Start 'Em & Sit 'Em is our weekly look at the best and worst matchups from around the NFL and how they might affect lineup decisions for your Fantasy team. We are not in the business of stating the obvious, so you won't be reading here why you need to start Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson or any other top-tier players.
Everyone loves a good comeback story, and Matt Hasselbeck is set up for a great one. After last year's debacle, this should be a rebound year for the Seattle quarterback.
Hasselbeck only played in seven games last year and was limited by back problems. The Seahawks did the right thing in shutting him down, and he is rejuvenated for 2009.
He has arguably the best receiving corps of his career with newly acquired T.J. Houshmandzadeh to go with Nate Burleson, Deion Branch and promising tight end John Carlson. And they should get off to a great start in Week 1 against the Rams, which is why Hasselbeck is our Start of the Week.
In his past five games against the Rams, Hasselbeck has three games with at least 243 passing yards. He also has two games with at least two touchdowns. Hasselbeck has also looked great in the preseason and has developed a solid rapport with Houshmandzadeh already.
The Rams pass defense should improve this year under new coach Steve Spagnuolo since he brings credibility as the former Giants defensive coordinator, but St. Louis is lacking in talent right now and should struggle early on. It won't even matter that Seattle is missing left tackle Walter Jones (knee) or center Chris Spencer (quadriceps), who could return in Week 2 following preseason injuries.
You'll want to start Houshmandzadeh and Carlson in all leagues, and Burleson and Branch might be good options in deep formats. We're expecting big things from the Seahawks this year, and it all starts with Hasselbeck.
He's back and has the chance for a big season, which is something Fantasy owners are hoping for after drafting him as a No. 2 quarterback with upside. I did that in one of my leagues with Matt Ryan as my projected starter.
But this week, in that particular 12-team league, I'm benching Ryan against the Dolphins in favor of Hasselbeck. He has the better matchup against the Rams, and I'm excited about the first chapter in his comeback story.
Sit of the Week
Larry Johnson's outlook this season was so promising prior to training camp. Even he was happy after offseason trade demands.
The Chiefs hired general manager Scott Pioli, who helped Bill Belichick build a dynasty in New England, and brought in coach Todd Haley, who was the architect of Arizona's great offense. They also acquired a franchise quarterback in Matt Cassel.
But the offense has been sloppy in the preseason, which prompted the Chiefs to recently fire offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. Kansas City's offensive line also looks as putrid as last season, and Cassel heads into Week 1 dealing with a knee injury.
It could lead to Johnson running into a wall against the Ravens in Week 1, which is why you should keep him reserved this week. He doesn't have a promising outlook.
And aside from all of Kansas City's' woes, the Ravens had one of the best run defenses in the NFL last year and should be tough again. They will key in on shutting down Johnson and even owe him some payback.
Johnson was the last running back to gain over 100 yards against Baltimore when he had 23 carries for 120 yards on Dec. 10, 2006. Two full seasons later, the Ravens are looking to keep their impressive streak of 35 games without a 100-yard rusher intact.
The safe bet is the Ravens will make it 36 games in a row since Johnson only has one 100-yard rushing game in his past seven outings. You should also be safe with your Fantasy roster and keep Johnson on the bench for Week 1.
He'll be better off with a more favorable matchup, which should start in Week 2 against Oakland. Hopefully by then the Chiefs will have a better outlook heading into their home opener.
|Top Flex Players for Week 1|
|1. Randy Moss, WR, NE||vs BUF||22|
|2. Marion Barber, RB, DAL||at TB||21|
|3. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, JAC||at IND||20|
|4. Steven Jackson, RB, STL||at SEA||19|
|5. Frank Gore, RB, SF||at ARI||18|
|6. Adrian Peterson, RB, MIN||at CLE||18|
|7. Ray Rice, RB, BAL||vs KC||17|
|8. Calvin Johnson, WR, DET||at NO||17|
