The pre-season if finally over; we can all breathe a big sigh of relief. Now, that doesn’t mean all of our questions have been answered, as a matter of fact, for a few teams the questions may have just begun. We are going to take a quick look at each team and discuss what we have learned or not in the month of August.
Arizona Cardinals: Is there any player happier in the NFL than Larry Fitzgerald, now that he has a legitimate quarterback to throw him the ball? Rashard Mendenhall is at least slotted to start the season running the ball but will there be any room to run, especially now that first-round pick Jonathan Cooper is out for the year?
Atlanta Falcons: Michael Turner had 11 TDs last season and he had little or no gas left in the tank. There is a reason Steven Jackson is going so high in drafts.
Baltimore Ravens: Just because Joe Flacco won a Super Bowl doesn’t make him an elite quarterback, especially with that receiving group to throw to. I’d like Ray Rice on my team any day, and I’m not worried about Bernard Pierce eating into his playing time. When push comes to shove and the bullets are live, Rice will be in there. Can Torrey Smith really step up and become a true number one WR, and not just a deep threat? I have my doubts.
Buffalo Bills: E.J. Manuel has returned to practice just two weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee. Is it really smart for Buffalo to rush him back? The Bills have little or no chance at winning this season and should be thinking about the future, not to mention they are playing New England on Sunday, which pretty much means that even if Jim Kelly was starting they wouldn’t win this game.
Carolina Panthers: DeAngelo Williams’ draft stock has done nothing but rise over the past few weeks, not really because of anything he has done, but because of Jonathan Stewart being placed on the PUP. That gives Williams the starting role for at least the first five games of the season. Carolina really needs to find a receiver opposite Steve Smith; I don’t think Brandon Lafell is that player.
Chicago Bears: I’m loving Matt Forte this season. Marc Trestman will use him appropriately, and in a PPR league Forte should have a big season. There have been some rumors that the Bears want to diversify their passing offense this season and spread the ball around. But Jay Cutler is in a contract year, and when push comes to shove it’s hard for me to believe he won’t be looking Brandon Marshall’s way an awful lot. Maybe Martellus Bennett will get some looks in the red zone but Marshall has always been his security blanket.
Cincinnati Bengals: Giovani Bernard is going to be the player we see on Sportscenter in the Bengals backfield, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis should not be forgotten. If anyone wants my opinion, I have the Bengals winning the AFC North.
Cleveland Browns: Quite a few pundits are pretty high on Josh Gordon. I am not one of them, however. Brandon Weeden just doesn’t look like the same player during games as he does during practice, and until he proves otherwise I really can’t trust anyone in that passing offense. Now, I’m as high on Trent Richardson as anyone else, but once again, if I’m a defensive coordinator I’m loading up the box to stop him until Weeden proves he can beat me with his arm.
Dallas Cowboys: Everyone has been so concerned about the Cowboys offensive line this offseason (rightfully so), but their defensive line also has major issues. Jay Ratliff is out for the first six games (at least), Tyrone Crawford is out for the year (Josh Brent also), and Sean Lissemore was just traded to San Diego. Combine this with two linebackers, DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, now playing defensive end and you have a recipe for opposing teams to try and run the ball right down the Cowboys throat.
Denver Broncos: Okay, I know Wes Welker is now on the Broncos and Demaryius Thomas is a stud, but I’m still not sure why Eric Decker is falling in drafts. Peyton Manning has already stated that he will throw the ball where matchups dictate. In other words, if teams try to double Thomas and take away the underneath routes from Welker, Decker is going to get the ball. Manning isn’t about to force the ball to anyone. I’m pretty surprised that Ronnie Hillman was named the starting RB after having quite a few issues with butterfingers in preseason. Let’s you know how much Denver values someone who can pick up the blitz and protect Peyton, something Montee Ball can’t do yet. Still, by the end of the season, I think Ball is the man, much like Bernard in Cincinnati.
Detroit Lions: Ryan Broyles seems to a popular late pick among Fantasy owners; someone has to catch balls besides Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush. Speaking of Bush, Joique Bell is his backup and the RB you want if you’re looking for a handcuff. In leagues that reward six points for TD passes, I would want Matthew Stafford above Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin, and Colin Kaepernick.
