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Game Previews: Week 1

Week 1
Thursday - 8:30 PM EST Sunday, 4:00 PM EST
Sunday - 1:00 PM EST DAL at JAX
BAL at TB  
BUF at NE  
CIN at KC Sunday - 8:30 PM EST
NO at CLE Monday - 9:00 PM EST
SEA at DET  

Miami at Pittsburgh 8:30 p.m.
The 2006 NFL Season kicks off with as much storylines and hype as the NFL season in general! Both teams will come into this game with a conservative offensive approach to gain the edge in time of possession, relying on their respective defenses to win the battle for field position and ultimately win the game. The team that is more successful on the ground should come out on top in what should be a great game to start the season.

Roethlisberger’s emergency surgery prevents him from playing in this game and forces Pittsburgh to play Charlie Batch right out of the gates in their 2005 Championship defense. Batch looked decent during the preseason, but he isn’t nearly as good as Big Ben. Hines Ward is also nursing a hamstring injury and might not be at 100%, Cedric Wilson and Heath Miller should shoulder more of the work in the passing game.

Fantasy Focus

Miami: Daunte Culpepper has shown during the preseason he is capable of returning to fantasy’s elite group of QB’s, but he must prove it during the regular season before owners can feel good about him as their #1 QB for the season. Chambers is adept at running deep routes and would seem to be perfect complement to Culpepper’s ability to throw the ball downfield. With Pittsburgh’s stingy defense, Culpepper will be tested early and often in long passing situations. Should Culpepper rise to the occasion against this defense, consider trading for him before his value skyrockets against weaker defenses in weeks 2-7.

  • Start: Defense, C. Chambers, and R. Brown
  • Consider: D. Culpepper and R. McMichael
  • Sit: M. Booker and O. Mare

Pittsburgh: Although Jerome “The Bus” Bettis retired, Pittsburgh and Bill Cower will still come out playing smash mouth football. Fantasy owners should watch how Willie Parker produces after having a full off-season to prepare as the #1 RB. Although Cowher has stated Parker will receive the ball near the goal to start the season, I am not sold on him being successful in that role. Should Parker fail to score on carries inside the 5-yard line, his fantasy value will take a serious hit as the Steelers turn to other options. Heath Miller should continue to improve in his second year and figure prominently in the Steelers passing game.

  • Start: Defense, W. Parker, J. Reed and H. Miller
  • Consider: C. Wilson and H. Ward (hammy)
  • Sit: B. Roethlisberger and C. Batch

Score: Miami 17 Pittsburgh 14

Atlanta at Carolina 1:00 p.m.
Atlanta heads to Carolina for a tough NFC South divisional game. Many people believe Carolina has the team to win the Superbowl in 2006, including myself, but they must first get through their division and make the playoffs. Their season begins at home against a very dangerous Atlanta team that underachieved last season. Atlanta bolstered their defense with the acquisition of DE John Abraham, SS Lawyer Milloy and first round draft choice, CB Jimmy Williams. One reason might be the good run defenses within their division, including Carolina. Look for Atlanta to become more balanced on offense and continue to torment defensive coordinators by making Vick a part of the running game.

Carolina brought in Keyshawn Johnson to complement the league’s leading receiver in 2005, Steve Smith. Johnson’s presence will give Carolina and QB Jake Delhomme another quality target when defenses double-team Smith this season. The defense is still the most decisive factor in winning football games in Carolina and will be counted on to win this game.

Fantasy Focus

Atlanta: Michael Vick’s fantasy value should increase this season as he develops as a passer. He has all the weapons around him to keep defenses honest, which includes his legs. Carolina will try and force Vick to throw the ball to beat them. With another year of seasoning, his young WR’s should be acclimated to Vick’s style and become more productive as whole-I don’t see any individual receiver having a great day this week. Add in the steady and sure-handed Alge Crumpler at TE and Carolina will have troubles if Vick finds a rhythm in the passing game. Check out the kicking situation in Atlanta, Koenen is doing it all and has great range and is definitely worthy of starting based on your other options.

  • Start: Vick, Crumpler and Dunn
  • Consider: Koenen
  • Sit: Defense, Lelie, Jenkins and White

Carolina: DeShaun Foster had two of his best games last season against the Falcons. You can be sure Carolina will run him early and often and test Atlanta’s revamped defense. As a result, Foster should post respectable numbers. I think Jake Delhomme will test the Atlanta secondary all day, finding success enough times to have a good day. Those who say Delhomme is always locked in with Smith and never looks at anyone else would do the same thing if you were in his shoes. With Johnson on board Jake has a real reason to take his eyes off Smith!

