Fantasy football season officially begins on September 5th, which means it’s time to start thinking about Week 1 matchups and making tough start ‘em, sit ‘em decisions. Week 4 of the preseason will not reveal much about the players who matter in fantasy football in Week 1 of the regular season, so let’s look ahead to some of the best opportunities for big points during the first full week of fantasy football.
Whether you play in a weekly fantasy league, or if you play daily fantasy football on a website like Draftstreet or Fanduel, here are some players you should be sure to plug into your starting lineup.
Quarterback: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan gets a chance to start the season against the New Orleans Saints’ defense, who surrendered the most yards in NFL history last year. This offseason has seen change in New Orleans on defense, but not the kind of change that inspires confidence.
Rob Ryan has installed a 3-4 defense, trying to mold the Saints’ defenders into a new system. But New Orleans failed to add any true impact players who seem poised to change the defensive outlook for 2013, so Ryan will have plenty of opportunities to find any of his incredible receiving options.
According to numberFire’s weekly projections, Ryan is expected to have the second most points of any player in fantasy football during Week 1. And with Aaron Rodgers playing against the San Francisco 49ers, one of the top flight options is in a less favorable matchup, meaning Ryan is a very appealing play in salary cap leagues.
Honorable Mention: Andrew Luck (versus Oakland), Tom Brady (versus Buffalo)
Running Back: Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
The Buffalo Bills were ranked second worst at stopping the run in the NFL by Football Outsiders last season, and there’s really no reason to believe they’ll be any better in 2013. Newcomers Kiko Alonso and Manny Lawson don’t seem to be the catalysts needed to jump up the run defense charts.
The New England Patriots showdown with the Bills in Week 1, and there’s a good chance this game could get ugly quick. And as we saw when the Patriots ran all over the Eagles during the preseason, with Stevan Ridley gaining huge chunks of yards against a hopeless defense, it’s a good idea to invest heavily in the Patriots’ running game.
Ridley will get the ball early and often after the New England defense gets the ball back from a Matt Leinart, E.J. Manuel, or Jeff Tuel-led Bills’ offense. That means Ridley is likely to perform like a top-flight running back, and you can get him for a discount price in salary cap games.
And if you drafted him in your year-long leagues, this is the week you must start him, no matter what other options you have.
Honorable Mention: Jamaal Charles (versus Jacksonville), David Wilson (versus Dallas)
Wide Receiver: Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts
Reggie Wayne and the Colts will face the Oakland Raiders during the first week of the NFL season.
Do you really need more of a reason?
The Colts added Ahmad Bradshaw, but between he and Vick Ballard, there’s still unlikely to be a powerful running attack in Indianapolis. And even though they’re facing a seemingly hopeless Raiders’ team, the Colts don’t have a defense that’s guaranteed to shut down an opposing offense.
All these factors add up to Andrew Luck having to throw the ball to ensure an Indy victory. And his favorite target is Reggie Wayne, who is a must-start in Week 1.
Honorable Mention: Victor Cruz (versus Dallas), Dennarius Moore (versus Indianapolis)
Tight End: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
If you drafted Jimmy Graham in your fantasy leagues, you’re obviously going to start him Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons.
But if you play in a weekly fantasy league, a salary cap game, or were undecided about whether Graham was really a lock to play next weekend, allow me to present this bit of evidence:
Zach Miller – 8 catches, 142 yards, 1 TD
Those were the numbers for the Seattle Seahawks’ tight end against the Falcons’ in the playoffs last season, one week before Vernon Davis would post his own 100 yard, 1 TD game against Atlanta.
No matter what you have to pay for Jimmy Graham, start him in fantasy football this week. There will be no better tight end in Week 1, because if the Falcons can’t handle Zach Miller, they certainly can’t handle Drew Brees throwing to Jimmy Graham.
Honorable Mention: Zach Sudfeld (versus Bills), Jason Witten (versus Giants)
Defense: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Do you know who will start for the New York Jets at quarterback in Week 1?
Does it even matter?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have added two veteran defensive backs (Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis) and two promising rookies (Johnthan Banks and Akeem Spence) to their 2012 defense which was best in the NFL against the run. And considering that the Jets aren’t going to exploit teams through the air in 2013, it seems they have no options against the Bucs in Week 1.
The Buccaneers will likely be on the waiver wire in your year-long fantasy leagues, so be sure to pick them up for this first week if you drafted the Broncos hoping for Von Miller, or if you have the 49ers facing the high-powered Green Bay Packers.
Honorable Mention: Kansas City (versus Cleveland), St. Louis (versus Arizona)
Kicker: Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens
Typically you want a kicker who kicks indoors, which helps get rid of outside factors like wind and temperature.
But when a kicker is playing a mile above sea level in Denver against the Broncos, he’s worth consideration.
There’s unlikely to be snow in Denver this early in the season, so Tucker’s powerful leg will be able to let kicks fly into the thin Denver air. The Ravens will be able to move the ball against the Broncos, but Tucker may get plenty of chances to kick field goals if Joe Flacco fails to convert third downs.
If you get bonuses for longer field goals in your fantasy league, Tucker is a no-brainer. He has proven he can make long field goals, and the “mile high effect” will only make it easier.
Honorable Mention: Matt Bryant (versus New Orleans), Blair Walsh (versus Detroit)