Each week of the regular season in "Fantasy Audibles" I'll use the SAP Player Comparison Tool to help you make the right decisions when it comes to difficult lineup dilemmas. The tool uses several factors to help make an educated suggestion, including past performance, matchup, consistency, upside and intangibles. However, since we're still in the preseason the tool isn't fully operational quite yet. As a result, I use the old-fashioned fantasy methods to help make a determination on three difficult Week 1 matchup decisions below. Let's take a look at the start/sit questions haunting some of our fantasy readers and try to help them set a winning lineup.
Who should I start at WR: Eric Decker or Donte Moncrief?
Decker owned a healthy 22.4 target share with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center in 2015 and saw 37.5 percent of his red-zone targets as well. However, he and Fitzpatrick (as you'll see more below) face a tough matchup in Week 1 against the Bengals defense. This could be a low-scoring affair, with fantasy owners basically praying the Jets get to the red zone and target Decker immediately. Moncrief, on the other hand, will be one of the top options for Andrew Luck in what could turn into a shootout when the Colts face the Lions in Week 1. The Colts pass rush and secondary are in absolute shambles right now, setting up Matthew Stafford and his pass-catching options for a big day. It's always a sound strategy to target players in pass-heavy game scripts, and with the Colts defense resembling a turnstile, the offense will have to be firing on all cylinders to stay in this contest. That paints a favorable outlook for Moncrief, who quietly was on his way to a breakout season in 2015 before countless injuries (none more critical than Luck's) slowed his roll. He'll likely be the team's top threat near the end zone in 2016 after his performance last year: He converted three of his four targets from Luck inside the 10-yard line into touchdowns.
While Decker might appear to have the safer floor after posting 80-plus yards or a touchdown in every game last year, Moncrief's ceiling in a potential Week1 shootout is worth chasing. Start the most obvious breakout candidate of the 2016 fantasy season at home against the Lions and hope he starts the year off with a bang.
Who should I start at QB: Eli Manning or Ryan Fitzpatrick?
Eli Manning and Ryan Fitzpatrick are both great late-round quarterback options to target in drafts, but for Week 1 I think the choice is Manning and it's not at all close. Last season, the Dallas defense allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Their front-seven has been decimated by suspensions this offseason (Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Rolando McClain will all miss time), meaning they'll be hard-pressed to slow down adept passers like Manning early on. The Giants have ranked ninth and sixth in pass attempts in two years under head coach Ben McAdoo, and there's no reason to think they'll suddenly switch to a run-first approach. Sterling Shepard also gives the offense a true No. 2 option alongside Odell Beckham Jr., so all signs point to a big Week 1 for Manning.
Fitzpatrick joined the Jets late in the offseason program after holding out during lengthy contract negotiations and looks a bit rough around the edges so far this offseason. Yes, he still has Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker to throw the ball to, but the Bengals boast an impressive and stingy defense. Last season, the Bengals held opposing quarterbacks to the second-fewest fantasy points per game (15.23) and allowed the sixth-lowest yards per attempt (6.15) despite seeing the second-most pass attempts in the league. This doesn't bode well for a Jets passing attack that could still be shaking off some rust in Week 1.
While it might be more exciting to hope for Fitzmagic to return, the safer and smarter Week 1 play is Eli Manning.
Who should I start at RB: Jonathan Stewart or Ryan Mathews?
While I'm a big fan of Jonathan Stewart, Ryan Mathews' Week 1 matchup is too enticing to pass up. Stewart kicks off the season in a Super Bowl 50 rematch on the road against the Denver Broncos, a team that held him to just 29 yards on 12 carries back in February (2.4 yards per carry). Stewart's long run that game was 12 yards, meaning on his 11 other carries he gained a combined 18 yards. I don't want to overrate one game but the Denver defense looks set to pick up where they left off last season -- as a champion-caliber unit.
They lost Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan in free agency, but the team signed Jared Crick from the Texans to play defensive end and has Todd Davis waiting in the wings to fill in for Trevathan. More importantly, though, is that Wade Phillips is still the defensive coordinator. Last year, the Broncos held opposing offenses to a league-best 3.3 yards per carry. In the Week 3 preseason "dress rehearsal" they held the Rams running backs to 3.3 yards per carry as well (though Todd Gurley didn't play). Stewart figures to get the lion's share of rushing work for the Panthers in Week 1, but it could be tough sledding against a loaded defensive front.
On the flip side, Mathews faces a Browns defense that is clearly still in the process of rebuilding. That front seven features a rookie (Emmanuel Ogbah), several new starters (Xavier Cooper, John Hughes), and new arrival/leader Demario Davis. Mathews is the leading back in a Philadelphia offense that will likely look to run the ball often to keep the pressure off of its quarterback and unsettled wide receiver group. Last year, Mathews' 5.1 yards per carry was the second-highest mark in the league among backs with 100-plus carries (Thomas Rawls, 5.6), and he's looked good thus far in the preseason. Speaking of, the Browns have allowed the third-most rushing yards (451) through three weeks of the preseason. Add in the fact that Mathews gets to play this game at home in Philadelphia, and the scale tips in his favor even more.
While Stewart will likely end up the better fantasy back by the season's end because he's attached to a high-powered offense with an elite quarterback, for Week 1 Mathews looks like the better play.