The first NFL game of the week always has a little more prime-time oomph for fantasy football. That spotlight is a lot bigger when it's also the first game of the NFL season and features the defending champs and America's Team. We've all been waiting a while to dive into fantasy again, and that even includes dreaded start 'em sit 'em decisions. Fortunately, the Cowboys and Buccaneers kicking off Week 1 provides a marquee Thursday Night Football matchup full of players worth starting.
Of course, in the rush to get players in your lineups to capitalize on the Thursday night excitement, you might be overlooking guys you're better off sitting. That's where we can help with Vinnie Iyer's breakdown of every key Cowboy and Buccaneer in action on Thursday. We also have some DraftKings and FanDuel single-game recommendations for the DFS crowd.
Cowboys: Who to start or sit in fantasy football on Thursday night
Start: QB Dak Prescott
Rayne Dakota is back from both last season's devastating ankle injury and this preseason's mysterious shoulder injury. The Cowboys are confident he'll be at full strength. Prescott was selected as a middle QB1, and even though this initial return matchup isn't the most comfortable against a good edge pass rush, Prescott is too good with too many weapons not to deliver as at least a lower-end QB1 with the right kind of game script.
Start: RB Ezekiel Elliott
Zeke missed Dak a ton for much of 2020. Elliott got off to a sizzling start but then wore down, got limited help from his offensive line, and received too much defensive attention without Prescott to provide a legitimate passing threat. The Buccaneers are the premier NFL run defense two years running and have a chance to maintain that status. Elliott might have limited rushing room but can always compensate with receiving work and scoring given his volume. He's more of a high-end RB2 than high-end RB1 this week, that's all.
Start: WRs CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper
Lamb will take over as the unofficial go-to guy in Year 2 after showing great promise as a rookie. There will be no slot limitations, as Lamb will line up all over the field like a co-No. 1 with Cooper. The Buccaneers' secondary is tough playing behind a solid pass rush, but Lamb and Cooper can still produce like middle WR2s this week with expected significant targets.
Start: WR Michael Gallup
Gallup is more big-play and outside dependent for his production, but Prescott's big arm gives him a shot for some fine garbage work in the second half assuming game script holds to form with the Bucs leading and Cowboys trailing throughout. He gets more flex-like consideration vs. WR3.
Sit: TE Blake Jarwin
The Cowboys are still looking for receiving relevance from their TE post Jason Witten. It won't happen for Jarwin early against the Bucs' speedy linebackers and safety Antoine Winfield.
Start: K Greg Zuerlein
Young GZ? Greg the Leg? Legatron? Whatever the preferred nickname, the former Rams boomer will get plenty of scoring chances from all ranges all season. The Bucs figure to get a few red-zone stops with their run defense, setting up Zuerlein for multiple field-goal attempts.
Sit: Cowboys DST
Rookie Micah Parsons will develop into a reliable IDP asset, but as a whole, Dan Quinn's group can't be trusted for sacks and takeaways.
Buccaneers: Who to start or sit in fantasy football on Thursday night
Start: QB Tom Brady
Brady has everything he wants to do whatever he wants — pass protection, elite wideouts, exceptional tight ends, and good receiving backs. The Bucs will be passing to get plenty more scores after the GOAT dropped 40 TDs at age 43. He will start hot in the quest to keep making 40-40 his own exclusive club.
Start: RB Ronald Jones II
It's hard to know when the mojo will be with RoJo in this backfield, but this feels like a good spot because he's the best pure runner of the trio. He will get some game-closing touches in the second half with a chance to either score, break a few chunk runs, or both. Consider him a decent flex.
Sit: RBs Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard
Fournette came through in last season's playoffs as a complete back, but now he needs to contend with Jones cutting into his power work and Bernard eating up some receiving work. Avoid both until there's more clarity in this committee, with Jones being the better dice roll of the three.
Start: WRs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin
Evans should smash with a big play or TD thanks to his size, as he's a difficult cover for any Cowboy. Godwin will work the slot well per usual and get open for Brady in key spots everywhere on the field. They have high WR2 floors every week, and this is a week where both can also hit WR1 ceilings.
Start: WR Antonio Brown
Brown will need to get in his work early in 11 personnel, but last season proved he can get it done with Evans and Godwin, too. Because of how great the matchup is for that duo, the Bucs can get away with Brown producing more like a deeper flex than shallower WR3.
Start: TE Rob Gronkowski
Gronk knows Week 1 is an extension of the Super Bowl celebration, and his buddy Brady seems more concerned about tossing easy seam balls to him vs. throwing the Lombardi Trophy over a body of water. The Cowboys' safety situation still isn't great, and there's a good chance Gronk connects with Brady for a score on top of a good-enough yardage night.
Start: K Ryan Succop
Who's Mr. Irrelevant now, eh? Succop is off the COVID-19 list and ready to knock home plenty of fantasy points. When healthy and not on a bye, set it and forget it with Succop at the obligatory position.
Start: Buccaneers DST
The Cowboys can complicate things by moving the ball well in the passing game and scoring plenty of cosmetic points in the second half. However, that volume also means more dropbacks for Prescott and more chances for sacks, with Shaquil Barrett leading the fun. Prescott also will be a bit rusty, increasing the possibility of an interception or another turnover. The Bucs are every-week startable after what they did to Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl 55. They are just more of a lower-end D/ST1 this week.
Cowboys vs. Buccaneers: FanDuel single game lineup
- MVP (1.5X): QB Tom Brady, $16,000
- AnyFLEX: WR Mike Evans $13,000
- AnyFLEX: WR CeeDee Lamb $10,000
- AnyFLEX: RB Ronald Jones II $9,500
- AnyFLEX: WR Michael Gallup $9,000
Brady to Evans should be good for some long connections and at least one score. Lamb and Gallup should be busy for catchup mode, more so than Cooper. The game script is good for Jones te reel off some chunk runs and play more of the closer in the second half.
Cowboys vs. Buccaneers: DraftKings Showdown lineup
- Captain (1.5x): WR Mike Evans $13,800
- FLEX: QB Tom Brady $11,200
- FLEX: WR CeeDee Lamb $8,200
- FLEX: WR Michael Gallup $6,200
- FLEX: TE Rob Gronkowski $5,400
- FLEX: RB Ronald Jones II $5,000
Everything here is the same except Evans, with the best individual matchup in the game, elevated, so there's room to also afford Brady. Gronkwowski is the addition here, as the Cowboys still can't cover the tight end well and he's a good bet to join Evans in denting the end zone.