Vegas Meets Fantasy Football: How To Use Week 1 Betting Odds To Set Your Fantasy Lineup - Roto Street Journal
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Vegas Meets Fantasy Football: How To Use Week 1 Betting Odds To Set Your Fantasy Lineup

Quick, without thinking: what are the two best things about football? Easy: fantasy football and gambling. Well, and having something to do on Sundays. And chicken wings. And cheerleaders. And — ok, I’m getting carried away. Fantasy and gambling, that’s what we settled on, right? Cool. Well much like peanut butter & jelly or Tom Brady & Gisele, your friend/fellow gambling degenerate Keegs is on a mission to combine two of the greatest things on planet Earth. How? Glad you asked.

Every week, we see the odds of NFL games all over the place. Seattle is 3-point favorites against Green Bay, the over/under for Pittsburgh/Cincinnati is set at 49.5, etc. Sure, you can use those to try and make a few bucks, but what about for fantasy? Believe it or not, gambling lines can tell you A LOT about who you should be trotting out there in your fantasy or even DFS lineup. So each week, I’m here to give you a handful of tips, based on the lines set by our buddies over in Nevada, that’ll hopefully help you towards your ultimate goal of a fantasy football championship. Simple enough? Cool, let’s get started.

Odds via Bovada.com

Team to Love: Pittsburgh Steelers

Week 1 Line: -9.5 @ Cleveland Browns; Over/Under 47

Ok, I know what you’re thinking: this section just screams “insert whoever’s playing the Browns here.” Not always the case, but in this instance, you’re right. This week 1 matchup between the Steelers and Browns represents the most lopsided line of the week, and for good reason: the Browns haven’t had a winning season since 2007 and seem doomed to repeat that trend again this season, while Pittsburgh has been to the AFC Championship 3 times in that span, winning it twice. And heading into 2017, Pittsburgh has returned the majority of an offense that was 3rd in the AFC last year, while Cleveland will trot out a rookie QB in Deshone Kizer and a defense that topped only San Fran and New Orleans in scoring a season ago. Basically, this should be a one-sided slaughter.

Ben Roethlisberger may not be a spry young’n anymore, but what he lacks in youth he makes up for in strength and awareness. He’ll carve up Cleveland’s sorry secondary that surrendered almost 250 pass yards a game in 2016, and his receivers will certainly benefit — none more than Antonio Brown. AB has been a consensus top-5 pick in fantasy drafts this year, typically 3rd after David Johnson and teammate Le’Veon Bell (who I’ll get to), and for good reason. AB was top-5 last season in catches (106), targets (155), yards (1,284), and TDs (12). He’s arguably the best route-runner in football, and excels at making guys miss. I also expect big things out of Martavis Bryant, who was suspended for the entire 2016 season due to multiple drug violations. Bryant has just 21 NFL games under his belt since being drafted in the 4th round by Pittsburgh in 2014, and has yet to top 50 receptions in a season, but certainly possesses the talent. In those 21 games, Bryant has recorded 76 receptions, 1,314 yards and 14 touchdowns. He performed well in the preseason when he got reinstated, and should build up a solid rapport with Big Ben as 2017 progresses. And with Cleveland’s secondary now moving forward without All-Pro CB Joe Haden, who was released last week and signed by Pittsburgh the next day, their DBs will struggle to keep up with the athleticism of Bryant and AB, as well as some less target pass catchers like Eli Rogers or Jesse James.

Which brings us to the main event: Le’Veon Bell. A consensus top-2 fantasy pick, Bell finally ended his contract holdout recently and will suit up for Week 1 in Cleveland, looking to start a campaign that should net him a lucrative deal by season’s end. Bell’s 2016 season didn’t start until Week 4 due to suspension, but even so he managed to finish 5th in the NFL in rushing yards and 2nd in rush yards per game at over 105. Better yet, he proved his status as one of the best two-way backs in the league, leading all RBs in receiving yards and leading the entire NFL in yards after catch. He’s the ultimate weapon when healthy/not suspended, and against a weak Cleveland defense that also has to worry about Pittsburgh’s other weapons, he should have a field day.

Team to Hate: New York Jets

Week 1 Line: +9 @ Buffalo Bills; Over/Under 40

Again, I can hear you now: duh. The Jets on paper are one of the worst teams we’ve seen in decades, and the 0-16 murmurs have been going strong in the Meadowlands since Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker escaped that hellhole months ago. But this game in particular screams “STAY AWAY” from the J-E-T-S.

