After seven long months the wait is finally over. Week 1 commences Friday morning with a rematch of Super Bowl 50 getting us underway. For many NFL fans the (arguably more important) fantasy football season is about to kick off too. Players have spent months carefully looking over the schedule, studying expert opinion and agonising over selections. Most would have now already drafted what they thought was the perfect line up…….. Only to have since spent every waking minute tinkering with it.
In 2016 this column will be hoping to help ease those selection headaches. Each week we’ll be crunching the numbers, analysing the matchups and forecasting player performance to help identify who you should start, who should be sitting on the bench and who is going to be the difference maker that nobody saw coming. You don’t need to be Vince Lombardi to know that starting Antonio Brown is a good move. Same goes for most elite QBs, RBs and WR1s. Therefore this column will often try to focus on players picked up later in the draft, as well as points of difference who might even be sitting on the waiver wire. Starting next week we’ll also offer insight on players who are primed for a big week in daily fantasy and those who look to be serious bargain buys. But for now, here are the Must Start, Must Sit players for Week 1.
MUST START QBs
Derek Carr – Oakland Raiders (v New Orleans Saints)
Derek Carr had a very solid 2015. In just his second year, Carr passed for just under 4000 yards, 22 TD’s and picked up Pro Bowl honours. In 2016 he looks set to post even more impressive numbers as the Raiders push for playoff contention, and in week 1 there is not a more ideal match up in football. Last season the New Orleans Saints had the worst passing defence in the league, giving up 45 TD’s through the air – 9 more than the 31st ranked Eagles. It doesn’t look like things will be much different this year either with little effort being made to sure up the gaping deficiencies that have plagued the team for some time. In fact, to save time and space for the rest of the year, I’d say any half decent QB facing the Saints is a automatic must start consideration. The Raiders don’t exactly shut down the pass either and will be up against the prolific Saints QB Drew Brees, meaning this one has every chance of becoming a good old fashioned shoot out with monster numbers on the cards.
Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions (v Indianapolis Colts)
Despite the occasional shocker, Matthew Stafford is always there or there abouts and finished 10th in QB rankings last year. Many have predicted the retirement of Megatron will trigger a slide for the Lions passing offence, but that may not necessarily be the case due to the lack of a viable running game and constantly being behind on the scoreboard. Oh, and there are a couple of receivers capable of stepping up. Either way, it’s unlikely we’ll see any signs of regression in week 1 against the Colts. Last year the opposing QB’s helped themselves to over 4000 yards and 29 TD’s against Indianapolis, while the feeble secondary gave up 64 throws over 20 yards – the equal highest (with the Saints, of course) number in the league. With another potential shootout looming, there’s no reason Stafford shouldn’t go large.
Brock Osweiler – Houston Texans (v Chicago Bears) 6 FULL games (peyton played in wk 10 & 17
It’s not that unreasonable to suggest the 2015 season would have panned out much differently without Brock Osweiler. Whilst Peyton Manning’s replacement was certainly far from perfect, he did manage to lead the Broncos to crucial overtime wins against fellow AFC contenders Cincinnati and New England. In 2016 he’s been rewarded with a ridiculous new contract in Houston, the privilege of having fantasy stud DeAndre Hopkins to throw to on the reg and the luxury of having Lamar Miller to hand the ball off to. Oh, and the Texans picked up two exciting WR prospects in the first round of the draft, namely Braxton Miller and Will Fuller. Just when you thought life couldn’t get any better for Brock, it looks as though his home debut will be against a Chicago Bears unit missing their top three corners as well as pass rusher Pernell McPhee. A perfect start for the QB and Houston looks likely.
