Sunday’s premier clash in the NFC North could be a preview of what’s to come in January, or it could be nothing more than a formality. It all depends on whether Aaron Rodgers is on the field.
On that night, Rodgers was able to muster enough to overcome the knock and save the Packers with a legendary second-half performance, but the circumstances are different in Week 2.
For one, Rodgers no longer has the adrenaline from that night to help mask the pain. If anything, the swelling has likely only gotten worse and made the 34-year-old even more stationary.
Maybe more importantly, Green Bay are facing a terrifying defence that could inflict even more damage to Rodgers’ knee.
The Bears pass rush with Khalil Mack was terrifying enough in the opener, but the Packers managed to keep Rodgers clean in the second half by having him get the ball out quicker and running more hurry-up to tire out Chicago, despite him playing essentially on one leg.
The Vikings had three sacks in Week 1 against San Francisco and their defence as a whole is arguably the best in the league after leading the NFL in fewest yards (275.9) and points allowed (15.8) last year.
Rodgers has yet to practice this week, but Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy said that he could play even if he isn’t part of the team’s workouts before Sunday.
The back-up plan is to play DeShone Kizer, who has a career record of 0-15 as a starter, all of which came last season with the Cleveland Browns.
While Rodgers is more than capable of putting the team on his back, even on one leg, it may be more prudent of Green Bay to hold their star out. A win over Minnesota now could be critical in the final standings, but losing Rodgers for a lengthy period would all but end the Packers’ hopes for the year.
The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t have to wait long for the chance to erase the bad taste left from the disappointment in the AFC Championship Game.
Jacksonville get another shot at the New England Patriots on Sunday, and although the stakes are much lower this time, the Jaguars’ ambition remains unchanged as they set their sights on revenge.
There may be no team better equipped in the conference to keep the Patriots from reaching a third straight Super Bowl, with Jacksonville’s dominant defence possessing the tried-and-tested blueprint for slowing down New England.
Between their deep and talented defensive line, athletic linebackers and lockdown secondary, the Jaguars have all the tools to make Tom Brady’s life difficult, as they did for much of the AFC title game before New England fought back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit.
The marquee match-up that has drawn headlines this week has been Rob Gronkowski versus Jalen Ramsey, with both widely considered the top players at their positions.
Ramsey, who is one of the most outspoken personalities in the league, took a shot at Gronkowski in the offseason when he said the tight end isn’t “as great as people think he is” because of his lower success rate when lined up outside, compared to his eye-catching numbers in the slot.
While Ramsey’s trash talking makes for a fun narrative, it’s unlikely he and Gronkowski will be lined up against one other much on Sunday – at least not in a way where the All-Pro cornerback will shadow Brady’s top target.
Since entering the league in 2016, Ramsey has been used almost exclusively on the outside, where he’s drawn man coverage against wide receivers. Unless the Jaguars deviate from their usual approach, Ramsey will only see Gronkowski when New England choose to split him out wide.
In the AFC Championship Game, Gronkowski and Ramsey were matched-up on just two snaps, with Brady throwing elsewhere on both occasions. Gronkowski also exited that contest with a concussion before half-time, finishing with just one catch, as Brady led a comeback without his best receiver.
It’s more likely Jacksonville use safety Tashaun Gipson on Gronkowski once again, which would leave Ramsey and fellow cornerback A.J. Bouye on wideouts Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarelle Patterson.
The Patriots will also have their hands full limiting Jacksonville’s pass rush, but the offensive line’s performance against J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the Houston Texans’ defensive line in Week 1 was encouraging.
Brady was sacked just twice in the opener, while the Jaguars got to him three times in January.
A bigger concern for New England may be how their running backs match-up with Jacksonville’s linebackers in the passing game.
With Julian Edelman suspended, Brady is expected to heavily lean on Rex Burkhead and James White, as he did in Week 1 when the Patriots gained 71 yards on throws to running backs.
With Myles Jack and Telvin Smith, however, the Jaguars are much more capable than Houston to muck up New England’s attack.
On the other side of the ball, the pressure will fall on Blake Bortles, whether Jacksonville like it or not.
In the AFC Championship Game, the Jaguars were extremely conservative with their quarterback in the second half, which took the wind out of the offence’s sails and allowed the Patriots to key in on the running game.
