by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Mike: Good evening! We welcome you to the end of our first set of Scramble for the Ball columns, a.k.a. the fantasy/gambling version of the Bataan Death March. It's been long, it's been strange, and it's almost over, and astoundingly, it's been pretty fun. Next week we'll be rolling out the standard Scramble column, with the standard departments like Loser League review (register your team before the Saturday night deadline!) and the Keep Choppin' Wood award. So savor this insanity while it lasts.
(Ed. Note: Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to enjoy weekly Jason Beattie cartoons in Scramble this year. Hopefully we can still run a couple when he's got some cartooning time.)
Tom: Well, we actually get to talk about the conference we both care about. It was fun to make fun of the NFC for a week, but talking about better football is much better. Plus, this week, I'll be supplying your material for mockery, as you get to mock not just one, not two, but three, count 'em, three fantasy teams of someone who's never played fantasy football before.
Mike: Ooo-er. I'm tingling with anticipation.
My Kingdom for an Offensive Coordinator
Baltimore Ravens (8.5)
Tom: FO's big "out on a limb" correct call last year. Offensively, they're a great candidate for a third down fall-off -- 27th on first downs, 16th on second downs, and 7th (20 percent higher than on second down) on third down. I'm still not a big fan of the skill position talent on offense. Strong defense, the hallmark of good Ravens teams since that fluke year of 1996, tends to be less consistent than strong offense, so a repeat of 11-5 and second in the league in Pythagorean wins is unlikely. 9-7 feels about right to me, and that's an Over.
Mike: It's hard to dislike the Ravens. They managed to dodge a huge bullet when Mason un-retired and gave them a somewhat plausible threat again. I suppose Flacco's due for some regression, but their schedule isn't particularly difficult, since the Steelers and Browns pretty much cancel each other out, defensively. The Ravens' defense is a lot like most great defenses; they lose a few, a few new faces step in, and the defense continues to play at an elite level. That's the funny thing about defenses. Offenses can be vastly improved by the addition of a player or two, and can be built over the course of a few years through the draft, but you really need defense to breed defense. Defensive players generally need a year or two sitting around and watching before they can become elite. Possibly because defense is reactive, whereas offense is proactive. Anyway, the Ravens look good, even if their offense won't be anything special. Definitely a winning team, though. Over.
Buffalo Bills (7.5)
Mike: Oh Lord. The Bills haven't even played a game and they're already a train wreck. What's astounding about all of this is that T.O. hasn't jumped on the pile. I guess even he has standards? I get the feeling that all this drama is really about Ralph Wilson wanting to keep the team in Buffalo, where it doesn't seem to be all that viable. He signed off on or ordered a strong “let's win now” strategy with a team that maybe – maybe had a running back. Some young talent in the secondary, perhaps, but that was about it. Now we're seeing what the Redskins would look like if they were even worse, and Snyder had less loyalty (stop laughing) to his coaches. It's ugly, and it's coming soon to Toronto. Under.
Tom: If you fire your offensive coordinator, I'll probably say not very nice things about your team. For instance, have you seen the Bills' offensive line lately? I think the latest depth chart includes two rookies, a college sophomore, and a couple players who are still in high school and only playing so they can get more practice. Turk Schonert's critique that Jauron wants a Pop Warner offense may be well grounded, but that might at least give the Bills a coherent offensive philosophy that matches their talent. Under Schonert, it was "I'm going to run my system first and figure out how my players fit into it later". What do they think this is, the Denver preview? The Kansas City preview? An FOA-approved Under.
Cincinnati Bengals (6.5)
Tom: For reasons I can't well articulate, I'm optimistic about the 2009 Bengals. Not enough to think they'll dethrone the Steelers or Ravens in the top half of the AFC Central, but a respectable 8-8. Looking at it more rationally, though, the OL is untested and probably bad (Andre Smith's all too predictable injury doesn't help here), and most of the defense remains unproven. The return of Keith Rivers should help and I'm a little bullish on Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall, so I could see a league average defense again. Combine that with slight offensive improvement provided by a healthy Palmer and four games against the AFC West, and respectable mediocrity seems like a fairly reasonable proposition. It won't be enough to earn a playoff berth, but give me the Over on the Bungles.
Mike: I picked Chad Ochocinco as my player most likely to outperform his KUBIAK projection, because I like what I'm seeing from Cincy. Not nearly enough to put them in the same league as Pittsburgh or Baltimore, but it seems to me that they're finally getting serious about defense. Of course, we've seen Cincinnati mirages before (the first half of the 2006 season, with madly unsustainable interception numbers) that crashed down to earth with a giant orange splat. This year it's the pass rush getting some buzz, which as a building block makes me a lot more confident than the secondary. A pretty good team in a strong division. I could see them getting seven or eight wins. Over.
