1. Drew Brees (NO) – The NFL’s most highly touted QB heading into 2009 should kick off the season with a bang facing a week 1 match up at home against Detroit. The Lions finished up the 2008 season as the NFL’s worst defense and do not appear to be drastically improved, if at all. In a week 16 meeting with Detroit last season, Brees completed 75% of his passes for 351 yards, 2 TD’s and no interceptions. He should have a field day once again and makes for an obvious week 1 must start.
2. Tom Brady (NE) – In spite of potential concerns regarding the reliability of Brady’s shoulder and knee, all indications are that he will be good to go for his Monday night match up against division rival Buffalo. Brady has a rich tradition of dominate performances against the Bills, so anything less than a strong performance would be mildly surprising this time around. We are fairly confident in Brady’s ability to return to elite form sooner than later and a week 1 match up against what should be a middle of the road Buffalo pass defense should not provide much of a stumbling block. Check injury report: shoulder
3. Peyton Manning (IND) – Unlike last season, Manning heads into his 2009 campaign with a clean bill of health and a solid showing in preseason. He should provide strong fantasy production from start to finish beginning with division rival Jacksonville at home in week 1. Manning ripped the Jaguars defense in week 16 of last season, completing 29 of 34 passes for 364 yards, 3 TD’s and no interceptions. The Jacksonville defense does not appear to be much improved over 2008, so Manning should handle them with ease once again. He is a no brainer for your week 1 fantasy roster.
4. Kurt Warner (ARI) – He has been dominant in each of his last two starts against the 49ers at home, throwing for a combined 812 yards (406 ypg), 5 TD’s and just 2 interceptions. We would be a little surprised if Warner was able to match such lofty totals in week 1, but he should be in the ball park and provide an excellent stat line against what appears to be a mediocre San Francisco pass defense. Warner is a great fantasy option to kick off the new season.
5. Aaron Rodgers (GB) – He has been absolutely amazing in preseason and looks to continue his dominance into a week 1 match up at home against arch rival Chicago. In 2008, Rodgers threw for 2 TD’s in each of the 2 match ups in which he faced the Bears, while averaging 244 passing yards per game. The Bears secondary comes into this game a bit beat up, so we expect big things from Rodgers in week 1. Rodgers should definitely be in your fantasy line up.
6. Phillip Rivers (SD) – He has been kind of hit or miss against the Raiders throughout his career, usually playing his best game against Oakland in the second match up of the season, but Rivers 3 TD performance in week 14 of the ’08 season lends reason for optimism that Rivers has turned the corner against the silver and black. Bottom line, Oakland has been known to give him problems in the past, but Rivers was drafted as a top flight QB and he should be in your starting fantasy line up week 1 with very positive results expected.
7. Matt Hasselbeck (SEA) – While there is cause for concern stemming from a beat up Seahawks offensive line and the fact that Hasselbeck has not played in a meaningful game since November of ’08, we still like his chances against what should be a poor Rams defense. The Rams new head coach Steve Spagnuolo is a defensive guru and he will probably whip this defense into shape eventually, but we don’t expect a big leap in week 1. Hasselbeck has looked solid in preseason and seems to have adapted nicely to the Seahawks new offense. We also love the T.J. Houshmandzadeh addition. There is a bit of risk going with Hasselbeck in week 1, but it is probably a risk worth taking considering the quality of opposition.
8. Donovan McNabb (PHI) – While a week 1 match up in Carolina could potentially present some stumbling blocks for McNabb, we expect a very solid fantasy performance overall. With Brian Westbrook still a bit shaky, we anticipate that the Eagles will come out throwing the ball early and often. McNabb has a ton of weapons at his disposal and if he can avoid a tough Panthers pass rush; he should perform well against what should be a middle of the road secondary.
9. Tony Romo (DAL) – He looked fairly sharp in preseason, but one thing that appeared to be lacking without Terrell Owens was the deep threat. Roy Williams and/or Miles Austin should emerge in that role sooner or later, but for now, it seems the Cowboys are content running a more ball controlled offense utilizing the short passing game. This might prevent Romo from putting up flashy numbers early on, but it should also help cut down on his lofty turnover total. While Romo’s exact fantasy value is still a bit of a mystery at this point, this new approach should help him in week 1 against a ball hawking Buccaneer secondary. The Tampa Bay defense is a bit of a mystery itself in the post Monte Kiffin era, so this match up is intriguing for all involved, but anything less than a solid showing would be a let down for Romo.
10. Carson Palmer (CIN) – After missing most of last season with an elbow injury and most of preseason with a high ankle sprain, it is only natural to be skeptical about Palmer’s readiness for week 1. While we too are a bit skeptical, we still like his chances against a Denver Broncos defense that ranked as one of the worst in the NFL in 2008.The Denver defense should be slightly improved heading into 2009 with Mike Nolan as DC, but we still expect them to rank poorly. It would be no surprise if Palmer started this game off shaky, but he is a veteran that knows this offense like the back of his hand and he should finish with solid production given the weapons around him. Check injury report: ankle
11. Matt Schaub (HOU) – We still love Schaub’s potential for 2009, but the fact that he didn’t even make it through preseason without an injury is more than alarming. As for week 1, Schaub’s gimpy ankle is not expected to be much of a problem, the Rex Ryan era Jets defense, however, could present a stout challenge. We won’t really know how good this Jets defense is until we see them in a real game, but on paper, many of the problems we saw from them in 2008 (namely a terrible pass defense) appear to be resolved. While Schaub is capable of putting up big numbers against any defense, we have some doubts about week 1 against the Jets. That said, Schaub is still a fairly solid week 1 fantasy option. Check injury report: ankle
12. Matt Ryan (ATL) – A week 1 match up against Miami could present some issues for the second year signal caller, but if the Dolphins have a glaring weakness, it is in the secondary. Speaking of the Dolphins secondary, Miami plans to start rookie CB Sean Smith which is a definite positive for Ryan’s week 1 fantasy potential. That said, Atlanta’s run first philosophy and a fierce Miami pass rush limits Ryan’s week 1 potential to some degree. Ryan is a decent fantasy option for week 1, but you probably shouldn’t expect a monster game from him.
