Week 1 Primer: Analyzing All 15 Games (Fantasy Football)
For those who have been following me for a long time, you probably know that last year I hosted my own podcast. If you listened, you’d also know that it was called “Process Over Results.” My wife knew what the title of the show was, but for some reason, she failed to tell me that she didn’t like it all that much. When I told her that I was going to be doing that podcast in article form this year and that I was going to name it Process Over Results, she decided that this was the time to express her opinion on the subject.
“I didn’t want to tell you this last year, but I think it’s kind of a dumb name,” she says. Unbeknownst to me, I was taken aback by this. “I think you should re-name it,” she said. At that moment, I felt the need to explain to her what it meant, and let me say that if she didn’t understand what it meant, it’s possible that you didn’t, either.
When I started writing about fantasy football, I did it because there was a void in rankings. There was just something that felt empty about them to me. It’s like seeing a picture of a man or woman and deciding whether or not you’d be able to marry them simply based on that picture. It’s impossible. You have to get to know them, live with them, and heck, even meet their parents. Don’t take that word for word, but you get the point.
I started writing about the top 30 running backs and wide receivers, while touching on the top 15 quarterbacks every week. I wrote a paragraph on every player, not only helping my readers, but helping myself understand why I felt the way I did about certain players. This was known as the ‘process.’ You eventually get to the point where you’re okay even if it doesn’t pan out, because you know the process was good, though the result wasn’t optimal. This is where the name “Process Over Results” came from. I will note that Evan Silva from Rotoworld does a phenomenal job of this as well, highlighting the reasoning in his weekly matchups column. There’s a reason he’s among the best in the industry.
With all that being said, the FantasyPros brass agreed with my wife, saying that the name wasn’t ideal (I’m putting this nicely). That’s okay, because the content is what makes the name cool, not the other way around. After all, my favorite band is Korn, and for the record, that was a dumb name to go with, but the music made it cool. The wife wins, this time.
So here we are, on the eve of the 2017 fantasy football season, staring at our teams with decisions to make, because games need to be won and feelings need to be hurt. Each and every week, “The Primer” will be here for you, where we’ll dive into every game, talking about every fantasy relevant player. Once done reading it each week, you should have a better idea as to how the game should go, as well as an idea as to who you should be targeting in DFS. All games are in order of the time they are taking place, with the Thursday game first and Monday night game last. So, sit back, strap it down, and let’s talk some football.
*Keep in mind that the game lines and totals may change as the game approaches. All of my up-to-date rankings can be found right here.
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (-9.5) Over/Under: 40.5
The Jets are not a very good football team, but neither are the Bills. This is likely going to be an ugly game, but one that may provide more fantasy scoring than you thought. The Bills lost their top two cornerbacks, top linebacker, and one of their starting safeties this offseason, making their defense less-than-intimidating. Sure, they brought in Micah Hyde to help at cornerback and safety and drafted a few players, but this defense is not likely to be very good. This is also a road game for the Jets, where they allowed over 28 points per game last year. But seeing the Bills as the biggest favorite of the week is what I would call puzzling.
QBs: I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Tyrod Taylor is going to be just fine without Sammy Watkins, but he most definitely has appeal in this game. There were six games in 2016 where the Jets allowed three or more passing touchdowns and Taylor was one of them. In fact, they allowed 12 passing touchdowns on the last 99 pass attempts they faced by a team’s starting quarterback. With how many pieces he’s lost on offense, it’s probably not ideal to play him in cash games, but he has appeal. Josh McCown is playing for pride at this point, as we know one of the other quarterbacks on the roster (Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg) will take over at some point, but he is the man behind the wheel for now. You’re not going to play McCown in anything outside of maybe a tournament, but he’s competent enough to get his wide receivers the ball.
