The season is nearly upon us. That means fantasy football is almost all the way back. You've either already drafted your season-long redraft fantasy leagues, or it is on the horizon this weekend. Of course, we here at NFL Fantasy are excited about seasonal teams, as well. However, we are quite thrilled at the prospect of playing daily fantasy football once again this year.
Daily fantasy (DFS) brings a breath of fresh air to the industry, with an emphasis on the excitement of drafting a new team every week. We all know that the late summer drafts and the thrill of analyzing the weekly matchups are the best part of playing fantasy football. The daily game merges those two together to form the newest wave rocking the fantasy world.
Here in the weekly daily fantasy roundup column, we'll break down everything you need to know to pick the best plays on the Week 1 slate. If any of the terminology goes over your head. Please refer to the "what you need to know" preview of the roundup.
Top quarterback plays
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints - It's odd that more people aren't touting Drew Brees as an elite play this week. From 2011 to 2015 Brees averaged 31.1 fantasy points, 3.02 touchdowns and 8.35 yards per attempts compared to 23.57, 1.85 and 7.56 on the road. New Orleans plays against the Raiders in the Superdome in Week 1 in a game that is highly likely to turn into a shootout in a hurry. Oakland should be able to score at will against a Saints defense that allowed 45 touchdowns through the air last season, nine more than the second place Eagles. Even if the Raiders defense did markedly improve in the offseason, they'll be hard-pressed to slow down Brees in a shootout. His weapons look better than they have at any point the last five years and the Pro Bowl passer still averaged over 300 yards and three scores against pass defenses ranked between first and 15th in that span.
Brock Osweiler, QB, Houston Texans - Two of the Bears top-three cornerbacks (Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan) were on the Thursday injury report. Houston gets Chicago at home in Week 1 and their offense suddenly looks loaded with potential and explosive play makers. Osweiler looks like a solid high-floor option if you're searching for a low-owned value play at quarterback.
Top running back plays
Lamar Miller, RB, Houston Texans - The RB1 overall is well within Miller's range of outcomes for Week 1. Pernell McPhee is one of, if not the best players in Chicago's front seven and he's starting the year off on the shelf. The unit already wasn't a strength of the team and Miller gets them in Houston in a game where his team is expected to gain an early lead and bleed the clock late. We'll get our first look at Miller in a workhorse role with the Texans in Week 1 and he should figure in just fine as an anchor play at RB1 in DFS.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee Titans - While many, myself included, are fired up about Derrick Henry in the Titans offense, it was clear in preseason that DeMarco Murray will start off the year as the lead back. Murray saw 51 plays in the exhibition games, all with the first team, and was effective regardless of formation. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry on five attempts from the shotgun, 14.0 on six as the single back and 5.7 on seven from the I-formation. The Titans play at home and have a good chance to control the game script and clock with Shaun Hill likely starting at quarterback for the opposing Vikings.
Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks - As our own Matt Franciscovich detailed almost a month ago, The Awakening of Christine Michael was a legitimate storyline coming out of the Seattle organization all the way back to the end of last season. Here we sit in early September and Michael is atop the Seahawks depth chart even with Thomas Rawls back at practice. Rawls was dominant in 2015 and will figure into the equation when he's healthy, possibly even retaking the starting job outright. For Week 1, however, Rawls is still working back from a serious ankle injury from last season and Michael has just looked too good in preseason to not utilize as a major piece for the duration of the season. ESPN Seahawks writer, Sheil Kapadia reported that Carroll indicated Rawls' play count would be limited in Week 1. Michael is a screaming value across all formats and gets both a favorable game script with Seattle likely to thrash the Dolphins in their home stadium.
Top wide receiver plays
Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Jets - The veteran receiver absorbed 29 percent of the team's 2015 targets. He comes at quite a value for Week 1 with that usage rate in mind, but that's likely a factor of what was an uncertain quarterback situation. That's obviously been rectified with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. It seems that most of the noise is surrounding those valued above or just below Marshall in Week 1. You can likely play this total target hog at a low ownership rate.
Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers - Jordy Nelson will be on a pitch count (allegedly) for his first week back from a torn ACL suffered in the 2015 preseason. However, Cobb just needs the threat of Nelson as a downfield threat to open up room for him out of the slot. The Florida Times Union believes that the best Jaguars' cornerback "combination is [Jaelen] Ramsey over the slot receiver and House/Amukamara playing outside" when they face three wide receiver sets. Cobb has the route-running skills to give the rookie corner fits in his first NFL game and should lead the team in targets. Cobb and Allen Robinson make for a unique pair in a lineup as this game isn't getting hyped as one of the shootouts of the week, but it has that potnetial.
Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, WR, Oakland Raiders - The Saints gave up 27 touchdowns to wide receivers last year and it's hard to pinpoint what they did to improve that unit. Amari Cooper is primed for a sophomore year jump now that he's fully healthy after a late season foot injury. Crabtree is undervalued and led the team in targets last season. Both players have a chance to go off on Sunday. The sharp move is to pivot off the popular Cooper to the overlooked Crabtree at a likely low ownership rate.
Willie Snead, WR, New Orleans Saints - Now in his second year in the system, Snead is ready to improve after almost cracking 1,000 yards in 15 games last season. Oakland appeared to solidify their cornerback corps in the offseason by signing Sean Smith away from the Chiefs in free agency and extending David Amerson, who revived his career with the Raiders after a mid-season signing last season. They still have former draft bust D.J. Hayden manning the interior of their defense. Snead ran in the slot on over 70 percent of his preseason snaps and looked dynamic on several receptions.
Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans - The rookie out of Notre Dame was the clear No. 2 for Houston in the preseason and makes for a fine value play in tournaments this week. He's a speed demon who could take advantage of that banged up Bears secondary. Osweiler looked like a risk adverse passer in Denver last year but did look for Fuller deep in the exhibition games.
Top tight end plays
Coby Fleener, TE, New Orleans Saints - Despite the overwhelmingly negative reports that came out regarding Coby Fleener's grasp of the offense as the preseason waned, he makes for a great play in Week 1. He recorded 32 percent of his yards with the Colts last season when he lined up in the slot and the Raiders tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns allowed to tight ends last season with 12. The Raiders have two physical outside cornerbacks forcing most of their production to the inside. The fact that there was so much negative news with him could cause his Week 1 ownership percentage to be depressed.
Jared Cook, TE, Green Bay Packers - A fixture with the first team offense in preseason, Cook is finally ready to make due on his talent with Aaron Rodgers under center. If Jordy Nelson is indeed limited in Week 1, Cook could be the primary downfield threat up the seams. The Jaguars gave up the sixth most yards to tight ends last year. Most of the young defenders acquired to help stop that bleeding will take time to adjust, like Myles Jack. Cook is an extreme value and a threat for at least one touchdown.
Top defense plays
Stack(s) of the week
Russell Wilson/Christine Michael/Doug Baldwin or Tyler Lockett - The Seahawks are heavy favorites and will face a Dolphins defense that is starting Byron Maxwell, who was beat like a drum after leaving the Seahawks for the Eagles last season, and Xavien Howard a second-round rookie who missed almost the entire preseason. Russell Wilson and one or both of his receivers should go off in this spot. Tyler Lockett played 80 percent of his snaps on the outside in the preseason and should get a few plays against the bigger and far stiffer Maxwell. He could get loose deep against the Dolphins secondary. As we covered in the "what you need to know" section, Chris Raybon's research in the Definitive Guide to Stacking shows that there's a ton of logic to stacking a quarterback and his top running back, in order to hoard all of a team's touchdown chances. You can create some unique stacks with a QB/RB/WR stack featuring different combinations of Seahawks.
Tyrod Taylor/Sammy Watkins- The Ravens secondary is a nightmare with Jimmy Smith the only effectivie player currently slated to start. Tyrod Taylor will return to Baltimore fresh off a new contract and with his No. 1 receiver healthy. Sammy Watkins saw a whopping 32 percent of the team targets from Week 9 on last year. The entire passing offense flows through these two players. With Watkins' injury likely still looming in fantasy owners' minds after a long offseason, these two should provide a unique stack, and you could play either of them without the other, as well.
Jameis Winston/Mike Evans and Julio Jones- Among all the potential shootouts on the Week 1 slate, this one feels the most overlooked. Both offenses are wrought with playmakers and neither the Tampa Bay or Atlanta defense inspires much fear. The game will also take place inside the Atlanta dome. Mike Evans split time between left (45 percent) and right wide receiver (42 percent) in 2015 and should avoid shadow coverage from Desmond Trufant. Evans looked like an elite talent in the preseason and should see a progression in the touchdown department in 2016 after scoring on just 4.1 percent of his catches in 2015. Julio Jones has a cakewalk matchup against the Buccaneers defensive backs. Alterraun Verner allowed a catch rate over 65 percent, per Next Gen Stats, and Vernon Hargreaves is a sub six-foot tall rookie. You won't get Julio Jones at a value or depressed ownership but sliding Winston and Evans into the lineup can help differentiate yourself and increase the overall upside.
