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Inside the Matchup
Week 2

By: Damon Autry | Sal Marcoccio | Chris Eakin | Kyle Smith




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Eakin 5 1 83.3
2 Marcoccio 2 1 66.7
3 Smith 1 2 33.3
4 Autry 1 3 25.0

Bears @ Saints - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Jay Cutler passed for 312 yards and a pair of touchdowns, along with one interception in Chicago’s surprising blowout win over the Falcons in Week 1. Cutler was still sacked too many times (five, which was tied for most in the league), but he utilized all of his targets well, with no player receiving more than six targets (Matt Forte), and six players receiving between 4-6 looks. Roy Williams may not play this week, but even if he doesn’t, the team should be fine with Johnny Knox and Devin Hester on the outside. The duo combined to catch six passes for 120 yards against Atlanta.

As for the Saints’ pass defense, well, it struggled – to say the least – against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Thursday night. No team allowed more fantasy points to opposing wideouts than New Orleans did, and that was in a week in which eight NFL teams threw for at least 300 yards. All of which bodes well for Knox, Hester and Williams, should he suit up.

Running Game Thoughts: With Mike Martz calling the offense, the Bears are not a ground and pound team, and never will be. Still, they did rush for 88 yards against Atlanta, with 68 coming from Forte, and another 24 from Khalil Bell (we realize that total adds up to 92, but Dane Sanzenbacher lost four yards in his only carry). Maybe more importantly, the duo ran the ball a total of 27 times, keeping Atlanta honest in the process.

Green Bay had 27 carries against New Orleans, with the Packers gaining 103 yards with those totes. The Saints held the Packers to 3.8 yards per carry, but were one of just three teams to give up two rushing touchdowns in Week 1.

Jay Cutler: 270 yds passing, 2 TD, 1 INT
Johnny Knox: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Devin Hester: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Roy Williams: 40 yds receiving
Matt Forte: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD / 40 yds receiving
Kahlil Bell: 30 yds rushing

Passing Game Thoughts: You would have thought that Drew Brees’ 419 passing yards would be the highest mark during Week 1, but it wasn’t, as a man named Brady chucked the pigskin for over 500 yards. In fact, Brees’ total wasn’t even second, as rookie Cam Newton threw for three more yards than Brees. Nonetheless, the Saints’ passing game was in midseason form against what is supposed to be a very good Packers secondary. The loss of Marques Colston certainly hurts, but the Saints have so many receiving options, including the possible return of Lance Moore this week, that it’s hard to believe that Brees is in any trouble minus his top wideout.

Chicago did allow over 300 passing yards to Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, but that number is a bit deceiving. The Falcons were down big early in the game, and had to throw the ball a lot more than they wanted to. The Bears have skill all over the defensive side of the ball, but maybe not quite enough to keep up with all the weapons that New Orleans employs.

Running Game Thoughts: Outside of a 21-yard scamper by Pierre Thomas, the Saints didn’t run the ball effectively against the Packers. Overall they had 81 yards on 21 carries, but taking away Thomas’s big play would leave them with just 60 yards. Most notably, rookie Mark Ingram failed to pound the ball in from the one-yard line at the end of the game, and he had just 40 yards on a team-high 13 carries.

The Bears did not have a great game holding down Atlanta’s running game, allowing Michael Turner to gain 100 yards on just 10 carries. Overall, the Falcons ran the ball 14 times for 110 yards, a gaudy YPC average of 7.9, and Chicago will need to shore that up against the Saints in order to try and make them a bit more one-dimensional, even if that dimension is an explosive one.

Drew Brees: 310 yds passing, 3 TD, 1 INT
Devery Henderson: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jimmy Graham: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Robert Meachem: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Mark Ingram: 50 yds rushing, 1 TD
Pierre Thomas: 35 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving
Darren Sproles: 10 yds rushing / 45 yds receiving

Prediction: Saints 31, Bears 24 ^ Top

Ravens @ Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Joe Flacco picked apart a stellar Pittsburgh defense last week, helping the Ravens dismantle the Steelers. Flacco threw for 224 yards and a trio of scores, connecting once with Anquan Boldin, once with Ed Dickson and once with Ray Rice. Newly acquired Lee Evans did not have a reception in the game despite being targeted four times, but that should change quickly, especially against a Tennessee pass defense that was among the league’s worst last season.

We still don’t know if the Titans are much improved in pass defense after Week 1, because though they held Luke McCown to 175 yards through the air, he hasn’t exactly been the second coming of Joe Montana in his career, has he? Flacco and the Ravens should be a much stiffer test in Week 2.

Running Game Thoughts: Rice and backfield mate Ricky Williams carved up the Steelers defense on the ground much the same way that Flacco did through the air, with the pair combining for 170 yards on 31 carries (5.5 YPC). The duo, with the diminutive Rice and much larger Williams, should be a formidable combination all season, with Rice having become a fantasy darling who went first overall in numerous fantasy drafts this season.

It will be tough for Tennessee to stop the two, just as they struggled against the Jacksonville running game last week. The Titans allowed a total of 163 yards on the ground to the Jags, and though Maurice Jones-Drew is talented, he and teammate Deji Karim aren’t nearly as tough to conquer as Rice and Williams will be.

Joe Flacco: 250 yds passing, 2 TD
Anquan Boldin: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Lee Evans: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Ed Dickson: 40 yds receiving
Dennis Pitta: 20 yds receiving
Ray Rice: 105 yds rushing, 1 TD / 30 yds receiving
Ricky Williams: 40 yds rushing, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: It may have surprised some observers to find out that Matt Hasselbeck threw for 263 yards and two scores in his debut with the Titans, but a bit of perspective is needed. Jacksonville’s pass defense was just as bad last season, if not worse, than the aforementioned Tennessee pass defense. Thus, Hasselbeck, with Kenny Britt available to throw to, excelled. Britt had 136 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and he’s too good to hold down completely, but he’ll find it more difficult to get the ball from Hasselbeck this week.

The reason for that is because the Ravens defense was utterly dominant against the Steelers, forcing seven turnovers in the game, including three interceptions and two forced fumbles of Ben Roethlisberger. The fact that Big Ben threw for 280 yards is irrelevant, as he was forced to chuck it all day after the Steelers fell behind by such a large margin.

Running Game Thoughts: Many fantasy owners were wondering if Chris Johnson’s holdout during training camp would have an effect on him. The quick answer is yes, it clearly did. The speed demon looked a bit tentative and had less explosiveness than we’ve seen in the past, and it culminated in a 24-yard effort, with his long run being just nine yards. It’s unlikely that Johnson is up to full speed this week, but an uptick in his numbers seems likely, if only because it’s inevitable that he’ll see many more carries this week than the nine he received in Week 1.

Baltimore’s run defense was very good against the Steelers, holding Rashard Mendenhall to 45 yards on 12 carries, with more than half of his yards coming on one 23-yard run. Overall, they allowed 66 yards on the ground, and Johnson will likely find it a tough go against Ray Lewis and Co.

Matt Hasselbeck: 170 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT
Kenny Britt: 55 yds receiving
Nate Washington: 45 yds receiving
Jared Cook: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Chris Johnson: 65 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving

Prediction: Ravens 28, Titans 13 ^ Top

Browns @ Colts - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: On the periphery, Colt McCoy’s numbers against the Bengals last week didn’t look so bad – 213 passing yards, two touchdowns and one pick. But upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that McCoy threw the ball 40 times, and completed only 19 of those throws. His average of 5.3 yards per attempt is well below what you’d like to see, and it was that low despite a 56-yard completion to Mohamed Massaquoi, who wound up with 77 yards on three catches.

The Colts pass defense didn’t fare poorly against Matt Schaub last week, holding him to one touchdown and intercepting him twice as he threw for 220 yards, but they allowed far too many big plays. Schaub’s average yards per attempt was 9.2, which is in sharp contrast to McCoy’s numbers. But McCoy doesn’t have nearly the weapons that Schaub does, so don’t expect him to match Schaub in big plays this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Peyton Hillis is on the cover of Madden, and is one of the more exciting players to watch in the game due to his style, but he didn’t get a whole lot done against the Bengals, with only 57 yards on 17 carries, which is a below-average YPC mark of 3.4. Maybe the most disappointing thing about Hillis’s game is that he failed to find the end zone in what was a solid matchup.

His matchup this week is even better, though, considering what the Texans did to Indy last week on the ground. Ben Tate ran for 116 yards and a score, and overall Houston rumbled to 167 yards on the ground, and in the process made Indianapolis the only team in the league last week that allowed at least 105 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Needless to say, this is a matchup that fantasy owners who have Hillis in the fold should be looking to exploit.