Buffalo’s defense isn’t exactly the cream of the crop, but against a team like New York, it really doesn’t have to be. The Bills are coming off a season in which they finished 6th in the NFL in pass defense, and although they lost Stephon Gilmore in free agency, they countered that by adding safety Micah Hyde to the secondary. The Jets likely couldn’t complete many passes against your average NCAA defense, so facing Buffalo’s stout air defense on the road won’t exactly be a walk in the park. And although Bilal Powell represents the lone bright spot in New York’s otherwise abysmal offensive unit, even he can’t fully overcome the Jets below-average offensive line that was ranked at #20 on PFF’s 2017 rankings. Buffalo’s D should be able to bottle up anything the Jets could possibly bring to the table offensively, and it should result in a frustrating day for New York.

And if you’re thinking that maybe the Jets defense could be a bright spot… don’t. Tyrod Taylor has been officially cleared to play Week 1 after suffering a concussion in the preseason, and I see nothing that tells me he won’t be able to repeat his top-10 fantasy campaign from last season where he led all QBs in rushing yards (580) and rushing TDs (6). LeSean McCoy‘s workload should increase with the departure of Mike Gillislee, and we should see solid receiving numbers out of Jordan Matthews and Zay Jones now that Sammy Watkins is in Los Angeles.

Bottom line: the spread and over/under indicate how this game will be played out. It’ll be low scoring, and any scoring that does occur will probably be done by Buffalo. HARD pass on the Jets this week.

Game of the Week: Oakland Raiders @ Tennessee Titans

Line: Tennessee -1.5; Over/Under 50.5

Obviously the over/under above 50 is intriguing, but all around this game just screams fantasy points. Let’s break it down by team.

First, Oakland. When you’re talking Raiders, you’ve gotta start with Derek Carr, who was the highest paid player in the league for a few months this offseason before Matthew Stafford overtook him recently with his own mega-deal. But money aside, Carr is one of the bright young stars of this league. In my opinion, he was the NFL MVP last year before injuries derailed his season and forced him to miss the team’s playoff game, but he’s back at full strength for 2017 and has a whole bunch of weapons around him. I’m insanely excited about Amari Cooper, who finished 8th in the NFL in receiving yards last season despite not even leading his own team in targets. He’s entering year 3 in the league and should take a huge leap this season, cementing his status as the Raiders #1 option for the foreseeable future. The man who topped him in targets a season ago, Michael Crabtree, is also a name to keep an eye on fantasy-wise. Crabtree turns 30 next week but still boasts the speed and athleticism of a top wideout, making him and Cooper one of the more formidable 1-2 WR combos in the NFL for 2017. And of course you’ve got one of the biggest stories of the offseason in the return of Marshawn Lynch. Everyone around Raiders camp has remarked on how fresh Lynch’s legs have looked heading into this year, and that can only mean big things for Beast Mode. Consider this: Marshawn Lynch leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns since 2011. And that’s including a 2015 season in which he only played 7 games due to injury and a 2016 season when he was RETIRED, completely out of football. And with Latavius Murray off to Minnesota and not much competition behind him, Lynch should have himself a heck of a campaign, starting with Week 1 in Nashville.

As far as the Titans are concerned, we’re looking at one of the up-and-coming franchises in the NFL. It all starts with Marcus Mariota, who is being touted as a top fantasy QB that you can snag as late as the 10th or 11th round in most drafts. He combines arm strength and speed in a way we don’t see very often, and he’ll be eager to show off his offseason progress as early as possible, especially in front of a home crowd. When Mariota’s not scrambling for first downs or hurling the ball downfield, he’ll have a pair of stellar backs to help him out. First we have DeMarco Murray, who finished 5th in fantasy scoring among RBs last season and finds himself once again running behind one of the best offensive lines in football. While Murray should get the bulk of the carries between the 20s as he’s often able to utilize his elusiveness and break off big runs, his goal-line opportunities may be poached by former Bama standout Derrick Henry. Titans coach Mike Mularkey has had high praise for Henry this preseason, calling his performances “phenomenal, just phenomenal” after Henry totaled 89 yards and 2 TDs on 33 carries in 3 preseason contests. He’s still clearly the team’s #2 back, but his 6’3″, 247 lb. frame bodes well for goal-line work on what could be a prolific offense. The Titans receiving core boasts some young talent in Rishard Matthews and Corey Davis, as well as a solid veteran presence from former Jet Eric Decker. Add in Delanie Walker at tight end, and this is an offense that can give defensive coordinators nightmares. They may not have it all figured out just yet, but even in Week 1 against a solid Oakland team, I’m expecting big things out of the Tennessee offense.

