- Week 1 is finally here, now let's set those lineups.
After months of ranking, debating and drafting, Week 1 is finally upon us. The first start/sit of the season generally gives us one of our easier sets of decisions. There are few injuries and no byes. There are a few suspended players, but anyone who owns them likely planned for that during their drafts. In short, every fantasy owner is playing with a full roster this week, making Week 1 one of the most plug-and-play weeks of the year.
Later in the season, we’ll devote this space to a particularly interesting player just barely on either side of the start/sit divide. For Week 1, though, we’ll get right to the meat of the column. Here are the most intriguing borderline players for Week 1, and whether they belong in your lineup or on your bench.
Andy Dalton, Bengals (at Colts)
The Bengals are three-point underdogs in Indianapolis this week, and the game comes with an over/under of 48, one of the highest on the board. That suggests a good passing environment on both sides, and Dalton should take advantage. The Bengals’ passing attack looked strong in the preseason, with Dalton getting on the same page as John Ross, adding his speed to the all-around dominance of A.J. Green. The surprisingly high game total makes both sides of this game attractive for fantasy purposes. And with that in mind…
Andrew Luck, Colts (vs. Bengals)
…of course Luck is in the quarterback start section, too. He’s not quite the slam dunk Dalton is because of lingering shoulder issues, but he did enough this summer to give the fantasy community the necessary confidence that he can be a productive quarterback again. Even if he isn’t quite all the way back, he has regained enough of his arm strength to be a dangerous thrower. The expected offensive environment in this game makes both quarterbacks QB1 material.
Jared Goff, Rams (at Raiders)
The Raiders spent all summer feuding with their best player, who happens to double as one of the two or three best defensive players in the league, before trading him to the Bears for two first-round picks. What Khalil Mack left behind isn’t exactly the type of defense I trust to slow down one of the most innovative offenses in the league. Rating Goff a starter is as much an endorsement of the Rams’ offense collectively as it is of Goff individually. The Rams are favored by 4.5 points and the game total is 49.5, giving the Rams an implied total of 27 points.
Mitchell Trubisky, Bears (at Packers)
The Bears are one of the most interesting teams heading into the 2018 season, with a completely different look from the coaching staff, to the offense, to the former Defensive Player of the Year added just one week ago. And yet, it can’t all come together if Trubisky doesn’t live up to the team’s expectations for him. The Packers made some major improvements in the secondary this offseason, but this remains a matchup that Trubisky and head coach Matt Nagy should be able to exploit. He’s an easy QB2 this week.
Alex Smith, Redskins (at Cardinals)
Washington is a textbook wait-and-see offense this season. As great as Smith was this year, where’s his new Travis Kelce? Where’s Tyreek Hill or Kareem Hunt? Jordan Reed can be Kelce when he’s healthy, and Jamison Crowder has his charms, but Smith suffered a significant downgrade in offensive weapons by going to Washington from Kansas City. Going on the road in Week 1 against a defense that includes Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson and Deone Bucannon, among others, isn’t how I want to start my fantasy season.
Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs (at Chargers)
Like Smith, Mahomes may have to be a wait-and-see guy this season, especially since it isn’t hard to find a quarterback to like in any week, let alone Week 1. Mahomes has all those weapons Smith left behind, but we’re not 100% certain he has the toolbox to use them. On top of that, he’ll have to deal with Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Casey Heyward and Derwin James in what amounts to the first meaningful start of his career. Mahomes could prove to be one of the breakout stars of this season, but I think most fantasy owners could do better at the quarterback position in Week 1.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers (at Vikings)
One of the easiest calls of Week 1. There’s good reason for all the optimism in San Francisco, but I do not want to bet on this team getting its first real game action without Jerick McKinnon in Minnesota. The Vikings still boast one of the league’s best defenses, with a fearsome pass rush led by Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, and an elite secondary featuring Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes. This is a brutal Week 1 test for Garoppolo, and while he may pass it, there’s no reason to take it with him in fantasy leagues.
Carlos Hyde, Browns (vs. Steelers)
This is one of my favorite Week 1 plays. As I wrote multiple times this summer, the Browns did not treat Hyde like a guy who would be splitting early-down work with Nick Chubb. The backfield belongs to Hyde until third down or obvious passing situations, and he’s going to get an even larger share of those than people expect. Remember, he caught 59 passes for 350 yards last year. He’s not some hapless receiver coming out of the backfield. Hyde should take control of Cleveland’s backfield in what’s a very winnable game against the Steelers on Sunday.
Jamaal Williams, Packers (vs. Bears)
This is a pretty simple volume bet. Aaron Jones is out the first two weeks, and Ty Montgomery is dealing with a foot injury he suffered late in the preseason. The latter should play Sunday, but Williams will have every opportunity to dominate Green Bay’s backfield. The Packers are favored by 7.5 points, and the game has an over/under of 48, giving the team an implied total of 27.75 points. On top of that, Mike McCarthy has shown a proclivity for featuring one back in his Green Bay tenure, which should give the fantasy community even more confidence that Williams could approach 20 touches in this game.
