Week 1, baby. Time to start winning fantasy games by channeling the spirit of Moneyball Billy Beane and baseball statistician Bill James as we try to squeeze the best value by analyzing the NUMBERS. Sabermetrics (for football) sounds cool and who cares what it actually means because we trust the process. The LAFB Network’s Start/Sit/Sleeper list is here to address those fringe feelings of wanting to plug in a cavalier pick or sit a “no-brainer” player. You know to always start Patrick Mahomes, Saquon Barkley, Michael Thomas, Justin Tucker, etc.
Week 1 Fantasy Football Starts, Sits, and Sleepers
Let’s get to the other players
Start – Cam Newton vs. Miami Dolphins
Miami may be the popular pick for an overlooked team with fire in their belly after winning a handful of games with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback and a selection of offensive talent to choose from that mirrors grocery shelves in March 2020. Brian Flores is a coach trending upwards, but when you look upwards you’ll find Bill Belichick sitting at the top with a former NFL MVP in his playbook to play around with. If you wanna talk fire in the belly, Newton is itching to respond to a league that doubted his candidacy for a starting quarterback position. No one is saying New England is the same team post-Tom Brady, but it’s still a debate whether Newton can’t fill the role in his own way. Expect Cam to take off against a Miami defense that shouldn’t scare anyone.
Another start — Jared Goff vs. Dallas Cowboys
Sit – Ben Roethlisberger vs. New York Giants
The matchup for the returning Roethlisberger from missing nearly all last season looks great against a notoriously bad secondary with the Giants might be tempting, but the classic Big Ben may be a few starts away. With a game like this, one would hope that the running game can open up the options for Roethlisberger, but the Giants are boasting a firm run defense from last year. The spotty secondary added James Bradberry and Logan Ryan with linebacker Blake Martinez providing stability to the middle of the field. Juju Smith-Schuster is no longer the unquestioned WR1 we saw a year ago, but we expect that return to elite-level production once Ben gets going.
Another sit — Kirk Cousins vs. Green Bay Packers
Sleeper Start — Ryan Tannehill vs. Denver Broncos
The savior from on high that delivered the Tennessee Titans from quarterback limbo … aka Marcus Mariota. Tannehill’s big payday during the offseason shows the confidence that Head Coach Mike Vrabel and the Titans organization places on the former first-round QB after the most error-free, comeback campaign in recent memory. One win away from the Super Bowl, reigning lead rusher Derrick Henry, emerging sophomore receiver A.J. Brown, and the sneaky good tight end Jonnu Smith keeps Tennessee in the playoff predictions. Their matchup against a deflated Broncos defense with the injury to Von Miller will likely give the Titans a strong start to their year.
Another sleeper — Philip Rivers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Start – Joe Mixon vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Mixon ended the 2019-20 season on a hot streak, which catapulted him into 1st round talent for this year’s fantasy projections. The ability Mixon has that beat out the terrifying tandem that was Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill has a valuable opportunity this year. Going into Zac Taylor’s second year as head coach of the Bengals after an underwhelming debut and introducing No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow to opposing defenses shifts the focus away from Mixon, letting him soar under everyone’s radar. With the return of Jonah Williams on the offensive line, we wait to see where the Bengals end up this year but it’s hard to deny that Mixon will be boasting solid numbers.
This matchup is ideal, starting against a trending Chargers team still shaken up by the loss of their elite safety Derwin James. A team with no identity is often the hardest to prepare for, expect the Bengals offense to get a good shot of having a showy performance before the league figures out who they are.
Another start – Mark Ingram II vs. Cleveland Browns
Sit – Kenyan Drake vs. San Francisco 49ers
People have been bullish on Drake ever since his upgrade with the Arizona Cardinals and posting an average of 30.1 pts. (PPR) in his final three games. Aside from losing DeForest Buckner, the stalwart 49ers defense looks to build on their incredible performance last season by continuing to be a roadblock for opposing running backs. Also looking to establish the Air Raid offense that came with the hiring of Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury and the acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona has a lot of mouths to feed through the air (Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella) before getting to the run game. The O-line hasn’t seen improvements over the offseason and Drake may be seeing more of an uphill battle than a downhill run this year.
Another sit – Kareem Hunt vs. Baltimore Ravens
Sleeper Start – Jonathan Taylor vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
This is a hot fantasy prospect. Running behind arguably the best offensive line in the league and off an outstanding career at Wisconsin, Taylor’s setup in Indianapolis is the ideal breakout season no matter the rookie status. With news of involvement with the passing game and a clear vote of approval from the offensive staff over Marlon Mack, Taylor could not have a better intro to the league than facing the Jacksonville Jaguars, whose hemorrhaging of talent since the AFC Championship game against New England show a team who may be doing the t-word (tanking). Run with Taylor.
Another sleeper – David Johnson vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Start – A.J. Brown vs. Denver Broncos
The Broncos’ defense is in a pickle. With Miller’s unfortunate injury and departure of veteran leader Chris Harris, all of the potential for this team is shifting solely to the offense. A.J. Bouye will be lined up against the sophomore receiver Brown (51 receptions, 1,051 yards in 2019) and while the defense may be too keen on stopping Derrick Henry it will open up the secondary and let Brown do what he does best: get open deep. We’re not calling one or two 40-yard receptions on Sunday, but we’d put some coin on it. Keeping things in Denver, expect A.J. Brown to be this year’s Courtland Sutton when it comes to fantasy receivers.
