Week 1’s of the NFL season are always interesting. Not only do we have such high expectations for almost each team after a long and tedious offseason, but we’re always surprised at which defenses decide to show up, and which don’t. Which offenses show up, and which don’t. There are a bunch of fantastic advanced metrics and stats to show both offensive and defensive efficiency, yet, after a long offseason full of roster moves, teams are bound to get drastically better or worse on either offense or defense. And over the next few weeks or so, we’ll have a better idea of which defenses we should target, and which to stay away from.
They say never bench your studs, and that’s mostly correct. So let’s talk about who you should bench, and more importantly, who you should start.
You can’t help but get the feeling that this is a make-or-break season for Winston. Heading into his fifth season, there is a lot of optimism in Tampa Bay surrounding both Winston and this team, thanks to the summer arrival of new coach Bruce Arians. Winston and the rest of this offense gets a great first game to show to the rest of the league what they’re capable of on offense. Their matchup tomorrow afternoon against the 49ers is bound to be a shootout, with a game total set at 51, one of the highest of the week. This is a 49ers secondary that struggled last season, as the team finished 27th in pass efficiency and 27th in pass defense DVOA. However, the 49ers did do well against the rush last season, ranking 11th and 12th in rush defense efficiency and rush defense DVOA. With the nature of the Bucs defense (more on that later) and how weak the Bucs running game already is, Winston should be throwing the ball early and often. It’s a great matchup for him this week, and he has serious Top-5 upside.
I was high on Jackson heading into the season, and now that we’re finally here, I’m very excited to see how he will perform right out of the gate against a very bad Miami Dolphins defense (and team). While there is a little cause for concern that the Ravens will blow out the Dolphins, forcing them to keep the ball on the ground and burn the clock down, Jackson should still be able to turn in a productive fantasy day. Not only did the Dolphins secondary struggle against the pass last year (finished 23rd in pass defense DVOA), they did even worse down the stretch. From Weeks 12-17, Miami ranked 25th in pass defense efficiency and dead last in the league in explosive pass defense. I’m not 100% sold on the Ravens receiving weapons, but they should do enough for Lamar in Week 1. Add in his rushing upside, and Jackson could be looking at an easy Top-10 finish this week.
Like Winston, the nature of this game is suiting up perfectly for Garoppolo. While there were some concerns about Jimmy G’s preseason performances, he should be able to put those concerns to bed against a Tampa Bay defense that finished 31st in pass defense efficiency and 30th in pass defense DVOA. Unlike the 49ers, they aren’t much better against the run, but I don’t think we’ll see a 49ers team that wants to go run-heavy this Sunday. Remember, this is an offense who, last season, had a 58% passing rate before Garoppolo got hurt (similar numbers for the remainder of the season as well). With a game total of 51 O/U, both offenses should be slinging the ball around. Thanks the matchup and volume, Jimmy G has serious Top-12 upside at the position this week, and is a great streaming option for those owners that need the help.
We never want to bench our studs right out of the gate, but there are some serious red flags heading into Week 1 for Matt Ryan. Ryan’s first game of the 2019 season will see him on the road against a very tough Minnesota defense. Last season, the Vikings finished 3rd in pass defense efficiency and 5th in pass defense DVOA. Another thing to keep in mind is the playcalling of the Minnesota Vikings. Early returns from last year shows that Kevin Stefanski and co. are playing to the strengths of the defense by maintaining possession and keeping the ball on the ground. They’re gonna want to limit how many plays opposing offenses can run, including in Week 1 against the Falcons. Ryan is still a startable QB, especially with his high price tag, but it may turn into a rough outing on Sunday.
It seemed like many fantasy analysts over the offseason didn’t tout Big Ben as a Top-12 or even Top-15 fantasy QB with the departure of Antonio Brown to Oakland. And while I slightly agree, I do think that people are forgetting how smooth the Steelers offense has operated over the years when they’ve lost their former WR1’s. Especially with JuJu and James Conner, I still think this Steelers team can contend in the AFC. It’ll be a tough first test for both Roethlisberger and the team on Sunday night as they travel to Foxboro to take on New England. The strength of the Patriots defense last season was their secondary, as the team ranked 6th in pass defense efficiency and 13th in pass defense DVOA. They were definitely weaker against the run, something they obviously addressed in the offseason. This might end up being a low-scoring game, and I don’t think Big Ben should be started in most leagues.
