Week 1 Fantasy Football Projections: Top 5 Running Back Matchups

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst ISeptember 7, 2012

Week 1 Fantasy Football Projections: Top 5 Running Back Matchups

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    Today is the first Friday of the 2012 NFL season, which means it is time to start looking at the fantasy matchups for the weekend's slate of games. 

    In this post, we'll take a closer look at the five best running back matchups in Week 1. While talent dictates a lot of what goes into fantasy football, matchups can be equally important. 

    In the following slides, we give the five best fantasy matchups for running backs this weekend, plus projections for each player.

5. Arian Foster, Texans

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    Foster left practice early on Thursday with swelling in his knee, then missed Friday's practice for the same reason. He's now a game-time decision for the Texans against the Dolphins Sunday, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle

    The question mark surrounding Foster's knee remains the only reason why he sits at No. 5 on these rankings. 

    If Foster is healthy, expect typical fantasy numbers. The Texans should get up early on Miami, leaving Foster and Ben Tate to grind away the win on the ground. 

    Projection: 21 carries, 95 yards, one touchdown

4. Chris Johnson, Titans

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    The last time the Titans and New England Patriots met in the regular season, Tennessee was on the wrong end of a 59-0 beat down. But even in that ridiculous final score, Johnson rushed for 128 yards on 7.5 yards a clip. 

    I see no reason why Johnson can't approach that rushing total Sunday. The Titans will lean on him early in Jake Locker's first NFL start, and the explosive factor that was missing at times last season appeared to be back this preseason. 

    If the touches are there, expect Johnson to exploit this matchup. 

    Projection: 23 carries, 121 yards

3. Matt Forte, Bears

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    Forte gets the privilege of facing the Indianapolis Colts run defense after missing the better part of the last season's second half. Welcome back, Matt. 

    The Colts were one of the worst run defenses in 2011, and they'll be missing linebacker Pat Angerer in the season opener. Angerer was the team's top tackler last season. 

    The only downside here might be the presence of backup Michael Bush, but even that can't bust this otherwise wonderful Week 1 matchup for Forte. 

    Projection: 20 carries, 122 yards, two touchdowns

2. Ray Rice, Ravens

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    Facing a division rival isn't always the best fantasy matchup for a running back, but in this situation you must consider what Rice did in two games against the Bengals last season. 

    On 44 total carries, Rice rushed for 295 yards and four touchdowns, including a 191-yard outburst in the season finale. He scored twice in each matchup, while catching seven passes for another 51 yards. 

    If almost 350 total yards and four scores in two games can't convince you of a good matchup, I'm not sure what will. Rice is a must-start every week, but expect bigger-than-normal numbers here.

    Projection: 25 carries, 139 yards, one touchdown

1. LeSean McCoy, Eagles

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    The owner of 20 total touchdowns a season ago, McCoy may find the end zone once or twice in the season opener in Cleveland.

    The matchup certainly points in McCoy's favor Sunday. 

    Even if he doesn't find paydirt, McCoy should break the century mark rushing. The Browns run defense in 2011 gave up almost 150 yards a game on the ground, good for 30th in the NFL. 

    We also expect the Eagles to get up early in this game, which means (or wait, should mean, Andy Reid) that Philadelphia is running the football late in this one to ice a win away. McCoy should get at least 25 touches, and there are few that can do more with that amount of touches than Shady. 

    Projection: 23 carries, 142 yards, two touchdowns