Colt McCoy: 190 yds passing, 1 TD / 15 yds rushing
Mohamed Massaquoi: 70 yds receiving
Ben Watson: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Evan Moore: 35 yds receiving
Peyton Hillis: 115 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Going into the Colts’ game against the Texans last week, it’s a safe bet to assume that very few people thought Kerry Collins would throw the ball 31 times. But that’s just what happened, and Collins wound up with respectable numbers of 197 yards and a touchdown without throwing a pick. But he barely completed over 50 percent of his passes, and the Colts simply aren’t going to win with him throwing the rock that many times. Fantasy owners who have Reggie Wayne or Dallas Clark may want to see him continue to chuck it, however, because Wayne was the recipient of seven passes for 106 yards and a score. Clark wasn’t as successful, with just 39 yards on four receptions.

On the defensive side of the ball, Cleveland wasn’t shredded by the quarterbacking duo of Andy Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski (who came in after Dalton left with an injury), but each Dalton had a QB rating of 102.4 in his first start, and Gradkowski followed up with a QB rating of 96.5. That should give the owners of Wayne, Clark, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie a little bit of hope this week.

Running Game Thoughts: As usual with the Colts, there wasn’t a whole lot of running game to speak of last week against the Texans. Joseph Addai ran for 39 yards on eight carries, while Delone Carter ran the ball seven times for 25 yards. We expect to see Addai get a bunch more carries this week against the Browns, because Cleveland can be run on.

The Bengals proved last week that the Browns can be exploited on the ground, rushing for 139 yards on 33 carries. The Colts may want to follow a similar game plan, one that they were unable to use last week because they got down by too many points early in the game. But a lot more of Joseph Addai, and to some extent Carter, will only help Indy, and will only help the fantasy owners are looking for more from the team’s running backs.

Kerry Collins: 185 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Reggie Wayne: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Dallas Clark: 40 yds receiving
Pierre Garcon: 30 yds receiving
Austin Collie: 25 yds receiving
Joseph Addai: 55 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving
Delone Carter: 25 yds rushing

Prediction: Colts 20, Browns 14 ^ Top

Packers @ Panthers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: With the exception of New England, there may be no other passing offense that is in synch quite like that of Green Bay’s. Aaron Rodgers was superb against the Saints, throwing for 312 yards and three scores in the shootout, and hooking up with 10 different receivers. Greg Jennings had the biggest game, with seven catches for 89 yards and one touchdown, but Jordy Nelson had a surprisingly hot hand as well, catching six passes for 77 yards and a score. Tight end Jermichael Finley wasn’t used as much as his fantasy owners may have liked, but they probably won’t have to wait for long to see him get involved.

That’s because the Panthers allowed a total of 101 yards and a touchdown to the Arizona tight end duo of Jeff King and Todd Heap; and if those two can take advantage of the Carolina secondary, so too should Finley. In all, Carolina allowed Kevin Kolb to throw for 309 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, so just imagine what Rodgers is capable of.

Running Game Thoughts: The Packers running game isn’t an afterthought in their offense, as some people may believe. Fantasy owners know better, especially those who gambled and took James Starks as part of their backfield. He rewarded them with 57 rushing yards and one score, while Ryan Grant ran for 40 yards. Starks had 12 carries to Grant’s nine, but we don’t necessarily believe that Starks will continue to be the one with more carries as the season goes on.

It may not matter a whole lot which back gets the ball more in this contest, not when the Panthers allowed a player many were ready to call a bust, Beanie Wells, gain 5.0 yards per carry and run for 90 yards. The success that Wells had against Carolina bodes well for fantasy owners who want to give the Green Bay running backs a shot at success. They should have big games, especially if the Pack get up big early, and pound the rock to kill the clock.

Aaron Rodgers: 320 yds passing, 3 TD / 25 yds rushing
Greg Jennings: 100 yds receiving, 2 TD
Jermichael Finley: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Donald Driver: 60 yds receiving
Randall Cobb: 50 yds receiving
Jordy Nelson: 45 yds receiving
Ryan Grant: 70 yds rushing, 1 TD
James Starks: 40 yds rushing, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: There’s nobody in fantasyfootballland who believed Cam Newton would absolutely set the NFL on fire in Week 1, and if they did, just hand them the championship trophy right now, because they’re smarter than the rest of us. Newton, in his first game, threw for 422 yards and two touchdowns, along with one interception. This came after he looked lost in the preseason, leading many fantasy owners to pass on him, despite the potential he had, especially to run the ball. The one thing that Newton did well is find wide receiver Steve Smith, who caught eight passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns, delighting the fantasy owners who took a chance on Smith despite his declining numbers.

And there’s no doubt that Smith’s numbers will decline, at least from Week 1 to this week, against a Packers secondary that is far more talented than it showed against the Saints. They were beaten badly by Drew Brees and his gaggle of offensive options, but that simply won’t be the case for Newton and Smith this week.

Running Game Thoughts: DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart make a dynamic running back duo, but they didn’t get much going in Week 1. Williams ran for only 30 yards on 12 carries, while Stewart had seven totes and trudged to 26 rushing yards. It won’t get a lot easier for them against a stout Packers run defense, one that held the Saints to 81 yards last week. So while we think Williams and Stewart will eventually put up the numbers we’re all used to seeing from them, it may not be this week.

Cam Newton: 180 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT / 30 yds rushing
Steve Smith: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Brandon LaFell: 45 yds receiving
Greg Olsen: 40 yds receiving
Jeremy Shockey: 20 yds receiving
DeAngelo Williams: 55 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 receiving yds
Jonathan Stewart: 40 yds rushing

Prediction: Packers 35, Panthers 17 ^ Top

Eagles @ Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: You can forget the fact that Michael Vick completed less than half of his 32 pass attempts last week against the Rams, or that he threw for just 187 yards. He was scintillating as usual, with two touchdowns through the air, and made all the plays you would expect out of him with his feet. He’ll never have the biggest passing numbers, but that’s not what makes him so special to fantasy owners.

He only had trouble when he was blitzed by the Rams, so if the Falcons want to have any type of success, they’ll need to follow that game plan. It will be emotional for Vick to be back in Atlanta, so the Falcons will need to perform much better than they did last week against the pass, when Jay Cutler threw for over 300 yards and two scores and had a QB rating above 100.

Running Game Thoughts: As good as LeSean McCoy is, Vick is the most dangerous runner the Eagles – or any team, for that matter – currently has. He ran for 97 yards on 11 carries against the Rams in Week 1, and constantly brought them first downs when St. Louis had them at third and long. Those are the type of plays that Vick’s fantasy owners drool over, but so are 49-yard touchdown runs, like the one McCoy had in the fourth quarter against the Rams. For the game, he ran for 122 yards and one score.

Atlanta didn’t give up any rushing touchdowns to the Bears, and in fact held them to 3.3 yards per carry, so that should make McCoy’s fantasy owners stand up and take notice, but he’s still a good play in this contest. The Falcons will key in on Vick, and that should allow McCoy plenty of room to do his thing whether he gets the ball on the ground or through the air.

Michael Vick: 225 yds passing, 2 TD, 1 INT / 65 yds rushing, 1 TD
DeSean Jackson: 90 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jeremy Maclin: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jason Avant: 30 yds receiving
Brent Celek: 15 yds receiving
LeSean McCoy: 85 yds rushing, 2 TD / 25 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan threw for 319 yards last week against the Bears, but it took him 47 passes to do so, and that’s not the way the Falcons are built to compete. Though Ryan’s fantasy owners undoubtedly loved the yardage he put up, they probably didn’t enjoy the fact that he didn’t connect for a single touchdown in those nearly 50 throws. The owners of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez probably didn’t like that very much either, and it will be tough for them to get a lot going in this game as well.

The Eagles are very difficult to pass against, due to their nearly impregnable cornerback triumvirate of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They held the Rams to 188 passing yards last week, and though the Falcons have infinitely better playmakers out wide than St. Louis, it’ll still be a difficult task for the likes of White and Jones.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner ran for 100 yards on 10 carries last week against Chicago, though he didn’t quite live up to his “Burner” nickname after being caught from behind with nothing but open field in front of him. If not for that, and the fact that the Falcons were down so big, his day would have been much bigger.

And it may in fact be very big this week because the Eagles are vulnerable in the running game. That was made evident when Steven Jackson ran for a 47-yard touchdown on the Rams’ very first play from scrimmage, and when he went out with an injury, Cadillac Williams came out of the garage to run for 91 yards on 19 carries. Philly can be pushed around, and the Falcons surely know this, so fantasy owners who own Turner should expect to see a heavy dose of their guy pounding the rock, and making things happen.

