Kickoff: Sunday, September 13th at 4:05 PM ET
Location: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Betting Odds: LAC -3, 42 Total via Oddsshark
Los Angeles Chargers
Tyrod Taylor (Sit)
In his first start as a Charger, Tyrod Taylor gets a prime matchup in Cincinnati. In 2019 the Bengals’ defense was tied for last in the league in passing yards allowed per attempt and allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to the quarterback position. While the Bengals have bolstered their defense a bit in the offseason, this still does not project to be an above-average unit. So why am I down on Taylor? It seems pretty clear that the Chargers would be happy to let Taylor be a game-manager as they rely on the running game and defense. While Taylor has some rushing ability, this is a 31-year-old quarterback with just 91 passing attempts total over the past two seasons. I expect some rust, the Chargers to protect him, and an unexciting fantasy performance. Sure, he had 425+ yards rushing each season from 2015-2017 in Buffalo, but that also came with a high of 3,035 passing yards. Let’s see if he has the legs from three years ago before we throw him into our fantasy lineups.
Austin Ekeler (Start, RB1), Joshua Kelley (Sit), Justin Jackson (Sit)
This is an excellent spot for Austin Ekeler in his first game in the post-Melvin Gordon era. The Chargers are favorites against a Bengals team that allowed the most rushing yards in the league last year and has often been vulnerable to pass-catching running backs. Ekeler should get the ball early and often, and even if Los Angeles falls behind, Ekeler will be a primary option in the passing game. Ekeler’s ceiling for the season may come down to how high his snap percentage is, so keep an eye on how often he comes off the field in this one, especially if the Chargers grab a lead.
When Ekeler leaves the field, Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson will be battling for reps. Jackson had missed time in camp with a toe injury, allowing the rookie Kelley to impress in camp and potentially win the number two job. I like Kelley here, and if I knew he would get the primary backup snaps I would call him a flex option. It would make sense for there to be a sizeable role behind Ekeler, as it would be logical for the Chargers to seek a between the tackles option to lessen Ekeler’s wear and tear. But in Week 1, the risk is too great of both backs sharing the role, making both bench stashes for now.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Keenan Allen (Start, WR2), Mike Williams (Sit), Hunter Henry (Start, TE1)
While I’m a bit down on Keenan Allen until I see his connection with Taylor and the volume of the passing game, he is a locked-in WR2 in this matchup. The Bengals did allow the most passing yards per attempt in the league last year, but they were a more respectable unit when it came to fantasy points allowed to the wide receiver position, ranking near the middle with the 13th least PPR points allowed to the position. Regardless, the depth at the receiver position in Los Angeles is super thin, especially with Mike Williams looking like a potential game-time decision. Behind Williams are Jalen Guyton and Joe Reed, so Allen will be relied on heavily while the Chargers are passing. He may have limited upside, but Allen is a safe PPR play.
I wouldn’t recommend starting Mike Williams in this matchup, as his injury and a new quarterback make him too risky for a Week 1 start. But Hunter Henry looks like a lock for a heavy target share and is an easy start for me at tight end. Taylor has shown a propensity to target the position often in his past, and Henry can be counted on as the number three option behind Allen and Ekeler. He may not have the upside of the tight ends in explosive passing games, but Henry should be involved from the start.
Joe Burrow (Sit)
While I am extremely excited for the Joe Burrow era to begin in Cincinnati, you should take a wait and see approach for your fantasy team before thrusting him into your lineup. Los Angeles gave up the sixth-fewest points to the quarterback position in 2019, and even without stand-out safety Derwin James, this will be a formidable defense. The Bengals sported one of the worst offensive lines in the league last year, and while the return of first-round rookie Jonah Williams should help, this is far from a trustworthy unit. Burrow may be able to become a reliable fantasy option under duress due to his rushing ability and potential passing volume, and I do like the skill positions around him. But in a tough matchup in his first career start with no preseason games, it is best to keep Burrow on your bench for this one.
Joe Mixon (Start, RB1), Giovani Bernard (Sit)
This Chargers defense did give up the ninth-most PPR points to opposing running backs in 2019, so the Bengals will likely look to feed Joe Mixon early and often. With running back questions popping up all over the league, Mixon is a steady option that should be helped out by improvements to the line and quarterback in Cincinnati. Mixon still needs increased passing game work, or excellent touchdown luck, to truly ascend to the top of the running back ranks. But he’s a solid RB1 option most weeks as long as Burrow doesn’t flop. And if Burrow uses Mixon a little more like he used his running backs at LSU (hello Clyde Edwards-Helaire) maybe Mixon begins the best season of his career with a big Week 1.
While Giovani Bernard now sports a sick mustache, he’s no more than a change of pace option, and unless Burrow really locks on to his running backs, he won’t be more than a desperation flex play.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Tyler Boyd (Start, WR3), A.J. Green (Sit), John Ross (Sit), C.J. Uzomah (Sit)
The Chargers allowed the third-fewest PPR points to the receiver position last year, so start Bengals receivers with caution. I love Tyler Boyd this year, and see him as a WR2 or WR3 nearly every week. Burrow showed a propensity to target the slot at LSU, and Boyd should be a reliable target all game as the Bengals try to get the ball out of Burrow’s hands before the pass-rush gets home.
A.J. Green‘s prospects are much scarier for me. He has been limited in camp with a hamstring injury, and while he appears ready to go for Week 1, I would be shocked if he received a full snap share. This will be Green’s first game since December of 2018, and that hamstring scare in camp has to encourage the Bengals to be careful with him. In a tough matchup in his first game with a rookie quarterback, I would rather take a wait and see approach with Green. I don’t blame you if you start him as your WR3, but hopefully, your team has enough depth Week 1 to play a safer option.
John Ross could have some appeal in shootouts, but this matchup isn’t good enough to target him in. Keep an eye on how the number three snaps shake out between Boyd, Tee Higgins, and Auden Tate, however, as it could be a meaningful role down the line. C.J. Uzomah is off the fantasy radar in all but the deepest of leagues, but with a new quarterback keep an eye on his role for future weeks.
-Erik Smith (@ErikSmithQBL on Twitter, truebest on Reddit)