Thursday September 4th, 2014

It is the time of year when everyone feels particularly optimistic about his or her favorite NFL team. It's also the time when approximately 100 percent of fantasy football competitors are convinced that they are going to win a title this season.

A lot of you are going to wind up disappointed.

Sports Illustrated cannot help any NFL franchises reach the postseason, but we might be able to lend a hand with that fantasy football frustration. New to our offerings this year is FanNation, the latest in daily/weekly fantasy leagues, which offers a chance to start your roster from scratch and compete head-to-head each individual week of the NFL season.

Many out there may be familiar with daily fantasy leagues, perhaps thanks to FanNation's baseball competitions. If not, here's a quick primer on the rules:

Each week of the NFL season, you can pick three players (1 QB, 1 RB, 1 WR/TE) to be pitted against either one other fantasy player in our head-to-head matchups or up to nine others in league play. Each NFL player is given a projected total for the week; add up the projected points of your QB, RB and WR/TE and you have your team's projected score for the week. That number is compared to your opponent's projected score. The "Fantasy Equalizer" then levels the field. Think of it like a handicap in bowling -- if Team A is projected to score 45 points and Team B projected to score 43, Team B will start the week up 2-0.

The remainder of the scoring rules are straightforward, with bonus for receptions and yardage milestones (100 receiving or rushing, 300 passing).

Think you're ready to try it out? Give it a go against yours truly this week for free, right here.

Players selected by one team in the head-to-head contests cannot be used by the other. So to help you formulate some sort of plan, here's who I decided to roll out for Week 1:

Quarterback: Tony Romo (projected points: 18)
Also considered: Andrew Luck (21), Colin Kaepernick (19), Jay Cutler (17)

The top dogs at QB, as should be no surprise, are Drew Brees and Peyton Manning -- each player is projected to score 28 points in Week 1. In hopes of working the Equalizer in my favor a bit, I drifted further down the board and found Romo.

Dallas' quarterback might be a popular fantasy play all season, because the Cowboys' ample issues on defense figure to force him to throw often. Romo faces a tough matchup in the opener, but San Francisco also brings a D that is somewhat in flux due to the losses of NaVorro Bowman (injury) and Aldon Smith (suspension). The 49ers, despite being a top-10 pass defense, did allow 290-plus yards through the air six different times last season.

For the Cowboys to hang around here (especially if San Francisco jumps out to an early lead), Romo will have to get the job done.

Kaepernick, on the flip side of this matchup, could be an option because of the aforementioned holes in Dallas' defense. His dual-threat abilities make him an intriguing fantasy play. Luck could find himself in a similar scenario to the one laid out for Romo, i.e. passing a ton in a high-scoring game. And Cutler should have a successful opening at home against Buffalo.

Running back: Frank Gore (projected points: 13)
Also considered: Jamaal Charles (24), Montee Ball (16), Joique Bell (8)

Again, just playing the game a bit here -- Charles is a fine fantasy option, but there's also an 11-point gap between he and Gore in the projections, so going with San Francisco's back might pay off in added points from the Equalizer.

No huge secret behind the Gore selection. Dallas finished 27th in the league against the run last season. On paper, this group is not much (if any) better in 2014, a problem amplified by the season-ending injury Sean Lee suffered during camp. Expect the 49ers to feed Gore early, then to keep going to the well late if they can get on top.

Ball is the No. 1 guy in Denver's rushing attack. Even if the yards are reserved for Peyton Manning and the passing game more than they are for Ball, he should be able to find the end zone plenty. Ball and Knowshon Moreno combined for 13 touchdowns and nearly 2,300 total yards last season (and now Moreno is in Miami).

Bell's a bit of a sleeper, three projected points back of his running mate in Detroit, Reggie Bush. But an eight-point projection is low for Bell, who will get the majority of the Lions' carries down by the goal line.

Wide receiver/tight end: Jimmy Graham (projected points: 16)
Also considered: A.J. Green (16), Keenan Allen (12), Jordan Cameron (10)

High expectations for Graham in Week 1, at least based on that projected point total. But in his last seven games against Atlanta (New Orleans' Sunday foe), Graham has found the end zone seven total times. The Falcons have struggled to find any answers for the Saints' athletic tight end ... not that any defense in the league has solved the Jimmy Graham puzzle.

Similarly, Green has been a nuisance for the Ravens, whom he'll face this week. Last year alone, Green hauled in three passes of longer than 40 yards versus Baltimore and he matches up well with their secondary.

Allen faces a tough opening task, up against the pesky Cardinals secondary in Arizona. Be it Antonio Cromartie or Patrick Peterson covering him, Allen will have to work to find space for Philip Rivers' passes. The tight coverage won't stop Rivers from looking his way, though. Same goes for Cameron, one of very few proven options for the Cleveland passing game.

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