Week 1 Fantasy Football Matchups to Exploit, Avoid

fantasy football

Andy Reid was faced with a difficult choice.

The Chiefs were trailing 7-0 in Foxborough and a rowdy Gillette Stadium crowd was letting him have it. After seeing Tom Brady and Co. carve up the Kansas City defense on the first drive of the game, the Chiefs handed the ball to rookie running back Kareem Hunt, someone I have written about and am all in on this season. Hunt took his first carry and rumbled seven yards — and then promptly lost a fumble, something he never did during his entire college career at Toldeo, you might have heard by now.

Already heavy favorites, the Patriots had been handed an early gift. Broadcasters Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth began speculating how big of a blowout we were in store for. Somehow though, the Chiefs survived the rookie’s early mistake and stopped the Patriots on a fourth-and-short.

Now Reid needed to make a decision. There was no way he could know with absolute certainty how Hunt would respond. Plenty of rookies would have crumbled under similar circumstances, and Reid has only known Hunt for a few short months.

Reid decided to trust his gut and gave Hunt the ball on the very first play of the drive. He would keep giving Hunt the ball, and Hunt rewarded him with a record setting debut, racking up 246 all-purpose yards and scoring three touchdowns en route to Kansas City pulling off an upset hardly anyone believe them capable of.

Alright, alright, so you watched the game too. But my point is this: Week 1 in fantasy football is a lot like the situation Reid found himself in. The NFL is an ever-changing landscape, and what we thought we knew from last season doesn’t always hold true the next. Teams change, they add new players, and we won’t know what we should realistically expect from them until we get to watch them play in 2017.

Chances are you have a few players that are no-brainer starts, but you likely have a few spots in your lineup that you aren’t as confident in. Who should you sit? Who should you trust?

That’s where I come in. The point of this article isn’t to tell you about those obvious matchups. You don’t need me to tell you that you should start Antonio Brown against the Browns or that you should probably play David Johnson every week. So without further ado, here are the players I like based on their matchups for Week 1. All of my advice will assume PPR scoring.


Matchups I love

Marcus Mariota, Titans: I wrote about him in my value column and I’m going to tout him again in Week 1. The Titans are tied for the second easiest schedule in the league this year, with their opponents accumulating a .439 win percentage last season. And while they face a Raiders team that many have predicted to challenge for the AFC championship, it’s a matchup that should have Mariota owners excited. The Raiders defense that gave up the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks last season, and they don’t to appear to have gotten much better. The Raiders still lack a complementary piece in their pass rush to pair with Khalil Mack and their linebackers and defensive backs appeared to struggle to get on the same page in coverage during the preseason. With a top-three offensive line and a bunch of new weapons, I believe Mariota takes advantage in Week 1.

Carson Palmer, Cardinals: Which Carson Palmer will we get this year? Will we get the the 2015 version that was included in MVP conversations, or will we get the disappointing Old Man Palmer of last year? Time will tell, but for week 1 Palmer is my favorite option for owners of Andrew Luck or Jameis Winston who are looking for a fill in. Palmer went undrafted in most leagues, and as disappointing as he was at last season, Palmer tends to start off the season well. Last season he faced New England in Week 1 and scored 22 points, throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 104.7. In 2015? He faced a dreadful Saints defense that let him accumulate 307 yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 122.8 on his way to 31 fantasy points. Palmer plays a Lions team that gave up the fifth-most points to passers a year ago. I’ll take that action.

