Welcome to Week 1 and our first Start ’Em, Sit ’Em column of the season. Here’s a quick primer on what we’ll do in this space each week:
You don’t need me to tell you to start Aaron Rodgers or Antonio Brown, and you don’t need me instructing you to keep Cameron Artis-Payne on your bench this week. Rather than wasting your time, I will focus on interesting bubble players.
Be sure to bookmark this column until kickoff on Sunday—I will be updating as new information becomes available. You will also be able to find start/sit advice from us in the form of our weekly rankings and get last minute advice during my Facebook Live chat every Sunday morning at 12:15 p.m. ET.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the start and sit recommendations for Week 1.
Jameis Winston (at Falcons)
Winston starts year two of his career with a division matchup against the Falcons that has all the makings of a fast-paced, high-scoring game, as indicated by an over/under of 47.5. Mike Evans will spend most of his day dealing with Desmond Trufant, but Atlanta’s defense remains a work in progress under Dan Quinn. Winston should thrive on Sunday.
Philip Rivers (at Chiefs)
Credit where it is due. The following stats are courtesy of @14TeamMocker, an excellent follow on Twitter: The Chiefs, who are favored by seven points over the Chargers, allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards and eighth-fewest rushing touchdowns last year. Since 2013, the Chargers have faced a top-10 rushing defense while being at least four-point underdogs 10 times. They averaged 43 pass attempts for 318 yards in those games. The Chargers may lose, but Rivers is going to feast.
Derek Carr (at Saints)
This one may be somewhat obvious, but you want Carr in your lineup. This game features an over/under of 50.5 and likely one of the worst defenses in the league in the Saints. Carr is my No. 3 quarterback this week.
Blake Bortles (vs. Packers)
The Jags want to run the ball more this season, but this won’t be the week. The Packers head into Jacksonville as 4.5-point favorites and at full strength for the first time since 2014. Bortles is going to have to throw like it’s last season to keep up with Aaron Rodgers & Co.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (vs. Bengals)
This should be one of the more entertaining games this weekend, from a real-life standpoint. While I’m starting Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker with confidence, Fitzpatrick could be in some trouble against the vaunted Cincinnati defense. The Jets’ passing game is too good to completely fade Fitzpatrick, but I can find 14 quarterbacks I like more this week.
Dak Prescott (vs. Giants)
There’s a lot of optimism surrounding Prescott after his excellent preseason, but now everything is ratcheted up about 100 notches. Prescott could prove to be the Cowboys’ savior this year, but there’s no reason to bet on that being the case in Week 1. Even in superflex formats, I’d be wary about having him in my starting lineup with the Giants’ improved defense, led by Janoris Jenkins and Olivier Vernon.
Spencer Ware (vs. Chargers)
With Jamaal Charles a long shot to play Sunday as he continues to make his way back to full strength after last season’s torn ACL, Ware is set for a huge workload. Andy Reid could do what he does and get Charcandrick West significantly involved, but that risk is so minimal, and the payoff for having Ware in your lineup could be huge. He’ll have the Charles role, if not quite the Charles talent. That’s good enough for a big day.
Ryan Mathews (vs. Browns)
Could this game possibly set up better for Mathews? Carson Wentz will be making his first career start, doing so in a Doug Pederson offense. Vanilla doesn’t even begin to describe the scheme we will see from the Eagles. On top of that, Philly is favored by 4.5 points and going up against a Cleveland defense expected to struggle against the run all year. You may not start Mathews every week, but you have to start him this week.
Rashad Jennings (at Cowboys)
Jennings could prove to be one of this season’s biggest bargains, thanks to a shift in philosophy that should net him the lion’s share of the work in the Giants’ backfield. Sunday’s matchup is neither great nor terrible, but with the game expected to be close, Jennings could be in for 20 or so touches. He’s a safe RB2 play this weekend.
T.J. Yeldon (vs. Packers)
This one is a bit off script, but follow along with me. Yeldon impressed all preseason, handling a majority of Jacksonville’s carries in the middle of the field while dominating passing snaps. Green Bay and Jacksonville are expected to play to a game total of 47, with the Packers favored by 4.5 points. That sets up for a lucrative passing day for the Jaguars.
Thomas Rawls (vs. Dolphins)
I’ve been so down on Rawls all summer that including him in the sit section for Week 1 is almost reflexive. Christine Michael is expected to start for the Seahawks with the team still trying to ease Rawls back into game shape after he broke his ankle last December. If this game gets out of hand—and the Seahawks are favored by 10.5 points—they would have even less of a reason to give him much run.
Derrick Henry (vs. Vikings)
I’m excited to watch Tennessee’s exotic smashmouth offense with Marcus Mariota, DeMarco Murray and Henry. The Titans turned me into a believer this summer, and I think there will be weeks when both backs are viable fantasy starters. That, however, is not the case this week against a strong Minnesota defense.
Matt Jones (vs. Steelers)
Jones is on track to start Monday night’s game against the Steelers, but that’s about the only good news he has produced since the start of the summer. He missed most of training camp with a shoulder injury, played sparingly in the preseason and generally received tepid reviews when he was on the field. Moreover, the passing games should take center stage in this contest, and Jones is a non-factor as a receiver.
