Rivers, Forte should light it up for owners in Week 1

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Start 'Em & Sit 'Em is the ultimate look at the best and worst matchups of the week and how those matchups will affect your fantasy team. Sleeper alert highlights a player who's under the radar but could produce strong numbers based on the opponent. Owners beware highlights a player who's a regular starter in most fantasy leagues but could fail to meet expectations. For your final lineup decisions, check our weekly lineup rankings.

Start of the Week

Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: Who needs Vincent Jackson? Despite the fact that he'll be without his most valuable wide receiver, Rivers is still one of the better quarterbacks in fantasy football. He'll open the 2010 season against the Chiefs, a team he's owned in his career. In his last four starts against them, Rivers has averaged 312 passing yards with a combined nine touchdown passes. He's also thrown for multiple scores in each of those contests.

Quarterbacks - Start 'Em

Jay Cutler, Bears: Yes, I know. Cutler looked less than impressive during the preseason. But it's hard to bench him against the Lions, who allowed more fantasy points to quarterbacks than any other team in the league last season. That includes a combined 417 passing yards and six touchdowns surrendered to Cutler in two games. There is some concern with the Bears offensive line, but the matchup here is too solid to pass on for most fantasy leaguers.

Matthew Stafford, Lions: Anyone see a trend here? The Bears and Lions might not be considered to be prominent postseason contenders, but their quarterbacks do have fantasy appeal in Week 1. Stafford looked strong in the preseason and appears set to take his next step to fantasy stardom, especially with weapons in the offense like Jahvid Best, Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Tony Scheffler. If you don't have an elite signal-caller and need a one-week alternative, Stafford is an attractive option.

Kevin Kolb vs. Packers: Kolb failed to throw a single touchdown pass in the preseason, but that's no reason to worry about this fantasy sleeper. He'll make his first start at home against the Packers, who'll be without S Atari Bigby and CB Al Harris due to injuries. Consider Kolb a nice low-end fantasy starter.

Carson Palmer at Patriots: I'm not sold on Palmer re-emerging into an elite fantasy quarterback, but this week's matchup against the Patriots is a favorable one. The P-Men still have questions on defense, so Palmer should be able to find the dynamic duo of Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco often in this contest.

Alex Smith at Seahawks: If you remember back to last season, Smith actually had a nice stretch of games where he was an attractive fantasy starter. One of those contests came against the Seahawks, as Smith raked up 310 passing yards and two touchdowns. If you lack an elite option or need to start two quarterbacks, Smith is a solid choice.

Sleeper alert - Derek Anderson at Rams: Matt Leinart is out, and Anderson is in as the new field general for coach Ken Whisenhunt. While he won't duplicate the level of production owners were used to from Kurt Warner, Anderson does have some sleeper appeal against a Rams defense that struggled to stop opposing quarterbacks last season.

Quarterbacks - Sit 'Em

Donovan McNabb vs. Cowboys: The Cowboys seemed to have McNabb's number while he was a member of the Eagles, and his fortunes don't look likely to change with the Redskins. In his last seven games against them, McNabb averaged just 230 passing yards with a combined seven touchdowns and five interceptions. Now in our nation's capitol, he has fewer weapons in the passing game and is a risk due to an injured ankle. McNabb is someone to avoid.

Matt Ryan at Steelers: I like Ryan to improve on his 2009 totals and become a better fantasy quarterback, but he could have a shaky start based on a tough matchup against the Steelers. While it's true that their defense struggled against the pass last season, that was due in large part to the absence of S Troy Polamalu. With the long-haired one back in the defensive backfield, the Steel Curtain will be back at full strength. That's bad news for Ryan's immediate prospects.

Brett Favre at Saints: Favre will no doubt be active in countless leagues this week, but don't be surprised if he struggles out of the gate. His ankle is still a cause for some concern, especially with an aggressive Saints defense chasing him around. Favre also needs to get used to not having his top option, Sidney Rice, at his disposal.

Joe Flacco at Jets: Flacco is clearly one of the better sleepers at his position this season, especially after the addition of Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. But he's in for a tough night against the Jets, who allowed the fewest fantasy points to quarterback of any defensive unit in the league. Oh, and CB Darrelle Revis is back.

Vince Young vs. Raiders: How is a matchup against the Raiders not seen as a favorable matchup? Well, the Silver & Black were actually pretty formidable against the pass last season. In fact, their defense ranked seventh against the pass. Chris Johnson is going to roll in this contest, so Young won't have to do much in the stat sheets.

