Now that the draft season is over and the regular season has arrived, the most frequent question I get is, “Would you start player X or player Y?” We’ll strive to answer those questions before you even ask them every week in our Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em column.
Here’s how this piece will work all season long: We’ll go through every game on the slate, covering all the teams in action in the current week. Every fantasy-relevant player will fall into one of three groups: must start, conditional start, or sit. The must-start and sit labels are self-explanatory. If a player is a must-start, you need him active no matter what. If a player is a sit, you keep him on your bench unless you are absolutely desperate. The conditional start requires a longer explanation.
Conditional starters could be played or benched, depending on your unique circumstances. Think of these guys as the running backs and receivers ranked in the mid-20s through mid-30s at their positions, or the quarterbacks ranked just outside the top 10. We’ll make our best argument for playing each of the conditional starters. From there, it’s up to you. After all, it’s your team, and you should want to be in charge of it. We’re here to help you make the most informed decisions you can every week.
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With that, let’s get to our first Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em of the 2015 season.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Must start: Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Matt Forte, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Martellus Bennett
The only bad news for Rodgers owners is that this game could get so out of hand that he sits the entire fourth quarter. He’s my top quarterback play for a reason this week, even though he’s going to miss Jordy Nelson. There will be plenty of scoring to go around for Rodgers and Lacy to be the top performers at their respective positions this week. Expect the Packers to easily get to 30-plus points in their first meeting with the Bears this season, which should also spell good things for Cobb and Adams. Forte remains an easy start, but the best play for Chicago might be Bennett, who could see upwards of 15 targets in this game, especially if Alshon Jeffery is out. Being on a bad team isn’t necessarily a negative for fantasy purposes.
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Conditional start: Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery (calf), Eddie Royal, Richard Rodgers, Packers DST
Jeffery owners need to monitor the news leading up to kickoff Sunday. The Bears have been guarding his injury status as though it were the Manhattan Project, which probably isn’t good news. Even if he is able to go, he’s not going to be at 100%. Eddie Royal is just outside my top 25 at receiver for the week, and if Jeffery is indeed out, Royal would be a must-start receiver. Cutler can be trusted in two-quarterback leagues, especially since the Bears are likely to be playing from behind all game. The Packers are a good stream play at defense this week, going up against a quarterback they have tortured for the better part of the last six years.
Sit: James Starks, Jeff Janis, Ty Montgomery, Marquess Wilson, Bears DST
Janis and Montgomery climbed up draft boards, as they should have after Nelson tore his ACL, but they aren’t yet on the starting radar. Janis could be a decent punt play in daily formats.
Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans
Must start: Jamaal Charles, Jeremy Maclin, DeAndre Hopkins, Travis Kelce, Chiefs DST, Texans DST
It seems kind of crazy to say, but this is about as big as a game gets in Week 1. The Chiefs and Texans are both expected to be playoff contenders, meaning the winner will come away with what could be a very important wild-card tiebreaker. Charles and Kelce are both top-three plays at their positions this week, while Hopkins and Maclin are both in my top 12 receivers. It’ll be interesting to see how the Chiefs deploy Maclin, but he is going to help unleash the passing game in Kansas City. This game should also feature two of the league’s best defenses, even if Dontari Poe isn’t quite 100 percent.
Conditional start: Alex Smith, Alfred Blue
Smith is a great play in two-quarterback leagues, and I think he can be a top-20 quarterback this year, but there’s no reason to add a degree of difficulty and roll with him in a standard one-QB league. Blue will get the start in place of the injured Arian Foster, but he’s still a long-range play. We saw enough from him last year to know that opportunity isn’t everything. The Chiefs’ defense makes it even less likely he’s worth more than a low-end flex start.
Sit: Brian Hoyer, Knile Davis, Jonathan Grimes, Albert Wilson, Cecil Shorts, Garrett Graham
Nothing to see here, folks.
Cleveland Browns at New York Jets
Must start: Chris Ivory, Eric Decker, Jets DST
I think this Jets offense is going to be better than people expect, and that will be on display Sunday against the Browns. Ivory is going to be an 1,100-yard back this year, worthy of being, at worst, an RB2 most weeks. I think at least one of Decker or Brandon Marshall will have a nice game, and my money is on Decker with Marshall likely to see a heavy dose of Joe Haden in coverage. The Jets DST should be good this year, but you’re always going to want to pick on this Browns offense.
