Break out the moderately priced beer, say goodbye to lazy Sundays, and get ready to start over a dozen weeks of "dear lord, how the hell did I just lose to a semi-literate mortgage broker who drafted Kyle Orton in the fourth round?" It's fantasy football season (a.k.a. the time of year that makes Christmas feel like a root canal) - and the action kicks off tonight with a marquis matchup between the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and a Tennessee Titans team that looked at its number one draft pick from 2006 and said "No, thank you, we'd rather start a 52-year-old recovering alcoholic named Kerry at quarterback." The fantasy season is here friends, and here's the full 16-game rundown of who to get in your lineups along with Sunday injury updates.
Source: George Gojkovich/Getty Images
If you've already read the entire article, here are the latest notable injury updates as of one hour before kickoff on Sunday:
Kevin Walter is out of today's game. Pierre Thomas is still nursing his knee and will not play. Mike Bell will start in his place and makes a sneakly last minute play if you're hurting. Reggie Bush will play, but the word is that it willl be in a limited role. Jeremy Shockey will play. Matt Cassel will have to wait another week to make his Chiefs debut, as he is not playing. Kevin Curtis will play and start for the Eagles. Brian Westbrook, as expected, will also suit up today. Chris Henry will play despite his mid-week thigh injury. As will Carson Palmer, who says if he gets a lot of pressure will not scramble and will instead take the sack with his busted ankle. Be weary. Kyle Orton is out with a laceration on his throwing hand. Knowshon Moreno has apparently recovered well enough to make the start this week, but slide him into your lineup with caution. Bernard Berrian will also suit up, but don't expect incredible numbers as he's been touch and go all week. Wes Welker will apparently start despite his questionable tag. That's it for all the last minute injuries. Good luck!
As Oscar Wilde probably would have said if he was still alive and in a fantasy football league, "Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but nothing's prettier than an undefeated fantasy season." So, without any further ado, let's jump right in with the Spike.com start or sit breakdown.
Start- Matt Ryan and Michael Turner are starting to show serious Troy Aikman-Emmitt Smith potential, though, admittedly Turner has a ways to go before providing the unintentional comedy of Smith's short-lived broadcast career. The duo is pretty much a consistent start throughout the rest of the season, plus if some sort of suspension comes down on Drew Brees and Tom Brady for their alleged sex tape, they may both lead the fantasy world in their respective positions. This week is also a great chance to jump on the Tony Gonzalez bandwagon, as the veteran tight end should become the perfect target for Ryan over the middle and in the end zone. Along with Roddy White, who should have a stellar performance in week one, Gonzalez should cement himself as a top-five fantasy tight end early.
To put things into perspective, last year the Atlanta Falcons defense barely edged out the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns for the league's 25th best rush defense. (Only 24 spots behind the Minnesota Vikings). Combine Miami's skilled tackle tandem of Jake Long and Veron Carey with Atlanta's struggling D-line and Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams should have great days both on the ground and catching screen passes from Chad Pennington--who has to routinely see the team's grief counselor after being forced to throw the ball more than 13 yards. (For the record Pennington should put up average yardage this week but may not bank more than one touchdown through the air. A decent choice to start in larger leagues.)
Sit- Stopping Michael Turner may be impossible, but slowing down Jerious Norwood won't be. The Dolphins were in the top 10 against the run last year and will likely dare Matt Ryan to try to beat them through the air. Once the Dolphins start stacking the box, the Falcons may become more of a one-dimensional team leaving Norwood without enough carries to do some serious fantasy damage. Additionally, Michael Jenkins (who apparently has been an NFL receiver for six years) is coming off of a 2008 campaign where his only touchdowns came against the Lions and Raiders. With Gonzalez in town and White hitting his stride, Jenkins will become the casualty of this burgeoning Falcon's offense. Lastly, for the nine secretaries forced to enter office pools and Chris Redman's immediate family, Chris Redman is not a good choice to start.
Ted Ginn Jr. may have looked good at the end of last season, but the bottom line is he still didn't get in the end zone. Only one touchdown in his final seven games of 2008 is a scary number. Plus, both he and fellow Ohio State alum Brian Hartline have to be distracted by the upcoming Trojan/Buckeye game. Wait a week or two to see how Ginn does before putting him in the starting rotation.
