This article is part of our Showdown/Single Game DFS Breakdown series.
The 2020 NFL season kicks off with last year's Super Bowl winner playing host to the reigning AFC South champs, though any accolades for the Texans will quickly be thrown out because they come in as 9.0-point underdogs to the Chiefs in a game with a high 54.5-point total (both from FanDuel Sportsbook). DraftKings and FanDuel unsurprisingly posted some big contests for the NFL's return, including a Milly Maker on each site, with entries costing $10 on the former and $9 on the latter. Additionally, FanDuel is offering a $250,000 bonus pool that will be split among those who use the MVP spot on the player who scores the first rushing or receiving touchdown. One caveat is that there's only one payout per user, so if you have 150 lineups with the player who scores that first touchdown, you'll only be paid once.
Not everyone will enter those huge contests for a plethora of reasons, including the fact that they're just very, very, very hard to win, especially when one pays $1 million to first and only $5,000 to seventh (that's FanDuel; DraftKings pays $12,500 to seventh and eighth). Now, turning $10 into $5,000 is still pretty cool, but with so many duplicate lineups, you may not even be profitable if you make multiple lineups and only one finishes near the top. Winning showdown GPPs is all about leverage, while cash games are about not making stupid mistakes. Given that more people play GPPs, we'll focus more of the discussion there, but it's important to understand that long-shot options for tournaments usually don't make good cash-game plays.
It should be no surprise when Patrick Mahomes ($12,600 DK, $16,500 FD) is the most selected player on both sites, and he's likely to be the most popular captain and MVP. He has the easiest path to the highest score, and the real considerations about using him focus on what the salary multiplier on DraftKings does to the rest of your lineup(s) and whether the leverage of using someone else, or possibly fading him completely, is worth it. Mahomes' salary of $18,900 if used as a captain on DraftKings will take up 37.8 percent of the salary cap, leaving an average of $6,220 per flex spot, which only decreases if you choose to take one of the seven starters above that price. The salary limitations will push his popularity down a bit, but he's still going to be on a lot of rosters.
The other quarterback in this game, Deshaun Watson ($11,800 DK, $15,000 FD), doesn't provide much salary relief; in fact, he's the most expensive player on both sites behind Mahomes. Even with those expensive prices, we'll definitely see lineups including both quarterbacks and some long-shot players at the other flex spots, with the hope that the game is high scoring thanks to a lot of passing touchdowns but no single receiver accounting for multiple scores. Or, better yet, there are four touchdowns in the game and Watson and Mahomes each run for two. Watson's $17,700 captain salary on DraftKings leaves $6,460 per flex spot, and because the difference is fairly small versus Mahomes' price, plenty of people will just pay up for the KC quarterback instead.
The Chiefs' offense revolves around Mahomes, so while they are nine-point favorites, the expectation is that they'll get that lead thanks to his arm. On the other hand, you can make a reasonable assumption that the Texans will use Watson's arm if they do fall behind, so both players offer plenty of upside potential, with Mahomes the safer option because he's the big favorite.
With two great quarterbacks, we have plenty of receivers who could put up monster fantasy scores if they're able to break free for long touchdowns or somehow get a bigger share of the target pie than they're used to seeing. The biggest difficulty with trying to stack the Chiefs' passing game with Mahomes is that its primary pass catchers aren't cheap. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill ($10,400 DK, $13,000 FD) is more expensive than all players but Mahomes and Watson on DraftKings, while tight end Travis Kelce ($9,200 DK, $13,500 FD) is only behind the quarterbacks on FanDuel. The only realistic way of fitting them all in a lineup together is with a likely sub-optimal captain/MVP, which could be really detrimental if one of them goes off because you're losing out on the multiplier. That said, people will try it.
Captaining or using the MVP spot on one of the pass catchers is certainly a viable strategy that could pay off big time because receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns are more valuable than passing yards and passing touchdowns. If Kelce comes up with a two-touchdown game, using him in the captain slot and Mahomes as a flex will be much more beneficial than the other way around (assuming Mahomes doesn't also throw other scores and/or rushes for another). Choosing between Kelce and Hill is really a pick-your-poison decision: both are elite players at their positions who can put up big fantasy scores, with Hill's upside attributed to his ability to make big plays while Kelce relies more on receptions and touchdowns. However, it's really the next level of receivers that many will look at, mostly because they are cheap.
Sammy Watkins ($5,800 DK, $9,000 FD) and Mecole Hardman ($5,200 DK, $7,500 FD) certainly have the ability to break big plays, and they firmly fall into the category of being better GPP options than cash-game plays because they aren't high-volume receivers. There are plenty of optimistic expectations for Hardman this season, but we can't ignore that he maxed out at four receptions and finished with more than 80 receiving yards once last season. Watkins at least had two games with more than 100 yards, including his explosive nine catches on 11 targets for 198 yards and three touchdowns in Week 1, albeit that was without Hill. Hardman's pre-season expectations could make him more popular than Watkins in GPPs, but their reasonable outcomes are similar enough that taking the one on fewer rosters makes sense.
The available pass catchers don't end there, but anyone rostering Demarcus Robinson ($2,200 DK, $6,000 FD), Ricky Seals-Jones ($1,600 DK, $5,000 FD) or Byron Pringle ($1,000 DK, $5,000 FD) are likely mass entering and hoping for a freak score (this isn't a bad strategy for those players, but it's unlikely to be successful for those who make one or a handful of lineups).
