This new feature is slightly different here at Gridiron Experts, as it is a ‘start-em’ type article, but with a tactical twist. This article takes a deep look at the film and the X’s and O’s side of the game and tries to pinpoint good fantasy matchups for players in each week. This article will go beyond looking at whole defences as good or bad, and will look to predict which receivers can exploit schematic weaknesses in their opponents. It is essentially a very deep look at the tactical side of the game, which is then simplified for our readers in order to maximise your winning potential. Below is the first of many instalments of the new series.
Detroit Lions vs. Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals have had one of the better defences in the NFL over the last couple of seasons, but they lost a huge part of their identity in the summer as Calais Campbell joined the Jacksonville Jaguars. Arizona runs a blitz happy defence purely because Bruce Arians is the most aggressive coach in football, but Campbell was key because he meant that Arizona could still generate pressure in a three-man rush. With his departure, the Cardinals now have the cheapest defensive line in the NFL, and it will be led Robert Nkemdiche, who showed absolutely nothing as a rookie. This essentially means that Arizona will have to blitz at an immense level in week one, and the main beneficiary of this could be Golden Tate. Jim Bob Cooter is a smart offensive coordinator, and I would imagine that the Lions game plan will be conservative and based on getting the ball out quickly, just as it was last season. The Lions clearly want to air it out more than they did last year as only Alex Smith got less yards in the air last year than Matt Stafford, but this isn’t the game where they are going to expand, as it would play into Arizona’s hands. Golden Tate will get a lot of volume, and if the Lions defence gets shredded and Detroit are playing from behind, the volume could be even greater. He is a definite to score many points in week one.
Green Bay Packers vs. Seattle Seahawks
For the most part, people avoid playing their players against the Seattle Seahawks in fantasy, especially if they are mid round picks. The Seahawks defence is almost perfect as it generates pressure and has stifling coverage, but the one weakness the Seahawks have is that they struggle to defend tight ends. This is largely because Pete Carroll does not use a ‘big’ nickel package with a large slot corner or an oversized hybrid safety, so tight ends often slip through the cracks against the Seahawks ‘bend but don’t break’ defence. Aaron Rodgers usually performs well against Seattle, but you have to think that the Seahawks will mark his two receivers out of the game, which leaves potential for Martellus Bennett to have a big game. Many fear matchups against the Seahawks, but Bennett owners should absolutely start him as the TE1, or even as a flex in week one.
Tennessee Titans vs. Oakland Raiders
Decker has missed a lot of time, but the Tennessee Titans will be hoping that he can return to being the pass catching wizard that he was while with the New York Jets, and he has a relatively friendly opening matchup against the Oakland Raiders. Oakland are still trying to play the conservative read and react defence that Ken Norton oversaw in Seattle, but the reality is that their linebackers do not read nor react when they are on the field. In all honesty, the Oakland Raiders inside linebacker room might be the least talented positional group in the NFL, and Eric Decker should feast on them as he will do the majority of his work in the slot. The Raiders linebackers are not helped by their defensive coordinator, but they are simply not up to scratch, regardless of coaching. If you are doing DFS, then Eric Decker is an absolute must-start because he is going to get volume, and see very little resistance. Marcus Mariota may want to lean on the intermediate pass game in his first game back after his injury, and this would be great for Decker’s fantasy owners. For the record, Oakland are likely going to move Decker around, but Mike Mularkey will likely keep him in the slot vs Oakland as he will destroy them.
Philly Eagles vs. Washington Redskins
For the record, and to the annoyance of my Eagles’ friends, I am a LeGarrette Blount denier. He is highly overrated and is reliant on a full back, which limits the rest of the offence from a schematic point of view. The Eagles will eventually realise a Wendell Smallwood-Darren Sproles committee is the way forward, but Blount has a very favourable week one matchup. The Redskins were awful against the run last year, and their defensive line looks to be the weakest in the NFC as they let Chris Baker go, and replaced him with a variety of no-name players. One thing Washington does have is a great secondary, so when the Eagles get to the red zone, they may realise that trying to pound the ball in with a power back is the way forward. The Redskins gave up 19 touchdowns to running backs last year, which was 29th in the NFL and while many do not like to look at statistics from last year, not a lot has changed on the Redskins roster to suggest that they will improve against the run. The safeties Washington signed will help them improve against the pass, but they will still be leaky up front as DJ Swearinger is more of a coverage safety than a hard hitter. The Eagles also could very feasibly be leading late on due to their excellent defence, which means Blount will get a lot of 4th quarter volume. I’m a seller, but if you have drafted him, then absolutely start him.
New Orleans Saints vs. Minnesota Vikings
The Saints’ season took another hit as Willie Snead was suspended for the first three games of the season for a DUI incident, and it caused many to re-think their strategy on Saints wideouts. Many people wrongly believe that Ted Ginn’s value goes up as a result of Snead’s suspension, but as someone who follows the Saints a lot, Snead’s injury does very little to Ginn’s value. Ginn was always going to be the WR2 and the deep threat on this offence, and he will get most of his work out of heavy sets. The man who will gain from Snead’s absence is Coby Fleener, and he should get a lot of volume against the Vikings’ tough defence. In the lone game Willie Snead missed last year, Coby Fleener had 20% of the Saints targets, and went for over 100 yards with a touchdown. The Saints will struggle to go deep against this tough Vikings secondary, so Sean Payton will likely run a short pass offence with some outside runs mixed in to try and help their injury-plagued offensive line. Fleener will probably end up as the Saints go to target in the red zone as Michael Thomas will draw a lot of coverage, and week one will be the first step in a bounce back year for Fleener. In short, the Saints will go more conservative against Minnesota, and a player like Fleener is in line to be the main beneficiary here.
Brandon LaFell vs. Baltimore- Deep Dive of the Week
No player is being more undervalued this year than Brandon LaFell, as he is the WR2 on an offence that has two other players drawing double coverage at all times. LaFell will likely line up against Marlon Humphrey, and this is why he could be a good player to start if you are struggling for a flex, or perhaps a disgruntled Odell Beckham, Jr. or Ezekiel Elliott member. Marlon Humphrey had some good college tape but he was also prone to being beaten on the deep ball, and LaFell could likely have a field day against Humphrey, as he will be able to destroy 1 v 1 coverage due to the attention given to AJ Green and Tyler Eifert. John Ross will be the guy who takes advantage of this later on in the year, but for week one, LaFell seems nailed on to gain some receptions and take advantage of Marlon Humphrey.
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