Disclaimer ... Before you start reading, please understand that we are not in the business of stating the obvious and wasting your time (or ours), so you won't be reading here why you need to start Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson or any other top-tier players. We're here to help you make a decision on players you are on the fence about. Best of luck in Week 1!
Ben Tate has the chance to be a standout Fantasy option this season. He's in a contract year. He plays in one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. And he produces when given enough touches.
There's only one problem -- Arian Foster.
Tate plays behind one of the best running backs in the league, and Foster is ready to go heading into Week 1 at San Diego. He missed the entire preseason with back and calf injuries, but he's expected to start the opener against the Chargers.
|Rashard Mendenhall||at STL|
|Montee Ball||vs. BAL|
|Eddie Lacy||at SF|
|Ryan Mathews||vs. HOU|
|DeAngelo Williams||vs. SEA|
That doesn't bode well for Tate having a monster game, but don't be surprised when he still puts up quality stats. He could even be a Top 20 running back this week, and we like him as a starter or flex option depending on your roster.
The Texans have indicated that early on Foster and Tate will split carries, and this week it could be a 50-50 timeshare in Foster's first game after an extended absence. Tate was stellar in the preseason with 15 carries for 86 yards (5.7 yards per carry), and he could be the one killing the clock if Houston builds a sizeable lead as expected. My projection for Tate is 10 Fantasy points in a standard league, and my colleagues Dave Richard and Nathan Zegura have him projected for 12 points.
We're not saying to bench Foster. Far from it. He remains a Top 15 Fantasy running back this week based on the matchup (San Diego allowed 11 running backs to reach double digits in Fantasy points last year). But if you own Foster, consider using Tate as a flex option as well.
In fact, I'd start Tate ahead of the following running backs based on his upside and matchup: Lamar Miller (at CLE), Darren McFadden (at IND), Shane Vereen (at BUF), Daryl Richardson (vs. ARI), Giovani Bernard (at CHI), Rashard Mendenhall (at STL), Montee Ball (vs. BAL), Eddie Lacy (at SF), Ryan Mathews (vs. HOU), DeAngelo Williams (vs. SEA) and Chris Ivory (vs. TB).
Putting Tate ahead of those running backs makes him a low-end starting option in standard 12-team leagues or a flex option in nearly all formats. It may take a Foster injury for Tate to fulfill his full potential, but with the two expected to share carries against the Chargers, this is a week to trust him.
Tony Romo (vs. NYG): Romo doesn't have Kevin Olgetree this time around, but in last year's season opener against the Giants he had 307 passing yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also passed for 427 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions with a rushing score against the Giants in Week 8 last season. The Giants are beat up on defense, and Romo looks ready to go. Dial him up for another big game against the Giants this week.
Michael Vick (at WAS): Vick looks rejuvenated in Chip Kelly's offense based on his performance this preseason. He completed 73.7 percent of his passes in three games and ran nine times for 73 yards. It's hard to say if the preseason production will carry over to Week 1, but while Vick is healthy he should be able to produce. He might not be a starter in all standard 12-team leagues, but in two-quarterback formats or any leagues with 14 teams or above he should be in most lineups this week.
Colin Kaepernick (vs. GB): I've expressed this offseason that I don't expect Kaepernick to live up to his preseason hype with Michael Crabtree (Achilles) out, but you have to universally start him this week against the Packers. He dominated Green Bay in the playoffs last year with 16 carries for 181 yards and two touchdowns and completed 17 of 31 passes for 263 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He won't be that good in the rematch, especially with the Packers having all offseason to focus on stopping him, but you have to start him this week if you drafted him as your No. 1 option.
Ben Roethlisberger (vs. TEN): The running game is a mess for the Steelers with Le'Veon Bell (foot) out and Isaac Redman -- who missed most of the preseason with a neck injury -- expected to start. That should put the ball in Roethlisberger's hands quite a bit in this matchup, and we like his chances. He's faced the Titans three times since 2009 and has averaged 318 passing yards over that span with seven total touchdowns and four interceptions. Last year, the Titans allowed 11 quarterbacks to throw multiple touchdowns against them.
