Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
by Jason Beattie
It's hard to do a preview of the bad players to watch too early in the preseason. The really stand-out losers tend to, well... get cut. But with final rosters having now basically been decided, we can get rolling with ones to watch for the 2004 season. Here are some tips on the best players to take whether you are picking a team for the Open Loser League Challenge or just doing your own weekly-draft Loser League with friends.
Good loser quarterbacks seem to come in three categories:
1. There's the first-time starters, who through rookie mistakes and inexperience, can have spectacular meltdowns...Sacks and fumbles galore add up to low fantasy scores for your team. But beware, as these are the guys who are sporadic enough that they may just have a 300 yard 4 TD game the week inbetween two stinkers. Possibilities include Tim Rattay, Rex Grossman, Josh McCown and Carson Palmer.
2. Then there's the immobile, 300-year-old veterans. They make fewer mistakes, but put up more consistent mediocre stats, and will hardly ever burn you with a rushing TD. Hello, you must be Drew Bledsoe. The Giants and Cowboys currently each have a one-two rookie-old guy punch... Kurt "6 fumbles a game" Warner and Methuselah Testaverde both have yung'uns breathing down their necks, but will likely stink it up as long as they are starting.
3. Finally, you have the poor guy who has nobody to throw to... so he just hands off the ball to his stud RB. Welcome to the Loser League, Kyle Boller and Drew Brees! With no Ricky Williams at his side, Jay Fiedler was thrown out of this club, but with Miami in shambles, he could nonetheless be the brightest Loser quarterback this year.
This is where stubborn former fantasy studs, the ones who refuse to retire, come to die. Stud RBs can have a pretty short shelf life; Anyone still plugging along after age 30 becomes a great candidate for the Loser League. They still get the carries, but are no longer a threat to tear out long runs or have 3 touchdown games. Our two categories:
1. "Wheels Already Off - Driving in Breakdown Lane." Everyone knows these guys should have hung 'em up already, but they keep truckin' along. We watch them gain 50 or 60 yards with no TDs each Sunday. The only problem with picking them in the Loser League is that they may not get enough carries each week to not pull a penalty...It's only a matter of time until they are on the bench more than on the field. Backs in this category include Curtis Martin (31), Jerome Bettis (32), Eddie George (pushin' 31) and Emmitt Smith (geologically estimated age of 35).
2. "Warning, wheels may fly off any moment... please buckle up when we plummet over the cliff." These guys have a lot of miles on 'em and while considered talented, are no longer as elite as they once were. Will this be the year of their downfall? Candidates include Tiki Barber (29), Corey Dillon (30), Marshall Faulk (31), and Charlie Garner (32).
3. A special 2004 bonus category of potential losers: "Dudes named Jones." These include unproven rookies Kevin Jones and Julius Jones and proven crap-back Thomas Jones. Also, anyone who claims the starting job in Miami, whether he's named Jones or not, will be a big loser stud if he gets enough carries each week. (Nobody seems to want this job... Hey, would you? Still accepting applications! No prior experience or references needed.)
Trying to find a wideout who performs at a consistently mediocre level can be quite a challenge, as their week-to-week numbers vary greatly. Each season, the number of different wideouts drafted in our Loser League is much higher than any other position. Some of last year's standouts were Dez White, Peerless Price and Jerry Rice. It's hard to tell who the studs will be this year but a good bet is to scour the teams with no semblance of a passing game... So San Diego, Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago and Cleveland will likely be goldmines of mediocrity this season.
"Draft Neil Rackers." That used to be completely sound advice, and it's still pretty accurate. Sure, he nailed four 40+ field goals in a preseason game in Denver last week, but he doesn't play any more games at a mile high all year. So until Arizona becomes an offensive juggernaut, he's still a pretty good loser. But there are a number of other kickers who will be even better picks this year. It pretty much comes down to which teams never score any points, as well as which kickers are precariously close to losing their jobs due to absolute suckitude. So keep your radars tuned to the Giants' Todd France, Minnesota's Brett Conway, San Francisco's Todd Peterson, and rookie kickers Nate Kaeding (San Diego) and Josh Scobee (Jacksonville).
Good luck in the Outsiders Loser League contest, and later this season I'll be back with more made-up analysis. I'm like the "Daily Show" of Football Outsiders.