Wednesday, July 17, 2024
Fantasy Guru - Baseball

The Starting 11 — Hope is Alive and Well as NFL embarks on 104th Season

Hope always abounds in the National Football League, especially when every team is undefeated and tied for first place.

At last check of those standings following the 2022 regular season, seven teams had clinched playoff berths after missing the prior postseason. Two of those clubs – the MIAMI DOLPHINS and LOS ANGELES CHARGERS – will kick off their seasons at SoFi Stadium on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS), with plenty of optimism for 2023.

Will the CAROLINA PANTHERS, with No. 1 overall pick BRYCE YOUNG, or ATLANTA FALCONS, with second-year quarterback DESMOND RIDDER, follow in those footsteps after missing the postseason last year? History will be on their side as those teams open their seasons on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta (1:00 PM ET, FOX).

Entering the final day of the 2022 season, 19 teams remained in Super Bowl contention, more than any year since there were 20 in 2006. Plus, in 19 of the past 20 years, at least two teams have won their divisions the season after missing the playoffs.

And who will be the JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS of 2023? Led by TREVOR LAWRENCE last year, Jacksonville made the worst-to-first turnaround, clinching the AFC South after finishing last in 2021. In 18 of the past 20 seasons, at least one team has won its division the year after finishing last or tied for last.

Will it be the NEW YORK JETS, who added four-time MVP AARON RODGERS to a roster that includes the reigning Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year, GARRETT WILSON and SAUCE GARDNER?

How about the HOUSTON TEXANS and new head coach DEMECO RYANS, architect of the NFL’s best defense last year in San Francisco? After all, Ryans gets to coach quarterback C.J. STROUD and defensive end WILL ANDERSON, the respective No. 2 and No. 3 overall selections in the 2023 NFL Draft.

So, lock in those fantasy lineups and dust off those tailgate recipes. Oh, and be sure to pick up those new No. 0 jerseys. The NFL is back with more hope than ever, and you can’t make this stuff up.

