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?
04 Sep 2003
by Ian Dembsky and Al Bogdan
Welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where we discuss all things football. We'll have commentary on the latest NFL stories, as well as our Best Bets of the week and updates to our Survivor League (check the Scramble archives for full details). Al's a long-time Giants fan originally from Long Island, and Ian is a long-time Tampa Bay fan originally from Jersey, and We're both NFL and fantasy sports addicts. Look for Scramble updated every Thursday afternoon during the NFL season, and feel free to email us with any thoughts at scramble @ footballoutsiders.com.
Ian: This Saturday we had our yearly fantasy football auction. For those of you who haven't tried out an auction style draft in fantasy football, I highly recommend it. Ours drafts 16 players with QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, WR, TE, K, DT as starters, and we each have $160 to do it.
We both are managing the same team in this year's draft, and our draft strategy was as follows:
Man, did our draft strategy work out. Without further ado, here's the roster we ended up with:
$3 Matt Hasselbeck
$3 Tommy Maddox
$62 Ricky Williams
$54 Shaun Alexander
$7 Trung Canidate
$2 Onterrio Smith
$12 Koren Robinson
$4 Keyshawn Johnson
$1 Rod Gardner
$1 Tai Streets
$1 Billy Miller
$1 Stephen Alexander
$1 Jeff Reed
$1 Phil Dawson
$6 Tampa Bay DT
$1 St. Louis DT
I couldn't be happier.
Al: I'm happy, but the more I think about it, I'm not as thrilled as you are with our team. Our QBs are solid. I'd be shocked if neither Maddox nor Hasselbeck had a good year.
Our top two RBs are great, but not without concerns. First, Williams and Alexander both have a bye in week 4, forcing us to use our flex bench spot on a RB. Second, Alexander is notoriously a slow starter. In each of the past two seasons, his rushing numbers did not take off until week four. As was the case the last two seasons, Seattle's Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones held out during the pre-season. Seattle's starting right tackle was just suspended for the first four games of the regular season. It might not be until week five or six that we get the production out of Alexander that we expect. By then, it may be too late if the rest of our team doesn't produce early on.
Our wide receivers are our obvious weakness. Koren put up #1 WR numbers in the second half of last season, but isn't completely proven. It wasn't that long ago that people were calling him "Karen" Robinson. Keyshawn hasn't been a valuable fantasy WR since he left the Jets. Gardner had 1000 yards receiving last year, but has been bumped down the depth charts with the arrival of Laveraneus Coles. Tai Streets had his moments last year and should put up respectable numbers if he can remain San Francisco's #2 wideout. Ideally we'd have a 5th WR, but we can't afford to do that until week 5 because of the Alexander/Williams bye weeks.
Billy Miller is a perfectly reasonable $1 tight end. Tampa is the only defense worth spending that much money on. We'll be relying on them to make up for our weak WR corps early on in the season. Our kickers are nothing to get excited about.
Ian: The injuries to Seattle's offensive line are troubling, but I still think they're offense will be among the league's elite. Enough about just our roster though, let's rank the other rosters in the league. We'll start with the team we like the least:
QB: Aaron Brooks 23, Brad Johnson 1
RB: Clinton Portis 65, Curtis Martin 27, Kevan Barlow 1
WR: Joe Horn 32, Jerry Rice 2, Josh Reed 1, Curtis Conway 1, Deion Branch 1
TE: Daniel Graham 1, Kyle Brady 1
K: Jason Elam 1, Matt Stover 1
DT: Giants 1, Jets 1
I can't argue with spending a lot of money on Clinton Portis, but the places the other money was spent was too concentrated. Why spend $23 on Aaron Brooks when you could spend less than $5 on Matt Hasselbeck or Tommy Maddox? Joe Horn is a great wide receiver, but as you'll see most of the second tier wideouts went for a lot less. I'm not a fan of Jerry Rice or Josh Reed this year, Conway's value certainly dropped with Pennington's injury, and the tight ends, kickers and defenses are not even worth mentioning.
