Gentlemen, tell your significant others that you’ll see them in February! Because it’s football season! Hallelujah! And with football season comes fantasy football! Is there anything more grand? With the Giants ready to stomp a mudhole in the Cowboys tomorrow (hence the picture!), I figure I should take a look at the fantasy impact of every game, plus throwing a prediction about the outcome at the end, just in time for those of you in leagues that stupidly lock their rosters before the first game.
One of my favorite fantasy columns is Brandon Funston’s “The Skinny” on Yahoo! Sports. He looks at every game, and assigns a color for each relevant fantasy player like a traffic light: green means good to go to start, yellow means to start with caution, and red means to sit. Without completely copying his gimmick, I’m going to follow the same model throughout the season. I’m calling it “The Comfortables, The Cautions and the Casualties.” Comfortables obviously are those who I’d feel comfortable starting, Cautions are those who I’d start, but wouldn’t feel too confident about their expected performance, and Casualties are players I wouldn’t start at all. These are for normal 10- and 12-team leagues. Anything deeper, and I might consider starting some guys I’d have listed as Casualties.
I only include one quarterback, no more than two running backs, one tight end (except for teams with clear two-tight-end sets like the Patriots), the team defense, and generally no more than three wide receivers per team. That’s probably the extent of fantasy starters. I don’t include kickers.
Remember, as always, these are guys that I would or wouldn’t feel comfortable starting, and why. It’s up to you to make your own decisions, but I’d like to think that I have an idea about how things would turn out.
Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants
Comfortables: Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Ahmad Bradshaw, DeMarco Murray, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant
Cautions: Miles Austin, Jason Witten, David Wilson, New York Defense, Dallas Defense
Casualties: Felix Jones, Reuben Randle, Kevin Ogletree
Sleeper: Martellus Bennett
The Comfortables are self-explanatory. I couldn’t tell you who out of the Giants receiving corps would do better (I’m hoping it’s Cruz, as I have him in a couple leagues and have been blanked on Nicks), and unless Dez gets suspended in the next week (doubtful), he should outperform the injured Miles Austin, who I have as a Caution along with Jason Witten and his ruptured spleen. Martellus Bennett is an interesting option to roster at Tight End, but I want to wait a game to see what he can do before rolling with him. But I wouldn’t blame anybody for thinking he would want to prove something against his former team. This has definite sleeper potential. Both defenses will give up yards and points, but they will also benefit from turnovers, as both Eli and Romo have a history of interceptions. David Wilson will get his touches this year with the brittle Bradshaw breaking down as the season wears on, but I expect Ahmad to get the lion’s share in the first game of the season. I’m not touching Felix Jones yet, nor the WR3 for either team.
Prediction: Big Blue wins a shootout.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Chicago Bears
Comfortables: Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Donald Brown, Brandon Marshall, Reggie Wayne, Coby Fleener, Chicago Defense
Cautions: Andrew Luck, Michael Bush, Alshon Jeffery
Casualties: Delone Carter, Austin Collie, Earl Bennett, Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Defense
Sleeper: Kellen Davis
My irrational love for Coby Fleener knows no bounds, as I list him as a Comfortable. I think he and Andrew Luck will hook up for a score Week 1, while Reggie Wayne gets the bulk of the receiving yards. The only reason I don’t have Luck as a Comfortable is because I think he’ll throw an interception or two for first game jitters against an elite defense. Donald Brown and Matt Forte should also both hit paydirt. Cutler should rediscover his long-lost buddy Brandon Marshall for a score as well. This one should be obvious: I’m starting the Bears’s studs, including the defense, and rolling the dice that one of the three main skill players for Indy (Brown, Wayne, Fleener) comes through. I’m hearing great things about Kellen Davis in the preseason, but know next to nothing about him. Considering how teams are looking to use the tight end more often, it wouldn’t surprise me if Cutler found him for a score.
