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Inside the Matchup
Week 1
9/7/17; Updated: 9/8/17

By: Andy Swanson | Jason Katz | Nick Caron | Jake Gordon

KC @ NE | PIT @ CLE | SEA @ GB | NO @ MIN




- Fantasy points allowed rankings are from 2016. Rankings for 2017 will be used beginning next week.
- Green highllight indicates plus matchup (top eight)
- Red highlight indicates negative matchup (bottom eight)

Chiefs at Patriots - (Katz)

Passing Game Thoughts: Welcome to the 2017 season everyone! As is tradition, the defending Super Bowl champions open the season at home with the Chiefs given the honor of heading to Foxboro. Alex Smith is never a fantasy option, but he has two pass catchers that certainly are: Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Kelce is coming off the best season of his career where he finished as the PPR TE2 despite being a nonfactor in the red zone (only four TDs). The Patriots allowed the 25th most fantasy points to opposing TEs last season, but Kelce is more WR than TE in this offense. With the departure of Jeremy Maclin, Kelce is the de facto number one wide receiver for Smith.

Bill Belichick is known for taking away the opponent’s top weapon. For the Chiefs, that’s Tyreek Hill. I am a huge Hill proponent and think he will be a WR1 in 2017. I am not sitting him in any matchup, however, expectations must be tempered against the Patriots. While Andy Reid will scheme Hill open and manufacture touches for him, his true ceiling likely won’t be on display against the Patriots’ elite defense. Chris Conley could be a sneaky value play this week, but in Week 1, there’s just no reason to get cute. Kelce and Hill are the only members of this passing offense you need to concern yourself with.

NE FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.24
NE FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.30
NE FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.24
NE FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.27

Running Game Thoughts: So much for my prediction that Spencer Ware would hold off Kareem Hunt the entire season. I’m giving myself a mulligan on Ware as one of my undervalued running backs. Hunt now takes over for Ware, but for some reason the perception is that he is going to immediately see a greater workload than Ware was poised to see. I realize that having Charcandrick West behind Hunt is far less imposing than having Hunt behind Ware, but West is going to see the field. Andy Reid is not giving Hunt 30 touches and we may see a little C.J. Spiller in this contest too.

Hunt’s ADP has crept up to near RB1 territory and he will need significant volume or a touchdown to get there. He may get the former, but the latter is difficult to project as the Patriots only allowed eight rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs in all of 2016. Hunt is a good, not great player in a very good situation. He is not a particularly impressive athlete and was not dominant in college despite playing at a non-power five conference school. That being said he will be useful every week, but matchups will play a role in his weekly ceiling and Week 1 strikes me as more of a floor game for the Chiefs starting running back.

Value Meter:
RB2: Kareem Hunt (low end, volume driven)
WR2: Tyreek Hill (low end)
TE1: Travis Kelce
Bench: Alex Smith, Chris Conley, Charcandrick West

Passing Game Thoughts: At the ripe young age of 40, (is he still angry?) Tom Brady embarks on his 18th season looking as spry as ever. Brady looked every bit like the top two QB he’s being drafted as during his limited pre-season action. But, Brady will be operating with a new set of tools in 2017. Julian Edelman (ACL) has been lost for the season (and may have played his last snap as a Patriot). However, Chris Hogan has a nice rapport with the Patriots’ QB and looked quite capable of picking up the slack once Edelman went down. Hogan strikes me as the most direct beneficiary of Edelman’s injury, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see increased slot snaps for Rex Burkhead or James White. Danny Amendola is 32 years old and is made of glass. No thank you. Rob Gronkowski is currently completely healthy. There’s not much of a reason to discuss Gronk. When healthy, he’s the best TE in football and in fantasy. You start him and you love every minute of it.

Now let’s get to the man everyone wants to hear about: Brandin Cooks. Brady’s newest toy is the most talented outside wide receiver he’s had since Randy Moss and we all remember what Brady and Moss (23 TDs in 2007) were able to do. That’s not to say Cooks is anything like Moss as a player – he’s not – but Cooks is one of the 5-10 most talented wide receivers in the NFL right now and Belichick did not trade a first round pick for Cooks to not use him. Cooks had a silent pre-season and that worries me absolutely zero. I tend to believe Belichick was hiding his best weapon. He knows what to do with Cooks and will move him all over the field, getting him the ball in creative ways. The Chiefs allowed the 15th most fantasy points to opposing WRs last season but that doesn’t really matter. No one can really stop the Patriots.

KC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.18
KC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.14
KC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.15
KC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.26

Running Game Thoughts: Full disclosure: all of my thoughts here are complete conjecture. They’re educated guesses based on my knowledge of the players and their abilities. But the reality is that there are four legitimate options in this backfield and we won’t really know how Belichick plans to deploy them all until we see it. I will caution everyone in advance to not overreact to how these running backs are used in Week 1 because it could be a completely different story the following week. Mike Gillislee is the presumed starter replacing LeGarrette Blount. That’s probably accurate. Gillislee will certainly see early-down and goal line work…but so will Rex Burkhead. Burkhead is the most versatile RB on this roster. He is a strong between the tackles runner and big enough to handle goal line carries and possesses excellent hands. James White is locked in as the main passing down back, but Burkhead can catch as well. It would not surprise me to see formations with Burkhead and White on the field at the same time – one in the backfield and one in the slot. Dion Lewis has also looked fine this pre-season, but he strikes me as the odd man out. He’s the third best pass catcher on the team and the third best between the tackles runner. He’s the best in the open field, but that’s a very niche role. He might very well be a gameday inactive. The best approach to this backfield is to wait and see. If I had to rank their fantasy contributions in Week 1 it would be backs it would be Burkhead-Gillislee-White.

Value Meter:
QB1: Tom Brady (top three option)
WR1: Brandin Cooks
WR3: Chris Hogan
TE1: Rob Gronkowski (always number one as long as he’s healthy)
Bench: Danny Amendola, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis

Prediction: Patriots 31, Chiefs 20 ^ Top

Steelers @ Browns - (Swanson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Over the past three seasons, Ben Roethlisberger averaged ten-fewer fantasy points per game on the road than at the friendly confines of Heinz Field, including three away games against Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Cleveland, in which he failed to log a passing touchdown in 2016. Considering the familiarity between the two teams and the fact that the Browns have ranked near the bottom in the NFL in pass defense since 2014, it is surprising that Big Ben and the Steelers have not been more successful against Cleveland.

Negative game scripts based on weather, solid defensive play, and large ground games by Le’veon Bell have all played a part in stifling the fantasy production for Roethlisberger against the Browns. With Bell looking to get his legs ready for game action after missing all of training camp and preseason with a holdout, and a forecast of a sunny 69 degrees in Cleveland on Sunday, two of those negative factors may not affect Ben to start the season.

A healthy offensive line and the return of Martavis Bryant will be a big boost, as Roethlisberger will have more time to stretch the field with Antonio Brown, and Bryant gives him a big body red zone threat who can actually catch the ball (sorry Sammie Coates). Despite Ben’s recent struggles, Brown has averaged an impressive 115 receiving yards and just over 23 fantasy points per game in his last seven matchups against Cleveland, making a weekly must-start even more attractive Week 1.

The release of veteran cornerback Joe Haden vaulted journeyman Jamar Taylor to the starting right cornerback role opposite of Jason McCourty. Although Haden is a shell of his former self, his absence from the Cleveland secondary is a positive for the Pittsburgh passing game. In addition, first overall pick Myles Garrett suffered an ankle injury in practice on Wednesday and will miss his first NFL game.

CLE FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.3
CLE FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.2
CLE FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.9
CLE FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.1

Running Game Thoughts: Although Bell has yet to play in a preseason game after holding out on signing his franchise tender until September 1st, he is an obvious must-start play against a Cleveland team that finished 31 out of 32 teams last year against the run. Only one time in Bell’s NFL career has he failed to post at least 100 total yards or a score against the Browns, including his last meeting in Week 11 of 2016 when he scored 26 fantasy points.

