The NFL season is here, which means the fantasy football season is here, which means it’s another year of The Comfortables, The Cautions, and The Casualties! For those who didn’t read my column last year, essentially what I do is look at each game, go over all fantasy-relevant players, and let you know if you can start them comfortably, use caution before starting, or stay away from altogether (which would make them casualties). And just for S&Gs, I predict the outcome at the game at the end for all you pick-em fanatics.
My confidence in my fantasy prognosticating abilities has increased since last year, when I won two of my six leagues. This year, I’m in more money leagues than ever before (four), and am really excited to write about the fake game I love!
With that being said, let’s get to the games!
Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos
Comfortables: Peyton Manning, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Demariyus Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Denver Defense
Cautions: Joe Flacco, Bernard Pierce, Montee Ball
Casualties: Ronnie Hillman, Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Joel Dreessen, Jacob Tamme, Julius Thomas, Ed Dickson, Dallas Clark, Baltimore Defense
Sleeper: Knowshown Moreno
The defending champions open on the road due to a scheduling mixup by MLB, because surely the Ravens weren’t going to win the Superbowl, right? One Flacco banner controversy later, and here we are at the first game of the season! The Broncos’ running back situation is maddening, and I can’t trust anybody starting right now until I get a clearer picture of how Denver will use its three backs. Start Ball if you must, only because you probably drafted him high. The number one goal in Denver is to protect Peyton Manning, and I believe Knowshown Moreno is the best man for that job right now. Also maddening in Denver is the pass-catching situation. You know one or two (but not all three) of Demariyus Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker are going to go off, but it’ll be impossible to predict which one (or two) will be the odd man out. I’m not sold on Julius Thomas yet either, but I’m keeping an open mind. The only person who will be benefitting from all the scores is Peyton Manning. He’s a must-start every week, so file that under information you already knew. I actually like Denver’s defense, especially if Special Teams count as well. I’m sure Trindon Holliday is going to break one.
Prediction: Baltimore can’t catch up to Peyton as the Broncos avenge their playoff loss from last year.
New England Patriots vs. Buffalo Bills
Comfortables: Tom Brady, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, CJ Spiller, Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Tompkins, New England Defense
Cautions: Aaron Dobson, Stevie Johnson
Casualties: Mike Tuel, LeGarrette Blount, Fred Jackson, Any Buffalo Pass Catchers Not Named Stevie Johnson, Buffalo Defense
Sleeper: Zach Sudfield
I’m all-in on the Patriots in Week 1, especially the rookies, Zach Sudfield and Kenbrell Tompkins. Sudfield should thrive with Gronk on the shelf, and word is he might assume the old Aaron Hernandez role in two-TE sets going forward once Gronk gets back. If Sudfield is in your free agent pool, GET HIM NOW. Kenbrell looked good in the preseason, and I’m buying the hype. Somebody has to catch those Brady bullets. As for Buffalo, the only guy you can conceivably start with confidence is Spiller.
Prediction: Brady gets to try out his new toys, and New England romps Buffalo.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Chicago Bears
Comfortables: Matt Forte, AJ Green, Brandon Marshall, Cincinnati Defense, Chicago Defense
Cautions: Andy Dalton, Jay Cutler, BenJarvis Green-Ellis, Michael Bush, Martellus Bennett
Casualties: Mohammed Sanu, Alshon Jeffery, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert
Sleeper: Giovani Bernard
I expect this to be a defensive battle. Cincy’s D was underrated last year, and the Bears D was a tad overrated, spurned by the excellent play of Peanut Tillman. I’d only start the superstars with confidence. Giovani Bernard looked fantastic on Hard Knocks, and I’m quite upset I don’t own more shares of him on my fantasy teams. I think Cincy needs to know what they have with him early on, so he’s in a strict timeshare with The Law Firm (which is why I’ve listed neither as a Comfortable), but eventually Gio will get the lion’s share of the work. As of now, I have him listed as a sleeper. I think Tyler Eifert will eventually be a sleeper, but like Gio, I don’t think the Bengals know what they have with him yet, so he won’t be used as much at the outset of the season. Eventually though, he’ll move into sleeper territory.
Prediction: Led by Matt Forte, the Bears squeak by the Bengals for a tough home win.
