1:00PM ET Games
Green Bay @ Chicago
Packers-Bears has a 49-point Vegas total -- second highest of Sunday's games -- with Green Bay installed as a seven-point favorite. Sitting on a 28-point team total, Packers skill-position players are all sporting bright-green lights in DFS. ... From both matchup and projected game-flow standpoints, this one sets up best for Eddie Lacy, who has scored a TD in each of his four career meetings with Chicago. After losing top DL Stephen Paea in free agency and NT Jeremiah Ratliff to a three-game suspension, the Bears' run-defense personnel is the NFL's worst entering the season. ... While a huge Lacy game might not correlate seamlessly with a big Aaron Rodgers box score, Rodgers is in a similarly plum spot. The Bears will rely on ex-Ravens role player Pernell McPhee to key their edge rush, with declining 33-year-old Jared Allen across from him. Second-year LCB Kyle Fuller has seemingly lost his confidence since Calvin Johnson dismantled him twice (11-146-2, 6-103) in the second half of 2014. The Bears will start 30-year-old journeyman Alan Ball at right corner after releasing Tim Jennings. Chicago's safeties are SS Antrel Rolle, who turns 33 later this year, and fifth-round rookie FS Adrian Amos. For as long as this game is in doubt, Rodgers should shower the Bears with completions. It can't hurt that Rodgers has thrown three or more touchdown passes in five of his last seven dates with Chicago, including an absurd 72.7% completion rate, 11.2 YPA, and 10:0 TD-to-INT ratio in last year's two Bears-Packers games.
Coming off a rookie season (38-446-3) that was somewhat pedestrian but still better than both Jordy Nelson (33-366-2) and Randall Cobb's (25-375-1), Davante Adams is a high-ceiling WR2 at Chicago and will be a popular play on DFS sites, where his price is cheap. Adams was an often-frustrating fantasy player as Green Bay's third receiver last year, but did average 6.2 receptions for 88 yards in the five games where he saw at least seven targets. Now Rodgers' No. 2 wideout, Adams should see seven-plus targets in the majority of this year's games. ... Cobb is expected to start after suffering a sprained AC shoulder joint in Green Bay's third preseason game. A not-so-dark horse to lead the NFC in catches this year, Cobb is a high-upside WR1 against Chicago's barely-there pass defense and may be underowned in DFS due to fears over the injury. ... While newly-acquired James Jones' exact Week 1 role is unclear, he shouldn't need long to unseat inconsistent sophomore Jeff Janis and raw third-round rookie Ty Montgomery for the Packers' third receiver job. Albeit likely in his decline phase at age 31, Jones is going to flirt with fantasy WR3 numbers so long as he secures and maintains the No. 3 gig. Per PFF's Mike Clay, the 2014 Packers used three-receiver sets on 90% of their passing downs, the highest rate in football. ... Richard Rodgers overtook Andrew Quarless as Green Bay's starting tight end and had a solid preseason, catching five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown on 70 snaps, about the equivalent of one full game. Rodgers is a sneaky low-end TE1 and ultra-cheap DFS play against a Bears defense that last year allowed the most fantasy points in the NFL to tight ends.
The garbage-time narrative will be bandied about on Chicago's end, but it's also conceivable the Bears get dominated in time of possession, and that their offense simply won't be on the field enough to rack up touches, yards, and points versus Green Bay. Chicago's top-three wideouts -- Alshon Jeffery (calf), Eddie Royal (hip), and Marquess Wilson (hamstring) -- all missed large chunks of training camp, making a slow start likely for the Bears' offense. Jay Cutler's historical stats against longtime Packers DC Dom Capers are another red flag. Cutler has faced Green Bay 11 times since Capers took over as defensive coordinator, completing 186-of-332 throws (56%) for 2,272 yards (6.84 YPA) with a 13:22 TD-to-INT ratio. Defenses playing at home are typically better bets, but the Packers' D/ST should be teed up this week. ... Even in a bad matchup, Matt Forte is an every-week RB1 because he stays on the field regardless of game flow. The Bears lost last year's two Packers meetings by a combined 62(!) points, but Forte still totaled 252 yards in those games, handling 20-plus touches in both. While expectations should be limited from a TD-scoring standpoint, Forte is a top-12 running back play in Week 1.
Martellus Bennett was the only Bears pass catcher to escape August free of injury. He caught 11 balls this preseason, including seven in Chicago's regular season dress rehearsal. "Black Unicorn" is a top-five tight end in Week 1 and an underrated DFS option whom Cutler may lean on heavily. ... Royal and Wilson are expected to play, though based on comments they made to the media this week, neither will be 100%. Jeffery returned to practice on a limited basis, but is shaping up as a game-time decision. Be wary of Jeffery if he is listed as questionable on Friday. Per Jake Davidow of Injury Predictor, players listed as questionable for John Fox's 2014 Broncos played just 35% of the time. ... I'll put another update below this paragraph before Sunday's game, but for now I don't think it would be reasonable to have lofty hopes for Bears pass catchers behind Bennett. They are not healthy, they don't have great matchups, and their quarterback is likely to struggle. If Jeffery is active, he remains a must-play. Jeffery demonstrated an ability to perform at a high level at less than full health in 2014. Battling a nagging hamstring strain, Jeffery posted 70-plus yards and/or a touchdown in 13-of-15 fantasy-relevant weeks.
Friday Update: Jeffery participated in practice on a "limited" basis each day this week, and was listed as questionable on Friday's final injury report. The Chicago Tribune reported Friday evening that "all indications" are Jeffery will give it a go against the Packers. Coach John Fox apparently wants to see how Jeffery responds in Saturday's pre-game walkthrough before making a final decision. Again, if Jeffery is announced as active on Sunday morning, I think he's a must-start.
Score Prediction: Packers 31, Bears 20
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Kansas City @ Houston
Chiefs-Texans has a Vegas total of 40.5 points, second lowest of Week 1 behind only Browns-Jets. This is a game to avoid in DFS and shy away from in season-long lineups. ... The obvious exception on Houston's side is DeAndre Hopkins, who projects as a volume hog as the Texans' new No. 1 wideout. Hopkins is succeeding Andre Johnson, who last year ranked fifth in the NFL in targets. Hopkins finished 2014 as fantasy's No. 14 overall wideout despite shaky quarterback play and a No. 21 ranking among wide receivers in targets. While Brian Hoyer's erratic accuracy is a concern for Hopkins' efficiency, he does stand to benefit from Kansas City's loss of top CB Sean Smith to a three-game suspension. It's perhaps worth noting that Hopkins scored five of his six touchdowns in home games last year. With Arian Foster (groin) likely out until October, Hopkins figures to be Houston's primary means of moving the chains. Hopkins' current target competition consists of Cecil Shorts, Nate Washington, Garrett Graham, and C.J. Fiedorowicz. ... In Bill O'Brien's first year as head coach, the Texans played run-committed, ball-control offense, leading the NFL in rushing attempts and ranking 30th in pass attempts. This approach was taken in an effort to "hide" their quarterback, which remains a trouble spot on Houston's roster. O'Brien would very likely love to leave this game with Hoyer only attempting in the range of 18-22 passes. Even in two-QB leagues, this strategy isn't a recipe for box-score success.
Shorts won the Texans' second receiver job and will enter the slot in three-wide packages. 27-year-old Shorts is an above-average talent with position versatility and a top-25 fantasy finish on his career resume. If Shorts' health cooperates, I think he's a sleeper for 70 receptions this season. ... 32-year-old Washington may log heavy snaps, but offers no real fantasy appeal as a rotational wideout on a run-first team. ... Avoid TEs Fiedorowicz and Graham, who combined for 35 targets all of last year. 2014 third-round pick Fiedorowicz did start each of Houston's final two preseason games and is worth monitoring to see if his role expands. ... A big (6'2/223), methodical-moving plodder with 4.63 speed, Alfred Blue will handle lead-back duties until Foster returns. Blue turned in two slightly-memorable fantasy efforts as a rookie last season, posting a 13-78 rushing line in a Week 3 spot start at the Giants, and 36-156 in Week 11 at the Browns. Blue finished 2014 with a 3.12 YPC average behind one of the league's top offensive lines, however, and was removed on passing downs for Jonathan Grimes. I suspect Blue may be a popular DFS play based on his somewhat recognizable name and role, and his cheap price. I think Blue could be a trap, particularly if the Texans involve Grimes and/or versatile Chris Polk more than expected. The Chiefs' defense does present a favorable matchup with 346-pound NT Dontari Poe coming off back surgery and key run-defense cogs ILB Derrick Johnson and DE Mike DeVito returning from Achilles' tears. View Blue as a low-end RB2 in season-long leagues. I think he's a fade in daily, although I could end up wrong if game flow allows Blue to pile up carries in a matchup with a Chiefs defense that last season ranked bottom five versus the run.
As Ross Tucker and I discussed on this week's Fantasy Feast Podcast, the Chiefs made a significant offensive line switch following the preseason, installing Donald Stephenson on Alex Smith's blind side and flipping failed LT Eric Fisher to right tackle. It's not a stretch to say Fisher has been one of the NFL's worst linemen the past two seasons. In Week 1, Fisher will more-often-than-not line up across from offensive-wrecking-machine LE J.J. Watt, which could theoretically require the Chiefs to give Fisher constant "help" blocks. Travis Kelce is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. While Kelce remains a top-five tight end play in season-long leagues, I'm probably going to avoid him in DFS. It does not help that the 2014 Texans permitted the second fewest fantasy points to tight ends. ... If Kelce indeed spends much of this game on the line blocking, the Chiefs' passing-game beneficiary should be Jeremy Maclin, who is coming off a promising preseason. Many have clung to last year's zero-touchdown-passes-to-wide-receivers stat as a decisive data point when shying away from Maclin, but the Chiefs look poised to manufacture touches for their new $55 million wideout. In August, Maclin caught 11 balls for 99 yards and two touchdowns. He gained eight yards on an end-around, worked at Z, X, and slot receiver, and scored one of his TDs lined up next to Smith at running back in the shotgun. Maclin begins the year as a WR2.
