“Football season? Already?” My wife (or any other member
of the fairer sex) could be excused for uttering something so profane.
Believe it or not, though, this little morsel was recently overheard
at my office. And the speaker was no woman. Needless to say, I was
rendered speechless when told of the remark, unable to comprehend
how anyone could be caught off-guard by the beginning of football
season, especially a perfectly healthy, red-blooded, American male.
Upon further review, though, I came to accept that some people (even
men) simply DON’T CARE about the start of football season…or
any other sports season, for that matter. It was at that precise
moment when I thought of you guys, my loyal readers, my partners
in crime, my fellow junkies who comprehend and share the sickness
that is fantasy fanaticism. Welcome back, folks. It’s been
way too long. Let’s hit this…
Must Start: The Top 10
1. Peyton Manning @ BAL –
Encore, encore! It’s hard to believe Peyton will match last
year’s ridiculous numbers (4,500 yards and 49 TDs) but with
all his weapons back, there’s no good reason to think he
won’t. Wait, here’s one: an improving defense could
actually prevent the high-octane O from airing it out as often.
On second thought…. There are better draws than the Ravens
in Week 1 but that doesn’t mean you sit him, no matter who
your backup is.
2. Daunte Culpepper v. TB –
Life after Randy begins this Sunday against an old Norris Division
rival, the Bucs. Though some have already penciled the Vikes in
as NFC North champs, I’m reserving judgment. No, it’s
not because I’m a Packer fan. It’s because Daunte’s
offense lost a stud RB (the “Whizzinator”), an All-Pro
center (Matt Birk), and an All-Universe receiver (the aforementioned
Mr. Moss). How does that make them better exactly? Let’s
hope it at least makes Culpepper more valuable.
3. Donovan McNabb @ ATL –
For a guy who’s led his team to four consecutive NFC Championship
games, he sure doesn’t receive much in the way of adulation.
That tends to happen when you play in a city like Philadelphia
with the most controversial wideout since…well, Randy Moss.
Silent treatment aside, McNabb will find his “favorite”
receiver enough in the first few weeks to keep Eagles fans (and
his owners) happy…for now.
4. Brett Favre @ DET –
He’s leaner and presumably meaner after an offseason of
pilates and personal tragedy. If you like future Hall of Famers
who never get hurt and put up 4,000 yards/30 TDs on a regular
basis, you’ve come to the right place. The Ol’ Gunslinger
could put up even better numbers this season if the Pack’s
woeful defense forces him to play catch-up a lot, a distinct possibility
with greenhorns along the defensive line and in the secondary.
5. Tom Brady v. OAK –
Speaking of future Hall of Famers…. If he doesn’t
cool it soon, Brady’s gonna make his childhood idol’s
career look relatively pedestrian. Not even the great Joe Montana
could boast of three Super Bowl trophies at this stage of his
career. Make it four if somebody doesn’t figure out how
to beat the Pats in Foxboro come January.
6. Carson Palmer @ CLE –
Nobody beat the Pats in Foxboro PERIOD last season but Palmer
and the upstart Bengals came close. The reason? They can match
almost any team, Super Bowl champ or not, point for point. With
a stud running back and the league’s most underrated receiving
corps at his disposal, the former Heisman winner should break
out in a big way this season.
7. Trent Green v. NYJ –
Quick: name the AFC’s returning leader in passing yardage.
Surprise, surprise, Peyton worshippers. Though you’d certainly
trade Green’s 27 touchdown passes for Manning’s record-breaking
49, you’ve gotta be happy with the 4,591 yards KC’s
triggerman posted through the air in 2004, without the benefit
of even one wideout who could start in Indy. Expect big things
from Mr. Green this season in the wide-open AFC West.
8. Kerry Collins @ NE –
You want wide open? Allow me to introduce the ’05 version
of Mr. Davis’ Raiduhs. Adding Randy to an already dangerous
stable of speed demons makes Oakland a trendy pick for the AFC
West crown. Of course, there’s still the little matter of
what to do when the other team gets the ball. No matter. We all
know that porous defense typically leads to potent offense in
9. Jake Delhomme v. NO –
You’ve already read about the four signal-callers who threw
for more TDs than Delhomme last season (Manning, Culpepper, McNabb,
and Favre). Not bad company for a guy who was short his best two
running backs and his best receiver most of the year. Entering
his third full year as the starter in Carolina, the former Ragin’
Cajun could be a nice option for owners who waited ‘til
the middle rounds to draft a QB.
