Super Bowl 43. Free agency. The combine. The NFL Draft. Training camps. Preseason. More preseason. Another preseason game or two. Your draft(s). And finally, Week 1 is here!
It might seem a little silly to be talking about sleepers already, but good fantasy footballers know that a win in September counts the same as a win in November. So if the third WR you drafted has a tough matchup, why not cut the last player on your bench (a second TE, your eighth RB) for a one-week starter with a great matchup?
Joe Flacco, QB, BAL vs. KC
Last year the Chiefs had a pretty terrible pass defense, and they've done nothing to address the weakness this year. While Tyson Jackson, the No. 3 overall pick in this year's draft, is expected to strengthen the rush defense, second-year men Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr are the team's top two cornerbacks. That should lead to several QBs enjoying healthy stat lines this season, starting Sunday with Flacco.
One of the worst rush defenses in 2008, St. Louis actually tried to get better, drafting stud middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. Unfortunately, they lost defensive tackle Adam Carriker for the season. Might they improve anyway? Sure, but I'd still circle my running backs' Rams games on the calendar. This week should bode well for Julius Jones, who should get most of the work until Edgerrin James gets up to speed.
Josh Morgan, WR, SF @ ARI
Last year, the Cardinals didn't play very good defense against the pass, a fact I'll get into in a second. Thanks to Michael Crabtree and his agent deciding money is more important than anything, Morgan is still the No. 1 WR in San Francisco, and that bodes well for his fantasy outlook. The Cardinals were near the bottom in the league defending No. 1 WRs last year (hat tip, Football Outsiders).
A Good Night's Sleep
Shaun Hill, QB, SF @ ARI
Four teams allowed a total of 25 passing TDs in 2008, and they were tied for the third-highest total in the category. The Patriots came in second with 27 passing TDs allowed. At the top of the list? Your NFC-champion Arizona Cardinals, with a whopping 36 TDs allowed versus 13 interceptions. Teams averaged over two TDs per game against them, and that includes two contests each with the lackluster passing games of San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis. Hill had one of those two-TD games against Arizona in his first start of the 2008 season. Simply put, start him.
Fred Jackson, RB, BUF @ NE
With the release of Dominic Rhodes, it's very likely that Jackson shoulders the load in the first three weeks. Expect to see him with at least 20 carries in this first game, and if he sticks to his 4.6 yards-per-carry average over his first two years, he could flirt with 100 yards. If he reaches the end zone, you'll have yourself a great flex play in Week 1.
Sidney Rice, WR, MIN @ CLE
If you take a gander at that same Football Outsiders link from above, you'll see that Cleveland did a terrible job defending No. 2 WRs. Enter Rice, whose big frame should earn him some red-zone looks from Brett Favre. Deep-leaguers shouldn't hesitate to plug and play Rice this first week. If he develops a rapport with Favre, he could earn you a low-yardage, high-scoring year.
Marc Bulger, QB, STL @ SEA
I know, the St. Louis QB might not even play this week. But if he does, he'll be facing the only team in the NFL to give up more than 4,000 passing yards last year. With Donnie Avery looking like he'll be ready to go in Week 1, Bulger isn't the worst play as a QB2 in two-QB leagues. If you're in a Snyder-type league where you can use QBs at your flex spot, then why not?
Mike Bell, RB, NO vs. DET
So with Pierre Thomas hobbling around the locker room, it appears there will be some carries available for the Saints in Week 1. Former Bronco Mike Bell did a great job in the preseason and is poised to pick up Thomas' load while he's out. If Bell does draw the start this week, he'll be taking on the Lions, last year's worst rush defense. Detroit was so bad, they gave up 2,754 rushing yards (about 200 more than the 31st-place Raiders) and 31 TDs (most in the league by five). Could Bell become this year's Week 1 waiver wire must-have?
Robert Meachem, NO vs. DET
Meachem is looking like the Saints' No. 3 WR this year, a role Devery Henderson parlayed into nearly 800 yards on 32 catches. While I wouldn't expect Meachem to put up anywhere near that crazy YPC average, he's come a long way on his route-running, a key to Sean Payton's offense. He could have a couple of very nice weeks this year, and no matchup is likely to be nicer than his Week 1 game against Detroit.
And just to make it an even 10, what about Todd Heap? He's looking great so far, and L.J. Smith doesn't pose a challenge to Heap at all. While his normal yearly injury should be arriving soon, Heap makes for a great Week 1 play against Kansas City. I think Flacco will find him for at least one score, and possibly two.