Matt Ryan: 220 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Roddy White: 80 yds receiving
Julio Jones: 55 yds receiving
Tony Gonzalez: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Michael Turner: 115 yds rushing, 2 TD / 15 yds receiving
Jason Snelling: 25 yds rushing / 10 yds receiving

Prediction: Eagles 31, Falcons 27 ^ Top

Cowboys @ 49ers - (Eakin)

Passing Game Thoughts: While there is a storm of debate over Tony Romo’s ability to win games, there is little doubt about his fantasy value. With two of the best 15 WRs and arguably the leagues 2nd or 3rd best TE, The Cowboys offense and Romo are lethal. Dez Bryant was nicked up from a thigh bruise but is listed as probable to play. Miles Austin seems to have made it through week one without any hamstring setbacks, so all systems are go.

The 49ers have a big physical corner in Carlos Rogers that can match up athletically with either of Bryant or Austin. If last week is an indication, they may elect to put him on Bryant rather than Miles. Whoever doesn’t draw Rogers is going to have a big advantage and likely very productive day facing smallish Terrell Brown and Tramaine Brock. Both of who are more suited for the slot in Nickel coverage, not matching up against the big receivers that Dallas employs. San Fran will look to zone up and disguise blitzes to cover up their weakness but I don’t like their chances. Dallas just threw up and down the field on one of the best pass defenses in the league in the Jets, and is motivated having lost the close game. The Niners generally cover TEs well, so this isn’t a match-up that favors TE Jason Witten, though he’s not someone to bench because of the high volume of targets and his talents. It may not be and all out track meet, but the Cowboys will score enough to overcome anything the 49ers muster up offensively.

Running Game Thoughts: I’m sure they would love to get RB Felix Jones going after a sub par outing against the Jets, but the 49ers defense led by MLB Patrick Willis is another tough run defense. Look for Dallas to try to get Felix into open spaces through screens, draws, and sweeps, away from the lurking Willis. Willis can roam free with the very large Isaac Sopoaga manning the nose in front of him. The new Cowboy line is smaller and quicker, which is great in protecting Romo but not ideal in moving a huge NT off the point. Sopoaga and Willis should control the middle trench.

Tony Romo: 315 yds passing, 3 TDs / 1 Int.
Miles Austin: 95 yds receiving / 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 80 yds receiving
Jason Witten: 65 yds receiving / 1 TD
Felix Jones: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD / 40 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: The passing game is how you attack the Cowboys, which isn’t strength for the 49ers with Alex Smith at QB. They didn’t throw much against Seattle and didn’t really need to once they got out to an early lead. They have some nice weapons in Josh Morgan and Braylon Edwards that should be capable of beating the 2nd string CBs Dallas is throwing out with starters Terrence Newman and Mike Jenkins hurting. Jenkins played last week but was in and out of the game. Newman missed with a groin and is still questionable.

The key will be protection. Can San Francisco give Smith time to exploit the Cowboys secondary? LT Joe Staley vs. DeMarcus Ware is the match-up to watch. Ware wreaks havoc on opposing QBs and Alex Smith seems to struggle with pocket presence and pressure. Ware will get to him or occupy enough attention to free up the others. Smith will be flustered enough to keep the Niners from consistent drives. The benefactor of pressure will be Frank Gore and TE Vernon Davis. Both will see lots of targets as the Niners play from behind and Smith feels the heat of the pass rush.

Running Game Thoughts: After getting shutdown by the Seahawks Week 1 there is some concern over the prospects for Frank Gore in 2011. Gore has made a career feasting on Seattle. It’s a bit soon to a make sweeping judgments with players that have been consistently elite producers. Teams like the 49ers that had limited time to install new coaching systems are prone to get off to slow starts. The Cowboys aren’t as big and physical as the Seahawks, and they play a 3-4 base. They are typically tougher to run on but in this case, I think it helps the Niners establish some rush lanes.

Alex Smith: 245 yds passing, 1 TDs, 1 INT / 25 yards rushing
Braylon Edwards: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Josh Morgan: 40 yds receiving
Vernon Davis: 85 yds receiving
Frank Gore: 65 yds rushing / 45 yds receiving / 1 TD

Prediction: Cowboys 24, 49ers 17 ^ Top

Bengals @ Broncos - (Eakin)

Passing Game Thoughts: Well first of all, the fantasy points allowed are skewed from playing the heavy run-based offense of the Raiders week one. However, the Bengals are similar to Oakland. They will be limited in the passing game as they break in Rookie QB Andy Dalton. To do so they employ a lot of high percentage routes like screens, slants, and checks to the TE Gresham. The Bengals still targeted their WRs often enough to make them effective. Jerome Simpson saw 9 targets, and talented rookie A.J. Green just missed on a deep post. There is more than a little chance that Andy Dalton sits this game out after jamming up his wrist last week. Bruce Gradkowski won’t change the game plan or statistics much.

The Broncos took a page out of the Green Bay plan. Much like the Packers use Charles Woodson, Champ Bailey (hamstring) was moved all around the field, in the slot and outside. Bailey is still dangerous and can be aggressive if Dalton or Gradkowski get caught staring down his primary target. The Broncos strength is the pass rush combo of Dumervil and Miller. That advantage is somewhat limited if Dalton is getting rid of the ball quick. They will also be slowed be LT Joe Thomas, perhaps the best tackle in the game with apologies to Jake Long.

Running Game Thoughts: The Raiders ran all over the Broncos who have been drafting defense for three years and still can’t stop the run. Nate Irving drafted in the third round this year was supposed to step in at MLB but has not won the job. With Cedric Benson coming of a big 125 yard day, he looks to be in for another full dose of carries. By running effectively on downs one and two the Bengals can keep Dalton from having to do too much. As long as the Cincinnati defense keeps the Broncos from getting out to a multiple possession lead the Bengals will pound Benson.

Andy Dalton: 215 yds passing, 1 TDs / 1 INT
A.J. Green: 55 yds receiving
Jerome Simpson: 70 yds receiving
Jermaine Gresham: 65 yds receiving / 1 TD
Cedric Benson: 115 yds rushing, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: No player in the league would rather be playing on the road this week than Kyle Orton. He will yet again have his hands full with a talented pair of Bengals cornerbacks and the Denver crowd cheering for a Tim Tebow entrance. The organization has to be discouraged they didn’t move on this offseason. If they bench Orton they lose the locker room and several more games; if they don’t they lose their fan base. Tough situation. To make things worse, Orton may be without his star WR Brandon Lloyd due to a groin strain. If he sits, Eric Decker makes a decent fill in and gets his best shot to make a name for himself. He is a big target and plays the ball in the air well but overall the advantage goes the Bengals CBs Nate Clements - a veteran corner and one of the more physical coverage guys at his position.

Running Game Thoughts: With or without Lloyd, Denver will need to do a better job than they did versus the Raiders in establishing a ground attack. However, starting tailback Knowshon Moreno is questionable with a sore hammy. I want to find some reasons that Denver wins this game, but it’s tough to see where their points come from. If Moreno is slowed, one of my favorite college players, Willis McGahee, will fill in. He’s crafty at this point in his career but not explosive.

The Bengals did a solid job of bottling up Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis. That seems like a bigger challenge than what Denver presents. Great news for Browns that MLB D’Qwell Jackson is back and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat after missing almost the entire 2010 season. Jackson led the way with 11 tackles last week and should be an IDP machine.

Kyle Orton: 245 yds passing, 1 TDs, 1 INT
Eddie Royal: 40 yds receiving
Brandon Lloyd: 70 yds receiving / 1 TD
Daniel Fells: 35 yds receiving
Knowshon Moreno: 65 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving
Willis McGahee: 25 yds / 1 TD

Prediction: Denver 20, Bengals 17 ^ Top

Cardinals @ Redskins - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Kevin Kolb put up better numbers in Week 1 this season (309 yards, 2 TDs) than all of the atrocious quarterbacks the team trotted out there last season put up in sixteen weeks. Ok, hyperbole aside, and in all seriousness, the Cardinals got everything they wanted when they made the offseason move to acquire a new quarterback. Kolb was poised and accurate and surprisingly put up those numbers without involving star receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the game plan very much. Early Doucet was thought to be the heir apparent to Anquan Boldin for years, but his inability to stay healthy hurt his ability to contribute consistently. He caught three balls for over 100 yards last week and just may finally live up to his potential now that the team has a franchise-type quarterback and has opened the door to playing time for him.

The Redskins’ secondary was hit-and-miss last week, but the team did manage to put a lot of pressure on Eli Manning (4 sacks). If that trend continues, they should at least be an average pass defense, as there is some talent in the secondary—even if that talent is slightly over-rated. Last season the Redskins were better than only the historically bad Houston Texans, finishing as the 31st-ranked pass defense, so there really isn’t anywhere to go but up. Rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan got off to a good start, making the play of the game when he tipped a Manning pass and returned it for a touchdown. The team will head into Week 2 with a renewed confidence.

