NFL week one has come and gone, signifying the full engagement of fantasy football season. Though many of this year’s top picks such as Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley outperformed expectations in their season openers, there is uncertainty for those owners who opted for players such as David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliot. In the first installment of this weekly column, I aim to give owners some guidance in navigating week two and beyond, while simultaneously teaching some fantasy football skills for owners of all skill levels.
With that said, DO NOT PANIC after week one! The NFL plays a long season and one week will not define your players and team, stay calm and ride the ebbs and flows of variance. David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliot, and other under-performing stars are star players for a reason, they will bounce back and you should still lock them into your lineups. The worst thing you can do as a fantasy owner is panic and trade one of your top picks at a low value. On the flip side, try to trade for star players from owners who are angry or dissatisfied with their performance. Let them panic and reap the rewards.
All information presented in this column is accurate as of Tuesday Sept. 11. However, continue to monitor weather and injury reports as the week progresses.
Looking at the week two slate of games, two stand out as highly fantasy relevant games that I am looking to play pieces of. This slate begins with the Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) at the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0-1), as the highest projected point total, 52.5, of the week. Second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes broke out in week one, passing for 256 yards and four touchdowns on 15/21 passes while adding a 21 rushing yards on 5 attempts. Mahomes, available in many leagues on the waiver wire, in addition to wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce are excellent pieces to own of a highly projected game in terms of scoring and are players who owners can look to target in trades. Pittsburgh’s defense allowed veteran journeyman quarterback Tyrod Taylor to finish as QB6 on the week, passing for 197 yards on 15/40 attempts, highly impacted by poor weather conditions during the game, and run for 77 yards and a touchdown on 8 attempts for a total of 23.6 fantasy points. The Chiefs are a much more powerful offense than the new-look Browns, and I would not be surprised to see Mahomes finish as a top-three quarterback this week.
On the other side of the ball are wide receivers Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster in addition to last week’s breakout running back, James Conner. Quarterback Phillip Rivers and the Chargers torched the Chiefs secondary for 424 yards and three touchdowns on 34/51 passing. I see this trend continuing in week two as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gets the matchup at home, where he has been notoriously more productive over the course of his career.
As of Tuesday, running back Le’Veon Bell has been removed from the Steelers’ depth chart and no projected timetable for his return has been established. If Conner is on your league’s waiver wire grab him immediately and lock him in one of your running back slots; this goes for Bell owners and non-Bell owners alike. I project Conner to mirror production like that of Melvin Gordon against the Chiefs last week, who finished as RB3, behind Conner at RB2, with a line of 15 rushes for 64 yards and 9 receptions for 102 yards on 13 targets; a total of 27.6 fantasy points. Brown is my top overall play of the week in a bounce-back performance after a below average week by Brown standards of 24.3 fantasy points off 9 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. Owners who are upset Brown was not a top five wideout this week may be willing to trade him below his elite value: I would advise at least making an offer to get the perennial WR1.
Opposite Brown is Schuster, the electric second-year receiver who quietly posted 119 yards on 5 catches and 8 targets. Depending on how the Chiefs secondary decides to defend Brown, Schuster may be in line for a heavy workload in week two, boosted in PPR leagues as a result of increase targets and receptions. If your team does not have access to any of the premiere pieces of this game, Pittsburgh tight end Jesse James, available in over 98 percent of ESPN leagues, is an above average streaming option this week, a nice replacement for owners who may have lost Greg Olsen for the foreseeable future.
The second game on this week’s slate with massive fantasy appeal is the undefeated Cleveland Browns (0-0-1) who travel to New Orleans to play the Saints (0-1) in a cross-conference matchup. Vegas projects this game at 50 combined points, the second highest total on the slate.
An aside on interpreting Vegas lines and point spreads. Over-under betting lines are publicly available on many websites and provide insight into how Vegas believes the two teams will score, and the points line gives information into who the oddsmakers believe will win and by how much. This information is incredibly important and overlooked by many fantasy football players as Vegas’ entire existence is providing the most accurate predictions they can to maximize profits. Looking for high over-under points totals can provide insight into which NFL games may shootout, such as Tampa Bay/New Orleans last week, which was the second highest projected point total on the slate at 49.5. That game was a fantasy gold mine for points and I am not going to hesitate to exploit New Orleans’ below average secondary in week two; Vegas is telling us to do so.
Whereas the stud players in KC/PIT are more defined, outside of emerging star running back Alvin Kamara and top-five receiver Michael Thomas, the Browns/Saints matchup is much tougher to evaluate from a pure usage perspective for the Saints. After quarterback Drew Brees, Thomas, and Kamara, usage becomes much harder to evaluate, but wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Cameron Meredith exist as low-floor, high-ceiling flex streaming options.
While Cleveland’s Jarvis Landry was tied for the fourth most wide receiver targets in week one, 15, he only caught 7 for an impressive 106 yards. Landry’s ceiling in this game is through the roof, especially if the two teams shootout, and I project the first-year Brown to finish as a top-five PPR receiver in week two with touchdown upside. Fellow Browns wideout Josh Gordon was held to one catch for 17 yards and a touchdown on three targets, however he could easily be this week’s DeSean Jackson who as a deep ball threat torched the Saints’ secondary for 146 yards on 5 catches, and 5 targets, while adding two touchdowns to his WR3 finish in week one. In addition, Gordon was on the field for over 85% of Cleveland’s total plays and missed the entire preseason due to personal matters; his production can only increase. Both Landry and Gordon are excellent buy-low trade targets this week and are players I am excited to roster as the second continues.
