Welcome to the most difficult time of the year for fantasy football start ’em, sit ’em decisions.
It’s Week 1, which means all owners have to work with is projections and last year’s numbers, a dangerous combo sure to nudge more than a few owners in the wrong direction right out of the opening gates.
Through a smart draft, waiver-wire pickups and more, owners should be sitting in a good position before byes and injuries, though, so droves of options means plenty of winning combinations.
Below, let’s take a look at some of the top names when it comes to start ’em, sit ’em scenarios and point owners in the ideal direction while also taking a deeper dive at some of the best matchup plays and sleepers.
Top Matchup Play: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (vs. PHI)
Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers has an oh-so-obvious matchup, but perhaps more interesting for owners would be Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons.
Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles tied for the second-most points allowed to quarterbacks on average. Ryan, on the other hand, ranked as the seventh-highest scorer.
Even better, this one comes in Atlanta on Monday Night Football. In other words, it’s another day for new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to scheme up his deep-passing attack, which borderline promises to produce more points than ever with Julio Jones and Roddy White at his disposal, both of whom missed time last year.
In what should be a shootout, Ryan’s a superb value pick and the best matchup play this side of Rodgers.
Sleeper: Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins (at WAS)
The best matchup nobody sees coming?
Ryan Tannehill against Washington. It’s a road game, but owners seem to forget Tannehill posted the ninth-most points among quarterbacks last year under the guidance of first-year coordinator Bill Lazor.
It’s all uphill from here, especially against a Washington defense that surrendered the most points to quarterbacks last year on average. The Dolphins were serious about upgrading around their franchise quarterback too, considering Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings and rookie DeVante Parker join Jarvis Landry in the passing game.
For a guy with an average draft position (ADP) of 8.08 as the 12th quarterback off boards, Tannehill‘s an incredible sleeper.
Top Matchup Play: Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals (at OAK)
Jeremy Hill of the Cincinnati Bengals was one of fantasy football’s best surprises last year.
Despite receiving more than 10 carries once in his first six games as a rookie, Hill exploded as a top-10 scorer at the position. Now there aren’t any training wheels and he has his eyes set on an explosive sophomore debut, per Joe Danneman of Fox 19:
The opponent? The Oakland Raiders, owners of the worst average points allowed to backs last year.
Granted, the Raiders appear better on paper this year, but Hill didn’t have many problems with defenses last year provided the opportunities were there, which they will be Sunday.
Sleeper: Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts (at BUF)
There’s no reason to go away from Frank Gore now.
Make no mistake—Gore sits in a tough matchup this week against the Buffalo Bills, a team that devastated running backs last season. But Gore does just as much damage year in and out, having not missed a game since 2011 and easily surpassing the 250-attempt mark in each of the past four seasons.
He’ll take his rock-solid act to Indy, where one of the NFL’s highest-scoring offenses should afford him TD chances galore. The Colts don’t have a legit threat to Gore on the depth chart; even better, he’s an elite blocker who won’t come off the field in passing situations.
Gore is a proven every-down back afforded wider holes than usual and better scoring opportunities thanks to his new situation with Andrew Luck as quarterback.
Top Matchup Play: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (vs. PHI)
Sometimes this is just how matchups unfold, folks.
Julio Jones might be worthy of top-three praise. He finished eighth in scoring last year at the spot, but he missed time with an injury. With the aforementioned Shanahan in town, who loves to lean on No. 1 wideouts, Jones’ ranking of third in targets (163) and receptions (104) will only go north, health permitting.
As for this matchup in particular, the Eagles don’t have a player who can run with Jones. Over at Pro Football Focus, Byron Maxwell ranked as the 45th corner in the league last year. The starter opposite him, Nolan Carroll, didn’t receive a grade.
Jones is in for a big day, which is what happens when elite talent meets the perfect matchup.
Sleeper: Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers (at CHI)
Injury and circumstance has boosted Green Bay Packers wideout Davante Adams from almost unknown territory to one of fantasy’s most important players.
With Jordy Nelson gone and Randall Cobb fighting a shoulder issue, Adams might just wind up as Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target this weekend against the Chicago Bears despite catching only 38 balls for 446 yards and three scores last year as a rookie.
It’s important to dive deeper, though, as Rich Hribar of Rotoworld did:
Adams seems a lock to see the necessary target numbers, especially against a Bears defense that one year ago allowed the ninth-most points to wideouts on average and just parted ways with Tim Jennings.
Top Matchup Play: Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills (vs. IND)
Charles Clay seems like a boom-or-bust player this year after four solid seasons in Miami. For one, he’s going to deal with Tyrod Taylor or EJ Manuel under center, and two, wideouts such as Percy Harvin and Sammy Watkins will demand the ball.
Still, when the going’s good with Clay, it figures to be great.
So it should go this weekend in his team’s encounter with the Colts, a defense that allowed the third-most points to tight ends. In a hostile environment, it won’t matter who is under center. Clay will see the ball plenty on third downs and within scoring range, meaning he’s a major Week 1 breakout candidate.
Sleeper: Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals (at OAK)
It’s understandable to sleep on Tyler Eifert, who went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1 last year and resides on the same offense as Hill and one A.J. Green.
Still, anyone who saw the Cincinnati offense last year before the injury knows Eifert was going to be the second-biggest target, if not see more targets than Green with Andy Dalton under center.
It’s something owners have seen reinforced so far, as Eifert was the focal point of the passing attack in the preseason, hauling in five passes for 67 yards.
Now Eifert gets another stab at becoming a top-five player at his position against one of last year’s 10 worst defenses against the spot. It’s a situation to exploit to great effect before more owners catch on to Eifert‘s value.
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