Behind Maclin, 32-year-old possession target Jason Avant, promising sophomore Albert Wilson, and third-round rookie Chris Conley are vying for playing time, with RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas also mixing in. All four receiving options bring something different to the table. They are role players and could work to cancel each other out as fantasy commodities. ... This game's low-scoring projection works against Smith as a two-quarterback-league start. The Chiefs' Vegas team total is under 20 points. Expect a balanced approach on offense against the Texans, with a bevy of short passes designed to mitigate Watt's impact on the game and release the football quickly. ... Jamaal Charles' Week 1 draw got a slight boost when Texans ILB Mike Mohamed suffered a multi-week calf injury late in camp. Mohamed was Houston's highest-graded inside linebacker at PFF last year. This is still a middling matchup for Charles, taking on a Texans team that last season ranked No. 16 in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA, and added NT Vince Wilfork in the spring. Charles is an obvious RB1 start, but I'm off him in DFS this week.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 21, Texans 17
Cleveland @ NY Jets
The 39.5-point Vegas total on Browns-Jets is Week 1's lowest. This is a game to fade nearly across the board in fantasy lineup decisions, particularly on Cleveland's side. ... Josh McCown was abysmal this preseason, seemingly seeing ghosts before all-too-frequently running out of the pocket. At this stage of his career, 36-year-old McCown looks scared of his own shadow. On the road, McCown should be a turnover-committing, sack-absorbing machine squaring off with a defense run by new Jets coach Todd Bowles, whose 2014 Cardinals ranked third in the NFL in blitz percentage and seventh in interceptions, and who is dubbing Gang Green an "offensive defensive team." The Jets are my favorite D/ST play of Week 1. In New York, the presence of ultra-talented man-cover corners Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie with trusty Buster Skrine in the slot will allow Bowles to stay extremely aggressive. ... The Browns' likely three-receiver set will have Brian Hartline and Taylor Gabriel aligned outside with Andrew Hawkins in the slot and perhaps Dwayne Bowe entering in four-wide packages. In 2014, Hartline, Bowe, Hawkins, and Gabriel combined to score five TDs on 342 targets. That's a 1.5% TD rate. For perspective, notorious non-touchdown scorer Harry Douglas has a better career TD rate at 1.9%. Dez Bryant's career TD rate is 9.2%. Especially with Bowe listed as a third-team wideout on Cleveland's post-camp depth chart, you can safely ignore Browns receivers in Week 1.
The Browns haven't won a season opener since 2004, and I wouldn't bet on that changing this year. A theoretical run-first team, Cleveland "settled" on Isaiah Crowell as its Week 1 tailback starter by default, as Duke Johnson (hamstring, concussion) missed extensive training camp time and Terrance West was traded after continuing to frustrate coaches. On Sunday, Crowell will do battle with a Jets defense that finished 2014 ranked top five against the run and is now overseen by Bowles, whose Arizona defenses were similarly stout. Three-point underdogs on the road, the Browns' Opening Day team total is barely over 18 points. Crowell is a low-RB2/flex option simply because he should get a bunch of run, but his matchup is brutal and his team is unlikely to spend much of this game in scoring position. ... In season-long leagues, hold on tight to Johnson, for whom the Browns reportedly have "big plans" once his health rounds into shape. Johnson is easily Cleveland's most versatile back and there were no signs this preseason of Crowell taking a second-year leap. Assuming he can shake the injury bug for an extended stretch, I wouldn't bet against Duke becoming the Browns' starting running back by October.
Last year's Browns ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed and 31st in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA metric. Cleveland's defensive personnel suggests it should be stronger than that up front, but coach Mike Pettine's units have a history of soft run defense. As the coordinator of a loaded Bills defense in 2013, Buffalo ranked 28th against the run. Pettine's resume suggests leaky run defense may be a function of his scheme. Whatever the case, this is a great matchup for Jets workhorse Chris Ivory, who was more involved than ever in the passing game under first-year OC Chan Gailey this preseason, and who faces very little threat for touches with only Bilal Powell and Zac Stacy behind him on the depth chart. In DFS this week, I'm smitten with an Ivory-Jets defense correlation play. ... Pettine's pass defenses have been much stronger over the years. His 2013 Bills ranked No. 4 versus the pass and last year's Browns came in No. 8 while ranking second in interceptions (21). Long pick prone in his own right, Ryan Fitzpatrick is a tough sell as a two-quarterback-league starter in Week 1. In Gailey's spread-style offense with the best weapons of his career, I do think there will be weeks where Fitzpatrick is usable in re-draft fantasy and DFS. This isn't one of them.
Brandon Marshall also gets a rough Week 1 draw, likely facing shadow coverage from Browns top CB Joe Haden. Marshall did post a 6-95-1 receiving line in a 2013 clash with Haden, but needed 13 targets to do it, and that was when Marshall was 29 years old. He's now 31. Marshall projects as a volume machine this season, but he's more of a WR2/3 play in the opening game. I expect Marshall to be a borderline WR1 in weeks ahead. ... Eric Decker gets an easier matchup versus Browns No. 2 CB Tramon Williams, who is 32 1/2 years old and was charged by PFF with eight touchdown passes allowed last season, third most in the league. Still, Marshall's target-gobbling presence and the Jets' likely smashmouth approach to facing Cleveland pose major threats to Decker's usage. He's on the WR3/4 fringe. ... The Jets' third receiver to open the year will be Quincy Enunwa, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound 2014 sixth-round pick out of Nebraska. Enunwa caught 12 touchdown passes as a college senior and appears poised for a significant role in Gailey's four- and sometimes five-wide spread attack. Enunwa should be rostered in all Dynasty leagues and could become a re-draft sleeper if something happens to Marshall or Decker. ... With Jace Amaro on I.R., the Jets' tight ends will be Jeff Cumberland and blocker Kellen Davis. A sixth-year pro who's never caught more than 30 passes in an NFL season, Cumberland earned Pro Football Focus' No. 67 grade out of 67 qualifying tight ends last season. That's dead last.
Score Prediction: Jets 20, Browns 13
Indianapolis @ Buffalo
A Rex Ryan-led defense with the talent Buffalo boasts is invariably intimidating for opposing skill-position players, but in Week 1 the Bills will be without dominant DT Marcell Dareus (suspension) and CB Leodis McKelvin (ankle), who will be replaced by second-round rookie Ronald Darby. While Andrew Luck isn't a recommended DFS play, he should be locked into season-long lineups as a solid bet for a top 7-10 quarterback week. ... The Bills are expected to use top CB Stephon Gilmore to shadow No. 1 wideouts this year. Although T.Y. Hilton is the Colts' No. 1, don't be shocked if Gilmore matches up with Andre Johnson. Gilmore stands 6-foot-1, 190, while Darby is 5-foot-11, 193 with 4.38 wheels. Johnson is 6-foot-2, 230 with diminishing speed; 5-foot-10, 183-pound Hilton is a 4.34 burner. I like both Colts wideouts as fantasy starts, but would lean in Hilton's direction for a DFS contrarian play. Most people will be off Indy's offense altogether this week. Working against T.Y. is this game's environment. Whereas Hilton's career average is 82.3 yards and 0.45 touchdowns per game in a dome or beneath a retractable roof, Hilton averages just 53 yards with 0.35 TDs per game outdoors.
The Colts' No. 3 receiver battle is still playing out. We'll have a better feel for where Phillip Dorsett and Donte Moncrief stand after Week 1. My bet is on Dorsett ascending to No. 3. ... Dwayne Allen finished 2014 as the No. 9 tight end in fantasy points per game, but ranked 26th in targets (50). While Allen is always a fair bet to score a red-zone TD in a given week, he won't rack up catches and yards and therefore is a low-end TE1. ... Coby Fleener's role in OC Pep Hamilton's offense is unclear. The Colts signed Johnson to a three-year, $21 million deal in free agency, before using their first-round pick on Dorsett and locking up Hilton for six years at $66.5 million. If Hamilton runs more three-receiver packages, the Colts' two-tight end usage will sink. Fleener would be hard to trust as a situational player on uneven playing time. ... Rex's defenses are historically stout on the ground; on Ryan's watch, the Jets ranked third and fifth in run defense the last two seasons with less talent than Rex has in Buffalo. Dareus' absence does help Frank Gore's cause, and the 32-year-old's expected increase in pass-game usage raises his floor. View Gore as a dependable RB2/flex, but it's probably unrealistic to have RB1 expectations in Week 1, especially after coach Chuck Pagano claimed Gore will be on a "pitch count." Look for impressive sixth-round rookie Josh Robinson to mix in for sporadic snaps behind Indy's lead back. With Dan Herron on injured reserve, Robinson is Gore's handcuff.
On paper, this game might look like a low-scoring affair on the road in Buffalo. The Vegas over-under is at least middle of the road at 45.5 points, however, and the Bills have a team total of 21.5. Tyrod Taylor's matchup is certainly favorable against an Indianapolis defense that lost 6-foot-3, 301-pound RE Arthur Jones (ankle) for the season and will start fifth-round rookie David Parry at nose tackle. Taylor got in next-to-no training camp reps with banged-up WRs Sammy Watkins (glute), Robert Woods (hip), and Percy Harvin (hip), while LeSean McCoy (toe, hamstring) enters Week 1 well short of 100%. To keep up with Indianapolis, the Bills may need Taylor to be more playmaker than caretaker this week. He's an attractive DFS play at minimum quarterback price. ... McCoy practiced this week and will apparently play in Week 1, but he could be at risk of a setback after battling recurring toe and hamstring injuries throughout August. On Wednesday, ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak wrote, "It's possible -- if not likely -- the Bills will limit McCoy's carries from what would be a full workload." Stated McCoy, "I’m not sure if I’ll be exactly 100%, but I feel good enough to go out there and compete." Even in a plus matchup, McCoy is best approached as a boom-or-bust RB2 as opposed to a locked-in RB1. Don't be surprised if Bryce Brown and impressive rookie Karlos Williams get mixed in.
