The waiting is over, so now it's time to put your freshly minted roster to work. Here are some of the players to make sure you have in your lineup or have tethered to your bench.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: The Panthers failed to reach the end zone during the preseason, and the Giants have some questions in the front seven with Jonathan Goff manning the middle linebacker spot in Perry Fewell's defense, thus creating an interesting matchup for the league's top running back tandem. In the last meeting between these teams on Dec. 27 at the old Giants Stadium, Stewart racked up 206 yards and a score with DeAngelo Williams sidelined in Carolina's 41-0 shellacking. Although both will play in the new Meadowlands Stadium, both are worth starting and could each crack the 100-yard mark for an offense with no passing game to speak of.
Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins: A classic case of play-him-if-you-got-him, Portis is a big injury risk this season coming off a season in which he gained just 494 yards over eight games, so do what Mike Shanahan plans to do this season, ride the former 1,500-yard runner for as long as you can. One factor that you might not have realized, which makes Portis more attractive in an offense that he thrived in as a Bronco: he's just 29-years old, so should he manage to avoid the injuries that plagued him in two of the last four years, he could return being one of the league's better rushers. Confident he'll line up against Dallas on Sunday after suffering a slight ankle sprain in the third preseason game, he's never been held to fewer than 84 yards when given 20 or more carries against the Cowboys.
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears: The biggest knock against Cutler is that he's mistake-prone, but this week that shouldn't be much of a problem as the Lions are one of the defenses that have trouble taking advantage of others' miscues. A virtual lock for 4,000 yards should he stay healthy, the former Pro Bowl signal-caller should have a field day getting the likes of Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu and Matt Forte into the swing of what promises to be Chicago's most explosive attack since the days of Walter Payton and Willie Gault.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots. Be warned that this one is purely a guess, but given years of analyzing the pattern of misinformation emitted from Foxborough, my subterfuge skills tell me that Hernandez is in for a big NFL debut. The signs are simple really: Julian Edelman, normally Tom Brady's third passing option, is the least likely of New England's wounded receivers to play this week due to a bad ankle. That opens the door for Hernandez, the former Florida Gator, who possesses excellent hands and the ability to catch the ball in traffic. Plus he gives Brady a huge target, much like fellow rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, who led the NFL with four preseason touchdown receptions, which dooms his value this week. There's no way Belichick shows his regular season hand to opponents in the preseason.
Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints: Thursday night's 2010 NFL Kickoff between the Saints and Vikings marks a rematch of a 2009 NFC Championship Game that pitted two of the NFL's top scoring offenses and top fantasy defenses. One of the main reasons for Minnesota's success the last few years is the vaunted "Williams Wall," which helped hold opposition runners to just five rushing touchdowns last season, tied with the Packers for best in the league as well as 87.1 yards per game, the second fewest to Green Bay in the NFL last season. However when last they met, Pierre Thomas was huge, picking up 99 yards from scrimmage while reaching the end zone twice. Rested and intact, Minnesota's defensive line plans to contain him this time, making him someone to sit this week.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles: Now the full-time starter for the departed veteran Brian Westbrook, McCoy struggled in the preseason, gaining just 4.1 yards per carry in 20 attempts. He has a tough road ahead this week as his Eagles, now led by first-year starter Kevin Kolb, host the league's top run defense from last season, Dom Capers' Packers, in one of the week's marquee matchups. Look for Philly to take to the air more this season than in the past with the bulk of the team's most skilled players lining up outside of the hash marks. Keep McCoy in the shade of the sidelines.
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: After starting every game for the Ravens over the last two seasons, Flacco has been bestowed a veteran receiving corps with talent and is poised for a big year. However, the numbers won't be flowing this week. New additions Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh will have their hands full on Monday night facing the Jets top-rated defense, especially with Darrelle Revis back in the fold and Antonio Cromartie able to concentrate on the opposition's second-receiver. Flacco will complete most of his passes in the flat to the likes of Ray Rice and Todd Heap, which shouldn't be enough to land him in your lineup.
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