Finally. After an ugly offseason where it looked like we might not have football at times, things leveled out, the preseason has past, and we’re ready for the regular season. If you’re visiting this page, that means one thing – Fantasy Football!
I am very excited to provide my start ’em and sit ’em picks for you this season. For the past 12 NFL seasons, I have spent nearly every Sunday and Monday providing NFL news, notes and Fantasy-related content, and I have been playing Fantasy sports since 1991. I appreciate the fact you’ve chosen to spend part of your Fantasy prep with me, and I hope that you return for the remainder of the season. I’ve had some measure of success in the past, and of course, there have been plenty of misfirings, too. It’s all part of the beast.
Each week we’ll take a look at some of the less obvious fantasy starters and potential surprises in a given week. We’ll also offer up a handful of players at each position to avoid. Everyone knows to start their first- and second-round draft pick, so I won’t waste your time. But instead, we’ll provide some potential gems who might be available on the waiver wire in some leagues.
Must-start – Kerry Collins, IND (at HOU) – Assuming there is no amazing turnaround with the health outlook for QB Peyton Manning (neck), Collins is expected to make his first regular season start for the Colts. Remember, while he is new to the system, Collins is very familiar with the Texans from his days in Tennessee. He threw for a respectable 237 yards, two TDs and one INT in his Week 15 start against Houston last season. He has at least two TD passes in his past two outings vs. Texans, and is a decent short-term play based upon matchups.
Recommended play – Joe Flacco, BAL (vs. PIT) – The two AFC North division rivals clash in Week 1 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, and it should be a dandy. We all know that the Steelers have a turgid run defense, but they are susceptible to the big play through the air, even if SS Troy Polamalu is back there patroling the middle of the field. I think Flacco should find the end with at least two scoring strikes and about 250-275 yards. Some Fantasy owners will see the matchup and immediately cringe, but the Steelers can be had via the pass. Remember, last season the Steelers were first in rush defense, and second in overall team defense, but a rather marginal 12th against the pass. Flacco averaged 261.0 yards per game against Pittsburgh in ’10, and he had two TDs and just one INT. In has past four starts against the Steelers, Flacco has five TD passes and just two INTs. However, he has lost three fumbles during the span.
Recommended play – Ryan Fitzpatrick, BUF (at KC) – The Bills hit the road to open the 2011 regular season. It is a fairly favorable matchup for the underrated Fitzpatrick, as he’ll face a Chiefs pass defense which ranked 17th against the pass in 2010. While DB Brandon Flowers is one of the better cover men in the league, there are still more questions than answers in the Kansas City secondary. Fitzpatrick is a solid low-end QB1 in leagues of 12 or more teams, and a must-start in formats which require two starting QBs.
Recommended sit – Matt Cassel, KC (vs. BUF) – The team confirmed over the weekend that Cassel cracked a rib in the preseason finale, and there are unconfirmed reports that Cassel might miss the regular season opener. With so much uncertainty, Cassel should be reserved in all Fantasy formats until he can prove his health in one full game. Even if he can play, expect a mostly ground-based attack from the Chiefs to preserve their QB and not make him do too much.
Recommended sit – Eli Manning, NYG (at WAS) – At least one Manning is healthy in Week 1. Manning will lead the Giants into the nation’s capital to face a Redskins pass defense which ranked last in the NFC in passing. The ‘Skins gave up 261.7 yards per game through the air, but Eli only managed one TD strike and two INTs in two games against them. Surprisingly, he has posted just 12 TDs and nine INTs in 13 career starts vs. Washington
Must-sit – Peyton Manning, IND (at HOU) – Manning (neck) was already sliding down draft boards with uncertainty after his neck procedure, but now the rumor mill is swirling again with some talk he might be sidelined until the middle of the season. If you drafted Manning, hopefully you played ‘CYA’ and grabbed QB Kerry Collins as an alternate plan. It’s a shame if Manning is officially ruled out for Week 1, too, as the Texans are absolutely awful against the pass. He opened last season with 433 passing yards and three TDs in Week 1 at Houston, and he finished with 701 yards passing, five TDs and no INTs in two starts vs. Texans in ’10. In fact, since the Texans came into the league in 2002, Manning has 42 TD strikes and just nine INTs in 18 starts against Houston. Ouch. Hope for the best, but it isn’t looking good that No. 18 will suit up for this favorable matchup.
