Welcome to the NFL Monday/Thursday Slate Breakdown, where we identify the best plays for our lineups on DraftKings and FanDuel.
After a crazy first weekend of the NFL season, we keep it rolling tonight with the first Monday/Thursday slate article of the year. Normally this is going to be where I break down the Monday/Thursday primetime slate and give you guys some thoughts on playing the showdown slate for those two games. This week is a little different, because we have a double Monday night game and the sites decided to make the normal Monday/Thursday slate a Monday/Monday double. Remember that the Monday night slate starts at 7 PM EST this week as the first game is earlier to give time to get both games in. If you want to play, it might be a good idea to reserve those entries early and do any last minute updates right before lock.
Houston Texans @ New Orleans Saints
Vegas: Saints -6.5, 52.5
DeShaun Watson comes in as the highest priced QB on the slate. Despite being the underdog here, the Texans do have a higher team total than both of the teams in the other Monday night matchup. The Saints played with a lead in most of their games last season and that forced teams to pass against them. The offense is still going to keep putting up points, so I would assume more of the same in 2019. Due to those game scripts, the Saints gave up a ton of fantasy production to opposing QBs and WRs. QBs had the third most points against the Saints and they allowed the most to WRs. Watson arguably has even better weapons this year for a passing assault. Not only is DeAndre Hopkins back, but Will Fuller is healthy, and Duke Johnson is a passing game upgrade over Lamar Miller. The Texans are projected for 23 points and both times they put up more than that many points in 2018 with both main WR options healthy, Watson ended up with 30+ DK points. He not only has the ability to put up big numbers with his arm, but he is the only real dual threat option on this slate too. His legs help add to both the safety of his floor and the upside he can offer us. If you assume they play from behind, it is easy to see why he has the highest projected ceiling at the position.
With the horrific injury to Lamar Miller in the pre-season, the main RB duties are going to fall on recently acquired Duke Johnson. Duke is a great pass catcher and we have seen that over the years in Cleveland. He is more dynamic than Lamar Miller in that role. Miller never saw more than 3 targets a game on average over his tenure in Houston, so it will be interesting to see how they use Duke given his skill set. Miller also averaged about 16 carries over the last few years and now those carries are up for grabs. Carlos Hyde was added for depth purposes, but coaches say his role will be on early downs as a spell for Johnson. That means Duke could see double digit carries and get all of the passing down work. The passing down work is more valuable on DraftKings with the full PPR setup. It is interesting to note that he is relatively more expensive on DraftKings where he is the second highest priced RB. On FanDuel he is the cheapest starting RB on the slate. Again, it makes some sense given how much the receptions can help his production on DK and only half as much on FD. The game script does set up for more passing down work here, so he does make some sense. Remember though that the Saints gave up very little production last year to RBs, so many before him have failed to produce. He does carry some risk too as we really have no game tape to point to that shows us what his role will be. Hyde could end up with more carries or even vulturing goal line work and that would really ding Duke Johnson’s upside if that happened.
The Wide Receivers for the Texans are some of my favorite plays on this slate. DeAndre Hopkins is an absolute beast and he has amazingly good numbers week 2-8 with Fuller opposite him and Watson under center. Over that stretch he averaged nearly 6.5 catches per game for about 100 yards on around 10 targets with 6 touchdowns over seven games. The Saints gave up the most fantasy production to the WR position last season and that likely doesn’t change as it was a product of positive game scripts for them. Will Fuller is not as consistent as Hopkins, but he has big time upside. In his seven games last year, he averaged 4.5 catches on 6.5 targets and averaged over 70 yards with 4 TDs in 7 games. Both guys had big games when the scores got above 22 as is projected today. In the two games where the Texans scored at least 23 points with both WRs healthy last year, Fuller averaged 20 and Hopkins averaged 30 fantasy points on DK. Both guys are not only capable of huge ceilings, but in a shootout they could end up going off together. Keke Coutee had some big games last year too, but he is listed as questionable coming into this one. Kenny Stills is newly acquired and I am not sure how much they will be leaning on him here. He is good depth for this receiving core that has seen it’s share of injuries the last few years. I think he sees a minor role if Keke Coutee does play. If Keke is out though, Stills may be in line for a major snap share, which could lead to some upside. His price is cheap on both sites and would be a nice way to diversify from the chalkier options mentioned above.
