Brain Games: Big Mac passing attack, Bengals bounce back and more Week 2 thoughts

Ah, Week 1. We wait and wait for it, then it’s over in a flash. The highs and lows imprinted in our brains to wreak havoc on our rest-of-season decision-making. First round picks of Christian McCaffrey, Justin Jefferson, Bijan Robinson or Tyreek Hill are looking pretty sweet right now, but Ja’Marr Chase and second-rounders like Saquon Barkley, Joe Mixon and CeeDee Lamb didn’t do us any favors to start the season. Surprise stars like Brandon Aiyuk and Puka Nacua will not be 100-yard receivers every week. Kendrick Bourne is not an automatic multi-TD guy now and, sadly, neither is Romeo Doubs. Although there’s more to learn from this Week 1 than in years past, given how many players sat out the preseason, the primary focus should be on usage rather than results.

Bourne actually had 11 targets from Mac Jones against the Eagles, and Jones attempted more passes than any QB in the league (54). This is a pass offense to keep an eye on as the Patriots host the Dolphins Sunday night. On the other hand, Doubs saw only five targets, with Jordan Love completing only 15-of-27 passes, three for touchdowns. Both TD rates are unsustainable.

Most of us will roll out a starting lineup in Week 2 that mirrors our draft day beliefs. However, there are always a few people who can’t resist overreacting to Week 1 results. Thus, the “don’t overthink” portion of this column (below). There are others out there who love the game of fantasy football so much that they simply must over-manage their rosters. For them, I have the “tinker with” section — some moves you can make to shake up your lineup without falling prey to Week 1 biases. These are also players you might consider if you lost J.K. Dobbins, Diontae Johnson, or Aaron Rodgers to Week 1 injuries.

Don’t Overthink:

Ja’Marr Chase, WR; Joe Burrow, QB — CIN

I lost a fantasy matchup to a lineup that started Drake London and Rashad Penny, y’all. This was difficult to watch, but I’m already doing my best to forget their combined nine fantasy points. It made me feel a little better to dig up some dirt on Burrow. He’s 1-3 in season openers and 1-5 vs. the Browns, which could mean the worst is behind us. Looking forward, Burrow will be one more week removed from the calf strain he dealt with during the preseason and facing a team (Baltimore) that he’s put up all-time numbers against in the past. It was December 2021 when Burrow threw for 525 yards and four touchdowns against the Ravens. Now a worst-to-first script like that is unlikely for Week 2, but I do think the Bengals will bounce back at home in a potential pass-happy game. The over/under is 46.5 points and Cincinnati is favored by 3.5 points early in the week, which means that bettors are counting on Burrow and Chase to post much better numbers vs. Baltimore. Protecting Burrow from another bruising pash rush has to be priority No. 1 for the Bengals this week.

Geno Smith, QB, SEA

I don’t personally have any shares of Smith this season, but it’s not for lack of belief. Seattle losing to the Rams at home was a bit of a shock, but it was really the LA defense that did them in. Seattle possessed the ball only 20 minutes, least in the league for Week 1. Smith threw only 26 times, Ken Walker ran only 12 times and no one was able to get in a rhythm as Smith was harassed by the Rams’ Aaron Donald, Byron Young and Michael Hoecht. Better stats are coming as Smith and the Seahawks face Detroit in Week 2. This should be high scoring (50.5-point game total) as the offenses take precedence over the defenses on both sides. I’m not saying Seattle gets the road win here, but that the fantasy performances, especially from Smith, will improve.

Jamaal Williams, RB, NO

Williams was disappointing from a fantasy perspective even as the Saints edged the Titans in Week 1. With no Alvin Kamara or Kendre Miller, and an improved pass attack that could move down the field, I expected Williams to score at least once. He did get 18 carries and two targets, which is why I’m not so worried. The Titans run defense was the third-best against running backs last season and looked every bit as stout in the opener. Week 2 gives Williams a much better shot at fantasy goodness, however. The Saints play the Panthers on Monday night. Carolina just gave up great games to both Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier. Both scored — Allgeier with two touchdowns on the ground and Robinson with one through the air — and both averaged over 5.0 YPC. Look for an uptick in Williams’ fantasy numbers for Week 2 as your RB3 or Flex.

Tinker With:

Mac Jones, QB, NE

I would have bet pretty much anything I owned that someone other than Mac Jones would lead Week 1 in pass attempts, so I’m glad no one made me that offer. It wasn’t enough to beat the Eagles in a gross weather game, but that almost makes it stand out even more. He completed a respectable 65 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and one interception. Kendrick Bourne and Hunter Henry were the major targets and beneficiaries of this high pass volume, accounting for all three scores. Jones threw for over 300 yards twice last season and hit the 3-TD mark only once — against Buffalo in a meaningless Week 18 game. Bill Belichick told us Jones had improved physically and mentally, but I guess we’re too conditioned to ignore his coachspeak because no one saw this coming. If you need an Aaron Rodgers replacement or are worried about Kirk Cousins Thursday night in Philly, I’m good with the idea of starting Jones at home vs. Miami. The Dolphins were the second-best QB matchup last year and Justin Herbert certainly looked fine against them in Week 1.

Zay Flowers, WR, BAL

The Ravens and their running back woes… my gosh. Yes, they have the depth to absorb the latest season-ending injury to J.K. Dobbins and you can read more about Gus Edwards and Justice Hill elsewhere on the site. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of rookie Zay Flowers, though. He was fast, dynamic, slippery and made all the right adjustments on the fly. It looks like Lamar Jackson already has a great deal of trust in him and I expect to see him flying off fantasy benches into Week 2 action.

Roschon Johnson, RB, CHI

You’d have to be pretty desperate in an oversized league where you rostered all the wrong backs to move Johnson ahead of any of the consensus Top 36 backs… or to be so confident in the rest of your squad you can afford the risk. I’m confident there are both types in our audience, so here it is. Johnson didn’t get a lot of press given the Bears’ lackluster loss to Green Bay in Week 1, but he was quietly the best back for fantasy on his team. First of all, the Bears split 19 rushing plays and 15 targets three ways. Takeaway No. 1: Johnson was the most efficient with his carries, gaining an average 4.0 YPC. Takeaway No. 2: Johnson earned seven of the targets, catching six of them for 35 yards. Justin Fields tied Khalil Herbert with nine carries and bested all rushers in YPC (6.6). It’s a team that remains committed to the run, no question. There are a few RB injuries to watch this week, so while I don’t love the matchup with Tampa Bay, Johnson’s role in the pass game was sufficiently good that I could see moving him into Flex territory sooner rather than later.

(Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

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