To me, Rivers falls into this week’s category of “You don’t have to bench him, but there are probably better options out there”. Everything about Rivers this week just screams average. The Colts defense isn’t bad or good against the pass, they’re just average. They’re also really good at not giving up the huge plays, as they ranked 2nd in the NFL last season in explosive pass defense. Rivers himself provides a nice, safe floor at home, but I don’t think he has serious upside to threaten a Top-12 or Top-10 finish. Rudy’s projections have him as the #15 QB this week, which perfectly sums up how I feel about him.
If you kept up with my articles over the summer, you know how much I love Carson this year in fantasy. Well, he’ll get a great first chance to prove me right this year in his Week 1 matchup against the Bengals. There are a lot of green signs for Carson this week. First, the Seahawks are -9.5 point favorites at home. That always bodes well for a team’s running back. Second, he’s facing off against a Bengals defense that ranked 30th in rush defense efficiency and 26th in rush defense DVOA last season, and nothing the Bengals did over the summer convinced me that those two numbers will lower for this season. Third, Carson will be playing on one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL. I’m expecting a big dose of touches for the running back right out of the gate, and I think he’s going to put together a very nice performance to start his 2019 season.
One of the biggest news pieces over the summer for Detroit was Matt Patricia’s commitment to the run as their offensive identity. Well, we now get to see if Patricia is a man of his word, and the first true test of that will be against the Cardinals on the road. While I would normally have concerns over the fact that Detroit might have to abandon the run to keep pace with Kingsbury and Kyler on offense, I do believe that the Lions defense can hold their own. Even if they can’t, Johnson should still get enough work and touches to turn in a productive fantasy day as most fantasy owner’s RB2. He’ll get to square off against a Cardinals defense that struggled against the run, as they finished 29th in rush defense efficiency and 29th in rush defense DVOA. Depending on how the game goes, he might not completely blow up, but I do like him to put together a very nice day.
Much like Carson, there are a lot of good things going for Ingram this week, and even this season. We’ll have to keep our eye on Justice Hill, but for the time being, Ingram steps into a backfield where he should dominate touches in an offense designed around Lamar Jackson and the running game. Heading into Week 1, I’m confident that Ingram will be able to put together a productive outing against a Dolphins defense that ranked 24th in rush defense DVOA. While the Ravens aren’t home, they still are -7.0 point favorites, and should easily dominate possession and the scoreline. Ingram has a nice floor and ceiling this week thanks to these factors.
Both Michel and James White are included in this section because of how TD-dependent they are this week. They’ll face off against a Steelers defense that did a great job against the run last season, allowing the seventh-fewest rushing yards and fifth-fewest receiving yards to opposing backs. To be honest, I’m not sure how this game will end up. Both defenses are pretty darn good, but this game has a pretty high total of 49 O/U, which would suggest that both talented offenses will end up breaking through. Regardless, I’m not sure we’ll see either White or Michel run all over the Steelers defense, and there are definitely better options in which to choose from.
While Freeman can sometimes be independent of the game script, I still don’t like how things are setting up for him this week. He’ll be facing the Vikings on the road as 4-point underdogs, and he’ll have to find success against a Minnesota defense that is very strong on every front. Like I mentioned above, their offense is going to limit how many plays the Falcons can run, slowing down their overall pace. Again, this is Week 1, and you can’t bench your studs. Freeman will be started in almost every league, but it’s an uphill battle in Week 1 for him.
I do like Kenyan Drake this season in fantasy, but I don’t think he’s going to get off on the right foot in Week 1. I like how committed the Dolphins seem to be with giving Drake a ton of work, but I’m not sure his volume will save him this week. The Ravens are terrific against the run, finishing 4th in rush defense efficiency, and 6th in rush defense DVOA. While they are at home, they are 7-point underdogs, and might be forced to abandon the run if they fall behind early and often. The way Drake was being drafted these past few months, I don’t think he’s most owners’ RB2 or 3, and if you don’t have to start him, I wouldn’t.
