The time we have all been waiting for is almost upon us. The temperature dropping and the smell of pumpkin-spiced lattes at your local Starbucks can only mean one thing, the NFL is back!
This year the Super Bowl champs, the Kansas City Chiefs, take on the emerging Detroit Lions. A few years ago, this matchup would have been a blowout that not many would have interest in. But the Lions have come a long way and provide a lot of intriguing options for fantasy purposes.
The annual NFL Kickoff game started in 2002. Besides a few outlier years, it usually features the defending Super Bowl champions. This game tends to have one of the highest ratings of the year and the NFL wants to make sure to take advantage of this. Since the 2011 game, here are some of the total game averages:
- 50.17 Points
- 731 Yards
- 6.17 Touchdowns
That’s plenty of fantasy production to go around between both teams. While this is the first time Detroit will be participating in the season opener, Kansas City is no stranger to this game as this is their third appearance in seven years.
Between their appearances in the 2017 and 2020 games, they have averaged a whooping 453 total yards and 5 touchdowns per game. I don’t expect their performance on Thursday to be any different. Here are some memorable performances on opening night through the years, including a Kansas City rookie debut that was one for the ages.
- (2011) Drew Brees 419 passing yards and 3 touchdowns
- (2013) Peyton Manning 462 passing yards, 7 touchdowns
- (2015) Rob Gronkowski 5 catches for 95 yards and 3 touchdowns
- (2017) Kareem Hunt 148 yards rushing, 5 catches for 98 yards, 3 total touchdowns
- (2018) Julio Jones 10 catches for 169 yards
- (2021) Amari Cooper 13 catches for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns
Most weeks I won’t be doing a dive into the history of the NFL Kickoff game, but I can’t help to be hyped up for it. Usually, I’ll do a brief overview of the upcoming Thursday night game along with a breakdown of some of the top fantasy options in it. I’ll separate the options by “Elite Starts”, “Solid Starts”, “Flex Worthy Starts”, and the “Break Glass in Case of Emergency Starts”. Let’s get this started.
Thursday night fantasy preview: Week 1 starts
These are my locked-in starts that you never need to think twice about. Just put them in and watch the magic happen.
Travis Kelce (KC, TE)
It doesn’t get more locked of a start than this. Since 2016, this guy has finished as either the tight #1 or #2 every year. Including a premier performance last year with the tight end #2 (George Kittle) finishing with 65.8 fewer fantasy points. The only knock you can give him is that he eventually is going to fall off the cliff.
He can’t keep this production going forever, can he? Even at the ripe age of 33, it doesn’t look like he has slowed down one bit in camp. While the Lions improved their defensive squad as a whole this year, they’ll still be no match for Kelce.
Just keep an eye on his status for Thursday’s game with his recent injury at practice on Tuesday.
Projection: 8 catches for 96 yards and 1 touchdown
Patrick Mahomes (KC, QB)
From the #1 ranked tight end to the #1 ranked quarterback. Kansas City has one of the best duos in football with Mahomes and Kelce and we are lucky enough to get to witness them on national television in Week 1 this year.
If they didn’t have Kelce, Kansas City would arguably have one of the most inexperienced and injury-prone receiving corps in the NFL. Fortunately for them, Mahomes has the ability to get the most out of his receivers. Add his scramble ability and the sky is the limit again for this young star. He should have no problem picking apart this Lions’ defense.
Over his last five Week 1 starts, Mahomes has averaged 308.4 yards and 3.6 touchdowns. I have a feeling he’ll be crushing that 308.4 mark this year.
Projection: 375 yards and 3 touchdowns
Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR, DET)
With Jameson Williams serving his six-game suspension, St. Brown should come out hot this season as the target hog for Detroit. Outside of his injury-riddled Weeks 4-6 last year, St. Brown averaged 9.9 targets per game.
He may not be the big play threat, but his elite route running and yards after the catch are where he shines. Any time he lines up against a zone defense, you might as well assume the ball is gaming his way. His average depth of target is 6.3 yards, but like I mentioned it’s what he does after the catch that is special. Rooting for this guy to take that next step this year.
Projection: 7 catches for 87 yards
These are the starts you shouldn’t be nervous about but certainly aren’t locked in for top-tier production.
David Montgomery/Jahmyr Gibbs (RB, DET)
The usage of these two is what I’ll be paying the most attention to all game. Gibbs was just selected #12 overall in this year’s draft and Montgomery was brought in by the Lions on a 3-year contract worth $18 million.
Gibbs – 4 catches for 110 all-purpose yards
Montgomery – 70 all-purpose yards and 1 touchdown
Jared Goff (QB, DET)
He surprised everyone last year finishing as fantasy’s #10 quarterback on the season. A change of scenery in Detroit may have just been what Goff needed to get his career back on track. He helped make this offense fun to watch for the first time since Calvin Johnson retired. I’ll be intrigued if his targets to his new rookies (Gibbs and LaPorta) increase throughout the season.
Projection: 260 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception
They are worth a start, but no one is going to blame you if you want to bench them.
Isiah Pacheco (RB, KC)
He’ll receive the first team snaps to start the game, but I fear Kansas City plans to go full-blown RBBC for their offense. In 2022 he only notched one game over 100 rushing yards and 9 games with double-digit carries.
He’s most efficient between the twenties, where he averages 5.2 yards per carry. His 5 rushing touchdowns are certainly in the range of outcomes again this year as I don’t see a big spike in that. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon should see a decent amount of action as well on Thursday night. While his usage makes me nervous, I’m willing to roll him out this week to see how this plays out.
Projection: 2 catches for 75 all-purpose yards
Skyy Moore/Kadarius Toney (WR, KC)
While Moore failed to make much of an impact as a rookie, Toney did what he could with his limited time on the Chiefs last year. Both players have been talked up by staff and Patrick Mahomes to have a solid year.
Toney has returned to practice and should be set to go for Week 1. I think both players will be involved here, but to what extent? Skyy may get more of the targets, while Toney will be more of the red zone threat. Hopefully, we will find out in the next few weeks whether these guys are even worth rostering. If Kelce is indeed out or on a snap count, roll these guys with a little more confidence.
Moore – 5 catches for 62 yards
Toney – 4 catches for 49 and 1 touchdown
Break Glass in Case of Emergency Starts
Starts that will have questionable usage and you are just hoping you can sneak a touchdown out of them. Pick your poison.
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire/Jerick McKinnon (RB, KC)
- Sam LaPorta (TE, DET)
- Marvin Jones Jr./Kalif Raymond/Josh Reynolds (WR, DET)
- Marquez Valdes-Scantling (WR, KC)
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