Prediction: The Bears D shakes up Luck in his first game, and Chicago rolls comfortably.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Cleveland Browns
Comfortables: Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Defense
Cautions: Trent Richardson, Brent Celek
Casualties: Any Cleveland player (including Defense) not named Trent Richardson
Sleeper: Riley Cooper
Regarding Cleveland, I’m going to have to see it to believe it. I wouldn’t start any Cleveland Brown unless I drafted Trent Richardson (and I didn’t), and even if I did, I wouldn’t feel comfortable about his output this week. Philly’s gameplan should be to stack the box and make Brandon Weeden beat them through the air. Weeden just doesn’t have the spectacular players around him to make an impact. This should be a romp. I feel great about all the Eagles studs, including Vick. Cooper is a deep sleeper because he’s got just as good a chance as any to catch a TD.
Prediction: Philly rolls as Cleveland’s woes continue.
New England Patriots vs. Tennessee Titans
Comfortables: Tom Brady, Chris Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Nate Washington, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez
Cautions: Jake Locker, Stevan Ridley, Jared Cook, New England Defense
Casualties: Shane Vereen, Javon Ringer, Julian Edelman, Tennessee Defense
Sleeper: Kendall Wright
You know the drill by now: New England’s air attack is where it’s at. I’d feel comfortable starting each of the top four Pats pass-catchers. Not all four will get their numbers, but given Brady’s arm, it’s safe to say that at least two, maybe three will get numbers either in the form of a big yardage day or a touchdown (or both, in Gronk’s case). I’d steer clear of everybody else, including any Patriots running back (I was tempted to put Ridley down as a Casualty) or WRs after Welker and Lloyd. Chris Johnson should get the bulk of the offensive load, and I hope that he’s ready to prove that last year’s disaster of a season was only a fluke. Roger Goodell finally brought the hammer down on Kenny Britt, but he only got suspended one game. Regardless, I really expect Nate Washington to excel regardless of whether Britt would be in the lineup or not. Anybody who has Kenny Britt on their team should scoop up Kendall Wright for this game, because it’s certainly a possibility that he’ll excel in Britt’s absence. I don’t expect either defense to put up big fantasy numbers, but New England could certainly force a turnover here or there. I almost had Jared Cook as a sleeper, but I didn’t want to rely on the TE position to provide me with my sleepers. Cook has the athleticism, but it’s put up or shut up for him to make good on his potential.
Prediction: Tennessee can’t catch up to New England’s passing game, and the Patriots cruise.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Comfortables: Matt Ryan, Jamaal Charles, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Dwayne Bowe, Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Defense
Cautions: Michael Turner, Peyton Hillis, Kansas City Defense
Casualties: Matt Cassel, Any KC Tight End (Boss or Moeaki), Jonathan Baldwin
Sleeper: Jacquizz Rodgers
Matt Ryan should target his three main passing targets early and often. I have a feeling that Turner is cooked this year, and Rodgers makes an intriguing option. I certainly wouldn’t roll the dice on Jacquizz, but he’s at least worth a speculative roster spot in case he goes off. I expect big things out of Kansas City’s running game, as they will dictate the pace. Jamaal Charles has been waiting since Week 2 of last year to get back onto the field for a real game, so I expect a big day from him. Hillis might get his, especially around the goal line, but I’m not starting him in either of the two leagues I have him in.
Prediction: KC keeps it close, but Atlanta pulls it out.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Minnesota Vikings
Comfortables: Rashad Jennings, Adrian Peterson (if he plays), Percy Harvin, Minnesota Defense
Cautions: Christian Ponder, Toby Gerhart, Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson, Jerome Simpson, Mercedes Lewis, Jacksonville Defense
Casualties: Blaine Gabbert, Maurice Jones-Drew
Sleeper: Kyle Rudolph
Let’s get this out of the way, if you have Adrian Peterson on your team, and he’s playing, you’re starting him, but I’d feel anything but “comfortable” about his expected return of fantasy points. I list him here as a Comfortable almost because I have to. Despite his desire to get in there and mix it up with his team, the Vikings have rightfully taken it easy with him. I expect Gerhart to get some opportunities, but I don’t think he’ll do much with them. I’m more willing to bet that Percy Harvin and possibly Kyle Rudolph will get the offensive action here for Minnesota. I’m all in on Rashad Jennings for Week 1. I don’t think MJD will contribute too much in this game, despite ending his holdout, he’s been away from the team all offseason long. Jennings has had an excellent preseason, and should be the bell cow until MJD gets back into football shape. I’m not buying into the passing game until I see something (ANYTHING) from Blaine Gabbert. Perhaps it’s just best to start one of the kickers on these two teams, as I expect a 12-9 game here.
