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Preseason Schedule Analysis
NFC South & NFC West Breakdowns
8/18/09

NFC South: ATL | CAR | NO | TB
NFC West: ARI | STL | SF | SEA

With the offseason now a distant memory, I feel compelled to perform my due diligence and encourage each of you to take in as much preseason action as possible - something that has become more possible than I could have ever imagined since the NFL Network will show all 65 games over the next four weeks. No, I’m not a sucker for “meaningless” football; I have learned over the years to enter each exhibition contest with a plan. In some games, I want to know if/when and where a team is pulling its feature back. In others, I want to see if a rookie WR looks crisp going in and coming out of his breaks and if a veteran RB coming off an injury appears to have the same burst he had pre-injury. Sometimes, I may go into a preseason game with an eye towards the defense, for instance, how well a certain team is transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense.

Just like any coach, I tend to believe the preseason is the time to seek evidence to back up the opinions we formed on players during the offseason and, over the course of the next few weeks, finalize decisions about a player's ability to help our fantasy teams for the upcoming season. Like many other fantasy owners, I am primarily interested in Week 3 of the preseason (which most teams treat as a dress rehearsal for Opening Week, making it the most realistic barometer of a team before the start of the actual regular season). That doesn't mean that every other exhibition is useless and, as such, I plan to take in every single preseason game I can. Another benefit of embracing the preseason is taking stock in some of the deep sleepers or potential fantasy wildcards. For example, Bernard Scott, James Davis and Danny Ware may mean very little to 95% of owners out there right now, but I bet most of those same owners will be the ones kicking themselves for not watching those young bucks in August if Cedric Benson, Jamal Lewis and Brandon Jacobs succumbs to a season-ending injury early in the season.

By now, each of you knows the drill as it relates to the PSA breakdowns. While this week ends our month-long tour of each division and how the schedule affects each team inside it, the next two weeks will be focused on getting everyone as prepared as humanly possible for all their late-August and early-September drafts with the release of my PPR and non-PPR "Big Boards".

As for this article, once again, bear in mind that while the final projections are important, they are 15-game totals because most fantasy seasons have 15 games. For those unfamiliar with the way I project player stats and individual week-to-week consistency (or for those who need a refresher), please give PSA: RB article a read for an introductory course in Preseason Schedule Analysis. By now, I'm hoping that each of you have a pretty good understanding of my methodology, so let's see how the NFC South and NFC West shake down in 2009.

Note: The grey highlight in each team’s schedule reflects a road game.

NFC SOUTH

 Atlanta Falcons
  Totals MIA CAR NE bye SF CHI DAL NO WAS CAR NYG TB PHI NO NYJ BUF
(Run)   4.3 4.4 3.9   4 3.8 4 4.1 3.7 4.4 3.8 4.2 4 4.1 3.8 4.5
(Pass)   7.2 6.3 6.2   7 6.8 6.1 6.7 6 6.3 6.6 7.4 6.4 6.7 6.5 7.4
                                   
M Ryan 3710 235 220 285   265 240 260 330 230 210 190 260 250 295 180 260
TD 21 1 1 3   2 1 2 2 1 0 1 2 1 2 0 2
INT 11 1 0 2   0 1 1 1 0 2 0 0 1 1 1 0
                                   
M Turner 1265 80 110 55   70 105 65 70 45 90 75 120 100 105 50 125
Ru TD 13 1 2 0   0 1 1 1 0 0 1 2 1 1 0 2
Re Yards 45 0 5 0   0 0 10 5 0 0 0 0 15 10 0 0
Re TD 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 7 0 1 0   0 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 2 1 0 0
                                   
J Norwood 375 25 10 25   40 20 35 10 30 55 15 25 0 45 10 30
Ru TD 3 0 0 0   1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0
Re Yards 335 20 15 40   25 10 25 60 25 0 10 20 25 20 25 15
Re TD 1 0 0 0   0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 44 3 2 5   3 2 3 4 2 0 3 3 4 3 5 2
                                   
R White 1280 95 65 110   100 85 70 120 55 85 100 50 100 90 35 120
Re TD 7 1 0 1   1 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1
Rec 83 6 5 8   7 6 4 6 3 5 7 4 5 8 3 6
                                   
M Jenkins 730 50 60 40   65 45 50 40 45 45 30 60 40 75 45 40
Re TD 5 0 1 0   1 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0
Rec 64 4 6 3   5 4 5 4 5 3 3 5 4 6 4 3
                                   
B Finneran 380 10 30 20   20 30 40 35 45 25 0 30 25 40 15 15
Re TD 1 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 30 1 2 3   2 3 3 3 3 2 0 2 1 3 1 1
                                   
T Gonzalez 940 60 45 75   55 70 65 70 60 55 50 100 45 60 60 70
Re TD 7 0 0 2   0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 1
Rec 77 5 3 5   4 6 6 6 5 4 5 7 3 5 8 5

Gone for Michael Turner's life are the weaker defenses of the NFC North and AFC West (Minnesota and Chicago finished in the top 10 vs. the run and only San Diego joined them in the top half of the league in 2008). Instead, he has the unfortunate task of putting on an encore performance against the NFC and AFC East this season. By comparison, five of the eight teams on the Falcons' new schedule were top-10 rush defenses in 2008 and only Buffalo did not finish in the top half of the league stopping the run. Granted, this year's rankings vs. the run won't be a carbon copy of last year's, but it's hard to argue that Turner didn't take advantage of a weaker schedule as he gained 909 of 1,699 rushing yards and scored of his nine of his 17 TDs last season in the eight games vs. the NFC North and AFC West. (Add in the Falcons' game against one of the league's worst rush defenses in St. Louis in Week 17 last season and those totals spike to 1,117 and 10. Put into further context, Atlanta played each of the six teams that gave up 20+ rushing TDs last season. By comparison, this season, the Falcons play seven games against the ten stingiest teams in that category from a season ago.) Unlike a comparable back in Adrian Peterson - in terms of their fantasy contributions coming from just their rushing totals - Turner does not have a similarly talented offensive line or the Vikings' defense that allows Minnesota to run "All Day". As such, I am no fan of "The Burner" or his ability to live up to his average draft position of 1.3. In fact, with his five red matchups, I'm having a hard time endorsing Turner as a first-round fantasy pick this season, especially in PPR leagues! It is only due to his incredible talent and the fact the Falcons traded for an all-around TE like Tony Gonzalez that I am projecting the numbers for Turner that I have.

