Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season is here, and with it comes a new set of fantasy football lineup questions. Fortunately, SN NFL writer Vinnie Iyer is back for another season of “The Decider,” a weekly start ’em, sit ’em advice column that will you help you get your lineups right. If you making lineup decisions for your drafted team(s) just isn’t enough for you, we also have DFS tips for those who want really want to drive themselves crazy deciding who to start when almost every player in the league is available.
It’s tough to evaluate matchups and project usage in Week 1. Obviously, there’s a lot we don’t know, so the best we can do is make informed decisions based on a variety of factors (recent performance, offseason acquisitions, talent, historical coaching tendencies, etc.). For some players, especially committee backs, touches will be extremely difficult to project, so if possible, avoid those situations all together.
Most owners will simply opt to start the players they drafted first at each position. There’s nothing wrong, but don’t be afraid to play the matchups a little, especially if it’s with a guy who’s a safer bet for touches and targets.
Fantasy Football Week 1 Start ‘Em: Quarterbacks
Jalen Hurts, Eagles (at ATL). Hurts steps into a terrific opening matchup under new offensive-minded coach Nick Sirianni. He will find ways to do damage in the dome by air and by land.
Ryan Tannehill, Titans (vs. ARI). Tannehill isn’t necessarily an every-week play, but this feels like a high-scoring affair duel with Murray.
Matt Ryan, Falcons (vs. PHI). Ryan loves playing at home and will be looking for immediate success against his hometown team. The Eagles aren’t well built to cover his top targets.
Kirk Cousins, Vikings (at CIN). Cousins should easily hit 250 yards and two TDs playing off the running game against a Bengals’ defense that’s improved in some areas but still weak on the backend.
Joe Burrow, Bengals (vs. MIN). A healthier Vikings’ defense should get back to a more respectable level under Mike Zimmer, but not at first. Burrow should be busy throwing to his top trio of weapons to keep up with Cousins and his duo.
Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars (at HOU). The Texans’ defense in 2021 is a perfect way for a rookie No. 1 overall pick to get indoctrinated in the NFL. Lawrence should deliver a solid-to-spectacular debut with his arm and legs.
Baker Mayfield, Browns (at KC, $7,100 on FanDuel, $5,900 on DraftKings). Mayfield is the most underrated fantasy QB going into the season and will deliver a solid game with the script opposite Mahomes calling for ample passing with a few big plays and multiple scores.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers (at DET, $6,900 on FanDuel, $5,500 on DraftKings). Trey Lance would be a cheap must-start here should San Francisco go with the rookie in the opener over Jimmy G., but regardless, this a terrific road matchup for the visitors to light it up playing off the run.
Tyrod Taylor, Texans (vs. JAX). This is Tayor-made for some garbage points with two stinky AFC South defenses on the field. He should throw often to counter Lawrence and is good for some decent rushing production filling in for Deshaun Watson.
Fantasy Football Week 1 Sit ‘Em: Quarterbacks
Justin Herbert, Chargers (at WAS). This is rough sophomore-opening trip against Chase Young and Washington’s swarming defense, especially while trying to operate for the first time when it counts in a new offense.
Matthew Stafford, Rams (vs. CHI). Stafford has a up-and-down track record against the Bears’ defense, and his prime-time stats are far from sublime. This also feels like a physical, lower-scoring Sunday night game with L.A. leaning on Sony Michel, Darrell Henderson, and the running game.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington (vs. LAC). Count on limited Fitzmagic in the opener, as Brandon Staley gets the Chargers’ pass defense to show plenty of active energy in his coaching debut.
Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins (at NE). Tua vs. Mac Jones will be a defensive slugfest instead of an Alabama celebration with Bill Belichick and Brian Flores scheming in the same AFC East matchup.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (at BUF). Roethlisberger will open a rough and perhaps final season in Pittsburgh with big lumps against the Bills’ pass rush and back-seven coverage.
Derek Carr, Raiders (vs. BAL). Keep the Carr parked as the Ravens’ defense will cause him to fold Monday night in Vegas.
Zach Wilson, Jets (at CAR). He’s making this list because soon he will be in consideration for deep-league streaming. His debut matchup is a little tougher than Lawrence’s on the road against a defense with playmakers on every level.
Jameis Winston, Saints (vs. GB in JAX). Winston has some thinking he can duplicate some of his high-TD, high-INT fantasy relevance of his 2019 season in Tampa Bay, but Green Bay’s pass defense is legitimate and New Orleans should want to attack heavily on the ground in a neutral-site game.
Carson Wentz, Colts (vs. SEA). He’s been injured again. He’s been on the COVID-19 list. He’s going in rusty with his new team’s offense with limited weapons. Despite some seemingly favorable numbers, don’t take the bait here.
Fantasy Football Week 1 Start ‘Em: Running backs
Raheem Mostert and Trey Sermon, 49ers (at DET). San Francisco won’t be giving up its committee for Kyle Shanahan early, but let’s hope it will at least largely narrow it down to these two. The Lions’ run defense still stinks, and the game script should be favorable for big ground chances, with Mostert as an RB2 and Sermon as a flex.
