You’ve made sure the cupboards are filled with canned goods and batteries. A new bathroom was built in the basement that minimizes walking distance, and you have enough TV dinners to feed a college dorm. You’re ready, we’re ready, and the NFL is ready.
It’s fantasy football time.
Hug your significant other, pat your dog on the head, and descend to the control room. These may all seem like extreme measures for an activity that occupies essentially one day of every week, but we’ve been doing every one of them since a far gone era when Jeff Garcia was considered a viable fantasy option.
This year we’re adding to our seclusion preparation by giving you fantasy predictions, and forecasting the top weekly studs based on matchups. If we’re right on any or most of these, think of us as your weekly Nostradamus. And if we’re wrong, then just know that it’s the first time we’ve ever been wrong about anything.
Let’s do this. Our predictions for the top 10 players at each position are below, with explanations for inclusions and exclusions for the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.
1. Michael Vick @ STL — Philly’s offensive line could become an early glaring weak point, and they’ll face an immediate test against a defense that finished with 43 sacks last year.
2. Aaron Rodgers vs. NO — Led all quarterbacks with 360 points in most formats during Green Bay’s championship season.
3. Matt Schaub vs. IND — The possibility of no Arian Foster means more passing, and much more fantasy fun.
4. Philip Rivers vs. MIN — Jackson and Gates return as weapons to face a defence that gave up 25 passing touchdowns in 2010.
5. Tom Brady @ MIA — Is this a little low for football’s favorite Uggs model? Yes, yes it is. The Dolphins held Mr. Bundchen to a very un-Brady 352 yards and two touchdowns over two games last year.
6. Drew Brees @ GB — Plenty of wide receiver depth to compensate for the absence of Lance Moore.
7. Matt Ryan @ CHI — The hype surrounding Julio Jones and what he’ll do once games matter keeps Ryan in the top 10, but Chicago surrendered only 14 passing TDs last year.
8. Ben Roethlisberger @ BAL – On the surface this looks daunting, but Big Ben has averaged a respectable 240.8 yards over his last five meetings with a fierce Baltimore defense.
9. Josh Freeman vs. DET– The Lions’ secondary still isn’t scary, but Ndamukong Suh will eat your soul.
10. Matthew Stafford @ TB — Will usually be ranked higher if he finally stays healthy, but Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib lower opening week expectations.
Notable omissions: Calm down, you crazy self-entitled Cowboys fans. Although our power rankings forecast a very pedestrian finish for Dallas, Tony Romo will still have a fine fantasy season. He doesn’t make the cut this week for the same reason that almost kept Stafford out. There are these two characters named Revis and Cromartie who are kind of a big deal in the Jets’ secondary.
Kevin Kolb will also find himself on this prestigious list most weeks, but Carolina’s secondary is the only aspect of the entire team that’s remotely notable. As always, overplaying matchups is unwise with names like Romo and Kolb, a disclaimer I’ll probably repeat several times throughout the season. It’s especially unwise this early in the year when the strengths and weakness of defenses haven’t bubbled to the surface.
But with Romo, Kolb, and several others noted above, slightly lowered expectations are required this week.
1. Chris Johnson @ JAC – Paul Posluszny and Dawan Landry will help, but the Jacksonville run defense is still lousy.
2. Darren McFadden @ DEN — Similarly, Von Miller alone won’t being enough for a putrid rush defense that gave up over 150 yards per game last year.
3. Jamaal Charles vs. BUF – Matt Cassel will play, but he’s hurting, which could put the ball in Charles’ hands even more.
4. LeSean McCoy @ STL – One way to support a leaky offensive line is to run more. This will be beneficial.
5. Adrian Peterson @ SD — San Diego was one of just six teams to surrender less than 100 rushing yards per game last year, but Peterson remains cautiously high here due to a lack of confidence in Donovan McNabb.
6. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Ten — There will likely be an increased reliance on the run with Luke McCown’s shaky hand at the helm, but Jones-Drew will be the first test subject for a revamped and athletic linebacking corps in Tennessee led by Akeem Ayers and Barrett Ruud.
7. Frank Gore vs. Sea– Play him while you can. He averages 93.7 yards per game against Seattle.
8. Peyton Hillis vs. CIN –Another solid option with a good but not great rushing average against his opponent this week, finishing with 80.5 yards over two games against the Bengals last year.
9. Arian Foster vs. IND — We love him as a person, but we love him even more as a fantasy player. We’re downright infatuated when he says he’s playing Sunday, but perhaps my optimism–and his–is just wishful thinking. You should probably monitor Foster’s status.
10. Tim Hightower vs. NYG — Am I exceptionally high…on Hightower? It would seem that way, yes. His 170 yards in limited preseason play will have that effect, along with a Giants defense that’s been dismantled by injuries.
Notable omissions: You invested highly in Ray Rice and Rashard Mendenhall, and they’ll be your anchors all season. But expecting anything substantial this week during the Pittsburgh/Baltimore slugfest is like betting on the Ferrari in a demolition derby. Over the two meetings between these rivals last year Rice and Mendenhall had 176 combined rushing yards.
1. Andre Johnson vs. IND – Remember the cautionary tale of Arian Foster? If he doesn’t play, Johnson’s eyes will grow three times their normal size.
2. Larry Fitzgerald vs. CAR — Remember what I said about Carolina’s secondary? Yeah, that still stands, just not for Fitz. When Kolb does click it’ll be with his primary target, who averaged 30.5 yards per game in August.
