Football is back! After the NFL decided to simply show a rerun of last season's NFC Divisional Round matchup between Eagles and Falcons in lieu of the traditional Thursday night opener, we're hopefully in line for 12 new and original episodes to binge all Sunday afternoon.
With the return of the NFL season comes the return of the RotoWire FanDuel Fantasy Football Championship. The format is straightforward. We're running a $10 contest in each of the first 10 weeks of the season, where the top 150 users double their cash. You'll compete against fellow RotoWire readers as well as three experts: Kevin Payne, Jeff Erickson and Derek Van Riper. Beat all three experts in one week and you'll earn entry to Week 11's Free Play championship round. The top 120 players in that round will win a prize, with the first-place contestant coming home with $1,000 and a two-year subscription to RotoWire.
Meanwhile, the rest of the experts here at RotoWire will be competing in a parallel contest. Last year, Mike Doria claimed the title, with Tate McIntyre grabbing the silver and Hunter Van Asten coming home with the bronze. The full leaderboard can be found here.
After winning the expert side of this year's RotoWire FanDuel Baseball Championship, I'm out to prove I'm the next Bo Jackson by taking the football crown as well. (Bo may have a better arm and a better 40 time, but I like to think I have the ideal body type and athletic ability for sitting on a couch blogging about fantasy sports.) I'll be giving you some recommendations along the way. I'll also point you to our excellent lineup optimizer, my favorite place to go to start building out my lineup.
On to the picks! Note: the Falcons, Eagles, Bears, Packers, Jets, Lions, Rams and Raiders all play in or have already played in primetime games, so their players will not be included in Week 1's main slate.
WR Michael Thomas: New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
FanDuel Price: $8,500
You'll have to pay up to get Thomas, as he comes with the third-highest price tag among this week's receivers. In a week with obvious bargain options, however, there should be money to spare for a few splurges, and it's hard to argue Thomas isn't worth the cost. He's the clear top receiving option on a dynamic offense; his 149 targets outpaced his next-closest teammate (Alvin Kamara) by 49 last season, and the Saints didn't add anyone who looks like a real threat to his workload. New Orleans has the highest implied point total on the slate (29.5) and Thomas will likely be a large part of that against one of the worst pass defenses in the league. The only real risk here is that the Saints go up big early and run the ball to chew the clock for much of the second half.
DEF Baltimore Ravens vs. Buffalo Bills
FanDuel Price: $4,800
Only one team gets to square off against a quarterback with a career completion percentage below 50 percent and a career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 0.4. The Ravens are justifiably the most expensive defense against the Bills and Nathan Peterman and, as heavy favorites, will likely force him to throw far more than the Bills want. The differences in defenses' price tags are relatively small, so there's little reason to shy away from the most expensive option other than to try to differentiate yourself from the masses picking the obvious answer. The Jaguars against the interception-prone Eli Manning and the Vikings against Jimmy Garoppolo (who, despite the hype and the pretty face, threw five interceptions in five starts last season) look to be the best of the rest.
QB Andy Dalton: Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts
FanDuel Price: $6,800
Dalton enters with the 14th-highest cost out of the 24 starting quarterbacks in Sunday's slate. At first glance, that may seem fair, as he was mediocre at best last season. In Week 1, however, he faces a Colts defense that was awful against the pass last season in a game with real shootout potential – the over/under of 48 is the fourth-highest among all Sunday afternoon games. He also has more weapons available than he did for much of his disappointing 2017 campaign, as John Ross and Tyler Eifert return after playing a combined five games last season. There will be weeks in which Dalton is the most boring option on the slate, but this is not one of them. Consider stacking Dalton with an elite option such as A.J. Green or cheaper teammates such as Ross or Eifert.
RB Alex Collins: Baltimore Ravens vs. Buffalo Bills
FanDuel Price: $6,700
Collins comes in with the 15th-highest price tag among all running backs and is a very good bet to outperform that ranking. He established himself as the clear lead back in Baltimore last season and appears to have that role locked down again this year, to the point that he was barely required to play in preseason. Javorius Allen could steal some snaps on passing downs, but this game reads like one in which the Ravens won't have to do much passing; the Ravens are 7.5-point favorites, the second-largest favorites in the slate. What's not to love about a talented runner on a clear favorite going up against the team that was terrible against the rush last season?
RB James Conner: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
FanDuel Price: $5,000
$5,000 seems to be the price that FanDuel sets for all the running backs who are stuck behind the obvious workhorses. Conner shares that slot with Chase Edmonds, Jonathan Stewart and T.J. Yeldon, none of whom are likely to get many touches unless David Johnson, Saquon Barkley or Leonard Fournette suffers an early injury. Conner gets to keep his backup price even though he's now the clear leading man in Pittsburgh until the Le'Veon Bell contract situation is sorted out. There are certainly reasons to be unsure about Conner, of course: he's completely unproven at the NFL level, the Browns don't have a terrible rush defense and it's too early to tell how many touches will end up going to Jaylen Samuels. Still, getting a clear starter on a team expected to win easily (and therefore run a lot) for the price of a clear backup is too good of a bargain to pass up.
WR Keelan Cole: Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants
FanDuel Price: $4,500
Cole was probably underpriced even before Marqise Lee was ruled out for the year with a knee injury, but he now appears to have the inside track on being Blake Bortles' primary target and comes at a price point shared by names such as the Vikings' Stacy Coley, who had a grand total of one target last season. Yes, it's just Bortles throwing him the ball, and the Jaguars are the favorites and could end up running even more than normal, but the Giants were awful against the pass last season and it's difficult to pass up a leading wide receiver at such a low price. At $4,500, he's effectively free, as that's the minimum price for a wideout in FanDuel. All he costs is a roster spot.
QB Ben Roethlisberger: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
FanDuel Price: $8,000
Big Ben's away struggles are well-documented, yet he still comes into the slate with the fifth-highest cost out of all quarterbacks. Last season, the Steelers started with this exact same matchup, and he put up a mediocre 16.72 points – not bad enough to torpedo your chances, but not worth the high price tag. The loss of Le'Veon Bellis a mixed bag. It will likely force the Steelers to throw more, but it will also take away one of Roethlisberger's most dynamic pass-catching weapons. Anyone who gets to throw to Antonio Brown always has a chance to explode for a huge score, but there are plenty of reasons to believe this won't be the week for Big Ben.