Week 1 Player Props: Cowboys at Buccaneers

Who should you put your money on for the opening game of the season?

All season, the staff at QB List are going to be picking out some of their favorite player prop bets for each game of the NFL season. Check in each week before games start to see our picks and (hopefully) see some solid advice! We’ll be keeping score as the season goes to check the accuracy of our bets. 

Goooooood morning/afternoon/evening football fans! It’s Opening Night! It’s the NFL’s latest show. Will it flop or will it go? This year, the NFL kicks off the season with a premier matchup between America’s Least Favorite Team and The Team With America’s Least Favorite (or Favorite, if you lived in New England) Player of the Last 20 Years. QB Tom Brady‘s squad is hoping to kick off another championship season, while the Cowboys are hoping to reverse their fortunes after an awful 6-10 season.

The beginning of a new season means that there are new, exciting bets to cover. Which overs are too generous? Which unders are too stingy? Let’s find out:

 

Dak Prescott OVER 293.5 Passing Yards

 

*This prop is set at 293.5 yards on DraftKings Sportsbook as of September 7 and 288.5 yards on FanDuel Sportsbook as of September 7.

I think Prescott is going to easily crush 293.5 passing yards tonight. With a subpar Dallas defense and a very strong Tampa Bay offense, Dallas will be playing from behind, so Prescott will have the game script working in his favor. Plus, he has quality weapons to support him at nearly every offensive position, which should help him battle against a tough Tampa Bay defense.

Across the 4 full games Prescott played last season, he averaged 422.5 passing yards per game. The Cowboys needed every yard, with their defense struggling to get stops, and they will need every yard Prescott can give them this season. Dallas’ defense ranked 20th in FootballOutsiders’ Weighted DVOA, including 21st in Passing DVOA and 23rd in Rushing DVOA. And, the defense will likely reach that level of incompetence at times this season, with a projected six new starters on defense and a total of 15 new players on their two-deep chart. The defense has a lot of room to improve, but it seems unlikely that the defense will make a drastic improvement in Week 1 under a brand-new defensive coordinator and against a very talented Bucs’ offense. If the defense struggles — which I think they will — Prescott will be asked to throw more than usual to help the Cowboys play catch-up. Extra passing attempts mean extra passing yardage, which in turn means Prescott should hit that over.

What more is there to be said about the dynamic Cowboys’ offense? A team with Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and (if you’re a believer) Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin should have no trouble putting up points in bunches. Even against some tough defenses, the pure talent of this team should give Prescott plenty of opportunities to move the ball up and down the field.

Of course, there are some counterarguments that need to be entertained. Firstly, Prescott averaged over 400 yards passing yards per game… across 4 full games, which is not a large enough sample size to inspire much confidence. Furthermore, those 4 full games came against the Rams (266 passing yards, 4th-ranked Pass DVOA), the Falcons (450 yards, 19th), the Seahawks (472 yards, 20th), and the Browns (502 yards, 25th). The Buccaneers present a much stronger challenge than the Falcons, Seahawks, and Browns, especially considering that Tampa Bay returns nearly every meaningful defensive starter from last year’s Super Bowl team, which held Patrick Freakin’ Mahomes to 9 points. So, Prescott will have a smaller margin for error against the Bucs and could end with Prescott throwing incomplete pass after incomplete pass.

Additionally, one of the Cowboys’ great strengths over the past few seasons has been their offensive line. Last year, the Cowboys had a very mediocre offensive line, according to FootballOutsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate (a measure of protection against QB sacks) and ESPN’s Pass-Block Win Rate (a measure of overall pass protection). The unit was anchored by OG Zack Martin, who ranked 2nd among all OGs in ESPN’s Pass-Block Win Rate (A measure of each player’s pass protection). Martin is questionable to play Thursday but appears to be trending towards sitting the game out. Martin’s absence would be a huge blow to an offensive line that is being counted on heavily to protect Prescott, who is returning from a serious ankle injury. If the line cannot protect Prescott, he will be in for a long night, as Prescott could be forced to take a lot of sacks and hits and forced into making sub-optimal throws to his receivers.

Despite some of the concerns surrounding the offensive line and the high-quality Buccaneers defense, I see Prescott leaning on his talented offense to help him move the ball up and down the field. He should be able to accumulate chunks of passing yardage, enough to hit the over and then some.

Also consider: Prescott OVER 309.5 pass + rush yards on DraftKings.

 

Leonard Fournette OVER 51.5 Rushing + Receiving Yards

 

*This prop is set at 51.5 yards from scrimmage on DraftKings Sportsbook as of September 7. This bet is not available on FanDuel Sportsbook.

I think Leonard Fournette will be able to rack up more than 51.5 yards from scrimmage tonight. This is the flip side of the favorable game script for Dak Prescott, as a strong Tampa Bay offense and weak Dallas defense means that Tampa Bay will be looking to run out the clock by giving the ball to Fournette and his fellow RB, Ronald Jones II. 

Just to refresh your memory from an earlier paragraph: “Dallas’ defense ranked 20th in FootballOutsiders’ Weighted DVOA, including 21st in Passing DVOA and 23rd in Rushing DVOA. And, the defense will likely reach that level of incompetence at times this season, with a projected six new starters on defense and a total of 15 new players on their two-deep chart.” That two-deep chart shows an almost entirely new defensive line, with the exception of stalwart Demarcus Lawrence. That line combination has not spent a lot of time together and will need some time to gel under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, which means that Dallas will continue to struggle against the run. That could lead to plenty of easy opportunities for rush yardage for Fournette and Jones, especially later in the game, as the Tampa Bay front starts to wear down the Dallas line.

