Like the Thursday Night Special Edition for Week 1, The Fantasy Greek will tell you who to consider playing and who not to consider playing, as well as what to look for in each of the sixteen games you will see in the next five days. The goal this week is to look for how teams are playing and how certain players are playing so you cant start to get a feel for which players on your roster are your starters and which players on your roster are more than likely, match-up or bye-week plays. Put another way, we will evaluate each team’s “story line” and see how it plays out.
As to who to play this week, The Fantasy Greek would not blame anyone for starting the starting roster they drafted just days ago, or even a week or so ago. In many instances, it is very difficult to tell how players will play this week because there is no real history, besides last season, to gauge a player’s and team’s future performance. Frankly, teams are also different from last season based on their roster turnover as well as the mere passage of time. Nonetheless, there is no reason not to consider the match-up and how things could or should play out. If this means you feel more comfortable playing one player over another, by all means, go right ahead.
Lastly, before getting onto the match-ups, now that you have drafted your team, go check your league’s recent add-drop, waiver wire activity!!!! Already, players are being dropped from rosters. Who knows, you might be able to pick up the next Arian Foster before the Week 1 games even begin? So, just because someone else in your league isn’t bright enough to hang onto valuable players doesn’t mean you shouldn’t recognize the need to capitalize on their error.
The goal in “Fantasy Football Choices” is to provide you, the fantasy football owner, with enough information to make sensible and reasonable choices in setting your line-up this week by reviewing the weekly match-ups and identifying which players are “On the Gridiron,” a “Coach’s Decision,” or “On the Pine.” For many of you, the information provided simply provides affirmation to the decisions you have already made. If you like, skip the fluff, and find your player’s match-up for analysis. We also provide a down & dirtly listing of players listed in each category within the Quick Hits. If you are looking for a waiver wire pick-up, then look for those players still on your waiver wire, and you can read that analysis too.
Onto the fantasy match-up and your choices!
ON THE GRIDIRON: Identifies players you should play because of their match-up or because of their role on their team’s offense.
COACH’S DECISION: Identifies players who you normally would play but whose match-up this week is not very good; identifies players who you normally would not play but whose match-up this week is good; or identifies players who are injured that you, the fantasy coach, will need to make the call on whether or not to play.
ON THE PINE: Identifies players who you should likely avoid unless there is no one else on your roster or on the waiver wire that can help your team win.
NOTE: Since kickers’ weekly performances are difficult to predict, kickers will not be categorized but defenses (DST) will. As to kickers, just get a good one on a team that will give the kicker an opportunity to score points.
Sunday, September 11th
1:00 p.m. EST
FALCONS v. BEARS
Falcons’ Story Line: The Falcons were arguably the best team in the NFL entering the playoffs, with a 7-1 home record and a 6-2 road record, but fell short. Besides adding Julio Jones in this year’s draft, the Falcons beefed up their defensive line through free agency. This is a team primed to repeat their phenomenal 2010 season. We are expecting them to come out of the gate strong and fast against a Bears defense that was one of the best in the league last season and gave meaning to the expression, defense wins games.
Bears’ Story Line: Speaking of the Bears, they surprised many by winning the NFC North and making it to the NFC Championship. This season, we are looking to see if the Bears offensive line can do a better job protecting Jay Cutler as it has done for most of the preseason. We are looking to see if the Bears can establish a reasonable passing game while their defense continues to dominate the defensive side of the ball in a much improved NFC North.
The Bottom Line: Like the Saints-Packers game, this should be a battle. The Bears pass defense should be tested as should the Falcons’ offense. Right now, it’s hard to imagine how the Bears could beat a team with the players that the Falcons are fielding, but they can. In the end, it’s a tough game to call, but the Falcons should come out on top in a close game.
ON THE GRIDIRON: WR Roddy White was pretty much match-up proof last season, which makes him a must start in Week 1. While the Falcons’ rush defense should be better, RB Matt Forte is the Bears’ main playmaker and while this may not be his best game this season, he is tough to bench for this game. Even though the Bears offensive line seems better than last season, you still have to start the Falcons DST until the Bears line proves themselves in real game action. The Falcons did a great job protecting the ball last season. Yet, the Bears DST has shown it can rise for the occasion against even the most formidable opponents. Give the Bears DST a start, unless you have a better option.
