Avoid Cassel, Rice for Week 1
Fantasy Fever is a weekly piece that provides advice on lineup calls, sleepers, waiver-wire moves and rookie spotlights, along with the occasional ramble or four. Enjoy.
QB: Eli Manning, Giants
Manning should have a field day in Week 1, as the Redskins surrendered a NFC-high 261.7 yards per game last season through the air, with only Dallas, San Francisco and Seattle owning worse opponent QB ratings in the conference. Losing possession receiver Steve Smith and security blanket Kevin Boss equated to some growing pains for Manning in the preseason, as the transition to his new targets was far from smooth. Yet Washington’s unstable secondary is just what the doctor ordered to get the 2004 No. 1 overall pick back on track.
Other starts: Kevin Kolb, Mark Sanchez.
RB: DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
With an inexperienced quarterback in Cam Newton behind center for Carolina, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is projected to rely heavily on the run. The Cardinals’ defense was anything but airtight against the run last year, conceding a conference-worst 145.2 yards per game. As both Williams and Stewart are seeking to rebound from disappointing, injury-plagued campaigns in 2010, look for the duo to capitalize on the less-than-arduous Arizona front.
Other starts: LeGarrette Blount, Peyton Hillis.
WR: Mike Thomas, Jaguars
Thomas is a bit of a wild card, as Jacksonville plans to utilize their diminutive wideout on special teams. In leagues that reward return yards, Thomas could provide dividends, as he is also listed as the team’s No. 1 receiver. However, manning return duty carries an extra risk, as Thomas is more susceptible to injury in the position. The Tennessee secondary was one of five units last season to allow 4,000 or more yards in the passing game, giving Thomas some extra value this week. (In a related note, with Mike Sims-Walker now in St. Louis, name two Jacksonville receivers other than Thomas…Don’t worry, take your time…Can’t think of any?...Give up? You mean you didn’t realize the venerable Jason Hill was on the Jags? How about Division III All-American Cecil Shorts? Certainly you have heard of the esteemed Jarett Dillard? No wonder the Jaguars will be playing in Los Angeles in five years.)
Other starts: Brandon Lloyd, Kenny Britt.
TE: Dustin Keller, Jets
The New York tight end continued his development in 2010, setting career-highs in receptions (55), yards (687) and touchdowns (five). Although the ground game is still supreme in the Jets’ offensive attack, the additions of Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason, as well as an entire season of Santonio Holmes, will open up the middle of the field for Keller. The Dallas secondary remains suspect, as the Cowboys did little to enhance a group that yielded 243.4 yards per game and a NFC-worst 92.8 QB rating. (How bad were the ‘Boys last season? Rex Grossman threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns against Dallas in Week 15. That bad.) Keller could be in line for a breakout season in 2011, and Week 1 could provide a platform for a coming-out party.
Other starts: Owen Daniels, Lance Kendricks.
DEF: San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco’s adversary for Week 1 is Seattle. Seattle’s starting quarterback is Tarvaris Jackson. That is all.
Other starts: Kansas City, Cleveland.
QB: Matt Cassel, Chiefs
Don’t misconstrue this as condemnation on Cassel, as the Kansas City QB was remarkably efficient in 2010 with 27 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions. Rather, Buffalo’s run defense, or lack thereof (the Bills relinquished an NFL-high 169.6 yards per game in 2010), will allow Jamaal Charles and company to go bananas. Unless the Chiefs find themselves in a deep hole, expect a heavy dose of the ground game in Kansas City’s game plan this Sunday.
Other sits: Joe Flacco, Tony Romo.
RB: Ray Rice, Ravens
Despite rushing for over 1,200 yards in 2010, Rice was ineffective versus Pittsburgh last season, with totals of 20 yards, 32 yards and 32 yards in three contests (including the AFC Divisional round) against the Steel Curtain. Rice does have the benefit of bulldozer Vonta Leach in the backfield this season, but with the black-and-yellow returning the same squad that held opponents to a league-low 62.8 yards per game last season, expect more of the same results from Rice this week.
Other sits: Steven Jackson, Mark Ingram.
