We're only two weeks into the regular season and there are giant questions lingering throughout the fantasy world. Several elite players and top draft picks are under-performing, while other previously unknown names are showing up at the top of the scoring leader board.
This seems to happen on an annual basis. What we want to know, is who to panic on, who will turn it around, and which waiver wire gems will emerge from inspection under the jeweler's eye loupe as authentic.
I certainly don't have all the answers, and some of the biggest quandaries simply need time to shake out a clearer picture. Today I'll share my thoughts and observations with quick hits from all 32 teams in the hopes of shedding some light on the first couple weeks of action.
New England Patriots
This team is going to run more than it has in the last five years. The Pats most successful (Super Bowl Championship) teams were well-balanced on offense. That seems to be a real goal of Bill Belichick this season. Despite this, I think Stevan Ridley is a sell-high candidate. This renewed dedication to the run knocks Tom Brady and all his weapons down, say, half a notch. Except Rob Gronkowski. He is proving to be completely unguardable once again. Don't panic on Wes Welker either. Belichick is a mad scientist, and was no doubt experimenting to see how things might look sans-Wes in 2013. With Aaron Hernandez going down, look for the "old Welker" to reappear starting this week. The defense/sp. teams unit may have been slightly overrated after dismantling a terrible Tennessee squad Week 1, but they're drastically improved, and a dynamic return threat is all that's keeping them from being a legit weekly fantasy option.
New York Jets
Their opening act was explosive. Their encore, a complete dud. Week 1 pitted them against a Buffalo defense that looks to have serious issues, while this past week they had to travel into hostile Steelers territory (where they've struggled historically) and faced a team that was hungry for a win. The Real McCoy here lies somewhere in between. Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller and Shonn Greene are all average players. Stephen Hill has a lot to learn and will be up-and-down. The guy I really like is Jeremy Kerley. He's a player in the Antonio Brown mold and could be their most dynamic weapon. Pick him up.
Holy spillage! Even when I included him in my Breakout RBs column and said he would be a starter in all leagues should he once again find himself atop the depth chart, I couldn't have imagined this much success for C.J. Spiller. He's on his way to becoming the next Arian Foster, falling into the job and never looking back. Before you call shenanigans, and over-reaction, take a look at his last eight games going back to Week 12 last year; 125 total yards-per-game, 29 receptions, and 8 touchdowns. He can't keep up this pace every week, but he's a top-5 back from here on out. Love their O-line. Steve Johnson and Ryan Fitzpatrick are what they are, solid, and nothing more.
Reggie Bush has shed the Kardashian Curse and really dedicated himself to his craft. This was first evident to me watching "Hard Knocks". He looks stronger than ever and just as quick. He'll still struggle to rack up yardage between the tackles against stouter run defenses, so he remains best used as a matchup play in standard formats if possible, but some more big games are coming in 2012. I'm eying Week 5 at CIN, Week 6 vs. STL, Week 10 vs. TEN, and Week 15 vs. JAX for those of you in weekly salary cap leagues. Lamar Miller could be an interesting handcuff. Brian Hartline could be a WR3 in very deep leagues. Nothing else to see here, let's move on.
Ray Rice needs more work. After blowing a lead in Philly last week, I think it's coming. The desire to throw more is admirable, but there needs to be balance. This team is at their best when dominating the clock and field position. More runs will also open up the deep ball and get Torrey Smith rolling out of his slow start. Don't give up on him. He hasn't developed enough yet to be "the guy" this year, but some big outings will come, and he'll win you some weeks. Dennis Pitta looks good so far, but he probably won't get enough looks to be a weekly starter in most formats. Flacco, Boldin, and the defense/sp. teams are adequate, not spectacular.
This is a passing team. Forget what Mike Tomlin says he wants. What he wants is to win, and they're going to get there on the strength of Ben Roethlisberger's right arm and the legs of Mike Wallace and Brown. Each of them are excellent starters in all leagues. Also, forget what you hear about Rashard Mendenhall being healthy and "practicing fully". I doubt we see him (outside maybe a cameo) until after their bye in Week 4. And when he comes back, you're not getting an 1,100 yard-12 TD guy. He'll be rusty and sharing a smaller lot of carries. The defense isn't what it used to be either. Things are changing in Pittsburgh.
Perhaps the best call of the early season belongs to my older brother Tom. After the team's Monday Night opener, he asked if I watched the game. It was one of few I've missed (I'm an NFL Sunday Ticket maniac). "That little guy for the Bengals is the next Darren Sproles" he said. Watching Andrew Hawkins juke and ankle-break his way to a 50-yard TD in Week 2, I couldn't agree more. The only problem is the passing volume won't be the same as in New Orleans, but that's trending up under the sturdy play of Andy Dalton. Pick this guy up. A.J. Green is a stud, the Lawfirm looks like one too, and their defense is struggling which puts the O under some pressure to score more and open it up. All good stuff for fantasy purposes. Solid sleeper fantasy source here. Dalton too.
