Each week throughout the fantasy season, owners are faced with dilemmas about which players should ride the pine and which can lead them to league domination. Obviously, if your quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, he is playing every week, and the problem is moot. But what about those fringe starters like Phillip Rivers, or unproven commodities like Jake Locker? Choosing the right guy can make or break your weekend, and I am here to help.
>>Each week, I will use this space to offer advice on who to sit and who to start. Some columnists will refer to these players on their “Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em” lists (catchy, right?), while the more creative type may title it “Flames and Lames.”<<
With Naptime Quarterback, I am paving a different path, titling my list Aces and Deuces. The Aces are the number one guys, the ones you should start with confidence and expect to pay big dividends for your team. The Deuces, though, are another story. They are not the second best, as the name implies, but rather are more akin to slang terminology for what I find in my 18-month-old’s diaper. You don’t want to get your hands dirty with these players.
First up this week, the Aces.
Aces – Week 1
QB Robert Griffin III & WR Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins (@ New Orleans Saints) RGIII has been, without a doubt, this season’s most-hyped rookie quarterback, and in Week 1 he will live up to the noise. Playing against a Saints squad that more closely resembles Swiss cheese than an actual defense, look for the rookie to key in on new Redskins acquisition Garcon. Without the upfront pressure created by Will Smith (suspension) and Jabari Greer missing time with sports hernia surgery – plus the steep learning curve of the new scheme installed by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo – the Who Dats are ripe for the taking. Stick RGIII and his new best friend in your lineup, and enjoy the rewards. Bonus points if you also have Redskins tight end Fred Davis, who will feast on Saints strong safety Roman Harper’s notoriously poor TE coverage. Predictions: Griffin – 2 passing TDs + 305 yards passing + 1 rushing TD + 70 yards rushing + 1 INT = 32.2 fantasy points; Garcon – 1 TD + 105 yards receiving = 16.5 fantasy points
RB DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers (@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers) Williams has been extremely undervalued this offseason due to last year’s emergence of Cam Newton and the latter’s penchant for punching in his own goal line touchdowns. The addition of human bowling ball Mike Tolbert to Carolina’s crowded backfield hasn’t helped fantasy players feel any more confident about Williams, but that is why he is a sneaky play this weekend. Battling a porous Tampa team that ranked dead last in run defense last year but used free agency and the draft to shore up their offensive weapons (minus drafting a DB), Williams has a chance to put up big numbers. Fellow Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart is coming back from an ankle injury, which means it is time for D-Will to take advantage of his touches and prove he is the dominant horse in the stable. Look for a nice garbage time TD, as well. Prediction: 1 rushing TD + 97 yards rushing + 40 yards receiving = 19.7 fantasy points
QB Matt Schaub, Houston Texans (vs. Miami Dolphins) If there is any cure to the “not-elite” ill that so many pundits are casting upon Schaub, it’s a Week1 matchup against the Hard Knocks Heroes. After trading cornerback Vontae Davis to Indy, Miami is left with Seth Smith and Richard Marshall lining up against Andre Johnson, and forgive me if that doesn’t leave me shaking in my boots. Sure, all-world linebacker Cameron Wake may get in Schaub’s face every now and then, but with Arian Foster providing enough of a distraction (understatement of the year) for the ‘Phins, Schaub looks like an inexpensive play in deep leagues. He’ll also benefit from Foster’s yards after catch. Prediction: 3 TDs + 310 yards passing = 24.4 fantasy points
RB Matt Forte, Chicago Bears (vs. Indianapolis Colts) This may serve as the one “duh” play on here. If you are drafting Forte around his second round value, of course you are starting him this week. However, I see Forte as poised to explode for huge points in this game. After getting cranky during an offseason holdout, Forte is coming into the opener with something to prove. Indy, on the other side of the coin, is a defense in decline that will struggle against Forte’s breakaway speed and ability to break tackles. And while Forte may not be the definitive goal line back in Chicago this year, his value as Jay Cutler’s checkdown man cannot be overstated. While all the talk in the Windy City this offseason has been about the Cutler-Marshall reunion, many are forgetting the nearly 1,500 total yards and four touchdowns Forte put up in an abbreviated season. Prediction: 1 TD + 120 yards rushing + 85 yards receiving = 26.5 fantasy points
D/ST Buffalo Bills (@ New York Jets) What do you get when you add a Mario Williams-led defensive line and a sieve in front of Mark Sanchez? Fantasy gold. The J-E-T-S have a hard time scoring P-O-I-N-T-S with the former USC standout behind center and a lackluster band of wideouts, to the point where their first team offense did not score a single touchdown in the preseason. While I don’t expect that to occur this weekend, this is a hungry Buffalo defense that picked off none other than Tom Brady four times in a Week 3 matchup last season. Last time I checked, Sanchez was much, much worse than Brady. Prediction: 1-6 PA + 2 INT + 3 sacks + 1 fumble recovery + 1 TD = 22 fantasy points
After taking time to think about those players who should, without question, be in your lineup, it is time to reflect on those who should take a vacation this weekend.
