Texans @ Bengals
Fresh off a season opener which featured an electric rookie breakout and tons of scoring, the first “true” Thursday night game gets back to form this week, offering a Bengals-Texans matchup that should be nothing short of unwatchable. With Andy Dalton coming off a five turnover performance and the Texans still actually debating sending Tom Savage back out there, NBC ought to provide complementary ice picks so their viewers can mercifully gouge their own eyes out before halftime. With a murky Cincinnati backfield situation, awful QB play, and lockdown defenses, there simply isn’t a lot to get excited for in this matchup. I bet AJ Green gets uncorked in the first half, but outside of that, there aren’t many safe plays in this awful affair.
Story to Watch: Things were fairly split in the muddled Cincinnati backfield last week, with Gio Bernard and Joe Mixon clearly favored over Jeremy Hill. Some of this had to do with the Bengals being down from the outset, but Bernard isn’t going away anytime soon. There’s an expectation in the fantasy community that it’s only a matter of time before Mixon becomes a DJ/Le’veon hybrid that will set the league on fire and win your league, but Sunday showed that we may have jumped the gun by an entire season. There’s an outside chance that Mixon emerges sooner rather than later, but for now, we’ll all have to put our pants back on.
Safe Bets: AJ Green should see a fair amount of targets before this game predictably becomes a slog in the second half. That’s it. There’s really no one else to trust here….
Hope for the best: On the other side of the ball, Deandre Hopkins saw a whopping 16 targets on Sunday, which more or less highlights just how awful the QB situation is in Houston. With Nuk only managing a 7-55-1 line off the healthy number of looks, there isn’t a whole lot of upside to be had here. Expect more of the same.
Hell No: Even if Andy Dalton bounces back in a big way, that could still only translate 2-3 turnover performance after last week’s absolute meltdown. On the same token, you shouldn’t need me to tell you to avoid human sloth Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson, or any Houston QB ever, in perpetuity. This is either one of those 5-86-3 games or 2-9-0 games from Tyler Eifert. I’d bet on the latter. Lamar Miller is about to lose carries and he was already trending downward on a bad offense. In case you were wondering, here’s that icepick….
Post-Game Headline: “Dalton mediocre, nation asks for 3 hours of their lives back as Bengals win 23-10.”
Titans @ Jaguars
While Mariota wasn’t necessarily bad, the offensive struggles from the preseason continued for the Titans vs. an exploitable Raiders defensive unit last week. The Titans were popular picks to break out this season, yet I have a sneaking suspicion that they’ll take a step backwards despite their offseason upgrades. Simply put, the refreshing “exotic smashmouth” brand of football that Mularkey developed last season is no different than Ronnie Brown’s wildcat, Kaep’s Pistol, or Chip Kelly’s blur offense as it pertains to the NFL – once teams have some tape on it, the offense is much easier to plan for. Without the effective rushing attack that kept the Titans in control of so many games in 2016, the Tennessee offense could revert to basic, normal ass smashmouth far too often this year.
Jacksonville, on the other hand, is in the midst of completely changing its identity. The much improved defense will allow the Jags to be in the revolutionary position of controlling the clock with the running game, which they are now spectacularly equipped for with Leonard Fournette. While the days of Bortles dropping 20+ points in garbage time may be a thing of the past, Blake’s new role as a game manager should fit nicely in nicely with Jacksonville’s plans, to say nothing of the fact that it also works with Bortles’ look as a middle-aged, regional sales manager. I think he finally found his true calling in this ground and pound system.
Story to Watch: Although he dominated the workload, Demarco Murray looked a bit slow while running into brick walls against Oakland last week. While only netting 6 carries in comparison, Derrick Henry looked noticeably quicker and ran with authority compared to his plodding backfield mate. I’m not suggesting a full blown time share is emerging, but it’s worth watching if Demarco’s heavy usage has finally caught up with him. Expect a 70-30 split in Murray’s favor yet again this week, but we’ll see how long that lasts.