Robert Griffin III (vs. PHI): He's healthy and ready to go, so why not start him if you drafted him to be your guy? In two games against the Eagles last year, Griffin combined for 398 passing yards, six touchdowns and one interception and 88 rushing yards. We're not sure how much he'll run this week with his knee, but Philadelphia's defense should struggle to slow him down. You also have to figure he wants to put on a display to show he's back at 100 percent, similar to what Adrian Peterson did in last year's season opener when he scored two touchdowns. We're banking on Griffin making a full recovery this year, and you should as well.
|Eli Manning||(at DAL)||Since 2009 Manning has multiple touchdowns in six of eight meetings with DAL.|
|Russell Wilson||(at CAR)||The former N.C. State star shined in final six road games in 2012, including the playoffs.|
|Sam Bradford||(vs. ARI)||Bradford had two touchdown passes in each meeting with the Cardinals in 2012.|
Jay Cutler (vs. CIN): It appears like Brandon Marshall (hip) will be fine for Week 1, which is a saving grace for Cutler. But this matchup is tough against the Bengals. Cincinnati only allowed four quarterbacks to throw multiple touchdowns last year but none after Week 9. Cutler has the chance for an improved season under new coach Marc Trestman, but this isn't the week to trust him against the Bengals.
Carson Palmer (at STL): Like Cutler, I'm excited for Palmer this year going to the Cardinals for new coach Bruce Arians. He should do well in his new surroundings, especially since that includes Larry Fitzgerald. But don't underestimate this Rams defense, especially at home. St. Louis allowed only three quarterbacks to pass for multiple touchdowns last year, including Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Palmer should be able to connect with Fitzgerald, but the cornerback duo of Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins should make life tough.
Andy Dalton (at CHI): This is another No. 2 quarterback with upside making a tough start in Week 1. The Bears were one of five teams (Seattle, Arizona, Atlanta and St. Louis) to have more interceptions than touchdowns allowed last season, and they should be stout on defense again. The Bengals will throw a lot of weapons at Chicago's defense, but Dalton should still have a tough time on the road. It does help that Mohammed Sanu is healthy because when Sanu went down last season in Week 12, Dalton's season went south.
Joe Flacco (at DEN): Flacco should benefit with Von Miller (suspension) out and Champ Bailey (foot) banged up, but I'm still not buying in to Flacco in this matchup. The Broncos have a lot to prove after last year's playoff loss, and Flacco doesn't have the weapons to inspire confidence in Week 1. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce should carry Baltimore's offense this week, and you'll need to see Flacco play at a high level with his new receiving corps before you can consider him a starting option.
Brandon Weeden (vs. MIA): Weeden should benefit with the upgraded offense this year, but it's hard to trust him without Josh Gordon (suspension) for the first two games. Weeden should be able to rely on Jordan Cameron this week, but you can't count on him with his top two receivers being Greg Little and Davone Bess. Weeden will eventually develop into a quality No. 2 Fantasy quarterback, but he's a risky starter even in two-quarterback leagues this week.
Bust alert: Cam Newton (vs. SEA): Let's explain what the "bust" list is first. This is a player you will likely start but has a tough matchup, and we just want to warn you in advance. Newton falls into that category this week with his game against the Seahawks. It's unlikely you're going to bench him, but he could struggle since Seattle has arguably the best secondary in the NFL and has allowed the second-fewest Fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks last year behind Pittsburgh. Newton faced the Seahawks last year in Week 5 at home and was 12 of 29 passing for 141 yards and seven carries for 42 yards. He could have a similar fate in Week 1.
Darren McFadden (at IND): There's going to come a time when -- wait for it -- you won't have McFadden to use because he's hurt. Well, he's healthy now, and he usually gets off to a hot start before -- wait for it -- he goes down. In his past three season openers, McFadden has at least 118 total yards. He has a good matchup against the Colts, who were Top 10 in Fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs last season. And with Terrelle Pryor starting at quarterback, the Raiders will lean on McFadden. He's at least a flex option this week.
Lamar Miller (at CLE): We hope Fantasy owners are aware that Miller has put Daniel Thomas in his rearview mirror, and the Dolphins should give Miller the majority of touches as expected. He has the chance to start for the majority of owners this week as at least a flex option. The Browns allowed 17 running backs to score a touchdown or gain 100 total yards last season, and Miller has the opportunity to do both. Miami may find it hard to pass against Cleveland's secondary, so Miller could do a lot of heavy lifting. This is his chance to shine, and we'd start him if needed in this matchup.