RBs: This is where you attack this game, as both starting running backs are fantastic plays. LeSean McCoy may be putting on a display for potential trade suitors, despite the Bills saying otherwise. The Jets were a wildly inconsistent team last year and it showed in their games against McCoy. There were three running backs who were able to eclipse 110 rushing yards last year, but McCoy was held to just 59 yards on 15 carries in their first meeting and was hurt after totaling just 10 yards on five carries in their second meeting. The best part about McCoy, though, is that he will get it done in the passing game if he fails on the ground, as the Jets allowed seven running backs to top 30 receiving yards last year. Bilal Powell is the other one you want to play, as he destroyed a better Bills defense for 137 total yards and a touchdown in the final game of 2016. And it’s also important to note that the Bills defense last year allowed three 200-yard rushing games in 2016. The Jets made it clear they were shopping Matt Forte and even debated cutting him, which gives you a sign of how much he is or isn’t going to be involved. I’d be shocked if Powell finished this game with fewer than 100 total yards, making him a borderline RB1, especially in PPR leagues. Forte is just an RB4 who should be treated as an emergency play.
WRs: It’s unclear at this point whether or not Jordan Matthews will make his Bills debut, which tells me that even if he does suit up, he’ll do so at less than 100 percent, in a new offense, with a quarterback that he’s essentially never practiced with. Avoid him if possible. Both Zay Jones and Andre Holmes make for interesting tournament plays considering the opponent. The addition of cornerback Morris Claiborne is an upgrade over Darrelle Revis, but he’s also not a game-changer. Marcus Williams will play opposite Claiborne and he allowed over 10 yards per target in coverage last year. On the other side of the field, Robby Anderson is a very interesting play and I think he can be considered for cash lineups, too. McCown has shown the willingness to throw the ball downfield and the Jets are lacking any other playmaking options in the receiving game. Austin Seferian-Jenkins will provide that, but he’s suspended for the first two games. In the games Anderson saw six or more targets, he averaged 3.7 receptions for 52 yards and 0.22 touchdowns. Keep in mind that was with Brandon Marshall and Quincy Enunwa on the field with him. He’ll match up with a mix of Shareece Wright (who the Bills acquired this offseason), who has been a cornerback to target in past years, and rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White. Anderson makes for a solid WR3 play in all formats. Any other Jets wide receiver is a dart throw, but if I had to pick one it’d be Charone Peake.
TEs: The only pass-catcher who’ll be on the field with any former relationship with Taylor is tight end Charles Clay. Most missed it, but Clay went bonkers at the end of the season, finishing with 23 targets, 18 receptions, 209 yards, and four touchdowns over his final three games with Taylor at quarterback. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s pretty good, right? The Jets allowed the third-most touchdowns to tight ends last year, including seven of them in the final five games. Clay is a very sneaky play at tight end this week for those who live the streaming life. He’s got plenty of upside to use in tournament lineups as well. With Seferian-Jenkins suspended to start the season, there’s no Jets tight end you should consider against the Bills who allowed just two tight ends to score last year.
Prediction: Bills 23, Jets 17
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-3.0) Over/Under: 42.5
This game is interesting because the Ravens struggled a bit on the road last year, allowing 25.4 points per game, whereas they allowed a league-low 14.8 points per game at home. The line on this game seems quite odd considering the home team typically receives three points by default. So, when you see the Bengals favored by just 2.5, it’s noteworthy that Vegas has the Ravens favored on neutral grounds. It seems like Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam Jones are going to miss this game due to suspension, which may have swung the line a little bit.
QBs: This is another reason that the line on this game is sketchy because Joe Flacco has missed the entire preseason with a back injury, making him a risky Week 1 play, even against a Bengals defense that is missing multiple players. Flacco played against them twice last year and totaled just 501 yards (250.5 per game) with one touchdown and two interceptions. The offense has a completely new look to it, but you have to wonder if the Ravens have a run-heavy gameplan on the road against a divisional opponent. Flacco should be off your radar in this game. Andy Dalton is a bit more interesting, seeing as he’ll have a healthy A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and stable of pass-catching running backs at his disposal. There’ve been just 15 games over the last two seasons where both Green and Eifert were healthy, and in those games Dalton threw for 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions. It is a divisional game, so we have to temper expectations, but Dalton is a solid high-end QB2 in Week 1.