COACH’S DECISION: QB Matt Ryan was likely drafted as your team’s No. 1 QB this season and for good reason — he has an array of offensive weapons to work with. Still, the Bears were one of the best at defending the pass last season, so while this may not be Ryan’s worst worst outing of the season, it may not be his best either. As for QB Jay Cutler, this is not necessarily a bad match-up for him assuming he gets the pass protection. If he is your No. 2 QB, it may be worthwhile seeing how he does this week. If he is your No. 1 QB, while this could be a good game for him, he will likely be tested. It was hard to make RB Michael Turner a Coach’s decision this week, but the fact of the matter is the Bears have been one of the best at defending the run. So, while you may start him this week, keep expectations in check. While the match-up seems right for WR Julio Jones, this might be a good time to see how the rookie does. But if you need him this week, you can consider it.
ON THE PINE: TE Tony Gonzalez should be on the pine because tight-ends do not fare well against the Bears and you likely have a better option. If there was a week to get a Bears’ wideout on the gridiron, this is one of them. However, your guess is as good as The Fantasy Greek’s as to whether WRs Johnny Knox, Devin Hester, Roy Williams, or Earl Bennett is the Bears wide-receiver to play in fantasy football right now. While both WR Harry Douglas and RB Marion Barber could do something this week, you likely have other options.
COLTS v. TEXANS
Colts’ Story Line: Well, that’s easy. We want to know whether the Colts can win without Peyton Manning. We want to know how the team will respond with Kerry Collins under center. Without Manning, there is a genuine concern that the Colts miss the playoffs for the first time in years.
Texans’ Story Line: Quite the opposite, the Texans look to be on the cusp of their first division title and playoff birth. Fantasy Footballers are concerned as to whether Arian Foster plays, but it looks like he will. This is a team we expected more from in 2010, and we may get in 2011. We are looking to see whether the defense improves under Wade Phillips. It should.
The Bottom Line: Things don’t look good for the Colts right now. As such, while there is always a chance they could contend in the game, there is every reason to believe the Texans should win the division opener against their arch rivals.
ON THE GRIDIRON: Even though QB Peyton Manning is now defintely listed as inactive, it is still difficult to bench WR Reggie Wayne or TE Dallas Clark because they should remain the team’s main offensive weapons. While the Texans defense should be much improved, RB Joseph Addai remains a decent, not great flex option this week. The Colts haven’t been great on defense in a wile. A such, QB Matt Schaub, WR Andre Johnson, RB Arian Foster, and TE Owen Daniels should all be active on the fantasy gridiron. If Foster is a late scratch (right now, it is doubtful this would happen, but double-check before kick-off), whoever the Texans name as a starter in his stead, becomes an instant fantasy must-start.
COACH’S DECISION: Between WRs Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, Garcon is the better bet to do something this week as Collie makes his way back from multiple concussions in 2010. Both would be no better than a WR3 this week. But without Manning in the line-up, both Garcon and Collie are candidates for the pine. Should Manning not play this week, consider the Texans DST an option this week.
ON THE PINE: QB Kerry Collins gets the nod to start, but should be avoided in fantasy this week. Indeed, Collins could have difficulty adapting to the offense and the offensive weapons in such a short time. You should have better options this week. However, if you have the roster room, consider adding Collins and let’s see how this plays out. After all, the Colts are chock-full of offensive weapons. While RB DeLone Carter was listed second on the Colts’ depth chart this week, and Donald Brown third, they have yet to show they would be worth being on fantasy gridirons. Let’s see first. No other players for the Colts or the Texans are worth fantasy consideration at this time.