Best contrarian plays
Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins - As detailed in my Best Values matchups column, Richard Sherman primarily stays at left cornerback and Jarvis Landry plays over 65 percent of his snaps from the slot. However, the public doesn't realize that Seattle has a history of giving up passing production to middle-of-the-field receivers and will likely fade Landry. With the Dolphins in a pass-heavy game script coming from behind and DeVante Parker and injury question mark heading into Sunday, Landry could garner 12-plus targets in this game, a feat he accomplished seven times last year.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles- The Eagles receiver missed all of the preseason with an injury and has a rookie quarterback under center. Yet, Matthews is still the clear No. 1 in Philly and the team's top red zone threat. He should avoid Joe Haden's coverage as Matthews racked up 97 percent of his yardage from the slot last year.
Best obvious plays
Donte Moncrief, Marvin Jones and all your mainstays in Colts vs. Lions With a pair of high-powered offenses set to square off with two sub-par defenses. Even though the Colts are at home, the Lions have the potential to get the lead early because of the injuries that sent shock waves through the Colts defensive backfield. As Rotoworld's Nick Mensio noted, the Colts top healthy corners are all new additions to the team and consist of an over the hill Antonio Cromartie, Patrick Robinson and two unknowns.
Marvin Jones and Golden Tate are in great position to shine after their ADPs rose in the offseason. Jones especially should have an ideal matchup with the aging Cromartie on the outside. Donte Moncrief is the optimal play on the other side. The Lions' Darius Slay began shadowing top receivers last season and quarterback avoided him, targeting Slay on less than 16 percent of his attempts. If Slay locks up with Hilton, that will leave Moncrief to feast on Nevin Lawson on the opposite side. Moncrief is the more complete route-runner in the short areas of the field and Andrew Luck will need to get the ball out quickly behind that offensive line. Look for Moncrief to lead the team in receptions in this spot and he's also their best red zone threat. However, you can't go wrong plucking from Luck, Stafford or any of their receivers in this game. It has a strong chance to finish as the highest-scoring contest of the opening week of the 2016 season.
Player to fade
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants - the Cowboys play slow and bleed out the clock in order to hide their defense. However, that also limits what the opposing offense can do against them. Their slow-paced offense does indeed help hide their defense, as they ranked 19th and 17th in points against the last two seasons. The Giants fell victim to this in both of their face-offs with Dallas last season. Eli Manning posted a combined 363 yards and no touchdowns in each of those two games. He attempted 36 passes in the first and 24 in the second game against Dallas, both under his 2015 average of 38.6. Odell Beckham was not even immune, combining for 79 yards in those contests. Many will play Manning due to the Cowboys major weakness in the pass rushing department, but there are simply too many quarterbacks with a more manageable value playing in faster-paced games in Week 1.
The near 100 percent exposure player
Spencer Ware, RB, Kansas City Chiefs - With Jamaal Charles doubtful for Week 1, Spencer Ware is a screaming value. Ware faces off with the Chargers, who finished in the bottom five in yards per carry allowed each of the last three seasons and did not sign their first-round rookie defensive end this offseason to seal the gaps until too late. Ware averaged more yards after contact per attempt than any running back who saw more than 25 percent of their team's snaps in 2015. He's a dynamic runner and looked much improved as a receiver, while running with the first team all throughout the offseason as Charles rehabbed slowly. Even if Charcandrick West figures into the mix, don't overthink this. Ware will get the touches where it counts, as he sunk three goal line touchdowns in the preseason and five of his nine carries inside the 10-yard line for touchdowns last season.
Cheat code of the week
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys - We know the value of the minimum quarterback, and that opportunity is once again open with Prescott set to start for Tony Romo. His rushing ability will give him a usable floor while he showed the ceiling as a passer during the preseason games. The Giants invested money into their defense but Dallas should win the time of possession battle with ease. Prescott's presence in your lineup allows access for multiple studs to accompany him.