The start of the NFL season always brings about renewed hope. Every fan thinks their team has a chance to win the Super Bowl, and every Fantasy owner is excited about their roster.
And that’s the way it should be.
No matter what happened last year, this is a fresh start, and optimism is the only approach to take.
For me, I love this time of year, mostly because I get reacquainted with an old friend. I don’t see this friend until Week 1, and we’re only together through Week 17, but our relationship in my life is second only to my family during this time.
I’m talking about this column, and Start ‘Em and Sit ‘Em has consumed my life for the past 10 years in the best possible way. I spend every week during the NFL season giving my best effort to make sure I’m helping your Fantasy teams. I rejoice when our Start of the Week is a success, and I wallow in pity when players I expected to do well struggle — or vice versa.
It’s the highlight of my job, and I’m ready for it to get started. And, like all of you, I’m optimistic this week — and this season — is going to be fantastic.
So let’s get to it.
Start of the Week: Derek Carr
I like carrying themes that we talked about in the offseason and preseason over to the start of the year. And ever since Tom Brady ‘s four-game suspension was upheld, we gave you a list of potential replacements with great schedules to open the season.
Those guys included Matthew Stafford , Jameis Winston , Kirk Cousins and Carr, who is our first Start of the Week for 2016. He has the best matchup against the New Orleans Saints .
The only scenario I fear with Carr is the Oakland Raiders come out and run on New Orleans early with Latavius Murray , and he isn’t forced to throw. But I doubt that happens to such an extent on the road, and this game should be a shootout with Drew Brees .
Carr’s final preseason outing was solid against Tennessee in the third game when he completed 12 of 18 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns in just over a half of action. And he was good on the road last season with multiple touchdowns in six of eight games, including four with at least 24 Fantasy points in a standard league.
The Saints defense was bad last season and should struggle again this year. There were only two games in 2015 when an opposing quarterback failed to score multiple touchdowns against New Orleans, and Ben Roethlisberger passed for two touchdowns against the Saints in the third preseason game, which is the one that matters.
We’ll see if Carr is the right choice in this matchup on the road. But he has two standout receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree , who are both worth starting in all leagues, and a sleeper tight end in Clive Walford .
This should be one of the more fun games to watch, and Carr and Brees should put on a show. I’m just hoping Carr drives us in the right direction for Week 1.
I’m starting Carr over: Cam Newton (at DEN), Philip Rivers (at KC), Andy Dalton (at NYJ), Carson Palmer (vs. NE) and Ben Roethlisberger (at WAS)
The New York Giants offense did not look good during the preseason, and Manning failed to throw a touchdown in either of his two appearances against Buffalo and the New York Jets . We hope when the games matter for real that the offense will perform as expected, and I’m counting on the Giants to feature a high-powered attack this year. Now, if you’re going to hold the preseason performance against the Giants as a bad thing then a good cure will be the Dallas Cowboys defense, and Dallas struggled to stop a couple of quarterbacks in two exhibition games with Ryan Tannehill (162 passing yards and two touchdowns in Week 2) and Russell Wilson (193 passing yards and two touchdowns in Week 3). We expect that should be the norm for the Cowboys this year, and Manning is a solid start for Week 1. In two of his past three visits to Dallas, Manning has scored at least 28 Fantasy points in a standard league.
Stafford is one of my favorite quarterbacks this year, and I’m excited to see him in a real game without the retired Calvin Johnson . He didn’t throw a touchdown in the preseason, but I expect him to benefit from the no-huddle offense under coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. And this is a good defense to get going against, especially with standout cornerback Vontae Davis out. Antonio Cromartie is the new No. 1 cornerback, which should mean good things for Marvin Jones , Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin . This game should be high scoring, and Stafford averaged 20.1 Fantasy points on the road last season, including at least 20 points in each of his final eight games, which is when Cooter took over the play calling. Stafford should be a Top 10 quarterback in Week 1.
