Week 1 is finally behind us, and with it the first-day-of-school nervousness that accompanies all new beginnings. Yes, Adrian Peterson can still make a 78-yard run look very, very easy. And yes, Brandon Weeden remains wholly averse to avoiding triple coverage.
This isn’t to say Week 1 lacked its share of surprises: Chip Kelly offered fans a glimpse into the future with his warp-speed playbook, and the dynamic duo of Geno Smith and Kellen Winslow led the Jets to a startling upset. But by and large, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and Week 1’s fantasy scoring leaders were virtually all familiar faces.
Keep that in mind when you set your lineups this week. To paraphrase Howard Cosell, the right decision isn’t always the sexy decision.
On to the games.
All times Eastern.
Jets at Patriots (Thursday Night Football, 8:25 p.m.)
Can anyone disprove the theory that Danny Amendola’s string of injuries is actually high-level performance art? (Spoiler alert: Nope!) If you search “Danny Amendola soft” on Twitter, your laptop will start oozing the tears of crestfallen fantasy owners following Amendola’s latest groin issue, which will likely keep him out of tonight’s game. Amendola is to injuries what Vodka Samm is to alcohol; he’s Dr. James Andrews’s personal paragon of humanity; he’s Basquiat, CÚzanne, and Skrillex, all at the same damn time.
Of course, Amendola isn’t the only injured Patriot. Running back Shane Vereen suffered a broken wrist against Buffalo and is out until at least Week 11. This is problematic, because Vereen and Amendola led the Patriots to their comeback victory over the Bills last week while Stevan Ridley was doing his best David Wilson impersonation and Kenbrell Thompkins was flailing around the field looking like, well, like an undrafted free agent from El Camino Community College. (Yes, Thompkins finished his college career at Cincinnati, but it’s fun to think that he spent his formative years at a school that shares a name with a mediocre Black Keys album.) Nevertheless, Thompkins saw 14 targets in Week 1 and figures to get plenty of opportunities tonight with Amendola and Vereen out. Ridley, meanwhile, is a safe bet for starter’s carries despite his fumbling woes. It’s not like the Patriots are going to start LeGarrette Blount. So put Thompkins and Ridley in your lineup because of their likely roles in the New England offense this week, not because of their ability.
Decidedly not worth starting: Zach Sudfeld (R.I.P.!), Smith (unless you play in a two-QB league, as one commenter astutely pointed out on Tuesday), or Bilal Powell (if the Patriots could hold C.J. Spiller to a measly three fantasy points, stopping Powell will be no problem).
Finally, I’m most intrigued to see what Julian Edelman does tonight, and not just because I bid $21 on him in a waiver-wire auction. He’ll either build upon his surprising Week 1 performance and assert himself as a dominant force in the Patriots’ revamped offense, or he’ll totally flame out. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood — and Edelman better freaking take the one less traveled, because my credibility as a waiver-wire guru depends on it!
Rams at Falcons (1 p.m.)
With Daryl Richardson’s relentless commitment to two- and three-yard gains, Zac Stacy’s sad irrelevance, and Isaiah Pead’s complete and utter uselessness, it’s sort of impossible not to compare the Rams’ ground game to Fluffy, the three-headed dog from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Like the Richardson-Stacy-Pead trio, Fluffy appears on the surface to be a formidable troika of talent, three disparate elements combined to form one unstoppable beast. But as soon as someone plays some soothing harp music, Fluffy goes right to sleep, allowing schoolchildren to walk on by. Richardson-Stacy-Pead are neutralized even more easily by opposing defensive coordinators.
I feel bad for Richardson owners, because in many cases they have no choice but to start him. (More than anything else, this explains why folks were so keen on the RB-RB strategy at draft time. Given the dearth of elite backs, getting two of them is an undeniable edge.) Despite a nebulous “foot injury” and his 2.4 yards per carry over the last six games, he’s ESPN.com’s 23rd-ranked running back for Week 2, which makes perfect sense considering the guys below him are Ryan Mathews and Rashard Mendenhall (puke).
