Well, it’s the start of the regular season and that means the annual battle of the Cowboys and Giants to kick off the NFC East division.
The cowboys are still uncertain as to the availability of last year’s rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott. There has been some recent news as to movement on a new contract but until he signs and practices, Elliott will remain outside my fantasy scope. On the opposite side of the field, the Giants are ready to roll out last year’s offensive rookie of the year Saquon Barkley.
What are the best match-ups to target in the divisional battle? Let’s take a look at the two rosters and identify some areas to take advantage of for both teams in regards to fantasy play.
From all indications, Elliott will not be playing in the season opener for the Cowboys. That leaves the door wide open for Tony Pollard to step in as a must-play if he’s on your roster. During the preseason, he has been receiving almost all the first-team reps and has the makings of a workhorse back while Elliott’s holdout persists. There are some concerns facing Pollard. He is a rookie and will have to show the ability to translate his skills to the NFL and handle the workload. Pollard also faces a Giants defensive line built to stop the run. He could have a hard time finding running room in his first start if Elliott’s hold out persists. That being said, if he’s on your roster he should be a plug and play flex option or running back two for you in Week 1.
At the receiver position, things remain a bit murky for the Cowboys. Their number one option, Amari Cooper has been dealing with what has recently been revealed as plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Cooper has been missing from practices since the start of August and was a no go during preseason contests. The Cowboys have publicly said they expect their three-time Pro Bowl receiver to suit up and play against the Giants in Week 1. Cooper played through the same injury his rookie year and has ample motivation to put up big numbers in his upcoming contract year. Keep an eye on the proceeding practice reports over the next week and adjust your roster accordingly. If Cooper rejoins the team he should be a tempting option to start at one of your receiver positions. If Elliott remains out, the Cowboys passing attack should be required to pick up the offensive slack and Cooper should be a prime beneficiary.
Michael Gallup is an intriguing option as a wide receiver three for Week 1. He has played well in the preseason and looks to be on the cusp of taking big steps forward this season. Copper should draw plenty of defensive attention leaving Gallup with space to work in one on one situations. He will also most likely be lined up across Deandre Baker, a skilled corner, but a rookie. If you believe that Baker’s coverage skills will seamlessly transition from college to the pros, then Gallup should sit on your fantasy bench. During the preseason, there were times where communication issues popped up in the Giants secondary that led to touchdowns. The G-Men also have several new and rookie players at every level of the Giants’ defense that may take additional time to gel. If there are any issues it’s safe to assume it would be on Baker’s side and not Jenkins and that Gallup would be the rewarded party.
At tight end, I just can’t trust anyone on the Cowboys until we see how the snaps work out. Blake Jarwin turned his game around in the final third of the last season but the return of Jason Witten means there will most likely be a time-share at the position. That will certainly put a limit on both players’ ceilings. Witten has never been the fastest player on the field, but could easily steal valuable red zone snaps from Jarwin. Until we get a feeling of how the Cowboys deploy their two tight ends, I’m staying away from both.
If I was rostering a defense from this game, I would lean towards the Cowboys due to the Giants wide receiver issues. That being said, there are better options available given the Barkley factor and his potential to score at any time.
New York Giants
Barkley will be on the field for the first time since his rookie year after sitting out the preseason. Reports out of the Meadowlands have said he has added muscle and is stronger entering his second season. Barkley has also stepped into a leadership roll for the Giants and will look to lead by example against the Cowboys in Week 1. He should have plenty of touches and show off his ability to be a dangerous addition in the down-field passing game.
The Cowboys feature a talented secondary that could limit the Giants ability to attack them through the air but have some question marks on their defensive line. The Giants should have new and creative ways to get Barkley the ball with a full off-season of play-development. Barkley is a must start if he’s on your roster and is a good choice to build your team around if you are playing in DFS.
The Giants have big question marks at the receiver position for Week 1. Sterling Shepard should start the game but was limited throughout preseason due to a fractured thumb. The newly acquired Golden Tate will start his four game suspension in Week 1 of the NFL season. That leaves Cody Latimer, Bennie Folwer, and Russel Shepard as the most likely players to round out the receiving corps. With Barkley taking away a majority of targets, the Giants receivers are hard to trust in Week 1 until Shepard proves he’s good to go and the pecking order behind him is worked out. Instead I would look to…
Tight end Evan Engram for fantasy production. After an injury plagued year last season, Engram is healthy and ready for a breakout campaign. He has the potential to be one of the top tight ends in the entire league with his elite athleticism and improved blocking. Engram is at the top of the list in terms of speed and catch radius in comparison to other tight ends. He created the most amount of separation from his defenders of all pass catchers last year, not just tight ends, and should excel this season as an offensive weapon. With question marks at the receiver position and Barkley drawing linebacks and safeties attention, Engram should get plenty of targets and is incredibly appealing in fantasy lineups.
The Giants defense is definitely tempting given the potential for Elliott’s absence and Coopers injury. I might take a flier on them in DFS if your looking for a cheap defense to round out your build, but I would be hesitant to play them in other fantasy formats. The Giants have too many new additions and moving parts on defense to be trusted so early.