Carolina @ Buffalo
Most observers anticipated a slow Week 1 from Cam Newton considering Carolina's opponent. He should have an easier time this week. The Bills have lost two of their top-four cornerbacks to lengthy injuries, with Ron Brooks (foot) joining Stephon Gilmore (wrist) on the shelf, and FS Jairus Byrd's (foot) return date remaining up in the air. And for all of Buffalo's theoretical defensive talent up front, the Bills still can't stop the run. After finishing 31st in 2012 run defense, Buffalo was tagged for 162 yards on 30 carries (5.4 YPC) by Patriots tailbacks in the opening game. So the Bills look vulnerable to both the run and pass as they take on one of the NFL's most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks. ... The Panthers' offense was ultra-conservative in Week 1, attempting only three passes of ten-plus yards against the Seahawks. Coach Ron Rivera vowed after the game to reemphasize vertical passes, which play to Steve Smith's strengths. Smitty still came away from the opener with six grabs for 51 yards and a touchdown. Moving around the formation in new OC Mike Shula's passing game, Smith has a plus matchup versus the Bills' burnable nickel-package trio of RCB Leodis McKelvin, LCB Justin Rogers, and undrafted rookie slot man Nickell Robey.
Greg Olsen led Carolina in Week 1 targets (10), although his 5-56 stat line didn't quite match up to an opening-week tight end bonanza around the league. He's still entrenched as a back-end TE1. ... Not targeted on Opening Day, Brandon LaFell is a fantasy WR5 until proven otherwise. Don't bank on it. ... DeAngelo Williams only lost four Week 1 carries to Mike Tolbert and generally looked sharp with some spring in his legs against a stout Seattle front, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and securing each of his three targets. In a tasty Week 2 matchup, elevate Williams to low-end RB2/flex status. While he lacks a high-scoring ceiling and won't suddenly reenergize at age 30, it's become clear Williams is going to carry the mail in Shula's balanced to run-first attack.
Although the Bills kept their Week 1 game close against New England -- they were outlasted 23-21 -- coach Doug Marrone and OC Nathaniel Hackett didn't play the type of offense they hoped to due to losing the time-of-possession battle 38 minutes to 22. Buffalo managed only 61 offensive plays from scrimmage, a number sure to be higher in most weeks. ... While E.J. Manuel threw two touchdown passes against the Pats, the Bills used him conservatively. Manuel is directing a dink-and-dunk passing game designed to get the ball out quickly and move the chains. Manuel's dual-threat talents give him long-range fantasy appeal, but he will struggle for higher than mid-range QB2 value until he's given a longer leash. We saw a very similar scenario with Russell Wilson in Seattle last year. Manuel is a back-end two-quarterback league option against Carolina's imposing front seven ... With Manuel spreading the ball around as expected and completing a low volume of throws, Stevie Johnson (3-31-1), Scott Chandler (4-38), and Robert Woods (1-18-1) had quiet openers. T.J. Graham was held without a catch. Johnson remains the top weekly fantasy bet, but lacks more than a WR3 ceiling. Chandler, Woods, and Graham are waiver-wire material.
We'll need a bigger sample before deeming Buffalo's backfield a timeshare. C.J. Spiller still led the team with 22 Week 1 touches, though Fred Jackson handled 17 while outgaining his more ballyhooed teammate 108 yards to 55. Even the plugged-in Bills website didn't see this touch distribution coming. Perhaps Spiller's lost fumble and an in-game shot to the head explain F-Jax's one-week role increase. ... In contrast to Jackson's downhill style, Spiller's space-creating running chops would theoretically give Buffalo its best chance at an explosive rushing attack against the Panthers' heavyweight front four, keyed by Star Lotulelei (6'2/311) and Dwan Edwards (6'3/301) with 280-plus pounders Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy on the ends. Start Spiller confidently in fantasy leagues, but pick up Jackson if he's on waivers and keep an eye on his Week 2 usage. In all likelihood, Jackson's role and productivity will fade sooner rather than later. He's 32 1/2 years old with 540 more career carries on his tires than Spiller. Father Time remains undefeated.
