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How great does it feel now that NFL football is truly back? The weekly excitement leading up to Thursday/Sunday/Monday combined with the weekly grind of what it takes to win consistently in fantasy football is a difficult combo to beat. The ups-and-downs of a normal Sunday afternoon can lead you to miss a few of the finer points of the game that just don’t come along with rooting for your fantasy player all game long. That is perfectly fine, and can be overcome by reading articles such as this. I will remind you though exactly what I have preached in the pre-season and will continue to until the message has gotten across … keep perspective!
The most complete team in the NFL to start the 2012 season is the San Francisco 49ers. If you have ever played the game, or even heard a coach try over-and-over again to drill into his players’ minds just how important ‘execution’ is, the 49ers can show you exactly why. They are the best team at executing what exactly they want to do during the course of the game. On offense, Alex Smith has been coached-up perfectly. He completed 20-of-26 passes to multiple receivers, was solid on third down and was never really close to making a costly mistake. Along with that, their powerful offensive line and running schemes keep defenses on their heels, literally and figuratively.
On defense, the 49ers had one of the most impressive performances I can remember watching to date. Aaron Rodgers tried to go downfield and hit the big play several times, and failed on each and every occasion. When the 49ers defensives backs were called upon to make the play they needed to make, they did it. It is very evident they are an extremely confident bunch of defensive backs, and, by the looks of it, they seem to believe they won’t allow a deep ball to be completed on them all season long. Rodgers completed 30 passes in total simply because he had no other choice but to take what the 49ers gave him. Short pass after short pass, Rodgers had to be accurate just to accomplish what is usually an easy gain versus most teams. The 49ers kept everything in front of them, and when Rodgers broke the pocket it was Aldon Smith who constantly chased him down or forced him to get rid of the ball too quickly. Amazing performance by the 49ers defensive unit, who could actually be improved from a 2011 squad that returns all 11 starters.
Much of the preseason talk about the Washington Redskins was about Robert Griffin III or their situation at running back. That talk won’t be slowed at all after the Redskins pulled an upset of the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome. One of the main contributors in the upset was running back Alfred Morris. If you started him in fantasy football this week, I would like to congratulate you and would advise not to listen to anyone who claims you should sell-high at this point. Coach Mike Shanahan has a bad rap when it comes to running backs. Recently he hasn’t done any fantasy footballers any favors, I would agree, but remember what he did with a sixth-round pick back in the later 1990s. Yeah, that Terrell Davis guy wasn’t so bad…Be patient.
What exactly would you be selling high for? Roy Helu will be the one to push Morris if it happens, but it is proven that Helu remains more of a complimentary back who will specialize on third down. Morris will not be replaced in short yardage situations all season, as long as he keeps the ball secure in the red zone. It is very likely you drafted Morris as a RB3 or a flex in leagues that play one, so there is no risk in keeping him and seeing what you have. While I am not predicting many more games of 25 carries, he will continue to carry the load for the time being for an offense that might be a little better than we all expected.
Another team that impressed me at a shocking level was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They were more than ready for Cam Newton and company to come to town. The offense controlled the ball, holding the Panthers to 49 offensive plays the entire game. The front seven dominated the game for Tampa Bay, not allowing the Panthers to have but a handful of positive gains in the running game. The special team players looked like the highest energy unit in the entire NFL Sunday as well. The Buccaneers blocked a punt, hit hard and made the tackles they needed to make in the open field when any of the Panthers players sniffed daylight.
It was blatantly obvious coach Greg Schiano has implemented his identity on a Buccaneers squad that I considered the worst in the league towards the end of 2011. Schiano will pound the rock on offense, hold players accountable on defense and will shorten the game as best he can to keep this team in every game they play. This will be a great recipe for the Buccaneers defense to finish in the Top 10 in yards against and be a unit that you won’t want your fantasy studs playing against. Tampa Bay’s performance was the one aspect of Week 1 that I feel most confident was a sign of things to come, rather than just a one-week fluke.
