Studs and Duds – Week 1: Opening Day edition!

After months and months of waiting, prognosticating, and drafting many a fantasy football team, the day has finally come to get this show on the road! Tonight the defending Superbowl champion New York Giants will host division rivals, the Washington Redskins. Even though they’re the champs, I have a feeling it won’t mean much for New York in this one. It seems that every game in this division is a battle to the end and the G-Men will have to go into this one without their two leading pass rushers from last season in Michael Strahan (retirement) and Osi Umenyiora (injury), while also looking to a young tight end (Kevin Boss) to replace the disgruntled and traded Jeremy Schockey. As a Patriots fan, all I can say is GO REDSKINS! Anyways, enough of the ranting about a game I really don’t care all that much about, and on to some important stuff…like who you should feel confident starting (studs) and who you should think about benching (duds) for this coming week in fantasy football. ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL???

Studs

Marion Barber (RB-DAL): This is Barber’s first chance to prove that he has what it takes to be a feature back, now that Julius Jones has left town, and it couldn’t have come against a better opponent. Last season the Browns gave up nearly 130 yards per game on the ground and that is the kind of production you can expect from Barber in this one (with maybe a touchdown or two). If all goes according to plan, Barber should be one of the top running back plays of the week.

Nate Burleson (WR-SEA): In case you hadn’t heard, the latest devastating news out of Seattle is that Ben Obomanu, who was supposed to start opposite Burleson (because Deion Branch and Bobby Engram were already out with injuries), is now out for the season with a broken clavicle. With such disarray at the position, Branch is considering trying to play, even though he’s only seven months removed from surgery that usually takes upwards of a year to heal from. The team will most likely also have backup quarterback Seneca Wallace running routes. To make a long story short, Burleson should see a ton of targets and if he can hang on to most of them, he should have a big day against a Minnesota defense that was terrible against the pass last season (although we’ll get to see if their offseason moves changed that at all.)

Ricky Williams (RB-MIA): I guess Williams picked the right season to come back to the NFL. Ronnie Brown’s injury worries and the fact that his first game is against the Jets, who allowed nearly 135 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown per game last year, should be all that he needs to prove that he’s ready for primetime again. He’s worth of consideration as an RB2 this week if your team doesn’t have another obvious choice.

Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden (RB-OAK): Last year the Broncos were atrocious at stopping the run (over 140 rushing yards allowed per game!) and this weekend they go up against a team where running the ball is possibly their only strength. I expect both Fargas and McFadden to put up fantasy worth stats in this one, making them suitable for RB2 consideration, but if possible they’d be perfect fits for a RB/WR flex spot.

Thomas Jones (RB-NYJ): Last season Jones was a major disappointment to fantasy team managers and in the offseason the team made moves to try to help correct that. However, in the preseason Jones still was having trouble running the ball, even with Favre demanding the defenses focus. If he wants to prove that he has anything left in the tank, this weeks matchup against the Dolphins would be the time to do it.

Indianapolis Passing Game: It looks like Peyton Manning will be playing in this weekends game against the Bears, which is good news for all those involved in the passing game. Reggie Wayne (WR1), Anthony Gonzalez (WR3), Marvin Harrison (WR3) and Dallas Clark (TE) should all be upgraded from the stats they were expected to get if backup Jim Sorgi had to start and should be plugged into your roster. The Bears pass defense was 28th in the NFL in terms of passing yards allowed last season and I expect big things from Manning and crew.

Greg Jennings and Donald Driver (WR-GB): Although it’s Aaron Rodgers’ first game as the starting quarterback of Green Bay, the Vikings pass defense was so bad last year that I have to imagine someone will benefit. Those who I expect to put up the best stats will be Rodgers’ primary targets, Jennings and Driver.

Joey Galloway (WR-TB): He’s getting up there in age, but he’s playing against a bad Saints pass defense (over 245 passing yards and two passing touchdowns allowed per game last year)…so I’m going to go out on a limb and say he at least has ONE more game left in the tank.

Roddy White (WR-ATL): When a bad passing offense matches up against a bad pass defense, what do you get? You get the Falcons visiting the Lions. In terms of fantasy value, the only player in the Falcons passing game that I’m considering is Roddy White, who proved last season that he doesn’t need good quarterbacks to get the job done. Even against a soft defense, if you’re starting Matt Ryan in this one, you’re crazy.

