We’re finally here. After the grueling dog days of summer, suspensions and rumors of suspensions and generally meaningless preseason games, the REAL fake football season has arrived.
TGIFFFF. Or as everyone knows, Thank God It’s Fantasy Football’s First Friday.
Each week during the wonder that IS fantasy football season, we’ll provide the weekend’s look-ahead, a preview of things to come, players to watch, what food and adult beverages to partake during games, etc. You know, all the vital elements that go into the world of fake football.
In today’s inaugural piece, we’ll look at some more overarching themes, which likely could run throughout the full season, versus pointedly fingering Week 1-specific fantasy topics.
So, let’s get to it. What are we looking for, as Week 1 kicks off the glory and wonder of fantasy’s 2014 season?
1. Cleveland Rocks?
Let’s start with the roller coaster that has developed in Cleveland, OH, this summer. We could go back to the end of the last NFL season, when one Josh Gordon emerged from anonymity and began obliterating DBs on sideline routes and crossing patterns en route to securing a top fantasy WR spot. Then an NBA prodigal son returned home, bringing hope of respectability and championships to the oft-ridiculed city. Finally, college coeds and chest-thumping SEC fans everywhere rejoiced when Johnny Football landed with the Browns. “Cleveland is back!” it was pronounced. I’m not sure where Cleveland went exactly. But … now I’m just nitpicking.
August brought with it trademark unbearable heat, training camp battles and NFL suspensions. The two football representatives amongst Cleveland’s big three were striken. Manziel seemed more interested in endorsements than performance and now has a new nickname. Johnny Clipboard. Mr. Gordon can’t seem to keep his nose clean and will now be selling cars for a year, unless an 11th hour deal is made. Wah wah wahhhh. Ladies and gentlemen, Debbie Downer has entered the city.
So for fantasy purposes, I’m looking to see who steps up to fill some of those Gordon shoes (the cleats, not the Kenneth Coles, worn on the sales floor).
- Can Brian Hoyer duplicate some of his very brief 2013 magic, when he averaged right around 300 yards passing and 20 fantasy points over the two full games he played? That’s right, he’s only started THREE NFL games in his career. How long ’til the Cleveland fans make Browns coaches transform Johnny Football into Johnny Cleveland?
- Will Jordan Cameron be the focal point of the passing attack? I mean, who else is there for Hoyer / Manziel to throw to? Andrew Hawkins? Miles Austin? Travis Benjamin? Over the first seven games last year, Cameron had 45 catches and 6 touchdowns. The second half of the season was a bit more pedestrian. Oh yeah. That’s basically when the Josh Gordon show took over.
- Who’s Feeling Mile High Now?
In keeping with the Josh Gordon theme, sort of, let’s move on to Denver. [As a quick aside, has the irony gotten lost on anyone else that had Gordon been busted doing weed in Denver instead of Cleveland … ? Just sayin’.] Wes Welker—he of the 106 catches and 7 TD’s AVERAGED over the past seven years—just got his wrist slapped, to the tune of missing the first four games. Add to that the departure of Eric Decker (HE averaged 86 catches and 12 TDs the past two years) to the Jets via free agency in the offseason. It all adds up to an abundance of available targets, catches and touchdowns to be had coming from Omaha, Omaha.
- The obvious question is who will step up, in both the short-term and longer-term, to fill Welker’s and then Decker’s shoes? Clearly, the Decker full season answer is one Emmanuel Sanders. As the second option in Pittsburgh’s ‘NOT Denver’ offense, Sanders was the 33rd ranked WR last year. I’ll go out on a limb here and predict that ranking will increase this year. As it regards weeks 1 – 4, can Andre Caldwell provide a spark? Or will rookie Cody Latimer become the temporary proverbial apple to Pope Manning’s eye?
- How will the loss of Welker for the first quarter of the regular season affect Peyton? The diminutive face of Old Spice was, at times, a security blanket (some would say target whore?) for the much larger face of Papa John’s, Gatorade and now Nationwide. Who will fill that role the first four games? The targets on the field, not endorsement opps, of course.
- What’s In An Acronym?
Fantasy football has so many acronyms, it can get confusing to the newbie. Hell, even to the ‘oldbie’. PPR: Points Per Reception, of course. IDP: Individual Defensive Player, for our more adventurous fantasy friends. And my favorite, BTEWIFIDDISS: Obviously, this is the infamous Backup Tight End Who Is Forced Into Duty Due to Injury to Stud Starter.
