Welcome to my Fantasy Football Week 1 Preview! Below you’ll see who I think is worth a start on your fantasy team and who you’ll be better off leaving on your bench. For you risk takers I’ll even give you the Sleeper Selection for that matchup. What are you waiting for? Time to make sure those lineups are set before kickoff.
Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks
The last time these two teams met it was a low scoring affair where the only team that presented any fantasy value was the Seahawks. This year the Seahawks defense is just as good, but things should be a bit different. It’s hard to think anyone can do much against the Seahawks after what they did to Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl, but the Packers have had a very long time to plan this out. I like Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, and Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb this week. Neither WR will be covered by Richard Sherman for the whole game, and both have big play potential. The Seahawks fortunately are not going against a great defense. Marshawn Lynch shouldn’t have any problems against the Packers, and neither should Russell Wilson and his receivers. I’m hesitant to start Percy Harvin so soon, but he can put up big numbers any given week so if you don’t have a solid WR2 option he may want to take the gamble with him there. My true Sleeper Selection for this matchup is Doug Baldwin. If you’re in a PPR league definitely give this guy a look. He doesn’t have too many big plays, but he’s a valuable part of this offense and I predict he’ll have more receptions than Harvin. Another guy who’s being slept on is the aforementioned Russell Wilson. He’s an extremely efficient passer and can run the ball/extend the play when necessary. Extending the play can lead to huge touchdowns, which means more points for Wilson. The Packers were 25th against the pass last year, don’t doubt Wilson.
Minnesota Vikings at St. Louis Rams
The Norv Turner Vikings will have their first test against the St. Louis Rams. While the Rams defensive front is one of the best in the league, their secondary isn’t nearly as imposing. I think the Vikings will take advantage of this, so look at good games from Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph. Both players are starter worthy, especially Rudolph who I think can be a red zone target for Matt Cassel. I’ll ignore this front seven when it comes to Adrian Peterson; he’s an every week starter regardless of matchup. For the Rams I wouldn’t suggest much outside of their Defense and Zac Stacy. There’s no telling how Shaun Hill will play at QB, but if you’re looking for a Sleeper Special I’ll give Tavon Austin the nod. The speedy WR could do some damage if the Rams unleash him against last year’s 31st ranked pass defense.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
This matchup would be a lot nicer for Brian Hoyer if Josh Gordon was around, but instead his top WR is Miles Austin. Austin hasn’t had a fantasy impact in a while, and I have a hard time believing he’ll have a big game against a solid pass defense with a QB he doesn’t have much chemistry with. Jordan Cameron and Ben Tate are the Browns talents you’ll be looking at for fantasy relevance. Cameron should do well this week as Hoyer’s top option, as he had 146 yards and three touchdowns in the two games they had together last year. Sure that’s a small sample size, but the TE spot doesn’t have many players better than him right now. Tate is the new starting RB for the Browns, and this is a good matchup for him against the Steelers’ 21st ranked rush defense last year. Tate should also have some involvement in the passing game as he’s a good receive out the backfield. Le’Veon Bell has avoided a suspension (this year at least) and he should play well. I think he’s a RB2 this week, mainly because we don’t know how he’ll split carries with LeGarrette Blount. In the passing game I wouldn’t have any doubts regarding Antonio Brown. He will be matched up against Joe Haden, but Brown didn’t let that get in the way last time (92 rec yards, 1 TD). Alongside Brown is my Sleeper Selection Markus Wheaton. Wheaton didn’t do much last year, but this year he’s the #2 WR on the team with Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery gone. That’s a lot of targets, yards, and TDs that need to be split up between him and Brown. I think his breakthrough year will start off well.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Philadelphia Eagles
Well this game should be a blow out, which doesn’t bode well for Toby Gerhart. The top RB of the Jags may not get enough chances to show off his skills if his team goes down by too much early. This team doesn’t have the offense to keep up with the Eagles, and its defense definitely won’t be able to limit them. Gerhart is a RB2/Flex for me this week, and that’s about it for the Jags. The Eagles were last in league against the pass last year, but you aren’t getting me to put faith in this offense so soon. Cecil Shorts is a Flex at best for me, and Marcedes Lewis is TD-or-bust. I shouldn’t have to say much about the Eagles. There are questions about how well Nick Foles will play this year, and I think going against the Jags will be a nice first game for him. I also think Jeremy Maclin is too underrated and should be at least a Flex play. He’ll get a lot of the targets left behind by DeSean Jackson, and what doesn’t go to him will be the benefit of Riley Cooper (also a Flex). Next we come to the Sleeper Selection, Zach Ertz, the 2nd year TE that should be another piece of the Chip Kelly offense. We hope to see more of him this season, and a game against one of the league’s worst defenses should set him off to a good start. Darren Sproles is also a sleeper contender, but the backfield belongs to LeSean McCoy, so I need to see how Coach Kelly uses Sproles first.