I will preach not to panic early on in the season, but if you drafted Michael Turner in the first four rounds of your draft, there is a definite cause for concern. As soon as he has his next solid game of 18 carries, 86 yards and a score; I recommend unloading him in a trade. He not only doesn’t fit what the Falcons want to do this season, but his counterpart Jacquizz Rodgers does. There will be pretty close to an even split throughout the year when it comes to total snap count. Even when the Falcons grabbed the lead, it was Rodgers getting five carries in the fourth quarter. The days of Turner playing exclusively and racking up 300 touches are over.
Please stop with the Mark Sanchez played the best game of his career talk. It was against a Buffalo Bills defense that was supposed to be improved on paper, which it clearly is not. The Bills at this point, are still one of the best five matchups for your fantasy players to be up against. Not only that, but Sanchez was heading into Week 15 in 2011 with 26 total touchdowns accounted for while only throwing 11 interceptions. It was his last three games of the season that sealed his perception’s fate. His solid and efficient play at times are not something we should be surprised by, whatsoever. One of the things you might notice this season that is different is the play calling; it will aid Sanchez in creating more big plays than it did under coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who I consider one of the most predictable coordinators in the league.
Two wide receivers that are definitely worth adds if available in 12-team leagues are Sidney Rice and Andre Roberts. Both were targeted nine times in the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals contest Sunday afternoon. Rice was battling with Patrick Peterson all day, and showed on plenty of occasions that he still has the talent to be the go-to wide receiver in Seattle. People have just been so down on Rice because of the recent injuries, as shown by him being overlooked in drafts all around the nation.
As for Roberts, he will benefit from Kevin Kolb running the show in Arizona. Kolb spreads the ball around a little better than John Skelton. Roberts was targeted three times on the game-winning drive for the Cardinals, which included him catching the go-ahead touchdown. Roberts will also benefit from the play calling, as he will be running many of the shorter routes that will allow Kolb to get the ball out of his hands quickly. Getting the ball out quickly will be the key for any and all success Kolb will have in the coming weeks since his pocket presence leaves a lot to be desired when trying to run deeper, long developing routes down the field. Both Rice and Roberts can be used as WR3’s on your roster if you are looking for someone to fill that spot.
Is there cause for concern for Wes Welker owners? Yes, there is. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez did not leave the football field Sunday. That is right, they played every snap on offense. Along with that, Brandon Lloyd was the most targeted player in the Patriots passing game. Welker is the clear fourth option in the Patriots attack right now, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Maybe it is the Patriots’ resistance to give Welker a long-term deal, or maybe it is just them transitioning to the future. Either way, I don’t consider Welker a WR1 any longer, and, with his lack of big play ability, if he continues to be an inconsistent part of the gameplan, you should start looking for a WR2 as well. In points-per-reception leagues, Welker will be hard-pressed to fall below Top 20 status, but you won’t be seeing nearly as many elite level performances as we have become accustomed to getting from Welker.
Kevin Ogletree is going to be a very hot waiver commodity in the next couple days. Just remember, his regression could be a hard fall if you plan to pick him up and start him. Ogletree was targeted 11 times in the game, even though he played just more than 30 snaps the entire game. That’s a truly impossible ratio to maintain.
Matt Ryan lived up to the hype in Week 1 against a depleted Kansas City Chiefs defense. The game proved one thing to me though; Ryan will never be an elite fantasy option. When I say elite, I am talking Top 4-5, in the range that we saw Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford reach in 2011. Ryan will never reach those heights for the simple reason that Mike Smith does not like to run up the score. The Falcons head coach is completely content running the football with any lead he feels comfortable with. Atlanta had a 20-17 lead when Ryan rushed in a touchdown to go up 10 points on the Chiefs. The Falcons got the football back with four minutes to go in the third quarter, and they proceeded to throw the ball only five more times the rest of the game. Thirty-one total pass attempts in the game for Ryan; 21 of them in the first half, with only five of those passes being attempted in the last 19 minutes of the football game.
Follow me on twitter @JLanfranca, and feel free to ask me any questions or lineup decisions you may have moving forward. I would be glad to help, and good luck in Week 2!
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