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Run 'N' Shoot: Downgrade the Steelers

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa has been sharing his fantasy insights for Rotowire since 2007. Mark is the 2010 and 2012 Staff Picks champion (eat your heart out, Chris Liss) and won Rotowire's 14-team Staff League II in consecutive seasons. He roots for the Bills and has season tickets on the second row, press level to the Rays.

Someone please sack me in my own end zone ... it would be only appropriate if I started this article off with a safety.

The Steelers benefited from a bizarre, opening kickoff safety, but everything after that couldn't have gone worse. Maurkice Pouncey's ACL tear is the biggest news of Week 1 and the best explanation I've got why the Steelers offense struggled so badly. Even if Le'Veon Bell returns, he can't save this offense, not unless the line starts blocking much better. All Steelers need to be moved down your fantasy rankings, and if you stream defenses, the Steelers offense is now one to target.

Here's my favorite way to put Peyton Manning's exquisite performance in perspective ... first ballot Hall of Famer John Elway never had a game with 300 yards and 5 TDs, yet Peyton surpassed those totals in the second half against the defending Super Bowl champs. The "on pace" talk is silly, but the setup in Denver couldn't be better for Peyton's fantasy owners. Studs are everywhere in the passing game, while the run game and defense are mediocre at best, as is their schedule. 45 passing TDs ... sure, why not? If Manning keeps throwing out of shotgun from the two yard line, it will happen.

I chose the Broncos in both of my Survivor leagues, in a Chris Liss pot odds sort of way, and let me tell you ... there's something to be said for winning on Thursday night and then sitting back and rooting for carnage on Sunday. In fact, at one point on Sunday afternoon, the Colts, Patriots, and Steelers were all losing simultaneously in the fourth quarter, and if those results held, I'd have won Dalton Del Don's 23-owner Survivor pool before the 4pm games kicked off on Sunday of the first week! Even in defeat, though, the Bills and Raiders proved, as did the Jets in victory, that the preseason means little. (That was my suggested three-team parlay for Week 1, by the way - Jets, Raiders, Bills.) Remember, if you're handicapping early in the season, there's always value in backing the bad preseason teams.

Even if you don't handicap, you need to read Staff Picks every week. It's helpful to know how Vegas and the public view the various teams. If you're streaming defenses or kickers, for example, you want one that's a favorite for the week.

If I was ranking the NFL's top 10 teams right now, I'm not sure any AFC teams besides the Broncos would make the list. The Patriots might, but if you didn't watch on Sunday, they're not as good as you think. One stat that shows why - 5.5 YPA for Tom Brady. New England wasn't even trying to throw deep, as the field was basically 15-20 yards long all game. That wasn't a good Bills defense Brady was facing, either, down their best two defensive backs. Preseason darling Kenbrell Thompkins really struggled, totaling just three yards per target on his 12 targets. It was worse than the box score reflects, too, as Thompkins was constantly out of position and lacked field awareness. Zach Sudfeld was even worse and belongs on waivers in virtually all fantasy formats. Perhaps things will change when Rob Gronkowski returns, and maybe Aaron Dobson can stretch defenses when he gets healthy, but this is the Patriots offense we saw before Randy Moss arrived - ball control, nothing explosive, no splash plays. Adjust expectations accordingly.

Months from now (maybe longer), we all may look back at Week 1 of the 2013 season as the start of a changing of the guard in the AFC East. Geno Smith and EJ Manuel both played better than expected, while Ryan Tannehill led the Dolphins to a win. It's not hard to characterize the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins as being "on the rise," at least in the long term. The Patriots are probably still the class of the division for 2013, but the gap over the rest of the division hasn't felt this small in a long time. The one thing likely to keep the Patriots atop the division in 2013, aside from Brady, of course, might be their criminally underrated offensive line.

Eric Decker struggled despite the Broncos explosion, but all fantasy receivers have variance. Four receivers I'd gladly give up for Decker: Cecil Shorts, Mike Wallace, Mike Williams, Kenny Britt. Everyone in the Broncos passing game is a plug and play, and that includes Julius Thomas, who I see as a top-5 fantasy tight end. Of course, about 10 tight ends looked like top-5 guys after Week One, as virtually everyone besides Greg Olsen went off. Right now, I'd rank them like this: Graham, Davis, Gronk, Gonzalez, Thomas, Finley, Cook, Olsen, Witten. Really, though, any of those guys seems like a terrific weekly starter in what suddenly looks like a deep position. Tight end is so deep, in fact, that there's really no excuse for anyone not to be playing 2-TE leagues. Deeper lineups = more challenges = more fun.

I think I had 6-7 conversations with my wife on Sunday. Each time, I said "yeah" or "ok," but I have absolutely no idea what she said.

Anquan Boldin's Hall of Fame bust/plaque/photo should have a defender draped all over him as he reels in the catch. Seriously, how did the Ravens let this guy get away? Without Boldin, the Ravens offense is lost. In fairness, I like their offense if they're playing from the lead, as Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are a great 1-2 pair (and that's what they are now, a pair), while Torrey Smith can get behind the defense if the safeties cheat up to play the run. But if the Ravens have to play from behind ... yikes. Nobody likes to play from behind, of course, but some teams are at least able to do it. Saints. Broncos. Packers. Baltimore? No way. Torrey Smith is a nice receiver, but he's not somebody whose back you can hop on, as it's too easy to remove him from the offense with safety help over the top (which is what you do anyway when you're leading), and the Ravens have nobody else to throw to. Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson? Pfft, they belong on the couch next to you and me. This makes Dennis Pitta's injury even more of a shame. Pitta would have had a 10-115-2 line on Thursday if he were healthy. Of course, Boldin would have, too, but for that hard-to-understand trade.

