We finally made it. Week 1 of the NFL and fantasy football season is about to grace us with its magnificent presence, and I for one could not be more excited. First and foremost, because football is back, but also because I'm now the sole author of this weekly matchups column.
In years past, this article was a team effort from the NFL Fantasy Stronghold, but this year we thought it'd be best to have one analyst tackle this behemoth, and I drew the short straw. I kid, as I am very much looking forward to the opportunity and challenge.
As you'll see below, I've reshaped the formatting of this piece a bit. For those looking for quick-hitting start/sit/flex/stream analysis, I list all of the main players fo every team in their matchup with my recommendation. Below that, I do my best to preview the game with additional insight, stats, and analysis to contextualize my recommendation. This process is going to evolve as I get better at writing this thing solo, and we get more data the further we get into the season.
Now, enough blathering on. We've got lineups to set, and matchups to explore. Time to dive in.
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings, 7:10 p.m. ET on ESPN
Please don't overthink things and sit Drew Brees in Week 1 because he's on the road. While it's true Brees is better at home, he's still an elite passer with a loaded crop of skill position players competing in a dome. He'll be just fine. The running backs, however, present a massive fantasy headache. The Adrian Peterson REVENGE narrative might be one to buy in on this week. It'd be a very Sean Payton thing to do to feature Peterson in Minnesota against his old squad. Other than that, start Mark Ingram or Alvin Kamara at your own risk. I'm steering clear of this group until we get some idea of how the workload will be split up. One might be worried about Michael Thomas running into star cornerback Xavier Rhodes early and often in this contest, but Matt Harmon dives deep with Next Gen Stats to explain why we shouldn't be too scared. The Vikings defense can be beaten over the top, as we recently saw with Marquise Goodwin in the preseason. That opens the door for a Ted Ginn bomb touchdown, and with Willie Snead suspended, Ginn will see the field plenty. He's a boom-or-bust flex play. Don't overlook Coby Fleener this year, especially in Week 1. Fleener should be more of a factor in the New Orleans offense now that he's comfortable in it, but the only game in which Fleener saw double digit targets last year was the one Snead missed. Fleener caught seven of 11 looks for 109 yards and a touchdown versus Atlanta in that game.
Few players have received as much unanimous fantasy hype as Sam Bradford heading into Week 1. For more on why he's a good start, read this, this, this or this. Man, we've really set Bradford up for failure, haven't we? Anyway, Dalvin Cook looks locked in as the featured back and could enter the NFL with a bang in front of a national TV audience. The Saints allowed 18 rushing touchdowns to backs last year and routinely got burned through the air, allowing 85 catches on 103 targets for 868 yards (second-most in the league). As a dual-threat back, Cook should feast. The Saints secondary still needs work, and losing Delvin Breaux isn't helping. If the Vikings offensive line can give Bradford enough time, both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen should be able to roam relatively freely. Diggs is moving primarily to the outside receiver spot, and the Saints allowed 1,989 yards and 12 touchdowns to wide receivers lined up out wide in 2016. Kyle Rudolph is a dominant force in the red zone and received 22.16 percent of Bradford's intended air yards last year (second-most among tight ends). The Vikings defense will win you some weeks ... just not this one.
Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos, 10:20 p.m. ET on ESPN
Philip Rivers should be in line for a great season with so many talented players around him, but a Week 1 road trip to Denver isn't ideal. Keep him on the bench if you can, as no team allowed fewer passing yards or passing touchdowns than the Broncos last year. Melvin Gordon is one of the few true workhorses in the NFL, and should see all kinds of volume against the Broncos. The arrival of Anthony Lynn as head coach could mean good things for Gordon too. Lynn has had nine 1,000 yard rushers under his guidance in 14 years coaching the position. Keenan Allen is a solid start this week, especially in PPR, as he should be able to work through the Broncos secondary with his shorter routes and quickness off the line. The same can't be said for Tyrell Williams, who was flat out erased last year when playing the Broncos. He managed just four catches for 32 yards on nine targets through two games while playing 73 percent of the snaps. Tight end has become a rather touchdown-dependent position, and both Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry will be heavily targeted near the goal line. They're worth a shot. The Chargers defense was a very strong unit last season that will only get better with Jason Verrett back at full health. Even though they're on the road, they're a good option against the Broncos Trevor Siemian-led offense.
