Cleveland @ Cincinnati
For a guy widely regarded as positively as Andy Dalton, he sure hasn't played well in awhile. Dalton's stats in his last ten games: 191-of-338 (56.5 percent) for 2,180 yards (6.45 YPA), eight touchdowns, and ten interceptions. He has three more turnovers on fumbles lost. The overrated Bengals are 3-7 during that span with wins over the Rams, Browns, and Cardinals. Perhaps a Week 2 date with Joe Haden-less Cleveland will spark Dalton temporarily, but he's completely off the fantasy radar. ... If there was one shining light in last Monday night's 44-13 blowout loss to Baltimore, it was the Cincinnati offensive line's performance. The front five not only protected Dalton far better than his four sacks taken suggest, it truly did win its down-to-down battle in the trenches. Capitalizing on consistent push up front, BenJarvus Green-Ellis averaged 5.06 yards per carry in Week 1 -- a personal high for him in Green-Ellis' last 22 games. The Browns have ongoing defensive front-seven problems and surrendered 150 rushing yards on 30 Week 1 carries against the Eagles. The Cleveland offense is also incapable of ball movement at this point, so look for the Bengals to be playing with a lead. Start Green-Ellis in your fantasy league, then sell him high before Week 3.
A little background on Bengals slot man Andrew Hawkins, who caught eight balls for 86 yards at Baltimore: He was a contestant on Michael Irvin's 2009 reality show Fourth & Long, losing out to Jesse Holley. Hawkins stands 5-foot-7, 180 and ran 4.34 with a 38" vertical at the Toledo Rockets' 2008 Pro Day. He had a six-touch, 60-yard game against the Steelers last November. Hawkins made 2010 third-round pick Jordan Shipley expendable in training camp. I'm not sure Hawkins will produce like he did against the Ravens every week, but he's getting open more than Armon Binns and Brandon Tate, and that I would not expect to change. With Jermaine Gresham struggling as much as ever, there is some potential for Hawkins to emerge as Dalton's No. 2 target. In an obviously dumbed-down version, perhaps Hawkins can be the Welker to A.J. Green's Moss. I'd grab him in PPR leagues. ... Green was already an every-week WR1, and now Haden is on suspension. Who's going to stop him? Green is a top-five receiver play in Week 2.
Cleveland's offense is a fantasy owner's worst dream from the quarterback to the would-be pass catchers, to the offensive line. Even running back Trent Richardson showed little acceleration and cutting ability against the Eagles, averaging 2.05 yards per carry on 19 totes. I thought his usage was promising and expect Richardson to improve each week he's further removed from two knee scopes, but for now he's a dicey flex. I want to see Richardson perform better before betting he'll overcome the dreadful situation around him. Despite Richardson's Week 1 struggles, defenses will continue to set out to eliminate Cleveland's run game, daring over-matched Brandon Weeden to beat them. ... I recommended in this space to wholly avoid the Browns' passing game in Week 1, and it paid dividends if you did. Mohamed Massaquoi led the pass-catching corps with 41 yards. Greg Little was targeted four times and caught none. What a nightmare. Start the Bengals' fantasy defense.
Score Prediction: Bengals 20, Browns 7
Kansas City @ Buffalo
The matchup gets easier going from the Jets' defense to the Chiefs', but it'd be nice to actually see Ryan Fitzpatrick play well in a football game before considering using him even in a two-QB league. He gave Brandon Weeden a strong run for NFL's worst quarterback last week, and over his last ten games Fitzpatrick is 216-of-372 (58.1%) for 2,288 yards (6.15 YPA), and a 13:19 TD-to-INT ratio. The Bills have one win and nine losses. ... While Darrelle Revis got the better of Stevie Johnson in their matchup this time around, Johnson's groin injury did not appear to be a Week 1 concern as he played 60-of-63 snaps and caught four balls for 55 yards with a touchdown. A WR2, Johnson should be started with confidence against a Chiefs pass defense that Matt Ryan opened up for 299 yards and three touchdown throws in the opener. ... David Nelson tore his ACL against the Jets and will be replaced primarily by Donald Jones in the slot, with rookie T.J. Graham playing outside. From a fantasy perspective, though, don't be surprised if C.J. Spiller benefits most in box scores going forward. Spiller can play the slot, too.
