Football is back, and better than ever. After an offseason that felt like it lasted forever, we finally get to sit back, relax and enjoy some games that count. It seems like ages ago Cam Newton left his press conference. But here we are. For me, it means benching the wrong player at 12:59 pm. But (hopefully) you will not make any wrong decisions this year en route to that coveted fantasy title. It’s time to forget about 2015, and focus on the year ahead.
Although the mentality of Week 1 of the NFL Season in a fantasy sense means to just start the players that we drafted in order, this might not always be the case with a lot of fantasy teams. Especially for the owners that drafted Jamaal Charles in the 2nd-round. Players like Jameis Winston, Blake Bortles, Jeremy Hill, Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray, Mike Evans, and even Jarvis Landry all have either bad or less-than-ideal matchups to kick off the NFL season. I always advocate the strategy of “never bench your studs”, however, if we can definitely upgrade at a position to maximize the upside in our starting lineup, we should go for it. Simply put, Week 1 isn’t a guarantee.
Many teams enter Sunday with high hopes for the 2016 season. But one team in particular is looking to have a season like no other in the past few years. The Oakland Raiders enter the year with great young talent, veteran leadership where it matters the most, and to capitalize on a weakened division with play from their high-powered offense.
And their running back is at the forefront of it all. So let’s get to it…
Start of the Week: Latavius Murray, HB, Raiders
Latavius Murray has always been solid, but not great. That has defined his career entering his 3rd year in the NFL. But now with a new standout rookie in DeAndre Washington waiting in the wings, his future as a lead back in Oakland has never been more foggy. After an up-and-down 2015 season, Murray will look to get off on the right foot to start the year. And boy, does he get a great first opportunity.
Murray gets the pleasure to open up the year at the New Orleans Saints. Last year, New Orleans finishing 2nd-worst in terms of total points allowed to HB’s, giving up an average of 29.65 pts/game, also giving up an average of 115.3 yards per game, while also finishing as the worst team defense according to Football Outsiders. Granted, most of the year the defense played under Rob Ryan, quite possibly one of the worst DC’s in the game, so how does the Saints D stack up in 2016? Well, not so good. They failed to make any significant additions in the secondary (although they did get rid of Brandon Browner, which counts for something), focusing more on the offensive side of things. Even their 12th-overall pick, Sheldon Rankins, hadsurgery with a broken fibula, and could be out for a majority of the season.
Meanwhile, the Raiders have quite possibly the 2nd-best offensive line in all of football, led by Donald Penn and newly-acquired FA Kelechi Osemele. Obviously, this bodes very well for Murray. While most people will only get excited about Derek Carr and Cooper/Crabtree in this game (and for good reason too, I think Carr is more than a fine option), Murray could benefit the most. Many see this game as a shootout, with Carr and Brees competing to see who can throw the most TD’s, but I see it differently, as a blowout by the Raiders. The Saints defense will be beat early and often, but I don’t see the same fate for the Raiders. They’ll dictate the game when it gets out of hand (quite possibly in the 3rd quarter), which means many opportunities of rushing for Latavius Murray as the Raiders will turn to chewing up clock when it gets out of hand. Fire up Murray with the most confidence you could have, sit back, and enjoy the show.
*Note* – I will be more than happy to answer specific lineup questions below, but I won’t be selecting the “obvious” plays unless I don’t think they are so obvious. Regardless of a great matchup, you won’t see names like Aaron Rodgers, Todd Gurley, Antonio Brown or Rob Gronkowski. Those are no-brainers. Fire ’em up with confidence.
Derek Carr (@ NO) – Like I mentioned with Murray above, Carr is an excellent start at QB. If Carr is available in your league, he makes a very solid play for the Brady owners (especially after Week 1) who are looking for production for the first 4 weeks. Last year on average, the Saints secondary gave up 297.2 yards per game and 2.8 TD’s per game. They gave up on average close to 3 TD’s! This game brings the feeling of a shootout (Vegas has placed a 50.5 O/U total on the game, always something to keep in mind), and Carr should have no issues attacking the Saints secondary with Cooper or Crabtree. Even Clive Walford should get his licks in.
