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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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WEEK 1
2012
DAL at NYG (WED) *IND at CHI *PHI at CLE STL at DET
ATL at KC *JAC at MIN *PIT at DEN *WAS at NO
*BUF at NYJ *MIA at HOU *SEA at ARI *CIN at BAL (MON)
*UPDATED *CAR at TB *NE at TEN SF at GB *SD at OAK (MON)

Prediction: PIT 27, DEN 24 (Line: DEN by 1)

Player Updates: Isaac Redman

Players to Watch: Peyton Manning, Denver receivers, Pittsburgh running backs

This should be a great game to watch. The Steelers lost 23-29 in their Wildcard Playoff game in Denver last year though Tim Tebow is now gone and only Peyton Manning takes his place. The Broncos won the AFC West with only an 8-8 record while the Steelers won the wildcard with a 12-4 mark. The Steelers have a score to settle and the Broncos embark on their Peyton Manning era while John Elway continues to bark "Shut up about Tebow already! He's gone!"

Pittsburgh Steelers
Homefield: Heinz Field
Grass
  Opp Score   Opp Score
1 @DEN ----- 10 KC -----
2 NYJ ----- 11 BAL -----
3 @OAK ----- 12 @CLE -----
4 BYE ----- 13 @BAL -----
5 PHI ----- 14 SD -----
6 @TEN ----- 15 @DAL -----
7 @CIN ----- 16 CIN -----
8 WAS ----- 17 CLE -----
9 @NYG ----- ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster

Pregame Notes: The Steelers released long-time offensive coordinator Bruce Arians who ended up with these Colts and instead will employ a more open, more aggressive passing attack led by new OC Todd Haley. That should help Roethlisberger who finished with 4077 yards and 21 touchdowns last year but was as good as 4328 yards and 26 scores back in 2009. With the rushing offense looking credible and yet average, this offense will live and die by what Big Ben can accomplish. The gameplan is to pump up the volume with passing.

Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL back in January and is not expected to be a factor until around midseason. Ike Redman was the early favorite to replace him but later had his own ankle and hip injuries. Plus Jonathan Dwyer looked sharp in preseason games. Until Mendenhall returns, both Dwyer and Redman will share the load for the Steelers. Recent reports suggest that Dwyer may become the main rusher while Redman takes more of a short yardage role but that will play out on the field and change according to results. And once you get comfortable with it, Mendenhall returns to mess it up again. The offense wants to pass more. The backfield is looking more like yet another RBBC mess.

Hines Ward is gone but Antonio Brown looks like a very complete replacement for him and is the most exciting receiver to watch. He enters his third season after recording 69 catches for 1108 yards in 2011 though he was limited to only two scores. Brown is an up-and-comer who should have a third-season breakout. Mike Wallace tried the hold-out thing with no positive results but is back and now trying to learn the new offense that was installed. Emmanuel Sanders took the place of the holdout Mike Wallace in training camp and looked good doing so. Now that Wallace is back, the trio makes for a dangerous set of receivers. This is a passing attack that could post some points this year.

Heath Miller enters his seventh season with the Steelers and he is what he is. And that is a 500- 600 yard, 3 or 4 touchdown tight end who doesn't look to get any more work in Todd Haley's new offense. And probably less. Haley has never had much use for the position.

Have to love this game potential with the Steelers having to face Peyton Manning for whatever that means now and getting a bit of revenge for last January. The new offense has been installed and should take form this week.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points PIT 15 21 4 19 21 29
Preventing Fantasy Points DEN 23 22 17 7 27 31

  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
QB Ben Roethlisberger, PIT KC 0000026020 ***
Big Bern has been north of 350 yards three straight and north of 340 six of the last seven. He's been a little more sporadic with the touchdowns, but the yardage serves as insurance to keeps his fantasy value high
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
RB Le'Veon Bell, PIT KC 10016701000 ***
Bell's run of games with 200-plus combo yards came to a halt last week, but Bell augmented his 119 yards from scrimmage with a pair of touchdowns. He's a viable starter regardless of matchup.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
WR Antonio Brown, PIT KC 007901000 ***
High volume, high yardage, the occasional touchdown... unless you're in a TD-heavy scoring system Brown is an elite receiver. The Chiefs have allowed only three 100-yard receivers all season, but the high volume guys seemed to make a fantasy mark. Count Brown in that expected category.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
WR Martavis Bryant, PIT KC 003400000 ***
Bryant is the complimentary target and oversized red zone threat. But the Chiefs don't give up many WR TDs and Bryant generally isn't rolling in the yardage. Plus, the Chiefs have yet to allow multiple WR TDs in the same game.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
TE Heath Miller, PIT KC 004600000 ****
On the surface the matchup looks favorable, with Miller coming off a 68-yard game and the Chiefs having allowed eight TE TDs on the year. But only one of those scores has come in the past two months, and Miller is too inconsistently targeted to be banked on for a fantasy contribution.
  Opp fgaFGMxpaXPM ConFac
K Shaun Suisham, PIT KC 2233 ***
Suisham has multiple treys in five straight and at least nine points in four consecutive games; the Chiefs have allowed multiple field goals in three straight and five of the last six games. It adds up to Suisham being a solid fantasy start this week.

Denver Broncos
Homefield: Invesco Field
Grass
  Opp Score   Opp Score
1 PIT ----- 10 @CAR -----
2 @ATL ----- 11 SD -----
3 HOU ----- 12 @KC -----
4 OAK ----- 13 TB -----
5 @NE ----- 14 @OAK -----
6 @SD ----- 15 @BAL -----
7 BYE ----- 16 CLE -----
8 NO ----- 17 KC -----
9 @CIN ----- ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster

Pregame Notes: After an exciting year winning the division (and yet not with a winning record) and then playing twice in the playoffs, the Broncos have opted for an entirely new era by shipping off both Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow and bringing in Peyton Manning and his questionable neck. At the age of 36 and after a year's layoff, Manning does not have the same arm strength that he once had and likely will never completely recover that because of age. But he has arguably the best smarts of any quarterback and showed enough in preseason to suggest that the Broncos are going to be at least okay if not very good. The offense is being tweaked to make it more Manning-like and there is almost zero chance that Manning will get you any rushing yards. But he will be the reason the Broncos succeed or fail.

Willis McGahee may be 31 years old but he comes off his best season in four years when he switched to Denver and rushed for 1199 yards on 249 carries (4.8 YPC) and scored five touchdowns. This year there is no fear that his quarterback will be stealing all the rushing scores. The Broncos also added rookie Ronnie Hillman as the pass catching, third down back who could provide a nice outlet for Manning. If Manning can move the team anywhere as good as he did in Indy, then the rushing fortunes here could surprise. Particularly for scoring touchdowns.

Where the focus should be this week is with the receivers and determining who Manning will rely on as the most common target and who will be the preferred target in the endzone. Demaryius Thomas was thought to be a lost case when he tore his Achilles Tendon but he made it back and played the second half of 2011. He finally became the receiver that the Broncos wanted when they drafted him with the 1.22 pick in 2010. Thomas was why the Steelers lost their playoff game. He's a big receiver but has speed as well. If Manning can connect with Thomas in the open field, good things are going to happen.

Eric Decker also showed nice chemistry with Manning and may also end up as the primary receiver. He's entering his third season. Manning personally commented on how much he was liking Decker as a receiver. Since there is a Manning involved, it will be important to determine which receivers are going to be his favorite targets. Andre Caldwell will man the Slot but that should remain below fantasy relevance.

In a bid to make Manning more comfortable, they imported Jacob Tamme but so far he's just been been Jacob Tamme. Not the second coming of Dallas Clark. No reason to expect that he will be a difference maker if he even qualifies to be a fantasy starter.

First week out against a very good defense should be a challenge even for Manning. The Steelers have long had an elite pass defense and a very good rushing defense. This week should make the Broncos look worse than they really are.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points DEN 12 23 28 31 31 16
Preventing Fantasy Points PIT 1 4 2 15 3 14

  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
QB Peyton Manning, DEN @CIN 0000025020 ***
Cincy's been solid against the pass all season; Peyton's been ordinary the past couple of weeks. Dial back expectations, though you needn't go so far as to bench Manning here.
Update: Peyton has been limited in practice by the same thigh injury that sent him into the locker room early last week. No indication he'll miss the Monday night game, but if you have a roster spot you may want to stash Brock Osweiler... just in case.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
RB C.J. Anderson, DEN @CIN 10014301000 ***
The Broncos are going to run Anderson plenty--109 carries over the past four games, resulting in 478 yards and four rushing scores. The Bengals couldn't contain similarly heavy-loaded backs like Stevan Ridley (27-113-1), Terrance West (26-94-1) or Le'Veon Bell (26-185-2), so expect Anderson to work back towards his 100-yard days after a couple weeks under that milestone.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
WR Demaryius Thomas, DEN @CIN 0071001000 ***
Cincy's secondary has been among the best this year at shutting down opposing wide receivers. That said, the last time they say a tandem even close to the talent level of Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders they gave up matching 100-yard games to Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. No worries about Demaryius making his appointed rounds this week.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
WR Emmanuel Sanders, DEN @CIN 004600000 ***
It's not a particularly favorable matchup, and Sanders has taken a back seat to Demaryius Thomas the past couple of weeks against tougher defenses. But the pattern set by the Steelers, with both Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant topping 100 yards, seems to be the closest fit to what Denver brings to the table this week. Consider Sanders just a half-step behind Thomas at the top end of the Denver passing game.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
TE Julius Thomas, DEN @CIN 003400000 ***
Thomas had one catch in his return to action last week. Now he'll face a Cincy D that was beaten by Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen earlier in the year but held Jimmy Graham in check and has allowed only one TE TD in the past two months. He's still a threat, but if you've found a quality backup plan during his absence you'll want to give serious consideration to employing it for at least one more week.
  Opp fgaFGMxpaXPM ConFac
K Connor Barth, DEN @CIN 2233 ***
Peyton Manning's struggles are to Barth's benefit, as he's booted five field goals in two of the past three games; prior to that Denver had just two multi-field goal games all year. Cincy's surrendered multiple treys in three straight, so Barth's fun times three should continue this week.

WEEK 1
2012
DAL at NYG (WED) IND at CHI PHI at CLE STL at DET
ATL at KC JAC at MIN PIT at DEN WAS at NO
BUF at NYJ MIA at HOU SEA at ARI CIN at BAL (MON)
  CAR at TB NE at TEN SF at GB SD at OAK (MON)

 
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