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Big Rotowski: Week 1

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No more pre-draft words of wisdom, no more itchy trigger fingers, no more columnists waxing rhapsodic about how glad they are the NFL regular season is finally here. It's time to pick your Week 1 starters. Let's get to work.

Note: While this column will give you a Wednesday look at my favorite players for the upcoming week, rankings from all the Yahoo! in-house experts at each fantasy position will be posted on Fridays – earlier if there's a Thursday game, as in Week 1.


Rank Name Opponent Last Week
1 Peyton Manning @ NYG -
2 Tom Brady BUF -
3 Kurt Warner SF -
4 Matt Hasselbeck @ DET -
5 Donovan McNabb @ HOU -
6 Carson Palmer @ KC -
7 Trent Green CIN -
8 Marc Bulger DEN -
9 Jake Plummer @ STL -
10 Eli Manning IND -
11 Daunte Culpepper @ PIT -
12 Jake Delhomme ATL -
13 Aaron Brooks SD -
14 Michael Vick @ CAR -
15 Drew Bledsoe @ JAC -
16 Philip Rivers @ OAK -
17 Jon Kitna SEA -
18 Byron Leftwich DAL -
19 David Carr PHI -
20 Steve McNair @ TB -
21 Mark Brunell MIN -
22 Drew Brees @ CLE -
23 Charlie Batch MIA -
24 Brett Favre CHI -
25 Chris Simms BAL -
26 Brad Johnson @ WAS -
27 Chad Pennington @ TEN -
28 Kerry Collins NYJ -
29 Alex Smith @ ARI -
30 J.P. Losman @ NE -
31 Charlie Frye NO -
32 Rex Grossman @ GB -

Notes: Warner is obviously the big gainer this week; he's healthy (for the moment), and playing against a defense whose starting corners are likely to be Shawntae Spencer and Walt Harris. Expect a lot of points in the regular-season opener from Cardinals Stadium … The top QBs all have pretty good matchups. Considering how good he looked in his two preseason games, I probably should have Palmer higher, but a combination of continued worries over his knee and the possibility that Ty Law reinvigorates the Chiefs' secondary puts Palmer at No. 6. Hey, it's about 100 spaces higher than I expected him to be Week 1 … The Denver/St. Louis game has the potential for a shootout; I see little evidence that the Rams are better on defense, and the Broncos were susceptible to big plays through much of last year … Delhomme is my big dropper near the top of the board, and that's because I think Atlanta's pass defense is going to be really good this year. That defensive line should generate a ton of sacks, and his mouth notwithstanding, you have to like the progress DeAngelo Hall has made … Brooks at No. 13? Well, the Chargers were fifth-worst against the pass in '05, and it's pretty much the same cast of characters. Wake me when '06 first-rounder Antonio Cromartie is ready to start … If Terrell Owens is ready, Bledsoe could have a fine opener. But I love Jacksonville's defense this year, and I think they'll cause Robot Drew to cough it up once or twice … The fact that the Seahawks were 25th against the pass in '05 is a bit misleading; they were ahead a lot, and teams had to play catch-up. Nevertheless, there are worse defenses for the new Mike Martz offense to debut against, which explains Kitna's rating … Brees is quite low here; that's because (a) the Saints should be able to make hay on the ground; (b) the Browns were the No. 4 team in the league last year against the pass (at least partially because teams were making so much hay against them on the ground); (c) I'm still a little concerned about his shoulder … Batch over Favre? You read it here first. Favre could have a few renaissance nights, and I wouldn't be shocked if the home opener was one of them. But you'll have to go to Joe Theismann if you want someone to experience sensual delight over Favre. He's at the end.

