Welcome to BuffaLowDown’s first edition of “Start Em/Sit ‘Em” for the 2014 fantasy football season. The NFL season kicked off last night with the defending champion Seattle Seahawks dominating the Green Bay Packers. Personally, I always feel like the Thursday night opener is a bit of a tease, as the true slate of full action does not begin until 1pm on Sunday. As part of SESM, I will also be including a bonus start and sit for players on the Bills. All starts and sits are based on individual matchups, and how I project players to outperform or underperform based on where they slot in consensus weekly rankings. I will try and avoid the obvious names that you will undoubtedly be starting every week (aka Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, etc.)
QB: SF – Colin Kaepernick (at DAL)
Kaepernick, much like his opener against Green Bay in 2013, draws an extremely favorable matchup to open the season. Dallas’s defense was historically bad last year, and they have done little to nothing to dispel that notion heading into 2014. Additionally, the Cowboys will be without their top cornerback, Orlando Scandrick, for the first four games of the season due to suspension. Even on the road, I expect the sledding to be fairly easy for the 49ers offense. While there is a slight concern that the game plan for San Francisco will be run heavy, Kaepernick should still have plenty of opportunities to put up QB1 fantasy numbers. Kaepernick is opening this season with the best arsenal of weapons he’s had since his time as a starter. A healthy Michael Crabtree, an elite level tight end in Vernon Davis, along with steady veteran receivers Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson should allow Kaepernick to shine in week 1.
RB: PIT – Le’Veon Bell (vs. CLE)
Recently, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin affirmed the notion that Bell could receive 20-25 touches a game. “I think we drafted him with that in mind,” Tomlin stated. Even if Bell loses some goal line work and short yardage duties to LeGarrette Blount, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t be pushing for at least 20 touches in what figures to be a grind it out game in week 1. Yes, the Browns defense is solid, but Pittsburgh has owned the Browns in recent history, toting a 7-1 record against their division rival since 2010. Bell should be the focal point of the offensive game plan this weekend, and even if he doesn’t score, the yardage totals combined for his rushing and receiving should equate to RB1 level expectations.
WR: IND – Reggie Wayne (at DEN)
I am still a big believer in Reggie Wayne. Before tearing his ACL during the middle of the 2013 season, he was quarterback Andrew Luck’s top target in Indy’s passing game. Much attention this offseason has been given to T.Y. Hilton, and rightfully so, but Wayne should still be Luck’s primary security blanket on 3rd downs and across the middle of the field. Hilton may be a bigger play threat, but for consistency week to week, I’m still banking on Wayne. He should lead the Colts in targets this week in what figures to be a high scoring affair in Denver. In PPR leagues, it’s a no-brainer to start Reggie this week, and even in standard scoring formats, 80-100 yards receiving is not an unrealistic expectation. The value is right if Wayne is being utilized as a low end WR2 or high end WR3/Flex in fantasy lineups this week.
Buffalo Bills Start of the Week
RB: BUF – Fred Jackson (at CHI)
While I am recommending sitting rookie receiver Sammy Watkins, I am also willing to start Fred Jackson as a RB3/Flex against Chicago in week 1. Jackson has seen almost equal time as C.J. Spiller with the starters during the preseason, and his ability to churn out tough yards, pass protect on third down, and work near the goal line will give him value all season. Additionally, Boobie Dixon injured his hamstring in practice this week and is questionable to play; meaning any potential goal line packages set for Dixon should now belong to Jackson. Statistically, the Bears run defense was the worst in the NFL last year, so there should be a few opportunities for Jackson to rip some yardage between the tackles as long as the Bills can keep 3rd downs at a manageable distance.
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QB: CAR – Cam Newton (at TB)
The latest reports out of Carolina are that Newton is shaping up to be a true game-time decision for Sunday’s divisional matchup at Tampa Bay. It would be a small surprise if Newton did not suit up for the opener, but even if he does, he almost assuredly will not be 100% healthy. The Buccaneers have been a popular sleeper pick among experts to make some noise in the NFC this year, and the Panthers will have their hands full with what should be an above average defensive front. Although Tampa Bay lost star cornerback Darrelle Revis to free agency, they were quick to replace him with a talented player in his own right, Alterraun Verner. Verner figures to spend most of the day shadowing rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Even with Benjamin’s distinct size advantage, it is no doubt a tough matchup for a NFL debut. Most owners will not have the luxury to bench Newton (they won’t have a choice if he doesn’t play), but I am not expecting top 10 QB/QB1 production from him in week 1.
RB: TEN – Bishop Sankey (at KC)
In fantasy circles, much debate has been made of Titans rookie running back Bishop Sankey. While it’s completely fair to assess Sankey as the most talented running back on Tennessee’s roster, the fact remains that Shonn Greene is opening the season atop the team’s depth chart. At some point, even as early as during the game this week, Sankey may take claim to that spot, but it’s still a very risky play to trot him out in his NFL debut as a RB2/Flex in hostile Arrowhead Stadium. Personally, I do believe Sankey will prove to be a valuable fantasy commodity as the season progresses, but it may be a bit premature and unfair to expect solid RB2 production out of him in his first game. The Chiefs pass rush is one of the best in the NFL, so Sankey will most likely be off the field on third downs until he can prove his ability as a reliable pass protector. If I have other options, I am most likely leaving Sankey on my bench for at least a week, until I see how the Titan’s running back workload is divided in real game action.
WR: MIA – Mike Wallace (vs. NE)
Now that woefully vanilla scheming Mike Sherman has been replaced with Bill Lazor to coordinate the Dolphins offense, there has been a quiet buzz among the fantasy community that Mike Wallace could have a bounce back season in 2014. Lazor did wonders for DeSean Jackson last year in Philadelphia, so it is easy to connect the dots and project that same success for similarly built Mike Wallace. I am not sure how I feel about Wallace this year. I’d like to buy into the hype that he is primed for a better year, but I’m definitely tempering expectations for week one. The Patriots are notorious for eliminating opposing team’s best weapons. For the Dolphins, those two players are Wallace and tight end Charles Clay. Based on the makeup of New England’s secondary, I anticipate that Darrelle Revis will be shadowing Wallace all afternoon. Considering the question marks surrounding Miami’s offense in general, and the unfavorable matchup, Wallace projects as more of a low end WR3/Flex this week. I’m inclined to leave him on the bench if I have other wide receivers on my roster with better matchups.
Buffalo Bills Sit of the Week
WR: BUF – Sammy Watkins (at CHI)
Considering the preseason struggles of quarterback E.J. Manuel, coupled with the fact that Watkins will be making is NFL debut at less than 100% healthy (ribs), I am leaving him on my bench for week 1. Until I see tangible on field chemistry and production between Manuel and Watkins, the #4 overall pick of this past May’s draft could be shaping up to disappoint from a real life and fantasy football perspective. Obviously, the expectation is that Watkins will be peppered with targets from Manuel, but that may not necessarily translate into catches and big plays for the Bills. Watkins is clearly a talented player, but I wouldn’t rank him any higher than a high end WR4 for week 1. I would anticipate the Bills employing a run heavy game plan in a tough environment at Soldier Field. Owners should certainly monitor Watkins performance closely, but would be wise to leave him on their bench this week.