In the season debut of “Exploit or Avoid,” we give you five players who should thrive in Week One — and five who could struggle:
Matchups to exploit
Bears QB Jay Cutler — He’s never had better skill-position talent with which to work in Chicago, and he’s drawing the Colts at a good time. The Colts have transitioned to a 3-4 front, and their pass defense looms is a concern. Indianapolis has enough pieces on defense to occasionally be a thorn in the side of the opposition this season, but Chicago’s offense is a tough attack to face right off the bat.
49ers TE Vernon Davis — Yes, the 49ers improved their WR corps in the offseason, but Davis remains San Francisco’s most talented option in the passing game. Davis is an every-week starter in most fantasy formats, and he has a good chance to remind everyone why right off the bat. The Packers were just awful vs. the pass in 2011.
Jets RB Shonn Greene — No one’s confusing the 2012 Jets with the 2007 Patriots. The New York offense lacks much upside, and its preseason performance left a lot to be desired. Still, Greene is a solid starting option in Week One. The Bills surrendered 139.0 rushing yards per game a season ago, and opponents scored 19 TDs on the ground.
Rams RB Steven Jackson —There’s much concern about the Lions’ pass defense, but they weren’t exactly stout vs. the run in 2011, either. Detroit gave up 128.1 rushing yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry a season ago. Jackson merits a place in your lineup in the opening week.
Buccaneers RB Doug Martin — Martin won the Buccaneers’ featured-back role, and he gets a favorable matchup in his NFL regular-season debut. The Panthers had problems stopping the run in 2011 (finishing ranked 25th vs. the rush), and Martin figures to be busy in Week One.
Matchups to avoid
Packers RB Cedric Benson — The 49ers were super-stingy vs. the run a season ago, allowing just three scores on the ground and 3.5 yards per carry. Of all of the Packers’ backs, Benson has the most fantasy value as the season begins, but he’s 1) a non-factor on passing downs and 2) has played less than a month with Green Bay. I believe Benson has some upside this season — just not in Week One.
Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis — The Bengals’ offensive line has been ravaged by injuries, with OLG Travelle Wharton (knee) out for the season and C Kyle Cook (ankle) to miss at least the initial portion of the campaign. What’s more, the Ravens are stout vs. the run.
Redskins QB Robert Griffin III — He’s a fine option in two-QB formats as well as bigger leagues, and I wouldn’t talk someone dead-set on starting him out of it, considering his vast talent. However, I believe RG3 has a tougher-than-it-looks matchup. For starters, the Superdome figures to be very loud. Also, the Saints’ defense, while flawed, figures to give Griffin some tough-to-decipher looks, as defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has had so much time to prepare for this game.
Bills WR Stevie Johnson — It’s no secret he played well against Jets CB Darrelle Revis a season ago. Some owners will undoubtedly roll the dice and hope Johnson again produces. However, he’s hard to recommend with great confidence. Revis is the game’s best cornerback, and he’s capable of turning the tables.
Browns WR Greg Little — The Browns’ go-to receiver has to deal with a strong Eagles secondary in Week One. Moreoever, Browns rookie QB Brandon Weeden will be making his first regular-season start. It’s just not a favorable set of conditions for Little to produce big numbers.