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Brett Jones at center with Pat Elflein (ankle, shoulder) on the shelf. Jones was acquired 13 days before Week 1 after getting beaten out by Jon Halapio in Giants camp. These are worrisome developments against rising-star 49ers DT DeForest Buckner. Returning from a torn ACL, also notable for Dalvin Cook’s prospects were signs all preseason that he’ll form a committee with Latavius Murray, who will at very least siphon goal-line work after finishing top five in carries inside the five-yard line in back-to-back years. Run-game pluses are the absence of difference-making 49ers MLB Reuben Foster (suspension) and WLB Malcolm Smith’s balky hamstring. Last year’s Vikings running backs did combine to average 33.2 touches per game, and a fair Week 1 projection would keep Cook in the 18-20 touch hunt as a mid-range to high-end RB2. Murray remains the favorite for bunny TDs and is an underrated non-PPR flex.

Stefon Diggs ran a team-high 45% of his routes at left cornerbacks last season and should match up most with LCB Sherman in what projects as a severe mismatch. Diggs’ light-speed quickness would be tough for Sherman to handle even in his prime. Historically a fast starter before enduring nagging groin injuries in each of the last two years, Diggs’ last two Week 1 receiving lines are 7/103/0 and 7/93/2. He is a legit WR1 play versus San Francisco. … Perimeter player Laquon Treadwell’s victory in the Vikings’ No. 3 wideout battle locks Adam Thielen into the slot, where PFF charted him with the highest target rate in the league (25%) last season among 29 qualified slot receivers. Fellow slot man Jamison Crowder was Cousins’ top receiver in Washington. … The return of SS Jaquiski Tartt will upgrade San Francisco’s tight end coverage after Tartt shined as his team’s designated TE stopper in last year’s opening nine games. Kyle Rudolph remains squarely in the low-end TE1 hunt with 15 touchdown catches over the last two seasons in an offense whose defense will create short fields, increasing red-zone trips. Per PFF’s Scott Barrett, Cousins has targeted tight ends at a career 24.5% rate, well above NFL average (20.8%).

The 49ers head north to face a Vikings defense that allowed just eight TDs in eight 2017 home games and has held its last ten home-game opponents to scoring totals of 24 > 10 > 7 > 7 > 16 > 10 > 14 > 17 > 19 > 10, “good” for a 13.4-point average. Mike Zimmer’s team returns every critical member of a defense that yielded a league-low 12 passing touchdowns and added difference-maker DT Sheldon Richardson, first-round CB Mike Hughes, and ex-Bengals FS George Iloka. One way to describe Jimmy Garoppolo as a Week 1 play would be “contrarian.” … 49ers beat writers expect Kyle Shanahan to take a “hot-hand”’ running back approach after Jerick McKinnon’s ACL tear. Alfred Morris is the favorite to eventually emerge as lead back with 24 pounds on Matt Breida, a perfect durability track record – Morris, incredibly, has never missed a game in six NFL seasons – and a highly successful history in Shanahan's outside-zone scheme. Morris was outstanding in Dallas last year, finishing No. 7 among 47 running backs in Football Outsiders’ Rushing Success Rate and No. 4 among 53 qualifiers in PFF’s yards-after-contact per attempt. At 5’9/195 with checkered durability and minimal passing-game success, Breida has long been ticketed for the “Tevin Coleman Role” as an 8-11 touch change-of-pace back. Neither is a quality play at Minnesota, but the schedule loosens up after this (vs. DET, @ KC, @ LAC, vs. ARZ, @ GB).

Since Morris has never caught passes and Breida never topped 11 receptions in a college season before finishing second among NFL running backs in drops (6) last year on only 36 targets, versatile FB Kyle Juszczyk is set up for a major passing-game role. “Juice” has averaged 37 catches over the past three years and averaged 4.0 targets in San Francisco’s final seven 2017 games. Unfortunately, last year’s Vikings yielded the NFL’s third-fewest receiving yards (489) to running backs. … No 49ers pass catcher has a favorable Week 1 matchup. My expectation is Pierre Garcon will attract Xavier Rhodes’ shadow, intimidating for a 32-year-old receiver coming off a neck injury with three TDs in his last 24 games. … LCB Trae Waynes is the style of cornerback to cause speedster Marquise Goodwin fits with 4.31 jets and a physical, handsy game common among Michigan State alums. Goodwin remains the obvious play here. He drew a team-high 43 targets during Garoppolo’s 2017 time under center and finished tenth in the league in Air Yards. His stat lines in Jimmy G’s starts were 8/99/0 > 6/106/0 > 10/114/0 > 3/37/0 > 2/28/1. … Minnesota also returns all critical components of a defense that shut down tight ends last season, holding the position to the NFL’s third-fewest yards (596). It’s a convenient wait-and-see week for George Kittle, who missed most of camp with a separated shoulder and has an uncertain Week 1 role. Kittle does offer massive season-long touchdown upside in a passing game desperate for scoring-position threats. Kittle led San Francisco in red-zone targets (16) as a rookie and hit pay dirt on 23.8% of his receptions over his final two years at Iowa. For context, Rob Gronkowski scored on “only” 21.3% of his college catches.

Score Prediction: Vikings 28, 49ers 20

Tennessee @ Miami
Team Totals: Titans 23, Dolphins 22

Kenyan Drake enters 2018 with uncertain usage after Miami beat writers all offseason claimed he’d share time with Frank Gore, and the Dolphins themselves listed Drake and Gore as co-starters on their Week 1 depth chart. The fact of the matter is Adam Gase would make an egregious mistake to not employ Drake as a true feature back. He’s simply earned it, averaging 4.96 yards across 166 NFL carries and 6.80 in the 2018 preseason, finishing last year top five in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency, and erupting to average a league-high 118.8 yards from scrimmage on 21.6 touches over Miami’s final five games. In what projects as a close Week 1 contest that could go either way, Drake should have no game-script concerns and warrants being fed early and often. Last year’s Titans were particularly leaky to running backs in the passing game, yielding a league-high 967 receiving yards to the position. … The Dolphins used Ryan Tannehill as a low-volume game manager in his last healthy season (2016), limiting him to 29.9 pass attempts per game with QB21 fantasy results before Tannehill’s Week 14 ACL tear. As Tannehill endured another tear in the meantime, it is sensible to expect Gase to resume conservative usage from both passing and rushing standpoints. Tannehill is a mere two-quarterback-league option.

One matchup advantage on which Miami could capitalize is Tennessee’s depleted pass rush with Harold Landry (ankle) out and Derrick Morgan (knee) at less than full strength. More time for Tannehill can give more deep-ball chances to Kenny Stills, who quietly set a career high in targets (105) last season and is the favorite to lead Miami in 2018 receiving. Stills ran 47% of his 2017 routes inside and averaged 1.76 yards per slot route, best on the team over departed Jarvis Landry (1.59). Stills’ floor is never safe, but he offers upside as a WR3/flex. … Danny Amendola has played nine NFL seasons and never cleared 700 yards, but the Fins are forcing him into a near-full-time role in three-receiver sets. Camp reports consistently claimed Amendola had emerged as Tannehill’s favorite practice target, and he delivered a 2/23/1 receiving line on just 20 snaps in Miami’s third preseason game. It would not be surprising if Amendola led the Dolphins in Week 1 catches. His main coverage adversary projects as Logan Ryan, who lacks short-area quickness to hang with Amendola in the slot. Amendola is an underrated PPR option. … DeVante Parker (hand) won’t play, leaving Miami’s No. 3 role in three-wideout sets to some combination of Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant. … MarQueis Gray’s Achilles’ tear locks in second-round pick Mike Gesicki as Miami’s full-time tight end. Gesicki was a ghost in August, catching one pass for ten yards on 57 preseason snaps. Gesicki’s sheer opportunity does put him in the TE2 mix.

Learning a new offense under Kyle Shanahan-Sean McVay disciple OC Matt LaFleur, Marcus Mariota enters 2018 as an unknown after an ugly preseason in which he bombed the third game against Pittsburgh, repeatedly missing Corey Davis for would-be big plays and throwing a gimme pick under panicked duress. Even against an unimposing Dolphins pass defense, Mariota can only be viewed as shaky QB2. … For as long as the passing game lacks reliability, LaFleur would be smart to lean heavily on his two-headed backfield with Derrick Henry carrying the mail. Tennessee returns all five offensive line starters to face a Miami run defense that has finished 15th or worse in DVOA in five straight years. So long as this game stays close – Vegas projects it will with a one-point spread – Henry should be fed voluminously as the Titans’ early-down and goal-line back. In MLB Raekwon McMillan (6’1/240), rookie WLB Jerome Baker (6’1/229), and SLB Kiko Alonso (6’3/238), each of the Dolphins’ starting linebackers is at a severe size disadvantage versus Henry (6’3/247). Over the course of the season, very few running backs’ touchdown ceilings are as high as Henry’s. … Preseason usage suggested Dion Lewis will operate as Tennessee’s pace-change and third-down back, likely handling 9-12 touches depending on game flow. This game’s flow projects as balanced, giving Henry the prognosticative edge. When Lewis does get the ball, he'll have a matchup advantage on coverage liabilities McMillan and Alonso.

Mariota has the longest-standing rapport with Delanie Walker among Titans pass catchers, convenient since last year’s Dolphins allowed the league’s second-most yards (1,034) and TDs (10) to tight ends. Walker led the 2017 Titans in red-zone targets (12) and targets inside the ten (8) and has cleared 800 yards in four straight years. He is a steady TE1 in a mouth-watering draw. … Corey Davis stayed healthy in camp but didn’t catch a single preseason pass and, like his quarterback, enters 2018 as an unknown. Davis also figures to draw the most of budding-star RCB Xavien Howard’s coverage. Until we see actual evidence of an improved rapport with Mariota, Davis will be a dicey WR3. … Rishard Matthews is yet another unknown after being activated from PUP just two weeks before Week 1. He did not play in the preseason, and after Wednesday’s practice admitted he expects to be “eased in” to the new offense. I do not pretend to know how he’ll be used. … Tajae Sharpe ran ahead of explosive playmaker Taywan Taylor in the last two exhibition games. We’ll learn if LaFleur is serious about that in the first real one.

