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RED LIGHT/GREEN LIGHT: Week 1

Welcome to the inaugural edition of “Red Light, Green Light”, which is a 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 can be used for some of those decisions as well.

In each NFL Week 1 game profiles below, players mentioned in the green light sections have a great matchup, and can be counted on as cornerstones in your lineup. Players mentioned in the yellow light sections have just an okay matchup, and can be expected to post modest stats at best. Players in the red light sections need to have expectations lowered for the week, and/or should be avoided altogether. Remember, seeing your stud listed in the 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.

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills

Tale of the Tape – Ranks for Most 2016 Fantasy Points Allowed (Weeks 1-16)
Position Jets Bills
Quarterback 6th 20th
Running Back 13th 3rd
Wide Receiver 20th 23rd
Tight End 6th 25th
Defense/Special Teams 1st 25th
Vegas Line: Bills -9.5
Vegas Over/Under: 40
I would not be concerned about LeSean McCoy‘s matchup against the Jets’ typically stout rush defense. New York jettisoned a number of defensive starters during the offseason, including LB David Harris and DL Sheldon Richardson. McCoy is a top-three RB play for Week 1 as the Bills’ best playmaker against a defense that should struggle to stop anyone all season long.
The Bills had one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL last season, so Bilal Powell could be a sneaky RB2 or flex option this week. Powell rushed 22 times for 122 yards in the Jets last contest versus the Bills in Week 17 of last season. The Bills D/ST has a decent shot at finishing as a top-10 option for Week 1, as they are going against Josh McCown who committed 10 turnovers in just 5 games last season with the Browns. Jordan Matthews is no lock to play as he is still recovering from an offseason chest injury, so rookie Zay Jones projects to be the Bills’ most targeted receiver against a mediocre pass defense.
Robby Anderson is going to be hard to trust until the Jets’ pass game shows it can be mediocre at best. Even if Jordan Matthews is able to suit up, he has barely practiced with his new team since being traded. Charles Clay appears second-in-line for targets after Zay Jones, but Clay has been consistently inconsistent (and banged up) since joining the Bills in 2015. You can do better at tight end this week.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans

Tale of the Tape – Ranks for Most 2016 Fantasy Points Allowed (Weeks 1-16)
Position Jaguars Texans
Quarterback 27th 30th
Running Back 19th 18th
Wide Receiver 27th 28th
Tight End 21st 29th
Defense/Special Teams 4th 9th
Vegas Line: Texans -5.5
Vegas Over/Under:
39.5
This game is set up to be a defensive struggle, with a projected over/under of 39.5 points, which makes both the Jacksonville and Houston D/STs strong plays this week. Blake Bortles is Blake Bortles, while Houston QB Tom Savage is a pedestrian talent who has only started 5 career games. That said, poor quarterback play could be a potential threat for putting each defense in dangerous field position.
Leonard Fournette is expected to be ready Week 1, but draws an unfavorable matchup against J.J. Watt and company. You’re banking on volume for Fournette’s fantasy points this week. Allen Robinson‘s matchup doesn’t look good on paper either, going against a secondary that limited him to just two catches for 15 yards the last time these two teams met. Robinson should benefit from the fact that shutdown CB A.J. Bouye has switched from an opponent to teammate. Lamar Miller also figures to thrive solely on volume against Jacksonville’s improved defense, although the Texans’ offensive line has really missed OT Duane Brown during the preseason. Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins will most likely have to contend with the aforementioned Bouye and/or Jalen Ramsey, whom Pro Football Focus (PFF) respectively ranked 1st and 22nd among CBs in coverage last season. Target volume should help Hopkins at least contribute as a WR2 this week.
Blake Bortles, has a lot of ground to make up if he ever wants to be trusted in a fantasy lineup again. Similarly, Allen Hurns seems to have fallen out of favor with the Jags’ coaching staff, and doesn’t look like he’ll be recapturing his 2015 magic anytime soon either. In what projects to be a low scoring game, Texans’ TE C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jaguars’ WR Marqise Lee are not worth dart-throws.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns

Tale of the Tape – Ranks for Most 2016 Fantasy Points Allowed (Weeks 1-16)
Position Steelers Browns
QB 28th 1st
RB 7th 2nd
WR 30th 11th
TE 15th 1st
D/ST 29th 3rd
Vegas Line: Steelers -8
Vegas Over/Under:
47
Browns’ CB Jamar Taylor (PFF’s 17th ranked CB in coverage) is expected to shadow Antonio Brown this week, but Brown is a weekly top-three option regardless of who he is facing. Le’Veon Bell should be penciled in for his usually hefty workload after finally reporting to training camp last week. Ben Roethlisberger‘s home/road stat splits are alarming, but he s 21-2 all-time versus the Browns, who allowed the most fantasy points to QBs last season. This week’s matchup affords Martavis Bryant a perfect opportunity to knock some rust off. Pittsburgh’s D/ST in a great position as 9 point favorites to tee off on rookie DeShone Kizer’s first NFL start.
As 8-point Vegas underdogs, the game script could work against Cleveland’s Isaiah Crowell putting up big rushing numbers. Conversely, Corey Coleman could thrive in garbage time if the game gets out of hand quickly, and looked impressive catching passes from DeShone Kizer in the preseason.
Vance McDonald is expected to become a factor in the offense at some point, but he’s only been with the Steelers for about a week. Duke Johnson has some appeal this season as a point-per-reception (PPR) flex option, but I want to see how he’s deployed in my fantasy lineup. The game script could benefit Kenny Britt as well, but I am concerned about how little he was targeted during the preseason.

Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions

Tale of the Tape – Ranks for Most 2016 Fantasy Points Allowed (Weeks 1-16)
Position Cardinals Lions
Quarterback 17th 5th
Running Back 28th 24th
Wide Receiver 4th 19th
Tight End 32nd 3rd
Defense/Special Teams 5th 26th
Vegas Line: Cardinals -1.5
Vegas Over/Under:
48
David Johnson is a green light every week as a yardage monster, regardless of the matchup. Larry Fitzgerald is the clear-cut WR1 in Arizona’s offense, with John Brown struggling to remain healthy, and J.J. Nelson ill-suited for a larger role. Carson Palmer could flirt with top-1o numbers this week, as Detroit allowed the second-most TD passes in 2016.  Assuming Patrick Peterson follows Golden Tate, Marvin Jones figures to contend with CB Justin Bethel, who was a mixed bag in coverage last season.
The Cardinals’ had one of the best rush defenses in the NFL last season, so I would lean toward Theo Riddick being the better Detroit backfield option than Ameer Abdullah this week. Look for Matthew Stafford to have a solid, if unspectacular game against a mediocre pass defense. Despite Arizona’s defense as a whole struggling against wide receivers last season, CB Patrick Peterson did not allow more than 73 yards to any one receiver. Golden Tate’s receiving upside could be limited if Peterson shadows him. The Cardinals have one of the top fantasy D/STs entering the season, but last season the Lions begun playing a more slow-paced, ball control offense, with an emphasis on limiting turnovers.
It’s unclear what John Brown‘s workload will be after missing a significant portion of training camp with a quad injury. J.J. Nelson also appears poised for a low-volume role now that Brown’s health is cooperating. Jermaine Gresham is too inconsistent to be trusted, despite the plus matchup. Eric Ebron missed a ton of training camp time due to a hamstring injury, and Arizona was tops in the NFL at defending tight ends last season.

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.