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JUMbotron Friday Huddle: Week 1
John U. Miller
September 9, 2011

Week 1 is my favorite slate of games all year.

It’s the one week where up is down, down is up, and 50% of all previous fantasy assumptions and beliefs go flying out the window in a matter of hours.  I equate the August exhibition campaign to one giant rubber band around the whole league:  It stretches and stretches until finally it snaps apart during Week 1 with a violent THWA-AAA-AAP !!!!  Fantasy Nation is left dazed and loopy.

Case in point, Arian Foster – a 4th round pick at best last year – came roaring out of the gates last year with 238 total yards & 3 TDs.  Ka-Boom!  Fantasy message boards were flooded on Monday with “Noooooo, he’s on my bench!” and “Yessss I freakin’ started him!” But the real fun started Tuesday when we started thinking about the future, and then it became “Is Foster the real deal?” and “Do I bench Pierre Thomas for Foster?”  We know what we saw out of Foster – hitting garage-sized holes with perfect zone-blocking – but many couldn’t make themselves believe that a 3rd round pick, Pierre, was already benchable (!?).  Trust me, 3rd round picks are benchable.  And of course, Foster was for real and if you “sold high” you got burned with a branding iron… and it read “The Fantasy Fool.”

In 2009 I remember Joe Flacco, an afterthought in fantasy drafts coming off a decent Rick-Mirer-like rookie year, heaving the rock all over the field in a 38-24 Week 1 win over Kansas City.  Flacco was rarely among the top-20 QBs taken (usually behind Trent Edwards & Jake Delhomme) and suddenly he’s burning holes in fantasy benches nationwide.  So was WR Mark Clayton, who snagged a 31-yard TD and became a hot commodity too.  Ugh.  So, before the fantasy herd could even chime in on Flacco those NFL draft gurus blogged away like, “If you recall we had Flacco rated as an elite prospect in the 2008 QB class, behind only Matt Ryan.”  Whatever, gigs.  You had Flacco ranked behind Andre Woodson and Brian Brohm and you know it.  Anyway, 2009 Week 2’s hot topics were the same as Arian Foster last year:  “Flacco looked great, do I start him over Kurt Warner?”  As it turned out, Flacco’s fantasy punch was more like a jab because he’s only topped 300 yards three times in the last 31 games since the ’09 opener.

Sunday Week 1 will be loaded with You gotta be kiddin’ me and What-the-hell-dude? and I can’t wait.  Simply cannot wait.  I’ve been dreaming about the Week 1 games and you’d be shocked at what I’ve envisaged.  Below I’ve compiled 10 future fantasy stat-lines that have floated through my sick mind.  I marked 4 of them with a “Yes Indeed” to indicate I believe those numbers are not only possible, but pretty likely – if only because that’s how Week 1 behaves.  If it’s marked “Surely Not” then it’s just a crazy dream, right?

2011 Week 1          It Can Happen… Or Can It?
Pos Player Opp Stats ???
QB Colt McCoy CIN 269 total yds, 3 TDs Yes Indeed
QB Sam Bradford PHI 218 pass yds, 1 TD Surely Not
RB Michael Turner CHI 16 car, 59 yds, 0 TD Surely Not
RB DeAngelo Williams ARZ 23 car, 135 yds, 2 TDs Yes Indeed
WR Reggie Wayne HOU 3 rec, 34 yds, 0 TD Surely Not
WR Deion Branch MIA 6 rec, 92 yds, 2 TDs Yes Indeed
WR Mike Williams (SEA) SF 8 rec, 100 yds, 1 TD Surely Not
TE Jared Cook JAX 2 rec, 24 yds, 0 TD Surely Not
K Nick Folk DAL 4 of 4 FGs, 1 xp Yes Indeed
D Detroit Lions TB 4 TDs allowed, 1 sack Surely Not

QB Colt McCoy vs. Cincinnati – 269 total yds, 3 TDs – Yes Indeed:  This one popped in my mind during the first exhibition game when McCoy did this… I ran to my PC to check the regular-season schedule, saw the Bengals lined up for Week 1 and thought to myself, “Oh man, McCoy’s gonna outscore a bunch of fantasy starters early on and cause a mini-riot.”  The kid can move around and accumulate yards two ways, pass or run, and his eyes are always downfield.  And you can bet Bengals DC Mike Zimmer will gamble with “Cover 0” and no help over the top.  I think McCoy doesn’t get enough credit and he can exploit straight man coverage.

