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RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT: Week 1

After a 9-month layoff, I am thrilled to welcome everyone back for 2018’s inaugural edition of “Red Light, Green Light”,  your matchup guide for all of this weekend’s (and Monday’s) NFL contests. While this piece is not intended to be solely a start/bench list, it may certainly be used for some of those decisions as well.

In each NFL Week 1 game profile below, the players mentioned in the green light sections have a great matchup, and can be counted on as rock solid options for the week. Players mentioned in the yellow light sections have just an okay matchup and/or usage concerns, meaning they are passable fantasy options but don’t expect them to set the world on fire. Players in the red light sections have serious concerns, and need to have expectations lowered for the week, and/or should be avoided if possible. Remember, seeing your stud listed in the yellow or red light section isn’t necessarily grounds to bench them, but more of an indication they may not be the guy(s) carrying your team to victory this week.

Note: Fantasy points allowed statistics are based off the Fantasy Sharks default PPR scoring system.

Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens

Tale of the Tape – Ranks for Most 2017 Fantasy Points Allowed
Position Bills Ravens
Quarterback 26th 30th
Running Back 1st 15th
Wide Receiver 22nd 27th
Tight End 10th 8th
Defense/Special Teams 13th 22nd
Vegas Line: Ravens -7.5
Vegas Over/Under: 40.5
green-light Alex Collins should feast in a game the Ravens are expected to control handily as seven-point home favorites. No NFL team allowed more rushing yards/touchowns than Buffalo, and while the Bills did make some offseason moves to bolster their front seven, the potential absence of space-eater Kyle Williams (questionable, knee) would be significant. .Even without CB Jimmy Smith (suspension), the Ravens D/ST is a premier play against a Bills offense starting Nathan Peterman (he of the five INT fame in Week 11 last season) at QB with a leaky offensive line in a contest that does not project to feature a ton of scoring.
yellow-light LeSean McCoy is the centerpiece of the Bills offense, and every team around the NFL knows it. Expect plenty of touches for Shady, though don’t expect him to do much with them as the Ravens sell out to stop the run and force QB Nathan Peterman to the air. Michael Crabtree has put up 18 catches for 270 yards and two scores across three career contests against the Bills (including a 5-83-0 line last season as a member of the Raiders), though is expected to see plenty of emerging young stud Tre’Davious White in coverage. Charles Clay can be counted on for serviceable numbers against a Ravens’ defense that was vulnerable against opposing tight ends last season, though he’s always a risk for in-game injury.
red-light Jimmy Smith‘s absence isn’t enough to bump Kelvin Benjamin up to yellow light status, as the door is now open for 2017 first-round pick Marlon Humphrey to step into a larger role while Tavon Young (knee) also returns after spending last season on injured reserve. Re-invigorated as Joe Flacco may be given his potential future is on the line with rookie Lamar Jackson waiting in the wings, the Ravens’ signal caller is not worth streaming consideration against a tough Bills secondary. Willie Snead and John Brown are on the watch list, as it’s not clear exactly how the Ravens plan to deploy them, and the Bills are overall not a generous team to opposing wideouts (Buffalo tied Jacksonville last season for second in the NFL with 8 receiving touchdowns allowed to the position). Javorius Allen and Kenneth Dixona are expected to spell Alex Collins on passing downs, though neither of them project to see enough volume at this time to warrant fantasy consideration.

Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants

Tale of the Tape – Ranks for Most 2017 Fantasy Points Allowed
Position Jaguars Giants
Quarterback 32nd 1st
Running Back 22nd 12th
Wide Receiver 32nd 9th
Tight End 23rd 2nd
Defense/Special Teams 23rd 14th
Vegas Line: Jaguars -3
Vegas Over/Under:
43.5
green-light Leaner and meaner for the upcoming season, Leonard Fournette has a tasty matchup versus a Giants defense that allowed the seventh-most rushing yards to opposing backfields in 2017. While the Jags D/ST stumbled over the final third of last season, they were a top-10 option in 10 of 17 contests, and Giants QB Eli Manning is no stranger to mind-numbing blunders.
yellow-light Sterling Shepard tends to do most of his damage over the middle of the field, and will likely draw slot coverage from CB D.J. Hayden, who projects as a downgrade from the departed Aaron Colvin. Evan Engram figures to benefit from the Giants attacking the belly of the Jags’ defense as the Giants look to avoid the perimeter. No longer listed on the injury report, rookie Saquon Barkley (hamstring) is ready to roll against a Jags defense was softer against the run than the pass last season, while starting DT Marcel Dareus (pectoral) is questionable. Blake Bortles is on the streaming map as the Giants fielded 2017’s worst performing defense against opposing signal callers in terms of fantasy points allowed to the position, and have little in the way of pass-rushing talent outside of LB Olivier Vernon (ankle), who is going to be out multiple weeks. Keelan Cole led the Jags in 2017 receiving yards, and now steps in as the teams’ presumed no. 1 wideout following Marqise Lee‘s season ending knee injury. Cole averaged 20.6 PPR fantasy points per contest between Weeks 13 through 16 last season, though will likely have his hands full with Giants DBs Janoris Jenkins and a matured Eli AppleAustin Seferian-Jenkins (core muscle) was initially my top tight end streamer of the week, though his reported injury takes some of the shine off. The Giants were dreadful at tight end defense last season, so Seferian-Jenkins is still set up for a decent afternoon if he can suit up.
Odell Beckham figures to have standout CB Jalen Ramsey glued to his hip all afternoon, a mano-a-mano that will feature plenty of entertainment value but little in the way of fantasy stats. It’s unclear how the snaps and targets will be divvied up between Jags wideouts Dede Westbrook and Donte Moncrief, and it’s entirely possible the team’s run heavy offense can only support one fantasy relevant wideout anyway. The Jaguars pass defense typically puts the kibosh on the fantasy utility of all but the best of the best quarterbacks, so stay far away from a fringe guy like Eli Manning this week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints

Tale of the Tape – Ranks for Most 2017 Fantasy Points Allowed
Position Buccaneers Saints
Quarterback 10th 16th
Running Back 6th 19th
Wide Receiver 1st 12th
Tight End 32nd 30th
Defense/Special Teams 17th 32nd
Vegas Line: –9.5
Vegas Over/Under:
49.5
The Saints are the most heavily favored team of the week, in addition to having the highest implied point total (30) out of all 32 teams, making all of their usual suspects rock solid locks to produce: Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and Drew Brees. Look for a particularly big day from the Saints passing game as the Bucs’ sieve-like secondary is relatively unchanged from last season aside from the addition of second-round rookie CB M.J. Stewart (whom I will shamelessly point out is an alumnus from my alma mater Yorktown High School).
Ryan Fitzpatrick is always the guy who pulls a rabbit out of his hat when you least expect it, and I can see him completing some big plays downfield to Chris Godwin and DeSean Jackson, especially if/when garbage time comes into play (though brace yourselves for a few turnovers). Ted Ginn Jr. still appears to have a handle on the Saints’ no. 2 wideout gig, and could bust a long score as the Bucs’ 70 percent completion rate last season allowed on deep throws down the middle of the field was third-worst in the NFL after the Browns and Ravens. The Saints D/ST are likely to be a popular waiver pick up this week, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see Fitzpatrick and the Bucs’ offense pop a few garbage time scores as they try to mount a second-half comeback.
Second-year CB Marshon Lattimore smothered Mike Evans to the tune of a combined 6-68-0 line over their two 2017 matchups. Look for Lattimore to continue giving Evans fits while the Bucs turn to their bevy of alternate options. Peyton Barber was able to seize control of the Bucs backfield during training camp, though the Saints being 9.5-point favorites could pose some issues, as the underdogs could potentially abandon their run game if down big in the second half. Barber could be a liability this week if he doesn’t find the end zone. Last season, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard combined for just 4-52-0 over two games against New Orleans (Howard missed one contest due to injury). No NFL team allowed fewer 2017 receiving yards to the tight end position than the Saints. While I cannot endorse Cameron Meredith rookie or rookie Tre’Quan Smith as viable fantasy plays this week due to the ambiguity of their respective roles, pay attention to how the Saints utilize the two wideouts, as one or both should begin pushing Ginn for targets immediately. Ben Watson is out of the streaming conversation given how well Tampa Bay defended opposing tight ends last season (sixth-fewest receiving yards allowed per contest).

Houston Texans at New England Patriots

Tale of the Tape – Ranks for Most 2017 Fantasy Points Allowed
Position Texans Patriots
Quarterback 2nd 7th
Running Back 26th 17th
Wide Receiver 7th 5th
Tight End 5th 20th
Defense/Special Teams 10th 31st
Vegas Line: New England -6
Vegas Over/Under:
50.5
This matchup looks like our all hands-on-deck shootout as far as the respective passing games are concerned given the 50.5-point over/under is the highest of any Week 1 contest. Defensively, the Texans defense should be significantly improved with the healthy returns of DL J.J. Watt and LB Whitney Mercilus, in addition to free agent signings S Tyrann Mathieu and CB Aaron Colvin, though that shouldn’t keep Patriots QB Tom Brady out of the top tier Week 1 QB conversation. Brady put up 378 passing yards and 5 scores when these two teams met in Week 3 last season. Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan should have a field day against a vulnerable Texans secondary as Brady’s respective first and second receiving options in the absence of Julian Edelman (suspension). Deshaun Watson (knee) is expected to be full-go after getting in limited playing time during the preseason. Watson shouldn’t see too much resistance against a burnable Patriots secondary that he torched for 300+ passing yards a year ago and his key beneficiary of the aerial assault will indubitably be DeAndre Hopkins.
The Texans were middle-of-the-road last season in terms of rush yards allowed to opposing backfields, and far stingier against running backs who caught passes. Houston allowed the second-fewest receptions and fourth-fewest receiving yards to running backs in 2017, so Rex Burkhead (knee) and James White may end up giving way to Gronk and the wideouts this week in the pass game. Burkhead may not be given a full workload as a result of his injury, though is still expected to lead the Patriots in carries. Philip Dorsett is an under-the-radar snoozer, as he’ll serve as the Pats likely no. 2 wideout while Edelman sits. Starting Dorsett isn’t for the faint of heart, but he could pay dividends in a contest such as this one where the wideouts project to be featured and the scoring plentiful. Lamar Miller has turned into one of those guys you aren’t excited to start, but will rarely turn in a true dud based on his workload. Look for about 70-80 total yards from Miller and a potential score against a Pats defense that was more susceptible to backs catching passes out of the backfield than getting hand-offs. Yellow light status might be conservative for Will Fuller (hamstring) given how will he and Deshaun Watson played to gether last season (7 receiving touchdowns for Fuller in four games), though the third year wideout is coming off a soft tissue after missing a chunk of training camp.
Rookie Sony Michel (knee) is questionable at best to suit up, and likely won’t be on the field for many snaps if he does after missing so much training camp time. Both D/STs need to be on benches this week given the likelihood of each team trading frequent scores. Ryan Griffin doesn’t move the tight end streaming needle given New England’s adeptness at defending the position.

About Will Weiler

An NFL Red Zone addict and all-around data nerd, I've been obsessed with the NFL and stats ever since I started playing the virtual pigskin game in 2005.