Start 'Em & Sit 'Em is the ultimate look at the weekly NFL matchups and how they'll affect your fantasy football team. Sleeper alert features an under-the-radar player who could produce good numbers. Owners beware features a regular fantasy starter who could fail to meet expectations based on the strength of his opponent. Obvious fantasy starters like Aaron Rodgers and Arian Foster will not be featured in this column. For your final lineup decisions, be sure to check our weekly lineup rankings.
Start of the week
Doug Martin vs. Panthers: Martin won the top spot on the depth chart during the preseason and is in a good position to open his rookie campaign with a bang, facing a questionable Carolina Panthers' defense that allowed the second-most fantasy points to runners in 2011. With an improved offensive line in front of him, the Boise State product is an attractive option as a No. 2 fantasy runner or flex starter.
Michael Turner at Chiefs: I'm not in love with Turner this season, as he's now 30 years old and has carried the football 300-plus times in three of the last four years. It's hard to overlook him this week against the Kansas City Chiefs, however. Their defense allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing running backs in 2011, which makes the Burner well worth a look as a solid No. 2 fantasy option.
Kevin Smith vs. Rams: The Detroit Lions will be without both Jahvid Best (PUP list) and Mikel Leshoure (suspension) this weekend, leaving Smith to shoulder the backfield load against what is a porous St. Louis Rams run defense. In 2011, this unit surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points (including an average of 151.7 rushing yards per game) to running backs. That makes the veteran back worth a look in the team's opener.
DeAngelo Williams at Buccaneers: In the event that Jonathan Stewart is inactive or limited due to the ankle ailment he suffered in the preseason, Williams would become an attractive option in fantasy land. In fact, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave up more fantasy points to running backs than any other team in the NFL last season. In his last game against the Buccaneers, Williams scored on a pair of touchdown runs.
Sleeper alert - Stevan Ridley at Titans: Fantasy owners looking for a potential flex starter this week should consider Ridley, who appears to have secured the top spot on the depth chart with a solid preseason. Sure, it can be tough to predict carries in New England, but the matchup still makes Ridley worth a look. The Tennessee Titans allowed an average of nearly 20 fantasy points per game to backs in 2011.
Sit of the week
Adrian Peterson vs. Jaguars: I'm not sure how you can start Peterson (knee) this week with any sort of confidence. Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has already stated that if the stud runner is active against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he will be used in a limited fashion. That is not good news for fantasy footballers. If there's a running back from Minnesota to start this weekend, it's Toby Gerhart and not Peterson.
Reggie Bush at Texans: Bush was one of the best running backs in fantasy football in the second half of last season, posting 100 or more rushing yards in each of his last four games. His fortunes won't be as bright this week against the Houston Texans, though. Their stout defense surrendered the second-fewest fantasy points to runners in 2011, and rookie Ryan Tannehill isn't going to keep this unit honest.
Willis McGahee vs. Steelers: The Pittsburgh Steelers' defense might be getting a little long in the tooth, but this unit is still one of the more formidable against the run. That was evident last season, as the Steel Curtain allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing runners. That makes McGahee, who rushed for just 61 yards against them during the 2011 postseason, someone to avoid in starting lineups.
Cedric Benson vs. 49ers: Remember last season when facing the 49ers was a statistical death sentence for most running backs? Well, that's the reason you need to sit Benson this week. The veteran is atop the Packers depth chart and could turn into a decent draft bargain as the season rolls on, but I want nothing to do with him against a defense that allowed just two rushing touchdowns to backs in 2011.
Owners beware - Maurice Jones-Drew at Vikings: Jones-Drew ended his 38-day holdout over the weekend and is expected to be active against the Vikings. However, Jacksonville Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey has already named Rashad Jennings, not MJD, his starter for the contest. While I have no doubt that he'll reclaim the top spot on the depth chart soon, it's tough to start Jones-Drew while he's playing a third-down role.