By Stephen Dolan
Take a look at who to start and who to skip for the first week of the NFL season.
Play: Sam Bradford (vs. ATL)
Bradford enters the season as the man running Chip Kelly’s high-power offense. While the QB has not played a regular season game since October 20, 2013, when he suffered a torn ACL against the Carolina Panthers, there didn’t appear to be any rust as he went 10-for-10 for 121 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter of the third preseason game against the Packers. He gets a favorable matchup against a Falcons defense that ranked dead last in the NFL overall and last against the pass a year ago. At $7,500, Bradford offers big-time value in an offense that is going to put up points. Play ’em.
Play: Matt Ryan (vs. PHI)
Ryan will be opposed by Sam Bradford and the Eagles on Monday night to open the season. The 30-year-old quarterback threw for 4,694 yards with 28 touchdowns last season and will be facing an Eagles secondary that allowed an average of 264.9 passing yards per game last season – 31st in the NFL. Despite a revamped Philadelphia secondary, Ryan has Roddy White and one of the best wide receivers in the game in Julio Jones as his primary targets. It’s shaping up to be a shootout at the Georgia Dome. Play ’em.
Other Good Plays: Aaron Rodgers (vs. CHI) for $9,700, Ryan Tannehill (vs. WAS) for $8,000, Carson Palmer (vs. NO) for $7,700
Pass: Joe Flacco (vs. DEN)
Flacco is coming off his best season in the NFL, setting career-highs in yards (3,986) and touchdowns (27), but he has an unfavorable matchup this week. The Ravens take on the Denver Broncos, who boasted the third ranked defense in the NFL last season and the ninth-best against the pass. Flacco has a savvy veteran on the outside in Steve Smith, but rookie Breshad Perriman will be opposite Smith at wide receiver and he is playing in his first NFL game, so jitters are to be expected. When it comes to Flacco in Week 1, pass ’em.
Other Passes: Drew Brees (vs. ARI) for $8,900, Russell Wilson (vs. STL) for $8,800
Play: Jonathan Stewart (vs. JAC)
Stewart has struggled to stay healthy over his seven-year NFL career, but he opens the season in good shape as the Panthers’ top back. Head coach Ron Rivera will be relying heavily on the running game in Carolina to protect Cam Newton, especially after losing top receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a torn ACL during training camp. Stewart is facing a Jaguars team that allowed 127.1 rushing yards per game in 2014, the sixth-worst in the NFL. Play ’em.
Play: Chris Ivory (vs. CLE)
Ivory is the featured back in the new-look Jets offense under first-year head coach Todd Bowles. Despite the uncertainty at the quarterback position, New York offers some threats at wide receiver with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The deep threats should open up space for Ivory, who rushed for 821 yards last season. Ivory is facing a Browns defense that allowed a league-worst 141.6 rushing yards per game last season. Absolutely play ’em.
Other Good Plays: Ameer Abdullah (vs. SD) for $5,900, Alfred Blue (vs. KC) for $5,800, Carlos Hyde (vs. MIN) for $7,300
Pass: C.J. Anderson (vs. BAL)
Anderson came into his own last season as Peyton Manning’s feature back, leapfrogging Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. Anderson figures to get his share of reps and he will have space to run as defenses still need to respect Manning. But Hillman had a solid preseason and the Broncos haven’t shied away from using more than one back to keep fresh legs. The matchup isn’t great for Anderson, as he faces a Ravens defense that ranked fourth in the NFL against the run last season, allowing an average of 88.3 rushing yards per game. Pass ’em.
Other Passes: Justin Forsett (vs. DEN) for $7,800, Frank Gore (vs. BUF) for $7,500, Alfred Morris (vs. MIA) for 7,400
Play: Roddy White (vs. PHI)
White is coming off of an elbow injury that has him questionable for the Falcons season-opener against the Eagles. If White is in the Falcons lineup, he is one of the best values out there. The Eagles had the second-worst defense against the pass last season. Despite bolstering their secondary with free agent cornerback Byron Maxwell, the Eagles still have question marks. Even so, Maxwell will be plastered to Julio Jones, so White will get some good looks against a sub-par defense. Play ’em.
