There are a handful of days on the sports calendar that we know will deliver year after year, after year. For my money, none of those days is better than the first Sunday of the NFL season. The Thursday and Friday of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament have their own special brand of fun and excitement, but that's really the only challenger. Sure, unlike the NCAA Tourney we have 16 more of these days ahead of us this fall and winter, but that initial one is like seeing an old friend for the first time in months. Well, old friend, we're all happy you're back. Can't wait to hang out with you for the next five months.
With that, let's take a look at some of the most pressing fantasy issues heading into our first Sunday of the year. Check back here often for updates prior to kickoff of the early games and join The MMQB experts from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for fantasy football advice.
11:30 a.m. -- On what has been a relatively quiet morning, the biggest news thus far is that Roddy White will likely start for the Falcons. He should be downgraded a bit, but don't go crazy. We're still talking about one of the best receivers in the league with a choice matchup. I've got him ranked 14th at the position.
11:45 a.m. -- Update: Roddy White is officially active. Unless you can bench him for another top-15 receiver, get him in your lineups. Also, Asante Samuel and Jairus Byrd are out. As if the Saints and Patriots weren't already on track for huge days. You'll have a fun afternoon if you own Drew Brees or Tom Brady.
12:10 p.m. -- The Seahawks may have one of the best defenses in the league, but they'll be without three key players today. Cornerback Brandon Browner and defensive ends Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril are all inactive. You were already starting Cam Newton, Steve Smith and Greg Olsen, but bump them all up on your overall rankings a bit. DeAngelo Williams is a worthy flex play, as well.
12:30 p.m. -- Santonio Holmes is active, though he's likely to be limited. Even if he were fully healthy, he shouldn't be anywhere near a fantasy starting lineup. You have to have better options this week.
12:55 p.m. -- Vick Ballard will likely get the start for the Colts, but that just means he'll be on the field for their first play from scrimmage. I still prefer Ahmad Bradshaw and think he's flex worthy in all formats. Ballard's worth considering in deeper leagues given the Colts' great matchup against the Raiders.
Casey Hayward could miss the next month
Hayward, the Packers' talented nickel corner, has been ruled out for this week's game against the 49ers with a hamstring injury, and word is it could have him on the shelf for the first month of the season. That's terrible news for a Green Bay defense that relies on the versatile Hayward to fill the increasingly crucial slot corner role. It's great news for Colin Kaepernick and Co. this week.
As a corner who spends most of his time inside the numbers, Hayward has more responsibilities against the run than your average outside guy. Against a read-option team like the 49ers, he becomes even more integral to his team's success. You were starting Kaepernick, Frank Gore and Vernon Davis no matter what, but their stock increased a bit with this news. Remember, Dom Capers essentially gave birth to the idea of a nickel corner being one of the most important players on a defense, dating back to his days with Rod Woodson in Pittsburgh. Without Hayward, Green Bay will be missing one of its players best suited to limit Kaepernick.
Big day ahead for the Patriots
Bills' safety Jairus Byrd is doubtful with a foot injury. Starting corner Stephon Gilmore is out with a banged-up wrist. If an already-juicy matchup in Buffalo for Tom Brady didn't have his fantasy owners excited, they have to be doing backflips now. Peyton Manning will hold the QB belt after Week 1, and there could be some video game numbers for Matt Ryan and Drew Brees in the Falcons-Saints game, but Brady will be in the top four at the position this week.
Brady, Danny Amendola and Stevan Ridley are weekly starters. If you drafted Zach Sudfeld, you likely did so hoping to hit the lottery early in the season, so he should be in your lineup, too. However, I'd also consider starting Shane Vereen this week. With the Bills down two starters in the secondary, including a safety, Vereen should find himself in favorable matchups with linebackers and safeties all day long. We saw just how the Patriots plan to deploy him this preseason, when he caught seven passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. He's a solid flex this week.
Now about that Falcons-Saints game...
Atlanta at New Orleans will be the game of the week. Two bitter division rivals with high-powered offenses. Two strong playoff contenders, one of which has to be considered a Super Bowl favorite at the start of the season. Two of the league's best quarterbacks and at least eight fantasy starters, no matter the composition of your league. Falcons-Saints is going to be a ton of fun.