|9. Ryan Grant, RB, GB||vs CHI||16|
|10. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, SD||at OAK||16|
|11. Joseph Addai, RB, IND||vs JAC||16|
|12. Reggie Wayne, WR, IND||vs JAC||16|
|13. Matt Forte, RB, CHI||at GB||16|
|14. Kevin Smith, RB, DET||at NO||16|
|15. Greg Jennings, WR, GB||vs CHI||15|
|16. DeAngelo Williams, RB, CAR||vs PHI||15|
|17. Brandon Jacobs, RB, NYG||vs WAS||15|
|18. Cedric Benson, RB, CIN||vs DEN||15|
|19. Tim Hightower, RB, ARI||vs SF||14|
|20. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, SEA||vs STL||14|
|21. Marques Colston, WR, NO||vs DET||14|
|22. Reggie Bush, RB, NO||vs DET||14|
|23. Dallas Clark, TE, IND||vs JAC||14|
|24. Brian Westbrook, RB, PHI||at CAR||14|
|25. Chad Ochocinco, WR, CIN||vs DEN||14|
|26. Ronnie Brown, RB, MIA||at ATL||14|
|27. Torry Holt, WR, JAC||at IND||14|
|28. Terrell Owens, WR, BUF||at NE||14|
|29. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, ARI||vs SF||14|
|30. Andre Johnson, WR, HOU||vs NYJ||14|
|31. Steve Smith, WR, CAR||vs PHI||14|
|32. Greg Olsen, TE, CHI||at GB||13|
|33. Anthony Gonzalez, WR, IND||vs JAC||13|
|34. Darren McFadden, RB, OAK||vs SD||13|
|35. Michael Turner, RB, ATL||vs MIA||13|
|36. Jason Witten, TE, DAL||at TB||13|
|37. Thomas Jones, RB, NYJ||at HOU||12|
|38. Antonio Gates, TE, SD||at OAK||12|
|39. Santonio Holmes, WR, PIT||vs TEN||12|
|40. Tony Gonzalez, TE, ATL||vs MIA||12|
|41. John Carlson, TE, SEA||vs STL||11|
|42. Devery Henderson, WR, NO||vs DET||11|
|43. Owen Daniels, TE, HOU||vs NYJ||11|
|44. Darren Sproles, RB, SD||at OAK||11|
|45. Chester Taylor, RB, MIN||at CLE||11|
|46. Clinton Portis, RB, WAS||at NYG||10|
|47. LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI||at CAR||10|
|48. Todd Heap, TE, BAL||vs KC||10|
|49. Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, MIN||at CLE||10|
|50. Dustin Keller, TE, NYJ||at HOU||10|
|51. Laveranues Coles, WR, CIN||vs DEN||10|
|52. Laurent Robinson, WR, STL||at SEA||10|
|53. Brent Celek, TE, PHI||at CAR||10|
|54. Anthony Fasano, TE, MIA||at ATL||10|
|55. Anquan Boldin, WR, ARI||vs SF||9|
|56. Fred Jackson, RB, BUF||at NE||9|
|57. Hines Ward, WR, PIT||vs TEN||9|
|58. Chris Johnson, RB, TEN||at PIT||9|
|59. Knowshon Moreno, RB, DEN||at CIN||9|
|60. Fred Taylor, RB, NE||vs BUF||9|
|61. Edgerrin James, RB, SEA||vs STL||9|
|62. Chris Cooley, TE, WAS||at NYG||9|
|63. Roddy White, WR, ATL||vs MIA||8|
|64. Steve Breaston, WR, ARI||vs SF||8|
|65. Eddie Royal, WR, DEN||at CIN||8|
|66. Earl Bennett, WR, CHI||at GB||8|
|67. Chris Baker, TE, NE||vs BUF||8|
|68. Braylon Edwards, WR, CLE||vs MIN||8|
|69. Limas Sweed, WR, PIT||vs TEN||8|
|70. Santana Moss, WR, WAS||at NYG||7|
|71. Wes Welker, WR, NE||vs BUF||7|
|72. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, NYG||vs WAS||7|
|73. Donald Driver, WR, GB||vs CHI||7|
|74. Felix Jones, RB, DAL||at TB||7|
|75. Maurice Stovall, WR, TB||vs DAL||7|
|76. Dwayne Bowe, WR, KC||at BAL||7|
|77. Julius Jones, RB, SEA||vs STL||6|
|78. Roy E. Williams, WR, DAL||at TB||6|
|79. Devin Hester, WR, CHI||at GB||6|
|80. Leon Washington, RB, NYJ||at HOU||6|
|81. Jerious Norwood, RB, ATL||vs MIA||6|
|82. Derrick Mason, WR, BAL||vs KC||6|
|83. DeSean Jackson, WR, PHI||at CAR||6|
|84. Jamaal Charles, RB, KC||at BAL||6|
|85. Nate Burleson, WR, SEA||vs STL||6|
|86. Steve Slaton, RB, HOU||vs NYJ||6|
|87. Larry Johnson, RB, KC||at BAL||6|
|88. Mike Bell, RB, NO||vs DET||6|
|89. Lee Evans, WR, BUF||at NE||6|
|90. Jeremy Shockey, TE, NO||vs DET||6|
|91. Kellen Winslow, TE, TB||vs DAL||6|
|92. Antonio Bryant, WR, TB||vs DAL||6|
|93. Justin Gage, WR, TEN||at PIT||6|
|94. Zach Miller, TE, OAK||vs SD||6|
|95. Jerricho Cotchery, WR, NYJ||at HOU||6|
|96. Kevin Boss, TE, NYG||vs WAS||6|
|97. Vincent Jackson, WR, SD||at OAK||5|
|98. Derrick Ward, RB, TB||vs DAL||5|
|99. Willis McGahee, RB, BAL||vs KC||5|
|100. Isaac Bruce, WR, SF||at ARI||5|
|101. Muhsin Muhammad, WR, CAR||vs PHI||5|
|102. Domenik Hixon, WR, NYG||vs WAS||5|
|103. Jonathan Stewart, RB, CAR||vs PHI||5|
|104. Willie Parker, RB, PIT||vs TEN||5|
|105. Josh Morgan, WR, SF||at ARI||5|
|106. Lance Moore, WR, NO||vs DET||5|
|107. Ted Ginn Jr., WR, MIA||at ATL||5|
|108. Cadillac Williams, RB, TB||vs DAL||5|
|109. Beanie Wells, RB, ARI||vs SF||5|
|110. Donnie Avery, WR, STL||at SEA||5|
|111. Josh Cribbs, WR, CLE||vs MIN||5|
|112. Brandon Marshall, WR, DEN||at CIN||5|
