Well ladies and gentleman, it’s finally that time of year again. Football is back, and more importantly fantasy football is back to raise your blood pressure and interest in the game we all love. One of the most important parts of a successful fantasy football season is channeling your inner Kenny Rogers; you got to know when to start those players that are going to give your starting lineup the max payout and fold on certain players and matchups for the week. Here are some of my Start‘em and Sit’em candidates for week one of the fantasy football season.
Quarterback Start of the Week: Cam Newton (CAR) vs. SF
The top fantasy QB of 2015 took a big step back last season with a 52.9 completion percentage, 3509 yards, 19 TDs, 14 INTs and 359 yards on the ground; a decrease across all major statistical categories from his MVP campaign. This decline had many contributing factors, such as a decimated O-line and injuries to his pass catching weapons. Fortunately, both of these situations have been alleviated with the Panthers investing in their offensive line (signing Ryan Kalil and drafting Taylor Moton) and healthy off seasons from players like Kelvin Benjamin and Jonathan Stewart. The Panthers also helped Newton out by drafting big play makers Christian McCaffery and Curtis Samuel who will both help open up this once powerful Panthers offense. Newton’s shoulder injury is an area of concern for some fantasy owners, however reports out of Charlotte have been positive throughout the pre season.
Aside from what the Panthers have done this off season, the week one matchup with the 49ers will be a juicy one. San Francisco had an atrocious defense last year, allowing an average of 240 passing yards and 166 rushing yards per game. Cam will be able to open things up in this game and start what should be a huge bounce back campaign.
QB Start‘em: Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. CHI
Look for Ryan to keep things cool for this Week One matchup versus the Bears. Ryan had a strong 2016 season with a 69.9 completion percentage, 4944 yards, 38 TDs and seven INTs; finishing as the QB2 in most formats. The potent Atlanta offense should pick up right where it left off, making Ryan a good start to open up the season.
QB Start‘em: Carson Wentz (PHI) vs. WSH
Wentz had an impressive rookie campaign last season with a 62.4 completion percentage, 3782 yards, 16 TDs, and 14 INTs. While he was not very fantasy relevant in most formats last year, he has a chance to shine in 2017 and make that leap to QB1 status. Philadelphia added offensive weapons Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency, which should help Wentz immensely. He has a favorable matchup versus Washington in week one, so look for Wentz to start strong on his way to fantasy relevancy in 2017.
RB Start of the Week: Rob Kelley (WSH) vs. PHI
Rob Kelley is not the prototypical RB in today’s NFL. At 5’10” and 227 pounds, he is a big bruising running back that excels between the tackles. Kelley was a surprise RB last year for Washington, as he was elevated to the starting job in Week Eight after Matt Jones made it clear that he could not hold on to the football. His performances in the next couple games showed what kind of a talent he was and helped many fantasy football owners who were able to snag him of the waiver wire. While he did taper off a bit towards the end of the season, he still finished as an RB3 for fantasy teams with a 16 game pace of 268 rushes, 1068 yards and 10 TDs. Washington did draft a fourth round RB in Samaje Perrine out of Oklahoma, which has casted some doubts over Kelley’s role in 2017. However, Kelley has performed well this preseason and has a solid hold on the starting job for now.
To start the season, Washington faces Philadelphia, a team they Kelley played well against last year (21 carries, 122 yards and 1 TD in two combined games in 2016). Look for Kelley to continue that play and have a dominant first game against the Eagles.
RB Start‘em: Dalvin Cook (MIN) vs. NO
Cook has been heating up in recent weeks, leaving owners salivating at the chance to draft him. He was an elite RB prospect in this year’s draft that slid into the second round and was selected by the Minnesota Vikings. He has looked impressive so far; from training camp videos to his pre season performances. He also has the benefit of starting his career against a laughable Saints defense that allowed an average of 102 rushing yards and one TD per game. Start Cook confidently in week one.
RB Start‘em: Ameer Abdullah (DET) vs. ARI
Abdullah is a big bounce back candidate in the eyes of many fantasy football analysts for 2017. You can see the talent he possesses when watching him on tape and when he is on the field he has put together some nice fantasy scores, including a 21.7 point game (0.5 PPR) in his only healthy appearance in 2017. Abdullah missed the majority of last season with a foot injury but reports have stated that he is back to 100%. His matchup against Arizona looks favorable as the Cardinals run defense ranked 14th in the league last season, so expect a big day from Abdullah as your RB2/Flex.