Start- Sure, these two teams would be better served substituting the referees for mental health professionals, but there are some intriguing fantasy matchups in the only game this week that features a running back with a boating DUI and a receiver who shattered the preseason record of temper tantrums per game. Speaking of receivers with issues, Chad Ochocinco may have the fantasy week of his life, now that he has a healthy Carson Palmer getting him the ball and an opposing secondary that recently got lit up for 35 points in a charity game against the Cherry Creek Nursing Home. Never have the words "smart idea" been used in the same sentence as "Chad Johnson," but it wouldn't be the stupidest thing in the world to start the guy whose jersey number, I.Q. and name are all the same. Cedric Benson is also an excellent starting choice this week over running backs against tougher defenses. This may be his best performance all year.
This could be a phrase you hear often, but at this point in time there's nobody worth starting on the entire Broncos roster- seriously. Knowshon Moreno is still nursing a knee injury, Brandon Marshall has to work really hard to reach Ochochinco's maturity level and Kyle Orton-well, unfortunately he's looked a lot like Kyle Orton in the preseason.
Sit- Kicking legend and Cincinnati sex icon Shayne Graham may be a consistent threat in the always-annoying kicker position, but with the presumed onslaught of touchdowns against the Broncos' defense, it stands to reason that Graham may not end up getting too many shots. Lavernaues Coles (two receptions for two yards against the Broncos in 2008) and Chris Henry (mild insanity) aren't quite worth starting yet. Keep an eye on Henry, though. He was electric in the preseason.
Again, sitting anyone wearing a Broncos uniform is not just a good idea for the game, season, or coming decade, but also valuable life advice. Let the Josh McDaniels era begin...then shortly end.
Start- Adrian Peterson at 17-years-old could have rushed for 100 yards, two touchdowns, picked up his dry-cleaning and written a short novel in four quarters against this Cleveland Browns team. Visanthe Shiancoe is likely the only other Vikings' player on the start list, as the sure handed tight end may emerge as Brett Favre's favorite target early in the game.
Sit- Presuming the Vikings jump out to an early lead and show the world why Adrian Peterson may have been a better pick than JeMarcus Russell three years ago, (Raider Football Baby!) Brett Favre won't be airing the ball out too often, especially considering his old coach Eric Mangini will be sitting on the other sideline ready to exploit his former quarterback's weaknesses. Bernard Berrian is also on the sit list, after a week of minimal practice thanks to a hamstring injury. Percy Harvin likely won't contribute too much, either.
Jamal Lewis may turn out to be a fantasy steal if Brady Quinn (who threw for zero touchdowns in each of his two "not against the Denver Broncos" starts last year) can't put together a passing game, but going up against the Vikings' defensive line is an exercise in fantasy futility. Bench Lewis this week, unless 30 yards is good enough. Braylon Edwards will also likely struggle as the Vikings roll double coverage his way and put the pressure on Quinn.
Start- Assuming Peyton Manning isn't too focused on his upcoming Oreo lick-off against Donald Trump, the reigning MVP should put up solid numbers in his opening game. In week 16 of 2008 against the Jags, Eli's big brother threw for 364 yards and three touchdowns - one of which was to Reggie Wayne who had 108 yards and three awkward moments in the huddle with Tony Ugoh. Dallas Clark (three touchdowns in his final four regular season games in 2008) should remain a favorite target for Manning and put up impressive week one points. Anthony Gonzalez should play a more prominent role in the Colts offense this season, and after his 97 yard playoff performance against the Chargers. Gonzalez caught 14 passes in his first two starts last year, so a great start to 2009 isn't out of the question.
For the Jaguars, the only thing more important than opposing safety Bob Sanders' knee injury (that should keep him out of the game) are the powerful little legs of Maurice Jones-Drew. In two games against the Colts last year, Jones-Drew had over 325 yards of total offense and one very impressive touchdown in their week three showdown. The Colts run D isn't going to be much better this year.
