Mike Martz is an NFL offensive play calling genius. Here's a few of his unique plays
Anyone who saw the Chicago Bears self-destruct against the Detroit Lions on Monday night probably thought Chicago’s offense was in complete disarray. Well, you thought wrong. We’ve obtained an exclusive look at Mike Martz’s playbook for Monday night’s debacle and from the looks of it, the Bears' offense executed to near perfection.
The 183rd meeting of the Packers and Bears is a test for Jay Cutler's offensive line.
by Nathan Rush
One day after Quinton “Rampage” Jackson takes on Jon “Bones” Jones in a light heavyweight fight at UFC 135, Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler goes toe-to-toe against the Green Bay defense in the heavyweight showdown that is Packers-Bears 183.
Week 1 of the 2011 NFL season is in the books. Here are some numbers that stood out to me from the Week 1 action that's already happened.
-2 How many owners were screaming at the final play of Sunday night's Cowboys-Jets game when Felix Jones was the last to touch the ball? He was the last of many to lateral the ball as the Cowboys tried to score on the final play from their own 34. And Jones' last touch ended up in the hands of Jets DL Jamaal Westerman. The result will be minus-2 points in many fantasy leagues for the fumble lost by Jones, and perhaps the difference in a win or loss come Tuesday morning.
1 - Targets Green Bay Packers WR James Jones received Thursday night in 20 snaps of action. He turned it into one catch for one yard. Why did he re-sign with the Packers again? Was it just to jumble this receiving corps up even more for fantasy owners?
4 & 1 - Tampa Bay WR Mike Williams and Houston's Andre Johnson were each targeted a league-high four times in the red zone. Johnson caught two of his, including one for a score. Williams caught one of his for a score.
5 -We're down on Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez this year because his numbers have declined. However, he did receive seven targets Sunday against a solid Bears LB corps, and turned it into five catches for 72 yards. All of those numbers are above his 2010 16-game average of 6.8 targets, 4.4 catches and 41 yards per game. Three targets came in the first quarter, three in the third and one in the fourth. He had the third-longest day of the play for the Falcons, a 30-yard catch in the first quarter.
9.75 - Yards per attempt for Chicago QB Jay Cutler, who completed 22-of-32 passes for 312 yards and two scores. He was still sacked five times, which puts him on pace for 80 this season — well above his league-leading 56 last year.
12 - DeSean Jackson, more known for what he is able to do with limited targets, was the go-to guy for Mike Vick Sunday against St. Louis. Jackson was targeted 96 times over 14 games last season for a 6.9 per game average. Sunday, he was targeted 12 times, one behind league leader Roddy White (ATL). Jackson caught six of the targets for 102 yards and a score. He was targeted double-digit times in just three games last season, including the 2010 opener (11), but keep an eye on this trend as it pertains to how Vick sees the field. TE Brent Celek and WR Jeremy Maclin received just three targets apiece.
13 - The Titans ran the ball just 13 times against Jacksonville, and fell to 0-12 all-time when they have rushed 13 times or fewer. Only three times in Jeff Fisher's tenure did the team run 13 times or less.
21.9 - Wes Welker enters Week 2 with his yards per catch nearly double his career average of 10.9 after an eight-catch, 160-yard performance Monday night against Miami. He was at 9.2 before a 99-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter. He also has his average targets per game well above last year's average of 8.2 after Tom Brady went his way 12 times. That's a good sign for Welker owners as he is still a favorite option despite so many mouths to feed.
21.9 - Fantasy points New Orleans Saints RB/return man Darren Sproles had Thursday night. He tied for the team lead in targets (9) and turned it into seven catches for 75 yards to go with two carries for seven yards. On special teams, he had two punt returns for 92 yards, including a 72-yard TD return, and two kickoff returns for 76 yards.
25 - Matthew Stafford was 18-of-25 for 265 yards, two TDs and an interception by halftime. He went 6-of-8 in the second half with 40 more yards and a score. He had already targeted WR Calvin Johnson seven times, TE Brandon Pettigrew six times and Nate Burleson four times in the first half.
25 - Tim Hightower and Cedric Benson led the league with 25 carries apiece on Sunday. Hightower went for 72 yards and a score with his; Benson scored as well, on a 39-yard run, rushing for 121 yards. Hightower added three catches for 25 yards; Benson had one catch for 2 yards. 18.8 fantasy points for Benson, 18.2 for Higtower.
39 - Minnesota QB Donovan McNabb threw for 39 yards. ... Has that sunk in yet? He threw for 39 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception and added 32 yards rushing for a fantasy day of 9.76 points. It's going to be hard for Adrian Peterson, who miraculously had 98 yards on 16 carries, to consistently find any running room with McNabb stretching the field to the tune of 39 yards.
