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Week 1 NFL Matchups Analysis: Start/Sit Advice (Part 2)


Welcome to our Week 1 matchups analysis and starts/sits column for fantasy football. We'll be covering every matchup from every game on Sunday to help you make the best decisions for your fantasy lineups. We'll also update this as injury reports come in, so be sure to check back often.

This article will cover the late slate of games on Sunday afternoon, as well as the Sunday Night Football matchup. Also, check out our early-slate analysis from Spencer Aguiar.

Check back here each week to get advice for your toughest start/sit decisions and take a look at our consensus rankings each week. Let's get to it. Week 1 of the NFL season has finally arrived.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season NFL Premium Pass for 50% off. Our exclusive In-Season Lineup Tools, Lineup Optimizer and over 150 days of Premium DFS Research. Sign Up Now!

 

Matchups Analysis - 4:05 PM ET Games

Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers

Matchups We Love:

Philip Rivers (QB, LAC)

Philip Rivers posted identical touchdown and interception splits on the road and at home in 2018 (16 TD, 6 INT), but he fared better overall in home games. Per Pro Football Reference, Rivers completed just over 70% of his passes at home, while averaging 297.5 yards through the air. If Rivers throws for 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns on Sunday against the Colts, there are much worse ways to kick off the 2019 season. He has a high floor, and he's a fine Week 1 starter if you waited on QB in your draft.

Austin Ekeler (RB, LAC)

The Colts were one of the NFL's stingier run defenses in 2018, permitting just 3.9 yards per carry. That figures to stifle Austin Ekeler on the ground, but he will be in line for enough volume to keep his floor relatively high. Look for the Chargers to employ a familiar strategy in order to give Ekeler a chance to produce via the passing game. Even if he's held in check on his rushing attempts, Ekeler's value should be salvaged by a handful of targets, making him a decent flex play in PPR formats.

Matchups We Hate:

Marlon Mack (RB, IND)

Speaking of stingy run defenses, opposing backs didn't have much luck against the Chargers last year either. Los Angeles held its opponents to 4.3 yards per carry, good for the 11th-best mark in the league. Unlike Ekeler, Marlon Mack does not have a history of being utilized often in the passing game. If Mack is inefficient on the ground, he's not going to see as many chances to produce in other ways. Further detracting from his value is that Jacoby Brissett is not Andrew Luck. You drafted Mack as a starter, so you're rolling with him in Week 1 regardless. But he may need a rushing touchdown to return start-worthy value, and the Chargers surrendered just 11 of those in 2018.

Justin Jackson (RB, LAC)

Austin Ekeler's backup Justin Jackson might be in line for a solid season, but for the reasons discussed above, Week 1 could be a tough matchup for him to get going in. Jackson should be looking at a handful of opportunities to spell Ekeler in both the ground and passing game, but the volume is probably not going to amount to much. Jackson is an excellent fantasy stash, but not yet a starting lineup candidate.

Jacoby Brissett (QB, IND)

In Jacoby Brissett's one analyzable season (2017), he completed 58.8% of his passes and averaged 193.6 yards per game, with 13 passing touchdowns in 16 games. The Chargers held opponents to 227.9 passing yards per game and 23 passing touchdowns in 2018. Brissett might be able to move the chains a few times with his legs, but even if you drafted Andrew Luck, there are likely better options out there in one-QB leagues.

Other Matchups:

Keenan Allen / Mike Williams (WR, LAC)

The reason Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are not listed among the "loves" for Week 1 with their quarterback is that the Colts bring an all-around quality defense into this contest. As such, Rivers will likely have to spread the ball around. While that in turn creates multiple opportunities for multiple players, it's difficult to forecast a big game for any one Chargers receiver. You're starting Allen no matter what, and Williams should serve as a flex play. It would simply be wise to expect serviceable outings from either, as opposed to big-time production.

Hunter Henry (TE, LAC)

Hunter Henry finds himself listed as "other" for the same reason as Allen and Williams. He could see enough volume to provide excellent value, but we're not looking at any guarantees. This will also be his first regular-season action since 2017, so it's probably best to allow for a pedestrian start. Again, you're likely starting him anyway, just temper expectations.

