Week 1 of the NFL season can be one big guessing game for fantasy owners, as we don't yet have a firm grasp on how much players have improved or declined since their last campaign. Thus, we are mostly left to rely on matchups and a variety of other factors.
Here's some early advice for your Week 1 lineups.
Kevin Smith (Detroit Lions, Running Back)
As long as Smith is healthy, he has big-game ability. It's difficult to rely on him for two games in a row, but this matchup against the Rams at home is too good to pass up. They gave up the second-most rushing yards per game last season.
Ronnie Brown (San Diego Chargers, Running Back)
Brown had six passing targets from Philip Rivers during the preseason and should be the main back while Ryan Mathews is out. The Chargers love throwing to their running backs, which gives them extra value and keeps them from being useless in blowouts.
DeAngelo Williams (Carolina Panthers, Running Back)
Jonathan Stewart has yet to practice this week, which gives Williams the bulk of the carries if he can't play. Cam Newton will still be the goal-line back, so don't go starting Williams over Ray Rice, but Williams has the ability to get into the end zone from anywhere on the field, and the Buccaneers had the worst rushing defense in the league last season.
Jake Locker (Tennessee Titans, Quarterback)
The Patriots will score; that's a given. The Titans will then need to throw—also a given. The Patriots secondary isn't great, and last season, the Titans had Old Man Hasselbeck at the helm and never aired it out like Locker can.
He won't be pinpoint in his accuracy, but he should put up plenty of yards.
Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears, Quarterback)
The Colts' pass defense put up poor numbers last season, but since the offense couldn't score, teams didn't need to pass on them all that often. That should change this year with Andrew Luck at the helm, which should also help opposing quarterbacks put up big numbers on the Colts' lackluster secondary.
Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins, Quarterback)
RGIII is built for artificial turf and domes. His speed and arm strength are rare, and in New Orleans, we should see him put both to use. The Saints will score, and the Redskins will have to abandon the run, which will get RGIII passing and scrambling and scoring bunches of fantasy points.
Kendall Wright (Tennessee Titans, Wide Receiver)
Jake Locker targeted Wright more than any other receiver in the preseason, and that may hold true on Sunday. Nate Washington is also a nice play, but Wright is a better all-around player than Washington is, which could be on display early this season.
Pierre Garcon (Washington Redskins, Wide Receiver)
RGIII targeted Garcon 14 times in the preseason, while the next-closest receiver in targets was Leonard Hankerson with five. Garcon seems to be his favorite target by far, and he should see plenty of looks as they try to keep up with the Saints.
Malcom Floyd (San Diego Chargers, Wide Receiver)
Last year, Malcom Floyd finished the last five weeks of the season strong. He had 455 yards receiving and four touchdowns, ranking him as the eighth-best fantasy receiver during that span.
The acquisition of Robert Meachem scared off a lot of fantasy investors, but Floyd is still the receiver to own, as Rivers targeted him seven times to Meachem's three times in preseason play.
Add to that the fact that the Raiders gave up 21 touchdowns to wide receivers last season (the second worst), and he has potential for a big game.
Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota Vikings, Tight End)
The Jaguars gave up the third-most yards per game to tight ends last season, and Rudolph has the skills to be a top tight end in this league. Last season, he was playing behind Visanthe Shiancoe, but this season, he is the main man and will only share the spotlight with Percy Harvin in the passing game.
Add to that Jerome Simpson's suspension, and he should see a few extra targets.
Donald Brown (Indianapolis Colts, Running Back)
The Bears defense was solid against the run last year, giving up the fourth-fewest fantasy points to running backs. Donald Brown won't have much room to run, and the Colts' pass defense should get them in a hole pretty quickly.
That will lead to lots of throwing of the football by Andrew Luck. I would avoid seeing what Brown can do for you.
Cedric Benson (Green Bay Packers, Running Back)
The 49ers dominated running backs to the tune of 3.4 yards per carry, 64.9 yards per game and only two rushing touchdowns all season.
I like Benson on the Packers, but they won't even feign at running the ball. Green Bay will hit the 49ers at their weakness and the Packers' strength—through the air.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Cincinnati Bengals, Running Back)
Without Bernard Scott, we can expect to see more of Green-Ellis, but I don't think it will matter much against a Ravens defense that gave up a paltry 3.8 yards per carry to running backs last year.
"Law Firm" got by on the Patriots' offense getting him to the goal line and the defense's fear of the pass. That won't happen in Cincinnati.
Reggie Bush (Miami Dolphins, Running Back)
The Texans gave up six total touchdowns to running backs last season, which was second only to the 49ers.
Besides the matchup, I'm just not comfortable with the Dolphins offense under rookie Ryan Tannehill. They are going to have real trouble moving the ball, especially at Houston.
Willis McGahee (Denver Broncos, Running Back)
The Steelers rush defense was once again great last season, but it really turned the screws in the second half of the year, giving up just 3.6 yards per carry and two rushing touchdowns.
The Steelers will have much more trouble containing the receivers and Peyton Manning than they will stopping McGahee.
Stevie Johnson (Buffalo Bills, Wide Receiver)
In six games against the Jets in his career, Johnson is averaging 47.2 yards per game. Couple that with Darrelle Revis getting sick of hearing about Johnson having his number, and I think you should look elsewhere if possible.
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