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TRAPS & TRENDS: Week 1 Edition

The opening weekend of NFL action featured some dazzling rookie debuts and some outstanding fantasy performances by trusted veterans. But it was the shaky quarterback play that should have grabbed the headlines. Check out these not-so-promising fantasy predictions for Kirk Cousins and Andy Dalton in the Week 1 edition of “Traps and Trends.”

1. “You like that?!” Nope, Mr. Cousins, I don’t think your fantasy owners are smiling right now after your Week 1 showing.

The Dude: Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins

The Damage: His painfully mediocre level of preseason play has carried over into Week 1. During a brutal 30-17 home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Cousins, under siege all afternoon by ferocious Eagles pass rush, went just 23 of 40 for 240 yards and one touchdown against one pick. He also lost two fumbles and took four sacks. Will Cousins, who fell less than 100 passing yards short of the 5,000-yard mark last season, continue to struggle?

The Diagnosis: TREND

A quick rebound from Cousins seems unlikely. Even though he amassed some impressive numbers during the last two years, Cousins isn’t good enough to carry an offense by himself. Cousins is a system guy. His system has changed for the worse, and it’s impacting the Washington triggerman more than expected. As you know, the team swapped DeSean Jackson (Bucs) for Terrelle Pryor and Pierre Garcon (49ers) – two 1,000-yard receivers from 2016 – for Josh Doctson. During the Philadelphia game, Cousins targeted Pryor 11 times (6-66-0), but the duo was out of sync. Pryor, a converted college quarterback, also committed a few drops. As for Doctson, he wasn’t targeted and played behind Ryan Grant.

On top of that, one of Cousins’ favorite targets, Jamison Crowder (hip), was ineffective (3-14-0 on seven targets) and apparently is more banged up than the team is letting on. Staying on the subject of injuries, there are whispers that Jordan Reed (5-36-0 on eight targets) is playing through a toe injury that limited him during the preseason. Cousins’ next three matchups before a Week 5 bye are challenging: at the Los Angeles Rams, the Oakland Raiders and at the Kansas City Chiefs.

2. The Red Rifle has matured and doesn’t have those meltdown outings anymore, right?

 The Dude: Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

The Damage: His horrible Week 1 showing against the Baltimore Ravens brought back ugly memories of Dalton’s disastrous outing against the Cleveland Browns in 2014. In that game, he connected on 10 of 33 throws for 33 yards with no touchdowns and three picks, and took two sacks. During his team’s 20-0 loss to Baltimore, Dalton went 16 of 31 for 170 yards with four interceptions. He also lost a fumble and took five sacks. Struggling whenever the Ravens brought pressure, Dalton’s accuracy and decision making were horrendous. Statistically, the Ravens game wasn’t as bad as the infamous Browns outing, but it deserves a spot in the team photo of awful Dalton performances. Will fantasy owners receive more visits from “Bad Andy” this season?

The Diagnosis: TOSSUP

While I have some doubts about Dalton’s long-term prospects – it’s time to put a muzzle on the “Dalton will be a top-10 fantasy passer” chatter – I’m going to give him a mulligan for Week 1. Will “Bad Andy” return this season? Probably. I also think Dalton, thanks to his impressive supporting cast, has a good chance to bounce back, but the Bengals offensive line is hurting without Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. On top of that, Trey Hopkins was injured against the Ravens.

Dalton’s Thursday night home matchup against the Houston Texans doesn’t look like a great one on paper. After the Texans game, Dalton will face both the Green Bay Packers and the Cleveland Browns on the road followed by the Buffalo Bills at home. The Browns and Bills matchups are favorable.

3. Has Father Time finally snuffed out the Tom Terrific magic?

 The Dude: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

The Damage: You probably watched Brady surprisingly struggle during New England’s stunning 42-27 season-opening loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. No, I’m not a Brady/Patriots apologist – the Chiefs flat out beat them. The 40-year-old Brady truly looked his age against Kansas City, completing just 16 of 36 passes for 267 yards with no touchdown tosses (one to James White was nullified by a penalty) and no interceptions. His 44.4 completion percentage was one of the worst of the 18-year pro’s career. Brady frequently threw downfield more than usual (yes, his deep ball had a lot of air under it), failing to connect with blanketed receivers, and he barely held his own against a potent Kansas City pass rush in the second half. Have Brady’s days as a fantasy asset come to a quick and unceremonious end?

The Diagnosis: TRAP

Seriously? Brady is not done – not even close. He and his teammates got caught basking in the glow of their Super Bowl triumph, and the Chiefs made them pay for it. The Patriots looked sloppy and…dare I say it…unprepared to play. New England’s plan for replacing Julian Edelman (torn ACL) seemed to be let Brady sling it downfield and hope somebody makes a play. The Patriots’ game plan included more deep throwing than usual for Brady, which was very unusual. Aside from Mike Gillislee and Brandin Cooks, Brady’s offensive teammates phoned this one in. The injuries at wideout are a concern – Malcolm Mitchell (knee) has been placed on injured reserve and Danny Amendola suffered a concussion against the Chiefs – but Brady and company are too good and too experienced not to rebound in Week 2 against the New Orleans Saints.

4. Have you heard the one about the game-manager quarterback who morphs into a legit fantasy passer?

 The Dude: Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

The Damage: There’s no truth to the rumor that Smith and Tom Brady swapped uniforms before the NFL’s season opener kicked off last Thursday night. You probably watched the usually risk-averse dink-and-dunk artist Smith light up the New England Patriots secondary with shocking ease, hitting on 28 of 35 throws for 368 yards and four touchdowns. He aggressively went downfield, connecting with Tyreek Hill on a 75-yard scoring play and hooking up with rookie Kareem Hunt on a 78-yard catch-and-run. Is this the type of play that we should expect from Smith going forward? Or was his showing against the Patriots a fluke?

The Diagnosis: TREND

I’m buying into the new-and-improved Smith as a legit fantasy asset and high-end No. 2 fantasy passer. With Hill and Hunt complementing Travis Kelce, this is the best collection of weapons that Smith has had during his Kansas City career. With Patrick Mahomes lurking, it looks like Smith has decided to let it all hang out as he battles to keep his job safe from the rookie. Smith draws a favorable Week 2 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles and a plus matchup against Washington in Week 4.

About Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson has played NFL fantasy football since 1994 and has been a featured columnist at FantasySharks.com since 2008. His 18 combined years of professional writing experience includes a five-year stint as a contributing writer/editor at KFFL.com. He has been a featured contributor to The Fantasy Football Guide since 2008 and has been published regularly in the award-winning USA Today Sports Fantasy Football preview. Matt is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and holds a degree in journalism from Northern Illinois.