T.Y. Hilton (WR, IND)

T.Y. Hilton isn't listed as a hated matchup because his talent is undeniable, but the deck is stacked against him in Week 1. In 2017, with Brissett as his full-time quarterback, Hilton produced his lowest catch and yardage totals since 2012 (his rookie season), and his lowest touchdown total ever. He's going up against a tough pass defense on the road to start 2019. He'll be a volume-based WR2 in this matchup.

Jack Doyle / Eric Ebron (TE, IND)

Eric Ebron stole the show with 13 touchdowns in 2018, while Jack Doyle missed a majority of the season. That said, Doyle was utilized quite a bit in the six games he played, averaging 5.5 targets per game. He also hauled in a higher percentage of his 33 targets than Ebron did of his 110. Good luck figuring out which one of these guys to trust early in the season.

 

Cincinnati Bengals at Seattle Seahawks

Matchups We Love:

Chris Carson (RB, SEA)

The Bengals allowed 137.8 yards on the ground in 2018, good for the fourth-worst such mark in the NFL. The Seahawks attempted the second-most rushes in the NFL last year. Chris Carson is the lead back in Seattle. Don't overthink this one.

Rashaad Penny (RB, SEA)

Rashaad Penny might be Carson's backup, but this game has the makings of a lopsided affair. If the Seahawks get out to the type of lead they're expected to, Penny could see enough volume to return flex value. Expect Seattle to wear down a Bengals Defense that might be on the field a lot to begin with by running the ball excessively and controlling the clock. They won't want to wear down either of their running backs, however, so look for both to get some run.

Russell Wilson (QB, SEA)

Russell Wilson should have a fine real-life football game in Week 1, and it's worth noting the Bengals were arguably the worst all-around pass defense in the NFL last year. But the Seahawks are a run-first team, and a potential early lead will only amplify that. There's concern here that Wilson simply doesn't chuck it enough on Sunday to return super high fantasy value. That said, if this contest does devolve into a blowout, Seattle has to get its early points from somewhere. Wilson should put on a first-half show against the Bengals pass defense, and that might be just enough for a solid fantasy day.

Tyler Lockett (WR, SEA)

Tyler Lockett is the obvious candidate to have success through the air for Seattle on Sunday, but for the same reasons as Wilson, his ceiling might be capped by game script. He's a fine volume-based WR2 with the potential for a big first half. Just don't be surprised if he fades from the game plan in the event Seattle relies heavily on its backfield to finish off the Bengals late.

Matchups We Hate:

Joe Mixon (RB, CIN)

Seattle's 4.9 yards per carry allowed to opposing backs in 2018 was tied for the third-worst mark in the NFL. You have to wonder how many chances Joe Mixon will get to run the ball on Sunday, however. The Bengals could easily find themselves facing an early double-digit deficit in Week 1, thus abandoning the ground game. Mixon did see 55 targets in 2018, which was a nice uptick from the total in his rookie season. There's a good chance Mixon is your RB1 heading into the season, so you have to start him. Just hope that the Bengals are able to incorporate him into the passing game enough that he gets a high volume of touches if things get out of hand.

Other Matchups:

Andy Dalton (QB, CIN)

Andy Dalton's lone redeeming quality as a fantasy asset in Week 1 is the expectation that he might have to throw the ball 50 times. That said, he ranked 28th among qualified QBs in completion percentage last season, and 24th in yards per game. This is one instance in which volume does not necessarily indicate production. He shouldn't find himself anywhere near your season-long lineups, and even the most courageous of contrarians will have a hard time justifying him as a DFS option.

Tyler Boyd (WR, CIN)

If Dalton is forced to throw as often as he could reasonably be expected to, and if he's even remotely efficient, Tyler Boyd should be in line for enough volume to produce in fantasy lineups. That second "if" regarding Dalton is a big one, and Seattle's pass defense doesn't figure to be super exploitable. Consider Boyd a flex play, and hope he sees double-digit targets in Week 1.

