Trey Burton runs the ball in the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.

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Fantasy Football Week 1 Sweet & Sour

Check Out Some Start/Sit Suggestions For The Season Opener

Matt Citak
September 07, 2018 - 4:23 pm
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Move over, baseball season. You kept us entertained during the dog days of summer, but now football is officially back.

At this point, your drafts are over. Your team is set, and now it's time to begin your quest for that coveted fantasy football championship.

While you may think the difficult part is done now that you have your team, you are sadly mistaken. The journey towards taking home your league's trophy is just beginning.

But lucky for you, I will be here throughout the NFL season providing start/sit suggestions each week, in hopes of helping you settle some tough decisions you might have to make along the way.

Players that look poised for a big week will fall under the "Sweet" category, while guys that might be in for a tough matchup will fall in the "Sour" section. In addition, I'll add a couple of sleeper picks at each position for those in need of a streaming option.

Let me preface this article by saying I won't be telling you the obvious. You don't need me to tell you to start Todd Gurley or Antonio Brown each week. And a player falling in the "Sour" section doesn't necessarily mean you should bench him- it means I believe you should lower your expected production from that player given the circumstances that week (matchup, injuries, etc.). While I want these recommendations to help you make lineup decisions, at the end of the day, you have to go with your gut. 

Good luck this season, and here's to hoping you get off to a 1-0 start this week.

Quarterbacks

Sweet

Phillip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers - Rivers kicks off the year at home against the Chiefs, a matchup that haunted him last season. The veteran QB had a 1:6 TD to INT ratio in two games against Kansas City in 2017, but should benefit from safety Eric Berry likely sitting out Sunday. The signing of Antonio Gates gives the 36-year-old QB his favorite red zone target back, and should help open up the field for receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Considering the talent on the offensive side of the ball for the Chiefs, this could be a very high-scoring Week 1 affair, which bodes well for Rivers.

MORE: Fantasy Football Waiver Wire Adds For Week 1

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions - There is no doubt the Jets defense is improved this season. Trumaine Johnson will give a boost to a New York secondary that struggled mightily last year (one of four teams that allowed 30 passing touchdowns), but it won't be enough to slow Stafford down in the home opener. The 30-year-old averaged 23.0 fantasy points per game at home last season, and should have little trouble continuing that trend in primetime Monday night.

Sour

Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers - Garoppolo is one of the most popular breakout candidates this fantasy season, and while I'm fully on board the Jimmy G train, I'm leaving it in the station until after the season opener. The Vikings defense played on another level last season, allowing multiple passing touchdowns to a quarterback just once in the team's final 13 games. The numbers get even worse at U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Vikings held opposing quarterbacks to under 10 fantasy points per game in 2017. Garoppolo will certainly have his time to shine, but don't expect it to come this week.

Jimmy Garoppolo runs against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the fourth quarter at Levi's Stadium in SF.
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Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders - To say the Jon Gruden Era in Oakland has gotten off to a rough start would be quite the understatement. Things could not be going much worse for Raider Nation, and that's not likely to change Monday night. Gruden, Carr and the Raiders have the unfortunate luck of starting the season against the Rams and their new-look defense, which added Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and Ndamukong Suh to a unit that already included Aaron Donald. Oakland will likely be chasing points in this contest, but that may not be good news for Carr, who will be under duress constantly during all four quarters. He may have a bounce back season, but Carr's outlook for Week 1 is not pretty.

Sleepers

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals - The Bengals offense was difficult to trust in 2017, but GM Mike Brown did a good job of remedying the team's biggest issue over the offseason by adding offensive linemen Cordy Glenn and Billy Price. We may not be able to say this for long, but as of Week 1, Dalton will have a healthy group of weapons to target, which includes A.J. Green, Joe Mixon, John Ross and Tyler Eifert. Only time will tell if the latter two can remain on the field, but going up against Indy's awful secondary in Week 1, Dalton could be in line for a huge game.

