I don't know about you, but the beginning of each NFL regular season feels like "The Lottery." Not the "Powerball" kind, but the Shirley Jackson classic short story version, where a village holds a drawing each year to see which member of the community will get stoned to death as a sacrifice to ensure a good harvest. I go into each new season holding my breath that the fantasy football gods will spare my studs.
This Bird was grounded early in 1999.
Sometimes the immolation comes early, like Jamal Anderson in '99 (Week 2). Sometimes the gods stretch the tension out a nerve-fraying seven weeks (Ronnie Brown, '07). But, make no mistake, there's no avoiding this annual sacrifice – someone is going to go down, and go down hard.
Obviously, we didn't have to wait long for the sacrificial offering of '08. By now, everyone is aware that a major knee injury against Kansas City on Sunday has knocked Tom Brady out for the season. Then, on Monday, we found out that Nate Burleson is checking out with an ACL injury, too – I can't help but hear the words of George Costanza: "The sea was angry that day, my friends – like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli …"
Thankfully, I was unscathed. I'm running 10 teams, and not one sports the league's reigning MVP or the Seahawks top receiver – But, it's looking like I'll be going 2-8 in opening weekend matchups, so I'm suffering too, it's just a much more temporary pain. As for Brady owners, what can you say? It sucks. Move on. Pick up Matt Cassel. Try to make lemonade out of lemons and hope you can find the '07 version of Kurt Warner (21 TD passes in final eight games) somewhere along the way. You're down, but you most certainly aren't out.
Week 1: Take 10
A look at 10 significant developments/situations from Week 1
1. Fantasy experts across the land are feeling vindicated as the dust settles on Week 1. All that effort put forth in hyping ad nauseam this year's crop of rookie running backs returned immediate dividends, as Chicago's Matt Forte (141 yards from scrimmage, TD), Tennessee's Chris Johnson (127 yfs, TD), Detroit's Kevin Smith (80 yfs, TD) and Felix Jones (62 yfs, TD) all finished among the top 15 running backs for kickoff week – with Darren McFadden going on Monday night.
In the case of Johnson, we probably didn't hype him enough – and that's saying something, because there was plenty of love being sent his way this preseason. Against a good Jacksonville defense, he looked other-worldly special. And Forte, with a different style – shiftiness and a fantastic ability to keep his body squared away and pointed downfield at all times – was nearly as impressive in a tough environment (at the opening of Lucas Oil Field in Indy).
The one disappointment was Baltimore's Ray Rice, who I expected to deliver a nice return against Cincinnati on Sunday. Instead, he ran for just 64 yards on 22 carries and coughed up a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. In fact, fullback LeRon McClain upstaged Rice with 19 rushes for 87 yards. I'm not close to giving up on Rice, though. Better days are coming soon.
Ten carries and a score for Morris in Week 1.
2. I said this on our Fantasy Football Live show, and I'll say it again: Don't sleep on Sammy Morris. Before succumbing to injury in Week 6 last season, Morris was a top 25 fantasy back in four of his first five games backing up Laurence Maroney. He carried the ball at least 10 times in each of the six games he played, and he stole Maroney's thunder at the goal line. As Week 1 unfolded, there was Morris back in a familiar role, handling 10 carries for 53 yards, including a five-yard glory plunge into the end zone.
3. If you started a Philadelphia player in Week 1, odds are you're feeling pretty good about it right now. No Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown? No problem. Donovan McNabb made 100-yard receivers out of backups Hank Baskett (102 yards, TD), rookie DeSean Jackson (106 yards) and Greg Lewis (104 yards). He also connected with tight end L.J. Smith for 39 yards and a TD. And sun of the Eagles' universe Brian Westbrook rushed for 91 yards and a TD and also scored on a one-yard pass from McNabb.
4. While Dallas may have the most balanced offense in the league, you still can't excuse Cleveland's defense for its pitiful showing on Sunday. Tony Romo hardly felt the breath of a pass rusher, the Browns secondary rolled out the red carpet for Jason Witten, Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton and running backs Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice combined for three touchdowns and 168 rushing yards on 30 carries. If you watched the game, it comes as little surprise to see Dallas atop the leaders in Week 1 for time of possession (37:29).
I think you have to be a little concerned about Cleveland QB Derek Anderson. His team is not going to face a juggernaut like Dallas every week, but the defense has to get off the field more often. Anderson is the kind of quarterback who needs a lot of reps to get in a rhythm. His splits from '07 bear that out – his QB rating was just 60.1 in attempts 1-10, but he was above a 92 rating for attempts 11-20 and 21-30. Because the Browns were on offense for a league-low 22:31 minutes on Sunday, Anderson was able to throw just 24 times.