Conditional start: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson (concussion), Brandon Marshall, Browns DST
Fitzpatrick is worth a gamble in two-quarterback leagues, and he could eventually play his way onto the QB1 radar, but let’s make him prove that to us first. Crowell and Johnson are both interesting backs, but it’s hard to have much faith in the Cleveland backfield for now. If you’re starting them, you’re either in a deep league or very thin at running back. Marshall is the one player here who could really start in most fantasy formats, but he’s not a guy you must have out there this week. Having said that, he is my No. 25 receiver, so I’d almost certainly be getting him active.
Sit: Josh McCown, Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins, Dwayne Bowe, Travis Benjamin, Taylor Gabriel, Gary Barnidge, Jeff Cumberland
I won’t list the entire Cleveland receiver depth chart every week. I did so this week as a public service announcement. Those really are their top five receivers. This offense could set records for futility this season.
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills
Must start: Andrew Luck, Frank Gore, LeSean McCoy (hamstring), T.Y. Hilton (concussion), Andre Johnson, Sammy Watkins, Colts DST, Bills DST
McCoy and Hilton worried their owners earlier this week, but both should be out there when the Colts and Bills face off to start the season. While McCoy is a must start, don’t expect a huge game. That hamstring still isn’t 100 percent, and the Colts could run away and hide in this one. Johnson is set for a renaissance season with Luck throwing him the ball and should regularly post WR2 numbers. It’ll be interesting to see how Watkins performs in his first real game with Tyrod Taylor under center. At the very least, Taylor’s ability to extend plays should help the second-year wideout from Clemson. Finally, the Colts are a great stream defense, while the fact that the Bills DST is a must start should tell you all you need to know about how good this unit could be in 2015.
Conditional start: Tyrod Taylor, Dwayne Allen
Taylor could very well develop into a player who is universally owned in fantasy leagues. For now, he bears watching as one of the most intriguing unknowns in the league. He’s also a low-end QB2 in two-quarterback formats. It appears Allen will lead the Colts at the tight end position again this year, but he’s not a must-start thanks to Coby Fleener’s presence. If you drafted Allen, chances are you drafted another tight end who’s a better play this week.
Sit: Boobie Dixon, Phillip Dorsett, Robert Woods, Percy Harvin, Coby Fleener, Charles Clay
The two players to watch from this list are Dorsett and Clay. The former beat out Donte Moncrief to be the Colts’ third wide receiver. There’s a reason why a team that seemed set at receiver grabbed him with its first-round pick. We’ve seen Clay put together fantasy-relevant seasons in the past. Only time will tell if he can do it in a Buffalo offense that may prove restrictive.
Miami Dolphins at Washington Redskins
Must start: Ryan Tannehill, Lamar Miller, Alfred Morris, Jarvis Landry, Jordan Cameron, Dolphins DST
This is a game that has a real chance to get out of hand in a hurry. The Dolphins are my pick to win the AFC East and just may have what it takes to make a run in the playoffs. Washington, meanwhile, is my pick to be the worst team in the league this year. Tannehill will make the leap this year, and the Washington defense allowed the most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks last season. He, Landry and Cameron should all thrive. Miller was one of the most underrated backs heading into draft season, but that won’t be the case at the end of the year. On the other side, only Morris needs to be started, and I don’t have him rated any higher than a low-end RB2. If Miami builds a significant lead, he could be phased out of the game plan.
Conditional start: DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed
In most leagues, Jackson is going to start. Given the way he tumbled down draft boards late in the summer, however, it’s entirely possible you can fill out your lineup with better receiver options. In his defense, he had 1,169 yards and six touchdowns in a terrible situation in D.C. last year, so he can still succeed amidst the wreckage. Garcon, too, is a potential starter, though he’s much further down the pecking order. Reed has the talent to be a top-10 tight end, but hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Given that he was drafted outside the top-15 tight ends, anyone who owns him likely has a better option available.
Sit: Kirk Cousins, Matt Jones, Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, DeVante Parker, Redskins DST
Cousins may put the ball in the air 40 times on Sunday, but I’m not betting on him against what could be one of the best defenses in the NFL. I do think that Stills or Parker will eventually emerge as a strong second receiver and fantasy-relevant player, but both have playing-time concerns in Week 1. Keep an eye on how Parker looks as he gets his first real game action since foot surgery, and pay close attention to how often the Dolphins line up in three-wide sets.