Safe Bets: I think Marcus Mariota pays his owners back for the relative letdown last week. If you’re good with 70 yards at the TE position, by all means keep rolling Delanie Walker out there. Len Fournette (he’s a grown ass man, so Len fits him better) should once again punish soft tacklers at the second level, and he’s in for another 25+ touch outing.
Hope for the Best: Corey Davis easily looked like the Titans best receiving option last week, garnering six catches for 69 yards off of a team-high 10 targets. Mariota definitely plans on getting his new toy involved. Eric Decker doesn’t always make plays, but when he does, it’s in the red zone. I think he gets his first score of the season to accompany a weak yardage output. Marquise Lee has an early opportunity to replace Allen Robinson’s role – good luck with that.
Hell No: Even if Bortles isn’t chucking numerous picks per game, he’s still doing most of his damage on short routes and handing the ball to their bellcow. It’s hard to see more than one touchdown here. Derrick Henry isn’t startable until A.) his usage increases, or B.) he shows that he’s the designated goal line back.
Post Game Headline: “Fournette’s monster day helps give Jaguars a 2-0 start, world ends.”
Eagles @ Chiefs
Andy Reid seemed to find a few specials on his New Jersey diner menu – sized playsheet last week. Who would’ve thought “bomb to fast as shit guy” and “give awesome rookie the rock” could replace such fan favorites as “have Alex hold the ball for 11 seconds, scramble, and throw desperate hitch route for two yard gain”? Time will tell if Reid learned his lesson, but for now at least, the Chiefs figure to be much more explosive and willing to gamble.
On the other side of the ball, former Reid acolyte Doug Pederson seemed content to stick with the old favorites, like the always successful “throw behind to the line to Nelson Agholor on 3rd and 11, leading to either a four yard loss or a fumble.” (it was a fumble.) Despite the questionable playcalling from Dumbass Doug™, Carson Wentz bailed the Eagles out with some spectacular improvisation, highlighted by a Roethlisberger scramble-to-deep bomb touchdown and an Aaron Rodgers backshoulder-spin-to-first-down toss to Zach Ertz late in the game. It’s still early, but signs point to Wentz taking the next step this season.
Storyline to Watch: Both of these teams performed better than expected against horrendous defensive units in their respective openers, and both are in for tougher sledding this week. This is my game of the week, but not necessarily due to offensive fireworks. I predict a defensive touchdown is the difference in this one.
Safe Bets: Certified goon Travis Kelce loves to give people a shot, so maybe the Chiefs should give him one this week, too. The Eagles were nearly burned multiple times by deep throws last week, but fortunately for them, Terrelle Pryor is a shit eater. They won’t be as lucky when Tyreek Hill has a ten yard lead on Philly’s turnstile cornerback rotation on every route. Expect another 60+ yard TD to keep the dynamo’s streak alive. Zach Ertz is Wentz’s first and second read on offense, and I think he’s a safe bet for 80+ yards per week in an offense that will throw the ball a ton this year.
Hope for the Best: There will be a lot of games this season where Carson Wentz has 250 yards to complement 2 touchdowns and 1-2 interceptions, and this certainly feels like one of those. Alex Smith will have a harder time against a Philly defensive front that mauled Kirk cousins last week. Ditto for Kareem Hunt, but there’s no way you’re sitting him after his explosive debut. Alshon Jeffery took a while to get going last week, and he dropped a few contested balls (one for a would-be touchdown). I think he’ll be more involved this week.
Hell No: It’s hard to project the Philly RB situation this year as anything other than something to avoid. LeGarrette Blount would stand to benefit the most, but the Eagles simply won’t commit to the run long enough for him to pay dividends. Nelson Agholor was more involved than usual last week, but we should take a wait-and-see approach with him going forward, especially against a tough KC Defense.
Post Game Headline: “Andy Reid feasts, also wins football game against former team thanks to defense, Hill.”