|113. LenDale White, RB, TEN||at PIT||4|
|114. Heath Miller, TE, PIT||vs TEN||4|
|115. Antwaan Randle El, WR, WAS||at NYG||4|
|116. Steve Smith, WR, NYG||vs WAS||4|
|117. Jermichael Finley, TE, GB||vs CHI||4|
|118. Javon Walker, WR, OAK||vs SD||4|
|119. Randy McMichael, TE, STL||at SEA||4|
|120. Bernard Berrian, WR, MIN||at CLE||4|
|121. Mike Furrey, WR, CLE||vs MIN||4|
|122. Jordy Nelson, WR, GB||vs CHI||4|
|123. Nate Washington, WR, TEN||at PIT||4|
|124. Joey Galloway, WR, NE||vs BUF||4|
|125. Kevin Walter, WR, HOU||vs NYJ||4|
|126. Donald Brown, RB, IND||vs JAC||3|
|127. Sammy Morris, RB, NE||vs BUF||3|
|128. Jamal Lewis, RB, CLE||vs MIN||3|
|129. Davone Bess, WR, MIA||at ATL||3|
|130. Bobby Engram, WR, KC||at BAL||3|
|131. Kevin Curtis, WR, PHI||at CAR||3|
|132. Jerome Harrison, RB, CLE||vs MIN||3|
|133. Vernon Davis, TE, SF||at ARI||3|
|134. Jason Avant, WR, PHI||at CAR||3|
|135. Miles Austin, WR, DAL||at TB||3|
|136. Bo Scaife, TE, TEN||at PIT||3|
|137. Michael Jenkins, WR, ATL||vs MIA||3|
|138. Brandon Pettigrew, TE, DET||at NO||3|
|139. Patrick Crayton, WR, DAL||at TB||3|
|140. Deion Branch, WR, SEA||vs STL||3|
|141. Maurice Morris, RB, DET||at NO||3|
|142. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, OAK||vs SD||3|
|143. Hakeem Nicks, WR, NYG||vs WAS||3|
|144. Chansi Stuckey, WR, NYJ||at HOU||3|
|145. Mario Manningham, WR, NYG||vs WAS||3|
|146. Kelley Washington, WR, BAL||vs KC||3|
|147. Ricky Williams, RB, MIA||at ATL||2|
|148. Glen Coffee, RB, SF||at ARI||2|
|149. Bryant Johnson, WR, DET||at NO||2|
|150. Chase Coffman, TE, CIN||vs DEN||2|
|151. Bernard Scott, RB, CIN||vs DEN||2|
|152. Tony Scheffler, TE, DEN||at CIN||2|
|153. Mark Clayton, WR, BAL||vs KC||2|
|154. Jared Cook, TE, TEN||at PIT||2|
|155. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, PIT||vs TEN||2|
|156. Correll Buckhalter, RB, DEN||at CIN||2|
|157. Jerheme Urban, WR, ARI||vs SF||2|
|158. Marcedes Lewis, TE, JAC||at IND||2|
|159. Terrance Copper, WR, KC||at BAL||2|
|160. Desmond Clark, TE, CHI||at GB||2|
|161. Mike Sims-Walker, WR, JAC||at IND||2|
|162. Sidney Rice, WR, MIN||at CLE||2|
|163. Percy Harvin, WR, MIN||at CLE||2|
|164. Shonn Greene, RB, NYJ||at HOU||2|
|165. Devin Thomas, WR, WAS||at NYG||2|
|166. Mark Bradley, WR, KC||at BAL||2|
|167. Jerramy Stevens, TE, TB||vs DAL||2|
|168. Jeremy Maclin, WR, PHI||at CAR||2|
|169. Kevin Faulk, RB, NE||vs BUF||2|
|170. Mohamed Massaquoi, WR, CLE||vs MIN||2|
|171. Ladell Betts, RB, WAS||at NYG||2|
|172. Martellus Bennett, TE, DAL||at TB||2|
|173. Laurence Maroney, RB, NE||vs BUF||2|
|174. Brian Hartline, WR, MIA||at ATL||2|
|175. Chris Henry, WR, CIN||vs DEN||2|
|176. Chris Chambers, WR, SD||at OAK||2|
|177. Bobby Wade, WR, KC||at BAL||2|
|178. Derrick Williams, WR, DET||at NO||2|
|179. Robert Royal, TE, CLE||vs MIN||2|
|180. Mewelde Moore, RB, PIT||vs TEN||2|
|181. Robert Meachem, WR, NO||vs DET||2|
|182. Johnnie Lee Higgins, WR, OAK||vs SD||2|
|183. Michael Clayton, WR, TB||vs DAL||2|
|184. Kenny McKinley, WR, DEN||at CIN||2|
|185. Brad Cottam, TE, KC||at BAL||1.6|
|186. Chris Brown, RB, HOU||vs NYJ||1|
|187. Reggie Brown, WR, PHI||at CAR||1|
|188. Earnest Graham, RB, TB||vs DAL||1|
|189. Arnaz Battle, WR, SF||at ARI||1|
|190. Lynell Hamilton, RB, NO||vs DET||1|
|191. Pierre Garcon, WR, IND||vs JAC||1|
|192. Mike Goodson, RB, CAR||vs PHI||1|
|193. Tashard Choice, RB, DAL||at TB||1|
|194. Samkon Gado, RB, STL||at SEA||1|
|195. Sinorice Moss, WR, NYG||vs WAS||1|
|196. Dante Rosario, TE, CAR||vs PHI||1|
|197. Demetrius Williams, WR, BAL||vs KC||1|
|198. Dennis Northcutt, WR, DET||at NO||1|
|199. L.J. Smith, TE, BAL||vs KC||1|
|200. Troy Williamson, WR, JAC||at IND||1|
Kurt Warner (vs. SF): The 49ers are one of the teams Warner has picked on over the years with 3,197 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 10 career starts. Last year, Warner had one of his best games against San Francisco at home with 328 passing yards and three touchdowns. Anquan Boldin (hamstring) is banged up, but that won't matter in this matchup. You can look for Warner to come out throwing after losing the Super Bowl last year against the Steelers. The Cardinals will once again be an explosive offensive team, especially if Warner can stay healthy at 38 and coming off hip surgery. And history suggests he'll play well against the 49ers at home.
