Kickoff: Sunday, September 12th at 1:00 PM ET
Location: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Betting Odds: MIN -3, 48 Total on Oddshark
Kirk Cousins (Start)
While Kirk Cousins is pretty far from the most inspiring option to fill your starting quarterback spot, you can’t argue that he tends to put up pretty good fantasy numbers. The Vikings starter finished just outside the top-10 of QBs in fantasy last year and attempted over 30 passes in each of his last seven games, giving him good volume to work with. Surrounded by the same great supporting cast as 2020 and with a bolstered offensive line, don’t be surprised if he quietly accumulates good numbers yet again in 2021. A productive week one performance is also helped out by a Bengals defense that had the worst pass rush in football last year and an injury to starting cornerback Trae Waynes which leaves the Bengals with an exploitable secondary.
Dalvin Cook (Start, RB1), Alexander Mattison (Sit)
Dalvin Cook has spent most of the offseason as the consensus number-2 overall pick in fantasy drafts this year, and rightly so. Over 14 games last season, Cook averaged the highest points per game of any RB, rushing for over 1500 yards across the season. There is no indication to suggest that he will slow down from that pace in 2021 and will look to put in a dominating performance against a below-average Cincinnati defense. The Bengals allowed 148 rushing yards per game last year, which made them one of the worst across the league. The team brought in a few role players to attempt to shore up their front seven, but it seems unlikely to make a significant difference.
Cook is the guaranteed workhorse of this offense so there is not much to work with for Alexander Mattison. He can be productive when given the opportunity but rarely received more than a couple of rushing attempts while Cook was healthy last year so he should not be relied upon in fantasy.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Justin Jefferson (Start, WR1), Adam Thielen (Start, WR2), K.J. Osborn (Sit), Tyler Conklin (Sit), Chris Herndon (Sit)
The Bengals had a surprisingly effective secondary in 2020 but they couldn’t have asked for much of a tougher task in Week 1 than against Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. After his spectacular rookie season, Jefferson will be the WR1 of the offense and can look to improve on his 1400 yards in 2020. He has developed good consistency from week to week, racking up over 100 yards in half of his NFL starts. The only concern for Jefferson is in the redzone, where Thielen has had a larger impact. Despite clearly becoming Kirk Cousins’ second option in 2020, Thielen still scored 14 TDs, double that of Jefferson. With possible regression, this makes Thielen slightly more of a risk to start, particularly with his seven games in 2020 with less than 3 receptions, but he still has enough of a role that you can feel comfortable in a game like this. The Bengals are likely to start CBs Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple, who could struggle against their offensive counterparts.
The Vikings were a two-man show in the passing game last year, and this year will be no different. Their third wide receiver will probably be K.J. Osborn following injuries to Dede Westbrook and Olabisi Johnson but the second-year player has yet to catch a pass in the regular season.
After the departure of Kyle Rudolph and a serious meniscus injury to Irv Smith Jr., the Vikings TE group is an interesting spot. Tyler Conklin is the de facto starter after a productive run of games to end the 2020 season but the former fifth-round pick recently suffered a hamstring injury, missing a large chunk of the preseason. He is set to start but, after missing action, he could make a slow return to the field. To help out, the Vikings added Chris Herndon through a trade with the New York Jets. After an extremely positive rookie campaign, Herndon struggled with injuries and drops in his last two years under Adam Gase. If he can regain a part of the form he lost he could still become a vital piece of this offense. However, the uncertainty of the players and a low rate of production for the position in 2020 make both players a no-go for this matchup. All the TEs on the roster could see time on the field and will have to compete for limited targets behind Jefferson and Thielen.
Joe Burrow (Sit)
It seems like forever ago when Joe Burrow tore his ACL and MCL in week 11 of the 2020 season. The number one overall draft pick had shown a lot of positive signs before going down but has faced a long road to recovery to be ready to start this game against the Vikings. It is obvious that Burrow has talent but ACL injuries are no joke, and some players never return to the same level as before. Add to that a porous offensive line and a disappointing (so far at least) head coach and that equals a hell of a lot of question marks. The Vikings had one of the worst pass rushes in football last year but even so, Bengals fans still won’t be able to help but fear for Burrow every time he drops back in the pocket. He may be an option once he gets back some of the form he lost, but there are plenty of better options than Burrow in Week 1.
Joe Mixon (Start, RB1)
After a year largely to forget in 2020, this season looks to be the best opportunity for Joe Mixon to put up the kind of top-5 RB numbers that his talent has often suggested he can. No longer sharing snaps with Giovani Bernard, Mixon appears to have the position largely to himself which will mean an increased role. If he is able to get more involved in the passing game in Bernard’s absence, and most importantly stay healthy, he could be the type of player to win you your fantasy league in 2021. Last year, the Vikings would have provided a favorable matchup for Mixon, allowing an average of 134 yards on the ground, but the Vikings appear to have targeted their run defense in the offseason which will make it more difficult. Still, the Bengals are likely to rely heavily on Mixon to be the heart of their offense and, in what is likely to be a high-scoring game, he should be able to provide plenty of points.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Tee Higgins (Start, WR2), Tyler Boyd (Start, FLEX), Ja’Marr Chase (Sit), C.J. Uzomah (Sit)
The selection of Ja’Marr Chase with the Bengals first selection in the draft has left their receiving group difficult to judge coming into the season. Realistically, any of the three starting wide receivers, with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd returning from last year, could end up as the top receiver. All three will have opportunities against a Vikings defense that gave up the sixth-most points to receivers in the NFL last year. Higgins is the most likely to fly out of the traps quickly in Week 1. The second-year player quickly became Joe Burrow’s favorite target on his way to a season where he finished as the WR23 across the league. As Burrow looks to grow into the game after his absence, expect Higgins to be the safety option which should give him a pretty good floor for the week. Tyler Boyd is another good option, often underrated by many in fantasy circles. Boyd had back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons in 2018 and 2019 and only slightly fell off that pace last year. While he doesn’t necessarily have the ceiling of Higgins or Chase, he is a more reliable option to get targets in a talented group. Chase is the wildcard to start the year. While he has by far the most potential of the three, Chase faced a rocky preseason in which the first-round pick had a bevy of crucial drops which may have lead to some confidence issues. While he is bound to get things together later in the season, starting Chase Week 1 feels like a big risk.
Tight End is one of the weakest areas on the Bengals roster and should be avoided under almost all circumstances in fantasy. The starter will be C.J. Uzomah, who is returning from a torn Achilles that forced him out of almost all of 2020. Uzomah has had one semi-productive year in 2018 but has only found the endzone 8 times in his five previous years with the Bengals.
Statistics courtesy of Fantasy Data.
-Patrick McAndrew (@PMcAndrewNFL on Twitter)