Christmas in September.
There is no better way to describe how I feel when writing this column. For months now, I have been anxiously awaiting the return of football. Now, we are just one day away from the start of the season, and my favorite column makes it’s long awaited return.
“Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down” is my version of a Start/Sit column, and it comes out every Thursday. I list some of the players I’d recommend putting in your starting lineup for each position, as well as guys I would let ride the pine pony. Of course, you don’t need anyone to tell you to start your studs, such as Adrian Peterson or Drew Brees, so I won’t waste anyone’s time. So, without further delay, here is the first edition of Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down for the 2013 campaign.
I am shaking with excitement.
Thumbs Up; Quarterbacks
Tony Romo vs New York Giants: Why not start off 2013 with a guy on my personal man crush list? Romo historically plays really well against the Giants, and the last time he played them in Week 1, he did pretty well. I’m sure you all remember that Kevin Ogletree explosion, but during that game last year, Romo threw for 307 yards and three scores. The Giants secondary is an absolute mess, and I don’t see anyone on that unit that can match these Dallas receivers. Last season, the Giants allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to opposing signal callers, and they have done nothing to improve their secondary in 2013. This game has all the signs of a shootout, so expect a ton of fantasy production from Romo.
Robert Griffin III vs Philadelphia Eagles: I’ve seen far too many fantasy owners debating whether or not they should start RG3 in Week 1. Stop it. He’s back to 100 percent, is motivated to show the world that he is back, and oh yeah, he is playing an absolutely atrocious defense. Last year, the Eagles surrendered the 2nd-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, and that was with guys like Nnamdi Asomugah and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Now, both are gone and there are tons of questions with this secondary. Also, in 2012, RG3 threw the football less than 40 times in both matchups against the Eagles combined, however, he still posted over 50 fantasy points. In a primetime game on Monday Night Football, Griffin will show out in front of millions all over the world. Oh, and if it already didn’t sound good enough, he has his two top pass-catchers healthy in Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis.
EJ Manuel vs New England Patriots: The Bills announced today that their 16th overall draft pick will be under center for Week 1. As a Bills fan, I thank the heavens. Manuel has some major top-12 upside this week against a New England defense that gives up a ton of yardage. And with the Pats expected to be ahead, Buffalo will have to throw to keep up with the likes of Tom Brady. Over the last four games against New England, Buffalo is averaging a strong 28.5 points per contest, and that’s with much less talented quarterbacks under center. I mean, Ryan Fitzpatrick posted serviceable fantasy outings against this unit, so Manuel has a good chance to do the same.
Jay Cutler vs Cincinnati Bengals: I do like Cutler as a whole in 2013, but his Week 1 matchup certainly isn’t appealing. The Bengals defense allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks last season, and I think they could easily end up as the best defense in football this year. Their defensive front is arguably the best in football, which could have a field day against a very questionable Chicago offensive line. If Cutler can’t get a clean look in the pocket, he struggles, and we have seen it before.
Matt Schaub @ San Diego Chargers: The matchup isn’t bad by any means, as the Chargers were in the bottom 15 in pass defense last season, but this pick is mostly based off of expected game situation. I fully expect the Texans to dominate this game from the start, which could result in a ton of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. The Texans, after all, are one of the most run-dominant teams in football, and I don’t see the need for Schaub to air the ball out all that much. If you were planning on starting Schaub in a two-quarterback league, you can find other guys with more upside this week.
Thumbs Up; Running Backs
Alfred Morris vs Philadelphia Eagles: Did I mention the Eagles defense looks awful? During the Redskins last seven home games against Philly, the team is averaging an impressive 124.0 rushing yards per game, while Morris alone is averaging 151.0 rushing yards per contest and four touchdowns during his last three home games. With RG3 making his return from an ACL injury, I expect the Redskins to feed Morris the ball upwards to 30 times in this game, and he is still the clear-cut goal line back. Morris is a lock for a top-10 finish among fantasy running backs in Week 1.