Score Prediction: Panthers 24, Bills 20
Minnesota @ Chicago
In another sign that Marc Trestman's influence has already taken hold on Chicago's offense, Jay Cutler didn't take a single Week 1 sack against a fierce Bengals defensive front despite Cincy DC Mike Zimmer blitzing on 10 of Cutler's 33 dropbacks, per ESPN Stats & Info. Cutler went 8-of-10 passing for 94 yards and a score when Zimmer sent five-plus rushers. Cutler has entered the back-end QB1 discussion and now faces a Vikings defense that Matthew Stafford peppered for 357 and two Week 1 touchdowns, despite a replay-negated Calvin Johnson TD and another near scoring miss. This is a great matchup for improving Cutler. ... Although Trestman is emphasizing more passing-attack diversity and distribution, Brandon Marshall is still going to get his. He paced the Bears in Week 1 targets (10), catches (8), and yards (104), and scored the game winner from 19 yards out in the fourth quarter. Marshall's two 2012 stat lines against the Vikings? 10-160-1 and 12-92. Start 'em. ... Trestman is using Alshon Jeffery as a chain-moving complementary wideout as opposed to the vertical stretcher Jeffery was at South Carolina. After a five-catch, 42-yard opener on eight targets, consider Jeffery a WR4 with start-ability during upcoming bye weeks.
Although Martellus Bennett made an outstanding eight-yard touchdown catch and picked up 30 yards as a safety valve on a broken play to finish at 3-49-1 against the Bengals, I'm not quite sold on Bennett as more than a low-end fantasy TE1. He still looks to be the fourth option in the pass game, behind Marshall, Jeffery, and Matt Forte. ... Reggie Bush and Joique Bell combined to torch Minnesota's defense for a whopping 283 total yards and three touchdowns last week. Trestman uses Forte similarly to Bush's employment under Lions OC Scott Linehan, moving Forte all over the offensive formation and getting him the football in a variety of ways. Particularly notable for Forte's scoring potential was his Week 1 usage as the Bears' goal-line back, ahead of Michael Bush. Perhaps it was dictated by formation -- Chicago was on the Cincy one-yard line in a shotgun formation -- but Forte took the draw and executed from a yard out. Bush managed six carries for 15 yards and one uncaught target. Consider Bush a handcuff only in fantasy leagues.
I've tried to stay optimistic on Christian Ponder through many severe lows. After watching his preseason and Week 1 performances, I'm out on Ponder. Talent isn't the issue. Ponder lacks offensive command, drops his eyes under pressure, and makes boneheaded decisions because he's not a comfortable player. I think Matt Cassel will be starting by midseason, if not sooner. ... Avoid chasing last week's points with Jerome Simpson. Simpson is a sixth-year veteran -- we know what he is -- and he hadn't cleared 55 yards in any of his previous 18 games before last Sunday's seven-catch, 140-yard thrashing of Lions rookie RCB Darius Slay. Simpson will have a far harder time against Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, and I'd be genuinely shocked if he paid off as a Week 2 fantasy start. Here's betting Simpson has already had his most productive game of 2013. ... Putting zero heat on Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson played five snaps in the opener and is just a kickoff returner at this point. He's a mere bench stash with purely speculative value.
With Simpson hogging the production, Greg Jennings (3-33) had a quiet opening week. I still think he'll lead Minnesota in 2013 receiving by a wide margin. Jennings is playing Z and slot receiver, where Ponder can find him on high-percentage throws closer to the line of scrimmage. (Ponder is an ineffective boundary thrower.) On Week 2 passing downs, look for Jennings to match up often with Bears first-year slot corner Isaiah Frey whilst Jarius Wright, Simpson, and Patterson do more battles with Chicago's stout outside cover men. ... Coming off a two-catch, 27-yard opener, Kyle Rudolph now has three or fewer receptions in 11 of his last 18 games. Rudolph owners are headed for a year of touchdown-dependent highs, and far more lows. He went catch-less in his last game against the Bears. ... Although Chicago has fielded strong run defenses over the years, Adrian Peterson has touched them up for 1,085 yards and 14 touchdowns on 217 carries (5.00 YPC) in his career. Peterson has scored more TDs against the Bears than any other team.
