Week 1. Soak it up, drink it in, or eat it if you wish. Right now, I’m more excited than a duck enthusiast who was just chillin’ and strolling in the woods, and happened upon 2,000 ducks. I’m more excited than a kid who accomplished the life-altering feat of beating Super Mario 3 in 11 minutes. And I’m more excited than a fat guy who busted a bag of chips in space, and can now float around weightlessly while gaining weight.
Normal folk have that kind of excitement for the opening week of a new season, with all the hope and all the new beginnings and stuff. Fantasy folk have that too, plus some. Sure, the season technically started Wednesday, but that was one game on one night, and it never truly feels like a new year is upon us until the first Sunday, when I can not move for upwards of 12 hours and watch multiple games due to my deft remote control skills.
You spent months analyzing and scrutinizing your draft rankings, an effort that peaked in August when you assembled the best team possible. Now it’s time to see how those decisions play out, and to begin to play a game in earnest in which you usually have a one in 10 or one in 12 chance of success. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have while feeling deep shame.
So welcome to the 2012 NFL season and fantasy season, and welcome to our weekly preview. Please, come with us as we meander through some of the good and awful matchups — an exercise that may result in me eating crow, my favorite meal — in addition to forecasting the best and worst case scenarios for two key players, and many other fun and wonderful adventures.
The top three favorable matchups
1. Cam Newton vs. Tampa Bay: During a season when he set the rookie record for the most rushing yards by a quarterback, Newton’s highest single-game total came in Week 16 against the Bucs. He had 65 yards that day — most of which came on a 49-yard run — and he also had three touchdown passes.
2. Michael Vick/LeSean McCoy vs. Cleveland: The Browns will be playing without inside run stuffer Phil Taylor until at least Week 7, and even with him they were one of only four teams to allow more than 140 rushing yards per game last year.
3. Kevin Smith vs. St. Louis: If you’re a Maurice Jones-Drew or Adrian Peterson owner — two RBs who will soon resume their role as studs, but will likely be limited this week — and you grabbed Smith for insurance in the late rounds, feel confident with that play this week. The addition of Michael Brockers helps, but he’s not enough to fix the league’s reigning worst run defense that gave up 253 yards to DeMarco Murrary in his first start last year.
The top three least favorable matchups
1. Stevie Johnson vs. New York Jets: Johnson was one of the few receivers to have success against Darrelle Revis last year, finishing with 159 receiving yards and a touchdown over two games against arguably the league’s best corner. But even though he practiced Friday and will almost surely play, repeating that success while nursing a groin injury will be difficult.
2. Aaron Rodgers vs. San Francisco: If I need to tell you that there’s no matchup awful enough to even consider benching Rodgers, then, well, hope is not your friend. However, this is a week when expectations for Rodgers should be lowered from super awesome to maybe only moderately awesome. An already weak Packers rushing offense will provide even less support against the league’s best run defense, and the Niners had 23 INTs last year.
3. Trent Richardson vs. Philadelphia: There’s the obvious concern tied to a rookie running back who’s just returning from a knee injury. But beyond that, the Eagles secondary isn’t exactly a soft landing spot for Brandon Weeden, a rookie quarterback making his first start against Nnamdi Asomugha et al. Combine Richardson’s likely lack of aerial support with his knee and the accompanying questionable tag, and he’s a low-end RB2 at best.
The regular starter you should consider benching
Johnson is the leading candidate here due the aforementioned death blend of the nagging groin injury and Revis. But another concern is Dwayne Bowe, who for many is likely a WR3 or a low-end WR2. Bowe will get his yardage (he had 1,159 receiving yards last year), but his value primarily lies in his red-zone ability, as he’s only a year removed from a 15 touchdown season.
The Chiefs open up against the Falcons, a team that added Asante Samuel to a strong cornerback group which already included Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes, so the middle of the pack-ish 25 passing touchdowns they allowed in 2011 could and should decline. But hey, that’s why this imaginary game with real people is played on a computer screen, and not on paper.
The potential weather concerns
Is there a stench of nerd to this category? Absolutely. But anyone who owned Maurice Jones-Drew last year when the field in Carolina was turned into a giant slip and slide and he had 122 rushing yards (his second highest single-game total of the season) knows that being a thunder buddy can be a profitable fantasy friendship.
God could unleash his anger on Tampa tomorrow, although not nearly to the extent of that apocalypse in Carolina. There’s a 60 percent chance of precipitation with a thunderstorm a possibility, which could include up to an inch of rain. If that comes at game time it could create ideal running conditions for DeAngelo Williams — who will likely start for the Panthers and replace the injured Jonathan Stewart — and Doug Martin/LeGarrette Blount. Newton seems to enjoy running too, so there’s also that.
The stat that will make you happy
Shonn Greene is about as fun to own as herpies, but he experienced moderate success against the Bills last year. His season per game rushing yards average was 65.9, and that rose to 77 against Buffalo. Far more importantly, on 13 carries during a Week 12 game he averaged six yards per carry.
Buffalo is a nice, cushy landing spot for Greene as he finally goes about his vision quest to prove that he can be productive as a featured back, and this week he could produce respectable RB2 numbers.
The best case scenario for…Matt Ryan
The Chiefs don’t figure out how to defend Dirk Koetter’s four verticals passing concept, Matt Cassel struggles to advance KC’s offense and get good field position, and Julio Jones continues to do Julio Jones things as he did throughout the preseason with 240 receiving yards on 13 catches.
Bold-ish prediction for Ryan: 312 passing yards and 2 TDs
The worst case scenario for…Peyton Manning
James Harrison isn’t playing, but a Broncos backfield that somehow has Knowshon Moreno as its second running back is still stymied by a Pittsburgh defense that remains largely unchanged from the unit that gave up less than 100 yards per game last year on the ground.
Overall, an awful matchup for a quarterback playing his first competitive football in well over a year is every bit as horrid as we expected, an outcome that could come to fruition even without Harrison available. Jason Worilds was quite efficient and applied consistent pressure while filling in for Harrison last year with three sacks over six starts, and LaMarr Woodley is still the beastly dude who has 19 sacks over the past two seasons.
Bold-ish prediction for Manning: 235 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 1 lost fumble
The guy who’s currently sleeping
With Golden Tate ruled out due to a knee injury, Braylon Edwards will be the Seahawks’ No. 2 wideout opposite Sidney Rice. Edwards remains only a sleeper play until we see more out of Russell Wilson for an extended regular-season period.
But still, it’s reasonable to view Edwards as a safety value for Wilson due to his reach and length if the rookie QB is scrambling, and he’s always scrambling.
The appropriate song lyrics of the week
We’ll dedicate our inaugural text-based jam to the elder Manning, who begins an adventure in which he’ll attempt to keep his head in its proper upright position.
“It’s been a long year
Since you’ve been gone
I’ve been alone here
I’ve grown old
I fall to pieces, I’m falling
Fell to pieces and I’m still falling
Every time I’m falling down
All alone I fall to pieces”
– Velvet Revolver