Boldly going into Week 1
You heard me!
With a preseason shortened by the lockout, we ran out of time to do all of my normal favorites, including one of my most popular, the bold predictions piece I call "You heard me!" The idea is that we pretend we know each other. And then we pretend that not only do we know each other, but we like each other enough to hang out. And then pretend, instead of talking about my two favorite subjects (me and no, seriously, pretty much just me), we were actually talking sports. And I said something like "I think Tony Romo leads the NFL in passing yards this season." And you'd say "What?!?" And then I'd say, "You heard me! Now, what were you were saying about me?"
So instead of a typical "Love/Hate" intro this week, I thought I'd do a quick version of my bold predictions for the year, before the season kicks off tonight. Keep in mind that in order for a prediction to be bold, it has to go against conventional wisdom. Saying Drew Brees is a top-5 fantasy quarterback this year isn't a bold prediction, it's conventional. Saying injury-prone Matthew Stafford will be? That's bold and unexpected and unconventional. Given the right circumstances (him staying upright for 16 games being a big one), it could happen.
So here, now, is a bold prediction for every other NFL team to go along with my Stafford one, which I'm serious about, with a quick line of why I think, if everything breaks right, it could happen:
Buffalo Bills: Ryan Fitzpatrick is a top-12 fantasy quarterback. My thinking: He had a stretch last year where he was the hottest fantasy QB out there. Now he's had a full preseason with reps as the No. 1 starter (he was the backup heading into last season) and the whole team has a year's experience in Chan Gailey's system.
Miami Dolphins: Chad Henne throws for more than 3,700 yards and 25 touchdowns. My thinking: Looking at next-level stats, he got unlucky last season. A better year out of Brandon Marshall and pass-catching Reggie Bush out of the backfield will help.
New England Patriots: Aaron Hernandez, the 18th tight end being drafted, finishes top-10 at the position. My thinking: He's a matchup problem who can run all sorts of routes and Brady will look for him a lot more often than folks think. This narrowly beats out Randy Moss re-signing with the Pats. Hey, they still need a deep threat.
Dallas Cowboys: 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns for Dez Bryant. My thinking: I ranked Austin ahead of Bryant because he's safer and proven, but if you told me one Cowboys wide receiver explodes into Andre Johnson territory this season, I'd say it's Dez, who has the physical tools and is in the right system to put up crazy numbers.
New York Giants: Eli Manning has the worst statistical season of his career and becomes not startable in non bye weeks of 16-team leagues. My thinking: Had 30 turnovers last year and he's looked terrible this preseason. Lost Steve Smith and Kevin Boss in the offseason.
Denver Broncos: 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns for Willis McGahee. My thinking: They've already said he's the goal-line back. You know John Fox will run it, and with Moreno's injury history ...
Kansas City Chiefs: Jamaal Charles is the No. 1 fantasy running back this year. My thinking: Schedule, schmedule. He was the third-best fantasy running back last year and scored only five rushing touchdowns. If he gets that up to eight or nine ...
San Diego Chargers: Mike Tolbert, who went four rounds later than Ryan Mathews, has more fantasy points at the end of the year. My thinking: Tolbert is the better blocker and will be in on more passing downs, they'll ultimately wind up splitting carries and Tolbert is the goal- line back. Mathews has yet to prove anything.
Arizona Cardinals: A career high of 120 receptions for Larry Fitzgerald. My thinking: John Clayton brought this point up during the ESPN Radio Chicago fantasy football convention: He had 173 targets last year and caught 90 with the worst quarterback play possible. They're still gonna throw it a ton, especially with no running back depth, and if he just catches two more balls a game ...
Chicago Bears: Under Mike Martz for a second year, Jay Cutler has an even worse statistical season than last season. My thinking: Was my bold prediction last year and it came true. Why not double down?
Detroit Lions: See Stafford above. All in on the Lions this year.
Green Bay Packers: Jermichael Finley will be the No. 1 tight end in fantasy. My thinking: Antonio Gates' foot is still an issue and Dallas Clark could very well have Kerry Collins throwing to him all season.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew finishes outside the top 10 of fantasy running backs and has the worst statistical year of his career since his rookie season. My thinking: See Benson, Cedric.
