Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 1

Football is finally back, which means it's time to make some fantasy football lineup decisions.

A lot has changed since Week 16 of the 2013 NFL season. For starters, I got engaged. I’m not sure how that happened.

I also now live in Charlotte, North Carolina. If you’ve never eaten at Bojangles, you’re missing out. Four piece chicken supreme with a sweet tea? You can’t beat it.

But football things happened, too. Johnny Manziel’s now in the NFL, Josh Gordon’s not, and Wes Welker probably doesn’t know where he is. Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton got new deals, and, hey, Mark Sanchez did, too.

The league has six new head coaches, but somehow, some way, Jeff Fisher wasn’t one that was replaced. One of the new guys has Josh McCown as his starter, because, you know, 35-year-old journeymen often win Super Bowls and stuff.

The Broncos receivers have a much different look, the Cowboys defense wishes they had any look, and Eli Manning still doesn’t know where to look. Julio Jones, Arian Foster, Reggie Wayne and Doug Martin are all back, but we’re still not sure if we can say the same about RGIII.

Chris Johnson took his running-into-offensive-linemen-and-falling-over talents to New York, DeSean Jackson sent his running-around-safeties talents to the nation’s capital, and Steve Smith brought his trash-talking talents to Baltimore.

But some things haven’t changed. Sam Bradford is still hurt, this time with a different injury. Trent Richardson is still a starter, despite what we all hoped was an injury. And Steven Jackson may not even have hamstrings anymore, because he’s a walking injury.

People still hate Smokin’ Jay Cutler, love Russell Wilson, and have no idea what to think about Rob Gronkowski. Mark Ingram and Kenny Britt are fantasy football sleepers, and Brian Hartline is still everyone’s favorite late-round wide receiver.

We’re back. And it feels so good.

Let’s take a look at who to start in fantasy football this week.


Start Carson Palmer - The first pick of the season goes to who? Really? Carson Palmer?

Yes, Carson Palmer. Though his season-long numbers from last year weren’t fantastic, it’s mostly because of the way he got things started. In truth, after the Cardinals’ Week 9 bye, Palmer performed like a top-five quarterback in terms of Passing Net Expected Points (NEP). For real.

He’s got Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd by his side in a vertical offense that’s hosting a San Diego secondary which ranked 26th according to our metrics a season ago against the pass. Not only is the matchup attractive, but Palmer could find himself as a legitimate QB1 this season.

Sit Robert Griffin III - This is obviously with a bit of caution. Perhaps you’re in a shallow league and can find insanely usable quarterback options on the waiver wire. If so, go ahead and snag one and plug them in the lineup for RGIII.

Griffin III hasn’t been himself - as if we really know what this means – this preseason. A 46.04 quarterback rating and two picks to zero touchdowns shouldn’t give you a whole lot of confidence, no matter the type of competition. His matchup against Houston is decent, and our algorithms seem to like him as well. But I’m fine with owners gravitating towards other options, as RGIII doesn’t have the type of safety net he once had.

Start Jay Cutler - Everyone hates him, but he’s going to be tough to ignore in fantasy football this year.

Cutler starts off the season against a Bills’ defense that doesn’t look as strong as it did last year, especially after losing Jairus Byrd to the Saints, Kiko Alonso to injury and ex-defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to the Browns.

Meanwhile, the Bears have two towers at wide receiver, a big threat in the middle of the field and a running back who can do more through the air than just about any other in the league. The game has a 47.5 over/under with Chicago as heavy seven-point favorites, giving Jay Cutler a ton of potential here in Week 1.

Sit Eli Manning - Eli Manning’s 2013 campaign wasn’t pretty and, unfortunately, things may get off to a bad start in 2014.

The Giants travel to Detroit on Monday night, where they’ll take on the Lions and their 25th-ranked pass offense – according to our numbers – from a season ago. That would be a good thing for Manning, but like RGIII, it’s tough to trust someone already showing the struggles of learning a new offense.

The Lions have a run-stuffing unit that ranked second last season in terms of Adjusted Net Expected Points (adjusted for strength of schedule), meaning the game will more than likely be on Eli Manning’s shoulders. Do you really want that after his performance last season?

Other players to start: Colin Kaepernick, Geno Smith
Other players to sit: Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco

Running Back

Start Frank Gore - The Dallas defense is depleted, and this game’s over/under is sitting at a nice 51.5 points. Enter Frank Gore, who dropped in fantasy drafts due to his age and general wear and tear he’s endured throughout his career.

