This column is primarily designed to help strategize for our four-week Player Challenge games, but is essentially about great matchups and overlooked stats, offering deeper options for those in daily leagues.
Here's a fun fact: As frustrating as Titans running back Chris Johnson has been in Fantasy since his 2009 "2K" season, he's totaled at least 1,400 yards in each of his six seasons. In Week 1, he had the second-most carries (25) in the NFL. His 70 rushing yards were the 11th-most in the league. And while his seven total points barely had him in the top 24, he was facing a Steelers team that held opponents to the second-fewest rushing yards in the league last year, and probably didn't benefit from being the center of Pittsburgh's attention, as the Tennessee receiving corps is largely underwhelming.
Johnson gets the Texans in Week 2 -- Houston had the seventh-best run defense last year and held the Chargers running backs to 60 rushing yards in Week 1 -- so this may not be the best week to start Johnson in the Challenge or daily games. But he has the Chargers lurking in Week 3, so his time may be coming
On to the Week 2 picks! I've split this column into my actual starts in the Player Challenge, and offered some deeper plays for readers who participate in daily leagues and may be bargain-hunting to fill out holes in the lineups.
You can't go wrong with Aaron Rodgers, who faces Washington in Week 2 -- a team that gave up the third-most passing yards in 2012. Rodgers is facing a bye in Week 4, so he's going to have an upcoming hole in these early Player Challenge weeks -- you might as well use him now in this favorable matchup.
Like the rest of the Fantasy-playing world, I'm also on board with starting Michael Vick for Week 2. The Chargers gave up the eighth-most rushing yards and seventh-most passing yards in the NFL in Week 1, and that was against the predictable Texans offense. With the lightning-fast Eagles still a relatively unknown quantity to opposing defenses, expect Vick to rack up a good amount of stats in both (running and passing) categories.
In that same game, Philip Rivers makes for an interesting deeper/budget pick in daily league formats. The Eagles gave up 308 passing yards in Week 1 to Washington and with their hurry-up offense, they could be on and off the field very quickly. That means Rivers will be out there a good amount. More Rivers = more passes = more stats. Huzzah!
You can apply the Vick logic to his teammate, LeSean McCoy. I'm going to use the Eagles' skill players as much as I can early on (before the league catches on and figures out a way to stop the offense), and the Chargers are a favorable matchup, regardless.
Doug Martin faces off against the Saints in Week 2. In 2012, New Orleans gave up 147.6 rushing yards per game and an average of 5.2 yards per carry. While the Saints only yielded 88 rushing yards in Week 1 against the Falcons, those came on just 14 carries -- meaning they're giving up 6.3 yards per carry this season, a marked increase from their already-miserable run defense last year. Martin's a stud going against a porous run defense, so he gets the start in the second slot.
If you feel like going a little deeper with your backs, there's a case to be made for DeAngelo Williams, who faces the Bills in Week 2. Buffalo gave up 158 rushing yards in Week 1 (third-most in the league) and 145.8 rushing yards per game in 2012 (second-worst in the league). Williams managed a surprisingly decent 86 yards on 17 carries in Week 1 against a stout Seahawks defense and has little competition in the backfield with Jonathan Stewart out. Despite his random disappointments, Williams has a 4.9 ypc average for his career and could put up some nice numbers in Week 2.
Not to pick on the Saints, but they had a pretty bad defensive campaign in 2012 -- they gave up the second-most receiving yards in the NFL. And I consider Vincent Jackson an elite wideout. So having him go up against the Saints in Week 2 is an easy justification for a start. I'm not too worried about the Josh Freeman drama -- he torched the Saints last year for 699 passing yards in two games (although the first matchup was far better than the second).
Brandon Marshall faces the Vikings in Week 2, and not only did Minnesota give up the eighth-most receiving yards in 2012, they also tend to be something like a ball of yarn to Marshall's bored cat. In four career games against the Vikings, Marshall has averaged 109.3 yards (on about nine receptions), with two total touchdowns over those four games. He's gone over 90 yards three times against the Vikings, has two 100-plus yard games and is carrying momentum forward from a 104-yard performance in Week 1 against the Bengals.
A fun deeper play here is Hakeem Nicks. The Peyton Manning Kickoff Show overshadowed a really poor defensive performance by Denver. The Broncos allowed the fourth-most receiving yards in the NFL in Week 1 -- and this was to a Ravens team that was starting a nearly retired tight end and a Dancing With the Stars champion. Nicks could put up some nice numbers against a Denver defense that, 1. May be without a hobbled Champ Bailey and, 2. Is already smarting from the Von Miller suspension and Elvis Dumervil defection.
Over the course of the Player Challenge, you're only going to need four tight ends, and with the season so young and defensive weaknesses not really apparent yet, it's probably best to just go with what we know. So for this week, I'm starting Jimmy Graham. Tampa Bay was terrible against the pass last year, and while Darrelle Revis should address some of the problems, it will probably end up being Marques Colston who feels the effects. And this isn't just a wild guess here on Graham exploiting the Bucs -- Jets tight end Kellen Winslow had seven receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown against Tampa Bay in Week 1.
As far as a deeper tight end, Dallas Clark was targeted 12 times last week, but Browns coach Rob Chudzinski is a tight end guru and may be able to gameplan against him. Still, Baltimore liked to use the tight end last year and Clark quietly put together a nice season for the Bucs (423 yards, five touchdowns) in 2012.
With the switch from Blaine Gabbert to Chad Henne at quarterback in Jacksonville, the Jaguars are no longer the start-your-DST-against-them-every-week creampuff that they were in the hours following their Week 1 loss. Over the last four seasons, Henne has nine games of 300-plus yards -- which is fairly impressive considering he's been painted as this second-stringer in pretty uninspiring offenses. So as bad as Jacksonville was last week -- and as surprisingly tenacious as Oakland's defense looked -- I'm not going to start the Raiders here.
There's a case to be made for the Seahawks, but I'm probably going to hold off for their Week 3 game against Jacksonville. Not to totally de-merit all those nice words about Henne, but you'll probably see more defensive points scored against the Jaguars than you will against the 49ers.
The Bengals are a nice play in Week 2 against a Steelers team that didn't look great last week. And while the Bears face a tough challenge in stopping Adrian Peterson, they should be able to handle the passing offense.
In deeper challenges, I'm starting the Panthers, who get Buffalo in Week 2. I like the Bills and think Doug Marrone is a great offensive mind. But I also think Carolina had a really stellar preseason and the team doesn't get enough credit for that. They led the NFL in preseason interceptions and defensive touchdowns and finished in the top six for sacks and forced fumbles.
Instead of your usual, "just pick a guy!" strategy (because there really is no proven way to pinpoint top performers), I've decided to employ random celebrity/athlete/cool people cameos in this section to help select a kicker. Today's special guest: Mike Erwin, Chairman of Team RWB, an organization that aims to enrich the lives of America's veterans, "by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity." Mike (@ErwinRWB) and the organization (@TeamRWB) are definitely worth a follow on Twitter. Also, feel free to plunk down 20 bucks for one of these awesome T-shirts. Erwin ran 100 miles in 100 hours this summer to raise awareness for Team RWB. And now he's picking your Fantasy kicker.
Special Guest Mike Erwin's kicker pick for Week 2: Matt Prater, K, Broncos
There will be a new guest next week. Stay tuned. I think this is going to be a fun section all season long.
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