The biggest reason I dislike this team is Curtis Martin. The wheels started to fall off for him last year; without Pennington why is there any reason to believe he'll produce well this year? LaMont Jordan is likely to vulture goal line touchdowns, not to mention some of Curtis' playing time in general. $27 on Curtis Martin is a lot; I think he may be the most overpaid for player in this year's auction. Oh, and the only backup running back for this team is someone who isn't even the starter in Kevan Barlow.
Al: RB is definitely the weakness of that team. That team is in desperate need of a backup RB. I'm a big proponent of the stars and scrubs approach in an auction, but 11 $1 players and one $2 player is a few too many scrubs, especially when only one of the four "stars" is clearly among the elite at his position.
That is probably the only team whose chances we are very down on this year. The weakest of the rest of the contenders may be this team:
QB: Manning 42, Brady 1
RB: Garner 29, A. Green 42, Alstott 1
WR: Price 11, Coles 8, Thrash 1, Muhammed 1, McCaffrey 1
TE: Shockey 18, Fauria 1
K: Mare 1, Lindell 1
DT: Seattle 1, Chicago 1
I wouldn't go that high on Manning, but it's not unreasonable, especially when you take his knack at avoiding injuries into account. The starting RBs are fine, but I don't like Alstott as a team's only backup RB. If he gets reps at TE as has been recently rumored, Alstott could be a great $1 backup. With Green's injuries last year and Garner's age, a backup with a better guarantee at getting regular carries would have been preferred.
Coles is a steal at 8, maybe the steal of the draft until we find out who the top 10 WR purchased for $1 will be this year. Coles/Price/Muhammed has the potential to be a very good starting trio. If this team wins the league, it will because of those three players having great years. Shockey is a risk because of his rib injury and his lack of TDs last year. If he's healthy and gets a few more catches in the redzone, Jeremy will be the top TE in fantasy. I don't really understand the Seattle/Chicago DT pairing, but the Seahawks do have a pretty favorable schedule.
Ian: Yeah, the fact that a team with that kind of talent is ranked #9 is a good example of how balanced this league worked out to be. It's far from being an awful team, but most of the good players are potential one-year wonders or injury risks.
Here's the team we have ranking in at #8:
QB: Kelly Holcombe 1, Kordell Stewart 1
RB: Priest Holmes 60, Tiki Barber 26, Moe Williams 2, Garrison Hearst 1
WR: Marvin Harrison 48, Marty Booker 8, Isaac Bruce 3, Darrell Jackson 2
TE: Doug Jolley 1, Shannon Sharpe 1
K: Ryan Longwell 1, Jeff Chandler 1
DT: Eagles 3, Chiefs 1
Well, the thing that stands out here the most is the glaring hole at quarterback. Holcombe played very well in limited action last year, but is he worthy of leading your fantasy team this year? Kordell Stewart as a backup isn't exactly a stellar player either.
Priest Holmes is likely to have a great year, though just cause he's healthy now doesn't stop him from being more injury-prone. I'm actually not all that high on Tiki Barber this year; I get the sense that Dorsey Levens will be used to spell him a lot so Tiki will be fresh come December. Moe Williams and Garrison Hearst are below-average plug-ins; but both are part of a committee.
Marvin Harrison is the best WR there is, and is a bright spot on this team. Holmes and Harrison should put up great numbers week in and week out. Booker is a good WR, but obviously is worse at $8 than Isaac Bruce at $3. Darrell Jackson is a very nice 4th wide receiver (maybe #3 ahead of Booker).
Doug Jolley seems to have some good games, but the Raiders simply have too many ways to score for him to be a factor. Shannon Sharpe seems to have a couple of big games a year, but vanish otherwise. I see almost nothing coming out of the TE spot on this team. The Eagles defense is a pretty strong one to have though.
