Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire
Each week, our staff here at QB List will be previeliwing all the fantasy-relevant things you should be on the lookout for in this week’s games. Today, we preview all the upcoming Week 1 action.
Texans vs. Patriots
In just over 24 hours, the majority of the NFL season will embark on the first game of their season, the accumulation of weeks of scouting, drafting, and preseason games, deciding on the best 53 players to make each team. The Patriots are a perennial playoff entry ticket, but with Deshaun Watson coming back from an ACL injury, a resurgent DeAndre Hopkins, and a tenacious defense, this will be one of the games that should be the most exciting for many a NFL watcher to see. What are the touchpoints most looked forward to on Sunday, and who will stand out from the pack on the first official game of the season? Let’s dive on in!
Texans’ Lamar Miller to hear more cowbell?
While the Patriots feature one of the more crowded and diverse set of running backs, the Houston Texans will deploy a more basic group that features Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue and D’Onta Foreman (probably replaced by Tyler Ervin due to his Achilles rehab). Although the last time these two teams played was high-scoring, it was more of an aerial battle, as Miller only gained 56 yards on 14 carries with one catch for seven yards. That effort was against one of the weaker defensive units in football – almost half of the carries they faced in 2017 were right up the gut. Why? Well, if the offense knows that you have a weaker defensive interior, the offense will try to exploit that to get blockers to the second level. But, for some reason, the Texans went to the air more. This would indicate the Patriots were also weak on the back end. How much has changed in one offseason? Will it matter? They did add Adrian Clayborn and Danny Shelton to plug the middle. This sets up for an interesting matchup. Texans’ head coach, Bill O’Brien will surely want to ease his franchise quarterback back into things, coming off a terrible ACL injury that cut his rookie campaign in half. Thus, while it will not last the whole season, I’d expect Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue to handle the ball only slightly more than usual on Sunday.
Miller: 20/95 rushing, 3/18 receiving, 1 Touchdown
Blue: 10/32 rushing
Ervin: 3/28 receiving
Watson to be held back or unleashed?
As I highlighted while discussing the Texans’ running game, Deshaun Watson will probably be at his coach’s mercy regarding amount of throwing plays inserted into the game-plan. Obviously, if the Texans are going to win the majority of their games and prove themselves against formidable foes, they will need Watson to throw the ball a good amount. Will O’Brien expose his quarterback as much as last year’s contest, where Watson fired the pigskin 33 times? Or will he taper it off? Obviously every coach hopes they can go into a game, run it 40+ times and win the game by a couple scores without having to throw much. This isn’t the reality and I foresee Watson throwing just as much as he did when these two teams faced off last. This will be his second season with the receiving corp of DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller IV and Bruce Ellington. The chemistry should be two-fold and that much more of an impressive game from all involved. As for his running ability, it all depends on how confident he is in sliding and changing directions.
Deshaun Watson: 23/35, 324 yards, 2 Touchdowns, 1 INT
Familiar faces in similar spaces
It’s been well-documented on how well Deshaun Watson looked in his rookie campaign. He adapted well to NFL caliber rushes, evolved as a capable pocket-passer and really proved he coulrad lead a team after not even starting the first game – a very impressive start to his career. Now, months removed from knee surgery, can he recapture the rapport he had with his receivers? In my mind, there’s no doubt. DeAndre Hopkins enters his seventh season and coming off his third 1,000+ yard season. Here’s a guy who’s put up monster numbers with some of the worst quarterbacks to play the game. Unreal talent and unreal determination to get it done, no matter the circumstance. He runs beautiful routes with speed and the size to go up against any defender(s). He’ll probably be shadowed by the Patriots’ #1 CB Stephon Gilmore. While Gilmore is a proven cornerback, it’ll take plenty of safety help to keep “Nuk” contained. I personally don’t think this will matter and Hopkins should see plenty of targets/success. The mere presence of Hopkins on the field has and should open up things for the other receivers. Will Fuller IV, the team’s speedster, will probably switch between running routes from the outside, as well as, from the slot. I could see Fuller finding paydirt in this contest, seeing as Belichick has shown to be hellbent on stopping the top threats he faces every week. Houston likes to run deep crossing routes with Hopkins and Fuller to give Watson plenty of options deep while allowing his eyes to find more Texan blue underneath. If Fuller isn’t the second option on a pass play, it will probably be Bruce Ellington or Sammie Coates. Ellington moved up the depth chart with the recent departure of Braxton Miller, who mainly manned the slot last season. Ellington is a much more polished route runner than Miller, in my opinion. I like this trio much more. While not very fantasy-relevant, Ellington’s role helps the formerly mentioned wideouts. The same goes for Sammie Coates and tight end Ryan Griffin.
Hopkins: 8 REC, 95 yards, 1 Touchdown
Fuller: 4 REC, 84 yards, 1 Touchdown
Ellington: 4 REC, 35 yards
Coates: 2 REC, 38 yards
Griffin: 3 REC, 28 yards
Defense wins…if healthy
The Houston defense has struggled mightily the last few years. Whether it be a slew of injuries to their playmakers or simply incompetence with coverages, they haven’t been able to put it all together, Entering this season, they have a healthy JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph. They added Tyrann Mathieu to bolster the back end. On paper this is a group that should wreak havoc. Health has always been an issue. If they can avoid that curse, this will be a top 10 group.
Patriots running situation will be a focal point for the Texans/fantasy watchers alike
The Patriots came into the preseason with a total overhaul at running back after watching Dion Lewis scamper on down to Tennessee in the offseason on a new contract. So, the Patriots then began the preseason with holdovers Mike Gillislee, James White, Brandon Bolden, and Rex Burkhead, then adding Jeremy Hill via free agency, and Sony Michel and Ralph Webb from the draft/undrafted pool. Michel will be the long-term play for dynasty type leagues as he was drafted in the first round and with pedigree, but in the short term (say, this year), the backfield is shrouded in mystery, an enigma now wrapped in a riddle, begging for us to guess what they do, so that they can defy it. Week one will be interesting to look back on, that hopefully gives us some form of a workload to base our expectations on going forward, but going into week one, this is what seems to be the most likely.
Rex Burkhead as of Wednesday was taken off the injury report, and with the way the Patriots have used him so far in the preseason, the expectation should be Burkhead playing the workhorse back of ole’, more than likely seeing upwards of fifteen carries. White is an amazing checkoff valve for years and years for Tom Brady and therefore should help protect the pocket, and could also see a few snaps out of the backfield, and about 6-8 targets in the passing game. After an extremely impressive preseason, and the cutting of Bolden and Gillislee prior to this week should lead to Hill also getting some run on third down plays,and at the end of the game, to preserve Burkhead. If I was a betting man, I’d imagine with the way the week has been on Michel (all quiet on the Foxboro front), he’s more than likely going to get a bit more additional time to rest his knee and conserve himself for future games this season, and his career to follow.
Burkhead: 18/95/1 TD
White: 4/24 rushing, 6/65 and 1 TD receiving
Hill: 8 carries for 35 yards, 0 TD
Ageless wonder attempts to start the season on a high note
Tom Brady will be yanked out of carbonite for his 17th career season opener at Gillette, and not much more needs to be said if you own and want to employ him as your quarterback. He was more than likely a top-six round pick in your league, and will go down as one of the most consistent, some may even say boring players to own in fantasy as his career draws to a close. Brady will face off against an amped up, speedy, and somewhat young and reshaped defense from Houston, spearheaded by JJ Watt, JaDaveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus. The team also brought in Tyrann Mathieu, a spark plug of a safety that adds speed and an edge to their secondary. Brady should see a lot of plays being flushed from the pocket with the youth filled offensive line, and loss of Nate Solder to the New York Giants in free agency, but I would still expect Brady to spread the ball around his options, making use of some new faces on his offense, and finish his game off as follows.
Tom Brady: 36/45, 352 Yards, 3 Touchdowns, and 1 INT, 2 sacks
Fresh faces and new chances in the receiving department
Brady checks in to the matchup as advanced and heralded as ever, but facing a bit of adversity, as Julian Edelman is starting the season with a four-game suspension, Danny Amendola went to party in the club where the heat is on with the Dolphins, and almost every one of his wideouts left is new to the team scheme/opportunity. Chris Hogan profiles to benefit most from the lack of options, as he profiles as a younger/ less advanced Edelman type, and could fill the middle of the field where Brady needs to pepper throws when rushed. A large game from Hogan could be had for the first few weeks, and this one should be no exception. Behind Hogan, there’s mostly mystery, but also a lot of intrigue and upside. Phillip Dorsett came over from Indy in the Jacoby Brissett trade just a year ago and has shown flashes of brilliance, and the rest of the time disappears entirely from team game plans. If Dorsett can build a rapport early in this game and season, Dorsett could actually end up being a pretty solid end of bench wide receiver for teams, but profiles as very boom or bust. In almost the same exact vein, the third wideout to see deployment on Sunday will be Cordarelle Patterson. Patterson, the lightning bolt of a man out of Tennessee has shown his burst on kick returns, and on some amazing deep passes in the past, but is now on his third team in just a few years, and hopes he can build some comradery with Tom Brady and the Patriots. Never gathering more than a five hundred yard season, the intrigue on Patterson has almost worn off, but New England has birthed gold from garbage before, and I believe this could be a potential breakout player for this team, and someone we can keep an eye on. The final name to keep a bit of a tag on is Chad Hansen. Not the host of that show on NBC where he tells men to “have a seat”, Hansen is instead a 24-year-old wide receiver moving on from the New York Jets and could see a bit of time on the field. Brady is not shy about sharing the wealth of targets if players are able to learn their routes and playbook, so for now, we’ll stow away the name for later, but he is interesting or deep leagues, as this has been a pass-heavy team before.
Rob Gronkowski is the last, and without question most necessary and exciting force on the field for this Patriots team. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, a mismatch in speed for players close to the line, and mismatch in size for the secondary defenders, the offense sometimes seems to go as Gronkowski goes. During this game, the projection would normally show us leaning towards Gronkowski on the normal day to day, and this game seems no different. Gronkowski will slip behind coverages, go deep to test defenses, and make it hell for anyone having to cover him. This is the player who along with Hogan will soak up Edelman’s targets and this is the player to hitch your fantasy wagons on, or if you weren’t so lucky, pay up for in your daily leagues!
Chris Hogan: 10/88/0 TD
Philly Dorsett: 4/72/1 TD
Cordarelle Patterson: 3/52/0 TD
Rob Gronkowski: 10/118/1 TD
New exciting defense sets out to find out what it wants to be all grown up
The Patriots spent the offseason dealing with some personnel changes as well as player changes, watching longtime defensive coordinator Matt Patricia head off to Detroit, replacing him with Bryan Flores and a lot of new names in their defensive packages. Adrian Clayborn signed a two-year deal in the offseason, coming over from the Falcons, and immediately has shown in the preseason his motor is as ready as ever before, showcasing some great plays so far and looking to be a lynchpin in their defense. Ja’Whaun Bentley, a linebacker drafted out of Purdue has also shown an amazing stock rise over the preseason, even going so far as to read off and calling defensive plays at the point of scrimmage, and could immediately become a fan favorite. He’s shown himself to be everywhere on the field, in front of the ball, a relief from the old days of “sit and wait on mistake/bend and don’t break” defenses the Patriots seemed to be used to using in the Patricia days. The secondary also shows some new faces in J.C. Jackson (unsigned rookie out of Maryland), Keion Crossen (seventh-round pick in this year’s draft), and Duke Dawson (second round pick in this year’s draft), highlighting some youth, speed, and a bit of fancy footwork to the tune of a two-interception game in the final preseason game from J.C. This defense has it’s work set out for itself, facing off against consistent if not flashy Lamar Miller, the fast and fearless Deshaun Watson behind center, and DeAndre “Nuk” Hopkins and Will Fuller V (limited participant, but if goes, is always a threat for some deep field passes to unwind defenses). It will be interesting and exciting to see how this defense can match up against one of the more higher firepower offenses to start the season.