- Discussing the league's most intriguing teams to kick off the Week 1 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet.
For the first time since December 2017, we’re set to enjoy a full Sunday of NFL action that is meaningful in the fantasy football world. There league gave us a great Week 1 slate filled with intriguing games, headlined by Bears-Packers, Texans-Patriots and Chiefs-Chargers. “Intriguing” is the watchword of this column, because it best describes what we’ll be doing in this space all season.
Every Sunday, the combined SI.com and 4for4 Football team will answer a question about the day that is to unfold before our eyes. The question will change every week. Some weeks, it will be quite specific, and others, like this week, it will be broader in nature. No matter what the question is, though, we’ll strive to give you a last few pieces of wisdom before you officially set your lineups and kick up your feet. Let’s get to it.
What are you most excited to watch in Week 1? It could be a team, a player, a league-wide development, or anything else. What will have have your eye on most closely?
Michael Beller: This is an easy one for me. It’s the Bears. I don’t think there’s a more interesting team in the league than the bunch under first-year head coach Matt Nagy. This year’s Bears are wildly different from the iterations that slogged through the last few seasons with John Fox at the helm, and it is going to be fun to see what they are able to do in their first year in a wildly new, innovative offense. It all, of course, hinges on Mitch Trubisky being the guy GM Ryan Pace believed he was when he traded up to get and use the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft on him, but the Bears have put him in a great spot to succeed. They focused on his development this offseason, bringing in Nagy, Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel and new offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen round out what could be one of this season’s breakout offenses. If the Bears take the step forward that so many expect, they won’t just be an entertaining watch in the fantasy world. They’ll also be a playoff contender in one of the league’s best divisions.
T.J. Hernandez: Two offenses that I'm curious to see this week are the Titans and Bears. Both teams have new play-callers that are expected to give their respective offenses full makeovers. In Tennessee, Matt LaFleur comes over from a Rams offense that passed at the eighth-highest rate in neutral game script last season. Marcus Mariota has shown extended periods of efficiency throughout his career and has a deep receiving corps including Delanie Walker, Rishard Matthews and Corey Davis. The X-factor in this offense could be running back Dion Lewis. The Titans have struggled to get their running backs involved in the passing game in recent years but Lewis is a fantastic receiver, and LaFleur comes from a system that saw Todd Gurley increase his targets by roughly 50% over the previous season.
Chicago’s new head coach Matt Nagy assisted in building an offense that resulted in Alex Smith posting one of the best passing seasons in recent history. The Bears made a concerted effort to put weapons around Mitch Trubisky, most notably with the addition of Allen Robinson. When healthy, Robinson has produced with the top receivers in the league and is a dominant red-zone receiver, an area where Trubisky struggled mightily in his rookie season. Running back Tarik Cohen and tight end Trey Burton are versatile players who can maximize Nagy’s talents as a play-caller.
Chris Allen: I’m looking forward to seeing how the Vikings open the season. Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Carson Wentz have held the spotlight over the offseason with either injury news or contract negotiations. Kirk Cousins, and how new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo integrates his skill set, has largely gone under the radar. The preseason didn’t reveal any red flags, but I’ll be watching for how in sync the offense is under Cousins. DeFilippo was part of the genius behind making Nick Foles a Super Bowl MVP. Vikings’ ownership must assume he can smooth out some of Cousins’ rough edges to carry over the magic the team had in 2017. Running back usage will also be fascinating to observe. Before Dalvin Cook went down, he was fifth in rush attempts and 14th in running back targets per game. Offseason reports were positive, but he only played two snaps in the preseason. Latavius Murray’s size and familiarity with both the offense and the new OC lends itself to a committee approach. Even against a weaker opponent in San Francisco, I’ll be watching to see how close the split is between the two backs.
Jennifer Eakins: I can’t look away from the Seattle offense to start the season. The Seahawks lost Jimmy Graham, Paul Richardson, and Luke Willson, replacing them with the questionable duo of Jaron Brown and 34-year-old Brandon Marshall. Doug Baldwin is back after missing the preseason with a knee injury, but is up against one of the top corners in the league in Chris Harris Jr. Their backfield has been entertaining this offseason, and it appears we have some clarity for Week 1 with Chris Carson enjoying a real opportunity to run away with the job, though he could also have a short leash with first-round pick Rashaad Penny ready in relief.
Russell Wilson may just have to carry this offense on his shoulders, or legs, this week, which could be a tall task against Denver’s stout pass rush. It may not help things that the Seahawks brought in Brian Schottenheimer to run the offense. In six of his nine seasons as a coordinator, his teams have ranked outside the top 19 in yardage differential. It will be interesting to see what the Seahawks offense has in store for us to kick off the season. Pete Carroll does always seem to have something up his sleeve.
Stephen Andress: Week 1 hasn't even started in full, and we're already seeing plenty of off-the-radar RB options that could heavily impact fantasy starting lineups. Le'Veon Bell is still MIA at the time of this writing, with a surprisingly disgruntled locker room clearing a path to a massive workload for James Conner while Bell is away. In San Francisco, Jerick McKinnon's torn ACL means Kyle Shanahan's system for proven fantasy running back success will likely have either Matt Breida or Alfred Morris (maybe both) emerge as a viable RB2 or better. The Saints literally only have two backs on the roster to open the season with Mark Ingram suspended and a juicy opening month schedule. With Sean Payton seemingly hesitant to give Alvin Kamara full-blown bellcow touches, Mike Gillislee has to be on the fantasy radar as a viable FLEX option in the first month of the season, running behind an elite run-blocking offensive line. Adrian Peterson will get the early-down and goal-line work behind a now-healthy Washington offensive line in an above-average offense. Peyton Barber was drafted late in many fantasy leagues but is the unquestioned starter in Tampa Bay. Rookie Jordan Wilkins will get the start behind a beefed-up Colts offensive line, and will do so next to Andrew Luck. Since 2011, only 34.7% of top-12 PPR backs repeated as such the following season, and we're already seeing a long list of sleepers with a path to large workloads.