Last season, I brought weekly perspective to “eliminator” or “survivor” challenge fantasy football contests, previewing key matchups and sharing my own selections that led to a 16-1, near-perfect record in 2011 (marred by a Week 10 loss with the Baltimore Ravens).
Here’s a link to the final article from last season’s series that lists all the picks. This season I will once again review the key matchups, shifting strategies and potential upsets that will be instrumental in surviving the eliminator challenge.
Eliminator challenges are based on a simple premise: Pick one team a week to win without repeating teams. The person whose streak lasts the longest is the winner. However, the execution is anything but simple.
Some participants like to go over the entire NFL season and make prospective picks (or a selection plan) before a NFL game is even played. But I suggest a more fluid approach, as time and injuries are constantly changing the dynamics of the NFL.
This week’s NFL action gets started on Wednesday night with an NFC East grudge match between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. Looking at the breakdowns on ESPN’s Eliminator and Yahoo’s Survival Football, this tight matchup is of low interest as expected, with about two percent of entries going with the Giants. The Giants are 3.5-point favorites at home, but I’d avoid this one. I expect both New York and Dallas to be solid clubs and there will be better matchups for each of them later in the season.
The hot matchups this week are St. Louis vs. Detroit, Miami vs. Houston and Indianapolis vs. Chicago. The home teams are getting the love in those matchups, with Detroit the choice on 27.1 percent of entries, Houston at 17.7 percent and Chicago at 16.9 percent.
The Lions seem to be the safest selection. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson looked strong in the preseason, and they will likely get back to their 2011 antics which led to over 5,000 passing yards for Stafford and over 1,600 receiving yards for Johnson.
They are are a bit thin at RB without Mikel Leshoure (suspended) and Jahvid Best (PUP list), but Kevin Smith should be able to do enough against the Rams’ rush defense (ranked 31st last season) for Detroit to win this one comfortably.
The Houston Texans welcome the regular season return of Matt Schaub as they face off against the Miami Dolphins and rookie QB Ryan Tannehill. While I wouldn’t put too much stock in preseason records, Miami did lose all four of their contests. Houston’s stellar defense (even with loss of Mario Williams to Bills) should be enough to stifle the rookie QB and his widely unproven receiving corps.
Another rookie QB who is on the wrong side of a landslide pick is Andrew Luck. Luck and the Colts are heavy underdogs as they travel to Chicago to face the Bears. The much heralded Cutler-to-Marshall connection will be on display in the regular season for the first time since 2008 and Brian Urlacher has ended any speculation that he would miss the contest with his comments on The Final Word.
Meanwhile the Colts’ Luck has been as good as advertised this preseason. While Chicago should win this game, I would recommend waiting to see the new look Colts in 2012—Indianapolis won’t be the go-to “against” pick like they were in 2011.
The Buffalo Bills travel to Metlife Stadium to face the Jets in a matchup of two teams who failed to win a preseason contest. The Bills offense looked capable though, especially in their final preseason loss against the Lions where Ryan Fitzpatrick was 5-of-5 with a TD and C.J. Spiller ran the ball effectively. How much the Jets were holding back from their playbook in the preseason is up for debate, but here are the facts: The Bills scored 32 points in their final preseason game, one more than the Jets had in all their preseason games combined (31).
Don’t get cute in Week 1. While you don’t get an advantage by selecting the Lions or Texans this week, you’ll probably still be in the game in Week 2 and will then be armed with some knowledge of each of the 32 NFL franchises and how they might fare this season.
Week 1 Selection: Detroit Lions