NFL Grind Down Week 1: New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys

Vegas Overview

NYG @ DAL Team Spread Total Implied Moneyline
DAL -7 46 26.5 -300
NYG 7 46 19.5 250

Spread Quick Take: The Giants are horrendous. The Cowboys have a solid all around team and appear likely to get Ezekiel Elliott signed in time for this game. I’ll pound Giants opponents ATS all year until the Vegas lines catch up to just how awful this team is.

DAL -7
Confidence Level: 9 out of 10

Over/Under: Well, if the Giants aren’t going to score any points, that means Dallas has to put up 47 on their own in order for the over to hit. I’m being sarcastic, of course, but I simply don’t expect the Giants to be able to hang offensively in this game, and I expect Dallas to get a lead and let the clock roll. Give me the under in this one, though I prefer the Dallas spread bet more.

Under 46
Confidence Level: 6 out of 10

Injury Situations

Player Team Pos Status Part Impact
Ezekiel Elliott DAL RB Q Holdout 10
Amari Cooper DAL WR P Heel 5
Blake Jarwin DAL TE Q Foot 5
Sterling Shepard NYG WR P Hand 8
Golden Tate NYG WR O Suspension 5

Injuries to Monitor: This is likely the most impactful injury-related game on the Week 1 slate. Dallas has key players on the report in Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper. However, it sounds like a deal for Elliott is near (admittedly, that status seems to change every day). Blake Jarwin is banged up, which might hand Jason Witten a few more snaps. Sterling Shepard is still recovering from a preseason hand injury for the Giants, and Golden Tate will have to deal with a suspension for failing a drug test.

There are important defensive injuries to keep an eye on, as well. Robert Quinn has been suspended for the Cowboys, though he might not have been back from injury anyhow. Byron Jones has been hurt but should be ready to go by all accounts. The same goes for top offensive lineman Tyron Smith.

Despite all these news items, it’s possible that all the non-suspended players will be ready and will start in the opener.

Other News and Notes: This game will be played in the heat of the late afternoon, and it is supposed to hit 100 degrees in Dallas on Sunday. That’s HOT for this time of year. We might see more players rotate out of the game because of that heat.

Matchup Factors, Team Identity Metrics, and Game Flow Expectations

Expected Game Pace and Tempo: Dallas loves to play slow and bleed time of possession. Assuming Elliott is back, don’t expect that to change in a game where they are solid home favorites. The Giants were above average in pace last year, but much of that was largely due to them playing from behind all too often. Again, don’t expect that to change in a game where they are large road underdogs. The teams combined to average 63 plays in their two regular season meetings last year, and a similar number would make sense here as a good faith estimate.

Dallas Cowboys Offense vs. New York Giants Defense: Dallas isn’t the flashiest offense, but they know what their strengths are, and they play to those strengths. They have arguably the NFL’s best offensive line — particularly in run blocking. As such, the team ranked 9th in rushing offense DVOA a year ago, and they lean on their star players in Prescott, Elliott, and Cooper. They should also be able to control possession with a bad offense on the other side, and that will limit Prescott’s need to make tons of plays. I like the Dallas offense, but this isn’t exactly a dominant, high upside spot because of likely game flow.

New York Giants Offense vs. Dallas Cowboys Defense: The Giants have Saquon Barkley. He is great. The rest of the offense… is not. The loss of Odell Beckham will crater the efficiency of this offense, and I would expect their passing DVOA to drop sharply from the rank of 15th that they posted a year ago. Their big plays will almost all be on the shoulders of Barkley, and Dallas will undoubtedly key on slowing him down. Eli Manning simply has nothing left, and he ranked below average in both WR and TE target efficiency a year ago. The Dallas defense is by no means as elite as they used to be, but they ranked 9th overall in DVOA last year and don’t have a major weakness. There’s not much to get excited about with this group.

Dallas Cowboys Projections Breakdown

Quarterback Projections

Player Team Rank Proj ProjAtt ProjYds Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ FD Pts/$ Y
Dak Prescott DAL QB12 18.56 33.98 243.95 Rank 13 Rank 11 Rank 8 Rank 26

NYG Schedule Adjusted QB points allowed (‘18): Rank #18

2018 Opportunity Metrics:
Att/Gm: 32.9 (Rank #23)
RuAtt/Gm: 4.7 (Rank #7)
DeepBall/Gm: 3.8 (Rank #26)

2018 Efficiency Metrics:
Accuracy Rating: 2.9 (Rank #13)
Air Yards/Att: 7.8 (Rank #25)
AdjYPA: 6.8 (Rank #18)

Dak Prescott could put up very good numbers if he played for a different team. Instead, he plays for a team that wants to run the football, control the clock, and slow the pace. That’s a problem when it comes to access to fantasy upside. Prescott simply doesn’t get the volume that other good quarterbacks get, and that’s a factor whether we like it or not. He also doesn’t throw the ball deep as often as other gunslingers, as Dallas doesn’t often need to take risks in their passing game. He’s an efficient quarterback who is also capable with his legs, but it’s difficult to side with him with a relatively low ceiling. That is especially true in games where Dallas checks in as a large favorite, as they do here against a bad team.