Score Prediction: Bears 24, Vikings 17
4:05PM ET Games
New Orleans @ Tampa Bay
Josh Freeman has been one of the NFL's ten least effective quarterbacks since last December. Over his last four games, Freeman has completed 90-of-167 throws (53.9%) for 1,083 yards (6.5 YPA), and a 3:10 TD-to-INT ratio with three fumbles. Fortunately for Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, Tampa Bay lacks a viable third wideout and pass-catching tight end. So V-Jax and Williams consistently pile up targets, and both have talent to capitalize. Jackson's two 2012 stat lines versus the Saints: 7-216-1, 6-81. Williams was quieter (4-36, 4-63), but I wouldn't argue with him as a WR3. Fresh off burning Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner to a crisp, V-Jax is a WR1. ... Freeman is playing so poorly that he'd be hard to trust even in a two-quarterback league against a weak Saints defense. He's obviously, painfully short on confidence, and Thursday's disclosure by Bucs coach Greg Schiano that Freeman has been missing team meetings certainly won't help.
Doug Martin owners should have no concerns about Muscle Hamster's relatively slow Week 1 (24-65-1). The Jets are going to play stout defense all year, and the road gets much easier versus a depleted Saints defense in Week 2. NT Brodrick Bunkley is out "several weeks" with a calf injury, costing New Orleans its fifth front-seven starter since June. Bunkley joins LE Kenyon Coleman, OLBs Victor Butler and Will Smith, and ILB Jonathan Vilma on the shelf. In addition, Martin stands to benefit from the impending return of LG Carl Nicks from his preseason toe injury and lead blocker Erik Lorig from a strained calf. Martin is a top-five running back start in Week 2.
The Bucs are moving new toy Darrelle Revis around the formation, using him at right corner on 28 snaps in Week 1 and LCB on 24 downs, per PFF's Mike Clay. Because Saints pass catchers also move around a lot, it's going to be difficult to pinpoint whom Revis will cover. He trailed Santonio Holmes in the opener, holding him to one catch for 13 yards. My best guess is Marques Colston, though Colston often aligns in the slot and Revis didn't play any of his Opening Day downs inside. I think the best fantasy approach is to simply start your studs -- Colston, Jimmy Graham, obviously Drew Brees -- and hope Revis doesn't eliminate one pass catcher for the entire game. I might downgrade Colston from the top-15 fantasy receivers into the high 20s. ... Tampa's defense got gashed last week by Jets tight ends for eight catches, 86 yards, and a touchdown. That's right, they gave up a 7-79-1 to shot-kneed Kellen Winslow. As usual, Graham is the top fantasy tight end start of the week. ... Could the emergence of rookie outside burner Kenny Stills render Lance Moore a fantasy non-factor? Stills and Moore essentially play the same position -- Stills does sprint down the seam more -- and each failed to top five Week 1 targets. Neither role player is a viable fantasy starter.
The Jets moved the ball with the pass on the Bucs' defense last week, which is concerning as Tampa Bay gets set for Brees. Brees is a top-three fantasy QB1 this and every week. ... Nothing has changed for Mark Ingram this year, at least not based on his Week 1 usage. He played 18 snaps, rushed nine times for 11 yards, and wasn't targeted in the passing game. Ingram is not a flex consideration against Tampa Bay's backfield-penetrating run defense. ... Darren Sproles led the Saints' Week 1 backfield in snap percentage and the team in touches, parlaying 14 into 110 yards. Every Bucs linebacker who took the field in Week 1 graded out negatively in Pro Football Focus' pass coverage ratings. That bodes poorly for their chances of slowing down Sproles, who is an every-week fantasy starter, PPR or no. ... Pierre Thomas is capable of a big game every now and then, but he's a better real-life than fantasy player. He's part of a three-way running back committee on a pass-first team, and an asset in the screen game. Thomas' typical 2013 stat line will involve roughly 9-13 touches and 60 scoreless yards. Aim higher until you're desperate.
Score Prediction: Saints 28, Bucs 20
Detroit @ Arizona
Asked in last Sunday's post-game presser whether he's contemplating a change at left tackle, coach Bruce Arians replied, "To whom?" (Almost as if Arians were open to suggestions from reporters.) Rams RE Robert Quinn beat LT Levi Brown for three sacks and two forced fumbles in the opener, and Arizona will now face arguably the NFC's most talented defensive line. There are less than a handful of NFL backs who could successfully generate yards behind Arizona's front five, and Rashard Mendenhall isn't one of them, particularly when he's losing significant carries to special teamer Alfonso Smith (10 in Week 1). Arians is going to give up on the run sooner rather than later, and the hope then will be that Carson Palmer stays healthy. Mendenhall is a poor flex option. ... On a much brighter note, Larry Fitzgerald is back. Targeted 14 times by Palmer in St. Louis, Fitz secured eight for 80 yards and two touchdowns. He gets an easier matchup in Week 2, where Fitzgerald should see frequent coverage from shaky slot CB Bill Bentley and rookie RCB Darius Slay because the Lions don't move top cornerback Chris Houston off his LCB island. Per Pro Football Focus, 12 of Fitzgerald's Week 1 targets came against right-side (Slay) and slot defenders (Bentley).
