I can't be the only one anxiously awaiting the first official injury report of the season on Friday. I need to see those designations on the screen: Larry Fitzgerald – Probable (full participant), Donovan McNabb – Probable (limited participant), Steve Slaton – Questionable (Kubiak's dog house). For me, it's concrete evidence that the training camps castoffs are actually gone and we'll finally get to see first-team offenses for more than a couple of series.
This season is all about redemption for me. I've got the receipt from last season's Steak Dinner magnetized to my dry-erase board. Shrimp Cocktail – $11.95 Every time I look at it, I'm reminded of how much I hate shrimp. Thanks, Darren McFadden. Looking at my rosters, I've got a lot riding on Tom Brady's arm, Maurice Jones-Drew's knee and Anquan Boldin's overall health.
My Lottery Tickets
Tashard Choice, RB, DAL – Is it really that much of a stretch to expect Felix Jones and/or Marion Barber to get hurt at some point this season? We've only seen him with limited opportunities, but Choice looks a lot like a guy who could be a top-10 back if he ever gets the majority of the touches somewhere.
Leon Washington, RB, SEA – Count me among those who weren't thrilled to hear about Washington's assignment to the kickoff return unit. I do take some comfort in knowing that Jamaal Charles held that role for the Chiefs last season before his breakout in the starting running back spot during the second half. I was on board with the Seahawks' plan to get Justin Forsett more involved in the offense last season and 5.4 YPC along with 41 receptions as a part-time player confirm that he's earned a chance to start. Still, for the low investment cost, Washington and his career 4.8 YPC remain intriguing – particularly in the NFC West – if Forsett gets hurt or proves to be ineffective in a 20-touch role.
Brandon Jackson, RB, GB – Let's review. The Packers have one of the league's best offenses, Ryan Grant is a solid, but unspectacular obstacle currently holding the starting job. What does that mean? Jackson is a Grant injury away from leading your leaguemates to take the hammer to the FAAB piggy bank. If you've got the roster spot to add and stash him, do it.
James Davis, RB, CLE – I'm not going all-in for Peyton Hillis as the most likely back to take away Jerome Harrison's starting job over the course of the season. Even though I'm still wondering why exactly the Browns are so certain that Harrison isn't the answer, the reality is that they were ready to give Montario Hardesty a heavy workload before his season-ending torn ACL. Let's be honest here, Davis is the clear-cut No. 3 back to start the season, so there's little in the way of short-term value because the touches will be few and far between, but if he hadn't been on IR last season, it's possible that he would have been tabbed as the replacement for Jamal Lewis over Harrison.
Laurent Robinson, WR, STL – Robinson had a pair of good games on the road last season before suffering a season-ending broken leg in Week 3. With Donnie Avery on IR, he's the default No. 1 wideout on a St. Louis offense that should be throwing a ton in the second half of games. Too many fantasy owners are avoiding all Rams – or at least all but Steven Jackson – but there could be a few surprises here, especially in deeper leagues.
Jacoby Jones, WR, HOU – Another byproduct of playing in a good system, Jones quietly averaged 16.2 YPC and hauled in six touchdown passes last season. Opposing defenses are going to spend a lot of time trying to find ways to slow down Andre Johnson, making the Texans' No. 2 receiver slot the source of a potential break out. Jones should be able to wrestle that job away from Kevin Walter this season and he's an increase in targets away from being a viable No. 3 fantasy receiver in deeper formats.
Early Doucet, WR, ARI – Maybe I'm still enamored by the 14 catches and 144 receiving yards in the Cards' two playoff games, but Doucet seems to be the better long-term replacement for Anquan Boldin even though Steve Breaston has been elevated to the starting lineup for the time being. If Kurt Warner were still under center for Arizona, this would be easier to see, but lightning struck once for Derek Anderson in 2007 and he's got more talent at his disposal in the Cards' receiving corps than he ever did in Cleveland.
Week 1 Thoughts
A major point of emphasis from the Twitter conversation (@RotoWire) so far this week. A matchup against the Lions significantly increases the Week 1 upside of Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. Obviously, the receiving corps benefits from this as well, but the unknown distribution of Culter's passes means that Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu, and Devin Hester are much more difficult to evaluate when setting a lineup this week. Detroit notoriously makes opposing offenses look like the Greatest Show on Turf Rams (1999-2001) each week. Particularly in a PPR league, someone with more certain targets such as Jabar Gaffney is a better play than all three Bears wideouts.
Concerns about Beanie Wells' ability to stay healthy kept him off of my fantasy rosters (only four so far). As Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic pointed out this week, two of the Cards' three 100-yard rushing games against the Rams under head coach Ken Whisenhunt have come from Tim Hightower. The third was an Edgerrin James production. The progress Wells apparently made during the offseason in the blocking and pass-catching departments aren't enough, at least initially, for him to unseat Hightower in the top spot on the team's depth chart. Keep a very close eye on Wells in practice on Thursday and Friday, as the Cards may limit his workload this week if he's unable to get a full participation in before the end of the week.
I already mentioned having a lot of stock in Anquan Boldin, but can he yield anything while working on Revis Island in Week 1? Revis' domination of opposing top wideouts is well documented, but I'm starting Boldin in every league where I own him (even a 10-team format). SI's Jay Clemons raises an interesting point about Revis' training camp holdout and even offers a bold prediction for Boldin's Week 1 line. I brought up the matchup for discussion in the office earlier this week and Mario Puig suggested that Boldin's physical nature makes him a difficult matchup for Revis anyway. Fellow Boldin owners, what's your course of action this week? Who (if anyone) are you considering in his place?
The hype train finally left the station for Vince Young, but a strong preseason and marked improvement last season suggest that there's still something to keep an eye on here. Over the final five weeks of last season, Young averaged 17.1 fantasy points. By comparison, Joe Flacco averaged 15.5 during that span and Carson Palmer averaged 12.9. Sounds like a viable QB2 option to me.
Last season, the Panthers lost defensive tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu for the season on the first play of training camp. Their run defense ranked 22nd in the league and was nothing short of porous at times. Unfortunately for Carolina fans, they've done very little to try to rectify this situation. That's good news for Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs owners heading into Sunday.
Speaking of shaky run defenses, the Colts were also ranked in the league's bottom third in that category last season. Arian Foster could significantly distance himself from Steve Slaton and Derrick Ward with a big (and fumble-free) Week 1 performance. Injuries on the Colts' offensive line – enough to keep Joseph Addai on the field for even more snaps in place of Donald Brown? It will be interesting to monitor that situation on Sunday.
If you're a Rashard Mendenhall owner worried about Dennis Dixon starting at quarterback this week, you should be no more worried now than you were when it was going to be Byron Leftwich at the helm. Opposing defenses have more to think about now anyway, given what Dixon can bring to the table as a running threat. I will say, it's very odd to see the Steelers toting the home underdog label (+2) against the Falcons after opening as 1.5-point favorites. Looking to worry about a member of the Steelers' offense? I think Mike Wallace will struggle the most of the team's skill position players while Ben Roethlisberger is out with his suspension.
Sunday Ticket data next week will probably reveal Browns-Bucs to be the most ignored matchup of Week 1. I wouldn't be surprised to see some good fantasy numbers in this one as 37 points looks like a very low over/under when you consider the Bucs (27th) and Browns (31st) were two of the worst defenses in the NFL last season. We've all seen plenty of sleeper lists with Mohammad Massaquoi and Mike Williams on them, and it would be nice to see them deliver here given the favorable matchups. Maybe my baseline is a little screwy here, since the Bucs (last season) and Browns (first time offense, this preseason) exceeded my expectations against the Packers last time I watched them closely.
Unwanted Staff Picks Entry
I asked to be included in the Staff Picks article last season and was shot down because six is an even number. Since all five of last year's analysts are back on board, I'll post my picks in this space – or – as a separate blog entry each week to prove that I have no future handicapping games.
Vikings +5.5 at Saints – Vikings
Broncos +2.5 at Jags – Jags
Raiders +6 at Titans – Titans
Bengals +4.5 at Patriots – Patriots
Browns +3 at Buccaneers – Browns
Colts –2 at Texans – Colts
Lions +6.5 at Bears – Bears
Falcons –2 at Steelers – Steelers
Dolphins –3 at Bills – Dolphins
Panthers +6.5 at Giants – Giants
Packers –3 at Eagles – Packers
Cardinals –4 at Rams – Cards
49ers –3 at Seahawks – Niners
Cowboys –3.5 at Redskins – Redskins
Ravens +2.5 at Jets – Jets
Chargers –4.5 at Chiefs – Chargers
Broncos-Jags isn't much better than Browns-Bucs in my opinion. I stuck with Jacksonville at home because of Knowshon Moreno's bum hamstring and the belief that Broncos are going to realize how much they miss Brandon Marshall on the field now that the games are starting to count. I also think the loss of Elvis Dumervil is a crippling blow to that defense.
Is anyone seriously buying into the Seahawks winning more than four games this season? Sure, I'm not going to back the Niners every week because they're the favorites to win the weakest division in the league, but Pete Carroll's return to the NFL is going to be painful in Year 1 with the question marks at so many positions to start the season.
In some ways, this year's Eagles squad reminds me of the Packers in Aaron Rodgers' first season as the starter. Growing pains seem likely for Kevin Kolb, and a road trip to Philly is a good first test for a Green Bay squad that many are projecting for a deep run into the playoffs.