The wait is over. After more than 200 days the NFL will return for good this Thursday with a matchup between the reigning champions Kansas City Chiefs and the visiting Detroit Lions.
Even though these two haven’t met since they last did all the way back in 2019, the Chiefs are riding a two-game winning streak spanning back to a Nov. 2015 matchup, and judging by the current situation of both franchises, this might end up being the third consecutive victory for the latest Super Bowl winners.
This looks like a high-octane type of game with a ton of points up for grabs on both sides of the field. The over/under for the game is listed at 54 with a spread of 6.5 in favor of Kansas City. Expect touchdowns, highlights and replays.
Many, many replays.
How do the Chiefs and Lions arrive at their TNF matchup?
As meaningless as mid-summer games are, the Chiefs and the Lions put together similar 2-1 records through their preseason matchups.
Kansas City scored at least 24 points in each of its games, wrapping up August with a +27 point differential. Detroit couldn’t get a positive outcome, topping at 26 points scored against the Panthers and finishing the preseason with a minus-4 point differential.
If you only value competitive, starter-level football, then the Chiefs are coming off a postseason run in which they defeated the Jaguars by seven points and the Bengals and Eagles by three on their way to winning it all. Detroit wrapped up 2022 beating five of their last six opponents and only losing twice since the start of November, amassing a solid 8-2 record.
TNF Week 1 - Injury Report
Most importantly at this point in the preseason calendar and entering Week 1 of the 2023 season, it’s worth checking the depth charts and the injuries of both teams to get a clearer view of where things stand after a hot and grueling summer of practices.
Detroit’s wideouts Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams suffered injuries midway through August with the former expected to be ready to go come TNF kick-off and the latter suspended by the NFL for the first six games, which renders his injury trivial for now. No other skill-position players of the Lions should cause any concern or worry you for fantasy purposes this week.
In Kansas City, Isaiah Pacheco’s injury was the story of the summer though he seems to be on track to getting his normal share of snaps on TNF. Similarly, Kadarius Toney has been out through training camp suffering a knee injury right before it started and he should be back though most probably on a limited capacity.
I’ve saved the best for last: Travis Kelce hyperextended his knee during Tuesday’s practice and is reportedly out for Thursday. On Wednesday morning reports emerged calling the injury “a bone bruise,” a good sign for his long-term availability, but while he reportedly may "give it another try before kickoff," the expectation is he will not play in Week 1.
Sources: #Chiefs star TE Travis Kelce is out tonight against the #Lions. He may give it another try before kickoff. Either way, the bone bruise should not keep him out long-term. pic.twitter.com/n2TZXBmZUS
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 7, 2023
One stat that can swing the balance on TNF Week 1
Lions and Chiefs allowed the most fantasy points to opposing QBs in 2022
This is a clash of titanic offenses and mediocre (fantasy) defenses after the Detroit Lions were able to click once and for all through the second half of last season. Detroit finished 2022 with the eighth-best offense according to PFF, while Kansas City’s unit ranked atop all other NFL franchises.
The defensive groups might change the outcome of this matchup with the Chiefs’ D ranking fifth to the Lions’ paltry 29th-graded unit. One caveat, though, is Detroit’s additions to their secondary this offseason in Emmanuel Moseley and C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Sadly for the Lions, CJGJ suffered an injury and has been rehabbing it through camp, and Moseley is still fighting an uphill battle to start against Kansas City after he suffered a setback in his ACL recovery.
In the fantasy realm, though, both Lions and Chiefs allowed the most and second-most fantasy points to opposing QBs (and close to that against WRs/TEs) in Yahoo leagues, respectively, and their defenses barely ranked inside the top half of the NFL against RBs.
Nobody beats QB Patrick Mahomes in an offensive showdown from a fantasy perspective, even with no clear-cut WR1 in tow. The main beneficiary here is definitely the man standing on the other end (QB Jared Goff) and all Lions pass catchers.
