If someone asked me to think back and describe what happened during the early part of this past week, I'm not sure I could offer more than mumbling something about a weird blur of torn ACLs and awful haircuts. The good news is we finally have real, live action to watch -- and lots of it. Dallas and Miami was just the Sunday appetizer - tonight begins the six-course feast. And even though each team's starters are expected to play sparingly, each game offers plenty of fantasy-related reasons to either tune in or follow up.
So rather than run you through practice drills like we have all week, I'm going to give you some tidbits to follow tonight. Granted, a lot of the questions I'm about to ask will take much more than one preseason game to answer. Nonetheless, strap on your fantasy goggles and pay close attention to the following questions/items from each of these games:
Baltimore @ Tampa Bay
- Most obviously, how will Joe Flacco perform without two of Baltimore's top three receiving yardage leaders from last year? Can any of Baltimore's wideouts attempt to fill the Grand Canyon-sized void at WR1 left by Anquan Boldin's departure? Will Flacco be looking towards his tight ends? Ed Dickson is set to miss tonight's game as he nurses a strained hamstring, but if the Ravens run a few plays where the tight end is one of the primary outlets, it may offer a few clues about how comfortable they are with Dickson as a replacement for the injured Dennis Pitta.
- Will Mike Williams live up to the hefty contract he recently signed with Tampa Bay? Six years and $40 million is an awful lot to give a guy who has yet to post his first 1,000-yard season (although in all fairness, he was just four yards shy of doing just that in 2012). The Bucs will need Williams to effectively perform as a co-WR1 with Vincent Jackson. And can Josh Freeman recover from his nosedive at the end of last year? He posted career-best numbers in passing yardage (4,065) and TDs (27) last year, but his 10 interceptions compared to six touchdown passes in the last five weeks of the season may be cause for concern.
Cincinnati @ Atlanta
- Can Andy Dalton continue his development? He improved his passing yardage and TDs in his sophomore season, but also threw three more interceptions in Year 2, and he surely doesn't want to see that number increase again. With A.J. Green sitting out tonight's game, the focus shifts to Cincinnati's running game. Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are expected to share a 50-50 workload split, but that doesn't necessarily mean one of them can't emerge as the go-to back. Can one outperform the other tonight to get the momentum in their favor?
- How will Steven Jackson perform in this offense? He has never had a stable of wide receivers this talented to help balance the offensive attack in his career. If he wants to get back to posting huge numbers, it's hard to imagine a better opportunity or situation to do so than this one. Also, will the loss of right tackle Mike Johnson have any effect on the run or pass blocking? Johnson is scheduled for surgery after fracturing his fibula and dislocating his left ankle during Tuesday's practice.
Rams @ Browns
- Jeff Fisher thinks Daryl Richardsonwill return as the starting running back, but does that mean he'll be the featured back? Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy are almost a sure bet to get carries - it's simply a matter of how many. Will Tavon Austin begin to develop into an outlet for Sam Bradford? Chris Williams and Shelley Smith are in a battle to win the left guard job, which will play an important role in helping protect Sam Bradford's blind side. Can either of them fill the role effectively?
- Will Brandon Weeden prove himself as the long-term answer at quarterback? The current Browns management regime did not draft Weeden, which means he is likely on a short leash and may not have more time than this season to make his case. Trent Richardson is sitting out tonight's game as the team doesn't want to risk him exacerbating some minor injuries, so can Monterio Hardesty secure his roster spot? Hardesty ran well in spot duty last year, but is on the roster bubble for 2013. Will Norv Turner's offensive playcalling help turn Jordan Cameron into a sleeper at tight end?
Redskins @ Titans
- Will the Redskins improve their secondary? From a fantasy perspective, hopefully not. It helps the fantasy production of the offense if they are required to score at a high rate in order to stay in games. We won't see RGIII play at all this preseason, so the Redskins may run an even more vanilla preseason offense than we're accustomed to seeing. The only real position battle to watch here is which running back may become Alfred Morris' handcuff - right now, it's a tossup between Evan Royster and Roy Helu. Keiland Williams has an uphill climb, but he has made some impressive plays in practice and could be a darkhorse to not only make the roster, but earn some carries.
Broncos @ 49ers
- Can Denver's patchwork offensive line perform well as a unit? Almost every O-lineman is struggling with injuries, and even though Peyton Manning has worked with Ryan Lilja previously, don't forget Lilja was talked out of retirement to come to Denver and act as an emergency center. Another major injury to this line could prove to be disastrous. Will the Broncos really use a three-headed RB attack of Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno? Or can one of them emerge as the primary featured back? Will Wes Welker prove the seemingly growing list of doubters wrong and find a way to become a PPR beast?
- Who in the world is going to emerge as the WR2 on this roster? The competition is currently wide open, but no one seems to want it. Can Anquan Boldin carry the load by himself if necessary? Will Colin Kaepernick run the ball if the passing game struggles? Will Vernon Davis continue to line up at wide receiver like he's been doing in practice? Vance McDonald has reportedly looked impressive during practices, so maybe he'll line up at TE more, which would give Davis the chance to move out to WR with greater frequency.
Seahawks @ Chargers
- Will any wideout be able to step into the role intended for the injured Percy Harvin? The Seahawks only kept Early Doucet in camp for one practice before releasing him, so he isn't their answer. Sidney Rice is still recovering from a knee procedure he had performed in Europe. The Seahawks are very thin at the WR and TE positions, which means anyone who steps up in preseason could earn a legitimate shot at starting in Week 1.
- San Diego may be in even worse shape at WR. The team had good reason to be optimistic about Danario Alexander, but he recently suffered a torn ACL and is expected to miss the entire 2013 season. Malcom Floyd is not a prototypical WR1, and Antonio Gates is starting to accumulate a lot of miles on his tires. Can Philip Rivers find a way to produce? Will Ryan Mathews finally pull it together and become a productive fantasy RB? Or will Danny Woodhead eat into Mathews' carries and catches throughout the year? San Diego's improvements on their offensive line should help the team determine whether Mathews is capable of becoming a true featured back.