The only concern from a fantasy perspective with Bell would be a negative game script in which the Steelers can limit his touches due to a lopsided score. It would make sense for the coaching staff to ease in Bell should the Steelers go up big early, as there is always the concern for injury when a skill position player misses training camp and preseason reps.

Value Meter:
QB1: Ben Roethlisberger (mid-range)
RB1: Le’veon Bell (Elite)
WR1: Antonio Brown (Elite)
WR2: Martavis Bryant (High-End)
TE2: Jesse James (Low-End)
Bench: Eli Rogers

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie DeShone Kizer makes his NFL debut against a quarterback he looked up to as a big-armed and mobile quarterback growing up in Northern Ohio. The former Notre Dame Fighting Irish QB beat out Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler to earn the starting job for head coach Hue Jackson. Kizer flashed his elusiveness and his powerful arm in preseason action against backup defenses while making ill-advised throws that one would expect of a rookie.

His rapport with former first round pick Corey Coleman was evident throughout the preseason and should carry over into week one, making Coleman a sneaky play in deeper formats. The Steelers picked up cornerback Joe Haden when the Browns released him late August and Mike Tomlin has inserted him into the starting left cornerback role. Look for Hue Jackson to exploit his former player, utilizing his intimate knowledge of Haden’s shortcomings in coverage, including a few deep shots with Coleman.

Kenny Britt’s addition to the passing game gives Kizer a big-bodied target opposite of Corey Coleman. Britt joined the Browns this offseason via free agency after posting his the first 1000-yard season of his career as a member of the Rams. The former Rutgers star will once again be forced to play with a rookie quarterback after spending the previous season catching errant passes from Jared Goff.

PIT FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.27
PIT FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.7
PIT FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.30
PIT FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.12

Running Game Thoughts: Head coach Hue Jackson has mentioned more than once this off-season that he made a mistake last year of getting away from Isaiah Crowell and the run game, and that running the ball behind the Browns’ revamped offensive line will be an area of emphasis this year. Crowell averaged an impressive 4.8 yards per carry last season on 198 carries for 952 yards and seven scores, although his YPC average is a bit skewed due to a few large runs, including an 85-yard score against Baltimore Week 2 and a 67-yard scamper against Pittsburgh Week 16. Duke Johnson is an interesting option in that he is the primary pass catching back who has been working in the slot this summer. A possible negative game script for the Browns could force Jackson to abort his plan to pound the ball with Crowell, making Johnson a viable flex option in deeper leagues.

Value Meter:
QB2: DeShone Kizer (Low-end)
RB2: Isaiah Crowell (Mid-Range)
WR3: Kenny Britt (High-End)
WR3: Corey Coleman (High-End)
TE2: David Njoku (Low-End)
Flex: Duke Johnson (Low-End)

Prediction: Steelers 35, Browns 14 ^ Top

Seahawks @ Packers - (Swanson)

Passing Game Thoughts: When healthy and able to move outside the pocket to extend plays for Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham, Russell Wilson is a deadly weapon in the passing game and an elite fantasy option, especially in choice matchups against a dreadful defense like Green Bay. Only the Saints allowed more passing yards than the Packers in 2016, and the changes at corner back to Davon House and Quinten Rollins should help, but all signs point to Green Bay struggling against the pass once again in 2017. Starting Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham are no brainer moves Week 1, as the Pack also struggled against TE’s last year (13th-most fantasy points allowed). But one sneaky move that may be a game-winning play is starting Paul Richardson, an under-the-radar guy (10% ownership in Yahoo) who is the starting wide receiver opposite of Baldwin. With Green Bay shading safety help over to Baldwin, Richardson looks to be a high floor play with 100-yard and 1TD upside.

GB FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.2
GB FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.25
GB FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.1
GB FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.13

Running Game Thoughts: The running game options for the Seahawks are nothing short of a flaming bag of poo right now, or perhaps a dumpster on fire. Thomas Rawls is technically the starter with Eddie Lacy, C.J. Prosise, and Chris Carson backing him up. But Rawls is limited, and there is always the revenge game narrative that the former Packer will have a big game against his former team. Rookie Carson has looked like the most talented back this summer, while Prosise is without a doubt the best receiving option out of the backfield, and should receive action on third/passing downs. To make matters worse, gum-chewing Pete Carroll won’t commit to one runner, making the Seahawks backfield a situation to avoid if possible. If forced to choose one back to play this week, I would go with Lacy scoring a TD, but the yardage will not be there to make him a top-10 play.

Value Meter:
QB1: Russell Wilson (Elite)
RB2: Eddie Lacy (Low-End)
WR1: Doug Baldwin (Mid-Range)
TE1: Jimmy Graham (Elite)
Flex: Paul Richardson (Mid-Range)

Passing Game Thoughts: There is no circumstance in which you would bench a healthy Aaron Rodgers, which includes a Week 1 matchup against Seattle. Sure, the matchup is not great, but Rodgers dropped a 246/3 line against the Seahawks in Seattle last season (It should be noted that Earl Thomas was injured for the game). Wide receiving options Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams also take a hit against Seattle, but they are still must-start options who have tempered expectations. Although Seattle allowed the fourth-fewest points to opposing tight ends last season, it would not surprise me to see newly acquired TE Martellus Bennett score an opening week TD in front of the Packer faithful.

SEA FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.29
SEA FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.24
SEA FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.21
SEA FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.29

Running Game Thoughts: There was hope among many in the fantasy community that rookie Jamaal Williams would run away with the starting tailback job, as he was projected to be a more well-rounded, traditional back that Ty Montgomery. The former BYU star did not do much to impress coaches and fans, while Montgomery has looked solid and was named the clear starter by head coach Mike McCarthy. Running lanes might be tough to come by in this game because the Packers lost one of their better run blocking lineman in TJ Lang and the already talented Seattle line got even better with the addition of Sheldon Richardson. But as is the case with Montgomery, he will still have excellent value in the passing game and should provide low-end No.1 or high-end No.2 value even in a difficult matchup.

Value Meter:
QB1: Aaron Rodgers (Elite)
RB1: Ty Montgomery (Low-End)
WR1: Jordy Nelson (Mid-Range)
WR2: Davante Adams (Low-End)
TE1: Martellus Bennett (Low-End)
Flex: Randall Cobb (Low-End)

Prediction: Packers 24, Seahawks 21 ^ Top

Saints @ Vikings - (Swanson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Vikings allowed the seventh-fewest points to opposing QBs and the fourth fewest points to opposing wide receivers in 2016, and the majority of players are returning to the Mike Zimmer defense in 2017. A closer examination of the Vikings’ stats from last year reveals a team that played well against suspect offenses like Houston and Chicago but allowed a fair amount of points to elite players like Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, and Cam Newton. Drew Brees certainly fits into that category and should be able to put up a solid stat line in what should be a high-scoring Monday Night game.

Michael Thomas is still a No.1 fantasy wide receiver this week, but his matchup against Xavier Rhodes is something to consider. Assuming he doesn’t drop every pass thrown his way, Ted Ginn Jr. is an excellent option this week with Brees targeting him deep on play action. The three-game suspension of Willie Snead opens the door for Coby Fleener to get more work in the middle of the field against Viking linebackers. When Snead was out in 2016, Fleener posted two of his best games of the season.

MIN FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.26
MIN FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.23
MIN FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.29
MIN FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.20

Running Game Thoughts: Just like Eddy Lacy returning to Green Bay, there is a widespread narrative in the fantasy circles that head coach Sean Payton will give Adria Peterson every chance possible to score against his favorite team. I’m not so sure I buy this narrative because Payton is an offensive minded coach obsessed with taking advantage of an opponents’ weakness and stopping the run is not something a weakness of the Vikings. Yes, you should start Peterson, but don’t be surprised if Mark Ingram is the better runner and scores more fantasy points. Based on what I watched in preseason action, Ingram looks like the better back at this point in his career and Payton will always side with the better player.