Kirk Cousins (vs. PIT) – Cousins comes into today with a very loaded WR corps. At his disposal, he’ll have Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, rookie Josh Doctson (if he is a go for Monday Night), Jamison Crowder, whatever Vernon Davis can contribute, and Chris Thompson out of the backfield. Considering how good his weapons look this year, he won’t have to do much to improve on his breakout season a year ago. The Pittsburgh D has slowly started to improve, but they are not anywhere they need to be after a 2015 season in which they finished the 7th-worst D/ST against QB’s, giving up an average of 291.5 and 1.8 TD’s per game.
Matthew Stafford (@ IND) – I have said this time and time again, and I’ll say it some more. The Detroit Lions offense could be one of the most efficient this year under OC Jim Bob Cooter. I am more than excited about Stafford’s weapons, especially the likes of Marvin Jones, or even Anquan Boldin (has one of the surest hands in the league). With a running game that is less than ideal led by Ameer Abdullah, Stafford could find himself throwing the ball a lot more than what is expected of him. Which isn’t a bad thing, considering that he had one of the best statistical showings in all of football last year when Cooter took over. Regardless of his specific production, Stafford will face a Colts D without Vontae Davis, a team that with him, gave up an average of 272.8 yards per game while also allowing close to 24 fpts per game last year. On the year, Stafford is easily one of my top QB’s, and he gets a great first start.
SLEEPER: Brock Osweiler (@ CHI) – Let’s face facts. Osweiler is a risky play Week 1, but once you look deeper, he’s a very fine option. I understand that the Texans will play football like any team should, by running the ball, controlling the tempo and game clock, and relying on defense. But I think HC Bill O’Brien is a very smart man, and I think he’ll realize that the way to beat Chicago is through the air. last year, the Bears gave up an average of 240 yards per game to QB’s, while also giving up an average of 23 fpts per game, while finishing as the 10th-worst D against opposing QB’s. But that’s not all. Not only have the Bears placed OLB Pernell McPhee on the PUP list to start the year, they are in danger of missing 3 of their starting defensive backs for Week 1. 3!!!! With a loaded WR corps that includes Hopkins, standout rookie Will Fuller, and Jaelen Strong, Osweiler could be the perfect streamer this week in deeper leagues for those who have starting QB’s with very tough Week 1 opponents.
Jameis Winston (@ ATL) – While others might disagree, I see the Bucs attacking Atlanta on the ground, not through the air, capping Winston’s upside Sunday (the only way he could generate production for fantasy is if he used his legs, which isn’t out of the ordinary). The Bucs will certainly not have any issues attacking a D that gave up an average of 90.1 yards and 1.0 TD’s per game to HB’s with Doug Martin and Charles Sims at their disposal. With Desmond Trufant returning, Winston may find himself in trouble Sunday against a secondary that last year ranked 26th-worst against the pass, or in this case, the 7th-best. He’s lost weight, built a repertoire with Mike Evans, and has a really nice 2nd-half SOS, but for Week 1, I would find someone else.
Blake Bortles (vs. GB) – Like always, the only thing going for Bortles Sunday is the fact that if the Packers get out to a cushioned lead, the Jags will abandon the run and force Bortles to throw the ball. However, the Packers defense ranked the 5th-best against the pass last year, only giving up an average of 19 fpts per game. Bortles should have his hands full with a secondary that boasts Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Sam Shields. The Jaguars as a team are looking like a dark horse pick for getting into the Playoffs, but they don’t get a nice start Sunday in Lambeau.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (@ CIN) – Simply put, Fitzpatrick has the weapons, but this is a Bengals D that finished only behind Denver and Seattle as the best against QB’s in 2015, and there are plenty of other options to attack Sunday.
Philip Rivers (vs. KC) – Like Fitzpatrick, Rivers definitely has the weapons, and there is no doubt in my mind that his upside in 2016 is a Top-10 QB, mostly thanks in part to returning OC Ken Wisenhunt, but there are better options on Sunday than Rivers. This is a Chiefs D that not only ranked as the 2nd overall team defense last year according to Football Outsiders, but also the 5th-best defense against the pass. I understand if you are optimistic because Justin Houston will likely be out, but Rivers has struggled against Kansas City in his career, as in the last 3 games, he has failed to throw a single TD, and in 9 of his past 11 games against the Chiefs he has failed to reach the 20 fantasy point mark.
