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Questions for Each AFC Team from the First Quarter of the NFL Fantasy Season

In this series, I'll take a look at one important question for each AFC team -- from a fantasy football perspective -- that has come up from the first quarter of the NFL season.

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We’ve made it a quarter of the way through the NFL regular season and that also means we’re a quarter of the way through the fantasy football season.  It’s been a strange first four weeks of the season and as always, there’s been some some busts and some surprises. Devonta Freeman is the highest scoring running back! Larry Fitzgerald is the #1 WR in fantasy! Andy Dalton has put up the second most points among quarterbacks! Rob Gronkowski is blowing away the competition at tight end!…Ok, so that last one isn’t surprising.  But everything else is!  Now, there’s still the stalwarts at each position, as Aaron Rodgers is the #1 QB, Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte are all in the Top-5 at RB and Julio Jones and Antonio Brown are #2 and #3 at WR, respectively.  Still, you have to be prepared to make some adjustments, because like I said earlier, there have been some busts as well.  Some of the biggest ones have been RB C.J. Anderson, QB Andrew Luck and RB Marshawn Lynch, and those are just the guys that were picked earliest in most drafts.

With all of those things in mind, I thought that it would be interesting to pose a question for each NFL team that has come up through this first quarter of the season.  I tried to focus on topics that a lot of fantasy owners will be facing at this point in the season.  In this section I’ll take a look at the teams in the AFC, which have been listed by division. Look for Part 2 featuring the NFC teams to be posted later this week.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: Which Justin Forsett are we going to see from this point forward?

Week 4 marked the first appearance of the Justin Forsett that won fantasy owners some leagues last season and the one many were hoping and expecting to see this year.  Forsett carried the ball 27 times for 150 yards against Pittsburgh, averaging 5.6 yards per carry.  In the three games prior, he only had 39 carries for 124 yards (3.2 ypc). The fact that the Ravens got their first win of the year in part by riding Forsett could mean a bigger workload for him going forward.  Backup Lorenzo Taliaferro has also looked decent, but I think the Ravens saw a glimpse of what Forsett gave them last year and could ride him for at least a while longer.

Cincinnati Bengals: Will Giovani Bernard continue to overshadow Jeremy Hill?

Through the first four weeks of the season, Giovani Bernard has gotten 64 total touches (54 rushing attempts and 12 receptions) while backfield running-mate Jeremy Hill has only received 51 (50 rushes and 1 reception).  Hill’s saving grace has been his 5 short yardage touchdowns, which have all come from inside the opponent’s 10 yard-line.  He’s also only averaged 3.3 yards per carry in that span, while Bernard is at a robust 5.5.  Can Hill regain the role he had last season, when he was getting at least the majority of carries out of the backfield? Or will Bernard keep playing so well that he forces a permanent timeshare between the two?  Fantasy owners drafted Hill as their #1 RB in most leagues and as long as Bernard keeps this up, Hill won’t produce like one on a week-to-week basis, as shown by his two games of 18 and 24 fantasy points (Weeks 1 and 4, respectively) and two clunkers of -1 and 2 fantasy points (Weeks 2 and 3, respectively).  As a Hill owner, you have to hope that the Bengals will start giving him more rushing attempts to get into a better rhythm.

Cleveland Browns: Will any Browns’ players be consistently usable in fantasy?

I’m talking to you, Travis Benjamin, Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson and yes, Gary Barnidge.  Benjamin has actually looked good and has gotten at least 7 fantasy points in each week.  It helps that his amount of targets has gone up after only getting some long touchdowns in the first two weeks, as he has 10 targets in each of the last two games. I’m not sure anyone is truly trusting him yet, but if he keeps getting that amount of targets, you have to buy in somewhat.  As for the running backs, Crowell has been wildly inconsistent and hasn’t been that good even when he’s on.  Johnson put up his first big game in Week 4, as the Browns finally seemed to figure out how to use him in the passing game and he finished with 9 catches for 85 yards and 1 TD.  I’m not comfortable starting any of these guys in standard leagues right now, but if I had to pick one to stash, it’s Johnson.  If he continues to see increased touches out of the backfield he’d be an interesting flex, especially in PPR.  Barnidge has been the best tight-end in fantasy over the past two weeks -- albeit with Gronk on a bye this week -- but does anybody actually believe in it? He's a bye week fill-in right now and if he's able to keep it up he could become an every-week starter.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Will the rest of Pittsburgh’s offensive weapons survive until Ben Roethlisberger returns?