A complete return to health by Jamal Lewis, who carried just 13 times for an effective 62 yards should help, but the defense has to take a long look in the mirror and figure some things out.
5. I went into the season thinking Matt Ryan was on his way to being one of the next great quarterbacks in the league. I come away from Week 1 unchanged in that opinion. Granted, he couldn't have asked for a softer landing for his regular-season debut (hosting Detroit), but Ryan was impressive in the few pass attempts that he was asked to make against the Lions, completing 9-of-13 passes for 161 yards, including a 62-yard TD strike to Michael Jenkins – by the way, Jenkins ran away from the Lions secondary on that play with a Usain Bolt-type ease.
By rushing the ball 42 times for a league-high 318 yards, the Falcons made it clear where their identity lies. Ben Roethlisberger threw 17 TD passes and averaged 187 passing yards in 14 games in a similar set-up with Pittsburgh in his '04 rookie season. I think Ryan has the leadership qualities, decision-making skills and accuracy as a passer to post numbers akin to Big Ben's rookie season.
Better days for Holmes (right) are ahead.
6. Speaking of Roethlisberger, I watched most of Pittsburgh's demolition of the Texans and what jumped out at me, other than Willie Parker's resurrection effort (three red-zone touchdowns, 138 rushing yards), was how prevalent Hines Ward was in the passing game. Roethlisberger threw just 14 passes, but seven of them went the direction of Ward. Ward caught six of those balls for 76 yards and two red zone scores. He also had a 74-yard reception waved off for offensive pass interference.
Santonio Holmes owners were the losers in this one, as the former Buckeye caught just two passes for 19 yards and wasn't looked for on deep routes (no need). But I think long-term, this will be beneficial for Holmes owners. Pittsburgh has sent a message that its running game is as robust as ever and Ward, along with Heath Miller, gives the opposition credible threats in the short passing game. This balance should work to Holmes' advantage, opening up the deep ball in future, more contentious, matchups. Holmes is a guy I would throw out a low-ball offer on this week just to see if the knee-jerk reaction by his owner is more dramatic than it should be.
7. Marvin Harrison caught a respectable eight passes for 76 yards in his first action since Week 7 of '07. As would be expected, he showed some rust, fumbling a ball that went for a touchdown by Bears linebacker Lance Briggs and failing to come up with a couple passes that the '06 version of Harrison probably would have caught. But the good news is that he looked quick and fluid running his routes and showed no issues with a knee that kept him off the field for 10 regular-season games last year.
8. You figured that Frank Gore would figure heavily into Mike Martz's game-planning for Arizona in Week 1. The Cardinals were hurting on the interior of their defensive line and Martz was rolling out an inexperienced J.T. O'Sullivan at quarterback. But, while Gore got his (151 yfs, TD), the fact that the 49ers scored just 13 points in a home opener against a division foe that the they averaged 28.5 points against in two games last season has to be logged in the books as a major disappointment. There has been lots of buzz surrounding the team's receivers ever since Martz came on board. But, I'm of the mind that it was much ado about nothing. The upside for Isaac Bruce, Bryant Johnson, Josh Morgan and Vernon Davis is just not that high in their current situation, Martz or no Martz.
9. Reggie Bush's bandwagon has lost a lot of passengers since his rookie season. But I've consistently kept him in my top 35 players on my Big Board (update coming Tuesday), and Week 1 showed why. His doubters will tell you he's not a legit NFL running back, that he can't take the pounding, can't break tackles, dances too much, etc. But you can't think of him in traditional running back terms. New Orleans is the perfect spot for him, surrounded by a fantastic quarterback (in fact, fantasy's best now that Brady is done), and a multitude of skill position weapons. Bush managed just 3.6 yards per carry in Week 1 against Tampa Bay, but he caught eight balls for 112 yards and touchdown. And be it the occasionally effective rushing or receiving numbers or his frequent shots at the end zone in the prolific offense – he now has 17 TDs in his past 23 games in a Saints uniform (postseason included) – Kim Kardashian 's boy toy typically finds a way to validate his parking spot in your lineup.
10. It's a great year for tight end depth, but it's unlikely that many of you had any of the top four scorers at the position from Sunday in your active lineup. Carolina's Dante Rosario led the way with 96 yards and the game-winning TD catch in an upset of the Chargers – for the record, I did have him in my Week 1 tight end ranks. Anthony Fasano proved to be Chad Pennington's go-to guy in Miami, posting 84 yards and a score. Teammate David Martin also got in on the act with 53 yards and a touchdown. And Robert Royal helped the Bills to a 34-10 drubbing of the Seahawks with 52 yards and a score. Of the group, Rosario and Fasano are the most intriguing, if not yet roster worthy.
