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Week 1 Start 'Em and Sit 'Em

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Disclaimer ... Before you start reading, please understand that we are not in the business of stating the obvious and wasting your time (or ours), so you won't be reading here why you need to start Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, Andre Johnson or any other top-tier players.

Beanie Wells enters 2011 with a lot to prove. It's a good thing he has a favorable matchup to get him started.

Before we get into Wells, let's explain what we do in this space. Our job is to recommend players who we believe are worth using or avoiding for that particular week. It will largely be based on the matchup, but we also take into account a player on the rise or decline, injuries and our gut feelings.

As it says in the tagline above, we're not going to state the obvious and tell you to start players like Michael Vick, Arian Foster or Calvin Johnson because you already know that. They're good, keep them active.

I'm starting Wells over ...
Ray Rice, BAL vs. PIT
Rashard Mendenhall, PIT at BAL
Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG at WAS
Cedric Benson, CIN at CLE
LeGarrette Blount, TB vs. DET

What we are going to do is present an argument about a player and offer a suggestion. Ultimately, the decision is yours on who to start and who to sit. And in this case, we suggest starting Wells in all formats.

He was the No. 28 running back drafted this season in Round 6, so most Fantasy owners view him as a No. 3 option coming into the year in standard leagues. But for this week, he should be considered a starter based on his matchup at home against Carolina.

The Cardinals should put on an offensive showcase against the Panthers, who might not have linebacker Jon Beason (Achilles' tendon) and have a weakness in the middle of their defensive line. The Charlotte Observer wrote an analysis of Carolina's defensive tackles that said "if you saw any of the preseason games, it was obvious the Panthers need help in the middle." The Panthers also allowed 21 touchdowns to opposing running backs in 2010.

Last year was tough for Wells, who battled injuries and finished with just 397 rushing yards and two touchdowns and five catches for 74 yards. But with Tim Hightower now in Washington and rookie Ryan Williams (knee) out for the year, things are looking up for Wells. He should start the 2011 season off on the right foot.

Quarterbacks

Start 'Em

Week 1 sleeper QBs
Kerry Collins, IND at HOU
Colt McCoy, CLE vs. CIN
Alex Smith, SF vs. SEA

Matthew Stafford (at TB): Stafford is coming off a tremendous preseason with five touchdowns and no interceptions, and he will attack this Buccaneers secondary. This should be the beginning of a breakout year for Stafford, and he should be started in all leagues.
Kevin Kolb (vs. CAR): Kolb didn't have a promising Week 1 in 2010 when he started the first game for the Eagles and was knocked out with a concussion. We expect him to fare better in his debut with the Cardinals, and he's facing a revamped Carolina secondary that just added former New England cornerback Darius Butler off waivers to help in pass defense. Look for Arizona to showcase Kolb at home, and he should start out the season playing at a high level.
Josh Freeman (vs. DET): The Lions defensive line should create havoc in this game, but Freeman should still make plays to Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow against the secondary. I've touted Freeman as a solid No. 1 quarterback coming into the year, and I expect him to get off to a promising start in this matchup at home.
Kyle Orton (vs. OAK): Orton retains the starting job to open the season, and he faces a Raiders defense that has to replace the departed Nnamdi Asomugha, who is now with the Eagles. Orton was great at home last season with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions in six games with an average of 306 passing yards per game. He is a great replacement for Peyton Manning (neck) or as a starter in two-quarterback leagues.
Mark Sanchez (vs. DAL): Sanchez should also be considered a good replacement for Manning since he's facing a Dallas secondary that will be without cornerback Terence Newman (groin). This is also a Cowboys team that allowed 35 touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks last year and struggled in the preseason. Sanchez should look to get Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress heavily involved in this matchup.

Sit 'Em

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Jay Cutler (vs. ATL): The Bears offensive line has once again looked shaky at best in the preseason, and the Falcons added pass rusher Ray Edwards this offseason, which should make things difficult for Cutler, who also has issues at receiver. Cutler also struggled at home last season with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in eight games.
Joe Flacco (vs. PIT): Flacco isn't going to completely fall apart against the Steelers since he has averaged 244 passing yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in his past four matchups against Pittsburgh. But he's not going to post overwhelming stats either. There are just better quarterbacks out there to start in standard leagues for Week 1, and Flacco should only be used in two-quarterback formats this week.
Donovan McNabb (at SD): McNabb will make his debut with the Vikings, but this isn't a good matchup against the Chargers. San Diego was among the league leaders last year with just 20 touchdowns allowed to opposing quarterbacks. McNabb might improve as the season goes on, but he should not be considered even in two-quarterback leagues for Week 1 based on the matchup.
Sam Bradford (vs. PHI): Bradford is in line for a breakout season, but this is a tough first matchup for him since the Eagles added Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the offseason to beef up their secondary. Bradford will find holes in the middle of the field with Danny Amendola and Lance Kendricks, but he should be considered just a No. 2 option even with his first game in Josh McDaniels' offense.
Matt Cassel (vs. BUF): Cassel is going to be doing a lot of handoffs in this game after he suffered a rib injury in the fourth preseason game against the Packers. The Bills pass defense was middle of the pack last year in terms of Fantasy points allowed, but this game should be the Jamaal Charles show, meaning Cassel is just a No. 2 quarterback at best.

