Optimism abounds in fantasy football this week: every team is undefeated, most rosters are still intact (sorry, Pierre Thomas owners), and every fantasy football competitor is eying a 2009 championship. Before the games get started, let’s take a quick look at a couple key fantasy points to watch in each game.
Miami Dolphins at Atlanta Falcons
Am I the only one excited to see Wildcat 2.0? Of course not: Ronnie Brown owners get giddy thinking of his huge game against the Pats last year. I believe Brown establishes himself as an RB1 quickly, starting this week. At this point in 2010, he’ll enter the season as your first-round pick.
Set aside Michael Turner’s potential to explode in any week. The most intriguing aspect of the Atlanta offense is the role set aside for Tony Gonzalez. Media members close to the team have heaped high praise on Gonzalez, and today we’ll see if his talent transfers over into an offense not known for TE production.
Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens
You’re not starting any Chiefs this week, save one: Dwayne Bowe. With Matt Cassel at less the 100%, you can’t like Bowe’s fantasy outlook at Baltimore. Good luck to those of you that are starting the talented Bowe; hopefully, he’ll rack up some stats in the fourth quarter, when the game is likely out of reach.
Ray Rice started as a mid-to-late-round pick in July. He quickly rose to the sixth-round range, and in the final week of preseason I was seeing Rice go as high as the fourth round. Will the hype pay off? We know how much Baltimore liked their three-headed attack in 2008, and despite how great Rice has been leading up to this point, we must wait and see the plan.
Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers
Sorry, Michael Vick fans, but we won’t be seeing him in a regular-season game just yet. Brian Westbrook owners will be watching their oft-injured RB with baited breath, hoping he looks and stays healthy. Carolina should be a great matchup play for all RBs this year, and I bet Westbrook sets the tone in this first game.
Jonathan Stewart is another RB that potentially poses a health risk, but all indications surprisingly point to him playing extensively today. Some will see this as bad news for DeAngelo Williams, but I seem to recall Williams having quite a fine year in 2008 with Stewart stealing carries. Hopefully the pair can keep each other fresh throughout the season.
Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals
After this week, you might be able to pick Knowshon Moreno up on the cheap. He’s been limited in practice and will likely be limited in this game. His owners are going to see the lack of touches and think, “What gives?” Jump on that, as he should be the lead dog in the backfield by mid-season.
I really, really want to see Chad Ochocinco’s first TD celebration. At this point, what are the odds he doesn’t take out a cell phone and tweet from the end zone? Against Denver’s octogenarian defensive backs, that celebration (whatever it is) should take place in the first half. Ocho, please.
Minnesota Vikings at Cleveland Browns
A lot of people (myself included) questioned Adrian Peterson as the undisputed No. 1 pick. Today, he should remind us why it was a foregone conclusion. Peterson is the only back in the NFL that could possibly post 200 yards on any day against any defense. If it’s true he’s improved as a passer, watch out NFL.
Brady Quinn was named the starter, and he’s going to have a rough first season under center. The dropsy Braylon Edwards is his only established threat in the passing game, and the corpse of Jamal Lewis isn’t going to take any pressure off Quinn. Promising rookie James Davis was involved in an accident driving to work, so the start date for his breakout party has been delayed.
New York Jets at Houston Texans
Speaking of new starters, Mark Sanchez makes his first NFL start today. He spent most of college as a backup, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll see no time as a backup in the NFL. Luckily, the Jets have a pretty good rushing attack to alleviate the pressure, and a Raven-reminiscent defense should keep them in most games, keeping Sanchez from being a sitting duck.
The hype train is full speed ahead for the Texans, but it’s leaving the station without Kevin Walter. One of 2008’s best waiver-wire pickups at WR, Walter is 50-50 to play today. Check the injury report, but my guess is that Andre Davis takes his spot in the lineup. As long as Andre Johnson’s not the one hurt, this offense should fine.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts
Can Torry Holt recapture his St. Louis magic and bring back shades of Jimmy Smith in Jacksonville? He’ll have to, as he’s playing with a pretty mediocre bunch. Seriously, when Troy Williamson starts looking good compared to the rest of your options, you really need to start pounding the pavement for replacements.
A new coaching staff is in place, and the main storyline really doesn’t have much to do with fantasy: how will the players react to the absence of Tony Dungy on game day? Transcendent as a coach, Dungy’s presence has been a stabilizing force for this team for a long time. I expect the Peyton Manning-led offense to be fine, but the defense could be in trouble.
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints
I am legitimately excited for this offense from a fantasy perspective. Kevin Smith could be one of the league’s most underrated backs, and Calvin Johnson could run away from the pack and be the top WR1 in the league this year. As a dynasty-league owner of Matthew Stafford, I’ll be watching to see how ready he is for this job.
