Dallas (+4) @ New York Giants, Wednesday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: The 2012 regular season will fittingly begin with the same matchup that concluded the 2011 schedule and launched the Giants on an incredible title run. Jason Garrett and Tony Romo will return to the scene of the crime with plenty of motivation to avenge last year's collapse, this time armed with a healthy DeMarco Murray. Unfortunately for Dallas, Romo is unlikely to have his No. 1 security blanket while Jason Witten, who is officially doubtful for the game, recovers from a lacerated spleen injury. Top stars Miles Austin and DeMarcus Ware also could be slowed as they're coming off hamstring injuries. Career reserve John Phillips will get the start if Witten sits and Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree figure to see a heavy dose of targets if Austin is slowed, with Bryant leading the way for Dallas... The Giants replaced their biggest offensive losses through the draft by snagging David Wilson and Rueben Randle in the first two rounds to fill the roles of Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham respectively. Both should get into the mix early, as Ahmad Bradshaw (hand) and Hakeem Nicks (foot) are coming off recent injuries, though neither rookie is an advisable fantasy start with the veterans expected to suit up. Dallas turncoat Martellus Bennett could also see a healthy dose of targets-particularly in the red zone-if Nicks' aching foot limits his snaps, while Victor Cruz will otherwise lead the Giants' passing game. In the end, Eli Manning will carry over his razor sharp postseason play and the fearsome pass rush provided by Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora will give the defending Super Bowl champs the edge.
Prediction: Manning tosses three scores, one to the Salsa King of New York, one to Nicks and one to Bennett, while racking up 330 yards through the air. Cruz goes off for 140 of those yards and Nicks pulls in four for 55. The Bradshaw/Wilson duo combines for 120 yards with a score going to the veteran. Romo struggles to stay upright with JPP (two sacks) and Tuck (sack, forced fumble) spending the night in the backfield and tops out at 240 yards with one score to Bryant and two interceptions. Murray registers 115 total yards to lead the offensive attack and puts in a short score, but it's far from enough for the Cowboys. Giants 34-17.
Indianapolis (+10) @ Chicago, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Andrew Luck era begins in one of the most famous stadiums in NFL history against a "Monsters of the Midway" defense that still boasts numerous Pro Bowl players. Fortunately for him, Colts general manager Ryan Grigson surrounded him with skill talent through the draft, adding his former Stanford tight end Coby Fleener, the Mackey Award-winning tight end Dwayne Allen and speedy receivers T.Y. Hilton and Lavon Brazill. Since no one guy will be able to replace Pierre Garcon, the presence of Reggie Wayne as Luck's No. 1 target becomes even more vital. With a defensive personnel that badly fits the 3-4 scheme they are transitioning to, Luck and Co. figure to be playing from behind on a very consistent basis. That factor, combined with Luck's maturity-beyond-his-years grasp of the game, should go a long way towards boosting Wayne's status back towards every week starter, while also making Austin Collie, Hilton and Fleener usable in deeper leagues. Though the offensive line is severely lacking in experience, Luck's ability to keep defenses honest should also help Donald Brown to make the fantasy leap in his first year as a feature back, even if that impact isn't seen against a physical Bears front seven... The Chicago offseason was dedicated to giving the offense a facelift as the team traded for Brandon Marshall, signed Michael Bush, re-signed Matt Forte and drafted Alshon Jeffery. With so many weapons at Jay Cutler's disposal, Chicago now looks like one of the NFC's most explosive and complete offensive attacks. Facing a Colts defense that was miserable against the rush last year and did little to improve, look for new offensive coordinator Mike Tice to pound Forte and Bush early to set up play-action to Marshall, Jeffery and Devin Hester. And expect Chicago fans to spend Week 1 and much of the season singing "reunited and it feels so good" every time Cutler and Marshall hook up.
Predictions: The Forte/Bush duo will top 150 total yards with two short scores going to Bush. Marshall will nab 133 of Cutler's 285 passing yards and one of his two scores, with the other going to Jeffery. Luck throws early and often to pile up 325 yards and scores to Fleener and Allen, while Wayne tops 100 yards and Brown chips in 60 total yards in a poor rushing effort from Indy. Bears 34-23.