Score Prediction: Dolphins 24, Titans 20

Cincinnati @ Indianapolis
Team Totals: Colts 25.5, Bengals 22.5

Back after missing the entire 2017 season with a severe throwing-shoulder injury, Andrew Luck catches a worrisome Week 1 draw against a vicious Bengals defensive front behind a pieced-together Colts line that struggled to pass protect this preseason. LT Anthony Castonzo (hamstring) is iffy after missing all of camp, and rising-star Bengals RE Carl Lawson is capable of exploiting him at less than 100%, let alone backup Le’Raven Clark, who got pulverized in five starts last season. Cincinnati returns every key cornerback and pass-rush component from a defense that last year allowed the NFL’s eighth-fewest touchdown passes (20) while ranking top 11 in sacks (41) and QB hits (98). The Colts appear poised to resort to a dink-and-dunk passing game; just two of Luck’s 41 preseason attempts traveled 20-plus yards downfield. Luck’s average depth of target was 5.7 yards after never before in his career finishing a season with an aDOT lower than 8.4. The Bengals’ D/ST is squarely in play here, and Luck is a high-risk start. … Indy’s line also showed no ability to create running lanes in August, while backfield snaps remain up for grabs between rookies Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines and long-unreliable Christine Michael. Marlon Mack (hamstring) returned to practice Thursday, further muddying the touch distribution. Until running back roles become defined and the Colts demonstrate any semblance of run-blocking capability, this will be a fantasy situation to avoid.

T.Y. Hilton’s indoor-outdoor splits should be common knowledge to DFS players by now; he averages a career 4.9/80.3/0.43 receiving line indoors versus 4.1/60.3/0.25 in outdoor environments. One matchup concern is the emergence of Bengals RCB William Jackson III as a true shutdown force after he allowed a league-low 34.9% catch rate on 45 targets last season, as well as the NFL’s second-lowest passer rating (36.1) among 121 qualified corners. Hilton did continue to run 35% of his preseason routes in the slot, while Jackson played outside 97% of the time last year. As Hilton has averaged 15.1 career PPR points per game with Luck but just 11.3 when Luck doesn’t play, T.Y. should stay locked into lineups as a WR2. … Arguably an even more confident fantasy play is Jack Doyle, who dominated first-team reps all August and catches the Bengals without WLB Vontaze Burfict (suspension) after Doyle shredded Cincinnati’s defense for 12/121/1 with Jacoby Brissett quarterbacking last Week 8. Doyle runs short routes that perfectly suit the Colts’ new dink-and-dunk approach. … No. 2 receiver Ryan Grant and slot man Chester Rogers are possession types vying for peripheral targets with Eric Ebron, whose exact role is to be determined after working clearly behind Doyle all August. Ebron even ran a lower percentage of slot routes (49%) in the preseason than Doyle (52%) and may need a Doyle injury to become fantasy viable.

Andy Dalton is Week 1’s top QB1 streamer indoors against a talent-poor Colts defense that cut top pass rusher John Simon and fields the NFL’s worst cornerback unit, where RCB Pierre Desir is on his fourth team in five seasons and LCB Kenny Moore is a second-year undrafted free agent. With A.J. Green back, Tyler Eifert healthy (for now), John Ross coming off an at-times dynamic August, slot man Tyler Boyd poised for third-year improvement, Joe Mixon showing big-time receiving ability all preseason, and O-Line upgrades via LT Cordy Glenn and first-round C Billy Price, this sets up as Dalton’s best supporting cast since 2015, when he ranked top seven among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game. … After a sluggish rookie year, Joe Mixon reported to Bengals camp at 218, down 20 pounds from his first minicamp two Mays ago. He showed improved quickness in the exhibition season, ripping off two 20-plus-yard receptions including a highlight-reel touchdown where Mixon broke two tackles en route to pay dirt. Colts MLB Anthony Walker (groin) and WLB Darius Leonard (ankle, chest) both emerged from the preseason banged up, and overall Indianapolis is starved for quality front-seven defenders. Giovani Bernard figures to handle around 30% of the Bengals’ backfield work, but Mixon can flirt with RB1 production on a 60-70% workshare, especially in a cake matchup like this.

A.J. Green should start hot against Indy’s burnable cornerback corps, and his career home-road splits are worth pointing out. In an equal 51-51 game sample, Green has averaged a 6.1/90.8/0.63 stat line away from Cincinnati versus 4.8/70.2/0.49 at home. Green won’t get a better matchup all year. … The Bengals smartly gave Tyler Eifert late-career Antonio Gates treatment this preseason, using him as a route runner on 13-of-14 snaps. No. 2 TE Tyler Kroft can handle blocking duties. Essentially a full-time receiver now, Eifert is an underrated TE1 play with high-scoring potential who is sure to go overlooked in DFS. Eifert has scored on 15.7% of his career catches, just below Rob Gronkowski’s 16.0% mark. Last year’s Colts allowed the NFL’s 12th-most fantasy points to tight ends, and this year’s defense may be even more vulnerable to the position under Tampa-2 zone proponent DC Matt Eberflus. … John Ross is expected to be a popular DFS play, and the matchup certainly is right. I’m not totally sold Ross will play clearly ahead of Josh Malone, however, and Tyler Boyd has a similar target projection, if not higher. Ross is a tournament-only dart throw with a low floor but obvious big-play potential. Ross caught just 4-of-13 preseason targets, but three of his catches gained 20-plus yards, including a 57-yard touchdown bomb where Ross dusted Bills CB Vontae Davis, then juked half of Buffalo’s secondary to slip in for the score.

Score Prediction: Bengals 30, Colts 20" data-reactid="28">

Houston @ New England

Team Totals: Patriots 28.5, Texans 22.5

Tom Brady shredded Houston for 378 yards and five TDs in last year’s Week 3 meeting, while New England managed just one rushing first down compared to 16 first downs via the pass. Particularly with Texans LE J.J. Watt and OLB Whitney Mercilus back healthy after they combined to miss 22 games, expect the Patriots to employ another pass-first approach designed to get the ball out quickly. The quarterback position’s preeminent model of consistency, Brady has passed for 300-plus yards and/or multiple touchdowns in 30 of his last 36 games (83%). He averaged 377.3 yards with an 8:0 TD-to-INT ratio in the playoffs. … As knee injuries cost Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel much of camp, James White is the odds-on favorite to lead New England’s backfield in Week 1 snaps. White is a receiving specialist, and Texans ILB Benardrick McKinney is a coverage liability after allowing 82.8% of targets aimed his way to be completed last season. The Patriots rarely use White as a high-volume back, but he offers some PPR flex appeal based on matchup and an increased role as New England deals with shortcomings at wide receiver. … Burkhead is less of a medical concern than Michel, whom beat writers still believe may not dress. And Burkhead excels in the passing game, which should be the focus of New England’s game plan. Among running backs who drew at least 30 targets last year, only Alvin Kamara averaged more yards per route run than Burkhead. Overall, Burkhead ran a route on 52% of his snaps. As Burkhead also has a shot to maintain goal-line duties, he is a higher-ceiling if riskier fantasy bet than White. … Jeremy Hill beat out Mike Gillislee and poses the biggest threat to Burkhead’s goal-line role, but Hill’s activity remains to be seen. A one-dimensional grinder, Hill’s weekly participation figures to be opponent based.

There has never been a more exciting time to have fantasy exposure to Rob Gronkowski, who offers 15-target upside as New England deals with backfield injuries, Julian Edelman’s four-game ban, and Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola’s offseason losses. Gronk parlayed ten targets into 8/89/1 receiving against Houston last Week 3, and only five teams allowed more yards to tight ends than the 2017 Texans (922). … Chris Hogan also stands to benefit from pass-catcher shortages, and he too paid major dividends in these teams’ 2017 meeting (4/68/2). The Texans are extremely vulnerable on the perimeter, where RCB Kevin Johnson finished dead last among 121 qualified cornerbacks in PFF’s 2017 coverage grades and 34-year-old LCB Johnathan Joseph is on his last legs. Hogan ran 58% of his routes outside last year. … Phillip Dorsett will hold down New England’s interim No. 2 wideout role until Edelman returns, although run-after-catch specialist Cordarrelle Patterson, No. 2 TE Jacob Hollister, and versatile RBs White and Burkhead all factor in as complementary options behind Gronk and Hogan. Dorsett’s target share is far from bankable, but he does offer some long-shot DFS tournament appeal against a Texans secondary that will struggle to slow boundary receivers all year. Dorsett ran 87% of his preseason routes outside.

Deshaun Watson answered with 301 passing yards, two TDs, and 41 yards rushing in Foxboro last Week 3 despite not yet having Will Fuller (collarbone) and leaning on Bruce Ellington and Ryan Griffin as Nos. 2 and 3 options behind DeAndre Hopkins. The Patriots did address their defense aggressively, signing RE Adrian Clayborn, trading for NT Danny Shelton and DB Jason McCourty, and returning difference-maker WLB

Dont’a Hightower after he missed 11 games. Watson’s dual threat and fearless downfield passing style keep him among Week 1’s highest-ceiling quarterback plays in this likely shootout. … The Texans used Lamar Miller as an every-down back all preseason, while Alfred Blue ran strictly with the twos. Miller’s secure passing-game role raises his floor in matchups where Houston is in danger of falling behind. Watt and Mercilus’ returns increase the odds the Texans stay competitive, making Miller a viable if non-exciting RB2/flex play with what should be a 15-touch floor.

