PLEASE NOTE: This does NOT replace the Cheatsheet ranking. The Cheatsheet rankings are the final say on where we see a player for that week. The Matchup Breakdowns are simply one more tool in the box when it comes to helping choose your lineup.
Also note, just because a player has a "bad" matchup, it does NOT mean he's not a starter in your league. If Aaron Rodgers is playing the toughest pass defense in the league, that just means he's got a tough matchup that week. He's also your starter unless you're loaded at QB. In the same way, if the worst QB on your roster has a "great" matchup that week, it doesn't necessarily mean he's your starter. It means we think he'll fare better than normal that week.
Bottom line is that the cheatsheets are the final say.
ARIZONA CARDINALS PASSING OFFENSE VS Detroit Lions PASSING DEFENSE (Good MATCHUP)
The Cardinals have quite the versatile passing offense with a running back like David Johnson behind them. The presence of Johnson has proven to open things up for the rest of this receiving group, as shown by their 259 passing yards per game last season (9th ranked). Veteran Carson Palmer returns this season, along with his veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, and J.J. Nelson. We know what can be expected from Fitzgerald, but both Brown and Nelson carry question marks as Brown struggled with his sickle-cell trait last season while Nelson is more of a deep threat who lacks consistency from game to game.
The Lions secondary is the strength of this defense, led by elite cornerback Darius Slay—one of the best in the NFL at his position. The Lions signed DJ Hayden from the Raiders to help with their depth at cornerback, while Glover Quin returns as a key piece at free safety. Overall, this is a solid secondary unit—however, they did allow the third most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks last season. One of the key reasons for this was their weakness in covering slot receivers, in addition to their offense’s lack of ball control which leads to more opposing offensive snaps.
There is one key wide receiver mismatch to call out here. Darius Slay has always played as a shadow corner, lining up in the slot only four percent of the time in 2016 while leaving Quandre Diggs to man coverage in the slot. As a result, the Cardinals allowed the second most fantasy points in the NFL to slot receivers. This season, Diggs is slated to start the season lining up in the slot again, and he will face the Cardinals best receiver in Larry Fitzgerald, who lined up in the slot 63% of the time in 2016. While other Cardinals receivers can be avoided, this mismatch for Fitzgerald is certainly one to exploit. Carson Palmer also has upside in this matchup due to the number of snaps that can be expected for Arizona.
Atlanta Falcons PASSING OFFENSE VS Chicago Bears Passing defense (Good MATCHUP)
Matt Ryan had a breakout year in 2016 one in which he combined the yardage totals that we have seen throughout his career combining this with 38 touchdowns which 17 more touchdowns than 2015. A big part of this was that the additions that the Falcons made in the 2015 offseason adding Mohammed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and rookies Justin Hardy and Austin Hooper. Julio Jones continues to show that he is one of the best receivers on the field as he finished as the sixth best wide receiver in PPR leagues after playing only 14 games in 2016. Unlike most quarterbacks, Ryan is about neutral in the dome and away from the dome as he has thrown for 266 yards per game in the dome and 263 yards per game away from the dome.
On the defensive side, Chicago rated highly against the pass in 2016 as they were the 7th best defense in terms of passing yards allowed and were 17th in terms of DVOA adjusting for their opponent’s schedule. In the offseason, the Bears replaced Tracy Porter with Prince Amukamara, they also signed Marcus Cooper in the offseason realizing they need additional help in the secondary. The one matchup that is going to be extremely favorable is that Marcus Cooper who has been dealing with a hamstring injury in the offseason is expected to line up on the left side and cover Julio Jones for at least part of this game as Jones primarily lines up on the left side. Cooper rated as the worst corner to line up on the left side of the offense last season which sets up as a tremendous matchup for Jones. This is a tough matchup for Austin Hooper as one of the Bears strong points allowing the 11th fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends as Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman are both excellent coverage inside linebackers.
Baltimore Ravens PASSING OFFENSE AT Cincinnati Bengals PASSING DEFENSE (Neutral MATCHUP)
We know there will be significant volume here – no team has thrown more passes than Baltimore over the past two seasons. But Joe Flacco’s nagging back injury makes things very uncertain to start the year; he didn’t practice throughout training camp and missed all four preseason games. And throughout the preseason, backup Ryan Mallett continued to look woefully bad on an NFL field, posting a stunning 4.58 yards per attempt in relief. It seems there’s a decent chance the team rushes Flacco into the lineup – Mallett has looked bad enough to doom a season – and he struggles without adequate conditioning or practice time. Still, his presence makes both Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace fantasy-viable, even if we don’t yet know how their targets will distribute.
The Bengals bring to the table a solid if unspectacular pass defense. They rush the passer well but can be beaten on deep and intermediate routes, and a handful of solid quarterbacks (Flacco included) picked them apart in 2016. They were an opportunistic defense, intercepting 17 passes (tied for fourth in the league), so Flacco will need to be tightly on-point. It will hurt their cause to open the year without Burfict and starting strong safety Shawn Williams. Luckily for the Bengals, though, the Ravens lack depth at wideout and shouldn’t require too much of a strain on personnel.
Buffalo Bills PASSING OFFENSE AT New York Jets PASSING DEFENSE (Neutral MATCHUP)
The Bills are a run-first team with minimal weapons to help with their passing attack. In 2016, they were the only team in football to rush for more touchdowns than they passed for. Tyrod Taylor will start again at quarterback, but he is much more known for his rushing ability than his arm. The Bills receivers look completely different this season, as they lost both Sammy Watkins and Marquise Goodwin in the offseason. The Bills will rely on Eagles acquisition Jordan Matthews along with rookie Zay Jones as their top receiving options. Charles Clay is the only familiar target for Taylor as he returns to be a primary check down option for Taylor. All in all, this run first offense should not be expected to pass very often.
Luckily for the Bills, the Jets secondary is in rebuilding mode with a ton of youth as they try to get back to their glory days of old. Both starting safeties are highly touted rookies, including second round pick Marcus Maye and sixth overall pick Jamal Adams. The cornerback position is a huge concern though after the drop off and eventual release of Darrelle Revis. Morris Claiborne provides a veteran presence, but he is the only proven talent the Jets will have in this secondary.
Carolina Panthers PASSING OFFENSE At San Francisco 49ers PASSING DEFENSE (Neutral MATCHUP)
The Panthers offense showed signs of a shift in philosophy last season as Cam Newton set a career-high in pass attempts per game and a career low in rushing attempts per game. Newton has had his share of injuries last season but appears to be healthy coming into this year as we have seen in his limited preseason action. Kelvin Benjamin finally appears to be in shape and has looked great in preseason, nabbing four passes for 36 yards and a touchdown in Preseason Week 3 against a solid Jaguars secondary. Devin Funchess is the second wide receiver while rookie Curtis Samuel and Russell Shepard battle it out for the third spot. The veteran Greg Olsen also returns with his model of consistency, hauling in between 77-84 balls and over 1000 yards in each of the last three seasons. First-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey is also expected to contribute significantly in the passing game this season.
The 49ers secondary is undergoing a massive transition right now as the entire coaching staff has changed, their scheme moved to a 4-3, and multiple players are transitioning to different positions or spots on the field. The core talent in their group remained the same this offseason, with the only notable addition being the third-round draft pick of cornerback Ahkelo Witherspoon, measuring in a 6'3'' with a ton of speed. The 49ers statistically finished near the middle of the pack in passing yards per game last year, but much of this was due to how poorly they played against the run, in addition to trailing in nearly every game they played. Carolina's tall receivers (Kelvin Benjamin is 6'5'', Devin Funchess is 6'4'') will present a sizeable challenge for the 49'ers transitioning secondary here, however the impact that talented rookie Ruben Foster may have in pass coverage / pass rushing in addition to the many scheme changes employed here is a big question mark coming into the season.
Chicago Bears PASSING OFFENSE VS Atlanta Falcons PASSING DEFENSE (Neutral MATCHUP)
For this Bears team, we can largely throw 2016 stats out the window as the Bears offense looks completely different compared to last season with the loss of Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery and the season-ending injury to Cameron Meredith. The team Instead we have a lot of unknowns heading into this offense as the team signed Mike Glennon in the offseason, along with Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton at wide receivers. This team is a team of uncertainty and low expectations heading into the season as they do not return a receiver who had over 500 yards receiving from last year. Due to the season-ending injury to Cameron Meredith, Kendall Wright and Kevin White are expecting to be the top receivers in this offense with Wright working out of the slot and White working on the outside. Zach Miller returns from a season-ending foot injury and was sixth in PPR scoring as a tight end last season prior to going out to injury.
On the defensive side, Atlanta was one of the worst defenses against the pass in 2017 as they ranked 28th in passing yards allowed, allowing 266.7 yards per game. These stats are largely skewed playing in the pass heavy AFC South, but the Falcons ranked 18th against the pass in DVOA which adjusts a team’s passing statistics based on their schedule. The Falcons did nothing to improve their secondary in the offseason so it should still be a weakness this season but not as bad as the overall statistics indicate. The top corner statistically on the Falcons is Brian Poole who is the slot corner and will be matching up against Kendall Wright which makes it a tough matchup for Wright in his first game as a Bear, but Wright will still see targets due to the limited receiving options that the Bears have. Kevin White is in a favorable matchup going up against a mix of Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant, but the best matchup is Zach Miller in this game as the Falcons allowed the sixth most fantasy points in 2016 to opposing Tight Ends.
CincinNati Bengals PASSING OFFENSE VS Baltimore Ravens PASSING DEFENSE (Neutral MATCHUP)
When all of his weapons are healthy – as they are entering Week 1 – Andy Dalton is an upper-tier producer. Over his last 12 games with both A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert available, he’s averaged 21.0 fantasy points. His matchup with the Ravens isn’t enticing, but his big-play potential certainly is. Green has feasted on the Baltimore defense in recent years, averaging 7 catches for 131 yards in their last 3 meetings, with 4 touchdowns. And Eifert has caught an eye-popping 18 touchdowns over his last 21 full games – he’s a true red-zone dominator. As long as those two are in the lineup, Dalton is one of the strongest week-to-week bets to produce above expectation.
Baltimore’s pass defense remains strong, but they may find themselves a bit overmatched in Week 1. Last year they led the league in interceptions and allowed the 10th-fewest net yards per attempt. But Dalton has been somewhat immune to their venom; over the past 5 years, he’s posted a 24% boost in fantasy scoring against them. Cornerback Jimmy Smith has always flashed shutdown ability, but his history against Green is poor. And the Ravens’ strong 2016 numbers against tight ends was a bit inflated by weak opponents at the position. Jordan Reed, Martellus Bennett, and Eifert himself posted big lines against them at various points of the season.
Cleveland Browns PASSING OFFENSE VS Pittsburgh Steelers PASSING DEFENSE (Tough MATCHUP)
Rookie Kizer has been anointed Cleveland's starter, and this is not an inspiring debut matchup. But there's dynamism at play. Preseason showed us a budding connection between Kizer and second-year man Corey Coleman. Their timing needs to develop, but it's hard not to like their volume outlook together. Overall, though, it's fair to expect major growing pains from the raw Kizer, so we can't project the Cleveland receivers with much snap-to-snap optimism. Things do look up for the running backs, though, Last year's Steelers allowed the third-most receiving yards to backs, and Duke Johnson Jr should have plenty of passing-down opportunities.
Much of the Browns' outlook depends on which Joe Haden the Steelers just signed. He'll step into starter snaps immediately, replacing Ross Cockrell, whom the team traded away last week. The prognosis is strong, though: Haden still flashes as an elite cover man, and he steps into a defense that has allowed only 4 of its last 12 opponents to top 250 yards through the air. Coleman and Kenny Britt should get a few downfield looks, but few teams defend the deep ball better than the Steelers. Only 2 teams allowed fewer completions of 20 or more yards last season. Altogether, we should expect a fairly rough NFL kickoff for Kizer, though there's a spark of potential in the Kizer-Coleman connection.
Dallas Cowboys PASSING OFFENSE VS New York Giants PASSING DEFENSE (Bad MATCHUP)
The Cowboys offense will be led by second-year quarterback Dak Prescott this season. Prescott had a very solid rookie campaign due to his smart decision making, good mobility, and strong offensive line/rushing attack to remove much of the pressure from him. Prescott returns all of his receivers from 2016, including what he hopes to be a healthy Dez Bryant. Bryant had a good connection with Prescott after returning from injury last year, but he had a very up and down season compared to past standards. This week, Bryant will draw a very tough matchup as he is expected to be shadowed by Janoris Jenkins. This matchup has not fared well at all for Bryant historically, as he managed only two catches from 14 targets for 18 yards and no touchdowns in their two meetings last season. Even if Bryant lines up in the slot to avoid Jenkins, he still will draw Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie—another strong cornerback with the ability to shut down opposing receivers. Cole Beasley normally mans the slot for the Cowboys, so he will certainly have his hands full in this matchup. Then there is Eli Apple, a second-year cornerback for the Giants who is expected to take a big step forward after his selection in the first round of the 2016 draft. Apple will line up opposite from Jenkins, likely to draw Terrance Williams in most situations.
In addition to the bad cornerback matchups, the top tier Cowboys offensive line will be forced to prove their worth against the Giants’ Pro-Bowl caliber edge rushers in Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon. Overall, this is a bad matchup for the Cowboys passing offense.
Denver Broncos PASSING OFFENSE VS Los ANgeles Chargers PASSING DEFENSE (Tough MATCHUP)
The Broncos are once again going with Trevor Siemian at quarterback to start the 2017 season. Siemian who only had three 300+ yard passing performances in 2016 is going to be under the microscope in 2017 as the team has re-signed former starter Brock Osweiler and also has former first round pick Paxton Lynch behind him. The biggest change to this offense is the change in the coaching staff as Mike McCoy and Vance Joseph replaces Rick Dennison and Gary Kubiak. McCoy was fired by the Chargers in 2016, so he knows this personnel very well and could potentially see an area to exploit a weakness. At the wide receiver position, it is going to be much of the same in Denver as the passing game is going to run through Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders with Bennie Fowler seeing time in the slot when the team goes three wide receiver sets.
The Broncos go up against a Chargers secondary that ranked as the 20th pass defense in terms of yards allowed last season, but when adjusting this for DVOA they were the 9th best pass defense last year. They are headlined by two shadow corners in Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett. Verrett missed most of last season with a knee injury and getting him back should be the biggest improvement to this defense. Hayward is one of the top corners in the league and should be shadowing Demaryius Thomas for most of this game which is a tough matchup for Demaryius. Verrett has shown that he is susceptible to the long play every now and then as while he does not allow a lot of targets thrown his way, he does allow a high fantasy points per route run which means that while he is not thrown at often when he is thrown at it leads to a high number of fantasy points.
Detroit Lions PASSING OFFENSE VS Arizona Cardinals PASSING DEFENSE (Tough MATCHUP)
The Lions have a very pass-heavy offense led by Matt Stafford, who has thrown for at least 4,200 yards in each of his last six seasons. Both top receivers in Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr return this season, while Eric Ebron expects to contribute as a key pass-catching tight end. Kenny Golladay is the big addition to this receiving group, a late round draft pick who is expected to line up in the slot for three-receiver sets. With the presence of Golladay, expect for Golden Tate’s snaps in the slot to decrease this season, meaning he will draw more elite cornerback coverage.
The Cardinals secondary lost a lot this offseason, including starting safety Tony Jefferson, safety DJ Swearinger, and cornerback Marcus Cooper. However, they will be returning safety Tyrann Mathieu this season and signed veteran Antoine Bethea in free agency to help shore up the gap. Their pass-rush remains fully in tact this season though, with two of the league’s top pass rushers in Chandler Jones and Markus Golden returning. The Cardinals ended 2016 with an 8.07% sack percentage, the best in the league. With solid cornerbacks and pass rushing ability, this will be a very difficult matchup overall for the Lions one-dimensional offense to overcome. Golden Tate will have to deal with both Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. However, there is the potential for a mismatch if the 6’4’’ Kenny Golladay draws coverage from Mathieu, who is one of the smaller players in the league at only 5’9’’ and typically picks up the slot receiver in coverage downfield.
Green Bay Packers PASSING OFFENSE VS Seattle Seahawks PASSING DEFENSE (Tough MATCHUP)
The Packers are expected to once again have one of the most potent offenses in the league. Aaron Rodgers retained all but Jared Cook in this offense, replacing him with an equal, if not better, pass catching tight end in Martellus Bennett. Jordy Nelson led the league in receiving touchdowns (14) with Davante Adams right behind tied for second with 12 touchdowns. This unit, however, will be up against a tough test in Week 1 against the elite Seahawks defense. The Seahawks secondary was a top-10 unit last season statistically while allowing the third fewest points per game (18.3) as a defense overall. Aaron Rodgers will be under a tremendous amount of pressure by one of the best pass rushing units in the league, ranked atop our list here at Footballguys by defensive specialist Justis Mosqueda. Even the elite offense of the Packers will be in for a tough matchup here in Week 1
Houston Texans PASSING OFFENSE VS Jacksonville Jaguars PASSING DEFENSE (Bad MATCHUP)
The passing game for the Texans is largely unknown as Tom Savage is going to be the week one starter beating out DeShaun Watson for the starting position. Savage has two career starts including one start where he did not finish the game due to a concussion has mixed results in the NFL so far throughout his career. At the wide receiver position, Deandre Hopkins is looking to rebound after a tough 2016 season, while the rest of the wide receiving group is young they have some interesting talents in the quick Braxton Miller playing the slot, speedster Bruce Ellington and the size of Jaelen Strong provides the Texans with nice pieces that they can mix and match throughout the field in most matchups.
The Texans are going up against one of the best secondaries in football after A.J. Bouye went from Houston to Jacksonville in the offseason. Bouye will be added to the already impressive tandem of Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Colvin make this defense a very tough one to matchup against. The Jaguars also signed Barry Church in the offseason who is a very good coverage safety so the Jaguars are clearly investing in defense and it should show in this matchup against the Texans. This is a tough matchup for all of the Texans wide receivers as they like to shift players around particularly with Deandre Hopkins as he lines up on the left, the right, and the slot positions and with having top-end fresh corners taking Hopkins on this will be a bad matchup for the Texans.
Indianapolis Colts PASSING OFFENSE AT Los Angeles Rams PASSING DEFENSE (Tough MATCHUP)
Andrew Luck will miss at least this week as the Colts head to Los Angeles to take on the Rams. Veteran Scott Tolzien will be starting for the Colts in what will be just his fourth start in his seven year career and his second start over the last four years. Tolzien has largely struggled in his other career starts throwing for just two touchdowns while throwing for six interceptions. From an offseason perspective the Colts did lose tight end Dwayne Allen to New England leaving Jack Doyle expected to take on a significant amount of the work at the tight end position. Other than that the offense remains mostly intact, but it is difficult to assess how this team will do based on historical trends as everything changes without Andrew Luck in the game. Expect Tolzien to do what he did last year and target tight ends frequently as in that game his tight ends had 11 targets.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams ranked as the 10th best pass defense allowing just 233.3 yards per game. However, when adjusting for DVOA the Rams were only the 20th best pass defense which can be explained by the scheduling not facing significantly difficult quarterbacks. The Rams added slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman who ranks as one of the top slot corners in the NFL and will be matched up against T.Y. Hilton for most of the day in what should be a tough matchup for Hilton. Donte Moncrief is in a potential favorable matchup lining up on the left side going up against Trumaine Johnson who while he is a big cornerback has shown a tendency to be heavily targeted against.
Jacksonville Jaguars PASSING OFFENSE VS Houston Texans PASSING DEFENSE (Tough MATCHUP)
The Jaguars once again are heading into the season with Blake Bortles as their starting quarterback although he may be on a short leash after having a close camp battle with backup Chad Henne. Bortles who has been a much better fantasy quarterback than a real football quarterback is returning most of the same weapons that saw him finish as the 9th best fantasy quarterback in 2016 largely due to the 359 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns that we saw last season. Look for Allen Robinson to be a player who is in a big year of his career as the immensely talented soon-to-be free agent is going to look to rebound back to his 2015 stats where he was one of the best wide receivers in football.
This matchup is a tough one even though the Texans defense lost three starters from their 2016 defense due to free agency including superstar A.J. Bouye to Jacksonville. This was the number one overall defense last season and the second best against the pass last season allowing just 202 yards per game. 2015 first round draft pick Kevin Johnson is expected to take on a large role in the secondary. Johnson took tremendous strides in the 2016 season improving his coverage ability and should be able to step into a number one cornerback position. Johnathan Joseph will slide into the number two cornerback position which could be a potential weak spot for the Texans as the 33-year old Joseph had his worst coverage year of his career in 2016 and asking him to take on a bigger role this year could be a potential problem for Joseph. While no players are in a great matchup this week, Marqise Lee could be in the best matchup if he lines up against Joseph as the speedy receiver could give the veteran problems this week.
Kansas City Chiefs PASSING OFFENSE AT New England Patriots PASSING DEFENSE (Tough MATCHUP)
It’s fair to wonder just how much Kansas City will pass in 2017, what with former No. 1 wideout Jeremy Maclin cut loose. Alex Smith has long been a game-managing type, throwing relatively little but completing a high rate of less-than-consequential passes. His 2017 success will depend mostly upon the playmaking potential of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, the team’s only dynamic receiving options. The team could call on more from
The Patriots are a generally stingy fantasy opponent; even with limited or flawed personnel, they tend to dominate game flow and force mistakes. They can be had with deep balls – last season they allowed 53 completions of 20 yards or more, tied for 10th in football. But they fortified in the offseason, adding to the mix former Bills shutdown cornerback Stephon Gilmore. And while their eroding pass-rush talent is a concern, Bill Belichick is likely to concoct some creative packages with the pieces he has. There’s not much of an obvious advantage here for Kansas City to exploit.
Los Angeles Chargers PASSING OFFENSE AT Denver Broncos PASSING DEFENSE (BAD MATCHUP)
The Chargers have continued to invest heavily in their passing game in the back half of Phillip Rivers’ career. The Chargers took Mike Williams as the seventh overall pick adding to a wide receiver group of Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, and 2016 breakout star Tyrell Williams. This is a tremendous wide receiving group and possibly the best that Rivers has ever had to work with throughout his career. The Chargers are also strong at the receiving tight end position as they have veteran Antonio Gates and emerging replacement Hunter Henry who is coming off of a very solid rookie season in which he caught eight touchdowns last season. This is an offense that has a significant amount of potential heading into this season if the team can stay healthy as they have some of the most athletic combinations of size and speed.
The problem in this game is that the Chargers are going up against a Broncos team that is arguably one of the best pass defenses we have seen in years as Aqib Talib maybe the best outside corner in football and Chris Harris Jr is the best slot corner in football. Former first round draft pick Bradley Roby would be a top corner of a lot of teams and for him to be the third corner on this team shows the strength of this team.
Los Angeles Rams PASSING OFFENSE VS Indianapolis Colts PASSING DEFENSE (Good MATCHUP)
The key to the Rams passing game in 2017 is going to be the development of Jared Goff. Goff has had a great preseason and has high expectations coming into his second season. The team spent a significant amount of money and draft capital trying to upgrade this pass offense as they brought in Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, drafted second-round tight end Gerald Everett, and drafted third-round wide receiver Cooper Kupp. The Rams are expecting that this to be an offense that can grow together for years to come and they will be looking for results starting this season. Goff who only started six games last season should not be evaluated based on those six games as there is a new coaching staff who has experience developing quarterbacks as Scott McVay did a terrific job developing Kirk Cousins and so far we have seen Goff look like a much better quarterback in the preseason compared to where he was last year at this time. Watkins provides a nice deep threat option, while Robert Woods is a nice possession receiver both who should see plenty of action in this game.
The Colts continue to be negatively impacted by injuries as Vontae Davis is expected to miss weeks with a groin injury which was a position that they could not afford to lose. The Colts will be replacing him with their second round pick Quincy Wilson who is going to need to step-up very quickly as on the other side of the ball Rashaan Melvin had a very disappointing season and is rated as a below average corner as the Colts signed him after getting cut by the Dolphins prior to the 2016 season.
Miami Dolphins PASSING OFFENSE VS Tampa Bay Buccaneers PASSING DEFENSE (Neutral MATCHUP)
With Jay Cutler under center, the Dolphins can expect plenty of downfield football – Cutler isn’t a huge fan of checking down or throwing quick slants. In other words, he’s the polar opposite of Ryan Tannehill, who was almost loath to throw downfield. As a result, we should see a noticeably different passing game under Cutler, one in which he attempts to force the offense’s issue with splash plays. He showed a lot of interest in DeVante Parker over the preseason, so it’s safe to expect the two will look to connect in Week 1 – and that slot extraordinaire Jarvis Landry’s role is up in the air. With such a shift at quarterback, it’s hard to tell just how effective they’ll be off the bat. But they’re built to push the football, so we can expect plenty of fireworks – or, at the very least, attempts at fireworks.
Aside from Derek Carr’s 513-yard Week 8 extravaganza, the Buccaneers performed relatively against the pass in 2016. They ultimately allowed the 11th-most passing yards in football, but that Oakland game skewed the overall rankings a bit. It was encouraging to see that, from Weeks 12-14, they faced Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, and Drew Brees in succession, yet allowed an average of just 211.0 yards to the trio. With a pass rush on the rise – they registered 38 sacks last seasons and added pocket-pusher Chris Baker to the mix – they could make things chaotic for Cutler’s Dolphins debut. They also intercepted 17 passes last year, fourth-most in the league. Their concern is that Cutler, Parker, and Kenny Stills are able to slip by their capable yet gamble-prone cornerbacks for long-gainers. Only three teams gave up more completions of 20+ yards last year, and that range will be tested early and often by a Miami offense suddenly invested in the deep ball.
Minnesota Vikings PASSING OFFENSE VS New Orleans Saints PASSING DEFENSE (Good MATCHUP)
Sam Bradford presides over a passing game that lacked dynamism last year but sports an arrow that’s pointing up. The preseason showed us that starting receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen will diversify their roles a bit this year: Diggs will shift more often to the outside, while Thielen is expected to be mostly a vertical-slot type. Both are explosive athletes capable of winning all over the field, and the depth cupboard is iffy, so they’ll likely dominate the team’s wideout targets again. Diggs, when healthy, looks particularly special in that regard. He drew 8 or more targets in 6 of his 12 full games last year, and more time spent on the outside suggests more downfield opportunity. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is a target hog himself (132 last year) for short-ball enthusiast Bradford.
Here’s where we see the real “Saints bump.” Whatever we project Bradford and his pass game to do in a typical week, we can add roughly 20-25% to this week. New Orleans has finished 25th or worse in passing yardage allowed – and in the bottom half in touchdowns – in three of the last four seasons. Last year they let 8 of their 16 opposing quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards or more (and another threw for 296). The high pace and scoring of a typical Saints game works against the defense, which often faces hefty pass volume and lots of downfield throws. And with occasional shutdown cornerback Delvin Breaux sidelined, they’ll break in the first-round rookie Marshon Lattimore against Bradford. It’s safe to expect he’ll commit a few missteps against Diggs and Thielen.
New England Patriots PASSING OFFENSE VS Kansas City Chiefs PASSING DEFENSE (Neutral MATCHUP)
It’s scary to think what this passing game could do to NFL defenses – even without the services of Julian Edelman. Tom Brady is loaded with dynamic options, and he’ll use them liberally. Rob Gronkowski and new addition Brandin Cooks will likely dominate his attention to some degree, and while both facing intimidating one-on-one matchups with Eric Berry and Marcus Peters respectively, they are who they are. Cooks will be moved around the field to create mismatches, and Gronkowski is capable of dominating any defense in football. And with Julian Edelman’s volume up for grabs, third receiver Chris Hogan also projects well. Hogan was outstanding down the 2016 stretch, averaging 110.7 yards and scoring twice in three playoff games.
Kansas City boasts an elite pass defense, but more for their playmaking than their across-the-field coverage consistency. Lead cornerback Peters, for example, is a ballhawk who attacks the throw and disrupts lots of downfield attempts. The Patriots tend to throw underneath more often than downfield, and they seek out creative windows through coverage. There, Kansas City can be had a bit easier. Slot cornerback Steven Nelson is fresh off a breakout season inside, but he’ll be challenged there by a multitude of talented Patriots – Cooks, Hogan, Danny Amendola, and the running backs – and he and the slot team will have their hands full. There’s a conceivable path to a disruptive game in which Brady faces constant pressure and serves up a few mistakes, but this is quite an offense to keep up with.
New Orleans Saints PASSING OFFENSE AT Minnesota Vikings PASSING DEFENSE (Tough MATCHUP)
The Saints are fresh off another season among the league’s leaders in passing production, but they’re in a precarious spot to open the year. The Vikings’ pass defense is elite, and Drew Brees will be without No. 2 wideout Willie Snead IV, whose suspension will last 3 weeks. Ted Ginn Jr did spend the preseason taking Snead’s starting snaps, and Brees has been able to create plays with all of his one-dimensional deep threats over the years. But it’s never good to be shorthanded, and Ginn has never been a very effective target. On the other side, second-year phenom Michael Thomas will open the season drawing a lot of attention from rising superstar Xavier Rhodes – arguably the best cover man in football last year. Brees is a surgeon, of course, who can produce all over the field, and his week-to-week touchdown outlook is as good as anyone. But with his left tackle and No. 2 receiver sidelined – and his No. 1 battling Xavier Rhodes for much of the game – his Week 1 doesn’t shape up as a strong matchup. Brees also won’t be throwing in the Superdome, where he’s averaged 37.3 fewer yards and 5.9 fewer fantasy points over the past 3 years.
The Vikings boast a defense well-suited to handling a fiery offense like New Orleans. In 2016, only two teams allowed more passing yardage, and only Denver gave up more net yards per attempt. Armed with a shutdown secondary and an array of dynamic pass rushers, they should pose a stout challenge to Brees. Shutdown cornerback Xavier Rhodes will contest Brees’ intermediate game against Thomas, Ginn, and tight end Coby Fleener, and he’s among the best at it. Last year Rhodes allowed NFL lows among full-time cornerbacks in completion rate (41.8%) and passer rating (39.2). With ball-hawking, free safety Harrison Smith healthy, the Vikings boast a secondary full of landmines for Brees to sort through. Also, the Saints will likely be without left tackle Terron Armstead on Sunday; the ferocious Minnesota pass rush should be all the more effective at pushing Brees’ lanes.
New York Giants PASSING OFFENSE AT Dallas Cowboys PASSING DEFENSE (Good MATCHUP)
Odell Beckham Jr Jr. is questionable for this game and if he were to miss he changes the dynamics of this team dramatically, we should know more later in the week and will come back to update this since it is such a big story, but for now, we are assuming he plays.
The Giants passing attack will continue to be led by Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr Jr. this season. Since the change in coaching regime to Ben McAdoo, Manning has markedly increased his completion percentage to averaging just under 65% with over 4,000 passing yards in each season while averaging just over 30 touchdowns per year. More of the same, if not better, can be expected from Manning this year as he not only retains one of the best receivers in football but has received a significant upgrade in depth with the offseason addition of Brandon Marshall. Manning will be the most talented quarterback to ever play with Marshall. Despite his age, Marshall is expected to immediately contribute in a big way this season—particularly in Week 1 as both Marshall and Beckham draw very favorable cornerback matchups against a young, vulnerable Cowboys secondary that lost four of its key defensive backs this offseason. Second-year starter Sterling Shephard is expected to line up in the slot for the Giants, and he will draw a less favorable matchup against Orlando Scandrick—one of the few veterans Dallas has left on defense.
From a pass rushing perspective, the Cowboys employed a shotgun approach to defensive linemen in 2016, starting five different defensive ends on a regular basis throughout the year. This did not pan out well for them, as they only managed 28 sacks on the season Footballguys defensive specialist Justis Mosqueda ranks Dallas next to last among edge rushing units. From a linebacker perspective, Sean Lee is their only notable piece—the rest are unproven, unreliable options—especially when being asked to rush the passer.
With the lack of pressure placed on Eli Manning and inexperience in the Dallas secondary, this is a good matchup for Manning, Beckham, and Marshall to take advantage of.
NEW YORK JETS PASSING OFFENSE AT Buffalo Bills PASSING DEFENSE (Neutral MATCHUP)
Josh McCown will be starting at quarterback for a Jets squad that is one of the thinnest in the league at the wide receiver position. Even before the loss of Quincy Enunwa (neck), the Jets receiving group was looking bleak. They retain the speedy Robby Anderson and recently acquired Jermaine Kearse from the Seahawks. Late round draft pick Charone Peake should serve as the Jets third receiver, while Bilal Powell should contribute to the passing game out of the backfield. Josh McCown is a journeyman quarterback, now playing for his eighth different NFL team. He has shown flashes, but still owns a career passer rating of 78.2 with nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns (69 interceptions to 79 touchdowns). Overall, this offensive is not expected to be highly successful and owns one of the lowest implied point totals in Week 1 against the Bills
The Jets also own one of the league’s worst offensive lines, ranked 30th overall and one of only three offensive lines to receive a pass protection grade of “D+” by Footballguys offensive line guru Matt Bitonti. This unit allowed the league’s fourth most sacks (46 last season), and the Bills defensive front seven led by solid linebackers such as Lorenzo Alexander should put plenty of pressure on Josh McCown. The Bills lost a lot of talent at cornerback this offseason, with both Stephon Gilmore and Nickel Robey leaving in free agency while Ronald Darby was traded. To help fill these gaps in the secondary, they drafted Tre’Davorious White in the first-round while also signing Micah Hyde to start at safety. Despite the changes within this Buffalo secondary, the Bills should have a strong pass rush against this weak Jets offensive line while McCown struggles to find what talent he has available on offense.