Carolina Panthers at Jacksonville Jaguars
Must start: Jonathan Stewart, Allen Robinson, Greg Olsen, Panthers DST
Stewart finally has the backfield all to himself in Carolina. An injury could pop up eventually, but we know he’s healthy Week 1, and that makes him a great play against a Jacksonville defense that looks awfully similar to the one that allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to running backs last year. Robinson appears set for a breakout season, and the Carolina secondary is quite long in the tooth (Charles Tillman and Roman Harper are starters). Get ready for a show. Olsen could very well set a single-season record for targets by a tight end this year. Don’t be surprised if he also leads all tight ends in receiving yards. The Panthers defense isn’t what it was a few years ago, but this is a nice matchup.
Conditional start: Cam Newton, Blake Bortles, T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars DST
Newton would have been a must-start quarterback if Kelvin Benjamin were healthy, but he doesn’t have a very high ceiling without the second-year receiver on the field. Newton simply hasn’t been a consistent passer in his career, and his legs can only take him so far. He’s an easy play in two-quarterback leagues, but I’d steer clear in one-QB formats. Bortles is also an easy play in two-quarterback leagues and could provide some sneaky value in daily games. He’s a breakout candidate this season, but he isn’t quite worthy of one-QB consideration. Owners in deep leagues can consider rolling with Yeldon, who was named the Jaguars’ starter earlier this week. Still, his owners shouldn’t expect more than top-30 production, at best.
Sit: Cameron Artis-Payne, Denard Robinson, Devin Funchess, Philly Brown, Ted Ginn, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee (hamstring), Clay Harbor
Everyone seems ready to put Funchess in the Panthers’ starting lineup. Everyone, that is, except for Ron Rivera and Mike Shula. Those are the two guys who really matter in this equation. Funchess is well worth owning at this point in the season, but let’s see what he can do before making him a fantasy starter.
Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams
Must start: Marshawn Lynch, Jimmy Graham, Seahawks DST, Rams DST
If the Seahawks' offense elevates to another level this year, it will be thanks to the efforts of Russell Wilson, Lynch and Graham. You can bet you’ll see at least the latter two and usually all three in this space every week, but the Rams' fearsome front four keeps Wilson from being an absolute must-start this week. The Rams present a real test for Lynch and Graham, as well, so don’t expect them to carry your respective teams in Week 1. These will be two of the best defenses in the NFL this year. Both are essentially matchup-proof.
Conditional start: Russell Wilson, Brian Quick
Quick is the lone Rams offensive player worthy of fantasy consideration in all but the deepest of leagues. My love for him this season has been well-chronicled on our pages all summer long. I think he’s ready to have the breakout campaign he was on pace for last year before a shoulder injury cut short his season. While that injury is still a bit of a concern, the fact that he was cleared for contact three full weeks before the season opener was a great sign. Remember, Kam Chancellor won’t be on the field for the Seahawks on Sunday. Quick is my No. 34 receiver in Week 1.
Sit: Nick Foles, Tre Mason (hamstring), Benny Cunningham, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Tyler Lockett, Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Jared Cook
Todd Gurley has already been ruled out as he continues to rehab from last year’s torn ACL, and that would seem to open the door for another St. Louis back. Unfortunately, Mason is dealing with a hamstring injury, and there’s no way anyone should be considering starting Cunningham against the Seattle defense. Foles could be a decent QB2 in two-quarterback leagues this season, but this isn’t a great matchup, even with Chancellor still holding out.
New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals
Must start: Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Andre Ellington, Brandin Cooks, Cardinals DST
The Saints offense could very well take a step backward this season. Jimmy Graham is gone, and there’s more uncertainty surrounding the passing game than ever before in the Drew Brees-Sean Payton era. Still, this feels like a bankable fantasy offense, with Brees, Mark Ingram and Brandin Cooks leading the way. All should go in a tough matchup with the Cardinals. Andre Ellington is a low-end RB2 for Week 1, but he could be a disappointment this season. He has big-play ability, but he might not be durable enough to rack up the touches necessary to be a fantasy star.
Conditional start: Carson Palmer, John Brown, Michael Floyd (hand)