Two of the key factors that make the National Football League bigger than any other sport in America are fantasy football teams & betting on games. Fantasy sports started with baseball, but football with its various stats & weekly games is the best fit for the genre. Especially the weekly games, as its tough for many people to update their lineups daily. Gambling, of course, has been a major part of football since the days of Jimmy the Greek. Every NFL game is a massive event, and putting money on it just makes things more interesting.
I’ve spent most of the past several years obsessing about everything but the actual games. I’m a well-known fantasy football addict that co-hosts a podcast on offtheteam.com with my best buddy Voodoo Penguin. I’ve also spent the last couple of years picking games against the spread on this very website. Why not combine both of my passions into one column? Also, why not improve my prep work for my podcast by making it part of this? Those who listen have been telling me for years that Penguin is better than me, so maybe this will help me get on his level.
Welcome to the only column combining fantasy football insight with gambling advice. We here at THE USB think that Brent Musburger, the longtime voice of college football and of our childhoods, will love this column. He’s like most of us, he’s all about that point spread & those fantasy points. That’s what we hope to help you with this week & every week after. We’ll start with the fantasy points, and at the end we’ll break down the spread.
This one’s pretty self explanatory. Booker T was doing the Fave 5 gimmick back when the Ocho was starting up, so we figured it only made sense to make it part of our show. These are five guys that are going to have tremendous weeks and lead your team to fantasy glory. And maybe even lead their actual team to glory, but we’re not worried about that too much here.
1. Ben Roethlisberger: In 23 games against the Cleveland Browns, Big Ben is 21-2 with 35 touchdown passes & 17 interceptions. That’s pretty good, right? Expect more of the same in Week 1, as the Steelers will likely be throwing the ball a ton due to Le’Veon Bell getting back into the swing of things. Going against the Browns is a good time to get into the swing of things.
2. Amari Cooper: The Raiders head to Tennessee to take on the Titans this week, and as you’ll see in the next section, I’m not high on their running game this week. Their passing game is another matter, as Derek Carr will be back from injury and ready to keep moving up the ranks of NFL QBs against a team that wasn’t so hot against the pass last season. Amari, or Armani as I like to call him, will benefit from this.
3. Adrian Peterson: I’m usually not high on 32-year old running backs that have had two out of the last three seasons plagued with injury & suspension issues, but this week I’m very high on ADAP. He’s with the New Orleans Saints now, which is also an issue going forward because their RB situation is always quite a sitation. This week, the Saints go to Minnesota to take on the Vikings on Monday night. REVENGE GAME! Peterson has let it be known that he wants to stick it to the Vikings this week, and you can expect him to do just that in front of a crowd that will probably cheer him against their team. Should be a good time.
4. Jordan Howard: There weren’t a ton of viable options on the Bears to begin with. Cameron Meredith going down for the season limits the offense more than it already was. If you’re a Jordan Howard owner, you can rejoice because Howard is the only really viable option for offense on that team. The Falcons defense certainly had its ups and downs last season, so expect a lot of Howard early and often to take advantage of it.
5. Jack Doyle: Andrew Luck is out. Scott Tolzien is in. This doesn’t mean anything good for the Indianapolis Colts, but it might turn out all right if you own their tight end. Doyle became a favorite of Luck’s last season, and with Dwayne Allen in Foxboro now that means he gets to be the TE1 in Indy without question. Tolzien is going to do a lot of checking down because him throwing the ball deep would be dumb, so Doyle stands to be one of the top options in a messy Colts offense early on. Especially in Week 1 against the Rams.
These are four people that you’re probably going to have to start, but you’re not going to be very happy about it. Our track record on this one is somewhat mixed over the years.
1. Dak Prescott: Dak had an outstanding rookie season, but there was one team he had some terrible struggles against. He went 0-2 against them, completed just over 50% of his passes, and threw 1 touchdown pass & 2 interceptions against them. Unfortunately for Dak, the Cowboys, and his fantasy owners, Week 1 puts him against that team: The New York Football Giants. I’d expect more of the same here, and if the Cowboys are smart, they’ll have Dak handing the ball off to Ezekiel Elliott early & often because the NFL decided to suspend Zeke but not for Week 1. I have no idea how to explain any of that, other than it’s going to be a bad week to own Dak.
2. Demaryius Thomas: Remember when Broncos WRs were an automatic source for fantasy points? Those days ended the moment Petyon Manning retired & was replaced by…whatever Denver feels like trotting out there. Trevor Siemian again? Sure, I guess, if that’s what you want to do with your life. You can’t trust any part of this situation, add in a groin injury & Thomas’s injury history from last season and trying to chase points with him on a Monday night seems like a bad time.
3. Marshawn Lynch: I’m usually not big on older RBs that take a year off, and Lynch is no different. I know everybody’s rooting for him because he’s a fantastic guy and so hilarious, but I wasn’t high enough to take him where people were taking him in drafts. I don’t care for his Week 1 matchup this week either, as the Raiders head to Nashville to take on a Titans defense that’s much better up front than in the secondary. Expect Derek Carr to throw the ball a ton and Beast Mode to not get too much to eat.
4. Seattle: I know everybody’s gaga over the Seahawk front seven and they will surely end up as one of the top fantasy defenses this season. So why are they here? It’s about the matchup: they’re getting Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Green Bay in Week 1. That’s just not a spot where defenses thrive. You may have noticed this through the years. The Seahawks will help you out most weeks, but not this one.