46 - Denver QB Kyle Orton attempted 46 passes in Monday night's loss to Oakland. And it was not all in the second half as the Broncos attempted to come back. The Broncos ran 33 first-half plays, traling by no more than 10 points, yet 23 of those 33 plays were pass attempts by Orton. He attempted 46 or more passes just twice last season under Josh McDaniels. So just because John Fox came to town, and many worried that the forward pass would cease to exist, Orton should still be slinging the ball.
71 -Dallas WR Dez Bryant had three catches for 71 yards and a score in the first quarter. The first two catches and the score came against New York Jets DB Antonio Cromartie, the final catch, a 26-yard play down the sidelines came against Darrelle Revis. It was the last catch of the night for Bryant, despite five more targets.
Week 1 of the 2011 NFL season is upon us, which means it is time to start setting your fantasy football lineups. Athlon Sports will try to help you do that each week with its Start or Sit suggestions. Keep in mind that these are suggestions and you are the owner of your fantasy team, and setting your lineup comes down to what you think is right.
Check back each week for Start or Sit and see who we are giving our thumbs up or thumbs down to and whether we had success or failure the week prior.
Sneaky Start of the Week
Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee at Jacksonville
He has battled off-the-field trouble and hamstring trouble, but Titans coach Mike Munchak said Kenny Britt will be "turned loose" against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the opening game.
He closed the 2010 season strong (26 catches 566 yards and five scores in the final six games) and now faces a team who just sacked its starting quarterback in David Garrard and possesses the 28th-ranked pass defense from a year ago. The focus will be on stopping Chris Johnson, leaving Britt to run wild for Matt Hasselbeck to find him.
Unexpected Sit of the Week
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh
We love Ray Rice to be one of the top backs for the 2011 season. His one problem, that he faces twice a year, is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Don't believe the hype that if you drafted a player in the first round that he always plays. (Chris Johnson, coming off a 2,000-yard season in 2009, was held to 53 total yards, five catches and a fumble by these Steelers in Week 1 last year).
In three meetings against the Steelers last season, Rice totaled 84 yards on the ground, 59 yards in the air off 10 catches, one score and one fumble. That's an average of 4.1 points per game in non-PPR, 5.8 in half-PPR, and 7.5 in full-PPR formats.
If you're in a non-PPR league, bench him. If you're in a half-PPR league, bench him. If you're in a full PPR league, he may be worth a shot. But knowing going in that recent history against a very familiar opponent may only yield my top RB spot 4 to 8 points to start the season, no thanks. I will take my chances elsewhere.
It's still a game of matchups, and it's no different whether it's Ray Rice with a top-three pick or Willis McGahee with an eighth-round pick.
Kyle Orton (DEN) vs. Oakland — The Raiders, despite the presence of shutdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha last year, were still seventh-worst against fantasy QBs last season at 19.7 points per game. Asomugha is gone, and all the talk of John Fox being a run-first coach makes it sounds as if the Broncos are scrapping the forward pass altogether. The Raiders were also 10th-worst against the RBs (22.9 PPG), meaning the Broncos should be able to be balanced. The Orton-to-Brandon Lloyd connection was solid last year and looked good in the preseason, and the Broncos should be able to score more than the 23 and 14 points they put up against their AFC West rivals last season. Plus, Denver the worst defense against fantasy RBs last season (29 PPG), so there could be plenty of points had in this one. Matthew Stafford (DET) at Tampa Bay — Everyone's healthy for the Lions, so take advantage while you can. Stafford was averaging 20.2 fantasy points through three games before landing on IR. Mark Sanchez (NYJ) vs. Dallas — Sanchez doesn't scream fantasy starter, but against the Cowboys, in the season opener, he's certainly a worth candidate. Dallas was second-to-last against fantasy QBs at 21.4 points per game, and might go into this game without cornerback Mike Jenkins in addition to the already sidelined Terence Newman.
Tony Romo (DAL) at New York Jets — Two starting offensive linemen are gone (one released, one injured). Darrelle Revis is on the other side to cover either the injured Miles Austin or the coming-off-injury Dez Bryant. Sam Bradford (STL) vs. Phildaelphia — Bradford has a bevy of receivers to choose from, but none that really standout, and certainly none that should have the advantage over the Eagles' standout corners, including the recently acquired Nnamdi Asomugha. This will be Game 1 for Bradford under new OC Josh McDaniels and it will be Game 1 for the Eagles' defense under new DC Juan Castillo. If defenses are usually ahead of offenses in the early weeks, give the edge to Philly in this one. Kerry Collins (IND) at Houston — It would seem fairly obvious, but there is the allure of running an offense with all of those weapons around Collins. However, Collins did not look good under pressure last season with a better offensive line in Tennessee, and expect the Texans to do everything they can to disrupt a 39-year-old player that has been with the team less than three weeks.