RBs: This is going to be interesting to see how they deploy their running backs, and whether or not Danny Woodhead even plays. He’s been out since Week 2 of the preseason with a hamstring injury, so unless you see him as a full-go on the injury report, approach with caution. If he does play, he’s worth slotting into lineups as a RB2 in PPR leagues and RB3 in standard leagues. The Bengals allowed seven running backs to top 30 yards receiving last year, including 59 yards to fellow veteran Matt Forte. Don’t forget that Flacco lost tons of targets this offseason (359 to be exact) and has targeted his running backs and fullbacks a combined 307 times over the last two seasons. Terrance West is what he is, a solid flex play in fantasy leagues. If he scores, he’ll be an RB2, if he doesn’t, he’ll get you 60-80 total yards. If Woodhead misses this game, West becomes a solid RB2 in all formats. I’ve talked about the headaches that you’ll get from owning Joe Mixon at the start of the season and nothing has changed. He’ll be mixed in with Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard, with Hill getting the goal-line work. Mixon should not be used as a dependable RB2 in fantasy leagues until he starts seeing at least 12 touches per week – consider him an upside RB3/flex play until then. Hill will be a touchdown dependent play and it’s not a good bet to make against the Ravens who have allowed just 16 rushing touchdowns over the last two seasons combined. Bernard is nothing more than a dart throw at this point, seeing as he’ll probably get 6-8 touches per game.
WRs: It’s too bad that Jeremy Maclin didn’t get to practice with Flacco in the preseason, as it would’ve been good for their chemistry. But even going back to last year with Mike Wallace in his first few (two) games with Flacco, he totaled 7 catches for 132 yards and three touchdowns. There is no other redzone threat on the Ravens like Maclin, so consider him a WR2, especially with Adam Jones shelved to suspension. He’ll likely see a lot of Darqueze Dennard in the slot, who was burned last year for 33 catches and 381 yards, on just 38 targets in coverage in 2016. Wallace is more of a tournament play, as he can live up to his cost with just one bomb from Flacco. In season-long, consider Wallace a WR4 with upside this week. Wait until we see Breshad Perriman actually play more than 50 percent of the snaps to consider him as anything more than a boom/bust tournament option. A.J. Green is an elite must-play WR1 when healthy. Nothing about the Ravens secondary changes that, as Green has matched up with their top cornerback Jimmy Smith before. While he didn’t play against them last year, Green burned Smith for 14 catches, 261 yards, and three touchdowns in the two meetings they had against each other back in 2015. Brandon LaFell shouldn’t be looked at as anything more than a WR5 as he’ll match-up with newly acquired Brandon Carr, who is decent enough. Arguably, the best matchup goes to Tyler Boyd, who’ll see backup slot cornerback Brandon Boykin. Boyd didn’t show enough last year to be considering trustworthy in fantasy leagues. He belongs on waiver wires.
TEs: We actually have no clue who the Ravens primary pass-catching tight end will be to start the season, so it’s best for you to just avoid them in general until we get a clearer picture. As for the Bengals, you’ll always want to at least consider Tyler Eifert when he’s healthy and on the field. I mean, he ranks 95th in targets over the last two years, but fifth in touchdowns. The Ravens have been among the best defenses in the league against tight ends over the last two years, allowing just five touchdowns in 2016 and just three touchdowns in 2015. Fun fact, though, is that Eifert has scored three of those eight touchdowns. He’s a TE1 when on the field at a very volatile position, but should be looked at as a tournament play-only in DFS.
Prediction: Bengals 24, Ravens 20
Pittsburgh Steelers (-8.0) at Cleveland Browns Over/Under: 47.0
It’s a rare sight when you see a road team favored by more than a touchdown, but when it’s the Browns and they’re playing a rookie quarterback in Week 1, it’s probably fair. The Browns look like a different team on paper after their 10 draft picks, but that’s not even everything. They lost starting cornerback Tramon Williams to free agency and recently cut their perceived-to-be top cornerback Joe Haden. This may be an issue leaning on the duo of Jamar Taylor and Jason McCourty to handle the Steelers wide receivers as their first assignment. Another division game, though, and when these two teams met in 2016, the scores were 24-9 and 27-24, both in favor of the Steelers. Keep in mind that Landry Jones was the Steelers quarterback in the 26-24 game that took place in Week 17.
