by Scott Spratt
Welcome to our new Start and Sit column. Hurricane Dorian had me nervous -- especially as I write this in the piedmont of North Carolina -- but the opening weekend of the NFL season looks exceptional for the fans in the stands as well as those on their couches. Temperatures are forecasted north of 60 degrees Fahrenheit without rain and minimal wind at every venue this week. A couple of dome games in Minnesota and New Orleans will push a few fantasy performers to some home/road extremes, but by and large, the best and worst start and sit options for the week will be up to the players.
The following tables feature the players with the best and worst matchups of the week. Each listed player shows a true-talent (TT) ranking that represents how I would rank him with a perfectly neutral game context. Then, that ranking is adjusted by adding the context of the venue (Ven)—home and road and dome and outside—the forecasted weather (Wea), and the defensive tendencies of the opponent (Def). The line beneath those rankings shows how much those contextual factors move projected PPR fantasy points. That total (Tot) number gives you a comprehensive estimate of how many fantasy points the player will score this week more or less than their typical total.
|Best Week 1 Matchups -- Quarterbacks|
Get used to seeing Drew Brees at the top of the best and worst weekly matchup lists, because he consistently shows some of the most extreme home/road splits at the position. Over the last three seasons, Brees has scored 3.0 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road. In 2018, that split was exaggerated further to 7.4 points.
Remember how Brees fell apart in the second half of last year? He threw for 171, 121, 201, and 203 yards in consecutive games from Weeks 12 to 15. Well, three of those four games were on the road in Dallas, Tampa Bay, and Carolina. The first one was at home against Atlanta, and his low yardage total there belied a four-touchdown performance. He threw just two combined touchdowns in those three road games. The 40-year-old Brees isn't the fantasy star he was at his peak, hence his 16th-place true-talent (TT) ranking. That said, I don't buy the narrative that he showed decline in the second half of last season when his performance splits matched a home/road trend he has shown his entire career. I would try to avoid him on the road in 2019, but I would start him with confidence whenever he is in the dome in New Orleans.
Brees' NFC South teammate Jameis Winston is one of only a handful of Week 1 starters who showed more extreme home/road splits last season. Winston averaged 9.7 more fantasy points per game in Tampa Bay than elsewhere, and while that split may have been stretched by a less-than-full-season sample of games, he has a Brees-like 3.8-fantasy-point home advantage since 2016 even without a dome stadium of his own. Hurricane Dorian has given way to a Sunday 4:25 p.m. forecast of 90 degrees Fahrenheit with clear skies and no wind. He should turn in a strong fantasy performance against a 49ers team that has finished in the bottom six in pass defense DVOA each of the last three seasons. He is my No. 2 fantasy quarterback for the week.
|Worst Week 1 Matchups -- Quarterbacks|
After his record-setting first year as a starter in 2018, I'm not sure Patrick Mahomes is susceptible to different game contexts the way mere mortal quarterbacks are. To that point, he averaged 312 passing yards and 3.6 touchdowns per game on the road in 2018, and his 7.1-fantasy-point road advantage was the biggest at the position. But if Mahomes is going to show splits in 2019, they should show up in Week 1 more than most weeks. His opposing Jaguars defense isn't quite at its peak as the No. 1 DVOA pass defense from 2017, but they still finished sixth in 2018. And they still cut passing touchdowns by 22 percent, fourth-most behind only the Bears, Colts, and Ravens defenses.
Speaking of the Bears defense, Aaron Rodgers faces them in tonight's opening kickoff. He may have enjoyed a miracle comeback win over the Bears this time last year, but his 274-0-1 passing performance in Chicago last December may better forecast what he can expect facing last year's No. 1 DVOA defense. We expect what was an historically great defense to experience some regression, but that still lands them as the No. 4 defense with a -5.2% DVOA projection behind just the Texans, Jaguars, and Vikings. I would actually bench Rodgers for Winston this week, but even if you are a more conservative full-season player, you should definitely avoid Rodgers in DraftKings, where he is the fourth-most expensive quarterback in Week 1.
|Best Week 1 Matchups -- Running Backs|
A big part of my bearish projection for Mahomes stems from the Chiefs' specific weakness in run defense. Last year, the Chiefs defense allowed an unbelievable 5.28 adjusted line yards and were particularly weak against power runs, allowing opposing backs a 78 percent success rate. At home, the Jaguars are maybe the best team in football to exploit that weakness. Leonard Fournette has seen his star fall a bit over the last two seasons, but his 115 and -4 DYAR the last two years suggest he is a better player than his 3.9 and 3.3 yards per carry averages do. He tends to face high-difficulty carries like third-and-short, which damages his less-sophisticated statistics. Whether or not he is a great player, the Jaguars will almost certainly ride him heavily this week with just fifth-round and undrafted rookies Ryquell Armstead and Devine Ozigbo plus special teamer Tyler Ervin behind him on the depth chart. That should lead to tremendous fantasy production. He is my No. 4 PPR back.
|Worst Week 1 Matchups -- Running Backs|
By and large, most prominent running backs have decent matchups this week. Aaron Jones drew the short straw because the stellar Bears pass defense is also pretty good against the run, cutting rushing yards per attempt by 14 percent and touchdowns by an alarming 50 percent. Jones is still flex-worthy, but he will likely not be the top-flight RB2 this week I expect him to be most weeks.