Ahmad Bradshaw (vs. OAK): At the time of writing, Bradshaw was expected to go for Week 1 despite dealing with a foot injury, which kept him out of the preseason. He was running with the second team in practice, but if he's active we'd at least consider him a flex option. If he's out, then slide Vick Ballard into this space because he could also do well against the Raiders. And consider Ballard a flex option on his own even if Bradshaw is healthy. Oakland should present little resistance to this Colts offense, and Bradshaw or Ballard should have the chance to shine. We wish Bradshaw was 100 percent healthy, but even limited he should still be considered a useful starter.
Shane Vereen (at BUF): Anyone who has read any of our draft prep content or has listened to our podcasts or followed our mock drafts knows I'm fond of Vereen this year. And part of the reason is for matchups like this. In two meetings against the Bills last season, the Patriots running backs combined for 361 rushing yards and five touchdowns and nine catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns. That should mean a big game for Stevan Ridley and a nice outing for Vereen. In those two games in 2012, Danny Woodhead had three touchdowns, and Vereen is replacing Woodhead this year.
Daryl Richardson (vs. ARI): Richardson might not leave the field for the Rams this week with Isaiah Pead suspended and St. Louis showing little faith in anyone else in this backfield. The Rams will rely heavily on their passing attack in Week 1 (and most weeks), but they won't completely abandon the run. And Richardson could be at least a useful flex option against a Cardinals defense that allowed 12 running backs to either score or reach 100 total yards last season, including seven in a row to close the year.
|Mark Ingram||(vs. ATL)||Saints have a rushing touchdown in three of past four meetings with ATL.|
|Isaac Redman||(vs. TEN)||Gets starting nod with Le'Veon Bell (foot) out and could be flex option.|
|Knowshon Moreno||(vs. BAL)||If the Broncos get pass happy then Moreno could lead the backfield in playing time.|
|Giovani Bernard||(at CHI)||CIN may need Bernard to be a difference maker in this tough matchup with CHI.|
|Roy Helu||(vs. PHI)||Could be a sneaky PPR sleeper this week working in tandem with Alfred Morris.|
Ryan Mathews (vs. HOU): Mathews was one of the best surprises this preseason with 26 carries for 121 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown. That's as many touchdowns as Mathews scored all of last season, and he's in line for a rebound campaign if he can stay healthy. But we wouldn't trust Mathews in the majority of leagues this week. The Texans run defense is among the best in the NFL and allowed the fewest Fantasy points to opposing rushers in 2012. Mathews is also expected to lose playing time on passing downs, and if the Texans are ahead late in the game then Mathews could be watching from the sideline.
Rashard Mendenhall (at STL): Mendenhall has potential to be a flex option this season when he's healthy and has a favorable matchup. This isn't one of those weeks. He's expected to play despite dealing with a right knee sprain, and he missed practice Monday as a precaution. Our advice is to use caution with Mendenhall in Week 1 since the Rams defense should be able to contain him. The Cardinals did score two rushing touchdowns against the Rams in Week 12 last season with Beanie Wells -- another running back with knee woes -- but don't be surprised if Arizona abandons the run early and starts throwing the ball all around the dome, limiting Mendenhall's touches.
Montee Ball (vs. BAL): I'll stand by Ball as the best running back in Denver this season, but he might not be the best option this week. Ronnie Hillman will likely be the first running back on the field, and Knowshon Moreno should play on the majority of passing downs. This could be a tough committee to gauge early on, but Ball should eventually come out on top. Still, with a difficult matchup against the Ravens and the uncertainty of Ball's playing time, we'd keep him reserved if possible for the season opener.
DeAngelo Williams (vs. SEA): Williams could be the starter for the Panthers all season, and he will definitely get the majority of the touches until Jonathan Stewart (ankles) is healthy to return. But this week we'd keep Williams parked on the bench instead of using him as a flex option. The Seahawks held Williams and Stewart to a combined 37 total yards in their Week 5 meeting last season, and we're not expecting much more from Williams in the rematch. He might surprise us, but we'd rather let that happen on our bench instead of the more likely, disappointing, scenario.
