Welcome to the eighth year of the Fantasy Six-Pack, the only column in the universe that combines the greatest pastime in the world (fantasy football) with the greatest beverage (beer). The premise is simple: Each week I will review a six-pack of the most important fantasy positions (QB, RB, WR, TE, K and DT) and a six-pack of beer. As always, I invite your commentary, feedback and beer recommendations.
- Phillip Rivers is money against the Chiefs. The Chargers gunslinger has connected on multiple touchdown throws in each of his last four games against KC, averaging 312 yards per game in those four contests. Despite playing in a division with great mediocrity at the QB position (Oakland and Denver), the Chiefs typically rate poorly in terms of allowing fantasy points to QBs. They’ve ranked in the bottom third of the NFL that category each of the last two years. Even without top wideout Vincent Jackson, Rivers should be good for 300 yards and a couple touchdowns.
- The Carolina Panthers currently have a streak of nine straight games in which they haven’t allowed a QB to throw more than one touchdown pass. During this nine game stretch they’ve contained some of the league’s elite QBs, including Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Brett Favre and they guy they’ll face this week — Eli Manning. Taking into account the entire 2009 season, the Panthers allowed the fourth fewest fantasy points to QBs. I know it’s a new year but you have to at least consider benching Manning in Week 1 if you have a viable alternative.
- Fantasy owners in leagues that start two QBs need to dig deeper for passers. If you play in a league with a 2QB setup or a 16-team league, one player who is worth a gamble this week is Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. Lions QBs have turned in three straight quality fantasy performances against the Bears. This includes one game from Stafford (296-1), one from Daunte Culpepper (262-2) and one from the illustrious Dan Orlovsky (292-2). I like Stafford’s chances of throwing for 275 yards and two scores in a game that will be higher scoring than most people think.
- I’ve seen several fantasy sources suggesting owners bench Kevin Kolb this week against the Packers. I’m going the contrarian route on this one. While it’s true Green Bay has last year’s Defensive Player of the Year in Charles Woodson, the team will be without a couple standout players in the secondary (Al Harris and Atari Bigby). If there’s one place to attack the Green and Gold it’s through the air. Look for Kolb to attempt 45+ passes in this game. The quantity of throws should add up to a quality stat line for Philly’s new signal caller.
This Week’s Sleepers: Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Derek Anderson and Kyle Orton
- Cardinals RB Tim Hightower is a sneaky good play this week against the Rams. Beanie Wells isn’t 100% with a bruised knee and may be a game-time decision. Look for Hightower to get the majority of touches. St. Louis allowed the fourth most fantasy points to RBs in 2009. Hightower has a perfect track record against the Rams, posting a touchdown and/or 100+ yards in all four career meetings. Bank on him making it five for five.
- A scheduling quirk has resulted in Carolina facing the Giants in 2008, 2009 and now again in 2010. As a result, there’s plenty of evidence to support starting both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart on Sunday. Panthers rushers have bloodied the G-men in those recent meetings. In 2008, Williams was a fantasy godsend, posting 108 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Last year, Stewart gouged them for 206 yards and a touchdown. True, the Giants have revamped their defense but that won’t stop the Panthers, who still boast a strong offensive line, from smashing the ball down their throats. Panthers head coach John Fox will stick to the game plan this week with a heavy dose of his two-headed rushing attack. I see 100+ yards for Williams and 50-60 yards for Stewart with a touchdown.
- Bears RB Matt Forte had just two 100-yard rushing games last season. Both came against the Lions. While I’m down on Forte for the season as a whole, he’s an attractive play this week. Detroit allowed the most fantasy points to RBs in 2007-2008 and the sixth most last season. Some owners may have drafted Forte as a third RB but he can be elevated to starter status this week.
- Explore your alternatives before plugging LeSean McCoy into your lineup for Week 1. The Eagles RB figures to have a disappointing stat line against last year’s top ranked run defense in the Packers. The last nine starting RBs Green Bay has faced in the regular season have averaged just 47 rushing yards per game against them. Only one RB (Justin Forsett) exceeded 65 yards on the ground. I expect Andy Reid to quickly abandon the run, which will lead to a poor 2010 debut for McCoy.
This Week’s Sleepers: Tim Hightower, CJ Spiller, Jerome Harrison and Ricky Williams
- Miami was burned by the long ball in 2009. In their last six games, the Dolphins allowed 11 receptions of 30 yards or longer, six resulting in touchdowns. It remains to be seen whether the trend will carry over to this season, but the team recently placed starting cornerback Will Allen on IR. The move leaves the team thin at the position and could be a harbinger of more dark days for the Dolphins secondary. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s defense is set up to attack the quarterback; it often leaves defensive backs in one-on-one situations. Because of these unresolved issues in Miami’s secondary, I like Lee Evans as a sleeper play this week. Look for Evans to put a forgettable 2009 effort behind him and post 80+ yards and a touchdown.
- San Diego receiver Malcom Floyd has scored nine touchdowns in his six-year career—nearly half (4) have come against the Chiefs. In fact, Floyd has turned in a touchdown or 85 yards receiving in four straight games versus Kansas City. He’s a safe, smart play for Week 1.
