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Week 1 Rushing Matchups

by Mark Wimer and Joe Bryant, Exclusive to Footballguys.com

[ARI] [ATL] [BAL] [BUF] [CAR] [CHI] [CIN] [CLE] [DAL] [DEN] [DET] [GB] [HOU] [IND] [JAX] [KC] [MIA] [MIN] [NE] [NO] [NYG] [NYJ] [OAK] [PHI] [PIT] [SD] [SEA] [SF] [STL] [TB] [TEN] [WAS]


PLEASE NOTE: This does NOT replace the Cheatsheet ranking. The Cheatsheet rankings are the final say on where we see a player for that week. The Matchup Breakdowns are simply one more tool in the box when it comes to helping choose your lineup.

Also note, just because a player has a "bad" matchup, it does NOT mean he's not a starter in your league. If Peyton Manning is playing the toughest pass defense in the league, that just means he's got a tough matchup that week. He's also your starter unless you're loaded at QB. In the same way, if the worst QB on your roster has a "great" matchup that week, it doesn't necessarily mean he's your starter. It means we think he'll fare better than normal that week.

Bottom line is that the cheatsheets are the final say.


Dallas Cowboys Rushing Offense at Cleveland Browns Rushing Defense (Great Matchup)

Marion Barber has been impressive throughout training camp and preseason, and looks ready to take on the featured back role for the Cowboys. Against the Texans in week 3 of the preseason, he posted 13/75/1 rushing and also snagged 2 receptions for 9 yards, showing that he is ready to roll for regular season. "It was great," OC Jason Garrett said after the game. "That's the way he plays. That's the Marion Barber I think we all have come to know and really love to watch. He just plays with reckless abandon." Felix Jones, who had done some good things early in camp, looked pretty ordinary against the Texans, with 5/10/0 rushing and 2/4/0 receiving - he's still going through the rookie learning curve entering week 1.

The Browns' rush D was not good last year, ranking 27th in the NFL allowing an average of 129.5 yards per game. However, they were stubborn at the goal-line, with only 8 rushing scores handed over (6th in the league). In week 3 of the preseason, Detroit took advantage of the Browns' soft defensive front to the tune of 30/129/1 - right on pace for this group. There is lots of room for improvement on this unit, as you can see.

Barber looks like his engines are stoked for the season opener - against the soft Browns, he should enjoy an outstanding afternoon.

Weather: Cleveland Browns Stadium expects a high of 74F with a low of 63F on Sunday, and has a 0% chance for rain - beautiful autumnal weather is on tap for Browns' fans this week.

DAL Injuries: none
CLE Injuries: none


Denver Broncos Rushing Offense at Oakland Raiders Rushing Defense (Great Matchup)

Entering the season, it appears that Selvin Young is going to lead a committee of backs composed of Young, Andre Hall and Michael Pittman. Young will lead the attack between the 20's, but it appears that Hall is the preferred short yardage/goal line back as of week 1. Young touched the ball 175 times last year as the part-time starter (140/729/1 rushing with 35/231/0 receiving), and will probably see at least that much work this year (possibly more). Both Young (6/42/0) and Hall (9/46/0) saw a good deal of work during the 3rd preseason game vs. Green Bay. Pittman handled the ball in the 2nd half with 10/36/0 rushing and 6/25/1 receiving.

The Raiders filed a poor rush D, which averaged 145.9 yards allowed per game last year - 31st in the NFL (with 24 rushing scores given up, worst in the league). Arizona exploited the obvious weakness here in the 3rd preseason contest, racking up 39/215/2 rushing on the weak Raider defensive front.

Young and Hall have a great matchup to work with this week.

Weather: The forecast for the Bay area calls for a high of 71F with a low of 59F and a 0% chance for precipitation - sounds like a mild evening is on tap for the Broncos and the Raiders as they renew their AFC West rivalry in 2008.

DEN Injuries: none
OAK Injuries: none


New England Patriots Rushing Offense vs Kansas City Chiefs Rushing Defense (Great Matchup)

Laurence Maroney leads a crowded backfield into regular season (Kevin Faulk will be missing for his week, though, due to a 1-game suspension) - Maroney is likely to split time with Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan during the contest on Sunday. Last year, Maroney posted 185/835/6 rushing and 4/116/0 receiving as the leader of the New England committee - he'll see a similar workload this year, most likely. Morris has played extensively during preseason while Jordan hasn't seen much work, making Morris the candidate to fill the short yardage/goal line/change of pace roles at least early in the season (and especially this week in Faulk's absence).

The Chiefs were 28th in the NFL last year vs. opposing rushers, averaging 130.6 yards allowed per contest. They gave up 11 TDs over 16 games (tied for 12th in the NFL) - rush D isn't a team strength, as you can see. Miami crammed 31/164/1 down the Chiefs' throats in the 3rd exhibition game - K.C. hasn't improved measurably over last year, and may have even regressed.

This is a great matchup for the home-team Patriots.

Weather: Gillette Stadium expects a high of 74F with a low of 52F and a 20% chance of rain. As long as the skies don't open up, weather shouldn't be a big factor in the game between the Chiefs and the Patriots.

NE Injuries: none
KC Injuries: none


New York Giants Rushing Offense vs Washington Redskins Rushing Defense (Great Matchup)

The Giants' running back stable is set to be productive in 2008, headlined by Brandon Jacobs (the 8th best fantasy RB in points per game last year, with 200/1011/4 rushing and 23/174/2 receiving over 11 games), backed up by Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw. All 3 rushed for 4 yards a carry or better in the 3rd exhibition game (vs. the Jets) - Ward led the team with 4/36/0, Bradshaw posted 7/28/1, and Jacobs posted 6/26/0. This position is set on the squad and at full health entering 2008.

Washington has a problem on defense - injuries have gutted the DL and recent acquisition Jason Taylor is also down due to a knee injury suffered in the 3rd preseason contest. He tried on several knee braces in practice on Tuesday, and coach Jim Zorn stated "I'd say it's easily 50-50 whether he plays or not." Carolina posted 32/228/2 on the ground vs. the afflicted unit in the 3rd preseason game. Forget what Washington did or didn't do last year - right now, this unit appears to be in serious trouble.

The Giants have a very attractive matchup against the injury-challenged Redskins at home in Giants' Stadium on Thursday night.

Weather: The forecast for the NFL season opener on Thursday evening is calling for mild weather, with a low around 67F and a 10% chance for precipitation. Weather shouldn't be a big factor in this contest.