WR Start of the Week: Ted Ginn Jr. (NO) vs. MIN
Ted Ginn Jr. is not a name that pops off the page for many. The veteran WR has been in the league for 10 seasons, with this being his first in New Orleans. While he has been around the league, he has never had a QB on the same level as Drew Brees. Brees has the ability to elevate any WR to fantasy relevancy, such as Joe Horn and Robert Meachem. Expect that mastery to have a big effect on Ginn this year. He finished 2016 as the WR46 but he will have a lot of growth in this Saints offense, especially early in the season with Willie Snead being suspended for the first three games.
While the Vikings present as a formidable foe in Week One, Ginn should still be able to excel against them. Minnesota’s top corner Xavier Rhodes will more than likely have primary coverage duties on Michael Thomas throughout the game. With the defense mainly focused on Thomas and the running backs, Ginn can fly under the radar and put up a big performance. Start him as your flex confidently.
WR Start‘em: Devante Parker (MIA) vs. TB ***Game Postponed***
One of my favorite preseason surprises this year has been Devante Parker. Before the Ryan Tannehill injury, I expected a modest year from Parker, a WR3 with a WR2 upside. However, since the team has brought in Jay Cutler as their signal caller, he has been someone to keep an eye on. Parker finished the preseason with four receptions and 99 yards. More importantly than these numbers are how he has looked on the field with Cutler, the two seem to have a special connection with one another. Expect this chemistry and a fairly positive matchup against the Buccaneers passing defense that ranked 16th in the league last year, to produce a big game for Parker.
WR Start‘em: Kelvin Benjamin (CAR) vs. SF
Kelvin Benjamin has had a very roller coaster like career so far in the NFL. He went from being the WR16 in his rookie year in 2014 and being one of Cam Newton’s top targets to losing his 2015 season to an ACL tear and then to disappointing many fantasy football owners in 2016 with a finish as the WR24. Reports were also negative for Benjamin stating that he was allegedly overweight when reporting for training camp this season. However, since this report, he has had a very positive preseason, including a stat line of two receptions for 40 yards and one touchdown in Week One of the preseason. Look for Benjamin to start the year strong along with Cam Newton against the 49ers.
TE Start of the Week: Zach Ertz (PHI) vs. WSH
Zach Ertz is an interesting player to own. He is very productive when on the field, 78 receptions, 816 yards and four TDs in 14 games in 2016; but that is his problem unfortunately. He has missed at least one game due to injury in the past two years. When healthy though, you cannot deny his numbers. He also has a good connection with young quarterback Carson Wentz, which will surely only progress this season.
Ertz also has a good matchup to start out the 2017 campaign. Washington has a solid defense but they have a soft spot for tight ends, ranking 25th against the position in 2016. Look for Ertz to be very solid and start what should be a top 10 TE campaign.
TE Start‘em: Kyle Rudolph (MIN) vs. NO
Rudolph was a great TE value last year. Though he went undrafted in many leagues in 2016, he finished as one of Sam Bradford’s top targets while compiling 83 receptions, 840 yards, and seven TDs. One great aspect of Rudolph’s game is his red zone scoring ability, scoring five TDs inside the 20 while racking up 24 targets, which was first in the NFL among tight ends and second in the league for all pass catchers in 2016. He also starts 2017 off against the lowly Saints defense, a matchup he and Bradford should be able to exploit.
TE Start‘em: Jason Witten (DAL) vs. NYG
Jason Witten has been one of the most reliable tight ends throughout his career. Even though his fantasy numbers have declined in recent years, there is hope for him to have a great 2017. He has had a productive pre season with eight receptions, 98 yards and one TD. His matchup versus the Giants seems tough, but Witten should be productive enough to give you TE1 fantasy production.
D/ST Start of the Week: Los Angeles Rams vs. IND
The Rams of Los Angeles are a great start in the D/ST slot. They are a very talented defensive group with players like Mark Barron, Robert Quinn, Trumaine Johnson and Aaron Donald (when he signs his new contract). What also makes them a strong play in week one, however, is their opponent. Now, normally I would never recommend starting a defense against the Colts as they have one of the more high powered offense’s in the NFL, but in this circumstance they are a great matchup. Andrew Luck has officially been ruled out, leaving back up Scott Tolzien as the starter. Expect the Rams to take advantage of Luck’s misfortune and be a productive D/ST in week one.
QB Sit of the Week: Kirk Cousins (WSH) vs. PHI
Cousins had an excellent fantasy football season in 2016 racking up 4917 passing yards, 25 TDs, and 12 INTs. Those numbers were good enough to finish as a top five fantasy QB. If Cousins wishes to repeat his 2016 numbers, he will have to do so with an almost entirely new cast. Washington lost two of its top WRs this off season in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, both bolting to greener pastures. While the Redskins did bring in talented offensive weapon Terrelle Pryor, there seems to still be something missing from the offense that made it so efficient last season. Anyone that watched this team in the preseason can attest to this dysfunction; Cousins was either under pressure from his offensive line failing him (three sacks in the preseason), or his receivers were dropping passes left and right (19 incompletions in the preseason), or sometimes a combination of both.
