New Orleans (+4.5) at Green Bay, Thursday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: After ending last season on the losing end of one of the biggest upsets in postseason history, the Saints have the tough task of having to travel to face the defending Super Bowl champs in Lambeau Field in front of a national audience. New Orleans upgraded its defense over the offseason, and newcomer Aubrayo Franklin is expected to play despite a knee injury. Lance Moore, however, is out with a groin strain, so expect increased targets for Jimmy Graham and Robert Meachem. The former is a must-start in all fantasy leagues. It will be interesting to see how the Saints divvy the carries in their backfield, but don't be surprised if Pierre Thomas is heavily involved outside the 20s only to give way to rookie Mark Ingram inside the red zone. Drew Brees could have a tough time against a Packers secondary that allowed an NFL-low 67.2 QB rating last season, but Thursday's game has the highest over/under (47.5) of any contest this week, so Vegas expects a shootout... While sometimes resulting in sluggish play, home teams have benefitted greatly in recent Thursday night openers, and offenses might be even more behind than usual thanks to the lockout. Of course, both these teams enter with potent offensive attacks with plenty of continuity, both with the personnel and coaching. Aaron Rodgers got 9.4 YPA with a 21:6 TD:turnover ratio over eight home games last season, although it's worth noting New Orleans allowed an NFL-low 13 passing scores last year. It's unclear how the Packers will use their backfield, but the safe bet is an even split between Ryan Grant and James Starks, so fantasy owners would be wise to use neither if possible until further evidence is known. Football is back, and game one projects to be highly entertaining.
Predictions: Drew Brees throws for 250 yards with a touchdown to Jimmy Graham, while Pierre Thomas totals 60 yards from scrimmage. Mark Ingram records a goal-line touchdown, while the Packers' RBBC totals 100 yards and a score. Aaron Rodgers adds 270 passing yards with TD strikes to Jermichael Finley and Jordy Nelson, as the home team comes out on top. Packers 24-20.
Atlanta (-3) at Chicago, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The Falcons finished 13-3 last year, securing the top seed in the NFC, thanks in no small part to an easy schedule. Not that they weren't deserving, but they lost their divisional round game at home to the Packers by a score of 48-21. Of course, Green Bay would go on to win the Super Bowl, so Atlanta's season was pretty successful despite its finish. The team decided to go all in for 2011 - essentially trading their entire draft to move up to draft WR Julio Jones, and while the team needed an upgrade at WR2, it came at quite a steep cost. Matt Ryan should benefit and continue to be a fantasy asset while throwing so frequently, but his 6.5 YPA mark last year while playing 10 games indoors was below mediocre in today's NFL. He'll need to show real growth for this team to reach their Super Bowl aspirations, and he has a tough matchup Sunday outdoors against a Chicago defense that allowed a 14:21 TD:INT ratio last season... The Bears surprisingly hosted the NFC Championship game last year and even nearly won despite Jay Cutler's early exit due to a knee injury, but it's safe to say the team benefitted from some luck and are due for some serious regression, evidenced by Vegas putting their over/under at just 8.5 wins. The defense would once again need to stay remarkably healthy to match last year's performance, and the offensive line remains a big problem, as does the receiving corps (Roy Williams is not the answer). Still, do they really deserve to be three-point underdogs at home to a similar Falcons team? Cutler, who is entering his second year in Mike Martz's offense, got 8.1 YPA at home last season, whereas Ryan got just 5.9 YPA while playing outside a dome, and few would argue Atlanta's defense is better than Chicago's.
Predictions: Matt Ryan throws for 220 yards with a touchdown to Harry Douglas, while Michael Turner struggles for just 60 yards but hits pay dirt. Matt Forte benefits from Marion Barber's (calf) absence and totals 110 yards with a score, while Jay Cutler adds 250 passing yards with scoring strikes to Earl Bennett and Roy Williams, as home field prevails. Bears 21-20.
