The first week of the 2014 NFL season has finally arrived, which means it's finally time to start agonizing over who to start and who to sit for your fantasy football team.
A running theme throughout this week’s toughest choices relates to the depth at the quarterback position. With all the quarterbacks worthy of starting in fantasy leagues, decisions like Ben Roethlisberger vs. Alex Smith vs. Andy Dalton become very challenging. And very relevant.
Week 1 features loaded fantasy matchups, such as New Orleans and Atlanta, and paltry ones, like the Raiders at the Jets. Each game, however, provides the fantasy community with at least a handful of starters.
The following recommendations are based on 12-team leagues that start one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, one RB/WR flex, one tight end and one defense. However, to accommodate slightly deeper leagues, they extend to 14 quarterbacks, tight ends and defenses, and 40 running backs and receivers.
Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks
Packers: Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb
This will probably be a cut-and-paste job all season long. Matchups don’t matter for this team or these four guys; their owners should start them every single week. They kick off the season with what could be their toughest matchup of the season against the Legion of Boom in Seattle, but all four of these guys were coming off the board within the first 30 picks of typical fantasy drafts for a reason. Get them in there with confidence.
Seahawks: Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Percy Harvin, Seattle DST
Russell Wilson may have achieved the pinnacle of success for a football player last season when he led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl championship, but this is the year he will truly arrive as a fantasy player. It all starts Week 1 against a Green Bay defense that returned most of the unit that allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks last season. That same group allowed the seventh-most points to running backs. The Packers are a terrible matchup for any defense, but you didn’t draft the Seahawks D just to bench them Week 1.
Packers: Jarrett Boykin, Richard Rogers, Packers DST
Boykin and, to a lesser degree, Rogers are great guys to have on your roster at the start of the season for depth purposes. Boykin could really be a breakout player as the No. 3 receiver in a potent offense. With your entire roster available to you, though, you should be able to find better starters than both of these guys, especially with them going up against the Seahawks.
Seahawks: Doug Baldwin, Zach Miller, Robert Turbin, Christine Michael
Baldwin was one of my favorite sleepers this draft season, but he’s just barely inside my top-60 receivers for this week. As is the case with Boykin, you simply should be able to get better guys out there the first week of the season. The other three guys listed aren’t quite viable fantasy options just yet.
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
Saints: Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, Jimmy Graham
Over the years, the Saints have proved that they don't play as well away from the Superdome, but Brees, Graham and Colston are still automatic starts. Thomas and Cooks present much tougher decisions for fantasy owners. However, when Vegas pegs a game with an over/under of 52, you want as many guys in that game in your lineup as possible. Same goes for Ingram, who still seems like a strong running complement to Thomas. First to 30 wins this one.
Falcons: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White
Despite losing Jones for 11 games and White being nagged by injuries all year, Ryan still threw for 4,515 yards and 26 touchdowns last season. The yardage total should remain flat or increase this year, but the number of touchdowns will almost certainly increase. Owners should start him every week. Jones and White may be the best wide receiver duo this side of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and they should be able to challenge the Saints' new-look secondary.
Saints: Khiry Robinson, Kenny Stills, Saints DST
Ingram and Robinson both received their fair share of preseason buzz, but that doesn't mean anyone who drafted them should be thinking about starting them Week 1. Right now, the only reliable running back for fantasy purposes in New Orleans is Thomas. Stills is too far down the depth chart to trust this week. The Saints defense may prove to be one of the best in the league, but a road test against a strong offense playing indoors is troublesome for fantasy purposes.
Falcons: Steven Jackson, Devonta Freeman, Jacquizz Rodgers, Harry Douglas, Devin Hester, Levine Toilolo, Falcons DST
The only player here of any real interest is Jackson. He didn’t play at all in the preseason because of a hamstring injury. While a veteran like him doesn’t really need a ton of preseason reps, it would have been encouraging to see a player with his injury history make it through the summer unscathed. On top of that, the Falcons could be forced to phase out the running game in order to keep up with Brees and the Saints on the scoreboard.