Tyrod Taylor, Cleveland Browns - The Browns' season outlook is one of the biggest topics of discussion heading into Week 1. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, don't hesitate to use Taylor if you are looking for a streaming option this week (I'm looking at you Carson Wentz and Garoppolo owners). Over the last three seasons, Taylor has been one of the most productive fantasy quarterbacks against zone defenses, which happens to be Pittsburgh's forte. If you're looking to the waiver wire for QB help this week, you could do a lot worse than Taylor.

Running Backs

Sweet

James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers - Here is one person no one thought would find his way onto this list a few weeks ago. But with Le'Veon Bell continuing his holdout, Conner looks ready to take over as the Steelers' starting running back, at least for Week 1. Conner shined throughout the preseason, rushing for 100 yards on 19 carries (5.3 ypc) and a touchdown while adding seven receptions for 61 yards. Bell is more talented than Conner, but the latter is more than capable of leading Pittsburgh's rushing attack while the former stays away from the team. As long as Bell doesn't suit up, feel confident rolling with Conner this week.

Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos - Freeman was one of the darlings of the preseason, averaging 5.6 ypc on 15 attempts while scoring three touchdowns. Denver made the smart decision when they named Freeman the team's starting running back over Devontae Booker. While Booker will still get a few touches, the rookie is staring at a heavy workload against a Seattle defense that does not look nearly as scary as it did a few seasons ago. The Broncos will look to control the clock in this game by establishing the run game, which means Freeman should be in for a great NFL debut.

Royce Freeman runs for a touchdown against the Washington Redskins during the first half at FedEx Field.
USA Today Sports Images

Sour

LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills - If you drafted McCoy, you're likely going to have to start him due to his high ADP. However you should lower your expectations for the veteran back, as Buffalo will be hitting the road to take on the Ravens in Week 1. After the trade of AJ McCarron to Oakland last week, Nathan Peterman was named the starting QB for the Bills. For those of you with a bad memory, Peterman infamously threw five first half interceptions in his first and only NFL start last year. McCoy will need a lot of volume to succeed this season, and it's tough to see that happening in a difficult opening matchup against a good Ravens defense. Start McCoy if you must, but definitely take a look at the waiver wire before lineups lock Sunday. 

Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders - I'm sour on just about all Raiders players this week, and Lynch is no exception. Let's look at the facts. The Raiders will likely be playing most of this game from behind, as the Rams had the most lethal offense in the NFL last year, LA added Brandin Cooks over the offseason, and the Raiders defense just lost their best player in Khalil Mack. All of that adds up to what will likely be the worst possible game script for Lynch, who doesn't contribute much to the passing game. Oh yeah, the Rams also now have Donald AND Suh up front. This sounds like a recipe for disaster for Lynch.   

MORE: Fantasy Football Breakout Candidates 

Sleepers

Adrian Peterson, Washington Redskins - Despite turning 33 in March, Peterson has found a way to remain relevant in the fantasy world. With the injury to Derrius Guice, Peterson appears to be the most likely candidate to lead Washington's backfield in carries this season (barring injury or his legs no longer being able to hold up). The veteran looked spry in his one preseason game, taking 11 carries for 56 yards. The Redskins offense should be able to move the ball efficiently with Alex Smith under center, which means Peterson should have plenty of opportunity to succeed this week. Peterson makes for a solid flex play against the Cardinals. 

James White, New England Patriots -  As we have learned in the past, it can be tough to count on someone in the Patriots' backfield for fantasy purposes. Bill Belichick tends to switch which back he uses the most on a weekly basis. But leading up to Week 1, it's unclear if Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel will be able to suit up for New England's season opener due to knee injuries. With both of their statuses up in the air, White appears to be the guy that will benefit the most from their absence. White accumulated over 425 receiving yards last season, and should see even more targets while Julian Edelman serves his four-game suspension. Depending on the health of Burkhead and Michel, White could jump into must-start category this week, especially in PPR leagues.

