Baker Mayfield (at KC)
The Browns usually want to keep their passing game volume low, but they might not have the luxury to do that in the rematch of their thrilling playoff loss to the Chiefs. We haven’t seen what the Kevin Stefanski offense looks like when it is clicking and has Odell Beckham Jr to stretch the field, and the team is excited because the full offseason allowed them to install the full complement of wrinkles that comes with the system. The Chiefs defense is vulnerable and Mayfield could be very successful in a game that could be among the highest scoring contests of Week 1.
Matt Ryan (vs PHI)
Ryan wasn’t drafted to be a starter for many fantasy teams outside of Superflex/2QB, but perhaps he should start over some quarterbacks drafted before him this week. Arthur Smith has kept the new offense under wraps, barely giving opponents a peek in the preseason, which should give the Falcons the advantage of the element of surprise, especially when it comes to the use of Kyle Pitts, who will attack the weakest part of the Eagles defense - linebackers and safeties. Ryan could also benefit from improved playcalling under Smith, especially in the red zone. This should be one of Ryan’s best games of the season.
Trevor Lawrence (at HOU)
The Jaguars offense didn’t look good in the preseason, but the Texans defense hasn’t looked good in years. Lawrence is a dynamic run/pass threat and Urban Meyer’s offense should set him up with opportunities in both aspects of the offense. The Jaguars wide receiver trio is one of the better groups in the league and the Texans just traded away their best corner and a pallet of cash for a third round pick. It won’t get much easier for Lawrence and Jaguars offense this year, and he should be ready for the speed of the NFL game after playing in a lot of important games against future NFL players when he was in college at Clemson.
Sam Darnold (vs NYJ)
This isn’t exactly a revenge game since Adam Gase got fired, but Darnold should look like a new quarterback out from under Gase’s thumb in any event. We wanted to give offensive coordinator Joe Brady some of the credit for Joe Burrow’s monumental season at LSU, so he should make the game easier for Darnold after Gase was an obstacle to Darnold’s development with the Jets. The Panthers have a strong starting duo at wide receiver, including Robby Anderson, who played some of his best football with Darnold before coming to the Panthers, and Christian McCaffrey is back. The Panthers passcatchers should create a lot of matchup problems for a Jets defense that is being completely rebuilt and just lost their best pass rusher for the season. Darnold is set up for success in his Carolina debut.
Damien Harris (vs MIA)
Everything has broken Harris’s way in recent weeks. Cam Newton lost the quarterback job to Mac Jones and then was released, removing the threat to Harris’ goal line touches. Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson was good enough in the preseason to allow the team to trade Sony Michel and then Stevenson suffered a dislocated thumb in the leadup to this week’s game. Stevenson could still play, but Harris should get the bulk of the carries in a game the Patriots could control if Bill Belichick finds a way to confound Tua Tagovailoa in the first game of a pivotal season in his career.
Ronald Jones II (vs DAL) **Thursday**
The Cowboys defense is in a transition phase, playing with at least five new starters and under a new defensive coordinator (Dan Quinn) with a new scheme. The Buccaneers, on the other hand, returned all of 22 of their starters and should be like a well-oiled machine. Expect this game to go Tampa’s way, which could give Jones scoring opportunities and the chance to salt the game away in the second half.
Trey Sermon (at DET)
The Lions are no match for the 49ers, no matter who San Francisco starts at quarterback. Raheem Mostert is still the starting running back, but Sermon is next in line, and he could get goal line work a la Jeff Wilson to save Mostert some wear and tear. Mostert should also be put back in bubble wrap once the 49ers are in control of this game, which should set Sermon up for a lot of carries in the second half of a blowout.
Ty Johnson (at CAR)
The Jets are going to employ a three or four man committee at running back, but Johnson has been the most impressive this summer, and he should get the first chance to run behind an underrated run blocking line. Johnson has looked like a good fit in Mike LaFleur’s Shanahan-style running game, and he displayed an added element of power during the preseason to his already impressive speed. Johnson is a good desperation play at running back if you lost Gus Edwards and there’s no one else on your bench who will get a decent workload.
Ty’Son Williams (at LV)
The cat is out of the bag on Williams, who will now enter the season as the #1 back in a very good running game. He was already playing well enough to beat out Justice Hill for the #3 job before Hill got hurt and before J.K. Dobbins went down, making it the #2 job. The Raiders defense is still no match for the Ravens 11-on-11 running game, which should allow Williams to hit the ground running and produce enough to at least merit a flex start, if not an RB2 slot in your lineup.
Austin Ekeler did not practice again on Thursday, which makes Friday’s practice hugely important. With the whole season ahead, the Chargers might want to be extremely cautious with Ekeler, who missed six weeks with a hamstring injury last year. Sixth round pick Larry Rountree III should get some work, but Jackson is the most talented, and Kelley should be the goal line back if Ekeler is out. One or both could be on your waiver wire if you’re desperate, and if you are counting on Ekeler, make sure you have a plan in case he is declared out for the 1 pm eastern start on Sunday.
