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Defenses usually have the upper hand in Week 1


The first week of the season is not kind to fantasy owners. Defense usually has the upper hand for first few weeks of the season - offenses are still getting acclimated to what they didn't see from opposing defenses in the preseason.

Case in point: Three teams were shut out in Week 1 of 2006. Seven failed to score a touchdown (though, remarkably, Seattle and St. Louis both won with just field goals). Overall, teams averaged just 16.4 points per game, much lower than average.

Another wildcard for fantasy players is that you can't really look at how players perform at home or on the road. Last year, 11 road teams won the season opener. I think we'll see as many as seven or eight road teams win this weekend. Just another thing to consider as you set your fantasy lineups.

Now that regular season is starting, you can expect to see more blitzing, more attacking in the pocket with inside blitzes. Another thing you'll see early in the year is big plays on special teams. Since backups are often playing special teams in preseason - and also because there is always so much roster movement among players who predominantly play special teams - there is the potential for big runbacks early in the season.

Here's a look at key fantasy matchups for Week 1:

Broncos at Bills
Buffalo has allowed an average of 170 rushing yards over its last five home games, so you've got to like Denver RB Travis Henry here. Henry had 1,200 yards and 7 TDs last year, and he's going back to Buffalo where he began his career. Broncos QB Jay Cutler and WR Javon Walker should also post good numbers… For Buffalo, I like WR Lee Evans, rookie RB Marshawn Lynch, and QB J.P. Losman. The Denver corners are excellent, but Evans is really good. Lynch could be more of a factor in the passing game than the running game.
Steelers at Browns
The Steelers defense is the best play here. Also, RB Willie Parker could have a big game - he had a club-record 223 yards in one game against Cleveland last year. QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Santonio Holmes are worth playing… Browns TE Kellen Winslow can catch some passes here, but don't expect the Browns to run the ball. Don't expect much offense here at all.
Eagles at Packers
I like Eagles RB Brian Westbrook a lot here, and QB Donovan McNabb as well. Before he got hurt last year, McNabb had 2 passing TDs and 2 rushing TDs in a game against Green Bay. WR Kevin Curtis matches up well against the Packers defense… Green Bay right now will struggle to run the ball. Vernand Morency is still banged up, as is rookie Brandon Jackson, who I think will; be good eventually but not here. There's still a health question with WR Donald Driver. WR James Jones should have a good game.
Chiefs at Texans
The Chiefs get a boost with return of TE Jason Dunn. He won't help your fantasy team - unless you have Larry Johnson, because Dunn is a terrific run blocker. Still, I don't expect Johnson to play too much here. Few fantasy people are excited about Chiefs QB Damon Huard - considering him a "manager of the game" -- but don't be surprised if he's better than people think. Remember he posted solid numbers in relief of Trent Green last season… The Chiefs defense is better than people think, so you will not see Texans RB Ahman Green do much here. Kansas City does miss Jared Allen's pass-rushing skills, so Houston QB Matt Schaub could do some damage.
Titans at Jaguars
You've got to play Tennessee QB Vince Young. He's like the Allen Iverson of the NFL - he might be erratic at times and might struggle a bit, but then he'll make big plays and get the job done. I don't know if anyone else outside of TE Bo Scaife is worth playing for Tennessee… I like the two RBs for the Jaguars, Maurice Jones-Drew a little more than Fred Taylor.
Falcons at Vikings
Surprising stat of the week: Falcons QB Joey Harrington has a 3-0 record in opening games. With that said, and because Minnesota's defense is so strong against the run, I like Atlanta WRs Joe Horn and Michael Jenkins. Even though Warrick Dunn is starting, I like Jerious Norwood better here… Look for Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to do a good job disrupting Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson. And since Jackson doesn't have much help from his WRs anyway, I think rookie RB Adrian Peterson is the only real play here for Minnesota.
Patriots at Jets