The beautiful thing about the Broncos offense is how concentrated it is. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will combine to receive roughly 50 percent of the team targets, making them weekly starts -- even in tough matchups like this one against the Chargers. Right now, the prevailing wisdom is that C.J. Anderson will be the starting running back, though Jamaal Charles may mix in a bit. Anderson is an OK flex this week, but we'll need to monitor this backfield distribution closely. Denver's defense at home is a virtual must-start. The Chargers offense is going to be good this year, but their offensive line is still a bit shoddy, which will allow Von Miller and co. to wreak some havoc. Philip Rivers has also led the NFL in interceptions in two of the last three weekends, a harrowing stat considering he's about to face the "No Fly Zone."
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC (Thurs)
The Patriots allowed the second-most receptions (102) and third-most receiving yards (808) to running backs in 2016 and didn't make any massive upgrades to their defense. Kareem Hunt should at worst be a solid floor play with his projected volume as the new featured back, though Matt Nagy, the offensive coordinator, did intimate that the team could deploy a bit more of a committee backfield in Week 1 and the Patriots allowed just one rushing touchdown at home in 2016. Tyreek Hill had nine-plus targets just twice last season, but this year his transition into Jeremy Maclin's old "Z" receiver role could open up more opportunities. In 2015, Maclin saw nine or more looks eight times. Chris Conley should be on your radar but isn't worth starting at this point in the season. We'll need to see how the targets shake out in the reshuffled passing attack, especially since Travis Kelce figures to command plenty. The Patriots were stingy against tight ends last year, allowing the sixth fewest yards (708, 44.25 per game) and just three touchdowns to the position. However, athletic tight ends were able to find space against the Pats, with Jimmy Graham catching all four of his targets against the team in Week 10 for 48 yards, and Vance McDonald tagging the defense for 3-46-1 the following week. Kelce's own brief history versus the Patriots is up and down. He carved them up in 2014 for 8-93-1 on nine targets, but when the teams met in the 2015 Divisional Round, the Pats bottled him up, allowing him just 23 yards on six catches (from nine targets). Nevertheless, in Week 1 Kelce's projected volume, role in the offense, and talent make him a must-start. The same can't be said for Alex Smith. Taking him on the road into the teeth of a strong defense would be ill-advised. The Chiefs defense will help win your team plenty of weeks if you drafted them. This is not one of those weeks.
The key to stopping Tom Brady is to pressure him incessantly. The Chiefs have two talented pass rushers in Justin Houston and Dee Ford, but missing Tamba Hali could be big. The Chiefs also boast a talented secondary featuring Marcus Peters and Eric Berry, but Brady will have plenty of ways to beat this unit. In the past six years, Brady has failed to eclipse 17 fantasy points in his first game of the season just once. The team's prized offseason acquisition, Brandin Cooks, will get a chance to prove his worth right away. Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus discovered that Cooks performs far better in fantasy against cornerbacks with a 40-yard dash time at 4.45 seconds or slower. The only starting cornerback for the Chiefs fast enough to contend with this trend is Phillip Gaines, who blazed a 4.38 40-yard dash back in 2015. Last year, Gaines primarily lined up on the defensive right side of the field, while Marcus Peters manned the defensive left. Cooks played 52 percent of his snaps last year in New Orleans facing the defensive left, versus 48 percent facing the defensive right. That should afford him opportunities to beat slower cornerbacks for some solid fantasy production. While Chris Hogan flashed in the preseason immediately following Julian Edelman's injury, follow a cautious approach with him in fantasy. This game will be our first litmus test to see how the Patriots adapt sans Edelman, but with Malcolm Mitchell now on IR, Hogan could see a bit more volume and warrants flex consideration. The running backs are an absolute fantasy mess, and I'd be hesitant to start any of them in Week 1. Despite teams throwing to running backs 106 times against the Chiefs last year, the Kansas City defense allowed the lowest catch rate to the position in the league (63.2 percent) and the fifth-fewest yards. That could hurt James White, Dion Lewis, and Rex Burkhead, especially if they're splitting reps and targets. Mike Gillislee would make more sense as the likely early-down back, but his recent injury status and standing in the backfield pecking order is in question. The loss of Dontari Poe in free agency could hurt the Chiefs run defense, which allowed 4.43 yards per carry to backs in 2016 (ninth-most). You're starting Gronk, that should never be a question. It sure sounds appealing to take the defending champs' defense at home in Week 1 against Alex Smith, but a wait-and-see approach could be prudent. Since 2011, Alex Smith has thrown the fewest interceptions in the league among quarterbacks with at least 2,000 attempts, and the Patriots may struggle to create a pass rush. Between free agency, injuries, and retirements the team is missing 30 percent of its sack production from last year, with only fourth-round rookie Deatrich Wise coming in to help fill that gap.
