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Game Previews
Week 1

Week 1
Thursday - 9:00 PM EST Sunday, 4:00 PM EST
Sunday - 1:00 PM EST NYG at PHI
BAL at CLE Sunday - 8:30 PM EST
JAX at BUF Monday - 9:00 PM EST
TB at WAS  
DET at CHI  
OAK at PIT  
SEA at NO  
TEN at MIA  

Indianapolis at New England (-3.5) , 9:00 pm
Welcome Back. No, we’re not talking about Mace’s return to hip-hop, fresh from a spiritual awakening that actually retarded his personal growth. We’re talking about the return of the Colts to Gillette Stadium, where they lost the AFC Championship Game in January to the Patriots, who as you know went on to Super Bowl glory. Peyton Manning — who has most likely had recurring nightmares about Ty Law since that fateful day — comes off his best season to date but is facing an enormous challenge in Week 1 against the Pats. His counterpart, bubble-gum pop sensation Tom Brady, looks to repeat his solid performance (22-37, 237 & 1 TD) and get the Super Bowl Champs off to a rip-roaring start.

The Colts will try to pick up where they left off, when they outscored the Pats 14-9 in the second half last year. Manning will be more careful this time around and avoid Law by picking on Pats cornerback Tyrone Poole. Don’t expect big numbers from Manning. He’ll rely on a balanced approach and the running game of Edgerrin James, who is by all accounts healthy and poised to have a great season. Although Marvin Harrison is a stud receiver who should be in your lineup every week, don’t expect a career day from him against this secondary. The Colts defense has come a long way from two seasons ago, but I think the Patriots can move the ball effectively through its secondary, which is inexperienced and prone to exposure. LB Cato June moves into LB David Thornton’s old spot on the weak side (he’s now the strong-side linebacker) and could be a fantasy factor.

The Pats have added the much-maligned, often-beleaguered Corey Dillon to their already solid offensive arsenal and shuffled Antowain Smith off to Tennessee, where he has assumed a backup role. Dillon has a lot to prove in his first game with the Patriots, who will play a ball-control game. Unfortunately for Troy Brown fans and fantasy owners who like to own Patriots receivers, this year promises a variety of options for Brady, with Brown being considered a severely diminished factor from years past. Brown actually prepared for limited use at defensive cornerback during training camp, allowing the Pats to keep six wideouts on their roster and still have another free hand at CB — just in case they need it. While Brown struggled with injuries last year, talented young receivers Deion Branch, David Givens and Bethel Johnson are supplanting the elder statesman’s numbers with some stats of their own. With all that said, I do believe Brady will throw the ball to Brown occasionally, as long as he’s healthy, but with less frequency as they reach mid-season. While it’s not unusual for early season games in the AFC East to get pretty woolly when it comes to offense, I think this one’s going to be a lot like the January jaunt, which saw limited scoring and a few key plays determine the outcome.

Final Score: Pats 23, Colts 16

Arizona at St. Louis, 1:00 pm
There once was a team from L.A.
that moved to St. Louis one day.
They developed some “O” But let Kurt Warner go,
and now have to Faulk it away.

I know that was ridiculous, but it felt nice, and I wanted to loosen up before this preview, because there’s a chance I’ll pull a hamstring. Arizona is still the doormat of the league and St. Louis is still just a couple key defensive starters away from being a real contender. For our purposes, none of that stuff matters — not even the limerick. The intriguing part is that this game could make or break Week 1 for lots of fantasy owners.

The Cards were snake-bitten by serious injuries to RB Marcel Shipp and WR Anquan Boldin in the preseason and will test starting QB Josn McCown this year minus both those weapons. I hate saying this, but although Emmitt Smith is older than the Grand Canyon, he still could provide some fantasy value as a third running back in leagues that require one. If you don’t have Emmitt, I wouldn’t rush out to get him, and if you already have Emmitt as your #2 RB, you need to reevaluate your draft strategy. Smith might put up decent numbers in a third of Arizona’s games this year, and this will probably be one of them. At WR, there are a lot of question marks as to who McCown’ s go-to guy will be. There haven’t been too many wildly successful rookie receivers in the league’s history, but Pitt product Larry Fitzgerald could be the next. I also like Bryant Johnson’s chances to catch 50+ passes this year, especially with few other experienced receivers in the mix.