I think you'll see WRs Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth rotate from week to week as the key targets in the passing game, so we'll go ahead and say Moss will be the star in Week 1. Meanwhile, if you get points for receptions, then Wes Welker is good for five grabs every week. I like Moss and Welker here, along with RB Laurence Maroney and QB Tom Brady... I think the Jets will have a hard time on offense, as Bill Belichick seems to have a handle on stopping QB Chad Pennignton. Even without Richard Seymour, it will be hard to block New England's great DT tandem of Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren.
Panthers at Rams
The Panthers shut out the Rams, 15-0, in Charlotte last season. QB Jake Delhomme is inconsistent, so the best plays for Carolina are Steve Smith and RB DeShaun Fister… For St. Louis, the plays are RB Steven Jackson, WR Torry Holt, and QB Marc Bulger, who always plays better at home. I also think the Rams defense is much better than last year.
Dolphins at Redskins
Miami will have a hard time moving the ball here, so the Redskins defense is a play. It's tough to run on Miami, so Washington will have to pass regardless of Clinton Portis' health. Therefore, you can play QB Jason Campbell, WR Santana Moss and TE Chris Cooley… For Miami, RB Ronnie Brown is worth playing. The real sleeper pick here might be TE David Martin. New head coach Cam Cameron likes to do things with his tight ends (see: Antonio Gates in San Diego). I wouldn't be surprised to see him work Martin into the mix.
Lions at Raiders
We all know that Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz is a really a good schemer, and I think he'll help QB Jon Kitna and WR Roy Williams have big games here, despite facing the tough Oakland defense. The key is blocking the Raiders' front, especially pass rusher Derrick Burgess. Oakland was third overall on defense last year and tops against the pass… For Oakland, I think RB LaMont Jordan can be a factor here both as a rusher and receiver. The only other Raider play would be WR Ronald Curry.
Bears at Chargers
It's really hard to run on San Diego, so don't expect much out of RB Cedric Benson. WR Bernard Berrian might post good numbers here, and I have a hunch that WR Mark Bradley is a guy who makes some plays in this game. QB Rex Grossman will be average... San Diego LB Shawne Merriman has not looked great in preseason - I don't know if that's an indication of what we'll see in the regular season, but it would really hurt if it is. RB LaDainian Tomlinson is always a must-start, of course. TE Antonio Gates, QB Philip Rivers and WR Vincent Jackson are also worth playing.
Buccaneers at Seahawks
I think RB Cadillac Williams has a big day here. I'm not sure if QB Jeff Garcia will do anything, but the Bucs can take advantage of Seattle's run defense… For Seattle, I think QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander, and WRs Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett can all do well.
Giants at Cowboys
Dallas allowed 12 TD passes in the last five games of the 2006 season, so - especially with CB Terence Newman banged up - don't be surprised if Eli Manning has a big game here. I also like WR Amani Toomer and RB Brandon Jacobs, who can be dangerous as an outside runner… Dallas QB Tony Romo will have a good game. That said, keep in mind that the Eagles really confused Romo last year, and former Eagles assistant coach Steve Spagnuolo is the new Giants defensive coordinator. WR Terrell Owens and TE Jason Witten, as usual, will be Romo's top targets. I'd take RB Marion Barber over Julius Jones.
Ravens at Bengals
Although he didn't make a big impression in his first preseason with the Ravens, I think RB Willis McGahee will have a big game in his regular-season debut for the team. Many fantasy owners are high on Ravens WR Mark Clayton this season, but I think it's a toss-up between Clayton and WR Demetrius Williams as to which receiver has a bigger game. TE Todd Heap, meanwhile, is a consistently good play… It's almost impossible to run on Baltimore, so don't expect much from Cincinnati RB Rudi Johnson. It's hard not to play QB Carson Palmer and WRs Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The key to their success will be how OL Andrew Whitworth fares against Ravens LB Terrell Suggs.
Cardinals at 49ers
I think Arizona will do pretty good on offense here, so you can expect good production from WRs Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and QB Matt Leinart, in that order… For the 49ers, I like RB Frank Gore a lot here, followed by QB Alex Smith and WR Arnaz Battle.