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Fantasy: Matchups to avoid or exploit in Week 1

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Justin Boone, TSN.ca
9/6/2012 10:14:27 AM
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As you prepare to set your lineup each week, TSN.ca's NFL Editor Justin Boone breaks down some of the less obvious matchups you should capitalize on and those you should steer clear of for the weekend games.

For specific lineup decisions, you can consult the Weekly Fantasy Player Rankings.

QUARTERBACKS

Exploit

Jay Cutler vs. Colts - There was plenty of hype surrounding the Bears quarterback after the team acquired his old top target Brandon Marshall and drafted Alshon Jeffery. Now, Cutler will get a chance to show what he can do with some legitimate weapons in the passing game. The schedule makers served this one up on a platter as the Bears get one of the leagues worst defences to pick on in Week 1. With Matt Forte and Michael Bush keeping the Colts' pass rushers honest,  Cutler will start the season in style.

Philip Rivers vs. Raiders - VIncent Jackson may be gone and Vincent Brown may be injured, but that won't stop the Chargers from throwing all over Oakland's secondary. Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd are healthy to start the year and combined with new deep threat Robert Meachem, the trio should give Rivers all the firepower he needs to light it up in running back Ryan Mathews' absence.

Avoid

Peyton Manning vs. Steelers - The Steelers' defence may be an aging group, but they aren't dead yet. Pittsburgh wasn't kind to opposing quarterbacks last season and that trend isn't likely to change early this year. Manning arrived in Denver with a lot of fanfare and rightfully so considering his track record and the team's pair of talented young receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. However, while Manning showed improvement in his final pre-season game, he isn't all the way back to his old self. The Broncos' passing game will have some great days this season, but Week 1 may not be one of them.

Ben Roethlisberger vs. Broncos - Manning's opponent this weekend may also be in for tough start to this year's campaign. Roethlisberger is still getting acclimated in new offensive coordinator Todd Haley's system and his number one target Mike Wallace just showed up to camp. Wallace and Antonio Brown make a great one-two punch downfield, but Big Ben will need time to find them and that's a commodity that his offensive line struggles to afford him. With the Broncos rushing hard off the edge, Roethlisberger will be under duress on Sunday night.

RUNNING BACKS

Exploit

DeAngelo Williams vs. Buccaneers - With Jonathan Stewart dealing with a high ankle sprain, the roulette wheel that is the Carolina backfield will land on Williams in Week 1. Both Williams and Stewart are extremely skilled tailbacks and when one is limited or missing in action, the other can thrive. That fact is especially true against the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay was a playground for running backs last season and that is a trend is expected to continue in 2012.

Jamaal Charles/Peyton Hillis vs. Falcons - Yes, Charles may be a bit too obvious to make this list. The bigger point is that the Chiefs' rushers are going to be used early and often this season and that means Hillis could also be a fantasy starter in deeper leagues. Charles is the more explosive back, even coming off injury, but Hillis is a strong receiver and will be called on at the goal line. The Falcons lost middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, so former third rouder Akeem Dent will be asked to slow down the Chiefs' running game.

Avoid

Evan Royster/Roy Helu/Alfred Morris vs. Saints - Somewhere Mike Shanahan is laughing to himself at all the foolish fantasy owners who drafted one of his running backs. It seems as though the Redskins' coach enjoys holding fantasy owners hostage with his constantly changing depth charts and last minute lineup decisions. Regardless of Shanahan's gamesmanship, the matchup with the Saints isn't a good one for Washington this week. New Orleans added Brodrick Bunkley, who is solid run stuffing defensive lineman and the Saints offence should keep the Redskins is catch-up mode most of this game. Stay away from the Redskins' backfield, if only for your own sanity.

Beanie Wells/Ryan Williams vs. Seahawks - The Seahawks' defence isn't talked about much, but they are developing into one of the better units in the league. Red Bryant is one of the best run stoppers out there and he will personally make sure Wells and Williams have nowhere to go on Sunday. The Seahawks will also be able to key in on the run game, since the Cardinals' passing attack is being led by quarterback John Skelton. To top it off, Arizona's offensive line lost left tackle Levi Brown and struggled throughout the pre-season.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Exploit

Titus Young vs. Rams - It's easy to go with Calvin Johnson against St. Louis' sub-par secondary. It's not as easy to start Young, who has yet to show what he can do in a full NFL season. Young really started to establish himself near the end of last season with four touchdown in the final four weeks and came into his own as an elusive receiver that can create separation. Young will be looking to take advantage of single coverage on his side of the field thanks to the Rams' double, and sometimes triple, teams on Megatron.

Torrey Smith vs. Bengals - The Ravens have always been a team that grinds out wins with a tough style of play. This season things may change on offence as the team has implemented a no-huddle approach that will be worked in to keep defences guessing. Joe Flacco has been impressive in training camp and it appears the club may allow him to open up the offence. The main benefactor of that would be second year wideout Torrey Smith, who has blazing speed and has spent all off-season expanding his route tree. With the Bengals' secondary dealing with injuries, it will take a strong performance from Leon Hall to slow Smith down.

Avoid

Denarius Moore/Darrius Heyward-Bey/Jacoby Ford vs. Chargers - This listing has less to do with the Chargers' secondary and more to do with the Raiders injuries at receiver. Moore has missed more than a month with a hamstring issue that he's dealt with since June. Ford has just started jogging again and the team may choose to bring him back slowly. Juron Criner hurt his ankle earlier in the week. The only healthy member of their receiving corps may be Heyward-Bey and he is no lock for production. Expect a whole lot of Darren McFadden and bench your Raiders' pass catchers for the week.

Santonio Holmes vs. Bills - The Jets' offence looked terrible in the pre-season and even though Holmes is their number one receiver, he has dealt with a series of injuries leading up to the opener. The Bills have reinforced their pass rush with Mario Williams and Mark Anderson and improved their corners with number one pick Stephon Gilmore joining the mix. Holmes is a talented player, but he projects to have a quiet home opener in New York.

TIGHT ENDS

Exploit

Kyle Rudolph vs. Jaguars - Get used to the name Kyle Rudolph because he will be a starting tight end in your league this year. Rudolph has the athleticism and catch radius of a Rob Gronkowski and now he will get his opportunity to deliver on the field for the Vikings. Christian Ponder looked for him often in the pre-season and with Percy Harvin as the only other real threat to steal targets, Rudolph could be Ponder's security blanket against Jacksonville.

Greg Olsen vs. Buccaneers - Jeremy Shockey is out in Carolina and that leaves several targets up for grabs. If Olsen is able to get some of those looks, he could step up into the TE1 territory. The Panthers need someone other than Steve Smith to be a threat in the passing game and Olsen could be just that. With the Buccaneers coming off a season where they allowed tight ends to thrive against them, Olsen could start the year off on the right foot.

Avoid

Jacob Tamme vs. Steelers - Tamme was thought to be a star in the making when the Broncos signed him away from the Colts, with many pointing to his history with Peyton Manning and the brief success they enjoyed together. With Joel Dreessen also playing tight end in Denver, Tamme won't have a chance to monopolize the targets. Against the Steelers, Tamme may even be asked to stay on the line and block, leading to less opportunities for the pass catching tight end.

Jermaine Gresham vs. Ravens - Gresham has the size and hands to be a top five tight end, but his limitations are all based on the scheme in Cincinnati. It's possible the team calls his number more and he emerges as a second option behind A.J. Green, however this week the Bengals face a challenging Ravens' defence that is not welcoming to players at his position. With Gresham coming off a pre-season knee injury, he should stay on your bench and wait for good health and better matchup.

Philip Rivers (Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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