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Ray Flowers will take a look at some of the hot button topics at each position. Can the younger Manning figure it out? Has Geno Smith figured it out? What are the Bengals, Rams and Titans doing at running back? To the Bears, Packers or Patriots have any undercover wideouts that could step forward? Will Mr. Ertz break out for the Eagles and just what should we be expecting from the Patriots newest tight end?

More points were scored last season, on average, than any season in league history at 46.8 points per game. 

The team with the best record the first week of the season, in terms of winning percentage, is the Cowboys at .679 (36-17-1). The Broncos lead the AFC at .642 (34-19-1). The team with the worst winning percentage is the Panthers who are 6-13 overall (.316) and have lost their last five opening weekend matchups.

Last season the the 11th straight year that a team went from worst to first from one year to the next. The Panthers (NFC South) and Eagles (NFC East) pulled off the trick last year.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE 
 

2014 NFL STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE            
           
Team
Opponents’ 2013
Pct. & Record
Games vs. teams
.500 or better
Games vs. 2013
playoff teams
  Win% Wins Loses Ties    
Oakland Raiders 0.578 148   108    0 12 9
Denver Broncos 0.570 146   110    0   12   9
St. Louis Rams 0.564 144   111    1   11   8
San Diego Chargers 0.563 144   112    0    11    7
San Francisco 49ers 0.563 144   112    0 11 7
Seattle Seahawks 0.561 143   112    1 11 8
Kansas City Chiefs 0.559 143   113    0 11 7
Arizona Cardinals 0.547 140  116    0 9 8
New York Jets 0.520 132   122    2 10 6
New England Patriots 0.516 131   123    2 11 6
Atlanta Falcons 0.512 130   124    2 10 6
Miami Dolphins 0.508 129   125    2 10 6
Green Bay Packers 0.504 128   126    2 9 5
Buffalo Bills 0.500 127   127    2 11 6
Chicago Bears 0.496 125   127   4 9 6
Detroit Lions 0.492 124   128   4 10 5
Washington Redskins 0.490 125   130   1 8 5
Dallas Cowboys 0.488 125   131    0 8 6
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0.484 123   131    2 9 6
Philadelphia Eagles 0.479 122   133    1 8 5
Minnesota Vikings 0.477 121   133    2 9 5
Carolina Panthers 0.473 120   134    2 9 6
Cincinnati Bengals 0.469 120   136    0 9 5
Pittsburgh Steelers 0.469 120   136    0 9 6
New Orleans Saints 0.469 119   135    2 9 5
Cleveland Browns 0.465 119   137    0 9 5
New York Giants 0.465 119   137    0 8 5
Baltimore Ravens 0.461 118   138    0 9 6
Jacksonville Jaguars 0.453 116   140    0 9 5
Houston Texans 0.441 113  143 0 7 4
Tennessee Titans 0.438 112   144    0 9 5
Indianapolis Colts 0.430 110 146 0 7 4

 

POSITION NOTES

QUARTERBACK

Eli Manning is coming off a dreadful season. He's looked awful in the preseason, and now he's said this about the offense. "It’s not the final product right now. The more games, the more plays we get, more practice, there’s definitely room for improvement.” While that sounds fair, no one is going to be excited about an admission from the QB that the offense, well, isn't very good right now. Part of the season for that situation appears to be that Rueben Randle has Trent Richardson–itis. He doesn't know what he's doing out there. Randle was called out by HC Tom Coughlin over the weekend and Randle admitted that he's just not on the same page as Manning. Why would he be? They've only worked together for three years. Manning is a low end QB2 that is not someone to trust early on.

E.J. Manuel stinks. There, I said it. The love for Sammy Watkins this season has always been too rich for my blood because it's  hard enough for a rookie wideout to have success when the quarterback is an established signal caller (on rookie struggles see NFL Rookie Review: Historically Ineffective). This preseason Manuel had one score, three turnovers, took six sacks and generally didn't impress a single soul who saw the tape. Downgrade the entire Bills passing offense for the Week 1 matchup with the Bears.

The Niners are without Navarro Bowman and Aldon Smith in Week 1, two of their top-4 defensive players (Smith has more sacks per game, 0.98, than any NFL player ever. Reggie White is second at 0.85). With Dallas' potentially impressive offensive line Tony Romo should have plenty of time to sit in the pocket to attack the Niners'. 