Matt Ryan may have improved by leaps and bounds over his Rookie of the Year campaign, unfortunately, so has his schedule. The same slate that helped Turner to a huge breakout season is the same one that allowed Ryan to dissect his NFC North and AFC West opponents for 10 TDs and just four INTs in 2008. Certainly, it hasn't been lost on me that Atlanta acquired Gonzalez, a player that should go a long way in helping Ryan to maintain that 5:2 TD/INT ratio, but forgive if I'm not exactly ready to sell the farm to secure the second-year QB's services in 2009. While the passing game's schedule is a bit easier to take than the running game's, all four NFC East teams finished in the top eight of the league vs. the pass last season and it could be argued that maybe only the Eagles have taken a step back. By comparison, Oakland finished 10th - in large part to teams running the ball so effectively against them - while the rest of the AFC West finished 26th or worst.) Furthermore, I'm not crazy about Ryan having field days against the Patriots, Dolphins or Jets, the last of which he faces in Week 15. Ryan has a bright future in this league, so I feel like I have taken that into account by giving him the benefit of the doubt with his final numbers, but that doesn't mean I'm eyeing him as much more than a low-end fantasy QB1 in 2009. Although Harry Douglas didn't exactly set the world on fire with a 22-314-1 line in his rookie season, his absence is going to give Atlanta one less advantage in the matchup game each week as Brian Finneran isn't anywhere close to the same WR that Douglas is, especially in the slot. Taking into account Douglas' season-ending injury, it turns out I gave Michael Jenkins a pretty healthy boost over the numbers I had for him previously. Fortunately, Roddy White's holdout was brief, meaning his final numbers shouldn't suffer much, if at all. It's a good thing, too, because a less talented combo than Ryan-to-White would need every snap possible to successfully navigate an early-season schedule that includes seven difficult matchups over the first 10 games. And the stretch run doesn't get much easier for White as he will likely run up against Asante Samuel in Week 13 and Darrelle Revis in Week 15. Long story short, as tempting as it is to latch on to Falcons' offensive players this season, I'm not seeing the offensive line talent, a play-caller savvy enough to adjust to the more difficult defenses he will face this season or the schedule necessary to warrant all the buzz. While I believe Atlanta has the talent in place now to overcome some of its difficult matchups this season, I don't foresee the Falcons building the necessary offensive chemistry to overcome this kind of schedule until next season.

 Carolina Panthers
  Totals PHI ATL DAL bye WAS TB BUF ARI NO ATL MIA NYJ TB NE MIN NYG
(Run)   4 4.6 4   3.7 4.2 4.5 4.4 4.1 4.6 4.3 3.8 4.2 3.9 3.8 3.8
(Pass)   6.4 7.1 6.1   6 7.4 7.4 6.7 6.7 7.1 7.2 6.5 7.4 6.2 6.6 6.6
                                   
J Delhomme 3080 170 225 225   175 230 245 195 200 185 220 175 220 270 185 160
TD 20 0 2 2   1 2 3 0 1 0 2 2 3 1 1 0
INT 13 1 2 0   1 0 0 1 2 0 1 1 1 2 0 1
                                   
D Williams 1120 80 100 65   40 115 65 120 45 55 105 50 85 65 55 75
Ru TD 11 1 1 0   0 1 1 2 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 1
Re Yards 150 10 0 5   5 5 25 0 10 10 15 10 0 30 5 20
Re TD 1 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Rec 23 2 0 2   1 1 3 0 2 1 3 2 0 3 1 2
                                   
J Stewart 840 45 65 80   60 45 40 25 70 100 40 55 65 45 45 60
Ru TD 9 1 0 1   1 0 0 1 1 2 0 1 0 0 0 1
Re Yards 120 5 0 5   10 5 0 15 5 5 10 0 25 15 15 5
Re TD 1 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Rec 19 1 0 1   2 1 0 3 1 1 1 0 3 2 2 1
                                   
S Smith 1360 55 125 80   90 125 110 70 85 85 120 40 115 110 80 70
Re TD 8 0 1 0   1 1 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 0
Rec 93 4 9 6   6 7 8 5 6 6 9 3 7 8 4 5
                                   
M Muhammad 765 55 60 75   30 50 65 75 35 50 30 65 35 75 40 25
Re TD 4 0 0 1   0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0
Rec 60 4 4 5   3 4 5 6 4 5 3 4 2 6 3 2
                                   
D Jarrett 585 35 40 55   40 30 40 35 50 25 45 55 45 30 35 25
Re TD 4 0 1 0   0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 0 0
Rec 49 3 4 5   4 2 3 4 4 2 4 3 3 2 3 3
                                   
J King 100 10 0 5   0 15 5 0 15 10 0 5 0 10 10 15
Re TD 2 0 0 1   0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 16 1 0 1   0 2 1 0 3 1 0 1 0 2 1 3

If the fantasy football world thought that my analysis of the Falcons' schedule (and what it means for Turner's 2009 prospects) was harsh, wait until they get a taste of my thoughts on last year's true breakout performer, DeAngelo Williams. Unlike Turner, Williams has a ready-made excuse for 2009, that is, if Jonathan Stewart can ever get fully healthy again. A healthy Stewart will likely lead to a full season of Williams' first-half production from a season ago (more on that below) whereas an unhealthy Stewart could free up Williams to have another huge season. But before Williams' owners start sticking pins into their Stewart voodoo dolls (or vice versa), consider this for a second: through the Panthers' Week 9 bye last season, Williams had a modest five total TDs and two 100-yard games. Then, over the final eight games - five of which were against the worst eight rush defenses (Lions - worst, Raiders - 31st, Broncos - 27th, Packers - 26th, Falcons - 25th), he tripled both totals, capped off by a career-defining four-score outburst in Week 16 vs. the Giants. While that was an impressive performance by any stretch of the imagination, the Giants' defense wasnít nearly the animal it had been for that game and during the entire month of December. (The seasonís final month was so hard on the Giants that they allowed all three of their 100-yards rushing performances and nine of the defense's 15 total TDs vs. opposing RBs - very few fantasy owners could have foreseen Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the leg and the affect it was going to have on both sides of the ball.) The point is that much like the Falconsí Turner, Williams and Stewart won't have a lot of opportunity to beat up on the same weaklings this season as they did in 2008. Case in point - the run up to and during the fantasy playoffs for the Panthers this season, in my opinion, is more difficult for them than any other team in the league. First, in Week 12, Carolina travels to New York to take on the Jets before getting an average matchup at best at home vs. the Bucs. Then, the Panthers head to New England in Week 14 before hosting Minnesota in Week 15 and taking another trip to New York to meet the Giants in Week 16. Because their offensive line is such a good run-blocking unit, I'm not swearing off the Panthers' potential for RB production completely during the fantasy postseason, but understand there is plenty of risk for any owner investing a high pick in Williams or Stewart this season: 1) Each of Carolina's offensive linemen missed at least one game last season, but unlike 2008, there is very little proven or experienced depth behind them; 2) the fact that Williams and Stewart have someone as talented as each other to compete with for touches makes counting on either all season very dicey and; 3) the aforementioned schedule looks nice with one red matchup through Week 11, but ends rather unceremoniously.