Minnesota Vikings at St. Louis Rams
Vikings: Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph
The Rams, indeed, should have one of the best front sevens in the game, but that doesn't matter when you're Adrian Peterson. Peterson is as plug-and-play as they come, and he should have another great year running behind the Minnesota line. The other two, however, are a bit more intriguing. Patterson was labeled a prime breakout candidate all summer, and now it's time for him to show up for the fantasy owners who bought into the hype. He and fellow preseason darling Rudolph should be started this week, but temper your expectations for the entire Minnesota passing game. This Rams team, led by Robert Quinn and Chris Long, can really get after the quarterback, making life tough for Matt Cassel.
Rams: Zac Stacy, Rams DST
I’m on record as probably Stacy’s greatest detractor in the fantasy world, and even I would start him this week. Stacy’s task this season became much more tougher when Sam Bradford went down with an ACL tear. At the same time, he’s about the only thing in this offense about which to get excited. It might mean more eight-man fronts, but it will also mean plenty of touches, which can’t possibly be a bad thing. The Rams’ defense could really feast against Cassel. Even if they let Peterson run wild on the ground, they should be able to get to the quarterback and force some hurried throws and bad decisions.
Vikings: Matt Cassel, Greg Jennings
This duo was actually rather effective once Cassel became the starter last year. Over the final five weeks of the season, they hooked up 32 times for 365 yards and two touchdowns. This is a bad matchup, though, and they’re both nothing more than depth guys at this stage of the season.
Rams: Shaun Hill, Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook
Britt, Austin and Cook have been three of the most disappointing fantasy players over the last five years. Big things were expected of all three right from the beginning of their careers, yet not one has been able to get it together. Hill is a serviceable backup, but he’s really no more than that -- those who say otherwise are applying revisionist history. He has only seen significant game action in two seasons. He had 2,046 yards, 7.1 yards per attempt and 13 touchdowns against eight interceptions in nine games in 2008 as a member of the 49ers. Two years later in Detroit, he put up nearly the same numbers on a per-game basis, though he played 11 games rather than nine. There’s nothing to see here.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Browns: Ben Tate, Jordan Cameron
Tate and Cameron are the lone startable Browns, which may be true for many weeks this season. The Steelers have a lot of new faces up front, including 2014 draft picks Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt. If the Browns are going to compete in this game, they’ll need to control the line of scrimmage, something their offensive line is capable of doing. If that happens, Tate could have a very nice day in his Cleveland debut. Cameron, meanwhile, should receive approximately 8,000 targets this year given the other options in the Cleveland passing game.
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, Markus Wheaton
This is the fantasy power trio that nobody mentions. Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown have turned the Steelers into an offense-first team, and that offense could lift the Steelers back on top of the AFC North this year. Bell and Brown will likely be must-starts every single week, though Bell does have some bust potential this season. Don’t put any stock into Brown’s matchup with Joe Haden. In two games against Cleveland last year, Brown had 15 catches for 179 yards and a touchdown. Miller was probably the most underappreciated tight end during drafts. Wheaton was a popular deep sleeper, and with Haden spending most of his time on Brown, he should find some room to roam in the Cleveland secondary.
Browns: Brian Hoyer, Terrance West, Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Browns DST
The Browns passing offense is going to leave quite a bit to be desired with Josh Gordon suspended for the season. All of these guys are depth players at best, even in deeper leagues. They shouldn’t be anywhere near a Week 1 lineup. West could eventually move into a more prominent role, but he was a little underwhelming in preseason action, and the gulf between him and Tate definitely widened as the summer progressed.