Green Bay Packers: Fantasy owners are hopping on the Jermichael Finley bandwagon again. I don’t have him in any of the leagues I’ve completed yet. Not because I don’t believe, but because he is just going a little too early for my comfort zone. I’ve also been burned too many times in the past.
Houston Texans: I only have Arian Foster in one league so far (fourth pick), and yeah, have to admit, I wish I didn’t. It doesn’t help any that I wasn’t able to get Ben Tate in that league (5th round). Foster is out of my Top 6 now, but is still a first-round pick.
Indianapolis Colts: It’s been kind of a quiet Colts camp. That has to be a good thing. Ahmad Bradshaw is going to take a lot of pressure off of Andrew Luck. Bradshaw has always been talented but those nagging foot injuries have always seemed to hold him back. He’s the main bell cow in Indy, and could have a better year than expected both in Fantasy and reality.
Jacksonville Jaguars: If you drafted in late July or early August you might have been able to get Maurice Jones-Drew for a bargain price. Well, not anymore. He looks healthy and his ADP has shot him back up to a second-round pick. Just imagine how good MJD might be if he had a real quarterback?
Kansas City Chiefs: You would think Dwayne Bowe would be in for a big season in an Andy Reid offense, but if Alex Smith refuses to throw the ball deep into the secondary then his numbers may not quite be there at the end. I’m also concerned that defenses will play their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage since they won’t be afraid of Smith throwing the deep ball over the top. This could cut into some open space for Jamaal Charles.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have made a ton of noise about how impressed they are with Daniel Thomas and how they believe he could be the starting running back. I wouldn’t buy that, they are just trying to send a message to Lamar Miller to pick up his play. The loss of Dustin Keller is a big one. Keller was going to be Ryan Tannehill’s security blanket this season and could’ve had a big season running underneath routes while opposing teams worried about Mike Wallace getting deep. That plan was ended with one questionable tackle. The Dolphins have what might be a Top 10 defense, but the offense is still a work in progress.
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson keeps insisting that he is going to break the rushing record this season. I hope he does; it would be a lot of fun to watch. But teams are going to load up to stop him until Christian Ponder takes that next step. Hopefully, Greg Jennings can help Ponder make that leap. But he looked old and slow last season, and that was in the Green Bay offense with Aaron Rodgers throwing to him.
New England Patriots: I could make this entire column about the Patriots. First, all that thought about them coming back to the pack and possibly not winning this division, forget about it. Who is going to challenge them? The Jets, are you kidding me? Buffalo, maybe in a couple of years. Miami, they are getting closer, but they aren’t there yet. Drafts are a funny thing. In early August nobody drafted Kenbrell Thompkins and/or Zach Sudfeld, now they are going in rounds eight and 10 respectively. In one “expert” league I play in, neither one was drafted, but when waivers were run, more than one owner offered up over 95% of their FAAB. On last thought about the Patriots. All you needed to know about when Rob Gronkowski might play seems to have been answered Saturday when the team released fellow tight ends Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells. Gronkowski was kept off the PUP and is back at practice. Now, while I don’t believe he plays Week 1 and probably not Week 2, since it’s a short week; Week 3 makes an awful lot of sense. Keep in mind, they also play the Bills and Jets the first two weeks, so it’s not like they will really need him anyway.
New Orleans Saints: New defensive coordinator Rex Ryan might be able to help the Saints defense, but in the end it’s going to be all up to Drew Brees and the offense to win games. Mark Ingram has burned me before, but this will be the season he scores at least eight touchdowns and rushes for at least 900 yards. There, I said it.
New York Giants: The G-men haven’t lost in Jerry Jones’ palace, but Sunday night should be the first time, shouldn’t it? Their offensive line is shaky to say the least, they lost Andre Brown until October, Victor Cruz, Antrel Rolle, and Jason Pierre-Paul are all likely to play, but all are also coming off preseason injuries. The Giants are a good team and still may be the favorite to win the NFC East, but they may find life tough in the early going this season. Those owners who drafted Andre Brown shouldn’t be so quick to release him. He’s expected to be back in early October. He still should have some value.
