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.
Quarterbacks - Start of the week
Philip Rivers at Raiders (Mon.): Rivers fell hard in a lot of fantasy football drafts -- I landed him in Round 10 in one league -- but that doesn't take away from the fact that he has a great matchup against the Raiders. In his last eight starts against this AFC West foe, the veteran has thrown for an average of over 270 yards with two touchdowns. That includes a combined 584 yards and five passing scores against them in 2011.
Matt Ryan at Chiefs: Ryan was solid in the preseason, completing 75 percent of his passes while posting a quarterback rating of 111.00. In an offense that will throw the football a ton under OC Dirk Koetter, I see Ryan as a major breakout option in fantasy football. So while the Chiefs defense has some talent, I wouldn't be afraid to start Ryan in this inter-conference clash at Arrowhead Stadium.
Jay Cutler vs. Colts: Cutler's fantasy value is on the rise with Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery in the pass attack, and he should open the 2012 campaign on a high note against the Colts. Their defense failed to put much pressure on the quarterback and allowed 25 touchdown passes last season, so Cutler is in a good position to find success. Start him if you don't have a No. 1 option.
Matt Schaub vs. Dolphins: Schaub looked no worse for wear from last season's foot ailment, completing over 76 percent of his passes in the preseason. He also has Andre Johnson back in the mix, not to mention new wideouts like Lestar Jean and rookie Keshawn Martin. The Dolphins were mediocre against the pass in 2011, making Schaub a viable option if you're playing the quarterback matchups.
Sleeper alert - Robert Griffin III at Saints: I don't know about you, but I'm thinking there will be a ton of points scored in this contest. That's good news for RG3, who should make an impact for fantasy owners in his first NFL regular-season start. Also, keep in mind that the Saints allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing signal-callers in 2011, making Griffin III well worth a look.
Quarterbacks - Sit of the week
Andy Dalton at Ravens (Mon.): Dalton is coming off a nice rookie campaign, throwing for 3,398 yards with a combined 21 total touchdowns. Unfortunately, he figures to have a tough statistical start to 2012 against the Ravens. In two starts against them last season, Dalton threw just one touchdown pass and was picked off three times. There are better options at the quarterback position this weekend.
Carson Palmer vs. Chargers (Mon.): Palmer was horrid in the preseason, throwing no touchdowns passes and two interceptions in his two contests. He didn't have much time to get on the same page as some of his receivers as well, due to injuries to Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford. That could mean a slow start to the season for Palmer, who will also face what should be a much improved Chargers defense.
Russell Wilson at Cardinals: Everyone in fantasy land seems to be in love with Wilson, who beat out Matt Flynn to earn the top spot on the Seahawks depth chart. That doesn't mean he should start for your fantasy team, at least not yet. The Cardinals pass defense was average in 2011, but their front four will put a ton of pressure on the rookie this week. Stash Wilson on your bench for now.
Mark Sanchez vs. Bills: Sanchez might have finished 10th in fantasy points among quarterbacks in 2011, but he's in a new run-based offense now and failed to lead the Jets on a single touchdown drive in the preseason. With the spector of Tim Tebow seeing time in the offense and a matchup against what should be a much-improved Bills defense, Sanchez is not someone you want to roll with in Week 1.
Owners beware - Andrew Luck at Bears: Luck looked awesome in the preseason (514 yards, four total touchdowns) and seems to have the confidence and moxie of a five-year veteran. However, starting him this week against the Bears is going to be difficult. Their aggressive front four will look to put pressure on the rookie quarterback, so this could be a tough start for the Stanford product.
Running backs - 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 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 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 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 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 Buccaneers gave up more fantasy points to running backs than any other team in the league last season. In his last game against Tampa Bay, 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 Titans allowed an average of close to 20 fantasy points per game to backs in 2011.
Running backs - 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. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has already stated that if the stud runner is active against the 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 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 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, 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.