The Starting 11 entering Week 1…​

  1. STRONG STARTERS: Defending Super Bowl champion KANSAS CITY has won its past eight Kickoff Weekend games, the longest active streak in the NFL. On Thursday when the Chiefs host the Lions in the annual primetime kickoff game (8:20 PM ET, NBC), they can become the sixth team in NFL history to win nine consecutive season-opening games. Only the DALLAS COWBOYS (17 from 1965-81), MIAMI DOLPHINS (11 from 1992-2002), NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10 from 2004-13), PORTSMOUTH SPARTANS/DETROIT LIONS (10 from 1930-39) and CHICAGO BEARS (nine from 1984-92) have opened with victories in at least nine straight seasons. Portsmouth moved to Detroit and became the Lions in 1934.
  2. NUMBER OF THE WEEK – 18: The team that fell just shy of the Chiefs in a 38-35 Super Bowl thriller last season, PHILADELPHIA, kicks off its season Sunday at NEW ENGLAND (4:25 PM ET, CBS). That opener is significant because the Eagles and Patriots have squared off in two of the past 20 Super Bowls (XXXIX to conclude 2004 and LII to close 2017). In fact, New England’s victory in the ’04 season marked the last time an NFL team has repeated as Super Bowl champion. Last year, for an 18th consecutive season, the NFL had a new Super Bowl champion, extending the longest streak without a repeat winner in league history. Only eight teams have repeated as champions since the first Super Bowl at the end of the 1966 season. Eagles quarterback JALEN HURTS led the Eagles to a Super Bowl LVII appearance in his second season as the team’s full-time starter and became the seventh-youngest quarterback ever (24 years, 189 days) to start a Super Bowl. In the 2022 regular season, Hurts became the fourth quarterback ever with at least 3,000 passing yards (3,701), 20 touchdown passes (22) and 10 rushing touchdowns (13) in a single season, joining KYLER MURRAY (2020), CAM NEWTON (2011 and 2015) and KORDELL STEWART (1997).
  3. ADAMS LOOKS TO CONTINUE SUCCESS WITH FIFTH QUARTERBACK: In the Mile High City on Sunday, wide receiver DAVANTE ADAMS and the LAS VEGAS RAIDERS will open the year against the DENVER BRONCOS and new head coach SEAN PAYTON (4:25 PM ET, CBS). Adams has the opportunity to join Pro Football Hall of Famer MARVIN HARRISON (1999-2002) as the only players in NFL history with 100 receptions, 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions in four consecutive seasons. During that stretch, since the beginning of 2020, Adams has caught passes thrown by Aaron Rodgers (232 receptions by Adams), Derek Carr (88), Jarrett Stidham (12) and Jordan Love (6). This season, Adams is expected to be the top target of JIMMY GAROPPOLO, who joined Las Vegas after six seasons in San Francisco. On the other sideline, only two teams over the past 20 years have won the Super Bowl after finishing last in their divisions the prior season, the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles and 2009 New Orleans Saints. Payton, who held the reins of that Saints team, sets sail on a similar challenge this season in Denver.
  4. SPOTLIGHT – INDIVIDUAL MATCHUPS: Expect popcorn in short supply at MetLife Stadium when DALLAS meets the NEW YORK GIANTS in the Sunday Night Football opener (8:20 PM ET, NBC). When Dallas has the ball, eight-time Pro Bowl guard ZACK MARTIN squares off against DEXTER LAWRENCE, a Pro Bowler last year and one of the league’s top young defensive linemen. When the Giants have the ball, New York’s talented young left tackle ANDREW THOMAS draws Cowboys All-Pro linebacker MICAH PARSONS. Since Dallas selected Parsons with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, no player has more games with at least two sacks. In fact, his nine career games with at least two sacks are tied with ALDON SMITH for the most multi-sack contests by a player in his first two career seasons since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic. Last season, Parsons recorded a career-high 13.5 sacks and became the third player since 1982 with at least 13 in each of his first two NFL seasons, joining Smith (2011-12) and Pro Football Hall of Famer REGGIE WHITE (1985-86). Since 1982, only White has reached the mark in each of his first three NFL seasons.
  5. SPOTLIGHT – TEAM MATCHUP: The chess match between coordinators will take center stage on the shores of Lake Erie, when CLEVELAND hosts CINCINNATI on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). Three of the game’s top wide receivers will be in action. The Browns’ AMARI COOPER has six career seasons with at least 70 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards since entering the league in 2015 (the second-most such seasons among wide receivers over that span). In 2023, he needs five touchdown receptions to become the fourth player ever to reach the mark in each of his first nine NFL seasons, joining MARQUES COLSTON and Pro Football Hall of Famers MARVIN HARRISON and DON HUSTON. Cincinnati’s JA’MARR CHASE had a career-high 87 receptions for 1,046 yards and nine touchdowns in 2022, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer RANDY MOSS as the only players under age 23 with at least 2,000 career receiving yards and 20 touchdown receptions in NFL history. Chase has 2,501 receiving yards and 22 touchdown catches in his two career seasons. The Bengals’ TEE HIGGINS had 74 receptions for 1,029 yards and a career-high seven touchdown receptions in 2022. In 2023, he needs 65 receptions, 900 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions to become the third player ever to reach those marks in each of his first four seasons, joining A.J. GREEN and Pro Football Hall of Famer RANDY MOSS. In 2022, Cincinnati’s JOE BURROW ranked tied for second in the league with 35 touchdown passes and fifth with 4,475 passing yards, while adding a career-high five rushing touchdowns. He joined JOSH ALLEN and Pro Football Hall of Famer STEVE YOUNG as the only players ever with at least 4,000 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes and five rushing touchdowns in a season. In 2023, Burrow can join Dan Marino as the only players ever to record at least 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdown passes in three of their first four seasons.
