It's that time! Week 1 of the NFL regular season is finally here, and with it comes the first week of fantasy football match-ups. It's been a long and winding road that's led us to Week 1, so let's dive right into the best games for fantasy goodness for this week. There will obviously be players who have great fantasy weeks outside of these games, I just think these ones have the most to offer in terms of the number of fantasy relevant players and the potential for a lot of points (both real and fantasy) to be scored. Good luck and enjoy Week 1!
Best Fantasy Match-ups of the Week
Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots - Thursday, Sept. 10, 8:30 p.m. ET
The first game of the NFL regular season looks like it should be a shootout, which always makes fantasy players happy! Unfortunately, neither team will be going into this game full strength, as the Steelers will be missing both Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant and the Patriots will be without LeGarrette Blount, all due to suspensions. Expect Ben Roethlisberger to be throwing a lot in this game, as the Pats could put up points almost at will against the Steelers' defense. Let's see how close Antonio Brown can get to last year's season total of 181 targets! He's going to be a target monster here, especially with Bell and Bryant missing this game. Markus Wheaton could be worth a look in deeper leagues or DFS (daily fantasy sports), as he'll be the #2 receiver for Big Ben. It helps that the Patriots' secondary will have two new starting corners for this year and are replacing, namely, Darrelle Revis. DeAngelo Williams could also be worth a flex-spot start as he makes his first of two starts while Bell serves his suspension.
The Patriots are in a similar situation, as the Steelers defense has looked just as atrocious during this preseason as it did last year. With the release of Jonas Gray and Blount's week 1 suspension, I'll be looking for Brandon Bolden to get most of the normal rushing duties and some receptions on the side. He's a possible flex candidate. There's been a lot of Dion Lewis talk recently, but I'd like to wait and see how the receiving back situation plays out before I put any of them in my lineups. Tom Brady should light it up in this game, even if he's without his full complement of weapons (Brandon LaFell seems unlikely to play and Julian Edelman still a question mark with his injury). I mean, the Steelers just let the Bills' QBs go 30/33 for 386 yards, 3 touchdowns and a 142.9 passer rating in the 3rd preseason game...and that's Tyrod Tayler, E.J. Manuel, Matt Cassel and Matt Simms. Brady's a top 3-5 QB this week. Rob Gronkowski will be Gronk and if Edelman is able to play, he'll see a lot of targets and potentially a lot of YAC (yards after catch) if Pittsburgh's secondary continues to not make tackles. It's possible a WR like Aaron Dobson catches a deep pass or two for the Pats' as well. Yeah, I said Aaron Dobson! I'm just saying to keep an eye on it.
Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears - Sunday, Sept. 13, 1:00 p.m. ET
Aaron Rodgers is really good! You should probably start that guy. But really, you know you're starting all your Packers in this game. Eddie Lacy should have a great opportunity to start this season faster than he did last year. As long as Randall Cobb as ready to go (shoulder injury), he'll see a ton of targets as long as the Pack don't get too far up. I think Davante Adams could have a huge game, as the Bears will have to pay a lot of attention to Cobb and Lacy and their defense as already in bad shape. I'd put him in the 12-15 range at WR this week. With the recent re-addition of James Jones, it's hard to say what the other Packers' wide receivers might do in this game. I won't be looking at any of the trio of Jones, Ty Montgomery or Jeff Janis in my leagues.
I have a feeling that the Bears could be down a lot at some point in this game, and that could lead to some pure volume numbers for Jay Cutler and the rest of the passing game. He might have an interception or two, but the numbers could be there. We don't know whether Alshon Jeffery will play yet -- and if he does, if he'll be 100% -- but it would be a great game to have him in, as he'd be a top 10 WR. It looks like Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson returned to practice this week and if I had to pick one, I'd go with Royal. I just think he'll end up getting a lot of targets from Cutler, as they have a history together and it's been all rave reviews for Royal out of the Bears' camp this preseason. I'd consider him as a deeper league WR-3 start or in DFS lineups where you need upside. Speaking of targets, Martellus Bennett should get a lot of love as well and he'll be a top 5 tight end this week. Matt Forte will do his thing and can still catch passes if the Bears do fall behind, making him a safer bet than some other backs in that situation.
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys - Sunday, Sept. 13, 8:30 p.m. ET
This might be the most surprising game of the bunch, but both of these defenses are shaky (at best) and there's potential for the offenses to explode. The Giants offense hasn't looked spectacular during the preseason, but let's hope that they were just knocking the rust off going into the regular season. Eli Manning should be a nice start in this game, as the Cowboys just lost Orlando Scandrick to a season-ending injury and will be counting on disappointing former 1st round-pick, Morris Claiborne. The rest of their secondary is nothing to write home about either, and I could see Eli throwing all over the place here. He's in the 5-10 range at QB. Who does Eli throw to again? Oh yeah, that Odell Beckham Jr. guy. If Victor Cruz is out of this game -- which looks like it's very possible at this point -- Beckham should see a similar number of targets how to last year when Cruz was out...all of them. The ones that don't go to Beckham will likely go towards Rueben Randle, who had 128 targets last year himself. I could see Randle as an interesting DFS start this week. I'm not expecting anything in particular out of tight end Larry Donnell, but he'll be somewhere in the 8-15 range for tight ends this week. As for the running game, it could be a situation where all three backs --Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen and Andre Williams -- split touches and then you're relying on a touchdown to separate one from the pack. If I had to pick one in standard leagues it would be Jennings, but only as a Flex. Vereen fits in the same category in PPR leagues.
How 'bout them Cowboys?! Sorry...anyway, I expect big things from the Cowboys offense in this game. Regardless of the score, the Cowboys will likely run the ball in order to set up the rest of their offense and try to give the defense as much time off the field as possible, similar to last season's formula. I believe Joseph Randle will get the first shot at the majority of carries in this game, but i wouldn't trust him as anything more than a flex play -- maybe a #2 RB in deeper leagues -- because I'm just not sure that he's going to end up being the best back on the team. I'm not in love with Darren McFadden either, but I could see a situation where neither McFadden or Randle distinguishes themselves and they split the carries or one of them just has the hot hand and gets more carries because of it. I just have no idea which one it will be. McFadden is a flex play at best. At this point, I'm ignoring both Lance Dunbar and Christine Michael. I'm not sure the best corners in the league can stop Dez Bryant at his best, so I definitely don't see anyone in the Giants' secondary slowing him down. Top 5 WR. Terrance Williams is interesting as a deeper league flier this week, but his biggest appeal is in DFS lineups. I could see a big play or two for him with all the attention the Giants will give Dez. As for Tony Romo, he's in the same class as Eli for me this week, in the 5-10 range at QB. Although Romo may be slightly safer, just based on their respective histories. Nobody is excited about starting Jason Witten, but he'll get some targets (you know Romo always trusts him) as long as he's not blocking in the run game. He's also somewhere in the 8-15 range at TE.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Atlanta Falcons - Monday, Sept. 14, 6:55 p.m. ET
Ah! The obvious one! Everyone expects this game to be a high scoring affair involving the high-powered Eagles' offense being engineered by Chip Kelly and the Falcons' new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan installing his own proven scheme. After seeing the stat line Sam Bradford put up in the 3rd preseason game -- 10/10 for 121 yards, 3 touchdowns and a 156.7 passer rating -- everyone has jumped on the bandwagon, especially for this game against the perennially porous Falcons' defense. And so have I! Bradford will be in the 5-10 range at QB this week (seems like everyone is there, right?). DeMarco Murray might break down at some point this season due to the massive amount of touches he had last year -- an insane 497 total touches between the regular season and playoffs -- but I don't think it'll be week 1. I expect Murray and backfield running mate Ryan Mathews to run over, around and through the Falcons, even if it's by pure volume. I'd consider Murray a top-10 option and Mathews as a sneaky flex-play, as well as an interesting DFS option. The two pass-catchers on the Eagles that are worth looking at are wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor. I think Matthews is in for a big year and this is a nice match-up to begin the year, as the Falcons had the worst pass defense in the league last year. I'd consider him a top 12-13 WR this week, especially with questions surrounding Zach Ertz's availability. Agholor, a rookie, has been impressive this preseason and has looked the part of a starting receiver in Chip Kelly's offense. He could also start his rookie year strong and I'd use him as a strong flex/WR 3 or even a possible WR 2 option if you're in a bind.
As for the Falcons, they may not have as many names to like as the Eagles do, but they sure have a couple big ones. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have been together since the latter came into the league, and he had his best season as a pro so far in 2014, with 163 targets for 104 catches, 1593 yards and 6 touchdowns. Can you guess who the second worst pass defense was in the NFL last year? That's right! The Philadelphia Eagles. I expect Jones to have a huge season and he's my #2 WR this week, behind only Antonio Brown. If Roddy White plays, there's potential for a lot of catches, I'm just concerned his current injury issues (and others down the line) will slow him down. He's better in PPR at this point. There has been some nice plays by Leonard Hankerson in Falcons' camp and during the preseason, but I wouldn't trust him as any more than a deep league flier or DFS upside play. It's possible a decent tight end emerges at some point between Jacob Tamme and Levine Toilolo, but I'll let that play out while both of them are on the waiver wire. As for the running backs, I like Tevin Coleman better long term, but I wouldn't trust him or Devonta Freeman as anything more than a flex until the situation has more clarity.
Bonus! Another Offense I Like This Week
Alright, so I don't think that this game is going to be particularly high scoring (at least not on one side), but I had to throw it in there because I think that the Dolphins' offense is going to be really good. With the way the Dolphins have played in the preseason, the fact that it's Ryan Tannehill's second year in offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's offense and the addition of so many offensive weapons (Kenny Stills, Jordan Cameron, DeVante Parker), as well as the growth of those players already entrenched there (Jarvis Landry, Lamar Miller and Tannehill) I'm expecting big things from this offense this year. That starts with week 1, where I'm not sure the Redskins' defense is any good and the whole Robert Griffin III situation is still hanging over the team. Also, I really like the Dolphins' defense this week and they are a great option going forward if they can be found on the waiver wire. Start your Dolphins this week!
Stats gathered from NFL.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com