Denver Broncos (0-0) at Buffalo Bills (0-0)
The prolific Travis Henry heads to Orchard Park for a showdown with a team of people who are not his children. Mike Shanahan read all the mean things we wrote about him this summer, and decided to one-up himself by announcing Selvin Young is not only his backup rusher, but his new offensive coordinator, too. Meanwhile, the Bills rely on J.P. Losman to lead them out of the doldrums, which is something akin to relying on Rob Schneider to rally your Shakespeare company.
Fantasy Up: Henry's in my top 10 among rushers for the week, though the Shanahan mind-mess is assuredly coming. ... I'm also high on Javon Walker this year (regular readers may have surmised this), and I have him at No. 6 among wideouts for Week 1. The days of wine and roses in the Buffalo secondary are gone, with Nate Clements departing for greener pastures in San Francisco. Terrence McGee? Awesome kick returner. But I don't love him as a top corner. ... Marshawn Lynch is knocked down just a peg in my rankings this week because I have lingering doubts about how much of a "full-time" back he'll be, but I'm not worried that much about the Denver rush defense. It was ninth-most generous last year against fantasy running backs. If you drafted Lynch, you obviously think he'll play, so get him in there this week.
Fantasy Down: You're still starting Lee Evans every week, but I'm a bit down on him in Week 1 because he'll be mano a mano against Champ Bailey. As I wrote Wednesday, I don't drool over Bailey quite as much as most in-game announcers, but he's really good, and with Dre' Bly on the other side, it's not like you can totally ignore the Champ. He'll be on display Sunday against Evans. ... I don't love either quarterback in this spot, though obviously I'll take Jay Cutler over Losman. (Is it a bad sign when your starting QB's name looks an awful lot like "Lose, Man"? Am I the first person to think of that? Hello? Is this thing on?) ... In 12-team leagues, I don't have either of these defenses as starters this week. The Broncos still don't seem to have an adequate replacement for Al Wilson at middle linebacker, and need to prove they can put consistent pressure on quarterbacks. And Buffalo got absolutely raided on defense, losing not only Clements but London Fletcher-Baker and Takeo Spikes, too.
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) at Cleveland Browns (0-0)
Romeo Must Die? It doesn't look like Year 9 of the Browns' rebuilding project isn't going to go any better than Years 1 through 8, especially not when the team's running back of the future has 7,801 yards' worth of tread taken off his tires. I admit, Cleveland's trying, and the offensive line has potential. If only LeCharles Bentley had stayed healthy. As for Mike Tomlin ... he's a dashing fellow, isn't he? I look over and sometimes think an action hero or male model is coaching the Men of Steel.
Fantasy Up: Willie Parker should be very good against a defense that allowed more than 20 fantasy points per game against backs last year. ... Ben Roethlisberger also should be worth riding as he tries to shake off his nightmarish '06; the Browns are definitely stronger against the pass, but having Leigh Bodden spend time in jail on Wednesday doesn't help. Bodden will play, but I still think Big Ben produces. ... Hines Ward sits about where I had him in my season rankings, but Santonio Holmes takes a big jump for at least a week. Bodden should stick on Ward, which puts rookie Eric Wright on Holmes. ... Kellen Winslow is start-worthy; he's pretty much proven he's healthy, and he'll get half-a-dozen targets, minimum. ... And for me, the Steelers' defense is a top-five option this week.
Fantasy Down: No need to go anywhere near the Browns' quarterback situation all year. ... I have Jamal Lewis at No. 32 among RBs this week. I know Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach will make a difference eventually, but I need to see it first, and Steinbach's had a sprained knee (and Ryan Tucker's suspended for the season's first four games). In other words, Cleveland's better up front, but they've got a big hole to dig themselves out of: 83.4 yards rushing per game and 54 sacks allowed last season. Plus my stance on Lewis' tippy-toe style is well-traveled. ... I know it sounds like Joe Jurevicius will start, and it's not like he's not an inviting red zone target. I just have a hard time envisioning the Browns in anyone's red zone very often.
Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) at Green Bay Packers (0-0)
These teams play one another so frequently, I keep getting them mixed up. Which one got the potentially shaky quarterback again? And which one has an embattled West Coast-believing coach? It's true: The Eagles and Packers have met in every regular season from 2003 to 2007, and in the '03 playoffs to boot. This just in, NFL: They're not in the same division.
