New England @ Miami
The Patriots' backfield will become muddied over the course of the season, but expect it to open the year like it finished 2010. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the clock-killing early-down back, and Danny Woodhead the rich man's version of Kevin Faulk as a receiver, slot man, occasional inside ball carrier, and blitz protector. Rookies Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley may be the future, but there is no reason to believe they're the present. At least not yet. ... Green-Ellis has scored in three of his four career meetings with Miami. This game sets up well for "Law Firm" because he dominates when New England has the lead. And the Fins look like a pushover opponent. Last season, Green-Ellis averaged over 16 carries a game in New England's wins, and scored 10 of his 13 touchdowns when the Pats had the lead. ... Woodhead can be expected to receive 10-12 touches. I personally would've wanted a Sunday option with more upside. ... Wes Welker has at least eight receptions in each of his last four games against the Fins. Start 'em, especially in PPR.
The Dolphins field one of the NFL's better outside corner duos with Vontae Davis on the left and Sean Smith on the right. The Pats' three-receiver set is comprised of Welker, Chad Ochocinco, and Deion Branch. Branch and Ocho are the outside receivers on most snaps. Perhaps one of them will score a fluky touchdown, but neither has a good-looking matchup. I'd like to know more about the Patriots' receiver rotation before investing in it, anyhow. ... Rob Gronkowski caught six balls for 102 yards and a score in his last meeting with the Dolphins. I'm just not sure how the Fins are going to stop him, barring a game plan that employs Gronkowski strictly as a blocker. ... Aaron Hernandez is coming off a big August and has rare athleticism for a tight end. The TE position is just so deep in fantasy, and Hernandez plays about 50 percent of the snaps. He's too boom or bust for my liking. Hernandez faced Miami once last season, finishing with 29 yards on five grabs.
The Pats-Fins over-under is the second largest of Week 1. If there ever was one, this is the week to play Reggie Bush. Daniel Thomas pulled his hamstring in practice last week, and the franchise has never shown faith in Lex Hilliard. Bush is in line for 18-20 touches, opening the year as a true feature back. ESPN's Wendi Nix reported Monday that Miami's coaching staff is "targeting" 20 all-purpose touches for Bush. ... Especially in PPR, I'll take these career averages against New England from Brandon Marshall: Seven catches for 74 yards with two touchdowns in four games. Marshall is a shoo-in WR2. He looked as athletic and fast as ever this preseason, and the Fins are intent on getting Marshall the ball. He'll play all over the formation, seeing action against slot cornerback Kyle Arrington as well as Patriots outside CBs Leigh Bodden and Devin McCourty.
Davone Bess is never a sexy fantasy start, but he gets open and catches passes. He's a borderline every-week WR3 in PPR leagues. Bess should benefit if the Dolphins fall behind early. ... Chad Henne has a career 58.6 completion rate against the Patriots with four touchdowns, five interceptions, and a 6.64 yards-per-attempt average. Henne's solid finish to the preseason may have given Dolphins fans hope, but he's a very low-end QB2 option from a fantasy perspective. ... Keep an eye on Miami rookie burner Clyde Gates, who is expected to share time at outside receiver with Brian Hartline. Gates is a WR5/6, but could open up some things over the middle for Marshall, Bush, and Bess if Henne hits him for an early bomb. The Dolphins are expected to increase their aggressiveness on offense this year, and Gates is their fastest skill position player.
Score Prediction: Patriots 24, Dolphins 13
Oakland @ Denver
Denver is rushing back NT Brodrick Bunkley from a knee injury that cost him over two weeks of camp. New to the system, Bunkley is likely to be at least somewhat behind the curve and perhaps a bit out of shape. Even if Bunkley were in top condition, the Broncos are going to contend for the worst run defense in football. Darren McFadden, legs fresh after a carry-less preseason, has faced Denver six career times. He's averaged an otherworldly 6.16 yards per carry with six touchdowns. McFadden also averages 98 total yards per game against Denver, though that's only on an average of 15 touches. He'll get the rock 25 times on Monday night. ... Michael Bush is strictly a McFadden handcuff until proven otherwise. Raiders coach Hue Jackson leaned much more toward a feature-back approach when divvying up backfield snaps as Oakland playcaller last year. Now head coach, Jackson has publicly re-anointed McFadden his offensive centerpiece.
Another key injury in Denver's front seven is WLB D.J. Williams' dislocated elbow. One of the Broncos' top run defenders, Williams has been ruled out for this game. ... Jacoby Ford is going to be much better than his fantasy draft slotting indicated, but this is a week to wait and see. Don't mess with Champ Bailey. ... Jason Campbell is basically in the same boat. Oakland needs to pound the Broncos with the run, shying away from an underrated Denver pass defense. ... The Raiders' listed starters at receiver are Ford (Z, slot in 3-wide formations) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (X). Denarius Moore is behind Heyward-Bey at split end, though Chaz Schilens is also in the mix for snaps. We're all excited to see Moore play after a monster August, but he's still a WR5. That could change quickly when the Raiders realize Heyward-Bey isn't a starting-caliber player.
The Raiders have lost 11 straight prime-time games, seven of them on Monday night. So Broncos fans have something to get excited about; it certainly won't be their team's offense. All indications from Denver's preseason were that John Fox will install a heavily run-oriented attack, as expected according to his history. Knowshon Moreno will get the vast majority of the work between the 20s and is a candidate for 18-plus weekly touches. Willis McGahee is a roll of the dice as a goal-line back who will kill you if he doesn't score. ... Brandon Lloyd should've been the happiest guy in the room when Nnamdi Asomugha left Oakland in free agency. Lloyd struggled against a healthy Asomugha last season, and Stanford Routt isn't quite as intimidating. Lloyd is the Broncos' pass catcher to start in this one. ... Kyle Orton's attempts will be down, and he did not fare well in his lone 2010 meeting with the Raiders, going 12-of-29 for 198 yards. That's a 41.4 completion rate.
Eddie Royal is the Broncos' other starting receiver, with Eric Decker likely to play when the team uses three wides. In a run-dominated offense, however, Decker can't expect over 50 percent of the snaps. Royal's value has never been the same since his big rookie year. He couldn't even flourish under pass-happy coach Josh McDaniels. ... Julius Thomas is an interesting rookie on Denver's side. The Portland State power forward turned NFL tight end will open the year behind plodding starter Daniel Fells. Just keep in mind that Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy have no history of using tight ends in the passing game. Perhaps Thomas will change their minds.
Score Prediction: Raiders 21, Broncos 17
Check out Gregg Rosenthal's fantasy analysis on the Monday night matchups.