Darren McFadden @ Indianapolis Colts: Yeah, yeah. I know McFadden is nearly impossible to trust. But hey, look at the bright side. At least he’s not hurt… yet. Anyway, McFadden has a favorable matchup against the Colts, a team that has struggled against the run for years now. Also, if you look back at his last three Week 1 contests, he’s been very good, averaging about 92 rushing yards per contest, but has also made an impact in the receiving game as well. Terrelle Pryor will be under center for the Raiders, and because he doesn’t have the strongest or most accurate arm in the world, we could see a lot of dumpoffs to McFadden in this contest. Go with him here in Week 1 because you may not be able to after that.
Stevan Ridley @ Buffalo Bills: Man, the Bills defense hasn’t been able to stop the run for years now, and that won’t likely change in Week 1. This unit allowed the second-most fantasy points to running backs last season with just over 20 per contest. Ridley, meanwhile, absolutely torched this defense last year. In two meetings, Ridley ran for over 200 yards and three scores. And via Nathan Zegura, New England running backs totaled 85 fantasy points in the two meetings against Buffalo last season. Expect a big week from not only Ridley, but running back Shane Vereen as well.
Ryan Mathews vs Houston Texans: Many people will remember how strong Mathews was during the preseason and will flirt with starting them as their flex. Honestly, I think Mathews is a good post-hype sleeper this year, but I’d look elsewhere for Week 1. Obviously, the Texans defense is very stout, having allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to running backs last year. But that’s not the only reason I don’t like him this week. Mathews and the Chargers will likely be behind a lot in this game, which means Philip Rivers will have to throw a lot. Well, considering Mathews wasn’t the third down back last year, and the team acquired Danny Woodhead, you do the math. Mathews played on only five third downs in 2012, and clearly isn’t the passing down back. San Diego will have to pass a lot, which means Woodhead may be on the field more.
Chris Ivory vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ivory continues to see his fantasy stock plummet, as Bilal Powell has been named the number one back on the Jets depth chart. Whether or not this will last is uncertain, but what is for sure is Ivory isn’t the featured back many thought he’d be after heading to New York. He’ll compete for carries with Powell, which is already a minus, but then having to do it against a Tampa run defense that finished 2012 as the number one ranked run defense makes it even worse. Call me crazy, but I’ll pass on any member of the Jets when it comes to fantasy.
Eddie Lacy @ San Francisco 49ers: Lacy, meanwhile, has seen his stock skyrocket over the past few weeks, but I wouldn’t feel too comfortable starting him in his debut. The 49ers are obviously one of the best defenses in all of football, and I think this game has the potential to be a shootout. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will be throwing the ball a lot (duh), and I’m not completely sold on Lacy’s pass-blocking skills, which could limit his playing time in Week 1. Not to mention, if you take a dominant defense and line it up against one of the worst offensive lines in football, bad things are bound to ensue. You should have better options on your bench for at least this week, but I do like Lacy for the 2013 campaign.
Thumbs Up; Wide Receivers
Miles Austin vs New York Giants: Austin continues to be a bit of an afterthought in fantasy land, but I absolutely love him in the first week of the season. During his last meeting against the Giants, Austin was targeted a healthy 16 times, catching nine balls for 133 yards. And what about his last seven games against them? Austin has found the end zone four times. Meanwhile, the Dallas offense as a unit has scored 24-plus points in seven of their last eight contests against their division rivals. Like I said earlier, the Giants have some serious question marks on their back end. Austin is a safe low-end WR2 or flex play this week.
Danny Amendola @ Buffalo Bills: The Bills defense stinks, guys. It pains me to admit it, but they are poor. Amendola will thrive against a unit that often looks completely lost when going up against Tom Brady and company. While their secondary showed signs of improvement last year, they will be without top corner Stephon Gilmore and could very well be without their best defensive player in Jairus Byrd. Brady has tossed 10 touchdowns over his last three games at the Ralph, so Amendola will greatly benefit. Consider him a top-15 option at the wide receiver position this week.
