Dec 13, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) runs the ball in for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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32 NFL teams start their pursuit of a Lombardi Trophy and thousands of fantasy football owners begin their own chase for bragging rights and the occasional monetary prize.
Weekly and daily players have just as much at stake as real player performances are converted into fantasy football glory and disappointment.
Week 1 of the NFL schedule features a Buccaneers match-up versus the Atlanta Falcons which will become an early opportunity for Jameis Winston and company to get a fast start on the road against a division rival expected to finish at the lower end of the division.
Tampa finished 6-10 in 2015 after dropping four games following a 6-6 start which kept on the peripheral of the playoff chase entering the last quarter of the year.
In fantasy football scoring running back Doug Martin led the team with nearly 200 points* on the season. Mike Evans finished as the 26th ranked wide receiver with 136.6 points.
Despite being viewed as a lower tier quarterback Winston actually placed 13th among his position group making him one of the better spot starts of the 2015 fantasy season.
What this season will bring is yet to be seen and while Martin and Evans continue to get drafted in the first three rounds of fantasy drafts Winston and the Bucs defense is routinely being passed over and even left to the free-agent pool heading into the year.
We’ll be bringing you weekly updates on the status of your favorite Buccaneers along with our take on who to start, sit and potential sleepers hiding within every NFL game week in and week out.
Nov 29, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate (84) reacts to scoring a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, 11 September @ 1:00 PM
Bucs open up looking to keep the sweep alive as Mike Smith returns to face his former team in the ATL.
Jameis Winston was the best fantasy football option the Buccaneers had on offense when Kwon Alexander turned in an MVP caliber performance in Week 8 of 2015.
While they needed overtime and a made field goal to eventually win the game in overtime, this was the day where many Bucs fans really knew they had some special young talent on the roster.
Tampa’s defense was able to put up the sixth most points of any defense in fantasy scoring bolstered by three fumble recoveries, including one from Alexander who also grabbed an interception from the Falcons’ Matt Ryan.
Quarterback Jameis Winston scored nearly 20 points in the winning effort while Doug Martin came up with less than eight points after failing to find the end zone in Atlanta.
START: RB, Doug Martin
Martin failed to reach 100 yards rushing in either game against their division rival in 2015.
He also scored just one touchdown coming in Week 13 where he finished 15th in fantasy football scoring among running backs, landing him squarely in RB2 territory.
His average draft position shows most owners are looking for similar output this year making Martin a true sleeper to put up RB1 numbers in this first game of 2016.
The Falcons gave up just 105 yards per game to opposing rushers but also allowed a league high 20 touchdown carries.
With the team focusing on running the ball first and trying to turn around their redzone scoring woes, Martin should get plenty of opportunities especially from in close as backup Charles Sims is known for taking more passes away than short yard tries.
Owners may get a little nervous, but Martin is looking to string together back-to-back successful seasons and will be running hard in Atlanta for Week 1.
SIT: TE, Cameron Brate
Cameron Brate hauled in 48 yards and a touchdown in his first performance of the year during last season’s Week 8, and followed it up in Week 13 with two catches for 12 yards leaving his owners holding a less than three point performance.
While both performances had significantly different point differentials they also had one important factor in common; two catches each.
Even with Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins nursing injuries early last season Brate was only able to reel in the two catches but capitalized with the touchdown strike to save his fantasy football day.
With V-Jax and ASJ on the field his catch number didn’t drop, but his lack of scoring severely downgraded his status.
With a trend pointed towards fewer opportunities for Brate to make a fantasy impact against the Falcons leave him on the bench in Week 1.
SLEEPER: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense
The Buccaneers have an average draft position somewhere around zero, but for all of their
Jul 30, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA;Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) works out at One Buccaneer Place. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
perceived weaknesses there’s just something about the Falcons offense which likes to turn the ball over against them.
In two match-ups between the NFC South rivals Tampa secured six takeaways from Matt Ryan and company en route to a season sweep in 2015.
The majority of those turnovers occurred in Atlanta which is where these two teams will face-off in Week 1.
Despite the Bucs’ struggles on defense they’ve successfully secured three fumbles in each of their last two road trips to Georgia and an interception.
While the streak of fumble recoveries may come to an end this Sunday, this defense shows up to play in these contests and may be a cheaper value for daily and weekly players looking to save some cap room for more prolific players.
