Week 1 may have officially kicked off Thursday night when the world champion Seattle Seahawks sent Green Bay packing back to cheese country with a 36-16 victory, but the real fun begins as the first Sunday slate of NFL action gets going tomorrow.
There are intriguing matchups across the league, but in the NFC South, a division which boasted a pair of playoff teams a season ago in the shape of the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, the season's opening weekend features an exclusive pair of intradivision tilts to get things off with a bang. 4 teams, 2 games. The NFC South will look to cannibalize on one another in week 1.
New Orleans will travel to Atlanta, a reverse fixture of last season's week 1 meeting in the Big Easy. Meanwhile, Carolina heads south to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as the Lovie Smith era begins in south Florida.
These two games present some rather captivating real life and fantasy football scenarios and matchups. The ever-present dilemma of who to start or sit is normally intensified when two familiar foes do battle. As week 1 sets up with an NFC South extravaganza on the table, here are 3 start/sits to take into consideration:
NFC South Week 1 Start
1. Roddy White- WR- Falcons
While Saints corner Keenan Lewis should spend most of the day covering Julio Jones, his running mate Patrick Robinson will be left to battle Roddy White. White figures to see a full allotment of targets Sunday, as QB Matt Ryan will look to test Robinson, who missed all but two games last year with a serious knee injury.
Even after his injury, Robinson remains a high-end athletic specimen at the corner position. Consistency has always been an issue, but Robinson does have the ability to make plays if the light is on, which could benefit the Saints if Ryan and the Falcons are over-opportunistic in their approach in regards to targeting White. We expect there to be plenty of throwing in this game, so no matter the situation, the Saints' secondary should be in line for plenty of work Sunday. Week 1 start: Roddy White.
New Orleans could employ some zone coverage tomorrow, and White should be able to settle into the soft spots and reel in the catches. Even if White grabs a few early and commands some extra help, he will see more than enough opportunities to put up numbers. Tony Gonzalez is now gone-zo, meaning an even greater amount of targets will be on the table for Jones, White, and Harry Douglas (another sneaky NFC South week 1 play).
Fire up Roddy White with confidence, with added upside in PPR leagues and formats that reward targets. The big plays may not be in abundance, but the consistent stream of targets and the reliable skills of the veteran should be on full display as Atlanta looks to bury last season's dismal memories with a good week 1 showing at home.
2. Marques Colston- WR - Saints
Colston is ready to roll as a dependable week 1 start in the Saints' tilt with Atlanta. Drew Brees is still quarterbacking the team's dynamic and potent offense. Sean Payton is still wearing the headset on the sideline, holding the menu with appetizing after appetizing play-call available. Jimmy Graham is still in Black and Gold, and is likely to continue to terrorize the middle of the field and the Falcons' defense, in general.
Therein lies the Colston factor. Now seemingly over the foot troubles that nagged him for most of 2013, Colston remains a vital part of the team's passing attack. He and Brees looked in mid-season form during the Saints' 23-17 dress rehearsal win over the Colts two weeks ago, and Colston appeared in as good a shape as he's been in recent years, cutting a noticeably leaner figure out on the field.
With Graham demanding help, Colston should be able to maneuver in added space, while remaining a consistent chain-moving threat in all areas on the field. A steady and sturdy pair of hands for Brees to target since 2006, Colston could be in line for even more work than anticipated, as fellow receiver Kenny Stills is very questionable for week 1. That would leave rookie Brandin Cooks, Joe Morgan and Nick Toon as the next men up at the position. Week 1 start: Marques Colston.
Cooks is mega-talented, the talk of training camp and offseason chatter in New Orleans, a player the team coveted enough to move up seven spots to select in May's NFL Draft. He is, however, a rookie who has yet to feature at this level in an environment such as the one that will be in store on Sunday inside the Georgia Dome.
Toon's biggest drawback has been his inconsistency. Toon was a constant standout in training camp practices for New Orleans this summer, but has not been able to put it together between the lines when the lights shine brightest and the pads come on. Brees is always willing and able to share the love, but if things remain tight throughout the game, he won't hesitate to pepper Colston with targets. The 6-4 Colston will likely see plenty of Atlanta's 6-0 corner Desmond Trufant, who enters his second season.
Morgan is mainly a vertical threat, and missed last season with a knee injury. He came on late in preseason, but isn't as polished a threat in the passing game as Stills, who continues to battle a quad injury.
