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The journey to a championship begins here

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - On Wednesday night the NFL will open their 2012-13 season with a great matchup of NFC East division rivals when the Dallas Cowboys travel to New York to face the defending Super Bowl champion Giants.

While the teams finished in the middle of the pack in scoring last season, New York was ninth with 394 points and Dallas 15th with 369 points, they are flush with top fantasy talent.

For the champions, quarterback Eli Manning is just coming into his own as a passer. Yes, he already had a Super Bowl ring, but last season he carried the team on his back instead of the other way around. In his finest performance, the "other" Manning threw for more yards in a season than Peyton ever did, posting 4,933 yards with 29 TDs to just 16 INTs.

Eli will face a team that he toasted for 68 points, 746 passing yards and five touchdowns in two wins last year. Although he may miss Mario Manningham, now in San Francisco, he still has two dangerous weapons in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. If the weather allows, and that's a question mark at this point, Manning should have another monster game.

As noted, Manning has two great targets to throw to - Nicks and Cruz.

Nicks will start the season at less than 100-percent due to offseason foot surgery, but fantasy owners will have to start him anyway because he is too explosive to sit. Nothing is worse than sitting a player and watching him dominate a game, which Nicks is certainly capable of doing.

The better of the two receivers for Week 1 fantasy owners should be Cruz, who burst onto the fantasy scene in Week 3 last year against the Eagles and never slowed down finishing the season with 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine scores.

In the backfield, Ahmad Bradshaw will be the starter, but rookie David Wilson has looked very good in preseason and could steal more work than Brandon Jacobs did last season. That probably won't be an issue early in the season as Wilson will have to earn the coaches trust, that he won't let his quarterback be killed by a blitzing linebacker, before he gets the playing time that will eat into Bradshaw's fantasy value. Start Bradshaw with confidence, at least in the opening week.

For the visiting Cowboys, the fantasy cupboard is well stocked.

Quarterback Tony Romo, when he's been healthy, has always been a solid fantasy option. Not a top-three or even top-five at his position, but a starter none- the-less. He's cracked the 4,000-yard passing mark in every season in which he's played all 16 games. Keeping Romo healthy, and upright, will be a key in the game as the Giants fierce pass rush has wrecked havoc in the past. Romo should have a average game, but won't likely light up the scoreboard this week.

Dallas' receiving corps has been beat up during the exhibition season and will likely be without Jason Witten (spleen). His fantasy owners should have already made plans for his absence. But Romo will have Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, so there is still plenty of talent. Both receivers are capable of big games, but their fantasy production will be determined by the amount of time the offensive line gives Romo.

The key to the Cowboys offense in this game, and the entire season, is in the rushing of DeMarco Murray. He showed over a four-week period last season that he can be one of the most dynamic running backs in the league. He'll face a run defense which finished 19th in 2011, yielding 4.5 ypc. He should see a big workload on Wednesday night and likely will produce the most fantasy points of any Cowboy starter.

With the emergence of Murray, Felix Jones' fantasy stock has plummeted and while he may make a play or two during the game, barring injury, he's not going to be a factor. Sit him and find another running back option.

Starting either defense/special team is a question mark given the offensive talent in the game, but the Giants pass rush always makes them a viable option.

Tonight begins your first step towards a fantasy title. Good luck and have a great fantasy season.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.


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