Sep 1, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) stretches before the game against the Los Angeles Rams at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Vikings @ Tennessee Titans
Sunday, 11 September @ 1:00 PM
Sam Bradford reunites with his fellow Sooner to try and keep Minnesota’s playoff hopes alive following the fall of “Teddy Two-Gloves”.
START: RB, Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson led the league in rushing yards and touchdowns on his way to a second place fantasy football finish among running backs.
When Teddy Bridgewater went down for the year with a hopefully recoverable knee injury Peterson’s fantasy stock went into question pretty quickly.
Anyone doubting the MVP candidate would be wise not to underestimate him too much as he’s the only running back in the NFL who consistently finishes ranked in the top-10 within his position group.
For his Week 1 match-up he draws the Titans defense who gave up the seventh fewest fantasy points per game to opposing runners in 2015.
While it seems this defense may be more susceptible to the pass than run in this contest, I won’t bet against Peterson who should come in determined to carry his team back to the playoffs.
SIT: QB, Marcus Mariota
The rookie from Oregon a year ago started his career with a 24 point outburst which placed him third among all quarterbacks in Week 1 last year.
This season he’s the guy who came far down to earth since then finishing 22nd among all quarterbacks in fantasy football scoring.
Following his first game outburst Mariota finished in the top-10 of quarterback scoring just three more times in 2015 making him a less than consistent option as any fantasy roster’s starting QB.
Tennessee made moves in the draft to secure the offensive line for their offensive leader, but they also brought in a running duo in DeMarco Murray and Heisman winner Derrick Henry who both looked very effective in the pre-season.
When the Titans have the ball they’ll likely turn to their two-headed running combination to control the clock and put their offense in manageable second and third down opportunities.
Minimizing risk for Mariota will subsequently minimize playmaking chances for the second-year pro, meaning there’s little value in starting this player during this week.
SLEEPER: WR, Stefon Diggs
With Shaun Hill getting the start for Minnesota while newcomer Sam Bradford still gets his legs under him, Stefon Diggs is going to need to come up big for his veteran backup.
In his first year out of Maryland the former Terrapin gave his team some hope for the franchise’s future as a receiver who out-shinned the since departed Mike Wallace and fellow starter Charles Johnson.
Now, it’s time for Diggs to build upon the 720 yards he racked up in 2015.
He didn’t get on the field for the Vikings until Week 4 of the NFL season last year, but when he did he was electrifying.
After getting into the mix Diggs wasn’t held to less than 95 yards receiving for the first four games he played.
Now he did cool off towards the end of the regular season, but this can be more attributed to a large workload for Adrian Peterson and the fatigue of a long season.
Returning for his second season this play-maker will see the field from the first snap of the season forward and starting it off against a Titans defense which gave up the ninth most points to opposing receivers last season means he can make an early impact; even with a backup throwing him the ball.
Dec 26, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Ryan Mathews (24) reacts to his touchdown run against the Washington Redskins during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland Browns @ Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday, 11 September @ 1:00 PM
Carson Wentz gets his career started in Philly while Robert Griffin III gets his re-started with Cleveland.
START: RB, Ryan Mathews
One year after playing second fiddle to DeMarco Murray in a soft Eagles rushing attack Ryan Mathews is the man and looking to make his mark.
With rookie Carson Wentz getting his first career start he’s likely to get plenty of opportunities to do so.
Even with his diminished role in 2015 Mathews reached his highest career yards per carry average (5.1 ypc) and he was still able to score seven touchdowns in his first year with Philadelphia.
After trading away Murray the front office made no significant moves to try and gain a starter leaving the duties to the former Charger with 33-year old Darren Sproles returning for the occasional burst play or busted screen.
If this team is going to keep the pass rush off their franchise future they’ll need to rely heavily on the run game and that equals plenty of chances for Mathews against a run defense which surrendered nearly 20 fantasy football points per game to running backs last season.
SIT: Philadelphia Eagles Defense
A tale of two teams has the Browns looking locked-and-loaded to air the ball out early and often this year.
Josh Gordon won’t be on the field Week 1, but neither will an improved Eagles defense from 2015. Malcolm Jenkins is about the only formidable opponent in this secondary and Terrelle Pryor Sr. should be able to find plenty of room to operate with rookie Corey Coleman stretching the field on an every down basis.
Tight end Gary Barnidge is the security blanket while running back Duke Johnson should find some open space during a few screens and Isaiah Crowell will probably see bigger holes this week than any other.
I’m not calling for a blood bath here, but the Eagles defense scored in double digits for fantasy football owners just five times last season while finishing with three points or fewer just as many times.
