Last week, our fantasy matchup suggestions were mostly on the money, with the exceptions highlighting things that owners will need to look out for when analyzing 2008 performance as opposed to looking at the way teams played in 2007.
As we predicted, players like Chris Perry, Ryan Grant, Joseph Addai, David Garrard and Bernard Berrian were disappointments in Week 1, while Thomas Jones enjoyed a nice day against the spacious Dolphins run defense. However, some of the players we touted for success struggled, and it's worth looking at the specific reasons why.
Last year, Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes was targeted less frequently (85 attempts) than veteran Hines Ward (113 attempts), but Holmes also missed three games; with Ward aging, it seemed likely that Holmes would assume the mantle of No. 1 receiver this year. The Texans stuck ace cornerback Fred Bennett on Holmes, leaving free-agent acquisition Jacques Reeves on Ward. Ward responded by catching all six of the throws in his direction and scoring two touchdowns, while Holmes only went 2-for-4. If Holmes continues to draw the attention of No. 1 cornerbacks, Ward could see a resurgence this year.
Another place where corners made a difference was in New Orleans, where Saints second-round pick Tracy Porter and free-agent signee Randall Gay started in place of the injured Mike McKenzie and the woeful Jason David. Their performance on the outside was a significant improvement, and limited star Buccaneers wide receiver Joey Galloway to 56 receiving yards on the day. If they can stay at this level, the Saints would go from being an automatic matchup to exploit to a potentially effective defense.
Of course, change isn't always good. Take a look at the Raiders, who brought in DeAngelo Hall with the idea that the bombastic ex-Falcons cornerback would create a dynamite tandem with Nnamdi Asomugha. While Asomugha held up his end of the bargain, the Broncos matched up Eddie Royal against Hall and downright embarrassed him on national television.
As each team defense gets on the field for another game this week, we'll be monitoring these improvements and declines across the league in order to make the best matchup suggestions for each week. As far as Week 2 goes, the best matchup of the week is on the turf in St. Louis, where one of the league's elite receivers will get his chance to shine.
Plaxico Burress (WR, Giants, Plus-15 Percent): While Burress was just rewarded for his 2007 heroics with a fresh new contract, he should be able to celebrate against the Rams come Sunday. The Rams were 27th in the league against No. 1 receivers in 2007, and that was before injuries riddled their secondary this year. Furthermore, the receivers they had the most trouble with were big, physical receivers: Marques Colston, Braylon Edwards and Larry Fitzgerald all went over 100 receiving yards against the Rams. Expect Plax to do the same.
Ike Hilliard (WR, Buccaneers, Plus-12 Percent): Remember, we're not saying here that Ike Hilliard will be the second-best receiver in football in Week 2, but merely that Ike Hilliard's matchup and expected performance, relative to what his performance would be against an average opponent, is the second-best of any wide receiver in football this upcoming week. Hilliard plays a Falcons team that was worst in the league against No. 2 receivers last year; the Falcons were torched by possession receivers like Kevin Walter, Amani Toomer and Dennis Northcutt last year. While Hilliard's not going to have a huge game, he's a useful last guy on the starting roster for teams beset by injury or poor matchups.
Bryant Johnson (WR, 49ers, Minus-9 Percent): While the 49ers' situation at wide receiver is still murky, it appears that Johnson is the top wideout they have for now. Against the Seahawks, that means a lot of Marcus Trufant, who should be wholly capable of swallowing Johnson's fantasy chances whole. We recommend you avoid Johnson altogether this week.
Lee Evans (WR, Bills, Minus-9 Percent): Despite us saying the same thing about Trufant's matchup with Lee Evans last week, the speedy Bills wideout managed to pull out a 100-yard game in Buffalo's surprising victory over Seattle. It doesn't get any easier this week, though, as Evans goes up against Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis. Last year, Mathis held Evans to two catches and 19 yards; Evans might do better this year, but it won't be by much.
Marshawn Lynch (RB, Bills, Plus-12 Percent): Instead, expect the Bills to hitch their wagons to the pride of the East Bay. Lynch missed the game against the Jaguars last year, but Jacksonville's rush defense was 22nd in the league last year and didn't look very good against Tennessee last week. Lynch also has the benefit of getting almost all of his team's carries, which matters close to the goal line.