It wasn’t pretty how Winston got to 21 Fantasy points in a standard league in each of his two games against the Atlanta Falcons last year, but if he gets there again this week you’ll be happy. He passed for fewer than 230 yards in each game with a combined two touchdowns and one interception, but he also had a rushing touchdown in each outing. And that was Winston as a raw rookie quarterback, but he should be more polished this year. He’s in better shape, and his No. 1 receiver, Mike Evans , is also locked in. Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (if he’s the starter) are healthy, and Winston played well in his final preseason outing in Week 3 against Cleveland with 259 passing yards and two touchdowns. He should be able to build on that performance this week, and I’m confident starting Winston in the majority of leagues.
We can play the revenge card here with Taylor since he was a backup with the Baltimore Ravens for the first four years of his career and barely saw the field behind Joe Flacco . When he finally got the chance to start last season for the Buffalo Bills , he showed standout ability and became a quality Fantasy option. It appears like Sammy Watkins (foot) is ready to go for Week 1, and he helped Taylor score at least 20 Fantasy points in a standard league in four of his final six games last season, including three with at least 30 points. Taylor also averaged 22.6 Fantasy points in seven road games last season, and he’s a quality starting option in all leagues for Week 1.
The reason I’m down on Bortles coming into this season was because I expect the Jacksonville Jaguars defense and running game to improve, which should alleviate him from having to throw so much in comeback efforts. That probably won’t be the case here with the Green Bay Packers , who should be able to pile up points and make this game a potential shootout. Bortles was at his best for Fantasy owners last year when the Jaguars were chasing points, and he scored at least 24 Fantasy points in a standard league in five of seven home games. The Packers have also allowed five quarterbacks in a row to score at least 20 Fantasy points in a standard league against them on the road. If you like Bortles this season then you’re going to start him regardless of the matchup. But if you were skeptical of him and in need of a quarterback then don’t be afraid to trust him in this matchup. What he did last year will likely be on full display this week.
- Matt Ryan (vs. TB): He’s averaged 27.7 Fantasy points vs. TB in his past three at home.
- Brock Osweiler (vs. CHI): The Chicago Bears secondary is banged up this week.
- Robert Griffin III (at PHI): He’s averaged 24 Fantasy points in five career games vs. PHI.
It’s been two years since Rivers had a big game against the Kansas City Chiefs , and he’s averaged just nine Fantasy points in a standard league against Kansas City in his past four meetings, with two touchdowns and five interceptions over that span. He also has one game in his past five years at Arrowhead Stadium with more than 18 Fantasy points, and that came in 2013. Now, the good news for Rivers is Chiefs standout pass rusher Justin Houston (knee) is out, but Kansas City does have Eric Berry back from his holdout. We don’t expect Rivers to score just nine Fantasy points in this outing, but his ceiling might be capped at around 18 points, which lowers his value and puts him outside of the Top 12 heading into this matchup.
This will be Dalton’s first regular-season game since his thumb injury in Week 14 last year, and his first time playing without three quarters of his receiving corps from 2015 with Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu gone and Tyler Eifert (ankle) out. A.J. Green should be a dominant force this year, but he has a tough matchup in Week 1 with the Jets and likely Darrelle Revis . I wouldn’t bench Green because he could still be productive, but I would sit Dalton in most formats. The last time we saw him with a scaled down receiving corps was 2014 when Jones and Eifert battled injuries, and he had just five games with more than 20 Fantasy points in a standard league. Until Eifert is back you should keep Dalton on the bench in a tough matchup, and this one qualifies as that.
This is more for Fantasy owners in two-quarterback leagues, who viewed Tannehill as a potential starter coming into the season, which he is. I’m expecting a quality year from him under new coach Adam Gase, and we saw some positive flashes in the preseason against Dallas and Atlanta. But those defenses don’t compare to the Seattle Seahawks , especially in the home opener at Seattle. The time to trust Tannehill will be Week 3 against Cleveland in Miami’s home opener, and the Miami Dolphins schedule becomes more favorable from that point on. Then you can start Tannehill with confidence in two-quarterback leagues, and he might be a sleeper in all formats.
