Thursday Night Football
Green Bay @ Seattle
I fully expect the 2014 Packers to be a prolific team, pushing for the NFL lead in points scored. Fantasy is a week-to-week game, however, and each week should be evaluated independently. Beyond Seattle's oft-impenetrable defense, a primary Week 1 concern for Green Bay's offense is rookie C Corey Linsley, thrust into a starting job following J.C. Tretter's multi-week knee injury. A fifth-round pick, undersized Linsley (6'3/296) will contend with interior Seahawks behemoths Brandon Mebane (6'1/311), Kevin Williams (6'5/311), and Tony McDaniel (6'7/305) -- on the road at deafening CenturyLink Field. Linsley performed well in August, but didn't take a single exhibition-game snap with Aaron Rodgers. I don't think Linsley's presence will torpedo the offense, but it's definitely a potential obstacle. ... The Packers emphasize wide receiver versatility as much as any team in football. Jordy Nelson can play the slot and outside, as can Randall Cobb. In the old James Jones role, Jarrett Boykin will primarily align on the perimeter, meaning he'll deal with Seattle's shutdown tandem of LCB Richard Sherman and RCB Byron Maxwell early and often. The Seahawks do not use Sherman in shadow coverage. Nelson and Cobb are every-week fantasy starters, but expectations should probably be checked in this matchup. This is not a great week to start Boykin.
Rodgers has faced Pete Carroll just once since Carroll took over as Seahawks coach in 2010: in September of 2012, when Seattle's defense wasn't as good as it is now. Carroll's unit held Rodgers to 26-of-39 passing (66.7%) for 223 yards without a touchdown, and 17 rushing yards. Green Bay punted on 6-of-9 possessesions, and Rodgers was sacked eight times. You didn't draft Rodgers to bench him, but he's someone to avoid on FanDuel this week. Among lower-end QB1s, I think Carson Palmer (vs. SD), Russell Wilson (vs. GB), Colin Kaepernick (@ DAL), and Jay Cutler (vs. BUF) are all better bets. ... Look for in-line veteran Andrew Quarless and rookie Richard Rodgers to handle Green Bay's tight end duties. Although Rodgers has been billed as a sleeper in some circles, nothing about him jumps off the page aside from sheer opportunity. He's an average athlete (4.87 forty, 31.5-inch vertical), and scored two touchdowns in his college career. This preseason, Rodgers secured 4-of-7 targets for 67 yards. Until I see something that changes my mind, I'm not viewing Rodgers as an enticing fantasy stash. Quarless is blocker and desperation check-down target. ... There's a good chance Eddie Lacy will be Green Bay's best means of moving the ball Thursday night. Seattle's run defense is slightly less stout than its pass defense, generally speaking, and frequent handoffs could be one way to combat pass-game miscommunications caused by crowd noise. A true three-down back, Lacy will stay on the field and catch high-percentage passes if the Packers fall behind. This is one of the toughest matchups he'll face all year, but Lacy is a locked-in RB1.
Two of my favorite fantasy analysts -- Denny Carter & Matt Waldman -- have forecasted a breakout season for Russell Wilson. Carter believes Wilson could finish as a top-three QB1. I definitely think it's within the realm of possibility. The Seahawks' preseason deployment suggested this may be the year they hand Wilson the offensive reins, after utilizing him as a game manager his first two years. Not only was Wilson a marksman in August -- 33-of-42 (78.6%) for 437 yards (10.4 YPA) with six all-purpose TDs and zero turnovers -- he played the second most exhibition snaps of all NFL starting QBs, behind only E.J. Manuel, and was given more freedom to make plays both within and outside the design of OC Darrell Bevell's offense. Marshawn Lynch is entering his last year with Seattle, while Wilson's pass-catching corps is deeper than ever. Green Bay's defense should be improved from 2013, but it's nowhere near a shutdown unit. Here are Wilson's home-game stats over his first two regular seasons: 64.4% completions, 31:7 TD-to-INT ratio, 8.75 YPA, and a pair of rushing scores. For what it's worth, his home won-loss record is 15-1. ... The Seahawks will remain a balanced offense, with Lynch carrying the mail. GM John Schneider's offseason willingness to appease Lynch monetarily is an indication Seattle has no plans to scale back Beast Mode's workload. Lynch is an elite RB1 against Green Bay, which lost NT B.J. Raji (torn biceps) and promising rookie DE/DT Khyri Thornton (torn hamstring) to I.R. this preseason. The Packers are undermanned up front. Lynch is a multiple-TD candidate on Thursday night.
I charted all of Wilson's preseason throws, and here's how his targets were distributed: Percy Harvin 8; Jermaine Kearse 7; Luke Willson 6; Doug Baldwin and Christine Michael 5; Robert Turbin and Zach Miller 3; Phil Bates, Bryan Walters, and Cooper Helfet 1. ... Pass catchers are generally all role players in Bevell's offense. No player is likely to be targeted heavily in a particular game, although Harvin will always be the best fantasy bet. I didn't love Harvin's fourth-round ADP and believe he could be something of a week-to-week headache because of the way the Seahawks play, but he'll definitely offer a high weekly ceiling. I don't think the Packers have a single defender capable of guarding Harvin one on one. One area to not underestimate Harvin is in the rushing category. The Seahawks will line him up in some two-back sets with Lynch. ... Ordinarily a slot receiver, Baldwin could be a bit stretched in the old Golden Tate "X" role. Look for Baldwin to be mostly covered by Packers top CB Sam Shields in this game. Baldwin is a low-ceiling WR3 option. ... Kearse is a jump-ball specialist with a growing role. At 6'1/209, Kearse is the biggest of Seattle's wideouts, and quietly turned four of his 22 receptions last season into touchdowns. He's more of a fantasy WR4/5, but expect a 2014 step forward. .. Sophomore TE Willson also looks primed for more snaps. At 6-foot-5, 251 with 4.51 speed and a 38-inch vertical, Wilson is a seam stretcher with red-zone chops, He's on the TE2 radar and could cut heavily into Miller's pass-game usage.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 28, Packers 20
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