NYG Injuries: none
WAS Injuries: none


Philadelphia Eagles Rushing Offense vs St. Louis Rams Rushing Defense (Great Matchup)

Brian Westbrook has had no problems getting into top form during preseason, posting 9/39/0 rushing and 1/19/0 receiving vs. New England's tough unit in the 3rd exhibition game. Donovan McNabb looks really sharp right now, which bodes well for Westbrook as a pass catcher (the injury to Kevin Curtis may boost his number of targets as well) - in PPR leagues, Westbrook looks like a lock for top-5 numbers again this year. He was the #2 fantasy RB in points per game last year, and this year the Eagles' offense looks stronger than ever.

The Rams' rushing D is not impressive, ranking 20th in the NFL last year allowing an average of 115.3 yards per contest. They handed over 16 rushing scores last year (tied for 27th in the NFL). During the 3rd exhibition game, the Rams gave up only 18/70/0 to the Ravens (but the Ravens rushed a rookie QB into the lineup at the last minute, making defense a pretty simple proposition during that game - and they were missing their top RB, Willis McGahee, due to a knee injury/rehab).

At home in Lincoln Financial Field, Westbrook and company have an attractive matchup against the suspect Rams.

Weather: Lincoln Financial Field expects a high of 83F on Sunday, with a low of 61F and a 10% chance for rain - it should be a great day to open the 2008 season.

PHI Injuries: none
STL Injuries: none


Arizona Cardinals Rushing Offense at San Francisco 49ers Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

During the week 3 preseason game vs. Oakland, Edgerrin James showed that he is back up to full speed entering the 2008 season, posting 6/26/0 rushing for a 4.3 yards per carry average during the contest. Team observers in Cardinals' country think we can expect James to wind up with around 2/3's of the carries in any given week, with newcomer Tim Hightower grabbing most of the rest of the work. Hightower did some good things during preseason, and posted 10/52/1 rushing during the week 3 "tune-up" for regular season. He looks like a capable backup to James. J.J. Arrington is in the reserve roll as of week 1.

The 49ers were in the middle of the NFL pack during 2007, averaging 118.5 rushing yards per contest, with 9 rushing scores handed over during 16 contests (tied for 7th-least in the league). Chicago posted 22/109/0 rushing vs. San Francisco during week 3 of the preseason - a 5.0 yards-per-carry average, with starter Matt Forte accounting for 11/44/0 during the game. ILB Jeff Ulbrich left the preseason game with a back injury - which is something to keep your eye on when the official injury report is released later this week. The 49ers' LB corps would be weakened if Ulbrich can't go in week 1.

Edgerrin James was the 17th-ranked fantasy RB in points per game last season, and with Kurt Warner bringing credibility to the QB position from day one this year, James is surrounded with a lot of offensive firepower that will keep defenses honest. He should find some room to roam against the so-so 49ers this week despite the Walsh Field advantage at the back of the defense.

Weather: The forecast for Walsh Field calls for a high of 79F with a low of 59F and a 0% chance for rain - great weather is in the offing for this NFC West contest.

ARI Injuries: none
SF Injuries: none


Buffalo Bills Rushing Offense vs Seattle Seahawks Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

Marshawn Lynch is the Bills' every-down workhorse, but he needs some help from the guys up front. During the week 3 contest vs. Indianapolis, the Bills struggled to open lanes for Lynch (4/2/0 rushing with 1/-3/0 receiving) during his cameo appearance. The Bills were spot on 4.0 yards-per-carry last year while Lynch piled up 280/1115/7 rushing and 18/184/0 receiving in his rookie campaign (10th-best fantasy RB in points per game), so we know he can be very productive behind the line. Hopefully once the first team offense is on the field (Trent Edwards missed a lot of preseason due to a thigh injury) Lynch will enjoy more room to roam.

The Seahawks' rush D was a mixed bag last year, ranking 12th in the NFL averaging 102.8 yards allowed per game, but handed over 16 rushing scores over 16 regular season games (tied for 27th in the NFL). San Diego trampled the 'Hawks for 27/130/2 during the 3rd preseason game - without LaDainian Tomlinson. Obviously, Seattle has room for improvement in this phase of the game entering 2008. Starting DT Rocky Bernard will miss the opener due to a one-week suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy, weakening the defensive front for the first contest.

Lynch has a good match-up to work with this week, at home in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Weather: With a high of 70F and a low of 55F forecast (0% chance of rain), the Bills' fans will enjoy a mild fall afternoon as the setting for this contest.

BUF Injuries: none
SEA Injuries: none


Indianapolis Colts Rushing Offense vs Chicago Bears Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

The Colts' are set at RB with Joseph Addai (last year's 5th best running back in points per game, with 261/1072/12 rushing and 41/364/3 receiving), once-again colt Dominic Rhodes and a good-looking rookie in Mike Hart. However, their OL has suffered considerable attrition during preseason due to injuries - C Jeff Saturday is likely to miss half the year at least due to his right knee (ligament damage), and veteran G Ryan Lilja is still recovering from offseason knee surgery. During the 3rd preseason game vs. Buffalo, the Colts could only manage 12/32/0 rushing, an ominous sign for fantasy owners invested in the attack. However, the team was also without Peyton Manning (who is expected back for the first regular season game) - obviously, the team has much less passing threat when Manning is sidelined.

The Bear's once-feared D faltered last year and ended up in the bottom tier of NFL defenses vs. opposing running backs, allowing an average of 122.9 yards per game (24th in the NFL) and handed over 17 rushing scores (29th in the NFL). This year, they are hoping the MLB Brian Urlacher can play at the top of his abilities and help the defense rebound - but that was something they didn't do vs. San Francisco in the 3rd preseason game. The 49ers rushed for 35/160/2 as a team - it looks like the Bears have a long way to go in improving their defense this year.

The Colts' OL has injury challenges, but the Bears don't look very scary entering week 1. In Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts have an edge over their suspect opponents.

Weather: The first regular season game in Lucas Oil Stadium will enjoy fine weather, according to the weather service - the low on Sunday evening is supposed to be around 55F (if the team feels that is too cold, they'll close the retractable roof) with a 0% chance of rain forecast. Weather shouldn't be a big factor for either the Colts or the Bears.