Since Steve Smith's true breakout season (2003) that established him as one of the league's best wideouts, he has amassed 6,312 receiving yards. To put that into some perspective, that total is nearly 33% of Carolina's total receiving yardage over that time. If we throw out the 2004 season in which Smith was injured for the season in the first game and posted just 60 of the team's 3,643 total receiving yards, Smith is responsible for over 40% of the team's yards gained through the air! Needless to say, the Panthers' passing game begins and ends with the mighty mite. Fortunately for him and his fantasy owners, Smith has proved not only to be one of the league's toughest receivers over that time, but also one of the few players in the league who is essentially what I like to call "matchup-proof". Considering what he has to go up against in the fantasy playoffs this season, he figures to give that moniker a good run for its money. Cold-weather contests in New England in Week 14 and in New York against the Giants in Week 16 don't project to be high-yardage games for anybody. However, if we have learned one things over the years (and the numbers above prove it), Jake Delhomme isn't against force-feeding the ball to Smith. So while I'm not crazy about how his fantasy season winds down, I'm really only concerned with Smith's ability to produce solid fantasy totals in Week 1 vs. Philly's Asante Samuel and in Week 12 vs. the Jets Darrelle Revis. Outside of Smith, the schedule looks absolutely brutal for the secondary players in the passing game. While Dwayne Jarrett is getting hyped as a player ready to push Muhsin Muhammad for a starting spot, both players will probably negate the other for touches while trying to overcome seven red matchups on the schedule on a team that wants to run the ball all day long. To be quite honest, I'd be quite surprised -barring injury - if either Muhammad or Jarrett lived up to the numbers I have projected for them here, but as always, I try to imagine the best-case scenario first and work back from there. Lastly, with my feelings pretty clear on the difficulty of Carolina's schedule, I can't really endorse Delhomme as anything more than a bye-week fill-in. He'll have his moments in the first half of the season, but he'll really have to raise his game to excel in December.

 New Orleans Saints
  Totals DET PHI BUF NYJ bye NYG MIA ATL CAR STL TB NE WAS ATL DAL TB
(Run)   4.7 4 4.5 3.8   3.8 4.3 4.6 4.4 4.6 4.2 3.9 3.7 4.6 4 4.2
(Pass)   7.9 6.4 7.4 6.5   6.6 7.2 7.1 6.3 7.6 7.4 6.2 6 7.1 6.1 7.4
                                   
D Brees 4370 305 205 320 260   285 305 285 280 265 315 325 255 350 280 335
TD 31 3 2 2 2   3 0 3 2 1 2 3 0 2 3 3
INT 13 0 2 0 1   1 2 0 1 1 0 1 1 2 0 1
                                   
R Bush 560 50 30 55 25   35 50 70 50 0 40 20 0 55 35 45
Ru TD 4 0 0 1 0   0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Re Yards 540 75 25 45 50   30 45 65 15 0 25 40 0 35 30 60
Re TD 3 0 1 0 0   1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Rec 66 8 4 5 6   4 7 6 2 0 3 5 0 4 5 7
                                   
P Thomas 1055 80 50 90 55   60 70 50 70 115 65 50 75 80 60 85
Ru TD 10 2 0 1 1   0 1 1 0 2 1 0 0 1 0 0
Re Yards 260 10 10 25 35   25 20 0 20 30 15 15 25 5 15 10
Re TD 1 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Rec 32 1 2 3 4   2 2 0 3 4 2 1 4 1 2 1
                                   
M Colston 1210 90 55 105 40   75 90 100 60 110 100 75 60 125 40 85
Re TD 11 2 0 0 1   1 0 2 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 2
Rec 87 6 3 8 4   5 6 5 4 7 8 6 6 9 3 7
                                   
L Moore 900 55 65 50 40   45 60 40 100 55 65 85 45 60 75 60
Re TD 6 0 1 0 1   0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 0 1 0
Rec 74 5 5 4 3   5 6 4 7 5 4 7 3 5 5 6
                                   
D Henderson 410 30 0 30 30   55 25 0 40 25 25 0 60 35 25 30
Re TD 3 1 0 0 0   1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 20 1 0 1 2   3 2 0 1 2 1 0 4 1 1 1
                                   
R Meachem 460 15 20 40 20   30 50 40 15 0 40 50 25 20 60 35
Re TD 3 0 0 1 0   0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0
Rec 32 1 2 2 2   2 4 3 2 0 2 3 2 1 4 2
                                   
J Shockey 590 30 30 25 45   25 15 40 30 45 45 60 40 70 35 55
Re TD 4 0 0 1 0   0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0
Rec 50 3 3 2 4   2 1 5 3 3 4 5 3 6 2 4

Remember the saying, "one of these is not like the others"? It sure fits nicely for the Saints, who are a high-volume passing team in a running division. Certainly, when Drew Brees is the triggerman, it makes sense to drop back and throw all day long. HC Sean Payton's offense is set up for the QB to have fantasy success with a 60-40 pass-run ratio over his first three years as New Orleans' head coach. But as is the case with any player, weaknesses can be found if a person digs deep enough. Breesí 11:12 TD:INT road split in 2008 overshadowed an incredible 23:5 home split and ran completely contrary to his usual success away from the Superdome (33:10 TD:INT split in first two years as a Saint). Most of the reasons for this downturn were out of his control (Marques Colston's injury and an inconsistent defense that often forced the team into shootouts are two good examples). With those two problems and several others seemingly resolved, it would come as little surprise if Brees wasn't a more consistent QB this season. However, with the running game and defense both upgraded, I'm not sure another run at Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage mark is in the cards this season. (No worries though, Brees' worst passing-yardage season since joining New Orleans is 4,418 yards in 2006.) Fortunately, Brees has Colston back and Lance Moore returning from his career-best season and a schedule that is challenging in the middle, but pretty advantageous on the edges, especially during the fantasy playoffs. The ex-San Diego QB, who threw for 24 TDs vs. eight picks in nine indoor games a season ago, and his entourage finish the fantasy season with three straight dome games, starting off vs. a tame Falcons' pass defense before wrapping up with a pair of home games vs. Dallas and Tampa Bay. Because both opponents will be running teams this season, New Orleans will likely be focused on jumping out to an early lead via the passing game. And for fantasy owners, that is not all the good news. As Brees and Payton showed us on several occasions last season, New Orleans isn't afraid to keep the pedal down once it gets a lead. And if we are to believe Brees and Colston, former first-rounder Robert Meachem is ready to join the parade. With Moore recovering from shoulder surgery and the third-year WR drawing "most impressive player in camp" praise, this may be the year to invest a late-round pick in Meachem in hopes he can assume Devery Henderson's deep-ball role and possibly more.