Watkins, Woods, and Harvin all practiced this week and should play against the Colts. Watkins is the lone realistic fantasy option of the group, but he couldn't open the season in a tougher matchup. Not only is Buffalo's team passing volume likely to be low with dual-threat Taylor at quarterback, the Colts will almost certainly assign Vontae Davis to shadow Watkins. Davis is normally a stationary RCB, but coach Chuck Pagano spoke openly of using Davis to cover No. 1 wideouts this offseason, and that likelihood increases with No. 2 corner Greg Toler (neck) out. 27-year-old Davis has been a top-two cover corner at PFF in back-to-back years. Per Rotoworld's Graham Barfield, Davis allowed 50-plus yards in just one game last season and didn't yield a single receiving TD. ... Woods and Harvin will be role players in Buffalo's run-committed attack. Perhaps one will come on the fantasy radar if Watkins misses time later this year. ... My pick to finish the season No. 2 on the Bills in targets is Charles Clay, who did spend a significant amount of time practicing with Taylor this summer, and caught four balls for 95 yards and a touchdown this preseason. Last year's Colts permitted the third most fantasy points to tight ends, and their back-four personnel remains similar beyond swapping out SS LaRon Landry for 29-year-old journeyman Dwight Lowery. I wouldn't project Clay for more than 6-7 targets versus Indy considering the design of Buffalo's offense, but could also imagine Clay serving as something of a safety net in Taylor's first NFL start. Clay is worth a look if you're streaming at tight end.
Score Prediction: Colts 24, Bills 20
Miami @ Washington
Sunday's Fins-Skins game sports a Vegas total of just 43.5 points. Miami is favored by 3.5, which relatively speaking is a lot for a road team. Not only is game flow a concern for Alfred Morris' outlook, third-round pick Matt Jones poses a workload threat after a beastly preseason (6.95 YPC), the Dolphins' Ndamukong Suh-led defensive front could dominate in the trenches, Morris doesn't catch passes, and his rushing efficiency historically plummets without Robert Griffin III's dual threat clearing running lanes. Whereas Morris' career per-carry average is 4.84 with 23 touchdowns in RG3's 35 starts, Alf has managed a 3.59 YPC clip with just five TDs in Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy's 13 combined starts. Morris is a low-end RB2 in season-long leagues, and an obvious DFS avoid. ... Jones' Week 1 role is worth monitoring closely. The 6-foot-2, 231-pound tackle breaker is more adept than Alf in the passing game and there is a feeling among some close to the team that Jones might better fit the Redskins' new power-running principles than zone-runner Morris. Jones should be owned in all leagues. ... The Redskins' decision to start Cousins is worrisome for Morris, but could prove a net positive in the passing game. While RG3 posted an abominable sack rate of 12.5% with a 33.4 Total QBR and 42.9% red-zone efficiency rating in last year's nine appearances, Cousins registered a 3.8% sack rate, 46.2 QBR, and 58.8% red-zone rating across six games. Cousins' poor decision making has long rendered him turnover prone, but he is an aggressive passer capable of sporadically producing big games. He can be a sneaky two-QB-league start and roll of the dice in DFS tournaments against a suspect Dolphins secondary, particularly in a game where Washington may have to throw to move the ball.
Miami's defensive approach will attempt to utilize its star-studded line to "mask" a deficient secondary where starting SS Louis Delmas tore his ACL, top CB Brent Grimes is 32 years old, injury-riddled Jamar Taylor was beaten out by journeyman slot corner Brice McCain, and FS Reshad Jones is most effective in run support. Replacing Delmas will be 2014 fourth-rounder Walt Aikens, who's logged 60 NFL snaps. Suh, LE Cameron Wake, RE Olivier Vernon, and NT Earl Mitchell pose a significant obstacle, but Miami's backend is vulnerable. I'm teeing up a cheap Cousins-DeSean Jackson-Pierre Garcon stack in DFS tourneys just to see what happens. ... Moved from Z to X receiver this offseason, Jackson should run most of his routes at McCain and Taylor, depending on down and distance. (This assumes Grimes remains stationary at LCB, something he has mostly done in the past.) I like D-Jax's chances of breaking a big play, even if it happens in garbage time. ... Now the Redskins' "Z" who will largely line up on the right side of the offense, Garcon has the tougher matchup if Grimes stays put. That said, Cousins did spark Garcon's production intermittently last year with receiving lines of 11-138-1, 2-28, 2-23, 4-31-1, and 5-87-1 in Cousins' five starts. Treat D-Jax as a locked-in WR2 and Garcon as a boom-or-bust WR3/flex. ... Following Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen's year-ending injuries, Jordan Reed should open the season as Washington's full-time tight end. Reed missed some of them, but these were the combined stat lines of Redskins tight ends in Cousins' 2014 starts: 8-75, 6-88, 3-17, 9-99, and 7-112. So long as Reed is healthy -- and he is, for now -- he's a very-viable fantasy TE1.
An extremely trendy offseason team in the NFL community, the Dolphins enter Week 1 set up for passing success against a Redskins defense missing top CB Bashaud Breeland (suspension) and No. 2 outside rusher Junior Galette (Achilles'). Washington's safety tandem of Dashon Goldson and Duke Ihenacho is among the league's worst, while washed-up DeAngelo Hall is expected to start at left cornerback coming off a twice-torn Achilles' tendon. Forecasting the production of Dolphins wideouts could be dicey week to week due to the depth of the pass-catcher corps, but Ryan Tannehill is a locked-and-loaded QB1. ... Game flow should work in Lamar Miller's favor, but Miami's running game gets a stiffer Week 1 test. Even after finishing 2014 ranked No. 9 in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA metric, Washington poured offseason resources into its defensive line, signing 321-pound NT Terrance Knighton, 303-pound LE Stephen Paea, and versatile 295-pound Ricky Jean-Francois to solidify an underrated unit. Miller is an every-week starter in season-long leagues, but I'm targeting more-favorable future matchups to use him in DFS. ... With Jay Ajayi (cracked ribs) beginning the season on injured reserve-designated for return, Damien Williams is set as Miller's handcuff, and would likely become an every-down back if Miller went down. A big back (5'11/222) who can catch the ball, Williams deserves to be rostered in 12- and 14-team fantasy leagues as a lottery-ticket stash.
New Dolphins TE Jordan Cameron had a quiet August, managing two preseason receptions for six yards on 55 offensive snaps. Among Week 1 tight end options, however, Cameron has one of the premier Opening Day matchups. As mentioned previously, Washington is incredibly weak at safety and last season coughed up the fourth most fantasy points in the league to tight ends with a similar linebacker corps. Cameron is a top-six play at tight end with an especially cheap price point on DFS sites. ... The Fins go five deep at receiver with field stretcher Kenny Stills, first-round pick DeVante Parker, savvy veteran Greg Jennings, and swiss-army-knife Rishard Matthews all vying for snaps behind Jarvis Landry. Stills, Jennings, and slot man Landry are currently listed as Miami's starters, though Parker will mix in after playing in the preseason finale following June foot surgery. Until we see established roles on the perimeter of this deep unit, the only trustworthy member is Landry, who recorded a 105-895-8 16-game receiving pace over the final nine weeks last season. In a plum matchup, Landry is a WR2 for Week 1.
Score Prediction: Dolphins 27, Redskins 20
Carolina @ Jacksonville
Panthers-Jags is another projected low-scoring affair with a 41-point Vegas total and Carolina favored by three. The line makers seem to not be buying Blake Bortles' second straight impressive preseason, setting Jacksonville's team total at 19 points. Allen Robinson stands out as the best bet on the Jaguars' side, projecting as an early-season target vacuum with Julius Thomas (hand) sidelined until Week 4. Robinson's Week 1 matchup is less than ideal, however, with Panthers LCB Josh Norman emerging as a borderline-shutdown corner down the stretch of 2014, RCB Charles Tillman coming off a strong August, and steady Bene Benwikere holding down the slot. I still like Robinson as a volume-based WR2, and Robinson's low cost keeps him attractive for DFS. ... Composed, mostly accurate, and fundamentally sound this summer, Bortles finished the preseason 39-of-60 passing (65%) for 461 yards (7.7), one touchdown, and no turnovers. He added a 5-42-1 rushing line, absorbing just two sacks among 62 dropbacks. I'm certainly intrigued by Bortles, who possesses ideal size for the quarterback position (6'5/232) and plus arm strength and athleticism. After an ugly rookie year, however, I want to see Bortles string together a few solid performances before investing into him in any form of fantasy.
Even with Thomas on the shelf, the Jags plan to be a multi-tight end team in an effort to get better blocking on the field and mask their wideout deficiency. They'll play two receivers in their base offense, though, and the No. 2 will be Allen Hurns, who easily held off always-injured Marqise Lee in camp. (Lee may even open the year behind rookie slot receiver Rashad Greene.) Hurns is just a dart-throw play in a mediocre matchup, but he did go berserk in Week 1 last season (4-110-2), finished his undrafted rookie year with a rock-solid 51-677-6 receiving line, and continued to produce in Jacksonville's 2015 regular season dress rehearsal (4-42-1). Hurns should see 6-9 targets versus Carolina. I think he deserves to be rostered in most 12-team fantasy leagues. ... Rookie T.J. Yeldon worked as a true every-down back in the Jaguars' third preseason game, staying in on all third-down plays and getting repeated goal-line carries, even at the end of one drive where backup Denard Robinson was featured. Still, murmurs have persisted of the Jaguars utilizing a committee backfield, with Robinson and Toby Gerhart also involved. This is a situation where I'd like to have some regular-season data before formulating any strong fantasy beliefs. Yeldon owners considering him as an RB2/flex should keep tabs on the status of Panthers NT Star Lotulelei (foot). A top-25 run-stopping defensive tackle among 81 qualifiers at Pro Football Focus last season, Lotulelei's Week 1 availability is in doubt.
Three-point road favorites in a game with a 41-point Vegas total, Carolina's team total is 22. I'm very interested to see how Panthers OC Mike Shula generates offense in the absence of Kelvin Benjamin (ACL), who had his fair share of on-field flaws but was still a difference maker on the perimeter. After Carolina committed a six-year, $118.5 million contract to Cam Newton, will Shula be willing to run Cam more? If so, it would be outstanding news for Newton's fantasy value. More creative quarterback-rushing designs could also benefit Jonathan Stewart. If the Panthers do not incorporate more quarterback runs into their offense, Newton could be a big fantasy disappointment. He's a boom-or-bust QB1 against the Jags. ... With DeAngelo Williams out of the picture, Stewart will work as a full-blown three-down bellcow with fifth-round rookie Cameron Artis-Payne mixing in for breather work. On Gus Bradley's watch the past two seasons, Jacksonville has ranked 24th and 20th in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA. While the presence of Newton and FB Mike Tolbert as red-zone weapons limits J-Stew's touchdown ceiling, Stewart should be an every-week RB2 so long as he's healthy. Still squarely in his prime, 28-year-old Stewart gained 679 yards on 128 carries (5.30 YPC) over the Panthers' final seven games last season. He averaged 5.22 yards per carry against Arizona and Seattle in the playoffs.