IND Injuries: none
CHI Injuries: none


Oakland Raiders Rushing Offense vs Denver Broncos Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

The Raiders will open the season with Justin Fargas as the nominal starter, but expect to see a full-blown committee approach with Fargas and rookie Darren McFadden sharing the workload. With little in the way of a passing game, the team will lean on Fargas and McFadden heavily, at least until JaMarcus Russell starts to get into rhythm (if that happens - he's still a very green pro QB). The team got some bad news during the week 3 contest vs. Arizona, when starting FB Oren O'Neil was lost for the season. The team is going with Justin Griffith there now, but they are thin and Michael Bush may see some playing time in the FB slot - but mostly as a receiver, not a blocker, according to coach Lane Kiffin. "We're going to look at some things in some certain personnels to utilize him because he catches the ball so well and he is a bigger tailback. But don't mistake that. Michael Bush isn't here to be a fullback. (He) has a chance to be a spectacular tailback in this league and that's what he's here to play." We'll see how the workload is shared out as the game unfolds on Sunday.

The Broncos rush D was not good last year, averaging 142.6 yards allowed per game (30th in the NFL), with 14 rushing scores allowed last season (23rd). 3 DEs went down in the 3rd preseason game (Elvis Dumervil, dislocated finger; Ebenezer Ekuban (back) and Paul Carrington (left calf - now released)) and also starting S Marquand Manuel (broken thumb - surgery required). Obviously, the defense is kind of beat up entering week 1. Green Bay posted 32/94/2 rushing against this unit during the 3rd preseason game - the Denver defensive front has lots of room for improvement, as you can see.

At home, and with a suspect divisional rival in town, expect the Raiders to exploit Denver's weakness in this phase of the game - advantage, Oakland.

Weather: The forecast for the Bay area calls for a high of 71F with a low of 59F and a 0% chance for precipitation - sounds like a mild evening is on tap for the Broncos and the Raiders as they renew their AFC West rivalry in 2008.

OAK Injuries: none
DEN Injuries: none


Pittsburgh Steelers Rushing Offense vs Houston Texans Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

Willie Parker has held off the challenge from Rashard Mendenhall (Mendenhall's fumbling problems during preseason haven't helped him earn more playing time, either) - entering week 1, Parker remains firmly atop the Steeler's depth chart. Regarding Mendenhall's fumbling problem, head coach Mike Tomlin said "He is a talented guy. He does have great running speed, cutting ability, etcetera, etcetera. But fundamentals of being a pro, and understanding how guys are going to go after the ball in this league, are big. It's good to learn lessons when you win. Hopefully, he'll do that. I'm sure that he will." Parker didn't light up the world vs. Minnesota in the 3rd exhibition contest (10/18/0 rushing and 2/2/0 receiving), but not many guys do so against the top-ranked rush defense in the league. Last year, Parker was the 21st ranked fantasy back in points per game despite only scoring 2 rushing TDs (321/1316/2 rushing with 23/164/0 receiving).

The Texans ran in the middle of the NFL herd last season, ranking 19th in rushing yards allowed per game (114.1 on average), and were 25th in the league with 15 TDs given up. Dallas posted 27/111/1 rushing against Houston in the 3rd preseason game, which is in keeping with the Texans' mediocre showing from a year ago. Entering 2008, it appears that Houston has neither progressed or regressed in this phase of the game.

Pittsburgh was 7th in the NFL last year averaging 4.2 yards per carry - against the Texans' mediocre squad, Parker and Mendenhall should find plenty of room to roam in Heinz Field on Sunday.

Weather: Heinz Field expects a high of 76F with a low of 59F on Sunday - with 0% chance for rain. The Steelers' fans should have a great day ahead for tailgating and watching their beloved team take the field on opening day.

PIT Injuries: none
HOU Injuries: none


San Diego Chargers Rushing Offense vs Carolina Panthers Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

LaDainian Tomlinson: 315/1474/15 rushing, with 60/475/3 receiving during 2007. A minimum of 18 TDs scored in each of his last 4 seasons, and just 2 years removed from his monster 2323 combined yards, 31 TD season. This is the guy you picked #1 in the draft. He starts every week, no matter what (unless he's on bye or is out).

The Panther's defense gave up 13 rushing TDs last year (21st in the NFL) and averaged 110.7 rushing yards allowed per game (18th in the league). During the off- and preseason, the team made a lot of adjustments to the defense which appear to be paying off. Dan Morgan is out at MLB, and Jon Beason is in, while Thomas Davis has moved into a WLB role this year. DE Julius Peppers looks renewed in his contract season. During the week 3 preseason game vs. Washington, the team limited Clinton Portis and company to 22/79/0. So far, so good.

After this week, we'll know how far the Panthers' defensive front has improved, as they face the sternest test around in the NFL at this time on Sunday. Advantage, San Diego.

Weather: San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium expects typical, pleasant and mild Southern California weather - a high of 82F with a low of 62F and a 0% chance for rain. Conditions shouldn't be a big factor in this game.

SD Injuries: none
CAR Injuries: none


Atlanta Falcons Rushing Offense vs Detroit Lions Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

Michael Turner looked impressive at points during the preseason with his new team, especially during week 2 vs. Indianapolis (4/113/0 rushing, with a long of 63). During the week 3 tuneup for regular season, he ground out 5/16/0 vs. the Titans - the Falcons are still in rebuilding mode, folks, and haven't proven they can consistently break open holes for Turner and sidekick Jerious Norwood (4/53/0 rushing vs. Tennessee, with 7/25/0 vs. Indy the week before). Last year, the Falcons averaged 3.9 yards per carry, which is a tad below the 4.0 standard which is considered "average" in the NFL.

The Lions were among the league's worst run defenders last year, averaging 119.4 yards allowed per game while handing over 19 rushing TDs in 16 games (31st in the NFL). However, they have looked improved during preseason, and in the week 3 contest vs. Cleveland the Lions forced the Browns' first team offense off the field in 3 downs during 3 consecutive series to open the game. The Browns could only muster 16/55/0 rushing during the contest (a 3.4 yards per carry average) - coach Rod Marinelli seems to have this unit heading in the right direction entering 2008.

Two units in transition clash in this week 1 contest - neither one has a clear edge over the other, although the Falcons will be in their home dome on Sunday.

Weather: Inside the Georgia Dome, weather won't be a concern for Matt Ryan or Jon Kitna (or their team mates).

ATL Injuries: none
DET Injuries: none


Baltimore Ravens Rushing Offense vs Cincinnati Bengals Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

Willis McGahee is very shaky to play in the opener (he was running in a swimming pool as late as last week, and hasn't had many reps with the first team this year); meanwhile the Ravens' pass offense is a shambles with rookie QB Joe Flacco the last man standing at the position right now. Further bad news for McGahee owners came out during the final weeks of preseason - rumors indicate the new coaching staff is unhappy with his grasp of the playbook and lackluster effort during the spring prior to his injury. On Monday, coach John Harbaugh commented on McGahee (who did practice): "I wouldn't say he's 100 percent just [from] watching him run around out there. But he was out there. We'll just have to see how he progresses this week. He wants to be out there, I know that." Many signs point to week 1 being a huge opportunity for Ray Rice, the rookie RB who has carried the ball almost every first team snap since McGahee went down with his bum knee. Rice ran for 5/20/0 and snagged one reception for 4 yards in the 3rd preseason game vs. St. Louis. He looks like opportunity may be knocking on his door for week 1 of the regular season.

