Week 1 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em

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Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em is geared toward season-long leagues but can also be used for daily fantasy purposes. Those of you that have been reading this for the last several years know that I try to avoid the obvious plays. Anybody can come on here and say we should start guys like Kyler Murray, D'Andre Swift, Tee Higgins, and Mark Andrews. I try to dig a little deeper.


Start of the Week: Russell Wilson at Seahawks – After spending the first 10 years of his career with the Seahawks, 33-year-old Wilson got his wishes granted and was traded over the offseason. Fittingly, he'll make his Broncos debut Monday night on the road in the stadium he called home for a decade. Wilson is coming off the QB13 fantasy season and links up with rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett in an offense that is expected to cater to Wilson rather than suppress him. The rebuilding Seahawks jettisoned 2021 sack leaders Carlos Dunlap (8.5) and Rasheem Green (6.5) and figure to lean heavily on a pair of rookie CBs in fourth-rounder Coby Bryant and fifth-rounder Tariq Woolen for playing time this season alongside veterans Sidney Jones, Artie Burns, and Justin Coleman. Look for Wilson to dunk all over his former team. Denver's implied team total of 25.75 points is tied for the seventh-highest of Week 1.


Joe Burrow vs. Steelers – Burrow was sacked a league-high 51 times last season, and the Bengals made it a point to bolster their front five by signing C Ted Karras, RG Alex Cappa, and RT La'el Collins in free agency before drafting new LG Cordell Volson in the second round. 2019 first-round LT Jonah Williams is the lone returning starter to what should be an improved blocking unit. Despite taking a number of hits, Burrow posted the QB10 fantasy season last year, led the league in yards per attempt, and finished second only to Aaron Rodgers in passer rating. When asked to describe head coach Zac Taylor's offense, Burrow said, “Throw to our horses on the outside really far down the field.” Burrow has one of the best wideout trios in the sport in Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and slot man Tyler Boyd. Last year's Bengals were top-10 in pass rate over expectation, and that number spiked to top-five when in the red zone. When the Bengals are putting up points, more often than not Burrow is the one doing it. Burrow flamed Pittsburgh for three touchdown passes in these clubs' first meeting last season before completing 20-of-24 throws in the second meeting where the Bengals slaughtered the Steelers 41-10. Cincinnati's implied team total of 25.25 points is the ninth-highest of Week 1.

Derek Carr at Chargers – Carr is coming off the fantasy QB17 season last year but was one of the big winners of the offseason with the Raiders hiring new head coach Josh McDaniels and then trading for alpha WR1 Davante Adams to add to slot maven Hunter Renfrow and stud TE Darren Waller. Under McDaniels, the Raiders are expected to hike up the offensive pace with Carr remaining one of the more voluminous passers in the league. He was top-five in pass attempts and top-six in pass yards per game last season and now has a better supporting cast. Raiders-Chargers features the second-highest total of the week at 52.5 points and is a good atmosphere to target when trying to make close lineup decisions. Carr doesn't bring anything to the table with his legs, but I'd be willing to bet on him setting a new career best in passing touchdowns this season, as he's only topped 28 passing scores in a season once in eight years. That's the only way he's going to flirt with top-12 numbers at the position. Working in Carr's favor this week is the Chargers likely missing top CB J.C. Jackson after he underwent ankle surgery a few weeks back. Carr should be locked into two-QB and Superflex lineups.

Jameis Winston at Falcons – Winston's recovery from last Week 8's torn ACL was seamless, and he went through a normal training camp and preseason. After failing to land Deshaun Watson, the Saints brought back Winston and upgraded his pass-catching group with the signing of Jarvis Landry, drafting of Chris Olave in the first round, and return of Michael Thomas. The Saints have a whole new starting wideout trio after Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harty, and Tre'Quan Smith paced the Saints in targets a year ago. New head coach Dennis Allen also figures to let Winston rip it more after last year's Saints were bottom-three in pass rate over expectation last season. The Falcons were 28th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks last season and dead last in adjusted sack rate. Atlanta is now without its top-four sack-getters from 2021 while New Orleans fields one of the league's best offensive lines. Winston should have all the time in the world to uncork some deep shots to outside speedster Olave. Winston is one of my favorite streamers and daily fantasy tournament plays of the week.