  • Start: Defense, Delhomme, Foster, Kasay and Johnson
  • Consider: none
  • Sit: Williams

Score: Carolina 27 Atlanta 24

Baltimore at Tampa Bay 1:00 p.m.
The Ravens and the Buccaneers match up well against each other and even have #2 WR’s with the same name (this should make the broadcast interesting). The Ravens finally shelved Boller after signing Steve McNair, but don’t get too caught up in the McNair hype. This is a guy who practically inures every part of his body throughout the course of an NFL season. At some point Boller will be starting again for the Ravens again. Jamal Lewis will try and rebound from a disappointing 2005 campaign, but won’t find much success against the Bucs in this game.

Carnell “Cadillac” Williams is healthy again and should be the focus of the offensive game plan in this game. Chris Simms had a great preseason and appears ready to make the next step in his young NFL career. He will have a healthy Mark Clayton to start the season opposite Galloway. Their defense remains amongst the top units in the league, allowing the fewest total yards per game in 2005.

Fantasy Focus

Baltimore: Todd Heap’s value rises considerably with McNair at QB. Heap is a great pass catching TE and good at working the zone coverage and finding the seam in the vertical passing game. Heap will be one of the first places McNair looks when he is being pressured by the Tampa Bay rush.

  • Start: Heap and Stover
  • Consider: Mason and Clayton
  • Sit: Lewis, Defense and McNair

Tampa Bay: Moving the ball on the Baltimore defense will be a challenge and more than likely, field goals will decide this game. For this reason I like Matt Bryant. I also think Tampa Bay’s defense will completely shut down the Ravens in this low scoring affair. Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are tough to beat on a consistent basis.

  • Start: Defense, Williams and Bryant
  • Consider: Galloway, Clayton
  • Sit: Alstott, Pittman

Score: Tampa Bay 13 Baltimore 6

Buffalo at New England 1:00 p.m.
Division rivals Buffalo and New England clash in Foxboro Sunday afternoon. When these two teams met for the first time at Gillette stadium last season, Willis McGahee tallied over 150 all-purpose yards but didn’t get into the end zone once. The Bills only scored 6 rushing touchdowns all season in 2005. With J.P. Losman under center this team will have to score on the ground if they want to contend in this game or this season for that matter.

The Patriots are not as dominant as they once were, but are still the favorite in the AFC East until another team supplants them. Belichick and Brady remain united and Corey Dillon should be ready to go but questions at the WR position may plague this team in Week 1. With Deion Branch holding out and Reche Caldwell looking like, well, Reche Caldwell, the Pats traded with Oakland for Doug Gabriel. Even if Branch decides to end his holdout with the team, I doubt he would receive any playing time this week, which means the Patriots, will line up with Gabriel, Caldwell, rookie Chad Jackson and the ageless Troy Brown at WR. While Brady is excellent at breaking down defensive schemes, I think this will limit their passing game substantially allowing the Bills defense to load up against the run.

Fantasy Focus

Buffalo: New offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild will build his game plan around McGahee and plans on utilizing his pass catching skills more in 2006. McGahee will receive over 30 touches in this game and should produce huge yardage totals and I believe he gets multiple touchdowns in this game. The Bills ground attack will also help open the door for some long pass plays to Lee Evans.

  • Start: McGahee
  • Consider: Evans and Lindell
  • Sit: Defense, Losman, Reed, and Price

New England: Can Brady produce with less than spectacular options at WR? Yes, but not this week, as they will need more time to learn the playbook and create chemistry. Brady will disappoint fantasy owners who selected him as the second or third QB off the board in this game. The Bills’ secondary should allow the front seven to play the run. If Brady works his magic and proves me wrong, TE Ben Watson and Gabriel should be the benefactors.

  • Start: Dillon and Watson
  • Consider: Gabriel and Brady
  • Sit: Caldwell, Jackson, and Gostkowski

Score: Buffalo 24 New England 21

Cincinnati at Kansas City 1:00 p.m.
The Bengals and Chiefs are two promising teams with multiple offensive weapons that could turn this game into a shootout. Last season, both of these teams converted over 42% of third downs, whichever team can come up with big plays to stop drives will win this game. All signs point to a very good game with two very evenly matched teams.