Sit- Joseph Adai may have had his second best game of the year against the Jaguars (where he exploded for 78 yards through the Jaguars defense and over the shattered dreams of his fantasy owners), but this go-around may be a little different. After rushing for 10 yards in his final two games (not per carry- that's total yardage folks) it's hard to imagine him burning up the scoreboard in the first week of the season. Rookie back Donald Brown may have a bright career ahead of him --sort of like Joseph Addai used to--but it will take him a few games to find his groove.
Sit- David Garrard only threw one touchdown pass in two games against the Colts last season and only notched six touchdown passes in his final five games of 2008. He may be efficient, but unless he's playing against a Denver Broncos-quality secondary, don't expect the $100 million man to put up big fantasy numbers. Coincidentally, don't expect anything great from Marcedes Lewis (two touchdowns in 2008), Troy Williamson (5 receptions in 2008) or the pile of misshapen bones that used to be Tory Holt (third place in a fat camp track meet in 2008). We do recommend putting Williamson on your watch list, though. He looked like Garrard's go-to guy in the preseason.
Start- Tony Romo to Jason Witten. Get used to that phrase on Sunday, because with the Bucs' depleted defense and the NFL banishment of Jessica Simpson, Romo should be able to find his favorite target all day long. Hell, given the shape of the Tampa defense Roy Williams (who is desperate to prove himself) should be able to take advantage of a few mismatches off of play action and find his way in the end zone. What may be even more prevalent than the Cowboys' passing game (and references to Terrell Owens from the broadcast booth) will be the production of running back combo Marion Barber and Felix Jones. Both got a little banged up in 2008, but last year Wade Phillips realized that relying too heavily on the pass could be detrimental to his team. So expect a steady dose of rushing until the Bucs prove they can stop it.
Antonio Bryant practiced all week, but is still recovering from a knee injury that should make Kellen Winslow the Bucs' primary target, who despite a mediocre 2008 season still averaged nearly 10 yards-per-catch.
Sit- Putting aside the astounding move to start Cadillac Williams over Derrick Ward, the Bucs should struggle against a healthy Dallas front line that ranked in the top six rush defenses last season- a stat that shouldn't bode well for Byron Leftwich owners (both of them), as the hefty QB may see a bit more pressure than he's comfortable with on Sunday.
Start- After finishing the year 29th in pass defense, it stands to reason that the Jets may be a tad vulnerable through the air - which means Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson could have career days. This could lead to Johnson's second Dick's Sporting Goods commercial. On the ground, Steve Slaton should continue where he left off in 2008, where he averaged nearly five yards per carry and banked nine touchdowns for fantasy owners. At tight end, Owen Daniels put up 20 receptions in his final five games of last season and should put up nice opening day numbers against the Jets' secondary.
Tight end Dustin Keller and wide receiver Jerricho Cothcery should be able to take enough advantage of a banged up Texans secondary, but don't expect explosive numbers from either with a rook under center. We're not going to tell you to not start Thomas Jones against the Texans, but temper your enthusiasm.
Sit- Houston will likely stack the box, daring Sanchez to beat them- which is bad news for anybody with Leon Washington on their roster. Washington is a great back when he gets space to operate, but with an eight man box meeting him at the line of scrimmage every play, Mr. Washington probably won't be able to get going. Mark Sanchez might be a great quarterback one day. It just won't be this Sunday. Despite a strong arm an uncanny resemblance to Eric Estrada, Sanchez doesn't have the experience to utilize the weapons around him.
Start- The Kansas City Chiefs narrowly edged out the Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions for the NFL's worst rush defense. It doesn't matter if you're talking about hop skotch, pie eating contests, spelling bees, or defensive lines. Anytime you get put in the same group with the Lions and Raiders things are getting Al Davis without his sunglasses ugly. Ray Rice (who came on strong at the end of last season) should have a field day, while Willis McGahee should be able to capitalize on his opportunities for larger leagues. Thanks to a running game that could dominate, Joe Flacco will have some nice looks downfield that should result in a couple touchdown passes to his favorite targets Todd Heap and Derrick Mason (presuming he doesn't retire at halftime)
Sit: Conversely, the Kansas City Chiefs have to face the Baltimore Ravens defense. This would be a good time to sit anybody wearing red in this game. Only consider Larry Johnson if you're in a huge league. He'll be lucky to finish with 50 yards.
