The 2017 slate of Monday Night Football gets underway with a double header in Week 1, first with the New Orleans Saints traveling to Minnesota to take on the Vikings. This is followed by the Denver Broncos welcoming AFC West rivals the Los Angeles Chargers to Mile High Stadium. Here’s a look at the fantasy prospects for all four teams heading into their matchups.
New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings
There are few forces in nature as consistent as Saints quarterback Drew Brees. He has thrown for at least 4,418 yards in every season since 2006, with four seasons in excess of 5,000. He hasn’t failed to hit 30 touchdown passes since 2007. He faces a difficult start to his 2017 campaign; especially considering the Vikings allowed the 4th fewest fantasy points to opposition QBs in 2016. But only a fool or a hero would suggest sitting him down in this one.
On the other side of the field, Vikings QB Sam Bradford set an NFL record for single season completion percentage a year ago, with 71.6% of his passes finding a team mate. With Andrew Luck out for the Colts, Bradford offers genuine value as a streamer given the Saints recent history on defense. They allowed the 6th most fantasy points to QBs last season, giving up a league high 273.8 passing yards per game. Only five teams had fewer QB sacks than the Saints in 2016.
The revenge narrative has been beaten to death in this one, with the Vikings all time leading rusher Adrian Peterson set to make his Saints debut against his former team. He’ll be part of a three-man platoon at running back, joined by Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. Ingram rushed for a career high 1,043 yards last season, also chipping in 46 receptions for 319 yards. The Vikings were miserly against the run last season, however, and were not particularly welcoming to opposing running backs in fantasy. Ingram is probably the most likely to offer any return to his fantasy owners, as he has the most polished all-around skill set of the three, but expectations should be tempered for all Saints backs. Only eight teams allowed fewer fantasy points per game to RBs than the Vikings.
The Vikings also have a trio of backs at their disposal, with first-year rusher Dalvin Cook set to earn the lion’s share of the carries. Latavius Murray, a free agent acquisition from the Oakland Raiders, should see some goal line work for the Vikings, given that he has the 6th most carries inside the red zone of any RB in the NFL over the last two seasons, as well as the 5th most scores. Jerick McKinnon has shown some skills as a pass catcher. He reeled in 43 receptions in 2016. From Week 10 onwards, only David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, and James White caught more balls than the 35 McKinnon managed. Only two teams gave up more fantasy points to running backs than the Saints last year, and despite some offensive line woes, the Vikings backs could do some damage here. Cook is the back of choice for me, given his three-down ability, but in deep PPR leagues, McKinnon offers some appeal as an RB3 or flex.
Saints wide receiver Willie Snead will miss the first three games of the season suspended, leaving former Panthers wideout Ted Ginn as the main partner for second-year stud Michael Thomas. Thomas finished his rookie season with 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns on his 92 receptions. Thomas has been going off fantasy draft boards at the end of the first round, so you’re going to start him but again temper your expectations. Fantasy WRs did not enjoy much success against the Vikings last season, with the Vikings allowed the 4th fewest points to that position.
Adam Thielen led the Vikings with 967 yards a season ago, followed by Stefon Diggs with 903. Diggs missed three games, and it set to move away from the slot position this season. This could mean fewer targets and receptions, but potentially more yards and touchdowns if he is to be utilized as a true big play threat. Diggs can be started and trusted as a solid WR3 against the Saints, with Thielen a WR4/flex option. Only five teams allowed more fantasy points per game to WRs than the Saints in 2016, and they are missing Delvin Breaux with a broken leg that was initially diagnosed as a bruise…as you do.
The Saints signed Coby Fleener to a big contract prior to the 2016 season, and it is safe to say they didn’t exactly get what they paid for. Fleener started just eight games, and while he did amass 50 receptions for 631 yards he was able to find the end zone just three times. He’s a risky start, but the Vikings were in the middle of the pack when it came to defending tight ends last season. Fleener did see 11 targets in the one game he played without Snead in 2016, finishing with seven catches for 109 yards and a score.