- One player who doesn’t reside on any of my fantasy squads is Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace. It’s not that I don’t like Wallace. I was pimping him throughout much of 2009 in my weekly Free Agent Forecast column. My problem is I don’t like the uncertainty of the QB position. Dennis Dixon has just one NFL start under his belt. While he looked competent in that Week 12 game last season, he targeted Wallace just four times completing zero passes. One game is too small of a sample size to glean a reliable forecast, but the bottom line is Dixon’s unpredictability makes Wallace risky this week. Consider him a boom-or-bust play against an improved Falcons secondary. He’s unlikely to catch more than 2-3 passes but one of those could go for six.
- Give Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin the starting nod this week against the Packers. While DeSean Jackson is a must-start every week, Jackson will likely be shadowed by Charles Woodson for much of the game. Meanwhile, Maclin will be isolated on Tramon Williams who was victimized in last year’s wildcard game against the Cardinals. Sneak the second-year wideout into your lineup and watch him reward you with 100 yards and a score.
This Week’s Sleepers: Lee Evans, Johnny Knox, Nate Burleson, Jabbar Gaffney and Jeremy Maclin
- Take your seats. The Jermichael Finley show is about to begin. By the end of Sunday, casual NFL fans will know what diehard fantasy football owners have known for months. Finley is the real deal. The athletic Packers TE should feast on a Philly defense that allowed the second-most fantasy points to TEs in 2009. The Eagles linebackers will be no match for Finley, who was praised by Aaron Rodgers earlier this week for his speed and crisp route running. If Finley doesn’t rank in the top 3 in TE scoring at the end of Week 1, I’ll be surprised.
- Get Oakland’s Zach Miller some work. The popular sleeper pick is set to become QB Jason Campbell’s favorite target in 2010. Campbell loves to go to his TEs. Last season, he threw 20 TDs and over half of them (11) went to TEs. This week’s opponent, Tennessee, looks tough on paper but the Titans struggled late last year against opposing TEs. In fact, they closed out the year allowing a TE touchdown in four straight games.
This Week’s Sleepers: Zach Miller and Anthony Fasano
- Chicago’s two highest scoring games in 2009 were against the Lions. In those games, kicker Robbie Gould accounted for 25 combined points. Gould is more than worthy of a start this week against Detroit, which happened to cede the most fantasy points to kickers in the league last year.
- Opposing kickers averaged just six points per game in 2009 at Heinz Field, which is notoriously one of the most difficult stadiums for the kicking game. Steer clear of Atlanta’s Matt Bryant this week. The Steelers defense will be intent on keeping this game’s score low, especially with Ben Roethlisberger is out.
This Week’s Sleepers: Robbie Gould and Joe Nedney
Team Defense / Special Teams
- The Philadelphia Eagles defense usually rates well for fantasy purposes but I don’t like them this week against the Packers. When you think about Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers, the first thing that might come to mind is sacks. While it’s true that Rodgers was sacked 50 times in 2009, the majority of those came during the first half of the season. After the Packers made some changes on their offensive line, Rodgers kept his jerseys clean on most Sundays. He was only sacked seven times over Green Bay’s last six games. And Rodgers rarely makes turnovers — zero interceptions in his last four regular season games. Also worth noting: starting running back Ryan Grant had just one lost fumble in 2009. The Eagles D will be hard pressed to score fantasy points in this game.
- By the end of 2009, it was apparent that San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary’s tenacity was rubbing off on his defense. In their last six games, the 49ers registered 25 sacks and 18 turnovers. For most scoring systems that adds up to over 10 points per game. Look for the Niners to get off to a fast start in 2010 against the Seahawks. Seattle QBs were sacked 41 times last year — 10th most in the NFL.
This Week’s Sleepers: San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals
This Week's Six-Pack: Mirror Pond Pale Ale
Brewed by: Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Oregon
Price: $6.99 (sale)
Appearance: Pours with a copper, orange color and a loose, off-white foam head, about a half inch or three-quarters of an inch thick. The head had staying power and left nice lacing down the side of my pint glass. The beer was mostly clear but when held to the light it revealed a bit of sediment.
Smell: Assertive but not overpowering pine aroma with hints of lemon zest.
Taste: While the nose foretold of lemon flavors, what struck me first is the beer has more of a tangerine flavor. That’s not a bad thing. It was just unexpected. Hops are the predominant characteristic — as they should be — but I was pleased they didn’t cross the line into absurdity. Just enough bitterness to wake up the tastebuds before heading home. Everything is in the right place with this one.
Drinkability: Smooth and easy drinking for a pale ale. A six-pack won’t last long.
Last Call: Deschutes Mirror Pond is an outstanding entry into the crowded pale ale market. This is a beer to seek out and keep stocked in the refrigerator. Five stars out of five.
Next Week's Six-Pack: Founders Dirty Bastard
Check the complete list of over 100 beers reviewed by the Fantasy Six-Pack.