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?
07 Sep 2005
by Al Bogdan and Vivek Ramgopal
Al: Alright Viv, here are the results of the auction draft that I just finished in a league that includes a number of the Football Outsiders staff and friends. Aaron, Jason the cartoonist, and my old partner Ian all own teams in the league. We've made a Scramble for the Ball tradition of reviewing the results of this auction before Week 1 of the regular season.
For those of you unfamiliar with fantasy auctions, here's how they work. Each team is given a salary cap of fake dollars ($160 in the case of this league). Instead of distributing players through a draft, player names are called out one by one. Each owner then has the opportunity to bid on each player. The owner that bids the highest gets the player on his/her team. I'm a big fan of auctions because it gives you an opportunity to own any player you want. If you have the sixth pick in a traditional draft, you know that you have no shot to get LaDainian Tomlinson. Each team starts 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K and 1 DT and is required to carry one backup at each position with an additional flex bench spot. Scoring is fairly standard. There are twelve teams in this league, two more than there were the last time I ran a team myself three years ago.
So, since I'm involved in the auction, it wouldn't be fair for me to start ripping everyone else's draft apart without first allowing a neutral observer to give his opinion. That means you, Viv. Here are the team rosters, but I won't reveal the owners until I hear your opinion on how everyone did:
|Team 1||Team 2||Team 3||Team 4||Team 5||Team 6|
|RB||S. Alexander||68||Dillon||49||Tomlinson||78||J. Jones||59||T. Barber||52||Bennett||14|
|RB||W. Dunn||15||F. Taylor||28||Holmes||62||R. Johnson||53||M. Anderson||39||Westbrook||34|
|WR||R. Moss||37||Javon Walker||16||M. Jenkins||1||R. Wayne||17||Chad Johnson||26||T. Owens||31|
|WR||Burleson||17||D. Bennett||4||Engram||1||Muhammad||1||A. Boldin||8||Holt||28|
|WR||T.J. Housh||2||M. Clayton||5||McCareins||1||R. Smith||1||Lelie||6||Hines Ward||16|
|TE||Crumpler||8||Heap||6||J. Stevens||1||Witten||16||E. Johnson||2||Gates||21|
|DT||Tampa Bay||2||Detroit||1||NY Jets||1||Philadelphia||2||Indianapolis||2||Giants||1|
|RB||C. Benson||1||M. Faulk||5||Barlow||6||T. Henry||1||Droughns||4||R. Brown||5|
|WR||Colbert||2||C. Rodgers||1||Galloway||1||G. Lewis||1||S. Moss||2||Kennison||2|
|TE||A. Smith||1||Putzier||1||Franks||1||Jolley||1||B. Watson||1||Wiggins||2|
|K||Tynes||1||Lindell||1||Rackers||1||K. Brown||1||J. Kasay||1||Edinger||1|
|FX||K. Curtis||1||L. Suggs||3||Bettis||1||L. Johnson||2||Tatum Bell||6||Duckett||1|
|Team 7||Team 8||Team 9||Team 10||Team 11||Team 12|
|RB||D. Davis||65||C. Martin||31||K. Jones||62||E. James||66||McAllister||54||A. Green||48|
|RB||Portis||52||S. Jackson||42||C. Williams||31||J. Lewis||49||McGahee||60||Arrington||10|
|WR||Roy Williams||11||Horn||19||Steve Smith||6||T. Williamson||1||Fitzgerald||11||Harrison||30|
|WR||D. Mason||4||A. Johnson||13||Stokley||1||D. Jackson||5||I. Bruce||6||Burress||5|
|WR||D. Driver||3||J. Smith||4||Stallworth||1||L. Evans||1||D. Givens||2||L. Coles||5|
|TE||L.J. Smith||2||C. Cooley||1||Pollard||1||Tony G.||16||Dallas Clark||3||Shockey||5|
|RB||Staley||3||L. Jordan||30||Toefield||1||D. Foster||1||M. Moore||2||T. Jones||3|
|TE||Troupe||1||H. Miller||1||M. Campbell||1||E. Kinney||1||D. Graham||1||McMichael||3|
|K||Scobee||1||Mare||1||T. Peterson||1||Hanson||1||Kaeding||2||J. Reed||6|
|FX||C. Brown||1||Palmer||2||M. Robinson||1||S. Davis||1||Moulds||2||Ricky Williams||4|
Vivek: This owner had the best draft in my mind. There is a true star player at every skill position, and yes, I mean that for the underrated Jake Delhomme who very quietly totaled 3800 yards and 29 touchdowns last year. That ultimate value pick, coupled by a $15 Warrick Dunn who will get you 1300 total yards and 7-8 touchdowns, freed up money for Randy Moss, TJ Houshmanzadeh and Nate Burelson. Those pickups easily justified making Shaun Alexander the second highest salaried player in the league.
