Friday’s Fantasy Focus

Kate Upton and a cold dish of lasagna.

Those might be the only two things that get more excited than the start of the fantasy football season.

I live for the flexing of my brain’s sport muscle. I thrive off the anxiety of whittling my time clock down on a decision to go with Jordy Nelson or Roddy White as my team’s number one wideout. I often find myself scouring waiver wires on my iPhone app at public events instead of pretending to care about other people’s conversation.

I live for coming up with a witty (and usually somewhat vulgar) fantasy name. (This year’s are The Inside(her) and Multiple Scorgasms. Ah-thank you.) I’ll willingly ignore the calls and texts from girls after a gut-wrenching playoff loss where I forgot to sub out my tight end on a bye week. And sometimes, just sometimes, I’ll root against my favorite NFL team if it means I get an extra touchdown out of Ray Rice. (Hey, it’s only the regular season after all!)

My name is Wesley Sykes and I’m a fantasy football addict. I have a problem that I’m not ready to do anything about.

Who’s to say it’s a problem anyway? Over 25 million Americans (yes, males and females) participate in fantasy football annually. Guys like Matthew Berry make a living, a pretty comfortable one at that, telling us who to play and not to play week by week. There’s even a hit TV show, The League, that chronicles the lives of four fantasy-drive fanatics and crazy the hi-jinks they find themselves in just to claim the minor superiority of the fantasy football domain.

So who cares if the majority of my time is spent comparing the pros and cons of passing on Percy Harvin for a cheaper, less coveted Titus Young (who is due to break out this year)? Who cares if  I sacrifice my self respect after days of not showering in protest after a fellow player in my league took Darren Sproles one pick before me — which would’ve completely changed the outlook of my draft and my season and would’ve surely guaranteed me repeating as Knights of the Classic Lore champion … but I digress.

The point is this: fantasy football is back and we should all be thankful because, let’s face it, for those Yankees, Red Sox, Mets and Phillies fans out there, it’s been a long time coming for the football season.

Dustin Keller (above) has been nursing a hamstring injury all week. Is he worth a fantasy start Week 1? (JetsInsider.com Photo).

START ‘EM:

  • Jay Cutler, QB vs Colts — Most skill players facing the Indianapolis Colts will get the “start ‘em” label every week. Cutler is no exception to the rule. With the on-the-field bromance expected to brew between former-turned-new teammate Brandon Marshall, this week is no different. I fully expect this to be a welcoming party for the Bears’ offense, who I think will make the NFC playoffs as a wildcard — largely due to the connection of Cutler-to-Marshall. IN A PINCH: In two-QB leagues I don’t hate Mark Sanchez as a secondary guy. Against a young Bills secondary, receivers should be able to find the open gaps, given that Sanchez has enough time against the pass rush.
  • C.J. Spiller, RB vs Jets — This a move I’m endorsing not just because I drafted Spiller with the hopes of finding a Sproles-like diamond in the rough. Here’s a third-year back who filled in nicely during the absence of Fred Jackson and offers a huge mismatch problem with the Jets linebacker corps. May not get a lot of touches, but in a flex position he could be more than usually — hitting big on a big a play or two.  IN A PINCH: I like what I’ve seen from Kansas City this offseason. While I fully expect Jamaal Charles to come back from a season-long injury last year, I suspect newly-acquired Peyton Hillis will get a lot of redzone/goal line touches in this offense.
  • Titus Young, WR vs. Rams – How can you not love a Boise State guy? In an offense that is as high-octane as the Lions’, how can you not love a speedy, slot possession receiver? When Matthew Stafford isn’t airing it out to Calvin Johnson, he should pick up chunks of yards while finding Young. Towards the end of last season Stafford-to-Young became somewhat of a regular connection, averaging 43.5 yards per game with 4 receptions and 4 touchdowns. Expect those number to go up in 2012. IN A PINCH: I like Jaguars’ rookie WR Justin Blackmon a lot, who is probable — but expected to play — on Sunday with an ankle injury. In a flex position or third WR, he’s a solid play. He should develop a good rapport with Blaine Gabbert and will get plenty of return options as the team’s kick returner as well.
  • Jared Cook, TE vs Patriots — A young quarterback’s first love in the NFL is always his tight end. And when your tight end is 6-5, 240 lb. it’s love at first sight. While the Patriots defense has improved, I just don’t see them in a dominant form early — after all they did give up over 300 yards per game through the air last season. Facing the Patriots aerial assault, the Titans and rookie Jake Locker will have to air out if they hope to keep pace. Expect Cook to get a healthy amount of targets Week 1. IN A PINCH: For the same reasons of Cook, I’d say in a deep league go with Coby Fleener. I suspect the Bears will send the house against rookie Andrew Luck and, once again, the tight end is a young QB’s best friend. And being Luck’s go-to guy at Stanford, you know he can trust Fleener.

SIT ‘EM:

  • Peyton Manning, QB vs. Steelers — Of course his first game in nearly two years has to be against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I think Manning will prove to be the fantasy player he’s known to be, just not Week 1. He has nerves, rust and James Harrison and Troy Polamalu  all working against him this week. Just wait it out, he’ll prove his worth down the stretch.
  • Maurice Jones-Drew, RB vs Vikings: This is a non-matchup decision. Not in football-ready shape. See Johnson, Chris; Revis, Darrelle.
  • Stevie Johnson, WR vs. Jets — He’s questionable with a groin injury and has been limited in practice all week. Add that with a one-way ticket to Revis Island and it’s a recipe for sitting him this week.
  • Dustin Keller, TE vs. Bills – He’s also been questionable with a hamstring injury, having been in and out of practice throughout the week. Lacking depth at the tight end position, it’s imperative that the Jets coddle Keller’s hamstring — which can be a nagging injury. As Sanchez’s most dependable receiver, Keller needs to be healthy down the stretch. Start him off slow and have him finish the season strong.

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