Welcome to the inaugural Fantasy Football Forecast! My goal with this weekly column is to get you actionable information as quickly as possible, regardless if you're playing season-long fantasy, DFS, or are grinding player props.
If you're just looking for fantasy football rankings and only have 10 minutes to skim through for your sit/start decisions, then head over to the "Forecast" sections below where I project each player's PPR finish based on a 12-team league. But if you want to get your research on, then I have full player breakdowns. As always, hit me up on Twitter @HaydenWinks if you have questions.
Teams are listed in order of their implied points.
Page 1: Saints, Patriots, Chiefs, Eagles, Seahawks, Cowboys, Vikings, Bucs, Rams, Chargers
Page 2: Browns, 49ers, Lions, Panthers, Jaguars, Texans, Broncos, Ravens, Falcons, Cardinals
Page 3: Jets, Steelers, Raiders, Titans, Bills, Colts, Giants, Redskins, Bengals, Dolphins
TNF: Bears, Packers
1. Saints (29.5 implied points, -6.5 spread) vs. HOU
Drew Brees has everything going for him to start the season. The Saints play against a Jadeveon Clowney-less Texans team that plays fast regardless of game script (see chart above -- we want teams to be in the top-right quadrant), and it’s at home, where Brees averaged 3.0 touchdowns and 321 yards through the air last season. With the highest implied point total (29.5) of Week 1, Brees should flirt with a top-five quarterback finish.
Michael Thomas averaged an 8.5-103-0.75 receiving line (23 PPR points) in home games last year, and there’s nobody in the Texans’ secondary that can match up with him. Thomas is a no-brainer top-five receiver with a huge ceiling and high floor. … If Brees and Thomas live up to their 2018 home averages, there are still over 200 receiving yards up for grabs. The running backs and tight ends will obviously be involved, but there’s room for Tre’Quan Smith or Ted Ginn to finish as top-36 receivers in Week 1. Smith averaged 9.7 yards per target as a rookie last year and is the best vertical weapon on the team now that Ginn is 34 years old. However, Ginn did see more first-team snaps this preseason. Both are low-volume WR5s in a perfect matchup. … Jared Cook, coming off a career-high 896 yards, has reportedly meshed well with Brees this offseason and offers the most tight end talent Brees has had since Jimmy Graham. Cook was drafted as the TE7 all offseason, and he won’t have many better matchups than this one.
Alvin Kamara’s usage is the most game flow independent among the elite fantasy backs. As you saw above, Kamara sees over 30% of the Saints’ touches regardless of the score. With the Saints downgrading their RB2 and with Brees a year older, Kamara could become even more utilized in 2019. This preseason, Kamara played on 62% of the first-team snaps but that doesn’t factor in Kamara being pulled one drive earlier than Murray. I think the industry is slightly underestimating Kamara’s projected touches in 2019. Kamara is my overall RB1 this week given his usage and the Saints’ league-leading team total (29.5). … Latavius Murray played in a modified Ingram role this preseason, so he should see slightly more touches as the Saints build a lead (6.5-point favorite). Murray is an RB3 with touchdown equity, but it’s worth noting that Kamara stole a goal-line carry from Murray this preseason.
t2. Patriots (27.5, -6) vs. PIT
Tom Brady has averaged 2.8 fewer fantasy points in the 27 games without Rob Gronkowski, but he does get Josh Gordon back. In the 11 games with Gordon last year, Brady averaged 23.4 fantasy points with a 4,851 passing yards pace. With the second-highest point total (27.5) of the week and New England’s third-fastest pace with a big lead (see chart above), Brady is on the QB1/2 borderline with the Steelers above-average defense being the only thing holding me back from calling him a low-end QB1.
Julian Edelman was the WR9 in PPR points per game from Weeks 5-17 last year, and he gets a terrific matchup with a huge point total to start his age-33 season. Edelman’s usage doesn’t fall off unless the Patriots’ are up two scores, something the betting market doesn’t expect to happen (6-point favorites). Edelman’s volume is bankable as a WR2. … Josh Gordon struggled with Brady in his first six games (47 YPG), but he let loose across his final six games (76 YPG). Gordon should be the clear-cut No. 2 receiver with N’Keal Harry on injured reserve and with Gronk in retirement. Gordon’s ceiling in this matchup makes him a WR2, especially with NESN's Doug Kyed expecting Gordon to see an "almost full share of snaps" Week 1. … Demaryius Thomas is the big name, but Phillip Dorsett is the best bet as the Patriots’ No. 3 receiver in Week 1. It’s not exactly a role we want to play. … Matt LaCosse should draw the start, but he’s nothing more than a touchdown-dependent TE2/3 with a high team total.
