The B/R Guide to Dominating Fantasy Football in Week 1

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 8, 2022

The B/R Guide to Dominating Fantasy Football in Week 1

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    The big day is finally, mercifully here.

    It's time to play football.

    Thursday night in Los Angeles, the Rams will play host to the Buffalo Bills at SoFi Stadium in the first game of the 2022 season. And when that game begins, another season of fantasy football will start with it.

    To say that fantasy managers are eager for the season to begin is an understatement. But as glad as they are that football is back, they are also worried that the team they drafted won't be good enough to make playoffs. Fearful that a Week 1 loss will be the beginning of a disappointing campaign.

    The yips are real, dear reader. They are powerful. And they spare no one.

    In order to help fantasy managers stifle the yips, set a competitive lineup and enjoy the fruits of a well-earned victory, we'll be presenting a handy-dandy guide to dominating your fantasy league every week here at Bleacher Report.

    Want to know who to start? Got you covered. Who to sit? All set. Sleepers? Defenses? Mailbag questions? Even the one player who will make (or break) fantasy lineups?

    Check, check, check and check.

Week 1 Smash Starts

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    AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

    Every fantasy manager understandably wants to start the 2022 season off on the right foot with a Week 1 victory.

    One of the easiest ways to do so is to make sure these players are in starting lineups.

    You won't find any top-10 players listed here. "Always Start Your Stars" isn't a set-in-stone philosophy. But in the first week of the year, starting the players you used early-round picks on is generally a good idea.

    Don't overthink things.


    Quarterback

    Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys (vs. TB) [DraftKings DFS Value: $6,700]

    If the Cowboys are going to move the ball in Sunday's big NFC showdown, it's likely going to have to be through the air. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fielded a top-five run defense in 2021, but the Bucs were a mediocre 21st against the pass. They also allowed the 12th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. Who's up for a Sunday night shootout?


    Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (at MIN) [DraftKings DFS Value: $7,000]

    There has been plenty of handwringing about the Green Bay passing game with Davante Adams gone. But this week at least, the two-time reigning MVP will be fine. The Minnesota Vikings were 28th in pass defense last season, and Rodgers threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns the last time he traveled to the Twin Cities.


    Running Back

    Antonio Gibson, Washington Commanders (vs. JAX) [DraftKings DFS Value: $5,800]

    Gibson's fantasy value went through quite the roller coaster over the summer, from solid RB2 to so-so flex option. But with rookie Brian Robinson sidelined indefinitely after being shot multiple times in an attempted robbery, Gibson is back in his role as Washington's lead back ahead of a meeting with a Jacksonville Jaguars team that was 24th in run defense last season.


    Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles (at DET) [DraftKings DFS Value: $5,400]

    That Sanders already missed time in camp with a hamstring injury is not the best of signs for his availability for the season to come. But he is practicing and should serve as Philly's lead back this week in a plus matchup with a Lions defense that struggled against the run last year. If he can string together a couple of good games, he'll be a prime sell-high candidate.


    Wide Receiver

    Marquise Brown, Arizona Cardinals (vs. KC) [DraftKings DFS Value: $6,200]

    There are a couple of reasons to believe that Brown's first regular-season game with the Cardinals could be a big one. With DeAndre Hopkins serving a six-game suspension and Zach Ertz banged up, Brown should be the unquestioned No. 1 passing-game target. This game has all kinds of shootout potential. And the Chiefs were relatively kind to opposing wideouts in 2021.


    JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kansas City Chiefs (at AZ) [DraftKings DFS Value: $5,200]

    Like Miles Sanders, Smith-Schuster spent a sizable chunk of training camp watching from the sidelines. But the Chiefs' new No. 1 wide receiver is "ready to roll" against an Arizona Cardinals team that allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers in 2021. The over/under of 54 for this game at DraftKings is the highest of any game this week.


    Tight Ends

    Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers (at CIN) [DraftKings DFS Value: $4,200]

    There's still quite a bit we don't know about how the Steelers' passing game will shake out in 2022. What we do know is that Pittsburgh is going to have to put up points to keep pace with the Bengals on Sunday, and in 2021, at least Cincinnati was a good matchup for opposing tight ends, with the seventh-most fantasy points allowed to the position.


    T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions (vs. PHI) [DraftKings DFS Value: $4,900]

    On a per-game basis, Hockenson was a solid weekly starter for fantasy managers in 2021. The fourth-year pro was sixth in average PPR points per game, ahead of the likes of Kyle Pitts. Hockenson should start the 2022 season strong. Last year, no team in the NFC gave up more fantasy points to tight ends than the Eagles.

Week 1 Must-Fades

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    A handful of players are best left on the bench.

    As badly as fantasy managers want a Week 1 win, they are equally desperate to avoid taking a loss in their first fantasy action in well over six months.