New York Jets: This may be the most disorganized team in the NFL. Rob Ryan is a news story waiting to happen and you have to wonder how long it will be until the ineptness of this team’s offense forces him to explode. Ryan is almost certainly gone after this season and he knows it. Geno Smith should probably end up starting; might as well get that learning curve started in a lost season. It won’t really matter, though; Joe Namath couldn’t perform the miracle it would take to get this team a winning record.
Oakland Raiders: If not for the Jets, then the Raiders may be a lock to win the Jadeveon Clowney sweepstakes. Can Matt Flynn really lose out to a rookie starter again? Last season it was Russell Wilson and now it looks like Terrelle Pryor may get the nod over him. Once again though, does it really matter? On the bright side, Darren McFadden hasn’t gotten hurt yet, but you know it’s coming, don’t you?
Philadelphia Eagles: Michael Vick has had an up and down preseason. Fantasy- wise, you really don’t want him starting for you unless it’s in a league with more than 12 teams or one that starts two QBs. He does, however, have boom or bust written all over him. The problem with drafting someone like Vick is that you’re almost forced to take Nick Foles to cover yourself once the inevitable injury comes about.
Pittsburgh Steelers: It came as a pretty big shock Saturday when the Steelers released Jonathan Dwyer but kept Felix Jones. Isaac Redman will be the starter until LeVeon Bell is ready to return. I’m guessing the Steelers wanted a change of pace back in Jones to complement Redman, rather than another plodder. Jones could lose his roster spot, however, as soon as Bell is ready to play.
San Diego Chargers: Ryan Mathews has slid down draft boards so much that he is actually undervalued now. One would hope that with a new coaching staff Matthews will start with a clean slate. But if he keeps putting the rock on the ground, it won’t matter; he’ll find himself firmly planted on the bench. How did that Robert Meacham signing work out for the powder blue?
San Francisco 49ers: Where would this team be if they didn’t trade for Anquan Boldin? No one has really stepped up for the 49ers to claim a starting receiver position, and for this reason alone I have dropped Kaepernick to outside of my Top 10 QBs. His legs make him valuable but you can’t throw to a receiver who isn’t open.
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson is another QB I’d be wary of in Fantasy leagues. Sure he is a Top 10-12 guy, but this is a team that is missing its number one receiver in Percy Harvin, and whose number two went to Switzerland early in camp for a knee procedure. They have one of the best defenses in the game and who one of the best running backs in Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks can win games by running the ball and playing good defense, so they may keep Wilson in check this year.
St. Louis Rams: If the Rams had it to do all over again, would they try and trade Sam Bradford and draft Robert Griffin III? In hindsight, that may have been the thing to do. I know that sounds unfair to Bradford, and it is; the Rams have never surrounded him with all that many receiving weapons. He does have Tavon Austin this season, but Austin is about 160 pounds soaking wet. What are the odds he makes it through an entire season?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs have an improved defense, quality wide receivers, and a top notch running back. What is missing? Josh Freeman is on the hot seat. The team drafted Mike Glennon, and if Freeman falters again they may turn to him. Remember, head coach Greg Schiano did not draft Freeman, so he holds no allegiances to him.
Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson has gone from a late second round pick in early August to an early one now. What has changed? Not much really, other than the fact that he has looked good in the preseason. For those Fantasy owners who grabbed Kenny Britt late – he has all the talent in the world, just no head to go with it.
Washington Redskins: There was never a doubt in my mind that Robert Griffin would start Week One. As soon as the NFL announced their schedule in May and Washington was slotted for a Monday night game on opening weekend; that was all I needed to know. If the NFL had any doubt about RGIII, they would’ve given the Skins a Sunday afternoon game. The big question, though, is will head coach Mike Shanahan try and protect RGIII this year and keep him in the pocket?
As always feel free to follow me on Twitter and ask any questions you like, @georgekurtz.
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