Steelers: LeGarrette Blount, Steelers DST
Blount should definitely be owned, but his time to shine likely won’t come until rosters are thinned out by injuries and bye weeks. Until then, let him occupy a space on your bench.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Philadelphia Eagles
Jaguars: Toby Gerhart
More often than not, Gerhart will be the only player worth starting for the Jaguars. This is one of the worst offensive units from a fantasy standpoint, with Gerhart the only player selected within the first 10 rounds of a typical 12-team draft. Gerhart usually performed well as Adrian Peterson’s backup, but now he’ll have to prove he can make it as a workhorse. The best news for his owners is that he should be a true three-down back for the Jaguars. The Eagles' 3-4 scheme could be an inviting one for Gerhart, and owners should be starting him with confidence on Sunday.
Eagles: Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Zach Ertz, Eagles DST
The Eagles are essentially the Jaguars' polar opposite. Where the Jaguars will have one start-worthy player in many weeks, the Eagles' floor will likely be three. Foles has his share of doubters entering the season, but they won’t have much to say after Week 1. Other than, perhaps, "It was the Jaguars." McCoy is my No. 1 running back this week, and Maclin is set for a huge return from his torn ACL last year, taking over the DeSean Jackson role in the offense. Cooper and Ertz are all low-end starting options, but with the volume of the Eagles offense, there could be enough to go around to make all of them starters this week. You won’t want to regularly start this defense, but it is one of the best stream options this week.
Jaguars: Chad Henne, Cecil Shorts, Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars DST
This one is pretty academic. The only player fantasy owners should even think about starting in this group is Shorts, but he’s still dealing with a hamstring injury that gave him trouble most of the preseason. Stay away from this offense.
Eagles: Jordan Matthews
Matthews is the only Eagle who should be on the bench this week. There could be enough scoring to go around, but Matthews is just barely on the outside of the top 40 receivers.
Oakland Raiders at New York Jets
Raiders: Maurice Jones-Drew
Right now, Jones-Drew appears to have the leg up on Darren McFadden in the Oakland backfield, making him the one Raider worth starting in Week 1. The Jets have wreaked havoc on rookie quarterbacks under Rex Ryan, so the Raiders will likely do what they can to take as much pressure off their signal caller as possible. That could mean a heavy dose of Jones-Drew. It might not be pretty, but this could be a grind-it-out, 10-point effort from the veteran.
Jets: Chris Johnson, Eric Decker, Jets DST
The Jets went about retooling their offense during the offseason by adding Johnson and Decker, and they immediately became the best playmakers on the offense. Believe it or not, Johnson was the ninth-highest scoring running back in standard-scoring leagues last season, and Decker, of course, was a stud with the Broncos. The environment might not be as good with the Jets, but he’s still going to be a top-30 option most weeks. The Raiders defense won't strike fear into anyone's hearts. The Jets defense, on the other hand, is the best stream option this week. You probably won’t want to keep it around after Week 1, but Muhammad Wilkerson and company could feast on Derek Carr and the below-average Oakland offensive line.
Raiders: Derek Carr, Darren McFadden, James Jones, Rod Streater, Andre Holmes, Raiders DST
Such is life for the Raiders, who will frequently have five or more players that should not be started in fantasy leagues. Dee Milliner isn’t 100 percent and Antonio Allen will be making his first career start at cornerback, but that isn’t enough to start any of these Raiders receivers, or Carr. McFadden could be a decent desperation play, but he seems to be on the wrong end of the timeshare with Jones-Drew.
Jets: Geno Smith, Chris Ivory, Jeremy Kerley, Jace Amaro
There’s a chance Smith plays his way into fantasy relevance at some point this season, but let’s make him prove it to us first. The same can be said for Amaro, and Ivory was woefully underrated during draft season. That doesn’t make any of them Week 1 starters, though.
