Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
04 Aug 2006
Ian: Howdy! And welcome to another Scramble for the Ball favorite: Over/Under predictions on team wins for the upcoming season. We're breaking the column up into four parts: Bad AFC, Good AFC, Bad NFC and Good NFC. Today, we're kicking things off with the bad AFC teams.
Bill: You write one thing about football cards and the next week, ESPN and Yahoo have front page articles about the card industry. There goes that idea. Wait -- did someone mention sports betting talk? I already feel better. Let's do this.
Ian: Wow, talk about a tough way to start the season. The Texans' first four games are vs. PHI, @IND, vs. WAS, vs. MIA, then they have the bye week. If you're keeping score at home, going into Week 6 the Texans will be 0-4, and the rest of their games will become much less important to their fans and the media than the never-ending "Reggie Bush" debate.
It's a shame, really, because I do think they'll be a better team than they have been. I think Eric Moulds and Andre Johnson will have respectable seasons, and give Domanick Davis some running room (if he's ever healthy). But I think many solid performances will come in losing efforts.
They have some winnable matchups in the second half, but not enough to make up for a disastrous start to the season. That's why I'm going Underhere.
Bill: I'm not convinced the guy who was 64th in WR DVOA last year -- and hasn't been on the positive side of the DVOA ledger since 2000 -- is going to create that much space for Andre Johnson or Domanick Davis. If the Texans are going to win six games, their defense is going to have to improve. Fortunately for them, they can't get any lower -- their 21.2% DVOA was last in the league last year. How much better will they get? Well, Mario Williams will certainly help. For the years we have data, the teams that finished last in defensive DVOA averaged a rank of 23rd the year after; in 2005, the Vikings improved to 19th after their dead last finish in 2004.
All that said, they certainly do have an ugly start to the season. I'm really high on the Texans in '07, but this is a year for learning Gary Kubiak's system and trying to build some sort of stable foundation in Texas. I predict that David Carr will, for the fifth season running, not once have to worry about buying any of his offensive linemen watches, dinner, candy, Otto's BBQ, light rail fare... Under.
Ian: Nice to see that Tennessee starts with a home game against the Jets, which should get their season off on a positive note. But it's all downhill from there. @SD, @MIA, DAL, @IND, @WAS, then the bye week. If I thought they had a strong chance of sweeping the Texans this season, I'd figure they could scrounge out six wins, but I don't even see that happening.
They've got a mess of running backs and a new starting quarterback, and when they enter their bye week at 2-4 it's probably going to be Vince Young time. I believe that in time, he will be an excellent NFL quarterback. But the track record for rookie starters is not good. Sorry Tennessee fans, you're in for a long season. Under.
Bill: I'm not with you on this one. I have pretty high hopes for the Titans this year -- they have a young defensive line that's rapidly maturing behind what's going to be a very good linebacking corps with the addition of David Thornton from Indianapolis. On the offensive side, while David Givens isn't a #1, I think he can be a #1a -- and if Drew Bennett's a #1a too, well, that doesn't exactly add up to anything but I think they'll be able to get 160 balls off of Billy Volek, which should keep Vince Young off the field. They also replaced Brad Hopkins, their worst offensive lineman last year, with Michael Roos, their best. There's a lot to like here. Over.
Ian: Here's a team that's hard to figure. They finished a disappointing 5-11 last season. Willis McGahee managed only five touchdowns, though he did see a rise in rushing yardage from his rookie season. Eric Moulds is gone, and while Kelly Holcomb is the current starter, J.P. Losman is still waiting in the wings.
All that being said, I think the Bills have an excellent chance of topping the six win mark. They get to face the Jets twice (in case you haven't figured it out, I'm really sour on the Jets this season), they have four games against the NFC North (all of which are winnable games for them, especially considering they get to face the Vikings at home), and they get Miami and Tennessee at home two of the last three weeks of the season.
Sure, by the time we're four weeks into the season, many team perceptions will change. But from what I see right now, I'm going with the Over.