Dak Prescott vs. Bucs – Prescott unloaded a season-high 58 pass attempts in the Week 1 track meet against the Bucs last season, throwing for 403 yards and three scores as the week's QB7. Amari Cooper paced the Cowboys with 13-139-2 on 17 targets that night, and WRs Michael Gallup (4-36) and Cedrick Wilson (3-24) saw an additional 10 targets. Instead of Cooper, Gallup, and Wilson, Prescott will be throwing to CeeDee Lamb and a bunch of Just-A-Guy WRs like Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko, and Jalen Tolbert. Prescott will also be without All-World LT Tyron Smith (knee, hamstring) against Bucs coach Todd Bowles' blitz-heavy defense. Rookie Tyler Smith will be protecting Prescott's blind side, likely with the help of a tight end. Owner Jerry Jones has continued to hype Ezekiel Elliott as the engine of the offense. With Gallup (knee) still a week or two away, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Cowboys try and ride Elliott in September. Prescott also used his legs less than ever last season, failing to boost his fantasy floor as 2021's overall QB9. This game has the third-highest total of the weekend at 50.5 points, but Prescott is more of a fringe QB1/2 with a heck of a lot of hurdles to clear.

Justin Fields vs. 49ers – Fields enters his second season with one hand still tied behind his back. The Bears hired defensive-minded rookie head coach Matt Eberflus, who tapped first-time OC Luke Getsy to run his offense. Chicago fields one of the two or three worst offensive lines in the sport and will start fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones out of small-school Southern Utah on Fields' blind side. Nick Bosa might set the single-season sack record in one game Sunday. Establish the Run's line-play guru Brandon Thorn has the 49ers DL versus the Bears OL as the biggest mismatch of the week. The offensive line is atrocious, and the skill group isn't much better behind Darnell Mooney. They'll trot out some combination of Equanimeous St. Brown, Byron Pringle, Dante Pettis, and rookie Velus Jones behind Mooney. Jones has the highest ceiling but has barely practiced all summer with a hamstring issue that also had him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday. The Bears might struggle to score a single touchdown Sunday. Chicago's implied total of 16.75 points is the lowest of Week 1. The only thing saving Fields is his ability to produce with his legs.

Mac Jones at Dolphins – Nobody is starting Mac Jones in one-QB leagues, but this is more for two-QB and Superflex players after I saw managers drafting Jones as their QB2 this summer. Jones' rookie-year OC Josh McDaniels left to take the Raiders' job, and the Patriots didn't name a replacement, instead hiring old faces Matt Patricia and Joe Judge after they were fired by the Lions and Giants. Those two and head coach Bill Belichick are expected to be a three-headed OC. Things didn't go well over the summer, and Jones had a shaky training camp. The Patriots figure to remain one of the run-heaviest offenses, and Jones' wideout group remains thin with DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor. Look for the Patriots to feature plenty of two-TE sets with Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. Patriots-Dolphins projects as one of the slower-paced, run-dominated games on the Week 1 slate with a meager 46.5-point total. New England's implied team total of 21.5 points is bottom-10 for the slate. Jones produced the QB23 and QB25 weeks in two meetings with Dolphins DC Josh Boyer's defense last year.


Start of the Week: Antonio Gibson vs. Jaguars – Gibson looked like one of the biggest losers of the summer when rookie Brian Robinson appeared to steal his job. But Robinson got shot in the leg in a carjacking attempt just before 53-man roster cuts and will miss at least the first month of the season, putting Gibson back in the driver's seat for carries in Washington. He couldn't really ask for a better Week 1 draw against a subpar Jaguars run defense as a home favorite. Jacksonville was 20th in fantasy points allowed to running backs, 19th in run-defense DVOA, and 30th in rushing touchdowns surrendered last season. J.D. McKissic will be active on pass downs for the Commanders, but Gibson should gobble up the bulk of the early-down and short-yardage carries, though there were late-summer Twitter whispers that Jonathan Williams could mix in for some early-down work. That obviously wouldn't be ideal for Gibson players. However, we should expect 15-plus carries for Gibson, putting him safely in the RB2 mix.