Start these guys (especially in two-QB leagues): Colt McCoy, CLE (vs. CIN), Kyle Orton, DEN (vs. OAK) and Mark Sanchez, NYJ (vs. DAL)
Sit these guys: Rex Grossman, WAS (vs. NYG), Tarvaris Jackson, SEA (at SF) and Cam Newton, CAR (at ARI)
Must-start – DeAngelo Williams, CAR (at ARI) – On Fantasy draft day, Williams was often a forgotten man, slipping to the fourth or fifth round in some leagues, mostly based on his health history. However, he is expected to be 100 percent heading into the regular season opener, and he faces a very porous Arizona Cardinals run defense. While teams might stack the box and dare the Panthers to use rookie QB Cam Newton to beat them, it might not matter much against the Cardinals. Expect Williams to flirt with 100 yards while finding the end zone at least once.
Recommended play – Cedric Benson, CIN (at CLE) – Like Williams above, Benson is likely to see defenses pulling their linebackers into the box to shut him down in the running game. QB Andy Dalton will need to prove he can be at least adequate in the passing game before defenses will respect his ability. Still, Benson should find enough running room against a Browns rush defense which ranked 27th overall in the NFL in 2010. Benson exploded for 150 rushing yards and a TD in a Week 15 win against the Browns Dec. 19.
Recommended play – Knowshon Moreno (vs. OAK) – While Moreno has been a bit of a bust, and he doesn’t seem to have the full confidence of the coaching staff in Denver, he should still be a decent RB2 or ‘flex’ Fantasy play against the Raiders in the opener. Moreno found the end zone twice through the air in Week 7 against Oakland in 2010. He has three scores in four career games vs. Raiders, while posting 14 total TDs in 25 games against the rest of the NFL.
Recommended sit – Marshawn Lynch (at SF) – Many people see the matchup against the 49ers and think ‘favorable’, but not so. San Francisco was a respectable sixth overall in the NFL against the rush. Plus, the team should be especially fired up in head coach John Harbaugh’s first game at the helm. Plus, Lynch had the luxury of an NFL-caliber QB last season, but Tarvaris Jackson will earn him seven or eight players in the box initially.
Recommended sit – Michael Turner, ATL (at CHI) – Fantasy owners who picked ‘Turner the Burner’ early on Draft Day won’t like to see this, but it is a very unfavorable matchup. The Bears are very stout against the rush, ranking first in the NFC in rushing defense in 2010. The opposition gained just 90.1 yards per game on the ground against Chicago, and there is no reason to believe they’ll have a backslide in 2011.
Must-sit – Ryan Mathews, SD (vs. MIN) – Mathews is expected to be in some sort of a timeshare with Mike Tolbert, but really the extent of that situation depends on Mathews. If he can gain more consistency initially, he could carve out a role where he sees a 2:1 ratio in carries. However, he faces a difficult uphill battle in his first game with the Vikings sturdy rush defense on the other side. The Vikings allowed just 102.2 yards per game on the ground, and a mere three runs of 40 or more yards in 2010. What Mathews gets, he’ll earn in small chunks. Don’t expect his production to be more than 50 yards.
