Ben Roethlisberger: D. Jay Talbott/Icon SMI
Can anyone recall the last NFL game to merit just 23 points in five quarters ... yet produce 607 passing yards? And can anyone remember the last time a defending champion actually lost the season-opener? Same here (although I'm guessing it was the post-Elway 1999 Broncos -- more on that later). In other words, what a great forum for attacking the start of the '09 season, Revelations-style:
1. Ben Roethlisberger is full of surprises: Oh sure, it'd be nice to see Big Ben throw more than one touchdown each outing; but who among us could possibly find fault in a 363-yard night ... against one of the NFL's best secondaries? For the life of me, I was certain the Steelers had morphed back into a run-first, run-second club -- essentially disavowing all recollections of the pass-happy 2007 season, Bruce Arians' first as offensive coordinator. But hampered by a nonexistent running game, Pittsburgh quickly reversed course and threw its support behind Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes (9 catches, 131 yards, 1 TD) and Hines Ward (8 catches, 103 yards). Now, is it wise to expect 40-plus attempts and 300-plus yards from Big Ben every week? Of course not. But if you drafted him as your QB2 (behind Matt Schaub, for example), you might end up starting Roethlisberger in at least 10 games. How's that for value?
2. Mewelde Moore is not worth owning in 10- or 12-team leagues: As bad as Willie Parker was against the Titans (13 rushes for 19 yards), there's no tangible excuse for dumping him for Moore (34 total yards). Without a doubt, Parker had a cushy seat in Mike Tomlin's doghouse on Thursday night, but the small, shifty Moore is hardly the sustainable option for the Steelers' ground attack. In fact, I fully expect Parker to get more looks against the Bears next week; and at the very least, I can envision Rashard Mendenhall earning more than four touches. But if you're mulling the notion of starting Moore as a flex option in Week 2, I sincerely hope you're in my fantasy league ... and that we're going head-to-head next week.
3. Chris Johnson has that all-world look: If Johnson had to endure the Steelers once more (along with the Ravens) in the regular season, maybe I'd back off my preseason declaration of at least 1,600 total yards. But right here, right now, there's nothing stopping this kid from justifying his standing as a RB1 in fantasyland. There's nothing suggesting that 32-yard runs like this one won't occur 15-20 more times. And there's little evidence supporting the idea of LenDale White (33 total yards vs. Pittsburgh) being more productive in the red zone, now that he's 30-35 pounds lighter. Never underestimate the power of dense, thick bodies near the goal line!
4, Kenny Britt and Justin Gage are must-haves on all fantasy rosters: I realize Britt's an untested rookie from a school (Rutgers) that's hardly known for churning out elite receivers at the pro level. I also understand Gage has never caught more than 55 balls or scored more than six TDs in six middling pro seasons. But given Britt's immense athletic gifts and Gage's obvious rapport with quarterback Kerry Collins (244 yards passing, 1 TD on Thursday), both wideouts suddenly have the potential for 10-plus catches and 90-plus receiving yards at any point. In other words, they're perfect bench performers and underrated trade chips down the road.
Here are the up-to-the-minute rankings for all 32 starting QBs:
1. Drew Brees, Saints
2. Tom Brady, Patriots
3. Peyton Manning, Colts
4. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
5. Philip Rivers, Chargers
6. Kurt Warner, Cardinals
7. Donovan McNabb, Eagles
8. Matt Ryan, Falcons
9. Carson Palmer, Bengals
10. Tony Romo, Cowboys
11. Jay Cutler, Bears
12. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
13. Matt Schaub, Texans
14. Eli Manning, Giants
15. Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks
16. Jason Campbell, Redskins
17. Matt Cassel, Chiefs
18. Trent Edwards, Bills
19. Kyle Orton, Broncos
20. Brett Favre, Vikings
21. Shaun Hill, 49ers
22. JaMarcus Russell, Raiders
23. Chad Pennington, Dolphins
24. Joe Flacco, Ravens
25. Jake Delhomme, Panthers
26. David Garrard, Jaguars
27. Marc Bulger, Rams
28. Mark Sanchez, Jets
29. Matthew Stafford, Lions
30. Kerry Collins, Titans
31. Brady Quinn, Browns
32. Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers
1. San Francisco @ Arizona
2. Detroit @ New Orleans
3. St. Louis @ Seattle
4. Buffalo @ New England
5. Jacksonville @ Indianapolis
With Week 1 officially under way, now's the perfect time to hit me on Twitter (@SI_JayClemons) for any lineup-related questions within the fantasy realm. In fact, I see that some of my loyal followers have already peppered my Inbox with start/sit queries:
@Texstro asks: In a PPR league, should I start Eddie Royal, Roy Williams or maybe even Felix Jones in Week 1?
Answer: As much as I like Felix against Tampa Bay, I'd rather go with Royal in a PPR format. With Brandon Marshall's lack of playbook knowledge at this point, Royal should catch 8-10 balls for 90-plus yards and one TD against Cincinnati.
@NINEONE5 wonders: To start Ronnie Brown or Kevin Smith? I get .33 points for reception.
