by Al Bogdan and Vivek Ramgopal
Vivek: So how many of you are left in your weekly eliminator pools? One of mine saw 42 of 63 taken out while another waved goodbye to 35 of 53 courtesy of San Francisco and Miami. Those prognosticators aren't the only ones in mourning today -- so are Javon Walker owners and those of us who picked the Carolina Panthers to get to the Super Bowls on the strength of Kris Jenkins.
So without further ado, I kick this week's Scramble off in my best Coffee Talk with Linda Richman voice, "Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic: Is Willie Parker this year's sleeper RB for the Steelers? Discuss."
Should the Chargers be worried in the West?
Vivek: Not at all. The Chargers would have beaten the Cowboys if Antonio Gates was in the lineup. Look at the last San Diego series against Dallas. The Chargers had a first and goal from the Dallas seven-yard line with 47 seconds left, but minus Gates, were missing that big target in the end zone. Marty Schottenheimeier could not give the ball to LT twice to pound it into the end zone with only one timeout left, so Drew Brees had to try to force the ball to Keenan McCardell. The Cowboys easily stacked up the defense against McCardell. San Diego should have no problem against a Broncos team that returned from Miami with its tail between its legs.
Al: Yes, the Chargers should be worried. Not about themselves, but about the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chief run defense looked to be greatly improved from their terrible 2004. Derrick Johnson was a force to be reckoned with all over the field. Sure, Chad Pennington helped out by botching a half dozen snaps, but when he was able to hold onto the ball, the Chief defense effectively closed out all of his receiving options.
Will the Redskins' offense be as bad as it was last year?
Vivek: I haven't been a fan of what Joe Gibbs has done with this Washington offense, but I do believe that this will be the offensive low point for the year. Despite the low point total, the Redskins were able to put drives together. They would have more to show for their efforts if Chris Cooley wasn't flagged for pass interference. Washington had no three-and-outs, and averaged almost nine plays per drive (minus the drives to end each half). And yes, I am drinking the Mark Brunell Kool-Aid to wash down my dinner.
Al: I have to disagree. The offense has plenty of room to go down, now that Patrick Ramsey has been removed as the starting quarterback after an ineffective quarter and a half and replaced by Mark Brunell. If Gibbs had this little confidence in Ramsey, why bother with starting him in Week 1? Why list him as the number one quarterback throughout the pre-season? Yet another head shaking decision from the Washington Redskins that will lead to another 6-10 season.
Vivek: The treatment of Patrick Ramsey is a column all to itself. Ramsey has been beaten up by former coaches, misused and had his head messed with by Gibbs. Put him on another team, and you'll see a serviceable starting quarterback.
Should Dante Culpepper owners worry about the post-Randy era?
Al: Yup, but not just because Randy Moss isn't around. For the past few seasons, Minnesota has been able to complement the great passing attack that Culpepper and Moss provided with one of the better rushing attacks in the game. The Vikings have finished in the top five in rushing DVOA for every season we have DVOA numbers for published on the site (2000-04). Minnesota is missing two of its stalwarts on the offensive line from that era -- Pro Bowl center Matt Birk is done for the year because of an injury, and guard David Dixon is in semi-involuntary retirement as an assistant coach for a Minnesota high school football team. Without an effective running game to help set up the pass, and less talented receivers to throw to, it's looking like Culpepper's numbers will not be what owners who drafted him in the first or second round were hoping for.
Vivek: I am realizing that Culpepper might not be worthy of a top-seven fantasy pick, even though the Vikings as an overall team are much improved from past years. The running back situation is no more settled now than it was going into training camp, prior to Wizzinator-gate. A telling indicator of Culpepper's 2005 season is his stat line without Randy Moss, which was about 90 yards per game less than with Moss.
What about Priest Holmes owners in the Larry Johnson era?
Vivek: Priest is still Priest and will be a top-seven fantasy back if healthy for the full season. Johnson may have out-gained Holmes in total yardage for Week 1, but Holmes had 23 touches vs. Johnson's 10. Johnson is by no means the goal-line back either, so both backs should have 8-10 touchdowns on the year. The yardage balance will fall towards Holmes as the season progresses as well.
Al: I agree. There are more than enough balls to go around in the Chief offense. If anything, Johnson's taking a third or so of the carries per game will help Holmes owners in the long run. Sure, you're less likely to see a return to Holmes' previous 2,000-yard, 20 touchdown seasons with a decrease in his per-game workload from his peak production of 2001-03. But you're much more likely to be able to play Holmes for 16 weeks this year as Johnson will help slow down the inevitable damage Holmes will take on his 32-year old body.
Who the hell is Frisman Jackson?
