Week 1 of the 2023 NFL season is officially under way! We kicked things off Thursday night with a fairly underwhelming game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions. The Lions got the better of the Chiefs who were without Travis Kelce and it definitely showed on offense for the defending Super Bowl champions. Alas, we turn our attention to Sunday Night Football. We have a great NFC East matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. Both teams have high expectations this year and the NFC East has a much more difficult schedule than a year ago. Let’s kick our feet up as we indulge in some afternoon football and get ourselves ready for the NFL DFS Showdown slate on DraftKings and FanDuel!
Both of these teams had some notable storylines worth monitoring in the offseason. For the Giants, they gave Daniel Jones a new four-year contract worth $160 million but with $82 million guaranteed. Jones rushed for 700+ yards last season and found the end zone seven times on the ground in 2022. We should expect both statistics to regress heavily now that he was paid. With the Giants wanting to protect their franchise quarterback they also locked up Andrew Thomas, one of the league’s premier left tackles. And after a drawn-out contract dispute, Saquon Barkley is back on a deal that benefits both sides as the Giants make a playoff run.
For the Dallas Cowboys, it’ll be a different offensive look. And by that, Kellen Moore and the Cowboys mutually went their own ways. It was a bit of a bold move because Moore ran such an up-tempo offense with all of Dallas’ offensive weapons. But Mike McCarthy said it was almost too fast. The defense didn’t have time to catch their breath on the sideline. McCarthy has mentioned that he wants to slow things down and run a more methodical offense. That sounds awful for fantasy purposes. But this should still be one of the better, more productive offenses in the NFC. Dalton Schultz is no longer with the Cowboys but Brandin Cooks, now with his fifth team, comes to town and could potentially become the team’s second-best pass catching option behind CeeDee Lamb.
Spread: Dallas Cowboys (-3.5)
Weather: Temperatures in the low 70’s with potential for rain/thunderstorms
- Tyron Smith, Offensive Tackle – Questionable (Ankle)
- Sam Williams, Defensive End – Questionable (Toe)
- Tyler Smith, Guard – Questionable (Hamstring)
- Donovan Wilson, Safety – Doubtful (Calf)
- Darren Waller, Tight End – Questionable (Hamstring)
- Cam Brown, Linebacker – Questionable (Ankle)
- D.J. Davidson, Defensive Line – Questionable (Knee)
- Wan’Dale Robinson, Wide Receiver – Doubtful (Knee)
- Cor’Dale Flatt, Defensive Back – Doubtful (Hamstring)
- Gervarrious Owens, Defensive Back – Doubtful (Hamstring)
NFL DFS MVP/Captain
With Ezekiel Elliott out of the picture, Tony Pollard is set to be the lead running back for the Dallas Cowboys. Pollard performed admirably a year ago with over 1,100 rushing yards and a dozen total touchdowns. The offensive line is a little beat up, but when healthy they’re a formidable group. With this game projecting to have some weather concerns, that could force both teams to lean more on the run and opt for shorter passes. This plays into Pollard’s strengths especially after he caught 44 passes last season. The Giants were last in the league in run DVOA in 2022 and they allowed over five yards per carry to opposing running backs. Dallas averaged 171 rushing yards per game as a team against the Giants in 2022. The lone concern I have with anybody from this offense is McCarthy’s desire to slow things down. That generally leads to less offensive plays. But we know what his ceiling is and with 15+ touches he can be optimal at MVP/Captain and that appears to be the projected workload…
Everything we just said about Pollard can also apply to Saquon Barkley, although we’ve seen him put up bigger numbers. Last season he rushed for over 1,400 yards, he had a dozen touchdowns, and caught 64 passes. When healthy, he’s an elite running back. In his first game against the Cowboys in 2022 he had 18 total touches (14 carries, four receptions) for 126 total yards and a touchdown. That was good for 22.6 fantasy points on DraftKings. In the second game he only touched the ball 15 times (11 carries, four receptions) but did find the end zone. Overall, he only put up 15.2 fantasy points. In ten regular season games last year he put up at least 18 fantasy points on DraftKings. That’s a good floor and we know he has a huge ceiling. If Darren Waller were to miss this game, the Giants likely lean on Barkley a little bit more.
CeeDee Lamb owned the Giants secondary a year ago. In two games he totaled 14 receptions on 23 targets for 193 total yards, and a touchdown. He went over 20 fantasy points in both games. Lamb is indeed the top target in this offense. Last year he had a 28.5% target share in this offense and had a 35.5% air yards share. Lamb is the type of player who you anticipate will be involved in the offense regardless of the weather. I’m also partial to wide receivers in the captain spot because I believe they possess more big play potential and have a higher ceiling. On a level playing field with zero weather concerns, Lamb would be my favorite candidate at Captain.
