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The Fantasy Basement: Week 1
The Fantasy Basement is a weekly piece that provides fantasy advice on lineup calls, sleepers, waiver-wire moves and rookie spotlights, along with the occasional ramble or four. Why “Fantasy Basement” you ask? There is a common misconception that sports writers dwell in their childhood cellars, that the institution promotes an arrested development. However, instead of railing against this claim, I’m embracing this subterranean bourgeoisie. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy coming home to fresh-baked cookies and having their laundry done? But I digress…Enjoy.
QB: Joe Flacco, Ravens
Doesn’t seem like the most auspicious of matchups, given the Bengals held adversarial arms to 211.6 yards per game last season and that Flacco is, well, Flacco. Yet Bazooka Joe is coming off the best training camp in his career, displaying a firm facility over Baltimore’s new no-huddle approach, and is armed with the deepest and most dexterous set of receiving artillery in five years. Cincinnati’s already injury-depleted defense should further encourage fruition for Flacco, who racked up four 300-yard contests in the first half of the 2011 season. In case you were wondering the extent of Cincinnati’s frailties, Nate Clements and Terence Newman will be seeing significant time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing…if it was 2007.
Other starts: Josh Freeman, Philip Rivers
RB: Kevin Smith, Lions
Owners may harbor hesitation in regard to an ankle injury, though this apprehension should be alleviated with Smith’s participation in practice this week. Backup Mikel LeShoure is serving a two-game suspension, meaning Smith faces little competition for Week 1’s workload against a Rams unit that conceded 152.1 yards per game last year, second-worst in the NFL. Better yet, Smith’s rapport with quarterback Matthew Stafford in the passing game was noted throughout camp, improving the running back’s stock in PPR formats. In a related matter, anyone else find it disconcerting that the first four Google results from “Kevin Smith” are related to the director? I know the Lions’ Smith hasn’t held sustained success in the pro ranks yet, and I like Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back as much as anyone, but the film auteur hasn’t been relevant since the turn of the millennium. All I’m saying is the Motown back better receive some search-engine love on Monday if he torches St. Louis.
Other starts: Toby Gerhart, Rashad Jennings
WR: Eric Decker, Broncos
Proprietors should always pump the brakes on preseason feats, as most of these August accomplishments come against second-string detachments. Yet, given the uncertainty and ambiguity of the Denver offense, Decker’s exploits in abbreviated preseason appearances (eight receptions, 101 yards, two touchdowns) are reason to rejoice. Decker’s aptitude on quick routes and across the middle is a perfect complement to Peyton Manning’s surgeon-like precision on short and interior passes. And hey, if Decker can post 44 receptions and eight trips to paydirt with Tim Tebow under center, imagine his efficiency with an actual quarterback!
Other starts: Torrey Smith, Malcom Floyd
TE: Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
Minnesota may have found the No. 2 target they desperately need in Rudolph, as Christian Ponder has taken affinity to the second-year tight end. Rudolph should see snaps in the slot/receiver positions in similar fashion to Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, and his 6’6” frame makes him an ideal red-zone bull’s-eye. The Vikings take on Jacksonville this week, who relinquished the fourth-most fantasy points to tight ends in 2011, providing a platform for Rudolph to put the rest of the league on notice.
Other starts: Dustin Keller, Greg Olsen
DEF: Seattle Seahawks
I’d feel better if this game was in the Emerald City. Then again, the ‘Hawks are confronting John Skelton, which is more blessing than any home-field advantage can provide.
Other starts: Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
I think Big Ben is going to prosper under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley in the 2012 campaign, but there are a few unpromising dynamics in play this week. Reports are Mike Wallace, who took a training-camp sabbatical in protest of his contract, is up to speed with the playbook and is fine in terms of conditioning; alas, I don’t share this sentiment, as such an assimilation process cannot be accelerated to that degree. The lack of running game for the Steelers is also troubling, as the focus of the Denver D will be solely on Roethlisberger. Throw in the raucous atmosphere that will surely be present in the Rockies for Manning’s debut on the Sunday night stage and it’s easy to see why Roethlisberger works better on your bench.
Other sits: Sam Bradford, Matt Schaub
RB: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals
Akin to Roethlisberger’s projection, I like the Law Firm over the long haul of the fall, just not against the Ravens, who held opponents to an AFC-low 92.6 yards per contest last season. Not helping matters is a battered and bruised Bengals line, as Cincinnati is working with stand-ins at center and left guard. Green-Ellis also missed most of the preseason due to a foot ailment, which shouldn’t keep him sidelined on Monday night, but certainly doesn’t facilitate confidence in his rotisserie attainment.