This will be the first regular season game for Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer since his injury in last season’s playoffs. He looked great in his appearances during the preseason, even taking hits on the knee. Head Coach Marvin Lewis will need to slow down Kansas City’s running game while trying to outscore the Chiefs in this one.

Kansas City enters a new era in 2006 with Herm Edwards taking over as head coach after the retirement of Dick Vermiel and Dick Curl taking over as offensive coordinator with the departure of Al Saunders to Washington. What effect will this have on the Chiefs in 2006? Edwards loves to run and plays very, very, very conservative. Larry Johnson finally got his shot in the second half of last season and proved he can be a game changer. The Chiefs will utilize Johnson to set up the play action and give TE Tony Gonzalez and speedy Eddie Kennison opportunities downfield when they do decide to pass the ball.

Fantasy Focus

Cincinnati: The Chiefs feature two capable defensive ends in rookie Tamba Hali and Jared Allen that can rush the passer as well as a secondary featuring free agent acquisition, Ty Law, that have the ability to cover the likes of Chad Johnson and T. J. Houshmandzadeh. Rudi Johnson will be needed to keep the defense guessing as well as keeping the Chiefs potent ground attack on the sidelines. Rudi should be up for the task as the Bengals pick up where they left off last season.

  • Start: Palmer, C. Johnson, R. Johnson, Houshmandzadeh and Graham
  • Consider: none
  • Sit: Defense

Kansas City: Johnson will be fed the ball and be among the best fantasy running backs this week. Even if Cincinnati puts 8 in the box, Larry Johnson should still be effective. The depth and stamina of the Chiefs’ offensive line versus the Bengals’ defensive line will play a huge factor in Larry Johnson’s final numbers. With it being the first week of the season, it is not uncommon to see cramping among players and the Chiefs no longer have road-grader Willie Roaf around.

  • Start: L. Johnson, Gonzalez, Kennison and Tynes
  • Consider: Green
  • Sit: Defense and Parker

Score: Kansas City 33 Cincinnati 30

Denver at St. Louis 1:00 p.m.
If you enjoy watching two teams try to run each other over then you will want to watch the Rams take on the Broncos in St. Louis. Denver’s Mike Shanahan and Scott Linehan, making his NFL debut as Head Coach of the Rams, have masterminded many successful backfields in their professional coaching careers. Both teams are capable moving the ball through the air as well so it will be interesting to see how each coach integrates the passing attack to complement their ground game. The Rams won only three of their eight home games last season and missed the playoffs. The Broncos, however, won five of eight road games last year and made the playoffs.

Denver’s defense tied for the third most takeaways in the NFL in 2005 and finished with twenty more takeaways than giveaways. Turnovers usually decide close games, so Bulger and Steven Jackson are going to have to play mistake-free to pull out a win. Bulger has always had a knack for throwing INT’s but that was also when he was chucking the ball Mike Martz style. Look for Linehan to instill the same type of changes in Bulger as Mike Shanahan did with Jake Plummer last season.

Fantasy Focus

Denver: Without actually looking it up, I bet the word “carousel” is one of the most often written words in articles relating to the Denver Broncos. Mike Bell and Tatum Bell are the broncos spinning around and Mike Shanahan will undoubtedly ride them both during this game. A bigger fantasy question lies with WR Javon Walker, who will see his first regular season NFL action since a torn ACL in Week 1 abruptly ended his 2005 season. Many fantasy owners will be eager to find out how Walker looks and is utilized in the passing game. St. Louis’ secondary is suspect and should be exploited making Walker a decent play this week even though he is coming off major knee surgery.

  • Start: T. Bell, M. Bell, Walker, R. Smith and Elam
  • Consider: Plummer and Defense
  • Sit: Alexander

St. Louis: Steven Jackson is primed for a breakout season and will get his first licks against a fairly stingy defense. As long as Torry Holt and Marc Bulger are playing, the defense must pay attention to the pass giving Jackson just enough room to produce solid numbers in his season debut. Teams challenged Champ Bailey time and time again last season and Bailey rose to the occasion more often than not. Bailey will not shut down Torry Holt completely but his presence and the more conservative offense may lead to fewer targets for him in this game.

