UPDATE: 11:00 a.m. Saturday
We’re about 25 hours from the kickoff of the early slate of games, during which time we expect Kansas City’s Kadarius Toney to drop about a dozen more passes.
The biggest injury news in the past couple of days involves Green Bay WR Christian Watson, who will miss the opener in Chicago because of an injured hamstring. HIs teammate Romeo Doubs is listed as questionable, also because of a bad hammy. Those injuries make QB Jordan Love even more unstartable, if that’s possible.
Carolina WR D.J. Chark will also miss his Panthers debut, which is bad news since former Viking Adam Thielen is listed as questionable.
Other questionable players to keep an eye on in the coming hours include three top tight ends (Giants’ Darren Waller, Ravens’ Mark Andrews, 49ers’ George Kittle), New England RB Rhamondre Stevenson, and Denver wideout Jerry Jeudy and RB Javonte Williams.
ORIGINAL POST: 9:00 a.m. Wednesday
When the wheels of the NFL’s transfer portal stopped spinning this summer, a number of veteran standouts were wearing new colors.
Most prominent among them was Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay icon turned malcontent who publicly negotiated his way to the New York Jets. And the quarterback is already in midseason form, preening for the cameras at the U.S. Open, cheering for his favorite unvaxxed tennis star, Novak Djokovic.
But if Rodgers is going to return to his MVP form, it certainly won’t be Monday night against one of the NFL’s top defenses: the Buffalo Bills. You won’t find him in the top 12 of the Week 1 rankings anywhere. Nor should you.
Other strangers in strange lands could fare much better in their debuts this week:
Darren Waller (Giants TE) – Fantasy mavens have been waiting for the former Raiders standout to become a top-four tight end, and he’s ranked that way for his Big Blue debut against Dallas. Good chance he becomes Daniel Jones’ favorite red-zone target, and a good chance he gets his first Big Apple touchdown Sunday night.
D.J. Moore (Bears WR) – Chicago’s key acquisition in its trade of the No. 1 draft pick, Moore looks to have much better touchdown luck than he had in Carolina. The Packers had a top-six pass defense last season and will test the new Justin Fields-Moore combination. But Moore has huge upside this season, and in Sunday’s opener at Soldier Field.
Miles Sanders (Panthers RB) – The former Eagle will face a porous Atlanta defense in his first game with Carolina, assuming his questionable status (groin) is only temporary. While he was fifth in the league in rushing last season, that was when he was behind the NFL’s best offensive line. He doesn’t have that in Charlotte.
DeAndre Hopkins (Titans WR) – The veteran making his Tennessee debut had only three TDs in his very abbreviated final season in Arizona. You cannot expect much more Sunday as he’s stuck in a run-first, run-second, run-third Titans offense. And did you know New Orleans had the league’s second-best pass defense last season? Neither did Hopkins.
D’Andre Swift (Eagles RB) – Last year, Swift had 18 touches for 174 yards and a TD in Week 1. He never came close to those numbers the rest of the season, which is why he’s no longer in Detroit. But he’s with the NFC champs now, in a crowded backfield. He needs a strong start Sunday in New England, and we’re betting he’s going to have one.
The best newcomer in Week 1? Could be New Orleans QB David Carr, who gets to face Tennessee’s league-worst pass defense in the Superdome. … Speaking of the Saints, RB Jamaal Williams will be No. 1 with Alvin Kamara suspended and should resume his prolific scoring from Detroit 2022. … Running backs we like in Week 1 include Rachaad White for the run-heavy Buccaneers against the Vikings and Washington’s Brian Robinson against the lowly Cardinals …. The holdouts of star pass rushers Chris Jones and Nick Bosa will be a boost for Detroit QB Jared Goff and Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett, respectively. … Cleveland is counting on WR Elijah Moore to emerge as a Deshaun Watson favorite. He may.
No matter how much draft capital you spent on Anthony Richardson, don’t even think of starting him against the Jaguars in his debut in Indy. … Same goes for Cleveland QB Deshaun Watson against the hungry Bengals. … Running backs who may struggle out of the gate include Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris against the Niners and Houston’s Dameon Pierce vs. the Ravens. … We’d wait to start Vikings rookie WR Jordan Addison until we see how healthy he is and where he fits in the Minnesota attack. … And we have no particular confidence in anyone playing in today’s Raiders-Broncos opener.
The Rams were counting on all-world WR Cooper Kupp to lead them back to respectability, but he has been in Minnesota seeing a specialist for his hamstring injury, so it’s very unlikely he’ll be at full speed, if he plays at all, in Seattle. …Chiefs TE Travis Kelce sounds quite doubtful for Thursday night’s opener against Detroit. .. Injuries are also expected to limit the effectiveness of two other top WRs: Washington’s Terry McLaurin and Denver’s Jerry Jeudy. … Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow is expected back after his training camp scare. … Standouts with a questionable designation include Jets RB Breece Hall and a slew of pass catchers: Miami’s Jaylen Waddle, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, the VIkings’ T.J. Hockenson, San Francisco’s George Kittle, Baltimore’s Mark Andrews, the Jets’ Allen Lazard, the Packers’ Romeo Doubs and the Giants’ Kadarius Toney.
The deepest sleeper
The Colts are a mess this year, in part, because of the uncertain status of Jonathan Taylor, who starts the season on the physically unable to perform list. So just who will be carrying the ball most successfully for Indianapolis when they face Jacksonville? We’d make a longshot wager on rookie Evan Hull, the Maple Grove standout who was Northwestern’s lone star the past two seasons. He tallied 3,268 yards and 22 TDs in Evanston, and we’re guessing he might put up surprisingly good numbers this week against Duval County.
The Thursday pick
Lions at Chiefs (-6½):
Pick: Chiefs by 7
We’ll be updating our column, based on the latest injuries and innuendo, right up until Sunday’s kickoff. Go to TwinCities.com/theloop.