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Thursday Night Football DFS Breakdown: Cowboys vs. Buccaneers

It's the opening night of the NFL season and the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers play host to the Cowboys. Tampa Bay is an 8.5-point favorite, and the game features a relatively high 52-point total. Two of the top quarterbacks in the league will square off as 44-year old Tom Brady showed no signs of slowing down last year while Dak Prescott will make his return from two ankle surgeries. The main GPPs on both DraftKings and FanDuel are massive and have a first price of $1 million. With so many entrants in these contests, it will be important to find ways to be different.


Tom Brady ($11,200 DK, $16,000 FD) is the most expensive player on the slate and rightly so. He threw 50 touchdown passes last season and has a current streak of 11 consecutive games with at least two. The Buccaneers return all of their top weapons and face a Dallas defense that ranked among the worst in the league last season. He will be a popular option in the captain spot on DraftKings and likely the most popular MVP choice on FanDuel. It's hard to envision him not on the winning lineup, but there are scenarios where that happens. For example, If Tampa take an early lead through a couple rushing touchdowns, Dallas would rely on a pass heavy attack to chase the game. If Dak and two of his receivers have big games, it's possible that Brady's salary would keep him out of the optimal lineup. We've seen it happen plenty of times where 20 points isn't enough from the slate's most expensive player. That said, from a raw fantasy points perspective, Brady is the top option.

Dak Prescott ($10,400 DK, $15,500 FD) needed two ankle surgeries to repair the compound fracture he suffered in Week 5 last season. He didn't take a snap in the preseason due to a lingering shoulder strain. It's safe to assume there could be some rust, and the matchup against Tampa Bay is far from ideal. The Buccaneers had one of the best defenses in the league last season and return all 11 starters. They are especially good against the run, meaning if Dallas has any success on offense, it likely will come through the air. Prescott is expected by many to put up some gaudy numbers this season, but we're only focused on this one game. I'd expect that the health concerns and tough matchup will lead to him being significantly less popular than Brady. Keep in mind that Dallas could lose by 14 and Dak could still be the highest-scoring quarterback. It's also possible that he struggles mightily and busts.


Tampa Bay features an elite trio of receivers that pose a serious threat to the weak secondary of Dallas. Mike Evans ($9,200 DK, $13,000 FD) is the most expensive of the bunch. His 15 touchdowns last season led the Bucs and he figures to be Brady's top red zone target again this year. Chris Godwin ($8,600 DK, $12,500 FD) popped up on the injury report Tuesday due to a quadriceps issue. Assuming he's healthy, he and Evans are options 1A and 1B, with Godwin's fantasy production expected to be less touchdown-dependent.

Antonio Brown ($5,600 DK, $9,000 FD) is reportedly healthy after offseason knee surgery. He's had a positive preseason and looks set to resume his role as Brady's No. 3 option. He still has considerable upside and his salary is quite a bit cheaper than those of Evans and Godwin. Cheaper receivers have multiple paths to be optimal, and Brown's salary makes him a good option for the captain spot on DraftKings as well. Scotty Miller ($1,600 DK, $7,000) is slated to be the No. 4 wide receiver again this season. He caught four long touchdown passes last season in limited opportunities. If Godwin were to miss, Miller would stand to benefit most. For just $1,600, he'd arguably be the top value option on the slate. I expect Godwin to play but it's worth keeping in mind nonetheless. For that type of salary, a No. 4 WR is always viable as it only takes one play to end up on the optimal lineup.

The Cowboys boast a superb trio of receivers as well. Amari Cooper ($8,400 DK, $12,000 FD)and CeeDee Lamb ($8,200 DK, $10,000 FD) have similar salaries while Michael Gallup ($6,200 DK, $9,000 FD) is deservedly cheaper. The Bucs secondary is stronger on the outside, which means tougher matchups for Cooper and Gallup. If the Cowboys were smart, they'd look to target Lamb in the slot as often as possible. He stands out as an especially appealing play on FanDuel where the salary discrepancy between him and Cooper is greater. Salaries aside, I'd still choose Lamb as I'd expect him to have the highest floor in this matchup while all three have comparable ceilings.