Running Game Thoughts: After two years of struggling through injuries and lack of trust by the coaching staff, Beanie Wells was finally handed the starting gig this offseason and took advantage of the opportunity right away. Wells rushed for 90 yards on Sunday, including a seven-yard scamper into the end zone, and looked the part of an NFL feature back. Wells has the rare size and speed combination that some of the best backs in the league possess, and if he can stay healthy, he should end the season with well over 1,000 yards and double-digit TDs. He was even used a bit in the passing game, catching four balls on the day. With only the undersized LaRod Stephens-Howling and the aging Chester Taylor behind him on the depth chart, expect a bell-cow workload every week for Wells.

The Washington run defense held the Giants to only 78 yards rushing last week and looks to be much improved over last season’s poor unit. Defensive tackle Barry Cofield is a strong inside presence that should help the interior line, and ageless inside linebacker London Fletcher just keeps making tackles. LaRon Landry, a safety much more useful in stopping the run than in pass protection, missed last week’s contest, making the team’s showing that much more impressive. His return will only help the overall unit.

Kevin Kolb: 255 yds passing 2 TDs
Larry Fitzgerald: 95 yds receiving, 1 TD
Andre Roberts: 30 yds receiving
Early Doucet: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Todd Heap: 25 yds receiving
Chris Wells: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving
Chester Taylor: 15 yards rushing / 15 yards receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Rex Grossman (305 yards, 2 TDs) performed very well in Week 1, outplaying Eli Manning and getting a W for his team. Rex handled the Giants’ pressure well and threw accurate passes to his two wideouts, Santana Moss and Jabar Gafney. Gafney, Grossman’s former college teammate, caught a nicely thrown fade pass in the end zone for one score while No. 3 receiver Anthony Armstrong hauled in another. The real star of the day, however, was backup (for now) tight end Fred Davis, who, despite Chris Cooley’s being able to play, caught five balls for 105 yards. Davis has great downfield speed for his size and more athleticism than the aging Cooley; don’t be surprised if he ends up being the TE to own in Washington this year.

What can you say about a pass defense that allowed a rookie, thought to be a project as a passer, to throw for over 400 yards in his pro debut? The answer may contain a few words that FFToday Mike may frown upon printing in this piece. Rookie Patrick Peterson looked good in the return game but was beat repeatedly on the defensive side of the ball. Steve Smith was left wide open for a 77-yard touchdown in the first quarter, on his way to a 178-yard and two-touchdown day. The blitz just wasn’t getting to Cam Newton, allowing him to find mismatches all day. Rex Grossman couldn’t ask for a better matchup as he attempts to follow up on his solid opening-day performance.

Running Game Thoughts: Tim Hightower wasn’t as effective as he was during his stellar preseason, but he did get the job done to the tune of 97 total yards with a rushing score. The “Mike Shananhan loves RBBCs” rhetoric was put to rest for one week at least, as the only other back to receive a carry (and only one at that) was rookie Roy Helu. Shanahan may work Helu in a little more as the season progresses, but for now this is the Tim Hightower show. And this week Hightower gets to run against the team that jettisoned him to Washington in the offseason. Expect him to run hard, as usual, and once again put up some nice numbers.

Last week the Cardinals stacked the box to try to stop D’Angelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart from running on them, daring the rookie under center to beat them. You know how well that strategy paid off. They did hold the dynamic Carolina duo to just 56 yards rushing, but they may need to rethink that strategy this week as they face a more balanced offense. Teams were able to run well against Arizona’s defense last season, so expecting them to shut down Hightower is unrealistic, unless they want Rex to go off for over 400 yards as well.

Rex Grossman: 295 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT / 10 yards rushing
Santana Moss: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jabar Gaffney: 45 yds receiving
Anthony Armstrong: 30 yards receiving
Chris Cooley: 25 yards receiving, 1 TD
Fred Davis: 85 yds receiving
Tim Hightower: 85 yds rushing, 2 TDs / 30 yds receiving
Roy Helu: 20 yds rushing

Prediction: Redskins 31 Arizona 24 ^ Top

Jaguars @ Jets - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: For the second time during his tenor as head coach in Jacksonville, Jack Del Rio shocked football fans by cutting his starting quarterback right before the season started. While David Garrard was not a true franchise quarterback, he did have some success in Jacksonville and likely deserved better. In steps Luke McCown, younger brother of mediocre journeyman Josh McCown. Luke kept the McCown family reputation intact by throwing for a very uninspiring 175 yards with no TDs. The Jacksonville passing attack is one of the least exciting in the NFL, but it does possess some talent in the diminutive, quick, and strong receiver Mike Thomas and the big, sure-handed tight end Mercedes Lewis. Still, not much to see here folks, especially if Lewis is forced to miss the game. He’s currently listed as questionable.

The New York Jets were the sixth-ranked pass defense in the NFL last season, but they allowed Tony Romo and the Cowboys to move the ball against them last Sunday night. Darrelle Revis moved back and forth between covering Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, limiting Bryant to one catch against him and shutting down Austin. However, Antonio Cromartie allowed each to grab a touchdown—although in fairness he couldn’t have defended either score much better than he did. The Jets still have some issues defending the middle of the field, but if last week was any indication, they should improve in that regard. This week looks like a fairly easy matchup for the their pass defense in what should be a low-scoring affair.

Running Game Thoughts: Raise your hand if the constant negative news regarding Maurice Jones-Drew’s surgically repaired knee resulted in your avoiding him at all costs in fantasy leagues this year. You can’t see it, but my hand is raised. MJD did prove his doubters wrong—for the time being, at least—by rushing for 97 yards in Week 1, which included a 21-yard touchdown. Rashard Jennings was lost to a knee injury of his own this offseason, leaving Deji Karim, who looks like an MJD clone, as the Jaguars’ backup running back. Kareem has looked good when given the chance, and owning him should make MJD owners feel a whole lot more secure. The Jaguars should rely on the running game more heavily than ever this season.

The Jets were the third-ranked run defense in 2010, and they bottled up Felix Jones reasonably well last week. Sione Pouha eats up a lot of space in the interior of the line and the tandem of inside linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott look as solid as ever. If the Jets are able to shut down the Jags’ running game and force them to the air, they should easily win this game.

Luke McCown: 205 yds passing 1 TD, 2 Ints.
Mike Thomas: 55 yds receiving
Jason Hill: 20 yds receiving
Marcedes Lewis: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Maurice Jones-Drew: 65 yds rushing / 30 yds receiving
Deji Karim: 15 yards rushing / 45 yards receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: While Mark Sanchez still showed some inconsistency and was responsible for a few turnovers, he did show the team that he could lead them to a victory even when their running game was not working well. Sanchez threw for 335 yards and two TDs on 44 pass attempts. Plaxico Burress got off to a slow start, but he and Sanchez found some rhythm in the second half as they connected for some longer strikes, including a down-the-sideline, back-shoulder touchdown reception by Burress. Sanchez also found his favorite target, tight end Dustin Keller, for a score in the first half on a very nicely placed ball in the back of the end zone. With the running game not quite gelling yet, it may be necessary for Sanchez to carry the offense for the first few games. As the season progresses, I expect Sanchez to grow more and more as a quarterback.

The Jaguars struggled last season to stop the pass, ranking 28th in the NFL (250.3 ypg and 28 TDs). Things haven’t changed so far, as the team allowed veteran Matt Hasselbeck and wide receiver Kenny Britt to move the ball through the air last week. The defensive line failed to get consistent pressure on the quarterback, exposing the Jacksonville’s below-average secondary. Expect teams to consistently attack the Jags through the air all season.

Running Game Thoughts: The Jets were not effective running the ball last week, as Shonn Green was constantly met in the backfield after taking the handoff. Greene isn’t the type of back that has a lot of wiggle or quickness, and he was unable to make anything happen on his own. Right tackle Wayne Hunter, who is replacing the retired Damien Woody, struggled to clear a path for Greene and fellow back LaDainian Tomlinson, and the rest of the O-line wasn’t all that much better. Perhaps it had something to do with Rex Ryan’s twin brother Rob knowing his tendencies and employing many run blitzes; in any case, the Jets can’t afford to lose their identity and must do a better job creating running lanes. Ryan said after the game that a 44-to-18 pass-to-run ratio will not happen again, and I tend to believe him.

The Jaguars controlled dynamic back Chris Johnson last week—although that could have been because Johnson received only nine carries on the day. The Jags have shored up their front seven during the last two offseasons and should be tough to run on, nevertheless. The team was heavily criticized for “reaching” for defensive tackle Tyson Alualu in the 2009 draft, but the move has worked out well thus far as he’s been quite disruptive along the line. They also added former Bills inside linebacker Paul Posluszny, who has had issues staying healthy but has never had issues making tackles.