Brett Favre (at CLE): There aren't many times we're going to recommend starting Favre, but this week is a good opportunity to use him. He's going to try and put on a show in the season opener to show he made the right decision in coming back following the offseason drama. He's also facing his former coach in Eric Mangini, which should provide extra motivation. You can likely expect similar stats to what Favre did in the season opener last year at Miami in his first game with the Jets when he passed for 194 yards and two touchdowns. In 14-team leagues or deeper, Favre is worth putting in your lineup for this matchup. Remember, we're also talking about the Browns defense here.
Matt Schaub (vs. NYJ): Schaub is looking to pick up where last season ended when he passed for 1,281 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in the final four games. On top of that, he finished the season strong at home with 1,538 passing yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions in his final five games at Reliant Stadium. The Jets are without two of their better pass rushers in Calvin Pace and Shaun Ellis, who are suspended for this week. That won't help a pass defense that was among the worst in the NFL last year. Look for Schaub to have plenty of time throwing the ball to Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Kevin Walter and Steve Slaton.
Carson Palmer (vs. DEN): We'd feel more comfortable if Palmer had played the entire preseason instead of missing time with the ankle injury, but he should be fine for Week 1. He also has a great matchup against the Broncos, who were among the worst pass defenses last year at 229 yards per game allowed with 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions. They should improve this year, but Palmer should do fine in this matchup. With Chad Ochocinco, Laveranues Coles and Chris Henry, Palmer has plenty of talent to play like a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback this week and the entire season. We're looking forward to Palmer having a bounce back year.
Joe Flacco (vs. KC): Flacco's rookie season was overshadowed by Matt Ryan last year, but Flacco still had his moments for Fantasy owners, particularly in November when he passed for nine touchdowns and two interceptions in five games. He should get off to a good start this season against the Chiefs, who were pathetic in the pass rush last year with only 10 sacks. They were bad in almost every area on defense, and they won't improve enough for Week 1 to make a huge difference against the Ravens. Flacco played great in the preseason and has Todd Heap back at 100 percent and Derrick Mason playing well after his brief retirement. With Ray Rice proving to be a good receiver out of the backfield, Flacco is worth starting in deep leagues for Week 1.
Sleeper alert: Shaun Hill (at ARI): We'd like Hill better this season if Michael Crabtree was signed and ready to start, but Hill did well last year without Crabtree and should play well again. In his lone start against the Cardinals in 2008, Hill had 217 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Arizona led the NFL with 36 passing touchdowns allowed last year, so Hill could make some plays against this secondary. Hill's main weapons will be Isaac Bruce, Josh Morgan, Arnaz Battle, Vernon Davis and Frank Gore. This game has the potential to be high scoring, so look for several 49ers and Cardinals to play well.
Eli Manning (vs. WAS): Manning did not play well during the preseason, and after the way last year finished once Plaxico Burress went out, there should be cause for concern. Manning needs to prove he can be a starting Fantasy option before you put him in your lineup, and the young wide receivers have to show they are reliable targets. Domenik Hixon is the most experienced receiver with four years in the NFL, and the Giants might be relying on rookies in Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden to help Manning succeed. Since Washington has a quality pass defense, don't expect Manning to do much in this matchup. It could be even more running for the Giants every week then we've seen the past couple of years.
Matt Ryan (vs. MIA): It took Ryan a while to get going as a rookie in 2008 when he passed for less than 200 yards in his first five games and had only four touchdowns and three interceptions over that span. Once he got rolling he was impressive, but he could have a slow start in Week 1 against the Dolphins. Miami was among the league leaders in sacks (40) and interceptions (18) last year and adds Jason Taylor opposite Joey Porter. While the secondary is revamped, they could create problems for Ryan. He has great targets in Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, but Ryan is also dealing with an illness this week, which could affect his performance. He falls into the category of a player to start with caution.
Ben Roethlisberger (vs. TEN): Big Ben had one of the best games of his career last year against the Titans with 329 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, but the Steelers were playing from behind in that game, forcing Roethlisberger to throw. This game should be a closer contest and low-scoring, so look for Big Ben to post pedestrian stats. Despite last year's performance, the Titans only allowed 12 passing touchdowns with 20 interceptions and still have a stellar defensive unit this season. It's hard to imagine another offensive game like last year when they combined for 44 points in Tennessee's 31-14 victory.
Matt Cassel (at BAL): Cassel should make his Kansas City debut against the Ravens despite the knee injury in the preseason, and that's bad news against this defense. When the Ravens smell blood, they attack and should be able to dominate the Chiefs offense. Baltimore led the NFL with 26 interceptions last year and was among the league leaders with only 17 touchdowns allowed. Cassel should have better days as a starting quarterback, but you don't want to start him against the Ravens defense in any Fantasy format this week. Instead, wait until Week 2 when Cassel has a better matchup at home against Oakland.
