The beginning of fantasy football season has all owners full of hope, yet it can also be frustrating to decide on your lineup. After all, there is no recent track record on which to base this season’s decisions. You can, however, focus more on matchups, a key ingredient in determining who to start or sit in the opening weeks, as well as performance in previous seasons.
Quarterbacks facing teams without premier pass rushers are prized while those without the necessary skill players are risky propositions. And who wants to deal with added risk when bragging rights are on the line?
Luckily, you’ve found a shortcut: Here are three players to start and three to sit in your fantasy football league this week.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals’ offensive line should have no trouble keeping Dalton clean in the pocket against the Indianapolis Colts, and the team also shouldn’t have to worry about errant passes being intercepted. The Colts feature one above-average pass rusher, Jabaal Sheard, and the league’s worst secondary according to the game charters at Pro Football Focus.
Dalton, meanwhile, saw his on-target pass rate rise from 53 to over 78 percent in 2017 when he didn’t have to face any pressure and a similar jump in passer rating: 67.2 to 94.0 last season.
As an added bonus, Dalton is owned in 18 percent of ESPN leagues heading into Week 1 and has more than one week with a favorable matchup.
Vance McDonald, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers
McDonald’s opponent in Week 1, the Cleveland Browns, has the third-worst secondary in 2018 per PFF and yielded a league-high 117.2 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks in 2017 when they targeted the tight end in coverage. Cleveland was also the only pass defense that allowed double-digit touchdowns to tight ends (10) with no interceptions last season.
Like Dalton, McDonald should still be lingering on the waiver wire (13 percent ownership).
Nelson Agholor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Agholor ranked third on the team in targets last season, but the one wideout ahead of him, Alshon Jeffery, has already been ruled out for Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons.
Not only should Agholor get more targets with Jeffery on the sidelines, he was more efficient with his catches last year, too. Agholor led the team in overall passer rating (114.2 compared to 96.1 for Jeffery) and yards per route run (1.6), making him an excellent option to take advantage of Atlanta’s poor pass defense in the opening week.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers
There is a lot of hype surrounding Garoppolo’s first season in San Francisco, but expectations should be kept low in Week 1 of the season. The 49ers will be without running back Jerick McKinnon, eliminating a vital element in the rushing and passing game, and their offensive line will have to contend with a Vikings pass rush that ranks among the best in the NFL.
And like most quarterbacks, Garoppolo’s production suffers under pressure. His on-target rate dropped from 83 to 72 percent and his interception rate ballooned from less than 1 percent to almost 7 percent when dealing with a pass rush last season, causing a similar decline in his overall passer rating: 104.4 to 82.8 when under duress.
Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks
It’s hard to find an offensive line worse at run blocking than Seattle’s. Left tackle Duane Brown and right guard D.J. Fluker can hold their own, but per PFF, right tackle Germain Ifedi ranked 80th out of 82 tackles for his run-blocking ability. Left guard Ethan Pocic ranked 59th out of 80 qualified players at the position, and center Justin Britt finished the season at 23rd overall among 38 centers.
Plus, Carson will have to deal with the Denver Broncos’ new addition, rookie outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, who, according to PFF, had the highest run-defense grade in the draft class (89.7) with the most combined pressures and defensive stops among ACC edge defenders (68) last year.
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
Prescott’s top target in 2017, Dez Bryant, was released this offseason. His second-most-used target, tight end Jason Witten, retired. That leaves holdover Terrance Williams and new addition Allen Hurns as the top options through the air for Dallas, and that’s not ideal.
Williams managed just 1.4 yards per route run in 2017, ending the season as the 64th best receiver (out of 93 qualified wideouts) in this regard. Hurns was better, averaging 1.6 yards per route run, but still average (44th). During the 2018 preseason, both receivers have been worse, averaging 1.2 and 0.9 yards per route run, respectively.
There will be plenty of time to start Prescott during the season, but early on it is better to take a wait-and-see approach.
Read more fantasy football news and analysis: