Carson Palmer (at DET) - Palmer got better as 2016 went on and he is entering 2017 with one of his best matchups of the season. The Lions defense suffered a key loss in Kerry Hyder Jr up front, and their best pass rusher, Ezekiel Ansah, didn’t practice in camp or the preseason with an ankle problem. Deep threat John Brown got his quad right just in time for this game, and the Lions don’t have an answer for dual threat back David Johnson. Palmer should have a great day in the ideal indoor conditions of Ford Field.
Alex Smith (at NE) - Smith is going to be challenged to keep up with Tom Brady. He might not be able to do that, but unless the Chiefs defense stifles Brady, Smith will be playing catch up in the second half against a soft Patriots defense. The Patriots will try to take away Travis Kelce in the middle of the field, but leave a lot of short passing opportunities for Smith, and he should get to direct some second half scoring drives as the Chiefs try to make up a deficit on the road.
Jared Goff (vs IND) - Goff is about as unsexy a name as there is in fantasy quarterback circles, but he does have a very favorable Week 1 matchup against a Colts defense that is weak upfront, breaking in new linebackers, and without their top corner Vontae Davis. Goff should also benefit from the element of surprise as the Rams are rolling out a new offense under head coach Sean McVay and they have added Sammy Watkins to open things up for the short passing game and running game. If you’re ever going to play Goff, this is a good week to do it.
DeShone Kizer (vs PIT) - Passer rating and completion percentage aren’t scored in fantasy leagues, so you can start Kizer in a pinch without worry. He will have lots of “what was he thinking” moments, but they will be balanced out with “how did he do that” moments. The Steelers are likely to put up a ton of points on a Browns defense that will be missing #1 overall pick Myles Garrett, so the prevent defense should allow Kizer to move the ball with his arm and legs as they nurse a lead in the second half.
Jonathan Stewart (at SF) - The 49ers run defense was the softest matchup in the league last year. A new defensive system and the addition of two first-round picks should help shore things up, but it will still be a work in progress. Stewart will likely get more carries than #8 overall pick Christian McCaffrey, including goal line work, and if the Panthers can control this game on the road, 15-20 carries and a score are well within reach.
LeGarrette Blount (at WAS) - There might not be many “Blount weeks” in this running back by committee backfield, but Week 1 is shaping up as one. Washington doesn’t have a true run-stuffing nose tackle and they lost their very active in the box strong safety Su’a Cravens to a potential retirement. The Eagles should want to establish Blount in his regular season debut and keep Kirk Cousins on the sidelines in a tough road game.
Derrick Henry (vs OAK) - Henry got ten carries last year against the Raiders, and that was with Marcus Mariota throwing two interceptions. This year, Mariota has an improved receiver corps and Henry has had a whole offseason to develop heading into the season opener. Demarco Murray was slowed with hamstring issues during the preseason, and the Raiders will be breaking in some new defensive players in the middle of their unit, so the Titans will be testing them often with their exotic smashmouth running game. Henry will be a bigger part of that than he was last year, the only question is how much bigger.
Rex Burkhead (vs KC) **Thursday** - Burkhead is set up for a big season opener as the only true all-around back on the roster. Mike Gillislee was slowed by hamstring problems for almost all of the offseason and preseason, and Bill Belichick had said he has ground to make up after he was the third back to enter the third preseason game. Burkhead showed explosiveness as a receiver out of the backfield and he also has the power game to function between the tackles. The Patriots should try to isolate him against linebackers in the passing game and run him against light boxes in passing sets when they aren’t throwing.
Jamaal Charles (vs LAC) - Charles is healthy and showed he is ready for a good amount of work in the third preseason game. He should have a big role on passing downs and could make this into a committee with CJ Anderson, getting the better part of receptions and the two-minute offense. Charles should be as effective as he’ll be all season in Week 1.
Chris Hogan (vs KC) **Thursday** - Hogan is set to be unleashed in the wake of Julian Edelman’s season-ending knee injury. He’ll be in most if not all two-wide sets, and the Chiefs are much more likely to sell out to contain Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski that they are to place emphasis on Hogan, who should get matchups against the weaker Kansas City corners. Tom Brady has already shown a willingness to target Hogan ad nauseum with Edelman on the field, that should be even easier this week.
Sterling Shepard (at DAL) - Shepard is set up to start with Odell Beckham a game-time decision at best. The Cowboys are breaking in new players all over the defense and might have trouble generating a credible pass rush against the Giants. As long as Beckham is inactive, Shepard becomes a nice matchup play in this divisional tilt.
Eric Decker, Rishard Matthews (vs OAK) - #5 overall pick Corey Davis is healthy enough to practice and play, but the Titans will ease him in this week to make sure to preserve him for the upcoming season. Decker and Matthews should get the starter share of snaps and targets against a Raiders defense that is usually generous. Decker should be the top red zone target and Matthews is the incumbent receiver benefiting from carryover chemistry with Marcus Mariota.
Corey Coleman (vs PIT) - Rookie starting quarterback DeShone Kizer seemed to be on the same page Coleman in the preseason, and he should have many opportunities to rekindle that connection as the Browns try to keep up with the Steelers finally intact Killer Bees offense this week. Coleman has been productive when healthy and paired with competent quarterback play. He’s healthy and Kizer has shown the ability to be more than competent when on. Even if Kizer is inconsistent, Coleman could have a good week on garbage time drives alone.
Ted Ginn Jr (at MIN) - Willie Snead IV was suspended for three games on the eve of the season, which means Ginn will get a full load of snaps with Drew Brees, including a larger than usual helping of short targets. He could come through for you on one deep target (and he’ll get a few), but Ginn has a high floor without Snead in the lineup as the Saints should try to harness his speed in run after catch opportunities.
Jason Witten (vs NYG) - Witten has had big games in three of the last four outings against the tough Giants defense, and that trend should continue Sunday night. The Giants have a strong pass rush, run defense and secondary play, but their linebackers continue to be the weakness of their defense, which can be exploited by Witten. The 35-year-old looked as good as ever in a very strong preseason.
Coby Fleener (at MIN) - Fleener has fooled us before, but this week against the Vikings there is reason for optimism with Willie Snead IV suspended. His role is expected to expand to fill the void left by Snead, and Fleener has enough speed to create a solid fantasy week on just a handful of plays. Teams completed five or more passes to tight ends more than half of the time last year, making Fleener a decent upside streaming tight end play in PPR leagues.
Austin Hooper (at CHI) - Hooper will inherit the targets and snaps vacated by Jacob Tamme in the season opener against a Bears defense that gave up big games to some nondescript tight ends like Trey Burton, Cameron Brate, and Dwayne Allen. The Bears defense will have its hands full against the Falcons and if Hooper isn’t productive it will only be because the Falcons chose to lean on others of their plethora of their options to move the ball and score.
Evan Engram (at DAL) - Engram is the rare rookie tight end who should get the majority of snaps for his team right away. He presents matchup problems for a Cowboys defense that already is going to have problems getting pressure on the quarterback and covering outside receivers. The first-round pick’s speed and toughness after the catch could create big plays in his debut.