David Garrard (at IND): Garrard played well against the Colts the last time these teams met in Jacksonville in 2008 when he passed for 329 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and he also scored a rushing touchdown. But Garrard still has a bad history at Indianapolis with 324 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in two games the past two years. Last season, Indianapolis led the NFL with only six passing touchdowns allowed. Most teams, especially Jacksonville, run all over the Colts defense, and Maurice Jones-Drew should do well here. Don't expect big stats from Garrard in this matchup since history isn't on his side.
Bust alert: Philip Rivers (at OAK): Before we get into Rivers, let's explain what bust alert means. This spot in each category is typically reserved for a player you will likely start on your Fantasy roster, but we're advising you to do so with caution based on a poor matchup or bad history. That's the case with Rivers this week. In his past two games at Oakland the past two years, Rivers has combined for only 315 passing yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Overall against the Raiders, Rivers has only one game with more than 200 passing yards. The Chargers tend to run all over the Raiders, and Rivers tends to do little in these meetings. He did throw three touchdowns in the final meeting last year, but take away that game and he has three touchdowns and four interceptions in five games going back to 2006.
Ray Rice (vs. KC): Rice didn't have the rookie season he was hoping for in 2008, but his outlook for this season is much better now that he's starting ahead of Willis McGahee with LeRon McClain at fullback. This matchup should help him get off to a great start since the Chiefs were miserable against the run last year, allowing 25 rushing touchdowns. While Kansas City will improve in that area this season, it will be hard for the Chiefs to stop the Ravens ground attack. Rice showed in the preseason he can be a featured option, but he will still lose some carries and maybe touchdowns to McGahee and McClain. Still, look for Rice to have a good 2009 debut in Week 1.
Joseph Addai (vs. JAC): The last time Addai faced Jacksonville was in Week 3 last season at home, and he had 16 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns and caught one pass for 10 yards. He didn't play in the second meeting in December due to a knee injury, and Addai was a huge disappointment last year. But he's looked great in the preseason and appears on track for a bounce back year in 2009. Donald Brown could be worth a look in this matchup as well, but Addai remains the starting running back for the Colts and should have the opportunity for a quality game in Week 1 as he tries to prove he's still an elite running back.
Julius Jones (vs. STL): Based on his recent history, there might not be many times you can trust Jones as a starter for your Fantasy roster. But this is one of those times. His best game in his first year with the Seahawks last year was against the Rams in Week 3 when he had 22 carries for 140 yards and one touchdown. Fantasy owners were expecting great things from Jones after that game, which was his second game in a row with over 100 yards rushing and a touchdown. That was the last time Jones reached either feat, but he could get off to another good start in 2009. The Rams defense should improve from last year, but they were one of the worst run defenses in 2008, allowing over 155 yards per game with 26 touchdowns. That's something Jones should exploit.
Reggie Bush (vs. DET): The calf strain that limited Bush during the preseason appears to be fine, as does his ailing knee, which limited him to only 10 games last year. And with Pierre Thomas (knee) possibly out for this game or less than 100 percent, Bush could get the majority of carries against the worst run defense in the NFL in 2008. The Lions allowed 172 rushing yards per game and 31 touchdowns last season. They could improve in that area, but all the Saints should do well in this matchup, including Mike Bell if he replaces the injured Thomas. Consider Bell a sleeper in deep leagues as well, but Bush is a must start in all formats.
Thomas Jones (at HOU): We're still expecting a decline for Jones this season with the talent of Leon Washington and presence of rookie Shonn Greene, but the time to count on Jones is early in the season. The Texans run defense is mediocre at best and ranked No. 23 last year at 123 yards per game and 18 touchdowns allowed. Jones should have the chance to produce like a No. 2 Fantasy option, and last year he got off to a great start with 22 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown in the season opener at Miami. Washington also has the chance to make some plays this week for rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez in the passing game, so consider Washington a decent option in leagues where receptions count. And Jones should also play well behind this solid offensive line.
Sleeper alert: Tim Hightower (vs. SF): Hightower earned the starting job ahead of rookie Beanie Wells with a strong preseason, but both running backs could be worth using this week since Wells also will get his share of touches. The 49ers run defense isn't bad and did a good job holding Hightower in check last season (21 carries for 35 yards and a touchdown and nine catches for 49 yards). But in the season opener last year, former Cardinals running back Edgerrin James had 26 carries for 100 yards against the 49ers. Hightower should be great in leagues where receptions count, and he's even worth starting as a No. 2 Fantasy option in all leagues. Hopefully we'll see Hightower get off to a similar start like last year when he scored five touchdowns in his first five games as a rookie. Some other sleepers for this week include: Cedric Benson (vs. DEN), Felix Jones (at TB) and LeSean McCoy (at CAR). Benson gets the Broncos' weak run defense, Jones should do well in a shared situation with Marion Barber and McCoy could get plenty of touches with Brian Westbrook playing his first game following offseason ankle surgery.
Knowshon Moreno (at CIN): You didn't draft Moreno to keep him on the bench, but the promising rookie needs time to prove he's 100 percent before you should start him, even with this enticing matchup. Moreno injured his knee in the first preseason game against San Francisco and has been out since. Even though he expects to play, the Broncos might not give him the majority of touches. At some point this year, Moreno could turn into a quality Fantasy running back. But let him get a few games under his belt and show that his knee is ready to go for a full game. There are certain players you have to be cautious with, and Moreno falls into that category this week.