As I have mentioned in this space before, despite a 60-40 pass-run ratio since Payton took over the Saints in 2006, New Orleans' RBs have finished third, tenth and fourth in team fantasy points scored (according to traditional, non-PPR scoring) - an amazing stat considering that 2006 was the only season in which their backs have surpassed 400 carries. The point is that despite such a pass-heavy approach, New Orleans can still give fantasy owners two fantasy-worthy RBs because a fair amount of Brees' attempts are swing or screen passes. (I'll be the first to admit that as difficult as it is to project the season like I attempt to do, trying to forecast how often Brees will opt to dump it off to Reggie Bush or Pierre Thomas is nearly impossible.) Although this team will be a passing team for as long as Brees and Payton are working in tandem, it is not lost on the head coach to use his RBs when the Saints get into scoring position. Since 2006, New Orleans RBs have accounted for 41 of the 66 TDs (rushing or receiving) from inside the five-yard line, which may not sound like much to a "normal" team, but to one which is so heavily predisposed toward airing it out, it is notable considering the Saints have a player such as Marques Colston who is a mismatch for just about any CB in the league in the red zone. Turning to the 2009 schedule, it's amazing that even though the Saints play many of the same opponents as the rest of the NFC South does, there is reason to be more optimistic about Thomas and Bush. First off, the Saints start off the season with two positive matchups and one neutral one - a stretch that should allow the offense to build some trust in the ground attack. A bye is sandwiched by a pair of home games vs. both New York teams, but then New Orleans should enjoy a fairly productive five-week run. While New England and Washington will probably keep the New Orleans running game in check, both games come right before the start of the fantasy playoffs in Week 12-13. A Week 14 tilt at Atlanta could easily be a shootout before they close out the fantasy season at home with two straight neutral matchups. While I gave Dallas the benefit of the doubt on stopping the run against the Saints, I'm not sure either the Cowboys or Bucs will be all that effective stopping any part of the New Orleans offense in the Superdome. Admittedly, the Saints don't have the easiest schedule to run against, but it does offer plenty of opportunity for the team to rely on the ground game more often than they have in the past.

 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  Totals DAL BUF NYG WAS PHI CAR NE bye GB MIA NO ATL CAR NYJ SEA NO
(Run)   4 4.5 3.8 3.7 4 4.4 3.9   4 4.3 4.1 4.6 4.4 3.8 4.2 4.1
(Pass)   6.1 7.4 6.6 6 6.4 6.3 6.2   6.8 7.2 6.7 7.1 6.3 6.5 7 6.7
                                   
B Leftwich 3140 210 240 210 185 200 195 225   215 175 265 220 180 185 205 230
TD 14 0 2 0 1 1 2 1   0 1 2 1 0 1 0 2
INT 15 0 1 2 0 1 0 2   0 1 1 0 2 1 2 2
                                   
D Ward 975 50 80 55 80 40 70 75   55 85 60 100 50 70 40 65
Ru TD 5 0 0 0 1 0 0 1   0 1 0 1 0 1 0 0
Re Yards 300 15 20 40 10 40 20 10   5 0 30 20 15 45 15 15
Re TD 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 45 3 3 5 2 4 4 2   2 0 4 3 3 5 2 3
                                   
E Graham 695 45 35 30 25 75 50 30   60 45 70 40 75 20 40 55
Ru TD 9 1 1 0 0 1 0 0   1 0 1 1 2 0 0 1
Re Yards 105 5 0 5 15 10 0 15   15 0 10 5 0 5 10 10
Re TD 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 16 1 0 1 2 2 0 2   2 0 1 1 0 2 1 1
                                   
A Bryant 865 50 80 40 70 35 60 85   30 75 85 55 45 25 60 70
Re TD 4 0 1 0 1 0 0 0   0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0
Rec 63 3 6 4 5 3 4 5   2 5 8 4 2 2 5 5
                                   
M Clayton 420 25 45 30 40 30 20 0   40 15 30 35 15 50 15 30
Re TD 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0   0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Rec 39 2 3 4 3 3 2 0   4 2 3 3 1 4 2 3
B Clark/                                  
S Stroughter 555 40 30 55 15 25 45 60   45 25 35 15 55 30 35 45
Re TD 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Rec 46 4 3 5 1 2 3 3   5 3 2 1 6 3 2 3
                                   
K Winslow 895 75 65 40 35 60 50 55   80 60 75 90 50 30 70 60
Re TD 6 0 1 0 0 1 0 1   0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1
Rec 80 7 5 3 4 5 4 6   6 7 5 8 4 4 7 5

Because the Bucs will be a running team this season - more than they have been since the turn of the century - it makes sense to start there first. A quick glance at the schedule reveals that I am not a big fan of their ability to produce consistently this season. The odd thing is that unlike most teams, I don't feel Tampa Bay's lack of RB production this season will be due to a lack of "running game talent". What I mean by that is that generally I can attribute a RB's lack of numbers to an offensive line, a bad scheme or a poor defense more often than not - none of which I feel apply here. Let's start with the roles Earnest Graham and Derrick Ward will play in the offense this season. If I had to guess at this moment, I imagine that Ward will win a 60-40 or 65-35 split of the touches coming out of the Bucs backfield, but Graham will emerge as the goal-line "vulture". If this is the way it actually plays out, Ward becomes no better than a decent fantasy RB3 in non-PPR leagues (or low-end RB2 in PPR) while Graham is probably a serviceable RB3 in non-PPR and RB4 in PPR. The problem is that both players have the size to stand up to the goal-line punishment and good enough hands to be threats in the passing game. However, with the struggles the passing game is likely to encounter, Graham and Ward will consistently face eight in the box. Let's also not forget that the offensive line is transitioning to a zone-based blocking scheme after years of man-blocking and the schedule certainly does not allow much room for error early on. In their first five games, the Bucs face all four NFC East teams with only a road game at Buffalo serving as an opportunity for Ward and Graham to get it going. After that difficult stretch is over, Tampa Bay hosts both Carolina and New England before heading into its Week 8 bye. What this means is Ward and Graham may have only two real shots at fantasy success through half of the fantasy season. Coming out of the off-week, the red matchups pretty much stop but games against the Packers, Dolphins and Saints don't inspire much confidence in a ground-it-out approach for several different reasons. Assuming Ward and Graham owners get to the point where they are still holding on to their backs, a difficult three-game stretch during the fantasy playoffs awaits them. The Jets figure to stop the run again this season and, after that, the Bucs cap off the fantasy season by playing road games in Seattle and New Orleans, both of which I expect to be much more respectable vs. the run this season. What it all boils down to is that while I have Tampa Bay down for four red matchups, the final tally might show it was more like eight or nine. In essence, not all "neutral" matchups are created equal.