Chris Ivory (vs. TB): Don't read into Bilal Powell being the top name on the depth chart for the Jets this week. That's likely a token honor since Ivory has more upside and was brought in to be the starter. But he has to prove his worth first, especially after being out during preseason action with a hamstring injury. Once Ivory gets going he could turn into a decent Fantasy option -- and potentially a weekly starter -- but Tampa Bay's run defense was stout last season and should do well in this matchup, especially if Ivory is on the bench playing behind Powell.
Bust alert: Eddie Lacy (at SF): Lacy shot up the rankings in the preseason when DuJuan Harris (knee) was lost for the year and Johnathan Franklin showed little to nothing when he touched the ball. He's definitely going to play a prominent role this season, but this isn't the week to start Lacy in the majority of leagues. The 49ers have one of the top run defenses in the NFL, and the Packers might be forced to throw all game, meaning a lot of John Kuhn on the field to protect Aaron Rodgers. Keep Lacy on your bench until the Packers have a better matchup to run the ball.
T.Y. Hilton (vs. OAK): Hilton and Vereen were two of my other choices for Start of the Week along with Tate, and I'm excited for Hilton in this matchup. He was dominant in the preseason with seven catches for 114 yards and three touchdowns -- scoring in every game -- and we hope that continues in Week 1. Don't be afraid of Hilton even though he's technically third on the depth chart behind Reggie Wayne and Darrius Heyward-Bey. He's a better talent than Heyward-Bey, and we should see Hilton playing well to start his second year in this game against the Raiders.
DeSean Jackson (at WAS): As long as Vick is healthy and Jackson seems motivated this duo should be able to produce, and this is a favorable matchup. The Redskins were among the worst teams in the NFL against opposing receivers last season with 18 touchdowns allowed, and Jackson is always capable of the big play. He should at least be considered a starter in three-receiver leagues and a potential flex option in deeper formats.
Antonio Brown (vs. TEN): Brown slides into the No. 1 chair in this receiving corps with Mike Wallace gone, and he should see a bump in targets and production. This is a good week to consider Brown a starter since the running game in Pittsburgh is a mess, and the Steelers should have success throwing against the Titans. Tennessee was among the league leaders with 19 touchdowns allowed to opposing receivers, including one to Wallace in Week 6. That touchdown could belong to Brown in the rematch, and he's looking to extend his four-game scoring streak from the end of last season into the start of this year.
Chris Givens (vs. ARI): Givens scored three touchdowns as a rookie in 2012. Two of them came against the Cardinals. He had one 100-yard game. You guessed it, against Arizona. He obviously likes facing the Cardinals, and we're excited for Givens this season. He and Tavon Austin have the chance to shine this week, and we consider Austin a sleeper. But Givens could be a starter in all standard leagues, and he makes for a quality flex option as well. Givens could have the chance to be the best Rams receiver this year, and he should start off his sophomore campaign on the right foot.
Miles Austin (vs. NYG): When Austin is healthy, he produces. Just ask the Giants. In three of his past four meetings with the Giants, Austin has at least 12 Fantasy points in a standard league. He combined for 13 catches, 206 yards and one touchdown in the two games against the Giants in 2012. His hamstring problems appear fine now, and the Giants have a banged up secondary. All the Cowboys are worth starting in this matchup, and we consider Austin a quality No. 2 receiver or flex depending on the size of your league.
|Kenbrell Thompkins||(at BUF)||Could be a useful No. 3 WR if preseason performance carries over to Week 1.|
|Golden Tate||(at CAR)||He scored at CAR in Week 5 last year and could have similar success in rematch.|
|Lance Moore||(vs. ATL)||Moore had 14 catches for 214 yards in two meetings with ATL last year.|
|Mike Williams||(at NYJ)||If Jackson gets nullified by Cromartie then Josh Freeman will rely on Williams.|
|DeAndre Hopkins||(at SD)||He's over the concussion and could make a splash in his NFL debut.|
Steve Johnson (vs. NE): The good news for Johnson is it appears like he will avoid catching passes from unknown Jeff Tuel with EJ Manuel expected to start. The bad news is Manuel is coming off knee surgery in his first NFL start and will likely be at less than 100 percent. New England also limited Johnson to eight catches for 109 yards and no touchdowns last year, and he will obviously be the focal point of the pass defense. If the quarterback situation were more secure we'd consider Johnson a No. 3 Fantasy receiver, but this isn't a good week to gamble on him in your starting lineup.