Sony Michel averaged 14.1 PPR points in regular-season wins last season, but we also witnessed 24-, 29- and 18-carry games in the playoffs. Michel has as much touchdown equity as anyone given the Patriots’ 28.5 implied point total but his lack of pass-catching work lowers his floor. Michel is a high-end RB2. … James White has game script on his side (see above chart) as favorites at home, where he averaged 20.25 PPR points last year. White has an underrated ceiling against the Steelers as a PPR RB2. … Damien Harris was a 74th-percentile running back prospect in my Analytics Top 300 model, but he’s not expected to have standalone value unless Michel or White misses time.
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t2. Chiefs (27.5, -3.5) @ JAC
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs Offense played at the fifth-highest pace with a touchdown lead, and the Jaguars surprisingly played at a decent pace, too. This 27.5-point team total will be among the lowest of the Chiefs’ season, but Mahomes earned top-three quarterback status regardless of his matchup after averaging 26 fantasy points last year.
Tyreek Hill will be shadowed by stud CB Jalen Ramsey, which lowers Hill’s floor since we’ve seen the Jaguars limit Hill to “just” 61 yards last year. With that said, even one of the best corners in the NFL with safety help can’t completely rule out Hill breaking free on a long touchdown grab, especially since this game should finish near the top of total plays run. Hill is a high-end WR2 in probably his toughest projected game script of the season. … Sammy Watkins should see an extra target or two with Ramsey shadowing Hill, and this may be the healthiest Watkins has been in years. Watkins offers a nice ceiling as a WR3 playing on a team with the third-highest team total (27.5). … Second-round rookie corner turned receiver Mecole Hardman is a raw talent, but one that Andy Reid can scheme up as a low-volume speedster. The ground is the floor with Hardman, though he could break off for a big-play at any time. Similar things can be said for Demarcus Robinson. … Last year, Travis Kelce picked up at least 10 PPR points in 15-of-16 regular-season games and 19 PPR points in 8-of-16. Given Hill’s matchup and given the closer than normal point spread (-3.5), Kelce should be more targeted than normal, leaving no doubt that Kelce is the overall TE1.
Including playoffs, Damien Williams scored 10 touchdowns in the Chiefs’ final six games. Before the LeSean McCoy signing, Williams was about to crush, but things are way muddier now. McCoy was given top-10 running back money, signaling that he’ll be used regardless if he’s washed (3.2 YPC) or not. My guess is that Williams will handle the most carries while Shady gets subbed in on third downs. There’s enough juice for Williams to squeeze in an RB2 game, but I wouldn’t start McCoy quite yet. ... Darwin Thompson was underrated going into the draft, but his preseason breakout makes him an overrated commodity at the moment. RB3s basically never get run, so he’s likely waiting on an injury to become a fantasy asset. Thompson remains a high-ceiling bench stash, however.
t2. Eagles (27.5, -10) vs. WAS
Two years removed from a Mahomes-like fantasy season (27 FPPG), Carson Wentz is poised for a big season with arguably the best roster in football. With the fourth-highest implied team point total (27.5), Wentz has three-touchdown upside as a no-brainer QB1. Life is easy with elite red zone weapons and field stretchers.
Alshon Jeffery has averaged just 7.3 targets per game over the last two seasons and that’s made him quite touchdown-dependent. 13 of his 15 touchdowns during that span came in the red zone, however, which is at least more bankable than flukier long touchdowns. As implied by Vegas’ 25.75 team total, the Eagles should have a handful of red zone trips for Jeffery to capitalize on as a fantasy WR2/3. … DeSean Jackson led the NFL in yards per reception (18.9) last year, showing he still has gas left in the tank at 33-years old. His broken finger is concerning, but he remains the boom-or-bust WR4 that he’s been for the past decade. Jackson has a shot at winning a deep ball against the Redskins’ slower outsider corners. … Nelson Agholor is holding onto his starting spot for dear life with second-round rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside hot on his trail. Agholor should open the season as a low-volume WR5, who does his damage between the 20s in the slot. … Zach Ertz set the targets record for tight ends last year, but offseason additions will keep Ertz’s target share to more normal levels. Drafted consistently as the TE3 this August, Ertz should enter most weeks, including this one, as a top-four tight end. … Dallas Goedert is expected to play, but he’s nothing more than a TE2 given the plethora of red zone options.
