Fantasy Football Week 1 Predictions

Eric MackFantasy Football Lead WriterSeptember 4, 2014

Fantasy Football Week 1 Predictions

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    It is all over but the shouting. Even if the NFL season is just about to begin Thursday night, the fantasy drafts are complete and it is time to see the fruits of your preseason labor.

    Sure, you can tweak things as you go, but your team is in place and we merely wait for everything to develop—or unravel?

    Bleacher Report presents its (mostly bold) fantasy football Week 1 predictions in this slideshow, including MVPs, breakouts, busts, bounce-backs and top plays by position based on matchups. We even finish up with some deep waiver-wire options that might not have been considered by your fantasy brethren.

    We try to dig past the obvious mentions here, even if fantasy linchpins LeSean McCoy and Peyton Manning are primed to get off to huge starts. Most of your drafted studs have to play out of the gate, regardless of the matchups. Instead, use the analysis contained in these slides as a guide to setting lineups, finding hidden gems and navigating the sometimes uncertain kickoff weekend.

MVP

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    TE Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (at Atlanta Falcons)

    Projected Stat Line: Seven catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns

    The 27-year-old Graham is primed for a great start to a big year. Graham has averaged almost a touchdown per game against the Falcons in his career, but he explodes in a shootout with his division rival here. The Falcons gave up the third-most touchdowns to tight ends a year ago, per FFToday.com, and Graham is a nightmare matchup once again.

    The Falcons should be a lot more competitive this year, so we expect the game to be in doubt late. That is where Graham scores his second touchdown of the day.

    You had to reach up to snag Graham in Round 1 to start every week for you, but he rewards your faith dearly here.

     

    Honorable Mention

    LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)

    Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos (vs. Indianapolis Colts)

    Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos (vs. Indianapolis Colts)

Biggest Breakout Star

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers (at Arizona Cardinals)

    Projected Stat Line: Four catches for 80 yards and a touchdown

    Green will still be getting limited snaps and targets as long as Antonio Gates is healthy, but he is a great sleeper play in Week 1 against an Arizona Cardinals defense that tight ends torched a year ago. The Cardinals gave up league highs across the board against the position last year, according to FFtoday.com: 95 catches for 1,156 yards and 16 touchdowns.

    With Gates in the starting lineup, Green doesn't draw as much attention here and gets used as a second tight end in the red zone. Green, one of our favorite preseason breakouts in fantasy, is flying under the radar here. Start him with confidence because of the matchup.

     

    Honorable Mention

    Montee Ball, Denver Broncos (vs. Indianapolis Colts)

    Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers (at Dallas Cowboys)

Biggest Bust

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers (at Seattle Seahawks)

    Projected Stat Line: Three catches for 36 yards and no touchdowns

    The Legion of Boom won the Super Bowl for a reason, shutting down the most prolific offense in Super Bowl history. You don't want any part of messing with it in this season opener, even if you have to keep Aaron Rodgers, Nelson and Randall Cobb in your starting lineup as a matter of form.

    Here are some eye-popping numbers:

    • Two catches for 17 yards
    • One for 20 yards
    • Three for 18 yards

    That is what the Legion of Boom allowed Roddy White (one for 20) and Larry Fitzgerald in games a year ago. They gave up only two 100-yard games to receivers all season and easily finished No. 1 in fantasy against wideouts, per FFToday.com.

    There is bad news coming for owners of the Packers passing-game pieces Thursday night. You almost have to grin...err, wince...and bear it.

    Update Friday, Sept. 5: The Seahawks blew out the Packers, forcing Rodgers into obvious passing situations for most of the game—particularly with feature running back Eddie Lacy out with a concussion. Nelson and Cobb wound up having serviceable days against the Seahawks secondary in relative garbage time. Nelson had nine catches for 83 yards and Cobb caught six passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. That is about as much as you should have hoped for.

