Love/Hate for Week 1
Is the National Fantasy Football League upon us?
I know a lot of people think Richard Sherman is crazy. Very talented athlete, engaging personality, but the kind of crazy that makes me as amazed as you longtime readers that he's in fact not one of the women I used to date.
Did you see the interview he did recently with NBC's Josh Elliott? If you missed it, here's what he said.
"When the fantasy football numbers need to be what they need to be, then the league needs to do what it needs to do to get it done, y'know, and this is a money-driven league. So whatever is gonna sell the tickets is gonna sell the tickets."
As you can imagine I had a very strong reaction to this quote.
"Damn it," I thought. "They're onto us."
Oh yeah. Richard Sherman might be crazy but he's also very, very, smart. We had a good run, folks, but the jig, as they say, is up.
He's 100 percent correct. You know why I didn't do a lot of baseball this spring? I was secretly chairing the NFL rules committee and holding weekly meetings with Roger Goodell. Lotta proposals back and forth, but it's now a fantasy football world and Richard Sherman is gonna have to learn to live in it.
Now, rules to help increase offense for fantasy football players is what we got done this year, because we didn't want everyone to freak out. We were gonna just roll them out slowly, one or two new ones each year, but now that Sherman has blown our cover, might as well come clean. Here's what we're gonna implement in the next year to make NFL play even more fantasy-friendly.
1. No more kickers. Someone tell the Saints we haven't implemented this rule yet. They literally didn't have a kicker until after Labor Day. All-Pro, and official kicker of the 06010 podcast, Blair Walsh is a longtime fantasy player himself. Even he takes kickers in the last round.
2. Official establishment of the Committee For The Prevention Of Running Back Committees. Teams will be allowed to start and play only one running back in a game.
3. Changing the injury designation system from Probable, Questionable, Doubtful and Out to to following system.
• Will definitely play.
• Will play, he's just being lazy in practice.
• Will play, it's just a sprain and he's pretty tough.
• Will play, but only as a decoy, he's not that tough.
• Will play, but he can barely move so he's just gonna be a decoy, seriously he's not sniffing the ball.
• Will play, if by "play," you mean standing on the sideline wearing his uniform the whole game.
• Won't play, but we are pretending he will play to throw off the other team.
• Won't play, he's not that tough.
• Won't play, he's not that good and we finally realized it.
4. Penalties will be enforced as normal except on a scoring play. If a penalty occurs on a scoring play, the touchdown stands no matter what. Touchdowns are not allowed to come off a player's, er ... team's scoreboard.
5. If a running back fails to get in from the 1-yard line, he must be given three more downs to get in. No other plays or players may be used. If the running back fails to score after four tries, he is given a new set of downs.
6. Game cannot end on a kneel-down. Nor can they "run out the clock." Teams must attempt to score on every down.
7. Players cannot leave the game because of injury. Once on the field, players must play the entire game. To help prevent players leaving because of injury, tackling is no longer allowed.
8. Only certain players are allowed to score. Backup tight ends, fullbacks, fourth-string slot wide receivers ... none of them are allowed to touch the ball. One quarterback, one running back, one tight end and two wide receivers for each team must be designated as the "scorers" and if a player other than those five scores, it doesn't count.
9. Field size changed to Canadian Football League rules. The 109-yard touchdown pass? Coming soon. You'll be able to enjoy them from your 55-yard-line seats!
10. Seriously, no kickers. Don't even think about it.
Over the next decade, these rules will all be implemented and I'll take commissioner Goodell's place as I am currently being groomed as his replacement. I mean, it makes sense. It's a money-driven league and when the fantasy football numbers need to be what they need to be, the league needs to do what it needs to do to get it done. Duh.
The season is here my friends and I am excited to be back. Thanks for coming along. A few first day of class notes about the premise of Love/Hate. Don't be one of those people who rips open a package and tries to put something together, gets frustrated and wastes an hour before finally reading the instructions after it's bent and scraped and now can't be used.
This is not a start/sit column. If you want to know whether I think you should play one guy over another guy, please check my rankings. And now I am ranking 200 players for the week, so you can compare a tight end to a running back or even a quarterback to a wide receiver if you play with an "OP" slot. (Hint; you're probably starting the quarterback.)
Rather, this is a column of players I think will exceed or fall short of general expectations. In most cases they are players I have ranked higher or lower than the consensus of my fellow ESPN rankers, in some cases we are all high or low on someone but it's not a typical rank for that player.
