2018 Fantasy Football Week 1 Preview: Starting Front

by Richard Savill
2018 Fantasy Football Week 1 Preview

You drafted them and now it is time to watch them. This is obviously the best part of Fantasy Football. Seeing our players scoring the points for our teams.

When NFL Network's Red Zone counts down to kickoff, the deep breaths begin. It's probably the best viewing experience for Sunday NFL action and especially from a fantasy perspective. Scott Hansen holds a unique distinction among NFL sports presenters in that he is more of a "master of ceremonies" than a commentator. A good one at that.

However, some prefer to watch football without a remote control genius taking over the television. I think everyone can understand that. Besides, fantasy is one thing, but fans like watching their favorite team too. Depending on your locale, you can almost always guarantee at least one feature game on the major networks.

If you have just a plain appreciation for NFL football, even without fantasy interest, then this weekly article is for you too. The feature games, players to watch and the announcers calling the games.

2018 Fantasy Football Week 1 Preview:
Starting Front

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The loss of Jerick McKinnon of the 49ers in final weekend before Week 1 shook up everyone. Heavy league drafting was already underway and completed right when the news hit. I'd like to say this is rare, but with football, we know this stuff always pops up unexpectedly.

Le'Veon Bell added to fantasy misery by continuing his holdout into the regular season. This is rare and confounding, but the Steelers painted themselves into a corner.

Two Monday night games feature in Week 1 with Jets at Lions and Rams at Raiders. Joe Tessitore and Jason Witten are the new voices of MNF. Beth Mowins and Brian Griese will call the Jets-Lions opener.

Some fun facts going into Week 1:

  • The Broncos have won nine of their last ten games opening the season at home.
  • The Browns have lost their last nine games when home on Week 1.
  • The Rams have lost their last seven games opening the season on the road - including twice being shutout.
  • Depite being division rivals, this is the first time since 2008 that the Buccaneers and Saints have met on opening weekend.
  • The Raiders will have the third most opening appearances (nine) on Monday Night Football - behind only the Cowboys and Redskins.
  • Drew Brees has eight games of 300+ passing yards on opening weekend since 2008.

Feature Games to Watch

1pm ET Sunday
Texans at Patriots

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Not as plain and simple a gameplan for Bill Belichick that he usually deals with in a season opener. The Texans are beatable, but with J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus back to full-strength, the pass-protectors of the Patriots need to bring their A-game.

I look for the Patriots to work on that by grinding  the yardage and getting the Texans defense chasing Rex Burkhead and James White in the early going. Tom Brady will test the suspect secondary of Houston early as well and by the fourth quarter take full advantage of the gradually fatigued defenders. Rob Gronkowski will help see to that.

Houston will try the same on the Patriots and I sense Deshaun Watson will come out slow and initially play the short game. It's possible he launches a deep one to open his first series, but I see the Texans employing a wholesome dose of Lamar Miller first to allow Watson time to settle in.

DeAndre Hopkins will give the Patriots defense all they can handle, but the safeties can help with that because Ryan Griffin doesn't threaten them very much. The Patriots might see three-wide sets in their dreams after this game is over. So look for Will Fuller and Bruce Ellington to spice up the Texans attack. Keke Coutee may see a few significant snaps in there as well with Braxton Miller cut.
Update: Will Fuller unexpected to play. Keke Coutee questionable as is Sammie Coates.

Sleeper: Phillip Dorsett, WR, Patriots

4:25 ET Sunday
Cowboys at Panthers

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The Panthers are 0-5 at home versus the Cowboys in the regular season since 2000. This season the Panthers have a good chance of finally breaking that egg.

Ron Rivera is developing his team around dynamism. The drafting of D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel the past two years demonstrate that they want an offense for every occasion. With Greg Olsen and Christian McCaffrey, Cam Newton can sit back and mark the pace of the game.

The Cowboys are the first team to hit into this diesel train. The Panthers have a strong running game to support this multi-faceted offense effectively. I expect the Panthers to open methodically with the run, adding Olsen targets on play-action, and perhaps some RPOs from Cam Newton. The Cowboys have their hands full because once they solve all that then Cam will work further downfield with Devin Funchess and Torrey Smith.

For the Cowboys to keep up, their main issue is with two tough defenders. Julius Peppers and Luke Kuechly will no doubt fire in on blitz packages numerous times if they manage to contain Ezekiel Elliott. It's a big if. How Elliott performs is actually the key to this entire contest.

The Cowboys will test the highly regarded rookie cornerback Donte Jackson with unfamiliar looks because they can't outrun him. If Dak Prescott executes things right, Allen Hurns could end up as a top fantasy performer in Week 1. Which also invites the flex possibilites of...

Sleeper: Terrance Williams, WR, Cowboys

Sunday Night Football
Bears at Packers

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The Bears and Packers rivalry, like other staunch rivalries, can turn our fantasy assumptions upside down. The last time Chicago visited Green Bay in a season opener was in 2009 - also a Sunday night game. So this qualifies as a "bowl" type of event between these two storied franchises.

This is Aaron Rodgers' 6th opener at Lambeau and in each of the last three occasions passed for over 300 yards. Coming off a collarbone fracture, Rodgers appears ready to keep that streak going.

However, the Packers were not expecting Khalil Mack to show up for the festivities until just a few days ago. That nice wide pocket Rodgers seems to always enjoy might not be so roomy in this game. However, the Pack always respond to this type of pressure by playing up/down-tempo to rush and confuse opposing defensive substitutions. This often results in Rodgers either putting the defense at a personnel disadvantage or penalties for too many men.