Lance Moore vs Atlanta Falcons: This game has all the signs of a shootout, folks. Moore has been dominant during his last six games against the Falcons, posting a total 492 yards (18.22 yards per grab) and two scores. Because of the presence of both Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston, Moore often gets overlooked, but he is actually one of Drew Brees’ most trusted targets. Brees will throw the ball anywhere between 40-50 times in this contest, and the last time they faced the Falcons, Moore was targeted a team-high 11 times. The volume will be there for him to quietly post some very strong fantasy totals on Sunday.
Mike Wallace @ Cleveland Browns: I’m not a fan of Wallace in the first place. He is just far too inconsistent for my liking, and the matchup this week just puts the icing on the disaster cake. The Browns defense is very, very underrated, and oh yeah, a guy by the name of Joe Haden will be blanketing him. Wallace is talented, yes, but doesn’t run elite routes, which could pose a problem against a shutdown corner like Haden. Wallace saw Haden twice a year when he was in Pittsburgh, and during his last two outings against him, Wallace has just five catches for 68 yards and no scores.
Steve Smith vs Seattle Seahawks: You never want to count out a guy like Smith, who continues to prove that size truly doesn’t matter. However, the matchup this week is too scary for me. Seattle has the best secondary in football, and while Smith is as tough as nails, it might be difficult for him to create some separation against two gigantic corners in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. This unit gave up the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers last season, and I see the Panthers offense struggling quite a bit during this contest.
Thumbs Up; Tight Ends
Coby Fleener vs Oakland Raiders: Fleener’s knee is ready to go for Sunday, and he has top-10 upside this week against an Oakland defense that allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends in 2012. The love triangle between Andrew Luck, Fleener and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton could result in some awesome fantasy production. Hamilton, of course, was the offensive coordinator of these two young guns during their time at Stanford. I think Luck lights up this Oakland defense, and he and Fleener have a good connection, so outside of Reggie Wayne, Fleener could be the most targeted receiving threat on the Colts.
Kyle Rudolph @ Detroit Lions: I’m not the biggest Rudolph fan in the world, but I must admit. I think he’ll be solid for Week 1 against the Lions. During his last contest against Detroit, Rudolph caught seven balls (season-high) for 64 yards and a score. The Lions secondary certainly has some question marks, and they also surrendered the 10th-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends a season ago. Also, Rudolph started 2012 with at least one touchdown in four of the first six games, and with Adrian Peterson drawing all the attention, don’t be surprised when the Vikings use some play-action to hit Rudolph over the middle.
Julius Thomas vs Baltimore Ravens: Many people are becoming enamored with the thought of a super-athletic tight end like Thomas in a pass-happy Denver offense. However, I’d hold the phone for this week. The Ravens defense, though not nearly the same, is still very strong, especially against tight ends. Last year, this unit allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends, and with all of those weapons around him, it’ll be difficult for him to produce like a starting fantasy tight end should. Don’t gamble on the upside. Look for more safe options.
Greg Olsen vs Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks defense. Need I say more? Okay, Olsen is a good fantasy tight end this year, but make sure he is on your bench in Week 1. Last year, Seattle was the second best team when it came to shutting down tight ends, and only one player eclipsed double-digit fantasy points against them. Olsen, though a tremendous receiving tight end, is also a strong blocker, which is something he might be asked to do quite a bit in this matchup. Look elsewhere, at least for this week.
Thumbs Up: D/ST
Buccaneers @ New York Jets: Sure, Mark Sanchez isn’t under center, but rookie quarterback Geno Smith is. With a very lackluster receiving corp around him, and a running game that is very unproven, this Tampa defense could have a field day with this poor offense. The Bucs already have a stout run defense, and if they force a rookie quarterback to beat them with his arm, that revamped secondary could also have fun. Could Darrelle Revis pick off his former team? My money is on him and the rest of the supporting cast.
Ravens @ Denver Broncos: You may not be able to afford sitting the Baltimore defense, but if you have other options, I’d consider them. I just feel like the Broncos and that offense will be looking for redemption for what happened during that playoff game last year, and Peyton Manning and company will be firing on all cylinders at Mile High.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.