  • Start: Bulger, Holt, and Jackson
  • Consider: none
  • Sit: Defense, Bruce, Curtis and Klopfenstein

Score: Denver 24 St. Louis 14

New Orleans at Cleveland 1:00 p.m.
The Saints are a year removed from one of the most bizarre seasons any team has ever had to endure after Hurricane Katrina ripped apart the Gulf Coast. They will face the Cleveland Browns who are entering their second season under former Patriots defensive guru, Romeo Crennel. The Saints open the season with plenty of promise on the offensive side of the ball but appear challenged defensively. Reggie Bush and Duece McAllister should give Saints’ first year head coach, Sean Payton, plenty of options running the ball. The Saints are also hoping newly signed Drew Brews can step in and consistently keep the chains moving on offense and be a team leader.

The Browns have had a full off-season to bring in personnel more fitting of Crennel’s style of play and are handing the offense over to Charlie Frye. Rueben Droughns will be the featured RB after the team released Lee Suggs earlier this week. Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, Jr. return from injury riddled 2005 seasons and join Joe Jurevicius to round out a much more formidable offensive lineup in 2006. Crennel lured Willie McGinest away from the Patriots and he will be valuable in keeping pressure on Brees during this game.

Fantasy Focus

New Orleans: Fantasy owners will be watching the Saints’ backfield very closely in this game. They are wondering what they are going to get from former undisputed fantasy first rounder, Duece McAllister, who is returning from a knee injury that cut his 2005 season short. Rookie Reggie Bush also enters the equation, leaving fantasy owners drooling with anticipation of a great season. How this situation pans out in week 1 against the Browns will give fantasy owners a better idea of what to expect from these two running backs in the future, or at least the first half of the season.

  • Start: McAllister, Horn
  • Consider: Bush, Carney and Brees
  • Sit: Henderson, Hilton and Defense

Cleveland: Kellen Winslow, Jr. was drafted to become an immediate difference maker on the offensive side of the ball. Well he was, just not in the kind of way Cleveland hoped when they drafted him. Unless something happens before the start of the game he should make it to opening day 2006 healthy enough to actually play. He has plenty of motivation and will quickly become one of Charlie Frye’s favorite targets. Since Droughns only scored twice last season on 1,200 yards rushing, I’m guessing the Browns incorporate Winslow, Jr. around the goal line as well.

  • Start: Droughns, Winslow, Jr. and Dawson
  • Consider: Edwards and Jurevicius
  • Sit: Frye, Northcutt and Defense

Score: New Orleans 20 Cleveland 17

N.Y. Jets at Tennessee 1:00 p.m.
Gang Green rolls into the Music City in a game that features two of last season’s worst teams. The Jets made several changes in the off-season, installing a new General Manager and Head Coach in the process. The Jets hope Chad Pennington is fully healed so he can rekindle some of the magic he had with WR Laveranues Coles during 2002. The Jets will start their two top draft choices in D’Brickashaw Ferguson at tackle and Eric Mangold at center on the offensive line. Their development is vital to keeping Pennington healthy and improving upon a running game that was second to last a year ago.

Jeff Fisher’s days in Tennessee seem to be numbered as the Titans open the season. Kerry Collins was signed only week ago and should be the starter for this game which has angered the incumbent Billy Volek. Travis Henry and Chris Brown have not had an impressive preseason and will most likely share carries in this game. The Titans have brought in David Givens to add depth to a WR corps that was decimated by injuries last season.

Fantasy Focus

New York: The Jets do not offer much production in regards to fantasy football. Coles is about the only player worth considering in your lineup this week. Pennington has plenty of motivation this season and Coles is his favorite target. Look for Chad to hit Coles deep early and gain some confidence and momentum. The offense should move the ball enough to give Kicker Mike Nugent a few opportunities in this game as well.

  • Start: none
  • Consider: Coles, Nugent
  • Sit: Pennington, Cotchery, Barlow

Tennessee: Which running back starts and gets the most carries is the most intriguing fantasy impact in this game. Brown and Henry have 1000-yard seasons to their name, but neither will approach that number if this turns into a RBBC. With Kerry Collins being named most likely starting at QB, Tennessee will have to rely on the run to move the ball as Collins continues to digest the playbook. Regardless of who starts this game, the more productive runner should have the edge going into the following weeks. If Henry or Brown emerges as the clear-cut starter they would become a viable #3 RB on your fantasy squad.