Bill: Ian, are you really implying that J.P. Losman waiting in the wings is a good thing? Usually, I think, "waiting in the wings" implies something positive and hopeful. Maybe "lurking in the wings" or "threatening with potential use" would work. It seems like saying, "Well, if this date doesn't work out, it's no problem. I have Tawny Kitaen waiting in the wings." This team really turned down Matt Leinart? So they could draft a safety? Maybe they were just assuming they'd be in position to draft Brady Quinn in 2007. Go Under with extreme prejudice. And, just for fun, your Marv Levy quote of the week:
"'It was different in the old days,' says the 80-year-old Levy, the Hall of Famer who took over as Buffalo's general manager this year, nine years after retiring as the Bills' coach. 'I'll even go back in my experience to Division III. Then if you had a drink if water during practice you were a sissy: 'You shouldn't drink water.'"
Ian: The Browns are just full of question marks. Is Charlie Frye for real? Can Reuben Droughns stay out of trouble off the field? Can Joe Jurevicius carry a bulk of this team's receiving load? Will Braylon Edwards come back healthy? And, perhaps most importantly, will Romeo Crennel be able to create the defensive success in Cleveland that he did in New England?
I'm gonna say "no." "No" to many of the above questions and "no" to the question of whether or not they can win seven games. They have what seems like a fairly average schedule, maybe a bit on the hard side. The schedule is not what's important here-- What's important is whether or not Crennel can implement his system, and implement it effectively. I just don't see that happening with the talent they currently possess. I'm going Under.
Bill: Jurevicius is basically replacing Antonio Bryant in this offense -- his DVOA was better, but he also had Matt Hasselbeck to work with. Edwards is also off the PUP list as of Sunday, which is good -- unfortunately, he'll be lending his crutches to LeCharles Bentley, who can wear any jersey number he wants now that he'll be on the sideline all season. To be honest, though, it wouldn't really have made much of a difference. This is a developing team that had a great off-season ... but also the fifth-hardest schedule in football. Much like the Texans, their year is 2007. Under.
Ian: You can't succeed in the NFL without solid, intelligent quarterback play. The Ravens might have won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at the helm, but while he wasn't flashy, he played extremely intelligent and didn't get in the way of the rest of his team.
[angry Tampa fan] (I can't help it-- I have to make an aside here. Hey Trent -- Why couldn't you play like that in Tampa?!? Why did you HAND AWAY games that the defense was WINNING FOR YOU? You BUM!!!) [/angry Tampa fan]
Excuse me, sorry about that ... Where was I? Oh, yes. You need strong quarterback play to succeed, and the Jets just don't have it. Blame it on injuries if you will, but Chad Pennington just has not gotten it done. Nor do I expect him to get it done this season. Patrick Ramsey? "Wee" Brooks Bollinger? None of these guys are guys I'd want quarterbacking my team. At least they have a strong running game to take the heat off ... Oh, wait, it's hard for the offensive line to open up holes for Curtis Martin and his wheelchair. Getting rid of John Abraham will help them, though.
I think I've said enough. Under.
Bill: Here's my question: why is Eric Mangini switching to a 3-4 when his best defensive players are suited for a 4-3? To find a spot for Bryan Thomas? Come on. Shouldn't he be worried a little bit more about keeping guys off Jonathan Vilma? The Victor Hobson/Eric Barton outside linebacker combination isn't exactly McGinest and Vrabel part II, either, and while the Jets have a good pair of safeties, they need to bury David Barrett with Jimmy Hoffa. Under.
Ian: Does any fantasy player have more upside and downside than Aaron Brooks? He's been handed the keys to a Cadillac, but does he know how to drive? A recent Jerry Porter trade demand looms large, but with Randy Moss and Doug Gabriel, they're not lacking for receivers. Also, LaMont Jordan has proven a solid workhorse back, as well as a solid receiver out of the backfield.
