Titans @ Steelers – A Fantasy Perspective

The NFL regular season kicks off tonight with the Tennessee Titans traveling to Pittsburgh to face the division rival Steelers.  While, football fans everywhere are ripe with anticipation to get this season started, fantasy football owners are eager to see if all their draft preparation is going to pay off.  neither team will be confused with offensive powerhouses, with the teams ranked 21-22 in total offense last season.  Both teams make their bread and butter with punishing run games, both offensively and defensively.  So in the land of fantasy, the running backs on these two teams are safe bets to be team MVP.

Let’s look at tonight’s matchup to see where fantasy value lies.

Must start:

Willie Parker (RB) Pitt – True, the Titans were ranked 6th in the league in rush defense last year.  But they’ve also lost the big man in the middle, Albert Haynesworth, to the Washington Redskins.  Sure, they’ve been quite good in his absences in the past, but lets see how they fare this year.  Fast Willie Parker is healthy for the first time in a year and is looking to regain his spot among the most underrated runners in the past couple years.

LenDale White (RB) Tenn – Chris Johnson has all the hype, and rightfully so, but White is the banger inside for the Titans.  While I won’t project a monster game from White, he has the best chance to score on a short yardage run against an aging Casey Hampton at DT and a LB corp missing Lawrence Timmons.

Worth a shot:

Santonio Holmes (WR) Pitt – This all depends on how Tennessee matches up against him.  If they stick Cortland Finnegan on him, he’s going to have a very tough night.  On the other hand, against Nick Harper, I like Holmes chances at grabbing a few balls thrown his way, including one over the top on a play action pass.

Bo Scaife (TE) Tenn – True, Pittsburgh’s linebackers are among the elite in the NFL.  But I expect the Steelers front 7 to bring constant pressure against Kerry Collins and he’ll be forced to dump off to the tight end.  In PPC leagues, Scaife should be a good source of decent production.

Chris Johnson (RB) Tenn – Runners drafted in the first round of fantasy drafts are drafted there for a reason:  they are expected to produce on a weekly basis.  And I’m not discounting his talent or offensive line.  He’s due for a monster season.  But against this defense, yards are going to be hard to come by, so White will be the grinder for the short stuff.  Would it surprise me to see Johnson go off for 100 yards and a TD tonight?  No, he’s a number one running back and thats what you draft them for.  But am I willing to bet on it, given capable replacements available?  No, I’d rather start a Ray Rice or even try my hand with a Mike Bell for a one-week gamble.

Is Big Ben in for more of the same tonight?

Is Big Ben in for more of the same tonight?

Guys I’m avoiding:

Kerry Collins (QB) Tenn – Notice the lack of Tenn receiver love listed here?  It’s because nobody knows who will step up and be the number one receiver. (A number one receiver means, according to Emmitt Smith earlier this week, “When I say No. 1, I mean your No. 1 go-to guy.”  Thanks Emmitt, for clearing that up for us)  Plus, Pittsburgh owns the number one pass defense in the league from last year, and only look better this year.

Ben Roethlisberger (QB) Pitt – Tennessee’s secondary is also top-ten in the league.  Big Ben has never been an accurate passer or a volume passer, which doesn’t bode well against the likes of Cortland Finnegan and Michael Griffin.  I’d look at my other options at QB if possible.

From a non-fantasy perspective, this game should be a good one.  Pittsburgh is out to defend its Super Bowl title and is trotting out pretty much the same team as last season.  With a healthy Willie Parker and a full season from William Gay at corner, Pittsburg is the team to beat in the division.  The Titans have alot to prove this year, in spite of their playoff run from a season ago.  Was Collins worth the investment at QB?  Who will catch the passes?  That’s just on the offensive side of the ball.  On defense, they’ve lost their coordinator and the most dominating defensive tackle in the game during the offseason.  It will be interesting to see how Jeff Fisher can get his team to respond to the changes.  He always manages to get his team to play above expectations, so don’t expect a huge drop-off, just don’t expect playoffs again either.

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