Mark Sanchez: 265 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 Int. / 10 yards rushing
Santonio Holmes: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Plaxico Burress: 60 yds receiving
Derrick Mason: 20 yards receiving
Dustin Keller: 45 yds receiving
Shonn Greene: 75 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving
LaDainian Tomlinson: 40 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

Prediction: Jets 20, Jaguars 10 ^ Top

Texans @ Dolphins - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Over the last two seasons, Houston has changed its identity from a high-flying passing attack into a more grounded offense, which has limited quarterback Matt Shaub’s numbers to some degree. Shaub is still a good NFL quarterback, but from a fantasy perspective, he’ll be very inconsistent as long as the team relies heavily on their successful ground game. Andre Johnson is a beast that most defensive backs just can not cover, so he’ll still get his—especially since Houston has never really been able to find that second receiver to lineup opposite him. Kevin Walter was believed to have suffered a broken collar bone, but recent news states it’s just a bruised chest and he may even be back this week, although its likely he misses at least a game or two. Jacoby Jones has always had loads of potential but has yet to put together a full solid season. Over the next two weeks he’ll get a chance to step up and show that the sum can be equal to his parts. Tight end Owen Daniels was disappointing for his owners in his return from last season’s injury, but his lack of production is likely due to the Texans’ big halftime lead over the Colts, which allowed them to run the clock off during the entire second half.

Miami faced a New England buzzsaw in Week 1 as they gave up over 500 passing yards to Tom Brady and his minions. The Dolphins’ young defense was one of the highlights of last season, however, and my guess is that this was a one-week aberration and they will bounce back. The team finished eighth and allowed only 209 yards per game and 22 TDs against the pass in 2010. Undersized defensive end Cameron Wake (only 236 pounds) had trouble early with rookie offensive tackle Nate Solder, but his persistence paid off as he eventually started making plays. Cornerback Vontae Davis suffered cramping and missed a big chunk of last week’s game, which certainly didn’t help stem the rolling Pats passing attack. Things better turn around quickly starting this week, or the Phins could find themselves in an uphill battle chasing the Pats and Jets in the AFC East.

Running Game Thoughts: No Arian Foster. No problem. Foster’s hamstring injury kept him out of last week’s contest, but veteran Derek Ward and second-year back Ben Tate stepped in and combined for over 150 yards and two TDs. Tate did most of that damage after Ward left the game with an ankle injury. He looked fast and powerful and one can only wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t succumbed to a knee injury in the preseason of his rookie year. Would Arian Foster have become a household name in the fantasy community if Tate had stayed healthy? Foster has been practicing and looks like he will be ready for Week 2, but fantasy owners will need to follow the news and set their lineups accordingly.

The Miami run defense was even better than their fine pass defense in 2010, as they allowed only 100.1 yards per game and a mere eight rushing TDs. Last week they weren’t really tested on the ground since the Pats were able to throw at will, but they performed well when called upon. Expect the Texans to test the Dolphins’ run defense much more this week in what will be a key divisional matchup.

Matt Schaub: 205 yds passing 1 TD
Andre Johnson: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jacoby Jones: 30 yds receiving
Owen Daniels: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Arian Foster: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 35 yards receiving
Ben Tate: 35 yards rushing, 1 TD / 5 yards receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Chad Henne looked the part for most of Week 1, and while he put up monster statistics, most of them came while the Dolphins were in full catch-up mode. Fantasy owners, of course, only care that Henne had a hell of a game statistically—416 yards passing and two TDs while also leading the team in rushing with 59 yards and another score on the ground. Henne looked more comfortable in the pocket and made an effort to get Brandon Marshall more involved. He did show some of his downside in the red zone, where his passes to Marshall were off the mark or poor choices. He didn’t throw the ball where his receiver could out-leap the defensive backs, thus failing to take advantage of Marshall’s height and athleticism. Brian Hartline was a lot more involved in the offense than last season, but that may not be the case on a week-to-week basis. However, he could make for an interesting pick-up because Miami seems more focused on passing the ball this year.

Houston was one of the worst all-time passing defenses last season, but they made some changes to improve their dismal unit. They signed arguably the second-best corner on the market in Jonathan Joseph, picked up free safety Daniel Manning, and hired Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator. Did it work? The answer is still unknown, despite very positive results in Week 1. Kerry Collins looked like an old man that rolled off his couch just a few short weeks ago (which makes sense because that is indeed the case), so it’s hard to say the defense was really challenged. This week will be more telling.

Running Game Thoughts: The Phins stubbornly tried to make Reggie Bush something he’s not: a feature back. Not surprisingly, Bush struggled to run inside and only looked effective when used on screen passes. The team had little choice, however, as Daniel Thomas sat out with hamstring issues. They were so desperate for bodies, in fact, that they brought 31-year-old Larry Johnson in on a guaranteed contract. In Bush’s defense, a lot of running backs struggle to run against Vince Wilfork and Jerrod Mayo. Bush can be a very effective weapon as a target out of the backfield and will continue to run behind a very good O-line, so fantasy success is still more than possible. Still, the team will need Thomas to recover or for either Larry Johnson or Lex Hilliard to step up as the power back, or it will be tough for the Dolphins to extend drives.

Houston’s extremely poor pass defense made their run defense appear respectable last season, finishing 13th in the rankings. Once again, last week was not the game to gauge how successful the team can be this season, as the Colts were down big in a hurry and unable to establish a running game. The defense is loaded with young talent, and with the mind of Phillips running the show, don’t be surprised if they do turn it around quickly.

Chad Henne: 255 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT / 20 yards rushing
Brandon Marshall: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Davone Bess: 40 yds receiving
Brian Hartline: 40 yards receiving
Anthony Fasano: 35 yds receiving, 1 TD
Larry Johnson: 25 yds rushing / 5 yds receiving
Reggie Bush: 40 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

Prediction: Texans 24, Dolphins 20 ^ Top

Chargers @ Patriots - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Phillip Rivers had his typical game last week: 335 yards passing and two TDs (although he did also throw two picks). The San Diego offense has all its pieces back in place this season after being devastated by holdouts and injuries in 2010. Since Rivers didn’t skip a beat while throwing to the likes of Patrick Crayton, Seyi Ajirotutu, and Randy McMichael last season, it was one of the safer bets in the NFL that he would come out firing right away. This time it was tight end Antonio Gates and running backs Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert who were responsible for the bulk of the passing yards. Wideout Malcom Floyd saw a team-high eight targets but only caught three of them while Vincent Jackson was held to 31 yards on two receptions. Seeing as Brandon Marshall, a receiver built like Jackson, was able to abuse the Pats secondary last week, don’t be surprised if Jackson bounces right back and leads the way in Week 2.

The Patriots’ pass defense picked right up where it left off last season, which isn’t a good thing. They finished last year ranked 30th in the NFL, allowing 258.5 yards per game and 25 passing TDs. In Week 1, the Pats allowed Chad Henne to break the 400-yard mark. Even when the game was still in hand, Henne was able to move the ball against the Pats, as the talented Devin McCourtney found Brandon Marhsall just a little too big and strong for him. This week the team will face two other big, strong receivers in Jackson and Floyd and will also have to account for Gates in the middle of the field. If San Diego can get rolling early, they could pull off the upset here.

Running Game Thoughts: Ryan Mathews had a solid debut in his sophomore season but was overshadowed in fantasy circles by his backfield mate, Mike Tolbert, who scored three times on Sunday. Mathews rushed for 45 yards on 12 carries (3.7 ypc) and added 73 yards receiving on three catches (24.3 ypc). However, it was the bruising Tolbert who made fantasy waves despite only rushing for 35 yards on his own 12 carries (2.91 ypc). Touchdowns will help fantasy owners ignore a low ypc. Tolbert was also targeted often, ending up with 58 receiving yards on nine receptions (6.44 ypc). It’s clear that this will be a RBBC for the season, with Tolbert getting the valuable red zone work and the receptions. Mathews is capable of contributing in both aspects, but in order to increase his usage, he’ll need to excel when given the opportunity.

The Miami running attack was largely unsuccessful against the Patriots in Week 1. Vince Wilfork played extremely well, as usual, but the Dolphins running game leaves a lot to be desired while featuring Reggie Bush. The speed and power combinations both Mathews and Tolbert bring to the table should create a far greater challenge to Jarrod Mayo and his boys.

