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East Coast Offense: How Much Does Week 1 Matter?

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

It's hilarious how virtually every fantasy sports media outlet tries to get people pumped up for Week 1. "Bring energy!" they urge us on the radio show. "It's Christmas morning for the fantasy player!" Let's be honest - Week 1 starts off like Christmas morning, but when you open your presents, it's a lot of crap you don't want, stuff you need to return and, to tell the truth, the turkey was a bit cardboardy, and the gingerbread house stale.

I know, I know. It's the spirit that counts. Which is why I try to appreciate the occasion for what it really is - the joy of futilely hoping for the backdoor cover (how I lived without it during the offseason is mystifying), the diminished expectations for that sleeper in whom you unrealistically believed and coming to terms with your real-life favorite team handing away a win and lowering its chances to make the playoffs. The realization that for all your research, diligence and planning, you cannot prevent C.J Spiller from fumbling or make 32-year old Fred Jackson as slow as he should be.

Once we've come to terms with the Week 1 damage to our various pools and interests, the next logical question is how much does it mean going forward? To what extent does a bad start portend a bad year? Or, for those players who met or even exceeded our preseason expectations - can they keep it up?

To answer that, let's look at top performers in Week 1 over the last two seasons and where they finished at the end of the year:

2012

Week 1 Top-10 QB Week 1 Pts Year-End Top-10 Total AVG Week 1 Rank
Matt Ryan 32.46 Drew Brees 385.58 24.099 2
Drew Brees 25.56 Aaron Rodgers 366.6 22.913 6
Tony Romo 25.48 Tom Brady 356.28 22.268 17
Robert Griffin 25 Cam Newton 353.46 22.091 20
Michael Vick 23.88 Matt Ryan 336.56 21.035 1
Aaron Rodgers 23.82 Peyton Manning 336.06 21.004 13
Mark Sanchez 22.64 Robert Griffin 332.6 22.173 4
Matt Cassel 22.32 Andrew Luck 322.46 20.154 18
Jay Cutler 20.92 Tony Romo 321.92 20.12 3
Ryan Fitzpatrick 20.6 Matthew Stafford 316.58 19.786 14
Week 1 Top-10 RB Week 1 Pts Year-End Top-10 Total AVG Week 1 Rank
C.J. Spiller 25.4 Adrian Peterson 311.4 19.463 6
Alfred Morris 21.6 Arian Foster 266.1 16.631 7
Ray Rice 21.3 Doug Martin 264.6 16.538 16
Stevan Ridley 21.2 Marshawn Lynch 250.6 15.662 22
Kevin Smith 21.1 Alfred Morris 246.7 15.419 2
Adrian Peterson 20.7 Ray Rice 222.1 13.881 3
Arian Foster 19.5 C.J. Spiller 218.3 13.644 1
Matt Forte 18 Jamaal Charles 210.5 13.156 24
Frank Gore 17.3 Trent Richardson 203.7 13.58 33
Michael Bush 16.2 Stevan Ridley 203.4 12.713 4
Week 1 Top-10 WR Week 1 Pts Year-End Top-10 Total AVG Week 1 Rank
Kevin Ogletree 23.4 Calvin Johnson 226.4 14.15 25
Julio Jones 22.8 Brandon Marshall 216.6 13.537 6
Stephen Hill 20.9 Dez Bryant 210.7 13.169 36
Lance Moore 18 A.J. Green 204.8 12.8 46
Andre Johnson 17.9 Demaryius Thomas 203.4 12.713 7
Brandon Marshall 17.9 Vincent Jackson 187.4 11.713 64
Demaryius Thomas 17 Eric Decker 184.4 11.525 58
Pierre Garcon 16.9 Andre Johnson 183.8 11.487 5
Jeremy Kerley 16.5 Julio Jones 182.8 11.425 2
Jeremy Maclin 15.6 Roddy White 177.1 11.069 34

There's always going to be some correlation between Week 1 performance and year-end finish because Week 1 counts like any other. But looking at last year, Matt Ryan was the No. 1 Week 1 QB, and that meant nothing. He was already the No. 7 QB by ADP and finished at No. 5 by season total, No. 6 by average per game. Take away Week 1, and he did exactly what you'd have expected the rest of the way.

