Gronkowski, Brown share fantasy spotlight in opener

To be honest with you, everyone around the NFL Media office has been just plain giddy all week long. Football is back and it all begins tonight when the Steelers take on the Patriots at Foxboro. Can you think of a better season opening matchup? I can't. We get to see the defending Super Bowl champions take on one of the league's offensive powerhouses. It's a new beginning for fantasy leagues everywhere and tonight's game is loaded with fantasy studs. So jump right in and find out what you can expect on Thursday night from your favorite fantasy stars in a game that promises to be a barn burner. Oh, and don't forget to lock up your Perfect Challenge lineup for Week 1.


Pittsburgh Steelers

We all know Big Ben led the league in passing yards last season (tied with Drew Brees) and surprisingly finished as a top-five option in fantasy at his position. He returns on Thursday night without some of his best weapons, as Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant are both suspended. They accounted for 1,403 receiving yards and 11 receiving touchdowns last season. Still, this should be a high-scoring game on both sides of the ball so if you're rolling with Roethlisberger, there is no reason to fret about his fantasy production as he has posted 16 touchdowns in his seven career games against New England.

**Antonio Brown, WR** 

Brown was a first-round pick in the majority of fantasy drafts this season and for good reason. He was 2014's top fantasy wideout and racked up 129 receptions. Brown's consistency was also unmatched as he tallied at least five catches and 50 yards in all 16 games and scored 13 touchdowns over the course of the year. Without Bell and Bryant on the field, Brown should see a high volume of targets all night long. You don't need me to tell you to fire up the best fantasy receiver in the game against the Patriots on Thursday night.

The Steelers picked up Williams in the offseason to serve as Bell's backup during the season, but the veteran back will be Pittsburgh's No. 1 runner for the team's first two games. Williams had an injury-plagued 2014 campaign missing 10 games with ankle and hand ailments and never quite looked himself with Carolina last year. But in his preseason snaps with the Steelers he looked spry, and at age 32 will do everything he can to fill Bell's role. Williams doesn't expect the Steelers' offense to change at all with Bell's absence, so he could see a heavy dose of both receptions and carries out of the gate. If you drafted Bell and locked up Williams late to fill in for him, there's no reason to leave him on your fantasy bench against New England. Use him or lose him.

**Markus Wheaton, WR** 

Wheaton has a chance to prove that he's worthy of the Steelers' No. 2 receiver spot with Bryant on the shelf for the first four games. Wheaton fell down the pecking order last year with Bryant's breakout but still managed to post a 53-644-2 line. Big Ben has talked his young receiver up this offseason, going as far to say that 2015 would be a breakout year for him. But for fantasy purposes, he's no more than a deep sleeper who needs to prove himself before you can consider starting him on a weekly basis. It'd be wise to leave him on the bench against the Patriots until we see some consistent production.

**Heath Miller, TE** 

Miller is a risky play at tight end in fantasy and he's definitely not one of those guys who will win your week. But if you waited to draft the position and are only looking for a few points to keep you afloat, the trusty veteran will always have at least a few catches and a shot at a red zone look or two. With Bell and Bryant on the sidelines, Miller could play a bigger role in the passing attack than we're used to seeing. But unless you play in a deeper league where he might be your only option, he's probably best left on your bench.

New England Patritos

**Tom Brady, QB** 

Brady will be out to make a statement in the season opener on Thursday night in front of his home crowd in Foxborough. It sounds like Julian Edelman will be on the field after sitting out during the preseason with an injury. And of course we'll all be watching to see if the Steelers can stop Brady's favorite target, Rob Gronkowski. Good luck with that one, Steelers D. Anyway, Brady tossed four touchdown passes in his last meeting with Pittsburgh back in 2013, and last year Pittsburgh allowed the sixth most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. This one is shaping up to be a barn burner, so if you've got Brady on your roster, plug him in Thursday night.

**Rob Gronkowski, TE** 

I could write about how Gronk has averaged 82.9 receiving yards per game and has racked up 54 receiving touchdowns since 2010. Or I could let you know that the Steelers allowed 11 receiving touchdowns to tight ends last season. But instead, I think I'll just remind you that Gronk is hands down the top player at his position and might be the biggest weekly advantage you can have in fantasy. Expect Brady to target him early and often on Thursday night and make sure he's locked into your Week 1 lineups.

**Julian Edelman, WR** 

There were some injury concerns with Edelman during the preseason but he did not appear on the Patriot's injury report ahead of Thursday night's game. So he should be locked and loaded for your fantasy squad. Edelman led the Patriots last year with 92 receptions on 134 targets and makes his hay on his high volume and yardage totals rather than his touchdown scoring. If you play in a PPR league, Edelman brings WR2 value to your roster but in standard formats he's more of a flex play. Either way he should be a big part of New England's plan in the season opener.

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**Dion Lewis, RB** 

Lewis is at the top of my list as far as the Patriots backfield is concerned for fantasy purposes on Thursday night. While we need to keep in mind that you can never really rely on a New England running back for production, he seems like the frontrunner to fill the Shane Vereen role and with LeGarrette Blount out, he is in line for an even bigger role than merely a third-down pass-catching back. He looked good in the preseason and even got into the end zone twice. If he's floating around on the waiver wire, he's worth considering in deeper leagues. It's not out of the question to think he could rack up somewhere in the range of 12-15 touches against the Steelers.

**Danny Amendola, WR** 

With Brandon LaFell out with an injury, Amendola should serve as the Patriots No. 2 wideout, and third option in the passing game behind Gronkowski and Edelman. Since he has just one receiving touchdown in his last 19 games, he makes for a risky play on Thursday night but has some potential to rack up four to six receptions of the short-yardage variety as Brady's slot receiver.

Matt Franciscovich is an associate fantasy editor at Follow him on Twitter _@mfranciscovich_.

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