If you want to take a chance on hyper efficiency trumping opportunity, the matchup is certainly there. The Giants allowed the third highest percentage of explosive pass plays last season. Janoris Jenkins has become a below average corner. I’m not convinced that Jabrill Peppers will be a difference maker on a dysfunctional team. Prescott has talented receivers and is capable of big plays. I’m just not convinced that he will have enough opportunity to make it happen. There are obviously safer options in cash games, and I don’t see the upside in GPP formats.

Quick Summary: I like the talent and matchup, but limited opportunity on a run-first team says pass on Prescott.

Running Back Projections

Player Team Proj Rank ProjRu% ProjTar% Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FDFT
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 21.28 RB2 71% 14% Rank 1 Rank 20 Rank 8 Rank 19
Tony Pollard DAL 6.46 RB53 16% 7% Rank 51 Rank 57 Rank 66 Rank 29
Alfred Morris DAL 0.56 RB97 4% Rank 92 Rank 91 Rank 94 Rank 92

NYG Schedule Adjusted RB points allowed (‘18): Rank #6

2018 Ezekiel Elliott Opportunity Metrics:
Opportunity Share: 0.901 (Rank #1)
RZ Opportunity Share: 0.903 (Rank #2)

2018 Ezekiel Elliott Efficiency Metrics:
Yards Created: 540 (Rank #3)
YPC: 4.7 (Rank #22)
Yards Per Route: 2.13 (Rank #12)

We have one hurdle out of the way, as Dallas has finalized a contract extension with their franchise running back. If you want to know just how impactful running backs are on today’s NFL game, just take a look at the Vegas line.

When there was serious doubt about Elliott’s availability for this game, the line settled at Dallas -7.

When Elliott signed, the line settled at Dallas -7.

Big move, eh?

This is extreme fuel for the “RB doesn’t matter” crowd, or perhaps it’s an indication that Tony Pollard would have been a solid fill-in. In any case, whoever is taking carries in this backfield will have the opportunity to run behind arguably the best run-blocking offensive line unit in the league. The question becomes how much Elliott will play after missing the entirety of training camp. Jason Garrett said that Elliott didn’t need to practice to play, and Zeke will obviously start, but it would be foolish to expect 26-28 touches right out of the gate. Conditioning will likely be a bit of an issue, especially given the heat that is expected in Dallas.

I would expect this to cost Elliott somewhere in the neighborhood of six to eight touches. If he only gets 19-21 touches instead of 26-28 touches, is he capable of reaching DFS value? Certainly he could, but the odds of that are lower. In my opinion, this moves Elliott from cash game lock to GPP consideration only. The Giants are beatable on the ground with a merely average front seven, but I still expect Pollard to get 8-10 touches. That might make Pollard a risk/reward GPP dart, but it’s not for the faint of heart. How quickly things change, as Pollard would have been 50+% owned with Elliott sidelined.

Quick Summary: It all comes down to opportunity, and I think the long absence will cost Ezekiel Elliott a few touches. Reserve him as a leverage GPP play at best.

Wide Receiver Projections

Player Team Proj Rank ProjTar% ProjTar Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FD
Amari Cooper DAL 14.62 WR16 23% 7.81 Rank 31 Rank 70 Rank 7 Rank 59
Michael Gallup DAL 9.47 WR57 15% 5.10 Rank 52 Rank 57 Rank 38 Rank 53
Randall Cobb DAL 9.96 WR52 17% 5.61 Rank 23 Rank 28 Rank 33 Rank 31
Tavon Austin DAL 1.45 WR162 4% 1.36 Rank 152 Rank 153 Rank 156 Rank 152
Devin Smith DAL 2.10 WR152 4% 1.36 Rank 143 Rank 141 Rank 135 Rank 144

NYG Schedule Adjusted WR points allowed (‘18): Rank #15

2018 Amari Cooper Opportunity Metrics:
Target Share: 20% (Rank #34)
RZ Target Share: 17.1% (Rank #47)
Route Participation: 85% (Rank #29)

2018 Amari Cooper Efficiency Metrics:
Yards Per Route: 2.13 (Rank #32)
ADOT: 10.3 (Rank #67)
YAC per Reception: 3.8 (Rank #13)

Let’s take a quick look at Dallas’ target distribution last year.