Running Backs START
Peyton Hillis (CLE) vs. Cincinnati — Hillis had 102 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting last season against the Bengals and went 14 for 59 yards (4.2 ypc) in the second meeting. Expect the Browns to lean on their big back, and get all you can out of Hillis before the Madden Curse strikes. Cedric Benson (CIN) at Cleveland — Second verse, same as the first. The Bengals are going to run the wheels off Benson this season. He averaged at least four yards per carry in two meetings last season, including a 31-150 and a score in Week 15 last season against Cleveland. DeAngelo Williams (CAR) at Arizona — The Cardinals were second-worst against fantasy RBs last year (26.5 PPG). Jonathan Stewart went for 137 yards on 27 carries in a Week 15 game against the Cards last season. The Panthers will use the run game and the tight ends to offset rookie QB Cam Newton making his first start.
Michael Turner (ATL) at Chicago — The Bears were second in NFL rush defense and seventh in fantasy points allowed to RBs last year (17.1 PPG). I am expecting the Falcons to show off new toy Julio Jones and see what rewards Roddy White reaps from his presence. The Bears should stand tall on their home field and see if the Falcon passing game can beat their experienced secondary. Felix Jones (DAL) at New York Jets — Same rules as for Romo: The Cowboys are without two offensive linemen they went into camp with, one receiver is banged up, the other may draw Revis and the Jets surrendered a second-best 14 points per game to fantasy RBs last season. Marshawn Lynch (SEA) at San Francisco — The quarterback situation is beyond bad. Sidney Rice is ailing. That combination will fail to stretch the field and open up running room for Lynch against a 49ers defense that allowed an 11th-best 18.8 points per game to RBs. Oh, and Lynch has missed a majority of the preseason battling an ankle injury.
Wide Receivers START
Santonio Holmes (NYJ) vs. Dallas — One of the reasons Sanchez is a start is this player. He was one of the top fantasy scorers in the last half of 2010 and expect him to excel this week against a suspect Cowboys secondary. Mario Manningham (NYG) at Washington — The Redskins allowed 20 fantasy points per game to QBs and 29.9 points to receivers. I am expecting a throwing showcase from both teams. The Giants' banged up defense should have trouble shutting down Rex Grossman (another sneaky QB play) and the Redskins' passing game, and New York will have to counter through the air as well. Hakeem Nicks and Manningham are the only proven targets, and they will face a secondary that may be without LaRon Landry and a banged O.J. Atogwe. Lee Evans (BAL) vs. Pittsburgh — This is purely a flex play. I am not a fan of the old Lee Evans, but I am going to try and give him a clean slate in Baltimore. The Ravens are going to have to take their shots downfield to try and give the running game some breathing room and Evans, who quickly developed a rapport with QB Joe Flacco upon his arrival in Baltimore, will be there to perhaps give you a quick 10-12-point, long-TD score. And you should be happy with 10-12 points in a flex spot.
Reggie Wayne (IND) vs. Houston — I am wary of all Colts until I see how Kerry Collins operates in this offense and with this offensive line. The Texans will counter Wayne with cornerback Jonathan Joseph, acquired in the offseason from Cincinnati. The last time the two met was in Week 10 last season, and Wayne was limited to three catches for 34 yards. Jeremy Maclin (PHI) at St. Louis — It's just a bad vibes call. He had the health scare and was not able to get on the practice field from the time the 2010 season ended up until just a couple of weeks ago. The Eagles' offense has not looked stellar in the preseason and the Rams have more than enough on the defensive line to disrupt Michael Vick to where he may not have enough time to find Maclin. Miles Austin (DAL) at New York Jets — Lingering hamstring injury. Possibility of going up against Revis or Antonio Cromartie. How much time will his QB have to throw with two offensive linemen that were there when camp began are no longer in the lineup? Live to play another day with Austin, namely next week against the 49ers.
Tight Ends START
Brandon Pettigrew (DET) at Tampa Bay — This might be a homer pick because we like Pettigrew (ranked sixth at the position in the preseason) a lot this year and would like to see him prove us right from the jump. Marcedes Lewis (JAC) vs. Tennessee — New starting QB. Tight ends are their best friend. He was slated to be one of the top targets already. Plus, Tennessee has not necessarily been the best defense against the tight end in recent memory, including last year when the Titans were seventh-worst at 10.7 points per game allowed to the position. Jared Cook (TEN) at Jacksonville — Cook was one of the expected top receiving targets that was in camp with new QB Matt Hasselbeck from the get-go. New OC Chris Palmer loves him and he can have success against the third-worst team against fantasy TEs (11.5 PPG) while the Titans bring Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt back into the fold.
