Start’em Sit’em Week One
Congratulations, your long and arduous journey is now over. After months of debating hypotheticals and over-analyzing, the fantasy football season has arrived. My name is Michael Hauff and while some of you may know me from the FF faceoff Podcast, you will also know me as the man who will bring you the Gridiron Experts Start’em and Sit’em column each week of the 2019 season. This is not a responsibility that I take lightly as I look forward to helping guide each one of you to a fantasy football championship. As you head into Week 1, chances are that you plan to start the main players that you have drafted. While no one could fault you for that, there still might a roster decision or two that you need some help with, and this week’s article will help you with some of that decision making.
- Scoring and stats are based on half-point per reception scoring and come from fantasydata.com
- Start percentages originate from ESPN.com
- Start options range from 0-60%
- Sit options range from 50-100%
Start’em Sit’em Quarterbacks
Cowboys @ Giants
ESPN Starting Percentage: 53.2%
For the third time in the last four seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will open their season against their division foe, the New York Giants. Some analysts would just simply say, it’s the Giants, start Dak Prescott. For the sake of this column though, I feel like I should provide a few more thought-provoking explanations. Last season, the Cowboys signal-caller had four top 5 weeks. Three of those four games came against the NFC East. The Cowboys will play this game on the road in MetLife stadium where Prescott has thrived. In his last two road starts against the Giants, Prescott has finished the week no worse than the third-best quarterback in fantasy.
It is also impossible to point out that as of this writing, Ezekiel Elliott is still walking along the beach in Cabo. While Tony Pollard will fitful running back duties, for the time being, this may be a game in which offensive coordinator, Kellen Moore looks to lean on his quarterback. Then, there is the Giants. Way back in 2017, the Giants had allowed more points to the quarterback position than any other team. While 2018 saw improvements with the Giants allowing just the fifteenth-most points, trading away Olivier Vernon and letting Landon Collins walk certainly won’t help their efforts. I think this game has more fantasy value than folks are anticipating, and I say that Dak Prescott will be at the forefront of that.
Steelers @ Patriots
ESPN Starting Percentage: 43.3%
While they tend to end their seasons in terrific fashion, over the last four years, the Patriots haven’t always gotten off on the right foot. In three out of those four seasons, the Patriots have opened their season by allowing the opposing quarterback to have a top 12 fantasy week. One of those four performances came from their opposing quarterback this week, Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers signal-caller is coming off one of his best statistical seasons that had him finishing as the third-best quarterback in fantasy. Delving a little deeper into that 2018 season, Roethlisberger finished as a top 12 quarterback in six out of the Steelers eight road games. Circling it back to the Patriots, in 10 career starts against the defending Super Bowl Champions, Roethlisberger has averaged 279 passing yards and two touchdowns. I have said all summer that Roethlisberger is due for some regression in 2019, but don’t expect to see that in Week 1.
Seahawks vs. Bengals
ESPN Starting Percentage: 49.6%
Sitting just four-tenths away from fifty-percent, recommending that you sit Russell Wilson in Week 1 actually has less to do with Wilson and more to do with offensive scheme and competition within his position. In regards to weekly ranks, I currently have Wilson finishing outside the top 12. In 2018, the Seahawks recommitted to the run. They were so committed that their run ratio jumped from 42.5% in 2017, to 55.6% last season. While Wilson still managed to have eight top 10 fantasy performances in spite of that run ratio, I think this week’s game-script will get away from Wilson throwing the ball. This is a Bengals team that is without AJ Green and with the new coaching staff, is in a transition period. I expect growing pains to lead to several three and outs for the Bengals which in-turn will have the Seahawks controlling the clock with a healthy dose of Chris Carson.
Start’em Sit’em Running Backs
Cowboys @ Giants
ESPN Starting Percentage: 3.1%
Consider this a public service announcement just as much as it is a start recommendation. As of this writing, Ezekiel Elliott is being started in 91.2% of leagues. Also as of this writing, Elliott and the Cowboys have not been able to reach an agreement. The translation is that you should set your lineups. Let’s face it, you drafted Tony Pollard for this very occasion. As much as I’m against discussing preseason stats, we have very little to go on with Pollard. With that in mind, in the preseason, Pollard averaged 5.6 yards off of 15 carries and had a touchdown. Two other important things to note, he caught all three of his passing targets and was almost always in the huddle when Dak Prescott was. The Cowboys have given us every indication that in Elliott’s absence, Pollard will be the guy. In regards to the Giants, over the past two seasons, the Giants have been in the top 12 in points allowed to running backs and while Dave Gentlemen has worked at bolstering the Giants offensive line, I didn’t see enough improvements to the defense to suggest that incoming running backs are going to have a hard time. This past April, everyone had jokes when the Dallas Cowboys spent a fourth-round pick on Pollard. After this Sunday, no one will be laughing, especially Ezekiel Elliott.