I would stay away from McCown this game unless you have no other options, just because there’s an outside chance he throws five picks.

The Rams should have one of their easiest games in the past few year for several reasons. Unlike the past four seasons, there aren’t too many lofty expectations for this team. Faulk is healthy and eager to prove his doubters wrong (although time will tell whether his body can still hold up for a full season), and Marc Bulger’s eyes will be wide open as he gets little pressure from the Cardinals weak defensive line and picks apart the mediocre secondary.

Torry Holt is a questionable but if he does play, he’s a must-play. So is Isaac Bruce. You may also see some second-half production from Stephen Jackson, who the Rams will use to spell Faulk.

I don’t see much hope for the Cards in this one, although WRs Fitzgerald and Johnson should both be safe plays this week as garbage time will begin somewhere in the third quarter. ..

Final Score: Rams 44, Cards 30

Baltimore (-3) at Cleveland, 1:00 pm
Other than acquiring backup QB Kordell Stewart and WR Kevin Johnson, not much has been done to improve the offense in Baltimore, if you consider those two moves improvements. The good news is that RB Jamal Lewis is not (yet) incarcerated and former defendant Ray Lewis still leads the best defensive team since Johnny Cochran, Robert Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey and Carl Douglas. The Browns remain very afraid of Jamal Lewis but will probably focus a little bit more on him this time around.

The Ravens run a conservative offense, not necessarily a great thing for Kyle Boller, Travis Taylor and Kevin Johnson owners. Jamal Lewis set an NFL single game rushing record against the Browns last year, so obviously he’s the go to guy again. Don’t expect anything quite as spectacular from Lewis this time around, but it would be fair to anticipate at least 100 yards on the ground and a score. Boller is the real question mark, and I would tend to avoid him like the plague until HC Brian Billick proves he is willing to have his young QB throw the long ball, which he is very capable of doing. The Ravens defense may very well pitch a shutout here, and is an absolute lock this week as a team defense.

The Browns hoped to pave road to the playoffs this year by picking up veteran QB Jeff Garcia. They have obviously not been watching game tape of his play over the past couple years in San Fran. Garcia’s best days are behind him and while the Browns will focus less on willy nilly distribution via their seemingly endless options at wide receiver and more on the evasive running style of Lee Suggs, I don’t think this is the year. This will not be a nice opening game for Suggs owners, who will have to decide whether he will play around gametime. They may also be in for a disappointing year. Willie Green, although currently the backup, is too good to remain on the bench all year. If you have Garcia, seek medical assistance immediately, and if you are that anxious to play a Browns offensive player in your starting roster this week, make it TE Kellen Winslow, Jr.

Final Score: Ravens 23, Browns 6

Cincinnati (+4.5) at N.Y. Jets, 1:00 pm
I don’t think the Bengals were as good as everyone thought they were last year, and evidently, the oddsmakers agree. Sure, they have a lot of heart, but Jon Kitna played well above his head last year, and now they’ve got Carson Palmer, who looks to me like a younger version of Tim Couch, who is now getting cut more often than clients of an Edward Scissorhands’ massage parlor. Once the 1980s were over, Ohio football just went down a steep, rocky hill.

The Bengals may call on rookie RB Chris Perry occasionally, but Rudi Johnson earned the starting job with some great performances last year. Don’t hesitate to go with Johnson, who is on track for a great season and might be capable of 1,300 yards or more. While I would stay away from Palmer until he gets a few games under his belt and proves himself at this level, I believe Chad Johnson should still produce this week. He’s no longer a secret, so just watch and see how he deals with double teams in the absence of the injured Peter Warrick. Kelley Washington didn’t do much as a rookie, but could pile up some statistics this year as a decent possession receiver.

The Jets will finally begin a season with Chad Pennington as their starting QB, a morale factor that might lead this team to big things in 204. They match up well against the Bengals, who have a weak defensive line and general confusion among the rest of the unit. People will score against the Bengals this year, and that bodes well this week for Pennington, RB Curtis Martin, and receivers Santana Moss and Justin McCareins. Don’t hesitate to play any of these guys if you’ve got them. Defensively, I always like DL John Abraham, DL Shaun Ellis, LB Sam Cowart and LB Eric Barton. The Jets biggest weakness on defense is their secondary, which hasn’t been the same since they lost Victor Green and Aaron Glenn.

