The 2015 NFL season doesn’t hit for two months, but that should never stop us from preparing our minds when it comes to fantasy football. If we start the process now, by the time week one rolls around, we’ll be that much more ahead of the curve. You can use our week one breakdown of the Steelers/Patriots battle for regular season long fantasy football leagues, but our focus for these matchup previews is for the DFS community.
The goal? To go figure out if the week one matchups are going to be good for fantasy production and who your top targets (and values) might end up being. We’ll start things off with the first game of the year, when the Pittsburgh Steelers head to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots. It’s the only game of the night and the first game of the 2015 NFL season all by it’s lonesome on a Thursday night, so chances are you’re going to want to get a piece of that action. But should you? And if so, which players should you use in DFS fantasy football leagues? Let’s find out:
Tom Brady and Le’Veon Bell should both be serving bans to start 2015, which takes some serious star talent out of this opening game – as well as from the fantasy scene. The real question is going to be whether or not their backups will be able to find success against the opposing defense, though, and what it means for the rest of their teammates.
By the numbers, the Patriots were a fairly middle of the road unit a year ago, but they did keep opposing offenses below 20 points per game and ranked 12th in the league in touchdowns allowed through the air, as well as 17th in passing yardage given up per game. They were specifically stingy against the run, as opposing rushing attacks only got 104 yards on the ground per game (9th) and only scored six touchdowns (2nd).
The problem is any good we saw from a year ago takes a serious hit going into 2015, as run-stuffing nose tackle Vince Wilfork is now in Houston and cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner left, as well. The Patriots have some serious questions in both facets of their defense, and while they remain well coached and have talent, they could be a lot more vulnerable to explosive offenses this season. The Steelers qualify as such after finishing 2014 as the second best passing offense.
On the other side, the Steelers were a bit of a sieve through the air, ranking just 27th in passing yardage allowed per game in 2014. They also gave up a whopping 30 touchdowns through the air and only picked off 11 passes. Pittsburgh was much better against the run, though, where they ranked as the 6th best unit in rushing yardage allowed per game (100.3), while they also only allowed nine rushing scores on the season.
The morale of this story is that running yardage and scores might be hard to come by, but there’s a pretty good chance we see some success from under center. Pittsburgh did get younger in the secondary this year and Ryan Shazier should be better at roaming the middle of the field in his second season, but collectively this is a game to target for options in either team’s passing game.
Pick Your Passer
If you’re just picking between the two, it’d be easy to go with Ben Roethlisberger over Jimmy Garoppolo, but if you’re building the ideal team, JG might end up being one of the best value plays at the quarterback position. Big Ben probably has a decent enough matchup here and with Revis Island relocated, he’s probably fair game. However, Big Ben is on the road, will be without his top running back and the Pats will do their best to take away Antonio Brown. That could make Roethlisberger a less than ideal guy to pay up for, depending on just how high his week one salary is.
Garoppolo is bound to be a bargain here. He’ll have the entire preseason to gear up for this matchup, the Steelers pass defense is not very formidable and he has two very good weapons in the passing game. As long as the price is right, JG could end up being a great bargain buy to role with in week one.
On the off chance Brady’s suspension is wiped out entirely, he obviously would be a great play here with a solid matchup in New England’s home opener. If that’s the case, he’d be a suggested play regardless of his price.
Running Back Toss Up
Yeesh. With Le’Veon Bell out, it’s DeAngelo Williams or bust for the Steelers, while the Patriots will probably go full speed ahead with LeGarrette Blount as their lead back. It’s tough to buy him completely as a feature back, as the Pats have plenty of bodies via Travaris Cadet, James White, Jonas Gray and Brandon Bolden. Blount is the guy to work with here, though, and he trumps an aging and increasingly ineffective D-Will on the road. That being said, neither has a great matchup by the numbers in this one. Blount is the pick, though, provided his price isn’t for some reason insane. The Pats will try to run the ball more with JG making his first start and being at home, he should have a solid chance to grind a win out late.
Wide Receiver City
Antonio Brown is obviously the big guy you’re paying up for here, and with Revis gone, he’ll be quite enticing. Keep in mind, though, that Bill Belichick is known for doing a terrific job in making sure your best player doesn’t beat him. With Bell suspended, that’s Brown. That could make him a tough sell when it comes to elite production in week one, and that could in turn open the door for Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton to step up with big games. Bryant is the pick here from Pittsburgh, as he can take the the top off of a defense and he won’t initially be the top focus of the Patriots.
For New England, the Steelers don’t really have anyone who can run with the shifty Julian Edelman and he’s a huge part of New England’s offense. Considering PPR is king in daily fantasy football, Edelman is majorly in play for this matchup. He’s a lock and you can think about Brandon LaFell, too. Danny Amendola is also in play, but to a far less degree, due to a shaky role. However, if things clear up in preseason and he looks like he can be trusted, he could be a pretty sneaky (and cheap) week one play.
Tight End, Not a Tough Call
Rob Gronkowski is a total beast and we all know that, so don’t be shocked to see him lead the way in price at the position in week one. He’ll take a nice chunk out of your week one salary if you get him, but he’s not a bad play given his immense size, strength and catch radius. Pittsbugh does have a few big, athletic linebackers that could give him a hard time, but if JG is finding him, it’s fruitless. Playing Gronk isn’t going to depend on the matchup. It’s going to depend on how much you trust JG and how expensive Gronk’s price tag is.
Heath Miller is not a terrible option on the other side, but he can be a little inconsistent. One game he’ll randomly score two touchdowns and the next he’ll get one ball for 11 yards. Miller on a whole was rock solid in 2014 and as recently as 2012 hauled in eight touchdowns. It’s entirely possible that with New England taking away Pittsburgh’s wide receivers, he ends up having a pretty big game. Of course, he’s not a freak athlete and New England could batten down the hatches at home, so it’s also possible Miller gets something like four catches for 35 yards. If he’s dirt cheap, though, he’ll be worth considering.
As previously alluded to, this is not a matchup of two elite defenses. At least, not if we’re looking at key changes on both sides that suggest neither of these defenses are going to be amazing to kick off 2015. Because of that, you’ll probably want to shy away from using either of these as your defense of choice to get week one going. That being said, Jimmy Garoppolo could be making his first ever NFL start in the regular season here, and that could be a great thing for Pittsburgh. I still think the Steelers defense is very beatable, JG has plenty of weapons and the Pats are at home, which should all add up to the New England offense being just fine. The Steelers are the defense of choice, but I’d refrain from using either of these units.