49ers @ Buccaneers
ESPN Starting Percentage: 25.4%
For fantasy football purposes, I love this 49ers and Buccaneers matchup. Among the players that I like in this matchup is new 49ers running back, Tevin Coleman. Make no mistake, Matt Breida will have a presence on this roster. The reason I’m selecting Coleman in this matchup in his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. No matter how often the 49ers running backs were debated amongst fantasy football analysts, almost everyone agreed in the end that Tevin Coleman carried the most value. All Kyle Shanahan has wanted in SanFrancisco is to have a running back to routinely catch the ball out of the backfield. While Carlos Hyde admirably filled the role in 2017, Shanahan was left scrambling for a pass-catching running back in 2018 when Jerick McKinnon tore his knee just weeks before the season. Shanahan went after Coleman in free agency for a reason, the familiarity with the offensive scheme is a real thing and I think we see that in Week 1.
Eagles vs. Redskins
ESPN Starting Percentage: 10.8%
Since his trade to Philadelphia, I have been one of the biggest advocates in the industry for Jordan Howard. It is more of the same heading into Week 1 and while most are continuing to discard the former Chicago Bear, I’m doubling down and suggesting that you start Howard in Week 1. Over his last two seasons in Chicago, Howard was no worse than the eleventh best fantasy running back inside the red zone. That is precisely where I think Howard will thrive in the Eagles Week 1 matchup against the Washington Redskins. It should be noted though that the Redskins aren’t always a matchup dream for running backs. From a fantasy perspective, the Redskins improved last season as they went from allowing the sixth-most points to backs in 2017, to fifteen last season. All of that being said, success isn’t impossible. The Miles Sanders’ truthers might be agitated as they are reading this but don’t worry, there is room for him too. This is an Eagles team that despite sporting one of the best offensive lines in football finished last season with the fifth-fewest rushing yards in the league. Then again, with Howard and Sanders, the Eagles rushing attack is much improved and I think we see that on full display this Sunday.
Raiders vs. Broncos
ESPN Starting Percentage: 86.4%
I have to be honest, for the way in which this column is formatted, selecting a running back to sit that has a start percentage of 50% or higher was easier said than done. At the end of the day, I’m going to go with Raider’s rookie running back, Josh Jacobs. To be clear, Jacobs will have more positive games than negative ones for your fantasy roster. With the Antonio Brown saga that loomed over Oakland, I feel like the Raiders offense might need a week or two to be firing on all cylinders. Couple that thought with a matchup against Von Miller and the soon to be sophomore sensation, Bradley Chubb, I think Jacobs has a chilly welcome to the NFL on Monday Night. The Broncos may sputter at times offensively in 2019, but with first-year head coach Vic Fangio patrolling the sidelines, the Broncos defense might take some big steps this season. I will even go as far as predicting that in 2019, the Broncos will be one the best fantasy defenses against the run.
Start’em Sit’em Wide Receivers
49ers @ Buccaneers
ESPN Starting Percentage: 56.1%
At this point, no one should fault you for having Chris Godwin fatigue. For months, the Buccaneers pass-catcher has been the apple of the fantasy football fan’s eye. While the hype may seem unrelenting, I think it is warranted in Week 1 as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers welcome in the SanFrancisco 49ers. In the 2018 season, Godwin played much better at home than on the road. In his home games, Godwin had 562 yards receiving, five touchdowns and had a 65.5 catch percentage. As far as the Buccaneers opponent, over the past two seasons, the 49ers have finished in the top 10 in fantasy points allowed to the wide receiver position. While the 49ers worked at strengthening their defensive line in the offseason, I believe that will only help their secondary so much against an offense that will be throwing early and often. During Bruce Arians five seasons as head coach of the Cardinals, his offenses threw the ball an average of 58.6% of the time. So while you may have to endure the Godwin hype for another week, he could help guide you to victory in Week 1.
