Week 1 of the 2011 NFL season is upon us, which means it is time to start setting your fantasy football lineups. Athlon Sports will try to help you do that each week with its Start or Sit suggestions. Keep in mind that these are suggestions and you are the owner of your fantasy team, and setting your lineup comes down to what you think is right.
Check back each week for Start or Sit and see who we are giving our thumbs up or thumbs down to and whether we had success or failure the week prior.
Sneaky Start of the Week
Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee at Jacksonville
He has battled off-the-field trouble and hamstring trouble, but Titans coach Mike Munchak said Kenny Britt will be "turned loose" against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the opening game.
He closed the 2010 season strong (26 catches 566 yards and five scores in the final six games) and now faces a team who just sacked its starting quarterback in David Garrard and possesses the 28th-ranked pass defense from a year ago. The focus will be on stopping Chris Johnson, leaving Britt to run wild for Matt Hasselbeck to find him.
Unexpected Sit of the Week
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh
We love Ray Rice to be one of the top backs for the 2011 season. His one problem, that he faces twice a year, is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Don't believe the hype that if you drafted a player in the first round that he always plays. (Chris Johnson, coming off a 2,000-yard season in 2009, was held to 53 total yards, five catches and a fumble by these Steelers in Week 1 last year).
In three meetings against the Steelers last season, Rice totaled 84 yards on the ground, 59 yards in the air off 10 catches, one score and one fumble. That's an average of 4.1 points per game in non-PPR, 5.8 in half-PPR, and 7.5 in full-PPR formats.
If you're in a non-PPR league, bench him. If you're in a half-PPR league, bench him. If you're in a full PPR league, he may be worth a shot. But knowing going in that recent history against a very familiar opponent may only yield my top RB spot 4 to 8 points to start the season, no thanks. I will take my chances elsewhere.
It's still a game of matchups, and it's no different whether it's Ray Rice with a top-three pick or Willis McGahee with an eighth-round pick.
Kyle Orton (DEN) vs. Oakland — The Raiders, despite the presence of shutdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha last year, were still seventh-worst against fantasy QBs last season at 19.7 points per game. Asomugha is gone, and all the talk of John Fox being a run-first coach makes it sounds as if the Broncos are scrapping the forward pass altogether. The Raiders were also 10th-worst against the RBs (22.9 PPG), meaning the Broncos should be able to be balanced. The Orton-to-Brandon Lloyd connection was solid last year and looked good in the preseason, and the Broncos should be able to score more than the 23 and 14 points they put up against their AFC West rivals last season. Plus, Denver the worst defense against fantasy RBs last season (29 PPG), so there could be plenty of points had in this one. Matthew Stafford (DET) at Tampa Bay — Everyone's healthy for the Lions, so take advantage while you can. Stafford was averaging 20.2 fantasy points through three games before landing on IR. Mark Sanchez (NYJ) vs. Dallas — Sanchez doesn't scream fantasy starter, but against the Cowboys, in the season opener, he's certainly a worth candidate. Dallas was second-to-last against fantasy QBs at 21.4 points per game, and might go into this game without cornerback Mike Jenkins in addition to the already sidelined Terence Newman.
Tony Romo (DAL) at New York Jets — Two starting offensive linemen are gone (one released, one injured). Darrelle Revis is on the other side to cover either the injured Miles Austin or the coming-off-injury Dez Bryant. Sam Bradford (STL) vs. Phildaelphia — Bradford has a bevy of receivers to choose from, but none that really standout, and certainly none that should have the advantage over the Eagles' standout corners, including the recently acquired Nnamdi Asomugha. This will be Game 1 for Bradford under new OC Josh McDaniels and it will be Game 1 for the Eagles' defense under new DC Juan Castillo. If defenses are usually ahead of offenses in the early weeks, give the edge to Philly in this one. Kerry Collins (IND) at Houston — It would seem fairly obvious, but there is the allure of running an offense with all of those weapons around Collins. However, Collins did not look good under pressure last season with a better offensive line in Tennessee, and expect the Texans to do everything they can to disrupt a 39-year-old player that has been with the team less than three weeks.
