Single-game primetime daily fantasy football contests have arrived at Yahoo Fantasy. It’s an absolutely thrilling and different way to approach DFS that pushes managers to be creative in lineup construction when only focusing on single games.
Every week I’ll offer up my general, high-level view of the three island games on the schedule as well as some of my favorite salary-based plays — and of course, my top pick for the all-important SUPERSTAR spot.
Sunday Night Football
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots
If you haven’t heard, allow me to be the first to tell you that Tom Brady will be making his first post-Patriots return to New England this week.
The Bucs are a 6.5-point favorite as of Wednesday morning and despite their road team status, that feels too low. These two teams couldn’t be at more polar opposite ends of the spectrum right now.
Tampa Bay is coming off a Super Bowl win and has a clear vision of what their team is. The Bucs lead all teams in neutral situation passing rate and Brady has the second-most passes of 15-plus air yards. This is an operation running at full speed in the hands of their Hall of Fame quarterback, who is still somehow playing like he’s in his prime.
This isn’t to say the Patriots are one of the worst teams in football. However, they’re in transition, at best, and suffering an identity crisis, at worst.
Despite some of the additions to the skill-position room the Patriots roster still has a ton of carry-over from a group that was constructed to play bully-ball. Their primary running back is a grinder. They intended their base offense to be a two-tight-end attack, and the offensive line was supposed to be the strength of the team.
New England ranks 27th in adjusted line yards, via Football Outsiders. I’m going to dive into this more in my advanced stats notebook on Friday, but the Pats haven’t been up to standards.
Playing this style of football is impossible when they fall behind — look no further than last week for proof — and it doesn’t really play to Mac Jones’ strengths. Jones should be running a high-paced, RPO-heavy spread offense that eats up middle-of-the-field coverage. The bully-ball approach certainly won’t work against Tampa Bay and their unreal run defense, even if it was a good fit.
Given where these two teams are in their respective trajectory, it’s difficult to imagine the Patriots keeping this game close. The only advantage they may have would be Bill Belichick knowing Brady so well and designing a game plan catered to stopping him. That’s possible but given the embarrassment of riches in this passing game, there’s only so much the coach can possibly hope to stop.
SUPERSTAR pick: Tom Brady ($35)
Tom Brady leads the NFL in touchdowns and red-zone passing rate. If you think he isn’t geared up to drop a few more scores on top of his former team, you must be new to this. He’s the only choice for this spot.
Must-play: Jakobi Meyers ($17)
Meyers could be the one guy who benefits from James White’s absence. None of the other running backs come with White’s receiving profile and that could push more short-area volume toward Meyers, who already leads the team in routes run with 29 targets on the season. The cornerback position also happens to be a weak spot for Tampa Bay.
Sneaky cheap option: Brandon Bolden ($10)
Meyers is the only guy from New England I’m playing confidently but if you want to get more Bucs stars in your lineup (imagine not stacking Gronk with Brady in this matchup) you need to get creative. It doesn’t get more boring than Brandon Bolden but he was the guy to take over passing downs for the Patriots (20 routes run) once White left. Given the pass protection issues for every other back on this roster, he might be in play once more.
Keep an eye on whether J.J. Taylor makes headway during the week of practice, as he’s also just $10.
Thursday Night Football
Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals
Single-game daily fantasy was made for games like this. It gives us a reason to watch.
The Jaguars have done nothing to attract eyeballs through three weeks, checking in with the third-worst point differential. Jacksonville sports a sieve of a defense and hasn’t even offered the offensive fireworks we had some reasonable hope for. They rank 30th in offensive DVOA and lead the NFL with nine turnovers.
Trevor Lawrence is the sole culprit in the turnover department. The No. 1 overall pick has chucked seven interceptions to just five touchdowns and fumbled twice, losing both. It has been a nightmarish start for this heralded quarterback prospect.
Most of Lawrence’s mistakes have come under pressure. No shock there. He ranks 33rd with a -0.22 adjusted yards per attempt and has thrown four of his picks under pressure.
In that way, the Bengals aren’t the easiest matchup. Their pass rush has looked improved through three games. They rank 11th in sack rate and are top-five in quarterback hits. Lawrence is such a gifted prospect that at some point, he’s likely to turn it on. We just can’t lock that in this is the week.
On the Bengals side, the offense has been strong but not in the way we expected. Cincinnati ranks 5th in rushing-play percentage so far. This has typically one of the most pass-heavy attacks in the NFL but they’re way off course.
Joe Burrow ranks 29th in pass attempts per game with just 25. He and the entire passing game haven’t felt the sting of this volume loss thanks to uber-efficiency. Burrow’s 9.3 touchdown rate is the third-highest among starters and his yards per attempt are up almost a full two yards.