Wide receivers - Start of the week
Percy Harvin vs. Jaguars: Harvin is coming off his best fantasy season, finishing in the top 10 at the position based on points. With Adrian Peterson likely to be limited (if active at all), he should be utilized even more prominently against the Jaguars. In fact, some of Harvin's best games have come while A.D. was sidelined. He's the clear-cut top option in the pass attack for Christian Ponder.
Torrey Smith vs. Bengals (Mon.): A fantasy football sleeper, Smith has value as a No. 3 wideout this week with the potential to be even better as the season rolls forward. In his first-ever home agame against the Bengals, the Maryland product hauled in six passes for 165 yards and scored a touchdown. With Joe Flacco coming off a nice preseason and in a contract year, Smith is someone to watch.
Pierre Garcon at Saints: Garcon is coming off his best fantasy season, and his move to Washington now gives him a chance to be a No. 1 wideout. While he's more of a No. 3 option from a fantasy standpoint, it's very tough not to like this week's matchup against the Saints in what could be a barnburner. Remember, New Orleans allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing wideouts in 2011.
Nate Washington vs. Patriots: Looking for a No. 3 wideout to fill out your starting lineup? Based on this week's matchup against the Patriots, Washington is well worth a look. New England allowed more fantasy points to wideouts than any team in the league in 2011, and Washington should see plenty of targets from new starter Jake Locker while Kenny Britt (suspension) is on the sidelines.
Sleeper alert - Malcom Floyd at Raiders (Mon.):Fantasy owners in need of a No. 3 wideout or flex starter should consider Floyd, who has a favorable matchup against the Raiders. In his last three games versus this AFC West rival, the veteran has recorded a combined 20 receptions for 412 yards and two touchdowns. Oakland also allowed the third-most fantasy points to wide receivers in 2011.
Wide receivers - Sit of the week
DeSean Jackson at Browns: Jackson is coming off a dreadful season, posting 58 catches and a mere four touchdowns while finishing 27th in fantasy points at his position. This week he faces the Browns, who allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts last season. Jackson would be more attractive if CB Joe Haden (suspension) were held out, but right now he's a major risk.
Steve Johnson at Jets: OK, so Johnson has been the lone wideout to have success against Jets CB Darrelle Revis over the last two seasons. But I think Revis is hearing the hype about Johnson getting the best of him and will no doubt be motivated to close to door on the Bills wideout. Johnson (groin) is also not at 100 percent, making him an even riskier option for fantasy owners this week.
Santonio Holmes vs. Bills: Holmes scored eight touchdowns last season, but he's seen his reception and yardage totals drop in each of the last three years. With the Jets utilizing more of a run-based offense, Holmes could see fewer opportunities in 2011. And while has has scored three times in his last three games against Buffalo, Holmes also had just 68 combined yards in those contests.
Greg Little vs. Eagles: I'm on record as saying that Little is a terrific sleeper candidate this season, but I don't like him against the Eagles and CB Nnamdi Asomugha in Week 1. Not only is he facing one of the league's best cover cornerbacks, but rookie Brandon Weeden could be pressured often in this contest. Back in the second week of the preseason, the Eagles sacked him three total times.
Owners beware - Mike Wallace at Broncos: Wallace held out for most of training camp and the preseason, so he's not going to be in game shape right out of the gates. Furthermore, he'll be faced with the difficult task of going up against Broncos CB Champ Bailey on Sunday night. In his last meeting with Denver in the 2011 playoffs, Wallace hauled in three passes for 26 yards and no touchdowns.
Tight ends - Start of the week
Vernon Davis vs. Packers: Davis was an absolute beast in the 2011 postseason, posting 10 catches for 292 yards and four touchdowns in two games. Fantasy leaguers hope he can pick up where he left off, and this week's matchup against the Packers is a favorable one. Green Bay allowed the second-most touchdown catches and the second-most fantasy points overall to opposing tight ends last season.
Aaron Hernandez at Titans: A potential breakout candidate in fantasy land, Hernandez should open the regular season on a high note against the Titans. Their defense surrendered the third-most receiving yards and the eighth-most fantasy points to tight ends in 2011, so look for Tom Brady to target Hernandez often. The Florida product could actually also see some carries, which just helps his appeal.
