Fantasy Football 2013: Early Advice Heading into Week 1
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Your draft is over, and now the real fun begins. You get to start taking people down week by week in fantasy football's 13-week gauntlet before its playoffs.
We get you ready for Week 1 with some early Labor Day weekend advice. The anxious days between the final training camp cuts and the official kickoff of the season are just too quiet for our liking.
In the event you are still preparing for your draft, we send you back to some must-have tools we have published recently:
- The Complete 2013 Fantasy Football Primer outlines all the sleepers, busts and breakouts by position.
- My 25 Things You Absolutely Must Know for Your Fantasy Football Draft gives you last-minute tips on how to pick your team.
- And the Fantasy Football Mock Draft: Simulating Every Round gives you a road map of the madness that is yet to unfold for you.
- If you still need rankings, I have them in my SI.com Top 300.
- You also need to know the average draft positions of your draft site: Yahoo!, ESPN and CBSSports.
- And, finally, scratch off the drafted names on a handy single-page cheat sheet like the one I put together for SI.com.
You need advice that will help you this week now, but the following slides will also set you up on how to make your decisions every week throughout the season. Hint: You are going to need to be tuned in right here.
We have all the tricks up our sleeve and will be sharing them with you in this slideshow.
Note: All data referencing performances by opposing fantasy players was collected at FFToday.com.
1. Your Draft Determined Your Week 1 Starters
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Fantasy Week 1 is the easiest lineup to set of the season. There are no teams on bye, most of the players' injury news has already been fully flushed out during training camp and you have determined the hierarchy of your fantasy roster by the rounds you drafted your players in.
Sure, you can analyze the matchups, peek at how Las Vegas money is handicapping the results, review some last-minute injury report information and take some fantasy analyst's roster and lineup advice. But, if you have taken the leap of faith and drafted a guy like Chris Johnson in Round 2 or 3, you have made a statement you like him through the good and the bad.
Johnson faces the Steelers run defense in Week 1. In the middle of the season, that might lead you to sit a player like him. You should not do that after picking him so early, though.
You knew going in he has a brutal early-season schedule. You need to allow him to prove he is not worthy for your fantasy lineup in an unfavorable matchup before you consider benching him.
So, set your initial Week 1 lineup from your round-by-round picks from your draft. From there, we will see if the following slides talk you out of some of them and, perhaps, into some others.
2. Week 1 Matchups That Are Not Fringe-Friendly
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Our No. 1 piece of advice is only useful if you drafted a team full of viable starters. You might not have been so fortunate. You might have a team with some holes.
Now, you resort to the Week 1 matchups.
Below are the toughest defenses in the NFL from a season ago. We still have to use last season's data until the early going of 2013 determines new forces to be worried about.
If you want to get a quick guide for the NFL every week, follow the quarterbacks and the stiffest run defenses. Their success often decides the outcomes of games.
Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Tennesee Titans)
The Steelers defense is coming off a down season in terms of its fantasy unit, but they still held opposing quarterbacks to the fewest fantasy points against last year. The Steelers were not only the toughest on quarterbacks in fantasy, but they were second in the NFL against the run and fourth-best against opposing fantasy backs. You are not playing Jack Locker, but perhaps you want to avoid starting anyone from his supporting cast, too, including Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright or Rob Bironas.
Seattle Seahawks (at Carolina Panthers)
The Seahawks are decidedly tougher at home, but they were No. 2 to the Steelers against quarterbacks a year ago. You probably don't have a backup good enough to justify benching Cam Newton, but it should scare you off his weak supplemental offensive weapons. DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell are bad plays. Greg Olsen might be tough to start, too, especially if you drafted a backup tight end.
Chicago Bears (vs. Cincinnati Bengals)
While we think the loss of head coach Lovie Smith will lead to a decline of the Bears defense, even if slightly, you have to be wary of it until that comes to fruition. Andy Dalton wasn't picked as a fantasy starter outside of two-quarterback leagues, but you shouldn't be anxious to play him, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, rookie Giovani Bernard, Mohamed Sanu, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert or Mike Nugent.
San Francisco 49ers (vs. Green Bay Packers)
You didn't draft Aaron Rodgers among the first quarterbacks off the board to sit him against anyone, but the stiffness of the 49ers defense should scare you off of trusting Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson (knee) and perhaps Jermichael Finley in Week 1.