Cole Beasley (vs PIT)
The Steelers lost Mike Hilton in free agency, which left a big hole at nickel corner that they still haven’t been able to fill. The Steelers are refused to say what their plan is for the spot, which is not exactly where you want to be heading into the season. Beasley can do a lot of damage from the slot if he is facing an inexperienced player, and we already know what he and Josh Allen can do together when they heat up. With T.J. Watt back in the fold after signing an extension on the eve of the season, the Bills will want to get the ball out quickly on early breaking routes, which is Beasley’s forte.
T.Y. Hilton is out for at least the first three weeks after undergoing neck surgery, which sets Campbell and Pascal up for increased opportunity in the Colts pass offense. Campbell looked like a breakout player last year before getting hurt, and Pascal has been steady and productive any time the Colts have called on him. Michael Pittman Jr is the best play from this group, but Campbell and/or Pascal could hit as a cheap DFS play in what might be a high scoring game in Indianapolis with the Seahawks unveiling a new and improved offensive scheme and playbook.
Rondale Moore (at TEN)
Moore got force fed the ball in his limited preseason work, and he looked like the dynamic player he was in his freshman year at Purdue who resembled a first round pick. The Cardinals appear to be willing to get him the ball in a variety of ways, and the Titans should be focused on containing Kyler Murray and covering DeAndre Hopkins. Moore has speed and acceleration to make your week on one play in the game that has the highest over/under of the week.
Terrace Marshall Jr Jr (vs NYJ)
Marshall has been a camp and preseason sensation, and he should draw the weakest corner in the Jets secondary, which is the weakest corner group in the league. The rookie second round pick has big play ability downfield and already had a 60-yard reception in the preseason. He might not get a lot of targets with D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Christian McCaffrey out there, but it might not take many to be a hit against the Jets defense.
Dyami Brown (vs LAC)
Curtis Samuel didn’t look ready to play earlier this week, which should open up a starting spot for the third-round rookie, who specializes in the deep ball highwire act plays. Ryan Fitzpatrick should be bold and willing to give Brown chances to show off those skills against a Chargers secondary that will be more worried about Terry McLaurin on the other of the formation. Brown has had a great camp and preseason and should be ready for expanded duty.
Quez Watkins (at ATL)
Watkins has consistently been the most outstanding Eagles receiver in camp and the preseason, and he should get the majority of snaps and targets out of the slot, which is a soft spot in the Falcons defense. Watkins has take it to the house speed and he also has good chemistry with Jalen Hurts, who leaned on slot Greg Ward last year. Try to put together at least a few big prize pool DFS lineups with Watkins.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling (vs NO) **In Jacksonville**
Valdes-Scantling looked like a player who turned the corner in his fourth season this summer, and we already know that he can reel in the deep ball from Aaron Rodgers. The Saints just added Bradley Roby to play the corner spot opposite Marshon Lattimore, but who knows how up to speed he’ll be in the defense? Rodgers should be able to find Valdes-Scantling open deep at least once, and one of the biggest wide receiver games of the week on just a handful of targets is in Valdes-Scanting’s range of outcomes.
Gerald Everett (at IND)
Everett should be on the field a lot as a receiving tight end who is fully familiar with the new Seahawks offense because he was part of it with new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron when they were together with the Rams. Second-round pick Dee Eskridge was taken to be the #3 receiver, but he came along slowly from a toe injury that he’ll have to play through this year. Multiple observers including head coach Pete Carroll have noted the instant chemistry between Everett and Russell Wilson, and it should be apparent against the Colts.
Cole Kmet (at LAR)
Kmet is ready for an increased role in the offense even though the team kept Jimmy Graham. Andy Dalton isn’t going to challenge Jalen Ramsey, and the subpar tackles probably aren’t going to give him enough time to throw downfield to Darnell Mooney or Marquise Goodwin against the vicious Rams defense. That leaves Kmet as a likely favorite target for Dalton when he is under fire.
Jonnu Smith (vs MIA)
Smith should be featured in a Patriots pass offense that was going to run through the tight end position anyway. Add in the Dolphins elite cornerback duo of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, the ankle injury that could limit or sideline Nelson Agholor, and the lack of viable options at outside receiver beyond him, and you have a recipe for a tight end to lead the team in targets and catches by a large margin. That is more likely to be Smith than Hunter Henry. Smith was prioritized on the free agent shopping list, he’s a big play threat, and he’s more dynamic before and after the catch than Henry.
Anthony Firkser (vs ARI)
Firkser isn’t going to get a lot of early down snaps, but on passing downs, he should be the de facto slot receiver as a solid passcatching tight end who has a good connection with Ryan Tannehill. The Cardinals should be much more concerned with Julio Jones and A.J. Brown in passing situations, so Firkser will see favorable matchups and could make the most out of a specialized role. As mentioned earlier, this game has the highest over/under of the Sunday slate, and Firkser is a cheap way to get a piece of the game in your DFS lineup.