Every week, I will evaluate the players to start and those to put on your bench. Keep in mind that unless I mention an All-Pro player as one who you should “sit,” then you should still be starting your superstars even if I do not mention them in this column. And lastly, the disclaimer: I am not psychic, so do not blame me if you follow my advice and it does not work out.
Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles (@ Atlanta Falcons)
Even with the addition of Dan Quinn as head coach and rookie Jalen Collins in the secondary, the Atlanta Falcons still have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. In fact, last season, they finished last in the NFL in passing yards against and yards per passing attempt, and tied second to last in sacks. The Eagles should be able to throw all over them in the Georgia Dome, and expect Bradford to have a helluva debut as an Eagle under Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins (@ Washington Redskins)
Similar to the Eagles matchup in Atlanta, the Dolphins’ passing game has a very favorable matchup in D.C. this weekend. The Redskins finished 24th in the NFL last season in passing yards against and gave up the most passing touchdowns in the league with 35. Tannehill has an improved receiving core with the additions of Greg Jennings, Jordan Cameron, and Kenny Stills, and the Redskins’ pass rush got worse with the loss of Brian Orakpo to Tennessee.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals (@ Oakland Raiders)
Dalton will finally have all of his receivers back in A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Tyler Eifert, and the Raiders’ pass defense is also nothing special. The Raiders gave up the 9th most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks last season. Their defense in general has improved, but Dalton should still roll in this game with one of the best offensive lines in football protecting him.
Other quarterbacks worth a look: Carson Palmer (ARI) vs. New Orleans Saints, Tyrod Taylor (BUF) vs. Indianapolis Colts, and Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. Philadelphia Eagles.
Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys (vs. New York Giants)
The New York Giants are a mess on defense, especially with the offseason incident involving Jason Pierre-Paul. They finished 30th in the NFL in rushing yards against, giving up 135.1 rushing yards per game. I expect Randle to get the majority of the carries in a Cowboys blowout, although Lance Dunbar and recently acquired Christine Michael will likely see touches.
Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals (vs. New Orleans Saints)
There are a lot of doubters out there on Ellington and the running back situation in Arizona in general; however, I foresee Ellington having a strong start Week 1. The Saints bring in most of last year’s poor front seven (even less appealing now that Cameron Jordan may be in trouble), as they finished 29th in rushing yards against last season. Ellington will also be more valuable in PPR leagues, as he is one of the better pass catching running backs in the NFL.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Tennessee Titans)
Similar to Ellington’s situation in Arizona, Martin is another struggling running back entering the season. Fortunately for Martin fantasy owners, he has had a very strong training camp and preseason, and should be getting the majority of carries. The Titans finished 31st against the run (yards) and gave up the second most points against running backs last season, and I expect Martin to get the ball a lot in the Winston vs. Mariota Bowl.
Other running backs worth a look: Giovani Bernard (CIN) @ Oakland Raiders, Dion Lewis (NE) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, and Jonathan Stewart (CAR) @ Jacksonville Jaguars.
Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Tennessee Titans)
The Titans have an improved secondary and were actually not awful against the pass last season, but I see Jackson and Mike Evans both having big games in Jameis Winston’s debut. Perrish Cox and Jason McCourty are not small cornerbacks by any means, but Jackson is worth a start in Week 1 against the Titans, who gave up 28 passing touchdowns last season.
Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia Eagles (@ Atlanta Falcons)
I touched on Sam Bradford above, and the only other important thing to bring up about Agholor is obviously that he’s a rookie, and it’s hard to know exactly how a rookie will perform in his first game. But, as somebody who watched Agholor at USC, I can tell you that he’s one of the best wide receivers in this year’s draft class, and I expect him to have a big first game in Atlanta in a high scoring affair.
Charles Johnson, Minnesota Vikings (@ San Francisco 49ers)
People are big on Johnson’s sleeper campaign this season, and I can at least say he should have a great start in San Francisco. The 49ers are a mess on defense after losing Justin Smith, Chris Borland, and Patrick Willis to retirement, and their secondary lost Chris Culliver to Washington. Johnson should get the ball as a starting receiver in an improved and balanced offense that finally gets back Adrian Peterson.
Other wide receivers worth a look: James Jones (GB) @ Chicago Bears, Kenny Stills (MIA) @ WAS, and John Brown (ARI) vs. New Orleans Saints.