Trent Richardson finally put together a game, but the Bengals have gotten torched on the ground in each of the first two weeks, so I'm tempering expectations...for now. He showed the all-around skills that made him a top draft pick and built a lot of fantasy hype this summer. The defense here is intriguing as well. They've put together two nice efforts while missing key guys (Joe Haden and Phil Taylor), and they have solid return weapons in Josh Cribbs and Travis Benjamin. Leave the pass-catchers and gun-slinger for someone else.
This defense is scary. Along with the 49ers, they're the most dominant unit in the NFL. Two games against Jake Locker and Andrew Luck, one more against Blaine Gabbert, and the imminent recognition of the name Trindon Holliday in the football world make this unit tops on my list. Their run game is also fearsome. As if Arian Foster wasn't enough, we saw Ben Tate put his skills on display in Week 2. Hopefully you didn't cut bait after the opener. He'll get his, it will just be tough to know when. I'd suggest playing him in games that are likely to be blowouts. (i.e. against Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Indianapolis) There's also very real Spiller-esque potential here should anything tragic befall Foster and his owners. If you didn't handcuff him in drafts, I'd overpay to get that insurance now. It will be a bargain if the nightmare enters the waking world. The passing game will be inconsistent, as will Andre Johnson, simply because it's not the offensive focus.
They'll trail a lot, throw an ungodly amount, and therefore Luck and his weapons should be legit plays. I suggested Reggie Wayne in my Not Dead Yet article and that's looking good. Same goes for my concern about Coby Fleener and the adjustment period I detailed in my Rookie Trends Part I. Donald Brown can be used, but he's not going to get the carries to have the breakout I predicted.
What? They have a football team in Jacksonville? (Cough, cough) For now at least. Things will get better in the swamp. But not much. Gabbert still leaves a lot to be desired, and I still worry about Maurice Jones-Drew's ability to hold up after the hold-out. Rashad Jennings could be a savvy claim for owners in deep leagues who have a spot to stash a player. There's a good chance he was dropped already. Justin Blackmon is nowhere to be found, but I wouldn't give up on him yet. He's only played two NFL games. Give him some time.
This may be the worst team in the league. They can't run block. Chris Johnson can't even run, apparently. Usain Bolt...HA-HA-HA-HA....HA-HA-HA...I can go all day. HA-HA-HA-HA. Ok, that's good. Locker is a young quarterback with a lot to learn. For all intents and purposes, he's a rookie this season. He'll get better as the season progresses and his weapons get healthier, and some good fantasy performances will come. Same goes for the wide outs, but don't expect them on a regular basis.
Peyton Manning got exposed Monday Night for throwing ducks that looked very similar to those I was pointing out in my preseason analysis. The arm strength isn't coming back at his age after what he's been through, and the hype from Week 1 sure seems a bit overblown now. Good news, it doesn't seem to bother Demaryius Thomas much. Dude's a thoroughbred. Manning will keep this offense, and Denver's fantasy weapons, effective on sheer intelligence alone. Keep starting these guys. Eric Decker too. His is coming.
San Diego Chargers
Well, 2-0 without Ryan Mathews is impressive. But beating the Raiders and Titans this season only means you could contend for the BCS. The real test is coming. Falcons this week, then on the road to KC and New Orleans, and home against the Broncos. If they're better than 3-3 heading into their buy, I'll be shocked. I'd sell high on Rivers now. Malcom Floyd is the only pass-catcher I like here. Antonio Gates is not 27 anymore, despite how much the media wanted to turn back the clocks for him this summer. This will not end well.
Their offensive line is built to run. They have a top-5 talent in the backfield. Yet, Darren McFadden has 26 carries through two games, and Carson Palmer has 94 pass attempts. Dennis Allen, "C'mon man!" I know you came from Green Bay, but Palmer is not Aaron Rodgers. Unless the team is tanking for Matt Barkley, this has to change. Buy low on DMC. With all the hyped-up wide outs in the Bay, they look like (Tone Loc voice) busted-moves so far. Brandon Myers is leading the team in receiving yards. Who? I do this for a living, and I don't have an answer.
When I opened the statistics page on the Chiefs website, it auto-loaded to the preseason. Apparently Jamaal Charles owners aren't the only ones wishing the first two weeks of the regular season could be stricken from the record. Much like Oakland, this team is in dire need of some serious self-assessment. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll did great things building rushing attacks in Cleveland and Miami the last two seasons, and the offensive line is talented, but the onus falls on Romeo Crennel to do what's right here. A 24-42 record as a head coach obviously screams competence, so I wouldn't hold my breath. A soft late-season schedule begs for patience, but it's going to be a trying task.
Continued with my NFC breakdown.
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Please comment and list your early season assessments. Best of luck this week!