Owners beware - Tony Romo at Redskins: It's hard to bench a quarterback of Romo's caliber, but be aware that he's had little success against the Skins in recent years, especially on the road. In his last two starts at FedEx Field, Romo has averaged a respectable 242 yards but posted just two touchdown passes with three interceptions.

Running backs - Start 'Em

Arian Foster vs. Colts: I'm on the Foster bandwagon, and his solid preseason performances have now made him a fantasy darling. He's a must-start against the Colts, who rarely have a formidable run defense. Last season, this unit allowed an average of nearly 18 fantasy points per game to opposing backs. With Steve Slaton at less than 100 percent, Foster will see a featured role in an offense that should move the football. He's a solid No. 2 fantasy option.

Jerome Harrison at Buccaneers: The loss of Montario Hardesty has turned Harrison from a possible bust to a viable fantasy starter. He was one of the hottest backs in the league at the end of 2009, and this week's matchup against the Buccaneers should equate to continued success. Tampa Bay fielded one of the worst run defenses last season, allowing an average of over 20 fantasy points per game to runners. That makes Harrison an attractive choice.

Ronnie Brown at Bills: Brown had no setbacks in his return from a foot injury and should be motivated to produce good numbers in a contract year. He opens with a very favorable matchup against the Bills, who allowed the third-most fantasy points to running backs last season. Brown also scored twice in his last game against the AFC East foe.

Matt Forte vs. Lions: Forte might have been a major fantasy disappointment last season, but he still beat up on the Lions. In two games, the versatile running back put up better than 260 scrimmage yards and one touchdown. Forte has also rushed for 100-plus yards in three of his four career starts against this NFC North opponent.

Ryan Mathews at Chiefs: I've sold my soul to promote Mathews as one of the top runners in fantasy football throughout the preseason, and I'll continue to pump him up in Week 1. The rookie star faces the Chiefs, who allowed the second-most fantasy points to running backs last season. That makes Mathews a virtual must-start option.

Sleeper alert - Cadillac Williams vs. Browns: With Derrick Ward out of the mix, Williams is guaranteed to see more than his share of work in the Buccaneers backfield this season. He should find immediate success against the Browns, who field one of the league's more vulnerable run defenses. You should drive Williams to glory in Week 1.

Running backs - Sit 'Em

LeSean McCoy vs. Packers: I like McCoy to emerge into a nice fantasy option, especially in PPR leagues. But owners with backfield depth might want to consider another option in Week 1. McCoy will face the Packers, who ranked as one of the top run defenses in the league in 2009. In fact, only the Vikings allowed fewer fantasy points per game to running backs. At best, McCoy should be seen as a potential flex starter - just don't expect overly attractive numbers.

Justin Forsett vs. 49ers: The Seahawks offense has a ton of question marks, one of which revolves around its backfield. Forsett has been named the starter by coach Pete Carroll, but by no means will he be a featured back. In fact, a committee which includes Leon Washington and Julius Jones appears to be imminent. The smallish back must also face LB Patrick Willis and a 49ers defense that will be very tough on the run. Forsett does have more value in PPR leagues, but overall he's someone to avoid if possible.

Laurence Maroney vs. Bengals: I'm not sure if it's Maroney, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris or Kevin Faulk who will see the majority of carries for coach Bill Belichick this weekend, but none of them are worth starting in fantasy leagues. Not only will this be a confusing committee mess, but the Bengals also have one of the tougher run defenses.

Clinton Portis vs. Cowboys: Portis was once a powerful fantasy force, especially while playing for coach Mike Shanahan. But that was in a galaxy far, far away. In 2010, he's no more than a worn-down runner with little hope at reclaiming elite status. Portis has also averaged just 82 rushing yards in his last four games against the Cowboys.

LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Ravens: Tomlinson sure looked reborn during the preseason, but I'm still not sold on him at the age of 31 and behind Shonn Greene on the depth chart. L.T. also has a very tough matchup on Monday night against the Ravens, who allowed an average of just 11.6 fantasy points per game to running backs last season.

Owners beware - Darren McFadden at Titans: McFadden's value appeared to be on the rise in the expected absence of Michael Bush, who recently had thumb surgery. However, coach Tom Cable now thinks Bush has a legitimate chance to play against the Titans. If that scenario comes to fruition, McFadden will be a very shaky option for owners.