Final Score: Jets 33, Bengals 21

Jacksonville (+3) at Buffalo, 1:00 pm
If I didn’t own Fred Taylor and Jimmy Smith in my league, I wouldn’t even care about this game. It is, however, my charge to discuss it with you, and prognosticate without prejudice. There are some intriguing possibilities surrounding this game. One interesting item will be Willis McGahee’s role in the Buffalo offense, which has been running smoothly behind Drew Bledsoe’s capable, albeit ancient arm. Another is the injury to Fred Taylor, which fantasy experts (at least the ones that I listen to) say won’t be a factor. I’m still a little scared, but I’ll be paying him Sunday.

The Jags are a much better team than they were before last season because (1) Jimmy Smith is not serving his usual four-game suspension and (2) QB Byron Leftwich has a few games under his belt and IS the starting quarterback. Leftwich might throw some interceptions against Buffalo trying to force balls into double coverage. While there is no real second receiver on this team, I consider that a blessing rather than a curse and just stay away from anybody not names Jimmy Smith. Leftwich will not produce great fantasy numbers against Buffalo — or anybody, for that matter, until he finds someone other than Smith and Taylor to throw the ball to. On defense, Mike Peterson will be the guy that produces big IDP numbers game in and game out. The Bills have some great fantasy players on both offense and defense, and will be a force to be reckoned with even before McGahee is 100 percent. RB Travis Henry, whom I’ve dubbed “The Reluctant Stud” wanted it known early and often that he wouldn’t stand for split time with Willis McCheeseLeg, claiming that he can’t get into a rhythm breaking up the offensive workload. I hate to quote The Rock, but Henry really needs to know his role and shut his mouth. If McGahee is healthy, he only strengthens the offense. While it doesn’t make fantasy football any easier for Henry and McGahee owners, I’m sure we’ll all cross that bridge when we come to it. 2004 is an even number, so it is safe to play WR Eric Moulds for the entire season. Rookie wideout Lee Evans has impressed in camp, earned a spot as the #2 receiver, and should get lots of looks from Bledsoe against Jacksonville.

Final Score: Bills 27, Jags 20

San Diego (+4.5) at Houston, 1:00 pm
These two franchises both looked poised to gradually develop into formidable contenders by 2005 going into last season, but only Houston has made any strides towards the playoffs. San Diego has gotten worse, and has further confused their quarterback situation by drafting the NFL’s newest malcontent, Philip Rivers, who sat out much of training camp because his agent told him he was special. Good move, Philip, that kind of attitude is really going to turn this franchise around.

The Chargers have really been hurt by the draft in recent years, other than picking up Superstud LaDainian Tomlinson, who is the future of the franchise. Against the Texans, he can pile up points, but the Chargers will probably not get a win. It’s just a matter of trends. The morale in Houston couldn’t be much higher, and the morale in San Diego couldn’t get much lower. WR Kevin Dyson, who looked like he might fit into the offense, was cut, leaving a wealth of inexperience and question marks at the receiver positions. And while Drew Brees got the starting nod from the coaching staff, but he’s not getting it from me. Other than Tomlinson and TE Antonio Gates, the only players you should have starting for the Chargers is LB Donnie Edwards, at least until other leading tacklers emerge.

The Texans have several players this year that are prepared for big seasons, including QB David Carr, RB Domanick Davis and WR Andre Johnson. Although WR Corey Bradford fell on a lot of cheatsheets before the draft, this is one game to play him if you managed to pick him up somewhere in the later rounds. I’m still not convinced that Jabar Gaffney is all that great, but he’’s worth a look if you are really strapped at receiver. On defense, there’s lots of talent, with Jamie sharper heading up the list. He’s a stud LB and a must-play each and every week. I had him last year and he was the anchor to my defense, which was consistent all year, won me plenty of games and was instrumental in winning my league championship. There’s also LBs Jay Foreman and Kailee Wong as well as DB Marcus Coleman. They are all good defensive plays this week.