Second-round rookie Miles Sanders has been hyped all offseason, but the Eagles rotated Sanders and Jordan Howard all preseason and plan to use a committee approach. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Howard receive the veteran starting nod in Week 1 while Sanders rotates in as a situational runner and pass-catcher. Sanders could still cash in a top-25 RB finish, given the Eagles’ second-highest team total (27.5) and largest point spread (-10), however. Howard and Sanders are RB3s in ideal matchups.
5. Seahawks (27, -10) vs. CIN
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks Offense had the highest first-down run rate in the NFL last season, but I do expect Russ to throw more in 2019 after losing 126 pass attempts last year off his 2017 total. Wilson is a locked-in QB1 with the Seahawks owning the fifth-highest team total of the week and with the Bengals projected to be one of the faster-paced teams in the NFL under new ex-Rams OC Zac Taylor (see chart above).
Tyler Lockett averaged the most yards per attempt (13.8!!!) in the NFL last year, and he’ll now take on a chunk of the Seahawks’ 163 missing targets. To make things even better, Lockett played a higher percentage of his snaps in the slot this preseason and he averaged 15.7 yards per slot target last year. If Lockett gets enough volume -- once again, I expect Seattle to pass more in 2019 -- there’s a path to a top-12 receiver finish. With this 27-point team total, I’m firing up Lockett as a top-15 play in Week 1. … DK Metcalf (knee) proclaimed himself 100 percent healthy, but he has been consistently injured his entire football career. Metcalf can’t be trusted in season-long as anything more than a WR4, though I’m open to him in DFS tournaments depending on late-week news (Update: Metcalf was taken off the injury report, making him a DFS tournament option). Metcalf was given elite PFF grades on Go/Back Shoulder/Red Zone Fade routes, types of throws that Wilson is excellent at hitting. … Jaron Brown should see plenty of run, but the Seahawks showed how little confidence they have in him by cutting him and re-signing him last weekend. Brown is nothing more than a dart throw in good game script. … The Seahawks, unfortunately, don’t have a go-to tight end (Will Dissly, Nick Vannett) to take advantage of the Bengals’ second-worst tight end defense.
Chris Carson had Kamara/Gordon/Gurley-level usage when the Seahawks were winning last year (see above chart). Carson saw 20.5 carries in wins, and there’s a plan for him to see more pass-catching work with Mike Davis out of town. As 10-point favorites with a high team total, I’m not going to be shy about my feelings for Carson. He’s my RB8 overall and will be heavily owned in DFS. … Rashaad Penny fell further behind Carson in training camp and was severely out-snapped by Carson in the preseason. Penny still has very positive game script in Week 1, but he’s an RB3 until further notice.
6. Cowboys (26.5, -7.5) vs. NYG
Dak Prescott and the Cowboys have been a slow-paced, run-heavy team, but new OC Kellen Moore is expected to modernize this offense with more pre-snap motion and potentially more pass attempts. Prescott also showed a ceiling last season when he was the QB6 with Amari Cooper in the lineup. To top it all off, Prescott averaged more passing yards (249 vs. 236), passing touchdowns (1.75 vs. 1.0), and rushing yards (23 vs. 15) at home last year. Prescott is set up for a ceiling game as a QB1.
Amari Cooper was the WR9 from Week 9 on and averaged 9.5 yards per attempt despite being thrown into the offense mid-season. I expect Moore to scheme open Cooper better than anyone has, and he weighs 18 pounds more than his shadow CB Janoris Jenkins. Cooper is a WR1/2 with a nice ceiling. … Michael Gallup is the primary deep threat, and Ian Hartitz theorizes that Gallup will get more one-on-one matchups with the Giants shading coverage on Amari. Gallup has tournament appeal as an upside WR3/4 after closing last season with target totals of 6, 6, and 9. … Randall Cobb slides into the Cole Beasley role, one that should be pretty low-ceiling with Cooper and Zeke demanding a ton of targets. Cobb isn’t anything more than a WR4/5, even in a good matchup with a high total. … Jason Witten lost his toupée after getting booed out of the MNF booth, but he’s not a legit fantasy asset whether he has hair or not. Witten is a fringe TE2 who needs a touchdown to flirt with a top-12 finish.