Tony Gonzalez (ATL) at Chicago — Where does he fit in the passing tree/target pecking order now? Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas all have potential to have good games. We are relatively down on Gonzo this year, and would like to see the first game before we know how he will be used. Chicago will be a good test for that, but in the meantime, find your TE elsewhere in Week 1. Dustin Keller (NYJ) vs. Dallas — The perennial sleeper. This is the year for Dustin Keller. If it sounds familiar it should because it's been said before. He was good for Sanchez prior to Holmes' four-game suspension last season and then fell off. With Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Shonn Greene and LT all in the mix at the goal line, I'd feel comfortable looking for a TE somewhere outside of New York. Greg Olsen (CAR) at Arizona — Beware of the preseason hype. He still has Jeremy Shockey to contend with in what will be a TE-friendly offense. We know he was a solid TE a few years ago when he was utilized, but we are going to pull back a bit on the preseason love and see how it works in Week 1 before we place him in the starting lineup.
Defense/Special Teams START
Houston vs. Indianapolis — Maybe it's wishful thinking because we already loved Houston's new defense under Wade Phillips, but when we hear Kerry Collins gets the start we can't get the Texans in the lineup fast enough. Their secondary is solid with Joseph and Danieal Manning and that should allow the front seven to tee off on the statue that is a 39-year old QB who was out of football three weeks ago. Cleveland vs. Cincinnati — Should be a low-scoring affair. The Browns get to welcome a rookie QB with a weak arm to the league in Andy Dalton and there's always Josh Cribbs in the return game. San Francisco vs. Seattle — Until the Seahawks show they can be a competent offense with Tarvaris at the QB spot, you start almost any defense against them. I just see Jackson throwing up prayers to big receivers Mike Williams and Sidney Rice (if he plays) and the 49ers' defense just waiting under them to pick them off and go the other way. Plus,. Kendall Hunter and Ted Ginn as return men aren't too shabby for San Francisco.
New York Giants at Washington — Rex Grossman may actually be a good play against a banged up, depleted Giants back seven, and if the Skins can protect Grossman I don't see where the Giants are going to get their fantasy points from. Dallas at New York Jets — Both Sanchez and the running game should be in for a solid day, and unless the Cowboys get a special teams return for a score, it's hard to see where they score for you this week as a fantasy DST. Atlanta at Chicago — The last time we saw the Atlanta defense they were getting torched by the Packers to the tune of 48 points, 366 yards passing and three scores from Aaron Rodgers, just two sacks registered, five QB hits and one pass defended. Eric Weems' 102-yard TD kickoff return was the lone bright spot. So to go up against another passing team, at its place to open the season, we are going to pump the brakes on the Falcons' defense for the first week.
Neil Rackers (HOU) vs. Indianapolis — Whether its PATs or field goals, the Texans should have a field day. Alex Henery (PHI) at St. Louis — Last year's No. 1 fantasy kicker, David Akers, was let go in favor of this rookie. Might as well see what he's got when the Nebraska product makes his NFL debut back in the Midwest and in a dome no less. Nick Folk (NYJ) vs. Dallas — Should have plenty of PAT opportunities, or if the Jets' offense falters the man who attempted the third most field goals in the league last year and hit 30 of them, will get his chances.
David Akers (SF) vs. Seattle — It's doubtful that you would play him, but just in case you remembered the name, thought he was still the top dog in Philadelphia and would pick up where he left off, leave him on the waiver wire for now. David Buehler (DAL) at New York Jets — If it seems like I'm picking on the Cowboys, well, I am. And this is coming from a player who has Dez in two leagues, Miles in another and Romo in another. I just don't see much offense generated by the 'Boys in Week 1. Billy Cundiff (BAL) vs. Pittsburgh — He was a six-point scorer when these two teams met in the postseason last January. And that took the Ravens scoring 24 points for him to be a part of six of them. It's doubtful the Ravens are scoring 24 points this time, so let Cundiff ride the pine in Week 1.
Never bench your studs. Yeah, right. Just because you drafted a running back in the first round, don't think you can just set him in the starting lineup and not have to worry about him falling on his face.
Case in point is Week 1 and Baltimore's Ray Rice. If you're in a non-PPR sit him. If you're in a league without a flex position, sit him. And if you're in a PPR league with a flex position, really consider going somewhere else this week if you have better options/matchups.
