Saturday, September 8, 2012


The NFL season has arrived.  Week One is full of juicy matchups, as well as games that will reveal new schemes, new coaches and a few surprises.  Let’s get to the early matchups.


Bruce Arians wasted little time installing a similar offense that he used in Pittsburgh.  With the right personnel, Arians often motions a receiver into the backfield or beside the line to use him as an extra tight end or blocker.  In this case, Reggie Wayne has become the right personnel.  The addition of Andrew Luck gives Wayne the an opportunity for a fantastic season, making him one of the most forgotten about fantasy plays in the league.  Remember Hines Ward thrived in Arians’ offense for the first three years, never amassing less than 71 catches per season, and two of those three he went for over 1,000 yards.  Wayne is likely to be that guy for Indy.  Where there’s an issue is with the rest of the team.  The Colts were in the bottom third for both rushing and passing yards per game last year, but relinquished less than the league average of sacks.  Most of their futility was due to bad QB play and injuries. With no more Joseph Addai, Donald Brown gets to be the featured back in this offense, after averaging 4.8 yards per carry on 134 attempts.  Don’t count on Arians using Brown's catching ability as much as you'd like, as his philosophy when not running the football is to attack the opposing secondary aggressively.  The Colts defense though will determine the outcome in this one.  The old Tampa-2 defense based on speed now morphs into a Chuck Pagano hybrid, where Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney no longer exist simply to terrorize opposing quarterbacks.  The question is whether this will confuse the Bears, the Colts, or both.  However, Colts tackling machine Pat Angerer is working through a foot injury and won't play, so the middle of the field is going to be where they need to be stout when facing someone like Chicago RB Matt Forte.  Expect 20-plus attempts for Forte as well as 4-5 receptions, making him an exceptional play this weekend.  Jay Cutler will have to make his fair share of plays, and he’ll take a few shots downfield at Brandon Marshall, who is a must play against this Indy secondary.  The real job of Mike Tice’s offense is to protect Cutler, who experienced 23 of their conference third worst tally of 49 sacks.  This is a scare game, and even with Chicago at home, I think Indianapolis makes this a lot closer than 10.  Wayne will find his holes in the secondary.  Donald Brown is at best a RB3 for your team this week, even with an iffy Brian Urlacher, but I like the play of Luck here against the Chicago secondary that gave up 254 yards per game last season. Chicago holds off a late Indy comeback.


On Colin Cowherd this Friday morning, a Vegas expert said the money is betting on the visiting Jets this week, but I'm not.  Mark Sanchez completed less than 57 percent of his passes last year; Shonn Greene was average at best with his longest run being 31 yards, and the Jets ranked 28th in offensive efficiency.  Pre-season rarely matters, but the fact the Jets couldn't break the plane of the end zone until the final week is disconcerting.  Then, just this week after a pre-season full of Mark Sanchez convincing everyone he's fine with Tim Tebow, Santonio Holmes revealed this week that the Tebow signing rattled Sanchez.  It's not so much that that information was a revelation as much it's that Holmes can't keep anyone's confidence.  This is the reason this team will implode.  The Bills new pass rush led by Mario Williams and Marcel Darius should give Sanchez all he can handle, and I believe the Bills secondary will be as aggressive with forcing turnovers as they were last year.  In addition, Greene managed just 154 yards rushing in two contests with zero touchdowns last year.  With Kyle Williams back stuffing the middle of the Jets line, I don't expect a whole lot better this year.  Meanwhile, on the opposing side, Fred Jackson had 86 yards rushing, for a 4.6 ypc average in his lone meeting with the Jets last year, but overall had the best regular season yards per carry average for a runner with over 100 carries at 5.5 per haul.  You can't sit him, even against a Jets tough front seven. Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to be less turnover prone against the likes of star CB Darrelle Revis, especially with WR Stevie Johnson nursing a sore groin.  Nevertheless, I expect Jackson to star and the Bills to pull this one out..


