While the AFC North is traditionally known for its rugged defenses, this week’s matchups provide some juicy matchups. Here, we go through each team in the division, and explore their top players’ chances in this, the most wonderful week of the year – NFL FOOTBALL IS BACK!!!!!!
BALTIMORE RAVENS at Denver Broncos
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Normally, Flacco is an undependable fantasy quarterback, playing his best football during the postseason, which is unfortunately no use to us degenerates. This week though, a potential shootout, he can easily function as a QB1, provided he can land some big passes down the field. With Denver’s defense looking weaker than last season, there’s a good chance of that happening.
Ray Rice is perennially one of the NFL’s most consistent and successful running backs. This season looks to be no different, in spite of Rice being frequently undervalued in drafts this offseason. Rice looks like a lock for 20-plus touches in this game. With key components of Denver’s defense either missing or not fully healthy (including Von Miller, Champ Bailey, Derek Wolfe and fax-fiasco victim Elvis Dumervil), Rice should be one of fantasy’s top performers this week.
While many are expecting Pierce’s expanded role to lead to fantasy relevance this season, the likelihood is that he’ll be more important to his real life team than your fantasy team. Avoid him unless he’s a desperation play, until we see what his usage will look like.
Smith will serve as Flacco’s primary weapon this season – barring checkdowns to Rice. Unfortunately, his limited route running mean in most instances, he’ll have to gain his yards (and points) in chunks. Luckily for his owners, he was able to do that repeatedly to the Broncos in the postseason, with a stunning 6-catch, 2 TD, 98 yard performance. While expecting him to match this is ambitious, he should have another nice game here.
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Jones has done nothing to suggest that his elite return skills can help him become a consistent wide receiver. Marlon Brown is a name to look out for to potentially overtake Jones as the Ravens’ #2 WR at some point this season.
Broncos tight ends
Due to Dennis Pitta’s injury, this is a murky situation at best. Dallas Clark has little to nothing to offer, and Ed Dickson is working his way back to fitness. There will be better options on your waiver wire, this two players are just too risky.
Tucker had a hugely impressive rookie season, and kickers playing in Denver always get a nice boost, particularly if your league awards bonuses for longer kicks.
Never start a D/ST against Peyton Manning.
CINCINNATTI BENGALS at Chicago Bears
The Bengals have gone to incredible lengths to provide Dalton with more weapons this season, and many believe he will have nobody to blame but himself if he doesn’t perform. This week, though, he may be able to blame Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Dalton does not look like a good bet to put up #1 QB numbers this week.
Ostensibly the team’s #1 RB (on the depth chart at least), The Law Firm may get the start, and more carries, but his straight-ahead running style doesn’t look like it will be productive against the Bears this week. Add in the fact that he was outshone on the goal line during preseason, and it looks like his position atop the depth chart is in serious jeopardy.
Bernard will be running behind the same stellar offensive line as BGJE this week, but look for him to make more use of his opportunities, and his ability in space. He should receive several targets in the pass game on screens and dump-offs too, and, as alluded to before, he was a revelation in the preseason with 3 TDs from the 1-yard line. He could be a star this season.
AJ Green is simply a sensational football player. He is going up against a pair of All-Pro DBs, but his remarkable ability, combined with the new weapons opening space for him, mean his potential for points mean he should never be doubted. Always, always play your studs.
Until he can prove his is fully healthy, Sanu can’t begin to be considered an option in fantasy. Then, he has to battle for targets with more talented players ahead of him. He could develop into a bye-week replacement at some point, but he’s not there yet.
The Bengals drafted Eifert in the first round to give them an added dimension in their passing game. He provides another exceptional red-zone target for Dalton, and could prove an invaluable target across the middle of the field for the weak-armed Dalton. However, the Bears D is notoriously difficult for tight ends to produce against (best in the league vs. TE last season), and Eifert is a long shot to buck that trend in his first professional game.
Gresham is likely to see the field quite a lot this week, but how many targets he sees is another matter. He may see a few 3rd down targets, and perhaps one in the red zone, he’s not a viable option this week.
With Cincinnatti’s offense improving, Nugent may get some opportunities this week.
