Fantasy owners don’t have time to sit back and wait to determine which Week 1 results are legitimate and which ones were a mirage—a few weeks’ worth of unproductive lineups can tank a fantasy team before the playoff race even begins. As the weekly fantasy roundtable makes its regular season return, SI.com fantasy experts Michael Beller and Pat Fitzmaurice discuss the first-round picks who made a disappointing first impression, players who could be ripe for trade talks and the games to pay special attention to in Week 2.
Michael Beller: I'll be watching a few games closely this weekend. In the fantasy world, everything obviously starts with the Saints and Giants. When these two teams met last year, they gave us 101 points and 1,024 yards of offense. Eli Manning threw for 350 yards and six touchdowns, and wasn’t even close to being the most productive quarterback in the game. That’s because Drew Brees threw for 505 and seven. The game produced five of that week's top-15 receivers, including No. 1 Odell Beckham Jr., who had eight catches for 130 yards and three scores, and the No. 1 tight end, Ben Watson. It’d be silly to expect another 101-point game, but fantasy owners are going to love this one.
Bengals-Steelers is always a fun game, no matter what it produces for the fantasy world. That's the league's best rivalry today, made better by the fact that the Bengals and Steelers are two of the few teams we already know are Super Bowl contenders. I picked the Bengals to go to the AFC Championship Game (which I also did last year), and I like them to go into Pittsburgh and pull off the small upset. A.J. Green might be on another planet right now.
I'm intrigued by another rematch from last year's AFC wild-card round, Chiefs-Texans, and an early-season battle between two potential NFC playoff teams, the Buccaneers and Cardinals. I’m not sure what to make of Chiefs-Texans. One team took care of business against a team it should beat at home last week, while the other needed to rally from a 21-point deficit. I do know that my fantasy team with Lamar Miller and Spencer Ware is not intimidated by either defense, as good as those units are. I expect the Cardinals to get back on track after dropping their Week 1 showdown with the Patriots, but would you be that surprised to see Jameis Winston steal a win in the desert? He looked like the real deal last week.
Is the NFC North ready for its moment? Three teams playing in primetime this week, led by the Packers and Vikings on Sunday night. I need to see more from this Green Bay offense, Fitz, and I know you do, too. The fantasy production was fine last week, but 5.85 YPA for Aaron Rodgers? A long catch of eight yards for Jordy Nelson? It gets late early in a 13-week fantasy season, and we know Mike Zimmer’s defense is going to be a headache for every team that has to face it.
Take the pitch and run with it, my friend...
Pat Fitzmaurice: Ever been up to Minnesota’s Iron Range, Beller? It's among the coldest places in America. That's real NFC North territory, baby. My concern is that a primetime dose of NFC North football could leave football fans in other parts of the country feeling colder than the Iron Range. The Green Bay offense will be just fine ... eventually. But the Packers might struggle to move the ball against the miserly Minnesota defense, with legions of hearty Norsemen (and Norsewomen) christening the Vikings’ new stadium by screaming their lungs out when the hated Cheeseheads have the ball. Heck, the Vikings might not even need the canned noise they used to pump into that giant plastic bag known as the Metrodome. Then we have Sam Bradford expected to start his first game for the Vikings, possibly without banged-up starting left tackle Matt Kalil to protect Bradford’s blind side and occasionally yell “Look out!” as Clay Matthews comes barreling into the backfield. Dom Capers, Man of 1,000 Blitzes, is sure to give Bradford some interesting looks.
And then we have Chicago hosting Philadelphia. Bears guard Kyle Long is playing with a torn labrum, guard Josh Sitton is still settling in after defecting from the Packers, and the rest of the offensive line is a sieve. That unit could have major problems handling Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s “Wide 9” scheme. The nation might be treated to some low-scoring football in prime time this weekend, courtesy of the Upper Midwest, where you and I hang our hats.
But then, if you’re a connoisseur of high-flying offensive football, you have Saints-Giants to fall back on. How on earth are the Saints going to cover Beckham? It would have been a daunting enough challenge for a bad defense, but without their best cornerback, the injured DelvinBreaux? I pity the fantasy owners who face OBJ this week—including myself, since I face him in two leagues.
Here’s a game you didn’t mention, my friend: Seahawks–Rams. Yes, we night owls all had a good laugh at Jeff Fisher's expense late Monday night, but Fisher’s Rams are 3–1 against Seattle over the last two years. Embarrassment is the NFL’s greatest motivator, and the Rams are bound to be fired up after being humiliated by the 49ers—particularly since they’ll be playing their first regular-season home game in SoCal since 1994. (I thoroughly expect Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who was ejected from the opener, to pick his teeth with Seattle’s offensive linemen.) There's a reason the Seahawks opened as only a 3.5-point favorite. Vegas knows, Beller. Vegas knows. There’s actually a fair amount of intrigue in this game from a fantasy perspective. How will Russell Wilson play on a sprained ankle? Can Todd Gurley bounce back after a poor Week 1? And here’s one for you, amigo: What are we going to see from the Seattle running backs? Pete Carroll made Thomas Rawls the starter this week. Is Rawls the boss of this backfield again, or do you think he splits work with Christine Michael?
Beller: I’ve never been up to the Iron Range, Fitz, and it doesn’t sound particularly appealing, either. Things get plenty cold for me in our southern corner of the Upper Midwest. I wonder if anyone in the Green Bay offense, particularly Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb, will be buy-low candidates if the Vikings are able to hold them in check this week. That’s something I’ll be watching not only on Sunday night but also in the early days of next week.
