Week 1 is in the books. Cleveland is off to their best start since 2004, Nathan Peterman still has not finished a game that he started, the Dolphins and Titans played the longest game in NFL history thanks to sun-filled lightning delays, and Aaron Rodgers was about as Aaron Rodgers-y as physically possible. Oh, and the Saints got beaten down by a yeti.
You know, typical week in the NFL.
It also means that reality came crashing down on the fantasy football world. Studs busted, nobodies became stars, and half of you are now one step closer to a championship title while the other half have front row seats to the most exciting waiver wire week of the year. Regardless of where you stand, this is only the beginning; the season is long, and the road to the playoffs treacherous.
That’s where I come in. Every week we’ll be identifying backups you need to start, studs you need to be cautious about, and some high risk-high reward players for those of you feeling lucky. Who to start and who to sit; that is the question.
I realize the Ravens are fresh off an absolute beatdown of the Bills, but come on; they’re the Bills. There are probably a few college teams that could beat them. Instead, think back to week 17 last season when none other than the backup Tyler (Kroft) lit up the Ravens D to the tune of 6/53/2. This wasn’t an isolated incident last season either; the Ravens routinely gave up big games to opposing tight ends. It’s a new year so perhaps the Ravens learned from their past mistakes, but given that it’s been a few years since A. J. Green made any sort of real dent against this secondary the opportunity is there for Eifert.
Looking back to last season, the Redskins have one glaring weakness; they can’t defend over the middle. Slot receivers and tight ends don’t necessarily gash them, but it’s not much prettier. Heck, Rhett Ellison had himself a good week against the ‘Skins last year (yes, it’s OK to look him up). As Luck would have it, the Colts have two tight ends to watch out for. Look for a solid encore to Ebron’s 4/51/1 line from last week.
Side notes: Jack Doyle should also have a good game, but I expect that most people were starting him anyway. Also, I’m not apologizing for the Andrew Luck pun. In fact, this won’t be the last you’ve heard of them.
Enunwa showed up on the fantasy radar last week with a solid 6/63/1 line against a respectable Lions secondary. He’s clearly a favorite security blanket for rookie Sam Darnold, and has the skill to turn those checkdown throws into something big. This week he gets the Dolphins. Miami’s outside corners are respectable, but they struggle to defend over the middle dating back to last season. Enunwa should be targeted early and often.
The Jacksonville Defense does a lot of things very well. They stop the run. They shut down receivers. They get pressure on the QB. One thing they struggle a bit with? Stopping receptions out of the backfield. This isn’t to say that they’re overly exploitable by it; in fact, allowing receptions to the checkdown targets is a logical conclusion given everything else they do so well. However, here in fantasy land we don’t really care how the stats translate to the real game as long as we get the stats. Receiving backs see plenty of catches as their QBs try desperately to get the ball out of their hands before the Sacksonville pass rush gets to them, which is great news for PPR league owners. For reference, White was used in a very similar way last week against Houston’s fierce pass rush. He only managed to corral 4 catches in that one, but the 9 targets is worth noting.
Cook is hardly under the radar after breaking out for 9 catches and 180 yards against the vaunted Rams defense, but in case you thought he would just be a one hit wonder you might have another thing coming. It’s true that a big part of Cook’s usage was to avoid the stellar secondary that the Rams boast. However, it wasn’t that long ago that the Rams’ defensive coordinator and one of their star corners were in Denver. In fact, a fair bit of that defense is still in place. The Oakland receivers face another tough challenge against the Denver secondary, which means Cook is likely to once again see plenty of targets as Derek Carr looks to avoid another 3-interception fiasco. He should also once again see success with those targets. After all, who heard of Will Dissly before last week?
The Texans’ slow start on offense is a bit of a concern, although Miller seemed just fine anyway against the Patriots (20 carries for 98 yards and 1 catch for 11 yards). However, I suspect that’s just rust and that Houston will be back to its explosive self soon enough. The bigger concern here is the Titans defense. On the surface it looks like Miami gashed them pretty good. Once you dig in though, it clearly is a tale of 2 halves. Of the Dolphins’ 121 yards rushing, a scant 23 came after halftime. When you also consider that the Titans were 4th against the run last year, they start to look pretty formidable. Miller will have to grind out some tough yards if he’s going to come anywhere near his line from last week.