Beginning with most recent, DeAndre Hopkins’ career receiving lines against Bill Belichick’s defenses are 7/76/0 > 6/65/0 > 4/56/0 > 3/52/0 > 2/77/0. The Patriots did not shadow Hopkins with top CB Stephon Gilmore on every snap last year, but those two did match up most. It’s perhaps noteworthy that Gilmore struggled this preseason, coughing up a 6/106/0 stat line on nine targets. The Patriots’ other boundary corner is Eric Rowe, a frequent liability against whom Hopkins would certainly eat. … Will Fuller sat out the end of August with a hamstring injury but is expected to be all systems go for Week 1. A 4.32 burner with elite vertical separation skills, Fuller’s game is a perfect match for Watson’s aggressiveness. As a rookie, Watson attempted a league-high 19.6% of his throws 20-plus yards downfield. And during their four starts together, Fuller absurdly caught seven touchdowns on only 13 receptions. As complementary pass catchers failed to assert themselves in Texans camp, Fuller should open the season with a more secure and voluminous target share than his one-trick-pony reputation suggests. He’s a high-upside WR2/3 play in what should be a high-scoring game. … Griffin, rookie TE Jordan Akins, Ellington, and rookie slot WR Keke Coutee are lower-pecking-order names to keep in mind as we move forward.

Score Prediction: Patriots 30, Texans 27

San Francisco @ Minnesota

Team Totals: Vikings 26.5, 49ers 20

The Vikings’ high-octane passing game should impose its will on San Francisco’s makeshift pass defense, which is painfully short on edge rushers after striking out on Khalil Mack while counting on LCB Richard Sherman coming off a torn Achilles’ at age 30. Sherman battled a multi-week hamstring pull in August, and camp reports had him struggling in coverage when healthy. This defense was led in sacks by Elvis Dumervil (6.5) last season, and he is now retired.

Kirk Cousins has been more efficient indoors (100.7 rating, 8.30 YPA) than outdoors (92.4, 7.63) in his career and will now play beneath U.S. Bank Stadium’s dome. New OC John DeFilippo helped design a 2017 Eagles offense potent enough for Nick Foles to win Super Bowl MVP. Cousins is a high-floor, high-ceiling QB1. … Minnesota’s biggest concern is its offensive line, which turns to journeyman Tom Compton in place of LG Nick Easton (neck, I.R.) and Brett Jones at center with Pat Elflein (ankle, shoulder) on the shelf. Jones was acquired 13 days before Week 1 after getting beaten out by Jon Halapio in Giants camp. These are worrisome developments against rising-star 49ers DT DeForest Buckner. Returning from a torn ACL, also notable for Dalvin Cook’s prospects were signs all preseason that he’ll form a committee with Latavius Murray, who will at very least siphon goal-line work after finishing top five in carries inside the five-yard line in back-to-back years. Run-game pluses are the absence of difference-making 49ers MLB Reuben Foster (suspension) and WLB Malcolm Smith’s balky hamstring. Last year’s Vikings running backs did combine to average 33.2 touches per game, and a fair Week 1 projection would keep Cook in the 18-20 touch hunt as a mid-range to high-end RB2. Murray remains the favorite for bunny TDs and is an underrated non-PPR flex.

Stefon Diggs ran a team-high 45% of his routes at left cornerbacks last season and should match up most with LCB Sherman in what projects as a severe mismatch. Diggs’ light-speed quickness would be tough for Sherman to handle even in his prime. Historically a fast starter before enduring nagging groin injuries in each of the last two years, Diggs’ last two Week 1 receiving lines are 7/103/0 and 7/93/2. He is a legit WR1 play versus San Francisco. … Perimeter player Laquon Treadwell’s victory in the Vikings’ No. 3 wideout battle locks Adam Thielen into the slot, where PFF charted him with the highest target rate in the league (25%) last season among 29 qualified slot receivers. Fellow slot man Jamison Crowder was Cousins’ top receiver in Washington. … The return of SS Jaquiski Tartt will upgrade San Francisco’s tight end coverage after Tartt shined as his team’s designated TE stopper in last year’s opening nine games. Kyle Rudolph remains squarely in the low-end TE1 hunt with 15 touchdown catches over the last two seasons in an offense whose defense will create short fields, increasing red-zone trips. Per PFF’s Scott Barrett, Cousins has targeted tight ends at a career 24.5% rate, well above NFL average (20.8%).

The 49ers head north to face a Vikings defense that allowed just eight TDs in eight 2017 home games and has held its last ten home-game opponents to scoring totals of 24 > 10 > 7 > 7 > 16 > 10 > 14 > 17 > 19 > 10, “good” for a 13.4-point average. Mike Zimmer’s team returns every critical member of a defense that yielded a league-low 12 passing touchdowns and added difference-maker DT Sheldon Richardson, first-round CB Mike Hughes, and ex-Bengals FS George Iloka. One way to describe Jimmy Garoppolo as a Week 1 play would be “contrarian.” … 49ers beat writers expect Kyle Shanahan to take a “hot-hand”’ running back approach after Jerick McKinnon’s ACL tear. Alfred Morris is the favorite to eventually emerge as lead back with 24 pounds on Matt Breida, a perfect durability track record – Morris, incredibly, has never missed a game in six NFL seasons – and a highly successful history in Shanahan's outside-zone scheme. Morris was outstanding in Dallas last year, finishing No. 7 among 47 running backs in Football Outsiders’ Rushing Success Rate and No. 4 among 53 qualifiers in PFF’s yards-after-contact per attempt. At 5’9/195 with checkered durability and minimal passing-game success, Breida has long been ticketed for the “Tevin Coleman Role” as an 8-11 touch change-of-pace back. Neither is a quality play at Minnesota, but the schedule loosens up after this (vs. DET, @ KC, @ LAC, vs. ARZ, @ GB).

Since Morris has never caught passes and Breida never topped 11 receptions in a college season before finishing second among NFL running backs in drops (6) last year on only 36 targets, versatile FB Kyle Juszczyk is set up for a major passing-game role. “Juice” has averaged 37 catches over the past three years and averaged 4.0 targets in San Francisco’s final seven 2017 games. Unfortunately, last year’s Vikings yielded the NFL’s third-fewest receiving yards (489) to running backs. … No 49ers pass catcher has a favorable Week 1 matchup. My expectation is Pierre Garcon will attract Xavier Rhodes’ shadow, intimidating for a 32-year-old receiver coming off a neck injury with three TDs in his last 24 games. … LCB Trae Waynes is the style of cornerback to cause speedster Marquise Goodwin fits with 4.31 jets and a physical, handsy game common among Michigan State alums. Goodwin remains the obvious play here. He drew a team-high 43 targets during Garoppolo’s 2017 time under center and finished tenth in the league in Air Yards. His stat lines in Jimmy G’s starts were 8/99/0 > 6/106/0 > 10/114/0 > 3/37/0 > 2/28/1. … Minnesota also returns all critical components of a defense that shut down tight ends last season, holding the position to the NFL’s third-fewest yards (596). It’s a convenient wait-and-see week for George Kittle, who missed most of camp with a separated shoulder and has an uncertain Week 1 role. Kittle does offer massive season-long touchdown upside in a passing game desperate for scoring-position threats. Kittle led San Francisco in red-zone targets (16) as a rookie and hit pay dirt on 23.8% of his receptions over his final two years at Iowa. For context, Rob Gronkowski scored on “only” 21.3% of his college catches.

Score Prediction: Vikings 28, 49ers 20

Tennessee @ Miami

Team Totals: Titans 23, Dolphins 22

Kenyan Drake enters 2018 with uncertain usage after Miami beat writers all offseason claimed he’d share time with Frank Gore, and the Dolphins themselves listed Drake and Gore as co-starters on their Week 1 depth chart. The fact of the matter is Adam Gase would make an egregious mistake to not employ Drake as a true feature back. He’s simply earned it, averaging 4.96 yards across 166 NFL carries and 6.80 in the 2018 preseason, finishing last year top five in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency, and erupting to average a league-high 118.8 yards from scrimmage on 21.6 touches over Miami’s final five games. In what projects as a close Week 1 contest that could go either way, Drake should have no game-script concerns and warrants being fed early and often. Last year’s Titans were particularly leaky to running backs in the passing game, yielding a league-high 967 receiving yards to the position. … The Dolphins used Ryan Tannehill as a low-volume game manager in his last healthy season (2016), limiting him to 29.9 pass attempts per game with QB21 fantasy results before Tannehill’s Week 14 ACL tear. As Tannehill endured another tear in the meantime, it is sensible to expect Gase to resume conservative usage from both passing and rushing standpoints. Tannehill is a mere two-quarterback-league option.

One matchup advantage on which Miami could capitalize is Tennessee’s depleted pass rush with Harold Landry (ankle) out and Derrick Morgan (knee) at less than full strength. More time for Tannehill can give more deep-ball chances to Kenny Stills, who quietly set a career high in targets (105) last season and is the favorite to lead Miami in 2018 receiving. Stills ran 47% of his 2017 routes inside and averaged 1.76 yards per slot route, best on the team over departed Jarvis Landry (1.59). Stills’ floor is never safe, but he offers upside as a WR3/flex. … Danny Amendola has played nine NFL seasons and never cleared 700 yards, but the Fins are forcing him into a near-full-time role in three-receiver sets. Camp reports consistently claimed Amendola had emerged as Tannehill’s favorite practice target, and he delivered a 2/23/1 receiving line on just 20 snaps in Miami’s third preseason game. It would not be surprising if Amendola led the Dolphins in Week 1 catches. His main coverage adversary projects as Logan Ryan, who lacks short-area quickness to hang with Amendola in the slot. Amendola is an underrated PPR option. … DeVante Parker (hand) won’t play, leaving Miami’s No. 3 role in three-wideout sets to some combination of Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant. … MarQueis Gray’s Achilles’ tear locks in second-round pick Mike Gesicki as Miami’s full-time tight end. Gesicki was a ghost in August, catching one pass for ten yards on 57 preseason snaps. Gesicki’s sheer opportunity does put him in the TE2 mix.