Start- This thing may look like a video game by midway through the second quarter, thanks to the Saints high-octane offense against the Lions' 32nd ranked defense. Drew Brees has a legitimate shot at 400 yards (he put up 356 last time he played Detroit) and should exploit favorable match-ups for Jeremy Shockey (listed as probable despite a sore ankle) and Marques Colston (99 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions last season in a nail-biting 42-7 win). After taking a pay cut to leave USC for the NFL, Reggie Bush has not reached the fantasy levels owners had hoped for, but should be able to start the 2009 campaign off nicely by taking advantage of a slower Lions' linebacking core and Pierre Thomas' knee injury, which has him listed as a likely scratch.
The best bet for a Detroit starter, as always, will be third year receiver Calvin Johnson. Not only will the 6' 5" Johnson be matched up against a relatively short secondary, but because the Lions will be playing from behind most of the game they will likely be looking downfield a lot. That means good things for what many consider to be the most athletic wideout in football. Johnson had over 225 yards and two touchdowns in his first two games last year, so great starts are part of his nature. On the opposite side, tight end Brandon Pettigrew should be able to capitalize on some of Stafford's 50-plus pass attempts. Kevin Smith is also worth starting for the Lions thanks to his 111 yard, one touchdown performance against New Orleans last season. There should be a lot of points scored in this game.
Sit- Fresh off a celebratory trip to Supercuts after being named the Lions' starter, Matthew Stafford enters week one with the hopes of a franchise resting upon his young shoulders, which may be a little premature provided he's barely of legal drinking age. Expect a slow start from the kid People Magazine once called "One of the 287 most interesting people in Georgia." (Note: Dennis Northcut likely won't be playing in this game)
Start- The Carolina Panthers defensive line is starting to look a little like an Oliver Stone movie--ineffective, full of holes, and costing way too much money. This should lead to big days for Brian Westbrook (semi-healthy and practicing all week) and Donovan McNabb, who started last season with a 360-yard, three-touchdown performance. McNabb should get a couple good looks downfield once the Panthers start collapsing on Westbrook, so DeSean Jackson is a smart start as well, provided he is able to properly identify the goal line. LeSean McCoy is a darkhorse starter for deeper leagues given how much the Eagles will run.
After establishing himself as the premiere back in Carolina, DeAngelo Williams should see a solid amount of touches. Sure, the Eagles had the NFC's best defense last year, but Williams thrived against quality opponents and could put up big numbers in his opening game. Don't dare sit him.
Sit- Kevin Curtis has been battling knee injuries all week and is already being phased out by some of the Eagles' younger receivers. It doesn't take a genius (or Andy Reid) to figure out that despite his one great game in the conference championship, the Eagles need to get younger on offense. Williams may be able to put up numbers against the Eagles front seven, but Jonathan Stewart is a riskier fantasy pick this week. It's very unlikely that two Panthers' running backs will go wild against a talented Eagles' defense, and Stewart is still recovering from a nagging injury.
Speaking of people that can't show their faces in public, better sit Jake Delhomme, whose pregame press conference will be intercepted by the Arizona Cardinals and run back for a touchdown. Think he's ready to get over his 29 interception 2008 playoff game against the NFL's third best pass defense? Didn't think so. Unfortunately, Steve Smith and Mushin Muhammad will also offer relatively week performances.
Start- Brandon Jacobs is strong, willing, and able to carry the load for the Giants. Plus he had over 175 yards and a touchdown in his two games against the Redskins in 2008. The only person that may outgain him will be Clinton Portis (a.k.a. the only offensive weapon the Redskins trust). Chris Cooley is also worth starting as he remains the team's most consistent receiving threat.
Sit- Not only is Eli Manning throwing to a collection of receivers with virtually no big game experience, but he's doing it against a team that he has never thrown for multiple touchdown passes against. Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Kevin Boss, and Domenik Hixon shouldn't fair well. And unless you're in a massive league, Ahmad Bradshaw shouldn't get enough touches to make an impact against an improved Redskins front.