Cleveland Browns (7)
Mike: There is still discussion over whether Derek Anderson will be the team's starter. That's really all I need to say. I always hate it when people harp on the quarterback, but as much as I hate to admit it, it's a really big deal. How much does splitting first team reps 50 percent between two relatively inexperienced quarterbacks hurt? Probably a substantial amount. But even from a tactical standpoint, what is Derek Anderson's upside? Probably Rex Grossman. As for Quinn, we're not really sure, but he seems to have good mechanics, a good head for football, and at least some upside. Better upside than a “Rex Grossman,” you have to at least hope. Maybe Mangini has a great plan that I haven't noticed. I understand that the Browns are really rebuilding, and he does seem to be taking good steps in that, bringing in old veterans familiar with how he does things, starting the preseason with a clean slate, and royally pissing off his star returner and defensive tackle. Oops. The Browns will be respectably bad this year, but they won't hit eight wins. Under.
Tom: With quarterbacks, if you got two, you got none. There are exceptions to this, like the late 80s 49ers. who got two and indeed had two, but those are the exceptions. Teams like the Browns, where you're looking at slightly different types of mediocrity are more the norm. The Browns do have a couple decent building blocks in Joe Thomas, D'Qwell Jackson, and a pair of promising young corners in Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald. Overall, though, this just isn't a very talented team. Some improvement over last year's 4-12 isn't out of the question, but 7 wins is too much. Under.
Denver Broncos (6.5)
Tom: In Airplane, sitting in the control tower, somebody suggests to Rex Kramer (Robert Stack) that maybe they should turn on the runway lights. Kramer rejects this eminently sensible suggestion, "No, that's just what they'll be expecting us to do!" After all, most teams with a historically bad defense and a young franchise quarterback would fix the defense and keep the quarterback. But, of course, not in Denver, not this year. My favorite part of the Broncos' offseason, though, is all the conspiracy theories it's spawned that you can't easily refute. Normally you can treat conspiracy theories the way you treat the ability to fly: neat if true, but otherwise not worth thinking about. Like Michael Jordan's "unofficial 18 month gambling suspension"/"first retirement," however, these make just enough sense that you can't dismiss them totally. Is Pat Bowlen going senile? Is Josh McDaniels just another element in Bill Belichick's mimicry of Michael Corleone's settling of all family business at the end of The Godfather? Under, under, under.
Mike: Lost in the McDaniels/Cutler/Marshall drama is the larger picture, what it means for the Broncos as an organization. Football, as a sport, requires an incredible amount of synchronization between a sizable number of people, often people who for whatever reason don't have the temperament or motivation to work together. You get a lot of fluff pieces about a coach's style or leadership, and a lot of it is junk, but it's clear that at some point, as Tom pointed out when we covered the Lions last week, a team simply gives up on a coach, or a system, and the house of cards falls apart. In Denver, this happened before training camp even begun. The front office could have salvaged the situation by showing that they were in charge, but instead cut a ridiculous deal with Chicago and gave in to Jay Cutler's hissy-fit. Of course, the front office itself was new, but what better way to assert your authori-tah than to take a hard line against a malcontent player? Why should players listen to McDaniels when he's just an empty suit? Anyway, despite all this nonsense, Denver still gets to play Kansas City and Oakland twice, which is really beneficial to a team's health. I believe Orton is a mediocre, not terrible, quarterback, and should be good enough to win a few of the horrible shootouts his team will find itself in with other not-very-good teams, enough to get at least seven wins. Over.
Houston Texans (8)
Mike: We see a consistent pattern with bubble teams and middling talent, call it Battered Team Syndrome. Stage one is the honeymoon, where good but not great performers put up reasonable numbers and get people in the coaching staff and front office excited. "Things will only get better!" they exclaim, as they start buying china and organizing closets and looking for some manner of puppy, "If things keep going this well, I'll be on top of the world in a few years!" So teams try to build off these guys, try to add more talent to compliment what they already have, but things start getting worse and worse at home. "I'm going to drive a high-powered offense down the field" turns into "I can't tell the difference between defensive backs and wide receivers." "Bend but not break defense" turns into "What, you want me to tackle? Me?" and the team starts deluding itself. If only it could get back to that magical time when everything was happy and wonderful, wasn't that so great? So the team sticks by the mediocre players, puts up with their dirty laundry and wide-open running lanes, because these are their guys, and at one point, not too long ago, everything seemed magic. They just need to hold out a bit longer. Under.
Tom: Compare, for instance, the Broncos' offseason with the Texans'. The Texans had a weakness at DC, and needed more talent on defense, so they went out and axed Richard Smith and added Antonio Smith in free agency and Brian Cushing and Connor Barwin in the draft. A frequent trendy pick became even trendier-looking. Lost in the shuffle and all the fantasy stats, though, was the offense was still just 14th in DVOA last year. I could also mention that if Schaub holds true to form, you'll see five starts from Orlovsky and/or Grossman this year. Fear strikes into the heart upon hearing those words, but it's fear into the heart of Texans fans. A rather desultory preseason detracts further from the optimism. This team still looks a year away to me. Pencil them in for double digit wins in 2010, but another year of mediocrity awaits them first. I'd feel better if this line were 8.5, but still give me the Under.