But it’s Week 1 – if there’s a week to start Frank Gore, it’s this one. His Net Expected Point numbers were below average last season, but that doesn’t matter as much in fantasy football because volume drives the game. His pass-blocking abilities should keep him on the field no matter how the game unfolds, which is just another reason to plug him into your lineup this week.

Sit Lamar Miller - Lamar Miller owners were excited to hear the news that he’d be starting over Knowshon Moreno in Week 1, but starting doesn’t exactly equate to volume.

Last season, Miller compiled a -17.55 Rushing NEP total, which was 10th-worst in the NFL. His efficiency was over three times worse than now-ex-teammate Daniel Thomas, showing that, while the offensive line was bad, Miller wasn’t all that solid himself.

Perhaps this game gets away from Miami, too, and they’re forced to throw the ball. I’m not sure Lamar Miller sees the field if and when that's the case, as Knowshon Moreno is the superior pass-blocker. Don’t mess with this running back situation until you see things a little more clearly.

Start Arian Foster - A little like Frank Gore above, Arian Foster fell in some fantasy drafts due to injury potential. It’s hard to blame fantasy owners, but in Week 1, Foster could go bonkers.

The Redskins’ front seven was middle-of-the-road at stopping the run last year according to NEP, but with their offensive woes in the preseason, Houston could end up taking this contest. In fact, they’re favored by three points. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t a gunslinging passer who’ll throw the ball deep downfield, meaning Foster is consistently going to be around the football. If the Texans do indeed get a lead, Foster could be in store for 20-plus carries in Week 1.

Sit Trent Richardson - I know you’re so tempted to play Trent Richardson this week (that’s sarcasm), but not only is he prone to running into his own offensive linemen, he’s facing a brick wall of a defensive front against Denver.

The Broncos didn’t see a whole lot of rushing plays against them last season with teams consistently playing catch up, but even on a per rush basis, no team was better at stopping the run, says Net Expected Points, than Denver. Factor in a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw in Indianapolis, and your biggest hope for fantasy points from T-Rich this week will more than likely come in the form of a touchdown. There’s no reason to bank on that.

Start Mark Ingram - In deeper leagues, don’t overlook Mark Ingram against the Falcons. Atlanta’s defense was brutally awful last season, ranking dead last in the league on a per play basis according to our metrics. And while we like them to improve this year, they still enter the season ranked 26th.

Ingram’s looked quicker this season, and is listed atop the Saints depth chart to start the year. He’s not much of a pass-catcher, but a really underrated Saints defense could hold the opposing Falcons in check, allowing Ingram to run loose in the second half.

Sit Rashad Jennings - This is mostly for standard leagues, so keep that in mind while you’re making your lineup decisions. Jennings should be on the field if the Giants go down, which is probable given the current Vegas odds of this contest. Jennings is the de facto third-down back, and the only real pass-catching threat on this team. In PPR leagues, he should be fine this week.

However, Detroit can stop the run with their massive defensive line, and Andre Williams is still a threat to take red-zone looks. This isn’t to say that Jennings is a terrible option in standard, non-PPR formats, but if you’re in a shallow league and can slot another guy in there for him, I’m not against it.

Other players to start: Pierre Thomas, Montee Ball
Other players to sit: Maurice Jones-Drew, Knowshon Moreno

Wide Receiver

Start Roddy White - The Saints are only three-point favorites – albeit in Atlanta – with a 51.5 over/under this week. Last year, only Cleveland ran more passing plays than Atlanta did, and while the Browns are most definitely going to be a running team this year, the Falcons aren’t.

Though New Orleans’ defense is actually pretty solid and ranked seventh against the pass a season ago, there’s a chance this game turns into a shootout. Roddy’s been playing all over the field with Tony Gonzalez out of the picture, and is finally healthy, making him a must-start each week.

Sit Mike Wallace - Mike Wallace could get the Darrelle Revis treatment this weekend, which means you should stay away. He’s a boom or bust candidate each week he’s on the field, and in a new Miami offense that has a lot of question marks, he’s not worth a gamble if you have nice bench options to sub him with. As of today, he’s our 31st-ranked wide receiver for Week 1.

Start Michael Crabtree - I know I sound like a broken record, but targeting the 49ers against the Cowboys is a smart call this week. Crabtree’s ready for a big year, and starting against a depleted defense like Dallas is the perfect way to get things going.

He’s an easy call, but keep in mind that he missed practice on Wednesday, and his Week 1 status is now unknown. Should Crabtree sit, Anquan Boldin is a nice option as well, and may be on the waiver wire in shallow leagues.