Jordan Cameron, Miami Dolphins (@ Washington Redskins)
Cameron comes over from the Browns to a much better situation in Miami, and he gets to face the terrible Redskins’ pass defense right away. He should make an immediate impact with Tannehill under center, who loves tight ends, and the Redskins were 4th last in the NFL last season against tight ends in fantasy points.
Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys (vs. New York Giants)
Witten has very consistent numbers against the Giants for a tight end, averaging 4.95 receptions and 53 yards per game, and has 11 touchdown catches. The Giants gave up the 10th most fantasy points against tight ends last year, and he should get on the board in this Sunday Night Football kickoff.
Richard Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (@ Chicago Bears)
The Bears gave up the second most fantasy points to tight ends last season. Aaron Rodgers will be looking to find reliable receivers after Jordy Nelson’s injury, and I believe the other Rodgers will become one of his favorite targets.
Other tight ends worth a look: Josh Hill (NO) @ Arizona Cardinals, Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TB) vs. Tennessee Titans, and Tyler Eifert (CIN) @ Oakland Raiders.
Dan Bailey, Dallas Cowboys (vs. New York Giants)
Bailey should get his points in what should be a pretty high scoring game in an indoor stadium with a conservative head coach.
Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers (@ Chicago Bears)
Crosby has looked great in training camp and preseason action, and he should put up a ton of points this weekend against the poor Bears’ defense.
Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons (vs. Philadelphia Eagles)
Bryant will benefit from a high scoring affair in Atlanta, and he has some serious range in an indoor stadium.
Other kickers worth a look: Mike Nugent (CIN) @ Oakland Raiders, Chandler Catanzaro (ARI) vs. New Orleans Saints, and Travis Coons (CLE) vs. New York Jets
Green Bay Packers (@ Chicago Bears)
The Packers should get some takeaways on Sunday, and they usually find a way to score a defensive or special teams touchdown against the Bears.
Carolina Panthers (@ Jacksonville Jaguars)
The Panthers could easily walk away from Jacksonville on Sunday with a blowout victory or a close loss. But, one thing is certain: the Jaguars do not have much of an offense, and the Panthers’ D/ST should take advantage in this one.
New York Jets (vs. Cleveland Browns)
The Browns may have the worst offense in football, and the Jets have quite the talent on defense, especially with the returns of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.
Other defenses/special teams worth a look: Minnesota Vikings D/ST vs. San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST vs. Tennessee Titans, and Dallas Cowboys D/ST vs. New York Giants.
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers (vs. Detroit Lions)
Although the Chargers are at home and the Lions have lost Ndamukong Suh to Miami, I think Rivers will struggle in this game. The Lions still have one of the elite defenses in the NFL lead b Haloti Ngata, with an above average secondary that will be able to play well against San Diego’s underwhelming offensive players. The Lions gave up the fifth least fantasy points against quarterbacks last season, and I can’t say I trust Rivers this week.
Eli Manning, New York Giants (@ Dallas Cowboys)
Aside from the contract negotiations, Manning has a very unproven offensive line in front of him. Throw in the health of Victor Cruz and playing in Jerry World on Sunday Night Football, and there’s nothing too exciting about this matchup for Manning besides Odell Beckham, Jr.
Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs (@ Houston Texans)
I hope Smith is not your starting quarterback, but let’s just make sure you don’t start him. He will be facing a scary pass rush led by J.J. Watt, and the Texans were 11th in fewest points against opposing quarterbacks without Brian Cushing, Vince Wilfork and Jadeveon Clowney.
Other quarterbacks to avoid: Nick Foles (STL) @ Seattle Seahawks, Derek Carr (OAK) vs. Cincinnati Bengals, Teddy Bridgewater (MIN) @ San Francisco 49ers.
C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos (vs. Baltimore Ravens)
You’re probably going to start Anderson this week because you spent a first or second round pick, but be aware that he may be one of the biggest busts this week and this season. If Peyton Manning plays well, it will help the running game a lot, but the Ravens gave up the least amount of fantasy points to running backs last season. Ronnie Hillman may see the field on Sunday, just warning you.
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts (@ Buffalo Bills)
Coach Chuck Pagano has already stated that Frank Gore will be on a “pitch count,” so he may not be getting all of the carries your team is hoping. Throw in the fact that the Bills gave up the sixth fewest points to running backs, and the aging Gore may not have the explosive game you were hoping for this week. Again, similar to Anderson, you will probably still have to start Gore due to running back depth.
Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns (@ New York Jets)
The Jets were top 10 against the run in fantasy last season, and Crowell is in an uncertain running back situation on the depth chart. Furthermore, Crowell only averaged 3.8 yards per game last season against AFC teams, versus 5.1 yards per game against the NFC. I would avoid playing him this week, but he’s worth stashing until the running back situation gets settled in good old Cleveland.
Other running backs to avoid: DeAngelo Williams (PIT) @ New England Patriots, Tre Mason (STL) vs. Seattle Seahawks, and Alfred Blue (HOU) vs. Kansas City Chiefs.
Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills (vs. Indianapolis Colts)
With an unproven quarterback, Watkins already has depreciating value. This week, he will likely face stout cornerback Vontae Davis and the rest of the Colts who gave up the second fewest points to wide receivers last year. There may be better options out there for your debut week.
Eric Decker, New York Jets (vs. Cleveland Browns)
Decker and new counterpart Brandon Marshall will face a talented Browns secondary that added former Packer Tramon Williams in the offseason to go along with All-Pro Joe Haden, interception fiend Tashaun Gipson, and hard-hitting Donte Whitner. I don’t see Decker benefitting much from the matchup, and especially not from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Torrey Smith, San Francisco 49ers (vs. Minnesota Vikings)
With new addition Terrance Newman and rookie Trae Waynes, the Vikings have even improved their top 10 passing defense. Receivers seem to really struggle in the 49ers’ offense with Colin Kaepernick under center, and I can’t see Smith doing too much this week.
Other receivers to avoid: Steve Smith, Sr. (BAL) @ Denver Broncos, Amari Cooper (OAK) vs. Cincinnati Bengals, and Brian Quick (STL) vs. Seattle Seahawks.
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs (@ Houston Texans)
The Texans are very good against opposing tight ends, giving up the second fewest points to the position last season. As aforementioned, Brian Cushing is back from injury, and he will help solidify the tight end defense as well. I expect Alex Smith to struggle, and Kelce may not live up to the hype this season after finishing last year with only one touchdown in the second half of the season.
Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts (@ Buffalo Bills)
I think the Bills will give the Colts a very tough game the opening week, and Andrew Luck may actually struggle. Fleener will especially be affected this season with the addition of Andre Johnson and a healthier Dwayne Allen, so I would definitely avoid starting him this week until further notice.
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers (@ New England Patriots)
Miller is still one of Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite targets, but it’s hard to start him in a fantasy matchup right now. The Patriots have one of the best cover linebackers in the NFL in Jamie Collins, and they will be fired up for this game with the Super Bowl banner being unveiled. Miller will get his, but it’s not enough to justify starting him.
Other tight ends to avoid: Jacob Tamme (ATL) vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Jordan Reed (WAS) vs. Miami Dolphins, and Eric Ebron (DET) @ San Diego Chargers.
Josh Brown, New York Giants (@ Dallas Cowboys)
The Giants probably won’t put up that many points on Sunday night, so there’s definitely better guys out there.
Josh Lambo, San Diego Chargers (vs. Detroit Lions)
Never trust a rookie kicker in his first professional game, especially in a tough matchup against a tough Lions team.
Cairo Santos, Kansas City Chiefs (@ Houston Texans)
I think the Texans will win this one, and it will be very low scoring. Santos has also been inaccurate from long range.
Other kickers to avoid: Phil Dawson (SF) vs. Minnesota Vikings, Greg Zuerlein (STL) vs. Seattle Seahawks, and Graham Gano (CAR) @ Jacksonville Jaguars.
Denver Broncos (vs. Baltimore Ravens)
The Broncos feature great pass rushers, tacklers, and secondary members, but the Ravens could run the ball effectively this week. I am high on the Broncos D/ST this season, but I don’t think they’re a great start this week.
St. Louis Rams (vs. Seattle Seahawks)
I know the Rams have beaten the Seahawks recently at home, but I think this Seahawks’ offense will be way more dynamic this year with the Jimmy Graham trade. The Rams have a crazy good defense, but I don’t think they will have a great week against Seattle, especially if they can’t keep their offense on the field.
Philadelphia Eagles (@ Atlanta Falcons)
You’re obviously not going to start the Atlanta Falcons D/ST, but you should avoid the Eagles as well. This will be a high-scoring affair, and the Eagles will likely give up a lot of points against a team with a healthy Julio Jones.
Other defenses/special teams to avoid: Chicago Bears D/ST vs. Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens D/ST @ Denver Broncos, and Pittsburgh Steelers D/ST @ New England Patriots.
NFL.com; ESPN.com; Yahoo! Fantasy
Photo of Doug Martin.