Wide Receivers

Sweet

Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos - Reports out of Denver throughout the summer showed a strong rapport building between Sanders and Case Keenum. While Demaryius Thomas will still play a big role in the Broncos' offense, it looks as if Sanders could become Keenum's de facto go-to guy. Denver will welcome the Seahawks to Mile High Stadium Sunday. What was once known as the "Legion of Boom," Seattle's secondary looks like a shell of its old self. Fully healthy, Sanders should be in for a big 2018 debut working out of the slot against a Seahawks defense that gave up the sixth-most fantasy points to slot receivers last year. 

Will Fuller, Houston Texans - Fuller put up eye-opening numbers last season in his limited action with Deshaun Watson at QB, catching seven touchdowns on 13 receptions in just four games. Those numbers are clearly not sustainable, but it showed a clear connection between the young QB and the receiver out of Notre Dame. With Watson healthy and ready to go, Fuller should be in for a big Week 1 against a Patriots team that's favored by 9.5 points. DeAndre Hopkins will draw a tough matchup against New England's top corner Stephen Gilmore, which should leave Fuller to take advantage of Eric Rowe on the other side of the field. If Houston wants to have any chance of beating the Patriots, they will need to lean on Fuller's deep-threat ability. 

Sour

Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks - It's never a good sign when a wide receiver tells the media he will be playing at 80-85 percent all year. Such is the case with Baldwin. Similar to McCoy, if you drafted Baldwin, you're likely going to be starting him this week. Just don't be surprised if the 29-year-old puts up a dud of a performance. Baldwin is going to be covered by Denver's Chris Harris, who finished last season as one of the top corners in the NFL. I expect Russell Wilson to be on the run trying to avoid Denver's improved pass rush throughout this entire game, meaning Baldwin will probably have trouble finding the time he needs to free himself from Harris. It may be tough to bench him, but if you have a solid backup option, don't feel bad sitting Baldwin for the opener.

Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs - People have a lot of mixed opinions on how Watkins will perform this season in a stacked Chiefs offense. Regardless of which camp you fall in on the matter, Watkins is an easy guy to avoid in Week 1. Kansas City will be taking on the Chargers this week. Despite the presence of Tyreek Hill across the field, Watkins is the receiver most likely to draw shadow coverage from Los Angeles' Casey Hayward, another one of the top corners in the league. Starting to sense a theme here? If you can find a way to avoid starting a receiver going up against one of the top CBs in the game, do it. 

Sleepers

Keelan Cole, Jacksonville Jaguars - With the unfortunate season-ending injury to Marqise Lee, Cole is likely to step up as Blake Bortles' number one target in the Jaguars offense. Let's be clear though- Jacksonville is once again going to be a run-first offense. The team found success last season with its stellar defense and strong run game, and that is not going to change in 2018. However Bortles will have to throw the ball at times, and in the two games that Lee missed last season, Cole received 25 percent of the quarterback's pass attempts. Giants CB Janoris Jenkins looks like he could return to his elite 2016 form this season, but luckily for Cole, the young receiver should see coverage from all three of New York's corners on Sunday, and Eli Apple and B.W. Webb are no Janoris Jenkins. Cole has big-time sleeper appeal this week and for the whole season.

Keelan Cole catches the ball in front of Quincy Wilson during the second half at EverBank Field.
USA Today Sports Images

Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears - Another one of my favorite sleeper picks for the year, Miller seemed to develop a great connection with second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky throughout the summer. While Chicago is sporting a totally revamped offense this year, it is Miller that Trubisky has looked to the most during practice. The rookie receiver has a fantastic Week 1 matchup against a mostly untested Packers secondary that struggled against slot receivers last season. With Aaron Rodgers leading Green Bay's offense, you know the Packers are going to get their points on the offensive side of the ball. If the Bears want to have a chance Sunday night, they will need to succeed moving the ball through the air. Enter Miller. While he falls in this category this week, it may not be long before Miller eclipses the "Sleeper" label and finds himself in must-start territory. 