Al: The owner of Team 1? The person who used to occupy Vivek's seat, Ian Dembsky. I agree that Ian had a nice draft. One of the keys was that he threw Dunn's name out very early, I believe at the beginning of the second round of bidding. There were still running backs on the board that other teams had budgeted a roster spot and $60 for, so people were hesitant to bid up Dunn. Had he been called out three rounds later, Dunn would have gone for at least twice that price.
Vivek: With this league, I'm not in favor of spending more than double digits on a quarterback, especially when you see what Delhomme ($2), Trent Green ($10), Brady ($8) Plummer ($2), Favre ($2) and Bulger ($5) went for. Of course you can't knock anyone for taking Daunte Culpepper, but I would have liked a more dependable #2 running back than Fred Taylor and some more production out of the second and third wideouts.
Al: I think this team got some great wide receiver bargains. Bennett and Clayton for under $10 combined is ridiculous. I'm not a big Taylor fan myself, so I would have liked this team to have better backups at RB than Faulk and Suggs. Neither of them is guaranteed to get enough playing time to be regular fantasy contributors.
Vivek: Talk about breaking the bank with one position â€“ almost 90% of the salary cap going to the two starting running backs. Aaron Brooks was a steal at $1, but this owner had better hope that he got a lot of sleepers during Dollar Days.
Al: And they'll need Holmes to not break down again and stay healthy all season at 32 years old. For $1 receivers, this team did fairly well. They probably won't all work out, but enough will to keep this squad in contention.
Vivek: Another team that went with the cheap QB route. If Kyle Orton can get something going in Chicago, the $1 Musi Muhammed could be a coup.
Al: Team 4 belongs to our fearless leader, Aaron. One of the interesting things in this auction was watching everyone bid up the players Aaron liked. Aaron was in on Domanick Davis and Kevin Jones to the very end, which is part of the reason those players went for more money than they would in most other leagues. This is one of the stronger teams in the league. Solid 1-2 punch at RB. A potential top-5 WR in Wayne, and two solid, if unspectacular #1 WR in Muhammad and Rod Smith. Combine that with Jason Witten and you have a team that should be contending for the championship.
(Ed. Note: Like last year, I get to jump in to make a comment about my own team. The quarterbacks make a lot more sense when you see that Steve McNair plays the Colts, Texans, Cardinals, and Browns in the weeks that Drew Brees plays the Patriots, Steelers, Eagles, and Jets. By the time they both have a bye in Week 10, McNair will probably be broken and I'll pick up someone else. Travis Henry plays the Browns and 49ers in the two weeks that Rudi Johnson faces the Ravens. Larry Johnson is a lottery ticket based on Priest's knees.)
Vivek: At first glance, $39 for Mike Anderson might have been a risky spend, considering Tatum Bell could be the starter by midseason. Then tucked away at the bottom of the roster you see a $6 Tatum Bell. $45 for the Denver RB is a bargain. Granted if Al is the owner of Team 5, Ron Dayne will be the featured back by Week 2.
Al: Team 5 belongs to our cartoonist, Jason. Every year I come out of this auction thinking that Jason has the best team, and every year he doesn't win. Hopefully this year will be no different, as I think he has put together the strongest team in the league. Tiki was a bargain compared to the prices of the other backs. The Anderson/Bell combination gives Jason a top 10 back for only $45. He's four deep at WR and got a great bargain with Eric Johnson for only $2.
Vivek: The best trio of wide receivers in the league. The entire season for Team 6 hinges on the health of Michael Bennett though, as I'm not so confident about Ronnie Brown being a star runner in 2005.
