Note: Sleeper alert focuses on players who aren't considered regular starters but have favorable matchups and could produce at a high level. Owners beware focuses on prominent players with unfavorable matchups who could fail to meet statistical expectations. Players with an asterisk (*) opened the week on their team's injury report and should be monitored throughout the weekend.
START OF THE WEEK
Laurence Maroney, RB, New England: Maroney didn't see much preseason work as he recovered from a surgical procedure on his shoulder, but he did show flashes of brilliance in his lone exhibition contest with a 58-yard performance against Carolina. He'll have fresh legs in the regular-season opener at the Meadowlands, where he faces a New York Jets defense that allowed an average of 127.6 rushing yards at home last season. The Men in Green didn't look much improved in Week 3 of the preseason, as their defense surrendered 136 yards on the ground to the New York Giants. Maroney will see more than his share of work, so look for him to start the season off on a high note.
QUARTERBACKS: START 'EM
Marc Bulger, St. Louis: There's one simple rule when it comes to Bulger: When he is starting at the Edwards Jones Dome, Bulger should be a lock to start for fantasy owners. He averaged 315 passing yards with a 96.8 passer rating and threw 17 of his 24 touchdowns on his home turf last season, and that sort of success should continue against Carolina. The Panthers have some new components in their defensive backfield, and they didn't look good in Week 3 of the preseason against the Patriots. Tom Brady completed 77 percent of his passes and tossed two scores against them in a 24-7 win. Bulger should find similar success in what will be a prolific offensive attack, so make sure he's active.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas: Romo should begin 2007 with a monster performance against the Giants. He looked tremendous in the preseason with a completion percentage of almost 70 percent and a passer rating of 89.7, and Romo will smell blood when he sees a Big Blue defense riddled with injuries. The team lost S Will Demps and will start the inexperienced James Butler at strong safety, so Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn (if active), Patrick Crayton and Jason Witten should find open seams all night. The presence of new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will mean a more aggressive pass attack, so Romo should throw for 200-250 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
Sleeper alert: David Garrard vs. Tennessee.
QUARTERBACKS: SIT 'EM
Rex Grossman, Chicago: It's almost impossible to trust Grossman headed into this season. While he did lead the Bears to an appearance in Super Bowl XLI, his proneness to turnovers and inconsistent level of production makes him a serious risk. Furthermore, the immense pressure that All-Pro LB Shawne Merriman and the San Diego defense will put on Grossman will not be conducive for success out of the former Florida Gators signal-caller. In what could turn into a ball-controlled, defensive-laden contest, Grossman will struggle to produce for fantasy owners.
Jon Kitna, Detroit: Kitna was a hot name in fantasy drafts -- most experts feel he will throw for 4,000 yard by default -- but he could get off to a poor start against an underrated Oakland defense. The silver and black finished last season with the NFL's top-rated pass defense (it allowed an average of just 146.6 passing yards at home), and the addition of rookie S Michael Huff and emergence of CB Nnamdi Asomugha makes it that much more formidable. Owners should also keep in mind that while Kitna did throw 21 touchdown passes in 2006, he also tossed 21 interceptions. What's more, close to 40 percent of his touchdowns came in the final two weeks of the season.
More quarterbacks with unfavorable matchups: Jason Campbell vs. Miami, Jake Delhomme at St. Louis, Brett Favre vs. Philadelphia, J.P. Losman vs. Denver, Chad Pennington vs. New England.
Owners beware: Vince Young at Jacksonville.
RUNNING BACKS: START 'EM
Travis Henry, Denver: Henry's career took a downward turn in 2004 when he was with this week's opponent, the Buffalo Bills. The franchise quit on him and drafted Willis McGahee, only to see Henry resurrect himself in Tennessee. Now the featured back in Denver, he'll be motivated to run the ball down the throats of his former team. His sprained knee should not be an issue, so head coach Mike Shanahan will use Henry quite a bit against a Buffalo defense that surrendered close to 140 rushing yards at home last season. The Bills didn't look like it improved vs. the run in Week 3 of the preseason -- they allowed 132 yards and a score to Tennessee -- so Henry should pile on the numbers.
Sleeper alert: DeAngelo Williams at St. Louis.
RUNNING BACKS: SIT 'EM
Jamal Lewis, Cleveland: Lewis did make a nice return to fantasy relevance last season with 1,132 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, but a move from Baltimore to Cleveland did not help his value. The Browns don't have much in terms of a pass attack, so Lewis will see his share of stacked fronts vs. a Pittsburgh defense that should be ultra-aggressive. While the Black Curtain does have some new parts -- LB Joey Porter left for Miami and rookie LBs Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley will now be utilized -- it should still be one of the NFL's most formidable units. It also allowed an average of under 100 rushing yards last season, so Lewis could be in for a tough afternoon.