The Panthers' receiver corps should be easy to avoid in Week 1 lineup decisions. Carolina is expected to trot out Corey Brown and Ted Ginn as starters, with 33-year-old Jerricho Cotchery and rookie Devin Funchess mixing in. The 41st overall pick in May's draft, Funchess offers the highest season-long upside, but missed most of camp with a hamstring injury and is still learning Shula's offense. Funchess didn't play a single snap with Newton during the exhibition season. Brown dropped 3-of-12 preseason targets, catching only two balls for 14 yards. Now 30 years old, Ginn is basically a rich man's Darrius Heyward-Bey. ... Carolina's wideout mess should translate to heavy volume for Greg Olsen, whom Newton targeted a whopping eight times in the first half of the Panthers' regular season dress rehearsal. Last year's Jaguars allowed the 14th most fantasy points to tight ends. With Rob Gronkowski having played on Thursday and Jimmy Graham facing the Rams' stingy tight end coverage, you could argue Olsen is the premier fantasy play left at his position this week. (I'd also include Martellus Bennett in that discussion.)
Score Prediction: Jaguars 23, Panthers 21
Seattle @ St. Louis
Seahawks-Rams projects as a defensive slugfest with a 41-point Vegas Total and Seattle opening the season on the road, where Pete Carroll's club is usually not at its best. Only Chiefs-Texans and Browns-Jets have lower Week 1 over-unders. Russell Wilson has been up-and-down in six career meetings with St. Louis, totaling a 6:4 TD-to-INT ratio with two rushing scores, although he has bolstered his fantasy production in those meetings by averaging 33.3 rushing yards per game. Wilson should be treated as an every-week QB1 in re-draft leagues, but there will be better games ahead to start him in DFS. ... Keyed by long-armed coverage maven WLB Alec Ogletree, the Rams have played stingy tight end defense throughout Jeff Fisher's tenure. In 2014, only Buffalo allowed fewer fantasy points to tight ends, and in 2013 St. Louis limited Jimmy Graham to a 2-25 line on six targets in a December clash with the Saints. There aren't five better Week 1 tight end plays in fantasy, but Graham owners might want to keep their expectations in check. At their DFS price points, I'd dial up Martellus Bennett, Jordan Cameron, Green Bay's Richard Rodgers and even New Orleans' Ben Watson over Graham this week.
Wilson has topped 25 pass attempts once in six career games against the Rams. The Seahawks are four-point road favorites, which suggests Seattle is unlikely to need to rely heavily on the pass. Behind low-ceiling WR3 option Doug Baldwin, pedestrian No. 2 wideout Jermaine Kearse, dynamic rookie Tyler Lockett, and Super Bowl stud Chris Matthews are vying for snaps. While they may collectively make some statistical noise, I tend to doubt a trustworthy fantasy starter will emerge from this group. ... Always a far-better play at home than on the road, Marshawn Lynch has managed rushing lines of 18-53-0 and 8-23-0 in his last two trips to the Edward Jones Dome. Including games in Seattle, the Rams have held Lynch to 233 yards and two touchdowns on 63 carries (3.70 YPC) in their last four meetings. St. Louis' front seven is arguably the best it's ever been, while the Seahawks' offensive line might be the worst of the Carroll/Darrell Bevell era after late-camp shuffling at left guard, center, and right tackle. Lynch remains a must-start in season-long leagues, but I'm probably waiting for Week 3 to start in him daily fantasy. The Seahawks head to Green Bay for Week 2 before hosting Chicago in the season's third week.
As four-point home dogs, the Rams' Week 1 Vegas team total is an anemic 18.5 points. When it comes to fantasy lineup decisions, this is a team we can pretty safely gloss over facing a tough Seahawks defense, even without holdout SS Kam Chancellor. ... Theoretically a run-first team, St. Louis is apparently poised to lean heavily on third-down back Benny Cunningham with Todd Gurley (knee) not yet ready and Tre Mason battling a balky hamstring. Cunningham will have to contend with the same obstacles the other backs would have; not only is Seattle a consistently stout run-defending team, the Rams' offensive line enters Week 1 in horrific shape with two rookie starters (LG Jamon Brown, RT Rob Havenstein), struggling Greg Robinson at left tackle, liability Tim Barnes at center, and constantly-injured Rodger Saffold (shoulder) at right guard. A third-year UDFA out of Middle Tennessee State, Cunningham is 5'10/209 with a nondescript running skill set. He gained 33 yards on 14 runs (2.4 YPC) this preseason. Cunningham's strength is in the passing game, where he secured 45-of-52 targets for 352 yards and a touchdown last season. If Mason can't play, you could do worse than Cunningham as a desperate PPR flex.
Nick Foles is a slow-footed game manager whose on-field performance is heavily impacted by his teammates. He lit up the league (27:2 TD-to-INT ratio) amid career-best years by DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper in 2013, and an offensive line that started every game together. Foles' play went in the gutter in 2014 as Philly's line was ravaged by injury, Jackson left, and Cooper devolved into one of the NFL's worst receivers. Foles' supporting cast in St. Louis is a problem. There's no reason to expect him to provide 2015 fantasy value. ... Limited all camp coming off major shoulder surgery, Rams top wideout Brian Quick was not targeted in 30 preseason snaps. Kenny Britt caught five balls for 44 yards. Under first-year OC Frank Cignetti, the Rams seem intent on justifying their 2013 top-ten investment into Tavon Austin and continue to list him as a starter. Stedman Bailey and Chris Givens are also in the wideout mix. Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks are the tight ends. I'd like to see how snaps and targets are distributed in a regular season game with Foles at quarterback before making predictions on how each St. Louis pass catcher will fare moving forward. Right now, I really can't put a positive spin on any of them. For season-long purposes, Quick easily offers the highest ceiling in the Rams' wideout group.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 23, Rams 13
4:05PM ET Games
New Orleans @ Arizona
The Vegas total on Saints-Cards is 48 points, sixth highest of Week 1. Favored by 2.5, Arizona's team total is over 25 points in this sneaky possible shootout. ... New Orleans' pass defense enters the season in shambles. Since cutting ties with 2014 sack leader Junior Galette, the Saints lost top CB Keenan Lewis to hip surgery and third-round CB P.J. Williams (hamstring) to I.R. FS Jairus Byrd (knee) won't play in Arizona. Even after a shaky preseason, Carson Palmer is an attractive QB1 streamer and DFS tournament play. Palmer is as good a pure passer as there is in football when he has a clean pocket. He'll have time to throw against DC Rob Ryan's pass-rush-deficient unit. ... Having signed Chris Johnson and used a top-90 draft pick on David Johnson, the Cardinals will scale back Andre Ellington's workload after his body broke down and his efficiency dipped sharply on last year's 22 touches per game. The Cardinals also plan to employ Stepfan Taylor as a short-yardage/goal-line specialist. Ellington won't score many touchdowns this year, but he should be a PPR asset for as long as he stays healthy. He opens the season in great matchups against the Saints and Bears. ... Because both missed extensive training camp time with hamstring injuries, the Johnsons' early-season usage is unclear. Fantasy owners should monitor the backup situation behind Ellington closely. Chris looked spry and explosive in Arizona's preseason finale, while David is the club's biggest (6'1/224) and most athletic back.
Palmer's target distribution this preseason: John Brown 9; Ellington and J.J. Nelson 7; Larry Fitzgerald 5; David Johnson 4; Darren Fells 1. ... Per The Fake Football's Rich Hribar, the Saints' defense allowed a top-18 fantasy wideout in 6-of-7 weeks after Lewis suffered a knee injury last year. In Arizona's wideout corps, my pick for a big Week 1 is "Smokey" Brown, a 4.34 burner who appears poised to break out after posting a 48-696-5 receiving line as a rookie out of D-2 Pittsburg State. The Saints' left cornerback position looks like a potential sieve, while 6-foot-4, 221-pound RCB Brandon Browner lacks the quicks and long speed to guard Brown when they meet on an island. ... The Cards' highest-floor receiver play is Fitzgerald, whose pace stats in Palmer's six 2014 starts were 86-1,288-6 on 110 targets. Fitzgerald recently turned 32 and is short on big-play ability at this stage of his career, but I like his chances of seeing 8-10 targets versus New Orleans, and paying dividends as a limited-ceiling WR3. ... Michael Floyd missed almost all of camp after fracturing and dislocating three fingers on his left hand so severely that they punctured through Floyd's palm. Floyd will likely play against the Saints, but the missed time with Palmer is a concern for their early-season chemistry. Floyd's pace stats in last year's Palmer starts were an uninspiring 46 catches, 693 yards, and six scores on 80 targets.
The projected game script derived from Vegas' line on this game isn't ideal for Mark Ingram, but others will notice that, too. In DFS, Ingram is my favorite contrarian play of Week 1. C.J. Spiller's (knee) absence will likely translate to more passing-game usage for Ingram, while Arizona's defense is primed for regression with DC Todd Bowles gone to the Jets. And the Cards' front-seven personnel isn't very good. Gone are key run defenders NT Dan Williams, OLB Matt Shaughnessy, and ILB Larry Foote. To replace Williams, Arizona has turned to Rodney Gunter, a fourth-round rookie out of Delaware State. Replacing Shaughnessy is washed-up LaMarr Woodley. Replacing Foote is Sean Weatherspoon, who tore his Achilles' last year, missed most of camp with a hamstring injury, and hasn't played a regular season snap since December 2013. Khiry Robinson may mix in for 6-9 touches, but this should be the Ingram show behind New Orleans' much-improved offensive line. ... This game's relatively aggressive Vegas total and Arizona's pass-rush shortage bode well for Drew Brees' outlook, even if his pass-catcher corps is arguably the most suspect of his career. My guess is this will be a solid-if-unspectacular game for Brees as the Saints stay committed to the run in an effort to protect their porous defense.