Roddy White is listed as questionable with an ankle injury, but he's not at any real risk of missing the game. Chalk it up as the Falcons being overly compliant with the league's injury-reporting rules. Make sure he's in your lineup.
Andrew Whitworth out for the Bengals
The Bengals will be without their starting left tackle against the Bears thanks to a knee injury that cost Whitworth the second half of the preseason. This is bad news for everyone on the Bengals offense. You're starting A.J. Green no matter what, but not having Whitworth could mean a long day for Andy Dalton, and Green by extension. You have to downgrade Dalton, Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. If you're considering one of those three for a starting spot this week, Whitworth's absence could be enough to tip the scales in the other direction.
The Steelers will throw the ball. A lot.
This is what happens when your starting running back is Isaac Redman. The Titans ranked 26th against the pass last year, and they return most of that unit (with new strong safety Bernard Pollard a notable exception). The one factor that could keep a lid on Ben Roethlisberger's pass attempts is the game situation. If the Steelers win this one with ease, they could be running the ball to seal the game. If they don't, though, Roethlisberger may end up with more than 40 pass attempts. Antonio Brown should be in your lineup, and those of you in deeper leagues may even want to think about giving Emmanuel Sanders a shot.
On the flip side of that, I'm not so sure I'd automatically start Redman the way you would with almost any starting running back not named Bilal Powell. The Steelers under Mike Tomlin have proved that they're not going to force the run if they don't have it. Like the Patriots, they'll use the short and underneath passing game to supplement, if not supplant, the run. Your roster or starting spots may force your hand, but I don't like Redman this week.
The Andy Reid and Alex Smith upgrades in Kansas City will be felt immediately
I sang the Chiefs' praises loudly this preseason. Why would that change Week 1? Yes, they're playing the lowly Jaguars, who won't exactly serve as the best measuring stick, but it will still be great to see the impact Reid and Smith have on an offense that scored just 211 points last year, an average of 13.2 per game.
Reid brings his West Coast principles to the Chiefs, the same system in which Smith thrived the last two years in San Francisco - yes, thrived. It might seem like hyperbole, but go ahead and look up his numbers before Colin Kaepernick unseated him as the starter last year. Nevermind, I'll do it for you. He completed 70 percent of his passes for 1,731 yards, 13 touchdowns against five interceptions, and 7.97 yards per attempt. That's a thriving quarterback. He teams up with two extremely talented skill players in Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe. Charles will have a career year that starts on Sunday while Bowe will put up his best numbers since catching 15 touchdowns in 2010. The Chiefs -- seriously -- will be a very exciting team in 2013.
Key game-time decisions for the Seahawks
Pete Carroll said defensive end Cliff Avril and cornerback Brandon Browner, both suffering from hamstring injuries, are game-time decisions. Avril, however, is listed as doubtful, while Browner's status on the final injury report is questionable. Couple that with the cross-country flight and early kickoff, and Seattle may not be the slam dunk they appear this week.
Even if both players don't play, it won't be an easy day at the office for Cam Newton. The 49ers may get slightly more press, but it's the Seahawks who have the best defense in the NFC West, and possibly in the entire league. Newton struggled against the Seahawks last year, and while that doesn't guarantee the same thing will happen this time around, Seattle features essentially the same personnel who shut him down a season ago. He'll have his banner days this season. Sunday will not be one of them.
A big night for the Giants in Big D? Not necessarily
The Giants are 4-0 in Dallas since the new Cowboys Stadium opened in 2009. All those games, though, were against a base 3-4 defense that had become a staple of the Cowboys. New defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin brought the 4-3 and Cover 2 that he popularized in Tampa Bay to Dallas, and that could help the Cowboys get their first win at home against their division rivals in the new building.
As pointed out in a Wall Street Journal story earlier this week, Eli Manning has struggled against Cover 2 in his career. In 12 games against teams that primarily play Cover 2 -- meaning a 4-3 in the front seven with two deep safeties splitting the field and zone coverage all around -- Manning has completed just 59.5 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 6.09 YPA. He threw for less than 200 yards in nine of those contests. The Cover 2 has lost a lot of it's cachet around the league in recent years, but it could give Manning fits on Sunday night.
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