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This article takes a look at players from each of the positions in your starting lineup who have interesting matchups. Not all players covered are your classic sleepers who might outperform expectations. Some are nominal starters with tricky matchups or players who might be starters in smaller leagues, but deep sleepers in larger leagues. Realizing that leagues and roster sizes vary wildly; your mileage could vary, too.
Michael Vick, Phi at WAS
Unless you were one of the lucky few who drafted an elite quarterback and Michael Vick, you’re now looking at Vick as your 1a or 1b starter. Playing in Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense, Vick is a good bet to deliver QB1 stats until he inevitably gets hurt. He’ll face a Redskins defense that finished last season third in passing yards allowed. In week 16, Nick Foles threw for 345 yards, a touchdown and an interception against them.
Joe Flacco, Bal at DEN
After losing two of his key targets from last year, Flacco’s shine from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy has worn off. Dennis Pitta is out for the near future and Anquan Boldin was dealt to the 49ers. He’s viewed by most as a middling QB2 for most leagues. That said, the Broncos defense could start the season slowly, thanks to Von Miller’s suspension and Champ Bailey’s injured foot. Flacco toasted the Broncos for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns in the playoffs last year. Torrey Smith becomes a WR1 upside play if Bailey sits and Flacco offers similar upside in leagues with 12 or more teams.
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT vs. Ten
Like Michael Vick, Roethlisberger is another injury-riddled quarterback that, when healthy, has delivered low QB1 value. The offensive line is questionable and the running game could struggle out of the gate with Isaac Redman starting for the injured Le’Veon Bell. Perhaps the biggest void for the Steelers offense is Heath Miller – who should return at some point before Week 6. Miller helps set the edge in the running game and he’s a competent pass blocker as well. Without Miller, Roethlisberger loses his safety value when plays break down and one of his most trustworthy targets. On the flipside, the Titans struggled against the run in the preseason, but they do have a decent pass rush and they could have Roethlisberger on the run. Roethlisberger also has some good history in his favor against the Titans. Last year, he threw for 363 yards, a touchdown and an interception against them. In 2011, he threw for 228 yards and 5 touchdowns against them.
Brandon Weeden, CLE vs. Mia
Weeden had a strong showing in the preseason and he should benefit from having Rob Chudzinski as his head coach and Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator. He also plays behind a solid offensive line, but he’ll be without his top weapon (Josh Gordon) due to suspension. Without Gordon, Weeden still has some good options with Jordan Cameron at tight end, Trent Richardson as a good receiver out of the backfield and Greg Little on the outside. The Dolphins pass rush is among the better units in the league, but their secondary underwent a makeover in the offseason. Weeden could be a week one surprise delivering high QB2 production as he appears to have made significant improvement since his rookie season.
Terrelle Pryor, Oak at IND
If you play in a deeper league that starts two quarterbacks Pryor is one to consider as a boom/bust pick. Raiders head coach Dennis Allen won’t commit to a starting quarterback yet citing “competitive reasons” but it’s looking very likely that Pryor will get the nod due to his upside and athleticism. The Raiders line is awful, too. Starting Matt Flynn just doesn’t make a lot of sense, while Pryor can at least make plays with his legs when nothing is available downfield. He’s not for the faint of heart, and neither was Tim Tebow, but Tebow previously and Pryor now offer some QB1 upside on their ability to tuck the ball and run downfield with aplomb. The Raiders look like they’ll be awful this year leading to lots of garbage time to pad the fantasy stats for Pryor. He could possibly throw for less than 150 yards, but run for 50+ yards and find the end zone twice and still not make a difference in a losing effort against the Colts.
EJ Manuel, Buf vs. NE
The same script for Pryor above could come into play for Manuel this week against the Patriots. The smart money is on the Patriots to win this game handily. The Bills are hoping that Manuel gets in enough practice this week to be able to start in the opener or they’ll need to turn to undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel. Manuel also has the ability to tuck and run when the pocket collapses, but he also has some solid weapons at his disposal, too. From C.J. Spiller in the backfield to Stevie Johnson to rookie Robert Woods, Manuel should have enough attempts to produce what could be meaningful fantasy stats both passing and running. Of course, he’s raw, it’s a road game and he didn’t get as many preseason snaps under his belt as the team would have liked, but the Patriots also have been among the league’s worst defenses against the pass over the last couple of seasons. Like Pryor, I’d look at Manuel in leagues where you start two quarterbacks.