Cincinnati's rush D was in the middle of the NFL pack last year, averaging 118.3 rushing yards allowed per game (21st in the NFL) with 11 rushing scores surrendered (tied for 12th in the NFL). The Saints rolled over the Bengals for 145 yards in the 3rd preseason game, though (29/145/0 - a 5.0 yards per carry average), which is not what the coaching staff had in mind at all. On some plays, they limited the Saints to a short gain, only to let a runner loose in the secondary on the next. Inconsistency is the key term used to describe the Bengals' rush D this year.

The Ravens' offense is in turmoil and will have a rookie starting at QB and may have a rookie starting at RB on Sunday. The Bengals' defense hasn't established a strong presence during preseason - that sounds like a fairly even matchup between weak squads to us.

Weather: M and T Bank Stadium expects a high of 83F on Sunday, with a 0% chance for rain (65F for a low that evening). Weather conditions won't be much of a factor for either the Ravens or the Bengals.

BAL Injuries: none
CIN Injuries: none


Carolina Panthers Rushing Offense at San Diego Chargers Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

The Panthers' new backfield is shaping up to be a powerful 1-2 tandem. DeAngelo Williams has been showing decisiveness running the ball and good power between the tackles during preseason, and looks improved. However, Jonathan Stewart has come along nicely as training camp progressed, and he appears to have worked through the lingering soreness in his surgically repaired foot. Against the Redskins during week 3 of the preseason, both players posted 100 yard rushing efforts (Williams gained 9/101/1 rushing and Stewart 10/100/1) - with the new OL blocking well, it appears the sky is the limit for the Panthers' rushing attack during 2008.

The Chargers' defense has been impacted by the knee injury to SLB Shawne Merriman, and it showed against the Seahawks during the 3rd preseason game. Seattle piled up 32/162/0 during the game, with 13/61/0 posted by the starting tandem of Maurice Morris and Julius Jones in their time on the field. Last year, the Chargers were in the middle of the NFL pack averaging 107 rushing yards allowed per game (16th) and they allowed 11 rushing TDs (tied for 12th in the league). So far, it appears that the Charger defense is about where they left off 2007 - not great, but not soft either.

Carolina has answered some questions about their backfield during preseason, but they still have a lot to prove once the games start counting. This first test of the season at Qualcomm Stadium looks like a pretty even match-up, all things considered.

Weather: San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium expects typical, pleasant and mild Southern California weather - a high of 82F with a low of 62F and a 0% chance for rain. Conditions shouldn't be a big factor in this game.

CAR Injuries: none
SD Injuries: none


Detroit Lions Rushing Offense at Atlanta Falcons Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

The Lions are going with rookie Kevin Smith as their starter - Smith has shown flashes of ability during preseason (he busted a nice 35 yard TD run vs. Cleveland in the week 3 contest, ending with 10/45/1 on the ground and 1/-6/0 receiving), and the team appears really committed to running the ball during 2008. "It's got to get better," said coach Rod Marinelli after the game. "It's got to be more consistent. We had a couple that broke, which is good. What I want is a punishment. I want to punish the defense. And I want to take their legs out of them so they can't rush. And that's what I'm trying to do." The Lions managed 30/129/1 during the Cleveland game - it looks like they are on the right track entering 2008. Tatum Bell started the week as the backup RB, but with the signing of Rudi Johnson he was released. We'll see how soon Johnson can get back on the field with his new team - he probably won't be much of a factor in week 1, but head coach Marinelli seems excited to have Johnson in the fold. He said on Monday "I just had a chance to watch him in some drills (during a workout) and he's impressive. He's a big, thick guy who has great feet. I played against him over the years so I know he's a very physical back. He's a guy with a lot of talent and a lot of experience." Stay tuned to see how the workload gets doled out with Johnson in the fold, competing with Smith for touches.

Atlanta's rush D was not strong during 2007, with an average of 127.1 rushing yards allowed per game (26th in the NFL) and 12 rushing scores handed over during 16 games (tied for 17th in the NFL). The team has some new, young talent at LB in the middle of the field (rookie MLB Curtis Lofton and Tony Taylor have both put in a lot of practice/game time for the Falcons this year) - Lofton started in the 3rd preseason game and said afterwards "It went pretty good I thought. I had a few mental errors, but overall I thought I played pretty good. I'm starting to come into my own and I'm starting to feel more comfortable out there." Atlanta held the Titans to 22/75/0 during the 3rd preseason contest. It appears that the Falcons are going the right direction entering 2008.

Two teams in transition square off in this game, with both teams fielding rookies at key positions. That sounds about even to us.

Weather: Inside the Georgia Dome, weather won't be a concern for Matt Ryan or Jon Kitna (or their team mates).

DET Injuries: none
ATL Injuries: none


Miami Dolphins Rushing Offense vs New York Jets Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

Ricky Williams has seized the top job in Miami, and was rewarded with a one-year contract extension on August 31st. "You guys see it out there, we see it out there," said Miami general manager Jeff Ireland said. "He's done an excellent job in the weight room, the meeting room, he's come out there and he's jumped out at us on tape. He looks good in the preseason. So everything we've seen since we got here ... he's done everything we've asked him to do." Williams gained 47 yards on 12 carries and added 2 receptions for 8 yards in the first half vs. Kansas City in the 3rd exhibition game and looks strong heading into regular season. Ronnie Brown didn't play in the 3rd exhibition game (a sprained finger stopped him from contributing) and hasn't looked like his old self during preseason as he continues to come back from a knee injury/ACL reconstruction. For now, the Dolphins' offense will rely heavily on Williams to carry the load.

The Jets ended 2007 ranked as the 29th rush D in the land, averaging 134.8 yards allowed per game. They handed over 14 rushing scores last season (23rd in the NFL) - in short, the defensive front wasn't very good. The team added Kris Jenkins at NT in their 3-4 scheme this year, and imported some LB help through free agency (Calvin Pace) and the draft (Vernon Gholston) - so far, the unit is somewhat improved. In the 3rd preseason game against the Giants, the Jets gave up 21/107/1 to Brandon Jacobs and company - not a great showing, but less than the 130+ yards the team averaged last season. We'll have a better idea how much the Jets have improved in this area after a full 60 minutes from the first team defense on Sunday.

