(Sept. 5, 2001) — It doesn't matter if you're playing in the NFL or in a fantasy football league — it's critical to start the season on a positive note. It's no coincidence that nine of the 12 playoff teams from last season won their regular-season opener.
In fact, since the advent of the 16-game schedule in 1978, 169 of the 314 opening-game winners went to the playoffs. Of the 314 opening-game losers, only 71 made it to the postseason.
The 70 Super Bowl participants have a combined opening-day record of 61-7-2.
The Dallas Cowboys hold the record for most consecutive opening-game wins with 17 (1965-81). It's no surprise they reached the playoffs 16 of those 17 seasons.
We'll detail some of the fantasy matchups that can help your team get off on the right foot this season. First, here's a quick — but important — look at some injuries you should be aware of heading into Week 1:
Dolphins kicker Olindo Mare has "plantar fasciitis." It won't keep him out of action this week, but it remains to be seen what kind of affect it'll have on his performance.
Both of Seattle's starting cornerbacks, Shawn Springs and Willie Williams, are out this week.
Eagles starting center Bubba Miller is out for the season. The team just signed veteran Jim Pyne, but Miller's loss may affect the running game until his replacement gets more reps.
For those of you who think it's worth a risk to pick up Terry Glenn in case the troubled receiver gets cut by the Patriots and picked up by another NFL team, forget it. Under the Patriots' designation for Glenn, he is not eligible to play for any team this season.
This isn't an injury note, but just a bit of advice: Two receivers who looked particularly good in practice this summer are Isaac Bruce of the Rams and Reidel Anthony of the Bucs.
Now, here's a look at the matchups we like for Week 1:
Saints Defense vs. Buffalo: The Bills don't have a great offensive line, and their QB, Rob Johnson, is notorious for holding onto the football a little too long. If you're concerned about the fact that New Orleans gave up a dozen or so big plays during the preseason, don't be. Saints coach Jim Haslett historically does not show anything in the preseason. He'll throw plenty of blitzes at the Bills, who will have a hard time moving the football.
Buccaneers Defense vs. Dallas: Any time you have a rookie quarterback starting, you can expect the completion percentage to be low and the interception total to be high. In this case, Quincy Carter will be facing a Tampa Bay defensive line that produced 43.5 sacks last season. Warren Sapp and company will be anxiously awaiting. Also, don't be concerned about the hot weather, because the Bucs have a solid group of backups that will help keep their starters fresh.
Ravens Defense vs. Chicago: I don't like the Baltimore defense this week as much as I like the Saints and Bucs, but Chicago will have a hard time running the football here.
Broncos WRs Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey vs. N.Y. Giants: These two should have big games here against the Giants, who do not play very well on the road.
Saints QB Aaron Brooks vs. Buffalo: Keep an eye on Brooks. Not only does he have great ability both throwing and running, but he has plenty of weapons at his disposal.
Colts RB Edgerrin James vs. N.Y. Jets: If you've got James, chances are you're starting him every week, but here are two extra reasons to do so this week: The Jets ranked 23rd against the run last year, and their best run-stopper, NT Jason Ferguson, is out for the year. Also, Colts QB Peyton Manning was bothered in training camp with minor knee and ankle injuries, not to mention a couple of eye infections. Manning will start, but don't be surprised to see the Colts protect their quarterback this week by relying more heavily on James.
Packers WRs vs. Detroit: The Lions defense gets a boost with the return of CB Bryant Westbrook, who suffered an Achilles' injury last season, but it'll take him a while before he recaptures his previous playing form. The Green Bay receivers match up well here.
Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez vs. Oakland: Gonzalez always seems to play at his best against the Raiders. Last season, he had 16 catches for 234 yards and one touchdown against Oakland. Over the last two seasons against them, he's had 25 catches for 380 yards and three scores, including a 73-yarder.
Steelers RB Jerome Bettis vs. Jacksonville: Pittsburgh ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing last year. The Jaguars were 11th in run defense, but have lost key players such as Tony Brackens to injury. I'd like Bettis even more if this game were a 4 p.m. start instead of 1 p.m. If it's very hot in Jacksonville, Bettis might not get as many carries as he would on a mild day.