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. ET on CBS
The Jets endured a talent exodus this offseason of biblical proportions, cutting ties with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, while losing last year's promising young star, Quincy Enunwa, to a season-ending injury (they tried and failed to trade Matt Forte, too, per reports). While some might view that as opening up plenty of opportunity for younger players, this offense is a fantasy landmine ready to explode all over your lineup. Josh McCown averages 275 passing yards, 1.5 touchdowns, and .73 interceptions per game over his last 11 starts, but those are hardly inspiring numbers for this offense traveling to face the Bills at home. Trying to bank on starting recent acquisition Jermaine Kearse or second-year pro Robby Anderson to be the recipient of that touchdown would be a fool's errand. Bilal Powell caught 58 passes on 74 targets last year and could see plenty of volume in this one, but he's best served as an option in PPR formats. This Jets offense could struggle to score points all season, and it's best to not rely too heavily on this unit until we get more clarity. Their once stalwart defense also took a hit during the exodus when the team shipped Sheldon Richardson off to the Seahawks as part of the trade for Kearse. While the Bills offense has been bleeding talent as well, the Jets defense on the road isn't an ideal fantasy start.
Tyrod Taylor went from trendy late-round quarterback to fantasy afterthought during the Bills offseason makeover. Swapping Sammy Watkins for Jordan Matthews is an offensive scheme fit for Rick Dennison (the new coordinator), but runs against Taylor's style of play (extending plays, throwing deep, etc.). Without that threat to take the top off of the defense, TyGod's weekly ceiling comes crashing down to human levels, though he's still a potential floor play given his rushing ability. The wide receiver outlook in Buffalo isn't great either. Last year, this offense only posted five top-24 wide receiver performances all year, and four of those came from Watkins and Marquise Goodwin, two players who could stretch the field. That's not Matthews' game, and to make matters worse he's dealing with chest injury which has kept him out of practice. If he sits, there could be an argument to take a stab at Zay Jones with more potential for volume, but that is a risky gambit to take in Week 1. LeSean McCoy should be overloaded with volume and produce just fine here, especially with Richardson out of the picture in New York. The Jets allowed just shy of four yards per carry in 2016 but could be more vulnerable to Shady in the passing game, as they allowed the second-most receiving touchdowns to backs (five). Charles Clay could be a sneaky play in DFS or deeper leagues. Given the revamped passing corps, Taylor could turn to his most familiar asset in Clay. Only two teams conceded touchdowns to tight ends more frequently than the Jets in 2016, giving Clay some nice touchdown upside if the Bills throw near the goal line. The Bills defense should be one of the best plays of the week. McCown has kept his interceptions in check of late but has been sacked so much you'd think he actively seeks out opposing defenders. McCown has been taken down 34 times in his last 11 starts, more than three times per game, and 41 times total if you count his two relief appearances last year. The Bills defense can still get after the quarterback, as they sacked opposing passers on 7.09 percent of dropbacks last year, the fourth-highest mark in the league. That combination should turn into solid production from a defense still available in plenty of leagues.