In addition to that, Cousins has a tough matchup to start the year. Philadelphia has a good defense, ranking 13th against the pass in 2016, and will look to take advantage of a bumbling Redskin offense. Cousins has the pedigree and the past success to be an elite QB1, I would just proceed with caution for the beginning of the season while they work out the kinks. Sit him in week one.
QB Sit‘em: Philip Rivers (LAC) vs. DEN
Rivers has been nothing but consistent throughout his career with the Chargers. Last year was a bumpy road at times though for Rivers, as he posted a 60.4 completion percentage, 4386 yards, 33 TDs and a whooping 21 INTs; finishing as the QB7 in 2016. There is reason to be excited about the veteran QB in 2017, as they have an improved offensive line and a healthy Keenan Allen (however I would hold off on him to start the season). To start off the season, Rivers faces the vaunted Denver defense, a unit he has not fared well against in the past (445 yards, three TDs and three INTs combined over two games). Keep Rivers on the bench this week and look for him to flourish in more favorable matchups throughout the season.
QB Sit‘em: Dak Prescott (DAL) vs. NYG
Prescott was the flashiest newcomer at QB during the 2016 season. He slid under the radar and performed so well early on that he dethroned Tony Romo as the man under center in Dallas, and he also ended his rookie campaign as the QB8. While most projections show Prescott at least equalizing, if not improving upon last year’s numbers, there are a lot of questions to be answered early on in the season. For instance, how will Prescott fair during the Ezekiel Elliot suspension? The two young stars were a great combination in 2016 and I have doubts as to how productive Prescott will be with Darren McFadden or Alfred Morris as his RB. Elliott will play in week one, but the matchup against the Giants isn’t a favorable one. Prescott recorded just 392 yards, one TD and two INTs over a two game span versus his division rivals.
RB Sit of the Week: Mark Ingram/Adrian Peterson (NO) vs. MIN
Both of the players listed above have secured their place as solid running backs in years past. Ingram finished the season as the starter last year and though he was shaky from a consistency standpoint, the Alabama product was still an RB1 that most owners trusted in 2016. On the flip side, Adrian Peterson is a future Hall of Fame RB that disappointed and decimated many fantasy football squads last season with 37 rushes, 72 yards and zero TDs as an early round selection. Both Ingram and Peterson are elite running backs in the NFL, but their combination does not necessarily benefit them. They seem to be fighting for the same early down work in the Saints backfield. Even if they resolve this conflict by giving Peterson the early down work and Ingram the receiving duties, like some analysts have reported, that would only split their potential and water down both of their fantasy values. Either way, it is a situation I would steer clear of this early in the season.
With their roles uncertain, the icing on this questionable cake is the Saints’ matchup in week one. Minnesota was stingy against the run last year, ranking 7th in the NFL in fantasy points against to the RB position. Keep both Ingram and Peterson on the bench to start the season until both have a definitive role in the explosive Saints offense.
RB Sit‘em: Joe Mixon (CIN) vs. BAL
Joe Mixon is possibly the most interesting running back of the 2017 season. His talent is undeniable; many draft experts graded him as a first round talent and the top RB in the class. However, based on various off-the-field factors, he slid into the second round and was selected 41st by the Cincinnati Bengals. Both training camp videos and preseason performances have been positive for Mixon, but the only thing that cautions me is his role, or lack thereof, in the offense. The carry count for the Bengals was scattered in the pre season, with Mixon getting six, six and eight carries in the first three preseason games and Jeremy Hill receiving seven, six and five carries, respectively. The crowded backfield causes me to wonder exactly how Mixon will fair in Week One. My overall season projection for the rookie is positive and he has RB2 potential, but fight the urge to start him versus Baltimore this week.
RB Sit‘em: Frank Gore (IND) vs. LAR
Frank Gore has been one of the most consistent running backs in fantasy football throughout his storied career. He has finished as at least an RB2 every season since 2006. While I see no reason for him to not keep up those numbers, I am really not a fan of this match up to start the season. The Rams are a solid defense that finished middle of the road in 2016. Along with that, Colts talented QB Andrew Luck will miss this game, and potentially more, leaving Scott Tolizen under center. I expect the Rams to load up the box and stuff the Colts’ running game, which is why you should leave Gore on your bench.
