It's all happening this weekend – football season's kicking off, and the RotoWire & Fanduel Fantasy Football Championship is too. The first 10 weeks will be qualifiers with a $5,000 minimum prize pool, so get those $5 entries in there and see if you can beat the experts!
This season's contest is set to run for 11 weeks, starting this Sunday (and including Monday night games) – but our separate experts pool runs 16 weeks, with a dreaded Week 17 title game. I tell you, you readers have it easy. Anyway, after my grossly disappointing effort in the baseball championship, I'm back with a chip on my shoulder and ready for a big year of football money-winning.
Of course, Week 1 results may be among the toughest of the year to predict, as NFL coaches have a tendency to surprise us and players tend to pop out of nowhere to make big plays. With that in mind, as a general strategy, I'm looking to make safe, veteran-oriented bets rather than gambling on total unknowns in this first contest. Let's take a look.
QB Sam Bradford: Philadelphia Eagles @ Atlanta Falcons
FanDuel Price: $7,500
If you're going to go after value anywhere on FanDuel, quarterback is probably the place to do it. Why? Well, look at the average scores – the top quarterbacks only outproduce the top running backs by a few points on average in FanDuel's scoring, and they generally have higher fantasy floors, making it safer to take a middling quarterback than a running back or receiver in an uncertain situation. That brings us to Bradford, who's well cheaper than the top options at QB, but looked fantastic in the preseason and gets the benefit of playing in Chip Kelly's uptempo offense. Not only that, but the Eagles draw a Falcons team that was the seventh-most-generous to opposing fantasy quarterbacks last year, and while they made some additions in the secondary, it wasn't been anything major. Bradford benefits from what should be an outstanding running game (with a couple backs who can catch the ball) as well as a stud in the making at receiver in Jordan Matthews, a promising rookie in Nelson Agholor, and a competent-enough crew of depth. His injury downside makes Bradford a risk (albeit a relatively cheap one) in season-long leagues, but his game-to-game upside makes him a perfect DFS candidate.
RB Chris Ivory: New York Jets vs. Cleveland Browns
FanDuel Price: $6,400
Ivory wasn't the most exciting fantasy back to own last year, but 2015 could be a different story. Chris Johnson and the nearly 180 touches he stole are gone now, and the likes of Bilal Powell, Zac Stacy and Stevan Ridley haven't done anything to make it appear terribly likely to vulture carries away. New coach Todd Bowles has no loyalty to those guys, and Ivory was at his best last season when he got to touch the ball more and get into a rhythm. Cleveland rolled out a below-average run defense last year, and though they added a big body in the middle with first-round pick Danny Shelton, this is a defense with a lot of weak spots. Better yet for fantasy purposes, it's tied to an offense that projects to have a lot of trouble moving the ball – if the Jets can take an early lead, Ivory could benefit from a big second-half workload. It's well worth noting that he's cheaper than a host of "who knows what you'll get" names like Tevin Coleman, Giovani Bernard, Darren McFadden and T.J. Yeldon.
WRDavante Adams: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
FanDuel Price: $5,500
I know I said I want to go with known quantities, but even though he's not quite established, Adams represents spectacular value at receiver this week. For only $5,500, you can get Aaron Rodgers' No. 2 wideout. 'Nuff said. But if you'd like me to say more, Chicago allowed the ninth-most points to opposing wideouts last year, and Randall Cobb is still nursing a shoulder injury that could mean Adams' cup will runneth over with targets. Here's what Adams did last year in the four games that he saw eight or more targets: six catches for 77 yards, seven catches for 75 yards, six catches for 121 yards, and seven catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. Keep in mind that FanDuel is 0.5 PPR; guys like Adams and the criminally underrated Jarvis Landry ($6,900) offer great values in that format.
High Risk/High Reward
QB Andrew Luck: Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills
FanDuel Price: $9,200
If I wasn't playing Bradford, I'd definitely be in on Luck, who led all quarterbacks in FanDuel points per game last year and has a very good chance to repeat the feat this season. He won't have the easiest of tasks on the road against the newly Rex Ryan-led Bills, but it's hard to find fault with Luck in any matchup. The Colts' upgraded running game with Frank Gore should make his job easier, and he's now got the big target he needed in Andre Johnson. Both those guys are old, but hey, this is a one-week league, not a keeper. (They're interesting value plays themselves – particularly Johnson.) And Luck's 500 bucks cheaper than Aaron Rodgers, which is simply an injustice.
RB DeMarco Murray: Philadelphia Eagles @ Atlanta Falcons.
FanDuel Price: $8,500
This isn't an indictment of Murray, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him run well against the Falcons – who were even more generous to the running game last year than they were to the passing game – but his circumstances on the Eagles make me wary of paying the freight to roll him out in my lineup. The coaches have specifically said they want to get Darren Sproles some touches, and "backup" Ryan Mathews has a big enough contract that he'll get his touches too. A huge part of Murray's value last season hinged on his enormous carry total, but the current projections have him averaging around 15 or 16 carries a game (that is, about 250 for the season). That makes sense if you're the Eagles – after all, the guy toted the ball 400-plus times last year and thus presents a massive injury risk – but it could mean that he'll have a hard time coming even close to last year's 13 hundred-plus-yard efforts. I'll be playing the waiting game on Murray to see how the Eagles deploy him and their other options.
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