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Week One matchups to exploit or avoid

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By William Del Pilar

The early weeks of the season are always the most difficult to gauge matchups but that's no excuse. You're paying your hard-earned money for results. Let's take a look at Week One's top matchups to take advantage of and which ones you should stay away from:

MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT

QBs

Mark Sanchez, Jets vs. Cowboys

Entering his third season, Mark Sanchez should be ready to break out. The Jets are hosting America's team, which allowed 243 yards and two touchdowns per game to opposing quarterbacks in 2010. The Cowboys enter the season with a new defensive coordinator and have questions throughout their secondary. Sanchez is a solid No. 2 fantasy QB this week.

Kerry Collins, Colts at Texans

Kerry Collins knows the Texans well, having faced them twice yearly over the past five seasons as a member of the Titans. In the five games he played against the Texans over that time, he's averaging 219.8 yards, one touchdown and nearly one interception. However, the last two times he faced Houston, he took them to task, averaging 227 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Last season, the Texans allowed 268 yards and two touchdowns per game to opposing quarterbacks. They look to improve with Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator and showed improvement during the preseason.

Alex Smith, 49ers vs. Seahawks

How many owners are going to start Smith? No one to my knowledge, but he's a solid matchup this week. The past three games against the Seahawks he's averaging 263 yards and 1.67 touchdowns per game. Last season, Seattle allowed 250 yards and two touchdowns per game to opposing quarterbacks. Smith will have opportunities this week against an improving, yet still weak, Seahawks' secondary.

RBs

Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee, Broncos vs. Raiders

I'm not worried about Moreno's and McGahee's numbers from previous years as much as what head coach John Fox brings to the table — a strong, physical and violent rushing attack. The Raiders were horrible against the run in 2010, allowing 133.6 rushing yards and nearly one touchdown per game. Moreno makes a fine No. 2 fantasy back and McGahee is a No. 3.

Jahvid Best, Lions at Buccaneers

No one doubts that Best has elite ability, but he just can't stay on the field because of injuries. Healthy entering Week One he faces a Buccaneers defense that was surprisingly pourous against the run in 2010, allowing 131.7 rushing yards and 0.75 rushing touchdowns per game. Best was not 100 percent for the Lions' Week 15 meeting with the Bucs, producing only 12 yards on six carries, and the Bucs' defense is young and improving. However, Best should produce in this one.

Beanie Wells, Cardinals vs. Panthers

Once in a timeshare with Tim Hightower, Wells now is the featured back so his past numbers are not important. However, he has faced the Panthers twice in his career, averaging eight carries for 29 yards and zero TDs. Despite Wells' underwhelming stats, anyone can run against the Panthers. Even during the preseason they couldn't stop anyone and ranked dead last, allowing 147.5 yards per game, along with five rushing TDs. Last season, the Panthers gave up 123.8 rushing yards and 1.25 rushing touchdowns per game. I would say the Carolina run defense looks worse right now.

DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Panthers at Cardinals

Let's flip this around because all the Panthers have is a rushing attack. Last season, the Cardinals allowed 145.2 rushing yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game. They hired a new defensive coordinator, made some offseason moves and showed improvement in the preseason. In three games against the Cardinals (not counting playoffs), Williams is averaging 129 yards and 0.67 touchdowns. In that same span, Stewart is averaging 78 yards and 0.67 touchdowns. For now, expect the Panthers to lean on both Williams and Stewart. Both are quality No. 3 fantasy backs.

Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, Giants at Redskins

The Giants want, and need, to get their one-two RB punch going. The Redskins are perfect medicine. Last season, Washington allowed 127.6 rushing yards and nearly one rushing touchdown per game. The last four times that Bradshaw has faced the Redskins, he has averaged 60 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown plus 2.25 receptions for 14 yards with zero touchdowns. Over that same span against the ’Skins, Jacobs has averaged 62.5 rushing yards and 0.75 touchdowns.

WRs

Kenny Britt, Titans at Jaguars

Britt is entering his third season and knows the Jaguars inside and out. However, in three games against Jacksonville, he is averaging only three receptions, 48.3 yards and 0.33 touchdowns. He has not had success against the Jags but we expect that breakout to begin this week. Last season, the Jaguars allowed 250.3 passing yards and 1.75 touchdowns per game.

Brandon Marshall, Dolphins vs. Patriots

Dolphins QB Chad Henne started out slow this preseason but he has been growing every week. Not much has been made about this but keep an eye on him as he could work his way into fantasy backup status. Marshall is an above-average wideout who will face a Patriots defense that allowed 258.5 passing yards and 1.6 touchdowns per game in 2010. The Pats' "D" is improving, but I give the edge to Marshall this week.

Braylon Edwards, 49ers vs. Seahawks

The Seahawks and 49ers are both in rebuilding mode while Edwards searches for redemption. The truth is, he never has proven himself as much as he has shown flashes. The Seahawks should offer ample opportunity for Edwards to excel. The 49ers' No. 1 wideout, Michael Crabtree, probably won't play and outside TE Vernon Davis, Edwards is the team's best receiver. Last season, the Seahawks allowed 249.6 passing yards and 1.94 passing touchdowns per game.

