My brother plays on an over-40 softball team, and because of rainouts, their season finale was moved to this Sunday. He is skipping the game, though. The reason? He’s going to be watching football.
For die-hards like my brother, most of the year is a countdown to this week. Silly as it may be, just about the only thing that would make my brother skip his game is Week 1 of the football season.
(Or a Jets Super Bowl, but come on.)
So for those die-hards — and everyone else, because you don’t have to be a diehard to need fantasy advice — this is the return of my weekly matchups column. Each week, I’ll offer quick thoughts on the best and worst situations for players at each position, which can help you get an edge on your season-long lineup construction and your daily fantasy selections. And this year, I’m adding in one more piece to the equation: my Mismatch of the Week, where I pick my single favorite player of the week (non-obvious category; I’m not going to go nuts telling you to play Antonio Brown).
Welcome to the season.
Mismatch of the Week
Lamar Miller, RB, Houston Texans (at New England)
Miller’s been a disappointment over both of his seasons in Houston, but with D’Onta Foreman opening the season on the PUP list and Alfred Blue being … well, Alfred Blue, Miller is still firmly entrenched in the bell-cow role for a Texans team that welcomes back quarterback Deshaun Watson from injury. I’m low man on Watson entering the season, but even if my pessimism proves warranted, he’s going to be much better than Tom Savage ever was, and he’ll help Miller in the process.
Miller was the No. 8 RB in both PPR and standard leagues over the seven games Watson started last year, scoring four of his six season touchdowns in Watson’s starts. Owing in part to their likely linebacking deficiencies, the Patriots are PFF Fantasy’s easiest matchup for opposing running backs entering the season, helping Miller that much more.
Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets
The Jets played this smart (which is so weird to type) by naming Darnold the starter to begin the season. I’m typically Team “Wait On Thrusting Your Rookie QB Into The Flames,” but with the team opening against the Lions (this week), Dolphins and Browns, Darnold will be well-equipped to look like a massive success to start his career. There isn’t a single part of the Lions defense Darnold should fear, and coming off a preseason in which he was PFF’s No. 8-graded quarterback (min. 50 dropbacks), he has a shot to get off to a hot start to his career.
Jordan Wilkins, RB, Indianapolis Colts
There’s a bit of game theory in this advice. With Marlon Mack most likely out for Week 1, Robert Turbin suspended, and Nyheim Hines struggling mightily in the preseason, the Colts will lean primarily on Wilkins and Christine Michael, who is somehow still roaming around. The Colts face a Bengals team in Week 1 that is better against the pass than the run, and will have Andrew Luck back on the field for the first time since 2016. Bet on them easing their star quarterback back into action, meaning more work for Wilkins. Pick him up this week in your season-long leagues, use him, and then capitalize on the hype that develops afterward by trading him before Mack, Turbin, Hines, and Luck all conspire to render him unhelpful.
Jamison Crowder, WR, Washington Redskins
Washington faces the Cardinals in Week 1, which means they need to watch out for Patrick Peterson, the corner who operated in shadow coverage most often last year (he shadowed in 10 games, tied with three other corners for the mots). The times Peterson didn’t shadow? They were when the Cardinals’ opponents’ primary receivers operated out of the slot — Doug Baldwin (73 percent of 2017 routes out of the slot), Sterling Shepard (84 percent) … and Crowder, who ran 74 percent of his routes from the slot last year and had 55 yards and a touchdown on 7 targets against Arizona last year. Peterson might shadow Paul Richardson or Josh Doctson, or he might not shadow anybody, but he won’t shadow Crowder, and absent that, the Cardinals aren’t that formidable for a receiver.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
You don’t really need a reason to rely on Gronkowski, but here are some anyway. With Julian Edelman suspended, the Patriots are down to four active receivers — Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, and Chad Hansen, who was just claimed on waivers earlier this week. Edelman is a slot receiver, but with Danny Amendola gone, the Patriots don’t really have one of those until Edelman returns. Gronkowski always feasts, but he’s going to feast-feast until Edelman returns.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings
This is probably small-sample randomness, but here’s how Cousins’s Week 1 performances have gone since becoming a starter:
• 2015 vs. Miami: 10 fantasy points, worst fantasy performance of the season
• 2016 vs. Pittsburgh: 12 fantasy points, worst fantasy performance of the season
• 2017 vs. Philadelphia: 16 fantasy points, sixth-worst fantasy performance of the season
That’s three games, all at home, where Cousins’s combined numbers are 74 completions on 114 attempts for 765 yards, 2 TDs and 5 INT. Now he’s in a brand new offense to him, behind PFF’s 28th-ranked offensive line, and facing a 49ers defense that is on the upswing. Cousins and the Vikings will probably be serviceable for fantasy in the long run, but for Week 1, I’d look elsewhere.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
I’m running it back. Here’s what I said about Bell in this space heading into Week 1 last year:
“It’s easy to see Bell against the Browns (who allowed more fantasy points to running backs than any team but San Francisco last year) and think it’s a no-brainer, but I have cause for pumping the brakes a bit. Bell saw no time at all in the preseason, only reporting to the Steelers a few days ago. Long absences often lead to soft tissue injuries after a player is unleashed, and Bell already admitted to being ‘winded’ after Monday’s practice. In a season-long redraft league, obviously Bell stays in every single lineup, but in DFS, he will be one of the week’s chalk plays, and he shouldn’t be.”
Other than the “winded” part — Bell didn’t even report Monday . . . or Tuesday . . . and wasn’t there Wednesday morning — every single line of that is accurate for this week as well, down to the opponent. He was indeed the chalk play of Week 1 in 2017, and responded with 10 carries (his fewest of the season), 32 rushing yards (his fewest of the season), and 8 PPR points (his fewest of the season). If you have Bell in season-long leagues, you’re using him, but avoid him in DFS.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
You probably don’t need this advice, so let’s stay short and sweet: Beckham and the Giants face the Jaguars. The Jacksonville defense was the best in 2017. It’ll probably be the best in 2018. And Eli Manning isn’t very good anymore. Let Beckham sit if you can.
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers
The fantasy industry is eager to jump right back on the Olsen bandwagon after an injury-impaired 2017, citing (in part) his huge Week 15 game against Green Bay, when he had 9 catches on 12 targets for 116 yards and a touchdown. But dating back to the Panthers’ 2016 Week 7 bye (that’s 17 regular-season games), Olsen has:
• Two games with double-digit targets
• Two total touchdowns
• One game with 100-plus yards
• Three games with 60-plus yards
Over that span (remember, 17 games instead of a normal season of 16), Olsen has 135 PPR points … essentially the same as Jared Cook had in 2017. For me, what the 2017 injury did was give Olsen apologists an excuse, a cover for a decline that had already started. He’s still fantasy-relevant, because the tight end position is garbage after the top three, but he’s not who he once was.
Daniel Kelley is the fantasy editor for Pro Football Focus.
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