Tonight is a rare occasion because a pair of Monday Night Football games will be played (instead of the usual one). Staring at the standings on FantasyDraft can be a bit nerve-racking if sitting just slightly inside or outside the cash line of a contest. Assuming you are in a similar situation and either need a solid game from those playing tonight, or are on the other side and need your score to hold, here are my projections for the game tonight that will help make your likely fate abundantly more clear:
Pittsburgh Steelers at Washington Redskins (7:10pm EST), Steelers -2.0, Over/Under 49.0
Quarterbacks: In just 12 games last season, Ben Roethlisberger threw for a ridiculous 3,938 yards and 21 TDs, which would have put him on pace for 5,251 yards and 28 TDs over a full 16 games. On the other side, Kirk Cousins exploded for a career year that included 4,166 passing yards and 29 passing TDs. Both defenses ranked in the bottom 10 of fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks (QBs) so this game has the potential for a shootout. While I wouldn’t quite expect the Colts/Lions game from last night, these teams are both going to look to air it out. Worrying about Roethlisberger due to the matchup between Antonio Brown and Josh Norman combined with both Markus Wheaton and Ladarius Green sitting are legitimate concerns. However, I think Cousins has the bigger game of the two due to a full weaponry (Josh Doctson is active) and weaker run game behind him. Projections: Kirk Cousins: 27 fantasy points, Ben Roethlisberger 25 fantasy points
Running Backs: Without Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams immediately becomes a true RB1. In games where Williams touched the ball 18-plus times last year, he averaged over 23 fantasy points. For the Redskins, Matt Jones is expected to receive a bulk of the touches but he’ll concede some carries to backup rookie Robert Kelley and some third downs to Chris Thompson. It remains to be seen which back deals with goal line duties but Jones is the clear-cut favorite to lead this backfield in touches. Projections: DeAngelo Williams 23 fantasy points, Matt Jones 12 fantasy points, Chris Thompson nine fantasy points and Robert Kelley six fantasy points
Wide Receivers: Those overrating the ability with which Josh Norman should be able to slow down Antonio Brown are likely to be sadly mistaken. Brown began the week as my top projected receiver on a raw point total, and while he’s doubtful to top either A.J. Green or Brandin Cooks, I’m going to remain bullish on him. The connection he and Roethlisberger have is literally unprecedented and he roasted some excellent corners last year including Vontae Davis, Sean Smith and even the Broncos duo. Aside from him, Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates and even Darrius Heyward-Bey will be catapulted into larger roles due to the absence of Markus Wheaton. Although Coates is the most talented of the bunch, he certainly is no lock to lead the bunch in targets or receptions. Rogers, listed as the starter, should play the most snaps. The Redskins possess a bundle of talented receivers including DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder. The Steelers secondary is susceptible to the deep ball as they allowed the third most passing yards (4,664) of any defense last year. Incredibly, they also allowed the most receptions to opposing receivers. Therefore, the top two in the pecking order are both prime suspects for productive games, while Doctson/Crowder are sneaky GPP plays. Projections: Antonio Brown 30 fantasy points, Eli Rogers 14 fantasy points, Sammie Coates eight fantasy points, DeSean Jackson 21 fantasy points, Pierre Garcon 16 fantasy points and Josh Doctson seven fantasy points.