In Week 4 -- the first without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is reportedly out for 4-6 weeks with an MCL injury -- the Steelers’ offense looked less than stellar, especially the passing game.  Even All-World wide receiver Antonio Brown had a down game, catching only 5 passes for 42 yards, ending his streak of 35 regular-season games with at least 5 catches and 50 receiving yards.  Brown should be fine as he puts more time in with backup QB Michael Vick, but I doubt he’ll be quite at the same level as he was with Roethlisberger.  Martavis Bryant, the presumed second WR in Pittsburgh, returns from his 4-game suspension this week, but how much of an impact will he have with Vick behind center?  Again, the chemistry we saw last season and in the preseason between Bryant and Roethlisberger was impressive, so I’m not sure we’ll see all of what we expected from Bryant until Big Ben comes back.  The one piece of the offense that might actually benefit from this is Le’Veon Bell, who looked good against Baltimore in Vick’s first start.  With Roethlisberger out, expect Bell to get a heavier workload, both on the ground and through the air.  As for the other options, temper your expectations.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills: Can Tyrod Taylor stick as a fantasy QB1?

Tyrod Taylor has been a revelation in Buffalo and is tied for #5 among QB scoring in fantasy.  He’s actually #6 in fantasy points per game, as the man he’s tied with just had his bye (Tom Brady).  Still, who would have thought that when Taylor was named the starter in Buffalo, he would be this good?  Taylor is completing 72% of his passes, has a 104.4 passer rating and has gotten 111 rushing yards and a touchdown to go along with 8 passing TDs.  And all of this has come without Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy being at full health through the first four weeks of the season.  For the rest of the season, I’d take Taylor over bigger names such as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. The dude is forreal, act accordingly.

Miami Dolphins: With Dan Campbell now as their interim head coach, will the Dolphins actually give Lamar Miller a full workload?

Former head coach Joe Philbin was fired after a 1-3 start in which the Dolphins lost to the Jaguars and were embarrassed by the division rival Bills and Jets.  Interim head coach Dan Campbell said that the Dolphins "have to change the culture" and said that he intends to have tougher, more intense practices and that Miami lacked competition during their preparations for games.  This sounds like a man who wants his team to be physical and what better way to do that than running the ball?  The Dolphins have almost ignored running back Lamar Miller up to this point, giving him only 37 rushing attempts (for 131 yards) and 47 total touches through four games.  After what Miller did last year, I had him in my Top-10 coming into this season and I don’t think the bad start to his season has been all his fault, as the play-calling in Miami has been atrocious.  I’m buying low here.

New England Patriots: Will Dion Lewis keep up his current pace or will LeGarrette Blount overtake him?

Dion Lewis has been a boon to those fantasy owners who were either lucky or smart, especially with the struggles of some of the early-round RBs.  Lewis is the #16 RB in standard leagues and that’s with the early bye week.  Lewis is averaging 4.9 YPC and has 19 targets (with 15 catches) in the passing game.  He’s just looked really good in that offense.  The problem is LeGarrette Blount and the fantasy RB hater that is Bill Belichick.  After only getting 2 carries in his Week 2 return from suspension, Blount carried the ball 18 times for 78 yards and 3 TDs in Week 3, while Lewis only got 8 carries (although he did score a TD and got 5 catches).  How will the split in this backfield change from week-to-week and will you be able to predict it?  Fantasy owners are at the mercy of Bill Belichick…which is never a good place to be.

New York Jets: How long can Chris Ivory stay healthy and keep putting up great fantasy numbers?

Ivory has been fantastic when he's appeared healthy this year (Weeks 1 and 4), was only OK in Week 2 coming off an injury and missed Week 3 completely due to injury.  He's averaging 5.0 yards per carry on 63 attempts in the three games he's played in, so he's getting 21 rushing attempts per game and has looked great when he's on the field, you just have to wonder if he can stay there.  Ivory has a long history of getting banged-up and you have to wonder if getting so much work will wear him down at some point.  As long as he's playing, Ivory is a Top-10 RB because you know the Jets are going to give him the ball and he's been putting up great numbers.  But you can't expect him to be available to you every week throughout the season.

