Everyone knew running back Kareem Hunt was going to set an NFL record for most yards from scrimmage in a debut and Tom Brady, perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time, would have zero touchdowns and complete 44.4 percent of his pass attempts. Of course, nobody did. To win your Week 2 matchup, I’ll focus on under the radar players with breakout potential and household names who have the greatest chance of busting in a standard 10-team league.
Mike Gillislee, RB/Brandin Cooks, WR, New England Patriots (at New Orleans)
Every offensive player is a must-start against New Orleans. The Patriots were embarrassed last week, losing 42-27 to the Kansas City Chiefs. But in that late-game beat-down, Gillislee and Cooks were bright spots on a high-powered offense that’s out for blood. Gillislee has the LeGarrette Blount role of getting carries inside the red zone. Gillislee had three touchdowns in Week 1 on 45 yards rushing and 15 carries. His 3.0-yard average will improve against lesser defenses. The Patriots are committed to running the ball near the goal line, as Blount had 68 attempts for 174 yards and 16 touchdowns last season from inside the 20-yard line. Gillislee will disappoint if he doesn’t score, but New Orleans’ rushing defense should oblige at 1.2 touchdowns per game last season, tied for fourth-worst in the league. This is a Bill Belichick team, though, so don’t be surprised if Gillislee gets benched for an unknown reason because the barely audible head coach is an evil genius who could not care less about fantasy football. Brandin Cooks, on the other hand, is facing the league’s worst passing defense at 278.3 yards per game and 1.7 touchdowns, tied for 20th. Cooks caught three passes for 88 yards on seven targets against the Chiefs. Brady is angry. As New Orleans’ offense scores often at home its vulnerable defense will get shellacked. Almost no player is matchup proof, but with fellow wide receiver Julian Edelman out for the season, Cooks might as well be.
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Chicago)
The name might become irrelevant soon, but Rodgers is a strong RB2 or flex position starter until Week 5 when Doug Martin returns from suspension. Rodgers played well in his limited starting role last year, and the Buccaneers’ easy early schedule makes him a can’t-miss option on most rosters. The Bears’ vaunted 1985 defense is a white whale that Chicago’s franchise and its fans may always seek but never catch again. Don’t take too much stock in Chicago’s good performance against the Atlanta Falcons, limiting Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to 53 yards on 20 carries. It won’t happen two weeks in a row. Last year’s rushing defense ranked 26th overall at 121.9 yards and just over 1.1 touchdowns per game. What I wrote last week needs to be repeated: In 2016, Rogers rushed for 560 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games (five starts). In the final two games, he had 32 carries for 138 yards and one touchdown. Last week’s game at Miami was rescheduled for Week 11 due to Hurricane Irma. Rodgers would have feasted on the Dolphins, according to last year’s statistics and the Bears will be just another victim.
Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets (at Oakland)
Value can be found in the Jets’ offense despite last week’s horrid performance. Powell won’t be at the top of anyone’s rankings but he’s good enough to be started in leagues that award one point per reception (PPR). Powell rushed for 722 yards on 133 attempts (5.5 average) and three touchdowns with 58 receptions for 388 yards (6.7 average) and two touchdowns last year. He had seven carries for 22 yards and gained 17 yards on five receptions in Week 1. This doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but I have faith that talent and opportunity will win out. Matt Forte will be 32 years old in December. His production keeps declining, averaging 3.7 yards per carry in 2016. Powell turns 29 next month. He’s no spring chicken either but he remains the Jets’ best option. The Oakland Raiders have a powerful offense that will torch New York’s defense. Jets-Raiders is a lopsided game in which one team is trying to win the Super Bowl and the other team wants the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft. I envision the Jets getting down early and Powell playing a big role in the passing game against an Oakland defense that was the seventh-worst unit in 2016 at 375.1 yards per game. On the ground, Oakland’s defense averaged 117.6 yards and 1.1 touchdowns; receiving wasn’t any better at 266.7 yards and 1.7 touchdowns. Those underwhelming numbers are why Powell is fantasy relevant on an irrelevant team when the right matchup arises.
Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins (at Los Angeles Chargers)
Having Week 1 off due to a catastrophic hurricane will help the chemistry between Landry and quarterback Jay Cutler. That extra practice gives them time to exploit a Chargers passing defense that was 12th-worst last season at 263.6 yards and 1.3 touchdowns per game. Cutler has already shown a propensity to hone in on his favorite wide receiver, Landry, describing him as a faster Alshon Jeffery who he played five seasons with in Chicago and targeted 12.6 times per game. Over the past two seasons with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Landry had 204 receptions for 2,293 yards and eight touchdowns. The Chargers’ secondary may be in for a long day because those numbers should improve with a gunslinger who thinks he can complete a pass anywhere down the field to an ascending fourth-year receiver.
Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals (at Indianapolis)
As I predicted in a previous article, Palmer struggled against the Detroit Lions. He flat out looked old and bad. This week’s trek to Indianapolis is being served on a silver platter considering the Colts just lost 46-9 to the Los Angeles Rams. Take Palmer out of the equation for now and focus on the Colts’ porous pass defense. Not counting the Week 1 abomination, in 2016, Indianapolis allowed the sixth-most yards (4,200), 27 touchdowns and had eight interceptions; ninth-most yards (4,114), 29 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2015. Widen the sample size the past five years dating back to 2012 and the Colts’ secondary gives up 3,896.4 yards, 25.5 touchdowns and intercepts 12.8 passes a season, or 243.5 yards, 1.6 touchdowns and 0.8 interceptions per game. Heck, opposing quarterbacks have thrown 83 touchdown passes against the Colts over the past three years alone. As for Palmer, he’s averaged 3,701 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, 12.5 interceptions, 62.7 completion percentage and 92.8 passer rating in his four seasons with Arizona. He has wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and others to target. Running back David Johnson is injured but the Colts are so awful it shouldn’t matter. Long-term statistics demonstrate why the 37-year-old signal-caller should excel this weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Other players to like:
Baltimore RB Terrance West at Cleveland
New York Jets WR Jermaine Kearse at Oakland
Kansas City RB Kareem Hunt vs. Philadelphia
Green Bay RB Ty Montgomery at Atlanta
Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper Kupp vs. Washington