 

San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Matchups We Love:

Jameis Winston (QB, TB)

This matchup is the highest over/under line among the afternoon games, and for good reason. The Buccaneers were one of the NFL's worst defenses in the league last season, but they had a potent enough offense to turn games into shootouts. They're still lacking in proven commodities as far as running backs are concerned, and still possess a wealth of lethal options in the passing game. Additionally, the 49ers were a solid run defense in 2018. Look for a familiar sight in Tampa Bay on Sunday as the Buccaneers air it out early and often.

Mike Evans (WR, TB)

Mike Evans is listed as questionable at the moment, so be sure to monitor his status heading into Sunday. If he's out there, he's a lock in starting lineups. Evans ranked 12th among all players in targets last season, third in receiving yards, and third in yards per reception. If he had a more consistent quarterback, he would arguably be in the conversation for top wide receiver in the league.

George Kittle (TE, SF)

George Kittle probably belongs among the "loves" until further notice. He's in line to put up start-worthy tight end numbers on volume alone, with the kicker being that he's talented enough to turn it into big-time production. Maybe 1,377 yards is not a repeatable season-long task, but if he's still looking at 8.5 targets per game, just set it and forget it. There is nothing intimidating enough about Tampa Bay's defense to expect Kittle won't have a solid Week 1.

Matchups We Hate:

Peyton Barber / Ronald Jones II (RB, TB)

Neither Peyton Barber nor Ronald Jones have ever given fantasy owners any good reason to trust them in starting lineups. Until one or both does, there is no other way to look at this backfield. The 49ers allowed 4.1 yards per carry and just 13 rushing touchdowns in 2018. In the presence of a dangerous passing game, there is also no reason for Tampa Bay to attempt to force the issue on the ground. Neither Barber nor Jones factors into the Week 1 equation at RB.

Other Matchups:

Jimmy Garoppolo (QB, SF)

He certainly has what looks like a favorable matchup in front of him in the Tampa pass defense, but Jimmy Garoppolo wouldn't be the first quarterback ever to struggle in his return to game action after a season-ending injury. He's got some weapons around him to help out, most notably in tight end George Kittle. If this game turns into the shootout it's expected to, Garoppolo is looking at enough pass attempts to put up numbers. But it's best to play it safe and look elsewhere at QB.

Dante Pettis (WR, SF)

There are one too many unknowns in this pass offense at the moment, with Kittle being the obvious exception. How will Garoppolo look in his first regular-season game after tearing his ACL? Where are the majority of the non-Kittle targets going to go? If you drafted Pettis, you likely got him late. Keep him on your bench until these questions begin to sort themselves out.

Chris Godwin (WR, TB)

The entire fantasy world has spent all summer swooning over Chris Godwin, but this is still the Mike Evans show. Godwin is still an excellent option in a pass-happy offense, but I fear the hype has gotten to the point where people are expecting him to completely outshine Evans. Evans racked up nearly 100 yards per game in 2018, and he played in all 16. All this said, the Buccaneers aren't suddenly going to become a run-first team. There will be plenty of work to go around in the passing game, and Godwin will get his share.

O.J. Howard (TE, TB)

Unlike his positional counterpart on the 49ers, O.J. Howard doesn't yet have the track record of consistency that allows fantasy owners to feel safe. He appeared in 10 games last season, averaging 4.8 targets per game. To his credit, he made them count, hauling in 70.8% of them for 565 yards and five touchdowns. Maybe Week 1 of 2019 is the moment at which he begins to establish himself as a force; he's just not nearly as much of a sure thing in any matchup as Kittle is at the moment. In any case, you're starting him no matter what in a game that figures to feature a ton of passing from Tampa Bay.

Tevin Coleman / Matt Breida (RB, SF)

If we learned anything from the 49ers backfield last season, it's that Kyle Shanahan is about as predictable as Bill Belichick in terms of who he'll feature on a weekly basis. With that in mind, neither Tevin Coleman nor Matt Breida should be trusted as anything higher than a flex play in Week 1. The difference between this pair and Tampa Bay's, however, is that both have proven to be effective when they've had their chances. Coleman gets a slight edge over Breida for Week 1 due to his history as a decent passing-game option, but both could be looking at 12-15 touches each.

