- Should you start Dak Prescott against the Giants in Week 1? What about Adrian Peterson against the Vikings? We have all of the Week 1 fantasy football start/sit advice you need.
Week 1 is officially here, and the routine is simple. You don’t need us to tell you to start Le’Veon Bell or Tom Brady. Instead, we’ll pick a handful of interesting players every week who are on the start/sit borderline, and tell you whether and why you should have them in your lineup, or put them on your bench. These decisions can often be the difference between winning and losing. Our goal is to help you do more of the former, and keep you entertained along the way.
The opening week of the season is always crowded on the start/sit fringes because, with few exceptions, your entire roster is available to you. While that means you have all your stars in your lineup, it also means that you have no shortage of options for your final starting spots.
Andy Dalton, Bengals (vs. Ravens)
There’s reason to be concerned about Dalton in this game, given the low over/under of 42.5, the expected pace in this game, and the perceived ability of Baltimore’s pass defense. Still, the Bengals are favored by three, which translates to an implied total of 22.75 points. Dalton can easily work with that. With both A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert healthy, Dalton is set to rebound from last year’s anomalous touchdown rate. That’s more of a season-long bet, but a quarterback playing at home in a game his team is favored to win is typically a safe play in fantasy leagues. When the quarterback in question is someone with Dalton’s track record and weapons, any doubt should be removed.
Matthew Stafford, Lions (vs. Cardinals)
The Lions are catching two points at home in this matchup, so Stafford doesn’t have the same betting trends working in his favor that Dalton does. What he does have, though, is an offense that he has thrived in over the last season and a half. The Cardinals defense does a great job taking away rushing lanes, but that could work to Stafford’s advantage if it means more Theo Riddick and less Ameer Abdullah. Detroit’s receivers do not match up well with Arizona’s secondary, but Stafford doesn’t need monster plays from them to put up a QB1 week. He can work his way down field against this defense with short, accurate passes. The over/under of 48 means the Lions implied total is 23. That’s not a bad number for a pass-first offense playing at home.
Jared Goff, Rams (vs. Colts)
Andrew Luck isn’t the only key Colt that will miss this game. Vontae Davis is already dealing with his first injury of the season, a groin issue that will have him on the sidelines on Sunday. This isn’t expected to be a great pass defense with Davis on the field. It could be one of the worst without him. Goff’s owners in superflex leagues likely drafted him as their third quarterback, but he’s worth a look this week, unless his owner is stacked at the position. There’s reason for optimism for the second-year quarterback with the Rams major upgrades at wide receiver, headlined by Sammy Watkins, but also featuring down-ticket names Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.
Dak Prescott, Cowboys (vs. Giants)
Fading a quarterback playing at home when his team is favored by four points in a game with an over/under of 48 is admittedly a gamble. Strip out the specifics, and a game with those nuts and bolts typically translates to a favorable scoring environment for the quarterback. What concerns me, though, is the Giants pass rush. Prescott had two of his worst games last season against the Giants. To be fair, one was his NFL debut, but the second, which was in December, was even worse. He completed fewer than 50% of his passes for 165 yards, 4.46 yards per attempt, one touchdown and two interceptions. This is a tough spot for Prescott.
Eli Manning, Giants (at Cowboys)
I’m not a fan of the quarterback on the other side of this game, either. First, it looks like Manning will be entirely without Odell Beckham. At the very best, Beckham will be playing at less than 100% after suffering an ankle injury during the preseason. This offense loses a lot of its bite without Beckham at his best, and Manning is the one who suffers most (other than Beckham, of course). Giants-Cowboys games have a way of not quite living up to the offensive hype. Last year, the final scores of their two meetings were 20-19 and 10-7, both Giants victories. This one could easily go the same way.
Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah, Lions (vs. Cardinals)
If you subscribe to the theory that only one of Riddick or Abdullah can be successful in a given week, which I don’t, then this matchup sets up nicely for the former. Arizona’s defensive front is a tough matchup for Detroit’s offensive line, and if the Cardinals offense is able to produce as expected, Detroit is going to have to lean on Matthew Stafford and the passing game to have a chance to pull off the small, spread-based upset at home. That pushes the game in Riddick’s favor. At the same time, Abdullah is a capable receiver, having hauled in 30 of 44 career targets. Before reading any 2017 tea leaves in the Detroit backfield, consider last year’s Week 1 win over the Colts, the last time both Riddick and Abdullah were healthy. Riddick had 108 total yards and a touchdown on 12 touches, while Abdullah racked up 120 yards from scrimmage and a score on 17 touches, including five receptions. If you believe in Detroit’s offense this week, as I do, you should have both of the team’s backs at flex floors.