BILLS v. CHIEFS
Bills’ Story Line: The Bills have something to prove as a team. They need to prove that they can take what appears in many respects to be a rag-tag team of players that can contend in each and every game they play. Last season, they looked awfully good at times, but couldn’t quite pull it together to win on a consistent basis. This season, we are looking for Ryan Fitzpatrick to take the next step, Steve Johnson to continue proving his worth as one of the best up and coming young wide-receivers in the league, Fred Jackson to continue proving his worth, and C.J. Spiller to show that the Bills were wise in spending a high draft pick on him one season ago.
Chiefs’ Story Line: Having made the playoffs for the first time in years, the Chiefs have quietly amassed an awfully talented team, with a defense that looks primed to become dominant. Yet, in the first round of the playoffs in 2010, they did not look too good. We want Matt Cassel to show he can be a consistently good quarterback in this system, Jamaal Charles to win the rushing title, and Dwayne Bowe to continue showing he has a nose for the end zone. The Chiefs DST is one to watch as it has improved each and every season and could take a big step under second year defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
The Bottom Line: The Fantasy Greek likes the Bills an awful lot but it’s hard to see them beating a team, stacked in comparison, like the Chiefs. The Fantasy Greeks sees a Chiefs win in Week 1.
ON THE GRIDIRON: For the Bills, RB Fred Jackson and WR Steve Johnson can be on the gridiron as the Chiefs have had their share of problems defending the positions in the past. However, keep expectations in check for Steve Johnson as he will likely be covered by the Chiefs best cover corner. As for the Chiefs, RB Jamaal Charles and WR Dwayne Bowe are must-starts because they are great players and the Bills do not pose any great threats right now, to them having a good game, especially for Charles.
COACH’S DECISION: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was special in 2010 for many fantasy owners that needed a bye week QB or match-up based play. While this is not a bad match-up for him, most owners likely have another No. 1 QB that should be on the gridiron. This would not be a bad start for QB Matt Cassel but for the fact that he has a rib injury that could limit his play. As Cassel is likely a fantasy back-up for most, Cassel should likely not be started in this game. If you own the Chiefs DST, this is not a bad week to start them as the Bills have had their share of problems turning over the ball.
ON THE PINE: As for other Bills players, The Fantasy Greek is not ready to recommend any for a fantasy start at this time until they prove themselves, especially RB C.J. Spiller. While RB Thomas Jones, WR Steve Breaston, and RB/WR Dexter McCluster could do something, let’s see what they do before considering them for the fantasy gridiron.
TITANS v. JAGUARS
Titans’ Story Line: With RB Chris Johnson in the fold, the Titans need to show they can put forth a dynamic offense made up of an explosive running game and a cantankerous passing game through Matt Hasselbeck. The Titans look like they can do this now. Defensively, it will be interesting to see if their key personnel losses in the off-season will make a difference.
Jaguars’ Story Line: The Jaguars have a lot to prove with the release of David Garrard and with Luke McCown now under center. The change of quarterbacks could prove to be slow and painful for a few weeks, or longer. But if there is chemistry on this team, we should see it sooner, rather than later. The Jaguars have quietly built a decent defense in the off-season so we’ll see if it can handle the Titans offense, a fair test in a dynamic league.
The Bottom Line: The sting of overnight change can last a while. One never knows how a team will react when a franchise player like Garrard is shelved. The Fantasy Greek likes the Titans winning this game with the return of Chris Johnson while the Jaguars could be playing on their heels.
ON THE GRIDIRON: With RB Chris Johnson’s return, and fresh legs, Johnson is a must-start against a defense that has struggled in the past defending the rush. While we are not quite sure what we will get from WR Kenny Britt this week, he’d be hard to bench so long as he is active. Fantasy owners of RB Maurice Jones-Drew have been waiting for this day to see what MJD can do, coming back from last season’s knee issue. Jones-Drew should be on the gridiron because the Jaguars will need to establish an offensive game and it will likely be through Jones-Drew.
