Guest Post: 2009 NFL preview from a fantasy outsider

This guest post comes to Fantasy Football Fools from Eric Amzallag of sports pick site UnlockedSports.com. Rather than stay in our fantasy bubble this season, I thought taking a look at the playoff picks from a relative fantasy outsider would be a nice jump start to the conversation — since, inevitably, my Super Bowl and playoff picks would be largely influenced by what players I have invested in this season.

I think Eric makes some interesting calls that should get us talking, but keep in mind that Eric sent these to us this offseason before much of the news had been made.

Feel free to share your own playoff predictions on this glorious Sunday of football in the comments. We’ll give greater cred to those who post before their picks destroy opponents in their opening game this week. Now on with the show…

Now that football season is quickly approaching, fans, poolers and bettors are eager to gather as much information as they can to make some informed sports picks in the upcoming season.

Every single year, we seem to come into the NFL season with all eyes on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to win it all. There is nothing wrong with that. The Patriots always have a great team surrounding arguably the best quarterback of our time.

But times are a-changing, and this season we will see some new teams in the running for the Lombardi trophy. With a relatively painless offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be looking to repeat and have a good chance to do so.

Don’t count out these playoff contenders from the AFC:

  • Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning! With Peyton behind center the Colts will always be contenders.
  • Oakland Raiders: The AFC West is the worst division in football right now, and the Raiders are the only team with promise and a good, young core of players. This year will be the season they break out of the funk.
  • Buffalo Bills: Although some people disagree, getting T.O. was huge for the Bills. Not only will their offense be hard to stop with two star receivers, a promising young quarterback and Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, but they are well-coached and poised to have a breakout season.

The NFC is another beast altogether. The Arizona Cardinals will be good but not as good as they were last season. The Dallas Cowboys may have dropped some baggage, but this year will be a make-or-break season for Tony Romo.

In the NFC, watch for these teams to make an impact this season:

  • Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White! ‘Nuff said.
  • Dallas Cowboys: Do or die! If the Cowboys are going to stay in the title contender picture they will need to come together. This season will be the one that defines them, and I think they will come through.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Kind of a sleeper pick here, but I am sticking with it for one reason, Mike Singletary’s first full season.
  • Chicago Bears: Although the defense was suspect last season, this year everything is going to come together for Chicago. Not only will the defense get back to its stingy ways, but with Jay Cutler in the offense, this team could be scary!

So those are Eric’s picks, made right around the time of the NFL draft this offseason. Who do you think is going to win it all this year? You can check out more from Eric and UnlockedSports.com.

As always, the comments are yours.

A Fool and His Money – Week 1

Week 1 is my favorite week to make bets. You get to trust your gut more than any other week of the season, and you feel extremely smug when your predictions come true.

But the first games are also full of questions. Which teams developed chemistry over the offseason? Who will exceed expectations, and who will disappoint? There is money to be made if you can answer these questions correctly.

STEELERS (-6) over Titans
Will the Titans’ defense be the same without Albert Haynesworth? I have no qualms with the Titans’ defense, but I do have problems with trusting Kerry Collins. I predict Vince Young will get his chance for redemption at some point in the season.

Cowboys (-6) over BUCS
Are the Cowboys serious NFC contenders this year? They need to stomp teams like Tampa Bay if they are.

Lions (+13) over SAINTS
Did Kevin Smith really guarantee the playoffs this year? Even Lions’ players and fans can be optimistic this time of year.

FALCONS (-4) over Dolphins
Which one of these teams will take a step back this year? My vote is for the one that loses this game.

TEXANS (-4.5) over Jets
Have you met Mario Williams yet? Rookie QB Mark Sanchez is about to meet him for first time. This is the year the Texans need to finish over .500. People have been talking about this team for a couple of seasons — now show us something!

BENGALS (-4) over Broncos
Does anybody know what to expect from either of these teams? I think the Bengals have more potential so I’m going with them.

PANTHERS (+1.5) over Eagles
Why isn’t anyone talking about the Panthers this year? They had the best fantasy player in the game last year and the best record in the NFC.

Jags (+7) over COLTS
Has any team been more consistent this past decade? No Bob Sanders or Marvin Harrison this season. I like the Colts to win, but seven points is just too much for me.

Vikings (-4) over BROWNS
Is Brady Quinn still a loser? The answer is always yes. This line seems suspiciously low to me, but I’m going to take the bait and pick the Vikings.