Running Backs

Rank Name Opponent Last Week
1 Shaun Alexander @ DET -
2 Larry Johnson CIN -
3 LaDainian Tomlinson @ OAK -
4 Tiki Barber IND -
5 Edgerrin James SF -
6 Rudi Johnson @ KC -
7 Ronnie Brown @ PIT -
8 Steven Jackson DEN -
9 Carnell Williams BAL -
10 Brian Westbrook @ HOU -
11 Frank Gore @ ARI -
12 Corey Dillon BUF -
13 Willis McGahee @ NE -
14 Warrick Dunn @ CAR -
15 Willie Parker MIA -
16 LaMont Jordan SD -
17 Thomas Jones @ GB -
18 DeShaun Foster ATL -
19 Reuben Droughns NO -
20 Julius Jones @ JAC -
21 Kevin Jones SEA -
22 Reggie Bush @ CLE -
23 Deuce McAllister @ CLE -
24 T.J. Duckett MIN -
25 Tatum Bell @ STL -
26 Chris Brown NYJ -
27 Fred Taylor DAL -
28 Mike Bell @ STL -
29 Chester Taylor @ WAS -
30 Clinton Portis MIN -
31 Joseph Addai @ NYG -
32 Wali Lundy PHI -
33 Jamal Lewis @ TB -
34 Ahman Green CHI -
35 Dominic Rhodes @ NYG -
36 Derrick Blaylock @ TEN -
37 Travis Henry NYJ -
38 Kevan Barlow @ TEN -
39 DeAngelo Williams ATL -
40 Cedric Benson @ GB -

Notes: It'll get easier to rank the backs once we see what run defenses really have this year. As such, I tried not to go too crazy deviating from my preseason ranks, while still trying to be realistic about Week 1 matchups. For instance, James has what looks like a great matchup against a Niners defense that shouldn't be much better against the run (they were 18th last year, a number that's actually misleading because San Francisco was so easy to throw against), while Jordan goes on Monday night against 2005's best rush defense. I'd be foolish not to bump them up and down, respectively, but I tried not to go overboard … With the backfield all to himself, and the Niners playing a rush defense that's improving but still shaky, Gore makes my Week 1 top-11. After all, this is the healthiest he'll be all year … Dillon probably won't be this high again in 2006, but Laurence Maroney is expected to miss the Buffalo game with a sore knee … Thomas begins the year as my highest Jones. It was just a matter of time before Benson talked his way off the first team. You could tell at the '05 NFL Draft, when Benson gave an incredibly immature interview to the human puff-piece known as Stuart Scott, that the kid had some serious growing up to do … The Carolina platoon-to-be gets an Atlanta defense that looks awesome against the pass but still shaky against the run. Foster, like Gore, will never be healthier, so he moves up the board … The platoons (New Orleans, Denver, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Jets) are extra-hard to figure in Week 1. If the Saints could morph Bush and McAllister into one dude, he'd be a top-10 option against the Browns. Ditto the Broncos with the Bells in St. Louis … Portis is the weekend's biggest question mark, and the fact that he plays on Monday night just makes things worse. Joe Gibbs has said that Portis won't play if he doesn't practice, so that's what Portis owners have to bank on. Read the news, kids. If Portis does play, he's probably healthy, and needs to be bumped up. If he doesn't, Duckett is about in the right spot. If I were the 'Skins, I'd play it safe.

Wide Receivers

Rank Name Opponent Last Week
1 Torry Holt DEN -
2 Larry Fitzgerald SF -
3 Marvin Harrison @ NYG -
4 Chad Johnson @ KC -
5 Steve Smith ATL -
6 Anquan Boldin SF -
7 Randy Moss SD -
8 Terrell Owens @ JAC -
9 Chris Chambers @ PIT -
10 Reggie Wayne @ NYG -
11 T.J. Houshmandzadeh @ KC -
12 Plaxico Burress IND -
13 Roy Williams SEA -
14 Javon Walker @ STL -
15 Lee Evans @ NE -
16 Eddie Kennison CIN -
17 Hines Ward MIA -
18 Rod Smith @ STL -
19 Santana Moss MIN -
20 Donald Driver CHI -
21 Laveranues Coles @ TEN -
22 Derrick Mason @ TB -
23 Andre Johnson PHI -
24 Joey Galloway BAL -
25 Darrell Jackson @ DET -
26 Nate Burleson @ DET -
27 Donte' Stallworth @ HOU -
28 Keenan McCardell @ OAK -
29 Reggie Brown @ HOU -
30 Matt Jones DAL -
31 Reche Caldwell BUF -
32 Troy Williamson @ WAS -
33 Drew Bennett NYJ -
34 Joe Horn @ CLE -
35 Antonio Bryant @ ARI -
36 Isaac Bruce DEN -
37 Muhsin Muhammad @ GB -
38 Terry Glenn @ JAC -
39 Ernest Wilford DAL -
40 Cedrick Wilson MIA -
41 Kevin Curtis DEN -
42 Joe Jurevicius NO -
43 Keyshawn Johnson ATL -
44 Brandon Lloyd MIN -
45 Michael Clayton BAL -
46 Jerry Porter SD -
47 Mark Clayton @ TB -
48 Braylon Edwards NO -
49 Greg Jennings CHI -
50 Ronald Curry SD -