Oakland Raiders at NY Jets
Raiders fans expected to see Matt Schaub start the first game of the season, but it looks like rookie QB Derek Carr beat him for the role. The Raiders offense wasn’t very good last year, and there’s no proof that Carr will make their passing game better. James Jones is a welcome addition for their offense, but he didn’t show signs of being WR1 ready while on the Packers. I wouldn’t start anyone on this offense unless you’re in a 16 team league, not even MJD who is slated to be the starting RB. MJD would typically be a Flex for me, but not against this Jets defense that surprisingly finished 3rd against the run last year. Speaking of the Jets, they face similar issues on offense, but their QB will at least have 1 year already under the system. Geno’s best target is Eric Decker, who can do very well if Geno can actually get the ball to him. Decker is a Flex for me, along with Chris Johnson, who is the new starting RB for the team. Rex Ryan loves to run the ball so CJ(formerly)2K should have his opportunities. No sleeper for this matchup, I’m not expecting much fantasy value coming from this game.
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
Andy Dalton had 555 passing yards and 4 TDs in 2 games against the Ravens last year, but he also threw for 7 INTs. He still has his top weapon AJ Green, but it’s his first year without Jay Gruden calling the offense so things could be a bit different. For the first game of the year I’ll rank him as a QB2, AJ Green as a WR1, and Giovani Bernard as a RB2. Gio will be starting at RB, but Jeremy Hill will likely fill the role BenJarvus Green-Ellis had last year. That means goal line carries and a few touches that Bernard owners won’t want him to have. Jeremy Hill is my Sleeper Selection as I do think the Bengals can get the ball moving and reach the red zone multiple times, giving him more chances to score. I’m not starting Tyler Eifert until I see something to believe in while he’s on this team. For the Ravens fantasy value, this game isn’t looking too good to me. The Bengals defense was great last year and should be even better with Geno Atkins and Leon Hall back. Bernard Pierce wasn’t anything special last year so the idea that he’ll have a good game against a top-5 defense doesn’t sound good to me. Could Joe Flacco have a big game? Sure, but I think it’s unlikely. Torrey Smith is a “big play a game” type of guy to me so he’s a Flex, but that’s it for WRs on this team. I’m leaving Steve Smith on the bench. In my opinion the secondary pass option on this team is Dennis Pitta, but the Ravens picked up Owen Daniels and he should be involved as he’s pretty good himself. I like to be a bit cautious the first game to see how usage works, so I’d start Pitta at TE and leave Daniels alone until I’m given reason to think otherwise.
Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears
Is Sammy Watkins playing? The answer to that question doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned. I’m leaving him on my bench for this game, as 1) he’s an injury concern at this point and 2) EJ Manuel still needs to prove he can get him the ball. At the end of the day this is a running team, so the true value from the Bills lies with CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson. If you have either RB I’d start him at flex, as Jackson will likely get the goal line and 3rd down work. He was also a better pass catcher out of the backfield, so I’d actually start Jackson over Spiller if you had to choose. I think the Bills defense will be pretty good this year, but I’d sit them against the Bears. Jay Cutler has a lot of options on this offense and this will be one of the best in the league. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey are both WR1’s for the time being, and Matt Forte is a RB1. Martellus Bennett should be a decent start at TE, but there’s no guarantee he’ll have a double digit game. I wouldn’t quite make this unit a sleeper pick, but keep an eye on the Bears defense here. If this defense can limit the run and shut down the pass (which they should), it’ll be a nice indicator that this unit is improving from last year’s horrible play. Sleeper Selection here is Mike Williams, who should enjoy having the defense focus on Watkins and the RBs. He’s a big candidate for Fantasy Zombie this year, and he being healthy certainly helps that possibility.
