BY SKEETER ROBINSON
Special to PressBox 790 Sports
This is probably the best football weekend of the year. Two games each day featuring the best eight teams in football. The night games on each day are fascinating matchups while the early games each day feature the top seeds in the conference. From a DFS perspective, we have one game that has an astounding 57.5-point total. When there is a game like this that dominates a short slate, there are two ways to approach it: Either fade it completely (not recommended) or find a creative way to go about it. Maybe it is to play 3 players from each team or a total of 3 players. Maybe it is playing a low-owned player. But do not ignore this game. If you played the full weekend slate last week, some of the obvious plays hit and made cashing lineups look easy. Anything can happen in any game: that is why we do this. But you do not need to get overly contrarian to succeed. Find a spot or two that you are confident in, that the rest of the field is not seeing, and take that chance. In the long run, you will put yourself in a great position to contend at the top of tournaments more than if you just follow everyone else. The shorter the slate, the more you need to accept variance. I will point some of my ideas out on that in each game this week.
LAR @ GB: This is an interesting first game, as it does appear Jared Goff will play for the Rams. As I write this on a Thursday night, I was curious about ownership. For the most part, outside of DaVante Adams, no one is highly owned for a four-game slate. I will likely take a stand against Adams, as he must get to 30 points to make it worth playing him. Jalen Ramsey and the Rams are a good enough pass defense that they could slow him down. The high price, high ownership, and tough matchup are enough for me to take my chances and fade him.
(Side Note: Fading a popular play like Adams in the first game of the 4-game weekend slate is not a bad strategic move either. If you are wrong and Adams has a big game, you can adjust your lineups to take more chances on higher risk, higher upside players. Time is on your side here. If Adams “struggles” and only gets 15-20 points or so, you have an advantage as everyone else who used him will be trying to play catch-up. I am not saying you should avoid Adams if you like him: I am just giving the other side of the argument with him).
With everyone focusing on Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers stands to be a lower owned play than he should be in the 2-game and 4-game slates. Most people will see the 1st ranked pass defense of the Rams and avoid him: But we have seen Rodgers perform against top defenses in the past. Allen Lazard is too cheap at 3,900 and will be popular. This may be the time to look at MVS. Aaron Jones will not be wildly popular but will be used, and draws the easier matchup as the Rams are stingy against the pass. Jamaal Williams is always a cheap RB play that you can use. Someone who should be popular and the logical play for the Rams is Cam Akers, who has seen 20+ carries in three of his last four games. I am good with Robert Woods or Cooper Kupp, but I may be willing to take a chance on Kupp as Goff’s safety blanket and the fact that he is Questionable (expected to play) could lower his ownership. I am fine with any tight ends or defenses in this game, but none are must plays (Robert Tonyan being the best of the plays among these two groups).
BAL @ BUF: This game sits at a total of 49.5, but I would not be surprised if this ends up being the highest-scoring game of the weekend. The most popular play of this game and perhaps the weekend will be Devin Singletary at 4,500. He is cheap and with no Zach Moss, who is on IR, Singletary should see a true workhorse load. Outside of game theory reasons (hello T.J. Yeldon in this case), he is probably the safest play at RB due to the expected workload. Perhaps another pivot in this game is J.K. Dobbins, who is 6,000 (not sure why he is 300 more than Cam Akers). A lot of people will play Akers, so going to Dobbins is another pivot that may pay off. Dobbins has scored a touchdown in seven straight games but does not get many carries. I also think most people will go to Gus Edwards in this game, as he is cheap. An Edwards/Singletary combo allows you to pay up at every other position.
Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson are going to be the highest owned quarterbacks not named Patrick Mahomes on this slate. But they are at a huge ownership discount compared to Mahomes that if you think this game gets to 60+ points, play them. I prefer Josh Allen as he has better receivers, but certainly nothing wrong with Lamar. Stefon Diggs and Marquise Brown will the likely receivers to be used. Another way to be different: Use a guy who scored zero points last week in John Brown (Cheap and if you like this kind of thing, REVENGE GAME!). Mark Andrews is the best Ravens receiving option and is cheap enough that he will not hurt your lineups.
CLE @ KC: More game theory talk here: The most popular combination in lineups this weekend will be Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill. Even Mahomes/Travis Kelce will be popular. It does not mean you can not play the duos or even triple stack: you just must be unique somewhere else. With Sammy Watkins’s status in doubt, DeMarcus Robinson or Mecole Hardman will be unique choices to Mahomes lineups, especially if they are not with Hill/Kelce. Hardman saw 15 targets in Week 15 and 16 and would be my preferred punt play here. Keep an eye on the status of Clyde Edwards-Helaire as he may be a game-time decision. If you use him and he misses, Le’Veon Bell is 400 cheaper but would not necessarily be the pivot.
Instead, Kareem Hunt is 700 cheaper, which is the same price as he was last week despite scoring twice. I know touchdown variance can hit hard, but he could be busy if you think the Browns are trailing early (and another revenge game situation). If you think the Browns keep it close, Nick Chubb would be a big reason for that. At 6,600, Chubb is a little pricy as people want to pay up at WR. Chubb and Hunt are both under 10% projected owned on Thursday Night: I love the idea of playing one of them based on what else I do in my lineup. Jarvis Landry is priced nicely at 5,600. However, I like Rashad Higgins at 4,100, or even a risky punt play of Donavan People-Jones at 3,000 is a chance I may take; especially if I am behind after Saturday. Or perhaps the best play is Austin Hooper at 3,800, who is putting up double-digit points on a weekly basis. He is too cheap for this slate and KC does struggle against the position.
TB @ NO: Personally, I think Ravens-Bills will be a higher scoring game than Bucs-Saints. However, that does not mean I think this is a spot to avoid. Why: This game is being completely ignored as far as early Thursday ownership projections. Alvin Kamara is the only player above 30% owned and Michael Thomas is the only other one in double digits. I do not know if it is because the Saints won 38-3 in their last meeting, but I would not expect a similar outcome. Tom Brady at less than 5% ownership, who has thrown for over 300 yards and multiple touchdowns in four straight games, is too hard for me to ignore. I prefer Chris Godwin to Mike Evans (Evans should see Marshon Lattimore, though that is not as tough a matchup as it has been in recent years). Antonio Brown and Gronk are viable here. I do not know who the Bucs starting RB will be, but I do not have much interest in Ronald Jones or Leonard Fournette.
For the Saints, Alvin Kamara is appropriately priced and has had 2 solid games against the Bucs this year: but neither game produced a total that you had to have. Normally, I would say he is not someone you must play. However, if Latavius Murray and Taysom Hill miss this game (neither has practiced the first two days this week), Kamara may see all the RB work and, in this case, would be someone you should play, even in a tougher matchup. Michael Thomas showed signs of life last week and is a viable play. Everyone else is a “hope for a TD” play that you can use in-game stacks. However, due to the low expected ownership from this game, play the known names, especially on the Tampa Bay side.