Brandin Cooks probably has the best matchup of any Saints player this week. The Cards are in bad shape at cornerback, where they're replacing Antonio Cromartie with journeyman type Jerraud Powers, and severely-overrated Patrick Peterson lacks the short-area quicks to handle Cooks' blinding jukes. Cooks lit up the preseason, catching seven balls for 164 yards and two touchdowns, and will also be funneled the ball in the running game. ... Look for Peterson to square off more with Marques Colston and 6-foot-6, 225-pound sophomore Brandon Coleman. Colston's role was scaled back in 2014 to the extent that he finished with the second fewest targets of his career on a Saints team that led the NFC in pass attempts. He was one of the least effective receivers in football and likely doesn't have much left at age 32. Coleman, who ran ahead of Colston in August, has great size and length (34-inch arms) but looked pedestrian in preseason games. When evaluating the Saints' Nos. 2 and 3 receivers, I'm taking a wait-and-see, see-it-and-I'll-believe-it approach. ... Ben Watson turns 35 in December and might be the least-sexy fantasy option in today's NFL. But a fantasy option Watson is, at least as a TE1 streamer and minimum-priced DFS play. Annually rinsed by tight ends, last year's Cardinals yielded the fifth most fantasy points in the league to the position, and the makeup of their defense has only gotten worse. Pretty much all signs point to Watson opening the season ahead of Josh Hill on the depth chart. Hill is expected to sprinkle into two-tight end sets as a sub-package player.
Score Prediction: Saints 27, Cardinals 23
Detroit @ San Diego
The Vegas total on Lions-Bolts is a ho-hum 45.5 points with San Diego favored by three. The Chargers enter Week 1 with run-game question marks after prized rookie Melvin Gordon struggled with his preseason running technique, managing 45 yards on 20 carries (2.25 YPC) while frequently freezing behind the line. Gordon should have a bright future, but his August play was concerning enough that San Diego is expected to open the season using a three-back split involving heavy doses of Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver. I wouldn't be surprised if Woodhead leads the backfield in Week 1 snaps. Losing DTs Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley hurts Detroit's run-defense outlook, but the front seven remains solid with MLB Stephen Tulloch back healthy and Haloti Ngata taking over for Suh. This is a sub-par matchup for San Diego's rushing attack, and the distribution of touches is up in the air. Woodhead is strong RB2/flex in PPR leagues, while fantasy owners considering Gordon may need him to hit pay dirt on a goal-line carry. We probably won't see Gordon getting 20-carry games until he shows signs of breaking the bad running habits he developed at Wisconsin. ... The 2014 Lions ranked top eight in pass-defense DVOA and return all four starters in the secondary. I still think the best way for offenses to attack Detroit is on short routes in a timing-and-rhythm pass game. Philip Rivers has become more of a timing-and-rhythm passer under Mike McCoy and should be good for a solid-if-unspectacular effort. Rivers' box-score upside is limited by the absence of red-zone difference maker Antonio Gates (suspension), who accounted for 38.7% of Rivers' TD passes last year.
To help fill the Gates void, the Chargers will turn to Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, Malcom Floyd, and Woodhead in the passing game. Based on his near-minimum price point, Johnson is my favorite DFS play in the group. Johnson worked at slot receiver this preseason, with Allen at X and Floyd at Z. The Lions' cornerback weakness is in the slot, where journeyman Josh Wilson beat out Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs in camp. Wilson couldn't hold a job in Atlanta last year while getting burnt to a crisp, and struggled with the 2013 Redskins. Enhancing Johnson's fantasy appeal is the expected inactivity of Ladarius Green (concussion), which leaves San Diego bare-bones thin at tight end. Replacing Green is John Phillips, whom the Chargers released at final cuts, but was re-signed on Thursday. A seventh-year veteran, Phillips has never caught more than 15 passes in a season. ... Allen is expected to rotate into the slot in certain packages, though he will likely run most of his routes at ageless Lions RCB Rashean Mathis. Mathis earned a top-nine coverage grade among 108 qualifiers from PFF last year. LCB Darius Slay -- who will deal mostly with low-volume vertical receiver Floyd -- graded out in the top 25. Wilson was 74th. I do like Allen as a WR2/3 in season-long leagues. Floyd is at least in the WR3 hunt.
The Lions head to Qualcomm Stadium with a Vegas team total of just over 21 points. The most-glaring mismatch Detroit can boast pits 6-foot-5, 239-pound superfreak Calvin Johnson against diminutive CBs Brandon Flowers (5'10/189) and Jason Verrett (5'9/189). I keep a close ear to the fantasy community, which seems to be buzzing more this week about other top-shelf WR1s. I think Calvin may go surprisingly low-owned on DFS sites. ... San Diego's corners match up more favorably with Golden Tate, who stands 5'10/199. Tate's 2014 stats (99-1,331-4) look good on paper, but keep in mind three of Tate's four TDs came in the five games where Megatron was out or employed as an injured "decoy," and Tate topped 100 yards four times during that stretch compared to just once in his other 11 games. I like Tate as a fantasy WR2/3, but barring another Calvin injury Tate won't blow the doors off like he did last season. ... View Matthew Stafford as a low-end QB1 in this matchup. Despite their size limitations, Flowers and Verrett are an above-average pairing, while FS Eric Weddle is one of the best safeties in the league. Healthy OLB Melvin Ingram, ascending 24-year-old RE Corey Liuget, and second-year OLB Jerry Attaochu form an underrated pass-rush trio with lots of youthful upside. The Chargers' 2014 defensive metrics aren't helpful from a predictive standpoint because Ingram, Flowers, and Verrett combined to miss 19 games, and Attaochu spent his 21-year-old rookie season learning behind Dwight Freeney. John Pagano's Chargers defense has a shot to be vastly improved.
Coming off a disappointing rookie year (25-248-1) -- albeit forgivable considering the history of rookie tight ends -- Eric Ebron turned in an inconsistent second training camp. He caught two passes for 26 yards in Detroit's first two preseason games, then was mysteriously absent from the final two exhibitions. I'm in full-on, wait-and-see mode with Ebron, whose raw tools suggest he should be headed for a year-two leap, but whose frustrating to-date performance should prevent fantasy owners from investing much until Ebron shows something. The Lions traded for pass-catching TE Tim Wright in late August. An ensuing story on the team's website claimed the deal had "nothing to do" with Ebron's development. ... With Joique Bell back from his Achilles' and knee injuries, dynamic rookie Ameer Abdullah certain to have a role, and Theo Riddick expected to sprinkle into the passing game, the Lions' backfield could be difficult to trust for fantasy starts for the foreseeable future. Abdullah is the best talent of the group, but his cost in late-August drafts became far too aggressive for a back with capped TD upside so long as Bell is healthy and locked in as Detroit's goal-line runner. Riddick's presence limits Abdullah's receiving ceiling. Abdullah should eventually emerge as a strong RB2/flex with room for further growth, but in Week 1 I'd be surprised if he handled more than 10-14 touches. The extent of Bell's role is even less clear after he missed all of preseason. Lions RBs are dicey flex plays in Week 1.
Score Prediction: Chargers 24, Lions 20
Cincinnati @ Oakland
Whereas the general public has a strong air of optimism regarding this year's Raiders, Vegas line makers aren't buying in. Oakland's Vegas win total is set at just six games -- third lowest ahead of only Jacksonville and Tennessee -- while the Raiders are 3.5-point home dogs versus Cincy. Most DFS players will be on Jeremy Hill this week, but I'm just as interested in Andy Dalton as a tournament stack with A.J. Green and/or Tyler Eifert. The Bengals' loaded offensive line is good enough to stymie OLB Khalil Mack, while Oakland's secondary is putrid, trotting out T.J. Carrie and 2013 first-round bust D.J. Hayden on the corners with Neiko Thorpe at nickel back. Eagles fans know all-too-well how burnable new Raiders FS Nate Allen is. SS Charles Woodson turns 39(!) in October. A healthy Green has posted lines of 9-162-2 and 6-131-1 in his last two Week 1 games, while in his career A.J. has scored 21 touchdowns with a 101-yard average across 30 road contests, compared to 14 TDs and a 61.4-yard average in 30 home affairs. ... All signs this August pointed to Eifert emerging as the No. 2 option in Cincinnati's passing attack. Even before he caught five balls for 67 yards in the preseason, Eifert looked to be a focal point prior to last year's season-ending elbow dislocation, catching three passes for 37 yards on only eight snaps in Week 1 against Baltimore. OC Hue Jackson badly wants to feed Eifert the rock. Jackson should succeed in doing so against a Raiders defense that last year permitted the tenth-most fantasy points to tight ends and is now run by Jack Del Rio, whose 2014 Broncos coughed up the seventh-most fantasy points to tight ends with far-superior personnel to Oakland.
Now healthy and one season removed from scoring ten touchdowns despite playing only 50.1% of Cincinnati's 2013 offensive snaps, Marvin Jones is a talent to watch closely. I did notice Mohamed Sanu was listed ahead of Jones on Cincy's final preseason depth chart. Jones is a WR5 with WR3 upside. Sanu could be involved early in the year, but should eventually take a backseat. Sanu is a stone-handed possession-slot receiver who wound up playing far more than the Bengals wanted last year due to Jones (foot), Green (toe), and Eifert's injuries. Sanu proceeded to lead the NFL in drops (14). ... While Giovani Bernard still seems to have a "truther" following in some segments of the fantasy community, the return of Cincinnati's healthy receiving weapons could render Gio a punt returner and change-of-pace option only in the Bengals' power-running offense. Bernard struggled this preseason, managing 19 yards on ten carries with three catches for 16 yards. When Cincy's starters were on the field, Bernard largely watched on the sideline as Hill operated as an every-down back. Hill is not as shifty as Gio, but he was just as efficient in the receiving game last year and is head-and-shoulders better in blitz pickup. Jackson has stated vehemently in the past that he prefers a one-back offense. A cross between Larry Johnson and Shaun Alexander as a runner, Hill is that one back. He led the NFL in rushing yards (929) and yards per carry (5.40) over the last half of '14 and should eat in the Black Hole.