Like Tannehill, this post is for owners in two-quarterback leagues. And if you can avoid Mariota then that’s probably the move to make this week. We’ll see if the Tennessee Titans are able to run on the Minnesota Vikings with their “exotic smashmouth” offense behind DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry , but Minnesota should have one of the better defenses this season. And the Vikings will likely adopt a similar approach to the Denver Broncos from last year now that Teddy Bridgewater (knee) is out for the season, which is try to win with a strong run game and stellar defense. Mariota was brilliant at times as a rookie with six games with at least 20 Fantasy points and mediocre at others with three games with nine points or less, and he missed four games due to injury. I’m not ready to trust Mariota in a difficult matchup like this, even at home.
Prescott was the darling of the preseason, and his value skyrocketed when Tony Romo (back) was hurt and ruled out for the start of the year. And now we’ll find out if Prescott can handle the pressure of starting a real NFL game. It wouldn’t surprise me if he played well, which makes him viable in two-quarterback leagues. But keep your expectations in check since the Giants defense could be surprisingly good, especially compared to last year. The Giants were last in total defense in 2015 and ranked 32nd against the pass. But they added plenty of talent in the offseason with Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison on the defensive line, and Janoris Jenkins , Leon Hall and Eli Apple in the secondary. The Giants should be able to frustrate Prescott enough to limit his Fantasy production. It’s risky to trust him in his first NFL start.
We all know the narrative by now. Newton was the NFL MVP last season and led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl, but he was shut down and embarrassed by this Broncos defense, which held him to 265 passing yards and an interception and 45 rushing yards and two fumbles. Along with his postgame interview fiasco, Newton probably has a lot to prove. He could win the game, but it might not be a successful Fantasy outing for him since this Denver defense is still amazing even after losing some talented players in Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan . Only one quarterback had more than 20 Fantasy points in Denver last season, which was Brady, and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips should again be able to frustrate Newton. We know it’s nearly impossible to bench a quarterback of Newton’s caliber in Week 1, and he was the first quarterback drafted in the majority of leagues this year. But you might want to consider it given his opponent in the first game of the season.
The only thing that could hold Ware back from having a big game is Jamaal Charles being active. But it appears like Charles will be out for this matchup as he continues to come back from last year’s torn ACL, and Ware has been working as the starter for the Chiefs. San Diego should have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL this season, and Ware will get plenty of work. Last season, with Charles out, Ware had three games in the final seven outings with double digits in carries, and he scored double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league every time. Now, he won’t help you much in PPR leagues ( Charcandrick West is a sleeper in deeper leagues if Charles is out), but Ware had 11 carries for 96 yard and two touchdowns at San Diego in Week 11 last year. A similar performance can certainly happen this week, and he’s worth starting in all formats.
It’s a pretty simple situation with the Pittsburgh Steelers running backs. When Le’Veon Bell is healthy and active, you start him in all Fantasy leagues. When he’s out and Williams is starting, then put him in your lineup. Williams was great in 2015 when Bell was out with a suspension and then lost for the year with a knee injury in Week 8. Including the game where Bell got hurt against the Cincinnati Bengals , Williams had 10 games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league, and he had at least eight carries in all of those contests. The Washington Redskins run defense was good in 2015, ranking No. 7 in the NFL, but there were 10 times last season when a running back had at least 12 carries, which resulted in seven scoring double digits in Fantasy points. Williams should get at least 12 carries, and we’re expecting him to pick up where last season ended when he was the starter for the Steelers when Bell was out.
It was a productive preseason for Mathews on several fronts. He ran well with 10 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown, but more importantly he didn’t get hurt. And that’s going to be the key for Mathews all season long. If he can stay healthy then he could have a big year, but we know that’s the knock on him with only one 16-game season on his resume and 13 missed games over the past two years. He ran well last year when healthy with 5.0 yards per carry and seven total touchdowns in 13 games, and the Cleveland Browns allowed 10 running backs to score double digits in Fantasy points in 2015. We’ll see how the Philadelphia Eagles operate with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz under center, but Philadelphia could benefit if Lane Johnson is able to play (his 10-game suspension is under review). Mathews might not help you over the course of the season, but he is worth trusting in this matchup at home.