Williams has been impressive against vanilla defensive schemes in the preseason, but now the games count and teams won't be playing developmental prospects. The Dolphins are in transition this year and have a lot to prove yet - but so do the Jets. With the home field advantage behind the Dolphins this week, we think this is a fairly even matchup.

Weather: Dolphin Stadium expects a high of 89F with a low of 79F and a 30% chance of rain - the sultry conditions will test the conditioning of all the Jets' and Dolphins' athletes. They'll battle for 60 minutes in high heat and humidity - proper hydration will be a must in order to avoid problems with cramps.

MIA Injuries: none
NYJ Injuries: none


New York Jets Rushing Offense at Miami Dolphins Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

Thomas Jones and Leon Washington are the only 2 active tailbacks this week, as Jesse Chatman is currently serving a 4-game suspension, and Musa Smith didn't stick on the roster up to opening day. Both backs figure to get a lot of work this week behind their improved offensive line (the Jets signed LG Alan Faneca and added another veteran blocker in Damien Woody, and brought in lead-blocking FB Tony Richardson). Neither back impressed vs. the Giants in week 3 of the preseason (6/11/0 rushing for Jones, 3/10/0 rushing for Washington), but both will see ample opportunities in the current situation.

The Dolphins were the league's worst rush D last year, averaging 153.5 yards allowed per game, and they were 30th in the NFL with 18 rushing scores given up last year. However, a new coaching staff has come in and cleaned house - even Jason Taylor was shown the door. Against the Chiefs (during the 3rd exhibition contest), Miami limited Larry Johnson and company to 25/90/0 on the ground and shut the Chiefs out on the scoreboard. The Chiefs have OL problems, but none-the-less the Dolphins' unit showed they have moved in a positive direction during this year's training camp and preseason. Matt Roth has been more effective as an OLB (his new position) than as a DE, and lots of free agent talent is being integrated into the unit.

The Jets have worked on improving their rushing attack, while the Dolphins have done a similar makeover along the defensive front. This week, we'll see which "new-and-improved" unit has grown the most. This looks like an even matchup between two teams in transition from where we are sitting.

Weather: Dolphin Stadium expects a high of 89F with a low of 79F and a 30% chance of rain - the sultry conditions will test the conditioning of all the Jets' and Dolphins' athletes. They'll battle for 60 minutes in high heat and humidity - proper hydration will be a must in order to avoid problems with cramps.

NYJ Injuries: none
MIA Injuries: none


San Francisco 49ers Rushing Offense vs Arizona Cardinals Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

Frank Gore is near the top of almost everybody's draft boards this year for good reason. He was the 13th best fantasy back in points per game during 2007 - playing in a train-wreck of an offense with no credible quarterbacking available to keep defenses honest. With the arrival of Mike Martz in San Francisco, and the ascension of a new starting QB in J.T. O'Sullivan, the 49ers appear to have improved the passing attack, which should help open up some room for Gore to roam. If San Francisco can provide Gore with a few more scoring opportunities (his 5 rushing TDs and 1 receiving TD out of 313 total touches (rushing and receiving) depressed Gore's fantasy value last year), he could easily land in the elite tier of fantasy RBs by year's end.

The Cardinals' rush defense was fairly stout last year, averaging 97.9 rushing yards allowed per game (it was partly due to a weak secondary that encouraged teams to pass, though), while handing over 13 rushing TDs (tied for 21st in the NFL in that category). In the week 3 preseason "dress rehearsal" vs. Oakland, the Cards limited the Raiders' stable of backs to 19/54/0 on the ground - apparently, the defensive front is heading in the right direction to open 2008. We'll see how well that momentum carries forward into the regular season shortly.

There are good reasons to be optimistic about Frank Gore's 2008 prospects, but the Cardinals won't lay down for him in week 1. On balance, this looks like a fairly even matchup between two units that need to improve on their 2007 efforts.

Weather: The forecast for Walsh Field calls for a high of 79F with a low of 59F and a 0% chance for rain - great weather is in the offing for this NFC West contest.

SF Injuries: none
ARI Injuries: none


Chicago Bears Rushing Offense at Indianapolis Colts Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

The Bears enter the regular season with a revamped running back stable (to match their new-look passing attack), headlined by rookie Matt Forte. Forte has played solid football throughout camp and performed well during the first half of the week 3 preseason game vs. San Francisco, posting 11/44/0 rushing and 1/7/0 receiving - helped out by some decent run blocking by the OL. His backup is free agent signee Kevin Jones, late of Detroit, who appears resigned to his backup role - said Jones after the week 3 preseason game: "Matt is a good running back. There is no way he is just going to be sitting on the side. If you can contribute, you can play, and obviously he can." Jones showed some of his old burst in the game, with a 34 yard run down the sidelines in the second half. He ended the game with 3/30/0 and looks like a nice complement to Forte. Adrian Peterson has dropped to 3rd on the depth chart and will be a role player/reserve to start the 2008 campaign.

The Colts' D is working DE Dwight Freeney and S Bob Sanders back into the mix after Freeney returned to action from rehabbing a serious foot injury during the early part of training camp (Sanders has come back from offseason surgery on his right shoulder). Against the Bills, the Colts' defensive front did very well, limiting the Bills to 42/100/1 - the score came late in the game. Starter Marshawn Lynch could only muster 4/2/0 rushing and 1/-3/0 receiving in his time on the field. Last year, the Colts were in the middle of the NFL range, averaging 106.9 rushing yards allowed per game (15th), with 10 rushing scores allowed (tied for 9th in the NFL). They may be able to do better with their defensive team back to full strength.

The Bears' offense is working to jell after adding a lot of new personnel to the mix, while the Colts are striving to bring familiar players back to 100% in their defensive unit. Home field advantage is at the Colts' back in this game, which tilts the match in their favor. Forte and company have a tough matchup to deal with in the season opener.

Weather: The first regular season game in Lucas Oil Stadium will enjoy fine weather, according to the weather service - the low on Sunday evening is supposed to be around 55F (if the team feels that is too cold, they'll close the retractable roof) with a 0% chance of rain forecast. Weather shouldn't be a big factor for either the Colts or the Bears.

