Here are 15 schedule-related thoughts that randomly popped into my head while driving through my home state of Michigan on Friday:
1. Vikings QB Christian Ponder has a golden opportunity to post stellar stats in the first five games (Jaguars, Colts, 49ers, Lions, Titans), including a tough Week 3 home matchup with San Francisco (playing from behind). As a result, I will likely consider Devin Aromashodu (45 targets in Weeks 13-17 last season) as a last-round pick in points-per-reception leagues...knowing that Jerome Simpson (three-game suspension) won't be a huge factor in the opening month.
2. No backup tailback has more internal pressure to succeed in Week 1 than Cleveland's Montario Hardesty, who should be more attractive for the opener than rookie teammate Trent Richardson (knee scope on Aug. 9). Going against the Eagles defense, Hardesty (308 total yards last year) has a limited window of opportunity to force a time-sharing situation between the tailbacks. But a mediocre performance could fast-track Richardson's recovery time and strengthen his hold on the RB1 spot.
3. Of the elite running backs, Chicago's Matt Forte (1,489 total yards, four touchdowns last year) has the most fantasy-friendly four-pack of games to start the season (Indianapolis, at Green Bay, St. Louis, at Dallas). In fact, I fully expect him to have at least 460 total yards heading into Week 5.
4. Conversely, I don't envision Atlanta's Michael Turner clearing 100 rushing yards in any of the Falcons' four opening games (at Kansas City, Denver, at San Diego, Carolina). But I'm hardly foretelling a season's worth of underwhelming numbers for Turner, who will remain a lock for 1,200 yards one more time.
5. It's entirely possible that Calvin Johnson (96 catches, 1,681 yards, 16 TD last season) won't have the most yards or touchdowns among wideouts in the first four weeks. However, he'll be a top-five pick at his position for all four contests—St. Louis, at San Francisco, at Tennessee, Minnesota.
6. I refuse to make any bold fantasy proclamations about Peyton Manning for the first five games, even though it would be nice to see him and Tom Brady roll for 350 each in the Broncos-Patriots clash on Oct. 7. While I have no doubts about Peyton's long-term viability in Denver, he's still no better than my No. 11 QB for this transitional campaign.
7. I'm on board with deifying A.J. Green as a top-10 receiver in 2013. But for this season, I'm just not comfortable with his matchups against the Ravens (twice), Steelers (twice), Browns (twice), Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins, Giants, Broncos, Chargers and the highly underrated Chiefs. If I were a betting man, I would say that Green's best four-game stretch will occur in Weeks 2-5 (Cleveland, at Washington, at Jacksonville, Miami)...a time when Browns cornerback Joe Haden might be under NFL suspension.
8. Not that we needed another reason to hail Aaron Rodgers as fantasy's No. 1 quarterback, but check out this easy-cheesy slate from Weeks 4-9: New Orleans, Indianapolis, Houston, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Arizona. Bottom line: It will be a major upset if Rodgers doesn't reach the QB-elite weekly threshold of 275 total yards and/or three TDs at least five times in that span.
9. I am reluctant to tab Tom Brady as a lead-pipe cinch for 275 yards and/or three touchdowns against the Rams in Week 9 for one reason: I don't trust the soggy, slippery turf at London's Wembley Stadium, even if it's not raining before opening kickoff. Yes, I know Brady posted stellar numbers against the Buccaneers in England three years ago (308 yards passing, three TDs), but each across-the-pond visit offers a unique set of quagmire challenges for quarterbacks, receivers and tailbacks.
10. Buccaneers rookie Doug Martin has a nice slate of games after the universal deadline of fantasy trades (Nov. 14)—Carolina, Atlanta, Denver, Philadelphia, New Orleans and St. Louis (Weeks 11-16). That's just another reason to splurge on the Boise State rookie in Round 4 (keeper league) or 5 (PPR/standard-scoring) on draft day. Assuming full health, Martin should be a candidate for five catches, 90 total yards and/or one touchdown for all six contests.
11. Larry Fitzgerald owners should mentally prepare for a bad-news/good-news run of fantasy luck during the fantasy playoffs. For Weeks 13 and 14, Fitz (80 catches, 1,411 yards last year) must confront physical defenses on the road (Jets, Seahawks) and the strong likelihood of frigid temperatures and/or stifling crosswinds in New Jersey and Seattle, respectively. On the flip side, Fitz gets a wonderful reprieve for Weeks 15 and 16 in the form of home encounters against the Bears and Lions.
12. Speaking of elite receivers, Roddy White and Julio Jones are staring at four eminently doable matchups in Weeks 13-16—New Orleans, at Carolina, Giants and at Detroit. In other words, I would welcome the opportunity to draft White (Round 2), Jones (Round 3) and Falcons QB Matt Ryan (Round 7) at their prescribed value slots.
13. Arian Foster has juicy home encounters with Minnesota and Indianapolis in Weeks 15 and 16, essentially clinching his status as the No. 1 tailback for the semifinal and final weeks in the fantasy playoffs.
14. The Falcons have two scheduling quirks of note: They're the only franchise with alternating road/home games for the entire 2012 campaign. Atlanta is also primed for 16 weather-friendly games—likely the only NFL club to enjoy such an advantage this year.
15. The Colts are the lone NFL club with 15 games at 1 p.m. ET this season—a factoid that probably won't be altered by NBC's flex-schedule program in November. All this begs the existential question: Will it be to Indy's fantasy advantage (specifically, to the advantages of Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne, Donald Brown, Austin Collie, T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener and Donnie Avery) to partake in the same pregame routine 15 times...or are the Colts looking at 15 slow starts or low-energy outings?
For all these matters...thankfully, time will tell.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.
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