Miami Dolphins vs. Cleveland Browns
Comfortables: Lamar Miller, Trent Richardson, Mike Wallace, Miami Defense, Cleveland Defense
Cautions: Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, Brian Hartline
Casualties: All Backup Running Backs, Travis Benjamin, Greg Little, Davone Bess, Starting Miami TE
Sleeper: Jordan Cameron
This is probably the most interesting game this week that I have no desire to watch at all. You’ve got two second-year quarterbacks in Tannehill and Weeden that didn’t shine like the other three QBs in last year’s loaded draft class, but are poised to rebound this year. I’m most interested to see Lamar Miller and Mike Wallace in action for Miami, as well as how much T-Rich will be used this year compared to last year. Cameron might be the real deal at Tight End, based off his preseason play. I have no idea who Miami has at Tight End now that Keller went down, but you weren’t going to start him anyway.
Prediction: While waiting for Josh Gordon to come back, Cleveland doesn’t have enough firepower, and Miami eeks by with a big road win.
Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints
Comfortables: Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Steven Jackson, Darren Sproles, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Marques Colston, Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham
Cautions: Mark Ingram, Lance Moore, Atlanta Defense
Casualties: Jacquizz Rodgers, Pierre Thomas, Robert Meachem, New Orleans Defense
Sleeper: Kenny Stills
This game has offensive explosion written all over it. I expect both teams to come out firing. Atlanta will get to test out its new running back in Steven Jackson. Brees will be looking at the triumvirate of Colston, Graham, and Sproles early and often, but I expect Kenny Stills to get one or two deep looks that he might take to the house. The Saints also plan on going back to the running game, and if there ever was a time for Mark Ingram to break out, this is it. I’ve got him as a Caution but could very well downgrade to Casualty next week if he doesn’t put in a good showing here. Don’t get cute by starting Robert Meachem just because he re-signed with the Saints. He was on-and-off even during his best days in New Orleans.
Prediction: With Sean Payton back, and at home in the Superdome, New Orleans scores last and wins the shootout.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New York Jets
Comfortables: Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Defense
Cautions: Josh Freeman, Chris Ivory, New York Jets Defense
Casualties: Geno Smith, All Backup Running Backs, All Jet Pass-Catchers, All Tight Ends
Sleeper: Bilal Powell (if starting)
Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go…you’re not starting any Jets. Period. None. MAYBE the defense. Maybe. I don’t trust Chris Ivory to handle a full workload, and you know the Bucs are going to stack the box and try and let Geno Smith beat them through the air. Bilal Powell may be a speculative sleeper if Ivory can’t go. Derrelle Revis is going to be hungry for revenge for the Jets not re-signing him, and will stick to the woeful Jets receiving corps like glue. I also expect Doug Martin to run like crazy over the Jets and put up the biggest rushing total of the week.
Prediction: Jets get slaughtered at home.
Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Comfortables: Ben Roethlisberger, Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt, Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Defense
Cautions: Isaac Redman, Kendall Wright, Emmanuel Sanders, Tennessee Defense
Casualties: Jake Locker, Shonn Greene, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Felix Jones, Nate Washington, Matt Spaeth
Sleeper: Delaine Walker
Here’s a matchup of two teams who underperformed last year. The Steelers were hoping to revamp their running game with the drafting of Le’Veon Bell, but much to their (and my) chagrin, he won’t be available for another couple of weeks (if not longer). After cutting Jonathan Dwyer, this is really Isaac Redman’s backfield, but I don’t expect him to do much with the touches he’s given. The WR1s look like the only pass-catchers I’d feel comfortable starting. Delaine Walker caught a few TDs in San Francisco last year, and that’s when he had to compete with Vernon Davis. As the only game in town, he might get a few looks his way. But otherwise, I expect this to be a low-scoring affair.
Prediction: At home, and against an inferior QB, Pittsburgh wins a defensive struggle.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions
Comfortables: Matthew Stafford, Adrian Peterson, Reggie Bush, Greg Jennings, Calvin Johnson, Detroit Defense
Cautions: Christian Ponder, Ryan Broyles, Kyle Rudolph, Brandon Pettigrew
Casualties: Toby Gerhart, Mikel Leishoure, Joique Bell, Minnesota Defense
Sleeper: Cordarelle Patterson
Detroit’s goal: stop AP. If they can do that, they can win the game. I think Matthew Stafford will pick up where he left off last year and will throw, throw, throw. Hopefully, his receivers won’t get tackled inside the 5-yard line as much as they did last year, and he’ll get the passing touchdowns he deserves. No more Mikel Leshoure 1-yard vultures please. Megatron’s a beast, and I fully expect Reggie Bush to catch 6 or 7 balls in this game. I was torn between putting the two starting tight ends under Comfortables or Cautions, but I’ll err on the side of caution this week. Both are reliant on touchdowns to get their fantasy points. Cordarelle Patterson might be the Vikes’s new version of Percy Harvin. We’ll see how he does on kickoffs.
