Denver: great team, or the greatest team? Would you be satisfied with "one of the ten greatest teams?" Plus: hard times in the NFC South, where defense goes to die.
05 Jan 2005
Time for the second annual Football Outsiders Playoff Fantasy Draft and Roundtable. We did this last year and it was a lot of fun, so we're back for more. Hopefully this is up early enough to help give ideas to some of our readers who are doing their own playoff fantasy drafts later in the week.
While this is our second year doing a playoff draft, however, the cast is much different. Last year, we did this draft because Scramble for the Ball was on vacation for a week. This year, the Scramble guys aren't on vacation, so they're here taking part in the draft. Like last year, this draft will replace Scramble for the week, so down at the bottom of the page you'll find Al and Vivek's Best Bets. We also have ex-Scramble writer Ian Dembsky as well as Russell Levine and myself. For our sixth player, we bring you a special guest star: Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus. Will is best known as BP's injury analyst, so we get to ask him about a few major injuries before we start drafting. He's also a sports radio host AND a resident of Indianapolis, balancing our mix of New Yorkers, New Englanders, and bitter Tampa fans from Jersey.
The playoff fantasy game works like this: Each player drafts a QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, TE, K, and a defense. You get the fantasy points for your guys, but if they go out (either for injury or because their team loses) you do not get to replace them. So you need to balance fantasy quality (Randy Moss!) with teams likely to lose in the first round (Randy Moss!). Total score for the entire playoffs wins.
Our fantasy scoring is as follows:
The draft is a snake draft. Decided randomly, the order is: Ian, Russell, Vivek, Aaron, Al, and Will. Oddly, this is the second straight year where the "special guest" went last, go figure. I swear, totally random. Each of us has nine picks but the last two picks are done together in round eight to save time.
Aaron: Before we get to drafting, let's get Will's opinion on some major injuries that have hit the top two seeds in each conference, starting with the biggest injury of the season. If the Eagles make it to the Super Bowl, what is the likelihood that Terrell Owens will be able to play and how good should we expect him to be with a still-healing fractured right ankle?
Will: Very low. I'll make my first of many baseball analogies -- Curt Schilling. This ISN'T that kind of injury. T.O. can't just "suck it up" and play -- that ankle won't support him and rushing back could put him in danger of a significantly greater injury. T.O. and the Eagles will have to assess the risk/reward of putting him back out there if it gets to that, but I don't think it will. I'm not sure if this is a year where there's a week between the Conference finals and Super Bowl; if there is that extra, I'd give T.O. a 10-20% shot at best.
Aaron: Bill Belichick would sooner eat broken glass than be honest with anyone about a player injury, so it is difficult to tell you exactly what is up with Richard Seymour or Ty Law. Some reports say Seymour has a sprained MCL. Others say that with rest, he should be ready to go for the first playoff game on Jan 15 or 16. I have no idea if you can tell us anything without better information. Ty Law, meanwhile, broke a bone in his left foot October 31. Is 10 weeks enough time for him to be fully recovered, or should we expect him to not quite be 100% assuming he plays in the playoffs?
Will: Law would really surprise me if he could get back in there, but medical technology is getting really good with broken bones -- and this applies to Owens too. Between bone stimulators, walking casts, better braces, and drugs like Forteo, we may have to readjust the normal recovery time for fractures in the coming couple years. What's the diff between Law and Owens? Weight bearing.
As for Seymour, the MCL makes it difficult to cut. It's all about explosions and quick direction changes. The ligament is only stressed with lateral motion, or technically, when the knee joint tries to bend "in", a direction it should not go. So, his biggest worry is getting hit on the outside of his knee OR moving to laterally the opposite way of his knee (since it is his left knee, it is stressed when moving right) and tries to stop. Pushing forward, at least, should be fine, but don't expect him to catch many runners on the outside.
Aaron: I will note that the Boston media seems to think Law will be back, although there is some question about whether he might only play in the nickel package because he won't be back to full health.
Two questions on injured Falcons. Vick should be fine for the playoffs, but what about T.J. Duckett, who had arthroscopic surgery on December 14 to repair torn cartilage in his left knee? And tight end Alge Crumpler had a slight tear of his posterior cruciate ligament on December 18. Will this affect him at all? How many cruciate ligaments are down there, anyway, and what's the darn difference?
Will: Two weeks to return from a torn meniscus (cartilage). Heck, Mary Lou Retton came back from a knee scope in 18 days and that was 1984. Guys literally walk off the operating table these days. In ten years, they'll probably do them at halftime -- and I'm not sure if I'm kidding.
There are four cruciate (cross-shaped) ligaments in the knee (anterior, posterior, medial and lateral). Basically, they serve to maintain the relationship between the bones (femur or upper leg, and the tibia and fibula of the lower leg) stable in the four main directions. Go diagonally and they share the load. Here's a good link if you really want to get into the anatomy ... and to look at MRI's and see if you can see the damage.
Aaron: Ben Roethlisberger, bruised ribs. Still painful after three weeks, or nothing to be concerned about?
Will: The bye is HUGE here. Big Ben, as far as I can tell, has never really been injured, so we don't know his pain tolerance. This is an injury he could gut through. The biggest question is not the pain or keeping pass-rushers away, but whether the rib injury hurts him when he throws. I think he'll be back; his effectiveness? Not sure.