Other sits: Marshawn Lynch, Maurice Jones-Drew
WR: Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
To his credit, Bowe immensely improved his consistency last season. Of course, Jamaal Charles’ absence left Kansas City to maneuver from the air, correlating to an augmented receiving output. With the return of the All-Pro rusher, as well as the development of Jon Baldwin and Tony Moeaki back from injury, regression is likely for Bowe. It’s also worth noting the wideout didn’t show up to camp until the end of August. That’s a plethora of bugaboos for an alleged No. 1 receiver, my friends.
Other sits: Stevie Johnson, Darrius Heyward-Bey
TE: Martellus Bennett, Giants
The Cowboys have had their fair share of knuckleheads under the regime of Jerry Jones, so it’s telling that Dallas ostensibly let Bennett walk to one of the team’s rivals without protest. Eli Manning does utilize his tight ends at a high frequency, though I can’t see Bennett performing at a dependable pace to trust on a week-to-week basis. As a result of the depth at tight end this season, owners can acquire more trustworthy entities at this position.
Other sits: Brandon Pettigrew, Jermaine Gresham
DEF: San Francisco 49ers
Though the thought of Patrick Willis spearing me into smithereens after discovering I slighted his team is an all-too-real fear, can’t endorse the Niners against Aaron Rodgers and the high-octane offense of Green Bay.
Other sits: New England Patriots, New York Giants
The Sports Movie Head Scratcher of the Week
There is an inherent petition from most sports films that the patrons must suspend belief regarding some of the picture’s narrative. However, while a grain of salt is usually acquiesced from the audience, there remain storylines from these athletic classics that defy logic and reason that need to be examined with greater scrutiny. These preposterous plot points will be analyzed along with a questionable call from the previous week of football.
It’s hard to take any Keanu Reeves vehicle too seriously, considering the man’s been in movies about time travel and surfing criminals (although, as the The Matrix proved, he is the “One” so can’t be too harsh on him). And while no one accused The Replacements of masquerading as a cinematic masterpiece, or for that matter, a movie with any semblance of a coherent chronicle, there’s one chestnut that never ceases to amaze me. Before the final game of the season, the former quarterback of the Washington Sentinels crosses the line of the striking players, ending Keanu’s reign as starting signal caller. While it’s somewhat understandable that the picketing player got his old gig back, why was Keanu shown listening to the final contest from the confines of his house boat? Wouldn’t he still be dressed on the sidelines as the substitute? Seems like the screenwriters dropped the ball on that front.
Speaking of dropping the ball, Arizona’s 2011 acquisition of Kevin Kolb isn’t looking too assuring at the moment, eh? It’s not that the Cardinals bestowed Kolb a five-year, $63 million extension without playing a down for the team, or that they traded Pro Bowler Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick for his services, as such travesties speak for themselves. Rather, that Kolb lost the starting job to Skelton, a fifth-round pick out of Fordham who threw 14 interceptions in eight games in 2011 and rocked a 50.6 QB rating in the preseason, adequately sums up the volume of despair. But let’s not forget the real loser in this debacle: poor Larry Fitzgerald. The over/under on TV shots of Fitzgerald looking up in disbelief after being underthrown on a breakaway route is 26.5 for the season. Go ahead and take the over.
Waiver Wire Watch: Danny Amendola, Rams
As mentioned in our preseason previews, thanks to the transformation of the offensive NFL landscape from the soil to the sky, it’s fairly easy to snag an adequate receiver in fantasy football. Even in that mindset, it’s astonishing that a primary target like Amendola is available, as the Texas Tech product is owned in only 14.5 percent of FOXSports.com leagues. Amendola quietly hauled in 85 receptions in 2010 and looked fully recovered during the preseason from an elbow injury suffered last year, catching seven balls for 99 yards and two scores in August. With a healthy Sam Bradford back in the saddle, the 26-year-old wideout will be the prime beneficiary of a revitalized Rams passing strike in 2012, and is a must-own in PPR formats.
Email of the Week
This week’s winner comes from our nation’s capital courtesy of Ben T., who makes the following astute observation:
“What is Ed Hochuli doing with the refs on strike? I’m worried that he watches the preseason and cries.”
