It’s finally upon us! Fantasy football is back at long last. Ironically it also coincides with real football but who cares about that right now? After 4 dozen mock drafts and more actual fantasy teams than your wife allows (I won’t tell her about your secret teams) by now, it’s time to get those lineups set and ignore anything of significance Sunday. Who isn’t ready for trash talk and lazy afternoons glued in front of t.v.’s and electronic devices? But if you’re still not entirely sure who to play this first week to get off to a good start, maybe I can help you out some.
To be clear, many writers like to offer fades or “lower your expectations.” That’s not what I’m doing here. I believe in saying what you mean and meaning what you say. So if one of your first-round draft picks is in a Sit section just know it ain’t his week dawg. I’m not always right but I’m never wrong. Take that how you want. Did I mention fantasy football is back??? *Breathes in deeply, slowly exhales* Let’s get to it.
You know the age-old question: I got good news and bad news, which do you want first? Logical people always choose the bad news first (yes I called you illogical). Let’s get this mess out of the way and end on a positive vibe unless your stud is in this column, which might just dampen the whole mood. But yeah, I do it a little differently. Hopefully, my editor won’t have any issue with it but I did already taunt him about his beloved Cowgirls (if you’re a Dallas fan I appreciate the click but feel free to depart now if you’d like because y’all are probably the worst). Just kidding. All real fans should live on their glory days and suffer through ambiguity. That’s real dedication…..and a bit of delusion…..but back to the article…
QB: Ryan Tannehill vs. Cardinals – Please understand that this pertains only to Week 1 and also know that I love Ryan Tannehill so much that I have him on 48 of my 63 fantasy teams (only slightly exaggerating, he’s on 44) but THIS week please find you another replacement. Tannehill is without former OC Arthur Smith, who I believe the Titans traded to my Falcons for Julio Jones, and yes it’s a conspiracy theory but there’s a lot of coincidences in that situation I’ll break down at a later time. The offense should be similar and Julio Jones is a great addition to the passing game but it may not be as it appears early on.
The departure of Jonnu Smith (NE) and Corey Davis (NYJ) presents some chemistry issues. That wouldn’t be too big of a deal except Tannehill has missed valuable practice time due to a stint on the COVID/Reserve list. Not to mention A.J. Brown has been banged up and Julio Jones hasn’t even been practicing (get used to that Titans fans) and surely this won’t be a complete replica of Arthur Smith’s offense. First game getting a feel for his new teammates and the slightly revamped offense, plus an RB that looks like he came out of a Transformers movie to help lighten the load and I don’t see a whole lot of bombing it out against Arizona. Speaking of Arizona…
Did you know that the Cardinals’ passing game is actually pretty tough on a per pass basis? In 2020 they ranked 8th in Yards per Attempt (Yds/Att) at 6.9 according to NFL.com. They also ranked 10th in pass yards allowed with 3,623 and tied for 4th in sacks (48) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This game will be all about King Henry, but Tannehill will have many more times to shine this season. Just don’t use him this week.
Other QB sits to consider:
Justin Herbert vs Washington Football Team – The Football Team’s pass defense ranked 2nd in both Pass Yards Allowed as well as Pass TD’s Allowed and tied for 2nd in Interceptions. They were also 5th in Sacks and should be just as fierce this Sunday with everyone fully healthy. The sophomore signal-caller might be in for a long opening day and spending a lot of time boo’ed up with NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Chase Young.
Joe Burrow vs Vikings – This ain’t your big brother’s Vikings. Mike Zimmer won’t have 2 straight seasons with a poor defense and has re-tooled during the offseason. They brought back CB Mackensie Alexander and DE Everson Griffen. Signed CB Bashaud Breeland, S Xavier Woods, and probably the biggest impact, All-Pro CB Patrick Peterson. Even outside of that, Burrow is coming off a severe injury that prematurely ended his freshman season and he could be showing some rust this weekend along with some lack of mobility. Add to that their top rookie draft pick, Ja’Marr Chase, may not be able to fully see “NFL” football’s because of their size and lack of a white stripe and has been reportedly dropping a lot of passes in practice, Burrow could look like an “Average Joe” this weekend.
