Today is Thursday, September 7, and the start of fantasy football is here—it’s finally here.
After reading way too much into OTA and minicamp storylines, followed by training camp performances built around no game-planning, we can finally have fantasy evaluations supported by real, live football that matters.
I’m excited. You’re excited. So, I’m not going to kill you with the intro here. However, I will quickly explain how I am going to go about my weekly start ‘em, sit ‘em/love, hate fantasy piece.
This is the Week 1 “Fire or Flop” series, highlighting my favorite and least favorite fantasy plays of the week. I am not going to mention elite players because you will usually be starting them every week anyways (defense/special teams, the exception). I will list five players from each position group (excluding kickers) that I feel good about each week, followed by others that I don’t. As always, my thoughts are with PPR in mind.
Matt Ryan @ Chicago Bears — The Matty Ice Revenge Tour starts Sunday at Soldier Field. After squandering the infamous 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl, someone’s got to be the first one to face Ryan and the prolific Falcons offense. I think losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will lead to a slight statistical decline for Ryan in 2017, but Sunday won’t be an indicator.
Russell Wilson @ Green Bay Packers — The Seahawks’ offensive line has the look of being an awful group this year, but Wilson is at least healthy for now. Green Bay’s 22nd-ranked defense is going to have to deal with Wilson’s arm and legs.
Marcus Mariota vs. Oakland Raiders — Like Green Bay, Oakland’s defense is not near the level of the offense (26th in 2016). Mariota is an efficient passer with a deep group of pass-catchers and a powerful run game to rely on. He, too, can make plays on the run.
Carson Palmer @ Detroit Lions — David Johnson and John Brown are both back and available for Week 1, giving Palmer a couple of explosive options to go with the ever-dependable Larry Fitzgerald. Detroit defensive end Ezekiel Ansah has been hurt all summer, and fellow starting defensive end Kerry Hyder tore his Achilles in August. The Lions are likely to struggle rushing the passer this year.
Cam Newton @ San Francisco 49ers — Newton may have the most stacked group of playmakers around him that he’s ever had. With Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey providing some thunder and lightning on the ground, and Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess and Curtis Samuel making plays in the passing game, there is no reason that Newton shouldn’t have a great game.
Drew Brees @ Minnesota Vikings — Brees is fantasy royalty but he gets a tough test right off of the bat with this Minnesota defense. The Vikings had 27 takeaways and 41 sacks in 2016, and there is nothing to indicate that their defense will take a step back.
Matthew Stafford vs. Arizona Cardinals — Stafford is in a similar situation as Brees. The Cardinals are one of the most playmaking, opportunistic defenses in the league. They had 28 takeaways and led the league with 48 sacks last year.
Dalvin Cook vs. New Orleans Saints — Yes, he is a rookie, but it’s always a good choice to start skill position players against the Saints’ reigning 27th-ranked defense. Cook is Minnesota’s starting running back, and is a home-run hitter on top of that. To me, I have a similar feeling about Cook as I did about Jamaal Charles’ 2012 matchup with the Saints. I didn’t envision the 288 total yards that Charles put up, but I knew he would do well. Until they prove otherwise, I’m considering Saints opponents must-starts.
DeMarco Murray vs. Oakland Raiders — The Raiders have no linebackers, and Murray is fresh off of a top-three rushing performance from 2016. The Titans still have one of the better offensive lines in football, so I’m riding with Murray.
Devonta Freeman @ Chicago Bears — Freeman’s ability to create space when there is none and make plays in the passing game gives me a good feeling about this one. The Chicago DST was 20th against the running back position in 2016, giving up 18.00 points per game. Most teams’ backfields don’t have as much talent as Atlanta’s does with Freeman and Tevin Coleman. I like both this week.
LeSean McCoy vs. New York Jets — The Bills’ moves this offseason indicate that they are all in on a workhorse season for McCoy. After parting ways with Mike Gillislee and Jonathan Williams, McCoy should be fed the ball. It’s even been said that he could lead the Bills in receptions this year.
Jordan Howard vs. Atlanta Falcons — The Falcons gave up a bunch of fantasy points to running backs in 2016, ranking 24th in the league against them (18.84 FPPG). The Bears will likely lean heavily on Howard since they won’t have much of a passing game. In fact, like McCoy, Howard could lead the Bears in receptions as well. He was targeted 50 times as a rookie in 2016 and wasn’t fully established as the starter until about halfway through the year.
Leonard Fournette @ Houston Texans — The much-hyped rookie is going up against a front seven that features premium run-stuffers JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus.
Doug Baldwin @ Green Bay Packers — Baldwin is one of the league’s craftiest route-runners. Going up against a very young secondary, he’ll be able to pick his spots. He is also one of Wilson’s favorite red-zone weapons, scoring 9 touchdowns inside the opponent’s 20-yard line in 2016.
Eric Decker vs. Oakland Raiders — This is just a guess, but I am assuming that Mariota will find Decker as reliable on third downs and in the red zone as Peyton Manning and Ryan Fitzpatrick did. Decker’s 2016 was completely ruined by injuries, but he is back and is said to be as close to 100 percent as he’s been since 2015. He gets a good matchup here against a vulnerable Raiders secondary.