LeSean McCoy (@ BAL) – Simply put, McCoy is a bellcow, and he might be the only true bellcow that is left in the NFL. Sure, there are those that dominated their teams’ carries, but McCoy is the only option for the Bills with what has happened over the offseason. As much as Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins are getting their respective love across the fantasy industry, HC Rex Ryan and OC Greg Roman have always had the old-school philosophy (one that I love) of ground-and-pound football. Running the ball as much as they can, dictating the tempo of the game, and relying on a stout defense. McCoy could easily finish as a Top-10 back, especially as word has surfaced that he wasn’t truly healthy last year. Reports have surfaced that McCoy could easily finish between 20-25 touches this Sunday against the Ravens, and we should expect the old LeSean McCoy when he takes the field.
Thomas Rawls (vs. MIA) – (At this point in time, I don’t know if Rawls is starting. If he is, start him. If he isn’t, I would try to fit Christine Michael in at either the FLEX or another way.) Rawls has had a very interesting offseason. He looked like he might start off the year on the PUP or IR. At a point in time, Christine Michael, C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins have looked like they were going to start over him, and now it seems like Rawls is on the right track to start Week 1, or at least in my mind. I don’t care how many times Pete Carroll
tries to motivate Thomas Rawls speak up Christine Michael, it isn’t going to change my opinion of Rawls, which is a HB that finished 1st in the entire NFL in DYAR and 2nd in DVOA according to Football Outsiders (long story short, he’s really good). Rawls will get a great first chance to define his year against the Dolphins, who ranked 20th in the NFL against the rush last year according to Football Outsiders, giving up an average of close to 30 points per game. I don’t have Rawls on any of my teams, but if I did, I would start him.
Rashad Jennings (@ DAL) – No more are the days of the Giants constantly rotating their RB’s with no clear #1 option, giving fantasy owners headaches for days. Rashad Jennings is now the true RB1 behind uncertainties like Paul Perkins, Andre Williams, and Orleans Darkwa. Jennings comes into Sunday against a Dallas D that finished as the 5th-worst defense against the rush last year, giving up an average of 102.4 yards and 0.9 TD’s per game, while also finishing as the 3rd-worst team defense against the run according to Football Outsiders. Jennings has also had much success against the ‘Boys, as in the last 3 times he has played against them, he has had at least 13 rushes, and has never finished below 10 FP per game.
SLEEPER: Spencer Ware (vs. SD) – Although I wouldn’t necessarily say that he should be a RB1 or RB2 over your studs that are facing difficult matchups, however I would not hesitate to put him in your FLEX spot. Jamaal Charles has been limited in practice all week, the coaching staff is not confident that he’ll play in Week 1 at all, and Ware is deemed to handle the rushing workload after a great preseason, not Charcandrick West. Ware gets a great first start to his 2016 campaign against a Chargers D that gave up an average of 104.5 yards, 0.8 TD’s, and 26.31 fpts per game last year, and should have their hands full all day against Ware.
Jay Ajayi/Arian Foster (@ SEA) – *UPDATE* – According to reports, Ajayi has not traveled with Miami, and will not play Sunday My outlook on Ajayi and Foster is not that high. Personally, I did not want anything to do with the Miami backfield during the offseason into drafts, and if I had one of the two, I would definitely stay away from them Week 1 as the Dolphins travel to Seattle. Why am I so low on Foster and Ajayi? Well, aside from the fact that this is the organization that completely wasted Lamar Miller, the new coaching regime under Adam Gase is looking like a more pass-oriented team that features the X receiver in their offense. Foster has looked average at best during the preseason, with Ajayi looking much of the same. The Dolphins will likely be down, and possibly early, forcing Gase to abandon the run, especially with C Mike Pouncey out as well. Even if they want to establish the run game, they’ll do so against a team that gave up 65 yards per game last year.
Jeremy Hill (@ NYJ) – The Jets defensive front boasts Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Leonard Williams. Apart from the nightmare of a matchup, the Bengals offensive outlook as a whole is very foggy under a new OC and without Tyler Eifert to begin the year, along with the departures of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. There are plenty of other options apart from Hill.