Learning a new offense under Kyle Shanahan-Sean McVay disciple OC Matt LaFleur, Marcus Mariota enters 2018 as an unknown after an ugly preseason in which he bombed the third game against Pittsburgh, repeatedly missing Corey Davis for would-be big plays and throwing a gimme pick under panicked duress. Even against an unimposing Dolphins pass defense, Mariota can only be viewed as shaky QB2. … For as long as the passing game lacks reliability, LaFleur would be smart to lean heavily on his two-headed backfield with Derrick Henry carrying the mail. Tennessee returns all five offensive line starters to face a Miami run defense that has finished 15th or worse in DVOA in five straight years. So long as this game stays close – Vegas projects it will with a one-point spread – Henry should be fed voluminously as the Titans’ early-down and goal-line back. In MLB Raekwon McMillan (6’1/240), rookie WLB Jerome Baker (6’1/229), and SLB Kiko Alonso (6’3/238), each of the Dolphins’ starting linebackers is at a severe size disadvantage versus Henry (6’3/247). Over the course of the season, very few running backs’ touchdown ceilings are as high as Henry’s. … Preseason usage suggested Dion Lewis will operate as Tennessee’s pace-change and third-down back, likely handling 9-12 touches depending on game flow. This game’s flow projects as balanced, giving Henry the prognosticative edge. When Lewis does get the ball, he'll have a matchup advantage on coverage liabilities McMillan and Alonso.

Mariota has the longest-standing rapport with Delanie Walker among Titans pass catchers, convenient since last year’s Dolphins allowed the league’s second-most yards (1,034) and TDs (10) to tight ends. Walker led the 2017 Titans in red-zone targets (12) and targets inside the ten (8) and has cleared 800 yards in four straight years. He is a steady TE1 in a mouth-watering draw. … Corey Davis stayed healthy in camp but didn’t catch a single preseason pass and, like his quarterback, enters 2018 as an unknown. Davis also figures to draw the most of budding-star RCB Xavien Howard’s coverage. Until we see actual evidence of an improved rapport with Mariota, Davis will be a dicey WR3. … Rishard Matthews is yet another unknown after being activated from PUP just two weeks before Week 1. He did not play in the preseason, and after Wednesday’s practice admitted he expects to be “eased in” to the new offense. I do not pretend to know how he’ll be used. … Tajae Sharpe ran ahead of explosive playmaker Taywan Taylor in the last two exhibition games. We’ll learn if LaFleur is serious about that in the first real one.

Score Prediction: Dolphins 24, Titans 20

Cincinnati @ Indianapolis

Team Totals: Colts 25.5, Bengals 22.5

Back after missing the entire 2017 season with a severe throwing-shoulder injury, Andrew Luck catches a worrisome Week 1 draw against a vicious Bengals defensive front behind a pieced-together Colts line that struggled to pass protect this preseason. LT Anthony Castonzo (hamstring) is iffy after missing all of camp, and rising-star Bengals RE Carl Lawson is capable of exploiting him at less than 100%, let alone backup

Le’Raven Clark, who got pulverized in five starts last season. Cincinnati returns every key cornerback and pass-rush component from a defense that last year allowed the NFL’s eighth-fewest touchdown passes (20) while ranking top 11 in sacks (41) and QB hits (98). The Colts appear poised to resort to a dink-and-dunk passing game; just two of Luck’s 41 preseason attempts traveled 20-plus yards downfield. Luck’s average depth of target was 5.7 yards after never before in his career finishing a season with an aDOT lower than 8.4. The Bengals’ D/ST is squarely in play here, and Luck is a high-risk start. … Indy’s line also showed no ability to create running lanes in August, while backfield snaps remain up for grabs between rookies Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines and long-unreliable Christine Michael. Marlon Mack (hamstring) returned to practice Thursday, further muddying the touch distribution. Until running back roles become defined and the Colts demonstrate any semblance of run-blocking capability, this will be a fantasy situation to avoid.

T.Y. Hilton’s indoor-outdoor splits should be common knowledge to DFS players by now; he averages a career 4.9/80.3/0.43 receiving line indoors versus 4.1/60.3/0.25 in outdoor environments. One matchup concern is the emergence of Bengals RCB William Jackson III as a true shutdown force after he allowed a league-low 34.9% catch rate on 45 targets last season, as well as the NFL’s second-lowest passer rating (36.1) among 121 qualified corners. Hilton did continue to run 35% of his preseason routes in the slot, while Jackson played outside 97% of the time last year. As Hilton has averaged 15.1 career PPR points per game with Luck but just 11.3 when Luck doesn’t play, T.Y. should stay locked into lineups as a WR2. … Arguably an even more confident fantasy play is Jack Doyle, who dominated first-team reps all August and catches the Bengals without WLB Vontaze Burfict (suspension) after Doyle shredded Cincinnati’s defense for 12/121/1 with Jacoby Brissett quarterbacking last Week 8. Doyle runs short routes that perfectly suit the Colts’ new dink-and-dunk approach. … No. 2 receiver Ryan Grant and slot man Chester Rogers are possession types vying for peripheral targets with Eric Ebron, whose exact role is to be determined after working clearly behind Doyle all August. Ebron even ran a lower percentage of slot routes (49%) in the preseason than Doyle (52%) and may need a Doyle injury to become fantasy viable.

Andy Dalton is Week 1’s top QB1 streamer indoors against a talent-poor Colts defense that cut top pass rusher John Simon and fields the NFL’s worst cornerback unit, where RCB Pierre Desir is on his fourth team in five seasons and LCB Kenny Moore is a second-year undrafted free agent. With A.J. Green back, Tyler Eifert healthy (for now), John Ross coming off an at-times dynamic August, slot man Tyler Boyd poised for third-year improvement, Joe Mixon showing big-time receiving ability all preseason, and O-Line upgrades via LT Cordy Glenn and first-round C Billy Price, this sets up as Dalton’s best supporting cast since 2015, when he ranked top seven among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game. … After a sluggish rookie year, Joe Mixon reported to Bengals camp at 218, down 20 pounds from his first minicamp two Mays ago. He showed improved quickness in the exhibition season, ripping off two 20-plus-yard receptions including a highlight-reel touchdown where Mixon broke two tackles en route to pay dirt. Colts MLB Anthony Walker (groin) and WLB Darius Leonard (ankle, chest) both emerged from the preseason banged up, and overall Indianapolis is starved for quality front-seven defenders. Giovani Bernard figures to handle around 30% of the Bengals’ backfield work, but Mixon can flirt with RB1 production on a 60-70% workshare, especially in a cake matchup like this.

A.J. Green should start hot against Indy’s burnable cornerback corps, and his career home-road splits are worth pointing out. In an equal 51-51 game sample, Green has averaged a 6.1/90.8/0.63 stat line away from Cincinnati versus 4.8/70.2/0.49 at home. Green won’t get a better matchup all year. … The Bengals smartly gave Tyler Eifert late-career Antonio Gates treatment this preseason, using him as a route runner on 13-of-14 snaps. No. 2 TE Tyler Kroft can handle blocking duties. Essentially a full-time receiver now, Eifert is an underrated TE1 play with high-scoring potential who is sure to go overlooked in DFS. Eifert has scored on 15.7% of his career catches, just below Rob Gronkowski’s 16.0% mark. Last year’s Colts allowed the NFL’s 12th-most fantasy points to tight ends, and this year’s defense may be even more vulnerable to the position under Tampa-2 zone proponent DC Matt Eberflus. … John Ross is expected to be a popular DFS play, and the matchup certainly is right. I’m not totally sold Ross will play clearly ahead of Josh Malone, however, and Tyler Boyd has a similar target projection, if not higher. Ross is a tournament-only dart throw with a low floor but obvious big-play potential. Ross caught just 4-of-13 preseason targets, but three of his catches gained 20-plus yards, including a 57-yard touchdown bomb where Ross dusted Bills CB Vontae Davis, then juked half of Buffalo’s secondary to slip in for the score.

Score Prediction: Bengals 30, Colts 20

Pittsburgh @ Cleveland

Team Totals: Steelers 24, Browns 20

The Browns enter 2018 with all the makings of a prolific rushing attack quarterbacked by dual-threat Tyrod Taylor behind an elite interior offensive line which sprung Carlos Hyde for 17/108/6.4/1 rushing this preseason despite missing dominant RG Kevin Zeitler until the exhibition finale. Hyde soundly beat out Nick Chubb and won’t struggle for 16-plus carries so long as his team stays competitive. Cleveland lost its last three meetings with Pittsburgh by only 4, 3, and 4 points, and this game’s spread has moved significantly in the Browns’ direction since opening at Pittsburgh favored by 6.5. At home, Hue Jackson’s club should stay close enough for Hyde to pay RB2 dividends. The Browns project as a run-first team; Taylor’s Bills ranked 31st, 32nd, and 31st in pass attempts. Last year’s Steelers allowed just 4.06 yards per carry with ILB Ryan Shazier (neck), but were gashed for 5.11 YPC without him. … Tyrod’s scrambling ability gives him upside against a molasses-slow Steelers defense that never recovered from Shazier’s loss and did nothing to replace him. Quarterbacks facing Pittsburgh without Shazier averaged 8.01 yards per attempt versus 7.35 with Shazier on the field. Taylor’s multiple avenues to score fantasy points buoy his floor, and Tyrod’s vertical-passing prowess gives him upside. PFF’s Scott Barrett noted that Taylor has the NFL’s highest yards-per-attempt average against zone coverage (9.3) over the past two seasons. Last year’s Steelers ran zone at an 80% clip. Tyrod is an underrated streamer and exciting DFS play.