Speaking of Spiller, no player in the league experienced a greater Week 1 leap in fantasy value than the Bills' versatile new workhorse runner. Multiple reports indicate Fred Jackson will miss at least four weeks with a torn LCL, catapulting Spiller from shaky flex play to RB1. Not only did Spiller almost single-handedly vault Buffalo back into last week's game, he's starting to piece together an impressive resume as a bellcow back. In Spiller's last six games, he's gained 560 yards on 81 carries (6.91 YPC) and caught 23 passes for 197 more yards. He's also scored six all-purpose touchdowns while holding up on 18 touches a game. And he's going to get the ball even more than that now. He needs to be in your lineup every week. ... Keep an eye on TE Scott Chandler. He's oft-used in the red zone -- as we recall from last year -- and Chandler played 92 percent of Buffalo's Week 1 offensive snaps, far more than his 2011 snap rates. He also plays extensively as a slot receiver. Chandler could be another beneficiary of Nelson's ACL injury.
I re-watched Bills-Jets on Wednesday, and if I'm a Bills fan I'm probably already a little concerned about Dave Wannstedt. Fandom or no, I'm green-lighting Buffalo's defense for fantasy matchup purposes. Mark Sanchez had a crystal-clean pocket as Jets receivers ran wide open through the back end. The Bills gave up eight pass plays of 15-plus yards against a Jets offense that's been an NFL laughingstock. Rookie cornerbacks not named Morris Claiborne tend to struggle out of the chute -- often mightily -- and that looks like it'll be the case with Stephon Gilmore. Even coach Chan Gailey admitted post-game that Gilmore played "a little soft." Rookie Stephen Hill was the first to capitalize. It's scary to think what Dwayne Bowe might do to him. ... Dexter McCluster can be a useful slot guy in new Chiefs OC Brian Daboll's offense, but I'd hesitate to consider him a fantasy starter beyond PPR settings. McCluster finished Week 1 with a team-high 10 targets, securing six for 82 yards. He is still sitting on three non-return touchdowns in 28 career games. It's difficult to foresee consistency from McCluster as a situational slot receiver in a running offense.
Jon Baldwin's offseason "buzz" has been exposed as offseason "puffery." He was the Chiefs' No. 4 receiver in Week 1 and was not targeted. ... Steve Breaston looks to be behind McCluster, Bowe, and Tony Moeaki in K.C.'s target pecking order. Drop Breaston if you haven't already. ... Despite a strong first half of the Chiefs' Week 1 game, Matt Cassel remains buried on the fantasy QB2 list. He came back down to Earth in the final two quarters, completing just 11 of his final 21 throws for 135 yards and two interceptions. ... Third-string back Shaun Draughn finished Week 1 with eight touches and a four-yard rushing score, but virtually all of his work came in garbage time with the Chiefs down 40-17. ... Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis remain the only fantasy-viable backs in Kansas City. Charles was not involved in the Week 1 pass game (0 targets), but rushed for 87 yards on 16 carries (5.44 YPC) and played more snaps than Hillis. Hillis is still the favorite for passing-game duties. ... I'll keep a running tally here of Chiefs red-zone involvement between Charles and Hillis. In Week 1, Charles got two red-zone carries. Hillis got one. I think you lock in Charles as an RB1/2 against Buffalo's foundering defense. Hillis remains a viable flex option.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 27, Bills 17
Baltimore @ Philadelphia
Joe Flacco put a whipping on Cincinnati's normally stout defense last Monday, operating without a huddle on 21-of-58 snaps. Flacco dominated in the fast-paced, passer-friendly attack, sending a 52-yard strike to Torrey Smith on the first play from scrimmage and quietly putting together his sixth multiple-touchdown effort in Flacco's last seven games. The revised offense bodes well for Flacco's long-range outlook, but may meet its match against Philly's relentless 9-Technique pass rush. The no-huddle sacrifices blockers to get more catchers on the field, and often telegraphs intentions with a pass-first structure. Let's see Baltimore's offense fare well against a formidable foe before declaring Flacco matchup-proof. He does have an attractive one soon on the docket, as the Ravens host the Patriots in Week 3. We'll know to start Flacco if he stays hot this week at The Linc. ... Dennis Pitta recorded a career-high 73 yards and a score on five Week 1 receptions and looks to be a big part of Baltimore's new offensive design. Pitta started over Ed Dickson and played more snaps, lining up primarily as a slot tight end and running down the seam. I wouldn't trust Pitta as a fantasy starter yet, but he can get there if this usage holds up. Including January's two playoff contests, Pitta has at least 40 yards and a touchdown in three of his past four games.