Carlos Hyde (@ LA) – He’s currently battling concussions, so there is a very likely chance that he will not get the go against L.A.. Even if he does, it won’t be a good matchup at all, as not only did the Rams finish as the 7th-best D against the run last year according to Football Outsiders, they only gave up an average of 96 yards per game and 0.4 TD’s. Hyde has struggled greatly against the Rams in his career, only averaging 2.9 fpts per game last year against them. There are plenty of better options instead of Hyde, even if he’ll be a featured back in a Chip Kelly offense.
DeSean Jackson (vs. PIT) – DeSean Jackson is not the sexiest of names, but he certainly gets quite possibly the sexiest matchups in all of Week 1. The Steelers D is slowly starting to build under DC Keith Butler, however it remains to be seen that the Steelers secondary has made any strives towards improving. Last year, according to Football Outsiders, the Steelers secondary ranked 13th in the NFL against the pass, however, they still gave up an average of 193.8 yards and 1.2 TD’s per game to the WR position. This game is setting up to be a shootout, as Vegas has placed a total O/U of 50.5 on the game, with two prolific offenses facing off against each other with sub-par defenses behind them. I believe Kirk Cousins will have a very nice game, and aside from Jordan Reed, Jackson is at the forefront of it all.
Sammy Watkins (@ BAL) – I did mention Greg Roman and Rex Ryan’s tendencies as play-callers and coaches in why I think McCoy is a great play Sunday against the Ravens. However, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I left out the fact that Watkins will not only be a target hound for the Bills with only Robert Woods, Dezmin Lewis, and Charles Clay behind him, he’ll be facing a Ravens secondary that ranked 25th in the NFL against the pass last year according to Football Outsiders, giving up an average of 165.4 yards and 1.6 TD’s per game. Aside from FS Eric Weddle, the Ravens failed to improve their secondary over the offseason, electing to stick with the inconsistent Kyle Arrington and Jimmy Smith, who gave up a career-high 6 TD’s in 2015. Watkins is a favorite of one of my colleagues, Tehol Beddict, so I’d be remiss not to throw in a “TAKE HEED!” for a great option Sunday.
Marvin Jones (@ IND) – Words cannot describe how much I love Marvin Jones this year. Over the offseason, the Lions brought in Marvin Jones from Cincinnati, who, when healthy, is a very reliable target, playing 85% of total snaps last year, and finishing out his campaign with 65/814/4, averaging close to 6.5 targets per game with a 63% catch rate and with 12.5 YPC. Reports in training camp have pointed to Jones as the WR1 in the very effecient Jim Bob Cooter offense. Jones will get a great first start to 2016 against and Indianapolis secondary (ranked 12th last year according to Football Outsiders) that will not be with Vontae Davis. I am definitely starting him with all the confidence in the world in my teams, and I suggest you should too.
SLEEPER: Tavon Austin (vs. SF) – Back in late July, I wrote up Tavon Austin as a sleeper, and I still like his outlook in 2016 now in early September. Not only did the Rams pay him over the offseason, HC Jeff Fisher loves him some Tavon Austin, where not only has he stated that he believes he can get Austin to 100 catches, but some reports, led by beat writer Myles Simmons, suggest that the entire offense has been redesigned to get Austin more looks and more touches of said football. 100 catches may be unrealistic, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Austin is getting praise, and the Coaching Staff wants to get him as involved as possible. He’ll get a great first start against a weak SF Secondary that ranked 30th against the pass, giving up an average of 179.4 yards and 0.8 TD’s per game.
Jarvis Landry (@ SEA) – It’s never easy playing against the Leigon of Boom, and it certainly doesn’t get any easier playing in Seattle. He garners some PPR interest if DeVante Parker doesn’t play (hasn’t been officially ruled out, but hasn’t practiced all week), but I would only use him if you absolutely can not do without him.
Julian Edelman (@ ARI) – Simply put, no Pats players instill confidence in me against a very tough Arizona Cardinals defense with Jimmy G taking the helm, especially if Gronk won’t play. I want to like Edelman, but I can’t trust him against a secondary that will have Tyrann Mathieu and ranked 6th in the NFL against the opposing #1 WR, according to Pro Football Focus.
Mike Evans (vs. ATL) – Like I mentioned with Jameis above, I see the Bucs attacking Atlanta on the ground, not through the air, capping Evans’ upside Sunday. With Desmond Trufant returning (who should be on Evans most of the day), Evans may find himself in trouble Sunday against a secondary that last year that only finished behind Denver in fantasy points allowed to WR’s. In a lot of cases, owners may not be able to bench him due to the fact that he is many’s WR1 on the year, but I wouldn’t expect much from Evans come Sunday.