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
Bengals: Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, A.J. Green, Bengals DST
This is not the once-dominant defense of the Baltimore Ravens. Bernard is a top-15 option at running back this week, while Green is a top-five receiver. Hill, too, is worth deploying, as he should be the team’s short-yardage back with BenJarvus Green-Ellis off the roster. The Bengals defense is fully healthy with Geno Atkins back and Vontaze Burfict over a minor injury from the preseason. The offense may get more attention, but the defense could end up separating the Bengals in the division. It’s also a unit fantasy owners will want to start most weeks, and in an offensive-driven league, that is becoming ever more rare.
Ravens: Bernard Pierce, Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta, Ravens DST
First, a word of clarification. In Wednesday's SI Now Live show, I recommended sitting Pierce. He is outside my top 30 this week, which is why he got saddled with the sit tag. However, to try to appeal to all leagues in this column, we extended the starting range a little bit, and that’s why Pierce falls in here. He’s still a risky play against a strong Cincinnati defense -- remember, he was even worse than Ray Rice was last year. Torrey Smith, however, is a strong play every week. Last year’s low touchdown total feels very fluky. I like him for at least eight scores this year.
Bengals: Andy Dalton, Mohamed Sanu, Tyler Eifert
Dalton was a tough omission, but someone has to be the 15th-ranked quarterback every week. He’ll be a start recommendation plenty of the time this year, but at Baltimore is probably a good spot to sit him. Eifert has some real breakout potential this season, but he’s still dealing with a balky shoulder. Let’s see him perform at 100 percent before we throw him in there.
Ravens: Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, Marlon Brown
Flacco’s fantasy time to shine is in beneficial matchups and bye-week scenarios, but neither of those apply here. Smith could very well flourish in Baltimore. Flacco does throw a nice deep ball, and he can still stretch the field. With a full complement of receivers available, though, neither he nor Brown crack the starting class of receivers in Week 1.
Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears
Bills: C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson
Spiller and Jackson are the only Bills worth starting this week. The Bears were absolutely dreadful against the run last year, and while GM Phil Emery rebuilt the defense and Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman are healthy, this unit didn’t look a whole lot better during the preseason.
Bears: Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett
The Bears have one of the greatest collections of offensive talent in the league, and that will be evident in Week 1. Forte is my No. 2 running back this week, Cutler is my No. 4 quarterback, and Marshall and Jeffery are both top-10 receivers. This offense is going to be a handful for any defense, and the Bills simply aren’t equipped to hold up. Get your Bears in your lineup this week.
Bills: EJ Manuel, Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Mike Williams, Scott Chandler, Bills DST
Even against a mediocre-at-best defense like Chicago’s, the Bills don’t have very many fantasy options. Watkins will likely be a better play in weeks to come, but his rib injury makes him a risky proposition this week. The rest of these guys are barely on the fantasy radar, even in backup capacities.
Bears: Santonio Holmes, Bears DST
Holmes could very well develop into a fantasy option as the third receiver in what should be a potent offense, but he’s not yet someone who should be on your radar as a starter.
Washington Redskins at Houston Texans
Redskins: Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed
Griffin has some work to do to earn back the fantasy community’s trust, but I think the pendulum has swung a bit too far against him -- let’s not forget what he did as a rookie. He’s 20 months removed from his knee injury, and should be running again this year. Alfred Morris has been one of the most underappreciated backs in the league during his two-year career. That continued this draft season, when he kept falling into the third round in drafts. He’s going to show on Sunday why that was such a mistake. Despite Griffin’s struggles, Garcon and Jackson should be a dynamic duo out wide for Washington. The one worry for them in this game is Houston’s ability to pressure the quarterback. They should both still be started, though.
Texans: Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Texans DST
The concerns with Foster have nothing to do with talent, and everything to do with injuries. For now, he looks healthy, and that could mean big things against Washington. Johnson was able to have a big year despite terrible quarterbacking in 2013, and the belief here is that he can run that back. Look for a huge rebound season from the Texans defense. The pairing of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney should be a nightmare for offenses.