Notes: Steve Smith scares me a little this week. I don't like his hammy, I don't like his matchup (that kid DeAngelo Hall again), I don't like the pass rush his quarterback has to face. That explains his slight dip … If Owens plays, his matchup with Rashean Mathis should be a good one. You can bet Mathis wants to atone for some sloppy play on national TV against the Colts last year … Houshmandzadeh on Patrick Surtain is probably a better matchup than Chad Johnson on Ty Law. Expect both corners to be tested … Javon Walker and Rod Smith are a good bet to have big days against the Rams; I have Walker lower than Smith on my season rankings because I wonder whether his knee will hold up all year … Evans is a sneaky-good play in New England; I expect the Bills to struggle stopping the run, so they'll have to throw some, and Losman can chuck it deep. The Pats don't really have a corner who can stay with Evans, and if Rodney Harrison is in, the safeties will be hard-pressed to help … Ward is a great player, and it seems like he'll try to go Thursday night, but the combination of Roethlisberger's injury and Ward's hamstring combine to give him a pretty big tumble in these rankings. He'll be back up higher when the Steelers get healthy again … Brown or Stallworth for the Eagles? I have them close this week, but for the year, I like Stallworth if he stays healthy. He's explosive in a way that Brown isn't, though you have to like Brown's hands more … Darrell Jackson takes a Ward-esque fall because of his knee; even if he does suit up, he's not going to play the full game on Sunday, but if he does, he'll cannibalize Burleson's potential for a big week. I expect him to make it out onto the field and do just that, which accounts for mediocre rankings for the 'Hawks receivers … I keep telling people to watch out for Curtis. I think he supplants Bruce early, perhaps beginning with a TD this week … The whole Porter thing is just a mess. Is his calf really hurt? Does Art Shell just hate the guy. The trade of Doug Gabriel (who could make this list as soon as next week) to New England should be great news for Porter owners, but instead we have to worry whether he, Curry or Alvis Whitted will start. Regardless, the Chargers don't have anyone to stay with Moss and will have to double-team him, meaning that opposite spot could be gold this week.

Tight Ends

Rank Name Opponent Last Week
1 Antonio Gates @ OAK -
2 Tony Gonzalez CIN -
3 Jeremy Shockey IND -
4 Benjamin Watson BUF -
5 Chris Cooley MIN -
6 Heath Miller MIA -
7 Todd Heap @ TB -
8 Alge Crumpler @ CAR -
9 Ben Troupe NYJ -
10 Jason Witten @ JAC -
11 Kellen Winslow NO -
12 L.J. Smith @ HOU -
13 Randy McMichael @ PIT -
14 Dallas Clark @ NYG -
15 Vernon Davis @ ARI -
16 Alex Smith BAL -
17 Marcedes Lewis DAL -
18 Ernie Conwell @ CLE -
19 Joe Klopfenstein DEN -
20 Bo Scaife NYJ -
21 Jermaine Wiggins @ WAS -
22 Daniel Graham BUF -
23 Tony Scheffler @ STL -
24 Itula Mili @ DET -
25 Reggie Kelly @ KC -
26 Bubba Franks CHI -
27 Leonard Pope SF -
28 Courtney Anderson SD -
29 Marcus Pollard SEA -
30 Chris Baker @ TEN -

Notes: Remember when Gates missed Week 1 last year? Ah, good times … Gonzalez gets the first crack at the No. 2 slot primarily because Cincinnati was second-worst against tight ends last season, and Odell Thurman isn't in the middle … Shockey's matchup against the Colts is a pretty good one, too, though … Watson has to be considered Tom Brady's top target this weekend, in lieu of an actual good receiver who knows the offense … Minnesota's defense always seems to struggle against tight ends, which accounts for Cooley's rise … With Erron Kinney out this week with a bad knee, Troupe gets most of the tight end catches that usually get split, though Scaife could intrude … Check the news to see if Lewis is definitely playing against Dallas; he's reportedly looked incredibly good, and Byron Leftwich just seems like the kind of guy who'd rely on a tight end, eh?...Klopfenstein has the edge on starting for the Rams; in the past, being the Ram tight end hasn't been very fantasy-valuable, but Scott Linehan's offense will get it to the middle of the field a lot more … With Jerramy Stevens out, Mili is a fantasy backup at best … I loved Pope in college, but there should be precious few touches in the Cardinals offense.


