Week 1 fantasy matchups

What to do with Arian Foster is just one of many key Week 1 decisions for fantasy owners. Thomas B. Shea/Icon SMI

Welcome back for another season of fantasy football advice from Football Outsiders. As you've probably noticed already, I'm not Bill Barnwell -- I don't even play him on television. Because we're different people, then, some things about this weekly feature will stay the same, but some are going to change. From your perspective, what matters is that the information contained herein helps you win at fantasy football, so I'm confident the difference in aesthetics will fade over time as long as I do my job.

At Football Outsiders, we have a soft spot in our collective heart for the statistical analysis of football. However, we also take pride in knowing when to rely on such analyses, and when not to. For example, given the lack of statistics for individual offensive linemen, we rely much more on video analysis when making evaluative statements about them. Another example is that, given the multitude of interactions between players in the ultimate team sport, we try not to assign too much credit or blame to a single player on a single play.

Relating this idea to fantasy football, Week 1 is exactly the type of situation in which statistical analyses are just as likely to be fool's gold as Fort Knox. To illustrate why, let's take a look at the regression-based factors that have been used here to great success, and players you should start -- and avoid -- this week.

1. Opposing defense

The statistical implications here are ironclad. Quarterbacks and running backs lose around 30 percent of their fantasy value when facing elite defenses, wide receivers lose about 20 percent and tight ends lose about 10 percent. Furthermore, these effects flip positive against the league's worst defenses. Therefore, in certain weeks, some mediocre players might be worth starting over elite ones given their respective matchups. In other weeks, you might win your fantasy game based almost entirely on the strength of the No. 1 fantasy quarterback going against the No. 32 NFL pass defense.

In Week 1, however, which are the elite defenses and which are the bottom dwellers? Even more fundamentally, which players are elite, and which are mediocre? Granted, we have an idea about these things. After all, it's unlikely the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets will field bad pass defenses this season. The problem here is that you don't need me to tell you to consider benching players against them. The goal here is to give you an edge on the borderline cases. And what do the statistics say about those borderline cases in Week 1? Well, not much, because there's no 2011 data yet.

In other words, if you were to put statistical uncertainty on a continuum, right now is when we we're most uncertain. This level of uncertainty is why Barnwell was absolutely correct to provide the following caveat in last year's Week 1 fantasy article:

    One final note of caution: As the season goes on, we know more and more about each team, so our projections of how we think they're playing or going to play are filled in more and more by concrete data. As a result, these projections tend to get more accurate as the season goes along.