People forget that for all the early season woes on defense, the Eagles finished eighth overall in terms of yards allowed.  Without the normal pre-season and off-season workouts, it wasn't surprising that all of the Eagles new parts last year weren't functioning in unison.  This year should be different.  The secondary that includes Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Nate Allen, and Kurt Coleman, could be among the tops in the NFC, and the signing of Houston standout DeMeco Ryans at MLB should help plug up their middling run defense that gave up 112 yards per contest.  On offense Cleveland's rookie Trent Richardson will be featured early and often, in an effort to give rookie QB Brandon Weeden some extra time for downfield looks.  The problem is who can he rely on to throw to?  Greg Little has decent hands and body control, but drops too many passes.  Mohamed Massaquoi hasn't developed like they had hoped, and entering his fourth year has yet to record 40 catches in a season.  Rookie Josh Gordon made a strong enough impression in the pre-season to be listed as the third option, but has had issues before, including his forced removal from the Baylor University program.  Fantasy wise here, the only receiving threat to make a splash against this Eagles unit is TE Ben Watson, a veteran playmaker who has problems staying healthy.  Meanwhile, Michael Vick's ribs are the biggest concern for Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg's offense.  The Cleveland front seven is a talented group led by LB D'Qwell Jackson, who posted a fantastic comeback season in 2011 after missing all of 2010 with an injury.  Their secondary awaits word on whether CB Joe Haden, who violated the league substance abuse policy, will be suspended.  If he plays, he'll likely replace Sheldon Brown, who has lost a step.  My feeling is Cleveland's defense will be improved this year, and LeSean McCoy may find the tread hard going.  However, he's the focal point of the offense and should have a solid day of over 100 all purpose yards and one TD.  Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek provide Vick all the fire power he needs and fantasy wise can be started with confidence.  Eventually, Cleveland's defense will wear down from being on the field so often.


Mike Munchack's Titans finished the season on a 5-3 note, winning their final two games and actually making themselves a playoff contender.  Chris Johnson took nearly half the season to find his legs, but he still wasn't the same powerful runner of the year prior.  For a second year, Kenny Britt was supposed to lead the Titans in receiving yards, and for a second year, he got hurt, paving the way for Nate Washington's first 1,000 yard season.  However, this year finds second year mobile gunner Jake Locker under center, and TE Jared Cook placed with high expectations.  The Patriots defense last year was the second worst in terms of yards ceded per game (293.9) and gave up 117 yards on the ground per contest.  New England is 1-1 against Tennessee at L. P. Field, and this has the makings of a closer contest than most would think.  Gone are the days where the Patriots offense is far and away better than others.  The Patriots rushing attack has dwindled to young second year players Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.  Both are talented but unproven, and Vereen is losing ground because of repeated injury.  Aaron Hernandez is now being listed as a starting fullback to give more versatility to a weak backfield. Brandon Lloyd has replaced the likes of Deion Branch and Chad Johnson.  Wes Welker is still among the best possession guys in the game, and of course, Rob Gronkowski is returning from ankle surgery.  This isn't to say Tom Brady isn't loaded with weapons, but it's not so clear that the Patriots can just fire away anymore and be sure of the outcome.  Lloyd had one great season in Denver, but hasn't yet proved he's a consistent top receiver.  Behind Lloyd and Welker is little depth in the form of Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman.  Reverting back to a 4-3 defense, Tennessee will put Kamerion Wimbley back to his natural position of defensive end in anticipation of adding more pressure to their pass rush.  Already the Titans finished last season fifth in terms of least yards allowed per passing play.  There has been concern over the Patriots offensive line struggles during the pre-season, though they are filled with veterans, minus starting guard Brian Waters, who has yet to report and has had number given to rookie Dont'a Hightower.  If Tennessee can keep Ridley and Danny Woodhead in check, and prevent Gronkowski from killing them (assuming he's fully healthy), there's no reason Chris Johnson can't figure in big this game and keep it close.  Expect Locker to look for Jared Cook and give the Patriots a taste of their own medicine.  This week though, I doubt it will be enough to overcome Locker's lack of experience.


