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Cullen: Week One NFL Preview

Scott Cullen
9/5/2013 5:09:07 PM
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Before a look at all 16 games on the Week One NFL schedule, a look at some season win totals that could provide value, as well as the players I'm casting my lot with for fantasy purposes, at least to start the season.

These are the players on my teams in four different leagues, with varying rules and roster sizes, but some indication which guys I prefer in 2013:

QB - Colin Kaepernick
QB - Tom Brady
QB - Cam Newton
QB - Andrew Luck
QB - Russell Wilson
QB - Josh Freeman (3)
RB - Adrian Peterson
RB - Arian Foster
RB - LeSean McCoy (2)
RB - Stevan Ridley
RB - Matt Forte
RB - Frank Gore
RB - DeAngelo Williams
RB - Rashard Mendenhall
RB - Daryl Richardson (2)
RB - Bilal Powell (3)
RB - Montee Ball (2)
RB - Stepfan Taylor
WR - Brandon Marshall
WR - Victor Cruz (2)
WR - Larry Fitzgerald (2)
WR - DeSean Jackson
WR - Jordy Nelson
WR - Anquan Boldin
WR - Dwayne Bowe
WR - Miles Austin
WR - Steve Johnson
WR - T.Y. Hilton
WR - Malcom Floyd (2)
WR - Josh Gordon
WR - Denarius Moore
WR - Rod Streater
WR - Donnie Avery
WR - Kenbrell Thompkins
WR - Rueben Randle
WR - Brandon LaFell
WR - Percy Harvin
TE - Jason Witten (3)
TE - Vernon Davis
TE - Antonio Gates
TE - Fred Davis
TE - Jordan Cameron
K - Matt Bryant (2)
K - David Akers (2)
DEF - Houston
DEF - St. Louis
DEF - Chicago
DEF - Baltimore
DL - Jared Allen
DL - Justin Smith
DL - Jason Babin
LB - Sean Weatherspoon
LB - Curtis Lofton
LB - Zach Brown
DB - Yeremiah Bell
DB - Charles Woodson
DB - Michael Griffin

As for the season win totals, here are seven that look like they are worth some value:

BUFFALO BILLS UNDER 6.5 WINS

Under the best quarterback circumstances, this still seemed like a lofty total, but with only rookies available, to go with a rookie coach, this is another year for the Bills to take some lumps.

CAROLINA PANTHERS OVER 7 WINS

It's possible that QB Cam Newton provides empty calories, big stats in a losing effort, but the Panthers' defence is improving and if Newton keeps moving the ball down the field, the Panthers can score enough to earn a winning record. Trouble is, the odds have tilted so heavily in favour of the over (-225) at this point.

DALLAS COWBOYS UNDER 8.5 WINS

There's talent in Big D and a new defensive scheme may help, but with losses in the trenches, they are going to need everything to break right to finish with a winning record. They look closer to six wins than 10.

HOUSTON TEXANS OVER 10.5 WINS

That's a big total, but the Texans are loaded and as long as they can win at least some of their toughest matchups (vs. SEA, vs. NE, vs. DEN, @ SF) they could win a dozen games.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS UNDER 5 WINS

Barring some major unanticipated improvements, it's hard to see the Jaguars winning more than three or four.

NEW YORK JETS UNDER 6.5 WINS

Is there any reason to believe that the Jets are better than last season's six-win team? Again, odds have tilted (-200) towards the under.

OAKLAND RAIDERS UNDER 5.5 WINS

While we're kicking teams at the bottom of the pile, the Raiders on the under (-210) have become a popular play for good reason; it's hard, if not impossible to imagine them winning enough to regret picking the low side.

Finally, on to the Week One previews:

BALTIMORE (+7.5) at DENVER

The Ravens are the defending champs, but there has been significant turnover and they start the season on the road against a tough opponent; thus, the (heavy) underdog status.

It's not as though the Broncos don't have questions, but they shouldn't have difficulty moving the ball on offence. Ronnie Hillman has the starting running back job, ahead of rookie Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno, but Denver can pass their way down the field, with Wes Welker adding a threat in the slot. Welker's presence should help in particular if Lardarius Webb, the Ravens' top cover corner, is able to limit Manning's access to WR Demaryius Thomas, that will still mean pressure on Corey Graham and Jimmy Smith as they try to keep up with Welker and Eric Decker.

The key to the Ravens limiting the passing game will be to pressure QB Peyton Manning, and with Terrell Suggs and former Bronco Elvis Dumervil rushing from each side, they will have a chance to knock Manning off his game, but it's going to require relentless pressure.

Denver's defence has to find a way to generate a pass rush. With Dumervil gone and OLB Von Miller suspended, DE Derek Wolfe is the returning leader with six sacks so veteran Shaun Phillips, who had 9.5 sacks for San Diego in 2012, will have to pick up the pass rushing slack. The pass rush will be doubly important because Broncos CB Champ Bailey isn't expected to play due to a foot injury.