Lamar Jackson vs Raiders – The man has lost 3 RB’s (including his top 2 starters from last season) in less than a month. Ouch! He’ll have a rookie RB behind him and a bunch of washed-up former Pro Bowlers who don’t even know the playbook yet. On top of that Marquise Brown is banged up (as if being inconsistent wasn’t bad enough) and rookie draft pick Rashod Bateman is on IR. He does have Week 1 Sammy Watkins, for whatever that’s worth, but please understand this game will be won by Baltimore’s defense and not the legs (and definitely not the arm) of the former NFL MVP.
Josh Jacobs vs. Ravens – Jacobs ran for 1,065 yards and 12 touchdowns last season averaging 3.9 yards per carry while also having 33 receptions for 238 yards. The Alabama product finished as the number 8 fantasy RB last season but HC John Gruden didn’t seem to be as impressed in real life though. This offseason the Raiders signed another former Alabama RB, Kenyan Drake, who was RB16 last year. Drake is also a versatile tailback who is effective at both rushing and receiving, the type of competition Jacobs has never had to face before from a backfield mate.
The fact that Drake is only 27 years old, and also ran for nearly 1,000 yards last season (955) with a better yards per carry average (4.0) and can be involved in the passing game (53 receptions in 2018 w/MIA) means the days of Jacobs being a bell-cow back are likely over. He was signed to a 2 year 14.5 million dollar deal this offseason and all indications are he will be used heavily in the offense, especially since the Raiders have a glaring weakness for pass catchers.
Still not convinced you should sit Jacobs this week? Well look no further than his Monday night opponents, the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore boasts one of the most stout defenses in the league, especially against the run. Last season the Ravens ranked third in Carries Against (382), eighth in Rush Yards Allowed (1,740), and tied for third in Rush TD’s Allowed (12). Jacobs struggled mightily last season against good run defenses. Like, rookie Kevin Durant trying to bench press struggled. Look at some numbers.
Against the Bills, who were only 17th against the run, 15 carries for 48 yards. He had 10 carries for 17 yards against Tampa Bay (to be fair they crushed all RB’s last season), 7 carries for 27 yards against MY Atlanta Falcons (6th), and against the Colts who were ranked 2nd he had 13 carries for 49 yards. Honestly you might be better off starting Drake but probably neither option is great this week.
Other RB sits to consider:
David Montgomery vs. Rams – I’m well aware he finished as a top 5 RB, but are you aware that his amazing tear from Week 12-Week 17 of last season was against quite possibly the worst run defenses of 2020? Well he won’t get that this Sunday night against Aaron Donald and company. Don’t let a few over inflated games by division rival San Francisco fool you, the Rams were tied for 5th in Yards per Carry Average and also tied for 4th in Rushing Fumbles. Also, Andy Dalton won’t strike fear in anyone’s heart which will only make things even more difficult for Mr. Montgomery. Avoid using him this week if possible (and preferably until Justin Fields takes over).
Miles Sanders vs Falcons – Finally I get to brag on my birds. For all the things that went absolutely terrible for my home team last year, the one thing they discovered is that they could stop the run and do it quite well. They had the second least Carries Against (some of that may have been because teams could throw so well against them but for fantasy purposes that will ruin your player’s day just the same), sixth in Rush Yards Allowed, and only gave up 15 Rushing TD’s on the ground all of last season. Dean Pees is now the new DC and he will be blitzing run gaps religiously. Couple that with Sanders’ own struggles and this high scoring bird battle will be a low light for your fantasy RB2.
Odell Beckham Jr. vs Chiefs – I know I know. You’ve been waiting patiently to finally put Beckham back in your lineup ever since he tore his ACL last year in Week 7. If we’re being honest though, you’ve probably been waiting on Odell since he left the Giants. He’s still not a 100% guarantee to go opening day for Cleveland but even if he’s active for the Browns he should be inactive in your fantasy lineups. It just hasn’t been that great for the once All Pro receiver since he hooked up with Baker Mayfield and company. Pairing with his former college teammate, Jarvis Landry, hasn’t helped much with team chemistry and rapport and by many accounts the team looked better offensively without him.