David Wilson, NYG at DAL
No other player has seen his stock rise more over the last week than Wilson. With Andre Brown sideline, Wilson has a chance to join the RB1 ranks with a strong showing. The Cowboys could be without two of their key defenders on their defensive line – Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer – due to injuries. The Cowboys held their own against the Giants running game last year holding Ahmad Bradshaw to 93 yards and a touchdown in the season opener and 78 yards and no touchdown in Week 8 (although Brown scored and added 21 yards), but Wilson is not Bradshaw. He’s not as physical certainly, but he offers far more explosiveness. Consider Bradshaw a good baseline for Wilson with 80+ yards and a touchdown – a realistic, if not conservative projection.
Lamar Miller, Mia at CLE
Miller has been widely viewed as an upside RB2 throughout the preseason but his outlook is not all rosy. The offensive line might be among the league’s worst units and Daniel Thomas has played well enough to earn what could be more of a timeshare than some pundits want to believe. Thomas has struggled with fumbles and hasn’t been overly productive in the past, but he looked good in the preseason and he could still thwart Miller’s upside to some degree, particularly if Miller shows any signs of weakness in pass protection or with his own ball security. The Browns front seven also could be a formidable matchup on the ground this year even if they finished 8th last year in points allowed to RBs. I like Miller, but in my mind, he lacks the upside that David Wilson offers. He has big play potential, but he could also be bottled up enough to produce a handful of frustrating games with 20 touches with75 yards or less and no touchdowns.
Shane Vereen, NE at BUF
The Bills were horrible against the run last year allowing a league-high 23 TDs, a 5.0 YPC, and 146 rushing yards per game. Switching their defensive scheme might help, but we shouldn’t expect dramatic improvement so quickly. Last year, the Bills were also very good to the Patriots. Shane Vereen will fill the Danny Woodhead role (and then some). Last year, Woodhead rolled up 61 yards and 2 touchdowns on only five touches against the Bills in Week 10 after Stevan Ridley went for 22-98-1. In Week 4, Ridley rambled for 22-106-2, Brandon Bolden 16-137-1 and Woodhead still managed 23 yards and a touchdown on two catches. Vereen figures to get the ball in his hands a little more than Woodhead did. He’ll have some peaks and valleys from week-to-week, but this is one of those matchups where we anticipate some big plays from Vereen and perhaps at least one touchdown.
Eddie Lacy, GB at SF
Lacy is easily the most talented back the Packers have rostered since Ahman Green, but his first game in the NFL should be a good one against a 49ers defense that allowed the second fewest points to running backs last year. Only five different backs found the end zone against them last year (including the playoffs). The good news is that DuJuan Harris was one of them. Harris totaled 64 yards and a score while dominating touches in the Packers backfield in their playoff loss to the 49ers. It will be tough sledding for Lacy, but it’s also pitting strength against strength. Lacy is built to break tackles, carry defenders and fall forward for extra yards. The 49ers also have to prove they are still the dominant run defense that they’ve been after losing NT Isaac Sopoaga, DL Ricky Jean Francois, and S Dashon Goldson during the offseason.
Isaac Redman, PIT vs. Ten
The Titans struggled against the run last year and they continued to do the same thing in the preseason. The Steelers don’t have a fearsome front line to pave the way, but they might not need to for Redman to have a solid fantasy effort. Nobody should expect RB1 numbers here, but Redman is capable as a third down back, at the goal line and he projects to be their early down runner this week as well. LaRod Stephens-Howling may cut into some of those third down opportunities and Felix Jones might split some of the carries, too. Consider Redman a flex running back this week with low RB2 upside.
Vick Ballard, IND vs. Oak
This week, Ahmad Bradshaw admitted that he’s still running with the twos in practice while Ballard continues to run with the starters. It appears like that won’t change between now and Sunday when the Colts play a home game against what looks like the worst team in the league on paper – the Oakland Raiders. If Ballard does indeed get the nod, he could easily produce as a flex play with RB2 upside. Then again, Pep Hamilton might decide to rotate Ballard and Bradshaw enough that neither back delivers anything more than mediocre fantasy stats. It should be noted, however, that in Ballard’s five starts to end the 2012 season he averaged 21 carries for 87 yards, but he offered little as a receiver and scored only once. The downside with Ballard is if Bradshaw enters the game and immediately asserts himself as a more productive option and they roll with the hot hand. Otherwise, Ballard is a good, solid option with an outstanding matchup even if he doesn’t keep the job for the long haul.