Running Backs START
Peyton Hillis (CLE) vs. Cincinnati — Hillis had 102 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting last season against the Bengals and went 14 for 59 yards (4.2 ypc) in the second meeting. Expect the Browns to lean on their big back, and get all you can out of Hillis before the Madden Curse strikes. Cedric Benson (CIN) at Cleveland — Second verse, same as the first. The Bengals are going to run the wheels off Benson this season. He averaged at least four yards per carry in two meetings last season, including a 31-150 and a score in Week 15 last season against Cleveland. DeAngelo Williams (CAR) at Arizona — The Cardinals were second-worst against fantasy RBs last year (26.5 PPG). Jonathan Stewart went for 137 yards on 27 carries in a Week 15 game against the Cards last season. The Panthers will use the run game and the tight ends to offset rookie QB Cam Newton making his first start.
Michael Turner (ATL) at Chicago — The Bears were second in NFL rush defense and seventh in fantasy points allowed to RBs last year (17.1 PPG). I am expecting the Falcons to show off new toy Julio Jones and see what rewards Roddy White reaps from his presence. The Bears should stand tall on their home field and see if the Falcon passing game can beat their experienced secondary. Felix Jones (DAL) at New York Jets — Same rules as for Romo: The Cowboys are without two offensive linemen they went into camp with, one receiver is banged up, the other may draw Revis and the Jets surrendered a second-best 14 points per game to fantasy RBs last season. Marshawn Lynch (SEA) at San Francisco — The quarterback situation is beyond bad. Sidney Rice is ailing. That combination will fail to stretch the field and open up running room for Lynch against a 49ers defense that allowed an 11th-best 18.8 points per game to RBs. Oh, and Lynch has missed a majority of the preseason battling an ankle injury.
Wide Receivers START
Santonio Holmes (NYJ) vs. Dallas — One of the reasons Sanchez is a start is this player. He was one of the top fantasy scorers in the last half of 2010 and expect him to excel this week against a suspect Cowboys secondary. Mario Manningham (NYG) at Washington — The Redskins allowed 20 fantasy points per game to QBs and 29.9 points to receivers. I am expecting a throwing showcase from both teams. The Giants' banged up defense should have trouble shutting down Rex Grossman (another sneaky QB play) and the Redskins' passing game, and New York will have to counter through the air as well. Hakeem Nicks and Manningham are the only proven targets, and they will face a secondary that may be without LaRon Landry and a banged O.J. Atogwe. Lee Evans (BAL) vs. Pittsburgh — This is purely a flex play. I am not a fan of the old Lee Evans, but I am going to try and give him a clean slate in Baltimore. The Ravens are going to have to take their shots downfield to try and give the running game some breathing room and Evans, who quickly developed a rapport with QB Joe Flacco upon his arrival in Baltimore, will be there to perhaps give you a quick 10-12-point, long-TD score. And you should be happy with 10-12 points in a flex spot.
Reggie Wayne (IND) vs. Houston — I am wary of all Colts until I see how Kerry Collins operates in this offense and with this offensive line. The Texans will counter Wayne with cornerback Jonathan Joseph, acquired in the offseason from Cincinnati. The last time the two met was in Week 10 last season, and Wayne was limited to three catches for 34 yards. Jeremy Maclin (PHI) at St. Louis — It's just a bad vibes call. He had the health scare and was not able to get on the practice field from the time the 2010 season ended up until just a couple of weeks ago. The Eagles' offense has not looked stellar in the preseason and the Rams have more than enough on the defensive line to disrupt Michael Vick to where he may not have enough time to find Maclin. Miles Austin (DAL) at New York Jets — Lingering hamstring injury. Possibility of going up against Revis or Antonio Cromartie. How much time will his QB have to throw with two offensive linemen that were there when camp began are no longer in the lineup? Live to play another day with Austin, namely next week against the 49ers.
