Part of what makes fantasy football so fascinating are the storylines — the human elements behind the X’s and O’s and pure statistics. Those intangible and sometimes unpredictable factors can have just as much of an impact on your fantasy bottom line.Below we look at several players with big fantasy implications. We’ll give a quick update on how each situation turned out during or after the game.Early gamesAaron Rodgers, QB, Packers vs. Vikings:Noon, FOX-32
Before the game: Your head will spin trying to figure out all the subplots in this one. There’s the debate of whether Rodgers should even be playing with a sprained left knee, especially against a Vikings team that was responsible for breaking his collarbone and halting his 2017 season. Then again, can the Packers afford to essentially hand a home game to their chief rival for the division title? “This is no layup,” coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Thursday. “That’s why it’s a day-to-day situation.”It’s no layup for fantasy players either. It took a Herculean three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter against the Bears to turn disaster into the upper hand in matchups. Over 2015 and ’16, Rodgers went 2-2 against the Vikings with eight touchdowns, two interceptions and a 60.5 completion percentage.Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans at TitansNoon
Before the game: One bad week and we’re all acting as if he has gone from Deshaun Watson to DeShone Kizer. Watson wouldn’t be the first quarterback to look remedial against the Patriots. Perhaps he’ll get a boost from his next opponent. As rookie last season, Watson put up a franchise-record seven touchdowns and 57 points in his one game against the Titans before getting injured. Here’s an interesting wrinkle: Mike Vrabel was the Texans’ defensive coordinator last year; now he’s the Titans head coach. Does that give him insight into scheming against Watson? We’ll see.LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills vs. ChargersNoonBefore the game: McCoy has the unenviable task of shouldering the load for a woebegone offense that’s inserting rookie quarterback Josh Allen in Week 2 with a supporting cast of receivers that has been graded among the worst — if not the worst — in the NFL. Yeesh. (That playoff berth seems like a “Game of Thrones” winter ago.)
According to the team’s website, McCoy told fellow skill players, “Hey, if (Allen) makes a wrong read and the ball is hard to catch, catch it. You might not get yards after the catch, but just catching the ball will give him confidence, moving the chains. In the running back room, making guys miss, breaking tackles, everything to give him the extra advantage is critical and big for this game and his confidence.”If I may take the liberty of interpreting: “Hey, we’re terrible, and we’re about to put in a rookie. But we just had Nathan Peterman, arguably the worst passer this league has seen since Tim Tebow, so unless you want to go back to him you had better make this kid look good no matter how badly he throws. In the running back room — which consists of me — shake and bake is what I do, baby, and it’s the only chance the Chargers don’t annihilate this kid mentally and physically.”James Conner, RB, Steelers vs. ChiefsNoon, CBS-2Before the game: It’s hard enough taking over bell-cow duties from the fifth-ranked player on the NFL Top 100 list, but try adding the feeling that every carry — every touch — becomes a referendum on the tug-of-war between Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers, and that’s pressure. Conner gained 192 yards from scrimmage against the Browns in Week 1, but the Steelers were lucky to leave Cleveland with a tie instead of a loss. Fair or not, the rumblings have been that Bell, who’s holding out over money and overuse, wouldn’t have let that happen. If Conner can’t produce against the Chiefs (seventh toughest in fantasy points allowed to RBs in 2017, Yahoo format), those rumblings will grow louder.Ian Thomas, TE, Panthers at FalconsNoonBefore the game: It’s no secret that Greg Olsen breaking his right foot for a second straight season is a gut punch to Cam Newton, who relies on him heavily. In 2016, the last time Olsen played a full 16 games, he was targeted 23.5 percent of the time, 25 percent in the red zone. It’s very unlikely Thomas will see that kind of volume right away. Before this year’s draft, he was regarded as a raw prospect whose athleticism drew comparisons to Antonio Gates and Delanie Walker.