QBs: Let the debate begin – is Ben Roethlisberger really a bad quarterback on the road? Over the last three years, his numbers are atrocious. He’s averaged just 270 yards, 1.05 touchdowns, and 1.0 interceptions in 22 road games, while averaging 340 yards, 2.9 touchdowns, and 0.8 interceptions at home. As you can see, it’s quite the discrepancy. With that being said, when Martavis Bryant is in or out of the lineup, he has had a similar effect on Roethlisberger’s numbers. With Bryant, Roethlisberger averages 337 yards, 2.1 touchdowns, and 1.05 interceptions, while averaging 276 yards, 1.78 touchdowns, and 0.78 interceptions without him. Keep in mind those splits include both home and away numbers. I’m starting Roethlisberger as a QB1 confidently in season-long leagues and he makes for a great tournament quarterback in DFS (he’ll be lower owned because of the home/road splits). As for DeShone Kizer, it’s his first NFL game against a defense that allowed just three quarterbacks to top 18 fantasy points last year – don’t play him.
RBs: You don’t need me to tell you to play Le’Veon Bell. And no, don’t be concerned he missed all of the preseason. Remember when he was suspended for three games last year? The first game back he totaled 23 touches for 178 total yards – he’ll be fine. He destroyed the Browns last year in the one meeting he had with them for 201 total yards and a touchdown. Cash, tournament, you name it, Bell is in play. There seem to be a lot of people on Isaiah Crowell in Week 1, but approach with caution here. Most see that he totaled 152 yards on 19 carries against them, but that was in Week 17 when the Steelers rested all of their important players. In their first meeting, Crowell totaled just 10 yards on eight carries. His offense is better, as is his offensive line, but it’s very possible that this game-script goes south in a hurry. He should be started as an RB2 in season-long, but don’t consider him a must-play in cash game lineups. Duke Johnson is the contrarian play to Crowell, though the Browns have used Crowell in the passing game more than most realize. Over the course of his career, Johnson has averaged 3.1 more PPR points per game when the Browns are getting seven or more points in the spread. Still, he’s a risky flex play with the uncertainty of the entire offense.
WRs: It kind of blows my mind that the Browns cut Haden just a week before they match-up with the Steelers wide receivers. Antonio Brown will likely see a mix of both Jamar Taylor and Jason McCourty on the perimeter, as will Martavis Bryant. Brown is a must-play WR1, as he’s done well on the road even though Roethlisberger hasn’t. Bryant also makes plenty of sense as a high-ceiling WR2 in this game. With the way they were using him in preseason, it seems like nothing has changed, and the Browns starting free safety looks to be Derrick Kindred, who allowed a 152.2 rating when being thrown at in 2016. The remaining Steelers wide receivers are all punt plays, but if you’re looking to bet on one, it’d be Eli Rogers who appears to have the slot job. Corey Coleman and Kenny Britt are nothing more than WR4’s in this matchup, simply because they have a rookie quarterback throwing them the ball and we don’t know which wide receiver he prefers. If forced to play one, I’ll go Coleman as he offers splash-play potential and Kizer has the arm to get him the ball downfield.
TEs: The Steelers went out and traded for Vance McDonald just over a week ago, making it a tough sell that he’ll be ready to contribute in Week 1, though the matchup doesn’t get much better than this for a tight end. There were eight times last year where the Browns allowed 18 or more PPR points to a tight end. You can do worse than McDonald as a tournament option who’ll likely be under a couple percent owned. The Browns tight ends are in a similar spot, as we don’t know who they’ll feature in the passing game. The Steelers allowed just two tight ends to accumulate more than 64 yards last year, so it’s best to just leave Randall Telfer, Seth DeValve, and David Njoku alone this week.
Prediction: Steelers 27, Browns 17