Pundits will tell you it’s ridiculous to think that the Browns were actually better without the talent of OBJ but the numbers don’t lie. In their first game against Baltimore last season it was clear that Mayfield was trying to force feed him with minimal success (10 targets, 3 catches, 22 yards). Sheesh! Targets are great but in fantasy football actual receptions are better. As a matter of fact, during Cleveland’s first 5 games last season, OBJ never received less than 6 targets (10, 6, 6, 8, 9) but never recorded more than 5 receptions (3, 4, 4, 5, 5). He was fortunate to face the Bengals and Cowboys during that stretch as they had 2 of the most miserable pass defenses in the league last season.
Other than those 2 games though his numbers were quite pedestrian including an awful Week 6 against Pittsburgh (3 targets, 2 receptions, 24 yards). Then in a rematch against the Bengals where he may have had a reenactment of his first meeting he left the game with only one target and zero receptions (and probably a goose egg in your fantasy lineup). NYG OBJ (no that’s not some cleverly disguised OBGYN joke) hasn’t been around for a while and Week 1 against the defending AFC champs isn’t going to be the day he returns and proposes to kicking nets again. Don’t be married to starting OBJ this week.
Other WR sits to consider:
Brandin Cooks vs Jaguars – When is it appropriate to sit the number one WR on a team against the Jaguars? When Tyrod Taylor is the QB! I actually really like Tyrod and hope he does well this season (and by does well I mean not lose his job within a month to an injury or medical mishap) but let’s not be silly here. Do you know the last time Tyrod Taylor passed for more than 250 yards? Me either but I can tell you with certainty it wasn’t last season. Even in the one game he played against the miserable Bengals he only was able to muster 208 yards through the air and that was with guys like Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler at his disposal. In that game Allen was targeted 8 times and caught 4 of those (we know why) for a grand total of 37 yards. You think Brandin Cooks will fare better with an older and even rustier Tyrod? If so I hope you’re playing me this week. Oh and I looked it up. October 22nd, 2017, Taylor had 268 passing yards vs Tampa Bay. You’re welcome….
Juju Smith-Schuster vs Bills – This has absolutely nothing to do with the Bills defense and everything to do with JuJu being the odd man out in the Pittsburgh trio of pass catchers. JuJu re-signed with the Steelers after he found little to no interest on the open market and also the emergence of Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool will likely overshadow him in this matchup. By the way, if I ever have a son I’m naming him Chase because they seem to be big, athletic freaks. Anyway, did you know that last season number 19 never had a receiving game where he exceeded 100 yards? That’s actually crazy when you consider he had 97 receptions (more than Calvin Ridley) but he only totaled 831 yards for the season. Plus there’s a guy named Najee Harris that will likely be the new Le’Veon Bell. Get to that in a minute.
Finally some good vibes. Don’t you just hate negativity? You should! What’s wrong with you? Anyway, let’s see who you should definitely have in your lineups Week 1.
Jalen Hurts vs Falcons – I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not a huge believer in Jalen Hurts for the entire year. As recently as a few weeks ago rumors were being reported that he could be traded for DeShaun Watson, a QB that doesn’t even seem like he’s eligible to play any time soon. Too heavily reliant upon his legs, all his pass catchers seem to be mysteriously attacked by the Invisible Man and get injured and on top of that his offensive line is still somewhat of a question mark. But you listen and you listen closely! Absolutely none of that matters this week against MY (I will always claim them so forget ya’ll) Atlanta Falcons.
Yes the new DC Dean Pees has taken over and he looks like he will bring some new exciting and exotic blitz packages. That said, the secondary will require more than a year of makeover. My Falcons had the third most pass attempts against them in the 2020 season (I’m honestly surprised they did that good) with 625. They also of course had the third most completions against them (425). Oddly enough that actually tied for only the 8th worst completion percentage but it’s still not good, and were dead last in passing yards allowed with 4,697 yards given up through the air. The next closest was Seattle with 4,560. No other team in the league gave up 4600 passing yards and my Dirty Birds almost gave up 4700. Still claiming them but not as fervently as I did in the first paragraph.
What also works in Hurts’ favor is that while the Falcons pass defense was arguably the worst, the run defense was surprisingly effective. They were second, only to Tampa Bay, in Rush Attempts (380) and sixth in Rush Yards Allowed (1,677). We all remember the struggles of Miles Sanders last season and against a young defense that’s fast and athletic and will likely be blitzing heavily all night the Eagles won’t have much choice but to rely on their newly voted team captain and QB. Enjoy it this week.