Chiefs (+13) over RAVENS
Who can turn down 13 points? Not me — at least not during the first week when we still have a lot to learn about teams.

Redskins (+6.5) over GIANTS
Is this Jason Campbell’s last chance? If he doesn’t step up this year, I think it’s time for the Redskins to start looking in a different direction.

SEAHAWKS (-8.5) over Rams
Was last year a fluke? Everyone knows these teams were decimated by injuries last year, but we need to see who will bounce back quicker. I personally expect an NFC West division title for the Seahawks.

49ers (+6.5) over CARDINALS
Who doesn’t love Mike Singletary? From his future Coors Light commercial quotes to his obsession with hills, I want to believe the 49ers can take a step forward this year.

PACKERS (-3.5) over Bears
Do you believe the hype? A lot of people are very high on both these teams in the NFC. I don’t forget which players and teams wronged me last year, and Jay Cutler is at the top of that list. I bet he hangs out with Brady Quinn in the offseason.

PATRIOTS (-10.5) over Bills
Is Brady back? Normally, I don’t like giving double-digit points in the first week, but I believe the Patriots will try and turn this into a statement game by running up the score.

Chargers (-9) over RAIDERS
Could anything the Raiders do surprise you at this point? Stupid draft picks, violent head coaches, dumb trades. I wish I could bet the over on L.T. getting more than 30 fantasy points this week.

Season Record
Nick: 0-0-0

Week 1 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: The “Are we there yet?” Edition

The kickoff cometh! In just a few hours, the NFL will return to that magic box in my living room and all will be right with the world. In the meantime, it’s time to make sure you’ve got your best fantasy football roster forward.

Much like our waiver wire recommendations have been shortened up to get with the times, I’ve taken the liberty of consolidating our start or sit feature, Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders, into a more compact version of its 2008 self. I’m focusing on just a handful of players that you may be on the fence about starting each week.

If you have questions about other players on your roster or whether you should give these alternatives the nod over your current starter, submit your questions in the comments. Our shortened features should open the comments up for more discussion, more Q&A and, of course, more cowbell.

Now back to this week’s good-looking starters…

Hot Hands Start of the Week

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs
I might as well put my fantasy money where my roster spot mouth is. I have Rice on plenty of my teams this season, and rather than wait to see what you have in him this year, I’m all about jumping him into your starting lineup immediately. Kansas City won’t know what hit them.

Last season, the Ravens could run over any team in the NFL, and I expect them to do the same in this matchup. While LeRon McClain and Willis McGahee could be lurking in the wings to steal some touchdowns, the Chiefs’ defense should give Rice at least a handful of opportunities to break a big play.

Others receiving votes:

  • Chris Henry, WR, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos: Another sleeper with plenty to like this week in Palmer’s return
  • Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders vs. San Diego Chargers: The Chargers had a weakness for tight ends last season
  • Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos: I just doubt the Broncos defense this much
  • Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots: He’s the guy for Buffalo until Lynch returns. How good can New England’s defense be after losing all those veterans?
  • Almost every Saint you can find vs. Detroit Lions: It’s a party, and all the fantasy players are invited

Cold Shoulders Sit of the Week

Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s hard to sit your first-round running back right after drafting him, but Johnson should be limited this week in the Titans’ debut against the defending Super Bowl champs. I like my running backs to have a shot at the end zone, especially a guy like “Every Coach’s Dream.” LenDale White should steal any short-yardage chances, and I don’t expect there to be many breakdowns in the Steelers’ defense.

The Super Bowl champs are rarely upset in their opening game, and I am sure the Steelers will control the clock. Unless you are lacking in the running back department — or you just like torturing yourself — try someone who has a bit more upside this week. Play Chris Johnson only if your alternative is Larry Johnson or Jamal Lewis.

Others receiving votes:

  • Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans: Much like Johnson, Holmes should be bottled up in a low-scoring contest
  • Jamal Lewis, RB, Cleveland Browns vs. Minnesota Vikings: Very little chance he shows any more signs of life in this one…
  • Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans vs. New York Jets: Glad you’re back to full health, now dodge Jets for four quarters! Schaub’s risky this week.
  • All your Chiefs vs. Baltimore Ravens: Until Matt Cassel is 100 percent, the Chiefs can only play at 25 percent. No likey.

