It's finally here!!
Last night was amazing getting to watch real football, even with some fans in the stands!
I hope everyone was able to enjoy it as much as I did. Although as a Chiefs fan it maybe was a little less than I did.
With the season finally starting after months of prep work, it is time to set our lineups that will matter. The draft figures to be about 50% of your potential success this season. From here it will be about decoding player usage and identifying matchups. That is what I am here to help with, complete with egg puns for literally all situations. This column will grow and evolve over the year, so let me know what you want to see less/more of and if there is anything else I can provide you with as we break down 32 teams and 16 matchups for the next 16 weeks (17 for some) in search of both fantasy gold and avoiding the embarrassment of last place.
Right from the beginning I want to let you know that I don’t plan on doing weekly positional rankings. I find the practice to be only somewhat helpful. Very few rankers actually change very much from their original rankings with players only moving up and down a bit based on their matchup. I would rather highlight those players with good/bad matchups that you should consider for your lineup. In week one we are probably starting everyone we drafted first, but use these next sections to help shape some decisions around the edges of your roster.
If you like rankings here is a link to a site that gathers expert rankings from around the industry and puts them all in one place: https://www.fantasypros.com/nfl/rankings/qb.php It is free of charge and you can make some slight changes based on format (PPR, 1/2 pt, non-PPR). Don’t be a slave to the rankings, but use them as a guide. Also, don’t trust weekly projections a whole lot, whether that be from this link or on the site you play at. If you feel that the WR on your bench is a better play even though Yahoo has him projected to score five less points, go with the benched player. It is your team and you own your decisions. Just use this info as tools to help you make said decisions.
Over Easy matchups of the week
(games with a high total score where we should look for fantasy goodness)
Texans/Chiefs led the way with a game total of 55. Browns/Ravens, Seahwaks/Falcons and Saints/Bucs all game in just under 50. Cowboys/ Rams in the nightcap is as high as 52.
Vegas makes a lot of money by being right (or at least very close, see that Texans/Chiefs number) on these projected game totals. The matchups with a higher score can make for a good tiebreaker in your lineup between players. If you are trying to decide between Tyler Lockett, DJ Chark and Michael Gallup, then you may want to start Lockett and Gallup knowing that those situations are the most ripe for touchdowns and a higher pace of play that will lead to more snaps/potential targets.
For running backs another tiebreaker to consider is looking at teams that are favored to win. It should be obvious, but it isn’t, that running backs perform better when their team is playing from in front. The Chiefs, Colts, Ravens, Bills and Patriots are the largest favorites on the board for this week. There is a lot of uncertainty in those backfields, but betting on those backs as a tiebreaker over similarly ranked/projected players is a good process to trust moving forward. I am not saying to automatically sit RB’s not favored to win, but using it as a tiebreaker should win out more often than it loses.
Deviled Egg matchups of the week
(games without a high ceiling that we want to limit exposure in)
Jets/Bills, Titans/Broncos and Chargers/Bengals are the three matchups with an under of less than 42 on the schedule. These games figure to be slower paced and see less opportunity for a shootout to occur. Again, use as a tiebreaker for your WR3 and flex position. We’re not sitting our studs here, but there is reason to reduce expectations for players that may have been drafted as your WR2/3 or your flex options.
Jacksonville, Cleveland and Houston are each projected to lose by at least a touchdown. Jets, Dolphins and Cards are all 6.5 point underdogs. This means that Chubb’s expectations should be lowered and Hunt becomes more attractive in the flex spot. If you have better options than Bell, Howard/Breida or James Robinson then I would play them. It will be interesting to see how Arizona’s offense responds to the test of playing the 49er’s. I would temper expectations for Drake in week one, but you are not taking him out of your lineup.
Sunny-Side Up plays of the week
(Fringe starters or bench players you should get in your lineup. You don’t need me to tell you to start your studs, but this are other players worthy of consideration. Especially if some of your studs are banged up or in a bad matchup.)
Jimmy Garoppolo QB SF- A matchup against the Cardinals brings fantasy goodness. The Cardinals were historically terrible against the TE position last year, but were also pretty generous to the guy throwing to those TE’s. Garoppolo wasn’t drafted as a starter, but it might be worth finding a spot in your lineup for him this week.
Other QB’s: Big Ben Roethlisberger Pit, Teddy Bridgewater Car, Derek Carr LV
James White RB NE- White is the beneficiary of injuries to Michel and Harris (preseason darling starting on the IR, hopefully only out for the minimum three weeks). Rex Burkhead will get more work than anyone wants to see from him, but White should be on the field a lot next to Newton. Wouldn’t be shocking for him to get his season high in carries in week one and his reception floor is high as well.
Marlon Mack RB Ind- It won’t be long until Jonathon Taylor gets the larger share of carries in the Colts backfield, but I like Mack to get the majority of the work in the early part of the season, especially against the deliberately terrible Jags defense.
Other RB’s: Tarik Cohen Chi, Antonio Gibson Was (the potential reward is too great to sit week one, especially if you need to swing for the fences)
Stephon Diggs WR Buf- I was down on Diggs all offseason, but getting to play the Jets twice a year makes for two very enticing matchups. I would bet that Buffalo wants to get him off to a hot start after his history of becoming vocal if he is displeased with his target count. The Jets corners are poor and Diggs should be open all day, it will be on Allen to get him the ball.
Diontae Johnson WR Pit- He has missed some practice time, but was a full participant leading up to the game and his QB has sung his praises. He is in a true smash spot against the Giants. Don’t get cute and sit him. This is what we have been waiting for.
Desean Jackson WR Phi- As of right now Jalen Reagor is a true game time decision. If he misses this game then Jackson should approach WR1/2 numbers. Even if Reagor plays I expect him to be on a limited snap count and the Washington defense is going to be very generous to opposing players this season. The front of that defense is strong, but the secondary is still figuring itself out and devoid of proven talent. Jackson tore them apart in his lone healthy game last season and should do so again.
Other WR’s: TY Hilton Ind, Julian Edelman NE, Anthony Miller Chi
Tyler Higbee TE LAR- We should find out right away in week one if the Rams are going to play in a similar fashion to how they finished the year. I believe this is the path they will follow and that Higbee carries immense upside in a high-scoring matchup against the Cowboys.
Eric Ebron TE Pit- Ebron gets the Giants in week one. The Giants struggled against everything last season, and I believe Ebron gets off to a hot start with the Steelers. This game has sneaky scoring potential on both sides. Pitt’s defense is legit, but the Giants have all of their weapons healthy for the first time in Jones’s career.
Other TE’s: Jack Doyle Ind, Dallas Goedert Phi
Eggs Benedict players of the week
(Top players that are set to betray your lineup. These are stud players that have a higher chance to bust than in their usual matchup. Their output from this week will likely be below their season average. I try to keep this to starter caliber players and not pick on RB4/5 or players outside flex consideration.)
Kyler Murray QB Ari- Murray gets the 49er’s D in week one. Even with the Niner’s loss of some key defensive pieces I see Murray struggling a bit here. The Niner’s play slow and have a terrifying pass rush that should slow the whole Cards offense down.
Alvin Kamara RB NO- TB’s defense is legit, especially the run defense. Kamara averaged less than 70 yards rushing in both games despite the Saints winning both games. I believe Kamara will contribute enough in the passing game that he should still be started, but you may feel a little more desperate with some of your other lineup choices (chase the ceiling rather than floor).
Nick Chubb RB Cle- This is a risky mention as Chubb destroyed the Ravens in one game last year, but didn’t manage 5 points in the teams second meeting. Newly extended teammate, Kareem Hunt, figures to see a lot of usage in the passing game. You aren’t sitting your second round pick, but act similarly to Kamara and work some higher ceiling plays into your lineup.
Devante Parker WR Mia- Parker might have had his way with Gilmore at the end of last season, but I see Gilmore wanting his revenge in week one. With Preston Williams a game time decision, the Dolphins shouldn’t have to force feed their WR1 and that will mean a pretty terrible start to the season for Parker.
Mike Evans WR TB- Evans has been limited or not practiced with a hamstring injury all week. Being banged up and facing Marshon Lattimore isn’t a great combination. Evans struggled against the Saints last year and I think week one is going to be rough for him. I remain bullish on him long term, but not this week.
Amari Cooper WR Dal- Cooper gets another shutdown corner, Jalen Ramsey (and his record setting CB deal). Cooper struggled against Ramsey last year as Ramsey shadowed him around the field. The big question on my mind is if the arrival of CeeDee Lamb will allow Cooper to move into the slot more (where he is much more effective, as is every receiver). If Cooper plays more snaps out of the slot, then that will give him an advantage and a chance off the island of coverage he’ll be on.
(Weekly kicker and defense streaming options)
I am going to make two to three recommendations each week and track my progress. All recommendations will be available in at least 50% of leagues. That should mean at least one of the three is available for you.
Eagles- Big mismatch on the offensive and defensive lines in this matchup. We are betting that Haskins will struggle out of the gates this season and that the Eagles will jump ahead allowing their defense to force sacks/interceptions. A reminder that we are chasing defensive plays (sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles) and not points against, although the Football Teamers figure to not score that many points.
Chargers- The biggest mismatch on the schedule. I believe in the Bengals long term, but Burrow hasn’t been able to practice or play against an NFL defensive line with this level of playmakers. I am betting the rook makes some mistakes and takes some unnecessary sacks at the hands of Bosa/Ingram.
Titans- A good defense getting better with the addition of Jadaveon Clowney (although I am not sure he will be up for playing a lot in this game). The Titans defensive line should still be able to give the Denver O-Line fits. Lock may have looked okay in his starts last year, but I am betting the offense won’t be clicking on all cylinders yet and now Sutton is banged up.
There was a lot of kicker turnover in the preseason. If you lost your kicker or you just want to stream ideal plays weekly, then follow along here. The goal is to find a kicker playing at home in a dome and is favored to win in a high-scoring contest. Easier said than done, but it is the ideal scenario for fantasy kicker success. As many boxes as we can check the better. I will recommend two options each week that are less than 50% owned.
Youngoe Koo, Atl- Koo checks almost all of our boxes and was one of my favorite kickers to grab in the preseason since he plays for a good offense with a lot of indoor games on their schedule.
Dan Bailey, Min- The Vikings are not heavy favorites, but they are home favorites with a decent game total. He’s widely available and not long ago was deemed one of the best options in the game.
Bonus Week One pick: Rodrigo Blankenship, Ind- If you are feeling particularly daring: The Colts are eight point favorites on the road against the Jags. If they get way ahead early (as they should), then they could take the foot off the pedal and this rookie kicker will get some play.
Hard Boiled Eggs
(guessing next week’s top waiver picks)
These players will almost all be less than 50% owned, but if there is a player in the 60-70% range that I feel should be closer to 85-100% owned then I will call them out as well. With the rash of minor soft tissue injuries we are seeing through the preseason you may find yourself in need of replacements. These are the under the radar players that I feel everyone will be rushing for after week one. They also make for some interesting long shot plays in week one.
Boston Scott RB Phi- The Eagles have been nursing Miles Sanders back slowly and I think Scott will get a lot of use in a potential blowout against Washington. Scott saw good usage down the stretch last season and was a week-winner in the game Sanders missed with injury. This team hasn’t brought in anyone to compete for touches and I believe that has as much to do with their faith in Scott as it does their faith in Sanders.
James Robinson RB Jax- Teams are going to be chasing RB’s and Robinson figures to get a lot of run with Armstead and Ozigbo both out. It was Robinson’s progress that allowed the Jags to feel comfortable in cutting Fournette. It isn’t the best situation, but volume will rule the day as it did for Fournette.
Chris Thompson RB Jax- Robinson’s cohort in the backfield. The dump-off passes that got Fournette 100 targets last season will not directly translate to Thompson, but he figures to be the biggest beneficiary. He also has history with OC Jay Gruden and when he is healthy he should see some good usage as the passing down back on a team that figures to be passing from behind a lot.
Darrel Williams RB KC- Everyone drafted the wrong RB2 in KC as Williams beat out Deandre Washington for the back-up role. Even with CEH seeing bell-cow duty their will be 5-13 touches a game available for Williams and in the Chiefs offense those touches are mighty valuable.
Josh Kelley RB LAC- Kelley should run ahead of Justin Jackson. I think Ekeler will see amazingly high usage, especially early in the season, but Kelley will get some carries and teams will be looking to grab some of that usage after drafting Jackson in front of him by mistake.
Desean Jackson WR Phi- Jackson was more widely available before the last week. After he lights up the Washington Football Team he will be a hot commodity on the waiver wire. If Reagor misses multiple weeks then Jackson should be a priority add. It’s still unclear if Reagor will miss this Sunday’s game, but the initial prognosis was the he would not play this week.
Parris Campbell WR Ind- Campbell was a late round target of mine who gets the Jaguars in week one. If he is locked in as Rivers number two as has been reported than he could be in for a big week and be an immediate add.