 

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

Matchups We Love:

Saquon Barkley (RB, NYG)

Last year in Week 2, the Cowboys held Saquon Barkley to 28 yards on 11 carries. In order to combat this, the Giants just threw to him 16 times, and he caught 14 of those for 80 yards. Instances like this are why Barkley is nearly matchup-proof, because the Giants have repeatedly demonstrated their preference and ability to involve him in the offense by any means necessary. The Cowboys have one of the NFL's best linebacking corps, which figures to make things difficult on Barkley. At the end of the day, though, he's still looking at far too much volume to be worried about whether he's going to produce.

Dak Prescott (QB, DAL)

With Ezekiel Elliott in line for part-time work out of the backfield on Sunday, Dak Prescott is the guy through whom the Cowboys offense runs in Week 1. If such is the case, who among the Giants front seven is going to make life difficult on him? Prescott should have exceptional pass protection on Sunday, he can use his legs both by design and on the fly, and he's got an interesting bunch of receiving targets to look for all over the field. Start the Cowboys quarterback with confidence in Week 1.

Matchups We Hate:

Eli Manning (QB, NYG)

He's going to have Demarcus Lawrence in his kitchen all day long. His best targets in the passing game are a running back and a tight end, both of whom are going to have to deal frequently with the Cowboys' linebackers in coverage. If you drafted Eli Manning for any reason, starting him in Week 1 wasn't it.

Sterling Shepard (WR, NYG)

Sterling Shepard will return some decent volume-based outings throughout 2019, but his quarterback is going to have an extremely difficult time getting him the ball on Sunday. Manning is nearly immobile and the Giants have an average (at best) offensive line. This just feels like a matchup in which Manning will have no time in the pocket, and thus Shepard won't see enough targets to return value.

Other Matchups:

Tony Pollard (RB, DAL)

Despite Ezekiel Elliott's merciful return to the Cowboys, he's probably a low-ceiling guy in Week 1 after missing all of training camp and the preseason. Behind Dallas's offensive line and against the Giants Defense, however, Tony Pollard could be looking at a decent outing Sunday if he's the bell cow. The Giants were respectable in terms of yards per carry allowed to backs last season (4.3), but they allowed 18 touchdowns on the ground. If Pollard is looking at between 15 and 20 touches on Sunday with the potential for some goal-line work (again, behind that offensive line), there's definitely a start-worthy Week 1 in his spectrum of outcomes.

Ezekiel Elliott (RB, DAL)

With Elliott back in the fold, you're obviously starting him. Do so with tempered expectations. Even under the most favorable of matchup circumstances, he's probably not looking at two dozen touches to start the year after missing all of camp. He's talented enough to provide decent value on 10-12 touches, and if the Cowboys run away with this one early, that might be all he gets.

Amari Cooper/Michael Gallup (WR, DAL)

This is a tricky one, as Amari Cooper has dealt with a foot injury all preseason. He appears ready to roll for Week 1, but he wouldn't be the first wide receiver to have a foot issue slow him down. If declared active, you're starting him, but it may be with "flex-pectations" as opposed to his WR2 draft position. Michael Gallup is very interesting this week, especially if Cooper is out there just going through the motions. It's tough to justify starting Gallup in season-long formats based on who else you probably have at WR, but he's an intriguing dart throw in DFS.

Evan Engram (TE, NYG)

Evan Engram should see enough short and mid-range targets to bring back a solid PPR day, but he's also going to have Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch chasing him around all afternoon. You like him as a volume-based tight end with potential for a touchdown if the Giants can get into scoring position a couple of times.

 

Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals

Matchups We Love:

Kerryon Johnson (RB, DET)

The Cardinals were a fantasy treat for opposing running backs in 2018, and Kerryon Johnson gets first crack at them in the new season. Johnson was averaging 17.4 touches per game from Weeks 7-11 last year before an injury ended his season. A usage rate like that against a defense that gave up 4.9 yards per carry and a league-worst 25 rushing touchdowns last season should translate into a huge day for the second-year Lions running back.

