Fantasy football scout: Focus on Jay Cutler, Cardinals sans David Johnson

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If Week 1 taught us anything, it’s that, after all the months of analyzing player statistics, trends and Twitter accounts, we really didn’t know anything at all. Except, of course, for those of us who saw it coming that the top 20 fantasy scorers would include the likes of Alex Smith, Tarik Cohen, Adam Thielen, Kenny Golladay, Trevor Siemian and Jesse James. Really, Jesse James?

As we wait for the fantasy landscape to return to normal (yeah, right), one thing we can do is look ahead to the upcoming games, with an eye toward how they could affect plans. With that in mind, here are four players and/or situations that bear monitoring:

Tarik Cohen

Matchup: at Buccaneers, Sunday, 1 p.m. (all times Eastern)

What better place to start than with this week’s waiver-wire darling? Everyone who gleefully used a No. 1 waiver priority or oodles of FAAB cash to acquire the Bears RB will want to see him prove that last week’s breakout performance (113 total yards, eight receptions, 1 touchdown) was no fluke.

If the undersized rookie romps again, that could be bad news for Jordan Howard, whose owners didn’t take him near the first round only to have a timeshare back with low upside in PPR formats. Nevertheless, if that appears to be the case, those owners would be well-advised to see if they could turn their guy into a solid RB2 and another asset before others realize that Howard himself is no more than a solid RB2.

We’ll be seeing Tampa Bay for the first time this season, so Sunday will also provide a chance to see if 2016’s 11th-most generous fantasy defense for RBs has gotten any tougher. Those in possession of various NFC South ball-carriers should be especially interested.

Jay Cutler and the Dolphins offense

Matchup: at Chargers, Sunday 4:05 p.m.

Speaking of teams making their 2017 debuts, the Dolphins will do the same, and with major apologies to Tupac, all eyez will be on Cutler. His strategy of not trying very hard to learn his new job as a TV analyst paid off handsomely when Ryan Tannehill went down, causing Miami to pick up the veteran QB, reunite him with Adam Gase and install him as a relatively last-minute starter.

At age 34, Cutler should have something left in the tank, but can he effectively lead the Fins’ offense right out of the starting gates? (Wait, is a he a car or a jockey? Oh, who cares – Smokin’ Jay certainly doesn’t.) DeVante Parker owners will be hoping that the WR’s budding bromance with his new, rifle-armed QB results in some big plays downfield, while Jarvis Landry owners can only hope their dude returns to being the target monster he was before Miami refocused its offense last year around Jay Ajayi and the running game.

Ajayi will want to show that he’s more the guy who rampaged for three 200-yard games than the one who posted a disconcerting number of duds down the stretch last year. Then there’s Julius Thomas, also reunited with a former coach in Gase, one who previously coaxed a brief flowering of fantasy relevance.

Cardinals offenseMatchup: at Colts, Sunday, 1 p.m.

Slow starts can spiral into full-blown crises with terrifying immediacy in the NFL, but that dynamic is only magnified in 13-week fantasy seasons. And so it is that we come to something of a crossroads for the Cardinals, and QB Carson Palmer in particular.

Bereft of the team’s offensive linchpin (I most definitely feel your pain, David Johnson owners), the 37-year-old Palmer suddenly has to prove he can be the glue that holds together Arizona’s attack. You know, as opposed to the guy who looked ready for the glue factory last week (hmmm, maybe that was a poor choice of metaphor for a game involving a team with horseshoes on its helmets).

If there’s a silver lining here, well, there is none for those who watched their top-two pick hit the shelf with Johnson’s wrist injury. However, owners of Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and . . . okay that’s probably the list, but anyway, they can hope to see the Cards return to the sort of aggressive passing scheme that worked wonders in 2015. If Palmer can’t make that happen against Indy, which just made Jared Goff look good, then it’s probably time to bid an early farewell to the QB.

Seahawks running backs

Matchup: vs. 49ers, Sunday 4:25 p.m.

Yes, this was highlighted last week, as well. Hey, as long as there continues to be a mushroom cloud of uncertainty over this situation, it will continue to be a Thing, especially when Week 2 brings the season debut of the Seattle RB with the actual best shot at attaining major fantasy value.

That would be Thomas Rawls, of course, who nursed an ankle injury while watching Eddie Lacy waddle into complete irrelevance last week. The Seahawks appear intent on forcing C.J. Prosise to prove he can stay upright for, say, a month before giving him a major role, which leaves seventh-round rookie Chris Carson as Rawls’s primary competition, at least in the near term.

Rawls is reportedly practicing in full this week, and he has a delightful matchup with San Francisco, which was far and away the most pliant defense for RBs last season (although it allowed just 3.1 yards per carry to Carolina in Week 1). A healthy dose, in every way, of Rawls could provide some unexpectedly quick clarity to a backfield that looked like it would remain maddeningly murky for weeks to come.

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