You know it’s football season when you are setting your Week 1 fantasy lineup. Hurricane Irma causing the Dolphins-Buccaneers game to be postponed created some unforeseen circumstances for fantasy owners—especially those who spent an early pick on Jay Ajayi or Mike Evans—but just think about it like this: if you win this week then you’ll have one of your best players for 16-straight weeks. In any case, there are some good replacements for Miami and Tampa Bay players, and you can check out our Week 1 rankings to decide who to start this week and every week. After today, my “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down” article will drop every Wednesday and go more in-depth about some players you should start or sit.
Thumbs Up of the Week: Marcus Mariota (v OAK)
Mariota is a superstar-in-the-making, and he has an easy Week 1 matchup with Oakland’s soft secondary to get 2017 started. Tennessee should have all three of Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, and Corey Davis on the field, as well as tight end Delanie Walker, whom Mariota didn’t have when these two teams faced off last season. The third-year quarterback is behind just Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in our first weekly rankings.
Thumbs Up: Carson Palmer (@ DET)
I’ve been all-in on Carson Palmer throughout the offseason and preseason, as his early-season schedule is about as good as anyone could hope. Detroit allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in 2016, and the pass rush not getting any pressure was a big reason why. With defensive end Ezekiel Ansah just recently declared healthy, it doesn’t seem the Lions should be much better this year (at least early on), which should give the 37-year-old plenty of time to find his talented playmakers.
Thumbs Up: Sam Bradford (v NO)
Bradford has been a player I have defended for years now, and Monday Night Football color commentator Jon Gruden—who knows a thing or two about the game—praised Bradford’s toughness and mentioned him in the same category as Drew Brees, saying that he just hasn’t had the things around him like Brees does. That might change this year, though, with a full offseason in the building to develop chemistry with Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Kyle Rudolph, and three good running backs. Bradford is a top-10 play in a great Week 1 matchup with shootout potential.
Thumbs Up: Jared Goff (v IND)
People who think Jared Goff is a “bust” after seven games are out of their minds, and I bet almost all of them didn’t even watch him play. Goff had no playmakers and a defensive-minded coaching staff as a rookie, not to mention the team was relocating from St. Louis to Los Angeles. Now, he’s got one of the brightest offensive minds in the game with 31-year-old head coach Sean McVay, as well as star receiver Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. The Colts didn’t have a strong defense to begin with, and they will be without their best player in cornerback Vontae Davis in Week 1. I think Goff will start hot; Jameis Winston owners should take a look at the Rams quarterback.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Ben Roethlisberger (@ CLE)
Fantasy owners might see the Browns and automatically think that Big Ben needs to be in their lineup, but the home-road splits are a concern for Roethlisberger. Last year in Cleveland, he was held to 167 yards and no touchdowns, and that was just one of the handful of games he struggled in away from Heinz Field. Also, the Browns defense is going to be a lot tougher under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. I think you should go after Palmer or Bradford over Roethlisberger for this week (and keep in mind that Pittsburgh plays Minnesota in Week 2).
Thumbs Down: Drew Brees (@ MIN)
Speaking of Minnesota, Drew Brees has the misfortune of playing the Vikings there to start his season. You probably have to start him, and I still have Brees as a QB1, but the Vikings allowed 11.6 fantasy points per game at home in 2016. Perhaps Brees will feel comfortable in a road dome, but he probably won’t feel comfortable with Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen getting after him and Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Harrison Smith in the secondary.
Thumbs Down: Dak Prescott (v NYG)
If there’s a team that slowed down Dak Prescott in 2016, it was the Giants. New York held him to a combined 16 fantasy points in two games, and have now had a full offseason to pick apart any weaknesses in Prescott’s game. Dak could always do some damage with his legs to make up for a sub-par passing day (night), but it’s probably safer to stream one of the widely-available Palmer, Bradford, or Goff.