Leonard Fournette could be a game-time decision and regardless of the running back’s availability, Bortles will likely have to make plays to beat New England.
Jacksonville will hope their defence can do most of the heavy lifting to keep them out of that position, but ultimately, if the Jaguars want to be serious Super Bowl contenders, they’ll need to put some trust in Bortles.
Managing a fantasy NFL team through the first week of the season is easy. With Week 2 upon us, this is where the difficulty comes in as you have to play the match-ups, deal with injuries and make tough decisions over starting spots.
There’s also a fine balance between analysing what happened in the first week and reading too much into a one-game sample size.
Fortunately, we’re here to help parse the information and help you set a lineup that can win you your match-up.
Here are five options who are either fringe starters, firmly entrenched on your bench or maybe even on the waiver wire that should be in your lineup for this week’s slate of games.
The Atlanta Falcons running back was already worth consideration as a flex play, but now that Devonta Freeman is out with a knee injury, Coleman becomes a must-start.
While the match-up against the Carolina Panthers isn’t all that appealing – they surrendered 86 total yards to Ezekiel Elliott on 18 touches last week – Coleman is talented enough to make the most of the hefty workload coming his way.
In the three games Freeman missed significant time last year, including his early exit against Dallas, Coleman had at least 19 carries and a rushing score in each contest. He also had 110 yards on 18 rushes in the lone game Freeman sat out in 2015.
Fire up Coleman with confidence.
Tevin Coleman becomes a top 15 play. In 3 games without Freeman, Tevin Coleman averaged 19.3 touches and 14.5 points per game in PPR which would be RB13 last year on a PPG basis. https://t.co/hl5hHK9Hys— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) September 14, 2018
Ben Roethlisberger may be the start of the week among all quarterbacks in what should be an absolute points-fest with Kansas City, but considering he’s likely rostered in most leagues, Smith is your best as a true streamer play.
Smith’s numbers of 255 passing yards and two touchdowns in the opener could have been much better had Washington been challenged at all by Arizona, but a comfortable lead meant the running game was leaned on.
Is he the sexiest option? No, but Smith has three things working in his favour: he’s not going to make many mistakes so don’t expect to lose many points with interceptions or fumbles, he provides sneaky rushing stats and he gets an Indianapolis Colts defence that was just abused by Andy Dalton.
If you started Gordon in Week 1, a touchdown kept you from tearing your hair out as the Cleveland Browns for whatever reason refused to use their most talented weapon, who was targeted just three times.
That should change in a major way this week. There should be no more limitations on Gordon’s snap count and head coach Hue Jackson was upfront about the team’s intention to create more opportunities for the wideout.
Maybe more importantly, Gordon gets a New Orleans Saints secondary that was obliterated by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, allowing 417 passing yards and four touchdowns to wide receivers.
Welcome back, Josh Gordon. pic.twitter.com/1E6QXjT33m— Ollie Connolly (@OllieConnolly) September 9, 2018
The San Francisco 49ers tight end looked like Jimmy Garoppolo’s favourite target in Week 1 as he led the team in targets (nine) and catches (five), and that could continue on Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
Especially if Marquise Goodwin doesn’t play – the wide receiver has yet to practice this week as he deals with a quad injury – Kittle would see a boost to his role, which was already sizeable.
And after the Lions defence were downright putrid in the opener, the 49ers attack as a whole has a chance to feast.
George Kittle might just be a league-winner.— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) September 10, 2018
Coming off a shoulder injury, Kittle played on 80% of #49ers snaps, led team in targets (9), and his 13.1 average depth of target in Week 1 nearly matched Gronk's (13.4). Look at the vertical element on his routes, per #NextGenStats: pic.twitter.com/dPFBDD4GVa
Before Aaron Rodgers went superhuman in the opener, Chicago’s defence looked like the ’85 Bears as they wreaked havoc with Khalil Mack setting the tone.
This week, they get the Seattle Seahawks, who allowed six sacks to the Denver Broncos and are without top wide receiver Doug Baldwin.
Bears rookie linebacker Roquan Smith should also see the field more after getting limited work in Week 1, which will make Chicago even tougher to move the ball against.