On the bright side, St. Louis’s Jared Cook was a revelation in Week 1 and should be a top-five tight end moving forward, while Sam Bradford is already looking Tavon Austin’s way enough to merit awarding Austin WR3 status.
Also, don’t start Roddy White, even if he’s active. Fool me once ...
Panthers at Bills (1 p.m.)
So, I was incredibly wrong about Steve Smith last week when I said he wouldn’t fare well opposite Seattle’s huge-ass secondary. My apologies! If it’s any consolation, I reckon Smith will have a great game in Buffalo, where New England’s Edelman and Amendola proved that shorter receivers can prosper.
Another surprise from Panthers-Seahawks was DeAngelo Williams, who looked alive and fresh and, dare I say, pretty good (backbreaking fumble aside) while gashing Seattle for 86 yards on 17 carries. He’s seriously undervalued for an undisputed starter, and probably worth swinging a deal for if Wilson’s uncertain future with the Giants or Vereen’s broken wrist has you craving running back depth. Of course, Williams has a rep for being a tease, a guy who will bust out a stellar performance and follow it up with three or four clunkers. So, you know what you’re getting yourself into if you start him. But as we established above, these are dark times for the fantasy RB market, and occasionally you’ll have to make do with someone like Williams. Hey, it beats starting Richardson!
Vikings at Bears (1 p.m.)
When mulling over two potential breakout receivers, always start the guy with the better quarterback. As such, I’m much higher on Alshon Jeffery than I am on Jerome Simpson, although ideally you won’t have to depend on either. Other than that, this game is pretty obvious: Start the running backs, steer clear of tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Martellus Bennett, and definitely count on a pick-six from the Bears defense.
Oh, and since I mentioned Jeffery, I’d be remiss not to join in on all the Lane Kiffin schadenfreude by linking to this story, in which Kiffin, then the coach at Tennessee, allegedly “told Jeffery that if he chose the Gamecocks, he would end up pumping gas for the rest of his life like all the other players from that state who had gone to South Carolina.” You’re welcome!
Redskins at Packers (1 p.m.)
Three thoughts for this game:
1. You know how baseball players put a doughnut on the bat in the on-deck circle, causing the bat to feel lighter and easier to swing during the actual at-bat? Well, Chip Kelly's Philadelphia offense is the NFL’s doughnut. Now that the Redskins have faced Kelly’s hyper-speed attack, everything else — even an offense as good as Green Bay’s — will seem sluggish and uncomplicated by comparison. Aaron Rodgers will still Discount Double Check his way to 20 fantasy points because he’s Aaron Rodgers, but Eddie Lacy will need oodles of goal-line carries to be viable this week.
2. I’m not sippin’ on the Leonard Hankerson Kool-Aid yet. Yes, he scored two garbage-time touchdowns in Philly, but he also saw fewer targets than Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss and had to fight Josh Morgan for leftovers. He should be owned only in a 14-team league.
3. NEVER bet against someone dressed like this.
Dolphins at Colts (1 p.m.)
FACT: Lamar Miller gained three yards on 10 carries this past Sunday in Cleveland.
FACT: Lamar Miller is 5-foot-10, or nearly two yards tall.
FACT: If Lamar Miller simply fell forward at the line of scrimmage a couple times, he would have more or less tripled his Week 1 yardage.
FACT: The Dolphins turned to DANIEL FREAKING THOMAS to bolster their running game, and it was undeniably the right call.
FACT: Lamar Miller will start in most 12-team leagues this weekend. The struggle is real.
here's one play where Lamar Miller could've made a better decision: pic.twitter.com/hd7qrr2Rz6
— Alessandro Miglio (@AlexMiglio) September 11, 2013
Meanwhile, Reggie Wayne is a top-10 receiver and Vick Ballard is a much better play than Ahmad Bradshaw.