Washington Football Franchise at Houston Texans
I fear for Robert Griffin III here. JJ Watt, Jadaveon Clowney, and Brian Cushing are all on the opposite side looking to ruin his day, and they have the talent to do it. I’d be very hesitant to start RG3 on Sunday, but there is some hope. The duo of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson should give the Texans secondary some trouble. If RG2 doesn’t have at least 2 TDs at the end of this game I’d be shocked. Speaking of Garcon and Jackson, I have them both at WR2 with Garcon higher due to his chemistry with RG3. Alfred Morris is still a quality back so don’t forget about him. With Jay Gruden as the new head coach, Alfie Moe may even get more involved in the passing game, which I’m hoping to see. When it comes to the Texans offense I like Arian Foster as a RB1. The opposing defense barely exists, so Foster shouldn’t have any problems putting up big numbers. Ryan Fitzpatrick will go into the season as the starting QB, which can’t be much of a drop off from Matt Schaub at this point right? Andre Johnson should be just fine as a WR2, but I’m not as optimistic about DeAndre Hopkins. From Fitzpatrick’s time on the Bills and Titans, he seems to really focus on either the top WR (Johnson) or the TE, who in this case is Garrett Graham aka my Sleeper Selection.
Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs
We’re going into Year 4 of the Jake Locker project and while I don’t think he’s bad, I don’t know how good he really is either. I do have faith that he can get the ball to Kendall Wright enough to make Wright relevant for this game, so the latter is a Flex. Other than that you can roll the dice on Shonn Greene or Bishop Sankey, but I don’t think Greene is good and I’m not putting Sankey in my lineup till he’s the official starter. The Chiefs belong to Jamaal Charles, and he’s really the only guy on offense worth starting. Alex Smith doesn’t do enough to make anyone else on the offense useful fantasy wise, but Smith himself isn’t a bad QB2 here. For those in standard leagues though, the only spot on your team being occupied by the Chiefs other than RB1 is DST. The Chiefs defense didn’t look nearly as good toward the end of last season, but they should be able to cause some trouble for the Titans. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a defensive TD pop up on the Box Score.
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons still don’t have a defense, so no fear here with starting your Saints players. Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston (Flex), and Pierre Thomas (Flex) are all worth a start. Mark Ingram looked great in the preseason and is listed as the starting RB, plus the Falcons were horrible against the run last year, so you can take the gamble with him at Flex, but that’s only if you really don’t have a better option. I like Brandin Cooks and Kenny Stills, but can the Saints really pull off 7 fantasy-worthy players in one game? If you had to pick one I say go with Cooks, but neither guy is higher than a Flex for now. Matt Ryan will have both a healthy Julio Jones and a healthy Roddy White for the first time in a very long time. Unfortunately he doesn’t have much of an offensive line to help keep him up, but I still think he’s a top-10 QB this week. The Saints secondary is very good, but Julio Jones and Roddy White are too good to leave on the bench. Steven Jackson had 201 yards and 1 TD in two games versus the Saints last year, so for me he’s a Flex. The Saints run defense had its bad moments last year, and Jackson may be able to capitalize on them as their primary focus will be limiting Matt Ryan’s passing attack.
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
The biggest question here is will Rob Gronkowski play, and I think he will, but with limited snaps. The good thing about those limited snaps is that he’ll most likely be used in the red zone when it matters, as he’s one of Brady’s top red zone targets. If you have Gronk I’d start him because if he only finishes the game with 4 catches for 45 yards and a TD that’ll still be a solid stat line for fantasy TEs. Julian Edelman is being ranked pretty low, but I think he’s still a WR2 and should be started on most teams (a WR1 in PPR leagues). If you own Stevan Ridley I’d keep him on the bench. Shane Vereen is the RB worth the start as a Flex (RB2 in PPR), and along with him I’d give the Patriots DST a start as well. I don’t have a lot of faith in the Dolphins running game and they should be able to cause a few turnovers. For the Dolphins I like Mike Wallace here. Reports are that Darrelle Revis will cover Charles Clay (who is a Flex TE this game) so Wallace should have more opportunity in the passing game. I think Wallace is a Flex, with WR2 upside if Tannehill can get some deep passes going.
