One week of fantasy football is in the books for the 2012 season. As usual, the opening week had its fair share of twists and turns, as well as unexpected stars and the occasional disappointments. As the season progresses, fantasy owners get a better handle on the NFL's teams and their fantasy stars. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' victory over Carolina and the New York Giants' primetime loss to Dallas might not have unfolded the way many fantasy experts predicted, but it did teach us a few things about those teams and what we might expect in the coming weeks.
This week's notes:
1. Performance Under Pressure
One of the biggest surprises for fantasy players in Week One was Tampa Bay's defense landing in the top eight in fantasy points scored at that position. The Bucs brought constant pressure on Panthers quarterback, Cam Newton, sacking him three times, forcing two interceptions and holding him to just 112 yards passing in the first half. Most impressively, the Buccaneers held him to just four yards rushing, a testament to how uncomfortable they kept the Panthers' dangerous quarterback all afternoon.
Tampa Bay's defensive game plan in Week Two will surely be similar: disrupt the backfield, force bad throws, keep the quarterback uncomfortable. It was effective against Cam Newton, and at the same time the Dallas Cowboys' defense was successful in the same way against Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
The Cowboys' front seven pressured Manning, ending the game with three sacks and five quarterback hits. This pressure held the Giants (a team that averaged 296 passing yards per game a season ago) to just 187 yards through the air. Can the Buccaneers' defense pressure Manning the same way on Sunday; it might be too early to consider the Bucs' defense a sure play, but at the same time it showed enough to make Manning owners consider a different quarterback selection if they have the option.
The same issue makes Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman an unsure fantasy play this weekend. Tampa Bay's front line will have to handle the Giants' decorated defensive front in order to give him time to pile up the yards and touchdowns and be a successful fantasy option.
On the other hand, Freeman's outstanding mobility could help in that regard. In Week One, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo found success against the Giants' pass rush by scrambling outside of the pocket, extending plays and finding the open man downfield. Josh Freeman will have to show that he can avoid the rush if he wants to improve on his 138-yard, one touchdown performance from last week.
2. Passing Game Sleepers
Last Sunday, the Bucs and Giants finished with one passing touchdown each, and neither belonged to the team's number-one pass-catcher. In Tampa, it was Mike Williams, the team's other starter opposite Vincent Jackson; for the Giants, it was former Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett. Looking at this week's matchup at the Meadowlands, these two Week One sleepers could again have surprising fantasy potential, along with one other Buccaneer to remember.
Martellus Bennett started for the Giants and turned in four receptions for 40 yards and a score. Bennett was targeted as many times as Giants WR Hakeem Nicks, which is promising for the fantasy statistics of Bennett going forward. He was tied for eighth among tight ends with 10 fantasy points last week. Only four times last year did any Giants' tight end score more fantasy points in a single game.
While Williams' seven-point game last week wasn't a jaw-dropping number, it was a promising start after a 2011 season that wasn't quite what fantasy owners expected after his amazing rookie campaign. In Week One, the Giants' secondary allowed 44 points to wide receivers (16 receptions, 272 yards and three touchdowns). In that game, the Giants were missing cornerback Prince Amukamara, who is listed as questionable for the Buccaneers matchup.
Last week, the Cowboys receivers were able to slice through the injured Giants secondary. Giants cornerbacks Justin Tryon and Michael Coe struggled in coverage. If Josh Freeman can avoid the pass rush and keep his eyes downfield, Mike Williams could see a number of looks against this secondary.
And we couldn't talk about Week One sleepers without mentioning Dallas WR Kevin Ogletree, who faced these Giants last week. With Tampa Bay WR Arrelious Benn listed as probable, a tempting question arises: Could we see a third receiver again step up against the New York defense?
3. Holding the Line
The common theme for this fantasy matchup in particular is the battle in the trenches. Whichever team's offensive line can ward off the opposing defense best will likely reap the fantasy scoring benefits. Beyond the previously mentioned importance of the passing game, the strength of the men up front will really set the pace in the rushing game of both teams.
The Buccaneers blocking excelled last week, allowing Tampa Bay rookie running back Doug Martin 95 yards on the ground, good enough for an Offensive Rookie of the Week nomination. Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw was able to rush for a touchdown and 78 yards, 33 of those coming on one play.
Neither of these exactly come as a monumental surprise. Both Martin and Bradshaw are 100% owned in fantasy leagues, both were taken, on average, before the end of the sixth round and in the top 25 running backs drafted. So for prediction purposes, we need to not just look at the running backs themselves, but also factor in the performance of the opposing defense in Week One.
In the Giants' matchup with the Cowboys, RB DeMarco Murray averaged 6.6 yards per carry for 114 yards, including an impressive 40-yard run down the sidelines after evading multiple tackles in the backfield. If Tampa Bay's offensive line can match the effort of the front line of Dallas, and Doug Martin can display this sort of elusiveness that was evident in his Week One performance and throughout the preseason, the Buccaneers could outmatch the Giants running the ball. Both Dallas' and Tampa Bay's ability to successfully run the ball and manage the clock allowed them to take control of their respective games and ultimately led to victory.
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, goes into Week Two as the number one ranked run defense in the NFL, which is quite a turnaround from their 2011 showing. The Carolina Panthers' leading rusher was actually Kealoha Pilares, a wide receiver. The Buccaneers' defense held Pilares, quarterback Cam Newton (who led all quarterbacks last year with 706 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns), RB DeAngelo Williams and FB Mike Tolbert to just 10 yards on 13 carries.
The second week of fantasy football is the first to allow us to find trends and begin to get a handle on what the 2012 season has in store for us. Will Doug Martin continue to slash through defenses? Will the Giants' pass rush be able to match their efforts from last season and get to opposing quarterbacks? Is this Tampa Bay front for real? We will certainly have a clearer outlook by the end of the weekend.