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET on FOX
Carson Wentz has a newly revamped wide receiving corps to attack the Washington secondary with, and he may need it after posting 7.4 and 13.1 fantasy points in his two bouts with the division rival last year. Wentz improved in his second match with Washington, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 314 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The yardage should be there for Wentz, as Washington allowed the seventh most passing yards per game in 2016 (274), but scores could be harder to come by as the team tied for the eighth lowest passing touchdown rate among NFL defenses (3.7). Wentz averaged just 5.3 air yards per completion, tied for fifth-lowest in the league, but that should change with the additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Wentz lacked a receiver of Jeffery's caliber last year, and the duo looked to be in-sync in the preseason, though many assume lockdown corner Josh Norman will shadow Jeffery in this one. Wentz has only targeted Norman once in their two meetings (it was incomplete), while Jeffery managed four catches for 78 yards on nine targets when Norman was covering him last year. This isn't to say you should sit Jeffery, he just might not be a locked in WR1 this week. If you're starting Torrey Smith in a deeper league, it's in the hopes he connects with Wentz on a deep touchdown pass. Matt Harmon highlighted Smith as a sleeper waiver add this week, as he could find space to roam if Norman spends most of his time shadowing Jeffery. Speaking of space to roam, if Zach Ertz wants to bust the "only performs in December" narrative he's built up, he'll have a great chance in Week 1. Per ProFootballReference, no team allowed more receptions (114) or yards per game (74) to tight ends than Washington last year, and the team will be without strong safety Su'a Cravens, who could be retiring from the league at age 22. Ertz feels like the safest play in this passing attack. As for the ground game, the Redskins allowed 4.52 yards per carry and 16 scores to backs last year. Head coach Doug Pederson has hinted that the team will deploy a committee backfield, muddying the outlook for LeGarrette Blount. He could be flexed, however, given his prowess near the goal line (scored on 16 of 33 attempts inside the 5-yard line since 2015) and the Eagles' tendency to run near the end zone (third-highest percentage of run plays inside opponents' 10-yard line in 2016). Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood are better left on the bench this week until we get a clearer picture of the workload split here.
How much of Washington's offensive struggles from the preseason will carry over into the regular season? It's a fair question to ask given how much turnover this group endured this offseason, losing offensive coordinator Sean McVay and wideouts DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Kirk Cousins should still be a decent floor play, as long as his offensive line can keep him standing against the talented Eagles front seven. There are holes in the secondary to exploit, and Cousins should be able to find them. Rob Kelley defended his starting gig in the backfield this offseason, but faces a tough Week 1 matchup, as the Eagles allowed just 4.21 yards per carry a year ago. If the Redskins plan on running near the goal line, Kelley will be the guy, giving him some touchdown upside as a low-end flex play. Terrelle Pryor feels like a boom-or-bust play here. On the one hand, only two teams allowed more yardage to wide receivers than Philadelphia in 2016, but on the other they addressed their secondary (trading for Ronald Darby) and Pryor is still only in his second year as a wideout. Jamison Crowder should offer a nice floor in PPR, especially if Washington struggles to move the ball at first. Though keep an eye on Crowder as he was added to the injury report Thursday with a hip injury. The Eagles were tough on tight ends but that's also because they dodged a lot of good players due to injuries. Jordan Reed is an absolute mismatch and could turn this game on its head early. He's a must-start.
Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. ET on CBS
So far, so good for Derek Carr in his return from a broken fibula late last season. He's looked sharp in the preseason and has a full complement of offensive weapons. The Titans allowed the fourth-most passing yards in the league last year along with 24 touchdowns and could be ripe for the picking. Which Marshawn Lynch will we see in Week 1? Will it be the guy who leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns and is tied for second in 100-yard games since 2011? Or will it be the banged up, aging runner we saw in 2015 (when Lynch was last in the NFL)? The Titans defensive line is a strength, and the team allowed the third-fewest yards on the ground last year. It'll be hard to sit BeastMode, but the matchup isn't ideal (especially if this becomes a pass-happy affair as many expect) and Sunday will mark 389 days since he last played a snap in the NFL. I don't really have much else to tell you about Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree other than they are very good at their jobs and should be in your starting lineups in what should be a high-scoring game. Jared Cook is a wonderful addition to this offense, but shouldn't be in fantasy consideration just yet. Carr and the Raiders would need to buck their trend of infrequently targeting the position to make Cook a viable option for fantasy. This is projected to be a high-scoring game and the Raiders are on the road, taking their D/ST out of starting consideration.