Hochuli is incapable of tears, Ben. I like to envision the man they call “Hochules” is training Rocky IV style in the mountains for the upcoming season, or better yet, fighting crime against delinquents that escaped the law in his courtroom (when not patrolling the gridiron, Hochuli is one of the more respected lawyers in the country). Granted, given the state of the strike, I’m sure a simple call to the NFL Referees Association would have procured a response that everyone’s favorite zebra is patiently waiting to get back on the sidelines. Don’t know about you, but such a retort would not suffice. I don’t want Hochuli practicing patience; I want him practicing justice!
Fantasy Flyer: Alex Smith, 49ers
For the record, thoroughly confused on why Smith is owned in more leagues than Bradford and Carson Palmer, as the 49ers field general ranked 17th in touchdown passes and 27th in yards per game in his supposed “breakout” 2011 season. Yet for this week’s window, owners in deeper formats could do a lot worse than Smith, who now has an arsenal of weapons in his receiving corps. San Fran travels to Lambeau Field this week to take on Green Bay, who led the NFL in interceptions last season but also surrendered the third-most aerial scores and were last in passing yards. Granted, this concession of turf was a corollary of the Packers playing prevent coverage thanks to their scoreboard-lighting offense, yet such a scenario could render itself this weekend.
The Real Debate
For the first time since the AFL-NFL merger, more than two starting rookie quarterbacks will be under center for Week 1, as five neophyte arms are set to take center stage. Yet while the starts of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill aren’t especially surprising, Seattle turning to third-rounder Russell Wilson was quite the bombshell, as the team had just presented Matt Flynn $26 million in free agency to presumably start for the Seahawks. But the discussion shouldn’t center on why Pete Carroll is hell-bent on a baptism-by-fire approach on Wilson when a serviceable quarterback is available; rather, the Real Debate is this: how big of a letdown were the new Nike NFL uniforms? For years fans had circled this season as the liberation from the prosaic presentation of attire from the 2000s, with numerous sites pumping out fan-generated apparel in anticipation of the Swoosh’s return to the league. Instead, we as a gridiron society are furnished with…the exact same banality? Only Seattle was willing to shake things up, and while the get-up has fallen short of heightened expectations, the reception has been mostly positive. I’m not inferring that classics like Green Bay or Oakland needed an overhaul or that we should Oregon-ize the NFL outfits, but I could rattle off at least 12 teams whose threads needed an aesthetic boost, including the entire NFC South. Hopefully, this raiment revolution ensues in the offseason. Just know that the people aren’t happy, Phil Knight.
Rookie Review: Nick Foles, Eagles
Michael Vick is going down. You know it, I know it, the Eagles know it and, despite what the inevitable “woe-is-me” animosity that will emit when said injury conveys, the City of Brotherly Love knows it. Whenever this affliction comes to pass, enter Foles, an apprentice from the University of Arizona who threw for over 4,300 yards in 2011. A third-round selection, Foles was impressive in preseason play, going 40-for-63 for 553 yards, six touchdowns and two picks. Though I usually preach caution in acquiring backup QBs when a starter hits the deck, Foles is the rare bird that garners this honor.
This Week in Kevin Walter
More than a few loyal readers inquired if our weekly K-Walt installments would continue after the Houston receiver’s substandard season. True, the Pride of Ypsilanti submitted his lowest harvest since 2006, and with rookies Keshawn Martin, Lestar Jean and DeVier Posey lurking to vulture playing time, the fantasy forecast for Walter looks ominous. So yes, things look bleak. But you know whose prospects also looked hopeless once upon a time? The Continental Army at the onset of the War of Independence. Did George Washington throw in the towel because his revolutionary brothers were laboring? You bet your cherry tree he didn’t. So excuse us if we’re not abandoning ship just yet, for 2012 could be Walter’s Saratoga, if you will, proving that this little engine that could will not go quietly into the night.
Walter’s 2011 Stats: 39 receptions, 474 yards, three touchdowns
Walter’s Cornerback Body Count: Zero
Gatorade Shower Goes to: Peyton Manning, Broncos
Fantasy football wasn’t quite the same without its 6’5”, 230-lbs. quarterback with a laser-rocket arm. Here’s to Manning unleashing the statistical carnage of the good ‘ole days in Mile High this season. And yes, I just used “good ‘ole days” to refer to a time interval less than 20 months ago.
Personal Foul on: Roger Goodell
It’s going to be hard to keep his hands clean after the replacement refs blow a game in Week 1. And make no mistake, such a charade will transpire.
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