The 2023 NFL season is finally here! It all gets started with a highly anticipated Thursday Night Football matchup between the Detroit Lions and reigning Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s time to start getting back into the manager mindset. Setting your Week 1 lineup starts with Thursday Night Football. Let’s preview each position to make sure we lock in the right players to kick the season off right.
Thursday Night Football Preview for Week 1
Patrick Mahomes is an obvious “set and forget” quarterback for fantasy football lineups. After losing wide receiver Tyreek Hill last offseason, Mahomes still put together an MVP season. That includes a career-high 5,250 passing yards and 25.8 fantasy points per game. Over the last five seasons as the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, Mahomes has thrown 18 total touchdowns and an average of 308.4 yards per game in Week 1 games.
Jared Goff catches a small break on Thursday Night Football. Sure, he and the Lions have to head on the road to open the season. However, the Chiefs will be without stud defensive lineman, Chris Jones. He’s looking for “a raise” and is currently holding out. Jones, of course, finished third in 2022 Defensive Player of the Year voting. Even without Jones across from him, Goff is still just a streaming option for 1QB leagues. The Lions did score the fifth-most points per game last season, but should lean on their stellar running back duo which would cap Goff’s ceiling in the passing game.
Isiah Pacheco is set to open the 2023 season as the Kansas City Chiefs lead back. Pacheco logged 15 or more touches in nine of the Chiefs’ final 12 games last season, including the playoffs. That also includes his 15 carries for 76 yards and a score in the Super Bowl. The Detroit Lions defense allowed the fifth-most rushing touchdowns to running backs last season.
Regardless of opponent, Pacheco will always have a good chance to punch in a touchdown on one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league. His strong running style, and 4.96 yards per carry average as a rookie, provide a great floor in fantasy football.
Jerick McKinnon could see a boost in the receiving game if Travis Kelce is in fact unavailable to play. Odds are, though, you have better options than McKinnon to start in your Week 1 fantasy lineups.
There are quite literally 100% of last year’s running back touches in the Detroit Lions’ offense available to the 2023 backfield. The duo of free agent signee David Montgomery and 12th-overall draft pick Jahmyr Gibbs should command most, if not all, of the vacant opportunities.
Gibbs gets a huge boost in PPR formatting in his debut on Thursday Night Football. The Kansas City Chiefs defense allowed the most receptions to running backs last season. Gibbs should handle most of the receiving work between he and Montgomery. Gibbs may even line up at receiver with Montgomery stationed in the backfield. Montgomery figures to handle the “Jamaal Williams role” of last season. Williams led the league in red zone rushing attempts. He even scored 15 of his league-high 17 rushing touchdowns in the red zone, as well.
Amon-Ra St. Brown was the ninth-most targeted player in the league last season. His 146 targets were just 10 shy of finishing as the fourth-most targeted player. St. Brown, “The Sun God”, should push for such numbers this season. His biggest competition for targets on the Detroit Lions, wide receiver Jameson Williams, is suspended for the first six games. St. Brown is averaging 10.3 targets per game over the last 20 games in which he’s played at full health. The hype is justified and I think he scores the first touchdown of the 2023 NFL season.
Hopefully, we get some clarity on the Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver room as soon as Week 1. With the exit of Juju Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman in free agency, there are 135 of last year’s 300 wide receiver targets (45%) available. The case can be made for any of Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore, Marques Valdez-Scantling, Justin Watson, Richie James, Justyn Ross, and even rookie Rashee Rice to carve out a fantasy-friendly role this season. However, there’s a slim chance all seven are even active for Thursday Night Football.
If the preseason is any indication of their expected usage, Skyy Moore and Marquez Valdes-Scantling will likely lead the group in snaps played. MVS is a boom-or-bust option I’m not looking to roll out in Week 1 to start the fantasy football season. If I’m starting any Chiefs wide receiver, it’s Skyy Moore. After a full, non-rookie offseason, he could have a massive 2023 breakout. Especially if Travis Kelce sits, Moore should be busy to start the season.
Kadarius Toney is expected to be active after recovering from a knee injury, as well. That’s enough to keep him on the bench even if he sees a high volume of targets of limited snaps.
The biggest story from the 2023 season opener on Thursday Night Football is whether or not Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce will play. He’s hoping to take the field after hyperextending his knee in Tuesday’s practice. Obviously, if he plays, you start him in fantasy football.
Although Kelce has never missed a non-rookie game due to injury, I do think he sits this one out. The Chiefs’ Super Bowl aspirations remain high and it’s too early to risk losing him for the entire season. Kansas City will have 10 days before their Week 2 matchup in Jacksonville against the Jaguars.
Neither Kelce’s backup, Noah Gray, or Detroit Lions tight end, rookie Sam LaPorta, are worth plugging into fantasy lineups as Kelce replacements. While Gray is just 24 and entering his third season with the Chiefs, there are far better tight end options available that play on Sunday or Monday to plug into your lineup.
LaPorta could develop into a top streaming option as soon as this season, but Week 1 is simply not the time to bank on a big performance from the rookie. Keep an eye on him, though. The Lions receiving options are slim. LaPorta, the 34th-overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, has back-to-back 50+ reception and 650+ receiving yard seasons in his final two years at the University of Iowa.