Articles By Athlon Sports

Path: /nfl/how-5-rookie-quarterbacks-will-do-week-2

The book on rookie quarterbacks in the NFL was a pretty simple one. They were always expected to struggle, especially in the opening games of their careers. Great ones like John Elway and Troy Aikman have talked about how unprepared they were for their first start. Boomer Esiason has described seeing “ghosts” on the field – defenders he never saw who just suddenly appear.

And then last season Cam Newton exploded onto the scene starting as a rookie on opening day and completing 24 of 37 passes for 422 yards and two touchdowns while running for another touchdown. That figured to be the most impressive rookie quarterback debut we’d ever see.

Then on Sunday, Robert Griffin III had a debut that might have been even better – or at least just as good. In the Superdome in New Orleans, one of the toughest places in the league to play, against a good Saints team motivated by the fallout from the Bounty scandal, Griffin completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, out-dueling Drew Brees in a 40-32 win.

It was an amazing debut and the best of the record five rookie quarterbacks that started on opening day. It also could be a sign of greatness to come.

Or not. Because one game isn’t a good barometer for anything. There’s a long way to go in the 2012 season and a long way to go in these rookie quarterbacks’ careers. Some of them are off to a good start. But what matters is what lies ahead.

Here’s a look at the future expectations of the new Fab Five:

Robert Griffin III (Redskins): There weren’t many people that rated him ahead of Andrew Luck in the 2012 draft, but there were definitely a few personnel people that did. That’s how good Griffin’s skill is. Plus, he’s the prototypical “new” quarterback – although that prototype is getting old – a man who can make plays out of the pocket just as well as he can in them.

Griffin figures to be a long-term star as long as he can stay healthy and he just might turn the Washington Redskins around. In the short term, though, don’t expect the Redskins’ game in St. Louis to be the same shootout he had in New Orleans. Jeff Fisher’s Rams are going to run the ball to keep it out of Griffin’s hands. Also, now that they’ve seen Griffin in action, it’s a little easier to devise a plan.

Also, keep in mind that Griffin’s biggest play was a short pass to Pierre Garcon that ended up as an 88-yard touchdown. He can’t count on his average receivers making plays like that every game.


Andrew Luck (Colts): He’s been pretty universally called the most complete and NFL-ready prospect since John Elway and his opening day numbers (23 of 45, 309 yards, 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions) were eerily similar to those of Peyton Manning back in 1998. There is no doubt that Luck will end up as a great one and eventually have the Colts in the hunt every season, just like Manning once did.

For Week 2 against the Vikings – and for the rest of the season – what you saw out of Luck on Sunday is likely what you’ll get. He’s got a lot of young talent around him, but it’s hardly a polished team. They will be behind a lot and they will throw often, and that will lead to mistakes. The Vikings can also rush the passer as well as the Bears, which will keep Luck on the run and force him to make his decisions quickly.


Russell Wilson (Seahawks): Wilson was probably the biggest surprise starter out of this five, having beaten out Matt Flynn in training camp. But the Seahawks spent a lot of money on Flynn and they think they’ve built a decent team, so there’s only so long Pete Carroll figures to be patient with a rookie quarterback’s struggles.

On opening day, against a Cardinals team he should’ve beaten, Wilson didn’t struggles as much as he was very average – 18 of 34 for just 153 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Unfortunately for him, now comes the hard part. He gets two home games, but they’re against the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers. If he wants to keep up with either Tony Romo or Aaron Rodgers the next two weeks he’s going to have to start throwing more downfield, which it remains to be seen if he can do consistently and effectively.


Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins): It should be exactly the opposite for Tannehill, who had a very rough opening day assignment against the AFC power Texans in Houston. He wasn’t good, getting picked off three times and completing 20 of 36 passes for 219 yards. He threw almost exclusively short passes, which is a combination of him not quite being ready and the Dolphins barely having an adequate receiving corps. That won’t do against a high-scoring team like Houston.

This week, though, Tannehill goes home and gets a Raiders team that has to fly cross country and has some problems of their own. They do have Carson Palmer, though, so they can score, which means that Joe Philbin may have to take the reins off. That could make for a painful start for Tannehill, but the Dolphins need to know if he can handle more on his plate. Because after the Raiders, they get the Jets and one of the best secondaries in the league.


Brandon Weeden (Cleveland): Weeden was so bad in his debut, it’s unfathomable that he nearly beat the Philadelphia Eagles anyway. The 28-year-old rookie completed just 12 of 35 passes for 118 yards and was picked off four times. One scout, when asked about his performance said, “Colt McCoy would’ve won that game, easily.”

We all may find out if that’s true soon enough because it’s hard to see the Browns giving Weeden more than one more game, unless they’re already prepared to surrender and play for the No. 1 overall pick. Next up for the Browns are the Buffalo Bills at home – a team he should fare much better against given how good Mark Sanchez looked against the Bills last week.

If he doesn’t improve quickly, it’s hard to imagine him getting the start at Baltimore and at the New York Giants in the following two weeks. These aren’t the old days for rookie quarterbacks. Teams don’t have time to let them be disasters at the start of their careers anymore.


<p> Was Week 1 just a fluke?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - 10:03
Path: /nfl/giants-packers-or-saints-which-0-1-team-most-trouble

Throughout the 2012 NFL season, Athlon Sports will tackle the hot issues on and off the gridiron with our our editors and other pigksin experts.

Q: New York Giants, Green Bay Packers or New Orleans Saints: Which 0-1 Team is in the Most Trouble?

Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster):
It's definitely the Saints. I don’t care how great Robert Griffin III is: When you surrender 40 points and 464 yards at home to a team with a rookie quarterback at the helm and a rookie feature back (sixth-round pick Alfred Morris, who rushed for 96 yards), you have defensive issues that extend far beyond a little bounty-induced personnel depletion. Throw in a punchless running game (32 yards), an alarming carelessness with the football (three turnovers) and an All-Pro quarterback who completed 46 percent of his passes, and you have Week 1’s most disappointing team. Time to panic, New Orleans fans.


Gene Higginbotham,
I feel that out of all three, the Saints could be the most in trouble. The Giants are the defending Super Bowl champs, but they have shown that they can come together at the end of the season and win when they need to. The Packers almost had my vote because of their loss at home in Lambeau Field, but the San Francisco 49ers are a high quality opponent especially on defense. The Saints however not only lost at home in one of the loudest "Dome-field advantage" venues, but to the Washington Redskins who have a brand new rookie quarterback in Robert Griffin III and aren't known over the past few seasons to be a huge threat. It seemed that the Saints came in with a slight bit of overconfidence with the "Us Against the World" mentality. Another issue facing them is the "Do Your Job" that suspended head coach Sean Payton left them with. It was stated by the coaching staff after Sunday's loss that too many players were focused on too many things other than "their job." Instead of trying to create the magic fueled from adversity, they just simply need to let it happen and let this season it be special on its own like the 2009-10 season. If not, they could be headed for bigger trouble down the road.


Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven):
Luckily for all three teams (Giants, Saints and Packers), there is plenty of time to turn things around and still make the postseason. However, even though it's only one game, each team has a reason to be concerned going into Week 2. I think the Saints are in the most trouble, especially after the defense was torched for 464 yards against the Redskins. Robert Griffin will be a great quarterback in the NFL, but it's troubling New Orleans' veteran defense couldn't generate much of a pass rush and struggled to get stops on Sunday afternoon. The Saints can score a lot of points, but the defense has to be better, especially in a division that features Matt Ryan and Cam Newton at quarterback. Without Sean Payton on the sidelines, the Saints figured to have a tough time making the playoffs. However, if Sunday's performance is repeated in Week 2, New Orleans could have trouble just reaching eight wins. 


Mark Ross, Athlon Sports:
Let's face it, the openers didn't go as planned for any of these teams as each one tasted defeat on their respective home turfs. The defending Super Bowl champion Giants started their title defense by losing a NFC East division game to the despised Cowboys. The Saints made Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III look like a Hall of Famer in his first career start, while the Packers got beat up and beat down by the 49ers. While there are certainly reasons to be alarmed if you root for one of these teams, I am keeping a close eye on the Packers as they head into this Thursday's home date with Chicago.

The Packers couldn't run the ball at all against the 49ers and I'm not expecting much different results against the Bears' defense. San Francisco also had little trouble going up and down the field against the Green Bay defense. This could be a problem on Thursday since in my estimation, the Bears have a more potent offense than the 49ers, especially when you take into consideration the additions of wide receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Michael Bush. The Packers' secondary was already a question mark going into the season and you know that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, Marshall and his fellow wideouts are more than willing to test it out again this Thursday. Reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers has had plenty of success in his career against the Monsters of the Midway, but this time around it appears the Bears have enough firepower of their own to not only keep up with Pack Attack, but possibly even out-score it. The NFC North already figured to be a dogfight with the Packers, Bears and Detroit Lions battling it out, so the last thiing the defending division champs want to do is put themselves in a 0-2 hole this early in the season.


Nathan Rush, Athlon Sports:
The Saints are in jeopardy of becoming the Aints this season. After one of the worst offseasons in NFL history, New Orleans opened the season by losing to the Redskins in the NFL debut of Robert Griffin III. Now, Drew Brees and Co. are 0–1 headed to Carolina to take on Cam Newton in an NFC South division showdown. With a skeleton crew coaching staff, ongoing off-field distractions and a legal battle with Commissioner Roger Goodell, the Saints can't afford to get off to a slow start.


Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman):
It has to be the Saints, who had very little go right in a 40-32 home loss to the Redskins in Week 1. The Packers lost to another elite team in the 49ers, while the Giants have shown a recent penchant for starting slow and turning it on late. I did not believe the New Orleans’ coaching changes were going to be such a huge factor, but the performance against Washington said otherwise. The Saints defense is still trying to become comfortable in new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme, while the offense made way too many mistakes and has no running game. Even All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees was 24-for-52 passing (46.2 percent) versus the Redskins, after a 2011 season where he was never below 59 percent in any game. The NFC South is a strong division, especially with an improved Buccaneers squad, so the schedule will be difficult all year. Brees has the ability to mask over some team deficiencies, but the Saints will need to show marked improvement to get back to the postseason.


Joe Tufaro,
While I don't think that any 0-1 team is in all that much trouble, the Saints probably have the biggest question marks. With all that has surrounded that team in the off-season, they needed to make the statement Sunday that they were prepared to put it all behind them and move on. The fact that they looked poor on both offense and defense for much of the game, at home, has to be a concern. Facing the Panthers now, who are also 0-1, will be a major test for this defense.

The Packers defense did not look like the improved product it was supposed to be, and of course they need to right the ship quickly due to their Thursday night affair against division rival Chicago. The Bears have a new big offense, and the Pack must find a way to either stop it or offset it in a hurry.

The Giants played an odd game last Wednesday, in that a lot of their mistakes were uncharacteristic for them, and they still had a chance to either win or at least tie the game in the last minutes. The Giants are not the dominant team at home that the Saints and Packers are, so losing a game at home is not as much of a concern. The Giants only become a team in trouble if they somehow lose to Tampa Bay and then have to face what could be an 0-2 Carolina team on short rest on the road.

So, while the 0-1 start didn't knock any of the 16 teams that started that way out of the playoffs, the match-ups in Week 2 are of major concern to some of those teams.

— Published on Sept. 12, 2012

<p> <span>New York Giants, Green Bay Packers or New Orleans Saints — Which 0-1 Team is in the Most Trouble?</span></p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - 06:15
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /nfl/2012-fantasy-football-waiver-wire-week-2

The first week of NFL action is in the books and many fantasy football owners are already looking to the waiver wire. We're here to help. The players listed in Athlon Sports’ weekly fantasy football waiver wire may be one-week adds, some may be worth holding onto all season long and some are of the “sleeper” variety that you may want to keep an eye on. So without further ado, here are some players worth grabbing.


Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville
It’s only one week, but Gabbert looked pretty good against Minnesota, completing nearly 60 percent of his attempts for a career-high 260 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion. However, it is still early and Houston’s defense figures to be a much tougher test than the Vikings’, but progress is progress, right?

Christian Ponder, Minnesota
Speaking of progress, fellow second-year signal caller Ponder completed nearly 75 percent of his pass attempts against the Jaguars. He threw for 270 yards, but had no touchdowns. Still, with Adrian Peterson back in the fold, Ponder could become a reliable spot-starter, especially if the Vikings’ offense continues to progress.

Mark Sanchez, New York Jets
Tim Tebow did get on the field, but it was Sanchez who did all the damage under center, as he passed for 266 yards and three touchdowns in the Jets’ demolition of Buffalo. A trip to Pittsburgh is next up for the Jets, but the Steelers had trouble stopping Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ aerial attack, so Sanchez could be worth a look in Week 2, if not beyond.

Alex Smith, San Francisco
Is San Francisco changing its style? The 49ers passed nearly as many times (26) as they ran the ball (32), and when they did go to the air, Smith made it count. He missed on just six of his 26 attempts for 211 yards and two touchdowns in the huge road win over Green Bay. He connected with six different receivers on the day, including a total of eight catches by new wide receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. If the 49ers continue to let Smith throw the ball, he could put up some decent numbers, starting this week as Detroit and its banged up secondary comes calling.

Running Backs

Jonathan Dwyer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Isaac Redman started and had more carries (11 to 9), but Dwyer did more with his touches as he had 43 yards rushing and caught two passes in the Steelers’ loss to Denver. It remains to be seen if Dwyer will supplant Redman as the starter, and also what will happen once Rashard Mendenhall returns, but the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket certainly bears watching.

Kendall Hunter, San Francisco 49ers
Frank Gore (112 yards rushing) did the bulk of the damage on the ground, but Hunter still got nine carries against Green Bay. Hunter finished with 41 yards (4.6 ypc) and with LaMichael James and Brandon Jacobs sidelined by injuries, he appears to be the clear-cut second option for a team that likes to run.

Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos
Willis McGahee is the No. 1 option in Denver right now, but if Week 1 showed us anything, it’s that Moreno and not third-round pick Ronnie Hillman, is No. 2. Moreno was productive in his return from last season’s torn ACL as he had five carries for 13 yards, including a seven-yard touchdown in the second quarter of the Broncos’ win over Pittsburgh. Even though Peyton Manning is now under center, it’s not like he’s going to throw the ball every play, so opportunity is there for Moreno, especially if McGahee goes down to injury.

Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
Morris got more than four times as many carries as any other Washington running back against New Orleans, and turned those 28 totes into 96 yards and two scores. The obvious caveat with him, however, is that he plays for Mike Shanahan, who has a well-earned reputation for driving fantasy owners crazy with how he handles his backfield. You’ve been warned.

Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons
Although Atlanta's 40-24 domination of Kansas City may not be the best gauge, it should be pointed out that Rodgers carried the ball just four times fewer than Michael Turner, who had 11 carries. Rodgers had a better average (3.1 to 2.9 ypc) and also had two receptions. If the coaching staff is serious about cutting down Turner’s workload, Rodgers will be the primary beneficiary.

C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
He leads the NFL in rushing and he’s probably the Bills’ starter moving forward as Fred Jackson is dealing with a knee injury that will reportedly keep him out at least a month. Spiller was the lone Bills highlight in the lopsided loss to the Jets, as he gashed them for 169 rushing yards on just 14 carries. Even if you took out his 56-yard touchdown run, Spiller would have finished with 113 yards on 13 carries (8.7 ypc).

Ryan Williams, Arizona Cardinals
He didn’t do a lot with them (9 yards rushing), but Williams finished Arizona’s win over Seattle with more carries (8 to 7) than Beanie Wells. He also caught two passes for 17 yards. The workload for the two backs is what bears watching moving forward, especially if Williams establishes himself as the lead horse.

Wide Receivers

Nate Burleson, Detroit Lions
Detroit surprisingly struggled to put away St. Louis, but Matthew Stafford still finished with more than 300 yards passing and Calvin Johnson led the way with 111 yards receiving. It was Burleson, however, who got more targets (8 to 7) than Johnson and tied Megatron with six catches (69 yards). As much as the Lions throw the ball, Burleson could develop into a valuable contributor, especially if he’s able to hold off Titus Young as the No. 2 receiver.

Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers
Cobb tied Greg Jennings for most targets among Green Bay wide receivers in the loss to San Francisco with nine. More than that, however, was how the Packers lined the second-year pro up – in the backfield, on the outside, in the slot – in an attempt to get him the ball. If you have any doubts about his big-play ability, look no further than his 75-yard punt return for a touchdown that got the Packers back in the game early in the fourth quarter.

Stephen Hill, New York Jets
It was Hill and not Santonio Holmes, who was the Jets’ leading receiver against Buffalo. Hill put a disappointing preseason completely behind him with his five-catch, 89-yard effort that also included two touchdowns. Holmes was targeted more (8 to 6), but Hill is the other starting wideout for the Jets and it looks like Mark Sanchez will not be afraid to throw it his way.

Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
There’s no doubt that Brandon Marshall is and will be Jay Cutler’s favorite target, but there’s room for someone to emerge as his No. 2 option and Jeffery did nothing to hurt himself in that regard in Week 1. The rookie out of South Carolina was targeted five times, which was second only to Marshall’s 15 among Bears wideouts, and finished with three receptions for 80 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown strike in the fourth quarter.

Donald Jones, Buffalo Bills
Jones led the Bills in receptions with five in Week 1, and he should continue to see plenty of opportunities as David Nelson tore his ACL in the loss to the Jets. Stevie Johnson is the clear No. 1 option for Ryan Fitzpatrick, but Jones will line up opposite him as the other starter due to the loss of Nelson.

Brandon LaFell, Carolina Panthers
Barring injury, LaFell won’t supplant Steve Smith as Cam Newton’s favorite target anytime soon. Still, the former LSU Tiger came on late last season and continued that momentum in Week 1 as he caught three passes for 65 yards (21.7 ypc) and a score.

Randy Moss, San Francisco 49ers
Is he back? Perhaps, but one thing is for sure – Alex Smith did his part to involve him in San Francisco’s passing attack. Moss was targeted four times, which tied him for second among 49er wide receivers with Mario Manningham, but he caught all of them for 47 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, Smith looked his way multiple times in the red zone.

Kevin Ogletree, Dallas Cowboys
On the one hand there’s the eight receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns, which is certainly the type of production anyone would want to have in their lineup. There are also the team-high 11 targets he got from Tony Romo. On the other hand, there’s the fact that Ogletree will remain the Cowboys’ No. 3 receiver, barring injury, and that opposing secondaries will probably offer more resistance than the Giants’ injury-depleted one did in Week 1. All of that said, Ogletree is still worth picking up if you have room for him. Remember what Laurent Robinson did last season?

Andre Roberts, Arizona Cardinals
Arizona’s quarterback situation and the presence of Larry Fitzgerald notwithstanding, Roberts staked his claim to the No. 2 receiver job in Week 1. Besides leading the team in catches (five for 54 yards and a touchdown), and receiving just two fewer targets (11 to 9) than Fitzgerald, Roberts also was the Cardinals’ leading rusher. He gained 15 yards on one lone carry.

Tight Ends

Martellus Bennett, New York Giants
Three different Giants tight ends were targeted a total of 86 times last season. Only one of them – Bear Pascoe – is on the active roster this reason. Eli Manning targeted his tight ends a total of seven times in the opener against the Cowboys. Pascoe got one, while Bennett got the other six and turned them into four catches and a touchdown.

Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts
Fleener was targeted by his former Stanford teammate Andrew Luck 10 times against Chicago, finishing with six catches for 82 yards. Overall Luck threw the ball 45 times, a trend that figures to continue considering the chances the Colts will be playing from behind a majority of the season.

Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars
A breakout star in 2010, Lewis all but disappeared in 2011. After posting five catches on five targets for 52 yards and a touchdown in Week 1, Lewis may be back on the fantasy map this season, especially if Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert can perform like he did against Minnesota on a weekly basis.

Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens
Pitta and not Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin or even Ray Rice was the most targeted Raven on Monday night with nine of them. He finished the evening with a team-high five receptions, 73 yards receiving, and scored a touchdown. He and Ed Dickson give quarterback Joe Flacco two dependable options at tight end, but the early returns seem to show that Pitta is first in the pecking order. Don't lose sight of the fact that even though the outcome against Cincinnati was a laugher, 44-13, the Ravens still threw the ball (32 attempts) more than they ran it (23 rushes).

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
Rudolph got seven targets, just one fewer than wide receiver Percy Harvin, and caught five passes for 67 yards in the win over Jacksonville, He should continue to receive his fair share of opportunities as he and Harvin will more than likely be Christian Ponder’s primary reads in the Vikings’ passing game as the season progresses.

Scoring is based on Athlon Sports default scoring which is 6 points for all TDs, .5 points per reception and 1 point PER 25 yards passing, 10 yards rushing/receiving and 40 return yards.

— By Mark Ross, published on Sept. 11, 2012

<p> 2012 Fantasy Football Waiver Wire: Week 2</p>
Post date: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/nascar-news-12-drivers-2012-chase-sprint-cup
The NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup field—12 drivers in all—is finally set.
The final wild-card spot was earned in dramatic fashion last night at Richmond International Raceway, when Jeff Gordon squeaked into the 12th slot.
Notable names such as Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards didn't make this year's cut, after a grueling 26-week season that began in late-February with the Daytona 500. 
Here are the 12 drivers who will vie for the 2012 title over the next 10 races.
1. Denny Hamlin
2. Jimmie Johnson
3. Tony Stewart
4. Brad Keselowski
5. Greg Biffle
6. Clint Bowyer
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
8. Matt Kenseth
9. Kevin Harvick
10. Martin Truex Jr.
11. Kasey Kahne
12. Jeff Gordon
<br />
Post date: Sunday, September 9, 2012 - 11:20
Path: /nfl/robert-griffin-iii-expect-top-12-fantasy-performance-redskins-qb

Robert Griffin III (aka RG3) makes his debut at New Orleans in Week 1 in a game that seems to be getting labeled the shootout of the week. Of course, this probably means it will be the dud of the week. 

But you do have the new Washington Redskins quarterback in the Superdome trying to keep up with a team that scored 34.2 points per game last year (2nd) while allowing 21.2 (20th).

Washington, meanwhile, allowed 22.9 (12th) while scoring 18 (26th). It’s the latter where Griffin is expected to be able to help the Redskins make a marked improvement on and it begins Sunday in New Orleans.

He will be a top-12 fantasy quarterback when Week 1 comes to an end.

New Orleans was generous to rookie QBs a year ago — facing them four times for an average of 196 yards passing, 32.3 yards on the ground with eight TDs and three interceptions. 

The Saints allowed four rookies to throw for at least one touchdown last season, and they allowed 193 yards and two scores on the ground to opposing QBs a year ago. All three top performances came from rookies as Cam Newton had 59 yards and a score in two game, Jake Locker had 36 yards and a score and Christian Ponder rushed for 34 yards.

It comes out to an average of 23.04 points for the four rookies.