Dolphins @ Chargers
This will only be a road game for Miami in name only, as there’s a good chance that the “Los Angeles” Chargers barely fill up half of their 27,000 seat stadium for their “home” opener. It’s a shame, too, because the Chargers have a chance to really make some noise this season, at least from a fantasy perspective. It took a desperate 4th quarter comeback to finally get things clicking, but Phil Rivers, Keenan Allen, and Melvin Gordon looked the part of a dynamic fantasy offense against Denver on Monday night. I expect them to ride Melvin Gordon early until they similarly blow the lead in the ways only the Chargers can, leading to yet another second half fantasy buffet through the air. Lots to like.
I can’t be the only one excited to see Smokin’ Jay Cutler in full on mercenary mode this season. Free from a situation in Chicago where there was an almost symbiotic relationship of loathing with the fans, Cutler heads to stress free situation in Miami with nothing to lose. I expect him to chuck it early and often, although he may have tough time with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram breathing down his neck all game. Fantasy-wise, however, Cutler will be upright frequently enough to provide a decent outing.
Storyline to Watch: Devante Parker gets all the love, but what do we make of Jarvis Landry? The Dolphin’s front office clearly doesn’t envision him as part of the team’s future, but Landry is still an excellent talent and will be Cutler’s go-to option once the shit hits the fan. We’re all anxiously waiting for Devante Parker to become the next Julio Jones, but it’s entirely possible that the true WR1 in Miami was under our noses all along.
Safe Bets: Jay Ajayi looked extremely strong this preseason, with the exception of the time he missed due to a brain injury. Now with an extra week to recover, I’m sure he’s champing at the bit to run with authority for the Dolphin’s season opener. He’s a top five back for me this week. Keenan Allen saw 10 targets in week one and faced stiff competition, yet still produced. He’ll be a great contributor as long as he’s healthy. Melvin Gordon will figure prominently in the offense as long as the Chargers don’t get down early again, which is doubtful in this one. Love him this week. Phil Rivers should deliver backend QB1 numbers yet again.
Hope For the Best: If you drafted Devante Parker, there’s no reason to sit him this week. By all accounts, Jay Cutler is excited to air it out to him frequently. Jarvis Landry should have no problem delivering a patented 6-56-0 line, although the chemistry may not be there yet with the new quarterback. Speaking of which, Cutler will be middling this week, with a few turnovers bound to be forced by the Bosa/Ingram duo.
Hell No: Hunter Henry delivered a big, fat goose egg against the broncos, and Antonio Gates didn’t perform much better. I’d stay away until we see more about how Anthony Lynn plans on utilizing tight ends in this offense (if he does at all).
Post-Game Headline: “Cutler smolders, Rivers constantly bitches at refs even though Chargers win 27-17”
Vikings @ Steelers
As an Eagles fan, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t buy Sam Bradford’s stellar MNF performance against the Saints as being the new normal. He looked impressive, but Sammy Sleeves will have a more difficult assignment against a tough Steelers defense on the road. The true story of the night was the emergence of Dalvin Cook as a true workhouse for the Vikings. He struggled with difficult inside runs early, but Minnesota employed him like prime Marshawn – pounding the Saints late in the 4th quarter to seal the game. There’s certainly value there, and it’s better than any of us could have expected in the preseason. Stefon Diggs is just a straight up baller, and Adam Thielen dominated in a way that I wasn’t quite expecting. Bottom line: They looked great, but again, it was the Saints.
The Steelers had a surprisingly difficult time against an upgraded Browns defense, but fantasy players might need to get used to this being the new normal for the typically hapless dawg pound. Case in point – Le’veon Bell barely managed 30 rushing yards, which is exhibit A that the browns need to be taken a bit more seriously this season. We’ll call that an outlier, though – expect Bell to respond bigtime at home, even against a tough Vikings front. Big Ben targeted Jesse James twice in the end zone last week, but don’t expect him to habit out of it. All in all, this will be the true unveiling of the 2017 Steelers offense at home.
