And now the moment you've all been waiting for. Week 1 of the NFL season is here! That means it's time to set your fantasy lineups for real.
It's a task that comes with a fair amount of guess work. After all, we haven't had a true look at most of the teams yet. Sure there's preseason, but that means we might get about two quarters of action from the starters. It's hard to come up with a true evaluation of a team or players.
Your other option might be to base your lineup decisions on the numbers from last season. But like any real NFL player will tell you ... last year was last year. Players change teams, offensive and defensive schemes change and it's hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison from one season to the next.
But we're always looking out for you here at Going Deep. That's why we're taking a look at players who have traditionally played well in the first week of the season. It's certainly not a perfect guarantor of success, but you can feel a little more confident knowing that you're rolling with a player who has a history of starting the season quickly.
Surprise, surprise ... Peyton Manning sits atop another list of quarterback superlatives. But it's worth noting the "Games Played" column. Manning missed Week 1 back in 2011 after undergoing neck surgery. Then there was the matter of his seven-touchdown masterpiece against the Ravens to begin last season. That leaves him with a fairly pedestrian (by Manning standards, at least) 2012 opener. In that game, he threw for 253 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
When it comes to firing out of the gate, no one has matched Drew Brees over the past three seasons. In his last three Week 1 games, Brees has never had fewer than 339 yards or fewer than two touchdown passes. That's probably not a shock considering few QBs have matched Brees' consistency on an overall fantasy level during that same span.
There are a couple of names that are notably absent from this group. Andrew Luck has had mixed success in his first two opening starts. In his rookie season, Luck's 309 passing yards were nearly wiped out by three interceptions. The following year, Luck avoided throwing any picks and had a pair of touchdowns ... but just 178 yards.
The other missing notable is Russell Wilson. While the Seahawks quarterback is undoubtedly a winner on the field, he has yet to place his name alongside the other stat sheet-stuffing quarterbacks. In 2012, Wilson posted an unremarkable game with 153 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Last season he boosted the yardage total to 320 but still threw just one scoring pass. We'll see if Week 1 is kinder to either player in 2014.
The top four names on the list to the right won't catch too many people off guard. However, this could be the last time you see Ray Rice on this list. After a big 2011 opener in which he posted 149 scrimmage yards with two touchdowns, there's been a steady decline. Last season, Rice started the year with just 71 total yards. If it wasn't for scoring a rushing touchdown in the blowout loss to Denver, it would have been a completely miserable night. Then again, 2013 was a fairly miserable season for Rice and the Ravens running game so maybe Week 1 was just foreshadowing.
When it comes to lighting up Week 1, no one comes close to LeSean McCoy over the past three seasons. Shady has been rather bright, averaging 138.7 rushing yards in those three contests -- including a dazzling 184-yard performance last season. It's also helped that McCoy has dealt in volume recently. He's had no fewer than 26 touches in each of the past two season openers. It's a trend that seems likely to continue in 2014.
Oh ... and then there's Joique Bell. If his name surprises you, it's because you're probably thinking of true running backs. Bell has made his living as much as a pass-catcher then as a runner in his short NFL career. It also helps that his 2013 season opened with a pair of rushing touchdowns and 92 total scrimmage yards.
You might also have noticed that Jamaal Charles is nowhere to be found in this list. And no, it has nothing to do with his season-ending injury in 2011 ... that happened in Kansas City's Week 2 game that season. It's just that Charles has been fairly average in his recent season openers. His 2013 game -- 100 scrimmage yards and a touchdown -- was by far the best in this timeframe.
If Peyton Manning is atop the list of Week 1 quarterbacks, it stands to reason that his favorite targets are also doing pretty well. Both Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker land in the top 10 among wide receivers -- partially on the strength of last season's monstrous opener. But also on the strength of their own abilities after the catch. In his last two Week 1 games, Thomas has a combined 214 yards after the catch. Welker had 100 yards after catch just in his 2011 season opener with the Patriots.
There are a couple of players on the list that have succeeded with volume. Brandon Marshall has averaged nearly 13 targets and eight receptions over his past three season openers. Marshall has also posted better than 120 receiving yards per game in that time. Similarly Andre Johnson has seen a lot of balls come his way, averaging nine catches per game (on 12.3 targets). While the knock on Johnson during his career has been a lack of touchdowns, the veteran has found the end zone in two of his last three season openers.
If you're wondering where Calvin Johnson is, you're probably not alone. Generally speaking, Megatron has been his normal dynamic self in Week 1 games. He exploded in 2011 with 88 yards and two touchdowns. In 2012, he didn't find the end zone, but he did have six catches for 111 yards. What hurt was a lackluster 2013 opener. In that game, Johnson had just four catches for 37 yards. That'll do a lot to bring down a player's averages.
More than anything, this serves as a reminder to start your studs in Week 1. You spent an early round pick on these big time players for a reason. They're just as eager to have quick starts as you are. The cream rises to the top. Talent will win out. Gold will shine. The cheese stands alone. Okay, maybe not that last one.
Enough already. Let's play some football.