As bad as things look for the running game, it's not exactly a walk in the park for the passing game either. It's hard to like Antonio Bryant going off against the likes of Terence Newman, DeAngelo Hall or Asante Samuel this season, just to name a few. In fact, Bryant may be hard-pressed to put together more than one fantasy WR3-type performance over the first half of the season, a notion that is completely unacceptable for a number of owners who expect a repeat of last season. While new OC Jeff Jagodzinski's new offense will be feature more downfield passing than did Jon Gruden's, "Jags" loves to use his TEs and feature the running game, yet another strike against Bryant. After his nightmarish first-half slate, Bryant could make for a decent buy-low candidate for the second half. However, I just can't foresee him having all that much success in 2009. With Bryant likely to suffer from the blues this season, the weight of the passing game will likely fall onto Kellen Winslow, who was given all the same red marks that Bryant was. Unlike Bryant, Winslow won't be matched up against an opponent's #1 CB, meaning if he can stay healthy, he could put up the same kind of numbers he posted during his finest years in Cleveland in an offense that will feature a young QB (who typically lean on their TEs early on in their careers) and a play-caller that has seemingly always been able to make at least one of his TEs a huge part of his offense. Considering his mid-seventh round ADP, Winslow could end up being a pretty good bargain for those patient owners who want to fill out their WR or RB ranks first but still want top-notch production from a mid-to-late round TE. While I do make mentions of Michael Clayton, Brian Clark and rookie Sammie Stroughter, this new offense - along with a relatively green QB - pretty much ensure that only Bryant and Winslow are worth putting on a fantasy roster. And given that Bryant will rarely get a week away from some of the best DB's in the league, Winslow will need to turn in a Pro Bowl-level performance in 2009 if this offense wants to go anywhere this season.

 Arizona Cardinals
  Totals SF JAX IND bye HOU SEA NYG CAR CHI SEA STL TEN MIN SF DET STL
(Run)   4 4 4.1   4.3 4.2 3.8 4.4 3.8 4.2 4.6 4.1 3.8 4 4.7 4.6
(Pass)   7 7.2 6.1   7.2 7 6.6 6.3 6.8 7 7.6 6.5 6.6 7 7.9 7.6
                                   
K Warner 3380 230 295 245   245 320 210     260 245 180 345 275 235 295
TD 25 2 2 3   2 2 1     2 3 0 3 1 2 2
INT 11 0 1 1   0 1 3     0 0 2 2 0 0 1
                                   
M Leinart 550               265 285              
TD 2               1 1              
INT 1               0 1              
                                   
C Wells 860 40 50 60   45 65 55 100 40 70 50 35 25 65 110 50
Ru TD 5 0 0 1   0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 1 0
Re Yards 110 10 10 10   0 5 15 0 10 0 10 5 10 0 10 15
Re TD 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 18 1 1 2   0 1 3 0 2 0 2 1 2 0 1 2
                                   
T Hightower 580 55 35 25   35 15 30 45 60 25 75 20 30 50 40 40
Ru TD 8 1 1 0   1 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 1
Re Yards 195 15 15 5   10 20 0 25 10 15 0 20 35 15 10 0
Re TD 1 0 0 0   1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 28 2 2 1   1 3 0 3 2 2 0 4 4 2 2 0
                                   
A Boldin 1090 90 80 60   120 85 0 0 65 110 85 40 70 115 100 70
Re TD 10 2 0 1   1 0 0 0 0 1 2 0 1 1 1 0
Rec 90 8 6 6   10 7 0 0 6 8 7 3 8 9 7 5
                                   
L Fitzgerald 1295 50 105 80   80 120 50 125 90 90 70 40 130 65 80 120
Re TD 11 0 2 1   0 1 0 1 1 1 0 0 2 0 1 1
Rec 95 3 8 6   5 8 4 10 6 7 6 3 10 5 6 8
                                   
S Breaston 825 55 45 60   35 65 85 70 65 30 40 45 60 80 25 65
Re TD 4 0 0 1   0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Rec 68 5 4 6   2 5 8 6 4 2 3 6 4 6 2 5
                                   
J Urban 415 10 40 30   0 25 60 45 45 15 40 30 40 0 10 25
Re TD 1 0 0 0   0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 34 1 3 2   0 2 4 5 3 2 4 2 3 0 1 2

Even though I realize the NFL doesn't consider fantasy implications when putting together the schedule, a part of me believes they have a sense of humor. Cleveland gets the benefit of playing Kansas City and Oakland in Weeks 15-16 but don't appear to have the running game necessary to take full advantage of it. As passing game schedules go, the Cardinals have a pretty nice go of it, especially in Weeks 14-16; the only problem being how well Kurt Warner's surgerically-repaired hip will hold up. The 38-year-old QB told ESPN prior to Arizona's preseason opener that his hip was bothering him just standing still, but tends to feel better as he becomes more active. Still, Warner turned in his first 16-game season since 2001 last season and is a poor bet to give his owners 16 more, which obviously has a trickle-down affect on the rest of the offense. Thus, this message becomes more of an advertisement to invest a late-round pick in Matt Leinart because it doesn't sound like anyone in their right mind should lean on Warner too heavily. In such a scenario, I'm not sure I would expect all that much of a dropoff based on what I've seen and read coming out of Cardinals' camp about Leinart but I would probably knock Larry Fitzgerald a few spots on my WR rankings. Arizona's transition from former OC Todd Haley to HC Ken Whisenhunt probably affects Steve Breaston the most (as the Cardinals would be hard-pressed to take receptions away from Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin), but while the Michigan alum probably won't repeat his 1,000-yard season, he remains one of the more attractive non-starting WRs available in fantasy. As I've already touched on, the schedule and how it lays out is favorable to Warner and Leinart, so it becomes a matter of just how much more Whisenhunt will count on the ground game than his predecessor did. Only three clear-cut negative matchups jump out to me, but only the Giants strike me as a defense that could really have their way with the Cardinals' passing game. Otherwise, the first six and last four games of the fantasy season seem awfully appealing for any owner counting on Warner, Fitzgerald or Boldin.

If we are to use history as a barometer of what Whisenhunt wants to do on offense, it's a good bet that he'll try his best to even out last season's 64-36 pass-to-run ratio, even if he earns a few gray hairs in the process. But first, he'll have to figure out how he wants to handle the tag team of Tim Hightower and Chris "Beanie" Wells. Since the rookie sprained his ankle on the first day of camp, he has been unable to practice, leaving Hightower with all the important reps. What it all means for Wells is that Whisenhunt can't take advantage of the things that his first-round pick does well if he doesn't know what they are, making a return to the practice field this week very important for his hopes of securing a split of the workload in 2009. Believe it or not, even without a noticeable upgrade up front, the RB battle is important for fantasy purposes because of who the Cardinals face during the fantasy playoffs. While I like the Niners' ability to stop the run this season, they will not be an elite unit in that regard. In Weeks 15-16, Arizona faces Detroit and St. Louis, which both have no way to go but up in terms of stopping the run. The Lions (32nd) and Rams (T-28th) featured two of the five worst rush defenses from a season ago, so while Jim Schwartz and Steve Spagnuolo will both do everything in their power to make their teams respectable in those departments, there is no reason to expect drastic improvement from either squad. Of course by then, the RB situation will have been sorted out, but that is much too late for fantasy owners. In my humble opinion, Wells (assuming he doesn't suffer another setback) will grab a slight majority of the carries sometime after the Week 4 bye but will be replaced by a trimmer Hightower in short-yardage situations, much like how he worked with Edgerrin James in 2008. However, I am no longer willing to bet that Wells is this rookie class' lone 300-carry rusher as I was in June.