Jacksonville (+3.5) @ Minnesota, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: What running back storyline got more press over the summer: Maurice Jones-Drew's prolonged and pointless holdout or Adrian Peterson's dedicated return from a shredded knee? Even though neither should be started this week, if AP suits up they'll be two of the most watched players league-wide despite each being used in a reserve role. Jacksonville has repeatedly stated their intention to start Rashad Jennings and use MJD on third-downs, but will that actually happen once 2011's rushing champ, who accounted for 47.7% of the Jaguars' offensive production last year, converts a crucial third down or breaks a long run? Jennings, who boasts a career average of 5.4 yards-per-carry, has the talent to produce a nice flex start if he receives the workload. But that's a big if. Meanwhile second-year starter Blaine Gabbert is expected to make strides this season and with fifth overall draft pick Justin Blackmon looking like a young Anquan Boldin in the preseason, the Jags' passing game might actually be worth watching for the first time in awhile. That is, if they can get the ball off against a Vikings defense that tied for tops in 2011 with 50 sacks... For the Vikings, Christian Ponder has been receiving rave reviews during the preseason. Minnesota will go as he goes this year and while that's far from being a playoff berth, they should make significant improvements in the passing game as Ponder and Percy Harvin continue to develop chemistry, Kyle Rudolph emerges as an excellent red zone weapon and "Jumpin" Jerome Simpson provides a deep threat following a 3-game suspension. Against a Jags defense that was stiff against the pass last year even without top corner Derek Cox for 10 weeks, look for the Vikes to pound Toby Gerhart to set up play-action and rollouts for Ponder.
Predictions: Gerhart turns in a 110-yard effort with a score, while his counterpart, Jennings, starts and nets 88 rushing yards on his 16 carries. Jones-Drew puts up 65 total yards, while Gabbert connects with Blackmon for 90 of his 234 passing yards and his only scoring strike. Ponder, goes for 272 and two touchdowns, one to Rudolph and one to Devin Aromashodu. Harvin totals 116 yards while AP rests another week. Vikings 24-14.
Buffalo (+3) @ New York Jets, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Fred Jackson's return from a broken leg that ended his incredible string of games last year will once again make Buffalo's offense competitive with any defense in the league. But this game is all about Tim Tebow putting on another jersey and seeing how the Jets will utilize him and Mark Sanchez in the same contest and possibly the same backfield. Or at least that's what the media will make this one about. The real matchup to watch is Ryan Fitzpatrick versus that stifling Jets' pass defense. He torched them in their last meeting but has run hot and cold versus New York. Steve Johnson has had perhaps more fun on Revis Island than any receiver in the league having posted at least 70 yards or a score in their only four meetings. Unfortunately for Buffalo and Fitzpatrick, their No. 1 receiver is dealing with tightness in his groin that may limit Johnson on Sunday. The other dynamic to key on is the split in touches between Jackson and the speedy C.J. Spiller who piled up 633 yards and five scores in Jackson's 6-game absence to end 2011... After not scoring a single touchdown under the reigns of Sanchez or Tebow in the preseason and trying to cover up that ineptitude by announcing that they were not unveiling all their packages until the games counted, the Jets offense is already facing put-up or shut-up time. Tebow should have some success on the ground if they employ the Wildcat with any regularity, but it may be at the expense of Sanchez's rhythm. With Dustin Keller (hamstring) questionable at best for the contest and Santonio Holmes coming off a myriad of nagging training camp injuries, the passing offense could be a wreck against a much improved Bills defense that features a potentially dominant front four with the Mario Williams addition and a ballhawking secondary to clean up on the back end. Shonn Greene will get some chances to start/sustain drives, but too many will end in punts or embarrassing turnovers.