Oakland Raiders PASSING OFFENSE At Tennessee Titans PASSING DEFENSE (Good MATCHUP)
Derek Carr comes into 2016 healthy and ready to pick up where he left off after a broken leg at the tail end of 2016. Before his injury, Carr was having a MVP-caliber season with nearly 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. He retains his top two weapons in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree this season, with Cooper potentially primed for that breakout season that everyone expected last year. Cooper has the raw talent and size to be expected of an elite wide receiver, but he must continue improving his catch rate and use his size better in the red zone to convert touchdown opportunities. The Raiders also added a pass-catching tight end in Jared Cook to help provide Carr with more options. Cook will provide matchup problems for any defense, including the Titans.
There is no doubting that the Titans secondary struggled last year, allowing 269 passing yards per game--good for T-2nd worst in the league. Their cornerbacks were notably some of the worst in the league. However, the Titans made significant offseason moves to address this obvious weakness. They acquired cornerback Logan Ryan from the Patriots, Safety Johnathan Cyprien from the Jaguars, and drafted cornerback Adoree’ Jackson in the first round. It is yet to be determined how these new additions will mesh, but there is no doubting the clear upgrade in talent.
Points will be scored in this game, so naturally, there is upside for the Raiders pass attack. If not for the Titans’ offseason upgrades to their secondary, this would be a great matchup.
Philadelphia Eagles PASSING OFFENSE At Washington Redskins PASSING DEFENSE (Good MATCHUP)
Carson Wentz looks to rebound from a shaky closing stretch to his rookie year, one that saw him top 17 fantasy points just twice over the final 7 weeks. He was especially poor at extending the ball downfield; according to Brick Wall Blitz’s Deep Ball Project, he finished just 27th in completion rate at 20 yards or more. The team added playmakers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in the offseason, both of whom can stretch the field and adjust to errant deep balls. Tight end Zach Ertz remains a reliable security blanket, and no defense allowed more catches and yards to the position last year than Washington; he’s a Week 1 must-start. Wentz’s Week 1 outlook is generally strong, thanks in part to his suddenly dynamic receiving corps and an elite pass-blocking front line.
Despite rostering at least three cornerbacks once deemed shutdown artists, the Washington secondary continues to struggle mightily. Ace Josh Norman is solid, but Bashaud Breeland has regressed since an impressive rookie year, and ball hawking free safety DeAngelo Hall enters the season on the PUP list. And the pass rush is down two key men, with Trent Murphy on injured reserve and top down lineman Chris Baker out of town. Norman and the safeties should spend most of their Sunday following Alshon Jeffery across the field, which could leave Breeland on an island with one-trick deep threat Torrey Smith.
Pittsburgh Steelers Passing OFFENSE AT Cleveland Browns Passing DEFENSE (Great MATCHUP)
The personnel matchup here is great news; last year, only 3 teams allowed more net yards per attempt than the Browns, and none gave up more touchdowns than Cleveland's 36. The real concern for Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Martavis Bryant is volume. Over the past 5 years, Roethlisberger has averaged 8 fewer attempts and 7.9 fewer fantasy points as a favorite of 8 points or more (the Steelers are -9.5 for Sunday). There's a strong chance he fails to throw more than 22-24 times. The dice roll here is whether that lead will be built on the backs of early Roethlisberger touchdown passes, and it's a fair play. He's flushed with elite playmakers, and the Steelers tend to skew pass near the end zone.
The matchup looks extremely unfavorable for the Browns, who were consistently gashed through the air in 2016 and are rebuilding their secondary. Joe Haden's release will have the Browns mixing Jamar Taylor and Briean Boddy-Calhoun on Brown, and while both are ascending cover men, Brown is largely match up proof. Martavis Bryant has an even juicier matchup on the other side, and there's little room for optimism when the Steelers go to Bell out of the backfield. There's question as to how much the Steelers will choose to throw Sunday, but they are likely to be incredibly efficient when they do choose to throw.
Seattle Seahawks PASSING OFFENSE At Green Bay Packers PASSING DEFENSE (Great MATCHUP)
Russell Wilson is finally healthy and has looked sharp in preseason thus far. He returns to face a Packers defense that gave him fits in Week 14 last year as Wilson threw a whopping five interceptions in that meeting. While Wilson will continue to need his legs behind a subpar offensive line, he does return all three of his primary wide receivers from last season.
The Packers secondary struggled in 2016 due primarily to bad cornerback play, finding themselves ranked T-2nd worst in passing yards allowed per game (269). They lost a lot of talent in Julius Peppers, Datone Jones, and Sam Shields this offseason, forcing this Packers defense to rely on a number of unproven faces as their replacements. The Packers also didn't do much to upgrade their cornerbacks, however, they do retain one of the NFL's best safety duo's in Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Davon House was Green Bay’s attempt to bolster their cornerback group in the offseason as they picked him back up from Jacksonville after drafting him in 2011. House has never been effective though, with only six career interceptions while never truly securing a starting role outside of the 2015 season.
Despite the help from over the top, the Seahawks wide receivers will prove to be a big mismatch for Green Bay’s cornerbacks. A healthy Russell Wilson should also be elusive enough to find plenty of ways to give the Packers defense fits this week, despite the Seahawks weak offensive line.
San Francisco 49ers PASSING OFFENSE VS Carolina Panthers PASSING DEFENSE (Neutral MATCHUP)
The 49ers passing offense was very bad in 2016, finishing at the bottom of the league with only 182 passing yards per game. Mainly driven by poor quarterback play, they are projected to see much of the same this year as the quarterback situation is still a big question mark with journeyman Brian Hoyer taking over this year. While Hoyer has looked sharp in preseason, he still owns a career quarterback rating of 84.4 with a sub-60% completion rate. The 49-ers tried to address their wide receiver position by adding both Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin, but neither are known for their ability to carry a team’s offense. There is little depth to speak of on this roster behind those two receivers.
