By Stephen Dolan
Thursday Night Football gives us an AFC West battle right out of the chute. The Denver Broncos (1-0) take on the Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) in a game that is getting progressively more difficult to predict. Shootout? Defensive battle? It could go either way, but you’re covered when it comes to your fantasy lineup.
Play: Alex Smith (vs. DEN)
Smith was spectacular on Sunday against the Houston Texans, completing 22 of his 33 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns. He still has not thrown a touchdown to a wide receiver since the 2013 season, but newly signed wide out Jeremy Maclin gives Smith a wide receiver option on Thursday against Denver. It won’t be easy for Smith, as he faces a Denver defense that held Joe Flacco to 117 yards through the air, no touchdowns and two interceptions on Sunday.
Pass: Peyton Manning (vs. KC)
How can you pass on Peyton Manning? Well, Manning struggled on Sunday against the Ravens pass rush as he was sacked four times, hit six times and only threw for 195 yards while getting picked off twice. It was not the best season debut, and now Manning is listed on the injury report with a back injury, but is probable to play on Thursday night. Kansas City features one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL in Justin Houston, so it does not help ease Manning’s mind after taking a beating on Sunday.
Play: Jamaal Charles (vs. DEN)
Charles had a strong opener against Houston, rushing 16 times for 57 yards, but he made his money in the passing game by catching five passes for 46 yards and a touchdown. Denver was staunch against the rush on Sunday, allowing just 3.2 yards per carry and only 73 total yards on the ground, setting up a heavyweight battle between Charles and the Broncos defense.
Pass: C.J. Anderson (vs. KC)
Anderson struggled against Baltimore on Sunday, culminating 29 rushing yards on 12 carries, plus 19 receiving yards on four receptions. The Broncos top back suffered an ankle injury on Sunday and was not part of Denver’s walk through on Monday. He is officially listed as questionable for Thursday night. Anderson’s injury, coupled with the strong running of backup Ronnie Hillman in Anderson’s absence on Sunday, makes Anderson a risky pick for Thursday. It’s best to pass on him.
Play: Emmanuel Sanders (vs. KC)
Sanders was targeted often by Manning in the Broncos win as Sanders pulled in eight of his 12 targets for 65 yards on the afternoon. It looks like Manning picked up where he left off in 2014 when he targeted Sanders 141 times leading to a career-high in receptions (101), yards (1,404) and touchdowns (9). With Demaryius Thomas opposite him, Sanders figures to get his share of points in the high-powered offense.
Play: Demaryius Thomas (vs. KC)
Thomas is the No. 1 receiver for Manning and one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, so it is no surprise he lands on the “Play” list. He caught seven passes for 60 yards in the defensive battle on Sunday against the Ravens, despite playing with an injured hand. Thomas had X-rays after the game, but that won’t impact his status for Thursday. He should have a big game facing a Kansas City secondary that handed over 298 passing yards to a combination of Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett.
Pass: Jeremy Maclin (vs. DEN)
The Chiefs have not had a wide receiver catch a touchdown since the 2013 season, and that includes the opener to the 2015 season when Kansas City raced out to a 27-6 lead in the first half. Maclin caught five passes for 52 yards on Sunday, but didn’t pull in enough yards, or touchdowns, to make a fantasy impact. He is dealing with a back injury that had him limited in practice this week. Pass on Maclin against the Denver defense this week.
Play: Travis Kelce (vs. DEN)
Kelce was a monster in the Kansas City passing game against the Texans, hauling in six passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns. He emerged as a favorite target of Alex Smith’s, and with his combination of size and speed, he creates a mismatch in the secondary that plays to his advantage. But the matchup won’t be easy as Denver allowed just 38 receiving yards to tight ends in Week 1.
Pass: Owen Daniels (vs. KC)
Peyton Manning loves his tight ends as he had Dallas Clark in Indianapolis and Julius Thomas in Denver prior to this season. Manning didn’t get his tight ends involved much in Week 1, as Daniels recorded just two receptions for five yards, which translates to a whopping 2.5 points in PPR leagues. Manning is loaded with weapons in the Broncos offense, so until he shows that he is willing to incorporate Daniels into his progressions, it is best to pass on the Denver tight end.
Play: Brandon McManus (vs. KC)
Pass: Cairo Santos (vs. DEN)
Play: Broncos (vs. KC)
Pass: Chiefs (vs. DEN)
Steve Dolan is an MBA student at Villanova University and a graduate of the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University. Steve co-founded Whiz Wit Sports, a Philadelphia-centric sports blog, in March 2011 growing the site to win PHL 17’s Best Local Blogger on the Philly Hot List in 2013.