The goal of Fantasy Football Feast or Famine is to identify specific weekly fantasy matchups that are favorable and unfavorable, and why. Looking around the league, there are several opportunity plays ‒ and some to avoid ‒ for the smart fantasy owners in Week 1.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Vegas says this game will be a shootout, setting the over/under at 52 points – the second highest of any matchup this week. The Steelers, though known mostly for their tenacious defense, were actually poor against the run last season. Their pass defense was even worse, with a 24.9% DVOA against, good for 30th last year. With the departure of legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the Steel Curtain now requires mending. Indeed, Pittsburgh selected six defensive players out of its seven selections in the 2015 Draft, which suggests the Steelers understand their deficiencies as well. Accordingly, they are likely to struggle defensively again this season as they go through a youth movement and adjust to new coordinator Keith Butler.
Why does this matter to Ben Roethlisberger owners? Because Pittsburgh figures to be sufficiently poor on defense such that they will need to throw the ball a lot to keep pace with opponents. Le’Veon Bell (suspended for the first two games) is an elite running back, but if your defense is hemorrhaging points, the offense needs to pick up yards in large bunches fast, and that means passing. Luckily for Roethlisberger, he has fine options to choose from ‒ namely Antonio Brown and sophomore Martavis Bryant. The latter will be suspended for the first four games of the season, but Brown will be featured prominently in the Steelers offense right out of the gate.
Their Week 1 matchup against New England features new starters in the secondary at both cornerback spots. The Patriots will be using Malcolm Butler and Tarell Brown to fill in after the offseason departures of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Their versatile defensive front will pressure the Steelers QB, but their secondary can likely be exploited.
So expect Roethlisberger to put up big numbers on the night. Pittsburgh will have to keep pace with a highly motivated Patriots offense who are 7 point favorites at home. Couple that with Bell watching this game from home, and the burden falls squarely on Big Ben’s shoulders, which means throwing. Given his past success with his arm, he and Brown should both make their owners very happy this week.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
What do you get when you take the most valuable running back in the league in terms of DYAR last season, add him to Chip Kelly’s up-tempo, run-first attack, and then match him up against the worst defense in the league from last season? A slam dunk matchup for DeMarco Murray and the Philadelphia Eagles. With the highest over/under of the week at 55 points, this game should feature plenty of scoring..
The Falcons hired former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as their head coach in large part because their defense had been so poor the last few seasons. Quinn will try to employ a similar scheme, but it will likely take a few seasons to acquire the necessary talent for it to resemble the Seahawks’ quality.
Murray left the Cowboys, but he also left the Dallas offensive line. The Cowboys’ line was ranked top in the league in terms of Adjusted Line Yards in 2014 by Football Outsiders. While he may not have the same holes to run through this season, Murray should have no problems running over a weak Atlanta defense in Week 1 .
Kenny Stills, WR, Miami Dolphins
The Washington Gridiron Squad was flat-out bad at defending the pass last season. They finished 2014 ranked last in the league in DVOA versus the pass, struggling against the short pass and the long ball almost equally. The unit doesn’t look to have improved much in the offseason.
Kenny Stills was brought in by the Dolphins to be the deep threat that Mike Wallace failed to provide in his two seasons with the Dolphins. With the Saints, Stills was one of the most explosive receivers in the league, finishing third in DVOA in 2014. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is entering his fifth season in the league and his second under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. The first-team offense has looked sharp this preseason under his command and Tannehill’s deep ball accuracy has improved noticeably.
This opportunity play is a coin-flip decision between Stills and teammate Jarvis Landry. In a PPR league, Landry may be the better selection as he will likely see his fair share of targets, but Stills doesn’t need many targets to impact a game. With the revamped receiving corps the Dolphins have in 2015, Washington’s Football Team will likely struggle to control the aerial attack in Week 1.
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck is being selected as either the first or second quarterback off the board in most drafts, and for good reason. Luck is a high-volume passer who accumulates yards, passing TDs, and even chips in the occasional rushing TD. Despite his sterling reputation, Luck can also be a bit careless at times, throwing 16 INTs last season. He’s also thrown up a few clunkers, like his Week 15 performance against Dallas last year which single-handedly sunk the playoff hopes of more than a few fantasy teams.
In Week 1, Luck gets the unenviable task of facing the Buffalo Bills on the road. Rex Ryan now runs the ship in Buffalo and he inherited a defensive unit that finished last season ranked second in defensive DVOA and first against the pass. Adding Ryan’s aggressive defensive scheme to what was already one of the best defenses in the league figures to make life very difficult for opposing QBs.
Investing a first- or second-round selection in Andrew Luck likely means his owners will be starting him regardless of his opponent, but don’t be surprised if he struggles in Week 1.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson received a new contract and Jimmy Graham is the shiny new tight end, but expect the Seahawks to still be a run-first offense with Marshawn Lynch carrying the bulk of the load. Lynch led RBs in 2014 with a 23.1% DVOA. Despite Lynch’s dominance, Seattle was pedestrian in the red zone last season, finishing 19th in TDs per red zone trip and 14th in points per red zone trip.
Here is likely where Jimmy Graham will enter into the equation. The gifted pass catching TE gives the Seahawks another dimension that they didn’t possess last season, and Lynch’s overall fantasy output may suffer as a result in 2015. A whopping 11 of Lynch’s 13 rushing TDs came from within the opponent’s 10 yard-line, and he only scored once from outside the red zone.
In Week 1, Lynch will face the St. Louis Rams’ excellent defense on the road. The Rams finished 2014 ranked fourth in DVOA against the run and added defensive tackle Nick Fairley to an already stacked defensive line. A tough matchup on paper coupled with the arrival of Graham could lead to a subpar performance from the usually reliable Lynch.
Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Jets
For a multitude of reasons, Brandon Marshall is a name to avoid in Week 1. The matchup alone should steer owners clear, as Cleveland had the second best pass defense in the league last season, and the receiver will draw attention from Joe Haden, one of the best cover corners in the NFL. Marshall is no longer the dominant receiver he was in his prime, finishing 2014 ranked 48th in DVOA and 46th in DYAR. His quarterback situation also does not inspire confidence, as Ryan Fitzpatrick is widely seen as a major step down from Jay Cutler.
Marshall is being drafted as a WR2/WR3 this year by owners, but he should be treated as a “left out” and left on owners’ benches this week.