CHI Injuries: none
IND Injuries: none


Cincinnati Bengals Rushing Offense at Baltimore Ravens Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

Rudi Johnson missed the club from the training room tub, and now the Bengals' rushing attack is in the hands of Chris Perry. Perry has looked decent in his chances during preseason (we have only seen him carry the ball 73 times for 337 yards and 0 TDs with 63/403/2 receiving during his 5-year NFL career, though). During the 3rd preseason game, Perry posted 12/36/0 rushing and 4/22/0 receiving vs. New Orleans - he is reportedly slated to be the team's every-down back, leaving Kenny Watson in a change-of-pace/backup role. 2008 will be his first extensive action since 2005 - we'll see how he holds up to the featured role very soon.

The Ravens' fearsome defense asserted itself strongly during 2007, ranking 2nd in the NFL averaging 79.3 rushing yards allowed per game. They were tied for 7th in the NFL with a mere 9 rushing TDs given up in 16 contests - it isn't easy to grind the ball against this club. St. Louis managed 3.4 yards per carry in their week 3 victory over Baltimore (34/113/1), but it wasn't easy to get over 100 yards rushing on the Ravens. Baltimore's defense remains among the league's best.

Perry has a tough challenge ahead in his first appearance as the Bengals' new featured RB.

Weather: M and T Bank Stadium expects a high of 83F on Sunday, with a 0% chance for rain (65F for a low that evening). Weather conditions won't be much of a factor for either the Ravens or the Bengals.

CIN Injuries: none
BAL Injuries: none


Cleveland Browns Rushing Offense vs Dallas Cowboys Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

Jamal Lewis continues to recover from what the team calls a "slight hamstring strain", but he wasn't at practice on Monday. He is expected to play on Sunday as usual, but if Lewis suffers a setback, the job would fall on Jerome Harrison and/or Jason Wright's shoulders. Last year, Lewis was 6th among all fantasy RBs in total points, with 298/1304/9 rushing and 30/248/2 receiving - obviously, the Browns are hoping that he'll be able to play as usual for the season opener.

The Cowboys' rush D was among the league's best last year, allowing an average of 94.6 yards per game (6th in the NFL), while ranking 17th in rushing TDs given up (12). They were off that pace during the 3rd preseason game vs. Houston, though, allowing a total of 28/114/1 to the less-than-impressive Texans. We'll see which team shows up for the season opener in Cleveland. LB depth is a concern as Anthony Spencer and Kevin Burnett have both had arthroscopic knee surgery recently and may not be available for the season opener.

Lewis is something of a question mark for this week - against the stout Cowboys, whoever totes the pigskin for Cleveland faces an uphill battle.

Weather: Cleveland Browns Stadium expects a high of 74F with a low of 63F on Sunday, and has a 0% chance for rain - beautiful autumnal weather is on tap for Browns' fans this week.

CLE Injuries: none
DAL Injuries: none


Green Bay Packers Rushing Offense vs Minnesota Vikings Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

Green Bay had to wait quite awhile to get Ryan Grant under contract and back at practices (he suffered a hamstring injury once he got back with the team), but they feel the wait was worth it and go into regular season with him atop the depth chart in a featured-back role. Noah Herron and Vernand Morency were released at cut-downs, leaving Brandon Jackson and Kregg Lumpkin as Grant's backups. Jackson struggled to move the ball against Denver's suspect defensive front in week 3 of the preseason (8/19/0 rushing, with 1/18/0 receiving) - this is Grant's backfield entering week 1 of regular season. However, the hamstring is flaring up at midweek (he missed practices on Tuesday) - Grant owners will want to monitor his practice participation later in the week and his injury status on the official injury report on Friday.

Minnesota's rush D was overpowering last year (they were 1st in the NFL allowing a mere 74.1 yards per game, with only 7 rushing TDs given up in 16 contests (tied for 3rd)). They looked stalwart vs. Pittsburgh in week 3 of the preseason, too, holding starter Willie Parker to 10/18/0 rushing and 2/2/0 receiving during the game. Pittsburgh could only muster 3.3 yards per carry during the contest (31/102/0). It looks like the Vikings will wall off opposing rushers again this year.

Grant and company face a very tough first game against an excellent rush D.

Weather: Lambeau Field expects a high of 74F and a low of 52F with a 20% chance for rain on Monday night. The weather shouldn't be much of a factor for the first Monday Night Football game during 2008.

GB Injuries: none
MIN Injuries: none


Jacksonville Jaguars Rushing Offense at Tennessee Titans Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

The Jaguar's running back stable is primed for action, with both Maurice Jones-Drew (18th in fantasy points per game last year) and Fred Taylor (23rd) healthy and ready to rumble entering week 1. The duo had an up-and-down preseason, with a disappointing showing vs. the hard-nosed Buccaneers during week 3 of the preseason (1/-4/0 rushing for Jones-Drew whose afternoon was shortened due to tweaking an ankle), and 7/26/0 rushing for Taylor during the contest. Taylor shrugged off the preseason contest asserting "We will be fine. We are going to continue to work our techniques and get better." Fantasy owners invested in the Jacksonville attack hope that Taylor's analysis is correct. Last season, the duo of backs was among the leagues most effective 1-2 combinations.

The Titans lurk in LP Field awaiting their divisional rivals, and sport a 5th ranked rush D that averaged 92.4 rushing yards allowed per game last year, with 11 rushing scores handed over in 16 games (11th in the NFL). Taylor had a tough time with the Titans last year, managing only 1 TD in 2 games and 22/61 rushing, but Jones-Drew fared better, posting 26/133/1 vs. Tennessee last season. During the preseason contest with Atlanta in week 3 of preseason, Falcon starter Michael Turner could only generate 5/16/0 vs. the Titans, although backup Jerious Norwood had better luck (4/53/0). In short, the Titans' D appears to be picking up where they left off last year in this phase of the game.

Taylor and Jones-Drew are good backs, but they face a tough challenge this week in LP Field.

Weather: LP Field expects a high of 84F on Sunday, with a 30% chance for rain. If the sky opens up during the contest, both teams could have trouble with footing and ball-handling.

JAX Injuries: none
TEN Injuries: none


Kansas City Chiefs Rushing Offense at New England Patriots Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

Larry Johnson is back for the Chiefs, but he is finding running room hard to come by behind the sub-par OL - during the month of August, his yards-per-carry average was 3.3. "I don't want to go out there and have to struggle through eight games to find my stretch when I really turn it on," he said just before the final preseason contest. "I want to be able to turn it on from the get-go - Obviously, this week, I'm not going to do a whole lot. I just want to be ready for New England." In the 3rd preseason contest with Miami, Johnson could only muster 13/36/0 rushing and 1/2/0 receiving - not exactly top-10 fantasy RB material, at least so far. The Chiefs averaged 3.3 yards per carry as a team last year (31st in the NFL), and after preseason it appears that they still need to improve dramatically in this department.

