Christian McCaffrey stiff-arms Josh Allen of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

(Grant Halverson/Getty)

My fantasy strategy has remained consistent for nearly two decades (with varying levels of success).

It boils down to this: Lock down a top tier running back at the top of the draft.

This was true twenty years ago when Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James routinely got 300+ touches a year, it was true when Shaun Alexander and Ladainian Tomlinson battled for the rushing touchdown record, and it's true today in the world of backfield by committee and running back contracts not being worth the paper they're printed on.

That might sound counterintuitive at first. Running backs as stars are being devalued in the NFL, so shouldn't we, as fantasy GMs, follow suit? The reality of fantasy means we need to zag because of the near extinction of workhorses makes the last remaining few of their species an even hotter commodity. Any top player list you can find tends to bear this out. Here's why: As the league has become pass happy, the drop off between top QBs and WRs has shrunk, while the gap for RBs has expanded.


In the '70s, 3,000 yards passing symbolized excellence. In the '80s and '90s, 4,000 represented a benchmark for the elite. In the 2000s and beyond, 5,000 has been eclipsed with relative ease, and last year the top 10 passers in the league all crossed 4K, which doesn't even include league MVP Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, and Josh Allen, who all brought considerable value as dual-threats. Even Drew Brees, who only played 11 games, nearly cracked 3,000. You can throw a dead duck and hit a passable starting fantasy QB in the eighth round these days. By extension, WRs, who rack up all those yards, are easier to find too.

Back to why we're here: Christian McCaffrey. First things first, he checks the biggest box of everything I laid out above. As a running back, the guy is the unquestioned centerpiece of the Carolina offense. He led the team in attempts, receptions, total yards, and touchdowns, and it wasn't particularly close.

What else makes him so attractive? He hasn't missed a game in his career, he played with an injury-plagued Cam Newton and Kyle Allen (Who? Exactly.) at quarterback the last three years, and he's entering his age-24 season, AKA his prime. This barely scratches the surface on his unassailable position at number one off the board.

Christian McCaffrey Christian McCaffrey flexes on his haters. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

Opportunity

On equal footing with actual production, opportunity is one of the most important aspects of a player's draftability. Opportunity illustrates a team's willingness and gameplan to use a player, the chances a player will have to rip off big runs and touchdowns, and, at its most base level, the amount of time a player is on the field. RUN CMC excels in this category. Going back to 2012, there have only been three seasons when a player's snap share—his percentage of time on the field—has been over 90%, and McCaffrey had two of them.

Being on the field is one thing, but being featured is another. In case you're worried, as a running back, McCaffrey led the league in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and total TDs. He was second in red zone touches, third in rushing yards, and fourth in carries. In short, the man is a human-tank hybrid with the heart of the Energizer Bunny.

Dual Threat

I've already beat you over the head with this, but allow me to expound just a bit more. It is categorically impossible to overstate how good of a receiver McCaffrey is and how valuable that makes him.

To begin with, he's one of only three players in the history of the league to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. Pretty impressive. Well, how about this? If you Thanos snapped and erased his receiving stats from last season, he'd still be the sixth best fantasy running back, just ahead of Nick Chubb. You add those numbers back, and he's nearly 80 points ahead of his nearest competition.

If you're in a PPR league, and you pass on this man at the top of the round, you should be booed until you float off the planet. He put up 471 points in full PPR leagues last year! That's not a misprint or a typo or a stroke you're having. He was a full 157 points better than number two, Aaron Jones. (157 points is how much the 28th best running back, Latavius Murray, put up total.) To visualize this, if it were a foot race over a 100 yard football field, McCaffrey would be crossing the goal line with second place a full 25 yards behind him. This added dimension of his game might as well put him in a literal other dimension where he's a god among men, and he rules with swift but fair justice.

Contract

Finally, this past April, Christian McCaffrey became the richest running back ever, making a cool 16 million for the next four seasons. Contracts for rushers tend to age more like bread than fine wine, especially if you look at some of the current top earners. Zeke Elliot's massive deal is blocking Dak Prescott from getting his extension, while Le'veon Bell and David Johnson's 13 million a year plus deals look more and more like albatrosses (unless you're Bill O'Brien apparently). The difference is CMC is the youngest of the bunch, and his AAV, along with comments from coach Matt Rhule, demonstrate how he should be regarded in the league. He's more than a running back, he's an offensive weapon. He'll be making more than all other running backs, and the same as most of the game's best WRs. Giving him that type of money is great insight into how and how much the Panthers plan to use one of the most athletically gifted players of all time. Hint: as a combo ball carrier/pass catcher and A LOT.