So yeah, just because I "hate" Cam Newton this week and "love" Carson Palmer does not mean I am recommending benching Cam for Palmer. I have Cam ranked ahead of Palmer this week, but feel this is a down week for Newton and if you'd normally consider Palmer, this is a good week to do so.
Finally, know that this column (and my rankings) are done with ESPN standard scoring and 10-team leagues in mind. Leagues where most rosters in the league have very good teams and you are deciding between a lot of good options, especially this week with no byes. I know many people play in deeper leagues or with different types of scoring, but this is the most popular version of the game on ESPN, and that's who keeps the lights on at my house, so you know, mama didn't raise no dummy.
I'm always happy to hear feedback on either how this column or my rankings can be more helpful to you, so always feel free to reach out on social media, links at the bottom of this column. Bonus points if you spell everything correctly.
Quarterbacks I love for Week 1
Colin Kaepernick, 49ers: Averaged more than 18 fantasy points a game last season when Michael Crabtree was in the lineup, and averaged more than 21 fantasy points per game when facing a team in the bottom half of pass defenses. Against Dallas, he gets both. The Cowboys might have the worst defense in the NFL this season and I doubt they'll be able to generate a rush against Kap (I call him Kap), who''ll have time to go through his progressions and find holes to exploit. A strong chance to be a top-5 QB this week. Hell, after Sunday I might kiss his biceps.
Jay Cutler, Bears: He'll work out of the shotgun for at least 75 percent of the snaps, negating much of the Bills' pass rush. And in a small sample size last season, Cutler actually played well against pressure. If EJ Manuel looks anything like he did in the preseason -- you know, the look that led to the Bills saying, "Uh, we need to give millions of dollars to Kyle Orton. Like, right now!" -- then I expect some nice field position for Chicago. Not for nothing, but Brandon Marshall is 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. Alshon Jeffrey is 6-3, 216 pounds. The average height of the Bills' starting secondary, which no longer includes Jairus Byrd, is 5-11. Just saying. Cutler. That. Meat! I know. Old reference, wrong quarterback, whatever. It's Week 1. Shaking off the rust. Let's move along.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks: The always dangerous recommendation of a Thursday night player, because if he doesn't do well and you read this on a Friday, it looks awfully bad. But speaking of dangerous, gimme some @DangeRussWilson this week. Been playing lights out this preseason, traditionally plays very well at home and his mobility will help negate Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews and the Packers' pass rush. Percy Harvin is healthy . . . top-10 week coming for "the man."
If you're desperate: It won't always be pretty, but Geno Smith (Jets) is going to put up fantasy points this season and it starts at home against the Raiders. Geno is a top-20 play with upside . . . Carson Palmer (Cardinals) has a lot of nice weapons and will be throwing it a ton. Don't see the Chargers putting up a lot of resistance, either.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 1
Cam Newton, Panthers: Bad ribs that will limit both his passing and his rushing ability, and Cam's fantasy value is dependent on his ability (or willingness) to get hit -- which I don't think he wants a lot of on Sunday. Should be usable, but not a top-10 play to me.
Andy Dalton, Bengals: In his career against the Ravens, Dalton has nearly twice as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (6). He has completed only 54 percent of his attempts against Baltimore, compared with 62 percent against all other opponents. The Bengals' new offense will feature more running and it's worth pointing out here that, despite the big games he put up last season, Dalton isn't very good. Not a top-15 play for me this week.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Another guy who winds up outside the top 15, because Cleveland's defense is legit. Averaging just over 12 points a game last season against the Browns, Big Ben has just six touchdown passes in his past four games against them. They'll be going no-huddle a lot and I do expect Pittsburgh to try some funky stuff with Dri Archer, but ultimately, there are better bets at quarterback this week.
Running backs I love in Week 1
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks: Wait, Berry. I'm sorry. Did you mean MarSHAWN Lynch? The same guy you've been trashing all preseason? The same guy you picked in "Love/Hate" to be the first-round pick most likely to bust? The very same one. Still stand by that; it's a long season, we will see how it goes. However, this should be a good game for the man they call Beast. Already a tough tackle (only Adrian Peterson had more yards after contact last season), Lynch gets a Packers team that is without B.J. Raji in the middle and gave up the most yards after contact per rush last season. Might be a good week to use Lynch for our Gridiron Challenge "Player Elimination" game (a very fun game I highly recommend, incidentally).