Predictions: Jackson totals 128 yards, but Fitzpatrick struggles and tops out at 205 yards passing with one pick and one score to David Nelson. Spiller chips in just 34 yards and the Bills defense gets the final score off a Sanchez interception. Tebow and Greene combine for 112 yards on the ground to provide most of the offense as Sanchez finishes with 178 passing yards, 75 of those going to rookie Stephen Hill. Bills 14-9.
Miami (+11) @ Houston, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Joe Philbin came over from Green Bay and promptly removed the best things the Dolphins offense had going for itself last season: Brandon Marshall and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Philbin's stamp will certainly be placed on the franchise, but it will likely come at the cost of scoring points in Year 1 of what may be a brief tenure. First-round draft pick Ryan Tannehill should know offensive coordinator Mike Sherman's system having run it while the two were at Texas A&M together, but he's still a QB that was a collegiate WR just two years ago. The numerous skilled rushers on Houston's defense and Pro Bowl corner Jonathan Joseph will seriously exploit Tannehill's lack of experience, particularly since his best target in the passing game is Davone Bess. Look for the Texans to stack the line and eliminate the threat of Reggie Bush, daring the rookie to beat them... Last year's Dolphins were third in the league versus the run, but that won't translate against the 1-2 punch of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. (Foster is being called a game-time decision, but Tate is among the league’s best backups and could be one of the top weekly rushers if pressed into service). Additionally, Miami's switch back to a 4-3 front could take some time to adjust to as their defensive personnel remains largely the same. A healthy Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson connection will just create more headaches for a clearly overmatched Dolphins team in a hostile environment.
Predictions: Tannehill getting sacked on two of his first three drop backs sets the ominous tone for this browbeating in Houston. The rookie completes less than 50% of his attempts for 142 yards, while Bush struggles to go anywhere against a smothering Texans defense that piles up seven sacks, forces four turnovers and puts one in the end zone. Given the lopsided nature of the game, Tate leads the team with 118 and two scores on the ground as Foster rests his hurt knee after totaling 60 first half yards. Schaub hits Johnson for a red zone score en route to 220 passing and 106 receiving for the two respectively. Texans 34-0.
New England (-6) @ Tennessee, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Tom Terrific has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, but will he have enough time to get them all involved with former Pro Bowlers Matt Light and Brian Waters no longer anchoring the line? Against a Tennessee team that posted the second-fewest sacks in the league in 2011, the answer is a resounding yes. Going forward the blocking could become an issue, but for Week 1 Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd should have little trouble getting open and hooking up with Brady, especially since the Titans' top cover corner, Cortland Finnegan, skipped town for St. Louis. With Shane Vereen (ankle) likely out after not practicing for a week and the Tennessee defense on its heels at the hand of Brady, Stevan Ridley could find plenty of running lanes as the team's feature back... After beating out veteran Matt Hasselbeck in training camp, Jake Locker will get the first crack at testing the Patriots defense to see if the numerous draft picks they added to last year's awful unit will pay immediate dividends. Though he will be without Kenny Britt (serving a 1-game suspension), Locker will still have Nate Washington and Jared Cook as top targets, while first-round pick Kendall Wright will replace Britt in the starting lineup. Wright brings Chris Johnson-esque playmaking abilities and explosiveness to the passing game and is a reasonable flex play in deeper leagues given the possibility of a shootout. Speaking of Johnson, the blazing back displayed the speed during the preseason that helped earn him the moniker CJ2K, so welcome back to the fantasy party, Mr. Johnson.
Predictions: Ridley registers 115 yards and a score on the ground, while Brady throws for 345 yards and three touchdowns to Gronkowski, Hernandez and Lloyd. Johnson does his best to keep Brady off the field as he chips in 104 total yards and a score, but gives way to Locker's arm in the second half as the QB throws for 270 in a comeback effort, with touchdowns going to Wright and Cook. Patriots 31-24.