File:Justin Herbert (51459803577) (cropped).jpg - Wikimedia Commons

It's another eventful week in the NFL.

Four teams -- the Jets, Falcons, Saints, and 49ers -- are the first teams to get a bye week. After Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers narrowly escaped Thursday Night Football with a 28-22 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, the reigning Super Bowl champs are the first team with five wins in the league. Who will join them on Sunday? We know that we'll get at least a second five-win team since the 4-1 Ravens are hosting the 4-1 Chargers. That is going to be an epic battle, so let's start with that clash of AFC contenders. Welcome to our Week 6 NFL Best Bets.

Los Angeles Chargers (+3.5) at Baltimore Ravens

Playing on the road is a difficult task for any team, but if any team can escape with a victory, it's Justin Herbert and the Chargers. This isn't the Chargers of the last decade. This team is winning the close battles. Herbert is playing at an MVP level this season and already has led this team to big-time wins over the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns -- two of the top teams in the AFC. This L.A. team is deep at the skill positions, can rush the passer, has an improved offensive line and a great young coach. What's not to like?

All that said, Lamar Jackson seems to be playing as he did during his 2019 MVP campaign. Not to mention, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown is actually catching passes. He eclipsed 100 yards last week and scored two touchdowns (including the game-winning catch in overtime). Simply put, this is a tough team to bet against. It did take last-second heroics for the Ravens to beat the winless Lions and a pretty pedestrian Colts team. Overall, Baltimore hasn't faced a test like this yet this season. Take the points and the better overall squad. Chargers may win this game, but if they don't, they are not going to lose by more than a field goal.

PICK: Chargers +3.5

Kansas City Chiefs (-6.5) at Washington Football Team

It's been a tough start to the season for the Chiefs. They had great odds to return to the Super Bowl and are now last in the AFC West heading into Week 16 with a 2-3 record. They desperately need this game. This is a great opportunity for the Chiefs to prove they are still elite by defeating a team that made the postseason last year on the road. The Chiefs are going to turn it around against a Washington defense that is allowing the sixth-most passing yards and second-most passing touchdowns this season. Patrick Mahomes is going to blow up. Tyreek Hill is going to dominate. Travis Kelce is going to continue to provide a steady source of receptions down the middle of the field. As long as the Chiefs' offensive line holds against Chase Young, it's going to be a long day for Washington's defense. Betting on Mahomes to right the ship isn't a really difficult choice.

PICK: Chiefs -6.5

Houston Texans (+9) at Indianapolis Colts

Yes, the Texans are one of the worst teams in the league. Betting on them on the road against a divisional rival might seem crazy at first. However, the Texans are 7-3 against the spread as underdogs in their last 10 games. Plus, the Colts are emotional after completely giving away the game against the Ravens in which they blew a 22-3 lead late in the game. This is going to cause a bit of a hangover in that locker room. When New England suffered a terrible loss against Tom Brady and the Bucs, the Texans managed to cover the spread the following week. Look for history to repeat itself. Texans coach David Culley has Houston playing hard in spite of its lack of talent and quarterback Davis Mills appeared to take a step forward last week against the Pats. Houston has played pretty good pass defense, too. The Texans have allowed only seven passing TDs this season.

PICK: Texans +9

Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers (-5)

Sunday night will be an interesting matchup to watch as Geno Smith will make his first start in four years as the Seahawks travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. I hate betting on Ben Roethlisberger, but it's hard to envision the Seahawks covering the spread without the services of Russell Wilson. And as much as I think Big Ben should hang up his cleats, you have to give him credit for the way he dominated a solid Broncos defense last week. Roethlisberger looked better than he did earlier in the season and was able to get the ball to his playmakers -- Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and running back Najee Harris. Seattle's defense is one of the worst in the league and their secondary is even worse than their front seven. Look for the Steelers to light up Seattle in the passing game.

PICK: Steelers -5

Arizona Cardinals at Cleveland Browns OVER 49.5

Both of these offenses can put up a lot of points, though they go about it very differently. The Browns are a run-heavy team, and even though they will be without the services of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt is more than capable of getting the job done. Meanwhile, Arizona's offense runs through electric quarterback Kyler Murray. Murray is able to move the chains with his legs but he isn't afraid to toss the ball either. He loves getting his guys involved and his weapons are elite in DeAndre Hopkins, Rondale Moore, and Christian Kirk.

The Browns are coming off an 89-point slugest with the Chargers and hit the OVER in their other game against a high-end offense in a 33-29 loss to the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have scored 30-plus points in four of five games this year. Smash the OVER.

PICK: OVER 49.5

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers
Getty Images

Week 2 of the NFL was full of breakout performances, thrilling finishes and potentially the start of the Justin Fields era in the NFC North as the Bears' win over the Bengals finds them in first place in the division.