Similarly, Cam Newton was No. 20 in Week one, despite having a No. 5 ADP, and he finished the year at No. 4, No. 5 by average per game.

Where Week 1 was a good indication the last two years was for rookie running QBs. RGIII finished No. 4 in Week 1, and finished the year No. 4 in per-game average. In 2011 (see below) Cam Newton finished No. 3 in Week 1 and No. 3 at year-end, too. Something to keep in mind for your FAAB bidding on Terrelle Pryor (No. 9 in Week 1), perhaps.

For running backs, Adrian Peterson's No. 6 finish in Week 1 was obviously huge because it meant he was healthy. It obviously didn't portend an all-time great season, however. Stevan Ridley and Alfred Morris parlayed the No. 4 and No. 2 showings into year-end No. 5 and No. 10 totals. Again, it seems Week 1 matters more to young players getting opportunities for the first time, though Doug Martin finished No. 16 and Trent Richardson No. 33. Their opportunities were more or less locked in given their draft slots, however. Maybe this doesn't bode well for Lamar Miller.

At wide receiver, Week 1 had almost no correlation to year-end finish. Don't get too excited about Julian Edelman, Leonard Hankerson or Brian Hartline. Chances are far greater those performances were short-term outliers. Even Anquan Boldin is probably less than even money to finish in the top-15 from Weeks 2-17.

Similarly, don't be too concerned about Dwayne Bowe or Eric Decker. They might or might not pan out, but Week 1 isn't a big indicator either way.

2011

Week 1 Top-10 QB Week 1 Pts Year-End Top-10 Total AVG Week 1 Rank
Tom Brady 36.98 Drew Brees 419.64 26.227 4
Chad Henne 36.54 Aaron Rodgers 409.42 27.295 7
Cam Newton 32.68 Cam Newton 405.34 25.334 3
Drew Brees 29.06 Tom Brady 394.3 24.644 1
Michael Vick 25.18 Matthew Stafford 375.32 23.457 8
Ryan Fitzpatrick 24.62 Eli Manning 320.82 20.051 20
Aaron Rodgers 24.58 Philip Rivers 303.56 18.972 11
Matthew Stafford 24.2 Matt Ryan 303.48 18.968 26
Tony Romo 22.58 Tony Romo 301.96 18.873 9
Mark Sanchez 21.7 Mark Sanchez 289.26 18.079 10
Week 1 Top-10 RB Week 1 Pts Year-End Top-10 Total AVG Week 1 Rank
Mike Tolbert 27.3 Ray Rice 300.84 18.802 2
Ray Rice 26.9 LeSean McCoy 282.4 18.827 3
LeSean McCoy 25.7 Maurice Jones-Drew 264 16.5 9
Matt Forte 21.8 Arian Foster 256.1 19.7 Out
Cedric Benson 18.3 Marshawn Lynch 219.6 14.64 35
Ben Tate 17.6 Michael Turner 216.8 13.55 13
Beanie Wells 16.2 Darren Sproles 191.3 11.956 12
Tim Hightower 15.7 Ryan Mathews 190.6 13.614 16
Maurice Jones-Drew 15.7 Adrian Peterson 189.2 15.767 22
Darren McFadden 15.6 Michael Bush 187.5 11.719 47
Week 1 Top-10 WR Week 1 Pts Year-End Top-10 Total AVG Week 1 Rank
Steve Smith 29.8 Calvin Johnson 265.2 16.575 4
Wes Welker 28 Jordy Nelson 216.3 13.519 15
Kenny Britt 25.6 Wes Welker 213.9 13.369 2
Calvin Johnson 20.8 Victor Cruz 207.9 12.994 No catches
Reggie Wayne 16.6 Larry Fitzgerald 189.1 11.819 49
Early Doucet 16.5 Steve Smith 188 11.75 1
DeSean Jackson 16.2 Percy Harvin 184.9 11.556 35
Devery Henderson 16 Roddy White 177.6 11.1 50
Randall Cobb 15.5 Mike Wallace 173 10.812 27
Andre Johnson 15.5 Vincent Jackson 169.7 10.606 67