AFC South

Houston Texans: How good will Arian Foster be now that he's back on the field?

Despite that widely publicized play where Arian Foster's own offensive lineman caused him to fumble and gave Atlanta a defensive touchdown, fantasy owners should be excited to have him back in their lineups.  Foster has been a Top-5 RB in fantasy in every year in which he's played in at least 13 games (2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014; he only played 8 in 2013) and he's averaged 16.4 fantasy points per game in standard leagues since that 2010 breakout year.  You have to expect the Texans to feed Foster starting in Week 5's Thursday night match-up against the Colts, as they'll want to limit the amount of passes thrown by QB Ryan Mallett as much as possible going forward.  Foster should be viewed as at least a Top-10 RB the rest of the season and could end up where we're used to seeing him, in the Top-5.

Indianapolis Colts: Can Andrew Luck turn his season around?

Andrew Luck has been one of the biggest disappointments in fantasy so far this year, as he was at least the #2 QB drafted in most leagues and possibly the #1.  After putting up 40 touchdown passes and 16 INTs in 2014, Luck is only completing 56% of his passes and has 5 TDs and 7 INTs through three games this season.  And he missed Week 4 with a shoulder injury, the first game he's missed in his NFL career.  Fantasy players drafted Luck to be their starter every week and most intended to only carry one QB throughout the season except for his bye.  Luck's performance (and injury) has forced owners to carry another QB, hurting their roster even more.  Despite what it's sounded like so far, you can't put all of it on Luck, as his offensive line might be the worst in football and he's been hit so many times already.  It doesn't help that Andre Johnson has been a complete bust as a free agent signee, although Donte Moncrief has stepped up to replace what some thought Johnson's production would be.  Either way, you have to be concerned about Luck.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Which wide receiver named Allen do you want for the rest of the season, Robinson or Hurns?

Ok, so I still think Allen Robinson is the guy to own in this duo, but Allen Hurns has played well so far.  Robinson is getting the #1 cornerback in most matchups, but has still had some decent numbers (along with one big game in Week 2) and is averaging almost 10 targets per game through four weeks.  I think he's a WR2 going forward.  Hurns has stepped up and had a huge game in Week 4 with 15 targets for 11 catches, 116 yards and 1 TD.  He's had at least 60 yards in every game this season and QB Blake Bortles seems to look for him when Robinson is covered.  Hurns should probably be picked up and owned in most leagues, as he could start to be in consideration for flex spots if he continues this trend, especially in PPR leagues.

Tennessee Titans: Like the Browns, are you starting anybody from the Titans consistently?

Marcus Mariota has been a pleasant surprise in the first three starts of his NFL career and has put up 32, 19 and 22 fantasy points.  His schedule is favorable for almost the entire season and there have been a lot of injuries and disappointments at quarterback, so he's a fine fill-in if you're QB needy, but I don't think you can trust him as an each and every week starter for the entire season, at least not yet.  The Titans' RBs have been a mess and you should stay far away from any position involving Bishop Sankey, Antonio Andrews and Dexter McCluster.  The receiving options that are roster-able in Tennessee are Kendall Wright, Delanie Walker and maybe Dorial Green-Beckham. Wright has looked good in two of three games, but he's only gotten more than 4 targets in one of those three games. I don't think you can count on him every week, but he's probably a WR3 or flex in most weeks.  Walker has been good over the last season-plus and he might be a low-end TE1 when he's on the field.  Green-Beckham is nothing more than a deep league stash at this point.

AFC West

Denver Broncos: Can the Broncos get their offense back on track?