Prediction: I need to have an upset in this space, so why the hell not? Scobee outkicks Walsh and Jacksonville wins!
Washington Redskins vs. New Orleans Saints
Comfortables: Drew Brees, Robert Griffin III, Darren Sproles, Marques Colston, Pierre Garcon, Jimmy Graham, Fred Davis
Cautions: Mark Ingram, the starting Washington RB (whoever that is), Lance Moore, Santana Moss, New Orleans Defense
Casualties: Any Washington RB who isn’t starting, Devery Henderson, Leonard Hankerson, Washington Defense
Sleeper: Pierre Thomas
It’s games like these that I wish I had satellite TV. This one should be an offensive buffet. I’m really excited to see RG3 in regular season action, probably too excited for a Giants fan. But you gotta respect talent when you see it. I think all starting skill players will get their stats, with the exception of the starting Redskins running back, only because I have no idea who it’s going to be. Is it Roy Helu? Evan Royster? Alfred Morris? My head is absolutely spinning right now. I drafted Tim Hightower as a VERY late round pick that in two leagues, a pick that I had no problem cutting for Alfred Morris after I heard he was released. I feel great about both teams’ WR1, not so great about their WR2, and staying clear of their WR3. Too many mouths to feed on both sides. I have Pierre Thomas in as a sleeper because basically, why the hell not?
Prediction: It’s another shootout, but Brees outguns RG3 for the Saints to win at home.
Buffalo Bills vs. New York Jets
Comfortables: Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson, Buffalo Defense, New York Jets Defense
Cautions: Ryan Fitzpatrick, CJ Spiller, Shonn Greene, Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller
Casualties: All other New York Jets offensive players, David Nelson, Scott Chandler
Sleeper: Tim Tebow
This one is going to be bowling-shoe ugly, kids. The Jets, through three preseason games, have yet to score a single touchdown. I understand that it’s the preseason, but that’s just mind-boggling to me. And there seems to be no urgency about it. So this signals to me that they’re not showing all of their offensive packages in the preseason. This tells me that they’re planning to unleash their not-so-secret weapon: Almighty Tebow. That’s right folks. I bet Tim Tebow scores two goal line touchdowns in this game, making him a must start in Superflex leagues and two-QB leagues. Tebow certainly has just as good of a chance of converting a goal line score as Sanchez does of throwing a deep ball for a score. Other than Timmy (and I wouldn’t start him in any traditional league), the only Jets I would even think about starting are Shonn Greene, Santonio Holmes, or Dustin Keller, and I don’t feel that great about either of them. This is going to be a defensive battle, folks. I would roll with Fred Jackson or Stevie Johnson (as a WR3), and be sure to start either defense.
Prediction: Buffalo wins a snoozer, but Tebow shines at the goal line.
St. Louis Rams vs. Detroit Lions
Comfortables: Matthew Stafford, Steven Jackson, Kevin Smith, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Defense
Cautions: Titus Young
Casualties: Any Ram (including Defense) not named Steven Jackson, Nate Burleson
Sleeper: Danny Amendola
Somebody call the cops ahead of time: the Lions are going to murder the Rams! Sorry Johnny! Yes, I know they somehow miraculously beat the Saints, but that was at home. St. Louis is taking a trip down 8 Mile to the Dirty D. I expect every Detroit starter to get theirs. I even flirted briefly with making Titus Young a Comfortable, but I want to wait a week and see how he produces. Even Kevin Smith will get his, as he's the only game in town in the Detroit backfield. I also contemplated putting Steven Jackson down as a Caution but if you own him, you have to start him (I don’t, never have, never will). Stranger things have happened, but I don’t think lightning will strike twice for St. Louis.