Others I like: Much like Mariota, Derek Carr is a young quarterback I believe in. He is my QB1 in dynasty leagues and I truly believe he is the next dominant quarterback we point to as the best in the game once the old guard of Brady, Rodgers and Brees have moved on. Tennessee’s defense allowed the third-most points to quarterbacks last year, and while they’ve made improvements, I expect Sunday to be a shootout… Carson Wentz looked the part early last year before fading down the stretch. With a year’s worth of experience, a head coach that was a former QB and an upgrade from one of the worst receiving corps a year ago, I believe Wentz takes advantage of a Washington defense that lacks a reliable pass defender outside of Josh Norman… If you’re desperate or are the type that needs a little risk to get your kicks, Jared Goff is facing an Indianapolis defense that is hardly intimidating when healthy, but will be without top cornerback Vontae Davis. It’s a home game for Goff and we will finally get a complete glimpse at what new head coach Sean McVay has been able to do with Goff… Finally, Sam Bradford plays the Saints this week. Do you really need me to say anything else?

Matchups I hate

Dak Prescott, Cowboys: The Cowboys will open against Giants team that handed them two of their three losses last season. In those games Prescott completed only 51.2 percent of his passes and had one touchdown against two interceptions. The Giants appear to be just as strong defensively, it’s a pass on Prescott this week from me.

Tyrod Taylor: I know Taylor is probably not high on anybody’s start list, but with owners looking for a replacement for Luck and Winston, I would like to advise against Taylor, at least for this week. Taylor typically provides a safe floor and the Jets allowed the fifth-most points to QBs last season. But there are a few things going against Taylor this week. For one, Taylor only just cleared the concussion protocol, meaning he will only have limited reps to prepare this week. That isn’t a great recipe for success for a QB whose top targets will likely be a rookie, Zay Jones, and a receiver the team just traded for who has his own injury concerns, Jordan Matthews.

Running Backs

Matchups I love:

Todd Gurley, Rams: While I’m still cautious about Gurley’s season long potential, I’m confident in him for this Week 1 matchup against the Colts. I don’t think the Colts are very good and certainly aren’t without Luck. Even with his struggles, Gurley was still fifth in touches last season. Remind me, how much do you trust Jared Goff to be the focal point of this offense? And who do the Rams have behind Gurley? Exactly. Add on that I anticipate the Colts offense to be anemic with Scott Tolzien squaring off against a Wade Phillips defense, and I can envision the Rams leaning on Gurley to kill the clock down the stretch.

Dalvin Cook, Vikings: We’ve already seen one big performance from a rookie running back, and I believe we are in store for a few more this weekend. Cook was one of the most electric players in college football, but fell in the draft because of lower than expected scores at the Combine and whispers about character concerns. He ended up on a Vikings team where he was initially expected to backup free agent signee Latavius Murray. Murray was hurt for most of the preseason and Cook took advantage. Able to contribute on the ground and in the passing game, I expect big things from Cook against a weak Saints defense.

Christian McCaffrey, Panthers: Another rookie I’m all in on is McCaffrey. The Panthers are looking to reduce the amount of hits superstar quarterback Cam Newton takes. The best way to do that is to get running backs involved. Enter McCaffrey, one of the most electric runners in college football history. Whether or not McCaffrey is technically the “starter” ahead of Jonathan Stewart doesn’t really matter. Stewart has always worked best in a time share and has struggled with injuries for most of his career. I anticipate the Panthers to use the rookie often against a team that allowed 22 rushes of 20-plus yards last season. Unsurprisingly, the 49ers gave up the most points to running backs last season.

Others I like: Isaiah Crowell has been a reliable RB2 in fantasy, even with the Browns continuously giving him poor game scripts. The Steelers defense is much improved but still suffers from momentary lapses between the 20s. He won’t carry your week, but he can contribute as an RB2 or flex play… Bilal Powell plays for a terrible team without a reliable downfield threat, nor a QB who can get it there reliably. Powell had 58 receptions and figures to have a bigger role in the Jets offense this season. I think that starts Sunday.

Matchups I hate:

Any Seahawks RB: Will Thomas Rawls play? Can Eddie Lacy still play? What about Prosise and Carson? How bad will that Seahawks offensive line be? If you’re confident about how the Seahawks running game will shake out in Lambeau, you’re a braver soul than me.