Aaron: Finally, although he couldn't participate in this draft, I have an injury question from our resident Steelers fan, Ryan Wilson: "In the Pats/Steelers game, Duce Staley suffered a hamstring injury. A few weeks later he admitted he suffered the injury at the bottom of a pile when somebody punched him in the hammy. He'd never had trouble with his hamstring before and I wonder what lasting effects he might expect after
Rodney Harrison some unknown Patriot punched him in the back of the leg."
Will: It's probably just a bruise, so the effects are pretty limited. Perhaps it changed his gait just enough to cause some problems... but that would be a first for me on the intentionally inflicted hammy problems. Maybe Ken Griffey's going to use that explanation this year.
Thanks again for having me for this draft. It's a no lose situation. If I win, I rule. If I lose, I'm the baseball guy.
Aaron: Glad to have you here, Will. Just another advantage of our new relationship with BP. Ian's up first.
Ian: Peyton Manning. Does this mean I think the Colts will beat the Patriots? Not necessarily. But I recall that last season Peyton Manning was #1 in total fantasy points in the playoffs despite not even making the Super Bowl -- thanks, in part, to tearing Denver a new one. Well, sure enough he's pulled some friendly faces in the first round, and you'd better believe he's gonna tear them apart. I'll take the one huge game in Indy, then hope for an upset in New England. After all, the Colts were my preseason pick for Super Bowl champions.
Russell: Brett Favre. I'm with Ian. I think there's a major dropoff after Peyton in this draft. I'm going to risk that Favre can put up big numbers in at least two games and maybe three. Oh, and hopefully avoid those gift-wrapped interceptions he seems so fond of in the playoffs the last couple of years.
Vivek: Donovan McNabb. I'll make it three quarterbacks in a row to start this off. Even without Terrell Owens, Phily still has a better team than last year, and the NFC is markedly weaker. I'm going with the assumption that McNabb gets three games, even with a first round bye.
Aaron: Don't running backs usually go first in fantasy? At least, unlike last year, most of the top teams this year aren't using committee setups. There's a big part of me that wants to be a homer and take Corey Dillon. I do think the Pats will be playing more than a single game. But there are two NFC running backs that have a better chance of playing two or three games: Ahman Green and Brian Westbrook. Last year I took Green in the first round because of the small chance that he might play four games. This year I will again take Ahman Green in the first round because of the small chance that he might play four games.
Will: As an outsider (as opposed to an Outsider), it strikes me that most of these teams are in because of "system" rather than "stars." Indy is an obvious exception. Am I wrong here?
Ian: Favre? McNabb? Thanks for playing! Ok, so it's not like you both blew it entirely, but I don't like those picks.
Why would anyone would take Brett Favre ahead of Ahman Green? Green's been a much bigger fantasy factor this season than Brett (in terms of being better than others at his position), and you can essentially draft Favre by taking Javon Walker in the second round.
Viv, I think you underestimate how much worse off the Eagles will be without Owens. Terrell had tremendous numbers all season, but possibly more important is the way he changes how a defense plays. Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston can be vastly nullified with jamming at the line, and teams can reliably play man defense against them so that Westbrook, L.J. Smith, and McNabb can't get loose in the open. I think a running back with a good chance of playing games would have been a much better choice here.
Russell: Didn't you get the memo? Fox is doing the Super Bowl this year, and I have it on good information that John Madden would very much like for Favre and the Packers to be there.
Actually, I considered taking Green just based on RBs being more valuable, but if the Packers get three, and maybe four games, I see them doing it on Favre's arm. And yes, Walker has been huge, but he also got dinged up in Week 17 and Driver has been a big part of the offense a few times in recent weeks. Plus, they open the postseason against Minnesota, so you can put Brett down for 250 yards and at least two TDs vs. that secondary.
Ian: What's funny is that even if we think Pittsburgh has the best chance of going to the big game, who would you draft from their team? Big Ben? Bettis/Staley? Ward? I can't remember the last Super Bowl favorite that was this unappetizing from a fantasy standpoint.
Aaron: Actually, I can. It was only one year ago, although Ian you weren't part of this draft directly because you were celebrating New Year's in Vegas and advising staff cartoonist Jason Beattie by cell phone. Nobody took any Patriots until I took Tom Brady with the tenth pick, Troy Brown went with the final pick of round three and Antowain Smith with the final pick of round four. The Steelers and the pre-Dillon Pats are very similar: QB doesn't put up huge numbers, a single receiver doesn't stand out in the pack, and they share carries between two backs. Last year I said "If we were drafting 8 defensive players and a team offense instead of the other way around, Seymour, Harrison, Law, and Bruschi would all be gone in the first 10 picks" and I think the same statement could be made this year, at least about about Farrior, Porter, and maybe Aaron Smith or Polamalu.
At least you like my Green pick.
As far as Will's comment, I think you are seeing things through the eyes of someone who works for a radio station in Indianapolis, so you hear a lot more about the AFC teams. And the top two AFC teams are known for defense and quarterbacks who don't take a lot of chances, and then down at the fourth seed you have San Diego and people aren't really comfortable thinking of Brees as a "star" although Tomlinson certainly qualifies as one, and with Denver you have the whole "running back system" thing. Over in the NFC, though, the defense-first teams are all sitting at home while all the big names are playing in the playoffs: McNabb, Favre, Vick, Culpepper, Moss, Green, Holt, Bruce, Bulger, Alexander, Hasselbeck, etc., plus T.O. if not for his injury.
Al: Is it my pick? Sorry if I'm holding things up, I was a bit confused. I thought the rookie was picking after me, but after looking at some of these early picks, I'm not so sure.