Ray Rice gets Pittsburgh to open the season — he will also have to face the Steelers and their No. 1 run defense in the NFL and No. 1 in points per game allowed to RBs in fantasy last season at just 12.9 in Week 9. Yes, we love Ray Rice. But maybe we love him too much considering he has to face the Steelers twice this season and the Jets in Week 4 (No. 2 in PPG to RBs at 14). But back to Week 1. In two games against the Steelers last year, Rice ran for 52 yards total, caught three balls for 27 yards total and failed to reach the end zone. In two starts that's 10.9 points in a full PPR league and 7.7 in a standard league — in TWO starts.
In five regular-season games against the Steelers in his career, Rice has a total of 281 yards rushing, nine catches for 108 yards and NO touchdowns. That's 77.8 total yards and 1.8 catches per game. So his career fantasy average vs. the Steelers in a full-PPR league is 9.5 points and 7.7 in non-PPR.
You need look no further than what Chris Johnson, coming off a 2,000-yard rushing season, did in the opener against Pittsburgh last year: 34 yards rushing and five catches for 19 yards — 5.3 in a non-PPR and 10.3 in a full-PPR.
Rice was the ninth-best back in PPG last year at 15.3. Seeing Pittsburgh twice a year, along with the Jets, all before the fantasy postseason, is not a confidence builder for his 2011 prospects if you just assume he is not going to come close to reaching his average in those three games.
No other top-12 back faces Pittsburgh twice, but there are three that face Pittsburgh and the Jets: Rice, Jamaal Charles and Maurice Jones-Drew.
We know Rice's numbers vs. the Steelers. He has played the Jets once (last year's season opener) and went for 43 yards rushing, 19 yards receiving on two catches and no scores. That's 6.2 points in a non-PPR and 8.2 in a full-PPR.
Charles has faced the Steeler and Jets once each — 58 yards rushing, two catches for eight yards and one score against the Steelers in 2009 and 45 yards rushing, one catch for four yards and no scores against the Jets in his rookie season of 2008.
MJD has faced the Steelers three times, rushing for 80 yards and one score and adding 13 catches for 59 yards and no scores. He has faced the Jets twice, rushing for 182 yards and three scores and catching two balls for 22 yards and no scores. Clearly, MJD is the best against these two teams, but now with the release of QB David Garrard and teams knowing it's stack the box time, having success against these two teams in the first six weeks of the season is a tall order.
Here are the top five fantasy defenses against RBs last season, and which RBs have to face them this year.
Pittsburgh — 12.9
New York Jets — 14.0
Green Bay — 15.7
Atlanta & Baltimore — 16
No. 1 Arian Foster — Pittsburgh (Week 4), Baltimore (Week 6), Atlanta (Week 13) No. 2 Adrian Peterson — Green Bay (Week 7), Green Bay (Week 10), Atlanta (Week 12) No. 3 Ray Rice — Pittsburgh (Week 1), N.Y. Jets (Week 4), Pittsburgh (Week 9) No. 4 LeSean McCoy — Atlanta (Week 2), New York Jets (Week 15) No. 5 Jamaal Charles — Pittsburgh (Week 12), New York Jets (Week 14), Green Bay (Week 15) No. 6 Chris Johnson — Baltimore (Week 2), Pittsburgh (Week 5), Atlanta (Week 11) No. 7 Rashard Mendenhall — Baltimore (Week 1), Baltimore (Week 9) No. 8 Maurice Jones-Drew — New York Jets (Week 2), Pittsburgh (Week 6), Baltimore (Week 7), Atlanta (Week 15) No. 9 Darren McFadden — New York Jets (Week 3), Green Bay (Week 14) No. 10 Steven Jackson — Baltimore (Week 3), Green Bay (Week 6), Pittsburgh (Week 16) No. 11 Matt Forte — Atlanta (Week 1), Green Bay (Week 3), Green Bay (Week 16) No. 12 Frank Gore — Baltimore (Week 12), Pittsburgh (Week 15)
Of course you can't run from all of the top-12 backs in fantasy football, but this is just meant to inform you of when to beware. And maybe with eight of the first 12 backs each facing a top-five fantasy run defense at least three times, perhaps their value is not as great as once thought.
Bottom line: Sit em vs. the Steelers and Jets and cross your fingers for the rest.
On to Ask Athlon for Week 1...
