Fantasy Football Week 1: Early Advice for Your Season-Opening Roster
The NFL preseason is behind us, rapidly becoming a distant and annoying memory. Onward we march, with the 2014 regular season directly ahead.
All that preparation for your fantasy draft is likely over, unless you have a straggling draft left. Even then, you will have plenty to think about for your first matchup of the season.
While I could easily bore you with fantasy rankings—you can find them at FantasyPros.com, along with those of over 100 other fantasy analysts—here is some general advice for Week 1.
Start Your Studs...
In the annual Ritual of Unnecessary Stress, fantasy owners will come out of the euphoria of draft day to the weekly lineup-setting gauntlet before the first week's games even approach.
In many cases, starting lineups should be all but set in stone for Week 1. After all, you drafted your first eight or nine players with the idea they would start, right?
When it comes to the top of your draft, however, there should be no question—start your studs.
Don't second-guess whether to start Aaron Rodgers over your second quarterback simply because the former is playing against the Seattle Seahawks defense on the road. He may not light Richard Sherman and Co. up for 450 yards and four touchdowns, but he should still have a nice fantasy output.
Start your studs. Don't get cute.
...Unless They're Not Actually Studs
The line of demarcation is pretty clear when it comes to fantasy football—if you drafted a player in the first two rounds, consider him a stud. Depending on scoring format, lineup settings and the like, you can probably consider the first three or four rounds "stud territory."
After that? Don't be afraid to throw your players into the mix for starting gigs in your fantasy lineup in Week 1.
Now, Cam Newton, pictured above, might be in the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. But as an early fantasy option, he is anything but elite.
The Panthers quarterback missed plenty of time during the offseason, which seemed to throw him off throughout the preseason. He then cracked a rib in preseason Week 3, which put his Week 1 status in doubt for a bit.
While head coach Ron Rivera seems hopeful Newton will start (via Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer), that doesn't mean he's going to be 100 percent healthy:
I'm pretty confident on it, and we'll see as he progresses. The true evaluation will come in about a week. We're looking at this Saturday getting a good feel on where and how he is.
Hence, Newton is not a slam dunk this week, though he always has big upside thanks to his rushing ability. There are plenty of quality players going in the fifth round or later who have question marks.
Unlike the studs, you should absolutely maximize your lineup by looking at matchups and other factors that might affect fantasy output.
Don't be shy about benching Mike Wallace just because he was the third receiver you drafted—he is going up against Darrelle Revis, after all. Don't be shy about playing Frank Gore against that porous Dallas Cowboys defense just because Carlos Hyde had a nice preseason.
Branch Out for Advice
These days, there are countless places to find fantasy advice. So why would you stick with one or two sources?
That is no slight against those gurus who have been doing this for years. There is plenty of valuable advice to be had from the biggest names in the industry. It's just likely that many of your leaguemates will be listening to the same advice.
Don't you want an edge?
If you haven't already, it's time to branch out. Of course, you might not be here if that wasn't already the case, but there is plenty of quality advice to be had all over the Internet.
Of course, that doesn't mean you should go listening to any fantasy advice willy-nilly—choose your sources wisely. But there is plenty of quality advice to be found across the web, particularly on Twitter.
You can find a host of great information on the social media platform, including from yours truly if you are so inclined. If you haven't already, dive in and find the advice you are looking for.
Pay Attention to Betting Lines
This is sort of a subterranean concept in the fantasy realm, but it could be growing exponentially in the coming years.
Betting lines can give you clues about who to start in the fantasy football realm. Generally speaking, if a team is favored—especially heavily—you might be able to count on its top running back more than a team that is expected to pass a lot because it's getting blown out.
While gambling is an entirely different animal, you could use betting lines to make difficult lineup decisions. Chase Stuart took a close look at the phenomenon over at Footballguys (subscription required):
As a general rule in guiding your "Who Do I Start" decisions, you want to break ties in favor of players on teams you expect to be victorious. On average, those players will score more touchdowns, get more touchdowns, and gain more yards.