Value Meter:
QB1: Drew Brees (Elite)
WR1: Michael Thomas (Mid-Range)
WR2: Ted Ginn Jr. (High-End)
RB2: Mark Ingram (Mid-Range)
RB 2: Adrian Peterson (Mid-Range)
TE1: Coby Fleener (Low-End)

Passing Game Thoughts: This is without a doubt the best matchup on paper for the Vikings this season, as the Saints were the worst defense against the pass last year and have done little to improve their awful secondary. If you are one of the unfortunate souls who drafted Jameis Winston late in your draft only to have him lost for Week 1 due to hurricane Irma, a home game against the Saints could make Sam Bradford and his huge shoulder pads a viable option.

Stefon Diggs is a top 12 play this week based on his choice matchup, the fact he is healthy (that won’t last), and he has been a dominant player on MNF/SNF in his young career. Adam Theilen and Kyle Rudolph will continue to do well as the underneath options for Bradford, as the Saints’ lack of a pass rush will force Dennis Allen to blitz and open the door for the check down king to check it down to his favorite targets.

NO FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.8
NO FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.3
NO FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.8
NO FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.19

Running Game Thoughts: Dalvin Cook owners will be on cloud nine when this game ends, with their rookie running back likely finishing his first NFL game with 100 total yards and a score. I am still in the Cook doubter camp based on the logic, or lack thereof, that the former Florida State star is too small to be an every down back, but I am all in on Cook this week against the Saints. The opposing narrative of Minnesota wanting to prove that moving on from AD to Cook was a smart move could be in play here, with OC Pat Shurmur showcasing their new weapon on the MNF stage. Regardless of doubts you might have on Cook’s longevity, and which narrative will play out, there is no doubt that the Saints at home is an excellent matchup and the rookie will no doubt cook and eat against the hapless Saints (pardon the pun).

Value Meter:
QB2: Sam Bradford (Mid-Range)
RB2: Dalvin Cook (High-End)
WR1: Stefon Diggs (Mid-Range)
WR3: Adam Thielen (High-End)
TE1: Kyle Rudolph (Low-End)

Prediction: Saints 34, Vikings 28 ^ Top

Jaguars @ Texans - (Gordon)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Jags have already benched Blake Bortles once during the preseason so fantasy owners should not feel very confident in his ability to light the world on fire as he opens the year on a short leash. Their opponent this week adds another negative to the Week 1 fantasy potential of the Jags. The Texans allowed the second fewest passing yards per game in 2016 despite having the sixth fewest sacks. Anyone not related to Blake Bortles should keep him benched (if he is even owned in your league). That also means Allen Robinson owners will have their first of many tough lineup decisions this year. In his two games against Houston last season, Robinson was solid in one (9-107-1) and stunk in the other (2-15). The number of targets shouldn’t be an issue but the quality of targets could have you scratching your head by halftime. Allen Hurns and T.J. Yeldon represent the next best options in the passing game. Neither guy was drafted to be your Week 1 starter so unless you are short-handed due to the MIA-TB bye keep them on the sideline.

HOU FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.30
HOU FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.19
HOU FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.28
HOU FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.30

Running Game Thoughts: The key to the entire offense is the Jacksonville ground game. Leonard Fournette is going to get the early down work with T.J. Yeldon getting time on passing downs. Fournette dealt with a left foot injury over the second half of the preseason but all signs point to him being a full go against Houston on Sunday. This game could easily become a defensive battle leading to plenty of touches and a solid RB2 type of day for the rookie. It might not happen more than once in this game, but the Jags may give Fournette the ball three or even four times if they get inside the five. Yeldon is only an option for PPR purposes as the few carries he sees probably won’t amount to much yardage against the Texans front seven.

Value Meter:
RB2: Leonard Fournette
Flex: Allen Robinson, T.J. Yeldon (PPR-only)
Bench: Blake Bortles, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee, Marcedes Lewis

Passing Game Thoughts: Houston needs Tom Savage to be a “game manager” type of quarterback and he should be effective in that role this week. Savage enters this game without a single touchdown pass to his name and the pressure of being the starting quarterback for the first time since college. He is going up against a young talented secondary that could easily force him into a few mistakes so the ceiling isn’t too high for fantasy purposes. Like Allen Robinson on the other side of the field, DeAndre Hopkins is trying to rebound from a subpar 2016 season. The outlook is similar – he should lead the team in targets, but will it be enough to make him anything more than a flex play? The quarterback situation should be better with Savage under center, but Hopkins didn’t score in either of his two games against the Jags last year despite seeing 30 targets. Jaelen Strong and C.J. Fiedorowicz will get worked into the passing game as well. Nevertheless, how many passes can fantasy owners really expect to see if the Texans lean on their rushing attack and defense to win this matchup? This is the same coaching staff that finished the 2016 regular season with the fourth fewest passing attempts in the NFL and still made the playoffs.

JAC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.28
JAC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.20
JAC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.27
JAC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.16

Running Game Thoughts: It’s a fresh start to the season and Lamar Miller owners can only hope he doesn’t wait until Week 6 to score his first touchdown again! Houston will feed him the ball early and often as they work try to take the pressure off Tom Savage. Miller’s workload makes him a solid bet to go over 100 yards rushing while adding a few receptions along the way. Even if he doesn’t score, there should be enough yards to make him a top ten fantasy option for Week 1. Rookie running back D’Onta Foreman and Tyler Ervin may see a few snaps but neither is a fantasy option this week.

Value Meter:
RB1: Lamar Miller
WR2: DeAndre Hopkins
TE1: C.J. Fiedorowicz
Bench: Tom Savage, Jaelen Strong, Braxton Miller, D’Onta Foreman, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin

Prediction: Texans 19, Jaguars 13 ^ Top

Raiders @ Titans - (Gordon)

Passing Game Thoughts: Derek Carr opens this season trying to build off a solid 2016 season. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are great targets out wide and DeAndre Washington and Jared Cook are more than capable of helping Carr perform well against last season’s second worst pass defense (tied with Packers and Panthers with 269.2 passing yards allowed per game). Even if Tennessee’s revamped secondary is better, Carr shouldn’t have any issues performing like a QB1 to open the 2017. Start both Cooper and Crabtree with confidence and keep an eye on Seth Roberts’ targets. Roberts isn’t a flex play for Week 1 but the third-year wideout could turn into a quality depth option for fantasy owners in deeper leagues if Carr takes this offense to the next level in 2017. Jared Cook is better in real life than in the fake game. He is coming into a new offense on a team full of better options, including near the goal line.

TEN FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.7
TEN FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.31
TEN FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.3
TEN FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.17

Running Game Thoughts: If you stuck your neck out to land Marshawn Lynch this season, you are certainly plugging him into your lineup this week with hopes that he will be the same guy he was before leaving the game after an abbreviated 2015 regular season. Oakland is not going to give him the ball 30 times a game but he may only need 15 touches behind this offensive line to produce steady RB2 numbers. He draws a favorable matchup and is probably the healthiest he will ever be this season so enjoy the ride while it lasts. With Lynch healthy neither DeAndre Washington nor Jalen Richard carry any fantasy appeal this week.