Al: Holcombe/Stewart is easily the worst QB lineup in the league. I'm not as down on the RBs as you are. Barber's been worth starting the past 3 years and was a legitimate #1 fantasy back last year. His numbers will probably fall off slightly, but he'll be a fine complement to Holmes. Hearst has been able to old off Barlow for the past two years, no reason he can't still do it this year. After excelling as a goal line back last year, Williams will be given the opportunity early on to become a starter. The upside is high enough to be worth a $2 gamble. If Williams is benched after week 1, he just goes right back into the free agent pool.
This is probably the best WR group in the league. Harrison's worth every penny. Booker is a steal at 8, even with Stewart throwing to him. It's not like Marty has had Joe Montana slinging passes to him these past two years while racking up 1000+ yards and 6+ TDs. Bruce and Jackson will rotate in at the 3 spot depending on matchups.
I'm high on Jolley, but you're right about there being too many weapons in Oakland for him to be a consistent scorer.
Next on our list at #7:
QB: Culpepper 42, Bledsoe 3
RB: Zeroue 15, Taylor 23, George 15, Dunn 1
WR: Moulds 33, Chambers 5, Boston 12, Stallworth 3
TE: Chamberlain 1, Stevens 1
K: M Grammatica 2, Wilkins 1
DT: Patriots 2, Raiders 1
Ridiculously good QB situation, especially if Culpepper stops fumbling the damn ball. There will be many weeks where there will be a tough decision as to which QB gets the starting nod.
RB is what you would expect after spending $75 out of your $160 budget on a QB and WR. Taylor always goes for a bargain price in this league because most owners have been hurt by an injury from him at one time or another. Zereoue was a top 30 back in limited time last year, but itÃƒÂs still unknown how he'll fare in the starter's role. As Aaron noted in his AFC South preview, George was effective last year in short yardage situations. If he can score 12 TDs again he's a great #3 back. Warrick Dunn is Warrick Dunn. Not a great set of RBs, but if Taylor stays healthy and Zereoue is effective this team will have great success.
Moulds is probably a bit high at 33 with the prices other WRs ended up going for. I don't think Moulds will be hurt too much by the loss of Price, though, so he'll be a good #1 WR. Who knows what will happen with the other three WRs on this team. David Boston has a workout regimen that would make Barry Bonds cringe. If he can stay healthy, Boston is an amazing deal at $12.
The TEs are useless. Chamberlain is too inconsistent to be counted on. Stevens is listed as the #2 TE on Seattle. The DT and K combos are perfectly fine. I'm shocked the Patriots didn't go for more than $2.
Ian: Having Culpepper is great, though I'm not as high on Bledsoe as you are. Of course, that also ties into the fact that I think Josh Reed is all hype, and he's gonna be one of the biggest fantasy flops this year (even though his expectations aren't all that high to begin with). Of course, as long as he just starts Culpepper every week he's golden at QB anyways.
This is a rather weak running back core. Taylor and George have injury histories that make Grant Hill look healthy, and Zereoue and Dunn are both sharing playing time. I'd hate to have to decide who to start at RB each week with this team.
It may sounds strange, but I'm not a big fan of these WRs. It's the kind of group that looks great based on cheat sheets, but I just don't get the feeling is all that good. Obviously David Boston was awesome two years ago, but he missed all of last year after performing poorly while he was healthy. Is he really back to form? The loss of Peerless Price means Eric Moulds can look forwards to plenty of double-teaming; will his numbers be as good as last year? I do think Chambers could have a breakout season though.
The rest of the team is decent, though nothing special.
