by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Ed. Note: Scramble for the Ball is the FO version of Law and Order or the Denver backfield. The idea remains the same, but the cast constantly changes. That means this year's season premiere of Scramble is the perfect place to introduce three new members of the FO staff for 2009.
This season, Scramble for the Ball will taste like deep-dish instead of salmon, giving up its Seattle slant for a bit of Chicago flavor thanks to two longtime FO readers and game charters: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower. (You may know them as "fnorbenden" and "News to Tom" from the discussion boards.) Both are Chicago lawyers, although their loyalties lie in the AFC. (Tom grew up in Houston and still roots for the Tennessee not-Oilers, while Mike is from Northeastern Ohio and cheers on the defending champion Steelers.) Scramble will continue to cover everything that makes the NFL fun, from fantasy football and the Loser League -- 2009 sign-ups are coming soon, by the way -- to ridiculing bad commercials and players who do stupid things in public. We'll also have Jason Beattie cartoons starting next week.
Mike Kurtz will also be taking over as co-assistant editor and grammar police, sharing that job with University of Florida student (and GatorCountry.com writer) David Gardner. They take over for Vince Verhei, who sticks around as a staff writer. -- Aaron Schatz
The Year That Will Have Been
Mike: Hello, hello, and welcome to another year of Scramble for the Ball, the XFL nostalgia column. I'm Mike, a Northeast Ohio native and rabid Steelers fan living in Chicago. I've been charting since either the first or second year of the project, and had one or two (I like to think) celebrated entries in "The Game Charters Speak," mostly about how Chicago is never as good as everyone thinks they are. I despise gambling, which makes me a bit of an odd choice for a column about (although not so much anymore) gambling, but it at least works as an entertaining intellectual exercise. I'm also the current champion of my (surprisingly brutal) family fantasy football league, and I will be representing FO in CBS Sportsline's Expert IDP Draft of Doom. Seriously, the draft is 29 rounds long. Be prepared for a separate wailing/teeth-gnashing column on that. Here, Tom and I are going to give over/unders on all the NFC teams this year, and summarize the mighty FO staff fantasy football draft.
For those of you not familiar with the gambling term "over/under," it refers to a bet where the bookie sets a line for each team, and gamblers place money on whether or not the team's final total will be higher (over) or lower (under) that line. In this case, the O/Us we're dealing with are regular season wins by each team.
Tom: Another Chicago area resident who roots for an AFC team am I. My name is Tom, and I'm living proof that if you contribute lots of poorly compensated labor to FO and spend a couple years writing in obscurity, you can end up with an FO writing gig. Doing the writing competition a couple years ago would've been a lot simpler. Anyway, I've rooted for the Titans since they were the Oilers, and though I've been informed Frank Reich and Al Del Greco both have printable middle names, I will never use them. Anyway, let's talk about the inferior conference. O/Us provided by Bodog Sports, though they shouldn't vary too much from other places.
Arizona Cardinals (8.5)
Mike: Many people have a soft spot for feel-good stories. We see it every year in every sport, and no story was feel-goodinger than that of Kurt Warner and his terrifying wife. Except perhaps Fitzthulu and his daddy Lloigor. Anyway, most commentators are ascribing last year's Cardinals' meteoritic rise to the top of the NFC to some manner of sunshine/puppy/hair dye-powered machine concocted by Whizenhunt. Even Mandatory Reading Football Outsiders Almanac 2009 has the Cardinals pegged below six wins. While I'm certainly not ready to declare them masters of the universe, I'm much higher on Arizona then most. For one, their offense is truly terrifying. Sure, Warner is old and fragile, but his his backup was already a serviceable starter and has had the chance to watch a really great year of quarterbacking, and learn. Yeah, the offensive line is embarrassing, but the Steelers beat the Ravens three times last year using lineman-like objects constructed of twigs and duct tape. The Cardinals are a dangerous team in a weak division, and now that they've tasted success, we won't see a monumental collapse like we did last year. Over.
Tom: Really, did anybody see this team play last year outside of the playoffs? They ran a mediocre division and sleepwalked into the playoffs, where they did perform reasonably well. They clearly have some very good players -- Fitz, Boldin/Breaston, Adrian Wilson, Rodgers-Cromartie, Dockett -- but there's too much non-quality here for me to see this team being very good. Under is an easy call.
Atlanta Falcons (8.5)
Tom: Michael Turner may hit the Curse of 370, but Norwood's a very competent No. Two and a falloff probably wouldn't be a big deal. What is a bigger deal is a fairly solid division and overall a much more difficult schedule. I also don't see a lot of standout players on the defense beyond John Abraham. FOA has them at 6.6 wins, and I'm inclined to agree. Once again, under is an easy call.
Mike: I really want to give the over on Atlanta. I really want to. As a Pirates fan, I sympathize with fans continually stuck on the rebuilding treadmill, one day looking pretty good and then collapsing the next. I just picture the organization as the original, scrappy Rocky Balboa ... you think he's going to do it, he looks good, but then the punches start connecting. Matt Ryan will no longer sneak up on anyone, since everyone has tape on him now. Thud. The linebacking corps was already mediocre, and lost two starters without adding clearly superior talent. Thud. Michael Turner had 376 carries last year. Haymaker. Under.
Carolina Panthers (8.5)
Mike: The 2009 Panthers look a heck of a lot like the 2008 Panthers. This doesn't seem like a bad thing if you're a member of the Jake Delhomme and Muhsin Muhammed Appreciation Society (local chapter meeting in a broom closet near you), but for the rest of us it is a terrifying prospect. There was a lot of attention on Julius Peppers this offseason, but Carolina reached its lofty heights last season largely on the strength of its fifth-ranked offense, not its mediocre defense. On the other hand, their opponents this year are pretty awful, and DeAngelo Williams is pretty awesome. They won 12 games last year with this squad and a slightly harder schedule, so I don't think it's out of the question that they pull out nine this year. Over.