Other QB starts to consider:
Trevor Lawrence vs Texans – A generational QB talent facing a miserable pass defense (team, franchise, etc) in his first game ever? Sign me up for that, please. The Texans gave up 4,104 passing yards and 30 TD’s through the air last season. It’s like they faced Patrick Mahomes every week. Is Lawrence the new Patrick Mahomes? Probably not. Is he the first Trevor Lawrence? You better believe it! Enjoy his first game ever, we’ll be talking about it for many many moons.
Aaron Rodgers vs Saints – Just in case you were thinking about getting cute and benching him for Lamar Jackson or something… DON’T!!! Only Tom Brady has a bigger chip on his shoulder and this man’s way of sticking it to his (current) franchise is to go out and throw as many touchdowns as possible and remind them after each one that he won’t be there at this time next season. And last season when he faced the Saints D he passed for 283 yards and 3 TD’s so don’t let that scare you away. Get you a piece of this going away tour that will start in New Orleans (or wherever they’ll be playing due to the unfortunate natural disasters taking place in that area).
Najee Harris vs Bills – Can I just be honest with ya’ll? I have no real stats or analysis here. I could have looked them up but instead, I will just tell you that everyone who lines up in the backfield for Mike Tomlin brings fantasy joy to my heart. Really, it goes back even further to the Bill Cowher days. Don’t tell anyone but I secretly have always loved the Steelers. I hear ya, can’t have 2 teams blah blah blah but listen for a second.
I grew up in Athens, GA where the University of Georgia is, and by nature I’ve been a Georgia Bulldogs fan since before I could walk. As a young child, sometimes the UGA football players would volunteer to come to our school to read to us. One of the ones who came and read to me was Hines Ward. So I would root for Hines Ward every Saturday when he lined up for my Dawgs (this is the correct way to spell it in the state of Georgia by the way) and then obviously when he went pro my advocacy continued.
I don’t have to tell you that he went to the Steelers. So guess what other team I suddenly liked as a kid. The only one that has a logo on only one side of its helmet and I still have no earthly idea what it means. And don’t tell me because honestly, I could care less. Just know that watching the Steelers led to me being able to watch “The Bus”, Jerome Bettis, and he was amazing. Guys that big shouldn’t move that swiftly. Over the years the Steelers would continue drafting Georgia players including guys like fullback Verron Haynes.
One year Georgia would lose a Bowl game to Brian Hoyer and Michigan State in 2012 at the hands (or rather leg) of Blair Walsh. No Vikings fans, it didn’t just start with you. The RB for that team though was a guy named Le’Veon Bell. He would be drafted by the Steelers and only go on to be an All-Pro and for a brief stretch one of the most dominant fantasy RB’s in recent history. Even when he would miss games, De’Angelo Williams an RB everyone believed to be washed, would fill in and look like an absolute stud while being over 30 years old.
More recently, James Conner, for the past 2 seasons, has enjoyed fantasy relevance as the top Steelers RB. Now the torch has been passed to Najee Harris, an all-world talent and another name on the long list of Alabama ball carriers to rock an NFL jersey. Great size and speed combo, can catch out of the backfield, can play all 3 downs and most importantly, he plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I could have bored you with numbers and stats and even mentioned that the Bills D is just middle of the pack against the run (17th) and found themselves in multiple shootouts last season (gave up over 3 TD’s per game on average). But I feel much more confident that you enjoyed this walk down memory lane with me (and yes I can pull for the Steelers if I want because I’m an adult and don’t need permission). Back to reality…
Other RB starts to consider:
Darrell Henderson Jr. vs Chicago Bears – The Bears were a top 12 rush defense last season and Sony Michel is in town now but don’t let any of that scare you from using the top RB in Sean McVay’s high powered offense that is now led by the cannon arm of Matthew Stafford (GO DAWGS). The Rams also ranked 10th in rush yards last season and with the improved passing game, the run game should be even more effective this season. Not to mention Henderson will likely Ram his way in for a TD or two (I’m trying to stop ya’ll).
