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Defenses and Dragons: Fantasy players to watch in Lions-Cardinals

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Identifying key players on both sides who deserve a closer look.

Green Bay Packers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Welcome back to Defenses and Dragons! Last season, this column surveyed the entirety of the fantasy-relevant skill players of the opposing team set to face the Detroit Lions defense on a weekly basis. This year, D&D is going in a slightly different direction. Each week, this column will highlight two Lions and two opponents who stand out in the matchup, for better or for worse. It may be a stud who could struggle, or it could be a lower-level guy primed for a big game; either way, these are players who should over or underperform their typical output.

Whatever the reason, these four players should be given a little extra attention during last-minute lineup tinkering. D&D hopes to help out with crunch-time decisions by taking a closer look at the matchup through historical stats. Remember: D&D gives six points for all touchdowns and a half point per reception.

Without further ado, here are some key players on both sides of the Lions’ Week 1 bout with the Arizona Cardinals.

Detroit RBs

Cheating here to start, but both Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are in a similar place for Week 1. Only nine running backs hit double digits against the Cardinals last season, and three of those came in the same game during a shootout with the Saints. Neither Detroit back has a great outlook for this weekend.

Abdullah is a bit of a risky start, as he will see his first game action in almost a year behind a new offensive line. He looks like a Flex play, at best. Meanwhile, pure pass-catching backs like Riddick found no success last year against Arizona. Among running backs who carried the ball less than 10 times and saw at least three targets, only one scored more than eight points (Travaris Cadet in the aforementioned game against New Orleans). Do not count on much production from Riddick on Sunday.

Eric Ebron

No team was better at limiting tight ends than the Cardinals last season. Dion Sims and Jimmy Graham were the only two players at the position to find the end zone against Arizona, and tight ends averaged less than 5.0 PPG. Banking on a player like Eric Ebron, who had zero receiving touchdowns after the first week last season, is not a great move.

Ebron is a fun later-round pick and potential breakout candidate, but consider keeping him benched for Week 1. Though he put up decent numbers last season and the touchdowns will positively regress to the mean, he is unlikely to see immediate improvements in his first action in 2017.

Carson Palmer

If D&D had a motto last season it would have been along the lines of “Start your QB and TE against the Lions.” Detroit ended up as the second-worst defense in fantasy against opposing quarterbacks, and Week 1 provides a perfect matchup for teams who snagged Carson Palmer late in their drafts.

Palmer was not the flashiest option in 2016, but he ended the season averaging almost 22 PPG over the last six weeks. He could very well hit this mark against a Lions defense that still has many question marks. For teams with multiple quarterback options, and especially those with someone like Andrew Luck or Jameis Winston, Palmer is the premier substitute to use this week.

Larry Fitzgerald

The Lions were not great at defending wide receivers last season, but from a fantasy perspective, it was not always easy to identify which pass catchers were in for a big day. Many times Detroit was burned by secondary options, and while the main threat still put up some points, the wealth was spread around.

This scenario is a little complicated for the Cardinals, who have a bunch of question marks all over their receiver depth chart. The top is clear though, with Larry Fitzgerald leading the way. Most fantasy teams drafted him as a WR2, and that is likely his expectation going into Week 1. However, it would not be shocking for him to post Flex-like numbers at best. Who might be the Arizona receiver to thrive instead? That remains to be seen.