Rankings by Paul Charchian; words by Jim Ayello
1. Miami at Washington
Kirk Cousins. Need I say more? Come on, this one’s a gimme. Washington is a mess; Cousins has thrown more career picks than touchdowns; and the offensive line can’t decide if and who they want to block for. Meanwhile, Miami’s defensive line has been wreaking havoc all preseason. Expect more of the same in Week 1.
2. Seattle at St. Louis
Nick Foles, without Chip Kelly’s offense, against one of the best defensive units of this generation. Please and thank you. Games likes this are the reason you reached into the middle rounds for a defense. I don’t advise the strategy, but there is no doubt this is the sort of week where this unit can almost win your matchup single-handedly. In their most recent meeting, Week 17 last season, the Seahawks forced three turnovers, including a pick-6, and held the Rams rushing attack to 42 yards. Sunday shouldn’t be a far cry from that.
3. Carolina at Jacksonville
Blake Bortles was like a pinata last year. He was beaten mercilessly -- to the tune of a league-leading 55 sacks -- and instead of candy, he spilled out turnovers -- his 17 interceptions were third worst in the NFL. Now, I expect improvement from Bortles and the Jags this season, but this Panthers defense that has ranked in the top 10 the past three years should ravage what looks to be another underwhelming Jaguars offensive line.
4. New York Jets at Cleveland
Here’s what you have to respect about Josh McCown: He turned eight good games into two multi-million dollar contracts. He’s still playing football at 36 years old. And he seems like a pretty nice guy.
Here’s what you don’t have to respect about Josh McCown: His arm strength, his accuracy, his decision-making, his pocket presence and the weapons around him.
In summary, Josh McCown is: resourceful, chill, bad at football. Start the Jets.
5. Green Bay at Chicago
As of this moment, we know rookie wide receiver Kevin White isn’t playing; Alshon Jeffery is such a big question mark, he should be walking around Chicago in a Riddler costume; and Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson could be ready for action, but that’s up in the air as well. Meanwhile, Jay Cutler is 1-10 in his career against the Pack with a 14-21 TD-INT ratio, including four picks in their two meetings last season. Oh, and I did I mention the Bears still have no idea what their offensive line alignment will be? This game has all the makings of a blowout.
6. Cleveland vs. New York Jets
New offensive coordinator. New quarterback. A new, old mouthy receiver. It’s too much to expect the Jets to gel in the first game of the season, and the Browns should reap the benefits. They struggled to stop the run last year, but first round pick Danny Shelton looks like the real deal and without having to fear Ryan Fitzpatrick torching them through the air, Cleveland should feel confident dedicating its resources to shutting down #BeastEast.
7. St. Louis vs. Seattle
My boss’s preseason pick to be the No. 1 defense gets an early test against Super Bowl favorites. Don’t even think about benching these guys, though, as they will enjoy an enormous advantage in the trench warfare. The Seahawks finished in the bottom half of the league in both run and pass blocking per Pro Football Focus. And that was with the now-traded Max Unger. Meanwhile, Chris Long, Aaron Donald, Nick Fairley and Robert Quinn make up the most imposing front four in all of football. Oh, and for those worried about new Russell Wilson toy Jimmy Graham: Don’t be. The Rams were one of two teams to hold opposing tight ends to fewer than both 750 yards and three touchdowns last season.
8. Kansas City at Houston
With no Arian Foster to keep Justin Houston and the vicious Chiefs pass rush (46 sacks last season) honest, and with Pro Football Focus’ sixth worst pass-protecting unit in front of him, I expect Brian Hoyer to be running for his life in his Texans debut. And even if they don’t rack up the sacks, the Chiefs held opponents at 20 points or below in all but five games last season. This is a solid group who should produce for fantasy owners in Week 1 and for much of the rest of the year.
9. Minnesota at San Francisco
The up-and-coming Vikings takes on a 49ers team sure to endure one of the sharpest declines in NFL history after suffering a relentless hurricane of bad news this offseason headlined by the retirements of defensive stars and the departures of the majority of its coaching staff, Frank Gore and offensive line stalwarts Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati. This offense already was one of the worst units in the league, scoring the eighth fewest points and racking up the third fewest yards. However, there will be a time this year where those numbers will be looked upon with envy. It’s going to be ugly, and it’s only going to get worse.
10. Houston vs. Kansas City
If you’re looking for a home run Week 1, you won’t find it here. Alex Smith protects the ball like it’s a Faberge egg. That said, he took the fourth most sacks last season, and J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and the Texans should be able to get after Smith. While Houston won’t rack up fantasy points this week, they should be able to keep Andy Reid’s baby steps offense at bay.
11. Cincinnati at Oakland
This is another matchup that likely won’t yield game-changing points but should be a solid streamer option. The Bengals allowed just 21.5 points per game, good for 11th in the NFL, while the Raiders struggled to put points on the board, averaging only 15.8 (31st in the NFL). Where Cincinnati will dominate is in pass defense, where it intercepted more passes than it allowed touchdowns, joining the Bills as the only other team to accomplish the feat.
12. Indianapolis at Buffalo
Last season, the Colts defenses feasted on lackluster units and were abused by capable ones. Expect the former in this game as a sterling quartet of pass rushers in Robert Mathis, Trent Cole, Erik Walden and Jonathan Newsome should give newly ordained starter Tyrod Taylor fits all day long. That said, I’m concerned that if Buffalo can get the ground game going against the Colts untested defensive line, those sackmasters could be rendered useless. Tread carefully.
13. Denver vs. Baltimore
Expect Denver to have a tough time generating fantasy points in this one. Baltimore turned the ball over just 20 times all of last season, and Joe Flacco took only 19 sacks, second best among quarterbacks with 400 or more attempts (the best was his counterpart in this game, Peyton Manning). It’s technically a new offense with Marc Trestman at the helm instead of Gary Kubiak, but he has vowed to keep the gameplans the same. We’ll see.
14. Buffalo Bills vs. Indianapolis Colts
It might seem a little crazy to start a defense against Andrew Luck, but my rationale is threefold. 1. You paid a high price to grab Charch’s No. 2-ranked defense. You don’t want to have to drop it or another player to pick up a one-week fill in before the season even begins. 2. The offensive line is atrocious, rating as one of the worst units in football according to Pro Football Focus. 3. Luck extremely turnover prone. He threw 16 picks last season, and in what I believe is a wildly underreported stat, he put the ball on the ground a league-leading 13 times! He was just fortunate to have only lost four of those fumbles. He might not be so lucky this year.
15. Arizona vs. New Orleans
The Saints trading away Jimmy Graham is going to be a big benefit to the Cardinals in this one, because their biggest weakness last year was stopping the tight end. They allowed more than 1,000 yards receiving and 8 touchdowns to the position group last year, but were stingy against backs and receivers holding them to the ninth and seventh fewest scores respectively. Also expect Carson Palmer’s return to elevate this defense into an elite fantasy unit this season, as they won’t have to be on the field every few seconds after another Drew Stanton/Ryan Lindley 3-and-out.
Tampa Bay vs. Tennessee
Tampa Bay is far from reliable, but it does have the pleasure of facing Marcus Mariota, in his NFL debut, and the talentless offense he leads in Week 1. Tell me who you’re scared of on that Titans team? Kendall Wright? Delanie Walker? Bishop Sankey might just be the worst starting running back in the NFL right now, and he would have been last year too, had it not been for Trent Richardson. Look for Smith’s opportunistic group -- 25 forced turnovers with three returns for touchdown -- to take advantage of this harmless and inexperienced Titans attack.