It feels like forever, but the NFL season is finally back on Sunday. The Patriots will have a tough matchup against the Texans, but considering how last year's contest went, there should be plenty of fantasy points to go around.
Both Tom Brady and Deshaun Watson are good starting options. But with the Patriots' receiving corps depleted and Tyrann Matheiu on the back end of Houston's defense, Watson might be the safer play here. New Pats D-Coordinator Brian Flores has been more aggressive in coverage and blitz-heavy up front than Matt Patricia was. If the Texans can handle some pressure, Watson could have a good day--especially factoring in his running ability if the Pats fail to keep contain on the edge. On the other side, you can't really ever bet against Tom Brady and come out looking good. But considering he'll only have three wideouts on the roster to throw to (Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Philip Dorsett), expect James White and Gronk to be big factors.
Tom Brady: 21 points
284 passing yards (11 points), 3 passing TDs (12 points), 1 INT (-2 points)
As mentioned above, this is James White's week to shine in the passing game. Expect him to see plenty of targets in intermediate scenarios, screens, and flex-out routes. He's a starting flex, or RB2 in PPR leagues. Thanks to Sony Michel's injury, it's up to Rex Burkhead to carry the load in between the tackles. For me, the first quarter will be critical to determining his total workload: with a successful start on the ground, Josh McDaniels might continue giving him touches. Conversely, the Texan offense is too much of a threat to give Burkhead enough time to get settled in and establish the ground game if he doesn't get going immediately. In deeper leagues, he might be a flex, but otherwise keep him on the bench. The same applies to Lamar Miller--Danny Shelton and Malcolm Brown are both stout against the run, and the Texans' O-line is mediocre at best. Watson may get yards on scrambles and QB runs, but Miller's outlook isn't promising.
This is where it really gets dicey for the Pats. Chris Hogan will definitely be involved, but it's tough to predict how much trust Tom Brady will have in Cordarelle Patterson and Philip Dorsett out of the gate. In tough situations, I just see him preferring either Hogan, Gronk, or James White to the relative newcomers. If you're in a deep league and willing to live with the boom/bust potential, Patterson might be an option, but otherwise Hogan is the only startable wideout for now. Houston's Deandre Hopkins is a must-start every week, but Will Fuller is a good sleeper as well. He demonstrated real chemistry with Watson last season, and he should see softer coverage thanks to his speed and Hopkins' ability on the other side of the formation. He's not a possession receiver and never will be, but for the bolder owners he's got big-play potential.
If you've got him, Gronk will obviously be in your lineup. He should be the go-to weapon over the middle of the field and at intermediate-to-long distances in big third-down situations. The Texans don't feature tight ends much, and Ryan Griffin shouldn't be in your starting lineup unless you were stuck with the world's worst autodraft.
Brian Flores will blitz more often than in previous years, leading to more turnovers and excitement--and also, against a good QB like Watson, possibly more points. The Pats are a quality fantasy defense, but this will be an all-or-nothing play. As for the Texans, it's hard to trust a team defending the Pats. While they're not a bad defense (and carrying two D/ST's to swap one out for a week would be impractical), I fully expect Tom Brady t carve up the secondary when he wants to. For kickers, Stephen Gostkowski is as good as it gets. Houston's Ka'imi Fairbarn is freshly recovered from an ankle injury, meaning he's probably not the best pickup right now.
That's it for this fantasy breakdown. Enjoy the 2018 kickoff, and Go Pats!