Storyline To Watch: It will be interesting to see if the Vikings continue the aerial attack from the opener. Bradford wasn’t just striking with pinpoint precision, but it seemed like Adam Thielen was running free on 20+ yard routes the entire night. A much more difficult away date at Pittsburgh is the when the rubber meets the road, so to speak. We could have a late-round goldmine on our hands if the Bradford-Diggs-Thielen train keeps on rolling, or Sammy Sleeves could settle back into his comfort zone, tossing bitch ass checkdowns at the slightest whiff of resistance. Can’t let that completion percentage suffer, after all. One thing’s for sure – it will be appointment viewing by the three rivers.
Safe Bets: Antonio Brown is the baddest motherfucker in the NFL, full stop. He’ll dominate as usual, as will Le’veon in a more balanced game script. I’m trusting Roethlisberger too, even if Drew Brees was made to look his age against Minnesota last week. You can’t ask for anything more in fantasy than volume, and Dalvin Cook should see 20+ carries again as long as the game remains somewhat close. You can’t turn that down. You also can’t turn down the first home game of the season for Big Ben.
Hope for the best: We all knew that Stefon Diggs had that kind of game in him. Hell, we’ve seen it before. The training wheels are off with a revamped offensive approach, so the real test going forward will be consistency. I like him for 6-73-1. Thielen is worth every penny in PPR leagues, to say nothing of the fact that he looks good to top 1000 yards receiving on the season. I have no issues firing him up as a WR3. Bradford is fine too this week, but I wouldn’t be rushing to start him.
Hell No: Don’t take the “hell no” too literally here, but Martavis Bryants’ dud of a debut was a heaping serving of humble pie for those who invested heavily on draft day. I’d like to see a little something from him before firing him up confidently again. Rudolph and Jesse James are both TD-dependent in the truest sense.
Post-Game Headline: Bradford Shrivels, Antonio Soars as Steelers topple Vikes 33-17
Bills @ Panthers
Lesean McCoy may be a cheap bastard, but he’s a national treasure nonetheless. The fact that he can still move like this at age 29 puts pretty much every 2nd and 3rd year back to shame (looking at you, Gurley). After the news about our dearly departed David Johnson, there’s no back I’d rather own in fantasy than Shady. TyGod also proved that you should never overpay at the QB position (in fantasy). It was against the hapless Jets, but still, Taylor should provide enough outings like that one to be serviceable.
Cam Newton and company beat up on an awful 49ers team last week, opting for a clock-controlling gameplan rather than the aerial assault some of us were hoping for. As much as we’d love to see Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen, and Christian McCaffrey lead Cam to 300+ yard outings every week, the fact is that Newton’s MVP campaign of 2015 could be a flash in the pan. He’s certainly a great talent, but I expect more of the game manager role in a close contest against Buffalo.
Storyline to watch: Riverboat Ron had some telling comments suggesting that he might reel in McCaffrey’s touches after a fairly even backfield split last week. It’s no cause for concern now, but it will be interesting to see if there’s a true 1-2 punch in Carolina, or if CMC turns into more of a gadget player for the Panthers.
Safe Bets: Obviously Lesean McCoy is starting for you every week, and I think you’ll see the first Shady Bounce of the season this week. Greg Olsen should be more involved with this game being tighter than the previous contest. While it may sound like I’m a bit down on Cam, that’s not the case this week – I see him as a good bet for 250 yards and two touchdowns.
Hope For The Best: If Kelvin Benjamin is your WR1 somehow, well, I feel sorry for you. That said, there’s no reason to sit him down just yet. He had a chance at a deep touchdown last week before a Niners defender pulled off the top highlight of week 1, intercepting the ball with one hand. I love Jonathan Stewart this year, but his upside is definitely capped. He’s a fine RB2/flex on a weekly basis. Tyrod Taylor will have a tough assignment on the road, but you could do worse with his rushing upside. Charles Clay is heavily involved in this offense, seeing a team high 10 targets last week.
Hell No: We really wanted Zay Jones to happen. Zay Jones isn’t going to happen (at least not yet.) Jordan Matthews made a few plays as well, but you need to see how the WRs shake out for Buffalo, and this isn’t the week to try it out in real time. This is an unpopular opinion, but I’d like to see McCaffrey’s role increase in the passing game before trusting him as a flex play.
