Early-Season Matchups: QB and Defensive Streamers

Erik Smith looks at the QBs and Defenses with favorable early-season matchups, as well as the QBs with hard-to-trust early schedules.

Early season schedules can be an overlooked aspect of your fantasy football drafts. For the bulk of your roster, you should be focusing on the best players available — factoring in early matchups can lead you off of some potential league winners come December. But at the edges of your roster, Week 1 can be an important factor in deciding who to draft and who to leave on waivers.

If you are a late-round QB drafter or a defensive streamer by nature, looking ahead at the early season schedule is important. The QB10 to QB20 can be more or less interchangeable most weeks depending on the matchup, so clearly we should at least look at the schedules before deciding on a target. And the whole nature of streaming defenses implies that we will dump our current defense as soon as a better matchup comes our way on waivers.

With that in mind, below is a look at several late-round quarterbacks and late-round defenses with notable early-season schedules. Getting these decisions right in the draft can save you a roster spot early on, preventing an unexpected roster move to fill in for a tough matchup.


QB: Early Season Targets and Fades


Most quarterbacks are relatively matchup-proof; If you drafted Justin Herbert or Trevor Lawrence, you’re probably starting them early on regardless of opponent. When we get near QB10 in our pre-draft rankings, however, early-season matchups become much more important. There’s nothing worse than drafting two later-round quarterbacks, only to realize that you don’t want to start either in their Week 1 matchup.

With that in mind, let’s review some later QBs with difficult early schedules, as well as cheap options with favorable starts to the season.


QB: Tough Week 1-4 Matchups


Daniel Jones still has two favorable matchups in the first four games, so don’t let me talk you out of drafting him. Just know that if you pull the trigger on Jones as your starting QB, you’ll be staring down the barrel of the Cowboys’ excellent defense in Week 1. Last year, Jones scored 14 fantasy points against Dallas at home even with 79 yards rushing, and later scored just 14.5 points on the road against the Cowboys. San Francisco presents another tough matchup on the road in Week 3, so consider pairing Jones with someone from the next group to give you options.

Aaron Rodgers faces a murderer’s row of Buffalo, Dallas, and New England to start the season, though on the bright side, two of those matchups are at home. Both the Cowboys and Bills were among the ten stingiest defenses in allowing fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, and the Patriots were third in the NFL in interceptions last year.

One of the popular late-round quarterback sleeper options, Sam Howell has his work cut out for him to start in 2023. He gets a warmup in Week 1 hosting the Cardinals, but things turn quickly. Matchups in Denver and Philadelphia with a home game against Buffalo consist of 3 of the toughest 6 defenses in QB fantasy points allowed last year. In deeper or superflex leagues, you may want an early replacement if you will be counting on Howell.


QB: Easy Week 1-4 Matchups


For those of you considering the upside of Anthony Richardson in drafts, his early-season schedule could help inform whether or not to draft a QB to pair with him. A matchup against Jacksonville in Week 1 gives him a nice opener at home, as they allowed the 9th most points to the position last year. Houston performed better than you remember in 2022, allowing the fewest passing touchdowns in the league. But the Texans allowed the most points in the league to opposing running backs, so clearly there is upside for Richardson in Week 2. After a tough matchup in Baltimore, Richardson returns home to face Aaron Donald and… a bunch of rookies. That’s an excellent opening stretch if you want to roll the dice on Richardson.

It’s possible that you will draft Geno Smith as your QB2 in a one-quarterback league, but you may be tempted to start him early on. After a vulnerable Rams defense to start, Smith faces a Lions defense that allowed the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks last season in Week 2. Though Carolina may be improved this season, they were a top-10 matchup last year and a possible starting spot for Geno in Week 3. And while the Giants’ defense is no pushover, a Week 4 matchup on the road shouldn’t be too much for this offense to handle. The Seattle offense looks primed for a hot start to the season.

Jordan Love is a big unknown under center for the Packers, but he will get eased into the season it would appear. Chicago was a top-10 matchup for fantasy quarterbacks in 2022, while Atlanta was the 13th-best matchup. New Orleans may provide a challenge in Week 3, but Love then draws last year’s best quarterback matchup in the Lions. With three of four startable weeks to open things up, you may be able to trust Love as a QB2 in superflex leagues right out of the gate.


Defense: Early Season Targets and Fades


The top 6 defenses drafted by ADP on FantasyPros are the following units: SF, BUF, PHI, DAL, NYJ, and NE. These defenses are, for the most part, set-it and forget-it units. Managers drafting from this group will be starting that defense most weeks, regardless of matchup.

Most of us who stream defenses as a strategy will be left drafting from the back half of the startable units. Let’s look to the defenses with the best early-season matchups over the first three weeks of the season. I’ve sorted the defenses by Yahoo’s weekly projections to give us a decent baseline to work with. Listed below are the top 12 projected defenses for each of the first three weeks, with a few notable additions.


DST: Weeks 1-3 Matchups


Baltimore and Miami stand out as two defenses just outside of the top 6 with good early-season matchups. If you can stomach a Week 2 matchup in Cincinnati, the Ravens get a nice opportunity to pick on rookie QBs at home as they host the Texans in Week 1 and the Colts in Week 3. Meanwhile, Miami has a test in Week 1 against Justin Herbert and the Chargers, but then faces a mediocre Patriots defense on the road in Week 2 and a potentially cooked Russell Wilson at home in Week 3. These two defenses have the upside to develop into weekly starters, in addition to a promising early-season schedule.

As we get deeper down the defensive rankings, New Orleans pops up as an early streaming option. Matchups against Tennessee, Carolina, and Green Bay all project favorable for the Saints, as all three offenses may still be searching for their identity early on.

For a short-term play, Washington opens the year at home against a Cardinals offense that could be the worst in the league, then travels to Denver as Sean Payton attempts to implement his new offense.

I’m not sold on the Green Bay defense overall, but matchups against Justin Fields, Desmond Ridder, and Derek Carr provide some potential for turnovers and sacks in the early going.

Finally, Denver‘s tough defense gets favorable matchups against the Raiders and the Commanders at home, putting them on the streaming map from the jump. However, be ready to bail in Week 3 if that Miami offense looks as dynamic as expected.


(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

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