On to team #6:
QB: McNabb 43, Vick 2, Collins 1
RB: Henry 41, Antowain Smith 7, Hambrick 1
WR: Moss 41, Holt 16, Pinkston 1, Ferguson 1
TE: F. Jones 1, Becht 1
K: Viniatieri 1, Kris Brown 1
DT: Dallas 1, San Diego 1
One theme of this draft is that teams that spent a lot on quarterbacks tend to linger near the lower end of the rankings. And it shouldn't be surprising... Is the difference between the top QB and the 10th best quarterback really worth $40? Heck no. Here are the prices for all the starting QBs drafted: McNabb 43, Culpepper 42, Manning 42, Brooks 23, Gannon 17, Warner 16, Garcia 12, Green 8, Hasselbeck 3, Holcombe 1
Okay, the difference between McNabb and Holcombe might be worth it. But if you could have Jeff Garcia for $12 or Peyton Manning for $42, which would you choose? Is Daunte Culpepper gonna be $40 better than Hasselbeck this year? No.
The teams that spent so much on QBs suffered elsewhere with either poor running backs or poor wide receivers. This team has practically only 1 running back; never a good thing in fantasy football.
Al: I don't think I've ever spent more than $15 on a QB in this league.
One of the top 2 QBs has to get traded for a RB once Vick is healthy. Of course QB is ridiculously strong, but RB is ridiculously weak. This may be the worst running back situation in the league. Unfortunately, because Vick won't be back in time for McNabb's bye week, this team has to use the flex bench spot on a QB. I'd expect this team to be the front runner in the Olandis Gary waiver wire sweepstakes after week 1.
The top 2 WRs are as good as it comes. There's no way Holt should be half the price of Moulds and Horn. Huge steal right there. Pinkston and Ferguson are a little weak as a third wideout tandem, but Pinkston could surprise if Thrash is still feeling the effects of his concussion and injured neck.
I've never been a big Freddie Jones fan, he always seems to disappoint. I liked Becht before Pennington went down. I don't have much confidence in the Jets' passing game with Vinny running the show. Vinitiari is steady. Dallas/San Diego is an interesting combination. Neither of those two is necessarily the best fantasy defense, but the two schedules actually look to complement each other very well.
It's getting tougher and tougher to rip these teams. #5:
QB: Green 8, Ramsey 1
RB: Tomlinson 58, W. Green 23, K. Faulk 1
WR: Owens 45, Morgan 2, T. Taylor 1, Galloway 1, Wayne 1
TE: Heap 14, Desmond Clark 1
K: Nedney 1, Hollis 1
DT: Titans 1, Saints 1
Green's a nice starter, especially at 8, but I'm not crazy about him. I don't like any of KC's receivers. If Holmes is slowed down by his hip injury, Green will become a very shaky starter. I wouldn't be shocked if Ramsey started 8 games or so for this team. Tomlinson and William Green is a nice starting combo. I hate to repeat myself, but you can't afford to have a backup/timesharing RB as your sole backup RB. Fantasy football normally revolves around your RB production. You have to be well prepared in case someone gets injured. You can't rely on the waiver wire to save you.
I love the WRs. Owens is Owens. Q should be the #1 option in a wide open passing attack in Cleveland. Taylor had a great second half last year. If Boller is any good, Taylor will be a great buy for $1. Galloway will be worthless, but Reggie Wayne might find is way into the lineup a few times.
Todd Heap was the #1 TE in fantasy football last year with 6 TDs and 836 yards. Those numbers might slip a bit, but I can't see him being worse than the #3 TE after Gonzo and Shockey. This team might be relying on the Baltimore passing attack a bit too much.
Ian: I would like to echo everything you just said about that team and add nothing whatsoever.
Clearly the rest of the teams are pretty good fantasy teams, since any team with Tomlinson and Terrell Owens is off to a great start. Coming in at #4:
QB: Garcia 12, McNair 3
RB: M. Faulk 64, McAllister 55, E. Smith 3
WR: Mason 3, R. Smith 3, J. Smith 1, S. Moss 2, Porter 2
TE: Franks 4, McMichael 1
K: Akers 2, Carney 1
DT: Miami 1, Green Bay 2
One thing I love about this team is getting Jimmy Smith late for $1. Garcia for $12 is obviously a good bargain, and getting two top running backs is almost never a bad idea. I also like Franks, Akers and Miami as a special teams group- all are very solid choices.