Denver's offense has been been pretty ugly to watch through the first quarter of the season, especially C.J. Anderson and the running game.  I said the Luck might be the biggest disappointment in fantasy so far this season, but Anderson may hold the crown there.  He only has 43 rushing attempts in four games for 2.7 yards per carry and 0 TDs....that is just atrociously bad.  He was basically a consensus Top-10 RB, but of all the highly drafted RBs that have disappointed, he might be the worst.  He's not someone I'm buying low on.  Ronnie Hillman has looked slightly better and had a 72 yard run in Week 4, and I just think I'd rather have Hillman for the rest of the season.  Although Peyton Manning has managed to get the ball to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, it hasn't been pretty. He just looks like he's done and is almost shot-putting the football to his receivers.  Both Thomas and Sanders should still get some numbers, but you have to reel in your expectations.  Thomas is now a low-end WR1 and Sanders is probably a low-end WR2.  TE Owen Daniels had a TD in Weeks 3 and 4 and is probably a good start in Week 5 (they play the Raiders, who are terrible against TEs), but he can't be trusted on a consistent basis.

Kansas City Chiefs: Can Travis Kelce regain his Week 1 form?

Chiefs' TE Travis Kelce looked like he was going to prove a lot of people right when he started this season with a huge game of 6 catches for 106 yards and 2 TDs.  Since then, he's had two bad-to-mediocre games in Weeks 2 and 4 (5 and 2 fantasy points, respectively) and another decent game in Week 3 (10 fantasy points).  Here are Kelce's target-catch numbers in each week: 6-6, 5-4, 10-6, 7-5.  Kansas City really only has two options in the passing game in Kelce and Jeremy Maclin, three if you count Jamaal Charles out of the backfield.  Kelce just seems to be the spark in this offense and needs to get more involved.  It seems like 10 targets should be about his floor each and every week, but I'm not the one calling the plays or throwing the ball.  I’d still rather have Kelce than Jimmy Graham as the #2 TE, but for those of you that were expecting close to Gronkowski-like numbers each week are going to be disappointed.

Oakland Raiders: Is the Raiders’ offense forreal?

Led by second-year QB Derek Carr, the Raiders’ offense has been looking good since their Week 1 debacle against Cincinnati.  First-round pick Amari Cooper has looked the part as a #1 NFL WR in the offense, as he has 40 targets for 24 catches, 339 yards and 2 TDs.  As the season goes on I’d expect him to get even better as he and Carr develop more chemistry and Cooper gets more used to NFL defenses and coverages.  If you’re a Cooper owner, you’re really happy right now.  As for Carr himself, he’s been completing 62.6% of his passes for 7 TDs and 2 INTs and looks as if he has built upon his promising rookie season.  You can view him as a high-end QB2 in 10 and 12 team leagues and he’s one of the best bye week replacements you can find.  He’s even been able to make Michael Crabtree relevant again, as both a real-life and fantasy option.  RB Latavius Murray had also been looking good up until his Week 4 performance when he basically caused two turnovers, a fumbled pitch and a juggled pass that caused an interception.  He was benched towards the end of the game, but I wouldn’t be concerned about it.  He’s looked solid as he’s gotten 68 rushes for 4.4 ypc and 2 TDs, as well as 14 receptions on 16 targets in the passing game.  He’s a high-end RB2 for the rest of the season.

San Diego Chargers: Will Melvin Gordon get anything going?

When the Chargers drafted RB Melvin Gordon with the 16th overall pick in this year’s draft, I don’t think this is what people were envisioning for his fantasy prospects.  His backfield running mate Danny Woodhead has been the more productive fantasy -- and more importantly for the Chargers, real life -- option, both in the running and passing game.  Gordon has 56 rushing attempts and 6 receptions through four games and is averaging 4.1 yards per carry, so he hasn’t been stellar by any means.  I think we all expected Gordon to dominate at least the carries out of the backfield and to get the goal-line carries, but neither of these things have happened, as Gordon has 0 TDs thus far. In terms of carries, he’s gotten 14, 16, 14 and 12 in Weeks 1-4 and he might be the type of runner that needs a high workload to get into a rhythm. While Woodhead only has 49 total touches (32 rush attempts and 17 receptions), he’s made much more out of them than Gordon has.  He’s averaging 4.5 ypc and has gotten most of the goal line and red-zone work, scoring 2 rushing TDs.  I think I’d rather have Gordon for the rest of the season based on his potential, but we’ll see if San Diego is willing to give him more opportunities.  In PPR leagues it’s a different story, where Woodhead obviously has higher value.