Update: Fitzgerald is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury tweaked during Wednesday's practice. He did participate in Friday's session on a limited basis, after stating Thursday "everything's good" with the muscle. I would pencil Fitzgerald into my fantasy lineup and closely monitor Sunday morning reports. Fitzgerald is the focal point of Arians' voluminous, explosive passing attack, and I'd badly want to play him in fantasy if he's going to be active.
Arians is moving underrated Andre Roberts around like he did T.Y. Hilton in Indianapolis. Though not officially a "starter," Roberts played 72 percent of Arizona's Week 1 snaps and virtually every passing down, catching eight balls for 97 yards. With Rob Housler (ankle) out another week, both Roberts and Michael Floyd (4-82) have a chance to deliver consistent WR2/3 stats. The volume is generous and the scheme is very wide receiver-friendly. ... Palmer's circumstances are not quite ideal because his pass protection is an inevitable problem. But he has attempts and "weapons" on his side. Arians dropped Palmer back on 44 occasions against the Rams despite the fact Arizona had a lead for most of the game and Quinn was eating Brown alive on his signal caller's blindside. Expect Palmer to absorb a ton of hits versus the Lions, and still provide high-end QB2 numbers.
The Vikings' Week 1 approach to defending Detroit's famously pass-happy offense was to drop their safeties 20 yards off the line of scrimmage. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell loved it, shredding the six-man box for 115 yards and two scores on 27 carries. Bush had two more TDs overturned on replay. The Lions can't expect Arizona defensive playcaller Todd Bowles to play the exact same way, but it's a reminder that Bush will see favorable running looks all year due to the nature of Detroit's base-shotgun offense. ... I love Bell's game and versatility, but he's a change-of-pace back who may see sporadic goal-line work in a given week. Unless Bush goes down, Bell is not a bankable fantasy starter. In attempts to "chase" last week's points, I have a feeling many owners will start Bell as an RB2 or flex this week. And I'd bet they'll emerge disappointed. He's not going to get the ball enough. ... As expected, Lions tight ends played diminished passing-game roles in Week 1 with Bush and to a lesser extent Bell supplanting them as Matthew Stafford's safety valves. Brandon Pettigrew (2-6) was targeted four times and can be dropped in fantasy leagues. Tony Scheffler (0-0) was targeted once. UDFA Joseph Fauria (3-27-1) was the most productive of the trio, though he only saw three targets and played 11-of-83 snaps (13.3%). Detroit tight ends are a fantasy situation to avoid.
Stafford picked up where he left off last year in the opener, making a number of head-scratching throws and trusting his arm too much at times. No big deal for fantasy owners. Stafford dropped 357 yards and two touchdowns on the Vikings, and narrowly missed a four-score day due to a Calvin Johnson Rule TD deletion and second play where Megatron just barely failed to get his second foot into the end zone. The Lions now do battle with an Arizona defense that generated little pressure in Week 1 versus the Rams as Sam Bradford stung them for 299 yards and two scores. Stafford is a top-ten fantasy quarterback. ... Johnson's Week 1 was slow by box-score standards (4-37), and he's a mortal lock to be mirrored by Patrick Peterson on Sunday. Megatron, of course, got the better of this battle in Week 15 last season, lighting up the Cardinals' top corner for a 10-121 line. Confidently start Megatron this and every week. ... Until Ryan Broyles (knee) gets completely healthy, Nate Burleson and Patrick Edwards will round out the Lions' three-wide package. Burleson had six grabs for 78 yards against Minnesota, but is a 32-year-old possession receiver without big-play ability. Edwards (3-30) was quiet in the opener and lacks physical tools to win consistently outside the numbers. Neither should be bothered with in fantasy football lineups.
Score Prediction: Lions 27, Cardinals 24