Football season kicks into full swing this weekend, with fantasy owners everywhere looking for a strong start to the season. We break down the fantasy implications.
With the first game of the regular season in the books, fantasy owners are still left with plenty of choices to make regarding lineups heading into this weekend. There are several favorable matchups you'll want to exploit in Week 1, along with a few to avoid altogether. Let's take a look at who should be starting this week, and who you need to put on the bench immediately.
Jake Locker, quarterback - The Titans chose to hand the offensive reigns over to Locker this preseason, and he should easily keep that starter status after his Week 1 matchup against the Patriots. New England's abysmal pass defense ranked as one of the worst in the league the past two seasons. Locker is an extremely athletic quarterback playing behind a solid pass blocking front, not to mention he has a cannon for an arm. Is he the most accurate passer? No. Does completion percentage matter in fantasy? Exactly. He's not out there throwing picks left and right, and Sunday should be a great start to his 2012 campaign.
Doug Martin, running back - What a matchup for the rookie running back in the first start of his career. The Buccaneers finally moved Martin up in their official site depth chart, but it was already widely accepted that he would be starting in Week 1. Martin takes on a Carolina defense that allowed 130.8 yards per game and a ridiculous total of 18 rushing touchdowns last season. Sure, Jon Beason is back and Luke Kuechly will help bolster the linebacking corps as well. However, Carl Nicks helps bolster a Tampa Bay line that helped the team rush for an average of 4.2 yards per carry in 2011. Expect a great start for Martin this Sunday.
Justin Blackmon, wide receiver - The Jacksonville offense doesn't really excite any fantasy owner. But, Blackmon should be one bright spot in Mike Mularkey's first season as head coach. Blaine Gabbert has an entire season under his belt, a regular offseason behind him and some new weapons to throw to. Correction, he actually has weapons now. Blackmon received the most targets of any Jaguar in preseason. He'll take on the 26th-ranked defense from 2011 in the Vikings. Minnesota did add Chris Carr, but Blackmon is an incredible talent, and with a million targets thrown his way he's bound to score some points for your team. Starting Blackmon is going out on a limb in a sense. Have faith in him, though, at least for Week 1.
Owen Daniels, tight end - Daniels only caught three touchdowns in 2011. One of those three came against the Dolphins, who just happen to be his opponent in Week 1. Joel Dreessen is gone, but Daniels still might be splitting time with Garrett Graham, who looked sharp throughout the preseason. Daniels needs a strong start, and his extensive work with Matt Schaub gives him the upper hand for now. Miami gave up big numbers to tight ends last year, another plus for Daniels.
Atlanta Falcons, defense/special teams - Instead of picking a defense we know we dominate in Week 1, let's look at one you can take a risk on. The Falcons ranked sixth against the run in 2011. The Miami Dolphins ranked third overall in this facet. Why bring them up? Mike Nolan, the defense coordinator who orchestrated the stifling attack up front in Miami last season, now sits at the helm of the defense in Atlanta. The Chiefs love running the ball. If the Falcons can stop Kansas City on the ground, they should be able to handle Matt Cassel and the aerial assault with Asante Samuel in place now as well.
Andy Dalton, quarterback - This one isn't hard to figure out. Dalton got banged up in his final game of the preseason, and even though he's fine now, he's still facing one of the toughest pass defenses around. The Ravens only allowed 11 touchdowns through the air in 2011 and just 196 yards per game. Dalton is by no means a fantasy stud in his second year, but be sure to steer clear of his matchup against Baltimore.
Donald Brown, running back - Indianapolis is in a rebuilding process, and while the Colts will surely produce some impressive performances for your fantasy team this year, Week 1 will be a challenge. Brown is the No. 1 back on the depth chart, but Vick Ballard is now listed as their goal line back. They'll face Chicago on Sunday, a team that allowed 10 total touchdowns and 96.4 yards per game last year. Brown looks like he could be in for a decent year. Don't bank on him getting off to a hot start, though.
Santonio Holmes, wide receiver - The Jets' offense is in shambles right now. Preseason looked like a complete debacle, and there are so many questions surrounding Holmes and the passing game. He appears to be healthy, but Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow aren't going to be unloading on opposing secondaries throughout the year. Holmes finished with career lows in receptions and receiving yards last season. If you're really struggling at receiver, you can probably still do better than Holmes for first week of the season.
Jacob Tamme, tight end - Tamme is the one of the biggest sleepers this year according to just about every fantasy football owner out there. Yes, he's worked with Peyton Manning before. But, should you be sold already? Tamme is taking on a Steelers defense that ranks toward the top of the league against tight ends as far as fantasy points go. He'll also be battling Joel Dreessen for targets. Pittsburgh's defense is aging, but don't expect Tamme to break out in Week 1.
Bengals, defense/special teams - Did I mention the Bengals are playing the Ravens? Baltimore put up a total of 55 points in two games against Cincinnati last season. Joe Flacco and his squad looked sharp running the no-huddle offense in preseason play. The Bengals possess a solid defensive group. Just don't expect a shutdown performance on Monday night.