Montee Ball, DEN vs. Bal
The Broncos backfield is as murky now as it was when training camp opened. Despite three preseason fumbles, Ronnie Hillman remains atop the depth chart even if he is likely to give way to Montee Ball around the goal line, or to Knowshon Moreno in the two-minute offense. Hillman could end up with the most touches this week, but if I were to start one of them, it would be Ball for his touchdown potential.
Ben Tate, Hou at SD
It seems like everybody is jumping off the Arian Foster bandwagon. His yards per carry have declined steeply over the last three years and he has struggled, it seems, to get healthy throughout the offseason. So count me among the masses when it comes to proceeding cautiously with Foster. A big reason for that is that Ben Tate is waiting in line for his opportunity to earn a big payday next offseason. Tate is by all accounts healthy, motivated and will at the very least see a higher number of carries this year, especially early in the year with reports claiming the Texans might ease Foster into the season while leaning more heavily on Tate. The Chargers were solid against the run last year and the Texans blocking isn’t perhaps as dominant as it was a few years back either. Either way, Tate looks prime for somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-to-15 carries this week and presumably a few receptions to boot. I wouldn’t start him as my RB2, but I’d gladly insert him as a flex/RB3 this week and see how things shake out.
DeAngelo Williams, CAR vs. Sea
Finally the Panthers have some level of clarity in their backfield now that Jonathan Stewart is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Yet the fantasy value of Williams remains almost as murky because Mike Tolbert looms as a goal line vulture when Cam Newton isn’t and we don’t know how much, if any, Williams will be utilized in the passing game – another area where Tolbert is proficient. The Seahawks also have one of the most stout run defenses in the league. They held the Panthers running game in check last year allowing only 25 rushing yards combined between Williams, Stewart and Tolbert. While Williams does provide more upside than a year ago, you might want to wait another week to play the “wait and see” game as far as how he’s used, but also because this is about as tough of a matchup as one could ask for out of the gate.
Ryan Mathews, SD vs. Hou
The Texans defense should be among the better units in the league against the run, especially now that Brian Cushing is healthy and back in the lineup. With Mathews, it’s a guessing game. Will he evolve into the three-down back with RB1 upside that many projected the last couple of years? Or will he continue to be a dove in the backfield who wilts under pressure, can’t stay healthy and loses third down touches to Danny Woodhead? Another bigger concern, perhaps, is that Houston allowed a league-low 5 TDs on the ground last year and the Chargers rushed for a league-low 4 TDs. Things change from year-to-year in the NFL, but with Mathews you might be better off waiting to see how this thing plays out instead of throwing him out there in Week 1 in a decisively bad matchup.
Giovani Bernard, Cin at CHI
When it comes to Bernard, it’s all about upside and potential. BenJarvus Green-Ellis doesn’t have it, but Bernard has it in spades. Until we see how the Bengals use their backfield tandem, I’d be more likely to use a wait-and-see approach. The eyeball test tells me that Bernard should get no less than 12-to-15 touches this week. In PPR leagues, Bernard can be penciled in more safely as a high upside RB3/flex option, but in standard leagues, I suggest waiting a week, especially against a Bears defense that still figures to be among the better groups in the league against the run.
With so many questions around the role of some players and their utilization going into Week 1, I’m going to include some receivers in this week’s article that are widely viewed more as WR3s in standard 12-team leagues. For those of you in smaller leagues, these guys should be interesting to you. For those of you in 12-, 14-, or 16-team leagues, just know that the guy you drafted to be a starter should in fact be started and they also look like they could get off to a nice start this week.
DeSean Jackson, Phi at WAS
With Jeremy Maclin out for the year, the 2013 season is shaping up to be a potential career year for Jackson. With an ADP of WR26, you already know that. The Redskins secondary also have something to prove this year after finishing last year allowing the third most points to WRs. Jackson has scored in four of his nine career games against Washington, too. Finally, I liked what I saw from Vick and Jackson in the preseason. Vick’s ability to escape pressure, buy time and throw the ball downfield with his strong arm all mesh well with Jackson’s speed, ability to do great damage after the catch, or to find open spots on the field when Vick starts scrambling. Pencil Jackson in as a WR3 this week, but I have a feeling that he’ll end up trending into the WR2 territory this year.