Browns at Ravens (1 p.m.)
Of course, the cause of Miller’s Week 1 plight was the Browns’ stout front seven, which clogged holes ferociously and applied a metric ton of pressure on Ryan Tannehill. Cleveland will do the same to Ray Rice and Joe Flacco on Sunday, but Flacco, like Tannehill, will exploit the Browns by passing to his second receiver (i.e., the receiver not being covered by Joe Haden). This will seemingly be Marlon Brown (still available in 96.5 percent of ESPN.com leagues), and honestly, I wouldn’t be opposed to starting him over someone like, say, Golden Tate or Emmanuel Sanders.
Furthermore, Jordan Cameron will follow in Julius Thomas’s tradition of tight ends destroying the Ravens, especially since Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon remains out.
Cowboys at Chiefs (1 p.m.)
Tony Romo’s X-rays came back negative, which is terrific news if you’re a Cowboys fan, own Romo in fantasy, or simply care about the health of his ribs for no discernible reason. Conversely, it’s terrible news for those of us who wish to live in a world where Kyle Orton and his glorious neckbeard lead the Cowboys to a 3-13 record. (Then again, I don’t care to see Dallas get Jadeveon Clowney or Teddy Bridgewater, so perhaps this really is for the best.)
In other Cowboys injury news, Dez Bryant was diagnosed with a mild foot sprain. Side effects include, among other things, an inexplicable hatred of Gatorade. Bryant should play in Kansas City, although questions linger about what hydration method he intends to employ.
Alternatively, Jamaal Charles could probably hydrate with in-game shots of whiskey and still manage to be effective. Dwayne Bowe got off to a lackluster start against the Jags, and his style of play — being a deep threat and making big plays — doesn’t really mesh with Alex Smith’s tendency to throw short passes. Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star expects Bowe to finish the season with only 65 to 70 catches, and I’m beginning to agree.
Titans at Texans (1 p.m.)
Andre Johnson’s über-productive Monday Night Football performance (12 receptions for 146 yards) was due in large part to the presence of rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who tallied an impressive five receptions for 66 yards himself. Hopkins is 214 pounds of pure muscle mass who opens up the field for Johnson and sports the nickname "Nuk," after the pacifier, which is unbelievably badass. He’s also available in 42.1 percent of ESPN.com leagues, so add him now if you can and stash him for future use.
Johnson owners, rejoice: The days of Kevin Walter, Lestar Jean, or other similarly dreadful complementary receivers are gone, forcing defenses to occasionally focus on someone other than your guy.
Chargers at Eagles (1 p.m.)
It’s entirely possible that some teams will find more sophisticated ways to defend Philly’s offense than by egregiously flopping, but the Chargers won’t be one of them. Anyone who watched their second-half defensive collapse against the Texans can tell you that, and anyone who watched Philip Rivers break Grantland’s Bad Quarterback League machine can likewise tell you that the Chargers will be lucky to stay within 30 points of the Eagles.
Expect LeSean McCoy to keep chugging along. I’d even start Michael Vick over any quarterback not named Brees, Rodgers, or Manning. Conversely, if you’re forced to start any San Diego skill position player besides, like, Antonio Gates in a 16-team league, I can already guarantee you aren’t making the playoffs.
Lions at Cardinals (4:05 p.m.)
I didn’t highlight Andre Roberts in this week’s waiver-wire post, but if you’re looking for temporary receiver help, he remains available in 61.9 percent of ESPN.com leagues and figures to be plenty serviceable against a Lions secondary that surrendered a whopping 140 receiving yards to Simpson. I think the Cardinals are going to start fast but fade into oblivion by Week 9 or so, so get the most out of this offense while you can. (NOTE: That does not mean you should start Mendenhall.)
As for hot pickup Joique Bell, I’ll reiterate: He’s a decent flex in PPR leagues, but don’t expect the short-yardage touchdowns on a regular basis. Also, between this, this, and this, Calvin Johnson is almost better at not scoring than at scoring.