13. Jay Cutler (CHI) – We all know that Cutler is more than a capable fantasy QB, but his lack of weapons in the Bears offense is a bit scary. Other than Matt Forte and Greg Olsen, Cutler has a limited arsenal in the passing game. Devin Hester and Earl Bennett both have the potential to be playmakers, but neither has shown the ability to do so consistently. Cutler’s fantasy value should go up as the season moves along and a big week1 is not out of the question, but we have our doubts against what looks to be a much improved Packers defense. Cutler should be considered a low end QB1 for week 1 and depending on your options, you might want to take a wait and see approach.
14. Shaun Hill (SF) – He has 2 very important factors in his favor heading into a week 1 match up against the Cardinals. 1) Hill will face virtually the same Cardinals pass defense that gave up a staggering 36 TD passes in 2008 (by far the most in the NFL). 2) The 49ers will likely be playing from behind forcing San Francisco to throw often and abandon their favored run heavy approach. Hill would have to be considered our fantasy QB sleeper pick for week 1. That said, there are safer options available. As a side note, Hill threw for 217 yards and 2 TD’s against Arizona in his only start against them in 2008.
15. Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) – While Roethlisberger’s week 1 opponent, the Tennessee Titans, boast one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, there is room for optimism heading into this match up. Reason being that he had one of his better outings of 2008 against this very secondary in a week 16 loss at Tennessee. In that game, Roethlisberger threw for a season high 329 yards (the most passing yards given up by the Titans all season). Big Ben also added 2 TD’s in that contest. If history can repeat itself, Roethlisberger could be in for another big fantasy performance on Thursday night in the heated rematch in Pittsburgh, but we wouldn’t count on that happening. Last season’s meeting wasn’t exactly a fluke, but Roethlisberger’s stats were a bit inflated as a result of the Steelers being in the rare predicament of playing from behind, thus forcing them to throw often. This game should be closer and the Steelers will likely rely more heavily on their usual run heavy approach limiting Roethlisberger to some degree.
16. David Garrard (JAC) – At first glance, a week 1 match up against the Colts appears to hold little promise for Garrard, especially when you consider that the Indy pass defense gave up only 6 TD’s through the air in 2008. The good news is that this won’t be the same defense from 2008, especially in the secondary. Super stud Colts safety Bob Sanders will miss the game and Antoine Bethea at the other safety spot is also highly questionable. In addition, the Colts have a host of nagging injuries on the defensive line to contend with. Garrard has had mixed results against Indianapolis in the past, but this will probably be his best shot at quality production. While we like his chances, we still can’t view him as much more than a QB2 for week 1.
17. Chad Pennington (MIA) – A week 1 meeting with Atlanta should provide Pennington with ample opportunity against a young and inexperienced secondary. That said, Pennington rarely puts up big numbers, even against weaker defenses. We like his chances for his typical, mistake free and efficient game. Anything more would be a welcome surprise.
18. Joe Flacco (BAL) – We really like the week 1 match up against a weak Kansas City pass defense, but Baltimore’s run first philosophy and lack of big play weapons in the passing attack limit Flacco’s potential to some extent. He is a very capable QB in reality, but he lacks the potential for big game consistency in fantasy. Flacco will remain a fantasy QB2 until he can prove otherwise and this match up provides him with a great opportunity to step up. This game will be a good test to see if he is ready to take the next step in transcending his fantasy value in 2009.
19. Brett Favre (MIN) – While a week 1 match up against the Browns probably has some of you licking your chops to put Favre in your starting line up, there are a few things to consider before you do. You might be surprised to know that Cleveland finished the 2008 season with 23 interceptions (2nd most in the NFL), while giving up only 19 passing TD’s all season (tied for 8th fewest in the NFL). That Browns defense (which remains in tact for the most part) also gave up just over 200 passing yards per game, good enough for 14th in the NFL and a mere 48 yards more than top ranked Pittsburgh. The point is that the Browns are actually pretty solid against the pass. They are also terrible against the run and we fully expect a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson in this match up. Favre should play efficiently given his propensity for fast starts and the fact that he looked pretty sharp in the preseason, but if you are expecting a monster week 1 fantasy effort because of the weak opponent; you will probably be in for a let down.
20. Kyle Orton (DEN) – All indications are that Orton will start in Sunday’s week 1 match up at Cincinnati. He will be playing with a stitched finger and glove, but practice reports suggest that there are no issues with his ability to throw at a typical level. The match up against the Bengals holds promise, but we still aren’t completely sold on Orton’s potential in Denver and the Cincy defense is expected to be improved from last year. While Orton certainly has the weapons to perform at a high level, he has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his short career. You may be best served taking a wait and see approach with him in week 1. That said, he is worthy of a QB2 spot in 2 QB leagues this week. Check injury report: finger