They have a rather balanced schedule. Their division, of course, is a very tough one: San Diego, Kansas City and Denver are all potential playoff teams. Outside their division, they get games against Cleveland, San Francisco, Houston, St. Louis and the Jets, all of which I'd at least consider "winnable".
Hard to predict what's going to happen here-- But I'm gonna go with a surprise rejuvenation of Aaron Brooks' career, and the Over.
Bill: Jordan's a good fantasy receiver for a running back, but his -0.7% DVOA last year isn't anything to write home about. I still get the feeling that Art Shell was Al Davis' panic pick for a coach, and everything coming out of Raiders camp has been, well, sketchy. Speaking of sketchy...
THE RAIDER WAY: A PRIMER
1) Make sure your nose remains hard at all times. This is very important.
2) We've won with a deep passing attack in the past. As a result, this is the only way that we can score effectively in the present, and any attempt to move away to a different scheme must be met with the utmost resistance.
3) With #2 in mind, any time we acquire a strong-armed passer with little accuracy, all his faults must be immediately forgotten. He will lead us to the promised land, where Ken Stabler teaches your kid how to throw the out, Cliff Branch runs all your errands for you, and everyone has ridiculous facial hair.
4) If you don't look like you could be an extra in the Under Armour commercials, you're not toolsy enough for us. In fact, if you're in one of the Under Armour commercial, you have a job. (An aside: did anyone else notice, in one of those commercials, the opposing team runs a sweep on fourth and goal from the ten against the Under Armour team? Who is calling the plays for the opponents there? No one else notices these things but me, I think.)
5) Your swagger must be palpable at all times. This is very important.
6) Penalties for false starts and offsides are absolutely unacceptable, unless you're Howie Long. Penalties for late hits and unnecessary roughness are, in fact, an entirely accurate measure of how tough you are.
7) You must be able to point out your utter, innate grittiness at all times. Carrying around dirt and/or eye black for said purposes is not only acceptable but, again, very important.
OK, enough of that. Every article I read on the Raiders talks about how Art Shell's going to return the Raiders to this disciplined, workmanlike team that doesn't commit any penalties. As Mike Tanier points out in his essay on the Raiders in PFP 2006, guess who set the league record for penalties in a season? The 1994 Raiders, coached by, yes, Art Shell. Under.
Ian: If you read the last Scramble column, you know where I'm headed with this one. I'm going Over. With Steve McNair re-uniting with Derrick Mason, and getting one of the top tight end receivers in Todd Heap, I expect big things from the Baltimore passing game. Not to mention that Jamal Lewis is another year removed from prison, so he should be getting back in better shape. Also, their defense is still top-notch, with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed leading the way.
Their home games this season include OAK, SD, CAR, CIN, ATL, PIT, CLE and BUF, of which I expect them to go at least 5-3. Road games include TB, CLE, DEN, NO, TEN, CIN, KC and PIT. They should be able to win four of those.
Not only do I expect them to hit the Over on this one, I think this the best bet if you are looking for a non-playoff team from last season to make the playoffs this year. There's plenty of room on the bandwagon; jump on board!
Bill: Here's a question -- what was Jamal Lewis doing in prison that got him out of shape? Was he sitting on a recliner eating Dibs? Who was running this prison, Simon Adebisi? I'm also worried about Ray Lewis' dedication after not joining the Re-up Gang this summer. The Under for Jason Whitlock's Super Bowl champion pick? Muah, magnifique.
Ian: How dare you take the Under on my favorite sleeper team to make the playoffs! An Ed Reed jersey says that the Ravens make the Over.
Bill: Surely you can't be serious?
Ian: I'm always serious when it comes to betting.
Bill: Fine, you're on. If I win, I'll take a jersey of whatever Giants player hasn't been injured or benched by Tom Coughlin.
Ian: One Luke Petitgout jersey, coming up!
Bill: Think Chris Snee has a better chance of keeping his job. Mmm ... nepotism. I kid.