Vivek: Frisman Jackson is the player that every fantasy owner will be trying to pick up, then trade to you for Tiki Barber next week. David Terrell had 126 yards after one game last season, about 20% of his season total, and we all know where his career has gone. For those of you wondering, Jackson is a four-year veteran from Western Illinois who recorded 38% of his career receiving yards on Sunday. I'd expect Antonio Bryant and Braylon Edwards to bump him down the stat charts by Week 4.
Al: Seeing Jackson's stats on Sunday brought me all the way back to 2003, when fantasy owners went crazy trying to figure out which Brown receiver would be worth starting that week. Every time Dennis Northcutt or Andre Davis would get picked up from the waiver wire, they'd be back there a week or two later in favor of Quincy Morgan or Kevin Johnson. I'm getting rid of all my Browns receivers this week just so I'm not frustrated by their inevitable inconsistent production.
Can the Saints keep this up?
Al: Sadly, no. New Orleans' upset of the Panthers on the road was a great win, but I can't see New Orleans keeping this up all year. The team will be living out of their suitcases for the entire NFL season. At no point will the players get to go home to their own bed to relax and unwind with their families after a grueling game. While their opponents spend most of the week commuting from their homes to a temperature-controlled practice field and studying tape in a video room set up with state of the art equipment, the Saints have to make due bussing from the hotel to a high school stadium and watching videos in the city's convention center. As of last week, the Saints didn't even have their own weight room set up yet. In the short term, a team can overcome this. But in the NFL, over the course of a full season, this will all catch up with a team that I wasn't too high on to begin with.
Scramble for the Ball Mailbag
Tito asks us to rate his team:
Draft Results: I would like you guys to critique the RB and WR corps I have assembled. There is one major thing I am scared of, which I will tell you afterwards. I am in a 12 owner, 17 roster size seasonal league:
I like it. I'm worried about the age of my wideouts (Ward, Smith, Johnson), and I was just curious if you think I should try to make my WR corps a younger one with more upside, and less injury risk.
Vivek: Nice run of running backs in a 12-team league. You are being a bit too sensitive about the age of your wide receivers. Hines Ward has not shown any signs of slowing down, and I think you'll get enough out of either Michael Clayton or Rod Smith to contend in your league. I'll assume that you start two running backs and a flex position, so Dunn is more than adequate there.
Al: I also wouldn't do anything drastic to your wide receivers. Clayton/Ward/Smith is as good of a starting three wide receivers as you could hope for in a 12-team league while also having three starting running backs on your team.
Ernie M. writes:
I was reading the OPE section of the PFP 2005, and Dan Lewis mentions that fantasy defenses should be picked off the waiver wire. He recommends choosing the one that is playing against the worst offensive line. I was wondering how to figure out which offensive line. Should I use DVOA? DPAR? A combination of the two?
I picked up Philadelphia and Tampa Bay in my draft. Should I drop these two and pick up someone else?
Al: I agree with the idea that you shouldn't draft fantasy defenses early, if at all, and instead grab them off the waiver wire week to week based on the matchup. However, you've found yourself with what should be two pretty good defenses. If anything, having both Philadelphia and Tampa on your fantasy team is a bit redundant. Unless you're forced to carry a backup defense, I'd dump one of them (Tampa) and use the roster spot on another backup RB or WR.
Vivek: Case in point was the Redskins against the Bears in Week 1.
Thanks for the Marcus Pollard tip last week. With Gates out I needed Pollard to make up for my number-one wide receiver leaving the game with a knee injury. Who should I pick up to replace Javon Walker now that he's done for the year?
Al: It's going to be tough to find someone to replace the numbers you were expecting Walker to put up as a No. 1 wide receiver. One name that might be on your league's waiver wire that I think will have a big year is Patrick Crayton on Dallas. I don't see him being a one-week wonder, like I do Frisman Jackson. Crayton was extremely effective in very limited time last season, and beat out Quincy Morgan for a starting job during the pre-season. Crayton will be able to hold off Peerless Price for playing time, and should emerge as Dallas' #2 wide receiver ahead of Terry Glenn in the not so distant future.
Vivek: Without Koren Robinson, Bobby Engram is firmly entrenched as the second receiver in Seattle. He'll drop his share of passes, but factor in six catches and about 70 yards a game for the year.
Lessons Learned from Week 1
Lesson 1 -- The NFC West is the Worst Division in Football
Al: We already knew this, but Week 1 did a great job of confirming it. Arizona doesn't have an offensive line. Seattle can't give the ball away fast enough. The less said about the St. Louis/San Francisco game, the better. Last year there was a scenario that was still possible going into Week 12 where the 49ers could have won the NFC West with a 6-10 record. That's not an unbelievable scenario this year after the Week 1 performances of these three teams.