We cap off the week with a Monday Night Football showdown between the Packers and the Lions with the winner finding themselves tied for first in the North. The Packers put up an absolute dud of a performance last week against the Saints in Week 1 while the Lions looked surprisingly effective while playing catch-up against the West-leading 49ers. The expectations for these two teams couldn't have been further apart coming into the season but with matching 0-1 starts on the books, I think there are a couple of interesting props and roster construction angles to exploit.

NFL DFS Showdown Picks

*Prices are from DraftKings

Captain: TE T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions ($9,600) ($14,400)

I'm normally not a fan of playing a tight end in the captain spot, but T.J. Hockenson is not your average tight end. He finished 2020 with an elite 18% target share in the Lions' offense and picked up right where he left off in Week 1, finishing with an 18.2% share on 50 routes run last week. Hockenson has always carried premium TD upside as a red-zone target but what was most encouraging about last week was that he ran nearly 55% of his routes out of the slot, leaving him a matchup against Chandon Sullivan, who's allowing a 67% catch rate in his coverage. In a game where the Lions are projected to be down early, expect Hockenson to get fed once again. His red-zone utilization gives him enough juice to take the captain's chair in my builds.

Core Consideration: QB Jared Goff, Detroit Lions ($10,000)

Two principles I take into Showdown slates apply to this play. Generally speaking, if I have a pass-catcher as my captain, I'm finding a way to get their QB into a flex spot. The second is that your build needs to tell a story. Mine is that the Packers come out with something to prove after getting embarrassed in Week 1 and that we'll likely see upwards of 50 pass attempts from Jared Goff as he attempts to mount a comeback. Goff is a surprisingly effective passer when getting good protection and this unit gave him a clean pocket on 86.7% of snaps last week. Expect that to continue tonight as Goff will continue to feast in garbage time.

Contrarian Play: WR Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers ($2,000)

I still chuckle at the thought of the return of Randall Cobb being on the short-list of demands from Aaron Rodgers in the midst of his holdout. I do, however, think there is something to be said about the importance of chemistry between a quarterback and his receiver and I expect that in a typical game (which Week 1 was not), Aaron Rodgers is going to find his spots to get Cobb involved. In a game script that figures to have the Packers up by a healthy margin, not many are going to look at the tertiary passing options for Green Bay and I think a $2,000 Randall Cobb could sneak in a handful of receptions at single-digit ownership..

Salary Relief: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions ($2,400)

This one fits perfectly into my narrative for the game as well. In a game where the Lions are likely to flirt with 50+ pass attempts and coming off a week where St. Brown ran routes on 75% of the team's passing plays, I will be overweight on Amon-Ra tonight. Lining up in the slot on 74.5% of plays means St. Brown will primarily see coverage from Chandon Sullivan, the most favorable of the options GB lines up in their defensive secondary. Expect St. Brown to see his target volume increase tonight. If Detroit can be more effective in getting to the red zone, he carries decent scoring upside with the way he's utilized in this offense. Plus, who doesn't love the extra motivation of playing against their big bro?

Monday Night Football Best Bets

Taking a look at the wagering side of this game; before we determine anything else we must ask ourselves what we think of these Green Bay Packers. I tend to look at last week's performance as the exception and not the rule. With that being the case, I am laying the 11.5 points and taking GB tonight. Over the past six seasons, oddsmakers have been fairly sharp when it comes to these larger spreads and NFL teams cover double-digit spreads more than 55% of the time. The total for tonight is sitting at 48.5 and given the somewhat surprising ability of the Lions to make up ground last week, I am confidently on the "over" side of that line.

Picks: Packers -11.5, OVER 48.5 points

Taking a look at the prop market, I am again mainly investing in the "GB Blowout" narrative:

D'Andre Swift: OVER 28.5 Receiving Yard

Coming off a 65-yard performance in a very similar game script, this one feels like a no-brainer. Swift averages nearly 8 yards per reception so this really boils down to whether you think he catches more than 3 passes. I certainly do and I'm confidently on the OVER for this prop. FanDuel is currently carrying the best odds at -110.

T.J. Hockenson: Anytime TD

I'm not the biggest fan of these "to score" props, but I'll break from the norm with this one. I am projecting the Lions to at least have a go at it in this game and there simply isn't a scenario where that doesn't involve a score for Hockenson. +220 odds at FanDuel sort of feels like stealing given that I see this game going over the 48.5 total.

