- QB Geno Smith (72.1 PFF preseason offense grade), Seattle Seahawks vs. Los Angeles Rams: He will pick apart Los Angeles’ junior varsity-level defense.
- QB Jimmy Garoppolo (57.2 PFF preseason passing grade), Las Vegas Raiders against the Denver Broncos: He unluckily draws Denver’s defense for his Las Vegas debut.
- Dominate your fantasy league in 2023: For up-to-date fantasy draft rankings and projections, check out PFF’s fantasy rankings tool!
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
NFL Week 1 games have arrived. For fantasy football managers who passed on the elite quarterback tier, start-and-sit decisions must now be made. Below are two quarterbacks with advantageous matchups to target, two quarterbacks with difficult matchups to avoid and one streaming option possessing a top-12 finish in his range of outcomes.
2 QB Matchups to Target
Smith (72.1 PFF preseason offense grade) bagged NFL Comeback Player of the Year and Pro Bowl honors for his 2022-2023 season performance. He remains a top-flight option in Week 1, 2023 against Los Angeles’ skeleton-crew defense bereft of talent, aside from defensive lineman Aaron Donald (90.7 PFF 2022 pass-rush grade). Seattle’s front office expanded Smith’s point-scoring potential by upgrading the pass-catching corps with first-round rookie wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (77.0 PFF preseason offense grade) and second-round dual-threat running back Zach Charbonnet (65.5 PFF preseason offense grade). Smith can easily push for a top-five Week 1 finish.
As outlined in the “3 Late-Round Quarterbacks with League-Winning Potential” article, Smith ranked top-six in both big-time-throw rate (5.4%) and adjusted completion rate (77.7%) among 34 NFL quarterbacks with at least 250 dropbacks in 2022. He also quietly produced the requisite elite QB1 rushing profile while averaging 5.5 yards per rushing attempt, ranking No. 7 among 18 NFL quarterbacks with at least 45 rushing attempts.
Seattle’s veteran wide receivers D.K. Metcalf (77.7 PFF 2022 offense grade) and Tyler Lockett (59.2 PFF preseason offense grade) carved up Los Angeles’ in Weeks 13 and 18 last year, combining for eight explosive 15-plus-yard pass plays while averaging more than 2.25 yards per route run (YPRR). Los Angeles general manager Les Snead confusingly traded away 2022 Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s (77.8 PFF 2022 coverage grade) this offseason, dampening any hope of slowing Metcalf and Lockett in this weekend’s tilt.
Smith and friends should have little issue lighting up the Ramsey-less unit. PFF’s strength of schedule metrics give Smith a perfect 10.0 score, registering the softest quarterback matchup on the Week 1 slate.
Love (86.7 PFF preseason offense grade) makes his season-long starter debut against a divisional rival Chicago defense whose defensive back woes reached near-storied levels in 2022. Love’s suddenly deep pass-catching corps helps ensure a high-scoring outing for him in Week 1 fantasy football contests.
Chicago’s front office allowed No. 2 perimeter starter Kindle Vildor (58.8 PFF 2022 coverage grade) to walk in free agency after ranking outside the top-60 perimeter cornerbacks (minimum 200 perimeter coverage snaps) in both yards allowed per coverage snap (1.22) and explosive 15-plus-yard explosive pass plays allowed rate (3.1%). Second-round rookie Tyrique Stevenson (70.2 PFF preseason coverage grade) flopped in his preseason audition for the vacant role. Among 60 NFL cornerbacks with at least 55 preseason coverage snaps, Stevenson produced bottom-12 results in targeted rate (22.7%), catch rate allowed (82.3%) and yards allowed per coverage snap (1.69).
Holdover starters, No. 1 cornerback Jaylon Johnson (72.0 PFF preseason perimeter-coverage grade) and slot cornerback Kyler Gordon (49.7 PFF preseason slot-coverage grade) offer little defensive resistance — Johnson failed to meaningfully outperform Vildor in 2022 and Gordon’s 91.1% catch rate allowed ranked dead last among 41 NFL slot cornerbacks with at least 125 slot-coverage snaps.
Green Bay’s second-year wide receiver Christian Watson (56.1 PFF preseason receiving grade) and second-round rookie tight end Luke Musgrave (69.0 PFF preseason receiving grade) profile as high-quality fantasy football players, explained in-depth in “3 Second-Year Players Who Can Finish as WR2s“ and “3 Late-Round Tight Ends to Draft in 2023,” respectively. Rookie slot receiver Jayden Reed (56.4 PFF preseason receiving grade) can quickly carve out a role while Romeo Doubs (88.0 PFF preseason receiving grade) works through his hamstring strain.
Love played well this preseason while operating behind PFF lead NFL analyst Sam Monson’s No. 8-ranked offensive line. Among 48 NFL quarterbacks with at least 35 preseason dropbacks, Love’s 77.9 PFF passing grade ranked No. 8. He protected the ball well with a perfect 0.0% turnover-worthy play rate. Among 42 NFL quarterbacks with at least four NFL preseason rushing attempts, Love’s 87.3 PFF preseason rushing grade led the position by 6.1.
Love’s debut will make a strong case for an in-season contract extension with the Green Bay front office.