Answer: I am genuinely torn ... both players are facing eerily similar situations (Brown @ Atlanta; Smith @ Detroit). But if I had to choose, I'd go with Smith (seemingly the better lock for 100 total yards) -- provided the Lions can avoid getting blown out by 30.
@alpod22 wants to know: Aside from Adrian Peterson, which of these two RBs should I start in Week 1: Clinton Portis, Ray Rice, Marion Barber?
Answer: This is a simple decision (I think): Barber and Rice have easy-cheesy matchups (@ Tampa Bay, vs. Kansas City), where Portis typically struggles at the Meadowlands (although he tallied 126 and 196 yards in two stadium appearances back in '07).
1. DeSean Jackson @ Carolina
2. Andre Johnson vs. N.Y. Jets
3. Larry Fitzgerald vs. San Francisco
4. Marques Colston vs. Detroit
5. Reggie Wayne vs. Jacksonville
6. Calvin Johnson @ New Orleans
7. T.J. Houshmandzadeh vs. St. Louis
8. Greg Jennings vs. Chicago
9. Jordy Nelson vs. Chicago
10. Randy Moss vs. Buffalo
11. Chris Chambers @ Oakland
The 2009 Sports Illustrated/Citizen Sports Fantasy Football Game (presented by Pepsi Max). For those who haven't accessed this amazing application yet on Facebook ... what are you waiting for (Week 1 has already started)? And for those whose fantasy-football lives were compromised looooooooong before Brian Westbrook skipped his first preseason game, check out Jeffrey Ma's omnipresent fantasy blog on Citizen Sports.
1. Michael Turner vs. Miami
2. Adrian Peterson @ Cleveland
3. Maurice Jones-Drew @ Indianapolis
4. Joseph Addai vs. Jacksonville
5. Frank Gore @ Arizona
6. Brandon Jacobs vs. Washington
7. Julius Jones vs. St. Louis
8. Steven Jackson @ Seattle
9. Cedric Benson vs. Denver
10. Matt Forte @ Green Bay
11. Darren McFadden vs. San Diego
Jonathan Stewart: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Believe or not, playing in 10 fantasy leagues can sometimes get a little tedious. After all, you're essentially sticking to The Big Board for every draft -- always willing to "reach" for high-end sleepers (like Beanie Wells, Felix Jones, DeSean Jackson, Sidney Rice, Hakeem Nicks) and reject name-brand duds (like Torry Holt, Roy Williams, Chad Ochocinco). But a funny thing happened on the way to mindless fantasy nirvana: I couldn't enter the "Battle of the Sexes" draft room on Wednesday (due to computer error) and was left with an "autopick" team from the No. 4 draft slot. (Note: The BOTS league features fantasy experts like Ben Ice, Scott Pianowski, Ginny Loveless, Sara Holladay and Kelly S., aka @CommishChick of Twitter fame.)
On the plus side, the computer took Michael Turner, Peyton Manning, Santana Moss. On the bad side, it grabbed a second defense, Heath Miller and David Garrard. And on the "good pick, but taken-wayyyyy-too-high" side ... I now own Steve Smith, Antonio Gates, Stephen Gostkowski and the Ravens defense/special teams.
Truth be told, I wanted to wash my hands of this autopick squad -- Pontius Pilate-style -- immediately after the draft concluded (at SI.com, this is known as "pulling a Krasnow"). But after the venom dissipated from not having control of the process, I decided to make this venture my special pet project for the fantasy season. Oh sure, it'll take tons of waiver-wire moves and a slew of creative trades to forge the turnaround, but I consider this the ultimate test for fantasy GMs: Overhauling a team in your own image. And at the very least, it'll make great Clicks fodder for the next few months.
Here's how The Accidental Autopick Tourist draft went for my team:
Round 1 -- RB Michael Turner, Falcons
Round 2 -- WR Steve Smith, Panthers
Round 3 -- QB Peyton Manning, Colts
Round 4 -- RB Marshawn Lynch, Bills
Round 5 -- TE Antonio Gates, Chargers
Round 6 -- RB Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
Round 7 -- WR Santana Moss, Redskins
Round 8 -- D/ST Baltimore Ravens (I would NEVER take a defense this high in a draft)
Round 9 -- WR Donnie Avery, Rams
Round 10 -- RB Willis McGahee, Ravens
Round 11 -- WR Michael Crabtree, 49ers (Trent Dilfer vouches for his still-unreal talents)
Round 12 -- PK Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots (No. 2 on my kicking board)
Round 13 -- QB David Garrard, Jags (may throw more TDs with fewer passes, compared to '08)
Round 14 -- TE Heath Miller, Steelers
Round 15 -- D/ST Miami Dolphins (there is no greater example of a wasted draft pick; damn Yahoo!'s quirky draft room)
Here's my five-step plan for reconstructing "Muppets Go Medieval" (a team name spawned from an epic Simpsons episode, starring Troy McClure):
1. Trade Michael Turner
In any other league, I'd be crazy to part with perhaps the No. 1 talent in fantasyland. But he's also my biggest trade chip at this point, and I plan on getting at least another team's RB2 and WR1 in return, as part of a 2-for-1 (or 3-for-1) deal. Anything less ... and I'll simply keep him and reap the rewards of another 1,700-yard campaign.