Fantasy Up: OK, Donovan McNabb isn't shaky. And for as long as he's healthy, he's a terrific fantasy option, even against a defense that surprised the fantasy world by producing the second-most points of any unit in the league. McNabb's an every-week play, but pay careful attention to how the Packers' D plays him. If they blitz constantly, daring him to get outside the pocket like the pre-ACL McNabb, and if he can't do it anymore, it could be a very long year for No. 5, because he's never been long on accuracy. ... Yes, I'd start Green Bay's defense. Aaron Kampman is as good as his Peter King press clippings, Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk are quietly an excellent linebacking tandem, and Kampman's mates on the D-line just keep on coming. It's a rough test, but I'm using them this week. Eagles' D, too.
Fantasy Down: I did drop Donald Driver a bit in my receiver rankings this week, but not so far that I wouldn't start him. He's still battling a foot sprain, and there's a bit more risk associated with using him in Week 1. ... Can anyone recommend Brett Favre anymore? I know he'll throw it a lot, and he'll rack up a ton of yards. But he's too impatient, makes too many mistakes, takes too many unnecessary risks, and is incredibly turnover-prone; for all his supposed wildness when he was a kid, Favre's 47 picks over the past two years is the highest total in any two-season period in his illustrious career. ... Some dude named Mason Crosby is kicking for Green Bay. He'll sing the soprano parts of "Judy Blue Eyes" to beat the of the band, but he probably shouldn't be on your team just yet.
Kansas City Chiefs (0-0) at Houston Texans (0-0)
Boy, to hear the pundits tell it, the Chiefs' offensive line is worth less. I grant you, losing two Hall of Famers over two seasons is rough. But I don't believe Brian Waters is the only thing this line has going for it. John Welbourn was a pretty good tackle, but his natural spot is guard, and he's going back there. Casey Wiegmann is an above-average center and an iron man. Does Kyle Turley at tackle scare me? Yeah, a little, and if Damion McIntosh doesn't get healthy, they're going to have problems with pass-rushers. But Larry Johnson's still getting space to run in the middle of this line.
Fantasy Up: Andre Johnson and Larry Johnson get used every week. You don't need me to tell you that. Same goes for Tony Gonzalez. My surprise here is I have the Houston D/ST ranked No. 14. All of what I said about the Chiefs' O-line is true, but there are worries at tackle, and Mario Williams has something to prove. I think LJ will be OK, but I also think the Chiefs are crazy if they think the Huard/Croyle combo is of NFL-caliber. Plus, if you get Jacoby Jones returning kicks as a bonus, so much the better.
Fantasy Down: I don't like either quarterback in this one, though obviously Matt Schaub has significant upside. But if the Chiefs have O-line questions, what do the Texans have? Maybe this line will stay healthier in '07, but there are no real upgrades here, and this is the unit that nearly got David Carr killed season after season. ... For that same reason, color me doubtful that Ahman Green suddenly turns into a fantasy star again. Also, Green is officially aging (he's 30 and has 1,871 career regular-season rushing attempts) and injury-prone, and could lose red zone carries to Ron Dayne. ... Eddie Kennison can be a flex guy, I guess, but I have to believe you can find more exciting options. ... The Chiefs' defense won't be awful, and Tamba Hali can be an IDP force, but overall I wonder if they'll produce many fantasy points in '07. They scored a little more than seven per game last year, 19th in the league, and their big acquisitions were 34-year-old Donnie Edwards and 28-year-old Napoleon Harris. I'm skeptical.
Tennessee Titans (0-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0)
How did I become the poster child for Vince Young loving? Has everyone else at ESPN not been watching this kid's career? All we heard at the University of Texas was he couldn't win the big one, right up until he basically single-handedly won a national championship. Then everyone doubted him on draft day, because there was no way his skills would translate to the pros. Then he had no business taking over Kerry Collins's job in midseason. Then he led the woeful Titans to six straight wins, and came within a single close loss to the Patriots of making the playoffs. Are we still doubting this guy?