Redskins: Andre Roberts, Santana Moss, Redskins DST
Moving right along…
Texans: Ryan Fitzpatrick, DeAndre Hopkins, Garrett Graham
Even against a subpar defense, these are three players that don’t quite register as fantasy starters. Hopkins definitely has upside and should be owned in nearly all leagues, but he’s not a guy to start Week 1.
Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs
Titans: Shonn Greene, Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter
Greene is still playing with the first-team offense ahead of Bishop Sankey. That’s not a ringing endorsement, but it is enough for him to get inside the top-40 backs this week. I love this receiver duo in Tennessee, and think both members of it will pay huge dividends for fantasy owners. Hunter has true top-20 upside if everything comes together for him.
Chiefs: Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce, Chiefs DST
The reigning king of the fantasy running back mountain gets the Titans in his first game of the 2014 season. There shouldn’t be any worries about the foot Charles injured tripping over a curb. Start him with confidence this week and every week. Kelce was perhaps the biggest riser of the summer, and while that doesn’t always work out, he compares favorably, at least physically, with some of the big-name tight ends. The Chiefs defense rose to the top of the heap with a ton of big plays last year, which means there’s reason to expect some regression this season. Those types of seasons are tough to duplicate.
Titans: Jake Locker, Bishop Sankey, Nate Washington Delanie Walker, Titans DST
Look, you might not find a bigger Locker fan than yours truly outside the Locker family or the cities of Nashville and Seattle. Still, he can’t be thrown into the fantasy fire against the Chiefs. There is real potential here for him to be a top-15 quarterback this year. He has the athleticism, the weapons, the running ability and, now, the coach in Ken Whisenhunt. Just be patient with him. Sankey was on the field for exactly zero snaps with Locker in the preseason. You probably shouldn’t have drafted him.
Chiefs: Alex Smith, Dwayne Bowe (suspended), Donnie Avery
Smith is another guy who just barely missed the group of starting quarterbacks. If you chose to start him this week over someone like Roethlisberger or Griffin, I wouldn’t call you crazy. Last year’s rushing yards could be for real in Andy Reid’s scheme. Just a reminder that Bowe is suspended for one game for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, so make sure he’s on your bench.
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Patriots: Tom Brady, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Patriots DST
A healthy Gronkowski takes the Patriots offense to another level. Edelman’s production may decrease in Gronkowski’s presence, but he’s still worth starting, since this group should be among the best in the league. Brady could very well be back among the elite with Gronkowski and Vereen healthy. Both Vereen and Ridley get starting nods, given that Vereen is almost purely a receiver out of the backfield.
Dolphins: Knowshon Moreno, Lamar Miller, Mike Wallace, Charles Clay
Moreno may have already moved ahead of Miller on the depth chart, but this could very well be a frustrating backfield all season long. The Miami line looks like a mess, and don’t forget that Moreno was considered a total bust before Peyton Manning showed up in Denver. This run game matches up poorly with the New England defense. Clay may not have been the most attractive tight end in the world, but he’s solid and steady.
Patriots: Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson
There are so many options in this passing game, and Brady won’t discriminate, but these two can’t be considered Week 1 starters. Dobson just barely missed the cut, however.
Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, Brian Hartline, Dolphins DST
Tannehill could be among the biggest quarterback risers this year. It would be very interesting to see what he could do with a good line and some weapons -- if he could trade places with Brady, for example. As it stands, his potential breakout could depend on the line dramatically improving and Wallace finding a measure of consistency.
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Panthers: Jonathan Stewart, Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen, Panthers DST
We’ll get to Cam Newton in a second. If there’s a Panther running back to own this year, it’s Stewart. DeAngelo Williams turned in a really uninspiring performance when he had the backfield essentially all to himself last year. Stewart will rise to the top. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Benjamin can be an absolute beast for Newton in the red zone, and the two have been getting along well on the field. Olsen should be the team’s leading receiver, however. This is still a great defense, with Luke Kuechly at the center of it all.