Al: Yeah, Team 6 is mine. I'm not thrilled with how things turned out, but I still think I put myself in position to contend. I didn't enter the draft thinking I'd go cheap at RB, but I really underestimated how much running backs would go for. I expected Tomlinson, Alexander, Holmes, and James to all go for huge prices. But I didn't expect that every starting RB would go for at least $45. That left me getting Westbrook for what I had him valued at, but in what turned out to be a bargain in this league. I have no confidence that Michael Bennett will hold onto the Viking job all year, so I'll need Ronnie Brown to hold off Ricky Williams after Week 4. I'll start the best group of WR in the league almost every week and the best TE in the league starting in Week 2. My biggest mistake was in the endgame. I was price enforcing on Wiggins and was shocked that I got him for $2. He's not my ideal Week 1 play, but he'll do. I wished I had that extra $1, though, at the end of the draft so that I could get someone like Brees or Brooks instead of ending up with a Pennington/Griese rotation.
Vivek: What a powerful top three, but the trade off was with the receiving corps. Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller need to have breakout years for this team to rise to the top.
Al: Portis will be improved, but he's still playing behind an offensive line that was one of the worst in the league last season. The WR are all question marks. Roy Williams was inconsistent last year after suffering an ankle injury and now has to compete for catches with a healthy (for now) Charles Rogers and Mike Williams. Mason has to rely on Kyle Boller, while I'm down on Driver because I'm down on the Green Bay offense as a whole.
Vivek: Finally, a league where Michael Vick is right about at his value. Even with a $30 LaMont Jordan on the bench, Team 8 has good value at the top spots. One of the running backs would be good trade bait for an upgrade to Jimmy Smith.
Al: I let Jackson go to Team 8 at $42, which could turn out to be a bargain if Marshall Faulk doesn't take away too many touches. Curtis Martin went for much less than he should have based on last year, but everyone was scared off by the huge potential for decline because of his age and carries. Interestingly, this is the only team to spend double digits on a backup RB. A good idea when you have a 32-year-old as your starter. Carrying three QBs is a huge mistake and one will likely be dropped after Week 1, most likely to pick up Derrick Blaylock.
Vivek: You won't find any better trio of receivers for less than $10. Great drafting.
Al: Carnell Williams will make or break Team 9. The inexperience of the left side of the Tampa offensive line worries me. Combine that with the presence of Michael Pittman and I'm not as convinced as KUBIAK that Williams will be the #1 rookie RB this year.
Vivek: Darrell Jackson is a deal at $5, but the owner is banking on Troy Williamson mimicking Randy Moss's rookie season.
Al: I don't like this team at all. Lewis is poised for a big decline, and the wide receivers are the worst in the league.
Vivek: Isaac Bruce has been valued low in every draft, and that is not justified. No 1200-yard receiver should go for $2.
Al: I like Team 11's backup wideouts more than their starters. Branch and Moulds at $2 apiece is a great deal. $11 is way too much for Larry Fitzgerald.
Vivek: I've been souring on Ahman Green as the season nears, and this is coming from someone what has Green in two keeper leagues. Green plus a rookie doesn't give the owner much confidence at that spot.
Alex: Team 12 has an excuse, the owner showed up late, so someone was drafting for him from some general guidelines. 2003 is going to look more like an aberration after Green has another so-so year as the Packer feature back. I like J.J. Arrington, but I wouldn't want to rely on him to put up points for my fantasy team every week. This team was left with a lot of money at the end of the auction as you can probably tell by the amount of money spent on backups.
Vivek: If you have draft results that you'd like us to break down, feel free to send them along since most of these owners won't speak to us after this draft review.
Al: Our apologies to those of you who emailed us after our last mailbag for fantasy draft advice. I'm guessing everyone's drafted by now, so we won't be including them in this week's mailbag. During the season, we'll be running our column on Wednesdays, so if you want your questions answered in this space about who to start, who to bench, who to pick up off the waiver wire, etc. get them into us on Tuesday through the contact form. Now, onto the mailbag.
Rob E. writes:
What do you think about McNair and Big Ben? How likely is Tiki to put up big numbers?
Al: If McNair can stay on the field for 16 games, he'll have a big season with Norm Chow's offense and a defense that will have the Titans so far in a hole that McNair will be forced to air it out to play catch up every week. That's a pretty big if, though. Our own Will Carroll doesn't expect him to play a full season with his injured sternum.
As for Roethlisberger, his fantasy numbers should improve this year as the running game takes a step back and he's forced to carry more of the offensive load. He'll be a decent backup, but not necessarily someone I'd want to count on every week.
Tiki should have another solid year, although I'm not sure if he'll be the #2 or #3 fantasy RB as KUBIAK projects him to be. It's not because of Brandon Jacobs' potentially taking away carries, but rather my lack of confidence in Eli Manning. Early on in the season, defenses will focus on shutting down Barber and force Manning to beat them. If Manning can't show the league that he can, I don't like Barber's odds of finishing among the top fantasy running backs this year.
