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Driven stronger: AFC North WRs under the microscope

  • By John Juhasz NFL.com
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The waiting is finally over. Football is here. The real stuff, not the glorified scrimmages. Tonight is the appetizer before the full Sunday buffet.

Before we get there, though, don't forget to take your shot at winning $1 million by entering the NFL Fantasy Perfect Challenge. It's an extremely cool game, and while I'm unfortunately ineligible to win any prizes, I promise I'll let you buy me dinner should you go on to win with some help from my tips.

Oh yeah, one other thing, I'm kind of captaining the America's Team ship for this season. Consider me your fantasy congressional representative! I'm putting as many decisions as I can up for vote to the general public and need your help. Before Sunday, feel free to send your thoughts for who our Week 1 flex starter should be. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, just click the link and it'll all make sense.

For now, we'll take a look at some players who might have a little extra motivation heading into Week 1. Here's one for each position.

Quarterback -- Peyton Manning

If I was only allowed to pick one player who's "Driven Stronger", it'd be Manning. He suffered a heartbreaking playoff loss to the Ravens at home this past January, and he only has one Super Bowl championship on his résumé. Manning has been in the league since 1998, and he knows the clock is ticking on his career, which means he might only have a handful of chances left to add to his trophy collection. Injuries on the offensive line as well as a defense in a state of chaos will likely make his task more difficult, but he isn't one to shy away from a challenge.

Running back -- Chris Johnson

Just wait and watch what Johnson is capable of doing behind Tennessee's revamped offensive line. He was once the consensus No. 1 overall pick in fantasy not too long ago, and as you watch him tear off a few long runs, you'll wonder how in the world he slipped to Round 2 of your drafts.

Running back -- Steven Jackson

I'm genuinely surprised Jackson didn't throw out his back this preseason, because if I were him, I'd have done backflips all the way from St. Louis to Atlanta. Jackson has never played in an offense with a passing attack in the same galaxy as the one in which he'll line up in 2013. Defenses simply can't afford to line up in the eight-man fronts he became used to seeing during his time with the Rams. Don't be shocked if Jackson contends for the rushing yardage title this year.

Wide receiver -- Antonio Brown

The general consensus seems to be the Steelers are in a lot of trouble with Mike Wallace now departed to Miami, and while Brown hasn't posted enormous numbers too often in the past, he's a legitimate target who can burn a defense if he's given the opportunity. With almost everyone suggesting he can't do the job, I'd be a little surprised if Brown doesn't enter this season with a chip on his shoulder to prove he can be a WR1.

Wide receiver -- Torrey Smith

This is almost a carbon copy of Brown's situation in Pittsburgh. A departed WR1, injuries at tight end and plenty of doubt about the capability of the player in question to do the job. Smith certainly doesn't have a prototypical WR1 frame, but he does have big play ability. Whether he can do it is debatable, but his motivation shouldn't be.

Tight end -- Tony Gonzalez

It's no secret that this is a "Super Bowl or bust" year for the Falcons. They're all-in on 2013. Matt Ryan needs a trophy to ascend into the elite QB category. Mike Smith might start getting a rap as a coach who can't win the big one if he comes up short again. And that's why the team was able to talk Gonzo into coming back for one last shot at a Super Bowl ring. It's pretty rare that a player who revolutionizes a position doesn't win a single title in his career, but that's what's at stake here.

Kicker -- Phil Dawson

Dawson's one-year, $2.25 million deal wasn't exactly a cap-killing contract, so it's not easy to understand why the Browns were so eager to run one of the most accurate kickers in the history of the game out of town. The Niners now have a guy who is almost automatic once the offense gets into field goal range, and the Niners may very well have topped the Ravens had David Akers not missed a key field goal in last season's Super Bowl.

Defense/Special teams -- Cleveland Browns

The Browns have managed to almost quietly put together a very deep and potent front seven. The secondary still has plenty of issues, which is why new defensive coordinator Ray Horton's attacking mentality will be all the more important to the team's success. Look for them to try to get into the backfield as soon as possible and limit the time opposing receivers need to get open. Expect Ryan Tannehill to get planted a few times in Miami's opener at Cleveland.

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