After a 214 day drought, there are finally, finally, meaningful NFL games this week. The last time two NFL teams faced off with anything on the line was the Super Bowl on 2/4/18, or just over seven months ago. So if you felt like it has been forever since you saw your team play, you’re not far off.
Since you’ve been waiting months I won’t keep you, here are matchups and fantasy notes on the games most likely to show up on your TV this weekend unless you happen to have a lineup including NFL Sunday Ticket or NFL Redzone.
- Atlanta at Philadelphia (Thursday 5:20pm on NBC)
For the NFL’s official Kickoff Game, the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles will host the Atlanta Falcons. Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles will be under center in place of Carson Wentz for at least one more week, as Wentz continues his journey back from a gruesome knee injury suffered in week 14 of the 2017 season.
Another key player missing will be wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, who is recovering from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. Receivers Nelson Agholor and Mike Wallace will have to carry the load in Jeffrey’s absence, and a big contributor could be athletic TE Zach Ertz who really blossomed in Doug Pederson’s offense last season. Starting running back Jay Ajayi is nursing an injury and may not be capable of a full work load, but Darren Sproles and Corey Clement will be on hand to handle passing downs.
Squaring off against Foles will be Falcons QB Matt Ryan, who will be looking to get back to MVP form. The Falcons field one of the NFL’s best offenses, spreading the field with all-universe wide receiver Julio Jones and athletic running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. They will have their work cut out for them against the Eagles’ opportunistic defense under DC Jim Schwartz, but these two teams played a very tight contest in the divisional round of the playoffs last season, and could see more points scored now that they are more familiar with each other coupled with this game having a lesser impact. Due to the amount of Eagles players recovering from injuries, we may see a scaled back game plan until they get their full run of starters back, but never count out Pederson to be aggressive regardless of how stocked his cupboard is.
QB Matt Ryan
WR Julio Jones
WR Nelson Agholor
RB Devonta Freeman
TE Zach Ertz
Flex Tevin Coleman
Flex Jay Ajayi
QB Nick Foles
QB Carson Wentz
WR Alshon Jeffrey
- Houston at New England (Sunday 10am on CBS)
A potential AFC championship game preview if everything goes right for the next 20ish weeks, this matchup features the much anticipated return of DeShaun Watson from a season ending knee injury (notice a theme this week?), as the Texans look to spoil Tom Brady’s 100th(seems like it anyway) season opener. No one including Tom knows who he will be throwing to this week, as the Patriots re-shuffled their receiving corps, yet again. Julian Edelman is serving his suspension, Brandin Cooks is in LA now, and Danny Amendola is in South Beach. So you’ll see a lot of Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski, and the post-game highlights could look an awful lot like this game from 2013, minus everything the Jets did. James White will be on hand to catch a lot of check downs, so if you are a PPR enthusiast, this is your game. Even if Rex Burkhead is back from his knee injury and can actually produce the amount of yards and touchdowns experts seem to think he will (we’ll see), White will have plenty of passing down opportunities.
Watson and DeAndre Hopkins were absolutely electric last season, and Will Fuller was a big play machine (seven touchdowns on 13 catches) when he was catching passes from Watson. Hopkins catches everything within twenty feet of his hands and was still relevant after Watson went down, but Fuller was an afterthought as he needs the ball to be somewhere in his general vicinity, something Tom Savage just could not do. Can this trio catch lightning in a bottle for an entire season? Probably not at that level, but it will be fun to see them try.
The Patriots lost their opener last year and still made it all the way to the Super Bowl, so even if the Texans hang a loss on them this week, it doesn’t mean they are out of the picture. There will be plenty of yards and scoring in this one, so if you have a player on either team, get them in your lineup.