I would be happy with a 23-point day from RGIII in his NFL debut.

RGIII has a stable of receivers to throw to — Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss — and a stable of pass-catching backs — Evan Royster, Roy Helu and Alfred Morris. He also has the ability to pull it down and run himself.

Expect a shootout of a game where each team scores at least 20. That happened to the Saints in half of their games last season, and opposing QBs averaged 283 yards and 2.1 touchdown passes with five total interceptions in those eight games.

Washington might be on the 20-point end of the shootout, while New Orleans is on the 40-point side, but that doesn’t matter in fantasy. What matters is RGIII can help you and the Redskins score 20 on the way there and be considered a top-12 start in Week 1.

—by Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

Post date: Sunday, September 9, 2012 - 09:24
Path: /nfl/trent-richardson-dont-start-browns-running-back-week-1

Do something Trent Richardson was not able to do in preseason games in 2012 — run!

Run from starting the Cleveland Browns’ rookie running back in any capacity in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Take away the fact that a knee injury kept him off the field during the four preseason games. Take away that it was his second knee surgery in six months. Take away that he has been limited in practice this week leading up to his highly anticipated debut.

Richardson’s knee is an issue — one that allowed him to participate in just the first 10 days of training camp — but what surrounds his team in this game is the bigger issue.

The issues are these:

Quarterback Brandon Weeden. No proven pass catchers. A Browns run defense that was eighth-worst against fantasy running backs. Facing an Eagles team that was a top-13 fantasy team at the quarterback (9), running back (12), receiver (9), tight end (13) and defense (8) positions last season.

They are all issues because you have an already unhealthy back that should be in no position to succeed in a game where the Eagles should lead comfortably.

Weeden is a rookie himself and will face one of the deepest pass rushing groups in the league — one that tied for a league-leading 50 sacks a season ago. Cleveland was 23rd in the league with 162 receptions from its receivers and ranked second to last with eight touchdowns from that group.

There are plenty more playmakers on the Philadelphia side that have the oddsmakers favoring the Eagles by nine.  Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek and the Eagles defense/special teams will be the ones coming out of this game in a favorable fantasy light.

The only plus for Richardson is that the Eagles were 24th against fantasy RBs last season. But were he cleared to play, it is expected that it would be in a limited capacity. Maybe he would be better served to make his debut against rival Cincinnati next week and its 16th-ranked fantasy defense against running backs from a year ago. Or better yet, get fully healthy and take on a Buffalo defense in Week 3 that, while they have bolstered their roster on that side of the ball, were 29th against fantasy backs last season. 

If you drafted Richardson — which you probably did pretty early — you don’t want to see him on the sideline long. But you also don’t want to see him on the field too soon and suffer another setback. Sit him, as the Browns should this week and get ready for the Bengals.

As an aside, the Browns are 1-11-1 against the spread in season openers.

—by Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

Post date: Sunday, September 9, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/maurice-jones-drew-good-flex-option-week-1-0

Maurice Jones-Drew had a 38-day holdout, missed training camp, missed preseason and as Week 1 is upon us, he is expected to be a third-down back for Jacksonville at Minnesota today.

So what do we do with the league’s returning leading rusher (1,606 yards), who also missed the 2011 preseason after a knee injury and went out and did what he did on the bum knee the rest of the season?

You play MJD as a flex. 

Like his counterpart across the field, Adrian Peterson, who, if he plays, is also said to be on a limited snap count as he comes back from a torn ACL and MCL, these two are going to be needed to win the opening game for their team.

MJD is healthy, and while he may not be in “football shape,” there are statistical advantages for him if he is reserved to a third-down role — which is unlikely that’s all it is if he is active.

The Vikings were 14th-best against fantasy running backs last season at 21 points per game but were tied for ninth with the fewest rushing touchdowns allowed (eight). Where it becomes interesting in regards to Jones-Drew’s role as potentially only a third-down back is what he can do as a receiver and what Minnesota allowed RBs to do as receivers last season.

The Vikings allowed five receiving touchdowns to backs last season — tied for second-most in the league — and MJD had three receiving touchdowns last season — tied for second-most in the league. His three scores came in back-to-back weeks against San Diego and Tampa Bay in Weeks 13 and 14

Jones-Drew caught his last two scoring passes from Blaine Gabbert on third-and-four plays from the 5. His receiving TD against San Diego came on a second-and-eight from the 9.

If the Jags get near the goal line, chances are it is MJD that is either punching it in or catching a pass and taking it in to the end zone. 

Gabbert threw 12 touchdown passes last season — five coming from inside the 10; MJD caught three of them. Gabbert threw nine of the 12 inside the red zone. MJD caught three of them and five of the other six are by players no longer on active rosters.

Of MJD’s eight rushing touchdowns, six came from inside the 6, one from 10 and the other from 21 in the season opener.

That’s 10 of his 11 scores coming from inside the 10 — and he accounted for 11 of the team’s 21 offensive scores last season.

It depends on what you want from a flex in regards to points, but the potential for a 12-point day in limited work is pretty appealing.

—Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

Post date: Sunday, September 9, 2012 - 08:50
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy-football-start-sit-1

The 2012 NFL season has officially begun, which means fantasy football is back! One game has already been played, but there are fifteen others to go, which means there are still plenty of lineup decisions that need to be made.

Athlon Sports is to help you make those important decisions each week with our Start and Sit suggestions. Keep in mind these are merely our suggestions as the ultimate decision comes down to you, the owner.

Week 1 Positional Rankings

Sneaky Start of the Week
Danny Amendola, WR, St. Louis at Detroit
What? You were expecting Kevin Ogletree? In all likelihood, Calvin Johnson will probably put up bigger numbers when it comes to receivers in this game, but don’t sleep on Amendola, who should emerge as quarterback Sam Bradford’s favorite target this season. The fourth-year pro out of Texas Tech led the Rams with 85 catches in 2010, which also was Bradford’s rookie season.

Bigger things were expected of both last season, but Amendola dislocated his elbow in the first game, which in essence ended his 2011 season as soon as it got started. Look for Bradford to target Amendola early and often against the Lions, not only because of the likelihood the Rams will be playing catch up most of the game, but also because Detroit’s secondary is already banged up and could be down as many as two starters come Sunday.

Surprise Sit of the Week
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver vs. Pittsburgh
Although I am not expecting Pittsburgh to completely shut down Denver’s offense, especially since this game is in the Mile High city, I also am not expecting Manning to step on the field for the first time since Jan. 8, 2011 and throw for 300+ yards and three or more touchdowns. That’s asking an awful lot of someone who hasn’t played in a real game in more than 20 months, not to mention he’s with a new team and up until this game had played all of his home games indoors.

Then there’s the matter of the Steelers’ defense, the same defense that finished last season ranked No. 1 in the NFL and the one that’s been waiting more than eight months to return to the scene of the crime, a.k.a. their stunning overtime loss to Tim Tebow and the Broncos in last season’s AFC Wild Card playoff game. If that’s not enough backstory to give you pause on starting No. 18 this week, then how about this – in three career games against the Steelers, Manning has averaged 263 yards passing and two touchdowns per contest. And that’s before, the year-plus long layoff, multiple neck surgeries, switching teams, etc.

Sam Bradford (STL) at Detroit

The 2010 No. 1 overall pick and subsequent Offensive Rookie of the Year was unable to build upon his impressive debut last season, but Bradford and the Rams’ offense should get plenty of opportunities to make a strong opening statement on Sunday in Detroit. The Lions’ explosive offense figures to produce plenty of its own firepower, which means the Rams will be forced to throw to try and keep up. Then there’s the Lions’ secondary, which lost one starter (Eric Wright) to free agency and could be down two starters on Sunday. If the Rams’ offensive line can give Bradford enough time to throw he should be able to put up decent numbers against the pass defense that ranked 22nd in the league in 2011.

Jake Locker (TEN) vs. New England
Even though he looked shaky at times after being named Tennessee’s starting quarterback during the preseason, Locker will open the season with what appears to be a golden opportunity to put to rest any lingering doubts. New England should be able to score on the Titans, although probably not to the tune of the 59 points they put up the last time these two teams met in 2009. Regardless, as far as Locker’s fantasy prospects go, it’s more about matching up with a Patriots’ defense that finished second-to-last in the NFL in 2011.

Ryan Fitzpatrick (BUF) at New York Jets
Fitzpatrick threw four touchdown passes in Week 1 last season and even though he and the Bills faded down the stretch, losing eight of their final nine games, his best game by far during that stretch came against the Jets on the road. In Week 12 last season, Fitzpatrick completed 26 of 39 pass attempts with three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Jets in MetLife Stadium.

Matt Schaub (HOU) vs. Miami
I don’t think Houston will need to throw the ball that much to defeat Miami, not to mention that the Texans are a run-centric offense in the first place.

Andrew Luck (IND) at Chicago
There will be plenty of weeks when Luck will be a solid starting fantasy option; I just don’t see Week 1 as one of those. As good as Luck has looked in the preseason, making your NFL debut against the Monsters of the Midway in Chicago is not the most ideal situation to break in a rookie signal caller.

Russell Wilson (SEA) at Arizona
Arizona’s defense may not measure up to Chicago’s, but it shouldn’t be overlooked either. Wilson’s mention here falls under the “I believe it when I see it” category as it applies to his ability to produce when the games count, and the fact that the Seahawks may possibly be without the services of workhorse running back Marshawn Lynch, who’s dealing with back spasms.

Running Backs

DeAngelo Williams (CAR) at Tampa Bay
Carolina appears to have many mouths to feed when it comes to carries, but Jonathan Stewart could miss the opener against Tampa Bay because of a sprained ankle. Further, I think the Panthers coaching staff is to be believed when they say they want to limit the punishment Cam Newton takes when he's out of the pocket, which is why the team signed goal-line bruiser Mike Tolbert. Still, Carolina running backs as a whole were very productive last season in terms of fantasy scoring, whereas Tampa Bay surrendered the most fantasy points to the position in 2011. The pieces appear to be in place for Williams to potentially bust out in Week 1.

Stevan Ridley (NE) at Tennessee
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is now in Cincinnati and there’s a strong chance that backup Shane Vereen could miss the game against Tennessee because of a leg injury, so Ridley may get plenty of opportunities to show he can be a valuable fantasy producer in 2012. The Titans allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to running backs last season and will probably be more focused on slowing down the Patriots’ aerial attack instead of the ground game.

Kevin Smith (DET) vs. St. Louis
Jahvid Best is out until at least Week 7 and Mikel Leshoure won’t see the field until Week 3, meaning the bulk of the carries and catches out of the backfield should fall to Smith. The Lions figure to get plenty of yards and a fair number of points against St. Louis and Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford can’t be expected to do it all, can they?

Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC) at Minnesota and Adrian Peterson (MIN) vs. Jacksonville
Either both All-Pro running backs will be on the field in this game Sunday, one will or both could end up watching the action from the sidelines. Regardless of how much or how little either ends up playing, neither should be in your starting line up nor expected to produce along the lines of where they were undoubtedly drafted. Let backups Rashad Jennings and Toby Gerhart take the lion’s share of carries this week and not lose sight of the fact that there are still 15 more games to go after this one.

Trent Richardson (CLE) vs. Philadelphia
Richardson has been practicing, so at this point  it seems like he will make his NFL debut at home on Sunday. Unfortunately for him, it will come against an Eagles defense that finished eighth last season. Oh yeah, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden will be making his debut as well. Do you want to trust that combination against this defense?

