You get a feeling when the beat drops back to its proper place and the groove resumes. This is it. Week 1. NFL Beat fantasy geeks, we resume now.
First, let us bow our heads in solemn reverence to the Fantasy Gods. This is not a prayer, it is a very respectful recognition of these powerful, omnipresent beings. May they be good to us this season. May our harvest be plentiful with exclamatory emails about sleeper dominance and Monday night one-point swindles.
We now raise our heads and face the battlefield before us. This is "The NFL Beat."
Colts at Bears
A new-look Bears offense will come out growling like an idiot camper just awoke them from hibernation. I expect a lot of WR Brandon Marshall in his Bears debut, and expect a Top 10 performance from QB Jay Cutler. The Bears RBs have a dream matchup, according to my system, versus the Colts this week which bodes well for Matt Forte. I have a sneaky suspicion that it will be new addition Michael Bush finding the end zone, though.
Best Flex Play: Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts: I expect the Colts to get down and abandon the run. Wayne is rookie QB Andrew Luck's favorite target and Indy's undoubted team leader.
Redskins at Saints
It won't be an easy first game for Redskins QB Robert Griffin III, but the good news is the Saints do represent a decent matchup for opposing fantasy QBs, at least for now. If you came here for advice on which Redskins RB to start, leave. You have not listened to a word I have ever said. HC Mike Shanahan hates you and will be your fantasy demise if you fall pray to his ever-scheming RB escapades. Saints QB Drew Brees will have a monster game, and I expect one TD each for WRs Devery Henderson and Marques Colston along with one scoring snatch from the best TE in the league, Jimmy Graham.
Best Flex Play: As mentioned, I like Devery Henderson this week. He caught a TD pass in Week 1 last season, and will be more involved this week than we have ever seen before as the sole Z receiver in the absence of Robert Meachem who has moved on to San Diego.
Rams at Lions
As I rub my magic lamp I see Lions RB Kevin Smith having a few great games before getting hurt again, and this is one of them. If he's on your roster, you should be starting him against this Rams defense. Rams RB Steven Jackson should see plenty of action as usual, and a Top 10 performance should be expected as neither rookie Isaiah Pead or Daryl Richardson have shown to be viable threats to Jackson's every-down duties this preseason. Lions WR Calvin Johnson will have an absolute monster game, and is my No. 1 rated WR of the week.
Best Flex Play: I don't like one. The players you should have starting in this game are Steven Jackson, Kevin Smith, Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettrigrew and possibly Titus Young. If you are looking for a deep play this week, look elsewhere.
Patriots at Titans
Pats QB Tom Brady might throw four TDs in this game, and it's anyone's guess who they'll end up going to. I really like Aaron Hernandez this week as I think he can be utilized in the most ways to create mismatches. Pats HC Bill Belichick loves creating the mismatch and game planning to take the opposition's best weapon away. As Titans QB Jake Locker begins his first season starter, Belichick will try to take Titans RB Chris Johnson out of the game plan and put the game on Locker's shoulders to win.
Best Flex Play: Titans rookie WR Kendall Wright will get lots of looks as Locker's favorite preseason target, and with the absence of Kenny Britt, I see Wright getting into the end zone or at least breaking off one of his signature explosive plays Sunday. The Titans could get behind really early and could have to take to the air.
Dolphins at Texans
Texans WR Andre Johnson told the Chronicle at Texans camp that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, the players in the league know who's elite. Johnson will remind everyone this week that he is among these ranks against a Dolphins team that has shipped their best defensive back in CB Vontae Davis off to Indy for some reason. Texans RB Arian Foster is a game-time decision with knee soreness, so owners of backup RB Ben Tate will want to take notice. Tate went off for a 135 total yards against Miami early in 2011 during a game in which Foster also played.
Best Flex Play: Texans rookie WR Keshawn Martin impressed me mightily when running drills at the NFL Combine, and has apparently impressed the coaching staff in Houston as well. Martin has solidified a role as the No. 3 WR in Houston, and should be owned in 12-team leagues. He was targeted virtually as much as any Texans player this preseason, and I think you can count on Martin for at least a seven-point game in standard leagues.
Falcons at Chiefs
The talk of the preseason has seemingly been the Falcons passing attack. I believe that Kansas City, if healthy, might give them trouble as a defensive backfield, but they are not. CB Brandon Flowers is still in a walking boot and S Kendrick Lewis is banged up. Falcons WR Julio Jones went off on the Ravens starting defense in preseason Week 1 for 109 yards and a TD. In one quarter. Things could get ugly quick.
Best Flex Play: Chiefs RB Peyton Hillis is still considered a flex play at this point, and to me, that is crazy. There are actually only a few running backs I would start in front of Hillis this week even though he faces a tough run matchup in Atlanta. Here is a bold prediction: Hillis will finish 2012 with more fantasy points than Jamaal Charles, who was generally drafted five rounds ahead of him.
