Last updated: September 7th at 3:58am ET.
Team Totals: Chargers 25.25, Colts 18.75
Although better coaching and supporting parts provide optimism Jacoby Brissett will improve on his 15-start 2017 – where Brissett managed 13 touchdown passes and 6.6 yards per attempt with a league-high 52 sacks taken – a slow open should be expected in consecutive road trips to the Chargers and Titans, whose defenses last year allowed the NFL’s eighth- and third-fewest points. Perhaps Frank Reich can coach it out of him, but Brissett’s back-breaking 2017 trait was holding onto the ball too long; his 2.97-seconds average time to throw ranked fifth longest among 40 qualified passers. If Brissett can’t shake the habit, he’s going to make the Colts’ offensive line look worse against Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Sportsbooks have dropped Indy’s Week 1 team total by 3.5-4.0 points since Andrew Luck’s retirement was announced. … Marlon Mack’s average routes run spiked from 13.5 to 23.3 in last year’s final four games, then Mack ran ahead of Nyheim Hines on passing downs this August. Week 1’s most-confident fantasy play on Indianapolis’ side, Mack has a real chance at every-down work behind an offensive line that returns all five starters after finishing No. 4 in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards for run blocking. Mack lost a ton of upside when Luck retired, but any receiving increase would save his floor. Since hiring DC Gus Bradley, the Chargers have allowed the NFL’s fourth- (2018) and 12th– (2017) most running back receptions. I don’t think Hines is roster worthy outside of very deep PPR leagues. Mack’s Opening Day matchup and environment aren’t perfect, but he is a respectable low-end RB2/flex play.
The Luck-to-Brissett downgrade sent T.Y. Hilton into boom-bust Robby Anderson–Will Fuller territory after Hilton finished below 60 yards in 12-of-16 games the year Brissett started. (And, of course, T.Y. went off for 100-plus yards in the other four.) As RCB Casey Hayward, LCB Michael Davis, and slot CB Desmond King comprise one of the NFL’s premier cornerback units and last year’s Chargers surrendered the NFL’s fifth-fewest yards per game to wide receivers (134.4), Hilton can only be viewed as a low-floor WR2/3. In his career, Hilton averages 10.6 fewer yards per game on the road. … Devin Funchess earned No. 2 wideout duties in camp but lost virtually all of his fantasy appeal upon Luck’s retirement. … The Colts’ Week 1 depth chart listed Deon Cain ahead of hamstring-hobbled Parris Campbell and Zach Pascal over incumbent slot WR Chester Rogers. I could envision a wide-ranging smattering of No. 3 wideout snaps, rendering none fantasy viable. … Further damaging Colts No. 3-receiver outlooks is the likelihood Reich dials up frequent two-tight end sets with Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle on the field together. Last season, Indianapolis indeed ran 12 personnel at the league’s third-highest rate (34%) during the six games in which both Doyle and Ebron played. Yet Doyle out-snapped Ebron 331 to 164 and out-targeted him 33 to 22 in those games. As Luck’s loss craters the Colts’ passing offense as an entity, Doyle and Ebron will likely cancel each other out as fantasy producers this year.
With Melvin Gordon looking less and less likely to report before midseason, Austin Ekeler should start fast as Los Angeles’ lead back against Indy’s zone defense, which sacrifices short passes to backs, slot receivers, and tight ends in exchange for limiting big plays. DC Matt Eberflus’ unit last year conceded an AFC-high 110 running back receptions, while the Chargers’ potentially putrid and definitely Russell Okung-less offensive line should emphasize high-percentage, low-aDOT throws to offset edge pressure and move the sticks. Ekeler is a confident RB2 play with RB1 upside in PPR leagues. … Gordon missed three games last year in which both Ekeler and Justin Jackson played. Ekeler’s touch counts in them were 17 > 18 > 17 to Jackson’s 3 > 9 > 9, and Ekeler nearly doubled Jackson in first-team snaps this preseason. I’m expecting something between a 60-40 and 70-30 timeshare favoring Ekeler to begin the year. … After allowing the NFL’s 11th-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks in 2018, the Colts return 10-of-11 defensive starters and added Justin Houston, while Philip Rivers will play behind an offensive line missing left tackle Okung (heart) and trotting out four other starters who all grade extremely poorly in PFF’s charting system. Much more floor than ceiling play, Rivers is a two-quarterback-league start only.
We’re assuming rational coaching here – a dangerous proposition – but a lowered-aDOT passing game would play to the strengths of Keenan Allen, whose slot-route rate should rise from last year’s 56% with Tyrell Williams (41% slot) gone to Oakland. Colts slot CB Kenny Moore is a very good player, but he did concede a 79.3% completion rate on slot targets last year. Allen’s route quickness and run-after-catch skills set him up perfectly to attack Eberflus’ zone. … Mike Williams is a bigger question mark in this one. Already touchdown reliant, Williams takes on a Colts secondary that last year permitted the league’s sixth-fewest TDs (13) and second-fewest yards per game to wide receivers (124.6) and is specifically built to eliminate big plays outside. Williams ran a team-high 69% of his 2018 routes on the perimeter. I’m treating him as a touchdown-or-bust WR3 play. … Burner Travis Benjamin and possession threat Dontrelle Inman look likely to share third-receiver duties, although I’d expect heavy doses of blocker Virgil Green in 12 personnel to help compensate for deficiencies on the line. … Like Allen, Hunter Henry is set up to feast on Indy’s zone, which hemorrhaged league highs in catches (103) and yards (1,194) to tight ends last season. Before missing all of 2018 with a torn ACL, Henry ranked No. 2 among tight ends in 2017 yards per route run. He practiced hiccup free throughout August and is poised for 2019 liftoff.
Score Prediction: Chargers 23, Colts 17