Indianapolis (+8.5) at Houston, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The big (and obvious) news here is Peyton Manning's absence, which is a serious blow to the NFL in general. Another recent surgery on his neck will cost him his 208-games-started streak, likely 2-to-3 months and the bet here is the entire season. The Colts have a suspect offensive line, defense and coaching, and it remains to be seen if receivers like Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Dallas Clark are truly elite or more so a product of having Manning as quarterback. Especially at this stage of Wayne's career, it's a safe bet this offense goes into the tank. It may take a while for the Texans' defense to improve under new DC Wade Phillips, who's switching schemes, but they upgraded the secondary by adding Jonathan Joseph during the offseason and make for a sneaky fantasy start right away given the circumstances... With Manning's injury, it's now or never for Houston in an AFC South division that clearly looks like the worst in the conference. The Texans are strong at quarterback, WR1 and again at tight end with the return of a fully healthy Owen Daniels. Their run blocking might also be the best in football, which makes the biggest fantasy issue Arian Foster's (hamstring) status for Week 1. If the Texans play him, fantasy owners have to do the same. If he's not, it's a close call between Derrick Ward and Ben Tate, with the former having a higher floor since he's likely to receive more snaps being better in pass protection, while the latter has a higher ceiling having more talent. It's a decision that will come down to Sunday.
Predictions: Kerry Collins throws for 225 yards with a touchdown to Dallas Clark, while Joseph Addai produces 80 yards sans a score. Derrick Ward and Ben Tate combine to produce 140 yards with two touchdowns, while Matt Schaub adds 270 passing yards with a touchdown to Owen Daniels, as Houston wins it. Texans 24-16.
Buffalo (+6) at Kansas City, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Only one team had fewer victories than the Bills last season, and they play in an tough division and traded Lee Evans away while continuing to ignore their offensive line problems. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a perfectly fine QB who can keep this game close Sunday against the Chiefs, but there's a pretty decent argument the team would be better off totally tanking this season in the race for "Suck for Luck."... Dwayne Bowe is sure to regress from his 15-touchdown campaign last season, but he was typically overlooked at draft tables this summer because everyone thought that, seemingly punished for scoring so many TDs. Jamaal Charles remains a huge wild card, depending totally on coach Todd Haley's usage. If he's used the same way as last year, he'll be a disappointment due to a sure drop in per play efficiency, but if he gets 30-80 more touches, the record books could be in jeopardy. Matt Cassel is going to almost certainly take a step back dealing with a far tougher schedule and coming off an unsustainable 1.6 INT%, and he's also dealing with a painful rib injury Week 1.
Predictions: Ryan Fitzpatrick throws for 220 yards with a touchdown to Stevie Johnson, while Fred Jackson totals 60 yards with a score of his own. Jamaal Charles answers with 140 yards from scrimmage and reaches pay dirt, while Matt Cassel adds 225 passing yards with a touchdown toss to Dwayne Bowe, as Kansas City comes out on top. Chiefs 23-20.
Tennessee (+3) at Jacksonville, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The Titans finished 6-10 last year despite outscoring their opponents by 17, whereas the Jaguars got incredibly lucky, ending with an 8-8 record while getting outscored by 66 points. Still, it just seems too obvious to pick Tennessee after Jacksonville dumped its starting QB just days before the season started, as the line has barely even moved since then. The Titans should give Chris Johnson all the work he can handle since new QB Matt Hasselbeck has been slow to pick up a new offense (coming from a West Coast system), but the team would actually be best served targeting Kenny Britt, Jared Cook and company heavily, as the Jags allowed an NFL-high 8.3 YPA last season. It's possible a fresh face is better in this situation, but the safer bet is that the loss of Jeff Fisher is a downgrade... Not unlike when Jacksonville sent Byron Leftwich packing mere days before the season opener in favor of Garrard back in the day, the latter was on the receiving end of such treatment recently. The move was billed as football related, but coming off a season in which he completed 64.5 percent of his passes and got 7.5 YPA with 23 touchdowns over 14 games (along with 279 yards and five touchdowns on the ground), it's obvious it was a financial decision, making the team's move to L.A. all the more likely, unfortunately for fans. McCown is capable of being competent, even with possibly the NFL's worst WR corps at his disposal, but the key here may be Maurice Jones-Drew's true health, which remains a mystery until Sunday.
