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IDP Strong/Weak Plays - Week 1

This will be a weekly feature for IDP owners out there who are having some troubles deciding who to start on Sundays. I'm going to analyze the statistics in a few different ways to find favorable matchups and unfavorable matchups and then point out some players who are most likely to be affected by those matchups. I'll also try to provide the reasoning behind these selections so you can think about it and decide for yourselves. I also plan to review my picks from the week before so you can see how accurate the picks have been. As most people know, predicting performance on a game by game basis can be difficult for offensive players, but that difficulty is often exaggerated with IDPs. Matchups are important, but there are so many other variables that come into play that sometimes you have to just stick with your best players and hope come through with just one or two big plays. Good luck.

STRONG STARTS

DL Leonard Little, Rams (@ 49ers)
After 3 straight years of 12 or more sacks, Little had a disappointing season in 2004 and finished with only 7 despite playing in all 16 games. In addition to some off-field problems that are apparently behind him now, Little doesn't have ideal size for a DE (261 pounds) and was hurt by the loss of Grant Wistrom as he had to face more double teams than usual. Little has a great matchup this week, however, as no team gave up more fantasy points to opposing defensive linemen than the 49ers last year. Playing primarily from the LDE spot, Little will be matched up with inexperienced Kwame Harris at RT, and should have little difficulty putting consistent pressure on QB Tim Rattay, who is much less mobile than Alex Smith.

DL Cornelius Griffin, Redskins (vs Bears)
Griffin wound up being one of the best free agent signings in the league last year, setting career highs in solo tackles (55 solo), sacks (6), and passes defensed (6). Playing in Gregg Williams' pressure defense, he established himself as one of the most productive fantasy DTs, thanks primarily to his ability to pressure opposing QBs. He gets a favorable matchup this week, as the Bears gave up the 2nd most points and the most sacks (3.2/game) to opposing defensive linemen last year. While Kyle Orton has looked impressive during limited time in the preseason, he is still a rookie and will have his hands full with this Redskins defense.

DL Trevor Pryce, Broncos (@ Dolphins)
Pryce missed nearly the entire 2004 season with a herniated disc in his back, but that was the first time he had missed more than 1 game in a season since his rookie season in 1997. In the 6 previous seasons, he averaged nearly 10 sacks per year and established himself as one of the premiere defensive linemen in the league. This year, he will be completely healthy to start the season and should be the team's best pass rusher. He gets a great matchup in week 1 as the Dolphins ranked #8 in fantasy points allowed per game to opposing defensive linemen last year and the offense under Gus Frerotte has looked terrible during the preseason.

DL Osi Umenyiora, Giants (vs Cardinals)
Picking up the slack for an injured Michael Strahan, Umenyiora enjoyed a breakout season in 2004 and finished as the #15 ranked defensive lineman. His 7 sacks led the team and it wouldn't be too much of a surprise if he led the team in sacks again this year with Strahan back to take most of the blocking attention away. This week, he will be matched up against LT Leonard Davis, who should have an edge in the running game but will have trouble slowing him down in pass protection. The Cardinals gave up the 7th most points to opposing linemen last year and have now added Kurt Warner at QB, who was one of the most sacked QBs in the league.

LB James Farrior, Steelers (vs Titans)
Despite finishing with a rather pedestrian 67 solo tackles in 2004, Farrior enjoyed what was likely the best season of his 8 year career. He set career highs in sacks (3), interceptions, (4), passes defensed (12), and fumble recoveries (3). He's the leader of the Steelers defense and plays in every down and situation. He faces a Titans team in the opener that tied for most points allowed to opposing linebackers. The Titans don't have much at WR beyond Drew Bennett, so look for them to rely heavily on Chris Brown and the running game, along with short and intermediate passes which should play right into the hands of Farrior.

LB Kavika Mitchell, Chiefs (vs Jets)
Mitchell has had a rough start to his career. He took over the starting MLB job in 2003 before he was ready and looked absolutely lost at times. He then began 2004 on the bench, but eventually got another chance to play in the second half of the season and played much better. When the Chiefs signed Kendrell Bell this offseason, many thought Mitchell would go back to the bench but he has played well enough in the preseason to hold onto the starting job and Bell will likely be played at WLB. He gets a great matchup in week 1 as the Jets gave up the 3rd most points to opposing linebackers last year and things shouldn't be too different this year. They are changing to a new offensive system, will still rely heavily on Curtis Martin in the running game, and Pennington hasn't yet established himself as an effective deep ball passer.

LB Kailee Wong, Texans (@ Bills)
Wong's statistics haven't been too impressive the past few years as he's been stuck playing OLB in the Texans 3-4 defense while guys like Jamie Sharper and Jay Foreman on the inside were producing as much as any other LB tandem in the league. The Texans have rebuilt their linebacker group this year and have moved Wong to the inside, so he should see a large jump in his production. The season gets off to a great start with a matchup against the Bills, who finished #4 in points allowed to opposing linebackers last year. The Bills rely heavily on the running game with Willis McGahee, which should give Wong tons of tackle opportunities and having an inexperienced QB like Losman shouldn't hurt either.