     

    Dishonorable Mention

    Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers (at Arizona Cardinals)

    Ryan Tannehill/Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins (vs. New England Patriots)

Biggest Bounce-Back Player

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills (at Chicago Bears)

    Projected Stat Line: 14 carries for 105 yards and five catches for 50 yards and a touchdown

    Fantasy has a funny way of switching gears on you. A year ago, Spiller was the next huge thing. He was going to become a lock-it-up fantasy star for a run-heavy Buffalo Bills offense. Instead, he just couldn't put Fred Jackson away.

    You might not realize this, but as much as Doug Marrone's Bills struggled offensively, they still finished with the NFL's second-best rushing offense. That was with Spiller struggling his way through ankle issues.

    Spiller is healthy now, and the Chicago Bears, while improved against the run with the addition of defensive end Lamarr Houston, still have a lot of ground to cover, literally, with their run defense. It was atrocious a year ago—dead last in the NFL by more than 400 yards.

    A healthy Spiller is going to reintroduce himself as a legit fantasy threat in this one.

     

    Honorable Mention

    Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)

    Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (at Dallas Cowboys)

Top QB Matchup Plays

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Here are the bottom five teams versus fantasy QBs (2013, per FFToday.com):

    1. Minnesota Vikings (at St. Louis Rams)
    2. Dallas Cowboys (vs. San Francisco 49ers)
    3. Jacksonville Jaguars (at Philadelphia Eagles)
    4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Carolina Panthers)
    5. Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)

     

    Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (at Dallas Cowboys) 

    Projected Stat Line: 320 yards passing, two touchdowns, 45 yards rushing and one TD

    Kaep got off to a 412-yard, three-touchdown start a year ago before his supposed breakthrough year went mostly downhill. He starts hot again against arguably the worst defense the NFL has ever seen.

    The Cowboys were the only team to give up more than 400 yards per game a year ago, finishing last in the NFL in total defense and finishing with the second-worst defense of all time, according to Shawn Lealos of CBS Dallas/Fort Worth. Then, they lost defensive end DeMarcus Ware, the team's all-time sack leader, and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher to free agency. Finally, middle linebacker Sean Lee, the heart and soul of the defense, went down for the season in OTAs.

    Dallas will be a work in progress defensively and a great matchup for fantasy owners of their opponents. Kaepernick is a must-start quarterback in all fantasy leagues, particularly since the 49ers defense is banged up too, and Dallas' offense figures to be spry in the home opener.

     

    Honorable Mention

    Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (vs. Green Bay Packers)

    Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)

Top RB Matchup Plays

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    Here are the bottom five teams versus fantasy RBs (2013, per FFToday.com):

    1. Dallas Cowboys (vs. San Francisco 49ers)
    2. Chicago Bears (vs. Buffalo Bills)
    3. Tennessee Titans (at Kansas City Chiefs)
    4. Washington Redskins (at Houston Texans)
    5. Oakland Raiders (at New York Jets)

     

    Chris Johnson, New York Jets (vs. Oakland Raiders)

    Projected Stat Line: 16 carries for 105 yards, one touchdown and four catches for 36 yards

    Johnson might have to deal with Chris Ivory as a timeshare back and touchdown vulture, but Johnson still promises to get off to a good start against a Raiders team that is the oldest in the NFL, according to Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com. The Raiders made some free-agent defensive additions this winter, but most of them came in the older category: Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Carlos Rogers.

    Johnson will be making his official debut in a Jets uniform at home, and he will break one of his signature long touchdowns late, when the aged Raiders defense is worn down by Ivory. Johnson is a must-start back in this matchup.

     

    Honorable Mention

    Frank Gore/Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers (at Dallas Cowboys)

    C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills (at Chicago Bears)

    Arian Foster, Houston Texans (vs. Washington Redskins)

Top WR Matchup Plays

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Here are the bottom five teams versus fantasy WRs (2013, per FFToday.com):

    1. Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)
    2. Minnesota Vikings (at St. Louis Rams)
    3. Detroit Lions (vs. New York Giants)
    4. San Diego Chargers (at Arizona Cardinals)
    5. Oakland Raiders (at New York Jets)

     

    Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)

    Projected Stat Line: Six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown

    The Eagles released DeSean Jackson to sign with a division rival without getting any compensation for an 82-catch, 1,332-yard, nine-touchdown receiver. Maclin, coming off reconstructive knee surgery, is the reason. Maclin should be in for a bountiful return against a Jags defense that allowed the fourth-most touchdowns (19) to wideouts a year ago (only the Eagles, Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers allowed more), per the above link.