Indianapolis Colts (10)
Tom: I saw somebody suggest this could be the best edition of the Colts. Not quite; that honor belongs to the 2005 club. The defense, however, looks bigger and better and deeper than it's been since then, and adding Donald Brown gives them the two-man rotation that allows them to keep Addai fresh and fit in as well as he did the Super Bowl season. Own Gonzalez though I do, I'm still not sold on him or any of the other wideouts. The left tackle situation also concerns me -- "we had some protection problems," the words uttered in the aftermath of that great team's fall, are still the words that could wreck the Colts' season. Still, FOA is bullish on this team, and so am I. Over.
Mike: This is pretty much the exact same team as last year. It may even be improved, because they've realized that opposing offensive lines could throw their linemen around like rag dolls. Run offenses didn't need to target a particular part of the line or a side or a gap, but instead got a kind of prix fixe of rushing destruction that no elite team can afford to allow. This year, the interior of the line is a bit stronger and a bit bigger, but they're still going to be relying on Bob Sanders. Another one of my hobby horses is fundamentals (or lack thereof) in the NFL, including tackling. Defenders have been tackling roughly the same way, and being taught to tackle that way for decades now, for good reason; wrapping your opponent and driving is effective and bar far the safest way to bring the runner to the ground. Some of these undersized defensive backs, for whatever reason, eschew the traditional approach and consistently go low, often with their head, in an attempt to simply knock over the ball carrier. This may be more effective in some cases (in others, it results in disaster where a more sound tackle would have resulted in merely a few more yards gained), it is in every situation incredibly dangerous to the player. Some of them, like Polamalu, are flexible enough and well conditioned enough and freakish enough to generally weather the storn. Some, like Bob Sanders, simply can't. Sanders will not be around for the playoffs, and Indianapolis will get run over. At least it seems that the front office recognizes this pattern and has taken baby steps in the right direction. Savor the running defense while it lasts. Over.
Jacksonville Jaguars (8)
Mike: The 2008 Jaguars were like a bad horror movie that you just couldn't bring yourself to turn off; the plot was incoherent, the casualties kept getting more and more ridiculous, and weird people like Troy Williamson were running around adding what you hope is comic relief but sadly are an integral part of the plot. FOA 2009 thinks that the Jaguars going going to rebound in a big way, with an injury bounce-back and the addition of Torry Holt. I'm not convinced. Sure, the team is still shiny, with a talented defense, a strong running game and what should be a decent passing game, but these Jaguars are just like last year's Jaguars: deliciously crunchy but ultimately hollow. Most of their depth is provided by journeymen or this year's draft class, as the past few years' worth of picks have proven to be mediocre to useless. Jacksonville doesn't need average injury luck to be a contender, they need excellent injury luck. That said, the Jaguars are a talented team, and nine wins isn't exactly Everest. Over.
Tom: I really don't get Jack Del Rio. He seems like a dumber, inferior version of Jeff Fisher -- a defensive-minded coach who prefers to win with the running game and teams that play with a physical edge -- but he's also the man who gave us Keep Chopping Wood and enough game management errors to rival Brad Childress. Yet, yet, yet, he kept David Garrard and cut Byron Leftwich, a surprise move that worked out better than pretty much anyone expected. Maybe that was just a case of a blind dog finding a bone, but I just can't shake the feeling that I'm misunderestimating John of the River. The DVOA projections don't square with the team I saw play last season, yet I can't shake the feeling it and FOA are getting something I'm missing (beyond a big third down rebound effect on the defense). I'll take the Over, but it's a tentative one.
Kansas City Chiefs (6)
Tom: In the Belichickian conspiracy, it's easy to see why Cleveland, the Jets, and the Broncos would be targets. Less clear, to me, is why Pioli would go to the Chiefs. Does this make him Tessio, betraying the family despite his faithful service in search of greater glory? Or perhaps Frank Pentangelli from Godfather II, with Matt Cassel playing the role of Willie Cicci: loyal foot soldier but fundamentally a pawn and an unremarkable product of the system. On the field, the Chiefs do get four games against the Broncos and Raiders. The bigger problems, though, are lack of skill position talent and the fact that what defensive talent they have is not particularly well suited for the 3-4. The one thing I do know for sure is that if you fire your offensive coordinator between the third and fourth preseason games, I'm going to pick you to go Under.