Robert Kelley, Redskins (vs. Eagles)
Kelley was underappreciated for most of the summer, and his fantasy draft stock only started to rise when Jay Gruden stuck by him as the team’s starter throughout the summer. Samaje Perine is a threat later in the year, to be sure, but for now Kelley is locked into a role that should net him a floor of 15 touches in one of the league’s most explosive offenses. More often than not, you’re going to want to start a player like that. His lack of receiving skills is troubling in a pass-happy offense, but assuming this game is as close as the 1.5-point spread suggests it will be, Kelley should be integral to Washington’s game plan on Sunday.
Ty Montgomery, Packers (vs. Seahawks)
Most fantasy owners aren’t cowed by Montgomery’s matchup with the Seahawks this week, and that’s a good thing. As daunting as the Seahawks defense is, the Packers are three-point favorites in a game with an over/under of 50.5. It’s the Seahawks defense, not a player like Montgomery, that belongs on fantasy benches. This will be a good test for one of the fantasy game’s most interesting players this season. Montgomery could be largely unchallenged in the Packers backfield. The team has a stated goal of running more this season, and, with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, points and yards will be available in bunches. If Montgomery can maintain starter’s touches all season, it’s hard to see him finishing as anything but an RB1. His ability as a receiver keeps him in good standing in a matchup with a defense like Seattle’s.
Joe Mixon, Bengals (vs. Ravens)
Almost everyone in the fantasy community was ready to anoint Mixon the next big thing at running back and hand him the Bengals starting gig all summer. Unfortunately for those in that group, Marvin Lewis isn’t one of them. Jeremy Hill is on track to start Sunday, despite an ankle injury suffered in the team’s third preseason game. Mixon could very well take over lead status in the backfield at some point this season, but it’s hard to project him for more than 12 touches on Sunday. Don’t forget, too, that the Ravens have one of the best run defenses in the league. Mixon should be an easy player to bench for most of his owners this week.
Bilal Powell, Jets (at Bills)
Powell is thought to be game-script proof because of his ability as a receiver, but his owners are going to have to go into every Jets game with eyes wide open. This week is a perfect illustration of that fact. The Bills are by no means a powerhouse, but they’re favored by 9.5 points over the Jets, and the over/under on the game is 39.5. That gives the Jets an implied total of 15 points. Powell would have to hog all the expected production for the Jets to be locked in as a starter this week, and while he’s going to do that from time to time, it’s far from a good bet. With your full roster at your disposal, you should be able to do better than Powell in your running back and flex spots.
Adrian Peterson, Saints (at Vikings)
If you love revenge narratives, this is the matchup for you. Peterson will play his first career game with a team other than the Vikings back in Minnesota against the only franchise he knew for 10 years. That narrative, while fun, isn’t going to help him on the field on Sunday. The stark reality is that Peterson is 32 years old and coming off a torn meniscus, the second significant knee injury of his career. He wasn’t terribly good last year before his injury, running for 72 yards on 37 carries. Mark Ingram is in control of the Saints backfield, and the bet here is that the play of the Saints top two backs will only further entrench Ingram’s position.
Mike Wallace, Ravens (at Bengals)
Wallace has played eight seasons in the NFL. He has had at least 1,000 yards or eight touchdowns in five of those seasons, and hit both of those thresholds twice. In one of the seasons he failed to reach either, he had 930 yards and five scores. In other words, Wallace was woefully underrated by the fantasy community this summer. His style of play leads to a lot of boom-or-bust games, and Sunday’s projected environment doesn’t suggest the best game for anyone on Baltimore’s offense. Still, the Ravens had the highest pass rate of any team in the league last year, and they’re laying three points on the road. Wallace’s big-play ability doesn’t require him to catch too many passes to make a fantasy impact.
Eric Decker, Titans (vs. Raiders)
Decker signing with the Titans was one of my favorite moves of the offseason. It resulted in a perennially underrated receiver and touchdown machine landing in an up-and-coming offense with a budding star at quarterback, desperately in need of a reliable weapon in the passing game. Decker has 51 touchdowns in his last 81 games, and he played 31 of those games with Tim Tebow, Kyle Orton, Geno Smith and late-career Michael Vick under center. The Raiders, meanwhile, should once again be clueless at stopping opposing tight ends, and while that bodes well for Delanie Walker, Decker, who does a ton of damage as a big-bodied receiver out of the slot and in the red zone, should also take advantage.
