Week 1 of the NFL regular season is here, bringing with it a full 12-game main slate on Sunday, Sept. 9, that kicks off at 1:00 pm ET.
For analysis on the smaller slates, consult Chris Raybon’s premium strategy pieces (released throughout the week).
In writing this piece, I’ve relied primarily upon the FantasyLabs Models. Please think of this breakdown as less of a comprehensive analysis of each quarterback and more of an introduction to this week’s players via our large suite of analytic DFS Tools. We’ll start with the five highest-salaried quarterbacks, then touch on nine players who have caught my eye (for good or bad) and finish with four passers at the top of our individual Pro Models.
For updates on Vegas spreads and over/unders, check out The Action Network Live Odds page.
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The Big Five
There are five quarterbacks at the top of the salary scale this week.
- Tom Brady: $7,200 DraftKings; $8,600 FanDuel
- Cam Newton: $6,900 DraftKings; $8,100 FanDuel
- Drew Brees: $6,800 DraftKings; $8,400 FanDuel
- Deshaun Watson: $6,700 DraftKings; $8,200 FanDuel
- Ben Roethlisberger: $6,600 DraftKings; $8,000 FanDuel
Tom Brady: New England Patriots (-6) vs. Houston Texans, 50.5 over/under
Last year’s league MVP and leader in pass attempts (581) and yards (4,577) didn’t win his sixth championship in February, but Angry Tom did throw a Super Bowl-record 505 yards. Brady’s still got the proverbial “it” factor. The Patriots open the season as big home favorites with an implied total of 28.25 points, the second-highest mark on the slate.
The Texans last year allowed a league-high 20.7 DraftKings points per game to opposing quarterbacks.
The Texans defense should be better thanks to the healthy return of defensive end J.J. Watt (knee) and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (pectoral), who should combine with edge defender Jadeveon Clowney to form a fearsome pass-rushing trio. The Patriots have an uncertain offensive line after the free-agent departure of left tackle Nate Solder and season-ending injury to first-rounder Isaiah Wynn (Achilles).
Brady is a master at running his offense — last year the Pats led the NFL with a 47.0% pass rank in Football Outsider’s Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) — but the Texans enter the season with Pro Football Focus’ No. 5 pass rush. They could challenge the Pats offense.
Then again, just last year in a 36-33 home win against the Texans in Week 3, when Watt and Mercilus were healthy, Brady completed 71.4% of his 35 attempts for 378 yards and five touchdowns, scoring 39.7 DraftKings points — the season’s second-most single-game quarterback points total. In a contest with a slate-high over/under, Brady has unspeakable shootout upside.
In total, Brady is in a great spot. His No. 1 receiver, tight end Rob Gronkowski, is healthy. Since Gronk entered the league in 2010, Brady has been the best version of himself with him.
- Brady with Gronk (99 games): 25.5 fantasy points, 291.4 yards and 2.2 touchdowns passing, 0.44 interceptions
- Brady without Gronk (25 games): 21.6 fantasy points, 258.2 yards and 1.8 touchdowns passing, 0.68 interceptions
Additionally, Brady is playing a non-divisional opponent. Even though the AFC East has been one of the NFL’s worst divisions since it was reconfigured with four teams in 2002, Brady has historically done better outside of divisional play.
- Brady outside the division: 23.7 fantasy points
- Brady in division: 21.5 fantasy points
Finally, Brady should be fresh to start the year, and if there’s a time to roster Brady in fantasy, it’s early in the season. As Brady has aged, he’s increasingly worn down as the season has progressed. Since 2014, Brady has been a radically different player in the first and second halves of the year.
- Games 1-8 (28 games): 24.1 DraftKings points, +2.99 Plus/Minus, 60.7% Consistency Rating
- Games 9-16 (32 games): 18.9 DraftKings points, -2.52 Plus/Minus, 37.5% Consistency Rating
As mentioned on the midweek edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, this is a great week to stack the Patriots. Brady leads the position with his ceiling projections and is the highest-rated DraftKings quarterback in the SportsGeek Model.
I don’t always write 500 words on one quarterback, but when I do, it’s usually on Brady.
Cam Newton: Carolina Panthers (-3) vs. Dallas Cowboys, 43 O/U
If you look at the matchup between the Panthers offense and Cowboys defense, you maybe wouldn’t expect this to be a good spot for Newton. The Cowboys have a good pass rush (PFF’s No. 8 unit) thanks to defensive ends Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, and the Panthers offensive line is in shambles: Left tackle Matt Kalil (knee) was just put on injured reserve, they lost All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell to free agency, center Ryan Kalil had a 46.6 overall grade last year and right tackle Daryl Williams (knee) is questionable with what was originally reported to be a serious injury.