Smith teased with a monster preseason and the long bomb to open last week's win, but he took a backseat thereafter as Pitta, Anquan Boldin, and Ray Rice were Flacco's primary receivers over the middle and inside the numbers. Smith was targeted twice the rest of the way. Philadelphia defends the perimeter better than the middle of the field with edge pressure to support talented outside CBs Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. It might be a good week to sit Smith. ... Eagles rookie nickel CB Brandon Boykin was one of my favorite draft picks in April. He was a stud cover man and special teams playmaker at Georgia. Slightly built (5'9/182), though, Boykin may struggle with Boldin's physicality in the slot. Showing fresh legs in the opener, I like Boldin to lead Baltimore in receiving this week. ... Rice only received 13 touches in the no-huddle's debut, but racked up 93 total yards and two touchdowns. He'll score more if the Ravens generate increased ball movement in the new-look offense. Rice remains locked in as a top-five RB1 play.
LeSean McCoy's matchup appears difficult on paper, but the Terrell Suggs-less Ravens weren't so imposing Monday against Cincinnati. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Cedric Peerman touched up Baltimore for 113 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries (5.38 YPC), and McCoy is far more skilled than both. McCoy also has a history of success against elite run defenses. In six 2011 matchups with top-ten rush units, McCoy scored eight touchdowns and averaged a robust 4.49 yards per touch. Start McCoy with confidence. ... Michael Vick threw four interceptions in the Eagles' nail-biting Week 1 win over the Browns, but shook off the early rust after an essentially idle preseason to lead Philadelphia to victory on a game-winning touchdown pass to backup TE Clay Harbor. Baltimore's pass rush was nonexistent for long stretches against the Bengals, giving Andy Dalton ample time to throw. Dalton couldn't capitalize, but Vick can. The matchup is quite a bit less intimidating than "versus Baltimore" normally indicates. I still think Vick is more of a mid-range to low-end QB1 this week with Jeremy Maclin (hip) and DeSean Jackson (hamstring) both banged up.
Brent Celek is worth a look this week for fantasy leaguers desperate at tight end. Celek was targeted eight times in the opener, catching four for 65 yards. While the Eagles aren't going to be able to fire off nearly 100 snaps every game as they did against the Browns, Celek would stand to benefit in the passing attack were Maclin or Jackson either gimpy or inactive. And Celek shouldn't have to block so much against a decreasingly effective Ravens pass rush. ... Maclin owners need to track his progress leading all the way up until game time. His balky hip is cause for concern. After going down in the first half against Cleveland, Maclin managed one catch for 11 yards in the final two quarters. ... Jackson plays flanker in the Eagles' offense, the position most commonly covered by Ravens top CB Lardarius Webb. While Jackson moves around the formation enough that he won't draw Webb on every single snap -- Webb typically sticks to one side -- D-Jax does have a tough on-paper matchup. I'd still start him if Maclin is declared inactive Sunday. Both Maclin and Jackson did return to practice on Friday morning, suggesting they’ll play against Baltimore.