Zay Jones, Bills (vs. Jets)
When the Bills surprisingly traded Sammy Watkins to the Rams this summer, they made Jones, the rookie out of East Carolina, their No. 1 receiver. He had a strong preseason and should be looking at a healthy workload every week he takes the field. This doesn’t figure to be the most robust scoring environment, and the Bills are still going to be a team that feeds LeSean McCoy early and often, but Jones is in a good spot in his NFL debut. The Jets pass rush appears toothless after dealing Sheldon Richardson to the Seahawks, and Tyrod Taylor, who throws one of the prettiest deep balls in the league, is on track to start after suffering a concussion during the preseason.
Brandon Marshall, Giants (at Cowboys)
As we discussed earlier, Odell Beckham is going to be out or limited on Sunday night. That could make Marshall the Giants de facto No. 1 receiver in his debut with the team. He should approach or surpass 10 targets with the Giants still hunting for a reliable rushing attack, and it shouldn’t be too much to ask of him to turn that into top-30 receiver production. Furthermore, the Marshall honeymoon period is an observed phenomenon in fantasy football. Marshall eventually wore out his welcome with all his previous teams, but in his first seasons with the Dolphins, Bears and Jets, and his first non-rookie season with the Broncos, he averaged 103.75 catches, 1,337.25 yards and 8.75 touchdowns.
Randall Cobb, Packers (vs. Seahawks)
As much as I trust the Green Bay offense against any defense, I can’t see a path to starter-worthy numbers for all five of Aaron Rodgers’s primary weapons. If anyone in the offense is going to fall short of his threshold for being in a fantasy lineup this week, it’s Cobb. The matchup isn’t right for him, even if Richard Sherman helps force Rodgers inside the numbers, and it’s hard to see him getting the necessary target volume to show up in fantasy leagues without finding the end zone. Rarely do you want to bet on a receiver if you feel he needs to score a touchdown to justify a starting spot, and that’s the position Cobb is in this week.
Jeremy Maclin, Ravens (vs. Bengals)
Everything I wrote above about why this is a bad environment for the Baltimore passing game in the capsule on Mike Wallace applies to Maclin, but the latter doesn’t have the former’s track record or big-play ability. Part of Wallace’s allure this week is that he can go off from a fantasy perspective with three or four receptions. The same is not true of Maclin, and it’s hard to see him chipping away at the Cincinnati defense in a meaningful fantasy fashion. Maclin was slightly undervalued during draft season, but that has more to do with the full campaign than it does with this week. Keep him on your bench.
T.Y. Hilton, Colts (at Rams)
There’s a good chance that if you invested a pick or the necessary auction dollars to get Hilton, you don’t have enough viable receivers on your roster to push him to your bench. Still, it’s hard to trust anyone on the Colts offense with Scott Tolzien under center against the Rams defense. Even without Aaron Donald, who is still holding out, this one could get ugly early for the Colts, and remain that way all game. If you have the reinforcements at receiver, don’t be afraid to bench Hilton this week.
Eric Ebron, Lions (vs. Cardinals)
Admittedly, this isn’t a great matchup for Ebron. The Cardinals shut down opposing tight ends last season, limiting them to 3.4 points per game in standard leagues, and 6.3 points in PPR formats. Still, Ebron is a special talent trending in the right direction, and the Lions lost their top red-zone threat from last year, Anquan Boldin. The fourth-year tight end is going to command Matthew Stafford’s attention whenever the Lions are in scoring range, and that’s more than half the battle for non-elite tight ends. In short, it’s going to take a lot to force Ebron to fantasy benches. A bad matchup on paper isn’t quite enough to get him there.
Austin Hooper, Falcons (at Bears)
The defending NFC champions are laying a touchdown in Chicago on Sunday, and have an implied total of 28 points. The Bears front seven is better than you likely realize, but that has more to do with getting after the quarterback than it does with covering tight ends. They were about league average in defending tight ends last year, and if this game plays to script, Hooper is going to have his fair share of opportunities to make plays near the goal line. With Cameron Brate and Julius Thomas on surprise byes this week, and Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry and Martellus Bennett dealing with tough matchups, Hooper is well worth a stream in Week 1.
Jason Witten, Cowboys (vs. Giants)
The fantasy community continues to want to believe in Witten, but he simply isn’t a fantasy tight end any longer. The same circumstances that help make Hooper an attractive low-end TE1 play could also push Witten into fantasy lineups, but he’s dealing with a tougher environment against the Giants than Hooper is against the Bears. Witten is a reach this week, and is only advisable for owners who were planning on starting Cameron Brate or Julius Thomas.
Jack Doyle, Colts (at Rams)
Remember what I wrote about Hilton earlier? If you can’t trust him with Scott Tolzien under center, how could you possibly trust Doyle. The Colts offense is going to be largely a group to avoid until Andrew Luck can get back on the field and prove that his shoulder is structurally sound. Short of that, Doyle, who began the summer as a fantasy darling, should be off your radar.