Wide receivers - Start 'Em

Steve Smith at Giants: Carolina's Smith missed the preseason with an injured arm, but he's now back at 100 percent. He'll face the Giants, who allowed an average of close to 20 fantasy points per game to wideouts last season. Smith also had success against the G-Men in 2009, posting five catches for 60 yards with a touchdown in a Week 16 contest before leaving in the third quarter due to injury. Look for Matt Moore to target Smith often.

Michael Crabtree at Seahawks: Crabtree didn't see any preseason action, but he'll start in Week 1. Barring setbacks, he should be a starter for your fantasy team as well. The talented wideout has a great matchup against the Seahawks, who were used and abused by wide receivers in 2009. In fact, only the Titans, Jaguars and Lions allowed more fantasy points to wideouts. That makes Crabtree a viable No. 2 fantasy option and worth starting in all formats.

Malcom Floyd at Chiefs: Few wide receivers have seen their fantasy value rise as much as Floyd, who takes over as the top player at his position in the Chargers' pass attack. Not only will he see an increase in targets, but Floyd also has a great matchup against the Chiefs in Week 1. He's a viable No. 2 fantasy wideout across the board.

Percy Harvin at Saints: The Vikings will be without Sidney Rice for at least six weeks, so Harvin must step into the spotlight and shine for coach Brad Childress. He's an attractive option this week against the Saints, whose defensive backfield can be vulnerable. Bernard Berrian is also an attractive option in fantasy leagues in Week 1.

Johnny Knox vs. Lions: You'd likely need to have an audience with Nostradamus to predict which Bears wideout will score the most fantasy points this week, but I'll go with Knox. He's the best fit for the offense of coordinator Mike Martz and a great sleeper against a Lions defense that was extremely vulnerable to the pass in 2009.

Sleeper alert - Jabar Gaffney at Jaguars: Gaffney has earned the top spot on the Broncos depth chart heading into the season and is now the go-to guy for Kyle Orton in the passing game. He also has a very attractive matchup this week in Jacksonville, facing a defense that allowed the second-most fantasy points to wideouts last season.

Wide receivers - Sit 'Em

Wes Welker vs. Bengals: Welker has made a miraculous recovery from knee surgery, but he's admitted that he doesn't feel the same as he did before the operation. The Patriots could limit his snaps a bit in Week 1, so there's no guarantee he'll be the same stat-sheet stuffer we've become used to. The Bengals also have a tough pass defense, which makes Welker even more of a risk. If you have wideout depth, it might be a good idea to put him on the pine.

Mike Sims-Walker vs. Broncos: Sims-Walker did emerge as a viable fantasy starter in 2009, but he's going to find it tough to put up good numbers against the Broncos. Their defense allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts last season, due in larger part to the presence of CB Champ Bailey. He'll be called on to keep Sims-Walker (the Jaguars' lone legitimate wideout) quiet throughout the contest. That doesn't bode well for his chances of producing.

Braylon Edwards vs. Ravens: I'm not a fan of Edwards from a fantasy perspective -- he's been mediocre at best outside of his breakout season of 2007. While he will see his share of targets against the Ravens, he's still not a good bet to post strong numbers against what should remain one of the leagues's most formidable defensive units.

Lee Evans vs. Dolphins: Can you name the Bills' No. 2 wide receiver? (Kudos if you said Steve Johnson). The point here is that the team doesn't have a legitimate complement to their speedy No. 1 wideout, so the Dolphins will put the focus on stopping the speedy Evans. That makes him a major risk for fantasy leaguers in Week 1.

Hines Ward vs. Falcons: Ward will likely be active in most fantasy leagues this week, but he could be hard-pressed to put up good numbers. Not only will the Steelers be starting their third-string quarterback, Dennis Dixon, but Ward could also be dealing with the Falcons' top cover cornerback, Dunta Robinson, for most of this contest.

Owners beware - Anquan Boldin at Jets: All I need to say here is two words: Revis Island. The stud cornerback basically shut down every wideout he faced last season, even the elite players like Andre Johnson and Roddy White, so Boldin could be in for a hard night. It's hard to bench a player of his caliber, but you have to consider it.

