Each week we'll provide fantasy positional rankings based on expected performance. With Week 1 of the NFL season upon us, here's our opening-week breakdown of the rankings:
The toughest matchups for the top fantasy quarterbacks this week are Aaron Rodgers at San Francisco and Cam Newton against Seattle. You drafted those guys early with the intention of playing them every week, though, so keep them active.
In the sleeper category, EJ Manuel (knee) is a viable starter in two-quarterback leagues, facing a Patriots secondary that was third worst in fantasy against quarterbacks last season. While steady, Andy Dalton shouldn't be anyone's primary starter in one-quarterback formats, especially against Charles Tillman and the Bears defense on the road in Week 1.
Adrian Peterson and C.J. Spiller face unfavorable matchups against very good defensive fronts in the Lions and Patriots (top-10 rush defense a year ago). You cannot afford to sit your early first-round picks, though.
Steven Jackson, Stevan Ridley, Isaac Redman, Jamaal Charles and David Wilson face the five most generous teams against fantasy running backs from last season. Redman is the sleeper starter here, while the others are must-start locks, regardless of the matchups this season.
Sleepers to use this week in addition to Redman include the Colts' Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard and Ronnie Hillman, Shane Vereen and Daryl Richardson.
The sits are Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and DeAngelo Williams.
It is a rare week we would dare to rank anyone above Calvin Johnson, but Julio Jones and Roddy White just have too juicy of a matchup against that porous Saints secondary. Matt Ryan is going to have a field day, win or lose in New Orleans.
Most of your drafted starters are viable plays until the matchups or their health prove otherwise, including the Packers trio of receivers, who face a stiff 49ers defense on the road. Steve Smith, though, is a bad play against the Seahawks defense. If you're looking for sleepers this week, go with Pats rookie Kenbrell Thompkins or third-year San Diego receiver Vincent Brown against the Texans. This top 50 represents the best plays through the 14-team, three-receiver and a flex formats.
A quick gander at these rankings shows why you shouldn't have picked a tight end before the late rounds if you didn't get Jimmy Graham or another elite option. There just isn't much difference between the second-tier guys.
We continue to point to the Seahawks, 49ers, Texans and Bears for the most unfavorable matchups of the week. The Saints, Bills and Raiders are the matchups to take advantage of here, including using sleepers like Zach Sudfeld, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.
If you drafted Greg Olsen and a backup tight end, you might consider sitting Olsen against the Seahawks secondary. They were No. 2 in fantasy against tight ends last year.
You absolutely cannot trust the Falcons defense at New Orleans, the Ravens defense at Denver or the Packers defense at San Francisco. All three fringe fantasy options are bad plays, if not Week 1 cuts for a streaming defense.
We break down the best of the streaming defense/special-teams units in another article. The Bucs, Colts, Chiefs and Lions are the sleepers to use as streaming options.
Outside of my continued warnings about Sebastian Janikowski as a threat to get shut out in any given week, there is little to glean from a ranking of the top kickers. You should only own one, and you should just ride him barring a matchup against the Seahawks, 49ers, Bears or Texans. That list might even be whittled down to just those first two in deeper leagues that start more than 12 kickers.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.
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