Friday, September 16, 2011

Learning From Week 1 (Part 3 of 4)

If you missed either of the other parts, you can find them here:

In a nutshell, we’re looking back on the games from Week 1 in an attempt to learn from them without overreacting to them. The four games on the slate for today are New Orleans @ Green Bay, Buffalo @ Kansas City, Detroit @ Tampa Bay, and Minnesota @ San Diego. 

New Orleans Saints

Optimistic about: Devery Henderson.

With Colston already expected to miss at least the next 4 weeks, fantasy owners are frantically trying to grab the Saints WR who will benefit the most from his absence. But Colston didn’t get injured until the 3rd to last play of the game, and Henderson was already looking like Brees’ favorite receiver with 6 catches on 9 targets for 100 yards and a touchdown. Of course, banking on any New Orleans wide receiver is pretty much the same as putting your money on “2nd 12” at the roulette table: there’s a better than 50% chance that it won’t pay off, and even if it does, the profit is hardly worth the risk. Henderson looked great last Thursday, and he’ll probably look great in weeks 3, 6, 8, and 11 at the expense of the ones in between.

Not worried about: Defense.

An opening drive TD followed immediately by a Colston fumble that resulted in another Rodgers touchdown, and the super bowl MVP was in cruise control before he even put the key in the ignition. Not only am I not worried about the defense, but I’m impressed that they were able to hold the Packers to 400 yards on a night in which they were clearly firing on all cylinders.

Definitely worried about: Mark Ingram.

I didn’t like him in the pre-season and I don’t feel any better about him now. 13 carries for a less-than-mediocre 40 yards, and absolutely no involvement in a passing game that featured 14 balls thrown to the other 2 guys in this backfield by committee. Ingram’s primary value is as a goal line back, but you inevitably had to pay for more than that, and he’s already failed on multiple “Down & 1” rushing attempts in crucial situations. I never quite understood why everyone was so in love with him, especially considering his back-up running back at Alabama was just as capable of carrying the ball through the gaping holes that the offensive line created time and time again. After watching him play one game, I feel confident in saying he’ll never amount to anything more than a situational back in the NFL.

Green Bay Packers

Optimistic about: James Starks.

Maybe it was because it was the first rushing touchdown I had seen in about 7 months, but Starks looked like a man on a mission on his 17 yard touchdown run. He wasn’t very relevant beyond that point, but neither was Ryan Grant. They’ll probably wind up splitting carries fairly evenly, and if that’s the case, you want the guy with the smaller price tag attached to his name. If you already have Starks, he’s probably your flex guy or even your 4th running back, and he should be worth slightly more than that, so hang on tight. If you have Grant on your team, he’s probably supposed to be your #2 RB, and won’t get enough touches to warrant that role, so it’s time to start coming up with a plan B.

Not worried about: Defense.

The Packers get a free pass in week 1 for struggling mightily with Drew Brees, because, frankly, any team could struggle with Drew Brees. Now, if Cam Newton has a field day against the Packers secondary this coming weekend, we’ll either have to reevaluate them, Newton, or both, but for now I’m not even remotely concerned, and actually a little impressed that they held the Saints to 81 rushing yards after allowing 115 per game last year.

Definitely worried about: James Jones.

Remember in the pre-season when Rodgers said that re-signing James Jones was their #1 priority? He looked like the #8 priority on Thursday. I figured that the worst case scenario for JJ would be battling Jordy Nelson for #3 on the WR depth chart, but for the time being, it looks like he’s 5th behind Nelson and Cobb. Fortunately, if he’s on your roster, it didn’t cost you much of anything, but I really thought he would be more heavily involved in Rodgers’ arsenal.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Optimistic about: Arrelious Benn.

The 4 receptions tied a career high for the 2nd year 2nd round WR from Illinois, and the 7 targets became his new career high. So what if it came in a game in which Freeman matched his high in passing attempts from last season? He’s getting looks, he’s getting healthy, and he’s easily the 2nd best WR on a Tampa Bay team that appears unable to run the ball right now, so a breakout season from Benn isn’t out of the question.

Not worried about: Josh Freeman.

