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Players to Watch : Key Matchups for Week One

Luke Hoover

Luke Hoover

Luke Hoover has covered fantasy football for Rotowire.com since 2011 and is most proud of recommending Victor Cruz as a starter in his breakout game against the Eagles. He's a lifelong fan of Notre Dame, the Packers and, unfortunately, the Knicks.

PLAYERS TO WATCH, Week 1 (9/8 - 9/12)

Thursday 9/8/11

New Orleans @ Green Bay

Mark Ingram (RB) for Saints - Pierre Thomas is the starter, but Ingram appears set for more goal-line duty. With an elite offense that can move the ball, about an even split of carries and a Packers defense that was 18th against the run last year, Ingram is a good threat to score in his regular season debut.

Jordy Nelson (WR) for Packers - The Saints' beefy defensive front and a possible shootout equal Aaron Rodgers slinging it all over the field. With the defense focusing so much energy on Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings, Nelson could be in line for an encore to his Super Bowl XLV performance.

Sunday 9/11/11

Atlanta @ Chicago

Julio Jones (WR) for Falcons - Expect Atlanta to make a concerted effort to involve Jones early and often in his first career game. With Michael Turner pounding the staunch Chicago front seven and Roddy White drawing plenty of attention, Jones could be the go to playmaker in this matchup.

Earl Bennett (WR) for Bears - Combine the fact that Bennett has the best hands on the team and that he'll work with a more open middle of the field while Johnny Knox and Devin Hester run deep and you have a formula for a whole lotta catches and good yardage.

Cincinnati @ Cleveland

Jordan Shipley (WR) for Bengals - A.J. Green will likely be shadowed all day by soon-to-be star corner Joe Haden, so rookie Andy Dalton will be looking underneath on a consistent basis for his safety net. Don't be surprised when he connects frequently with the sure-handed Shipley.

Colt McCoy (QB) for Browns - As the season progresses it will become harder and harder to keep McCoy benched if you don't own a top-5 passer. His two matchups with the "Bungals" will be the prime dilemma games. And here's the first.

Buffalo @ Kansas City

Marcus Easley (WR) for Bills - Though the No. 2 receiver job appears to belong to Donald Jones on paper, Easley made a nice bid for it in the preseason "dress rehearsal" game and he should be a good physical complement to Steve Johnson's more shifty game.

Dexter McCluster (RB/WR) for Chiefs - Even if Matt Cassel suits up with sore ribs, expect the Chiefs to give the Bills a heavy dose of the ground game. McCluster will factor into that equation with as many as 8-10 total touches, and for this dynamic jitterbug, that's all he needs.

Philadelphia @ St. Louis

Lance Kendricks (TE) for Rams - Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel will likely make it a long day for two of the Rams' top three receivers, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie drawing the third. Combining that with the relative inexperience of the Eagle linebackers could equal a big outing for Kendricks in his regular season debut.

Danny Amendola (WR) for Rams - This matchup has Amendola field day written all over it. The elite Eagles corners will be taking away the outside and anything deep, forcing Sam Bradford to move the ball on short outs and underneath routes, Mr. Amendola's specialty. Expect many, many targets.

Detroit @ Tampa Bay

Matt Stafford (QB) for Lions - Stafford was nearly flawless in the preseason. This might be the only week of the year he's not considered a top-10 quarterback, so unless he's backing up a certified stud, get him in.

Nate Burleson (WR) for Lions - It was clear in the preseason that Burleson has built a strong chemistry with Matt Stafford, particularly in the red zone. So with Calvin Johnson drawing double teams from what is merely an average-at-best secondary, look for Burleson to take advantage.

Tennessee @ Jacksonville

Jared Cook (TE) for Titans - With Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt having both missed virtually the entire preseason, and a revamped front seven for Jacksonville, Cook is a good candidate to be Matt Hasselbeck's best friend and the Titans' best receiver for Week 1. Can you say "breakout season"?

Jason Hill (WR) for Jaguars - Since tenacious corner Cortland Finnegan is likely to lock up Mike Thomas, the Jags' No. 1, Hill should receive a boost in targets and should carry over the strong finish he had to the 2010 season, even without David Garrard pitching him the ball.

Pittsburgh @ Baltimore

Antonio Brown (WR) for Steelers - What can Brown do for you? Against the Ravens, he can reap the benefits of a sluggish run game and double coverage on Mike Wallace, possibly as the game's best fantasy option.

