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E.J. Ready to Go for Sunday

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Week 13 Sleepers
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Nick Mensio identifies a dozen possible Week 13 sleepers, checking in on E.J. Manuel, Fozzy Whittaker, …

E.J. Manuel has been cleared and was named the starter for Week 1 against the Patriots. The No. 16 overall pick in April’s draft had his meniscus cleaned up August 18. Manuel returned to practice Sunday and hasn’t looked back since. He was upgraded to a full practice participant Tuesday, while Bills players and coaches say he looks smoother and quicker on his feet than he did before the clean-out surgery.

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“He’s 110 percent healthy, looks good out there,” said coach Doug Marrone. “He’s actually looked a little bit faster, I think, because of the time off and the rest a little bit. You know how we use that expression ‘fresh legs?’ I think we were able to see that, and we worked him. The trainers during the rehabilitation process worked him very hard.”

While this all wonderful news for the Bills and their fans, it’s fair to wonder just how rusty Manuel is. He hasn’t seen any live game action since the second preseason game on August 16. We need to temper expectations. Expect the Bills to focus heavily on C.J. Spiller and the running game. Look for Buffalo to try and control the clock as they try to keep Tom Brady and the New England offense off the field.

Manuel will undoubtedly be put in a position to succeed with short-to-intermediate pass attempts in an effort to get his confidence back up after a long layoff. The smart fantasy owner will consider Manuel a QB2 this week and see how he looks in his return. Spiller is a top-three running back play for Week 1. The Bills would have been in serious hot water had they been forced to throw undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel to the dogs.

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News Nugget #2

Coach Rex Ryan officially named Geno Smith the Jets’ Opening Day starter for Sunday’s tilt against the Bucs. Mark Sanchez never had a shot to start the game due to Ryan’s careless mismanagement in the third preseason contest. Sanchez is rumored to be out for at least three-to-four weeks with a bum right throwing shoulder. The decision to start Smith became an easy one after that.

Smith is a lock to struggle in Week 1. He looked completely lost at times in the regular season dress rehearsal versus the Giants in which he threw three mind-numbing interceptions. Smith isn’t even close enough to sniff the fantasy radar at the moment, and Jets brass says the quarterback competition is an “ongoing” one that will be evaluated on a “week-to-week” basis.

One can argue that it’s hard to see Smith starting all 16 games this season. However, it’s easy to take a stand on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. The Jets are going to be bad either way. It may make the most sense to let Smith start as many games possible and see if he’s someone to build around. But Ryan could become desperate for wins in an effort to save his job and hand the ball to a different quarterback. Gang Green says Sanchez isn’t a candidate for injured reserve. He’s going to be part of the squad in 2013. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Sanchez could start game(s) this season. It goes without saying, but it’s a fantasy situation to avoid at all costs.

News Nugget #3

Thursday night’s opener already has made plenty of headlines. Broncos left cornerback Champ Bailey has been ruled out for the contest with a foot sprain. Bailey suffered the injury nearly three weeks ago. He hasn’t been on the field much since. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be the No. 1 corner in the season opener. Tony Carter will man the other side, while Chris Harris covers the slot. Look for Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith to take advantage of Bailey’s absence by trying to connect on a handful of deep shots downfield. Smith is shaping up as a high-upside WR2 play.

Another storyline to follow on Thursday night will be the Broncos’ running back situation. We’ve talked about this at a nauseating level for weeks now. A Wednesday report by FOX Sports suggests Knowshon Moreno could get the start simply because he’s the most trusted pass protector of the group. Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman will mix in to form a three-headed committee. Ball was rarely asked to protect the quarterback in college at Wisconsin, and he’s yet to master the craft. Moreno and Ball are shaky flex plays this week. Hillman is barely even worthy of a roster spot in 10- and 12-team leagues. The hope is that Ball will work on his protection assignments in the coming weeks and emerge as the guy to own in the Denver backfield sooner rather than later. For now, avoid starting these guys if you can.

Injury Slants

Santonio Holmes (foot) says he has yet to receive medical clearance. There have been varying reports on Holmes all summer. Just stay away from him. … Sidney Rice (knee) practiced in full Wednesday. He missed the entire preseason, but coach Pete Carroll deemed him ready for action against Carolina. … Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) put in a full practice Wednesday. He’s been working behind Vick Ballard all week, so it’s hard to trust Bradshaw as a flex play even in a dream matchup against Oakland. … Percy Harvin (hip surgery) tweeted that he’s making “serious progress” in his recovery. Harvin says to “keep an eye on Week 7” for his potential return. Owners that stashed him in the later rounds of drafts may deserve a pat on the back. … Danny Amendola (groin) was limited in practice Wednesday. Remember, this is the Patriots we’re talking about. Amendola will be fine for Week 1. … Wes Welker (ankle) is probable for Thursday night. He’s a borderline WR2/3. … Jordan Cameron (groin) practiced in full. He’s battled some soft tissue injuries this summer, but we like him as a strong back-end TE1 play versus Miami. … Blaine Gabbert (thumb) could be a game-time decision this week. He’s off the fantasy radar either way. … Roddy White returned to practice Wednesday after spraining his ankle in the second preseason game. He’s entrenched as a WR1 in what will likely be a shootout against the Saints. … Rob Housler (ankle) is looking doubtful for Week 1. … Kendall Wright (knee) has been cleared to play this week. … Victor Cruz (heel) returned to a limited practice Wednesday. He’s going to suit up Sunday night, and is a strong WR2 candidate. … Colts coach Chuck Pagano confirmed both Dwayne Allen (foot) and Coby Fleener (knee) will play Sunday against the Raiders. Fleener is a TE2 with some upside. … The Ravens placed Dennis Pitta (hip) on short-term injured reserve. The hope is that he’ll be able to return toward the end of the year. … Rob Gronkowski (forearm, back) practiced in full pads again. … Hakeem Nicks was not listed on the Wednesday injury report. He’s a WR2 with a ton of upside this week. … Andrew Hawkins (ankle) was placed on short-term injured reserve. He’s a better real-life player than fantasy player after all of the Bengals’ additions. … Le’Veon Bell (foot) has been ruled out for Week 1, as expected.

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