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I like Kelvin Benjamin. You’ll read that all season. I think he can certainly end the year as a top-25 WR and I have no issue starting him as a Flex this week. Cam Newton’s main targets will be Benjamin and Greg Olsen, both of which I think are worthy of a start. If you want a sleeper it isn’t going to be any of the RBs because I’m tired of trying to figure out the Panthers RB shuffle. The Sleeper Selection here is Jerricho Cotchery, who is the #2 WR on this team. In two games against the Bucs last year Cam averaged 30 pass attempts, 242 passing yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. I think Benjamin and Olsen score this game, with Cotchery having about 50 yards receiving. For the Bucs I like Vincent Jackson as a WR2/Flex here. We still need to see how Josh McCown does in the new setting and he’ll have a tough test against this defense, which is top-3 in my opinion. Outside of VJax, I’d hold off on the rest of the Bucs. I’m not a Doug Martin believer, and I definitely won’t believe in him against last year’s 2nd ranked defense.
San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have a really bad defense, so Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and Michael Crabtree should be fine here. Outside of them I’d be hesitant. Anquan Boldin won’t get the same kind of looks with Crabtree back, and this is still primarily a rushing team so I don’t expect many opportunities for Steve Johnson and Brandon Lloyd., and this is still primarily a rushing team so I don’t expect many opportunities for Steve Johnson and Brandon Lloyd. Similar to the 49ers, the Cowboys boast four guys on offense definitely worth a start: Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten, and Dez Bryant. The difference between these teams is that the Cowboys don’t have a defense and are primarily a passing team, which adds value to Terrance Williams as a Flex. All five of them likely won’t have a great day against the 49ers defense, but they should all have some fantasy value.
Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos
Although the Broncos have some new pivotal additions on defense, I think this turns into a shootout. Andrew Luck is definitely a QB1 here, and Reggie Wayne may surprise himself with a WR1 worthy day. TY Hilton didn’t do enough to take over the title of #1 WR on this team while Wayne was gone, and Luck will certainly look Wayne’s way multiple times on Sunday. Hilton is a WR2, and Coby Fleener gets a starting TE nod from me. Trent Richardson sits on the bench for me here; he’ll have to earn his way back into a starting role. The Broncos are a fantasy value factory so take your pick. Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders (WR1 with Welker suspended), Julius Thomas, and Montee Ball are all starters. Cody Latimer is my Sleeper Selection as the absence of Welker frees up more opportunities for the rookie, and this team loves to throw.
New York Giants at Detroit Lions
Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings are the only guys I’m starting from this team. Rueben Randle is too up/down for me to trust the first game of the season. Don’t even get me started on Eli Manning. For the Lions Golden Tate is an intriguing Flex play as he’ll finally be on a pass first offense, with defenses focusing on Calvin Johnson, the best WR in the league. I’m a Reggie Bush fan, but I’m also a Joique Bell fan, and the latter is getting the goal line carries and taking better advantage of his passing targets. Bush is an RB2 and Bell is a Flex with RB2 upside. Eric Ebron at this point is a gamble that I’m not willing to take, especially with Brandon Pettigrew still around. If you really want a gamble, take a shot with the Lions DST, this matchup’s Sleeper Selection. Master Eli is truly a master at turning over the ball.
San Diego Chargers at Arizona Cardinals
If Philip Rivers is your best option at QB, I wouldn’t be worried going against the Cardinals defense. Yes they’re good, but that doesn’t take away from what Rivers can do with his multiple options. Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green (Sleeper Selection), and Danny Woodhead are all back for what was the 4th best passing offense in the league last year. If there’s anyone on this offense you should doubt it is Ryan Mathews. Yeah he finally lasted 16 games and had a great season, but the Chargers went ahead and added Donald Brown anyway. We know Woodhead will be involved on passing downs, so Brown is likely to cut into Mathews’ carries running the ball. I’m not sure why they made this move, but because of it Mathews is a RB2/Flex for me right now. I think we’re looking at a very good (underrated) Cardinals offense here. Andre Ellington is the starting RB and has top-10 potential. With a possible full workload in line, he’s an RB2 with RB1 upside on Monday night. Another guy I think will surprise people is Malcolm Floyd, currently a WR2/Flex for me. He really built some chemistry with Carson Palmer last year and it’s possible he ends up having a better season than Larry Fitzgerald (WR2). I’m a little hesitant to start the Cardinals DST against the Chargers offense, especially if Tyrann Mathieu can’t play. DST is thin and you may not have better options, but I expect a big day from Rivers.
Thanks for reading, and follow me @CLNS_Marc for further coverage.