You just drafted that shiny new team and it is apparent that your championship is a mere formality. At least until week one rolls past. Sudden you have a full-on freak out because you already fear your league fee is heading to someone else. Or maybe you are convinced that you are a gridiron savant now that all your players just exploded. After all, you can be sure that repeats 15 more weeks before the end of the season. But opening weekend is always different than the rest. It never fails. And it will likely never be that good (or bad) again.
Now we can actually see the real offenses of the Cardinals, Bills, Bears, Jaguars and Eagles. Sure, they played in preseason games but rest assured the good stuff happened on a practice field with no cameras. Chip Kelly’s prolific Oregon scheme now belongs to Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy. Marc Trestman’s success with passing will be on display using Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. Doug Maronne helped create the prolific Saints offense before resurrecting the program in Syracuse. Now in Buffalo, he starts over using rookies at quarterback and wideout. There will be change across the league and it will deeply affect each fantasy league. How? We won’t know until Sunday.
Players smile and shrug their shoulders when asked about their workload. The roles and responsibilities of each are intentionally cloaked for a competitive advantage. There is a reason why Bill Belichick is as chatty as a mime about his game plans and treats the injury report like a subpoena from an ex-wife. That is the beauty about the season opener. We finally get to see what is really going to happen. But not one day before.
14 new offensive coordinators hold a clipboard this year. Four teams sport a new quarterback while eight more feature a different primary back. When you approach your first line-up of the year, remember to always start your veterans and safe players first. Sure, you are just dying to spring Montee Ball, Marcus Wheaton or Keenan Allen on your unsuspecting league, but do you really know what they are going to do? No. There is the annual turning of the soil for coaches, players and offensive schemes and your best bet always lies on taking the safe road for this first week. The hype machine gets a big workout every August but make your decisions based on what you can know.
Realize too that passing numbers tend to skew higher in the first week. This stems from the many new offenses finally unfolding and forcing secondaries react with minimal preparation. The top quarterbacks tend to do very well in the season opener and bring along their receivers for the ride. The defenses will catch up in a matter of weeks but initially expect the scoring and overall production to be higher. It will not always be this good. It may never be this good again. In fact, on average about one out of every 16 players just had their best game of the year. This is no time to get starry-eyed about a player on anyone’s team.
Abnormally high stats are common with wide receivers. Each year produces a few no-name wideouts who turn in monster first games and then are snapped up after a spirited free agent bidding war. There is much less fanfare when they quietly find their way back to the waiver wire in just a few weeks. In 2012, did you buy into Kevin Ogletree (8-114, 2 touchdowns) or Stephen Hill (5-89, 2 touchdowns)? The year before that served up Early Doucet (3-105) and Devery Henderson (6-100) who both added a score. If a starting flanker or split end starts out with a big game, it means something. Like Anquan Boldin’s legendary start of ten catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns back in 2003. But when a slot receiver or a fourth wideout manages a big game, it was just a unique and favorable situation that likely won’t repeat any time soon. Each year a #3 wideout opens the year with a bang and then does nearly nothing the rest of the way.
Last season was a banner year for rookie running backs while 2011 served up a great crop of rookie wideouts. But it is not unusual for rookies to have a slow start. Running backs have to learn their assignments before teams are comfortable letting them pick up the blitz. Receivers still have to learn all their routes and where to be in that instant that the ball arrives. That can take time. Trent Richardson only ran for 39 yards in the 2012 opener but then racked up 145 total yards and two scores the following week. A.J. Green had just one catch for 41 yards in his first game. There are a few rookies that open with big showings but just because your prized freshman flops in his debut doesn’t mean that much necessarily. My personal best contest win came in part because someone gave up on Maurice Jones-Drew after he only produced four runs for 12 yards over his first two games. I found him on the waiver wire in week three. He ended up scoring 15 touchdowns that year – all for my team.
The start of the NFL season is always a reason for celebration and excitement. But take those opening games with a grain of salt and don’t consider any big roster moves until after the third week. Then the real trends become apparent. By then you can know a lot about what 2013 will prove to be. Wes Welker opened with three catches for 14 yards in Tennessee last year. Blaine Gabbert threw for 260 yards and two scores in the best fantasy game of his entire career. It just gets weird.
There are no games as important as the first when we learn about the true roles of players and understand what to expect the rest of the season. There is more new information made known on this weekend than in all future weeks combined. Pay attention to what happens and filter out the flashy yet temporary single game performances. Know the difference between a Boldin and an Ogletree. Expect a slow start from new players and yet artificially high production from new offenses as they go ‘ta-da!’ on unsuspecting defenses. Oh yeah, and one more thing.
Never throw away a rookie running back after only two games.