Kickoff: week 1 plays

Huzzah! Football is back! Along with the joy of watching football and observing trends, we now have more ways than ever to get action down on the games. Come on out to the TopProp streets for peer-to-peer fantasy games.


We’ll be pitting one player against another to see who can score more fantasy points and looking to find value on either side. In honor of this week’s kickoff, I will examine a featured matchup for each position.


Quarterback: Geno Smith (+5.5) over Russell Wilson


Geno Smith (+5.5) vs. Russell Wilson is one of the more interesting featured matchups on TopProp this week because the spread is quite large. 5.5 points is a massive gap, equating to that of a passing touchdown and 37.5 yards. Looking back at last year, Dak Prescott had 37 touchdown passes but also had five games of one or zero touchdown passes. Even if we assume Wilson is in store for a strong season, throwing two-plus touchdown passes is no guarantee. With only one or fewer touchdown passes, it is hard to see Wilson covering this spread unless Smith implodes for two or three plus interceptions.


Undeniably, there is a sizable skill discrepancy between Smith and Wilson, but both have strong supporting casts. Even if Smith cannot stay within shouting distance of Wilson, Metcalf or Lockett could easily go beast mode and will Geno within 5.5 points.


Moving from Pete Carroll to any team should be an upgrade in the passing game, but the transition may not be as smooth as desired. Of the teams with new head coaches over the last two seasons, two-thirds averaged fewer points over their first three games compared to the season as a whole.


Before blindly taking this side, consider Seattle figures to run out a bottom-barrel offensive line. Luckily the Broncos line does not look too formidable either. Although, the Broncos have more juice rushing the passer than Seattle. Being rushed could help Geno’s floor, as it may push him to run more and use his mobility. Similarly, Seattle’s coaching philosophy could be another downside as they look to establish the run, likely leading to more three and outs. With Seattle having a -1% pass rate over expected last year with Russell Wilson, fantasy players can count on this dropping in his absence. The only solace Smith backers can find here is the rushing volume could slow down the game and reduce the number of plays for Wilson to make up the 5.5 point spread. Though hard to diagnose without seeing a play, I expect Denver to edge slightly above even in pass rate over expected. These factors will make it harder for Geno to succeed, which justifies at least part of his 5.5 point cushion.


Looking for a sweat on Monday night? Geno Smith +5.5 over Russell Wilson is a solid side to take. Guaranteed points are worth more than the potential optimism in this matchup.




Wide Receiver: D.J. Moore over Amari Cooper (+0.5)


This matchup features one of the most shifty and creative players in D.J. Moore. On the other side, Cooper should be an effective vacuum in an offense bereft of pass catchers. Both pass catchers are featured fixtures in their respective offenses. This matchup, involving the Panthers and Browns, remains a far cry from the most awe-inspiring, but this is an interesting microcosm of it.


Over the last three seasons, D.J. Moore totaled 1215, 1215 and 1205 yards from scrimmage. During this span, Carolina trotted out one of the most pain-inducing arrays of quarterbacks: Kyle Allen, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, the shell of Cam Newton, Will Grier and P.J. Walker. Moore epitomizes consistency and resilience. Baker Mayfield can only be an improvement on the collage of quarterbacks Moore has trudged through to this point. Moore’s 27.6% targets per route run last year was 7th out of receivers with 250+ routes run, ranking next to Justin Jefferson and D.K. Metcalf.


Opposite Moore in this matchup, Cooper has a more pessimistic outlook. Moving to Cleveland and starting the year without Deshaun Watson is a clear downgrade from Dallas. To find more actionable information from the environment, we should compare the circumstances between Moore and Cooper. Carolina had a pass-rate over expected of -1%, while Cleveland sat at -5% over expected. Jacoby Brisset has an expected points added per play of -0.029 and a completion rate over expected of -3.3% over the last two years. Baker Mayfield has an expected points added per play of 0.125 and a completion rate over expected of 0.3% over the last two years. Baker outplayed Brissett, despite being injured last year, and the Panthers run a more pass-friendly offense.


The combination of circumstance, environment and skill makes it clear to see a 0.5 point cushion is not enough for Cooper to cover against Moore this week.


Tight End: Darren Waller over George Kittle


Darren Waller and George Kittle have been closely tied in ADP this fantasy season making up the last options with truly elite upside. Despite staying with their teams, both TEs have seen their prospective environment change considerably this offseason. Waller now has a new star receiver alongside him, and Kittle has a new quarterback with two NFL starts. The addition of Adams may scare some backers, but this fear is not warranted as Carr threw for 4800 yards last year and the Raiders project to stay pass-happy this year. Conversely, entering the 2022 season, Lance has averaged 26 passes in his two starts and has a season-long pass total 950 yards lower than Waller’s signal caller, Derek Carr.


Along with environmental factors favoring Waller from the outset, his game environment projects to be much more favorable. The Raiders’ game has a 52.5 point over under, handily overshadowing the 41 point over under of the 49ers game. The Chargers will pass often, speed up the game and push the Raiders to pass more. The Bears have the worst offensive line in the NFL and limited offensive weapons alongside that.


Lastly, I would be remiss not to point out that we are aiming for median projections. Kittle has been a more volatile player with point totals in the 30s, but opposite that, he had five games (out of the 14 he played in) of 4 or fewer points. As rising tides raise all ships, look for Waller to ship this matchup in week one.


Conclusion


These matchups and more appear advantageous to me, so strike when the iron is hot and make the most of these lines on TopProp to kick off the season. Remember to consider bankroll management as the season is long, and variance strikes in short stints.


"Pass rate over expected" and "completion percentage over expected" stats are from rbdm.com. "targets per route run" figures are from the33rdteam.com.