Tom: I've never known quite what to make of John Fox. He's clearly not terrible, and his teams have sometimes been very good, but I have never felt confident in any of his teams. That may be a reflection in part of Delhomme at quarterback, the man who can only find WR1. I've been a DeAngelo Williams fan since his days at Memphis, but the running game won't be as effective without a healthy Jonathan Stewart. FOA has the Panthers at 8.3 wins, which feels right. I'll make this another under, but it's a tough call.
Chicago Bears (8.5)
Tom: This should be an easy call -- team wins nine games, adds a franchise quarterback, suffers no major losses, yet their O/U is only 8.5? If over sounds like too easy of a call, that's because it is. The defense hasn't been able to get consistent pressure with four since before Tommie Harris's 2006 injury, and they won't be able to again. Lance Briggs is still excellent, but I don't like anybody else in the back seven, and I used to say very nice things about both Vasher and Tillman. The wideouts are also still subpar, and have you seen the offensive line? John St. Clair is gone, but Orlando Pace is old and unreliable and the rest of the line has no standouts. Give me the under here.
Mike: Devin Hester. Devin Hester. Devin Hester. Devin Hester. It has begun. The only thing more explosive than Hester's explosiveness is Jay Cutler's zing. Sure, Chicago robbed Denver blind. Yes, Greg Olsen is one of the great young tight ends in the league (I should know, I'm a happy fantasy owner). Jay Cutler has been given a key to the city that apparently works on every Bears fan's bedroom. Robbie Gould is the best kicker whose name is consistently misspelled (actually a pretty high honor). For all the flash and bang, however, there are opposite and more-than-equal concerns. The mediocre secondary continues to be mediocre and neither Lovie Smith nor Jerry Angelo has done a thing about it. In fact, aside from Cutler, they did absolutely nothing this year, on the belief that execution was all that stood behind last year's nine-win squad and a championship. Meanwhile, Hester has hands that Patrick Troughton would be ashamed of, and good lord did you see the offensive line against Denver? Denver! Under.
Dallas Cowboys (9)
Mike: Seriously! Denver!
Anyway. Two years ago the Cowboys were clearly the most talented team in the league, as measured by the objective OABOA (Oil-Adjusted Bragging Over Average) metric. Mandatory Reading of the Past Pro Football Prospectus 2008 nailed last season right on the head: The Cowboys, like the Red Sox, had become that which they hated most. Unfortunately for Cowboys fans, the Cowboys started out as the Yankees in this scenario. There is some upside, however. First, they have an absurd, punt-eating scoreboard that they can scapegoat this year. Second, Tedy Bruschi has retired, so they can be America's Team again! Under.
Tom: There are a lot of parts on this team I really like -- the tight ends, the running backs, most of the offensive line, Jay Ratliff, DeMarcus Ware. Four games against the AFC West also looks good. 3-1 there plus 6-6 in the other games sounds pretty reasonable to me. Call this a push.
Detroit Lions (4.5)
Tom: The 2005 49ers were worse, IMO, than last year's Lions, but the Lions had a problem: Nobody, seemingly including the players, thought they were really capable of winning. I don't know if this was the quality of the coaching, or the environment, but this team played stupid, particularly on defense. With Jim Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham, that should change. The parts of a marginally-competent offense are also in place. Stafford has an NFL arm, Kevin Smith had a nice rookie year, Brandon Pettigrew is the most complete rookie tight end in years, and, well, Megatron. They were fumble-lucky last year on defense (yes, really), and 4-12 wouldn't shock me, but still give me the over here.
Mike: Jim Schwartz has a plan. Step one is to use Detroit's hard-earned first overall pick to get a shiny, new Official Quarterback of the Future. Step two is apparently to fire all the female members of the Lions organization, in response to his inability to comprehend things written by women. One thing Schwartz does comprehend, however, is what makes good teams tick. Schwartz has embraced the statistical analysis of football far more than most prominent coaches and assistants. This might turn out to be not a huge deal, but at least gives us warm fuzzies. He is also building a strong foundation for the future, with a new quarterback, a few linemen on each side of the ball, and three linebackers all coming out of this draft. The pyroclastic implosion that was the 2008 Detroit Lions probably should have won three or four games. With better focus and at least better luck, this year's edition should certainly be able to manage 5. Over.
Green Bay Packers (8.5)
Mike: There's a lot to love about the Packers. Aaron Rodgers looks like he has star quarterback potential. The wide receivers are still a talented bunch. Mandatory Reading FOA 2009 worries about the defense, particularly the switch to a 3-4. Normally this would be cause for much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but Green Bay isn't normal. Green Bay has really, really good linebackers. I have spent a lot of time studying elite defenses (Yes, in my free time. Silence.) and I cannot overstate the influence linebackers have on a 3-4. The linebackers are responsible for getting pressure on the quarterback; are often asked to range the field in a zone set-up; and unlike a 4-3, they have primary gap responsibilities, rather than sitting back and watching a run develop. When you have very good linebackers, the 3-4 ceases to be a confusing, arcane series of checks and balances and becomes an unstoppable (drive-) killing machine. With great linebackers, you can do a lot of useful things, such as, say, give safety help to your really, really old corners. I see Green Bay having fantastic passing and front seven to go with mediocre running and secondary. Since they can cheat a bit on the secondary, I expect at least good things from the Pack. Over.
Tom: After Chicago, this is the second prediction I have actual money on. I don't love their running backs, the switch to the 3-4 scares me, and the corners are old. But, like in 2007, I have a very good feeling about this team. The wideouts are dynamite, Rodgers is a very good quarterback, and there's much more quality depth in the secondary than there has been the past couple years, so they're more prepared for the nigh-inevitable Woodson/Harris injury. Over, to the tune of double-digit wins.
Minnesota Vikings (9.5)
Tom: Unless the question is "With Gus Frerotte gone, where can we find an old guy who turns the ball over too much?", Brett Favre is not the answer to your quarterbacking questions. He killed the '03 Packers with turnovers, and the '07 Packers, too (though McCarthy helped him by going pass-wacky in the NFCCG). He'll kill the '09 Vikings, too, unless Brad Childress shows him a heavy hand and forces him to play under control. Yes, the same Brad Childress who chauffeured him to training camp after successfully begging him to come out of retirement. Press reports out of Minnesota indicated that this is the same team that didn't want to trade for Cutler because they didn't like his attitude? What, he's willing to admit the coach is in over his head? They'll be better once Sage takes over around Week 12, but they're still not winning 10 games. Under.