Fred Davis at Saints: The release of Chris Cooley cements Davis as the top tight end in Washington, not to mention one of the two best options in the pass attack for Robert Griffin III. Had he not been suspended for the final four games of the 2011 campaign, Davis had a terrific chance to post better than 70 catches and 1,000 yards. Look for him to have a nice stat line against the Saints this week.
Greg Olsen at Buccaneers: Olsen, who is still a free agent in over 70 percent of NFL.com leagues, is a player to consider if you're not thrilled with your current tight end. He should see more targets in the pass attack with Jeremy Shockey no longer in the mix, and this week's matchup against the Buccaneers is a favorable one. Their defense allowed seven touchdown catches to tight ends in 2011.
Sleeper alert - Kyle Rudolph vs. Jaguars: A deep sleeper who could prove to be a great draft bargain, Rudolph is coming off a solid training camp and could emerge into Christian Ponder's favorite targets this season. A home game against the Jags is also favorable, as their defense allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends last year. Consider him if you're in need at the position.
Tight ends - Sit of the week
Brandon Pettigrew vs. Rams: Pettigrew finished a respectable 11th in fantasy points at his position last season, but he was more than a bit inconsistent in standard scoring systems. While a matchup against the Rams looks good on paper, this unit allowed one touchdown and the fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends in 2011. Don't be shocked if Pettigrew fails to meet your statistical expectations.
Jacob Tamme vs. Steelers: While his overall value is on the rise as a member of the Broncos (and re-united with Peyton Manning), Tamme is a bit of risk this week against the Steelers. Their defense was tough on opposing tight ends in 2011, giving up the 10th-fewest fantasy points to the position. Unless you're in dire straits at the position, Tamme is someone better left on the fantasy football sidelines.
Jared Cook vs. Patriots: Cook has a pile of upside and could develop into a top-12 player at his position, but this week's matchup against the Patriots isn't favorable. While this unit allowed a ton of points for wideouts in 2011, the tight end position was held to a mere three touchdowns and an average of just 5.48 fantasy points per game. Also, Cook has a combined seven yards in three Week 1 games.
Jermaine Gresham at Ravens (Mon.): Gresham suffered a knee ailment during the preseason, but he is expected to be back in action this Monday night when the Bengals face their AFC North foes, the Ravens. Regardless, the veteran isn't someone you want in your starting fantasy lineup in Week 1. In his three career games against Baltimore, Gresham has averaged a mere 3.6 receptions, 45 yards and no touchdowns.
Owners beware - Jermichael Finley vs. 49ers: It's tough to sit a player like Finley, who is considered one of the top options at his position and was likely selected as such in drafts. However, this week's matchup against the 49ers is a tough one. Their formidable defense allowed a meager three touchdown passes and the fifth-fewest fantasy points to tight ends in 2011, so Finley could be in for a long day.
Kickers - Start of the week
Garrett Hartley vs. Redskins: Hartley beat out John Kasay during the preseason to re-claim the top spot in New Orleans, and this week's matchup against the Redskins makes him a strong option in fantasy land. If he's a free agent (Hartley is still available in close to 20 percent of NFL.com leagues), go out and grab the veteran right now. He could turn into one of fantasy football's elite kickers in 2011.
Jason Hanson vs. Rams: Hanson, 42, continues to be a viable fantasy football option even entering his 21st season in the NFL. The strong-legged veteran, who finished among the better players at his position based on fantasy points in 2011, should open the new season on a high note against the Rams. Their defense allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing kickers last year, making Hanson a solid option.
Robbie Gould vs. Colts: Gould ranked among the best kickers in fantasy football last season, scoring 133.00 points in standard NFL leagues. His value continues to be prominent in 2012, and this week's matchup against the Colts makes him a nice option in fantasy land. Indianapolis surrendered the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing booters in 2011 and could struggle against an improved Bears offense.
