The NFL returns this week, and so do all of its trappings. That means navigating conflicting bets, fantasy football interests, and fan allegiances. I can't help you with the last one, but I'm here to weigh-in on the fantasy implications of the four highest over-under totals on SI Sportsbook and offer picks on each of them.
I won't be telling you, "Yes, you should start Patrick Mahomes and Nick Chubb this week because the over-under is high," because I hope you already know to do so no matter what. But I will be advising fringe starters whose fantasy stock could be elevated if any of these games happen to be shootouts.
Cleveland Browns @ Kansas City Chiefs — O/U 53
These two teams faced off eight months ago in a low-scoring affair — a 22-17 Chiefs win in the AFC Divisional Round. Kansas City upgraded offensively by bringing in a litany of linemen to protect Patrick Mahomes, while Cleveland's offseason additions were primarily defensive. The Chiefs had the sixth-highest scoring offense (29.6) and 11th-best scoring defense (22.6) in 2020. The Browns were good for the No. 14 scoring offense in the NFL (25.5) but had the 21st-ranked defense (26.2)
Fantasy players of interest: The bulk of the Browns' production should come from their running backs, as was the case last season, which caps quarterback Baker Mayfield's production. If you're not in a two-QB league, leave Mayfield on your bench or waivers. Kareem Hunt is fine to start at flex, as are receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The only Chief you wouldn't automatically be starting worth consideration is receiver Mecole Hardman, who had four catches for 58 yards and one rush for four yards against the Browns in the playoffs. Hardman is a low-end flex in deeper leagues but he does always have explosive big-game potential thanks to his electric speed.
The pick: Over 53
It's difficult to see the Chiefs held below 30 points at home, even with the defensive upgrades the Browns made. Kansas City is an average defense buoyed by a few standouts; Cleveland should keep pace well enough for the over to comfortably cash.
Arizona Cardinals @ Tennessee Titans — O/U 52
The Titans are a team defined by an elite offense (30.7 points per game, fourth in the NFL) that consistently compensates for their atrocious defense (27.4 ppg, 24th). It remains to be seen if the offense can remain among the league's best after coordinator Arthur Smith left to coach Atlanta. The Titans added receiver Julio Jones and outside linebacker Bud Dupree in the offseason. Thanks to mediocre play, the Cardinals are in Year 3 of the Kliff Kingsbury experiment with no playoff appearances. Arizona added aging stars — receiver A.J. Green and end J.J. Watt — to improve their offense (25.6 ppg, 13th) and defense (22.9 ppg, 12th).
Fantasy players of interest: I like both Cardinals running backs against the Titans' defense. You were already starting Chase Edmonds, but James Conner is serviceable at flex in deeper leagues. Any Cardinals pass-catcher not named DeAndre Hopkins is not worth starting — yet. Wait and see on A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, and Rondale Moore. One of them will score in this game, but it's guesswork at this point. Of the three, my colleague Shawn Childs likes Kirk the most. If you're truly desperate at tight end, you can plug in Tennessee's Anthony Firkser. The Cardinals' secondary could be even weaker than expected after cornerback Malcolm Butler was placed on the reserved/retired list last week.
The pick: Over 52
Neither team's final game of the season inspires a lot of confidence in the over. The Titans were held to 13 at home by the Ravens in the playoffs, and the Cardinals scored just eight against the Rams in the regular-season finale. But those games were against two of the NFL's best defenses, which neither of these teams is. Quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Ryan Tannehill will be picking apart the other team's respective secondaries Sunday afternoon and putting up points in bunches.
Dallas Cowboys @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers — O/U 51.5
When Dak Prescott was healthy last season, the Cowboys had the unique distinction of being one of the NFL's most prolific offenses and worst defenses. The wheels fell off the offense after he was lost for the season, and the defense kept that moniker. Dallas finished with the No. 17 scoring offense (24.7 ppg) and No. 28 scoring defense (29.6 ppg). Tampa Bay's defense was stout for most of the season, but the offense hit its stride late in the year. The Bucs were the NFL's third-highest scoring offense (30.8 ppg) and eighth-stingiest defense (22.2 ppg). Tampa Bay returned all of its starters on both sides of the ball while Dallas gets its QB back and made marginal defensive improvements.
Fantasy players of interest: In general, I like Michael Gallup this season, but you should keep him sidelined in Week 1. He was a boom or bust option in 2020, and he's likely to bust against one of the top defenses in the NFL. I'd sit tight end Blake Jarwin given the matchup and the number of options Prescott has before him. Stay away from the Tampa Bay backfield until there's a better idea of the workload distribution. It was hit or miss with Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II last year; the addition of Giovani Bernard clouds things even more. You should feel confident starting Antonio Brown at flex and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The pick: Under 51.5
I'm sure this will be a popular over pick, and I understand why. It's the opening game of the season, and it involves America's Team and the defending Super Bowl champs. I see Tampa Bay putting significant pressure on Prescott, especially with guard Zack Martin likely out and limiting Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys' defense is nowhere near good enough to shut down this Bucs offense, but it won't be as bad as last year. The offensive fireworks many expect in this game never show, and Tampa Bay wins handily.
Baltimore Ravens @ Las Vegas Raiders — O/U 51.5
The Ravens had the best rushing offense in the NFL for the second year running in 2020. That ground attack helped them finish as one of the highest-scoring teams in the NFL (29.3 ppg, second). Paired with an elite defense (18.9 ppg, seventh), Baltimore made the playoffs for the third consecutive year. Points haven't been hard to come by in Las Vegas under Jon Gruden — the Raiders were the NFL's No. 10 scoring offense (27.1 ppg). But scoring hasn't been difficult for Las Vegas' opponents either: The Raiders had the NFL's 30th-ranked defense (29.9 ppg). The Ravens mainly focused on offense in their offseason additions (receiver Sammy Watkins, guard Kevin Zeitler) while the Raiders upgraded on defense (end Yannick Ngakoue, safety Trevon Moehrig and corner Casey Hayward Jr.).
Fantasy players of interest: Derek Carr is best left on the bench against Baltimore's defense. Even in two-QB leagues, there may be better options available than Carr. A profound disappointment as a rookie, Henry Ruggs is a last-ditch option at flex with the hope that the Ravens' focus is on Darren Waller. Kenyan Drake is worth starting at flex only for his pass-catching ability, and because of the contract, the Raiders signed him to all-but-guarantees they utilize him. If Marquise Brown is healthy for Week 1, start him with caution. He started to look up at the end of 2020, but it's exhausting waiting for his "arrival." Plug in Sammy Wakins if you're chasing his fantastical Week 1 production, but know that he comes with the same risk Brown does: the Ravens are a run-first team, and Mark Andrews is the No. 1 receiving option.
The pick: Under 51.5
The logic behind this pick is similar to that of the Cowboys-Bucs game. A good defense shuts down a decent offense, and an improved defense hampers a good offense. The Ravens will get their points but might not run all over the Raiders the way they would if they had played last year. After Las Vegas tore apart its offensive line in the offseason, the Ravens front seven will be chasing Carr around all day and plugging holes Josh Jacobs would normally run through.
More Fantasy Football: