Written by Caleb Brunman @cbretweet on Twitter and @cb on the Fantasy Life App
Football has finally returned! Here is a Week 1 Fantasy Preview featuring in depth analysis on three of the most important games this week.
Detroit Lions vs. Indianapolis Colts
Start. Everyone. Well, except the defenses. This matchup between the Lions and Colts should prove to be a shootout, and everyone will benefit. Two offenses that figure to improve from last year’s performances, this game should get them moving in the right direction. But seriously, start everyone.
The Lions offense will be better after the departure of Calvin Johnson. I said it. Giving Jim Bob Cooter the reins to play calling last year was a brilliant move; now he’s had a full offseason to scheme and rebuild the offense the way he wants to. Though the legend of Megatron is gone, Detroit’s offense will now be more clearly defined and less reliant on a single player. Led by Matthew Stafford, who has shown that he can really play, Golden Tate and Marvin Jones will emerge as a strong wide receiver tandem, and Ameer Abdullah will be a nice post-hype sleeper. And in this game, they shall all feast. Last season, the Colts ranked 22nd against opposing quarterbacks, 20th against opposing running backs, 27th against opposing wide receivers, and 24th against opposing tight ends, making every Lions offensive starter playable in some format. A top five week among quarterbacks from Stafford would not surprise me, nor would top twenty or even top fifteen weeks for Tate or Jones, or even both. While there will be a lot of passing, Abdullah should still get a plethora of touches, especially on the early downs. I even expect him to catch some passes, though the bulk of backfield receptions will likely go to Theo Riddick, earning him strong RB2 or flex consideration, especially in PPR leagues. The only Lions starter I’m hesitant to insert into a fantasy lineup would be Eric Ebron, and not because he can’t produce, but because his lingering ankle injury could be a problem. If he’s deemed a full go for Detroit, consider him a top twelve tight end option this week if Stafford can get him the ball. As if you weren’t already sprinting to start your Lions, recognize these two facts: Indianapolis will be without cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Darius Butler, and the game will be played in a domed, turfed stadium. Have fun watching your points total rising!
The Lions won’t be the only team to benefit from this matchup. The Colts, led by the return of Andrew Luck, will do their part to make this contest high scoring. Though not as poor as Indianapolis, last season the Lions defense ranked 20th against opposing quarterbacks, 18th against opposing running backs, 15th against opposing wide receivers, and 29th against opposing tight ends. The only number to even raise an eyebrow about is the middle-of-the-pack showing against opposing wide receivers, but then again: Andrew Luck. He’ll find his receivers. Like Stafford, Luck could easily finish a top five quarterback this week, and a fifty-attempt game wouldn’t surprise me; he will make sure that the Colts keep up with the scoring. Frank Gore should also see a lot of work, though like Abdullah, that work will likely be focused on the early downs. Still, Gore should be in for some receptions and enough playing time regardless and that means neither of his backups, Robert Turbin nor Josh Ferguson, are playable, even in PPR leagues. Because of the Luck effect, both T.Y. Hilton and the ever-hyped Donte Moncrief should have games of substance, and both are definitely startable. There is not so strong a deterrent in the Detroit secondary to make an argument otherwise, and considering the extenuating circumstances, it wouldn’t take a miracle to land them both in top twenty receiver statuses this week. Finally, Dwayne Allen is a great play this week. Owned in only 36.9% of leagues, the veteran finally doesn’t have to compete with Coby Fleener, and considering the Lions’ putrid play against tight ends, it wouldn’t be wrong to hope for a decent amount of yards and a touchdown, certainly landing him in top ten tight end consideration for the week (and even the season, but that’s a conversation for another time). If my sentiment about this game is still not clear, I’ll say it again: Start. Everyone.
New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys
Many questions will be answered in the 109th installment of the famed Giants-Cowboys rivalry. While the spotlight will be on Dallas’ offense, namely rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, as well as now-healthy superstar Dez Bryant, the New York offense will also showcase first-year receiver Sterling Shepard, highlight machine Odell Beckham Jr., and a supposedly more defined running game. So, how can we expect these players to perform, and how should those performances adjust our lineups? Let’s start with the Cowboys.
If you invested a high round draft pick on Ezekiel Elliott or Dez Bryant, chances are you can’t afford to sit either of them, nor would I recommend doing so. Zeke believers have been waiting for his moment to shine, and with sufficient volume, he should take advantage of a Giants defense that ranked 24th against opposing running backs last season. Even with defenses likely to stack the box more frequently against newcomer Dak Prescott (who, by the way, is not startable, considering how many other, safer quarterback options are in play this week), it should be the wide receiving corps more affected by the quarterback’s debut. While the New York defense also ranked 24th against opposing wide receivers last season, it would be unwise to expect Prescott to keep up the torrid pace of his unbelievable preseason, and thus, the wideouts could suffer. Dez Bryant should still be started week in and week out, but temper expectations in this contest for two reasons: First, Prescott could struggle, or at least should regress, and second, the Giants always pay extra attention to Bryant, as evidenced by him eclipsing 105 yards against the G-Men only twice in his career. Still, 80+ yards and a touchdown is not out of the question. If you’re looking for a cheap WR option, look for Terrance Williams to take some deep play balls that the Giants won’t let Bryant have, and not Cole Beasley, who relies too much on checkdown passes. If you want to play a Cowboys checkdown specialist, start Jason Witten, who Prescott should target early and often. Not only has Witten torched the Giants defense before, but only the Saints allowed more fantasy points to opposing tight ends last season. Witten should be considered a top twelve tight end play this week.
