After waiting months and months, the NFL is back, which also means the return of scrutinizing every lineup decision for fantasy football. With not all matchups being created equal, here are our top start ’em and sit ’em plays for Week 1 of fantasy football.
Start ’em, Sit ’em for Week 1: Quarterbacks
As the season kicks off, which QBs are must-starts and who should remain on the bench in Week 1?
Start ’em | Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
It has been no secret that Jalen Hurts has been one of my breakout fantasy quarterbacks for the 2021 season. He should get off to a hot start in Week 1 in a fantastic matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. While 2020 defensive stats will not be a carbon copy this year, they are a reliable indicator for early matchups until we have new results to pull data from.
Last season, the Falcons were 31st in fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs at 23.3 per game. But it somehow gets even better. They were dead last in total yards allowed per game (307.4). We should expect to see Hurts thrive on the ground in Week 1.
The Falcons were 28th in points allowed to QBs on the ground per game (4.4) and were 24th in rushing yards. Furthermore, they never faced someone remotely as talented as Hurts as a rusher. In fact, they played just three QBs who rushed for over 230 yards last season (Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and Justin Herbert).
Add in the upgrade at WR with DeVonta Smith, and Hurts is a locked-in QB1 with top-six upside.
Sit ’em | Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
As a rookie, Burrow was on an otherworldly pace last year. From Weeks 1-10, he was on pace for 698.9 attempts. We know what happened next. In Week 11, Burrow suffered a devastating knee injury and is still healing from it. He has been cleared for Week 1 but is likely not 100%. There are also concerns with this matchup.
Not only are there questions regarding the Bengals’ OL, but the Vikings should have one of the more dominant front-seven groups in the NFL. Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter are back and healthy. Additionally, the Vikings made significant additions across their depth chart with Dalvin Tomlinson, Sheldon Richardson, Patrick Peterson, and Bashaud Breeland. I like Burrow from a season-long perspective, but he makes the sit ’em list for start/sit decisions in Week 1.
Start ’em, Sit ’em for Week 1: Running Backs
While both RBs found themselves with adjusted roles in the preseason following injuries to surrounding players, each finds themselves on opposite sides of start/sit debates for Week 1.
Start ’em | James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
As much as the Travis Etienne injury was one of the worst moments of the preseason, it cleared up how the Jaguars would use James Robinson. As a UDFA in 2020, Robinson was the RB7 in PPR formats while averaging 17.9 points per game. Moreover, he was one of just seven players to average 100+ total yards per game. In Week 1, he has the matchup equivalent of an SEC team opening up against Bishop Sycamore.
That is not to say the Jags will be good, but the Houston Texans will be that awful. Last season, the Texans were 31st in points allowed to RBs (32.3) but 32nd in rushing yards (145.7), yards per attempt (5.5), and total yards per game at a whopping 190.9.
With Trevor Lawrence heading into his first professional game, expect to see Robinson receive ample opportunities in Week 1. Robinson is a top-five play for me in Week 1 and an easy start ’em or sit ’em decision.
Sit ’em | Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
After the unfortunate season-ending injury to Cam Akers, Henderson was looking like one of the best values in fantasy football drafts in 2021. However, with the addition of Sony Michel, he is now firmly in start ’em or sit ’em territory in Week 1 for fantasy football.
While this is not a knock on his talent, it is due to the uncertainty of his role in the Rams’ offense. Also, this is a brutal Week 1 matchup — the Bears project to have one of the best defenses in the NFL, especially against the run. Until we see how this backfield will shake out, Henderson is a low-end RB2 in Week 1 and on my sit ’em list for fantasy football.
With the wide receiver position deeper than ever for fantasy football, start ’em or sit ’em decisions for Week 1 are invariably matchup-dependent.
Start ’em | Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts
A ridiculous amount of receivers have favorable matchups this week. One going a bit more under the radar is Colts second-year WR Michael Pittman Jr. With T.Y. Hilton out (neck surgery), Pittman is the unquestioned “X” for the Colts in Week 1.
I really like his matchup as he likely takes on Seahawks CB Tre Flowers. After losing it twice last season, Flowers was a surprising winner of the starting job and wasn’t even in the conversation for the role at the beginning of camp because Ahkello Witherspoon signed for $4 million guaranteed. Yet, with Witherspoon now on the Steelers, it’s Flowers’ role to lose.
Seattle did get better as a unit towards the end of the season but still finished as the 29th-ranked defense against opposing WRs, allowing 43.2 points per game. Pittman is a sneaky WR3 play in Week 1 for fantasy football who has WR2 upside should he find the end zone.
