As the first week of significant NFL action at our doorstep, we can finally relax a bit after days, weeks, or months of wondering, analyzing, and predicting fantasy potential. Lineups are set, streaming options have been considered, the bench is full of upside; we’re ready.
There are a handful of matchups we need to pay close attention to than this weekend. New coaches and new players will be affecting nearly every team, so while some franchises can be reasonably expected to operate similarly to last season, others have significant changes that will have drastic effects on who we want to start week in and week out.
A lot of my focus here is on game script. If anything is predictable from week to week it’s the level of competition each team brings to the field. Regardless of the actual result of each matchup, I want to be able to reflect on the game and how each player was used given the positive or negative script; the opportunity they were given and the adversity they faced. That is to say, even though Green Bay was an offensive let-down on Thursday night (outside of Jimmy Graham), I can still look back on big-picture stats like target share and snap counts to get an idea of who was getting the opportunity, and then use that for projections. Even though Chicago's offense looked flaccid (that terminology is intentional), we can still identify the better running backs and receivers.
Here are three games I've had on my mind all week that we can learn a lot from:
Eagles @ Redskins
I’m very excited about Miles Sanders. Many in the fantasy community have been, but his ADP this off-season values him as a high-end committee back, though I personally see him as a strong candidate to eventually take over as a workhorse. The Eagles cut running backs W. Smallwood, J. Adams, D. Pumphrey, and B. Scott, which tells me that Philadelphia believes they finally have a group of RB’s they’re happy with. The only real concern is the presence of Jordan Howard. In week one I expect the Eagles to be flying away with an easy win, meaning positive game script and lots of running. We should get a very good look at how Philadelphia plans to use their committee backfield. I'll be expecting Howard on the goal line and Sanders as the early-down guy and paying close attention to any opportunity carryover. Perhaps most importantly (to me), how many pass play snaps is Sanders on the field for?
As for the Redskins, we’re going to see if the offense as a whole has progressed from last season. 2018 was a year nearly worth forgetting, a time when the roster was stagnant for fantasy due to an inept receiving corps, and only saved from the likes of the inhuman Adrian Peterson. But how do AP and Derrius Guice split backfield work? Can Guice actually play the receiving role well? The wide receiver chart is thin with rookies looking to make a difference- so how does the target share work out with new weapons and a new quarterback? I'm watching for potential PPR reliability in Trey Quinn as a slot receiver or Guice as the go-to RB. Even in a bad offense, volume is king, and the Washington offense is mostly unowned which means there could be a waiver wire flex option.
Bengals @ Seahawks
This should be an interesting game for Wilson and the receiving group in Seattle. DK Metcalf, David Moore, Jaron Brown are on the injury report this week. Brown was re-signed by the team only 48 hours after being cut. Malik Turner, John Ursua, and Greg Jennings are the next three healthy receivers behind Tyler Lockett. That’s two rookies and a sophomore.
Rumors out of Seattle are that RB’s Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny will be more involved in the passing game, and I have to wonder if that’s a necessary reaction after losing Doug Baldwin to retirement this offseason and having a plethora of unproven WR’s on the roster. The game script will lean very positive for Seattle as the Bengals are struggling with a below-average defense, a shredded offensive line (that already needed all the help it could get), and a similarly unproven and thin depth chart of receivers behind Tyler Boyd. I want to see positive regression arrive for Russell Wilson in week one as he drops back to throw deep to some shiny downfield threats in Lockett and Metcalf. But, it seems more likely the Seahawks’ offense literally runs through the Bengals with Carson and co. My eyes are on Wilson; is he fantasy-useless in positive game scripts or is he willing to take advantage and toss the pigskin?
As for the prematurely-defeated Bengals (sorry, Cincy), we have to keep an eye on that new offense. A new head coach from the Sean McVay family might be all we have to look forward to as Cincinnati enters a season with rebuild on the mind. Is this offense creative and fast-paced? Is a trash offensive line too much to overcome? This situation reminds me of the 2018 Cardinals (it definitely doesn't stink the same way), a team that also had a terrible offensive line and consequently resulted in barely flex-able fantasy players. This coaching situation is much different, and most likely better, which means we can still hold strong on our Boyds and Mixon's. Though speaking of- I worry for Boyd owners. I wouldn’t overreact should the game turn into a blowout; his target share and formation alignment will have a lot to say about how the new coaching staff plans to use their number one wideout. But should this be a dud turnout for the Bengals, look at the two highly drafted offensive weapons as potential trade targets before their week two matchup with the 49ers.
49ers @ Buccaneers
2019 feels like a make or break season for San Francisco. The GM, head coach, and quarterback are all under pressure to perform at a higher level than we've seen the past couple years. Luckily, this week one matchup plays to the favor of the 49ers. It's a fairly even match with two subpar defenses trying to hold off two above-average offenses.
Garoppolo has weapons than ever up against a defense infamous for a weak secondary. Can Jimmy G show up as a gunslinger? We know Jameis Winston can throw down QB1 caliber stats, regardless of interceptions, which should provoke an air raid style competition.
We should expect Bucs RBs to slack while Evans, Godwin, Howard excel. Niners RBs should excel while Pettis and Goodwin should see the majority of targets at the WR position. None of this is truly surprising, so what I'm truly looking for is which Tampa RB works as a volume upside pass-catching back. The Niners' front seven is projected to be rather good, so I anticipate dump-off passes to running backs and slot receivers; how does the target share break down for those not named Evans, Godwin, and Howard? Dare Ogunbowale is a sleeper right now and could be a hot waiver add considering how much we expect Tampa to throw this season.
For the Niners: which RB sees the most carries and which has the most targets? Breida is atop The depth chart at the position, so does Tevin assume the same role he had in Atlanta? Does Deebo Samuel get many snaps in his first NFL game? If we see a shootout a tertiary receiver or two could see a big game, but if snap counts are low, consider them an outlier
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