Mike Wallace (at CLE): Wallace gets to face a familiar foe this week in Browns cornerback Joe Haden. The two have done battle a lot since Haden entered the NFL in 2010, and Wallace has mostly been on the losing side. In his past three games against Cleveland, Wallace combined for six catches for 77 yards and no touchdowns, including one catch for 9 yards at Cleveland in 2012. This might not be a great debut for Wallace with the Dolphins given his opponent in Haden.
Steve Smith (vs. SEA): Smith is clearly on the downside of his career, but he's still capable of being a solid stat producer when the matchup is right. This isn't one of those times. Seattle has arguably the best cornerback duo in the NFL in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, and they should be able to contain Smith. That's what happened last year in Week 5 when Smith was held to four catches for 40 yards at home despite getting 13 targets. Smith will have better days, and we'd keep him benched if possible in Week 1.
Kenny Britt (at PIT): Everything was looking good for Britt this offseason. He was healthy, he stayed out of trouble and this was going to be his breakout campaign in a contract year. We still hope all of that happens, but he's coming into Week 1 with some swelling in his surgically-repaired knee. He might not be 100 percent, and that's concerning with a matchup against the Steelers. He played well against Pittsburgh in Week 6 last year with four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown, which is encouraging. But based on the status of his knee situation now I'd be hesitant to start him.
Cecil Shorts (vs. KC): Despite what some of you might think, I actually like Shorts a lot as a talent. He's a third-year receiver, and he was a standout Fantasy option last year. But I don't like his quarterback situation, especially this week since Blaine Gabbert will be playing with an injured thumb. He suffered a hairline fracture in his thumb during the second preseason game against the Jets, and he might not be 100 percent for this matchup. Kansas City's pass defense will also key in on Shorts with Justin Blackmon (suspension) out, and I'd only consider Shorts a No. 3 Fantasy receiver this week in standard leagues.
Bust alert: Vincent Jackson (at NYJ): The matchup between Jackson and Antonio Cromartie should be fun to watch. Jackson is an elite talent, but Cromartie really developed into a lockdown corner last season when Darrelle Revis went down with a torn ACL. Cromartie will likely try to shut down Jackson to put on a show with Revis playing his first game with the Bucs. You're likely not going to sit Jackson this week, but he could struggle against Cromartie. The two were teammates in San Diego, so they should know each other well. If you like watching a good receiver-cornerback matchup then this is a game for you.
Jared Cook (vs. ARI): We've been touting Cook as a breakout player all preseason, and we expect him to come out of the gates playing well. This isn't the best matchup for him since the Cardinals were Top 10 in Fantasy points allowed against opposing tight ends last year, but two of the six touchdowns they gave up were to Rams tight end Lance Kendricks. Cook is a much better talent than Kendricks, and the Rams should showcase him early and often. He's worth starting at home in the opener with his new team.
Kyle Rudolph (at DET): The Lions were among the league leaders in touchdowns allowed to opposing tight ends last season with nine, including one to Rudolph in Week 10 when he had seven catches for 64 yards and the score. Rudolph scored in five of eight road games last season, and he should remain a viable red-zone target for Christian Ponder. The problem is when he doesn't score he's not very helpful, but we wouldn't be surprised to see him find the end zone this week.
Jordan Cameron (vs. MIA): The Dolphins were among the better teams at defending tight ends last season with only three touchdowns allowed, and Rob Gronkowski in Week 17 was the lone tight end to reach double digits in Fantasy points against them. But with Gordon out, Cameron is going to see a lot of targets in this matchup, making him worth consideration as a starter. He had a solid preseason with six catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns in three preseason games, but he struggled with a groin injury the past week. He's expected to be fine, and he should be useful in this matchup.
|Zach Sudfeld||(at BUF)||NE tight ends had nine catches, 152 yards and two scores vs. BUF in 2012.|
|Coby Fleener||(vs. OAK)||OAK among league leaders in 2012 with nine touchdowns allowed to tight ends.|
|Brent Celek||(at WAS)||WAS allowed the second-most Fantasy points to opposing tight ends in 2012.|
Tyler Eifert (at CHI): Eifert is going to have a solid career and should be productive as a rookie. But he was quiet in training camp with just three catches for 32 yards on four targets. You don't want to read too much into preseason stats, but we would have liked to see a little more from Eifert before trusting him in Week 1, especially with a tough matchup against the Bears. Give him some time before starting him in most leagues.