For more start or sit recommendations this week, read up at FootballDocs, Fantasy Football Xtreme, Fantasy Football Oasis (one of the more detailed out there), Fantasy Football Goat, The Fantasy Football Geek Blog and Fanhouse’s Week 1 Wake-Up Call.

Also, don’t forget to enter for your chance to win free Dominator Service from Top Fantasy Football by commenting on yesterday’s post.

As always, the comments are yours.

Foolish Thoughts: Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit

With most of you hunkering down to conduct your drafts this week, if you haven’t done them already, let me remind you about our handy rankings and strategy recommendations.

2009 Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit

Now that our “draft kit” of sorts is out of the way, let’s talk football, shall we?

A Kick and a Prayer

For starts, did you see Chad Ochocinco kicking field goals last week? The fantasy football world will never be the same…

The first time Ochocinco kicks it into a screen at Cowboys Stadium, there’s going to be hell to pay. I can’t believe all the fuss about a television screen. Yes, it can be raised out of the way, so why are we so concerned that it will change the game? The Titan’s punter was gunning for it. That’s my story.

Chad Ochocinco might be better on your fantasy team as a kicker this year. Chris Henry has looked sharp this preseason and was drawing compliments from Carson Palmer in the offseason workouts. For the second straight week, Chris Henry scored a touchdown, even with J.T. O’Sullivan throwing the ball.

There may be better sleepers out there, but Chris Henry is the only Bengals receiver I would want to own on my fantasy team this year. He’s in a contract year, which means he won’t disappoint, and with Palmer looking like he’s one more sack away from sitting out 2009, it’s good to see that Chris Henry can play nice with backup quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan.

Rusty Tom-bone

On the Patriots side of the ball, Tom Brady looked a bit off Thursday night. As I’ve warned in the past, he could be a slow starter this season, and I wouldn’t blow an early pick on him unless you’re in a passing touchdown or quarterback heavy league.

Jag Snag?

Can Troy Williamson be a legit receiver? That’s what the Jaguars are starting to think while Mike Walker is missing time.

Williamson was supposed to replace Randy Moss when Minnesota drafted him. He didn’t. Now he looks like he could be a deep threat. Then again, Williamson might just be putting on a show until the regular season starts so that he can disappear in a cloud of fantasy owner frustration.

I’m interested in what he has to offer this season for the moment, and you can probably look for him as a late-round flier in most drafts or simply keep an eye on him on the waiver wire.

Now About that Hot-lanta Run Game

Anyone who is worried that the Falcons won’t run as much with Michael Turner this season should have watched the Falcons game against the Rams. I’ll give you that it was the Rams, but Turner looked like he was in regular season form.

Contrary to Popular Belief

Willie Parker can still score touchdowns. He proved that this week. Rashard Mendenhall is great and all, but he’s just not spectacular enough to find his way on the field for many snaps this year unless something happens to Parker.

Packing It In?

The new-and-improved Packer defense doesn’t look half bad. Actually, they don’t look even one-third bad. If this continues, I’ll have to look to snag them as a sleeper team defense. They certainly have looked exceptional at causing turnovers in the preseason. The Baltimore Ravens are not too shabby in that category either.

Cutler 1, Neckbeard 0, Denver -1

And, for the record, Jay Cutler looks much better than Kyle Orton. Sorry, Broncos fans, you’ve been ruined this season by the neckbearded left hand bomb.

Guest Post: Three RBBCs to Avoid in Fantasy Football Drafts

This guest post comes to us all the way across the pond from Ross Mooring of Never Kick a Gift Horse in the Teeth. If you enjoy his thoughts on RBBCs in the NFL, you can read more in his recent posts on the AFC and the NFC.

In the past five years, the landscape of fantasy football has changed in a difficult but interesting way. Gone are the days of a multitude of “bell cow” running backs to stack on your roster — run out of town by the rise of running-back-by-committees (RBBC) to the extent that the number of reliable weekly starters has decreased into the teens. In terms of formatting your roster, this shift means you will end up with three, if not four, backs on your team who share time.

The new environment requires more research for your average fantasy drafter. One has to pay lots of attention to training camp battles and keep an eye on pretty much every preseason game in order to make sure that running back “A” has not passed running back “B” on the depth chart, and even so far as to looking into what running back “C” is doing.

With this in mind, I’ve chosen the top three RBBCs to avoid in your fantasy draft.