Sleeper alert - Justin Medlock at Buccaneers: Who is Medlock? Well, he was a fifth-round draft pick of the Chiefs in 2007 and has played just one NFL game. However, he was one of the elite kickers in Canada and beat out Olindo Mare for the top spot in Carolina this preseason. With an attractive matchup against the Buccaneers on tap, Medlock is worth a roll of the dice if you don't like your current kicker.
Kickers - Sit of the week
Rob Bironas vs. Patriots: Bironas, an eight-year veteran out of Georgia Southern, has been one of the better kickers in fantasy football over the last several seasons. Unfortunately, he's opening the 2012 campaign against one of the tougher defenses against kickers from last season, the Patriots. New England gave up the fourth-fewest fantasy points to the position in 2011 and could make Bironas invisible in Week 1.
Nick Folk vs. Bills: I don't have a lot of faith in the Jets offense after watching them several times in the preseason, so I'm not going to recommend their kicker, Folk, in an AFC East battle against the Bills. Buffalo surrendered an average of just over seven fantasy points per game to the position last year, and their defense should now be much improved with the additions of DL Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.
Defenses - Start of the week
Texans defense vs. Dolphins: It's impossible not to love the Texans in fantasy football, not just this week, but for the entire season. This unit should open the 2012 campaign on a very high note, as the Dolphins and rookie Ryan Tannehill come to town in what could be a blowout. With no legitimate weaspons in the offense outside of Reggie Bush, Miami will have a tough time doing anything against Houston.
Eagles defense at Browns: Yes, I am picking on rookie quarterbacks this week. A disappointment in fantasy land last season, the Eagles have a great matchup against Brandon Weeden and a Browns offense that could be forced to play without Trent Richardson at full strength. Regardless, the aggressive Philadelphia defense could be in line to post some tremendous fantasy football totals in this Week 1 matchup.
Seahawks defense at Cardinals: The Seahawks came out of nowhere to finish a solid seventh in fantasy points among defenses last season, and there's no reason to expect their success to end in 2012. Their first contest comes up against the Cardinals, who just named the inconsistent John Skelton their No. 1 quarterback. Look for Seattle to pressure the Fordham product and force multiple turnovers.
Sleeper alert - Vikings defense vs. Jaguars: Until Blaine Gabbert proves that he's taken a step forward after what was an awful 2011 campaign, I'm going to play the defensive matchups against him. Enter the Vikings, who will be fired up to play hard in front of their home crowd. With Jones-Drew reportedly playing a limited role after his holdout, the Jaguars could find it tough to score points in this contest.
Defenses - Sit of the week
Chiefs defense vs. Falcons: I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see the Falcons turn into the 2012 version of last year's Detroit Lions. That means a ton of points on the scoreboard and terrible fantasy matchups for opposing defenses. So even with Kansas City getting back SS Eric Berry and expected to be better on the defensive side, I would still sit this unit down in what could turn into a high-scoring affair.
Bengals defense at Ravens (Mon.): The Bengals defense emerged into quite a nice option in fantasy land last season, ranking among the top 12 at the position based on points. Still, a tough Week 1 matchup on the road against the Ravens makes this unit far less attractive from a fantasy perspective. Joe Flacco has also been a much better quarterback on his home field, so Baltimore should put up some points here.
Redskins defense at Saints: Remember the "Drew Brees rule" from last season in Start 'Em & Sit 'Em? Basically, just about any defense facing Brees and the Saints offense needs to be dragged into a reserve spot on your fantasy football league. The Redskins draw that unfortunate status this week, as the Boys from the Bayou will be tough to stop on offense after a tumultous offseason. Keep the Skins on the bench.
Owners beware - 49ers defense at Packers: I know, the Niners were the top overall defense in fantasy football last season. And yes, it's tough to bench them unless you have another solid defensive option available. Just keep in mind that playing on the road versus Aaron Rodgers and what figures to be an explosive Packers pass attack is just about the worst matchup a defense can have in any given week.