So he wasn’t exactly JAAAAASH Freeman in Week 1, but he didn’t exactly fail to show up either, settling right back into his comfort zone of 16-21 point fantasy days (in my league’s scoring system, at any rate). The interception came on a 45 yard pass attempt, and the touchdown came on a well-orchestrated (albeit, time-consuming) drive near the end of the game. If the Bucs do, in fact, fail to live up to last year’s standards, I no longer think it’ll be Freeman’s fault.

Definitely worried about: LeGarrette Blount.

I’m chalking the 15 rushing yards up to the fact that Detroit may very well have the best defensive line in the NFL. But 5 carries as compared to Earnest Graham’s 6? 0 receptions compared to Earnest Graham’s 8?! The play-by-play summary says Blount had a carry in the 4th quarter, but I think it’s a misprint, because I’m not sure how Tampa Bay can justify only involving him on 5 plays if he didn’t go into cardiac arrest early in the 2nd quarter. If it was really just a matter of his ineffectiveness, it’s not going to get any better, because aside from the Colts in Week 4, the Bucs schedule isn’t getting easier any time soon in terms of rush defenses.

Detroit Lions

Optimistic about: Jahvid Best.

By the end of last season, Detroit was a full-blown backfield by committee, but that was hardly the case on Sunday, with Best receiving a majority of the rushing attempts and a handful of looks in the passing game. I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily thrilled with his production, averaging right around his career YPC of 3.3, but I’m optimistic about seeing the Lions optimism in his ability to be the feature back.

Not worried about: Stafford’s health.

Partially because it’s foolish to base your start/sit decision on the possibility that a guy will get injured due to his track record for health in the past two seasons, but mostly because the offensive line was so solid last Sunday that not only did the Buccaneers fail to record a sack, but they didn’t even register a hit on the quarterback. If there’s any benefit to being one of the worst teams in the NFL for a dozen straight years, it appears it really helps you build your O and D Lines through the draft.

Definitely worried about: Nothing.

It blows my mind that I can’t think of anything negative to say about a team that was winless 3 seasons ago. (Note: I picked the Lions to finish 6th in the NFC with a 9-7 record both this year and that winless season.) The pass distribution was about as ideal as it gets, you can’t reasonably ask for more than you got out of Stafford, and Jahvid Best had 25 touches without a concussion. Add to that offensive performance a defensive one that absolutely shut down the Buccaneers running game, stifled every B.S. Report listener’s favorite QB, and kept its opponent from scoring an offensive touchdown until the final 95 seconds of the game. Take the defense’s performance with a very small grain of salt, because a lot of people expect the Bucs to regress this season, but it’s not like they did this against the Seattle Seahawks.

Minnesota Vikings

Optimistic about: Percy Harvin.

Between returning a kick for a touchdown, having several run plays designed for him, and leading the team in targets (with 4…), he’s starting to look like a version of Reggie Bush that might actually amount to something in fantasy leagues. I’ll be interested to see how productive he is once McNabb has a game in which he averages better than 1 pass attempt per 4 minutes.

Not worried about: Defense.

The Vikings forced Rivers to throw 2 interceptions and spent 77 plays on the field over the course of 37+ minutes. All things considered, 24 points allowed is far from the disaster that it could have been. In the 2nd half alone, the Chargers were on offense for 41 snaps compared to 17 for the Vikings. I don’t care if it was week 1 following an abbreviated pre-season, you can’t leave a defense on the field for that long and expect them to not get worn down.

Definitely worried about: Visanthe Shiancoe.

Over the past 12 seasons, McNabb has always relied on his tight ends, so expectations for Shiancoe were higher than they’ve been in the past, only to have McNabb look his way just once all game. I wasn’t expecting a Brett Favre-ish rejuvenation in Minnesota for McNabb, but I also wasn’t expecting a 39 yard passing game to start the season. He needs to turn it around in a hurry, or else a lot of Harvin, Shiancoe, and Peterson owners are going to want his blood. Harvin and Peterson still have value, but until further notice, you’ll need a more reliable tight end than Shiancoe in order to improve your odds.

San Diego Chargers

Optimistic about: Playoff chances.

In the pre-season, they were -300 to win the AFC West, which is about as close as it comes to getting free money from Vegas. They’ve already won as many September games as last season, and based on the games played by the rest of the division, they might only need to win 4 or 5 more to clinch the West. Current odds are -400. It’s still free money, and if you’re lucky, the Pats will beat the Chargers, Oakland will beat Buffalo, and the line will drop back down to -300 or better next week. Is that enough gambling jargon for a fantasy football article? I think we can move along now.