Final Score: Houston 27 San Diego 17

Tampa Bay (+2.5) at Washington, 1:00 pm
There are high expectations for both these teams heading into 2004. The Skins should be pretty good, adding veteran QB Mark Brunell and superstar RB Clinton Portis — probably the best back in football. While Brunell is old and never fully reached his potential in Jacksonville, Rich Gannon was in a similar situation when he went to KC and then Oakland, where he found his groove in systems that suited his style.

The Bucs are coming off a very disappointing season, but have new GM and don’t have to listen to Warren Sapp’s chatty yap any more. While the fat bastard was a dominating presence on the D-line and an occasional goal line tackle-eligible receiver on offense, he could have been more of a distraction last year than anything. Backup DL Anthony McFarland has been waiting his turn for some time now, and should produce. Brad Johnson can still lead this offense, but Washington has made great strides to improve its line pressure and use more blitzes from its secondary with rookie FS Sean Taylor, a 6’0”, 231-pound beast out of Miami in the Steve Atwater mold. This will not be Brad Johnson’s best game this year, and will probably be one of his worst. I wouldn’t anticipate too much from the Bucs running backs — who are ALL overrated. The Skins defensive line has added Cornelius Griffin and Philip Daniels, two veteran lineman with run stopping capability. For owners worried about Washington’s offensive production — don’t. Even against the Bucs, Portis will be solid, Brunell will be surprisingly productive and WR Rod Gardner will return to his 2002 form. Even Darnerian McCants might get some more throws his way, although the red zone is his favorite stomping ground. The only question mark is Laveranues Coles, who has been battling a toe injury since last year. Coles, a five-year veteran, is used to pain and should still produce.

Final Score: Redskins 17, Bucs 14

Detroit at Chicago, 1:00 pm
I wish I could just write another limerick and be done with this one. Wait, maybe I will.

A fantasy owner from Chi-town,
Got stuck in the draft in the third round.
He took the A-train,
but to his disdain
Thomas Jones got the ball and scored touchdowns.

The Lions have the makings of a surprise team in 2004, and a Week 1 matchup in Chicago might just be the emotional boost this team needs to turn their losing ways around. Joey Harrington is a solid young QB and now he has some receivers to complement his talent. Charles Rogers, Tai Streets and even rookie Roy Williams are all worthy of being on fantasy rosters this year and both Rogers and Streets are safe plays against the Jets. Stay tuned to see how much Az-Zahir Hakim plays a role in this offense, but if you’re looking for a wild card WR that might produce, look his way. Kevin Jones is the big-time back Detroit has needed since Barry Sanders retired, should get 1,000 yards this year if he stays healthy, and is a smart play against a largely useless defensive unit.

The Bears just don’t scare me anymore, and I wouldn’t want to own any of them on my fantasy team this year. I know everybody’s high on Thomas Jones, but it’s not like the guy has been producing over the past few years. In fantasy circles, he’s drawn comparisons to Garrison Hearst, but Hearst’s career turned around when he joined the 49ers, who at the time were a good football team. I don’t like Grossman, wouldn’t be caught dead with him as my QB, and don’t like his matchup against a good secondary in Detroit. The receiving situation is anybody’s guess, and while I like David Terrell the best, it’s only because of his potential. Justin Gage is the safest play at WR.

Final Score: Lions 20 Bears 13

Oakland (+4) at Pittsburgh, 1:00 pm
The Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers have a long rivalry that goes back to the days of John Madden and Chuck Noll, Ken Stabler and Terry Bradshaw. With both teams looking to reestablish themselves as AFC contenders, this game might set the tone for the first half — even all — of the 2004 season. While the Steelers stood pat on defense — still their forte — the Raiders went out and got a couple of fat guys — Warren Sapp and Ted Washington — to strengthen their woeful run defense.

The Raiders have hired head coach Norv Turner, shed Charlie Garner and will use Tyrone Wheatley as their primary back this year. Wheatley is a fast, power back with good instincts and lots of experience. He fits with Turner’s offensive style and may even start the season off with a 100-yard game. Rich Gannon has reached a mid-life crisis, while backup Kerry Collins is probably on the verge of both an emotional meltdown and alcoholic relapse — events that I am sure will coincide at some point this season. It also remains to be seen if WR Jerry Porter can handle the burden of being Oakland’s go-to-guy. Jerry Rice is well into the fossilization process but other than Porter, he still provides the most potential from a fantasy perspective.

