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Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
The first few weeks of the NFL season are tough to gauge in the fantasy world.
Teams aren’t putting together a true game plan in the preseason, so it’s hard to put too much stock into production. The preseason might feature some impressive individual performances, but it’s much different when first-team offenses face first-team defenses for an entire game.
While it’s simple to start your studs, you’d be ignoring obvious tough matchups. You might think twice about using Alfred Morris and/or Matt Breida with the San Francisco 49ers facing a stout Minnesota Vikings defense. Mike Evans shouldn’t be on your bench, but you should lower expectations for his matchup with Marshon Lattimore and the New Orleans Saints.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers must grapple with the ongoing absence of star running back Le’Veon Bell. At least they know they’ll have Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ben Roethlisberger ready to go when they take on the Cleveland Browns.
Here’s the first look at points-per-reception (PPR) rankings for Week 1. These will change throughout the week and up until Sunday’s action as we get more information about injuries and limitations, so make sure to bookmark this page for my full rankings in both PPR and non-PPR formats.
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Jason Behnken/Associated Press
I present my top 100 players (minus quarterbacks) for the week as a way to help determine your flex spots. You may favor a certain position or player over another based on his role and/or your scoring rules.
As an additional tiebreaker, here are the teams I like as a whole this week based on their matchups:
- New Orleans Saints (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
- Los Angeles Rams (at Oakland Raiders)
- Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Kansas City Chiefs)
- Minnesota Vikings (vs. San Francisco 49ers)
- Detroit Lions (vs. New York Jets)
- Cincinnati Bengals (at Indianapolis Colts)
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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Better Than Usual
Philip Rivers, LAC (vs. KC)
Losing Hunter Henry wasn’t ideal, but might it open the door for Rivers to get more out of his WR corps? Mike Williams never got going after a back injury delayed the start of his rookie season. He’s healthy to open this season, so he’ll join Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams as a strong trio for Rivers to attack with on Sunday at home against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs shipped top CB Marcus Peters to the Los Angeles Rams, so they have a weak group on the back end. That gives the Chargers every reason to use a lot of three-WR sets. If you drafted Rivers to be a low-end starter or even a backup, this could be a week in which he gives you a top-five performance.
Jimmy Garoppolo, SF (at MIN)
Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers get a stiff test to open a 2018 campaign that’s loaded with high expectations. A trip to Minnesota means a matchup with a defense that allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to QBs last season. Losing Jerick McKinnon on Saturday to a torn ACL puts even more pressure on Garoppolo to carry the offense, especially if the 49ers fall behind early.
You might not be able to avoid using Garoppolo, but you should lower your expectations accordingly. If you have a solid backup with a good matchup, don’t be afraid to put Jimmy G on the bench.
Eli Manning, NYG (vs. JAC)
Even though Manning has a chance to rebound this season with plenty of skill-position talent surrounding him, this isn’t the week to put your faith in him. His opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars, have what may still be the best defense in the league. While Manning and the Giants could give the Jaguars a challenge, questions remain about their offensive line. Jacksonville has the talent to exploit those issues, which could make for a long, ugly day for Manning.
Andy Dalton, CIN (at IND)
Rarely will I endorse using Dalton, so don’t get used to it. However, this is a prime matchup if you are streaming QBs from the get go or are looking for a boost from your second QB in a two-QB league. The Colts have arguably the NFL’s weakest secondary coming into this season. In 2017, Indianapolis allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to QBs. A.J. Green is Dalton’s clear-cut top target, but don’t forget about second-year WR John Ross.
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Leon Halip/Getty Images
Better Than Usual
Alex Collins, BAL (vs. BUF)
Collins was the Baltimore Ravens’ lone bright spot on offense last year. While the Ravens have retooled their receiving corps, he enters the season as their most reliable fantasy option. Baltimore shouldn’t have much trouble controlling this game with its defense, which means Collins should be busy. He’ll be getting those touches against a defense that allowed the most fantasy points to RBs last season.
Alfred Morris and Matt Breida, SF (at MIN)
Figuring out the San Francisco 49ers backfield was already hard enough after the loss of Jerick McKinnon, but a brutal Week 1 opponent makes the task a fool’s errand. Breida just got clearance to return from a separated shoulder, while Morris has been with the 49ers for less than a month. The Minnesota Vikings held RBs to the fewest fantasy points last season, and they still have a great defense. If Morris and Breida split touches, it would ruin any chance of one of them being worthy of a spot in your lineup.
Marlon Mack, IND (vs. CIN)
As covered in this week’s B.S. Meter, the Indianapolis Colts have no clear leader in their backfield after an ugly preseason. Mack may have entered the preseason as the leader, but a hamstring injury has kept him sidelined since the Colts’ first preseason game. Mack would be a risky play regardless of his injury status, so you can keep him off your radar until further notice.
Tarik Cohen, CHI (at GB)
Cohen’s ADP of 85 made him RB32, so he’ll enter the season as a potential flex option. If you’re on the fence about using him this week, consider the matchup against the Green Bay Packers from both sides of the ball. While Khalil Mack should help boost Chicago’s defense, the Bears still have a tall task of slowing down a returning Aaron Rodgers.
If the Bears can’t keep Rodgers and the Packers from lighting up the scoreboard, their offense will have to keep pace through the air. Jordan Howard is the lead back in Chicago, but he could be neutralized if the Bears fall behind. Chicago can utilize Cohen in a variety of ways, and he would likely be on the field more if the Bears are trailing. Plus, he’d be facing a Packers defense that gave up the 12th-most fantasy points to RBs in 2017. Cohen has top-20 potential in Week 1.
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Jason Behnken/Associated Press
Better Than Usual
Chris Hogan, NE (vs. HOU)
Opportunity can go a long way in fantasy football, and Hogan should have plenty of it over the first four weeks of the season while Julian Edelman is suspended. Other than Rob Gronkowski and Hogan, the Patriots won’t have a WR or TE on their roster who accounted for more than 22 targets last season. If you’re a big believer in Tom Brady, you’re a big believer in Hogan.
Hogan also gets a favorable matchup with the Houston Texans in Week 1. No team allowed more fantasy points to WRs last year. If you drafted Hogan as a WR2, you could be looking at a WR1 on Sunday.
Mike Evans, TB (at NO)
Ryan Fitzpatrick may not be much of a downgrade from Jameis Winston, but that doesn’t make up for Evans’ rough matchup in the opener. In two games against the New Orleans Saints last season, he had only six receptions on 19 targets for 68 yards. Evans is clearly the top option in Tampa Bay’s passing attack, so he’ll likely see a lot of top CB Marshon Lattimore. Lower your expectations for him this weekend.
Kelvin Benjamin, BUF (at BAL)
Benjamin likely would have landed in the “avoid” conversation regardless of who the Buffalo Bills tabbed to play QB in Week 1. Nathan Peterman gets the nod over Josh Allen against a tough Baltimore Ravens defense, which doesn’t bode well for any Bills pass-catcher. Even though Ravens CB Jimmy Smith will miss this game due to a suspension, it isn’t as though Benjamin will burn defenders with his speed or quickness. Plus, Peterman may not have much time behind the shoddy Bills offensive line. You should be able to do better than Benjamin.
Mike Williams, LAC (vs. KC)
Williams generated a lot of buzz as a good bench stash to draft, so you may not have considered him as a potential option for Week 1. But as discussed above, the Chargers could use a lot of three-WR sets with Hunter Henry out of the mix and Antonio Gates having signed only days ago.
Williams could exploit this matchup against the Chiefs, whose secondary looks average at best. Tyrell Williams should play through a foot injury, but since he’ll be at less than 100 percent, Mike Williams could wind up seeing more targets. This could be the start of his breakout campaign.
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Better Than Usual
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, JAC (at NYG)
You may have drafted Seferian-Jenkins as a dart throw at a thin TE position. If you did so with his Week 1 matchup in mind, consider yourself a savvy fantasy owner. TEs facing the New York Giants in 2017 often found themselves in the better-than-usual or sleeper category, as no defense gave up more fantasy points to TEs. The Jaguars aren’t exactly loaded at WR, especially after losing Marqise Lee, so the matchup and opportunities favor Seferian-Jenkins.
George Kittle, SF (at MIN)
Kittle missed much of the preseason with a separated shoulder he suffered in the team’s first game. He’s been back at practice for the last week, so he should be on track to play in the opener at Minnesota, although he’ll get a tough test right out of the gate. The Vikings provided the toughest matchup for TEs last season, giving up a league low 5.1 fantasy points per game. Kittle should have a good season, but this won’t be a great start.
Antonio Gates, LAC (vs. KC)
It took longer than expected, but the Chargers finally brought Gates back into the fold over the weekend. The two sides had been talking for a while, so the move wasn’t unexpected, although that doesn’t mean Gates is ready to step into a significant role to open the season. According to Eric Williams of ESPN.com, head coach Anthony Lynn said Gates’ condition would determine his status for Week 1. A limited Gates would need a TD to come through for fantasy. Practice patience and ignore the allure of Gates this week.
Ricky Seals-Jones, ARI (vs. WAS)
Will Seals-Jones be the latest TE to benefit from playing with Sam Bradford? The Arizona Cardinals are low on established talent in their receiving corps outside of Larry Fitzgerald, so Seals-Jones has a chance to make a connection with Bradford and an immediate impact for fantasy. The Washington Redskins gave up the fifth-most fantasy points to TEs last season, so Seals-Jones could dominate this matchup.
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Jose Juarez/Associated Press
Best Streaming Option
Detroit Lions (vs. NYJ)
This is pretty simple. Rookie Sam Darnold makes the first start of his career on the road in Detroit. Other than Robby Anderson, the Jets aren’t exactly flush with dangerous threats in their passing attack, so the Lions don’t have to worry about locking down this receiver group. While the Lions might not be anywhere near a top defense, they won’t get much of a challenge at home and could force some turnovers.
Ownership percentage: ESPN – 25.4; Yahoo – 38.0
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Don Wright/Associated Press
Best Streaming Option
Graham Gano, CAR (vs. DAL)
Gano finished just outside the top 12 fantasy kickers in 2017, yet he still averaged a respectable 8.2 fantasy points per game. The Carolina Panthers have a solid matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, so Gano should get enough chances to be a productive fantasy option for Week 1. If the Panthers control this one as they should, Gano might have a busy day.
Ownership percentages: ESPN – 36.5; Yahoo – 23.0