Jordan Akins is a very interesting option here as well. The Texans have a couple veterans that are know more for their blocking in Logan Paulsen and Darren Fells. They had other guys who could compete for snaps and catches, but they are all hurt now. That leaves Akins as not only an option for increased snaps, but really as the only true receiving threat left in the group. With this game setting up as a shootout that will feature the Texans being pass heavy, it seems to be a decent spot. Akins is never going to be a massive volume target kind of guy, but he is viable as part of a game stack if he can find the endzone.
The Texans DST are a good unit, but this is not the spot I want to role them out. They did just trade away Clowney, but they still have a lot of other good players. My problem is that the Saints are not a careless team with the football. Drew Brees has been around the block and is not going to take bad sacks or make bad throws. The Texans were tough on both opposing RBs and opposing WRs last year as both finished in the lower quartile for fantasy production. QBs were middle of the pack against them and they were absolutely torched by Tight Ends. The Saints have weapons all over the field and I doubt the Texans shut down that offense completely.
Best Plays: DeShaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins
Secondary Plays: Will Fuller
GPP Plays: Duke Johnson, Kenny Stills (If Keke Coutee sits)
New Orleans Saints
This offense has been a well oiled machine for a long time now and a lot of the credit goes to Drew Brees. He was incredibly efficient last year, completely nearly ¾ of his pass attempts. He averaged 267 yards and over 2 TDs per game. Those numbers are great, but not his best. He came up just shy of 4000 yards in 15 games last year. He had thrown for over 4000 and even into the 5000 yard range in 12 straight season before last year. While most QBs would be happy throwing for 32 touchdowns, Brees had thrown for at least that many in every season between 2008-2015. I’m not saying his skills have diminished, but his role and how heavily they rely on him has. Before 2017, he had thrown over 600 passes for about 10 years straight. In the last 2 seasons, that number dropped closer to 30 attempts per game from 40. The offense has relied on the run a bit more and it has led to less production in some games. This Texans team was middle of the pack in terms of fantasy production allowed and they can create pressure. It’s not something Brees can’t handle, but it isn’t a walk in the park either. The Saints are favored and at home, which means we should see them with a second half lead and a balanced offense that is not forced into being one dimensional. I almost wish that was the case, because when we can predict 40+ passes from Brees, he can still light up a scoreboard for us. There is a chance this game ends up a back and forth shootout, but that is not the likeliest scenario. While I will be interested in Brees for GPP and qualifier action, I prefer Watson for cash games. I did also want to mention Taysom Hill here. I have zero interest in giving up a QB spot in a classic format for him at the expense of a Watson or Brees, but in a showdown slate he is a cheap option that has TD upside. The Saints rolled him out in some gimmick spots last year as like a wildcat back. It’s something in the bag of tricks and could be worth inclusion on a showdown slate if he gets into the end zone or has some rushing yards and maybe throws one.
Mark Ingram had a good start to his post Saints career yesterday and now it is time for Alvin Kamara to step into the spotlight. We got a glimpse of it early last year when he put up an average of 35 DK points per game without Ingram for the first four weeks of last season. Three of those games he had 37 DK points or more and ended up on some 6 and 7 figure paying rosters. Kamara is a threat on the ground and maybe an even bigger one throw the air. He averaged 17.5 touches during that stretch and finished with over 100 all purpose yards in every one of those four games. He had at least double digit DK points in every game but one last year and that game was against the Redskins when they were up a couple TDs the whole way and Kamara got just 9 touches as it was Ingram’s first game back and he handled much of the load. The Saints did bring in Latavius Murray this year to play a watered down version of the Ingram role. The Saints have always been careful to limit the workload on Kamara and while I think it expands a little this year, Murray will get a lot of touches too. If this was a massive weekend slate, Murray would be far less appealing. On a smaller slate like this where he could easily get in the end zone at a cheap price and somewhat depressed ownership, I think Latavius Murray is a nice swerve off the chalkier plays in both the two game format and on Showdown slates.