Like Winston, a lot of people are buying into the Bucs passing game this season, including a lot of hype building around Chris Godwin. To start the year, he draws a fantastic matchup in the slot against the 49ers. With a game total set at 51 O/U, there will be plenty of targets going Godwin’s way. He’ll likely draw K’Waun Williams in the slot, a CB who allowed a 75% catch rate and 2.0 fantasy points per target last season. Godwin is an excellent WR2/FLEX play to kick off the year.
With the arrival of Nick Foles in Jacksonville, this Jaguars passing game is bound to get better from where we saw them last season. This week they’ll face off against the Chiefs at home, and while the Jags defense is certainly good, their offense is still going to have to keep pace with Patrick Mahomes and co. I do think that the Chiefs made some good additions to their defense, and their unit should get better as time goes on, but until we see it on the field, this is still a Chiefs defense that struggled greatly last year. Foles should have a high-volume day, which bodes well for Westbrook as a WR3/FLEX option against a defense that ranked 30th in total defense DVOA.
With a game total of 50 O/U, the matchup between the Rams and the Panthers should be another high-scoring affair in the first week of the NFL season. This Panthers secondary struggled at times last year, finishing 24th in pass defense DVOA. Cooks, meanwhile, was the most-targeted Rams receiver in the red zone last year. He should get a healthy dose of targets in this game that could turn into a shootout. He’ll draw Donte Jackson in coverage, a defensive back that allowed a 67% catch rate, 14.6 yards per catch, and 2.04 fantasy points per target last season. Cooks is a great start this week.
A couple of weeks ago, I would never have thought that Hilton would be a bench candidate for Week 1. Yet, here we are. Thanks in part to the retirement of Andrew Luck, I’m not sure what Colts offense we are going to see on Sunday. Even if they are efficient, I’m not sure if Hilton can put together a solid fantasy day. This is a Chargers secondary that ranked 8th in pass defense efficiency, and 10th in pass defense DVOA. Hilton specifically should draw Casey Hayward in coverage, one of the toughest matchups out there. Hilton is far from a recommended start this week.
While Shepard is a decent WR3 option, he doesn’t have a lot of upside, and I can’t say I’m too sold on him being in starting lineups to kick off the 2019 season. The Cowboys secondary is a good one, as they only allowed the sixth-least fantasy points per game to opposing receivers, including allowing only 12 TD’s to the position all season. There are other ways to go on Sunday.
Hooper is the one Falcons player I have no problems with on Sunday for fantasy. In fact, I think he’s a good start at the position where many see themselves having below-average talent outside of the Top 5. Hooper is a target machine, and if there is one flaw on the Vikings defense, it’s their ability to cover Tight Ends. The Vikings rank 30th in DVOA allowed to TE’s, and Hooper should benefit from that. He might not have a high ceiling, but he does have a high floor thanks to his snap count and target rates. He’s a very solid start.
The exact opposite of Hooper, I have no confidence in Njoku this week against Tennessee. Not only do the Titans defend against the TE position quite well, Njoku’s target share isn’t too convincing. It’s hard for him to get enough looks in an offense that features Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr, and Jarvis Landry. I would keep him on the bench.
Kickers and D/ST
Wil Lutz (vs. HOU) – Razzball Projection: #1 K
Indoors and the highest game total of the week? Yes, please.
A talented group that are large favorites against a not-so-talented offense in a low-scoring game. I like that combo.
Cairo Santos (@ CLE) – Razzball Projection: #26 K
I don’t think the Titans will be able to move the ball well at all this week, and Santos isn’t a recommended start as a result.
They’re a talented unit that should do wonders in fantasy this year, but not this week. Not against Patrick Mahomes.
Good luck to everyone in Week 1, and I will be back on Thursday for another edition of Ambulance Chasers!
You Can Follow Zach on Twitter @zachrob2k