If there’s a defense in the NFL that can make the return of Robert Griffin III a triumphant one it’s New Orleans’, but Philly will do just fine as well.
If the pre-season showed us anything it’s RGIII still has an arm and has found a team with receivers capable of making plays.
If you read the above commentary about the Eagles defense then you can easily see how the Browns’ quarterback could be in line for a big debut on the road.
Further aiding this effort could be the fact these fans are some of the nastiest in the league and Griffin is surely looking to silence a few of the hecklers who watched as he wasted away on the Redskins’ bench a year ago.
For daily and weekly players wanting to stock up on expensive receivers or running backs, this match-up could be the cost saving answer you need in Week 1.
Aug 27, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos (5) scores a field goal against the Chicago Bears during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
San Diego Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, 11 September @ 1:00 PM
Two familiar AFC West foes face off as the battle for the division’s best quarterback takes center stage.
START: K, Cairo Santos
The San Diego Chargers finished in the bottom ten teams in the league when it came to giving up field goals to opposing kickers.
Of the 29 surrendered, just two came from distances of 50 yards or more. Cairo Santos missed just three kicks from closer than 50 yards in 2015 meaning the Chiefs should get close a whole lot in this game, and Santos will get chances to score all afternoon.
In both games against San Diego last year Santos came on the field for multiple field goal tries and a total of five extra points.
It’s not unreasonable to see the Kansas City kicker near double digits in Week 1’s fantasy football scoring lines as the seventh ranked player in his position from a year ago looks to get started on the right foot.
SIT: QB, Philip Rivers
Philip Rivers has thrown for over 4,000 yards in seven of his 12 seasons leading into 2016
Jul 30, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) looks on during training camp at Chargers Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
including a three-year streak of hitting that number every year after 2012. He’s also thrown at least 29 touchdowns in each of them making him one of the most consistent fantasy football quarterbacks around.
Another trend are his struggles against the Kansas City Chiefs defense. In his last four games against his division rival Rivers hasn’t eclipsed the 300 yard mark once while reaching 250 twice.
He didn’t throw a singled touchdown pass against the KC secondary at all last season but did throw an interception in each game.
Over the last two years he’s tallied five total interceptions while passing for just two scores.
Keenan Allen has been limited in practice leading up to this match-up so his involvement in the offense will have a major impact on the fantasy suitability for Rivers as well.
The addition of speed-demon Travis Benjamin coming over from Cleveland should help open up the field a bit, but the tenacious defense in red will harass Rivers all afternoon and the talented secondary will be looking to make it six straight regular season games nabbing a turnover from the storied quarterback.
SLEEPER: RB, Spencer Ware
Spencer Ware took 19 carries against the San Diego Chargers in relief of Jamal Charles last season and turned those touches into 148 yards. For those who don’t like to do math that’s 7.7 yards per carry.
He added two touchdowns totaling 27.8 points including one catch for five yards; not a bad total for two back-up performances.
With more and more doubt mounting the Chiefs will be without the star running back Charles for Week 1 Ware jumps into the starting role as backup Charcandrick West is also banged up.
The Chargers had the league’s sixth worst rush defense in 2015 and first-round draft pick Joey Bosa is coming in to help after a severely shortened pre-season clouded by contract disputes.
Without significant help on the defensive side of the ball San Diego doesn’t project to fare much better than last year and Ware should be the benefactor.
Aug 28, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) throws a pass during the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Green Bay Packers @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Sunday, 11 September @ 1:00 PM
Bortles and his potent passing attack host Aaron Rodgers and a Packers group looking to regain dominance as the NFC North’s best team.
START: QB, Blake Bortles
The fourth highest point earner among all fantasy football quarterbacks last season is back and his offensive weapons are all coming with him.
New running back Chris Ivory will be used to help soften the opposing defensive line and with any amount of success the Packers defense will have to collapse towards the line of scrimmage.
Any type of added pursuit to the Jaguars running game will simultaneously open up territory for Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and tight end Julius Thomas to run free.
Bortles shouldn’t have any shortage of targets in Week 1 and his numbers should pick up right where they left off following a massive statistical improvement in his sophomore season.
SIT: RB, Eddie Lacy
Eddie Lacy has come back for redemption as a smaller version of his 2015 self and will be looking to make a statement against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1.
Only problem with the plan is the defense which ranked among the 10 best fantasy football defenses against the run last year which has only gotten better.