As of this writing (Saturday afternoon), Waller is currently Questionable with a hamstring injury. This is an utter disaster ahead of Week 1. The team went out and traded for Waller in the offseason and he was featured heavily in the preseason when the first-team offense did play. For this hamstring injury to pop up late in the week, it’s just a firm reminder of how injury-prone this particular player is. But with so many question marks about the Giants aerial attack he looked capable of emerging as the lead target. And that’s why I’m mentioning him as a Captain. This is potentially a leverage spot for a player. DFS players are reactionary beings and if he’s active they may not want to go here. Look, I played Kadarius Toney at Captain in 10% of my lineups Thursday night and he was just 3.8% rostered at Captain compared to the field. Sure, he had a bad night, but I’m all about the leverage here. The Giants don’t believe the injury is serious and they’re optimistic he can suit up and play Sunday night.
Mid-Tier & DFS Value Plays
The Dak of old would’ve always been a potential MVP/Captain in my eyes. He would run more, score touchdowns with his legs, have more offensive volume, etc. But since his freak ankle injury a couple years ago, the Cowboys obviously don’t want him running as much. And if Mike McCarthy wants to slow the game down and run fewer offensive plays overall, then that just naturally limits Prescott’s ceiling. In Week 12 last year, Prescott completed 21 of his 30 pass attempts for 261 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. I’m of the mindset that’s a matchable performance in this game. And that is fine for a Flex play, but I’m non-committal for heavy Captain exposure. I’ll likely have him at Captain in just 5-7% of my builds.
I’m much more inclined to play Jones at Captain over Prescott. Jones has shown the ability to run more on his own. Quarterbacks that can get it done with their legs can be played at Captain. My one reservation I have is that he’ll likely run less this season. Could he still go out and run for 40+ yards, find a touchdown with his legs, and be optimal? Of course. He’s a better fit at Captain than Dak. But on DraftKings last season, he didn’t reach 15 fantasy points in either matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. This defense really kept Jones in check and that could be the case once again Sunday night. He needed 79 rushing yards in their first matchup to even make it to 14.74 fantasy points on DraftKings. If there’s reason for optimism with Jones it’s that he’s entering year two with Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka. He’s more familiar with this offense and the new head coach and offensive coordinator allowed Jones to put up career-bests in terms of passing yards, completion percentage, and quarterback rating last season.
Cooks joined the Cowboys in the offseason which has to be an exciting swap for him considering he spent the last three years with the Houston Texans. Cooks has gone for over 1,000 yards in five of his nine seasons as a professional. He’ll turns 30 years old later this month but he’s a fairly consistent pass catcher who has thrived with worse quarterbacks than Dak Prescott. He likely lines up mostly on the outside with Lamb likely operating out of the slot on most offensive plays. Cooks is worthy of being more of a contrarian option at Captain. He has big play upside and could look to make a statement. The argument against Cooks is that he’s simply no longer the top target on his team. There will be games where he could be third, fourth, or dare I say fifth in a given week? The ceiling is great, but his output will fluctuate.
Looks it’s entirely possible his ownership is driven down with the presence of Brandin Cooks. There will be the occasional matchups where Gallup out produces Cooks. He’s familiar with Dak Prescott and he’s currently healthy. We’ve seen him go out and command at least six targets plenty of times. It’s been a while since we’ve seen “slate-breaking” upside from Gallup so I prefer him more as a Flex play. Gallup lined up out wide 92% of the time last year so there’s big play potential but he needs either 100 receiving yards or multiple scores to likely be optimal at MVP/Captain.
Dalton Schultz is long gone. Jake Ferguson is now the TE1 in Dallas. This is a bit of a sticky situation. On one hand there’s the argument that Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys offense loves to target tight ends. Okay, well Kellen Moore’s offense kept the position heavily involved as well. Will this new offensive scheme be the same? Time will tell. But Dalton Schultz received at least 89 targets in each of the last three seasons. That’s a fairly significant workload and he was called upon in the red zone. We shouldn’t expect Ferguson to be Dalton Schultz right away but the Giants were awful against the Tight End position in 2022 so this is a spot where Ferguson could pay off the $4,800 price tag on DraftKings.
