By Cole Banker, Chris Blake and Nate Brenner
Football is finally back, and we’re here 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 three players loved and hated in each position, one for each of the three writers. 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: Lamar Jackson (BAL) @ Miami
The former Heisman Trophy winner begins his first full year as a starter on the road in a tilt against a rebuilding Miami Dolphins. Baltimore’s run-heavy offense, specifically at the QB position, should play right into the hands of Jackson’s fantasy owners, as the Dolphins finished 30th in rushing yards allowed to quarterbacks and 31st in overall rushing defense. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Baltimore grab a lead early and pound the rock in the second half, which is a very favorable game script for Jackson. His mobility alone makes him a sure-fire top-10 play this week with top-5 upside.
Chris: Jared Goff (LAR) @ Carolina
Goff gets the shell of the Panthers to open the season in 2019. The Panthers were middle of the pack last year in terms of pass defense, allowing 240.4 yds/g and 23.9 pts/g, and didn’t do much to upgrade the secondary this offseason. Goff gets a healthy receiving core once again with the return of Cooper Kupp and a full offseason of Sean McVay’s creativity to fuel the offense.
Nate: Jimmy Garoppolo (SF) @ Tampa Bay
The Tom Brady understudy is back after recovering from a torn ACL, which he suffered last year in a week 3 game against the Chiefs. Lucky for him, Jimmy G gets to face arguably last year’s worst defense in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs finished last in Football Outsider’s defensive DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) metric and gave up the second-most yards per pass attempt (8.2 Y/A) in the NFL in 2018. Even with their offseason work to address the defense (they added LB Devin White and three defensive backs in the draft while acquiring Ndamukong Suh and Shaquil Barrett during free agency), I have zero faith in new head coach Bruce Arians’s defense. We saw low-profile names produce somewhat efficiently in Kyle Shanahan’s offense last year (Nick Mullens and CJ Beathard), so the expectation is that Garoppolo will do the same in a plus matchup this week.
Quarterbacks we hate this week
Cole: Matt Ryan (ATL) @ Minnesota
Matt Ryan has proved to be inconsistent in recent years in terms of his fantasy production, especially against tough defenses. The Vikings gave up the third-least passing yards in 2018 and have kept most of their defense intact in the offseason. I would not be surprised, with the Viking’s offensive inefficiencies, if this game drags on and points are at a premium, which would be unfavorable to Matty-Ice’s fantasy capabilities.
Chris: Cam Newton (CAR) vs. LA Rams
Newton`s preseason injury does scare me a bit, especially because he has a long history of injuries during his career, but the “hate” here mostly stems from the matchup. I am always hesitant to bet against a Wade Phillips defense, especially when he has the kind of talent at his disposal that the Rams provided. I am also skeptical of Panthers skill position players not named Christian McCaffrey. Greg Olsen is in the back nine of his career and the Rams secondary should be able to lock down DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel.
Nate: Derek Carr (OAK) @ Denver
Jon Gruden’s first season back in charge of the Raiders ended in disaster, as they finished last in the AFC West with a 4-12 record. This offseason, however, has given Derek Carr a significantly better arsenal to work with, adding Antonio Brown in free agency and drafting former Alabama running back Josh Jacobs. Even then, a season opener in Mile High Stadium is far from an ideal matchup, as the Broncos have consistently been one of the best defenses in the league at pass rushing and coverage. Derek Carr has been a league-average QB at best during his tenure in Oakland (49.3 QBR in 2018, with a career-high of 54.3 in 2016), and I’m not buying into any significant improvement this season.
Running backs we love this week
Cole: Leonard Fournette (JAX) vs. Kansas City
Leonard Fournette has been his own worst enemy in his young career which has limited his fantasy value but, when he is on the field, he produces. With a new QB in Nick Foles, Fournette is no longer going to be staring at stacked boxes all game. Combine that with a matchup against the 26th ranked run defense in Kansas City, and it makes for an intriguing week 1 matchup.