Greg Jennings, Min at DET
If you own Jennings, you probably didn’t draft him to ride the bench. With an ADP of WR32, he slots in nicely as a low-end WR3, but someone that you might move into and out of the lineup on a weekly basic depending on your bench strength and matchup potential. This week, Jennings is a strong start even if you’re worried about Christian Ponder’s ability to get the job done. The Lions had a poor secondary last year. Even though they made some moves to improve their talent level they remain in the group that I’d label as suspicious or shaky, meaning I want them to prove they’re not a good matchup before I believe it. Jennings has scored or produced double-digit (PPR) points in seven of his 11 career games against the Lions, so don’t overthink Jennings out of the gate.
Chris Givens, STL vs. Ari
Givens is a receiver that I’ve been high on since mid-way through his rookie season last year when he started making it a weekly habit of hauling in 50+ yard catches. We’re not quite sure how Tavon Austin will be used yet, although I wouldn’t put too much stock into his low utilization in the preseason. Given’s ADP of WR40 screams undervalued to me, while Austin’s WR31 might end up being about right, or possibly a little too high. Given caught touchdowns in both games against the Cardinals last year (1-51-1 in Week 5, 5-115-1 in Week 12) and he’s the guy I’d put money on to lead the Rams in receiving yards this year, and possibly touchdowns, too.
Golden Tate, Sea at CAR
I’m shocked that Tate’s ADP didn’t rise higher than it did during the preseason following the injury to Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice’s mysterious trip to Switzerland for some sort of non-surgical procedure on his ailing knee. Tate’s ADP of WR39 seems low to me while Rice’s ADP of WR41 seems about right. Sure, the Seahawks will be a run-first offense, but that same run-heavy philosophy when coupled with Russell Wilson‘s ability to execute play-action pass plays with precision makes Tate a huge big-play waiting to happen every single week. Tate might very well have the highest touchdown-to-reception ratio in the league. I’d get him into my lineup to start the season and stick with him until proven otherwise.
T.Y. Hilton & Darrius Heyward-Bey, IND vs. Oak
The Colts passing game presents quite a conundrum for fantasy owners. Nearly everyone in the industry views TY Hilton as the superior player both in real football and in the fantasy sense. His ADP is WR28 compared to Heyward-Bey’s lowly WR58. Yet the Colts depth chart tells a conflicting story. Heyward-Bey remains the starter in two-receiver formations with Hilton as the clear No. 3. Pep Hamilton’s offense promises to utilize more two tight end formations and move away from Bruce Arian’s version that predominantly featured three receivers. So, what gives? I’d go into week one looking at Hilton as an upside WR3, even if I personally view him as a WR2 with the rest of the year in mind. He’s a big play machine and the Colts aren’t dumb enough to let him languish on the sidelines. For Heyward-Bey, I think he’s an ideal flex/low-WR3 play. Yes, he drops passes and he isn’t known for being a reliable, consistent producer, but he does have deep speed and an excellent young quarterback in Andrew Luck that will be able to get him the ball better than any quarterback that he played with in Oakland.
DeAndre Hopkins, Hou at SD
A concussion during the preseason cooled Hopkin’s ADP considerably, but he recently passed all of the tests necessary and he’s expected to start opposite Andre Johnson in the Texans’ season opener. I expect defenses to give Johnson extra attention and for Hopkins to make them pay dearly for it, especially in the red zone where his huge hands will come into play. Johnson has never been a dominant red zone receiver and I foresee the Texans relying more heavily on their passing game than in any of the past few years when they were decidedly run-heavy. Hopkins has a chance to exceed his WR44 ADP and I think he hits the ground running in Week 1 with a touchdown catch against the Chargers.