Fantasy Up: I can understand playing both quarterbacks in this one. Young has to be an every-week starter, despite the fact that he was shaky against the Jags last year and it's a rough road environment. David Garrard has what looks like a good matchup against an undermanned Titans' secondary (I'm not a huge Nick Harper fan), and can hurt you with his legs. Tennessee defenders were overheard wishing Byron Leftwich was still starting in Jacksonville. ... Maurice Jones-Drew is an obvious play, but don't sleep on Fred Taylor this week. For as long as he's been healthy -- and in fairness, he's been healthy a lot lately -- Taylor has produced, and the Titans allowed the fourth-most points to fantasy rushers in '06. ... Jacksonville's defense produces a lot better on the actual field than it does on the stat sheet; it's a bend-don't-break unit that holds scoring down, but doesn't produce a lot of sacks or turnovers, perhaps because its best players are defensive tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. Still, the Jags' defense is startable this week.
Fantasy Down: LenDale White is my favorite of the Tennessee backs, but I'd avoid using any of them if I could this week. The Jags were the sixth-stiffest team against fantasy rushers last season. ... Jacksonville's receiving situation hasn't cleared up much, except that Reggie Williams probably wouldn't still be on this team if he wasn't not been a first-round pick. Williams is the No. 4 receiver, behind Matt Jones, Ernest Wilford and Dennis Northcutt. I expect whatever catches the Jags get to be spread pretty evenly among those three. ... Brandon Jones is my most valuable Tennessee receiver, but again, it's hard to predict consistent production.
Atlanta Falcons (0-0) at Minnesota Vikings (0-0)
When we look back on the '07 season, will this wind up being a game between the teams with the first and second picks in the draft? That's a terribly hard thing to predict, but I don't expect either squad to post a winning record this year. Atlanta has a built-in excuse; Minnesota has a heartbreakingly young backfield. By the same token, though, both teams have some very strong defensive players, and the Vikings' O-line could finally become dominant.
Fantasy Up: Minnesota's defense makes an excellent play this week against an Atlanta offense looking for its identity with both hands. This is a team that intercepted 21 passes last season, and scored an NFL-leading five defensive touchdowns. ... I have Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor very close to one another in my rankings this week. My logic is that although Peterson will be a sublime talent eventually, the West Coast offense requires things that rookies don't often do well, which is where Taylor comes in. By midseason, though, Peterson will be miles ahead. ... Alge Crumpler may have variable hands, but he's still going to be a security blanket in the Falcons' offense.
Fantasy Down: Oh, name it. I wouldn't play the quarterbacks. There aren't any receivers who look like good bets to be consistent threats. And I'm worried about Atlanta's running game being able to do anything against Pat and Kevin Williams, my favorite pair of defensive tackles in football. Remember, the Vikings' rush defense was second-best against fantasy rushers last year; only Baltimore's was better.
New England Patriots (0-0) at New York Jets (0-0)
We're still calling it "Bowden Bowl IX"; does that mean we'll still be saying, "Welcome to Handshake Bowl XIII" in 2010? The Jets beat the Pats in Foxborough last year (before getting blown out in the playoffs), and will use some of the same strategy Sunday: throw the kitchen sink at Tom Brady, try to mess him up with fluctuating, Belichick-like looks, and try and put together long drives. And given the Patriots' health, it may work.
Fantasy Up: Play your Patriots stars: Brady, Laurence Maroney, Ben Watson, etc. Should you play Randy Moss? Heck, I dunno. I've given up trying to predict what he'll do, and how motivated he'll be when he does it. The visions anyone had of Moss turning into his old Minnesota self have to be melting away under the harsh glare of a missed preseason and an offense that will be determined to spread the ball around. I'd probably start Moss before I'd start Donte' Stallworth, but I might just consider starting both. ... Thomas Jones sounds like he'll play, but don't be surprised to see Leon Washington steal carries. Nevertheless, I have Jones as a starter this week in 12-team leagues. ... I also like both Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. Asante Samuel's return helps, but the Pats will miss Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison badly. The prospect of Cotchery running free over the middle, in particular, fascinates me this week. He scored in both regular-season games against New England last season, and amassed 100 yards in each.
Fantasy Down: I know Chad Pennington's a winner and all that, but not in fantasy. He just doesn't have the arm to scare teams downfield, and his yards per attempt, a stat that's tied to touchdown production, stinks. ... I also can't recommend starting the Jets defense. I like Eric Mangini, and I like that he knows what's in Belichick's head as well as anyone, but the specter of an absolute breakout by the Patriots' offense is a possibility, and I'd hate to get burned by that right out of the gate.