I just recently discovered your site, and I love it. Your stats are the most logical and useful that I've found on the web. Once the season starts, do you guys do weekly individual projections? If not, do you guys know of any sites that give somewhat decent weekly individual projections? I sometimes feel compelled to look at what Hector and Victor have to say, but, like many fantasy owners and reasonable people out there, I hate myself for doing it. Nonetheless, I like to take their wild guesses and stack them against other people's wild guesses when I'm really stuck on a fence. We do our league on Yahoo, and there are sometimes links to Fanball's projections. Other than Hector and Victor or Fanball, do you have any tips? Thanks a lot for the advice, and thanks for the great site. You guys are a wonderful resource.
Al: We don't have plans to do weekly individual player projections for this season, but it's something we'll consider doing in the future. Using things like Hector and Victor, the Fanball star rankings, and columns like Scramble for the Ball are all good ways to make your start/bench decisions each week. But the best thing to do is to make these evaluations yourself. Check out injury reports, look deeper into the numbers of both your players and the defenses they'll be facing the next week. For running backs, I'd recommend checking out the offensive and defensive line rankings that we update on the site every week to find favorable or unfavorable matchups that you may not see by just looking at basic rushing statistics.
Vivek: The injury reports on Sunday at noon are my biggest fantasy tools. Go with your gut and common sense. You'd be surprised how many people actually debate about benching Deuce McAllister against the Ravens defense in favor of Lee Suggs when he plays Minnesota.
I picked up Antonio Gates in the third round, so I need someone to play in Week 1. Who's a tight end that you like that I could grab off the waiver wire to play this week?
Vivek: I am in your boat in a few leagues, as Eric Johnson is now doubtful for Sunday's opener. I've grabbed LJ Smith, who could finally have a breakout season as the primary tight end in Philadelphia. Chad Lewis's departure and the absence of a true number two receiver make him a viable target for Donovan McNabb. Rookie Heath Miller is another one who could become a great safety net for Ben Roethlisberger and pile up some good numbers.
Al: I'm going with Marcus Pollard in one league where I own Gates. Detroit plays Green Bay in Week 1, who were the worst team in the league last season in defending against passes to tight ends.
Finally, David A writes in with a great idea:
One of the guys in my fantasy baseball league proposed something we ought to consider while gathering league fees. Our league's prize money should to go to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. As he put it in an email: "Though we hate to admit it sometimes, this league is fantasy. But this storm, sadly, is reality." I agree wholeheartedly. Right now, with people dying in the streets, prize money means so much less.
Vivek: We cannot put it any better than you just did, David. We are trying to encourage people to donate to the recovery effort as well by offering the KUBIAK fantasy football projections in return for a $10 donation to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund or other hurricane charities. We have raised more than $9,500 thanks to you all.
Vivek: Javon Walker wanted a new contract. He is still in Green Bay with the same contract. Edgerrin James wanted an extension. He is still in Indianapolis with the same contract. We all know Terrell Owens's situation, and he has let the world know where he still is. John Abraham slinked back to Jets camp with no more than his one-year franchise tender. Antonio Gates held out for a new contract, and when he finally showed up to camp, he was slapped with a three-game suspension (but only one regular season game). Corey Simon wanted a better contract, and the Eagles gave him his walking papers.
Al: I can understand the frustration of NFL players who can be cut at any time by the team they've singed a contract with while they don't have the same option of termination in return. But that is a subject that should be brought up as part of the negotiations of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and not something that should be abused by players coming off a career year. The players made their bed, now they have to sleep in it.
Al: OK, we all learned this years ago, but the NFL hasn't yet. Teams still make their season ticket holders pay full price for two meaningless home games. As we've seen this year, the fourth preseason game is completely meaningless. Jobs are rarely, if ever, won or lost because of someone's play during that game. Starters regularly get a cameo or less. New England sat 32 players against the Giants in their final preseason game. Forcing teams to play a game that no one cares about is a waste of everyone's time and a pitiful money grab by NFL owners.
Vivek: Funny how there are no cries for fewer games after Rex Grossman and Jeff Garcia go down with injuries. When Michael Vick gets hurt, a commission is put together to investigate the exhibition schedule.
