Remember last winter, when your team—whether it was injury-ravaged, unlucky or just terrible—didn’t win a championship?
With your head bowed and some (imaginary) inspirational music playing, “I’ll win next year,” you likely thought.
It’s officially next year—so get ready.
Or maybe you’re coming off a fantasy title and are looking to shock the world—and by “world” we mean the 11 other dudes you went to school with—with a repeat run.
You get ready, too.
On Thursday, the fantasy football season officially begins. Your soldiers should already be aligned in battle formation, but let’s do some last-minute prepping before the first shot is fired.
Beast: Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Yup, Tom Brady. That’s right.
And it has nothing to do with his receivers or the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
Brady has been very coy with the media since the Deflategate saga crawled to its painfully overdue death, but he’s going to go crazy on Thursday night. Months of frustration and anger are going to come out as bullet scores to Rob Gronkowski—and, consequently, as a monstrous fantasy day.
Dud: Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets
If there is ever a game that will finish 0-0, it’s the New York Jets against the Cleveland Browns.
Both teams have strong defenses and presumably weak offenses, so don’t expect a shootout or anything near one. If Fitzpatrick can toss for a score, you’re lucky. Don’t start him.
Sleepers: The Rooks
First-year mobile quarterbacks just seem to be strong fantasy players, don’t they?
The Tennessee Titans open up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which isn’t an overly daunting matchup for either side. This could be a high-scoring affair just as easily as it could be a 6-3 stinker.
Enter either door with caution, but Winston has much better weapons in Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin, so lean toward him.
Beast: DeMarco Murray, Philadelphia Eagles
The Atlanta Falcons allowed an average of 21 points to opposing runners last season, which was third-most in the NFL.
Though it should be noted that Murray was with the Dallas Cowboys last season, he still led the league in rushing and tied with Marshawn Lynch for the most touchdowns.
Yes, he’s with the Philadelphia Eagles now, but let’s not forget who we’re dealing with.
Dud: Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys
Joseph Randle takes the reins from Murray, but contrary to popular belief, he’s not the lone back in Dallas.
Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar are also in the mix.
“You know the competitor in me definitely wants to be the No. 1 guy that goes out there. But at the same time, it’s like, man, you know we’re going to split carries,” McFadden told KRLD-FM when asked if starting is important to him, per NFL.com. “So whoever goes out there or goes out there second—I just know whenever I do get a chance to get the ball in my hands, I’m going to go out there and go 110 percent.”
Not a great sign for Randle owners. You have to play him because you (probably) took him too early, but don’t expect Murray numbers.
Sleeper: Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The flip side to Winston starting at quarterback is perhaps a run-heavy, safe approach taken by coach Lovie Smith.
By all accounts, Martin has looked more like the Muscle Hamster he was his rookie year than the low-end fantasy back he’s been the past two years.
Tennessee allowed the second-most points to opposing RBs last season, so maybe Martin grounds and pounds them into submission.
Beast: Julio Jones
ESPN’s Matthew Berry recently predicted that Julio Jones will have the “best fantasy football season for a wide receiver in the history of the NFL.”
Now, that’s bold. But the Atlanta Falcons freak is certainly in for a monster season, and he’s got a tantalizing matchup with the Eagles on Monday night.
Philly had trouble slowing down big-time receivers last year, and that defense is going to get a serious test against Jones in Week 1. With all kinds of question marks in the backfield, expect Matt Ryan to go to Jones early and often.
Dud: Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers
Part of the reason Aaron Rodgers’ receivers have been so good is a) because he’s their quarterback and b) because there have been multiple. The deep threat of Jordy Nelson opened things up for Randall Cobb, but a torn ACL now takes that away.
While most believe Cobb will benefit from Nelson’s injury, it could also hurt his numbers initially as teams force players like Davante Adams and tight end Richard Rogers to beat them.
Once Rodgers proves his other weapons are threats, too, Cobb’s numbers will explode. Don’t expect him to be elite right away, though.
Sleeper: DeSean Jackson, Washington Redskins
With all the talk about the Redskins’ quarterback situation, the strong season put forth by DeSean Jackson in 2014-15 seems to get overshadowed.