Tight Ends START
Brandon Pettigrew (DET) at Tampa Bay — This might be a homer pick because we like Pettigrew (ranked sixth at the position in the preseason) a lot this year and would like to see him prove us right from the jump. Marcedes Lewis (JAC) vs. Tennessee — New starting QB. Tight ends are their best friend. He was slated to be one of the top targets already. Plus, Tennessee has not necessarily been the best defense against the tight end in recent memory, including last year when the Titans were seventh-worst at 10.7 points per game allowed to the position. Jared Cook (TEN) at Jacksonville — Cook was one of the expected top receiving targets that was in camp with new QB Matt Hasselbeck from the get-go. New OC Chris Palmer loves him and he can have success against the third-worst team against fantasy TEs (11.5 PPG) while the Titans bring Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt back into the fold.
Tony Gonzalez (ATL) at Chicago — Where does he fit in the passing tree/target pecking order now? Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas all have potential to have good games. We are relatively down on Gonzo this year, and would like to see the first game before we know how he will be used. Chicago will be a good test for that, but in the meantime, find your TE elsewhere in Week 1. Dustin Keller (NYJ) vs. Dallas — The perennial sleeper. This is the year for Dustin Keller. If it sounds familiar it should because it's been said before. He was good for Sanchez prior to Holmes' four-game suspension last season and then fell off. With Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Shonn Greene and LT all in the mix at the goal line, I'd feel comfortable looking for a TE somewhere outside of New York. Greg Olsen (CAR) at Arizona — Beware of the preseason hype. He still has Jeremy Shockey to contend with in what will be a TE-friendly offense. We know he was a solid TE a few years ago when he was utilized, but we are going to pull back a bit on the preseason love and see how it works in Week 1 before we place him in the starting lineup.
Defense/Special Teams START
Houston vs. Indianapolis — Maybe it's wishful thinking because we already loved Houston's new defense under Wade Phillips, but when we hear Kerry Collins gets the start we can't get the Texans in the lineup fast enough. Their secondary is solid with Joseph and Danieal Manning and that should allow the front seven to tee off on the statue that is a 39-year old QB who was out of football three weeks ago. Cleveland vs. Cincinnati — Should be a low-scoring affair. The Browns get to welcome a rookie QB with a weak arm to the league in Andy Dalton and there's always Josh Cribbs in the return game. San Francisco vs. Seattle — Until the Seahawks show they can be a competent offense with Tarvaris at the QB spot, you start almost any defense against them. I just see Jackson throwing up prayers to big receivers Mike Williams and Sidney Rice (if he plays) and the 49ers' defense just waiting under them to pick them off and go the other way. Plus,. Kendall Hunter and Ted Ginn as return men aren't too shabby for San Francisco.
New York Giants at Washington — Rex Grossman may actually be a good play against a banged up, depleted Giants back seven, and if the Skins can protect Grossman I don't see where the Giants are going to get their fantasy points from. Dallas at New York Jets — Both Sanchez and the running game should be in for a solid day, and unless the Cowboys get a special teams return for a score, it's hard to see where they score for you this week as a fantasy DST. Atlanta at Chicago — The last time we saw the Atlanta defense they were getting torched by the Packers to the tune of 48 points, 366 yards passing and three scores from Aaron Rodgers, just two sacks registered, five QB hits and one pass defended. Eric Weems' 102-yard TD kickoff return was the lone bright spot. So to go up against another passing team, at its place to open the season, we are going to pump the brakes on the Falcons' defense for the first week.
Neil Rackers (HOU) vs. Indianapolis — Whether its PATs or field goals, the Texans should have a field day. Alex Henery (PHI) at St. Louis — Last year's No. 1 fantasy kicker, David Akers, was let go in favor of this rookie. Might as well see what he's got when the Nebraska product makes his NFL debut back in the Midwest and in a dome no less. Nick Folk (NYJ) vs. Dallas — Should have plenty of PAT opportunities, or if the Jets' offense falters the man who attempted the third most field goals in the league last year and hit 30 of them, will get his chances.
David Akers (SF) vs. Seattle — It's doubtful that you would play him, but just in case you remembered the name, thought he was still the top dog in Philadelphia and would pick up where he left off, leave him on the waiver wire for now. David Buehler (DAL) at New York Jets — If it seems like I'm picking on the Cowboys, well, I am. And this is coming from a player who has Dez in two leagues, Miles in another and Romo in another. I just don't see much offense generated by the 'Boys in Week 1. Billy Cundiff (BAL) vs. Pittsburgh — He was a six-point scorer when these two teams met in the postseason last January. And that took the Ravens scoring 24 points for him to be a part of six of them. It's doubtful the Ravens are scoring 24 points this time, so let Cundiff ride the pine in Week 1.