    Maclin might not have been drafted to start for you, but you should have him active in all leagues here. Start Riley Cooper and perhaps rookie Jordan Matthews too.

     

    Honorable Mention

    Larry Fitzgerald/Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals (vs. San Diego Chargers)

    Michael Crabtree/Anquan Boldin/Stevie Johnson, San Francisco 49ers (at Dallas Cowboys)

    Victor Cruz, New York Giants (at Detroit Lions)

    Eric Decker, New York Jets (vs. Oakland Raiders)

Top TE Matchup Plays

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Here are the bottom five teams versus fantasy TEs (2013, per FFToday.com):

    1. Arizona Cardinals (vs. San Diego Chargers)
    2. Minnesota Vikings (at St. Louis Rams)
    3. Jacksonville Jaguars (at Philadelphia Eagles)
    4. Dallas Cowboys (vs. San Francisco 49ers)
    5. Miami Dolphins (vs. New England Patriots)

     

    Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers (at Arizona Cardinals)

    Projected Stat Line: Five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown

    We already hyped Gates' backup Ladarius Green as fantasy Week 1's biggest breakout star because of the favorable matchup, so we have to pump up the Chargers' actual tight end starter and future Hall of Famer here.

    As we noted in a previous slide and above, the Cardinals are vulnerable to the tight end, despite having a pretty good secondary. The Chargers have famously been a tight end-friendly team with Philip Rivers at the helm, mostly thanks to Gates. You might not have drafted Gates or Green to start for you, but you can use either or both in this favorable Week 1 matchup.

     

    Honorable Mention

    Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)

    Coby Fleener/Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts (at Denver Broncos)

    Tim Wright, New England Patriots (at Miami Dolphins), particularly if Rob Gronkowski (knee) is inactive

Top D/ST Matchup Plays

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    Here are the bottom five teams versus fantasy D/STs (2013, per FFToday.com):

    1. New York Giants (at Detroit Lions)
    2. Houston Texans (vs. Washington Redskins)
    3. New York Jets (vs. Oakland Raiders)
    4. Minnesota Vikings (at St. Louis Rams)
    5. Washington Redskins (at Houston Texans)

     

    New York Jets (vs. Oakland Raiders) 

    Projected Stat Line: Five sacks, three turnovers, one touchdown and just 10 points against

    In Bleacher Report's Week 1 Big Board on Wednesday, we already trumpeted the sleeper start of the week as the Jets defense against rookie quarterback Derek Carr in his NFL debut. You have to love a Rex Ryan defense getting fresh meat, even if this might not be as talented of a group as Ryan is used to.

    Raiders QB Carr said of going against Ryan's historically stingy defense, via Raiders.com:

    He's got a great blitz package. He's got, obviously, a lot of different looks that he'll show. Me being a rookie, he's probably going to want to show them all. I go in and expect, as much as I can, I expect everything. Then if something doesn't happen, then I'll be surprised. That's how I have to prepare. I have to prepare for everything, even maybe for something he hasn't shown but could show.

    The rookie might make some plays, but you have to figure there are sacks, turnovers and at least a defensive touchdown to be had here. As we noted in the link above, the Jets have a strong history against rookie quarterbacks in the Ryan regime, and the Raiders are playing the 1 p.m. ET game across the country. It is going to take a while for them to wake up and the rookie Carr to feel comfortable.