Montee Ball, Broncos: The Year of Montee Ball starts Sunday. If you watched the Colts play defense this preseason, you know they have not tackled well. They freelance too much versus the run, they don't always seal the edge on the outside. As our team at Scouts Inc. notes, they are inconsistent in their gap discipline. Though in fairness, aren't we all? These are all things Ball can and will attack. Top-5 play this week.
Frank Gore, 49ers: Apparently, my hatred for the Cowboys' defense is much greater than my hatred for Gore's age (31) and usage. Probably the highest I will have him ranked all season.
If you're desperate Last season, the Giants gave up the second-most receiving yards to running backs and nothing I've seen so far this year suggests they've solved that issue, meaning both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell are legit No. 2 running back options even in non-PPR leagues . . . For all the "this is the year for Mark Ingram" talk -- an annual ritual I enjoy. What is this? The third straight year? The fourth? -- the fact of the matter is the Saints are a pass-first team and Pierre Thomas is the passing-down back. A solid flex play in a high-scoring game with Atlanta . . . I know, you'll hold your nose when you click "submit" but Shonn Greene, not Bishop Sankey, is going to get the majority of the Titans' carries against the Chiefs, and I can see him eking out enough value to be flex-worthy.
Running backs I hate in Week 1
Doug Martin, Buccaneers: Easily the pick that could most blow up in my face, but I'm not crazy about Martin this week. Chances are you don't have better options, as he was drafted as a top-15 pick overall, but I don't see him scoring like one on Sunday. He had no touchdowns in the two games against the Panthers in 2012 (his breakout year), and Carolina allowed only four rushing touchdowns all of last season, tied for fewest in the league. With an offensive line that is still a work in progress, Martin may have a comeback season, but it won't start this week.
Bernard Pierce, Ravens: Been banged-up this preseason, averaged just 2.9 yards per rush last season, and this should be a fairly low-scoring game. The rare time that two first names are not a crowd pleaser; this is a bad matchup with the Bengals.
Bishop Sankey, Titans: See Desperation: Greene, Shonn. He is not the starter. Repeat after me: He is not the starter.
Trent Richardson, Colts: If he does anything in this game, it will be because he was active in the passing game or he gets lucky on an oh-by-the-way short touchdown run, but he won't earn it between the tackles. Since becoming a Colt, he has averaged just 3 yards a rush between the tackles (only four qualified running backs were worse), and the Broncos have a much-improved defense.
Wide receivers I love in Week 1
Antonio Brown, Steelers: In case you thought about getting cute and benching him because of Joe Haden's shadow . . . don't. Don't bench him and don't get cute. Although that will be tough for some of you. I've got the most adorable audience evvvvah! Look at that smile. Who is cuter than you? Who is? No one, that's who. Come here, you. (I believe it was Hemingway who said if you can't write something meaningful, just suck up to your audience.) Brown averaged more than seven receptions, almost 90 yards and a touchdown against the Browns last season. I you own Antonio Brown, you're starting him.
Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos: Speaking of Brown, the guy he played with last year makes his debut with Denver and it'll be a good one. Can you tell I'm not a believer in the Colts' defense? I don't see Indy generating the kind of pass rush it did last season against Peyton Manning, who will exploit a secondary that can be beat deep, and with no Wes Welker there, Mr. Sanders will be one of the beneficiaries.
Michael Floyd, Cardinals: Can't see the Chargers generating any kind of real pass rush, allowing time for Palmer to find his terrific wide receivers against an unimpressive secondary. Top-20 play for me.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings: The Year of Cordarrelle Patterson starts now. I know, I also just declared it the Year of Montee Ball. Whatever. This is no time for logic. We know Gregg Williams likes to blitz and when you do, you're gonna open yourself up to big plays. Meet Mr. Big Play. Yes, that's his given name.
If you're desperate: Last season, a third of trendy sleeper Justin Hunter's 18 receptions with the Titans came on deep passes (thrown 15-plus yards downfield), including all four of his touchdowns. The Chiefs allowed 11 deep touchdown passes last season, third-most in the league. He'll be boom or bust, but I could see him getting loose for one . . . I could see Cecil Shorts III having a nice game as the Jaguars are going to have to put up points to keep up with Philly . . . Surprisingly underdrafted this year, Marques Colston will be a high-volume pass-catcher for the Saints in a high-scoring game against the Falcons.
