The first installment in our ongoing fantasy football projections for the 2009 NFL season begins this week. Every NFL season is different, which makes projections based on last year’s fantasy football numbers a little tricky. Still, there are several big sleeper picks at every position. I’ll shy away from picks of Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald, since you already know these guys are projected to have great Week 1 games.
Fantasy Football Projections – Week 1 Quarterbacks
Kyle Orton vs. the Cincinnati Bengals – I know that Kyle Orton is supposed to suck as the Denver Broncos QB and he looked pretty awful in preseason, but Orton gets to go against the awful Cincinnati Bengals pass defense in Week 1. The Bengals statistically had the worst pass defense in the NFL in 2008, and they added slow-footed Roy Williams – not known as a cover safety – as their strong safety. Even if the Broncos end up losing, Kyle Orton should have time to throw the ball. Who knows if Brandon Marshall hits the field, but Eddie Royal and Tony Scheffler were good receivers last year – and should be solid targets for Kyle Orton, who prefers to throw the ball underneath. Note: Kyle Orton is listed as Questionable, but all signs points to him playing. Josh McDaniels learned this nonsense from Bill Belichick.
Tony Romo vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers – No real surprise here, but the Bucs Defense underwent a big change in the offseason. While Derrick Brooks had lost a step, he was still their defensive playcaller and leader for 10+ years. They have young guys stepping in to fill in the gap, while they have big-hitting strong safety Sabby Piscitelli trying to keep up with Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett on the inside. Expect to see Romo have a big game, because I’m picking the Bucs to be one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL this year. Raheem Morris might eventually get it turned around, but the Buccaneers lost all kinds of leadership in the offseason (Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Jeff Garcia, Joey Galloway) and just fired their offensive coordinator.
Fantasy Football Projections – Week 1 Running Backs
Ray Rice vs. the Kansas City Chiefs – Ray Rice is the new starting RB in Baltimore and the Ravens start the season against the awful Kansas City Chiefs, who fired their offensive coordinator just days ago. Matt Cassell may or may not play, while Dwayne Bowe has been in the doghouse in camp (despite looking good in games). Mostly, the Chiefs Defense is in disarray, after they cut starting safety Bernard Pollard (and veteran Zach Thomas, too) three days ago. This should be a good matchup for Ray Rice, who actually had 8 receptions for 60 yards in just over a half in one preseason game. Watch out if the projected showers turn bad this Sunday, but otherwise start Ray Rice and assume he’ll have a breakout game to start the NFL season.
Mike Bell vs. Detroit Lions – You already know to start Drew Brees against the Detroit Lions in Week 1, but if you have some iffy decisions at running back in your league, so if Mike Bell is on the waiver wire. It looks like Pierre Thomas might not play in Week 1 and Mike Bell might be the surprise starter. Reggie Bush should get plenty of touches, but Mike Bell had a big preseason and has been talked up by the coaching staff. What’s more, Bell should be the goal line back. It’s the Lions and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Saints hang 40 on them, so Mike Bell should have several opportunities to score.
Fantasy Football Projections – Week 1 Wide Receivers
Vincent Jackson vs. Oakland Raiders – Last week in Week 14, Vincent Jackson had 5 receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders. With Nnamdi Asomugha dinged up and possibly out for the game, Vincent Jackson looks set to have another huge game against the Raiders.
Lance Moore vs. Detroit Lions – Start anybody you have against the Detroit Lions. Lance Moore played in the last two preseason games and scored a touchdown in Week 3 (his biggest action), so Moore is back from offseason shoulder surgery. Lance Moore is a big play option for Drew Brees, while he showed he was willing to catch underneath balls, too. So Lance Moore is a good start in a touchdown-only league, a performance league or a receptions league. Find a way to start Lance Moore.
Fantasy Football Projections – Week 1 Tight Ends
Greg Olsen vs. Green Bay Packers – Greg Olsen is projected to be Jay Cutler’s favorite target with the Bears this season, but I especially like the connection in this game. The Green Bay Packers installed a new 3-4 package and have blitz-happy Dom Capers calling defensive plays in 2009. Expect to see the Packers blitz Cutler a lot and Cutler, still adjusting to the Bears offense, to dump the ball off more than you would expect someone with his arm to do. Matt Forte should get a lot of balls, too.
Anthony Fasano vs. Atlanta Falcons – The Atlanta Falcons are starting two new defensive backs in the backfield (a corner and a safety), while they had to replace Michael Boley and Keith Brooking among the linebacker corps. I expect the Atlanta Falcons young defense to eventually be much improved, but I think we should expect to see their young players in a bit of disarray to start the season. I also expect to see Tony Sparano and Chad Pennington to test the untested middle of the Falcons pass defense early and often, which tranlates to a lot of looks for Anthony Fasano. If you don’t have one of the top tight ends, give Anthony Fasano a try in Week 1.
Fantasy Football Projections – Week 1 Team Defenses
Houston Texans Defense vs. New York Jets – You’re probably used to the Texans Defense being useless in fantasy football. But the Texans have a good young core of defensive players with Mario Williams, Amobi Okoye and Demeco Ryans, while they get Zach Diles back from season-ending injury and added Brian Cushing through the draft. More important, the Houston Texans D gets to go against rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez, in his first NFL start. Rookie quarterbacks in first starts are likely to throw interceptions – and sometimes interceptions for touchdowns.
New Orleans Saints Defense vs. Detroit Lions – When you have Megatron on your team, you’re likely to get some offensive production. So watch out with the Saints D giving away points to Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson. But like Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford is making his rookie start in the NFL and he should be playing from behind early. That gives the Saints plenty of chances to pick off a pass and go the distance. Plus, it’s the Lions.
Seattle Seahawks Defense vs. the St. Louis Rams – The Rams are still getting people back from nagging injuries, with Steven Jackson nursing an injury and Donnie Avery out. Orlando Pace and Torry Holt are in other NFL cities. Meanwhile, the Seattle Seahawks got a makeover in the offseason. Two years ago, Seattle had a Top 5 Defense and won their 4th straight division title. Last year, they lost their top 7 wide receivers and Matt Hasselbeck missed most of the season with a back injury. TJ Houshmandzadeh is in town now and Hasselbeck is back, and the Seahawks added defenders in free agency and Aaron Curry in the draft. There’s reason to believe the Seahawks Defense had reason to suck last year, and they might come out as a surprise defense in 2009.
New England Patriots Defense vs. Buffalo Bills – The Patriots had a top defense two year ago when Tom Brady was healthy and keeping them off the field with long dink-dunk drives, so I expect them to bounce back to form in 2009 (even though they’ve lost a lot of leaders since then). Mostly, the Bills just lost their offensive coordinator and have looked awful in preseason. Terrell Owens hasn’t had time to get on the same page with Trent Edwards, while Marshawn Lynch is serving a suspension.