Considering Jacksonville’s defense has been as woeful as ever, this looks like another strong spot for Burrow and his wide receivers. Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd’s volume will be further constricted now that Tee Higgins has been ruled out. Chase and Boyd combined for over 60 percent of the team's targets last week.
This game comes with a 46-point projected total but frankly, we have no idea how this script is going to play out. We need Jacksonville to fight back and put points up to push this thing into a fantasy-friendly range. Otherwise, we’ve seen so far that the Bengals have no problem just sitting on the ball and establishing the run.
SUPERSTAR pick: Joe Mixon ($29)
As it stands, Mixon ranks second in the NFL with 73 touches through three weeks. His target share has dropped over the course of September but he’s continued to receive a healthy workload in the ground game. With the Jaguars a 7.5-point dog in this spot, the Bengals should be projected for a heavy amount of rushing work. With this new overall team philosophy, Mixon should eat.
Must-play: Marvin Jones ($17)
The veteran has been the clear leader of the Jaguars’ receiving corps. He’s pacing the team with a 24.3 percent target share and his 12.1 air yards per target mark indicates he has a full-field role. DJ Chark is definitely the vertical receiver in the offense (16.3 air yards per target) so he brings home-run hitting potential, but the safety and upside combination clearly lies with Jones.
Sneaky cheap option: None
There really isn’t anyone on the board who makes sense in the $12 to $10 range. The Bengals' passing is too highly concentrated, as is the Jaguars' offense. Also, the latter isn’t very good. If you want to get desperate, C.J. Uzomah has run the third-most routes on the team (68) but he’s seen just five targets. With creativity in mind, my favorite approach has been to stack Mixon and one of the Bengals receivers, then run it back with Lawrence and two Jags receivers. In that scenario, you’re betting on the Bengals just dominating this script.
Monday Night Football
Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
The AFC West looks like one of the most electric divisions in football this year and these two teams are a prime reason why.
Justin Herbert has looked awesome. Outside of a few interceptions he’s played brilliant football and looks dialed into this new offense. He’s getting the best out of his top three receiving weapons, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler. I don’t see any of those players losing pace from their early-season status.
The Chargers are only a slight home favorite (-3.5) over Las Vegas in a game that should get high scoring. The 52.5-point projected total reflects the way these two offenses have played thus far.
Derek Carr’s overall stats are slightly boosted by the fact Vegas has played in two overtime tilts. Nevertheless, he’s easily enjoying his best start to any pro season.
Besides the fact he’s just an underrated quarterback now comfortable in Jon Gruden’s system, the players around him are a huge factor. We know Darren Waller is a star but Henry Ruggs appears to have made the leap to a full-field starting option. He’s made several big grabs and even some in the contested areas. Additionally, Bryan Edwards (15.8 air yards per target) has also emerged as a downfield option and Hunter Renfrow actually has more targets than both. All of these young receivers are making strides as individual players and are playing perfectly complementary roles.
The Raiders receivers all range from $14 to $12 in DFS and picking the right one will be the key to unlocking some of the expensive Chargers. More on that later.
With Mike Williams and Keenan Allen both playing like Top-10 receivers and Herbert being one of the best quarterbacks when under pressure, LA should be able to neutralize what’s been a deadly Raiders pass rush. Vegas has also still been vulnerable when defending running backs and has been stung a handful of times through the air. That doesn't bode well for their outlook against a dialed-in Ekeler.
Every way you spin this game, it looks like a high-scoring, fantasy-friendly environment. Now it’s just about picking the right guys in the expensive tier and locating the proper value pivots.
SUPERSTAR pick: Justin Herbert ($33)
I considered Austin Ekeler for this spot but the logic came down to the fact that if Ekeler is to hit his ceiling, he must have done damage through the air. He’ll need Herbert to do that so why not just lock Herbert in to potentially horde all of LA’s touchdowns? Maxx Crosby leads all players in pressures through three weeks and Yannick Ngakoue isn’t too far behind. However, Herbert has been well projected by this new-look offensive line, with the third-lowest pressure rate among starting passers. Even when he’s been under duress, he’s been fantastic with a 91.8 passer rating.
Must-play: Peyton Barber ($16) — If Josh Jacobs is ruled out
The Charges defense is starting to look like a run funnel. They’ve been excellent against the pass when adjusted for opponent but have been weak on the ground. They rank 32nd in run defense DVOA. Barber saw 26 touches in relief of Jacobs last week and ran as the clear-cut starter in Week 2. He’s worth a mere $16.
Sneaky cheap option: Hunter Renfrow ($14)
Brandon Staley’s defense wants to force you to play in the short areas and make you pay when you go deep. The Chargers allow the second-lowest passer rating on throws of 15-plus air yards. If Carr is unable to test them downfield with Ruggs and Edwards, that could push Renfrow up toward 10-plus targets in a high-paced game.