Our NFL Insiders predict Week 1's biggest upsets and fantasy flops and sleepers. Plus: When will the Patriots lose their first game? Which rookie running back will star this weekend? Which team will make a quarterback change first?
What's your top upset pick for Week 1?
Mike Clay, NFL writer: Chargers over Broncos. The Chargers are my pick to shock the country and win the AFC West this season, so you know I expect them to get off on the right foot with a win in Denver. The Broncos have a terrific defense, but their quarterback woes will continue to hold them back. Expect a more balanced Chargers team to pull off the upset.
Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Chargers over Broncos. I like the Chargers as a bounce-back team, and I have some major questions about the Broncos, and why not get it started with a Monday night upset by Phil Rivers & Co. in Denver?
KC Joyner, NFL writer: Chargers over Broncos. The Broncos overhauled their offensive line and have to face a Chargers squad that brings back nine front-seven players who each tallied 250 or more snaps last season. That group ranked second in pass pressure rate. Points will be at a premium, but the Los Angeles offense will post enough to pull off the upset.
Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders: Chargers over Broncos. Originally I had Miami over Tampa Bay here, but that will have to be my Week 11 upset pick instead. I think this is the year the Broncos defense declines and becomes just very good instead of legendary. The pass rush in particular is a bit of a question with no DeMarcus Ware for the season, no Shane Ray for the first few weeks, and Shaq Barrett playing at less than 100 percent after labrum surgery. Von Miller will still do Von Miller things, but it won't be quite the same. Meanwhile, the Chargers haven't had a chance to get everyone injured yet, although don't fret, it's coming like it always does.
Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Bears over Falcons. Yep, going there. I'm falling for all of the Falcons' "hangover" storylines. Relatedly, I think the Bears will be much more competent than conventional wisdom suggests. They have a decent chance to control the ball against the Falcons' defense and limit QB Matt Ryan's opportunities.
The Patriots will get their first loss in Week ___.
Clay: 2. I have the Patriots as the favorite in each of their 16 games, but my projection model shows their lowest win probability as 60 percent in Week 14 when they head into Pittsburgh. That's no fun, though, so I'll go with the second game of the season and make the bold prediction that the Saints will pull off an upset in the Superdome. Coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees will prove they can score big without WR Brandin Cooks and take this one in a 37-34 shootout.
Graziano: 10. And yeah, I know what I said about Denver in the first question, but QB Tom Brady doesn't love it there, and the Patriots have to lose at some point, right? Thought about giving them a loss to the Falcons or Chargers, but it's tough to pick against them at home. So let's say they get out of the gate 8-0 and then stumble in Denver. Even though I don't love the Broncos this season.
Joyner: 5. That Thursday night game at Tampa Bay has all the makings of a trap contest. The addition of WR DeSean Jackson and TE O.J. Howard will give the Buccaneers the firepower to turn this matchup into a shootout that will give them at least a 50 percent chance of winning.
Schatz: 5. I think the most likely result for the Patriots would be to finish the season 14-2, with one surprise loss to an NFC South team and one road loss to another AFC contender. Since the Pats get Atlanta and Carolina at home, the trip to Tampa Bay in Week 5 is the most likely choice for surprise NFC South loss. Yes, I know I just wrote that the Bucs might be overrated, but we're talking about a short week for a Thursday game on the road, travelling from autumn New England to Florida humidity.
Seifert: 10. That game in Denver jumps out to me. Since the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era began in 2001, the Broncos have won seven of 10 games against the Patriots in Denver. The Broncos are in transition under a new coaching staff, but significant history is in place to make this a decent possibility.
Who's your biggest fantasy flop this weekend?
Clay: Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys. Shadowed by Janoris Jenkins in two games last season, Bryant caught two passes for 18 yards and zero scores on 14 targets in those games. That included one 10-yard catch on nine targets against Jenkins. The Giants' top corner will chase Bryant around the perimeter Sunday night, so he's a candidate for a slow start to 2017.
Graziano: Pick a Packer! You like that matchup against the Seattle defense, which just added Sheldon Richardson to its already-awesome front? Yeah, me neither. Not saying you should be upset if you came out of your draft with Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson or Ty Montgomery. You just might have to wear a rough Week 1 on your way to the fantasy fun they will bring you this year.
Joyner: Any Seattle running back. The Seahawks graded out as the worst offensive line in my offseason O-line rankings. They face a Packers defense that ranked 11th in my good blocking rate allowed metric in 2016. Add in the game being on the road and the potential for split carries, and it puts a low cap on any Seattle ball carrier.
