Well here we are. The beginning of a new NFL season. There is a lot I can write about the prospects of various fantasy players. Peyton Manning’s potential for regression, the risks and rewards of drafting Gronk, an analysis of Reggie Bush’s expected performance compared to that of Joique Bell, or the chances Montee Bell turns in Top 10 RB numbers this season. All of that is fine and good. My opinion would be one of hundreds of other opinions out there. But what I really want to do is take a more holistic view of the upcoming season.
The impetus for this was Super Bowl XLVIII. As game day approached for this most recent Super Bowl, I developed some rather particular opinions about the matchup. I believed that popular sentiment was off the mark in favoring Denver so strongly. Aside from the time-honored adage that “defenses win championships,” my supporting argument focused on the 2013 Preseason, when Denver played Seattle. Yes, it was only a preseason game; but it was also Week 3 of the preseason, when teams finally play their starters for 2-3 quarters as a dress rehearsal for the regular season. The Seahawks dominated the first half of that preseason game, going to the locker room with a 33-7 lead, and ultimately winning the game 40-10.
While I never envisioned Seattle repeating such a dominant performance against the Broncos in the Super Bowl, that preseason game kept tugging at me in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. Perhaps the Seahawks were actually going into the big game with a decided edge. I almost put my thoughts into writing here. But seeing as I am an unabashed lifelong fan of the Seattle Seahawks, I questioned my objectivity on the matchup. And given that my thoughts would have little bearing on fantasy play at that point in the season, I opted not to put pen to paper on the matter. Well, that decision has quickly become one of the greatest regrets of my young writing career….
So with that said, I have decided not to ignore my instincts this week, which are telling me there are a few preseason observations worth sharing with you as the season begins – the first of which goes back to Seattle… they look sharp out there. Real sharp. This is one of the few teams in recent memory with a legitimate chance of repeating as Super Bowl champions. All-too-often these days, the Lombardi Trophy goes to the team that gets hot at the right time of the season. But in 2013, the Seahawks simply dominated the competition. And they may do it again this season. At the same time, fantasy owners need to be concerned about the durability of Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin’s propensity for injuries (for my part, I believe owners should be careful about drafting/trading for Lynch; however, Harvin is worth a gamble). If both can prove reliable this season, the Seahawks have a good shot at defending their title – and Russell Wilson might even put up some surprising fantasy numbers.
Next… this could be a big bounce back year for Tom Brady. Remember that comment I made about dress rehearsals in Week 3 of the preseason? In Week 3 of the 2014 preseason, Brady completed 17 of 21 passes for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns in three quarters of play against the Carolina defense without Gronk on the field. Brady has a very favorable schedule this season. Perhaps more important is that he tends to carry a chip on his shoulder. There is no question in my mind that Brady is fully aware that the media has portrayed him as a quarterback on the down slide after last year’s performance. So don’t be surprised if he stuns the fantasy world with a sizable return to form in 2014. Unless you have one of the elite three quaterbacks (P. Manning, Brees, or Rodgers) on your roster, consider how you might get your hands on Brady with a trade early in the season.
San Francisco may struggle this year. A number of injuries and troubling legal issues, not to mention the fact that ownership considered trading Coach Jim Harbaugh to the Browns this offseason, are giving off an unsettling vibe from the 49ers camp. They looked out of synch all preseason. My sense is that they will get it together to some degree; that fantasy owners don’t need to shy away from them the way they need to shy away from the Giants offense. But we shouldn’t be surprised if the Arizona Cardinals finish ahead of the 49ers this year.
Minnesota and Tampa Bay may possess two of the most underrated offenses going into the season. While neither has a strong quarterback at the helm, both Matt Cassel and Josh McCown can get the job done with formidable weapons they have at their disposal. I still would not use Cassel or McCown as anything other than a backup quarterback in fantasy, but their receivers could take advantage of coverage issues (who do defenses double up on – Greg Jennings or Cordarrelle Patterson?) and their starting running backs have the potential for huge numbers.
There are many questions surrounding Robert Griffin III. He seemed to have bounce-back and Top 5 QB potential going into this summer. But his performance during the preseason has cast a shadow of doubt on those lofty projections among fantasy owners. In fact, I found Griffin – and drafted him – in the 14th round in one of my leagues on Saturday night. He is the embodiment of high-risk, high-reward in 2014, and is worth taking for the right price. In my case, I got him as a backup to Brady. But if Griffin can ignite his passing game to compliment his running game, Brady could end up serving as the backup to Griffin on my team by season’s end. Of course, the operative word here is “if”….
In general, I am a fan of choosing fantasy players from teams that are winners, and avoiding those that play for losers. Yes, bad teams might be more apt to launch into a passing game or take more risks on offense to catch up. But I am looking for consistency on a weekly basis from my fantasy players. In my experience, aside from some studs (like Josh Gordon on Cleveland last season), players on winning teams tend to be more dependable in their fantasy production than those who play for a team that struggles. This year, I like Denver, New England, Seattle, New Orleans, Green Bay, and Philadelphia. Teams I do not like in 2014: St. Louis, the NY Jets, Oakland, Cleveland, and the NY Giants.
So there you have it folks. While I did not get into specifics all that much (yes, I think Peyton Manning regresses a bit this season, Gronk is worth owning with a 2nd round pick, Joique Bell will outperform Reggie Bush, and Montee Ball is an unknown too risky to draft in the first round), I hope that this big picture view serves you well as you tweak your fantasy teams going into the new season. Best of luck to each and every one of you this year!