Cole Beasley = 87 targets in 16 games (5.4 TGT/gm)
Michael Gallup = 68 targets in 16 games (4.3 TGT/gm)
Amari Cooper = 76 targets in 9 games (8.4 TGT/gm)

No tight end on the team had more than 36 targets for the year. The point of this is to say that Cooper is as clear of a #1 receiver as you will see on any NFL team. Cole Beasley is off to Buffalo, and it will be up to Gallup to emerge as a secondary threat alongside the newly acquired Randall Cobb. All the camp reports were very positive with regard to Cobb, but it’s been a few years since we have seen him be a meaningful fantasy contributor — and that was with elite surrounding talent and a top quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. I need to see it before I am willing to buy in.

Back to Cooper — he is clearly the top target from this group. I’ll lean more toward Gallup in games where Dallas is projected to be trailing. Cooper draws a fine matchup against New York’s combination of mediocre cover corners, and I expect him to fare better than he did in last year’s regular season finale, where he had a 5/31 line but did see 11 targets. I’ll take the over on a 23% target share, and Cooper is one of my favorite mid-to-high end WR picks of the week. He’s safe for cash games and has a nice combination of safety and upside for GPP formats as well.

Quick Summary: Even though Dallas isn’t a high volume passing offense, I still like the prospects for Amari Cooper in both cash games and tournaments. Reserve Cobb and Gallup for games where Dallas may be forced to pass more often.

Tight End Projections

Player Team Proj ProjTar Rank ProjTar Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FD
Jason Witten DAL 7.22 TE20 12% 3.91 Rank 11 Rank 7 Rank 7 Rank
Blake Jarwin DAL 2.57 TE50 4% 1.36 Rank 45 Rank 49 Rank 41 Rank

NYG Schedule Adjusted TE points allowed (‘18): Rank #19

2018 Jason Witten Opportunity Metrics: N/A

2018 Jason Witten Efficiency Metrics: N/A

The Cowboys re-signed Jason Witten, and he will likely be thrust into #1 tight end duties with Blake Jarwin ailing already. Jarwin returned to practice early this week, though, so I would expect a time share between these two. Witten is a 37 year old guy coming off a retirement and Jarwin is an undrafted player who often has stone hands.

As I mentioned in the wide receiver section above, no tight end for Dallas had more than 36 targets a year ago. That’s just over two targets per game. Do you really want to mess with this in DFS? I know I don’t.

Quick Summary: This is one of the easiest spots to pass right over for the week.

Defense Projections

Player Team Proj Rank Sack INT PtsAllow Home? Favorite?
Dallas Cowboys DAL 6.46 DST17 2.16 0.98 22.54 Y Y

There is actually quite a bit to unpack with the Dallas defense. Robert Quinn is suspended for the first handful of games, so that is a downgrade to the team’s pass rush. Sean Lee is already injured and may not play much, either, but he isn’t even a full-time player at this stage of his career.

The good news is that everyone else seems healthy. Byron Jones should be good to go for this game. Oh, and by the way, the Cowboys just happen to be facing Eli Manning, a quarterback who is clearly on the tail end of his career. If the Giants fall behind and are forced to abandon the run, the upside for this defense is through the roof. Are they the top projected unit on the board this week? No. Do they have the upside to be a top five unit? Absolutely. If you are fading Saquon Barkley, you’re doing it right by getting some exposure to the Dallas defense.

Quick Summary: Dallas is not a must play defensive unit, but they should absolutely be included in your GPP pool given the favorable matchup.

New York Giants Projections Breakdown

Quarterback Projections

Player Team Proj Rank ProjAtt ProjYds Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ FD Pts/$ Y
Eli Manning NYG 16.54 QB24 38.83 264.07 Rank 6 Rank 4 Rank 2 Rank 4

DAL Schedule Adjusted QB points allowed (‘18): Rank #23

2018 Opportunity Metrics:
Att/Gm: 36 (Rank #11)
RuAtt/Gm: 0.9 (Rank #63)
DeepBall/Gm: 4.6 (Rank #10)

2018 Efficiency Metrics:
Accuracy Rating: 2.8 (Rank #23)
Air Yards/Att: 7.6 (Rank #27)
AdjYPA: 6.8 (Rank #18)

How are we still talking about Eli Manning as an NFL starter in 2019? I found the preseason banter to be pretty funny, as Pat Shurmur basically said this is entirely the owner’s call. He didn’t say it with those exact words, but you could very easily infer it from his words.