WR Sit of the Week: Chris Hogan (NE) vs. KC
Hogan has seen an increase in ownership percentage (39% in ESPN formats) in recent weeks with the unfortunate Julian Edelman season-ending injury. Many fantasy football owners have acquired him and are looking for him to have plenty of targets in Edelman’s role. Tom Brady showed a likeness to him last season with 38 receptions, 689 yards and four TDs. He certainly has the potential to reach Edelman’s role and usage in the offense, but it seems unlikely. He was more of a boom-or-bust wide receiver with a 17.9 yards per reception average in 2016 and with 11 plays over 20 yards, including 4 over 40 yards. While I expect Hogan to have a higher floor without Edelman in 2017, I don’t have the optimism that he will equal Edelman’s production like some fantasy football owners do.
His matchup in Week 1 is also a disadvantage for Hogan. Kansas City has a very good defense, some experts would say even the best in the league. One aspect of this great defense is their pass coverage lead by Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters. It is very possible that Peters will shadow Hogan for at least part of the game, putting him at a positional disadvantage. For Week One, I would keep Hogan on the bench.
WR Sit‘em: Allen Robinson (JAX) vs. HOU
Allen Robinson is as talented a wide receiver as there is in the NFL. When watching him play, Robinson shows that he is a freakish athlete with soft hands. The only thing that keeps him from being one of the best WRs in football is the absolutely embarrassing situation that is the Jacksonville quarterback. 2017 is going to be another act in the show, with Blake Bortles and possibly Chad Henne leading the Jags under center. This stagnation leads me to doubting what Robinson can do for fantasy owners, especially in week one. Jacksonville faces Houston, a top five defense against wide receivers in 2016. Lower expectations for Robinson in this one.
WR Sit‘em: Keenan Allen (LAC) vs. DEN
It has been many weeks since fantasy football owners have seen a healthy Keenan Allen produce on the field; in fact it’s been approximately 96 weeks (Week 8 of 2015). Allen’s talent is undeniable, he has put in many outstanding performances over the years and there is no reason to think he won’t do it again in 2017, barring yet another injury. With the Chargers facing the tough Broncos pass defense in week one, I would sit Allen to start the year but look for him to bounce back this season.
TE Sit of the Week: Martellus Bennett (GB) vs. SEA
Aaron Rodgers has never had a TE talent on the same level as Martellus Bennett. Bennett signed with the Packers after spending last season as the second TE behind Gronkowski in New England. Many fantasy football owners are looking at the Packers high octane offense and assuming the Bennett will fit right in and become a TE1 for 2017. While this is entirely possible, I just cannot buy into this rhetoric. Rodgers has never been one to target tight ends throughout his career; in fact he only targeted TEs on 16% of his passes in 2016, compared to the 26% for Jordy Nelson and 24% for Davante Adams. Along with this, Bennett’s 2016 production was hard to predict. He could have a 20 point game, like he did in week two and immediately follow that with a three point game in week three (0.5 PPR scoring). Most would put that under the “Bill Belicheck does what he wants and is impossible to game plan for in fantasy football” category, but when you watched the Patriots last year, Bennett was more of a blocking asset versus a receiving one. His superior blocking ability will be used again in Green Bay, hurting his fantasy value.
This week, Green Bay faces off against the Seahawks defense, one of the most elite in the NFL, specifically against tight ends. In 2016, the Seahawks ranked fourth against the position. Both his role and the very tough matchup have me benching Bennett.
TE Sit‘em: Delanie Walker (TEN) vs. OAK
Delanie Walker has been a good tight end throughout most of his career, and 2017 looks promising as well. He finished with 65 receptions, 800 yards and seven TDs last season in what was an up-and-down offensive year for the Titans with Marcus Mariota targeting Walker on 21% of his passes. The Titans offense improved on paper with the draft picks of Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor and the acquisition of Eric Decker. These additions give Mariota more higher quality passing options in this offense, pushing Walker down the priority list. This delusion of possible targets has me benching Walker in week one.
TE Sit‘em: Hunter Henry (LAC) vs. DEN
The top rookie tight end of 2016 was undoubtedly Hunter Henry. He burst onto the sense with 36 receptions, 478 yards and eight TDs in the Chargers offense. In 2017, many fantasy football owners are looking for Henry to take the next step and become a top tier TE in the NFL. While he possesses the talent and a quarterback that has supported top tight ends in the past, his role in the offense is currently murky. Antonio Gates is making the move to L.A. and playing in 2017, placing Henry in the backseat for another year. Even if Henry is able to supplant Gates and have a main role in the Chargers offense, the opening matchup against Denver is not in any way favorable; so I would keep Henry on the bench this week.