I'll take Edgerrin James. I have to disagree with Aaron, I don't think New England will play more than a single game. If Peyton and the Colts are ever going to win in Foxboro, it's going to happen this year with a wide receiver and Earthwind trying to cover Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley. That would mean three games for the Colts and three games for Edge. There are some other folks I considered here, but with the radio host from Indianapolis picking twice behind me, I didn't like my odds for James making it to me on the way back.
Will: I'm taking Shaun Alexander and Tom Brady. Alexander was a tough call over Tomlinson, but he'll face two weak run defenses (Rams, Eagles) while LT runs (literally) into the Jets and Steelers. Brady's likely to go against the Colts and the Patriots have just torn them a new one for about a decade. It's the old Bulls vs. Pistons or Cavs vs. Bulls -- they can't quite get over them. Vick was a big consideration, though I ended up with consistency over possible spectacular.
Al: I'll just go ahead and take LaDainian Tomlinson. According to my Big Board, all of the 3-game teams either have had their #1 RB taken or have questionable RB situations. LT2 should be a lock to get two games and is clearly the best RB still on the board. True, he'll face two pretty good defenses, but he should still be good for at least one TD a game.
I also considered taking a QB here, but with only Aaron needing one, and there being two QBs I wouldn't mind having still on the board, it can wait.
Aaron: OK, this is strange. My last pick, I was agonizing between Green, Dillon, and Westbrook, and took Green. Now we're back to me and both Dillon and Westbrook are still out there! On one hand, Westbrook has to be the focus of the Philadelphia offense now, and his rushing and receiving numbers are basically the equal of Dillon's rushing and receiving numbers because Dillon never catches the ball. On the other hand, I don't know, something about the Eagles is worrying me. Westbrook and McNabb will not have played for a month. As I discussed in the final weekly DVOA commentary of the season, the Eagles were really the only team to rest its starters and just completely fall apart. The fact that the Packers backups smashed Chicago, the Steelers backups beat Buffalo, the Chargers backups beat the Chiefs... Depth is an important part of a Super Bowl run, not just stars. It should seem like Westbrook has a better chance to play more games than Dillon does, but I'm less sure now than I was two weeks ago.
Al, I shied away from Edge because of Manning's prediliction towards throwing it in the red zone rather than giving him the ball. I think that makes the other running backs more valuable from a fantasy standpoint unless you absolutely believe the Colts are going all the way. Speaking of the Colts, Will, I guess I was wrong to peg you as a Colts homer! I was planning on taking Brady in round three since the nobody between this pick and my next pick needs a quarterback. So, knowing Brady is gone, the homer in me has to choose Corey Dillon over Westbrook. I'm going with the local media's belief that Ty Law will be in the New England secondary by next week, making a New England return to the Super Bowl far more likely.
Vivek: Brian Westbrook. All of my eggs in one basket so far. There aren't many full-time RBs who have a good shot of playing more than one game left. Maybe I'm subconsciously hoping that Murphy's Law kicks in and the Eagles are one and done.
Russell: I already have a QB, so can I take Vick as one of my running backs? Not allowed? Oh well, I'm going to hate myself for this pick, but I might hate myself more if I don't make it: I'll take Jerome Bettis. Wow, only the second round and things are already looking grim in the running back department.
Ian: People keep panicking as if there are no running backs left worth drafting. I don't see that to be the case.
I'll take Stephen Jackson and Warrick Dunn. In case you didn't notice, the Rams beat Seattle both times this season, and there's little reason to think they won't do it a third. With Marc Bulger at the helm they won a must-win game against a solid Jets team that also needed to win, while Seattle struggled to beat Matt Schaub and the Falcons. Sorry Marshall Faulk, you may be a paleontology buff, but you're no longer a fantasy football factor. And what's not to like about Warrick Dunn? In all likelihood, the Falcons will be hosting the Packers in week two of the playoffs. Many people seem to be writing off Vick and company and jumping on the Packers bandwagon, but not me. The Falcons play great defense at home, and the Packers never play great defense. The Falcons will use Warrick all over the field to run around that huge D-Line from Green Bay, and roll over the Packers.
Al: I like Dunn, I almost took him ahead of Tomlinson, but I figured two games worth of LT2 would be better than three games of Dunn. Even if the Falcons do well and decide to run the ball, Dunn is one of three options Atlanta has to move the ball on the ground.
Stephen Jackson, though, I don't get. You can't be confident that the Rams are going to win against Seattle on the road, even if they pulled out the miracle win earlier this year. The Rams have been awful on the road. The Seattle game was one of only two games they won away from home, the other being against the fearsome 49ers.
Even if they do make it past the Seahawks and get two games, Marshall Faulk is still there to take part of what few carries the Rams have. St. Louis ran the third fewest times per game in the NFL this season. If the Rams are going to go down, Martz will have them go down throwing the ball all over the field.
Ian: Hey, I'll be rooting for the Seahawks to win as much as anyone, I just don't think they've shown they can do it. How do you feel confident that a team that plays no defense and drops passes left and right will win in the playoffs? And Stephen Jackson has supplanted Faulk as the go-to guy. He's scored a touchdown each of the past two weeks, while compiling 228 total yards. I'll take those numbers for a couple of games.
Russell: Marvin Harrison. I don't see another back worthy of picking at this spot. Not with all those Indy wideouts out there. I'm tempted to go Reggie Wayne ahead of Marvin, but I will settle for the wiley veteran in the playoffs.
For what it's worth, the I think the Rams will probably win at Seattle.