Miles Sanders at Lions – Sanders missed most of August with a hamstring injury but returned to practice last week and was a full participant this week ahead of Sunday's opener. Infamously, Sanders failed to score a single touchdown on 163 touches last season despite finishing second among all running backs with his 5.5 YPC average and losing goal-line work to Jordan Howard in the process. Howard wasn't re-signed in the offseason, but the Eagles did add the 6'/215 Trey Sermon off waivers at 53-man roster cuts. We doubt he's up to speed in the offense yet, and Sermon has never put anything good on film in the NFL to this point, either. Sanders is the presumed lead back for Philly's ultra-efficient, voluminous rushing attack. Establish the Run's line-play mastermind Brandon Thorn ranks the Eagles' OL versus the Lions' DL as Week 1's biggest mismatch, significantly favoring the Philadelphia side. The Lions were 31st in run-defense DVOA a season ago, surrendering the third-most fantasy points and sixth-most rushing scores to opposing backs. Sanders missed last Week 8's date with the Lions when all three of Howard, Boston Scott, and Kenneth Gainwell each saw 12-plus carries, and Howard and Scott both found the end zone twice. Philly rushed for 46-236-4 as a team in that one. If we could confidently project Sanders for 15-18 carries, he'd be a cinch top-15 play with RB1 upside. We just have to expect Gainwell and Scott to still be involved to some degree.

Elijah Mitchell at Bears – This one doesn't at all feel safe or fun, but we have to assume Mitchell is over the hamstring injury that forced him to miss virtually all of camp and the entire preseason. He returned to practice August 28 and isn't on the Week 1 injury report. The Niners are touchdown favorites on the road against the hapless Bears in a game San Francisco could win by three scores. It sets up beautifully on paper for head coach Kyle Shanahan to ease Trey Lance in and hammer the ball down Chicago's throat via the ground. The only thing that really causes concern is we don't truly know what Shanahan's backfield rotation will look like. Last year at this time, Mitchell was a complete unknown before popping off in the Week 1 opener. Jeff Wilson got some preseason action and is the veteran No. 2, and behind him and Mitchell are rookies third-rounder Tyrion Davis-Price and UDFA Jordan Mason. Mason was a preseason star and pushed Trey Sermon off the roster. We shouldn't be shocked if we see all four of these guys play snaps Sunday. Mitchell doesn't inspire much confidence, but he's in the RB2 mix against a Chicago defensive front that lost Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman in the offseason.

Melvin Gordon at SeahawksJavonte Williams truthers won't like seeing this, but all signs this summer have pointed to Gordon staying heavily involved alongside Williams. Rookie OC Justin Outten has already stated both Williams and Gordon will be on a “pitch count” all season. Gordon has said the coaches want Williams to be “the guy,” but Gordon is still getting plenty of practice reps with the first-team offense. First-time head coach Nathaniel Hackett came over from the Packers where they were able to feature both Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon as a 1A-1B tandem. That's likely the plan here with Williams and Gordon. Denver is 6.5-point road favorites against a rebuilding Seahawks team that lost All-World LB Bobby Wagner in the offseason. The Broncos should be able to do whatever they please Monday night. They're going to want to get Russell Wilson “his” against his former team, but we should expect a heavy dose of both running backs, especially in the second half. Seattle was 31st in fantasy points allowed to running backs last season, surrendering a league-high 127 catches for over 1,000 yards to the position. Gordon is functional in the pass game and will likely still see his fair share of goal-line chances. This is a good spot for both Williams and Gordon to post top-24 weeks.


Cordarrelle Patterson vs. Saints – One of 2021's biggest breakout players, some may be shocked to be reminded that Patterson is already 31 years old and entering his 10th pro season. Last year was his first real chance at being a rushing-and-receiving playmaker, going over 500 yards both on the ground and through the air and scoring 11 touchdowns. The Falcons don't want Patterson to have to carry that big of a load again this year, however, and added veteran Damien Williams and rookie Tyler Allgeier to the backfield mix while drafting WR Drake London in the first round. Kyle Pitts is also entering his second season with big-time liftoff potential. The Falcons shouldn't need to rely on Patterson as much. The Saints were No. 1 in run-defense DVOA and allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs a season ago. Patterson struggled badly as a runner in two meetings with New Orleans, posting 9-10-0 and 4-11-0 rushing lines, though he did have a 6-126-0 receiving day in Week 9 and a polar-opposite 1-1-0 receiving line in the Week 18 finale. Look for the Falcons to take some touches off Patterson's plate but still feature him in key spots and close to the end zone. He's shaping up as a touchdown-or-bust RB2/3 play with Atlanta implied to score just 18.25 points.

