Every week on Thursdays we're going to go through and identify the best players to have in your lineups and those who would be good to sit for the week. You're never going to see things like "Start Tom Brady" or "Sit Aaron Stecker" here, but you might on occasion see the opposite. However for the most part, we'll be trying to help you make those tough weekly decisions a little easier.
This week is a little tricky since everything's new. But since there are players on new teams, with new coaches and past history can pretty much be left on the sidelines this week and we'll go more with the gut.
QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs. Texans -- Big Ben is a borderline top QB who you might consider sitting against the Texans, thinking that Pittsburgh will run all day against Houston's D, however the Steelers love to throw down near the goal line and Roethlisberger should have a field day against Houston's secondary, the weakest unit on a much improved team. Heath Miller and Santonio Holmes are also good plays here.
RB Laurence Maroney, Patriots vs. Chiefs -- Yes, the Patriots will dismantle the Chiefs, one of the league's doormat teams, however look for Brady's Bunch to establish the run more than they did last year. Maroney was a fantasy disappointment last season (835 yards, 6 TDs) but he'll bounce back with a solid season, starting with a score or two on Sunday.
RB Ricky Williams, Dolphins vs. Jets -- Sure he's in a timeshare with Ronnie Brown and sure he hasn't gained over 100 yards in a game, including in the CFL, since Jan 1. 2006, but the Dolphins current offensive setup is tailor-made for Williams who had a tremendous preseason and was rewarded with a contract extension. This will be a highly competitive contest with both teams able to move the ball on the ground.
RB Ray Rice, Ravens vs. Bengals -- A classic case of play him if you got him. With Willis McGahee still hobbled following knee surgery and another rookie, Joe Flacco starting at QB, the Ravens will have loads of offensive woes on Sunday. Luckily they're playing the Bengals who held just three opponents under 100-yards rushing and out of the end zone last year. Enter Rice, the star of Baltimore's preseason who has earned at least a share of the Ravens first-team carries. As the team's healthiest weapon, he could break off a few nice runs against a defense that has allowed a running TD to the Ravens in 10 of the last 13 meetings.
WR Brant Johnson, 49ers vs. Cardinals -- A grudge match for the longtime Cardinal. He's the key man in the Niners new offense, starting alongside Isaac Bruce. The 6-foot-3 Johnson has a distinct size advantage over Arizona's 5-11 cornerbacks Eric Green and Roderick Hood and has faced them countless times at practice over the years. It's always wise to start players who have an extra motive for doing well, especially against a former squad. This is also the week that J.T. O'Sullivan officially becomes fantasy relevant.
WR Jabar Gaffney, Patriots vs. Chiefs -- A starter in New England's three-receiver set, Gaffney was one of Brady's favorite targets down the stretch last season placing second on the team to Randy Moss with five TD catches from Thanksgiving through the Super Bowl. Now Donte' Stallworth and Chad Jackson are gone, so the sure-handed Gaffney is in store for a lot more balls thrown his way, especially in what should turn into a glorified scrimmage against the Chiefs this week.
WR Devin Hester, Bears at Colts -- In one short season the league's best return man has gone from a seldom used defensive back to a starting wideout on one of the league's worst offenses. The biggest thing Hester has going for him is his blazing speed and moves with the ball so look for the Kyle Orton-led Bears to try to get him the ball in the open field suing screens, reverses, routs in the seams and deep fly routes. He's by far the most attractive fantasy threat on the Bears and not even Bob Sanders will be able to contain him all day. Plus the Colts gave up a league-high four return TDs last season.
TE Jeremy Shockey, Saints vs. Buccaneers -- Bull meets china shop. Shockey returns to action for the first time since being knocked out for the season and being forced to miss the Super Bowl. Now he's recharged and ready to help the Saints overcome the lack of a running game by providing Drew Brees toughness on short pass plays, especially at the goal line. The fact that the Bucs are his opponents this week is inconsequential as Shockey is fired up and ready to go.
QB Jake Delhomme, Panthers -- Given the choice Delhomme probably wouldn't have picked the AFC's best secondary to face for his first game back from Tommy John surgery without his top receiver, Steve Smith, who is serving a suspension for his training camp attack on Ken Lucas.
RB Larry Johnson, Chiefs -- Here's the first of many games during which you'll be yelling at yourself for making Johnson one of your top two picks. New England's strength is the ability to take the opponent's top option away from them and clearly Johnson is the Chief's most dangerous offensive player.
WR Donald Driver, Packers -- Don't be surprised to see Driver's locker covered with pictures of Brett Favre after this game. Aaron Rodgers will be provided with a rude welcome to the NFC's black-and-blue division courtesy of Jared Allen and the rest of the Vikings front four, keeping Driver's pass-catching opportunities, especially against a Vikings team that held him to just 121 yards and no TDs in two games with Favre, at a minimum.