Predictions: Matt Hasselbeck throws for 225 yards and a touchdown to Kenny Britt, while Chris Johnson totals 130 yards with a TD run. Maurice Jones-Drew counters with 80 combined yards and a touchdown, while Luke McCown adds 230 yards with scoring strikes to Marcedes Lewis and Mike Thomas, as the homes team prevails. Jaguars 21-17.
Cincinnati (+6.5) at Cleveland, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Then Bengals finished 4-12 last season and lost their quarterback (Carson Palmer) and both of their top wide receivers (Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco) during the offseason. The head coach remaining intact isn't necessarily a good thing, nor is the new OC Jay Gruden, who failed in the Arena League. With quite possibly the least-inspiring feature back in football (Cedric Benson) also in tow, there's a strong chance this team ends up with the worst record in the NFL this year. A.J. Green quite obviously has a ton of talent, but asking Andy Dalton to lead a pro offense right now isn't realistic... The Browns have some sneaky potential, but at the same time, they aren't exactly touchdown favorite material right away. Colt McCoy has shown some upside, and Joe Thomas is probably the second best offensive lineman in the NFL. Peyton Hillis should get off to a nice fantasy start against a Bengals front seven that yielded 4.4 YPC and 15 rushing scores last year.
Predictions: Andy Dalton struggles, throwing for 180 yards with a touchdown to A.J. Green but also commits two turnovers. Cedric Benson plods for 60 rushing yards but also reaches the end zone, while Peyton Hillis responds with 100 total yards and a TD run. Colt McCoy adds 220 passing yards with scoring strikes to Evan Moore and Hillis, as Cleveland starts the year out with a victory. Browns 24-20.
Philadelphia (+4.5) at St. Louis, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The Rams enter 2011 with an underrated defense (they recorded 43 sacks last season, added DE Robert Quinn with the 14th pick of the draft and have a terrific defensive mind in Steve Spagnuolo as head coach. Also, from a fantasy standpoint, they should benefit greatly from playing in the NFC West and in an entirely winnable division. While Sam Bradford's rookie season may have been a bit overrated (6.0 YPA while playing indoors), his receiving corps can't help but improve (including intriguing TE Lance Kendricks), and there are expectations he makes a leap himself. There's a real concern Steven Jackson begins a major decline phase... After making some big offseason splashes in free agency, the Eagles enter as one of the bigger favorites to win the Super Bowl, but there's plenty of reason for skepticism. The first being Michael Vick, who struggled down the stretch last season while adjusting to teams blitzing more - an area of concern that he wasn't able to fully address due to the lockout, which he readily admits. Moreover, he's a pretty significant injury risk and will have to deal with a strong pass rush Sunday while playing in a dome that should hurt his ability to change calls at the line of scrimmage. Still, he obviously possesses a ton of fantasy upside, and LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson should be started with confidence, while ideally, Jeremy Maclin is benched to see how close he is to full health.
Predictions: Sam Bradford throws for 200 yards and a TD to Mike Sims-Walker, while Steven Jackson gains 70 total yards and also reaches the end zone. LeSean McCoy responds with 100 total yards and a score, while Michael Vick adds 40 rushing yards and 250 passing yards with a TD strike to DeSean Jackson, as the Eagles prevail. Eagles 23-20.
