On Sunday morning, fantasy football players across the U.S. will wake up to a cold reminder: Decisions are the worst.
The joy of spending the day watching football comes with the agony of choosing a Week 1 lineup. Fresh out of the draft, many gamers will trust their choices and roll with their top picks. That makes sense for studs but not necessarily a No. 3 wide receiver or flex option faced with a tough opening opponent.
Fake football managers will face many maddening quandaries throughout the year, so don’t shy away from the process now. Let’s simulate some potential Week 1 dilemmas to shine a light on players to start or sit during the opening weekend.
QB: Cam Newton (at Jacksonville) or Carson Palmer (vs. New Orleans)
Anyone who took Cam Newton hopefully paired him with a high-quality No. 2 quarterback. A fantasy monster for most of his career, the Carolina Panthers quarterback must bounce back from a down year without much help.
Heading into his fifth year, Newton’s passing attempts, passing yards and rushing scores have diminished each season. During a down 2014, he set career lows in many meaningful categories:
Without the injured Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Corey Brown and Jerricho Cotchery represent his top wide receivers. His owners shouldn’t bank on the Jacksonville Jaguars concealing Carolina’s woes. After compiling 45 sacks last year, they’ll face a vulnerable offensive line that doesn’t provide Newton much time to operate.
Looking for a reserve to toss into the starting lineup? In a mini five-game sampling last season, Carson Palmer averaged 325.2 passing yards per game, tossing at least two scores each time. He’ll get the New Orleans Saints, last year’s No. 25 passing defense.
Along with losing cornerback Keenan Lewis to hip surgery, their depleted secondary will face the Arizona Cardinals without safety Jairus Byrd, per ESPN’s Ed Werder:
Expect Palmer to rekindle his budding relationship with John Brown for big gains against New Orleans’ banged-up defense in a shootout.
RB: Chris Ivory (vs. Cleveland) or Isaiah Crowell (at NY Jets)
Everyone who loves the modern, pass-rich NFL will loathe this throwback grind between the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets.
Ryan Fitzpatrick won’t unleash an aerial assault on a defense that recorded an NFL-low 57.1 completion percentage. Not that Josh McCown has a top target for Darrelle Revis to erase in his New York return, but he’s not likely to run away with the Browns’ starting quarterback gig.
Other than the defenses, fantasy managers should devote all their attention to the running backs. A crowded Cleveland backfield cleared some space before Week 1, with Terrance West traded to the Tennessee Titans.
Concussion fears nearly took Duke Johnson out of action as well, making Isaiah Crowell the unquestioned starter. Yet the rookie rusher is good to go and expected to get meaningful reps, according to the Plain Dealer‘s Mary Kay Cabot:
Nevertheless, Crowell is worth flex consideration as a candidate for 15-20 carries.
Still, Chris Ivory remains this matchup’s winner. While potent against the pass, the Browns relinquished the most rushing yards (2,265) last year. The 27-year-old has impressed new head coach Todd Bowles, who sung his back’s praises to Newsday‘s Kimberley A. Martin.
“I knew he was a good player. I didn’t know he was as fast as he was,” Bowles said. “He’s got very good feet. Chris has got very good quickness. You don’t have to be that fast to have foot quickness, and he’s got foot quickness.”
Despite averaging 4.7 yards per carry over his five-year career, he has never received 200 or more handoffs in a season. Look for that to change this year, beginning with 15-20 constructive touches for Gang Green this Sunday.
WR: Nelson Agholor (at Atlanta) or Charles Johnson (at San Francisco)
Both popular wide receivers heading into the season, Nelson Agholor and Charles Johnson will take the field during Monday night’s doubleheader. That allows an extra day to determine which young wideout makes the better No. 3 receiver or flex play.
Getting an opportunity to start in the Philadelphia Eagles’ fast-paced offense, Agholor has transformed into a fantasy darling before playing a regular-season game. Head coach Chip Kelly only compounded the hype by saying exactly what the rookie’s investors want to hear, per Eagles Insider:
The Atlanta Falcons represent the perfect Week 1 opponent to validate Kelly’s claim. Last year, Atlanta allowed a league-high 4,478 passing yards, surrendering 8.2 yards per pass attempt. After shining throughout the preseason, new Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford should get plenty of chances to air it out during a high-scoring bonanza.
Charles Johnson became Teddy Bridgewater’s go-to target late last season, garnering 47 targets over the Minnesota Vikings’ last seven games. While the San Francisco 49ers rated No. 5 in passing defense last season, a perfect storm of destruction ransacked their roster.
Without Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, San Francisco’s defense is no longer a unit for fantasy players to fear. For Monday night, however, the depleted front seven forebodes a heavy workload for the returning Adrian Peterson, giving Johnson a lower ceiling than Agholor despite each amounting to solid plays.
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