Kevin Kolb or Jay Cutler Week 1? — Mike Crowther from Athlon Sports on Facebook
Wow, that's a tough one. Cutler was sacked a league-high 56 times last season, but Kolb's opponent, Carolina, wasn't far behind with 50 sacks allowed. Cutler faces an Atlanta team that allowed the fifth-most points to fantasy WRs last year (30.5 PPG), while Carolina was much better at fifth-best (22.8 PPG). Arizona has Larry Fitzgerald and Todd Heap and a new QB in Kolb and the Cardinals are on the road against a coach In Ron Rivera hired for his defensive mind. The Bears are at home, with more weapons and Cutler in his second year in Mike Martz's offense. It's a close call, but I'd go Cutler.
Julio Jones, Jonathan Stewart or Marshawn Lynch at the flex spot, non-PPR — Chris Kaschok from Athlon Sports on Facebook
All I see when I think of the Falcons, Week 1 and a receiver is Michael Jenkins streaking down the field to catch Matt Ryan's first-ever pro pass for a 62-yard touchdown in 2008. One play and Jenkins had 12.2 points in non-PPR leagues, add a point in PPR. Chicago's Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are no bums when it comes to covering receivers but the Bears' rush defense was second in the league last season. So expect the Falcons to come out showing off their new weapon in the rookie receiver from Alabama. I feel better about his opportunities to get you the 12 points you want from your flex spot than the other two options.
Stewart ran for 137 yards and no scores against Arizona last season when he was the primary back. But DeAngelo Williams is back, rookie QB Cam Newton can't throw and expect the Cardinals to key on the run. With Stewart playing second fiddle and the Cardinals focused on one thing — stopping the run — hard to expect much from JStew in this one.
Lynch is in Seattle. Enough said. Get the great playoff run he had against the Saints out of your mind. I am not touching a single Seahawk this season until they get a new QB — and that QB is not currently on the roster.
Who do you like more this week. Big Ben at the Ravens or Tony Romo at the Jets? — @AthlonBraden on Twitter (because even Athlon editors need help setting their lineups)
Both teams are in similar situations. The Steelers and Cowboys go up against top-notch run defenses and will probably have to go to the air to have success. I give the edge to Roethlisberger for three reasons: familiarity, health and the other team's defensive backfield.
Roethlisberger has not lost in his last seven tries against his AFC North rivals, and averages 21.6 points per game over the last 12 meetings. The Steelers are healthy, minus Emmanuel Sanders being banged up with his foot injury, although Antonio Brown filled in nicely in the preseason. Jets shutdown corner Darrelle Revis is not on the other side of the field for Big Ben to face.
Romo has only faced the Jets once — 195 yards, two scores and an interception in 2007. Romo does have to face Revis. He does so with a hamstring injury to his No. 1 receiver, Miles Austin, who would be lined up against Revis. His No. 2, Dez Bryant, is unproven with Romo at the helm so far. Add all that with the fact the Cowboys' No. 16 run offense from a year ago, now minus Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode who they released, goes up against the No. 3 ranked rushing defense.
Athlon Sports looks at the sleepers and busts at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end positions this week. These are the players we think you can wait on and still get solid production from and the players we think have an average draft position (ADP) that is too high for what you will get in return.
Now it's the quarterbacks' turn. There are five QBs you can seemingly set it and forget it — Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning (if he's back in time for Week 1). But what do you do if you pass (or miss) on them? Well, if you keep on waiting, here are some that could serve you well.
See more of Athlon Sports value players, overvalued players and top rookies in our Best Bets story
Guys that give you a reason not reach for the five set it and forget it players...
Matt Ryan, Atlanta
Hype has followed Ryan basically since he entered the league, and it’s not hard to see why. Two of his three seasons have ended in the playoffs, and the fourth-year pro has a career TD-INT ratio of about 2-1. The huge draft-day trade for Julio Jones has the fantasy-hype train chugging along. Ryan, who was fifth in the league in pass attempts last season (571), now has Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas in the slot at his disposal. The Falcons led the NFL in offensive scrimmage plays last season, running at least 49 more plays than in either of Ryan’s previous two campaigns.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
His ceiling remains lower than other passers. Visions of 2007’s 32 touchdown passes dance in some drafters’ heads, but that season remains a bit of an outlier. Roethlisberger’s 7.9 percent TD rate that season stands 1.6 points better than any other he has posted. His next two came in his first two years, each of which included fewer than 300 pass attempts. By comparison, Big Ben notched a 4.4 rate last season, good for 18th in the league, or one spot behind Carson Palmer. Still, it's hard to discount the 3,200 yards and 17 scores in 12 games (extrapolated out it goes to 4,200 yards and 23 scores). Certainly worth racking up other skill positions while the rest of your league grabs QBs and then taking Big Ben in the 5-7-round range.