St. Louis (+9) @ Detroit, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Steven Jackson may be the epitome of a Jeff Fisher guy. He's an exceptionally hard worker who's always prepared, gives 110% effort and fights through pain -- all without ever making a peep of a complaint. And in Fisher's first campaign as Rams head coach, he may lean on Jackson like he has done with previous workhorse backs to carry a shaky offense that is still searching for receiving weapons for Sam Bradford. To keep pace with a high-flying Detroit attack though, Bradford will need Danny Amendola, Steven Smith and tight end Lance Kendricks to step up from the get-go... Matt Stafford and the Lions will look to start fast for the second straight year as they hope to improve on a Wild Card season. Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew and Titus Young make this a difficult offense to slow down, but if the Lions can add a potent run game to their mix, they could be unstoppable. The perpetually banged-up Kevin Smith will start the season as a feature back for at least two weeks with Jahvid Best (concussion) on the PUP list, and possibly closer to retirement than playing time, and Mikel Leshoure serving out a 2-game suspension for marijuana possession.
Predictions: Jackson contributes 124 total yards and a short score. The Rams defense keeps it close all the way and only allows Stafford to throw for 290 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson does his part by contributing 135 yards and one score, while Pettigrew claims the other. Bradford connects with Smith for his only touchdown while he turns in a 240-yard day, but it's the Lions' Smith who saves the game for Detroit with a late score. Lions 24-20.
Washington (+9.5) @ New Orleans, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: After trading away draft picks by the bushel, no debut may be more anticipated than the Robert Griffin show that has consumed the Washington headlines. RGIII carries the future of Mike Shanahan and the Redskins on his sculpted shoulders and will make it a bright one as long as he uses his legs. In a division with so many elite pass rushers, Griffin may spend his rookie year running for his life. However, against a Saints team that didn't lose in the Superdome last season and outscored their opponents in nine home contests by a whopping 22.5 point per game average, RGIII will need to ice his right shoulder heavily after this game. Pierre Garcon, Fred Davis and Santana Moss should split a ton of targets in a pass-happy affair... No team in football wants to start playing more than the Saints. Any press they received in the offseason was ugly. Between Bounty Gate and a contentious contract dispute with the best player in franchise history and a surefire Hall-of-Famer, the disappointment of another tough playoff loss got pushed to the background. Although Sean Payton is not there to lead the team and Jonathan Vilma will not captain the defense as each faces a year-long suspension, the talent level and leadership on the team remains rock solid. Drew Brees may call his own plays and will once again engineer a stacked offense that, even without Robert Meachem, will hit a Washington secondary missing its starting safeties like a freight train.
Predictions: Brees torches the Redskins' thin secondary for 410 yards and four scores through the air to make a statement that the Saints are going nowhere. Jimmy Graham tops 100 yards while catching two of those TD's and Marques Colston and Lance Moore snag the other two. Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram combine for 125 total yards with Ingram punching in a short score. RGIII does all he can to hang with the Saints Machine, but throws two picks in the process en route to 255 yards passing and 40 rushing. He does add two scoring strikes, one each to Garcon and Roy Helu as the Skins fall well short. Saints 44-20.
Philadelphia (-9) @ Cleveland, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Eagles will start the season with their hearts on their sleeves as they come out extremely fired up to get the first W for Andy Reid's son Garrett, who passed away during training camp. Michael Vick, who dealt with hand and rib issues during a rocky preseason, is expected to be at full strength and will show it in his precise play. Though the Browns were second to only Pittsburgh in 2011 against the pass, that was really more a product of them being so poor against the run that teams did not throw on them as much (they faced the second fewest pass attempts). The constant threat of LeSean McCoy breaking a big gainer will set up the play-action nicely for DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin to get behind the undisciplined Cleveland safeties, while the Eagles defense and special teams should set the offense up with several short fields... The Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson era may not get off to an auspicious start with the ultra-aggressive Eagles defense coming to town and Richardson just barely back from an arthroscopic knee procedure exactly one month ago Sunday. Against a defense that finished tied for the league lead with 50 sacks in 2011 and among the top-10 in takeaways, the most important thing for Weeden will be finding his hot routes and protecting the ball. With further development of Greg Little and the addition of Josh Gordon, Weeden should have enough weapons to have success at times this year, though this week does not figure to be one of those times.
