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Prepare Thyself: Week One

September 5, 2008 | By Andy Goldstein | comment on this post

With the NFL campaign finally getting underway, it’s time to roll out our new weekly column, Prepare Thyself, designed to provide you with the inside info you need to set your lineups. In the past, we’ve ranked players by position, which is fun in its own way. Unfortunately, that provided a lot of information that should be widely known. Do you really need to be told to start LaDainian Tomlinson every week? I don’t think so.

So my goal this year is to help you find the “sneaky starts” — that is, the players you would normally leave on the bench, but have a compelling reason to see your starting lineup in a given week. I’ll also point out some players with bad matchups and provide any other sort of interesting tidbit of info I might find (but hardly ever make reference to The Hills).

Sneaky Starts

Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams (vs. Jets) – While all the attention of this game will be on Brett Favre, it’s the Miami backs that intrigue me the most. The most recent rumours have Williams getting around 20 carries, but previously, the word was that Brown would be the starter. Williams has a mere six carries since the 2005 season, so even if Ricky does emerge from his cloud of smoke and starts, Brown will see action as well. And by the way, the Jet run defense was downright terrible last season. They made moves to improve that, but even if they jump up in the rankings, they will still give up stats that make a 15-carry, 20-touch back a worthwhile start. Watch the situation closely and start whoever will see more action.

Brodie Croyle (@ Patriots) – Okay, this is probably something of a stretch, but hear me out. There are a number of quarterbacks battling injuries right now, including Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Jeff Garcia. Brady and Manning are starters in every league and Garcia might be starting in larger leagues (you never know). All indications say that all the supposed starters will play, but if one is a late scratch, Croyle is a high-risk, high reward sneaky back-up plan. The Chiefs have two studly receiving threats in Dwayne Bowe and Tony Gonzalez. The Patriots stand a good chance to get ahead early in this contest, so Kansas City will probably have to throw the ball a lot. Also, New England gave up a good number of passing scores last year and it lost its best corner, Asante Samuel, in the offseason. Again, this is no sure bet, but something like 200 yards, two scores, and two turnovers could be in the offing for Croyle.

Justin Gage (vs. Jaguars) – Gage sort of established himself last year as the Titans’ go-to wide out. Okay, that might mean about as much as being the Browns’ best defensive player, but still, it’s worth noting. In the Jags’ second meeting with Jacksonville last season, Gage produced a 7-90-1 stat line, which might be right around where he ends up in this game as well. If you are struggling at wide out, you could do worse.

DeSean Jackson (vs. Rams) – With the evolution of college passing offenses, rookie wide outs have started breaking the trend of being worthless. Randy Moss, Anquan Boldin, and Marques Colston all had stellar rookie campaigns, and all had impressive opening games. Jackson isn’t quite built like those three, but he has progressed well in the preseason and will be one of the Eagle starters against St. Louis. Yeah, I said St. Louis, as in the really bad, no good, awfully putrid Ram pass defense. In a pinch, Jackson is certainly worth a shot.

Matt Forte (@ Colts) – Any time you can start a player who has a clear path to 20 carries, there’s some serious upside. The Colts are an average rush defense, so it will really come down to Forte’s ability to make the most of the touches he gets. Since the Bear passing game is so bad, they will need the backs to lead their offense down the field. Besides, teams that run draws against Dwight Freeney are basically guranteed six yards per rush.

On Second Thought

Jamal Lewis (vs. Cowboys) – While the Dallas defense can be beat through the air, its rush defense is one of the more steady units in the NFL. Couple that with a game that could be rather high scoring and using Lewis becomes increasingly perilous. The Browns could be looking at a pass-only game by the second half, and that neuters Lewis even more since he’s a “wear the defense” down kind of back. You might have to start Lewis, but if you have a good back-up plan, it might be worth making the switch this week.

Eli Manning (vs. Redskins) – Just a reminder that Manning is still not a good fantasy quarterback no matter what he did during last year’s post-season run. Got that? Good.

Fantasy Game of the Week – Arizona @ San Francisco – The NFC West used to be throughly awesome for fantasy purposes, but with the ‘Niners’, Rams’, and Seahawks’ offenses falling back to various degrees, the excitement was starting to wane. With Mike Martz back in the division and Kurt Warner set to start, I’m back on board. Warner, Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, J.T. O’Sullivan, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and one of San Francisco’s wide outs could be worth starting this week. Just don’t ask me which wide receiver. I have no idea.

Fantasy Dud of the Week – Denver @ Oakland – There’s a signficant amount of hype around many of the players in this game. Obviously, the buzz for youngsters like Darren McFadden, JaMarcus Russell, Jay Cutler, and Eddie Royal is warranted. I just think this game might end up on the lower scoring side of things. The Bronco passing game will be hurt with Brandon Marshall out of commission and the Oakland offense still needs to make strides. Only Selvin Young has me amped up for this late game.

Good luck this season. E-mail me with any roster questions (Who Do I Start) for Week One. I will answer either via the site or through e-mail.

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