From the presser: Pat Shurmur leaves no doubt about his Week 1 starter being Eli Manning. “John [Mara] owns the team. We’re on the same page. … You heard it from the owner.”

You heard it… from the owner. Good luck, Giants. Eli’s target depth is on the same page as ol’ Checkdown Charlie Whitehurst at this point, and the goal is simply to get rid of the ball without a major snafu. That’s not a very high bar. Oh, and Odell Beckham is gone too. So much for that bailout plan. The Giants are unlikely to run a ton of plays in this game with Dallas controlling the ball, and Dallas’ defense is good enough to stall this offense.

I suppose we could make a volume-based case for Manning, since the Giants are likely to be trailing. That was often the case last year, as Manning averaged 36 pass attempts per game. Not all attempts are created equally, however. There simply isn’t a planet right now where you are going to convince me that Eli Manning is a viable fantasy option in Dallas against a reasonably talented defense.

Quick Summary: Don’t do it.

Running Back Projections

Player Team Proj Rank ProjRu% ProjTar% Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FD
Saquon Barkley NYG 21.49 RB1 71% 18% Rank 4 Rank 15 Rank 1 Rank 41
Wayne Gallman NYG 4.17 RB72 17% 3% Rank 62 Rank 59 Rank 58 Rank 62
Paul Perkins NYG 1.06 RB93 7% Rank 87 Rank 87 Rank 82 Rank 87

DAL Schedule Adjusted RB points allowed (‘18): Rank #15

2018 Saquon Barkley Opportunity Metrics:
Opportunity Share: 80.1% (Rank #6)
RZ Opportunity Share: 79.3% (Rank #6)

2018 Saquon Barkley Efficiency Metrics:
Yards Created: 688 (Rank #1)
YPC: 5 (Rank #12)
Yards Per Route: 2.11 (Rank #13)

You can very easily argue that no running back brings more value to his team that Saquon Barkley. The rest of the Giants’ offense is mediocre at best, largely due to their quarterback. Barkley ranked inside the top 15 in the NFL in virtually every category you can look at for RBs a year ago.

261 carries.
1,307 rushing yards
5.0 yards per carry
91 receptions
121 targets
721 receiving yards
15 total touchdowns

His 121 targets ranked 20th in the NFL — including all wide receivers and tight ends. He had more targets than T.Y. Hilton and Kenny Golladay, all while rushing the ball 16+ times a game as well. No player in the NFL is secure in his touches more than Saquon Barkley. That has value in any DFS format, especially in full PPR setups. The only time Barkley is at risk of not being involved is if he gets injured or a game turns into a major blowout.

While the touches are secure for Barkley, I invariably end up comparing him side-by-side with Christian McCaffrey, and I’m giving C-Mac an ever so slight edge this week. The matchups are similar, and I just don’t trust this patchwork offensive line for the Giants. Barkley will get plenty of opportunities, and he is certainly capable of breaking a big play. Both elite RBs will be in my GPP pool, but I will likely be even with the field with my Barkley exposure. Our early ownership projections have him in the 22-25% range, and I plan to go around 20% myself.

Quick Summary: I don’t want to take a massive stand here. I prefer McCaffrey > Barkley, but Barkley’s elite athleticism gives him upside every time he touches the ball. You certainly don’t have to prioritize Saquon, but as always he is a high upside play.

Wide Receiver Projections

Player Team Proj Rank ProjTar% ProjTar Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FD
Sterling Shepard NYG 13.15 WR25 22% 8.35 Rank 7 Rank 11 Rank 28 Rank 4
Cody Latimer NYG 9.00 WR60 15% 5.63 Rank 68 Rank 6 Rank 41 Rank 7
Bennie Fowler NYG 6.15 WR102 10% 3.88 Rank 88 Rank 72 Rank 100 Rank 75
Russell Shepard NYG 5.38 WR108 9% 3.50 Rank 98 Rank 94 Rank 87 Rank 94
Darius Slayton NYG 1.31 WR164 2% 0.78 Rank 155 Rank 157 Rank 149 Rank 155