Chris Carson, Seahawks (at Broncos)
Yes, this is still a great Denver defense, and it may have gotten better by adding Bradley Chubb to what was already a top-flight pass rush. Like Williams, though, Carson could volume his way to a strong game in Week 1. Rashaad Penny is still working his way back from a broken finger, and while he’s expected to play on Sunday, Carson is in clear control of the backfield. That isn’t simply by default, either. Carson had a great summer, earning the starting gig while proving he’s fully recovered from last year’s fractured leg. Place him next to Russell Wilson, and you get a back fantasy owners should trust as an RB2 this week.
Rex Burkhead, Patriots (vs. Texans)
Burkhead is still dealing with a bit of a knee injury, but it appears he will be good to go for Sunday. Rookie Sony Michel is rehabbing a knee injury of his own, and while he, too, will likely play Sunday, he’s a step or two behind Burkhead in the comeback process. James White will have his usual responsibilities, and Jeremy Hill will likely get some carries, but Burkhead is expected to be a key part of the New England offense in a multi-faceted role. This game could feature the best scoring environment of Week 1, with a high-powered offense on either side of the ball. You want to get invested in it in almost any way you can.
Adrian Peterson, Redskins (at Cardinals)
Peterson ran for 529 yards and two touchdowns on 156 carries last year. To give you a little perspective, Alvin Kamara had 120 carries. Peterson didn’t lack opportunity. He had two good games, which came against a couple of hapless run defenses in Tampa and San Francisco. In those two games, he racked up 26 and 37 carries, respectively, something that’s unlikely to happen on Sunday. Peterson is only relevant when he gets extreme volume, and even that isn’t a guarantee of anything. Stay away from him this week and all season.
Isaiah Crowell, Jets (at Lions)
Crowell could have some utility this season as the likely primary runner for the Jets, but you shouldn’t have to roll with him this week. Bilal Powell is in the mix, as well, making this a situation where fantasy owners should want a little more clarity before starting either player. There’s also the fact that the Jets are 6.5-point underdogs and have an implied total of just 19.25 points. There’s a realistic chance of this game getting away from them, and Crowell would be hurt more than anyone in that scenario.
Alfred Morris, 49ers (at Vikings)
Put simply, this situation is too much of an unknown to trust Morris against a defense like Minnesota’s. How comfortable is Morris with the playbook? How well does he fit what Kyle Shanahan wants to do with this offense? How far ahead of him is Matt Breida, and could Breida hot-hand his way to a dominant share of the work out of San Francisco’s backfield. Morris should be owned in every league, and there’s certainly a chance he’s an every-week starter at some point this season. Week 1, however, is a terrible time to trust him in your starting lineup, especially since you should have at least one or two other similar options, at worst, for whatever spot you’re considering filling with him.
Devin Funchess, Panthers (vs. Cowboys)
I planted my flag on Funchess way back in the spring and never moved it despite developments in Carolina that could be seen as counterproductive to his rise up the depth chart. Funchess, however, is a 24-year-old, fourth-year receiver who acquitted himself well in his first opportunity as the team’s No. 1 last year. Christian McCaffrey is going to get his looks, but consider the other options in Carolina’s passing game. Greg Olsen has enjoyed a phenomenal career, but he’s 33 years old and coming off a season in which he missed nine games with a broken foot. D.J. Moore is a supremely talented rookie, but he had trouble acclimating to the NFL game in training camp and the preseason, and is likely to be eased into the offense. Funchess is his team’s clear No. 1 downfield pass-catcher, even if the fantasy community doesn’t want to admit it yet. It will have no choice but to give in after Sunday.
Sammy Watkins, Chiefs (at Chargers)
Backing Watkins is a belief in Andy Reid more than anything else. Give a coach like Reid an entire offseason to work with a player like Watkins, and great things should happen. Look at some of the deep threats and wildly talented receivers Reid has coached in his career. DeSean Jackson. Tyreek Hill. Terrell Owens. He always finds a way to put them in position to use their immense talents. From Buffalo to Los Angeles, Watkins has never had a coach do that for him. Those days are over. With Reid moving him all across formations, he should be able to find and exploit mismatches, finally getting the most possible out of the former fourth overall pick.
Michael Crabtree, Ravens (vs. Bills)
Fade Crabtree at your own peril. The guy is as boring as it gets, but he’s also reliably productive. He scored 27 touchdowns over the last three seasons, and averaged 77 catches and 847 yards per year in that timeframe. The Bills have a talented secondary, with Tre’Davious White and Vontae Davis on the corners, but Crabtree is the obvious No. 1 pass-catcher in Baltimore, and the Ravens are favored by a touchdown in this game. It may not be pretty, but it will be effective. Get Crabtree in your lineups.
Kenny Stills, Dolphins (vs. Titans)
Like Crabtree, Stills is someone who isn’t, but should be, considered a default starter in fantasy leagues. He spent this summer as one of the most underrated players in fantasy circles after finishing as a top-30 receiver in both of the last two seasons. With the forever-disappointing DeVante Parker injured, Stills is clearly the top option for Ryan Tannehill in Miami’s passing game. With Jarvis Landry in Cleveland, there are 160 or so targets to go around in the Dolphins’ offense this season. That’s what takes Stills from the fringes and gets him into the mainstream. He’ll play his way out of this column before long because it will eventually become obvious that he should be started more often than not.