Thumbs Down: Andy Dalton (v BAL)
This one’s all about Baltimore’s defense, as I think the Ravens might be considered the NFL’s best unit by the end of the season. Also, Dalton will be without first-round pick John Ross (knee), and was held to just 12.5 fantasy points per game against the Ravens in 2016. I expect a low-scoring rivalry game on Sunday.
Thumbs Up of the Week: Adrian Peterson (@ MIN)
It’s not like Adrian Peterson and the Vikings had a nasty ending to their relationship or anything, but does anyone think AD won’t have a little extra motivation on Monday night when he returns to Minnesota? Peterson isn’t a guy you bet against, and I would assume Sean Payton will give him some extra touches as they get closer to the end zone. The Vikings are more vulnerable against the run than the pass.
Thumbs Up: Christian McCaffrey (@ SF)
I think McCaffrey will make his way onto this list a bunch this year, and it starts this week against the 49ers. McCaffrey can do it all, including run between the tackles, and even though the scheme and players have changed, the Niners had a historically-bad run defense in 2016. After how good he looked in the preseason with the first-team offense, Carolina won’t waste any time getting McCaffrey in the game. He’s an RB1/RB2 in all formats.
Thumbs Up: Tevin Coleman (@ CHI)
Coleman scored 11 times on 149 touches in 2016, and while most people believe that will lead to a scoring regression, I think it will lead to more touches. As I said in my draft version of “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down,” Coleman averaged 6.3 yards per touch last season—or more than David Johnson. If the Falcons are going to be more explosive this year, it’s going to be by scheming more touches to Coleman in space, which should start this week against a stout Bears front. He’s a high-upside RB2.
Thumbs Up: Latavius Murray (v NO)
I would be surprised if the Vikings allowed rookie Dalvin Cook to operate as the workhorse to start his career, and they are at least expected to give Latavius Murray the goal-line carries and some work in the passing game. As stated with Bradford, this game could turn into a shootout, and it’s never a bad idea to play good players in high-scoring games.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Leonard Fournette (@ HOU)
Before we get too excited about Fournette, we should remember that he is coming off a foot injury in the preseason, is sharing the backfield with Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon, and faces the elite Houston defense to start his NFL career. Fournette has the talent to be a matchup-proof play, but maybe not in his first game with some uncertainty regarding his workload coming off an injury. He’s just a FLEX for me.
Thumbs Down: Lamar Miller (v JAC)
Miller could have a healthy workload compared to Fournette this week, but the Jaguars have an underrated defense and will probably stack the box and try to make Tom Savage beat them. Plus, Houston is going to be without holdout left tackle Duane Brown, so I don’t anticipate much room to run for Miller in this one.
Thumbs Down: Thomas Rawls (@ GB)
I’m high on Rawls’ season-long outlook (especially after he was named the starter for Seattle), but he is questionable heading into the season opener—and it happens to be a revenge game for teammate Eddie Lacy. I think Rawls will play, but Pete Carroll probably has getting Lacy a score on his mind, which would obviously come at the expense of the starter.
Thumbs Down: Patriots RBs
It’s anyone’s guess at this point as to who—if anyone—will lead the New England backfield. Rex Burkhead looked really good in extensive action with the first-team offense in the preseason, but he sat the regular-season dress rehearsal and Mike Gillislee was able to convert a couple goal-line touches into scores. Then there’s Dion Lewis, who actually started the third preseason game, and of course Super Bowl hero James White. I think White is the only one with a reliable role right now, but even that might be limited in a four-man backfield. The touchdown potential makes Gillislee a FLEX play, but I think he’s a weak one until we get more clarity.
Thumbs Up of the Week: Sammy Watkins (v IND)
Currently ranked as the WR20 in FantasyPros expert concensus rankings, I have Watkins as my WR3 for Week 1. When he’s on the field, Watkins is undoubtedly a star player, and after a healthy preseason, he’s ready to be unleashed against a weak Indy secondary that will be without Vontae Davis. Get Watkins in your lineup.