Edgerrin James (RB, Cardinals, Plus-11 Percent): After Thomas Jones' performance against the Dolphins last week, the Fins travel West to Arizona, where Edgerrin James should be able to pick up steady yardage against a mediocre defense and mop up the extra yards late. The biggest fear here is that Tim Hightower might vulture some of his points, not that the Cardinals won't be able to run the ball.
Larry Johnson (RB, Chiefs, Plus-11 Percent): There's no nice way to put it ;Johnson looked terrible against the Patriots, hitting the hole with all the force and agility of Shaun Alexander, circa 2007. Fortunately, he gets to play the Raiders this week, and while the team didn't allow a 100-yard rusher when they played the Broncos, it was because Mike Shanahan split carries between three different backs. The team's three halfbacks combined for 110 yards and three touchdowns, and would've run more had the Broncos' passing attack not been so successful.
Steve Slaton (RB, Texans, Minus-17 Percent): Whoever gets the ball for the Texans may end up having a very nice season by the time things are said and done, honest. They'll just have to start working on it next week. While it looks like Slaton will start, he goes up against the Ravens. That fact is enough to put nearly anyone on your bench, let alone a guy making his first NFL start.
Joseph Addai (RB, Colts, Minus-11 Percent): We're not picking on the guy, we swear. He just has a really tough start to the season: First, Addai played the Bears, and this week, he's up against an even better run defense in Minnesota. Brian Westbrook, a somewhat similar back, had the best game of any runner against the Vikings in 2007 by virtue of scoring two touchdowns against them; even the great Westbrook, though, could only muster 92 yards from scrimmage. Addai's mild concussion won't help matters.
Jamal Lewis (RB, Browns, Minus-7 Percent): Lewis could do absolutely nothing against the Steelers last year; in two games, he had a combined 27 carries for 70 yards. That won't change on Sunday night, although it's likely that Lewis will pick up a short-yardage TD.
Carson Palmer (QB, Bengals, Minus-14 Percent): After the Titans stifled David Garrard & Co. last week, they get to face one of the league's elite passing attacks in Cincinnati. Palmer did have a very nice game last season against the Titans, throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns, but that was while All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was out of the lineup. With Haynesworth around again, the Bengals should find it much more difficult going through the air.
Jay Cutler (QB, Broncos, Minus-10 Percent): Cutler looked great in Week 1, but the level of difficulty goes up a notch this week when he faces the Chargers. Sure, Shawne Merriman is out, but the Chargers still have an impressive group of pass-rushers to make Cutler's life hell. He averaged only nine fantasy points a game last year against the Chargers; don't expect much more this time around.
Matt Ryan (QB, Falcons, Minus-7 Percent): Ryan will be facing a new defense in the Tampa 2 scheme of the Buccaneers, and while no one doubted his poise in the pocket last week, he didn't have a particularly great game after his first throw. Expect Ryan to take a step backwards this week.
Aaron Rodgers (QB, Packers, Plus-12 Percent): One guy whom we expect to have another nice day is Rodgers, whose Packers travel to the turf of Ford Field for an NFC North matchup. Granted, Rodgers is not Brett Favre, but in Favre's only meaningful game against the Lions last year, he threw for 381 yards and three scores. Rodgers won't do that well, but 300 yards is an entirely appropriate expectation.
Eli Manning (QB, Giants, Plus-9 Percent): Eli picked apart the Redskins defense with short- and medium-length throws in Week 1, and he'll be able to do the same to a Rams team that simply can't cover these Giants wide receivers. He'll also, though, be able to throw in the occasional bomb to Plaxico Burress.
Kurt Warner (QB, Cardinals, Plus-8 Percent): Miami's pass defense may be superior to its run defense, but not by much. The Dolphins have neither the cover corners to stop Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald nor the pass rush to keep them honest. Warner should have a huge day.
Antonio Gates (TE, Chargers, Plus-14 Percent): Yes, obviously, you'll play Gates no matter what. This week, though, he goes up against the Broncos, who had the worst pass defense against tight ends in football last year. That's even after accounting for having to play Gates twice. Injuries or not, get him in your lineup.
Dante Rosario (TE, Panthers, Minus-12 Percent): Excited that you picked up Rosario off the waiver wire last week after his huge game against the Chargers? You won't be after this week. Rosario faces one of the league's best cover linebackers in Lance Briggs; he'll be held in check this week.