David Johnson (RB, ARI)

There's a great deal of excitement and intrigue surrounding the Cardinals offense heading into Week 1. A number-one pick starting his first game as a rookie quarterback and a new head coach with a creative offensive mind will garner that kind of attention. But behind Arizona's shiny new headlines is one of the best running backs in the NFL in David Johnson, and that creative head coach is going to find interesting ways to get the ball into his hands. The Lions were a respectable run defense in 2018, but Johnson's sheer volume expectancy is more than enough to start him with confidence.

Kenny Golladay (WR, DET)

The Lions' number-one wideout won't have to deal with Patrick Peterson on Sunday, as the Cardinals top-flight corner is suspended. Kenny Golladay averaged 7.4 targets per game in 2018, and was aimed at eight times or more in nine games. The Cardinals were a solid pass defense last year in terms of yards allowed per game, but a large part of that was due to just how easy it was to run against them. There's plenty to like about Golladay as a volume-based WR2 without the shutdown corner on the field to oppose him.

Matchups We Hate:

None

Other Matchups:

Kyler Murray (QB, ARI)

The eyes of the world will be on number-one pick Kyler Murray to see if he can impress at the NFL level the way he did in college. His ability to run gives him a relatively high floor, but we're going to want to see him in regular-season game action before determining whether he's a surefire starter in fantasy lineups. It's worth noting that the Lions permitted the second-fewest rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks in 2018. Murray's ADP suggests you're probably starting him anyway, but if you grabbed a reliable, high-floor veteran later on in your draft, you could be well-served rolling with a more proven commodity in Week 1.

Matthew Stafford (QB, DET)

Matthew Stafford's ceiling in Week 1 could be capped if the Cardinals prove to be as ineffective against the run as they were last year. We like him to connect with Golladay enough times to make the latter a relevant fantasy play, but Stafford's overall output might be hindered by a reliance on the ground game. Stafford is a fringe starter at QB for Week 1.

Larry FitzgeraldChristian Kirk (WR, ARI)

Much like with Murray himself, it's going to be a wait-and-see game with the Cardinals pass offense as a whole. The sky is the limit if everything breaks right, but he's a rookie quarterback in the NFL, and wouldn't be the first one to struggle out of the gate. Moreover, there's a reason the Cardinals had the number-one overall pick in the 2019 draft: they won three games last year. As exciting as the future may be, there are still plenty of questions surrounding this team. Until they begin to be answered, starting any Arizona receiver will need to be with the best-case scenario in mind.

Marvin Jones Jr. (WR, DET)

Like Stafford, Marvin Jones Jr. might be hard-pressed for volume in Week 1. Golladay is a target-share monster, and if the Lions elect to run the ball a ton, there might not be much else to go around in the passing game. He's not listed as a "matchup we hate" due to his long-standing track record as a solid PPR receiver. It's just that half the battle in PPR formats is volume, and Jones isn't staring at a great deal of it in a game that figures to feature the run.

 

Matchups Analysis - Sunday Night, 8:20 PM ET

Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

Matchups We Love:

James White (RB, NE)

This is less an indictment of Pittsburgh's defense and more a vote of confidence in New England's ability to dictate how things go on offense. James White caught 87 passes for 751 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018, besting his previous career highs in every category. The Patriots are going to rely more and more on the short-yardage passing game as Tom Brady ages, and there's no viable reason to expect White not to be a huge part of it from the get-go. He's a high-end PPR flex with RB2 upside in Week 1.

Julian Edelman (WR, NE)

Julian Edelman figures to serve as a fine PPR option all season long, and he's looking at a favorable matchup in that regard to start the year. Pittsburgh allowed the seventh-most receptions to opposing wide receivers in 2018 (215). The Steelers are a tough run defense that should force the Patriots to seek out other ways to beat them. The death-by-a-thousand-cuts tactic of hitting White and Edelman in the short and mid-range passing game a couple dozen times is a tried-and-true means of doing just that. Edelman should see a ton of targets in Week 1, and we know he's capable of producing.

