Fantasy Football QB Primer: Week 1
With another fantasy season set to begin, I’m reminded of a quote from a book I read back in my poker-playing days. Well, sort of. With three young kids, I can’t actually remember things anymore, but I think it was a book by Mike Caro, and I think the quote went something like this: “My job as a poker player isn’t to make money. It isn’t to win hands. It’s to make good decisions.”
Fantasy football, too.
When you set your lineup, your job isn’t to pick the highest-scoring players. There’s no way to know. Last year Jimmy Garoppolo scored 22 points against the vaunted Jaguars defense in just his fifth start for the 49ers. Tom Brady couldn’t get to 10 points against Buffalo and Miami in consecutive games. Weird stuff happens every week. All you can do is try to make good decisions based on the information available at the time you hit “submit lineup.” At that point, you’ve either made a good decision or a bad one, and the chips will fall where they may.
To help you make good decisions, each week I’ll be breaking down the quarterback position into five tiers ranging from easy starts to easy benches. Players are listed roughly in order of preference, but there’s not a lot of separation within each tier. Let’s get to it.
If you went quarterback early in your draft, be prepared for some turbulence. For a group that’s supposedly safe, everyone in this tier has potential warts.
The one who concerns me most, both this week and for the season, is Russell Wilson. His top pass-catcher is already dealing with a knee issue, and his number two and three from last year are gone. The offensive line isn’t any better than a season ago, and his new offensive coordinator is worse. Given all that, on the road in Denver is a tough place to start the season. You have to start Wilson, but Seattle’s 19.75 implied team total is a major red flag.
Deshaun Watson is another one I’ll be watching closely. His 9.3% touchdown rate from last year will regress significantly. We just have no idea what it will regress to. He’s also playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Factor in the second torn ACL for a guy reliant on mobility, and who knows what we’re getting this year. He’ll start on the road in New England. Last year this game was a 36-33 shootout in which Watson totaled 20 fantasy points but also threw two interceptions. Those expecting another shootout may be disappointed. Watson is a heavy road underdog in his first game back from injury with a relatively low implied team total (22.5). You’re not benching last year’s QB1 in points per game, but temper expectations.
On a positive note, Drew Brees should crush the Buccaneers’ defense this week. Brees was a major disappointment in 2017, with only four top-12 finishes all season, but the underlying numbers were as good as ever. He went way too low in drafts this year. Those who kept the faith are going to be rewarded bigtime in Week 1.
Matthew Stafford (DET): vs. N.Y. Jets
Kirk Cousins (MIN): vs. San Francisco
Philip Rivers (LAC): vs Kansas City
Jared Goff (LAR): @ Oakland
Ben Roethlisberger (PIT): @ Cleveland
Alex Smith (WAS): @ Arizona
Andrew Luck (IND): vs. Cincinnati
Matthew Stafford threw only 565 pass attempts last year, by far his lowest total since 2010. He also posted the highest yards per attempt and completion percentage of his career, while continuing to limit turnovers in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense. Drafted as a low-end QB1, Stafford has huge upside playing behind an improved offensive line and flanked by Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, and Kenny Golladay. His soft early schedule opens with a great match-up at home against the Jets, who gave up the fourth-most points to opposing quarterbacks last season.
Kirk Cousins and Philip Rivers are also great plays this week as the home favorites against bottom-10 pass defenses from last season (per Football Outsiders‘ DVOA). Despite being on the road, Jared Goff should put up points as well. The Raiders pass defense was among the worst in the league last season, and that was before losing its good player.
The one who concerns me in this tier is Ben Roethlisberger. He’s had some pretty notable home/road splits recently, and scored only 15.7 fantasy points on the road in Cleveland last year. Throw in the Le’Veon Bell distraction and the Browns’ intriguing performance in Week 3 of the preseason (forcing four first-half turnovers and pitching a shutout), and this game may be a trap. You’re still starting him — there’s a “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Gregg Williams Defense” op-ed coming any day now — but this may not be the Big Ben blowup spot it appears to be.
In his first game back after an uninspiring preseason and with injuries on the offensive line, I don’t think Andrew Luck is a great play. I would probably start him over the streamers, however, so he just squeaks into this tier. Between the Colts’ defense and running game, Luck may need to throw 40+ times per game.
I did not want to stream Andy Dalton on the road in Week 1, but here we are. The Colts may have the worst secondary in the league and this game has a pretty high over/under (47), so even on the road Dalton makes sense. I actually think folks are sleeping on Dalton. He’s never finished worse than QB18 and has shown upside when his weapons are healthy and his offensive line exists. I fully believe the Bengals can make the playoffs and lose in Round 1, earning Marvin Lewis a 25th contract extension.
The Steelers were a top-10 defense last year per Football Outsiders but allowed 28 points per game after losing Ryan Shazier (vs. 17.75 with Shazier). I’m not sure this defense will be one to fear in 2018. Tyrod Taylor has a pretty explosive cast of pass-catchers, and when you throw in the rushing production and home-field advantage, you get a pretty intriguing streamer.
Case Keenum (DEN): vs. Seattle
Marcus Mariota (TEN): @ Miami
Jimmy Garoppolo (SF): @ Minnesota
Blake Bortles (JAC): @ N.Y. Giants
Dak Prescott (DAL): @ Carolina
Patrick Mahomes (KC): @ L.A. Chargers
Joe Flacco (BAL): vs. Buffalo
Mitch Trubisky (CHI): @ Green Bay
Sam Bradford (AZ): vs. Washington
Ryan Tannehill (MIA): vs. Tennessee
Ryan Fitzpatrick (TB): @ New Orleans
Sam Darnold (NYJ): @ Detroit
Case Keenum is a borderline streaming option at home against Seattle. He’s got good weapons, and the Seahawks defense lost just about everybody this offseason. This projects as a low-scoring game and Case Keenum projects as Case Keenum, so don’t go crazy.
Entering his fourth season and freed from “Exotic Smashmouth,” it’s time for Mariota to take the next step. Of course, I said the same thing last year. If he can’t get it done against Miami (29th in defensive DVOA last season), he’s not even worth a roster spot. He’ll get the Texans, Jaguars, Eagles, Ravens, and Chargers over the next six weeks.
Patrick Mahomes and Jimmy Garoppolo may be the two quarterbacks I’m most excited to watch this season. Unfortunately, they both open up on the road against elite pass defenses. For what it’s worth, I own Jimmy G in one league and am sitting him this week for Andy Dalton. I would do the same with Mahomes.
I’m actually pretty bullish on Eli Manning’s prospects this year. He’s washed, for sure, but if his top running back, wide receiver, and tight end are all fantasy starters, then Manning is going to be dragged to some pretty good fantasy days too. I also think folks are discounting how much Ben McAdoo hurt this team. The Titans and Bears both got significant offseason buzz for firing their inept leaders. The Giants deserve a similar bump for going from incompetent to competent.
This is a little harsh for Derek Carr, but the Rams defense is scary and you’ll do well to fade Jon Gruden over the next decade.