Breece Hall vs. Ravens – The Jets traded up to take Hall at No. 36 overall in April's draft, but he spent training camp and the preseason acting as the 1B to Michael Carter's 1A out of the Jets' backfield. Whether it was for show or not, it's simply impossible to trust Hall as a fantasy starter out of the gates with the Jets missing starting QB Zach Wilson (knee), RT Mekhi Becton (knee), and possibly now LT Duane Brown (shoulder), who was signed to replace Becton in the starting lineup but has missed practice all week. Hall and Carter will probably form a near-even timeshare with the Jets installed as significant seven-point underdogs with Joe Flacco under center. The Ravens were No. 4 in run-defense DVOA, No. 2 in opponent yards per carry, and No. 7 in fantasy points allowed to running backs last season. They've since swapped out 33-year-old NT Brandon Williams for glacier-like 345-pounder Michael Pierce. Drafted over the summer as a top-18 fantasy back, Hall's players are going to have to wait this one out a bit.

Josh Jacobs at Chargers – The Jacobs thing has been well documented all offseason. A failed Mike Mayock-Jon Gruden first-rounder in a long list of them, Jacobs was arguably one of the duo's better picks, but had his 2023 option already declined by the new Dave Ziegler-Josh McDaniels regime only to then watch the Raiders sign RBs Brandon Bolden and Ameer Abdullah before drafting Zamir White and Brittain Brown. The Raiders have made it clear Jacobs isn't in their future, and he's surely not going to get pass-game work with Bolden and Abdullah handpicked for those roles. The Chargers were awful against the run a season ago but made major additions up front to address it, signing DTs Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson and off-ball LB Kyle Van Noy, who is very good against the run. Jacobs will likely have to luck into a goal-line score to bring back RB2 numbers this week. If the Raiders get behind as 3.5-point underdogs, we may not see a whole lot of Jacobs in catch-up mode.

Fantasy football guru Matthew Berry has joined the team and his two shows have you covered all season long. Spend weekdays at noon with the Fantasy Football Happy Hour and then, every Sunday at 11am getting ready for kickoff with the Fantasy Football Pregame. Watch both shows live on Peacock and catch replays for the weekday show on the NFL on NBC YouTube channel.


Start of the Week: Christian Kirk at Commanders – We all laughed when the Jaguars handed Kirk a four-year, $72 million contract in free agency, making him one of the NFL's 20 highest-paid wideouts, but if the preseason meant anything, Jacksonville has pretty big plans for the 26-year-old. In his lone preseason appearance, Kirk was in on 32-of-39 snaps with Trevor Lawrence and was targeted on 38% of Lawrence's throws. He played half of his snaps from the slot and caught five passes in about one half of action. Zay Jones was signed mainly for his blocking prowess, and Marvin Jones is now 32 years old. There isn't a whole lot of competition for targets for Kirk. Washington was 28th in pass-defense DVOA and 28th in fantasy points allowed to opposing wideouts last season. New coach Doug Pederson's arrival should breathe much-needed life into the Jacksonville locker room, and Pederson brings with him a proven NFL offense. Lawrence should have even more time to process things with Commanders EDGE Chase Young (knee) still not ready to play off his torn ACL. Jaguars-Commanders sports a paltry 44-point total, but Kirk should be stapled to lineups as a WR3 with upside.