Chris: Chris Carson (SEA) vs. Cincinnati
Even behind a below-average offensive line last year, Carson put up great numbers for Seattle. The line has not improved much for the 2019 season, but Pete Carroll`s offensive ground and pound scheme should continue to offer Carson plenty of volume. The Bengals were the second most generous defense to opposing running backs last year (PPR format), and allowed a league-worst 413.6 total yds/g. Expect the Seattle offense to have a field day in week 1.
Nate: Dalvin Cook (MIN) vs. Atlanta
Coming off a torn ACL, Dalvin Cook holds the bell-cow spot in the backfield for the Vikings this season with the departure of his former tandem partner, Latavius Murray. In 2018, the Falcons were a bottom-five defense in stopping the run, allowing 4.9 yards per carry (fifth-worst in the NFL) and had the third-worst run defense DVOA metric as well. Cook is also an adequate pass catcher, so he will get plenty of touches in practically every game-flow scenario possible.
Running backs we hate this week
Cole: Aaron Jones (GB) @ Chicago
Aaron Jones was finally given his opportunity last year and finished as the 24th ranked RB despite missing four games. However, he is sure to be limited in the run game against the best defense in football, which limits his upside. No defense gave up fewer fantasy points to running backs in 2018 than the Chicago Bears.
Chris: Derrick Henry (TEN) @ Cleveland
The reason Henry makes the hate list this week is mostly because of the expected game flow. The Browns now have one of the top offenses in the NFL which will lead to a high scoring game, forcing the Titans to abandon Henry in favor of Dion Lewis. And yes, Henry did finish last year on a tear, but before that he was extremely disappointing. Until proven otherwise, I am skeptical to believe in Henry this year, especially in this matchup against the Browns.
Nate: Le’Veon Bell (NYJ) vs. Buffalo
One of the decade’s best running backs, Bell will dawn the jersey of a different team for the first time in his career after signing a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the New York Jets this past offseason. The NFL’s second-highest-paid running back will face the Buffalo Bills, who made massive strides last season in becoming a well-respected defense. They aren’t exactly elite at stopping the run (they’re closer to league-average in that department), but I do expect Le’Veon to see a significant decrease in production with the Jets under Adam Gase, whose offense in Miami continuously ran with one of the slowest tempos in the league during his tenure as head coach. Without an elite offense to surround him, I think Bell takes a step back this year, which will be evident this coming Sunday.
Wide receivers we love this week
Cole: Amari Cooper (DAL) vs. New York Giants
Amari thrived in Dallas in the second half of 2018, filling the hole at WR Dez Bryant left two years ago. He has built a chemistry with Dak Prescott, and with presumably no Zeke in the picture at the moment, Dallas will rely heavily on the passing game. It doesn’t hurt facing a middle-of-the-road Giants’ defense with a depleted secondary.
Chris: Adam Thielen (MIN) vs. Atlanta
Thielen gets a favorable matchup at home right out of the gate in 2019. The Falcons defense allowed 259.6 pass yds/g last year and didn’t make any big moves to improve the secondary this offseason. This should be a high scoring affair, as the Falcons offense will likely force Minnesota to continue to pass the ball throughout the game, benefitting Thielen and Cousins. Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant has not been known to consistently shadow opposing teams number one receivers, meaning that Thielen should be in line for a big game if Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski can create plays that put Thielen away from Trufant.
Nate: Dede Westbrook (JAX) vs. Kansas City
The former Biletnikoff winner finally gets the chance to work with a largely competent quarterback this year in Nick Foles, and their season debut comes against one of the least efficient defenses in the NFL. While their secondary did make improvements last season, the Chiefs are far from one of the most respected defenses in the NFL. With an expected game flow of Patrick Mahomes and co. putting up a ton of points early, I expect Dede Westbrook to finally prove himself capable of being the top wide receiver in the improved Jags offense.