The Patriots were 10th in the NFL last year, averaging 98.3 rushing yards per game allowed. They handed over only 7 rushing TDs (tied for 3rd in the league) last year - the Pats' defensive front is among the league's best, obviously. This year, in the 3rd preseason contest, the Patriots gave up 30/110/0 to Philadelphia's stable (a 3.7 yards-per-carry average). They look strong entering 2008.

Kansas City hasn't gotten Johnson on track yet, and meanwhile the Patriots are entering the year in top form. Advantage, New England.

Weather: Gillette Stadium expects a high of 74F with a low of 52F and a 20% chance of rain. As long as the skies don't open up, weather shouldn't be a big factor in the game between the Chiefs and the Patriots.

KC Injuries: none
NE Injuries: none


Minnesota Vikings Rushing Offense at Green Bay Packers Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

Minnesota has a ridiculously good run-blocking offensive line (the team averaged an astronomical 5.3 yards per carry last year). They field one of the league's most exciting young talents, Adrian Peterson (the 4th-best fantasy RB in points-per-game last year) and have a quality backup/change of pace back in Chester Taylor. The Vikings have no weakness in this phase of the game entering week 1, folks.

The Packers were tied for 13th in the NFL last year in rushing yards allowed per game (102.9) and gave up a mere 6 rushing TDs all year long - neither Peterson or Taylor scored a TD against the Packers last year. Denver couldn't score a TD against the Packers in the 3rd preseason game, either (28/131/0). Green Bay has a dominant rush D, folks.

Strength clashes with strength in this phase of the game on Monday Night Football, friends. This is an exciting, and tough matchup - it should make for an exciting season opener on Monday Night Football.

Weather: Lambeau Field expects a high of 74F and a low of 52F with a 20% chance for rain on Monday night. The weather shouldn't be much of a factor for the first Monday Night Football game during 2008.

MIN Injuries: none
GB Injuries: none


New Orleans Saints Rushing Offense vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

The Saints' running back depth chart looks like this entering week 1 - Reggie Bush is the headliner in the committee, and Deuce McAllister appears to be in the 2nd spot, while Pierre Thomas holds down the #3 spot (Aaron Stecker is a distant 4th/reserve). However, McAllister hasn't tested his surgically repaired knee for a full game yet and we won't be able to tell how he's holding up until a day or two after he attempts the workload. In a nutshell, right now Bush is set at #1, but the rest of the depth chart is up in the air and could change during the game on Sunday. Thomas has looked solid during the preseason, and led the team in rushing in week 3 vs. Cincinnati (5/46/0 rushing and 4/35/0 receiving), while McAllister posted 6/9/0 rushing and 1/7/0 receiving - Bush bruised his thigh in the contest and had a cameo appearance with 2/6/0 as a result. The Saints were 28th in the NFL last year with 1466 rushing yards to their credit, and 10th in the league with 14 rushing TDs as a team. Reggie Bush will generated around 1/2 of that rushing yardage again this year, most likely - it remains to be seen who will earn the rest of the real estate for New Orleans.

The Buccaneers were in the middle of the league last year in both rushing yards allowed per game (107.9, 17th) and rushing scores allowed (11, tied for 12th). They stuffed Jacksonville in the 3rd preseason contest, limiting the entire stable of backs to 26/37/0 during the game (1.4 yards per carry). If the Bucs can maintain that level of stonewalling come regular season, this will be a fearsome run D.

New Orleans is seeking answers to their unsettled running back depth chart - Tampa appears to have solidified their defensive front entering 2008. This looks like a tough matchup for the home team.

Weather: With the after-effects of Hurricane Gustav still being felt...

NO Injuries: none
TB Injuries: none


Seattle Seahawks Rushing Offense at Buffalo Bills Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

Seattle jettisoned Shaun Alexander (still in the unemployment line as of week 1, by the way) and have opted to go the running-back-by-committee route this year, with Maurice Morris and Julius Jones figuring to split up most of the carries entering the season. Morris appears to be ahead of Jones in the pecking order, with more work with the first team during training camp/preseason, which means he'll probably see more work than Jones in the committee. T.J. Duckett hasn't shown much during preseason - he's strictly backup/bench material at this stage of the game, though he did lead the team in rushing during the 3rd preseason game with 6/46/0 rushing(he played in the later stages, though). Morris posted 5/31/0 rushing and 1/8/0 receiving vs. San Diego, while Jones gained 8/30/0 during the contest.

Buffalo's defense has looked stout in preseason, and held Indianapolis to 32 yards rushing during the 3rd preseason "tune-up" game (12/32/0). They have come a long way since 2007, when the unit ranked 22nd in the NFL averaging 124.6 rushing yards allowed per game, with 15 rushing scores given up (25th in the NFL). The return of MLB Paul Posluszny has lifted the unit's performance - hopefully he can stay healthy this year. DT Marcus Stroud arrived from Jacksonville and didn't miss a practice in camp - he has also helped solidify the center of the Bills' defensive front.

The Seahawk's rushing attack was subpar last year (the team averaged 3.8 yards per carry) and is in the process of integrating new personnel. The Bills' defense appears improved over last year's version, and will have the friendly confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium at their back on opening day - the Bills appear to have a slight edge in this matchup given their strong preseason performances.

Weather: With a high of 70F and a low of 55F forecast (0% chance of rain), the Bills' fans will enjoy a mild fall afternoon as the setting for this contest.

SEA Injuries: none
BUF Injuries: none


St. Louis Rams Rushing Offense at Philadelphia Eagles Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

The Rams finally paid Steven Jackson enough to get him into camp, and now they intend to run his wheels off: "We'll use him; we're not going to inactivate him," coach Scott Linehan said on Monday. "He's going to be ready to go. We've really worked the conditioning level. He's had one grueling week and had a lot of good snaps today." It appears that Jackson, last year's 9th best fantasy RB in points-per-game, has navigated the transition from individual workouts to full speed NFL workouts well and is in line for a heavy workload at Philadelphia. We'll see how well the patchwork OL works out in real games. They only generated 5 rushing TDs all of last season and the unit has suffered injury attrition again this year (new starting C Nick Leckey was considered a longshot to stick at the beginning of training camp, but Brett Romberg broke his hand and still can't snap a ball, while Mark Setterstrom was lost for the season to a knee injury on August 16th, opening the door for Leckey).

The Eagles' rush D was 7th in the NFL last year, averaging 95.8 yards allowed per game, and handed over only 10 rushing TDs in 16 games (they were tied for 9th in that category). New England managed to post 20/65/0 against the Eagles in the 3rd exhibition game - it looks like the Eagles will be hardnosed again this year.