Mike: Unlike Denver, Kansas City didn't even have the decency to get all the crazy out of their system before the preseason started. It seems that half the league this year is trying to stay as close to the same as they can (Pittsburgh, Chicago, New England), and the other half is competing in some form of truth-or-dare, where the winner gets everyone else's lunch money for the week. Sadly, the Bills will be getting Pioli's $10, but let's not let that get in the way of appreciating the insanity of taking a very bad team and then suddenly firing the offensive coordinator in the middle of preseason, when your team had (supposedly, this is still the Chiefs) learned the play book and become accustomed to what the coordinator expected of them. While wunderkind Cassel will still be working with largely the same play book, the calls he'll be receiving will probably be different, and more importantly, whatever comfort level he's developed with Chan Gailey is now out the window. Kansas City needs its offense to really click and fire on as many cylinders it can scrounge up, and this is either a wrench in the gears or evidence that the whole machine was irreparably dysfunctional. Neither is the least bit good. Under.
Circular Firing Squad
Tom: Firing squad? As a fantasy novice, I hope that's not a reference to a fantasy veteran secret strategy that I'm missing out on, or a reflection about the quality of my teams. I jumped in full throttle this year, three leagues, one Yahoo! public league, one league of Titans bloggers, and one of Texans fans. Three different roster settings, and three different scoring rules. Of course, even with three leagues, it's not like I'm in a league with family members and other people I kind of have to talk to, or who will give me grief if I end up dead last.
Mike: I feel like a slacker, three teams to one. As for the title, it's more the sense that we opened fire on the rest of the FO staff last week, so it's only fair that we circle up and give ourselves the same treatment. Chances are we'll end up even more vicious. We'll go with Tom first, since he has more teams.
1941 Orange Bwl Losr
QB: Peyton Manning, IND (2-15)
RB: LaDainian Tomlinson, SD (1-10); Kevin Smith, DET (3-34); Felix Jones, DAL (5-58); Julius Jones, SEA (7-82); Rashard Mendenhall, PIT (11-130)
WR: Wes Welker, NE (4-39); Chad Ochocinco, CIN (6-63); Domenik Hixon, NYG (8-87); Ted Ginn Jr., MIA (12-135); Nate Burleson, SEA (13-154)
TE: Zach Miller, OAK (9-106)
K: Robbie Gould, CHI (14-159)
D/ST: Dallas (10-111)
Tom: This league has 2 RBs, 1 WR, 1 TE, 1 WR/RB/TE flex. Should have been 2 WRs, but the GM screwed up.
Mike: Well done!
Tom: I absolutely love my first two picks.
Mike: How many points do you get off passing TDs?
Mike: They're definitely solid picks, but love might be a bit strong. You'll get good points out of them, that's for sure.
Tom: Getting Tomlinson at no. 10?
Mike: I suppose that's true, Tomlinson is great at 10. But Manning at 15?
Tom: The next RBs were Gore and Marion Barber. I didn't want to take Gore, just for the sake of player variety. I didn't want to take Brady, just because I didn't want to have to root for the Patriots. Though of course I did end up taking Welker, and hating myself for it.
Mike: It's true, the inverse of rabid fantasy homerism is random fantasy hatred. I suppose you could do a lot worse than Manning.
Tom: In a 1 WR, 1 flex league, I felt like a QB was a better value than Andre Johnson or Randy Moss.
Mike: I suppose that's true. But it's a 3 RB league, so I'd say the best value is still taking MB3 if Gore was off the table.
Tom: I guess I may have overrated Peyton's consistency. I felt like he was a reliable fantasy performer, and without taking Gore, none of the top tier fantasy RBs were there.
Mike: Also may have stabbed yourself in the foot if you make it to the championship/late playoffs. I like your kicker at the end, though.
Tom: I was happy with that pick. This draft, half the last round was kickers, so teams were definitely waiting.
Mike: Not sure what you're going to do about the WRs. One WR is so weird, and you have three serviceable WRs.
Tom: It is, and I'm not sure I like it. I'm hoping Hixon/Ginn hits upside, and I can trade Welker and rid myself of the cognitive dissonance.
Mike: Not sure you're cut out to be a fantasy champion, you're nowhere near mercenary enough!
Tom: Another weird thing is that nobody really has great RB depth.
Mike: It is a somewhat short draft.
Tom: All I have on the line in my drafts are pride, self-respect, and fodder for a fantasy column. No actual money, nothing I really care about.
Mike: That's the way to do it. Not sure what I feel about Kevin Smith. He worked well for me last year, if I recall, but the Lions aren't great and their division is better than last year.
Tom: I feel like he'll get a lot of carries for Detroit, and KUBIAK thought it was a reasonable pick.
