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What Did We Learn – Week 1

Drew Brees looked like himself. Yes, he only threw one touchdown against a patchwork Minnesota Vikings defense, but his timing and touch were a thing of beauty. And face it, you’re not sitting him anyway, but he looked great. His receivers, however, will be iffy each week as Brees spreads the ball to everyone, completing passes to nine different players on Thursday. If you can get solid value for a New Orleans Saints’ wideout, you should consider it, simply from a consistency standpoint.

Pierre Thomas made fantasy owners sweat it out, and then started pounding the ball at the Viking defense. He was very impressive in the second half, and almost most importantly to fantasy owners, he got the goal line carry, making him even more valuable. This should continue as the Saints really don’t have any other back capable of those short yardage carries. But beware Brees and his play action passes.

Brett Favre took responsibility for the loss after the game, claiming he had no excuse, except he kinda does. He missed 95 percent of offseason activities. His timing was terrible because he hasn’t thrown enough passes recently. He panicked the few times the Saints were able to put pressure on him because he hasn’t seen blitzes enough. And of course he’ll get better, but you should be ready for a rocky ride if you’re really counting on him each week.

Favre should try handing off to that Adrian Peterson guy, who looked fantastic. I’d like to know how many run plays were audibled to passes, because Peterson is the best thing they have going for them. And the way you beat an elite quarterback in this league, and Brees is one of maybe three or four elite quarterbacks, is to keep them on the sidelines by running the ball. It makes me nervous for Peterson, who should be even more productive than he is, but Favre will call his own number way too often. You shouldn’t trade him, but he makes me nervous is all.

Jay Cutler put up some gaudy passing numbers, but they may not be too far off what he will do all year. This may be wishful thinking, since I have him on several of my teams, but I think the Mike Martz offensive scheme combined with the variety of targets he has may provide him the opportunity to thrive. I’m concerned that his two touchdown passes were both passes to running back Matt Forte, which he then broke for a big play. I’m not saying Cutler will go for 350-plus every game, but I think around 275-300 yards, a touchdown or two, and an interception every game seems about right.

Speaking of Forte, he rushed 17 times for 50 yards and caught seven passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. Temper expectations, since Forte took a screen pass 89 yards for a score, but it still counts. In a Martz offense, the emphasis is on the passing game, but the running back is vital. Remember the St. Louis Rams between 2001 and 2003 had Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Az-zahir Hakim, but their MVP was Marshall Faulk. Forte will try to fill that Faulk role, and Sunday’s game was a great first impression.

Matthew Stafford was sacked towards the end of the first half, injuring his throwing shoulder as he went to the turf. Early reports have him missing anywhere from two weeks to a frightening eight weeks. The Lions will play it safe with Stafford, and owners should track this story and plan accordingly if Stafford is your starter. In the meantime, his backup, Shaun Hill, will start, and should only be picked up if absolutely necessary.

Tom Brady looked great, picking apart an underrated Cincinnati defense, shaking off any doubts that his Thursday car accident or new lucrative contract might have any effect on him. He threw for 250-plus yards and three scores, ho-hum. The best thing about it was that he looked comfortable and it looked easy. I’m not saying he’s going for 50 touchdowns, but 35 seems very doable, and you know they’re not gonna start just running the ball.

On the other sideline, Carson Palmer looked … gulp … good. I wrote preseason that Palmer had no excuses this year. If he couldn’t put up numbers with all the toys he has, he never will. I thought he might be able to, but wasn’t confident. He responded by throwing for almost 350 yards and two scores. The Bengals came up short in the end, but Palmer fans and owners have to be happy with his performance.

Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens looked like they were able to coexist nicely. I suppose when your quarterback goes for that many yards, his receivers will likely put up some numbers. Ochocinco caught 12 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown, while Owens added seven catches and 53 yards. I think that will be par for the course this year.

Prior to the season, I was on record as saying Eli Manning wouldn’t repeat last year’s numbers because he wouldn’t throw enough. Well, I may have been wrong, as Manning threw enough to be useful, putting up solid passing numbers and three touchdown passes. They had a decent running attack with Ahmad Bradshaw, which should keep defenses honest against the Giants.

Remember those three Manning touchdown passes? All of them went to Hakeem Nicks. He looked fantastic. Big, strong, fast, athletic. He went and got the ball. And Manning is obviously looking for him. Nicks could fill the role that Plaxico Burress had back during the Giants’ Super Bowl year. Steve Smith will be the possession receiver, while Nicks will be the deep threat and big-play guy.

The Atlanta Falcons traveled to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in what most people thought would be a great game. Well, it turned out to be a real rock fight, as the two teams were tied at nine after 60 minutes. I’ll say that again, because I feel like you might have missed it. The score was 9-9. The defenses played well, but it was tough to watch. And while neither offense looked good, at least Pittsburgh had an excuse, as they started “third-string” quarterback Dennis Dixon. Rashard Mendenhall finished with good numbers, but mostly due to the 50-yard touchdown run he had in overtime. The Steelers offense just needs to be mediocre for four weeks. One down, three to go. As for the ‘Dirty Birds,’ I actually expected Michael Turner to be better, and think he’ll get on track soon. Roddy White looked good, re-establishing himself as Matt Ryan’s go-to guy.

The Broncos traveled to Jacksonville in a battle of two teams that could go either way. Each team could be 10-6 or 4-12 at season’s end, and I wouldn’t be surprised. Each team has strengths, but more weaknesses, and this season will boil down to quarterback play. Denver’s Kyle Orton and Jacksonville’s David Garrard are both being undervalued this year. Orton now has a year under his belt in the Denver system, has become familiar with his receivers and had a great preseason. He put up solid numbers and should continue to do so. Garrard may have a less-than-stellar receiving corps, but his running attack with Maurice Jones-Drew will keep defenses focused on the run. He only threw for 170 yards, but his completion percentage was high, as was his passer rating with those three touchdowns. Both are capable fantasy backups and potential matchup plays as the season wears on.

Arian Foster has officially arrived. Foster knifed his way through the Indianapolis defense on his way to 231 yards and three scores. The Colts traditionally have a weak run defense anyway, but it shouldn’t take away from Foster’s performance. Here’s the tricky part: what do we expect from Foster the rest of the way? This was one case where I think the Texans noticed a glaring weakness in the Colts, but have never had a back capable of executing. Once it became apparent that the Indianapolis defense would be unable to stop the run, and especially once the Texans had gotten out to a lead, Houston was content to give the ball to Foster.  Foster ran the ball 17 times on first down accounting for 163 yards, including runs of 42 and 25. This means that he is not only the Texans workhorse, but also has enough speed to make big plays.

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