The one weakness of this team is clearly the receiving core. With Jimmy Smith, it's pretty solid; without him it's almost terrible. Rod Smith is pretty much done, and Santana Moss isn't quite there yet. Jerry Porter has a lot of upside, but only Rich Gannon gets to score a ton in Oakland.
That being said, Garcia, Faulk, McAllister, Mason, and a back-from-suspension Jimmy Smith should make this team a scary one to play against.
Al: Well, out of these two QBs one of their backs should be healthy each week. Top notch QB pair. Faulk and McAllister are as good of a RB tandem as you could hope for. I hope we play this team when the Rams or Saints have a bye.
The WRs aren't as bad as they look. I don't expect the other Moss to do much, but a starting three of Mason/Rod Smith/Porter could be a formidable opponent. It's not the best group of WRs, but for $8 it's pretty good
This team will finish in the money if they stay healthy. With Garcia, McNair, Faulk and McAllister, though, I wouldn't necessarily count on it.
Coming in at #3:
QB: Gannon 17, Favre 17
RB: Dillon 27, Thomas 5, Duckett 1, Staley 10
WR: Toomer 18, Troy Brown 8, Ward 17, Driver 10
TE: Gonzalez 18, Pollard 1
K: Janikowski 2, Feely 5
DT: Steelers 2, Panthers 2
For the second year in a row, the same owner bought both Gannon and Favre at the auction. It didn't work last year, and I don't see it working again this year. This team most likely needs to trade one of them for a RB to have a chance this year. These RBs have way too many question marks to be counted on. Dillon is the only one that is a legitimate #1 going into the first week of the season.
If it wasn't for the poor RB situation, this would be the team to beat. This team has no other weaknesses. The WRs are very strong. The "other" positions are better than anywhere else in the league. Pollard would start on half of the other teams and he's the clear backup here. Janikowski and Feely will both be in the top 10 in scoring. Pittsburgh and Carolina both have legitimate shots at being a top 5 fantasy D.
We should go hard after RBs on the waiver wire this season, for no other reason than to make it tougher for this team to get one.
Ian: Since when *don't* we go hard on running backs off the waiver wire? It's true though; the running backs are definitely the weak spot on an otherwise stellar team.
Rich Gannon was the first name called out at the auction, and for whatever reason he finished at $17. Maybe people wanted to save money for RBs, maybe Gannon left his best football on the field last season. But as the next few quarterbacks were drafted in the $40 range, I was shocked that he'd gotten Gannon for so cheap. As long as he didn't screw up the draft I figured he should be in prime position to come out with a great team.
And then he bought Brett Favre for $17. WHY?????? He basically turned his big bargain into Gannon for $30, Favre for $4, which isn't all that great. As a frame of reference, no other team bought a backup quarterback for more than THREE DOLLARS. It really is too bad, because had he paired Corey Dillon up with another solid RB in the $20-25 range, this would clearly be the team to beat. As is, the rest of the draft went so well anyways, we've got him in at #3.
As much as I like our team, I can't predict them to be the best team in the league. Two reasons- We're picking the same team to finish first as we did last year, which jinxed his team to an injury-filled season, and frankly his team is right now the best in the fantasy league anyways.
At #2, to recap our team:
QB: Hasselbeck 3, Maddox 3
RB: R. Williams 62, S. Alexander 54, Candidate 7, Onterrio Smith 2
WR: K. Robinson 12, Keyshawn 4, Gardner 1, Streets 1
TE: B. Miller 1, S. Alexander 1
K: Reed 1, Dawson 1
DT: Tampa Bay 6, St. Louis 1
We've already covered our feelings about this team, but it's worth mentioning again how great our running backs are, and how great a team we were able to field otherwise with minimal amounts of cash.