Every year, someone emerges as the waiver-wire darling of Week 1 and at this point, we can bet on Mike Bell, or the field. With Pierre Thomas out of today’s action, Bell is going to see most of the work between the tackles. Against Detroit’s porous rush defense, that’s a great things. Could the largely-unowned Bell secure a 20-point fantasy day?
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Roy Williams is all-systems-go, but if he continues to play like he did last year, he’ll find his butt on fantasy benches in a hurry. If he doesn’t perform, Jason Witten will be leaned on heavily to be the primary and secondary option in the passing game. That could mean a long year for celebrity B-lister Tony Romo.
2-2-1. Until we see something other than the 2-2-1 rotation planned among the three Buccaneer backs, it’s going to be tough starting one of them on your fantasy team. Why can’t we just let Derrick Ward play the Derrick Ward role with a Jacobs-sized load and Earnest Graham play the Jacobs role with a Ward-sized load. Cadillac Williams should be in the Bradshaw role, which would delay his upcoming injury till at least Week 4.
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
This 49ers team has a chance to be sneaky good this year, and it doesn’t even need Michael Crabtree to do it. Josh Morgan and Isaac Bruce could be a solid 1-2 punch, and the combination of Frank Gore and Glen Coffee should tire defenses out. Throw in the 7-3-as-a-starter Shaun Hill, and I think they could upset the defending NFC Champions at home.
The Cardinals didn’t draft Beanie Wells to sit on the sidelines, and he sure looked ready to contribute late in the preseason. Tim Hightower is the nominal starter, but his owners should be praying for a two-TD game, pumping up his trade value and giving you the opportunity to trade him before next week (possibly for Knowshon Moreno?).
Washington Redskins at New York Giants
I’m watching Malcom Kelly, a second-year player that’s generating a lot of buzz. At this point, we know what everyone else on the Washington offense gives us, but Kelly is the unknown quantity. How he performs could be the difference between 7-9 and 9-7, a division title or a last-place finish in the NFC East.
Hakeem Nicks did well enough to earn some playing time right away, muddling the WR picture in New York even more than was thought possible. Steve Smith should be the most consistent yardage guy but has the lowest potential for TDs. Who will emerge from the group of Domenik Hixon, Mario Manningham, and Nicks?
St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks
Jason Smith has been installed as the starter at right tackle, which bodes well for the fortunes of Steven Jackson. If Jackson can keep it together this season and stay on the field, he has to be the top candidate to lead the league in touches, and that should translate to big fantasy numbers. As a coach, would you rather play a tired Jackson or a fresh Samkon Gado?
Seattle is the popular pick to bounce back this year, especially after adding T.J. Houshmandzadeh to a weak WR unit and Aaron Curry at linebacker. We should see the effects of both new additions right away — look for Houshmazilly to rack up 100 yards and a TD, and for Curry to add some resistance to the run defense.
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
The schedule-makers did us well for the first week (well, until you look at tomorrow’s games), setting this early battle for NFC supremacy as the topper to what should be a fun first Sunday. Jay Cutler is the obvious player to watch, but from a fantasy standpoint, I want to see if Earl Bennett can become a PPR force.
I’ve talked mostly about offense (as that’s where most of the fantasy focus always is), but the Packer spin to this game involves the defense. After a tough 6-10 season last year, Green Bay is making the switch to the 3-4, and stud DE Aaron Kampman is moving to OLB in the scheme. The Packers’ title hopes rest on a successful transition.
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
When writing a script for a successful offense, it probably doesn’t read: “Trade Pro Bowl left tackle, bring in abrasive WR, install no-huddle offense, fire offensive coordinator that installed no-huddle offense before the season starts, hold American Idol-style tryouts for your starting offensive lineman, and voila! Win Week 1 game against the now-healthy Patriots”
Everyone’s eyes will be on Tom Brady. New England fans and fantasy owners alike will hold their collective breath the first time he takes a hit, and that breath won’t be released until he gets back up. Then we’ll all relax and know everything will be fine. The main question is: do the Pats run up the score? That is Bill Belichik’s style.
San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders
LaDainian Tomlinson, long the best fantasy RB in the game, has a wide swath of possibilities. He could start the inevitable decline that all like-aged RBs face. He could make owners with a top-five selection look silly for passing on him. He could get into a fistfight with A.J. Smith at midfield, just for old time’s sake. I think he rebounds in a big way.
If Oakland trades Nnamdi Asogmuha to the Patriots for a fourth-round pick at halftime, can we freeze their roster and kick Al Davis out of the league? Besides watching old Al to make sure he’s nowhere near a phone, I’ll be watching Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy, two rookie receivers thrust into the starting role. Oh, if only the Raiders could get a talent like Randy Moss on their team.
That’ll do it for this week. Post any last-minute updates you want to send along to the Cafe below.
R.J. White is a fantasy blogger at the sports site FanHouse. Check out his work both here and there, and feel free to talk to him in the forums, where he posts under the name daullaz.
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