The first game of the season, Wednesday's battle between the Giants and Cowboys, was a tasty appetizer that served to momentarily satiate the appetite of rabid NFL fans.Tony Romo thrilled fantasy owners with three touchdowns and sent owners clamoring to the wire for a first shot at Kevin Ogletree. DeMarco Murray's 48-yard run left many mouths agape and normally eloquent commentators speechless. Of course, there are many fans and fantasy owners lamenting Victor Cruz's multiple drops and near-misses from Eli Manning.
It's just one game in the 256-game slate, and fans eagerly await the first whistles of Sunday afternoon. Each week during the season, I will trot out my "Lineup Calls" to assess the starts, sits and sleeper options available to owners. I evaluate matchups and contemplate the meaning of life in this space.
I don't spend time on the obvious plays in these weekly discussions unless there are compelling reasons to urge an alternative option. So, you can talk about the glory of Aaron Rodgers (not a great matchup this week, but it takes a nanosecond to move on), Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton in another space. Tony Romo delivered in a huge spot on Wednesday night, while Eli Manning was betrayed by Victor Cruz's hands.
Let's look ahead to the weekend.
Heroes Jay Cutler vs. IND
Analysis: The Indianapolis pass rush is somewhat concerning, as the Chicago offensive line remains a huge question mark. Mike Tice's schemes should help to allay some of those fears, and significant upgrades in the receiving corps will overmatch the Indianapolis secondary. This defense produced few turnovers in 2011, thereby prompting a trade late in the preseason for Vontae Davis. Selling out to attack Cutler will expose the secondary and make for multiple big plays. (Watch out for Devin Hester.)
Philip Rivers at OAK
Analysis: Forget about the departure of Vincent Jackson. A healthy Antonio Gates becomes a true, dominant No. 1 option. I am still despondent over the loss of Vincent Brown, for whom I walked with a sandwich board up and down the pier. Rivers still boasts an intriguing receiving corps with Robert Meachem and Malcom Floyd alongside Gates.
The big question here is whether the injury-depleted San Diego offensive line can hold back the Oakland pass rush. If they can, Rivers lights up the Oakland night sky.
PS - I can't wait to see those inevitable pictures of Gene Simmons (National Anthem) posing with "The Black Hole."
Peyton Manning vs. PIT
Analysis: This is the moment that the NFL world has been anticipating since March. Manning takes on a Pittsburgh defense that will play without Ryan Clark in the secondary and with the health of Casey Hampton and James Harrison still up in the air. Obviously, there are concerns about Manning's health and whether he's established that unspoken connection with his receiving corps. It won't necessarily be a pretty start to the season, but I believe that a few highlight moments are in the offing.
Matt Ryan at KC
Analysis: Earlier in the week, I tabbed Ryan as one of my "Sits." I don't endorse him wholeheartedly here, either, despite the absence of pass rusher Tamba Hali (suspension) and injuries in the secondary. Ryan will put up solid numbers in this road tilt, provided that the offensive line holds up and lets him fire away to Jones and White. Don't anticipate a monster performance, even if you're onboard the breakout bandwagon.
Matt Schaub vs. MIA
Analysis: For one game, everyone in Houston is "relatively" healthy. As a result, we line up the Texans' skill players and put them out against the Dolphins. The Dolphins surrendered 250 passing yards and 1.5 passing touchdowns per game to opposing quarterbacks last season, and they lost a big piece of the secondary by trading Vontae Davis. We obviously love the Miami pass rush, and that's where the Dolphins do have an advantage over the Houston offensive line. Still, Schaub will deliver the ball downfield and take full advantage of the short fields provided by Wade Phillips' defensive work.
Ben Roethlisberger at DEN
Analysis: Roethlisberger and Todd Haley will engage in multiple shouting matches during the course of this game (I set the line at 2 ½). I still love the potential of this passing attack with Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and a sneaky Heath Miller leading the way. The Steelers will work to get the ball out quickly and to attack the Denver secondary. Denver, as we know, will bring the heat on Roethlisberger with Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, but bringing the heat exposes holes in the secondary. Roethlisberger matches Manning's big plays on Sunday night.
