It is the start to another glorious year (or, for some fantasy teams, a gory year). The NFL is celebrating their last 100 years but mostly all we want to know about is Week 1, 2019. Here are six things I’m thinking about as the season kicks off.
- RIP Meaningful Preseason – Having followed the NFL for so long, I remember when the preseason meant something (Well, kind of). “A” level players never did anything much in the preseason since they had their job secured and were too important to get hurt. “B” level players were where the preseason helped. Those No. 2 and No.3 wideouts, the smaller half of a split backfield and such. Week 3 would have almost all teams trot out the real starters for a quarter or a half. But no more. Now they remain in the background while rookies and free-agent hopefuls take up almost all of the focus.I expect plenty of surprises this week. Since the cut from 90 to 53 now happens over two days after Week 4, all the summer does is determine the 53 players. A mere 1,184 players are released and all the summer does is figure out whom. In fantasy football terms, we obsess over every positive mention of a rookie or little-known player so that they are all probably over-valued. Knowing that reality, I promised myself that this would be my first year with no rookie wideouts. I failed, of course, but I did draft fewer than normal, so I consider it a partial success. At any rate, the preseason has become almost entirely meaningless.
- Antonio Brown – Having followed the NFL for about 25 years now, I’ve seen plenty of players but none quite like Brown. Terrell Owens sort of comes to mind. But Brown is a very special kind of mind-bending, befuddling paradox. I’ve long contended that the craziest, biggest-headcase players on the field tend to be wide receivers. It makes sense. No other player runs into the heart of the defense and then catches the ball without blockers while several defensive backs try to knock him out every time. That alone takes confidence that borders on crazy.His behavior seems to have gone from brash to egotistical to downright concerning. But his level of talent means he can burn bridges on almost every NFL team and still get another shot somewhere else. We’re no different as fantasy owners. What would you do if he was on the league waiver wire? It isn’t entertaining anymore and yet it seems to just be starting.
- Tyrell Williams/Darren Waller – The Raiders season all depended on Derek Carr anyway, but if Antonio Brown flames out before he even starts, what does that mean to the team that was banking on an elite receiver? Starting to sound like the Raiders ’18. The entire receiving crew was made over in the offseason. Hunter Renfrow is the fifth-round rookie playing slot. Tyrell Williams has been a solid No. 2 wideout but isn’t nearly talented enough to be the primary receiver that gets the most coverage.Last year, Jared Cook turned in a career-best year (68-896-6) at the age of 31 because the Raiders ran out of viable receivers. Renfrow and Williams will be better than their counterparts of last season, but how much more? Darren Waller only caught six passes last season and just 18 in his three-year career. But if Brown does the crash-and-burn, it changes everything in Oakland.
- Packers plus and minus – That was a brutally boring game worth none of the hype. In fairness, playing in Chicago is about as bad as it gets for any visiting offense. On the plus, and this is relatively speaking, Marquez Valdes-Scantling (4-52) was involved more than all but Davante Adams (4-36). Jimmy Graham (3-30, TD) also was more involved than expected and owned the only touchdown in the game.On the minus, Aaron Jones (13-39) was bottled up and Jamaal Williams (5-0) had 1:2 split in carries. And Williams caught two passes but Jones only one. Geronimo Allison never had a target but faced a great secondary. No reason to jump ship on anyone yet.
- Bears plus and minus – Wow. The Packers defense was much improved. The Bears looked like it was just a preseason game. On the plus, Allen Robinson had 13 targets for seven catches and 102 yards. Tarik Cohen caught eight passes for 49 yards. And those were the only positives from the game.On the minus, Mitchell Trubisky passed for 228 yards but mostly looked for Robinson or dumped off to Cohen. David Montgomery (6-18) and Mike Davis (5-19) received very few rushes in a game that was never more than seven points behind. The Packers defense was improved and the Bears offense was flat. But the rushing effort never got on track and switched out backs too often for either to get into any rhythm.
- Adrian Peterson – Jay Gruden intends to start Derrius Guice at running back and his workload could be heavier than expected. The coach said that Peterson could be inactive and that means Chris Thompson not only offers third-down help, but a change of pace and relief carries. Peterson stepped in for Guice last year and ran for 1,042 yards on 251 carries for his eighth 1,000-yard season. Now he may be a bench player.He is 34 years old and Guice is the future, so it isn’t shocking so long as Guice plays well and stays healthy. But it also could set up Peterson to be traded away by mid-season. He wasn’t used by the Saints and was sent to the Cardinals in 2017. Could it happen again? I have to think the possibility makes him worth holding onto. The Chargers? Maybe. But history says one or more teams will be losing their top running back at some point. And the waiver wire has been picked clean.