The Saints have a clear #1 option at WR and that is Michael Thomas. I know the matchup is not great on paper, but that has never stopped him before. Thomas is elite level and can produce in any matchup. Thomas averaged over 10 targets a game during the four week stretch when Ingram was out to start last season. He caught all but two of the 44 targets that came his way over that stretch and averaged 110 yards per contest with 3 touchdowns. His numbers dipped for much of the rest of the season as did most of the passing game stats as they leaned heavily on that run game. Ted Ginn Jr. was having a sneaky good season before he was injured and gave way to Tre’Quan Smith. Ginn was routinely seeing 6 targets a game before the injury and saw that many or more when he returned late last season. He is a down field threat, but he wasn’t putting up monster eye popping numbers or anything. He had a few TDs and some decent yardage games, but his typically game was 3-4 catches for 50ish yards. He is just over $4K on DraftKings and $5K exactly on FanDuel. On FanDuel he is priced below Tre’Quan, which is crazy to me. Tre’Quan Smith had one memorable monster game with 10 catches on 13 targets for over 100 yards and a TD against the Eagles. His only other decent game was when he caught all three targets for 111 yards against the Redskins and 2 of them were for touchdowns. The rest of the season they basically took a deep shot or two to him every game, but his typical production was only a catch or two for 20 yards or less whenever Tedd Ginn was healthy and playing. I would much rather have Ginn for his price in any and every format. At best he’s a showdown slate play for me and only if I was doing a bunch of lineups and just trying to make sure I had a piece of anything that could happen.
The guy I am most interested in here is Jared Cook. The Texans sucked against good TEs last year. Cook had some really big games for the Raiders last season. He is unlikely to be featured in this offense as often, but he does have the talent to put up a big number when called upon. Drew Brees does spread it around and Michael Thomas is going to get his in the passing game with everyone else sharing the leftovers. Do I think Jared Cook is a must play on this slate? Not at all. As we really have no certainty of his role or target share here. We do know Brees is uber efficient and Cook is a big athletic threat with good hands. At worst he might be able to snag a TD as a viable red zone threat, but given the number of mouths to feed and the declining dependence on Drew Brees in the offense, I do not think you have to play him. He is definitely a good option in all formats though and could easily be a guy who breaks the slate with a lot of catches, yards, and/or TDs if they need him to be.
The Saints DST is one I am interested in a bit. They are big favorites and should be the team facing the most pass attempts on this slate. The first game figures to be at a faster pace and with the Saints favored over the Texans, the game script does skew towards the Saints facing the most pass attempts on the slate. That gives them more chances for things like sacks and turnovers, so that alone is interesting to me. Teams also attack the Saints through the air and I expect the Texans to do that anyway. Could they end up giving up a ton of points? Sure, but they also could end up getting enough counting stats t balance that out.
Top Plays: Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas
Secondary Plays: Drew Brees, Jared Cook, Ted Ginn
GPP Plays: Tre’Quan Smith, Taysom Hill ( I like them more for Showdown than Classic)
Denver Broncos @ Oakland Raiders
Vegas: Broncos -2.5, 42.5
New quarterback Joe Flacco is facing a team that was originally favored before the whole Antonio Brown situation took a stranger turn for the worse. This game has a low total and Flacco projects for the lowest number of pass attempts on this slate. Both teams should be leaning heavily on the run game here and if either team is likely to pull away and lean on it even heavier it is the Broncos. Oakland’s defense basically gave up fantasy points to everyone last year, but it was the running backs that had the best production against them. I do not see Flaaco slinging the ball around here and I project him for the lowest production of any of the starting QBs on this slate.