The return of Dante Fowler Jr. along with the additions of Malik Jackson, Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack are only going to add to the athleticism of this squad and the speed with which they collapse on ball carriers.
It’s not often a cornerback can add help to run support, but with Lacy’s significant lack of wiggle along the offensive line Ramsey will be able to take sharp angles without too much worry about giving up the outside lanes against the robust runner.
The Jags’ front seven is built to contain a guy like this, and with his determination to keep runs alive in hopes of breaking a big one this defense will have ample opportunities to strip the ball from the Packers back.
Lacy finished 8th in the NFL for fumbles among running backs despite finishing just 20th in the league in carries.
SLEEPER: RB, T.J. Yeldon
A lot was made about the Jags signing running back Chris Ivory this offseason, but Jacksonville’s best runner has to be T.J. Yeldon.
In his rookie season the Alabama product churned out 740 yards rushing on 182 carries. He carried the ball for an average of 4.1 yards per carry and was able to add almost 300 yards in receiving to go with them.
The stat which stands out the most to me is his zero fumbles. True he didn’t carry a workhorse amount of touches, but only two running backs had more carries than he did and didn’t lose a single fumble all season long.
The Jags will have the lead a lot this season with their defense looking significantly improved over last year’s version and their high-flying offense back for another shot at terrorizing secondaries.
An improved running game will help and while Ivory will get his shots to soften up the defense it should be Yeldon who takes advantage with the big plays and bigger fantasy scoring.
The older running back’s appearance on the Week 1 injury report is a sign the second year player should have a higher than expected workload as well, especially if he takes advantage early.
The Bears offense goes the way Jay Cutler goes and recently it just about always seems to be pointed south.
Finishing as the 21st ranked fantasy football quarterback last season puts him well outside of starter status for Week 1 especially when considering the Texans were the fourth best team when it came to frustrating fantasy owners who found their QBs facing them.
Even J.J. Watt’s lingering injury can’t save Cutler’s fantasy stock as he’ll have his hands full all day with little reason to think he’ll come out smelling like roses. No Matt Forte and a hobbled Kevin White if he even plays means Jay is in for a rough outing.
SLEEPER: RB, Jeremy Langford
You don’t let a running back like Matt Forte walk away without having someone behind him you feel is capable of picking up the enormous amount of slack he leaves behind.
Jeremy Langford came out of Michigan State underrated and he may be coming into the 2016 fantasy football season underrated again.
While Forte finished the season as the 9th best running back in points scored Langford was an impressive 24th ranked runner as a backup.
His breakout performance of his first year came in Week 10 against the Rams when he scored 30 points with more receiving yards than rushing and two touchdowns total.
The Texans defensive front seven is nothing to joke about, but they can find themselves vulnerable to screens and draws, potentially leaving the second year player some room to operate effectively in this match-up.
Aug 20, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy (25) runs the ball during the first half against the New York Giants at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Buffalo Bills @ Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, 11 September @ 1:00 PM
Too many pro-bowl players returning from injury here to cover them all. Who comes back the best will be the key.
START: RB, LeSean McCoy
LeSean McCoy’s first season in Buffalo was a tough one as the veteran entering his eighth season battled injury and was only able to appear in 12 games for his new franchise in northwestern New York.
The result was a year where he rushed for fewer than 1,000 yards and had his second lowest receiving total of his career.
He’s back and healthy now however, and will be looking to return to form starting with Week 1 in Baltimore where the Ravens welcome back Terrell Suggs as they try and climb back into relevance in the AFC North.
SIT: Any Ravens RB
The Baltimore Ravens starting running back is Justin Forsett…who has been cut…..but then re-
Jul 31, 2016; Owings Mills, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Justin Forsett (29) prepares for the next drill during the morning session of training camp at Under Armour Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
signed to the same contract plus an incentive for eclipsing 641 yards. Talk about high hopes.
If the franchise can’t figure out what they want from their running back position and if their challenge to a player is really just over 600 yards rushing, it’s probably best to just stay away from this situation for a few weeks.
Eventually either Forsett, Terrance West or maybe even Kenneth Dixon will establish themselves as the main guy but it’s really hard to trust any of these options for Week 1 especially with the rookie out early with a knee injury.
Bottom line is t’s high risk and potentially high reward with a bigger chance of bust as the Bills defense surrendered 17 points per game on average to fantasy running backs last year.
SLEEPER: QB, Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco missed his first career game in 2015, and missed five more after it.