What am I thinking? Fade a bellcow running back against the cupcake team of the NFL? Actually…yes. There are several things to consider here. First and foremost is that even though the Bills’ offense is terrible, their defense actually isn’t. Specifically, their D-line has been significantly upgraded from last season. Did you notice that the Ravens’ starting tandem of running backs (Alex Collins and Buck Allen) carried the ball 11 times for 30 yards despite the game being a blowout? Even backup Kenneth Dixon only managed 44 yards on 13 carries in garbage time. The second thing to consider is that much of Gordon’s value comes from his role in the passing game, which is typically phased out when the Chargers are comfortably ahead. Finally, it’s getting tough to call Gordon a true bellcow back. He certainly gets the bulk of the carries, but backup Austin Ekeler just keeps proving that he’s worthy of more touches as well. It’s not unreasonable to think that Ekeler might see more time if the Chargers manage to put away the Bills early. Gordon certainly has a decent chance of notching a touchdown, but don’t assume that he’ll do much else.
After star receiver Doug Baldwin went down, Marshall appeared to serve as the top receiver. The Bears secondary just got torched by the Packers and Marshall has some revenge game potential, so he should be a good start, right? Wrong. Keep in mind that the Bears absolutely shut down the Packers offense in the first half, and it took an otherworldly effort from Aaron Rodgers to mount the comeback. Something else to keep in mind; that comeback came on the back of slot receiver Randall Cobb. Dating back to last season, the Bears D has actually been pretty good in all phases except for stopping the checkdown options (slot receivers, receiving backs, and the occasional tight end). Brandon Marshall is not a checkdown receiver. I suspect he’ll be bottled up as Russell Wilson repeatedly finds his running backs instead.
I was this close to simply putting AD in the “Start” category, but I’ve got an itchy feeling that makes me cautious. The thinking is that the Redskins are likely to be playing with a lead, so we should get heavy doses of Peterson against a very suspect defense. Queue 2012 highlights. My reason for tapping the breaks? There’s a little bit of Luck involved. Andrew Luck belongs in the class of quarterbacks who can single-handedly take over a game, and he appears to be firing on all cylinders after knocking off some rust against the Bengals. If Luck goes Super Saiyan, Peterson may very well find himself taking a back seat to Chris Thompson. So…do you feel Lucky, punk? Well, do ya?
This is more than just an excuse to use that glorious picture again (although admittedly that was one reason). Fitzmagic just waltzed into the Superdome to take on the defending division champs and absolutely torched what should have been a strong defense lead by the defending DROY. A big reason for the explosion was New Orleans’ inability to get any pressure on Fitzpatrick. So why wasn’t New Orleans able to get pressure? If it was just underachieving on their own part, we’re likely to see Fitzmagic turn to Fitztragic in Tampa as the Eagles boast a much stronger front seven. If it was improved O-line play, the Eagles may find themselves on the receiving end of a beard-lashing from all the weapons Fitzpatrick has to play with.
This assumes that Fournette is able to overcome his strain and play, although even if he sits T. J. Yeldon still fits in this category. The Patriots defense is certainly better than last year, but they’re still a bend-don’t-break defense. For fantasy purposes, that means your guys won’t get many touchdowns but they should get plenty of yardage. The Pats were particularly weak against the run last year, and Lamar Miller gashed them pretty good last week with 98 yards on 20 carries. The potential is there for whichever Jaguar running back takes the lead this week. However, the Patriots are also known for selling out to stop their opponent’s greatest strength, daring opponents to beat them with secondary pieces. It’s no secret that the Jacksonville offense only goes as far as its running game takes it. I would expect Belichick to stack the box repeatedly and force Bortles to beat the Pats through the air. Fournette/Yeldon might find themselves running into a brick wall repeatedly or they might run freely to 100+ yards.