 St. Louis Rams
  Totals SEA WAS GB SF MIN JAX IND DET bye NO ARI SEA CHI TEN HOU ARI
(Run)   4.2 3.7 4 4 3.8 4 4.1 4.7   4.1 4.4 4.2 3.8 4.1 4.3 4.4
(Pass)   7 6 6.8 7 6.6 7.2 6.1 7.9   6.7 6.7 7 6.8 6.5 7.2 6.7
                                   
M Bulger 3165 220 245 220 175 225 195 165 255   195 230 170 235 160 295 180
TD 15 0 1 1 0 2 1 0 2   1 2 2 1 0 1 1
INT 15 1 2 0 1 2 0 1 1   1 0 0 2 2 0 2
                                   
S Jackson 1220 85 50 75 105 40 85 70 125   70 105 100 60 75 100 75
Ru TD 9 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 2   0 1 0 0 1 1 0
Re Yards 500 45 30 50 15 75 15 10 35   45 30 5 40 20 50 35
Re TD 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 63 5 4 6 3 7 3 2 3   5 4 2 6 4 5 4
                                   
D Avery 875 40 85 20 60 45 90 30 65   55 70 30 100 40 110 35
Re TD 5 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1   0 1 0 1 0 0 0
Rec 57 3 5 1 5 4 6 2 4   3 6 2 5 2 7 2
                                   
L Robinson 360 45 30 55 15 0 20 20 40   0 25 70 40 0 0 0
Re TD 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1   0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Rec 23 2 1 3 2 0 3 1 2   0 2 4 3 0 0 0
                                   
K Burton 525 15 40 35 45 25 10 45 50   25 35 45 0 55 40 60
Re TD 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0   1 0 0 0 0 0 1
Rec 41 2 4 2 4 2 1 3 4   2 3 3 0 4 3 4
                                   
R Curry 400 35 25 10 0 45 35 25 50   20 25 10 25 25 50 20
Re TD 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0   0 0 1 0 0 1 0
Rec 35 3 3 1 0 3 3 2 4   2 2 1 3 2 4 2
                                   
R McMichael 505 40 35 50 40 35 25 35 15   50 45 10 30 20 45 30
Re TD 3 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0   0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 46 4 5 4 3 2 2 3 1   5 5 1 3 2 3 3

The new coaching staff wasted little time in identifying Steven Jackson as the centerpiece of the offense. And why not? Jackson embodies every element that a coach wants in a franchise back (although his durability has been lacking in recent seasons). The team quickly added promising C Jason Brown from the Ravens and spent the No. 2 overall pick in the draft on Baylor T Jason Smith, helping to solidify an offensive line that has been short of quality and quantity for far too long. Given the current state of this franchise, it could be argued that running back and offensive line are now the two strongest parts of this offense. Fortunately, the schedule appears to cater to this development, so as long as Jackson can take it, St. Louis will allow him to carry this offense this season. Given the new West Coast offense that OC Pat Shurmur is bringing over from Philadelphia, it would come as little surprise if Jackson ends up as the team's leading receiver in addition to its rushing leader. And the reports surrounding his offseason work ethic - a sore subject for him at times - couldn't be much more favorable. So while it may be foolish to count on him coming anywhere close to his 436-touch campaign of 2006, it is not unreasonable to think Jackson won't approach 400 touches, with the 90 catches he hauled in during that 2006 season a realistic possibility. Although only three green matchups appear on Jackson's schedule, one of them is in Week 16 vs. Arizona. On the other hand, he is faced with only three red matchups, two of which come in the season's first five weeks and the other in Week 13. Certainly, Tennessee in Week 14 isn't a wonderful game for Jackson to pile up the numbers, but I feel he will be motivated to outperform Chris Johnson plus the Titans' approach is grind-it-out, meaning the Rams should be able to hang in longer and stick with the running game. Either way, that's one of the beautiful things about owning the all-purpose backs like Maurice Jones-Drew, Brian Westbrook or Jackson - no matter the margin on the scoreboard, they can and, most likely, will produce because they are their team's best runner and receiver. Those kinds of backs in fantasy are worth their weight in gold.

Every year, there are a handful of teams that are forced to ask themselves: How did the receiving situation get this bad this quickly? To be brutally honest, Donnie Avery would still be a WR2 understudy on most teams while the collection of Keenan Burton, Laurent Robinson and Ronald Curry would be little more than WR4 or WR5 options if they played somewhere else. Don't get me wrong, there is some upside to these receivers, but both Burton and Robinson are green while Curry has had trouble recapturing the form that allowed him to be a 50-catch receiver three different times in this league. Unfortunately, one of those players (two if we are to believe Avery may miss the season opener) will need to start each week. And while the line seems to be doing well blocking for the run so far in camp, there is apparently much reason for concern when Marc Bulger goes back to throw. The Rams QB is still capable of being an above-average triggerman in this league, but one has to wonder just how many more hits he can withstand. This is one of the many reasons why Shurmur was hired to install the West Coast offense, that is, to get the ball out of Bulger's hands quickly and preserve him with an offense heavy on short passes to Randy McMichael and Jackson. Looking at the schedule, the Rams get very few red matchups. But as challenged as this receiving group is right now, I'm not crazy about its chances to exploit many of the neutral matchups either. In fact, I would expect every single defense St. Louis faces in the second half of the season to blitz even more than they would normally. Given the fact the Rams lack a quality playmaker in the open field or down the field (Avery does not qualify as either yet in my mind), St. Louis will find itself struggling to score in several games this season. As such, I believe Avery's 7.12 ADP is a bit high for my liking. In fact, the only fantasy property from this passing game that I expect to live up to his ADP this season is McMichael.