Pittsburgh (+2) at Baltimore, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Coming off a loss in the Super Bowl, the Steelers get a tough test immediately, having to travel to division-rival Baltimore on Sunday. The Ravens have a young secondary and actually had the fewest sacks per QB drop back in the NFL last season, so Ben Roethlisberger should have time to attack downfield. His career 8.0 YPA is tied for the most in modern day football, and his weapons might also be the best since he arrived in the league. Baltimore allowed an NFL-low five scores on the ground last season, so the Steelers are likely to base their game plan around their passing attack... Pittsburgh finished first in the NFL in YPA (6.3) and YPC (3.0) allowed last season, so Baltimore's offense has a difficult matchup Sunday. Joe Flacco made further strides last season, and the hope is that newcomers Lee Evans and Torrey Smith open up the field for the QB with one of the strongest arms in football. Ray Rice might not have a big game rushing, but his ability as a receiver means he shouldn't be benched in fantasy leagues despite the tough opponent.
Predictions: Ben Roethlisberger throws for 225 yards with a touchdown to Hines Ward, while Rashard Mendenhall fights for 70 total yards. Ray Rice counters with 80 yards from scrimmage, while Joe Flacco adds 225 passing yards and a TD strike to Anquan Boldin, as Baltimore wins on a late field. Ravens 19-16.
Detroit (+1) at Tampa Bay, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Detroit enters the year with a lot of hype on its side, and in order to reach those expectations, it's extremely important Matthew Stafford stays healthy (along with Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best and Ndamukong Suh, as this team is top heavy). Stafford enjoyed a terrific preseason and looks primed to take a huge leap, barring health. This offense has the potential to be a fantasy goldmine. Tampa Bay allowed just 6.4 YPA - the second lowest in the league - last year, but that came against an extremely easy schedule... Most expect the Bucs to take a step back after having a lot of good fortune last season as well as a schedule that set up nicely, but it's also possible this young team improves on the field enough to counter that. Josh Freeman got 7.6 YPA with a 15:1 TD:INT ratio over the second half of last season, and while the Lions' front seven looks tough, rookie Nick Fairley (foot) is out, and the secondary remains a weakness, so the QB is fine to use in fantasy leagues in Week 1. LeGarrette Blount will leave the field during passing downs, and the key to his fantasy success will be securing the goal-line role, but he's going to get the majority of carries this week.
Predictions: Matthew Stafford throws for 275 yards and two touchdowns, with Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson the recipients. Jahvid Best adds 90 total yards and a TD run, while LeGarrette Blount produces a similar line. Josh Freeman adds 260 passing yards with scoring strikes to Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow, as Tampa Bay wins it. Buccaneers 24-21.
Minnesota (+9) at San Diego, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: Coming off a close loss in the NFC Championship game, the Vikings had a disastrous season last year, and Brett Favre is finally officially retired. It's unclear if Donovan McNabb has much left in the tank, but it's safe to say he can't be much worse than the QB production Minnesota got last year. In Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson, he has a couple of legit weapons, but the team's offensive line continues to deteriorate. Losing Brad Childress as head coach is addition by subtraction, but traveling to San Diego to play a game outdoors won't be easy... Despite impressive peripheral stats like point differential and net YPA, the Chargers missed the playoffs last season, but they enter 2011 having the benefit of what again looks like an easy division. The team historically gets off to slow starts, which is something to consider for those thinking about using the Chargers in survivor pools. Still, they are heavy favorites for a reason, as they upgraded their defense in the offseason, and last season's horrible special teams should be somewhat negated by the new kickoff rule. Philip Rivers has led the NFL in YPA for three straight seasons, a feat matched only by Steve Young in the modern era. He should have a big game against a Vikings secondary that yielded 25 touchdowns last season.
Predictions: Donovan McNabb throws for 220 yards with no touchdowns, while Adrian Peterson, who ran for 296 yards and three touchdowns the last time these teams met, totals 110 yards and scores. Ryan Matthews gets 100 yards from scrimmage, while Mike Tolbert punches in a goal-line TD. Philip Rivers adds 300 passing yards with scoring strikes to Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates, as San Diego gets the victory. Chargers 24-16.
