top 10 for fantasy wideouts this season. And both have transformed into must-start WRs this season, and especially in the case of Hogan, have probably become a draft-day steal for you. And of course, we musn’t forget about Rob Gronkowski, who among NFL TEs is 4th in receiving yards, tied for 1st in touchdowns, and 2nd in fantasy scoring despite missing a game due to injury already. Generally speaking Gronk has managed to stay on the field this season, which was always the primary knock on him as a player, and that’s a great sign for Pats fans and fantasy owners alike. But while New England’s passing game is just about as figured out as it can be, the backfield is anything but. James White is consistently a good start due to his prevalance in the passing game, but after that it’s like the wild wild west out there. Mike Gillislee assumed lead back duties to start the year and impressed many, scoring 4 times in the team’s first 2 games, but has averaged just 44 yards per game in 4 games since and has failed to find the end zone again. That’ll obviously build up some frustration with the coaching staff, and last week against the Jets we saw the culmination of that in the heavy workload of Dion Lewis. Lewis was given a season-high 11 carries and turned them into 52 yards and a TD, and he looked like a guy who’s ready to assume a bigger role in this explosive offense. For now, I’m staying away from Lewis and Gillislee while the backfield situation sorts itself out in the coming weeks, but against an average Falcons defense, I’m fully in on Brady, Gronk, Hogan, Cooks, and White.
For Atlanta, they’ve got some explaining to do after last week’s debacle against the Dolphins. After leading Miami 17-0 at halftime, they proceeded to allow 20 unanswered to lose and fall to 3-2 on the year. And honestly, allowing 20 in the second half isn’t really the problem. Yeah, Miami’s offense has been one of the worst in football this year, but they do have a decent amount of talent on that side of the ball, so it’s not preposterous to think that, every once in a while, they’ll look like a respectable football team. What worried me about this game was Atlanta’s disgusting offensive effort in the 3rd and 4th quarters. In the first half, Atlanta’s possessions went like this:
FG – TD – Punt – TD – Missed FG
Pretty much what you’d expect from the reigning NFC champions against a middle of the pack defense. But in the second half, it all went to shit.
Punt – Turnover on downs – Punt – INT
That’s how you lose a football game, folks. It certainly wasn’t a blown 25-point lead in the biggest game on the planet, but this game further proved that when ahead, this team tends to get complacent and give up on the things that got them the lead in the first place. But as we’ve seen from guys like Josh McCown and Cam Newton this season, many an offensive woe can be solved with a matchup against New England’s swiss cheese defense. And Matt Ryan, who after an MVP season in 2016 finds himself 20th in the league in passer rating this season, hopes that will ring true for him as well. Matty Ice has had a lackluster season so far especially by his standards, and many argue that part of the reason is that the offense has failed to utilize its most prolific weapon in Julio Jones. Through 5 games, Jones has 1 — yes, ONE — red zone target. Jones leads the team with 37 targets on the season and head coach Dan Quinn has pledged (again) to work to target him even more this week, but talk is cheap, and so are between-the-20s targets. Jones obviously remains a WR1 and must-start every week regardless of his role in Atlanta’s offense, but until the Falcons are able to correctly use their giant, freak of nature wideout, his production will continue to be limited.
Now, another obstacle in Jones’ way could be New England’s emphasis on taking away their opponent’s favorite option. They haven’t done it particularly well this season but Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia will undoubtedly show a whole new slate of coverage schemes to bottle up Jones and make his night a living hell. Which is why, particularly in this matchup, I love the fantasy prospects for guys like Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper. Gabriel is 2nd on the team in targets with 26, and its his speed that really becomes his biggest advantage in this matchup. New England’s secondary woes this season have been primarily due to unfamiliarity resulting in a glaring lack of communication between defensive backs. If this continues, speedsters like Gabriel can take advantage and rack up huge chunks of yardage in the blink of an eye. And as for Hooper, his size and athleticism has turned him into a solid TE option this season. He’s got 4 red zone targets himself this year, hauling in 3 of them, and he represents a tough cover for the Pats D when Atlanta gets inside the 20. Plus, even out of the red zone, he’s established himself as a competent receiving option in his 2nd season.
On the ground, while Tevin Coleman is a great back, all eyes gotta be on Devonta Freeman. He leads the duo in carries and rushing yards, and he’s scored 5 times in 5 games. And through the air, he’s hauled in 11 of his 13 targets so far this year. Many have speculated that Super Bowl 51 would’ve ended much differently had Atlanta continued to pound the ball on the ground with Freeman, as he was having a ton of success early in the contest, so you have to think if Atlanta gets a lead early Dan Quinn will make an effort to continue establishing the run game, particularly through their lead back. Regardless, if you’ve got Ryan, Julio, Gabriel, Mohamed Sanu, Freeman, or Hooper, it’s worth your while to get them into your lineup for this one.
Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles (-4.5); Over/Under 48.5
In this Monday Night matchup in Philly, I love the Eagles. Carson Wentz has taken this team from a 7-9 performance last year to a 5-1 showing, all the while inserting himself in the MVP conversation in year 2. He’s taken a giant leap that I think was more hoped for than expected, and he’s turned Philly into a legitimate contender in the NFC. And now coming home for a primetime matchup against Washington and their 18th-ranked pass defense, Wentz could be in for another big game on a big stage. Philly’s 2 top receiving options this year, Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffrey, have been virtually interchangeable from a fantasy point of view — Jeffrey leads the duo in targets (48-30) and receptions (24-20), but Agholor has the edge in yards (321-317) and TDs (4-2), putting him just ahead of Alshon in fantasy scoring. Having these two threats on the outside, along with deep threat Torrey Smith and some competent receiving backs as well, has undoubtedly been a huge benefit for Wentz this year and has definitely aided in his rapid growth as a passer. Not only that, but it’ll test Washington’s secondary in having to try to shut down two very talented receivers who seem to have developed great chemistry with their quarterback. Employing Josh Norman will help, sure, but he’s only one guy. Factor in the names I’ve mentioned plus Wendell Smallwood, and having to worry about the resurgence of LeGarrette Blount in the ground game as well, and it doesn’t bode well for the Skins on the road here. I don’t see a blowout by any means, since Philly’s D isn’t exactly the ’85 Bears and Kirk Cousins has proven himself to be an extremely viable QB option once again this year, but Philly has the edge here both in the matchup and for fantasy.
Dallas Cowboys (-6) @ San Francisco 49ers; Over/Under 46.5
Coming off a bye in Week 6, I like Dallas a lot here. And let’s start with the obvious: Ezekiel Elliot is back (again). Over the team’s bye week he was temporarily re-suspended, but the suspension was again delayed in court before the Cowboys saw the field again. Coincidence that this all went down while the team was off for 2 full weeks? Definitely not. And honestly I’d explain what happened in the courts to you, but I haven’t a fucking clue what’s happening here. Too many big words for this guy to handle. All I know is he’s clear for at least the next 2 games, and he should FEAST on San Fran’s run D in this one. The Niners have given up the 2nd-most fantasy points to RBs this season, and Zeke should continue that trend this week, seeing as he’s topped 80 yards rushing in every game this season save for the fluky no-show in Denver Week 2. After Zeke, I think this may finally be the week we see the Dez Bryant of old come back. He’s had a relatively slow start to the season and is currently 27th among WRs in fantasy scoring, but he’s found the end zone in 3 of his last 4 games now. And as lackluster as the Niners have been against the run, they’re even worse against the pass, allowing over 262 yards per game through the air in 2017. This also bodes well for Dak Prescott, who’s putting all “sophomore slump” murmurs to rest with another top-10 fantasy season so far. As well as he’s thrown the ball this season, airing it out for 11 TDs in 5 games, he’s been just as lethal on the ground, scoring twice and racking up almost 8 yards per carry when he decides to scramble. Despite his ground success, however, he has just 16 carries on the year, proving that he isn’t forcing his rushing success but rather letting it come to him, which is a great sign for a young QB. Dak, Dez, and Zeke are all great options for this week, all finding themselves in the top 5 for their positions on The Wolf’s Week 7 Big Board, with lesser receiving options like Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams coming in as respectable TD-or-bust options if you need a streamer.
New Orleans Saints (-6) @ Green Bay Packers; Over/Under 47.5
Obviously, this is a line that changed drastically with the injury to Aaron Rodgers. Head coach Mike McCarthy has made it abundantly clear that Brett Hundley is the team’s starter moving forward, which delivers a solid blow to the Packers multitude of receiving options until Rodgers can return. So obviously they’re not my choice this week, leaving us with the Saints, who are coming off a 52-38 shootout against Detroit. But despite the ungodly high score, Drew Brees threw for a measly 186 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. So how’d they rack up 52 points on that? Well, they got a lot of help from the defense, who picked off 3 Matthew Stafford passes and ran 2 of them back for touchdowns, but the story of the day was undoubtedly Mark Ingram. Entering this season, the Saints backfield picture was murky. Ingram had been holding down lead back duties for half a decade, but the team still went out and got Adrian Peterson in the offseason, as well as drafting the shifty Alvin Kamara in the 3rd round. And through the first handful of games, the backfield seemed overcrowded and unhappy, leading to a significant drop in the unit’s fantasy appeal. But after trading Peterson to Arizona last week, the Saints played their first game in the post-AP era and it was spectacular. Ingram ran 25 times for 114 yards and 2 scores, Kamara added 75 on 10 carries, and the duo caught all 8 of their targets (5 for Ingram, 3 for Kamara) resulting in 48 yards combined. Moving forward, I definitely expect Ingram to continue dominating the share of carries and reaping the benefits of that role, but I think Kamara’s presence in the passing game will increase as the year progresses. Look for Ingram on early downs and in the red zone, and Kamara on 3rd down and obvious passing situations, and both should produce well in this strong offense. And although he had a real slow day against Detroit, I’m still firmly aboard the Michael Thomas train. Despite catching 3 balls for just 11 yards last week, he still led the team with 6 targets and he’s clearly still the #1 option, and in a Drew Brees offense that role carries a ton of weight. Thomas is The Wolf’s WR5 this week, indicating that he, too, expects a bounce back. And finally, with Willie Snead still yet to return to his previous role in the Saints offense, Ted Ginn, Jr. has picked up the slack and then some. Ginn is 2nd behind Thomas in targets, receptions, yards, and fantasy scoring, and his 4-66-1 performance (on just 4 targets) last week was a huge part of New Orleans’ ability to build an early lead. Look for Brees to continue peppering Thomas and Ginn until they give him a reason not to.
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.