Aaron: My gut feeling right now is that I have no idea who will in Seattle. My numbers say that Seattle is the better team, and of course St. Louis has to deal with the "dome team in cold weather" issue (current forecast: snow showers, high of 41) but the Seattle defense is currently held together with dental floss and I think the Rams are really in their heads. I mean, the entire season fell apart when they let the Rams beat them with that fourth quarter comeback.
Vivek: Reggie Wayne. "I'll take Reggie Wayne for 100 and a touchdown, Alex." Looking past the Broncos, Manning will pick apart the makeshift Patriots secondary. Go ahead Romeo Crennel, put Eugene Wilson on Reggie. I dare you.
Aaron: OK, that's two Colts receivers gone. Should I make it three? No, not yet. Instead, let's go with an NFC receiver. Not one from the top two teams, of course... I know we're going to eventually end up taking Pinkston and Price and Freddie Mitchell but it doesn't mean we are going to be happy about it. Man, those are teams with bad receivers. Moss is the best receiver left if I thought the Vikings had a chance of winning... outside... in the cold... against a team that beat them twice this year. Get real. Instead, we'll continue with Aaron's strange "the NFC is so bad that the #21 team in DVOA can upset everyone and make the Super Bowl" kick. Rock, chalk, J-Walk!
I now feel like I'm playing a game of chicken with Al to see who will take a quarterback first.
Al: Well, you'll have to wait at least one more round. I was hoping J-Walk would drop here. I'm also tempted to grab Stokley, but I don't want to throw all my eggs in the Colts' basket. I'll take Plaxico Burress. I should probably draft someone from the NFC at some point.
Will: This should be one of those picks that looks either brilliant or ridiculous -- Antonio Gates. He's what Marcus Pollard used to be. The work that Drew Brees did this season with Tom House (yes, the pitching guru) continues to go unnoticed and the Chargers won't be able to get value for Brees when they deal him to Miami in the off-season. Gates has had one of those big seasons that HAS to be a fluke, but I'm going to take the chance that the fluke goes a couple more weeks.
With the next pick, it gets a bit harder. I'm really close to making another oddball pick, but I need someone from the hometown team to root for, so I'll take Brandon Stokeley. Peyton's as likely to throw to him as anyone.
Take someone from the NFC? Egads, has it ever been THIS far out of balance in the Parity League?
Al: After the Brady pick, I didn't think you'd take a Colt, so I expected Stokley would still be there for me on the way back. Oh well. Since you started with Gates, I'll take another tight end and grab Alge Crumpler. By my calculations, there's a pretty big drop off here from Crumpler to the Colts tight ends and then to the rest of the dregs out there.
So, Aaron, it's your turn in our little game of QB chicken.
Aaron: Actually, it isn't my turn yet, since everyone except the two of us has a quarterback. I get to wait another round.
And I really like the Gates pick. In fact, I very nearly took him, and I thought I could wait and get him on the way back, but no dice. And then I was going to use this pick on Crumpler, but Al beat me to that too. I went back and checked last year's draft and the top tight ends went pretty early last year also, Jason took Tony Gonzalez in the fourth round and then I took Shannon Sharpe. (This was when we all thought the Broncos would beat the Colts, remember, since they had already done it once.) The moral of the story for all you readers who have your own playoff fantasy drafts later this week is to grab Gates and Crumpler early.
The thing about the NFC being so bad is that they still have to do the playoffs over there and somebody has to actually win those games and go to the Super Bowl. That means that the players will rack up stats that are just as good as the ones in the AFC -- in fact, maybe better, since the offenses are so much better than the defenses. While I think the two Eagles losses are more meaningful than people realize, they are still the number one seed, and there's a difference between "McNabb has no passing game without T.O." and "McNabb has no passing game without T.O. against the Seahawks/Rams/Packers/Vikings." Bring on ol' alligator arms himself, Todd Pinkston.
Tom House working with Brees, huh? I know that House always used to have his pitchers work out throwing a football so it is interesting to hear that he is actually working now with a quarterback. Does he work with a number of other football players to improve their throwing motions, or is Brees the first?
Will: Actually, House has been working with quarterbacks for years.
Vivek: I'm not so sure if TEs needed to go yet. You can probably get a touchdown or two (and multiple games) from Dallas Clark, Daniel Graham, L.J. Smith, or Bubba Franks.
Aside from his pick, I am disappointed in the lack of Ricky Williams jokes directed at me from Al.
Al: Don't jump the gun, Vivek. Since you drafted Ricky Williams in the fourth round in our keeper league this year after he announced his retirement and was touring southeast Asia, I was going to wait until you blew the fourth round pick of the playoff draft to make the joke. Now you've ruined it.
Crumpler's a clear step above all those TEs. Crumpler averaged over 8 points a game this year according to our scoring system. Wiggins was the only other TE to average over six points a game and I just can't see the Vikings getting out of Green Bay with a win. There are a bunch of mediocre WRs that will get three games, decent WRs that will play in two games, or top flight WRs that will get one game, so the WR I'll get on the way back won't be that much worse than the one I could have drafted with that pick.
Vivek: Hines Ward. With Big Ben seeing some tougher defenses, he should look for Ward with the short, quick routes.
I don't have any good stories to tell, other than the fact that I ate a Roethlis-Burger in Pennsylvania this weekend.
Russell: Back to me already. Man I hate my team. With the running backs getting thin already, it's time to take a risk. I think the Jets have a better chance against San Diego than any of the other road teams have of pulling an upset this weekend. Therefore, I'll take the NFL's rushing champ, Curtis Martin. Even if he only gives me a game, it could be 120 yards and two TDs. The Jets have handled San Diego pretty well the last couple times they went out there, which is an underrated factor. Plus, this team is used to playing postseason games on the road. I don't think they'll be intimidated against a team with no playoff experience whatsoever.