Predictions: Richardson is limited in a blowout and posts just 58 total yards while Weeden throws for 180, mostly to Gordon and Little who combine for 130 receiving. Vick hits Jackson and Brent Celek for touchdowns in a 249-yard throwing effort, while McCoy caps the scoring by punching in two to go with his 128 scrimmage yards. Eagles 28-6.
Atlanta (-2) @ Kansas City, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: In Tony Gonzalez's homecoming to Kansas City, a classic matchup of the pass versus the run will unfold. New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter wants to speed up the tempo of the Falcons offense and put his new toys, Julio Jones and Roddy White, to good use. The Chiefs were among the league's best versus the pass last year as they picked off 20 balls and allowed just 201 yards per game through the air, but they will be without their top sack artist in Tamba Hali who received a 1-game suspension for violating the NFL substance abuse policy. And though the Chiefs will welcome back Eric Berry, they may be without the rest of their 2011 starting secondary as Brandon Flowers is nursing a foot injury, Brandon Carr is now in Dallas and free safety Kendrick Lewis has a bum shoulder. Michael Turner may still get a goal line shot or two, but it's going to be bombs away for Matt Ryan in Arrowhead... Romeo Crennel's second stint as a head coach will place an emphasis on physical, win-at-the-point-of-attack football. To that end the team brought in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and then signed Peyton Hillis. The two worked together in 2010 in Cleveland when Hillis steamrolled much of the league. Now he will pair with Jamaal Charles, who's full recovery from last year's torn ACL has him primed to play the lightning to Hillis' thunder. If Dwayne Bowe is up to speed coming off a holdout, he and Jon Baldwin will be a big part of moving the chains in what will otherwise be a grind-it-out approach designed to keep Atlanta's O off the field.
Predictions: Hillis and Charles total 92 and 108 yards respectively with Hillis punching in a short TD. Cassel struggles through the air with 194 yards and pick, though he does hit Baldwin for a score. In opposite fashion, Ryan goes no-huddle to torch a depleted Kansas City defense for 340 yards and three touchdowns. Jones goes wild for 160 and two of those scores while Gonzalez snags one in his old stomping grounds. Turner caps the scoring with a short run. Falcons 31-20.
San Francisco (+5) @ Green Bay, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: In a possible NFC Championship preview, the rock wall that is the 49ers' defense meets the speeding bullet that is the Packers' offense. It's a classic matchup with an intriguing subplot: which unit improved more, the 49ers' offense or the Packers' defense? As far as Jim Harbaugh is concerned, no one has it better than the Niners even if Green Bay's offense is light years ahead of theirs. Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis will likely be the top targets and best fantasy options versus what was 2011's historically generous pass defense, but Alex Smith will also need to involve new weapons Randy Moss and Mario Manningham if he wants to put enough points on the board to take down the Pack. Ultimately, it will come down to the QB who threw the fewest picks all year (Smith threw just five) against the defense that snatched the most (GB had 31 INT's)... The addition of Cedric Benson gives Green Bay a rushing attack that should at least be respectable most weeks, though in facing San Fran superb run defense, Benson's an easy bench in fantasy play. Rodgers and his many weapons however remain matchup-proof and should be employed regardless of the level of defense they face.
Predictions: Smith connects with Crabtree and Manningham for scores en route to a 260-yard day, but the Niners' backs are shut out of the end zone, as Frank Gore totals just 68 yards. Rodgers throws a pick but he makes up for it with three scores to Nelson, Jennings and Cobb, each of whom tops 60 receiving yards while their QB finishes with 316 through the air. Packers 24-20.