Carolina Panthers (0-0) at St. Louis Rams (0-0)
Here's my nominee for Shootout of the Week. Carolina's defense is absolutely worthy of respect, but I wouldn't feel comfortable going up against what should be an intense Rams attack. Going the other way, I know St. Louis probably got better if only by virtue of rookie DT Adam Carriker, but they have a long way to go in terms of run stopping. Last year, only the Colts were more generous to fantasy backs than the Rams. Plus both offenses here have a willingness to go Martin Lawrence (i.e., crazy) with their play calling at the drop of a hat.
Fantasy Up: I won't waste pixie dust telling you to start Marc Bulger, Steven Jackson and Torry Holt (whoops, just did). I also like Randy McMichael this week against a Carolina defense that's struggled against tight ends in recent years. ... I've gone out on a limb claiming DeAngelo Williams will wrest the starting running back job early for Carolina in so many different forums, I might as well do it here, too. Williams quickness on the fast St. Louis turf can only bolster that prediction. ... There's this Steve Smith guy for Carolina. I hear he's pretty good.
Fantasy Down: I just can't get worked up about DeShaun Foster. He's the nominal starter in the Carolina backfield, but I've purchased a claim in that stake one too many times. ... Nor am I touching either of these defenses this week. Although the Panthers' D will prove better than the Rams' this season, it's not a good matchup for them. I wouldn't own the Rams at all this season. ... Why do I have Jake Delhomme at No. 15 among QBs in a game in which: (a) I think Smith plays extremely well, and (b) I'm predicting a lot of points? Well, we all know a receiver can have a great fantasy day without his quarterback scoring highly, and I'm not ready to say Delhomme's over his 2006 yips. The Brett Favre comparisons Delhomme earned earlier in his career are growing ever more apt these days, and that's not a compliment; Jake the Semi-Snake was picked off in seven straight games from Week 6 to Week 13 last season before a thumb injury sidelined him for three contests. Delhomme can recover and be fantasy-worthy this year. I'm just not ready to give him that honor from Jump Street.
Miami Dolphins (0-0) at Washington Redskins (0-0)
High weirdness emanates from this one. Is Jason Campbell ready? Is Trent Green coherent? Does Clinton Portis loan his neon-green wig to Ladell Betts if Betts steals the backfield gig? Is Ronnie Brown shell-shocked from temporarily being a ninth-string punter? The Dolphins' defense will be the best unit on the field in this one, but I honestly don't know which offense here can score more than a few points.
Fantasy Up: If I had it to do over again (had I known Brown would officially be declared the starter in advance of Sunday's game), I'd probably have put him higher than 23rd on my running back list. I still worry Jesse Chatman can steal quite a few touches, as Cam Cameron appears to have fallen in love with him, but Washington's defense is eminently runnable-against (it is too a word), and you have to believe Brown's one huge game away from removing all doubt. ... You probably have to start both of Washington's backs, though with Portis' health a continued question, a true platoon situation might be developing, albeit one that has Portis as the touchdown-maker. Nevertheless, Miami is no fun to run against, so I'm not expecting massive days from either guy. ... The tight ends are both usable in this game, too. Chris Cooley is clearly an integral part of any offense constructed by Al Saunders, and Cameron was a pretty fair user of the large-man-catching-the-ball strategy in San Diego, so keep your eye on David Martin.
Fantasy Down: No on the quarterbacks. No on any receiver not named Santana Moss and that includes Chris Chambers, who I'm very tired of. And no on the Washington defense, which -- reader hate mail notwithstanding -- has a chance to be very bad. The unit stunk as your fantasy defense in 2005. It stunk as your defense in 2006. And I don't believe London Fletcher-Baker and LaRon Landry are enough to keep them from being olfactory-challenging in 2007. Last year they were worst in the NFL in sacks (19), worst in interceptions (six), tied for fourth-worst in fumbles created (eight) and didn't score a defensive touchdown. They were the fourth-easiest defense for fantasy quarterbacks to score against, the sixth-easiest for fantasy running backs, the ninth-easiest for fantasy wide receivers and the fourth-easiest for fantasy tight ends. Will that all change in a single year? I think not.
Detroit Lions (0-0) at Oakland Raiders (0-0)
Oh, Mr. Schedule-Maker, you are a fickle fellow. Pickers No. 1 and No. 2 from the '07 draft square off against one another here, and messiness should be the order of the day. Is there talent here? Sure, it's the NFL. The Lions have all the skill-position players you could possibly need, and the Raiders have definite talent interspersed among the defense. But there's more chaff than wheat here, and hopefully you aren't heavily relying on a single player who'll be on the field in this game.