RB DeAngelo Williams at Arizona – 23 carries, 135 yds, 2 TDs – Yes Indeed:  DeAngelo was the very first guy I “wanted” when it became apparent that the NFL lockout was over… only I was picturing him as a Denver Bronco.  I was convinced he would be reunited with John Fox and roll for 1,300 yards and 12 TDs.  Williams remained a Panther but I’ve slowly re-warmed to the idea of him banging top-10 stats.  RT Jeff Otah’s moody knee is cooperating again while Jonathan Stewart’s left foot is acting like a petulant child again. I’ve said it 50 times:  Carolina did not give DeAngelo $21 million guaranteed dollars just to pull him every other series for a blow.  I’m not even sure D.W.’s hit his prime yet and I back it up with my RB10 fantasy ranking, highest among any notable fantasy writer in the country.

WR Deion Branch at Miami – 6 rec, 92 yards, 2 TDs – Yes Indeed:  Ugh, I can’t help it but this one stays with me… every day.  I just picture all the Welker and Ochocinco owners pulling their hair out on Monday night.  Hope I’m wrong.  I’m sure I am.  But all this stuff about Ochocinco not assimilating the offense makes me feel like we’ll get Belichicked.  Branch was a top-10 fantasy WR over the last 7 games of 2010.  Yes, he’s been completely invisible in the preseason… but that is why I’m nervous. Of course, the Twin Terror TEs Gronkowski and Hernandez might gobble up all the fantasy points and make my Branch psychobabble irrelevant.   

K Nick Folk vs. Dallas – 4 of 4 FGs, 1 xp – Yes indeed:  This dream is a subconscious amalgam of many things, namely my bitter-beer face when people talk about the Sanchise. His ESPN supporters (too numerous to name) cite his 19-12 won-loss record, his 4-2 playoff record, winning, winning.  I see his 54.4% career completion rate, which is 2nd worst among the 16 first-round QBs drafted since 2005 who started 20+ games.  Only JaMarcus Russell’s (52.1%) is worse.  Sanchez is a full three points lower than Alex Smith (57.1%) and we treat Smith like he’s a child molester.  And Sanchez has been surrounded by an arsenal of high-dollar, high-drafted superstars on both sides of the ball, all of them working to arrange the best possible circumstances for Sanchez to pick opponents apart.  Nutshell:  The Jets were 28th in red-zone scoring rate last year. I don’t think Sanchez can lift that ranking much higher.  Nick Folk will be busy.

Only 6 NFL teams return all 5 offensive line starters:  Texans, Bengals, Lions, Patriots, Titans, and Panthers. I count the Panthers even though Otah was out in 2009 – but he’s back now.  I suggest you refresh yourself on John Tuvey’s updated Offensive Lines after you finish my column.

Michael Vick took over as the starter in Week 2 last year and ended up missing 3 games with a rib injury.  Aaron Rodgers missed 1½ games with concussions.  Why don’t we ever talk about him being injury-prone?  Rodgers runs around just like Vick and gets his clock cleaned all the time!

