Welcome to Defenses and Dragons, your weekly fantasy guide for players facing the Detroit Lions. As you think about the tough start-or-sit decisions before the Sunday kickoffs, let us provide you with some extra information to help you make the right call. D&D will take a look each week at the key skill players that will go up against the Lions defense, focusing mainly on fantasy stats and past performance. All scoring assumes six points per passing touchdown and half a point per reception (though the content should be flexible for your own league), and the notation RB1 refers to a team’s top running back (with the same notation for WR1, WR2, etc.).
But before we look at this week’s matchup, a quick review of the 2015 season. Depending on the scoring of your league, the Lions defense probably finished somewhere around the middle of the pack last year. The defense ranked ninth in sacks, 15th in fumbles, 26th in interceptions and 17th in defensive touchdowns. The Lions allowed 254.1 passing yards and 112.6 rushing yards per game, figures that ranked 16th and 19th, respectively. Overall, the Lions defense was a generally average opposition for fantasy players.
Andrew Luck will make his first start for the Colts since early November. After finishing as the No. 1 quarterback in all of fantasy in 2014, Luck had a forgettable 2015 season that was filled with injuries and poor performances; his averages fell from 297.6 yards, 2.5 TD and 1.0 INT per game to 268.7 yards, 2.1 TD and 1.7 INT. A fully healthy Luck should be much closer to the first set of numbers in 2016.
Opposing quarterbacks averaged 21.1 PPG against the Lions last season. Even in Luck’s down year, he still averaged 24.8 PPG when healthy. Luck has only faced the Lions once, winning a heartbreaker as the clock expired. He threw four touchdowns and three interceptions that day to go along with 391 passing yards and 33 rushing yards, totaling 36.9 fantasy points. It is only Week 1 and Luck may be a little rusty, but expect him to put up some some strong fantasy numbers.
The Colts’ rushing attack will again be led by Frank Gore. While Gore’s production in 2015 was a step below his career in San Francisco, he still ended up as a startable running back, mostly thanks to his ability to stay healthy. Gore averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and only 60 rushing yards per game, although he did average a couple catches as well. He produced 11.0 PPG and played every week.
The Lions gave up 12.2 PPG to RB1s in 2015, surrendering nine touchdowns in total. RB1s averaged just over 57 yards against Detroit and 3.9 yards per carry, slightly ahead of Gore’s rate last season. The last time that he faced the Lions was in 2012 with the 49ers; he tallied 89 yards and a touchdown for 17.5 fantasy points. Gore’s output will not be as impressive this week as it was during his last meeting with Detroit, but he still warrants a start as a Top-20 back.
Indianapolis features an impressive core of receivers, with T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett getting the bulk of the attention. Hilton was a top-tier receiver in 2014, but regressed in 2015 as Luck struggled. He ended up averaging 11.1 PPG with 4.3 catches and 70.3 yards during the course of the season, but jumped up to 12.6 PPG when Luck was healthy. He only scored five touchdowns, with three of them coming from Luck.
Moncrief had a quiet rookie season, but ended as a Top-40 receiver in 2015; he averaged 8.8 PPG with 6.6 catches and 45.8 yards. However, when Luck was active, Moncrief averaged 11.6 PPG, which would put him on pace to fall in the Top-20 range. Entering his third year, Moncrief’s stock will continue to rise.
The third receiver is Dorsett, who was not too much of a factor in 2015. He did average 5.0 PPG with Luck, though, and he should find the end zone more than the single time he did last season. Dorsett will earn more targets in his sophomore campaign, but it may take a few weeks before it happens.
In 2015, WR1s averaged 12.8 PPG against the Lions with 5.4 catches and 65.3 yards, scoring nine touchdowns on the season; WR2s averaged 8.0 PPG, while WR3s managed 5.6 PPG. Hilton should be a solid WR1 again and Moncrief is one of the better WR2s in the league. Neither projects to be a top scorer in Week 1, but both should be started on the majority of fantasy teams.
The biggest change to the Colts’ offense comes at tight end, as Dwayne Allen steps into the starting role. Coby Fleener was mediocre last season, but ended as a Top-6 tight end in 2014. With Fleener gone, Allen will see a substantial bump targets and could build off of his season two years ago when he averaged 8.5 PPG. There are only so many passes to go around, but Luck should feed Allen enough to make him a decent fantasy option in 2016.
The Lions allowed 10.3 PPG to TE1s in 2015, giving up 11 TDs during the season. TE1s averaged four catches for 41.0 yards against Detroit, which is close to what tight ends were posting under Luck last year. The position is very touchdown-dependent in fantasy, but Allen has the potential to have a decent day against the Lions.