  • Start: none
  • Consider: none
  • Sit: everyone

Score: New York 16 Tennessee 7

Philadelphia at Houston 1:00 p.m.
Philadelphia ATO (After T.O.) begins in Houston. McNabb and Head Coach Andy Reid will feel the pressure to return this team to the playoffs with TO gone. The Eagles traded for Donte Stallworth last week, adding a talented vertical threat to the passing game. Brian Westbrook will serve as the #1 RB, starting this game after being held out of the preseason for “precautionary reasons.” Philadelphia should not have any problems moving the ball against this defense and win this game.

One of the main problems for Houston last season was pass protection. Carr was sacked 68 times, more than any other QB in the league and 19 more than the next most sacked QB. Philly defensive coordinator Jimmie Johnson has made a living out of blitzing from everywhere and on any down. I sure hope Kubiak worked out the kinks over the off-season and preseason for Carr’s sake. The Texans backfield will become a RBBC after they placed Dominic Davis on the Injured Reserve with a bum knee. Wali Lundy, a rookie out of Virginia, will open the season as the team’s starter but will share carries with Vernand Morency and possibly Ron Dayne, who was picked up after the Broncos released him earlier this week. If Carr is given some time, he will have two capable wide outs, Andre Johnson and Eric Moulds, to target.

Fantasy Focus

Philadelphia: The Eagles’ Brian Westbrook has had injury problems in the past. I don’t doubt he is healthy enough to play, but if this injury was serious enough to prevent him from playing a single down during the preseason I am a little worried about him as my #2 RB heading into Week 1. He should be a great play against the Texans but be ready to pounce on Buckhalter should something indicate Westbrook is not at 100% in this game. Reid is also tinkering with a goal line package that includes 350-pound center Nick Cole as a lead blocker which may increase Westbrook’s chances of scoring with goal to go.

  • Start: McNabb, Westbrook, Stallworth, Akers, Smith and Defense
  • Consider: Lewis and Brown
  • Sit: none

Houston: The Texans offensive line must play well for any of their players to produce solid fantasy numbers. While the Texans supporting cast may not be among fantasy’s elite, a few Houston players will deserve consideration during the fantasy season. I am not starting any Texans this week, but how this team performs in Week 1 will help answer lineup questions for Andre Johnson, Wali Lundy and Vernand Morency owners in Week 2.

  • Start: none
  • Consider: none
  • Sit: everyone

Score: Philadelphia 33 Houston 6

Seattle at Detroit 1:00 p.m.
Some people consider Seattle to be a depressing place due to the rain, but when fall approaches, Detroit football can cause serious bouts of depression as well. Seattle dominated the NFC last season while Lions were in civil unrest with questions regarding management, coaching and the talent on the field.

Despite being overmatched at almost every position on the field, Detroit fans will be interested in watching how their new offense pans out with Jon Kitna now taking the snaps behind center and Mike Martz calling the plays. Seattle shouldn’t take the Lions lightly. Detroit’s defense should be improved over last season and one would expect a Mike Martz offense to score a few points. Detroit’s offensive line must give Kitna time to throw the ball if the Lions have any hope of keeping this one close.

Fantasy Focus

Seattle: The status of Darrell Jackson’s knee and lack of a serious TE threat is a concern and owners smart enough to grab Nate Burleson this season may get early dividends in their investment. For those fantasy owners who are anxious to see how Shaun Alexander does without Steve Hutchingson, this week should quell any doubts. If Alexander’s 2006 fantasy totals are lower than last season it won’t be due to his production in this game.

  • Start: Hasselbeck, Alexander, Burleson, Brown
  • Consider: Defense and Jackson (knee)
  • Sit: Engram and Mili

Detroit: Last season when Martz’ Rams faced off with Seattle, Bulger threw 40 passes in each game. Expect Kitna to approach that number on Sunday with at least ten balls thrown to Roy Williams. After Williams, I think Kitna will spread the catches around. If I were to pick another WR that could post respectable numbers I would go with Corey Bradford. Kevin Jones will have trouble reaching 100 yards rushing once Seattle gets the lead and forces Detroit into throwing situations. After Jones’ disappointing 2005 campaign I would like to see him perform before feeling good about making him my #2 RB this week.