Tight ends - Start 'Em

Jermichael Finley at Eagles: Finley is one of the most popular breakout candidates in fantasy football, and his final two preseason games (10 catches, 133 yards, two TDs) only created more hype around him. With Aaron Rodgers expected to target him often, Finley could push Dallas Clark and Antonio Gates among the top fantasy options at his position. He's a must-start against the Eagles, who allowed the second-most fantasy points to tight ends in 2009.

Zach Miller at Titans: Miller should post the best numbers of his career now that JaMarcus Russell has been removed from the offense. The team will now feature Jason Campbell at quarterback, so the Raiders should move the ball and allow Miller plenty of chances to produce. He also has a very favorable matchup in Week 1, facing a Titans defense that surrendered the ninth-most fantasy points to tight ends in 2009. Consider Miller a nice option.

Heath Miller vs. Falcons: With Dixon under center, Miller could be utilized often as a safety net for the inexperienced quarterback. Not only could he see more targets in the passing game, but Miller also has a nice matchup against the Falcons. Their defensive unit allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends last season.

Visanthe Shiancoe at Saints: Rice is out of the mix, so Favre will no doubt look to lean on the players he knows will come up big in the passing game. Enter Shiancoe, who became a popular target for the old gunslinger in 2009. Also, Shiancoe had a four catches for 83 yards against the Saints in last year's NFC Championship Game.

Kellen Winslow vs. Browns: Winslow should have some extra motivation this week against the Browns, the team that traded him after the 2008 season. It looks like Josh Freeman (thumb) will be under center, and the matchup against Cleveland is very favorable. Winslow isn't an elite tight end, but he's a very nice option in the opener.

Sleeper alert - Tony Scheffler at Bears: The Lions want to utilize Scheffler in the pass attack in the same fashion as Dallas Clark, so he's destined to see his share of targets in the offense. While I seriously doubt he'll be the next Clark, Scheffler does have some legitimate sleeper value against a questionable Bears defense.

Tight ends - Sit 'Em

Owen Daniels at Colts: Daniels was the top tight end in fantasy football last season, that is until he suffered a serious knee injury and was forced to the sidelines. He's still not 100 percent recovered from reconstructive surgery, so Texans coach Gary Kubiak has decided to limit Daniels' snaps against the Colts. In fact, he could see as few as a quarter of the offensive snaps in the contest. That alone makes Daniels someone to bench across the board. He's simply too risky to start.

Fred Davis vs. Cowboys:: One of the better fantasy tight ends at the end of last season, Davis helped countless owners win a championship. But with Chris Cooley back in the mix, he won't see the same number of opportunities to produce. While Shanahan will use multiple tight end sets, it's hard to trust Davis until we see how he's targeted in the passing game. Cooley, not Davis, is the Redskins tight end to start heading into Week 1.

John Carlson vs. 49ers: Carlson's value increased when the Seahawks released Houshmandzadeh, as he's likely to see more targets in the passing game from Matt Hasselbeck. But against the Niners, Carlson is someone to avoid in fantasy leagues. Their defense allowed an average of just 4.4 fantasy points to tight ends in the 2009 campaign.

Jermaine Gresham at Patriots: Gresham has some definite potential at the NFL level, but it's hard to start a rookie tight end right out of the gate in most fantasy leagues. Not only do the Bengals have a lot of mouths to feed in the passing game, but this week's opponent, the Patriots, were tough on opposing tight ends last season.

Todd Heap at Jets: Outside of Ray Rice, there isn't one member of the Ravens offense that should be considered a must start against the Jets. That certainly holds true of Heap, who will struggle to produce against a defense that surrendered an average of just 4.3 fantasy points to tight ends in 2009. Keep Todd on the scrap Heap this week.

Owners beware - Greg Olsen vs. Lions: Olsen actually has a good matchup on paper against the Lions, but it's still very hard to start him this week. Martz's offense has never been a positive for tight ends - no player at that position has caught even 40 passes in a single season in his system - so Olsen's a major gamble for Week 1.

Kickers - Start 'Em

Rob Bironas vs. Raiders: Bironas possesses one of the strongest legs in the league, and he'll have a chance to show if off against the Raiders. Their defense allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to kickers last season, so Bironas should have more than his share of chances to produce. Look for him to put up nice totals for fantasy owners.

Nate Kaeding at Chiefs: One of the better kickers in fantasy football, Kaeding should be on the verge of a solid first week of the season in Kansas City. In his last two games against this AFC West foe, he's converted on five field goals and a whopping nine extra points. Kaeding should be active in most fantasy leagues as a result.