Prediction: Detroit stomps a mudhole in St. Louis.
Miami Dolphins vs. Houston Texans
Comfortables: Matt Schaub, Reggie Bush, Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Houston Defense
Cautions: Daniel Thomas
Casualties: All other Dolphins players (including Defense), Kevin Walter
Sleeper: Davone Bess (PPR only)
Boy, did the NFL schedule all the blowouts for Week 1 on purpose? If anybody’s been watching Hard Knocks like me, you’ll know that the Dolphins are just awful. They have no true number 1 wide receiver, no identity, and a head coach with the charisma of a jar of molasses. Hell, their starting quarterback doesn’t even know which teams are in which division!!! Other than Reggie Bush, I wouldn’t start any Dolphin. I feel very comfortable starting both Arian Foster and Ben Tate (and in one league, I’m weighing the very real decision of starting Tate OVER Reggie Bush). Perhaps Daniel Thomas can vulture a goal line touchdown, but I wouldn’t bank on it.
Prediction: It’s another blowout as Houston cruises to victory.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers
Comfortables: Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Vernon Davis, Jermichael Finley
Cautions: Alex Smith, Frank Gore, Cedric Benson, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, San Francisco Defense, Green Bay Defense
Casualties: All other SF RBs, James Starks, Randy Moss
Sleeper: Randall Cobb
Here we have a marquee battle of the last two NFC teams that the Giants vanquished on the road en route to their Superbowl victory. Sorry guys, I had to! Anyway, I expect this game to be closer than the other blowouts, but for fantasy purposes, I’m certainly higher on the Packers than I am on the 49ers. San Francisco’s backfield and receiving corps are an absolute mess from a fantasy perspective. I expect SOMEBODY to hit paydirt, but I have no idea who, although Vernon Davis seems like the safest bet. From Green Bay’s side, if you want to roll with Benson, I can understand, but Green Bay (like New England) is a throw-first offense. San Francisco was the top defense off the board in every draft I took, and they will certainly have better weeks ahead, but this is a juggernaut offense they’re going up against. You can’t feel that good about their chances.
Prediction: Rodgers leads Green Bay to a home victory against a fellow NFC superpower.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals
Comfortables: Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch (if he plays), Larry Fitzgerald, Seattle Defense
Cautions: Ryan Williams, Beanie Wells, Michael Floyd, Kellen Winslow
Casualties: John Skelton, Any Seattle WR, Todd Heap, Arizona Defense
Sleeper: Robert Turbin
Ah yes, these lovely NFC West matchups at 4:15. Gotta love em! Anyway, if you like watching games for fantasy purposes, I don’t think this is the game for you. I’m interested in seeing how Russell Wilson does, and I think he’ll put up some decent numbers. No suspension has been handed down for Beast Mode, but apparently he’s been having back spasms and might be a scratch for the game. If he’s healthy enough to play, he should be started. Helter Skelton beat out Korn on the Kolb for the starting job in Arizona, but he will most likely throw a couple picks, so the staunch and underrated Seattle defense must be licking their chops. I can’t recommend starting any Seahawk WR because I have no idea who the alpha male is…is it Sidney Rice? Is it Golden Tate? Doug Baldwin? Braylon Edwards? A lot of these dudes are still in the waiver wire, so I’m going to wait a week and see how they all do. I have my eyes on Robert Turbin to see how he splits carries with Marshawn Lynch (if Lynch plays). If he sees a lot of action, I will definitely be thinking about scooping him up off the waiver wire.
Prediction: Seattle’s D shuts down Arizona as the Hawks win on the road.
Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Comfortables: Cam Newton, Doug Martin, Steve Smith, Vincent Jackson, Greg Olsen
Cautions: Josh Freeman, Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams
Casualties: Mike Tolbert, Dallas Clark, Carolina Defense, Tampa Bay Defense
Sleeper: Brandon LaFell
This game is obviously going to be the Cam Newton show. But I think the Bucs are going to spoil the party and show off their new toys in Martin and V-Jax. I think Josh Freeman is due for a bounce-back year, and a new RB1 and WR1 might just be the rejuvenation he needs. I wouldn’t feel confident starting either defense, as Newton will light up Tampa Bay and Carolina’s D isn’t that great to begin with. Good luck with the Carolina backfield…I made sure to steer clear of that quagmire. Everybody seems high on Greg Olsen, so I’ll bite. I have him starting in two leagues.
Prediction: Cam does it all, but still comes up short as Martin and Freeman guide Tampa Bay to victory.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos
Comfortables: Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Willis McGahee, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Eric Decker, Demariyus Thomas
Cautions: Isaac Redman, Emmanuel Sanders, Heath Miller, Jacob Tamme, Pittsburgh Defense, Denver Defense
Casualties: Ronnie Hillman, Jonathan Dwyer
Sleeper: Joel Dressen
Peyton Manning makes his Broncos debut in prime time on Sunday night! This should be a fun one. I expect both Peyton and Big Ben to come out throwing in this one. McGahee will get the yards on the ground, and maybe even a short score. I don’t know what to think about the Steelers backfield. I also don’t trust any pass catcher past WR2, and that includes each TE. Manning and Tamme have rapport, but Pittsburgh is staunch against the Tight End. A lot of people expect this to be a defense battle. Not me. I’m thinking shootout. Dressen used to vulture TDs from Owen Daniels in Houston…why should things be any different in Denver?
Prediction: Peyton’s first game back is successful as he outslings Roethlisberger in his Broncos debut.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens
Comfortables: BenJarvis Green-Ellis, Ray Rice, AJ Green, Torrey Smith, Baltimore Defense
Cautions: Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin, Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Defense
Casualties: Bernard Scott, Bernard Pierce, Any Bengal WR not named AJ Green
Sleeper: Ed Dickson
This game has low scoring written all over it. Cincy’s defense is underrated and they’re certainly no slouches. They will focus their attention on Ray Rice, who will get his numbers regardless, and make Joe Flacco beat them through the air. I think Flacco will connect with a couple of guys for scores, namely Torrey Smith, and it’s possible that Ed Dickson could get a TD as well. The Law Firm could get a goal line TD, and AJ Green will get a deep ball or two to get his yardage total up.
Prediction: PAIN! Actually, the Ravens will win, but I think it’ll be a low-scoring affair.
San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders
Comfortables: Philip Rivers, Darren McFadden, Antonio Gates, San Diego Defense
Cautions: Carson Palmer, Ronnie Brown, Robert Meachem, Malcolm Floyd, Denarius Moore, Darius Heyward-Bay, Oakland Defense
Casualties: Mike Goodson, Taiwan Jones, Oakland TE
Sleeper: Marcel Reese
To be honest, I only have the Oakland TE as a Casualty because I have no idea who the guy is! Can anybody tell me who the starting Tight End of the Oakland Raiders is? ANYBODY? Here we have a battle of two teams with even WR corps. I have no idea who will triumph out of Robert Meachem or Malcolm Floyd, similarly between Denarius and Darius on the other side of the field. I have no idea if Ronnie Brown will perform admirably in Ryan Matthews’s absence. I have no idea if Darren McFadden will blow out a knee in the first half or not. But Brown and both of McFadden’s backups are good to roster to have ready to start in case the incumbent goes down. But I wouldn’t recommend starting any of them here. Rivers-to-Gates should be a nice connection that leads to points for the Chargers, and for each player in fantasy.
Prediction: Rivers and Gates lead the Chargers over McFadden and the Raiders.
So for those who weren’t keeping score, I feel comfortable starting 16 different quarterbacks, 22 different running backs, 30 wide receivers, 12 tight ends, and 11 defenses. That means that in leagues where you play 3 WR, 2 RB and 1 FLEX (I play in three of them), there should be teams out there that should be concerned about the starting lineup they’re trotting out for Week 1.
Remember to follow me on Twitter @PocketSeagull!