The 2020 NFL regular season begins Thursday, a welcome sight for fantasy players who put together teams without the benefit of a preseason schedule because of the pandemic.
The experience of watching a game in person will be altered, yet the mere presence of deciding who to start and sit will – at least for a few hours – give fantasy players a sense of normality.
START: Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles: Injuries to Alshon Jeffery and first-round pick Jalen Reagor leave Wentz with the same uncertain group at wide receiver. No worries, considering Wentz averages 279 yards with 15 career touchdown passes in seven career games against a Washington Football Team, which allowed 35 touchdown tosses in 2019, the third-highest total in the league.
SIT: Josh Allen, QB, Bills: The trendy breakout candidate could walk his fantasy owners into heartache as he takes on a Jets defense that was seventh overall in fewest average depth of target. The Jets love to blitz, which doesn’t bode well for Allen, who was pressured 23.2% of the time last year, 12th highest among quarterbacks.
START: Josh Jacobs, RB, Raiders: Jacobs is in line to put up big numbers against a Panthers defense that allowed the most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs last season. His fantasy owners can also count on him adding extra yardage after contact: Jacobs was sixth among running backs with 2.8 yards per carry after the first defender put pads on him.
SIT: Leonard Fournette, RB, Buccaneers: This isn’t to say he won’t get a few touches in his Tampa Bay debut, but Ronald Jones will get the bulk of the snaps against a Saints defense that was sixth best in fantasy points per game allowed to opposing runners in 2019. Only three other teams allowed fewer rushing yards last season than New Orleans, so unless the options are thin, it’s best to keep Fournette sidelined.
START: Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Saints: With the Bucs putting their focus on WR Michael Thomas and RB Alvin Kamara, Sanders should thrive in his New Orleans debut. Tampa Bay had the worst points per game average against opposing wide receivers in 2019 while also allowing the most targets per game to opposing wideouts. Translation: Sanders belongs in your lineup.
SIT: DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins: It’s a given that Parker will be shadowed by Pats All-Pro corner Stephon Gilmore, who allowed a paltry 44.3 QB rating when thrown at last season. Parker averaged 17.1 yards per catch against New England in 2019, yet will be hard-pressed to duplicate that total against a defender who allowed just 11.7 yards per reception against him last year
START: Tyler Higbee, TE, Rams: After closing the regular season as a favorite target of QB Jared Goff, Higbee opens the season with a solid matchup against a Cowboys defense that allowed the most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends last season. Higbee averaged just over 11 targets per game over the last five matchups of 2019, and even with the wealth of talent Goff has at receiver, expect Higbee to get the bulk of the looks on Sunday night.
START: Tarik Cohen, RB, Bears: He’s a strong play in PPR formats, having caught all eight of his targets in two games against the Lions last season. He should be good for double-digit targets in the opener, especially since Detroit gave up the third-most receiving yards per game to opposing running backs.
SIT: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers: Rodgers had the fourth-most poor throws among starting QBs with 114 and his 31 throwaways were second only to Tom Brady. With essentially the same receiving group returning, starting Rodgers isn’t a smart play against a Vikings defense that ranked third in fewest yards after the catch and adds more thump to the pass rush with the addition of DE Yannick Ngakoue.
START: Allen Robinson II, WR, Bears: He and the aforementioned Tarik Cohen will thrive, but it’s Robinson who could really reward his fantasy users. The Lions were last in the league in passing yards allowed (3,042) and the 189.8 yards per game allowed to opposing receivers were second worst. This will be one of the rare times the Bears’ passing game could pay off.
SIT: Kenyan Drake, RB, Cardinals: Considered a potential breakout back, Drake may have to wait a week or two before living up to those expectations. He opens the season against a stingy 49ers run defense that was third in fewest fantasy points per game allowed to opposing running backs. Even in PPR formats, Drake is a risky play as only the Panthers (24.5) allowed fewer receiving yards to opposing running backs than the 49ers (25).
START: Derek Carr, QB, Raiders: A strong close to 2019 should carry into the new season for Carr, who averaged 300.2 yards per game in his last four games. He also did not throw an interception in the same span, and with the new addition of rookie Henry Ruggs III at receiver, everything points toward Carr being solid under the radar play.
SIT: T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts: A combination of things go against Hilton. The Jaguars gave up the 11th-fewest points to opposing receivers last season, plus the addition of a new quarterback (Philip Rivers) and the presence of young wideouts Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman will lead to fewer targets for Hilton. It’s best to sit him and lay back to see how Rivers distributes to his receivers instead of starting Hilton.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by SportsGrid Inc., www.sportsgrid.com