Sep 10, 2011
With the lockout in our rearview mirror, we are just one day away from a full slate of real NFL action. Just like last season, I will share my general thoughts on each game on either Friday or Saturday. Here we go…
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
This might be a fun rivalry to watch, but it’s typically ugly for fantasy purposes. I wouldn’t be too excited about playing Ray Rice or Rashard Mendenhall in this one after they combined for 176/2 on 61 carries in the two meetings between the teams last year. It’ll be tough to sit either guy, but if you do play them, make sure to lower expectations. Joe Flacco might have a rough go of it playing behind a rebuilt OL that sees Bryant McKinnie taking over at LT and C Matt Birk coming back from a knee injury. As I’ve been warning everyone this week, expectations need to be managed if you have anyone playing in this game since these tend to turn into slugfests.
Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears
Roy Williams should not be a starting WR over Johnny Knox. Everyone seems to know that except the Bears, but Mike Martz is apparently an offensive genius and I’m just writing a blog, so let’s see who ends up being correct. What’s being overlooked is the fact that Devin Hester isn’t a starting NFL receiver on any team, but a big contract typically gets you playing time even if you don’t deserve it, so Earl Bennett fans like myself have to stew until the Bears come to their senses and make Knox and Bennett the starters. In news that should shock absolutely no one, Marion Barber won’t play for the Bears , so if you had any worries about him taking touches away from Matt Forte at the goal line, you can rest easy. I’m intrigued to see if Matt Ryan can actually take advantage of having a weapon like Julio Jones since he doesn’t have a great skill set as a passer, something that’s overlooked thanks to his success in his first three seasons. Michael Turner will probably get a pass if he has a bad game because of the matchup, but it’ll be interesting to see if the team can keep him fresh after letting him play injured for just about all of the 2010 season.
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
The Greg Little bandwagon is near capacity and I’ve taken way too many questions this week asking if he should be a fantasy starter. You shouldn’t have drafted him to be one because he’s still raw and part of a receiving corps that has yet to figure out just who is going to do what this year. Remember, as good as Colt McCoy looked in the preseason, he’s still learning a new offense and is another player that doesn’t have great passing tools. Let’s let this offense develop first before we start relying on guys like Little to make significant fantasy contributions. This game will be all about the starting backs, Peyton Hillis and Cedric Benson. Outside of his stay in prison, we haven’t heard much about Benson, but with Andy Dalton looking a bit lost at times, you can be sure Benson will be the one to carry this offense.
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
This is the year for the Texans to stake their claim to the AFC South crown and a strong statement would be a beatdown of the Peyton Manning-less Colts in Houston. As an Arian Foster owner, I don’t want him playing this week. Rest up that hammy and give me close to a full season of being awesome, as opposed to playing at less than 100% and risking further injury, which will only put a cloud over him for the rest of year. If Foster is out, expect to see a split of touches between Ben Tate and Derrick Ward, which makes them no better than flex options for me. I have no idea what to think of the Colts, but I’m already downgrading Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, and Pierre Garcon. The OL was bad enough with Manning under center, but he masked any of their issues by knowing exactly when to get rid of the ball. A 38-year-old Kerry Collins is still learning the offense and won’t be able to see things the same way. I expect this one to get out of hand.
Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars
He had another bad off-season and battled some injuries during the preseason, but I’m still excited to see what Kenny Britt can do to what is still one of the shakiest secondaries in the league in the Jaguars. Outside of Britt, this could be a big day for Jared Cook, who should see plenty of targets based on Tennessee’s lack of weapons. All eyes will be on the RBs though, as Maurice Jones-Drew will attempt to back up his claim that despite a major knee surgery, he still deserved to be a top pick in fantasy. Chris Johnson has gotten good reviews out of practice this week, but will the Titans try to limit him after missing all of the preseason? If he looks good and doesn’t lose his breath, I expect him to carry his normal load. Jacksonville’s passing game looks downright ugly, and I would have said the same thing even if they kept David Garrard.