Prediction: Detroit piles on the points, and AP can’t catch up.
Oakland Raiders vs. Indianapolis Colts
Comfortables: All Colts Starters (including defense, except Tight Ends)
Cautions: Darren McFadden, Backup Colts RB (either Ballard or Bradshaw, depending on who starts), Denarius Moore, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener
Casualties: Rashad Jennings, Rod Streater, Richard Gordon, Oakland Defense
Sleeper: Terelle Pryor
If there’s one team that could rival the Jets for worst team in the league, it’s the Raiders. But then again, much like Geno Smith who wrestled the job away from Mark Sanchez, Terelle Pryor could shock and amaze in his debut. Frankly, I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think the Colts are going to stack the box to prevent Run DMC from doing anything, and will allow Pryor to make mistakes. Meanwhile, the Raiders D is like a sieve. Remember how Doug Martin torched them last year? Start all your Colts, which includes Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Darius Heyward-Bey (player playing his old team alert!!!), and whoever is the starter between Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard. I don’t know what’s up with the tight ends yet, so I’m going to wait another week before deciding to start either Coby Fleener or Dwayne Allen with confidence.
Prediction: A rout. Colts win.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Carolina Panthers
Comfortables: Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Marshawn Lynch, Golden Tate, Steve Smith, Greg Olsen, Seattle Defense
Cautions: DeAngelo Williams, Sidney Rice, Brandon LaFell, Zach Miller, Carolina Defense
Casualties: Robert Turbin, Mike Tolbert
Sleeper: Christine Michael
This might be the most exciting matchup of the weekend in terms of flashy plays. You have two mobile quarterbacks with cannons for arms going up against each other. I like most of the starters, with the exception of DeAngelo Williams. I don’t think he’ll get room to run against Seattle’s stout D. I think Cam will get off a score or two to Steve Smith or Greg Olsen, but I know he’s also mistake-prone, and Seattle might take a mistake all the way back to the house.
Prediction: Seattle wins big on the road.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Comfortables: Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles, Maurice Jones-Drew, Dwayne Bowe, Cecil Shorts, Kansas City Defense
Cautions: Blaine Gabbert, Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Defense
Casualties: All Chiefs Pass-Catchers not named Bowe, Denard Robinson (don’t get cute)
Sleeper: Anthony Fasano
The new and improved(?) Chiefs look to beat up on the lowly Jaguars. I don’t really like anybody other than the proven names to start, but a real big sleeper might be the Kansas City D. When in doubt, get the D that’s going up against Blaine Gabbert.
Prediction: Smith-to-Bowe, and JC from KC running up and down the field. Chiefs win.
Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams
Comfortables: Carson Palmer, Daryl Richardson, Larry Fitzgerald, Chris Givens, Jared Cook, Arizona Defense, St. Louis Defense
Cautions: Sam Bradford, Rashard Mendenhall, Michael Floyd, Rob Housler (if active)
Casualties: Ryan Williams, Alphonso Smith, Zac Stacy, Andre Roberts, Steadman Bailey
Sleeper: Tavon Austin
The NFC West went from laughingstock to powerhouse division seemingly overnight. This one is tough to predict. Will Sam Bradford improve now that he has new weapons at his disposal? Will the loss of Steven Jackson hurt an already anemic offense? What impact with Carson Palmer have on Larry Fitzgerald? How big was Arizona’s loss of first-round guard Jonathan Cooper? I don’t think we’ll know the answer until after the game is played. I’m putting Rashard Mendenhall as a Caution mostly because I’m playing against him in three separate money leagues (how the hell does that happen?), but also because I haven’t seen anything from him in the preseason due to his injuries.
Prediction: Armed with a new quarterback, Fitzgerald comes back to form and leads the Cardinals over the Rams.
Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers
Comfortables: Aaron Rodgers, Colin Kaepernick, Eddie Lacy, Frank Gore, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis
Cautions: Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Defense, San Francisco Defense
Casualties: Jonathan Franklin, Anthony Dixon, Kendall Hunter, Jonathan Baldwin, Quinton Patton
Sleeper: LaMichael James
Here’s another playoff rematch from the Divisional Round. Last time, Colin Kaepernick ran wild over the Packers, but he also had Michael Crabtree. And the Packers didn’t have Eddie Lacy. So it’s a brand new dynamic with these two teams. I expect Green Bay to be a bit more balanced, and Lacy might get a few red zone looks. Frank Gore is on the other side of 30, so we’ll see how much LaMichael James will be used. I wouldn’t use either defense if I could help it, but I know that anybody who drafted the Niners D will have gotten them early and feel the need to use them. This is not one of those times.
Prediction: Rodgers, his receiving weapons, and his new running back prove to be too much for Kaep. Packers win big on the road.
New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys
Comfortables: Eli Manning, Tony Romo, David Wilson, DeMarco Murray, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Dez Bryant, Brandon Myers, Jason Witten
Cautions: Miles Austin, New York Defense, Dallas Defense
Casualties: Mike Cox, Lance Dunbar, Ramses Barden
Sleeper: Reuben Randle
Tony Romo is an awful regular QB, but he can put up the stats for fantasy! As a Giants fan, I’m a little worried about losing Stevie Brown for the season, which makes an already porous pass defense even worse, but as somebody who owns Tony Romo AND Dez Bryant in a league, I’m quietly applauding. With Andre Brown out, the Giants, normally a two-RB offense, will be forced to rely on David Wilson as a workhorse back. Victor Cruz will be back from his heel injury, and I expect he and Hakeem Nicks to pick up right where they left off. An interesting name is Brandon Myers, who thrived in Oakland last year. I think he’ll be Eli Manning’s secret weapon.
Prediction: The Giants never lose in the new Jerry World, and I don’t expect this to be any different.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins
Comfortables: Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, LeSean McCoy, Alfred Morris, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Fred Davis
Cautions: Bryce Brown, Brent Celek, Philadelphia Defense, Washington Defense
Casualties: Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, Santana Moss, Aldrick Robinson, Zach Ertz
Sleeper: Roy Helu
I can’t wait to see the Eagles run the blur offense on the Redskins, and I also can’t wait to see how RG3’s knee holds up. Griffin has the opportunity to be this year’s Adrian Peterson with his miraculous off-season recovery of a late-season knee injury (probablywithsomeHGHbutshhlet’snottalkaboutthat). Top-tier running backs LeSean McCoy and Alfred Morris look to go back to work, and I actually like the backups Bryce Brown and Roy Helu for deep DEEP sleepers. With Jeremy Maclin going down for the count, DeSean Jackson is the only game in town, although I expect him to be running downfield with his hand up rather than going across the middle. Don’t start the defenses if you can help it, this’ll be an offensive bonanza.
Prediction: The new-look Eagles shock the Skins at home.
Houston Texans vs. San Diego Chargers
Comfortables: Arian Foster (if active), Ben Tate (if Foster is inactive), Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Houston Defense
Cautions: All Starting Chargers (including defense), Ben Tate (if Foster is active), DeAndre Hopkins
Sleeper: Danny Woodhead
Poor San Diego. Whether by a combination of bad luck with injuries, or just plain ineptitude, the Chargers are looking to be feasted on by the likes of their division mates the Broncos, and power teams like the Texans. I don’t know what Arian Foster’s status is, but hopefully if you drafted him, you also drafted Ben Tate, because I think his status will go right down to gametime. Tate is a must-start if Foster is out, but if you drafted Tate without Foster, I don’t think it’s wise to wait until the very last game to see if he’s starting. I made the mistake of thinking Tate was going to share the workload with Foster last year, and when Arian was in there, the Texans ran him into the ground. Despite what anybody is telling you, I expect the same to happen. If Foster is starting, he’s getting a full workload, and Tate will only be complementing him.
Prediction: It’s late at night, but Houston should roll on the road.
That’s it for this week. Good luck with your leagues! I hope you win a championship…unless you’re playing in one of my leagues, in which case I wish you nothing but misery.