Speaking of minimal production, did somebody say Jason Campbell? Well, unless it was prefaced by an F-bomb, odds are it wasn't coming from a Redskins front office official that tried to trade him 11 times this offseason. Campbell only had two multiple touchdown games last year and should be kept in check by a Giants' team that held Washington to 14 total points in two games last year. Also bench Antwan Randle El and Devin Thomas while you're at it.
Start- In a game that excited St. Louis natives have dubbed "something to do after church," the Rams enter this tilt the same way they did last season's opener; with one viable offensive weapon- Steven Jackson. The bruising back should take advantage of a relatively weak Seahawks defensive line and the team's distrust of ailing quarterback Marc Bulger, who should have yet another mediocre game. Jackson has four straight 100-yard games against the Seahawks and could put up similar numbers Sunday.
On the other side of the ball, Matt Hasselbeck is finally healthy and should gain a little extra something from a loud Seattle crowd and a number-one target in recently-acquired wide receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh. Both have been solid throughout camp and will be looking for one another early and often. Expect tight end John Carlson and running back Julius Jones to also take advantage of a sub-par Rams defense.
Sit- Anybody on St. Louis not named Steven Jackson, though Donnie Avery has a chance to pile up garbage receptions for point-per-reception leagues.
Nate Burleson is also not a stellar choice for week one. Hasselbeck will want to play with his new toy a bit more than the old, faithful one.
Start- Last year Kurt Warner torched the 49ers for 300 yards and three touchdowns. Since the Niners haven't seriously altered their defensive lineup. it stands to reason that Larry Fitzgerald should have a big game too. (Provided the Madden curse doesn't find him, too). Tim Hightower owners may also enjoy some red zone love in a high scoring affair.
Frank Gore has rushed for over 100 yards in each of his last three games against the Cardinals. With an improved offensive line and another year under Mike Singletary's schemes, he should have both a great game and a nice year. For teams looking for an alternative quarterback, Shaun Hill may be a nice option, given how high scoring this game could get. Just don't take too big of a risk by starting Isaac Bruce or Vernon Davis.
Sit- Beanie Wells continues to battle injuries and won't be the feature back for the first few Cardinals' games. Don't expect more than 10 carries for the first round draft pick. Anquan Boldin sat out practice Thursday and is unlikely to play in the opener, but check back here on Sunday for an update. Josh Morgan was the fantasy draft darling a few weeks ago, but reports have come out that he's falling out of favor.
The Jay Cutler era should begin with a bang. This game may turn into a shootout, and for the first time since the Reagan administration Chicago has a quarterback they trust to air it out. This should be great news for Greg Olsen owners (and for riskier players - Devin Hester.) Obviously Matt Forte will be the focus of the Bears offense early and could put up his third straight 100 yard game against the Packers.
Aaron Rodgers might have been the NFL presseason MVP. Granted, it's not exactly a prestigious honor, but he looked like a Pro Bowl quarterback. Bears' cornerback Charles Tillman has been hurt all week, so expect Rodgers to attack early and often which should benefit Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. And once the Packers establish the pass, wait for them to start the run, leading to a very nice Ryan Grant outing.
Sit: Earl Bennett still hasn't proven himself as a consistent threat, so we don't recommend starting him this week. But someone's going to have to catch all Cutler's passes, so keep an eye on him.
Start: The names Tom Brady and Randy Moss come to mind. And quite frankly, if you don't know why you don't deserve to be playing fantasy football. Wes Welker is probable for the game and should catch 8-10 balls in the slot.
Sit: Trent Edwards only has one career touchdown pass against the New England Patriots, which is bad news for Terrell Owens and Lee Evans owners. This game should end up being a three-hour Tom Brady broadcast celebration (shattering Tim Tebow's record) that will have the Bills scrounging for offensive production. There's no telling which Patriots RB will get the bulk of the carries, so we recommend staying away from all of them for now.
Start: LaDanian Tomlinson had over 200 yards and three touchdowns in two games against the Raiders last year. It was just about the only time he looked like himself. And since he hasn't had a chance to get injured yet, expect similar production in week one. Phillip Rivers and Darren Sproles haven't put up big numbers against the Raiders in the past, but do perform well in prime time games. As always Antonio Gates should be a solid red zone threat, as evidence by his touchdown grab in his last bout with the silver and gak.