Jaguars at Vikings
Well, it looks like Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is more than just a little "iffy" to go this week, and if you are an AP owner, hopefully you drafted his backup in Toby Gerhart, who I see having a 12-15 fantasy point outing.
Best Flex Play: Justin Blackmon, WR, Jaguars: I expect Blackmon to make his presence known in his NFL debut and continue to build on the rapport he has had with a surprisingly improved second-year QB in Blaine Gabbert.
Eagles at Browns
Eagles RB LeSean McCoy will unleash a fantasy monster in Cleveland that makes him my projected No. 1 fantasy RB of Week 1. Eagles QB Mike Vick has been fitted with a kevlar vest that is guaranteed to keep him healthy, and I can guarantee you that the man who made that guarantee does not understand the meaning of the word "guarantee." I still expect a relatively good game out of Vick, but my expectations are tempered. The only Browns player anyone should be starting in 12-team or smaller leagues this week is rookie RB Trent Richardson.
Best Flex Play: Look elsewhere.
Panthers at Bucs
I'm getting the distinct feeling that Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart (foot) will not play Sunday against division rival Tampa Bay, leaving the door open for fellow RB Deangelo Williams to run amok on the league's most friendly fantasy matchup for opposing runners. Panthers QB Cam Newton is "The Prototype," and I have him ranked as my No. 1 fantasy QB for Week 1.
Best Flex Play: The guys you likely already have penciled in on your starting roster for this game are the only players I would recommend inserting into a starting lineup. Those are Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin, Cam Newton, Steve Smith, Deangelo Williams and Greg Olsen.
Seahawks at Cardinals
Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch is already reminding fantasy owners how brutally excruciating this game can be on our hearts and minds. Lynch will be a late game-time decision, and hopefully his owners have secured the services of Robert Turbin, his (very sick) rookie back up. Rookie Seahawks QB Russell Wilson may have to be introducing himself to the NFC West without the services of Beast Mode. On the Cardinals side of the ball, I expect pain. They are awful.
Best Flex Play: Turbin if Lynch is hurt, and or limited. Otherwise, look elsewhere.
49ers at Packers
The game of the week. It will be hard to expect too big a game out of new Packers RB Cedric Benson against the league's worst matchup for opposing fantasy RBs, but I think he finds the end zone once, and will serve as a decent RB3. We all know about QB Aaron Rodgers, and while I do not like 49ers TE Vernon Davis as a season-long option, I think he goes big versus a linebacker and safety group that has struggled in coverage as of recent seasons.
Best Flex Play: Randy Moss. Straight cash, homie. The new addition to the 49ers will be manning the X all game and will get plenty of veteran opportunities against Grenn Bay's young corners that have forced an aging Charles Woodson to move inside to safety.
Steelers at Broncos
Welcome back to the NFL, Peyton Manning. Now you will have the Steelers defense trying to bust your Frankenstein neck wide open. I downgrade all Bronco fantasy options this week, including Manning, due to the matchup. On the Steelers side, WR Mike Wallace will be on a "snap count" after reporting to training camp just over a week ago, leaving WR Antonio Brown in position to post a very nice game for his owners.
Best Flex Play: Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Steelers: Dwyer has looked strongest out of the motley crew that has been doing their best to resemble an RB unit in Rashard Mendenhall's absence, and I like him to get plenty of run against the league's 12th-best matchup for opposing RBs.
Bengals at Ravens
I know the matchup is brutal, but I can't help but think that Bengals WR A.J. Green continues his ascension to fantasy dominance this week with a big game. I have never like new Bengals RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis, and certainly do not this week. Ravens RB Ray Rice is always a must-start, but I see his QB, Joe Flacco, struggling in this division matchup against the ninth-worst unit to face as a fantasy QB.
Best Flex Play: This is a deep sleeper kind of play, but I like Bengals WR Andrew Hawkins. Everyone I spoke with at Bengals camp sung his praises, claiming he was the reason that Cincinnati let Jordan Shipley go. Hawkins is a smallish, over-the-top threat that may be able to find windows in the space created underneath by vertical field stretchers like Green and fellow WR Armon Binns.
Chargers at Raiders
I see a lot of fantasy scoring in this game, and I see a lot of Raiders RB Darren McFadden. He hasn't made it through a season healthy yet in five years, and it's impossible to imagine he will this year. Let's just enjoy the man's sickness while we can. He should go bananas. I am looking for a huge game out of Chargers TE Antonio Gates as well, who is just now finally "healthy" after dealing with plantar fascia for the better part of three years.
Best Flex Play: With the addition of WR Robert Meachem, many forget that Malcolm Floyd is still a big part of the Chargers offense and stands to gain more fantasy relevance in the absence of Vincent Jackson. I like Floyd this week to provide owners with a seven-point floor, worthy of a safe flex-position play with upside.
Jets at Bills
I like one player in this game. One. Bills RB Fred Jackson will light the joint on fire. I also love both defenses as I see plenty of picks and opportunities for big special teams plays.
Best Flex Play: Yea, right.
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