The Green Death
QB: Philip Rivers, SD (3-26); Ben Roethlisberger, PIT (11-106)
RB: Steven Jackson, STL (1-6); Steve Slaton, HOU (2-15); Knowshon Moreno, DEN (5-46); Julius Jones, SEA (9-86); Jerious Norwood, ATL (15-146)
WR: Marques Colston, NO (4-35); Anthony Gonzalez, IND (6-55); Chad Ochocinco, CIN (7-66); Domenik Hixon, NYG (10-95); Nate Washington, TEN (14-135); Brian Robiskie, CLE (16-155)
TE: Greg Olsen, CHI (8-75); Dustin Keller, NYJ (17-166)
K: Adam Vinatieri, IND (13-126)
D/ST: Minnesota (12-115); Green Bay (18-175)
Tom: I like your team, although after the top couple, RBs are kind of a crap shoot. SJax at six is reasonable, though we mentioned in last week's Scramble that I'm down on St. Louis.
Mike: I'm less down on Jackson and the Rams than I am on the next four picked: Williams, Gore, Portis and Tomlinson.
Tom: You probably could have gotten Rivers a round later.
Mike: Probably could have waited ... I was possibly too scared of being stuck with Romo, the next QB taken.
Tom: Romo's going higher than I think he should, people see too much shiny-ness there.
Mike: America's Team! For some insane reason I was hoping for Westbrook in round three when I went with Slaton in round two. That was probably dumb
Tom: No criticism for the Slaton pick, but was a guy like Pierre Thomas available in the third?
Mike: Sadly, yes. He went three picks after me.
Tom: In a 3 RB league, I'd go for that and hope Rivers is available in the fourth, maybe. On the other hand, if FO is right, Julius should be a great no. three. I think a lot of people are unnecessarily down on Seattle, but I wonder how much work he'll get. It's too easy to see Edge vulturing some stuff.
Mike: Exactly. I ended up with Jones as the RB3 in the CBS league, waited a round too long to handcuff.
Tom: Drafting two defenses seems like a luxury. As does taking Vinatieri in the 13th round. In a league that gives bonus points for long field goals, I'd rather have somebody like Dawson, a player on an offense more likely to stall.
Mike: It definitely is, although it's really a testament to my disdain for Chicago's offensive line. As for kickers, I value consistent production more highly than anything. If I wanted semi-random length points, I probably would have gone with Mare, who is, if I recall, beloved by KUBIAK.
Tom: Fair enough. Ben Roethlisberger in the 11th seems like another luxury.
Mike: Yeah, that was just a mistake. Ted Ginn, Sammy Morris, and Mendenhall were all still on the board.
Tom: Sammy Morris seems like a guy whose production will be too variable to be a reliable fantasy starter. Tear your hair out when he's on your bench and scores 2 TDs, and when he's starting he gets two points.
Mike: That's the real problem with three-deep leagues. If your league is any significant size, you're going to be filling these spots with essentially random elements and hoping for the best.
Tom: Olsen was a good pick in the eighth round, I like him, and I like Keller as insurance. The PFR Blog had an interesting post on second-year tight ends like Keller and Carlson ... basically, they don't tend to match their first year production in their second year.
Mike: Unless you're sitting there with absolutely no one useful and Gates sitting on the board, I'm not going to take a TE until I'm relatively happy with all my other starting offense.
Josh McDaniels, Boy Genius
QB: Philip Rivers, SD (3-30)
RB: Frank Gore, SF (1-10); Brandon Jacobs, NYG (2-11); Knowshon Moreno, DEN (6-51); Cedric Benson, CIN (8-71); Julius Jones, SEA (9-90); Donald Brown, IND (13-130)
WR: Marques Colston, NO (4-31); Anthony Gonzalez, IND (5-50); Torry Holt, JAC (7-70); Justin Gage, TEN (14-131); Steve Smith, NYG (15-150)
TE: Zach Miller, OAK (11-110)
K: Jeff Reed, PIT (12-111)
D/ST: Chicago (10-91)
Tom: My problem here is that I took too many RBs for a league with three WRs and two RBs.
Mike: On one hand, you do have a bunch of WRs. On the other, RBs are bigger producers. So having a stable of RBs isn't necessarily a bad thing, if only for trade value.
Tom: Taking Brown in the 13th when I only had 3 WRs and had Moreno, Benson and Julius sitting on the bench wasn't a great move. Royal was the guy right after Benson, really something I wish I could have back. Also, I know you don't like drafting D/ST as early as I did, but the Bears are KUBIAK's favorite defense, and six were already off the board when I took them.
Mike: Putting faith in KUBIAK ahead of your own misgivings? Impressive loyalty. On a somewhat related note, I'm not so hot on Zach Miller.
Tom: Yes, but I think Oakland will be throwing the ball a lot, so he should see targets.
Mike: I suppose that's true, but to get points in fantasy, the ball actually has to end up in his hands, and not hitting some random fan in the face. What rounds were Keller and Miller taken in?
Tom: Miller was a 11th round pick, 110th overall. The next WRs off the board were Crabtree, Hester and Breaston.