Value Meter:
QB1: Derek Carr
RB1: Marshawn Lynch
WR1: Amari Cooper
WR2: Michael Crabtree
Flex: None
Bench: Jared Cook, Seth Roberts, DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard

Passing Game Thoughts: The Raiders will try to put up points early to force the Titans to play catch up which is good for the Titans’ passing game this week. The addition of Eric Decker will make things easier for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Decker has been dealing with an ankle injury but returned to practice on Tuesday and is slated to start. His presence on the outside will help the Titans in the red zone and should give the rest of Tennessee’s pass catchers a little more room. This should help pad Mariota’s fantasy line but it means that Decker, Mathews and Delanie Walker will have to split up those stats. All are worth starting this week but predicting where the touchdowns may go is a crapshoot-especially with a running game that will get opportunities near the goal. Rookie wideout Corey Davis missed a large chunk of time this preseason with a hamstring injury. He has returned to practice and will see the field this weekend, however he is not quite ready to take on a full workload and is a risky play for Week 1.

OAK FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.6
OAK FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.9
OAK FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.17
OAK FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.8

Running Game Thoughts: The Titans have made the offense more well-rounded coming into 2017 but they are built around the rushing attack. Tennessee will try to use the rush to milk the clock and keep Oakland’s offense off the field. DeMarco Murray missed time this preseason with a hamstring injury but he returned to game action and is practicing without issue heading into this weekend. The coaching staff proved last season that they are not afraid to give DeMarco Murray a featured back role in this offense despite the fact they have a talented backup on their roster. Derrick Henry may become a factor later in the year but Murray has top five fantasy RB potential right out of the gate. It’s probably best to keep Henry on your bench this week but he remains a threat to vulture touchdowns this season.

Value Meter:
QB1: Marcus Mariota
RB1: DeMarco Murray
WR2: Rishard Matthews
TE1: Delanie Walker
Flex: Eric Decker
Bench: Derrick Henry, Corey Davis

Prediction: Raiders 28, Titans 24 ^ Top

Colts @ Rams - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Colts will start the season in unfamiliar situation with Scott Tolzien at quarterback. Tolzien came to Indianapolis in 2016 and started just one game, completing 22 of 36 pass attempts for 205 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. He also took three sacks and fumbled once in the 21-point blowout loss at home to the Steelers. While the 2017 Rams don’t have nearly the type of offensive firepower the Steelers do, it’s hard to imagine that this game is going to be substantially better for the Colts who really have not significantly improved anywhere on the offensive side of the ball. Receivers T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief remain in limbo with fantasy owners not having much confidence in the quarterback situation. Even tight end Jack Doyle, who would seemingly benefit from a less experienced QB as a checkdown option, doesn’t look particularly appealing at the moment. Doyle was targeted just twice in the game Tolzien started in 2016 while Hilton was targeted just five times. However, if you’re looking for a silver lining as a Moncrief owner, he was the recipient of 10 targets, six of which he caught, including the Colts’ only touchdown of the day.

LAR FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.11
LAR FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.16
LAR FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.7
LAR FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.25

Running Game Thoughts: One of the most perennially disrespected names in all of fantasy football, Frank Gore finished as a low-end RB1 in 2016, but is once again being drafted outside of RB2 range in many leagues heading into this season. Gore’s numbers are certainly far from flashy, but his consistency has been hard to deny, even on a team that is not particularly talented. While the injury to Luck would theoretically mean that the Colts are going to rely more on the run this week, the Rams also know this will likely be the scenario. With Tolzien unlikely to be able to exploit holes left open in the passing game by stacking the box, look for the Rams to send the house after Gore on just about every down. Gore had his worst fantasy day of the 2016 in the one game that Luck missed. It’s hard to predict touchdowns but with only four on the season in 2016 and facing a quietly tough Rams defense, it’s hard to have much hope for big numbers from Gore here in Week 1. There is one positive note for Gore, however, and it’s that superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald is expected to miss this week’s game amid a contract holdout. Donald is widely considered to be the best interior defensive lineman in all of football and it’s a big relief for the mediocre Colts offensive line that they will not have to deal with him on every down.

Value Meter:
WR2: T.Y. Hilton
Flex: Frank Gore, Donte Moncrief
Bench: Scott Tolzien, Robert Turbin, Jack Doyle, Kamar Aiken

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s fair to say that the rookie season for 2016 No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff did not go nearly as smoothly as the team had hoped. Things were so bad that many analysts are already completely writing him off as having even the potential to be a decent NFL quarterback. In 2017, the Rams have done their best to give their young QB a chance. They added the top two options in the Buffalo passing game from a season ago, Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, while also drafting a supremely efficient slot receiver in Cooper Kupp who has already impressed this preseason. While none of that has materialized into Goff suddenly looking like a star behind center, the hope is that these players will eventually get some chemistry going which will back defenses off and allow the team to do what they’re more built to do - run the football. The Rams will also get a bit of a break here in Week 1 as the Colts will be without perhaps their best defensive player, cornerback Vontae Davis, who will miss the game with a groin injury. That strongly benefits Watkins who may be getting his best matchup this season, at least on paper, against this weak Indianapolis secondary.

IND FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.10
IND FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.6
IND FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.19
IND FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.10

Running Game Thoughts: Todd Gurley was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2016 fantasy season, but there is hope for him here in Week 1 against a bad Indianapolis defense that finished in the bottom ten in fantasy points given up to opposing running backs in 2016. The Colts seemed helpless at times against the run, having given up 10 games of 100-or-more rushing yards to opposing backfields. With Indianapolis unlikely to put up enough points on the board to pull away in this game, look for the Rams to lean heavily on Todd Gurley, perhaps even getting out to a lead themselves allowing Gurley the opportunity at a high-end RB1 performance. The matchups don’t get much better than this, so if Gurley is going to have the bounceback season that many predict, he’ll likely get started on it here in Week 1.

Value Meter:
QB2: Jared Goff (low-end)
RB1: Todd Gurley
WR2: Sammy Watkins
Flex: Cooper Kupp
Bench: Tavon Austin, Robert Woods, Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett

Prediction: Rams 24, Colts 17 ^ Top

Panthers @ 49ers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: After an MVP season in 2015, it’s safe to say that Cam Newton’s 2016 season was a huge letdown not just from a fantasy standpoint, but also from the standpoint of the Carolina Panthers franchise. While Newton was certainly bad, it’s worth considering that he also has one of the safest jobs in all of football and he’s now reportedly healthy and without restriction heading into a Week 1 matchup against a less-than-stellar San Francisco defense. The Panthers added a few new playmakers on offense this off-season, including running back Christian McCaffery who is known for his pass catching ability and wide receiver Curtis Samuel. Newton’s best asset for fantasy owners remains his legs, which might actually be improved now that the QB has worked on his own conditioning which has led to him trimming down to around 245 lbs - the lowest playing weight of his pro career. Wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess are expected to start out wide but neither has shown much of an ability to put up fantasy points aside from a touchdown here or there. The real target in this offense remains tight end Greg Olsen who has is an elite option at the position in just about any matchup.

SF FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.13
SF FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.1
SF FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.4
SF FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.15

Running Game Thoughts: All the fantasy hype in this backfield is surrounding rookie running back Christian McCaffery who is expected to have a significant role in the offense starting in Week 1. McCaffery showed some serious explosiveness against NFL defenses this preseason and his skill set is undeniable as a potentially huge fantasy asset especially in PPR formats. McCaffery may need some time to work into the team’s base offense, but expect the Panthers to draw up at least a few plays specifically designed to get him the ball in space in this game. Still, despite the well-deserved praise that McCaffery has received, the Panthers remain diligent in their assertion that Jonathan Stewart will remain the team’s “starting” running back, at least early in the season. Stewart has been underwhelming as a fantasy contributor for quite some time, but there is reason to be optimistic that he could at least be the beneficiary of some goal line work against bad defenses like the one they face here in Week 1. The 49ers gave up the most fantasy points to opposing running backs in the entire league this past season - and by a wide margin. They gave up a whopping 27 total touchdowns to the position and over 2,300 rushing yards - over 300 more than any other team. Sure, the 49ers will have some key pieces back on defense, but the core unit here is not very good. Both Stewart and McCaffery have to be considered potential fantasy assets going into Week 1, but both will also vulture opportunities from the other, making them risky plays until we see how their usage shakes out.