Another start — Calvin Ridley vs. Seattle Seahawks
Sit – Amari Cooper vs. Los Angeles Rams
Cooper’s getting the clamps from Ramsey. Now that the Brinks truck has made its way to SoFi and turned Ramsey into an insanely rich person, it’s time to back up the contract with production. Though he’s not the same receiver with a knack for dropping the ball, Kellen Moore’s offense in Dallas has grown with range after adding CeeDee Lamb to complete the trifecta with Cooper and Michael Gallup. Looking ahead to the season, Cooper may be losing more targets with the addition of Lamb, improved play from Gallup (66 receptions, 1,107 yards in 2019), continual feeding of Zeke, and a boost at TE with the exodus of Witten in favor of Blake Jarwin. Cooper’s ceiling has the potential for a low-end WR1, but his floor often puts him in the WR3 projections. Place him there for the weekend.
Another sit – DeVante Parker vs. New England Patriots
Sleeper Start – T.Y. Hilton vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
If you have a player facing Jacksonville this weekend, START them. T.Y. Hilton benefits from the addition of Philip Rivers by restoring the stem of his route tree that lets him hit the downfield. Behind an o-line poised to keep him comfortable in the pocket, Rivers will deliver in his debut with the Colts, and T.Y. will no longer be at the control of check-down king Jacoby Brissett. The experience and mental breakdown of the game from Rivers will give T.Y. a year to restore his status as a high-end WR2.
Another sleeper – Stefon Diggs vs. New York Jets
Start – Darren Waller vs. Carolina Panthers
With the loss of Luke Kuechly and James Bradberry, Carolina’s defense finds itself further from the Josh Norman and the Blue Steel Curtain days. Adding to that Zoolander/Steelers reference, this team’s defense-first identity left with the departure of Ron Rivera … and it’s really, really not good looking. Waller neared 1,200 receiving yards in 2019, with the addition of Henry Ruggs III to the receiving corps, Waller’s production on offense will only benefit as the Las Vegas Raid’ahs ride the Gruden wave back into the playoff picture.
Another start – Hunter Henry vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Sit – Austin Hooper vs. Baltimore Ravens
It may be tempting to plug in Austin the Hooper after joining the loaded Browns offense, but with David Njoku’s involvement in the offensive sets still posing a question mark until the season progresses, early predictions for Hooper’s high ceiling in Cleveland may be too inflated. Odell will surely be wanting his targets and Baker will look to satiate that request rather than getting backed into the locker room corner by the receiver. Jarvis Landry will get his, and hopefully, the lead at tight end for the Browns will emerge for fantasy owners to enjoy because once that well opens, it could pour.
Another sit – T.J. Hockenson vs. Chicago Bears
Sleeper Start – Blake Jarwin vs. Los Angeles Rams
Michael Brockers is a formidable stoppage for any potential of a Jarwin breakout game, but LA’s defense will also be hoping to stop Ezekiel Elliott and a talented trio of wide receivers far too familiar for the Rams. In the same manner that wide sets and option plays have opened doors for the emergence of Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, Blake Jarwin can see a rise in stats from breaking off for down-the-middle gains and plenty of looks in the endzone with an offense that has the potency to land them in the red zone repeatedly. Rather than crossing your fingers with Gesicki or Greg Olsen, pick Jarwin for the upside.
Another sleeper – Jonnu Smith vs. Denver Broncos
Start – Philadelphia Eagles DS/T vs. Washington Football Team
Let every other website tell you to start Baltimore against the Browns because XYZ and common sense, but we’re here to tell you that the Eagles defense, marred by memories of an awfully deficient secondary, are a must-start against the generically named Washington Football Team of America That Plays Football. While Haskins did not disappoint in 2019 — showing flashes of accurately reading slants and some downfield play — the lack of misdirection from a running game and sole talent on offense through Terry McLaurin won’t match up nicely against the Darius Slay-led Eagles defense. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Derek Barnett will handle any signs of life from Antonio Gibson with pressure on Haskins to throw at a depleted offensive roster. Take it to the bank.
Another start – Buffalo Bills D/ST vs. New York Jets
Sit – San Francisco 49ers D/ST vs. Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals, including fresh face to the party DeAndre Hopkins, will look to let the Air Raid rip against the reigning NFC champions. One usually does not have their way with San Francisco’s defense, but the offensive potential in this game is a treat to all except the people who plug in these defenses to their fantasy lineups. With defenses like Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Chicago having better options, keep the Niners sidelined on Sunday.
Another sit – Cincinnati Bengals vs. Chargers
Sleeper Start – Green Bay Packers D/ST vs. Minnesota Vikings
Kirk Cousins may not be worried about COVID, but the Packers defense is nothing to sneeze at after establishing themselves as the determinant for several wins throughout their 13-win season. Losing Stefon Diggs and with the uncertainty of Dalvin Cook’s contract situation, Cousins may be seeing flashbacks of his days in Washington by having to carry the offense this season. Led by The Smith’s, Zaire Alexander, Adrian Amos, and hoping to boast a stronger offense to meet Aaron Rodger’s expected elite production, the Vikings may be in a hole on Sunday before they know it.