Post-Game Headline: Shady bounces often, Cam and Panthers survive 24-20.
Patriots @ Saints
Is there anything worse than Sean Payton? He looks every houseboat-owning guy in the Florida Keys who spits dip back into his beer. Much like the houseboat owner, his best years are clearly behind him, too. Any iota of gravitas surrounding his offensive genius behind the superbowl run faded years ago. He inexplicably despises Mark Ingram, too (I swear I’m not an Ingram owner, but it bugs me nonetheless.) Drew Brees looked old and inaccurate, but we can’t count him out just yet. He should come back alive against an exploitable Pats defense.
Speaking of old and inaccurate, Tom Brady didn’t do anything to prove doubters wrong in his debut as a QB in his 40s. The loss of Julian Edelman seemed to really hurt, as there wasn’t a reliable option for the patriots to keep the chains moving. Someone needs to pick up the slack for this offense to get back on track. With an over/under of 54 however, you know this game is going to produce some fireworks.
Safe Bets: Brady and Brees will get you QB1 numbers this week. If they don’t, well, I guess I’m just a goddamn moron. Brandin Cooks was two pass interference calls away from a monster debut, and he’ll have an ax to grind against the team that traded him. I’m calling 5-160-2, aka the Brandin Cooks special. Gronk will similarly go bonkers, and Michael Thomas should see his yardage go up, along with at least one touchdown.
Hope For the Best: If you think Mike Gilislee can replicate his awesome debut, well, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Still, you can’t turn down the goal line back in NE. James White will figure more prominently in this one, as will Chris Hogan. I like Mark Ingram a great deal this week, but Sean Payton is a son of a bitch, so who knows how that will play out. Colby Fleener sucks at football, but Drew Brees can make use out of him.
Hell No: Adrian Peterson was scarcely used in a “revenge game” opportunity, and there’s little reason to expect that to increase in a game with shootout potential. He simply isn’t startable at this point. Am I missing something on Rex Burkhead? I could be nuts, but I’m just not buying the 3rd running back in a system where there aren’t enough touches to go around. Alvin Kamara has some flex appeal in PPR leagues, but again, I think this is an Ingram game.
Post-Game Headline: “Brady forces Brees to use Life Alert in battle of geezers in bayou.”
Niners @ Seahawks
Russell Wilson is corny as hell, but beyond that, a disturbing storyline has carried over from last season. While Russ was a popular fantasy MVP pick for this year, his patchwork offensive line got even worse from last season somehow. It has the potential to torpedo the fantasy value of everyone on the Seattle offense, but hey, let’s just continue to act like everything’s fine.
The 49ers are… not good. There’s not a whole lot to say about them going into Seattle. Beyond some garbage time receptions for Pierre Garcon, I don’t know who you can really trust here.
Storyline to Watch: In addition to the aforementioned offensive line woes, it will be interesting to see who picks up the mantle in Seattle’s backfield. Fat Ed is cooked, and Tom Rawls enters back into the fold this week. The intriguing pick is rookie Chris Carson, however. Expect his carries to ramp up in a game that Seattle should control from the outset.
Safe Bets: I’ll begrudgingly put Russ here, but if he can’t dominate in this matchup, it could be a season long issue. Doug Baldwin is the clear WR1 and should get over the 100 yard mark easily. Jimmy Graham didn’t do himself any favors with drops last week, but he can’t do much worse either. I like him to bounce back, finding the end zone in the process.
Hope For the Best: Carlos Hyde oozes talent, but he’s simply not going to get many opportunities to flex it this year. While you’d love to see him get 20 carries, this isn’t the matchup you’re looking for. Still, he has a solid floor as an RB2/flex option. Pierre Garcon should get tons of looks in a game that SF should be trailing from the opening gun.
Hell No: Aaron Rodgers was mediocre against Seattle last week, so how do you think Brian Hoyer will fare?
Post Game Headline: “Russ runs for his life and the win against 49ers, winning 31-17”
Part II coming Friday…