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs
Matt Cassel will play through a rib injury, and he’s lucky to be playing a Buffalo team will no real pass rush because the Chief OL looked bad in the preseason. I’m sticking to my notion that they played over their heads last season, and we’re now seeing what they really are: a middle-of-the-pack unit. Todd Haley seems to be resisting the idea of changing how he used his RBs last season, so be prepared to be frustrated at times if you are a Jamaal Charles owner. Fred Jackson deserves to be the lead guy in Buffalo and gets about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield did. He carried the team when Marshawn Lynch was in trouble off the field and struggled on it. The team then tries to install C.J. Spiller as their lead back even though it’s obvious Spiller isn’t ready to handle that role and might not be that kind of player. I’ll take Jackson on my team any day, especially since he’s been sharing the ball for his entire career and doesn’t have the same mileage on him that a typically 30-something back does.
Philadelphia Eagles at St. Louis Rams
It would not surprise me to see the Eagles struggle for a few weeks. They made significant changes on their OL at the end of the preseason and Jeremy Maclin, a huge part of their offense, will need some time to work his way back into the flow of things. The Rams can do enough with scheme and now improved personnel to make this a good game. Sam Bradford apparently has a good grasp of the team’s new offense, but I’m told he admits that there are still some things he feels he can do better. St. Louis has a solid receiving corps, but outside of Danny Amendola, the player I see making the biggest impact is rookie TE Lance Kendricks. Bradford seems to like throwing to his TEs, especially in the red zone and Kendricks could prove to be a matchup problem for the Eagles.
Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I wish these two teams were playing later in the season, so we could see their offenses more finely tuned. It’s no secret that I think Matthew Stafford could be a great starting fantasy QB this year, not only because of his elite talent, but because he has a nice set a weapons around him besides Calvin Johnson. Nate Burleson was brought in to be a complementary guy to Johnson and has already proven to fit that role perfectly, showing a great rapport with Stafford and the ability to take advantage of the extra attention Johnson gets. TE Brandon Pettigrew might be more of an old-school prototypical player at his position, but he’s still more athletic than we thought and a reliable target in the short and intermediate range. The Lions would like to see rookie WR Titus Young be their #3, but he might not fit that spot, which is why TE Tony Scheffler could see more looks this season as someone who can move around the formation. Jahvid Best’s backup continues to be a big question. The Lions say it’s Maurice Morris, but I think the long-term answer is Jerome Harrison. The Bucs have a solid D, but ask you can see, they’ll have a lot on their hands. We pretty much know what to expect from the Bucs, but I’m interested to see if Arrelious Benn can become that #2 WR the team desperately needs opposite Mike Williams. Detroit’s secondary should be a little better, but we’ll see how they handle things this week with the young starters of the Bucs.
Carolina Panthers at Arizona Cardinals
The only Panther I’d feel good about playing this week is DeAngelo Williams. Arizona’s run defense didn’t get any better in the off-season and Williams (along with Jonathan Stewart to a lesser extent) should be able to produce quite nicely in this one. Cam Newton is being thrown into the fire, even though he’s not ready, but considering Carolina’s other options, they might as well let Newton learn on the field. The Panther run defense is just as bad, if not worse than Arizona’s, so we should see a lot of Beanie Wells, who has a chance to make an immediate impact and make everyone forget about his first two seasons. Kevin Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald look like they’ve been playing together for a while, and I’d expect them to hook up often in this beatable matchup.
Minnesota Vikings at San Diego Chargers
The excitement for Viking fans is probably pretty high right now after they locked up Adrian Peterson to a long-term deal. It will probably disappear when they see what Philip Rivers and the Charger offense do to their poor secondary. Antonio Gates is as healthy as he’s ever going to be and Vincent Jackson is happy with the money he’s making and primed for a huge season. Both guys will make life difficult for Minnesota. Peterson is the only one who can keep the Vikings in this one, but that’s only if the Chargers don’t put a bunch of points on the board early. I’d be playing any Charger, but only Peterson for the Vikes.