Mike: I guess picking a TE in that spot makes sense, then. Although I would've taken Shiancoe or Miller over ... er ... Miller.
Tom: What you should criticize me for is taking Jeff Reed in the 12th round, and not just taking the best kicker remaining in the 15th and final round.
Mike: Actually, I'm not really of the "take the best of what's left" school. If you recall, I was the second to take a kicker in my league, and the first in the CBS league to do so. My strategy is all about consistency, so having a good kicker is pretty valuable to me, whereas defenses are pretty random and generally fungible. So I'm willing to pull the trigger on a kicker, and usually let the D/ST just sit.
Tom: Oh, I'm satisfied with Reed, just felt like I probably took a kicker too high, considering that Mare went undrafted. Thought about taking him instead of Reed, but I felt that Pittsburgh's offense would be more consistent.
Mike: And consistently bad in the red zone.
Mike: The key problem is the RB/WR situation.
Tom: If Holt works out well, I think I could be OK. Jacksonville's WR corps has been very unreliable, so if he has something left, he should be a clear no. one, and Garrard looks like a good QB in Bill's WR stats.
Mike: I suppose that bodes well. You're probably going to be relying on your WR depth more than other teams. Which is ... Justin Gage. That Justin Gage.
Tom: The problem with Gage as a fantasy guy is that he may put up numbers, but they probably won't be predictable numbers. On the other hand, he has the size to be a good red zone target.
Mike: I suppose that's true, Washington will get the downfield stuff, and Bo Sciafe is awful, so they need a red zone target.
Tom: Jared Cook, baby. Jared Cook. I drafted him in the league I have Keller in, as a mindless homer late round upside pick.
Mike: Worth a mindless homer late round pick. A lot of this stuff is just nonsense brought on by mindless homerism.
Houston Oilers #1
QB: Philip Rivers, SD (4-38); Matt Hasselbeck, SEA (12-134)
RB: Steven Jackson, STL (1-11); Pierre Thomas, NO (3-35); Felix Jones, DAL (6-62); Darren Sproles, SD (11-131); Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG (16-182)
WR: Reggie Wayne, IND (2-14); Santonio Holmes, PIT (5-59); Bernard Berrian, MIN (7-83); Domenik Hixon, NYG (8-86); Derrick Mason, BAL (9-107); Nate Burleson, SEA (13-155)
TE: Dustin Keller, NYJ (10-110); Jared Cook, TEN (14-158)
K: Olindo Mare, SEA (17-203)
IDP: D'Qwell Jackson, ILB CLE (15-179)
D/ST: Jacksonville (18-206)
Mike: Felix Jones in the sixth? And 1 IDP? That's a weird set-up. You're in some weird leagues.
Tom: This was a very weird draft. I feel it discombobulated me.
Mike: Anything in particular?
Tom: Felix Jones was a bad/odd pick on my part. I went for upside, but too high. Keller in the 10th is too high, but he was about the 10th TE off the board.
Mike: Way too high, I agree. Keller and Cook seem like two upside guys, on the same team, which is a bit weird.
Tom: I took Felix because I felt that I had 2 starting RBs, so the only reason he gets a start is if either of the top 2 is on bye or gets hurt.
Mike: Taking Felix did kind of scerw you up, WR-wise. You're stuck with Berrian or Hixon. Although they do each have potential, the downside is that we're talking about both of their "potential" and not production.
Tom: I'm not too worried. Hixon drew more curses than pretty much any other pick in the draft.
Mike: That's one measurement of quality. If he turns out how I think he will, he'll turn out well.
Tom: What are your thoughts on the Santonio pick? I feel like this may be the year he takes over for Hines as the no. one guy, and could have nice upside.
Mike: I think it's in line with the rest of your WRs. I don't think he'll take over for Ward ... Ward will get the most targets, but they need Holmes to eat up chunks of yardage, so it's a solid pick.
Tom: They were both on the board. You think I should have taken Hines?
Mike: Honestly, in a PPR league I would take Ward.
Tom: I was really concerned with upside. Ward is 33, and I feel like he's at the point where he could drop off.
Mike: While older WRs can still be productive, it is true that Ward has more wear and tear than most, what with his blocking and his grabs over the middle and his single-handling stomping every Ravens fan's pet kitten.
Tom: I drafted Hixon, Berrian and Mason the next couple picks after Felix because I want this team to have a chance at greatness, and not just mediocre goodness. If two of those guys pan out, I do well.
Mike: True. Of course, two could be mediocre and one bad, and you'd be in a bad place. Of course, they could all be mediocre ... I think when reviewing fantasy drafts there's a temptation to sensationalize. Whether a pick is good or bad is often caught up in the idea that a player will be awesome or just suck.
Tom: The "bad" side of those guys is I'll have to think a lot about start-sit decisions.