TEs

Dustin Keller, Jets v. Cowboys
Keller's another up-and-coming tight end though a second-tier one at this time. He faces a Cowboys defense that struggled against the pass in 2010, allowing 243.4 yards and 2.1 touchdowns per game. QB Mark Sanchez has chemistry with Keller and trusts him. Until Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason develop chemistry with Sanchez, look for Keller to be the QB's second receiving option behind Santonio Holmes.

Jared Cook, Titans at Jaguars

PFW Titans correspondent Jim Wyatt, who has been covering the team for a long time, believes Cook can be a 60-catch tight end. That's high praise, but Wyatt isn't the only one to believe that this is the season Cook becomes an elite player. Cook will be facing a Jaguars "D" that allowed 250.3 passing yards and 1.75 touchdowns per game. I would rather watch and see how he develops before inserting him into the lineup right away. However, he has a favorable matchup in this one and some believe that outside Chris Johnson, Cook is the most dynamic playmaker on the team.

 

MATCHUPS TO AVOID

QBs

Kevin Kolb, Cardinals vs. Panthers

It will take time for Kolb to develop chemistry with his new teammates and to learn the Cardinals' playbook. He's facing a Panthers' team that can't stop the run, so look for Beanie Wells to carry a big load. Kolb will have his moments but teams did not throw against the Panthers much. Last season, Carolina allowed 212.1 passing yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game. Look elsewhere and watch Kolb develop before tossing him in as a starter.

Joe Flacco, Ravens vs. Steelers

Starting the season with a hated division rival is awesome for the fans but a terrible proposition for fantasy owners. Flacco's maturity continues to grow and the team finally has given him a deep threat in WR Lee Evans. The Steelers have a top-tier defense and Flacco is averaging only 214 passing yards, one touchdown and 0.67 interceptions against them (not including playoffs). The Steel Curtain allowed 214.1 passing yards and 0.94 touchdowns per game in 2010.

Donovan McNabb, Vikings at Chargers

McNabb is on a new team and is not the player he once was. The Chargers, who are thinking Super Bowl this year, allowed only 177.8 passing yards and 1.1 passing touchdowns per game in 2010. McNabb has faced the Chargers three times in his career, all with the Eagles. He averaged 319.3 yards, 1.67 touchdowns and 1.33 interceptions against them. Different team, different season. Bench him for now.

RBs

Ryan Mathews, Chargers vs. Vikings

The Vikings do have a solid run defense and last season they only allowed 102.2 yards and 0.63 touchdowns per game. Mathews is the Chargers' first- and second-down back with Mike Tolbert handling red-zone, goal-line and receiving duties. Mathews will have his moments but this tough matchup is one where he might be better off on your bench.

Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks at 49ers

The 49ers are not very good, but the Seahawks are even worse. A new offense, bad defense and too many questions at too many positions leads me to worry about Lynch. He never has become the elite NFL player many thought he would be and has had mixed results in his short time in Seattle. The 49ers allowed only 96.7 rushing yards and 0.6 touchdowns per game last season. Lynch is a No. 3 back at best but I would rather bench him.

WRs

Julio Jones, Falcons at Bears

While the Bears allowed 224.3 passing yards per game in 2010, they were tight on touchdowns with only 0.9 per game. Jones is a rookie and the football will go through RB Michael Turner and WR Roddy White first. And don't forget about TE Tony Gonzalez and WR Harry Douglas. There are so many weapons on this Falcons team, let's see how Atlanta utilizes Jones before playing him. This matchup is not as attractive once you see the big picture.

Lee Evans, Ravens vs. Steelers

Evans did not practice for more than a week before returning on Monday. He's still learning the Ravens' playbook and needs to continue to develop chemistry with QB Joe Flacco. Avoid him this week as he has a tough matchup and is just coming back from injury.

Austin Collie, Colts at Texans

Most would think that Collie would make a solid No. 3 receiver even with Kerry Collins at the helm. That's true, but he has not been healthy in the preseason, he has to develop chemistry with a new quarterback and the Texans are revamping their defense led by coordinator Wade Phillips. Everything points to disappointment. Consider this: the ball will go through Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Dallas Clark and even Joseph Addai before Collie.

TEs

Tony Gonzalez, Falcons at Bears

You know Gonzo's near the end of his career when you put him on a list like this and don't think twice. The Bears allowed 224.3 passing yards but only 0.9 touchdowns per game last season. The Falcons now have rookie WR Julio Jones and Harry Douglas back in the slot. The team wants to go to the air more but RB Michael Turner will get his touches as well. Gonzo is the No. 4 option, generally speaking. Keep him on the bench this week.

Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings at Chargers

Last season, the Chargers allowed only 177.8 passing yards and 1.1 passing touchdowns per game. The Vikings have a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback, are the visiting team and the ball goes through RB Adrian Peterson. That all adds up to keeping Shiancoe on the bench. Plus, he didn't play in the preseason because of a hamstring injury and hasn't developed chemistry with Donovan McNabb. Let's see how he does in the early weeks.

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