  • Start: Kitna and Williams
  • Consider: Bradford, Jones
  • Sit: Hanson, Defense

Score: Seattle 34 Lions 17

Chicago at Green Bay 4:15 p.m.
The Bears and Packers continue their storied rivalry in Green Bay to kick off the season. The Bears enter the 2006 season with a great deal of promise and a healthier situation at quarterback-signing Brian Griese at QB. If or when Grossman gets hurt or becomes ineffective, the Bears have someone that can count on to keep the offense rolling along. The Bears have two capable running backs to carry the load against the Packers, as Cedric Benson is healthy enough to spell Thomas Jones who was named the starter coming out of the preseason. The Bears defense should feast on the Packers offense, but will need to pay attention to Ahman Green who is healthy again after missing most of the 2005 season.

Just about everything went wrong for the Packers in 2005 so the 2006 season should bring renewed spirits to Lambeau Field on Sunday. Favre will be the best and worst player for the Packers at times, but he is a great leader on the field and can still throw the ball better than most of the other starting QBs in the NFL. Donald Driver officially replaces Javon Walker as the team’s top receiver and will keep the Bears secondary on its toes. Green is healthy again but won’t get much room to run against the Bears. Bubba Franks also returns at TE and could be a factor in the passing game.

Fantasy Focus

Bears: Although Thomas Jones should have a great day rushing the ball for the Bears; Mushin Muhammad is the player to watch. Rex Grossman seemed to lock in on Muhammad in limited playing time last season. Muhammad should be able to get open against the Green Bay secondary that now includes future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson and get enough targets to post solid numbers for your fantasy team in Week 1.

  • Start: Defense, Jones, and Muhammad
  • Consider: none
  • Sit: Grossman, Gould, Berrian and Benson

Green Bay: Was Ahman Green a good value on draft day? Green gets to prove he is back and better than ever against one of the best defenses in the league. Green has the potential to contribute as your #2 RB but should be viewed as a #3 RB until his performance on the Sunday’s indicates he can be consistent and stay healthy. I wouldn’t start Green this week, but am certainly keeping an eye on his quickness and the offensive line’s ability to open up holes for him. Donald Driver should get plenty of balls thrown his way as the Packers fall behind and Favre goes into “chuck-it-up-there” mode.

  • Start: Driver
  • Consider: none
  • Sit: everyone else

Score: Chicago 27 Green Bay 10

Dallas at Jacksonville 4:15 p.m.
Two of the league’s best defenses will be on display in Jacksonville when the Cowboys and Jaguars meet Sunday afternoon. Both of these teams have realistic shots at contending for the Superbowl and this game will set the tone for the rest of the season. This game should have it all: great plays, turnovers, big hits, great catches and big hits. The Cowboys feature the reality soap opera of Terrell Owens and his status for Week 1 is still uncertain because of injuries and team delinquency, but I’m guessing he starts this game opposite Terry Glenn. Regardless, Parcells and the Cowboys should be focused for the Jags relying on their defense to keep the game close and give them a chance to pull out the win late.

Jacksonville’s defense allowed only 67 third down conversions (or 32.7%) in 2005. Donovan Darius is healthy and a major part of the Jags’ defense which is capable of handling Dallas’ offense. QB Byron Leftwich and RB Fred Taylor have had injury problems in the past but both are healthy for this game. Matt Jones assumes the role as the team’s #1 WR after the retirement of Jimmy Smith. He and Earnest Wilford give Leftwich two big, athletic targets that are capable of running deep routes.

Fantasy Focus

Dallas: Julius Jones has Marion Barber breathing down his neck and must get out to a quick start if he wants to keep getting the majority of the carries in Dallas. He will have a tough time finding room against Jacksonville and I would look to other options for your #2 RB in Week 1. Terry Glenn and Bledsoe showed great chemistry during the preseason and Bledsoe will look Glenn’s way often. If Owens is named as the starter you have to start him since he can score any time he touches the ball.

  • Start: Defense, Vanderjagt, Witten, Glenn and Owens (hammy)
  • Consider: Bledsoe
  • Sit: Barber

Jacksonville: Fred Taylor is never drafted very high because of his history of injuries but when healthy he can still perform and help your team win as a #3 RB. Jacksonville will need to run the ball to control the clock and set up the passing game. LaBrandon Toefield might be called upon near the goal line. If so, he has the opportunity to become this year’s Stephen Davis or Jerome Bettis.