With a muddled Browns backfield that I want no part of this week, the final piece of this game I am interested in rostering is the aforementioned Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is available in over 60 percent of ESPN leagues and offers massive passing upside as a streaming option with running ability in week two. Oh, and the two teams are playing in the Superdome instead of ten-plus mph winds and rain. Do not be afraid of Taylor’s 15/40 passing performance last week – the weather was certainly a factor there.
Outside of the highly projected games, no other matchup stands out to me as a massively targetable game for fantasy purposes. The Chargers traveling to face a Buffalo team that allowed 47 points against the Ravens in week one is appealing; however, Baltimore began to rest starters in the second half and the same could hold true if Phillip Rivers has another outstanding performance. Rivers alongside running back Melvin Gordon and wide receiver Keenan Allen stay locked in starting lineups, just do not be upset if Chargers players do not match the production from week one’s shootout with the Chiefs.
Instead of focusing on the individual games there are a few players at each position that I want to highlight for this upcoming week. This list is by no means all encompassing but is instead a list of players that my research leads me to believe are worthy of trading for, starting, or picking up off the waiver wire.
Ravens QB, Joe Flacco – Is Joe Flacco elite? A question as old as the 2012 Super Bowl, I love January Joe in a Thursday Night primetime matchup against a below average Bengals’ secondary. Flacco is available in 95.8 percent of ESPN leagues and looked extremely comfortable in a retooled offense. With 7 wins in 9 starts on Thursday Night Football, Flacco shines in primetime posting an average of 233 yards per game in the outings, with 15 TDs. Though the target share of wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead needs more data points to be understood, as all three caught a touchdown in week one so I am less interested in starting one of the three, Flacco represents a high-points-floor play in week two. Other quarterbacks to watch for include: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alex Smith.
Broncos RB, Phillip Lindsay – The non-Royce Freeman rookie running back in Denver, Lindsay shined in his NFL debut Sunday running for 71 yards on 15 carries and added two catches for 31 yards and a touchdown on three targets against a stout Seattle front seven. While many, myself included, thought Freeman would be the bellcow running back in Denver, Lindsay has emerged as a contender for the starting job with his RB13 finish in week one. Lindsay is only 2.4 percent owned in ESPN leagues and is my top wavier recommendation of the week in a favorable matchup against the Oakland Raiders, recently run over by all-pro Todd Gurley on Monday Night Football. Le’Veon Bell owners without James Conner who probably lost week one, this is your guy! Other running backs to watch for include: Chris Thompson, Jalen Richard, Isaiah Crowell, Javorius Allen.
Panthers WR, Devin Funchess – With Carolina tight end Greg Olsen sidelined for the foreseeable due to a foot fracture, the target share for Funchess is only expected to increase in week two. Funchess posted an easily forgettable three catches for 41 yards on 5 targets against the Cowboys in week one, but the Carolina offense struggled most of the game. Of note, when the Panthers played against the Falcons, this week’s opponent, in week 9 of 2017 with Olsen missing the game due to injury, Funchess posted five catches for 86 yards on six targets, leading the team in catches. The workload of running back Christian McCaffery is my only concern with Funchess. However the fourth year wideout is still the Panthers’ WR1 and is a nice buy-low trade target this week, or a throw-in for larger deals. Other wide receivers to watch for include: Kenny Golladay, Quincy Enunwa, Chris Godwin, Kenny Stills.
49ers TE, George Kittle – Kittle finished week one as TE6 with a line of five catches for 90 yards on 9 targets in the 49ers 24-16 road loss against an elite Vikings defense. Somehow Kittle is only 37.6 percent owned in ESPN leagues yet had the fourth most tight end targets in week one in an offense with a non-established run game following the Jerick McKinnon injury. In addition, 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin is currently day-to-day after suffering a bruised thigh in week one. If Goodwin does not play Sunday against the Detroit Lions, who had 48 points scored against them by rookie quarterback Sam Darnold on Monday Night Football, the target share for Kittle will only increase, further adding to the appeal. George Kittle will finish as a top-five tight end this year, you heard it here first. Other tight ends to watch for include: Jared Cook, Will Dissly, Jack Doyle, Trey Burton.
Good luck to everyone in week two and remember to continue to monitor injury reports and weather forecasts as the week progresses. Knowledge is power in fantasy football so reading articles such as mine only inform your decision making and make you a better player. Do not be afraid to pivot off my conclusions for your own, fantasy is a tough game and it is impossible to get everything right week in and week out. As for this column, I would appreciate any feedback or ways that I could improve my information. It’s extremely brainless to write “start Todd Gurley, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski” every week; however, I want to explain the rationale behind my decision making and share any tricks to help you improve as a fantasy player. I am hoping using Vegas lines to identify shootout potential was something new for many of you and if you have any questions about anything from my article, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @jeff_carr_!
Thanks for reading and good luck beating the variance monster in week two!