Value Meter:
QB1: Cam Newton
RB2: Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Stewart (low-end)
WR2: Kelvin Benjamin
Flex: Devin Funchess
TE1: Greg Olsen
Bench: Curtis Samuel

Passing Game Thoughts: The name Brian Hoyer doesn’t exactly scream excitement for fantasy owners, but there is reason for optimism in this San Francisco passing game that has been dreadful for the past few seasons. Hoyer himself hasn’t put up particularly great numbers throughout his career, but what he has done is been able to get the ball to his team’s top target, including DeAndre Hopkins during his breakout season of 2015. Hoyer has looked surprisingly good this preseason and he seems to be locked in with top receiver Pierre Garcon who also joined the team this off-season. The Panthers gave up the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers in 2016 and without another proven target on the roster, Garcon looks to be in line for a potentially huge workload in Week 1 and throughout the season as a whole.

CAR FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.9
CAR FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.27
CAR FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.10
CAR FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.2

Running Game Thoughts: Running back Carlos Hyde’s average draft position has been all over the place. Rumors that he could be a surprise cut from the roster circulated about a month ago and while that didn’t happen, it did enough to drop Hyde down fantasy boards to the point that he became a value in just about every league. Rookie running back Joe Williams was supposedly “Kyle Shanahan’s guy” according to some beat writers, but Williams was placed on IR with an ankle injury which certainly locks Hyde in as the feature back in the 49ers offense. Rookie Matt Breida is expected to step in as the primary backup, but he won’t be utilized much, especially in Week 1 as he continues to learn the playbook and his role in pass protection. Hyde is suddenly one of the safer picks in all of fantasy football and while his name doesn’t bring much excitement, there is reason to be optimistic that teams won’t be able to stack the box to stop him quite as much this season as they have in recent years. The Panthers are a middle-of-the-road run defense and Luke Kuechly will certainly be keyed in in Hyde, but Hyde has traditionally performed well early in seasons, so there’s a real possibility that he puts in some nice work for his fantasy owners this week.

Value Meter:
QB2: Brian Hoyer
RB1: Carlos Hyde (low-end)
WR2: Pierre Garcon
Bench: Matt Breida, Kyle Juszczyk, Marquise Goodwin, George Kittle

Prediction: Panthers 27, 49ers 20 ^ Top

Chargers @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Chargers have done their best to load quarterback Philip Rivers up with plenty of targets in the passing game this season. Unfortunately, the team’s first round draft pick, wide receiver Mike Williams, is expected to miss Week 1 with a back injury that has kept him out much of the preseason. Still, the team does have a plethora of weapons at their disposal, including the now healthy Keenan Allen who has been Rivers’ favorite target when he’s been on the field since he came into the league. The unfortunate thing is that we might not see this offense clicking at full speed as they’ll be up against perhaps the best secondary in all of football, the Denver Broncos. The Broncos held Rivers to just 445 yards passing with three touchdowns, while intercepting him three times in the two games these teams played in 2016. Rivers has struggled against this defense for quite some time and while the Chargers have attempted to make improvements to their offensive line this off-season, it’s hard to believe that the new unit will be ready to take on a pass rush as good as the one that the Broncos will trot out in Week 1. Rivers always has the potential to put up nice numbers but this is perhaps the toughest matchup on his entire schedule - stay away if you have other similar options.

DEN FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.32
DEN FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.13
DEN FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.32
DEN FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.18

Running Game Thoughts: After not scoring a single touchdown as a rookie in 2015, Melvin Gordon got into the end zone an impressive 12 times in 13 games in 2016. Now fully entrenched as the team’s feature back, Gordon has been trusted as a first round fantasy pick in many leagues, making him a hugely important piece of the fantasy puzzle here in Week 1. Gordon performed admirably in both games he played against the Broncos in 2016, rushing for a total of 205 yards in those contests while adding 65 yards as a receiver and scoring one touchdown. While the Broncos secondary is dominant, their run defense took a big step back last season, as they fell from 7th-fewest fantasy points given up to opposing running backs in 2015 down to 18th in 2016. With Rivers being prone to turnovers in his elder years, look for the Chargers to attempt to control this game on the ground by feeding Gordon early and often, even incorporating him in the passing game a bit. He’s a strong RB1 play.

Value Meter:
QB2: Philip Rivers
RB1: Melvin Gordon
WR2: Keenan Allen
TE1: Hunter Henry
Bench: Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Branden Oliver, Antonio Gates

Passing Game Thoughts: Seemingly the default winner of the starting quarterback job in Denver, Trevor Siemian will begin his third season as a pro at home against a division rival that he threw just one touchdown against in two games in 2016. The Chargers are quietly - like Denver - one of the league’s best pass rushing teams and that does not help a young quarterback with a limited skill set like Siemian. He does not have a history of performing well while under pressure, so look for the Chargers to bring the heat on him as often as possible. Los Angeles, then San Diego, also quietly led the NFL in interceptions forced in 2016, which is certainly a result of their tremendous pass rush. The Vegas odds indicate that this may be one of the lowest-scoring games of the week, which could mean a tough day for wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders who both struggled against the Chargers in 2016. Neither player caught a touchdown in either contest and they both failed to reach even 80 yards receiving in either game. The positive is that the Broncos still don’t really have other viable options in their passing game so we at least know who the targets are going to, but neither Broncos receiver offers a whole lot of upside in this difficult matchup.

LAC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.14
LAC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.8
LAC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.25
LAC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.21

Running Game Thoughts: After a disappointing 2015 season, C.J. Anderson had been all but written off as a major fantasy asset heading into the 2016 season. Justin Forsett was supposedly going to take his job, then it was Devontae Booker. While both of those players did get touches early in 2016, it was Anderson who dominated the backfield, quietly scoring five touchdowns in his first five games, including two 90-plus yard rushing days, prior to being knocked out for the season with an injury. Anderson is not an inspiring name on paper, but with Booker out this week and only an aged Jamaal Charles pushing him for carries, Anderson is a safe bet to get a good number of touches on a week-to-week basis. He’ll have a nice matchup here in Week 1 against a Los Angeles defense that gave up the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs in 2016. Anderson himself did not fare particularly well on the ground in the one game he played against the Chargers, but he was able to salvage his fantasy day by making some plays in the passing game. Former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy is now calling the plays in Denver so look for him to exploit what he knows to be a not-so-great run defense.

Value Meter:
RB1: C.J. Anderson (low-end)
WR2: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders (low-end)
Bench: Trevor Siemian, Jamaal Charles

Prediction: Denver 24, Los Angeles Chargers 20 ^ Top

Ravens at Bengals - (Krueger)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Ravens had more pass attempts than any team last season but that didn’t translate to fantasy success for Joe Flacco who finished as a mid-range QB2. His two games against the Bengals were both yawners, finishing as the QB28 in Week 12 and QB25 in Week 17. Sure, Jeremy Maclin is in the mix and Mike Wallace is a respectable outside threat but do we really expect a significant change in the passing game? It’s a hard sell especially given Flacco’s tight end security blanket (Dennis Pitta) is out of football and no obvious replacement has come forward. Throw in the fact the Flacco described his back condition this week as “not ideal, but I feel good now” and you’ve got a recipe for another low-end QB2 finish. Ohh by the way, Flacco has thrown 16 TDs and 21 INTs in his career against Cincinnati. Avoid the Ravens passing game this week if possible.

