Evan Silva


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Matchups: Climb & Ride Hillis

Friday, September 16, 2011

Every year, fantasy owners across the nation jump to panicked conclusions based on Week 1 statistics. Don't be like that. Integral to fantasy football excellence is the ability to comprehend why players did or did not fare well, and apply that information going forward. This particular column will cater especially to fantasy leaguers with hanging Week 1 questions. I've watched or re-watched games, charting them play by play where necessary. Vincent Jackson isn't a bum, and Scott Chandler isn't necessarily a stud. Lopsided time of possession and game flow heavily and adversely influenced backfields in New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and New Jersey. Week 1 carry and touch distributions don't always forecast workloads to come.

So take a deep breath. Get a big cup of coffee. Bear with me. We're going to talk about it all.

And if an opposing owner tries to trade you a Colts player while you're mid-column, confidently hit the reject button.


You do not want any of them.

1:00PM ET Games

Seattle @ Pittsburgh

Confirming his quiet preseason was a mirage, Mike Wallace paced Pittsburgh in Week 1 targets (11), catches (8), and yards (107). Wallace is a more complete wideout than given credit; OC Bruce Arians uses him as a true No. 1, sending Wallace all over the formation on a complex route tree. Wallace will give oversized Seahawks RCB Brandon Browner (6'4/221) 60 Minutes of hell with game-breaking quicks and speed. ... Whereas Wallace was an August no-show, Antonio Brown was huge in exhibition games. It didn't translate to the first real one, with Brown managing just 14 yards on nine targets in an incredibly inefficient performance. Games like this get young players benched by coaching staffs. ... Emmanuel Sanders finished Week 1 with two catches for 20 yards on three targets, including an 11-yard score. He remains the superior long-term bet.

Ben Roethlisberger produced a five-turnover Week 1 clunker, getting bludgeoned by the Ravens' pass rush behind one of the NFL's worst O-Lines. Big Ben will fare better against defenses that struggle to hurry the passer. Seattle qualifies after failing to register an Opening Day sack against a 49ers team that allowed 13 in preseason. The Seahawks' secondary personnel is also putrid. Roethlisberger has a 13:2 TD-to-INT ratio in his last six home games, with two rushing scores. ... Including the playoffs, Hines Ward is averaging 43 yards in his last seven games. Heath Miller is at 38 yards, and will keep blocking with RT Willie Colon (triceps) on I.R. ... Rashard Mendenhall is a better bet to score this week than last, but don't take Seattle's run defense lightly. They're healthy with run-plugging LE Red Bryant and MLB David Hawthorne back from knee injuries, and held Frank Gore to 59 Week 1 yards on 22 carries (2.68 YPC). Over the past two years, Seattle allows 2.87 yards a carry to opposing first-team tailbacks when Bryant starts and finishes games.

You were probably dealt negative points if you started Pittsburgh's fantasy defense in Week 1, but they're back in business this Sunday. The Seahawks field the worst collection of skill players and offensive linemen in football. Seattle yielded five sacks to an unimposing 49ers defense last week, opening up just enough holes for Seahawks ball carriers to average 2.91 yards a rushing attempt. I bet you can't name a worse starting running back in the league than Marshawn Lynch. Against San Francisco, Tarvaris Jackson completed just one of his 37 passes for a gain longer than 13 yards, went 5-for-15 on third-down conversions, and was still checking down to running backs late in the fourth quarter with Seattle trying to come back. (I think they were trying to come back.) There isn't a single Seahawk worth using in fantasy football leagues, this week or beyond.

Score Prediction: Steelers 31, Seahawks 10

Cleveland @ Indianapolis

The Colts' backfield isn't a committee, at least not yet. Delone Carter finished Week 1 with seven carries to Joseph Addai's eight, but Addai played the vast majority of first-half snaps and got the game's first five touches. Carter didn't see significant action until Indy was down 34-0. Neither back will do much damage in an offense that can't move the ball behind a line that opens no holes, but Addai remains the clear lead back. Addai also outperformed Carter in terms of yards per carry (4.88 to 3.57). I've seen enough of Carter at Syracuse, in preseason, and now Week 1 to conclude that I'm not a fan. Carter is a zero in the pass game, lacks elusiveness as a runner, and will struggle for quality snaps without an Addai injury. Addai is the better player. ... Perhaps Dallas Clark will turn it around against the Browns, but he blocked on more snaps than he ran pass routes last week. That's highly concerning considering the Colts were in comeback mode early.