Geno Smith looked like an NFL quarterback in the preseason. Really, he did. He was fairly decisive, made some nice reads and threw the ball well. He's also put behind him any concerns that Michael Vick would come in and take his job (reports suggest that Vick showed up accepting he was the backup and that his attitude rubbed many of his teammates the wrong way since he didn't really seem to be fighting for a starting spot). No one is or should be drafting Smith as a top-15 quarterback, but it's possible that he ends being a decent QB2 option this season for those of you in two QB leagues. 

RUNNING BACK

Don't be that guy. Who am I referring to? I'm talking about the guy who thinks that Giovani Bernard has lost value because of the game that Jeremy Hill had in Week 4 of the preseason (26 touches, including six receptions, for 160 yards). Yes Hill looked good. But don't fool yourself. Bernard is the more dynamic runner. Bernard is going to see more touches. Bernard is still a top-15 RB option even for those that aren't overly optimistic about his outlook. However, Hill is a must own, he can't be on waivers, and with BJGE out of the mix Hill has serious stand alone value. He's no threat, at least for the moment, to the value of Bernard. The Bengals will run the ball a lot, and Bernard will be the runner to own in 2014.

Zac Stacy is the lead back for the Rams. Just the way it is. From Week 6 of last season on, Stacy was an RB1. He's limited, he only averaged 3.9 YPC last season, but he moves the chains, can carry the workload and is reliable. The Rams will also attempt to control the clock since they will have to go with backup QB Shaun Hill since Sam Bradford is again lost for the season. Stacy is on the RB1 radar. But what about this Benny Cunningham kid? Cunningham, not Tre Mason, is the back to handcuff to Stacy. Cunningham, and this has nothing to do with his start on August 23rd, is a talented back who's role could grow if Stacy struggles in any appreciable way early in the year since by all accounts Cunningham has at least been the equal of Stacy this camp and preseason. 

Bishop Sankey is the lead back for the Titans right now. Will that translate into 20 touches a week? Doubtful, at least early in the year. Still, his HC is semmingly a fan. "We’ve seen growth with Bishop," said Ken Whisenhunt. "His vision is good. He’s seeing the holes well. His protection, he’s done a nicer job with that as he’s gone through it." At the same time Shonn Greene figures to see a lot of short yardage work including totes at the goaline. Greene, as the veteran, also figures to see more work than many supporting players. Sankey should be drafted as an RB3 with upside versus an RB2 where the expectations are high. 

WIDE RECEIVER

Jarrett Boykin has held off youngster Davante Adams for the WR3 spot with the Packers. Some data points. (1) Jordy Nelson missed four games in 2012 and three games in 2009. He's continually beat up. (2) Randall Cobb has been in the NFL three seasons and he's yet to appear in 16 games (he missed 10 contests last season). (3) The Packers don't have a go-to option at tight end at the moment. Will someone emerge? Maybe, maybe not. Boykin may not possess the all the physical tools of Adams, but he was successful last season with 49 receptions, 681 yards an three scores. Could he improve upon those numbers with Aaron Rodgers a the helm of the Packers offense for 16 games (he only saw action in nine games last year)? The answer is yes. It's hard to count on a WR3 from any team consistently putting up points, but Boykin has flex appeal in PPR setups and would see his value rise if injury struck the Packers wideout corps.

Aaron Dobson caught three balls for 57 yards and a score in the Patriots final preseason game. Finally over a lingering foot issue he figures to be on a snap count early on while sharing looks at the “X” spot with Kenbrell Thompkins. Point #1. Dobson is more talented than Thompkins. Point #2 the Patriots know it. Point #3 Thompkins has by no means established himself as an every down player with the Patriots. In fact, if you look at the receiving corps of the Pats it is conceivable that an argument could be constructed around the idea that Dobson is the most complete wideout on the roster when you take into account the totality of his size and skill. It might be a slow start to the year, and he's yet to prove he can stay healthy, but if he does indeed stay out of the doctor's office he's someone you will want on your roster.

Santonio Holmes was signed by the Bears when Marques Wilson was injured. According to reports out of Chicago Holmes has been a model citizen to this point and he's likely to have a role for the Bears this year as their third wideout early on. Let me drop some knowledge on ya. Holmes is 30 years old. He's a malcontent. He's lost some of his burst. He's caught 43 balls for two scores the last two seasons. Only once eight years has he caught 60 passed and the last time he had 750 receiving yards was 2009. Wilson could be out until midseason with his broken collarbone so there is a chance for Holmes to establish himself, but remember that Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte are also going to be on the field. There's also the fact that the third wideout with the Bears last season – Earl Bennett – caught 32 balls for 243 yards. 

Sammy Watkins, spoken about above, had another setback with his rib issue as he re-injured the area on Thursday. He is expected to play in Week 1 but his health, and the scatter-shot nature of his quarterback means you should be very careful with keeping your early season expectations in check. 