Houston Texans (at San Diego Chargers)
We have a separate slide devoted to Monday Night Football, but the Chargers' fringe options are going to be a bit sketchy facing J.J. Watt and company out of the gate.
3. Week 1 Matchups That Are Fringe-Friendly
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After deciding to bench some of your presumed weekly starters, you need to find some replacements. These matchups have the makings of a shootout, so there should be plenty of fantasy production to go around:
Atlanta Falcons (at New Orleans Saints)
Whenever you have two elite quarterbacks facing off you should expect fantasy fireworks, but it is only enhanced by the weak Saints defense. The Falcons will play decent defense in most weeks, but both quarterbacks are going to air it out in this divisional matchup.
You might consider starting some lower-end guys like Kenny Stills here. This is one of the "Start All" games of Week 1. If you have players on these teams, except for the defenses, use them.
New York Giants (at Dallas Cowboys)
This is another division rivalry that promises to be fantasy-friendly. Eli Manning has made a career of beating the Cowboys in Dallas, and the Giants secondary is banged up and as woeful as ever.
Indianapolis Colts (vs. Oakland Raiders)
We are going to kick a dead horse here, but the Raiders figure to be one of fantasy's whipping boys all season. Always start as many guys as possible against this team all year. Ahmad Bradshaw, T.Y. Hilton and maybe even the likes of Darrius Heyward-Bey (against his former team), Coby Fleener and Vick Ballard can prove useful in deeper leagues.
4. These Defenses Are Going to Pick on Shaky QBs
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If you are like this fantasy writer, you like to draft your defense/special teams last and merely play the matchups week to week. Like we said before, follow the quarterbacks when making fantasy decisions.
For defenses, start those facing the scrub passers. Here are some off-the-radar defenses to consider as streaming options this week:
Indianapolis Colts (vs. Oakland Raiders)
The Raiders have chosen their quarterback but haven't announced it. They don't have to. The Raiders are going to stink. No one should have drafted the Colts defense, but this is one of the week's most lopsided games. The Colts are the Survivor Pool pick of the week. The defense is going to score some fantasy points in this blowout.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at N.Y. Jets)
The Bucs have an improved defense after finishing second-worst in fantasy against quarterbacks a season ago. They also allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL last season. Sounds like a bad time to consider Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell or any of your Jets. Rookie Geno Smith is an easy target here, too.
Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)
With Blaine Gabbert (thumb) expected start at quarterback for the Jags, you might want to consider an underrated Chiefs defense as a one-week play. The Chiefs were in the bottom half of fantasy against quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers last season, but until Gabbert proves NFL-worthy, he should be seen as a fantasy whipping boy.
Detroit Lions (vs. Minnesota Vikings)
A young and talented Lions front four looked great in the preseason, and Christian Ponder looked awful down the stretch last year. The Lions are a pretty nice sleeper play right now, even if Adrian Peterson is on the other side of the ball.
Note: We left the Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Jake Locker) and the New England Patriots (vs. Jeff Tuel or EJ Manuel) out of this discussion because those defenses are already obvious Week 1 plays.
5. Taking a Peek at What Vegas Thinks
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Following the masses at the betting window in Las Vegas is one of the no-nos in sports gaming, but following those same betting lines is one of the most underrated strategies in fantasy.
A quick peak at the lines is going to tell you which games are expected to be shootouts, which ones are going to be competitive all the way through to the end and which ones are going to be snooze-fest defensive struggles.
Top five shootouts (with highest total numbers, according to VegasInsider.com):
- Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (54)—You didn't need to look to know this one, especially since we already mentioned it in a previous slide. Take the over and "Start All" as we said.
- Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins (51.5)—Chip Kelly's uptempo attack debuts against a Redskins defense that was the fourth-most generous against opposing quarterbacks in fantasy. Avoid this total because it could go either way, but start all of your Eagles and Redskins with the expectation the pace gets pushed.
- New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (49.5)—This is a dangerous one, because it figures to be lopsided no matter which rookie the Bills play at quarterback. That Pats defense is tough against the run and will pin its ears back against the quarterback once Stevan Ridley and Tom Brady run it up. Take the under and start your Pats and sit your Bills (save for C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson). (This line started at 53, by the way. Everyone is jumping on the Pats blowing them out.)
- Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (49)—Colin Kaepernick should enjoy a big first week, and even if Aaron Rodgers faces his toughest matchup of the season, he will be looking for revenge from last year.
- New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (48.5)—We already mentioned this one before, but this rivalry has been a slugfest, and Eli Manning and Tony Romo have a deep set of fantasy weapons.
Bottom five snoozers:
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets (39)—The Jets will play better defense this year, if only because Rex Ryan wills them to. As bad as the Jets were last season, they still were No. 1 in fantasy against opposing receivers. You cannot sit Vincent Jackson, but you might justify benching Mike Williams.
- Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns (41)—Not only are these offenses a bit shaky with their second-year quarterbacks, but the defenses are a bit underrated, too. Trent Richardson, Lamar Miller and Mike Wallace might be the only fantasy starters here.
- Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars (41)—This is one that will go over, particularly if you are a believer in Jamaal Charles and Andy Reid. Start your Chiefs and sit your Jags, right after you fly to Vegas and lay some coin on the over.
- Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams (41)—You might not be aware, but these NFC West bottom-feeders can play Seahawks/49ers-caliber defense, too. The Cardinals were quietly No. 3 against fantasy quarterbacks a year ago and Jeff Fisher has a lot of talent on that Rams defense. Avoid the fringe options here.
- Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers (41.5)—This is another one that will get blown out one way. The Steelers are a "Start All" against a Titans defense that was third-worst against running backs and eighth-worst against quarterbacks last year.
6. Injured Players You May Need to Play
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The initial Week 1 injury report comes out Tuesday for the Ravens-Broncos Thursday night and Wednesday for the rest of Week 1, but here are some players who are dealing with preseason injuries:
- RB Doug Martin (head), Tampa Bay Buccaneers—If you were really worried about his preseason ding you wouldn't have drafted him. Start him.
- RB Arian Foster (calf/back), Houston Texans—His preseason ailments were overblown. He's fine and, best of all, rested and fresh.
- TE Rob Gronkowski (back), New England Patriots—He didn't open the season on the PUP list, but Week 4 at Atlanta at the end of the month has long been my expected return date for him.
- WR Victor Cruz (foot), New York Giants—He is expected to play. Start him.
- WR Roddy White (ankle), Atlanta Falcons—He is expected to play. Start him in that shootout.
- WR Wes Welker (ankle), Denver Broncos—He's fine. Keep him active.
- QB Robert Griffin III (knee), Washington Redskins—Against that Eagles defense, you have to start him.
- RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), Indianapolis Colts—He might be a game-time decision, but if he plays, you have to start him against that Raiders defense.
- RB Rashard Mendenhall (knee), Arizona Cardinals—The Rams are at home and have a better defense than people might think. The Cardinals also have a poor offensive line, Mendy is banged up and the Cards have five running backs on the roster to rotate into the game. It adds up to a bad start for this fringe fantasy option.
- RB Le'Veon Bell (foot), Pittsburgh Steelers—He shed his walking boot this week and Jonathan Dwyer was surprisingly cut, but don't expect Bell to be back until late September at the earliest still. Keep him stashed.
7. Money Where My Words Are
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You might have hated my sleeper, bust and breakout picks, but you should rest assured I follow my own advice. Here are some of them that wound up my fantasy teams:
RB Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
I am not starting him in Week 1, but I cannot seem to let go of this talent. The Saints said they need to establish a running game, and we will see if that was mere lip service in a pivotal division game against the Falcons that can put the Saints' 2012 disaster behind them.
TE Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions
I didn't pick my tight ends as much as have my league pick them for me. And I only drafted one. Pettigrew was often on the board late for me, and I wound up with him on a number of teams. Two of Pettigrew's best games came against the Vikings last year (seven catches for 67 yards and three catches for 31 yards and a touchdown. I am confident in him as a starter in Week 1.
RB DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
He was an injury-risk steal in my drafts, and he rushed for 131 yards against the Giants in the season opener last year. Expect another solid start to this season for him.
RB David Wilson, New York Giants
A good pick became a great one when Andre Brown broke his leg in Thursday's preseason finale. Wilson became a fantasy monster for the first four-to-six weeks.