In 2011, Chad Henne was the No. 2 Week 1 QB, and Ryan Fitzpatrick No. 6. Mark Sanchez was No. 10, but he actually finished No. 10 overall thanks to six rushing TDs. Fitzpatrick actually finished No. 12. Otherwise, most of the big names (Brady, Brees, Rodgers, Newton, Stafford) all performed in line with their Week 1 totals, and Newton and Stafford were not big names at the time.

Running back was all over the map. Mike Tolbert, Cedric Benson, Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower actually graced the Week 1 top-10. Marshawn Lynch (35), Michael Bush (47), didn't emerge until much later. The takeaway is that RB, as always, is mostly about opportunity and health.

The takeaway at WR from 2011 was to be patient. Of the top-10 year-end finishers, five finished No. 35 or lower in Week 1, and seven finished No. 15 or lower. Only Wes Welker, Calvin Johnson and Steve Smith finished both in Week 1's top-10 and the year-end top-10.

"This helps No One."

This message came up a few times in my Twitter feed this week when, for example, a scrub like Jackie Battle or Junior Hemingway scored a touchdown. A related phenomenon is when the guys doing the fantasy play-by-play on the radio are happy when Adrian Peterson scores a TD because it's helpful to fantasy owners. Please understand fantasy football is a zero-sum game. Every time someone else does well, that's bad for you. Every time you do well, it's bad for everyone else. I'm sorry if it ruins the "school spirit" cheerleading for fantasy football generally, but the other owners in the league and the players they draft are the enemy. If Peterson scores - and I don't own him anywhere - it's harmful to me. If he's on the sideline getting a breather, and Toby Gerhart gets a cheap one-yard plunge, that's a win for me. Likewise, when Battle scored, that sucked for Chris Johnson owners and was great for those going against Johnson. Same with Hemingway and Dwayne Bowe/Jamaal Charles.

Things to Take Away from Week 1

There are at least 10 quarterbacks who are top-five quarterbacks and maybe more. Same with tight ends (h/t Stopa).

Every running back except Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy and Reggie Bush is terrible. In fact, only three players emerged from Week 1 with 100 rushing yards and one of them was quarterback Terrelle Pryor, and another was Shane Vereen who's now out for a few weeks with a broken wrist. If it's such a passing league, why is every defensive coordinator hell bent on stopping the run?

Has there been another Week in NFL history where the 100-yard tight-ends outnumber the 100-yard backs (3:2)? Or one where the total TE touchdowns (21) outnumbered the total RB touchdowns (16)?

The record in all of sports that will never be broken is most passing yards and TDs by two brothers. Eli and Peyton added 912 yards and 11 TDs to their totals in Week 1.

I'd move Jared Cook to No. 4 overall among tight ends in non-PPR, ahead of everyone except Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis and Rob Gronkowski. Cook is the Rams' only viable red-zone target other than Brian Quick who is the No. 4 WR right now, and it appears the Rams gave him all that guaranteed money ($19 million) with the intent to use him.

Vernon Davis could be a monster. In fact, when Rob Gronkowski gets healthy, Jimmy Graham could be the No. 3 option at the position.

Colin Kaepernick looked like Steve Young Sunday, operating almost exclusively out of the pocket and scrambling when necessary. He's one of six top-3 QBs

Blaine Gabbert was essentially awarded the job this preseason based on what?

Eli Manning's setup could not be better for fantasy purposes. Both Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are healthy now, Rueben Randle looks like a future star and Brandon Myers is competent at tight end. Stevie Brown (the team's best pass-defending safety) is out for the year, Prince Amukamara (the team's best cover corner) has a concussion and the running game is temporarily dead now that David Wilson is in the doghouse.

Jordy Nelson is a top-10 WR now that he appears healthy.

