Fantasy Football: Decoding the Top 12 QBs for Week 1

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In our first edition of Decoding the Top 12 QBs, we begin our attempt to sort out the mess that is weekly NFL fantasy production at the QB position. We will look at the varying tiers of quarterbacks, assessing risk, home/away matchups, and realizing each week will have a bit of spontaneity. For a look into Who Can Be a QB1?, check out last year’s totals and what an average week looks like at the QB position.

This isn’t about predicting exact order of finish, but more identifying which guys have the best shot to be among the top 12. We will organize our weekly picks in these 4 categories:

Four-Sures: My top 4 for the week and definite must-starts.
Com-Four-table: Four QBs with relatively safe floors with added upside to be a solid top 12 choice.
Four In the Door: Four QBs who could sneak into the top 12 including a stream of the week option and at least one daring dart throw.
Four-Get-About-It: Four QBs I’m fading this week and projecting to finish outside the top 12.  Often this includes some higher profile QBs with tougher matchups that could underperform.

Note: Each week I will post at the bottom the success rate of the previous week. The goal is to be transparent as well as hopefully help fantasy owners and DFSers make better decisions at the QB position. In this business of predicting matchups with untold variables, anything above a 60% mark for the season is downright unbelievable. Each week we are whittling down 32 starting QBs (before bye weeks) and selecting just 12 to be a QB1. In other words, 20 guys will not be invited to our party to start the season.

Check out where Andy, Mike, and Jason have their QBs ranked for Week 1.

Four-Sures

Tom Brady vs. KC
A slam dunk. Don’t have to tell you much considering the Pats are obvious road favorites with the highest team implied point total (28.5) of the first week. The only thing that could derail a massive game is if the running game crew (Mike Gillislee, Rex Bulkhead, James White, Dion Lewis) banged in a couple of short scores.

Aaron Rodgers vs. SEA
Until we see otherwise, Rodgers basically lives in this tier from week-to-week. Ben Cummins highlighted in his recent GPP and Cash articles for the DFS Pass that Rodgers is a strong play for each. His team implied total of 26.8 is 4th best and the Seahawks actually were torched by WR2s last year, ranking 31st in DVOA last year. I love pairing him with Randall Cobb as a stack.

Russell Wilson @ GB
Rodgers’ dueling mate is Wilson, who might be one of my favorite GPP plays of the week. Vegas loves this one as its the third highest over/under (50) of the entire week. The Packers secondary was torched last year ranking 28th in DVOA and giving up the 2nd most yards per game through the air (269.2) in the league. There’s a ceiling available for Wilson to throw for 2-3 and rush for another in what should be one of the most exciting games of the weekend.

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Drew Brees @ MIN
He’s on the road… It’s the Vikings… WHO CARES! Brees should be locked and loaded as an automatic start. The over/under of 48 provides us a healthy base to start from. Despite losing slot option Willie Snead, I think Brees will be an underutilized option in DFS this week and could provide some variance. Most owners drafted Brees to be their starter so don’t get too cute. Start Mr. 5,000.

Com-Four-table

Marcus Mariota vs. OAK
Owners should get excited about Mariota and the Titans as they are home favorites in Vegas’ highest over/under of the weekend versus the Raiders. Their team implied total of 26.5, the 6th highest of the weekend, assures you that. You probably know the statistic that Mariota has yet to commit a turnover in the red zone thus far in his career so his efficiency is exciting for a young, up-and-coming QB. The Raiders also gave up the most plays of 20+ yards (61) in the NFL last year. Start him with confidence.

Ben Roethlisberger @ CLE
Big Ben and Steelers go into Cleveland as 9 point favorites on the road and a team implied total of 28. The Browns finished last year 30th in total defensive DVOA, basically equally as bad against the pass (29th) as they were against the run (30th). Expect Roethlisberger to put the pedal to the metal and roast these Browns in Week 1. We could easily see 300+ yards and 2-3 TDs.

Matthew Stafford @ ARI
Stafford was yet again disgraced in redraft leagues going on average as the 13th QB off the board. His arm will be needed in a game versus the Cardinals that has an over/under of 48. He’ll have to match Carson Palmer as his defense looks to leave him in a less than admirable situation. Stafford started out last year in a flurry ranking as the QB3 for the first 5 weeks before plummeting. If there’s one area of weakness in the Arizona secondary, its the fact they struggled versus WR2s placing 28th in defensive DVOA against that position. Roll the dice with Stafford and Marvin Jones in a stack.