The Titans ran the ball on 47.2 percent of their offensive plays in 2016, the third-highest mark in the league, and posted the fourth-best yards per carry (4.6) and fourth-most runs of 10-plus yards (59). This all sets up for a nice matchup for DeMarco Murray, as the Raiders defense allowed the sixth-most rushing yards last year (107 per game). Let's leave Derrick Henry on the bench for Week 1 until we get a sense of how much of a true "workhorse" Murray will be this year. Marcus Mariota is in a prime spot to post big totals in Week 1. The additions of Corey Davis and Eric Decker should help Mariota spread the ball around and move the chains, especially against a suspect Raiders secondary. As for those wideouts, Decker is really the only one to trust in Week 1 given his red-zone prowess. Davis might be on a pitch count and it's tough to discern how Rishard Matthews fits into the picture now, though he could make for an upside-based flex play. Delanie Walker could dominate in this game, as the Raiders placed safety Obi Melifonwu on injured reserve this week, a player they drafted specifically to help cover tight ends. The Raiders allowed 12.8 yards per catch to opposing tight ends, the second-highest mark in the league. No quarterback was pressured less often in the pocket than Derek Carr in 2016, per Next Gen Stats. He was pressured on just 10.7 percent of dropbacks, while the NFL average came in at 26.1. The Titans will face an uphill battle attempting to slow this offense down. Leave them on the bench.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans, 1 p.m. ET on CBS
You likely didn't draft Blake Bortles anyway, but if you did, please, please, don't start him against the Texans defense. They allowed the second-fewest passing yards in the league last year and just 20 passing touchdowns WITHOUT J.J. Watt, who, by the way, is back healthy. Leonard Fournette is in a tough spot here too but could offer low-end flex appeal based on volume alone. T.J. Yeldon has missed practice this week and could be a longshot to play, increasing Fournette's likelihood to catch some passes as well. Allen Robinson ... yeah. Love the talent and player, hate the matchup and quarterback situation. The Texans did a pretty good job of limiting Robinson last year, save for garbage time of their first matchup when Robinson tacked on a touchdown and two-point conversion. I wish I could offer you more than that, but my advice would be to steer clear of starting Robinson this week. Those in need of a Week 1 defense could give the Jaguars a shot. This game figures to be low scoring and the Texans are starting unproven quarterback Tom Savage. The Jaguars stop unit boasts a ton of talent and could make some plays in this one.
Tom Savage has earned the starting gig in Houston but needs to do a lot more to earn the trust of fantasy players. Lamar Miller is in a great spot to see a ton of volume, though it remains to be seen what he'll do with all of that in Week 1. D'Onta Foreman is battling a groin injury and missed practice earlier in the week, while Alfred Blue just recently got out of a walking boot and missed practice Wednesday. The Jaguars allowed just 3.8 yards per carry in 2016, though, so it could be a solid but uninspiring fantasy performance from Miller unless he gets into the end zone. As for the passing game, DeAndre Hopkins is the only player to really trust. In Savage's two primary appearances in 2016 (throwing out Week 17 when he left after eight attempts with a concussion) he chucked the rock Hopkins' way on roughly 30 percent of his attempts. That number will likely come down a bit, but the point is Hopkins should have some volume here. There's a chance Jalen Ramsey shadows Hopkins, which would hurt Hopkins' ceiling as well. Ramsey covered Hopkins on 49 plays last year per Next Gen Stats, allowing 10 catches for 94 yards on 22 targets. Bruce Ellington could figure into this offense later on this season, but let's give it a week to see what his role looks like. There are better tight ends in better spots to start this week than Fiedorowicz. Blake Bortles leads the NFL with 63 turnovers since 2014. J.J. Watt's return is a huge boost, as he leads the NFL in QB hits since 2007 (he entered the league in 2011, yes that's insane) and leads the league in sacks too, despite missing 13 games last year. This is a pristine matchup for the Texans.
Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m. ET on FOX
Carson Palmer finished 2016 strong, averaging 17.6 fantasy points per game over his final nine games. If he carries that streak into 2017 (after resting his arm more this offseason), he could get off to a great start. The Lions secondary finished in the bottom five of Football Outsiders' passing DVOA, and made only marginal additions to their secondary by signing D.J. Hayden and drafting Teez Tabor. Larry Fitzgerald shout eat in this game, while John Brown (if healthy) is in a nice spot too. Not that you need any additional info from me to know to start David Johnson, but the Lions allowed the seventh-most receptions to running backs last year. The Cardinals defense should be a solid play for much of the season, but on the road in an early east coast game against a solid offense isn't a great spot.
