Fantasy Football Week 1: Ranking the Top QB Plays
The preseason is no time for an NFL offense's new tricks. Coaches play it safe, running vanilla offensive packages throughout August, for fear of tipping off their Week 1 opponents.
This makes the league's opening day a nightmare to project for fantasy football purposes. Even for those of us who have spent all summer scouring training camp reports for tidbits that better inform our make-believe football decisions, Week 1 is tough action.
But let's give it a shot.
I've ranked my five favorite quarterbacks of Week 1 based on tasty matchups this coming Sunday and Monday. Most of these quarterbacks play secondaries that strike fear in the heart of no man. Even worse for these defenses, injuries and suspensions have wreaked early-season havoc.
Here are the quarterbacks who will post downright gaudy numbers, thanks largely to said havoc.
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Newton ran for 119 yards and four touchdowns—yes, four—against the Bucs in two games last season. He threw for another four scores against the pirates in pewter pants. The then rookie could be seen laughing at times during those romps over the Bucs. Simply put, he had his way with the league's third-worst defense, gashing them on the ground and through the air.
New Bucs head coach Greg Schiano brought militaristic tough mindedness to Tampa Bay over the offseason, but the Bucs' defensive unit is too similar to last year's group to daydream of shutting down Newton, football's ultimate weapon.
Last season was by no means a fluke. Newton has worked obsessively this summer to improve his accuracy and defensive reads. He will astound us again, and it begins with a gargantuan stat line in Week 1.
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With an embarrassment of offensive riches, including new vertical threat Brandon Lloyd, Brady was considered by many in fantasy circles to be on his own tier, hovering above the league's small batch of elite passers. Then Brady was roughed up here and there during the preseason, and people, for lack of a more sophisticated term, freaked.
Brady discussed the offensive line during his weekly news conference. He said:
Whoever is out there is out there, and whoever’s out there has earned that position. They’ve done what the coaches have asked them to do and there’s a lot of confidence that they’ll be able to do their job. My focus is on quarterback and I’ve got enough to worry about as is...I let those guys really do what they do—and they do a good job of doing that and playing offensive line.
Brady will sling pigskins in and around the Tennessee Titans' middling defense this week.
Neither of the Titans cornerbacks, Jason McCourty or Alterraun Verner, are considered shutdown coverage guys by any wild stretch of the football imagination. Tennesee safety Michael Griffin has proven exploitable; expect Brady to outmaneuver Griffin and the Titans secondary throughout the contest.
The Titans in 2011 gave up 5.3 yards per play, 10th worst in the NFL. Brady will use his cavalcade of pass-catching talent to slice and dice the Titans and put up haughty numbers.
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The Matt Ryan Hype Machine has spun for good reason this summer.
A new, innovative offensive approach, the ascendancy of second-year wide receiver Julio Jones and a raft of pass-catching weapons catapulted Ryan from a 10th-round fantasy draft selection in July to a fourth rounder by late August.
"Matty Ice" won the hearts and minds of fantasy owners everywhere, and in Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs, he'll show why.
Kansas City has six defensive starters in doubt for the season opener. The Chiefs' wrecking ball of quarterback destruction, Tamba Hali, will serve his one-game suspension this week, giving the Falcons' offensive line a better shot to keep Ryan's pocket clean and his throwing lanes clear.
Safety Kendrick Lewis will miss the tilt against Atlanta, and standout corner Brandon Flowers has been hampered by preseason injuries. Flowers has missed extensive practice time, so even if he plays, don't expect Ryan to shy away from his side of the field.
These aren't the ultra-conservative Falcons of years past. They've committed to the pass and openly discussed eschewing a run-heavy approach, and I think they'll prove it on Sunday. Ryan should put on a surgical display.
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For the five people who think Saints signal-caller Drew Brees won't shred the Washington Redskins defense this week, here's a nugget that might change your mind: The 'Skins will be without starting safety Brandon Meriweather, who went down in practice this week with a knee injury.
Brees, who blew by the 5,000-yard mark last year and averaged a silly 407 yards per contest in the Saints' last five games of 2011, will face off against the Redskins after a nightmare of an offseason.
While New Orleans head man Sean Payton might be coaching a squad of sixth-graders instead of leading the Saints this year, Brees and his coaches have gone to great lengths to run Payton's aerial show of an offense in 2012.
The Washington defense features the highly-burnable DeAngelo Hall and second-year safety DeJon Gomes, who will play in Meriweather's spot for the next several weeks.
Nothing in the preseason indicated that Brees or the Saints offense had forgotten how to run Payton's aerial scheme. This isn't the most favorable matchup Brees will have this season, but it's a tasty Week 1 offering.
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Tune in Monday night for Episode One of the Joe Flacco Show. Ray Rice says he'll be watching.
Rice said Thursday via The Baltimore Sun:
In pecking order, this is Joe’s offense, then everybody else. And he’s proven that this preseason with how he’s played, his tempo, how vocal he is...He’s been outspoken—and I guess you guys get to see it more going into Year 5—but for me and him, we came in together, and I think he’s going to prove to everybody why he’s a top quarterback in the league. And going into this game, I’m confident, he’s confident.
These words by themselves wouldn't do much to convince me that Flacco is a mighty fine Week 1 play against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Ravens, however, are one of the few teams that showed a few new wrinkles in August, airing it out in an aggressive no-huddle attack that kept defenders on their heels against a passing game boosted by second-year speed merchant Torrey Smith.
Smith isn't the guy you remember. He's expanded his route running beyond the good old go pattern, and Flacco so clearly trusts him on intermediate routes and the deep stuff. As long as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and head coach John Harbaugh keep the chains off of Flacco in 2012, I expect elite numbers from the fifth-year starter.
Now to the Week 1 matchup. The Bengals enter this season all kinds of banged up on defense after shutting down offenses for much of 2011.
Rookie cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick won't play against the Ravens, nor will defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap. Cincy defensive end Robert Geathers is very iffy for Monday night. His absence would leave the Bengals defense short two of its best pass-rushers—good news for Flacco.
Listen to Rice and play Flacco with confidence this week and throughout the season.