Saints at Buccaneers (4:05 p.m.)
Kenny Stills feels a lot like every other potential Marques Colston complement to pass through New Orleans in the Drew Brees era: supremely fast and skilled, but ultimately too reliant on big plays to be a viable week-to-week starter. (I’m looking at you, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson.) Brees spreads the ball around like Steve Nash, and Stills won’t see enough targets to consistently produce 86-yard games.
Meanwhile, what a difference a year makes:
Week 1, 2012:
Week 1, 2013:
If football box scores listed “minutes,” Kevin Ogletree would be a sure-fire member of Club Trillion.
Jaguars at Raiders (4:25 p.m.)
Chad Henne alert! Last year he found lightning in a bottle in Houston to the tune of 354 yards, four touchdowns, and an 83.3 QBR, rendering the whole planet #Mad4Chad. For an encore, he’ll have to defeat the upstart Terrelle Pryor in the Black Hole, where both quarterbacks will undoubtedly honor the Ohio State–Michigan rivalry (and the Big Ten in general) by throwing many, many incomplete passes. Just like the NFL schedule-makers predicted, Jags-Raiders has all the makings of a comic-book showdown. Come for the over-throws, stay for the punts!
On a completely serious note, any defense is startable against the Jaguars, and the Raiders’ D/ST is out there in 94.6 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Just sayin’.
Broncos at Giants (4:25 p.m.)
Eli Manning is 0-2 in Manning Bowls, largely because of his own pedestrian play. This makes total sense: Peyton has surely obliterated Eli in sports, academics, and arts and crafts since they were toddlers, and still lives to make Eli react like this.
ONE MORE TIME.
Denver has had extra time to prepare for this game, and you know Peyton spent the whole week divulging Eli’s secrets to the Broncoss defenders. I’d be shocked if the Broncos fail to come out firing on all cylinders, picking up right where they left off last Thursday night. Expect at least one touchdown for Eric Decker, and prepare for tight end Julius Thomas to fall slightly back to earth.
Meanwhile, “maddeningly vague” is how I’d describe Tom Coughlin’s recent comments about fumble-prone running back Wilson. Despite the Brandon Jacobs signing, Wilson should get the start, although he’s obviously on thin ice. Watch him work! No, really, watch him work, because it might be your final chance to do so before Coughlin resorts to an insufferable Jacobs–Da’Rel Scott platoon.
Ayy to fantasy participants and pissed Giants fans ur irrelevant to me!!! Nobody wants me to succeed more than ME!!! WATCH US WORK!
— David E. Wilson (@4stillRunning) September 10, 2013
49ers at Seahawks (Sunday Night Football, 8:30 p.m.)
We already know how the Anquan Boldin trade negotiations went down ...
... but this week we’ll be reminded of why: Jim Harbaugh desperately needed a big, physical receiver to match up with Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Boldin won’t score 26 fantasy points again this week (duh), but Colin Kaepernick will continue to look his way often, especially in crucial situations, making Boldin a very solid WR2.
Keep your eye on Kendall Hunter, who’s available in 90.1 percent of ESPN.com leagues and will get only more opportunities as the season progresses. Frank Gore looked old and slow in Week 1, and we know Harbaugh won’t hesitate to start a younger and faster alternative.
Steelers at Bengals (Monday Night Football, 8:30 p.m.)
A.J. Green is well on his way to becoming the most interfered-with receiver in NFL history. This is the only frustrating aspect of owning Green, because without those penalties (which seemingly occur at least once per game), he’d amass an additional 50-yard touchdown per game.
These are complaints Antonio Brown or Emmanuel Sanders owners would love to have, but still — Green owners feel utterly robbed each time it happens.
Hold off on starting Giovani Bernard (who’ll break out eventually, but not this week) or Isaac Redman (who’ll never break out, in this reality or the next).
Matt Borcas writes about fantasy football for Grantland.