If there’s one thing NFL schedule makers like, it’s creating drama. That’s why they usually open the season with a Thursday night showcase featuring the defending champions and one of their most prominent challengers to the throne.
It’s also why, when they realized the Denver Broncos and new quarterback Russell Wilson would be playing an interconference game in Seattle this season, they placed that in the leadoff slot for the new season of “Monday Night Football.”
The last time these two teams played in a prominent game, it was Super Bowl XLVIII. Wilson’s Seahawks routed Peyton Manning and the Broncos for their only NFL championship.
Monday night, it should be another Wilson-led rout against Pete Carroll’s leftovers. Expect a big game from Mr. Ciara and his top two receivers, Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy. Same goes for running back Javonte Williams.
We think the hype about the 2022 Broncos has gotten to be a bit much, with a few pundits handing them the AFC West crown. While we don’t see them making it into the playoffs, we do see their new quarterback regaining some of the luster he lost over the past couple of years in Seattle. And that begins Monday night with a little payback, and stat padding.
There are a couple more big quarterback reunions planned for this weekend, though only one is of particular fantasy interest:
Baker Mayfield (Panthers) — It’s a shame Mayfield won’t be playing his old team in the Cleveland stadium where they filmed all those legendary insurance commercials … (pause for sarcastic effect) … But the Charlotte fans should be delighted by the improved Panthers offense, as RB Christian McCaffrey returns to form and WR D.J. Moore begins what should be a breakout season.
Joe Flacco (Jets) — Zach Wilson made all the preseason headlines for the J-E-T-S, whether it was for getting injured or for dating his mom’s friend. But he’s very likely to sit in Week 1 after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 16. That means ancient Joe Flacco could be lining up against his old team, just 10 short years after leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl. No matter who plays QB, you should steer clear of using any Jets, even rookie RB Breece Hall.
As a rule, you should always start your best players in Week 1, without overthinking matchups. That said, you might want to think twice before starting a quarterback with a sore elbow (Rams’ Matthew Stafford vs. Buffalo) or one with a depleted offensive line and receiving corps (Cowboys’ Dak Prescott vs. Tampa Bay). … New Orleans’ Michael Thomas is back after two years of injuries, but you might want to leave him on your bench in his first game back vs. Atlanta. …. With Pittsburgh turning to Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback, we’d probably lay off any Steelers receivers vs. Cincinnati. … And New England will likely wilt in the Miami heat again, so there are no Patriots offensive starters we’d use against a tough Dolphins defense.
While Green Bay frets about Justin Jefferson, the Vikings’ Adam Thielen might actually do the most pass-catching damage against the Packers. … The Loop’s fantasy team is counting on the Indy combination of Matt Ryan and Michael Pittman against the lowly Texans, and you should too. … But that game will also be the coming-out party for this year’s rookie of the year: Houston RB Dameon Pierce. … We like the matchups for two running backs who didn’t impress anyone during the preseason: Washington’s Antonio Gibson vs. Jacksonville and Kansas City’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire vs. Arizona. … And we expect big numbers from Buffalo WR Gabriel Davis vs. the Rams and Detroit RB D’Andre Swift against Philadelphia.
There is uncertainty about three prominent running backs: San Francisco’s Elijah Mitchell missed the preseason, and though he’s expected to play Sunday, Jeff Wilson could take a big share of his work … Green Bay’s only returning wide receiver, Allen Lazard, may be out Sunday, which means Aaron Rodgers will be relying on oldsters Randall Cobb and Sammy Watkins a lot against the Vikings … Jacksonville’s James Robinson is questionable, which means Travis Etienne will be busy in his NFL debut. … Others listed as questionable include Philly RB Miles Sanders, San Fran WR Deebo Samuel, Dallas wideout CeeDee Lamb, Cincy WR Tee Higgins, Pittsburgh’s Diontae Johnson, Miami receiver Jaylen Waddle, Tampa Bay veteran Chris Godwin, Atlanta rookie WR Drake London, and two prominent tight ends: Las Vegas’ Darren Waller and Arizona’s Zach Ertz.
THE DEEPEST SLEEPER
Baltimore’s hurting at running back with J.K. Dobbins coming back from injury and Gus Edwards on the physically unable to perform list. So they could be turning to journeyman Mike Davis in Week 1. Since the Ravens’ opponent is the baby-soft New York Jets defense, Davis could be in line for any goal-line opportunities that QB Lamar Jackson doesn’t hog for himself. Baltimore added Kenyan Drake to the backfield last week, but we doubt he’s going to be a huge factor in the opener. Davis’ days in the sun will not likely last, but he could post nice numbers on Sunday.
THE THURSDAY PICK
Bills at Rams (+1½):
Pick: Bills by 3
We’ll be updating our column, based on the latest injuries and innuendo, right up until Sunday’s kickoff. Go to TwinCities.com/theloop.