Play: Larry Fitzgerald (vs. NO)
Fitzgerald is still a consistent performer for the Cardinals and he will be facing a Saints secondary that lost one of its leaders, Keenan Lewis, due to injury. Arizona will also get starting quarterback Carson Palmer back in the fold, after losing him last year to a knee injury, which should signal significant looks for Fitzgerald in the Cardinals offense. Fitzgerald is definitely a good play in Week 1.
Play: Davante Adams (vs. CHI)
Green Bay lost their top wide receiver Jordy Nelson for the season and Randall Cobb was also dinged up in the preseason. Cobb expects to return for Week 1 against the Bears, but Nelson’s targets must go somewhere. Adams is a prime candidate to step up for Aaron Rodgers’ aerial attack against the third-worst passing defense in 2014. Adams caught 38 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie in 2014. Play ’em.
Other Good Plays: John Brown (vs. NO) for $6,000, Kendall Wright (vs. TB) for $5,800, Nelson Agholor (vs. ATL) for $5,500
Pass: DeAndre Hopkins (vs. KC)
Hopkins enters his first season as the Texans No. 1 wide receiver, but the offense around him remains in question. Houston is without running back Arian Foster and will be starting Brian Hoyer under center, which means a lot of attention will be paid to Hopkins. Kansas City was stingy against the pass last season, ranking second in the NFL, behind only Seattle, and the Chiefs will get Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry back from his bout with cancer. Pass on Hopkins.
Other Passes: Calvin Johnson (vs. SD) for $8,500, Keenan Allen (vs. DET) for $7,900, Sammy Watkins (vs. IND) for $7,600
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Play: Andrew Quarless (vs. CHI)
Quarless is part of that same Green Bay aerial attack that now has extra balls up for grabs thanks to Jordy Nelson’s torn ACL. Aaron Rodgers is one to spread the ball around and Quarless is his top tight end target. Quarless caught 29 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns last season. When Rodgers is the guy distributing the ball, definitely play ’em.
Other Good Plays: Coby Fleener (vs. BUF) for $5,100, Tyler Eifert (vs. OAK) for $5,000, Charles Clay (vs. IND) for $5,000
Pass: Jimmy Graham (vs. STL)
Graham has been the best fantasy tight end in the game over the last few seasons, but his time with Drew Brees in New Orleans is over. He is now a Seahawk and it’s difficult to project just how Pete Carroll plans to use Graham in his offense and, in particular, in the red zone. Graham is expensive at $6,900 in FanDuel leagues, so he’d better be productive for that price. Until it is clear how Graham will be utilized in the Seattle offense, pass ’em.
Other Passes: Martellus Bennett (vs. GB) for $6,200, Ladarius Green (vs. DET) for $5,700
Matt Bryant (vs. PHI)
Dan Bailey (vs. NYG)
Randy Bullock (vs. KC)
Justin Tucker (vs. DEN)
Connor Barth (vs. TEN)
Cody Parkey (vs. ATL)
Buccaneers (vs. TEN)
Jets (vs. CLE)
Chiefs (vs. HOU)
49ers (vs. MIN)
Texans (vs. KC)
Bills (vs. IND)
- QB: Sam Bradford (vs. ATL): $7,500
- RB: DeMarco Murray (vs. ATL): $8,500
- RB: Chris Ivory (vs. CLE): $6,400
- WR: Julio Jones (vs. PHI): $9,000
- WR: Brandon Marshall (vs. CLE): $7,400
- WR: Kendall Wright (vs. TB): $5,800
- TE: Andrew Quarless (vs. GB): $5,200
- K: Matt Bryant (vs. PHI): $5,000
- DST: Seahawks (vs. STL): $5,000
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Steve Dolan is an MBA student at Villanova University and a graduate of the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University. Steve co-founded Whiz Wit Sports, a Philadelphia-centric sports blog, in March 2011 growing the site to win PHL 17’s Best Local Blogger on the Philly Hot List in 2013.