Mike Davis vs Philadelphia Eagles – I hear you yelling at your screens. “Don’t you do it! Don’t you dare say because of Arthur Smith he’ll have the Derrick Henry role.” Nope! He’s actually more likely to have the Todd Gurley (GO DAWGS) role of last year. Seems like so many years ago when Todd Gurley was still fantasy relevant but it was actually just about a year ago when he scored a TD for the Falcons in 7 of the first 9 games. Then they went on bye and he came back with a knee so bad he could barely walk on it. Well as far as I know Mike Davis is healthy and big enough to score from in close when the Falcons need a touchdown. In what should be a high-scoring game I think he gets 2 and that’s about all you’ll need to be happy. The eagles were also 22nd in Rushing Yards Allowed last season so there’s potential upside.
Chase Claypool vs Buffalo Bills – Is this me just still caught up in my Steelers nostalgia? Yeah, maybe, possibly, what do you care? The only thing you should be worried about is how many points Chase Claypool will be scoring Sunday. Wait, what’s that? You don’t have Chase Claypool? Why not? He went at a more than reasonable ADP this year and in most of my leagues is serving as my WR3 in Week 1, although he will perform like a 1 this week. Plus his name is Chase so freak athlete and all that good stuff just comes with the territory.
Last Season from Week 9 on, Claypool only saw less than 6 targets once (Week 13 vs Washington, 4). He’s become an integral part of this passing offense and may battle Diontae Johnson for the role as Big Ben’s top target. While Buffalo did limit him last season (only 3 catches for 15 yards) that was mostly due to poor play from Big Ben (187 yards passing, 2 interceptions) and the now-departed James Connor (10 carries, 18 yards, and a fumble). The offense should be much improved and Claypool will benefit from what should be a high-scoring shootout with Josh Allen and company. Maybe we’ll get a repeat of Week 5 of last season when he had 7 catches for 111 yards and 3 touchdowns. Claypool will be killing it like Deadpool (I promise you’re almost at the end).
Other WR starts to consider:
Terry McLaurin vs L.A. Chargers – Scary Terry, Terry McScorin, whatever nickname you call him by just make sure he’s in your lineup. Last season without any viable QB’s to speak of, McLaurin still somehow pulled off 87 receptions for 1,118 yards and 4 touchdowns. Now he’ll be catching passes from arguably the coolest guy in the NFL, Ryan Fitzpatrick. Whether you choose to use Fitzpatrick for fantasy or not is a matter of preference but by all means use his pass-catchers, especially one as talented as McLaurin. An experienced veteran who’s played with many talented WR’s throughout his career, he won’t be afraid to sling it and sling it often. With Curtis Samuel just being placed on the IR and no other threat at WR to take away targets there will once again be a force-feeding to Terry that is virtually matchup proof. I wonder if he and Allen Robinson ever call each other and discuss what it would be like to play with a good QB…
D.K. Metcalf vs. Indianapolis Colts – I’ve been told the D.K. stands for Donkey Kong (it actually stands for DeKaylin but Donkey Kong Metcalf does have a ring to it). At 6’4″ 229 lbs. he is a freak of nature and a nightmare mismatch regardless of defense. Even during Russell Wilson’s second-half struggles last season he remained consistent despite his QB’s subpar play or the opponent. In Week’s 11-17, he never received less than 5 targets and was still able to give decent production against elite pass defenses such as the Giants (Week 13), Washington (Week 15), and the Rams (Week 16). Also during that stretch, he had a 10 catch, 177 yard game against the Eagles in Week 12. While the Colts’ run defense was stout last season, their pass defense was average at best. Look for Donkey Kong to dominate like an old Atari game (really couldn’t decide between that and some version of a Nintendo console).
That’s all you get from me this week, I won’t do TE’s for Week 1 because after the first 5 does it really matter? Just hope your guy gets a TD and their guy doesn’t. Look for my Start/Sit column each week before the Sunday games start and follow me on Twitter (@DevekkioCarter) and please subscribe to our website at thefantasysphinest.com. Let me know if my advice helped you each week or if it backfired (it won’t be outside of injury, I promise) and I will gladly engage you either way as long as we’re having fun. Hope you enjoyed the article and if you didn’t it’s probably because you’re starting Ryan Tannehill, Josh Jacobs, and Odell Beckham Jr. Yikes! Hope you break 80 points. Until next week ya’ll and GO DAWGS… and Falcons… and Steelers.