Lesson 2 -- This May Be the Year the Chiefs Finally Put it Together on Defense
Vivek: After a coordinator change did not fix the Chiefs' defense, Kansas City went out this offseason and brought in the right players. Kendrell Bell and Derrick Johnson are much welcome additions, and opposing quarterbacks will not be able to be as daring anymore with Patrick Surtain and Sammy Knight.
Keep Choppin' Wood Award
Vivek: There was enough blame to go around for the Jets' loss -- Kevin Mawae for his share of bad snaps, the offensive line (which was the second best in the NFL last year) for yielding three sacks on Sunday, dropped passes, a missed field goal, and well you get the idea. But Chad Pennington's performance was disturbing to Jets fans for so many reasons. Most of his six fumbles were due to poor decisions, something extremely uncharacteristic of Pennington. He carelessly tried to escape the pocket when under pressure versus being his usual cerebral self, which would have gone along with the "live to fight another day" mentality.
Al: I'd also like to mention the awful performance by Jet cornerback David Barrett in the first half of the game. Barrett was matched up against Eddie Kennison early on and showed no ability to contain the Chief wide receiver. Barrett also had an opportunity to stop Priest Holmes from scoring his touchdown, as Barrett had Holmes wrapped up at the ankles on the four-yard line. Holmes easily escaped Barrett's grasp, however, and scampered into the end zone.
Since you mentioned offensive lines, Viv, I'd be remiss not to mention the Chicago Bear O-line, which cost the Bears a victory over Washington by moving the team out of field-goal range with three consecutive false start penalties. Three consecutive false starts? I've never seen that before.
Loser League Update
Al: We won't have the Loser League Contest results up for another week or two, but here are the top individual performers based on my unscientific scanning of this week's box scores. These are all unofficial tallies, we'll have the official scores up sometime in the near future.
At QB, Josh McCown put up a perfect 0 points during his garbage time play at the end of the Cardinals' blowout loss to New York. Among quarterbacks you might have drafted, Patrick Ramsey finished with only 1 point. The jokers who try to pick the worst loser league team took a big hit this week as Daunte Culpepper also finished with only 1 point. At running back, rookie J.J. Arrington scored 0 points for rushing, thanks to his eight-carry, five-yard performance, but managed 22 receiving yards to score 2 points for the week. He was bested only by Travis Henry, who had only one fewer carry than Chris Brown, but finished with nearly 30 fewer rushing yards and one more lost fumble for a 1 point loser league score. Eight different receivers scored 1 point including a few you might have had starting on your actual fantasy team, like Andre Johnson, Ashley Lelie, and Roy Williams. At kicker, it doesn't get much better than the three missed field goal performance from Matt Stover, who managed a garbage time extra point for a spectacular -5 points. A special mention should go to the official rookie kicker of Pro Football Prospectus 2005, Mike Nugent, who missed his first NFL field goal attempt to finish with -1 loser league points.
Vivek: (1-2 last week, 1-2 overall)
I've picked up right where I left off last year, losing with picks of the Raiders +7.5 and the Redskins -6.5. Using the lines from FOX Sports, here are this week's picks.
San Diego +3.0 over DENVER
This pick is not just because of Denver's loss to Miami last week, but because of their offseason moves, which did not impress me at all. Gerard Warren, Courtney Brown, Michael Myers, Ebenezer Ekuban and Trevor Pryce (returning from surgery) are all a step below their counterparts from last year. Subtract an injured Champ Bailey, and it will be a big offensive day for the Chargers.
PHILADELPHIA -13.5 over San Francisco
Philly at home and angry about its Monday Night Football loss. I dare Tim Rattay to throw into the Eagles secondary.
CINCINNATI -3.0 over Minnesota
I'm really hurting the chances of my pre-season NFC championship pick by having Minnesota start out 0-2, but I liked what I saw from the Bengals last week.
And for those of you picking games straight up this week, you can view my picks over at The Writers.
Al: (3-0 last week, 3-0 overall)
I've never started off a season with a perfect record before. I'm going to take a minute and enjoy this before my record quickly crashes back to earth.
N.Y. Giants -3.0 over NEW ORLEANS
There's been a lot of talk about how the Giants have been granted an unfair advantage by having the New Orleans game moved to the Meadowlands, giving New York one more home game. Where were all these people complaining when the NFL scheduled Arizona to have one less home game than the rest of the teams in their division?
ARIZONA -1.0 over St. Louis
With the disadvantage of only seven true home games, Arizona can't afford to lose when they actually are at home to a division rival. The Cardinals lost to the Giants because of the failures of their special teams. Lucky for them, they're going against a team that has consistently had bad special teams for the past five seasons. I'm going to try a little experiment and just take the home team any time two NFC West teams play each other from now on (excluding the 49ers/Cardinals game in Mexico).
DALLAS -6.0 over Washington
Mark Brunell on the road.