Last season Packers LB Clay Matthews had 6 sacks in the first two games and set the tone for an MVP-type season.  Who could be the Clay Matthews of 2011, smacking skulls and loosening molars from the word Go?  I’m betting it’s Panthers LB James Anderson.  This guy is sometimes slighted in IDP circles because he plays on the strong side (like Clay Matthews) but he’s developing quietly into a hunter.  Anderson didn’t get much playing time in his first four seasons but last year he broke out with 98 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 5 passes defensed, 3 fumbles recoveries, and 1 INT.  Anderson, #50, is that guy who plays to the final gun and never quits coming like that T-1000 in Terminator 2.  Look at the out-of-division games with pocket QBs that Anderson will face this year:  Kevin Kolb, Luke McCown, Jay Cutler, Rex Grossman, Matt Hasselbeck, Matthew Stafford, and Matt Schaub.

I want to recap the NFL Preseason Leaders just to give you an idea of who was clicking the most.  Interesting lists below.  Then as of Sunday morning let’s promise to never mention the word “preseason” again for 11 months!

Starting QBs – Top Passer Ratings:
Matthew Stafford 154.7 – I compare his beautiful throws to Warren Moon’s.
Ben Roethlisberger 146.6 – He and Antonio Brown were straight cash, homey.
Aaron,Rodgers 130.1 – The Man.  Good God, he is so in the zone. Scary.
Luke McCown 125.5 – Is David Garrard really going to be missed that much?
Philip Rivers 114.8 – The Surgeon.  My pick to win 2011 NFL MVP. Book it.
Kyle Orton 104.1 – All he does is move chains with forward passes.  No respect.
Mark Sanchez 102.9 – Doh!  Maybe the light suddenly flicked on.  Naaahh….
Colt McCoy 101.7 – I just wish I’d had the stones to pick him in my drafts.

All RBs – Top Average Per Carry (min 20 rush):
Ryan Mathews 7.8 – The guy looked pretty spry, man.  No doubt about that at all.
Ben Tate 7.4 – More on him below.  He had a 43-yard run in exhibition #2 vs. N.O.
Tim Hightower 6.8 – My feelings about Timmy are clear.  Me Hate Him.
Kendall Hunter 6.6 – Jim Harbaugh promoted him ahead of Anthony Dixon for No. 2.
Armond Smith (Cle) 6.2 – He not only made the team, he’s their No. 3 tailback.
Joique Bell (NO) 5.9 – He made the team too, his 5th stop since August 2010.
Isaac Redman (Pit) 5.3 – He and Mewelde Moore split the load if Mendenhall is out.
Phillip Tanner (Dal) 5.2 – The Cowboys No. 4 tailback. They didn’t keep a fullback.

All WRs – Top Average Per Catch (min 6 rec):
Eron Riley 31.2 – I honestly don’t know who he is. Wait, he just drove by in a UPS truck.
Larry Fitzgerald 30.5 – Oh my goodness this web-handed hell-beast is ready to attack.
Antonio Brown 25.6 – Warning, Emmanuel Sanders (foot) is healing pretty quick.
Dwayne Harris (Dal) 23.0 – He’s in the mix if Miles Austin or Dez Bryant get hurt.
Lee Evans 21.3 – He’s my runner-up Surprise Fantasy Pick of the Year. Big fan.
Chansi Stuckey (Arz) 21.0 – I’m too tired to discuss Stuckey at this point and time.
Jamar Newsome (StL) 19.7 – He made the Jags’ 53-man roster.  We shall see…
Laurent Robinson (Dal) 19.7 – His August stats were in San Diego then he got cut?

Interesting nugget from Pro Football Focus: “Philip Rivers finished 2010 as PFF’s top rated passer (60.5 pass rating) marking the third consecutive season with more than 4,000 yards passing (4,710), 28 touchdowns (30), a completion percentage greater than 65% (66%) and fewer interceptions than games played (13 in 16 games).  Rivers’ completion percentage is even more impressive when you consider that he attempted fewer than 50% of his passes from 0-9 yards (31st in the NFL) and a whopping 26% between 10-19 yards downfield (5th), which was also his most efficient throwing range…”

Wow, Warren Sapp just joined me, Peter King, and ESPN’s Dan Graziano as the only “experts” (har har) to pick San Diego and Atlanta in the Super Bowl.  If you find someone else please tweet me @HuddleJUMbotron because I want to give credit where it’s due when it happens, baby. (Twitter note:  I’m the only man in the world who’s followed by LaVar Arrington, Jackée, and Josh Saviano of the Wonder Years.)