    Sometimes, that desperation can create problems. Fantasy managers get so into the weeds about Week 1 lineup decisions that they take things too far. They get cute. And much more often than not, cute backfires.

    There's no reason to sit your first-round (or second-round) pick just because he has an unfavorable matchup. Until we get a few weeks into the season, we won't really know which matchups are good or bad.

    But the further down the draft board you get, the more likely it is that matchups will play a significant part in a player's fantasy fortunes.


    Quarterbacks

    Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals (vs. PIT) [DraftKings DFS Value: $6,400]

    The Steelers may not be the defensive juggernaut they once were, but they were light-years better against the pass than the run in 2021. When the Bengals last played the Steelers in Cincinnati, Joe Mixon went ballistic, but Burrow threw for just 190 yards and a touchdown.


    Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams (vs. BUF) [DraftKings DFS Value: $6,200]

    Stafford was already mentioned in this week's big board article at Bleacher Report, but this is one that merits being reinforced. The Bills were a terrible matchup for quarterbacks last year, allowing a league-low 163 passing yards per game and the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. If you have a viable Plan B, use it.


    Running Backs

    Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs (at AZ) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,400]

    Were it up to many fantasy managers, rookie Isiah Pacheco would already be the lead back in Kansas City. Those grumblings will only be louder after Week 1. Edwards-Helaire gets a dud matchup against a Cardinals defense that gave up the seventh-fewest fantasy points to running backs in 2021.


    Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (vs. TB) [DraftKings DFS Value $6,100]

    From a season-long perspective, Elliott may have been undervalued in drafts this year. But the veteran running back could be headed for a slow start to the 2022 season. The Buccaneers allowed just 92.5 rushing yards per game in 2021 and gave up the fifth-fewest fantasy points to running backs.


    Wide Receivers

    Amari Cooper, Cleveland Browns (at CAR) [DraftKingsDFS Value: $5,900]

    Cooper was drafted by fantasy managers this summer who talked themselves into believing that his talent and track record of production could overcome a shaky situation. Starting this week with a bad fantasy matchup for wide receivers in the Panthers, those managers are going to realize that isn't the case.


    Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas Raiders (at LAC) [DraftKings DFS Value: $5,800]

    Renfrow was fantastic for fantasy managers in 2021, catching over 100 passes and topping 1,000 receiving yards. But now he's playing second fiddle to Davante Adams heading into a bottom-three fantasy matchup with the Chargers. Look for the Raiders to make a concerted effort to get Adams going in this game.


    Tight Ends

    Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears (vs. SF) [DraftKings DFS Value: $3,700]

    If Kmet can maintain his 2021 target share and actually turn some of them into touchdowns this season, he could be a sneaky value for fantasy managers. But the 49ers weren't kind to opposing tight ends in 2021, surrendering the seventh-fewest fantasy points to the position.


    Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons (vs. NO) [DraftKings DFS Value: $5,700]

    Pitts was a top-three pick at his position in most fantasy drafts, and as such, he's a hard player to even consider sitting. But the Saints were a bottom-10 fantasy matchup for tight ends last season, and New Orleans has the talent at safety to bracket Pitts in coverage all game long. A slow start is coming.

Week 1 Mastering the Matchups

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    To be clear, no fantasy manager wants to have to go to the "sleeper" well in Week 5, much less Week 1. There's a reason why matchup plays like the ones that will be featured here aren't started in a higher percentage of leagues.

    Sure things, they ain't.

    But some managers already have injury issues. Others still are searching for dirt-cheap DFS plays. They need players with at least some upside in the week to come.

    Players like these.


    Quarterbacks

    Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars (at WAS) [DraftKings DFS Value: $5,600]

    There are multiple reasons to think that Lawrence could be vastly improved in 2022, whether it's competent coaching or an improved supporting cast. He'll get to show off that improvement Sunday against a Commanders defense that led the league in fantasy points given up to quarterbacks.


    Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints (at ATL) [DraftKings DFS Value: $5,300]

    Winston probably isn't going to morph back into the 5,000-yard passer he was during his last full season as a starter in 2019, but with improved weapons around him and a choice matchup upcoming against a bad Falcons defense, he's going to post better production than last year's modest per-game numbers.


    Running Backs

    Mike Davis, Baltimore Ravens (at NYJ) [DraftKings DFS Value: $4,400]

    The uncertain status of J.K. Dobbins (knee) for Week 1 clouds this call a bit, but the Ravens can likely afford to play it safe against a Jets team that will be rolling out Joe Flacco at quarterback Sunday. That sets Davis up for a lead-back role in Week 1 against the fourth-worst run defense in the league last season.