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Andy Dalton vs. BAL
The Red Rifle recently was highlighted by our own Matt Okada as the most undervalued fantasy asset going into draft season. Dalton is a home favorite against division rival Baltimore, who gave up the 9th most passing TDs in the league last year. Dalton has an arsenal of weapons including his favorite target, AJ Green, who he can be paired with in DFS and home leagues. Despite losing a couple offensive linemen, the Ravens pass rush is nothing to worry about as it was non-existent last year with only 31 sacks on the season.

Four In the Door

Cam Newton @ SF
To trust or not to trust? Newton is one of the hardest calls of the weekend as he plays a woeful 49ers team albeit on the road. San Francisco was tore up on the ground last year but Newton still has the opportunity to post 250+ total yards and 2 TDs. That is the floor for a QB1 and something easily attainable for the Panthers as their 26.8 team implied total is tied for 4th most this week.

Carson Palmer vs. DET
Honestly, I wish I could rank Palmer higher in this list as I absolutely love his matchup. He is most likely sitting on the bench or a bunch of league waiver wires as we speak. Detroit ranked 32nd (that’s dead last for those counting at home) in the league in defensive and passing DVOA and 2nd to last in sacks. The Lions gave up 33 passing TDs last year, 2nd most in the league. We don’t want to dwell on last year but the Lions did little to address their woeful secondary in the offseason especially after giving up the highest completion percentage (72.7) in the league. Pair him with David Johnson as a stack and reap the rewards.

Sam Bradford vs. NO
The “stream of the week” is Sam “Sleeves” Bradford and his XXXL jersey. Bradford is owned in only 21% of Yahoo leagues and is a great option for Jameis Winston or Jay Cutler owners who were unfortunately ruined by Hurricane Irma. The Saints ranked third worst in pass DVOA and gave up the most passing yards per game in the league (273.8). He can dink & dunk his way to 250+ and 2 TDs with the ceiling for more in an exciting Week 1 matchup.

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DeShone Kizer vs. PIT
This is my dart throw of the week as an underpriced and under-the-radar QB who could perform like a QB1 even if it seems clear the Steelers will blow out the Browns. His added rushing ability gives him a floor although he’s yet to face 1st team defenses for 4 quarters yet. Still, if you’re a believer in predicting negative game scripts producing garbage time points, then this is the play for you. The Steelers somehow ranked dead last in defensive DVOA versus WR1s in 2016. I wouldn’t mind pairing him with Corey Coleman as well.

Four-Get-About-It

Philip Rivers @ DEN
No thank you. Rivers begins his gauntlet beginning-of-the-year schedule at Denver. Fantasy owners know this is a defense to run and hide from. Rivers threw averaged a paltry 222 yards last year with only a 50% completion percentage against these Broncos. In his career, he’s also averaged almost a pick per game against their rivals. There’s better options available Week 1.

Matt Ryan @ CHI
Wait what? You put the MVP in the dumpster? As a Falcons fan, yes it saddens me to even think of placing Matty Ice anywhere near here. Yet, the Bears ranked 7th in the NFL in passing yards allowed (224.9) in 2016, a mark slightly better than the vaunted Seattle Seahawks. Their defense has steadily improved although the only thing people have been discussing this off-season with Chicago has been their inept offense. I’m banking on this being a Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman type of game as the Bears are atrocious against the run (29th in DVOA). I’m not recommending you to sit Matt Ryan by any means. Just relaying an unpopular, counter-intuitive opinion projecting him outside of the top 12.

Kirk Cousins vs. PHI
Lots of hype surrounding yet another “contract year” for Cousins as the Redskins take on the Eagles at home. Philadelphia possesses an opportunistic defense that recently added CB Ronald Darby to their secondary and ranked 2nd in defensive DVOA versus the pass last year. They especially dominated the TE position ranked best in the league in DVOA, which could be trouble for Jordan Reed. Their defense 1st down percentage (32%) ranked 7th best in the leagueWashington’s running game looks to be non-existent with Rob Kelley. I’m willing to fade Cousins until I see chemistry worked out on the field with his new offense.

Dak Prescott vs. NYG
Prescott is not a top start for me this week. He could certainly finish in that 13-15 range but I’m seeing the ceiling against a Giants secondary that gave up only 15 passing TDs in 2016, the 2nd fewest in the NFL. Janoris Jenkins has shut down Dez Bryant in the past and while he won’t be shadowing him the entire time, I still don’t love the matchup with the rest of the secondary. I’m expecting Ezekiel Elliott to get “his” in this game before his suspension incurs.


Week’s Record: TBD

2016 Overall Percentage: 52%