New Orleans @ Green Bay
Get your Saints and Packers going on Thursday night. The 47.5-point over-under is the highest of Week 1. ... Aaron Rodgers is primed to start fast after a second straight assassin-like August. In the past two preseasons combined, Rodgers has completed 78-of-100 passes for 865 yards, 10 touchdowns, and no interceptions. The Saints return all four secondary starters from last year's top-four pass defense, but are without suspended RE Will Smith and have slowly nursed back RCB Tracy Porter from knee surgery. In the projected shootout, Rodgers is a no-brainer top-two QB play. ... If you own Greg Jennings, you probably drafted him in the second round. Start him, but you'll be disappointed over the course of the year with large drops in touchdowns and yards. ... Jermichael Finley will destroy coverage liability SS Roman Harper. Lock in Finley.
The writing was on the wall this preseason, when Ryan Grant and James Starks rotated with the first-team offense. The Packers announced Monday that their Week 1 blueprint is to give Grant and Starks equal carries, leading either to a "hot hand" situation or "working combination" (i.e. RBBC). While neither back can be counted on to exceed 15 attempts Thursday, the plan is an indirect nod to Starks. Grant entered camp as the starter, was outplayed by Starks, and has now lost his lead back role. Starks is only a low-end RB2/flex against an improved Saints defense, but he is the favorite to lead Green Bay in touches this year. ... James Jones was silent in the preseason and is coming off a knee injury, so he may struggle for snaps out of the chute. Behind Jennings and Finley, Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver are neck and neck for third in the targets pecking order.
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Drew Brees is an every-week starter, but expectations should be scaled back Thursday. In Dom Capers' 37 games as Packers defensive boss, just five opposing quarterbacks have passed for 300 yards. It can't help that slot receiver Lance Moore -- headed for an expanded role this season -- (update:) has been ruled out for the game. Like the Saints, the Packers fielded a top-five pass defense last season and return all four defensive back starters. ... Marques Colston played sparingly in August after offseason microfracture surgery. Like Brees, Colston is a must-start in what should be a high-scoring game. Colston is likely to match up often with Packers shutdown RCB Tramon Williams outside and Charles Woodson in the slot, however. Think of Colston as more of a high-end WR3 than WR2.
The Saints still list Devery Henderson as their starting Z receiver over Robert Meachem. Those two are headed for another consistency-killing timeshare and are WR5s. Neither is helped much by Moore's absence. ... Jimmy Graham is the Saints' pass catcher to be excited about in this one. The third preseason game is when teams play their starters the most, and Graham played 26 of the Saints' 32 first-team snaps in that exhibition. He saw eight targets in less than a half, catching a game-high five passes for 73 yards. The coaching staff is clearly comfortable with Graham's blocking (he blocked on nine plays and ran a pass route on 17), and he'll open the season as an every-down tight end. Make sure to start Graham in this game. ... The Saints' backfield is a three-way committee, but roles are established: Pierre Thomas starts and rotates with Mark Ingram. Darren Sproles plays on passing downs. Ingram has the most fantasy value because he's the heavy favorite for all red-zone work.
Score Prediction: Packers 31, Saints 24
Check out Gregg Rosenthal's fantasy take on the game.