Buccaneers vs. 49ers
ESPN Starting Percentage: 4.1%
From a headlines standpoint, the 49ers pass-catcher has had a cruel summer. After hearing training camp reports about him struggling and Kyle Shanahan referencing Pettis when talking about earning a spot, Week 1 is where we finally see if it was all legitimate or simply coach speak. While I do think Pettis will be boom or bust this season, I like him in this Buccaneers matchup. Last season, four of Pettis’ five rookie touchdowns came on the road. One of those touchdowns was in a Week 12 matchup in Tampa Bay where the 49ers finished as nineteenth best receiver in fantasy. Last season, the Buccaneers allowed the fifth most points to wide receivers and were also just one of six teams to allow more than 20 touchdowns to wide receivers. In Week 1 and beyond, the Buccaneers defense will be a safe haven for fantasy pass catchers. Also, for what it’s worth, I think Deebo Samuel will be one of the most added players headed into Week 2. Pettis had a lot of hype after the 2018 season for a reason, don’t be afraid to buy-in in Week 1.
Colts @ Chargers
ESPN Starting Percentage: 85.5%
Yes, while I understand that Jacoby Brissett is far from a liability, this sit decision has to do with the recently retired Andrew Luck. When Luck missed the 2017 season, Hilton finishes with 966 receiving yards. If you look closer at each game, 605 of those 966 yards game in just four games. Translation, in those other 12 games played in 2017, Hilton averaged just 30 yards receiving. So while Hilton shouldn’t be left for dead in fantasy leagues, I’m not encouraged by the fact that the Colts will open their season against a Chargers defense that over the last two seasons has finished in the top 10 in fewest points allowed to wide receivers.
Start’em Sit’em Tight Ends
Titans @ Browns
ESPN Starting Percentages: 47.7%
At 33 years of age, there were several points during this spring and summer where we weren’t entirely sure if Delanie Walker would make it back to this point. The reasoning behind that was a Week 1 matchup against the Dolphins last season where Walker had dislocated his ankle. Never the less, the Titans are starting their 2019 season with Delanie Walker in the tight end position and I expect him to be relied on just as much as he was prior to that injury. For now, Marcus Mariota is the Titans starting quarterback and in Mariota’s first three seasons, Delanie Walker had never received less than 100 targets. Seeing as that Walker had missed the 2018 season, back in 2017, Walker was the third most targeted tight end in the NFL. Circling back to that opening game last season, even despite suffering that season-ending injury, Walker finished that week as the eleventh best tight end. The Titans Week 1 opponent, the Browns had allowed the sixth-most points to tight ends last season and over the last three seasons have finished in the top 5 in receptions allowed to the position. Even if the Titans get steamrolled this Sunday, Walker will still have a presence on your team.
Browns vs. Titans
ESPN Starting Percentages: 58.4%
Despite finished as a top 10 tight end last season, David Njoku has appeared to be a player that has underperformed. Looking a little closer at his per-game scoring, while Njoku had six games as a top 10 tight end last season, he had eight games in which he never even finished inside the top 20. Consistently inconsistent is the name of Njoku’s game and I expect that to bleed into a Week 1 matchup against the Tennessee Titans. While the Titans have question marks on the offensive side of the ball, behind Mike Vrabel, the defense has improved. Against tight ends last season, the Titans allowed just 7.3 points per game and we’re also just one of two teams to allow less than three touchdowns to the position. Again, the Titans offensive will have their woes in 2019, but their defense will keep them in games. For now, I’m suggesting that you sit Njoku.
Start’em Sit’em Defense
Browns vs. Titans
ESPN Starting Percentages: 46.8%
This time last year, Budweiser was stocking Cleveland bars with locked refrigerators that would unlock ice-cold beers, once the Browns won a game. No more marketing motivation is needed in Cleveland as the feel-good Browns will welcome in the Tennessee Titans this week. This start suggestion has just as much to do with the Browns as it does the Titans. While the Titans continue to delay the inevitable quarterback controversy, behind Olivier Vernon and Myles Garrett, the Browns will have Marcus Mariota under pressure early and often. I also think the Taylor Lewan suspension will loom large in this matchup. As previously mentioned, the Titans will keep them in this game, but the Browns defense will put up some solid fantasy numbers.
Jaguars vs. Chiefs
ESPN Starting Percentages: 77.9%
In just about every fantasy football draft this summer, there were two defenses that almost always went early. One of those teams was the Jacksonville Jaguars and while they will return value this season, I do not expect to see that in Week 1 when the Jaguars take on the Chiefs. Last season, the Jaguars took on the Chiefs of Week 5 and it did not go well for owners of the Jaguars defense. Despite finishing two of their first four games in the top 10 in defensive scoring, the Jaguars Week5 matchup against the Chiefs resulted in them finishing nineteenth in DST scoring. If you have a deep enough bench to carry and extra defense in Week 1, I would absolutely suggest sitting the Jaguars.
Thanks for Reading