Evan Royster, Roy Helu, Alfred Morris (WAS) at New Orleans
Royster is listed as the starter headed into the game in New Orleans, but that matters very little when it comes to the current state of the Redskins’ backfield. By now we should be used to this, but yet Mike Shanahan continues to bewilder fantasy owners with his RBBC approach. This season it’s the trio of Royster, Helu and Morris, each of whom could get double-digit carries against the Saints or one of them could end up with the bulk of the work. The bottom line is this – until one of them clearly establishes themselves as the top dog, I am staying as far away from the situation as possible.

Wide Receivers
Malcom Floyd (SD) at Oakland (Mon.)

Floyd has a reputation for being injury-prone, but he’s also produced when on the field. He finished last season with a bang, hauling in seven passes for 127 yards and a touchdown against Oakland, who San Diego opens against on Monday night. Plus with Ryan Mathews’ expected absence, Philip Rivers may take to the air more than usual and he has more experience and seemingly more chemistry with Floyd than with new target Robert Meachem.

Brandon LaFell (CAR) at Tampa Bay
Steve Smith has been dealing with a foot injury, but he is expected to play against Tampa Bay. Still, the opportunity clearly exists for LaFell to establish himself as a dependable target for Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. LaFell’s best game last season came against the Buccaneers when he caught three passes for 101 yards and a touchdown in Week 16.

Justin Blackmon (JAC) at Minnesota
The first-round pick twisted his ankle in practice earlier this week, but was a full participant on Thursday and should make his NFL debut on Sunday against Minnesota. If he does get on the field, expect second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert to look for Blackmon early and often, as the athletic target should be able to find some seams in the Vikings’ susceptible secondary.

Mike Wallace (PIT) at Denver

He’s no longer holding out, but he also missed practically the entire preseason, so don’t be surprised if Wallace plays a supporting role in Pittsburgh's passing attack against Denver. Antonio Brown established himself as Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target during the second half of last season and in the preseason and expect more of the same on Sunday.

Vincent Jackson (TB) vs. Carolina
Jackson left San Diego as a free agent for the greener pastures of Tampa Bay, but Josh Freeman is not Philip Rivers and more importantly, the Buccaneers’ passing attack doesn’t appear to be near as vertical as the Chargers. Don’t be surprised if it takes Jackson and Freeman a few weeks to develop their chemistry.

Michael Crabtree (SF) at Green Bay
Crabtree may be San Francisco’s No. 1 wide receiver, but the 49ers just don’t throw the ball that much and the team has even more pass-catching options this season with the additions of Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and first-round pick A.J. Jenkins. Also tight end Vernon Davis appears to be quarterback Alex Smith’s favorite target, not Crabtree.

Tight Ends
Greg Olsen (CAR) at Tampa Bay

Carolina tight ends were targeted a total of 155 times last season, with all but three of those going to either Olsen (90) or Greg Shockey (62). Shockey is no longer on the Panthers roster. Any questions?

Kyle Rudolph (MIN) vs. Jacksonville
Rudolph and quarterback Christian Ponder were both drafted by Minnesota in 2011. Now they are entering  their second years in the league and going forward, along with wide receiver Percy Harvin, figure to make up the bulk of the Vikings’ aerial attack. It also doesn’t hurt that Jacksonville gave up the fourth-most fantasy points to tight ends last season.

Coby Fleener (IND) at Chicago
While Andrew Luck may end up struggling in his pro debut against Chicago, it wouldn’t shock me if he and Fleener hook up quite often. The Bears surrendered the seventh-most fantasy points to tight ends in 2011 and there’s no denying the chemistry and familiarity between the two former Stanford teammates.

Jermichael Finley (GB) vs. San Francisco

It’s not that I don’t like Finley, as I have him ranked seventh among his position for Week 1, it’s more that I’m wary of this match up. San Francisco’s defense was one of the league’s best last season, they are strong at linebacker, and my guess is the Packers will try to exploit the 49ers on the outside and deep rather than in the middle, which is where Finley does a considerable amount of his damage.

Jermaine Gresham (CIN) at Baltimore (Mon.)
Gresham tweaked his knee during the preseason, but should be ready to go against Baltimore on Monday night. Depending on your options, however, I would consider benching this Bengal. The Ravens gave up the second-fewest fantasy points to tight ends last season and still have you-know-who roaming the middle at linebacker.

Jacob Tamme (DEN) vs. Pittsburgh
Tamme and Peyton Manning know each other from their days in Indianapolis, which could result in some big games from the tight end at some point, just not in Week 1. Pittsburgh was the league’s stingiest defense in 2011 and as I have already stated, I just don’t see Manning lighting it up in his Broncos’ debut either.

Defense/Special Teams
Philadelphia at Cleveland

Let’s see, a rookie quarterback and a rookie running back coming off of knee surgery both making their NFL debuts? Yes please!

Seattle at Arizona
John Skelton was named Arizona’s starting quarterback for Week 1. Yes, he gets to throw to Larry Fitzgerald and promising rookie wideout Michael Floyd, but he also gets to do so against Seattle’s young and continually improving defense. A defense that was the NFC’s third stingiest against the pass in 2011, not to mention that the Cardinals’ starting and backup running backs come into this game with lingering injury questions.

Buffalo at New York Jets
The Jets’ offense looked awful in the preseason, while the Bills’ new-look defense is more than ready to see how they measure up against their in-state, division rival. Unless the offensive line opens up some holes for the running game and provides better pass protection than it has shown so far, it could be a long afternoon for whoever is under center for the Jets, regardless of whether that’s Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow.

San Francisco at Green Bay
Don’t get me wrong, this is a really good defense. It’s just that this Week 1 match up in Green Bay against a Packers’ offense makes me a little nervous. The Packers' aerial attack, led by reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, is more than capable of exploiting the 49ers' most apparent defensive weakness (secondary/pass defense). Don’t be surprised if this one ends up looking like last season’s playoff game against New Orleans, a game in which the 49ers gave up nearly 500 yards of total offense and 32 points, albeit in a victory.

Kansas City vs. Atlanta
By season’s end I think Kansas City's defense will be among the better units in the AFC, but I see a rocky start to the campaign as the Falcons will look to utilize all of its weapons in their passing attack and take advantage of the injury issues the Chiefs are dealing with at key positions.

Miami at Houston
Houston will look to run over, around and through the Dolphins, using its ground game to wear down the defense. To make matters worse, a tired and beleaguered defensive unit won’t get much time to catch its breath as the Fins' offense led by rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill will go three-and-out consistently against a staunch Texans’ defense.

Mike Nugent (CIN) at Baltimore (Mon.)

Not expecting an offensive explosion from either team, but I think Cincinnati will give Nugent a fair share of field goal opportunities.

Nate Kaeding (SD) at Oakland (Mon.)
Kaeding’s 2011 season lasted all of one kickoff. He’s back in 2012 and the Chargers should give him plenty of opportunities to flex his leg against the Raiders on Monday night.

Greg Zuerlein (STL) at Detroit
Rookie has a big leg and I think the Rams will be able to move the ball enough against the Lions to give him some chances to show it off.

Dan Carpenter (MIA) at Houston

Just don’t see many scoring opportunities, look elsewhere.

Phil Dawson (CLE) vs. Philadelphia
See above. Both kickers are relying on offenses led by rookie quarterbacks making their pro debuts against tough defenses.

Blair Walsh (MIN) vs. St. Louis
If you want to trust this rookie as your starting kicker, you go right ahead. I would rather take my chances with one of the 31 other available, including the aforementioned Carpenter and Dawson.

— By Mark Ross, published on Sept. 6, 2012

<p> 2012 Fantasy Football: Week 1 Start or Sit</p>
Post date: Friday, September 7, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-fantasy-football-positional-rankings-week-1

It's been seven long months, but fantasy football and our fantasy football positional rankings are back! 

Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any website can give you.

2012 NFL Week 1 Fantasy Football Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Week 1 Start or Sit

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points

PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points

<p> 2012 Fantasy Football Positional Rankings: Week 1</p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 - 14:07
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-fantasy-football-quarterback-rankings-week-1

It's been seven long months, but fantasy football and our fantasy football positional rankings are back!

Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Web site can give you.

As you will see below, Aaron Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP and last season's top fantasy scorer, is not our No. 1 quarterback option in Week 1. The reason why is because Rodgers and the Packers have a tough opening assignment as the San Franciso 49ers, who were the NFC's No. 1 defense in 2011, pay a visit to Lambeau Field. We're not saying you shouldn't start Rodgers, we just like Matthew Stafford at home against St. Louis and Drew Brees in the dome against Washington a little better.

2012 NFL Week 1 Fantasy Football Rankings — Quarterbacks

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Matthew Stafford DET vs. STL
2 Drew Brees NO vs. WAS
3 Aaron Rodgers GB vs. SF
4 Tom Brady NE at TEN
5 Cam Newton CAR at TB
6 Michael Vick PHI at CLE
7 Eli Manning NYG vs. DAL (Wed.)
8 Ben Roethlisberger PIT at DEN
9 Matt Ryan ATL at KC
10 Jay Cutler CHI vs. IND
11 Philip Rivers SD at OAK (Mon.)
12 Peyton Manning DEN vs. PIT
13 Tony Romo DAL at NYG (Wed.)
14 Robert Griffin III WAS at NO
15 Matt Schaub HOU vs. MIA
16 Carson Palmer OAK vs. SD (Mon.)
17 Josh Freeman TB vs. CAR
18 Sam Bradford STL at DET
19 Andrew Luck IND at CHI
20 Russell Wilson SEA at ARI
21 Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF at NYJ
22 Alex Smith SF at GB
23 Jake Locker TEN vs. NE
24 Andy Dalton CIN at BAL (Mon.)
25 Joe Flacco BAL vs. CIN (Mon.)
26 Christian Ponder MIN vs. JAC

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Additional Week 1 Positional Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Week 1 Start or Sit

<p> 2012 Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings: Week 1</p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 - 14:06
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-fantasy-football-running-back-rankings-week-1

It's been seven long months, but fantasy football and our fantasy football positional rankings are back!

Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Web site can give you.

Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice were among the top four running backs in fantasy points in last season and all three should pick up where they left off in Week 1.

The other member of this quartet, Maurice Jones-Drew, is nowhere near a must-start even with a seemingly favorable match up in Minnesota. The NFL's leading rusher last season, MJD held out the entire preseason because of a contract dispute resulting in new Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey declaring Rashad Jennings the Week 1 starter. Because of the time missed and his late arrival to Jaguars' camp, there's no guarantee MJD will even get on the field on Sunday.

Plenty of people will be watching the Vikings' sideline as well as Adrian Peterson could make his return from the torn ACL he suffered late last season, or he could watch teammate Toby Gerhart get all the carries. The team has said it won't make a decision on the All-Pro's status until game time on Sunday. Other injury returns to keep an eye on in Week 1 include Matt Forte (sprained MCL), Jamaal Charles (ACL),  Fred Jackson, and rookie Trent Richardson (knee surgery) who may or may not make his NFL debut against Philadelphia.