Buccaneers: Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, Buccaneers DST
It took nearly the entire summer, but Martin finally got his due from fantasy owners. Don’t hold last year against him -- this was a guy who put up nearly 2,000 total yards as a rookie. He is still a fantasy stud, and someone who should be started regardless of the matchup. Jackson and Evans give quarterback Josh McCown the sort of big, physical receivers he enjoyed in Chicago last year, albeit not quite as talented. The Buccaneers brought in standout corner Alterraun Verner, and new coach Lovie Smith could make this into a feared unit.
Panthers: Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant
A lack of weapons, a hairline fracture to his ribs and a swelling group of fantasy-relevant quarterbacks all push Newton to the sit group this week. He could very well make me eat my words in my bold predictions, but I believe he will finish outside the top-10 quarterbacks this season. Cotchery and Avant are waiver-wire fodder.
Buccaneers: Josh McCown, Brandon Myers, Austin Seferian-Jenkins
McCown enjoyed the best stretch of his career playing in place of Jay Cutler in Chicago last season, throwing for more than 1,800 yards and 13 touchdowns in eight games. That made him a worthy fantasy backup, not a Week 1 starter. Myers is unlikely to see a starting lineup all year. Keep Seferian-Jenkins on your radar. The Buccaneers drafted him in the first round, and felt comfortable letting Tim Wright go for Logan Mankins.
San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
49ers: Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, 49ers DST
This Week 1 matchup couldn’t be better for a quarterback who, like Kaepernick, struggled in the preseason. The Cowboys project to have one of the worst defenses in the league, which should open the door for Kaepernick to have one of his 245-yard, two-touchdown, 50-rushing-yard games. It also makes both Gore and Hyde top-40 running backs this week, though Gore is by far the superior option; he’s inside my top 15 at the position. Crabtree missed practice on Wednesday with a calf injury, so be sure to watch this as the week progresses. The late start could make this a headache. Don’t expect a dominant performance from a 49ers defense missing NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith against a strong Dallas offense.
Cowboys: Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten
The Cowboys are going to have to score 30-plus points with regularity if they are going to have any shot to compete for the playoffs, which is a good thing for anyone who invested in this team in fantasy leagues. The reports on Romo’s back are encouraging, and remember that the 49ers defense is missing key players. Bryant is a stud, and Murray proved himself one when healthy a season ago. Williams had a flash of brilliance last year and could break out with a significant role in the offense. Witten keeps on plugging along, and now inherits the aging tight-end torch from Tony Gonzalez.
49ers: Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson
This could change if Crabtree is forced to sit out because of his calf injury. In that case, Boldin would be worth starting, and Johnson would be right on the fringe. Short of that, however, these guys should both be benched. There just isn’t enough volume in the San Francisco passing offense.
Cowboys: Cowboys DST
There is likely no matchup that will make this an attractive defense this year.
Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos
Colts: Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne
Expect there to be a ton of throwing in this offense. That’s a great thing for Luck, Hilton and Wayne, as well as their fantasy owners. The Broncos did bring in Aqib Talib to upgrade the secondary, but this is still a solid matchup for Luck. The same is true for Hilton and Wayne, who are comfortably ahead of Hakeem Nicks within the Colts’ gameplan. They’re going to have to score to keep up, which should mean plenty of targets for both of these receivers.
Broncos: Peyton Manning, Montee Ball, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas, Broncos DST
There probably won’t be a week where any of the above players should be on your fantasy bench. This was a historically dominant offense a season ago, and the departures of Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno shouldn’t be more than a speed bump so long as Manning is healthy. With Wes Welker suspended for the first four games of the season, Sanders becomes a top-20 receiver. Cody Latimer nearly made the cut here, as well. Expect the Thomas boys to be at the top of their respective positions by season’s end.
