Here are four fantasy revelations from the Broncos' 49-27 thumping of the Ravens on Thursday, which included an NFL-record-tying performance from Peyton Manning.
1. Even in hindsight, it's hard to feel guilty about Manning's No. 8 ranking for the week
Of his nine previous season openers, Manning (462 yards passing, seven TDs vs. Baltimore) had thrown for 2,529 yards and only 15 touchdowns, for an average of 281 yards passing and 1.7 TDs.
And of last five outings against the Ravens (prior to Thursday, of course), Manning had modest averages of 262 yards passing and two touchdowns.
So, in a nutshell, I wasn't expecting to include the names of Joe Kapp, Sid Luckman, Y.A. Tittle, Adrian Burk or George Blanda in today's Revelations as late as midway through the third quarter of this one-sided affair after halftime.
Bottom line: Peyton had a long history of starting off campaigns with modest numbers, especially against top-tier numbers. Even his record-setting season of 2004 (49 TD passes, which has since been eclipsed by Tom Brady) produced a ho-hum tally of 256 yards and two touchdowns and that occurred against the defending Super Bowl champs (Brady's Patriots).
2. So much for Wes Welker needing a game or two to get acclimated to the pressure (and quirks) of playing with Manning
In a Wednesday radio interview, I actually had Welker tabbed for "eight catches, 66 yards" a virtually identical tally to his Thursday numbers of nine receptions and 67 yards.
Of course, I wasn't expecting two touchdowns from Welker, who prior to this offseason, had no professional relationship with Manning.
On the first score, Welker spun off a defender on a quick 'out' route and walked into the end zone.
For the second score, he had all the time and space to catch a dink-and-dunk 2-yard TD pass from Manning.
On the surface, Welker appears to the superior target over Eric Decker (two catches, 32 yards vs. Baltimore), someone who will easily become Denver's No. 2 receiver all season after Demaryius Thomas (five catches, 161 yards, two TDs).
But let's tap the brakes on that notion. After all, Decker accounted for 85 catches, 122 targets, 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. And not every opposing defense will allow Welker and tight end Julius Thomas (more on him later) to roam free in wide, open spaces like the Ravens on Thursday.
I will say about Welker, though: His seasonal motivation should be fueled on three fronts:
1. He wants to win a championship, of course.
2. Welker probably wants to make Patriots coach Bill Belichick regret losing him, via free agency.
3. Welker (five 100-catch seasons) likely needed to break away from the Patriots and Tom Brady to legitimize his Hall of Fame candidacy down the road. And Thursday's effort, while typical in many respects, was a great place to start.
3. Ray Rice might have had the quietest 22-point fantasy night in Points Per Reception league history
Think of all the money you could have won from Vegas ... betting that Manning would tie the NFL single-game record for TD passes but with Ravens QB Joe Flacco (362 yards, two TDs vs. Denver) attempting 20 more passes than his positional counterpart.
Rice was a major benefactor to the Ravens' obligation to abandon the running game in the third quarter and play catch-up with the Broncos.
He only tallied 36 rushing yards (12 carries) and 35 receiving yards ... but the eight catches and one touchdown went a long way toward justifying Rice's top-five rating (PPR and standard-scoring leagues) during the preseason.
Rice is an elite-level back ... even on nights when he's a mere footnote to a momentous game.
Speaking of which ... as a pro, Rice has amassed 2,000 total yards in every odd-numbered year, which bodes well for the 2013 campaign. Especially if Ed Dickson (one catch, 13 yards), Dallas Clark (seven catches, 87 yards) or Jacoby Jones (three receptions, 24 yards) don't find the end zone on a semi-regular basis.
4. Fantasy owners should move heaven and earth to acquire Julius Thomas on waivers next week
For starters, let's give some mad props to ESPN fantasy analyst Tim Hasselbeck, who implored a national TV audience to acquire Thomas (five catches, 110 yards, two TDs vs. Baltimore) before the Broncos and Ravens officially kicked off the season ... on the rationale that his acquisition price would be considerably higher before Week 2.
And sure enough, that's exactly how things will play out regarding the Broncos' shiny new toy next week, whose integration into the NFL universe runs eerily similar to that of Chargers star Antonio Gates (athletic college hoops player turned unstoppable tight end in the pros).
Granted, it helps that Thomas is flanked by Demaryius Thomas, Decker, Welker, Monte Ball, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman in the Denver offense, allowing him to run routes without the fear of double coverage.
But there's no mistaking Thomas's size, speed, athleticism and separation powers against brawny linebackers or smallish nickel defenders. And given the dearth of elite-level tight ends right now (with or without Rob Gronkowski wreaking havoc for the Patriots), it makes perfect fantasy sense to prioritize Thomas on next week's waivers.
For blind-bidding auction leagues, Thomas, 25, might consume up to 40 percent of a league's free-agent budget. That may be a large, but ultimately sound investment, if Thomas ends up sniffing Gates's numbers from his original breakout season (2004) 81 catches, 964, 13 touchdowns.
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