2012 NFL Week 1 Fantasy Football Rankings — Running Backs

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Arian Foster HOU vs. MIA
2 LeSean McCoy PHI at CLE
3 Matt Forte CHI vs. IND
4 Ray Rice BAL vs. CIN (Mon.)
5 Darren McFadden OAK vs. SD (Mon.)
6 Chris Johnson TEN vs. NE
7 Marshawn Lynch SEA at ARI
8 Jamaal Charles KC vs. ATL
9 DeMarco Murray DAL at NYG (Wed.)
10 Steven Jackson STL at DET
11 Ahmad Bradshaw NYG vs. DAL (Wed.)
12 Michael Turner ATL at KC
13 Fred Jackson BUF at NYJ
14 Darren Sproles NO vs. WAS
15 Doug Martin TB vs. CAR
16 Frank Gore SF at GB
17 DeAngelo Williams CAR at TB
18 Reggie Bush MIA at HOU
19 Trent Richardson CLE vs. PHI
20 Toby Gerhart MIN vs. JAC
21 Stevan Ridley NE at TEN
22 Kevin Smith DET vs. STL
23 Rashad Jennings JAC at MIN
24 BenJarvus Green-Ellis CIN at BAL (Mon.)
25 Shonn Greene NYJ vs. BUF
26 Willis McGahee DEN vs. PIT
27 Donald Brown IND at CHI
28 Peyton Hillis KC vs. ATL
29 Ronnie Brown SD at OAK (Mon.)
30 Cedric Benson GB vs. SF
31 Isaac Redman PIT at DEN
32 Beanie Wells ARI vs. SEA
33 Michael Bush CHI vs. IND
34 Maurice Jones-Drew JAC at MIN
35 Ben Tate HOU vs. MIA
36 C.J. Spiller BUF at NYJ
37 Mark Ingram NO vs. WAS
38 Jonathan Stewart CAR at TB
39 Evan Royster WAS at NO
40 David Wilson NYG vs. DAL (Wed.)
41 Jonathan Dwyer PIT at DEN
42 Adrian Peterson MIN vs. JAC
43 Pierre Thomas NO vs. WAS
44 Robert Turbin SEA at ARI
45 Ryan Williams ARI vs. SEA
46 Montario Hardesty CLE vs. PHI
47 Jacquizz Rodgers ATL at KC
48 Roy Helu WAS at NO

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Additional Week 1 Positional Rankings

Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Week 1 Start or Sit

<p> 2012 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings: Week 1</p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 - 14:05
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-fantasy-football-wide-receiver-rankings-week-1

It's been seven long months, but fantasy football and our fantasy football positional rankings are back!

Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Web site can give you.

The good news for fantasy owners was that Hakeem Nicks, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, each of whom dealt with different injuries during the preseason, all played on Wednesday night. The bad news, unfortunately, is that all three of them were out-performed by Kevin Ogletree, who didn't even make our wide receiver rankings (below).

With the Cowboys-Giants opener now in the rear-view mirror, the focus shifts to Sunday's and Monday's games. To that end, Calvin Johnson, who led the league in receiving yards and finished third in touchdowns last season, should get off to another strong start in Week 1 as his Lions host St. Louis. Will other top pass-catchers like Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall, Roddy White, Wes Welker, Greg Jennings and others follow suit, or will another "unknown" like Ogletree steal the spotlight?

2012 NFL Week 1 Fantasy Football Rankings — Wide Receivers

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Calvin Johnson DET vs. STL
2 Andre Johnson HOU vs. MIA
3 Larry Fitzgerald ARI vs. SEA
4 Julio Jones ATL at KC
5 Brandon Marshall CHI vs. IND
6 Victor Cruz NYG vs. DAL (Wed.)
7 Roddy White ATL at KC
8 Wes Welker NE at TEN
9 Greg Jennings GB vs. SF
10 Dez Bryant DAL at NYG (Wed.)
11 A.J. Green CIN at BAL (Mon.)
12 Percy Harvin MIN vs. JAC
13 Antonio Brown PIT at DEN
14 Steve Smith CAR at TB
15 Marques Colston NO vs. WAS
16 Hakeem Nicks NYG vs. DAL (Wed.)
17 Jordy Nelson GB vs. SF
18 Vincent Jackson TB vs. CAR
19 Jeremy Maclin PHI at CLE
20 Dwayne Bowe KC vs. ATL
21 Stevie Johnson BUF at NYJ
22 Torrey Smith BAL vs. CIN (Mon.)
23 Miles Austin DAL at NYG (Wed.)
24 Pierre Garcon WAS at NO
25 Mike Wallace PIT at DEN
26 Eric Decker DEN vs. PIT
27 Reggie Wayne IND at CHI
28 Nate Washington TEN vs. NE
29 Demaryius Thomas DEN vs. PIT
30 DeSean Jackson PHI at CLE
31 Brandon Lloyd NE at TEN
32 Malcom Floyd SD at OAK (Mon.)
33 Santonio Holmes NYJ vs. BUF
34 Robert Meachem SD at OAK (Mon.)
35 Lance Moore NO vs. WAS
36 Michael Crabtree SF at GB
37 Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK vs. SD (Mon.)
38 Justin Blackmon JAC at MIN
39 Titus Young DET vs. STL
40 Danny Amendola STL at DET
41 Denarius Moore OAK vs. SD (Mon.)
42 Kendall Wright TEN vs. NE
43 Sidney Rice SEA at ARI
44 Anquan Boldin BAL vs. CIN (Mon.)
45 Brandon LaFell CAR at TB
46 Greg Little CLE vs. PHI
47 Doug Baldwin SEA at ARI
48 Mike Williams TB vs. CAR
49 Randy Moss SF at GB
50 Laurent Robinson JAC at MIN
51 Randall Cobb GB vs. SF
52 Mario Manningham SF at GB
53 Davone Bess MIA at HOU
54 Jon Baldwin KC vs. ATL
55 Leonard Hankerson WAS at NO
56 Nate Burleson DET vs. STL
57 Rueben Randle NYG vs. DAL (Wed.)
58 Austin Collie IND at CHI
59 Eddie Royal SD at OAK (Mon.)
60 Kevin Walter HOU vs. MIA
61 David Nelson BUF at NYJ
62 Andre Roberts ARI vs. SEA
63 Santana Moss WAS at NO
64 Braylon Edwards SEA at ARI

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Additional Week 1 Positional Rankings

Running Backs
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Week 1 Start or Sit

<p> 2012 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings: Week 1</p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 - 14:03
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-fantasy-football-tight-end-rankings-week-1

It's been seven long months, but fantasy football and our fantasy football positional rankings are back!

Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Web site can give you.

Surprisingly, Jason Witten did in fact not only suit up, but he played in the Cowboys' opener against the Giants on Wednesday night. Not surprising, however, is that he was for the most part ineffective (2 rec., 10 yards), at least as far as statistics go. Witten's worth and value to the Cowboys' offense and team as a whole, cannot be measured solely with his production on the field.

Similar to Witten, Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski are two tight ends who are vital to their respective teams' offensive attacks, and along those lines they were the two most dominant tight ends in fantasy football last season. More of the same is expected from the duo in 2012 starting in Week 1 as both have appealing match ups. Gronkowski's teammate Aaron Hernandez, a completely healthy Antonio Gates and Fred Davis, who could become one of Robert Griffn III's favorite tagerts, are just a few other names to keep an eye on over the weekend. 

2012 NFL Week 1 Fantasy Football Rankings — Tight Ends

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Jimmy Graham NO vs. WAS
2 Rob Gronkowski NE at TEN
3 Antonio Gates SD at OAK (Mon.)
4 Vernon Davis SF at GB
5 Fred Davis WAS at NO
6 Aaron Hernandez NE at TEN
7 Jermichael Finley GB vs. SF
8 Brandon Pettigrew DET vs. STL
9 Tony Gonzalez ATL at KC
10 Jared Cook TEN vs. NE
11 Brent Celek PHI at CLE
12 Greg Olsen CAR at TB
13 Jacob Tamme DEN vs. PIT
14 Dustin Keller NYJ vs. BUF
15 Coby Fleener IND at CHI
16 Kyle Rudolph MIN vs. JAC
17 Owen Daniels HOU vs. MIA
18 Jermaine Gresham CIN at BAL (Mon.)
19 Martellus Bennett NYG vs. DAL (Wed.)
20 Scott Chandler BUF at NYJ
21 Heath Miller PIT at DEN
22 Dallas Clark TB vs. CAR
23 Marcedes Lewis JAC at MIN
24 Ed Dickson BAL vs. CIN (Mon.)
25 Anthony Fasano MIA at HOU
26 Tony Moeaki KC vs. ATL

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Additional Week 1 Positional Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Defense/Special Teams

Week 1 Start or Sit

<p> 2012 Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings: Week 1</p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 - 14:02
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-fantasy-football-kicker-rankings-week-1

It's been seven long months, but fantasy football and our fantasy football positional rankings are back!

Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Web site can give you.

2012 NFL Week 1 Fantasy Football Rankings — Kickers

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Stephen Gostkowski NE at TEN
2 Garrett Hartley NO vs. WAS
3 David Akers SF at GB
4 Mason Crosby GB vs. SF
5 Dan Bailey DAL at NYG (Wed.)
6 Sebastian Janikowski OAK vs. SD (Mon.)
7 Alex Henery PHI at CLE
8 Nate Kaeding SD at OAK (Mon.)
9 Jason Hanson DET vs. STL
10 Robbie Gould CHI vs. IND
11 Matt Bryant ATL at KC
12 Matt Prater DEN vs. PIT
13 Justin Tucker BAL vs. CIN (Mon.)
14 Rob Bironas TEN vs. NE
15 Mike Nugent CIN at BAL (Mon.)
16 Billy Cundiff WAS at NO

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points

Additional Week 1 Positional Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Week 1 Start or Sit

<p> 2012 Fantasy Football Kicker Rankings: Week 1</p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 - 14:01
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-fantasy-football-defensespecial-teams-rankings-week-1

It's been seven long months, but fantasy football and our fantasy football positional rankings are back!

Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Web site can give you.

2012 NFL Week 1 Fantasy Football Rankings — Defense/Special Teams

1 Houston Texans vs. MIA
2 Philadelphia Eagles at CLE
3 Seattle Seahawks at ARI
4 Chicago Bears vs. IND
5 Baltimore Ravens vs. CIN (Mon.)
6 New York Jets vs. BUF
7 Buffalo Bills at NYJ
8 Detroit Lions vs. STL
9 Pittsburgh Steelers at DEN
10 San Francisco 49ers at GB
11 Atlanta Falcons at KC
12 Green Bay Packers vs. SF
13 Cincinnati Bengals at BAL (Mon.)
14 New York Giants vs. DAL (Wed.)
15 Minnesota Vikings vs. JAC
16 Arizona Cardinals vs. SEA

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points


Additional Week 1 Positional Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends

Week 1 Start or Sit

<p> 2012 Fantasy Football Defense/Special Teams Rankings: Week 1</p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: Eli Manning, New York Giants, NFL
Path: /nfl/5-reasons-new-york-giants-will-win-another-super-bowl

Twice in the last five seasons the New York Giants have won the Super Bowl championship, coming virtually out of nowhere with miraculous late-season runs. Each time they left the NFL saying “How the heck did they do that?” Each time they heard cries that they were nothing but a fluke.