Wide receivers we hate this week
Cole: T.Y. Hilton (IND) @ LA Chargers
The abrupt retirement of Andrew Luck was a huge punch in the gut to Hilton owners, as there is undoubtedly a substantial dropoff in his value with Jacoby Brissett filling Luck’s role. In 2017 with Brissett, Hilton finished as WR27, and with Luck in 2018, he finished as WR14 (FanDuel). It also doesn’t help his cause that the Colts have a tilt with a Chargers defense that ranked in the top-5 in lowest fantasy points yielded to WR’s a year ago.
Chris: Juju Smith-Schuster (PIT) @ New England
JuJu Smith-Schuster is another victim of the matchup in week 1. He lands on the hate list because he is the number one option in an offense facing the New England Patriots. In the past, Smith-Schuster has enjoyed the remains of secondaries after they take care of Antonio Brown, but now he will likely draw teams’ top cornerbacks and in this case, that’s Stephon Gilmore. Last year as Pittsburgh’s top receiver, Antonio Brown collect four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots. While that may have earned fantasy owners a decent point total, I am not totally convinced that JuJu Smith-Schuster is Antonio Brown.
Nate: Antonio Brown (OAK) @ Denver
I’ll stick with the theme of hating on former Steelers (it’s the Ravens fan within me, probably) and pick on Antonio Brown. After an offseason filled with diva drama, Brown will debut against a stout Denver defense and will most likely draw coverage from Chris Harris Jr., one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. I don’t expect Brown to enjoy much success on Monday night alongside a mediocre Derek Carr.
Tight ends we love this week
Cole: Jared Cook (NO) vs. Houston
Once a drop machine in St. Louis, Cook has transformed himself into being an integral part of whatever offense he finds himself in. After stints in Green Bay and Oakland, he lands in New Orleans in an offense with several weapons at its disposal. The Texans’ secondary will surely shade star Saints wideout Michael Thomas, which could leave room for Cook to get a share of Brees’ targets. Houston also yielded the fifth most points to TE’s last season, so mark Cook down as a starter in all leagues this week.
Chris: Vance McDonald (PIT) @ New England
With Jesse James riding the train to Detroit this offseason, Vance McDonald is in line for an increased workload this upcoming season. The Steelers draw the Patriots in week 1 and if history is any indication, Bill Belichick will take away JuJu Smith-Schuster throughout the game. In a likely high scoring contest, McDonald should receive plenty of targets from Ben Roethlisberger. Patriots defenses are typically at their worst early in the year, so this is a prime opportunity for McDonald to get off to a hot start.
Tight ends we hate this week
Cole: Delanie Walker (TEN) @ Cleveland
The 35-year-old veteran missed most of 2018 with a leg injury and is in the midst of an offense in complete turnover. A competition of two very inconsistent QBs in Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Mariota leaves a lot to be desired. It would make sense that Mike Vrabel would ease Walker back into the offense in his first game back so, topped with the fact that the Browns ranked in the top 10 in fewest fantasy points given up to tight ends, Delanie is not a smart week 1 play.
Chris: David Njoku (CLE) vs. Tennessee
With the addition of Odell in the offseason, Njoku slides down to the third receiving option for the Browns. The problem for Njoku this season likely lies with how many targets he will receive, and that likely won’t be many in week 1. In 2018, the Titans were the stingiest defense against opposing tight ends in terms of fantasy points allowed. While I expect the Browns offense to excel in week 1, I believe it will run through Beckham, Landy and Chubb.
Defenses to stream
Cole: LA Chargers (vs. Indianapolis)
Nate: Dallas (vs. NY Giants)
Chris: Baltimore (@ Miami)
Defenses to avoid
Nate: Jacksonville (vs. Kansas City)
Cole: Houston (@ New Orleans)
Chris: Minnesota (vs. Atlanta)
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org