Michael Vick at CLE
Analysis: The fact that Joe Haden will be roaming the secondary for Cleveland this week keeps me from elevating Vick to an elite spot. After all, the Browns were still a top-10 defense in terms of points allowed last year. Still, I believe that the aggressive Philadelphia defense will harass Brandon Weeden into mistakes and create short fields for Vick.
Sleepers: Joe Flacco vs. CIN
Analysis: I'm intrigued by the introduction of the hurry-up, no-huddle offense being deployed by the Ravens in 2012 and that Bryant McKinnie didn't take his ball and walk home. As a result, Flacco moves into the discussion for Week 1 against the AFC North rival Bengals. He averaged 200 passing yards with three touchdowns and an interception in two games against Cincinnati last year.
Andrew Luck at CHI
Analysis: The Indianapolis offensive line and questions in the backfield work against a full endorsement of Luck in his debut. Conversely, there isn't much confidence that the Indianapolis secondary will be able to slow Jay Cutler and the new-look Chicago offense. So, we go into the mantra of "stats accrued in the fourth quarter count just the same." If the Colts can slow Julius Peppers at all, the potential is there for Luck to post strong numbers to more than offset his misfires.
Jake Locker vs. NE
Analysis: The Patriots are going to score a hefty pile of points. That's just a fact of life. As a result, fantasy owners are eager to watch Locker run around and fling the ball downfield in frantic catch-up mode. Even with Kenny Britt suspended for Week 1 (not to mention his knee issue), Locker has capable downfield weapons in Nate Washington, rookie sleeper Kendall Wright and tight end Jared Cook. And, though the Patriots are improved defensively, they're hardly a dominant unit (apart from Man-Crush Vincent Wilfork, of course).
Mark Sanchez vs. BUF
Analysis: Will the offensive line be able to lock the turnstile and keep Mario Williams and Mark Anderson out of the backfield? That, to me, is a much more pressing issue that whether No. 15 buttons his chinstrap on Sunday. Sanchez makes incomprehensible throws, without question, but he also makes plays. Dustin Keller will contribute his normal hot start to the season, and Santonio Holmes will step back into his role and away from the microphone now that the games count.
Sam Bradford at DET
Analysis: Bradford is a quarterback to hang a star on coming into the season under Jeff Fisher. His health and the state of his offensive line and his receiving corps leave me concerned, but there's great potential against a woeful Detroit secondary here. Of course, I'm presuming that he's worked in a boxing gym to bob, weave and avoid Ndamukong Suh.
Flops: Robert Griffin III at NO
Analysis: The RGIII bandwagon loaded up this preseason as the Heisman Trophy winner took the reins of the Washington offense. I mourn the loss of "Sexy Rexy" in these weekly evaluation pieces. I digress.
The Saints averaged 41 points in home games last season ... and they're angry. OK, so that doesn't matter, but I do wonder if any floating Sean Payton heads will be on display. The offensive onslaught by Brees and company will allow the New Orleans defense to play aggressively and get after the rookie quarterback. As a result, I'm anticipating multiple turnovers and an uncomfortable debut for RGIII.
Andy Dalton at BAL
Analysis: Dalton appeared on the Week 1 injury list because of the biceps injury sustained during the preseason. He'll most certainly play, and everyone is well aware of my Man-Crush on A.J. Green. Still, this is a potentially brutal spot against the always dominant Baltimore defense. Dalton logged a huge yardage total against the Ravens in the second meeting last year (373), but he tossed three interceptions. He produced a single touchdown pass with three interceptions in two games against the Ravens in 2011. Dalton won't have to contend with sackmaster Terrell Suggs. I'm still anticipating a tepid opener.
Russell Wilson at ARI
Analysis: I know that you want to jump on the Wilson bandwagon. I'm certainly intrigued to see the former Badgers star sprint out and try to make plays with his legs. However, my expectations are tempered in this road start against the Cardinals. The Cardinals produced 42 sacks (tied for seventh) in 2011, and the secondary was retooled. Former Pittsburgh cornerback William Gay works opposite Patrick Peterson while Adrian Wilson roams centerfield. Enjoy the few highlights. Don't live on the edge of your seat.