Week one of the fantasy football season is here, and hopefully, you have a lineup full of set-and-forget studs that you feel great about! Yeah, me neither. So, we all have some fantasy football week one start or sit decisions to make. I took a look around at the landscape, and found some of the most pressing start-or-sit week one questions for fantasy football, and I hope I can help you sort them all out for your squads!
Trey Lance at Chicago
I heard something a little wonky while I was listening to podcasts this week. I won’t name any names of the podcast, but it’s one of the biggest in the space, and they unanimously said that they would start Matthew Stafford over Trey Lance this week. First of all, why? Lance has a much better matchup, his elbow actually works, and he has a rushing floor. The Bear allowed the fourteenth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks last season (and traded Khalil Mack).
Chicago was also just okay on a per-game average without really facing any rushing quarterbacks, seeing only 60 QB rush attempts against them last season (the tenth-fewest in the league). Only two quarterbacks notched more than five rush attempts against them, and Kyler Murray & Aaron Rodgers combined for 17 carries for 78 yards and three touchdowns. Jimmy Garoppolo had five rush attempts for two touchdowns last year, too. All of this combined with Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk tell me that you should start Trey Lance this week.
Derek Carr at L.A. Chargers
The Chargers were one of the less appealing matchups for quarterbacks last season, and they will be (mostly) at full power this week, though they are likely to be without new cornerback J.C. Jackson. Jackson is a ball-hawking CB who last played with the Patriots, but who the Chargers signed on a big-money contract. The Chargers also traded some picks to get Khalil Mack to upgrade their pass rush. But, the Raiders have the big trump card, here: Davante Adams. Adams and Carr are former college teammates who we haven’t yet seen play in the league, but who is a game-breaking talent at wide receiver. The Raiders also still have Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow in tow. They’re full of weapons, though their suspect offensive line might make things difficult for them.
Still, the Chargers have had Derek Carr’s number. Last season, Carr (despite playing an entire overtime period in one of these games) threw for fewer than 200 yards in both games against the Chargers and averaged 15.4 fantasy points in his two contests against the Chargers. This one might be a shootout, or the Chargers could dominate the Raiders. I’m not taking that chance in week one and I am going to sit Derek Carr.
Kirk Cousins versus Green Bay
Kirk Cousins sits between Trey Lance (“I’m definitely starting this guy”) and Derek Carr (“I’m definitely not starting this guy”). So, let’s take a closer look at Cousins. Cousins has quietly been one of the more consistently moderately-high level passers since joining the Vikings. Walking into a situation with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen that transforms into a better situation with Justin Jefferson and Thielen. Cousins ranks fifth in passing touchdowns, seventh in passing yards, and boasts a sub-2% interception rate with Minnesota. So, he’s quietly been one of the better passing options, year over, with Minnesota. The Packers appear to be a positive matchup on paper (second-most fantasy points allowed to wide receivers in 2021), but stud cornerback Jaire Alexander played in just four games last season. The Packers allowed 25 points per game in those contests, though 38 of those 100 points allowed came in one of the weirdest week ones we’ve ever seen (a 38-3 loss to Jameis Winston and the Saints).
Still, Cousins somewhat crushes the Packers when he plays them. He played just once against them last season, but he threw for 341 yards and 3 touchdowns in their one 2021 tilt. In the last two years (since swapping Diggs for Jefferson), Cousins averages 253 yards and two scores against the Packers. So, ultimately, we have a situation where Kirk Cousins looks to be a great floor play but starting floor plays at every position is a great way to end up in the basement. If you have to start Kirk Cousins this week, I wouldn’t be mad at you, but there are probably better options out there.
Dameon Pierce versus Indianapolis
Dameon Pierce won the primary running back role in Houston, snatching it from Marlon Mack, and setting himself up to be the first-and-second down back in Houston. He showed great burst, patience, and athleticism in the preseason. Now that we have that out of the way, sit Dameon Pierce this week against the Colts. Indianapolis boasts one of the stoutest run defenses in the NFL, and with Shaq Leonard looking as though he will be ready for week one, the team that allowed the eighth-lowest yards per carry and eighth-fewest rushing touchdowns last season should be back at full strength on defense. Also, as long as Rex Burkhead and Dare Ogunbowale are healthy, don’t expect him to take over the pass-catching role on the offense, either: he had a lower target share in college than Ken Walker (thanks to Walker Kelly for this info).
Damien Harris at Miami
Despite being in the AFC East for three seasons now, Damien Harris has just two career games against the Miami Dolphins. He was mostly inactive his rookie year, and injuries took his games against Miami from us in 2020. In 2021, however, Harris totaled 190 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries and six catches in his two games against Miami last season. Here’s the problem, though: 40 touches to get 190 yards, or 4.75 yards per touch. That’s extremely inefficient, and mostly stems from the fact that Damien, like Dameon (above), mostly doesn’t catch the football. In fact, his six catches in two games against the Dolphins are twice as many catches than he has against any other team. So, we are looking at a situation where he’s pretty much just carrying the football, and in the last game of the 2021 season, he had 11 carries for 37 yards while Rhamondre Stevenson had 4 for 34 yards. So, I’m guessing that split gets a little bit closer. Because of this, I’m going to sit Damien Harris this week.