Bust alert: Eli Manning (at WAS): Manning is looking to break an ugly streak with the season opener against the Redskins. Manning enters Week 1 with a five-game interception streak to close 2010, with nine interceptions over that span. He also threw two interceptions in the preseason, and he doesn't have a good history against the Redskins. In his past eight meetings with Washington, Manning has averaged 233 passing yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. He should be used as just a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback for this week.

Running backs

Start 'Em

Week 1 sleeper RBs
Willis McGahee, DEN vs. OAK
Delone Carter, IND at HOU
Jonathan Stewart, CAR at ARI
Danny Woodhead, NE at MIA
Ben Tate, HOU vs. IND

Mike Tolbert (vs. MIN): The Vikings will be without defensive tackle Kevin Williams (suspension), which will highly impact their run defense. That should allow Tolbert and Ryan Mathews to both run well this week, and both should be considered starting options. If you're deciding between the two, lean toward Tolbert since he has the better chance to work at the goal line and score touchdowns.
Jahvid Best (at TB): Best is ready to go following his concussion in the preseason, and the Lions should be ready to attack this Tampa Bay defense, which will miss linebacker Barrett Ruud, who is now with the Titans. Best will be a star in point per reception formats this week, but I would consider him a must-start option in all leagues based on the matchup.
Tim Hightower (vs. NYG): The Giants lost starting middle linebacker Jonathan Goff (knee) for the season, which should allow Hightower to carry over his standout preseason performance into Week 1. Hightower had 25 carries for 170 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason and has become a potential No. 2 Fantasy running back in all leagues. For Week 1, he should be considered a must-start option with the Giants banged up on defense.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (at MIA): I still expect the Patriots backfield to be a committee as the season goes on, but Stevan Ridley (hamstring) might not play this week and Shane Vereen won't see much action. Green-Ellis will play well early on, and he has a good history against the Dolphins. He has rushed for 183 yards and three touchdowns in four career games against Miami. And he has rushed for 215 yards and four touchdowns on 49 carries during Monday night games.
Brandon Jacobs (at WAS): Ahmad Bradshaw is still worth starting in the majority of leagues, but don't be surprised if Jacobs has more Fantasy production. He loves facing the Redskins. In two matchups with Washington last year Jacobs had three touchdowns, and he has double figures in Fantasy points in five of his past seven meetings with the Redskins. Consider him a potential starter in all standard leagues.

Sit 'Em

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Ryan Grant (vs. NO): Grant could play well in this matchup, and he could even score a touchdown. But with the uncertainty over how much playing time he will get with James Starks in what could be a 50-50 split, I would stay away from both running backs if you can for Week 1. Grant would be the better option if you want to start him as a flex, but let's see what happens in this matchup before counting on either Grant or Starks as weekly starters.
Daniel Thomas (vs. NE): Thomas will make his NFL debut Monday night, but it's not clear how much he will play behind starter Reggie Bush. Neither Dolphins running back should be used against the Patriots, but Bush is at least guaranteed to be on the field for a significant part of the game. Thomas' Fantasy relevance isn't going to happen until later in the season.
Marshawn Lynch (at SF): Lynch will play well as the season goes on, but after missing time in the preseason with an ankle injury and some concern with the offensive line this week, let's wait to see how Lynch does before making him a weekly starter in standard formats. Also, in one game at the 49ers last year, he had just 10 carries for 29 yards and seven catches for 37 yards, which is only five Fantasy points in standard formats.
Mark Ingram (at GB): Ingram could easily find the end zone in his first NFL game, but there's also a chance the Packers put the clamps on the former Heisman Trophy winner based on how well they play in run defense. Green Bay was among the league leaders last season with only five rushing touchdowns allowed to running backs. Ingram is still going to share carries with Pierre Thomas, and if New Orleans is playing from behind in this game, we could also see a lot of Darren Sproles. Ingram is going to play well this year, but this is just a tough matchup for him.
Felix Jones (at NYJ): Jones is one of my favorite breakout candidates for 2011, but this is a tough way to start the season against the Jets, who were among the stingiest teams for Fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs in 2010. The Jets allowed just 75 rushing yards per game to opposing running backs last season, and Jones should only be used as a flex option at best based on the matchup.