QB Tom Brady
QB DeShaun Watson
WR DeAndre Hopkins
WR Chris Hogan
WR Will Fuller
TE Rob Gronkowski
Flex James White
Flex Lamar Miller
Flex Rex Burkhead
WR Julian Edelman (suspension)
- San Francisco at Minnesota (Sunday 10am on Fox)
What was already a less than thrilling matchup on paper got a little less thrilling when 49ers RB Jerick McKinnon went down with a season ending non-contact injury in practice. Yes – in practice, and untouched.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo will have his first full year under center in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and will have to do so with mostly the same tools he had last year, and maybe even less. Minus McKinnon and last year’s starting running back Carlos Hyde, he’ll be handing the ball off a lot to Alfred Morris and Matt Breida, neither of which are attractive options in real life or fantasy, not yet anyway.
Pierre Garcon is back from injury and Marquise Goodwin is really, really fast, but will it be enough against the Vikings stout secondary? Probably not. The 49ers will look a lot like they did at the end of last year, grinding for three quarters before trying to win at the end. It could work against Minnesota and new QB Kirk Cousins who traditionally starts slow, but I wouldn’t count on it.
CB Richard Sherman will be in a new uniform as well, and could tip the scales in their favor, but even if he shuts down Stefon Diggs, Adam Theilen and Kyle Rudolph could still have big days, and you have to account for RB Dalvin Cook, even if he is a little rusty. I’d start as few 49ers as you can and start Cousins and Cooks, but it’s a crap shoot which receiver will draw coverage from Sherman so roll the dice on either and hope for the best.
QB Kirk Cousins
QB Jimmy Garoppolo
RB Dalvin Cook
WR Stefon Diggs
WR Adam Theilen
TE Kyle Rudolph
RB Alfred Morris
RB Matt Breida
WR Pierre Garcon
WR Marquise Goodwin
- Seattle at Denver (Sunday 1:25pm on Fox)
As much as I’d love to hype the Seahawks this year, even with the return of Earl Thomas, the road to the playoffs is going to be very difficult in an absolutely loaded NFC. That starts on the road this week in Denver, where their new young secondary will be tested against the Broncos revamped passing game. Broncos QB Case Keenum has his work cut out for him after a solid “prove it” year in Minnesota, and while GM John Elway bought in quickly, the amount of discussion and roster shuffling at QB has to have fans concerned they actually have their guy. Rookie RB and former Oregon Duck Royce Freeman has the look and traits of a workhorse, but it will depend on game flow as he has some work to do as a receiver.
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is still at the controls so they have the ability to win any game, but WR and true blue gamer Doug Baldwin is still coming back from a “tweaked” knee, and he may not be even 85%, let alone 100. That will leave plenty of work to Tyler Lockett on the opposite side, who may or may not be ready for the lead role against either Chris Harris Jr or Bradley Roby.
This was once a matchup of elite defenses, with the Legion of Boom vs the No Fly Zone, but with some newer faces as well as Richard Sherman playing for the 49ers and Aqib Talib playing for the Rams, it’s not quite on that level. Both teams still have pieces from their recent glory, but it is more patchwork than elite right now. With so many new faces for both teams, whoever wins this one doesn’t necessarily have a leg up in their division, but it’s a good way to start as both teams find ways to gel on the field.
At least Denver has their pass rush and the most important pieces in their secondary, and could force a couple of key turnovers if Seattle falls behind and is forced to play catchup.
QB Russell Wilson
RB Royce Freeman
RB Chris Carson
WR Doug Baldwin
WR Demariyus Thomas
Flex WR Emmanuel Sanders
Flex WR Tyler Lockett
QB Case Keenum
- Chicago at Green Bay (Sunday 5:20pm on NBC)
While it may be the oldest rivalry in the NFL and the return of Aaron Rodgers, it’s also the unveiling of the Bears’ new look offense, Khalil Mack in a Bears uniform on defense, and we get to see if all of the offseason hype around second year QB Mitch Trubisky or the Rodgers-Jimmy Graham connection is legit or just smoke – or somewhere in between.
Green Bay won both matchups against the Bears last year, even one without Rodgers. None of that matters as both teams made wholesale changes this offseason, and it may not be clear where either team stands after one game given how many fresh faces and new schemes both teams need to break in.
