10 burning questions for the AFC heading into 2015
Editor's Note: Turn your fantasy football knowledge into real cash! We're hosting a one-week $1 million league on FanDuel in Week 1. It's only $5 to enter, first place wins $100,000 and the top 16,000 teams get paid! Enter now and change your lineup anytime until 9/13 at 1:00pm (ET).
By MATT MUSICO
It truly is one of the most wonderful times of the year. NFL training camps are in full swing, and if you didn't pay attention to the pomp and circumstance that was Hall of Fame weekend in Canton, Ohio over the weekend, let me give you one, incredibly important update:
Football is officially back.
Sure, the Hall of Fame game matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings wasn't exactly anything to write home about, but it finally gave us some actual on-field action to talk about for the first time since Super Bowl XLIX. That alone is a beautiful thought, isn't it?
As our attention shifts back to actual games being played, there are plenty of questions and uncertainties that must be answered, both in real life and for fantasy football purposes. Regular season football is about a month away (Opening Kickoff is September 10 between the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers), so we want to help you count down the days and get as jacked up about it as humanly possible. First, let's go over 10 burning questions that some AFC teams are faced with in 2015.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is nearing the end of an incredible career, but does he have one last elite season left in his right arm? After lighting up the Oakland Raiders on November 9 for 31.6 FanDuel points, the legendary signal-caller surpassed the 20-FDP mark just once over his final eight performances. He dealt with some injury issues, but mix that with his age (entering his age-39 season) and some are unsure what kind of QB we'll see in 2015.
He also has to deal with a new coaching stuff, a more run-oriented offense and the departure of tight end Julius Thomas. That's a lot to consider for a QB with a Week 1 salary of $9,100.9. Will the Indianapolis Colts have a historically prolific offense?
Andrew Luck took a huge step forward in 2014, throwing for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns, while also becoming a weekly FanDuel stud. His Week 1 salary is tied for second-highest with Adrian Peterson, coming in at $9,200, with only reigning offensive MVP Aaron Rodgers costing more ($9,700). He was given even more weapons over the offseason after Indianapolis signed WR Andre Johnson and RB Frank Gore, along with drafting rookie wide-out, Phillip Dorsett. If all goes according to plan, they could challenge the Broncos' record of 606 points scored in a season, which was set in 2013. 8. How much longer will Antonio Brown's reception streak last?
The days of the Pittsburgh Steelers being a defense-first team are long gone. The offense now runs the show, and wide receiver Antonio Brown is front and center. As if the wide-out couldn't get any better after a tremendous 2013, he did just that in 2014. Brown led the NFL with 129 receptions and 1,698 yards, adding 13 receiving touchdowns in the process. He's caught at least five passes and gained 50-plus yards for 33 consecutive games, and is almost always a must-have on FanDuel. Will this streak last through the season? We'll soon find out, but even if it ends, he'll probably still be the league's best WR when all is said and done this year. 7. Who will be under center for the Patriots in Week 1?
As much as everyone wants to move on from DeflateGate, it's not entirely over yet. When the Patriots kick off the 2015 season against the Steelers on Thursday Night Football, will America be watching Tom Brady lining up under center like usual, or will second-year QB Jimmy Garoppolo get a chance to run the offense? There's a small difference in experience between these two: Brady has four Super Bowls and 392 career touchdown passes, while his backup has only attempted 27 passes. Garoppolo does have the potential to be New England's QB of the future whenever their star signal-caller decides to hang up his spikes, so there will be plenty interested in his performance if he does get the nod. 6. Can Alfred Blue step up in the absence of Arian Foster?
One of the first major NFL training camp injuries unfortunately happened last week, as Arian Foster went down with a serious groin injury. With a shaky QB situation in Houston and Foster coming off a 1,500-yard, 13-touchdown performance in 2014 (rushing and receiving), head coach Bill O'Brien was depending on his RB to be healthy heading into Week 1. With a $9,000 salary, so were one-week fantasy football players.
Does this mean Alfred Blue becomes a breakout star with a prime opportunity to perform? He rushed for 528 yards and two touchdowns on 169 attempts in 2014. It's worth considering with a Week 1 salary currently standing at $5,800.5. How many touchdowns will Kansas City Chiefs wide receivers catch?
The Chiefs can only get better in this category. Alex Smith threw 18 touchdowns last year, but none to wide receivers (nine to RBs, nine to TEs). Thankfully, they had players like Jamaal Charles and Travis Kelce at other offensive skill positions to pick up the slack. Kansas City added Jeremy Maclin to the roster over the offseason from Chip Kelly's high-octane offense of the Philadelphia Eagles, which should probably help that embarrassing statistic become a thing of the past. Maclin is fresh of catching 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns last year and enters Week 1 with an affordable $7,600 price tag. 4. Will Ladarius Green finally grab the spotlight from Antonio Gates?
Heading into 2014, Green was a popular sleeper pick, as Gates appeared to be on the downside of his career. Once the veteran turned back the clock about 10 years (69 receptions, 821 yards, 12 TDs), Green was again left on the sidelines waiting for his opportunity to break out. That time might be now — Gates is currently serving a four-game suspension after violating the league's drug policy. Green's Week 1 salary ($5,700) is reflective of the lack of playing time he received in 2014 (19 receptions on 25 targets for 226 yards) and not his potential ceiling as a player. 3. Geno has the weapons around him... but can he produce?
The Jets have slowly given QB Geno Smith some legitimate offensive weapons to work with. Chris Ivory is New York's power runner in the backfield and Jace Amaro is a breakout candidate at tight end, while Brandon Marshall joins Eric Decker in the receiving corps. Smith's overall stats from the 2014 season were disappointing (2,525 passing yards, 13 TDs and 13 INTs), but he did leave FanDuelers with a taste of what he could possibly accomplish in Week 17. He posted 26.12 FDPs and combined to make a pretty productive (and cost-effective) QB-WR stack with Decker. Was that an aberration or is Geno ($6,800) about to turn a corner? 2. Which Cleveland Browns running back will separate themselves from the rest?
The Browns saw good things in the backfield from Isaiah Crowell ($6,100) and Terrance West ($5,500) at certain points throughout 2014. Cleveland went ahead and made things more interesting by drafting Duke Johnson in the third round with the 77th overall pick. Head coach Mike Pettine will spend the majority of training camp trying to figure out how to best utilize these three runners, not to mention also trying to figure out whether Josh McCown or Johnny Manziel should be running the offense. Joe Thomas says Johnny Football is ready to go, but he'll have to show it on the field once Cleveland's preseason games start. 1. Will a change of scenery mean LeSean McCoy returns to elite FanDuel production?
In one of the more surprising moves during the NFL offseason, Kelly and the Eagles shipped McCoy north to the Buffalo Bills. With Rex Ryan now in charge and yet another shaky QB situation, Shady will be getting the rock early and often, but will it lead to success? He ran for 1,319 yards and five touchdowns last year, which was the second consecutive season he received 300-plus touches in the backfield.
Overall, his numbers look just fine, but he was a frustrating FanDuel play, averaging just 11.6 FDPs per contest last year. Entering Week 1 with a $8,400 salary, he must prove he can succeed outside of Philly before FanDuelers jump back on the bandwagon.