Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Learning From Week 1 (Part 1 of 4)

It’s a long season.

Whether you won or lost last week, keep in mind that it takes more than one win to make the playoffs and more than one loss to miss out on the postseason. That isn’t to say that every week isn’t important, but you can’t overreact in either direction.

If you’re anything like me, you probably spent more than an hour or six mentally assembling your team in preparation for draft day; yet the amateur temptation is to throw caution to the wind and take a flyer on guys like Randall Cobb, Eric Decker, and Scott Chandler, even though you never once considered using a draft pick on them, and as recently as 6 days ago almost certainly couldn’t have even told me who they played for.

There’s a fine line between calculated research and whimsical transactions. My goal over the course of the next few days is to help you balance that line by looking back on each game from week 1 and extracting something from each team that should be viewed with optimism, something that should be met with pessimism, and areas where patience is a virtue.

The order of the games is based on nothing more than the order in which I felt like recapping the games. In today’s section, we’ll dive into Tennessee @ Jacksonville, Carolina @ Arizona, Pittsburgh @ Baltimore, and Seattle @ San Francisco. Check back in at throughout the week for sections 2-4 and follow me on twitter (@kerrancejames) for other fantasy musings and tidbits.

Tennessee Titans

Optimistic about: Nate Washington.

John Carlson may have been a valuable tight end in 2 of the past 3 seasons, but Hasselbeck historically doesn’t much rely on his tight ends. Case in point: 24 of his 34 pass attempts were thrown to Kenny Britt, Chris Johnson, and Nate Washington. He’s lightning-in-a-bottle quick, he’s going to get around 100 balls thrown his way, and he’s available in 97% of ESPN fantasy leagues. At worst, he’s a bye week fill-in, and may very well be a reliable weekly source of fantasy production.

Not worried about: Chris Johnson…yet.

In the first 50 minutes of the game, the Titans only had one drive that lasted for more than four plays. There just wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity to hand him the ball, and frankly I don’t think any of us expected him to be CJ2K in week 1 after having missed training camp and the pre-season. I personally don’t think he’ll do much of anything until after their week 6 bye. Buy low if you can, because the Titans will be facing run-friendly teams for the majority of week 7 through your league championship.

Definitely worried about: Hasselbeck’s health.

The Jaguars front 7 isn’t exactly the steel curtain, but they completely stifled the Titans rush attack, sacked the quarterback twice, and got another 5 hits on Hasselbeck. He might be on a stretcher by the time the Jets are done with him this week.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Optimistic about: Mike Thomas.

Unless they fix the quarterback situation in a hurry, the Jaguars will be a run first team for the foreseeable future, but when they need to throw the ball, it appears Thomas will be the #1 guy with Sims-Walker now out of town.

Not worried about: Deji Karim’s 14 carries.

Mostly because he didn’t do much with them, but we knew in the pre-season that the Jaguars would be relatively reliant upon their spell HB; at the time, we just thought it was going to be Rashad Jennings. Karim will vulture some TDs and probably pilfer a chunk of MJD’s receiving yards, but this isn’t a split backfield situation by any means. As such, Karim’s value in anything other than the deepest of leagues is solely as MJD injury insurance. As previously mentioned, this is absolutely a run first team, and Jones-Drew can’t do all of the running. Even with Karim getting more than a dozen carries, Jones-Drew had enough touches in week 1 to put him on pace for nearly 400 carries this season. As an MJD owner, not only should you not worry about Karim, but it’s almost reassuring to know that Jones-Drew might not wear down by week 10.

Definitely worried about: Luke McCown.

You aren’t starting him unless you’re in a 16 team 2 QB league, but I thought it would be worth reminding you of that fact just in case you’re in desperate need of a Sam Bradford replacement on Sunday morning. Aside from Tarvaris Jackson and Dalton/Gradkowski, he’s the worst first-string QB you could even consider starting, so you have to be able to do better.

Carolina Panthers

Optimistic about: Greg Olsen.

Scrambling QBs tend to rely heavily on their tight ends when they’re running for their lives, and I think Olsen stands to gain more from Newton’s learning curve than Shockey.

Not worried about: Steve Smith doing much more of that.

Do you know how many 100 yard games Steve Smith had last season? If you guessed zero, you’re right. Now, by no means am I saying that we should have seen this game coming from Newton and the original Steve Smith, but Arizona had a sub-par pass defense last year...against one of the least formidable schedules in the league...and that was with Rodgers-Cromartie. They’re going to finish the season with one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, but considering their next four games are against Grossman, T. Jackson, E. Manning, and the corpse formerly known as Donovan McNabb, we might not see it until after their bye week; but trust me, if you ever need to spot start someone, pick the guy facing the Cardinals. I’m making a bold prediction that Colt McCoy is the savior for many teams in the semi-finals of their playoffs in week 15 against the Cardinals.

Back to the topic at hand: maybe the Newton/Smith duo has a solid day in week 3 against the Jaguars, or week 7 against the Redskins, but if you think that QB/WR connection from last week is a sign of things to come, or if you think that both guys will even make it to their week 9 bye without suffering some sort of significant injury, then there’s a good chance that gullible is also written on your ceiling. If you own Steve Smith and you can use that week 1 performance to convince someone in your league that it’s 2005 all over again, go for it.

Definitely worried about: The running back situation.

