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Fantasy & Reality: Sit studs in Week 1?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Drafted Ray Rice or Michael Turner with your first round pick? Too bad!

Got Shonn Greene before the end of Round 2 or Pierre Thomas before the end of Round 4? D'oh!

Thought you stole LeSean McCoy? [Insert sound of The Price Is Right losers horn here.]

If it's football season, then it's Fantasy season. And if it's Fantasy season, then it's time for agonizing lineup decisions. And guess what? We're not wasting any time.

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Rice faces the Jets in New York in the same game where Greene does battle with the Ravens. Turner returns to action in the running back-unfriendly confines of Pittsburgh. McCoy and Thomas are at home, but they'll rumble against the Packers and Vikings, respectively. Bet you're glad you drafted them!

Honestly, you should be glad you drafted them. Week 1 might be nasty but when Turner plays Tampa Bay or Rice plays Cleveland (and they'll each play them twice over the next five months) you'll be giddy. But that doesn't change the fact that each of these running backs -- and some of their offensive counterparts -- could get off to a rough start.

This begs the question: Do you ever sit the guys you drafted to be your starters in the first week of the Fantasy season?

On the surface, you shouldn't. Benching a top running back for the first week of the season makes the pick you spent for him look like a waste. And no one likes wasting draft picks.

But what if you drafted Cadillac Williams (vs. the Browns), Ronnie Brown (at the Bills), Matt Forte (vs. the Lions), Jerome Harrison (at the Buccaneers) or a Cardinals running back (at the Rams)? There's no denying that those ball carriers have solid matchups and could bring home 100 total yards and a touchdown. Saying the same for the bunch we started this column doesn't exactly roll off the tongue when considering their opponents.

I'll take you back to Week 1 of last season. Forget about what we know now about the seasons these running backs had and just check out these results:

Chris Johnson at the Steelers: 15 carries, 57 yards; one catch, 11 yards
Steve Slaton vs. the Jets: nine carries, 17 yards; three catches, 35 yards
Larry Johnson at the Ravens: 11 carries, 20 yards; one catch, 6 yards
Matt Forte at the Packers: 25 carries, 55 yards; no catches

Mike Bell vs. the Lions: 28 carries, 143 yards
Cedric Benson vs. the Broncos: 21 carries, 76 yards, one touchdown; four catches, 32 yards
Julius Jones vs. the Rams: 19 carries, 117 yards, touchdown; two catches, 19 yards
Ray Rice vs. the Chiefs: 19 carries, 108 yards; two catches 12 yards

A year ago, both Johnsons, Slaton and Forte were considered reliable Fantasy starters while Benson, Bell and Rice weren't lineup locks -- Julius Jones was an afterthought. But if you had played the matchup over the stud, you would have had better results. That's not always typical, of course -- players with dream matchups very often deliver as disappointing numbers as guys you wouldn't touch in tough matchups.

The case can be made to bench Rice, Turner and the others. It's obvious -- they have tough matchups against a defense at full strength at the start of the season. Two questions arise: Who else could you start in their place? And, Can you live with yourself if you make a mistake?

You're never a bad owner for making an educated lineup decision, but benching Turner for someone like Leon Washington or Correll Buckhalter is ridiculous. You're benching just to bench and it's foolish. Evaluate the backup running backs you have and determine if they have a chance to do as well as the starter they'd be replacing.

If you're just not comfortable benching a guy you drafted with the intention of starting rain or shine, then don't think twice about it. There's no better time to make a lineup error than in Week 1.

Personally, I think the potential that Turner, Rice, McCoy and Thomas bring to the field makes them difficult to pass on. A bad day for someone like Rice is 100 total yards. But if there was one guy out there who I'd strongly consider to start over all of these guys, it's Cadillac Williams. At home against the Browns, whose front seven is pretty unimpressive right now, is about as good as it will get for him. The Bucs organization certainly wants to prove that they're a strong team (even though nobody is picking them to do anything this season), and the commitment they made to Williams after releasing Derrick Ward might warrant justification. Williams scored four total touchdowns in his last four games last season and has done nothing but look healthy and spry this preseason. It's not a reach to expect him to pick up where he left off.

Annual predictions

Typically, this exercise has been my special way of putting myself out there for everyone to point and laugh at. Am I a glutton for punishment? Eh, probably. So laugh away.

• 12 quarterbacks will throw for over 4,000 yards this year, only three fewer than the number of 1,000-yard rushers.

• Larry Johnson will surprise people with the Redskins. Remember, Mike Shanahan is a running back developer and L.J.'s been a favorite project of his this offseason.

• Cedric Benson will be good but not phenomenal. Carson Palmer is one of those potential 4,000-yard passers and the Bengals will throw more than run.

• Speaking of Bengals, if you anticipate 2009 totals for Terrell Owens in 2010, you're on the money.

• Over/under of games Steven Jackson plays this year: 13. I'd take the under. Back injuries plus inexperienced quarterback plus unimproved offensive line equals a banged up running back.

• A prediction for 2011: The Lions will be a trendy preseason playoff pick based on their improved 2010 season.

• Deepest of deep, deep sleeper receivers: Jordan Shipley, Roscoe Parrish, Josh Cribbs and Harry Douglas. What do they have in common? They'll all specialize in the short-area passing game and be given chances to make plays in the middle of the field.

• In fact, look for more middle-of-the-field passing this year compared to previous years. With the umpire moving into the offensive backfield for 53 minutes of every game, teams will find ways to attack that area without having an umpire there. That should spell good news for tight ends.

• When I see Jermichael Finley I see a younger version of Antonio Gates. And I see a tight end that Aaron Rodgers is going to lean heavily on this season. Which means, I see a guy with 1,000-yard potential.

• Derek Anderson becoming the starting quarterback for the Cardinals did little to change my opinion on Larry Fitzgerald. Anderson has had one good year where he was the byproduct of an over-aggressive passing offense led by a very smart offensive coordinator. He's done bupkis since then and won't remind anyone of Kurt Warner this year. Which means, Fitz is still a one-year bust.

• I also annually predict how the NFL will shake out. Last year I did a fairly good job, correctly predicting six division winners and getting relatively close with my Super Bowl pick of Chargers-Vikings.

As you may or may not know, as part of my preparation before each season, I predict the outcome of every game (just wins or losses). That in turn creates division winners and wild-card teams, and I finish the job and predict the playoffs all the way to the Super Bowl. This is also a process that helps me determine which teams have good schedules, so I think it's a necessary step.

Here we go ...

AFC East: Jets (11-5)
AFC North: Bengals (12-4)
AFC South: Colts (14-2)
AFC West: Chargers (12-4)
AFC wild card: Ravens (11-5)
AFC wild card: Titans (10-6)

I can hear the Patriots fans, including with my editorial director, yelling at me already ...

NFC East: Cowboys (12-4)
NFC North: Packers (13-3)
NFC South: Falcons (13-3)
NFC West: 49ers (13-3)
NFC wild card: Saints (11-5)
NFC wild card: Giants (10-6)

And I can hear the Vikings fans and their horns, too ...

Super Bowl XLV prediction: Packers vs. Colts

Yeah, I know you're hearing this one everywhere, but I've had mine on the board in my office since July. So I'm pretty confident in this one, and you know what that means: the Patriots and Vikings will play for Lombardi's trophy in February.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard . Do you have a question or a comment for our Fantasy staff? Drop us a line at dmfantasyfootball@cbs.com .

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