Like LeSean McCoy from the other sideline he’s back healthy and looking to return better than ever.
He had six straight seasons over 3,500 passing yards and at least 19 touchdown passes before getting injured last year.
Buffalo comes in with a defense which ranked in the bottom half of fantasy football defenses against opposing quarterbacks and nowhere near the speed Flacco has stretching the field.
Aug 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) waves towards the crowd after the game at Oakland Alameda Coliseum. The Tennessee Titans defeated the Raiders 27-14. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Oakland Raiders @ New Orleans Saints
Sunday, 11 September @ 1:00 PM
The Raiders got one more year in Oakland and Drew Brees got one more year guaranteed in New Orleans. Which group will start their second wind off right?
START: QB, Derek Carr
The 14th ranked fantasy football quarterback last season is looking to crack the top-12 and make himself a legitimate starting option every week.
He’ll start against arguably the worst passing defense coming into 2016 and on the road against the New Orleans Saints.
Surrendering more than 23 points per week to quarterbacks in 2015 the Saints secondary was a fantasy gold-mine for owners lucky enough to have their offensive weapons face them.
Drew Brees and company will have to outscore the Raiders to beat this team and starting Carr will help his owners outscore their opponents in Week 1.
SIT: New Orleans Saints Defense
The defense wasn’t very stingy for New Orleans in 2015 and they predictably finished third from the bottom in fantasy football scoring.
As one of just four teams scoring less than 80 points total for the year, there really aren’t many options worse than this one.
Helping to ensure the trend continues into this season is an injury to Sheldon Rankins keeping him from making the impact they’d hoped he would make in his rookie campaign.
Sean Peyton better have his squad ready for a shoot-out against Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree; a shootout which promises to cost the Saints defense points on fantasy boards everywhere.
SLEEPER: WR, Michael Thomas
Michael Thomas has been using #shhh on his tweets and other social media postings for quite some time as his Ohio State Buckeyes never truly got their passing game off the ground prior to his entering the 2016 NFL Draft.
While teams didn’t completely sleep on the rookie, they certainly didn’t value him nearly as high as his uncle was valued when drafted by the Jets 20 years ago.
Since arriving in “The Big Easy” Thomas has been opening some eyes and looks poised to become his quarterback’s second target behind burner Brandin Cooks.
Sure, the depth chart has him lining up behind Willie Snead, but if Brees continues his streak of 600+ attempts this season you can bet Thomas will get his fair share.
Any owners or daily players looking to take the dive with this young receiver in Week 1 needs to keep a watchful eye on the injury reports as he’s been nursing an ankle injury.
Jan 3, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) runs with the ball as Buffalo Bills strong safety Bacarri Rambo (30) pursues during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Bills beat the Jets 22-17. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Cincinnati Bengals @ New York Jets
Sunday, 11 September @ 1:00 PM
Andy Dalton is looking to get back to playoff caliber football while the Jets are trying to make good on Brandon Marshall’s bet.
START: WR, Brandon Marshall
Brandon Marshall might be the most underrated fantasy football option as a wide receiver considering he finished last season as the NFL’s third best at his position.
He and Eric Decker combined to give Ryan Fitzpatrick plenty of options on his way to becoming the 11th ranked quarterback in 2015.
Facing a Bengals defense which is as talented as it is aggressive requires a smart quarterback throwing the ball and equally aggressive receivers to show strong hands against one of the better secondaries in the NFL.
Luckily Marshall is that receiver and “Fitz-Magic” as he calls him is about as smart as they get.
SIT: RB, Giovanni Bernard
The New York Jets held opposing running backs to the second-lowest fantasy scoring totals in 2015 and should return with a respectable defense once again this year.
For the Bengals’ Giovanni Bernard coming in as the team’s second option means his fantasy football value will diminish against tougher defenses as Jeremy Hill continues to grab hold of the primary duties.
The fourth year running back has eclipsed 1,000 yards of offense each season he’s been in the league but his touches have decreased each year as well.
If Hill comes in effective against the Jets defense then Bernard’s touches will continue to suffer and his owners will need to look elsewhere for points.
SLEEPER: Cincinnati Bengals Defense
The Cincinnati Bengals defense surrendered the second fewest points in the entire NFL last year withstanding offensive attacks from all challengers throughout the season.
Only four opponents in 2015 scored more than three touchdowns against this hard-nosed unit and even without the emotional Vontaze Burfict the defense should be in good shape as they try to contain the Jets attack.