Matt Schaub, Houston
The thing about Schaub is that you know he’ll throw it a bunch. He led the league in attempts in his breakout 2009 and ranked fifth last year. His two lowest totals opened and closed the season. In between, Schaub tallied fewer than 32 attempts just once — and then it was 29. This season should present a healthy Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. Combine those replenished top two targets with a passer who has lowered his INT rate for three straight years, and there’s little downside.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis
There was a lot to like about Bradford’s numbers as a rookie, including an INT rate better than that of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Most observers believe Bradford has a chance to improve in Year 2, now under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The promise, however, must outweigh the questions at receiver: Will Mark Clayton be OK after his injury? Can Danario Alexander stay healthy? Can Danny Amendola produce like Wes Welker? Will the rookies deliver? If you haven't grabbed a QB yet, this is probably the last who could be counted on as an every-week starter.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit
He produced well in three games last season, but that’s too small of a sample to mean anything in a sport of small sample sizes. We know Stafford has plenty of arm. NFL Films showed us his toughness in that 2009 win over Cleveland. The weapons are obvious — and they don’t matter all that much beyond Calvin Johnson. The big question with Stafford is that shoulder, and it’ll create significant differences in his draft position. If he could only stay healthy is the mantra of many a fantasy player concerning Bradford. He's thrown for 2,800 yards combined in his 13 career games the last two years, and has one of the game's best WRs in Johnson, an emerging TE in Brandon Pettigrew and a pass-catching RB in Jahvid Best.
Jay Cutler, Chicago
A healthy Cutler has to produce more in 2011. The 2010 Bears attempted fewer passes (466) than any other team and tallied their fewest scrimmage plays (936) since 1993. Both numbers will rise. We’ve heard about the complicated Mike Martz pass offense, so it’s fair to assume Cutler and his receivers will have a better grasp this time around. Let’s also assume more weight on their shoulders, as 2010 presented Martz’s first offense that ran as much as 44 percent of the time. Cutler wasn't a complete bum in his first year in Martz's system. He threw for nearly 3,300 yards and 23 TDs while being sacked a league-high 52 times. It's easy to say: If you just add a few extras of this and that he would be ... Since it's easy to say such things, we will. So, give him an extra 50 yards a game and he's a 4,000-yard passer. The offensive line should be somehwat more cohesive and his leading receiver from a year ago, Johnny Knox, is now No. 4 on the depth chart. That tells you the coaches must like what they see from the other three.
Kevin Kolb, Arizona
Kolb remains a fairly hot ticket despite having only seven pro starts and three more career picks than touchdowns. He started the excitement in 2009 with a pair of 300-yard games. One came while playing from behind, though, and the other against a weak K.C. secondary. Injury killed his 2010 starting shot, and Kolb delivered just one noteworthy fantasy outing. An outstanding supporting cast helped him with the big numbers he did tally. After Bradford and Stafford, this has to be the sexy QB sleeper pick of 2011. Groomed by Andy Reid in Philadelphia, the Cardinals coveted Kolb from the get-go. He gets Larry Fitzgerald, one of the game's top five WRs and plays against a relatively easy division and schedule altogether.
Guys that have potential to be more than bye-week replacements...
Ryan Fiztpatrick, Buffalo
Fitzpatrick brings two things to the party: 1) opportunity, and 2) running ability. You don’t want to draft some little Ivy-Leaguer from Buffalo with a cool beard, but he’ll throw the ball plenty. That’s why he delivered 23 touchdowns last season in just 13 games. His pace would have meant 543 attempts over a full season, which would have ranked seventh in the league for a team that ran the sixth-fewest offensive plays. The team went defense with its first three picks to start the NFL Draft. They won’t be impacts immediately, plus the Bills lost LB Paul Posluszny and DB Donte Whitner to free agency. If nothing else, just the opportunity to put the ball in the air a lot makes Fitzpatrick appealing, as do the 269 rushing yards he added in 13 games to make him the fifth-best rushing QB.
Colt McCoy, Cleveland
Say this for Jake Delhomme: He’s a good guy to follow as your team’s starting QB. The former Panther was so bad that McCoy looked good while posting a QB rating that would have ranked 28th in the league had he qualified. Actually, McCoy did play well considering his situation. His 60.8 completion rate and 7.1 yards per attempt, over 222 passes in eight games, ranked in the middle of the league despite a weak set of wideouts. The West Coast offense might suit him well and the addition of rookie WR Greg Little certainly helps. He also has a friendly schedule until the fantasy playoffs begin in Week 14.