If the Broncos defence isn't ideal against the pass, at least the Ravens don't have a ton of weapons, though their wideouts, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, can get deep (as the Broncos will remember from last year's playoff loss).

NEW ENGLAND (-10) at BUFFALO

It says something about the state of the Bills that they are much more encouraged about having untested rookie E.J. Manuel starting at quarterback. Of course, having the first quarterback taken in the 2013 Draft instead of undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel is a decided upgrade, but not enough to expect the Bills to be able to put pressure on a Patriots secondary that struggled last season. 

What the Bills should be able to do is run the ball, with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson offering a mix of speed and power. If the Bills are going to keep Tom Brady off the field, the best way to go about it is to eat up the clock by running the ball effectively.

Brady, while revered for his consistent production, enters the season with some challenges. His receiving corps from last season has been depleted -- with TE Rob Gronkowski sidelined, WR Julian Edelman is the top returning receiver and he ranked sixth on the team with 21 catches last season -- but expect Brady to spread the ball around to Edelman, RB Shane Vereen, slot receiver Danny Amendola and undrafted free agents Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld. It's not a fearsome group, but one that can take advantage of a Bills secondary missing CB Stephon Gilmore and has star FS Jairus Byrd dealing with plantar fasciitis.

It's a big spread for a visiting favourite, but expectations are always high for the Patriots and, until Manuel gets comfortable, they remain low for the Bills.

SEATTLE (-3.5) at CAROLINA

Seattle comes in with high expectations after QB Russell Wilson was an impact player from the get-go as a rookie last season. His big off-season upgrade, WR Percy Harvin, is out, so holdover receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate will have to be productive against a relatively young Panthers secondary.

The Panthers are building a more formidable defence and this will be a good test for their front seven, trying to both generate a pass rush with defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, while the interior of the line is improved with the addition of first-round pick Star Lotuleilei. Add in a linebacking corps consisting of second-year star MLB Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis and the Panthers could present a challenge for Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch.

Carolina's running game will be in the hands of veteran DeAngelo Williams, who will get the bulk of the carries as opposed to sharing with injured Jonathan Stewart, as has been standard for the last few seasons. If Williams and QB Cam Newton can establish some effectiveness on the ground, that could be the safe approach rather than turning Newton loose to throw against a Seahawks secondary that is among the league's best.

If Carolina is going to be improved this season, holding their own against a Super Bowl contender would be a good way to show it.

CINCINNATI (+3) at CHICAGO

The Bengals appear to be a team on the rise, with rookies giving them more weapons on offence. First-round pick, TE Tyler Eifert, and second-round pick, RB Giovani Bernard, are going to play regular, if initially complementary roles. Running double-tight-end sets, with Eifert and Jermaine Gresham, could help keep the Bears' defence off balance.

Chicago will have a new look too, with head coach Marc Trestman likely to employ a more versatile passing attack, which means that not only will WR Brandon Marshall (dealing with a hip injury) have opportunities, but he will likely have production from his supporting cast, including second-year WR Alshon Jeffrey and free agent TE Martellus Bennett. What will be important for the Bears is that their new-and-improved offensive line is actually improved because the Bengals' front four, led by relentless DT Domata Peko, is excellent.

Two good and closely-matched teams, with the Bears getting an edge for home field.

MIAMI (pick) at CLEVELAND

A match-up of second-year quarterbacks, and all the hope and uncertainty that entails. Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill has a new threat at wide receiver, Mike Wallace, as well as a new starter at running back, Lamar Miller, who will be expected to play big roles. Wallace could have a tough match-up in Week One if he ends up in Joe Haden's district. The Browns cornerback is one of the best in coverage.

Browns QB Brandon Weeden is missing his top wide receiver, Josh Gordon, due to suspension, but has other options in the passing game including ex-Dolphins slot receiver Davone Bess and TE Jordan Cameron, who is being touted for a breakthrough season. The difference-maker for the Browns, though, is RB Trent Richardson, the second-year back who gained 1317 yards from scrimmage with a dozen touchdowns in what was considered an okay rookie season.

Neither team is proven enough to have huge hopes, but it's a winnable game for either side and that's not the case every week.

MINNESOTA (+5.5) at DETROIT

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson and Lions WR Calvin Johnson can resume their 2,000-yard pursuits after monster years in 2012. Peterson is bent on passing Eric Dickerson's rushing record (2,105 yards, in 1984) and, while the Vikings' passing game could be better, with Greg Jennings and rookie Corrdarrelle Patterson giving QB Christian Ponder more weapons, it's going to be Peterson that is the focus.

If the Lions are to stop Peterson, they'll need their defensive tackle tandem, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to control the line of scrimmage.