LB Sam Cowart, Vikings (vs Buccaneeers)
Cowart never quite lived up to the high expectations people had for him after his Pro Bowl season with the Bills in 2000. Despite playing out of position with the Jets at the WLB spot and recovering from a torn Achilles, however, Cowart has always been a productive fantasy LB when healthy. He held off rookie sensation Jonathan Vilma for the starting MLB job last year, and put up 12 solo tackles and a forced fumble in the season opener. This year, he starts in Minnesota and should do well against the Buccaneers, who ranked #7 last year in points allowed to opposing linebackers and have since upgraded at the RB position with the addition of Carnell Williams.

DB Tony Parrish, 49ers (vs Rams)
Parrish has been one of the most consistent and durable fantasy DBs over his 7 year career and has 20 interceptions over the past 3 years rank him near the top of the league. With the 49ers moving to a 3-4 defense this year under new HC Mike Nolan from the Ravens, Parrish will likely be filling the Ed Reed role. The Rams are clearly a team that loves to pass the ball early and often, and as a result they gave up more points to opposing defensive backs than any other team in the league. In 2 games against the Rams last year, Parrish totaled 9 solos, 1 INT, and 2 PDs but he should get more tackle opportunities this year with the promotion of RB Steven Jackson.

DB Terrence Kiel, Chargers (vs Cowboys)
Kiel had a very solid but unspectacular season in 2004, which probably went unnoticed due to the huge season of Donnie Edwards. Kiel returns as the starting SS in San Diego this year and his numbers should continue to improve as he gains more experience. He gets a favorable matchup in week 1 with the Cowboys, who finished #2 in fantasy points allowed to opposing linebackers last year. With Bledsoe at QB, the Cowboys will likely take more shots downfield then they have in the past, but Kiel will very often be used as an 8th man in the box to help slow down RB Julius Jones.

DB Kenoy Kennedy, Lions (vs Packers)
Kennedy had been a steady contributor for the Broncos during his first few years as a starter, but he really took off with the addition of John Lynch in 2004. Strong safeties under Dick Jauron have traditionally made good fantasy options, so Kennedy should be in for a solid season. His strength is in run defense as he's a big hitter and he should bring some toughness to the Lions defense this year. The Packers ranked #4 in fantasy points allowed to opposing defensive backs last year, thanks primarily to Favre's 540 pass attempts. The Packers are expected to have a poor defense again this year, which should put plenty of pressure on the offense to keep attacking, and that will create lots of scoring opportunities for the Lions defensive backs.

DB Donovin Darius, Jaguars (vs Seahawks)
Darius has always been one of the best run defenders from the safety position, but he worked hard on his coverage and playmaking skills last year and it paid off with a career-high 5 interceptions. After using the franchise tag on him for three years in a row, the team finally felt comfortable enough to lock him up to a long-term extension. He starts off 2005 with a favorable matchup against the Seahawks, who ranked #5 in fantasy points allowed to opposing defensive backs last year. The Seahawks aren't afraid to pass the ball and Hasselbeck has thrown 30 INTs over the past 2 years, but the running of Shaun Alexander should give Darius plenty of tackle opportunities to ensure a productive weekend from him.

WEAK STARTS

DL Terrell Suggs, Ravens (vs Colts)
Suggs has lived up to his billing as an explosive pass rusher with 22.5 sacks in his first two seasons, but his tackle numbers have been underwhelming as he hasn't quite proven himself to be a good run defender yet. This week, he faces the Colts who allowed fewer points and sacks to opposing defensive linemen than any other team in the league last year. Peyton Manning is the one of the hardest QBs to sack in the league and was only brought down 13 times last year, with just 5 of those sacks coming from defensive linemen.

DL James Hall, Lions (vs Packers)
Hall enjoyed a breakout season in 2004 with 11.5 sacks and a top-10 finish among defensive linemen. Despite a great season overall, his fantasy production was very inconsistent. He produced sacks in 8 of the 16 games, but only totaled 11 solo tackles in the other 8 games in which he didn't record a sack (2 of which came against the Packers). Green Bay finished #29 in fantasy points allowed to defensive linemen and gave up the 2nd fewest sacks. Hall is a promising player, but this is a matchup worth avoiding if you have better options on your roster.

DL Kabeer Gbaja-Biamilia, Packers (@ Lions)
KGB has cracked double digit sacks in each of the past four seasons and is clearly one of the best pass rushers in the league. He's very streaky though, and his lack of size make it tough for him to put up consistent tackle numbers defending the run. Like James Hall, he recorded a sack in just 8 games, and he only totaled 7 solo tackles in the remaining 8 games. Detroit finished the year ranked #28 in fantasy points allowed to defensive linemen thanks primarily to Joey Harrington's ability to get rid of the ball quickly.