But a funny thing happened to the Giants after that first “fluky” championship, when they beat the previously undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The next season they were the best team in the NFL, by far, for the first 12 games of the season. They were 11-1 before they were derailed with the mother of all distractions, when Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg.
What happened that year is that a talented team had found itself at the end of the 2007 season and grew confident that they could beat anybody in the world. They carried that confidence over into the following season.
And this year, there’s no reason why they can’t do it again.
Assuming no receiver shoots himself in the leg – or the Giants don’t find other ways to shoot themselves in the foot – the truth is they are likely to be among the best teams in football in the 2012 season. They are often dismissed as a team that was 9-7 in 2011, as if their final six games – all wins – somehow don’t count. Their chances are sometimes blown off because things change wildly from year to year in the NFL, ignoring the fact that 19 of their 22 starters were starters for them last year, too.
So can the Giants repeat? Absolutely. Whether they will or not can’t be determined until we all see how healthy they are in December. But here are five big reasons why the Giants’ chances at a back-to-back championship – which would be the crowning achievement of their dynasty – simply can not be dismissed:
1. Eli Manning – I find it hard to believe there’s even a debate anymore about whether Manning is an “elite” quarterback or a Top 5 quarterback or however you want to define him. But even if you disagree with those labels you’d have to be blind not to see how he carried the Giants last year. He had his finest season despite a shaky defense and the NFL’s worst rushing attack. He’s not getting worse at this stage of his career and he’s still got the weapons. And when you have an elite quarterback in the NFL the simple truth is you have a chance to win every game. With Manning the Giants have that chance. And if you need more proof, just go back and look at how terrific he was in the playoffs.
2. The pass rush – As the NFL has transformed into a passing league it’s become about exactly what former Giants GM said it was all about when he first traded for Manning in 2004 – “quarterbacks and pass rushers.” If you have a guy that can throw and you can disrupt the guy throwing on the other side, you’ve got what it takes to win a championship. The Giants have the best 1-2-3 pass rushing punch in the NFL in Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, and it could be dangerous if Pierre-Paul approaches the 20 sacks he seems capable of getting. And oh, by the way, linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka often lines up as the fourth defensive end – his old position – making this pass rush impossible to stop.
3. The running game – They finished dead last in rushing in 2011, but that’s not really a fair stat because they jumped about 20 yards per game down the stretch and into the playoffs. That’s because they got healthier along the offensive line and Ahmad Bradshaw got healthy too, which made all the difference in the world. Now they’ve got an even healthier line – minus starting left tackle Will Beatty (back) – and as long as Bradshaw can shake off a minor hand injury he should be ready to go. More importantly, the lumbering and aging Brandon Jacobs has been replaced by rookie David Wilson, the Giants’ first-round draft pick that GM Jerry Reese calls “a world class athlete.” The Giants have raved about him all summer and Manning thinks he’s the fastest running back they’ve ever had. That’s something, considering fourth-stringer Da’Rel Scott was the fastest running back in the entire 2011 draft class. And if Manning is right, Wilson could help return the rushing game to prominence, like it was in 2008 when the Giants produced two 1,000-yard backs.
4. Martellus Bennett – The people in Dallas may laugh at a player they think was a bust, and his skeptics laugh at his colorful quotes, comedy routine, and the fact that he’s nicknamed himself “The Bearded Ghost” and “The Black Unicorn.” But even he admitted “the funny (stuff) is cool, but it's not what I’m here for. I’m here to make big plays.” Can he? The Giants seem more convinced of that than they’ve been since they had Jeremy Shockey in his prime. Manning said Bennett is “probably more athletic than some of the tight ends we’ve had” – definitely moreso than the overachieving Jake Ballard and the limited Kevin Boss. He might be the first legitimate red-zone threat the Giants have had in years. He’s also a powerful blocker and the first tight end they’ve had with the moves to get open on his own since Shockey was around. Not only does that add a new and welcomed dimension to the Giants’ attack, but it helps make up for the loss of Mario Manningham, whose departure to San Francisco thinned the receiving corps.
5. The chips – They still reside squarely on the champs’ shoulder. If there’s one thing this team has been masterful at in the Tom Coughlin Era it’s been that feeling of “Us against the World.” When it’s there, they use it. When it’s not there, they invent it. They love proving people wrong. Well, right on cue they spent another championship summer hearing how they were a fluke, seeing everyone pick against them, listening to Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and coach Mike McCarthy say they gave the Giants a divisional playoff victory and San Francisco safety Donte Whitner say the Niners did the same in the NFC championship game. Then Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gets into the act vowing to “beat the New York Giants’ ass.” This team was already motivated to try and become a dynasty by winning its third Super Bowl in six seasons, but now it’s got the same chip they had at the end of last season. Nobody believes in these Giants.
And that’s always when they’re at their most dangerous and best.
<p> Why the champs will get another championship ring</p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 - 06:45
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-washington-redskins

What can the Washington Redskins do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Rich Campbell, Washington Times

What are reasonable fantasy expectations for rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III?
It would be difficult for any rookie to equal what Cam Newton did last season. RG3 could get there, but let’s start lower. Grossman and John Beck last season combined for 4,009 yards, 18 touchdowns and 24 interceptions with a 58.4 completion percentage. The yardage total is a testament to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s ability to devise a quality scheme and exploit matchups. Griffin completed 72.4 percent of his passes at Baylor last season with 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Despite being a rookie, he should protect the ball this season better than Grossman and Beck did. You also can expect some rushing production. That at least makes Griffin a viable fantasy option after the first and second tiers of proven NFL passers. And if you’re in a keeper league, RG3’s value skyrockets.

Will Mike Shanahan pick one running back and stick with him? Or is Roy Helu Jr. doomed to be part of a committee?
The Redskins are going to employ a committee approach until they acquire a running back they can’t afford to take off the field. Think Terrell Davis or Arian Foster level. Washington is still searching for that player, so for now they’ll go with Tim Hightower, Helu and Evan Royster. Hightower is positioned to be the starter despite coming off a torn ACL in his left knee. Redskins coaches believe him to be a strong fit for the outside zone scheme because of his speed and vision. Helu fits more as a backup for now.

Will Fred Davis be the top pass-catching fantasy option on this team? Or will it be one of the young, promising wide receivers?
Kyle Shanahan wants to spread the ball around and exploit matchups. That Davis led the team in receptions last season at the time of his suspension was as much a product of a lack of other receiving options as it was Davis’ talent. Now that Davis is surrounded by receivers such as Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, relying on Davis to consistently be the top pass-catcher is a mistake.

At 37 years old, can London Fletcher still be a productive fantasy starter?
Fletcher continued to defy his age last season and led the NFL with 166 tackles. His vision, intelligence and preparation help him make plays, but he still is physically stout, as well. At some point his body is going to break down, but he has played in 224 consecutive games, so feel good about riding this wave until it does.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Pierre Garcon, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Evan Royster, RB
Overvalued: Roy Helu, RB
Top Rookie: Robert Griffin III, QB
Bounce-Back: Leonard Hankerson, WR
Top IDP: London Fletcher, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Robert Griffin III QB 6-2 223 Baylor
3. Josh LeRibeus G/C 6-3 312 SMU
4. Kirk Cousins QB 6-3 214 Michigan State
4. Keenan Robinson ILB 6-3 242 Texas
5. Adam Gettis G 6-2 293 Iowa
6. Alfred Morris RB 5-9 219 FAU
6. Tom Compton T 6-5 314 South Dakota
7. Richard Crawford CB 5-11 191 SMU
7. Jordan Berstine S 5-11 205 Iowa

Fantasy Impact: After years of mediocre quarterback play, the Redskins traded up to acquire Robert Griffin III as the team’s new signal-caller. Alfred Morris was a solid late-round pickup and is a good fit for Washington’s zone-rushing attack. However, he is a long shot to have any fantasy value this season. Kirk Cousins has a shot to serve as Griffin’s backup.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (BAL, at CLE, at PHI)

It could be tough sledding for the Redskins and RGIII in the fantasy postseason. The Browns and Ravens were ranked first and third, respectively, against fantasy QBs last season and the Eagles ranked 15th. And the Browns and Ravens were first and sixth, respectively, against WRs. On the flip side for Roy Helu, the Browns and Eagles and both ranked poorly against fantasy RBs.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Washington Redskins</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-tennessee-titans

What can the Tennessee Titans do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Nathan Rush, Athlon Sports

Is Chris Johnson still worthy of a first-round selection?
Yes. Chris Johnson remains the undisputed centerpiece of the Titans offense. Last year was a tale of two seasons for CJ, who was a miserable disappointment over the first eight games (572 total yards, one TD) and a solid fantasy starter over the final eight contests (878 total yards, three TDs). CJ’s second half included outbursts of 193 total yards in Week 12 and 157 total yards and two TDs in Week 13 — key weeks on the fantasy calendar’s stretch run.

Will there be any lingering effects of Kenny Britt’s terrible knee injury in Week 3 last year?
Britt had a second surgery in late May, as a result of continued swelling around the knee during rehab training. Although this was spun as a routine cleanup procedure to help the healing process, the operation did little to alleviate the growing concern that Britt will not be 100 percent in Week 1 this year. He has played in only 31-of-48 possible games as a pro. As usual, expect Britt to do significant damage with limited playing time in 2012.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Jared Cook, TE
Deep-Sleeper: Damian Williams, WR
Overvalued: Nate Washington, WR
Top Rookie: Kendall Wright, WR
Bounce-Back: Kenny Britt, WR
Top IDP: Colin McCarthy, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Kendall Wright WR 5-10 196 Baylor
2. Zach Brown LB 6-1 242 North Carolina
3. Mike Martin DT 6-1 306 Michigan
4. Coty Sensabaugh CB 5-11 189 Clemson
5. Taylor Thompson TE 6-6 287 SMU
6. Markelle Martin S 6-1 207 Oklahoma State
7. Scott Solomon DE 6-3 262 Rice

Fantasy Impact: With Kenny Britt rehabbing from a torn ACL, the Titans needed to add another receiver to the mix. Kendall Wright brings big-play ability and could start this season. He should be selected in redraft formats and is one of the top keeper picks at receiver. The rest of the Titans’ draft was focused on building the defense, as five selections went into that side of the ball. Taylor Thompson played defensive end at SMU but has the size and hands combination to make an impact at tight end in the NFL. However, he is a project and will struggle to play in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at IND, NYJ, at GB)

Whether it’s Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker at QB, the Titans’ playmakers — Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Jared Cook — all have a favorable fantasy postseason slate. They are on the road to take on Colts and Packers teams that were ranked in the bottom 16 against all three position groups, and they get a solid Jets team at home in a Monday Night Football game.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Tennessee Titans</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:02
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-tampa-bay-buccaneers

What can the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Rick Stroud, St. Petersburg Times

Which Josh Freeman can fantasy owners expect to draft? The one who threw 25 TDs and six INTs in 2010 or the one who tossed only 16 TDs and 22 INTs last season?
Josh Freeman has rededicated himself this season, having lost 15-to-20 pounds from his powerful 6'6" frame. Freeman’s weight loss has been overshadowed by what he gained in weapons. For the first time in his career, he has a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Chargers free agent Vincent Jackson. The Bucs also signed Saints free agent guard Carl Nicks and moved Jeremy Zuttah to center. Receiver Mike Williams should function better with coverage rolling to Jackson’s side. Freeman has to break his reliance on Kellen Winslow, who was shipped to Seattle for a seventh rounder. In his place is heady vet Dallas Clark. Freeman also has a back to check the ball down to in first-round pick Doug Martin. Remember, as bad as Freeman was, he set career marks in yards and completion percentage.