The Broncos running game was taken over by Phillip Lindsey last season. After bursting onto the scene, he followed up his debut by racking up over 100 yards on just 14 carries against the Raiders in week 2. His second matchup with them did not go as well, but the Broncos trailed in that game, the game script was never favorable, and he was banged up in that one too. The bigger concern is that even when he was rolling, you still saw carries go to other guys. Both Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker had weeks where they saw the rock in tandem with Lindsey. Freeman did have a big week 17 without Lindsey, which only makes this whole situation even harder to predict. I think this game features a slow run heavy pace on both sides, which could limit the total number of overall plays. With the likelihood that all three guys get some touches, it’s hard to say any of them are a clear play when we know the other three teams have clear hierarchy to their RB touches. Again, Lindsey likely sees the most carries, but Freeman has been good in the passing game and Booker has been used as both a runner and pass catcher too. I can project the other guys for 15 touches on a bad day and possibly 20-25 if the game script works out in their favor. Maybe you can project that many touches or more for this offense, but even if you do the distribution will be split so much that it limits the upside of all of them.
My main problem with the Broncos receiving core is volume. We do not project Flacco for big attempt numbers and he is not very accurate even if we did. We expect the RBs and TEs to get some targets too, so really that leaves very little to go around at WR. The Broncos also have three competent WR options that will all get some looks too, which means no one really projects for even decent volume here. Emmanuel Sanders is the best of the group. In only 12 games last year he out targeted Courtland Sutton who played all 16. Sanders did see over 8 targets per contest, so he is the guy on top of the pecking order. He is likely going to see a lot of time in the slot and while he does get more looks, they are not exactly big time game breaking upside targets. They should be low aDOT, safe throws and we would be relying more on PPR points than big yardage totals with him. Sanders had over 70 catches for around 850 yards last season. In contrast, Courtland Sutton had just 42 catches, but his went for over 700 yards. Sutton’s targets tended to be more downfield and yielded bigger plays. It is also interesting to note that Sutton did not become the top target getter even after Sanders went down with an injury. DaeSean Hamilton was the guy who stepped into that increase with 7-12 targets a game towards the end of the season. With Sanders healthy early on, Hamilton was a minor player or non-existent piece of that offense. Both Hamilton and Sutton are young and improving, so it will be interesting to see how the Broncos handle getting them all involved. With three guys hungry for targets and very few throws to go around, I can’t see any of them having monster days. Sanders is the likeliest top option of the three, but if either of the younger guys finds the end zone that could easily trump the extra targets that went to Sanders. With a low total, a negative game script for the pass attack, and a QB that is inaccurate I do not see a reason to invest in this pass game.
The Broncos drafted Noah Fant this year and will likely try to get him out on the field and into the flow of things. He is a talented kid, but I’m not a big fan of young TE options. I know his former teammate had a big debut for the Lions yesterday, but that kind of game is the exception, not the norm. Fant suffers from the same bad set up as the QB and WR options here. They likely will not throw much, so his chances are unlikely to be super high. He would likely need a TD to be relevant and even then I like other guys more. I doubt he ends up with the most targets, catches, or yards on the slate, so no reason to really be high on him.
The Broncos DST might be my favorite play here. The loss of AB is a major blow to what was already an underwhelming offense. The Raiders did not really skew as pass heavy as you would have expected for a team trailing as often as they did last year. They were content to slow games down and when they did pass it was usually short stuff to the TE or RB, especially after Amari Cooper was shipped out. The Raiders will try to run as often as they can here, but at some point they will be forced to pass and this team is not good enough to move the ball through the air if they become one dimensional due to falling behind. With a lack of weapons, I’m not sure how they even get that done.
