We are one game into the 2018 NFL season and finally our first fantasy football matchup. It feels good! Each week, I’ll be here with favorable D/ST matchups and IDP targets in these games. I know teams like Jacksonville, the Los Angeles Rams and Baltimore Ravens were drafted early as season long D/ST starts, so they aren’t likely to make my article unless I list them as an “Against the Grain” team and a non-start. For those IDP owners out there, Keanu Neal, is a tough loss at safety, but it surely won’t break your season. I’ll also be listing some IDP targets each week from my D/ST picks and some are likely to be on your waiver wires. Finally each week in my “Against the Grain” section I’ll be listing a start or non-start that may go against the what the majority are thinking for the week. Let’s get to it with my picks for Week 1 of the 2018 Fantasy Season!
New Orleans Saints D/ST vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($3,600 – DK/$4,600 – FD)
The Saints were a surprisingly good defense in 2017 after struggling under the previous coordinator Rob Ryan. New DC Dennis Allen has turned things around largely because of a couple of draft picks in the secondary: Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams. The Saints have added push rushing depth and free agent linebacker Demario Davis for 2018 and should pickup where they left off last year. Tampa Bay will be starting journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback this week in place of a suspended Jameis Winston and I expect Tampa to get off to a rough start. Tampa’s best bet against the Saints will be to utilize tight end’s Howard and Brate often as the Saints could be vulnerable with linebacker coverage, but the Saints will be able to adjust and have the playmakers to be able to roll coverage if needed. I expect the Saints to use a combination of Lattimore and double teams against Mike Evans to take him out of the game script and to also be able to take away the running game of the Bucs with a strong front four. The Saints will also be able to put Fitzpatrick under pressure throughout the game which could lead to mistakes.
Green Bay Packers D/ST vs Chicago Bears ($3,200 – DK/$4,100 – FD)
The Chicago Bears have changed coaching staffs bringing in new head coach Matt Nagy, who spent ten years coaching under Andy Reid. This should lead to a better passing offense for the Bears along with four new targets: receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel in free agency and Anthony Miller via the draft, along with receiving tight end Trey Burton also through free agency. I believe the Bears will find success, but not quite this soon or against this Green Bay defense Sunday night in Green Bay. Green Bay is built to stop Chicago’s running game with a strong front three and middle linebackers Blake Martinez and Oren Burks. This leaves the Bears to try to move the ball through the air and recently Green Bay has had trouble defending the pass. The Packers spent two more early draft picks in their secondary and while not listed as starters Josh Jackson and Jaire Alexander will get plenty of playing time. Listed as starters are second year corner Kevin King and one of the older corners in the league Tramon Williams. Against Tom Brady, I’d be worried for this first week or in any early season game until these young Packers gain game experience, but they are facing a young quarterback in Mitch Trubisky who also lacks experience and has the same number of touchdowns as he does interceptions, seven, through twelve starts. You might say, twelve starts is 3/4’s of a season, but in these twelve starts Trubisky only attempted 330 passes, half a season for many quarterbacks, and he is also learning a new offense. I expect a few growing pains for Chicago early. Their defense will keep them in some games, but not this week against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Detroit Lions D/ST vs New York Jets ($3,400 – DK/$4,400 – FD)
Detroit is likely a popular pick this week facing the Jets along with anyone facing the Bills (this week Baltimore). I can’t argue this logic so I’ll jump on board as well. I expect linebacker Jarrad Davis to have a great season after last season’s growing pains. He has the skill set and better guys playing next to him this year. I imagine him developing into someone like Deion Jones in Atlanta who is actually the same age but has one more year of experience at the NFL level. The new head coach Matt Patricia is a former defensive coordinator which should help the focus on defense overall for the Lions. The front four for Detroit is solid and has the ability to get to the quarterback. The secondary is also fairly good in Detroit. At this stage, they are by no means a top 10 defense, but they could look like one this week against the Jets who are fielding the only rookie quarterback this week. Sam Darnold has potential, but at times in college was turnover prone and held onto the ball too long. If he exhibits these qualities more so than of a calm, poised and confident young quarterback, the Jets will have a rough start to the season. Darnold could absolutely surprise me, he has some weapons around him. However, I think the Jets defense will give up points and Darnold will struggle in playing from behind — turnovers are likely.
Cameron Jordan (DE/Saints)
In 2017 Jordan had 1.0 sack and 1.5 sacks in two games against the Buccaneers. He is one of the premier defensive ends in the NFL and will look to get off to a good start in this game where Tampa should be throwing often.
Kwon Alexander (LB/Bucs)
Alexander and Levonte David should both be busy at linebacker trying to stop Alvin Kamara and the Saints short passing game.
Justin Evans (S/Bucs)
Evans is another good start at safety this week for the Bucs. Without Mark Ingram in the Saints lineup, the Saints should limit the carries to Alvin Kamara and use the passing game at a much higher rate than in 2017 this game and the first four weeks.
Blake Martinez (LB/Packers)
Chicago will try hard to establish the run with Jordan Howard and Blake Martinez will be a big part of trying to shut him down. One of the leading tacklers in the NFL in 2017, Martinez should be in store for another great fantasy season.
Adrian Amos (S/Bears)
I’m not sure Green Bay will be willing to stick with the running game this week if they find it tough going. With Aaron Rodgers back at quarterback, they will be more willing to abandon the run for the pass which means the Chicago secondary will be busy and Adrian Amos is the best tackler of the bunch.
Darius Slay (C/Lions)
Slay is one of the better corners in the NFL and Detroit’s best playmaker. If Darnold gets flustered early and reacts poorly to pressure Slay is likely to finish the play with an interception if the ball is thrown his way. He is coming off of an 8 INT and 26 Passes Defended season in 2017 for Detroit.
Kerry Hyder (DE/Lions)
Hyder is the lesser known defensive end in Detroit, but I expect both he and the more well know Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah to have good games if Darnold succumbs to the pressure of his first start in the NFL. Hyder also got off to a hot start in 2017.
Against the Grain D/ST’s
I’ve seen both the Carolina Panthers at home vs the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins on the road against the Arizona Cardinals listed as starts this week in national columns. I’m on the opposite side in both of these matchups.
The Carolina Panthers have looked fairly good in preseason games, but with the start of the season we will really see the state of their offensive line and the outcome of the loss of Andrew Norwell and time missed because of injury among the remaining linemen. Dallas will test them with a rotation of young defensive ends, and what should be an improved linebacker group and secondary. I think Carolina will struggle where Dallas excels, with their pass rush and their secondary, which are two areas essential to fantasy points for D/ST’s.
In Arizona, I don’t see a dropoff from the group who finished sixth in total defense in 2017. Washington’s line is intact thus far, but with a 33-year-old running back, who has averaged less than 4.0 yards per rush in his last few seasons, running against a defense who only gave up 3.5 yards per rushing attempt in 2017. Washington will have to rely on their passing game. Arizona should improve upon their 14th ranked passing defense in 2017. Budda Baker is taking over the strong safety spot, an improvement over Tyrann Mathieu — who is now with the Houston Texans. Jamar Taylor brings starting experience to the corner position and should be an upgrade to team up with all-pro corner Patrick Peterson. Things won’t be easy for Washington on the offensive side of the ball. On the defensive side of the ball, Washington has pieces, but they are inexperienced and will take time to gel especially along the defensive line. I wouldn’t expect them to shut down the Cardinals this early in the season or this early in their progression of becoming a better overall defensive unit.
Join me again in Week 2 and each Saturday this NFL and fantasy season. As always, good luck!