For the second year in a row Atlanta’s first game comes on the road against a possible upstart opponent.  The Chiefs’ chances at the division race were decimated in the Week 2 when RB Jamaal Charles tore his ACL.  Charles has returned and is joined by Peyton Hillis in the Kansas City backfield, one which was held to just 3.8 yards per carry after Charles went on the I.R.  Considering three different QBs started games for Kansas City, it’s not surprising that even with Charles’ injury, the Chiefs had the fourth most rushing attempts in the AFC last season, fifth most in the NFL.  It wouldn’t be surprising if new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll continued to lean on that rushing attack as Matt Cassel becomes comfortable with his fifth offensive coordinator in as many years. The Atlanta defense fared well last year against the run, yielding just 97 yards per contest.  However, this year they’re without LB Curtis Lofton, who signed with the Saints in the off-season.  That void is being filled by second year man Akeem Dent and could spell trouble if he doesn’t measure up quickly, after all, Lofton recorded 147 tackles last season.  Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis will likely split carries 2:1 this weekend, unless one of them gets extremely hot.  Dwayne Bowe has only faced Atlanta once and likely isn't game ready after a holdout, but he’ll get 6-8 targets this game and likely 40-50 yards.  I like WR Jonathan Baldwin to eat into Bowe’s targets this year, as will a healthy TE Tony Meoaki.  Both will get 4-5 targets this game, with Meoaki leading the way.  The Falcons gave up 25 passing TDs last year, to ten rushing, so I’m thinking Jamaal Charles' most likely way to pay dirt is via the screen.  The Chiefs defense wasn’t very good last year.  However, in four of their last five games, including a victory over Green Bay, the Chiefs allowed no more than 16 points.  Tamba Hali tied for the AFC lead with sacks in 2011, will be challenged this game by an Atlanta front that allowed just 26 sacks last season.  Michael Turner last year averaged a full yard less per carry on the road, and I don’t love him here.  Matt Ryan’s job is to get Julio Jones and Roddy White involved early, and let his defense clamp down early.  The Falcons are 12-16-1 all time in road openers, and haven’t won one since 2006.

CHIEFS 18, FALCONS 14                                                                                                      

In this ratings buster that few networks would show unless Roger Goodell threatened to pull his entire product, second year quarterbacks Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert square off in what actually will be a strong game.  Both teams feature strong running attacks that have seen setbacks in one way or another.  The Jags’ Maurice Jones-Drew just reported after a lengthy holdout, and the Vikings Adrian Peterson is preparing to play in his first game after tearing both his ACL and MCL ligaments in his knee just nine short months ago.  Neither is truly football ready, making them risky starts for Week 1.  I do like Rashad Jennings, running behind a veteran Jags line to give you decent yardage as a RB3 this week with 20 carries to Jones-Drew's 10.  Neither QB should be in your starting lineup either unless you’re playing in a league that rewards low completion percentage.  However, it’s not that Gabbert or Ponder don’t have potential, and both aren’t loaded with receiving targets.  The Jags went out and grabbed veteran Laurent Robinson and paired him with rookie first-rounder Justin Blackmon.  TE Marcedes Lewis stepped backward in 2011, after scoring 10 touchdowns in 2010.  The key is obviously Gabbert’s confidence, and in his second year, with his franchise standing behind him, I expect he’ll overcome his flinching problem and start to deliver.  His head coach Mike Mularkey was able to make Kordell Stewart a successful project in Pittsburgh, so don’t overlook Gabbert to take some steps forward.  Both defenses were stout against the run, but where they differ is pass rush, and the Jaguars LT Eugene Monroe is going to have his hands full with Jared Allen. Justin Blackmon will get his opportunities against a veteran but aging Minnesota secondary consisting of Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook, but he’s a WR3 in your lineup.  Ironically, a former tight end himself, Mularkey’s past offenses in Buffalo and Pittsburgh rarely featured the tight end, and it wasn’t until he arrived in Atlanta and had proven stud Tony Gonzalez that that position was heavily involved.  In short, don’t rely on Lewis for anything just yet.  Percy Harvin is just about the only receiver Ponder has to rely on, though hopes are high for Kyle Rudolph to make an impact in the middle of the field. In this case, the difference is Allen, a dominant pass rusher who’ll bull rush his way into causing Gabbert a few turnovers.