Rob Gronkowski ($5,400 DK, $7,500 FD) is the most expensive of the tight ends. He's coming off two touchdown catches in the Super Bowl and by all accounts looks considerably better than he did a year ago at this time when he was still getting his legs back. He's expected to split duties with the returning O.J. Howard ($2,200 DK, $6,500). Howard tore his achilles Week 4 last season but looked good in preseason and is expected to see plenty of snaps. I have interest in both players, Gronkowski for the end-zone targets and Howard for his cheap salary.

On the Cowboys side, Blake Jarwin ($5,200 DK, $6,000) and Dalton Schultz ($4,600 DK, $6,500 FD) are expected to share time. As I've said, this is a bad matchup for Dallas. I expected both salaries to be a bit cheaper. For either to be optimal, it's very likely they need to catch a touchdown. The most compelling argument to roster them would be a game theory one as I wouldn't expect either to be popular. They could, however, provide some much needed leverage to get different in large-field GPPs.


Ezekiel Elliott ($9,600 DK, $14,000 FD) is the most expensive non-quarterback on the slate. The stingy Buccaneers defense is probably the toughest matchup he will face all season. Last season, the Bucs allowed a league-low 3.6 yards per rush attempt while giving up the second fewest fantasy points to running backs. I'm someone who likes to take big stands when it comes to roster percentages and this seems like a good spot to fade for the most part. I plan on playing 40 lineups and won't roster Elliott on more than 10 percent. Sometimes it makes sense to roster the "bad" plays, but I have a feeling that Zeke's name recognition and history of fantasy production will have him more popular than he should be. Tony Pollard ($4,200 DK, $7,500 FD) will be the change of pace back for the Cowboys again this season and arguably offers more big play upside than Elliott. He should have the opportunity to catch a couple passes and for $4,200, that could be enough to reach value.

On the Buccaneers side, Bruce Arians seems committed to using three running backs. Leonard Fournette ($7,000 DK, $11,000 FD) and Ronald Jones ($5,000 DK, $9,500 FD) will see the early down work while Giovani Bernard ($2,000 DK, $7,000) should get some third-down snaps. Fournette had plenty of big games splitting time with Jones last season and even saw a surprising number of looks in the passing game. In four playoff games, he caught 18 of 21 targets. Some of those targets will disappear if he isn't out there on third down, but I still expect him to catch some passes on early downs. Jones is a non-factor in the passing game but could see plenty of work in the second half if Tampa Bay has the lead. He makes for a great target in blowout scenarios. His touchdown upside and cheap salary also makes him viable as a contrarian option at captain. As for Bernard, it's likely that he will have to get into the end zone in order to be optimal. It's hard to see him catching enough passes otherwise unless the Bucs are playing from behind. For a salary of only $2,000, though, it's probably a worthy gamble. If I had to pick one player that I trust most, with salary considered, it would still be Fournette.


Ryan Succop ($4,000 DK, $8,500 FD) and Greg Zuerlein ($3,600 DK, $8,000 FD) don't figure to be overly popular in a game that features a 52-point total. When evaluating kickers, the first thing I do is compare them with the other players in that salary range. The kickers in this game are sandwiched between the likes of Ronald Jones, Buccaneers DST, Dalton Schultz, Tony Pollard, Cowboys DST and Cameron Brate. Suddenly they look a bit more appealing when surrounded by those names. In general, kickers are more popular in cash games, but they do show up on winning GPP lineups quite often as well. I'll have exposure to both players but remember to consider the game-script that you're hoping for when rostering them. Sometimes it helps to plan for a specific score and then build a lineup that fits.


I've mentioned the Buccaneers ($4,800) defense a few times already in this article. They were an elite unit last year and returned all 11 starters this season. They're especially stout against the run, meaning Dallas likely will have to throw a lot to keep the game competitive. With Dak Prescottcoming off a long injury layoff and no preseason snaps, the turnover upside seems considerable. While $4,800 is a bit expensive for a defense, that salary seems appropriate in this spot. Similar to kickers, it's important to compare the defenses with the other players in that salary range. It's possible that no one less than $5,000 scores double-digit fantasy points. The Bucs defense could definitely get there.

I don't have as much interest in the Cowboys ($3,000) defense. Tampa Bay is expected to score a lot of points and Tom Brady is good at not turning the ball over. He lost one fumble in 20 games last season. While $3000 is cheap, it's difficult to see the Cowboys being optimal without a touchdown. The only appeal on this slate is the fact that most will think similarly and won't be likely to roster them either. With that in mind, I might have 5 percent exposure.

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