Amari Cooper @ Tennessee Titans — The chemistry between Derek Carr and Cooper is getting better all the time, and it is expected to hit the next level in 2017. Carr has targeted Cooper 130-plus times each of the last two years, and there’s no reason for that not to continue in 2017.
Michael Crabtree @ Tennessee Titans — This is a perfect week for technical receivers shining from a fantasy perspective. This could be a very pass-heavy performance from Carr, leading both Cooper and Crabtree to have big days. Crabtree is actually Carr’s most-targeted receiver the last two years, averaging 145.5 targets per season. I feel very similarly this week about Crabtree as I do about Decker. Both are savvy veteran receivers who should be able to find their openings against average secondaries.
Martavis Bryant @ Cleveland Browns — With most of the attention in the passing game on Antonio Brown, the reinstated Bryant should find himself with opportunities to make plays all day against the Browns—downfield included. It seems unlikely that Cleveland corners Jason McCourty and Jamar Taylor would be able to prevent a physical freak like Bryant from getting his plays.
Michael Thomas @ Minnesota Vikings — Thomas is going into just his second year, and though his size and physicality allows for him to be successful most of the time, I can’t say he’s ready for the test of Xavier Rhodes quite yet. Rhodes is documented as one of the league’s most effective shut-down corners.
DeAndre Hopkins vs. Jacksonville Jaguars — This has more to do with the Jaguars building a hard secondary than Hopkins’ abilities. I am actually a believer in him this year. However, between lining up across from Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, Hopkins is going to have a tough time wherever he goes.
Alshon Jeffery @ Washington Redskins — Josh Norman is expected to shadow Jeffery this week. Norman is probably a little faster and is about as physical as Jeffery, so I don’t envision Jeffery making too many plays. The Eagles also have several other weapons to target.
Delanie Walker vs. Oakland Raiders — This is another area where Oakland’s lack of linebackers may hurt them this week. You could say that Walker has been Mariota’s most comfortable target the last two years. Keep it going.
Zach Ertz @ Washington Redskins — Ertz should be the primary beneficiary of Jeffery getting swarmed. The growing chemistry between Carson Wentz and Ertz has been obvious.
Jimmy Graham @ Green Bay Packers — The Seahawks shouldn’t have much trouble getting into the red zone against the Packers, and that means lots of looks from Wilson to Graham.
Jordan Reed vs. Philadelphia Eagles — Reed (unsurprisingly) has dealt with injury this summer, but he is back now. Since DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are gone, Reed is almost certainly going to be Kirk Cousins’ security blanket. Now, if he can just stay on the field...
Jason Witten vs. New York Giants — Regardless of if the Cowboys have a hard time with the Giants yet again this time around, expect Witten to be heavily involved. He was targeted a total of 21 times in the teams’ two contests last year.
Eric Ebron vs. Arizona — Ebron has been talked up all offseason but has, of course, been dealing with injuries. Between Tyrann Mathieu, Deone Bucannon, Haason Reddick and Budda Baker, the Cardinals have a good group of guys that can hang with Ebron in coverage.
Evan Engram @ Dallas Cowboys — It looks like lots of people are falling in love with the idea of Engram becoming a consistent target for Eli Manning, but I don’t see it happening yet. Manning has Odell Beckham Jr. (questionable), Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard and his running backs to spread targets around to as well.
Houston Texans DST vs. Jacksonville Jaguars — See below.
Pittsburgh Steelers DST @ Cleveland Browns — An ever-improving defense facing a rookie quarterback who is making his first career start without many proven weapons. Advantage: Pittsburgh.
Atlanta Falcons DST @ Chicago Bears — Bears quarterback Mike Glennon isn’t the best passer out there, he doesn’t have many receiving weapons, and the Falcons have a lightning-fast, playmaking group on defense. With their athleticism, they were able to score five times in 2016, and their defense got better over the offseason.
Buffalo Bills DST vs. New York Jets — The Jets haven’t even played a game yet and they have one of the worst-looking rosters I’ve ever seen in my life. All DST’s that go against the Jets should get a start every week.
Los Angeles Chargers DST @ Denver Broncos — Led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, the Chargers’ pass rush should be able to get to Trevor Siemian their fair share of times. It doesn’t hurt that Los Angeles has a great tandem of corners in Jason Verrett and the league’s reigning interceptions leader, Casey Hayward (7).
Seattle Seahawks DST @ Green Bay Packers — The trade for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson prompted me to vault the Seahawks to my top ranking among DST’s. However, they get Aaron Rodgers this week. Rodgers always finds a way to get his, even against this squad. If the Seattle pass rush is unrelenting, Rodgers can still get the ball out of his hands to running back Ty Montgomery and tight end Martellus Bennett.
Baltimore Ravens DST @ Cincinnati Bengals — These games would normally be a defensive slug-fest (with some spectacular A.J. Green plays mixed in), but quarterback Andy Dalton’s group of weapons in crazy deep right now on paper. Between Green, Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell, John Ross, Tyler Eifert, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon, the Ravens won’t be able to lock them all down for the whole game.