Can Aaron Rodgers add a league MVP trophy to the Super Bowl XLV MVP he won in February?
The 2011 NFL season kicks off with a Thursday night showdown between the last two Super Bowl champions, as Super Bowl XLIV MVP quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints march to Lambeau Field to take on Super Bowl XLV MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers — in the first of 256 regular season games that span from Sept. 8 until Jan. 1, 2012.
Before a snap has been taken, Athlon Sports looks into our crystal ball in an attempt to predict who will be award-worthy after the dust settles this season.
Never bench your studs. Yeah, right. Just because you drafted a running back in the first round, don't think you can just set him in the starting lineup and not have to worry about him falling on his face.
Case in point is Week 1 and Baltimore's Ray Rice. If you're in a non-PPR sit him. If you're in a league without a flex position, sit him. And if you're in a PPR league with a flex position, really consider going somewhere else this week if you have better options/matchups.
Ray Rice gets Pittsburgh to open the season — he will also have to face the Steelers and their No. 1 run defense in the NFL and No. 1 in points per game allowed to RBs in fantasy last season at just 12.9 in Week 9. Yes, we love Ray Rice. But maybe we love him too much considering he has to face the Steelers twice this season and the Jets in Week 4 (No. 2 in PPG to RBs at 14). But back to Week 1. In two games against the Steelers last year, Rice ran for 52 yards total, caught three balls for 27 yards total and failed to reach the end zone. In two starts that's 10.9 points in a full PPR league and 7.7 in a standard league — in TWO starts.
In five regular-season games against the Steelers in his career, Rice has a total of 281 yards rushing, nine catches for 108 yards and NO touchdowns. That's 77.8 total yards and 1.8 catches per game. So his career fantasy average vs. the Steelers in a full-PPR league is 9.5 points and 7.7 in non-PPR.
You need look no further than what Chris Johnson, coming off a 2,000-yard rushing season, did in the opener against Pittsburgh last year: 34 yards rushing and five catches for 19 yards — 5.3 in a non-PPR and 10.3 in a full-PPR.
Rice was the ninth-best back in PPG last year at 15.3. Seeing Pittsburgh twice a year, along with the Jets, all before the fantasy postseason, is not a confidence builder for his 2011 prospects if you just assume he is not going to come close to reaching his average in those three games.
No other top-12 back faces Pittsburgh twice, but there are three that face Pittsburgh and the Jets: Rice, Jamaal Charles and Maurice Jones-Drew.
We know Rice's numbers vs. the Steelers. He has played the Jets once (last year's season opener) and went for 43 yards rushing, 19 yards receiving on two catches and no scores. That's 6.2 points in a non-PPR and 8.2 in a full-PPR.
Charles has faced the Steeler and Jets once each — 58 yards rushing, two catches for eight yards and one score against the Steelers in 2009 and 45 yards rushing, one catch for four yards and no scores against the Jets in his rookie season of 2008.
MJD has faced the Steelers three times, rushing for 80 yards and one score and adding 13 catches for 59 yards and no scores. He has faced the Jets twice, rushing for 182 yards and three scores and catching two balls for 22 yards and no scores. Clearly, MJD is the best against these two teams, but now with the release of QB David Garrard and teams knowing it's stack the box time, having success against these two teams in the first six weeks of the season is a tall order.
Here are the top five fantasy defenses against RBs last season, and which RBs have to face them this year.