Additionally, the Cowboys have a young, potential-laden secondary with five starters who all had above-average PFF grades (75.0+) in 2017, and the Panthers have an unproven group of wide receivers consisting of the raw Devin Funchess, old Torrey Smith, journeyman Jarius Wright, young and developing D.J. Moore and sidelined Curtis Samuel (irregular heartbeat).
For all his faults, at least the backstabbing, ball-dropping departed Kelvin Benjamin averaged 60.6 yards per game in his Panthers tenure.
But none of the matters.
What matters is that Newton is healthy, and when he’s healthy, he’s one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league. In his five seasons with 16 games played, he has five top-four fantasy campaigns. Since he entered the league in 2011, of all the quarterbacks with at least 16 starts, only Aaron Rodgers and Brees have more than Newton’s 20.1 fantasy points per game.
What’s more is that since Benjamin entered the league, Newton has actually been more productive without the receiver than with him.
- Newton with Benjamin (37 games): 21.0 fantasy points, 228.5 yards and 1.3 touchdowns passing, 1 interception, 31.0 yards and 0.35 touchdowns rushing
- Newton without Benjamin (24 games): 27.6 fantasy points, 220.8 yards and 2.0 touchdowns passing, 0.6 interceptions, 47.3 yards and 0.54 touchdowns rushing
Newton is an elite runner — he’s third among all-time quarterbacks with 39.6 rushing yards per game and first with 54 career rushing touchdowns — and his rushing ability limits his fantasy downside. Newton has the position’s highest floor projections in our Models.
Drew Brees: New Orleans Saints (-9.5) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 49.5 O/U
Last year Brees completed an NFL-record 72.0% of his passes and led the league with 8.1 yards per attempt — but people think he had a bad year. Why?
- Brees attempted just 33.5 passes per game.
- Brees threw touchdowns on just 4.3% of his passes.
Those are the worst numbers Brees has ever had with the Saints, and so he unsurprisingly had the lowest yardage (4,334) and touchdown passing totals (23) that he’s had since signing with New Orleans in 2006.
But last year was probably an outlier.
Over the five-year period before last season, Brees attempted 41.5 passes per game and had a 5.6% touchdown rate. Over the preceding 10-year period he attempted 40.5 passes per game and had a 5.6% touchdown rate. Even if Brees experiences regression in his completion percentage and passing average, that should be counterbalanced by progression in overall passing volume and scoring efficiency.
Plus, Brees is at the Coors Field of fantasy football, otherwise known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. A shootout-friendly venue, the Superdome has a 54-39-2 over/under record with Brees at quarterback.
The Saints are home favorites, and that’s the exact situation in which Brees has thrived most over the past half decade.
- Brees as a home favorite (35 games): 28.5 fantasy points, 330.7 yards and 2.5 touchdowns passing, 0.74 interceptions
- Brees in all other situations (44 games): 22.8 fantasy points, 295 yards and 1.75 touchdowns passing, 0.82 interceptions
Against a Bucs defense that was dead last in 2017 with an 11.7% DVOA and enters the season with PFF’s No. 31 secondary, Brees should smash. In a game that has the slate’s second-highest over/under, you should use our Lineup Builder to stack Brees with wide receiver Michael Thomas. Since 2014, NFL quarterbacks have a 0.45 correlation with their No. 1 wide receivers on average. Over that same time, Brees and his WR1s have an obscene 0.67 correlation.
Deshaun Watson: Houston Texans (+6) at New England Patriots, 50.5 O/U
When Watson (knee) suffered his season-ending injury last year, he was pacing for the greatest rookie quarterback season of all time. His impact on the Texans offense was immediate and compounding. In his seven appearances, they averaged 30.7 points per game. In his six starts, they averaged 34.7. In his five starts (Nos. 2-6) with at least a full week to prepare, they averaged 39. And in his four starts (Nos. 3-6) with both wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller active, they averaged 40.5.
As a fantasy producer, Watson was intoxicating. His sample is admittedly small, but over the past three years, only Newton in his 2015 MVP campaign has averaged more fantasy points per game in a season than Watson did last year with 24.1 — and that includes his partial Week 1 appearance.
Over his six starts, Watson averaged 29.4 DraftKings points per game with an unholy +13.15 Plus/Minus and 100% Consistency Rating.
And over his four starts with Hopkins and Fuller, Watson’s per-game stats were downright evil.
- 33.3 DraftKings points, +15.80 Plus/Minus, 100% Consistency Rating
- 292.8 yards and four touchdowns passing, 1.3 interceptions, 36.3 yards and 0.25 touchdowns rushing
I don’t want to be dramatic, but through seven NFL games, Watson has been the Michael Jordan of fantasy football.