DL Reggie Hayward, Jaguars (vs Seahawks)
Despite not even being a starter for much of the past 2 years, Hayward was able to collect 19 sacks and a big free agent contract with the Jaguars. Hayward is considered to be a liability against the run so he doesn't put up good tackle numbers. His opponent this week, the Seahawks, finished last year ranked #27 in fantasy points allowed to defensive linemen last year. Furthermore, Hayward is expected to be matched up against LT Walter Jones, perhaps the best offensive tackle in football.

LB Courtney Watson, Saints (@ Panthers)
As a rookie, Courtney Watson earned the starting MLB job out of training camp and his fantasy production seemed solid early on, but he made too many mistakes and wound up being demoted midway through the season. He eventually got another chance to start late in the year, and apparently showed enough for the team to stick with him as their starter in 2005 despite putting up just 12 solo tackles over the final 4 games. Making matters worse for Watson owners, he starts off the year against the Panthers who gave up fewer points to opposing linebackers than any other team in the league last year. The Panthers running game should be improved this year, but it's probably best to wait a week to see how Watson does before putting him in your lineup.

LB Edgerton Hartwell, Falcons (vs Eagles)
Hartwell has been held back from reaching his full fantasy potential by playing alongside a superstar like Ray Lewis. He showed what he could do in 2002 when he racked up 105 solo tackles and 3 sacks after Ray Lewis went down with an injury, and he should be a great addition for the Falcons run defense. Unfortunately, he starts off the year facing a team that doesn't really like to run the ball very often and gave up the 2nd fewest points to opposing linebackers last year. The Eagles prefer to use get their starting RB Westbrook involved in screen plays and passes out of the backfield that will take him further away from Hartwell, and make it difficult to for him to put up big tackle numbers.

LB Derek Smith, 49ers (vs Rams)
Smith's production has been remarkably consistent over the past 4 years, putting up 78 to 85 solo tackles every year. This year, however, the 49ers will be moving to a 3-4 defense under new HC Mike Nolan and that could wind up hurting his tackle totals as he'll have another ILB to compete with. He faces a tough matchup to start the season, as the Rams ranked #29 in points and #32 in solo tackles allowed to opposing linebackers. In two matchups against the Rams last year, Smith totaled just 4 solos and 5 assists. With the addition of Steven Jackson, the Rams will run the ball more this year than they did last year but it's hard to know how much more until we actually see the results on Sunday.

LB Shelton Quarles, Buccaneers (@ Vikings)
Despite being 34 years old, Quarles has had the best years of his career and finished as a top-30 linebacker in 2 of the past 3 seasons. The team began to prepare for his departure when they drafted Barrett Ruud in the second round of the 2005 draft, and he may begin to lose playing time as a result. The Vikings ranked #27 in fantasy points allowed to linebackers last year, but could be even worse this year without an effective running game.

DB Brian Dawkins, Eagles (@ Falcons)
After an injury-shortened 2003 season, Dawkins bounced back in 2004 and finished as the #20 ranked defensive back. He's a great all-around player equally adept at tackling, coverage, and blitzing, but the Falcons are a terrible matchup. No team gave up fewer points to opposing defensive backs than the Falcons did last year. Until Vick becomes more comfortable passing down the field, benching DBs who face the Falcons will usually be a good idea.

DB Bryan Scott, Falcons (vs Eagles)
Bryan Scott showed a ton of promise during his rookie season in 2003 and followed that up with great tackle numbers in 2004, but he didn't make enough big plays to vault him into must-start territory. It now appears that he'll be moved to the FS position in Atlanta, which should create some more interception opportunities but will take him further from the line of scrimmage and lead to fewer tackles. The Eagles are also a tough matchup, having ranked #31 in the league in points allowed to opposing defensive backs last year. Even with a healthy Terrell Owens, the Eagles don't throw the ball downfield too often.

DB Greg Wesley, Chiefs (vs Jets)
Wesley is only 1 year removed from a career year in 2003, when he finished with 87 solo tackles, 6 interceptions and a #2 ranking among fantasy defensive backs. Things didn't work out as well for him in 2004 though, but he still managed to collect 4 interceptions in 12 games. Wesley struggles in coverage and misses too many tackles, which is why the team went out and signed Sammy Knight this offseason. As a result, Wesley will be moved to FS, where his shortcomings could be even more magnified. The Jets ranked #28 in fantasy points allowed to defensive backs last year, and don't figure to improve much until Pennington gets comfortable with the new offensive system.

DB Michael Boulware, Seahawks (@ Jaguars)
Boulware played linebacker in college, but proved himself a natural at safety last year for the Seahawks. He began the season on the bench, but eventually earned a starting spot with his impressive playmaking skills (1 sack, 5 INTs, 2 FF, 1 TD). There are high hopes for him from fantasy owners and for good reason, but the matchup against the Jaguars looks problematic. Jacksonville ranked #29 in fantasy points allowed to defensive backs last year. Fred Taylor being hurt will limit the tackle opportunities for a strong safety like Boulware. And while they are expected to open up the passing game this year, Leftwich will likely spread the ball around to all his WRs making it difficult for Boulware to get involved in many plays.

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