Matthew Stafford might be the highest-paid player in the league, but that doesn't mean he's a must-start in fantasy. Arizona led the league with 48 sacks last year and allowed the fifth-fewest yards to quarterbacks. Stafford's short passing style under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter (his 8.3 intended air yards per attempt was the sixth-lowest in the league) should help him move his offense but doesn't signal a massive fantasy outing against a great defense. Ameer Abdullah is the starting running back and the team wants to feature him, but this is a tough starting matchup. The Cardinals allowed just 3.29 yards per carry last year and a measly 385 receiving yards to backs. He can be flexed, but look for better options if you have them. Theo Riddick looks locked back into his pass-catching role, but it's worth wondering if Golden Tate playing more in the slot will limit Riddick's upside, especially in standard formats. Speaking of Tate, he's the lone Lions wideout I trust in this contest. We need to see which Marvin Jones shows up and how Kenny Golladay figures into this group before starting them in fantasy. I'm on board with the Eric Ebron hype train this year, but I'm guessing it gets off to a rough start in Week 1. The Cardinals historically erase tight ends in fantasy football, and if Ebron draws some coverage from Tyrann Mathieu he'll be in for a long afternoon.
Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. ET on FOX
The Bears defense is a surprisingly stout unit, but there's no reason not to start the top pieces of this offense in Week 1. The Falcons should control much of this game, leading to at least a safe floor from the likes of Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones. I'd be hesitant to start Tevin Coleman out of the gate. Kyle Shanahan was great at using Coleman as his mismatch Swiss-Army Knife, but there's no telling how new coordinator Steve Sarkisian will use Coleman just yet. Austin Hooper is a trendy breakout name, but there are plenty of good tight ends available to stream. Let's wait and see with Hooper. The Falcons managed two-plus sacks in nine of their 10 final games last year without first-round pick Takkarist McKinley and free-agent acquisition Dontari Poe, so big things could be on the horizon for this pass rush that already features 2017's sack leader Vic Beasley. The Falcons should hold a lead for this game and force the Bears into a pass-heavy game script, which could lead to some sacks and/or turnovers for the Dirty Birds.
This passing attack was already going to struggle in 2017 before the loss of Cameron Meredith, and now the outlook is even bleaker. Kendall Wright could have some usable weeks down the line now that he's reunited with his former coordinator Dowell Loggains, but starting him this week would be foolish. Same goes for Kevin White, who is a complete enigma at this point. Jordan Howard is worth a start purely from a volume standpoint but could lose some snaps to Tarik Cohen if the Bears fall behind. Making matters worse is that all-star guard Kyle Long might miss this game with an ankle injury. That might tighten Howard's running lanes up, but Howard was good at creating for himself last year. Per Next Gen Stats, he gained 4.73 yards per carry AFTER a defender came within one yard of him (via broken tackles, jukes, etc.). Hopefully, that can carry over into 2017 ... Howard might need it.
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Joe Flacco has barely practiced all preseason with a back injury and must face a good defense on the road. Hard pass. Terrance West will be the starter and early-down plodder, but in what figures to be a low-scoring game his upside is minimal. Danny Woodhead should see plenty of targets, though, and his utility in the red zone makes him a more attractive flex play now that he's back from a hamstring injury. The absence of Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict could create more space in the middle of the field where Jeremy Maclin could thrive. Mike Wallace is a bit of mystery at this point given Flacco's injury. I'd like to get a gauge on Flacco's health and Wallace's usage before trusting him as a starter. The Ravens defense may be on the road, but could find plenty of holes in the Bengals offensive line. They're a decent start with the potential for a few sacks and turnovers.
Andy Dalton could be on the path to a career year with all of the talent around him, but a Week 1 date with the Ravens could present a bit of a road bump. Consider the Red Rifle more of a fringe QB1 this week. A.J. Green was second in the NFL in receiving yards and fourth in receptions when his injury occurred last year. Even in a tough spot, he's impossible to sit. Same goes for Tyler Eifert, who has been a full participant at practice this week. Eifert's scored 18 touchdowns in his last 21 games played. The Bengals backfield is a fantasy nightmare. Joe Mixon looks like the most talented of the bunch, but Jeremy Hill is the "starter" and probably sees 10-15 touches in this game, with preferential treatment around the goal-line. If you can avoid this backfield for now, that'd be the best course of action.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Even if the Browns appear to be starting to turn things around, there's absolutely no reason to not be starting Steelers this week. It's been a rare occurrence over the last few years, but when Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant are on the field together, this offense is a juggernaut. In 11 games since 2014 with the "big four," the Steelers average 29.3 points per game and 414 total yards per game. For reference, the Falcons offense last year averaged about 33 points per game and 415 yards of total offense. Big Ben's struggles on the road be damned -- if you have a player on the Steelers offense on your fantasy squad, get them into your starting lineup. Same goes for the Steelers defense. This is a talented unit that is fully healthy facing a rookie quarterback in his first career start. The Steelers offense will likely give the defense a big lead to work with too, forcing the Browns to pass a lot, creating more chances for sacks and turnovers.