Terrance West (vs. Bills)
There was a week-long period in which it seemed like West might be a feasible fantasy starter early in the season, but the Ravens quickly dispelled that notion by stressing that all three of their healthy backs will play Sunday. I don’t have too many hard and fast rules, but one is that if three backs play in real life, none play in fantasy.
Kamar Aiken (vs. Bills)
The story for West’s teammate, Aiken, is completely different. The fourth-year pro out of UCF is the best receiver in Baltimore. He has a quarterback who throws a beautiful deep ball, and an offensive coordinator who wants to throw all day. Ronald Darby is a tough draw for any receiver, but Aiken could easily rack up double-digit targets in this game. I have him as a top-30 receiver this week.
DeSean Jackson (vs. Steelers)
Remember what I just said about Matt Jones? The opposite is true of his teammate. Jackson had a great summer, showing off the shiftiness and big-play ability that has made him a fantasy mainstay since entering the league. Pittsburgh’s secondary is the weak link of its defense, and the game line total is a robust 50.5. That adds up to an easy Jackson start.
Michael Crabtree (at Saints)
This is largely about the environment expected in New Orleans on Sunday, but who cares? Nearly everyone in this game is a viable starter, and while Amari Cooper deservedly gets a larger share of the spotlight, Crabree can contribute WR2 numbers this week. You can rarely go wrong fading the Saints defense on the Superdome’s fast track in a game with a 50.5 over/under.
Travis Benjamin (at Chiefs)
Everything that makes Philip Rivers a great play this week applies to Benjamin as well. Rivers is a better play relative to the rest of the quarterback pool than Benjamin is compared with his peers, but the fact remains that Rivers is the best bet of any QB to throw at least 40 passes this week. There’s no bad way to get invested in the San Diego passing game on Sunday.
Stefon Diggs (at Titans)
Diggs stock took a hit when Teddy Bridgewater suffered his unfortunate, season-ending leg injury, but he’s still a top-35 receiver in Week 1. The Titans are a good bet to take a step forward this season, but most of that development is expected on offense, not defense. Minnesota’s offensive focus could be on Adrian Peterson even more than usual in the early going this year, but it will have to make a play or two down the field to win this game on the road.
Jordan Matthews (vs. Browns)
Matthews has an unsavory accumulation of red flags, but I like him a bit better because he’ll play in the slot—thus avoiding Joe Haden—and the Browns could force a decent pace in this game. Still, I want to see a little something from Carson Wentz before I trust a receiver who I don’t expect to be more than a WR3 in a best-case scenario this season.
Kevin White (@ Texans)
White’s stock dropped all summer, eventually pushing him outside the top-40 receivers by average draft position. Last year’s seventh overall pick could very well figure things out in a Chicago offense that’s light on playmakers, but he’s not someone you have to trust Week 1 at fantasy’s deepest position.
Sterling Shepard (@ Cowboys)
Shepard was at the opposite end of the spectrum from White, climbing up draft boards all summer after earning a starting gig opposite Odell Beckham. Like White, however, he starts the season far enough down fantasy depth charts that you shouldn’t have to lean on him Week 1 in a neutral matchup. If he’s one of the three best receivers or six best flex players on your team, you messed up in your draft.
Dwayne Allen (vs. Lions)
The Lions and Colts should play one of the highest-scoring games this weekend, making all pass-catchers in this one viable fantasy starters. Allen is set to break out this season with Coby Fleener finally out of the way. An offense led by Andrew Luck is almost certain to produce three consistent starters at either receiver or tight end, and Allen should be the player to step up alongside T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief.
Martellus Bennett (at Cardinals)
When you get beyond the obvious starters at tight end, the herd thins out quickly. So why not take a shot on a proven commodity getting a new start in a great offense? Sure, the Patriots don’t have quite the same ceiling with Jimmy Garoppolo, but this team can still get up and down the field. Give me Bennett over the likes of Zach Ertz, Vance McDonald or the next two guys.
Jared Cook (at Jaguars)
We’re going to have to start calling Cook and Christine Michael the fantasy cockroaches because both can apparently survive anything. Cook received new life over the off-season after signing with the Packers, but remember that this offense has been just fine while getting nothing from its tight end since the halcyon days of Jermichael Finley. Cook should have to prove it to you before you trust him as a fantasy starter.
Zach Miller (at Texans)
Miller is expected to take on a larger role in the Chicago offense this season, but the Bears could have one of the true fantasy dud offenses. Miller has the feel of a guy you plug into your lineup when your regular tight end is on a bye, not someone you roll with in Week 1. He’s a matchup-based play at this stage of the season, and the matchup isn’t particularly great.
Defenses to stream
Tennessee Titans (vs. Vikings)
We don’t yet know who will start at quarterback for the Vikings, but we know it will either be Shaun Hill or Sam Bradford. That’s enough to make the Titans an attractive defense.
Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Browns)
The Eagles may not be a fixture in this space, but it’s hard to argue with them in Week 1. Remember, you want a defense that is likely to win, and the Eagles are favored by four points at home against the Browns. Philadelphia’s pass rush is good enough for a fantasy owner riding the defense carousel to bet on forcing Robert Griffin III into a mistake or two.