 San Francisco 49ers
  Totals at ARI SEA at MIN STL ATL bye at HOU at IND TEN CHI at GB JAX at SEA ARI at PHI DET
(Run)   4.4 4.2 3.8 4.6 4.6   4.3 4.1 4.1 3.8 4 4 4.2 4.4 4 4.7
(Pass)   6.7 7 6.6 7.6 7.1   7.2 6.1 6.5 6.8 6.8 7.2 7 6.7 6.4 7.9
A Smith/                                  
S Hill 3090 205 190 175 225 200   265 180 195 205 220 190 210 225 210 195
TD 14 1 1 1 2 1   1 0 1 0 1 1 0 1 1 2
INT 12 1 0 1 1 0   2 1 1 0 1 0 2 1 1 0
Ru Yards 90 5 10 0 15 0   15 10 5 10 0 0 10 0 10 0
Ru TD 1 0 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
                                   
F Gore 1365 100 90 130 110 115   65 80 70 45 80 100 65 80 115 120
Ru TD 8 1 0 1 1 1   0 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 1 0
Re Yards 380 15 35 0 25 30   40 10 20 60 30 25 30 25 10 25
Re TD 1 0 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Rec 53 2 5 0 3 4   5 3 3 7 3 4 6 3 1 4
                                   
G Coffee 335 15 15 40 20 10   30 10 15 35 25 15 10 25 30 40
Ru TD 3 0 0 1 0 0   1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Re Yards 30 0 0 5 0 5 0 0 0 10 0 0 0 5 0 5 0
Re TD 0 0 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 7 0 0 1 0 1   0 0 2 0 0 0 1 0 2 0
                                   
J Morgan 730 40 55 55 75 40   50 35 45 30 70 45 55 45 30 60
Re TD 4 0 0 0 1 0   1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Rec 60 4 4 5 5 3   4 2 5 2 6 5 4 3 3 5
                                   
I Bruce 655 55 40 30 50 35   45 40 45 50 40 30 55 70 35 35
Re TD 3 0 1 0 0 1   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Rec 52 4 3 4 3 2   3 4 2 5 4 3 4 6 2 3
                                   
M Crabtree 440 15 25 10 25 35   20 30 35 45 20 45 20 30 50 35
Re TD 2 0 0 0 0 0   0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Rec 35 1 2 1 2 2   1 2 3 4 2 4 2 2 4 3
                                   
A Battle 160 10 0 20 10 0   25 15 10 0 15 0 20 10 25 0
Re TD 0 0 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 16 1 0 2 1 0   3 2 1 0 1 0 2 1 2 0
                                   
V Davis 695 70 35 55 40 55   85 50 30 20 45 45 25 45 55 40
Re TD 4 1 0 1 1 0   0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Rec 62 6 2 6 3 4   7 5 3 2 4 5 3 4 5 3

Want a darkhorse pick for fantasy player of the year? How about Frank Gore? The man is an absolute joy to watch, does everything a coach wants his feature back to do and does it all on a team that has been largely unsuccessful in surrounding him with top-notch offensive talent. Furthermore, his fantasy stock has suffered a bit as each of the last two offensive coordinators did not make him as much of a focal point of the offense as they probably should have. If the fifth-year back does have a knock against him, it is probably that he has played in all 16 games in a season just once, which coincidentally came during his 372-touch, 2,180-total-yard campaign under then-OC Norv Turner in 2006. Now I'll be the first to say I'm not the biggest fan of new OC Jimmy Raye, but it is pretty clear Gore will be his workhorse - it should also be noted the Niners are already familiar with this system. (Gore has gone on record suggesting Raye's offense is just like Turner's.) Moreover, Gore is reportedly in the best shape of his pro career and happy to have FB Moran Norris - who blocked for him in 2006 - back in the lineup. Combining his newfound happiness and conditioning with the Niners' plan to implement more zone-blocking schemes up front - something that should only further complement Gore's incredible vision and instincts - and before all said and done, Gore could easily outperform his early second-round ADP. By now, I hope each of you realize I wouldn't base my projections solely on a player's happiness in training camp, so we go to the schedule, which only further my enthusiasm as it relates to San Franciscoís centerpiece. Only the Bears in Week 10 strike me as a defense - when healthy - that may be able to keep the 26-year-old back in check all game long. Tennessee and Green Bay may also have limited success against him as well, but Gore really could not have asked for a better schedule to play against. Assuming Minnesota's Pat and Kevin Williams end up getting suspended for the first four games as many still expect them to for their association with StarCaps, the Niners' running game avoids a potential early-season pitfall, meaning Gore should get off to a blistering start with four green matchups. The post-bye slate isn't quite as easy, but for a team that will be a stubborn running team, the ex-Hurricane should routinely see at least 22 touches/game. Fast forward to the three-week fantasy playoff stretch, where Gore could easily have his way in Weeks 14 and 16 against two teams I expect to struggle stopping the run, Arizona and Detroit. Initially, the Eagles in Week 15 appeared to be a buzzkill, but with all the unexpected change happening on the defensive side of the ball in Philly, even that matchup looks much less menacing than it did earlier in the summer.

With rookie Michael Crabtree's holdout expected to last longer than the recession, San Francisco's chances of becoming a dynamic passing team in 2009 went from slim to none. That isn't to suggest there isn't any reason to pay attention, though. We have all tired of waiting on Vernon Davis to fulfill his immense potential, but for the first time in his four-year career, there is actually hope for him to deliver on it. Why? Because he has an OC that is a veteran play caller and knows what a highly athletic TE can do for an offense. As such, I expect a career year from Davis across the board, despite all the red that appears on his schedule. In short, defenses seem to have a much harder time keeping a talented TE in check than a slightly-above average receiver because most teams refuse to put their best cover player on a TE. Unfortunately, I'm not as optimistic about San Francisco's WR corps. Josh Morgan has all the talent in the world, but I'm not sure I want him serving as my go-to WR quite yet. Crabtree could one day become that player, but with each passing day of his holdout, Crabtree becomes that much more unlikely to contribute in 2009. Lastly, Isaac Bruce still proved he had a little bit left in the tank last season, but I really donít want to count on a WR that turns 37 during the season who isn't the #1 option in a run-based offense. And, as luck would have it, the schedule also suggests that it is in the Niners' best interest to run all day. While I expect Arizona and Minnesota to be decent vs. the pass, the trouble for San Fran's passing game begins after the bye with two teams that will blitz regularly this season (Houston, Indianapolis) followed by two teams that have been pretty sound zone-based defenses over the years. Green Bay's defensive backfield also isn't a good matchup for the Niners' wideouts, which leads us to the end of the fantasy season when the Niners will struggle to perform well in Seattle and then face Arizona for the second time in Week 14. As I mentioned above, Philadelphia may have some struggles against the run, but the Eagles are much too deep and talented in their defensive backfield to be carved up by an offense like San Francisco. Detroit may appear to offer a nice Week 16 alternative for owners in their title game, but something tells me Gore will be featured in that contest. For owners looking for a San Francisco WR or TE to contribute, spend a late-round pick on Davis and thank me later.

