Sunday Six Pack: Week One

Jarrett Behar


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Welcome back!

We’re with you every Sunday to provide the Sunday Six Pack, an article featuring six of the biggest storylines heading into each and every week of the season. Keeping tabs on these events will keep you prepared and informed throughout the season – just don’t drive within six hours of reading this. I hope you’re ready for an exciting 2014 NFL season and another season of my frosty fresh top six Sunday storylines for week one:

Can #1) Manuel is Not Automatic

If you were looking to explain away EJ Manuel’s sub-par 2013 with the injury excuse, Manuel’s pathetic 2014 preseason performance didn’t do you any favors. Manuel completed a modest 61-of-82 passes for just 517 yards – that was good (if you can use that word) for just 6.3 yards per attempt.  To put that in perspective, there was only one quarterback who threw over 100 passes and was under 6.4 yards per attempt last year — Kirk Cousins.  Even worse, Manuel looked more erratic than his 60% completion percentage lets on and he almost got Sammy Watkins killed on multiple occasions.  As a result, the Bills brought in professional party animal and neck beard enthusiast Kyle Orton on a two-year, $11 million deal that pays him about as much as Josh McCown is getting to start in Tampa.  I expect Manuel to wilt under the pressure coming from all directions, including the Bears defense.  It’s not a great week to start any Bills players.  Maybe try circling the wagons once Orton finds his way into the lineup, which should be sooner rather than later.

Can #2) Emmanuel: King of Mile High

[inlinead]Man, I wish that the Broncos were playing at Arizona this year.  Since they’re not, and I can’t use Emmanuel: King of the Desert as my headline, I’m going to go ahead and use this variation now.  Emmanuel Sanders steps into the high volume Broncos slot receiver position with Wes Welker all mollied up for the next four weeks.  Welker averaged 8.6 targets per game last year and that number should lead to a productive day for Sanders.  Even more interesting was Welker’s ten touchdowns in 2013.  With defenses paying extra attention to everyone named Thomas on the field, Welker was able to sneak into the end zone with ease, averaging almost a touchdown per game.  Sanders isn’t quite the polished route-runner and doesn’t have the catching ability of Welker (despite Welker’s well-publicized drops, he’s still caught 69% of his career targets compared to just 56% for Sanders).  Still, I expect Sanders to perform admirably in Welker’s absence and would start him with complete confidence in week one.

Can #3) Go Fisch

The Jacksonville Jaguars finished 31st in the NFL in total offense last year.  Now they have a new bellcow back in former Adrian Peterson understudy Toby Gerhart and a new offensive coordinator, Jedd Fisch, who came over from the University of Miami.  In addition, their wide receiver cupboard has been re-stocked with USC standout Marqise Lee and emerging UDFA Allen Hurns who is familiar with Fisch’s offense, having played for him at Miami – that’s not to mention Cecil Shorts III and rookie Allen Robinson who is close to getting over the hamstring injury that held him out of the preseason.  The Jaguars have all the makings of an underrated offense and get to face an Eagles’ defense that gave up the fourth most yards per game in 2013.  The Jaguars defense also looked much improved in the preseason and it would not surprise me if they took a big step forward this year, starting with a close game against the heavily favored Eagles.

Can #4)  Jets, Trains and Carrs

Courtesy of a mysterious “elbow injury,” it looks like Matt Schaub may finally be put out to pasture, leaving rookie quarterback Derek Carr to start week one against the Jets.  Yes, the Raiders are travelling across the country, and yes, Carr is facing a Rex Ryan defense with cardboard cutouts standing in for offensive lineman, but the Jets also have those same cardboard cutouts populating their secondary.  Obviously keeping Carr upright is a major concern, but if he can get the ball out of his hands, he does have some decent weapons to work with.  Carr and the Raiders look like a major boom or bust play this week, with little to no middle ground.  If he gets anytime at all, he may be able to decimate the Jets injury-riddled secondary with his strong arm.  If don’t, he may get to feel like his brother did when the Texans made him the number one overall pick and then stuck him behind a woeful offensive line.

Can #5)  King of the Hill

Unfortunately for Sam Bradford and the Rams, Bradford is not very good at keeping his left ACL intact.  Fortunately for the Rams, they upgraded their backup quarterback situation in the off-season, signing veteran Shaun Hill.  Hill has a decent arm and, although Bradford did look good this preseason before getting hurt, the historic numbers are actually in Hill’s favor.  Hill’s career completion percentage of 61.9% is better than Bradford’s 58.6%.  Hill has averaged 6.69 yards per attempt, Bradford is at 6.29.  Hill has a 1.78:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, while Bradford’s is 1.55:1 (Hill also has one more career rushing touchdown in 15 fewer games for what it’s worth [not very much]).  All this is by way of showing that the change from Bradford to Hill shouldn’t really tangibly affect the expected output of the Rams’ offensive skill positions in 2014.  In a plus matchup against the Vikings’ defense, even with the RBBC rumblings, I’d start Zac Stacy with confidence, and both Kenny Britt and Brian Quick are interesting high-ceiling fliers.

Can #6)  Kelce Lately

If you saw Travis Kelce’s 69 yard TD against the Bengals in week one of the preseason, then you can tell why I am so excited about him.  Kelce is a three-down tight end who can block, catch and pick up yards after the catch.  Any worries about how he would come back from the microfacture surgery that cost him virtually his entire rookie season faded away with his blazing speed into the end zone.  In week one, not only does Kelce have a plus-TE matchup against the Titans, but he is pretty much the only non-RB pass catching threat that the Chiefs have with Dwayne Bowe suspended and the supremely underwhelming trio of Donnie AveryFrankie Hammond and Junior Hemingway filling out three wide receiver sets.  Look for Alex Smith to target Kelce early and often this week – kind of like how I targeted Kelce in my rookie drafts last year.

What headlines and stories would you come up with this week? Post your responses in the comments section below.