Fantasy Up: If you're ever going to use Tatum Bell, now might as well be the week. I know T.J. Duckett may steal carries both red zone and regular, but I have to believe Bell's a much better fit for Mike Martz's offense on a down-by-down basis. He may fumble his way to the bench immediately, but in leagues with a flex position, I can justify starting Bell against what should be a very weak rush defense. ... Roy Williams is a no-brainer, but what about Calvin Johnson and/or Mike Furrey? If you drafted either one to be a starter, you have to play them. Hopefully you didn't draft them to be starters, though. It's quite difficult to tell who'll get enough action to be useful. ... The same thing can be said of Jon Kitna: if you drafted him to be your starter, get him in there. Now, statistically speaking, Oakland was solid against the pass last year, and Nnamdi Asomugha is a star-in-the-making at corner. But teams simply didn't need to throw much against the Raiders last year, because the rush defense was so poor. If Kitna controls his mistakes, opportunities will be there Sunday.
Fantasy Down: I know the running-back job is Lamont Jordan's for now, and I know Detroit has a habit of being generous to opposing backs, but I can't help it: I still don't see this going very well. The problem isn't with Jordan, it's with the line. Former No. 2 overall pick Robert Gallery has had to move from tackle to guard, while Barry Sims (who didn't set the world ablaze last year) and Cornell Green (a journeyman with eight career starts in seven years) will be the tackles. Yikes. ... For that same reason, you have to stay away from Josh McCown or Daunte Culpepper or whomever else the Raiders put under center. ... Ronald Curry put together a nice season (62 catches for 727 yards) amid the WR carnage in '06, but I don't think he rises above the level of sleeper just yet.
Chicago Bears (0-0) at San Diego Chargers (0-0)
Now this is what I'm talking about. The week's best, scariest and most athletic game is probably Chicago visiting SoCal in a date between two of the nastiest defenses in the league. I have to admit: I'll be shocked if the Chargers don't win (get it? "shocked"? "Chargers"?). At pretty much every skill position, the Bears are good, but the Chargers are better. This one comes down to Rex Grossman, who isn't as bad as Tony Kornheiser insists, but who'll feel a lot of heat Sunday afternoon.
Fantasy Up: This just in: start LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates. ... Cedric Benson is an every-week starter for sure, though I dunked him quite a bit in Week 1. San Diego was nearly as hard on opposing rushers as Chicago was last year, allowing 16.3 fantasy points per game (how sick is Baltimore allowing just 8.8?), and in the final several games of the '06 regular season, the Bolts were actually quite a bit harder to rush against than the Bears. ... Vincent Jackson is the third option for San Diego, which is why I'd only use him as a flex in a game that promises to be as blitz-happy as this one. Still, because he's got red zone potential and the Bears will focus on Gates, starting him isn't crazy. ... Both defenses are elite every week; I have San Diego as my No. 1 unit for Week 1 and for the season. ... Greg Olsen will almost certainly sit this week, which gives Desmond Clark a reprieve. San Diego allowed the most points to fantasy tight ends in the entire NFL last year, so Clark could be worth a safety-valve start.
Fantasy Down: Philip Rivers makes for something of a controversial benching this week, but I can't help it: Urlacher & Co. still have some serious chops, and Rivers just doesn't get to throw it enough when San Diego gets near the goal line. ... I think Grossman gives his critics more to giggle about on Sunday, but that won't mean he doesn't have a lot of fantasy value against lesser opponents later in the year. Simply put, Grossman plays well against the teams he should throttle, but makes bad decisions when he's under pressure against big, fast, athletic defenses. The Chargers will unleash the hounds, and Grossman will pay. As such, I'm probably sitting Bernard Berrian in all but 16-team leagues, and I'm pretty much sitting Muhsin Muhammad in every league.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) at Seattle Seahawks (0-0)
A battle of expansion! (This just in: I'm old.) Yes, that's right, I vaguely recall an NFL before these teams were in the league, and I even vaguely recall when Tampa was in the AFC. Um, they're not anymore. Two denizens of the West Coast offense tackle one another here, and given the respective states of the offensive and defensive lines in this game, you have to give Seattle a serious edge. But given the respective states of the hair of the two coaches, I'd say ol' Jonny Gruden's got a real chance.