WR: Reggie Wayne, Colts
At first glance, the Houston Texans and their league-worst passing defense (281.2 yards per game) would appear to be an opportune matchup for Wayne and the Indianapolis offense. But with the ambiguity surrounding the quarterback position, Wayne’s forecast is murky at best. (To clarify, “ambiguity” is a polite way of saying, “38-year-old Kerry freaking Collins is the starting signal caller.”) Throw in the fact that Houston reinforced their secondary with the signing of Jonathan Joseph and starting the five-time Pro Bowler becomes a risky proposition.
Other sits: Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice.
TE: Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings
Donovan McNabb loves to involve his tight ends in the passing game, evidenced by the output posted by Brent Celek and Chris Cooley in recent years. Moreover, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave often employs two-tight end sets. Alas, Shiancoe has been hampered with hamstring issues during the preseason. Although he’s slated to start, Shiancoe is an unnecessary gamble with an excess of serviceable tight ends on the fantasy market.
Other sits: Dallas Clark, Greg Olsen.
DEF: Baltimore Ravens
The Steelers have quietly assembled one of the more dynamic offenses in the AFC around Ben Roethlisberger, with workhorse Rashard Mendenhall in the backfield, explosive weapons in Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders and stalwart targets Heath Miller and Hines Ward returning for another year of service. The Ravens endure as one of the more tenacious fronts in the league, but this matchup doesn’t forebode success.
Other sits: Chicago, Dallas.
The Armageddon Head Scratcher of the Week
Granted, a movie based on a team of rag-tag drillers saving the world by detonating a nuke on an inbound asteroid should be taken with a grain of salt. However, there remain a few storylines 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.
Fairly early in the film, we are treated to a montage of the deep-sea oil drillers going through a rigorous training and testing program, one which assumedly familiarizes Bruce Willis and company with everything they need to know about space. The notion that an accelerated three-day curriculum would somehow prepare the drillers for flight is absurd enough, but here’s my question: wouldn’t it been easier for NASA, an organization comprised of the most cerebral and diagnostic people in the world, to educate their own astronauts on the fundamentals of drilling rather than instructing a crash-course space simulation to dim-witted drillers? Speaking of dim-witted, was Kerry Collins really the best option available in the absence of Peyton Manning? I understand the reluctance and trepidation of Curtis Painter trying to lead a team to the Promise Land, but Collins certainly wasn’t the answer to the quarterback dilemma (unless that question was, “Who will make us just good enough to lose?).
Because of the weapons at his disposal, Collins is trending upwards on the waiver wire. I don’t know much in this crazy, crazy world, but even with studs like Wayne, Austin Collie and Dallas Clark, Collins doesn’t have enough gas left in the tank to be a fantasy factor in 2011.
Waiver Wire Watch: Alex Smith, 49ers
Entering his sixth season, Smith is against the grindstone to perform with the arrival of rookie Colin Kaepernick. Making matters worth has been the success of fellow first-round 2005 draft pick Aaron Rodgers, whom San Fran passed on with their selection of Smith. Luckily for the Utah product, the 49ers battle an underwhelming Seattle secondary in Week 1. Michael Crabtree is questionable, but Smith will still have the assistance of Vernon Davis and the newly-acquired Braylon Edwards. In deeper leagues or two-QB formats, Smith could be a savvy start.
The Real Debate
In case you weren’t aware, Peyton Manning will likely miss this Sunday’s game at Houston, ending his streak of 208 consecutive games starting under center for the Colts. But while much of the discussion around Manning’s health is one of reverence and veneration for enduring in the most physically demanding of athletic competitions, the real debate should be this: does Manning own the worst hair in entertainment? Manning’s dome looks like a kindergartner carelessly gluing strands of horse fuzz onto a watermelon. Nic Cage’s locks in Con Air are awesomely awful, Dennis Rodman’s ever-changing colors made his beehive a sideshow, Randy Johnson’s mullet has its own fan club, and Tom Brady’s manicured mane fluctuates between dastardly or dreamy depending on the interviewee. But for its simplistic presentation and bold defiance against Rogaine, my money’s on Manning’s rug.
