Fantasy football managers have more lineup options than ever in Week 1.
The NFL commences with a full 16-game slate, so gamers have time before getting bogged down by bye weeks. More important to their lineups, injuries have not yet struck on a grand scale.
Any football fan knows they eventually will. One game into the season, the Atlanta Falcons have already lost Pro Bowl safety Keanu Neal to a torn ACL.
Since injuries are inevitable in the NFL, cautious drafters aim to avoid known liabilities. Others steer into the skid and embrace volatility.
Managers might not have a full injured reserve yet, but some must hope their stars return triumphantly from preseason ailments or significant 2017 injuries. Let's take a look at what investors can reasonably expect from three such players.
But first, here are picks from all 16 games along with spreads and over-under lines (accurate at time of writing), courtesy of OddsShark.
Week 1 NFL Odds, Picks
Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens (-7.5) | O/U 40.5; Pick: 23-10 Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts (-2.5) | O/U 48; Pick: 24-23 Bengals
Houston Texans at New England Patriots (-6) | O/U 49.5; Pick: 27-21 Patriots
Jacksonville Jaguars (-3) at New York Giants | O/U 42; Pick: 23-17 Jaguars
Pittsburgh Steelers (-4) at Cleveland Browns | O/U 41; Pick: 21-20 Steelers
San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings (-6.5) | O/U 46; Pick: 24-14 Vikings
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-9.5) | O/U 49.5; Pick: 30-17 Saints
Tennessee Titans (-1) at Miami Dolphins | O/U 45; Pick: 26-19 Titans
Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers (-3) | O/U 49; Pick: 28-23 Chargers
Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers (-3) | O/U 42; Pick: 19-16 Panthers
Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos (-3) | O/U 41.5; Pick: 20-18 Broncos
Washington at Arizona Cardinals (-1) | O/U 43.5; Pick: 24-23 Washington
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (-7) | O/U 46.5; Pick: 28-23 Packers
New York Jets at Detroit Lions (-6.5) | O/U 45; Pick: 27-17 Lions
Los Angeles Rams (-4.5) at Oakland Raiders | O/U 49.5; Pick: 31-16 Rams
Fantasy Stars to Watch
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
When playing at 100 percent, Andrew Luck is a fantasy star.
According to FantasyPros, the former No. 1 pick has finished each of his past three full seasons—excluding a seven-game 2015 campaign—as a top-five quarterback. But can anyone assume he'll return to full form after missing all of last season recovering from a surgically repaired torn labrum?
An offensive assistant coach gave Bleacher Report's Matt Miller a prediction that would hinder Luck's fantasy ceiling.
"Have you watched the guy play?" the AFC coach said. "Go back and watch him pre-injury...like 2015. Now watch him today. His throwing motion is completely changed, and he has no deep velocity. His entire game has changed. I bet he'll be Checkdown Charlie. Like Alex Smith but afraid to get hit."
As for his Week 1 stock, the Cincinnati Bengals yielded a 59.9 completion percentage and 6.5 yards per pass attempt last season. Luck also may not receive enough time to look downfield anyway, as he returns to an Indianapolis Colts squad that surrendered an NFL-worst 56 sacks last season.
Consider benching him for his maligned opponent, Andy Dalton. The Colts' anemic secondary allowed 8.0 yards per pass attempt last season, and they added nobody capable of stifling A.J. Green in the offseason.
Target Instead in DFS: Andy Dalton at IND; Blake Bortles at NYG; Tyrod Taylor vs. PIT
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Dalvin Cook is coming off an ACL tear, but the fantasy community seems to have ignored this fact. Commonly taken in the second round, the second-year pro is now Week 1's No. 10-rated running back in FantasyPros' Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR).
He registered 444 yards in his first four career games before going down for the rest of the 2017 season, but there's no guarantee he immediately regains his hefty average of 21.2 touches per contest. Per Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune, Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo stopped short of promising a heavy role after saying the 23-year-old currently looks healthy enough to handle the task.
"We'll see how it goes. There's nothing that hasn't told us that he can't carry the load," DeFilippo said. "If there's something during the game that comes up where he needs a blow, or he needs to come out of the football game, then we'll handle that situation."
According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, Cook expects to promptly step back into the spotlight:
Volume is imperative to live up to big expectations. Although the San Francisco 49ers ranked No. 22 in rushing defense last season, they also allowed jut 3.8 yards per run. The favored Vikings will have plenty of opportunities to establish the ground game at home, but Latavius Murray should factor into those plans.
He's especially a threat to siphon red-zone carries after compiling 20 rushing scores in the past two seasons.
Cook contains too much upside to sit in season-long leagues, but he's a suboptimal DFS play to kick off 2018.
Target Instead in DFS: Christian McCaffrey vs. DAL; Alex Collins vs. BUF; Carlos Hyde vs. PIT
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Doug Baldwin isn't expected to miss any time from a preseason knee injury. That's the good news.
Players and coaches tend to offer a deceptively rosy health outlook to not tip off the opposition. The Seattle Seahawks wideout, however, did not conceal the colder reality to ESPN.com's Brady Henderson.
"I haven't felt 100 percent since I was born," Baldwin said near the end of August. "I'm probably about 80-85 percent right now, and the truth of the matter is that it won't be 100 percent. It's something I've got to deal with for the rest of the season."
He also must deal with Chris Harris on Sunday. Allow NFL.com's Graham Barfield to explain why that matchup poses a major problem:
Even in Week 1, the typical fantasy player won't have a fourth or fifth receiver worth starting over Baldwin, who has averaged 1,062 yards and nine touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. If healthy, he could receive even more red-zone targets with Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson out of Seattle.
Yet his health is a concern heading into the Mile High City. As a result, he's more of a risky WR2 against the Denver Broncos.
Target Instead in DFS: Larry Fitzgerald vs. WAS; Chris Hogan vs. HOU; Golden Tate vs. NYJ