If the Browns hope to have a chance in this game, it will be by controlling the clock, protecting DeShone Kizer, and keeping the Steelers offense on the sideline. That could set up Isaiah Crowell for a ton of work behind a revamped and impressive offensive line (the team signed JC Tretter and Kevin Zeitler this offseason). At worst, Crowell makes for a solid flex play, as does Duke Johnson (especially in PPR). While the Browns will likely lean on Crowell early, if they fall behind and are chasing the Steelers on the scoreboard, Johnson could factor in heavily. He's a lower-end option than Crowell but is in the mix. As for the wide receivers, Corey Coleman flashed the better rapport with Kizer in the preseason and as a big-play threat has a higher weekly outlook than Kenny Britt. This Steelers secondary is improving, though, so if you can avoid starting Coleman that might be best.
Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m. ET on CBS
Scott Tolzien will start under center for the Colts. That's pretty much all you need to know here. If at all possible, avoid starting the skill position players from this offense. The Rams defense is still a strong unit, even if Aaron Donald misses this game during his contract dispute. Plus, Wade Phillips is now the defensive coordinator and he has a long history of dominant fantasy squads.
How will Jared Goff perform under Sean McVay's tutelage, and where are the targets going to flow? Those are two big questions I'm hoping so have answered on Sunday. The Rams are heavy favorites at home in this contest, and Goff could be streamable in deeper leagues, especially since the Colts will be without Vontae Davis. Todd Gurley is in a prime spot to start erasing the bad memory of his 2016 campaign. Opposing backs averaged 4.82 yards per carry against the Colts and scored six touchdowns through the air (most in the league). Whether on the ground or through the air, Gurley should produce. The aforementioned absence of Davis could help Sammy Watkins get open for a big play, but as is the case with many new-look offenses in Week 1, a cautious approach is probably advisable. While Cooper Kupp looked like Goff's favorite target in the preseason, a groin injury slowed him down late. He should be a factor this year, but could lose work to Robert Woods in Week 1 as he works his way back to health. Scott Tolzien and his outrageous 5.5 career interception rate make the Rams one of the best defensive plays of the week.
Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers, 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX
First, let's touch on this backfield. It's a mess. Thomas Rawls practiced in full but is working his way back from a high ankle sprain. C.J. Prosise had a groin injury but was declared 100 percent healthy by Pete Carroll. Eddie Lacy has continually made his weight requirements and is in a REVENGE game, but he also looked kind of pedestrian in the preseason, where Chris Carson, the team's seventh-round draft pick, shined. Someone is going to score points from this group against the Packers. Figuring out who is damn near impossible, though the word Sunday morning is that if Rawls can't go, Carson will rotate in with Lacy, so keep an eye on that. OK, on to the passing attack, which go completely bananas against the Packers. Russell Wilson is fully healthy and has never had such a diverse, dangerous group of pass-catchers around him. Per Next Gen Stats, Wilson had the highest passer rating in the league on passes of 20-plus air yards in 2016, while the Packers allowed the most touchdowns (13) and over 1,000 yards on such passes. The Packers secondary remains a work in progress and will be a matchup Wilson exploits. Doug Baldwin is a safe play, while Jimmy Graham should feast against this group. Paul Richardson is worth a look in deeper formats or for those who lost Mike Evans/DeVante Parker/DeSean Jackson/Jarvis Landry in Week 1. He's a speedster who could get behind this Packers secondary frequently.