Furthermore, I am willing to throw a dart on Fournette’s total yards from scrimmage as opposed to Jones’ yardage total because Fournette appeared to take the starting job away from Jones during last year’s playoff run. Let’s take a look at their workloads during the Buccaneers’ run through the NFC and Kansas City:

Tampa Bay RB Workload – 2020 Playoffs
*Keep in mind that Jones was injured for the game against the Washington Football Team, so Jones has 1 fewer game played during this stretch.

Even with one more game than Jones under his belt, Fournette absolutely dominated the workload during the 2020 postseason. He added an extra dimension — that Jones could not provide — as a receiving threat out of the backfield. I expect that Fournette’s prowess as a pass-catcher, as well as his success against some of the NFL’s best defenses during last year’s postseason, will give him the edge in snaps and rushing opportunities over Ronald Jones in tonight’s game. Those increased opportunities (and the talent to take advantage of those opportunities) will help Fournette surpass the over on rushing + receiving yards.

The biggest challenge to Fournette surpassing this over is the presence of Jones in the backfield. Jones was still given a significant amount of carries in the postseason stretch last year, passing 10 carries in every postseason game he played in. Those carries cut into Fournette’s chances to rack up rushing yardage last year and I think Jones will continue to cut into Fournette’s workload again this year (and possibly tonight), provided Jones still shows enough promise to warrant carries. If Fournette shows some rust early in the game and Jones starts racking up chunks of yardage, Jones may take over Fournette’s role as the lead back against Dallas, which would obviously make it difficult for Fournette to reach that over. Additionally, there’s the presence of new Bucs running back Giovanni Bernard, who was brought in to help fill the need for a backup pass-catching RB. So, it appears that Head Coach Bruce Arians is not sold on Fournette’s receiving prowess just yet, which will cut into Fournette’s advantage over Jones. But Bernard was only brought in a few weeks ago, so I think this week will feature primarily Fournette and Jones. And, in time, Bruce Arians will see the light of #FournetteRB1SZN.

Even though the presence of Ronald Jones and Gio Bernard will hurt some of Fournette’s chances to rack up the yardage, I think Fournette will be able to keep the playoff magic going a little while longer and surpass the over of 51.5 rushing + receiving yards tonight.

Also consider: Leonard Fournette OVER 35.5 rushing yards on DraftKings or OVER 36.5 rushing yards on FanDuel.

 

Michael Gallup UNDER 50.5 Receiving Yards

 

*This prop is set at 50.5 receiving yards on DraftKings and 49.5 yards on FanDuel.

I think Michael Gallup will struggle to get much going against the Tampa Bay secondary and will accumulate less than 50.5 receiving yards by the conclusion of the fourth quarter. Gallup is likely the third receiver in a talented offense and faces a very deep defense, so I anticipate fewer opportunities for Gallup to rack up receptions and yardage after catch, which will prevent him from reaching the 51-yard plateau.

According to Pro Football Focus’ WR/CB matchup chart, Gallup is expected to see a heavy dosage of coverage from Jamel Dean (graded out as 10th-best CB in coverage out of 121 eligible CBs) and Carlton Davis (47th). Just like many other talented NFL receivers did, Gallup could struggle against Dean and Davis’ high-quality coverage, which reduces his chances of reaching that 50.5 receiving yard mark. As a whole, Tampa Bay’s pass DVOA ranked 5th in the NFL last season, which does not bode well for any offense, even for one as talented as Dallas.

Of course, fantasy football is more about opportunity than matchup, so it’s worth looking into Gallup’s 2019 and 2020 game log to see if he capitalized enough on those opportunities with a full-strength Cowboys offense. Gallup developed strong chemistry with Dak Prescott in 2019, posting a 1,100-yard season as a sophomore in the NFL. He proved to be a very strong complement to WR1 Amari Cooper. However, the Cowboys felt that Prescott needed more help at WR and drafted another talented wideout in CeeDee Lamb in 2020. Adding Lamb to the fold ensured that Gallup would face even more competition for targets and opportunities in an already deep offense.

In the four full games with a fully healthy Dallas offense, Gallup reached at least 51 yards in only two of those four games (58 yards against the Falcons, 138 against the Seahawks). So, it appears that Gallup’s role in the offense can vary from week to week, especially when he has to compete with Lamb and Cooper for targets and yardage. Of course, I am selecting from a very small sample size of games and Gallup is just one season removed from a superb, 1,100-yard campaign, in which he reached 51 receiving yards in 10 different games. I was unable to find who Gallup was matched against in each game, so it is hard to make any sort of judgment on whether his success as a receiver was matchup-dependent, so you are free to make your own judgment on that. However, I think that in this game, the matchup and the competition for targets mean Gallup has a significant chance of putting up a fantasy stinker.

To be honest, I am not as confident in this player prop as I am in the other two. Gallup could easily explode for 100+ receiving yards tonight because he is incredibly talented, as is Dak Prescott, meaning that he has the potential to put up a masterful fantasy performance, regardless of the quality of his matchup. In fantasy football, opportunity matters more than any particular matchup, and if Gallup gets the proper opportunities, he could thrive against this Bucs defense. On the flip side, if Dak Prescott isn’t looking Gallup’s way

However, I think that this will be a week where there are simply too many mouths to feed in the Cowboys’ offense and Gallup becomes the odd man out in the receiving yardage department, leaving him below 51 yards and leaving us with the big win.

Also consider: Michael Gallup UNDER 3.5 receptions on DraftKings or UNDER 3.5 on FanDuel.

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