     

    Honorable Mention

    Washington Redskins (at Houston Texans)

    St. Louis Rams (vs. Minnesota Vikings)

    Detroit Lions (vs. New York Giants)

Top Waiver-Wire Targets

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Here are the top 10 most-added players in fantasy this week, per CBSSports.com:

    1. K Nate Freese, Detroit Lions
    2. RB Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals
    3. WR Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
    4. WR Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles
    5. WR Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints
    6. TE Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
    7. WR Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
    8. RB Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans
    9. WR Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    10. K Cody Parkey, Philadelphia Eagles

    Note: This list doesn't traditionally reveal much in Week 1, since most of these are players who just weren't owned at the end of last season (rookies and injury returnees). It will prove more useful in finding the popular fantasy pickups as the season wears on.

     

    QB Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans (at Kansas City Chiefs)

    Projected Stat Line: 280 yards passing, two touchdowns and 30 yards rushing

    Locker, owned in just 26 percent and starting in a mere 2 percent of CBSSports.com leagues, is one of the best sleeper plays in two-quarterback formats this week. The Chiefs figure to have one of the worst secondaries in football this season, judging by their second-half collapse a year ago and their inability to significantly improve a secondary that was in the bottom 10 of the NFL against the pass.

    Locker's preseason passer rating of 119.9 was fourth-best among qualifiers, according to The Tennessean's John Glennon, who wrote Locker has said he's "more comfortable in Ken Whisenhunt's system than he was under any of his previous play-callers, so if he stays healthy, Locker might be ready to put up big numbers."

    This is a good matchup to start.

     

    RB Chris Ivory, New York Jets (vs. Oakland Raiders)

    Projected Stat Line: 15 carries for 65 yards and a touchdown

    As stated in the Top RB Matchup Plays slide, the Jets should get off to a nice start, pounding the rock at the Raiders run defense. Ivory and Chris Johnson are going to share carries, with Ivory doing most of the short-yardage and goal-line work. The Raiders are going to miss defensive end Lamarr Houston against the run this season.

    Ivory is owned in just 58 percent of leagues (active in just 5 percent), so he is a solid sleeper or flex play because of the matchup.

     

    WR Stevie Johnson, San Francisco 49ers (at Dallas Cowboys)

    Projected Stat Line: Four catches for 60 yards and a touchdown

    No one is expecting much from Johnson right now. He is owned in just 17 percent of leagues (active in 2 percent), but as we mentioned, that Dallas Cowboys defense might be legendarily bad. If they overcompensate for Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and the running game, Johnson can slip behind the secondary for some big plays and a touchdown or two.

     

    TE Tim Wright, New England Patriots (at Miami Dolphins)

    Projected Stat Line: Four catches for 40 yards and a touchdown

    We didn't mention it explicitly before, but the Dolphins were a bottom-five defense against fantasy tight ends a year ago, per FFToday.com. Regardless of whether Rob Gronkowski (knee) suits up in Week 1, he will be play something significantly less than 100 percent of the snaps. There should be some throws for Wright here, which is noteworthy amid his mere 26 percent ownership in fantasy.

     

    D/ST New York Jets (vs. Oakland Raiders)

    Projected Stat Line: Five sacks, three turnovers, one touchdown and just 10 points against

    We already hyped this as a Top D/ST Matchup Play, but we left this pearl out of the discussion: The Jets are available in three-quarters of fantasy leagues. They should be starting in 75 percent of leagues in this matchup.

     

    K Nate Freese, Detroit Lions (vs. New York Giants)

    Projected Stat Line: Three field goals and two extra points

    The rookie kicker has some nice sleeper value this season, but a big Monday night performance has the potential to make him the most-added kicker in fantasy next week. The fact he kicks more than half of his games in domes this season is mere gravy. Freese is available in more than half of fantasy leagues, but that doesn't figure to last long.

     

    Honorable Mention

    QB Shaun Hill, St. Louis Rams (vs. Minnesota Vikings)

    RB Robert Turbin, Seattle Seahawks (vs. Green Bay Packers)

    WR Andre Caldwell, Denver Broncos (vs. Indianapolis Colts)

    TE Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts (at Denver Broncos)

    D/ST Washington Redskins (at Houston Texans)

    K Cody Parkey, Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)

     

    Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.