CIN FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.19
CIN FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.17
CIN FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.31
CIN FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.4

Running Game Thoughts: The Ravens have chirped this off-season about being committed to the running game and they might have to do just that given the state of Flacco’s balky back. Terrance West will get first crack at making some fantasy noise but it’s difficult to get excited about a pedestrian talent that’s averaging 3.9 yards per carry in his career. Danny Woodhead has missed some time during training camp so it’s difficult to imagine him being at full strength. That being said, he should fit in well in an offense that makes a habit of dumping off the running backs making him a viable Flex play in PPR leagues. The Bengals haven’t allowed a Ravens’ running back to crack 50 rushing yards since Justin Forsett pulled it off Week 1 of 2014. Kenneth Dixon (knee) did manage to find the endzone during their Week 17 matchup last season which is a small sample size reminder that the Ravens best running back is out for the year.

Value Meter:
QB2: Joe Flacco
Flex: Terrance West, Danny Woodhead (PPR), Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace
Bench: Ben Watson, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams

Passing Game Thoughts: Andy Dalton and the Bengals passing attacked ranked in the bottom third in passing attempts last season and didn’t fare too well against the Ravens with only two passing TDs in two games. With only 18 TDs a season ago, Dalton is likely due for some positive TD regression it may not come in this contest with a low Vegas total (42.5) and against a defense that allowed only three 300-yard passers a season ago. On the positive side, there is A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert who both have a nose for the endzone but only saw the field together three times in 2016. Having both to start the season should prove beneficial for Dalton who might just want to force-feed Green who has 604 yards and 6 TDs in his last five games against the Ravens.

BAL FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.21
BAL FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.26
BAL FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.12
BAL FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.24

Running Game Thoughts: Joe Mixon has been elevated to the No.1 running back role by fantasy owners ever since April, however the team will trot out Jeremy Hill to start when the Bengals take the field against the Ravens. You can also expect Giovani Bernard to see action and while Mixon should rise to lead this running back group at some point, his owners might be a little disappointed with his Week 1 production. The three-headed running back monster will be going up against a defense that gave up the 7th fewest fantasy points to running backs last season allowing only 8 rushing TDs. That being said, the running game should have plenty of opportunities in game the Bengals figure to win at home against a banged up Joe Flacco. Cincinnati has taken six of the last seven matchups in this series.

Value Meter:
QB2: Andy Dalton (high-end)
RB2: Jeremy Hill, Joe Mixon
WR1: A.J. Green
TE1: Tyler Eifert
Bench: Brandon LaFell, Giovani Bernard, Tyler Boyd, John Ross

Prediction: Bengals 26, Ravens 20 ^ Top

Cardinals at Lions - (Krueger)

Passing Game Thoughts: Carson Palmer was a nice target for those employing a late-round QB approach in drafts. Why? His early-season schedule seems favorable with games against the Colts, Cowboys, 49ers, Eagles all before a Week 8 bye. Included, of course, is Sunday’s matchup against the Lions who allowed the 5th most fantasy points to quarterbacks last season and is dealing numerous injuries on the defensive side of the ball. The Cardinals should feature Larry Fitzgerald on short-to-intermediate routes with the occasional deep ball look to John and Jaron Brown. Fitzgerald is likely to run routes from the slot where the Lions are most vulnerable John Brown has dealt with a quad injury during the pre-season and will constantly battle his sickle-cell trait issue but is expected to play in this game and makes for an interesting Flex option.

DET FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.5
DET FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.22
DET FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.14
DET FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.5

Running Game Thoughts: The overall number one pick in the majority of fantasy leagues was David Johnson and for good reason. He racked up 20 TDs, 80 receptions and scored more fantasy points than any other running back, wide receiver or tight end. He’s obviously in your starting lineup so let’s move on. The Cardinals decided to part ways with veteran Chris Johnson during final cuts leaving Kerwynn Williams as backup behind David Johnson. Williams will have no stand-alone value as Johnson is one of the true workhorse running backs in the league. The Lions were decent against fantasy running backs last year, giving up only 5 rushing touchdowns to the position. That being sad, David Johnson is closest thing we have to being matchup proof, so the Lions metrics against running backs don’t matter much.

Value Meter:
QB1: Carson Palmer
RB1: David Johnson
WR2: Larry Fitzgerald
Flex: John Brown
Bench: Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Jermaine Gresham

Passing Game Thoughts: The Lions offensive philosophy revolves around Matthew Stafford throwing short-to-intermediate passes to the likes of Golden Tate and running back Theo Riddick. It served the Lions well last season, allowing Stafford to throw a career-low 10 INTs and making Stafford a fantasy QB1 in the process. However, Stafford did most of fantasy work against suspect defenses like Indianapolis, Green Bay, New Orleans and Green Bay again racking up 1413 yards and 10 TDs in those four games. He didn’t fare as well against tougher competition, something he’ll be faced with this Sunday. The Cardinals have given Stafford fits over the years and don’t forget they led the league in sacks (48) last season. Arizona will miss LB/S Deone Bucannon (ankle), so perhaps the Lions will look to pick on rookie Haasan Reddick with their quick running back tandem of Riddick and Ameer Abdullah. One note, it appears rookie Kenny Golladay (ankle) and T.J. Jones will be sharing the No.3 receiver spot this week, throwing a wet blanked on the pre-season Golladay hype train.

ARI FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.20
ARI FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.32
ARI FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.6
ARI FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.32

Running Game Thoughts: Speaking of Abdullah, he’s a player to watch this week after missing the majority of 2016 with a foot injury. The Lions suggested that a 200-carry season is a possibility as Detroit’s lead back should he remain healthy. We have to remember the Lions are a pass-first team so Abdullah’s ceiling is a RB2. We also know Theo Riddick will see a good chunk of third-down work and makes for a nice PPR Flex play… I think. Riddick saw at least 4 receptions in nine of his ten games played last year, averaging 5.3 receptions per contest but the Cardinals were down right stingy against running backs last giving up the fewest fantasy points to the position, including a minuscule 385 receiving yards to RBs, easily the best in the league. If you have similar options for your flex spot, you might consider leaving Riddick on your bench.

Value Meter:
QB2: Matthew Stafford
RB2: Ameer Abdullah
WR2: Golden Tate
Flex: Theo Riddick (PPR)
TE2: Eric Ebron (hamstring)
Bench: Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, T.J. Jones

Prediction: Lions 24, Cardinals 21 ^ Top

Falcons at Bears - (Krueger)

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s hard to fathom Matt Ryan repeating his QB3 performance from last when he tossed 38 TDs and nearly threw for 5000 yards. Regression is coming but it doesn’t have to start this week. It appears he’ll have a relatively easy time of it against a ho-hum Bears team that lacks offensive firepower to keep up the Falcons. Ryan will have familiar faces to toss the rock to including Julio Jones, Mohamad Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and hype-train TE Austin Hooper but a new offensive coordinator (Steve Sarkisian) could upset the balance and flow Kyle Shanahan had built… we will see. The Bears defense is probably a little underrated and actually performed well against fantasy QBs last season allowing only Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and Jameis Winston to beat them for more than 300 yards. They also had respectable outings against Jordy Nelson (W7, 1-9), Allen Robinson (Wk6, 3-49) and Odell Beckham Jr. (Wk11, 5-46). I’m not expecting the Falcons offense to lay an egg, but it might not be the cakewalk you might think.

CHI FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.22
CHI FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.12
CHI FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.20
CHI FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.22

Running Game Thoughts: Much like the passing, it will be interesting see how new OC Steve Sarkisian utilizes Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. It sounds like he’s doing his best to not mess with the system already in place and prefers to run an up-tempo style. Check and check for fantasy owners of Freeman and Coleman. Regardless of their usage, their high efficiency last season will be difficult to duplicate, especially Coleman who averaged an insane 13.6 yards per reception and scoring 11 times on only 149 touches. Freeman battled a concussion issue during the preseason but has returned to practice and good to go against a Bears defense that had some trouble stopping the run a year ago even allowing Rashad Jennings a 21-85-1, 5-44 line.