Lamar Miller, Texans: Last season Miller rushed 37 times against the Jaguars in two games, averaging 3.9 YPC. He only caught two passes for 26 yards, albeit one was a touchdown. Jacksonville has only appeared to get better on defense. I think it will be tough sledding for Miller Sunday.

Bengals RB: See Seattle, above. The Bengals lost key starters on their offensive line and they have just as many questions at running back. Jeremy Hill has struggled and yet Marvin Lewis insists he will be the team’s starter. Giovani Bernard is comeback from injury and could see playing time as well. Rookie Joe Mixon appears to be the most gifted of the three, but for now he is the third back on the depth chart. On top of it, the Bengals will face a tough Baltimore defense. No thank you.

Wide Receiver:

Matchups I love:

Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: I wrote about him in my value column and I spoke about his quarterback already, so I’ll keep it simple. Fitz will face a Lion’s pass defense that has struggled, allowing 81 percent of passes less than 10 years down the field to be completed last season. With Fitzgerald living in the slot these days, I expect him to feast.

Minnesota WRs: The Vikings are playing the Saints on Sunday, and that is a recipe for fantasy points. The Saints have seemingly always struggled to defend the pass and I don’t see that changing this week. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are both up for big weeks.

Martavis Bryant, Steelers: Ok, so I told you I wouldn’t tell you about starting Antonio Brown against the Browns. But if you are a Bryant owner, I would start him without a second thought this week. Bryant has averaged 17.3 yards per catch since entering the league, and defending the deep pass has been a weakness of the Browns. I also think the Steelers will look to give Bryant a few deep shots downfield to regain his confidence in his first game back.

Others I like:

I’ve already told you about my lack of confidence in the Colts defense. I believe Cooper Kupp will be the beneficiary for the Rams… Willie Snead is suspended and Brandin Cooks is a Patriot. So who will be the deep threat for Drew Brees, someone who I think we can agree is really good at throwing the deep ball? Ted Ginn Jr. still has the speed and is the best bet to step into that role… Someone is going to have to catch the ball in Buffalo. Rookie Zay Jones has found himself in the position to be the guy for Buffalo… I wrote about Kelvin Benjamin last week. The San Francisco defense should be better this year, but that isn’t saying much. I think Benjamin gets into the endzone early this week for the Panthers.

Matchups I hate:

T.Y. Hilton, Colts: Hey, have you heard Andrew Luck isn’t playing this week? You likely spent a high draft pick to get Hilton, but he just isn’t the same without Luck. In 10 games without Luck, Hilton has 39 catches for 609 yards and only two touchdowns. The odds are against him until Luck returns healthy.

Allen Robinson, Jaguars: Blake Bortles has not developed into the quarterback the Jaguars hoped he could be when they drafted him third overall. After a breakout year in 2015, Robinson fell back to Earth in 2016 while Bortles struggled.The Jaguars open against the Texans, who were the No. 1 defense last season. Yikes.

Tight Ends

Matchups I love:

Delanie Walker, Tennessee: Ok, you get it, I like Mariota and the Titans, especially against the Raiders. As the season goes on, I expect Mariota to spread the ball around. I don’t expect him to forget his favorite weapon in this one though.

Greg Olsen, Panthers: Can you tell I like the Panthers matchup with the 49ers? Olsen has been Cam Newton’s favorite target and a reliable fantasy TE for years now. Facing a defense that is still looking for an identity and with Newton playing his first full game after a limited preseason, I anticipate Newton will seek out his security blanket often in this one.

Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles: Each of the last two seasons, Ertz has posted a big game — 10+ catches, 100+ yards — against Washington. From Week 9 on, Ertz became a favorite target of Wentz, recording six or more catches in seven games. Wentz has some new weapons on the outside, but I think he will attack the middle of the field with Ertz whenever he can.

Matchups I hate:

Jack Doyle, Colts: Is Andrew Luck playing? Oh.

Photo Credit: By Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Ryan Parish