Mike: Say what you want about Brett Favre, he's better than Tarvaris Jackson. I think last year showed that the Vikings are a really, really good team except for quarterback. You can wail and gnash your teeth over the wall-to-wall Favre coverage, or complain that certain sportswriters fan the flames of various Favre-related non-stories to sell copy, but no matter how sick of Brett Favre you are, he makes Minnesota a better team. For the regular season. The postseason? Really, don't make me laugh! I wouldn't be surprised if Favre was in a morgue in January. But he'll play enough of the regular season, and be easily good enough to let the other, very good aspects of the Vikings shine. Over.
New Orleans Saints (9)
Tom: I like the quarterback, and the wideouts (a little less). Sedrick Ellis should be better in his second year. I saw a lot of Malcolm Jenkins in college. The defensive ends aren't bad. I still don't see enough of what I like on defense, or offensively beyond quarterback/wide receiver. FOA says 7.8 wins, but as Mike Tanier writes in the essay, 12-4 is fairly easy to see. Too easy to see. I'd feel better if the line was 9.5, but still give me the under.
Mike: This is in opposition to the Saints, who have even better passing, but absolutely nothing else. The Saints are like a shambling abomination that broke free of the lab before it was all complete. Doctor Paytonstein is wildly chasing after the beast, trying desperately to graft body parts onto it while shouting and begging for the creature to stop, but it won't because there are peasants and pitchforks and fire! Also the good doctor is out of cash, so he has to used the mangled villager parts and hope that this time they'll be better than Hole in Zone. I'm not sure where to go with this analogy, so I'll just end by saying that the Saints aren't a very good football team. Under.
New York Giants (10)
Mike: The Giants are one of those really boring good teams, kind of like the Colts. Maybe it's a Manning thing. The Patriots of yesteryear at least had a comedic, vaguely homicidal edge to their button-up winningness, between Tedy Bruschi's determination to kill himself and Rodney Harrison's determination to strangle roughly a third of the United States population. See, the Giants are so boring they have me talking about the only slightly less boring Patriots! So, yeah. Passing game probably slightly better. Running game probably about the same. Defense probably exactly the same. Good team marginally improves as the rest of its division regresses. Over.
Tom: I know DVOA continued to like the Giants offense even after Plax went out last season, but I still don't like the WR1 situation. I don't like the injuries on the defensive line. I don't like the secondary if an injured DL can't provide a pass rush. I do like everything else. 10 wins is a lot, but I still like the over.
Philadelphia Eagles (9.5)
Tom: I wonder how many times Joe Banner would say the Eagles have been the best team in the league. Once again, the Eagles look like a very well-constructed team, adding Jason Peters, arguably the league's best left tackle in 2007, and Stacy Andrews. The defensive line should still be good, the secondary is good, the wide reciever corps is good, L.J. Smith isn't the tight end, LeSean McCoy was a very nice college running back, McNabb is a solid veteran quarterback, and Michael Vick could be an interesting option if used intelligently. I'll take the over.
Mike: So, where does that leave the Eagles? The hallmark of Philadelphia's game has been the play of the incredibly talented and versatile running back, Brian Westbrook. While McNabb's tumultuous telenovella with the people of Philadelphia has been interesting, amusing and depressing in turns, it has always seemed to me that the the team has risen and fallen with the fortunes of Westbrook. I don't see Westbrook nearly making it through the entire season this year, and perhaps the front office agrees. I'm going to pretend there is a rational reason for signing Michael Vick. You can't make me not! La la la la la...
Anyway, with the sad and untimely demise of genius and apparently really nice guy Jim Johnson, the usually top-flight defense is going to take a serious hit. Philly lived largely by their defense last year, and if that's not firing on all cylinders, I can't see them getting to double-digits. Under.
Mandatory Bonus Fantasy Interlude
Tom: The past staples of Scramble have been talking about fantasy football, making pro wrestling references, and mockery. I've never played fantasy football before, and I always watched Monday Night Football over Monday Night Raw. Fortunately, they forgot to invite Mike and me to join the first-ever official Football Outsiders Staff fantasy league, so there's still that, at least. Mike, take it away.
Mike: In the Football Outsiders fantasy draft, the readers are represented by two separate but equally important groups: The staff members who pick teams for our amusement, and the Scramble writers who mock them. These are their stories.
Not Matthew Berry (Bill Barnwell)
QB: Donovan McNabb, PHI (5-51); Jason Campbell, WAS (12-142)
RB: Matt Forte, CHI (1-3); Darren McFadden, OAK (3-27); Knowshon Moreno, DEN (4-46); Chris Wells, ARI (9-91); Carnell Williams, TB (14-166)
WR: Reggie Wayne, IND (2-22); Santonio Holmes, PIT (6-70); Torry Holt, JAC (7-75); Lance Moore, NO (8-94); Nate Burleson, SEA (13-147); Pierre Garcon, IND (15-171)
TE: John Carlson, SEA (10-118)
D/ST: Giants (11-123)
K: Josh Brown, STL (16-190)
Mike: And we get an obscure/cute team name right off the bat. Hooray.
Tom: For those who don't know, Matthew Berry is an ESPN draft expert.
Mike: The name seems a bit redundant, as nobody would confuse Barnwell with an expert in anything. Do they have a rivalry or something?
Tom: I think they may have argued over predictions, or something. Or, more likely, Bill made fun of his predictions for being stupid.
Mike: Looks like the hand's on the other foot now, Berry! What a sordid tableau of intrigue and backstabbing the fantasy football world is.
Tom: Much like academia, fantasy football politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low.
Mike: Getting McNabb in the fifth round is a good deal, but not really all that special. I'm not sure why on Earth anyone would take Campbell.
Tom: Yes, quarterback seems solid, but McFadden and Moreno as RB2 and 3? I like Moreno, drafted him, but neither of these guys is a clear RB1, and both their teams suck.
Mike: True, but Denver sucks in a way that generates a lot of points. Even if Moreno's just the biggest head on the hydra, he'll get enough to be worth it. I like Barnwell's wide receivers.
Tom: The wide receiver corps is really solid. Holmes, Holt, and Moore were all good value picks.
Mike: So he had high picks to waste on McFadden, yes.
Tom: I know you don't like tight ends, and they're all pretty much the same, but Carlson in the 10th is very reasonable as well. But criminey, his running backs are just too bad for me to really like this team.
Mike: Agreed. Maybe he should have called Matthew Berry to talk it over during the draft.
Disgruntled Kenneth (Aaron Schatz)
QB: Philip Rivers, SD (3-29); Brett Favre, MIN (10-116)
RB: Steven Jackson, STL (1-5); Marion Barber, DAL (2-20); Larry Johnson, KC (6-68); Darren Sproles, SD (8-92); Jamaal Charles, KC (12-140); Ricky Williams, MIA (14-164)
WR: Wes Welker, NE (4-44); Anthony Gonzalez, IND (5-53); Hines Ward, PIT (7-77); Michael Crabtree, SF (15-173)
TE: Dustin Keller, NYJ (11-125); Brent Celek, PHI (18-188)
D/ST: Patriots (13-149)
K: Stephen Gostkowski, NE (9-101)
Tom: I don't like the Rams prediction all that much, so I wouldn't have taken Jackson at No. 5.
Mike: Neither do I, but I know from experience that there's a big no-man's land at five to seven, and despite being on really awful teams, Jackson has been a top-flight fantasy back for a few years.
Tom: Barber will split carries, but should get a lot of goal-line work, so that's a quality pick at No. 20.
Mike: I really don't get Favre, though.
Tom: 10th round might be a little early for Favre, but I can see it.
Mike: Really? He's not going to knock Rivers out, and Rivers's bye is ... Week 5. Early, but right in the run-up to Favre self-destruction.
Tom: Actually, I take that back. Favre may go undrafted, and may get "hurt" before then with a Duane Kuiper-style injury.
Mike: He has broken ribs, remember? Although I have this image of Favre leaving his doctor's office with a chart, and on his way to practice picking up a menu from some awful Cold North barbecue place and getting the two confused.
Tom: I really liked Aaron's team when I first saw it, but I like his running backs less now.
Mike: I really hate Johnson in particular. Sixth round doesn't seem all that bad, but he's broken down and now they have a new offensive coordinator. Who probably realizes he's broken down.
Tom: He did draft Charles in the 12th as a handcuff, but yeah, sixth feels a little early to take Johnson.
Mike: Even with a handcuff, it's still the Chiefs we're talking about. This is a well-balanced team, which isn't too much of a problem in a points league, but in a head-to-head league, a well-balanced team is often a mediocre team. It will put up good points, but keep falling just short of wins.
Team Verhei (Vince Verhei)
QB: Tom Brady, NE (1-9); David Garrard, JAC (8-88)
RB: Julius Jones, SEA (3-33); LenDale White, TEN (4-40); Felix Jones, DAL(6-64); Jerome Harrison, CLE (11-129); Justin Fargas, OAK (14-160); Leonard Weaver, PHI (15-177)
WR: Randy Moss, NE (2-16); Bernard Berrian, MIN (5-57); Domenik Hixon, NYG (10-112); Ted Ginn, Jr, MIA (12-136), Justin Gage, TEN (13-153)
TE: Zach Miller, OAK (9-105)
D/ST: Bears (7-81)
K: Jeff Reed, PIT (16-184)
Tom: Vince is hoping for 2007 all over again.
Mike:If the Patriots don't click, however, he's dead in the water. I do like Reed in the last round.
Tom: I know KUBIAK loves the Bears' D, but round seven is way too early.
Mike: Beyond a certain small number of teams, fantasy defenses vary wildly from year to year. Unless you're sitting in round five or six with absolutely nobody interesting left on the board except Pittsburgh or Baltimore's defense, don't pick Chicago or Tampa Bay's defense just because there's a run on team defense. Or KUBIAK is screaming at you to (sorry, Aaron). There are a lot of interception-prone quarterbacks, and they're not always playing against elite defenses. If there is one place where it's usually safe and smart to play match-ups, it's with your defense.
Tom: My other concern is that White is a very fungible kind of guy ... you could draft a guy in the third or fourth round of a real draft who would give you 90 percent of his production. According to Pro-Football-Reference, White has been the No. 15 and No. 19 fantasy back the past two seasons. The 19 rating was based on him having 15 touchdowns. I can't imagine there's a long history of backs with no more than 200 carries and 15-plus touchdowns multiple years in a row.
Mike: Felix is all right in the sixth, but even if Brady and Moss do well, it just doesn't look great.
Show Me Your TDs (Will Carroll)
QB: Peyton Manning, IND (1-10); Pat White, MIA (16-183)
RB: Joseph Addai, IND (3-34); Jonathon Stewart, CAR (5-58); Reggie Bush, NO (7-82); LeSean McCoy, PHI (8-87); Chester Taylor, MIN (9-106); Le'Ron McClain, BAL (10-111)
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, ARI (2-15); Terrell Owens, BUF (4-39); Laveranues Coles, CIN (11-130)
TE: Jason Witten, DAL (6-63); Visanthe Shiancoe, MIN (12-135)
D/ST: Vikings (14-159)
K: Nate Kaeding, SD (15-178)
Tom: Another team with QB/WR picks to start out. That's not a great strategy. Although I suppose taking Peyton and Addai is a special form of risk management.
Mike: Yeah, Fitzthulu really isn't worth the 15th pick, especially considering the injury risk to Warner. Which is kind of weird, you'd think that Will would be obsessing over that.
Tom: Speaking of that, I hope Will knows something about Stewart's injury status that makes him worth a fifth-round pick. As for Fitz, FO thinks Leinart won't totally suck, and as far as I know Warner is currently healthy.