Mike: One can never underestimate the value of certainty, even if just for your free time.
Tom: Maybe I'll have to take advantage of Bill Barnwell's expertise, part of the FO Premium service.
Mike: If that doesn't work, I have a ouija board handy.
If Bill Belichick Were a Mobster, He Would Drive a Mini-Van
Miami Dolphins (7)
Mike: I don't know much about college football and by extension don't know much about the fancy spread offenses that are making and breaking careers in the NCAA right now. I do know that the things that make it tick don't work too well in the NFL against good defenses, or even decent defenses with sufficient tape to scheme for it. The Dolphins aren't going to surprise anyone this year ... in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Miami took an entirely different approach, or at least heavily modified last year's wildcat, to get a competitive edge this year. The team has a somewhat difficult schedule and a lot of youngsters to bring up to speed, so they'll need every bit they can get. I think they can skate by with a .500 season. Over.
Tom: The Dolphins went 11-5 last year, and their O/U is seven? How does this make sense? Easy -- in eight games against the AFC West and NFC West, the Fins went 7-1, which means they went 4-5 (including playoffs) against actual NFL teams. The South divisions step in for the Wests, generally presenting substantially stiffer tests. Chad Pennington also seems to have adapted Bret Saberhagen's anti-career, alternating good even years with mediocre and/or injury-wracked odd years. OK, fine, the Dolphins could still replicate last year's feat, if Pennington stays healthy, they don't turn the ball over more than 10 times again, and they stay exceptionally healthy. Ok, so how does seven sound? About right, I'd say. Make this one a Push.
New England Patriots (11.5)
Tom: If they won 11 games last year with a guy who hadn't started or really faced significant action since high school at QB, what can they do with somebody who's actually good? Well, despite not facing the Wests again, I'd say they have a pretty good chance of winning more games. The Seymour trade won't help this year's squad, but the decline of the Dolphins and the Bills' mediocrity should be enough to counterbalance that. 11.5 games is an awful lot, but Don Guglielmo's boys can cover it. Over.
Mike: Those who read my entries in the 2009 Staff Predictions might think I'm down on the Patriots for picking them to finish below their FOA projection (pretty much the Vegas line). This isn't really true ... I like the offense a lot, even if I don't think it will perform at its 2007 level. The defense has me extremely worried, and its not helped by the loss of America's Team as a field general. In fact, the old guys are all gone, and while Belichick may be a defensive genius, he needs on-field leaders to train his players on his scheme and to instill what we could call "The Patriot Way." The defense will be fine in the long run, so long as the Patriots' young talent pans out, but this is going to be a very New Orleans-like year for Brady and Co. Under.
New York Jets (7)
Mike: Hopefully the Jets can look forward to "The Curse of Favre," which as far as I can tell means Brett Favre leaves and you start building a team seriously around decent talent. Really, getting rid of Favre is probably a blessing, as it gave Tannenbaum and Johnson cover to get rid of Mangini and bring in a coach who they hope will fix the defense. I'm not sure that Rex Ryan will be able to do a whole lot, even with Bart Scott, but it will hopefully help them grow an elite defense (see my comments on Baltimore) down the line. This year is not that year, however, and I'm really not sold on Sanchez as a starter, so I'm going with this year as the beginning of a somewhat long process. Under.
Tom: Don Lorenzo, a.k.a. Princess, made the Jets the Phillip Tattaglia last season -- for a while, it looked like he deserved to be one of the Five Families, like when they knocked off the unbeaten Titans to move to 8-3. After that, however, they were revealed to still be the small-time hustler and pawn of the big boys they were, dropping four of their last five to miss the playoffs and ending up machine-gunned in bed/hurting the arm and retiring to Mississippi (OK, not quite the same). It's possible Sanchez can step into Princess's shoes, but sixteen college starts for a team that didn't seem to trust him to win games suggests otherwise. 8 games looks like too tall of an order. Under.
Oakland Raiders (5.5)
Tom: The last time the Raiders finished over 5.5 wins, they made the Super Bowl. Bad as the Millen-era Lions were, they never had a string of more than 3 years without winning at least six games. Heck, bad as the pre-Millen Lions were, the last time they had a string of more than three years without winning 6 games, the NFL season was 12 games long and the Cleveland Browns were dominating the AAFC. So, what did the Raiders do to reverse that trend? They drafted to type, passing up the best player at the chosen position for a physical specimen. They cut their best quarterback, because they're paying Russell too much money. They did at least trade for Seymour, but he doesn't look like a good schematic fit for what they have, if and when he bothers to show up. Nnamdi Asomugha is still there, so at least there's that to look forward to, but otherwise the fairly decent defense of 2006 seems a long way away. They haven't gone 6-10 in six years, and they'll make it seven. Under.
