A lot of top-10 quarterbacks have great matchups right off the bat. Aaron Rodgers should continue to pick apart the Bears, and Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger figure to exchange touchdown passes against weak defensive backfields.
But there are two non-top-10 quarterbacks who could outdo them all: Carson Palmer against the Saints and Sam Bradford against the Falcons.
Palmer is back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that ended his 2014 season in Week 10. He should pick up right where he left off, taking shots downfield at the behest of Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. In the six games he played last season, Palmer averaged 16.83 standard-scoring points. That would’ve ranked seventh had he maintained that pace for a full year.
He opens against a Saints defense with potentially crippling injuries in the secondary. The unit will be without top cornerback Keenan Lewis (hip) and likely safety Jairus Byrd (knee). Cornerback Brandon Browner is back from a leg injury, but the Saints’ depth will be tested. Palmer could have his full complement of receivers back, too. Michael Floyd (dislocated fingers) has yet to be ruled out.
Bradford is off to a good start if for no other reason than he’s still standing, but he also has played well. In the Eagles’ third preseason game, he completed all 10 of his passes for 121 yards and three touchdowns. That shows what he’s capable of with coach Chip Kelly.
Bradford might have a repeat performance against the Falcons, who last season allowed the most passing yards (279.9 per game) and tied for the second-fewest sacks (22) in the league. The unit has made some progress since, but it still has a ways to go.
Other favorable matchups:
RB Jonathan Stewart vs. Jaguars
He hasn’t played a full season since 2011, so concerns about his health remain. But he finished strong last season and had his most rushing yards (809) since 2009. Stewart begins this season as the Panthers’ feature back, and he starts against a Jaguars defense that’s missing two starting defensive linemen and ranked 27th against the run last year.
WR Jarvis Landry vs. Redskins
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has a revamped receiving corps, but Landry returns after leading the team with 84 receptions last season. That familiarity could prove profitable against the Redskins, who have revamped their defense after it allowed the most touchdown passes (35) and tied for the second-fewest interceptions (seven).
TE Heath Miller vs. Patriots
The Steelers will be without running back Le’Veon Bell (83 receptions last season) and wide receiver Martavis Bryant. That should send more targets to Miller, who quietly finished third on the team with 66 catches last season. He could exploit a Patriots defense that allowed the third-most yards to tight ends last year.
RB Christine Michael, Cowboys
He never passed No. 2 back Robert Turbin with the Seahawks, and he’s way down the Cowboys’ depth chart, but the 2013 second-round pick is worth stashing. Joseph Randle has had some odd off-the-field issues, and Darren McFadden is an injury waiting to happen. If Michael gets a shot behind that offensive line, he might show something.
RB Bishop Sankey, Titans
Don’t drop him yet, but be aware that he has legitimate competition in Terrance West, who led the Browns in rushing last season. Granted, that’s not saying a whole lot, but West is bigger than Sankey, and he might be better. On the other hand, with another bruiser, Antonio Andrews, and pass-catching back Dexter McCluster on the roster, this looks like a situation to avoid altogether.
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