Tight Ends: If anyone started Jesse James, it’s due to the belief that Ben Roethlisberger relies on the position as a safety blanket. He has for years with Heath Miller so now James will step into that role. On the other side, Jordan Reed is simply a beast. With Rob Gronkowski inactive and hurting, Reed has a chance to be the best tight end (TE) in both real football and daily fantasy football this season. There is nothing scary about the matchup against the Steelers as they allowed the eighth most fantasy points to the position last season. I expect Reed beast mode tonight. Projections: Jesse James 10 fantasy points, Jordan Reed 25 fantasy points
Defense: Neither defense is in a particularly good spot especially considering the high projected Vegas line. If picking one, my preference would be with the Steelers. Why? Well, Roethlisberger and company presented a difficult matchup to opposing defenses last year as defenses produced the fifth fewest fantasy points when facing them compared to all NFL teams. By comparison, the Redskins allowed opposing defenses to produce the ninth fewest points when facing them. Projections: Steelers Defense four fantasy points, Redskins Defense three fantasy points
St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers (10:20pm EST), Rams -2.5, Over/Under 43.0
Quarterbacks: The second game doesn’t project to be quite as exciting offensively, and although the line is close, could be a blowout. Even with Coach Chip Kelly at the helm, the 49ers are simply a mess and it begins with their QB Blaine Gabbert. In a Kelly-led system, the possibility of throwing 40-plus passes is very real on a weekly basis as Sam Bradford did so on five such occasions last year. His offense plays quick and takes chances so that can be construed as both a positive and a negative for Gabbert as he could be prone to turnovers in this system. On the other side, Case Keenum is just a guy given the task of handing the ball to Todd Gurley and focusing purely on ball security. Coach Jeff Fisher of the Rams is going to rely on his running game and defense to win games this year…and maybe sneak in a trick play or two to Tavon Auston. Projections: Blaine Gabbert 16 fantasy points, Case Keenum 13 fantasy points
Running Backs: This matchup has all the makings of a blowup outing for Todd Gurley due to Kelly’s quick system. Last year, no defense averaged more time on the field per game than the Eagles and it was due to his quick offense getting off the field in no time. If the Rams are going to possess the ball a ton, they’re going to turn to Gurley quite often. If the 49ers are unable to function on offense, which is a distinct possibility, the Rams game script looks perfect. They get an early lead, feed Gurley more and we all know Gurley is one of the best backs in the league. Meanwhile, Carlos Hyde will need a close game to have a chance to meet expectations, otherwise Shaun Draughn will handle the passing down work. I expect the Rams to win by at least a TD so both should be involved. Projections: Gurley 27 fantasy points, Carlos Hyde 13 fantasy points and Shaun Draughn 10 fantasy points.
Wide Receivers: Literally not a single guy from either team excites me other than maybe seeing how the Rams scheme Tavon Austin into the offense. In theory, Torrey Smith is the big play receiver on the 49ers, Quinton Patton will start on the other side and Jeremy Kerley is a possession slot guy. On the high end, we may see three total TDs thrown in this game, but I’m expecting closer to one or two. There’s not much left to say here. Projections: Tavon Austin 15 fantasy points, Torrey Smith 11 fantasy points, Jeremy Kerley 10 fantasy points and Quinton Patton eight fantasy points
Tight Ends: If Blaine Gabbert is going to have any success whatsoever, he’s going to need to lock onto a security blanket. According to reports in early August, Vance McDonald was having “the best offseason of his career,” whatever that means. He shined in the preseason opener, won the starting job and now has a chance to emerge as an under-the-radar TE2 this year. After only catching 30 passes last year, it’s hard to expect a full-on breakout season but he should improve considerably. The Rams were middle-of-the-road against the position last year so there’s nothing to really get too excited about this week. As for the Rams, they’ll go with a TE-by-committee of Lance Kendricks and youngster Tyler Higbee. Not interested. Projections: Vance McDonald 11 fantasy points, Lance Kendricks six fantasy points and Tyler Higbee six fantasy points
Defense: My favorite defensive play of Week 1 has been the Los Angeles Rams from the start of the weekend. They’re unlikely to be on the field much and their offense is going to look to establish the run game with Todd Gurley which could extend drives. While the Rams may not score much, nothing about the 49ers defense (in terms of talent) really catches my eye other than Navarro Bowman. While neither team is likely to allow many points, the Rams have the vastly superior chance to produce more fantasy points and have a chance at a score. Projections: Rams Defense 18 fantasy points, 49ers Defense seven fantasy points