There’s a sweet smell in the air this time of year. But it’s not tailgates, beer and highly-paid men in pads pummeling each other. It’s actually the smell of full-grown men (and women?) hunched over their laptops, researching, adding, dropping and trading their way to glory. Yes, friends, fantasy football season is upon us.
And what better way to start the season than with the inaugural edition of The Fantasy Football Backup Plan? There’s probably plenty, but you’re here, I’m here, and when we’re together baby, nothing else matters.
Here’s a general rundown of the column: these aren’t player you necessarily wanted to start this week, but due to injury, byes or general suckery, you have to. It’s your backup plan. Each week, I’ll run down some of the top widely available fill-ins by position, convince you starting them isn’t the worst idea ever and tell you who they’ll be better than that week.
Donovan McNabb vs. San Diego
Yahoo: 47 percent owned, ESPN: 66 percent owned
Every fantasy “expert” and their mother, provided their mother is also a fantasy expert, has pretty much discounted McNabb as a viable fantasy option this season, but he’s in a much better situation now than he was with the Redskins. In his Vikings debut, McNabb will have to throw a lot to keep up with the Chargers’ offense, so he could be good for 250+ yards and a few scores in Week 1.
Colt McCoy vs. Cincinnati
Yahoo: 38 percent owned, ESPN: 24 percent owned
McCoy isn’t getting the respect he deserves in fantasy circles. Sure, he’s no stud, but he has to at least be on the Mark Sanchez fantasy-level, right? He’s got a talented young receiving corps, a solid running game and a new, offensive minded head coach in Pat Shurmur. McCoy could be first slightly better than mediocre Browns quarterback in a long time, and that journey starts against the Bengals on Sunday.
Cam Newton vs. Arizona
Yahoo: 33 percent owned, ESPN: 24 percent owned
Cam Newton is the NFL’s newest former college football demigod, and he makes for an intriguing fantasy option. He’ll likely throw for just a Jimmy Clausen-esque 190 yards and two interceptions this week, but he could give you 40+ rushing yards and maybe even a score, which sweetens his outlook. He’s not someone to target in one-quarterback leagues, but in way deeper leagues, he could be a rich-man’s Tarvaris Jackson.
Ben Tate vs. Indianapolis
Yahoo: 44 percent owned, ESPN: 43 percent owned
As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, ESPN’s resident cell-phone-MRI-ologist Dr. Michael Kaplan has expressed concern about Arian Foster’s injured hamstring. Whether you own Foster or not, Tate is worth a spot on your roster until we know Foster is fully healthy. Gary Kubiak is a Mike Shannahan-disciple, so deep down he hates fantasy football, meaning Tate should get a decent share of carries this week, Foster or no Foster.
Delone Carter vs. Houston
Yahoo: 21 percent owned, ESPN: 9 percent owned
With Peyton Manning’s neck finally crumbling under the weight of his massive forehead, the Colts will likely become a run-first team without him in Week 1. Joseph Addai is still in the fold, but rookie Delone Carter will steal some carries from him, especially in short-yardage situations. Against a Texans’ defense still transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4, Carter could sneak across the goal line once or twice.
Deji Karim vs. Tennessee
Yahoo: 9 percent owned, ESPN: 8 percent owned
What is the proper term for a handcuff’s handcuff? The double-handcuff, or dub-cuff? The chain, clamp, or shackle? Rashad Jennings’ trip to the IR caused so many fantasy questions. Maurice Jones-Drew claims he’s at full health, but there are still concerns. The Jags still plan to ease MJD back into action this week, so dub-cuff Karim will have some value this week, especially with an unsettled quarterback situation.
Guys he’s better than this week: Willis McGahee, Danny Woodhead, Ryan Torain
Nate Burleson vs. Tampa Bay
Yahoo: 46 percent owned, ESPN: 25 percent owned
Rumors coming out of Tampa Bay suggest the Buccaneers intend to have two cornerbacks, a safety, a defensive tackle and two ball boys covering Calvin Johnson at all times, meaning Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will have to take his golden arm and boyish good looks in another direction. Burleson isn’t a stellar option, but 50 yards receiving and a touchdown is possible, so you could do worse.
Earl Bennett vs. Atlanta
Yahoo: 19 percent owned, ESPN: 4 percent owned
Bennett was the Bears’ leading receiver in the preseason. I’m not sure if that means anything, but Jay Cutler likes throwing to him. And if you don’t give Jay Cutler what he wants, he’ll probably just end up pouting on the sidelines. Then Bennett won’t get any receptions. See the cycle here? The Bears will likely have to throw a lot to keep up with the Falcons this week, so Bennett could see some opportunities down the field.
Guys he’s better than this week: A.J. Green, Johnny Knox, Hines Ward
Robert Meachem vs. Green Bay
Yahoo: 46 percent owned, ESPN: 93 percent owned
The Saints are impossible to predict. If your 6-year-old nephew played for New Orleans tonight, Drew Brees will probably get him seven or eight touches. But Lance Moore has been ruled out tonight and Marques Colston coming off his thousandth offseason surgery, so if I’m picking one receiver on the Saints this week, its Meachem. Expect around 60 yards and a score from him tonight.
Guys he’s better than this week: Austin Collie, Sidney Rice, Plaxico Burress,
Todd Heap vs. Carolina
Yahoo: 34 percent owned, ESPN: 17 percent owned
Though Kevin Kolb only has as many NFL pass attempts as the great Brodie Croyle, he’s somehow gotten a reputation for liking to throw to his tight ends, so Heap could be in for a career renaissance in Arizona. Heap is solidly the No. 2 receiving option on this Cardinals team, and while Larry Fitzgerald will see the primary red zone targets, Heap could definitely sneak across the goal line against a mediocre Panthers defense.
Heath Miller vs. Baltimore
Yahoo: 18 percent owned, ESPN: 9 percent owned
It’s still four days before the Steelers and Ravens play each other, but I can already predict exactly what will happen in the game. Neither team will score more than 16 points, and the only offensive touchdown of the game will be scored by Heath Miller on a one-yard reception. Not Ray Rice, not Rashard Mendenhall, not Mike Wallace and not Anquan Boldin. Heath. Freakin’. Miller.
Guys he’s better than this week: Visanthe Shiancoe, Chris Cooley
Cleveland vs. Cincinatti
Yahoo: 18 percent owned, ESPN: 5 percent owned
When you’re streaming fantasy defenses, you’re usually looking for which team is playing the most inept offense. And man, are the Bungles chock-full of inept. Their quarterback and top wide receiver have never played a regular season snap, and running back Cedric Benson was literally released from jail less than a week ago. The Browns are by no means a good defensive team, but the Bengals offense could make just about any opponent look good.
Defenses they’re better than this week: Detroit, Dallas
Tennessee vs. Jacksonville
Yahoo: 8 percent owned, ESPN: 1 percent owned
Luke McCown will start at quarterback for the Jaguars when they face Tennessee this week. I’m going to pause here for a second while you race to add the Titans defense to your fantasy team. You back? Good. I’ll just about guarantee the Tennessee defense holds Jacksonville to less than 20 points and intercepts two passes this week, so if you didn’t add them before, go add them now. No, seriously. Go.
Defenses they’re better than this week: San Diego, Atlanta