COACH’S DECISION: TE Jared Cook was likely not drafted as a TE1, but he could do something in this game given the match-up. With McCown under center, and given an average of 200 yards, 1 TD, and just under 1 interception per game, this may not be the week to be starting TE Marcedes Lewis, WR Mike Thomas, or WR Cecil Shorts. Given that Lewis was likely drafted as a TE1, you may have no choice unless there is a better option available on your waivers. While the Titans DST may not be the play of the week, given McCown’s past, they certainly appear to be a sleeper unit this week should you need the help.
ON THE PINE: QB Matt Hasselbeck hasn’t overly impressed in some time. As a QB2 at best, let him prove his worth from the pine. The same can be said about QB Luke McCown at this time, except he is likely on waivers. While this would not be a bad start for the Jaguars DST, you likely have better options out there. At this time, there are no other players worthy of fantasy consideration for either team.
BENGALS v. BROWNS
Bengals’ Story Line: With either a rookie QB or journeyman QB under center, many of us are just wondering whether this team will make a season of it. Cedric Benson is coming off serving several days in jail and needs to prove his worth, as he is likely this team’s star. A.J. Green has shown promise and the big question is whether he can produce week-in, week-out. The defense was the best part of this team last season, but let’s see if it is the best part of this team this season.
Browns’ Story Line: This season is about taking a big step to turning this franchise around and Colt McCoy is the key to it. This is not to say that fantasy curiosity does not exist as to whether Peyton Hillis will continue having a dominant role in the offense (he should) and whether some Browns receiver, whether a wide-out or tight end, breaks through this season. Also, the Browns defense looks to be much improved.
The Bottom Line: The Bengals are a team rebuilding while the Browns are a team that should be contending in many games. This should be noticeable in this first game. While the Bengals should do some things which will impress, The Fantasy Greek believes the Browns will do more and win this game handily.
ON THE GRIDIRON: Until the very end of last season, RB Peyton Hillis dominated almost every team rush defense he faced. Hillis should be active in all fantasy games. While the Browns should be keying up on the Bengals rush defense, RB Cedric Benson has generally been pretty good even against tough defenses. Benson makes for a decent, not great, RB2.
COACH’S DECISION: This pre-season, TE Evan Moore has done a great job filling in for the injured Ben Watson. Should Watson be sidelined again, The Fantasy Greek would not consider you crazy for giving Moore the start in this game unless you have a better TE in the fold. Given that it looks like the Bengals will be starting a rookie QB, the Browns DST can be on the gridiron this week.
ON THE PINE: The Fantasy Greek is pulling for either QB Andy Dalton or QB Bruce Gradkowski to help the team, but neither is worth fantasy consideration. WR A.J. Green is looking like the real deal, as is WR Jerome Simpson, but until they prove themselves on a consistent basis, both are difficult to start in fantasy football right now. The same can be said for TE Germaine Gresham and WR Jordan Shipley. QB Colt McCoy has shown flashes of potential greatness. While we could see some of it this week, McCoy is not quite ready for prime-time fantasy football, but he’s close. Given some of the uncertainty surrounding the Colts passing game, WRs Josh Cribbs, Brian Robiskie, Mohammed Massaquoi, and Greg Little should be on fantasy pines for now. When Peyton Hillis is rested, let’s see who between Brandon Jackson and Montario Hardesty make the most of their opportunities.
EAGLES v. RAMS
Eagles’ Story Line: “Have Michael Vick and the Eagles improved pass defense transformed the organization into a genuine Super Bowl contender?” is the question that looms on the minds of football fans and fantasy football players alike. There is no question that all the pieces are there. All we need now is to see if what looks good on paper, looks good on the gridiron. It should, right?
Rams’ Story Line: This season is about Sam Bradford taking even a bigger step to being the elite quarterback he looks like he is. Game one will be his first challenge of many to come in the next few weeks and he looks to be up for it. Another story line is whether one of the Rams’ various receiving weapons will distinguish himself in 2011. Steven Jackson needs to stay healthy too. Lastly, the Rams defense looks to be taking a step forward and could be one of the risers in the league, and fantasy circles.