Robert Woods, Rams (at Raiders)
This isn’t necessarily a bad matchup, but I think Woods will prove the odd man out in the Rams’ offense this season. First and foremost, Todd Gurley is one of the highest-volume backs in the league. His presence alone occupies so much of the offense’s value. Cooper Kupp has a specialized role that may give him a lower game-to-game ceiling than Woods, but ensures he’ll be a significant part of the offense every week. And then there’s Brandin Cooks, whom the Rams traded away a first-round pick to acquire, and then lavished with a major contract extension before he played a down for the team. Does that sound like someone who’s going to have a minimal role akin to the one Sammy Watkins had last year? I don’t think so. Add it all up, and there won’t be enough balls to go around to trust Woods on a regular basis.
Jordy Nelson, Raiders (vs. Rams)
At 33 years old with an ACL tear in his history, Nelson was already losing a step. Now, he goes from the best quarterback of his generation, the only one with whom he has played, to someone who is … not that. Nelson is going to learn quickly how much tougher life is without Aaron Rodgers under center. Nelson will be no more than a fringe starter this year, and shouldn’t be someone you turn to when you have your full roster available, as you do in Week 1.
Rishard Matthews, Titans (at Dolphins)
I’m a big Matthews fan and think he has a significant role to play this season. I just don’t think it’s going to start right away. He dealt with a knee injury all summer and barely saw preseason action. Matthews himself said that his snaps would be monitored early in the season. Take that and add Delanie Walker, Corey Davis and Dion Lewis to the mix, and it’s hard to believe there will be enough targets for Matthews this week to trust him as a fantasy starter.
George Kittle, 49ers (at Vikings)
I’ve been beating the drum for Kittle all summer, and I’m not going to stop now that the season is about to begin. I love his athleticism out of the slot and what he opens up for Jimmy Garoppolo in the middle of the field. With Jerick McKinnon out and Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon more perimeter-oriented, Kittle can own San Francisco’s passing game between the hash marks. Yes, this is a tough matchup, but Kittle has upside that most members of the backend of the TE1 class do not. Get him in your lineups.
David Njoku, Browns (vs. Steelers)
Like Kittle, Njoku is a wildly talented, young tight end whose upside makes it easy to overlook what appears to be a tough matchup. Njoku had a great summer, proving himself ready for a larger role in Cleveland’s offense. During Tyrod Taylor’s time in Buffalo, tight end Charles Clay was the one consistent performer in the passing game. That’s not to take anything away from Jarvis Landry or Josh Gordon, but simply meant to highlight Taylor’s ability to throw over the middle of the field. Njoku has the size and athleticism to be this era’s prototypical catch-first tight end, and the Browns are only 3.5-point underdogs in this matchup. If they keep it close or pull off an upset, they’re likely going to score 24-plus points.
Jack Doyle, Colts (vs. Bengals)
Playing last season without Andrew Luck, Doyle caught 80 passes for 690 yards and four touchdowns. He was a secondary player in the offense two years ago, the last time Luck was healthy, but eventually earned the quarterback’s trust. Everything is finally lined up for Doyle this season, with Luck healthy at a time when he has a major role in the offense. Vontaze Burfict is suspended for this game, which should open up the parts of the field where Doyle typically operates.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings (vs. 49ers)
Kirk Cousins is a different quarterback than any other Rudolph has played with during his time in Minnesota. In the simplest terms, Cousins is a better quarterback than any of those other signal callers, capable of getting the ball out to the sidelines and deep down the field to his two best pass-catchers, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Rudolph is going to have less of a role in this offense than he has at any other time in his Vikings tenure. He’s not going to fall off the fantasy radar completely, but he’s not going to be the easy starter he has been in the past. Get ready for that to begin this week.
O.J. Howard, Buccaneers (at Saints)
I love Howard’s season-long upside, but this is a terrible matchup for him. The Saints are the biggest favorites on the board this week, laying 9.5 points to the Buccaneers. With Kurt Coleman, Marcus Williams and Demario Davis, they have the right personnel to stick with him all over the field. This game could get ugly, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing from a fantasy perspective for those invested in the Buccaneers, it does make some of the players not named Mike Evans or Peyton Barber harder to trust.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jaguars (at Giants)
Jenkins is ranked as a top-14 tight end on FantasyPros this week, a clear sign that we’re already reading too much into matchup. The Giants have been one of the worst defenses at covering the tight end the last few seasons, but they finally made some necessary improvements to the middle of their defense, signing Alec Ogletree, Olivier Vernon and Kareem Martin. It’ll be Ogletree who’s largely responsible for covering Seferian-Jenkins, and he’s perfectly capable of keeping the lumbering tight end in check. Seferian-Jenkins is a low-volume, low-value matchup play, and the matchup isn’t as good as you think.