There are questions about how well he will be able to scramble and maneuver in the pocket after his ACL tear, and those questions are fair. But Watson has reportedly looked healthy this offseason, and as an upside play in guaranteed prize pools, he deserves the benefit of the doubt — especially against a Patriots defense that allowed the sixth-most DraftKings points per game last year to quarterbacks (19.3).
It’s just icing on the cake that Watson played well against the Pats last year in Week 3, passing for 301 yards and two touchdowns and adding another 41 yards on the ground on his way to 25.1 DraftKings points.
Ben Roethlisberger: Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5) at Cleveland Browns, 46 O/U
There are some clear reasons to stay away from Roethlisberger this week. As of writing, the Browns-Steelers game is forecast for 78% chance of precipitation with winds approaching 20 miles per hour. This should go without saying, but bad weather is not good for quarterbacks.
Additionally, Roethlisberger has notoriously poor home/road splits. Each of the past four years, Antonio Brown has been an All-Pro wide receiver — and even with Brown to help him out, Roethlisberger has been an abomination away from Heinz Field.
- Roethlisberger at home (27 games): 29.1 fantasy points, 333.8 yards and 2.8 touchdowns passing, 0.89 interceptions
- Roethlisberger away (30 games): 17.6 fantasy points, 265.8 yards and 1.2 touchdowns passing, 0.93 interceptions
Roethlisberger has historically been a subpar NFL quarterback on the road, evidenced by his horrid -3.80 Plus/Minus and 30.0% Consistency Rating. But maybe Week 1 will be different.
The Steelers have a new offensive coordinator in Randy Fichtner, who reportedly has a good relationship with Roethlisberger and was promoted from quarterbacks coach because he presumably intends to run the up-tempo, no-huddle spread offense that Roethlisberger has been wanting for years. It’s possible that with a new play-caller and revamped system, Roethlisberger’s road performance could improve.
Additionally, running back Le’Veon Bell (as of writing) still has not signed his franchise tender. Even if he reports to the Steelers before Sunday, he could see a reduced workload, which could result in more passing work for Roethlisberger.
Finally, the Browns defense is bad. Coordinator Gregg Williams at times had his free safety line up 30 yards off the line of scrimmage. Naturally enough, the Browns allowed the seventh-most DraftKings points per game to quarterbacks (19.0) last year, and they enter the season with the PFF’s No. 30 secondary.
The Steelers are second in The Action Network Power Rankings, and they’re facing a 1-31 team. The Steelers are capable of losing a game like this, but they should be able to win. Roethlisberger is the highest-rated DraftKings quarterback in my Model.
Here’s a quick rundown of nine quarterbacks who have caught my eye (for good or bad).
Kirk Cousins: Minnesota Vikings (-6.5) vs. San Francisco 49ers, 46 O/U
- $6,500 DraftKings; $7,600 FanDuel
- Cousins has PFF’s No. 1 wide receiver unit with Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Laquon Treadwell.
Philip Rivers: Los Angeles Chargers (-3.5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 48 O/U
- $6,400 DraftKings; $7,500 FanDuel
- Rivers is the only quarterback with at least 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns passing in each of the past five seasons.
Patrick Mahomes: Kansas City Chiefs (+3.5) at Los Angeles Chargers, 48 O/U
- $6,000 DraftKings; $6,700 FanDuel
- Mahomes faces PFF’s No. 2 secondary and No. 3 pass rush in his first game as full-time NFL starter.
Andy Dalton: Cincinnati Bengals (+3) vs. Indianapolis Colts, 48.5 O/U
- $5,800 DraftKings; $6,800 FanDuel
- Dalton takes on a Colts pass defense that finished 2017 with a league-worst 28.5% DVOA.
Jimmy Garoppolo: San Francisco 49ers (+6.5) vs. Minnesota Vikings, 46 O/U
- $5,700 DraftKings; $7,100 FanDuel
- Garoppolo gets a Vikings defense that has held visiting quarterbacks to a league-low 15.6% Consistency Rating in head coach Mike Zimmer’s four-year tenure.
Dak Prescott: Dallas Cowboys (+3) at Carolina Panthers, 43 O/U
- $5,500 DraftKings; $7,000 FanDuel
- Prescott has 23.2 fantasy points per game with running back Ezekiel Elliott and 13.7 without him.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+9.5) at New Orleans Saints, 49.5 O/U
- $5,000 DraftKings; $6,200 FanDuel
- Fitzpatrick scored 20.1 fantasy points per game in four 2017 contests with 20+ pass attempts.
Eli Manning: New York Giants (+3) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 43.5 O/U
- $4,700 DraftKings; $6,300 FanDuel
- Manning has 21.7 fantasy points per game with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and 16.0 without him since 2014.
Nathan Peterman: Buffalo Bills (+7.5) vs. Baltimore Ravens, 40.5 O/U
- $4,200 DraftKings; $6,000 FanDuel
- Bantha fodder with PFF’s No. 29 offensive line and No. 32 wide receiver unit “led” by molasses-moving Kelvin Benjamin.