Ian: Might as well start with the focal point of the Bengals franchise: Carson Palmer. All indications are that he's going to pull a minor medical miracle and be ready to start for the Bengals Week 1. Amazing. But will he be able to perform up to last season's standards?
So much of the Bengals offense is based on timing. They like to run the hurry-up, ala Peyton Manning and the Colts. They like to audible at the line, and they like to run receiver option routes to let Chad and T.J. pick their spots. Here's where Carson's injury is a big problem.
If he'd been spending time since last season working with his team on their timing and efficiency, I'd expect the Bengals to come out winning and continue with a strong season north of nine wins. As it is though, I expect there will be some time before he gets back in the flow of things, and too much of their success relies on that flow to win week one in Arrowhead, for starters.
If the Bengals win week one, I'll already be pretty sure that I was wrong, but as it stands right now I'm going with the Under.
Bill: So much of the Bengals' player development scheme, apparently, is based on thuggin' and buggin'. Forget the ghastly drop in production that would result if Palmer is replaced by Anthony Wright or Doug Johnson; with a hole at MLB due to Odell Thurman's repeated indiscretions, a likely dropoff coming from CB Tory James at 33, and the overrated Sam Adams (Buffalo's DL was 25th in the league at stuffing rushers last year, and 29th on power runs) being relied on to shore up the run defense, I don't feel real confident about the Bengals' defense improving very much. Throw in the second hardest schedule in football this season, and I see the Bengals staring up at nine wins this season. Under.
Todd S. in Indianapolis:"This is a fantasy football question that will probably ramble out of control. One of the leagues I play in is a complicated salary cap/keeper league. We draft rookies (only) every year, and we're allowed to put up to four of them on a development team for a very minor salary. They can stay on the development team for up to two years, so that you retain control of the players you draft while they get their feet wet in the NFL. (The players don't score any fantasy points; it's sort of an "inactive" roster spot -- like the NBA 13-15.)
So I have a decision to make now, because I have five young players I'd like to protect, but only four spots available. Among the considerations are: which one will have the most impact this year? Which player will have the most impact long-term? The reason the long-term question is important is the savings you get by playing someone you drafted. There is a strict rookie salary scale which is much cheaper than paying a free agent that you bid on competitively. So getting a full year of peak value from a player at a lower salary is better in the long-term than getting half of a good, early year.
The suspects are: Reggie Brown, Braylon Edwards, Roddy White, Matt Leinart, and Vernon Davis. My thinking is that it comes down to activating (and thus paying this year) either Reggie Brown or Roddy White. If one of the two looks to have a much larger peak potential, then I'd prefer to keep him. However, if they're both close long-term, I'll just pick the one with the higher KUBIAK projection for this year.
League info: 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, TE, K, D. Same scoring as the Rotoworld experts draft you just participated in.
My current roster: Drew Brees, Carson Palmer; Ronnie Brown, Domanick Davis, Larry Johnson, Brian Westbrook; Lee Evans, Larry Fitzgerald; Jeremy Shockey. (I currently also have Torry Holt, but I probably don't have enough cap space to keep him while filling out the rest of my roster. Assume that I'll be able to afford another WR2 on the open market if I can't keep Holt.)
What are your thoughts?"
Ian: A long e-mail, but a very interesting one. I choose to post it here because it has a number of interesting angles.
First of all, I've never heard of a league like this. I've heard of many proposals for auction-style keeper leagues in football, but the rookie rules sound quite interesting. Perhaps other people can use it as an idea for their own leagues.
Next, there's the question of Reggie Brown versus Roddy White this season. Both are extremely similar. Young, explosive, and signed to long-term deals. I'd have to give the edge to Reggie Brown though. Until Michael Vick proves he can use his wideouts effectively, I'm not sold that any of them will become valuable fantasy property. Throw in Brian Finneran's injury, and it's extremely unlikely that White will find himself open all that often. Reggie Brown may be dealing with a hamstring issue at the moment, but I'd take him catching passes from Donovan McNabb over Roddy White.