LenDale White (at PIT): White scored one of the seven rushing touchdowns the Steelers allowed in 2008, but they are going to do everything possible to make sure that doesn't happen again after the Terrible Towel incident. White struggled in the preseason, and maybe the weight loss affected his game. We'll find out as the year goes on, especially in the red zone, where White made a living last year with 15 touchdowns. Chris Johnson is also a questionable starter this week after a disappointing preseason, and the Steelers playing at home to celebrate their Super Bowl victory on opening night could be a tough matchup for all the Titans, especially the running backs.
Fred Jackson (at NE): Forget about last year's season finale against the Patriots, when Jackson had 27 carries for 136 yards in place of an injured Marshawn Lynch. And don't worry about the Patriots being without Richard Seymour, who was traded to Oakland. As long as Vince Wilfork is there, the run defense will remain stout. The Bills offensive line has looked terrible in the preseason, and the offense as a whole is a work in progress after offensive coordinator Turk Schonert was recently fired. Jackson could make some plays in the passing game with Buffalo likely playing from behind, but Jackson's first game in place of the suspended Lynch likely won't be very productive.
Willie Parker (vs. TEN): Even with Albert Haynesworth now in Washington, the Titans run defense should remain tough. Parker knows firsthand after a difficult matchup last year when he was held to 31 yards on 19 carries. Parker has the opportunity to be the featured running back for the Steelers even with Rashard Mendenhall on the roster, but you're better off keeping him on the bench this week. The Steelers and Titans should be a defensive battle and a low-scoring contest. You should also keep Mendenhall reserved, and the Steelers will definitely have easier matchups, starting in Week 3 at Cincinnati following next week's game at Chicago.
Jamal Lewis (vs. MIN): Lewis will still have his moments this year even with the emergence of rookie James Davis during the preseason. But this week will not be Lewis' time to shine. The Vikings were No. 1 in run defense last year and bring back the wall of Kevin Williams and Pat Williams at defensive tackle. The Vikings will limit the Browns this week in everything they do on offense, and with the unsettled situation at quarterback, Minnesota can focus on the run and stopping Lewis. He's still worth owning as a No. 3 Fantasy option, but you'll want to wait until Week 2 to use Lewis at Denver. And, as expected, keep Davis reserved in this matchup as well.
Bust alert: Clinton Portis (at NYG): Portis falls in line with players to start with caution. He struggled in two games last year against the Giants with 23 carries for 84 yards in the first matchup and 11 carries for 22 yards in the second meeting. That comes out to 3.2 yards per carry with no touchdowns, and you know the Giants will focus on stopping Portis again, especially with Washington's revamped offensive line. We'll also see how much rest Portis gets with coach Jim Zorn saying Ladell Betts will play in passing situations. You're still likely going to start Portis, and he could perform well against the Giants. But if you're in a 12-team league or less and have quality reserves, you might consider sitting Portis in this matchup to be safe.
Anthony Gonzalez (vs. JAC): Gonzalez steps into the starting lineup with Marvin Harrison gone, and he should have the opportunity to shine this year. In this matchup, Gonzalez should see plenty of passes, especially with Jacksonville's Rashean Mathis likely facing Reggie Wayne. The Jaguars pass defense struggled last season, allowing 224 yards per game and 25 touchdowns with only 13 interceptions. Gonzalez only has seven catches for 97 yards in three games against the Jaguars, but he will fare much better now that he's a starter. He will be better in leagues where receptions count, but he's a solid start in all formats against Jacksonville.
DeSean Jackson (at CAR): Jackson got off to a great start last year with 12 catches for 216 yards in his first two games as a rookie in 2008. He should play well again in Week 1 against the Panthers, who are banged up on defense. We also know Donovan McNabb will be throwing quite a bit because that's what Andy Reid does, and the Eagles offense should be in high gear right from the start. Look for McNabb to take a couple of shots down the field in Jackson's direction, and he's a solid choice as a No. 2 Fantasy option in this matchup.
Torry Holt (at IND): There are times when you should trust a player's history, and this is one of those occasions. Holt has spent his entire career playing home games indoors, and you should continue to count on him when he gets the chance to play in a dome this year, which won't happen often now that he's in Jacksonville. Holt might not score this week given the Colts' pass defense and what it showed last season, allowing only six passing touchdowns. But there's a good chance Holt will catch his share of passes in this matchup, and his creaky knees will look better on turf. He's worth using as a No. 3 Fantasy wide receiver in standard leagues or as a No. 2 option in deeper formats.
Chad Ochocinco (vs. DEN): He's back, and he appears to be as good as ever based on a solid preseason where he even kicked an extra point. Ochocinco is motivated to have a big year after what happened in 2008, when he had his worst season since his rookie year in 2001. With Carson Palmer back after last year's debacle, you can expect the Bengals passing game to be in high gear once again. Ochocinco should shine against the Broncos, and you can even expect some sort of dynamic touchdown celebration since Denver was among the worst pass defenses last year.
Terrell Owens (at NE): Owens is back to being T.O. after his T.O.E. problem this offseason. He missed the final four preseason games with a toe injury, but he should be ready to put on a show in Week 1. Owens is the lone Bills offensive player worth starting against the Patriots because you can expect Trent Edwards to force him the ball, especially near the end zone. The Patriots secondary can be exposed, and Owens is the type of player who can take advantage of it. He's not going to post dominant stats, but look for him to find the end zone on a nationally televised game. It's time to get your popcorn ready.