The Steelers didn’t do much to improve their defense, but at least east nobody got shot in the ass this year, putting them one-up on the 2003 season already. Pittsburgh did make some key changes on offense, however, adding Duce Staley to the backfield. Staley played well near the end of the season last year and seems rejuvenated in the Steel City, which could really use a receiving threat out of the backfield to complement their solid corps of wideouts. Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El are most productive threesome since Melissa Etheridge, Tammy Lynn Michaels and David Crosby. I anticipate lots of scoring, as big plays from the Steelers receivers will make the difference and break the game open against the overrated Raiders secondary.

Final Score: Steelers 34, Raiders 19

Seattle (-2) at New Orleans, 1:00 pm
One of the better matchups this weekend, and not just because it will be a battle between two top five running backs. Seattle is everybody’s favorite to win the NFC West, but the Saints have a shot at a wild card this year, and a win against the Seahawks would get them off to a wonderful start.

The Seahawks have an offense with some of fantasy football’s best options at the skill positions. Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander, Koren Robinson and Darrell Jackson are great stat producers that should be in the fantasy lineup every week. The offense even boasts two tight ends that are capable of putting up decent numbers week-to-week. The only major problem with the Seahawks defense is the injury to LB Chad Brown, who will miss all of this month. That means Anthony Simmons should have a boatload of tackles this week, and puts additional pressure on the secondary. Play Seahawks D-backs if you’ve got any.

The Saints have an aging defensive unit that missed a lot of tackles last year, lending to big fantasy points on other end. It also means that when they fall behind, Deuce McAllister catches tons of balls out of the backfield. He could emerge as the best fantasy running back this season. While QB Aaron Brooks is capable of putting up gaudy numbers each week and doesn’t throw too many picks, he has been inconsistent handling the football and lost 11 fumbles last year. I expect a good game from him against Seattle, but wouldn’t play him against strong pass rush/secondary combinations. At WR, Joe Horn is always a gamer and Donté Stallworth is ready to perform in a gamebreaker capacity after a couple of disappointing seasons. TE Eddie “Boo” Williams is fast emerging as one of the best fantasy tight ends in football and is a big play threat.

Final Score: Seattle 31, Saints 28

Tennessee (-3) at Miami, 1:00 pm
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, their city’s abbreviation — MIA — has taken on a whole new meaning with the unexpected retirement of Ricky Williams. The guy was a apparently smoking spliffs and eating God knows how many different hallucinogens in Jamaica with Ziggy Marley when he decided to cut his dreads off under a waterfall (good move) and hang up his spikes (bad move). Why couldn’t this guy just read Peter Mathiessen’s The Snow Leopard like everybody else and just pretend to gain spirituality? And where’s P. Diddy to bring this guy back to reality when you need him?

The Titans must be chomping at the bit to flaunt new starter Chris Brown in a regular season game. He’s got moves, can run faster than ten miles an hour (a feat that sometimes challenged Eddie George) and looks ready to assume the responsibility that his predecessor had of perennially leading his team into the playoffs with an efficient, hard-hitting running game. Steve McNair and Derrick Mason have better chemistry than Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and they’ll need it this week as the Titans will be without WR Tyrone Calico and the Dolphins still have a solid, talented secondary with lots of experience. Kicker Joe Nedney, who I happened to draft on Sunday, got hurt in practice this week and is probably lost for the season.

The Dolphins have been searching for a starting halfback all of training camp, and traded for Rams RB Lamar Gordon, who was the odd man out in that backfield. It remains to be seen if the Dolphins can use Gordon, Travis Minor, or Sammy Morris effectively, as even The Artist Formerly Known As Dreadlocks had problems finding holes in Miami last year. Jay Fielder’s still the starter at QB, but one that provides little fantasy value, especially playing Tennessee, a defense that is particularly strong against the pass. Playing WR Chris Chambers is always an option, but I would stay away from predatory mammal - turned aquatic mammal Marty Booker until he proves to be part of the offensive plan.