A lot of the fantasy experts out there love to give you their sleeper picks. It’s not a bad idea. The flaw in the execution is they’re typically not highlighting people you can pick up. I’ve seen experts telling me that Adam Thielen might get a lot of targets from Sam Bradford this week against the Saints, so he’s a good sleeper pick. That’s all well & good, but Thielen is owned in 75% of Yahoo leagues. That doesn’t help me unless I’m in an 8-team league, which, let’s be honest, is a waste of time & barely even worth bragging about winning a title in.
So what we’ve been doing on the Ocho for the past five seasons is highlighting some sleepers that are actually Off The Team. They’re owned in less than 50% of Yahoo leagues, just sitting on the wire waiting for you to pick them up. We typically like to go way deep and throw some darts, and as you’ll see by the percentages, each of my picks are owned in 15% or less of Yahoo leagues. That means that unless you’re in a super deep league, you can get them. For now.
1. James Conner (11%): Conner’s a rookie running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s a great story, as he played his college ball at the University of Pittsburgh and missed all but one game of 2015 fighting Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He beat it, came back strong in 2016 and got drafted by his hometown Steelers in the third round.
Meanwhile, my Bengals drafted a running back that punches women in the second round. That’s typical.
I love Conner’s story, and I like his situation this week. Le’Veon Bell is back with the Steelers and actually eligible to play in Week 1 for once, but they’re not going to need him that much against the lowly Browns. Look for Conner to get some good garbage time numbers and get some of those good Week 1 headlines as a wonderful story.
2. Marquise Goodwin (5%): Goodwin was known as a deep threat during his four seasons with the Buffalo Bills. He’s going to get more of a chance with the 49ers and is the type of receiver that should thrive in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Lord knows they’ll be throwing it a lot if the second half of the Super Bowl is any indication. The Panthers secondary doesn’t exactly scare anybody so you might see Brian Hoyer hook up with Goodwin this week and get some serious yardage.
3. Mike Glennon (4%): Of course, if you’re picking up QBs off the waiver wire in Week 1 you can go ahead and kiss your season goodbye already. But if you have Andrew Luck & you’re like Jim Irsay and didn’t get a backup because you weren’t thinking properly, Glennon is heading into one of the better matchups he’ll face while Bears QB1. He was perfectly solid in the Week 3 preseason game and I see him holding on to the job at least until the Bears’ Week 9 bye. He’s played against the Falcons before and has seen success against them with 6 touchdown passes, 0 interceptions & 71.5% pass completion percentage. Tampa lost three of the four games, and Chicago will probably suffer the same fate, but at least so far Glennon hasn’t been to blame.
Week 1 Picks Against The Spread
And now, the picks! This is the fourth year we’ve been doing this here at THE USB, and we’ve had a winning record every single season. We’re simplifying things this season, as there’s less long-winded rambling from me.
Kansas City at New England (-9): I don’t trust high point spreads this early in the season. The Patriots are certainly better than the Chiefs, but I think people are sleeping a little bit on KC. They’ll keep it close here, though I see the Patriots winning.
NY Jets at Buffalo (-8): Good God. I feel bad for anybody stuck watching this mess. Eight points is too high for my blood.
Atlanta (-7) at Chicago: Samesies. I don’t trust the Bears at all but I think the Falcons are a prime candidate for a Super Bowl Hangover. I can even see them losing this game somehow.
Jacksonville at Houston (-5.5): Hurricane Harvey couldn’t kill Houston. The Texans ride the emotional wave to victory this week over the Jags.
Philadelphia (-1) at Washington: Coin flip here. I thought the Rs looked good in Week 3 preseason against the Bengals. Kirk Cousins will be asking Eagles fans if they like that.
Arizona (-1.5) at Detroit: I’m not sure why Vegas is still so high on the Cardinals after last season’s debacle. Lions should come out pretty strong at home.
Oakland at Tennessee (-2): The Raiders were better on the road last season than they were in Oakland. The Titans are getting some hype this year but I always worry about teams that haven’t done anything yet getting a lot of press.
Baltimore at Cincinnati (-3): WHO DEY. I’m not particularly high on the Bengals this season, but the Ravens don’t look much better. Could end up being a three-point game like many in the AFC North.
Pittsburgh (-9) at Cleveland: The Browns & Steelers have close games sometimes, especially early in the season before everybody gets their bearings. Pittsburgh wins, but closer than you might think. Of course, 20 points might be closer than you might think.
Indianapolis at LA Rams (-3.5): Scott Tolzien on the road?
Seattle at Green Bay (-3): Should be the game of the week. I like Rodgers to have a big game and am not sold that Russell Wilson & the Seahawks will keep up. Especially since Wilson threw 5 INTs the last time he played the Packers. On the bright side, he can’t do worse.
Carolina (-5.5) at San Francisco: Going across the country is always tough to adjust to, especially in Week 1. Kyle Shanahan knows the Panthers well and will be ready for what they have to offer.
NY Giants at Dallas (-3.5): Dak struggles against the Giants. Even if the Cowboys win I see this being a game decided by a field goal.
New Orleans at Minnesota (-3.5): The Vikings ended the 2016 season terribly and weren’t exactly impressive in preseason play. The power of Peterson pulls the Saints over here.
LA Chargers at Denver (-3.5): Really tempting to take Phillip Rivers here, but I’ve seen him blow too many games throwing the ball to Broncos cornerbacks.
2014 Regular Season: 126-124-6
2015 Regular Season: 137-113-6
2016 Regular Season: 134-113-9