Gus Edwards, Ravens (at LV). Get on the bus early with JK Dobbins (knee) out. Edwards should be powering through for big early-down numbers supporting Lamar Jackson.
Sony Michel, Rams (vs. CHI). The Rams went after Michel to use him in a key role for Sean McVay’s run-first offense. He’s the guy the coach should trust most in the backfield out of the gate. Expect Michel to score at least one short TD on Sunday night.
Chase Edmonds, Cardinals (at TEN). You’re not trusting James Conner at all in Arizona’s style of offense, but Chase is a worthy pursuit as a flex in Nashville.
Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers (vs. DAL). Their weekly values are limited in different ways by the presence of each other and receiving back Giovani Bernard. You need to pick spots to use them, and against a new-look Cowboys defense cleaning up behind Tom Brady’s monster passing game makes sense, but more as flexes than RB2s.
David Johnson, Texans (vs. JAX, $5,700 on FanDuel, $5,700 on DraftKings). DJ is a shaky season-long option because Phillip Lindsay or Mark Ingram or Rex Burkhead could end up being the most counted-on upon option in a shaky Houston running game. But Johnson wasn’t bad last season and will take advantage of this easy opener to put up pleasing combined numbers.
Damien Harris, Patriots (vs. MIA, $5,800 on FanDuel, $5,200 on DraftKings). Harris should get a ton of work as the true Alabama centerpiece of New England’s run-leaning offense over Mac Jones. Look for high volume with a floor of 80 total yards and a score as the ground is the better way to attack the Dolphins anyway.
Fantasy Football Week 1 Sit ‘Em: Running backs
D’Andre Swift, Lions (vs. SF). Swift might struggle at times in tougher matchups with game scripts not going in his favor and receiving work only helping with his stats so much. He also goes into the game trying to play through a preseason groin injury.
Darrell Henderson, Rams (vs. CHI). Henderson was a juicy draft target right after Cam Akers (Achilles’) went down, but now it’s buyer and deployer beware because of Michel’s presence and Henderson’s constant durability issues.
Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake, Raiders (vs. BAL). Do you really want to figure out how the Raiders will misuse both backs in a tricky home spot against the Ravens? No, you don’t.
Myles Gaskin, Dolphins (at NE). Gaskin will still get the most touches over Malcolm Brown and speedy change-of-pace Salvon Ahmed in this game and over the course of the season, but expect the Patriots to take him away first and make Tua try to beat their fine secondary downfield.
Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon, Broncos (at NYG). Williams should be a stud in time breaking out of this committee, but the Giants’ run defense is sneaky good. See how this situation plays out before committing to one even as a flex.
Zack Moss and Devin Singletary, Bills (vs. PIT). This is the premier committee to avoid in a pass-happy offense where Josh Allen will still do plenty of running. This is particularly true against the Steelers’ defense.
Tevin Coleman and Michael Carter, Jets (at CAR). Do you want to try to figure out what Mike LaFleur is thinking for the new-look running game in Week 1? Avoid this situation until there’s more clarity on usage.
Fantasy Football Week 1 Start ‘Em: Wide receivers
Robby Anderson, Panthers (vs. NYJ). Anderson gets a nice “revenge” game in Week 1 against his former team after a solid first season in Carolina. Plus, the Jets’ secondary stinks enough to think he will be busy reunited with Sam Darnold with a big-play TD possible.
Tyler Boyd, Bengals (vs. MIN). Chase and Higgins have plenty of outside hype, but don’t forget about the reliable Boyd doing good work for Burrow in the slot.
Jerry Jeudy, Broncos (at NYG). Jeudy benefits greatly from Teddy Bridgewater starting, and his versatility will keep him busy in a tricky matchup in New York.
Deebo Samuel, 49ers (at DET). This will be a scoring fest for the Niners, so get as many as you can within reason into your lineups.
Brandin Cooks, Texans (vs. JAX). Cooks is always a sneaky good producer wherever he plays, whoever his QB is. Taylor should target him often, and the Jaguars can’t really cover him.
Antonio Brown, Buccaneers (vs. DAL). AB should join Evans and Godwin in the Brady fun.
Laviska Shenault Jr. and Marvin Jones Jr., Jaguars (at HOU). Who will end up as the top Jaguars’ fantasy receiver 2021? Hint: His name is below. But these guys also will be pretty good for Trevor Lawrence in more favorable matchups, with Shenault needing volume off his shorter passes and Jones needing some big plays.
DJ Chark, Jaguars (at HOU, $6,100 on FanDuel, $5,800 on DraftKings). Chark and Lawrence is the top combination for Jacksonville, and the price is very nice to attack a shaky secondary. Also, consider a Chark attack stack with Lawrence.
Michael Pittman Jr., Colts (vs. SEA, $5,300 on FanDuel, $4,100 on DraftKings). Pittman will get key targets early with no T.Y. Hilton (neck) and the tight ends in flux. Carson Wentz will need to throw to someone often opposite Russell Wilson.
