The 2016 NFL season is finally upon us. Draft season is winding down and the anger you felt towards your league mates can now be directed towards your TV screen as your running back gets vultured in the red zone once again.
Week 1 of the Fantasy Football season may be the most difficult in terms of lineup choices. No one really knows how the Titans backfield committee will turn out or how Jamaal Charles' knee is feeling. The best course of action is to create a lineup based on last season and the preseason and hope that there aren't many surprises.
Based on previous data and some hopeful predictions, here are the players you should start and sit for the first week of your Fantasy season.
Start 'em or Sit 'em Week 1
Spencer Ware, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles owners should already have Ware on their rosters and ready to go should Charles get hurt once again. If Andy Reid is to be trusted, Ware might be needed sooner than expected.
Reid says its a stretch for Jamaal Charles to play on Sunday.
— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) September 5, 2016
Even if Charles is able to play on Sunday, there will be a 50/50 split of carries at best, to ensure that Charles is completely healthy before giving him a full workload. In Week 1, the Chiefs will be at home against the Chargers, a defense that ranked in the bottom six of both yards/game and touchdowns against the run last season. Expect Reid to take full advantage and give Ware as many carries as possible. If Charles does play, Ware will lose work between the 20's but will still be the preferred goal line back. If splitting carries, Ware is a high end Flex or mid-low end RB2 this week. If Charles sits out, the situation is ripe for Ware to post RB1 numbers in a run heavy offense.
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan disappointed Fantasy owners last year, throwing only 21 touchdowns and finishing the season as the 20th ranked QB. Going into this season, expectations are much lower for Ryan as he had an ADP of 141.0 (FantasyPros) and was the 19th QB off the board. For Week 1 at least, expect Ryan to greatly outperform those numbers.
In Week 1, the Falcons will play Tampa Bay, who surrendered the ninth most points to quarterbacks last season. With their pass defense expected to struggle once again, Ryan has an excellent opportunity to take advantage. The Falcons' offense should be improved this year with the addition of Mohamed Sanu and a healthy Tevin Coleman.
Owners who chose to draft a Quarterback in the latter half of the draft (or Tom Brady) should look for Ryan to take advantage of a soft matchup at home. Expect Ryan to score within the top 12 this week.
Kamar Aiken, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Aiken came out of nowhere last season to become the Ravens top receiver in the absence of Steve Smith Sr. Aiken ended his season with 75 catches for 944 yards and five TD. He also posted nine straight games of five catches or more, averaging nearly 75 yards in that span. He was clearly a trusted receiver for Joe Flacco.
Many are concerned that the return of Smith and the addition of Mike Wallace will eat into Aiken's targets. However, in the first game of the season, Smith will likely be limited by his injury and Joe Flacco might opt to throw to a familiar target.
Aiken may lose targets as Flacco builds rapport with Wallace and Breshad Perriman. However, in order to get the season started on the right foot, look for Aiken to be relied on as a tried and true option in the passing game.
Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Once again, Bernard was drafted well after teammate Jeremy Hill but he's primed to outperform him this Sunday. With the Bengals going up against the Jets excellent run defense, Hill will struggle to find room between the tackles to make his mark. An excellent pass catcher, Bernard finds himself in a situation to excel.
Should Hill struggle on he ground, the bulk of the offense will come through the air. With only A.J Green remaining as an established pass catcher, Andy Dalton will look Bernard's way often to avoid the Jets pass rush.
In PPR leagues, Bernard should be an automatic start. In standard leagues, look for Bernard to see a spike in targets as Green has to deal with Darrelle Revis. Gio will catch several passes out of the backfield and rack up enough yards to be a viable RB2/FLEX.
Clive Walford, TE, Oakland Raiders
Walford is the best receiving TE on the Raiders and at 6-foot-4, 251 pounds, he has the physical makeup and skills to play a major factor in the passing game. Walford has overtaken Mychal Rivera as the Raiders starter and has drawn more consistent attention in the passing game.
Raiders OC Bill Musgrave wants Walford to play a big role, and there's no better time than Week 1 against the Saints. In 2015, the Saints defense gave up the most points to tight ends and was the worst defense in the league. With increased attention on Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, Walford might have an easy time victimizing the porous Saints secondary.