Fantasy Up: Matt Hasselbeck should be a fine play this week. The Bucs allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks last season, and Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber aren't getting any younger. Cato June can help Tampa, and Kevin Carter's an interesting project, but Hasselbeck is starter-worthy in all formats. ... Shaun Alexander gets a downgrade from his season-long ranking from me, precisely because I view the Bucs as more beatable via the air. ... Joey Galloway is a valuable No. 2 fantasy wide receiver in just about all leagues all season, and Sunday's no exception. Galloway as a top 15 receiver in terms of fantasy-points-per-game last season, and although I think the Seahawks' acquisition of Patrick Kerney ensures a continued strong pass rush, I'm not thrilled about anyone in the Seattle defense covering Galloway. ... I'll also give a nod to both Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett. Hackett may, in fact, wind up being the more valuable fantasy property of the two (as many experts have written in the last few weeks), but don't underestimate the impact of Branch's quickness on defenses. Despite a lack of elite speed and far-from-ideal size, Branch is just a very difficult guy to cover. I'd start either one this week, and I'd also give a nod to the Seattle defense, which (as I just mentioned) may have some cover issues against teams with better offensive lines, but which should be able to stand pretty tall Sunday.
Fantasy Down: Cadillac Williams will be better this year, but I don't like him in this one. Was Seattle awesome against the run last year? No. But the front seven was strong and got stronger this offseason, and it's hard to know what to make of Tampa's O-line just yet. I admire the fact that Gruden just said, "the heck with it," and went very young last year, and it could pay off in the form of Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood on the right side. I've never been the biggest Luke Petitgout fan, though. Williams will have some tough days this season. ... I'm a little more borderline on Jeff Garcia, who'll be asked to throw the ball downfield more with Tampa than he was in Philly. He still can find some open guys if he's not sacked a bunch of times. Just because I fear Julian Peterson, Lofa Tatupu and company, I'd avoid Garcia this week if I could.
New York Giants (0-0) at Dallas Cowboys (0-0)
Here's another possible shootout. Each of these defenses has a potentially dominating front seven backed by a potentially vulnerable secondary. Roy Williams hits like a mustang, but he couldn't cover your grandmother, and Terrence Newman either won't play for the Cowboys Sunday night, or will be limited. Aaron Glenn got himself cut, so the other corner is Anthony Henry, who didn't work out well at all as a free-agent signee in '05 or (especially) '06. But the Dallas' DBs are paradise compared to New York's. Sam Madison and R.W. McQuarters are beatable, Corey Webster is dreadful and first-rounder Aaron Ross isn't ready yet. Will Demps didn't make the team at safety, so James Butler and Gibril Wilson will start back there. There'll be a lot of passing yards to be had at Texas Stadium on Sunday night.
Fantasy Up: I edged Tony Romo into my top five for this one. The Giants tied the Bengals for most fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks last season, and I don't see what's changed. Plus Romo is a yards-per-attempt monster who loves chucking it downfield. ... I've also got Eli Manning safely inside my top 10 for the week. ... I like Marion Barber III over Julius Jones for the week and season, but I am prepared to be proven wrong. ... Brandon Jacobs is the clear No. 1 for the Giants, and it looks like Reuben Droughns isn't even No. 2. Derrick Ward is listed second on the New York depth chart, which to me is simply an indication of how secure Jacobs' job is. ... Honestly, I'm having a hard time finding a skill-position player I don't like in this game.
Fantasy Down: OK, here's one: Terry Glenn, because he won't play. He seemed to be progressing well this week, but suffered some knee-swelling on Thursday and is out of the lineup. Patrick Crayton is set to start, and that makes him a truly viable fantasy option, especially when you consider how much attention the Giants have to pay to Terrell Owens. ... Despite their potential for sacks, I wouldn't touch the Giants defense just now. As for Dallas? I know Wade Phillips was the mastermind behind the Chargers D, and I know there are some excellent players in this front seven. We could see some sacks and some turnovers Sunday, but I don't think we'll see a low-scoring game. If they're your first-string D, you probably have to play them, but keep your fingers crossed no one tells Roy Williams he has to stay with Plaxico Burress deep.