Ian: In playoff fantasy football, kickers are a much more valuable commodity than players at other positions. That is, the ones who are likely to play more games. The Steelers have a very good chance at going to the Super Bowl, so I'll take their kicker and the 8 points a game he gives them. If the Steelers do make it all the way, Jeff Reed will probably end up with more total points than a lot of the other players selected thus far. And though I think the Falcons have a good shot at beating the Packers, Peerless Price has to be the worst #1 wideout in football, so I'll take Donald Driver in case the Packers pull off an upset. If nothing else, Driver should be good for 15-20 points against the Vikings.
Russell: Of course, right after I sent out that last selection, I immediately realized how dumb it was to take a RB when Ian already had both of his. Can we just start over? Did I mention I won the Loser League? I think I'm better at drafting Jacksonville receivers than guys who are actually good.
On the same theory that his one game may at least be worth 15 points, I'll take Torry "Big Play" Holt over Randy Moss, since I give the Rams a much better shot of winning their wild-card game than the Vikes. Besides, Torry was looking awful suave on "Wheel of Fortune NFL Players Week" last night.
No, I don't have a life, but you knew that already. I was also fired up about the GMAC Bowl last week.
Vivek: What a selection of running backs left on the board. It's pretty much all running back by committee now. Both NFC Wild Card games are tossups, so I'll try to grab one of the remaining WRs that are left in later rounds.
I'll follow Ian's lead and grab another Kicker -- David Akers.
Aaron: I'm betting there are going to be some negative reader comments on this, but I'm going to continue the kicker run and solidify my homer credentials at the same time with this year's top fantasy kicker and the owner of three of the most clutch playoff kicks in NFL history: Adam Vinatieri.
That means that it is Al's turn to play quarterback chicken. For the edification of the readership I feel I should explain why I haven't taken a quarterback yet. Bulger would be a very good pick if I was convinced the Rams would beat the Seahawks, but I look at the way the Rams have gotten pasted in their last five road games and think otherwise. I like the idea of Brees, but I don't think he has a chance to play more than two games. That leaves Vick and Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger would be the steadier choice. He's more consistent from game to game, and has a better chance of going all the way. But Vick will be facing far easier defenses, and of course drafting him is like getting a running back and a quarterback in one. A bad quarterback, but still, he's a real high risk-high reward kind of guy, and it isn't like Big Ben goes for 250 yards and 3 TDs a game. I can't decide between these two players so I figure I'll let Al make the choice for me. Or, Al can pass them both up twice and then it will be my turn to play quarterback chicken again.
By the way, the winner of these playoff drafts is usually the person who catches a big player on a 5th-6th seed that gets drafted late, and because of an upset plays more than one game. But the only first round game that most people here seem to see as a toss-up is Seattle-St. Louis, and the only player from the other road first round teams to be taken so far is Martin. Does anyone want to make a case for Minnesota, New York, or Denver?
Here's a review of the teams halfway through the draft:
Al: Oh, what the hell, let's put the Falcons in the Super Bowl, and take Peerless Price. That means I blink in quarterback chicken because I'll take Vick after Will's two picks.
I could have waited to let Aaron decide whether I ended up with Big Ben or Vick, but after thinking about it, I preferred Vick enough to make the pick. I like Atlanta's chances to come out of the NFC. I think they'd match up well against both Green Bay and Philadelphia. Plus, I think the Seahawks have a shot at running over the Eagles with Shaun Alexander in round two, making Atlanta's run to Jacksonville that much easier.
If the Falcons and Pittsburgh both play three games, Vick is the clear choice because of his running ability. He's going to have a game where he gets close to 100 rushing yards and at scores at least 1 TD on the ground. If the Falcons only get two games and Pittsburgh gets three, Vick still has a good shot at outscoring Ben.
Will: This is going to look really weird, but I reached in my regular season league and came away okay, so I'll do it again here -- I'm taking the Pittsburgh D. I'm betting that the Steelers play at least two games and neither of them against the Colts. It's a gamble, but without a real impact player, it's worth a shot.
With the second pick, I'll go risky and take Randy Moss. I'll assume in fantasy, it really doesn't matter if he leaves early. There's the chance that the Vikings can beat the Packers and if so, Moss figures to be a big part of that. Moss is an interesting injury case -- he's a "natural talent" with an injury that often goes chronic. That's a major warning sign. These guys didn't have to do a Jerry Rice workout to get where they are, so they seldom handle the rehab well. Worth noting for next year.
Aaron: Once again, Will, I actually don't think your pick is weird. I think I took the Patriots defense this early last season and that worked out very well for me. Of course, I had more confidence in the Pats going all the way last year than I do any team going all the way this year, which is why I had not taken a defense yet.
Thanks for the injury note on Moss. I'm hoping we can continue our crossover with some Will Carroll input in the player comments for Pro Football Prospectus. But in the short term, I think the Vikings last won on grass in the cold before Fran Tarkenton had ever heard the words "That's Incredible."
Al: As I said, I'm going to count on the Falcons having a good shot at making it to the Super Bowl, so I'll take Michael Vick here.
