By Cole Banker and Chris Blake
It’s been a crazy year, but football is finally back, and we’re ready to set the fantasy table for Week 1 with our first edition of Love/Hate. This column will be posted every week prior to the Thursday night game during the fantasy football season, featuring two players we love and hate in each position — one for each of us. To clarify, when we say we “love” a player, we mean that we expect him to outperform his projections for that week, and the opposite for players we “hate.” We are using PPR scoring when we refer to players’ rankings. With that in mind, let’s get to it. Enjoy.
Quarterbacks we love this week
Cole: Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) @ New York Giants
After missing a full season with an elbow injury, Big Ben is back as the QB 1 for the Steelers, who suffered mightily at the quarterback position throughout the 2019 season. According to Mike Tomlin, the veteran has never felt better and has eliminated a nagging pain in that same elbow that’s been bothering him for years. There’s no better matchup for the future hall-of-famer to get back to typical Big Ben form than the Giants, as New York gave up the third-most fantasy points to opposing QBs a year ago. Roethlisberger is known to struggle on the road, but without fans in the stands, home-field advantage is practically non-existent.
Chris: Drew Brees (NO) vs. Tampa Bay
Gone are the days of drafting Brees and not having to think about the quarterback position for the rest of the year. That being said, you can put him in your lineup this week and sit back, relax, and watch the points add up. Brees faces a young Tampa Bay secondary in the comforts of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this Sunday. The Bucs allowed the ninth-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks last year and failed to make any significant moves to address the area of weakness in the offseason. Game script could also favor Brees in this game as the Bucs should put up plenty of points, possibly leading to a shootout. Suddenly, it feels like 2015 again.
Quarterbacks we hate this week
Cole: Aaron Rodgers (GB) @ Minnesota
It’s been a dramatic offseason for Rodgers and the Packers, stemming from the team drafting QB Jordan Love with their first round pick. Rodgers showed signs of slowing down toward the end of 2019, and he’ll have a tough matchup to open up his 2020 campaign. The Vikings finished in the top-10 in defending opposing quarterbacks in fantasy a year ago, but more telling is how they played the Packers. Minnesota held Rodgers to just a total of two TD passes in two games and held him to lowly 11 fantasy PPG. Stay away from Rodgers this week.
Chris: Baker Mayfield (CLE) @ Baltimore
Call me Colin Cowherd, because I am not a fan of Baker Mayfield this week. Baltimore boasts one of the best defenses in football. The cornerback tandem of Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, combined with a pass rush that now includes Calais Campbell, will shut down Cleveland’s offense. If you need another reason to shy away from Mayfield this week, look no further than turnovers; last season Mayfield had 23 turnovers while Baltimore forced the eighth-most with 25. Time will tell how Mayfield’s third season will turn out after an up-and-down start to his career, but this matchup makes him a poor option for fantasy managers in week one.
Running backs we love this week
Cole: Josh Jacobs (LV) @ Carolina
Jacobs leads the Las Vegas Raiders into Charlotte on Sunday to face the new-look Panthers in a juicy matchup for the second-year tailback. A defense that struggled mightily against the run will now have to find a way to step up without Luke Keuchly, who retired this offseason. The Panthers gave up a whopping 27.3 FPG and 27 TDs to running backs in 2019, both worst by a wide margin in the NFL. Jon Gruden has promised to get Jacobs more involved, especially in the passing game, so expect him to start his breakout campaign with a big outing on Sunday.
Chris: Chris Carson (SEA) @ Atlanta
In a league that is slowly leaving behind the concept of a workhorse-running back, Carson is one of the few exceptions. The Falcons’ defense was nothing special last year, and it should be much of the same in week one, setting up Seattle’s offense for success. Healed from a hip injury that cut his 2019 campaign short, Carson will get back on the horse with plenty of carries this week, especially near the goal line. It remains to be seen if Carson will keep the expanded role in the passing game he earned last season, but if does, it will raise his floor in a matchup fantasy managers should already be looking favorably upon.
Running backs we hate this week
Cole: Nick Chubb (CLE) @Baltimore
It was an up and down 2019 for Nick Chubb who, although finishing as the No. 8 RB, trailed Kareem Hunt in fantasy points after the former-Chief returned from suspension. The Ravens were above-average in stopping the run last year, finishing in the top-10 and allowing just over 15 points to opposing RBs per game. The real concern for me, however, is how the Browns will utilize the two-back system of Chubb and Hunt. Kareem figures to handle most, if not all, of the passing down work, and this could prove especially unfavorable if the Ravens start to run away with this one, which is certainly a possibility. You can do better than Chubb this week.
Chris: Kenyan Drake (ARI) @ San Francisco
I am suspicious of the Kenyan Drake hype train this season in general, but I am definitely low on him in Week 1. After spending portions of the past few weeks in a walking boot (it was said to be for precautionary reasons), Drake gets to play against a stiff 49ers defense that allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs last season. If Drake is on your team, it’s likely because you drafted him in the early rounds and will have to start him, but keep your expectations in check for him in week one.