Yes, the Seahawks defense is an imposing unit, but the Packers offense is incredibly potent at home. Over his last four home games (including the playoffs), Aaron Rodgers threw for 1,164 yards (291 per game) with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. And those four opponents were the Texans, Seahawks, Vikings and Giants -- four very good defenses. He and this passing attack should be able to move the ball and score points against the Seahawks, though the one player I'd wait on is Randall Cobb. The slot makes sense as a spot for Cobb to thrive, with Richard Sherman likely seeing more of Jordy Nelson/Davante Adams, but we didn't get much of a chance to see this three-headed trio at full strength last year. Adams at least has more realistic touchdown upside building off of his deep threat/red-zone role last year. The Seahawks were brutal to fantasy tight ends last year, and have the personnel capable of covering tight ends at both safety and linebacker. However, we saw a flash in the preseason of Martellus Bennett being a mismatch in the red zone, so he's worth a shot in what could be a high-scoring game. Ty Montgomery was declared the starting running back by Mike McCarthy, and is worth at least a flex play here. This game figures to come down more to Rodgers' arm than the ground attack, but as a former wideout Montgomery could see some targets as well (77 percent of his catches and 78 percent of his receiving yards came out of the backfield last year).
Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers, 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX
The 49ers are getting some nice pieces together on defense, but are not ready to handle an offense like the Panthers. Cam Newton is back from his shoulder injury and should have no trouble carving up a secondary that allowed the second-highest touchdown rate (5.8) to opposing quarterbacks. Kelvin Benjamin looks primed for a bounce-back and has a size advantage over all of the 49ers defensive backs. Look for him to come out of the gates hot. Greg Olsen figures to be the same Greg Olsen we've known in fantasy since the Reagan administration (I kid). Christian McCaffrey is the future of this offense, and they'll likely deploy him all over the place against the 49ers. Jonathan Stewart isn't out of the picture either, and could be used to salt away a lead in the fourth quarter. The Panthers figure to have a stalwart defense once again, which should be able to make plenty of plays against the Brian Hoyer-led 49ers offense.
Speaking of Brian Hoyer, I kind of like him as a streaming quarterback this week. Over Hoyer's last 12 starts he averages 1.67 TDs, .41 INTs, and 262.2 yards per game, or roughly 16-17 fantasy points. With the 49ers likely to fall behind and turn to a pass-heavy game script, there's a case for Hoyer putting up a solid stat line. Carlos Hyde looks comfortable and truly dangerous in Kyle Shanahan's offense. He'll likely see enough volume even if the 49ers fall behind. Speaking of volume, Pierre Garcon could catch a million slants this year and will get well on his way to that total against the Panthers. He's a great PPR start but should offer a safe enough floor for standard as well. Matt Harmon mentioned this on the latest NFL Fantasy LIVE podcast, but if you're desperate for a wide receiver Marquise Goodwin could provide a big-play to save the day.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC
Odell Beckham Jr. is the big domino waiting to fall in this matchup, as he's yet to practice this week with an ankle injury and has officially been ruled a game-time decision. If he plays, you are almost forced to play him. With this being a Sunday night game, though, be sure to slot him into the flex, giving yourself more options to replace him if he sits. If Beckham does sit, Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard become great plays. The Cowboys passing defense ranked 26th in yards per game 260.4), 31st in completion percentage allowed (67.1), and tied for 27th in interceptions (nine). While I'm concerned about Eli Manning's arm strength after how he performed late last season, he should be at peak strength in Week 1, making this an enticing matchup. Matt Franciscovich made the case for Evan Engram as a streaming option earlier this week, though I feel dicey about the rookie's usage in the early season. The Giants defense is a less appealing option now that Ezekiel Elliott is for sure playing in this contest, but they are a fine low-end option. The Cowboys offense slows down the game, features the best line in football, and plays safe with the football, so don't expect a massive outing if you start the Giants.
The Giants defense had the Cowboys' number in 2016. Dak Prescott completed just 51.2 percent of his passes with one touchdown and two interceptions, Dez Bryant caught just two passes for 18 yards (despite playing 94 percent of the offensive plays), while Ezekiel Elliott managed 3.6 yards per carry on 44 attempts (with one touchdown). Not much has changed for either squad heading into this Week 1 matchup, which could point to this being a low-scoring affair. You're starting Zeke if you drafted him before his potential suspension, and Bryant is at least worth a flex (if not an outright start) given his scoring prowess. Be prepared for potential disappointment, though, as Janoris Jenkins was adept at shutting down Bryant last year. Per Next Gen Stats, Jenkins covered Bryant on 50 plays last year, allowing just one catch on eight targets, while intercepting two passes. Jason Witten could be worth a nod in deeper PPR formats, as he led the Cowboys in catches against the Giants last year with 13. Cole Beasley averaged six catches and 53 yards per game against the Giants last year, but other than in deep PPR formats he isn't worth much in fantasy.