Other strong plays: Selvin Young (RB-DEN) vs OAK, Laurence Maroney (RB-NE) vs KC

Duds

Brandon Jacobs (RB-NYG): With the season starting tonight between the Giants and Redskins, I figured it was important to get at least ONE player from either team on this post somewhere. The Redskins were pretty good at stopping the run last season (91 yards per game allowed on the ground), while the Giants were a team that was not afraid to get their backup running backs into the mix, leading me to taper my expectations on Jacobs tonight.

Robert Meachem (WR-NO): While Meachem had a great preseason and he is one of our favorite sleepers going into the season, this is not the week I expect him to break out and show the world his potential. Last year Tampa Bay had one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, so Brees’ stats could be spread pretty thin amongst a revamped receiving corps that includes addition Jeremy Schockey, Marques Colston, Reggie Bush and some other receivers that are officially ahead of Meachem on the depth chart.

Jamal Lewis (RB-CLE): Lewis had a big year last season for the Browns, rushing for over 1300 yards and 9 touchdowns (plus aprox. 250 yards and 2 TD receiving), and I expect him to put up similar numbers this year. However, this weekend’s meeting with the Cowboys will most likely be one of the below-average performances of the year. Dallas’ offense is so good that it forces opposing offenses into catch-up mode very early in the game. The Browns know they can throw the ball and I expect them to get into a shoot out with the Cowboys…while Lewis sits back and watches (or more likely, he blocks.)

Matt Schaub (QB-HOU) and Kevin Walter (WR-HOU): In my Madden 09 season, the Steelers have a pretty dominant defense that was able to snap my eight game winning streak last night…and that was with the Chargers, not the Texans. While I don’t base all my predictions (umm…I mean none of them!) on the outcome of a Madden game, I think they might be pretty accurate in this one. Schaub is going to be beaten up repeatedly while the team’s complete lack of a running game gives defenses no reason to look in any other direction than Schaub’s pearly whites. While I think Andre Johnson has the skills to still put up some decent fantasy numbers, it could be Kevin Walter who gets the short end of the stick.

JaMarcus Russell (QB-OAK) and Javon Walker (WR-OAK): While the Broncos run defense was pretty bad, the pass defense was the complete opposite. Denver’s pass defense held teams to just 193 yards per game through the air…which is quite a few yards more than I expect Russell to throw for. The Raiders are a run-first team this year for sure and I expect them to run about 70% of the time in this game, meaning Javon Walker could be left out of the action for most of this one.

Ryan Grant (RB-GB): Last year the Vikings had the top run stopping defense in the NFL, limiting teams to under 75 yards per game (and less than 0.5 rushing touchdowns a game!)…and this year the Packers don’t have Brett Favre to draw the attention of defenses. I’m sure the Packers will pound the ball with Grant all day, as they don’t want Aaron Rodgers airing it out more than he has to, but just don’t expect a whole lot to come out of it.

Chris Perry (RB-CIN): It’s too big of a mystery as to how much of the load the Bengals will even put on Perry’s shoulders to begin the season. Kenny Watson ran well last year when Rudi Johnson was hurt, so the team knows they have a reliable back to alternate with Perry. The fact that they are playing against a tough Ravens run defense doesn’t help Perry’s cause either. Give him a week to show you what he can do before plugging him into your lineup.

Ahman Green (RB-HOU): There’s no reason you should be starting Green anyways, but the fact that the Texans are going against a brutal Steelers defense this weekend should seal the deal if you were comtemplating something so crazy.

Fred Taylor (RB-JAX): While I think Fred Taylor will put up serviceable fantasy numbers this season (RB/WR flex position is ideal), this weekend against the Titans, who allowed under 93 yards per game on the ground last year, is not the time to force him into your lineup. I’m sure the Jaguars will pound the ball a lot against Tennesse, but it doesn’t mean they’ll get anywhere. If they score a touchdown, I expect it to be from Maurice Jones-Drew, who seems to be favored in the redzone. In case you were curious, in two games against the Titans last year, Taylor rushed for a combined 61 yards on 22 carries (although he got one touchdown.)

Other weak plays: Kyle Orton (QB-CHI) vs IND, Brodie Croyle (QB-KC) and Dwayne Bowe (WR-KC) vs NE