Rank Name Opponent Last Week
1 Jason Elam @ STL -
2 Neil Rackers SF -
3 Shayne Graham @ KC -
4 Jeff Wilkins @ DEN -
5 Jay Feely IND -
6 David Akers @ HOU -
7 Adam Vinatieri @ NYG -
8 John Kasay ATL -
9 Nate Kaeding @ OAK -
10 Josh Brown @ DET -
11 Lawrence Tynes CIN -
12 Jeff Reed MIA -
13 Mike Vanderjagt @ JAC -
14 Matt Stover @ TB -
15 Ryan Longwell @ WAS -
16 Stephen Gostkowski BUF -
17 Michael Koenen @ CAR -
18 Olindo Mare @ PIT -
19 Sebastian Janikowski SD -
20 Rian Lindell @ NE -
21 Josh Scobee DAL -
22 Phil Dawson NO -
23 Rob Bironas NYJ -
24 Kris Brown PHI -
25 Jason Hanson SEA -
26 Robbie Gould @ GB -
27 John Hall MIN -
28 Matt Bryant BAL -
29 John Carney @ CLE -
30 Mike Nugent @ TEN -
31 Joe Nedney @ ARI -
32 Dave Rayner CHI -

Notes: Vinatieri is probably fine, but I'm a little put off by the "broken ankle" talk, so I'm notching him down just a bit this week … Kind of cool that a punter is at the No. 17 spot, huh? Koenen is old school, baby. He'll likely kick off, kick field goals and punt in Carolina this weekend … Gostkowski probably has the most drama-filled opener of any kicker, since he's replacing Vinatieri. He looked really good in preseason, where he failed to miss a kick and hit a couple from 40-plus, but the jury is on lunch break … I know, I know, ranking Vanderjagt this low is just vindictive. But he's just a jerk. Mike, Ditch the earring, dude. His groin is supposedly okay, and it seems unlikely his inaccurate preseason will really hurt him this much. But it just felt good to put him so low.


Rank Name Opponent Last Week
1 Chicago Bears @ GB -
2 Jacksonville Jaguars DAL -
3 Seattle Seahawks @ DET -
4 Carolina Panthers ATL -
5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers BAL -
6 Pittsburgh Steelers MIA -
7 Washington Redskins MIN -
8 Baltimore Ravens @ TB -
9 Miami Dolphins @ PIT -
10 Philadelphia Eagles @ HOU -
11 Indianapolis Colts @ NYG -
12 Atlanta Falcons @ CAR -
13 Dallas Cowboys @ JAC -
14 New England Patriots BUF -
15 Minnesota Vikings @ WAS -
16 Green Bay Packers CHI -
17 New York Giants IND -
18 Denver Broncos @ STL -
19 Arizona Cardinals SF -
20 San Diego Chargers @ OAK -
21 Cleveland Browns NO -
22 Cincinnati Bengals @ KC -
23 New York Jets @ TEN -
24 Tennessee Titans NYJ -
25 Houston Texans PHI -
26 Buffalo Bills @ NE -
27 San Francisco 49ers @ ARI -
28 New Orleans Saints @ CLE -
29 Kansas City Chiefs CIN -
30 Detroit Lions SEA -
31 Oakland Raiders SD -
32 St. Louis Rams DEN -

Notes: At this point, it should be fairly clear to just about any regular reader that I have an irrational love of the Jaguars' defense this season. The d-line should be as stout as ever, and I have great hopes for new corner Brian Williams and recovering safety Donovin Darius. If Mike Peterson is okay, they can be great this year … The Colts and Giants are certainly better than these rankings. Guess they should stop playing one another … Denver is also a victim of a tough Week 1 offense. I don't like Champ Bailey on artificial turf … Independent of opponent, I'd probably have to say that New Orleans is my worst fantasy defense going into the season. After Will Smith and Charles Grant, there just isn't a lot here. The linebackers are just dreadful.