Honorable Mentions:

Team: Atlanta Falcons (-7 @ Chicago Bears); Over/Under 49

Yes, the Falcons are definitely susceptible to a Super Bowl hangover, especially after historically blowing a surefire lead in the biggest game on the planet. But what’s one of the most perfect remedies for that? Daaaaaaaaaa Bears. Chicago’s defense wasn’t exactly stellar a season ago, and despite some decent additions in the secondary (namely Prince Amukamara) they still find themselves in the bottom of the pack defensively. Meanwhile, the Falcons went all the way to the Super Bowl last season with the 25th ranked defense in the league, which is a testament to how dominant their offense was in 2016. The Falcons were in the top 5 in the league in passing yards, rushing yards, and total yards, and led the league by scoring a whopping 33.8 points per game in 2016. Matt Ryan won MVP, the backfield was dominant, and Julio Jones was — well, Julio Jones. The team returns all its major offensive pieces in 2017, and against a lowly Chicago team, should light it up in Week 1. If you’ve got Ryan, Jones, Devonta Freeman, or even some fringe guys like Tevin Coleman or Austin Hooper… you’re gonna wanna start ’em.

Game: Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers (-3); Over/Under 50.5

Yeah, Seattle’s defense is the real deal. They’ve got more Pro Bowlers than anyone, and they’ve been a model defense for the last few seasons. But at Lambeau, on the Packers’ turf, that just doesn’t mean as much. As indicated by the very high over/under, this matchup will likely be a shootout between two solid offenses with superstar QBs. For Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers has been the consensus fantasy QB1 for a couple years now. He’s extremely mobile, allowing him to extend plays, and has the arm to make almost any throw you can imagine. He’ll enjoy the return of his 3 top weapons in 2017, too: Jordy NelsonDevante Adams, and Randall Cobb. Any of these guys could be WR1s on another team, which just shows the depth of this offense and the power Rodgers has to make average receivers great ones. And although Ty Montgomery has a lot of growing to do after switching from WR to RB last season out of necessity, he’s got the raw talent and finds himself in an extremely talented offense, which could take the attention off of the young back long enough to make a handful of plays. For Seattle, it all starts with the health of Russell Wilson. Wilson is finally at 100%, which bodes extremely well for this offense. Doug Baldwin is arguably the most underrated WR1 in football, and his chemistry with Wilson should show proudly against a Green Bay secondary that allowed the 2nd-most passing yards in football last season. As great as the Packers have been as the Brett Favre era gave way to the Aaron Rodgers era, defense has never been a strong suit for them, and Seattle has the weapons to exploit that. Jimmy Graham is going to be the reliable red zone target he’s always been, and Tyler Lockett has taken over as the undisputed WR2 in the slot after the trade of Jermaine Kearse to the Jets, while Paul Richardson could also have an impact opposite Baldwin. The backfield situation is shaky right now, with Eddie LacyThomas Rawls, and C.J. Prosise all claiming pieces of the puzzle, but once we get a few weeks into the season we should know who that backfield belongs to. But as far as week 1 goes, either QB or any pass catchers on these squads is a solid start.

Game: New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings (-3); Over/Under 48

This is a classic matchup of an unstoppable force and an immovable object. While New Orleans boasted the top offense in the NFL in 2016, racking up over 425 yards per game, the Vikings trotted out one of the best defensive units in football. Leading all defenses in fantasy scoring, Minnesota’s D boasted 5 Pro Bowlers and dominated throughout the season despite the team’s 8-8 record. They employ essentially the same defensive unit for 2017, but the Saints offense can’t say the same — most notably, they traded WR Brandin Cooks to New England for a couple draft picks. With Willie Snead suspended after a DUI, the receiving burden falls primarily onto Michael Thomas and Tedd Ginn, Jr., with future Hall of Famer Drew Brees still serving as the team’s gunslinger. Most notably this offseason, the team added Adrian Peterson to compete with Mark Ingram in the backfield, and both backs could be reliable fantasy options as the year progresses. While this has been Ingram’s backfield for some time, many around the team have remarked how great AP has looked throughout camp and the preseason, and an RB1 role is not out of the question for the former All-Pro running back. Minnesota’s offense isn’t exactly a mecca of fantasy production, but rookie RB Dalvin Cook is primed for a workhorse role and should have the talent to take full advantage of the reps. Both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs carry the potential for solid WR production on this squad, but with the inconsistency of Sam Bradford at QB, you’re better off looking elsewhere. Regardless, this could be a shootout in Minnesota, and you’ll want to take advantage.

Any other odds we should be keeping an eye on? Let me know on Twitter, and make sure to consult the Roto Street Journal for all your fantasy football needs.