Even though I love to write them, let’s skip the long, flowing introductions and get right down to it. It’s fantasy season and it’s time to make the right choices for lineup each and every week. This is the first installment in a weekly series of start/sit decisions where I’ll discuss a few players at each position who are worthy of making it into your lineup, in addition to those who should remain on your bench. Buckle up.
Start: Carson Palmer @ DET (available in 36% of Yahoo! leagues)
If you drafted Andrew Luck, then hopefully you were smart enough to pair him with a suitable backup like Palmer. I expect this pairing to work out fine due to Palmer’s juicy early season schedule, which starts out on the road against the Detroit Lions. Detroit ranked dead last in Football Outsiders’ all-encompassing defensive DVOA metric against the pass last season, then questionably used their first round draft pick on a middle linebacker. The Lions essentially did nothing in the draft or free agency to address their bottom-five pass defense which gave up the second most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks last season. Palmer was actually the QB11 (PPG) from weeks 8-17 last year, so he was much better than we remember last season. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians loves to air it out and attack defenses vertically, which Palmer will look to do with speedy receiver John Brown finally healthy. This game will be played in a dome and has the fifth-highest projected point total of the week (48). Palmer is easy money as a quarterback streamer and an enticing look in DFS.
Start: Sam Bradford vs. NO (available in 81% of Yahoo leagues)
It’s unfair to compare our fantasy issues to those facing the potential harm of Hurricane Irma, but from a fantasy lens, it’s a bummer if you drafted Jameis Winston to be your starting quarterback only to lose his availability for week one. If that applies to you, then Bradford should serve as your backup plan. Despite having an unsexy fantasy name, Bradford delivered a surprisingly effective season in Minnesota, despite learning the playbook on the fly and playing behind an atrocious offensive line. In fact, once Pat Shurmur took over as the team’s full-time offensive coordinator in week nine, Bradford was the QB12 (points per game) over the remainder of the season. Not too shabby, right? With an upgraded offensive line and backfield, in addition to a deeper receiving core, Bradford will likely find his way in this column a ton if he can build off last season’s success. This week he’s a no-brainer start playing at home in a dome against the Saints who gave up the 3rd most points to opposing quarterbacks in 2016.
Sit: Philip Rivers @ DEN
Rivers is generally underrated in this holy era of quarterbacks and he’s a ton of fun to watch on the field, but he couldn’t have gotten a worse matchup to start the year. In 2016, the Broncos ranked first in both fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks and defensive DVOA. They are stacked from top to bottom, with a pass rush that gets in your face and ball-hawking corners who neutralize even the league’s best receivers. Two of Rivers’ worst games last season occurred against Denver, which held him to 11 and 15.5 points across the two games. Rivers season-long outlook is strong, but playing on the road against the best pass defense in the league is a tall order for fantasy success.
Start: Adrian Peterson @ MIN
Ok, maybe I’m buying into the narrative too strongly here, but don’t you think AP is going to try and ram it down the throat of his former team every chance he gets? The Vikings bungled several AP situations over the last few years then unceremoniously cut him this offseason and drafted a rookie running back who drew rave reviews throughout training camp. Every time AP has felt the need to play with a chip on his shoulder in his career, he has quieted every naysayer and had a stellar season. You can bet there’s a pretty large chip on his shoulder after a near-dead free agent market for his services. Though Minnesota has a great defense (ranked 8th in DVOA in 2016), it actually ranked 16th in DVOA against the run and ranked 11th in terms of fantasy points given up to running backs. In a projected high scoring affair, AP is worth starting as the likely goal line back for a high-powered Saints offense.
Start: Danny Woodhead @ CIN
This advice is especially relevant in PPR leagues, but Woodhead has appeal in standard leagues as well. Baltimore signed him very early in free agency and has given nothing but praise for Woodhead’s pass catching abilities throughout the offseason. Baltimore consistently finishes in the top-five in backfield receptions and is replacing an astounding 386 targets from last season’s roster. Per Graham Barfield of Fantasy Guru, the Bengals defense faced the second-most running back targets per game last season (8.1), and they are missing starting linebacker Vontaze Burfict to suspension. Woodhead should be in line for 6-8 high-efficiency targets, 5-8 carries and some all-important red zone work, which is good enough to return RB2 value.
Start: Ezekiel Elliott vs. NYG
You probably don’t need me to tell you to start Elliott every week, and if you do we have bigger issues. But the takeaway here is that Zeke is officially playing week one, so he absolutely has to be in your lineups. Even though the Giants have an excellent defense, you always want to start a home running back on the team that’s favored, especially when that player is a top-three fantasy back. Zeke may also be playing with some extra juice in light of his current NFL standing despite his claims of innocence.