Al: Now would be a good time to mention the trade we made before Week 1, dealing Maddox/Streets for Holcombe/Bruce. I love the deal and I think it makes us significantly stronger. We don't take a big hit at QB, since we will start Hasselbeck most weeks and we get an every week starting WR.
And now the pre-season #1:
QB: Warner 16, Plummer 1
RB: S. Davis 20, E. James 45, J. Lewis 24, Mack 2
WR: Burress 28, C. Johnson 11, Lelie 2, Rodgers 2
TE: Crumpler 1, DClark 1
K: Vanderjagt 2, MAnderson 2
DT: Atlanta 2, Baltimore 2
For the second year in a row, the team to beat this year belongs to FootballOutsiders.com Loser League columnist Jason Beattie. We left out the names of the other owners to protect the innocent, but since we think Jason's team is so strong, we'll give him a little credit here.
Warner is a calculated risk at 16, with a big upside backup in Plummer. I like the 3 RB rotation, mainly because I'm high on S. Davis. Official FootballOutsiders RB Stacey Mack is a perfect #4 RB. The WRs are good, although I don't expect Rodgers to do much of anything as a rookie. No complaints at K or DT. As Aaron noted in his AFC South preview, Crumpler got a huge number of looks in the redzone in 2002. Alge might be the best $1 TE purchased at the auction.
Ian: The only thing I could possibly complain about with this team is the third wide receiver spot. A lot of people think Ashley Lelie is a good sleeper pick this year, but he's certainly not likely to burst out of the gates with any useful statistics. I expect Charlie Rodgers to be waiver wire feed after the first week; that was pretty much a pick made just to get the draft over with.
However, the third WR spot is hardly the most crucial to a fantasy team's fortunes, and it's a very solid all around team elsewhere. I'm also a big fan of Stephen Davis this year. He won't be a flashy back, but with the much improved Carolina defense and no quarterback to pass the ball, they're gonna simply keep on pounding the ball. He should be a steady, reliable source of fantasy points.
I imagine that at some point in the season he'll trade one of those 3 running backs for a really good WR to fill out his starting lineup, and the next thing you know he'll be on the cover of SI and Madden Football '05. He's a LOCK to win this league.
And now to our Best Bets of the Week:
Best Bet: Atlanta +2 over Dallas -- Last I checked, Dallas is still starting Quincy Carter and Troy Hambrick at QB and RB this year. And Bill Parcells has yet to make a big splash with a new team in his first season there. Dallas is gonna be overvalued all season long; I'm gonna bet against them until people realize they SUCK.
Pretty Good Bet: Pittsburgh -5 over Baltimore -- Baltimore's defense is not what it used to be. Ray Lewis is still Ray Lewis, but even he can't cover Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Amos Zeruoue all by himself. And Pittsburgh's defense should have a good day stuffing the box against the Ravens lackluster attack.
Just a Hunch: Buffalo EVEN over New England -- New England cuts Lawyer Milloy. Buffalo signs him. He'll run a pick back for a touchdown, trust me. It's a New England thing.
Best Bet: Carolina -4 over Jacksonville -- There's no way the Panthers should be only a 4 point favorite over the Jaguars in Carolina. It will be a few weeks before the oddsmakers catch up with Carolina. I'll be picking the Panthers until they do.
Pretty Good Bet: Buffalo EVEN over New England -- Too much bad karma for the Patriots this week. If Lawyer Milloy hadn't switched teams, I would have jumped all over the Patriots at this line. Now that the Bills know New England's defensive game plan, I'm taking the home team.
Just a Hunch: Cincinatti +6 over Denver -- The Bengals will be playing in front of their first sell out crowd in who knows how long. I'll take a Marvin Lewis defense +6 over Jake Plummer any day of the weak, even if it's being run by the Bengals.