Colts: Trent Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Colts DST
Why fantasy owners are still drafting Richardson is a mystery. His productive rookie season was based on volume and nothing else. He has three career carries of at least 20 yards. I predicted last week that Bradshaw would be the superior back in Indianapolis this year. It’s a matter of time before he is the primary back in the offense. Nicks nearly made it into the start group given how many times Luck will likely throw the ball this week.
Broncos: Wes Welker (suspended), Cody Latimer
Latimer could be a relevant player in fantasy leagues much earlier than anyone anticipated. Remember, Welker is a major injury risk. Even when Welker comes back from his suspension, Latimer will be involved in the offense.
New York Giants at Detroit Lions
Giants: Rashad Jennings, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle
Eli Manning may have struggled this preseason, but there seems to be little chance that this offense is as bad as it was a season ago. The Lions have been all bark with little bite on defense the last few seasons, even with a defensive-minded head coach. Jennings is a top-20 running back this week and for the entire season. Cruz and Randle should be able to handle the revamped Detroit secondary. That is, of course, if Manning can get them the ball.
Lions: Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Lions DST
The Lions are going to be just another fun NFC North team to watch this year. As it has for years, it starts with Stafford and Johnson. The Lions finally gave Megatron a capable second banana in Tate. Bush and Bell put up top-24 numbers in the same week just three times last year, but this could be the most explosive 1-2 running back tandem in the league. You might recall that Manning is prone to turnovers, which is good news for the Lions defense. This should be a high-scoring affair.
Giants: Eli Manning, Andre Williams, Odell Beckham, Jerrel Jernigan, Giants DST
It’s likely the only two players in this group owned with any significance are Manning and Williams. Manning looked lost in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s scheme this preseason. Even though his top two wideouts should be started, he has to be benched this week. Williams could eventually work his way into the fantasy mix, but you can’t start a touchdown vulture in Week 1.
Lions: Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew
It’s possible that the two primary tight ends in Detroit are each other’s worst enemy for fantasy purposes. With four pass catchers in Johnson, Tate, Bush and Bell, there would already be only so many targets for the tight end in Detroit. With Ebron and Pettigrew getting in each other’s way, neither may end up in the top 20 at the position.
San Diego Chargers at Arizona Cardinals
Chargers: Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, Keenan Allen
Even without Darnell Dockett, this is a strong Arizona defense; the Chargers will have their work cut out for them on Monday night. Having said that, Mathews and Woodhead are both productive enough to start for fantasy owners. Woodhead could actually really show up if the Cardinals offense can hang a number on the Chargers. Allen will likely see a heavy dose of Patrick Peterson, but he'll get somewhere in the neighborhood of eight targets, at a minimum.
Cardinals: Carson Palmer, Andre Ellington, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Cardinals DST
Palmer was one of the biggest bargains among quarterbacks this year. With Fitzgerald and Floyd, he has two big receivers who can win for him in the red zone. Floyd doubles as one of the league’s most dangerous downfield targets. The trio should have a big day against San Diego corners Brandon Flowers and Shareece Wright. The pair ranked 95th and 104th, respectively, among cornerbacks in coverage last year, according to Pro Football Focus. All Ellington needs to be a top-12 back is 16-to-18 touches a game. There are mixed reports on his injured foot, however. Given the timing of this game, you may want to bench him. This remains an elite defense, even with Dockett shelved.
Chargers: Philip Rivers, Malcom Floyd, Ladarius Green, Antonio Gates
Rivers’ career was revived last season, but I’m not sure he can keep it going in 2014. He’s certainly not a top-14 option when going up against this tough Arizona defense that can make life tough for a quarterback who lacks skills of evasion. Green was a buzzy tight end all summer, but buzz doesn’t make him better than productive guys like Charles Clay and Delanie Walker. I want to see more from him first.
Palmer, Ellington, Fitzgerald, Floyd and the defense are the only Cardinals owned in a statistically significant number of leagues.