On Thursday night, the first NFL regular season game in nearly eight months will be beaming through television sets around the country. For some, Thursday's game determines if their favorite team has a winning or losing record. For others, it's a convocation for fans of the game simply looking to quench a football thirst that can't be accomplished until the first kickoff of the regular season. Regardless of whatever group you fall into, there is a common denominator for many: The implications Thursday's game has on your fantasy football team.
For fantasy football owners, the season begins with a clean slate. However, it won't take long before owners are heading into Week 2 with either a winning record or a losing one.
Peyton Manning, QB - You didn't draft Peyton Manning to bench him. Start him with the same confidence you felt when you drafted him. He will see some pressure in the pocket as his former teammate Elvis Dumervil sets his sights on him, but it will take much more than that to be concerned about Manning's production on any given week. The Broncos backfield may be cluttered at the moment, but Manning's receivers are proven. Expect 30 to 40 passing attempts and enjoy the output he'll deliver.
Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, WR - All three wide receivers in Denver are worth starting in Week 1. Expect plenty of three-wide sets throughout the evening. With Welker holds more value as a PPR receiver and should see a minimum of four receptions on Thursday. Decker may hold more value than Welker in standard leagues and is certainly worth starting in all formats. He's arguably one of the better WR3 options this week, but there is risk he could be the odd man out on any given week. Regardless, Decker's touchdown and big-play potential is always there. Demaryius Thomas is a strong WR1 during most weeks, and this week is no exception. With the possible exception of Manning, Thomas is the strongest fantasy option on the roster to start the season as he looks to build upon his 94 receptions for 1,434 yards accumulated in 2012.
Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball, Knowshon Moreno RB - According to the Broncos depth chart, Ronnie Hillman is the Broncos Week 1 starter. Hillman may have the nod on paper, but Ball is expected to be the bigger fantasy factor in 2013. Knowshon Moreno simply rounds out this backfield mess as the veteran of the group that is expected to see time during passing downs. There are simply too many uncertainties in the Broncos backfield at this point. Avoid starting all three running backs if possible. If you're going to flirt with a Broncos running back in your flex spot, you're probably better off with Ball purely based on his upside. However, don't be surprised if head coach John Fox gives the veteran Moreno opportunities to vulture touchdowns if the game is too close for comfort.
Julius Thomas, TE - Thomas has been productive this preseason with 12 receptions for 123 yards. He still has a long way to go before he is considered a viable TE1. Keep Thomas on your bench and hope he sees some targets on an offense full of receiving options. Then, hope that Thomas repeats that production for a few more weeks. Thomas has a shaky future ahead of him in terms of consistency with the weapons around him.
Denver Defense - Von Miller is currently suspended and Elvis Dumervil is on the visitor's side of the field. Joe Flacco could see a bit more time in the pocket on Thursday. Even if cornerback Champ Bailey plays on Thursday night, he'll presumably be dealing with a nagging foot injury. Bailey has struggled at times against the Ravens even when healthy. The Broncos should end the 2013 season with a strong defense, but it's tough to recommend them in Week 1. If you choose to start Denver against Baltimore in your fantasy league, you're hoping for a low scoring affair or a rough start for Joe Flacco.
Joe Flacco, QB - Normally it'd be difficult to confidently label Flacco a QB1 against a team like Denver. Denver's defense is missing some pass rush and Champ Bailey should be playing at less than 100 percent or not at all. Therefore, Flacco is an interesting option as a borderline QB1 this week. He can be inconsistent in his playmaking, but may see some success keeping up with Denver's high octane offense on Thursday night. For deeper leagues and 2QB leagues, Flacco has potential to put up solid numbers or better in Week 1.
Ray Rice, RB - The Ravens lost Anquan Boldin to the 49ers during the offseason, and tight end Dennis Pitta is injured until further notice. Both players were first and second on the roster in receptions respectively. Even though Rice struggled against the Broncos during the 2012 regular season with 38 rushing yards on 12 attempts, he bounced back in the playoffs with 131 yards and a touchdown. The offense should run through Ray Rice on Thursday. He is a strong RB1 this week (and most weeks). Backup running back Bernard Pierce could see his share of touches, but that will entirely depend on how much the scoreboard is leaning in Baltimore's favor.
Torrey Smith, WR - Champ Bailey is questionable for Thursday night and could very well be a game-time decision. Even if Bailey plays, Smith should get several opportunities to make big plays. He continues to be the Raven's more reliable wideout and has the floor of a WR3 for this week.
Jacoby Jones, WR - For any owner of Jacoby Jones, it's almost unfair that the season begins with a match against the Broncos. He shouldn't be started, but one can't help but recall his last game in Denver. During the 2012 playoff game in Denver, Flacco launched a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jones in the final minute of regulation. Jones may be listed as the No. 2 receiver in Baltimore, but he has some competition with undrafted free agent Marlon Brown. Jones is a player worth stashing for the time being. All it takes is one deep ball from Flacco to give Jones some worth this week, but he's ultimately a desperation play even in deeper leagues.
Ed Dickson, TE - Dickson is far from being a tight end worth starting in Week 1. It will be interesting to see how Dickson's time is split between blocking and receiving, and tight end Dallas Clark could be a factor in the receiving game. Dickson has been dealing with a hamstring injury for several weeks now but is probable to play. Regardless, avoid Dickson if possible.
Baltimore Defense - The Ravens have a defense that has been a bit polarizing among fantasy football fans. Some believe that the defense has lost its identity and is in a reloading phase. Others believe that the Ravens have youth and upside in talent and should be a dominant fantasy force in 2013. Whichever side of the debate you fall into, the fact remains that the Broncos have an offense that make for a tough fantasy outing for most opposing defenses. Consider better match ups for Week 1 if they are available.