Some players, though, are even more extreme than this general rule. Players like [Alfred] Morris, [Marshawn] Lynch, [DeMarco] Murray, [Ray] Rice, and [Chris] Ivory are more likely to have their best games when their teams are successful. If a team has another back on the roster who is more likely to see time when the team is trailing -- say, New England with Shane Vereen, San Diego with [Danny] Woodhead, Philadelphia with [Darren] Sproles, or the Jets with [Chris] Johnson -- the pass-catching back may surprise with some of his best games when the team is trailing early.
The rest of the piece details how this is the case.
Streaming a Defense
You've gone through fantasy-draft season, and you heeded the advice to avoid defenses until late, right? If you didn't, shame on you, and you can probably ignore this.
If you did, you might want to look for a good matchup for Week 1 rather than the defense you drafted. Or, if you are really savvy, you avoided drafting a defense—along with kicker—altogether to maximize your roster potential until the last minute.
Here are some Week 1 defenses that may be available and could have nice weeks.
New York Jets
The Oakland Raiders didn't exactly look coherent on offense during the preseason, at least not in any meaningful game action. They head into Week 1 with questions at quarterback.
The Jets, meanwhile, have a fantastic defensive front and get to play the Raiders at home. Even with questions in the secondary, New York figures to have a solid outing against either depressing Matt Schaub or rookie David Carr.
True, the Falcons are going up against the New Orleans Saints. There is little reason to believe this won't be a shootout either.
Part of that shootout, however, could involve a return touchdown, and that is where the gamble lies with the Falcons.
Atlanta brought return specialist Devin Hester into the fold to shore up that part of the team. While he might not be in his prime, Hester is still capable of exploding for a touchdown on a punt.
This may be a bigger gamble than other defenses out there, but if you have few options, the Falcons might give you the best odds for a big day.
The Bears weren't very good on defense last season, but that doesn't preclude them from having a nice opening week.
The Buffalo Bills are coming to town with struggling quarterback EJ Manuel at the controls. He did nothing to instill confidence in any sort of cogent offensive attack, which could be good news for that Bears defense.
Streaming a Kicker
In similar fashion to defenses, you should be looking for a kicker to start in Week 1. Here are some of the more interesting options that could be available on your waiver wire.
The Philadelphia Eagles held a kicker competition, and Alex Henery lost. You might be surprised how many people still don't know this—some recent fantasy drafts saw owners taking Henery instead of the winner, Cody Parkey.
The latter had a fine preseason, including hitting a pair of 50-plus-yard field goals in the final game. The Eagles are at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars in what should be a walk.
Last season, Folk hit his first 23 field goals and was generally a great kicker in fantasy terms. He is not particularly big-legged, but he could well see a few field-goal attempts to go with a few extra-point attempts at home against the Oakland Raiders.
Pick the Guy Who Is Going to Get More Playing Time
So you are staring at a lineup decision, unable to decide between Jordan Matthews and Kelvin Benjamin for some unknown reason. What do you do?
OK, so that may be a bit of an extreme example, but these sorts of decisions present themselves every week, even the first.
In this example, one player is going to start and likely garner more passing targets—Benjamin with the Panthers. That is because he's the No. 1 receiver in Carolina, whereas Matthews is No. 3 in Philadelphia. The situation is exacerbated for Matthews by the fact running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Zach Ertz may be ahead of him for targets.
Generally speaking, the more opportunities to score fantasy points, the better for a player. If you are choosing between two players—whether it's at a specific position or the flex—consider their expected workload. Even if one has more upside, you might be better suited playing the other if he is expected to have double the touches.
This weekend is the first of many. Hopefully you will win your fantasy matchups.
The good news is that a loss doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things. Don't go making crazy trade offers if your top running back puts up a stinker or your starting quarterback exits with a minor injury.
Too many fantasy seasons are sunk because of overreaction. As The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would say, don't panic.
Of course, if you are on the other side of the coin—too many quality players, not enough room in your starting lineup—you might want to take advantage of the pandemonium that could ensue after half your league loses.