Week 2 Short List
Players that need to be on your mind heading into Week 2
QB Matt Cassel, NE (43% owned) – He may not be the second-coming of Brady, but he inherits Randy Moss, Wes Welker and a great offensive line.
QB Kerry Collins, Ten (2%) – Titans will stay ground-oriented, but Collins has some value and boosts the stock of Titan receivers.
QB Chad Pennington, Mia (31%) – He's a game-manager with limited upside, but he's a premier dink-and-dunker worthy of a fantasy backup role.
QB Matt Ryan, Atl (31%) – As mentioned above, his rookie season could look very similar to Big Ben's. But like Pennington, he's just a backup.
RB Jerious Norwood, Atl (64%) – Mr. 6YPC looks like he'll finally receive the 10-plus carries a week that he's long deserved.
RB Sammy Morris, Mia (27%) – He's picked up where he left off in '07, which is to say he's driving Maroney owners batty again.
RB Tim Hightower, Ari (33%) – Goal-line foil to James for now. Potential for much more down the road.
RB Pierre Thomas, NO (21%) – Could push Saints to the decision to cut the Deuce loose soon.
RB Steve Slaton, Hou (56%) – Lost in the Texans blowout at the hands of Pittsburgh was that the rookie carried 13 times to Ahman Green's five.
WR Kevin Walter, Hou (53%) – He managed 41 yards and a TD in difficult circumstances. He needs to be universally owned.
WR Justin Gage, Ten (38%) – Life with Collins at quarterback should be much improved, assuming he can hold onto the ball.
WR Matt Jones, Jac (6%) – 80 yards in the opener. Is this finally his year? Probably not, but the talent remains gamble-worthy.
WR Steve Breaston, Ari (6%) – Finished second on Cards with 54 yards in Week 1. Kurt Warner has the arm and accuracy to keep this No. 3 wideout relevant.
WR Antonio Bryant, TB (7%) – Not much production in Week 1, but he's a starter and he was targeted a healthy nine times.
WR Courtney Taylor, Sea (7%) – See Bryant (above). And, there's extra looks ahead with Burleson out.
WR Hank Baskett, Phi (14%) – Most of production came on one play, but he's a starter (for now) in a good offense.
TE Dante Rosario, Car (13%) – Was expected to step up while Steve smith is out, but he may be carving a future alongside Smith, as well.
TE Anthony Fasano, Mia (20%) – Many in Miami think he could be the team's leading receiver.
TE Randy McMichael, StL (27%) – McMichael picked up 77 yards in his first game in Al Saunders' TE-friendly system.
TE John Carlson, Sea (4%) – Can't argue with 52 yards in his debut. Helps that teammate TE Jeb Putzier dropped everything thrown his way.
QB Vince Young, Ten (knee) – Sprain expected to keep him out 2-4 weeks.
QB Jeff Garcia, TB (ankle) – Swollen ankle will likely make him a questionable call for Week 2.
QB Brodie Croyle, KC (shoulder) – Damon Huard has taken over for what will likely be at least 2-3 weeks.
RB Marion Barber, Dal (ribs) – Bruised ribs aren't serious, but Barber owners should at least monitor the situation.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson, SD (toe) – Has turf toe, which is very painful (I had it in high school). But he'll battle through like a warrior.
RB Willis McGahee, Bal (knee) – After sitting out Week 1, McGahee should get some reps next week. But don't expect a full load yet.
RB Maurice Morris, Sea (knee) – Looks questionable for Week 2, so Julius Jones gets a bump up. I still think Leonard Weaver could ultimately have the most value in this backfield when all is said and done.
RB Deuce McAllister, NO (knee) – His knee swelled and he couldn't get into game versus Tampa Bay. He may not be for long in New Orleans if this keeps happening.
WR Donte' Stallworth, Cle (groin) – Tweaked groin in pre-game warmups. Browns debut will have to wait at least a week.
TE Dallas Clark, Ind (knee) – MRI Monday will determine extent of knee damage from week 1. Anthony Gonzalez gets value boost if Clark out for any amount of time.
OG Maurice Williams, Jac (biceps) – Jaguars offensive lineman are dropping like flies. The mess up front could have an impact on Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, at least in short term.
DT Albert Haynesworth, Ten (concussion) – He's one of the premier interior D-linemen in the league. The Titans would lose some run-stuffing bite if he misses any time.