The NFL season officially kicked off last night with the Patriots and Chiefs meeting in Foxborough for a Thursday evening edition of Sunday Night Football in America.
No, it doesn’t make any sense, and it never does, but it didn’t need to. It was real football that counted, no longer the NFL’s version of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” where the action was real, but the points didn’t matter.
There’s a full slate of football left to look forward to in Week 1—minus all of us being robbed of Jay Cutler’s debut in Miami because of Mother Nature and her treacherous ways. Let’s take a look at who we should invite to the first round of musical chairs this season.
Just be ready for Cam Newton to bounce back this season. I’m not here for all of the Newton slander people like to toss around:
“He doesn’t complete enough passes.”
“He plays too physical when he runs with the football; that’s only going to get him hurt.”
The second quote is only partly accurate: people don’t use semicolons correctly, like ever.
Look, I’m telling you, Newton is much more the quarterback he was in 2015 than he was a year ago, and he’s going to prove it in 2017. Up until last season, when he finished with a QB rating of 75.8, Newton hadn’t recorded a rating lower than 82.1. Add in all of the skill players the Panthers have finally made an effort to surround their franchise quarterback with—and finally parting ways with the armless receiver—it should spell for bigger fantasy totals for SuperCam going forward.
Last year, the 49ers came to Carolina with basically the same sorry defense they’re toting this season, and Newton shredded them for 353 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. For this week’s matchup, expect some similar numbers from Newton.
It’s the year of the rookie running back, and that much was expected after the year Ezekiel Elliott ripped off in 2016. Understand that he’s the exception, not the rule, and when it comes to rookie runners, think situation first, talent second.
Dalvin Cook’s situation in Minnesota couldn’t be any more different than Elliott’s in Dallas. The Vikings finished 30th in adjusted line yards according to Football Outsiders, but did attempt to address their woes in the running game by adding Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers to their offensive line.
Cook was a focal point of the Vikings’ offense this preseason, carrying the ball 17 times for 70 yards, and hauling in six passes for 35 yards. Cook should see similar numbers in Week 1 against a Saints defense that is still trying to pick up the pieces after losing Nick Fairley to a terribly unfortunate heart condition this offseason. The Saints’ defense surrendered a ton of points to running backs in 2016, especially through the air: New Orleans allowed the second-most receiving yards and tied for the third-most receiving touchdowns to opposing running backs. Cook can be versatile for the Vikings on Sunday, so look for them to have a high ceiling against the Saints.
Nothing about the Packers’ secondary is going to keep opposing offenses from throwing the football. Sure, Green Bay added Kevin King with their first pick from the 2017 NFL Draft, but early returns haven’t been so great for the rookie out of Washington. It’s hard to imagine the Packers’ secondary taking more than marginal steps forward from a year ago, and that spells good news for wideouts lining up opposite of Green Bay’s defensive backs.
Enter Doug Baldwin, Russell Wilson’s No. 1 target for the past three seasons, and you’ve got a no-brainer in starting him this week. He’s Wilson’s safety blanket, and after trading Jermaine Kearse last week in the Sheldon Richardson deal, the team suddenly has 89 targets from last season to distribute this year. Baldwin is still due for a high volume of opportunities after setting a career high in targets with 125 last year.
Green Bay gave up an average of 28.9 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers in 2016, and that was three more points than the second-worst team, the Philadelphia Eagles—25.8 FPts/G. In other words, full send on Baldwin in your lineups this week.
Rodgers is Rodgers. Every other week this year, you should be starting him without any doubts. This week, though, I’m looking elsewhere for a quarterback to start.
I talked about it a bit back in August, but I have no worries about the Packers making due with what they have on the offensive line; if there’s anyone who can deal with all of the moving pieces along the offensive line, it’s Aaron Rodgers. But as I mentioned earlier, the Seahawks added Sheldon Richardson to an already star-studded defensive line, and when you combine that with a team starting new pieces to replace T.J. Lang and JC Tretter, that’s a lot to have figured out on the Packers’ behalf by Week 1.
Again, it’s the year of the rookie running back, and I want to give you a heads up when it comes to the guy who said the NFL is “really easy” after a preseason matchup against the Patriots. Those same Patriots who just allowed the most yards from scrimmage to a player in their NFL debut on Thursday in Kareem Hunt.
Maybe the Patriots’ defense is easy to run against, time will tell, but the Houston Texans won’t be a cake walk for the former LSU Tiger. Last season, the Texans allowed 17.8 FPts/G to opposing running backs, good for 19th best in the NFL. Houston gets J.J. Watt, the cornerstone of their defense back for Fournette’s first real bit of NFL action. This one won’t be quite as easy.
Also, something to keep in mind, Fournette is coming back from a foot injury that limited him to just one appearance in the preseason, so he might not be back to full health by the start of this one. Another warning sign that should earn him a spot on your bench before you trust him in either an RB or FLEX spot in your lineup.
Full disclosure, I was discussing trading Ezekiel Elliott for some package this offseason with the centerpiece of my return being DeAndre Hopkins. I’m real high on him having a season more like his 2015 Pro Bowl campaign where he caught 111 passes for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. Call me crazy, but you’d be wrong in doing so. Look at the group of quarterbacks who were throwing passes to Nuk during 2015:
- Brian Hoyer
- Ryan Mallett
- T.J. Yates
- Brandon Weeden
He simply caught a nasty case of the Brock Osweiler in 2016, and now with that out of the way, he really should return to form.
However, what will be in his way on Sunday is Jalen Ramsey:
night @Nukdabomb pic.twitter.com/r1JkRD1Uth— Cole Hartley (@ColeFartley) March 11, 2017
Happy playing, people!