Players who miss significant portions of the pre-season programs tend to struggle early and if Ryan Fitzpatrick can’t overcome the trend then this defensive unit could be in line for more than a couple turnovers with the athletes on their side to turn one into immediate points for the Bengals.
Jul 30, 2016; Renton, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor (31) and cornerback Richard Sherman (25) celebrate after a play by Chancellor during training camp at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Miami Dolphins @ Seattle Seahawks
Sunday, 11 September @ 4:05 PM
Adam Gase tries to do what nobody else can with Ryan Tannehill; make him a top NFL quarterback.
START: Seattle Seahawks Defense
Seattle’s defensive unit gave their owners in fantasy football 160 points in 2015; good for a top-5 finish.
The unit is missing some players from last year’s version but they’re still a very formidable looking group and should continue to give their opponents fits this season.
Facing off against the Miami Dolphins is a prime opportunity to show the league they’ve still got the ability to dominate.
As the NFL’s stingiest defense to score against entering the Seahawks’ home stadium only adds to the problems opponents face against this team.
A new system for a quarterback going up against one of the most cohesive defensive groups in the league makes this team a must start for Week 1, and it won’t be the last time.
SIT: QB, Ryan Tannehill
Ryan Tannehill might be the most underappreciated 4,000 yard passer in NFL history.
Aug 25, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) throws a pass against the Atlanta Falcons at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
A top-10 passer in yards, his stock takes a significant hit when he finishes 15th in touchdown passes and 12th most in interceptions.
Scoring is king in fantasy football scoring and interceptions can kill a players stock faster than anything.
New head coach Adam Gase is being looked at to turn this average quarterback into a league leader as the franchise allowed leading rusher Lamar Miller to depart for Houston this off-season.
Arian Foster will help when healthy, but if history repeats itself that won’t be often and Jay Ajayi doesn’t look anywhere near ready to take over as a primary back.
Leaning on Tannehill to lead the offense exclusively isn’t an attractive option, and he won’t be up to the task in Seattle during Week 1.
SLEEPER: RB, Christine Michael
Thomas Rawls is going to be the main guy to replace Marshawn Lynch who is apparently considering a comeback. I’m sure we’ll hear more about that, but not before Week 1.
Christine Michael looked impressive in the pre-season and has earned the opportunity to dominate the share of touches entering the season as Rawls continues to get back to healthy.
The Dolphins gave up the most points to opposing running backs in fantasy football last year and the addition of Mario Williams seems to be having little added value.
The Miami defensive unit figures to continue their struggles and Michael is a very attractive spot start here at home.
Aug 27, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) and center Weston Richburg (70) during the preseason game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. The Giants won, 21-20. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys
Sunday, 11 September @ 4:25 PM
The Prescott era begins in Big-D as Eli leaves Peyton hanging to play football in Dallas.
START: QB, Eli Manning
Kudos to the Cowboys for letting Greg Hardy hit the unemployment line, but man this pass rush has no punch.
Eli is going to have hours to sit in the pocket and wait for Odell Beckham Jr. to get open, and even if he doesn’t Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard have shown they have come to play this year.
Expect the return of Larry Donnell to fantasy football relevance as defensive units scramble to cover the speed on the field for New York.
No matter who the target is Eli is getting all those yards and should be able to hit 30 touchdown passes for the third straight season.
Starting off against a division rival provides just a bit more motivation and Manning should take full advantage.
SIT: WR, Dez Bryant
It’s tough to say sit Dez Bryant, but even the flashes shown by Dak Prescott can’t cover the fact he’s a rookie playing a greatly improved defensive unit who will be looking to confuse and abuse him all game long.
Hopefully Bryant can keep his emotions in check as the rookie gets comfortable, but his numbers may suffer in the meantime.
As an obvious main target for an inexperienced player the Giants defense is going to blanket their star receiver every time he leaves the line of scrimmage putting his production value in serious jeopardy entering Week 1.
SLEEPER: New York Giants Defense
A rookie quarterback is almost always going to make rookie mistakes and a defense waiting for those opportunities will always try to make him pay.
This team has the potential of owning the best front line of any defense in the NFL and Dak Prescott is the lucky gentleman with the honor of seeing them for the first full 60 minute period this year.
Even if running back Ezekiel Elliott can get the ground game going the Cowboys are going to have to throw if they have any hopes of keeping up, and each time will be a chance for this defense to make a play.