Not worried about: Vincent Jackson.

If you’re really concerned that Jackson will routinely be targeted on fewer than 7% of Rivers’ pass attempts, I’d like to purchase a large bag of whatever you’re smoking. Against a Patriots defense that made Chad Henne look like Drew Brees Jr, I suspect V.Jax will be back in a big way this weekend.

Definitely worried about: Ryan Mathews.

I figured it was a little too obvious to say that I’m optimistic about the running back who scored 3 touchdowns and was a frequent participant in the aerial attack, so I’m instead expressing concern for the other running back who had 118 all purpose yards. They split carries evenly, and Mathews had more yardage both in the air and on the ground, so why am I worried about him? Things were bad enough for Mathews when Tolbert was a vulture, but now that he is a bird of prey (not to be confused with the Birds of War…), not only is he stealing touchdowns from Mathews but he’s stealing a good chunk of his potential yards as well. If they can amass 200+ yards on a regular basis and split it evenly as well, then I’ll eat these words, but I think Mathews would be lucky to amass 1000 all purpose yards and 6 TDs this season, which is roughly the equivalent of what Jahvid Best or Thomas Jones did last season; each of which were decent fantasy options, but neither of which had the expected value that people seem to still have for Mathews.

Buffalo Bills

Optimistic about: Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Even without Eric Berry, the Chiefs have a pretty respectable pass defense, but the Harvard grad made them look completely invisible to the tune of 4 touchdowns. I don’t think it was a fluke either; he only had one horrible game last year, and put up pretty respectable numbers in the other 12. By no means is he an every week fantasy starter, but he’s a solid bye week fill-in or potential match-ups play.

Not worried about: CJ Spiller.

He was used sparingly in week 1, but that’s because there’s no point in pulling out your secret weapon when you’re up by 4 touchdowns. Unless Stevie Johnson’s twitter feed counts as its own entity, CJ Spiller is undeniably the most exciting thing to watch on this team, and will likely out-produce Fred Jackson over the course of the season, despite the discrepancy in carries on opening weekend.

Definitely worried about: Fans in Buffalo.

Aside from the eventual death of Scott Norwood, or maybe the Sabres if you’re from the Canadian half of town, there’s nothing worth rooting for in Buffalo, and I’m worried that a 2-0 start would result in the packing of more hot wings per square inch onto the Bills’ bandwagon than there were know-nothing citizens packed onto the US women’s soccer team’s bandwagon. The big difference here is that when Hope Solo and company lost to China in the World Cup Final, everyone in America remembered that they never really gave a damn about soccer in the first place; when the Bills follow up their 2-0 start by losing consecutive games to New England, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia, everyone in Buffalo will remember that it’s early October and they now have a daily obligation to shovel their driveway.

Kansas City Chiefs

Optimistic about: Leonard Pope.

I have no idea how a 6’8” tight end can only average 1 reception per game over the course of his career, but Moeaki’s torn ACL may have finally been the break that Pope needed to get some touches in this league. From what I saw through my tear-filled beer goggles, he was Cassel’s favorite target in the early going, and had an acrobatic touchdown reception that was inexplicably overturned. For the past 15 years, you could do much worse than having the Chiefs primary tight end as your fantasy starter; make it 16.

Not worried about: Jamaal Charles.

I still don’t think he’ll do as well as he did last season, but they’ll try to get him more than 10 carries per game in the future. The promising news is that he had 56 yards on those carries, and Thomas Jones was used about as often as a Gideon Bible at a Vegas hotel, so it appears the Chiefs sans Charlie Weis are wise enough to give Charles more than 41% of the rushing workload this season.

Definitely worried about: Winning a game this season.

As a Chiefs fan for the past two decades, it’s hard to be subjective with this paragraph, but at the same time, it’s hardly a foreign concept for me to be rooting for draft position in September. They’re going from one of the easiest 2010 NFL schedules to one of the most difficult 2011 NFL schedules, they’ve already lost their starting tight end and free safety to season ending injuries and their left guard to retirement, and they just lost the unquestionably easiest game on their schedule by 34 points. I love Matt Cassel like a fat kid loves rice cakes, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’re on the right track to the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes.

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