Fantasy Football Week 1: Versus Decision-Maker
Ah, week one.
Week one of football season is a wonderful time, filled with excitement, optimism and replacement refs. While fans of the Packers, Patriots, 49ers and Steelers get pumped up about another potential run at a Super Bowl, Cowboys and Raiders fans still adorably think their team has a shot at contention. It’s the perfect balance, really.
Week one of fantasy football season is a different story. The general uncertainty stemming from a combination of injuries, vague roles and potential underachievers makes week one a fairly stressful time.
Fear not, faithful reader. NFL Soup is here all year long to help you through these tough times, and to see you succeed and become the ultimate fantasy football champion. Like a proud father watching his son become Spelling Bee champion…or something. It’s a nerdy kind of proud.
So, let’s run through a few tough fantasy football matchups to help you decide on your lineup for opening week:
Philip Rivers (Chargers) vs. Jay Cutler (Bears)
Rivers’ fantasy value took a massive hit last season once he became a lean, mean, pick-throwing machine. He still threw for over 4,600 yards with a solid 27 touchdowns, but the career-high 20 interceptions made him a frustrating play week-after-week.
Cutler was in the midst of a solid season in 2011, with over 2,300 yards passing to go along with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions before going down for the year with a broken thumb in week 11. Interceptions have also plagued him throughout his career, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that he has had an awful offensive line in front of him in Chicago.
Rivers lost one of his primary weapons in Vincent Jackson during the offseason, and the young Vincent Brown was placed on IR after injuring his ankle during the preseason. Cutler will be reunited with stud wideout Brandon Marshall, and the Bears also drafted the talented Alshon Jeffery in the second round of the draft to help boost what had been a subpar receiving corps.
Both guys have favorable matchups heading into week one (Rivers vs. Oakland, Cutler vs. Indy), but I’m giving the slight edge to Rivers this week. With Ryan Mathews likely still out with a broken collarbone, the Chargers may have to take to the air early and often against their division rivals Monday night.
See how the new-look Bears offense looks, and how Cutler’s offensive line holds up, before confidently starting him.
Reggie Bush (Dolphins) vs. DeAngelo Williams (Panthers)
Bush had his best pro season do-date in 2011, rushing for over 1,000 yards for the first time in his inaugural season in Miami. Williams is coming off a season in which he ran for over 800 yards with seven rushing touchdowns.
On paper, the matchup this week would appear to favor Williams, with his Panthers going up against a suspect Tampa run D (last in the league in 2011), while Bush and the Dolphins have to deal with the stout Texans defense.
However, Williams is a part of the league’s most crowded backfield. He may be helped if Jonathan Stewart (who missed practice again Wednesday) is still nursing a bum ankle, but he also has to share carries with Cam Newton (14 rushing TD in 2011) and notorious touchdown vulture Mike Tolbert, whom Carolina picked up this summer from San Diego.
Bush, on the other hand, is essentially the focal point of the Dolphins’ offensive attack, and he shares a backfield with only the unproven (and frustrating) Daniel Thomas.
While there may not be many lanes through which Bush can run against the Houston defense on Sunday, he still figures to get plenty of opportunities, and is a proven weapon in the passing game, as well.
DeAngelo Williams is always a threat to break a big one, but Reggie Bush is the safer play.
Fred Jackson (Bills) vs. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Bengals)
Fred Jackson was enjoying an absolutely stellar season before going down with a broken leg in week 11 last year, while “The Law Firm” Green-Ellis has taken his talents from New England to Cincinnati, where he’s the clear-cut No. 1 back.
They’re both facing pretty tough run defenses in the Jets (Jackson) and Ravens (Green-Ellis), but, with so few reliable, every-down backs currently in the league, these are a couple of guys you should probably start regardless of matchup, assuming the carries are there.
With his advantage in versatility, I’d give the nod slightly to Jackson over BJGE here, if you’re forced to choose just one.
In fact, I’d say Fred Jackson is a guy you need to find a spot in your lineup for every single week, unless he gets hurt or his age (31) finally starts to catch up.
Reggie Wayne (Colts) vs. Percy Harvin (Vikings)
Despite having a rookie QB throwing him the ball, Reggie Wayne has enough ability left in his legs to be a fairly consistent and serviceable WR2 this season. It also probably helps that Andrew Luck is a completely different breed of “rookie QB.” He also has a favorable matchup going up against a fairly soft Chicago secondary.
Percy Harvin has struggled throughout his brief career with injuries, and he’s also at the mercy of a young passer in Christian Ponder. However, he caught 87 passes for over 960 yards and six touchdowns last season despite playing just 58 percent of Minnesota’s offensive plays! Staggering. His Vikings will be going up against the Jacksonville Jaguars; a team that was surprisingly effective in defending the pass in 2011 (9th-best in the NFL).
Now, if you’re in a PPR league, there’s no question you’re going Harvin here. If he’s healthy, and if the Vikings decide to actually, you know, USE HIM ON OFFENSE, he’s in for an absolute monster of a season. He’s also been known to get a few carries, as well.
In fact, even if you’re not in a eric PPR league, I recommend Harvin over Wayne, despite the matchups.
As I mentioned above, Wayne will still be the primary receiver in an Indy offense that actually may sneak up on some people and be somewhat potent.
Both Wayne and Harvin are worth a start, but, with the depth at receiver this year, you may be forced into choosing just one. Choose Percy.
Eric Decker (Broncos) vs. Demaryius Thomas (Broncos)
The respective fantasy values of these two guys went in complete opposite directions once Tim Tebow became Denver’s starter last year.
Decker fizzled into a near complete non-factor towards the end of last season, while Thomas absolutely thrived, becoming Tebow’s No. 1 target (one would assume this is primarily because Thomas is a massive human being; a target big enough for even Tebow to hit).
However, in case you may have heard, Tebow now resides in New York, while a guy named Peyton Manning is at the helm for the Broncos. Suddenly, both Decker and Thomas seem primed for very solid fantasy campaigns.
Word out of practice this week indicates that the bigger Thomas has become Manning’s primary red zone buddy, meaning more potential for a big fantasy payoff.
If you’re waffling between these Broncos pass-catchers, go for the TD-happy Demaryius Thomas.
Jared Cook (Titans) vs. Owen Daniels (Texans)
Cook was a revelation during last season’s fantasy playoffs, racking up over 330 yards on 21 catches with a score in Tennessee’s final three games. Like Demaryius Thomas with Peyton Manning, he’s also likely to be Jake Locker’s favorite red zone target.
Daniels has been injured quite frequently over the past couple of seasons, and it’s effectively shot his fantasy value. However, when he’s healthy, he seems to have a knack for finding openings in the middle of the field, and Matt Schaub is happy to reward his efforts. He also has a favorable matchup this week, going up against the Dolphins.
The Texans on Sunday may be enjoying the majority of the game with a healthy lead, meaning they’ll be going with the ground game quite a bit.
While the Patriots have a young and very talented defense, it isn’t exactly the Steel Curtain quite yet. Plus, the Titans, on the other hand, will likely be trying to play catch-up to Tom Brady and company, meaning they’ll be throwing, throwing and throwing some more. That bodes well for Mr. Cook.
Cook over Daniels this week.