Schatz: Tyreek Hill, WR/PR/KR, Chiefs. Bill Belichick has had months to figure out how to slow down this guy. You think Belichick is going to let Hill or Travis Kelce beat him, or do you think he'll try to force the Chiefs to beat him with Chris Conley and Albert Wilson? I'm going with the latter.
Seifert: Ty Montgomery, RB, Packers. Since Pete Carroll arrived in Seattle in 2010, only one defense has given up fewer rushing yards than his (Pittsburgh). I don't see Montgomery or the Packers having much success on the ground against this Seattle front.
Which team will make a quarterback change first, and when?
Clay: Chicago. Consider that Jared Goff is the only quarterback selected in the top 12 over the past five years who was not the starter before Week 3 of his rookie season. If recent history holds, at least two of Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes II will see the field early. Considering how well he played in the preseason, I expect Trubisky to receive the first promotion.
Graziano: Jacksonville. The Jaguars can't risk injury and a $19 million 2018 salary for Blake Bortles if they're not sure he's the long-term answer, and I don't see how they can be sure of that. Chad Henne will play at some point.
Joyner: The Jaguars face Houston, Tennessee, Pittsburgh and the Rams in four of their first six games. Blake Bortles could implode in all four of those tough matchups, but all it will take is one abysmal performance for Jacksonville to put an end to the Bortles era.
Schatz: Houston. The Texans' schedule is somewhat front-loaded in Weeks 2-5 (at Bengals and Patriots, then Titans and Chiefs at home) so a slow start is a distinct possibility. There's no reason to believe Watson would be worse than Tom Savage, and the upside is so much greater. A Week 6 home game against Cleveland would be a pretty nice way to ease the rookie in with his first start.
Seifert: Jacksonville. The Jaguars foreshadowed their conclusion on Bortles' future this summer, practically begging Henne to take the job. He'll get another chance. The dark horse is Houston; coach Bill O'Brien has demonstrated a quick trigger before, and Watson figures to get his shot eventually.
Pick a fringe fantasy player who will shine this season.
Clay: Chester Rogers, WR, Colts. Who? I'm digging deep here, but the former child actor has gone from auditioning for "House of Payne" to delivering pain to opposing defenses. An undrafted free agent last year, Rogers might start slow due to a hamstring injury and with Andrew Luck sidelined. But he is positioned for a big role in the high-scoring Indy offense, especially with Phillip Dorsett out the door.
Graziano: DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins. The former first-round pick has fantasy game-winning talent and has changed so much about how he works out, eats, sleeps and lives his life that there's legitimate reason to believe a breakout is coming. Miami is high on Parker's chances this season. Steal him a round earlier than his ADP (average draft position) and you'll be happy.
Joyner: Tevin Coleman, RB, Falcons. New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian calls a run-heavy offense, as his 2013 Washington Huskies team set program records for carries and rushing yards. Coleman will get more than enough work to easily best his mid-tier RB4 draft status.
Seifert: Mike Gillislee, RB, Patriots. Rest assured, fantasy owners. Even as so many are backing off the hype of what once seemed a no-brainer, I still think he'll get a big portion of the Patriots' point opportunities. Hang in there, and we'll get through this together.
Which rookie running back will have the biggest 'wow' performance in Week 1?
Clay: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers. The Carolina offense will face the easiest schedule in the league this season, and expect the fun to start in Week 1. McCaffrey will be busy right out of the gate against a 49ers defense loaded with prospects but not much proven talent. The electric rookie will push for 15 touches, 100 yards and a score in his debut.
Graziano: Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings. Strong preseason, clear No. 1 role, running against the Saints' defense -- I like the Vikings' rookie to make a big splash en route to a possible Rookie of the Year campaign.
Joyner: Got to go with McCaffrey as well. San Francisco's defense ranked 30th in my good blocking rate and good blocking yards per attempt allowed metrics last season. It will be hard pressed to get much better out of the gate. McCaffrey might split carries with Jonathan Stewart, but when the matchup is this favorable there will be plenty to go around.
Schatz: McCaffrey. Sorry to join in the broken record here, but FO's projections have McCaffrey as the top rookie in PPR leagues, and he has a sweet Week 1 matchup.
Seifert: McCaffrey. This one's too obvious to pick against. No one knows exactly how the Panthers will use him, but we know he's one of the most versatile weapons to arrive in the NFL for quite some time. The 49ers will be flying blind on this one.