It will take more than these tricks to defeat the Bears. Green Bay has to run the ball effectively to keep the Bears from over-pursuing. So look for the Packers to try and establish a ground game with short route passing early.

The Bears are not without their own offensive hardships. Trubisky will require his troops to not allow too many long down and distance situations. If Jordan Howard is able to help open up the playbook on 2nd and 3rd down, then Trubisky and your fantasy-owned receivers can collect those points.

Sleeper: Geronimo Allison, WR, Packers

Monday Night Football
Rams at Raiders

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"Are you talking about the analytics? All the modern technology? I am trying to throw the game back to 1998..."
-
Jon Gruden, Feb 2018

The Monday Night opener features a game at the last of the retro stadiums in the NFL. The picture is complete with a retro coach and a retro telecast he was a part of in recent years past.

The new announcers of MNF (Tessitore-Witten) will call the first game of Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. Gruden made some controversial team moves in the run up to September and plans, or hopes, to revive the prominent role of the fullback in the NFL amongst other old-school techniques.

Well, it doesn't matter for fantasy because the fullback and halfback have long since been under the same umbrella of running back. Besides, we doubt very much that the Raiders with Keith Smith start an I-formation revolution around the NFL. Perhaps other combos with Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin are possible, but vintage formations are just too out-of-step with the modern character of the league for regular use.

Old versus new

Jon Gruden must know these things too. He is helping to ensure that the Raiders maintain their character of misfits and castoffs that former coach Jack Del Rio sacreligeously tried to develop the Raiders away from. It took one bad season of Del Rio for owner Mike Davis to happily prune away all those fresh branches and wipeout the budding green shoots of a thriving football team.

Sean McVay comes to Oakland with just such a team the Raiders seem to detest becoming. The Rams have those green shoots and budding branches. They signed DT Aaron Donald to a big contract - adding to an already powerful defense. The team built around their young quarterback. Giving him exactly the personnel befitting his pedigree and not a pot-luck group of receivers. Perhaps best of all - the Rams have a lead running back who is currently a dominant force amongst his peers in the NFL.

This game is a clear clash of systems and team philosophies. The old versus the new. I like a lot of retro things, but when it comes to football, 1998 was a great year - in 1998. The Raiders won't know what hit them.

Sleeper: Jared Cook, TE, Raiders

Players to Watch

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Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants (vs Jaguars)

Barkley opens his fantasy account under tough circumstances - the Jaguars rank among the top five defenses. However, the Giants have all their strong receivers back and a stacked box against the run gives no advantage to the Jags. Barkley might not sparkle for owners with such a challenging opponent to start the season, but he should show enough to inspire high fantasy confidence moving forward.

Josh Gordon, WR, Browns (vs Steelers)

The main talent the Browns patiently waited for. Will Gordon pay off? Everyone seems to think so based on his late-season preliminaries of 2017. For those who reached or put stock on a potential top-ten WR1, this is your moment. Gordon should have a good chance versus Pittsburgh, who often have a tendency of slow adjustment.

Andrew Luck, QB, Colts (vs Bengals)

With setback after setback taxing Luck's shoulder injury and the long rehab, we can finally see him playing football again. I'm sure the loud applause he'll get at Lucas Oil Stadium will no doubt bring some emotion. We already expect some rust, but Luck will bring his workman lunchpail to this game with all his football heart. The proximity rival Bengals are just the matchup for some extra tonic.

Sam Darnold, QB, Jets (at Lions)

Our lone rookie to start 2018 at quarterback worked his way honestly into the job. There was a real competition in camp and Darnold won it over Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater. He lacks only a cohesive offense to get off to a fine start. Detroit should offer him a real challenge with Darius Slay lurking - one of last season's top interception hounds.

Corey Davis, WR, Titans (at Dolphins)

The top candidate for a breakout year in fantasy should find more than enough room to roam against a loose Miami defense. Xavien Howard is good, but not good enough to cover everything the Titans decide throw at him. So Davis could open with a fine stat-line to fuel optimism in subsequent weeks for his owners.

Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers (vs Chiefs)

We sort of expected it and sort of didn't, but the bottom line is that Antonio Gates is back one more time with the Chargers. Gates offers little now in fantasy value, in fact very little, because now the target distribution on the already crowded receiving corps is back to less than desirable expectations. We need to see if he harms the red zone targets too. Let's not forget, he might be 38, but if he's completely healthy and has a burst of youth, Gates could eat into everything on the Chargers. Let's see.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Redskins (at Cardinals)

An oldie, but goodie entering into a feature role via neccessity. Peterson's post-Vikings tour hasn't exactly turned on the switches for fantasy folks, but while in-between jobs, several teams around the league expressed an interest in him. That includes the Saints too, who considered re-signing him. If it works out with the Redskins, the team could then ease the burden on Chris Thompson.

In the Booth on Sunday

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CBS Early

Texans at Patriots: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo
Steelers at Browns: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Bruce Arians
Bills at Ravens: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
Bengals at Colts: Andrew Catalon, James Lofton

CBS Late

Chiefs at Chargers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts

Fox Early

49ers at Vikings: Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis
Jaguars at Giants: Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber
Buccaneers at Saints: Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston
Titans at Dolphins: Sam Rosen, Cris Carter

Fox Late

Cowboys at Panthers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman
Redskins at Cardinals: Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman
Seahawks at Broncos: Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth

Sunday Night NBC

Bears at Packers: Al Michaels, Chris Collinsworth

Monday Night ESPN

Jets at Lions (early): Beth Mowins, Brian Griese
Rams at Raiders (late): Joe Tessitore and Jason Witten


Check out the rest of our 2018 Fantasy Football content from our great team of writers.

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