Err, this is football, so consider the first whistle blown and envision the referee rotating his arm to signal the start of the kickoff.
We are finally ready to put all of your research and preparation for the fantasy football season to work.
The action kicks off Thursday night with Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos opening up against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, and that is where The Fantasy Football Week 1 Notebook begins.
Who gets the ball in Denver?
The story from the talking heads as we watch the Broncos game will be how Manning manages to distribute the ball to high-volume receivers Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker, but fantasy owners will be fine with how they are used. We dig deeper. We care more about the running back rotation.
We now know Ronnie Hillman will start and there will be a rotation of backs. John Fox is going to play the hot hand. In obvious running situations, you have to figure Fox will pound the Ravens with second-round rookie Montee Ball. Knowshon Moreno, the veteran of the bunch, is the best pass protector, so he will likely be in the game on third downs, but not to receive.
Hillman, the youngest of the Broncos backs, is a sleeper in fantasy because of his starting status, but he is a "sit" in Week 1. If you are playing a Broncos running back, you play Ball as a low-end No. 2 or flex. Moreno is mere roster insurance.
Here is how we see the fantasy totals shaking out for the Broncos backs:
- Hillman: 10 carries for 45 yards, three catches for 25 yards
- Ball: 15 carries for 55 yards and a rushing touchdown
- Moreno: eight carries for 35 yards, two catches for 12 yards
Ball is a viable starter for the rushing touchdown alone.
Thursday night start/sit
While this game figures to get a bit loose in the second half, it will start tight and look like a defensive struggle. There will be ample fantasy points to go around in the end, but you only want your primary options active. Welker (ankle) and Ed Dickson (thigh) are going to play, while cornerback Champ Bailey (foot) will be questionable.
- Denver Broncos: Manning, Ball, Thomas, Welker, Decker, Matt Prater and Broncos D/ST
- Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Justin Tucker
- Denver Broncos: Hillman, Moreno, Julius Thomas, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen
- Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco, Bernard Pierce, Jacoby Jones, Ed Dickson, Dallas Clark and Ravens D/ST
Foster-ing (unnecessary) skepticism
You have to love, or hate, how one quote about a starting running back can change fantasy minds, or at least create panic.
When Arian Foster's coach, Gary Kubiak, said he won't be a "30-carry guy on opening night," my followers on Twitter suggested Ben Tate is going to be a good start against the Chargers run defense. San Diego was quietly sixth-best in the NFL against the run last season.
No, you don't necessarily start Tate in Week 1 because Foster had a quiet preseason.
Oh, Foster isn't going to get 30 carries in an early season game?
Shocking! Not really.
Foster is going to get 20 carries, 100 yards and at least one touchdown. Don't you dare do something stupid and sit him. You already overcame your league's stupidity of downgrading him because he was resting this preseason. He fell in the first round and shouldn't have.
Foster is still the best candidate for 15-plus touchdowns in football. Yes, over Adrian Peterson even. Fantasy footballers love touchdowns.
And by the way, Foster is returning to San Diego, his hometown. He is going to be plenty fired up to perform.
How to handicap the Steelers running backs
We care about the Broncos backs more, because that is a running game with fantasy-worthy potential. The Steelers are not that right now, and won't be until Le'Veon Bell (foot sprain) returns.
It is sounding more and more promising for those that scored the draft-day discount on Bell, though. He is the only Steeler ruled out for the opener, but it is because he has not practiced. He is doing more, and he could make a return in Week 2. Keep him stashed.
Against the Titans defense that was third-worst in fantasy against running backs last year, Isaac Redman is a sleeper as the Steelers' starter. Pittsburgh will rely heavily on Ben Roethlisberger to move the ball, but Redman is going to finish the drives. Only three teams (Buffalo, New Orleans and Dallas) allowed more rushing touchdowns to backs a year ago than Tennessee.
Here is how we see the fantasy totals shaking out for the backs:
- Redman: 20 carries for 70 yards, three receptions for 18 yards
- Felix Jones: eight carries for 24 yards
- La'Rod Stephens-Howling: three carries for 12 yards, four receptions for 22 yards
Redman is a sleeper Week 1 fantasy starter for his potential to punch one in the end zone, even if he ranks outside the top 25 of my Week 1 Fantasy Football Rankings.
Hey, have you heard that one before? Touchdowns matter. Go figure.
If you have the Ravens' Pierce or the Broncos' Moreno, you probably should sit them for Redman.
Previewing the injury report
Here are some of the injuries that will impact lineup decisions this week:
Rob Gronkowski (back, expected to be out): His absence makes rookie Zach Sudfeld a viable starter this week.
Ahmad Bradshaw (foot): He is going to share time with Vick Ballard, but the pitiful Raiders are going to get blown out. Both Bradshaw and Ballard will be viable fringe starters in fantasy. Bradshaw starts, but Ballard is going to collect his nuts in garbage time.
EJ Manuel (knee): We should expect him to play. He won't be 100 percent, but that could mean time in the pocket than scrambling around. Stevie Johnson said no one on the Patriots can cover him, but it will merely because he is picking up his fantasy points at the end of the game. The Pats are going to blow that one out.
Santonio Holmes (foot): It's likely he will play. It won't help any fantasy lineups because he is a mere reserve and the Jets quarterback is expected to be rookie Geno Smith. If you are looking for a real deep sleeper at the position, though, perhaps Holmes is it.
What the future holds
This notebook will be your definitive insider resource for fantasy lineup and roster decisions throughout the year. Some of the weekly staples were already published in my Early Advice Heading into Week 1, like reviewing the matchups, Las Vegas lines, defensive streaming options and Monday Night Football quandaries.
Next Wednesday, you will see a lot of that in-depth analysis right here.
Later in the week, you are going to get more from me on weekly rankings (Friday) and the most comprehensive and up-to-date Start 'em, Sit 'em (Saturday) in the industry. After the fantasy madness unfolds, look out for the Week 1 Takeaways (Monday) and the Week 2 Waiver Wire (Tuesday).
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.
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