Houston offers plenty of pass catchers too, even with DeAndre Hopkins no longer on the team. We can't ignore that the Texans are big underdogs, but theoretically that should mean Watson is throwing the ball, which will point plenty of fantasy players toward Will Fuller ($8,000 DK, $10,500 FD), who is now the team's No. 1 wideout. Fuller has a ton of upside, as we saw in Week 5 last year against Atlanta when he caught 14 of 16 targets for 217 yards and three touchdowns, and while that level is highly unlikely to be replicated Thursday against Kansas City, the reasonable expectation is that he'll at least lead the Texans in targets.
Fuller will certainly be popular for fantasy players who expect a lot out of the Texans' passing game, but he won't be the only one. Randall Cobb ($4,200 DK, $8,500 FD) could actually be on a good number of fantasy rosters because he's so cheap and likely to be in the same target range as Fuller and Brandin Cooks ($7,200 DK, $10,000 FD), who is questionable because of a hamstring injury. If Cooks ends up not playing, Cobb should only see his popularity increase because of the expectations of a few additional targets. That same line of thinking also applies to Kenny Stills ($4,600 DK, $7,500 FD), who is much more of a big-play threat than Cobb, though he's also not as likely to have as many passes thrown his way. Even if Cooks does play, we'll likely see Cobb rostered relatively highly because of his price, while Stills still presents as a solid long-shot option who won't be rostered by quite as many people as he would if Cooks was out (i.e. he's a solid GPP option).
Anyone else likely requires a prayer for a big score, with Keke Coutee ($1,400 DK, $6,500 FD) and DeAndre Carter ($800 DK, $5,500 FD) more likely to not play any offensive snaps than score a long touchdown. Tight ends Darren Fells ($4,400 DK, $6,500 FD) and Jordan Akins ($3,200 DK, $5,000 FD) fall into that category as well, except their touchdown expectations don't come with long yardage.
Running backs in this game are certainly expected to catch passes as well, but they should be discussed in their own section because of the increased number of touches they're likely to get. Clyde Edwards-Helaire ($8,800 DK, $12,000 FD) could be a popular captain/MVP pick for those who want to differentiate from Mahomes or Watson, as he's expected to get a bulk of the work out of the Chiefs' backfield. We saw numerous times last season how effective Damien Williams could be, and there are plenty of high expectations for the rookie Edwards-Helaire, even though we have zero preseason games to see how they will use him. Because he is cheaper than Mahomes, Watson, Kelce and Hill while expected to have a major role in the offense, Edwards-Helaire could be the second-most popular Chiefs captain/MVP, especially because you're not priced out from other high-impact Chiefs in flex spots.
That said, Edwards-Helaire isn't expected to have all of the running back touches for Kansas City, which puts Darrel Williams ($1,800 DK, $6,000 FD) in the conversation, especially because he's so cheap. As RotoWire's Jerry Donabedian points out in his latest Hidden Stat Line article about projecting running back touches: this one requires the disclaimer that it's merely an educated guess. These three guys [Edwards-Helaire, Williams and Darwin Thompson] have played a grand total of 416 offensive snaps in NFL regular-season games. So, there's certainly risk with Edwards-Helaire, mostly because of Williams, but it doesn't seem completely nuts to consider rostering them together with the hope of getting all of the backfield touches for a team that's a nine-point favorite in a game with a 54.5-point total.
The Texans' backfield is a frustrating one because Duke Johnson ($4,800 DK, $8,000 FD) seems to be better than David Johnson ($7,600 DK, $11,500 FD), but the latter is likely to get a majority of the backfield work after being traded for Hopkins this offseason. Based on the spread, it's tough to make an argument that either should be rostered because if the Texans fall behind they aren't likely running the ball much to get back into the game. The case for David is simply that he should get more overall touches ("should" in respect to what's more likely to happen not what the coaches should do), and while both could be involved in the passing game, that volume isn't expected to be high because of the other available pass catchers.
This all said, a David Johnson captain/MVP would be quite the contrarian move, as not only are you effectively playing for a Texans win, you're doing so and targeting the running back on a team expected to pass a lot because they have an elite quarterback with numerous solid receivers.
Kickers in showdown slates are usually reserved for cash games because they generally have reliable floors versus their prices but their upsides aren't that high. Occasionally we'll get some terrible Thursday or Monday night games that are expected to be low scoring, in which case kickers make for decent GPP plays, even in the captain/MVP slots, but this Thursday's game doesn't seem to fall in that category with the highest total of any game in Week 1.
Even so, I can guarantee that Harrison Butker ($3,800 DK, $9,500 FD) will at least get some consideration on DraftKings in a captain spot because his low salary allows for a number of elite players in the flex spots. I generally think that's unlikely to be optimal, but if the game ends up not having many touchdowns, the odds of it working out is in the range of possibilities. On the other side, Ka'imi Fairbairn ($3,600 DK, $9,000 FD) becomes a possibility if you think the only way the Texans score is with their kicker, but you're basically relying on his floor versus the upside of some of the lower-priced receivers in the game who surely have more upside.
It's tough to get excited about either defense in this game given the high total, so using them falls into the contrarian line of thinking. Points allowed isn't actually that detrimental for fantasy defenses on DraftKings (FanDuel doesn't offer defenses in their single-game contests), so turnovers and sacks is what we're after. Unfortunately, Mahomes threw only five interceptions and took only 17 sacks in 14 regular season-games last year, so banking on the Texans defense ($2,800) to put up a helpful score seems wishful, at best. And while Watson was sacked 44 times in 15 games, he threw only 14 interceptions on 495 pass attempts, so how much are we likely to get from the Chiefs defense ($3,400)? Using either one (or both!) is not for the faint of heart, but for those who like to get risky, using defenses and kickers in the first game of the season that had no preseason contests and limited training camps because of a worldwide pandemic doesn't seem so crazy.