Emmanuel Sanders, PIT vs. Ten
It seems like the Titans defense is one of those perennially good matchups for opposing quarterbacks and receivers. This year that trend continues, at least until they prove otherwise. Sanders checks in with an ADP of WR43 despite filling the shoes of the departed Mike Wallace opposite Antonio Brown. Long-term, I believe that role will ultimately fall onto rookie Marcus Wheaton, but right here and right now, Sanders is healthy and he’s in a good situation to out-produce his ADP in the opener. Last year, Wallace caught two balls for 94 yards and a touchdown against the Titans. In a limited role, Sanders produced 4-43-0. Keep this in mind when evaluating Sanders this week – only six teams allowed more touchdowns to WRs last year than the Titans did and they allowed the third most TDs in the second half of the season.
Vincent Brown, SD vs. Hou
Eddie Royal is currently listed as the No. 2 receiver on the Chargers official depth chart heading into the season opener against the Texans. I expect the Chargers to be forced to the air often offensively leading to a lot of three receiver formations with Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown and either Eddie Royal or Danny Woodhead operating inside as the slot receiver. Brown is my pick to lead the Chargers in catches, yards and perhaps touchdowns (unless Antonio Gates stays healthy). The Texans are stout against the run, but were vulnerable against the pass down the stretch last year with Johnathan Joseph playing at less than 100%. With an ADP of WR42, Brown might be best as a flex option until we gain more clarity into how the Chargers will use him, and how frequently he’ll be targeted. That said, I’d safely pencil him in for low-WR3 numbers this week, if not an upside flex play.
Kenbrell Thompkins, NE at BUF
The Bills head into a tough season opener at home against the best offensive team in the division, if not the AFC, without their top corner (Stephon Gilmore) or top safety and franchise player (Jairus Byrd). Thompkins was among the fastest rising players in fantasy football during the preseason, but his ADP of WR52 still hasn’t quite caught up to where I would currently evaluate him. Sure, Tom Brady will probably pepper Danny Amendola with a slathering of targets this week, but there’s plenty of room for Thompkins to get involved, too. Thompkins isn’t Brandon Lloyd, but he’s probably a decent comparison for how he could be used this year. Against the Bills last year, Lloyd produced games of 3-50-1 and 5-45-0. Feel confident starting Thompkins as a WR3/WR4/flex option this week, knowing that he has earned Tom Brady‘s trust with a rock solid preseason.
Robert Woods, BUF vs. NE
I fully expect the Bills to be in a pass-first, catch-up mode with the Patriots this week. Wood’s ADP of WR68 put him into the WR5 range, but we’re talking about arguably the most polished rookie receiver in his class who caught more than 100 balls on a badly coaches USC team. Woods might only be the team’s third target behind Steve Johnson and CJ Spiller, but he might also be the No. 2 and see a lot of targets this week as the Patriots commit extra defenders to Spiller to contain him. Woods looks like a solid flex option with the potential for 8-to-10 (or even more) targets. If you don’t feel confident in EJ Manuel starting at quarterback, then pass.
The next group of receivers also falls into the ADP realm of WR5 or WR6, but each of them has either a decent matchup or enough upside scoring potential that I’d consider them as solid flex options this week.
Mohamed Sanu, Cin at CHI
Sanu’s ADP is WR60 but I like him as a flex option because of his ability to score in the red zone. He could end up as high as the No. 2 target for Andy Dalton or as low as the No. 5 behind A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard, Jermaine Gresham, and Tyler Eifert. The Bears are certainly strong defensively, too. The ideal situation to use Sanu this week would be in deeper leagues or as a flex option. Once he ascended into the starting lineup last year, Sanu caught fire with four touchdowns in three weeks before getting hurt.
Nate Washington, Ten at PIT
Washington is one of those guys that just won’t go away, much to the chagrin of Kendall Wright owners. With a ridiculously low ADP of WR80, Washington enters the season as the No. 2 receiver opposite Kenny Britt. He’ll face his former team in the season opener and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he finds the end zone or ends up leading the Titans receiver in yards. He’s not the sexy, upside player like many of the others on this list, but he is a steady, reliable veteran who continues to deliver upside against an low expectations. His opportunity is now, too, because it does seem likely that Wright will surpass him at some point this season as a starter and the long-term No. 2 receiver in the offense.
Davone Bess, CLE vs. Mia
Bess gets the starting nod this week with Josh Gordon out for the first two games due to a league suspension. Bess will start, but also move inside when the Browns to go three-wide formations. The Dolphins aren’t a great matchup, but they aren’t bad either. What Bess is good for is a two-week rental, particularly in PPR leagues. If he doesn’t pan out this week, throw him back into the waiver pool and grab somebody with more long-term potential.
