We have finally made its football fans. After seven long months, football is back and it all starts with a bang as the Dallas Cowboys travel to the sunshine state to face off against the defending Super Bowl Champions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now for this series throughout the year, I will be giving my starting lineup confidence rating on a scale of:
- 1: Non-factor, do not start
- 2: Boom or bust play with low floor, probably better options
- 3: Flex play with a shaky floor but the actual potential for high ceiling
- 4: Locked in starter with solid floor and strong ceiling potential
- 5: Locked and loaded top 12 with week winning upside
So with that out of the way let’s not waste any more time and start breaking down the main skill positions on each side of the ball for this season’s opener!
Tom Brady: Seems only fitting we start things off with the GOAT in Tom Brady when discussing the season opener. As we will see with Dak Prescott coming up, based on Brady’s ADP, you are going to be starting him regardless of most matchups and formats; but you certainly should get excited about this start to the year for the ageless wonder. Facing off against the Cowboys’ defense was nearly always a plus matchup in 2020 as they surrendered 29.6 points per game over the season as well as 34 passing touchdowns.
So let’s not complicate this one any more than it needs to be, you are starting Tom Brady and not thinking twice about it in what should be a matchup where we see him light up the scoreboard tossing the ball to one of the best wide receiver rooms in the NFL during a potential shoot out.
Final Confidence rating: 5.
Dak Prescott: On the other side of the ball as mentioned we have Dak Prescott who we have not seen on the field since Week 5 of last season. Now by most recent reports, Dak is ready to roll which is why fantasy managers drafted him so high leading into the season. As discussed above, the Cowboys’ defense was anything but spectacular last year as they gave up franchise records in points and yards, which meant good things for both the opposing offense as well as the Dallas offensive weapons trying to play catch up. Now a few negatives are going against Dak which can make you hesitant for week one. The matchup against the Bucs defense is not an ideal start to the season, especially when you are wanting to see how he has recovered from his injuries since last season.
As if that was not enough, we found out that All-Pro guard Zack Martin is going to be out after a positive Covid-19 test which means Connor McGovern will look to step in and provide serviceable protection as the Week 1 filler. All this being said, if Dak is on your roster he is almost certainly locked in as your starting QB and with the added potential of yardage or touchdowns on the ground and a plethora of talented offensive skill weapons, I am expecting 3 passing touchdowns at the minimum with potential for more if the game requires the Cowboys to keep pace with Brady and the Bucs offense in a shootout.
Final Confidence rating: 4.
The Running Backs
Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette, and Giovanni Bernard: This is the beginning of probably the murkiest positional group between both teams which is the Tampa Bay backfield. Everyone remembers “Playoff Lenny” from the Bucs playoff run last season but for a majority of the regular season, we saw Ronald Jones play the 1A to Leonard Fournette‘s 1B in the offense. Head Coach Bruce Arians has not seemed to tip his hand as to whether or not either of the two running backs will be phasing out the other but it is safe to say that with the addition of veteran Giovani Bernard, neither will see a bulk of the passing game work as Bernard has been almost exclusively a pass-catching specialist.
While this matchup against a Dallas defense who was gashed on the ground last season for nearly 160 a game, it is going to be very tough to tell who in this backfield you can trust right out of the gate. This seems destined to have the “hot hand” approach used but if I HAD to make a call between the three I am going with Rojo and having the Pepto on standby as it seems like a toss-up as to who will be the one to benefit from the Cowboys shaky defense.
Final Confidence ratings: Jones: 3, Fournette: 3 and Bernard: 1.
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard: Meanwhile in the opposite backfield, our visiting team for TNF features a much clearer picture with one of the more seemingly disrespected starting running backs/first-round picks in Ezekiel Elliott paired with the fantasy football community’s favorite backup running back, Tony Pollard. Now just like we will be discussing for some of our pass catchers, if Zeke is on your team you are starting him regardless of matchup. However, it is important to temper your expectations for this week. The Bucs are coming off of a year where they held opponents to just 80 yards per game! That is hardly enough for one good fantasy performance let alone when spread out across a full team. Now, this does not mean they could not be beaten as they surrendered strong outings to the likes of the Saints, Vikings, and surprisingly the Falcons.
All this boils down to the fact you are still starting Zeke regardless of the matchup at least for the foreseeable future. So let’s turn our attention to Pollard and his value for this week. With the return of Dak back into the lineup and defense still rebuilding we should expect to see a strong air attack from the Cowboys which should at least help Pollard get some run. But I think this is going to be someone fantasy managers are still going to want to avoid until they get a better picture of how the offense will run through the year. In what was considered a “down” year for Zeke in 2020, Pollard only managed to see the field for 32% of offensive snaps which makes it tough to expect any consistent volume for the young back out of Memphis. For now, I think Pollard continues to be a thorn in Zeke manager’s side but nothing more as a stand-alone piece.
Final Confidence ratings: Zeke: 4, and Pollard: 2.
The Wide Receivers
Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Scotty Miller: I think when this game schedule came out one of the first things that came to mind was that we were going to get to witness almost undoubtedly the two best wide receiver trios in the NFL and what a treat that will be! So starting on the Bucs side of the ball we have two top 45 players in ADP in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin that you are starting in nearly any matchup PLUS a healthy Antonio Brown who, “is playing at a speed that we saw 4 or 5 years ago”. Now we already discussed how Brady is going to be a monster this week and we all know that is not happening any other way than through the air so these three gentlemen if healthy should feast on the aforementioned secondary of the Cowboys who are ranked 31st by PFF heading into the season.
There was one keyword in the previous sentence that managers need to monitor and that word is healthy. Earlier on Tuesday, the Bucs listed Chris Godwin as a limited practice participant due to a quad injury. As Godwin was not on the Monday injury report this could be big news and something to note when making start sit decisions for your week 1 matchup. IF Godwin misses practice Wednesday you may need to consider pivoting to a safer option if available. It should also be noted that Brown did not practice either, but, this could be more of a maintenance day than anything else. Should Godwin be limited or miss time, Scotty Miller could be a potential flex option in a pinch otherwise, he remains a high ceiling play with a floor of a goose egg at the wide receiver position even in a high octane matchup.
Final Confidence ratings: Evans: 4, Godwin: 3, Brown: 4, Miller: 2 and all other Bucs wide receivers: 1.
Ceedee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup: Next up we have the Cowboys star-studded trio of pass-catchers. If you can recall the start of the 2020 season, the Cowboys’ passing offense was on pace for mind-blowing numbers. Through the first four games, Dak and company were on track for over 6,500 receiving yards, 36 passing TDs, and nearly 32 points per game. Now clearly this would not be sustainable or the expectation, however, if there was ever a situation where a team was going to put up numbers like this you would be hard-pressed to find one better than this. CeeDee Lamb has taken over the spotlight with spectacular grabs during training camp while his running mates Cooper and Gallup seemingly go under the radar. I mean Michael Gallup is going outside of WR4 territory in half-point PPR. All this being said this is a Thursday night breakdown and not a Cowboy breakdown.
The Cowboys are going to have to throw the ball to win this game plain and simple. In the four games with Dak fully healthy these three averaged over 6 targets each with Amari Cooper up over 12! If you are getting that kind of volume good things will happen and there is no reason why those target numbers will not continue as the offense returns everyone that was a part of that 2020 team. The only concern as mentioned with Dak is the loss of Zack Martin, but let’s face it, are you going to be the person that overthinks it and benches Lamb or Cooper just to watch them go for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns? I sure hope not! Fire up your Cowboys with confidence and get your popcorn ready for the show.
Final Confidence ratings: Lamb: 4, Cooper: 4, Gallup: 3 and all other Cowboy wide receivers: 1.
The Tight Ends
Rob Gronkowski, OJ Howard, and Cameron Brate: With so many mouths to feed on this Tampa Bay offense there are bound to be some disappointments along the way. I think this year those are going to come from the tight end position. There is not much to break down from this group as once again across the league the tight end position is scarce and terrifying outside of a handful of studs. Long time member of that group is former wrestling star, Rob Gronkowski. The years of Gronk being the top fantasy tight end are clearly behind him, however, he is, for now, the top Tampa Bay tight end and if you had to start one it would be him. Gronk is still a big threat inside the red zone and his connection with Brady makes him a streaming option week in and week out. Even last year, Gronk finished with over 600 yards and 7 touchdowns even while having a career-low receiving yards per target. Looking at other options across the league you could certainly do worse than Gronk but when going against a Cowboys defense whose strength probably is the middle of the field, I think it wise to find alternative options.
Final Confidence ratings: Gronkowski: 3, OJ Howard: 1 and Cameron Brate: 1.
Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin: Now at least with the Tampa Bay tight ends we had some name recognition power with Gronk; in the Dallas tight end room we are not looking at much in the ways of options. On one hand, the listed starter for the Cowboys is Dalton Schultz who is coming off a pedestrian year that saw him perform extremely up and down with more down than up. Schultz would go on to finish just outside the top 10 at the position, however, this all came without Dak for the majority of the season and no Blake Jarwin who went down in week 1 for the season.
The argument for Schultz this season as a streamer though is the number he put up with Dak is perfect for a late-round/waiver wire tight end. In four games with Dak, Schultz averaged 4.5 receptions and 54.75 receiving yards which is certainly not going to kill your team. Overall against a defense that surprisingly was in the bottom half against tight ends in 2020, Schultz could be a surprise sleeper in this matchup.
Final Confidence ratings: Schultz: 2 and Jarwin: 1.
Tampa Bay and Dallas: I will keep these brief as there is not much to go through when it comes to these options. If you have the Bucs defense you almost certainly spent actual draft capital as they carry an ADP of just outside the top 100. While we should see Dallas put up points, we should also see them give up a handful of sacks and that front seven should be able to force some mistakes and create a few turnovers throughout the game. Do not hesitate to start Tampa and certainly do not drop them or roster a second defense. On the flip side, if you have the Cowboys defense on your team, you probably have bigger issues to deal with and need to reevaluate your strategy. Do. Not. Start. Them.
Final Confidence ratings: Tampa Bay: 4, and Dallas: 1.
So there you have fantasy football enthusiasts, your first Thursday Night Football breakdown! The season is upon us and the smell of tilting is in the air! Feel free to let me know your thoughts and if there were any players you think could be good sleepers in this matchup! Until next time!