By Erick Grafemeyer //
The NFL season opens September 5 with the Dallas Cowboys at the New York Giants.
Here are the fantasy football impact games for the first week of the NFL season:
1. Green Bay vs San Francisco
Why Green Bay and San Francisco? Well, you have the best fantasy QB playing against the best defense. If Aaron Rodgers can throw a few TDs and the team can manage to score over 21 points, you can rest assured that Green Bay will be dominate again this year.
We already know this, but to see it opening day against the best defense will help, and we want to pay attention to how many touches Cedric Benson gets and how many looks are heading toward Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and Jermichael Finley. More important is the way San Francisco handles playing from behind. If the 49ers get behind a lot--and, I think we all agree that could happen early--what will they do?
I am very interested to see if Alex Smith can throw the ball often and throw in tight situations accurately. If the additions of Mario Manningham and Randy Moss are anything for this team, we will see that immediately against Green Bay. If things are what I expect, and Smith helps himself to keeping the game tight, maybe throwing a few TDs, you might want to look at picking up Smith this year. If not and they can't figure it out, Smith is a bad option.
Prediction: Green Bay 31, San Francisco 17
2. Denver vs Pittsburgh
Denver has everyone's eyes on its now that it has Peyton Manning. This game will test Peyton and Denver right away. Pittsburgh has a great defense as well, so this goes to repeating itself, but you want to watch for the same things.
Will Peyton get time to throw the ball deep? Will he actually find any chemistry with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker like he had with Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark? If he finds that connection, look out fantasy world; Peyton might be that amazing fantasy find this year. Again, the Broncos play Pittsburgh, so if he can throw maybe two or more TDs, then I would say he has his old stuff again.
I also want to pay very close attention to the Pittsburgh running game. Will the running backs get 20+ touches, and, if so, how do they perform? Do they run 1st-and-10, and, if so, you want to pay attention to who gets the ball and how he looks. That could end any speculation about Rashard Mendenhall at all, if Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer show prominent skills. I like to think the passing game in Pittsburgh is helped by a good running game, not vice versa, but we need to watch to see what is true here. The word around the world is this is a passing team now, so I need to see this first to trust it.
Prediction: Denver 28, Pittsburgh 21
3. Kansas City vs Atlanta
Well, this game is all about Jamaal Charles and how he does. I want to see how Kansas City uses Peyton Hillis and Charles together. If Hillis looks as good as they say, then Charles might lose some valuable TDs this year. Although, when Charles had his best season he had touches taken from him. Either way, if Charles has that speed, then I say it is full speed ahead on Charles. Because Kansas City does not get close to the end zone all that often, Charles needs that speed to break a run for longer than 20 yards. So lets see how his leg holds up and just see what Kansas City looks like this year, because the Chiefs are a mystery to me.
Atlanta, on the other hand, is a fantasy powerhouse. The Falcons have a great QB, two great WRs, and Michael Turner. I think Roddy White and Julio Jones will have great years, but I am more interested in how Turner does this year. I also want to see if they turn to Jacquizz Rogers at all, because he looked good in preseason.
Prediction: Atlanta 23, Kansas City 13
4. New Orleans vs Washington
So this is arguably a one-sided game. I know what to expect out of New Orleans, but not on defense. So Washington gets the spot here because we all want to see what RG3 can do. The only problem is that he goes against a really bad defense. So he should have a great game. But if he doesn't, I would be looking to dump RG3 early or trade him. If he has the game we think he can, you need to keep an eye out on him. Remember, Cam Newton had two great games to start the season and then went fairly mediocre after that. We also want to see what running game comes out of the Washington camp and who the reliable target receiver for Washington is; to me, these are all questions that should be answered early.
Prediction: New Orleans 35, Washington 24
5. Houston vs Miami
We might see a fairly balanced game on both sides. Running the ball often from Houston is what we expect, but how many touches will Arian Foster get? I also want to see how Matt Schaub throws the ball and if Andre Johnson is back to his dominant form. Houston should have no issues scoring, but how often and to whom?
When Miami has the ball, there are not as many fantasy options here, but you want to see if Reggie Bush can be the guy again with the majority of touches. He will be the main focus and Miami has to depend on him to run free. We also want to see what--if any--offense the Dolphins actually have and against another great defense in Houston. This might tell us early that Miami is a team to stay away from, in terms of fantasy options. I feel this is a low-scoring game, but I would not be surprised to see Houston score more than 17.
Prediction: Houston 17, Miami 7