Marlon Brown, Bal at DEN
Brown is a player that I really paid attention to in the preseason, which either makes me gullible for falling into the preseason trap, or perceptive for picking up on an undrafted, but highly talented receiver that largely went under the radar for both the NFL draft and fantasy ones as well because he torn an ACL in November of last year. The truth is that Brown has plenty of size (6’5”), talent (a former 5-star recruit and Mr. Football from Tennessee) and perhaps opportunity. I don’t buy Jacoby Jones as an every down receiver, but if you do, then move along and just go with Jones. I think we’ll see Brown rotate into the starting lineup this week with Jones and I view him potentially as high as the No. 3 target in the Ravens passing game behind Torrey Smith and Ray Rice. With Brown, it’s all upside and if you haven’t stashed hi onto your roster with a last round pick, go add him now. It won’t cost you much, but he could pay dividends down the road.
Jared Cook, STL vs. Ari
Last year for the Rams, Lance Kendricks caught four touchdowns and two of them came on his only two catches against the Arizona Cardinals. Cook should be a vast improvement over Kendricks, but he’s far from being a guarantee. He hasn’t really done it yet and he’s been in the league four years, but this is a good situation and he could easily be among the top two, if not, three targets for Sam Bradford in what figures to be a more wide open offense. Trust issues with Brian Schottenheimer aside, you have to go with Cook out of the gate unless you were smart enough to double down early with another formidable player on this list.
Jordan Cameron, CLE vs. Mia
Cameron has a chance to come out of the gate smoking with Josh Gordon suspended for the first two games. He looked good in the preseason catching a pair of touchdowns against the Lions. He’s big, athletic and he can get open downfield for big plays. Brandon Weeden is the key. If Weeden improves as we think he will, Cameron has a chance to develop into the No. 2 option behind Gordon, if not challenge for the 1a/1b status.
Fred Davis, WAS vs. Phi
Davis is already one of the top TE2s going into the season so it’s not a stretch at all to think of him as a TE1 this week or any week. Robert Griffin III is healthy and ready to go and so is Pierre Garcon. The Redskins offense seems primed for a big opening game against an Eagles defense that struggled badly last year. If you like players in contract years, then Davis is someone on your radar. He’s actually in his third straight contact year thanks to a suspension in 2011 and a torn Achilles tendon in 2012. He looked ready to go in the preseason and he is one of the more dynamic, athletic tight ends in the league. Pencil him in as a mid-to-low TE1 option against the Eagles shaky secondary.
Zach Sudfeld, NE at BUF
Rob Gronkowski is on schedule to return soon, but it won’t be this week. The undrafted Sudfeld will start in his absence with a wide range of expected outcomes. The Patriots rolled up 89 points in their two wins against the Bills last year. Both games led to inflated stats for the Patriots backfield, but Tom Brady rarely misses out in these types of games. Brady still threw for a combined 577 yards, 5 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Gronkowski scored in both games and topped 100 yards in one of them. Sudfeld certainly doesn’t have Gronkowski’s talent, but he is a serviceable, if not low-end TE1 option this week who comes with a solid floor and plenty of upside as well. If you own Sudfeld, use him while you can get the most value out of him.
Dwayne Allen, IND vs. Oak
Allen and Coby Fleener are both healthy finally and practicing this week. It remains to be seen which one ends up becoming the better fantasy option, although it’s possible that both could emerge as low TE1s in Pep Hamilton’s offense. This is not the same Bruce Arians offense, and Allen should be considered the better option of the two until Fleener (and Luck) prove otherwise. The Raiders might be a good matchup, if not just because of the sheer turnover and number of new starters, but they ranked among the top eight in points allowed last year too.
Brandon Pettigrew, DET vs. Min
Pettigrew is one of those players that you want to quit every time you see him drop a touchdown or even a catch for a first down. Just live with the fact that he’s about a 70% catch kind of guy. Against the Vikings, he has average almost 10 points per game over his last five, even better in PPR scoring. As the TE15 coming off the board on draft day, you probably didn’t expect to start him in Week 1 unless you have a flex spot or two in your lineup.
