Battlestations! Week 2 or Defcon 2?
Every week we'll break down the movers, shakers, winners and losers in fantasy football, and keep an eye out for the players you should be eyeing for your fantasy rosters.
We here at MFFF hope you had a productive week 1 in fantasy football, with a notch in the "W" column. Even if you didn't, remember that Week 1 is as good an indicator of what your fantasy season will be like as it is in real football -- that is, not a whole lot. Before you hit the panic button on your team and season, take a deep breath. Relax. There are still players out there who haven't emerged, injuries that haven't happened. The fun is just beginning.
Before we move on to the big stories of this week, and just to show that we're not above being critical of ourselves, we're going to adopt the standard military process of Plan, Brief, Execute and Debrief. So to start, here's the debrief of how we did last week.
The Week 1 Debrief:
Doug Martin > D.J. Ware > LeGarette Blount. We said to keep an eye out on LaGarette Blount last week as a possible change-of-pace RB. Yep, we pretty much whiffed on that one. We forgot that Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan has a comfort level with D.J. Ware going back to their days on the Giants, and it was Ware who had a crucial third-down run late in the game. Still, it's clear that the Bucs are going to ride Doug Martin (24 carries, 4 catches), so unless you have Martin on your roster, you're not going to see much production out of the Bucs' run game.
Russell Wilson + Braylon Edwards = Oh so close. A few inches. That's what separates winners from losers in football, and great prognostications from mediocre ones in fantasy. If Edwards had managed to haul in a last-second game-winning TD pass from Wilson on Sunday, MFFF would have looked like a genius. Now we can only ponder whether Edwards will hold onto his starting job when Golden Tate returns from injury. We liked Wilson's moxie though, and he should have opportunities to build better numbers as the season goes on.
RGIII > Luck? Is Robert Griffin III this year's Cam Newton? "Bob" had a monster debut Sunday with 300+ passing yards and 2 TDs, while Andrew Luck looked like, well, a talented rookie thrown to the wolves. It certainly helps that Griffin had a better defense and a productive running game (96 yards from Alfred Morris) to work with. But before we anoint RGIII the next fantasy superstar, chew on this: the Redskins unveiled a new option-spread attack that will now be dissected on film and game-planned for by opposing coordinators, and they racked up their points against a Saints defense still reeling from Bountygate, struggling with a new scheme. And while Griffin took a few licks and kept on ticking, it remains to be seen if he can withstand the rigors of a full season like Newton, who has the advantage of being built like a truck. Still, until proven otherwise, RGIII is a clear starting QB moving forward, and Luck looks to have a Peyton Manning 1998-type season: lots of yards, lots of picks, lots of learning, and a promising future.
Hey, half of the league started slowly last week. It's not how you start but how you finish. So with renewed focus and determination, let's move on to...
Week 1: The top 5 things we learned
1. TEs: Bear Market or Market Correction?
Remember how we're supposed to be living in an age where there's 3-4 superstar TEs, alongside a bunch of nobodies? Look at these numbers:
85 yards, 1 TD 59 yards, 1 TD 53 yards, 1 TD 52 yards, 1 TD 50 yards, 1 TD 47 yards, 1 TD 43 yards, 1 TD 40 yards, 1 TD
Those are the top performances turned in by TEs last week. The difference between #1 and #8 amounts to a couple of fantasy points. Sure you'll find folks like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski on this list, but you'll also find Heath Miller, Scott Chandler, and Mercedes Lewis. If last year was the year of the superstar TE, does this suggest that TE value is falling back to earth? With Tom Brady having fun with new WR Brandon Lloyd and RB Stevan Ridley, and the Saints still seeking rhythm on offense, the much-hyped TEs entering this year (Graham, Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez) are seeing less targets, which means that if you didn't nab a top-flight TE, you should still be able to get comparable production week to week from free agents and waiver pick-ups. The trick is to nab the right one. So who to pick? More on that later in this column…
2. J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets – Wha, wha, wha happened?
Color us (and most of America) surprised by Gang Green's 48-point outburst against the Bills Sunday. While we doubt they'll be so explosive again this season, young receivers Stephen Hill (5 catches, 89 yards, 2 TDs) and Jeremy Kerley (45 yards, 2 TDs, 68 yards on punt returns) are suddenly viable fantasy options. You might argue that Santonio Holmes is still Mark Sanchez's primary option, but with the surly Holmes the prime target of opposing defenses, and a relatively easy schedule coming up, both Hill and Kerley are in position to make plays, and should be on your radar if you're in need of WR help.
3. Ready to panic yet?
The Saints and Packers were soundly defeated (with some cosmetic TDs near the end to make things look closer). The Eagles and Lions struggled to eke out wins over inferior competition. Ugly or below-par numbers were put up by fantasy stalwarts such as QBs Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, and Michael Vick. If you have players from these teams, don't think about jumping ship, but be on the lookout for troubling trends.
For instance, LeSean McCoy owners must be peeved after the Eagles RB averaged 5.5 yards on 20 carries against the Browns – pretty good numbers, but why didn't he get the rock more while Vick was throwing four INTs in an astounding 56 attempts? This isn't new; Eagle coach Andy Reid is notorious for over-emphasizing the pass, so be ready for some potentially rocky weeks ahead.
