1. Matt Ryan — Ryan’s phenomenal showing in Week One has his fantasy owners believing that he’s ready to make the jump to the elite level … or that he’s there already. Ryan lit up the Chiefs for 299 yards and three TDs through the air. He even ran for 25 yards and a TD (and looked less heavy-footed than usual in doing so). Ryan spread the wealth among a trio of talented pass catchers, with Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez each catching at least five passes and combining for 248 receiving yards. Ryan and the Falcons have a high-profile date with Peyton Manning and the Broncos Monday night in Atlanta. The Ryan-Manning duel promises to be compelling, and if Matty Ice comes out on top, it might reasonably be viewed as Ryan’s rite of passage into stardom.
2. C.J. Spiller — Fred Jackson’s knee injury means an instant windfall for the Spiller owners who own the shifty running back independently rather than as a handcuff to Jackson. Spiller now becomes the main man in the Buffalo backfield for at least three or four weeks, potentially longer. When Jackson broke his leg in Week 11 of last season, Spiller went on to average 105.5 yards from scrimmage over the Bills’ last six games and also punched in five touchdowns. After Jackson’s early exit last week, Spiller ran 14 times for 169 yards, including a 56-yard TD run, and caught two passes for 25 yards. This week, Spiller gets to face a banged-up Chiefs defense in Buffalo. The Bills are apt to give Spiller a healthy number of carries to ease the burden on Ryan Fitzpatrick after Fitz’s three-interception flop against the Jets last week.
3. DeMarco Murray — Murray was terrific in the Cowboys’ opening-night victory against the Giants, rushing for 131 yards and breaking off a 48-yard run that may have been the most memorable play from Week One. Murray served notice that he deserves to be ranked among the NFL’s top running backs. (Excuse me, Chris Johnson … could you mind stepping aside and letting Mr. Murray through?) But Murray has a difficult matchup this week, with the Cowboys heading to the Pacific Northwest to face an angry bunch of Seahawks still smarting from their Week One loss to the Cardinals.
4. Joe Flacco — Is it possible that Michael Vick is the second-best quarterback in this weekend’s Ravens-Eagles game? That idea might have seemed absurd a week ago, but after Vick threw four interceptions against the Browns on Sunday, Flacco used the no-huddle offense to flash-fry the Bengals on Monday, completing 21-of-29 passes for 299 yards and two TDs, with no interceptions. One good performance isn’t enough to validate the former Delaware star as an upper-echelon NFL quarterback, but the preseason offered hints that we were about to see a new-and-improved Flacco, and his Week One performance was impressive to say the least. If Flacco can come up with a convincing encore in Philadelphia, his usage rate in fantasy leagues is going to skyrocket.
5. Wes Welker — There hasn’t been this much weaponry stockpiled in New England since the days leading up to the Revolutionary War. Has Welker become the odd man out, or was his anemic stat line from the Patriots’ opening-day win over the Titans an anomaly? Welker had three receptions for 14 yards. Newcomer Brandon Lloyd was more heavily involved in the New England passing game, as were TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. But Welker should get more work this week when the Patriots host the Cardinals. Arizona’s ace cornerback, Patrick Peterson, is likely to be matched up against Lloyd for much of the game, so Welker could quickly go back to being a high-volume target.
6. Frank Gore — A surprisingly frisky performance in the 49ers’ win over the Packers suggests that some of us might have written off Gore too quickly. He ran 16 times for 112 yards, including a 23-yard TD run. But the rosy stat line obscured a couple of ominous signs for Gore owners. After catching only 17 passes last season, a figure well below his career average, Gore continued to be a nonfactor in the San Francisco passing game, with one reception for one yard. And while Gore was the Niners’ primary rusher, backup Kendall Hunter had nine carries, indicating that the team is continuing to move toward a time-share in the backfield. Gore faces the Lions this week in the Sunday-night game and will be trying to avoid the clutches of Lions DT Ndamukong Suh.
7. Stephen Hill — After an erratic preseason, the second-round draft choice out of Georgia Tech went off in his NFL debut, catching five balls for 89 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Is Hill for real? And even if he is, will his fantasy value be strangled by the Jets’ quarterbacking? A tough matchup this week against the Steelers in Pittsburgh should provide additional clues.
8. Michael Vick — Remember the old Nike ad in which fans rode a roller coaster that replicated the experience of playing football the way Vick plays? Vick rode a roller coaster of his own last week, with 317 passing yards, two TD passes, four interceptions and a completion rate barely above 50 percent in the Eagles’ come-from-behind win over the Browns. Vick’s ride won’t slow down this week. He faces a still-imposing Ravens defense that put the clamps on Andy Dalton and the Bengals in Week One. And Vick might not have the services of WR Jeremy Maclin, who’s dealing with a hip injury. A few more performances like last week’s, and we might start referring to Vick as a poor man’s Robert Griffin III.
9. Demaryius Thomas — Playing his first regular-season game with Peyton Manning, Thomas had a 71-yard TD catch and finished with a receiving line of 5-110-1 in the Broncos’ 31-19 win over Pittsburgh. Early indications are that Manning is just the man to tap into Thomas’ big-play capabilities, and Manning might need to tap himself a tall glass of Demaryius when the Broncos visit Atlanta on Monday night, since the Broncos will need to keep up with a Falcons offense that has been hitting on all cylinders since the start of the preseason. The task of slowing Thomas got harder for the Falcons with the announcement that highly capable CB Brent Grimes will miss the rest of the season with a torn Achilles tendon.
10. Hakeem Nicks — Nicks had a quiet opener, catching four passes for 38 yards in the Giants’ home loss to the Cowboys. Nicks and Victor Cruz were bottled up by the Dallas CB duo of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, but both receivers should fare better this week at home against the Buccaneers. If Nicks has another mediocre stat line, his owners might have reason to be concerned that the effects of a May foot injury are still lingering.