Zach Miller and Darren McFadden are quality fantasy selections given how the Raiders will look to establish the tempo of the game early through quick passes and running game against the Chargers' 25th ranked defense. Phillip Rivers should be good for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns
Sit- Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers will be fighting over Antonio Gates' scraps throughout the season. Until it becomes clear how this will play out, neither are worth starting.
As bad as the Chargers defense was in 2008, the Raiders offense was worse- averaging only 16 points per game. Don't expect JaMarcus Russell or Darrius Heyword Bay to change that this early in the season.
Enjoy the rest of week one and try to remember that it's all fun and games until somebody loses their life savings betting on the Lions to cover a point spread. Be sure to check back on Sunday morning as we'll update all the injuries right before kickoff.
Start- For the six people still wondering whether or not to start Willie Parker, rest easy. The only thing that may slow down the speedy Tar Heel alum is boredom or a flat tire on the way to the game. Now that Albert Haynesworth has taken his special brand of 330 pound dominance and affection for all-you-can-eat seafood buffets to the nation's capital, Pittsburgh (and every other team in the league with a decent running game and restraining order against Mike Martz) will hit the ground early and often against a Titan's team that watched their best run-stopper head north during free agency. And just like any good coach will tell you, once the run starts rolling the pass starts rocking. (Then again, that might be another Oscar Wilde quote.) Once Parker and company turn three yards and a cloud of dust into a pair of first half touchdowns, watch for the play action to open up in a big way. With Santonio Holmes still nursing a back injury and the glory of his Super Bowl reception, Ben Roethlisberger (who needs a great performance to help combat those pesky rape allegations and ill-advised facial hair growth) may have to find another deep threat in Limas Sweed who will be matched up against Titan's nickelback Vincent Fuller down field. Sure, he faked a leg injury like a British soccer player after dropping two easy deep balls in the AFC Championsip, but the bottom line is Sweed can get open and Roethlisbger knows it. For a third receiver, Sweed may be a nice start for deeper leagues. As usual, Hines Ward is a must start. The veteran receiver banked 109 yards and a touchdown in his last game against Tennessee and will likely see a lot of early action as Big Ben and the Steelers set the tempo.
On the Titans' side of the ball Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler (who coincidentally were both first team selections on the 2008 "there's no way these are real names" All-Star team) are excellent choices to start. Tennessee loves to run the two tight end set and will use it to try to combat the Steelers' blitz and open up the field. For leagues that give points-per-reception Scaife may be an especially profitable pick along with Justin Gage, who will be seeing a lot of injured wideout Nate Washington touches. Despite some owners concerns about Chris Johnson facing a vaunted Steelers defense in his season debut, don't be afraid to start the franchise back. In 2008, just as Pittsburgh was hitting its stride, Johnson averaged 4.3 yards on 16 carries including a 21 yard touchdown run in Titans' 31-14 win over Mike Tomlin's boys. He may not put up big numbers, but with Tennessee's committment to the run and Johnson's big play ability it's not inconceivable that the talented sophomore put up a similar showing in 2009. Unless you have a tremendous third back (or one playing the Lions) stick with Johnson.
Sit- Rashard Mendenhall, despite the hype and Ron Dayne-Big Ten pedigree, the sophomore running back still won't see the ball more than 17 times tonight, and after Willie Parker established himself as a goal line threat, his cache' as a bruising back disappeared faster than you can say "Seriously, who invited Kerwin Bell to training camp?"
On the Titans' side of things the easy thing to do would be to tell owners to sit a Kerry Collins (who showed David Wells levels of mobility at the end of last season) against a ferocious Steelers defense that has spent the entire offseason hearing about how great the Patriots will be with Tom Brady back. But since the only people that make money taking the easy way out are street hookers and Gary Bettman, let's go out on a limb and suggest sitting LenDale White. In last year's game against the defending champs White rushed 15 times for 48 yards and averaged less than 3.5 yards per carry in his final four games in 2008. This may be a "prove you're ready for the next level" game for Reggie Bush's old buddy that may not go so well. This also isn't the week to start rookie receiver Kenny Britt quite yet.