Red Zone

Who to start, who to bench in first week of fantasy football

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. The Associated Press

Wondering whether or not to start Drew Brees and AJ Green, or to bench Geno Smith and Jason Avant? The network bozos specialize in that kind of advice. If you’re looking for help with your real starting lineup conundrums, read on.

Here are my picks to roll, and get rolled, in week one of the 2014 season.

Watch ’em roll

Jay Cutler, QB, Bears vs. Bills. With an explosive array of weapons at his disposal, and a porous secondary in his sights, Cutler should get his season off to a rousing start on Sunday. Just don’t force it, Jay. You don’t need to.

Frank Gore, RB, 49ers at Cowboys. One of the easiest decisions you can make all season is to start your players against Dallas’ historically inept defense. The only worry with Gore is that he’ll get winded from all the sprinting he’ll be doing.

C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills at Bears. Buffalo’s passing game is still a work in progress, but we know they can run. Spiller and Fred Jackson will lead the way against a Chicago run defense that was as bad as they come in 2013. As long as this game doesn’t get away from the Bills early, their backfield duo should have a field day.

Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts at Broncos. No longer a no-brainer start, Wayne should enjoy his return to action against Denver’s suspect secondary. With Andrew Luck attempting to match wits, and TD passes, with his predecessor, the veteran wideout is in line for double-digit targets.

Riley Cooper, WR, Eagles vs. Jaguars. Chip Kelly will tune up his offense against one of the NFL’s weakest pass defenses, and Cooper will be one of many beneficiaries. Look for Nick Foles to pick his spots in the passing game, with his No. 2 wideout benefitting from lax coverage.

More thumbs up (excluding the no-brainers): QBs Nick Foles, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers; RBs Reggie Bush, Giovani Bernard, Fred Jackson, Shane Vereen, Chris Johnson, Ben Tate, Mark Ingram; WRs Emmanuel Sanders, Marques Colston, Jeremy Maclin, Anquan Boldin, Pierre Garcon, Terrance Williams, Brian Hartline, Julian Edelman.

Roll ’em back

Tom Brady, QB, Patriots at Dolphins. In his last three outings against the Dolphins, Brady has exceeded 300 passing yards just once, and thrown only four TDs vs. three INTs. Though a calf issue that arose this week won’t cost him the start, it could knock him off his stride. And Rob Gronkowski will likely be a game-time call. There are safer bets out there.

Bishop Sankey, RB, Titans at Chiefs. It’s just too soon. Shonn Greene is the starter and Sankey will be eased into the rotation early in the season. Kansas City’s run defense gives up yards but gets stingy near the goal line. Give the rookie time and he may reward you down the road.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Jaguars at Eagles. His best chance to produce will be on a goal-line plunge because Jacksonville will likely have to abandon the run early in this contest. Philly’s run defense is pretty salty.

Victor Cruz, WR, Giants at Lions. Eli Manning has been downright awful throughout the preseason, and now he’ll be facing Ndamukong Suh and friends with a depleted offensive line. Cruz has regressed over the last couple of years, and this is not likely to be the week he turns it around.

Mike Wallace, WR, Dolphins vs. Patriots. He and Ryan Tannehill remain as out of sync as ever entering the regular season. And while Miami tends to give New England fits, Wallace won’t be the one advancing the ball.

More thumbs down: QBs Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Robert Griffin III; RBs Doug Martin, Trent Richardson, Ryan Mathews, Rashad Jennings, Lamar Miller, Bernard Pierce, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, Steven Ridley; WRs Golden Tate, Cordarrelle Patterson, Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin,Danny Amendola, Torrey Smith, Reuben Randle, Mike Evans, Cecil Shorts, all Raiders receivers.

Taking a flier

Cody Latimer, WR, Broncos vs. Colts. Even with Wes Welker serving his suspension and Emmanuel Sanders still working through a quadriceps injury, Peyton Manning won’t just go conservative against his old team. Latimer has been very impressive throughout the preseason and is in line for plenty of snaps Sunday night. Don’t be surprised if Manning makes the rookie a star under the primetime lights.

Don’t be the bonehead who …

Fails to track the inactive reports prior to the games. Several key players — including Cam Newton, Cecil Shorts and Gronkowski — are banged up heading into the opener and could be sidelined.

Ladd Biro was named Football Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association for two consecutive years (2010, 2011). He was a finalist again in 2013. Follow all his advice daily at the Fantasy Fools blog (, on Facebook and via Twitter (@ladd_biro).