3. Calvin Johnson @ TB — Remember what I said about the Bucs’ secondary? Well, that’s still true too, but a healthy Titus Young could keep double coverage away from Megatron.
4. Hakeem Nicks @ Was – If Kevin Walter can post 144 yards on the Washington secondary for nearly 25 percent of his yardage for the year (see: Week 2, 2010), Nicks should be just fine.
5. Roddy White @ CHI – The Julio Jones factor continues, this time providing a viable distraction on the other side of the field to divert attention away from Atlanta’s already dangerous No. 1 receiver.
6. DeSean Jackson @ STL – Playing the first meaningful game against a secondary without O.J Atogwe will carry great meaning for your fantasy bottom line. Jackson also really enjoys the great indoors.
7. Vincent Jackson vs. MIN –Antonie Winfield is still a Pro Bowler, and has been for the past three seasons. But this could be the year when Father Time casts his wicked spell, and his height (5’9″) can be exploited by Jackson.
8. Brandon Lloyd vs. OAK — Stanford Routt has developed enough to make the Raiders feel secure in their decision to let Nnamdi Asomugha walk, but there’s still a massive void as Oakland tries to match up with the opposition’s top wideout every week.
9. Mike Wallace @ BAL — A few hundred words or so ago Roethlisberger’s efficiency against Baltimore was mentioned in some capacity. He’ll face a poor pass rush, leaving plenty of time to find out where Wallace is.
10. Dez Bryant @ NYJ — No Miles Austin? Perhaps I’ll explain this in a section directly below dedicated to doing things of that nature.
Notable omissions: We’re all expecting a glorious breakout from Felix Jones, but that won’t happen this week against a Jets rush defense that gave up only 90.9 yards per game last year. We’ll see plenty of passing from Tony Romo Sunday night, and when he does that he’ll be looking in the direction of Bryant far more frequently, because Miles will get the Darrelle Revis treatment.
Greg Jennings was also narrowly excluded because generally with receivers, the payout is in the pay dirt, and most leagues value rushing yardage slightly more than receiving yardage. Jennings faced a top 10 pass defense five times last year, and had only three touchdowns, with all three coming during an outburst against Minnesota.
1. Antonio Gates vs. MIN — Nearly half of Gates’ 2010 yardage–48 percent–came over three explosions last year, providing rare boom potential at a fickle fantasy position.
2. Jermichael Finley vs. NO — Tight end coverage in the red zone was a weak point for the Saints last year, one that was especially evident when John Carlson scored two touchdowns during Seattle’s Wild Card weekend upset.
3. Vernon Davis vs. SEA – It’ll be interesting to see how much of Davis’ value is sucked up by Braylon Edwards because of his long wingspan and red zone presence.
4. Jason Witten @ NYJ — The same Revis shutdown that downgraded Austin and upgraded Bryant will have a similar effect on Romo’s safety valve.
5. Dallas Clark @ HOU – We get it. Kerry Collins’ throwing ability is now located somewhere in the vast wasteland separating Curtis Painter and Peyton Manning. But when a new quarterback is supported by a weak running game and a weak offensive line, Clark may as well just wear a “break glass in case of emergency” sign around his neck.
6. Owen Daniels vs. IND — He has just one touchdown over seven career games against the Colts.
7. Jimmy Graham @ GB — Could get a few more looks with Lance Moore out, leading to an early chance to resume the momentum he built after scoring four times over the last three weeks of 2010.
8. Kellen Winslow vs. DET – The effectiveness of Detroit’s pass rush and the ineffectiveness of their coverage combine to leave Josh Freeman relying on his mobility, and frequently finding his bail-out option.
9. Jared Cook @ JAC — A poor run defense should open the pearly gates to the red zone for Chris Johnson. From there it’s either more CJ, or a look towards the emerging Cook.
10. Brandon Pettigrew @ TB — The departure of Ruud leaves a hole up the middle for Tampa, and after finishing fifth among tight ends in receiving yards last year, Pettigrew’s chemistry with Stafford should return quickly.
Notable omissions: I’m simply not sure who to favor between Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski yet in New England, and I’m not sure that Bill Belichick is yet either, or if he ever will be. They’re both tremendously talented and will post fine numbers as a depth options if you run into injuries, or as bye week fill-ins, but rolling with one regularly will make for some tough tight end travels.
Marcedes Lewis is also curiously absent, or at least I’m sure that you’re curious about his exclusion if you reached for him early during a mid-round TE run (*connects palm to forehead*). David Garrard wasn’t much better, but Like McCown gives us about as much confidence as the average sixth-grader at his first school dance. We’ll see a lot of Maurice Jones-Drew Sunday, and then some more, and perhaps even a little bit more, with a few passes sprinkled in between.
It’ll be several weeks before McCown asserts himself in the Jacksonville offense and builds a rhythm with Lewis.
1. Mason Crosby vs. NO
2. Rob Bironas @ JAC
3. Robbie Gould @ ATL
4. Neil Rackers vs. IND
5. Sebastian Janikowski @ DEN
6. Stephen Gostkowski @ MIA
7. Jason Hanson @ TB
8. Jay Feely vs. CAR
9. Adam Vinatieri @ HOU
10. Shaun Suisham @ BAL
1. Jets vs. DAL
2. San Diego vs. MIN
3. Green Bay vs. NO
4. Pittsburgh @ BAL
5. Cleveland vs. CIN
6. Philadelphia @ STL
7. Baltimore vs. PITT
8. Houston vs. IND
9. Giants @ WAS
10. Detroit @ TB