If you waited on drafting a tight end, or need a Week 1 fill-in for Tyler Eifert, Walford presents a high upside option with an admittedly low floor.
Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Drafted as an RB2 (or RB1 for the NoRB strategists), Hill will struggle to pick up yards in Week 1. In fact, with the Bengals early season schedule (@NYJ, @Pit, vs. Den) Hill may struggle on the ground until Week 4 at home against the Dolphins. Savvy owners might want to look into buying low before the Miami game.
Unless Hill has vastly improved as a runner, his production will be strongly dependent on his ability to get into the endzone. Unfortunately, the Jet's run defense is one of the best in the league, giving up the third fewest points to RB last season. Even worse for Hill, The Gang Green only surrendered four rushing TD all last season.
As I mentioned above, the game script might be perfect for teammate Gio Bernard to live off short passes as the Jets force Dalton to move the ball through the air. Unless Hill can find the endzone, expect disappointing numbers this week. Owners will want to sit the third year back in favour of someone facing a less daunting front seven.
Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
Rivers has struggled in Kansas City over the past two seasons, averaging only nine Fantasy points in the past four meetings with the Chiefs. Over that span he's only thrown two touchdowns while throwing five interceptions. Not much has changed for the San Diego offense this year, so Rivers will need to do something drastic to change his performance.
While the trio of Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates and Travis Benjamin are a formidable group, there are several issues that need to be considered. First, the Chiefs are great at defending tight ends, giving up the fewest fantasy points to them last season. Gates in particular had trouble, only catching seven passes for 82 yards in their two meetings last season. Without his main red-zone weapon Rivers will have to challenge the secondary who had the second most interceptions in 2015.
With his offensive line and running game still suspect Rivers might be forced into some poor throws by a solid Chiefs pass-rush. Additionally, the Chiefs likely run-heavy game plan will keep the ball out of Rivers hands and decrease his pass attempts. A tough, likely low-scoring, divisional game makes Rivers a borderline QB1 this Week 1.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chargers may have an awful run defense, but their secondary is rock solid with Jason Verrett, Brandon Flowers and Casey Heward on the back end. In two meetings last season, Maclin only gained 97 yards on 15 targets. Even with the departure of Eric Weddle, the San Diego cornerbacks have shown the ability to shut down opposing teams top receivers.
With Andy Reid's conservative play calling, expect Spencer Ware to be the main beneficiary of the Chargers poor defense. Drafted as a WR2, Maclin is a high risk play against a division rival with a clear defensive weakness. Andy Reid will take advantage and use Ware and Travis Kelce to exploit the matchups, making Maclin more of a WR3 or FLEX than a WR2.
Allen Hurns, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
With the Jags playing the Packers in Week 1, it would be smart for Gus Bradley to not get into a shootout with Aaron Rodgers. With Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon splitting carries, the Jags now have the personnel to try and slow the game down and keep the ball away from the Packers offense. Hurns was already a player who thrived on limited targets, but a revamped offense may put a further squeeze on his opportunities.
This game may get out of hand, leading to garbage time stats for the Jags skill players. However, Allen Robinson and a healthy Julius Thomas are the top options in the red-zone. Without seeing how the Jacksonville offense will look in 2016, it's best for owners to manage expectations for Hurns in the early going.
LaGarrette Blount, RB, New England Patriots
With Dion Lewis out for a while, Blount figures to be the RB who will reap the benefit of those extra carries, with James White inheriting the passing work. There are a few problems with that notion.
The first is that Bill Belichick is still head coach, which means predicting touches week-to-week will be difficult. Second, D.J. Foster looked incredible in the preseason and may push for touches if he can build trust with Jimmy Garropolo.
Outside of usage questions, the matchup does not bode well for Blount. The Patriots will be playing the Cardinals this week, who gave up the ninth fewest point to running backs last season. Previous seasons have shown that Blount does not produce against tough run defenses as the Pats move towards dump-offs and short passes to move the chains.
Even if the Pats want to shield Garropolo from the Cards defense, the game plan will most likely be dink-and-dunk to White as opposed to slamming Blount into the Arizona front seven. Blount is a low end FLEX play this week.