Sit ’em | Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
There is no question that Allen Robinson is an elite WR1 in the NFL and fantasy football. There is a reason he was one of the first 12 WRs off the board in drafts. But when we now judge values on a week-by-week basis, matchups make up a large part of how we rank players.
There is no matchup more challenging than what Robinson faces in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams and CB Jalen Ramsey. Not only were the Rams the No. 1 defense against WRs in fantasy (28.2 ppg), but there are questions on the Bears’ offense as well.
Andy Dalton is a placeholder for the QB1 job until head coach Matt Nagy finally hands it over to Justin Fields. Also, the Bears placed OT Teven Jenkins on the IR (back surgery). Add in Nagy resuming play-calling duties, and Robinson has a genuine chance to bust in Week 1 for fantasy football.
Although the TE position in fantasy is notoriously shallow, start ’em or sit ’em decisions for Week 1 could mean the difference in a win or a loss.
Start ’em | Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
After fading Higbee last season, I am all in on him for 2021. With Gerald Everett in Seattle, Higbee should be a locked-in TE1 this season. I do not expect him to average the 94.4 yards and 23.2 ppg he averaged in games without Everett on the field last year. Still, he will do damage, beginning this week against the Bears.
For as good of a defense as the Bears have, they were susceptible against TEs last season, ranking 31st in points allowed per game (15.7) and 27th in points per target (1.99). Add in Matthew Stafford in place of Jared Goff, and this could be a much more explosive offense. Higbee should be started in Week 1 for fantasy.
Sit ’em | Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
Gesicki is one of the most athletic tight ends in the NFL. There is no debate about that, and he is coming off a strong 2020 season. He finished as the TE7 (10.6 ppg) with over 700 yards and 6 touchdowns. Still, this is not the same Dolphins team. They are a much better unit offensively and spent this offseason upgrading the WR room with Will Fuller and No. 6 overall pick Jaylen Waddle. While they will be without Fuller in Week 1 against New England (suspension), I would be cautious of starting Gesicki.
Although the Patriots led the NFL in players who opted out (8), including LB Dont’a Hightower and S Patrick Chung, they were the No. 4-ranked team vs. TEs at 10.5 ppg. Also working against Gesicki is it profiles as a lower-scoring game, coming in with the second-game total of Week 1 at O/U 44. Although I do like Gesicki, Tua Tagovailoa, and Miami’s offense as a whole for 2021, he ends up on the sit ’em list for Week 1 in fantasy football.
Despite a vocal minority calling for kickers to be removed from fantasy, start/sit choices for those streaming the position could lead to a massive advantage in Week 1.
Start ’em | Ryan Succop, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When in doubt, follow the points when it comes to kickers. The Buccaneers open up the 2021 NFL season on Thursday night and have the second-highest implied total of the week at 52 points. The defending Super Bowl champions return all of their starters and should be one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.
Succop was accurate last season, connecting on 90.3% of his FG attempts (28 of 31), including 52 PATs. He doesn’t have a huge leg, but Tampa Bay’s offense should have no issue regularly closing in on the Cowboys’ end zone.
Sit ’em | Cairo Santos, Chicago Bears
If it wasn’t evident with the discussion covering Robinson, I am staying away from the Bears this week, including Santos. Ever since the “Double Doink,” are we ever going to trust a Bears kicker completely?
Not only are the Bears one of the biggest underdogs of the week (+7.5), but Vegas has them pegged for just 14.5 points — ouch. With scoring opportunities at a premium, plus the ball-hawking nature of the Rams, avoid Santos this week.
The odds of winning your Week 1 fantasy football matchup skyrocket by nailing which defense to start.
Start ’em | Denver Broncos
The Broncos have been one of my favorite defenses to draft this offseason. Denver did a great job addressing holes on defense, with the additions of cornerbacks Patrick Surtain, Kyle Fuller, and Ronald Darby. Furthermore, they are healthy. Denver got zero games out of Von Miller, seven from A.J. Bouye, six from Mike Purcell, and three from Jurrell Casey in 2020.
In Week 1, they take on the Giants with Saquon Barkley on a snap count, Kenny Golladay and Evan Engram on the injury report, and Daniel Jones, who has had 51 combined interceptions and fumbles in just 27 games. Start the Broncos in Week 1 in your fantasy football lineups.
Sit ’em | Pittsburgh Steelers
I have repeatedly called the Steelers one of my defensive bust candidates of the season. They lost Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton, and Devin Bush is still recovering from a torn ACL. While the addition of Ahkello Witherspoon helps their secondary, it is not enough to stop Josh Allen and Buffalo’s offense.
This game could be a track meet, and I am not sure Pittsburgh’s defense is ready for that. Although they were one of the first defenses off the board in fantasy drafts, there is no way I am touching them this week against a Super Bowl contender.