Mike: True, but there's a big chance that Fitzgerald will carry your team into the playoffs and then fall flat when Warner dies on the field or something. Reggie Bush as your RB3 is also a disaster waiting to happen.
Tom: I'm not sure that's worse than Stewart as RB2.
Mike: I get the feeling that Will felt hemmed in by his pick, went with Manning expecting one or two running backs to be available at 15. They weren't, so he went with Fitzthulu, then did damage control on starting running backs from there on out. In the later rounds, he made a run on guys who might surprise and get some significant time. More desperation than actual strategy. I could be wrong, of course.
South Jersey Swagger (Mike Tanier)
QB: Jay Cutler, CHI (5-55); Joe Flacco (12-138)
RB: Brandon Jacobs, NYG (1-7); Brian Westbrook, PHI (2-18); Thomas Jones, NYJ (4-42), Derrick Ward, TB (6-66); Lawrence Maroney, NE (10-114)
WR: Anquan Boldin, ARI (3-31); Kevin Walter, HOU (8-90); Devin Hester, CHI (9-103); Chris Chambers, SD (11-127); Nate Washington, TEN (15-175)
TE: Chris Cooley, WAS (7-79); Anthony Fasano, MIA (13-151)
D/ST: Redskins (14-162)
K: Rod Bironas, TEN (18-186)
Tom: We're both down on the Bears, so Cutler in the fifth round is eh.
Mike: Jacobs and Westbrook are solid, though, as is Boldin.
Tom: Flacco could be a decent value pick if he hangs on to him.
Mike: Flacco will probably end up being great trade bait. Although from what we've seen of the Bears' offensive line, Cutler might just get injured.
Tom: I drafted Jacobs, but both of those guys have shown they can break down.
Mike: Cooley is interesting in that there's a significant chance that he'll be the only actual productive member of his team, but there's also a chance that he'll disappear. On the other hand, he was the only real impact tight end left in the seventh round, since I see Olsen went in the sixth.
Tom: Don't know their KUBIAK ratings off-hand, but I'd rather have Keller or Zach Miller three or four rounds later than Cooley. I would have preferred a wide receiver, since he only had Boldin at that point, but a couple wideouts had just come off the board.
Mike: Yeah, reaching on a wide receiver really sucks.
Tom: I'd rather have Hester than Walter at receiver, simply for upside purposes. Walter's upside is essentially "Andre Johnson gets hurt." And even then, Daniels is probably the preferred red zone target.
Mike: True, but Hester's upside is "being able to actually hold on to the ball." Or "figure out which direction the ball is actually going."
Tom: Now, now, Official Party Line is that in the second half of last year, Hester finally started to figure out some of the rudiments of being an NFL wideout. He may now be where Ted Ginn was in the sophomore year of college.
Mike: I won't rebut the party line on account of the fact that most of my thoughts on Devin Hester are unprintable.
Tom: Chambers is for me a little like Walter. There are too many other good options for him to be a very good fantasy player. Of course, he was an 11th-round pick, so that's not unusual.
Mike: So, if McNabb can stay healthy and Warner stays healthy/Leinart doesn't suck and if Westbrook stays healthy, this is a really darn good team. I'm just not sure how many of those three can hold up.
Scramble Forever (Ian Dembsky/Al Bogdan)
QB: Carson Palmer, CIN (9-98); Matt Hasselbeck, SEA (11-122); Matt Leinart, ARI (14-167)
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC (1-2); Ryan Grant, GB (2-23); Cedric Benson, CIN (6-71), Tim Hightower, ARI (10-119); Glen Coffee, SF (13-143); Edgerrin James, ARI (14-146)
WR: Steve Smith, CAR (3-26); Chad Ochocinco, CIN (4-47); Eddie Royal, DEN (7-74); Donnie Avery, STL (8-95)
TE: Antonio Gates, SD (5-50)
D/ST: Falcons (15-170)
K: Kris Brown, HOU (16-191)
Mike: We can't really make fun of Ian and Al, since this is their column.
Tom: I'm very skeptical of MJD at the top of a fantasy draft. He's a smaller guy, and I'm not sure he can carry the load. Plus, Jack Del Rio hates fantasy players; with Taylor and MJD, Greg Jones kept getting goal-line touches.
Mike: It's true, he does, but MJD is really, really good. Even with diminished goal-line touches, he still puts up big numbers.
Tom: Yes, he's been 8, 13, and 9 in fantasy terms the past three years. Not No. 1, 2, or 3.
Mike: I ... guess I don't have much of a counter-argument for that. But still, Alvin Pearman? Chauncey Washington? They sound like Madden-generated player names. I'm not even sure these people are real, and not some sort of sick joke concocted by ESPN.
Tom: Grant's another back I don't have much confidence in. Incidentally, Chauncey Washington started off as a math major at USC.
Mike: I imagine the horrible, toxic world of NCAA football corrupted him.
Tom: Ended up a psych major, I believe, because he was having trouble passing classes and practicing football.
Mike: Yep. But hey, at least he passed.
Tom: Hooray! To be a seventh-round pick and cut by the Seahawks in training camp.
Mike: Livin' the dream.
Tom: I like Hasselbeck's upside.
Mike: I think they did a great job with their quarterbacks. If Warner goes down, they have Leinart. If Hasselbeck gets back into his old form, they have him. If neither of those happen, they have a reliable, workhorse fantasy quarterback in Palmer. They're going to get consistent points off their quarterback, which is important, and something lots of people forget about. Now that I think about it, I really like their wide receivers, too.
Tom: I'm liking Royal in the seventh round. If DEN is nearly as bad defensively as I think they'll be, they'll be throwing a lot. And Marshall's tantrum means Royal gets more targets.
Mike: Royal also looks really good, made the Bears' secondary look absolutely silly.
Tom: You say that like it's an accomplishment.
Mike: Poor the Bears.