The Panthers were very vulnerable through the air last season as they ranked bottom five in passing yards allowed per game (268), but adjusting for their schedule they were not nearly as bad as they ranked as the 11th worst defense using DVOA playing in the pass heavy NFC South. Their yards allowed however does not tell the full story, as this was a very opportunistic defense that nearly led the league in both sacks (47, T-2nd), interceptions (17, T-4th), and fumbles forced (19, T-3rd). The key addition of safety Mike Adams should help bolster their secondary, as Adams is a two-time Pro Bowler with 12 interceptions over his last three seasons. While their pass rushers are mostly veterans, they are all healthy here in Week 1 and should prove to be very effective against a 49ers offensive line that allowed 47 sacks in 2016.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers PASSING OFFENSE AT Miami Dolphins PASSING DEFENSE (Good MATCHUP)
Jameis Winston is now well-stocked with dynamic weaponry, so the time is now for him to step into the next quarterbacking tier. But it’s anyone’s guess as to whether that pans out. Winston regressed a bit in his second season, dropping just a bit in adjusted yards per attempt and interception rate. And it’s hard to tell just how much DeSean Jackson’s addition will actually boost his deep game. According to Backyard Blitz’s Deep Ball Project, Winston finished 22nd among regular starters in completion rate on passes of 16 yards or more and 28th when throwing 20+ yards. Winston threw downfield better as a 2015 rookie, and Jackson’s presence will likely boost those numbers. But it’s hard to have much confidence in major impacts beyond Mike Evans. A true target monster who wins downfield battles left and right, Evans always projects to upper-tier volume, and always boasts a strong touchdown outlook. There’s some sneaky appeal in tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard as well. The Dolphins struggled to contain tight ends last year, and Brate is a touchdown machine with an underrated rapport with Jameis Winston, while Howard showed well in red zone work during the preseason.
The Dolphins secondary is becoming a late-stages home for formerly elite cornerbacks. Byron Maxwell, once the prize of the 2015 NFL free agency class, will battle his 2014 counterpart, Alterraun Verner, for one of the starting spots. Reshad Jones’ return will definitely help their outlook, but they’ll need strong boundary play with Evans, a mountain of a man and jump-ball enthusiast, coming to town. Maxwell was quite solid in his Dolphins debut, and youngster Xavien Howard posted a strong half-season on the other side, but this was still a shaky unit last year on the whole. They were picked apart down the stretch, allowing big passing days to the mediocre offenses of San Francisco, Baltimore, and Buffalo. Their tight end defense is definitely one to target – especially with Timmons and Maualuga pressed into hefty roles. Last season they allowed 60.3 yards per game and 10 touchdowns to the position, so red zone dynamos Brate and Howard could feast.
Tennessee Titans PASSING OFFENSE vs Oakland Raiders PASSING DEFENSE (Neutral MATCHUP)
The Titans made some key upgrades at wide receiver this offseason with the addition of Eric Decker and first round draft selection of Corey Davis. Decker, when healthy, has proved to be a model of consistency as he averaged over 1,000 yards per season from 2012-15 with three double-digit touchdown seasons during that span and a tough quarterback situation with the Jets during two of those years. Corey Davis is a physical freak who had a clear knack for the end zone in college, and the Titans are looking to him for WR1 upside this season. Marcus Mariota is finally healthy, although he looked rough around the edges during Week 3 of the preseason. He had the best season of his short career in 2016, and with an upgraded receiving group, more good things should be expected from Mariota.
The Raiders secondary finished middle of the pack last season. Karl Joseph was the rock of that unit last season, and they added young talent in Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu via high draft picks this season. Despite a league-worst 25 sacks in 2016, the Raiders have elite pass rushing talent in linebacker Khalil Mack and added Bruce Irvin to help increase that pressure on the quarterback.
The game flow here can be expected to be relatively fast paced, as it has one of the highest point totals of the week. The Titans offense, however, is notably focused on their rushing attack, and will likely rely heavily upon it. While the Raiders pass defense has been mediocre, they made some key upgrades this offseason. If not for the high point total, this might be a tough matchup for the Titans—however, there is enough scoring upside to slot this one into Neutral territory.
Washington Redskins PASSING OFFENSE vs Philadelphia Eagles PASSING DEFENSE (Neutral MATCHUP)
Much has been made of the Washington pass game this offseason as it’s transitioned in personnel. Gone are Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, but quarterback Kirk Cousins returns, and the team boasts solid contingency plans for those vacated roles. Jamison Crowder will likely absorb most of Garcon’s work – he’s a slot man at heart, lightning-quick on underneath and intermediate routes, and he works through traffic much better than his size (5’9” and 170 pounds) suggests. Jordan Reed enters the season relatively healthy, though his Sunday outlook is bleak against the Eagles’ elite tight end defense. The real Week 1 x-factor is a new addition, Terrelle Pryor. He showed dynamism last year, his first as a full-time wideout, topping 1,000 yards amidst a cruel game of quarterback musical chairs in Cleveland. He’s not Jackson, but should eventually bring a strong downfield component to Cousins’ offense. There’s strong 2017 potential here, even if it takes a month or so to gain cohesion.
The Eagles pass defense is one on the rise. Under coordinator Jim Schwartz, they skyrocketed from 28th in pass yardage allowed in 2015 to 13th last year. And that number could boost even further in 2017. The addition of pass-rushing tackle Timmy Jernigan fortifies a pass rush that was already dynamic, and young standout cornerback Ronald Darby, who came over in the Sammy Watkins trade, brings a promising presence on the boundary. Malcolm Jenkins was generally solid in taking over slot coverage duties, and he effectively stymied Crowder in their Week 14 meeting (5 targets, 2 receptions). Jordan Reed will suit up Sunday, but the Eagles allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to tight ends last year – a meager average of 3 catches and 26 yards per game.