Thursday Night Preview - Week 1
Tonight, at 8 pm Eastern, football is officially back! After months of studying and preparing, countless mock drafts and a fair share of stress, it’s time to set your best lineup and kick back and (try to) relax.
We’re in for a real treat, as the NFL opens the season with a rematch of the 2012 AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field in Denver. The Broncos are looking for revenge after the heartbreaking, last-second loss to the Ravens and Baltimore will be out to show that last season’s magical playoff run wasn’t a fluke and will try to pick up right where they left off in February.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at a few key things to keep your eyes on for the first official game of the NFL season.
Both teams made significant moves to stay atop the AFC this offseason. Due to a bad salary cap situation and retirement, the Ravens lost key players on defense, including Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Donnelle Ellerbe and Paul Kruger. They did a decent job of filling some of the holes, stealing Elvis Dumervil away from Denver and signing Michael Huff, as well as drafting rookie linebacker Arthur Brown.
Denver is still reeling from the fax-machine snafu that allowed Baltimore to sneak in and take Dumervil right out from under the their nose. The loss of Dumervil is only made worse by the fact that their other star linebacker, Von Miller, will miss the first six games of the season due to suspension. Starting cornerback, Champ Bailey, is also hampered by injury and will not play.
Each squad will be counting on new — and in some cases, inferior — players to step up and fill the shoes of very talented players. It will be interested to see which team makes a better adjustment and has the better game. According to our Week 1 projections, Denver’s defense will finish as the 12th-ranked defense with 9.4 fantasy points and the Ravens’ defense will finish ranked 18th with 8.2 points.
Obviously we don’t need to spend a lot of time talking about the quarterbacks here. Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco kind of speak for themselves. The former is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, and the latter put together the best post-season performance ever by a quarterback this past season.
The weapons surrounding them though, are what we should keep our eyes on. During the offseason the Broncos added receiver Wes Welker to a talented group of pass catchers that already included Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Third year tight end, Julius Thomas, has also emerged as the top tight end during the preseason, surpassing Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme.
On the other side of the ball, Flacco is hurting for reliable targets. Torrey Smith will now be counted on as the team’s No. 1 target and receiver, a role he’s never had before. As the team’s No. 2 last year, Smith only caught 46.9 percent of passes thrown his way and had seven drops. Those are scary numbers for someone you’ll be relying on as your primary receiver moving forward. Besides Smith, the Ravens will have to count on Jacoby Jones as their No. 2. After losing Dennis Pitta for the season to a hip injury, the Ravens will now rely on Ed Dickson, who is battling a hamstring injury of his own, and Dallas Clark who made almost no impact with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. The Ravens will also lean much more heavily on their running game and Ray Rice, than Denver will.
It’s pretty obvious that Manning has the edge here, by quite a bit. Our Week 1 projections have manning finishing as the eighth best quarterback with 19.3 fantasy points and Flacco finishing a distant 18th with 15.9 points.
Fantasy X Factor: Julius Thomas
In last season’s playoff matchup, Manning targeted his tight ends 11 times and had nine completions for 90 yards. Thomas is bigger, stronger and faster than the Ravens linebackers and safeties, and can easily exploit this mismatch to own the middle of the field. It’s no secret Manning likes his tight ends, and all signs point to Thomas having a big game.