AJ Dillon | UNDER 8.5 Rushing Attempts

I know that the betting public is forecasting a fairly comfortable win for the Packers, but let's not get carried away. AJ Dillon would have to nearly double his career average for carries to get to this number. Plus, it's a bit unlikely that this game gets so far out of reach that Green Bay brings in their backups. Even last week when they did bring in the second-stringers, Dillon only saw 4 carries. I'm expecting Aaron Jones to have a monster day on the ground, as evidenced by my Saturday article.

File:Derrick Henry 2019 12-08.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Week 1 is in the books and it's time to move on to the best bets in Week 2.

If you listened to my article earlier this week, you would have started 1-0 for taking the Giants with the points against Washington in that thriller of a matchup Thursday night. Now, let's dive into Week 2's best NFL bets.

Best Bets

Tennessee Titans/Seattle Seahawks Over 54

The Seahawks' offense was high-flying in the first half last week. Because the Colts never really threatened the outcome of the game, the Seahawks were able to take the air out of the ball and finish the game with an easy win while only scoring seven in the second half. While both the Titans' defense and offense looked atrocious, expect Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry to have big bounce-back weeks and make this an epic high-scoring game. This has all the makings for a shootout in which both teams put up 30-plus points.

Cincinnati Bengals +2.5 @ Chicago Bears

Until that Monday night game, the Bengals had the honor of winning the craziest Week 1 game over the Vikings in overtime. The Bears' defense, which is supposed to be their strength, looked awful against the Rams, including one of the most blown coverages you'll ever see on Cooper Kupp's long touchdown. It was simply an awful week for the Bears. I don't think it gets any better until they remove Dalton and promote Justin Fields. If they don't do that prior to game time, the Bengals will run away with this one.

Los Angeles Rams -3.5 @ Indianapolis Colts

Coming out of Week 1 the Rams looked great on both sides of the ball. Matthew Stafford had a great first game, going 20 for 26 with three touchdowns. The Colts... They didn't look that great on either side of the ball. While Carson Wentz's overall numbers didn't look bad, most of the yardage and one of his two TDs came in the fourth quarter as they were chasing from two or more scores back, never actually threatening to win the game. I'm leaning towards the Rams winning this in a blowout and would consider alternate spreads.

Arizona Cardinals -3.5 vs. Minnesota Vikings

Kyler Murray appears to be a man on a mission to avenge last season's bitter ending after absolutely torching the Tennesee Titans in Nashville. The Vikings' defense, who hasn't been as formidable as years past, is going to have their hands full with Kyler. Last week they allowed Joe Burrow to complete nearly 80% of his passes, and Burrow isn't a threat to run nor has a receiver as talented as DeAndre Hopkins. If the Vikings offense doesn't step up and make this a shootout, things could get ugly in Phoenix.

Dallas Cowboys + 3.5 @ Los Angeles Chargers

Dak Prescott looked great in Week 1 and if there were any issues with his shoulder after throwing 58 times, he had 10 days to get healed up again and ready for the Chargers. I can almost guarantee, whenever the Cowboys go to play either Los Angeles team in their stadium, that there will be more Cowboys fans than LA fans. So while they aren't playing in Jerry World, they'll have more fan support. My concern for Justin Herbert and the Chargers is their efficiency in the red zone. His most potent weapons in Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler become less effective as they get closer to the goal line. That leaves Jared Cook and Mike Williams as your bigger bodies in the red zone, which isn't ideal. The Cowboys have a decent chance to win this one outright, but you can take the points for some cushion.

Long-Shot Parlay

  • Cowboys ML (+160)
  • Titans +6.5 (-105)
  • Steelers ML (-225)
  • Rams -3.5 (-110)

Five Props To Consider

  • Calvin Ridley OVER 6.5 receptions (+115)
  • Tyrod Taylor OVER 34.5 Pass Attempts (-105)
  • Aaron Jones OVER 88.5 combined yards (-115)
  • Nick Chubb OVER 17.5 carries (-120)
  • James Robinson OVER 9.5 carries (-125)

All five of these props have an excellent chance at hitting. I like the idea of wagering a three-leg prop parlay with the last three props listed (Jones, Chubb and J-Rob). Thanks me on Monday.

Terms & Conditions: 21+ and present in CO, IA, IL, IN, MI, NJ, PA, TN, VA or WV. New users only. Must wager in designated offer market. $10 first deposit required. $150 max bonus. See full terms at sportsbook.fanduel.com. Gambling Problem? Call: 1-800-522-4700 (CO), 1-800-BETS-OFF (IA), 1-800-9-WITH-IT (IN), 1-800-270-7117 for confidential help (MI), 1-800-GAMBLER (NJ, PA, IL, VA), TN REDLINE 1-800-889-9789 (TN), or visit www.1800gambler.net (WV).