Jennings ended last season with an impressive four-game stretch of at least 100 total yards or a touchdown, and he looked the part of a featured running back. That should be his role this season as long as he’s healthy, and the Giants plan to lean on him as much as possible. He has a good history against the Cowboys with three games against Dallas with the Giants, and he’s scored double digits in Fantasy points in two of those outings. In his past two trips to Dallas (once with the Giants in 2015 and once with the Raiders in 2013), Jennings has averaged 13 Fantasy points in a standard league with 87 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The Giants offense should play well against what should be a less-than-stellar Cowboys defense, and Jennings will have plenty of chances to make plays in Week 1. He’s a solid No. 2 running back in all leagues.
Compared to last year, the buzz on Abdullah has been non-existent. He spent much of training camp and the preseason coming back from offseason shoulder surgery, and he only appeared in the third preseason game against Baltimore. He only had four carries for 16 yards, but he also had a 15-yard touchdown called back due to a penalty. Abdullah has the chance to lead the Detroit Lions in touches this year, but Theo Riddick will play on passing downs and is a sleeper this week in PPR leagues. The Lions should be able to move the ball at will against the Indianapolis Colts , and Abdullah could be in line for a big day. He played better once Cooter took over calling plays last year, averaging 4.8 yards per carry in his final seven games, and in Week 1 in 2015 he had a touchdown and 94 total yards at San Diego. We hope a similar performance happens in this year’s opener, and Abdullah is worth trusting as a No. 2 running back.
- Frank Gore (vs. DET): The Colts will have chances to score in this game at home.
- Christine Michael (vs. MIA): Thomas Rawls is healthy, but Michael will still play a lot.
- James White (at ARI): There should be plenty of chances to catch the ball this week.
- T.J. Yeldon (vs. GB): This matchup should feature Yeldon more than Chris Ivory .
- Isaiah Crowell (at PHI): He has a good track record when he gets at least 12 touches.
You know what to expect from Stewart by now. He’s a volume back that needs to score to be successful, and we’ll see how he does against the Broncos defense on the road. In Super Bowl 50, Stewart had 12 carries for 29 yards and a touchdown and one catch for minus-1 yard on two targets against Denver. He could get eight Fantasy points again in this matchup, but you see the downside if he doesn’t score. Stewart had a solid campaign in 2015, but he had over 100 rushing yards just twice and only three games with more than one reception. He also got off to a slow start last year with seven Fantasy points or less in a standard league in his first four games. A similar start could happen based on his matchup this week, and we consider Stewart just a No. 3 Fantasy running back at Denver.
I’m excited about Gordon this year, and I expect him to bounce back from being a bust in his rookie season. He’s played well in the preseason, even scoring two touchdowns despite not scoring at all in 2015, but this is a tough matchup to open the year. The Chiefs only allowed one 100-yard rusher last year, which was Bell in Week 7, and held Gordon to 28 carries for 72 yards and five catches for 40 yards in two meetings. Again, Gordon will be better than what he showed last year, but this isn’t the week to trust him in the majority of leagues. Danny Woodhead should see more action in this matchup (although he was miserable against the Chiefs also with nine carries for 12 yards and four catches for 17 yards in two meetings), but this could be a good game to avoid both San Diego Chargers running backs. Gordon’s schedule gets much easier after this week against Jacksonville, Indianapolis and New Orleans over the next three games, and that’s the time to start him in most leagues.
A likely scenario for this game is the Packers offense scores early and often, and the Jaguars will be chasing points. If that happens, Ivory won’t see as much playing time as Yeldon, who is better in the passing game. And Yeldon will also get his share of rushing attempts and has looked good in the preseason with 11 carries for 75 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and four catches for 20 yards compared to Ivory, who had 16 carries for 55 yards (3.4 yards per carry) and a touchdown and two catches for 10 yards. Now, Ivory will have the better chance to score than Yeldon, and the Packers allowed 12 rushing touchdowns last year, which was among the worst in the league. But I’m expecting Green Bay’s defense to improve this season, and Ivory could have a limited stat line if he fails to score. He’s more of a No. 3 running back in this matchup.