TIGHT END

Zach Ertz is one of the “best route runners I've ever seen” according to TE coach Ted Williams with the Eagles. Right. Uh huh. Ever heard of hyperbole folks? Ertz is a prime candidate to be the most over drafted tight end in fantasy this season (of the tight ends that are healthy). Talk of him being the next Jason Witten or Jimmy Graham... put the breaks on that bonkers train for now. 

Josh Gordon is done for the year so many are predicting that Jordan Cameron will explode this season. Really is that gonna happen with Brian Hoyer / Johnny Manziel throwing passes? Is there a wideout on this team that will now draw double-coverage? If there is I don't know his name. In the Fantasy Alarm rankings – sharing privileged info with you folks – we have Cameron ranked 8th at the tight end position. Don't by the hype that he's going to have a massive season. 

Travis Kelce saw 15 of his 39 preseason snaps this preseason with the Chiefs first team offense. Good news for a player some are getting excited about as a TE2 in fantasy. Remember thought that Anthony Fasano is a good blocker and he'll be on the field a lot which will likely limit the early season upside of Kelce. 

Jacob Tamme is a name to remember. He could see work out of the slot if Wes Welker (concussion) is unable to go in Week 1 or at any point this season. Unless Walker is down though Tamme has zero fantasy value. 

Tim Wright is now a Patriot and some are predicting a possible top-10 season at the tight end position. Come on. Wright has to learn a new system. He has to earn the trust of his quarterback. He has to fight about nine options on every play to catch a pass. Wright will be the move tight end, the old role of Aaron Hernandez. Don't look for Hernandez like production though. This is a different offense than it was two years ago. Wright is still nothing more than a TE2 for fantasy purposes. 


Do you don't have a copy of the DRAFT GUIDE  or ASSISTANT GM yet? Shame on you, but there's still time to recficy that issue. 



Here are some highlights from one of the articles I wrote in the Guide called Did You Know? 

Andy Dalton will likely throw fewer passes this year for a new look Bengals club. Still, can't overlook what he did last year. That effort included 4,274 passing yards. That's more than Big Ben (4,261). he completed 363 passes. That's more than Tony Romo (342). He tossed 33 scores. That's more than Matthew Stafford (29). 

Colin Kaepernick is a fantasy football star. Or is he? Check out the following comparison with the man who he replaced in San Francisco, Alex Smith. Here are the numbers from Kapernick and Smith last season.

Colin: 243 completions, 58.4 completion %, 3,197 yards, 21 scores, 8 INTs
Smith: 308 completions, 60.6 completion %, 3,313 yards, 23 scores,7 INTs

On the ground things were pretty damn close too.

Colin: 524 yards, 5.7 YPC, 4 TDs
Smith: 431 yards, 5.7 YPC, 1 TD

How much closer is that than you expected? Fall off your chair?

Among runners who had at least 50 carries on artificial turf last season the leader in YPC was Matt Forte (5.5 YPC). If we bump the mark up to 100 carries we end up with a surprising name – LeGarrette Blount (5.3). If we ratchet things up to 125 carries the leader was DeMarco Murray (5.2). 

The Lions had the first two running backs in NFL history to run for 500 yards while also hauling in 500 yards of passes in the same season. Of course they were Joique Bell and Reggie Bush.

Ryan Mathews ran for 1,255 yards last season. That was two yards less than Marshawn Lynch and 77 yards more than Eddie Lacy. Mathews also averages 4.4 YPC for his career, the same mark he posted in 2013. Knowshon Moreno (4.3), Lynch (4.2), Lacy (4.1), Frank Gore (4.1) and CJ2K (3.9) are five 1,000 yard rushers that failed to match that mark in '13. For more on Mathews see his Player Profile.

Harry Douglas had more receptions than Calvin Johnson (85 to 84).

Pierre Garcon did something no one in a Redskins uniform had done since Art Monk in 1984. He led the NFL in receptions with 113. Furthermore he joined two other receivers in the high rent district. Jimmy Smith (2001), Antonio Brown (2013) and Garcon as the only three wideouts to catch at least five passes in every game of a season.

Martellus Bennett led all tight ends with at least 40 receptions with a 6.2 YAC mark. That means he personally generated more than 50 percent of his yards since his YPC mark was 11.7. That's especially interesting when it's also noted that his longest catch of the year was only 43 yards. If we drop the reception total down to 30 the leader becomes Brent Celek who averaged a whopping 9.5 YAC. Not a single wideout in football who caught 20 passes could match that mark, not one.