Aaron: Since Al blinked, I get to wait all the way until my last pick to grab a quarterback who might be Super Bowl champion. Good fun. I could take Deion Branch, but I looked, and Brady hasn't thrown to him as much as you think over the past couple weeks. Eric Parker is tempting, but I'll go for a bigger risk. Time to grab one of the two stud wide receivers still remaining: Isaac Bruce and Darrell Jackson. Only one of them will make it to the second round. Time to trust my numbers and believe that weather and superior DVOA can overcome the weird psychic hold the Rams have on Seattle. Darrell Jackson, welcome to my team.
Vivek: Aaron could have made my pick for me by process of elimination -- Isaac Bruce. He totaled 186 yards on 13 catches in two games against the Seahawks in the regular season, and there is no reason why he shouldn't repeat. Moss, Bruce, or Jackson could be those "bonus guys" that Aaron talked about earlier -- late rounders who put up good numbers in multiple games.
Russell: This is the part of the draft where it starts to get interesting. Position values are trumped by the games-played factor. I'm tempted to take Eric Parker as my third WR, but since I've already taken Curtis Martin I'd like to avoid the "guaranteed to have a player knocked out in the first round" scenario as long as possible. Santana Moss is a possibility at WR, but since Chad Pennington has turned into Danny Wuerffel of late, I'll pass.
Nope, it's time to think outside the box. I'll take the Philly D. They served my regular fantasy team well all year and they have the highest likelihood of playing three games out of the NFC.
Ian: Man, pickings are getting slim. I guess I'm leaning towards the top four in the playoffs being Indy, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and St. Louis. I'd love to grab a defensive team here, but the Steelers are taken, and very few other playoff teams actually play defense well. I'll take the Indianapolis D.
Yeah, I know... The Colts?!? Not exactly a defensive juggernaut. But I'll hope for a few (4 or 5) Jake Plummer interceptions as he hopelessly tries to bring the Broncos back from a 20+ point deficit, and New England hasn't been doing the greatest job of protecting the ball lately either. Good thing they got rid of Bruce "The Turnstile" Armstrong though. Could you imagine him trying to stop Dwight Freeney? Yikes!
For my other choice, I'll take the guy everyone keeps passing on, but who has the best chance for a surprisingly productive playoffs. I'm going to be rooting for San Diego anyways, so might as well grab the one wide receiver they have worth taking a chance on: Eric Parker.
Vivek: Not that crazy of a pick. Keep in mind the defensive scoring: 2 pts for interception or fumble recovery, 6 pts for TD, 4 for safety, 1 for sack. Indy did finish the season +20 in the giveaway/takeaway category and recorded 44 sacks.
Russell: It's amazing how you can talk yourself into one team winning a couple playoff games over the course of this process. I'm starting to believe the Jets can win in San Diego and I don't know if it's because I honestly believe it or because I picked Curtis Martin.
Based on the "best player who might play more than one game, and may play three" theory, I'll take Deion Branch as my third WR.
Vivek: Give me the big man from Atlanta as my second RB. I'll take my shot with T.J. Duckett versus any of the first round teams' defenses instead of that Marshall guy in St. Louis, who might be the second most desirable Faulk in the playoffs.
Aaron: OK, let's see, the two guys picking after me both have tight ends and quarterbacks. I think I'll take a defense. I actually was hoping to get the Colts D, so chalk me up with Vivek as agreeing with Ian's pick. Plummer = interceptions. The Pats D would be the obvious pick for me among the remaining defenses, but the Colts and Steelers aren't exactly turnover machines. The Chargers D? Again, same problem, the Jets don't turn the ball over much, and the Chargers don't sack the QB much. The Falcons? Believe it or not, Green Bay didn't allow many fantasy points to opposing DEFs either because they don't turn the ball over as much as you might think and Favre doesn't get sacked much.
I guess I'll go with the "Belichick is a genius" idea, combined with the latest word that Seymour and Law will be healthy in a week (which Will seemed to agree with) and suck up the negative points I'll take when the Pats beat the Colts 34-28 or something. Go New England D!
Al: So, is it more important that I get the WR that I want or the kicker that I want? I'll go with WR, since I don't have enough Steelers and I can't take their kicker or defense. I'll take Antwaan Randle El. I'm relying a bit much on the Steeler passing attack with both Burress and Randle El, but I think they make the Super Bowl. At some point over these three games, we'll see a trick play or two where Randle gets a chance to throw for a TD. That slim possibility bumps him over a couple of other two-game receivers that I was considering.
Aaron: Don't forget the last round we take two players at once to save time, so Will, you take three players here to finish up.
Will: All three picks, eh? Guess I'll go with Mike Vanderjagt -- every team needs a drunk idiot and drunk idiocy sure worked for the Red Sox. I'll go with David Givens at WR, since, well, like Stokley, he's as likely to be thrown at as the other two WR. Finally, I'll grab Duce Staley, bad hammy and all. He could break a long one or do nothing, which is as good as any of the others available.
Al: My final two picks are Jay Feely and the Seattle D. Why not the Falcons D? I don't want to go too heavy on Atlanta, and I can see Bulger tossing a ton of interceptions on Sunday and the Seahawks sacking McNabb a good number of times in the second round.
Aaron: Ben Roethlisberger is one of my last two picks, as I've noted earlier. Once again I want to point out that the fact Big Ben waited this long is not meant as a dis on the Steelers and their chances of winning the Super Bowl, or a dis on Roethlisberger's amazing season. It's just a circumstance of me being the last person left who needed a quarterback. For my other pick, we need a tight end. Dallas Clark is probably the best tight end left, but I don't really gain anything if he plays more than two games. I've got so many eggs in the Patriots basket that I would be screwed if the Colts beat them. Better, I think, to count on one of the two teams that I've really loaded up on: the Packers and Patriots. With the Packers, unlike the Pats, you know who is getting the ball when it is tight end time. So give me Bubba Franks. I sure hope the Vikings don't suddenly figure out how to win on grass in January.