What could be more challenging, for the Vikings, is finding a way to cover Johnson, because the Vikings, after losing Antoine Winfield in the offseason, don't have any corners that appear up to that task. If double and triple coverage is required on Johnson, TE Brandon Pettigrew and second-year WR Ryan Broyles could benefit.

Even though the Vikings won six more games than the Lions in 2012, it's not unreasonable for Detroit to have the edge at home in Week One.

OAKLAND (+10) at INDIANAPOLIS

Such a difference in quarterback play. The Colts have Andrew Luck, the first overall pick in 2012 who threw for 4,374 yards as a rookie and has what appears to be a better supporting cast on offence this yea, including additions of former Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey. The Raiders overhauled their secondary, bringing in corners Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins as well as FS Charles Woodson, but if they can't generate pressure on Luck -- DE Lamarr Houston is the top returning sacker, with four last season -- it's hard to imagine how the Raiders will be able to contain the Colts.

On the other side of the ball, the Raiders appear to be turning to Terrelle Pryor at quarterback and while Pryor is an interesting player who can move the chains with his ability to run the ball, he has yet to show the kind of accuracy necessary to generate consistent results in the NFL. While fantasy owners are wary of Raiders RB Darren McFadden because he's an injury risk (or perhaps guarantee), when he is healthy he's a valuable part of the Raiders' offence and the Colts defence did allow 5.1 yards per carry last season, so that ought to be the Raiders' approach.

It looks like a mismatch and that may not be uncommon for the Raiders this season.

KANSAS CITY (-4) at JACKSONVILLE

After a two-win season, the Chiefs changed coaches, hiring Andy Reid and that has brought new expectations, with QB Alex Smith expected to provide stability at quarterback. RB Jamaal Charles is terrific and WR Dwayne Bowe is a quality threat, which should be enough to move the ball against a Jaguars team that has few difference-makers.

If the Jaguars are going to be any better, they probably need to see some development from QB Blaine Gabbert, who enters the season fighting uphill since second-year WR Justin Blackmon is suspended for the first four games. Cecil Shorts and rookie Ace Sanders should be the starting receivers, but they may not be dangerous enough to pressure the Kansas City secondary.

What gives the Jaguars a fighting chance is the return of RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who was limited to six games last season, and led the league in rushing in 2011.

Until Gabbert shows something, though, the Jaguars are going to be underdogs week after week.

ATLANTA (+3) at NEW ORLEANS

This could be the most fun game of the week, with the Falcons and Saints both boasting impressing aerial assaults as they both topped 4,500 passing yards in 2012.

Both teams have plenty of options, from the Saints with TE Jimmy Graham and wide receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore, to their three-headed running game with Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles all getting touches and the passing game should have success against a Falcons secondary that has veteran Asante Samuel and a couple of top draft picks, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, slated to see significant action on the corners.

Atlanta counters with wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, maybe the best tandem in the league, and TE Tony Gonzalez, but the Falcons upgraded their attack with veteran RB Steven Jackson and if the Saints do anything this season, with head coach Sean Payton returning to guide the troops, it is improve a pass defence that ranked 31st in the league in yardage allowed in 2012. Getting tested by the Falcons right off the bat will be a challenge.

For reference, and entertainment purposes only, the over/under is 54.

TAMPA BAY (-3) at N.Y. JETS

The Bucs are a team with some promise. From second-year RB Doug Martin to QB Josh Freeman, who was making great strides until the last month of 2012, to wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, they have the wherewithal to score, particularly with guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph healthy. While the Jets defence may be okay, they are going to get taxed because there is little indication that their offence will be able to keep them off the field.

Rookie Geno Smith is going to start at quarterback, probably before he's ready, the running game is in the hands of Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory and if Smith can get the ball downfield, Santonio Holmes, Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill are his best targets. Adding to the drama, former Jets CB Darrelle Revis, the top cover corner in the game, is expected to be ready to play for the Bucs after undergoing offseason knee surgery, making it an even tougher debut for Smith.

If Smith isn't ready for the NFL, Brady Quinn awaits in the Jets' quarterback carousel.

TENNESSEE (+7) at PITTSBURGH

There hasn't been much indication, yet, that QB Jake Locker is capable of guiding the Titans to victory on the road against a tough opponent, but he's young, so he'll mature. If Locker is going to have some success, though, it wouldn't hurt to have RB Chris Johnson at his best. Johnson rushed for 24 yards or fewer in four of the first five weeks last season, dashing the Titans' hopes, along with that of every fantasy team that owned Johnson.

Titans WR Kendall Wright is expected to be ready for Sunday, after getting hurt in the preseason, and he was the most-targeted Tennessee receiver as a rookie, ahead of both Kenny Britt and ex-Steeler Nate Washington.