On the other side, Kyle Rudolph enjoyed a breakout season once former offensive coordinator Norv Turner was replaced by Pat Shurmur. Rudolph finished the year with 83 catches, 840 yards and seven touchdowns, all career highs. As one of Bradford’s favorite targets, he’s a safe TE1 option, especially given his red zone prowess. The Saints were 13th in terms of fantasy points allowed to TEs in 2016.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Denver Broncos
Phil Rivers is going up against the Broncos for the 24th time as the starting quarterback for the Chargers, but the first time as the LA Chargers. His tally of 5,304 yards and 36 touchdowns against the team are the third and second most of his career against a single team, but his 22 interceptions are also his second most. Viewed by many as a late round value this year, Rivers could hardly ask for a tougher start. The Broncos allowed the second fewest fantasy points to QBs last season, but are missing key pieces on their defense. Rivers is a solid QB2 this week.
Trevor Siemian once again won the starting QB job for the Broncos, outperforming disappointing second-year man Paxton Lynch. Siemian passed for a respectable tally of 3401 yards last season, but his 18 touchdowns were the lowest for a Broncos QB starting at least 13 games since Tim Tebow managed just 12 back in 2011. The Chargers boast one of the best pass rush duos in the game in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa and should be expected to be less generous than they were last season when they allowed the 17th most fantasy points per game to QBs.
Melvin Gordon finished as the RB8 in 2016, despite missing three games. He fell just three yards short of a 1,000-yard season, but only six RBs scored more than the ten touchdowns he managed. The Broncos allowed the 5th most rushing yards in 2016, although only two RBs managed to rush for 100 yards in a single game. He should be an RB2, given the lack of competition for snaps and targets out of the backfield.
The Broncos RB situation is far from clear behind starter C.J. Anderson. Anderson played just seven games in 2016, last season’s leading rusher Devontae Booker is out with a wrist injury, and former Kansas City Chief Jamaal Charles has played just two eight games in the last two seasons. Last season the Chargers allowed the 8th most fantasy points to RBs, but it’s hard to have much faith in any of the Broncos in this one.
The Broncos have a plethora of weapons among their wide receivers. Keenan Allen, injured in the first quarter of Week 1 in 2016 has been one of Phil Rivers favorite targets when healthy over the years. Last year’s leading receiver Tyrell Williams averaged 73 yards per game against everyone not named the Broncos in 2016. However, Williams was not the only WR to suffer at the hands of the Broncos last season, as they allowed the fewest fantasy points to the position. Allen offers a safe WR2 floor, especially in PPR formats, while Williams is more of a boom or bust WR4.
In Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos have one of the most consistent WR duos of the last few years. Since Sanders arrived in Denver before the 2014 season, Thomas has reeled in 306 passes for 4,006 yards with 22 touchdowns. Sanders has chipped in with 256 grabs with 20 scores for 3,571 yards. The Chargers secondary allowed twenty wide receivers to top 50 yards against them in 2016, although they allowed just the tenth fewest fantasy points to the position. Thomas has been nursing a groin injury for most of the preseason, although he is expected to start on Monday. Both can be trusted for WR3/Flex scoring.
In Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates, the Chargers have two options at tight end that most of the league should be envious of. In his rookie season, Henry led all TEs with eight touchdown grabs (tied with Cameron Brate) despite only catching 36 passes. As for Gates, what more needs to be said? Despite averaging less than four receptions a game for just the second time since he was a rookie, Gates still scored seven touchdowns in 2016. This marked the 11th time he has scored at least seven times in a season during his 14-year career. 11 of his 111 career touchdown grabs have come against the Broncos, a team who allowed the 16th most fantasy points to TEs in 2016. Henry will likely see more targets, but Gates touchdown upside gives him TE2 consideration.
As for the Broncos, their three main TEs Virgil Green, A.J. Derby, and Jeff Heuerman have a combined 82 career receptions, and Green has 57 of those. He’s never had more than 22 in a single season, however, and unless your league awards points for the most beige selections at the TE spot you need not consider any of these options in Week 1.