Jason Campbell, Oakland
Campbell has never had it easy, from the coordinator turnstile in Washington to having Bruce Gradkowski sitting over his shoulder in Oakland last season. He’s better than that, though, and Hue Jackson seems to agree. The new head coach was the offensive coordinator in 2010, when Campbell posted his best TD rate in a season in which he started more than seven games. Campbell has also averaged 5.0 yards per carry in his career and topped 220 yards rushing in three straight seasons. He has two solid RBs behind him, a bevy of quick receivers and a TE in Kevin Boss that may have been under utilized in New York. The schedule is somewhat favorable until the fantasy playoffs and the Raiders' defense, or lack thereof, may allow for more opportunities.
Two rookies worth a late flier on...
Cam Newton, Carolina
The best thing for fantasy owners to do in advance of Newton’s rookie season might be to look back at Vince Young’s debut. Young took over in Week 4, started 13 games, rushed for 300 more yards than any QB not named Michael Vick and finished as a top-12 fantasy passer. The Titans had a solid running back (Travis Henry) and no special pass-catchers. Newton comes with a better arm, two better running backs (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart), two solid TEs in Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey and a true No. 1 wideout in Steve Smith. Young scored 225 fantasy points as a rookie, and if you told us we could get a potential 225-point QB in the final three rounds, we would jump at it.
Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville
Newton is the rookie to go for considering he is the most likely to start all season, but Gabbert is the next most likely rookie starting QB candidate. He does have an average offensive line, RB (Jones-Drew), TE (Lewis) and WR (Thomas) to help him along. He was a 63 percent passer, averaging just under 250 yards per game in Missouri's spread offense last season, and can also use his legs to be productive. Let's say he starts after the Week 9 bye, the teams Gabbert will face include: the Colts, Browns, Texans, Chargers, Buccaneers, Falcons and Titans.
Two guys that have already proven they can be dependable fantasy QBs and are playing behind injury-prone QBs... Shaun Hill, Detroit
Considering he entered 2010 as an off-the-radar backup, Hill was terrific. He put forth fantasy-starter value in his first start and generated plenty of other points thanks to a ton of pass attempts. That success helps to build momentum for Matthew Stafford’s fantasy stock now that the starter is back healthy. Hill has tossed 39 TDs versus 23 INTs in his career. If Stafford gets hurt, Hill put up three 300-yard games, 244 yards per game and nearly 1.5 TDs a game in his 11 outings last season.
Jon Kitna, Dallas
Had the Cowboys not opened so poorly, Tony Romo’s injury would have looked like a season-killer. It revived Kitna’s career, though. Two shaky initial starts gave way to four multi-score outings over the final seven weeks. Kitna topped 300 yards four times and helped Jason Witten to a career-high nine touchdowns. He posted the best TD rate of his career. Romo’s return pushes Kitna back behind the curtain, but at least we know what he can do in the event of another injury to the starter. Kitna put up 237 yards per game and 1.6 TDs a game in 10 outings.
BUSTS Michael Vick, Philadelphia
Even Vick’s coaches couldn’t have foreseen his 2010 season. Being the unchallenged starter can only help, even without minicamps and OTAs. First-round pick Danny Watkins, a guard, strengthens an offensive line that ranked fifth-worst in adjusted sack rate, according to FootballOutsiders.com. Speed and talent surround Vick, making it easier for him to create big plays with his arm than his legs. Vick’s career-high of nine rushing TDs figures to regress, but we know he’ll continue to produce there. Of course, he also lost four games to a running-related rib injury.
Matt Cassel, Kansas City
Seven players threw more TD passes than Cassel last season. All attempted at least 25 more throws and threw for at least 589 more yards. No QB has thrown for less yardage than Cassel did last year while ranking among the league’s top 12 in touchdown passes since 2006. That would seem to indicate a TD level that’s tough to sustain. Cassel will need to attempt significantly more passes to have a shot at repeating his numbers. Plus, who knows how efficient the offense will be with Charlie Weis back in college?
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay
Freeman’s reputation might start to outgrow his actual value. His TD-to-INT ration of 25-to-6 last year was obviously tremendous. Five of those scores, however, came in a single home game against Seattle. It was the only time all year that Freeman threw for more than two TDs in a game. A guy known for above-average running ability also failed to rush for a single touchdown. Luck seems likely to change that, but Freeman’s next NFL ground score will be his first. His team also won’t sneak up on anyone this year. Full disclosure, we have him ranked at 81 in our Athlon 280, and we thought that might be low. But he has an ADP of 100 in MockDraftCentral.com drafts and an ADP of 66 in MyFantasyLeague.com drafts. So he's a bust somewhere and a great value somewhere.