We are only 90 minutes away from the start of the 2012 NFL regular season kicking off with an unfamiliar Wednesday Night Football matchup. There are dozens of story lines surrounding the Giants-Cowboys matchup, many with fantasy implications.
Many fantasy owners fresh out of heir drafts are already fretting over premier tight end Jason Witten's injury. Back in the team's first preseason game, Witten took a hit that resulted in a lacerated spleen. While he is fortunate to have not suffered an injury more serious than he did, the Cowboys initially seemed to resist Witten's relentless sales pitch to play.
Now, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Witten is active although it's unclear how many minutes to expect out of him this week.
While I admire Witten's toughness, the injury presents too much of a risk and I would sit him this week if he's on your fantasy roster.
Here are some players to consider starting in Week 1:
QB - Robert Griffin III, Redskins (at NO): When the top quarterbacks from this year's draft class play their first regular-season game, it's RG3 that has the more favorable matchup. (Andrew Luck and the Colts face the Bears this week.)
The Saints are tough at home and Brees has thrown 13 more touchdowns at home than on the road over the past three seasons, but that could work in favor of RG3's fantasy value. Especially if the Redskins fall behind early or this becomes a shootout, Griffin has the potential to make a huge splash in his NFL debut. Not only does he throw an accurate deep ball, but he has world-class speed to make something happen when plays break down.
RB - Kevin Smith, Lions (vs STL): Going into the regular season, the Lions continue to have issues in the running game. What could have possibly been a three-headed rushing attack will be a one-man show (provided Smith can stay healthy) in Week 1. Jahvid Best is on the PUP list and will miss the first six games, at least, and Mikel LeShoure is suspended by the league for the first two weeks.
The Rams were one of the worst rushing defenses in the league last year as the Rams and Bucs are the only two teams in the league to allow more than 150 rushing yards per game. While the addition of first-round defensive tackle Michael Brockers will help in that regard, he is out for Week 1 (and more) due to an ankle sprain.
Despite the issues, if Smith is going to prove he can be an anchor for the offense, this is the defense to exploit. Play him for the upside.
RB - DeAngelo Williams, Panthers (at TB): The biggest drawback with the Panthers ground game from a fantasy standpoint is that it is a three-headed (or four-headed if you count Cam Newton) attack. That said, Jonathan Stewart has missed practice every day this week, which could allow Williams enough workload to have a big week.
As noted above, the Bucs run defense is bad. No team allowed more rushing yards per game (156.1) or rushing touchdowns (26) than Tampa last year.
RB - Toby Gerhart, Vikings (vs JAX): If Adrian Peterson plays, I expect him to be limited. After all, he is coming off a torn ACL and he is clearly the best and most important player on this franchise. For a team that is unlikely to be making any noise when it comes to the playoffs, it would be wise for the club to exercise caution. When Peterson was out last year, Gerhart showed that he can be a very productive player and this will be his chance to build on that success.
WR - Reggie Wayne, Colts (at CHI): Last year, Wayne had 75 receptions and 960 yards with the trio of Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky throwing him the ball. With the upgrade at quarterback, Wayne should improve upon his full-year numbers even though his skills and speed may be on a downward slope. With the Colts being nearly a double-digit underdog this week, it's possible that Luck and the Colts air it out and Wayne should see more targets than any other Colts receiver.
WR - Nate Washington, Titans (vs NE): With Kenny Britt serving a one-game suspension this week, Washington and rookie Kendall Wright should see a larger than usual amount of targets. Like Wayne and the Colts, Washington and the Titans could trail early against the Patriots and their high-powered offense which would open up the passing game. Last year, Washington had his first-ever 1,000-yard season without Britt in the lineup for the majority of the year.
WR - Justin Blackmon, Jaguars (at MIN): While his time in Jacksonville got off to a poor start (DUI arrest and last first-rounder to sign), Blackmon has played well in the preseason with 10 receptions for 136 yards and a score in three games.
While the Vikings used a few picks in this year's draft on defensive backs, their pass defense was atrocious last season. No team allowed more passing touchdowns (34) or had fewer interceptions (eight) than the Vikings last year.
TE - Jared Cook, Titans (vs NE): Cook had two 100-yard games in the final three weeks last season and finished with 21 receptions for 335 yards and a touchdown during that span. With his elite athleticism for the position, can Cook carry his positive momentum from last year into the 2012 season? I think so.
Here are some players to consider sitting in Week 1:
QB - Peyton Manning, Broncos (vs PIT): One of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, Manning will play his first regular-season game since the 2010 regular season. Ignoring any concerns about arm strength or zip on his passes, he makes his return against one of the NFL's top defenses. In addition, it may take some time for Manning to shake off the rust and develop a rapport with his receiving corps.
RB - Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (at MIN): Even though he led the NFL in rushing yards last year, Jones-Drew is unlikely to have a prominent role this week as he has recently returned from his holdout. Coach Mike Mularkey has said that Rashad Jennings will start and get the majority of work and MJD is expected to have a third-down role.
RB - Cedric Benson, Packers (vs SF): Signing with the high-powered Packers offense was about as good of a landing spot for Benson as possible. Opposing defenses will need to focus all of their efforts on slowing Aaron Rodgers, last year's MVP, and their passing attack which will open up plenty of rushing lanes for Benson.
Unfortunately for Benson, who has rushed for 1,000-plus yards in three consecutive seasons, it's nearly impossible to run on the 49ers. No team allowed fewer rushing yards (77.1 per game) or touchdowns (three) than the Niners last season. He has potential for the season, but this is not the game to expect a breakout.
RB - BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals (at BAL): Speaking of tough run defenses, the Ravens are historically tough to run against and last year was no different. The Ravens were the second-most stingiest run defense last year and they tied the 49ers for the fewest rushing yards allowed per carry (3.5).
WR - DeSean Jackson, Browns (at CLE): Jackson is a boom-or-bust type of player and the Eagles could win this game in a rout. If Jackson draws cornerback Joe Haden, then the likelihood of a "bust" game increases for Jackson.
WR - Santonio Holmes, Jets (vs BUF): There will be very few times that Holmes will appear on any of my start'em sides. Things could get much worse for Holmes' fantasy outlook with a transition from Mark Sanchez to Tim Tebow, but neither quarterback is all that accurate. Assuming Tebow will be on the field for numerous wildcat plays, it's unlikely that anyone can feel comfortable starting Holmes in any given week.
WR - Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss or any 49ers receiver, 49ers (at GB): No team allowed more passing yards than the Packers last season, but only the Tebow-led Broncos threw it less than the 49ers. Playing on the road and against the highly potent Packers offense, I do not expect Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers to deviate from last year's blueprint of run the ball, pass sparingly and play great defense. It's unlikely that any of the 49ers receivers get enough targets to justify a start in 10- or 12-team leagues this week.
TE - Jermaine Gresham, Bengals (at BAL): I'm higher on Gresham than most and had him inside my top 10 preseason tight end rankings for 2012. That said, he draws an unfavorable matchup in Week 1 against the Ravens. Only the Rams allowed fewer fantasy points to opposing tight ends in 2011. To be fair, Gresham had his season high of 72 yards against the Ravens in Week 17.
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