By Marc Caviglia, BrunoBoys.net (USA Today) - Fantasy football owners looking to get off to a fast start against their competition in Week 1 should pay attention to these matchups when setting their lineups.
QB Carson Palmer (Oakland Raiders) vs. San Diego
Palmer's tenure with the Raiders got off to a rocky start last season. The veteran gunslinger fired six interceptions over his first two games. However, he turned things around as the season went on.
The pinnacle of his success came in Week 17 against the San Diego Chargers, as he went for 417 passing yards. Expect Palmer to have better chemistry with his receivers and don't be surprised if he chucks the football 35-40 times while the Raiders play catch-up. There are a lot of good quarterback plays in the season opener, however Palmer is worthy of a start in just about any format.
QB Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts) @ Chicago
Luck is set for a great career in the NFL, but let's keep the expectations for the rookie in check. While he looked good in the preseason, the stark reality is that he's on a bad team that's in rebuilding mode. The offensive line is a mess. Four of the starters are new, with the only incumbent being left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who is in his second year in the league.
The Chicago Bears are an aggressive and experienced defense, one that forced 20 interceptions last season. Luck's welcome-to-the-NFL moment is going to occur this week, and it's not going to be a pleasant one.
RB Doug Martin (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) vs. Carolina
Martin has generated some buzz as a Rookie of the Year candidate, and he quickly overtook LeGarrette Blount as Tampa Bay's top tailback during the preseason. With a favorable matchup against the Carolina Panthers, who ranked among the worst teams against opposing running backs in 2011, the time is now to get the rookie into your lineup.
Martin is expected to get the majority of the touches out of the Bucs backfield and he should have no problem racking up over 100 total yards against a defense that allowed over 23 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs just a season ago. Some of that can be chalked up to multiple injuries to key players, but Martin is in line to get all the touches he can handle and the Panthers ranked in the bottom part of the league in receptions allowed to running backs last season (88). Martin is worth considering as a low-end RB1 in his NFL debut.
RB Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville Jaguars) @ Minnesota
After holding out during the preseason, Jones-Drew decided to rejoin the team one week before the start of the regular season. He did not get the new contract he was seeking, and for this week's game with the Minnesota Vikings he is going to be the backup and third-down back behind starter Rashad Jennings.
The touches are expected to be limited, so that immediately makes Jones-Drew a very unappealing play. The long-term prospects aren't great either. Remember Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson held out before the start of last season and he posted the worst numbers of his career. This is a situation that will require close monitoring.
WR Titus Young (Detroit Lions) vs. St. Louis
Young showed his potential as a rookie last season with 607 yards on 48 catches and six touchdowns. He also finished strong, as he hauled in 17 receptions over the final four games of the season and jumped Nate Burleson on Matthew Stafford's pecking order.
The Rams allowed nearly 22 fantasy points per game to opposing wideouts last season and were particularly vulnerable to prolific passing offenses. The Lions fit into that category with the pieces they have in place, and Young is in line to be a primary part of the offense right out of the gate. If you own Young, feel confident starting him as your high-end WR3 or Flex play this week.
WR Greg Little (Cleveland Browns) vs. Philadelphia
As a rookie, Little played as well as he could. The 61 catches and 706 receiving yards were impressive totals given how bad the quarterback play was in Cleveland. The Browns decided to go in a different direction from previous starter Colt McCoy, drafting Oklahoma State star Brandon Weeden in the first round and naming him the starter early in training camp. However, Weeden looks just as raw as Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert did last season.
Combine that with a Philadelphia Eagles defense that has arguably the best group of defensive backs in the NFL and the outlook isn't looking too bright for Little. Make sure he is on your bench in Week 1.