Final Score: Titans 24 Dolphins 10

Atlanta (-3.5) at San Francisco, 4:15 pm
Hippies and other folky types used to sing “Where have all the flowers gone?” in San Francisco in the 1960s. Now everybody’s wondering what happened to their beloved 49ers. With Owens, Hearst and Garcia gone, the team looks a lot different. Atlanta’s only problem is not knowing what to expect from half the guys they are playing against.

The 49ers will introduce the Falcons, however, to RB Kevan Barlow very quickly. With Keith Brooking questionable, the Falcons will have problems stopping Barlow. WR Brandon Lloyd will be their next option, and if the Falcons double Lloyd or load up against the run, WRs Cedrick Wilson and veteran Curtis Conway will beat them deep. On defense, look from good numbers from LB Julian Peterson, LB Derek Smith and DB Tony Parrish. I have a feeling people will be surprised by the 49ers on Sunday.

The Falcons, and must-play (yes, even with the bad hammy) QB Mike Vick, will look early and often to RB Warrick Dunn and WR Peerless Price, but will also run a bit on his own. It’s in his blood. I’m not really big on T.J. Duckett, who has shown potential, but should be the feature back in a different system. Dez White put up numbers in Chicago and should continue to do so in Atlanta, unless Brian Finneran becomes a more popular target for Vick. On defense, I like DL Patrick Kerney and LB Chris Draft.

Final Score: 49ers 23, Falcons 21

N.Y. Giants (+8.5) at Philadelphia, 4:15 pm
There’s a lot of excitement in New York about the Giants’ fantasy football hopes this year. No one is more excited than me, because I just ignore Giants and look elsewhere for fantasy production, while all the Giant fans in my league try to figure out if Tiki Barber is going to fumble or if Ron Dayne is no longer a fat turd who gets no carries. Kurt Warner or Eli Manning? Who cares? Neither will lead this team to the playoffs anyway. In Philadelphia, there’s lots of excitement, too, but it’s for Terrell Owens, who whined just enough to get traded to a Super Bowl contender.

The Giants are faced with lots of options on offense, including Barber, Jeremy Shockey, Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard and of course Dayne, who I would avoid like a lactose intolerant senior citizen with a fridge full of rotten milk. Barber’s carrying the football like a retarded kid clutching his “blankee”, but whether or not that will help or hinder his overall fantasy production remains to be seen. I can see Barber having a good day, but I don’t see him getting into the endzone. Toomer and Hilliard will rack up points if the Giants fall behind, like they always do, but don’t count on big games from either. If you’ve got other options, explore them. On defense, there’s a lot of new faces at linebacker, but bank on Carlos Emmons and Barrett Green making some tackles. Third-year linebacker Nick Greisen was a little dinged during training camp with a strained hammy, so stay away until he proves he can play every down.

The Eagles have a short list of solid fantasy producers, including Donovan McNabb, RB Brian Westbrook and Owens. Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston have potential to contribute, but the overall effect of T.O. will begin to tell the tale after Week 1. All the receivers were useless last year, so I can’t see Owens having too much of a negative effect. L.J. Smith looks like the new go-to-TE, replacing Chad Lewis as the starter. On defense, there seems to be anew guy putting up stats each week, so I favor DB Brian Dawkins and former Titan DL Jevon Kearse, who is out to prove himself all over again.

Final Score: Eagles 31, Giants 13

Dallas (+4.5) at Minnesota, 4:15 pm
The Cowboys have started a trend in recent years of looking REALLY horrible the first game of the season. As a Cowboy fan, I’m hoping that trend ends abruptly on Sunday. But I’m also hoping to get some kind of fantasy production from at least one of the Cowboys that I drafted, and after looking at my roster on 11:30 p.m. this past Sunday night, I was thinking I may have drafted too many. Other than Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss, the Vikings have some question marks with answers that will start to emerge in Week 1 as well.