The Raiders have a low Vegas team total of 20 points in their opening game. A number of Oakland skill players are worth monitoring in case Derek Carr takes a sophomore leap, but only two are worth fantasy-start consideration. ... The first is Latavius Murray, who may begin the year as a legitimate every-down back with expected passing-game specialist Roy Helu currently listed on Oakland's third string, behind special teamer Taiwan Jones. Some fantasy analysts have noted that Murray's per-carry efficiency was spiked by long runs last year, but he did average a rock-solid 4.31 YPC even if you exclude his 90-yard TD against the Chiefs. Murray earned strong pass-block grades from PFF and held his own as a receiver, securing 17-of-22 targets for 143 yards. If Murray indeeds plays in passing situations, his week-to-week fantasy floor would receive a valuable bump. Bengals DC Paul Guenther's 2014 unit ranked 28th in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA and won't have difference-making WLB Vontaze Burfict (knee), who was placed on reserve/PUP. ... The second is Amari Cooper, whom Carr seemed willing to force the ball this preseason. Cooper finished the exhibition season with eight catches for 124 yards and a three-yard rushing attempt. Cooper beat Patrick Peterson repeatedly in Oakland's regular season dress rehearsal, including for a 36-yard gain. A potential volume beast as a rookie, Cooper should be locked into fantasy lineups as a WR2.
Guenther's 2014 group earned a top-seven rating in Football Outsiders' pass-defense DVOA and could be even better this year with imposing safeties George Iloka and Reggie Nelson returning, LCB Dre Kirkpatrick seemingly poised for a breakout season, and DT Geno Atkins recapturing dominant early-career form after being limited by a knee injury all of last year. Atkins was extremely disruptive on 55 preseason snaps, registering a sack and three hurries while earning a top-three PFF grade among 100 defensive tackles. I wouldn't expect much passing-game success from checkdown-machine Carr. ... Michael Crabtree reportedly tore up camp, but keep in mind that damage was done against Oakland's league-worst cornerbacks. Crabtree was nearly silent this preseason, managing three grabs for 21 yards in three exhibition games. If I'm going to buy into a "bounce-back year" for Crabtree, I want to have visible signs of it. Never a speed receiver in the first place, Crabtree hasn't been the same since tearing his Achilles' tendon in 2013. Before his 2015 free agent market turned ice cold, NFL Network's Albert Breer reported 49ers coaches believed Crabtree "really slowed down" following the injury. ... As third-round rookie Clive Walford battled a hamstring injury for all of August, Mychal Rivera kept the Raiders' primary tight end job. In order to tee up the slow-and-plodding Rivera as a fantasy start, I'd need to see him in a truly mouth-watering matchup. Guenther's 2014 defense ranked 16th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends.
Score Prediction: Bengals 27, Raiders 21
4:25PM ET Games
Tennessee @ Tampa Bay
In a battle of teams that picked first and second in this year's draft, Titans-Bucs has a measly 41.5-point Vegas total and is best viewed as a game to avoid in fantasy lineup decisions. One exception is Doug Martin, who has a tasty matchup and should benefit from positive game flow with the Bucs favored by three. A disappointment his last two seasons, Martin looked springy and explosive this preseason after shedding 15 pounds in the spring, posting a 20-118-1 rushing line and averaging 5.90 yards per carry. The Bucs' weak offensive line and shortage of defensive talent are concerns for Martin's season-long outlook, but he's a borderline RB1 against a Titans defense that last year ranked 31st versus the run and recently lost NT Sammie Lee Hill to MCL surgery. ... After a rookie season where he managed a 2.80 YPC average and caught 19 passes across eight games, Charles Sims rushed 13 times for 16 yards this preseason. Sims is listed as the Bucs' No. 2 back -- behind Martin and ahead of Bobby Rainey -- but his role is unclear entering the season. ... Jameis Winston finished August 23-of-47 passing (48.9%) for 311 yards and a 0:2 TD-to-INT ratio, absorbing seven sacks among 54 dropbacks. He did score twice on scrambles, but had all the appearances of a quarterback who will be prone to turnovers and sacks as a rookie. Winston's aggressive passing mindset should work in the favor of his receivers, but independently Winston is a two-QB-league option only to begin the year.
Mike Evans' (hamstring) availability has a major impact on the Week 1 fantasy outlooks of the players around him. Vincent Jackson could be a volume monster without Evans on the field, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins would likely ascend to the No. 2 pass-option role. Louis Murphy would get the start opposite V-Jax. I'll put an update below this space before Sunday. We'll get more info on Evans' status on Friday and perhaps Saturday. Coach Lovie Smith has left the door open for Evans to play even if he doesn't practice. ... If it does look like Evans will be active for Sunday's game, he should be locked into fantasy lineups in a plum matchup. Titans top CB Jason McCourty (groin) is out until Week 5, vaulting Blidi Wreh-Wilson back into the lineup, likely to play outside on passing downs with Coty Sensabaugh in the slot and Perrish Cox at right corner. Simply put, Wreh-Wilson is horrible. Per Rotoworld's Graham Barfield, Wreh-Wilson allowed the fourth most fantasy points per snap among NFL cornerbacks last season. In case you were wondering, the top three were David Amerson (benched), Darrin Walls (moved to safety), and Antoine Cason (out of the league). ... If Evans is active, Jackson will still be squarely in the WR3 crosshairs. He will run a healthy dose of routes at Wreh-Wilson after spending a lot more time than Evans playing with Winston this preseason.
Friday Update: Evans returned to practice on a limited basis Friday and was listed as questionable on the final injury report. The Bucs frequently allowed Vincent Jackson to play in games last year when he followed a similar limited/questionable regimen. Following Friday's session, Evans stated he felt "fine" to play, and coach Lovie Smith said Evans "looked good" running. The chances of Evans playing against the Titans look very strong at this point.
Running the ball on just 5-of-73 preseason snaps, Marcus Mariota spent August operating as a pocket passer and looking pro ready in the process, appearing poised and comfortable under center, adroitly executing his progressions, and getting the ball out quick. Playing in all four Titans exhibition games, Mariota went 21-of-30 passing (70%) for 326 yards (10.9 YPA), one touchdown, and one pick while taking two sacks. Mariota has a good arm and great athletic ability, and there are murmurs that Tennessee's vanilla preseason offense was designed specifically to keep opponents guessing before they unleash a Chip Kelly-style attack in the real games. Whatever the case, there is and deserves to be optimism on Mariota entering the year. He's an upside QB2 in fantasy. ... Kendall Wright was reportedly Mariota's favorite target all camp. Wright caught six balls for 84 yards in the exhibition season and on Sunday will roam around the formation, lining up at all three receiver positions just as Wright did in August. An underrated WR3, Wright is the favorite to lead Tennessee in Week 1 targets and catches. ... A thumb laceration that required 12 stitches cost Delanie Walker a bunch of practice time with his rookie quarterback this summer, but Walker arguably has the premier Opening Day matchup of the Titans' pass-catcher group. Bucs coach Lovie Smith's Tampa 2-style defense has long been vulnerable to tight ends. 2014 was no different, as the Bucs coughed up the second most receptions in the league to the position. Walker is a low-end to mid-range TE1.
The Titans are carrying only four wide receivers on the 53-man roster: Wright, Harry Douglas, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Justin Hunter. Wright and Douglas are similar slot-Z possession types. Green-Beckham isn't expected to start on Opening Day, but there is a role waiting for him on the perimeter once he gets up to speed. At 6-foot-5, 237, Green-Beckham looked like a towering tree on preseason tape, and possesses incredible fluidity and burst for a man his size. Assuming Mariota keeps progressing at a fast pace, I think Green-Beckham will have a chance to become an every-week WR2 by midseason. The opportunity should certainly be there. ... Even with rookie David Cobb (calf) out until Week 10 on injured reserve-designated for return, Tennessee's backfield remains a fantasy football quagmire. Bishop Sankey is the default lead back. Antonio Andrews is the short-yardage specialist, and Dexter McCluster will vulture any and all passing-game work. The Titans traded for Terrance West at final cuts and are preparing a role for him. Last year's Bucs were not a good team, but they did rank No. 8 in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA. Ignore Tennessee's running backs this week.
Score Prediction: Buccaneers 23, Titans 20
Baltimore @ Denver
Ravens-Broncos has a 48.5-point Vegas total, fifth highest of Week 1. Both teams boast strong defenses and have question marks offensively, so I was a bit surprised by the aggressive over-under. Although Baltimore ranked a middling 15th in 2014 pass-defense DVOA, top CB Jimmy Smith's Lisfranc recovery went smoothly and GM Ozzie Newsome shored up slot corner by signing Kyle Arrington. Peyton Manning is a top 5-7 quarterback play, but my sense is he won't light up the Ravens' secondary. It's an average matchup at best and the Broncos are committed to a lower-volume, ball-control style under Gary Kubiak. ... Especially after LCB Lardarius Webb missed much of camp with a hamstring strain, expect Smith to shadow Demaryius Thomas wherever Thomas lines up. 27-year-old Smith emerged as a legit shutdown force before his foot injury, grading out as PFF's No. 4 cover corner among 107 qualifiers when he went down last Week 8. Thomas is an obvious every-week start in re-draft formats, but I'm looking elsewhere in DFS. ... Emmanuel Sanders has admitted his targets will decline in Denver's revised offense. The Broncos put Sanders on punt returns in an effort to keep him touching the football. Sanders should still be locked into season-long lineups as a WR2, and makes for an interesting DFS stack along with Denver's D/ST. If Sanders takes a punt to the house, you'll get double points.
Noticeably frustrating Peyton in preseason games, Cody Latimer had such a rough August that there is discussion in Denver of Latimer not even opening the season as the Broncos' No. 3 wideout. A rotation at that position seems likely, with Andre Caldwell and Jordan Norwood in the mix. Monitor his playing time, but Latimer may be droppable in season-long leagues after this week. ... The Broncos' lack of a defined third receiver could translate to more two-tight end sets. In the offseason, GM John Elway invested multi-year contracts into both Owen Daniels and Virgil Green, obviously indicating Denver plans to play them. While both are candidates to catch red-zone TDs, it's possible Daniels and Green will work to effectively cancel each other out in weekly box scores. For what it's worth, Daniels was listed as the starter on the Broncos' final preseason depth chart. Last year's Ravens were 18th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. Only nine teams permitted fewer receptions to the position. ... Despite Ronnie Hillman's extremely impressive preseason (7.38 YPC), Kubiak is committed to a one-back attack and C.J. Anderson is locked in as Denver's bellcow runner. While the Ravens are annually stout in run defense, it should be noted that they traded away LE Haloti Ngata in the offseason and replacement Timmy Jernigan (knee) may not play against the Broncos. This is not an ideal matchup for Anderson, but he's still a top-shelf fantasy RB1.
