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Fantasy sports: Sit/start advice for NFL kickoff between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos

Fantasy sports: Sit/start advice for NFL kickoff between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos
Wide receiver Torrey Smith tries to elude the tackle of Champ Bailey in the Ravens' Dec. 16, 2012 loss to the Denver Broncos in Baltimore. Smith is a strong fantasy start in tonight's game against the Broncos, who will likely be without Bailey. (Carroll County Times)

The NFL and, therefore, fantasy football, begin anew tonight when the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens travel to face the Denver Broncos. While there are some obvious fantasy studs participating in this one -- guys like Ray Rice, Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas who should never be on your bench -- there is also plenty of potential for some other players to have big games. Here is a look at who to sit and who to start in tonight's NFL kickoff.

Start
Joe Flacco -- I want to be clear on something before you rush to your team and bench Aaron Rodgers for Joe Flacco. Don't do it. In fact, there are at least 10-14 guys I'm starting before Flacco this week. However, if you waited on a quarterback and ended up with a combination of Flacco and, say, Sam Bradford or Jay Cutler. I think Flacco is a better start. He's a must-start in a two quarterback league. The Broncos will likely be without cornerback Champ Bailey (and even if he does play, he'll be playing hurt) and linebacker Von Miller, and Elvis Dumervil plays for Flacco's team now. He shouldn't be under a ton of pressure and doesn't have to contend with Denver's best cover corner. He should put up about 250 passing yards and a couple of touchdowns.
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Torrey Smith -- There are a lot of mixed feelings on Torrey Smith in the fantasy community. The former Maryland Terp is entering his all-important third season, typically the time a wide receiver breaks out. And you could argue that Smith has already broken out in some ways. He enters this game as Joe Flacco's clear number one option. As previously mentioned, Bailey is likely out for this game, meaning Smith will be matched up with either Chris Harris or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, both of whom he should be able to handle. Remember, Smith had a big game (3 catches, 98 yards, 2 touchdowns) in the playoffs last year even with Bailey covering him even with Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta eating up targets. He's a must-start as a WR3 and a good upside play and a strong WR2 candidate this week in all formats.
Wes Welker -- Manning's new slot machine is also causing a lot of unrest in the fantasy industry, but I think he's going to be targeted early and often, and in a points-per-reception (PPR) league, he's a borderline WR1. In a standard league, however, he'll be closer to a low-end WR2 or WR3, with under 100 yards and not likely to find the end zone.
Eric Decker -- Call Decker the anti-Welker. If you're in a standard league, I think he's the other Broncos receiver to own (Demaryius Thomas is a stud in all formats). Decker won't see the high volume of targets, which hurts his value in a PPR, but he should get a lot of end zone looks. He did have a nice game against Baltimore in the playoffs though with a team highs in targets (10), catches (6) and yards (84), just keep in mind those were pre-Welker numbers.
Baltimore defense -- I'd be wary of starting any defense going against Peyton Manning -- especially in the regular season, when he's much less mistake prone -- but the Ravens have one could be the most dominant sack duo in the league in Terrell Suggs and Dumervil, the latter of whom played with the Broncos previously and might have a little revenge on his mind for stringing him along during contract negotiations and the now infamous fax machine incident this offseason. The Ravens are going to give up a lot of points, but they could make up for it with some splash plays.

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Sit
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Any Broncos running back -- Until we get a few games into the season and figure out how Denver is going to divide the backfield work between listed starter Ronnie Hillman, rookie Monte Ball and uninspiring veteran Knowshon Moreno, I'm avoiding this situation like the plague and you should too. This could be a full-blown committee all season that never produces a reliably consistent fantasy starter.
Ed Dickson/Dallas Clark -- I don't know which Ravens tight end will get the majority of the snaps this week (probably Dickson) but I know it's not Dennis Pitta. And that means I'm avoiding the situation all together for now until (if/when?) one of them develops some chemistry with Flacco. Expect a lot of those intermediary throws that went to Pitta last year to go to Ray Rice, who you should already be starting if you have him anyway.
Bernard Pierce -- Rice's back-up got a lot of hype in the preseason, but I'm not buying until I get a better feel for what his workload will be. Rice is the team's best player on offense, and against a good team like the Broncos, I expect them to keep their best player on the field as often as possible. Wait until next week against the Browns to take a shot on Pierce, and even then, only if you're desperate.
Denver defense -- One of the top units in fantasy football a year ago, without Miller and Dumervil, its value is hampered significantly. Flacco doesn't take a lot of sacks anyway and isn't particularly interception prone, so don't expect a lot of big plays out of this unit in week 1.

Taking a flier
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Jacoby Jones -- Depending on your situation this week, Jones makes an intriguing flex play. After all, he scorched the Broncos for a game-turning 70-yard TD catch last year. But his only other catch in those six quarters of football was a 7-yarder. Jones is going to be a boom-or-bust player every week. Stay away in a PPR, but I'd start him as a WR3 if you're desperate and as an upside play in a 3-wide receiver and a flex league in a standard league or a league the rewards big plays.

Keep an eye on
Julius Thomas -- The third-year man from Portland State didn't play a down of organized football until his fifth year at college -- he was a 6-5 forward on the basketball team -- but has become the starting tight end for a Peyton Manning-quarterbacked team. How many times have we seen this whole college basketball player to NFL stud at tight end formula work? Tony Gonzales, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and maybe Jordan Cameron this year. Yeah, this is a dude I'm keeping an eye on and stashing on my bench in deeper leagues.

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