The New York Giants Wide Receivers
I’m going to lump four of these guys together while Sterling Shepard will be mentioned in the “Dart-Throw Bargains” section below D/ST’s and Kickers. But this group includes Isaiah Hodgins, Darius Slayton, Parris Campbell, and Jalin Hyatt. There are arguments to play them all. The first three all appear at the top of the New York Giants depth chart. And if Darren Waller is inactive that benefits each of these players. If you asked me who I’m leaning towards in this group it might actually be Parris Campbell. He had a few seasons derailed by injury during his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts. But last year he still managed 60+ catches and over 600 receiving yards. And that was with a team and organization that was falling apart. Now he goes to the New York Giants, an organization with a little more stability. There’s a legitimate shot Campbell could emerge as the WR1 in this offense if he stays healthy. Darius Slayton and Isaiah Hodgins are worth some exposure as well. I’d rather chase the big play upside with Slayton, but a part of me believes Hodgins comes in under-owned since he’s the most expensive of this group. Lastly, Jalin Hyatt has upside but I just don’t know how much work a rookie could get in a divisional matchup in primetime. I’d rather go to Campbell who is cheaper. All four of these pass catchers are viable and I’ll mix in exposure of them all and hope to get a touchdown. It’s just very hard to read who is Daniel Jones’ preferred target.
In a game that could be heavily impacted by weather, yes I want to play both D/ST’s but not in the same lineup. On Thursday I wasn’t fond of either D/ST and that cost me because the Lions had a pick six. With a projected total of 45.5 points, that’s a fair amount of scoring. The Cowboys recorded five sacks and an interception in the first matchup against the Giants in 2022 and they came away with ten fantasy points. In the second matchup they only totaled four fantasy points. At $5,200 you have to compare them to the players that are in their area. Those players include Michael Gallup, Darius Slayton, Jake Ferguson, Jalin Hyatt, and even Parris Campbell is $800 cheaper than the Cowboys D/ST. Unless Dallas pitches a shutout with a touchdown of their own, I’d say the positional players have a higher ceiling. I hate the price tag but in a game that could be impacted by rain and thunder, I understand wanting to get exposure.
The Giants D/ST is a much more palatable price tag at $3,400 but they don’t generate as much pressure as the Cowboys do. Pressure leads to sacks and turnovers. Between the regular season and playoffs the Giants totaled 42 sacks, six interceptions, and 13 fumble recoveries. In the same amount of games the Cowboys had 58 sacks, 17 interceptions, and 18 fumble recoveries. So you can probably understand why Dallas is priced up. I’d still be okay getting exposure to both D/ST’s in this matchup if it’s going to be a wet affair. Lineup theory suggests that you correlate your D/ST with your captain. So don’t play the Giants at the Flex if you have CeeDee Lamb at Captain. And vice versa if you have a member of the Giants at captain.
Kickers are kind of like D/ST’s. They’re a good valuable source of points assuming they can get two-to-three field goals and, unfortunately, I’ve seen them optimal at Captain before. Is that something I like doing? No, I almost never play a Kicker or D/ST at Captain/MVP. But you do you! Graham Gano had eight games last year with double-digit fantasy points and 11 games with at least eight fantasy points. When the Giants moved the ball, they’d often stall and that could be the case for this matchup Sunday night. Kickers correlate with any teammate in the Captain/MVP spot, but there’s slightly more positive correlation with the quarterback position.
Brandon Aubrey is a bit of an unknown. If you were to fade one Kicker, it’s probably him. He’s 28 years old and previously played in the MLS for Toronto FC before catching on as a place kicker in the USFL. Between the nerves and lack of experience on this stage, I may be underweight compared to the field.
NFL DFS Dart-Throw Bargains
A little rapid fire with these plays, shall we?
You’re kind of hoping he just falls into the end zone and gets a touchdown. But even then that opportunity could go to Hunter Luepke if there’s a short yardage goal line situation. Vaughn is currently listed as the third running back on the depth chart. He’s undersized at just 5’5” so I’m not expecting much of a role Sunday night.
We have a Giants wide receiver group that has no clear number one option. Shepard does have rapport with Daniel Jones. Through three games last year he had 24 targets from Daniel Jones prior to tearing his ACL. He’s a risky play but there is upside if he and Jones connect and he turns into the hot hand in this matchup.
Dowdle is technically listed ahead of Vaughn on the depth chart. He had a pretty good preseason to the tune of 14 carries for 59 yards with five catches for another 42 yards and a score. He and Vaughn will spell Pollard if the RB1 requires some rest. And keep in mind, Pollard’s never had the workload of a true “bell cow” running back. We don’t know if he can necessarily handle that amount of work, so the door is open for Dowdle and Vaughn to get some touches.
If Darren Waller does miss this game, or is limited, Bellinger could step up. Bellinger was a fourth–round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and he started stringing together some nice games prior to getting hurt. From Weeks 2-6 last year he had four games with at least eight fantasy points and at this price tag you’ll take that if it’s there. If Waller is on a snap count or if he’s just completely inactive, Bellinger should get more work. We just have to hope he’s not brought on to aid in pass protection.