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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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