Ezekiel Elliott signed his record-breaking contract extension earlier this week and will play Week 1. NFL Media’s Jane Slater reports “the plan right now” is for Zeke to have 20-25 reps, but there’s enough time, in my opinion, for their $90 million man to play more right away. If you have him in season-long, you’re playing him, but I couldn’t pay a premium price in DFS with Kamara and McCaffrey in smash spots. … Tony Pollard was a preseason darling, but he’ll be limited to a situational pass-catching role with Zeke active. In Week 1, Pollard might be utilized a tad more than that, though it’s not a gamble I’d take in standard-sized leagues.
t7. Vikings (26, -4) vs. ATL
Kirk Cousins and the Vikings Offense can kiss their “Always Fast” pace goodbye with OC Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak calling the shots. Cousins almost assuredly won’t finish fourth in pass attempts again, but the Vikings’ team total (26) is high enough to keep Cousins inside the top-16 quarterbacks.
I don’t have a great explanation for the above chart, but I do know Adam Thielen will be playing outside a bit more in 2019 with Chad Beebe winning the WR3 job. Thielen was still very efficient on the perimeter and has a nice home matchup with a respectable 26-point team total. Thielen is on the WR1/2 borderline, but would be moved up my rankings if Stefon Diggs (hamstring) doesn’t get a full practice in this week. … Diggs was a DNP on Wednesday and limited Thursday. He should suit up, but Diggs has averaged 37 receiving yards while playing through an injury designation, per Ian Hartitz. Diggs is a WR2 assuming he gets in a full practice Friday, but the floor has been lowered (Update: Diggs remains questionable). … Chad Beebe is the WR3, but he’s not projected for enough targets to roster if Diggs plays. … The Vikings are expected to use more two-tight end sets, which might actually hurt Kyle Rudolph, who may be tasked with blocking more frequently. Rudolph is a TE2.
Dalvin Cook gets a dreamy matchup against a Falcons defense that has allowed the most receptions to running backs in each of the last four seasons. But it’s his projected rushing volume that should have Cook owners foaming at the mouth. The Vikings will be more run-heavy under a new offensive coaching staff, and Cook has game script on his side as home favorites (-4). Cook is an RB1 and will rightfully be among the most-owned players in DFS. … Alexander Mattison is a pure handcuff, but he’s one worth having given Cook’s injury history.
t7. Bucs (26, -1) vs. SF
Jameis Winston and new head coach Bruce Arians have preached consistency and better decision making, but Winston will still take his shots in this high-flying attack. The Bucs finished with the most passing yards in the NFL last year, and the game script (home-favorites with a nice team total against a faster-paced offense) is one that will allow Winston to have a ceiling game. Winston is a QB1 and should be a popular tournament option in DFS.
Mike Evans will be free to roast the 49ers non-Richard Sherman corners since Sherman doesn’t shadow. Evans, who surprisingly only had a 22% team share of targets, has top-five receiver potential in this vertical offense if he can earn more targets, something we’ve expected this summer with DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries gone. Evans is a no-brainer WR1. … Chris Godwin, who Arians said “will be close to a 100-catch guy”, will be the primary beneficiary of the Bucs’ 234 available targets. As a bonus, Godwin played in the slot more frequently this preseason, a place where he averaged 9.2 YPT last year. Godwin’s efficiency and expected volume are enough to warrant a top-15 ranking this week. … Breshad Perriman has some min-priced tournament appeal given the team total (26) and his preseason chemistry with Winston. … O.J. Howard was drafted as the TE4 this August after being a full-time player this preseason. Volume was the only missing ingredient for Howard to take off in fantasy. Howard is one of the bigger freaks at the position and has untapped potential with targets up for grabs. Fire him up confidently as a top-four tight end. … Cameron Brate’s role will be diminished under Arians, so he’ll have to find a lucky touchdown to cash in a top-15 finish. Obviously a fade.