Start these guys: Joseph Addai, IND (at HOU), Jahvid Best, DET (at TB) and Beanie Wells, ARI (vs. CAR)
Sit these guys: Reggie Bush, MIA (vs. NE), BenJarvus Green-Ellis, NE (at MIA) and Tim Hightower, WAS (vs. NYG)
Must-start – Mario Manningham, NYG (at WAS) – Manningham whipped up the hype machine with three straight 100-yard receiving games to close out the 2010 season, including 101 yards and a score in Week 17 against the Redskins. He has found the end zone in three of his past four starts against the Redskins. While Manning doesn’t usually have giant games against the Redskins, when he does find the end zone, Manningham is usually on the receiving end of his passes.
Recommended play – Jacoby Ford, OAK (at DEN) – The speedy Ford appears to be over his fractured left hand, and he even played in the preseason finale. With WR Louis Murphy (undisclosed) expected to be sidelined, it will be Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey likely seeing the most targets, especially if TE Kevin Boss (knee) also can’t play. Ford might not rack up a ton of receptions, but when he does get his mitts on the ball, he goes for long distances. He is especially useful to Fantasy owners who also receive individual return yardage.
Recommended play – Brandon Marshall, MIA (vs. NE) – No one is likely to argue that the New England Patriots have consistently had better teams than the Miami Dolphins for at least the past five years. However, it seems the Dolphins usually save up their best effort for the Pats, especially under the lights. What better time for ‘Baby T.O.’ to shine than a Prime Time matchup in Week 1? Marshall appears to be healthy, not only from his abdominal stab wound, but a hip issue which hobbled him in his initial campaign in South Florida. All systems are go for Marshall, and I expect at least 75 yards and a score against a Patriots pass defense which gave up 55 plays of 20 or more yards through the air in 2010.
Recommended sit – Dez Bryant, DAL (at NYJ) – Perhaps I am wrong about this guy, but the maturity level just doesn’t seem to be there yet. For that reason, I won’t touch him with a 10-foot pole in any of my leagues. There is no denying his talent, but the Jets pass defense should throw a blanket on Bryant and most of the other receiving threats not named TE Jason Witten.
Recommended sit – Percy Harvin, MIN (at SD) – It will be interesting to see if Harvin and QB Donovan McNabb can get off on the right foot. They’ll be facing a very difficult pass defense on the road in San Diego. It might take a few games for the pass-receiver combo to get on track, and it might take a much more favorable matchup.
Must-sit – Dwayne Bowe, KC (vs. BUF) – As mentioned above, Cassel is a question mark due to a cracked rib. If cannot play, Bowe’s Fantasy appeal is nearly non-existent. As it stands, Bowe faces a Bills pass defense which ranked third in the NFL last season. Look for the Chiefs to try and do most of their damage on the ground, perhaps limiting Bowe to four or five catches for less than 50 yards.
Start these guys: Plaxico Burress, NYJ (vs. DAL), Braylon Edwards, SF (vs. SEA) and Mike Thomas, JAC (vs. TEN)
Sit these guys: Nate Burleson, DET (at TB), Santana Moss, WAS (vs. NYG) and Eddie Royal, DEN (vs. OAK)
Start these guys:
Dustin Keller, NYJ (vs. DAL)
Marcedes Lewis, JAC (vs. TEN)
Greg Olsen, CAR (at ARI)
Benjamin Watson, CLE (vs. CIN)
Kellen Winslow, TB (vs. DET)
Sit these guys:
Tony Gonzalez, ATL (at CHI)
Aaron Hernandez, NE (at MIA)
Todd Heap, ARI (vs. CAR)
Lance Kendricks, STL (vs. PHI)
Brandon Pettigrew, DET (at TB)
Start these guys:
Josh Brown, STL (vs. PHI)
Alex Henery, PHI (at STL)
Adam Vinatieri, IND (at HOU)
Sit these guys:
Steven Hauschka, SEA (at SF)
Olindo Mare, CAR (at ARI)
Mike Nugent, CIN (at CLE)
Start these defenses:
Browns (vs. CIN)
Cardinals (vs. CAR)
49ers (vs. SEA)
Sit these defenses:
Eagles (at STL)
Redskins (vs. NYG)
Vikings (at SD)