Friday Update: Jernigan (knee) was listed as doubtful on Friday's final injury report, and will almost certainly be inactive against the Broncos. The Ravens are expected to turn to third-round rookie Carl Davis to fill Jernigan's shoes opposite Chris Canty, who turns 33 in November. Upgrade C.J. Anderson's fantasy matchup.
Last year's Broncos defense ranked No. 2 against the run and No. 9 against the pass, but their personnel suggested Denver should've finished higher than ninth in sacks and seventh in interceptions. This defense boasts shutdown run defenders, an edge-rushing trio of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and first-round pick Shane Ray, and a talented, deep secondary. Expect new DC Wade Phillips to dial up more aggressive play calls than outgoing DC Jack Del Rio, who refused to blitz. Joe Flacco's weapons consist of 36-year-old Steve Smith Sr., young journeyman Kamar Aiken, hit-or-miss third-year WR Marlon Brown, struggling rookie Maxx Williams, and 275-pound blocking TE Crockett Gillmore. I'd be surprised if Flacco emerged from Week 1 with top-15 quarterback stats. ... Smith should be an early-season ballhog with so much uncertainty throughout Baltimore's pass-catcher corps. I'm still skeptical how much damage he'll do against stout Broncos CBs Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, and Bradley Roby while Flacco contends with Phillips' creative blitz schemes. Smith should see eight-plus targets at Denver, but he is best viewed as a WR3/flex. ... With Breshad Perriman (PCL) still out indefinitely, Aiken will get the starting nod opposite Smith Sr. Aiken is a fifth-year UDFA on his fourth NFL team. While Aiken is not as bad as those facts illustrate, it's fair to say this is not the player the Ravens were hoping to start in Week 1.
Ravens second-round pick Williams had a slow camp. He battled nagging injuries transitioning to NFL speed, and admitted to struggling to comprehend OC Marc Trestman's playbook. He was held out of Baltimore's final two preseason games. Williams will open the season as a sub-package tight end behind in-line TE Gillmore. At this stage, Gillmore would be the better fantasy option of the two, though that isn't saying much. ... Lorenzo Taliaferro began preseason looking like a legitimate threat to Justin Forsett's early-down and goal-line work, playing extensively with the first-team offense. Taliaferro sprained his MCL in late August, however, and won't be ready against the Broncos. Rookie Buck Allen fell on his face with increased opportunity, managing a 2.51 YPC average on 35 preseason carries and losing a goal-line fumble that drew the ire of coach John Harbaugh. Due in large part to the failings of his backups, Forsett should operate as a true every-down back to open the season. Denver's front seven is stout -- the Broncos return almost everyone from a unit that ended last season No. 3 in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA -- but Forsett's role stabilizes his fantasy outlook. While he's unlikely to post a high yards-per-carry average versus the Broncos, Forsett should compensate with more passing-game work. Notable reception totals of past Trestman backs: 102, 74 (Matt Forte); 91, 72 (Charlie Garner); 73 (Michael Pittman); 69 (Larry Centers); 87 (Derek Loville).
Score Prediction: Broncos 27, Ravens 17
Sunday Night Football
NY Giants @ Dallas
At 51.5 points, Sunday night's game has Week 1's second highest Vegas total with the Cowboys installed as six-point favorites. In theory, this game would set up perfectly to tee up a Dallas running back in fantasy leagues. Unfortunately, we don't know which runner will lead the way in carries. (The Cowboys don't even know.) This week, coach Jason Garrett intimated tailback roles will be decided based on how each member of the backfield has practiced. "We won't outline anything before the game," promised Garrett. "We'll give each of those guys a chance over the course of the week to show us that they're worthy of opportunities." My sense is the signs point to Darren McFadden getting more work than Joseph Randle, but that's based wholly on reading tea leaves. Randle is tentatively expected to get the nominal "start." You're on your own starting Cowboys backs this week. ... With Dallas' run game a virtual lock for regression and New York missing top pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul (hand), Tony Romo is one of this week's premier quarterback plays. Even with JPP on the field, Romo torched the Giants' pass defense in last year's two meetings, posting a 7:1 TD-to-INT ratio with 275-plus passing yards in both affairs. At safety, the G-Men will trot out rookie run-stuffer SS Landon Collins and third-year FS Cooper Taylor, who has played five career snaps. Teams that are weak at safety tend to get gashed for big plays. No NFL team is weaker at safety than the Giants.
The Giants' defense doesn't have many strengths. If there is a discernable one, it's CBs Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who are both quality starters when healthy. My bet is we'll see DRC mostly line up against Dez Bryant, who whalloped the Giants for stat lines of 9-151 and 7-86-2 in last year's two meetings. DRC played in both games. ... Jason Witten suffered statistically from Dallas' extreme-volume rushing approach last year, setting a five-year high in the percentage of downs (54.3%) on which he blocked and an eight-year low in catch total (64). If the 2015 Cowboys throw more -- I'm wagering they will -- Witten is going to do a lot less blocking and a lot more ball catching. The Giants' safety play renders them especially vulnerable to tight ends, making Witten a sneaky bet for a big Sunday nighter. ... Z receiver Terrance Williams and slot man Cole Beasley are complementary role players in Dallas' passing attack. While a potential uptick in passing volume bodes well for Williams and Beasley's chances of sporadically enjoying big box-score weeks, predicting when those big games will happen is going to be very tough, and therefore diminishes Williams and Beasley's fantasy value.
In a game with a high-scoring projection and facing a Dallas defense that lost top CB Orlando Scandrick (ACL/MCL) for the season in August, Eli Manning is a recommended QB1 in season-long leagues and DFS. Eli started 2014 somewhat slowly in then-first-year OC Ben McAdoo's offense, but went on to average 284 yards with a 27:10 TD-to-INT ratio over the final 14 games. The Giants play fast -- they finished last season fourth in total offensive plays -- and have a new receiving weapon in Shane Vereen. In last year's two meetings with Cowboys DC Rod Marinelli, Manning combined to go 50-of-73 passing (68.5%) for 586 yards (8.03 YPA) with six touchdowns and one pick. ... Dallas is reeling at cornerback in Scandrick's absence. They'll start maddeningly inconsistent Brandon Carr at left corner and 2012 first-round bust Morris Claiborne at RCB. The new slot corner is second-year UDFA Tyler Patmon. The Cowboys could also be starved for edge pass rush until Greg Hardy (suspension) returns. Indoors in a potential shootout, this is a prime spot to stack Eli with Odell Beckham, who notched receiving lines of 4-34-2 and 10-146-2 in his two rookie-year dates with Dallas. ... Marinelli's scheme is historically vulnerable to tight ends, though Larry Donnell was hit or miss in last year's two meetings (7-90, 2-24). After a hot start to last season, Donnell's role diminished as Beckham emerged. Donnell averaged over six catches for 59 yards and a touchdown in the first four games before dipping to 3.2 receptions for 32.3 yards with just two combined TDs over the final dozen. At best, Donnell is a low-end TE1.
Rueben Randle frustrated with week-to-week mediocrity last season, and by scoring just three touchdowns on 71 receptions after starting his career with nine TDs on his first 60 NFL grabs. He did heat up late en route to career bests in catches and yards. Cheap on DFS sites, Randle will run most of his Week 1 routes at Claiborne, who tore his patellar tendon last September and has earned negative PFF coverage grades each of the past two years. With Victor Cruz out, Randle should see an uptick in targets. ... Rashad Jennings ended August as the Giants' lead back, but could cede short-yardage work to Andre Williams and will lose passing-game usage to Vereen. I don't expect to have a great feel for New York's running back rotation until we see an actual game. Jennings remains the favorite for Week 1 work against a Cowboys team that last year ranked 22nd in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA and has question marks in the front seven. Jennings is an underrated low-end RB2/flex whom I'd tentatively project at 13-17 touches. ... Although there were camp murmurs Williams might overtake Jennings, they never came to fruition. Jennings was the clear lead back in New York's regular season dress rehearsal, also executing a goal-line TD. Williams may not play much in Big D. ... Vereen should be a staple in McAdoo's oft-used no-huddle packages, where Vereen's versatility will come in especially handy because he doesn't have to be subbed out of the game. The Giants' backfield will likely be one to avoid in DFS for most of this season, but Vereen is on the flex radar in PPR leagues to open the year, and has room for growth once we get a decent handle on his weekly usage.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 28, Giants 24
Monday Night Doubleheader
7:10PM ET Game
Philadelphia @ Atlanta
At 55.5 points, Philly-Falcons has Week 1's highest Vegas total with a three-point spread. This is a game to target aggressively in DFS and re-draft lineup decisions. The 2014 Eagles led the NFL in offensive plays -- creating extra opportunity for touches, yards, and scoring -- while Atlanta's defense remains extremely talent deficient under new coach Dan Quinn. ... Sam Bradford is priced affordably on daily sites and should be locked into season-long lineups, even if he was drafted as a QB2. Eagles quarterbacks have combined for 64 TDs the last two seasons, while last year's collective production of Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez amounted to the overall fantasy QB8. In a plus matchup with a high expected point total, Bradford is a top-ten quarterback play with a top-three ceiling. Bradford finished the preseason 13-of-15 passing (86.7%) for 156 yards (10.4 YPA), three touchdowns, no turnovers, and no sacks taken. ... Daily sites also seem to be sleeping on Jordan Matthews, who dominated summer joint practices with the Ravens and looked a cut above his competition in preseason games (7-115). Last year, the ultra-efficient Matthews ranked 24th in fantasy receiver scoring despite ranking 41st in targets and only playing 64.9% of the Eagles' offensive snaps. This year, Matthews is a full-time player and projects as a high-volume weapon in a mouth-watering matchup with penciled-in Falcons slot CB Robert Alford, a notorious gambler who last year graded 87th among 108 qualifying corners in PFF's coverage grades. It's notable that Alford stands 5'10/188 to Matthews' beastly 6'3/212. Atlanta's slot corner alternative is Phillip Adams (5'11/192), a 27-year-old on his sixth NFL team.