10. Kurt Warner @ NYG –
He’s not the vindictive type, I imagine, but I gotta think
Eli Manning’s former mentor is just a little bit psyched
to be facing his protégé right out of the gate.
Believe it or not, Warner’s upside is much higher than Manning
Jr.’s this season, especially working with the likes of
Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. I like his chances of putting
up 200+ yards and a couple scores this Sunday.
Grab A Helmet:
Michael Vick v. PHI –
Don’t read anything into his exclusion from the Top 10.
I’m just as smitten with Mike’s ability as I was last
year and the year before that. Nevertheless, he’s squaring
off against a superior Philadelphia team on Monday night that
would like nothing better than to just play football at this point.
He’s also going into battle with perhaps the worst receiving
corps in the short history of the NFC South. Good thing Alge Crumpler
still plays for the Dirty Birds.
Mark Bulger @ SF – The
numbers tell me he’s a decent option for those who miss
out on the big boys. The eyes tell me he’s a maddeningly
inconsistent QB who is more than likely gonna break some hearts
before all is said and done. You could do worse than Bulger but
the emergence of Steven Jackson means he’s probably a fringe
option all year long. Just warning you.
Joey Harrington v. GB –
Aside from his mother, I’m probably the only person in the
world who thinks he’s still capable of big things in the
Motor City. Even his coach seemed unconvinced this offseason,
tracking down old friend Jeff Garcia for a friendly QB competition.
Now that the injured Garcia is out of the way, the job is all
Joey’s. I have a sneaking suspicion he’ll reward my
patience with a breakout year, starting against a Pack secondary
that will have its hands full against the super-talented (and
super-sized) Lions receiving corps.
Byron Leftwich v. SEA –
Fragile Fred is even more fragile than ever this year so it wouldn’t
be surprising to see everything fall on Byron’s big shoulders.
That could be a good thing if he continues to improve. Then again,
Jimmy Smith isn’t getting any younger and the Jags need
someone else to emerge. Expect that someone to be one of Jacksonville’s
gigantic “other” threats, Reggie Williams. Heard it
Chad Pennington @ KC –
He’s never made it through an entire season and he’s
only thrown more than 20 TDs once in his career (two years ago,
no less). That’s another way of saying I don’t entirely
trust him. Then again, it’s Week 1. He’s healthy for
now and draws the ever-suspect Chefs secondary this Sunday. Expect
200 yards and at least one hookup with new old friend, Laveranues
Grab A Clipboard:
Kyle Boller v. IND – He
may actually avoid being the worst starter at the QB position
this year. On the other hand, he may not. If you’re even
potentially the worst QB in the league, you don’t merit
consideration as a legitimate fantasy starter. Stop boasting of
his potential, people. You know who you are.
Kyle Orton @ WAS – Rookie
QBs who start in Week 1 don’t generally find much success.
Rookie QBs who start in Week 1 ‘cuz their teams don’t
have any other options? Cover your eyes. Love his potential but
he wouldn’t be starting for me right away, especially against
a stingy ‘Skins defense.
Patrick Ramsey v. CHI –
Lucky for Orton and his Bears, the ‘Skins offense always
manages to keep opponents in ballgames. If he could only tally
fantasy points for handing off to Clinton Portis, Ramsey would
be a solid option. Alas, he’ll need to actually complete
some passes to help you out. That’s a dicey proposition.
Matt Hasselbeck @ JAX –
He was one of the hottest QB commodities on the market this time
last year but another lackluster season has relegated him to the
middle tier of fantasy signal-callers for ‘05. The potential
is still there but unfortunately for him and his owners, so are
Shaun Alexander and the drop-prone receiving corps. Make him show
you something before relying too heavily on him.
Drew Brees v. DAL – Unlike
Hasselbeck, Brees was a whisker width away from oblivion at the
start of last season. Now? He’s the unquestioned leader
of a resurgent Bolts squad thinking Super Bowl. You’ll hafta
excuse the cynicism but I’m just not sure he can turn the
trick again. Thanks to a Clippers-like bungling of the Antonio
Gates contract extension, he’ll also be without the services
of his top target for Week 1. Try someone else for now.
David Carr @ BUF – After
two years of hyping his potential, I’ve turned bearish on
Carr and the Houston passing game, in general. At some point,
he needs to produce. Sound familiar, Joey? Believe it or not,
Carr has thrown 14 fewer TD passes than the Lions’ beleaguered
field general in only two fewer games. Hey, that’s what
I’m here for, folks. Sit him down against the Bills’