What sort of timeshare can owners expect from the Doug Martin-LeGarrette Blount backfield duo?
There’s a good reason the Bucs drafted Martin. In addition to adding some depth at the position, Martin is viewed by new coach Greg Schiano as an every-down back, meaning he can run, catch and protect. Blount was one-dimensional at best. Blount will be used in four-minute situations, when the Bucs want to pound the ball. Martin will do almost everything else and should be the much more enticing fantasy option on draft day.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Mike Williams, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Arrelious Benn, WR
Overvalued: Vincent Jackson, WR
Top Rookie: Doug Martin, RB
Bounce-Back: Josh Freeman, QB
Top IDP: Mason Foster, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Mark Barron S 6-2 213 Alabama
1. Doug Martin RB 5-9 223 Boise State
2. Lavonte David LB 6-1 233 Nebraska
5. Najee Goode LB 6-0 244 West Virginia
6. Keith Tandy CB 5-10 199 West Virginia
7. Michael Smith RB 5-9 205 Utah State
7. Drake Dunsmore TE/FB 6-3 235 Northwestern

Fantasy Impact: New coach Greg Schiano wants to build the offense around a powerful rushing attack, so it was no surprise when he selected Doug Martin to pair with LeGarrette Blount in the backfield. Blount has started the last two years for the Buccaneers, but Martin is expected to lead the team in carries and yards this season. Michael Smith brings a different dimension to the backfield and will see carries as a change-of-pace threat. Lavonte David and Mark Barron are two impact defensive acquisitions and should be monitored in IDP leagues.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (PHI, at NO, STL)

Tampa Bay ranked 27th in the NFL in scoring offense and last in scoring defense  last season. No offensive players were top-12 fantasy players at their position. Playing the Eagles and Saints in the fantasy playoffs means playing catch-up, so there should be some production. St. Louis was equally bad — 32nd scoring offense, 26th scoring defense. The fantasy title game is a wild card.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:01
Path: /fantasy/2012-fantasy-football-improving-and-declining-defensespecial-teams

Choosing the right defense/special teams unit for your fantasy football team is not a decison that should be taken lightly. Last season, three DSTs (San Francisco, Philadelphia and Houston) scored 180 or more fantasy points. That total put them among the top 55 overall and top 33 if your remove quarterbacks.

While every defense isn't as productive in fantasy scoring as the likes of the 49ers, Eagles and Texans, there are some units out there on the rise that could prove valuable. Likewise, there are some that you may be better off passing on this season. Here's Athlon Sports' take on four of each.


1. Buffalo Bills
After the Bills allowed 371.1 yards per game last season, it was clear changes needed to be made on Buffalo’s defense. Dave Wannstedt replaced George Edwards as defensive coordinator, and the team switched to a 4-3 alignment. The change in schemes likely helped lure standout end Mario Williams away from Houston. The two-time Pro Bowler will team with fellow offseason acquisition Mark Anderson to inject some much-needed punch to the pass rush. Rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore will help a secondary that allowed 30 passing touchdowns last season.

2. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks ranked ninth in the NFL in total defense last year and made solid moves to improve this unit even more in the offseason. The addition of first-round pick Bruce Irvin out of West Virginia should help a pass rush that tied for 19th in the league with 33 sacks last season. The linebacking corps has question marks, but rookie Bobby Wagner brings speed and a physical presence to the middle. The Seahawks ranked fourth in the NFL with 22 interceptions in 2011, and the secondary returns intact.

3. Dallas Cowboys
The secondary was the biggest weakness for Dallas last season, but the offseason acquisitions should turn it into a strength. Brandon Carr was signed away from Kansas City to anchor one cornerback spot, while the team traded up in the first round to pick LSU product Morris Claiborne, who will start at the other spot. Both players are an upgrade over last season’s starters. Dallas needs linebacker Anthony Spencer to have a big season.

4. Kansas City Chiefs
Despite the absence of safety Eric Berry, the Chiefs finished 11th in the NFL in total defense in 2011. With Berry back in the mix, Kansas City’s defense could climb into the top 10. Stanford Routt was signed to replace Brandon Carr at cornerback, and the team expects a breakout year from outside linebacker Justin Houston. Rookie nose tackle Dontari Poe has upside, but his production didn’t match his talent at Memphis. If Poe, Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson produce up front, this defense will be a good bargain on draft day.


1. New Orleans Saints
It’s been a tumultuous offseason in New Orleans, and the distractions could take a toll on this team in 2012. The Saints finished a disappointing 24th in total defense last year, and linebacker Jonathan Vilma is expected to miss all of this season due to a suspension. Signing Chris Chamberlain, David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton should bolster the linebacking corps, but the pass rush remains a question mark. Veteran Steve Spagnuolo was a solid hire as defensive coordinator, but it’s hard to envision this unit emerging as an every week starter in fantasy leagues.

2. Oakland Raiders
Considering the pieces in place, finishing 29th in the NFL in total defense was a major disappointment last season. New coach Dennis Allen should bring some aggressiveness to this unit, but the back seven is littered with question marks. Linebacker Rolando McClain could miss time in 2012 due to legal issues, while Aaron Curry has been a disappointment. The safety spots are set with Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch returning, but Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell will be tested frequently at cornerback.

3. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore should remain one of the top 12 fantasy defenses, but this unit is on the decline. Linebacker Terrell Suggs will likely miss all of 2012 due to a torn Achilles. Rookie Courtney Upshaw is a capable option, but replacing the NFL Defensive Player of the Year is no easy task. The depth took a hit with Jarret Johnson now in San Diego and Cory Redding and Tom Zbikowski departing to join former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis.

4. Miami Dolphins
Miami finished 15th in total defense last season, so there are reasons to be optimistic about this unit’s performance for 2012. However, the Dolphins are transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and had to cut safety Yeremiah Bell in a salary cap move. The Sean Smith-Vontae Davis cornerback tandem has had its moments but needs to play more consistently. Miami could be an option in select matchups, but with some players changing positions due to the new scheme, 2012 is a transition year.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

<p> 2012 Fantasy Football: Improving and Declining Defense/Special Teams</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:04
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-seattle-seahawks

What can the Seattle Seahawks do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Dan Raley, Freelance Writer

Was Marshawn Lynch simply in beast mode for a new contract or can owners count on a repeat performance?
The big attraction to Lynch is he’s a self-starter. He plays with attitude. He was just as good in his previous season with the Seahawks without a contract incentive hanging over him. He stands to benefit from having a better quarterback (Flynn) and sturdier offensive line (if Russell Okung can stay healthy). If all goes well, Lynch’s fantasy numbers should be very, very good.

What are reasonable fantasy expectations for Matt Flynn in his first year as the starter?
Flynn, in his limited appearances with Green Bay, showed himself to be a big-numbers guy, every fantasy player’s dream. Another six-touchdown passing game is a stretch, but count on him for maybe two or more per game, plus 200-plus yards per outing — or double what Tarvaris Jackson provided as last year’s Seattle starter.

Is there a pass-catcher on this roster who will be an every week fantasy starter in 2012?
Probably not. The Seahawks insist that Sidney Rice, after having offseason surgery on both shoulders, will be healthy and Flynn’s No. 1 target. However, Rice’s five-season pro track record indicates he’s an extremely fragile player. Remember, undrafted rookie free agent Doug Baldwin was the top receiver in 2011 and Golden Tate remains on the roster as well. Seattle also signed free agents Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards prior to the start of training camp, but it's anyone guess if the two mercurial veterans will contirbute anything on the field, let alone make the team.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Matt Flynn, QB
Deep-Sleeper: Doug Badlwin, WR
Overvalued: Sidney Rice, WR
Top Rookie: Robert Turbin, RB
Bounce-Back: Zach Miller, TE
Top IDP: Chris Clemons, DL

2012 Draft Class

1. Bruce Irvin DE 6-3 245 West Virginia
2. Bobby Wagner LB 6-0 241 Utah State
3. Russell Wilson QB 5-11 206 Wisconsin
4. Robert Turbin RB 5-10 220 Utah State
4. Jaye Howard DT 6-3 301 Florida
5. Korey Toomer LB 6/2 234 Idaho
6. Jeremy Lane CB 6-0 190 Northwestern State
6. Winston Guy S 6-1 218 Kentucky
7. J.R. Sweezy DT 6-5 298 NC State
7. Greg Scruggs DE 6-3 284 Louisville

Fantasy Impact: The Seahawks added Matt Flynn to compete with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, but Russell Wilson will get a chance to win the job in preseason camp. Wilson lacks ideal size but can be a starter in the NFL. Robert Turbin is a physical back like Marshawn Lynch, so playing time could be sparse in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (ARI, vs. BUF, SF)

Marshawn Lynch was the only fantasy-relevant Seahawk last season, ranking fifth among RBs. He gets the 49ers and their top-ranked rush defense from a year ago in the fantasy title game. He was the only back to rush for 100 yards and score a TD against San Francisco last season. Matchups against Arizona and Buffalo, ranked in the bottom 12 against the run last year, should be a bit kinder.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Seattle Seahawks</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-san-diego-chargers

What can the San Diego Chargers do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Bernie Wilson, Associated Press

Is Ryan Mathews ready to carry the load and become an elite fantasy running back?
He needs to be. He showed the bursts and long gains that fans and fantasy owners have expected ever since the Chargers moved up 16 spots to draft him with the 12th pick overall in 2010. It’s been a slow process, from injuries in his rookie year — as well as an inability to pick up the blitz that cost him playing time — to not being in shape during training camp last season. After rushing for 1,091 yards last year, Mathews should be ready for more in 2012.

Philip Rivers committed 25 turnovers last year. Can he eliminate his mistakes and return to fantasy’s elite QB club?
Even Rivers seemed mystified about the turnovers and will do everything he can to reduce them. The fumbled snap at Kansas City was the Chargers’ equivalent of the ball going through Bill Buckner’s legs, and many of those interceptions came from Rivers trying to do too much. That said, Rivers will need some help from his teammates so he doesn’t feel the need to carry the offensive load.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Robert Meachem, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Eddie Royal, WR
Overvalued: Malcom Floyd, WR
Top Rookie: Ladarius Green, TE
Bounce-Back: Nate Kaeding, K
Top IDP: Eric Weddle, DB

2012 Draft Class

1. Melvin Ingram OLB 6/2 276 South Carolina
2. Kendall Reyes DE 6/4 296 Connecticut
3. Brandon Taylor SS 5/11 209 LSU
4. Ladarius Green TE 6/6 238 UL Lafayette
5. Johnnie Troutman G 6/4 314 Penn State
7. David Molk C 6/2 288 Michigan
7. Edwin Baker RB 5/9 210 Michigan State

Fantasy Impact: With the offense returning largely intact, rebuilding the defense was the top priority through the draft. Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes will help to bolster the front seven, with Ingram filling a hybrid linebacker/end role. Antonio Gates is still San Diego’s starter at tight end, but Ladarius Green could help in two-tight end sets. Green is a sleeper to watch in keeper formats. Edwin Baker, a seventh-round pick, could push Curtis Brinkley for playing time as San Diego’s No. 2 tailback.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at PIT, CAR, at NYJ)

The Chargers make the dreaded cross-country trip twice in the fantasy postseason this year, and they do so against two of the traditionally strongest defenses in the league. However, in the last three years San Diego has played 11 times east of the Mississippi River and scored 20 or more points in 10 of those games. Hosting Carolina in Week 15 should translate into opportunities for the Chargers’ playmakers.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the San Diego Chargers</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 05:59
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-san-francisco-49ers

What can the San Francisco 49ers do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Eric Gilmore, Freelance Writer

Will Frank Gore ever be an elite fantasy back again or has he been permanently relegated to RB-2 status?
Gore probably doesn’t get into the end zone often enough to be considered an elite fantasy back, but he rushed for 1,211 yards last season, cracking the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth time in the past six years. Gore carried 282 times last year, the second-most in his career, but he likely won’t have as heavy a workload this season. The 49ers have more weapons in the backfield, and they also seem intent on passing the ball more this year. They drafted A.J. Jenkins in the first round and signed free agents Randy Moss and Mario Manningham.

Is Randy Moss going to provide any fantasy value at age 35?
Despite sitting out last season, the 35-year-old Moss appeared to be in great shape during his first few offseason workouts with his new team. The real test won’t come until he puts on the pads and gets into a game. The fact that he caught only 28 passes in 2010 and played for three teams — the Pats, Vikings and Titans — is a huge red flag. In other words, fantasy buyer, beware. Moss might be worth a late-round flyer, but nothing more.

