Remember that feeling when you were a kid trying to sleep on Christmas Eve? You would constantly be tossing and turning, anxiously awaiting the morning to arrive. I’ll be honest. That is exactly how I feel right now.
The start of the 2013 season is just hours away, and what a way to start it all off. The Denver Broncos will host the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. There are a lot of significant storylines in this contest, but more importantly, there are fantasy projections to be made. Many owners often worry about starting their players on Thursday nights because last year’s games were brutal. So, here are my projections for some of the key fantasy options for tonight’s game.
Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in football. You are obviously starting him. But prior to last season’s playoff game, Manning has been very successful against Baltimore. Before that game, Manning had defeated the Ravens nine straight time, posting 247 passing yards per game and 15 touchdowns during that span. Consider the fact that Manning got another weapon in Wes Welker this offseason and the Ravens defense took a step back, Manning will be strong (as always) in this matchup.
Projection: 29-42, 295 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Meanwhile, Joe Flacco may not be the fantasy superstar that Manning is, but he did win a Super Bowl ring last year, so I think he is just fine with that. We know about Flacco’s week-to-week consistency each year, and unless you are in a two-quarterback league, I don’t see a reason to start Flacco tonight. Sure, cornerback Champ Bailey and All-Pro Von Miller won’t be on the field tonight, but Flacco lost two of his top targets in the passing game this offseason. Could Flacco put up strong numbers in this game? Of course he is capable. In two games against Denver last season, he averaged 292.5 passing yards and threw five scores during that span. However, it all comes down to how deep the quarterback position is, and Flacco isn’t nearly as appealing as a ton of other guys this week.
Projection: 24-40, 301 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INT
I am not the least bit worried about the presence of Bernard Pierce. Sure, he came on towards the end of last season, but Ray Rice has been and will always be their guy. Of course, he is a must-start every week, and because of the lack of weapons, Rice should be heavily involved in both the run game, but also the passing game. During Rice’s last game against Denver, he carried the ball 30 times for 131 yards and a score.
Projection: 22 carries, 88 yards 1 TD. 6 catches, 48 yards.
Umm, can we pass on the Denver backs? It’s a complete mess. Ronnie Hillman was listed as the number one back on the team depth chart, but he fumbled three times during the preseason. If he puts the ball on the ground, he’s pulled. And what about rookie Montee Ball? He is clearly a talented runner, but has struggled in pass protection, and if he can’t protect a guy like Manning, he’ll be riding the pine pony.
We know how stacked the Denver receiving corp is. Guys like Demaryius Thomas, who is one of the most gifted wideouts in football, will still get his targets as the top receiver among the threesome. The presence of Welker actually helps him, in my eyes, because a guy like Welker warrants do much attention. And of course, there is still Eric Decker in the mix,who was Manning’s favorite red zone target a season ago. Honestly, all three of these guys are worthy of starting because guys like Welker continue to move the chains, which extends drives and increases fantasy points.
Projection: Thomas- 7 catches, 84 yards. Welker- 9 catches, 101 yards, 1 TD. Decker- 4 catches, 60 yards, 1 TD
Meanwhile, the Ravens lost guys like Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, one to trade, the other to injury. Suddenly, this receiving corp is rather ugly, and the only guy you can trust for fantasy purposes is Torrey Smith. The last time Smith lined up against Denver, he lit up Champ Bailey. He only caught three balls, but they went for 98 yards and two scores. I want to see Smith mature in his routes and become more of a complete receiver, but he always has that big play potential and is worth a start tonight.
Projection: 4 catches, 71 yards 1 TD.
Baltimore would have had a top-seven fantasy tight end is Pitta never went down with a hip injury. Now, Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark will man the position, but neither are very intriguing for fantasy purposes. Dickson has shown some flashes alongside Flacco over the years, but there are way more tight ends with much higher upside out there.
Projection: 3 catches, 39 yards.
Meanwhile, Denver has a new face at the tight end position. Super-athletic Julius Thomas beat out guys like Joel Dreesen and Jacob Tamme during camp, and I’m sold he has one of the better nicknames in football in “Orange Julius.” However, I wouldn’t trust him as a starting option this week. The Ravens allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends last season, and there are just too many mouths to feed in Denver.
Projection: 4 catches, 50 yards.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.