2 QB Matchups to Avoid
Garoppolo (57.2 PFF preseason passing grade) makes his first Las Vegas appearance against a division rival Denver defense that PFF projects Garoppolo for the 19th-hardest quarterback strength of schedule matchup (3.4) on the week. He should be excluded from Week 1 fantasy football consideration.
Denver retooled their defensive line, signing annual pass rusher-for-hire Frank Clark (52.7 PFF preseason pass-rush grade) and defensive tackle Zach Allen (71.6 PFF 2022 pass-rush grade). The front office also bolstered the team's pass-rush depth with Group-of-Five edge players Thomas Incoom (56.7 PFF preseason pass-rush grade) and Marcus Haynes (67.7 PFF preseason pass-rush grade) plus Power-Five blitz specialist Drew Sanders (65.5 PFF preseason pass-rush grade), whose 14.3% blitz pass-rush win rate and 21.4% blitz quarterback pressure rate both ranked top eight among 37 Power-Five linebackers with at least 75 pass-rushing snaps.
Denver slot cornerback K’Waun Williams (71.6 PFF 2022 slot-coverage grade, short-term injured reserve) will miss Week 1 but backup Essang Bassey (82.5 PFF preseason slot-coverage grade) ranked top five in targeted rate (12.7%), catch rate allowed (50.0%), yards allowed per coverage snap (0.58) and explosive 15-plus-yard pass plays allowed rate among 47 NFL slot cornerbacks with at least 100 slot-coverage snaps last year.
Bassey is flanked by Pat Surtain II (63.0 PFF preseason coverage grade) and Damarri Mathis (56.7 PFF preseason coverage grade). Surtain earned a first-team All-Pro selected as a 2022 rookie, grading out as the No. 2-ranked cornerback (86.7 PFF 2022 coverage grade) among 105 NFL cornerbacks with at least 250 coverage snaps. Mathis promisingly practiced on Monday after suffering a high-ankle sprain earlier this summer.
Garoppolo’s ceiling is capped as a mid-tier QB2.
Stafford (67.6 PFF 2022 passing grade) attempts to return from his injury-ruined 2022 season without elite No. 1 wide receiver Cooper Kupp (88.1 PFF 2022 receiving grade, hamstring strain) while playing behind Monson’s No. 28-ranked offensive line. Stafford’s 2022 injury list includes elbow tendinitis, a concussion and a spinal cord bruise, tailed by 17 recorded injuries suffered over his 13 prior seasons. Fantasy managers should avoid Stafford wherever possible this week.
Los Angeles Nos. 2-4 wide receivers fail to instill confidence in Stafford’s prospects. Neither Van Jefferson Jr. (67.7 PFF preseason receiving grade) nor Tutu Atwell (70.2 PFF 2022 receiving grade) have produced even a 1.70 YPRR rate and Ben Skowronek (57.2 PFF 2022 offense grade) profiles as a better blocker (78.8 PFF 2022 pass-blocking grade) than he does a receiver (56.4 PFF 2022 receiving grade).
Seattle’s front office brought back former Seattleites defensive tackle Jarran Reed (67.5 PFF preseason pass-rush grade) and 2022 second-team All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner (77.9 PFF 2022 coverage grade), reinforcing its defensive interior. Last year’s rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen (74.2 PFF preseason coverage grade) punched his first Pro Bowl ticket after trying for the position’s interceptions lead (six) and is capable of shutting down his side of the field.
QB Streamer of the Week
Washington second-year quarterback Sam Howell (73.5 PFF preseason offense grade) carried his Week 18, 2022 momentum into the 2023 NFL preseason, looking every bit the dual-threat player he was at North Carolina. Howell receives a warm welcome from an Arizona defense that saw its highest-graded 2022 defensive back (minimum 100 coverage snaps) Isaiah Simmons (69.9 PFF 2022 coverage grade) depart via trade on August 24th and its two highest-graded pass rushers (minimum 100 pass-rush snaps) J.J. Watt (72.8 PFF 2022 pass-rush grade) and Zach Allen (71.6 PFF 2022 pass-rush grade) set sail via retirement and free agency, respectively. Howell is primed for a surprise QB1 finish.
Howell’s 84.9% preseason adjusted completion rate topped the charts among 37 NFL preseason quarterbacks with at least 40 dropbacks and both his 7.2 yards per passing attempt and 72.4 PFF preseason passing grade ranked top 12. He also flashed his high-end rushing ability. Among 42 NFL quarterbacks with at least four NFL preseason rushing attempts, Howell’s 0.75 missed tackles forced per rushing attempt ranked No. 1.
Howell profiled as a cannon-armed bulldozer in college.
Howell’s 2021 passing data among 42 Power-Five quarterbacks with at least 350 dropbacks and Howell’s 2021 rushing data among 39 Power-Five quarterbacks with at least 100 rushing attempts.
|2021 Power-Five QB Passing & Rushing||Sam Howell|
|PFF Passing Grade||81.1 (No. 19)|
|Big-Time-Throw %||6.1% (T-No. 8)|
|Turnover-Worthy Play %||2.3% (T-No. 11)|
|PFF Rushing Grade||91.0 (No. 2)|
|Yds/Rush Att.||8.1 (No. 1)|
|MTF/Rush Att.||0.47 (No. 2)|
|10+-Yd Rushing Plays||45 (No. 2)|
Howell is a sneaky bet to produce a QB1 finish against Arizona’s downtrodden defense in Week 1.