Julius Thomas, DEN vs. Bal
It’s fascinating to me how the tight end position has evolved over the last decade or so. In 2003, a total of four teams in the NFL allowed more than six fantasy points on average to tight ends. Last year, Baltimore was the toughest in the league allowing six points per game. It’s primarily because they excelled in the red zone against them. Only Heath Miller and Owen Daniels caught touchdowns against them. The Ravens defense looks different this year, but equally as challenging perhaps will be their task of covering Julius Thomas when their focus is going to be on Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker. Thomas has everything going for him but the sign that says he’s done it. He’s a prime boom/bust pick now that he’s earned a starting job. Big play potential, but he’s no better than fourth in the pecking order for targets.
Brett Celek, Phi at WAS
The Redskins allowed more than 10 points per game to tight ends last year. In fact, they allowed the most points per game overall. It seems odd then that Celek managed only 3-39-0 and 5-42-0 in his two shots against them. This year, the Eagles have tight ends galore with Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey. Celek should play the most snaps because he’s the best block and an adequate receiver, but he’s a bit of a reach until we see Chip Kelly’s offense play out in a meaningful game. Celek is a solid TE2 this week, but he might not grade out that well at the end of the season.
Marcedes Lewis, JAX vs. KC
In matchup terms, Lewis is a poor man’s Jordan Cameron. Justin Blackmon is suspended and for the short term, Lewis has a chance to be the No. 2 target in the passing game behind Cecil Shorts. Much depends on the play of Blaine Gabbert and his broken thumb. Three years ago, Lewis caught 10 touchdowns for the Jags, but he has caught only four in two years since.
Ed Dickson, Bal at DEN
Dickson has returned to the lineup after missing a big chunk of the preseason with a hamstring injury. The Broncos were among the league’s best matchups for tight ends in 2012 as one of three teams that allowed more than 10 points per game (Denver, Tennessee and Washington). Even if Dickson picks up 75% of Dennis Pitta’s targets or just simply improves in the red zone he’ll have solid TE2 value. This week I’d start him on the chance that he finds the end zone since nobody gave up more touchdowns to tight ends than the Broncos did. Plus, they’re breaking in some new parts in their secondary and Champ Bailey isn’t 100% even if he does play.
ST. LOUIS vs. Ari
The Rams boast one of the top pass rushing units in the league. The Cardinals offensive line could be among the worst in the league, so they have a lot to prove in this one. That said, the Cardinals special teams are excellent and they might have just as much big play potential here as the Rams do at home. Palmer could be a sitting duck and the dome could get loud if Sam Bradford starts hot.
WASHINGTON vs. Phi
Chip Kelly’s offense will get a good test in the opener. The Redskins have elements of a really good defense, but they haven’t been able to put it all together yet. The return of Brian Orakpo is a huge step in the right direction, though. He and Ryan Kerrigan will be disruptive for Michael Vick, but if the Redskins secondary doesn’t hold up it won’t matter. They have to contain Vick and make him throw the ball.
PITTSBURGH vs. Ten
This game should be a good litmus test for Jake Locker on the road against Dick LeBeau’s fabled 3-4 zone blitz defense. Locker can certainly make the Steelers pay with their blitzes. He’s a very capable runner but an inaccurate and inconsistent passer.
INDIANAPOLIS vs. Oak
The Colts defense doesn’t look all that scary on paper, but they’ll be at home against a Raiders team that might have the worst offensive line going. The Colts could generate sacks& turnovers, keep Pryor off-balance and on the run.
CLEVELAND vs. Mia
The Dolphins offensive line is a little suspect and the Browns front seven looks formidable even without Barkevious Mingo. It’s a home game and I think the Browns are a little further along than the Dolphins offensively and possibly defensively too.
KANSAS CITY at JAX
The Jaguars will be without Justin Blackmon and Blaine Gabbert is playing through a thumb injury. This could be fun with the talent onboard the Chiefs defense. It’s time that they start to mature as a unit and what a better time than against this Jags offense that is extremely shaky outside of Maurice Jones-Drew.
TAMPA BAY at NYJ
I like the Bucs better in this game perhaps because of the Darrelle Revis pendulum effect, but the reality is that either quarterback could melt down and throw multiple picks in this game. The Jets defense could be better than most think and we all saw Josh Freeman go interception happy down the stretch last year. I’ll roll the Bucs in this one. They have better weapons and the Bucs matchup well with the limited weapons the Jets do have.