Pittsburgh — 12.9
New York Jets — 14.0
Green Bay — 15.7
Atlanta & Baltimore — 16
No. 1 Arian Foster — Pittsburgh (Week 4), Baltimore (Week 6), Atlanta (Week 13) No. 2 Adrian Peterson — Green Bay (Week 7), Green Bay (Week 10), Atlanta (Week 12) No. 3 Ray Rice — Pittsburgh (Week 1), N.Y. Jets (Week 4), Pittsburgh (Week 9) No. 4 LeSean McCoy — Atlanta (Week 2), New York Jets (Week 15) No. 5 Jamaal Charles — Pittsburgh (Week 12), New York Jets (Week 14), Green Bay (Week 15) No. 6 Chris Johnson — Baltimore (Week 2), Pittsburgh (Week 5), Atlanta (Week 11) No. 7 Rashard Mendenhall — Baltimore (Week 1), Baltimore (Week 9) No. 8 Maurice Jones-Drew — New York Jets (Week 2), Pittsburgh (Week 6), Baltimore (Week 7), Atlanta (Week 15) No. 9 Darren McFadden — New York Jets (Week 3), Green Bay (Week 14) No. 10 Steven Jackson — Baltimore (Week 3), Green Bay (Week 6), Pittsburgh (Week 16) No. 11 Matt Forte — Atlanta (Week 1), Green Bay (Week 3), Green Bay (Week 16) No. 12 Frank Gore — Baltimore (Week 12), Pittsburgh (Week 15)
Of course you can't run from all of the top-12 backs in fantasy football, but this is just meant to inform you of when to beware. And maybe with eight of the first 12 backs each facing a top-five fantasy run defense at least three times, perhaps their value is not as great as once thought.
Bottom line: Sit em vs. the Steelers and Jets and cross your fingers for the rest.
On to Ask Athlon for Week 1...
Kevin Kolb or Jay Cutler Week 1? — Mike Crowther from Athlon Sports on Facebook
Wow, that's a tough one. Cutler was sacked a league-high 56 times last season, but Kolb's opponent, Carolina, wasn't far behind with 50 sacks allowed. Cutler faces an Atlanta team that allowed the fifth-most points to fantasy WRs last year (30.5 PPG), while Carolina was much better at fifth-best (22.8 PPG). Arizona has Larry Fitzgerald and Todd Heap and a new QB in Kolb and the Cardinals are on the road against a coach In Ron Rivera hired for his defensive mind. The Bears are at home, with more weapons and Cutler in his second year in Mike Martz's offense. It's a close call, but I'd go Cutler.
Julio Jones, Jonathan Stewart or Marshawn Lynch at the flex spot, non-PPR — Chris Kaschok from Athlon Sports on Facebook
All I see when I think of the Falcons, Week 1 and a receiver is Michael Jenkins streaking down the field to catch Matt Ryan's first-ever pro pass for a 62-yard touchdown in 2008. One play and Jenkins had 12.2 points in non-PPR leagues, add a point in PPR. Chicago's Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are no bums when it comes to covering receivers but the Bears' rush defense was second in the league last season. So expect the Falcons to come out showing off their new weapon in the rookie receiver from Alabama. I feel better about his opportunities to get you the 12 points you want from your flex spot than the other two options.
Stewart ran for 137 yards and no scores against Arizona last season when he was the primary back. But DeAngelo Williams is back, rookie QB Cam Newton can't throw and expect the Cardinals to key on the run. With Stewart playing second fiddle and the Cardinals focused on one thing — stopping the run — hard to expect much from JStew in this one.
Lynch is in Seattle. Enough said. Get the great playoff run he had against the Saints out of your mind. I am not touching a single Seahawk this season until they get a new QB — and that QB is not currently on the roster.
Who do you like more this week. Big Ben at the Ravens or Tony Romo at the Jets? — @AthlonBraden on Twitter (because even Athlon editors need help setting their lineups)
Both teams are in similar situations. The Steelers and Cowboys go up against top-notch run defenses and will probably have to go to the air to have success. I give the edge to Roethlisberger for three reasons: familiarity, health and the other team's defensive backfield.
Roethlisberger has not lost in his last seven tries against his AFC North rivals, and averages 21.6 points per game over the last 12 meetings. The Steelers are healthy, minus Emmanuel Sanders being banged up with his foot injury, although Antonio Brown filled in nicely in the preseason. Jets shutdown corner Darrelle Revis is not on the other side of the field for Big Ben to face.