Bust alert: Rashard Mendenhall (at BAL): Ray Rice belongs in this category also since this should be the usual slugfest between the Ravens and Steelers. Most Fantasy owners can't afford to -- and won't -- sit Mendenhall or Rice, and we understand that. You have to own a capable No. 3 running back who is better than either option, and even then you didn't draft those guys to sit them. But we have to warn you that both could struggle in this tough matchup. The Steelers (No. 1) and Ravens (No. 3) were among the toughest defenses for opposing running backs in 2010, and they combined to allow 11 total touchdowns to opposing rushers. Start Mendenhall and Rice if you have to in Week 1, but just lower your expectations for these usually standout options.

Wide receivers

Start 'Em

Week 1 sleeper WRs
Julio Jones, ATL at CHI
A.J. Green, CIN at CLE
Davone Bess, MIA vs. NE
Danny Amendola, STL vs. PHI
Braylon Edwards, SF vs. SEA

Santana Moss (vs. NYG): The Giants are dealing with several injuries in the secondary with cornerbacks Terrell Thomas, Bruce Johnson and Brian Witherspoon all out for the season, and rookie Prince Amukamara out for at least a month. That should help Moss, who is the focal point of this passing game. In three games last year with Rex Grossman, Moss had 22 catches for 231 yards and two touchdowns, including nine catches for 74 yards against the Giants in Week 17.
Kenny Britt (at JAC): The Jaguars pass defense is not expected to improve much from last season, when opposing receivers scored 18 touchdowns against them. Britt had one of them, and he will look to find the end zone again in this matchup. Things have turned around for Britt now that his hamstring is healed and he will avoid a suspension. He should be considered a No. 2 Fantasy receiver for this week.
Nate Burleson (at TB): Burleson had a tremendous preseason with three touchdowns, and now he has to carry that performance over to the regular season. He could be in line for a big year if Stafford remains healthy because he will see plenty of single coverage thanks to Calvin Johnson. Burleson also had four catches for 28 yards and a touchdown at Tampa Bay last year.
Percy Harvin (at SD): Even though this isn't a favorable matchup, Harvin should see plenty of targets, especially if the Vikings are playing from behind. McNabb will rely heavily on Harvin since the rest of his receivers are mediocre at best. We consider Harvin a must-start receiver for Week 1.
Plaxico Burress (vs. DAL): The Jets should be able to pick on this depleted secondary, which should allow Holmes and Burress to make plays. We don't consider Burress a must-start option in all standard leagues, but he can be useful in leagues where you start three receivers. Look for the Jets to try to get Burress in the end zone in his first NFL game in two seasons.

Sit 'Em

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Austin Collie (at HOU): Collie said he's ready to play this week despite dealing with a knee injury during the preseason, but since he's not 100 percent and Peyton Manning is out, we would sit Collie for this week in standard formats. We expect Collie to play well this season, but he needs Manning back under center for him to be considered a must-start Fantasy option in all leagues.
Marques Colston (at GB): The Packers have one of the best pass defenses in the NFL with corners Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams, and either one should be able to lock down Colston in this matchup. Look for Drew Brees to work the middle of the field this week with Jimmy Graham and Sproles, and Colston and Robert Meachem might not do much based on their opponent.
Chad Ochocinco (at MIA): Tom Brady will likely do what he can to make sure Ochocinco scores in his debut with the Patriots, especially since Ochocinco is a South Florida native. But the two failed to develop a rapport in the preseason, and you might be better off waiting until they start to connect on a regular basis. Ochocinco also should see plenty of Miami cornerback Vontae Davis, who should be able to stay with Ochocinco most of the game.
Hines Ward (at BAL): Ward is considered the No. 2 receiver for the Steelers behind Mike Wallace, but he might end up as the No. 3 Fantasy option behind Antonio Brown as well. This is not a good week to trust Ward, who has not scored a touchdown against the Ravens in his past 11 regular season meetings. Last year, Ward combined for three catches for 27 yards against Baltimore in two games.
Mike Sims-Walker (vs. PHI): I'm counting on Sims-Walker to improve this year with the move to the Rams, but I don't like his matchup in Week 1. The Eagles can use either Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie or Asante Samuel on Sims-Walker, and all three would be a tough cover. Let him prove himself first with the Rams, but you should plan on him being a solid No. 3 Fantasy receiver as the year goes on.

Bust alert: Miles Austin (at NYJ): You never want to sit a player like Austin, who is either your No. 1 or 2 option and a must-start receiver most weeks. But coming off a hamstring injury from the preseason on top of facing Darrelle Revis could be a tough situation. Revis remains the best cover corner in the NFL, and he will likely shadow Austin since he's Tony Romo's go-to receiver. He will probably see some time on Dez Bryant as well, but we think Bryant will post better stats this week since he's 100 percent healthy.