  • Start: Defense, Taylor and Scobee
  • Consider: Jones, Leftwich and Wilford
  • Sit: Toefield and Jones-Drew

Score: Jacksonville 17 Dallas 16

San Francisco at Arizona 4:15 p.m.
In a NFC West match up, the 49ers head to Arizona for a date with the Cardinals. Despite the ugly record in 2005, the 49ers played hard for Head Coach Mike Nolan throughout the entire 17 game season. That kind of work ethic and determination will translate into more wins in 2006. Getting one of those wins in Week 1 will not be easy with the Cardinals featuring one of the top offensive units in the NFL. I don’t see the San Francisco secondary keeping up with the Cardinal receivers but I do expect better output from second-year QB Alex Smith and the offense. Frank Gore will carry the ball and Antonio Bryant will take over for Brandon Lloyd as the team’s #1 WR.

Dennis Green’s job security might be in question if he can’t get this team into the playoffs. The Cardinals added a legitimate running threat in Edgerrin James to offset the team’s strength in the passing game. The Cardinals will use the pass to set up the run against the 49ers leading to a possible blowout in the desert. The addition of James will also help the Cardinals in pass protection, ultimately helping keep Warner off his back and healthy.

Fantasy Focus

San Francisco: Antonio Bryant has been overlooked by many fantasy owners and falling to the late rounds in most fantasy drafts. Fantasy owners should take note that this will be Alex Smith’s second season as the starter and he has more talent around him which should yield more offensive production. With the 49ers likely to be trailing for a good portion of the second half, Bryant should get enough catches to warrant consideration in your starting lineup this week.

  • Start: none
  • Consider: Bryant
  • Sit: everyone else

Arizona: Edgerrin James is a significant upgrade in the running game and he instantly becomes the best running back the franchise has ever had on its roster. However, his value varies amongst fantasy owners. The Cardinals rushed the ball in only 33.5% of their offensive plays last season, the fewest in the NFL. This percentage will certainly increase with Edge running the ball, but how much it increases remains to be seen.

  • Start: Warner, James, Fitzgerald, Boldin, Rackers and Defense
  • Consider: Johnson
  • Sit: Pope

Score: Arizona 42 San Francisco 16

Indianapolis at N.Y. Giants 8:15 p.m.
In the Manning Bowl, the Colts travel to the Meadowlands to take on the New York football Giants on Sunday night. Indianapolis had a remarkable regular season in 2005, but couldn’t get the job done in the post season. Edgerrin James is gone, and his carries will be replaced by incumbent Dominic Rhodes and rookie Joseph Addai. The Colts should use the pass a little bit more to set up the run this season. Expect a lot of no-huddle from the Colts as they try and take the wind out of pass rushers, Strahan and Umenyiori. Wayne may be the best #2 WR in the NFL but Marvin Harrison just gets it done week after week, year after year.

The Giants are hoping QB Eli Manning continues to develop and improves his completion percentage and becomes more consistent. Tiki Barber will give the Giants a solid game, but Brandon Jacobs should become much more involved in the offense, spelling Barber on short yardage situations and possibly taking a series in the first half. Contrary to the Colts style of play, the Giants will want to burn as much time on the clock as possible to give their defense time to rest and keep the high octane Colts offense off the field.

Fantasy Focus

Indianapolis: On paper the RB situation didn’t impress during the preseason, but Dungy and the rest of the staff didn’t appear worried, more concerned with how the duo of Rhodes and Addai handled blitz protection and knew were to line up. I suspect Dungy will use both but play the hot hand at the time. This situation may not change until an injury occurs or one player significantly out produces the other. I would consider starting both backs in the Colt’s offense since one of them is bound to produce.

  • Start: Manning, Harrison, Wayne, Vinatieri and Clark
  • Consider: Rhodes and Addai
  • Sit: Defense and Stokley

New York: New York should run the ball as much as possible which bodes well for Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs. Although Eli Manning can throw the ball and has solid receiving option in TE Shockey and WR Burress, I would temper expectations for him this week. There is a slight chance this game becomes a shootout, but I am not banking on it. I’m not sold on the Giants passing game producing huge fantasy points this week and I would consider other options such as Kurt Warner at QB and Nate Burleson or T.J. Houshmandzadeh at WR over Manning and Plaxico. Jay Feeley should get more than one FG opportunity and be a nice play for you in Week 1.

