Fantasy Football Week 1: All good matchups do not yield lovely fantasy results, just as all bad matchups do not destroy all hope. I’m going to break-down the two best and the two worst matchups for the four main offensive positions, and then tell you what to do with them.
Blake Bortles (JAC) vs. New York Giants (19.4 F.P.P.G., 2017)
It wasn’t always pretty for Blake Bortles this preseason, but he’ll have a chance to make his fantasy owners (if there are any) forget all that on Sunday against the New York Giants. The Giants did nothing this offseason to improve their secondary, and while they might try to be more aggressive on the pass rush, there were not many indications this summer that the ghosts of L.T. and Harry Carson are possessing the Giants’ defenders. Bortles is a solid QB2 with potential to do much more in Week 1.
Verdict: Start with confidence in 2-QB leagues.
Kirk Cousins (MIN) vs. San Francisco 49ers (19.2 F.P.P.G., 2017)
Kirk Cousins may need some more time to completely gel with Adam Theilan and Stefon Diggs but he has a chance to get 2018 off to a fast start this decent matchup. The 49ers secondary should be improved by the addition of Richard Sherman and the emergence of second-year corner Ahkello Witherspoon, but there aren’t enough reasons to doubt that Cousins, with the plethora of weapons at his disposal, isn’t at least a low-end QB1 this week. A bonus for him is his consistent track record playing in-doors, another reason to like Cousins overall on his new team.
Verdict: Start with confidence.
Alex Collins (BAL) vs. Buffalo Bills (23.3 F.P.P.G., 2017)
All signs are pointing to Alex Collins being the bell-cow running back this season, aided by the poor showings of Javorius Allen and Kenneth Dixon this preseason. The Bills run defense is likely to be better in 2018 after they drafted linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and added nose tackle Star Lotulelei. But the game-script bodes well for Collins at home against the Nathan-Peterman-led Bills offense. Consider Collins a borderline RB1/high-end RB2 this weekend.
Verdict: Start with confidence as a low-end RB1/RB2.
Isaiah Crowell/Bilal Powell (NYJ) vs. Detroit Lions (21.0 F.P.P.G., 2017)
Despite the juicy matchup, it’s tough to get too excited about either Isaiah Crowell or Bilal Powell this season. They’re both in the RB3 zone until further notice, but given that the Lions run defense is expected to be pretty horrible once again this season, you could see one of them putting together a nice performance. The problem is guessing which one it’ll be.
Verdict: Start either as a Flex if desperate.
Chris Hogan (NE) vs. Houston Texans (25.3 F.P.P.G., 2017)
The Texans allowed the third most touchdowns (18) to opposing receivers last season and their secondary is still projected to be pretty bad in 2018. As we all know, Tom Brady’s favorite receiver, Julian Edelman, is suspended for the first month, making Chris Hogan the top target in New England. In last season’s Week 3 meeting with Houston, Tom Brady went off for 378 yards and five touchdowns, two of which were to Hogan. This matchup puts Hogan firmly in the WR1 conversation in Week 1.
Verdict: Start with utter confidence.
Michael Thomas (NO) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (25.2 F.P.P.G., 2017)
Waking up on a Sunday knowing your fantasy receiver was set to take on the Bucs was one of the best feelings imaginable in 2017, and it’s looking like it’ll be once again for fantasy owners in 2018. ProFootballFocus.com still rates Tampa Bay’s secondary as the second-worst in the NFL. In two games against the Bucs last season, Thomas totaled 14 receptions for 161 yards. Even better for Thomas is the likely absence of the Bucs’ top cornerback Brent Grimes, who is listed as Doubtful with a groin injury.
Verdict: Start with confidence and be mad if he isn’t at least a top-5 WR this week.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (JAC) vs. New York Giants (11.3 F.P.P.G., 2017)
Opposing tight ends hit paydirt against the Giants in each of the team’s first nine games last season. He’s a favorite sleeper pick this week, but it’s still unclear how the Jaguars will use him. If their past usage of tight ends is any indication, it may not be much. He’s worth a shot in deep leagues, but it would be unwise to bench a more reliable TE1 in his favor until he has a few games under our belt.