Another example: Packers RB Cedric Benson isn't as old as dirt -- he was merely as slow as dirt against the Niners (9 rushes, 18 yards). Maybe it isn't fair to grade a guy when his sole performance is against the best run D in the league, but his ground-and-pound approach doesn't seem to be a good fit with the Packers' slashing-style run game. With the Pack defense more sieve-like than ever, we should see more big numbers from QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers receivers (with Randall Cobb gaining a more prominent role) – but not necessarily better numbers. Rodgers threw a costly pick against the Niners, and the Pack might turn the ball over with greater frequency as they find themselves trying to come from behind more often. Remember, this was a team that trailed at home for a total of three minutes in the 2011 season.
And then there's the Saints, who put up respectable fantasy stats Sunday, but had a pretty ugly time compiling those stats. Before a last-minute drive, New Orleans had 11 possessions, and over half of those drives stalled out in four plays or less -- a bad sign for a team whose state-of-the-art offense was supposed to keep them in the hunt this year. They may yet put it together, or like the Packers, you might start seeing more cracks as they struggle to stay in games.
4. Flashing to the top or a flash in the pan?
Remember a RB by the name of Tim Hightower? He had 99 combined yards and a TD on opening day last year for the Redskins, and fantasy leagues went crazy for him. His stats for the rest of the season: 249 rushing yards, 53 receiving yards. Don't make the same mistake with Alfred Morris, who had a decent opening day with 96 yards but had to carry the rock 28 times to get it. With Redskin coach Mike Shanahan's habit of cycling through RBs like Kim Kardashian cycles through boyfriends, you can't count on similar output from Morris every week.
Similarly, you might look at New Orleans' Lance Moore (120 yards, 1 TD) and think he might be destined for fantasy greatness, but we've seen this dance before – with targets like Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Darren Sproles to throw to, Drew Brees will always go with the hot hand, which means that Lance could be golden for you one week, and nonexistent the next.
5. Welcome to the Black Hole (of Fantasy)
Cleveland has taken its share of body blows over the years in sports, but this might be rock bottom. When you have a 28-year old rookie QB who throws for 4 picks and barely over 3 yards an attempt, a first-round RB who gains 2 yards a rush, and the slow realization that the Browns could have had Robert Griffin III if they had upped the ante with a draft pick trade or two, what you have is misery, misery, misery -- plus a flag fail. If you happen to have a Cleveland Brown on your fantasy team, you have one too many. Look for help elsewhere.
Fantasy Football Conundrum of the Week: Wes Welker
14 yards. That was Wes Welker's stat line last Sunday. We may have witnessed a changing of the guard last weekend as Welker, the most prolific WR for the Patriots the past five seasons, was essentially a spectator as New England steamrolled to victory. Even more troubling was that Welker was on the field for just over 64 percent of his team's offensive snaps Sunday, compared to an average of 87 percent last year.
So is it time to dump Welker, or dangle him for a decent trade? Keep in mind that NE coach Bill Belichick is a master of putting together different game plans for different opponents, so what happens Week 1 isn't necessarily what will happen the rest of the way. Nevertheless, the Pats seem to be committed to a consistent run game, so the days of Welker dominating PPR leagues looks to be over. Our advice: If he gets frozen out of the offense again this weekend, see if you can trade him for an up-and-coming WR.
Week 2 Fantasy Steals: Our Picks
WR Randall Cobb, Packers: He's now entrenched as the third WR in Green Bay's offense, and with his ability to flare out of the backfield, he's a weapon in Aaron Rodgers' arsenal that's only beginning to be utilized.
WR Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville: Cecil who? Hard to believe that run-heavy Jacksonville now has some decent receiving options, but Shorts impressed in his first start with 74 yards and a TD, and with rookie first-rounder Justin Blackmon drawing attention opposite him, he has the chance to make an impact.
TEs Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreesen, Denver: It's the age-old conundrum of two players at the same position taking touches from the other. But it's worked out for New England with Gronkowski and Hernandez, hasn't it? We're not saying these two will put up similar numbers, but with cagey veteran Peyton Manning spreading the ball around, both these guys can help you out in the pinch if you're short on TE value.
RB Dexter McCluster, Kansas City: He's listed as a RB but essentially he's a third WR now in Kansas City's offense, and a pretty good one with 82 yards Sunday. With the NFL notably short in RB production Week 1, he's probably the best available of a weak class.
Best Offensive Matchup of the Week:
Denver at Atlanta: Peyton Manning in a dome? It's just like old times. The Falcons also just lost their best CB, Brent Grimes, for the season, which means that footballs will be a-flying in the Georgia Dome, and unless Atlanta can put up a pass rush, we count on the elder Manning continuing his stirring comeback season.
Best Defensive Matchup of the Week:
Cleveland at Cincinnati: We don't mean to pile on the Browns, really we don't, but can you see this one ending well? If nothing else, the Bengals can bring the hurt on D, and they'll be raring to get back on track after an embarrassing display against the Ravens Monday night.
Got a specific question or need advice on fantasy football this week? Sound off in the comments section below.