There is little as exciting as opening week in the NFL. After wading through eight months of rookie hype, retirements, trades, suspensions, un-suspensions and televised training camps, the time is here. This is your first chance to trot out that new fantasy team that will surely dominate your league. Before you set that first lineup, realize that Week 1 is a different animal than all other weeks. There are a number of tips and truths surrounding the start of the regular season.
Always Start Your Studs – The in-season mantra is even truer when you are deciding that first starting line-up. This is no time to get cute playing match-ups. Even team head coaches and coordinators cannot be certain about what to expect from their squad much less what their opponent will do. If there is any time to just start the players in the order you just picked them, Week 1 is it. All NFL coaches think they have a great shot at winning their opener and half are always wrong.
It’s a Brave New World – There are only 13 NFL teams that return the same head coach and both offensive and defensive coordinators. Basically two-thirds of the league is at least new on offense or defense. The Falcons, Bills, Bears, Broncos, Jets, Raiders and 49ers feature all new coaches at every level. Training camp was the place that new schemes were installed, not preseason games. Week 1 is the first time you can see the offense in real action and the same is true that team as well.
Week 1 is fascinating since the truth about every team can be known for the first time. This isn’t about a tired coach saying whatever to get rid of the microphones in his face. This is our very first look at what will happen this season.
The 1-in-16 Rule – Each player will have their best game of the year happen randomly within the season. There is no statistical slant for top performances falling on any particular week. So on average, one in every 16 players will have their best production in the season opener.
Fantasy leaguers always rush to the Week 2 waiver wire for those Week 1 stars. But it is more likely just a 1-in-16 game for aging or lesser known players. Last year top performers during Week 1 were Allen Hurns, Steve Smith, Chris Johnson and Carson Palmer. The previous year it was Anquan Boldin, Shane Vereen, Joique Bell and Michael Vick. None of those did remotely as well for the rest of the season.
Rookies Start Slowly – They may have cranked out monster stats in college but this is the NFL. There is too much to learn to expect immediate success. Consider the first games for 2015’s top rookies – Jeremy Hill (4 catches, 19 yards), Mike Evans (five catches, 37 yards), Jordan Matthews (two catches, 37yards), Jarvis Landry (no catches) and Sammy Watkins (three catches, 31 yards). Perhaps the all-time icon for “it will happen, just wait” is Odell Beckham Jr. who never caught a pass until his hamstring injury healed in week 5. Even he never gained more than 44 yards during his first three games.
The waiver wire is littered with discarded rookies as early as Week 2 or Week 3 from impatient owners who do not understand it takes time. The hype was heavy but the reality is that Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman and Duke Johnson open their careers in a committee backfield where they may not even be the primary rusher in their initial game. Receivers have an even tougher time since their job is far more complicated than taking a hand-off and running to a specific hole.
Say Hello to the Injury Report – The real injury report that is. Not the one delivered by a guy at the end of the bar who says his brother’s bookie says Todd Gurley will be fine for week one. Not the coach-speak sort where the practice field interviewer is always told “he’ll be ready for Week 1.”
Until the season actually begins, teams are under no obligation to say anything about the health of any player. This “need to know” information for fantasy leaguers in August simply cannot be reliable. So when the season starts, some harsh surprises can happen.
This year we just discovered that Jay Ajayi and David Cobb were placed on the injured reserve – designated to return. Kevin White and Brandon LaFell are on the physically unable to perform list. Daniel Herron was waived injured. Arian Foster was not placed on any list.
Almost every team has at least one player that was injured and is racing to get healthy in time to play in the season opener. Until the official injury report for each team is handed over this week, there could be no sure way of knowing anyone’s true injury status. Fantasy owners of C.J. Spiller, LeSean McCoy, Michael Floyd, DeVante Parker, Todd Gurley and many more had to draft them on faith.
Just a Big Booth at Denny’s – That is about all you would need to seat the sets of running backs and offensive coordinators from the same team that return unchanged from 2014. The Bengals, Packers, Chiefs and Vikings are the only franchises that have the same coordinator and backfield. You could get another table for the Dolphins, Steelers and Seahawks who have the same coordinator and primary back, but that have a new secondary back that won’t likely contribute too much. That means there are 25 backfields that have changed in coaches, players or both.
That typifies the tremendous amount of change that happens to NFL backfields every season. Consider that the league’s top runner in 2014 was DeMarco Murray with an astounding 450 touches. This year he will be in Philadelphia where they are openly planning on mixing Murray, Ryan Mathews in a ratio that we’ll only know this weekend. And back in Dallas, where there was a true workhorse is yet another committee. The Cowboys will juggle Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, and Darren McFadden and possibly even Christine Michael. And the distribution of work there could change weekly.
Strap in for another great NFL ride. The games this weekend are worth more than all the research and conjecture of the past eight months. It is unavoidable that we all draft based mostly on what happened last season despite so little that carries over. Week 1 for the NFL is like that head-slapping, joyful feeling when you discover the answers to all the quizzes are in the back of the book.