Score Prediction: Eagles 20, Ravens 17
New Orleans @ Carolina
Two defenses' Opening Day efforts were particularly embarrassing. Buffalo was one. The Saints were the other. I discussed in Week 1 Matchups how New Orleans' defensive personnel poorly fits new DC Steve Spagnuolo's scheme. That certainly seemed the case against Washington, as the five hits on Robert Griffin III were largely innocuous and the rookie operated in a mostly-clean pocket. (For RG3's part, he also played with poise in the few instances he felt duress.) Saints top CB Jabari Greer is tentatively due back this week after a lengthy sports hernia absence, but doesn't figure to be 100 percent. Rookie nickel back Corey White and RCB Patrick Robinson were picked on frequently by the Redskins' air raid. After a slow opener in which they were dominated in time of possession (nearly 20:40) by the Bucs, I think the Panthers will bounce back big against a legitimately bad Saints defense, with Cam Newton leading the charge. ... I also think Jonathan Stewart (ankle) was severely missed in the opener. Though he isn't employed as a workhorse, it's important to recall that Stewart led Carolina's 2011 backfield in snaps by a healthy margin and adds a dynamic all-purpose threat, often affecting games even when he's not handling the rock. Stewart and Williams are low-end flex options, but the former's return should spark this offense.
I went back and watched Panthers-Bucs on Tuesday to prep for this column. The Tampa defense did a terrific job of snuffing out read-option plays and basically eliminating the Panthers' vaunted run game. (Carolina led the NFL in per-carry average last year.) While the game eventually got away from the Panthers because they so rarely had the ball, it was evident that OC Rob Chudzinski has big plans for Greg Olsen, possibly to be Carolina's No. 2 receiver. Olsen lined up in the slot with regularity and also ran pass routes from his in-line tight end position. He played 96 percent of the snaps. Had the Panthers held the ball for longer than 22 minutes -- and Olsen not dropped an early catchable pass -- I think we'd be talking about him a lot more coming off a 90- or 100-yard game. Because of where he plays, Olsen will square off Sunday with coverage-liability linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne. Olsen can have a big day against this defense. ... Though I'm not enamored with his physical skills, Brandon LaFell played 52-of-52 downs in Week 1 and that's promising for his future fantasy outlook. Because this game projects as high scoring, you could do worse than LaFell as a WR3. ... Steve Smith turned 33 in May and he's still playing on springs. He was the best player on the football field in Week 1 and is an every-week WR1/2.
You'll start noticing a trend with Saints games. Just like last week, the Vegas experts project the New Orleans game to be the highest scoring of Sunday's slate (over-under of 51). As noted in this space before, you want to start fantasy players in these kinds of games. The Saints' season didn't get off to an ideal start in a home loss to Washington, but these guys fill up the box score even when they lose and essentially force their opponent to do the same. Jimmy Graham, Drew Brees, Marques Colston (despite a relatively slow game one), and Darren Sproles are money in the bank. Start them every week. With that out of the way, onto the other guys. ... Lance Moore opened with 120 yards and a touchdown on six catches against the Skins, but I think the most fantasy-relevant stat was Moore's 75-percent snap rate. Moore has not always been a 75-percent player; he didn't have a single game of over 42 snaps in 2011 and played 56 last week. Perhaps it was due to a comeback-oriented offense, but it's something to keep an eye on. For this week, Moore's role also may be positively impacted by Devery Henderson's (concussion) unavailability.
Maybe I'm delusional on Mark Ingram. I think my reasons for liking him are logical. He's a gifted player, a talented power back with better versatility than his role in New Orleans suggests. He's the go-to red-zone back in perhaps the NFL's most productive offense. Ingram should be scoring touchdowns. But he played only nine snaps in Week 1 because the Saints fell behind early, and at this point he's killing your fantasy week when he's not hammering in a goal-line score. Is Ingram just a younger, fresher version of 2011 LeGarrette Blount and 2012 Michael Turner? Perhaps. I'm sitting Ingram this week in a mouth-watering matchup. I wonder if I'll regret it. ... Pierre Thomas played 18 snaps against the Skins and got the ball five times. Again, Thomas is a good NFL player. He's terrific in the screen game and soaks up blocked yards. But he's better in real life than fantasy. Thomas is going to need either Sproles or Ingram to get injured to approach viable flex value.
Score Prediction: Panthers 28, Saints 27