Vance McDonald (TE, PIT)

For all of the Patriots' defensive strengths, they did allow a decent amount of production from opposing tight ends in 2018. This is especially true in the scoring department, as tight ends found the endzone eight times against New England--tied for the fourth-highest such total. This gives Vance McDonald some intrigue in the red zone, considering the Patriots were incredibly difficult to score against on the ground, and they'll be making JuJu Smith-Schuster a focal point of their defensive game plan. Touchdowns are fluky, but McDonald might be looking at a few targets in scoring position on Sunday night. In any case, you likely drafted him as your starting tight end, so proceed as planned.

Matchups We Hate:

None

Other Matchups:

JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR, PIT)

With all the offensive talent set to take the field for both teams on Sunday night, it's tough to call any matchup a "hate." This pertains to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who should be able to get by as a PPR play on volume alone. But New England was a pretty stingy defense against wide receivers in 2018, and now Smith-Schuster is going to consistently get the undivided attention of opposing defenders with Antonio Brown gone. You're starting him no matter what, but he's going to have to work for his production against a tough Patriots Defense.

Ben Roethlisberger (QB, PIT)

If Smith-Schuster is held in check, Ben Roethlisberger no longer has the world-class, two-pronged receiving threat he's been able to rely on in recent years. Additionally, Roethlisberger has thrown 53 fewer touchdown passes and 16 more interceptions on the road in his career than at home. This isn't your garden-variety road matchup; it's the defending Super Bowl champs. The Patriots have had a full summer to prepare for this one game, and they're going to be ready to make things difficult on the Steelers QB in Week 1.

James Conner (RB, PIT)

James Conner is looking at the volume of a workhorse back in Week 1, and should be started accordingly in fantasy lineups. Much like his teammates, he's going to have to earn whatever production he's able to put forth. The Patriots allowed six rushing touchdowns to opposing backs in 2018, the second-lowest total in the NFL. Look for Conner's fantasy output to be the result of heavy involvement in the short passing game, but temper expectations on the scoring front.

James Washington / Donte Moncrief (WR, PIT)

If indeed Smith-Schuster has a tough time getting open, James Washington and Donte Moncrief are among the obvious candidates to see an uptick in targets. That said, Roethlisberger is a gunslinger with a knack for aiming at his top option regardless of what the defense is trying to do. It's too difficult to forecast which one of Washington or Moncrief might be the beneficiary of a long night for Smith-Schuster, and starting either one of them in fantasy for Week 1 is a gamble.

Sony Michel (RB, NE)

The Patriots ran the ball the third-most times of any team in the NFL last year, so Sony Michel should be looking at enough volume to return start-worthy fantasy value in Week 1. The concern is how much he'll be able to do with his touches when he gets them. Pittsburgh was the sixth-best run defense in the league last season in terms of yards allowed per game. The chameleon-like Patriots offense may go to Michel early on, but they'll be perfectly content to shift to a focus on White and Edelman if the Steelers are up to the challenge of shutting him down. Michel should be looking at 15-20 touches, though he might need a touchdown to turn in a big day. The Steelers allowed just 12 rushing touchdowns to opposing backs in 2018.

Josh Gordon / Demaryius Thomas (WR, NE)

Some people still seem to think the sky is the limit for Josh Gordon if he could just stop being his own worst enemy. But for others, it has simply been too long since he actually did anything of consequence on a football field. Demaryius Thomas is coming off an ACL injury, and figures to be the fourth pass-catching option in a run-heavy offense. If you must go the upside route, you can find guys with lower ceilings than Gordon. But neither Gordon nor Thomas are a safe fantasy play in Week 1.

Tom Brady (QB, NE)

Tom Brady's days as a fantasy superstar are behind him, as the Patriots instead rely on his efficiency and a tendency not to turn the ball over. In that regard, look for him to complete a ton of passes on Sunday night and provide you with a high floor if you're looking to start him in your lineup. There's just not as much upside here as there has been in the past, and the Steelers weren't an especially inviting fantasy matchup for quarterbacks in 2018.

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