Laviska Shenault WR Jax- Shenault profiled very similar to Antonio Gibson out of college, but Gibson got labeled a RB and Shenault a WR. If Jay Gruden gets creative then we will see from Shenault the type of usage so many are dreaming of from Gibson. With the injuries to RB’s on the Jags roster and the void of talent at WR, Shenault will have a lot of opportunity to show what he can do at the beginning of the season.
Hunter Renfrow/ Bryan Edwards WRs LV- Whichever receiver is second on the team in targets to Darren Waller will make for a big pickup. I am not a Ruggs truther and believe that it is one of these two who you will want. I think Renfrow’s chemistry from last year makes him the early favorite, but Edwards has been balling out in camp and all the reports are how good he has looked. They go up against a very exploitable Panthers defense in a juicy matchup for the Raiders.
Chris Herndon TE NYJ- Herndon figures to be the second option in this passing attack at the beginning of the season after Perriman missed a large part of training camp. Herndon balled out as a rookie before losing last year to suspension and injury. I think he sees 5-8 targets and moves his way up the back-up TE charts even against a tough Bills D.
(players on the cusp of a breakout we should target in trades)
This section will grow as the season moves along and we can gauge players who have gotten “unlucky” to that point in the season and seem to be about to turn the corner. Right now I will list some of the players I was a lot higher on than consensus headed into drafts.
Joe Mixon RB Cin
Ronald Jones RB TB
Zack Moss RB Buf
Antonio Gibson RB Was
Marquise Brown WR Bal
Will Fuller WR Hou
Terry McLaurin WR Was
Preston Williams WR Mia
Tyler Higbee TE LAR
Hayden Hurst TE Atl
(random thoughts about the week)
Ambiguous backfields are both daunting to face in fantasy and potentially the greatest source of value if you can identify the correct piece that gets the most play. Without a preseason we are flying blind into the early part of the season with limited beat reporter accounts of how these situations will play out. We will have to make some bets on continued usage based on the first week of action. The backfields I am most interested in seeing how they play out are: Los Angeles Rams (will this stay a three headed committee or can one back distinguish from the competition), Tampa Bay (RoJo or Fournette, how much McCoy are we really getting), Washington (how will Gibson get used, can Love crack the rotation), and San Francisco (how will this three way committee sort itself out, can McKinnon capture his former spark and steal the backfield for himself). The answers to these questions will go a long way to who we will target in trades early in the season and potentially win people their league.
I’ve been asked my thoughts on Tampa Bay as a Ronald Jones truther this offseason. Here they are: I believe that Bruce Arians wants RoJo to be the man, but has properly hedged his bets along the way as a good coach/GM should. The team went into the offseason with only RoJo and Dare in the backfield. Dare is mostly a special teamer, he was used on passing downs last season, but didn’t really do too much with that opportunity. They liked Vaughn and drafted him to be the third back on the roster, replacing Barber. After Vaughn presented with COVID they went and got McCoy knowing that Vaughn wouldn’t be up to speed in time for the start of the season. They also likely wanted some security in pass blocking. With Vaughn not picking things up very quickly and Fournette becoming available they went and got him. I expect Vaughn to contribute on special teams but see very little work in the backfield at all this season. No team wanted to pay Fournette at his old salary, and the money he got from TB is non-guaranteed. There is a question of how good Fournette really is. How much of his success is volume and how much of his looking terrible was the situation in Jacksonville. I don’t expect Fournette to contribute much in the first few weeks as he learns a new scheme. If RoJo balls out in these first few weeks, then he will keep the job for as long as he can stay healthy. I think his ceiling went from 75-80% of touches down to 60-70% of touches, but that is a sizable share of what should still be an elite offense. I am not selling RoJo and have been actually trying to buy on the few teams I don’t own him. I still want no part of Fournette who I can’t see securing more than 50% of touches with RoJo and McCoy around. RoJo has the highest ceiling still of any Bucs RB, but that ceiling was lowered slightly and it brings him into consideration with the many other RB’s whose committees we are waiting to see sorted out.
Last thoughts for the week are to just enjoy football being back! Enjoy the games and the crazy variance that comes with it. If you trust your process and like your team, don’t let a potential dud of a week ruin that for you. 50% of all teams are going to lose this week. Enjoy the higher waiver priority and get back and ready to crush it next week. And if you are lucky enough to be in the 50% that won this week, then rub it in everyone else’s face because you are undefeated! It might not last long, so make the most of it and get ready to win in week two.
See everyone next week.