DAL Schedule Adjusted WR points allowed (‘18): Rank #28

2018 Sterling Shepard Opportunity Metrics:
Target Share: 18.6% (Rank #41)
RZ Target Share: 22.9% (Rank #23)
Route Participation: 92.1% (Rank #6)

2018 Sterling Shepard Efficiency Metrics:
Yards Per Route: 1.62 (Rank #66)
ADOT: 11.1 (Rank #60)
YAC per Reception: 2.9 (Rank #27)

I railed against Eli Manning so much in the quarterback section that you are probably expecting me to just give the nah wave to the entire Giants’ receiving corps. I’ll back up just a little bit there, mainly because we should have a good idea where the targets are going. With Odell Beckham gone, there is more room for other people to eat in this offense. Barkley certainly isn’t going to see more targets than he did before.

Sterling Shepard is the most logical place to start. In the final four regular season games in which Odell Beckham was sidelined last year, Shepard put up the following lines:

12/9 at WSH = 2 catches, 17 yards, TD (6 targets)
12/16 vs. TEN = 2 catches, 37 yards (9 targets)
12/23 at IND = 6 catches, 113 yards (7 targets)
12/30 vs. DAL = 4 catches, 67 yards (9 targets)

You can see that the targets were pretty consistent on a game-to-game basis. The production, however, was not. Such is life with Eli Manning as the quarterback of your football team. I would expect him to see 8-9 targets on a regular basis this year, and that makes him a viable PPR option on DK/FDRAFT. This isn’t a matchup we need to fear too much for a #1 WR, though Dallas did rank #6 in DVOA against #1 receivers a year ago. I don’t think it’s necessary to look to him on half-PPR sites.

More power goes out to you if you want to mess with the group of secondary wide receivers on this team. Latimer, Fowler, Russell Shepard… no thanks. Expect most of the targets to roll through Barkley, Sterling Shepard, and the guy I will be talking about in the next section (spoiler alert: it’s Evan Engram, of course).

Quick Summary: Sterling Shepard is a viable option in full PPR formats like DK/FDRAFT, but the production will be inconsistent given the current state of the team’s quarterback play.

Tight End Projections

Player Team Proj Rank ProjTar% ProjTar Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FD
Evan Engram NYG 12.63 TE3 19% 7.18 Rank 2 Rank 5 Rank 3 Rank
Rhett Ellison NYG 1.27 TE65 2% 0.78 Rank 60 Rank 60 Rank 59 Rank

DAL Schedule Adjusted TE points allowed (‘18): Rank #18

2018 Evan Engram Opportunity Metrics:
Target Share: 16.8% (Rank #9)
RZ Target Share: 12.5% (Rank #20)
Route Participation: 68.4% (Rank #8)

2018 Evan Engram Efficiency Metrics:
Yards Per Route: 2.17 (Rank #42)
ADOT: 6 (Rank #34)
YAC per Reception: 5.9 (Rank #3)

If there’s one spot where we can look at the bright side with the Giants outside of Barkley, this is it.

1) Dallas ranked 18th in schedule-adjusted points allowed against the TE position last year.
2) Dallas ranked 19th in DVOA against tight ends.
3) Opposing teams targeted tight ends at a 22.7% clip against Dallas (5th highest mark in NFL)
4) Engram ranked inside the top ten of all tight ends in target share last year — with Odell Beckham around.
5) Engram had impressive YAC numbers for a tight end.

The hype train is full speed ahead here. Jordan Raanan of ESPN came out with a report on Wednesday that says the Giants are expected to have their passing game “revolve around” Engram and Barkley. If he stays healthy, Engram could be a PPR force at the position. I love him as a mid-range option this week, and he’s right there with Hunter Henry as one of my favorites. He’s a tough cover for the Dallas defense, and he is a big key to the Giants trying to stay competitive in this game.

Quick Summary: Engram is a top three DFS point per dollar option at the tight end position in Week 1.

Defense Projections

Player Team Proj Rank Sack INT PtsAllow Home? Favorite?
New York Giants NYG 5.83 DST27 2.37 0.61 28.17 N N

I simply don’t see any upside opportunity with this unit. Dallas will play cautiously and take a run-oriented approach to this game. Dak Prescott is an agile quarterback that can escape pressure. The Cowboys have an elite offensive line. Limited sack upside. Limited turnover upside. No DFS interest. I’m making this one simple.

Quick Summary: Don’t bother with the Giants defense.

DFS Recommendations

Optimal DFS Plays: Evan Engram

Leverage Plays: Amari Cooper

Secondary Plays: Sterling Shepard, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Defense

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