RB Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
I hate his Week 1 matchup (next slide), but I was expecting to sit him until he proved healthy and lineup-worthy anyway.
RB Montee Ball, Denver Broncos
He is not starting, according to the Broncos depth chart, but I will be playing him in fantasy over Ronnie Hillman in all my leagues. I wound up with both on many of my teams.
WR Vincent Brown, San Diego Chargers
He is another one with an unfavorable matchup to start, but he was also drafted late and doesn't have to have his breakthrough weeks right away.
WR Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
I fully expect him to have his best year heading into potential free agency. His season is going to cost the Giants a lot of money.
WR Greg Little, Cleveland Browns
If I need him, I am going to start him in the early going with Josh Gordon on suspension.
TE Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts
Because I only draft one tight end and don't want a second one sucking up a spot on my rosters, I am starting him despite his injury-plagued preseason.
RB Kendall Hunter, San Francisco 49ers
Fank Gore is not banged up yet and the Packers have a solid run defense. He's a pick with a long-term view this season.
WR Aaron Dobson, New England Patriots
I picked him in a keeper league and real late in my seasonal formats. I am going to let him earn his stripes behind Kenbrell Thompkins, but my gut tells me they are going to wind up being close in fantasy production by season's end.
QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
His Week 1 performance against the Saints promises to make him the No. 1 scorer in all of fantasy.
WR Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens
I was going to be shaky on starting him against the Broncos defense in Week 1 if I liked my backups, but Champ Bailey's potential absence makes Smith a must-start option for me.
WR DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
Love him since Jeremy Maclin (knee) is out this season. He's an every-week starter for me until he proves otherwise.
8. Monday Night Football Decisions Made Early
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Monday Night Football stands to finalize your fantasy fortune every week, and next Monday features the only time four teams play on the last night of the scoring period. You don't want to drop to 0-1 because of a lineup mistake made from these games.
Here is a quick primer on the matchups:
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins
- Eagles: Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson
- Redskins: Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon
- Eagles: Bryce Brown, Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, Eagles D/ST
- Redskins: Leonard Hankerson, Josh Morgan, Fred Davis, Redskins D/ST
Use as needed
Eagles: Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, Alex Henery
- Redskins: Roy Helu, Kai Forbath
Houston Texans at San Diego Chargers
- Texans: Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Texans D/ST
- Chargers: Antonio Gates
Texans: Matt Schaub, Ben Tate, DeAndre Hopkins
- Chargers: Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews, Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal, Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead, Chargers D/ST
Use as needed
Texans: Randy Bullock
- Chargers: Vincent Brown, Nick Novak
9. Must-Use Fantasy Resources Every Week
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I have some go-to resources for my own fantasy football decisions and analysis every week, so I figured I might as well share them with you.
Book mark these and reference them along with me this season:
- Position's fantasy points against every opponent: FFToday.com.
- Latest player news: No one does it better than Rotoworld.com.
- Current defensive NFL stats rankings.
- The NFL schedule, of course.
- Roster trends. I tend to have most of my leagues on CBSSports, but every website's data is unique to its population, and important to fantasy owners on those sites.
- NFL team reports. I have traditionally used those from the Sports Xchange, but you can bet I am going to reference those at Bleacher Report, too. I am a company guy, after all.
10. What You Can Expect from Me This Year
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Last, but not least, we should give you a heads up of what to expect from Bleacher Reports' Fantasy Football Lead Writer every week of the season:
Monday—Week 1 Takeaways
We will break down all the fantasy-related news from the week in a 10-plus note slideshow.
Tuesday—Week 1 Waiver Wire
We will handicap the top adds and drops of the week and let you know whether they are one-week fill-ins or potential game-changers.
Wednesday—The Fantasy Notebook
This will be the most in-depth fantasy insider's look at the trends, strategies, matchups, injuries and news of the week.
Friday—Top 50 Fantasy Big Board
We rank your stars of the week, one through 50.
Saturday—Start 'Em, Sit 'Em
You will see this on every fantasy website there is, but this writer does it bigger and better than everyone else. Guaranteed!
With so much fantasy knowledge and goodness to come, we can't wait to get this season started. It stands to be a bountiful one for all of us!
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.