Speaking of trying to project buy-low candidates, as well as the game you brought up, how about Todd Gurley? Even his most level-headed owners have to be a little concerned with that Rams offense after last week’s punt fest. Now Gurley and the Rams have to go up against the Seahawks? You pointed out Fisher’s recent track record against the Seahawks, but I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see the Rams struggle to move the ball again this week. Let’s say Gurley posts numbers akin to last week’s 47 yards on 17 carries. I assume you’d be interested in trying to buy him at a discount. What sort of discount would you be looking for? Any chance you’d consider paying up to draft-day value, especially if that helped grease the skids for a deal?
The Seattle backfield has the feeling of a stay-away for me this week, though I won’t blame season-long owners who want to get Rawls into their lineups. All things considered, I’d be encouraged if I were a Rawls owner. He held up over 15 touches last week, looked solid in the passing game and showed enough to earn the starting nod this Sunday. The Christine Michael awakening may prove to be brief. I’m still betting on a pretty even split this week, though, against a front seven that we know is much better than it showed against the 49ers last week. I think Rawls is a full-go for fantasy owners next week, but I’d be a bit wary about having him in my lineup on Sunday.
Another interesting matchup this week is Colts–Broncos. The Colts’ defense proved last week it is going to be the best friend of anyone invested in Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Dwayne Allen, et al., but what do you make of this matchup this week? On one side, they’ll have to deal with the stifling Denver defense when they have the ball. On the other, there’s an offense that will try to slow the pace and isn’t built to take advantage of the Indy defense the way Matthew Stafford and the Lions did last week. I’m playing Luck, Hilton, Moncrief and Allen, but I’m not expecting more than modest starting numbers from any of them. And I don’t think Frank Gore should be near fantasy starting lineups. That said, I’ve got him ranked 26th at running back.
Give me one non-obvious DFS play you’ve got on your radar. We’ve already spent a lot of time on Packers-Vikings, but for me it’s Stefon Diggs. Seven catches, nine targets and 103 yards with Shaun Hill at the helm? That’ll do. I like him even more with Bradford expected to take over as the starter.
Fitz: Coby Fleener face-planted in his Saints debut, and he’s priced accordingly in DFS this week. I stuck him into my first DraftKings lineup at a scratch-and-dent-sale price of $3,900. The Giants have some cornerbacks who can really cover: Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and even rookie first-rounder Eli Apple. It’s hard to attack the Giants’ defense at the boundaries, but the underbelly is soft. I think Drew Brees is going to have to do business in the middle of the field this week, and that suggests a productive day for Fleener (assuming he doesn’t coat his hands with Crisco before the game).
As for Gurley, yeah, I might take the pulse of the TG3 owners in my season-long leagues if he turns in subpar numbers this week. His talent is immense—that’s beyond question. But his offensive line is bad, the Rams don’t have a credible passing game to keep defenses honest, the game scripts generally aren’t going to be favorable, and the schedule is mostly unkind to Gurley all the way through Week 10. So of course, he was my top-ranked running back coming into the season. (Regrets, I have a few.) I don’t make a habit of trying to lowball other owners—it’s bad policy—and I suspect that many of those owners will dig in their heels, refusing to part with Gurley because they’d be so unlikely to get a satisfying return. But if Gurley struggles this week, I'll be sending out a few condolences emails to perhaps start conversations. Gurley had some hiccups last year, too, but despite facing essentially the same obstacles he’s facing now, he was mostly fantastic. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll be fantastic again.
I hear you on the Colts’ skill players. The matchup against Denver is daunting, but I’m still starting Luck, Hilton, Moncrief and Allen in leagues where I own them. No shares of Grandpa Gore here, but I rate him RB34 this week, for what it’s worth.
Thomas Rawls was so terrific last year, and maybe the backfield is now his again. But, as you mentioned, the matchup with the Rams could be tough, and Rawls owners might want to wait another week for the preseason Christine Michael windstorm to completely blow over.
By the way, how are you feeling about Kelvin Benjamin these days, Beller? I try not to be a wind sock on players, but I admit that I’ve done a near-180 on Benjamin. The reports that he was in poor condition and would be on a Week 1 pitch count really startled me. I’m very sensitive to clues that a player might not be fully dedicated to his craft. But Benjamin was marvelous against Denver despite facing what’s probably the best cornerback tandem in the league. I don’t own any shares of him, but I think Benjamin owners should be feeling pretty good about what looked like a sketchy investment less than 10 days ago. What say you?
Beller: You know what's most encouraging about Benjamin? He looked the part. You know what I mean? He looked like a bona fide No. 1 receiver out there, like a guy who didn’t have his second season in the league interrupted by an ACL tear. He picked up right on the trajectory he set for himself as a rookie, and that’s why I’m already willing to admit I was wrong about him this summer.
Alright, Fitz, time for us to put a bow on this thing. I'll leave you with these two comments. First, the upset of the week, with upset meaning a point-spread underdog getting the win, is Jacksonville over San Diego. Second, and this has been on my mind since a recent chat on Twitter, the Rolling Stones would have been the best country band of all time, had that been their actual goal.
Your turn for the finishing touches.
Fitz: “Dead Flowers” always struck me as sort of a country song, and that’s unquestionably a top-10 Rolling Stones song for me. “Wild Horses” too? You know I share your love of the Stones, so I don’t doubt that Mick, Keef and the boys could have been the kings of Nashville.
And speaking of Nashville, my upset special is Tennessee getting a road win over Detroit. DeMarco Murray has another big day, and Delanie Walker finds the end zone at least once. Book it, Beller.