Philip Rivers: 355 yds passing 3 TDs
Vincent Jackson: 105 yds receiving, 1 TD
Malcom Floyd: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Antonio Gates: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Ryan Mathews: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yards receiving
Mike Tolbert: 35 yards rushing / 45 yards receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Perhaps Tom Brady heard the accolades being heaped upon rookie quarterback Cam Newton for his 422 yards in his first NFL start. Perhaps he realized that, after 11 years in the league, he had yet to eclipse that mark. The typical Brady response? Throwing for over 500 yards, of course. Second year tight ends Rob Gronkowksi and Aaron Hernandez were the focal points of the offense, much like last season, and both were on the receiving end of one of Brady’s four touchdown passes. The other two went to the diminutive Wes Welker, who showed during a 99-yard catch and run for a score that he is obviously fully recovered from his ACL injury of 2009. Chad Ochocinco was an afterthought in the offense and, frankly, he just didn’t look all that good when the team attempted to get him involved, which wasn’t very often. His owners should be looking to sell based on name recognition. With his diminished skills, his learning curve on the complicated playbook, and the plethora of other weapons at Brady’s disposal, productive games for Ocho will be few and far between.

In a week where 14 quarterbacks exceeded 300 yards (including four who shot past the 400-yard mark), Donovan McNabb managed to throw for 39 yards against the Chargers. Wow! San Diego was the league’s top-ranked pass defense in 2010, and they are off to a great head start in defending that title in 2011. This week could bring them back to the pack a bit, but don’t think this will automatically be a cakewalk for Brady and the Pats.

Running Game Thoughts: BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead weren’t exactly a “sexy” backfield last season, and when the Patriots drafted two rookie runners in the first three rounds of the draft, most thought Green-Ellis and Woodhead’s days were numbered. Woodhead, a runner out of Chadron State with elite speed, got the bulk of the carries in Week 1, but Green-Ellis was heavily involved as well and added another power touchdown run to his highlight reel. Expect Belichick to use BJGE early to soften up the Chargers' defense before unleashing his aerial attack. Woodhead is a great option for the team out if the backfield and is difficult to find behind his blockers. If the Pats find the San Diego pass defense a difficult nut to crack, the two runners may be a bigger part of the game plan than normal.

The San Diego run defense wasn’t nearly as impressive as their pass defense last week, but they still managed to hold their own against one of the best backs in the league. They held Adrian Peterson to 98 yards and kept him out of the end zone. They did lose Luis Castillo, their big defensive lineman, for the season last week and will have a tough time replacing him. That could end up being a big blow to team’s run defense, starting as soon as this week.

Tom Brady: 275 yds passing 2 TDs
Chad Ochocinco: 45 yds receiving
Wes Welker: 60 yds receiving
Deion Branch: 30 yds receiving, 1 TD
Rob Gronkowski: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Aaron Hernandez: 60 yards receiving
BenJarvis Green-Ellis: 55 yds rushing, 1 TD
Danny Woodhead: 35 yards rushing / 25 yards receiving

Prediction: Chargers 31, Patriots 27 ^ Top

Oakland @ Buffalo - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: I mentioned previously how McNabb’s stats stood out like a sore thumb in a week where 14 quarterbacks exceeded 300 yards. Jason Campbell joins McNabb in that notoriety after throwing for only 100 yards in Week 1. Campbell is a decent quarterback and was playing in terrible weather conditions, so we should all expect more from him going forward. Wide receiver Jacoby Ford suffered a hamstring injury and will likely miss this week’s game, opening the door for preseason rookie standout Denarius Moore. Darius Heyward-Bey has had the “bust” label thrown at him ever since the Raiders spent the seventh overall pick to draft him. While he put up numbers this past week, he didn’t look all that good in doing so. His biggest problem seems to be that he’s a “body catcher,” which has and may continue to lead to some devastating drops. He does have the speed to make big plays though, and Campbell has a strong arm, so with the Raider receiving corps devastated by injuries thus far, keep an eye on DHB.

The Bills came out in the season opener and stomped the Kansas City Chiefs, annihilating their passing attack in the process. Was that an aberration? Time will tell, but the Bills did play the pass reasonably well last season—as teams ran all over them—and they could be the team that comes from nowhere this season to shock the masses. Matt Cassel was suffering from a broken rib injury, so perhaps we shouldn’t get all that excited quite yet.

Running Game Thoughts: Darren McFadden picked right up where his breakout 2010 season left off as he stampeded his way to 150 yards against the remodeled Broncos defense. McFadden has top-level speed and has learned to use a forward body lean when initiating contact rather than keep to his upright running style at all times. This has been the difference between his gaining valuable yards after contact and his being knocked backwards by defenders, which consistently occurred during his first two disappointing seasons. McFadden is ripe for a big game this week.

The Bills were the worst run defense in the league last season, allowing 169.6 yards per game and 18 scores on the ground. They made some preseason moves to help out in this area, specifically drafting defensive lineman Marcell Dareus and signing former Packer linebacker Nick Barnett. While they should improve a bit this year, they will more than likely continue to struggle defending the run, at least until the unit gels.

Jason Campbell: 215 yds passing 1 TD / 20 yards rushing
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 45 yds receiving
Denarius Moore: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Kevin Boss: 20 yds receiving
Darren McFadden: 125 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yards receiving
Michael Bush: 35 yards rushing / 45 yards receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was probably the biggest surprise of the 2010 fantasy season. On a points-per-game basis he sat behind only Michael Vick and Philip Rivers for much of the season before fading a bit down the stretch. Some thought last season may have just been an aberration (hiding my head in shame) because, while his raw stats seem nice, a closer look reveals that his yards per attempt were very poor compared to other quarterbacks. In other words, his stats had more to do with volume than talent. Fitzpatrick took the first step in proving his doubters wrong by throwing four TDs to open the season. A player whose talent I didn’t doubt, Stevie Johnson, caught one of those TDs as part of his 66-yard day. One of the other players on the receiving end of a Fitzpatrick TD (two of them, in fact) probably surprised a good percentage of the fantasy football community. Journeyman tight end Scott Chandler had a career day as he hauled in those scores. Chandler was likely a hot waiver wire pick up this week, but more two-touchdown days will likely be hard to come by.

Oakland lost their star cornerback this offseason to the Philadelphia Eagles but should still be a solid overall unit. Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson are obviously a drop off from Nnamdi Asomugha, but they are solid corners in their own right, helped by the fact that Oakland can generate some heat on opposing quarterbacks.

Running Game Thoughts: Fred Jackson has been one of the more underrated running backs for years now. All he has done is produce when called upon, while fans talk about guys like Marshawn Lynch and C.J. Spiller being the ones that should see the bulk of the carries. Jackson has great instincts and vision and hits the small creases (notice I didn’t say “holes”) hard. He’s also a better-than-average receiver out of the backfield—the only skill set that backup C.J. Spiller has shown he’s capable of so far in his short NFL career. Either ownership or the front office or the coaching staff pushed hard for Spiller to take over the lead back role this offseason, much to Jackson’s dismay, but the veteran convincingly proved who the better back was, and the team had no choice but the commit to him.

The Raiders were the 29th-ranked run defense in 2010, but they shut down the Broncos’ rushing attack last week. The team hadn’t done much to address the issue in the preseason, so the Week 1 performance may speak more to the performances of Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee than to an Oakland improvement. The Raiders do have a solid defensive line, and inside linebacker Rolando McClain was thought highly of coming out of Alabama, so there’s hope in Oaktown that Week 1 is the start of a trend and not an outlier.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 265 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 30 yards rushing
Steve Johnson: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Donald Jones: 40 yds receiving
David Nelson: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Scott Chandler: 20 yds receiving
Fred Jackson: 95 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yards receving
C.J. Spiller: 25 yards rushing / 25 yards receiving

Prediction: Bills 24, Raiders 17 ^ Top

Rams @ Giants - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: The State of Missouri exhaled when it was announced that quarterback Sam Bradford had merely suffered a bruised finger on his throwing hand and not nerve damage as originally reported. Bradford faced the new-look Eagles’s secondary in Week 1 and ended the day in a very disappointing fashion for St. Louis fans and fantasy owners alike. There will be better days. Perhaps even Monday, when he gets to face a very banged-up Giants secondary. Bradford lost his go-to guy in Danny Amendola, but, truth be told, Amendola isn’t really all that good. He caught 85 balls last season but averaged well under 10 yards per reception, showing a lack of elusiveness and run-after-the-catch ability. He is replaceable and either rookie Greg Salas or veteran Mike Sims-Walker will take on his role. Rookie tight end Lance Kendricks had an outstanding preseason but a disappointing first week. The youngster has a load of ability and may be the beneficiary of Amendola’s lost targets. Brandon Gibson only saw one catch (but it was a deep one) and is considered to be the Rams’ No. 1 receiver. Gibson has the size and speed to take advantage of the Giants’ reserve defensive backs. The bright lights of Monday Night Football may just introduce him to the nation.

