Doctor returns with suggestions for football’s wild season

It’s way past time for a checkup with the new Fantasy Doctor.

Look, I know I failed you. I wasn’t there when you needed me at your draft. I wasn’t there to console you when it was announced Peyton Manning was undergoing neck surgery again, only two days after you took him in the third round. And I wasn’t there when you watched Chad Henne lead a garbage-time drive Monday night against the Patriots, racking up points that put your fantasy team in an 0-1 hole to start the season.

But now the doctor’s back. I know I look a little different and you might think we’ve lost what we once had, but give it a chance. I’ll be here every week from now to the end of the season, giving you advice on who to start, who to bench on Thursdays and who to snag off the free agent wire (likely on Tuesday). Trust me, I’ll be the most steady aspect of your life.

Now I know we’re getting a bit of a late start. After a wild offseason that included a lockout, a crazy free agency period and a somewhat rushed preseason, it felt like the season snuck up on us.

The wildness of the offseason carried right on through to the first weekend of the season, which saw 14 quarterbacks throw for 300 yards or more (Are you serious, Rex Grossman?), a rookie making a record-breaking debut (welcome to the NFL, Cam Newton), a Harvard graduate leading the league in passer rating (Ryan Fitzpatrick) and numerous huge talents dreadfully underperforming (I’m looking at you, Chris Johnson).

After an unpredictable start to the season, it’s time to stabilize your starting lineups. I usually won’t be listing obvious players under each start or sit category. For example, Aaron Rodgers against the shaky Carolina Panthers defense is a must start, but you won’t find him on the start list. And remember, these are suggestions. If you have two elite running backs you may not need to start Cedric Benson this week. If your only other quarterback is Peyton Manning, you can’t bench Jay Cutler this week. So take these recommendations with a grain of salt.

*Start*

Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints — The athletic tight end submitted a solid Week One stat line of 56 yards and a touchdown to reward owners who drafted him above better-known tight ends like Jason Witten. But with No. 1 wide receiver Marques Colston’s broken collarbone (out four weeks), Drew Brees will need a new target over the middle this week to help alleviate pressure from Julius Peppers and Chicago’s front seven. Particularly against the Bears’ cover 2 defense, which is notoriously soft in the middle, Graham should have a big game.

Cedric Benson, RB, Bengals — Benson’s legal troubles lowered his stock entering this season, but remember, the ex-Bear put together back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons the past two years. Benson rushed for 121 yards and a score against an above-average Browns front seven last week, and on Sunday he faces a Broncos D that ranked second-to-last against the run last year.

The Eagles offense — Yes, I realize it’s not a revelation. You’re likely starting Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy already. But Andy Reid’s offense, notorious for hitting home runs, should have a field day facing an Atlanta defense that gave up multiple big plays to Chicago. In addition to the aforementioned three, I’d think seriously about playing Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and even Brent Celek.

Rex Grossman, QB, Redskins — I can’t pretend to believe in the Rex Grossman project in Washington. At some point the wheels will fall off. But not this week against a shaky Cardinals pass defense that allowed 422 yards to rookie quarterback Cam Newton. Grossman and the Skins should find plenty of gaps in the secondary.

Pittsburgh defense — After getting lit up by the rival Ravens, the Steelers defense faced weeklong speculation on whether they were getting old. I don’t buy it. Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and co. still have plenty left in the tank, and all the critics will only serve as motivation this coming week. As an added bonus, Pittsburgh plays Seattle, quarterbacked by the anemic Tarvaris Jackson. Turnovers will be abound.

*Sit*

All NFC West players except the Cards — Also not a revelation: the NFC West sucks. But this week, with the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams facing stiff defense in the Cowboys, Steelers and Giants, respectively, even regular and borderline starters like Frank Gore or Sam Bradford are not viable options.

Jay Cutler, QB, Bears — Cutler’s Week One stat line looks sparkling. 22/32, 312 yards and two touchdowns. But dig a little deeper and the shine starts to fade. More than 100 of those yards came on two screen passes to Matt Forte and Devin Hester, and poor Falcons tackling aided both. Take away those plays, which also provided or led to Cutler’s only touchdown passes, and the Bears offense was unable to produce much, particularly in the redzone.

Cutler has enough speedy receivers to hit on another long play or two this week against New Orleans, but it if you have a safer option, make the smart move and bench him.

Chris Johnson, RB, Titans — It’s difficult to bench a first-round pick this early in the season, but Johnson’s lack of production last week against a mediocre Jacksonville defense is worrisome.

Perhaps Johnson’s time away from the team during his preseason holdout set the running game back a couple steps, but don’t look for CJ2K to get back on track this week against a staunch Ravens front that was fifth against the run last season.

The Panthers offense — Cam Newton’s NFL debut was undoubtedly impressive, but don’t get overexcited and prematurely anoint him the next John Elway. Newton should be a solid option as a No. 2 quarterback and spot starter for the rest of the season, but not this week. The problems start with the running game. Neither DeAngelo Williams nor Jonathan Stewart was able to get anything going last week, totaling a combined 56 yards on 19 carries. Facing the Packers and mammoth nose tackle B.J. Raji, expect more of the same. The rest of the Green Bay defense will be able to key in on Newton and the Panthers’ only explosive receiver, Steve Smith.

Against defensive coordinator Dom Caper’s more sophisticated 3-4 system, Carolina’s rookie wunderkind won’t be up to the task.