Italian Spidermen (Doug Farrar)
QB: Drew Brees, NO (2-14); Jeff Garcia, OAK (13-155)
RB: Steve Slaton, HOU (1-11); Ray Rice, BAL (4-38); Donald Brown, IND (6-62); Tashard Choice, DAL (9-107); Ladell Betts, WAS (12-134)
WR: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, SEA (3-35); Braylon Edwards, CLE (5-59); Steve Breaston, ARI (10-110); Michael Jenkins, ATL(11-131)
TE: Owen Daniels, HOU (7-83), Kevin Boss, NYG (14-158)
D/ST: Ravens (8-86), Eagles (16-182)
K: David Akers, PHI (15-179)
Tom: I like Slaton. I like Brees. I like Edwards's upside, and the same for Daniels at tight end.
Mike: What the what? Slaton was available at 10? Why the heck did Will pick Manning?
Mike: Med junkie, probably obsessed with how one can combine both a laser and rocket into one single extremity.
Tom: Maybe Slaton's arm/hand injury that caused him to fumble WVU's game against Louisville away is about to make a shocking recurrence.
Mike: Perhaps, Will is generally omniscient. I think Doug wins the all-value award. There are all solid picks at good spots. They're not all spectacular, but they'll produce well, all above-average for where they were picked.
Tom: I'm not sure about Choice in the ninth round, he's the No. 3 RB and fantasy RB on his team.
Mike: That is true, but he has an awesome name. The only real problem I see is that all of his wide receivers could just be awful.
Tom: Yes, but you don't win anything for being mediocre.
Mike: True, you do have to take some risk.
Team Holman (Elias Holman)
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, PIT (5-56), Trent Edwards, BUF (11-128)
RB: DeAngelo Williams, CAR (1-8); Pierre Thomas, NO (3-32); Rashard Mendenhall, PIT (8-89); Jerious Norwood, ATL (10-113); Willis McGahee, BAL (12-137)
WR: Andre Johnson, HOU (2-17); Marques Colston, NO (4-41); Derrick Mason, BAL (7-80); Joey Galloway, NE (13-152); Kevin Curtis, PHI (14-161)
TE: Greg Olsen, CHI (6-65); Vernon Davis, SF (15-176)
D/ST: Chargers (9-104)
K: Mason Crosby, GB (16-185)
Mike: If Roethlisberger is your starter, you're in for a long year. There are almost certainly going to be weeks where the Pittsburgh offensive line will simply become confused and tackle him.
Tom: Yes, you're a Pittsburgh homer who hates your team, we get it. For being a tech guy picking with a bunch of football writers, I really like this team. DeAngelo Williams eighth overall is a great pick, Pierre Thomas is a good back for the third round, Mendenhall eighth, Norwood 10th. I'm getting a little tired of waiting for Norwood to break out, though.
Mike: If he's going to, this would be the year. Turner's young, but 370 is some powerful mojo.
Tom: The Curse of 370 may make this the best year, but Aaron talked about how the Curse of 370 may just mean 250 mediocre carries.
Mike: True. I just like absolute laws that may or may not actually apply or be based on sound reasoning.
Tom: Andre Johnson and Colston are excellent WR1/2. Olsen's probably the top fantasy tight end in my book.
Mike: Agreed. Cutler has to throw to someone, and Olsen has already established his end zone skills.
Tom: Chargers D/ST should be good, Green Bay's offense and possibly mediocre run game mean Crosby should be a good pick.
Mike: Yeah, the more I look at this team, the more I like it. Still iffy on Roethlisberger, though.
Tom: This really comes down to quarterback consistency and one of the depth running backs being a solid performer.
Team McCormick (Sean McCormick)
QB: Aaron Rodgers, GB (5-54); Matt Schaub, HOU (7-78)
RB: LaDainian Tomlinson, SD (1-6); Ronnie Brown, MIA (3-30); Fred Jackson, BUF (11-126); Shonn Greene, NYJ (14-163)
WR: Calvin Johnson, DET (2-19); Vincent Jackson, SD (4-43); DeSean Jackson, PHI (6-67); Jerricho Cotchery, NYJ (8-102); Donald Driver, GB (10-115); Patrick Crayton, DAL (16-187)
TE: Kellen Winslow, TB (9-102); Tony Scheffler, DEN (13-150)
D/ST: Jets (12-139)
K: Lawrence Tynes, NYG (15-174)
Mike: Rodgers in the fifth round? Yes, please.
Tom: Yes. Tomlinson at sixth overall is another pick I like, moreso than Steven Jackson at fifth.
Mike: I'm really iffy on Tomlinson, but I definitely can't criticize the pick.
Tom: I'm buying the hype on the Chargers.
Mike: Fair enough. This team actually looks really stacked. Tomlinson and Brown, Rodgers, Megatron and Vincent Jackson. Driver, also.
Tom: I think Scheffler could be the No. 2 guy in DEN behind Royal, depending on whatever happens with Marshall. I like Winslow when healthy and productive, but his risk color in KUBIAK should be a flashing red light.
Mike: Or empty, because it had shot right past red, into the invisible spectrum. Marshall's going to play. Hissy fits don't work twice.
Tom: He'll be on the roster, I'll agree with you there. McDaniels may sit him down just to make a point. Would you go 3-13 with him or 2-14 and sit him down to make him respect your authori-tah?
Mike: Perhaps. Orton needs someone besides Royal, though, and with their defense, they might need Marshall regardless of McD's feelings. Scheffler at has at least some upside, we'll say. Anyway, great depth at wide receiver, pretty much no depth at running back.
Tom: I see a wideout trade for another running back once Lynch gets back.
Mike: Could probably even ship two off, get a top-flight running back. Looks like a really good team, though.
Tom: Schaub's another guy with trade value, I think.
Mike: Really? I don't see it.
Tom: For Matt Cassel's owner?
Mike: That's assuming the Kansas City offense is worth more than random waiver quarterback on some other awful team.
Tom: Trading Schaub to somebody who has a quarterback injury, or to Holman, when he gets tired of Ben R yo-yoing.
Mike: Perhaps. Probably could have picked a useful third running back in that spot, though.