Colston should easily improve his numbers across the board from last year, when he posted 75 grabs for 943 yards and 5 touchdowns. Expect more of a 2010-2012 output from the healthy veteran, who compiled no less than 80 receptions, 1,023 yards and 7 scores during that three-year stretch.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense<
Yes, start this defense. Lovie Smith is looking to bring his imprint to a defense that was not necessarily devoid of talent before the former Bears coach's arrival in Tampa.
The Bucs are hoping to thrive offensively with Josh McCown under center and a pair of giant playmakers on the perimeter in Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans, while Doug Martin returns to the mix after a shoulder injury ruined his 2013 campaign.
However, the defense will have a major part to play in any success the team enjoys in 2014, and prized free agent acquisition Alterraun Verner will look to make an instant impact as the Bucs welcome the defending NFC South champs Carolina and the Panthers' injured signal-caller in Cam Newton. Week 1 start: Buccaneers defense.
Newton has been battling hairline fractures in his ribs since a late-August preseason game against the New England Patriots, and his status has become more and more cloudy in the build-up to week 1.
Additionally, the Panthers' QB underwent ankle surgery in the spring to tighten ligaments in the joint, and now has had significant injuries to deal with in both his lower and upper-body. The Panthers are attempting to break in a new receiving corps, with the likes of rookie Kelvin Benjamin and veteran Jerricho Cotchery being counted on. Greg Olsen will remain an important part of the team's attack, along with experienced backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams on the ground.
However, a wounded, flak jacket-toting Newton may not be near 100% by kick off, leaving his coach Ron Rivera to essentially dub him as a game-time decision. The stars are aligning for the Bucs defense to turn some heads in week 1, facing a hurting quarterback, whose usage in the run game may be restricted due to the nature of his ailment, and a new and somewhat unproven group of receivers entering the fold.
Newton is questionable, and may well end up playing, but we like Tampa's week 1 upside here. Newton may be able to perform to a degree, but it may not be near his standards, especially taking into consideration the added impact that the upper-body plays in quarterbacking, with twisting, tourquing and quick-change of direction in the torso area all important aspects factored into the art of throwing. The Bucs ranked a respectable 15th against the run in 2013, and that number could improve with added experience such as DE Michael Johnson, DT Clinton McDonald and S Major Wright now on board.
This could be a low-scoring game, where a turnover or sack could make all the difference in determining the outcome. Look for Tampa's unit to bring the pressure, whether it be Newton or Derek Anderson under center for Carolina, with an added emphasis on stopping the run and forcing Carolina to get creative with what will almost-certainly be a scaled-back game plan.
NFC South Week 1 Sits
1. Khiry Robinson - RB - Saints
Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas should be the week 1 workhorses. Wait for the chips to fall, as Robinson WILL have a major role this year, but it may not take form until later this season. Look for Robinson to settle in as the team's preferred short-yardage and goalline feature, with a growing role in the base offense as we get closer to November. In the meantime, Thomas and Ingram look like the safer plays, though the Saints' backfield can always cause fantasy confusion on a weekly basis. Khiry Robinson's role figures to grow as the season progresses.
2. Kelvin Benjamin- WR- Panthers-
Targets should be in no shortage of supply for the talented rookie, but an injured quarterback will likely be throwing them to the first-rounder, who should command most of the attention from Tampa's secondary. Benjamin will have his moments, but let's see him play in a couple of games to get a better grip on this Panthers team's offense, and the way Benjamin responds to the high-volume of work in relation to the coverage he is sure to face. A return to health for Newton, and healthy, productive campaigns from the likes of Olsen, Stewart and Williams will greatly benefit the rookie moving forward.
3. Steven Jackson - RB - Falcons-
Jackson is ready to rock in week 1, but he may be best suited to roll on your bench. An always-worrisome hamstring issue nagged him throughout preseason, and the 31-year-old pounder's best days as a fantasy boon and reliable runner are likely behind him. He still has enough gas left in the tank to remain a threat, but this early in the season against a team that is likely to round Atlanta up into a shootout, week 1 may not be the best time to unleash S-Jax. Coming off a career-low 542 yards in an injury-plagued first season in Atlanta, Jackson is an almost certain bounce-back candidate to a degree, though the presence of talented rookie Devonta Freeman could clip at some of the veteran's production down the road. The Falcons face some good defenses right out the gate, so it may take Jackson and the team's offensive line some time to sort things out in regards to their running game.