The Browns will apparently not let Joe Haden shadow Reggie Wayne in Week 2, which is a blow to Cleveland's chances. With no running threat at all and Clark getting manhandled as a blocker (two 1-on-1 sacks allowed to Mario Williams last week), Wayne is Indianapolis' one and only offensive threat. Defensive coordinators will recognize this on game film and move quickly to erase Wayne from the offense. Playing from behind may save his stats some weeks, but Wayne is an ideal sell-high candidate after his 7-106-1 Week 1 line. Keep in mind that Wayne was stuck on two targets (both caught for 24 yards) until late in the first half, at which point Indy was already down 27-zip. The Colts proceeded to throw on 25 of their final 34 offensive snaps. ... Instead of Wayne, Haden will go to waste shutting down Colts RWR Pierre Garcon in this one. Haden didn't allow a single catch to A.J. Green last week, other than on a Bruce Gradkowski quick snap that caught Cleveland still in its defensive huddle. Green didn't have a defender on him. ... The outlook is even gloomier for Austin Collie. He's been weeded out of the offense in favor of a blocker.

The Colts' run defense is what the doctor ordered after Peyton Hillis' slow opener. Texans reserve backs gashed Indy for 167 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries (4.51 YPC) last week, and the Colts will play this game without MLB Gary Brackett (shoulder). WLB Kavell Conner is also battling a left foot sprain. Word out of Houston is that the Colts' front four was so discombobulated that D-Linemen were literally drawing up plays in the dirt. On both offense and defense, the Colts are going nowhere quick. ... The early real-game returns on Colt McCoy's big preseason aren't promising. McCoy looked uncomfortable in the pocket throughout Week 1, managing a 47.5% completion rate and 5.32 YPA against a Bengals pass defense that isn't as good as Indianapolis'. It is particularly worrisome that the Browns will trot out Oniel Cousins at right tackle. Cousins is a sack waiting to happen in "protection," and will be no match for LE Robert Mathis.

The Browns' pass-catching corps is a carbon copy of the 2010 Rams; a six-way rotation made up of Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Evan Moore, Ben Watson, Jordan Norwood, and Greg Little, with Hillis also in the mix for catches. Coach Pat Shurmur was the offensive coordinator in St. Louis last year, and there wasn't a single dynamic fantasy receiver or tight end on the Rams. In Week 1, no Browns pass catcher topped four targets during a game that saw McCoy throw 40 times. One of the above will inevitably lead Cleveland in receiving in a given week, but it's going to be awfully difficult to predict, and to acquire fantasy value they'll certainly need more efficient quarterback play.

Score Prediction: Browns 17, Colts 13

Kansas City @ Detroit

If the Chiefs' Week 1 game plan was any indication, the coaching staff has no faith in Matt Cassel. (For good reason.) Despite facing a Bills defense that can't rush the passer, K.C. employed an exceptionally conservative two- and three-step passing game, discarding any hint of downfield aggressiveness. Cassel was bad enough to keep the staff's confidence low, averaging 2.8 yards per pass play, with 6-of-22 completions going for negative yards and 14 for fewer than six. Cassel notched his first career reception when one of his throws was batted back to him, catching it for a loss of four. In a home game against the Bills. It was mentioned in Week 1 Matchups, and Russ Lande of Sporting News agrees: "Losing coach (Charlie) Weis will turn out to be K.C.'s biggest loss of the year." Cassel's stats since it was announced last winter that Weis wouldn't return: 48.3% completions, 3.49 YPA, 1:6 TD-to-INT ratio. ... Thomas Jones got two carries last week. It may be unfair to write him off because the Chiefs trailed all game and Jones doesn't play in passing situations, but his tank was already on E. Drop Jones and don't look back.

Owners may have been a bit disappointed in Jamaal Charles' Week 1 production (12.5 standard-league fantasy points, 17.5 in PPR), but there were positives. After starting all four preseason games, Charles again drew the start and is officially the first-team tailback. No other K.C. runner touched the ball until the second quarter -- when the Chiefs were already down 14-0 -- and after his second-quarter fumble Charles went right back in to score a touchdown on the ensuing series. It may pain Todd Haley to admit, but force feeding Charles is the only way his offense can move the ball. Don't forget that Haley has a history of using Charles as a feature back -- with success. During the 2009 stretch run, Charles averaged 27 touches for 185 yards in Weeks 14-17, scoring four TDs. He's a plug-and-play RB1 at Detroit. ... Dwayne Bowe's stats may be down across the board this year, and he's coming off an awful game that included one ugly drop and two catches on seven targets. He's still an every-week WR3, at least. You can't sit him against the Lions.

The Lions allowed the fewest sacks in the league (3) this preseason, which I initially chalked up as a worthless stat. When the Detroit O-Line didn't surrender a single quarterback hit to the Bucs in Week 1, I looked into it more seriously. As much as we'd love explanations for Matthew Stafford's injury history (and everything else), protection really isn't his problem. Football Outsiders ranked the Detroit offensive line as the NFL's fourth-best pass protecting unit last season. Pro Football Focus had the Lions a more realistic, if still passable 14th. It's more confirmation that all Stafford needs is better luck. Based on his routinely dominant on-field performances (e.g. 305 yards, 73% completions, three touchdowns in Week 1), Stafford is the complete package when healthy. He'll now square off with a Chiefs defense that allowed four Ryan Fitzpatrick touchdown passes in the opener, in the process losing star safety Eric Berry to a season-ending torn ACL.