Mike: It's in vogue at the moment to constantly drill the Raiders. It's fast, cheap, and anyone can join in, regardless of their actual body of football knowledge. Everyone does it, from FOX commenters to the hallowed pages of FOA (which half-seriously suggested that, were the NFL a European-style league, the Raiders would have been relegated to a lower tier). It's fun to poke at Al Davis and the crazy old people things he does, but lost in all of this is the fact that the Raiders aren't the worst team in the league. They've only been the worst team in the league once the past few years. Heck, they were (here it comes) in a super bowl earlier this decade. There are so many other teams that have been so bad over the 10-year span, why do the Raiders get so much flack? Possibly because the Raiders are never bad in novel or interesting ways. They're always bad against the run. Their passing game is always a speed-driven disaster. Other teams jump on a new bandwagon of suck every few years and some even go through coaches with nearly the same frequency as Oakland, but they at least have the decency to find new and exciting ways to suck. I'm not high on the Raiders, but the AFC West is just so very bad, I can't in good conscience say they won't win six games. Over.
Pittsburgh Steelers (10.5)
Mike: I really don't know what to say about the Steelers. On one hand, their run blocking is kind of like a sieve, but one of those big decorative sieves your mother buys at Pier One for $100 just to stick on top of the cabinets, the kind that are somehow more hole than not-hole. On the other, the pass protection is actually fairly good. Of course, it's counter-balanced by Ben Roethlisberger's ridiculous need to hum through Der Ring des Nibelungen between the snap and his release. It works, somehow, although I'm beginning to think that it's less because of innate skill that Roethlisberger has and more that he's the only big quarterback crazy enough to quadruple-pump on a screen. At the end of the day, the passing offense is pretty darn good, and if we've learned anything about football this decade, it's that having a mediocre running game isn't a bar on a team achieving great things. Over.
Tom: Of course, if some team loses every year, there has to be one team that wins every year. Yes, New England has had a nice run for the past eight years, but the Steelers have gone at least 7-9 in 18 of the past 20 seasons. As a fan of a team who shared a division with them, that sort of consistent quality in an opponent gets old. And the formula once again looks pretty similar: an excellent defense, and an offense that does just enough to win. This year, that offense should see a third down rebound and be enough to offset any decline in the defense. four games against the AFC West and four against the Bengals and Browns sound pretty nice, and that makes double-digit wins a good call again. Over.
San Diego Chargers (10)
Tom: Well, with three trips to Eastern Time Zone, including to both Pittsburgh and the Giants, the Chargers will have a tough time going 16-0. Plus, Norv is still their head coach. The NFC East should present some interesting challenges. Norv is still their head coach. Beyond that, though, this team has 10.2 Pythagorean Wins AND returns a dominant pass rusher in Shawne Merriman and saw their main divisional competitor shoot themselves in the foot. 10 wins is a worst-case scenario, and 12 or 13 seems likely. Over.
Mike: Fun ways the Chargers can spend the months of November and December:
- Volunteering at the local branch of the LenDale White anti-tequila society
- Compile season two of "The Wacky Hijinks of Darren Sproles"
- Infuriate fantasy football owners everywhere
- Develop rules for full-contact surf football
- Mail gloating letters to Marty
- Write a treatise on NFL franchise building and management for the other AFC West teams, because honestly, this is getting a bit boring
- Take up a quaint hobby, like pass defense
- Make a new layout for this year's "YOU JUST GOT NORV'D" mailer
Tennessee Titans (9)
Mike: Is it just me, or does the AFC have an awful lot of lines set at whole numbers? That makes predicting a bit of a pain, especially if you're not a wuss and refuse to go with pushes. There's a lot to like about the Titans after last year ... the offensive line is superb, they have a great running back and a somewhat-credible short-yardage back, and even without Haynesworth Tennessee's defense should still be frightening. I like the addition of Washington, since it gives the passing game a credible vertical attack. He's young, but his speed may be enough to stretch the defense enough to allow Johnson to break through and have a monster year. They're going to need something to work in the receiving game, because the only question Justin Gage is the answer to is "who is the most mediocre no. one wide receiver in the NFL," and Alge Crumpler seems to have eaten the portions of LenDale White that the running back shed in the offseason. This is still an elite team, and even against a rather brutal schedule, they'll be a contender. Over.
Tom: Well, as a Titans homer, my prediction for this season has been everywhere from 7-9 to 13-3. The offense is poised to be better, if only by the subtraction of Justin McCareins and a receiving corps that could be as good as the 20th best in the NFL, which would be the best it's been since at least 2004. Haynesworth's departure is a definite loss, but the defensive line depth looks as strong or stronger than it's been since its heyday in 2000. Secondary depth, in particular, is a serious question mark, but with continued excellent health, this team could be nearly as good as last year's edition that went 13-3. That level of health can't be counted on, but there should still be enough there to win 10 games, making this another Over.