The Bottom Line: While you have to like the Rams’ chances, the Eagles just look like too much for the Rams to handle in Week 1. Whether this is a high scoring game, or a defensive battle remains to be seen, but the Eagles look like the team to better the other one. This will be a good game to watch.
ON THE GRIDIRON: Even though the Rams defense looks to be improved, QB Michael Vick, RB LeSean McCoy, WR DeSean Jackson, and WR Jeremy Maclin should all be on the gridiron. Even though the Eagles defense looks much improved, there is no reason to bench RB Steven Jackson because even a bad game for him is usually a decent or even a good game for his fantasy owners. Even though Bradford could do well, the Eagles DST looks too tough right now to bench against a second-year QB.
COACH’S DECISION: Some fantasy owners may have drafted QB Sam Bradford as a No. 1 QB option. But, this is a game where your other options should be considered. Yet, for all the good things you can say about the Eagles defense, they have generally in the past had a hard time defending opposing tight-ends. As such, TE Lance Kendricks does look like an attractive option if your TE1 pulled a very difficult match-up.
ON THE PINE: WR Steve Smith is not ready to return at full strength and because the Rams have defended tight-ends well in the past, TE Brent Celek should be on the pine. As alluded to above, it’s unclear which Rams wide-out will emerge this season so all should likely be benched this week. Even though WR Mike Sims-Walker is a good bet to step up and be this team’s No. 1 WR, this is likely not the game to test that theory. While the Rams DST is likely going to do some good things this season, it’s difficult to say that it will do real good things this week against the Eagles.
STEELERS v. RAVENS
Steelers’ Story Line: After last season’s Super Bowl loss, the Steelers still look like a team that has a lot to prove. As a team known more for its defensive dominance, observers are looking to see whether the defensive unit can stay healthy and steamroll opponents as in seasons past. On the offensive side of the ball, Ben Roethlisberger gets a full season to show that he is one of the elite QBs in the league. Last season, but for a four game suspension, he would have been on top of the league among all QBs. Wide-out Mike Wallace is primed to break out as an elite pass catcher and Emmanuel Sanders has shown some spark as a player that looks primed to step into the shoes of veteran Hines Ward who, by the way, still looks to have plenty left in the tank. Rashard Mendenhall needs to show he can stay healthy and productive after having touched the pigskin more times than most would care for running backs in a season. With a culture that breeds success, the Steelers are primed for another Super Bowl run in 2011.
Ravens’ Story Line: This was the first off-season in a while where it felt like the Ravens did not take a big step forward. 2010 was not the best season for this team even though having gone deep into the playoffs. Defensively, Ed Reed needs to stay healthy because without him, the Ravens defense was not the turnover-generating machine of years past. Offensively, this is a big year for Joe Flacco who seems “oh so close” to breaking through as an elite pass tosser in the league. The Ravens did a nice job adding Lee Evans to the mix and his presence has been felt already, helping to open up the offense. Ray Rice looks like he can make a run at this season’s rushing title.
The Bottom Line: This Week 1 game between these division rivals should be a doozy — defense, offense, defense, offense. Better to flip a quarter to figure which team wins this first game. Yet, the Steelers look like the team that appears to be more in season form. So, with no certainty whatsoever, The Fantasy Greek is calling a Steelers win in this first of two intra-divisional games between these two opponents.
ON THE GRIDIRON: It’s tough to figure playing either team’s playmakers especially with both teams sporting such good defenses. So, owners of playmakers on either team need to keep their expectations in check if they must start them this week. Put another way, if you win in fantasy this week while starting these players it will be despite them, not necessarily because of them. QB Ben Roethlisberger can be on the gridiron given his ability to make plays when none seem to exist against even the toughest opponent. 200-250 yards passing and 1-2 TDs are not too much to ask for this week. This may not be the greatest week for either RB Rashard Mendenhall or RB Ray Rice. Still, they should be able to post at least RB2 type numbers, especially Rice. Each team’s receivers have a chance to fair better so WR Mike Wallace and WR Anquan Boldin are decent, but not great starts this week. The Steelers DST and Ravens DST should be on the gridiron as defense should be the theme of this game.
