- There weren't many strong fantasy performances across the league in Week 1. Out of the stars who struggled last week, who is now primed to put up monster Week 2 numbers?
Beyond the immediate thrill of football being back, Week 1 was a bit of a letdown in the fantasy world. There was a total of 58 touchdowns and 628 points scored. Last year, the league averaged 72.3 touchdowns and 685.9 points per week. Individually, there were six 300-yard passing games, five 100-yard rushing games, and five 100-yard receiving games. Among high-profile picks, only Antonio Brown, LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette delivered what their fantasy owners will expect on a regular basis.
That’s not to say the league was filled with disappointment last week. Kareem Hunt put his teams—both in fantasy and real life—on his back with a monster NFL debut. Ty Montgomery gave his owners good reason to believe in him as a workhorse RB1 all season. Aaron Rodgers delivered a solid performance in a tough assignment with Seattle. And Ezekiel Elliott totaled 140 yards from scrimmage. There were encouraging performances across the league last week, you just had to look harder than expected to find them.
Week 1 could best be described as “fun, but tepid” in the fantasy portion of the football universe. That’s set to change in Week 2. With four of the league’s best offenses facing off in two matchups—Patriots and Saints in New Orleans, Packers and Falcons in Atlanta—there are bound to be fireworks this week. Add to that the return of the Buccaneers and Dolphins, two offenses with justifiably high hopes, the possible 2017 debut of Odell Beckham and the shaking off of season-opening jitters, and Week 2 should make up for what Week 1 lacked.
With that in mind, we asked this of our SI.com fantasy experts:
There was no shortage of disappointing performances from big-name players last week. Give us a player who will bounce back in Week 2.
Michael Beller: Le’Veon Bell is the easy answer here because he’s the right one. Bell looked nothing like himself while running for 32 yards on 10 carries and catching three passes for 15 yards in the Steelers’ win over the Browns last week. The Vikings present a tougher assignment, but this is Bell, the best fantasy back over the last three seasons. There’s a reason he turned into the prototypical back for the modern NFL before his 25th birthday. Bell is a superstar who doesn’t stay quiet for long. Even with the Minnesota defense on the other side of the ball, he’s set to detonate this week. And if you don’t believe me, how about the oddsmakers? They’ve installed the Steelers as 5.5-point favorites, and given this game an over/under of 45.5. That means the Steelers have an implied team total of 25.5 points.
I also want to give an endorsement to Michael Thomas. The Patriots deserve a ton of credit and leeway heading into this week for the way they’ve made adjustments under Bill Belichick, but the defense looked woefully slow against the Chiefs last week. The Patriots may very well cover the 6.5-point spread, but the bet here is that it would be the offense doing the heavy lifting in that scenario. As much as the Saints struggled to find the end zone last week, they moved the ball pretty well in their loss to the Vikings. Their 5.83 yards per play ranked fourth in the league in Week 1. That bodes well for a matchup with a New England defense that surrendered 537 yards and 8.26 yards per play to the Chiefs last week. The Saints are going to get up and down the field in their first home game of the season, and Thomas is going to be the biggest thorn in the Patriots’ side. Other than that Brees guy, of course.
John Paulsen: Carson Palmer had a rough go against a tougher-than-advertised Lions defense, but he’s primed to bounce back given a great matchup against the Colts, who yielded 276 yards and 1.69 passing touchdowns per game to opposing quarterbacks last season. The loss of David
Johnson will force more onto Palmer’s plate, which is not ideal in the long term, but in a one-week sample against the Colts, it might actually be a good thing.
Julio Jones managed just four catches for 66 yards on five targets against the Bears in Week 1, but he’s my No. 1 receiver in Week 2 against a Packers defense that was brutal against the pass in 2016. Green Bay’s defense looked pretty good against the Seahawks in Week 1, but I think Jones will be able to have his way at home when the Falcons christen their new stadium.
Jennifer Eakins: I’m on the same page as Paulsen. The Cardinals really struggled in their loss to the Lions last week. Quarterback Carson Palmer threw three interceptions with only one touchdown as the No. 23 highest-scoring fantasy quarterback opening weekend, while perennial fantasy stud Larry Fitzgerald came in as the No. 24 best receiver with just 13.4 PPR points.
This week, we should see a large rebound from those subpar numbers as Arizona heads to Indianapolis to face a Colts defense that allowed Jared Goff to chuck the ball for 306 yards and complete passes to eight different receivers last Sunday. With star running back David Johnson on the shelf due to a wrist injury, Palmer may need to rely more heavily on his receiving corps to make plays. This is a solid week for him to get back on track.
T.J. Hernandez: In what was expected to be one of the higher-scoring contests of Week 1, Russell Wilson turned in an abysmal QB24 performance, completing just 14 of 27 passes for 158 yards and no touchdowns. A look at Wilson's home/road splits over the last two seasons, including last week, might have tipped us off to his Week 1 dud. Since the beginning of 2015, Wilson has averaged nearly 40 more yards, 0.4 more touchdowns and half as many interceptions per game at home opposed to on the road. The Seahawks return to Seattle for a game where they are favored by nearly two touchdowns over the 49ers and are projected to score more than 28 points. What's especially encouraging for Wilson's fantasy prospects this week is Seattle's red-zone play calling—of its seven plays ran inside the 20 last week, five were passes. With the backfield in flux, Wilson will look to Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin often near the goal line, and could approach top-three fantasy numbers at his position this week.
Chris Raybon: With 10 days to prepare for a Saints defense that allowed Sam Bradford to go 27-of-32 for 346 yards and three touchdowns last Monday night, Tom Brady should be back to his usual self after going just 16-of-36 for 267 yards and no touchdowns against the Chiefs on opening night. Quarterback fantasy scoring is directly correlated with team projected points implied by the betting lines, and as a six-point favorite in a game with an over/under of 56.5, the Patriots are implied to score 31.25 points, the most of any team on the Week 2 slate.
I’ll jump on board with T.J., as well. After going just 14-of-27 passing for 158 yards and zero touchdowns in Lambeau last Sunday, Russell Wilson should bounce back against the 49ers, a defense that last week failed to sack Cam Newton and allowed him to throw two touchdowns on just 25 attempts. Seattle's offensive line tends to play better with the 12th Man on its side, and it shows in Wilson's home/road splits, as T.J. noted.
Le'Veon Bell should bounce back this week after failing to muster a run longer than five yards until 2:28 to go in the fourth quarter against Cleveland last week, and amassing a career-low 47 total yards. Minnesota's run defense held Saints’ running backs to just 55 yards on 20 carries but allowed them to catch nine passes for 74 yards, and Bell is certainly capable of posting a receiving line like that all by himself. Since the start of 2016, Bell has been targeted 7.7 times per game. After he uncharacteristically spent 28 percent of Pittsburgh's offensive snaps on the sideline in Week 1, Bell should resume playing north of 90 percent of the snaps in Week 2 now that he's another week removed from his summer-long absence from team activities.
Before Chiefs safety Eric Berry got hurt last week, he played a major part in holding Rob Gronkowski to just two catches and 33 yards on eight targets. This week, however, the Superdome turf better prepare for a Gronk spike or three. In 21 career games with an over/under of 50 or more since 2011, Gronk averages 5.9 catches, 86.1 yards, and a ridiculous 1.1 touchdowns per game.