  • Start: Barber, Jacobs and Feeley
  • Consider: Manning, Burress and Shockey
  • Sit: Defense and Toomer

Score: Indianapolis 26 New York 20

Minnesota at Washington 7:00 p.m.
The Vikings head to Washington to open the season against Joe Gibb’s Redskins in the late game on Monday night (Football’s version of Midnight Madness I suppose). Minnesota will be under the direction of new Head Coach Brad Childress. The Vikings signed RB Chester Taylor, the long time backup to the Ravens’ Jamal Lewis, and will expect him to carry the bulk of the load in 2006. Somehow the acquisition of Koren Robinson as their #1 WR didn’t pan out, paving the way for Troy Williamson’s rise atop the depth chart. The Redskin’s have a very good secondary and I doubt they give up much to conservative QB Brad Johnson.

Washington is not being given much respect in the preseason as many analysts seem to think Dallas and New York are the best teams in the division. This will only light a fire in Gibb’s boys who have the team to compete for a division title. The uncertainty surrounding Clinton Portis will have a huge impact on this game. Brunell was given more offensive weapons for the passing game and I suspect he will be throwing the ball much more if Portis doesn’t play. Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El were signed in the off season to help free up Santana Moss, the Redskins’ leading receiver in 2005.

Fantasy Focus

Minnesota: Chester Taylor was signed to be the main ball carrier in Minnesota and must prove he can handle the job if the Vikings expect to contend for a playoff spot. He is in a situation that should allow him the opportunity to be a great #2 RB for you fantasy team. Childress should also get Taylor involved in the passing game as well, boosting his value in PPR leagues. The Redskins’ defense could be a problem this week, so if Taylor may not give you much this week. I am willing to take that gamble considering he will not be losing too many carries.

  • Start: C. Taylor
  • Consider: Longwell, Williamson, and Defense
  • Sit: Johnson, T. Taylor and Kleinsasser

Washington: The running back situation in Washington is muddied and probably won’t clear up until game day. Fantasy owners need to know what the role of T. J. Duckett will be to determine the proper value of Portis and Betts moving forward. I think Portis will be fine when he comes back but I am concerned about Duckett stealing touchdowns. Let’s hope this game answers some of those questions.

  • Start: Moss, Cooley
  • Consider: Hall, Portis (shoulder, if he starts), Betts (if he starts) and Randel El
  • Sit: Brunell, Duckett, Lloyd, Patten and Defense

Score: Washington 20 Minnesota 14

San Diego at Oakland 10:15 p.m.
San Diego at Oakland features two teams with two new starting QB’s in the first game on Monday night. Phillip Rivers finally gets his shot with Drew Brees out of the picture in a divisional contest on the road. Although Rivers is not a rookie, he doesn’t have much experience and may have some difficulties in this game adjusting to the crowd. Charger’s RB Ladanian Tomlinson can run, catch and pass for touchdowns, which should take some pressure off Rivers.

The Oakland Raiders are a mess. Art Shell returns to the sidelines after spending some time in the NFL league office. The Raiders are learning just how inconsistent Aaron Brooks can be but are hoping he can be effective enough to get the ball into Randy Moss’ hands downfield. LaMont Jordan will get the carries but may not have much luck gaining yardage against the Chargers run defense. The Raiders trade of Doug Gabriel to the Patriots leaves the door open for Ronald Curry to displace veteran Jerry Porter as the #2 WR.

Fantasy Focus

San Diego: Rivers’ development has a huge impact on Antonio Gates this season. If Gates continues to produce like he did with Brees under center he will give fantasy owners a clear advantage at the TE position. Should his numbers decline, many fantasy owners will disappointed. Keep an eye on WR Vincent Jackson. He is a very big target, 6-5 240, and poses a huge match up problem if covered by nickel backs or linebackers. However his fantasy value lies in the ability of Rivers to move the ball efficiently through the air.

  • Start: Tomlinson, Gates and Defense
  • Consider: McCardell and Kaeding
  • Sit: Parker and Jackson

Oakland: Randy Moss’ stock fell dramatically once the preseason game started and everyone was reminded of how terrible Aaron Brooks can be. Many fantasy owners took him at a reduced price but are expecting big things from him. There is no doubt he has the shills, but injury concerns, play-calling, and his QB situation do not favor a huge season for Moss. If the Raiders’ find little room running the ball, Brooks should target Moss quite a bit, especially if trailing in the second half. If this doesn’t happen it will only be a matter of time before Moss opens his mouth, which is never a good thing.

  • Start: Jordan and Moss
  • Consider: Curry and Porter
  • Sit: Brooks, Janikowski and Defense

Score: San Diego 24 Oakland 10