Thumbs Up: Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown (@ DET)
I mentioned the talented playmakers Carson Palmer has earlier, and I was mainly talking about these guys (and David Johnson of course). One of my big preseason takeaways for fantasy purposes was that slot receivers against the Lions will be a good target this year. Larry Fitzgerald shouldn’t have all the fun though, as John Brown has as much upside as anyone when he’s healthy. Fitz is a no-doubt WR1 and despite not being a starter, Brown is a high-upside FLEX.
Thumbs Up: Pierre Garcon (v CAR)
The passing attack for Kyle Shanahan’s offense will run through Pierre Garcon, and they’ll look to pickup where they left off in 2013, as the now-31-year-old receiver put up a 113/1,346/5 line when Shanahan was his offensive coordinator with the Redskins. Garcon showed good chemistry with Brian Hoyer in the preseason, and the two should be able to find openings in the Panthers zone-heavy defense.
Thumbs Up: Jamison Crowder (v PHI)
Philadelphia has issues at all three cornerback spots, but none more so than in the slot. Jamison Crowder will get a chance to line up across from nickel corner Patrick Robinson in three-WR sets, and I don’t see how they’ll be able to contain the breakout candidate on Sunday. Crowder is a borderline WR2 in standard leagues and a no-doubt WR2 in PPR leagues.
Others: Kelvin Benjamin (@ SF), Michael Crabtree (@ TEN)
Thumbs Down of the Week: Dez Bryant (v NYG)
Do you know how many fantasy points Dez Bryant had against the Giants in 2016? It was less than zero, as Bryant combined for negative-one fantasy point in two games, catching an eight-yard pass in Week 1 and a 10-yard pass and losing a fumble in Week 14. Janoris Jenkins gave him serious problems, and while chances are he improves on those numbers this year, it shouldn’t be by much.
Thumbs Down: Alshon Jeffery (@ WAS)
Another NFC East receiver with a difficult matchup is Alshon Jeffery in his first game wearing midnight green. Josh Norman usually stayed on his side of the formation last year, but he might move around more under a new defensive coordinator, and Eagles head coach Doug Pederson expects him to shadow Jeffery.
Thumbs Down: Tyreek Hill (@ NE)
As a rookie, Tyreek Hill almost single-handedly won some games for Kansas City; Bill Belichick won’t let that happen. Expect Hill to see a lot of coverage over-the-top and a lot of Malcolm Butler tonight, and after looking uncomfortable as a full-time receiver in the preseason, you should hold off on getting the explosive playmaker into your fantasy lineup.
Thumbs Down: Michael Thomas (@ MIN)
If there’s one corner I’d like my fantasy receiver to not go against, it might be Xaiver Rhodes. I still have Michael Thomas as a WR2 with Drew Brees throwing him the ball, but if Rhodes follows the second-year receiver around, it could be a long night for him and fantasy owners.
Others: T.Y. Hilton (@ LAR), Marvin Jones (v ARI)
Thumbs Up of the Week: Jimmy Graham (@ GB)
Held to a disappointing 16 yards against Green Bay in 2016, Graham wasn’t alone in his struggles against the Packers, as it was a game to forget altogether for Seattle. The tight end lost 20 pounds this offseason, and that always seems to be a good thing for NFL athletes. Graham should be a big part of the Seahawks offense in 2017, especially in a shootout with Aaron Rodgers.
Thumbs Up: Hunter Henry (@ DEN)
Last year, the Chargers beat the Broncos in primetime by attacking them with rookie tight end Hunter Henry, which led to six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. Now entering his second season, Henry is ready to breakout, and attacking Denver over the middle is still the way to beat them. Henry is an easy top-10 play for me.