The Giants’ pass defense was overmatched against Rex Grossman, Anthony Armstrong, Jabar Gafney, and Santana Moss last week, which begs the question: “Can the Giants stop anybody?” They get Justin Tuck back this week, which will help put pressure on Sam Bradford, but the secondary is very shaky right now after the loss of cornerbacks Terrell Thomas and Prince Amukamara. The Giants shifted safety Antrel Rolle over to cornerback in some packages last week, but his speed has seen better days and it often led to mismatches. The one saving grace for the Giants may be that the Rams lack any special talent among their wide receivers. That didn’t really stop the Skins last week, however.

Running Game Thoughts: Starting running back Steve Jackson was forced to leave last week’s contest with a strained calf after breaking off a long touchdown run. He is not expected to play this week. The old, beat-up Cadillac Williams showed that he still has some gas left in the tank (pun fully intended) with his surprise performance in relief. Cadillac is a great guy to root for after he has come back from many devastating knee injuries, but one has to worry about his being able to hold up after back-to-back weeks with nearly a full workload. The Rams are a pass-first attack under normal circumstances, and it’s a safe bet that will be even more of the case on Monday Night.

The Giants’ run defense performed well last week, holding Tim Hightower to under four yards per carry. They swarmed to the ball, and sixth-round rookie Greg Jones performed admirably after being thrust prematurely into a starting middle linebacker role because of Jonathan Goff’s season-ending injury. Expect the Giants to win the battles in the trenches, forcing the Rams to attack via the air—which should be their game plan anyway.

Sam Bradford: 265 yds passing, 2 TDs / 10 yards rushing
Brandon Gibson: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Mike Sims-Walker: 40 yds receiving
Greg Salas: 30 yards receiving
Lance Kendricks: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Cadillac Williams: 45 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving
Jerious Norwood: 20 yds rushing

Passing Game Thoughts: Eli Manning struggled last week and never looked comfortable against the Redskins. The Skins sacked him four times and pressured him into making some poor decisions, including a pass that was tipped, intercepted, and returned for a touchdown by rookie Ryan Kerrigan. Hakeem Nicks was Manning’s only target that was able to produce. Nicks suffered a knee injury that looked as though it may keep him out of this week’s game, but recent news indicates that he should play on Monday Night. His owners may want to add Dominick Hixon, however, just in case a last-minute change is necessary. Victor Cruz, a second-year wide receiver out of UMass, has been so disappointing in his bid to be the slot receiver that the team just signed veteran Brandon Stokely to challenge him for playing time. During the Seahawks’ playoff run last year, Stokely showed that he still has some game in him, and he could develop into a security blanket for Manning once they gain some chemistry.

The Rams’ secondary is nearly as banged up as New York’s and was abused last week by Vick and the Eagles. Last season they allowed 223.6 yards per game and 21 TDs through the air, putting them just in the second half of the league.

Running Game Thoughts: Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw got off to good starts last week, but the Giants abandoned the run early. That’s something that the team will look to rectify this week. Talk is that the coaching staff wants to lift some of the burden off Manning’s shoulders and run the ball often. Curiously, the Giants used Bradshaw and not the hulking Jacobs in short-yardage situations with less than stellar results. Don’t be surprised to see that role reversed this week.

The Rams were a middle-of-the-pack run defense last year, allowing 113.1 yards per game, but they did manage to keep opposing running backs out of the end zone. They allowed only seven TDs on the ground in 2010. Last week LeSean McCoy broke off some big runs as he put up 122 rushing yards. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis leads the way in pursuit for a team that has some issues clogging the middle of the line. Despite facing a banged-up St. Louis secondary, the Giants will try to exploit the Rams’ defensive line issues and control the clock by running the ball. That battle should play a large part in determining the final outcome of this one.

Eli Manning: 245 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 Int.
Hakeem Nicks: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Mario Manningham: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Domenik Hixon: 30 yds receiving
Jake Ballard: 15 yds receiving
Ahmad Bradshaw: 105 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving
Brandon Jacobs: 45 yards rushing, 1 TD / 15 yards receiving

Prediction: Giants 24, Rams 20 ^ Top

Seahawks @ Steelers - (Autry)

Passing Game Thoughts: Honestly, and I don’t write this to be cruel, but does Tarvaris Jackson have pictures of Pete Carroll in uncompromising positions? There has to be a logical explanation why Carroll thought so much of Jackson that he decided to make him the team’s starting QB. Jackson is nothing more than an average backup in this league, so for him to have the reins of this offense is baffling. He showed his true colors last week in the first half against San Francisco when he led an offense that mustered only 37 total yards. That won’t get it done. Now he gets to go on the road against one of the toughest defenses in the league.

The Steelers defense should be in a surly mood after being throttled by a Baltimore passing game to the tune of three TDs. Pittsburgh tallied only one sack last week too, so Jackson should expect a heavy dose of pressure all day as a way for the Steelers to shore up their mistakes from week one. Seattle may or may not have Sidney Rice this week but it’s not likely to matter. Rice is an over hyped fantasy option, so don’t expect much from this combination. This will be an ugly game if you’re a Seattle fan.

Running Game Thoughts: The good news for Seattle’s fantasy running game is Marshawn Lynch got the bulk of the carries last week. The bad news is he totaled only 33 yards on 13 attempts. In his defense, Seattle’s offensive line hasn’t been very good dating back to the preseason, so Lynch’s struggles could have been predicted. This game could get out of hand early, rendering the running game useless anyway. Lynch will have a lesser impact this week than his putrid game from week one.

Baltimore’s running game humbled Pittsburgh in week one, gashing them for 170 yards. Only two teams gave up more rushing yards last week than the Steelers. Talking heads on TV have mentioned the Steelers looked slow on defense. Whether or not that’s true is irrelevant this week. Pittsburgh’s defense will punch Seattle in the mouth from the first snap. I say the only way the Seahawks get on the scoreboard is if Pittsburgh’s offense coughs up the football deep in their territory, giving Seattle a short field. Otherwise, this will be a great game for those with Pittsburgh’s defense.

Tarvaris Jackson: 155 yards passing / 0 TDs / 2 INTs
Mike Williams: 55 yards receiving
Sidney Rice: 20 yards receiving
Doug Baldwin: 40 yards receiving
Zach Miller: 20 yards receiving
Marshawn Lynch: 50 yards rushing
Justin Forsett: 25 yards rushing

Passing Game Thoughts: It was a rough beginning for Ben Roethlisberger and the entire Pittsburgh offense. He opened the season throwing three INTs and losing two fumbles. Ouch. No one expected a cakewalk against the Ravens, but come on. I expect Roethlisberger to come out firing, tossing deep passes to Mike Wallace streaking down field. With Wallace stretching the field, underneath lanes should be open for Hines Ward and Heath Miller to roam. Ben will have a magnificent bounce-back game.

The numbers will show that Seattle “held” the Niners’ passing offense in check last week. San Francisco passed for only 124 yards, but threw the ball only 20 times. The Niners got the lead early after dominating the first half, then took the air out the ball in the second. This secondary will be tested for sure this week. Marcus Trufant, Brandon Browner and the youngster Earl Thomas will have their hands full in the secondary trying to keep up with what I’m expecting to be a high-powered offensive game plan for Pittsburgh.

Running Game Thoughts: Rashard Mendenhall was a complete non-factor in week one. He ran for 45 yards, but only toted the rock 12 times. The game got out of hand before they knew it, which mandated they put the running game on the shelf. Mendenhall will be refreshed entering this game, and like the rest of his teammates, eager to erase the maddeningly horrible game they played in week one. Much like Roethlisberger, expect a solid RB1 game from Mendenhall.

San Francisco tried running the ball on Seattle once they established the big lead in the first half, but the Seahawks kept them in check. By game’s end, San Francisco averaged well under 3 yards per carry on 32 carries. I hope Seattle enjoyed that production because that won’t be the case this week. Pittsburgh will have an offensive explosion and make every fantasy player on offense a startable option.

Ben Roethlisberger: 280 yards passing / 2 TDs
Mike Wallace: 115 yards receiving / 1 TD
Hines Ward: 60 yards receiving / 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 45 yards receiving
Heath Miller: 35 yards receiving
Rashard Mendenhall: 135 yards rushing / 2 TDs

Prediction: Steelers 31, Seahawks 6 ^ Top

Chiefs @ Lions - (Autry)

Passing Game Thoughts: After surprising many and being a sexy pick to make the playoffs last season, the Kansas City Chiefs entered 2011 with a heightened sense of optimism. That optimism was dashed by a Buffalo team that embarrassed the Chiefs at Arrowhead. Matt Cassel had an unheard of 3.3 yards per pass attempt last week and could never get in a rhythm. Nobody stepped up offensively for Kansas City, disappointing many fantasy owners in the process. The task doesn’t get easier as the Chiefs take on a rejuvenated Detroit team that will look to make life miserable for Cassel and his receiving options.