A suspect OL blocking for a superstar running back will try to make things work on Sunday. In the Eagles' house, this looks like a tough matchup for St. Louis' offense.

Weather: Lincoln Financial Field expects a high of 83F on Sunday, with a low of 61F and a 10% chance for rain - it should be a great day to open the 2008 season.

STL Injuries: none
PHI Injuries: none


Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rushing Offense at New Orleans Saints Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

Tampa plans to run Earnest Graham at their opponents this year in the featured role, with Warrick Dunn as a supporting/change of pace presence. Michael Bennett is the reserve player in the cast, while Cadillac Williams sits out at least the first 6 weeks on the PUP list. Graham was the 16th best fantasy RB in the land last year in points per game once he got his chance at starting - we'll see if he can improve on 222/898/10 rushing and 49/324/0 receiving now that he's in the lead role from day one of regular season.

The Saints were solid at rush defense last year, averaging 102.9 yards allowed per game (tied for 13th in the NFL) while handing over 7 rushing scores over 16 games (tied for 3rd in the league with New England and Minnesota). During their 3rd exhibition contest vs. Cincinnati they refused to allow a rushing score and only allowed 17/38/0 on the ground all night long. This unit looks super-solid entering 2008.

Graham and company posted a 4.2 yards-per-carry average last season, but they'll have their hands full vs. New Orleans in the Superdome on Sunday.

Weather: With the after-effects of Hurricane Gustav still being felt...

TB Injuries: none
NO Injuries: none


Tennessee Titans Rushing Offense vs Jacksonville Jaguars Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

LenDale White posted 304/1108/7 rushing with 20/114/0 receiving last season - all while playing on a bum knee (torn meniscus cartilage). The knee was repaired during the offseason, and White has worked his way back into football shape as of week 1 2008. He figures to be the starting RB again this year, and will see a lot of work. However, the situation in Tennessee has changed as rookie Chris Johnson has earned playing time during preseason (while White rehabbed his knee, Johnson practiced and played well). Following an NFL trend, the Titans are going with a committee of backs with White and Johnson splitting workload starting week 1. "We're going to use them both depending on the game plans and it makes sense to take advantage of both of their abilities," coach Jeff Fisher said on August 27th. "I think we'll have a better gauge once we get to the middle part of the season how the carries and the touches are going to work. Provided they're healthy week in and week out I would assume it would be close to 50-50, maybe 60-40." Last year the team ran the ball 543 times for 2109 yards and 17 TDs (remember, Vince Young generated 93 carries for 395 yards and 3 TDs), meaning there should be around 210-220 carries and 20-25 receptions for each back at a 50-50 split. We'll see how the plan survives first contact with a divisional rival this week.

The Jaguars invade LP Field sporting the 11th ranked rush D in the land, averaging 100.3 rushing yards allowed per game during 2007. The Jags gave up 12 rushing TDs (tied for 17th) during '07 - this is a pretty solid group, folks. Tampa Bay was held to 20/75/0 rushing vs. Jacksonville in their preseason tilt back in week 3 - starter Earnest Graham only managed 5/7/0 rushing. Coach Jack Del Rio's rush D is hardnosed.

The Titans have a good looking stable of backs, but in this divisional grudge match look for both teams to bring their "A" game - this looks like a tough challenge for Tennessee's RBs starting off the season, folks.

Weather: LP Field expects a high of 84F on Sunday, with a 30% chance for rain. If the sky opens up during the contest, both teams could have trouble with footing and ball-handling.

TEN Injuries: none
JAX Injuries: none


Washington Redskins Rushing Offense at New York Giants Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

Clinton Portis (#7 among fantasy RBs in points per game last season) will lead the Redskins into regular season on Thursday night, backed up by Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright. Portis has been very active in OTAs, the weight room and training camp this year under the new coaching staff headlined by Jim Zorn - we'll see if his renewed commitment will produce top results starting on Thursday. During the 3rd exhibition game, Portis gained 8/32/0 rushing and 1/4/0 receiving before taking a seat on the bench - he appears fresh and ready to go on Thursday.

The Giants' defensive front suffered a shattering blow during the 3rd preseason game, when Osi Umenyiora went down to a season-ending non-contact knee injury - he joins Robert Henderson on IR to start out 2008. Mathias Kiwanuka steps into Umenyiora's spot - we'll see how well the front 7 adjusts soon. Last year, the Giants were 8th in the NFL vs. opposing rushers, averaging 97.7 yards allowed per game. They tied for 17th in the league with 12 rushing TDs given up. Against the Jets in week 3, the Giants only allowed 26/58/0 on the ground. They seem to be solid as of week 1.

Portis is a top flight running back, but he'll have to work hard in Giants stadium during the regular season kickoff spectacular on Thursday night.

Weather: The forecast for the NFL season opener on Thursday evening is calling for mild weather, with a low around 67F and a 10% chance for precipitation. Weather shouldn't be a big factor in this contest.

WAS Injuries: none
NYG Injuries: none


Houston Texans Rushing Offense at Pittsburgh Steelers Rushing Defense (Bad Matchup)

The Texans expect to use a running back by committee for week 1. "I think we very well could because you have to remember that Ahman hasn't played a lot. To all of a sudden go out there and start and think he is going to carry the ball 25 times this weekend, I think would be a mistake." coach Gary Kubiak said in explaining the plan for week 1. Green will share time with Steve Slaton (coming off a turf toe injury) and perhaps even Chris Taylor. Chris Brown is on IR due to his bad back and won't play this year. Green has struggled to stay healthy dating back to 2007 (he managed only 70/260/2 rushing and 14/123/0 receiving in limited action last year).

Pittsburgh's rush D was among the league's best units last year, with an average of 89.9 yards allowed per game (3rd in the league), while giving up only 6 rushing scores over 16 games (tied for 1st in the NFL). The first team defense didn't allow a first down during the first 4 drives by the Vikings in the week 3 exhibition game, which is a positive sign that the defense is back to top form entering 2008. The Vikings ended the day with 22/32/1 rushing (a 1.5 yards per carry average).

The Texans rushing attack is undermanned and in disarray as of week 1, while the Steelers look like their defense is fully up to speed entering the season - advantage, Pittsburgh (who have the Heinz field faithful at their back this week on top of their already formidable edge).

Weather: Heinz Field expects a high of 76F with a low of 59F on Sunday - with 0% chance for rain. The Steelers' fans should have a great day ahead for tailgating and watching their beloved team take the field on opening day.

HOU Injuries: none
PIT Injuries: none