Your guess is as good as mine as to which Texans back will lead their backfield this week. That said, I'm confident newcomer Carlos Hyde suffers more for the matchup against the Saints than receiving back Duke Johnson. The Saints defense is generally better against the pass than the run -- they were the No. 22 pass defense by DVOA last year but allowed the second-lowest adjust line yards (3.61). But the Saints also tend to build leads when they play at home. That leads to 15 percent fewer rushing attempts for their opponents, who are forced to abandon the run when they fall behind by multiple scores. I wouldn't start Hyde in pretty much any format.
|Best Week 1 Matchups -- Wide Receivers|
Most attribute the Falcons' defensive catastrophe in 2018 to their Week 1 losses of star linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal. I don't necessarily disagree, but that may shortchange the poor play of cornerbacks Robert Alford and Brian Poole. They had 35 and 41 percent coverage success rates in 2018, which put them in last and second-to-last place among qualified cornerbacks. Yikes. New starters Desmond Trufant and Isaiah Oliver fared a bit better with 48 and 52 percent success rates, but the Falcons will still have to hope that everything works better with everyone healthy. That really wasn't the case in 2017 when they finished 20th in DVOA. I'm eager to start both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs against them at home in Minnesota this week.
Tyler Lockett hasn't developed the reputation his 16th-place PPR finish in 2018 should have earned him. Many still think of him exclusively as a deep threat. Well, Lockett nearly matched his league-leading 82.4% DVOA out wide in 2018 with a 54.8% DVOA from the slot that was second best in football. And now that slot receiver Doug Baldwin retired, Russell Wilson will likely rely on Lockett on a variety of routes. I expect Lockett to be a fixture in my top-20 PPR receivers. He's seventh for me this week.
|Worst Week 1 Matchups -- Wide Receivers|
The matchup between Fournette and the Chiefs run defense has my attention, but the one between Tyreek Hill and Jalen Ramsey has everyone else's. It was nearly a year ago when Ramsey offered Hill some bulletin board material by calling him a "return specialist." On Sunday, he'll likely shadow Hill in coverage. Ramsey wasn't quite the top-flight cover corner in 2018 that he was in 2017. His coverage success rate fell from 61 percent (seventh-best at the position) to 55 percent (just 27th-best). But wherever Ramsey's true talent lies at this point, expect Hill to have a below-average game by his own lofty standard. Any success the Jaguars can have running the ball would likely limit the number of offensive plays on which the Chiefs can rack up fantasy points.
If you trust last year's coverage stats that tell you Ramsey is not the league's best cover corner, then that player may instead be Patrick Peterson. He finished seventh at the position with a 60 percent coverage success rate and has anchored the outside of a Cardinals pass defense that has finished in the top 10 in DVOA each of the last three seasons. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Peterson will miss the first six games of this season with a PED suspension. That leaves normal backup Tramaine Brock and second-round rookie Byron Murphy as the starting corners. As such, I'm not quite as scared by Kenny Golladay's matchup as his inclusion in the bottom five would suggest. That said, the Cardinals tended to fall behind in games last year, which reduced their opponents' pass plays by 10 percent and increased their rushing plays by 24 percent. Maybe things will be different under Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray this year, but I still think the Lions are a decent bet to enjoy a run-focused easy win in Arizona this week.
|Best Week 1 Matchups -- Tight Ends|
I mentioned previously that the Texans are Football Outsiders' No. 1 projected DVOA defense this season. However, they do have a specific weakness against tight ends. They have allowed 15.2% and 16.3% DVOA to opposing tight ends the last two seasons, which ranked them 27th and 23rd in football. Last year, they allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to tight ends. That makes the Saints' Jared Cook a stellar play this week. The seasons since Jimmy Graham's departure have demonstrated that the Saints' reliance on tight ends in the passing game is dependent on the quality of those options. But Cook turned in an impressive season of 68 catches, 896 yards, and six touchdowns in Oakland a year ago. He may be Brees' third choice in the passing game behind Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara this year.
|Worst Week 1 Matchups -- Tight Ends|
The possibly retired Telvin Smith is the more renowned Jaguars linebacker because of his gaudy tackle numbers in recent seasons, but Myles Jack is the superior coverage player. Jack prevented receiver success on 59 percent of his coverage plays in 2018, 12th-best at the position. Smith was down in 47th place at 47 percent. Even without Smith, I expect the Jaguars to maintain their success that resulted in a -5.9% DVOA allowed to tight ends in 2018, 13th in football. You cannot bench Travis Kelce in any typical season-long fantasy format. Even with his poor venue and defensive matchups in Week 1, he barely falls to my No. 3 tight end. But Kelce is the most expensive tight end this week on DraftKings and $500 and $1,000 more expensive than my No. 2 and No. 1 fantasy tight end options this week, George Kittle and Zach Ertz. Forgo Kelce this one week and allocate that money to other positions.