Foster deserves the starting job for the Dolphins, mostly because Jay Ajayi has struggled in the preseason. And Foster should be serviceable for Fantasy owners as long as he’s healthy, which is the biggest issue facing him at 30 and coming off last year’s Achilles injury. But this isn’t the week to trust him in the majority of leagues. The Seahawks should be dominant at home in the season opener, and the Dolphins won’t have standout center Mike Pouncey (hip) in this game. That makes what should be a solid offensive line weak, and this is the wrong opponent to have a hole against up front. We’ll see how Foster does after he averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in his four games last season with the Houston Texans , but I’m not ready to start him in this matchup on the road. He’s a No. 3 running back at best in most formats.
Jones returned to practice Monday from the shoulder injury he sustained in the preseason, and he expects to play in Week 1 against the Steelers. But his role should be limited following the injury, and Rob Kelley deserves touches coming off a strong preseason. This also should be a tough matchup for Jones against the Steelers, who allowed the second-fewest Fantasy points to running backs in 2015 with just four rushing touchdowns allowed. The Redskins should be throwing a lot in this matchup, and Jones will likely need a touchdown to save his production. We don’t like chasing touchdowns, and Jones will need to prove himself first before most Fantasy owners will start him in the majority of leagues.
Langford got a boost on the eve of Week 1 when the Bears signed offensive guard Josh Sitton , who was a surprise cut by the Packers. Sitton will improve the Bears offensive line and help Langford for the season, and Langford played well in the preseason with 18 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown and two catches for 11 yards. He established himself as the No. 1 option in the backfield, and he might not get much competition for touches as long as he’s healthy. But the Texans defense should be dominant against the Bears this week now that J.J. Watt (back) appears on track to play. Houston Cougars has allowed one rushing touchdown and one 100-yard rusher, which was LeSean McCoy , in the final nine games of the season last year. The Texans DST is a great play this week in the majority of leagues, but Langford is a low-end No. 2 running back at best in most formats.
He’s one of my favorite guys this year, and I’m expecting him to get off to a great start against the Lions. This game should be a shootout, and Andrew Luck will lean on Moncrief quite a bit, just like he did last year when Luck was healthy. Moncrief had at least six targets in five of the seven starts with Luck, including three games with at least eight targets. Moncrief also had five touchdowns in seven games with Luck, and the Colts running game might struggle this week. If you consider T.Y. Hilton the No. 1 receiver in Indianapolis, which he is, there were six No. 2 receivers to score at least eight Fantasy points in a standard league against the Lions last year. I expect eight points to be Moncrief’s floor in this matchup.
The Colts defense should be bad this season, especially early while Davis is out. That should mean great things for Jones and Tate this week. Jones gained plenty of buzz in the preseason with the reports that he’s the new No. 1 receiver for the Lions with Johnson gone, but Tate could still lead Detroit in targets most weeks. Even Boldin has some sleeper appeal in this matchup. The Colts were No. 8 last year in Fantasy points allowed to opposing receivers, and there were nine times in 2015 where two receivers in the same game scored at least eight Fantasy points in a standard league against Indianapolis. I’m counting on a similar result for two of the Lions this week, with Jones and Tate the likely candidates to reach that mark.
Floyd finished third in terms of Fantasy points for the Arizona Cardinals receivers last year behind Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown , but he got off to a slow start because of a hand injury in the preseason. Once he was healthy, which was about Week 6, he took off and scored double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in seven of his final 10 games. That could be relevant here with Fitzgerald coming off a minor knee injury in training camp, and Brown just coming back from a lengthy layoff from a concussion. We’ll see how the New England Patriots choose to defend the Cardinals trio, and where standout cornerback Malcolm Butler lines up. One report out of Boston suggests Butler will face off with Fitzgerald, which should mean good things for Floyd. He’s worth starting in all leagues as a high-end No. 2 receiver.
You want as many pieces of the Raiders-Saints game as possible this week, which means secondary players like Crabtree, Willie Snead , Coby Fleener and Walford are worth using behind expected studs like Brandin Cooks and Cooper. And Crabtree proved in 2015 that Carr will lean on him a lot since he led the Raiders in targets. Crabtree had 13 games with at least seven targets, and he scored fewer than seven Fantasy points in a standard league in just four of those outings. The Saints led the NFL with 27 touchdowns allowed to receivers, and there were seven times where a pair of receivers from the same team scored at least eight Fantasy points in a standard league. That bodes well for Cooper and Crabtree this week, and Crabtree is worth starting as a No. 2 Fantasy receiver in most formats.
The concern for Lockett this week will be the Seahawks running all over the Dolphins and limiting the amount of throwing for Wilson. But Lockett doesn’t need a high volume of targets to be successful, although it helps. His best production as a rookie last year came when he had exactly seven targets in four of his final five games, and he produced at least nine Fantasy points in three of those outings. The Seahawks have said the plan is to feature him more this year, and the Dolphins secondary should struggle to contain him down the field. We hope Wilson continues to look for him early and often this year, and he and Doug Baldwin are great starting options in Week 1.
- DeSean Jackson (vs. PIT): Kirk Cousins will lean on Jackson as his No. 1 receiver.
- Willie Snead (vs. OAK): Expect lots of points in this matchup.
- Will Fuller (vs. CHI): The Bears secondary could be a mess this week.
- Jordan Matthews (vs. CLE): Carson Wentz is a concern, but the CLE secondary is weak.
- Vincent Jackson (at ATL): When he’s healthy, Jackson could be a big surprise this year.
The Patriots passing targets, aside from Rob Gronkowski , could be in trouble this week with Brady out and Jimmy Garoppolo starting. That makes all their secondary receivers risky, even Edelman. He’s still worth using as at least a No. 3 Fantasy receiver in PPR leagues because you have to assume the game plan will still be to get him the ball as much as possible. But the Cardinals defense is loaded with talent with Patrick Peterson , Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Bucannon , and Edelman should struggle to have a big game. The good news is he’s healthy following all his foot problems from this offseason, but you might want to use caution with him in your lineup until Brady is back in action in Week 5.
If this were any other opponent, the news of Benjamin being limited to about 35 snaps in the season opener against the Broncos might not be so daunting. But when you factor in the matchup against either Aqib Talib or Chris Harris it will be tough for Benjamin to be trustworthy as anything more than a No. 3 Fantasy receiver in the majority of leagues. Denver allowed just seven touchdowns to opposing receivers last year, and only two No. 1 receivers ( Antonio Brown and Green) found the end zone. Benjamin will hopefully work his way into shape and start playing at a high level soon after last year’s torn ACL, but this is not the week to trust him in most formats. In full disclosure, I’m starting Lockett over Benjamin in the one league where I own him.
Playing at home wasn’t so kind to Sanders last year. He had just two games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league, but he also scored six points or less in six outings. We’ll see if the quarterback change from Peyton Manning to Trevor Siemian is a good thing for Sanders, but he’s a risky start in this matchup. He actually was the No. 1 receiver for the Broncos in Super Bowl 50 against the Panthers with six catches for 83 yards on eight targets, but that’s because the Broncos stayed away from Demaryius Thomas and his matchup with Josh Norman . The Panthers don’t have Norman anymore, so Thomas should lead the Broncos in targets. Sanders won’t get shut out, but he’s a risky play in Siemian’s first start, even with Norman gone. The Carolina defense will still be good, and Sanders should be considered just a No. 3 Fantasy receiver in this matchup.
Landry is clearly the No. 1 receiver for the Dolphins, especially with DeVante Parker (hamstring) banged up and Kenny Stills slotted into the No. 2 role. I like Landry a lot this year, and Stills is a sleeper (you should avoid Parker at this point), but this is a good week to sit Landry in standard leagues. It’s hard to bench him in PPR because he’ll still have the chance to be a volume receiver, but the Seahawks should make things tough on him and this entire offense. Seattle led the NFL with the fewest touchdowns allowed to receivers in 2015 with six, and slot receivers for the most part were held in check. Landry also had just six games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league last season with four touchdowns and will likely be held under 100 receiving yards this week.
Diggs benefits with the Vikings trading for Sam Bradford to replace the injured Bridgewater, but Minnesota will likely start Shaun Hill against the Titans since Bradford is probably behind in the playbook. That makes sense and should mean plenty of running for Adrian Peterson . Let’s face it that would most likely be the case if the Vikings had John Elway, Dan Marino or Joe Montana in their heyday against the Titans, who should struggle to stop the run, and Diggs will likely be limited with his targets. He won’t get shut out and is still a potential No. 3 receiver in PPR leagues, but the Vikings will likely be as conservative as possible in what should be a winnable game on the road. But once Bradford gets comfortable, especially in a game where Minnesota could be forced to throw, we could see the best of Diggs, who is a No. 3 Fantasy receiver with upside for the season.
The strength of the Chargers defense is their cornerbacks with Jason Verrett , Brandon Flowers and Casey Hayward , and that unit was solid against opposing receivers last year. Only six No. 1 receivers scored double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league against San Diego in 2015, but Maclin wasn’t part of that group. He had nine catches for 97 yards and no touchdowns on 15 targets in two meetings, and Maclin could be held in check again. The best Fantasy plays for the Chiefs this week are Ware to lead the running game and Travis Kelce , who should benefit with safety Eric Weddle gone from the Chargers secondary. Maclin should be considered a No. 3 Fantasy receiver in Week 1 in most formats.
Like Moncrief, I have to go with another one of my guys in Week 1, and if things go as planned, this will be one of the last times we reference Fleener as a starter since we avoid stating the obvious with our start selections. Fantasy owners who drafted Fleener are a little concerned about his outlook based on his non-descript preseason (four catches for 27 yards) and his recent admission that he’s still learning the playbook. Those are valid concerns, but he has the chance to start off the season playing well against the Raiders, who struggled with tight ends last year and should have a hard time again in 2016. Oakland allowed the third-most Fantasy points to tight ends in 2015, and we like Fleener’s chances to succeed at home this week.
It’s risky to trust Cook in his first game with the Packers, and all we have to go by is a strong preseason when he had nine catches for 85 yards and a touchdown, including catching four passes on five targets for 54 yards in the third game against San Francisco. That game is important because he was a favorite target for Aaron Rodgers . Cook might find it hard to get targets when Jordy Nelson (knee) is on the field, but there’s no guarantee Nelson is 100 percent for this matchup. We consider Cook a great streaming option for this week. It helps that Jacksonville allowed the sixth-most Fantasy points to opposing tight ends last year.
If you’re into trends, Allen has scored a touchdown in each of the past three season openers against Oakland, Denver and Buffalo. He could make it four in a row against the Lions, who tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns allowed to tight ends last year (12) and should struggle against the position again. The Colts should be throwing a lot in this matchup, and Allen should be the main red-zone target for Luck. In Luck’s last full season in 2014, the Colts got 18 touchdowns from their tight ends (Fleener had eight, Allen had eight and Jack Doyle had two), and new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is a tight end savant. I’m excited for Allen’s outlook this season, and I’m confident in his performance for this week. Hopefully he’ll extend his season-opening touchdown streak to four.
- Clive Walford (at NO): NO allowed the most touchdowns to tight ends in 2015.
- Jason Witten (vs. NYG): His stats in his past eight games vs. NYG: 52 rec, 474 yds, 7 TD
- Vance McDonald (vs. LAR): PPR alert – he could lead the San Francisco 49ers in receptions this week.
There’s a good chance Graham doesn’t play, and Seattle would be smart to remain cautious with him coming off last year’s devastating patella tendon injury to his knee. You don’t want Graham to suffer a setback, and we know the Seahawks have playoff aspirations, so having Graham healthy toward the end of the season is an utmost priority. Even if Graham does play he could be limited, so you’re basically hoping for a touchdown to save his production. When he was healthy last season he only scored twice, and the Dolphins only allowed four touchdowns to tight ends last year. Let Graham prove himself first before starting him in the majority of leagues, and there should be little confidence in trusting him this week.
I’m all for owning Bennett this season, and he might get off to a good start in Week 1 against the Cardinals. But how much faith do you have in trusting Garoppolo to support the secondary targets for the Patriots in a tough matchup on the road? With any tight end, all it will take is a touchdown to make them a viable Fantasy option on a given week, and Bennett could easily score in this matchup. The Cardinals have a shaky track record of defending tight ends in the Bruce Arians era, although they were better in 2015 with only six touchdowns allowed to the position. I’m holding off on starting Bennett in the majority of leagues until Week 5 when Brady is back.
I have no idea what to expect from Seferian-Jenkins this week, and sometimes it appears like neither do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers . He was thrown out of practice in the offseason and then worked his way back to getting first-team snaps in training camp, ahead of Cameron Brate . But then in the fourth preseason game, with the majority of the starters resting, Seferian-Jenkins played the entire game and was seen yelling at coach Dirk Koetter. For this week, Seferian-Jenkins could be a dominant Fantasy option, or the better tight end in Tampa Bay could be Brate. It’s a risk, and one I’m not willing to take in most formats. He could be an elite tight end this season, but Fantasy owners need to see him prove himself first.
The Chiefs are excellent at defending tight ends, thanks to Berry, and they made things tough on Gates last year, holding him to seven catches for 82 yards and no touchdowns in two games. Gates only has one game with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in his past six outings against the Chiefs, and he’s failed to score a touchdown in his past five games in Kansas City, which goes back to 2011. No tight end scored more than seven Fantasy points in a standard league against the Chiefs last year, and Gates should be considered a low-end starting option at best in this matchup.
Los Angeles Rams (at SF)
The 49ers were expected to get embarrassed in last year’s home opener by the Vikings but instead ran all over Minnesota with Carlos Hyde . Maybe the same thing happens again here at home against the Rams. But with Blaine Gabbert starting, even under new coach Chip Kelly, I’d take my chances starting the Rams DST this week. Gabbert was sacked 3.5 times per game in his final seven starts, and the Rams should make things uncomfortable for him behind Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn up front. The 49ers scored 25 points in two games against the Rams last season, and this should be a low-scoring affair. The Rams DST has the chance to be a Top 5 unit this week against San Francisco.
- Giants (at DAL): This revamped defense should get after Prescott in his first NFL start.
- Jets (vs. CIN): The Bengals are missing weapons, and the Jets should play well at home.
- Packers (at JAC): Bortles was sacked at least twice in all but two games last year.
Patriots (at ARI)
Carson Palmer could get turnover prone, which is a concern, but the Patriots won’t have standout pass rusher Rob Ninkovich (suspension) for this matchup. The Cardinals also allowed the fewest Fantasy points to opposing DST units last year, and only two teams had more than two sacks against Arizona in 2015. The Cardinals also topped 30 points in nine games last season, and it will be hard for New England to slow down this offense on the road. The Patriots DST should be one of the better units during the season, but this is a tough spot to trust them against an explosive Cardinals offense.
The Raiders led the NFL in field goals allowed (42) and made (36) last season, and hopefully that continues for this matchup with the Saints on the road. Forbath had to beat out Connor Barth for the starting job in the preseason, and he did well for the Saints last year with at least eight Fantasy points in four of his final six games. You can obviously tell we’re expecting this game to be high scoring, and the over/under for this matchup is the highest of the week at 51 points. That should allow Forbath to have plenty of scoring chances, and he’s a great streaming option for Week 1.
- Matt Prater (at IND): There should be plenty of points in this matchup.
- Matt Bryant (vs. TB): Six kickers had at least three FGs vs. TB last year.
- Adam Vinatieri (vs. DET): He’s 10 of 10 on field goals in his past four home games.
Nugent’s three best games last year came on the road at Buffalo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, but those were the only three games where he scored double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league. He’s always been a serviceable kicker, but he’s never been consistently outstanding. And with the Bengals facing a tough defense this week against the Jets, who should limit Dalton and the passing game and could slow down Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard , we might not see many scoring chances for Nugent. The Jets also allowed just two kickers ( Jason Myers and Dan Carpenter ) to score double digits in Fantasy points at home against them last year.