Sleeper alert: Eddie Royal (at CIN): There's reason to be concerned with the Broncos passing game this week with the status for quarterback Kyle Orton (finger) unknown and the whole Brandon Marshall situation, but Royal should be a safe bet. No matter who lines up under center, those short throws underneath to Royal will be there. And Royal should take advantage of the Bengals' weak pass defense, which allowed 23 touchdowns last year. Royal started off his rookie year on a high note last year with nine catches for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders and could play well again in this year's opener. Some other sleepers for this week include: Derrick Mason (vs. KC), Ted Ginn Jr. (at ATL) and Percy Harvin (at CLE). Mason should be great this week in leagues where receptions count, Ginn has the chance to make plays on turf against the Falcons and Harvin will likely be on display in his first game with the Vikings.
Devin Hester (at GB): Hester has the chance for a big year with Jay Cutler now on the Bears, but he's struggled in his two matchups against the Packers last year with three catches for 19 yards. The Packers are using a new defense this season in switching to the 3-4 alignment, but they still have great cornerbacks in Charles Woodson and Al Harris. Cutler and Hester also struggled to connect during the preseason, so wait to see that rapport develop before considering Hester a must-start in all formats. In time, Hester will start to have some outstanding games, but you want to see it first before putting him in your lineup.
Lee Evans (at NE): Evans has never played well against the Patriots, and it's hard to expect him to break that trend now. In his past five meetings against New England, Evans has only 13 catches for 142 yards and no touchdowns. Along with that, Evans has only seven catches for 83 yards and no touchdowns in his past five games at New England. You'll definitely want to bench Evans this week in leagues where receptions count, and you should consider sitting him in all formats based on his history against the Patriots.
Braylon Edwards (vs. MIN): The Browns just announced their starting quarterback on Wednesday, which doesn't bode well for Edwards. Last year, Edwards was horrible, and he led the NFL with 16 dropped passes. He should bounce back this year, but let's see how this passing game looks before making Edwards a permanent starter on your Fantasy roster. Brady Quinn is the starter, but he and Edwards have no rapport since Quinn has started just three games in his young career. The Vikings also have a quality pass defense and will key in on Edwards.
Jerricho Cotchery (at HOU): We want to see the rapport with Cotchery and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez develop before saying Cotchery should start on your Fantasy team. And since Sanchez's first start is on the road, he could be nervous and get rattled. You know Texans' defensive end Mario Williams is excited to come after Sanchez, which could result in some errant throws, and the Jets would be smart to lean on their ground game in this matchup. Cotchery should improve as Sanchez gets comfortable as the starter, but you should have patience when considering Cotchery for your Fantasy lineup.
Antonio Bryant (vs. DAL): The Cowboys led the NFL in sacks last year with 59, which is a relevant stat when considering Byron Leftwich and his slow delivery. It might be hard for Leftwich to hold the ball long enough to get it downfield to Bryant, who missed the entire preseason with a knee injury. Bryant has little rapport with Leftwich, and the Bucs offense is undergoing a transformation of sorts after offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodinzki was recently fired. Bryant was phenomenal last year, but because he's missed so much time and with the changes at quarterback and the coaching staff, keep him reserved for the season opener against Dallas.
Bust alert: Dwayne Bowe (at BAL): It's been a rough preseason for Bowe. He struggled in training camp and was demoted to third string. His quarterback, Matt Cassel, suffered a knee injury and comes into Week 1 at less than 100 percent. And his offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey, was replaced prior to the season opener. Now, with the team ready to turn the corner, Bowe gets to face the Ravens defense this week. Good luck. Start Bowe at your own risk, but it's hard to imagine the Chiefs providing much offense this week. The one thing in Bowe's favor could be Kansas City playing from behind and throwing a lot, but it's not like the Ravens defense will give up even with a lead.
Jeremy Shockey (vs. DET): As bad as Shockey was last season, he still managed 50 catches, which is impressive since he missed four games and was limited most of the year due to injuries. He's looked great this preseason and should be on track for a rebound year. And it will start against the Lions, who struggled in pass defense last season, allowing 25 passing touchdowns. The thing Shockey failed to do last year was score any touchdowns, but he will improve on those stats. He will return as a No. 1 Fantasy option beginning with this matchup, and you can count on Drew Brees looking in his direction quite a bit.
Visanthe Shiancoe (at CLE): Shiancoe had a breakout season in 2008 with 42 catches for 596 yards and seven touchdowns, and now he gets a quarterback in Brett Favre who loves throwing to the tight end. With Favre expected to play well in Week 1, you can look for Shiancoe to be a big part of that. There's a good chance Shiancoe will find the end zone, and he should produce a good stat line on top of that. The Browns pass defense is mediocre at best, and the secondary will struggle to contain Shiancoe this week.
Greg Olsen (at GB): While the Packers have done a good job of slowing down Devin Hester, they have struggled in stopping Olsen. In four career games against the Packers, Olsen has two touchdowns, including one in his first game at Lambeau Field in 2007. Jay Cutler will love throwing to Olsen, who is in line for a breakout year. And Olsen should continue his success against the Packers this week. In his last game at Green Bay in 2008, Olsen had four catches for 45 yards, but he should improve on those totals in Week 1.
