The first week of a new NFL season should be one of the easiest weeks to set your fantasy-football lineups.
You just had your draft, you have slotted your players in their respective roster roles, and you have no bye weeks and few, if any, injuries to worry about. So just plug in the dudes you drafted first into your lineup and let them rack up yards and touchdowns for you, right?
But you may have two running backs battling it out for one starting spot, or maybe you are questioning which RB, WR or TE to use as your flex player this week. Well, this column is not about whom you should play; it is about whom you should not play.
So, which fantasy-football matchups are far from favorable this weekend? Here are five you must avoid in Week 1.
“The Law Firm” could not have asked for a taller task for his first regular-season game with Cincinnati. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has to find holes against a Baltimore Ravens defense that ranked second against the run in 2011 and allows as many running backs to rush for 100 yards as the Alabama Crimson Tide.
I know Terrell Suggs is injured and Cory Redding and Jarret Johnson are elsewhere. But Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata and Ed Reed are still around, and the Ravens should still stuff the run this year as often as Kobayashi stuffs his face full of hot dogs.
Green-Ellis has fared fairly well in his two career games against Baltimore. He rushed for only 20 yards on 10 carries in a regular-season contest in 2010, but he rushed 15 times for 68 yards in last year’s AFC Championship Game and scored touchdowns in both outings.
Most backs do much worse.
But those games came when BGE had Tom Brady and his terrorizing tight ends keeping the focus of Baltimore’s front seven on stopping the pass. Cincinnati’s average passing attack will not keep Lewis and his tackle-happy allies from crowding the box.
Compounding matters is Green-Ellis battled a foot injury during the preseason. He was not exactly Usain Bolt before this, so the last thing he needed was a flat foot slowing him down.
Find a different option for Week 1, and wait until the following weekend to plug Green-Ellis in.
Steve Johnson did something last year that not many receivers have done in recent years. He made the best cornerback in the NFL, Darrelle Revis of the Jets, look foolish.
In a November contest, Johnson had eight receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown while marooned on “Revis Island” and could have done more damage, dropping a couple of passes that would have easily put him over the 100-yard mark.
Many fantasy owners threw their remote controls through their HDTVs thanks to those drops, by the way.
Revis was not Revis at times last season, though. A nagging hamstring strain and a shortened training camp turned the Jets' star corner from Superman into more of a Green Lantern or Flash. He was still a superhero, just not as super and a mere mortal at times.
But Revis is healthy and has a full camp under his utility belt, and you know he is itching to muzzle the trash-talking Johnson. Revis will bring his A-plus game Week 1, and when he does that, no receiver can get open against him.
Sit Johnson or suffer with a three-reception, 25-yard performance.
San Francisco 49ers Defense vs. Green Bay Packers Offense
In a column a couple of weeks ago, I ranked San Francisco as the No. 1 fantasy defense.
The 49ers were in the top 10 in virtually every meaningful fantasy category last season, and the core players from the unit are back and willing to concuss any offensive player blocking their path to the Super Bowl.
Yet rule No. 531 of the Craig Rondinone Fantasy Football Handbook (on sale nowhere) says “Do Not Use Defenses Against Aaron Rodgers (Especially When the Game Is Not Played in a Blizzard).” And sure enough, San Francisco is playing at Green Bay against the discount double-checker on the opening Sunday of the season.
We have seen what this staunch defensive unit has done before against a high-flying, high-scoring offense. In the playoffs last season, it allowed 32 points and 462 passing yards to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints—and that game was not even played inside the Superdome.
But even in that game, the 49ers caused five turnovers and sacked Brees three times. However, Rodgers does not turn the ball over like Brees, and Green Bay scored 40-plus points at home five times in 2011.
Forget about the 49ers' defense. As a fantasy owner, I would not even use the 1985 Chicago Bears or 1972 Miami Dolphins defenses against the present-day Packers.
Hopefully, you drafted a second defense that is facing a rookie quarterback or Mark Sanchez this weekend.
Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts vs. Chicago Bears
The Indianapolis running back might have had a breakout 2011 season, but Chicago was ranked fifth against the run last year and will stack the box against the Colts, with rookie QB Andrew Luck playing in his first meaningful game.
The game is being played at Soldier Field, which does not bode well for Donald Brown, since he was no road warrior last season. His four best rushing-yardage outputs all came inside the friendly confines of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Brown should be a useful No. 2 or No. 3 RB this season, if he builds on the momentum he established towards the end of last season. But a 12-carry, 28-yard Chris Ogbonnaya-like effort looks to be in his immediate fantasy future.
It always stinks to have to sit your first- or second-round fantasy pick the opening week of the season, but you have to bench MJD.
Maurice Jones-Drew will supposedly only be used as a third-down back this week and probably will not become Jacksonville’s workhorse again until Week 3 or 4, when he is expected to be in better shape and more comfortable with the Jaguars' new playbook.
There is only so much Jones-Drew can do with five-to-10 touches.
Sure, he could break a 30-yard run. Sure, he could score a touchdown if he is handed the ball inside the 5-yard line. But his chances of doing either or both have been reduced, since he is not starting and unlikely to carry the ball as much as de facto starter Rashad Jennings.
Jones-Drew’s odds of doing much of anything this Sunday have also been downgraded thanks to his lack of a training camp.
Remember how long it took for Tennessee’s Chris Johnson to find his top gear after his infamous holdout last year? Johnson ran like Tony Siragusa for eight weeks before finally turning the corner on toss plays like a man with 4.3 40 speed.
Reserve Jones-Drew and hope that he shows enough burst during his limited carries that you know he will be back to his old self soon—but not so much so that Jacksonville feeds him the ball 15 times in the second half of the contest.