Random final question -- does anyone know why Dallas Clark and a few other tight ends this year are wearing numbers in the 40s, not the 80s?
Vivek: I'm looking at my team makeup now - 3 Eagles, 1 Falcon, 1 Steeler, 1 Ram, 1 Colt. I'm really tempted to take the Jets and hope for an upset at San Diego, but I'll go strictly by the numbers and grab Atlanta D. John Abraham will play this weekend, but I am not confident in the offense putting up more points than the Chargers. Daniel Graham, L.J. Smith or Dallas Clark at the tight end spot? By taking Clark, I'm pretty much giving you my pick for a potential rematch of last year's AFC Championship.
Russell: Playing tight end lotto, I guess that leaves me with L.J. Smith or Graham. Gotta go with the Eagle and the better shot (in my view) of three games -- even if his hands are made of granite. Hopefully the lack of T.O. means the TE will be more involved in the offense. I see the kickers from the top three seeds in the AFC and the top two seeds in the NFC are gone. Who am I to break form? I'll take Ryan Longwell from NFC #3 Green Bay.
It's official: For the 68th consecutive fantasy draft, I hate my team.
Ian: Oh, man... Who to take as the last wideout? For my last tight end, people seem to forget about Marcus Pollard. The Colts have so many weapons that he's flown a bit under the radar, but he did score six touchdowns this season, one more than Dallas Clark. As for that last wideout, and this draft's Mr. Irrelevant, I'm gonna go with Freddie Mitchell. He caught touchdowns in each of the Eagles last two games, and you gotta love the Million Dollar Belt move.
Aaron: Well, that does it. Here are the final rosters:
|QB||Manning, IND||Favre, GB||McNabb, PHI|
|RB||Dunn, ATL||Bettis, PIT||Westbrook, PHI|
|RB||Jackson, STL||Martin, NYJ||Duckett, ATL|
|WR||Driver, GB||Harrison, IND||Wayne, IND|
|WR||Parker, SD||Holt, STL||Ward, PIT|
|WR||Mitchell, PHI||Branch, NE||Bruce, STL|
|TE||Pollard, IND||Smith, PHI||Clark, IND|
|K||Reed, PIT||Longwell, GB||Akers, PHI|
|QB||Roethlisberger, PIT||Vick, ATL||Brady, NE|
|RB||Green, GB||James, IND||Alexander, SEA|
|RB||Dillon, NE||Tomlinson, SD||Staley, PIT|
|WR||Walker, GB||Burress, PIT||Stokley, IND|
|WR||Pinkston, PHI||Price, ATL||Moss, MIN|
|WR||Jackson, SEA||Randle El, PIT||Givens, NE|
|TE||Franks, GB||Crumpler, ATL||Gates, SD|
|K||Vinatieri, NE||Feely, ATL||Vanderjagt|
Aaron: Wow. Not a single player from Denver, and only one from Minnesota or the Jets. Not expecting a lot of upsets in the first round, I guess. Once again this year, I invite people to list their "best of the rest" teams in the comments, and you can fill your team with all the Broncos and Vikings you want. We'll try to track which of those teams does the best. Last year the best of the rest teams did very well, with Carolina making a surprising Super Bowl run and an unpicked Brandon Stokley going nuts for the Colts.
We'll update these scores each week in the Open Game Discussion Thread. But it wouldn't be a fantasy draft without Ian giving his opinion of each team's chances, so I now turn it over to the man himself. After that, the Scramble guys will give their Best Bets for the week. (The full Scramble for the Ball column will return next Thursday.)
Ian: Well, the draft is finished, and I hate to say it, but my team stinks. It's quite possible that Manning gets shut down by the Pats, Duckett and Crumpler score all the Atlanta touchdowns (not to mention Vick running), Seattle beats St. Louis, and Driver, Parker and Mitchell could easily do very little. Oh well... I feel like I had to draft Manning first, and then by the time it got back to me, there were no top-notch running backs left. So I had to grab the second tier backs, but then by the time the draft got back to me, there were no top wideouts left. And to top it all off, we mysteriously decided that everyone should draft their last two players at once, which screwed me the most.
Aaron: That's to speed up the end, and I figure it is a worthy trade-off for getting the first pick. We did it that way last year too.
Ian: Well, if all the top 4 seeds win their home games, I'm down to Dunn, Parker, Mitchell, and Jeff Reed. That's not good. I'd switch teams with Al in a heartbeat. Edge and Tomlinson should be worth plenty, even if their teams don't make it far. Atlanta has a great chance to advance far, which is why I took Warrick Dunn -- and Al got Vick, Price, Crumpler and Feely. Randle El and the Seattle defense seem a bit worthless, but I like his team the best.
Aaron also has a team I'd probably trade for -- Ahman Green and Corey Dillon have a chance to be great. But if Peyton Manning comes in and passes all over the Pats for a win, Dillon could provide little value. If Seattle wins, Darrell Jackson was a great 3rd wide receiver pick, and I really like Javon Walker's potential. Basically, if the Pats do well, which is entirely likely, I like Aaron's team to compete for the fantasy title.
Vivek's team is probably the next best. Many people are off the Eagles bandwagon, but whatever there is left, Viv's driving it. I like Duckett as a late pick at second running back, and Wayne-Ward-Bruce is a very nice trio of wideouts.