MORE: Best And Worst O-Lines & Their Impact On Fantasy Football

Tight Ends

Sweet

Trey Burton, Chicago Bears - Burton is another popular breakout candidate this year as the 26-year-old is getting his first chance to be a team's number one tight end. Burton looked great during the preseason, and seemed to quickly become one of Trubisky's favorite targets (along with Miller). The tight end reeled in four catches for 45 yards and a touchdown in Chicago's third preseason game against the Broncos, and has clearly earned the trust of the team's second-year QB. Head coach Matt Nagy has already said the team plans on using Burton all over the field, and against a Packers team that really struggled to cover the tight end last season, Burton could put up huge numbers in his Bears debut Sunday night. 

Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts - Doyle didn't see a ton of action during the preseason, but the time he did spend on the field bodes well for his fantasy outlook this year. The sixth-year tight end ran a route on 27 of Andrew Luck's 28 dropbacks during Indianapolis' rehearsal games, seeing a total of six targets during that time. The next-closest Colt saw just four targets... Luck has always leaned heavily on his tight ends, and Doyle is coming off an 80-catch season with Jacoby Brissett under center. The Colts' Week 1 contest against the Bengals is a very appealing matchup for Doyle, and the tight end should get his season off on the right foot with a big performance. 

Sour

Evan Engram, New York Giants - I'm very high on Engram this season, as the second-year tight end should play a large role in a new Giants offense that could be one of the league's best. However his 2018 success will likely not start until next week. It's no secret that Jacksonville owns one of the league's most talented defenses (if not the very best). While they did struggle at times against the tight end last season, the Jaguars seemed to improve as the year went on, limiting the fantasy production of guys like Jimmy Graham, Hunter Henry, Jack Doyle and Delanie Walker in the second half of the season. Engram now has to compete with Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley for targets, not to mention Sterling Shepard. Benching Engram may be a tough pill to swallow, so at the very least lower your expectations for the talented tight end this week.

David Njoku, Cleveland Browns - Njoku is yet another second-year tight end that has shown early signs of breaking out this season. But similar to Engram, it is not likely to happen in Week 1. While the Browns look like a totally new team this year (I expect significant improvements from Cleveland on both sides of the ball in 2018), they open their season against their AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh was unbelievable against the tight end last season, allowing the fewest touchdowns to the position (two) in the entire league. Tyrod Taylor will continue to target the young tight end, but Njoku may find trouble finding the end zone against this Steelers defense. I'd look elsewhere for a tight end this week.

Sleepers

Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals - Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times? Well let's hope it doesn't come to that. Eifert burst onto the scene in 2015 when he caught a whopping 13 touchdowns in 13 games, but the veteran tight end has struggled to stay on the field since then. Injuries have completely derailed his last two seasons, with the 6-foot-6 tight end suiting up for just 10 games during that time. But Eifert finally appears to be healthy entering the 2018 season, and the Bengals have already said they plan on limiting the use of their big tight end this year. Cincinnati likely intends on using Eifert almost exclusively in the red zone. Going up against a Colts defense that was one of the worst at covering tight ends last year, Eifert has a great chance to regain his relevance in the fantasy world in Week 1.

Tyler Eifert runs against the Houston Texans during the second half at Paul Brown Stadium.
USA Today Sports Images

Antonio Gates, Los Angeles Chargers - With Gates only signing his one-year deal with the Chargers a few days ago, it is not 100 percent certain he'll play Sunday against the Chiefs. But assuming he does, Gates could be looking at a pleasant return to the only team he has ever suited up for. Rivers has always enjoyed throwing to his tight ends, totaling 115 targets between Gates and Hunter Henry last year. With Henry likely to miss the entire season with a torn ACL, Gates could easily become Rivers' favorite red zone target once again. As each day passes, it looks more and more likely that the Chiefs will have to open the season without their star safety Eric Berry. As long as Gates is active, he makes a great sleeper pick in LA's 2018 debut.  

Matt Citak is a Web producer for WFAN Sports Radio. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewCitak.