QB Philip Rivers, LAC vs. KC
The Chiefs defense has been staunch in the past, but has deteriorated lately. Kansas City ranked 23rd in DVOA pass defense and allowed the fourth-most passing YPG (247) last season. They traded top CB Marcus Peters and could be without all-pro safety Eric Berry (heel) in a road tilt against their divisional rivals Sunday. Philip Rivers struggled in his two meetings with KC last year, but with key personnel missing from the back end of the Chiefs defense and new weapons available to the longtime Chargers QB, he should have a solid outing in the opener.
RB Rex Burkhead, NE vs. HOU
There is an old caveat in fantasy football to not trust running backs in Bill Belichick’s system. Yet the Patriots have only three active wide receivers on their opening day roster and that gives Rex Burkhead another potential outlet to stay on the field and log touches. Both Burkhead and James White should run plenty of pass routes against a Texans team that struggled to defend the slot last season. Rookie Sony Michel (knee) has not been a full participant in practice and the Pats cut Mike Gillislee, so Burkhead might even be the favorite for goal line work, a very favorable role in the Patriots elite offense.
RB Royce Freeman, DEN vs. SEA
If you drafted Royce Freeman in the middle rounds this year, you’re probably willing to expect big things from the rookie. He may not light it up right off the bat, but he’s definitely usable in a plus matchup against the injury-plagued Seahawks defense. Seattle has been losing defensive playmakers over the past couple seasons and could be without two starting defensive lineman in Frank Clark (elbow) and Dion Jordan (leg). Star linebacker K.J. Wright (knee) is doubtful, so Freeman and fellow committee member Devontae Booker should find plenty of room to run in a surprisingly appealing matchup at home.
WR Devin Funchess, CAR vs. DAL
Cam Newton has a tendency to look on to a favorite target in the red area and that bodes well for the prospects of Devin Funchess heading into this season. At 6-foot-5, 232 pounds, he’s a natural touchdown maker and he came on strong with five scores over the Panthers final seven games last year. Dallas allowed the fifth-most passing TD (28) in the NFL last season and have a couple of underwhelming cornerbacks that should be vulnerable in jump ball situations against Funchess.
WR Randall Cobb, GB vs. CHI
He’s been down in years past, but Randall Cobb will be asked to step up in a big way for the Packers following the departure of Jordy Nelson. Serving as the No. 2 wide receiver for Aaron Rodgers is never a bad position and his individual Week 1 matchup is appealing. The Bears have two abnormally large corners in Prince Amukumara and Kyle Fuller, both of whom stand 6-feet tall and therefore sacrifice some quickness. Cobb should be able to get free over the middle of the field and Rodgers is as accurate as anyone in NFL history when targeting his receivers out of the slot.
TE Jordan Reed, WAS @ ARI
This is a textbook example of not letting previous biases hold you back, as Jordan Reed has burned many owners time and time again with pre-game and mid-game injuries. He’s reportedly healthy heading into the season and the Redskins ensured it would be that way by keeping him in bubble wrap throughout the preseason. Reed should be a valuable outlet for new Redskins QB Alex Smith, who has shown an affinity for targeting tight ends in the red area throughout his career. The Cardinals have aggressive linebackers that come on blitzes quite often, which bodes well for tight ends that can run quick flat or slant patterns.
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