Jarvis Landry formed an on-field bond with Taylor in August and sets up as his Week 1 go-to guy. Even as silly buzz circulated Landry would play outside more, he ran 75% of his preseason routes in the slot, where Pittsburgh’s zone will allow Landry to get matched up with linebackers and safeties. Landry is a volume-based WR2. … Cleveland’s highest-ceiling wideout is of course Josh Gordon, who won’t draw the nominal “start” but should play starter-caliber snaps. In his first game back from suspension last year, Gordon logged 76% of Cleveland’s Week 13 offensive downs and drew 11 targets, which he parlayed into 4/85/0 receiving against Chargers shutdown CB Casey Hayward with deer-in-headlights rookie DeShone Kizer at quarterback. Gordon’s risk is obvious, but he offers one of the highest wideout upsides on the Week 1 slate. The Steelers return every starter from a cornerback unit that last year allowed the NFL’s fourth-most TDs to wide receivers (16). … A year after embarrassing themselves by playing future star David Njoku on just 46% of offensive snaps, the Browns committed to Njoku as a near-90% member of their first-team unit in camp. Njoku capitalized for 6/71/2 receiving on only seven preseason targets. Njoku’s floor is low on what should be a run-first team, but his big-play ability is undeniable as a fringe TE1.

More reason for Carlos Hyde optimism is Pittsburgh’s persistent struggles away from Heinz Field. Mike Tomlin’s club has averaged over seven fewer points per game on the road than at home over the past three years. Ben Roethlisberger’s last four yardage/touchdown/interception totals in road games at Cleveland are an uneven 263/2/1 > 167/0 > 349/3/2 > 228/1/1. Roethlisberger did average 7.80 yards per attempt in road games versus 7.39 at home last year, throwing at least some cold water on his environment-based narrative. Big Ben has also averaged 331.5 passing yards per game with

Le’Veon Bell out of the lineup over the past three seasons, a massive improvement on his 275.3-yard average when Le’Veon plays. Roethlisberger is still a quality QB1, but his outlook is more volatile than usual, especially against a Browns defense that is far more talented than most believe. … James Conner can expect every-down usage as a fringe RB1 play in Bell’s absence after a standout preseason in which Conner logged 19/100/5.3/1 rushing and 7/61/0 receiving on only 56 snaps. Last year’s Steelers ran 65.7 offensive plays per game – ninth most in the league – and this year’s team should push for even more with new OC Randy Fichtner expected to implement more no-huddle/up-tempo concepts per Big Ben’s wish. It would be surprising if Conner did not push for 20 touches with a lucrative passing-game role.

Over the past three seasons, Antonio Brown’s per-game averages skyrocketed from 10.3 targets for 90.7 yards to 13.7 targets for 135.1 yards in 12 games missed by Le’Veon. As always, Brown is the overall WR1 play on the slate. … Martavis Bryant’s exit, Bell’s absence, and Vance McDonald’s foot injury set up JuJu Smith-Schuster to start fast at Cleveland. As the Steelers are expected to use one of perimeter WRs James Washington and Justin Hunter opposite Brown, Smith-Schuster will dominate snaps in the slot, where he ranked No. 1 among 29 qualifiers in PFF’s yards per route run last season. JuJu is an every-week WR2 with WR1 upside. … Washington blew up for 5/114/2 receiving in the second preseason game, then suffered an abdominal injury the next week and wasn’t heard from for the rest of August. Washington did practice this week and is expected to play, but his exact role still needs to be sorted out. … McDonald was plagued by knee, back, and ankle injuries all last season, then missed all but the first week of training camp with a mysterious foot injury. He did not practice on Thursday. If McDonald can’t go, usual blocker Jesse James would be worthy of low-end DFS punt consideration. Browns DC Gregg Williams’ defense gets torched by tight ends by playing its free safety in punt-return alignment and using three linebackers on passing downs. James dumped a 6/41/2 receiving line on Cleveland last Week 1.

Score Prediction: Browns 21, Steelers 20

4:05 PM ET Game

Kansas City @ LA Chargers

Team Totals: Chargers 25.5, Chiefs 22.5

Favored at home against a swiss-cheese Chiefs run defense that finished 25th and 32nd in DVOA the past two seasons under DC Bob Sutton, Melvin Gordon is a top-five RB1 play behind what should be the best run blocking of his career. Mike Pouncey is a big upgrade at center, LG Dan Feeney is entering his second year, and 2017 second-round pick Forrest Lamp is back from an ACL tear to eventually start at right guard. Gordon has scored four touchdowns over his past three meetings with Sutton’s group, including a 25-touch, 169-yard, one-TD eruption last Week 15. Over the past three years, Kansas City has allowed nearly seven more points per game on the road than at home. … Philip Rivers’ track record against Sutton’s unit isn’t as successful; beginning with most recent, Rivers’ yardage/touchdown/interception totals versus the Chiefs are 227/1/3 > 237/0/3 > 269/2/2 > 243/1/0 > 263/0/1 > 178/0/1. This matchup is still too mouth watering to pass up. Having moved on from top CB Marcus Peters, the Chiefs will start what amount to three slot corners in their nickel package in RCB Steven Nelson, LCB Orlando Scandrick, and SCB Kendall Fuller. Ex-All-Pro SS Eric Berry was idle for most of August with a heel injury and won't play this week, ominous coming off an Achilles’ tear. Kansas City’s free safety competition remained wide open deep into camp. The Chiefs showed their concern by trading for two defensive backs (S Jordan Lucas, CB Charvarius Ward) at final cuts. The Chargers should be able to impose their will on this defense with Rivers early, then allow Gordon to salt the game away late.

Even at age 38 after missing all of camp, Antonio Gates should soon take over as Rivers’ go-to receiving tight end. In

Hunter Henry’s three career missed games, Gates has logged stat lines of 5/75/1, 6/81/1, and 4/46/0 on 8, 6, and 6 targets. Even as Gates played just 47% of Los Angeles’ 2017 offensive snaps, he drew the NFL’s second-most targets inside the ten-yard line among tight ends (10) while playing behind Henry. The Chiefs annually pose one of the NFL’s toughest tight end matchups, but Gates will be stream-able by no later than Week 2. … No member of the Chiefs’ secondary can realistically hang with Keenan Allen, who is set up for major positive-touchdown regression after leading all NFL receivers in red-zone targets (24) and targets inside the ten (15) but scoring just six TDs on 102 catches (5.9%). Allen’s prior career TD rate was 7.2%. In this cupcake matchup, Allen is a top-seven WR1 play on the Week 1 slate. … I’m taking a wait-and-see approach with the rest of Los Angeles’ wideouts. Tyrell Williams is the tentative favorite for No. 2 duties, but he missed the final two weeks of camp with a foot injury. 2017 No. 7 overall pick Mike Williams has an uncertain role muddied by Gates’ return. Travis Benjamin is a rotating deep threat.

Patrick Mahomes will make his second career start on the road against a Chargers secondary that returns 4-of-5 starters from last year’s No. 9 DVOA-rated pass defense and added No. 17 overall pick Derwin James. A cannon-armed gunslinger with legitimate rushing-touchdown upside, Mahomes is non-benchable in season-long leagues but also a viable target for the Chargers’ D/ST. Mahomes threw 25 picks over his final two years at Texas Tech, and last year’s Bolts finished top six in interceptions (18). Chargers RE Joey Bosa’s (foot) absence does help solidify Mahomes as a top-12 QB1 and attractive DFS tournament option. A strong possibility to shoot out, this matchup as a whole offers DFS game-stack appeal. … Fresh off leading the league in rushing yards (1,327), Kareem Hunt benefits from third-down/two-minute back Charcandrick West’s release in the passing game, where Andy Reid has vowed to use Hunt more in his sophomore year. Spencer Ware’s apparently-healthy return threatens Hunt’s scoring-position usage, but he can partly compensate with more catches after turning 63 targets into 53/445/3 receiving as a rookie. Chargers DC Gus Bradley’s defense yielded the NFL’s 13th-most catches (89) to running backs last season, including a Week 15 receiving line of 7/51/1 to Hunt himself.

Mahomes showed a supreme August rapport with Tyreek Hill, who efficiently parlayed 16 preseason targets into 14/182/1 receiving after twice overcoming Los Angeles’ stout secondary for 5/77/1 and 5/88/1 stat lines last year. TyFreak burned All-Pro CB Casey Hayward for a 64-yard TD bomb in the second game. Hayward also battled a hamstring injury for the final two-plus weeks of camp. On a team whose pass attempts will be elevated by its leaky defense, Hill should be viewed as a matchup-agnostic top-ten WR1. … In contrast, offseason reports stated Sammy Watkins struggled to get on the same page as Mahomes before managing a solitary 14-yard reception on seven preseason targets. The Chiefs are running Watkins in the slot on 50% of his routes in an effort to create plus matchups and theoretically keep Watkins away from Hayward and underrated RCB Trevor Williams. Slot CB Desmond King is coming off a terrific rookie season, however, and Watkins’ to-date lack of chemistry with Mahomes renders him a low-floor WR3/flex in this tough draw. … Bradley’s Cover 3 defense contained Travis Kelce twice last season (1/1/0, 6/46/0), although the first was a cinch 24-10 win in which Alex Smith threw only 21 passes, and Kelce drew seven targets in the second but dropped a potential touchdown deep in the red zone. Rob Gronkowski and Zach Ertz have more favorable matchups, but Kelce remains a top-three TE1 on the Week 1 slate.

Score Prediction: Chargers 30, Chiefs 24

4:25 PM ET Games

Seattle @ Denver

Team Totals: Broncos 22.5, Seahawks 20

The Broncos have a decided early-season edge in Colorado’s thin air; since 1989, Denver has incredibly gone 31-3 in Weeks 1-2 home games. This bodes well for rookie power back Royce Freeman, who lit up the preseason for 15/84/5.6/3 rushing and offers 20-carry upside as a home-favorite bellcow on a team that last year ranked No. 6 in running back carries. Seattle’s once-imposing defense has been decimated by injuries and departures, losing DE Michael Bennett, DE Cliff Avril, SS Kam Chancellor, DT Sheldon Richardson, CB Richard Sherman, and CB Byron Maxwell. WLB K.J. Wright won’t play after late-camp knee surgery, and All-Pro FS Earl Thomas’ availability is uncertain after his full-camp holdout. Freeman split first-team reps evenly with Devontae Booker in August and is unlikely to offer receiving value, but he can smash this matchup if Denver stays in positive game script, which the spread suggests they should do. … Seattle’s defensive deterioration also boosts Case Keenum’s outlook as a two-quarterback-league starter and low-end streamer. OC Bill Musgrave would still likely prefer to limit Keenum’s pass volume in a game-manager role, instead leaning on Freeman and Denver’s Von Miller-keyed defense.