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Until further notice, I will not be giving serious consideration to playing any Seahawk with Tarvaris Jackson under center. Sidney Rice’s bum shoulder should make that decision easy for his owners. The Niners aren’t much better, but Frank Gore should be able to gash the Seahawks, as he’s done often in his career. I can’t stand Alex Smith, but Vernon Davis seems to be the only one who can overcome his terrible QB play. The fantasy gods are not smiling down on this game.
New York Giants at Washington Redskins
Rex Grossman will start a game in 2011. I’m sorry Redskin fans. I’ll take Tim Hightower (for now), and probably stay away from anyone else on this team, including Santana Moss unless he’s the last player in my starting lineup. Washington might not be awful, but they sure as hell aren’t looking like a team I want to trust for fantasy purposes. Eli Manning is still hovering around that best backup/low-end starter area, especially now that his brother’s season is in serious jeopardy. I’d be fine rolling with him, as I think he’s been a big part of the development of Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, two players who should be able to take advantage of the beatable Redskin secondary. The Giants want to split things pretty evenly between Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, so early in the season I’d expect that to be the case. However, because he’s a better player Bradshaw should be getting more of a 65-35 split by season’s end.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Jets
I’ve never been a big Mark Sanchez fan and I’m not buying into the Plaxico Burress hype, but there’s a good chance both of these guys come out of Sunday night’s game with attractive fantasy numbers. The Cowboy secondary, which was bad to begin with, won’t have CB Terence Newman (groin) and CB Mike Jenkins is playing through both a knee and neck injury in addition to coming off a terrible 2010 season. The Jets will certainly stick to their usual gameplan of ground and pound with Shonn Greene, but I expect them to take more shots than usual in the passing game. Dustin Keller needs to play a bigger, more consistent role in the offense. The Cowboys have multiple injuries and three new starters on the OL, so the only way Tony Romo is going to put up decent fantasy numbers against the great Jet defense is if he has to throw a lot to stay in the game. Jet CB Darrelle Revis may not be locked on to one Cowboy WR, so I’m not lowering my expectations on Dez Bryant and Miles Austin as much as you’d think. We love Felix Jones, but I’m prepared for him to have a tough game on the ground. No one runs well against the Jets.
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Miami’s CBs Vontae Davis and Sean Smith think they are one of the best combos in the league, and they might be right. New England’s WRs could have a rough time, especially Chad Ochocinco, who hasn’t looked good in a Patriot uniform and is struggling to pick up the offense, which is why I think his snaps will be limited with the team giving more time to Deion Branch. Miami’s defense as a whole looks pretty good, but I doubt they have enough talent to stop the WRs and the young TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Those two could be the difference in this game. Reggie Bush is being touted as Miami’s “lead back” and I’m not buying it. They may hope he can carry the load and he’s apparently working extra hard to handle the expanded role, but we all know that’s not his game. He’s facing a tough Patriot run defense and should only be considered a flex option.
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos
The Broncos said they haven’t figured out a plan for Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee, which tells me they don’t think enough of Moreno to just say “he’s our guy” and that doesn’t surprise me. Both players will definitely be in the mix, with McGahee expected to be the short-yardage and goal-line guy and Moreno taking the role of pass catcher out of the backfield. It’s a good matchup, so I’d be fine using either as a flex. Although the Broncos are expected to run more this year, Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd are going to take advantage of Oakland’s bad secondary. I liked them so much this week, I put them both on my Guru Challenge team. The only Raider I’m playing with any confidence is Darren McFadden, but with Denver’s much-improved defense, I’m not expecting him to put up the astronomical numbers he did against them last year. Jacoby Ford might be worth a shot as a flier, but I have a tough time trusting anything to do with the Oakland passing game.
Feel free to leave your comments or questions here or on Twitter (@TheMattCamp). Good luck to everyone this week and enjoy the return of the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE <Jaws Voice>.