Coby Fleener (vs. OAK) – It has yet to be seen if Fleener will live up to his hype in 2016 after signing his 5-year $36 million contract over the offseason, and looking mediocre in the preseason. There has been worries that he won’t adjust well to the Saints offensive schemes, but he has the backing of the Coaching Staff, and most importantly, Drew Brees has spoken highly of the 27-year old. Speaking of age, if Ben Watson can put up career numbers in the same Saints offense at the age of 35, I don’t have any doubt Fleener will be very efficient. He comes into Sunday against a Raiders team that has certainly improved, but has looked iffy against TE’s in the past, giving up an average of 15.33 points per game. At this point, you can’t be afraid to start Fleener with worries that he won’t fit in well. Don’t make that mistake.
Dwyane Allen (vs. DET) – Allen should have a nice year in 2016, and he gets a great first start against the Lions. Allen is set to receive a very nice workload without former teammate Coby Fleener competing for workload in 2 TE-sets. Allen has a very nice floor for 2016, but his upside has yet to be determined. Regardless, he shouldn’t have cost you much in drafts to begin with, and he’ll kick off the year against a Lions defense that ranks as the 7th-worst against TE’s, giving up an average of 5/53/0.8 per game last year.
SLEEPER: Jason Witten (vs. NYG) – The old saying that rookie Quarterbacks rely on their TE’s has been proven time after time. And the future HOF Witten has been one of the most consistent TE’s in the NFL for a good while. It also helps that the Giants gave up the 2nd-most points to the TE position in 2015. Witten has also had a nice history against the G-Men, as in 2015 as a whole he only scored 3 TD’s, with two of those coming against the Giants last year.
Antonio Gates (vs. KC) – As much as I like Gates for the 2016 as a whole, you just cannot play him against the Chiefs. He’ll be facing a very good defense that only gave up an average of 9.1 fpts/game last year, best in the NFL.
Zach Ertz (vs. CLE) – Like Witten, there is always the fact that rookie QB’s rely on their TE, but unlike Prescott, Carson Wentz has not looked nearly as good over the offseason and preseason. Plus, not only has Ertz struggled to see the endzone his entire career (something that is vital for most fantasy TE’s), the Eagles will be facing an underrated D that ranked as the 6th-best against TE’s last year, giving up an average of 38 yards per game.
Dan Bailey (vs. NYG) – Although I mentioned Dak Prescott as a nice sleeper or streaming option Sunday against the Giants, there is a realistic chance that he could struggle. If it gets to a point where Ezekiel Elliot can only lead them so far, I see Bailey having to be called on in capping off drives with multiple FG’s to his name.
Steven Hauschka (vs. MIA) – Make no mistake, Hauschka is a very fine kicker. But this game is shaping up to be one where the only production Hauschka gets is a few XP’s to his name. I highly doubt the Seattle offense will have any issues capitalizing on drives Sunday.
Defense and Special Team’s
Minnesota Vikings (@ TEN) – The Vikings D/ST might be my favorite team defense to have this year. The Vikings offense might not do them any favors against an underrated Titans D, but it won’t matter. With unproven weapons for Mariota on the Tennessee offense (besides Delaine Walker), and a stout rush defense led by Brian Robinson and Sharrif Floyd, Minnesota should have no issues containing DeMarco and Derrick Henry. Plus, there is always a chance Corderrelle Patterson takes a kickoff or punt return to the house.
New England Patriots (@ ARI) – It might be a long evening for the Patriots D Sunday Night against the Cardinals. Not only will they be without Ninkovich for the evening and the first four games (good news for David Johnson), the secondary will have to deal with Floyd. Brown, Fitzgerald and even the speedy J.J. Nelson. The Pats D will get plenty of juicy matchups throughout the year, but this will not be one of them.
Thanks for sticking around to the end for what is shaping up to be a great first week of the NFL season. As always, if you agree or disagree with a player above, or have a general question or comment about your team, please do not hesitate to leave one below.
Best of luck, and I’ll talk to you guys next week as we try to get your team to 2-0 on the season.
You Can Follow Zach on Twitter @ohuhave12.