Baltimore Ravens (0-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-0)
What happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object? Why, Ray Lewis dances, of course. In recent seasons, these division rivals have had one shootout and one close-to-the-vest affair per year, but I think that's mostly a product of how Brian Billick wants to play. When he's conservative, he allows his defense to flex its muscles, he works the clock, and we get a 13-7 score. But when he realizes how beatable Cincinnati's secondary is, and lets slip the dogs of war? In the last four seasons, these squads have played games that have gone 26-20, 42-29, 27-26, 34-26 and 31-13. I think we're in for one of those Monday night.
Fantasy Up: The Bengals' offensive stars are among the most reliable in fantasy, and you don't need me to tell you to start them. But how about the Ravens' skill-position guys? I'm not high on Willis McGahee as a first-string fantasy rusher, but if you've got him as your No. 2 back, bully for you. In theory, McGahee should be a very fine fit for the zone-blocking schemes Baltimore has adopted; he's a one-cut runner who, if he remains decisive, should find some room, especially against a Cincy front-middle lately vacated by the ineffective Sam Adams, and now occupied by Domata Peko and John Thornton. ... I also like Mark Clayton quite a bit this week. He was slowed by a high-ankle injury all through camp, and it's possible his brand-recognition factor is low, because he sounds a lot like the Michael Clayton who's flamed out in Tampa. But this Clayton is a super-fast, super-quick receiver well-suited to take advantage of some severe problems in the Cincinnati secondary that first-round draftee Leon Hall isn't going to fix right away. ... The Ravens defense was the best in the biz last year, and despite losing Adalius Thomas, it should be elite again in '07. It's a unit that will give up yards to good offensive teams, but along the way it'll almost always produce sacks and turnovers.
Fantasy Down: It might turn out to be a barn-burner, but I still can't recommend Steve McNair. He's just so hesitant these days. Now, I've moved him up nearly 10 spots this week from where I normally have him in my QB rolls, but that just gets him to No. 19. He doesn't have the arm or the will to throw deep any longer, and teams are going to play off his receivers and force him to beat them with long drives, the way Indianapolis did to good effect in last year's playoffs. ... You have to play T.J. Houshmandzadeh for sure, but I include him here just by way of saying he missed practice in the middle of this week with an injured knee. The Bengals expect him to play, but you'll want to check in on him this weekend, just to be sure.
Arizona Cardinals (0-0) at San Francisco 49ers (0-0)
Last comes a battle of two heralded young quarterbacks, Matt Leinart against Alex Smith. Oh, the subplots! What will the coaches wear? Which signal-caller will Paris Hilton be rooting for? Who has smaller hands? In 2007, the Niners are trying to occupy the spot the Cardinals were supposed to have occupied for three seasons under Denny Green: upstart contender. Will it happen? I tend to think not, if only because free-agent investments rarely pay off as well as you think they should. But you ask me which team will win more games in '07, and I'll say San Francisco.
Fantasy Up: Frank Gore will play, and should be fine. But more intriguingly, I think Smith logs a very good game passing against a secondary that consists of corners Rod Hood and Eric Green, and Detroit washout safety Terrence Holt. (Adrian Wilson's great, but he's one guy.) ... The Cardinals were very friendly to wideouts last season, which is why Darrell Jackson is also a very nice sleeper for the week; it doesn't sound like D-Jax's hamstring will be a problem, and although he can turn stone-hands at a moment's notice, I think he'll produce a few very good games before the inevitable injures pile up and keep him out. ... Edgerrin James isn't on my list of favorites for the season, but I've got him moved higher for the Niners. Arizona's O-line continues to be a source of great angst, especially with Oliver Ross already out for the year. But the Niners couldn't stop the run last year; fantasy backs scored over 23 points a game against them in '06.
Fantasy Down: Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are every-week starters, but the presence of Nate Clements should give Leinart owners pause. I know, I just said free-agent acquisitions aren't usually what they're cracked up to be, but in Clements' case, I'm making an exception. Add him to first-rounder Patrick Willis, who's already busted into the starting lineup and will probably lead the team in tackles playing the "Mike" position in the Niners' 3-4, and I think you've got the makings of a good back seven, which could be harder this year on signal-callers than it was in '06. The pass rush will tell the tale in the long term for San Fran, but Leinart doesn't scare me enough to say he'll cause massive problems for the Niners right out of the gate. ... I wouldn't use either defense, but as I believe I've implied, I'd much rather own the Niners than the Cardinals right now.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com.
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