I'd say my team is 4th best, since I drafted 'em -- I can't really put them much lower. Then again, the rosters of the other two teams make it easy to slot my team 4th. There's always one team that tries to capitalize on early points and cruise, but that team never does all that well. And this year, it's the team that drafted Randy Moss, Will's team. I've said before that I don't like Seattle's chances to advance, so Shaun Alexander's stay at the top might be short-lived. Stokley is high-risk, high-reward, as is Givens. The best part of this team might be the kicker-tight end-defensive team combo with Gates, Vanderjagt, and Pittsburgh D. But I'm not a big fan of this team.
And that leaves the team drafted by Russell. I don't exactly hate this team, but I just see it as too much all over the map. Players from the Packers, Steelers, Jets, Colts, Rams, Patriots, and Eagles... if two of those teams advance, there are other fantasy teams that will do better. You're better off putting some of your eggs in a basket and hoping for the best.
To close my commentary here, my complete playoff predictions, complete with scores:
St. Louis @ Seattle: St. Louis, 37-34
NY Jets @ San Diego: San Diego, 27-13
Denver @ Indianapolis: Indianapolis, 45-17
Minnesota @ Green Bay: Green Bay, 31-28
San Diego @ Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh, 23-20
Green Bay @ Atlanta: Atlanta, 30-23
St. Louis @ Philadelphia: St. Louis, 42-21
Indy @ New England: Indianapolis, 22-20
St. Louis @ Atlanta: Atlanta, 37-34
Indy @ Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh, 28-24
Atlanta vs Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh, 34-13
And so it begins. Al and Vivek, over to you...
Al: I went 2-1 in Week 17 to finish the year at 29-22 and easily walk away with the regular season picks title. Now it's time to go for the clean sweep and win the postseason picks title as well.
The Rams victory in Seattle earlier this year was a fluke. The Seahawks defense completely fell apart in the fourth quarter. I wouldn't expect the Seattle secondary to forget to cover wide receivers during a playoff game. If you take away that win, the Rams only won one other game on the road -- against the 49ers. This team lost in Miami, giving the Dolphins their only win before the holiday shopping season started. The current forecast calls for snow in Seattle on Saturday, which should hurt the St. Louis passing attack. The Rams run defense has been terrible this year, and is the main reason Curtis Martin beat out Shaun Alexander by one yard to win the rushing title. I expect the Seahawks to give the ball to Alexander 30 times and allow him to carry them into the second round.
The way to beat the Chargers is to attack their cornerbacks. Quentin Jammer leads the league in pass interference penalties and the Charger defense leads the league in illegal contact. The only team to beat the Chargers in the second half of the year was the Colts, who have a quarterback that can is pretty good. Luckily for San Diego, this weakness won't hurt them on Saturday against the Jets. If there's one thing that they won't have to worry about an injured Chad Pennington and a Paul Hackett offense doing is challenging defensive backs downfield. Especially if it rains, as it is forecasted to do on Saturday in San Diego.
I like the Colts to win this one, but the line is a bit much. Denver does has a pretty good secondary, having the #4 ranked pass defense DVOA. I see Manning having a good game, but nothing ridiculous. Reuben Droughns should be able to move the ball well against the Colts run defense. I think this game will be close until the end, when Dwight Freeney has a clear shot at Jake Plummer, who in turn does something ridiculously stupid to cost his team the game.
I also see this as being a close game where the favorite wins, but doesn't cover. It wouldn't shock me to see the Vikings pull this one out. The current forecast for Green Bay is partly cloudy with a temperature in the mid-30's. Nothing that should have too much of a negative impact on Minnesota's ability to run their offense, which finished the season #3 in DVOA. This game will come down to which defense plays worse, and we're dealing with two pretty poor defenses here. There are plenty of reasons to think that Green Bay will win this game -- Brett Favre and Mike Tice come to mind -- but I can't think of any clear advantage that would make me think they win by a touchdown.
Vivek: I set an all-time mark for correct picks last week with ten, but I also set the unofficial standard for losses in a week with six. That bumped my season record to a quasi-mediocre 34-45. Let's see if I can redeem myself in the postseason.
Which Rams team will show up in Seattle? The one that lost to the Dolphins, or the one that was an overtime away from missing the playoffs? Trick question -- both are the same team. Al mentioned that the Rams win in Seattle this year was a fluke, and I could not agree more. Do you think that Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald will burn Ken Hamlin and Terreal Bierria again?
If I had any assurance that Chad Pennington's shoulder was close to 100%, then I might pick the Jets outright. Unfortunately for J-E-T-S fans, those last few drives in regulation at St. Louis proved otherwise. Curtis Martin will not be able to carry the team on his shoulders, as the Chargers have one of the stingiest run defenses in the NFL, yielding only 81.7 yards per game (tops in the NFL was Pittsburgh at 81.2).
Ten points is a big line, but I figure a 34-20 score is not out of the realm of possibility. Remember that this Colts team won their last eight games that meant something. (I'm not counting the Jim Sorgi era.)
Pick your reason for Minnesota not having a chance in this game. 1) Mike Tice teams always choke. 2) The Vikings are 0-4 in true outdoor stadiums this season 3) It will be in the 20s on Sunday in Green Bay. 4) Randy Moss might not feel like showing up this week. 5) Dante Culpepper is 3-6 versus the Packers in his career. 6) Take out a botched extra point, and the Vikings could have ended the year with a five game losing streak.