    Melvin Gordon III, Denver Broncos (at SEA) [DraftKings DFS Value: $6,000]

    There's a reason why Gordon carries a relatively hefty Week 1 DFS price tag for a No. 2 running back. On Monday night, the Broncos will face maybe the worst team in the league in the Seahawks. Gordon should see a solid workload in the second half with Denver sitting on a double-digit lead. Both he and Javonte Williams should be in lineups.


    Wide Receivers

    Marvin Jones Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars (at WAS) [DraftKings DFS Value: $4,400]

    If Trevor Lawrence is going to have a good game Sunday in Washington, it stands to reason that Jacksonville's wide receivers would benefit. Christian Kirk got all of the hype over the summer, but it was Jones who led the Jaguars in most receiving categories a season ago. He's being written off prematurely.


    Kadarius Toney, New York Giants (at TEN) [DraftKings DFS Value: $4,100]

    Toney isn't without risk in Week 1. The oft-injured wideout missed much of camp and all of the preseason with a hamstring injury. But the second-year pro will reportedly be good to go Sunday in Nashville against a Titans team that gave up the most fantasy points in the AFC to wide receivers in 2021.


    Tight Ends

    Brevin Jordan, Houston Texans (vs. IND) [DraftKings DFS Value: $3,100]

    Jordan is a dart-throw in the truest sense after catching just 20 passes for fewer than 200 yards as a rookie. But his preseason snap share appears to indicate a much larger role in the offense is coming in 2022, and the Colts were a favorable fantasy matchup for tight ends last season.


    Albert Okwuegbunam, Denver Broncos (at SEA) [DraftKings DFS Value: $3,600]

    Okwuegbunam's fantasy value has been all over the place this summer after training-camp reports that his blocking left much to be desired. However, with rookie Greg Dulcich opening the season on injured reserve, Okwuegbunam is the No. 1 tight end by default in Week 1 against a Seahawks defense that surrendered the eighth-most fantasy points to tight ends in 2021.

Week 1 Reading the Defense

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    In most fantasy leagues, team defenses are essentially afterthoughts. Last year in NFL.com default fantasy scoring, the highest-scoring defense out-pointed the No. 12 defense by less than three fantasy points per game.

    Given that, the smartest course of action for fantasy managers at the position is to target low-cost options who have favorable matchups in a given week (or weeks). Once those favorable matchups dry up, that defense just gets dropped in favor of another off the waiver wire.

    In an effort to assist fantasy managers in playing the matchup game with defenses in 2022, every week this section of the Guide to Dominating Fantasy Football will focus on a few defenses set to make the best of favorable matchups—and some higher-end ones in danger of disappointing.


    Strong D/ST Starts

    Philadelphia Eagles (at DET) [DraftKings DFS Value: $3,100]

    The Eagles did as much work to improve the defense as any team in the league this offseason, adding talent via free agency (Haason Reddick and James Bradberry), trade (Chauncey Gardner-Johnson) and the draft (Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean). Throw in three favorable matchups over the first four weeks of the year, and you have the makings on an excellent way to start streaming defenses.


    Carolina Panthers (vs. CLE) [DraftKings DFS Value: $3,400]

    The Panthers weren't anything to write home about from a fantasy perspective last year despite leading the NFC in yards allowed, finishing the year well outside the top 20 fantasy defenses. But the Panthers have talent on that side of the ball, and the Brissett-led Browns offense looked mediocre at best in the preseason. Target Cleveland until it shows otherwise.


    Cincinnati Bengals (vs. PIT) [DraftKings DFS Value: $3,600]

    The Bengals have a pair of talented edge-rushers in Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. A solid young linebacker in Logan Wilson. And a better secondary than many realize. The Steelers, on the other hand, have questions at quarterback and an offensive line consisting of five matadors. The Bengals are a good bet for at least four sacks Sunday.


    Weak D/ST Starts

    Buffalo Bills (at LAR) [DraftKings DFS Value: $3,200]

    The Bills were the first defense drafted on average this season, with an ADP in the 10th round. They led the NFL last season in both points and yards per game allowed. But in terms of fantasy points, Buffalo finished outside the top five, due largely to a lack of big plays. Add in a Rams team that ranked 20th in fantasy points allowed to defenses in 2021, and the Bills are set up for "meh" production in Week 1.


    Dallas Cowboys (vs. TB) [DraftKings DFS Value: $2,400]

    Last year, the Cowboys rode the most takeaways in the NFL to the top spot among fantasy defenses. But it's exceedingly rare for a defense to repeat in the top spot, and the schedule isn't doing Dallas any favors. Sunday night, the Cowboys face Tom Brady and a Buccaneers offense that allowed the fewest fantasy points to defenses in 2021.