Sit: Mike Gilislee vs. KC
Full disclosure, I could be totally wrong on this one. But the reality is nobody not named Bill Belichick has any idea what the Patriots running back usage is going to look like week one, so I’m not going to pretend to either. Belichick is notorious for game-by-game backfield usage and has no problems making an in-game stretch if a player fumbles or misses blocking assignments. Gilislee missed a ton of training camp with a hamstring injury, allowing Rex Burkhead to soak up plenty of first-team reps. Gilislee has a high weekly ceiling if he is truly New England’s goal line back, but for me it’s not worth the risk to find out the answer to that huge if in the first week of the season.
Sit: Ameer Abdullah vs. ARI
I’m not as high on Abdullah as some are in the fantasy community, so this may be a slight reflection of that. But this is mainly matchup-based, as Abdullah has to play the stout Arizona defense out of the gate. The Cardinals were the second best defense in fantasy against running backs a season ago and continually showed the ability to stop opposing ground games. Considering Detroit is an underdog despite playing at home, it’s unlikely that Abdullah will have a positive game script that will allow him to salt away the clock. Part of the problem is that if Detroit is losing, passing specialist Theo Riddick will likely receive a ton of snaps and short passes, negating Abdullah’s value even further. There are better options out there.
Sit: Leonard Fournette @ HOU
I’m low on Fournette in general purely based on his surrounding offensive situation. As a talent, he’s clearly great. But playing in the Jaguars offense with Blake Bortles running the show and a below-average offensive line means I don’t have any shares of Fournette this season. He’ll start with a very tough matchup on the road against Houston’s stifling defense which ranked 9th overall in DVOA in 2016. Granted, Houston is better against the pass than against the run, but they still ranked 6th against fantasy running backs without all-world lineman JJ Watt last year. If the Jags are behind and forced to pass, it’s possible that TJ Yeldon – who caught 50 passes last year – gets a bunch of snaps and targets. Start Fournette in his first career NFL game at your own risk.
Start: Larry Fitzgerald @ DET
Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you to start Larry Fitzgerald in week one, but I feel obligated to considering how undervalued he is heading into drafts each and every fantasy season. Fitz draws an idyllic matchup against the Lions porous pass defense, especially when you consider Detroit’s top corner Darius Slay rarely ventures into the slot. Fitz will eat on efficient targets over the middle in this potentially high-scoring dome game. On top of that, Fitz is famous for starting off the last few seasons incredibly hot before fading down the stretch, so now’s the time to start him if you can.
Start: Pierre Garcon vs. CAR
Garcon is generally underrated this year as the number one receiver in a Kyle Shanahan-directed offense that’s likely to face a ton of negative game script. The situation is no different week one, when Carolina comes to town as 5.5 point favorites despite traveling across the country to play. Garcon is a solid bet for over ten targets in a game with a projected point total of 48. Though Carolina is known as a solid defense, it’ll be starting two second-year cornerbacks on the perimeter. Per Football Outsiders, Carolina ranked 24th in DVOA against number one receivers last year. Garcon’s touchdown upside may be low, but his floor should be rock solid.
Start: Adam Thielen vs. NO
From week nine on last season (after Pat Shurmur became Minnesota’s offensive coordinator) Thielen was the PPR WR21 in points per game, meaning he was a solid WR2. This week he gets to go up against the Saints awful secondary that didn’t improve at all this offseason. In addition to a juicy matchup and projected high-scoring game, Thielen will reportedly play a lot more snaps in the slot this season, which was on display in the Vikings week 3 preseason game. Per Pro Football Focus, Bradford had a 122.9 quarterback rating when targeting Thielen last year. Thielen may prove to be a huge steal in drafts and certainly deserves to be in your lineup in week one.
Sleeper: Kendall Wright vs. ATL
This is exclusively for those in deeper PPR leagues, but Wright is deserving of a look after he was heavily targeted by Mike Glennon in the preseason. With Cameron Meredith out for the season, Wright is now the most proven pass-catcher on the Bears roster and will likely take most of the snaps out of the slot. The Bears are seven-point underdogs despite playing at home, so if this game is on-script then the Bears will likely be in catch up mode for a good portion of the game. If that’s the case, expect at least six catches and sixty yards for Wright in his Bears debut. Paul Richardson is also worth a look for any rosters who need to replace Jarvis Landry or DeVante Parker’s production.
Sit: Tyrell Williams and Keenan Allen @ DEN
This is pretty simple. Denver allowed the fewest points to opposing fantasy receivers last season thanks to the stellar corner combination of Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib and an elite pass rush helmed by Von Miller. The Chargers are playing on the road in a low point total game (43.5) against the league’s best passing defense, so I’m fading everyone not named Melvin Gordon. Allen will likely get 8+ targets so he’ll be tough to sit, but Tyrell should probably spend a week on your bench. It’s also worth noting we don’t really know what the target distribution will look like in this offense now that Allen, Williams, Gordon, Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry and Travis Benjamin are all healthy at the same time.