Peyton Barber was clearly the best Bucs running back to own if you kept track of preseason usage, but Barber still isn’t overly exciting after averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry in back-to-back seasons. Barber doesn’t have much of a ceiling, even with a positive game script. He’s an RB3/4. … Ronald Jones’ ADP plummeted once the preseason rolled around. Probably because Jones isn’t a good NFL player. … Dare Ogunbowale has some bench appeal as the potential passing-downs back, but he’s a wait-and-see player.
t9. Rams (25.5, -1) @ CAR
Jared Goff and the Rams’ find themselves in the “Always Fast” quadrant -- that’s good -- but Goff’s home/road splits are concerning. Goff only eclipsed 20 fantasy points in 1-of-8 road games last year and his offensive line is worse in 2019. The betting markets, however, remain relatively optimistic, giving the Rams’ the tenth-highest team total (25.5) of the week. Goff is a QB2 with a wide range of outcomes.
Brandin Cooks averaged 12.4 PPR points on the road last year (19.6 at home) and is utilized more in the rare times when the Rams are trailing. Being a road favorite (-1) isn’t good game script for Cooks, but he has too much big-play potential to drop him outside of the top-25 receivers. … Robert Woods (somehow) wasn’t affected by Goff’s home/road splits last year -- he averaged 16.7 PPR points at home and 16.5 on the road -- but he was affected by Cooper Kupp, who takes away a lot of his slot snaps. Woods averaged 18.6 fewer receiving yards with Kupp last year. Woods’ weekly floor should be lower in 2019, but he’s still a WR3 on the road with the Rams’ high team total (25.5). … Cooper Kupp was an every-week WR2 last year before tearing his ACL, and all reports suggest Kupp’s rehab went smoothly. Kupp’s has a lower floor than usual in his first game back, especially since they travel across the country, but he can be fired up as WR3. … Tyler Higbee was just handed a contract extension that makes him one of the top-10 highest-paid tight ends in football. That’s not great news for Gerald Everett. Neither is more than a TE2/3, especially on the road.
Todd Gurley does not have a snap count restriction Week 1 per Sean McVay, and while I don’t entirely believe that (arthritis), I do think this is a spot to sorta trust Gurley. He’s as fresh as he’ll ever be after being limited all offseason, and the Rams are surely going to use him in the highest-leverage situations (goal-line, screens, etc.) with this game expected to be close (-1 point spread). I’m still pessimistic on Gurley in season-long -- I think he’ll frequently be pulled early in blowouts for example -- but actually don’t mind him in DFS as a contrarian tournament play who is $1,100 less than Saquon. … Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson are both bench holds in season-long, but I don’t see either one playing enough snaps Week 1 to warrant flex appeal. If forced to choose, I’d roll with Henderson and his projected 9-12 weekly touches.
t9. Chargers (25.5, -6.5) vs. IND
Philip Rivers and the Chargers Offense play way too slow to have much of a ceiling, especially if the Colts Offense isn’t capable of shooting this game out without Andrew Luck. But the real issue is the Bolts’ offensive line. It might be a bottom-three line without Russell Okung. Maybe worse. Rivers is just a QB2 even as a home favorite.
Keenan Allen benefits from the Chargers’ line problems, Melvin Gordon’s holdout, and Tyrell Williams’ departure given his short-area skills. Ian Hartitz also points out that Allen could take advantage of the Colts’ league-leading zone coverage. Allen has a nice floor as a WR1. … Mike Williams isn’t a great fit against the Colts’ zone coverage, but he has enough ball skills to win in the red zone. With the Chargers projected for three touchdowns, Williams has decent touchdown equity as a WR3. The floor just might be lower than other receivers in that range. … Hunter Henry was a full-time player this preseason, a signal that he’s ready for a huge year with Antonio Gates out of town. Henry has been a very efficient player just waiting for targets. He’ll get plenty of them with Gordon holding out, especially against this Colts’ zone. Henry is a fringe top-five tight end this week.
Melvin Gordon is out for Week 1, so Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson will handle the load. This preseason, Ekeler was the starter and played more snaps than Jackson. I project Ekeler for 60-70% of the running back touches and the back who will benefit the most on passing downs. The question for me is who will handle goal-line carries? Ekeler had a fumble near the goal-line this preseason, and Jackson converted his goal-line carry right after. If Jackson doesn’t get goal-line looks, then I don’t see how he’s anything more than an RB5 even with Gordon out. Ekeler’s projection is safer, so I give him the benefit of the doubt as an RB2 with game script (home-favorite, decent team total) on his side.