The Bengals boast arguably the best defensive line in football. While looking improved in the preseason, Chicago’s offensive line has long been a question mark. Throw in Jay Cutler’s erratic decision making and the Bengals D/ST has the potential to put up huge numbers this week. Start them with confidence.
Miami Dolphins at CLEVELAND BROWNS
After a couple of impressive games to start the preseason, the Brandon Weeden hype train picked up some steam. Expectations have since fallen to a more reasonable level, which seems appropriate, at least until Josh Gordon takes the field again. Until the budding superstar returns, Weeden has little upside.
A polarizing player last season, TRich didn’t live up to the expectations of the third overall pick, and posted a pedestrian 3.8 yard per carry average for the season. On the other hand, he played through serious injury, had over 1300 total yards, and 12 TDs. As a rookie on a poor team. Richardson has the natural talent to be one of the truly elite players in the league, and now has a coach who will help him get there. Question marks remain about the rest of the team, but that just means Richardson will see more work, including plenty in the passing game. If you own him, he should be your #1 RB this week, and every week.
Greg Little/Davone Bess
This is why Weeden has no value at the minute. Greg “Stone Hands” Little is his top WR for 2 weeks. STAY AWAY. Bess may be motivated for revenge against his former team, but if that’s your main reason for starting a player this week, just give up on your season right now.
Cameron looks to be the main beneficiary of Gordon’s absence (spoiler – I really like Josh Gordon). An amazingly physical specimen, Gordon has been biding his time in the league to get his chance to break out. After an impressive preseason outing against the Lions with 2 TDs, Cameron looks to be on the verge of low-end TE1 status.
Billy Cundiff sucks.
The Browns D/ST has some under-appreciated players, and should put up sacks against Miami this week, especially with Jonathan Martin looking like he couldn’t block me if I was pass rushing against him. Coupled with Tannehill’s interception issues from last season (which remains a concern despite reports of him working on the problem during the preseason) mean the Browns could be a sneaky play this week.
Tennessee Titans at PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Before his injury last season, Big Ben was on course for a career year. The start of this season looks to be no different, due to Pittsburgh’s run game deficiencies (more on that soon). While missing his favourite target Heath Miller, Roethlisberger has plenty of talented to options to throw to, with Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Markus Wheaton capable of electrifying plays, and Jerricho Cotchery and David Paulson weapons in the short passing game. The Steelers will need to throw to stay in the game, so look for Roethlisberger to post over 300 yards and multiple TDs.
Until Le’Veon Bell returns, this is a situation to be completely avoided. Isaac Redman is the nominal starter, but Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling will see ample carries too. As a result, nobody is currently starter worthy.
One of three undersized players listed here, Brown is an exceptional talent with underrated toughness. He will serve as Ben’s most trusted target, and holds even more value in PPR leagues. A worthwhile note, Brown had TDs in 4 consecutive games to close out last season. A solid WR2, with WR1 upside.
After Sanders was surprisingly offered a tender sheet by the New England Patriots in the offseason, he was perhaps even more surprisingly retained by the Steelers at the expense of a third round draft pick. Sanders’ talent has never been in question, but his durability has. With the injury bug seemingly behind him, Sanders has every chance of doubling his 44 catches from last season, especially in Todd Haley’s quick-hitting passing style. He is a decent flex play this week.
Wheaton is only included in this section because I am a Steelers fan, and have spent a lot of time watching him both in the preseason and in college. He plays much bigger than his 5’11” size would indicate, and has legitimate sub-4.4 speed. He will also be returning punts for the team this season. He might not be a viable option in fantasy YET, but if you have a chance, watch this kid. I honestly believe he has the most talent out of any of Pittsburgh’s wideouts.
Pittsburgh tight ends
Until Heath Miller returns, ignore this position. It might be safe to ignore it even after then, with a player in his 30s coming off a devastating knee injury in week 16.
“Sushi” is a kicker I like a lot this season, with the Steelers’ lack of legitimate red zone weapons. He improved both his accuracy and kicking power last year, and should be a serviceable kicking option this year.
While the Steelers were the #1 ranked real life defense last year, they underperformed in fantasy with their lack of “splash” plays. With a (hopefully) fully fit Lamarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu getting back to their best, and Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas providing some much needed youth and zest, the Steelers D/ST has the chance to get back to one of the better units in the fantasy realm.