Lee Evans (WR) for Ravens - The Steelers can still post a steel curtain against the run, but even with Ike Taylor coming back from a broken thumb they're susceptible to the pass. Evans' deep speed could be the best offense Baltimore has in this matchup.

Indianapolis @ Houston

Pierre Garcon (WR) for Colts - Expect the Colts to be forced to throw a lot in this game with Kerry Collins under center. Given the strong chance they'll be playing catch up all day, and Reggie Wayne drawing the most attention, Garcon could be in for some nice garbage stats.

Ben Tate (RB) for Texans - Whether Arian Foster plays or not, this could become a blowout early, and Foster could be resting a sore hammy on the sidelines for a big chunk of the game, giving Tate a prime opportunity to rack up some yards and perhaps a second-half score.

New York Giants @ Washington

Brandon Jacobs (RB) for Giants - The Redskins' shiny new nose tackle, Barry Cofield, has never had to tackle the human train that is Jacobs outside of the patty-cake they played in practice together for the last five years as Giants. So with points and a game at stake, who do you think will win out on the goal-line?

Tim Hightower (RB) for Redskins - This will be the only week I get to back Hightower as a "sleeper" starter. The Skins' zone-blocking scheme is perfect for him and he is hungry to prove himself after toiling for three years in the desert. Remember the phrase "He who hesitates is lost" when deciding to start him.

Minnesota @ San Diego

Mike Tolbert (RB) for Chargers - Against a Vikings defense headed downhill and without the run-stuffing Kevin Williams, expect Tolbert to start off his campaign to be the Chargers' scoring leader. This wrecking ball with legs has the look of an epic touchdown vulture.

Malcom Floyd (WR) for Chargers - This matchup could be a field day for the Chargers' offense as a whole, and with the Vikings focusing much of their energy on slowing the run and blanketing Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates, it could be Floyd who has the biggest day of all.

Seattle @ San Francisco

Mike Williams (WR) for Seahawks - With Sidney Rice ailing from a shoulder injury, he won't be at 100% even if he does play, leaving Williams as the Hawks' No. 1 receiving threat. Even with shoddy quarterback play he should rack up enough targets to post some nice stats.

Braylon Edwards (WR) for 49ers - Coach Jim Harbaugh needs to prove to 49ers fans, the league and, well, to himself that Alex Smith can get the job done in their west coast offense. With Michael Crabtree not likely to play, that could translate to a heavy workload for Edwards.

Carolina @ Arizona

Greg Olsen (TE) for Panthers - After losing another defensive back with Greg Toler going on IR, the Cards could be one of the worst pass defenses in the league this year. It still won't net Cam Newton a big game in his first start, but could set up nicely for Olsen who figures to be his favorite target.

Kevin Kolb (QB) for Cardinals - While Kolb won't have the benefit of this matchup becoming a shootout, he really won't need it to. The Panthers defensive backfield is banged up, and frankly not that intimidating. Kolb, Larry and the gang should have a big day in the desert.

Dallas @ New York Jets

Plaxico Burress (WR) for Jets - Dallas' defense was one of the worst in 2010 against the pass, and though they added coordinator Rob Ryan to mix up their looks and blitz packages, they did little to enhance the secondary. Call this a hunch, but the Jets will be slinging it all over in the "Ryan Bowl" and Burress will be a top target of Mark Sanchez.

Mark Sanchez (QB) for Jets - See Burress, Plaxico.

Monday 9/12/11

New England @ Miami

Aaron Hernandez (TE) for Patriots - Two words. Matchup. Nightmare.

Reggie Bush (RB) for Dolphins - With the Miami coaching staff seemingly down on Daniel Thomas' running style and the Dolphins likely throwing a ton in a catch-up game, Bush should see plenty of touches. It would almost be surprising if he didn't rack up 100+ total yards.

Oakland @ Denver

Michael Bush (RB) for Raiders - Three of Bush's eight touchdowns in 2010 came against the Broncos. In both games Darren McFadden went for over 100 yards and Bush still got 12 and 15 carries. Denver's defense gave up the most scores on the ground last year and a dramatic improvement doesn't appear likely. Nuff said.

Willis McGahee (RB) for Broncos - The Broncos have the offensive firepower to make trips into the red zone and that's were McGahee makes his money. If the preseason is any indication, he will dominate the goal-line work and compete with Mike Tolbert to be the league's premier touchdown vulture.