    Los Angeles Rams (vs. Buffalo Bills) [DraftKings DFS Value: $3,100]

    The Rams are the poster defense for the perils of over-drafting a team based solely on name value. Los Angeles was only so-so in terms of yards (17th) and points (15th) allowed last year, and the team finished the year outside the top 10 in fantasy points. Now that same overrated fantasy defense has to face arguably the league's best offense in the Bills on opening night.

Week 1 Fantasy Mailbag

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    Every week during the 2022 season, I'll be pulling a handful of fantasy football questions from the Bleacher Report app and answering them here. Hopefully those answers will aid not only the managers making the query but others as well.

    Have a question you want to have answered? Head on over to the fantasy football section of the app and make with the asking.


    Adam Thielen or Amon-Ra St. Brown in a half PPR? -- @skh1922

    Of the two, Thielen has a much better matchup, with the Vikings hosting a Packers team that was a middle-of-the-pack matchup for wideouts in 2021 while St. Brown gets an Eagles defense that allowed the fewest fantasy points in the NFC to the position. With that said, St. Brown is a No. 1 wideout who will see a larger target share in a game in which the Lions will likely be playing catch-up. St. Brown is the play.


    Nick Chubb or Marquise Brown at flex? -- @reid_laughlin

    To be fair, Brown is a tempting play here, especially if your league awards a point for receptions—he's a good bet to exceed expectations this week in what could be one of the weekend's highest-scoring games. But with Jacoby Brissett running the Browns offense, Cleveland is going to lean heavily on the run game. Throw in the possibility of a short-yardage touchdown, and Chubb has the edge.


    Will Jerry Jeudy be a top-15 wide receiver this year? -- @TheOtherWharfRat

    It's not out of the realm of reason that Jeudy cracks the top 15—two years ago in Seattle, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf both cracked the top 10 in PPR points catching passes from Russell Wilson. But Courtland Sutton appears to have emerged as Wilson's go-to receiver in Denver, so Jeudy is probably best viewed (for now at least) as a low-end WR2 or high-end WR3.


    Can Chris Godwin be trusted in fantasy lineups in Week 1? -- @Tampatwostep

    When he's healthy, Godwin has top-10 fantasy upside. His rehab from a late-season ACL tear has gone about as well as the Buccaneers could dare expect. And the discount for his services in drafts this summer could wind up being a big deal later in the season. But even Godwin himself admitted he doesn't know if he'll be a go in Week 1. If you have any sort of viable alternatives, use them—especially with Tampa not playing until Sunday night.


    Brandon Aiyuk or Tyler Lockett at WR3 in a PPR league for Week 1? -- @Mikeyman176

    Um, neither? Both of these wide receivers enter the season with significant questions. For Aiyuk, it's (usually) being the third option in the 49ers' passing attack playing for a new quarterback in Trey Lance. For Lockett, it's the plummet in quarterback quality from Russell Wilson to Geno Smith. Both of these receivers are going to be high-variance plays from week to week, but Aiyuk has the better Week 1 matchup against a shaky Bears secondary. He gets the nod here, especially with George Kittle nursing a groin injury.

THE Fantasy Bust of Week 1

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    No one player can make or break an entire season. Even cataclysmic injuries to top-five picks can sometimes be overcome with some waiver wire magic and/or a trade or two.

    Cue about 10 percent of the folks who rostered Christian McCaffrey the past two years smiling wistfully. The rest are throwing things.

    However, one player can make or break a week. Get a huge game from the right guy, and a team can cruise. Have a starter lay an egg, though, and it can be game over.

    With that in mind, we're going to conclude each edition of the B/R Guide to Dominating Fantasy Football with one player who is going to define the week to come—for better or worse. The Boom (or Bust) of the Week.

    This week, it's the latter—and this one should liven up the comments.


    Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans (vs. IND) [Draftkings DFS Value: $4,800]

    The rookie from Florida was the darling of draft season this summer, with his hard-charging running style leading to his both winning lead back duties for the Texans and proclamations galore from fantasy analysts that he could break out as a rookie. Between all the hype and a low price tag in DFS, Pierce will probably be in a lot of starting lineups this week against the Colts.

    He shouldn't be.

    Did Pierce show flashes in limited preseason duty? Sure. But it was just that—limited preseason duty. His next carry that counts will be the first one, and it will come for a Houston offense that ranked dead last in the league in both total offense and rushing last year.

    Pierce's season high in carries at Florida was 107. He has all of one game with 15-plus carries since high school. And this week he faces a Colts team that allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to running backs last season.

    Add in that Rex Burkhead will probably get passing-down duties in a game the Texans will probably be playing from behind, and Pierce's NFL debut will be a dud.

    Duck it—and leave the rookie on the bench.


    Eligibility restrictions apply. See draftkings.com for details.

    Gary Davenport is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year. Follow him on Twitter at @IDPSharks.

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