The NFL regular season has finally arrived. It’s been a long grind, but the action gets underway on Thursday night at 8:20 p.m. ET. The defending champion Buccaneers will host the Cowboys, and both DraftKings and FanDuel are offering large prize pools for the event.
If you’re unfamiliar with the single-game NFL DFS format, it differs a bit on DraftKings and FanDuel. On DraftKings, you have one “captain” spot and five flexes. The captain will score 1.5x fantasy points, but he also costs 1.5x salary. That means if you want to roster Tom Brady at Captain and take advantage of the scoring boost, you’ll have to pay $16,800 as opposed to $11,200.
FanDuel’s single-game format features one “MVP” spot and four flexes. The MVP also scores 1.5x fantasy points, but he doesn’t cost any additional salary. That takes away a bit of the strategy and makes the goal simple: Get your highest-scoring player in the MVP spot.
The two quarterbacks are the most expensive players on this slate, and they unsurprisingly own the top projections in our NFL Models.
Brady is the most expensive option, and he stands out from a Vegas perspective. The Buccaneers are sizable eight-point favorites in this matchup, and they’re currently implied for 30.0 points. Brady has historically thrived as a home favorite of at least seven points, averaging 22.37 DKFP per game (per the Trends tool). He was even better in that situation with the Buccaneers, averaging 24.26 DKFP and a Plus/Minus of +5.26. The man truly does seem to get better with age.
Brady should have no problem shredding a Cowboys defense that ranked just 21st in Football Outsiders’ pass defense DVOA. Overall, the Cowboys were the sixth-best matchup for opposing quarterbacks last year in terms of Plus/Minus allowed.
Dak Prescott will be under center for the Cowboys, and he faces a much tougher test vs. the Buccaneers defense. They were the fourth-best pass defense last season in terms of DVOA, and they return every starter from last year’s dominant unit. Opposing quarterbacks averaged just 17.62 DraftKings points per game against the Bucs last year, which was the fifth-lowest mark in the league.
Still, it’s hard to ignore Prescott’s upside. He was sensational before getting injured last season, racking up 1,856 passing yards and nine touchdowns through just five games. He also did some damage on the group, averaging 18.6 yards per game to go along with three scores. The Cowboys have an abundance of offensive talent, so Prescott should be able to put up huge numbers as long as he stays healthy this season. I’m not sure if he can do it against the Buccaneers, but there will be weeks where he goes off.
Ezekiel Elliott is the other stud option in this contest, and he’s reportedly in the best shape of his life. That’s a pretty scary thought considering Zeke was already one of the best running backs in the league. He’s coming off a down year in 2020-21, but he led the league in rushing yards per game in three of the previous four seasons.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t set up as a good spot for Zeke. The Bucs were even better against the run than they were against the pass, and large underdogs have historically not fared well at the running back position. Zeke is capable of catching some passes out of the backfield, but his rushing workload could be lower than expected.
Both of these teams possess a plethora of stud wide receivers. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown should all garner attention for the Bucs. They played 11 games together last year, including the playoffs, and there wasn’t much to separate them from a fantasy perspective. Evans led the trio with an average of 15.99 DraftKings points per game, Godwin averaged 14.39, and Brown averaged 13.67.
Evans is the most expensive player of the group, but he still stands out as the best pure value of the trio on DraftKings, given his Bargain Rating of 95%. Brown is significantly cheaper than Evans and Godwin across the industry, so he’s the clear best value.
Godwin scares me the most. He averaged fewer yards and targets in games with Brown last season, resulting in 2.5 fewer DraftKings points per game. He also was limited at practice on Tuesday, so it’s possible that he’s operating at less than 100%.
The Cowboys also have a stud trio at wide receiver. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb are separated by just $200 on DraftKings, and it will be interesting to see if either player serves as the Cowboys’ true No. 1 this season. Cooper has filled that role since arriving in Dallas, but Lamb has drawn rave reviews during training camp. Our NFL Models give Lamb a slight edge in terms of median and ceiling projection, but the margin is razor-thin.
It should be noted that Cooper averaged 19.04 DraftKings points compared to Lamb’s 18.32 in Prescott’s five starts last season, but those were the first five games of Lamb’s career. Lamb’s production also came on nearly four fewer targets per game. If that gap closes this season, Lamb could easily become the superior fantasy option.
Lamb is an absolute slam-dunk on FanDuel, where his $9,000 salary comes with a Bargain Rating of 92%.
Michael Gallup is the clear No. 3 option for the Cowboys, but he still offers significant value in that role. He averaged 12.16 DraftKings points in Prescott’s five games last year on a mediocre average of 5.6 targets. He’s a strong option at just $6,200 on DraftKings.
The Buccaneers also have a pair of running backs to consider in Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II. Jones saw a significantly larger workload than Fournette during the regular season, but Fournette established himself during the postseason. It will be interesting to see how the workload gets split between these two players this season.
We don’t have a ton of information heading into Week 1, but I’d rather take the discount with Jones than spend up for Fournette. He’s $2,000 cheaper on DraftKings and $1,500 cheaper on FanDuel, yet both players own very similar projections.
- Rob Gronkowski ($5,400 on DraftKings, $7,500 on FanDuel): Gronk is not someone that I’m actively looking to target this season. The Buccaneers have three tight ends who should be involved in the passing game, so don’t expect to see a ton of Gronkowski on Thursday. However, he’s really cheap on FanDuel, and he should remain a threat in the red zone.
- Blake Jarwin ($5,200 on DraftKings, $6,000 on FanDuel): Jarwin played just one game last season before suffering an injury, which allowed Dalton Schultz ($4,600 on DraftKings, $6,500 on FanDuel) to take over in his absence. Both players split reps at the position during the preseason, and it seems like this will be a committee situation this season. Both players have similar outlooks for Thursday.
- Defenses & Kickers: These options are always in play on single-game slates, but they offer minimal correlation with the other positions. That makes them tough to roster, particularly in games that are expected to be high-scoring.
- Tony Pollard ($4,200 on DraftKings, $7,500 on FanDuel): Pollard remains one of the best upside handcuffs in the league, but his role while Zeke is healthy is a big question mark. He’ll likely get some work in the passing game, but it might not be enough to pay off his current salary.
- Cameron Brate ($2,600 on DraftKings, $6,000 on FanDuel): Brate and O.J. Howard ($2,200 on DraftKings, $6,500 on FanDuel) are the other tight ends in Tampa Bay, and they should rotate in with Gronkowski. Neither player figures to see a ton of volume, but neither has to do much to pay off his current salary.
- Giovani Bernard ($2,000 on DraftKings, $7,000 on FanDuel): Bernard stands out as one of the best values on the slate. He’s established a role for himself in the Buccaneers’ backfield, so expect him to be on the field for passing downs. He could theoretically function how James White used to when Brady was with the Patriots, but that’s probably an optimistic projection. Still, he should catch a couple of passes, which is enough to make him relevant.
- Scotty Miller ($1,600 on DraftKings, $7,000 on FanDuel): Miller should serve as the Bucs’ WR4 this season. That’s not going to lead to much production, but he does have the upside for a splash play every now and then. All three of his touchdowns went for at least 19 yards last season, with two going for at least 33.