Fantasy Football 2011: Saints vs Packers Preview

NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 12: Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints is creeping me out.

Are you ready for some football?  Thursday-Night-It's-Finally-Here-Game-Of-The-Week Footbaallllll? 

Ready or not, here it comes.

The 2011 NFL season is finally upon us, and what better way to start it than with the defending champs against last seasons defending champs?  Two of the leagues best quarterbacks going head-to-head on national television in an effort to showcase which team is the "team to beat" in NFC this season.  Of course, it's not really going to give us an answer on which team is the team to beat, but you can bet your ass that the broadcasters will at least overreact in this manner.

Were the 2010 Packers the team to the beat after a 3-3 start?

Were the 2009 Saints the team to beat after a 13-0 start?  Oh wait, yes.  Yes, they were.

Still, what this game does give us is several of the leagues biggest stars and what could be some of the top performers in week 1 fantasy.  This matchup is one Brett Favre short of giving Chris Berman a long overdue heart attack.

More jabs at ESPN after the jump...

The opening game of the NFL is somewhat of a bittersweet moment.  Yes, NFL is back and that's awesome.  Frankly, the other 7-8 months of the year just pale in comparison to football season.  If it weren't for the fact that we get summer and some baseball, February through August would be stricken from the calender.  Even with baseball, all but 9 teams have been out of the playoff race since what seems like June which leaves fans of the other 21 teams in limbo.  Only football can ease the pain of "Maybe next year" for most baseball fans.  Even in fantasy, baseball playoffs are started and if you didn't make the playoffs or if you've been eliminated for weeks, the long national nightmare is over; football is here.

But it is bittersweet because for now you only get a taste.  A tease of how exhilirating and exciting the next four+ months will be now that the greatest sport on earth is back on the gridiron.  (Gridiron always gives me an image of football being played on metal.  I think the XFL would have lasted longer than a year if they had just played on metal.  Come on Vince McMahon, you really missed the boat on that one.)  Still, tonight is just a tease and for many fantasy owners they will be without any points after the game is complete, waiting two more excruciating days until they too can put up a few points.

However, there will be some points in the first game of the season.  Though these two teams finished 10th and 11th in scoring last season and each had a stout defense, they're both going to be airing it out quite a bit and each have the ability to score in bunches.  The Saints have finished 6th or better in total yards since the arrival of Brees, and the Packers have been a top 10 offense in each year under Rodgers.  Also, neither team has much interest in running the ball, so you'll see a lot of "my arm's bigger than your arm" back and forth between the two NFL stars.

Here are a few keys to the game in terms of fantasy:

Lance Moore and Garrett Hartley are out

Moore wasn't a good play this week, and is a WR3, but his absence will increase Brees' targets of other players.  It's an upgrade for Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston owners, but I don't think it will affect the amount of targets their deep threat players will get.  As for Hartley, that's obvious; use another kicker.

Jermichael Finley is probable

No concerns on starting Finley this week, however it should be noted that the Saints allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the league last season with 13 allowed.  There's a lot of pressure on Finley to stay healthy and perform this season, I predict that he has 7 catches for 70 yards but 0 TDs. 

Rodgers will completely whelm

Even if he is the leagues best QB, the Saints were solid against the pass in 2010.  DE Will Smith is out on suspension, and they might come away with just a sack or two, but as I said before they gave up the fewest TD passes in the league.  Conversely, they finished last in the NFL in interceptions.  Rodgers should adequately perform with 230 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT.  He'll have a solid, but not spectacular, game.

Drew Brees will do the good and the bad

On the flip side of the coin, Brees is coming off of a 22 interception season against a team that finished 2nd in the league in picks.  I don't expect Brees to throw that many interceptions again this year, but he may very well throw one tonight and is without one of his favorite weapons.  I predict he'll accumulate 250 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. 

Jimmy Graham will get his targets

One of the most popular tight ends in drafts this year was Graham.  With Moore out and against a tough passing defense, I expect Graham to get a lot of targets.  I'm looking at a good game for Graham with a TD coming his way.

Steer clear of running backs tonight

The Packers were third in the league in rushing TDs allowed and the Saints were 30th in the league in rushing attempts.  Mark Ingram probably gives them the most complete back they've had in this era, but he's making his debut and against one of the better defenses in the league in the red zone. 

Meanwhile, the Saints were 16th against the run and 18th in rushing TDs allowed, but the Packers are in a 50/50 split with two underwhelming backs.  There could be a rushing TD or two in tonights game from both teams, but to whom?  Ingram, Pierre Thomas, James Starks, or Ryan Grant?  It's a guessing game.  I expect Ingram to have the best game of the night, perhaps getting 100 total yards and potentially a score, but that's a big "potentially" 

Sleeper of the game: Randall Cobb

This is a deep sleeper mind you, but Cobb will be returning the ball and has the ability to go off for an "out-of-nowhere" TD on offense or in the return game.  I'll be watching closely every time he touches the ball.

 

Now get ready to sit back and enjoy.  Football is back... mostly.  Then sit back for two more days and curse every tiny decision you made for tonight's game.

Oh yeah, ESPN sucks and Stuart Scott is terrible.

follow me on twitter @casetines for more updates on Patrick Cobb.

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