New York Giants (-3) at Washington, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: Washington looked surprisingly good this preseason, but the team still projects to be the weakest in a tough NFC East division. They do benefit from playing the NFC West as well, but it would be a mild surprise if the Redskins didn't finish last in their division in 2011. They get a Giants defense wrecked by injuries Week 1, but it's questionable whether starter Rex Grossman can take full advantage of it. Chris Cooley (knee) is questionable, and if he's out, Fred Davis might soon become a fantasy option. Tim Hightower has become everyone's favorite fantasy sleeper and should be heavily involved Sunday... New York missed the playoffs last year despite a 10-6 record, and with so many question marks on defense (and the offensive line), the team is going to rely heavily on Eli Manning, who no longer has Steve Smith and Kevin Boss around. Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham figure to be targeted heavily as a result, and Brandon Jacobs may be leaned on more as well. Washington allowed 7.5 YPA last year and will be missing LaRon Landry (hamstring) Sunday, so New York should be able to move the ball with ease in Week 1.
Predictions: Rex Grossman throws for 230 yards with a touchdown to Fred Davis, while Tim Hightower totals 100 yards and reaches the end zone. Ahmad Bradshaw gains 80 yards from scrimmage, while Brandon Jacobs punches in a score from the goal line. Eli Manning throws for 280 yards with a touchdown toss to Hakeem Nicks, as the road team prevails. Giants 23-17.
Carolina (+7) at Arizona, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: Carolina finished with an NFL-worst 2-14 record last season and picked first in the draft as a result. Enter Cam Newton, who's going to start at QB right out of the gate. He's an intriguing long-term fantasy prospect because of his rushing ability, but he's extremely raw as a passer and might struggle to complete much more than 50.0 percent of his passes. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are going to be relied upon heavily, but this is a team that will try to shorten games and hide its quarterback... Arizona had some of the worst QB production in the history of the league last season, so newcomer Kevin Kolb doesn't even need to be average to be a significant upgrade. It's big news for Larry Fitzgerald's increasing fantasy value. Despite the poor record last year, the Panthers' secondary is a strength, so the Cardinals might go ground heavy. Beanie Wells is the unquestioned feature back for the first time in his career and should have a nice game against a Panthers' front seven that might be missing LB Jon Beason (Achilles') and allowed 20 rushing touchdowns last season. If he can stay healthy, a big year should be in store.
Predictions: Cam Newton struggles during his pro debut, committing a couple turnovers, although he does find Greg Olsen for a score. DeAngelo Williams totals 80 yards, while Jonathan Stewart hits pay dirt. Beanie Wells counters with 110 yards and a TD run of his own, while Kevin Kolb adds 240 passing yards and a touchdown toss to Larry Fitzgerald, as Arizona starts its season off with a win. Cardinals 23-17.
Seattle (+5) at San Francisco, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: After winning the division with a losing record and then pulling off one of the biggest upsets in postseason history, the Seahawks enter 2011 as the least favored team to win a horrible NFC West. New starter Tarvaris Jackson is unlikely to have Sidney Rice (shoulder), the team's big offseason acquisition, available Sunday, and guard Robert Gallery (knee) is uncertain as well. Mike Williams is a sneaky PPR option as a result, and while Marshawn Lynch will act as a feature back, he's an unexciting option, especially against a 49ers' front seven that ceded just 3.5 YPC last season - the second fewest in the NFL... The upgrade from Mike Singletary to Jim Harbaugh as coach is of massive proportions, but San Francisco's improvement may not be seen this year, as the QB situation remains a big problem. It's now or never for Alex Smith, although he does have more weapons than ever before in newcomer Braylon Edwards, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree (foot, questionable) and Frank Gore. If the 49ers want to compete in 2011, they simply must beat a shaky Seahawks team at home to open the year.
Predictions: Tarvaris Jackson throws for 180 yards with a touchdown to Zach Miller, while Marshawn Lynch totals 60 yards and a TD. Frank Gore responds with 110 yards and scores, while Alex Smith adds 225 passing yards with touchdown strikes to Vernon Davis and Braylon Edwards, as S.F. comes out on top. 49ers 24-17.
Dallas (+4) at New York Jets, Sunday 8:20 p.m.