I'm in wait-and-see mode with the rest of Philly's wideouts. While Matthews is locked in as the Eagles' inside receiver, Josh Huff, Riley Cooper, and Nelson Agholor are vying for snaps outside. Agholor is an exciting talent -- especially in terms of run after catch -- but his only preseason start came in the exhibition finale. Huff and Cooper each made three preseason starts. "Preseason start" stats aren't necessarily helpful, but it's possible the trio will work in a three-way committee behind Matthews. I tend to believe Agholor could spend much of his rookie season as a rotational receiver, like Matthews did last year. The Eagles' perimeter wideouts are also more likely to deal with Falcons top CB Desmond Trufant, who plays outside. ... Zach Ertz is expected to be a game-time decision after returning to limited practices following groin surgery. Starter Brent Celek is a blocker. Ertz could become a fantasy option down the road, but he was a sub-package tight end even at full health last year. For the foreseeable future, Ertz is just a talented TE2. Celek has no fantasy value. ... Quinn inherited a Falcons team that last year ranked 30th in run-defense DVOA and still has poor personnel, especially following SAM/"Otto" linebacker Brooks Reed's groin surgery. I can tell you that Bradford and Matthews will be chalky Week 1 DFS plays. I'm betting not nearly as many folks will be firing up DeMarco Murray, in part because they'll be on Bradford and J-Matt, and in part over fears of Murray "losing" carries and catches to Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. ... The exact roles of Mathews and Sproles are yet to be defined. Eagles beat writers expect both to play meaningful snaps, but there's little doubt Murray is the clear top dog, and the heavy favorite for goal-line work. Mathews is a dice-roll flex option without any concrete data to back up starting him. The same goes for Sproles in PPR leagues. Keep in mind Sproles averaged just 5.5 touches over last year's final 13 games.
Although new Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan has the reputation of a running-game guru, a better description would be just a good coach. In all of his past stops, Shanahan has prioritized feeding his best players relentlessly and building his offenses around their strengths while minimizing weaknesses. Shanahan's run games have generally been strong, but he also coordinated a 2009 Texans offense in which Matt Schaub led the NFL in pass attempts and Andre Johnson led the NFL in targets on a team that lacked run-game cohesion. Atlanta's offensive makeup suggests best-player Julio Jones is a legitimate candidate to lead the league in targets. Roddy White (knee, elbow) is fading badly going on age 34, while the tight ends are banged-up retread Jacob Tamme (back) and 2014 flop Levine Toilolo, best known in fantasy circles as "ToiLOLo." (h/t @Chet_G.) Whereas Julio predominately lined up on the left side of the formation under ex-OC Dirk Koetter, Shanahan intends to move Jones around in an effort to create mismatches and funnel him the rock. Now facing an Eagles defense that has stopped the run in elite fashion under DC Billy Davis and a fast-paced Eagles offense that forces its opponents to run more snaps, Julio is my favorite top-shelf WR1 play in Week 1. The potential shadow coverage of Byron Maxwell is hardly a concern. ... While the limitations of his supporting cast beyond Julio are a season-long worry, Matt Ryan is another recommended Week 1 play who should benefit from a ton of volume in a game with a shootout-scoring projection. Last season, enemy quarterbacks notched the sixth most pass attempts in the league against Philly, and threw the fourth most touchdown passes. It wouldn't surprise me if Ryan were a bit underowned in DFS tournaments this week with fantasy players seemingly focused elsewhere at quarterback.
Critical to the aforementioned cohesion in Shanahan's zone-run game is O-Line continuity, where the 2015 Falcons fall painfully short. Atlanta traded for new LG Andy Levitre on Sept. 4, before cutting first-team C Joe Hawley on Sept. 7. One game-film aficionado I trust called Atlanta's front five "the worst OL I've watched in the last couple of years" after studying their preseason tape. And the Falcons are concerned enough with their tailback corps that they've reportedly shown interest in free agent Montee Ball. Tevin Coleman has been promoted onto the first string, but also missed a ton of camp and may be eased into lead-back work. Devonta Freeman recently admitted his hamstring is still not 100%, and therefore he is not a fantasy option. The Eagles' defense has ranked fourth and fourth in the NFL in yards per carry allowed the past two seasons under Davis, and there is reason to believe Philly could be even stouter this year after trading for ILB Kiko Alonso. A speedy boom-or-bust runner, Coleman is easily the best Week 1 bet for touches, though Monday night's daunting matchup makes him a dicey RB2. It can't help that, historically, zone-run games like Shanahan's have tended to struggle against 3-4 defenses like Philly's. ... After back-to-back injury-plagued seasons, Roddy White reported to camp with a balky knee that needs frequent draining before undergoing August 23 elbow surgery. While White's matchup seems favorable against an Eagles team still deciding between Nolan Carroll, E.J. Biggers, and rookie Eric Rowe at Nos. 2 and 3 cornerback, I'd struggle to trust Roddy as more than a shaky WR3. ... Don't be surprised if Falcons third receiver Leonard Hankerson logs heavy Week 1 snaps and even outperforms White in the box score. Hankerson was a staple with the starting offense all camp and Atlanta's tight end shortage will likely translate to a dependency on three-wideout sets. "HankTime" is a Week 1 fantasy sleeper.
Score Prediction: Eagles 30, Falcons 27
10:20PM ET Game
Minnesota @ San Francisco
The backend of Monday night's doubleheader projects as a low-scoring slugfest. 6-of-16 Week 1 games have Vegas totals below 42 points. At 41.5, Vikings-49ers is among them with Minnesota favored by 2.5. The top play is Adrian Peterson taking on a San Francisco defense that's lost DEs Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, ILBs Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, OLBs Aldon Smith and Dan Skuta, and respected DC Vic Fangio since the beginning of last year. Minnesota's low total (22 points) is more of a concern for the passing game than Peterson, who is a top-shelf RB1 and potential DFS Monday Night Hammer. On the other hand, one reason to fade Peterson in DFS would be the critical offensive line losses of RT Phil Loadholt (Achilles') and C John Sullivan (back surgery). Loadholt and Sullivan were arguably the Vikings' two best linemen last year. ... Teddy Bridgewater caught fire down the stretch of his rookie season, compiling a 10:6 TD-to-INT ratio, 68.9% completion rate, and 98.1 QB rating over the Vikings' final six games. Bridgewater looked even better this August and made perhaps the best throw of the NFL preseason on a 39-yard bucket bomb to Mike Wallace in Minnesota's regular season dress rehearsal. Still, the 2015 Vikings will likely be a run-focused team, and this game's low-scoring projection has me off Bridgewater in DFS and most season-long leagues. I'm viewing him as a high-end QB2 to begin the year.
Charles Johnson and Wallace are both quality WR3 plays taking on the 49ers, who will start Tramaine Brock at left cornerback, and either Keith Reaser or Kenneth Acker at RCB. Brock was injured almost all of last season, logging only 80 plays. He also showed up on Thursday's injury report as "limited" with a hamstring tweak. Reaser and Acker were both late-round draft picks in 2014, and neither has played an NFL snap. The nickel back will either be the loser of the Reaser-Acker battle or Jimmie Ward, who got flamed in coverage all last year. This is a good matchup for Johnson and Wallace, but neither stands out as an especially strong fantasy start with no target pecking order established yet in what projects as a low-scoring game. ... Beyond Peterson, the best bet for a touchdown on Minnesota's side is probably 6-foot-6, 259-pound TE Kyle Rudolph, who has been injury ravaged in the past but made it through camp at 100%. Like most low-end TE1s, Rudolph will pay week-to-week dividends whenever he hits pay dirt. He probably won't rack up enough catches and yards to help you when he doesn't score.
Underdogs at home, the 49ers' Week 1 point total is 19.5. You'd be hard pressed to get excited about any San Francisco players as fantasy starts. ... New lead back Carlos Hyde did have an impressive preseason, flashing tackle-breaking power and quick feet for a 6-foot, 230-pound runner. The 49ers' offensive line is a huge concern, however. Having lost LG Mike Iupati (free agency), C Daniel Kilgore (leg/ankle), and RT Anthony Davis ("retirement") since last season, the Niners spent camp shuffling bodies around the front five and spurning continuity, particularly on the right side of the line. At center through right tackle, the 49ers will turn to Marcus Martin, Jordan Devey, and Erik Pears, all three of whom drew abysmal 2014 PFF blocking grades. Still, the matchup is good enough for Hyde to be fired up as a mid-range RB2. A Vikings unit that finished last year 25th in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA returns largely intact. ... The Vikings were better in pass-defense DVOA (19th) last season and will likely improve in year two of coach Mike Zimmer's system with a host of young players in the front and backends. Minnesota's secondary matches up well with San Francisco's receivers, and Zimmer's exotic blitzes figure to cause Colin Kaepernick fits. Kaepernick has never faced a Zimmer defense before as an NFL starter. A quarterback who's declined rapidly since his breakout 2012 season, Kaepernick absorbed an NFC-high 52 sacks last year behind what was generally regarded as one of the NFL's best lines, while Kap's field reading and touch passing have remained deficient.
Reggie Bush played only three snaps this preseason. While he could become a PPR factor as the season moves along, I'd like to see Bush's role established in an actual game before entertaining him as a potential flex play. ... Expect Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes to spend 2015 shadowing enemy No. 1 receivers. Rhodes emerged as a legitimate shutdown corner last season, earning a top-six PFF coverage grade from Week 4 on. At 6'2/210 with nearly 34-inch arms, Rhodes possesses the size, length, and physicality to limit Anquan Boldin's box-score production. Boldin is still a virtual lock to lead the 49ers in targets, but he's best viewed as a low-ceiling WR3 play in Week 1. ... With first-round pick Trae Waynes coming along slowly, 37-year-old Terence Newman will open as Minnesota's No. 2 cornerback, with Captain Munnerlyn in the slot. Torrey Smith has a good matchup on paper, but Newman is a savvy veteran who's aware of his own limitations, which has allowed Newman to stay relatively effective so late in his career. As a low-volume vertical stretcher, look for Smith to remain a boom-or-bust weekly option in his new digs. ... Vernon Davis fell off a cliff last season and did nothing this August, failing to see a single target among 39 preseason snaps. Last year's Zimmer defense yielded the eighth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Fantasy owners streaming Davis in Week 1 should be holding their breath.
Score Prediction: Vikings 20, 49ers 17