 Seattle Seahawks
  Totals STL SF CHI IND JAX ARI bye DAL DET ARI MIN STL SF HOU TB GB
(Run)   4.6 4 3.8 4.1 4 4.4   4 4.7 4.4 3.8 4.6 4 4.3 4.2 4
(Pass)   7.6 7 6.8 6.1 7.2 6.7   6.1 7.9 6.7 6.6 7.6 7 7.2 7.4 6.8
                                   
M Hasselbeck 3505 255 230 210 195 245 240   175 275 225 305 225 240 275 190 220
TD 17 1 2 0 1 1 2   0 1 1 2 1 2 1 1 1
INT 11 0 2 1 1 0 1   0 0 2 1 1 0 0 1 1
                                   
J Jones 1055 75 45 80 60 75 100   85 105 35 40 85 65 85 70 50
Ru TD 5 1 0 0 0 0 1   1 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
Re Yards 125 10 20 5 0 10 0   10 5 0 20 5 10 10 0 20
Re TD 0 0 0 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 21 1 3 1 0 2 0   2 1 0 3 2 1 2 0 3
                                   
Doug Duckett 335 30 15 10 30 25 10   10 25 55 10 25 20 10 35 25
Ru TD 8 1 0 1 0 1 0   0 1 1 0 2 0 0 0 1
Re Yards 30 0 0 5 0 0 0   5 0 10 0 0 5 0 0 5
Re TD 0 0 0 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 6 0 0 1 0 0 0   1 0 2 0 0 1 0 0 1
                                   
J Forsett 175 15 25 0 20 15 10   20 0 5 15 15 25 10 0 0
Ru TD 1 0 0 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Re Yards 210 15 10 15 15 0 20   5 25 30 15 20 10 30 0 0
Re TD 0 0 0 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 33 2 2 3 2 0 3   1 4 5 2 3 2 4 0 0
                                   
Doug Houshmandzadeh 1070 70 80 65 55 70 75   45 100 60 105 70 55 85 60 75
Re TD 7 0 1 0 0 1 1   0 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 1
Rec 87 7 6 4 5 6 7   4 6 4 10 6 5 7 5 5
                                   
D Branch 395 30 10 25 30 0 20   35 45 20 30 25 55 40 0 30
Re TD 1 0 0 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Rec 28 3 1 2 2 0 1   3 3 1 2 1 4 2 0 3
                                   
N Burleson 525 40 25 30 45 35 50   20 55 70 45 0 0 30 50 30
Re TD 1 0 0 0 0 0 0   0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rec 45 3 2 3 4 3 5   2 4 6 3 0 0 3 4 3
                                   
D Butler 365 25 40 15 0 55 20   10 25 0 30 50 30 15 40 10
Re TD 2 0 1 0 0 0 0   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Rec 33 2 4 1 0 3 2   1 2 0 4 5 3 1 3 2
                                   
J Carlson 785 65 45 50 50 75 55   45 20 35 60 55 75 65 40 50
Re TD 6 1 0 0 1 0 1   0 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 0
Rec 63 5 4 4 3 6 4   5 2 3 5 4 5 6 3 4

If there is an offense that is walking on more pins and needles than the Seahawks this season, I'm not sure who it is. Matt Hasselbeck's back issues appear to be resolved, but anyone who knows anything about back pain knows that bulging disks can resurface at any point. Similarly, LT Walter Jones' microfracture surgery in December delayed his return to the field until August 13. He'll need to quickly build chemistry with likely new LG Rob Sims, who is slotted to fill in there after Mike Wahle's surprising retirement announcement. C Chris Spencer is back healthy after recovering from a season-ending herniated disk injury and is in much the same boat as Hasselbeck in terms of reliability. RG appears to be a two-man battle between Mansfield Wrotto and second-round rookie Max Unger. That is, unless the team decides to move Ray Willis, who is competing for the right tackle position with Sean Locklear, inside to guard. Last but not least, it seems as though the entire WR corps is coming back from injury, except free agent pickup T.J. Houshmandzadeh. For those that weren't counting, that is seven of the 11 offensive positions that are up in the air, due mostly to injury concerns. And worse, given the lack of depth at QB and on the offensive line, this offense could be sunk if any one player goes down for an extended amount of time. For now, however, we will have to assume each player is ready to give Seattle a full year and avoid the same rash of injuries that struck the team in 2008. Houshmandzadeh and TE John Carlson are the clear go-to guys in the passing game and are the only receivers worth the attention of most fantasy owners this summer because new OC Greg Knapp has a long and distinguished history of getting a lot of his ground game. Nate Burleson, Deion Branch and rookie Deon Butler could all chip in from time to time, but this offense will be mostly about Housh and Carlson converting third downs. Judging by the schedule, only Chicago, Indianapolis and Dallas appear to be somewhat formidable against the pass, with the last of that trio meeting Seattle in Week 8. Certainly, Arizona, Minnesota and Green Bay could have all been thrown into that mix as well, but when healthy, Seattle still has enough talent to overcome that trio of borderline pass defenses. The point is that the Seahawks may be able to enjoy unexpected production from the passing game throughout the entire second half of the season, making Houshmandzadeh a decent fantasy WR2 option and Carlson a highly underrated TE1.

Since I covered the offensive line issues in the paragraph above, I'll move right into the RB situation. Surprisingly, former HC Mike Holmgren's offense was pretty balanced a season ago (53-47 pass-to-run ratio). With Knapp now in charge, that ratio may very well get reversed, especially if the defense can play up to its potential. Much as he wants no dominant receiver in the passing game, Knapp does not necessarily want to see one back get the overwhelming majority of work on the ground either, which will probably change my previous prediction of Julius Jones receiving 60% of the carries, T.J. Duckett 30% and Justin Forsett 10%. Since Duckett appears to be the clear goal-line back, I'm now hard-pressed to forecast Jones being the most valuable fantasy RB on his own team. If I had to bet, I would say he would be, but even if the split goes down to something like 50-35-15, Jones ends up losing 50 carries over the course of the season if the team runs 500 times in 2009, shedding nearly 200 yards from his projected total. And it's a shame if it comes to that because the Seahawks' new zone-blocking scheme should complement Jones' skill set well. Just like a couple of their division rivals' schedules, the Seahawks' slate is one that should allow them to have some success on the ground. Outside of Minnesota in Week 11, no elite run-stopping units appear on the schedule, although Chicago and Dallas have the team speed and personnel necessary to be stingy vs. the run. Tampa Bay and Green Bay may also have things figured out against the run by the time the fantasy playoffs roll around, but the real reasons to be extremely patient in drafting Seattle RBs this year are: 1) the three-back system they will be using and 2) the unsure nature of the offensive line. While Knapp's track record for getting results from the running game is well-known around the league, Seattle is walking on an extremely thin tightrope hoping that the offensive line stays healthy. As a result, I would consider Jones as a low-end fantasy RB3 capable of a 1,000-yard season and Duckett as a mid-level RB4 capable of a 10-TD season.