Elijah Mitchell at Chicago
You can’t trust Elijah Mitchell all season long due to his five injuries and surgery about 400 days into his NFL career. But, in one particular game, you can most certainly trust Elijah Mitchell. Kyle Shanahan has a propensity for sticking with one guy until he can’t anymore, and that guy, at least for now, seems to be Elijah Mitchell. And, through fourteen career games, Elijah Mitchell already gets a rematch against the team that gave him his career-high in rushing yards. Way back on Halloween 2021, Mitchell notched 137 rushing yards on 18 carries against these Chicago Bears. And, their defense has gotten worse. There’s no real reason not to start Elijah Mitchell this week.
Michael Thomas at Atlanta
You can be of two minds about Michael Thomas. You can go #YOLO and start the man, or you can panic and wait and see what he has in store after nearly two years on the shelf. I’m in the first team, in a three-wide receiver league, you should start Michael Thomas. In any PPR flex leagues, you should start Michael Thomas, as well. Even if he’s dusty A.J. Green, Green still had over 800 yards last season. And if he’s still Michael Thomas, the last time we saw Thomas on a football field, he was the dynasty WR1. He’s a risky play, yes, but the Falcons allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to wide receivers last season, including 20 touchdowns to the position, which ranked fourth in the league. I understand the trepidation over his issues, and that he’s burned you in the past. But, you can’t move on if you can’t forgive. And the easiest way to forgive is to reap the rewards of his 7/93/1 line in week one.
Brandon Aiyuk at Chicago
This one is a bit difficult to measure, as nobody really has any idea what the 49ers offense will look like this season with Trey Lance at the helm. And, nobody is really sure what they’ll look like in week one with George Kittle potentially missing this contest. Aiyuk was a hot sleeper last offseason, but he started off 2021 in Kyle Shanahan’s dog house. Once he wrested himself free from said dog house (the first time he notched 90% of the snaps in a game) he played on a 73 reception, 1,164 yards, 7 touchdown pace, and was PPR WR16 in that span. So, if you are in dire straits, you can go with Brandon Aiyuk. Personally, unless I’m backed into a corner, I am going to play it safe and sit Brandon Aiyuk, and then get excited if or when he goes off.
JuJu Smith-Schuster at Arizona
I don’t know the best way to say this so I’ll just say it: put JuJu Smith-Schuster into your lineup, and don’t worry about it for the rest of the year. You should definitely start JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Chiefs lost Tyreek Hill in the offseason and replaced him with a bevy of deep threats, both veteran and rookie, who haven’t made any waves in the NFL… as well as a guy who had 111 catches for 1,426 yards in his age 22 season. JuJu is clearly the #2 target in Kansas City, and it isn’t going to be particularly close. That means you can fire him up and leave him in his slot in your starting lineup. The Cardinals allowed a league-leading 27 receiving touchdowns to wide receivers last season, and allowed the fourth-most PPR points to the position, as well.
Hunter Henry at Miami
There isn’t much that I like about the New England Patriots’ offense heading into the season, and as such, I am trying to divest myself of as much of the offense as possible. That definitely holds doubly true for parts of the passing game. Sure, Henry could get a touchdown and make me look a fool, but I’m still advocating that we sit Hunter Henry in week one. The Dolphins are a neutral matchup against tight ends, so it doesn’t have anything to do with that. So, I want you to do a thought experiment: think about the last 4-5 months, and tell me all the positive things that you’ve heard about New England’s offense. That Tyquan Thornton had a touchdown in the first quarter in the preseason? Is that it? The offense is going to be a mess, and because of that, if I have another option, I’m looking in that direction, and away from Henry.
Cole Kmet versus San Francisco
The 49ers were one of the stoutest offenses at stymying opposing tight ends last season, allowing the seventh-fewest fantasy points to the position last year. But, that has more to do with the fact that only two tight ends had more than six targets against the Niners last season: T.J. Hockenson in week one, and Kyle Pitts in week fifteen; Hockenson finished with 8 catches, 97 yards, and a touchdown, and Pitts finished with 4 catches for 77 yards. Why am I bringing up six targets? Well, six targets should be Cole Kmet’s floor this week, and every other week this season. The Bears will need to pass the football about 25-30 times per game, and other than Darnell Mooney, nobody on this team really deserves those targets. So, it’s a pure numbers game. You want a tight end to get a lot of volume, and a lot of volume is exactly what Cole Kmet will get. And if it’s a blowout? Four catches and 56 yards of Hockenson’s stat line came with the Lions down double-digits.
David Njoku at Carolina
Any good feeling you might have about the Cleveland Browns pretty much rests on a knife’s edge. And, because of this, I can’t really justify starting anyone in the passing game this week, so I am going to sit David Njoku against the Panthers this week. While I expect Njoku to hang around in the backend of the TE1 ranks for most of the season, I’m just not entirely sure what to expect from Cleveland at this point. Chances are, they’re going to hunker down, grind it out, and hope the defense carries them until Deshaun Watson returns. Because of this, I can’t find myself wanting to start Njoku. I would prefer Gerald Everett, who is widely available, to Njoku this week, for example. Njoku is set to take over the lion’s share of the tight end targets, but who knows how many targets that might be for the Browns this season, and who knows how many touchdowns that might lead to.
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