Al: For those of you just joining us, the Keep Choppin' Wood Award is given out every week in honor of the NFL player who has done the most to keep his team from winning, or has done something to sabotage his own career. The award was first handed out in 2003 after Jaguar punter Chris Hanson injured himself by cutting into his leg with an axe in the Jaguars locker room. What was an axe doing in the Jaguar locker room you ask? It was part of coach Jack Del Rio's motivational plan encouraging his team to â€œKeep Choppin' Wood.â€? To drive the metaphor home, Del Rio put a tree stump and an axe in the locker room where players were encouraged to take swings at the wood. It wasn't long before the inevitable happened and someone missed the log and instead chopped his own leg.
My vote for the preseason KCW Award goes to Maurice Clarett. Clarett managed to transform himself from a surprising third round selection by the Denver Broncos to yet another rookie free agent hoping to sign onto a practice squad somewhere. How did he do it? First, Clarett decided to sign an incentive laden contract instead of one that came with a $450,000 signing bonus. Clarett did this despite the fact that he was at best fourth on the Bronco RB depth chart with no guarantees for regular playing time.
Now some players would use the incentive laden contract as motivation to work hard to try and impress the coaching staff so that they would get more playing time and hit their incentives. Not our Maurice, though. Clarett took a different approach in addressing his low standing on the depth chart â€“ not practicing. That's right, Maurice thought that nursing a reportedly minor groin injury on the sidelines would convince Denver to give him more carries once the season starts over the three other running backs that were actually practicing.
So, instead of a young running back with upside that they had $450,000 invested in, the Broncos had a possible fourth string running back who refused to practice and would cost the team nothing if they cut him. Not surprisingly the Broncos let Clarett go and the former Buckeye is still looking for gainful employment at this time.
Vivek: For those of you Scramble newbies, this is our weekly segment where Al and I will be selecting our three favorite lines each week and make our selections as to who we think will cover. This year we'll be working off the lines from Fox Sports.
This year, I'll also take part in a pick em challenge through a sports web site called The Writers . Check out how my picks stack up against some other NFL forecasters.
Last year Al posted a winning record, while my â€œpick every gameâ€? Hail Mary during Week 17 dropped me well below .500.
Al: We'll keep track of our awful prognosticating skills as the year goes on. Of course, these picks are for entertainment purposes only. If you're dumb enough to throw actual money behind our guesses, don't come back yelling at us because of the negative hit on your bankroll. If you do make money, however, we won't stop you from sending some of it in our direction.
The Chad reportedly was still having problems late in the preseason learning the newfangled offense Mike Heimerdinger has installed in New Jersey. With an improved linebacking corps, the Chiefs will be able to take advantage of any hesitation Pennington may have during the game by shutting down the short routes that Chad has used as a safety valve the past few seasons. The revamped middle of the Jet defensive line will be tested early against a Kansas City offensive line that was #3 in the league in adjusted line yards for runs up the middle last season.
I think Arizona will make some noise this season, but opening on the road isn't where it's going to start. Especially playing against the team that had an up close look at all of new Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner's weaknesses last season. Arizona's offensive line didn't exactly gel together into a well oiled machine in the preseason, so I'm expecting Michael Strahan and rookie Jason Tuck to find themselves on top of Kurt Warner more than a few times on Sunday.
Even though the idea that Brett Favre can't play in a dome is somewhat debunked by yours truly in Pro Football Prospectus 2005, the Pack will struggle indoors in Week 1. I have a feeling that there will be many more people on the Kevin Jones bandwagon after he picks apart the Packers' weak run defense.
Year 2 of Joe Gibbs. No Rex Grossman. Gregg Williams's defense versus one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Only a few weeks of training camp from the star rookie running back. If the Redskins cannot easily put away the Bears, Gibbs might have to amend his statement that he is in Washington for the full length of his five-year contract.
Rudi Johnson owners should be drooling at this week's matchup against last year's worst run defense. The Cleveland pass rush won't be any saving grace either, as that has not made any strides at all during the past few years.
I think a better bet will be the over/under on this game (49.5), and it's realistic to see the teams top that number. What more can you ask for besides a good old-fashioned shootout to open the 2005 season. The holes on the Patriots defense have been well documented, and we will now see if the Raiders' offense will be the fantasy dream team that people are expecting. Still, Captain Charisma, Mr. Tom Moynihan, the former Mr. Tara Reid, whatever you want to call him, will architect a three or four point win, just short of covering.
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