DeVonta Smith, Eagles (at ATL, $5,300 on FanDuel, $4,500 on DraftKings). Smith or Jalen Reagor are good tournament targets this week with some big-play ability against the Falcons’ weak pass defense in a comfortable road environment for Jalen Hurts.
Fantasy Football Week 1 Sit ‘Em: Wide receivers
Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers (at BUF). The Steelers’ passing game can’t be trusted in this bad matchup with Big Ben rusty and the team ready to be run-heavy with Najee Harris.
Kenny Golladay, Giants (vs. DEN). There won’t be any reason to celebrate Golladay’s debut for Big Blue against a revamped Broncos’ secondary behind a stronger pass rush for Vic Fangio.
Courtland Sutton, Broncos (at NYG). Sutton will likely see James Bradberry outside coming off a season lost to knee injury. Oh, and a weak-armed passer at QB. So, no thanks.
Corey Davis, Jets (at CAR). Davis and Zach Wilson can be a productive combination, but the Panthers’ pass rush and secondary will make it tough for an immediate splash.
Jarvis Landry, Browns (at KC). He’s a low-upside play opposite OBJ, and that could be true every week given the new depth of weapons in Cleveland.
Curtis Samuel, Washington (vs. LAC). Samuel (groin) has missed a lot of preseason action for his new team, and this still will be the Antonio Gibson-Terry McLaurin-Logan Thomas show.
Michael Gallup, Cowboys (at TB). The Bucs’ pass rush will limit the field-stretching damage as Lamb and Cooper are much more involved in catchup mode for Dak Prescott.
All Dolphins (at NE). The Patriots’ secondary is tricky for this new-look receiving corps, and DeVante Parker and Jaylen Waddle won’t get support from suspended Will Fuller drawing coverage attention.
All Ravens (at LV). Rookie first-rounder Rashod Bateman (core) is on the shelf and “Hollywood” won’t need to do much in Vegas. This also applies to all Raiders wideouts in the same game.
All Saints (vs. GB in JAX). Marquez Callaway has a lot of outside big-play hype with Winston, enough where he could see Jaire Alexander. You also aren’t thinking about Tre’Quan Smith here either.
Fantasy Football Week 1 Start ‘Em: Tight ends
Tyler Higbee, Rams (vs. CHI). Higbee gets to be the veteran man by himself in L.A. and should have immediate impact as a third target for Stafford.
Jonnu Smith, Patriots (vs. MIA). Smith got more work in the preseason than the Patriots’ other veteran tight end addition, and it will show in connecting well with Mac Jones, who will avoid the perimeter coverage.
Rob Gronkowski, Buccaneers (vs. DAL). Gronk is bound to have a score as he celebrates more ring-winning fun with Brady.
Jared Cook, Chargers (at WAS). He has been underrated all preseason, and he will be a key target for Justin Herbert against a tough secondary and pass rush.
Austin Hooper, Browns (vs. KC, $5,100 on FanDuel, $4,000 on DraftKings). Hooper should be a lot more involved in the offense this season as the Browns’ passing game expands and the matchup calls for solid looks from Baker Mayfield. He can scratch out five catches for 50 yards and a possible score in the opener.
Fantasy Football Week 1 Sit ‘Em: Tight ends
MIke Gesicki, Dolphins (at NE). Gesicki won’t be as key to the offense this season with the wide receiver changes, and this matchup is bad for starters.
Evan Engram, Giants (vs. DEN). Engram )calf) is a hard guy to trust at any point and there will be a focus more on the wide receivers and Barkley early.
Hunter Henry, Patriots (vs. MIA). Henry’s missed time will catch up to him as he sees more of a key run-blocking role at first.
Gerald Everett, Seahawks (at IND). Everett has gotten plenty of hype away from Higbee, but the Colts are good against the position, so take a wait-and-see approach.
Eric Ebron, Steelers (at BUF). Ebron is always a candidate for a cheap score in the red zone, but he likely will see less of those chances because of Najee Harris.
Fantasy Football Week 1 Start ‘Em: Defenses
Packers (at NO in JAX). Where there’s a Winston vs. a good pass defense, there are interceptions.
Dolphins (at NE). Miami can make it a rough debut for Mac Jones in some form.
Panthers (vs. NYJ). Carolina can make it a rough debut for zach Wilson in some form.
Giants (vs. DEN). There can be some troubled Bridgewater against another underrrated unit on the road.
Seahawks (at IND). There should be some big plays for the taking against Carson Wentz.
Bills (vs. PIT, $3,600 on FanDuel, $2,500 on DraftKings). Ben Roethllsberger may soon be profiling like Winston in another way.
Fantasy Football Week 1 Sit ‘Em: Defenses
Colts (vs. SEA). Not against Russ.
Steelers (at BUF). Not against Josh.
Saints (vs. GB). Not against A-Rod.
Vikings (at CIN). Not against Burrow.
Chiefs (vs. CLE). Not against Baker.
Browns (at KC). Not against Patrick.
Get more of Vinnie Iyer’s in-depth fantasy football advice for Week 1 by subscribing to the Locked On Fantasy Football podcast.
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