Bodymore Murderland (Rob Weintraub)
QB: Tony Romo, DAL (4-48); Matt Ryan, ATL (7-73)
RB: Adrian Peterson, MIN (1-1); Leon Washington, NYJ (8-96); Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG (9-97); James Davis, CLE (14-168); Michael Bush, OAK (15-169)
WR: Greg Jennings, GB (2-24); Roddy White, ATL (3-25); Lee Evans, BUF (6-72); Percy Harvin, MIN (11-121); Chris Henry, CIN (12-144); Muhsin Muhammed, CAR (13-145)
TE: Tony Gonzalez, ATL (5-49)
D/ST: Titans (10-120)
K: Jason Elam, ATL (16-192)
Mike: Bodymore Murderland? Is the new college guy some kind of psycho? What really happened to MDS...
Tom: I'd still take Purple Jesus No. 1 overall, no matter what KUBIAK says ... Wasn't Rob dealing with family stuff that night?
Mike: Yeah, this looks like a (very understandably) autodrafted team: really wonky BPA, overhyped quarterback.
Tom: Matty Ice in the seventh round is an awful pick. Much like Natty Ice any time.
Mike: You're going to want me to print that, aren't you? Sigh.
Tom: Anyway, kids, let this be a lesson to you! Don't let autodraft pick your team for you! More on this next week, when we talk about my autodrafted picks.
Junkyard Dogs (Vivek Ramgopal)
QB: Matt Cassel, KC (5-60); Jake Delhomme, CAR (12-133)
RB: Chris Johnson, TEN (1-12); Frank Gore, SF (2-13); Marshawn Lynch, BUF (3-36); Jamal Lewis, CLE (8-85); Earnest Graham, RB (10-109); Correll Buckhalter, DEN (13-156)
WR: Dwayne Bowe, KC (4-37); Roy Williams, DAL (6-61); Antonio Bryant, TB (7-84); Josh Morgan, SF (9-108); Plaxico Burress, Rikers (16-181)
TE: Bo Scaife, TEN (11-132)
D/ST: Cowboys (14-157)
K: Ryan Longwell, MIN (15-180)
Tom: Kansas City:Vivek::New England:Vince. Bowe and Cassel? I know Bowe will probably get a lot of targets, and KC will probably have to pass a lot.
Mike: I like Vince's gamble a lot better. Vivek did well for himself with running backs, though.
Tom: Going RB/RB at the end of the first round and top of the second is always a good move. More on this next week, as well.
Mike: Unless Singletary stabs Gore for reciting the team fight song incorrectly, or something.
Tom: I hope for his sake Roy Williams is healthy. His depth running backs also suck. Jamal Lewis had his "moderate football usefulness, great fantasy value" year in 2007.
Mike: But still, Gore and Johnson can carry a fantasy team.
Tom: Bo Scaife also sucks, in case I haven't mentioned it lately. Also, it's probably mindless homerism, but I'd take rookie Jared Cook over him in a draft, solely for upside purposes. I do like Cowboys D/ST in the 14th round, though. It's a reasonable value. Gore and Johnson are going to have to carry this team.
Mike: True, unless KC ends up being a lot better than we expect.
Tom: Firing their offensive coordinator between the third and fourth preseason games is a sure sign they'll be better than we expect.
Team Laverty (Pat Laverty)
QB: Kurt Warner, ARI (4-45); Eli Manning, NYG (9-100); Michael Vick, PHI (13-148)
RB: Michael Turner, ATL (1-4); Clinton Portis, WAS (2-21); Kevin Smith, DET (3-28); Willie Parker, PIT (7-76); Fred Taylor, NE (11-124); Michael Pittman, DEN (14-165)
WR: Brandon Marshall, DEN (5-52); Santana Moss, WAS (8-93); Brian Robiskie, CLE (12-141); Limas Sweed, PIT (15-172)
TE: Dallas Clark, IND (6-69)
D/ST: Steelers (10-117)
K: Sebastian Janikowski, OAK (16-189)
Tom: Like Mr. Weintraub, Mr. Laverty apparently had a more pressing engagement and failed to set his autorder to compensate. Repeat this, and the Curse of 370 will surely smite you.
Mike: Poor guy. I'd say he has enough depth to make up for it, but he has ... Willie Parker.
Tom: In the seventh round. We've seen who else went in the seventh round -- at least half a dozen NFL teams already had two running backs taken.
Mike: The main problem with Willie Parker is that he's just not very good at playing football.
Tom: You just hate Willie Parker because he's short!
Mike: Good Lord.
Tom: I read it in the Wall Street Journal, so it must be true. I mean, him going undrafted couldn't have had anything to do with him not playing in college.
Mike: He was very fortunate to catch the very tail end of That Great Time When The Steelers Had a Real Offensive Line, and rode that out. He still has decent burst, but it doesn't matter, because he never uses it anymore. He slows down as he approaches the line, and this being the NFL, that means the hole is closed before you get there.
Tom: Parker is also his RB4.
Mike: Yeah, I'm going with the assumption that Turner's wheels are going to fall off. He may well have, also. I do like his quarterbacks, though.
Tom: Yes, but have you seen his wideouts? Outside of an autodraft, Brandon Marshall is more like a 10th round pick.
Mike: Yes, and there's not much behind him, unless Braylon Edwards stops being Braylon Edwards and Sweed really steps into the slot role. Between Turner and Marshall, thre's a lot of risk there.
Tom: Yes. Solid quarterbacks, but not much else you can count on.
Mike: True, but he got great value with Eli in the ninth round, so he can use Warner while he's still healthy and get great numbers, and fall back on Manning for average to good numbers. And let's face it, if Marshall phones it in and Turner falls apart, it won't matter who his quarterback is. If they play to their potential, then just a good quarterback will be enough.
Back To Mediocrity
San Francisco 49ers (7)
Mike: I was genuinely sad when Mike Nolan got the can in favor of giant ball o' crazy Mike Singletary. Not that I dislike Singletary, but Nolan was champion of one of my ridiculous and irrelevant hobby-horses: well-dressed coaches. Why Reebok can't just make a couple nice suits emblazoned with team logos and colors? Tastefully done, of course. That last thing we need is a big Lovie Smith-o-Lantern. Hopefully someone else will take up the banner, but I'm not holding my breath. Honestly, with the hours these guys work, I'd wouldn't be surprised if one of them walked on to the field naked, having completely forgotten to dress himself due to some kind of weird coma brought on by extreme sleep deprivation and caffeine poisoning.