I'm a little nervous about Tony Romo. He downplayed the bruised ribs he suffered against the Giants, but he didn't look the same the rest of the game, and it's not great news that Dez Bryant (also likely to play Week 2) is nursing a foot/ankle injury.

The Pats can't stretch the field with their current personnel. Kenbrell Thompkins is slow, and Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman are small and not typically dangerous down the field. Aaron Dobson has the size/speed to change that once he gets healthy, and of course, Rob Gronkowski can make plays anywhere.

Without Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers offensive line was among the worst in the league. A week of practice will help, but Week 2 in Cincinnati could be ugly. The Steelers also lack red-zone targets with Heath Miller still out.

The Chargers pulled off an incredibly feat Monday night: They survived the departure of Norv Turner without losing their identity. Philip Rivers is a broken man. I don't think he can be re-assembled.

Ben Tate outplayed Arian Foster Monday night, but Foster's display of health was encouraging, and he also made a nice one-handed snag of a pass. I think Foster's stock should go up, not down as a result of Week 1.

LeSean McCoy will be a monster for as long as he stays healthy. If we were to re-draft for the rest of the year, his ADP might be No. 2.

Compare the Week 1 performances of Dez Bryant and A.J. Green, consider their respective opponents, too and try to argue that the preseason matters at all for healthy veterans whose roles are not in doubt. That might seem obvious, but Bryant was flying up boards due to the preseason.

David Wilson will be heard from again, possibly as early as Week 2, but likely no later than Weeks 3 or 4. Brandon Jacobs is not an obstacle, and Tom Coughlin taught a once fumble-prone Tiki Barber to protect the ball.

RGIII looked awfully shaky in the first half, but settled in later in the game. He won't be a top-10 QB unless he runs for at least 400 yards and a few scores, however.

Not Surviving Week 1

I'll write more extensively on this in the Survivor column, but a couple thoughts on picking the Steelers on the site (and in three of my four pools):

First off, I feel badly for anyone who took my advice and lost. Even though, each person is responsible for his own pick, and obviously no pick is guaranteed (otherwise, why bother with survivor, just put your life savings on the moneyline each week), it still sucks to plunk down the dough and be done before it even starts. I took the Pats in one other pool, and one of my four is a re-buy, so I still have some action, but many people who lost don't.

As enjoyable as it can be to play fantasy football, or handicap games against the spread, there really is no other football-based game as insanely dramatic as survivor. For as much misery as it's caused me (I turned down a $12K three-way split in Week 16 of 2000 only to lose in Week 17, and I would have won $37K in 2011 had the halftime scores held up - I lost in Week 12 on Thanksgiving Day), there's nothing like advancing and rooting for others to perish. There's no game where such a small investment can pay off so big, and when you do cash, it often covers the costs of all your pools in every sport for the entire year with profit to spare. So I'm sorry if you took my advice and lost as a result.

I don't think the pick was especially bad, however. The Steelers lost their starting Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey in the first quarter, lost a fumble on the Titans five-yard line and never recovered. I once read a handicapping book that said never to bet on a team that loses its starting center the week before the game because the entire rhythm of the offense is thrown off. You could see the high and low snaps to Ben Roethlisberger, and with the lack of protection from the line, it was tough for him to generate any offense. The Steelers defense predictably shut down Jake Locker entirely - 6.3 YPA, 125 passing yards - but you can't score zero offensive points for 58 minutes.

Okay, so the Steelers had some bad luck, but isn't your pick supposed to withstand bad bounces/injuries? Yes, it is. But when you consider the most popular picks (and Vegas favorites), the Colts and Patriots, were life and death with the Bills and Raiders, it's unclear how many options could have withstood injuries/bad bounces.

The best pick turned out to be Denver (though one can debate whether the game would have gone that way had John Harbaugh challenged the Wes Welker drop and gotten his tired defense off the field in the third quarter with the lead still intact), and of course, that was the pick the Vegas odds combined with the pick distribution indicated. I didn't trust them against the Ravens, and I trusted the Steelers more than Vegas did, so I adjusted the odds. But it turns out - as is often (but not always) the case, Vegas was correct here.

As I said, I'll explore this in more detail in this week's column.