Tight ends

Start 'Em

Week 1 sleeper TEs
Lance Kendricks, STL vs. PHI
Aaron Hernandez, NE at MIA
Jared Cook, TEN at JAC

Jimmy Graham (at GB): Brees is going to have to attack the middle of the field against the Packers, and Graham should see plenty of targets. He has established himself as a No. 1 tight end coming into the season, and he should be started this week in all leagues based on the matchup. Green Bay allowed seven touchdowns to opposing tight ends last year.
Greg Olsen (at ARI): The Cardinals allowed eight touchdowns to opposing tight ends last year, and now safety Adrian Wilson (torn biceps) could be out or at less than 100 percent. Look for Cam Newton to rely on Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, and we like Olsen as a starting Fantasy option this week. He should be in line for a breakout season going from Chicago to Carolina, and this is his first real chance to show off his skills for the Panthers.
Brandon Pettigrew (at TB): As you can tell, we're expecting a lot of offense in this game, especially from the Lions. All of their main targets should be considered potential starting options this week, including Pettigrew. He played well in 2010 when Stafford missed most of the season, but he should have an excellent year in 2011, starting in Week 1.

Sit 'Em

Brent Celek (at STL): Michael Vick is saying all the right things about Celek coming into the year to get him more involved. But we want to see it happen first before saying he should be started in the majority of leagues. The Rams also did a great job against opposing tight ends last season, allowing just three touchdowns the entire year.
Zach Miller (at SF): Like the Rams, the 49ers were also tough on opposing tight ends and allowed the fewest Fantasy points to the position in 2010 while also allowing just three touchdowns. Miller has lost plenty of Fantasy appeal with his move to the Seahawks, and he cannot be trusted in Week 1 with the way Tarvaris Jackson has played.
Marcedes Lewis (vs. TEN): Lewis was one of many Jaguars upset over David Garrard being released, and that's probably because Garrard helped Lewis have a career season in 2010. We still expect new starter Luke McCown to rely on Lewis quite a bit, but we want to see what kind of rapport they have in game action. Lewis is a No. 2 Fantasy tight end for the season, and his value shouldn't change for Week 1 with only five days of preparation with his new quarterback.

Bust alert: Tony Gonzalez (at CHI): Gonzalez scored three touchdowns in six games outdoors in 2010, but he prefers playing indoors since coming to Atlanta in 2009. But in those six games, Gonzalez averaged just 31 yards per contest. The Bears allowed just three touchdowns to opposing tight ends last year, and the addition of safety Brandon Meriweather should bolster the secondary. Gonzalez is a marginal starting Fantasy option in the majority of leagues, and we would consider benching him for this matchup if you have another potential starter on your roster.

Defense/Special teams

Start 'Em

Week 1 sleeper DSTs
Browns vs. CIN
Titans at JAC
Cardinals vs. CAR

49ers (vs. SEA): The 49ers could find themselves in a good situation this week if Jackson plays as he did in the preseason for the Seahawks. Jackson had two interceptions and was sacked seven times, and he looked lost trying to run the offense. Jackson could have a couple of turnovers this week, and the 49ers DST could benefit. The 49ers DST wasn't drafted in the majority of leagues, but if you're the type of owner who goes week to week with your DST then pick up the 49ers for this matchup.

Sit 'Em

Cowboys (at NYJ): Even though Sanchez could be turnover prone at times, the Cowboys might struggle in this matchup based on their secondary woes. We expect Rob Ryan to improve the Cowboys defense as the new coordinator, and his system should help create havoc. But this could be a tough matchup for the Dallas facing a stout running game for the Jets, and you know Sanchez will attack the secondary with Newman out.

Kicker

Start 'Em

Week 1 sleeper Ks
Alex Henery, PHI at STL
Phil Dawson, CLE vs. CIN
Robbie Gould, CHI vs. ATL

Jay Feely (vs. CAR): If we like the starting running back as the Start of the Week, the starting quarterback as a No. 1 option and obviously the No. 1 receiver in Larry Fitzgerald, it goes without saying that you should consider the Arizona kicker a starting option. Feely is going to be a popular option off the waiver wire this week and all season since the offense should be productive for the Cardinals and he kicks indoors. Feely is a great replacement if you lost Garrett Hartley (hip) for the start of the season.

Sit 'Em

Adam Vinatieri (at HOU): We still expect the Colts to move the ball on offense with Kerry Collins replacing Manning, but there's a chance they could struggle as well. Vinatieri also has become a marginal kicker the past couple of seasons because he's lost some leg strength, and he tends to get by on name recognition more than production. In one of my leagues, I drafted Vinatieri, but I dropped him for Alex Henery. I just like Henery at St. Louis better than Vinatieri this week with a new starting quarterback.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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