Warrick Dunn, Atlanta: Dunn's fantasy value has been a bit of a roller coaster ride in 2007. He endured a surgical procedure on his back that was supposed to keep him out of action for a month, but he returned ahead of schedule and remained ahead of Jerious Norwood on the depth chart. While that's a positive overall, Dunn is still expected to share the workload with Norwood, so he's not a featured back in the offense. Head coach Bobby Petrino wants to throw the football more often as well, so the ground attack won't be what it was last season. Dunn must also contend with a Minnesota defense that was like a brick wall against the run in 2006, so the veteran is a serious fantasy risk.
More running backs with unfavorable matchups: Cedric Benson at San Diego, Rudi Johnson vs. Baltimore, Thomas Jones vs. New England, Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo, LenDale White at Jacksonville.
Owners beware: Clinton Portis vs. Miami.
WIDE RECEIVERS: START 'EM
Anquan Boldin, Arizona: One of the more skilled wide receivers in the NFL, Boldin should post solid stats in the regular-season opener against San Francisco. He has gained a terrific rapport with Matt Leinart, and he'll no doubt be prominent in this NFC West battle with the 49ers. While their defense should be much improved with the addition of veteran CB Nate Clements and rookie LB Patrick Willis, the Niners have never been able to hand Boldin between the white lines. In his last five starts against the 49ers, the Cardinals wideout has recorded a combined 36 receptions, 507 yards and made three visits to the end zone.
Hines Ward, Pittsburgh: Ward, who sustained a broken nose in the preseason, underwent a surgical procedure to repair the damage and will start against Cleveland. New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will throw the football much more often than the previous regime, and Ward will be a major part of the team's new look. Ward, who has recorded 22 receptions, 310 yards and three touchdowns in his past three contests against the Browns, should continue to dominate a pass defense that was mediocre last season. Look for the Steelers to establish the run in the first half with Willie Parker, which will open up the pass (and play action) for Ben Roethlisberger, Ward and the entire pass attack.
More wide receivers with favorable matchups: Deion Branch vs. Tampa Bay, Plaxico Burress at Dallas, Mark Clayton at Cincinnati, Braylon Edwards vs. Pittsburgh, Darrell Jackson vs. Arizona.
Sleeper alert: Ronald Curry vs. Detroit.
WIDE RECEIVERS: SIT 'EM
Joey Galloway, Tampa Bay: Galloway posted his second consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2006, but he was very inconsistent. The veteran posted three or fewer receptions in seven contests, which was due in part to the fact that the Buccaneers were anemic on offense. That should improve with Jeff Garcia, but that doesn't change that Galloway has a difficult road to tow against his former team, the Seattle Seahawks. Their defense was difficult to throw on at Qwest Field last season -- opponents averaged under 190 receiving yards -- and the Bucs have a crowded core of wideouts that will make Galloway no more than a No. 3 fantasy wideout.
Chris Chambers, Miami: One of the biggest disappointments of last season, Chambers failed to record even 700 yards after posting 1,118 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2005. He's still the top wideout in Miami, but the fact that the team put him on the trade block late in the preseason should be an indication of how the franchise feels about his lack of production. This seems like a favorable matchup on paper, as the Washington Redskins finished 23rd in pass defense last season. However, a mere seven teams allowed fewer receiving yards on their home field -- the Skins surrendered just over 180 yards per contest -- so Chambers and the Miami receivers could struggle to post attractive numbers.
Owners beware: Lee Evans vs. Denver.
TIGHT ENDS: START 'EM
Jeremy Shockey, N.Y. Giants: Shockey didn't do much in the preseason, but he's still one of the top tight ends in fantasy football. Furthermore, his success against this week's opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, makes him a nice starter in all formats. The former Miami Hurricanes standout has scored a touchdown in five of his past six games against the Polks, and he'll remain a prominent target in the red zone for Eli Manning in the pass attack in 2007. The Cowboys could be a bit vulnerable to the pass on Sunday night, so Shockey should be active.
Vernon Davis, San Francisco: One of the top breakout candidates on NFL.com, Davis has a chance to start his sophomore season in the NFL with a real bang. While he missed a portion of 2006 with an injured leg, Davis did play twice against Arizona and recorded a combined nine receptions for 128 yards and one touchdown. The Cardinals still have a questionable defense -- the team allowed an average of over 210 receiving yards on the road in 2006 -- so the Niners will no doubt look to him often in what should be an improved pass attack.
Sleeper alert: Owen Daniels vs. Kansas City.