Value Meter:
QB1: Matt Ryan
RB2: Devonta Freeman
WR1: Julio Jones
Flex: Tevin Coleman
TE2: Austin Hooper
Bench: Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bears were dealt a serious blow to their passing game in Week 3 of the preseason when WR Cameron Meredith tore his ACL. In his place, Kevin White will become the defacto No.1 option for Mike Glennon and eventually Mitchell Trubiksy. Glennon will also be looking for Kendall Wright who won the slot receiving role over Victor Cruz. Wright could see have a renaissance season patrolling the middle of the field and could be heavily used this week as likely won’t see much of Falcons DB Desmond Trufant. Deonte Thompson figures to be on the outside opposite of White but it’s difficult to project any fantasy value for him, given the below average play at the QB position and of the offense as a whole. It should be noted that Atlanta allowed the most fantasy points to quarterbacks and the 13th-most to wide receivers last season but it’s hard to imagine the Bears capitalizing given the lack of firepower in their receiving corps.

ATL FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.1
ATL FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.10
ATL FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.13
ATL FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.7

Running Game Thoughts: The running game in Chicago starts and stops with Jordan Howard, but rookie Tarik Cohen is starting to make some noise and is someone worth watching early in the season to see how his role develops. For now, he’s considered a change-of-pace back but could push for a bigger role as the season rolls along. Benny Cunningham was signed this off-season and could see some work on third downs, reducing Howard’s value especially in PPR leagues. The Falcons gave up the 10th most fantasy points to running back last season thanks in part to 6 receiving TDs and the most receiving yards allowed (870) to the position. Tarik Cohen anyone?

Value Meter:
QB2: Mike Glennon
RB1: Jordan Howard
WR2: Kendall Wright
WR3: Kevin White
Flex: Tarik Cohen
TE2: Zach Miller
Bench: Deonte Thompson

Prediction: Falcons 27, Bears 23 ^ Top

Jets at Bills - (Katz)

Passing Game Thoughts: It just dawned upon me that I am going to have to find encouraging things to say about the Jets’ passing offense all season. This is going to be a challenge. Let’s start with Josh McCown, the least terrible of the Jets trio of terrible QBs. McCown was once good for a handful of games in 2013 when he had the likes of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to throw to. This Sunday, he gets Robby Anderson and Ardarius Stewart. Anderson has flashed downfield ability and plays bigger than his size, but he’s not a true number one wide receiver. Stewart, or whoever lines up opposite of Anderson, is just a disaster. The Jets are essentially rolling out third and fourth wide receivers as their starters. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is probably their most talented pass catcher, but he’s suspended for the first two games. The Bills’ defense is one of the best streamer plays of Week 1 because, as will be a theme this season, you’re going to want the defense facing the Jets.

BUF FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.25
BUF FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.4
BUF FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.22
BUF FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.28

Running Game Thoughts: Matt Forte actually looked alright in his limited preseason action after missing the early portion of August with various ailments stemming from being old. Forte will be a nuisance for Bilal Powell’s value, but Powell is still the only truly relevant member of this entire offense. Powell should be the passing down back and see the majority of the carries. Forte may steal red zone touches, which is a reversal of how he was handled back when he was good, but that’s not much of a concern since this team might break records for touchdown futility. With a dearth of effective pass catchers, Powell could legitimately lead this team in targets as McCown elects to dump the ball off over and over again. Forte is unlikely to see enough work/stay healthy in order to be useful.

Value Meter:
RB2: Bilal Powell
Flex: Robby Anderson
Bench: Josh McCown, Matt Forte, Jermaine Kearse, Jeremy Kerley, Austin Seferian-Jenkins (suspended)

Passing Game Thoughts: Tyrod Taylor certainly played well enough last year to enter this season without having any concerns for his job. Then he went and looked about as bad as possible in the preseason, culminating with a game three concussion. Nate Peterman is not particularly talented, but NFL teams seem to have an affinity for the devil you don’t know. Taylor remains the starter for now and will do something he’s all too familiar with – operate without Sammy Watkins. This time, it’s permanent. His No.1 wide receiver will very likely be rookie Zay Jones as Jordan Matthews may need a little more time to recover from a chip fracture in his sternum. It is unlikely we will know JMatt’s status prior to the publishing of this article so be sure to keep an eye on the injury report, which is the cleanest it will be all season. If Matthews plays, it will likely be at less than 100% and he shouldn’t need to start for you in Week 1. Jones is not an option regardless. I would just avoid this passing game altogether, even against the clearly tanking Jets.

NYJ FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.17
NYJ FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.15
NYJ FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.16
NYJ FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.9

Running Game Thoughts: The player you most certainly don’t want to avoid is LeSean McCoy. The Bills have made one thing abundantly clear: they are going to ride Shady until the wheels fall off. The Bills have essentially rid themselves of any modicum of a contingency plan behind McCoy. They let Mike Gillislee walk in free agency and did not sign a true replacement, which we presumed was because they viewed Jonathan Williams as that guy. Oops. Williams was sent packing during final cuts. If McCoy were to go down, there is no answer. Mike Tolbert? Joe Banyard? McCoy is going to see a ton of volume and this game against the Jets projects for a lot of positive game script. I can’t imagine the Bills will ever be in a situation where they need to throw to catch up. McCoy is a lock for over 20 touches and is a clear elite RB1 play. He could be in line for the best year of his career if he can somehow stay healthy.

Value Meter:
RB1: LeSean McCoy (high end)
Bench: Tyrod Taylor, Mike Tolbert, Jordan Matthews (chest), Zay Jones, Charles Clay

Prediction: Bills 24, Jets 16 ^ Top

Eagles at Redskins - (Katz)

Passing Game Thoughts: Carson Wentz is coming off an inefficient rookie campaign where he was thrust into the starting role shortly before the season began. In his defense, Jordan Matthews was banged up for much of the season and Nelson Agholor spent way too much time on the field. On the other hand, no one forced Wentz to actually throw the ball to Agholor. Let’s get Agholor out of the way right now. If you drafted him, shame on you. Moving on. The Eagles’ biggest offseason moves were acquiring Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and then later trading away Matthews. Jeffery has been an elite producer when on the field, but his history of soft tissue injuries and his four-game PED suspension last year are anything but encouraging. He is also going to see a lot of Josh Norman this week. Smith is a downfield burner but hasn’t been fantasy relevant since 2014 and it remains to be seen what kind of rapport he has with Wentz. Zach Ertz is coming off of a PPR TE3 finish and will operate as Wentz’s second target in the passing game behind Jeffery. Ertz should have a high weekly floor and should be just fine against Washington’s decidedly average pass defense.

WAS FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.15
WAS FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.5
WAS FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.18
WAS FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.11

Running Game Thoughts: This backfield is a mess. It’s kind of like the Patriots backfield, except without the talent. No disrespect to Darren Sproles, who still stands to be the most productive member of this backfield, but at 34 years old, he is nothing but a bye week flier. LeGarrette Blount led the league in rushing TDs last season (18) but that was likely a product of New England’s offense over his talent. Now in Philly, he will see fewer red zone opportunities and more runs out of the shotgun, where he does not excel. Wendell Smallwood is “just a guy.” As coach Doug Pederson said, this will be a week-to-week RBBC making it difficult for fantasy owners to be confident in any players value. The Redskins were fifth worst against opposing running backs last year, but even if the Eagles get something going on the ground, we have no way of knowing whether it will be Sproles or Smallwood; or Blount falling into the end zone from inside the five yard line. This will be a situation to avoid.