This week’s Deuces all have high expectations, but I expect them to come in at far below their projections. Whether it is the top tier running backs who have tough matchups, or veteran receivers with lousy quarterbacks, these guys can cause more mayhem than the guy on the Allstate commercials. Drop these Deuces from your lineup, or risk the Monday morning hangover that accompanies a poor Sunday fantasy showing.
Deuces – Week 1
RB DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys (@ New York Giants) Fully healed from a fractured ankle suffered at the end of last season, Murray is pegged to be a top fantasy workhorse in 2012. Unfortunately for his owners, his Week 1 matchup comes against a Giants defensive front that boasts the likes of Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. Sure, Dallas will try to set the tempo with the running game early, so Murray will see plenty of carries. But once the Giants build a lead with their track star offense, Tony Romo will be left to pick apart New York’s decimated secondary, leaving Murray in the dust. Don’t expect him to carry your team this week. Prediction: 82 yards rushing + 22 yards receiving + 0 TDs = 10.4 fantasy points Actual: 131 yards rushing + 9 yards receiving = 14 fantasy points
RB Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Atlanta Falcons) Charles is another top flight back coming off of injury, but with almost a full year of recovery time under his belt. This has led to the kind of fantasy optimism he was experiencing at this time last year, but at a lower price. Still, it is time to pump the brakes. With the recent revelation that Charles is set for a 50-50 timeshare with fellow backfield mate Peyton Hillis, Charles’ owners should temper their expectations. Sure, he will gain yardage in between the 20s and maybe get you a breakaway touchdown every so often, but I actually prefer Hillis as the back to own in this system; the latter’s goal line power and screen pass ability make him more valuable. Plus, Kansas City is taking on a high-powered Falcons offense, which means they’ll be playing from behind and without the running game in the second half. Prediction: 90 yards rushing + 15 yards receiving + 1 TD = 16.5 fantasy points
WR Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals (vs. Seattle Seahawks) I love me some Larry Fitzgerald as much as the next guy, and if it were up to me, I would nominate the man for sainthood. To go about his business in the professional manner that he does – with a rotation of overpaid backups and small school rookies hucking him the rock – is unheard of in today’s NFL landscape, and I commend him for it. As a fantasy commodity, though, I wish he would speak up a little more. With second year Fordham standout (oxymoron?) John Skelton winning the opening day gig, I just don’t have a lot of faith in Fitzgerald’s stock. Seattle boasts an impressive secondary helmed by safety Earl Thomas and heavy hitter Kam Chancellor, and Skelton didn’t exactly blow away the competition in preseason. Yes, Fitzgerald still manages to get open and put up points, but Skelton will be harassed by Seattle’s physical front, leading to a lackluster showing in the points department. Prediction: 85 yards receiving + 0 TDs = 8.5 fantasy points
RB Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams (@ Detroit Lions) This one’s pretty simple, really. St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford has yet to show his mettle, and the Rams receiving corps is thin at best. Detroit will stack the box against the run all day, leaving the aging Jackson searching for daylight and coming up empty. I would not be surprised to see St. Louis get shutout in this game. Prediction: 72 yards rushing + 10 yards receiving = 8.2 fantasy points
D/ST San Francisco 49ers (@ Green Bay Packers) The unquestioned number one fantasy defense, San Francisco comes into this season with expectations through the roof after last year’s surprise 13-3 run. But during the preseason dress rehearsal at Denver, Peyton Manning absolutely strafed this unit in a quarter and a half of work.
Well, you know who is better than Peyton? Aaron Rodgers. With the reigning MVP and head coach Mike McCarthy given all offseason to plan for this bout, I just see too many weapons for the Niners to keep up with. The addition of Cedric Benson gives the Pack someone to soften up the San Francisco front line, and Rodgers’ mobility will save him from being swallowed whole. In the battle of Alex Smith vs. Rodgers, Niners fans will be left pining for the man they passed up with the number one overall pick in 2005. Prediction: 21-27 PA + 2 sacks + 1 INT = 4 fantasy points
QB Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (@ Denver Broncos) Sticking Big Ben in your fantasy lineup is akin to playing a game of Battleship: a few glorious hits, and a lot of misses. This week, I am calling B-7 a miss as Pittsburgh takes on a fierce Denver linebacker corps that features Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil prowling between the hash marks. Big Ben also has a propensity for holding on to the ball longer than most QBs, which means he is going to hit the turf more times than you like, or toss up a prayer that lands in a sea of orange jerseys. Sure, Mike Wallace is back from his holdout, and Antonio Brown emerged as a target last season, but the running game is murky and the Steeler O-Line is ranked 21st in the NFL. That just isn’t a recipe for points on Sunday night under the lights. Prediction: 2 TDs + 245 yards passing + 25 yards rushing + 2 INTs = 16.3 fantasy points