There's a lot not to like about Jahvid Best's inside running ability, and what Detroit's O-Line does well in pass pro doesn't carry over into the ground game. But you can't argue with Best's PPR value. His 25 Week 1 touches tied for third in the league, and Best is a dangerous weapon when the Lions get him in space. The TD total may not be high, but Best's total yardage should be. This week, Berry's absence is just as much a plus for Detroit's ground game as it is for Stafford. Berry was a monster in run support. ... Calvin Johnson's missed practice time due to a rolled ankle isn't a Week 2 concern. He was in on the Lions' final possession last week, after the tweak occurred. ... Best (5), Brandon Pettigrew (6), and Nate Burleson (5) all finished with similar Opening Day target counts, while Tony Scheffler caught a touchdown pass in the red zone. It's going to cause headaches trying to guess whether Pettigrew or Burleson will have a big game in a certain week, and they could just as easily both be quiet. You should be able to find better fantasy starters.

Score Prediction: Lions 27, Chiefs 17

Baltimore @ Tennessee

The Titans' Week 1 box score is skewed by the fact that they only possessed the ball for 20:22, getting off 25 fewer plays than the opposing Jaguars. It speaks to Kenny Britt's playmaking ability that he still exploded for 136 yards and two TDs, racing through the Jacksonville defense on his initial 80-yard score and out-efforting top CB Rashean Mathis for the second. Britt's talent is on par with any receiver's in football, and his chemistry with Matt Hasselbeck has room to grow. Britt is a WR1. He's a must-start against Baltimore's inexperienced corner duo. ... Each week, I create our Sunday schedule to ensure all 16 games are covered by a writer. I assigned myself Titans-Jags in Week 1 because I wanted to observe a Tennessee offense very high on potential but extremely high on offseason turnover. It wasn't good. The Titans return all five O-Line starters, so I anticipated that unit to be the one thing Tennessee could count on. Turns out, the line was to blame for the offensive woes. I'm not recommending to sit Chris Johnson, but can assure you he'll struggle for holes if the front five plays like last week. Non-Johnson owners need to immediately target CJ2K for a buy low if the Ravens shut him down. He gets the Broncos and Browns next.

Ravens-Titans has Week 2's lowest over-under with 38 projected points. It's going to be hard to justify starting Tennessee skill players other than Britt and Johnson. ... Hasselbeck was overwhelmed by the Jags' pass rush last week, so it's scary to think how poorly he'll fare against Baltimore's. He's a very low-end QB2. ... Nate Washington posted a respectable 67 yards on six receptions against Jacksonville, but he's a deep threat in an offense that doesn't figure to have time to go long. It's not a good situation. ... According to Pro Football Focus, Jared Cook played a promising 43-of-53 snaps (81.1%) in Week 1. That's the good news. The bad news is Cook was targeted just twice on 34 Hasselbeck attempts and blocked poorly. He's fantasy backup for now.

Ray Rice lit up Pittsburgh for 149 total yards and two touchdowns on Opening Day, needing only 23 touches and 57.6% of Baltimore's offensive snaps to do it. He'll be a top-five fantasy play for the foreseeable future. ... Lee Evans was a fantasy non-factor in Week 1, but he's already making life exponentially easier on Anquan Boldin. An every-week WR2 again, Boldin caught four balls for 71 yards and a score against Pittsburgh, and had another 27-yard TD overturned when he got a bit too handsy with Steelers RCB Ike Taylor. Boldin can expect to see quite a bit of Titans RCB and slot cornerback Cortland Finnegan this week. ... Evans' late-preseason ankle injury has lingered to the point where he's not a fantasy option until he shows in a game that he can be productive and healthy. After a catchless opener, fantasy owners shouldn't find it hard to sit him.

I want to see a more wide-open Ravens offense before declaring this Joe Flacco's breakout year, but he got off to a nice start with three touchdowns and 224 yards on 29 attempts (7.72 YPA) in last week's drubbing of Pittsburgh. Flacco took one sack in 30 drop-backs, and might have the best protection of his career with an in-shape Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, and Michael Oher back on his natural right side. There's no reason to think the Titans' defense presents a tough matchup. ... The Ravens won't have the pass attempts volume the Patriots offer, but Baltimore is using Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta pretty similarly to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. At least in Week 1, however, there was a sizable gap between the two. Pitta got only 22 snaps and two targets. Dickson played 64-of-66 snaps with five targets, all caught for 59 yards. Dickson has a big leg up, though that could change during games in which the Ravens have more passing downs. They routed Pittsburgh last week, scoring a first-drive touchdown and never looking back.

Score Prediction: Ravens 27, Titans 14

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva

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