You roll over in bed half awake trying to silence your alarm clock so you can catch some extra sleep, when it hits you. It’s the day you have been anxiously awaiting for all year. You jump out of bed and make Usain Bolt look slow running down the stairs. “I can’t believe it’s here, I can’t believe it’s here!!”
Reaching the last step you stop and stare in amazement. The man in front of you is smiling and holding a massive gift. No, it isn’t Christmas and that man is not Santa Claus. It’s the first Sunday of the NFL season and that man is Scott Hanson on NFL Redzone with 8 hours of commercial free football.
Even though Thursday was technically the start of the season, every fantasy owner knows the real magic doesn’t begin till 1:00 PM this Sunday. And, with the first Sunday of the season comes the first Friday Fantasy Versus segment. The idea here is to take a few situations that fantasy owners are likely struggling with, pitting two players against each other with similar or uncertain value. Even if you’re not dealing with the exact situations seen here, you’ll at least get a clear picture of the value for both players and who we like more and why. So, without further ado, here is the Friday Fantasy Versus for week one:
Sam Bradford, QB, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Some might think this one is easy, and maybe it is. Bradford is in an offensive system that has made Mark Sanchez look good, while he looked absolutely amazing in his second preseason game earlier in August. Now he’s facing the Falcons on turf where Philly’s speed can be fully utilized? Yikes.
Cam Newton has a case, too. He’s facing a beatable Jaguars defense that specifically couldn’t stop the run in 2014. That could allow Carolina to get into a groove to set up the pass, where Newton still has reliable tight end Greg Olsen to target. Even if his passing numbers are pedestrian, Newton could also produce on the ground with his legs.
While Newton has a clear rushing advantage, he loses out to Bradford for two clear reasons: weapons and matchup. Roll with Sam Bradford in week one and don’t look back.
Frank Gore, RB, Indianapolis Colts vs. Chris Ivory, RB, New York Jets
Frank Gore is pretty reliable and now that he’s in an extremely potent Colts offense, he may have potential like we’ve never seen from a 32-year old running back. Of course, he is facing a Bills defense that was 11th against the run a year ago, while there have been whispers Gore will be kept on a “pitch count” to help preserve him for later in the year. Marcell Dareus being absent (suspended) makes this matchup less daunting, but Gore still may have his work cut out for him to be a high level producer in his Colts debut.
Ivory has been garnering all kinds of praise all summer, as he’s looked good in camp and preseason and is expected to be New York’s true feature back. He has the skill-set to impress and is also a human wrecking ball as a runner. That’s led to a shaky injury history, but in week one we can probably throw caution to the wind in that regard. The big thing that trumps everything else is Ivory’s dream matchup, as he faces a Browns defense that was dead last against the run in 2014. Drafting Danny Shelton should make them better, but what are the odds they improve overnight on the road? Not good. The chances are not good. Go with Ivory over Gore.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland Browns vs. Tevin Coleman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Two guys that are starting and we’re not quite sure what to make of them. This should actually be really easy. Coleman is the superior talent, he’s quicker and faster and he’s in the better system, facing a better matchup and he’s at home. Crowell, on the other hand, is facing a tough Jets front seven and is on the road with rookie running back Duke Johnson breathing down his neck. Both could face plant, but Coleman carries the upside.
Eddie Royal, WR, Chicago Bears vs. Stevie Johnson, WR, San Diego Chargers
Two shifty slot guys who should see a spike in value due to injuries around them, while both have beatable matchups at home, as well. It’s a tough call because they both could see a decent amount of targets and could easily score.
Royals is the #2 receiving options if Alshon Jeffery (calf) is out, while he’d at worst be the #3. He also has a good rapport with Jay Cutler and has put up 15 touchdowns in the past two seasons. He’s a sneaky play with some upside, while the Bears will likely be throwing a lot against the Packers, who happen to have some young, unproven talent in their secondary. Johnson’s situation isn’t any worse, as Ladarius Green (concussion) is probably out, and Antonio Gates (suspension) was already out, too. He’s in the same boat as Royal, as the likely third option in the passing game.
Being third in the pecking order isn’t always amazing, as it can leave for some hit or miss production. Royal is a little more established and his matchup looks a little better on paper, so he seems like the safer pick.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings
Tight end can be a total crap shoot beyond Rob Gronkowski. In the DFS realm, Gronk owned all this week, as it’s really tough to imagine another tight end coming close to his 3-score opening performance. It’s just not going to happen.
Rudy and ASF aren’t locks to crush, but both are starters for their respective teams and figure to have solid matchups this week. ASF is going to be the call, though, as he brings much more upside to the table. Mike Evans has been hampered by a hamstring issue for the past couple of week and even if he plays he could be somewhat limited. That could give Seferian-Jenkins the couple extra targets he needs to be the better value pick.
Cincinnati Bengals Team Defense vs. Jacksonville Jaguars Team Defense
Fantasy team defenses are such a wash usually, but there are still some good situations for some cheap units in DFS, or streaming defenses to be found out on the waiver wire. Two that you could consider are the Bengals and Jaguars. Jacksonville actually gets after the quarterback pretty darn well, is at home, and goes up against a Panthers team that has very little offensive pop right now.
Cincy, on the other hand, had some really good performances in 2014 and is a fairly balanced unit. In week one they draw Derek Carr and a pretty unproven Raiders bunch. I’ll throw you a curve ball here and pick the Jags, though, as they’re one of my favorite sleeper team defenses of week one. I just like their pass rush and the fact that they’re not going up against much explosive talent. Cincy has to contend with Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray, both of which could spring a lot of big plays.