Fantasy Flyer: Greg Little, Browns
While one has to be cautious on putting too much stock into preseason performance, Colt McCoy appeared to have solid command of Cleveland’s West Coast offense. One of the beneficiaries of this development will be Little, the Browns’ second-round draft pick. His 6’3 frame facilitates a big target for McCoy and will be an extremely valuable asset in the red zone. Taking on the train wreck that is the Cincinnati Bengals this week, don’t be surprised if Little makes some noise in his league debut.
Any Given Sunday Pep Talk
Sometimes NFLers need a little inspiration, or even a kick in the behind, to get properly motivated. Luckily for us, Al Pacino will be reprising his Coach Tony D'Amato character to provide players the necessary pep talk to enable fantasy success. This week’s recipient: Arian Foster.
“Well, Arian, you’ve made your stance clear, that you couldn’t care less about fantasy football owners. And that’s fine. You’ve got to make your own path, son, but you’re acting surprised by the bumps in the road. In case you haven’t noticed, life ain’t always easy. In fact, you should know this better than anybody. You’re the all-time leading rusher at Tennessee, but all anyone remembers is your fumbles in the clutch. You went undrafted, were released after training camp, toiled away on a practice squad, worked your way through special teams just to get a chance at touching the rock. But you ENDURED, and came out the bigger man for it. Then you got your chance last season and blew the world away. But son, just because you get to the top of the mountain, you can’t stop CLIMBING!
“So you have a little hamstring issue. Well, whoopdi-freaking-do! You claim you played with a torn meniscus last season, but now a hamstring is going to keep you sidelined? That’s not the Arian Foster I know! The Arian Foster I know ran for over 1,600 yards last season! Caught another 604 in the passing game! THAT Arian Foster was a champion! So you can imagine my surprise when I hear Arian Foster is sending out photos of his injury, trying to prove to others how banged up he really is. Son, in this life, you don’t need to prove NOTHIN’ to NOBODY! And once you realize that, I promise, life is that much sweeter.
“Now, I can’t make you get on that field this week and validate your high fantasy worth. But I do know this: if you can’t get the job done, someone else will. And all that hard work, blood and sweat you put in will all be for naught. I don’t know about you, but I’m not big on giving away things, especially the respect that I’ve EARNED! If you want this responsibility of being “the man,” you have to go and BE THE MAN! Now get out there, and BE THE MAN!”
For being the No. 4 overall pick this past spring, as well the No. 1 receiver on the depth chart, A.J. Green has received little love in fantasy forecasts. Of course, playing for the Bengals will certainly warrant that type of negligence. The premise of Andy Dalton starting is frightening indeed, but Green has the play-making ability to provide some fantasy worth. In FOXSports.com leagues, Green is projected to start in less than 11 percent of leagues. For a No. 2 fantasy receiver or flex spot, Green offers enough upside to validate his implementation into the lineup.
This Week in Kevin Walter
Aside from John Harvey Kellogg (the Corn Flakes dude) and Greg Mathis (of TV show Judge Mathis fame), K-Walt is undoubtedly Eastern Michigan University's most prominent alumnus. More than a man but less than a god, Walter, a seventh-round draft pick in 2003, is to receivers what Judge Judy is to mediocre daytime courtroom television: the paramount of the profession. (That’s right, two TV courtroom show references in one paragraph.) Walter and the Texans face a Colts defense that was unable to stop the run last season, giving up over 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns. Although the rushing game will be featured early and often for Houston, expect Walter to still inflict his usual carnage through the Indianapolis secondary.
Walter’s 2011 Stats: N/A
Walter’s Cornerback Body Count: N/A
Gatorade Shower Goes to: Mark Herzlich, Giants
The cancer-survivor/undrafted rookie earned a spot on New York’s 53-man roster, providing a feel-good story in the midst of the remaining bitterness toward the NFL Lockout.
Personal Foul on: Chad Ochocinco, Patriots
Ochocinco has been unimpressive enough for Tom Brady to announce he would welcome back Randy Moss. Somewhere, Carson Palmer is smiling.