Seattle (-3) @ Arizona, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: Something of a cross between Drew Brees and Michael Vick, rookie Russell Wilson has the pocket presence and accurate arm to have success working with Braylon Edwards and Sidney Rice on the outside and Doug Baldwin in the slot, but he can also beat defenses with his wheels. Golden Tate, who tweaked a knee in the final preseason game, is doubtful for the contest, but the major health concern for the Seahawks is Marshawn Lynch who continues to be plagued by back spasms. If he cannot give it a go against a Cardinals defense that allowed 15 rushing touchdowns last season, rookie Robert Turbin is a highly tempting start. Unfortunately, the later kickoff time could make it difficult to rely on either back if your alternative has a 1:00 p.m. start time... The battle for the Cardinals' quarterback job may not have set with the hot August sun in Arizona, as it could easily flare up in September if initial winner John Skelton struggles out of the gate. And with perhaps the league's best secondary coming to town with a Seattle defense that finished fourth in interceptions in 2011, the QB debate may reignite as soon as Monday. However, if Skelton continues to develop a chemistry he displayed last year with Larry Fitzgerald, all bets are off. Another intriguing battle to keep tabs on is between tailbacks Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams. Both are coming off knee surgeries in the last year, but the more explosive Williams is farther removed from the torn patella that took his rookie season and could gobble up a significant percentage of the backfield snaps with a nice Week 1 performance.
Predictions: Wilson puts up 265 yards in the air and 48 on the ground with three total scores. He hits Edwards and Rice for one each while taking another in with his legs. With Lynch limited, Turbin totals 71 yards while Wells and Williams combine for 100 yards with a score going to Williams. Skelton finishes with 224 yards and one touchdown to Andre Roberts, though he is picked twice. Fitzgerald posts 108 yards in the tight loss. Seahawks 24-23.
Carolina (-1) @ Tampa Bay, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: Defenses keyed on the dynamic Steve Smith over the second half of last year and force Cam Newton to look elsewhere, which is one possible explanation for his off-a-cliff drop from 299 passing yards per game over the first eight contests to just 207 down the back half of the season. For him to find more consistency in Year 2, Brandon LaFell needs to step up in a starting role and translate his remarkable efficiency (a whopping 10.9 yards-per-target in 2011) into a bigger workload. Running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will also need to remain effective with their limited touches, and Greg Olsen will need to expand on the chemistry he and Newton flashed last year. After Carolina twice torched Tampa last season, the Greg Schiano regime will likely come out with a punch-them-in-the-mouth approach, but that won't completely cover up the fact they failed to improve a front four that had a big hand in their league-worst run defense. With Stewart (ankle) possibly out look to D-Will and Newton to gash the Bucs on the ground... Josh Freeman regressed miserably last year going from a 25:6 TD:INT ratio in 2010 to last year's 16:22 mark. Fortunately, Schiano got him significant help in the forms of Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin. Jackson gives him a true No. 1 target and a deep threat that Tampa has lacked for Freeman's big arm, while Martin provides a consistent tailback who can both pass protect and make plays out of the backfield on third downs. If rookies Mark Barron and Lavonte David can shape up the back end of a horrifically bad defense, the Bucs should at least be competitive in every game.
Predictions: Super Cam hits Olsen and LaFell for scores as he finishes with 269 yards passing and 55 rushing, while Williams excels on the ground with 102 and a touchdown. Martin makes an impressive rookie debut with 114 total yards and a short score for the Bucs. Freeman finds Mike Williams in the end zone en route to 248 passing yards, though falls short in his comeback attempt. Panthers 24-17.
Pittsburgh (-1) @ Denver, Sunday 8:20 p.m.
Comments: The entrée to the Week 1 menu features one of the most highly anticipated comebacks of all time. Peyton Manning will don a Broncos uniform in a meaningful game for the first time and truly put to test his surgically repaired neck. With two big, athletic targets in Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, he has the weapons to make it a statement comeback. In his career he's never had a pair of wideouts each top 6-foot. Decker and Thomas are both 6-foot-3 with speed, strength and good hands. The subplot for this matchup will obviously be the Steelers returning to the scene of their playoff demise, but without the gunslinging Tim Tebow in town, the real focus will be on Manning versus last year's top-ranked pass defense... If the Pittsburgh offensive line, which has already lost first-round pick David DeCastro for possibly the season, can win up front and give Ben Roethlisberger time to throw, the Steelers could force Manning to play catch up. The real battle here will be new Steeler OC Todd Haley versus new Broncos DC Jack Del Rio, both head coaches that were fired in 2011. Having made little upgrades defensively, Denver should struggle to slow the duo of Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace, even if the latter's holdout limits him to mostly go routes. Meanwhile, the Steelers have a trio of tailbacks in Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall who could all be effective against a soft Denver front seven. Given the late Sunday start though, none is advisable for fantasy use, especially considering the murky carry distribution that Mendenhall's surprisingly quick ACL recovery creates.