2. Dump David Garrard, Heath Miller and the Dolphins
Using the vast resources of the waiver wire, I've already put in claims to replace Garrard, Miller and the Miami D with Sidney Rice, Kenny Britt, Jerome Harrison, Laurent Robinson, Jamaal Charles, Tashard Choice, Kyle Orton, Jason Campbell, Jermichael Finley and/or Lions rookie sensation Brandon Pettigrew. Can any of these players significantly alter the fortunes of my autopick team? Only time will tell. But at least I'm more comfortable with their fantasy viability on a week-to-week basis.
3. Exercise tremendous patience with Jonathan Stewart/Marshawn Lynch
Here's where I'll give the computer credit: It ignored the whispers of Stewart's Achilles' injury being a seasonlong concern ... and that Lynch is currently serving a three-game suspension. I would have likely passed on both players, wanting impact studs for Week 1. But if the severity of Stewart's malady has been grossly exaggerated, and I can survive three weeks without Lynch in the fold ... I'll have two dynamite rushers to consider in the Flex spot come October.
4. Play 'The Match Game' With Willis McGahee
From all indications, McGahee is healthy, reasonably happy and in the best shape of his professional life. If that's the case, I'll have two attractive options: Either keep him and enjoy the flex-position fantasy goodness OR agressively trade him to Ray Rice's owner. As great as Rice can be this season (I have him down for 700 rushing AND receiving yards), McGahee stands as a great Ravens RB-handcuff when both players are running at a high level.
5. Trade Peyton Manning
This is an emergency plan only here. But if push comes to shove and I need an immediate boost of potential starters, I won't hesitate to auction off Manning -- 10 seconds after his first four-touchdown game.
1. Larry Johnson, @ Ravens (like the player, HATE the matchup)
2. Brian Westbrook, @ Panthers (he'll need a week to get his sea legs under him)
3. Kyle Orton, @ Bengals (mangled finger leads to some ugly-duckling throws)
4. Anquan Boldin, vs. 49ers (his dominance will kick in around Week 2))
5. Mark Sanchez, @ Texans (he'll be great someday ... but that someday isn't Sunday)
It's not everyday a tight-end dilemma gives me cause for pause, but in my CBS keeper league (where SI.com's Jeff Ritter serves as commissioner), I'm happily "stuck" with the weekly task of choosing betwen Seattle's John Carlson (my No. 5-ranked tight end) and Houston's Owen Daniels (No. 7) -- two players on the brink of NFL stardom. I have my opinions on the matchups, of course, but I also wanted to know what other Web sites were projecting before rendering a decision:
Pigskin Addiction: Carlson (60 receiving yards, 1 TD) over Daniels (35 yards)
SI.com: Daniels (65 receiving yards, 1 TD) over Carlson (50 yards, 1 TD)
CBSSports.com: Carlson (56 receiving yards, 1 TD) over Daniels (47 yards, 1 TD)
Verdict: This race was almost too close to call ... but in the end, I'm going with Carlson -- given his stronger track record in the red zone AND that he'll be facing the sad-sack Rams on Sunday.
1. WR Jordy Nelson (vs. Bears)
2. RB Mike Bell (vs. Lions)
3. WR David Clowney (@ Texans)
4. TE Shawn Nelson (@ Patriots)
5. WR Chris Chambers (@ Raiders)
For various reasons, I did not select these all-stars in any of my 10 fantasy drafts:
1. RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings
2. QB Tom Brady, Patriots
3. RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
4. RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
5. RB Chris Johnson, Titans
6. RB Brandon Jacobs, Giants
7. RB Clinton Portis, Redskins
8. RB Marion Barber, Cowboys
9. QB Philip Rivers, Chargers
10. WR Terrell Owens, Bills
11. RB DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
12. RB Ronnie Brown, Dolphins
13. RB Reggie Bush, Saints
14. TE Jason Witten, Cowboys
15. WR Vincent Jackson, Chargers
16. QB Tony Romo, Cowboys
17. RB Larry Johnson, Chiefs
18. RB Willie Parker, Steelers
19. RB Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
20. TE Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
Thanks to the good people at Pro Football Reference, I can confirm the 1999 Broncos as the last reigning world champion to lose their opener. You may recall all the fanfare reserved for Brian Griese during the '99 preseason, as if replacing Hall of Famer John Elway would be a smooth process. Now, to be fair, Griese threw for 270 yards and three TDs in Denver's 38-21 home loss to Miami -- excellent fantasyland numbers -- but he also piloted the club to a less-than-satisfying 4-9 campaign, while initially laying the groundwork for Jake Plummer's eventual migration to the Mile High City.
On the bright side, though, I see big things for Griese in his current line of work: College football color analyst for ESPN. If you get a chance to watch the replay of Cincinnati-Rutgers from Labor Day weekend, you'll quickly realize that Griese is a TV star in the making. Just like his dad.