The Shadow Knows Week 1 2023

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport


The most-hyped game of Week 1 of the 2023 season also happens to be the last game of the week. As a matter of fact, it's the most-hyped game for the New York Jets in---ever?

As you may have heard, Aaron Rodgers has come to town.

There has been about eleventeen million words written about Rodgers this summer. About what his arrival means for the Jets. About whether the Jets are now a serious challenger to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. And about what Rodgers could mean for the fantasy prospects of second-year wideout Garrett Wilson, who caught 83 passes for 1,103 yards and four scores on the way to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

However, while the Jets are no doubt a better team now than they were a year ago with Zach "Shudder" Wilson under center, the Bills remain the three-time defending division champions. And there will be one player out there Monday night whose mission in life will be to make Wilson's 2023 debut a disappointment.

Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White was once considered arguably the best player at his position in the NFL. But after tearing his ACL late in the 2021 season, White's 2022 campaign was essentially a wash. However, Bills general manager Brandon Beane said that the Whie he has seen this summer looks like the player who made the Pro Bowl in 2019 and 2020.

"I think Tre'Davious is in a really good spot," Beane said. "You can just see it when you talk to him. He's confident. You know, the (injury). was a tough deal for him. Was his first major injury. And, you know, not an easy one to come back from, you know, when you've never dealt with that. And he's in a great headspace. He's really confident. And I see a guy who's ascending and getting himself back to the tray that he was pre injury."

In White's last full season before getting hurt, he allowed less than 57 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed with a passer rating against of less than 80. We won't truly know if the 28-year-old is "back" until we see him on the field at MetLife Stadium. But if he is, the ascension to fantasy superstardom that so many are sure is coming for Wilson in 2023 might not get off to quite the start they'd hoped.

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (Ja'Marr Chase vs. Denzel Ward)

Given all that Ja'Marr Chase has already accomplished at the NFL level, it might not seem that there are really areas where the third-year pro could markedly improve. But as Charlie Goldsmith wrote for the Cincinnati Enquirer, one area where offensive coordinator Brian Callahan has seen Chase knuckle down that much more is preparing to face high-end cornerbacks.

"There's so much more to playing receiver than just running fast and being able to catch a football," Callahan said. "When you put an elite player like Ja'Marr against an elite corner, the Marlon Humphreys, the Sauce Gardners, those types of guys, you have to be dialed in on the details to get yourself open. He has been super impressive with how he has grown in that standpoint."

Chase will get just such a matchup in Week 1, when he'll see a familiar face in Cleveland's Denzel Ward, who appears on track to clear the concussion protocol. The Browns have a quality young secondary, but when last these teams played, Chase posted a 10-119-1 line on 15 targets while mostly facing Ward in coverage.


Tennessee Titans at New Orleans Saints (DeAndre Hopkins vs. Marshon Lattimore)

You didn't see much of the Tennessee Titans in this column a year ago-after trading away A.J. Brown, the team's wide receivers were-unimpressive. But the Titans made an effort to rectify that in the offseason by signing Hopkins, and he told GQ that after being passed over by several teams after being released by the Arizona Cardinals he's fixing to show that even at 31 he's still among the game's best.

"Detroit Lions, they didn't want me," he says, finally. "Dallas Cowboys didn't want me. Giants didn't want me. S**t. Who else ain't want me? San Fran ain't want me. I don't look at age, but it's some of the reason some teams might've passed up on me. Their #1 DB would have a hard time against me on the island. It ain't too many people out there that can say honestly that they can lock me down, guard me for a full four quarters."

This may well be the most fascinating matchup between corner and receiver of Week 1, if only because Lattimore has some proving to do of his own after an up-and-down, injury-marred 2022 season. At his best, Lattimore has locked down some of the best wideouts in the NFL. At his best, Hopkins has been all but uncoverable. This is a legitimate toss-up-which could knock Hopkins a few spots down the Week 1 rankings.


Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (Jaire Alexander vs. D.J. Moore)

There's a jolt on enthusiasm in the Windy City this year-and a big source of that voltage is the arrival of an actual, real-life No. 1 wide receiver for Justin Fields in D.J. Moore. But if there's one cornerback in the league who isn't afraid of Moore, it's Green Bay's Jaire Alexander-who told reporters both that no receivers frighten him and the only cornerback film he watches is of himself.

"Yeah, man, I really watch a lot of film on No. 23 for Green Bay," said Alexander. "Man, ain't nobody, first of all, ain't nobody tough that I feel is tough, because if a receiver beat me, it's probably something I did."

You can't see he's not confident, that's for sure.

The thing is, it's not like Alexander hasn't backed that talk up with regularity. Last year, Alexander made his second Pro Bowl in three seasons. He Hasn't allowed 60 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed since 2018, and his passer rating against in 2022 of 63.7 was the lowest of his professional career. It's far from an ideal matchup for Moore, especially when you consider that unless another Bears wideout forces them to change the strategy, Moore's a good bet to be bracketed with safety help.


Miami Dolphins at Los Angeles Chargers (Xavien Howard vs. Mike Williams)

It's been an offseason for Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. He watched the team swing a blockbuster trade for Jalen Ramsey. Became embroiled in a lawsuit over…just Google it. And then, when EA Sports made Ramsey a 97 and Howard an 84, the four-time Pro Bowler took it…not well, However, per Pro Football Network, Howard isn't about to apologize for how he views himself among the league's best corners.

"Damn. I got to talk to them. I need EA's number," Howard said. "I think people get confused sometimes when guys show an individual goal for themselves or have individual hype for themselves. But honestly, it's like, 'Why wouldn't I? Why wouldn't I want to be the very best?' Me being the very best is also going to help the team be successful."

Howard's Pro Bowl nod last year was more career achievement award than anything-he played hurt much of the season and allowed a passer rating against of over 100. During that rocky season, Howard faced off against Williams in Week 14 and allowed all six targets thrown his way to be completed for 116 yards and a score. A healthy Howard should be stiffer competition, but it's hard to downgrade Williams much after that last meeting.


Los Angeles Raiders at Denver Broncos (Davante Adams vs. Patrick Surtain II)

In two games against the Denver Broncos last year, Adams had his way and then some-26 targets, 16 catches, 242 receiving yards and two scores. This, against one of the better pass defenses in the NFL. But while speaking to reporters this week, Denver defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said the team has a plan for changing that script.

"You have a plan to get those guys stopped," Joseph said. "If you don't stop their best people, you won't win the game. That's always first on our docket when we game plan versus teams. We'll see how it works on Sunday, but we will have a plan to stop their best people. We'll see how it comes out on Sunday, but our plan is always to stop their best people and what they do first."

Part of that plan may involve more "shadow" treatment from Surtain-something that really wasn't the case last year. All in all, Denver was a bottom-five fantasy matchup for wide receivers last year, but the bigger issue for Adams may well be a quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo who can challenge Denver's secondary over the to the way Derek Carr could,


Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (Stefon Diggs vs. Ahmad Gardner)

Garrett Wilson isn't the only wide receiver on Monday night who will have his hands full-while Stefon Diggs only spends about two-thirds of his snaps on the boundary, when he does, he'll likely see a lot of the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year. While speaking to reporters, Diggs admitted that the Bills will have their hands full with the Jets defense.

"They're a really good defense," Diggs said. "They had a really good team last year and they didn't do anything but get better. It's another year in their system, they have an amazing head coach and what system he came from. I think they were top five in all categories, or top three in all categories. They've got a hell of a defense."

When Diggs is that complimentary, you know a defense is legit. And he's right-thanks in no small part to Gardner, the Jets were fourth in total defense, third against the pass and dead last in the league in PPR points allowed to wide receivers. It's Stefon Diggs, so you gotta start him-but this AFC East brouhaha isn't going to make too many fantasy managers happy.