TIGHT ENDS: SIT 'EM
Daniel Graham, Denver: Graham was one of the bigger acquisitions of the offseason for the Broncos, signing a five-year, $30 million deal. Assistant head coach Mike Heimerdinger believes Graham could catch 50-plus passes in the offensive attack, but his limited preseason numbers (two receptions, 32 yards) and the presence of touchdown-machine Tony Scheffler hurt his value. He could very well have a solid season, but at this point Graham still needs to prove himself as a consistent pass catcher before owners should consider him a viable No. 1 fantasy tight end.
Bo Scaife, Tennessee: Scaife is a nice sleeper candidate after a solid preseason that saw him pass Ben Troupe on the depth chart, but this week's battle against the Jacksonville Jaguars is not a favorable one. Head coach Jack Del Rio's defense was almost impenetrable at home last season -- no team surrendered fewer points on their home turf -- so the Titans could be hard pressed to work the scoreboard operator. Unless you're in a deeper league or desperate for a tight end, Scaife should be left on the sidelines until at least Week 2 or 3.
Owners beware: L.J. Smith at Green Bay.
KICKERS: START 'EM
Neil Rackers, Arizona: Rackers was the top kicker in fantasy football back in 2005, but his numbers and level of consitent production fell last season. He should rebound in 2007, however, as new head coach Ken Whisenhunt should help make the Cardinals a more potent offense. He kicked more field goals against San Francisco last season than any other team (six), and he has a combined 12 field-goal conversions against them over the past two seasons. A viable No. 1 fantasy kicker, Rackers should be active in most formats.
Jason Hanson, Detroit: The Lions pass defense could struggle against the Raiders this week, so a few stalled drives could leave Hanson a chance to produce multiple field goals. It also bodes well that the silver and black allowed 31 field-goal conversions last season -- that was tied for the third most in the NFL -- so the veteran kicker should produce nice numbers. If you're not confident in the kicker you drafted headed into the regular season, take a chance on Hanson.
KICKERS: SIT 'EM
Shayne Graham, Cincinnati: Graham is one of the better kickers in fantasy football, and he'll no doubt finish the season in the top half of most kicking categories at the end of the season. However, the fact that he has a sore hip makes him somewhat of a risk in Week 1. He returned to practice late in the week and would be a better option if he has no further setbacks, but starting a kicker who is at less than 100 percent is never a good idea. As a result, owners should start Graham only with extreme caution.
John Kasay, Carolina: Kasay is still a relevant option in fantasy football (he connected on close to 90 percent of his field goals last season), but his numbers could be less than attractive this week against a St. Louis defense that allowed a mere 19 conversions last season. Unless you're in a league with 12-plus teams, the strong-legged veteran out of Georgia is better left to the waiver wire in the regular-season opener.
DEFENSES: START 'EM
Minnesota defense: The Vikings might have lost former defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin to Pittsburgh, but this unit still has a ton of talent. It should shine against Atlanta, which lost Michael Vick and is now left to start the inconsistent Joey Harrington. The Falcons offense could be a mess, so take a chance on the Vikes if you don't have a solid No. 1 fantasy defense.
Denver defense: The Broncos are absolutely loaded on defense after the additions of CB Dre' Bly, DE Simeon Rice and rookie DEs Tim Crowder and Jarvis Moss. With CB Champ Bailey set to blanket Lee Evans in the pass attack, the Bills could have a lot of trouble moving the ball on offense. Look for Denver to pressure J.P. Losman, who has struggled under pressure at times.
More defenses with favorable matchups: Jacksonville defense vs. Tennessee, Miami defense at Washington, Oakland defense vs. Detroit, Pittsburgh defense at Cleveland, Seattle defense vs. Tampa Bay.
Sleeper alert: Houston defense vs. Kansas City.
DEFENSES: SIT 'EM
Carolina defense: The Panthers defense was a serious disappointment in 2006, and this week's battle in St. Louis could mean a hard start to the 2007 season. The Rams offense averaged 26.0 points on their home field last season, and that was without Drew Bennett and Randy McMichael. Marc Bulger is always solid at home, so the Panthers aren't an attractive unit.
Cincinnati defense: The Bengals have a lot of new parts on the defensive side of the football, so it will take time for this to become a cohesive unit. They'll have a hard test in Week 1 against the Ravens, whose offense was much more productive once head coach Brian Billick took over the play-calling duties. Baltimore should score some points, so keep the Bengals on the sidelines.
More defenses with unfavorable matchups: Buffalo defense vs. Denver, Green Bay defense vs. Philadelphia, N.Y. Giants defense at Dallas, N.Y. Jets defense vs. New England, Tampa Bay defense at Seattle.
Owners beware: Dallas defense vs. N.Y. Giants.