Pittsburgh's offence has undergone some changes. Without second-round pick RB Le'Veon Bell available, the Steelers will have Isaac Redman starting and with Mike Wallace gone to Miami, Emmanuel Sanders moves into the starting lineup, with rookie WR Markus Wheaton possibly giving Pittsburgh another threat and one that might need to be used while TE Heath Miller, who is close to returning, is still recovering from a torn ACL.

GREEN BAY (+4.5) at SAN FRANCISCO

Maybe the best matchup on the board, the Packers have a tremendous passing attack, guided by QB Aaron Rodgers, with wideouts Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones all proven threats and the running game should get a boost from second-round pick Eddie Lacy, a bruising back who may be able to break some tackles, which figures to be important against a 49ers defence that flies to the ball carrier.

The 49ers aren't as dangerous passing the ball, though if QB Colin Kaepernick and TE Vernon Davis can form a connection, that would help make up for injuries to wideouts Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham. WR Anquan Boldin will be expected to play a big role and deep-deep-deep fantasy sleeper rookie WR Quinton Patton could help as well.

Where the Niners have an edge, in addition to their defence, is the wild card talent of Kaepernick, who passed for 263 yards and rushed for 181 yards against the Packers last year in the playoffs. The Packers have surely seen enough of that film that they will attempt to contain him, but knowing what to do and actually accomplishing the goal aren't necessarily the same thing.

ARIZONA (+4.5) at ST. LOUIS

The hope for the Cardinals is that Carson Palmer, an undistinguished veteran who registered over 4,000 passing yards for the Raiders last season, can provide some semblance of competent quarterback play thereby not wasting the talents of WR Larry Fitzgerald. They get a tough opener, with the Rams having pass rushers -- ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long -- as well as cover corners, Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins, that can make the day difficult.

There have been changes in St. Louis too, as Daryl Richardson takes over for Steven Jackson at running back, TE Jared Cook has arrived from Tennessee and first-round pick WR Tavon Austin joins deep threat Chris Givens to give QB Sam Bradford some weapons. They're still a work in progress and the Cardinals defence won't be an easy starting point for them, but the Rams should be able to score more than they have in recent seasons.

N.Y. GIANTS (+3.5) at DALLAS

Giants RB David Wilson, who carried the ball 71 times as a rookie, will be under a certain amount of pressure as the starter with Andre Brown injured, but it's also a good opportunity against a depleted Cowboys defensive line. The Giants can also throw the ball, particularly with all of their receivers -- Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Rueben Randle and TE Brandon Myers -- healthy, so the Cowboys had better get lots of pressure from DeMarcus Ware, who is moving to defensive end from outside linebacker as the Cowboys go to a 4-3 scheme (and the Cowboys may be without Anthony Spencer on the other side, as he recovers from a knee injury).

It's not as though the Cowboys are without their own skilled offensive players. WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten are among the top producers at their respective positions and veteran WR Miles Austin has twice had more than 1,000 yards receiving and has more receptions (36) and yards (542) against the Giants than against any other team. When healthy, DeMarco Murray is a quality runner, but the Cowboys don't have a lot of proven depth behind him and have an offensive line in flux, so the 'Boys may need to finesse their way out of this one.

PHILADELPHIA (+3.5) at WASHINGTON

It will be fascinating to see if Chip Kelly keeps the Eagles playing at a quicker pace, which would mean more opportunities for the likes of QB Michael Vick, RB LeSean McCoy and WR DeSean Jackson, but if the pace really is something, maybe RB Bryce Brown and rookie TE Zach Ertz will be factors as well.

The Redskins present intrigue in their own right, as second-year QB Robert Griffin III didn't see the field in the preseason and seems to have an odd dynamic at play with head coach Mike Shanahan. If it's just about Griffin being eager to return from injury, that's fine, but if it's about something else, then the Redskins could be on shaky ground. If the Redskins are going to push back against the Eagles, look for second-year RB Alfred Morris, who has high expectations after running for 1,613 yards as a rookie last season.

HOUSTON (-3.5) at SAN DIEGO

The Texans may be sharing time in the backfield between Arian Foster and Ben Tate, but they are both good runners and the Texans may be even more dangerous passing the ball with the addition of rookie WR DeAndre Hopkins. With defences focused on Andre Johnson and, frequently, Foster, Hopkins could be a big-play threat right away.

At the best of times the Chargers would figure to be hard-pressed to keep up with the Texans, but after they lost WR Danario Alexander to a torn ACL in training camp, they are asking a lot of wide receivers Malcom Floyd (also hurt in the preseason) and Vincent Brown (who missed all of last season).

However, while injuries have also plagued RB Ryan Mathews and TE Antonio Gates in recent years, they are healthy now, so they ought to play pivotal roles in any potential Chargers resurgence. Any and all support for QB Philip Rivers, who will spend Monday night trying to avoid getting sacked by Texans DE J.J. Watt, who is the best in the business.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.




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