Aug 27, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) drops back to pass during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Lions @ Indianapolis Colts
Sunday, 11 September @ 4:25 PM
Luck has no line help and Stafford is missing Megatron. Someone has to step up for their quarterback. Who will it be?
START: QB, Matthew Stafford
The Colts offensive line struggles are well known, but their defense isn’t going to be lighting teams up either.
Indianapolis averaged 16.5 points per game given up to opposing quarterbacks and even without Calvin Johnson coming back Matthew Stafford will get his numbers by sheer volume if necessary.
Golden Tate is still here and Marvin Jones will help soften the blow along with veteran Anquan Boldin.
Stafford won’t be a guy to look at for starts every week, but in Week 1 against the Colts he should be just fine for any fantasy football owner putting him in as a starter.
The absence of Vontae Davis who’s expected to miss Week 1 will boost the stock of Golden Tate along with his quarterback in a contest already primed for Stafford to look like maybe he can survive without his go-to guy.
SIT: RB, Frank Gore
Most may be surprised to learn Frank Gore finished 2015 as the 12th ranked fantasy running back when all was said and done.
The Lions ended up being the 14th best against runners and even Gore can’t make his offensive line look better than it really is.
If Detroit’s offense can get some early scores then the Colts will have to lean heavily on Andrew Luck and the passing game which all but eliminates Gore as a player of consequence in this Week 1 match-up.
Fantasy football owners who drafted the elder statesmen of running backs should stash him for a later contest, but look elsewhere here.
SLEEPER: RB, Ameer Abdullah
I’ll admit it was pretty rough looking for a sleeper here, and this may be the deepest sleeper of them all.
Ameer Abdullah is currently listed as the starter on the Lions depth chart and his obvious talent is going to hopefully emerge this year where it really disappeared last season.
He did average more than four yards per carry in limited duty as a rookie so there’s potential for long-term success.
What makes Abdullah a deep-deep sleeper is the fact he’s expected to split carries more than maybe any other starting running back.
If he breaks out he’s going to have to do it on fewer touches than most, but the Colts defense gave up nearly 19 fantasy points per game last season, so it isn’t out of the question he can pull it off.
Aug 28, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) carries the ball during the first quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots @ Arizona Cardinals
Sunday, 11 September @ 8:30 PM
Garoppolo vs Palmer: Episode 1
START: RB, David Johnson
When David Johnson got on the field as the Cardinals’ starting running back in Week 13 of last season it was obvious pretty quick the rookie had no intention of giving the job back.
With over 100 yards of offense in every game he started but one the Northern Iowa product took even his own team by surprise with his combination of power, athleticism and deceptive speed.
Coming into 2016 he’s a fantasy football favorite and is consistently getting drafted as one of the top-5 running backs drafted.
Opening his campaign against the Brady-less New England Patriots means his team figures to lead early and lead all the way to a Week 1 win.
While they’ll use his talents to take the lead opening the game, Arizona will certainly lean on his toughness to close the game out.
Get used to Johnson as a fantasy-relevant player and start him this week over just about anyone.
SIT: QB, Jimmy Garoppolo
Aug 26, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) scrambles during the pre-season game at Bank of America Stadium. Patriots win 19-17 over the Panthers. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
There aren’t many defenses tougher to throw against than the Cardinals’ and it’s exactly the match-up drawn by Jimmy Garoppolo as he makes his first NFL start following the suspension of Tom Brady.
Real-life stats don’t always translate directly to fantasy football, but in this case Arizona’s defense ranked in the top-10 against quarterbacks when it came to points allowed.
Hidden coverages, fancy blitz combinations and a flat-out aggressive defense awaits Garoppolo’s first start and while the Patriots have little choice here fantasy owners do, and need to find another one to play here.
SLEEPER: QB, Carson Palmer
Ok, this is more of a second start guy than anything, but can we really ignore Carson Palmer this week?
While David Johnson should certainly get plenty of chances to give his fantasy football investors some good dividends this weekend, Palmer is poised for a good day as well.
Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown both finished as top-20 wide receivers last season and the veteran quarterback was a big reason for it.
When the Patriots defense stacks the box against Johnson, Palmer has the experience and intelligence to check out of the run play and capitalize on mismatches forced by a successful running attack.
The New England defense will likely be on the field for long stretches during this game and Palmer will get plenty of opportunities to capitalize before Arizona goes into clock-killing mode.