Neil Rackers vs. Colts: Rackers beat out Kris Brown to earn the starting job behind an offense that should score more than its share of points this season. He's a nice option in Week 1 against the Colts, who allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to kickers last season. Rackers could still be available on your league's waiver wire, too.

Sleeper alert - Jay Feely at Rams: A journeyman kicker out of Michigan, Feely re-established himself as a fantasy starter during his two years with the Jets. Now in Arizona, he remains a viable option in 2010. Based on a matchup against a weak Rams defense, Feely should see some chances to score if the Cardinals can move the football.

Kickers - Sit 'Em

Jeff Reed vs. Falcons: Heinz Field has never been an easy place to kick, so Reed is already at a disadvantage from a fantasy perspective. Couple that with a matchup against the Falcons, who allowed an average of fewer than six fantasy points to kickers in 2009, and it's obvious as to why Reed is a very risky option out of the gate.

David Buehler at Redskins: Buehler has a strong leg and some definite upside as the starting kicker in Dallas, but there are still plenty of questions about his accuracy and how he'll handle such a prominent role in 2010. Until he proves to fantasy owners that he can produce on a consistent basis, he'll be hard to start in most leagues.

John Kasay at Giants: Once considered an elite fantasy kicker, Kasay's value has been a virtual rollercoaster ride in recent seasons. While he still has a strong leg and can be a useful asset, it's hard to trust him this week against the Giants. Their defense allowed barely over six fantasy points to opposing kickers last season.

Owners beware - Olindo Mare vs. 49ers: Like Kasay, Mare was one of the better fantasy kickers in the league earlier in his career. However, he hasn't been nearly as valuable or consistent in recent years and dealt with a calf ailment in the preseason. Mare also faces a bad matchup against the 49ers, so keep him on the fantasy sidelines.

Defenses - Start 'Em

49ers defense at Seahawks: Entering this season, the Seahawks are starting an injury-prone Hasselbeck at quarterback, not to mention the not-so-dynamic duo of Deion Branch and Mike Williams at wide receiver. That has to make Willis and his defensive teammates salivate. Look for the Niners to put up a very solid fantasy performance.

Cardinals defense at Rams: Couple a rookie quarterback in Sam Bradford with a team that lacks a consistent offensive threat outside of Steven Jackson, and you have an offense to target from a fantasy defense perspective. Enter the Cardinals, who will no doubt be extremely aggressive and look to rattle Bradford throughout the contest.

Titans defense vs. Raiders: The Silver & Black should be better on offense this season, but two of their top players (Jason Campbell, Bush) are dealing with (and expected to play through) injuries. That's good news for the Titans, who should be much improved compared to 2009 and will be motivated to produce on their home field.

Sleeper alert - Browns defense at Buccaneers: Start the Browns defense? Well, this is a sleeper pick, right? The Browns do have quite the favorable matchup, facing a Buccaneers offense that lacks an identity at this point. Don't be shocked if coach Eric Mangini's team outplays their lowly defensive reputation in Week 1.

Defenses - Sit 'Em

Eagles defense vs. Packers: The Eagles will have one of the better defenses in fantasy football this season, but this unit is in for some trouble in Week 1. Coming to town is Rodgers and the Packers, who looked like world beaters in the preseason and are a threat to put up a ton of points. Be safe rather than sorry and bench these Birds.

Bengals defense at Patriots: This important early-season AFC contest could turn into a shootout, which would be bad news for the fantasy appeal of both defenses. If the Patriots fail to run the ball (as I expect), Tom Brady could throw it 40-plus times and help the offense light up the scoreboard. As a result, the Bengals should be avoided.

Bills defense vs. Dolphins: The Dolphins offense should be very effective this season, especially now that Chad Henne has a full training camp as a starter under his belt. Oh, and then there's the presence of his new weapon, Brandon Marshall. All of this makes the Bills a poor bet to produce good numbers for fantasy leaguers in Week 1.

Owners beware - Vikings defense at Saints: No one questions that the Vikings have one fantasy football's top defenses, but it will be tough to hold down Drew Brees and a Saints team that fields one of the league's most explosive offensive attacks. If you can afford to put the Purple People Eaters on the bench, it's worth considering.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question for Michael on anything fantasy football related? Leave it in our comments section or send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com!

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