The Cowboys best fantasy player in 2004 will most likely be DB Roy Williams, who is in on almost every play. On offense, Vinny Testaverde might be a decent backup for some fantasy teams, but I don’t project him to be a starter, and definitely not this week. Julius Jones will get most of the carries this and every other week, but a top ten running back he is not. Eddie George is only an option if something happens to Jones, or if Bill Parcells has been using the rookie as a decoy through all of training camp (which is unlikely). I think Keyshawn Johnson might catch around 80-90 balls this year, but whether that will translate into lots of yardage and — most importantly — touchdowns, remains to be seen. He will have more than one, however, and the first might come on Sunday. I’m not crazy about TE Jason Witten yet, but I would have drafted him if he made it to the last couple rounds.

The Vikings have a studly QB, a studly WR, but weirdness at RB and confusion on defense. LBs Chris Claiborne and E.J. Henderson should emerge as the team’s leading tacklers, and both are great IDP options as long as they are healthy. Corey Chavous and Brian Russell are also options. I would tend to stay away from the running back position as Dallas has a formidable run defense. WR Nate Burleson is also a good option against a Dallas secondary that has frequent lapses.

Final Score: Vikings 24 Cowboys 20

Kansas City (+3) at Denver, 8:30 pm
Another division rivalry that will set the tone for 2004, these teams match up well and always have great games. I anticipate heavy doses of both Priest Holmes and Quentin Griffin, with turnovers deciding who gets the W.

The Chiefs are without a great #1 wide receiver but have Holmes and Tony Gonzalez, a similar situation to the Chargers minus the foreboding dismay. They do have a good QB in Trent Green and a capable defense that might step it up a little more this year. I like to stay away from Chiefs WRs, because it’s always somebody new every week that gets the TD. I’m not going to change that system now. On defense, Greg Wesley plays up and gets lots of tackles, but can stay back and bat down passes and is a good play against a team that runs a predictable offense. I also like LBs Shawn Barber, Scott Fujita and Mike Maslowski as well as DB Jerome Woods.

The Broncos can get it done with Griffin, who should grab 100 and a touchdown against the Chiefs. When and if Tatum Bell joins the party, RBBC will be a possibility, but the job should be Griffin’s for now. Jake Plummer is one of those QBS that I can’t bring myself to draft, regardless of how high football pundits are on his progress. How many chances is this guy going to get with fantasy owners? The game could turn into a scoring battle, which is the only reason to even consider Plummer. If you don’t any better options, I feel sorry for you. At WR, I still believe in Rod Smith and am anxiously anticipating the true arrival of Ashley Lelie, who has boatloads of potential. Stay away from the TE situation, play LB Al Wilson on defense and enjoy your chicken wings.

Final Score: Chiefs 38 Broncos 31

Green Bay (+3) at Carolina, 9:00 pm
This is who should have played in the NFC Championship game last year. It will be an entertaining Monday Night matchup, especially with everybody’s favorite lunatic Brett Favre leading the aging but still hungry Packers into Carolina to play the NFC Champs. The Packers have a great quarterback, but he’s absolutely nuts. Favre becomes more and more unpredictable with age and is still a lot of fun to watch. He’s also a decent fantasy quarterback for about eight weeks of the season —the only problem is deciding which eight weeks they are. Ahman Green is among the best backs in the game, and has figured out how to cut down on his fumbling. The Packers WRs can all produce, and I think Donald Driver and Javon Walker are both good options against Carolina, which is weakest in its secondary. TE Bubba Franks should also enjoy some good numbers. On defense, go with Nick Barnett and Darren Sharper, the safest bets to put up tackle totals. The Panthers are a better team than last year, and Jake Delhomme — who is my backup quarterback — leads his team a lot like Tom Brady does. He will put up admirable numbers, but shouldn’t be your starter unless he matches up really well against an easily-exploited secondary. I also drafted DeShaun Foster, but I’m not going to play him unless resident stud RB Stephen Davis goes down. Until further notice, play Davis and eat your potato chips. At WR, Steve Smith broke out last year, and will continue to be Delhomme’s favorite target. Muhsin Muhammed is a good wideout, and may produce decent numbers against the Packers, who are in trouble on the corners. Defensively, there’s no harm in playing defensive lineman Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers, who will get a sack or two between them. Dan Morgan’s also good bet to get at least 7-10 tackles.

Final Score: Panthers 23 Packers 17