Fantasy notebook: Romo, Palmer solid in openers

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In what was a showdown of two of the NFL's premier offenses, the Detroit Lions came back from a 26-10 deficit to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals 27-26 in one of two Thursday night preseason contests.

Carson Palmer looked sharp in limited work, completing seven of 10 passes for 93 yards and leading the offense to two field goals. One of the most accurate arms in the league, Palmer will be one of the first five quarterbacks selected in all drafts. Rudi Johnson ran hard in his five carries - his first look went for 20 yards -- and he'll remain a surefire first-round selection. Rookie Kenny Irons, who was the favorite to finish behind Johnson on the depth chart, had to be carted off the field in the second quarter due to a knee injury and is out for the season. Kenny Watson now becomes the top handcuff option for Johnson.

Live preseason games on NFL Network

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  • Houston at Arizona, Sat. Aug. 18 (4 p.m.)
  • Detroit at Indianapolis, Sat. Aug. 25 (7 p.m.)
  • San Diego at Arizona, Sat. Aug. 25 (10 p.m.)
  • Buffalo at Detroit, Thur. Aug. 30 (7 p.m.)
  • San Fran. at San Diego, Thur. Aug. 30 (10 p.m.)
  • Indianapolis at Cincinnati, Fri. Aug. 31 (7:30 p.m.)

Chris Henry, who will miss the first eight games due to a league-imposed suspension, led the Bengals with six receptions for 86 yards and one touchdown. Despite his extended absence, those owners in larger leagues with extra roster space should still take a flier on him in the late rounds and stash him until he is eligible to return to action. Shayne Graham, who connected on four of five field-goal attempts including a 48-yarder in the first quarter and a 47-yarder in the second, remains a top option as a No. 1 fantasy kicker.

The Lions did what most expect them to do under offensive coordinator Mike Martz, and that's throw the football - a lot. Jon Kitna, whose stock has risen in recent weeks, completed three of five passes for 52 yards. Reserves J.T. O'Sullivan and Dan Orlovsky, who are in a battle for the second spot on the depth chart behind Kitna, combined to complete 27 of 42 passes for 445 yards and three touchdowns.

Tatum Bell rushed for 19 yards on six carries and appears to be the favorite to start for head coach Rod Marinelli while Kevin Jones recovers from an injured foot. While a backfield committee could emerge during the regular season with Bell, Jones and T.J. Duckett, Bell is the most valuable runner in Detroit at this time.

Rookie phenom Calvin Johnson caught the only two passes thrown to him and finished with 45 yards and showcased some of the speed and athletic abilities that made him such a valuable asset.

"That's my job - go get the ball," Johnson said. "People expect me to make plays."

Roy Williams is the unquestioned first option in a Lions offense that includes Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald, but Johnson has all the tools and is in a pass attack that will allow him to record some solid stat lines. Owners should look to add him in the middle rounds as a No. 3 fantasy wideout. McDonald, who led the team with 146 yards and scored on an 83-yard bomb from O'Sullivan in the second quarter, won't have draft value despite his impressive performance.

ROMO SHINES IN COWBOYS WIN

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has decided to wait and see how Tony Romo performs this season before he inks the quarterback to a long-term contract extension. If Romo's first preseason performance against the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts was an indication, Jones better be ready to open up his wallet.

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Romo looked poised and confident in limited work on Thursday night, completing 10 of 11 passes for 93 yards in the Cowboys 23-10 win. He led the offense downfield on two long scoring drives and seemed comfortable in the offensive attack of new coordinator Jason Garrett.

"We were taking what the defense gave us," Romo said. "But at the same time it was fun to move down the field quickly. We got into a good rhythm."

The fact that Romo is in a contract year for all intents and purposes is a positive for his value in drafts. Aside from the potential he showcased last season and the arsenal of weapons he has on offense, Romo's stock will be enhanced as he looks to prove that he can produce solid numbers on a consistent basis. He should be considered a terrific No. 1 fantasy quarterback and is worth a middle-round draft selection.

Romo's first pass of the night went to -- who else? -- Terrell Owens. It was the lone pass that T.O. caught in his time on the field, but he will remain one of the most prominent options in the new offense. In fact, new head coach Wade Phillips wants Owens to see the football as much as possible this season, and that means he could even improve on his impressive 2006 totals. A top-five fantasy wideout, T.O. will come off the board in the second or third round.

Julius Jones looked good in his six carries (22 yards), but it's was evident that Phillips will follow in the footsteps of former head coach Bill Parcells and utilize Jones and Marion Barber in a two-headed backfield attack. Barber rushed for 48 yards on 12 carries and caught three passes for 11 yards and is considered the more attractive option for owners. However, Jones seems more comfortable in the new offense (he told the media he felt like a "robot" running under Parcells), and the fact that he is in a contract year could make him a nice middle-round value as a No. 3 fantasy back.

NEWS & NOTES

-- Edgerrin James was a disappointment last season, but several factors have his value back on the rise. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt plans to run the football 55-60 percent of the time, which means around 325-350 carries for James. He will also have fullback Terrelle Smith ahead him to block, and the presence of assistant head coach Russ Grimm and rookie tackle Levi Brown should mean an improved offensive line. He should avoid stacked fronts with Matt Leinart, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in the pass attack.

-- The Browns offensive line looked like it would be much improved after the addition of veteran guard Eric Steinbach and rookie tackle Joe Thomas, but that might not be the case for a while. Steinbach is out 3-4 weeks due to a sprained ligament in his knee, tackle Ryan Tucker will miss the first four games of the season due to a league-imposed suspension, and the status of center LeCharles Bentley remains a question. All of these issues could mean a slow start for the offense, especially veteran back Jamal Lewis.

-- NFL Network analyst Adam Schefter reports that Marshawn Lynch is the favorite to open the regular season as the starting running back in Buffalo. A back who has been compared to former Bills back and Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas, Lynch has been a real standout in training camp as a runner and is just as effective as a receiver out of the backfield. We've promoted Lynch as a viable No. 2 fantasy runner ever since he was drafted, and his performance on the field to this point hasn't changes our minds at all.

-- L.J. Smith sustained a bruised groin in Thursday's morning practice and had to be carted off the field. An exam revealed that he hadn't aggravated the sports hernia that required a surgical procedure, but head coach Andy Reid couldn't place a timetable on his return. That's not good news for Smith or the Eagles pass attack, which has leaned on the talented tight end as a prominent part of the offense. Fantasy owners need to draft Smith with caution - he is no more than a No. 2 fantasy tight end until he's back to 100 percent.

-- The value of Clinton Portis could be headed even further downward after reports surfaced that he will visit Dr. James Andrews. The veteran back is responding well to treatment, which involves stretching exercises, but he still has discomfort when he makes his cuts. The Redskins believe Portis will be fine for the start of the regular season, but fantasy owners need to keep close tabs on his status and when (or if) he returns to the practice field. He's still a viable No. 2 fantasy back, but he is becoming a risk-reward choice.

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