COACH’S DECISION: QB Joe Flacco should be dangerous this season given all the offensive weapons at his disposal. Hopefully, however, his owners were able to draft him as likely the best back-up in fantasy and have another option at starting QB this week. If Flacco was drafted as your starter, and you have to play him due to your back-up’s match-up, you could do worse this week. WR Lee Evans has looked special since joining the Ravens. With coverage rolling Boldin’s way, Evans has a genuine opportunity to shine in this game and is a fantasy option if your other receivers have drawn an even tougher match-up.
ON THE PINE: Both the Steelers and Ravens defend opposing tight-ends well so look elsewhere before considering TE Heath Miller for the Steelers or, TE Ed Dickson or Dennis Pitta for the Ravens. They likely will be doing a lot of blocking in this game. While WR Hines Ward has been a mainstay in the offense, his role has certainly diminished. While Ward could do something this week as one of Roethlisberger’s most trusted targets, you likely have better options. WR Emmanuel Sanders has come on as of late and shows promise as the season progresses. Yet, Sanders is not quite ready for a fantasy start. No other Steelers or Ravens player should be considered for the fantasy gridiron this week.
LIONS v. BUCCANEERS
Lions’ Story Line: The maintenance of the health of Matthew Stafford is the front and center issue for the Lions this season. The Lions need to protect him and Stafford needs to play smart and avoid injury. With him, the Lions look to be dangerous and we want to see that this week. Jahvid Best needs to bounce back from a disappointing rookie season where turf-toe held him back for most of last season. In the preseason, Best has looked explosive and we’d like to see that continue in to the season. Defensively, the Lions are a much better unit but we need to see them play with the best of them. The Lions were so close to having a winning season in 2010 even with all their injury issues. 2011 is about the Lions finishing the close games by winning them.
Buccaneers’ Story Line: Somewhat like the Lions, the Buccaneers are about taking that next step. They had a solid 2010 but fell just a bit short. In 2011, the focus is on Josh Freeman who seems on the cusp of greatness. Likewise, Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount were special last season and the hope here is they are special this season again. With a defensive unit that seems to have only gotten better through the draft, the Buccaneers appear to be serious contenders in the NFC South.
The Bottom Line: If the Buccaneers can keep Josh Freeman upright, they look like the team that should with the season opener as the Lions still try to put the pieces together. This is not to say that the Lions won’t make a game of this, indeed, they should. Expect some decent scoring and some big defensive plays.
ON THE GRIDIRON: Both Lions’ RB Jahvid Best and Buccaneers’ RB LaGarrette Blount should be on fantasy gridirons this week as both teams have struggled in the past against the rush. While things could be different this season, it’s no reason not give either player a fantasy start and see what happens. Even though the Buccaneers have a strong pass defense, WR Calvin Johnson is, as you may know, a force to be reckoned with and difficult to cover. Besides, Johnson is usually good for a big play or two even against the best of cover-corners. While the Lions pass defense has likely improved, QB Josh Freeman and WR Mike Williams are decent to good starts this week given their chemistry.
COACH’S DECISION: Some fantasy owners may have drafted QB Matthew Stafford as their team’s QB1. While he looks to be one of the best up and coming young quarterbacks in the league, the Bucs have generally been a good at defending the pass so this could be a game where Stafford struggles just a bit. Both teams seem to defend tight-ends well so while TE Brandon Pettigrew and TE Kellen Winslow may be difficult to bench, they are likely not going to be the reason why you win your fantasy game this week so consider your other options if you have them. Both the Lions DST and Buccaneers DST are good. But, both teams have done a decent job protecting the ball so consider your other options if you need to.
ON THE PINE: In the preseason, WR Nate Burleson has looked pretty good. Indeed, this could be a game where he takes over the offense with coverage rolling toward Johnson. Still, you likely have better options this week. WR Arrelious Benn could take the step it looked like he might take last season before going down to injury. Let him take it from the pine if you own him. Keep all other Lions and Buccaneers you may own on the bench this week and let’s see how they do.
Good luck this week!