Robert Griffin III – Cleveland Browns (v Philadelphia Eagles)
Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. In all seriousness though, in the preseason RG3 gave us a couple of reminders of what he was doing a couple of years ago with long bombs to WRs Gordon and Pryor giving Cleveland fans rare opportunities to cheer. Not having Gordon available in week 1 is a blow, it’s somewhat offset by Philadelphia, the second worst passing defence after New Orleans. Now I’m not saying the Browns can come away with the W, the Eagles should be too good. But I am saying RG3 will get plenty of opportunities to pump up his numbers chasing points while playing from behind and in garbage time. Gary Barnidge was the second best TE in fantasy last year behind Gronk while only 4 other RB’s produced more receiving yards last year than the elusive Duke Johnson. Plenty of cheap points on offer!
MUST SIT QB
Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers (v Denver Broncos)
He’s the reigning league MVP, he’s the reigning #1 fantasy player, he’s coming off a season with 3900 passing yards and 35 TDs plus 600 rushing yards and 10 TDs of his own AND he’s got deep threat Kelvin Benjamin back from injury. And in week 1, he’s a sit. Which isn’t to say people should panic and put him on the waiver wire or trade him because he’s still going to be a top 5 QB this year. But if you have a backup QB, chances are they’re going to be a better option than Cam this week. Newton was dominated by Von Miller and co in SB50. The Panthers QB was sacked 7 times, fumbled twice for turnovers, gave up a pick and produced zero TD’s. In fantasy terms, he scored less than 40% of his season average. I dare say Newton will have a chip on his shoulder about this game and will be looking to make amends, but this Denver defence is still elite and at Mile High this Thursday night I’m predicting they’ll again shut down the lethal Panthers leaving Cam with a single digit score.
MUST START RBs
Doug Martin – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (v Atlanta Falcons)
Doug Martin finished second only to Adrian Peterson in rushing yardage last year and was one of the top RBs in fantasy mainly thanks to sheer volume of production. Most weeks he’ll offer a reliable option for those looking to play it safe, but in week 1 I’m predicting he can do a bit more than just bank a solid 10-12 points. Atlanta can be vulnerable to RBs in the redzone, and while they were middle of the field in terms of rushing yards conceded last year, they still managed to give up 20 TDs on the ground – the most in the league along with San Francisco. Martin didn’t pick up as many as he would have liked last year but he’s still a red zone stud and he’s more than capable of barging through the Falcons for a couple. Which would obviously go quite nicely with his standard 100 or so yards for the day.
CJ Anderson – Denver Broncos (v Carolina Panthers)
After sharing the load with Ronnie Hillman for much of the year, CJ Anderson finished his season strongly after powering to a 48 yard walk off OT TD to beat the Patriots. From that point he took on more work and thrived with the added responsibility. In the Super Bowl he chalked up 90 yards and a TD to cap off a late season surge. This year it looks as though CJ will be the main man and will look to cement himself not just as the primary RB in Denver, but as one of the NFL’s elite. Throw in the Broncos QB situation plus Hillman missing the 53 man roster and all up there’s no reason why the former undrafted free agent can’t achieve those lofty heights. Given the expected nature of the game this Thursday night, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t start the year in very solid fashion.
Spencer Ware – Kansas City Chiefs (v San Diego Chargers)
This one somewhat depends on the availability and the fitness of one Jamaal Charles. Whoever is running the ball for Kansas City this weekend will have a strong day out, and at this stage it’s looking likely that Ware will get the call up for most of the work. The Chiefs rely on the run a fair bit and have the backs to do so effectively. San Diego are one of the worst at stopping the run, both in terms of yardage and scoring. I’ve already snatched Ware from the waiver wire in my league because either way Ware looks to have secured plenty of involvement early on in the year regardless of Charles. Besides, when there’s a match up like this to take advantage of who wants to play it safe in week 1 anyway?