Wide receivers we love this week
Cole: Terry McLaurin (WAS) vs. Philadelphia
McLaurin burst onto the fantasy scene last year and developed a strong rapport with rookie QB Dwayne Haskins. Scary Terry was the sole bright spot in an otherwise stagnant Washington offense, and as a result his role should only increase. The Eagles provide a juicy Week 1 matchup for Washington’s wideouts, as Philadelphia yielded the third-most fantasy points to opposing WRs a year ago. In a game where Washington may find themselves down a score or two for most of the game, stick McLaurin in your lineup with confidence in what should be a favorable game script.
Chris: Stefon Diggs (BUF) vs. New York Jets
Diggs should get off to a strong start with his new team as he faces a weak Jets’ secondary in the season opener. The Jets allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers last season, and that was when they had All-Pro safety Jamal Adams patrolling the secondary. Now an even more favorable matchup for opposing offenses, the Jets will not be able to contain the duo of Diggs and John Brown, setting the Bills passing game up for a field day in week one.
Wide receivers we hate this week
Cole: AJ Green (CIN) vs. LA Chargers
I’m just not buying anything to do with AJ Green anymore. He’s 32 years old, he missed all of last season, and 13 games in the three seasons before that. He appears to be ready to go for Week 1, but after a limited training camp and with a rookie QB in Joe Burrow that has never thrown him a competitive pass, I’m not touching him this week or any week down the road. If by some chance he stays healthy, then his raw talent will make him a serviceable play, but the odds are stacked against him. It’s also a dicey matchup for the Cincinnati air attack this week against the Chargers, who finished in the top-4 in containing opposing WRs in terms of fantasy production. Stay away from Green this week.
Chris: DeVante Parker (MIA) @ New England
There are two ways to look at Parker’s matchup this week: you could feel confident in him because he shredded Stephon Gilmore and the Patriots’ secondary in week 17 last year to the tune of eight receptions for 137 yards, or you could be scared off by how dominant the Patriots’ cornerbacks are projected to be once again in 2020. I am choosing to go with the latter. Despite winning Defensive Player of the Year last season, Gilmore’s Week 17 performance against Parker is likely still fresh in his mind. Bill Belichick, Gilmore, and the rest of New England’s secondary will do all they can to quell the efforts of Miami’s top pass catcher this week.
Tight ends we love this week
Cole: George Kittle (SF) vs. Arizona
Not much of a stretch here, but look for a huge Week 1 from the San Francisco tight-end. This might be the year Kittle finally does what no tight end has been able to do since Gronk in 2017: dethrone Travis Kelce. While it was their defense that led the way in their Super Bowl run, the 49ers’ offense took massive strides, and a lot of it had to do with George Kittle. He is Garoppolo’s clear No. 1 target, and with a lack of starpower at WR, Kittle should continue to see a monopoly of targets. He’s a surefire start every week, but especially in Week 1, where he’ll face an Arizona Cardinals defense that was shelled by tight ends last year, yielding a league-high 13 points to players of that position per game — four more than the next team.
Chris: Jack Doyle (IND) @ Jacksonville
I like Doyle as a sleeper pick for the entire 2020 season; now-Indianapolis quarterback Philip Rivers loves to get the tight end involved in the passing game, and Eric Ebron has left for Pittsburg, eliminating some competition at the position. Doyle can get off to a hot start in week one against a Jacksonville defense that was in the 33rd percentile for limiting opposing tight ends’ fantasy production last year. As strange as it sounds, I believe Doyle could possibly garner more attention from Rivers in Week 1 if the offense is slightly out of synch after a limited training camp due to the coronavirus, leading Rivers to look to his tight end often for checkdowns.
Tight ends we hate this week
Cole: Rob Gronkowski (TB) @ New Orleans
You know it’s been a hell of a year when the least crazy thing about it is that Gronk and Brady are back playing together … on the Buccaneers. Before getting too excited about the reunion, remember it’s been almost two years since we’ve seen Gronkowski in uniform, and he will undoubtedly be playing fewer snaps than we’re used to seeing. Head Coach Bruce Arians reported that Gronk has shown signs of struggling with conditioning, and that is cause for concern for fantasy owners. It’s best to him a couple of weeks to see how the Bucs plan to use the future hall-of-famer going forward.
Chris: Austin Hooper (CLE) @ Baltimore I am low on Hooper for the Browns’ opener just as I am with Baker Mayfield. Not only do I expect their offense to struggle as a whole against one of the better defenses in the league, but the Ravens allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends last season. Oh, and by the way, they added Patrick Queen, an athletic linebacker out of LSU who is solid in pass coverage, this offseason via the draft. Look for other options at the tight end position this week.
Defenses we love this week
Cole: Indianapolis Colts (@ JAX)
Chris: Philadelphia Eagles (@ WAS)
Defenses we hate this week
Cole: Los Angeles Rams (vs. DAL)
Chris: New Orleans Saints (vs. TB)
Spreads we love this week
Cole: Cowboys -3, Pittsburgh -6.5, Seattle -2
Chris: Seahawks -2, Packers +2.5, Ravens -8
Edited by Emma Moloney