DeVonta Smith at Lions – I'm not big on Smith for the duration of the season in fantasy, but Week 1 looks like a great spot to play all our Eagles skill guys. Smith paced the Eagles with 104 targets as a rookie and still only finished as fantasy's overall WR41 in half-PPR points per game. New alpha WR1 A.J. Brown and Jalen Hurts are real-life best friends, and Brown was dominating targets in Eagles camp. Smith's ceiling is dramatically lowered in the league's most run-heavy offense where targets are already hard to come by. There's a scenario Smith is third on the Eagles in targets this season, trailing Brown and even Dallas Goedert. But Detroit doesn't have the talent on the back end to hang with any of these Philly pass-catchers, particularly Smith and his speed. No. 1 CB Jeff Okudah is coming back from a 2021 torn Achilles tendon. And Amani Oruwariye was Pro Football Focus' No. 125 cover corner last season. Nickel corner Mike Hughes is a former first-round bust of the Vikings on his third team in five years. Smith is unlikely to see big volume, but he's an every-snap wideout with a sky-high ceiling. Detroit was 27th in pass-defense DVOA and 20th in fantasy points allowed to wideouts last year. The Eagles' implied team total of 26.5 points is the fourth-highest on the slate.

Jahan Dotson vs. Jaguars – Dotson pretty much flew under the radar all summer and could've been had in the very final rounds of fantasy drafts despite being the 16th overall pick in April. Terry McLaurin is the alpha WR1 in Washington, but Dotson is going to be his every-down running mate at the Z spot. Reports out of Commanders camp had Dotson and new QB Carson Wentz striking up a good connection, perhaps even better than the Wentz-McLaurin one. Dotson will get his first taste of NFL action against a Jaguars unit that was 31st in pass-defense DVOA, dead last in opponent completion rate, 27th in yards per attempt, and 24th in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers a season ago. We can do much worse than Dotson as a back-end WR3/4 or FLEX play in Week 1, and he could be a cheap source of volume in DFS.

A.J. Green vs. Chiefs – We're really going to do this, aren't we? Green is now 34 years old but looks positioned to open the season as an every-down wideout in the desert. DeAndre Hopkins is suspended for the first six games of the season, and sophomore Rondale Moore injured his hamstring in Thursday's practice and needs an MRI. It would be shocking if Moore plays Sunday, and we could even see a trip to I.R. depending on the severity of the strain. With those two sidelined, the Cardinals have a wideout room of Marquise Brown, Green, Andy Isabella, and Greg Dortch. Green averaged 15.7 yards per catch last season for the Cardinals, his highest YPR average since his 2011 rookie season. He also said he's more on the same page with Kyler Murray in their second season together after the two very clearly were off at points last year. Chiefs-Cardinals is one of the premier fantasy environments on the slate with a Week 1-best 54-point total. If Zach Ertz (calf) is also sidelined, it's hard to envision Green not seeing 6-8 targets. That would firmly put him in the WR3/4 mix with upside for more.


Drake London vs. Saints – London is expected to play this week after getting in a week of practice following his early-preseason knee injury that forced him to miss the remainder of camp and the exhibition action. He hasn't really been out there enough to form a strong connection with Marcus Mariota, and it wouldn't be completely shocking to see the Falcons ease London back into things on a snap count of some sort. When on the field, look for London to see plenty of Saints top CB Marshon Lattimore, who was Pro Football Focus' No. 12 cover corner last season and one of the premier shutdown players at the position. It's not an ideal Week 1 spot to trot London out there as a WR3 for fantasy. The Saints were No. 4 in pass-defense DVOA in 2021, and the Falcons are implied to score just 18.25 points, the second-fewest of Week 1.

George Pickens at Bengals – I could be swayed to play Pickens if Diontae Johnson (shoulder) is forced to miss the opener, but Johnson has been getting in limited practices all week and seems to be on the right side of questionable at the moment. Pickens was a summer hype piece who balled out in the preseason. He's going to play in three-wide sets, but Johnson and Chase Claypool are expected to be the Nos. 1 and 2 wideouts when in 12- or 21-personnel. And with the Steelers' OL struggles, we should expect Pittsburgh to make heavy use of multiple-TE sets. Pickens can pay off on low volume, but I'd really like to take a wait-and-see approach with the rookie phenom. The Steelers are going to want to lean on their running game, and Mitchell Trubisky is going to be under constant duress behind this swinging-gate offensive front. It's going to be hard for plays to develop downfield when Trubisky isn't going to have a whole lot of time to throw. The Steelers OL versus Bengals DL is one of the week's bigger mismatches. Pittsburgh's implied team total of 18.75 points is the third-lowest on the slate.