MUST SIT RBs
Carlos Hyde – San Francisco 49ers (v St Louis LA Rams)
Carlos Hyde is an interesting proposition for the year. A lot believe, quite rightfully, that he could have a very good year if he stays healthy. For the purpose of this column, I’m not overly concerned with his yearly potential – this week is all that matters. And for this week I say he’s a sit. For starters the Rams are a very strong unit when it comes to stopping the run. Only Pittsburgh and the Jets allowed opposition backs to break the plane less than the team formerly known as St Louis, and I can assure you those 7 occasions involved teams that actually had a viable passing offence – something seemingly absent in San Fran. Regarding the Niners themselves, the new year brings a new coach. Chip Kelly has a creative playbook and has been known to deploy 2-3 pronged ground weapons. So whilst Hyde will almost certainly be the primary back this, all things considered I’d wait before confidently starting him. Especially in a week where there doesn’t appear to be a huge potential upside.
DeMarco Murray – Tennessee Titans (v Minnesota Vikings)
Despite playing for his third franchise in three years, Murray is still considered one of the elite RB’s in the league. He’s now with the Titans and by all reports he’s much happier with the system around him than he was last year in Philadelphia. In fact, all things lead to a productive year, for the first half of the season anyway. But much like with Hyde, I’m apprehensive about Murray in week 1. Explosive rookie Derrick Henry will obviously be taking the passenger side for the time being, but it’s hard to ascertain exactly how much work he’ll be taking from the main man Murray. On top of that Tennessee are up against Minnesota who boast one of the leagues stingiest defences against the run. And they sure will need it after losing QB Teddy Bridgewater for the year, so don’t be surprised to see an extra motivated Vikings unit putting in a little bit extra early on in the season. For those reasons the reward Murray offers isn’t considerably higher than what many others offer, but the risk is certainly greater.
MUST START WRs
Golden Tate – Detroit Lions (v Indianapolis Colts)
You can combine everything said about Matthew Stafford’s week 1 potential with the fact as a receiver Tate is one of the league’s best runners of the ball. He averages over 5 yards after receiving the ball and is the prime candidate to expose and exploit any weakness in the Indianapolis backfield. His footwork and route running could easily turn a 6 yard quick slant into an 80 yard gain, such the elusiveness he possesses. Tate racked up 800 yards and 6 TD’s last year which are actually pretty respectable numbers when you take into account the fact he was sharing targets with a guy by the name of Calvin Johnson.
Amari Cooper – Oakland Raiders (v New Orleans Saints)
Like Tate with Stafford above, you can pretty much take the comments on Derek Carr and apply them here. The star rookie receiver already has a strong combination with his QB which is likely to become even more lethal this year. As discussed earlier, the Saints give away more passing TD’s than anyone else. New Orleans are also highly vulnerable to strong WR1’s, giving away over 80 yards per game to top tier receivers. Cooper will be cashing in, big time.
Jordy Nelson – Green Bay Packers (v Jacksonville Jaguars)
Mike McCarthy has declared Aaron Rodgers favourite target is ready to go and will not be in any way limited for Green Bay’s week 1 trip to Jacksonville. Jordy Nelson was sorely missed in 2015 with Rodgers experiencing what he would consider a low year in production. However this wasn’t due to Rodgers himself having a bad year, rather his numbers were mainly due to receivers simply dropping an extraordinary amount of passes – 64 in total at a cost of over 600 yards. Only two other QBs experienced more receiver error. 10 of these passes would have yielded TD’s, no other QB had more than 7 TD passes dropped. Now that Air Jordy is back, it’s hard to imagine Rodgers wasting any time getting the ball to him on a regular basis, which is exactly what Nelson will be craving. Against a questionable Jaguars defence I would not be surprised to see a trademark play-action bomb with nine blockers in play leaving Nelson alone on his way to the endzone.
DeSean Jackson – Washington Redskins (v Pittsburgh Steelers)
DeSean Jackson forms part of a Redskins passing offence that remarkably looks to be one of the strongest in the league. When healthy, D-Jax is capable of huge numbers and is a dangerous as top level WR’s, just look at his 150 + yard day against Buffalo in round 15 last year. Reports suggest Jackson has had a very strong pre-season and has also benefited immensely from going up against Josh Norman in practice. Even with RB Matt Jones returning from injury, Washington to not have a running game of great significance so will be leaning heavily on the pass. Fortunately they have Pittsburgh first up, who for all their attacking prowess they are still a defence capable of leaking a lot of yards and a lot of points, especially to WR1’s who average 87 yards a game. They do hold their own in one area, and that’s against opposing TE’s. But a TE of Jordan Reed’s calibre will make it clear if he’s to be covered at all, the Steelers will be stretched from the first snap. Jackson should prove to be the main beneficiary over Garcon and the rest of the receiving group.