Sleeper alert: Zach Miller (vs. SD): Miller has four touchdowns in his career, and two of them have come against the Chargers, including one in last year's home game against San Diego. In his past three games against San Diego, Miller has 21 catches for 243 yards and a touchdown. Miller played well in the preseason after coming back from a hernia this offseason. With the Raiders banged up at wide receiver, Miller is the best target for quarterback JaMarcus Russell. It's safe to consider Miller a low-end No. 1 Fantasy option this week. Some other sleepers to consider this week include Brent Celek (at CAR), Todd Heap (vs. KC) and Dustin Keller (at HOU). Celek has become a great red-zone option for Donovan McNabb, Heap is finally healthy for the Ravens and has played well this preseason and Keller should be Mark Sanchez's favorite target since young quarterbacks typically rely on the tight end.
Chris Cooley (at NYG): Cooley played well against the Giants in their final meeting last year with six catches for 71 yards, but he hasn't fared well against the Giants for the most part. He has one touchdown in his past five meetings and has averaged only three catches for 36 yards. The Giants have done well in containing Cooley and should do so again this week. We expect Cooley to have a bounce back year in 2009 after scoring only one touchdown last year, but the Giants will hold him in check. In last year's season opener, Cooley had one catch for 7 yards at the Giants.
Kevin Boss (vs. WAS): Boss struggled in two games against the Redskins last year with three catches for 45 yards. He did score a touchdown against Washington in 2007, but the Redskins can focus on Boss with the Giants lack of talent at wide receiver coming into this matchup. The Redskins pass defense also played well last season, allowing just 16 passing touchdowns. Boss should be viewed as a No. 2 Fantasy tight end for this week, but he will likely play better once the Giants passing game starts to improve. By the end of the season, Boss could be Eli Manning's favorite target.
Bo Scaife (at PIT): Scaife has struggled this preseason with the Titans using him more as a blocker to improve that area of his game. And this week, he could be blocking a lot with the Steelers aggressive defense. The Steelers typically defend tight ends well, and Scaife had four catches for 25 yards in their meeting last year. With Alge Crumpler still around and the presence of rookie Jared Cook, who is dealing with an injured ankle but could play this week, Scaife will be limited all season. He's not worth starting in most leagues.
Bust alert: Kellen Winslow (vs. DAL): Winslow did not adjust well to the Bucs in his first preseason with the team, catching just one pass for 5 yards. He should improve as the season goes on, but Tampa Bay's passing attack could struggle this week. Dallas played well in pass defense last year, and Winslow could be called upon for some extra blocking with the Cowboys pass rush. You should be cautious with most of Tampa Bay's skill players this week with Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham splitting carries, Antonio Bryant coming back from injury and Winslow still not at the level you want to see yet heading into the season opener.
New England (vs. BUF): You might not recognize the Patriots defense anymore with Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau in retirement, Mike Vrabel in Kansas City, Richard Seymour on his way to Oakland and Ellis Hobbs joining Asante Samuel in Philadelphia. To give you an idea, those seven players all played a prominent role in helping New England go undefeated in 2007. But the Patriots are confident in their new defense, which is led by youngsters in Brandon Meriweather and Jerod Mayo. And let's not forget big Vince Wilfork in the middle. They have plenty of talent to shut down the Bills offense, which looked pathetic in the preseason and is still without Marshawn Lynch (suspension). Buffalo's first-team offense didn't score a touchdown in five preseason games, and that streak could continue in Week 1. Getting Terrell Owens (toe) back will help, but the Patriots have done well against the Bills in the past. Last year, Buffalo scored 10 points in two meetings against New England.
Other DSTs with good matchups: San Diego (at OAK), New Orleans (vs. DET) and Seattle (vs. STL)
Carolina (vs. PHI): The Panthers might not have linebacker Jon Beason (knee), and they are already starting the season without top run stuffer Maake Kemoeatu (Achilles' tendon), who is out for the year. Those are two spots not to be lacking against the Eagles, who are getting Brian Westbrook (ankle) back after missing the entire preseason and are ready to go on offense. Donovan McNabb has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, and he can pick apart a wounded defense as well as anyone. If the Panthers struggle to make tackles in the ground game that could force their safeties to cheat up, which will leave McNabb some opportunities down the field. Carolina will benefit from playing at home, but the Eagles are a great road team and should put up enough points to make the Panthers DST a bad play this week.
John Carney (vs. DET): The Lions were among the worst defenses last year in nearly every category, including last in scoring defense at 32.3 points per game. While they should improve this season under new coach Jim Schwartz, the Lions won't slow down the Saints in Week 1 on the road. That should mean good things for Carney, who has a four-week audition to remain the starting kicker this season with Garrett Hartley serving a suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy (yes, kickers apparently get caught also). This is what happened to Carney, 45, last year when he took over for an injured Lawrence Tynes with the Giants and turned into one of the best Fantasy kickers in 2008. It could happen again if he remains the kicker for the Saints' high-powered offense.
Adam Vinatieri (vs. JAC): Vinatieri used to be the best kicker in Fantasy Football, but those days are gone. Now, Vinatieri is just trying to prove he should still be owned. And if you did draft him this year, be careful this week. Even though he's playing at home in the friendly confines of Lucas Oil Stadium, he doesn't look 100 percent coming off the hip surgery he had this offseason. Vinatieri was 0-of-1 in the preseason, and he could still be rusty. The Colts will move the ball and give Vinatieri some chances to score, but there could also be a missed kick or two. In time this year, he should start to look like his old self, but let him prove it first before you start him.
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