Wide receivers I hate in Week 1:
DeSean Jackson, Washington: Last season, only A.J. Green had more deep touchdowns than Jackson, who is usually big-play dependent for elite fantasy value. Last season, the Texans allowed the fewest deep receptions (and second-fewest yards off those receptions). And with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney bringing pressure against a -- oh, let's call it an "inconsistent" offensive line, I don't see RG III getting a lot of time for deep plays to develop.
T.Y. Hilton, Colts: Another call that could easily blow up in my face, as he is a big play waiting to happen. Massively talented, he is inconsistent as far as fantasy value and that's not likely to change, given all the weapons Indy has. So there will be a handful of huge games this year for Hilton; it's just trying to figure out when they will occur that's the challenge. The Broncos have a very good defense this season and will be able to bring pressure, which means Andrew Luck will be looking more for Reggie Wayne and Coby Fleener. I have Hilton outside my top 20.
Mike Wallace, Dolphins: I actually think this is a comeback year for Wallace, as the Dolphins will move him all over the field, a lot of pre-snap motion, trying to find different ways to use him. But I also don't think it's Brian Hartline that the Patriots will moor on Revis Island, you know? Not a top-20 guy this week.
Tight ends I love in Week 1
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Rob Gronkowski, Patriots: Limited snaps, listed as questionable on Wednesday, whatevs. If Gronk is active, you're playing Gronk. Gronk will be active.
Dennis Pitta, Ravens: Traditionally plays well against Cincy, which struggles to cover tight ends. In his past three games against Cincinnati, Pitta has averaged more than six receptions and 66 yards with two touchdowns. And that was before Gary Kubiak, the tight end's best friend, showed up for a team that starts the season with its best running back suspended.
Zach Ertz, Eagles: Expected to be a heavy part of the offense this season, especially in the red zone (in the final five weeks of last season, only Jimmy Graham was targeted more inside an opponent's 10-yard line). The Jaguars struggled against tight ends last season (tied for third-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends). That's not changing Sunday.
If you're desperate: As my friend Mike Clay noted in this excellent Insider article, in the 10 games that Jay Cutler played the majority of snaps, Martellus Bennett was the eighth-best tight end in fantasy. He was 17th with Josh McCown. Good matchup for him against Buffalo . . . Antonio Gates is, as of this writing, still healthy and facing a Cardinals team that gave up the most yards, receptions, touchdowns and fantasy points to opposing tight ends last season. And right now, they are ravaged by injuries.
Tight ends I hate in Week 1
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings: I believe in a bounce-back year for Rudolph but I'm not sure it starts this week, as the blitz-happy Rams should make him stay in to block more. There's always a chance he scores and he'll be a safety valve for when the Rams do send pressure, but St. Louis has a very good defense that allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends last season. I have Rudolph outside my top 10.
Charles Clay, Dolphins: Just 43 yards total in two games against New England last season, I don't expect Clay to be a featured part of the new Dolphins offense.
Defense/special teams I love in Week 1
Detroit Lions: At home, "Monday Night Football" . . . did you see the Giants' offense this preseason? Me neither. Not sure it exists. New York's offensive line is no match for Detroit's front seven.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Past six games against the Browns, Pittsburgh hasn't allowed more than 20 points, and averages 13.3 fantasy points per game. All due respect, but Brian Hoyer ain't the guy to turn that streak around, especially without Josh Gordon.
If you're desperate: Just because it's obvious doesn't mean it's not true. I like my chances at home with a rookie quarterback traveling east for his NFL debut in a 1 p.m. ET game, so gimme the New York Jets as a spot start . . . Ditto for the Philadelphia Eagles, who open their season at home against Jacksonville. Jags are going to be better this year, but still not great.
Defense/special teams I hate in Week 1
San Francisco 49ers: If you drafted them, chances are you are starting them, as you're not dropping them, and you're also not carrying two defenses. But this is a defense that's had both injury and off-field issues, and it's definitely a weaker group compared to last season's. I expect a high-scoring game here, as Dallas does have a good offense with a lot of weapons. The Niners are outside my top 10 this week.
Arizona Cardinals: Another team riding more on reputation than the players they will be able to put out on the field, they are really banged-up and going against a pretty good offense that allowed just the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing defenses last season. Not a top-10 play, either, this week.
FANTASY TOP HEADLINES
- Harris: Denard Robinson's future value
- Matthew Berry: Love/Hate and advice on giving advice
- Fantasy Football Week 12 wide receiver rankings
- Karabell: Week 12 flex rankings
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