Verdict: Only start in very deep leagues.
Nick Vannett (SEA) vs. Denver Broncos (9.9 F.P.P.G., 2017)
Nick Vannett looks to be the top guy for now in Seattle (by default) while Ed Dickson is out with an injury. I won’t waste too much of your time here: he’s only going to see a handful of targets per game and is not worth starting unless you’re in a disturbingly deep league.
Eli Manning (NYG) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (10.2 F.P.P.G., 2017)
The Jaguars yielded just 17 touchdowns while snagging 21 interceptions last season. Manning should have a better season as long as his weapons stay on the field and the Giants offensive line has improved enough to give him time, but this is not the week to get cute with Manning.
Verdict: Only start if desperate in 2-QB leagues.
Nathan Peterman (BUF) vs. Baltimore Ravens (10.3 F.P.P.G., 2017)
Nathan Peterman had a fine preseason, going 33 of 41 for 431 yards along with three passing touchdowns and just one interception. He won the job fair and square. But he should not be in any fantasy lineups, especially against the formidable Ravens secondary (though there’s no Jimmy Smith for four games, keep in mind).
Alfred Morris/Matt Breida (SF) vs. Minnesota Vikings (13.4 F.P.P.G., 2017)
As we head into Week 1, Alfred Morris looks to be the favorite on early downs and in goal-line situations and Matt Breida more of the the third-down guy. It’s not a fun situation in general, and hopefully if you drafted either one of them you went with Breida as a bench stash. It’s especially not a fun situation this week against the Vikings, who once again boast of the best run defenses in the league.
Verdict: No, No, No.
Ezekiel Elliott (DAL) vs. Carolina Panthers (14.6 F.P.P.G., 2017)
A classic case of stud player in a seemingly really tough matchup. You know you should start Elliott, but should you? Yes! Yes, you should! Matchups are important, but you never bench guys of this caliber unless something is clearly wrong with them. Sure, keep expectations lower against Luke Kuechly, the best run-stuffing linebacker in the NFL. Also, game-script should not favor Elliott as the Cowboys are the underdogs in this one. But that might give us a chance to see if Elliott really will be used more in the passing game.
Verdict: Yes, Yes, Yes.
Odell Beckham Jr. (NYG) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (15.1 F.P.P.G., 2017)
It’s going to be fun to watch Odell Beckham Jr. cornerback Jalen Ramsey fight it out for four quarters. Obviously, the numbers are not in Beckham and his fellow ball-catchers against Jacksonville, who yielded an average of just 110.50 yards per game to all opposing receivers in 2017. Still, you know Beckham will get his chances and he’s passionate enough to do whatever it takes to make some big plays happen. Also expect Giants Coach Pat Shurmur to try and free Beckham up on a few quick slants and slot routes. Overall, don’t expect the world, but you have to start him and hope for the best.
Verdict: Start with minimum expectations.
Kelvin Benjamin (BUF) vs. Baltimore Ravens (15.9 F.P.P.G., 2017)
I’m not starting Kelvin Benjamin in any fantasy leagues unless he’s able to go on a run of some sort. To top it off, the Ravens have one of the best secondaries in the league, even without Jimmy Smith.
Verdict: Heck no.
George Kittle (SF) vs. Minesotta Vikings (5.1 F.P.P.G., 2017)
Fantasy owners need to be happy that George Kittle appears to be a full-go for Week 1. There’s lots of long-term promise here with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in town, but the Vikings shut down opposing tight ends better than 31 other teams in 2017, and should continue doing so this season.
Verdict: Want to, but can’t do it.
David Njoku (CLE) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (5.7 F.P.P.G., 2017)
Here’s a case of the matchup not being as daunting as it looks. Yes, the Steelers shut down tight ends for much of the season, but then they lost Ryan Shazier to that devastating back injury late in the year, Shazier may have been the biggest reason the Steelers were able to cover the position so well. I’d feel OK starting Njoku in most leagues but keeping expectations modest.
Verdict: Start him, go ahead, do it.