Comments: Coming off a disastrous season that saw them lose Tony Romo to a season-ending injury, Dallas enters 2011 with the potential to make a deep playoff run, but they get a tough task Week 1. With Romo, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Felix Jones, this offense is loaded. However, Austin is limited by a hamstring injury, and first round pick RT Tyron Smith (knee) is highly questionable as well. A dome team traveling to New York to play in primetime isn't the best set up for the Cowboys to get off to a strong start to the season... The Jets figure to have a strong defense and offensive line, with the key remaining whether Mark Sanchez can make a leap. Shonn Greene is going to finally be given the chance to act as the team's workhorse, and a Michael Turner in his prime type season could follow. Plaxico Burress is likely a downgrade from Braylon Edwards, but with Santonio Holmes more comfortable in the Jets' offense and likely to see an increase in targets, a big fantasy season could be in store. This line has jumped a full point since it opened.
Predictions: Tony Romo throws for 230 yards and two touchdowns, with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten the recipients. Felix Jones totals 75 yards, while Shonn Green adds 70 rushing yards and a TD run. Mark Sanchez adds 225 passing yards with a touchdown toss to Santonio Holmes, as New York wins it. Jets 23-20.
New England (-7) at Miami, Monday 7 p.m.
Comments: After flirting with a coaching change during the offseason (Jim Harbaugh), Miami brings back a similar roster this year, which should result in a good, not great team. Chad Henne had an unlucky INT% last season, and it's possible he breaks out, but if he doesn't show real improvement during his third year as starter, the franchise will be in trouble long-term. Brandon Marshall is finally over his hip injury that lingered last year and should be a monster in PPR formats. Rookie Daniel Thomas looked like a bust in the preseason and is now dealing with a hamstring injury. It will be interesting to see how Reggie Bush responds to getting the most touches of his career... New England was dominant last regular season only to be upset by the Jets in the playoffs, but they look primed for another Super Bowl run. The team hasn't won a playoff game since 2007, but expect that to change in 2011. Tom Brady won the MVP last season, and while he's struggled against the Dolphins throughout his career, he should have a strong game Monday night. Chad Ochocinco is a better wait-and-see fantasy option at this point, as he's really struggled to pick up New England's offense. Both Pats tight ends are worth using, however, as is BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Predictions: Chad Henne throws for 220 yards and a touchdown to Brian Hartline, while Reggie Bush totals 70 yards and scores. BenJarvus Green-Ellis responds with a similar line, while Tom Brady adds 275 passing yards with scoring strikes to Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, as the road team prevails. Patriots 24-20.
Oakland (+3) at Denver, Monday 10:15 p.m.
Comments: The Raiders became the first team in NFL history to go undefeated in their division and not make the playoffs last year, and they get to face the AFC West right out of the gate in Denver in Week 1. Oakland lost Nnamdi Asomugha and Zach Miller in free agency, and they also enter with a new head coach in Hue Jackson. Jason Campbell is a strong option in 2-QB leagues facing a Broncos defense that allowed 7.8 YPA with a 26:10 TD:INT ratio last season, and rookie Denarius Moore is a must-own in dynasty leagues. Last year against Denver, Darren McFadden totaled 354 yards and scored four touchdowns...After an ugly Josh McDaniels tenure, John Fox takes over as Denver's head coach, and a more run-heavy offense should follow. Tim Tebow had a brutal preseason, so Kyle Orton enters firmly entrenched as the team's starting QB. Knowshon Moreno should get the bulk of the work in the backfield, but Willis McGahee is on the fantasy radar as the team's No. 1 option at the goal line. Both teams are similar in talent, with home field being the difference Monday night.
Predictions: Jason Campbell throws for 240 yards with a touchdown to Jacoby Ford, while Darren McFadden totals 125 yards and hits pay dirt. Knowshon Moreno gets 80 yards from scrimmage, while Willis McGahee gets a goal-line TD. Kyle Orton adds 230 passing yards with scoring strikes to Brandon Lloyd and Moreno, as Denver comes out on top. Broncos 21-17.