Martellus Bennett (vs. CIN): The Bengals started last season by allowing a tight end to score in five of their first eight games. But after that they shut out every other tight end they faced to close the season, including Bennett when he was with the Giants in Week 10. Bennett can easily make a splash with his new team like he did with the Giants last season when he scored in three straight games to open the season, but we'd rather play wait and see then start him right away.
Owen Daniels (at SD): The Texans got good news that DeAndre Hopkins (concussion) is healthy and ready to play, but that could be trouble for Daniels. He should see a few less targets in what could be a tough matchup. In 2012, San Diego allowed four touchdowns to opposing tight ends, but only Tony Gonzalez and Dennis Pitta reached double digits in Fantasy points. Daniels closed last year with 50 yards or less in his final six games with one touchdown over that span. And as you can tell, we expect the Texans to run at will against the Chargers, leaving Daniels few opportunities to be successful on Monday night.
Bust alert: Greg Olsen (vs. SEA): The Ravens were the best team against tight ends last season. The Seahawks were No. 2. Seattle allowed just three touchdowns to opposing tight ends, and only Delanie Walker in Week 16 reached double digits in Fantasy points. Olsen only scored three touchdowns at home last season, including two in one game, and he could be asked to help block in this matchup to slow down Seattle's pass rush. Olsen is going to have some great games this season and remains a starting tight end most weeks. But this isn't a week to consider him a must-start option if you can avoid it.
Colts (vs. OAK): The Raiders offense is a mess heading into Week 1. They just named Pryor the starting quarterback Monday, the offensive line is in shambles and starting tight end David Ausberry (shoulder) has been unable to practice. McFadden is the only real threat, and that depends on what side of the McFadden fence you're on. The Colts DST isn't going to be a starting unit most weeks, but based on this matchup at home they are a good one-week option. The Buccaneers and Chiefs also fall into this category given their respective matchups against the Jets and Jaguars.
Packers (at SF): We all remember the playoff matchup last year in San Francisco when Kaepernick dominated the Packers. The 49ers had 579 yards of total offense. Now, the Packers will obviously be better prepared this time around, but it's still risky to consider them a starting DST on the road for this game. The 49ers should be able to run on the Packers with their strong ground game, and anything Kaepernick does in the air is just a bonus. If you're into streaming DST options then go with the Colts, Chiefs or Buccaneers over the Packers this week.
|Adam Vinatieri||vs. OAK|
|Kai Forbath||vs. PHI|
|David Akers||vs. MIN|
Greg Zuerlein (vs. ARI): The man known as "Legatron" or "Greg the Leg" was one of the better surprises in 2012 when he converted 23 of 30 field goals and all 26 extra points, including seven field goals from at last 50 yards. He made 12 of 14 field goals at home, and the Rams offense has been upgraded this season, which should help him shine. This week, Zuerlein faces a Cardinals defense that allowed the most field goals in the NFL last season at 35. Zuerlein was just 2 of 3 on field goals against them last year, but we're expecting a better performance from him in Week 1.
Alex Henery (at WAS): We're expecting the Eagles offense to play at a high level this season under Kelly, but we haven't seen how his system will translate to the NFL in a real game yet. Because of that, there should be some uncertainty in trusting any of the Eagles outside of the proven stars in Vick, McCoy and Jackson. Henery could end up as a top-tier kicker, but he struggled in 2012 with 27 of 31 field goals and 25 extra points, including no kicks from 50-plus yards. He closed the season with five games in a row with no double digit games in Fantasy points, including a one-point outing against the Redskins. We'd be patient with Henery this year before considering him a must-start kicker in the majority of leagues.