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The Opening Act

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The NFL season begins this Thursday night with a great matchup of fantasy stars which should have almost every fantasy team owner watching a part of his or her lineup.

By my calculations there could be as many as 11 Green Bay Packers on fantasy rosters and 10 New Orleans Saints players.

Everything starts behind the center and these two teams have two of the best. Both Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees will be expected to carry their respective teams and fantasy owners everywhere.

Rodgers finished third among quarterbacks in fantasy points last season (behind Peyton Manning and Michael Vick) and in just his fourth season as a starter is still improving. He's got a plethora of receivers to throw to, beginning with a great deep threat in Greg Jennings (76-1,265-12). Add in quality receivers like James Jones, Jordy Nelson, veteran Donald Driver and an athletic tight end in Jermichael Finley and you see why Rodgers likes to throw so often.

Jennings should be in all Week 1 fantasy starting lineups and while Jones has finally overtaken Driver for the starting role, he's not yet proven to be a fantasy-worthy starter. Check back after Week 1 to analyze his performance. Nelson is also borderline fantasy-worthy, but Driver is seeing a reduction in his playing time and should not be started unless injuries get him on the field more often.

Finley was coming off a great 2009 playoff run and the first five games of 2010 were getting fantasy owners very excited as he posted 21 receptions for 301 yards and a score. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending right-knee injury. His knee seems fine, though he's currently dealing with an ankle injury which may slow him for a week or two. Still, he's a must start in Week 1 and beyond.

Brees actually has more weapons than Rodgers which is both a blessing for him and a curse for fantasy owners. The Saints quarterback threw for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdowns last season finishing fifth among fantasy QBs. The hard part for fantasy owners is figuring out who he's going to feature each week. Seven Saints receivers caught at least 30 balls last year and the running backs caught 104 passes.

Marques Colston led all New Orleans receivers with 84 receptions for 1,023 yards. He's a must start as long as his balky knees hold up.

The real question is always among Lance Moore (66-763-8), Robert Meachem (44-638-5) and Devery Henderson (34-464-1). In Week 1 I'd start only Meachem as Moore will likely be a game-time decision due to a groin injury. Henderson should only start if you are absolutely sure that Moore will not play.

The Saints helped straighten out the tight end position by not re-signing Jeremy Shockey and it looks like talented Jimmy Graham will get the bulk of the workload. He's a likely top-10 fantasy TE and a must start.

The toughest questions for fantasy owners this Thursday is to try and figure out both of these team's running back rotations.

The Packers get Ryan Grant back from ankle injury and it appears he'll be the starter, but all indications are that 2010 playoff "hero" James Starks will get an almost equal share of the work. All fantasy owners should be watching this play out to be able to estimate each back's fantasy value the rest of the way.

The backfield for New Orleans is even more crowded with three backs worthy of playing time. The Saints selected Alabama running back Mark Ingram in the first round of the draft and he joined starter Pierre Thomas. Then when the free agency signing period opened up, the Saints signed Darren Sproles away from San Diego.

Head coach Sean Payton was recently quoted as saying "There'll be plenty of touches not only for Pierre, but for Mark and Darren," but I have my doubts. Unless this team suddenly goes away from Brees and the passing game this statement isn't going to be true.

I'm guessing that Sproles will get most of his touches on the punt and kickoff team and on third and long situations. The majority of the running plays will likely be for Ingram and Thomas, and because of that only those two backs have fantasy value. Again, fantasy owners should pay close attention to how Payton uses his two runners to determine their future fantasy values.

The bottom line for the season opener is the following;

Green Bay fantasy starters - Rodgers, Grant, Starks, Jennings, Finley, Mason Crosby.

New Orleans fantasy starters - Brees, Thomas, Ingram, Colston, Meachem, Graham, John Kasay.

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


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