Monday Night Football Matchup Analysis (Week 1)

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Are you ready for some football? The fun may have kicked off on Thursday and the bulk of the action takes place on Sunday, but there's still something special about Monday Night. That's especially true in Week 1 when we are lucky enough to have two games on the schedule!

This article aims to preview the Monday night matchups from a fantasy football perspective, running through each of the key players on both sides.

This week, it's a pair of season openers, one in each conference. First, the offensive-minded New Orleans Saints travel to Minnesota for a tough battle with the Vikings. Then, the recently relocated Los Angeles Chargers go to the Mile High City to face the stingy defense of the Denver Broncos.

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New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings

Away from home, but still in a dome, New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees doesn’t require a lot of analysis. After passing for 5,000+ yards for the fifth time in his career in 2016, he’s a QB1 and if you have him, you’re starting him, even in a tough matchup. Wide receiver Michael Thomas was a consensus second round pick and should have a solid floor as Brees’s clear WR1. Missing from the Saints cast of pass catchers from a year ago is Brandin Cooks, who fled to join the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. Though a poor facsimile of Cooks, Ted Ginn should be Brees’s primary deep threat and is worthy of consideration as an upside WR3. With Willie Snead suspended for New Orleans’s first three regular season games, Coby Fleener should see more of a role over the middle and makes for a reasonable streamer TE, albeit with a low floor, during Snead’s absence.

In the backfield, the Saints will employ a three-headed committee. Mark Ingram, fantasy’s overall RB10 from a year ago, is a solid bet to lead the group in touches, but probably ranks as more of an RB2 than RB1 as we figure out how head coach Sean Payton divides the RB snaps. Future hall-of-famer Adrian Peterson will also mix in and he has a pretty compelling revenge-game narrative, facing his former team on Monday night to open the season. At this point, he’s a wildcard, but nonetheless makes for an intriguing flex for the adventurous fantasy owner. Perhaps the most interesting player in the backfield is rookie Alvin Kamara, set to play the ‘joker’ role held by Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles in past seasons and it’s anybody’s guess just how involved he might be from the outset. He’s probably best left on the bench for Week 1 in season long leagues, but he’s an intriguing tournament play in DFS as a low cost punt.

On the Minnesota side of the ball, Sam Bradford returns as starter after throwing a scant 20 TD passes in 2016, but the matchup is undeniably tasty as the Saints allowed a league-worst 273.8 yards per game through the air a year ago. Bradford is a worthy streamer for Jameis owners, or those who are skittish about Philip Rivers’s tough matchup. Both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen should be very comfortable WR2 and WR3 considerations respectively, especially in PPR. Kyle Rudolph is a pretty easy start after his #2 finish at the TE position in 2016, drawing an attractive matchup in the Vikings home opener as well. We’ll collectively take a wait and see approach on ancillary weapons like Laquon Treadwell.

Rookie Dalvin Cook is in a great spot to be the second rookie to impress in his primetime debut on a national stage. Cook won the job handily in preseason over backfield mate Latavius Murray and can be fired up as an RB2. The Saints were a bit tougher against the run than against the pass in 2016, but this matchup isn’t anything to fear for either back. Still Murray’s role leaves him with a low floor, albeit with potential to poach a TD or two as the presumptive short-yardage back.

It might be worthwhile for Minnesota defense drafters with an extra roster spot to find a better option in Week 1, as they’ll be a middle of the pack option against the Saints.

Prediction: Minnesota 27 - New Orleans 24

 

Los Angeles Chargers @ Denver Broncos

Philip Rivers opens the season in a rough spot for fantasy owners. The Denver Broncos defense was a top-5 unit against the pass in 2016 and picked off Rivers 3 times in their home date with the Chargers signal caller last October. Rivers is a borderline QB1 for the season, but this matchup should send his fantasy owners to the wire to scour for a streamer, such as the aforementioned Bradford. Keenan Allen is healthy and by all reports looked spry in preseason. Even in a tough matchup, it’s difficult to get away from him as a WR2. Tyrell Williams shocked the fantasy world by finishing as WR14 overall in 2016, but this is a spot to consider an alternative, in a tough matchup and with a healthy Keenan Allen on the field. Tyrell is a low floor WR3 for Week 1. With Mike Williams still out until Week 4 or beyond, Travis Benjamin will serve as the third WR. Not without some season long sleeper appeal, Benji is best avoided in Week 1. The tight end tandem of future hall of famer Antonio Gates and second-year dynamo Hunter Henry can both be started in a pinch, but not knowing the target distribution will leave both with a low floor if they don’t hit pay dirt. Boasting a higher ceiling, Henry should be the preferred play.

In the backfield it’s the Melvin Gordon show. Likely your first round selection, Gordon should be fired up without hesitation, albeit with slightly tempered expectations against a stout Broncos defensive front. He’s simply too good a player with too secure a role to consider benching, and you’ll take your lumps when it doesn’t work out. Branden Oliver is nothing more than a low-ceiling handcuff and can be ignored in all but the deepest of leagues.
On the Broncos side of the ball, Trevor Siemian once again held off Paxton Lynch in the starting QB sweepstakes. With limited physical tools, Siemian doesn’t project as a fantasy starter, but can play well enough to keep Demaryius Thomas in play as a high end WR2, provided the latter is recovered enough from a hip injury that has sidelined him for much of the last two weeks. Emmanuel Sanders is also in play as a high end WR3.

C.J. Anderson returns from a meniscus injury that ended his 2016 season after just seven games. At over 12 fantasy points per game in that limited sample, Anderson will look to pick up right where he left off. With Devontae Booker still nursing a wrist injury and rookie De’Angelo Henderson suffering from fumblitis in preseason, Anderson should only yield snaps to veteran Jamaal Charles and should be an RB2 on volume alone. It’s anybody’s guess just how much work 30 year-old Charles’s body can endure after missing almost the entirety of the last two seasons with an ACL injury, but he is statistically the most efficient running back in NFL history and could present value as a lottery-ticket stash. Still, with uncertain volume, Charles should not be a consideration in Week 1.

Prediction: Denver 23 – Los Angeles Chargers 20

 

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