Despite the inconsistency from his passer, D-Jax hauled in 56 grabs for 1,169 yards and six scores. He averaged 20.9 yards per reception, the second-best number of his career.
Jackson also had three monster touchdowns with now-starter Kirk Cousins at the helm last season. Cousins will throw picks, but he’s not afraid to air it out, and Jackson will be the beneficiary of most of the team’s big plays.
Beast: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
In a field of pups, Gronk is a pit bull.
Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham and Travis Kelce are in the mix, but nobody—nobody—is touching Brady’s top target.
With Brandon LaFell and LeGarrette Blount out, expect Gronkowski to serve as a ball-magnet.
Dud: Julius Thomas
The sad reality of fantasy football is that any tight end outside of Gronk could really disappoint you. Even the three guys in the tier under him are a tad iffy in their own ways.
For now, let’s have a moment of silence for the owners who reached on Julius Thomas, who despite his Jacksonville Jaguars colors could have been a decent starter.
The injury-prone Thomas is out for a month and has given us all another reminder to either get Gronk early or wait it out on draft night.
Sleeper: Richard Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers is firmly ahead of Andrew Quarless on the Packers depth chart, and his quarterback will be looking for warm, healthy bodies to throw to with Nelson out and defenses draped all over Cobb.
Adams will get some serious looks, but Rodgers is in line for some action in the red zone, too.
Plus, Aaron Rodgers loves to beat up on the Chicago Bears. Expect a big game from No. 12, and as a result, a possible outburst from a guy at a different position with the same last name.
Alright, look—if you’re really hard-pressed to find yourself a good defense, there is a workaround.
Become a drifter, a vagrant owner of the notorious D/ST. Change it every week if needed. Whether you have a 10- or 12-team league, that leaves nearly a third of team defenses available on a given week, assuming nobody owns two.
For Week 1, take a look at matchups. Rookie quarterback? Potential for some turnovers there. No running game? That means tons of throwing and the potential for some picks.
You should be set for this week, but in the coming ones, keep an eye on the waiver wire with this in mind: The opponent is often more important than your actual D.
Kickers are a really crapshoot, so don’t overthink it.
Mason Crosby plays on Aaron Rodgers’ team, so that gives him a lot of scoring opportunities. It could also mean four touchdowns and, consequently, just four extra points and no field goals.
Bad offenses don’t score a lot of touchdowns, so they kick a lot of field goals, right? Yes, but sometimes that also means the team can’t get past midfield.
Again, it’s a crapshoot. Your best bet is a kicker with an iron leg in normal-to-nice weather conditions.
Waiver Wire: Players to Watch
The following players are owned in less than half of ESPN’s standard leagues, but they’re definitely worthy of a spot on your bench.
You could be that guy who snagged Odell Beckham Jr. before he exploded.
Matt Jones, Washington Redskins RB
He’s owned in 19.2 percent of leagues, but the bruising Redskins runner is set to take away some of Alfred Morris’ thunder.
Or, eventually, all of it.
Jones is a 6’2” 231-pounder who runs at defenders like they just heckled his grandmother. He’s had a slew of Marshawn Lynch-like runs this preseason, and it’s only a matter of time before he creeps into fantasy relevance.
Terrance West, Tennessee Titans RB
Finally out of the mess that was the Cleveland Browns backfield, Terrance West has a chance to emerge as the Titans’ top gun.
He was just acquired on Sunday, so it might take him a little while to get acclimated to things in Tennessee. But West, owned by just 22.2 percent of ESPN players, had six double-digit fantasy outings while wrestling Isaiah Crowell and Ben Tate for touches.
Bishop Sankey owners, especially, need to put a claim in for West immediately.
James Jones, Green Bay Packers WR
After struggling with the Oakland Raiders a year ago, James Jones is reuniting with Green Bay, the team with which he made a name for himself.
Jones, who is climbing up the ladder at 31 years old, led the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions while catching balls from Rodgers in 2012.
Lacking the explosiveness and sharpness he once had, Jones is still a sure pair of hands who could see a decent amount of targets while young Pack receivers like Jeff Janis and Ty Montgomery prove themselves.
Read more Fantasy Football news on NerdyFootball.com