However, Newton said via the Associated Press that Thomas has the skill to be a “premiere tight end.” The quarterback said he told him, “’Listen, you don’t have any room for error. We know who you are replacing — and the shoes you are filling are extremely big.’”It’s hard to trust Thomas in this game in Atlanta. The Falcons are middle-of-the-pack versus tight ends in defensive efficiency and fantasy points, but they seem to have Newton’s number: He had his worst passer rating — 47.8 — after their two meetings last season and fourth-worst — 61.1 — in 2016.Afternoon games Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions at 49ers3:05 p.m.Before the game: The Jets picked off Stafford four times, then bragged afterward that the Lions’ vanilla offensive formations were so similar to last season that they “knew his signals” before Stafford ran them. Stafford said the Lions are changing their calls in Week 2 but added they would have anyway. “We do every week,” he said via Pro Football Weekly.As much as fun it would be to revel in Lions fans’ misery (because that’s all they know), I wouldn’t read too much into Stafford’s Monday night stinker. As 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan noted: “I would be pretty surprised if he has a lot of games like that go back-to-back.”David Johnson, RB, Cardinals at Rams3:05 p.mBefore the game: This is Sam Bradford’s first chance to face the team that drafted him, but who really remembers that — or cares? Fantasy players need to know who kidnapped Johnson and replaced him with this impostor. Thankfully, his touchdown run salvaged Week 1, but 37 rushing yards, even added to 30 receiving yards, ain’t gonna cut it.Johnson missed all but the first game of last season with a wrist injury, so despite camp and (very few) preseason reps he might be a bit rusty. The Rams were benevolent to fantasy running backs last season and gave up 12.9 points (ESPN PPR format) to Marshawn Lynch in Week 1. Meanwhile, Johnson was limited in practice Wednesday with a back injury.Chris Hogan, WR, Patriots at Jaguars3:25 p.m., CBS-2Before the game: Hogan’s fantasy owners were probably alarmed after he netted just one catch for 11 yards in the opener. Compare that with Phillip Dorsett’s seven receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown. It’s not time to panic just yet. Hogan was on the field for 91 percent of the Patriots’ snaps. It will be interesting to see, though, how much breathing room Hogan finds against the Jaguars.During the AFC championship game, Hogan drew Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey some of the time and was held to two catches for 20 yards on four targets. The Jaguars could opt to have Ramsey cover Rob Gronkowski more frequently in this game.Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots at Jaguars3:25 p.m., CBS-2Before the game: Ramsey likely won’t cover Gronkowski on every snap, but every time he does could be a made-for-TV moment. All the chatter this week centered on Gronkowski’s impending grudge match with Ramsey, who mouthed off to ESPN the Magazine about how the Patriots tight end is overrated and struggles against cornerbacks: “Anytime Gronk has been matched up with a corner, he’s had a very bad game — and that corner has had a very good game.”Tom Brady won’t be so irresponsible as to force-feed Gronkowski just to prove a point, but he won’t shy from the challenge either.Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders at Broncos3:25 p.m.Before the game: Well, this is worrisome. After two productive season openers in 2016 and ’17, Cooper went into long lulls. This season he doesn’t even have the good start to hang his hat on — one catch for 9 yards against the Rams.Derek Carr looked Cooper’s way only three times — not enough, coach Jon Gruden says. “You look at the film, we had him wide open deep,” Gruden said, via ESPN. “We didn’t go there. … Yeah, we want to get him going.”Are we all simply assuming Cooper is “elite” because he was the fourth pick in the 2015 draft? Last season he had a less-than-inspiring catch rate of 51 percent and ranked 68th in defense-adjusted value over average or DVOA (the value, per play, compared with the average receiver in the same situation), just behind Taylor Gabriel, according to footballoutsiders.com.Night gameEli Manning, QB, Giants at Cowboys7:20 p.m., NBC-5Before the game: Were you expecting Dak Prescott? Given the dismal state of the Cowboys receiving corps, Prescott’s struggles in the opener were a surprise to no one.