The Model Quarterbacks
Besides Brady and Roethlisberger, there are four quarterbacks atop the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
- Russell Wilson: $6,200 DraftKings; $7,900 FanDuel
- Andrew Luck: $6,100 DraftKings; $7,300 FanDuel
- Blake Bortles: $5,600 DraftKings; $6,600 FanDuel
- Tyrod Taylor: $5,400 DraftKings; $6,600 FanDuel
Russell Wilson: Seattle Seahawks (+3) at Denver Broncos, 42.5 O/U
Wilson is an intriguing tournament play on DraftKings, where he is the highest-rated quarterback in the Raybon Model and has a position-high 91% leverage score thanks to his high ceiling projection and low projected ownership.
The Broncos defense underwhelmed last year, but it enters 2018 with PFF’s No. 7 pass rush and No. 10 secondary. Plus, Mile High Stadium is a hard place to visit: Over the past three seasons, the Broncos have held quarterbacks to an NFL-worst road mark of 12.87 DraftKings points per game and a -4.83 Plus/Minus.
But Wilson is coming off a season in which he attempted a career-high 553 pass attempts, threw a league-high 34 touchdowns and led all quarterbacks other than the small-sampled Watson with 21.8 fantasy points per game. Wilson is second only to Newton with 484 carries and 2,786 yards rushing over the past five years, and his dual-threat ability gives him Konami Code upside. He leads all quarterbacks with four DraftKings Pro Trends.
Andrew Luck: Indianapolis Colts (-3) vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 48.5 O/U
Over the past half decade, Rodgers is the only quarterback with at least 16 starts to average more than Luck’s 20.1 fantasy points per game. Luck (shoulder) seems to have recovered from the injury and surgery that cost him the 2017 season, and even though he reportedly can no longer throw as hard as he once could, his style of play has never been based on arm strength. He’s also probably smart enough to compensate for his loss of velocity with anticipation, precision and pre-snap decisions, as many good quarterbacks do as they age.
There’s nothing daunting about Luck’s matchup with the Bengals. Third-year cornerback William Jackson III is coming off a great season (90.2 PFF grade), but he’s unlikely to shadow No. 1 wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who can line up all across the formation and is explosive enough to turn a couple of targets into touchdowns.
Even though the Colts have the slate’s fifth-highest implied total (25.75 points) and the game has the slate’s third-highest over/under, we’re expecting Luck to have an ownership rate of lower than 5% on FanDuel, where he has a position-high 96% leverage score and is the No. 1 quarterback in the Koerner Model.
Blake Bortles: Jacksonville Jaguars (-3) at New York Giants, 43.5 O/U
It’s true that Bortles leads the NFL over the past three years with 47 interceptions, that the Jags last year had a league-low 50.5% pass rate and that his career completion rate of 59.1% is befitting of a backup. Even so, Bortles is the No. 11 fantasy quarterback with 17.4 fantasy points per game over the past three years. Over that time the Jags have shifted from a pass-heavy to a run-first offense, but even last season Bortles managed to have seven games with either 300+ yards passing or multiple touchdowns.
Bortles is a subpar passer, but he is surrounded by a wealth of athletic high-upside receiving talent in wideouts Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Donte Moncrief and D.J. Chark, pass-catching backs T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Perhaps most importantly, Bortles is facing the Giants, who last year allowed quarterbacks to score a league-high 19.4 points per game on FanDuel, where Bortles is the highest-rated quarterback in the CSURAM88, Levitan, Raybon, SportsGeek and Freedman Models.
Tyrod Taylor: Cleveland Browns (+3) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 46 O/U
Taylor is basically Bizarro Bortles. Over the past three years, Taylor has averaged an identical 17.4 fantasy points per game, but has an elite interception rate of just 1.3%. Thanks to his rushing ability — he’s second only to Newton with 283 carries, 1,575 yards and 14 touchdowns since 2015 — Taylor with the Bills was a borderline fantasy QB1, which is exactly where we have him in our Week 1 rankings.
Like Bortles, Tyrod has a high-upside supporting cast with wide receivers Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway, pass-catching savant Duke Johnson and breakout tight end David Njoku.
As noted earlier, the weather in Cleveland could be poor, but Tyrod — as a risk-adverse running quarterback — might have the style of play that enables him to overcome the elements. Taylor is the No. 1 DraftKings quarterback in the CSURAM88, Levitan and Koerner Models as well as the highest-rated passer in the Bales Model for both DraftKings and FanDuel.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 1 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
After this piece is published, FantasyLabs is likely to provide news updates on a number of players. Be sure to stay ahead of your competition with our industry-leading DFS-focused news blurbs.
Photo credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Pictured above: Tom Brady