On the flipside, the Giants should also find offensive success. Odell Beckham Jr. should do Odell Beckham Jr. things (though I wouldn’t anticipate another catch like the one in 2014). Eli Manning will likely throw the ball a lot, providing some fantasy success. However, I’m hesitant to play other Giants receiving options. Sterling Shepard seems like an obvious flex candidate, but with no great physical tools, I’d like to avoid starting the rookie against the Cowboys defense that surprisingly allowed the 8th fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers last season. Though a move that promotes safety, sitting Shepard in his first game likely won’t make or break your week, and considering his ADP, he likely wasn’t drafted in a spot that makes him a must start week one. Also, Rueben Randle, last year’s WR2 for New York, caught only five balls across two games against Dallas last year. Safety and history are not on Shepard’s side. Speaking of Giants wide receivers who I don’t want to start until they prove their worth, do not start Victor Cruz under any circumstances. After not playing since the middle of 2014, there is no way that he will come back from an injury that is STILL nagging him and produce start-worthy numbers, and even if he does, there’s no way that he’s worth the risk. Stay away from Cruz until he proves that he can stay healthy and prominent over a stretch of games, a case which we may never see again. As for the New York tight ends, they too are avoidable. Not only did the Dallas defense allow the second fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends last season, but no one really knows who the starter will even be. Will Tye seemed like the favorite early in training camp, but after losing some first team snaps and playing in the fourth quarter of the final preseason game, both his and fellow tight end Larry Donnell’s statuses are up in the air. This situation is clearly one to avoid, as even a combination of the two’s stats may not produce top twelve numbers this week. Finally, the running game: Offseason reports have led fantasy owners to believe that the Giants are moving on from a committee approach and have set on Rashad Jennings to be their lead back. Against a Cowboys defense that ranked only 26th against opposing running backs last season, there is not much risk in playing Jennings, though the Giants backfield will be one to monitor moving forward.
New England Patriots vs. Arizona Cardinals
In a much anticipated Sunday Night matchup, two of the NFL’s top teams will meet in Arizona. However, the Patriots will be without future hall-of-famer Tom Brady and All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. Will the Cardinals be able to bottle up rookie Jimmy Garoppolo and shut the Patriots offense down, or will Bill Belichick be able to scheme his way to victory?
The biggest news in football right now is Rob Gronkowski’s downgrade from questionable to out due to a hamstring injury. On the surface, this news not only makes Martellus Bennett startable, but valuable. If Bennett proves his worth while Gronkowski is out, that likely would encourage the coaching staff to run even more two tight end sets upon the great spiker’s return. And in the case of an elongated Gronkowski absence, a strong Bennett showing would tremendously increase his trade value and provide a clear cut TE1 for his owner. This week, he looks to be a safety valve for the young Jimmy Garoppolo. The Cardinals were ranked only 19th against opposing tight ends last season, likely only promising more good things for Bennett. Unless you have a top end option at the position, Bennett should draw start consideration, and his season long situation should be closely monitored. As for a Patriot who is not startable: Jimmy Garoppolo. Even Tom Brady owners should stay away, as there should be better options available on the waiver wire than a quarterback in his first career game against a tough defense. (Last season the Cardinals allowed the 6th fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks.) While I expect a fine real-life showing for the young gunslinger, it would be safer and smart to stay away from him fantasy wise. Because of Gronkowski’s injury, the Arizona defense, who also allowed the 6th fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers, will focus in on top receiving threat Julian Edelman. While he’s still startable in most situations, fantasy owners should temper expectations on the former quarterback. Maybe start a higher upside player at a different position to make up for potential lost points in this contest. If you need a cheaper option at wide receiver, Danny Amendola should take short routes that the Cardinals defense won’t let Edelman have. Also, the newly-acquired and de facto “big receiver” Chris Hogan should see some targets if Garoppolo needs to throw some balls up in the air. Finally, because of Garoppolo’s inexperience, the Cardinals (who also allowed the 6th fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs last season) will likely stack the box, quite possibly rendering LeGarrette Blount ineffective, or at least inefficient. Especially in a PPR league, James White seems to be the running back of choice in New England, though no one can ever predict the Patriots backfield.
While the Patriots are missing Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski on the offensive side of the ball, they will also have to manage without reliable veteran Rob Ninkovich on the defensive side, as he will miss the first four games of the season due to testing positive for a banned substance. However, Arizona will not have a walk in the park. With a full offseason to scheme against the Cardinals’ declining quarterback, and with so many other good options in play, Bill Belichick and the Patriots should demote Palmer to fantasy benches this week. Ranking a respectable 14th against quarterbacks last season, and with the aforementioned full offseason to prepare, I’d rather start a guy like Matthew Stafford or Matt Ryan than Palmer; regression is coming. As for David Johnson, no one is going to sit the first round pick. If you drafted him early, you’re going to play him, despite the fact that New England allowed the tenth fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs last season. Wide receiver is the position where I have the biggest problem starting Cardinals, though based on ADP, some fantasy teams may be forced to. Michael Floyd is Arizona’s top target this year, and the Patriots have a history of slowing down those primary receivers. I’d much prefer to sit or flex him if possible, because his inconsistency and defensive focus should prevent him from living up to expectations, at least in week one. Then there’s John Brown, whose nagging concussion issues still concern me. While not on the injury report any longer, with a problem so sensitive, like Floyd, I’d rather sit or flex him than start him as my WR2. The only Arizona receiver I’d start with confidence is the nifty veteran Larry Fitzgerald. He’s seen it all, and if there’s any wideout who can negate any defense that a team has prepared for him, it’s Fitzgerald. Though he’s my lowest ranked Cardinals receiver in season long rankings, he deserves WR2 consideration this week. Finally, Cardinals tight ends are never worth a start, so move past Darren Fells and Jermaine Gresham if you’re forced to peruse the waiver wire.
Find me @cb on the Fantasy Life App and on Twitter @CBRetweet. Until next time, happy football!