Emmanuel Sanders ran 64% of his preseason routes in the slot – way up from last year’s 27% mark – and was by far Keenum’s favorite receiver in August, unsurprising after Keenum targeted Adam Thielen at a league-high 25% clip on slot routes in Minnesota. This is likely to be the year Sanders passes Demaryius Thomas as Denver’s top wideout. Fellow slot receivers Larry Fitzgerald (8/55/0, 10/113/0) and Nelson Agholor (7/141/1) notably had big games working the middle of Seattle’s Cover 3 in the second half of 2017. … Perimeter wideouts Thomas and Courtland Sutton will contend with promising second-year LCB Shaq Griffin and annual burn victim RCB Dontae Johnson, who was forced into the lineup by Maxwell’s hip injury. Thomas remains a viable WR3 play, but small-sample preseason usage suggests Sutton will run more routes on Johnson’s side of the field and offers some dart-throw sleeper appeal as a WR4/flex. One of my boldest 2018 predictions is that Sutton outproduces Thomas in yards and TDs on the year. … Working in favor of Sanders, Thomas, and Sutton’s target shares is Denver’s lack of proven receiving talent at tight end. Starter Jeff Heuerman never exceeded 26 catches in four seasons at Ohio State and has just 18 grabs through 26 NFL games. Heuerman will share time with second-year TE Jake Butt.

Chris Carson soundly beat out Rashaad Penny to open the season as Seattle’s lead back with Penny presumably changing the pace and C.J. Prosise mixing in on passing downs. Bolstered by No. 5 overall pick Bradley Chubb, Denver otherwise returns the same front seven from a run defense that finished No. 3 in DVOA and gets back difference-maker LE Derek Wolfe at full strength. Carson is a risky RB2/flex play as a road-dog running back with still-somewhat-uncertain usage in a difficult draw. He won't be helped by mauling RG

D.J. Fluker's (hamstring) absence. … Having swapped out Aqib Talib for 30-year-old journeyman Tramaine Brock, Denver’s secondary is much less imposing than it once was. Of more concern for Russell Wilson is the Broncos’ Miller-led and Chubb-infused pass rush combined with Doug Baldwin’s knee injury and Week 1 matchup with shutdown slot corner Chris Harris. The Seahawks hired run-first proponent OCB Brian Schottenheimer with an eye on reducing pass volume, and released red-zone dominator Jimmy Graham, who accounted for nearly a third of Wilson’s NFL-high 34 passing scores, eight of which Graham scored from the six-yard line and in. Wilson remains an every-week starter in season-long leagues, but it is reasonable to lower expectations for Week 1.

Harris’ slot coverage and his own health are Week 1 concerns for Baldwin, but his volume projection is not, especially in scoring position. Graham and Paul Richardson’s exits vacated a whopping 37 red-zone targets, including 21 inside the ten-yard line. After Graham tore his patellar tendon in 2015, Baldwin logged an otherworldly 94/1,308/24 receiving pace over Seattle’s final eight games, including the playoffs. … Fresh off inking a three-year, $31.8 million extension, Tyler Lockett will operate as the Seahawks’ go-to outside receiver against burnable RCB Brock and inconsistent LCB Bradley Roby. An intriguing opportunity- and matchup-based WR3/flex option, Lockett’s outlook is elevated by Seattle’s likely inability to run the ball successfully on Denver’s front. … Seattle’s three-receiver set will be rounded out by either 34-year-old Brandon Marshall – who looked surprisingly spry this preseason – or ex-Cardinals WR Jaron Brown. 2017 seventh-round pick David Moore is also in the mix after making big plays in the contested-catch game throughout August. … As Ed Dickson (groin) was placed on reserve/PUP, Nick Vannett is Seattle’s favorite for tight end snaps. Vannett, who runs a 4.89 forty, never reached 20 catches in a season during a four-year college career and blocked on 65% of his 2017 snaps.

Score Prediction: Broncos 24, Seahawks 20

Dallas @ Carolina

Team Totals: Panthers 22.5, Cowboys 20

Christian McCaffrey’s near-clean sweep of first-team preseason snaps bodes promisingly for his chances of handling workhorse usage after averaging just 12.3 touches per game as a rookie. McCaffrey’s all-purpose role renders him matchup proof, immediately notable against an underrated Dallas defense that last year yielded just 3.52 yards per carry with WLB Sean Lee on the field, versus 4.88 without him. The Cowboys were generous to running backs in the passing game, however, yielding the NFL’s sixth-most catches (97) and receiving yards (800) to the position. Dallas did lose run-stopping MLB Anthony Hitchens in free agency and star DT David Irving to suspension, while first-round LB Leighton Vander Esch disappointingly failed to earn a starting job. Favored at home with 20-plus touches well within his range of potential outcomes, McCaffrey is a top-eight RB1 play right off the bat. … The Panthers’ offensive line endured a laundry list of training-camp injuries, but LT Taylor Moton has a real chance to upgrade on Matt Kalil (knee), while RT Daryl Williams (knee) and LG Amini Silatolu (knee) both returned surprisingly quickly. Even without Irving, the Cowboys maintain a trench-war edge with supremely talented RE Randy Gregory bookending franchise player LE DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford kicking back inside to his natural position. Dallas’ pass rush is strong enough to give Cam Newton fits in the pocket, but Newton’s running ability raises his ceiling and floor. And Cam’s supporting cast is arguably the most complete of his career with Greg Olsen healthy, Devin Funchess coming off a breakout year, and McCaffrey capable of turning short catches into big gains.

After returning from last year’s Jones fracture in his foot, Olsen showed his 33-year-old tank was far from empty with an 8/107/1 stat line in Carolina’s playoff loss to New Orleans. He looked all the way back with 4/44/0 receiving on just 31 snaps in the Panthers’ third preseason game. Last year’s Cowboys allowed the NFL’s 11th-most catches to tight ends, and Olsen’s matchup is upgraded by Dallas’ loss of SS

Xavier Woods (hamstring), who will be replaced by banged-up special teamer

Kavon Frazier (shoulder). … As first-round WR

D.J. Moore failed to secure a starting job,

Devin Funchess emerged from training camp as Carolina’s clear-cut No. 1 receiver. Inefficient deep threat

Torrey Smith will draw the start opposite him, and

Jarius Wright will likely play ahead of Moore in three-wide sets. Funchess did have major 2017 splits with and without Olsen, averaging 7.8 targets and 81.0 yards with four TDs in five games following Olsen’s injury, then just 5.5 targets for 39.3 yards with two scores after Olsen returned. In plus-sized RCB

Byron Jones (6’1/199) and LCB

Chidobe Awuzie (6’0/202), the Cowboys are better equipped than most teams to deal with Funchess (6’4/232). Funchess’ touchdown upside still makes him a respectable WR3/flex option.

Even without All-Pro C Travis Frederick (illness), the Cowboys will stay committed to their run-dominant methods after finishing top five in rushing attempts in three of the last four years. Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards per game in each of his first two seasons, and there is a good chance his receiving usage will rise due to Dallas’ NFC-worst pass-catcher corps. Even as Carolina’s run-defense personnel is among the league’s best, they are sure to miss WLB Thomas Davis during his four-game suspension. … LT Tyron Smith’s back injury and Elliott’s six-game ban contributed to Dak Prescott’s massive 2017 splits; Dak was fantasy’s overall QB1 in Weeks 1-7 before plummeting to QB19 with an abysmal 8:9 TD-to-INT ratio over the final ten games. Working against Prescott is an ugly wideout and tight end corps and Carolina’s zone defense, which is less susceptible to quarterback runs. Until Prescott proves that he can resume filling up the box score, he should be viewed as a risky play beyond two-quarterback leagues.

The Cowboys appear poised to use a five- or even six-man wideout rotation of Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Tavon Austin, and perhaps Deonte Thompson. Hurns and Williams are expected to be nominal starters. Gallup offers the highest ceiling, but those covering the team believe Beasley will lead Dallas in targets. I don’t see any of them as a good bet to top 750 receiving yards in 2018. Even against a beatable Panthers cornerback group that will start rail-thin rookie RCB Donte Jackson (5’11/178) across from up-and-down LCB James Bradberry, this is a fantasy situation to avoid. … The Cowboys tabbed second-year UDFA Blake Jarwin as their main receiving tight end. He pathetically gained 38 yards on 11 preseason targets. Jarwin never reached 20 catches in three seasons at Oklahoma State and is virtually impossible to trust regardless of matchups.

Score Prediction: Panthers 23, Cowboys 17

Washington @ Arizona

Team Totals: Cardinals 22.5, Redskins 21.5

Sam Bradford easily held off Josh Rosen for the Week 1 nod against a Redskins defense that returns 10-of-11 starters after yielding the NFL’s 11th-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. Surrounded by a bottom-ten line and pass-catcher corps, Bradford is a low-ceiling two-QB-league play. … Whereas the 2017 Skins finished No. 6 in pass-defense DVOA, they were 29th against the run under returning DC Greg Manusky, and have the makings of a run-funnel defense again. This could prove David Johnson’s season-best matchup with “fresh legs” after he missed all but one game in 2017. Washington is 0-4 in Week 1s under Jay Gruden, a trend that would benefit Johnson from a game-script standpoint if it holds. I loved what I saw from Arizona’s interior line this preseason, especially LG Mike Iupati and rookie C Mason Cole. … Coming off three straight 100-plus-catch campaigns, Larry Fitzgerald has minimal target competition after projected starter Brice Butler didn’t even make the team and rookie Christian Kirk lost out to Chad Williams. With Kendall Fuller gone in the Alex Smith trade, the Skins will turn to sophomore Fabian Moreau at slot corner after Moreau earned just 59 snaps as a rookie. Bradford has an affinity for slot receivers; Danny Amendola (81% slot) led Bradford’s 2012 Rams in targets, Jordan Matthews (93% slot) was Sam’s go-to guy in Philly, and Stefon Diggs (63% slot) averaged a team-high 8.6 targets per game for Bradford’s 2016 Vikings. Fitz ran 62% of his routes inside last year and is a legitimate WR1. … TE Ricky Seals-Jones is Arizona’s only other pass catcher worth fantasy consideration. A converted Texas A&M wideout who averaged 16.8 yards per catch as a rookie and ran 41% of his routes in the slot, Seals-Jones is a sneaky-upside streamer against a Washington defense that last year gave up the NFL’s sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends. Seals-Jones runs middle-of-the-field routes Bradford loves to target.

