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A clown car of lies
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Remember how mad we all got when Jay Leno deceived us by stealing "The Tonight Show" back from Conan O'Brien a few years ago?

This weekend in fantasy football might have been even more infuriating.

Fantasy owners were fed "a clown car of lies" leading up to Week 1 of the NFL season (special thanks to Ruxin from "The League" for coining that phrase).

Tom Pelissero from ESPN 1500 in St. Paul, Minn., told listeners that Adrian Peterson would receive between five and 10 carries if the Minnesota Vikings made him available for Week 1. That seemed like a pretty reasonable workload for a player coming off a brutal ACL injury.

The team officially listed Peterson as a game-time decision leading up to Sunday's showdown against Jacksonville.

Instead, Peterson got the rock 17 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns, making him the league's third-most productive fantasy running back in Week 1. Toby Gerhart only saw the ball six times, a huge letdown for fantasy owners who picked him up under the assumption that Peterson would be limited in the season opener.

On the other sideline, Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey echoed a similar sentiment by labeling Maurice-Jones Drew as his team's third-down back before the game.

What Mularkey forgot to mention was that Jones-Drew, who missed the entire preseason because of a contract dispute, also would be his first, second and fourth down back. He ended up carrying the ball 19 times for 77 yards, an average of 4.1 yards per carry.

We'll give Mularkey a free pass because his first running back option, Rashad Jennings, went down with a knee injury in the second quarter. But that doesn't make up for the way Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin betrayed fantasy owners on Sunday.

With halfback Rashard Mendenhall still sidelined with a knee injury, the expectation was that Isaac Redman would pick up the slack for Pittsburgh in the opener against Denver. Instead he accounted for just 11 of the Steelers' 26 rushing attempts, finishing the contest with an uninspiring 20 yards.

San Diego coach Norv Turner told reporters that Ronnie Brown would be "very involved" in the San Diego Chargers' offense Monday night versus Oakland.

Apparently Turner and I have two very different definitions of the word "involved." Five carries for five yards isn't exactly a fantasy field day. We were expecting better from the former 1,000-yard halfback in Week 1.

But wait, there's more.

The pass-happy New England Patriots abandoned Wes Welker in favor of mystery running back Stevan Ridley. Twenty quarterbacks had better fantasy days than Matthew Stafford and somehow Lance Moore ended the week as the New Orleans Saints' leading receiver.

And if that wasn't screwy enough for you, Chris Johnson and Ray Rice combined for just 21 carries this week. That duo averaged nearly 35 rushes per game last season.

We'd expect this kind of deceit and trickery from Bill Belichick, but we trusted the other coaches. What is this nonsense and how can we learn from it so that the rest of the season doesn't turn into a fantasy debacle?

It's impossible for us to crawl inside the minds of every coach in the league (and I'm not sure we'd want to), but there are always tendencies we can pick up on.

For the most part, coaches in Week 1 seemed hesitant to rely on their backup running backs, which is why Jones-Drew and Peterson got more opportunities than we would have expected. The same holds true for the Steelers and Chargers, who both employed running back-by-committee schemes with their star halfbacks on the shelf with injuries (Ryan Mathews could be back for San Diego later this week, while Mendenhall remains out indefinitely).

Nine of the league's 32 starting quarterbacks threw for over 300 yards in Week 1. That's an incredible feat. And it also underscores a fact that I've been hammering people over the head with for months now: this is a passing league. Having a star running back is a huge weapon because there are so few of them left. A team with a dominant running game as well as a stellar passing attack would be almost unbeatable in today's NFL.

That's why when you have a player named Jones-Drew or Peterson on your roster, you're not going to sit him on the bench. The Jaguars and Vikings are both shaky at the quarterback position, so they need to have their dominant running back in the lineup to have a chance to win. Toby Gerhart and Rashad Jennings just don't cut it when Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder are your signal- callers on offense.

It's also important to consider the matchups, when you're dealing with an unpredictable fantasy player like Chris Johnson. We should have seen Johnson's lackluster performance on Sunday coming a mile away.

The Patriots got off to a big lead Sunday, forcing the Titans to abandon the running game early, rendering Johnson useless in the second half. Donald Brown (nine carries for 48 yards) of the Indianapolis Colts and Miami's Reggie Bush (14 rushes for 69 yards) encountered similar situations in big Week 1 losses to the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans respectively. Even workhorses like Peterson and Jones-Drew are likely to have less influence in games when their teams are getting blown out (look out: Jones-Drew is playing Houston next week).

Football is one of the most complicated and multi-faceted games on the planet and because of these complexities, the impact a player might have can vary from week to week, leading to bizarre twists and turns like the ones we saw in Week 1. The best way to stay prepared is by searching out the matchups and trying to get a feel for coaching preferences as the season unfolds.

It can be overwhelming at times, but don't make it harder than it has to be. I think fantasy guru Matthew Berry put it best when he said, "At its fundamental level, fantasy football is about minimizing risk." If the benefit outweighs the risk, your team is going to be just fine.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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