No bigger news hit the wire this week than the overturning of player suspensions for Saints' defenders Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith. However, this doesn’t mean Goodell can’t turn right around and enact another suspension. According to the New York Times repot, 'The panel ruled that Goodell retained the power to discipline them for engaging in an "intent to injure" scheme because that would be considered conduct detrimental to the league.'  That being said it is unlikely that Goodell would discipline them the same way after the panel's rebuke.  Regardless, Vilma is still recovering from injury and Smith, though he could play is not yet in game shape. But don't expect the Saints to come out with a whimper.  Though the strength of the Redskins last year was there defense, which finished ranked 13thoverall, and their stout front three helped assist in keeping their red zone defense in the top four, they're facing a different kind of firepower here.  Drew Brees attempted 657 passes last year, second most in the league. They’ll face one of the league’s up-and-coming star in Jimmy Graham, who tallied 11 scores last year and 18 plays over 20 yards. With the departure of Robert Meachem, as well as Marques Colston’s ongoing foot problem, I expect Devery Henderson and Lance Moore, to play larger roles. I expect the Saints to open up an early lead attacking the field quickly, using the aforementioned and Darren Sproles, and changing it up with a few carries here or there for Mark Ingram. On the flip side, LB Curtis Lofton joins this defense and immediately should have an impact, and he’ll need to, as Mike Shanahan will use his tandem of Evan Royster and Roy Helu to try to control the tempo Robert Griffin III makes his debut, and I expect he’ll do a lot of moving around; whether it be rolling to one side and throwing as he did to TE Fred Davis for a TD in the pre-season, doing a few quarterback keepers, or simply evading pass rushers. I don’t expect Pierre Garcon to get many deep shots downfield, even with the Redskins falling behind. Instead, expect Fred Davis to be a big factor and Santana Moss to get some possession throws his way. In the end though, RGIII may only make for a fantasy play because of his legs. In two-QB leagues I’d play him. Otherwise he sits the pine. The Saints yielded only 37 touchdowns last season, below the league average of just over 39. They’ll stymie Shanahan’s attempt at ball control, and will put the game into full throttle by the end of the first quarter.


It would seem obvious to a casual viewer that Detroit at home would be an easy win to bank on. I don’t believe so. Jeff Fisher takes over as Head Coach and in his first year is going to see that fundamental football returns to St. Louis. That will mean steady line play, a heavy dose of Steven Jackson, and play-action screens and mid-field throws. Sam Bradford isn’t nearly as bad as his statistics have shown, if for no other reason than his front five was penalized way too often on crucial plays, and had no ability to protect him. How a team with a runner like Jackson finishes with a 38 percent scoring rate in the redone is perplexing. Detroit struggled to stop the run last year, yielding 128 yards per contest, and Brian Schottenheimer will seek to exploit that. Expect strong route runner and possession man Danny Amendola to get quality yards and 5-6 catches. Detroit comes into this game a one-trick pony. Matthew Stafford will attempt 40-50 passes, simply because behind runner Kevin Smith is suspended Mikel LeShoure and perennially injured Jahvid Best. Both are unavailable. Thus Redskins castoff Keiland Williams will be in the mix for some rushes. Calvin Johnson is unstoppable, though Fisher’s team will double team him, and attempt to let Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew beat them. They’re all good plays this week because opportunities will be there. Detroit will hope for a rebound year from Ndamukong Suh, who slumped due to a combination of off-the-field distractions and lack of focus. However, those that they say he’s not as much of an impact player don’t remember his 60 plus tackles and 10 sacks his first season. I’m picking St. Louis to cover in a game that announces St. Louis is more than a tackle dummy this season.


Perhaps the one game I’d call a lock this week, there is no way a rookie quarterback like Ryan Tannehill, sporting wide receives Brian Hartline, Legedu Naanee and Davone Bess and tight end Anthony Fasano, will be able to mount anything resembling a potent enough attack to keep Houston close.  Even with Arian Foster considered a game-time decisions for the game, all the Texans line allowed Ben Tate to do was average 5.4 yards per carry, a full yard more than his peer Foster.  Even so, Justin Forsett is in for some work as the third back, as Gary Kubiak is likely to want to spare Foster and Tate from too much exertion in the first week.  Joe Philbin’s Dolphins, featured on HBO’s HARD KNOCKS, will attempt to stymie Houston’s rush attack while keeping featured receiver Andre Johnson in check.  In last year’s matchup they did just that, holding Foster to 33 yards on 10 carries.  Johnson fared better with seven reception for 97 yards and a score.  However, Ben Tate managed 103 yards on the ground and 32 via the air, in a 23-13 win in Miami.  It is worth noting that behind the Dolphins strong line of Jake Long, Daniel Thomas became one of two runners last year to eclipse the century mark against Houston.  I like Reggie Bush to give you at least 100 all purpose yards and touchdown.  Don’t believe those that discard Bush’s season last year as fluke.  It wasn’t.  The hope is he stays healthy.  I love the Texans defense in this game, because even without Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans, the Texans have a solid unit.  New corner Kareem Jackson will be tested with veteran Jonathan Joseph trolling the other side of the field, but with their limited weapons, the Dolphins make a great first game for him.  With Tannehill under center, the Texans will hassle and likely cause the rookie some confusion in Wade Phillips’ scheme.   They’ll win the turnover battle and win the game.  Matt Schaub won’t have to throw often, giving you maybe 20-25 attempts at best, and 200 yards passing and two scores.