Can the Niners repeat as fantasy’s top team defense and special teams?
The 49ers are positioned well for an instant replay on both fronts. They return their entire starting defense. The only change in that group will be linebacker Aldon Smith, coming off a 14-sack season, bumping Parys Haralson to a backup role. The 49ers were next to impossible to run against last season, and there’s no reason that should change.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Alex Smith, QB
Deep-Sleeper: Kendall Hunter, RB
Overvalued: Frank Gore, RB
Top Rookie: A.J. Jenkins, WR
Bounce-Back: Randy Moss, WR
Top IDP: Patrick Willis, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. A.J. Jenkins WR 6-0 192 Illinois
2. LaMichael James RB 5-8 194 Oregon
4. Joe Looney G 6-3 309 Wake Forest
5. Darius Fleming OLB 6-2 245 Notre Dame
6. Trenton Robinson S 5-10 195 Michigan State
6. Jason Slowey T 6-3 303 Western Oregon
7. Cam Johnson OLB 6-3 268 Virginia

Fantasy Impact: The 49ers needed to upgrade their offensive playmakers to make a run at the Super Bowl. Signing Randy Moss and Mario Manningham gives Alex Smith two veterans at receiver, while A.J. Jenkins is a promising rookie prospect. Jenkins could be buried on the depth chart this year but should be a late-round keeper prospect. LaMichael James won’t start but is a perfect change-of-pace option to Frank Gore and Brandon Jacobs. James’ fantasy value is limited in 2012, but he could be handcuffed to Gore in case of injury.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (MIA, at NE, at SEA)

The 49ers have made plenty of offensive additions, and hopefully they won’t dilute an already inconsistent fantasy offense — TE Vernon Davis (ninth) was the only top-10 offensive fantasy player. The three opponents are hard to judge now, as Miami has a new coaching staff and New England and Seattle drafted on the defensive side (14 of their combined 17 picks).

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the San Francisco 49ers</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 05:59
Path: /overtime/20-totally-unintentionally-dirty-sports-photos

Ahh, photography. It can catch a split-second moment in time and turn it into a hilarious photo that can be interpreted the completely wrong way. And sports provides more of these moments than most other subjects--usually because there's a lot of sweaty dudes rolling around with each other and celebrating as only sweaty dudes know how. Here are 21 unintentionally funny sports photos that are hilarious even if you don't like sports.

<p> These photos caught athletes doing things we only see in the movies (dirty movies.)</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 09:40
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC North, Pittsburgh Steelers, NFL
Path: /nfl/pittsburgh-steelers-2012-nfl-team-preview

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Pittsburgh Steelers check in at No. 6.

The Steelers, long a model of stability, are in transition. They released a handful of key veterans, including iconic wide receiver Hines Ward, during the offseason and made the first major coaching change of Mike Tomlin’s tenure. The question of whether they are revamping or rebuilding will be answered this season as they have to contend with bitter rival Baltimore and rising Cincinnati, and that is just in the AFC North.

For all of the moves they made during an offseason that was busier than in most years, the Steelers’ nucleus remains largely intact. They return every starter on offense, though running back Rashard Mendenhall may not be ready at the outset of the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee in a Jan. 1 game at Cleveland. The defense has to replace two starters and again fend off criticism that it has become too old (read: slow). Seven of the projected 11 starters are over 30 years old, and the defense let down the Steelers in a 29–23 overtime playoff loss to Denver.


The question of when the franchise quarterback and new offensive coordinator would meet turned into an obsession, and it ultimately shined a light on how deeply ingrained the Steelers are in the fabric of Pittsburgh. It is true that Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley did not talk for several weeks after the latter was hired. How well the two mesh will go a long way toward unlocking the vast potential of an offense that underachieved last season. Roethlisberger and Haley are fiercely competitive and strong-willed, which could lead to some, uh, interesting in-game verbal volleys. Haley, who lasted less than three seasons as Kansas City’s head coach, has a keen offensive mind, and he has shown the ability to adapt to his personnel — not the other way around. Arizona was one of the NFL’s top passing teams when Haley served as the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator. Kansas City ranked among the NFL’s leaders in rushing during Haley’s tenure with the Chiefs.

No less an authority than team president Art Rooney II said the Steelers have to be more consistent running the ball. But the offense is built around Roethlisberger, who is coming off his second 4,000-yard passing season, and a group of young and fleet-footed wide receivers. Mike Wallace and emerging star Antonio Brown are coming off 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and the Steelers have to hope the former’s contract situation isn’t a distraction and that his dip in production over the second half of 2011 was an aberration. Look for Haley to get more of out underrated tight end Heath Miller in the passing game.

Mendenhall’s health is a concern, as is the relative inexperience the Steelers have behind him. Isaac Redman has shown flashes of being a No. 1 back, but the Steelers need to see more from the bruising former undrafted free agent before they are convinced of it.

The Steelers fortified an in-flux offensive line through the draft. Staying relatively healthy would go a long way toward the Steelers improving their running game, particularly in short-yardage situations, and keeping Roethlisberger upright. The Steelers used 25 different offensive line combinations last season, the most in the NFL.


The Steelers may have been first in the NFL in total defense and points allowed last season, but they need to be more opportunistic and do a better job of putting pressure on the quarterback. Getting outside linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison on the field together would go a long way toward doing both. The two were rarely healthy at the same time last season, forcing defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to move players around in his vaunted linebacking corps as if they were pieces on a chessboard. Larry Foote is a one-year replacement for James Farrior at left inside linebacker, and he will set the defense as Farrior did for a decade in Pittsburgh. The Steelers would love to see what the athletic and hard-hitting Lawrence Timmons can do at right inside linebacker if they can keep him there.

The defensive linemen will again be called upon to occupy blockers up front and allow the linebackers to roam freely in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. Brett Keisel is a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but the Steelers need to get more out of young defensive ends such as Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward. Nose tackle Casey Hampton is likely in his final season as the anchor of the line, and his health is an issue after the five-time Pro Bowler suffered his third major knee injury last January.

The back end of the secondary is set with perennial Pro Bowl strong safety Troy Polamalu and free safety Ryan Clark. The two have terrific chemistry, and Clark’s understanding of Polamalu’s game allows the latter to improvise and for LeBeau to line him up all over the field. Polamalu is one of  the top playmakers in the NFL, though injuries are always a concern because of his physical style of play.

The position battle to watch is at the cornerback spot opposite Ike Taylor. The Steelers are high on second-year men Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown.


Antonio Brown gave the Steelers a triple-threat last season, excelling not only as a wide receiver but also as a kickoff and punt returner. The Steelers want to ease the burden on Brown, a starter now. Emmanuel Sanders is a top candidate to return kickoffs, though his struggles to stay healthy could have the Steelers looking at other options there. Rookie Chris Rainey has blazing speed, and the Steelers will give him every opportunity to replace Brown as the primary punt returner.

Shaun Suisham bailed out the kicking game in 2010 after he replaced the erratic Jeff Reed, but he needs to show more consistency after missing eight of 31 field goal attempts last season. The Steelers gave up on Daniel Sepulveda, a fourth-round draft pick in 2007 who suffered three major injuries in five seasons, leaving Jeremy Kapinos as the punter.

Final Analysis: 1st in the AFC North

Faces have changed, but expectations haven’t for one of the NFL’s flagship franchises. It is again Super Bowl or bust for the organization that displays six Lombardi Trophies at its practice facility, and it is time for the offense to supplant the defense as the Steelers’ driving force. Roethlisberger’s wideouts should be as good as any in the league, and the Steelers are no longer in the awkward position of trying to keep Ward involved in the passing game. The offensive line should be better, especially if rookie guard David DeCastro helps fortify the interior as expected. The defense is no longer a great one, but it is still good enough for the Steelers to win, especially if it improves on the 15 turnovers it forced in 2011.

The key to another Super Bowl run is winning the AFC North. Two of the three seasons the Steelers won the division under Tomlin they also advanced to the Super Bowl. The two times they finished outside of first place they either missed the playoffs or lost in the opening round.

Related: 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Homecoming for Haley
Todd Haley, who replaced Bruce Arians as the offensive coordinator, is no stranger to the Steelers’ organization. Haley’s father, Dick, is a former player personnel director who helped build the dynastic teams of the 1970s, and Todd once served as the Steelers’ ball boy at training camp. Bill Cowher offered Todd Haley the job of wide receivers coach in 2004. When Haley turned it down, Cowher hired Arians for the position.

Crossed Signals
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is close with Arians, and their relationship helped save the latter’s job after the 2009 season. But Arians couldn't survive after the Steelers were 12th in the NFL in total offense in 2011 but tied for 21st in scoring, even though he also appeared to have coach Mike Tomlin’s support. A day after the team’s Jan. 8 playoff loss in Denver, Tomlin said he expected both coordinators to return for the 2012 season, but Arians was out less than two weeks later.

Tomlin’s Take
The Steelers announced Arians’ retirement on Jan. 20. Indianapolis hired Arians as its offensive coordinator on Jan. 31. That strange turn of events fueled speculation that president Art Rooney II had ordered Tomlin to fire Arians. Not true, said Tomlin. “Don’t get me wrong,” the sixth-year coach said. “Art Rooney II owns the football team. He can do what he wants to do. But those directions did not happen.”

Follow The Leaders
An offseason purge stripped the Steelers of their long-time leaders on offense and defense. The release of wide receiver Hines Ward and inside linebacker James Farrior — they served as captains for 15 seasons between them — did not necessarily leave a leadership vacuum in the locker room. Defensive end Brett Keisel and free safety Ryan Clark can fill the void left by Farrior’s departure. Roethlisberger, a two-time captain, and Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey are two of the team leaders on offense.

Telling Statistic
The Steelers were, uncharacteristically, near the bottom of the league in turnover differential last season with 13 more giveaways than takeaways. In Tomlin’s first four seasons combined, the Steelers had 21 more takeaways than giveaways. Bottom line: The Steelers cannot afford to lose the turnover battle this season if they want to contend for the Super Bowl.

Gaining Through Losing
Stevenson “Sly” Sylvester dropped more than 15 pounds during the offseason, and he is hoping the lost weight will help him find a more prominent role this season. Sylvester, primarily a special teams player his first two seasons, is hoping to challenge Larry Foote for the starting job at left inside linebacker. Sylvester played at 255 pounds last season, and he said his optimal weight is at around 240 pounds.

Repaying A Bet
The Steelers made it clear that right tackle Willie Colon is still very much a part of their plans even though he has played one game the last two seasons because of arm and foot injuries. The Steelers restructured Colon’s five-year, $29 million contract, giving the seventh-year veteran more guaranteed money. “In my heart of hearts I feel like I’m in debt to my two coaches, Tomlin and (offensive line coach Sean) Kugler,” Colon said, “and I feel like I’m in debt to this team.”

Off To The Races
Wide receiver Mike Wallace is one of the fastest players in the NFL, but he may no longer hold that title in his own locker room. Rookie running back Chris Rainey claims he runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.1 range. “Mike Wallace is kind of fast, but I have confidence in myself so I’m the fastest,” Rainey said after the Steelers drafted him.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Cincinnati Bengals
No. 14: Philadelphia Eagles
No. 13: New Orleans Saints
No. 12: Dallas Cowboys
No. 11: Denver Broncos
No. 10: Detroit Lions
No. 9: Chicago Bears
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons
No. 7: Baltimore Ravens
No. 6: Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 5: Mon., August 27

Order your 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule Analysis

<p> Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 08:00