In two short days the 2017 NFL season will have officially started, with the New England Patriots taking on the Kansas City Chiefs. The angst and anxiety of the offseason will finally be over and all will be normal again. Or at least, most everything will be.
Andrew Luck out Week 1
Unfortunately, it was announced on Monday that Andrew Luck will NOT be playing Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams. Luck had shoulder surgery this offseason and it’s still very worrisome that he doesn’t have a timeline to return. On the bright side, he avoided the PUP list, which would have kept him out the first six weeks of the season. This is normally a fantastic sign, but the Colts have been overly bullish on Luck’s availability this entire offseason. There was nearly no concern displayed by anyone in the Colts’ camp that Luck would miss Week 1 until a few weeks ago and they have still not talked about any set-backs, just saying they are letting him “take it slow.” Most are estimating a return for Luck around Week 4, but his recovery schedule is truly unknown.
With Luck out, the Colts will roll out Scott Tolzien at quarterback in Week 1. Tolzien was forced to start against the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, where he threw for 205 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The Steelers won that game 28-7 without the Colts putting up much of a fight and Tolzien struggling for the most part.
Vegas adjusted the spread because of this news, as the Colts went from being favored by three to being three-point underdogs, with the line continuing to move in the Rams’ favor. This isn’t much of a surprise as these teams have seemed to be trending in opposite directions leading up to Week 1. The Colts won’t have starting center Ryan Kelly, quarterback Andrew Luck, or No.1 cornerback Vontae Davis. They are arguably three of the best players on the Colts and will be sorely missed every game they don’t play. Meanwhile, the Rams bolstered their offensive line this offseason, traded for a potential top receiver in Sammy Watkins and have seen progress from 2015’s No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff.
All skill players on the Colts receive massive downgrades from a fantasy standpoint until Luck returns. The only player with a good chance to put up stats similar to what had been expected before Luck’s injury is TE Jack Doyle. Doyle was targeted heavily through the first three weeks of the preseason by Tolzien, posting a 26.9% target share. It seems likely he will be Tolzien’s security blanket. Both T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief are very risky fantasy plays with the Colts’ offense unlikely to do a whole lot. The same goes for Frank Gore who was already slated to play against the Rams’ stout defensive line, with this news only further solidifying his lack of upside in Week 1.
On the other side of the ball, Todd Gurley should have a big opportunity to start the year off strong. The Colts’ defense ranked last in run defense efficiency last season and didn’t look much better this preseason. With Luck out, the Rams are likely to face plenty of neutral or positive game script in Week 1, making it probable Gurley will touch the ball over 20 times. Gurley has a good chance to finish as a top 5 running back. With Tolzien at the helm, the Rams’ D/ST become a legitimate streaming option in Week 1.
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Chiefs likely to utilize a running back by committee in Week 1
Chiefs OC Matt Nagy said, “"They’re all prepared to play. They all know they’re a big part of this game plan” when referring to Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller. This comment, among others, suggests a potential committee for the Chiefs in Week 1. Andy Reid declared Hunt the “featured” back after Spencer Ware’s season-ending injury recently, making it look like it was going to be the Kareem Hunt show this year in Kansas City. However, Nagy’s comments don’t align with this, as the coaching staff may not trust Hunt enough in pass-protection.
Hunt is shaping up to be a dicey Week 1 play in both re-draft and DFS formats. Ranging anywhere from eight to nine-point underdogs, the Chiefs are likely to face negative game-script against the Patriots. With Hunt’s role uncertain in the pass-game, he may struggle to produce from a fantasy standpoint to start the season.
Quick Hits: Cam Newton is ready to play Week 1 despite only attempting two passes in the preseason. … Adrian Peterson wants to have a big performance against his former team in Week 1. Narrative Street may not be enough for Peterson to overcome the Vikings’ stout run defense. … The Colts placed TE Erik Swoope on IR. He is expected to return this season but will miss at least the first eight weeks. It will be tough for him to make much of a fantasy impact this season. … Tyrod Taylor returned to practice Monday. This is encouraging for Taylor’s likelihood of playing Week 1. Rookie Nathan Peterman will be the starter if Taylor is unable to suit up. … Bills CB E.J. Gaines is likely to start opposite Tre’Davious White in Week 1. Acquired in the Sammy Watkins trade, it would be a surprise if Gaines didn’t get the start. … Jordan Matthews has still yet to be fully cleared. Matthews isn’t a lock to play Week 1 by any means. … Steelers re-signed Le’Veon Bell to a one-year, $12.12 million contract. Bell missed the entire preseason in an attempt to get a new contract, but to no avail. He is still being paid handsomely this season and is a must-start option in Week 1. … Dolphins’ officials are monitoring Hurricane Irma, which could affect their season opener against the Bucs. Officials will decide by Wednesday where and when the game will be played. The NFL may move the game up to avoid the storm like they have in similar situations in the past. … Colts center Ryan Kelly is out for a few weeks. The Colts will start rookie Deyshawn Bond in his absence, a huge downgrade for both the run and passing game. … Odell Beckham didn’t practice on Monday. He hopes to play Week 1 but it doesn’t seem to be a certainty. This is something to monitor closely before setting your lineups. … Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said the game plan and situation will decide which of his running backs gets carries each week. Without a true starting running back, all Eagles’ backs are no more than a dart throw at the moment. … Deandre Hopkins said he’s healthy. Hopkins will be ready to go Week 1 against the Jaguars, hoping to rebound from last season. … Patriots placed LB Shea McClellin on injured reserve. McClellin will largely be missed on special teams and as a role player. … The Bears are hopeful LG Kyle Long will play Week 1. Long’s recovery from a broken ankle has been more complicated than expected. His presence would help the Bears’ offense and Jordan Howard but it doesn’t seem likely he plays at the moment. … Broncos LE Derek Wolfe practiced on Monday. He still isn’t 100 percent but will play in their season opener. … Demaryius Thomas remained sidelined at Monday’s practice. This is likely just a precaution, but isn’t good news for a player who struggled to stay healthy in 2016. … Titans’ rookie WR Corey Davis won’t be on a snap count but will only be used in “specific situations.” Davis is unlikely to make much of an impact against the Raiders in Week 1. … Cowboys placed TE Rico Gathers on injured reserve. He won’t be able to return until Week 9. … Texans LT Kendall Lamm will start in place of Duane Brown, who’s holding out. Lamm is a huge downgrade from Brown and will have to square up against Jaguars RE Calais Campbell in Week 1. … NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson will not make a ruling on Ezekiel Elliot’s six-game suspension Monday. Elliot still has a legitimate chance to play Week 1 against the Giants.