Treylon Burks vs. Giants – Burks' spring and summer issues were well documented on Twitter. The Titans traded A.J. Brown for the pick used to select Burks at No. 18 overall in April. Burks showed up to spring workouts unable to pass the conditioning test on the first try due to asthma and the heat. He was then playing with the second- and third-string offenses deep into preseason action and coming in and out of practices with minor “injuries.” Head coach Mike Vrabel wanted for consistency from Burks all summer, and it now looks like he's going to open the year in a full-blown rotation behind Robert Woods and coaching staff favorite Nick Westbrook-Ihkine. Fellow rookie Kyle Philips is expected to get a majority of the slot snaps. The Titans will surely have packages put in for Burks, but the offseason wasn't promising for him, and his fantasy ADP plummeted to the final rounds. We're going to have to see Burks do something on the field before blindly throwing him into fantasy lineups as a WR4/FLEX. This also looks like a spot the Titans can run Derrick Henry down the Giants' throats to an easy win.


Start of the Week: Dallas Goedert at Lions – If I missed out on Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and Kyle Pitts at the top of fantasy drafts, Goedert was the tight end I was waiting for in the middle-late rounds. After the Zach Ertz trade in Week 6 last season, Goedert was an every-down tight end and produced a 41-614-2 line across 10 games before going 6-92-0 on 12 targets in the playoff loss to the Bucs. Goedert was fantasy's overall TE5 from Week 7 onward. A.J. Brown is going to be the clear target-hog in Philly, but there's a very real chance Goedert is No. 2. He's an elite talent at the position and was first among all tight ends in yards per route last year. The Lions were 24th in fantasy points allowed to the position in 2021, and Goedert posted a 6-72-0 line on them in Week 8. All our Eagles are worth firing up in Week 1.


Gerald Everett vs. RaidersDonald Parham (hamstring) doesn't look like he's ready to play after missing most of training camp and backing it up with back-to-back DNPs Wednesday and Thursday this week. Everett was signed in the offseason and was rested along with the rest of the Chargers' starters in the preseason. He has familiarity with head coach Brandon Staley from their time together with the Rams and gives Justin Herbert a younger, more athletic replacement for Jared Cook, who was fourth on the Chargers in targets last season, trailing Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler. In an extreme pass-volume offense, there are plenty of footballs to go around, and this team can support 3-4 pass catchers. The Raiders were 28th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends last season. In a game with a 52.5-point total, we're going to want pieces of this AFC West clash. Everett checks the boxes as a virtually every-down player.

David Njoku at Panthers – Njoku curiously was franchise-tagged and handed a four-year, $54.75 million extension in the offseason. The Browns have never featured him since taking Njoku No. 29 overall in the 2017 draft, but this looks like it's going to be the year we've all been waiting for from the ultra-athletic tight end. Jacoby Brissett played 33 snaps in the preseason finale, and Njoku was in on 30 of those, even seeing action out of the slot and out wide. In a Browns offense still starved for pass-catchers behind Amari Cooper, Njoku could be that No. 2 option and top red-zone weapon for Cleveland. Austin Hooper was released in the offseason, opening up 61 targets. The Browns would be wise to give those to Njoku. When looking for late-rounders and streaming options at the position, we want guys who are going to be on the field and seeing the premier targets near the end zone. Njoku checks those boxes.

Evan Engram at Commanders – Escaping the Giants, Engram signed a one-year, fully-guaranteed $9 million deal to join the Jaguars in free agency. He's betting on himself and linking up with head coach Doug Pederson, who showed he knew how to use tight ends during his Eagles days. Talent has never really been the question with Engram; it's always been about staying healthy. He's missed just two games over the last two seasons and just turned 28 years old. We should expect Christian Kirk, Engram, and Travis Etienne to be the Jaguars' most featured players in the pass game this season. Washington allowed the ninth-most yards to opposing tight ends last year, and we know Engram is going to be on the field a ton.