Panthers QB Cam Newton (4,757 total yards, 35 TD in 2011) had per-game averages of 247 total yards and four TDs against the Buccaneers last season.
Here are four simple rules to follow when choosing starting lineups for glorious Week 1, easily the most stress-free weekend of the fantasy season:
1. Start Your Healthy Superstars
The week may come when Sam Bradford or Josh Freeman rate ahead of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers for a given Sunday. But that's still no excuse to bench fantasy's No. 1 quarterback (by a comfortable margin), when healthy.
There's a reason why you invested a high Round 1 pick on Rodgers (4,643 yards passing, 48 TD last year)...and waited 13 or 14 rounds to land Bradford as a decent backup.
The same holds true for Panthers QB Cam Newton: I can cite three instances on Twitter where nervous-nelly fantasy owners wanted to bench Newton because they don't like his Sunday matchup (at Tampa Bay)...or fear that he'll encounter the dreaded sophomore slump in 2012. And for that, I must incredulously ask:
Why draft Newton then? And why aren't you beating the bushes to trade him BEFORE this alleged slump occurs?
2. Don't Overthink Your Lineups
If you have stud receivers like Jordy Nelson (vs. San Francisco) and Steve Smith (@ Tampa Bay), they're automatic starters—regardless of matchup.
On the next tier, please don't bench Dwayne Bowe (vs. Atlanta) or Percy Harvin (vs. Jacksonville) for DeVier Posey (Texans) or Robert Meachem (Chargers)...off a misguided hunch that Meachem is primed to become San Diego's next big thing at receiver (that would be Malcom Floyd).
Is it possible that Posey could score higher than Harvin this week? Of course, anything is possible in fantasyland. But the odds of Harvin falling flat against the Jaguars are pretty slim—especially in PPR leagues.
Bottom line: You'll have all season to tinker with rosters and lineups. But Week 1, when dealing with healthy players, is the one time to sit back and enjoy your bankable stars, with no real worries. Win or lose. And it's the only Sunday when you cannot feel the internal pressure of avoiding a two-game losing streak in a highly competitive 12-team league.
The rule of thumb: Ride your studs...until given substantial reason to believe otherwise.
3. When In Doubt...Go Running Back
When torn by the option of starting two, three or four players of similar stature at the flex position (standard-scoring leagues)...I will side with tailbacks 99.99999 percent of the time.
By and large, starting or time-share tailbacks are guaranteed to garner more touches, and more red-zone opportunities, than non-elite receivers or tight ends. It's the same reason why we covet targets-driven receivers in points-per-reception leagues.
In the long run, nothing beats the combination of "talent" and "opportunity."
There are two exceptions here:
a) If the back is less than 70-percent healthy leading up to the season opener, then bench him.
b) And if I have the opportunity to handcuff a receiver or tight end to a top-flight quarterback (like James Jones to Aaron Rodgers or Brandon LaFell to Cam Newton), I'll probably pursue that angle instead.
4. Don't Sweat Losing The Opener
In a dream scenario, we'd all love to go 13-0 in the regular season and then cruise to a fantasy title for Weeks 14, 15 and 16 (playoffs). But if you're going to lose a game or two, Week 1 might be the best time for that to happen.
That statement has nothing to do with tanking the opener. Instead, it has everything to do with earning first (or early) dibs on waiver-wire free agents who proffered breakout performances in Week 1.
Remember Anquan Boldin's absurd NFL debut in 2003 (217 receiving yards against Detroit)? Or Arian Foster's blitz of 231 yards rushing against the Colts in 2010? Both then-unknowns could have been had for rock-bottom prices in 12-team drafts, or likely went unnoticed in 10-team drafts for 2003 and 2010, respectively.
Of course, for every Boldin, Foster and Kurt Warner (1999: 309 yards, 3 TD against the Ravens in his first NFL start)...there's the cautionary tale involving Frisman Jackson, the Browns wideout who torched the Bengals for eight catches, 128 yards and one TD in the 2005 season opener.
The following Wednesday, Jackson was the most coveted asset on the waiver wire...even though the 128-yard game against Cincy would prove to be his only effort beyond 65 yards in four NFL seasons.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.