Thumbs Up: Delanie Walker (v OAK)
Oakland sometimes declines to cover tight ends (and receivers), but Walker didn’t get a chance to face them in 2016 as he sat out with an injury. Showing no signs of slowing down at age-33, Walker is a solid TE1 for Week 1 against the Raiders soft defense.
Thumbs Up: Evan Engram (@ DAL)
Dallas has some new pieces on defense this year, including athletic linebacker Jaylon Smith, but they were worst in the league at defending opposing tight ends last season, and with Rod Marinelli still in charge of the defense, they will probably be weak against tight ends in 2017, too. Evan Engram has some nice upside in his NFL debut.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Jordan Reed (v PHI)
Reed was out for one game and very limited in another against the Eagles last season, but he was held to one catch for 10 yards, and Philly projects to be stingy against tight ends again in 2017 (they were second-best last season). Reed is still my TE5 this week, and you probably have to still start him, but expectations should be tempered.
Thumbs Down: Eric Ebron (v ARI)
The team that was better than the Eagles at defending tight ends last year? Eric Ebron faces them in Week 1. The Cardinals have an elite defense and shouldn’t allow much production to opposing tight ends; you can do better than Ebron to start things off.
Thumbs Down: Martellus Bennett (v SEA)
The Seahawks, too, were really good against opposing tight ends in 2016, and they basically have everyone back this year. Martellus Bennett is someone who I think will be a touchdown-dependent option all year, and Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams are much better bets for scores in Week 1 and beyond.
Thumbs Down: Austin Hooper (@ CHI)
Jerrell Freeman is one of the best cover linebackers in the NFL, and the Bears are really tough against tight ends when he’s in the lineup. Austin Hooper is a breakout pick for some, but I have him as a low-end TE2 option this week, and that’s after taking Cameron Brate and Julius Thomas out of my rankings ahead of him.
Thumbs Up of the Week: Pittsburgh Steelers (@ CLE)
DeShone Kizer and the Browns will be a big-time target for fantasy defense streamers in 2017, and Pittsburgh gets first crack at them. Kizer was surprisingly proclaimed the starter after going 6/18 for 93 yards and one interception in the team’s third preseason game, and he simply doesn’t look ready to lead an NFL offense after he struggled to win games at Notre Dame.
Thumbs Up: Los Angeles Rams (v IND)
For as long as Andrew Luck is out, the Colts will also be a target for defense streamers. Wade Phillip’s Rams defense should have no problems stopping the run and making Scott Tolzien beat them. Los Angeles has a lot of turnover upside in Week 1.
Thumbs Up: Jacksonville Jaguars (@ HOU)
The Texans are my #1 defense for this week, and in a projected low-scoring game, Jacksonville sits at #6. The Jaguars have two shutdown corners, athletic linebackers, and a strong front, which will be facing the Texans without left tackle Duane Brown.
Thumbs Up: Baltimore Ravens (@ CIN)
This comes down to the Ravens simply having an elite defense. As stated, I think Baltimore might be considered the league’s best group at year’s end, and the Bengals not giving rookie Joe Mixon the starting job and workhorse role makes their offense a lot less imposing, especially since first-round pick John Ross (knee) isn’t going to play. Even on the road, Baltimore is worth starting.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Kansas City Chiefs (@ NE)
It’s pretty simple: bench defenses against Tom Brady, especially in Foxborough.
Thumbs Down: Seattle Seahawks (@ GB)
The same is true for anyone facing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Green Bay.
Thumbs Down: Minnesota Vikings (v NO)
And Drew Brees. The Vikings are at home, though, so maybe you can get away with it, but I’d much rather stream someone. Also, it was just the preseason, but the 49ers moved the ball well against Minnesota’s first-team defense, so keep that in mind.
Thumbs Down: Arizona Cardinals (@ DET)
I still have Arizona as a starting option (10th in our rankings), but I don’t see a ton of upside on the road against the Lions conservative attack. If the Steelers or Rams are available, it’s worth picking them up and starting them for Week 1.