  6. STREAK SPEAK: Quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES has assembled a phenomenal stretch of six seasons to begin his NFL career, considering he made just one start as a rookie in 2017. Mahomes enters the year just 29 touchdown passes shy of the most ever by a player in his first seven seasons (Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO, 220). Mahomes has 192 career touchdown passes since then-Chiefs general manager JOHN DORSEY traded up to select him 10th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Dorsey is now a senior personnel executive in the Detroit front office.
  7. DID YOU KNOW?: Keep an eye on the Commanders’ interior defensive line when WASHINGTON hosts ARIZONA on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX). Last season, Washington was one of two defenses in the NFL with multiple players posting at least 16 tackles for loss. DARON PAYNE (18) and JONATHAN ALLEN (16) each recorded career highs in that category. The Panthers (FRANKIE LUVU and BRIAN BURNS) were the only other team with two players with at least 16 tackles behind the line of scrimmage a year ago.
  8. UNDER-THE-RADAR STORYLINE: The Monday Night Football opener featuring the BUFFALO BILLS and NEW YORK JETS at MetLife Stadium (8:15 PM, ESPN/ABC) has countless storylines, including a pair of star quarterbacks from the state of California, JOSH ALLEN and AARON RODGERS. The contest also will be significant for a talented running-back family from Miami, Fla. That’s where both DALVIN and JAMES COOK starred in high school before carving their respective paths from college to the second round of the NFL Draft. Like Rodgers, Dalvin makes his Jets debut on Monday. It’s also the second time he’ll face younger brother James on a professional field. The first time? Week 10 of last season, an overtime thriller in Buffalo: Vikings 33, Bills 30.
  9. TREND TIME: Getting off to a strong start is important. Over the past 10 years, eight teams have a winning percentage of at least .600 in September games. Those eight clubs have combined for 49 playoff berths and 13 Super Bowl appearances – including eight Super Bowl championships – during that span (2013-22). Two of those teams – the LOS ANGELES RAMS and SEATTLE SEAHAWKS – meet Sunday at Lumen Field (4:25 PM ET, FOX). The list also includes BALTIMORE, DALLAS, DENVER, GREEN BAY, KANSAS CITY and NEW ENGLAND. In 2022, the four teams to appear on Championship Weekend – CINCINNATI, KANSAS CITY, PHILADELPHIA and SAN FRANCISCO – began with a combined 8-5 record in September contests.
  10. NEXT GEN STATS NOTES OF THE WEEK: For the second time in three years, and just the third instance since the 1970 merger, at least three rookie quarterbacks are expected to start Week 1 games (three started in 2021 and five in 2012). The 2023 preseason provided a snapshot of the excitement to come. BRYCE YOUNG, who makes his NFL debut when CAROLINA meets ATLANTA on the road Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX), was the first of three quarterbacks taken among the initial four selections in the 2023 NFL Draft. And among those three rookie starters this past preseason, Young completed the longest in-air pass. On Aug. 25 against Detroit, according to Next Gen Stats, Young’s pass was in the air for 21 yards before wide receiver ADAM THIELEN secured it. Also on that play, five pass-rushers were in Young’s face, giving him just 3.5 seconds from snap to pass release. C.J. STROUD, who gets his first NFL start Sunday when HOUSTON is at BALTIMORE (1:00 PM ET, CBS), finished on a strong note during his preseason dress-rehearsal. Overall, he completed 11 passes for 89 yards and one touchdown despite playing only 24 snaps. According to Next Gen Stats, on Aug. 10 at New England, Stroud hit a top speed of 18.35 miles per hour while covering 38 yards during one of his three carries in the preseason. ANTHONY RICHARDSON also flashed his running ability on Aug. 24 at Philadelphia. Among that trio of rookie quarterbacks, Richardson posted the longest rushing attempt before first contact, a 16-yard gain. Richardson leads INDIANAPOLIS against JACKSONVILLE at Lucas Oil Stadium in his NFL debut Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX).
  11. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: When JORDAN LOVE leads the GREEN BAY PACKERS into Soldier Field against the CHICAGO BEARS on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, FOX), he will become only the third quarterback to start a season-opener for the Packers since Week 1 of 1993, following AARON RODGERS and Pro Football Hall of Famer BRETT FAVRE. During the Super Bowl era (1966-present), Green Bay is the only NFL team to start no more than two quarterbacks in season-openers over a stretch of 30 years. Like Love, the Los Angeles Chargers’ JUSTIN HERBERT also was selected in a stellar 2020 draft class. Since 2020, Herbert ranks third among all players with 14,089 passing yards and sixth with 94 touchdown passes. Last season, Herbert ranked second in the league with 4,739 passing yards and became the first player ever to record at least 4,500 passing yards in two of his first three career seasons and the first player ever with at least 4,000 passing yards in each of his first three seasons. Yet another star from that 2020 NFL Draft, MINNESOTA wide receiver JUSTIN JEFFERSON begins his fourth season on Sunday at home against TAMPA BAY (1:00 PM ET, CBS). In 2023, Jefferson can continue to rewrite the receiving record books. He needs 688 receiving yards to surpass MICHAEL THOMAS (5,512 receiving yards) for the most-ever by a player in his first four seasons. Jefferson also can become the first player ever with at least 1,250 receiving yards in each of his first four seasons.

World Elite Syndicate

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