Matchups often key to lineup decisions

Week 1 of fantasy football season is finally upon us. Practically every top fantasy player drafted is healthy, making it easy to select your initial lineup.

However, once you start getting into players drafted from the seventh selection on down, it’s a good idea to start looking at matchups and do a little handicapping, Las Vegas-style.

One of the best ways to save time sifting through statistics for each team is to look at the number oddsmakers have placed on game totals. Totals are based on a series of ratings that are relative to how each team should score against each other. If you’re looking for a final flex player or third wide receiver to start, you might be better served scrapping where you drafted a player and checking the matchups instead.

Take Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter of the Texans, for example. Walter is a possession receiver who starts next to superstar Andre Johnson, while Jones is the third option with much deeper routes. On many plays all three will be on the field at the same time; coach Gary Kubiak said he considers Jones and Walter co-starters. Both were very late draft picks despite being second options in the league’s top passing attack in 2009.

This week the Texans have a critical divisional game against the Colts that will set the tone for their season. Houston was swept last season in two entertaining games decided in the fourth quarter, which essentially was the difference in the Texans not making the playoffs. Las Vegas sports books have posted a total of 47 for game — the highest total on the board Sunday — suggesting the offenses will stage a shootout.

The lowest total of the week is for Monday night’s Ravens-Jets game, with a number of 35½ posted as two hard-hitting, stingy defenses square off. In this game there will be four wideouts who were drafted before the Texans’ Jones and Walter. While you’re obligated to play the Ravens’ Anquan Boldin just because he was probably your second- or third-round pick, it would appear a poor move to use Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards or Derrick Mason — not even including new Ravens addition T.J. Houshmanzadeh — over the Texans’ receivers simply because they were drafted higher.

The Ravens’ secondary is thin and has the possibility of being exposed, but it’s likely the game will be won on the ground by Shonn Greene, LaDainian Tomlinson, Ray Rice and turnovers. There appears to be a much better opportunity of gaining points from a high-scoring affair in Houston than going against either top-notch defense.

■ BE WARY OF MORENO, BUSH — The Broncos are expected to play Knowshon Moreno at Jacksonville after he missed the preseason due to a hamstring injury, but expect his play to be minimal while Denver attempts to get him into game shape. Most have drafted Moreno as a No. 2 back, but this week it would be wise to consider elevating your third or fourth back over him.

On the same note, many fantasy owners are counting on the Raiders’ Michael Bush to be a No. 3 back, but because of a broken thumb and limited practice this week, it’s best to leave him out of your starting lineup.

■ KEEP SCOUTING — You might like your roster now and feel that you’re OK until the byes begin in Week 4, but it doesn’t hurt to tag a few undrafted players early who could make you cut loose one of your later draft picks after watching them in Week 1.

Josh Cribbs is a player to pay close attention. The special teams star will be incorporated more into the Browns’ offense this year. Jake Delhomme has had the offense looking pretty crisp during the preseason and part of the reason was finding Cribbs, who has flourished in his new role.

■ BACKUP BACKS — Injuries are part of the game, especially at running back where only a few of the greats have been immune to constant pounding over many seasons. Surprisingly, many top backs didn’t have their backups drafted as well to protect the early investment. There’s nothing worse than seeing your franchise player go down and another fantasy owner scoop up the backup off the waiver wire.

The Titans’ Javon Ringer, Vikings’ Toby Gerhart, 49ers’ Anthony Dixon and Bengals’ Bernard Scott all went undrafted, but it’s a good probability one or two of them will play a major role at some point this season.

Micah Roberts has been making player proposition odds for Las Vegas sports books since 1995 and currently covers all sports from a betting perspective for various publications. Go to for a complete list of Roberts’ fantasy football player rankings. Roberts can be reached at

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