Two players to start, two to leave on your bench on TNF
Start: RB Isiah Pacheco (KC)
Pacheco didn’t crack a snap share above 35% before Week 10 last season but once he did against the Jaguars he never fell behind that percentage through the remainder of the season. More important was his usage, as he went on to rack up 126 carries through the final nine games of the season and rush for 633 yards (70+ per game). He scored one touchdown in four of his last seven games played.
Start: QB Jared Goff (DET)
Goff is rostered in fewer than 75% of leagues, which means you might have a shot at landing him via waivers if you straight punted on the position when you drafted your team if you’re part of a deep structure, or if your league operates under a 2QB/Superflex format.
Barring a season finale in which he struggled and failed to throw a touchdown, Goff had thrown at least one touchdown in all prior six games leading up to Week 18 while averaging 25 completions and 295 yards per game. On top of that, Goff avoided throwing a pick for the last nine games while completing 15 passes for a touchdown in that span.
Bench: TE Sam LaPorta (DET)
There will be some calls to start LaPorta as early as Week 1, and if he’s your team’s tight end via draft you’ll probably be left with no better option. If you’re streaming the position after deciding to pass on drafting any tight end, or simply deciding who to start in a DFS contest, I’d advise passing on the rookie.
In the last 10 seasons (according to Stathead) only six tight ends topped six fantasy points in their first game in the NFL, just three of them got targeted more than five times and only two topped 45 receiving yards. LaPorta might end up being a reasonably good player in his rookie season, but odds are stacked against him as it usually takes time for tight ends to develop, and a Week 1 matchup against the reigning champs shouldn’t help.
BONUS TE TIP: Bench all Kansas City tight ends (and all WRs except Marquez Valdes-Scantling — more on that shortly) even with Travis Kelce being ruled out for the game. Mahomes will spread his targets even more and it’s going to be a crapshoot who ends up getting most of his looks.
Bench: WR Skyy Moore (KC)
Moore is projected to score the most fantasy points among Chiefs wide receivers in Week 1 according to Yahoo in their half-PPR leagues, nearly a full point above teammate Kadarius Toney (who could be limited coming off a training camp-long injury).
While Mahomes is capable of elevating anyone and everyone, the only safe bet among Chiefs pass-catchers on a weekly basis is TE Travis Kelce (who won't play in Week 1). Kansas City lost two prominent wide receivers this offseason, including their most-targeted one (JuJu Smith-Schuster). It’s too early to trust Skyy Moore as a steady performer, let alone the top Chiefs pass-catcher.
Let the young man marinate for a week or two until we know more about this offense.
Two players to scout as prospective waiver wire pickups
RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC)
This is kind of a little bit speculative because nobody really knows what is going to happen with Edwards-Helaire tomorrow, let alone next week or throughout the remainder of the season. Will Kansas City use CEH as a trade chip to strengthen another unit? Will they use him on a regular basis along with the other two members of their backfield? Questions, questions!
Edwards-Helaire is rostered in one of every five leagues for a reason. First of all, he’s missed time in the past (he’s played 13, 10 and 10 games in his first three NFL seasons), and on top of that his production on a per-game basis has gone down each passing year.
However, CEH has improved on a per-opportunity basis, posting averages of 0.67, then 0.76 and last year 0.96 fantasy points per opportunity (carries plus targets). That tells me CEH could be a potential star in the right backfield, as much as he’s struggled in the past. You want to stay alert and pounce if he gets traded or given more touches by the Chiefs than we’re expecting.
WR Marvin Jones Jr. (DET)
The Lions got a serious scare when Amon-Ra St. Brown got injured in mid-August but he seems to be ready to go and fully fit these days. That’s not the case of Jameson Williams, who is both injured and suspended for the first six games.
Reading between the lines, you should know where this is going. Someone will need to step up and fill the hole left by Williams, and that man could very well be seasoned veteran Marvin Jones Jr., who is barely rostered in Yahoo leagues.
Jones Jr. is projected for 93+ fantasy points through the 2023 season. Still, the early absence of Williams could boost that figure and turn Jones, at least for the first couple of months, into a fantastic deep-league addition through waivers if Goff gives him enough looks on a weekly basis.