Dec 20, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) runs the ball against the Denver Broncos during the first half at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Washington Redskins
Monday, 12 September @ 7:10 PM
Antonio Brown faces Josh Norman and the league’s most un-celebrated division champion.
START: WR, Antonio Brown
Not many will argue Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the game and with Le’Veon Bell sitting out the first three games of the year the Steelers will look to him more than ever to get this team going.
He’ll be covered primarily by Josh Norman who has his sights set on proving he wasn’t a one-year wonder following his departure from Carolina.
The Redskins may have the league’s best cornerback, but it takes more than one man to completely shut down the best receiver in the NFL.
Brown was the only receiver to score more than 240 points for fantasy football owners last year and those came despite injuries and suspensions to his quarterback and primary running back.
Don’t doubt this guy’s talent, and definitely don’t leave him on your bench.
Deangelo Williams may be the best backup in the league and he’ll be looking to show the Redskins some proof of this argument.
Last year Washington surrendered more than 18 points per game to running backs and gave up more than 1,600 yards rushing.
On top of this, the Redskins gave up the third most points to opposing wide receivers. Granted, Josh Norman should improve this, but by how much is still to be seen.
The Steelers seem to have the counter to every strength on their opponent’s side of the ball here, and they have talent to exploit their weaknesses.
Washington looks to be destined for a rough loss here in Week 1 and the defense will take the majority of the beating.
SLEEPER: WR, Markus Wheaton
If Josh Norman is going to cover Antonio Brown then Markus Wheaton is going to draw favorable match-ups all game long.
With the ability to stretch the field vertically and turn a quick screen into big yards, Bryant is a prime candidate to benefit from the suspension of wide receiver Martavis Bryant.
Redskins’ cornerback Bashaud Breeland will have his hands full and should prepare for a heavy workload. If he’s not up to the challenge then Wheaton could score more than his fair share of big plays and even grab a touchdown or two helping his team and fantasy owners win their first contests of the year.
Aug 27, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30) during the second half of a preseason game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Rams 17-9. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Rams @ San Francisco 49ers
Monday, 12 September @ 10:20 PM
Case Keenum makes his case to be “The Man” for Los Angeles.
START: RB, Todd Gurley
There’s just not enough which can be said about the year running back Todd Gurley had as a rookie coming off of a knee injury which had many doubting his NFL potential before he even stepped foot on the field.
In 13 games last season Gurley tore off more than 1,200 yards of offense and double-digit touchdowns finishing in the top-5 of fantasy scoring among running backs.
Fantasy football owners near the top of their drafts certainly had him near the top of their list as he has routinely been taken as the top running back in 2016.
He opens with a match-up against a division rival, and it’s the rival which figures finish last by a wide margin.
The 49ers were the second worst team against fantasy backs in 2015 giving up 23.42 points per game on average.
In Week 8 last year Gurley ripped off 133 yards and a score for more than 20 points. He did not play in their Week 17 match-up so this contest will be the second of his career, and we can all probably expect more of the same.
SIT: RB, Carlos Hyde
Aug 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (28) runs the ball for a first down in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Like many running backs before him Carlos Hyde has had all of his potential overshadowed by injuries and inconsistencies.
The man who replaced Gore has found himself replaced often and coming into the season his quarterback has been replaced by one-time backup Blaine Gabbert.
If Gabbert ascension in the bay can show Hyde anything it’s that one man’s career is never truly over if he has perseverance.
Patience is something the running back will need a lot of however, as his offense will likely struggle to find any consistent production in Week 1.
As the only real threat on the offense, Los Angeles will key in on him early and often while trying to secure the first “should-win” of the year.
SLEEPER: QB, Case Keenum
Case Keenum isn’t trying to be a place-holder for Jared Goff, but the ugly truth may be that he’s playing for a future somewhere else.
The fifth year quarterback finished last season right behind the Bengals’ AJ McCarron in fantasy scoring so if he’s sitting in the free-agent pool don’t be surprised.
Surprisingly San Francisco was the fifth best fantasy defense against opposing gunslingers in 2015.
As the team stacks the box to try and stop Gurley however, Keenum should be able to find Kenny Britt in space and Tavon Austin behind the coverage if they get overly aggressive coming down into the box.
Any daily and weekly players starting Keenum will need some guts to do so, but it’s risk with high reward possibilities against a vulnerable defensive unit in Week 1.
Aug 27, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Case Keenum (17) makes a call at the line of scrimmage over center Tim Barnes (61) in the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s Recap our selections for this weekends’ match-ups…