The NFC North has plenty of fantasy football difference makers. Let’s look at how they will perform this week.
Cincinnati Bengals at CHICAGO BEARS
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Much has been made of how new coach Marc Trestman’s will revamp the Bears’ offense this season. Cutler has one of the best arms in the league, but has never quite reached his potential due to frequent poor decision making and (supposedly) questionable attitude. This has led to Cutler never being a viable fantasy QB1, and has been more along the solid QB2 / bye week fill in calibre. While he has potential as a starter with favourable match ups this season, he does not reach that level this week, going against an elite Bengals defense.
Forte looks to be the biggest beneficiary of Trestman’s arrival, with running backs on Trestman’s teams flourishing in the past. Forte will be a star this season, particularly in PPR leagues. However, against the Bengals’ absolutely ferocious front seven, Forte should not be counted on as a number one RB in standard leagues. RB2 numbers should be more within his reach.
Bush only has a role as Forte’s handcuff this season.
Marshall was absolutely unstoppable last season, with Cutler frequently force feeding him targets. While it’s true the Bears offense looks to diversify this season, there is also the possibility that Marshall sees less coverages sliding his way – but he will put up numbers, and fantasy points, regardless. Marshall is a surefire WR1 in every game he plays this season, and week 1 is no exception.
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A popular breakout candidate this year, Jeffery has spent the off-season working with Marshall, honing his craft, and his physique. The Bears’ brass are making all the right sounds about Alshon, and his strong preseason performances indicate that the hype train might have some merit. Jeffery projects as a WR3 this week.
Yet another supposed beneficiary of the new coach, Bennett is the least likely to see a jump in production, at least immediately. Trestman’s offense typically hasn’t featured the tight end, and the Bengals didn’t allow a TE to score a single TD in the second half of last season. If you waited on TE in your draft, scour the waiver wire to see if there’s someone with a more favourable match-up.
Solid, safe, unspectacular. Start Gould if you have him, don’t rush to the wire if you don’t.
Although playing a team with exceptional weapons, the Bears D/ST is still a good option this week. As a result of having players with an exceptional knack for taking the ball away, and facing a QB with obvious limitations, the Bears might get scored on, but can still put up big numbers this week.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS at DETROIT LIONS
Unless you’re playing in a league that awards points for handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson, avoid.
By hook or by crook, Stafford puts up fantasy numbers. A lock to improve his TD total from last season (just 24), Stafford is an every week starter, as his prolific passing offense shows no signs of changing.
Peterson is the best running back in real football, and our fake kind. Though he will (almost) inevitably fall down from last year’s herculean production, never think twice about rolling with him as your RB1.
Bush had a good stretch in Miami, finally showing some durability. Based on the preseason, Bush looks to move to an offense closer to the one he used to roll with in New Orleans, with an emphasis on pass catching from the backfield. A PPR RB1, Bush should still put up solid RB2 numbers in standard scoring.
Jennings sees a huge dropoff at QB this season, and though he will be the targets leader with Percy Harvin out of town, his production will still suffer as Ponder struggles to get the ball to him. Jennings is not a strong play.
Cordarrelle Patterson/Jerome Simpson
Although a threat to reach the end zone on every play, Patterson’s usage means he cannot be considered a fantasy starter. Yet. Simpson will always be remembered for his spectacular somersaulting touchdown, but unless he can significantly improve his consistency, little else.
Johnson deserves every superlative uttered in his direction, and his play consistently backs up the narrative that he is, by a wide margin, the most dominant WR in the league. You didn’t draft Megatron in the 1st round to sit him.
Nate Burleson/Ryan Broyles
Someone has to catch passes across from Calvin, but neither is a viable option this week. Broyles is the more talented player, but needs to regain game level fitness. This is a situation worth monitoring as the season progresses.
Rudolph was a breakout player last season based on his red zone prowess and Ponder’s trust in him. The Lions’ defense has been exceptionally poor over the last few seasons, and Rudolph looks to be able to exploit mismatches over the middle of the field. A safe play this week, and all season.
Pettigrew is a physically impressive tight end on a team that passes more than almost any other. However, he is often injured, and looks to be at best third in Stafford’s list of targets behind Megatron and Bush. When healthy, Pettigew is a fine TE2, and a solid matchup-based play. This looks like one of those matchups.
GREEN BAY PACKERS at San Francisco 49ers
Rodgers has a tough matchup, no mistake. However, last season he averaged over 280 yards and 2 TDs against them. The 49ers defense specialises in stopping the run, so the most effective way to move the ball against them will likely be by Green Bay passing. There are few players to start with confidence against SF, but Rodgers is one of them.
It will take a special performance for Lacy to impress against the 49ers on his NFL début. Although he seems to have finally locked up the Packers’ starting job, the 9ers defense hasa knack of making even very talented running backs looking average. An RB2 most weeks, Lacy will likely perform more like an RB3 in week 1.
Cobb is a player with a unique skill set, which should play into his favour against the 49ers, lining up in different positions across the line and in the backfield to create mismatches. He might not be a prototypical WR, but he has a strong chance of being a top-15 WR this week.
Nelson had a poor 2012 mainly due to injury after a breakout 2011 season. If he can run some of the routes departed team mate Greg Jennings used to run, and maintain fitness, he is in line for a very good season. He should be a WR2 this week, seeing the most targets outside of Cobb.
Jones led the league with a stunning 14 TD effort last season. While that looks destined to regress this year, he has a strong TD record, with 31 TDs on just 184 receptions over the last 4 seasons. He’s a WR3 on his team, and a WR3/4 on your fantasy team this week.
Offseason reports have suggested that Finley is “in the best shape of his career” and looks “hungrier than ever”. Which would be believable unless we’d read it EVERY offseason. He has upside this season, particularly in a contract year and with Greg Jennings out of the picture. Until he proves anything, however, he should only be mentioned in the same breath as other low-end starters as Antonio Gates and Fred Davis, especially against a San Francisco defense that ranked just outside the top-10 against TEs last season.
Crosby was dreadful last season, but plays on a high octane offense ans should have plenty of opportunities. Regardless, there are safer options at kicker this week.
While the 49ers have lost several notable weapons this season, they will always be dangerous with Kaepernick’s dual threat and a truly exceptional running game. They are barely a top-20 option this week.