Going into the season, I had my concerns about Williams’ big contract signing and the departure of John Fox, and Sunday didn’t help quell any of those fears. Without a doubt, things will get better for Jonatangelo Willart, so by no means am I suggesting you drop either Panther running back for Marcel Reese or John Kuhn, but 19 carries for 56 yards in what used to be a run-first offense isn’t a very promising start.

Arizona Cardinals

Optimistic about: Beanie Wells.

After a pair of less-than-amazing seasons, it looks like he’s finally ready to become a reliable fantasy back. Start him without fear until further notice.

Not worried about: Fitzgerald’s mediocre day.

It’s natural to look at Kolb’s stat line (309 yards, 2 TD) and assume Fitz would have a better day than he had (3 receptions, 62 yards), but Kolb spread the ball around and took what the (secretly and perennially underrated Panthers) pass defense gave him. 23 of his 27 pass attempts were short right, left, or middle. The 4 other throws? 3 deep passes to Fitzgerald and one deep pass to a wide (correction: WIDE) open Jeff King on what the Panthers didn't see as a predictable play-action call on the first down after forcing a turnover at mid-field. Long story short, Fitz is unquestionably still the number one guy in Arizona and will become Kolb’s here-goes-nothing target when the Cardinals fall way behind in games because of that defense.

Definitely worried about: Tight end platoon.

My gut says Heap is and will be the main guy, but it’s worth noting that Heap and King each had 2 receptions on 3 targets, none of which went for fewer than 13 yards.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Optimistic about: Antonio Brown

I thought for sure that once Emmanuel Sanders came back, Brown would slip to 5th or 6th behind Miller and Mendenhall in Ben’s pecking order, but the pre-season phenomena was targeted on 9 passing attempts. Granted, only two of them were receptions, but considering this was without a doubt the most difficult game on Pittsburgh’s schedule, it’s the thought that counts, because he’ll have much more room to work with in the future.

Not worried about: Big Ben.

When he has a bad game, it’s dreadfully bad, but I still think he finishes the season with the most passing yards in the NFL.

Definitely worried about: Steelers D

Seven turnovers by the offense didn’t do them any favors, but Flacco and Rice absolutely had their way in a game that traditionally winds up being a 16-13 defensive struggle. Polamalu and Harrison looked completely lost on multiple occasions, which I assume will work itself out over the course of the season, but I’ll remember this game when they’re facing the Texans in the playoffs with an over/under of 41.5. They should right the ship against Seattle this week, so feel free to deploy this defensive unit.

Baltimore Ravens

Optimistic about: Ed Dickson.

No Todd Heap? No problem. He’s worth owning in all leagues, and likely worth starting in anything deeper than 10 teams.

Not worried about: Ricky Williams.

If you own Ray Rice, you couldn’t be happier with how this game went. Sure, Williams had 12 carries for 63 yards, but the majority of those came in the 4th quarter when the game was well in hand, and Rice was the one pounding the ball into the end zone in the goal line formation from the 1 yard line. Rice has become one of the only running backs that you’re willing to start without question; even against the Steelers.

Definitely worried about: Nothing.

The Pats put up huge numbers, but allowed Henne to throw for over 400 yards. The Jets really should have lost to the Cowboys. I like the Texans, but have a game like that in week 3 (@NO), 4 (vs. Pit), or 6 (@Bal) and we’ll talk. From what I saw last week, the Ravens should be the favorite to win the AFC Championship, and yet they have longer odds than all three of those teams (and the Chargers!). My only minor concern is the #2 wide receiver, because Lee Evans didn’t do a damned thing this past Sunday, but they clearly didn’t need him.

San Francisco 49ers

Optimistic about: Braylon Edwards.

Josh Morgan and Michael Crabtree have failed this team a few too many times. Now it’s Braylon’s turn. Aside from Vernon Davis, who will inevitably receive the bulk of the targets throughout the course of the season, it looks like Edwards will be the #1 receiving threat; for better or worse. The ridiculous part is that this team is better than the one he left in Cleveland a few years ago, so I think he might suffice as a #2 fantasy WR when all is said and done.

Not worried about: Frank Gore.

He’ll do better. Just needs to stay healthy. Don’t forget he followed up the lockout with a not-so-brief hold-out, so he’s operating with less recent conditioning than most.

Definitely worried about: The 49ers.

I picked them to win the NFC West, but this had to be the most unconvincing 16 point win ever. Ted Ginn had 50 more return yards than either team’s offense. That hardly seems like a sustainable strategy. And if it weren’t for a pass interference call on 3rd down which eventually resulted in a 1 yard TD run, San Francisco would have kicked 5 red zone field goals without a single offensive touchdown. Good work not turning the ball over in the red zone, but you can’t routinely win games without converting half of those trips into 7 points. You never look a gift win in the mouth, but when you need some special teams magic to seal the deal against Tarvaris & Co…it doesn’t bode well.

Seattle Seahawks

Optimistic about: Doug Baldwin.

On the rare occasion that Jackson completes a pass, I thought it was supposed to go to either Zach Miller or Mike Williams? Turns out the rookie from Stanford had other plans. When it comes to Seattle, you take any bright spot you can get and hang onto it for dear life.

Not worried about: Facing Marshawn Lynch in fantasy.

I love when people become over valued due to one play they made in the playoffs. Outside of one good game against the Carolina Panthers and that 67 yard run against the Saints in the playoffs, Lynch was completely worthless last season, and I’ll never understand how he is owned in 100% of fantasy leagues, but Tomlinson isn’t.

Definitely worried about: Tarvaris Jackson.

Do I need to explain? The Andrew Luck Sweepstakes are well under way.

To be continued...

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