New Orleans Saints: 14 touchdowns for Mark Ingram. My thinking: They run a lot more in the red zone than you realize and if he stays healthy and gets all the carries (no guarantee on either), this offense scores enough that it could happen.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: LeGarrette Blount rushes for 1,500 yards. My thinking: Was third in the NFL in rushing yards over the final eight games last season and still has the "something to prove" chip on his shoulder.
And my final bold prediction? Despite explaining the premise of "Love/Hate," there will still be people every week who don't understand the concept. I know. Not that bold.
But here we are, back yet again for another year of Love/Hate. For those who have never read it before or don't remember, this is my weekly column about players I am higher ("love") or lower ("hate") on than the rest of my fellow rankers. For where I view specific players in comparison to every other player, please check out my weekly rankings, published Wednesday and updated Friday.
That's another way of saying "Hey, don't use this purely as a start/sit column." Just because I have Rex Grossman as a love this week and Josh Freeman as a hate does not mean I would sit the Buc for the Washington QB. It does mean, however, that I have Freeman just outside my top 10 this week (all other rankers have him as a must-start) and that, while my fellow analysts don't have Grossman in their top 25, I have him at 20, making him a decent flyer in a two-QB league. Again, always check the rankings, think about the context and use the information to make the best possible decision.
By the way, for Love/Hate this year, I am trying to decide if I should base it off where I differ the most from my other rankers or if I should do it based on where I differ the most from season ranks. Like, if I have a guy who is the 20th-highest scoring RB for the year but have him at 10 that week, he'd be a "love." I've put a poll up on my Facebook page, so please vote. And with that, here we go.
Week 1 Players I Love:
Michael Vick, QB, Eagles (No. 1 in my ranks, average No. 4 by other rankers): All. In.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions (7, 11): Stafford should have a good game here. Or, should I say, as Bill Simmons joked on my B.S. Report appearance, Matthew Stafford If He Stays Healthy should have a good game here. That should be his full name. Matthew Stafford If He Stays Healthy. Anyway, the Bucs had one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL last year (only one team had fewer sacks), so we'll see if they fixed that this season. I expect lots of time for Stafford to throw out of the shotgun in this one and for him to have a big day.
Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys (8, 11): I actually thought I was low on Romo, what with the Jets and all. Turns out I'm highest on him. I love the Cowboys this year and while I don't have Romo in my top six like I did in my preseason ranks, I also think, Jets or no Jets, he's a stud and Week 1 is way too early to bench your studs. I just can't see recommending benching him in a standard league, which is what two of my fellow rankers are suggesting by ranking him outside the top 10.
Rex Grossman, QB, Redskins (20, NR): Again, only for deeper two-QB leagues, but he did have over 300 yards and two scores against the Giants last season. New York's defense is really banged up, the Redskins are going to have to throw in this game (they'll be down and the Redskins were fourth in pass attempts last year to begin with) and well, um ... that's all I got. What do you want from me? He's Rex Grossman.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots (17, 23): Business is booming for law firms in Miami. Including The Law Firm. See what I did there? Ah, it's the first week. I'm still warming up. Anyway, at least 80 total yards and a score in each game against Miami last year, expect another score and 100 yards as the Dolphins concentrate on stopping Tom Brady.
Tim Hightower, RB, Redskins (20, 25): I think he's a must-start, my fellow rankers think he's more of a flex play. Again, see my Grossman rationalization. Banged-up defense, high-scoring game, lotta throwing (he's their best pass-catching running back and the best in pass protection, too) and, uh, you watched the preseason right?
Willis McGahee, RB, Broncos (33, 40): Do I think the Broncos will score against the Raiders? Yes. Do I think that, under John Fox, touchdowns are more likely to be on running plays than on passing plays? Yes. Do I think that, if they are running in for a score, that it will be McGahee instead of Knowshon Moreno? Yes. Sometimes, it's that simple.
Wes Welker, WR, Patriots (19, 17): We're all high on Welker for probably the same reason. All those underneath routes add up. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Welker leads all receivers in targets 14 yards or less downfield, and his 51 such targets against the Dolphins are the most he's had against any opponent.
Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys (11, 20): Think he's a stud, and you don't bench your studs. Plus, I don't have a lot of confidence in Dallas' defense (already a bit banged up), so I think this will be a higher-scoring game than folks think.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots (8, 13): See Predictions, Bold, New Engand Patriots, above.
Lance Kendricks, TE, Rams (13, 20): Philly gave up the second-most points to opposing tight ends last season and I'm not convinced its linebacking corp isn't significantly any better this season. The Rams targeted Kendricks a lot in the preseason and I expect that to continue Sunday.
Denver Broncos D/ST (14, 27): Von Miller is going to be a stud and, under John Fox, this is going to be a much better defense. And at home, season opener, Monday Night Football, I like the Broncos' chances to make some big plays.
Houston Texans D/ST (10, 18): Two numbers for you here: 195 and 24. The 195 is the number of career interceptions for Kerry Collins. 24 is the number of days Kerry Collins will have been with the Colts when he makes his first start for them.
Tennessee Titans D/ST (12, 22): But only because I've seen Luck McCown play.
Week 1 Players I Hate:
Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers (11, 7): I love Freeman like he's a relative. Or a blood donor. Or a former cast member of "Beverly Hills, 90210. " But this is not an offense built for explosiveness. Freeman's fantasy value comes from his consistency and running. And this week, against the Lions, I'm not convinced he's a starter in a 10-team league. Detroit allowed just over 11 points a game in the preseason and yes, it's the preseason and all that, but I believe in the Lions' defense, especially Suh, and in the Lions' line against the Bucs' offensive line. Freeman will be running a lot, which won't be a great thing in this game. He'll be fine, but nothing special.
Eli Manning, QB, Giants (16, 9): He looked terrible this preseason (no touchdowns, under 50 percent completions), and while the Redskins are not a good football team, they do have a decent secondary. Eli had just one touchdown total in two games against the Redskins last season as the Giants ran all over Washington, and I expect a similar game plan here.
Kyle Orton, QB, Broncos (21, 14): Truthfully, I'm probably a bit too down on Orton and might raise him a notch or two in my Friday update, but the Raiders (even without Nnamdi Asomugha) have a better defense than you think. Last year, with Josh McDaniels as his coach and Orton among the hottest QBs in fantasy, he had just under 200 yards, two scores and two turnovers (13 fantasy points). Now again, no Nnamdi, but also no McDaniels. Orton will do what he does. Until I see how Orton plays in the new offense, I'm not super comfortable starting him.
Reggie Bush, RB, Dolphins (37, 30): When Reggie runs into Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth, how do you think that'll go? Exactly. And Belichick knows that, meaning he'll be ready to play the outsides.
Jahvid Best, RB, Lions (28, 19): The way you run on the Buccaneers is up the middle. Guess what Best does worst? I fully admit, this one could blow up in my face; he's got that boom-or-bust potential and I like Detroit's offense in this matchup, so beware. But until I see it consistently from him, I'm nervous making him anything more than a flex play in a non-bye week, while my fellow rankers have him as a must start.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers (38, 30): Think the Panthers get down big in this game and he won't get enough touches before then to rack up points. I also plain don't like him. But again, that's only because I owned him last year.
Daniel Thomas, RB, Dolphins (NR, 41): See Bush, Reggie and then add "all the while, Thomas is sitting on the bench."
Mario Manningham, WR, Giants (24, 14): See Manning, Eli.
Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jaguars (18, 8): In two games against the Titans last year, he had fewer than 40 yards receiving in each of them and a total of four fantasy points. Tennessee plays the tight end very well and I am not a fan of Luke McCown. I may have mentioned that before.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Falcons (20, 13): The Bears allowed just two touchdowns to opposing tight ends last season and Gonzo is now just the fourth-best option on that offense.
And there you have it, kids. Love/Hate for Week 1 is in the books. Be sure to check out Fantasy Football Now this Sunday on ESPN2 at 11:30 a.m. ET.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- boldly predicts some of these love hates will not go well but that everyone will be kind and understanding about it. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. He is a charter member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend
FANTASY TOP HEADLINES
- 2014 fantasy football sleepers, busts, breakouts
- McCormick: Top bounce-back candidates
- Harris: Super-deep sleepers to watch
- Karabell: Auction draft strategy guide