Alex Smith is a quality Week 1 two-quarterback-league play with a full, deep pass-catcher corps against a burnable Arizona secondary that will no longer use Patrick Peterson as a man-to-man shadow corner with new coach Steve Wilks installing zone coverage. Peterson is now a stationary LCB in the Richard Sherman-Josh Norman mold. Smith’s floor is raised by his scrambling skills; he has finished top eight in quarterback rushing yards in four of the last five years. Expect Smith to often appear on streamer lists in Weeks 1-10, where he draws one of the NFL’s softest pass-defense schedules. … Adrian Peterson is the Skins’ new early-down and goal-line back, but his weekly floor will be scary low with no receiving role on a team that is far more invested in its passing game. Peterson has averaged fewer than four yards per carry in 16 of his last 19 games. Beyond scenarios where the Skins are heavy home favorites, Peterson will be best viewed as a touchdown-or-bust flex option. … “The temptation will be there to play him a lot,” was Gruden’s pre-Week 1 admission about Chris Thompson, who is coming off a fractured right fibula but remains the Skins’ optimal backfield play. Washington ranked No. 3 in the NFL in total offense before Thompson’s Week 11 injury, but No. 30 thereafter. Arizona’s defense is very attackable in the middle of the field, where two-down thumper MLB Josh Bynes has been forced into an every-down role. Thompson averaged 10.3 touches per game when healthy, usage Gruden will be hard pressed to abandon.

Washington’s pass-catcher depth limits the appeal of its individual members. Thompson, Jamison Crowder, Jordan Reed, Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson, and Vernon Davis all have justifiable claims to pieces of the pie, yet none has established a working on-field rapport with Smith. Reed does look like the strongest fantasy bet. Reed enters the season injury free, and Gruden deemed him “in great shape” after Wednesday’s practice. Reed has finished as the TE9 (2017), TE1 (2016), and TE2 (2015) in fantasy points per game. … The next-best bet is slot man Crowder, who will avoid Peterson’s perimeter-only coverage and was last year’s WR16 in PPR points per game in Weeks 8-17. Critical to locking down chemistry with Smith is an ability to get open. Even during Smith’s 2017 career year, he finished No. 40 among 41 qualified quarterbacks in Next Gen Stats’ Aggressiveness Rate, which tracks the percentage of passes thrown when a defender is within one yard of the targeted receiver. Crowder averaged 3.2 yards of separation, Richardson 2.4, and Doctson 2.2. Although Reed did not see enough targets to qualify last season, his 3.3 average yards of separation in 2016 ranked No. 3 among tight ends with over 60 targets.

Score Prediction: Cardinals 23, Redskins 20

Sunday Night Football

Chicago @ Green Bay

Team Totals: Packers 27.5, Bears 20

Aaron Rodgers has had Vic Fangio’s number more often than not since Fangio became Bears defensive coordinator three seasons ago, pasting Chicago for 11 touchdown passes and one interception in five meetings. Including playoffs, Rodgers enters 2018 with an incomparable 40:8 TD-to-INT ratio over his last 16 games. Rodgers is now armed with Jimmy Graham – last year’s NFL leader in red-zone targets (26) and targets inside the ten (16) – and Davante Adams, who leads the league in red-zone targets (46) and receiving scores (22) over the past two seasons. The Bears’ Khalil Mack addition will eventually pay dividends, but his Week 1 snaps will be limited with just seven days between the trade and game day. Fangio indicated Thursday that he doesn't expect bookend OLB Leonard Floyd (hand) to be at peak effectiveness, weakening Chicago’s pass rush. … Jamaal Williams won the Packers’ lead back job convincingly over oft-injured Ty Montgomery and suspended Aaron Jones, and Williams should have a shot at 20 touches as a home favorite. Over last year’s final eight games, Williams was the PPR RB8 on 20.4 touches per game. Fangio’s run defenses have been middling or worse, finishing 13th, 29th, and 32nd in DVOA across three years with Chicago.

Fangio’s 2017 defense was not giving to wide receivers or tight ends, finishing 15th in yards allowed to the former position (2,338) and 25th to the latter (708). All five members of Chicago’s nickel package in the secondary return. Adams did tag the Bears for 5/90/1 receiving with Brett Hundley quarterbacking last Week 10, however, and his touchdown probability will be as high as any wide receiver’s each week, all year. In Rodgers’ last full season – 2016 – the Packers threw passes on 67% of their red-zone snaps, the NFL’s third-highest clip. … Graham perfectly suits Green Bay’s pass-first red-zone mentality after scoring eight of his ten touchdowns last season from the six-yard line or closer. Graham played only ten snaps all preseason, but Rodgers still found time to hit him for an eight-yard score. Reports all training camp had Graham and Rodgers already developing a bankable rapport. Graham’s yardage outlook isn’t in Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, or Zach Ertz’s realm, but his touchdown upside is. Graham is one of my favorite longer-shot bets to lead the NFL in receiving TDs this year. … Even amid trade rumors, Randall Cobb hung around on the 53-man roster as Green Bay opted to keep seven wide receivers. I think it is fair to have concerns Cobb could lose snaps to versatile veteran Geronimo Allison and/or impressive rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, and

J’Mon Moore. I’d prefer to see on-field evidence Cobb’s role will be voluminous before treating him as more than a dicey WR3/flex.

After surprisingly logging just 39 preseason snaps – twenty Week 1 starting quarterbacks played more – Mitchell Trubisky will make his first start in rookie coach Matt Nagy’s offense at unforgiving Lambeau Field, where the Packers have allowed seven fewer points in home games than on the road over the past three years. Nagy’s conservative August usage of Trubisky was further surprising because Chicago’s pass-catcher corps was entirely revamped. I’m expecting a step forward from Green Bay’s 2018 defense under new DC Mike Pettine with LE Muhammad Wilkerson bookending stud RE Mike Daniels, NT Kenny Clark poised for a breakout in his third year, and CBs Tramon Williams, Jaire Alexander, and Josh Jackson infused into the secondary. Trubisky has the requisite weapons, upgraded coaching, and dual-threat tools for a sophomore leap, but it would be comforting to see tangible improvement before buying into him as more than a two-quarterback-league play. … Nagy’s willingness to give stone-handed Jordan Howard another opportunity to play in the passing game is promising for his chances of staying fantasy relevant when the Bears play from behind, but trusting Howard to capitalize is difficult after he led all NFL running backs in drops (14) over the past two seasons. It’s still conceivable Tarik Cohen will eat into Howard’s snaps in negative game script, which the Bears project to face in Week 1. Due to last year’s persistent losing, Howard totaled below 80 yards in 11-of-16 games. He is a risky RB2 in this matchup.

Trey Burton is the most-confident Week 1 fantasy play on Chicago’s side after he drew a team-high six targets on Trubisky’s 18 preseason attempts, and fellow TE Adam Shaheen hit injured reserve with a foot fracture. In four spots starts for Zach Ertz the past two years, Burton logged stat lines of 5/49/1 > 2/19/0 > 2/41/1 > 5/71/2, and Trubisky posted a 105 passer rating on throws to the middle of the field versus a 71.0 rating to the perimeter as a rookie. The Packers’ interior defense was weakened by ILB Jake Ryan’s ACL tear early in camp, then coverage-maven rookie ILB Oren Burks’ shoulder injury, which will keep him out for at least Week 1. … Coming off an ACL tear, big-ticket free agent WR Allen Robinson played just 11 preseason snaps and was not targeted. He enters the season as a low-floor WR3. … Taylor Gabriel will play a clear-out role in Nagy’s offense, creating space for Burton and rookie slot WR Anthony Miller to work underneath. Gabriel has never averaged more than 4.5 targets per game in four NFL seasons. … Miller is a sleeper to pace Bears wideouts in early-season targets, at least until Trubisky and Robinson get on the same page. Trubisky’s leading receivers the past two years were Ryan Switzer at UNC and Kendall Wright in Chicago, and both played in the slot. Miller ran 70% of his preseason routes inside.

Score Prediction: Packers 28, Bears 20

Monday Night Doubleheader

NY Jets @ Detroit

Team Totals: Lions 26, Jets 19

Matthew Stafford is a high-floor QB1 play beneath Ford Field’s dome against a Jets pass defense that finished 31st and 22nd in DVOA the past two years under Todd Bowles. Only two teams allowed more fantasy points to quarterbacks in 2017. Gang Green’s secondary looks improved with $72 million LCB Trumaine Johnson bookending RCB Morris Claiborne, and FS Marcus Maye and SS Jamal Adams entering their second seasons. But there is no weaker pass rush in football, and PFF charged Johnson with the NFL’s fourth-most yards allowed in coverage last year. Slot CB Buster Skrine gave up the 12th most. And Maye’s availability is in doubt due to an ankle injury. Over the past four seasons, Stafford has a sterling 60:19 TD-to-INT ratio and 7.78 yards-per-attempt average at home versus 47 TDs, 26 INTs, and 6.94 YPA on the road. Stafford should start 2018 hot against a tissue-soft Weeks 1-8 pass-defense slate (vs. NYJ, @ SF, vs. NE, @ DAL, vs. GB, @ MIA, vs. SEA). … Detroit’s backfield lacks clarity after a preseason in which OC Jim Bob Cooter mixed and matched Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick, and LeGarrette Blount. While Johnson remains the favorite for lead-back touches, Riddick is sure to siphon passing-game usage, and Blount figures to vulture short-yardage and goal-line work. Last year’s Lions backs averaged 25.5 touches per game. If we adjust to 28 to account for projected game script and new coach Matt Patricia’s desire to run the ball more, a fair projection would give Johnson 12, Blount 9, and Riddick 7. Johnson will be a dicey flex option until the Lions show they are willing to commit to him in a voluminous role.