And just to comment on the other three options, they are certainly definite keepers. Edwards should be back after a few weeks, and has shown explosive talent. Matt Leinart may be unsigned right now, but he's still likely to sign eventually, and any Kurt Warner issue could lead to him being extremely valuable property. Vernon Davis is unlikely to contribute much his rookie season, but he has huge upside, and Jeremy Shockey is the kind of guy that could start missing weeks at any time for various reasons, most of which are not football related.
By the way, with a roster including Carson Palmer, Ronnie Brown, Larry Johnson, and Larry Fitzgerald, plus Westbrook and Domanick Davis for depth, I'd say it'll be shocking if you don't have an amazing season, regardless of the rookies you protect. Keeper lists this retardedly good is why I've found it tough to believe that there's a good system for salary-style keeper football. If any of you have a league rules page that seems to work well, post it in the comment thread!
Sheriff Amusa of Nigeria: "Dear sir, i will like to introduce myself to you firstly before telling you my reason of sending you a mail.
my name is sheriff amusa,i am 14 year old, i am a midfielder,i am from nigeria and i played for one of the local club in lagos state here in nigeria.i love football and i play football,i dream football and i feel football and i made a promise to my parents that what i am in this world to do is to play football and serve my God.
Sir all what i have been trying to say is that i am interested in playing for your junor team under 15.i am a midfielder also and i want to learn more from professional like you sir.i need a football agent/manager to help me in my football carrier,please if there's anyhow u can help me i will be very happy,i will be oblarge if my letter is accepted by you.
thanks alot and have a nice day sir."
Bill: I would be oblarge to help you, Sheriff, but unfortunately, Maurice Clarett already screwed it up for you. Sorry little buddy. Maybe in five years. On the other hand, if you'd be interested in assisting me in removing the money out of my late uncle's bank account, we might be able to do business...
Ian: One of the most common questions we get asked is "Know any sleepers no one else has talked about yet?" Well, in the age of double-digit fantasy football magazines, and plenty more websites, it's hard to find a player who's avoided mention. That being said, here's a few rarely-mentioned names that could be in for a strong season:
LenDale White, RB, TEN: Running back is one of the easier positions for a player to make a splash as a rookie. Travis Henry's best days are behind him, and Chris Brown is oft-injured, so don't forget about LenDale as a potential starter for the Titans. He may not be likely to put up big numbers, but starting running backs are always valuable, and he has a great chance to become one before too long.
Mark Clayton, WR, BAL: He's got some hamstring issues at the moment, which should make him available in the last few rounds of your draft. Still, I think he's worthy of a roster spot. He came on pretty strong at the end of last season, and should have room to roam with Derrick Mason and Todd Heap drawing all the attention.
Cedrick Wilson, WR, PIT: He jumped onto the radar with a strong performance for the Steelers in last season's Super Bowl run. Now, he's the default starter opposite Hines Ward thanks to Randle-El bolting for free agency. With Jerome Bettis out of town, I don't expect the ground game to help move the chains as effectively as it used to for the Steelers, and thus the passing game will become a more important part of the offense. This should lead to more opportunities for Cedrick, which he's proven he can take advantage of when given the playing time.
Alex Smith, TE, TB: He showed plenty of promise his rookie season, catching a reasonable 41 passes. Look for those numbers to go up, in addition to his touchdown total, as the Tampa brass is high on this youngster. After the known commodities are gone at tight end, he has as good a chance of anyone to prove a solid weekly starter that you got on draft day for dirt cheap.
I wouldn't draft these guys to be starters coming out of your draft, but their emergence could allow you to trade away someone you drafted higher for help somewhere else you need it. Anyone can draft a top running back or wideout in the early rounds, but it's the late, productive picks that really help you win your league.
61 comments, Last at 17 Aug 2006, 12:14pm by FarSeer