After weeks of speculation, it seems clear Eddie Lacy is the most valuable fantasy rookie running back.

Did all 32 NFL teams pass on Colin Kaepernick in the 2011 NFL Draft? Forgive me for not checking (Colin was taken in the second round, so if every team didn't pass on him, it was nearly every team), but it's just too damn depressing. Kaepernick is now the NFL's most valuable asset in my eyes (Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson being close behind), proving once again that NFL GMs and talent evaluators have no idea what the hell they're doing. In fact, Kaepernick and Wilson are Exhibits "A" and "B" if you're skeptical of EJ Manuel and Geno Smith. These rookie quarterbacks might not pan out, but the fact that Smith was drafted in the second round and the Bills were said to have "reached" for Manuel in the middle of the first means absolutely nothing.

Jordy Nelson > Randall Cobb >> James Jones. I don't expect this to change. In fact, I'd rather start Jermichael Finley in a flex position than Jones.
The Giants running game should turn around, and I still like David Wilson. However, the Giants don't have a legitimate goal line back, so Eli Manning may get 4-5 more touchdowns than we all thought. I still prefer Tony Romo over Eli, but it's more of an argument than it was just a few days ago.

If the Jacksonville Jaguars contracted overnight, would anyone notice? At least Chad Henne gives the Jaguars a prayer of an upgrade this week, if only to make Cecil Shorts relevant. But seriously, if Henne's not any better than Blaine Gabbert, why not turn to Tim Tebow? No matter how you feel about Tebow, the Florida fans love him, and if the Jaguars are this bad, they might as well throw the fans a bone.

Fantasy Stock Up: Eddie Lacy, Anquan Boldin, top-10 tight ends, Cardinals passing game, Julian Edelman, Harry Douglas, DeSean Jackson, Terrelle Pryor, Vick Ballard, Eli Manning, Reuben Randle, Philip Rivers (his line is better and the mojo is back - sort of)

No Change: all Panthers (playing Seattle, even at home, isn't a fair gauge of anything), Jerome Simpson, C.J. Spiller (worst game since his rookie year, but I'll give him a one-game pass given the whole grandfather murder-suicide thing), Fred Jackson, 90% of NFL players

Fantasy Stock Down: all Steelers, Roddy White for the rest of September (high ankle sprains typically linger), Kenbrell Thompkins, Giovani Bernard (so much for those goal-line TDs in preseason)

It's pretty crazy that the Dolphins averaged under 1.0 yard per carry and that Mike Wallace had just one reception for 15 yards yet Miami won handily. For me, that was the strangest boxscore of Week 1.

Let's do a quick round of Jeopardy. Here's your question: "I don't know about that one." The answer? What Troy Aikman says or thinks after every play. Seriously, when you go eight months without the NFL, you forget just how bad most of these announcers are. And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, we had to suffer through Chris Berman.

Why is it that when a receiver makes a bad drop or volleyballs a ball to a defender for an interception that the receiver immediately gets to return to the field on the ensuing possession, yet when a running back fumbles he heads right to the bench? Jermichael Finley got an immediate chance at redemption after his point-shaving volleyball-INT, but Eddie Lacy saw pine and Stevan Ridley and David Wilson never came back. Ridley is really fortunate that Shane Vereen is headed to the operating table and that LeGarrette Blount looked awful in limited action.

My favorite hypothetical trade: Michael Vick and Darren Sproles for Matt Ryan and David Wilson. The guy with Wilson and Ryan thinks he's upgrading at quarterback and getting rid of the benched running back, but in reality, you're upgrading at both positions, selling Vick at his highest and getting Wilson at his lowest.

DirecTV has a monopoly on the NFL, so it has no incentive to provide good customer service. An hour to change channels? Too bad. Four screens on Channel 702 for the 4pm games even though only two games are on? Live with it. Won't put Dolphins/Browns onto one of the eight screens after several of the other 1pm games had already ended? Be glad the Browns even have a team. Seriously, if my foreclosure defense practice ever dries up, I'm going to file a class action against these bastards, and all of you can be class representatives (plaintiffs).

I love Sean Payton and his aggressive style, but it was a significant error to kick a field goal on 4th and 2 from the 4 ahead by three late in the fourth quarter. If NO had gone for it and made it, the game was basically over - and making it was greater than a 50/50 proposition. Even if they didn't make it, the Falcons would have started from their own 4 and, needing only a FG to tie, probably would have played conservatively and, at worst, sent it to overtime. By kicking the field goal, the Saints forced the Falcons to be aggressive and go for the winning touchdown against their worst unit - their defense. Sure enough, the Falcons had a few throws into the end zone for the win. New Orleans was very lucky to escape Payton's uncharacteristically conservative coaching decision.

Follow me on Twitter - @MarkStopa