Especially after none of their tight ends stepped up in training camp, the Lions’ passing game will be dominated by three-receiver 11 personnel. Golden Tate draws the easiest Week 1 man-coverage matchup against Skrine, who allowed the league’s third-most touchdown catches (6) last year and was charged with ten missed tackles by PFF, sixth most among cornerbacks. Tate has finished top five among wide receivers in yards after catch in four consecutive years, and top three in missed tackles forced in six straight. … Perimeter threats Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay are higher-variance WR2 and WR3/flex plays, respectively. Jones lost 4.5 targets and 24.1 yards off his per-game averages with Golladay healthy in 2017, although Eric Ebron’s departure left behind 86 unaccounted-for targets, and Detroit’s lack of a viable pass-catching replacement should help offset some of that volume loss. Golladay caught only 28 passes as a rookie, but six of them gained 30-plus yards. The Jets’ pass-rush deficiencies benefit both as vertical threats. By far, Golladay registered the top Game Speed among last year’s Lions receivers, while Jones’ 51.6% catch rate on 20-plus-yard targets ranked No. 4 in the NFL among 59 qualified wideouts. Bowles’ defense allowed the NFL’s 13th- and 2nd-most 20-plus-yard completions over the last two years.

Sam Darnold, who turned 21 in June, will pass Drew Bledsoe as the NFL’s youngest-ever Week 1 starting quarterback on Monday night. Darnold was accurate but conservative this preseason, completing 64.4% of his throws but attempting just 1-of-45 passes 20-plus yards downfield. Darnold likewise posted his highest passer ratings at USC on quick outs, slants, crossers, and screens rather than longer-developing comebacks, posts, corners, and goes. Even against a weak Lions pass rush, expect West Coast-oriented OC Jeremy Bates to call high-percentage passes that get the ball out quickly. I do believe Darnold can become an underrated two-quarterback-league option as his rookie year progresses. … Preseason signs strongly indicated Bilal Powell will open 2018 as Gang Green’s lead back over Isaiah Crowell. In the Jets’ regular season dress rehearsal, Powell logged 73% of first-team snaps with Darnold's group. Powell is an underrated RB2/flex play against a Lions run defense that last year finished 28th in DVOA and got gashed by first-team enemy rushing attacks all preseason. Powell is also competent enough in the passing game to be somewhat game-script proof. Crowell won’t be a fantasy option until he nails down a bigger role.

Bates will surely loosen up the passing game eventually, but it’s fair to enter Week 1 with some concern about deep threat Robby Anderson, who finished last season sixth in the NFL in yards gained on 20-plus-yard targets (408). He is also likely to draw the most of Lions top CB Darius Slay’s coverage when lined up outside. Promisingly, Anderson did run 44% of his preseason routes in the slot, way up from last year’s 28% clip. Slay covered the slot on just 2% of his 2017 snaps. Still the Jets’ clear-cut No. 1 wideout, Anderson is a high-ceiling if volatile WR2/3 play. … Back from his 2017 neck injury, Quincy Enunwa is a sleeper to lead the Jets in Week 1 targets as a high-percentage slot-flanker who will mostly operate in the middle of the field. Enunwa (6’2/225) will have a significant size advantage on whomever Patricia trots out at slot corner, be it Quandre Diggs (5’9/196) or Jamal Agnew (5’10/186). Enunwa did miss two weeks of training camp with a thumb injury and lacks a bankable rapport with Darnold. Darnold targeted Enunwa three times in Gang Green’s third preseason game, connecting twice for 28 yards. … Jets complementary pass-catcher jobs remain up for grabs with Jermaine Kearse (abdomen) ailing and little clarity at tight end. My guess is we’ll see Terrelle Pryor run the most routes in three-wide 11-personnel packages. Chris Herndon, Neal Sterling, Jordan Leggett, and Eric Tomlinson are still battling at tight end.

Score Prediction: Lions 27, Jets 23

LA Rams @ Oakland

Team Totals: Rams 26.5, Raiders 22.5

To compensate for an abominable, now-Khalil Mack-less defense, Jon Gruden’s best bet is likely to lean on the ground game, control clock, and keep the Rams’ high-octane offense off the field. Gruden was a run-game proponent in his 1998-2001 stint for Al Davis, overseeing teams that ranked top 12 in rushing attempts in 3-of-4 years. Marshawn Lynch had an outstanding August after finishing 2017 fast with 4.69 yards per carry and a 99.7 total-yard average from Week 12 on. Oakland’s elite interior line of LG Kelechi Osemele, C Rodney Hudson, and RG Gabe Jackson returns intact, and Rams DC Wade Phillips’ 2016-2017 run defenses in L.A. and Denver each finished 21st in DVOA. Last year’s Rams allowed the NFL’s second-most fantasy points to running backs. This week, they're likely to be without key ILB

Mark Barron (ankle). Lynch checks numerous boxes as an underrated RB2. His biggest potential obstacles are game script if the Raiders can’t keep this one close, and Gruden favorite Doug Martin’s to-be-determined usage. … Phillips – for good reason -- places far more emphasis on stopping passing games and gets results; his 2016-2017 teams both ranked top three in pass-defense DVOA. Only eight NFL clubs allowed fewer fantasy points to quarterbacks than last year’s Rams, and this year’s unit was significantly upgraded by LCB Marcus Peters, RCB Aqib Talib, and pocket-disrupting NT Ndamukong Suh. This is a decidedly unfavorable matchup for Derek Carr, whose fantasy owners will have to hope the game evolves into a shootout, or that Carr capitalizes on pass-first second-half comeback mode.

Disadvantageous wideout-cornerback matchups create more reason for Carr concern. The Raiders will annoyingly stick with Seth Roberts as their main slot receiver after giving up on Martavis Bryant, who would have pushed Amari Cooper or Jordy Nelson inside. Last year, Cooper averaged 2.21 yards per route run in the slot (PFF), which would have been a top-three clip in the league with enough slot routes to qualify. He averaged a pathetic 1.36 yards per route run outside. A boom-bust WR2, Cooper’s matchup is worrisome against Peters and Talib. … 33-year-old Nelson also figures to struggle to get open in this one. Jordy is easily Oakland’s top red-zone option, but he is best approached as a touchdown-or-bust WR4/flex. … Jared Cook turned in a quiet preseason after Gruden talked him up at OTAs. The 2017 Rams yielded the NFL’s seventh-fewest catches to tight ends. Cook is a mid-range to low-end TE2.

Todd Gurley is the No. 1 running back play on the Week 1 slate behind a Rams line that returns 4-of-5 starters – the exception is RG Jamon Brown serving a two-game suspension – facing a Raiders defense that last year allowed the NFL’s ninth-most running back receptions (93) and traded Khalil Mack, who was PFF’s No. 2 run-stopping 3-4 outside linebacker. During Gurley’s 2017 breakout, only

Le’Veon Bell played more snaps among running backs, and only Alvin Kamara gained more receiving yards. … The Rams were 2017’s highest-scoring team on the road, and that trend should continue on Monday night with Jared Goff at the forefront. Even with Mack, last year’s Raiders finished bottom eight in both sacks (31) and quarterback hits (76), and they are counting on journeymen CBs Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (age 32, fifth NFL team) and Rashaan Melvin (29, seventh team) and FS Marcus Gilchrist (29, fourth team) to save their secondary. Goff posted a sterling 18:2 TD-to-INT ratio on the road last year.

Brandin Cooks’ quarterback play and target projection downgraded leaving New England’s Tom Brady-led, pass-voluminous team for Goff’s balanced attack, which last year ranked 24th in pass attempts. Nevertheless, this projects as one of Cooks’ best matchups of the entire season against a pass rush-deficient Oakland defense with retread secondary play. Cooks’ 4.33 jets will cause major fits for Gruden’s Over the Hill Gang. … Whereas Cooks is the Rams’ best bet to catch deep balls, Cooper Kupp is arguably the favorite to score. Kupp paced last year’s team in red-zone targets (23) and targets inside the ten (7), yet scored only five times, setting up Kupp for positive-touchdown regression. Kupp runs 59% of his routes inside, and the Raiders’ slot corner is expected to either be 33-year-old Leon Hall or 32-year-old Rodgers-Cromartie. In 2017, PFF charged Rodgers-Cromartie with the NFL’s highest passer rating allowed (123.1) among 31 qualified slot corners. … As Cooks is high variance and Kupp somewhat touchdown dependent, Robert Woods is arguably the highest-floor play in Los Angeles’ wideout trio. Woods set a career high in yards per game (65.1) before getting injured last year, then returned to flame Falcons top CB Desmond Trufant for 9/142/0 receiving in January’s playoff loss. I like Cooks as a boom-bust WR2 and both Kupp and Woods as dependable WR3/flex plays. … Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett played in a value-sapping rotation last season, and there were no August indications that will change.

Score Prediction: Rams 30, Raiders 23

Source : https://sports.yahoo.com/silvas-week-1-matchups-201000703--spt.html

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U.S. Ban Risks Leaving China’s Rising Tech Star ‘Half Dead’

Source:PBS

U.S. Ban Risks Leaving China’s Rising Tech Star ‘Half Dead’