Sit Keenan Allen - Like a lot of these “sit” options, this is merely a fair warning. Allen will face off against Arizona’s Patrick Peterson, which isn’t exactly the way you want to start a season.

The one thing going for Allen and the Chargers is the fact that Arizona saw the third-most pass attempts against them last season. If Allen can find a little separation, volume may not be a problem.

But given the fact that he was drafted as a WR1 and is projected to score the 24th-most points at wideout this week, you may want to think twice if you’re in a smaller league. And in daily games, you should fade Allen.

Start Emmanuel Sanders - Everything’s gone well for Emmanuel Sanders over the last week or two. He had a monster preseason contest against the Texans, hauling in five passes for two touchdowns and 128 yards. And then Wes Welker was suspended, freeing up targets and potentially moving Sanders to the slot, where he’d get to stay away from larger opposing cornerbacks.

His Week 1 opponent, Indianapolis, should scare no one defensively. Sanders is a fantastic play in both season-long and daily fantasy leagues this week.

Sit Golden Tate - Golden Tate’s first game as a Lion could be difficult, as they face a Giants secondary that not only ranked sixth against the pass last year, but actually got better over the offseason.

Reggie Bush and Joique Bell could end up dominating this game for Detroit, and obviously Calvin Johnson will gobble up targets as Matthew Stafford’s go-to guy. Tate should catch a lot of passes this year and is capable of breaking a big one, but I’d be nervous to start him confidently in a standard league against a good Giants’ secondary.

Other players to start: Victor Cruz, Jeremy Maclin
Other players to sit: Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins

Tight End

Start Antonio Gates - Last season, no team allowed more points to opposing tight ends than the Arizona Cardinals. And it really wasn’t close, as they surrendered 3.5 more standard fantasy points per game than any other team to the position.

Everyone wants Ladarius Green to be the hero, but I’m still on Team Gates. He’s going to play more snaps than his tight end teammate, and is still the guy Philip Rivers is going to target in the red zone. He’s still out there in almost 40 percent of ESPN leagues, and if he is, snatch him up.

Sit Kyle Rudolph - As I documented last year with Jordan Cameron, the Norv Turner effect on tight ends is very real. And that should – and will – be a good thing for Kyle Rudolph this year.

But this Week 1 game has 17 to 13 written all over it. The Rams, Rudolph’s opponent, also allowed the second-fewest points to tight ends last year, which doesn’t help his cause, either. He’s not a bad option, but I’d rather take the upside with the guy below.

Start Travis Kelce - Everyone’s favorite tight end hero has an opportunity to seize plenty of looks in Week 1 with Dwayne Bowe out, and I’m buying. Anthony Fasano may be ahead of him on the depth chart, but his historic inefficiency shouldn’t scare Kelce owners.

Only the aforementioned Bowe and Jamaal Charles saw 100-plus targets in the Chiefs offense last year, and the third guy on the target distribution list, Dexter McCluster, is gone. If you want a high-risk, high-reward option at tight end this week, Kelce is your man.

Sit Delanie Walker - Walker performed well with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center last season, seeing roughly two additional catches per game verus when Jake Locker was running the offense. But Locker’s back, as is his tendency to throw a little deeper than Fitzpatrick, which means Walker’s season could be more inconsistent than folks realize.

His Week 1 matchup is against a Chiefs team that defended tight ends well last year, and as a result, he’s our 17th-ranked player at his position for the opening week of the season.

Other players to start: Zach Ertz, Heath Miller
Other players to sit: Dennis Pitta, Dwayne Allen


Start the Detroit Lions - As I mentioned previously, Eli Manning hasn’t completely grasped the new McAdoo offense, and could struggle early on in the season. Though his turnover rate may not be as high due to quick, short passes being thrown, Detroit’s defensive front should give the Giants all kind of trouble offensively on Monday night. They’re a great streaming option for those looking for a defense.

Sit the San Francisco 49ers - For whatever reason, folks were drafting the 49ers defense as a top-five unit this offseason. With a suspension to Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman’s knee injury, the 9ers aren’t going to have the same fire we’ve been used to under Jim Harbaugh.

The Cowboys offense isn’t the team’s weakness. Though they may fall behind, Tony Romo and company are capable of putting up points, and Vegas is aware of this, too, making it one of the highest-scoring contests of the weekend. It’s not necessary to plug-and-play San Francisco this – or any – week.

Other defenses to start: Steelers, Jets
Other defenses to sit: Giants, Dolphins