My friend Jeff, a Huddle subscriber, pointed this out.  Here are Kerry Collins' stats from his first 3 games with the Titans in 2006 -- the last time he joined a team right before the season began and was thrown to the wolves:

Year Date Tm Opp Result Cmp% Yds TD Int
2006 9/10/2006 TEN NYJ L 16-23 44.70% 223 0 2
2006 9/17/2006 TEN SDG L 7-40 31.60% 57 0 2
2006 9/24/2006 TEN MIA L 10-13 57.60% 269 1 2

My only rebuttal (by the way, thanks again Jeff, nice work!) would be that Collins was dropped in the driver’s seat of a Nissan Rogue.  Now he’s ridin’ dirty in a Land Rover.  Collins also had only 6 days to get ready with the Titans – but he’s had 17 days with Indy.  And here’s the best part:  Collins will have the best clipboard-holder/QB coach available in the NFL – Peyton Manning – dropping knowledge in his ear constantly.  For the first month or so I’m assuming Manning won’t be dressed, but he can stand on the sidelines in street clothes and interact liberally.  Even if he goes on IR Manning can hang out and support Collins all day long.  It’s a far cry from Tennessee where Collins didn’t have any input from Vince Young when he wasn’t playing.  VY was busy heaving his shoulder pads at fans or peeling out of the Titans parking lot in a Mercedes with teammate Michael Griffin screaming, “Come back!”

In short, I like Kerry Collins.  It’s the same story I told you about Shaun Hill last season.  He’s decisive, accurate, and unflappable.  These are three things that will help you run the Colts offense with a significant degree of efficiency.  So what if Collins doesn’t bark out 50 different pre-snap reads and bluffs; just snap it and deliver the ball to your talented players.  

What is the deal with all the Ben Tate love?  I get it, he was a stud at Auburn and he showed a little scoot in the preseason.  But last I checked, the guy above him on the depth chart – Derrick Ward – is a former 1,000-yard rusher who averaged 6.3 yards per carry last year.  Ward was once trusted to protect Eli Manning’s $97 million rear end, and he’s trusted to protect Matt Schaub too.  Correct me if I’m wrong but when I squinted my eyes last year Derrick Ward and Arian Foster were one in the same.  So what am I missing?  Ben Tate is creeping into 12-team fantasy lineups over names like Lee Evans, Willis McGahee, or Nate Burleson.  No, no, and no.  I don’t care if Arian Foster is officially inactive.  Last I checked Ward is the No. 2 RB, not Tate.  Last I checked the Texans have air weapons everywhere and use them in the red zone too.  Yesterday I heard a fantasy guy on the radio tell a caller, “If you have Foster and haven’t picked up Tate yet, you must do so now.”  Huh?  It’s like the Twilight Zone.  He also added, “Tate has tremendous upside.”  Of course he has upside… He’s never played in a regular-season NFL game.  There’s nowhere to go but up.

You drafted Felix Jones.  You’ve waited for Marion Barber to leave.  He left.  Jones looked great in the preseason.  Don’t worry about the Jets, just start him.

You drafted Ray Rice.  You’ve waited for Willis McGahee to leave.  He left.  Rice looked great in the preseason.  Don’t worry about the Steelers, just start him.

JUMbo Cheerleader Series:
Jets:  Gina
Broncos:  Renee
Bucs:  Jennifer
Bucs:  Ashley
Titans:  Brooke (swimsuit calendar)
Bucs:  Roseanne and Meagan
Dolphins:  Unknown


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