Top Plays: Broncos DST
Secondary Plays: Philip Lindsey, Emmanuel Sanders
GPP Plays: DaeSean Hamilton, Courtland Sutton, Royce Freeman
Antonio Brown saga aside, the Raiders are not in a horrible spot here. Derek Carr was surprisingly efficient last year, although that had a lot to do with the low aDOT type passes they threw all season. He only averaged about 250 yards per game, but he did it with a respectable 69% completion rate. They had a lot of turnover on offense and the lack of weapons was a problem last year. Losing Brown hurts, but they did bring in a new #1 WR and a rookie RB that are both upgrades. Losing Jared Cook will hurt, but Darren Waller is an exciting replacement for him. This is no soft matchup, but the Raiders are at home here and the game script does point to them trailing and throwing late in the game. I like Carr more than I like Flacco, but both QBs in this game are less interesting than the guys in the first game.
The best offensive weapon for the Raiders is likely to be rookie running back Josh Jacobs. You never know how a guy will perform in his first game, but we do know what kind of volume they are looking to give him. Jacobs is being talked about as a true three down back. He will get a ton of carries if they play as conservatively as they did last year for as long as the game remains somewhat close. Isaiah Crowell is on IR, so the rushing down work seems to be a lock for Jacobs. They do still have Jalen Richard, who was a beast catching passes out of the backfield last year. While I think Jacobs sees some passing down work, Richard should feature in the passing game as well to give him a bit of a break. Richard has PPR value and is best used on DraftKings. Jacobs could arguably be the guy who sees the most snaps in this game and is not that expensive. There is some risk to using the rookie, but not much based on the level of action they project to give him.
Antonio Brown departure means two things for the Raiders pass catchers. The first is that they are all cheap as the #2 WR is now the #1 and everyone else below moves up on the depth chart. They were priced like backups. The second thing is that there is a lot of targets to go around now. Tyrell Williams is the new #1 WR in Oakland. He has speed to burn and should be the deep threat for this offense. He was never given a chance to be a featured WR in San Diego/LA before signing in the off-season. He had always been a secondary option and never the featured guy. He saw just 4-5 targets a game over the past few years, although he did it for a decent number of yards per catch, because he was targeted often down the field. He should be in line for more targets this season and should end up with career highs in yards and catches in this new situation. I am not ready to anoint him as a top flight receiver, but he should be the most dynamic one this offense has. Hunter Renfrow earned the job as the underneath receiver in this offense and has been drawing a lot of rave reviews. Originally he was slated to play a lot of slot and probably still will in three wide sets. With Brown gone though, he could find himself on the field even more in two wide sets as well. The third wide out spot is wide open, even as I write this on the day of the game. JJ Nelson and Ryan Grant are the two guys likeliest to take those snaps. Nelson is questionable and if he misses it would mean a huge workload for Grant in terms of snaps. Both guys are at best a fourth option, so I’m not expecting huge results from either. Remember though that the Raiders WR group is dirt cheap outside of Tyrell Williams and a couple catches a big gain, or a TD could help any of them smash value.
One of the few bright spots for the Raiders could end up being TE Darren Waller. He had some success late last season when he was finally given a chance to play. He has been a bright spot of camp this year. With Jared Cook moving on he has the clear path to a large snap share. With Antonio Brown not in uniform, the Raiders now have a ton of targets to distribute. If Waller sees the kind of volume that Cook saw last year in this short passing conservative offense, he could end up being a guy that is way undervalued today and for the rest of the season. Hell, even if he sees less volume than Cook did, he could still be a guy who ends up paying off the cheap salary routinely. The weakest part of the Denver defense last year was their ability to defend tight end options. No other position was in the top half of the league for fantasy points scored against them, but they gave up the 6th most production to the TE position. Waller is cheap, talented, and likely featured in this offense in what is a softer spot for him. It’s tough to predict something we haven’t seen before, but at his price point you don’t need him to go nuts to pay off the tag.