MUST SIT WR’s
Alshon Jeffery – Chicago Bears (v Houston Texans)
The majority of experts have the Bears WR ranked amongst their top 15-25 fantasy players for the year. While there’s no denying the talent of Alshon Jeffery, the Bears will be up against it taking on a Houston Texans pass defence that gives up QBs very little. Last year they stifled opposition passers relentlessly, allowing only four opposition QBs to notch up 250 yards with just one managing 300 yards. They’re able to shut down big plays with efficiency and limit WR1’s to 55 yards per game. With Derek Newton and JJ Watt returning to the defence, Jay Cutler looks to be in for a torrid time, meaning little love for his wide outs. Jeffery should bounce back for a successful season, but he’s unlikely to impress in this one
MUST START TE’s
Jason Witten – Dallas Cowboys (v New York Giants)
It looks to be slim pickings to TE’s this week, with most of the usual suspects involved in match ups that prevent them from being nominated standouts. However there are a couple that look set to offer a higher ceiling than normal. Jason Witten is one of them, despite his recent history of lacklustre performances when Romo isn’t around. Firstly, there are no teams in the NFL worse at defending opposition TE’s than the New York Giants. They give up plenty of big plays, big games and TD’s and this week will be no different. There will be opportunities will be there for Witten if Dak Prescott targets him. Witten didn’t get a lot of attention in the pre-season, but when he and the rookie did eventually link up, they made it count with a nice 20 odd yard TD thrown straight down the middle of the Seattle defence. Plays like that instil trust and confidence in combinations, so I’ll be expecting Prescott to target the reliable TE whenever he’s given the opportunity.
Coby Fleener – New Orleans Saints (v Oakland Raiders)
As mentioned earlier when discussing this game, all signs are pointing to a high scoring shoot out. Drew Brees loves linking up with his TE as evidenced by Ben Watson’s standout 2015 season. Coby Fleener comes to New Orleans as a more than adequate replacement for Watson’s workload, and no doubt Brees will look to have his man involved early on. Defending TE’s is still a weak spot in Oakland’s defence even after factoring in their off season re-enforcements. Big yardage and possibly a TD are absolutely on the cards for the former Indianapolis Colt.
MUST SIT TE’s
Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots (v Arizona Cardinals)
Ok, look. I get most people don’t go for two TE’s in the draft so if you’ve got Gronk and there’s nobody worth picking up in exchange for a WR3 or RB3, you’re going to be starting him regardless. But if given a choice, I would be letting the big man have another week of pool parties, bizarre Twitter trolling or whatever it is Gronk likes to do in his spare time. Firstly, no Tom Brady means all the New England receivers are a high chance of posting lower than average numbers for the first four weeks. The addition of Martellus Bennett means there is now a solid TE2 to target in a Patriots playbook that heavily leans on the position, great for the offence in real life football but not so great for Gronk in fantasy football. Then there’s the Arizona Cardinals pass rush and overall defence – they’re a terribly strong unit and for experienced veterans, let alone Jimmy Garoppolo. Former Patriot Chandler Jones will no doubt be looking to make a strong impression for his new teammates after his surprise trade earlier this year. This could get ugly.
That’s it for this week, let us know what you think in the comments. Whether you’re seen a pick you love or think I’ve completely lost the plot, I’d love to hear what you plan on doing with your line up this week. I’ll be posting a pick of my line up later on and I can assure you a number of the guys mentioned above will be starting. Win, lose or draw it’s great to have football back and I can’t wait to see how everything pans out, starting Friday morning with the Panthers taking on the Broncos. Bring it on!