Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Top Running Back Matchups for Week 1
Darren McFadden fantasy football owners feel elated, because the Oakland Raiders' running back has a great Week 1 matchup vs. the San Diego Chargers.
That said, where does Run DMC's opening game rank among the best for ball carriers to kick off the 2012 season? Well, contrary to some top backs, this week is tougher than at first glance.
Also, some other matchups are more favorable, which brings us to those in the same situation as McFadden.
So, to get you fully prepped, let's break down the top running back matchups for Week 1 of fantasy football.
5. Doug Martin, Buccaneers (vs. Panthers)
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This is a clash of newfound expectations for both teams.
Last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ranked No. 30 in rushing offense and the Carolina Panthers were No. 25 at defending the run.
So, it wasn't surprising to see the two teams upgrade here during the offseason. The Panthers have a stud rookie in Luke Kuechly, but Tampa's rookie running back Doug Martin has just as much potential.
His Week 1 production will be predicated off how well the Bucs are able to throw the rock and despite the sound pass rush led by Charles Johnson, Josh Freeman's mobility will buy time when passing. In turn, we won't see the Cats stacking the box and blitzing too often.
Therefore, Martin's running lanes open quicker and Tampa Bay has an edge in short-yard situations. On the flip side, Carolina will see a similar advantage thanks to Cam Newton.
This game can be expected to be high-scoring, so Martin will just see plenty of opportunities to gain yards and score. With guard Carl Nicks leading the offensive line, the Panthers will have trouble slowing Martin down.
Each offense is more well-established than the defense, so inflated numbers will occur across the board.
4. Steven Jackson, Rams (at Lions)
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Steven Jackson has been the heart and soul of the St. Louis Rams for most of his career.
And this is a guy who has run behind not the greatest of offensive lines; however, he's gained over a 1,000 rushing yards every season since 2005.
At age 29, there isn't too much left in the tank, but fortunately he and the Rams face a susceptible Detroit Lions defense in Week 1. Now yes, the Motor City did improve, but the Lions also allowed five yards per carry in 2011, which tied for No. 30 in the league.
So as one of the worst per-down run defenses in 2011, Detroit has much to prove for 2012.
St. Louis, on the other hand, needs a strong performance from Jackson for any shot at pulling off the upset as well. Detroit's explosive offense is certainly capable of lighting up the Rams defense and the best way to limit opportunities is by keeping Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson off the field.
Obviously, we then have to expect the Lions to stack the box against Jackson. Well, St. Louis does have an improved passing attack with guys like rookie Brian Quick, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson.
Therefore, a loaded box creates favorable one-on-one matchups outside and Bradford does have the arm strength and quick release to take advantage of Detroit. Sure, it's a hard press to believe St. Louis can win, but this game will be closer than expected and Jackson will roll.
3. Frank Gore, 49ers (at Packers)
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In 2011, the Green Bay Packers fielded the NFL's worst defense.
The unit ranked dead last against the pass and in overall defense, while defending the run wasn't much better at allowing 4.7 yards per carry (ranked No. 26).
On the bright side, the cheese made some nice additions to the front seven via the 2012 NFL draft in Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy. That said, Frank Gore is still the main Brahma Bull for the San Francisco 49ers and his impact vs. Green Bay is vital to Jim Harbaugh's offense.
For as outstanding as the 'Niners play defense, you know the Packers will move the ball and try to push the tempo. To counteract Green Bay's potential onslaught, though, slamming Gore between the tackles will put the time of possession in San Francisco's favor.
Much like St. Louis with Steven Jackson keeping the Lions' offense off the field, the 49ers have to have a similar plan with Gore. A fortunate aspect comes from the 'Niners also fielding the NFL's best defense.
The middle of Green Bay's front seven is also the more vulnerable spot. With Clay Matthews and Perry on the outside, San Francisco must attack with Gore up the gut. This helps set up play-action and keeps Titletown's inside linebackers in check, because shielding off the intermediate routes was an issue last season.
San Francisco also has one of the NFL's better offensive lines, so the 'Niners might as well win the battle up front to help out Patrick Willis and Co. even more.
2. Darren McFadden, Raiders (vs. Chargers)
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Darren McFadden comes in with the second-best matchup for Week 1.
The San Diego Chargers had quite a bit of trouble stopping the run last season and even without McFadden, the Oakland Raiders bowled over the Bolts with Michael Bush.
McFadden, though, has also fared well against the Chargers in his last two games vs. them as well as against some top defenses. Once again, Run DMC is Oakland's best offensive weapon, and the Raiders need production to assist the passing game.
San Diego's front seven has great potential for 2012 with rookie Melvin Ingram giving that much-needed depth. Still, McFadden will roll over San Diego as Oakland's fast receivers keep the Chargers from keying on the ground game and constantly blitzing.
In addition, the Raiders defense has the ability to slow down Philip Rivers so as the game progresses, McFadden can take over. His first-half numbers may not dominate, but as long as the game is close, the Raiders have the advantage.
McFadden gets better as any game continues and the Chargers still have to prove they can consistently stop the run. Regardless of the passing attack, Oakland always seems to slam on the ground quite well, and feeding McFadden is the Raiders' best option no matter what.
1. LeSean McCoy, Eagles (at Browns)
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The Cleveland Browns ranked No. 10 in overall defense last season.
Too bad this was a drastically overlooked ranking, because the Browns were No. 30 against the run and allowed 4.4 yards per rush.
It's a major reason why Cleveland lost more than a few close games in 2011 and the Browns struggled to win the time-of-possession battle (went 5-11 regarding possession battle).
So LeSean McCoy is no surprise at No. 1 for Week 1, because the Philadelphia Eagles have an explosive offense that will move all over Cleveland. Now, the Browns do have a stud linebacker in D'Qwell Jackson, and Jabaal Sheard and Frostee Rucker also make for solid front-seven complements.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, Philly's dynamic offense will take advantage of any single-coverage matchups, and Michael Vick's mobility alone will cause problems. If the Browns key in on McCoy, that only makes the coverage more vulnerable.
Philadelphia's strongest offensive area in 2011 was feeding McCoy and Cleveland's weak point was defending the run. This is a battle of polar opposites which vehemently favors Philly and there's no reason why McCoy can't slice through, over and around Cleveland's front seven.
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