Value Meter:
WR2: Alshon Jeffery (low end due of Josh Norman)
TE1: Zach Ertz (should see double digit targets)
Bench: Torrey Smith, Darren Sproles, LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood

Passing Game Thoughts: Kirk Cousins is coming off a QB5 finish where he let the Redskins know that they need him. Nevertheless, he was not given an extension and will play another year under the franchise tag. Cousins is as good as gone after the season and you bet he wants to stick it to the Redskins in the process. The first team offense looked pathetic in the preseason, but all that matters is that everyone is currently healthy – specifically Jordan Reed. After missing practice time and the first two preseason games with a toe injury, Reed returned in Week 3 of the preseason and looked every bit like the TE that has led the league in FPts/G over the past two seasons. Reed is a WR1 in the TE position for as long as he can stay healthy.

The Redskins’ biggest off-season acquisition was signing Terrelle Pryor away from Cleveland. Pryor is arguably the best pure athlete in the NFL right now. His ability to transition from borderline CFL level quarterback to polished wide receiver is astounding. He runs crisp routes and has the size and athleticism to make big plays downfield. He managed to achieve a 1,000-yard season in Cleveland where he might as well have been receiving passes from Bo Callahan (that’s a Draft Day movie reference for those that may be confused). If Pryor can develop a quick rapport with Cousins, his ceiling is as high as anyone’s. There’s no reason he can’t be the Spock to Captain Kirk. Last, but not least, we have Jamison Crowder, last year’s WR38 by average PPR FPts/G. Yeah, he wasn’t nearly as good as everyone thinks. He did post double-digit fantasy points in 11 games last season, though. If he didn’t get to double digits, he didn’t top 6.5 fantasy points. With an every-down role heading into this season, he should have a stable weekly floor. Josh Doctson is irrelevant until further notice.

PHI FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.23
PHI FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.21
PHI FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.2
PHI FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.31

Running Game Thoughts: Rob Kelley is the clear starter entering this season, but that doesn’t mean he should be starting for you. Kelley’s athleticism is questionable at best. If teams were doing a “fantasy draft” a la Madden franchise mode style, Kelley probably wouldn’t go in the top 75. But in fantasy, situation and opportunity trump talent…as long as the situation and opportunity exist. For Week 1, Kelley has the main running back role. After taking over the starting role from Matt Jones in Week 8 last season, Kelley managed just a single 100-plus yard rushing game - Week 11 game at Green Bay where he also scored three TDs. He caught just 12 passes all season and will cede considerable snaps to Chris Thompson, especially if this game becomes a shootout or if the Redskins fall behind. Kelley is almost entirely dependent on touchdowns to produce and the Eagles only allowed nine rushing touchdowns to opposing RBs all of last season. The Redskins drafted Samaje Perine, who is capable as both a pass catcher and a pass blocker. He can be a three-down back. It is only a matter of time before his superior talent starts eating into Kelley’s workload until the roles inevitably swap. For Week 1, Kelley is still the guy. However, he’s just not good enough or consistent enough to rely on.

Value Meter:
QB1: Kirk Cousins (low end)
WR2: Terrelle Pryor (mid-range)
TE1: Jordan Reed (high end)
Flex: Jamison Crowder, Rob Kelley
Bench: Samaje Perine, Chris Thompson, Josh Doctson

Prediction: Redskins 26, Eagles 22 ^ Top

Giants at Cowboys - (Katz)

Passing Game Thoughts: Eli Manning did enough in both contests last year to beat the Cowboys, the only two real losses of the Cowboys’ season (Dallas rested everyone week 17). Since last year, the Giants have added Brandon Marshall via free agency and Evan Engram via the draft. Marshall looked to be quite done last season, but knowing Marshall’s history, it’s fair to consider he may not have been giving full effort given his situation with the Jets. I am not a believer in the 33 year-old, but I acknowledge that he could be a red zone force and be a touchdown dependent WR3. Of course, that man could also be E-Double (my nickname for Evan Engram). Engram’s athleticism is off the charts. Granted, he’s probably cheating because he’s really a WR masquerading as a TE, but that doesn’t matter for us in fantasy. Engram is a matchup nightmare for slower and smaller linebackers. He could be the rare rookie that makes an immediate impact at the position and could be particularly important if Odell Beckham either misses the game or plays at far less than 100%. Beckham sprained his ankle after Ben McAdoo inexplicably decided that Beckham needed to play into the second quarter of their meaningless second preseason game. Beckham has done light work in practice, but officially has been a DNP through Thursday. He is going to be listed as questionable on the official injury report and is going to present a real problem for fantasy owners. If he steps on the field Sunday night, you probably can’t sit him. If I were a Beckham owner, I would hope he just sits because there is no way he will be fully healed by Sunday. At less than 100%, he could largely be a decoy. Make sure you have a contingency plan in place in the form of Sterling Shepard, Cole Beasley, or someone playing in either Monday night game just in case Beckham can’t go. For what it’s worth, I do not think Beckham plays.

DAL FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.16
DAL FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.29
DAL FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.23
DAL FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.3

Running Game Thoughts: The Giants don’t really have a running game. Their offensive line is still below average and Paul Perkins has yet prove he’s capable of being a lead running back. I’m predicting a full on Shane Vereen-Orleans Darkwa backfield by week 4 or 5. They are just better at every aspect of football than Perkins. Vereen had taken the starting job last year before his momentum was derailed by a torn triceps muscle. Ultimately, I have to believe the Giants are going to do whatever they need to do in order to try and win this game. If that means throwing the ball a lot, then that’s what they will do. That means a lot of Vereen. The Cowboys’ elite stats against opposing RBs last year were admittedly inflated by their ball control style and constantly having leads, but the fact remains that opposing RBs struggled leaving Perkins with very little room to succeed. Vereen could be a sneaky RB2 PPR play and it’s only a matter of time before he’s the main guy in the backfield.

Value Meter:
WR2: Odell Beckham Jr. (if he plays, start him, but temper expectations)
Flex: Brandon Marshall, Shane Vereen
TE2: Evan Engram (with TE1 upside)
Bench: Eli Manning, Paul Perkins, Sterling Shepard

Passing Game Thoughts: Will the Cowboys finish with the best record in the NFC again? To that I say, “we’re going Dak to Dak!” The Cowboys luckboxed their way into a true franchise QB last year when their efforts to acquire Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook failed, forcing them to “settle” for Prescott. All Prescott did was win rookie of the year and come within a hair of the NFC Championship game. However, he did struggle in both of his games against the Giants last season. Two of his four interceptions came in the second game and he threw just one touchdown. He had 20 fantasy points or more in all but three games – two of which were against the Giants. One difference this year is that he will have a healthy Dez Bryant at his disposal. Bryant’s numbers against the Giants last year: two catches for eighteen yards on 14 targets across both games. He wasn’t fully healthy in the second game, but there was no excuse for the first one. He will see a lot of Janoris Jenkins Sunday night so this might be a tough opener for Bryant. Jason Witten and Cole Beasley are poised to lead the Cowboys in receiving as Prescott eats them up underneath. Witten saw 21 targets across two games against the Giants last year. He can still get open. I think we see more of an open/classic style Cowboys-Giants game as opposed to the low scoring versions we got last year.

NYG FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.31
NYG FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.28
NYG FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.26
NYG FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.14

Running Game Thoughts: As I expected all along, Ezekiel Elliott is playing Week 1. By the time you read this, we will probably know Zeke’s fate for the rest of the season, but regardless, he will be out there against the Giants. Expect him to handle all the touches he can, including increased usage in the passing game. The Giants were excellent against opposing RBs last year and were actually responsible for Elliott’s two lowest scoring games of the season. With that being said, volume is king and the Cowboys still have an elite offensive line. You may only have Zeke for one week before you lose him for the next six. You are riding him with confidence.

Value Meter:
QB1: Dak Prescott (low end)
RB1: Ezekiel Elliott (high end)
WR2: Dez Bryant
TE1: Jason Witten
Flex: Cole Beasley (PPR only)
Bench: Terrance Williams, Darren McFadden

Prediction: Cowboys 30, Giants 24 ^ Top