Green Bay flipped both of their coordinators, cut Jordy Nelson, signed Graham, and drafted and/or bought a new secondary, and mysteriously left their pass rush as is – average. The Bears hired new head coach Matt Nagy, previously of Kansas City, and traded the moon and stars for Mack, and that was a year after they traded the same moon and stars for the draft rights to Trubisky.
The defenses will be playing catch up, so there could be a lot of yards and points in this one, so to be safe make sure you start any fantasy players you can, and bench both defenses.
QB Aaron Rodgers
RB Jordan Howard
QB Mitch Trubisky
WR Devonte Adams
WR Allen Robinson
TE Trey Burton
TE Jimmy Graham
Flex Randall Cobb
Flex Tarik Cohen
- New York Jets at Detroit (Monday 4:10pm on ESPN)
There’s not much to say about this game, except a thank you to the league for airing it when most of us are still at the office and won’t witness it. Jets at Lions? I can think of about twenty people nationwide that might care about this one, and most of them live in the Midwest or on the Jersey side of the east coast. Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold will make his debut against an underrated Lions defense, and it could get messy, especially as the team doesn’t have an established running back or receiving corps to lean on. Good luck, Sam!
On the other side, Matt Stafford continues his campaign to prove he deserves to be in the conversation as an elite QB, and will have some new tools at his disposal in veteran RB LeGarrette Blount and rookie RB Kerryon Johnson and former Seattle TE Luke Willson. Marvin Jones and Golden Tate will be ready to catch fastballs from Stafford’s cannon, and second year receiver Kenny Golladay has tremendous talent, but we’ll see if that translates to success in the new season and a year under his belt.
I expect this to be a blowout in the Lions favor, but not necessarily because they Lions are great, more because the Jets are sending out JV players to play the varsity team, which only works none of the time. Don’t manage your team like the Jets, start Stafford and Jones and Tate, and bench everyone else.
QB Matt Stafford
WR Marvin Jones
Flex Golden Tate
QB Sam Darnold
RB Legarrette Blunt
RB Bilal Powell
WR Robbie Anderson
- LA Rams at Oakland (Monday 7:20pm on ESPN)
Man, this was going to be an amazing week one matchup, and then the GM’s had to go and ruin everything. If Rams DT Aaron Donald gets a few bucks less, maybe Raiders LB Khalil Mack is willing to take a little less on his contract, and maybe, just maybe, he is still chasing down Jared Goff on Monday night. Instead, a poor defense from a year ago got a littler poorer, and a Rams defense that was just scary enough last season became legitimately terrifying this season.
In one offseason, the Rams added DT Ndamukong Suh, CBs Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. And this was in addition to the great lineup they trotted out last year that went 11-5 and led the league in scoring. Of course all of that fell apart in the postseason as they lost their only game, but it means they will be that much hungrier this season.
On the flip side, new head coach Jon Gruden will send QB Derek Carr and a new look offense (featuring Marshawn Lynch and Jordy Nelson) out to take on the Rams defense, and it probably won’t be pretty. What’s really fitting is the last time Gruden was roaming the Oakland sidelines, the Rams were the best team in the league and storming toward a Super Bowl, and we all were hoping to see the teams matched up on the biggest stage. It all went south when the Patriots sent the Raiders home in the divisional round, and neither team has truly been in championship contention since. You could argue that the 2002 Raiders had a shot at the championship, but you’d be wrong.
The Rams still have Goff, RB Todd Gurely, and WRs Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and newcomer Brandin Cooks. Good luck stopping all of them. If you have access to a Rams skill player, get them in the game. If you have to put Raiders players in your lineup this week, well, good luck.
QB Jared Goff
RB Todd Gurley
WR Brandin Cooks
WR Robert Woods
Flex Cooper Kupp
QB Derek Carr
TE Jared Cook
WR Amari Cooper
RB Marshawn Lynch