Four Must Follow Storylines In Week 1
Are you ready? Are you ready to scream at your televisions in disgust as Ryan Mathews goes down with another bone break? Are you ready to watch Tom Brady still be Tom Brady with undrafted receiving options? Are you ready to see James Harrison as a Bengal, Greg Jennings as a Viking and Steven Jackson as a Falcon?
Good, because the wait is almost over.
While Thursday night was phenomenal, Sunday is the real day for us degenerates. Scott Hanson will be back for eight, nonstop hours on the RedZone Channel, and we’ll be checking our phones more than Adam Schefter during the start of NFL free agency.
But before we settle on the couch with a beer in hand, let’s look at some of the bigger question marks entering Week 1 – question marks that could end up shaping the way you approach and view both real and fantasy football throughout the 2013 season.
What Will the Patriots Offense Look Like?
And still, we’ve got Brady as our top fantasy quarterback this weekend. That’s just how good Tom Brady is. While Peyton Manning had his night on Thursday, Tom Brady’s looking to have a similar one with far less-talented weapons on Sunday.
As for Thompkins, Amendola and Sudfeld? Each of them have value against the ordinary Bills. Sudfeld is our 13th-ranked tight end for Week 1, and Amendola and Thompkins are both at least flex plays.
Never, ever bet against Tom Brady, kids.
Greatest Show on Turf: Part Two?
The Rams offensive hype throughout the offseason seems rather foolish. Sam Bradford has posted a negative passing net expected points value in two of his first three seasons, meaning he’s been worse than average passers during two-thirds of his short career. His most experienced wide receivers are second-year guys, and he’s got a running back, Daryl Richardson, who may not be able to carry a full load. Oh, and there’s Jared Cook: A player who’s been a fantasy breakout candidate since puberty.
This isn’t to say the Rams can’t have a successful season on offense, but to think there will be a flawless transition may be a risky assumption. We’re not confident in any of the Rams wideouts being top options this week, and Sam Bradford is only a starter in two-quarterback leagues. Unless they show differently, approach this team with caution.
Can the Older Running Backs Carry the Load?
DeAngelo Williams is entering the season as a 30 year-old great grandfather, and the expectation is that he can be a reasonable fantasy asset while Jonathan Stewart chills out on the PUP. As we’ve noted many times over the last couple of weeks: We’re not buying it. Williams has had a mediocre-at-best rushing NEP throughout his career, and could easily lose red zone touches to both Cam Newton and super sleeper Mike Tolbert. We’re not expecting a whole lot from him this weekend against Seattle, as he’s our 25th-ranked running back.
Frank Gore’s like, 47 now, right? Not quite, but he, like DeAngelo, is 30 this year. And he, unlike DeAngelo, has seen a significant number of touches throughout his career (1,911).
There are many reasons to trust an aging guy like Gore more than Williams though. Last season, his eighth in the league, the 49ers runner had his best in terms of rushing net expected points. In fact, among the 23 200-plus attempt rushers last season, Gore ranked fourth in the rushing NEP category. In other words, he was providing more points for his team via the ground than every relevant running back outside of Adrian Peterson, C.J. Spiller and Marshawn Lynch.
While DeAngelo Williams has slowly gotten worse, Gore has surprisingly kept up consistently. Consider this: his average yards-per-carry has never been below 4.2 in any season of his career, and he hasn’t scored fewer than five times since his rookie season.
We’ve been waiting for Gore to hit the running back wall for the last couple of seasons, but there’s little reason to believe that’ll happen this year. We have him as our 15th-best running back option this week against Green Bay.
Hooray for 30 being old!
Can the New Coaching Situations Help Fantasy Football?
We've got Chip Kelly, Bruce Arians, Doug Marrone, Norv Turner, Marc Trestman and more, all ready to make offensive impacts for their teams. This should be the number one thing we all watch as we move into the first Sunday of the NFL's regular season.Chip Kelly vs. Washington
From a fantasy perspective, you're concerned mostly about Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and, to a lesser extent, Brent Celek for the Eagles this week. According to our metrics, LeSean McCoy is the only plug-and-play guy, with Vick being a team's QB2 and DeSean Jackson a WR3. Brent Celek, albeit not a sexy selection for Week 1, could be a sneaky play given his probable high floor. As we've been preaching all week, Week 1 is not the time to get creative; you want to ensure fantasy points and not take unnecessary risks. To us, McCoy is the only Chip Kelly guy that needs to start, while the others may struggle against a healthier Washington defense.Bruce Arians vs. St. Louis
I fear for Carson Palmer's health this week. The Rams can get to the quarterback, and the Cardinals, last season, gave up the most sacks in the league. Factor in Bruce Arians vertical-oriented offense, and you've got yourself a Miley Cyrus-like VMA performance in Week 1. Palmer should be under pressure all game long, so banking on anyone outside of Larry Fitzgerald for the Cardinals this week is a gamble. Make sure to keep an eye on those big plays, though. If Michael Floyd is the clear target on these passes, there's a shot that he takes on that Mike Wallace/T.Y. Hilton role we've seen under Arians. For now, benching Cardinals is probably a smart thing to do in Week 1.Norv Turner vs. Miami
I've mentioned before that Norv Turner likes to use his tight ends, and with Josh Gordon suspended, Jordan Cameron could see a significant number of targets even with the poor matchup against Miami. The thing I'm looking for most? Trent Richardson's usage. We've seen, read and watched Turner shove carries down his lead backs' throats, and in a probable tight game, Richardson could see upwards of 25 touches. We have T-Rich at about 19 carries right now, and he's still our 10th-best option at running back this week.Doug Marrone vs. New England
A Bill Belichick defense against a rookie quarterback? You should certainly stay away from starting E.J. Manuel this week - our 32nd-ranked quarterback - and be somewhat wary of C.J. Spiller (18th running back). Not enough has been talked about Marrone this offseason, but in a Week 1 game against a division rival who can control the clock, I'm not sure this is a game to feel good about the Bills' offense. Especially when we haven't seen a lot of it.Marc Trestman vs. Cincinnati
Trestman's West Coast style should be able to mask the Bears offensive line woes, and fantasy owners should be excited about what Trestman can bring in 2013 to the Bears offense. However, against Cincinnati - a team that ranked just as well as Seattle last year in terms of adjusted defensive NEP - the Bears offense may have trouble scoring. Expect field goals, physical play and turnovers in Trestman's debut. If the Bears end up winning big, that's fine - at least we'll know what to expect outside of Week 1.
Remember, everyone: It's Week 1. Getting cute with your lineup decisions can be saved for the latter weeks. For now, play it safe.