Detroit’s pass defense was okay last week. It was a sauna in Tampa where the Bucs threw the ball almost 50 times. That took its toll on the pass rush, something Cassel will not have the benefit of in Week Two. It’s been acknowledged that Detroit’s secondary is the team’s weakness, but if pressure is applied up front by one of the most ferocious defensive lines in the league, the secondary’s shortcomings won’t be exposed. That should be the plan heading into this contest as well as the balance of the season.

Running Game Thoughts: The normally quick-darting Jamaal Charles had limited opportunities last week. He ran for 56 yards on only 10 carries, but they simply could not concentrate on giving him the ball when the Chiefs fell behind so fast. Charles’ production normally isn’t tied to the ups and downs fo the Chiefs offense, he generally gets his numbers regardless how bad the offense is because of his dual role as a running and receiving threat. Even though he had only nine yards receiving, he had five receptions. Don’t expect that kind of average this week. Charles will always carve out production some way each week, regardless of the opponent.

It’s hard to gauge how well the Lions run defense performed last week. The elements were atrocious and Bucs head coach Raheem Morris indicated he ditched the running game too soon. Neither will be a factor this week. KC will get off the bus running the football in the controlled climate of Ford Field. We shall see Detroit’s defensive line in all its glory this week. It’s going to be difficult stopping Charles. I think he will get loose on either a long run or a short screen pass that eats up a lot of real estate. Start Charles with confidence.

Matt Cassel: 210 yards passing / 1 TD / I INT
Dwayne Bowe: 80 yards receiving
Steve Breaston: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Leonard Pope: 20 yards receiving
Jamaal Charles: 65 yards rushing / 40 yards receiving / 1 TD rushing

Passing Game Thoughts: So far so good for those who predicted Matthew Stafford will play his way into a top-10 fantasy QB in 2012. Despite fighting through lower leg cramps throughout the game last week, Stafford put up a stellar 300 yard, 3 TD performance. Perhaps what’s most telling is his 73 percent completion percentage. He’s the beneficiary of a pass-first offense designed by offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Those lucky enough to have Stafford should get used to performances like last week. Stafford will be a consistent top-7 fantasy QB each week—regardless of the opponent. Calvin Johnson has yet to practice this week, as he’s nursing an ankle injury. He played the entire game week one with the ailment, so expect Megatron to suit up this week.

Kansas City’s pass defense was carved up pretty good by Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick—not in terms of yardage, but the 4 TD passes certainly got everybody’s attention. If the fact that the Chiefs surrendered 4 scoring passes to Fitzpatrick doesn’t get you excited as a Stafford/Johnson/anybody-on-the-Lions-offense owner, perhaps this will. Safety Eric Berry was lost for the season in week one after tearing his ACL. The Chiefs have a nice blend of veterans and youth in the secondary, but it still won’t be enough to tame the Lions passing offense. Stafford and company should do a number on KC’s defense.

Running Game Thoughts: The Lions had terrific balance offensively last week, running the ball 35 times while passing it 33 times. But make no mistake: Detroit would rather throw the ball to set up the run. Many of their running plays are out of the shotgun formation when Stafford has the option of switching to a pass play. Those running plays are essentially called to keep the defense honest while setting them up for something later in the game. Jahvid Best showed his versatility last week, rushing 21 times and catching five passes. Best is a middle-tier RB2 fantasy back with the potential some weeks of being a low-end RB1. This week, start him as a RB2 and expect good things.

Buffalo pounded Kansas City into submission last week, rushing 39 times in the contest. Only three teams had more called run plays. Detroit doesn’t have a bruiser like Buffalo’s Fred Jackson to eat up clock, but Jackson’s success bodes well for the Lions. They will run just enough to keep the defense from charging Stafford on a regular basis. The Chiefs gave up 41 points at home to a team not known for its offensive firepower. While I don’t expect Detroit to continue the beatdown of KC’s defense, the Lions should be productive nonetheless.

Matthew Stafford: 285 yards passing / 3 TDs
Calvin Johnson: 120 yards receiving / 1 TD
Nate Burleson: 55 yards receiving
Brandon Pettigrew: 35 yards receiving / 1 TD
Tony Scheffler: 20 yards receiving
Jahvid Best: 65 yards rushing / 40 yards receiving / 1 TD receiving

Prediction: Lions 27, Chiefs 17 ^ Top

Buccaneers @ Vikings - (Autry)

Passing Game Thoughts: Josh Freeman enters his third NFL season with high hopes as the Tampa Bay signal-caller. Freeman’s numbers last week were benefited by the fact that the Bucs threw the ball almost three times as much as they ran it, even though the game was never completely out of reach. I wouldn’t expect that kind of disparity this week. Tampa Bay is sure to get back to a more balanced attack. That’s not to say that Freeman can’t be productive with that approach. He’s an efficient QB who can—and should—do well against a Minnesota secondary that has seen better days. Kellen Winslow Jr. had six catches last week, and he should again be productive against a defense that gave up eight catches to TE Antonio Gates.

For a head coach that once made his living coordinating defenses to have his team open the season with a man-sized beat down had to be disheartening for Minnesota fans. They allowed San Diego to do pretty much whatever they wanted, keeping the Vikings’ offense on the sideline. Thirty-four-year-old CB Antoine Winfield is getting long in the tooth but still has a knack for making plays. He should be locked up on WR Mike Williams, which should make for a nice battle all day. Second year player Chris Cook continues to develop, but overall, the Vikings’ defense doesn’t strike much fear into opponents. As a result, both Freeman and Williams should be started in all standard leagues.

Running Game Thoughts: Workhorse RB LeGarrette Blount had a grand total of five rushing attempts in week one… Five. Head coach Raheem Morris has already mentioned how disappointed he was in himself for abandoning the run so early, despite never being more than 10 points behind. Expect Blount to be featured heavily in this contest. No way will it be anywhere near a 3-to-1 pass/run ratio. Twenty to 25 carries should be expected for Blount.

Minnesota allowed only 2.9 yards per rush last week vs. San Diego. Where the Chargers gashed the Vikings was RBs out of the backfield. Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert combined for 12 receptions, and considering Earnest Graham finished with eight grabs against Detroit, don’t be surprised if Tampa Bay’s RBs play a critical role in the passing game. Blount will rebound and become the solid RB2 many drafted as, while Earnest Graham is only relevant in large leagues that feature flex options.

Josh Freeman: 235 yards passing / 2 TDs / 1 INT
Mike Williams: 80 yards receiving / 1 TD
Arrelious Benn: 45 yards receiving
Preston Parker: 30 yards receiving
Kellen Winslow Jr.: 55 yards receiving / 1 TD
LeGarrette Blount: 75 yards rushing / 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Donovan McNabb’s play has fallen off the table over the last 24 months or so. Maybe the Shanihans aren’t as cooky as we make them out to be. Perhaps they and Andy Reid both saw something in McNabb that many of us didn’t. McNabb “wowed” the crowed in San Diego last week with a “scintillating” 39 yard passing performance against San Diego. Sure, he only threw the ball 15 times, but there were plays that could have been had. Whether it is the lack of explosive play-making ability at the WR position for the Vikings, the fast-paced decline of McNabb as an NFL QB or a combination of the two, McNabb had better play better than last week if he’s to keep at bay the pundits predicting his quickly-descending skill set.

Tampa’s pick-six aside last week, the defense was less than impressive against Detroit. They were unable to sack Stafford and they, along with about half the league, gave up more than 300 yards passing. Minnesota won’t pressure Tampa’s secondary the way Detroit did. Rather, Minnesota’s offense goes where Peterson takes it, so expect less reliance on the passing game and more on the running game.

Running Game Thoughts: The good news for AP fans was how productive he was last week despite the absolute pedestrian offense the Vikings fielded. He ran for almost 100 yards and appeared to be the only threat of note on the Vikings. He too was limited in his opportunities, but Leslie Frazier reiterated earlier in the week that this offense—and indeed this team—will go where Peterson takes them. The Vikings will make up for the seemingly abbreviated attempt to get #28 involved in the game plan. Expect 20-25 touches this week.

Tampa seemed to have trouble limiting Best’s production in week one. Running for 72 yards while also raking in four catches for 42 yards gave this Buc’s defense all kinds of fits. Peterson will continue to be prominent in the passing game as Caption Check-Down leads this offense. Peterson’s numbers should increase despite the eight and nine man fronts.

Donovan McNabb: 190 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Percy Harvin: 70 yards receiving
Bernard Berrian: 35 yards receiving
Michael Jenkins: 30 yards receiving
Visanthe Shiancoe: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Adrian Peterson: 110 yards rushing / 2 TDs

Prediction: Vikings 20, Bucs 17 ^ Top