Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge baseball fan, have attended a handful of games this season and compete in two fantasy baseball leagues. I am not getting tired of baseball, but need something new to focus on. Since the end of the NBA season on April 14, my attention has almost exclusively been focused on monitoring baseball. This can seem like a grind as trades, injuries and streaming hot pickups are virtually a daily occurrence. I feel as if I have been eating the same meal every single day since spring. It is time for a new delicacy to sink my teeth into. The NFL season officially begins this Thursday with one of the most hyped games of the year. Not only will the season opener feature a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship game between Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints, but is on the cusp of spawning a rivalry between these two conference powerhouses. With questions regarding the legality of the New Orleans defense’s numerous hits on Brett Favre during their epic playoff battle still looming, including the controversial low hit employed by Saints linemen Remi Ayodele and Bobby McCray, coaches and players have been publicly fueling this gridiron clash. Despite the intrigue of this opener, there are 15 other games taking place during Week 1. I will be sampling two players at each position along with a defense to not only help you decide who to start, but also to educate you on several tactics to add to your fantasy repertoire this season. You, I and every NFL team have the same goal this season: win the trophy!
Brett Favre– Are you sick of hearing his name yet? Well, I guarantee I will not be choosing him to discuss every week, but his rematch against the Saints is too appetizing to resist. Favre threw 46 times for 310 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and one fumble in the NFC Championship. With the Saints’ ability to penetrate Minnesota’s offensive line and Favre’s fragile ankle, it is difficult to recommend Favre for this matchup. Despite the abundance of hits on Favre, the Saints were unsuccessful in recording a sack against him. If you were unable to secure one of the top seven ranked quarterbacks in your draft, you will likely need to start him. Without safety Darren Sharper patrolling the secondary, the matchup may be slightly more appealing. With Favre’s top target Sidney Rice hurt, he will have to look elsewhere. Deep threat Bernard Berrian was the top receiver during the last game against the Saints and appears to be healthy for Week 1. It is important to note that in Favre’s last two Week 1 performances, he has thrown less than 200 yards with 23 or less attempts, but still has managed at least one touchdown per game.
Joe Flacco – “Joe Cool” proved that sophomore slumps are just an urban legend. Baltimore increased Flacco’s pass attempts last season and should be pleased with the results. By adding seven touchdowns and almost 700 yards last season, Flacco established himself a decent second-tier quarterback. Regardless of Flacco’s success, he faces a tough away matchup against the New York Jets defense led by Darrelle Revis. I am aware of the excitement regarding Baltimore’s elite receiving corps of Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Donte Stallworth and newly acquired T.J. Houshmandzadeh. However, wait a week or two and see how Flacco gels with these new receivers. Also, let’s not forget that that Baltimore ran almost two out of every three offensive sets last season.
Matt Forte – Speaking of sophomore slumps, Forte generally comes to mind as many drafted him in the first round last season. With Jay Cutler joining the Chicago Bears, this dynamic duo was projected to potentially post career highs. Unfortunately, the opposite occurred. This may have worked to the favor of many Forte fans as they likely drafted him this season much later. Fortunately, Forte’s season opener is against the lowly defense of the Detroit Lions. Forte ran for more than 100 yards in two games last season, both against Detroit. Not to mention, his longest runs last year of 53 and 61 yards were also against their defense. If your running back studs have a difficult matchup, this Bears running back should run wild on Detroit this weekend.
Malcom Floyd – Who will replace Vincent Jackson? While ‘V-Jax’ threatens to sit out for the season while complaining about his salary and driving intoxicated, Phillip Rivers will be looking for a new top receiver. It is more than likely that Antonio Gates may serve as the top target, but there is definitely room for another 1,000-yard receiver. This topic has experts debating between Legedu Naanee and Floyd. I am picking Floyd and would highly recommend starting him for the Monday Night game. Although Ryan Matthews has impressed this preseason, the Chargers have evolved into a pass-heavy offense and will be playing last year’s third-to-last passing defense, the Kansas City Chiefs. Floyd caught nine passes for 140 yards in the regular season finale, while Jackson rested for the playoffs. Sorry, the presence of newly acquired Patrick Crayton does not scare me.
Anquan Boldin– Over the last few seasons, Boldin has proven to be a top receiver in this league, especially when he is healthy. However, T.J. Houshmandzadeh‘s signing along with Darrelle Revis finalizing his contract may have resulted in rising blood pressure for his owners. It is difficult to see Boldin having the similar statistical seasons as he posted opposite Larry Fitzgerald with Kurt Warner throwing to him. I would recommend tempering your expectations for Week 1 with Baltimore’s new receiver especially as he battles Revis Island.
Jason Witten – How did Witten become a sleeper? It is due to the fact that Tony Romo does not throw to his favorite target and roommate in the end zone. Although he only scored twice last year, Witten finished with more than 1,000 receiving yards and the second most receptions by a tight end, which increases his value in points-per-reception leagues. Witten should have a decent game against the Washington Redskins, against whom he caught 117 yards in the season finale.
Owen Daniels – Last year, Daniels became one of the hottest tight ends during the first half of the season, but suffered a season-ending injury. If you drafted Daniels this season, you should be in store for another productive year with the high-flying Texans, but not for Week 1. Houston’s tight end is scheduled to participate in only 15-20 snaps per coach Gary Kubiak. If you only have one tight end on the roster, then pick up someone for this week as Daniels may only have a few catches while his torn ligament.
New Orleans Saints – Can you tell that I am excited about Thursday’s game? Last year, New Orleans surprised the fantasy world as a top five defense. Although their passing yardage allowed was among the worst in the NFL, they only allowed 15 passing touchdowns, which ranked fifth. Not to mention, only two other teams caught more interceptions. In last year’s NFC Championship game, the Saints’ aggressiveness showed through through as they intercepted Brett Favre twice and forced six fumbles. Without these turnovers, the Saints would have lost, especially since they allowed almost 500 total yards, which was double their total yardage. I predict New Orleans to pick off Favre at least once and knock him on the ground a few times, but still allow at least 20 points.
Pittsburgh Steelers – How important are preseason stats? Pittsburgh appears to have recovered from a satisfactory defensive performance in 2009. Although the defense ranked well in yards allowed per game and sacks, opponents averaged more than 20 points per game. Pittsburgh did not play Atlanta last season, but I feel comfortable starting them. Do not forget that Dennis Dixon will be Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback. Although he had a solid performance in his debut, the Pittsburgh’s offense may not be as reliable without Ben Roethlisberger, which may translate to more time on the field for the defense.