And then there’s RBBC, the ever-famous Running Back By Committee. Simplistically, it means a team—a real NFL team—will utilize multiple running backs in various play-calling situations. A team may employ a back to handle goal-line duties, another specialist for 3rd down or hurry-up situations, while yet another may be a ‘between the 20’s’ carrier. For example, this year it appears the Titans may mostly use rookie Bishop Sankey as the primary ball-carrier until they reach the red zone, then utilize plodder Shonn Greene as the goal-line back and the elusive pass-catching Dexter McCluster on 3rd downs. Classic RBBC layout.
Frankly, the RBBC concept carried out is a migraine on top of a regular sinus headache just waiting to manifest itself on every breathing fantasy owner. I don’t have this on absolute authority, but I believe Mike Shanahan invented the concept as part of his Shanahanigans initiative back in the day. But I digress.
As it relates to 2014, I’m interest to see how the RB scenarios play out in:
- Tennessee: Yes, I know I just laid it out. But to throw a bit more at you, the Titans only played Sankey with the 2nd and 3rd teamers during preseason. Is this a little game of trickery from Coach Ken Whisenhunt? Or does he really favor vets over rookies, to the point of keeping the obviously more talented—not to mention first back taken in the real draft—on the bench for certain situations? Or, we can just all assume Coach Whiz got his Shanahanigans online degree last year?
- New England: Will Stevan Ridley use stick’em this year, as a remedy for his fumble-itis? Shane Vereen, a sexy pic amongst fantasy footballers everywhere, certainly has a leg up as a pass-catcher; he caught 47 balls out of the backfield in only eight games last year. Then there’s rookie James White waiting in the wings. With injury-prone Vereen and slippery fingers Ridley in front, it will only take one snap of the wrist or drop of the rock for White to get his shot. Of course, when asked about the RB situation, Coach Belichick simply grunted, “Mmmm. He’s a football player. He plays football.” Thank you Hoodie for that in-depth analysis. Thank you.
- Miami: Who will actually emerge between Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno? Since there’s not a third back in the mix, I guess Rock, Paper, Scissors won’t work this year. That’s presumably how Knowshon won the job last year in Denver, via this method. Hey, I’m not knocking it. The hand-game gods must know their fantasy football as Mr. Tears ended up the 5th best fantasy back in football last year. Presently, Miller shows up atop the depth charts, other than as the 3rd down back. Yet, he’s been there before and hasn’t produced. So I wonder if it’s only a matter of time before Knowshon can prove his sideline tears weren’t a fluke.
- Honorable Mention: We’re also wondering, with baited BBQ sauce breath (see below), what will happen with the Jets (Chris Johnson versus Chris Ivory), the Raiders (can MJD hold off RunDMC in the all-acronym battle?) and Detroit (is Joique the Bell-cow or is it Bush-time?). Um, wait. That didn’t sound quite right.
- Let ‘Em Play!
And lastly—I know this isn’t exactly a fantasy topic per se—but I’ll be keeping a close eye on Ed Hochuli and his brethren to see how much airtime the officials are still seeking? In other words, will the regular season resemble Olympic training for the new sport of penalty flag throwing … like the preseason did?
Wait, there are a couple of ways this does relate to fantasy. The flow of the preseason games was so interrupted by the enforcement of newly emphasized penalties—hands to the face, defensive pass interference, too many undrafted free agents on the field—that offenses seemed to lack rhythm. Or maybe that was simply the third stringers not knowing which end zone to drive towards.
- So will offenses regain their rhythm enough to produce bombastic fantasy stats?
- And secondly, will QBs (and even RBs and receivers) miss out on putting up fantasy numbers? Here’s my reasoning. If the preseason was setting a precedent, large chunks of yardage and first downs were routinely picked up by defensive pass interference penalties. So, take away 20 yards (and pass completions, etc.) actually attributed to offensive players each drive from offenses; those numbers add up over six or seven drives per game. I guess we’ll see.
Opening weekend eats? You go ribs (pork ribs, wet, with sweet sauce) and sweet tea vodka. [Really? Yeah, just making sure you’re still reading. Opening weekend eats and libation are completely your call. We’ll begin the real menu suggestions next week.]
Well, gang, I’m raising a Friday afternoon java to you all. (No additional liquid additions just yet. Too early in the day, where I live.) Here’s to a stellar fantasy football season. May you win your leagues, your trash talk wars and Sunday remote control battles at home. And when you curl up in a fetal position ball in the corner after Jay Cutler throws a pick six on the final drive—you started Cutler and your opponent starts the Bills D, and you lose by a single point—just remember it’s a game. A game where you’ll get ridiculed and razzed for JUST a week.
So until next TGIFFFF … stay strong, show kindness and NO RAGRETS.
Jay Marks is the Sports Lead for Fantasy Football at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @FFHottieAsst.