Anyway, I have pretty much nothing good to say about the 'Niners in any respect. Heck, they even fired charmingly crazy person Mike Martz, which made the league tangibly less fun. Under.
Tom: I know they play in the NFC West, but FOA still gives them the fourth-hardest schedule in the league. Plus, have you taken a look at the roster lately? Shaun Hill is the starting quarterback, Isaac Bruce and Josh Morgan are the top wideouts with Crabtree's holdout, the offensive line is mostly mediocre at best, and the defense is still lacking talent outside of Patrick "the entire 49ers defense" Willis. It's possible this will be the year Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson develop into standout 3-4 outside linebackers, but I thought the same thing last year and it didn't happen. I know I drafted Frank Gore, who I've liked since Miami, but that's because he'll get a lot of work much more than I think his team will be good. Under, under, under.
Seattle Seahawks (8)
Tom: Ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 NFC West winner. I don't trust Warner to be healthy, which means they have the best quarterback in the division. Even with the injuries, they may have the best offensive line in the division. They have the best defensive line in the division. They have the best linebackers in the division. They have the best offensive skill position (collectively) in the division. The offensive line injuries do concern me, and they won't win the division by seven games like in 2005, but I'm still comfortable saying over in 2008.
Mike: The fight between Arizona and Seattle for the vaunted "Best of What's Left" trophy will be one of the more exciting story lines this year. There is a lot of concern about the lack of running back, but for some odd reason I have faith in Julius Jones to turn it around and at least play above replacement level. Hasselbeck has made a commitment this offseason to work on his health,which shows that someone in the organization has been listen to the dulcet tones of Will Carroll chanting "health is a skill, health is a skill, health is a skill..." With a hopefully improved Jones and a more-healthy Hasselbeck, Seattle will be set to feast on the awful bottom half of the division and duke it out with Arizona. Over.
St. Louis Rams (5.5)
Mike: I'm always stuck with the Rams. As a fantasy football player, I really try to avoid good players on bad teams. There are exceptions, but they're usually marginal, like Greg Olsen or Kevin Smith -- good players on bad teams, but not essential to my team's success. This year, stuck between a rock and a hard place, I picked up Steven Jackson. So yeah, go Rams! In all seriousness, Spagnuolo is making all the right moves to make me happy: defense and offensive lines. It's going to take these units a while to gel, however, and that, combined with a first year head coach and tons of new assistants that apparently include a dedicated quality control coach for special teams and the cast of Fame. There is going to be a lot of confusion as all the pieces of this newly-configured team headed by unfamiliar faces, which might put a damper on all the good things they're doing this year to right the ship. All that uncertainty makes this a tough pick. I'm going to hope for the best, fantasy-wise, and go with the over.
Tom: FOA has this team at 8.2 wins, so this should be another easy "over" call, right? The FOAchapter notes some points of pessimism, like their wide receivers except for Donnie Avery (who's injured) all stink, and they have some clear holes on defense like at cornerback. One of the reasons the Rams might improve is they spent a high pick on an offensive lineman, but normally offensive linemen who are drafted early play reasonably well as rookies. Anyone who read Cover-3 and Walkthrough could tell you, though, that Jason Smith's effect may look a lot more like Robert Gallery's (4-12 to 5-11) than Jake Long's (1-10 to 11-5). 5.5 isn't very many wins, but I'll still take the under.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6.5)
Tom: I want to like this team, really I do. They have a good young offensive line, and enough backs to build a decent committee. Jon Gruden's creativity will be a loss, but his obsessive need to tinker, both with the quarterback and the offensive scheme, won't be missed. I just wish I saw a quarterback on the roster I could have confidence in -- Leftwich is too slow and too inaccurate, which makes him a perfect model for first-round pick Josh Freeman, who exhibited those same traits in college (for the record, I loved Leftwich coming out of college). The defense, though, collapsed at the end of the 2008 season. It's tough for me to think Monte Kiffin's announced departure was much more than an excuse for that, though. That sounds like a team that's not mentally tough or well-coached, so you promote from within? 7-9 mediocrity is a plausible scenario, but I see four wins easier than I see nine. To me, that's another under.
Mike: This is another team in rebuilding mode, although their blowing up was a lot more blow-uppinger than most. I didn't have much of a grasp on Tampa Bay to begin with, and now that the house has been burned down and rebuilt, I have even less of an idea what's going on down there. Despite the franchise-wide turmoil and the unknown quantity at head coach, the Bucs have a few upgrades, and are coming off a nine-win season. Seven wins isn't too high a goal. over.
Washington Redskins (8)
Mike: We're all used to the Redskins making a huge splash in free agency, and you'd be lying if you said that Daniel Snyder didn't get the rootinest, tootinest, face-stompinest defender in the league. Albert Haynesworth is really good -- nobody will seriously refute that -- although his work ethic in non-contract years has been called into question. My thought in the end is: Will this even matter? Sure, the Redskins will have a good front seven, and a good if fragile running back, but they'll still have no depth and -- most importantly -- suffer from the same organizational schizophrenia it has for as long as I can remember. The Redskins will be a roughly .500 club until Snyder lets go of the reins a little bit and lets an actual team develop, but I think their defense can get them nine wins. Over.
Tom: I've finally figured out what bugs me most about the Redskins. The Danny spends a lot of money, they're a big team in a big market, Portis and Cooley are great fodder for Dan Steinberg's The Sports Bog in addition to being decent players, but fundamentally they're not very interesting. They're not particularly well coached, not particularly skilled at the top end, and not particularly (or at all) deep. If you squint right, you could see them winning the division, but a longer look makes you think that squint was the result of Shallow Hal vision. FOA says 7.8 wins, which makes 8 a tough number to make a call off of. I guess since I did it with the Cowboys, I can do it again -- push.
That's it for this week! Come back next week for Scramble Over/Under Expofestorama II: Electric Boogaloo!