Sit: Davante Adams vs. SEA
Adams did burn Seattle for a long touchdown on a broken play last season, but here’s betting that doesn’t happen twice in a row. Considering Richard Sherman doesn’t shadow opposing number one wideouts, it’s unlikely he’ll follow Jordy Nelson around the field on Sunday. With Adams often lining up on Sherman’s side of the field, it’s possible he’ll have a very low target share as Aaron Rodgers has shown a propensity for avoiding Sherman when he can. If Adams doesn’t score a touchdown, he’s likely going to hurt your lineup on Sunday.
Sit: Mike Evans @ MIA
THIS GAME IS POSTPONED UNTIL WEEK 11! So don’t start anyone on either team. That means Evans, DeSean Jackson, Jameis Winston, OJ Howard, Cameron Brate, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Jay Ajayi, DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas and literally anyone else on Tampa Bay or Miami is off limits. Don’t be that guy/gal.
Start: Jason Witten vs. NYG
The king of all #DadRunners, Witten is somehow still fantasy relevant in his age-35 season. Though he’s clearly lost the burst he had earlier in his career, Witten still runs solid routes, possesses great hands and essentially never leaves the field due to his blocking prowess. He developed a nice rapport with Dak Prescott last season, catching at least five passes in seven different games (including the playoffs). Witten hung 9/66/0 the last time the Giants came to town and has notoriously burned them throughout his career. The Giants ranked 21st against fantasy tight ends last year despite fielding a top flight defense. He’s a solid streamer in week one and a sneaky positive touchdown regression candidate after only scoring two touchdowns last season.
Start: Coby Fleener @ MIN
Starting Coby Fleener in week one admittedly isn’t for the faint of heart. But this game will be played in a dome with a pretty high projected point total (48) so a shootout is possible. And don’t be scared off by Minnesota’s defense as they were middle of the pack in terms of stopping tight ends last year. Crucially, Fleener gets a bump in light of Willie Snead’s three-game suspension. Though it’s an incredibly small sample size, Fleener had a monster 7/109/1 line in the only game Snead missed last year. Per JJ Zachariason of numberFire, Fleener played his second-most snaps of the season (77%) that game en route to the third best fantasy game of his career. If he’s line for more snaps in the slot in an offense powered by Drew Brees, then he’s worth a look for those in dire tight end straits. I also like Fleener in DFS tournament games as he’s likely to have very low ownership.
Sit: Travis Kelce @ NE
So realistically you’re probably not going to sit Kelce after spending a third round pick on him, and that’s fine. But make sure to temper your expectations this week. New England ranked 8th against fantasy tight ends last season and added big cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who may hang with Kelce inside for part of the game considering the lack of passing weapons in Kansas City outside of Tyreek Hill. Belichick consistently focuses on stopping other team’s biggest weapons, which means he will likely devote the most resources to slowing down Kelce.
Sit: Jack Doyle @ LAR
Plain and simple, I wouldn’t start anyone on the Colts without Andrew Luck playing. Yes, that means TY Hilton too. With only three career starts under his belt, it’s nearly impossible to know who Scott Tolzien will target and with what frequency they’ll be targeted. Tolzien did target Doyle a lot in the preseason as a safety valve, but there’s truly no way of knowing how this offense will manifest itself in the regular season without its franchise quarterback. Doyle has basement-low upside if the Colts struggle to find the end zone.
Why are you even reading kicker advice? If you truly can’t make up your mind, try and stick to kickers on winning teams with high projected Vegas totals. It helps if they’re playing at home and in a dome.
Start: Pittsburgh @ CLE
This one’s pretty obvious. Besides playing against the lowly Browns, the Steelers are facing a rookie quarterback playing in his first NFL start. Pittsburgh was a top-8 defense last year once they began blitzing more. They’re about as safe as road defenses come.
Start: Buffalo vs. NYJ
This is not an endorsement of the Bills defense overall, so please don’t view it as one. Rather, the Bills are fortunate to have the tanking Jets visit them for a week one tilt. Josh McCown is willing to take shots downfield which often result in interceptions, and he’s known to take a sack or five throughout a game. The one thing Buffalo does have going for them is a strong pass rush which ranked 8th in the league with 39 sacks last season. This game is tied for the lowest projected point total of the week (39.5).
Sit: Kansas City @ NE
This probably hurts to read if you drafted Kansas City as one of the top defenses off the board, but I wouldn’t trust any defense playing on the road against the Patriots. Tom Brady will attack Kansas City’s weakness at slot corner and has a bevy of weapons at his disposal. The Chiefs actually fared pretty poorly as a run defending unit last year, which means the Patriots may be able to establish the run early and then use play-action to set up deep passes to speedsters like Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan. As a general rule of thumb I try an avoid defenses playing on the road against top-five offenses.
Statistics courtesy of fantasypros.com, rotoworld.com, profootballfocus.com and numberFire.com