Predictions: Manning throws for 315 yards and two touchdowns, one to Decker and one to Jacob Tamme, while Thomas leads Denver with 128 receiving yards. Willis McGahee scraps his way to 70 yards on the ground but loses a fumble. Big Ben hits Wallace for a long strike in a 270-yard day, but Dwyer steels the show as he rumbles for 115 and the game-winning score. Steelers 20-17.
Cincinnati (+6) @ Baltimore, Monday 7:00 p.m.
Comments: For the second straight year, the Bengals will try to jell quickly into a winning team despite the insertion of numerous new starters. Three fresh faces have taken roles in the interior offensive line with two young guards and veteran center Jeff Faine filling those spots, while The Law Firm has replaced one plodder in the Cinci backfield with another and veteran return specialist Brandon Tate will assume the flanker position vacated by Jerome Simpson. Though Green-Ellis could add a reliable, albeit unspectacular element to the run game, the fate of the Bengals offense truly lies in the hands of Andy Dalton and his top young targets A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham. The trio will need to improve on 2011's combined 58% catch rate between Green and Gresham if they want to contend with Baltimore and Pittsburgh for the division... Speaking of the Ravens, their biggest challenge will clearly be to overcome the loss of Terrell Suggs (Achilles) who is likely to miss the entire season. Offensively, look for more no-huddle drives this year in hopes of improving Joe Flacco's efficiency after he turned in a career-worst 57.6% completion rate and a paltry 6.7 yards-per-attempt last year. Torrey Smith's continued development into more than just a deep threat should significantly help his cause, as should the always-steady Ray Rice keeping defenses like the aggressive Bengals honest.
Predictions: Lardarius Webb puts Green on lockdown and Dalton struggles to a 195-yard outing with no scores and two turnovers. The Law Firm hits pay dirt for the only Bengals TD, while his counterpart, Rice, tallies 101 total yards and a score of his own. Flacco airs it out for 285 yards, with 111 and a score going to Smith as the Ravens prevail. Ravens 20-10.
San Diego (-1) @ Oakland, Monday 10:15 p.m.
Comments: In the battle between the two exceptionally gifted yet highly injury-prone running backs, Round 1 clearly goes to Darren McFadden with Ryan Mathews all but certain to miss the game while his clavicle fully heals. In his absence, the washed up Ronnie Brown will get his first shot at being a feature back since his Miami days. If his conditioning is as advertised, he could find some success versus a Raiders defense that allowed a league-high 5.1 yards per attempt last season. In the pass game, Philip Rivers will look downfield to the healthiest Antonio Gates he's had in years and try to kindle a connection with Robert Meachem that makes the team forget the loss of Vincent Jackson. Given that the Raiders lost Stanford Routt, perhaps their best corner, and allowed the second-most passing scores in 2011, it shouldn't be tough for Rivers to at least mask the VJax loss for one night... With Denarius Moore (hamstring) a game-time decision and Jacoby Ford (foot) likely out, the Raiders will turn to undrafted rookie Rod Streater to start opposite Darrius Heyward-Bey, who should see an awful lot of Carson Palmer's targets. McFadden will be his usually explosive self after getting past last year's Lisfranc injury in the offseason.
Predictions: Rivers hooks up with Gates for two scores but can't find the same page with Meachem as he goes for 278 yards with one INT and Brown grinds out 70 yards on the ground. Palmer looks DHB's way early and often though connects with Streater for his only score on a 230-yard night. Run DMC carries the Raiders to the win with a 133-yard, 2-score effort. Raiders 27-23.