Romo has only faced the Jets once — 195 yards, two scores and an interception in 2007. Romo does have to face Revis. He does so with a hamstring injury to his No. 1 receiver, Miles Austin, who would be lined up against Revis. His No. 2, Dez Bryant, is unproven with Romo at the helm so far. Add all that with the fact the Cowboys' No. 16 run offense from a year ago, now minus Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode who they released, goes up against the No. 3 ranked rushing defense.
Here's five NFL teams that will take a step forward this year, and five that will take a step back.
By RALPH VACCHIANO
No one has ever won an NFL championship in the spring and summer, and no one has ever lost one either. That’s not for lack of trying, of course.
Just ask the “Dream Team” in Philadelphia, or any of the up-and-comers pumping up their chests and thinking about a Super Bowl run. There are probably 32 teams thinking that way at the moment, even though a few of them are clearly braced for a fall.
We take an in-depth look at the Cowboys chances at making a Super Bowl run this year.
The best thing about this year is that it isn’t last year. The Cowboys’ 1–7 start in 2010 quickly ended any Super Bowl talk. The team is looking to start over this year with a new head coach and a good-as-new quarterback. Jason Garrett inherits a team that returns most of its starters, including quarterback Tony Romo, who missed the final 10 games with a fractured left clavicle.
Some things have changed with the Cowboys, including the defensive coordinator, as have some names. But the expectations remain the same.
• Inside the Locker Room
With Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Is Dez Bryant's possible reward worth the risk?
Bryant needed the offseason more than any other player on the Cowboys. He was hurt all season as a rookie and never fully grasped the playbook. He finished the season on injured reserve, breaking his right fibula in a Dec. 5 game against the Colts. Bryant could have used an offseason in the weight room, the training room and on the practice field at Valley Ranch. While supremely talented, until he has an offseason in the system and with strength coach Mike Woicik, Bryant still will be hit or miss.
Can Felix Jones become more than just a third down back?
Jones is what he is: He is a feature running back who is going to get around 15 touches a game. Jones isn’t big enough to handle being an every-down back. He started seven games last season and will be the team’s starting running back this season. Jones will get most of the carries, as he did last season when his 185 carries represented 43.2 percent of the team’s rushing attempts. But he won’t get much more than that, or he will wear down. He will be replaced on third down.
Can DeMarcus Ware get 20 sacks again, as he did in 2008?
Ware has led the league in sacks two of the past three seasons. He has averaged 14 sacks per season the past five seasons and has posted double-digit sacks every season except his rookie season. And he could be even better in Rob Ryan’s defense. But 20 sacks? Lawrence Taylor had only one 20-sack season in his career, as did Reggie White. Bruce Smith never had a 20-sack season. Ware has had his 20-sack season, so another seems unlikely.
• Fantasy Playoff Run — Weeks 14-16: NYG, @TB, PHI
Two familiar NFC East opponents (Giants and Eagles) make for a tough playoff draw. Add in an up-and-coming Tampa defense at its place and you’ve got a difficult fantasy playoff schedule. All three defenses were in the top 14 against the pass, but perhaps one of the Cowboys’ running backs can do some damage against the Bucs (28th vs. the run) or Eagles(15th).
• Athlon Best Bets
Sleeper: Tashard Choice, RB Deep-Sleeper: Jon Kitna, QB Overvalued: Miles Austin, WR Top Rookie: DeMarco Murray, RB Bounce-Back: Tony Romo, QB Top IDP: DeMarcus Ware, LB
• Try to Avoid
BACKUP TIGHT END
Jason Witten hasn’t missed a start since 2006, and in the last four seasons, the backups have combined for 957 yards and eight scores. Witten does that in a season. Martellus Bennett is not worth a look. WAIT UNTIL: never
• Draft Class Fantasy Impact
Protecting Tony Romo from another season-ending injury is crucial, which is why Dallas had to select Tyron Smith at No. 9 overall. Smith can play on either side of the line, which should provide some stability to a group that allowed 31 sacks last season. The Cowboys’ running back corps has been difficult to pin down from a fantasy perspective, and the addition of Murray only adds to the uncertainty. Murray is an explosive player, but how the carries will sort out as the season unfolds is a huge question mark.