Baltimore Ravens

A star running back in 2007, Willis McGahee started the Ravens’ camp on the PUP. During the offseason, big-boned LeRon McClain was talked down from his previous years’ short-yardage success and talked up concerning fullback duties, while rookie starlet Ray Rice was bigged up to improve in his sophomore year.

If he’s fit, McGahee, however, is the prototypical workhorse of the group, but remember that coach John Harbaugh seemingly picked his favorite week-to-week on a random basis last year. As a result, while someone has to run the ball in Baltimore and do it well, it’s a crapshoot at this point.

New England Patriots

If you think the Ravens’ backfield committee is a mess, try working out what’s going to happen in New England! Will former first-round pick Laurence Maroney finally fufill his potential? Will Bill Belichick become smitten with free agent grandpa Fred Taylor?

Will Sammy Morris steer clear of injuries and monopolize the carries? And will Kevin Faulk continue to eat into time on passing and third downs? If you can figure this backfield out, you’ll be rewarded. If not, join the rest of us and scratch your head.

New York Jets

Staying in the AFC East with this one, there’s another triple-headed monster to tackle with the added bonus of a potentially weak passing offense in need of a running game to take the pressure off. Thomas Jones surprised many with his 2008 return to form, and he should do so again this year, except in a different way.

Jones has contract issues, and these issues led the Jets to draft power back Shonn Greene out of Iowa. The other runner in the mix, Leon Washington, also wants more money and figures to get more time this year as well. Without Brett Favre and Laveranues Cole around to keep defenses honest, there is too much risk here.

Read more of Ross Mooring at Never Kick a Gift Horse in the Teeth.

Disagree with Ross about these RBBCs? As always, the comments are yours.

Maybe that’s why Brandon Marshall wanted out of Denver

According to a recent AP report, the Denver Broncos are priming Eddie Royal to be one of the featured weapons of their offense this season. Josh McDaniels even hopes that Royal might one day be mentioned in the “same breath” as Wes Welker.

With so much praise for his receiver counterpart, could hints of this feeling be the reason Brandon Marshall wanted out of Denver this offseason?

As I imagine it, McDaniels must have whispered that part about the “breath” while looking skyward — and towards New England — and holding a small portrait of the famed Welker in one hand. If you’re Marshall, “former” star wide receiver of the Denver Broncos under Mike Shanahan and current team malcontent, you don’t enjoy hearing these kind words about the second-year player on the other side of the field without some mention of your impact.

Perhaps the blow might have been lessened if McDaniels had compared Marshall to Randy Moss? But they must have stopped quoting McDaniels before he went that far.

Regardless, Marshall can’t be too pleased with this latest focus, and he likely caught wind of McDaniels Royal fetish earlier in the offseason workouts as he recovered from surgery and whatever television punching he did upon hearing that Jay Cutler had been traded.

Marshall is still keeping to the sidelines after little to no offers came the Broncos’ way for him during his trade demands, and it may be getting even worse for him in Bronco land. Royal launched himself onto the fantasy pedestal last season with a huge first week while Marshall was suspended, and Marshall’s already looking like a no-go for the preseason.

It is becoming increasingly unlikely that wide receiver Brandon Marshall will play in the Broncos’ preseason opener Aug. 14 in San Francisco. He has missed the past six training camp workouts with a leg injury that may have been related to his offseason hip surgery.

Marshall may find that it’s not his leg injury preventing him from making an impact on the field if he sits out much longer.

His injury and this news about Royal in the passing game have forced me to drop Brandon Marshall a few notches in my rankings. While he’s still one of the elite, I would suggest passing on him as an early wide receiver choice and drafting Eddie Royal as a value pick. If Marshall ends up getting suspended again or falling out of favor in Denver — more than he already has — he won’t be the same player he was last season with Cutler.

We all know receivers are a little … self-confident, and surely, this kind of talk from the head coach doesn’t reassure a troubled receiver approaching the end of his contract. Marshall may have been gunning to get out of Denver as soon as he heard that Jay Cutler was out. After all, Kyle Orton isn’t going to get him the ball as much as old Cutty did to make him look spectacular, but McDaniels may also be rubbing the Broncos players the wrong way once again.

Perhaps he just needs to give Marshall the Royal treatment.

After the dust settles: What the Giant upset means for fantasy football in 2008

Despite what they might have done for your fantasy team, the Pats aren’t perfect.

The New York Giants upset in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII is being touted as one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, but how will their performance impact your fantasy season in 2008? Should you draft David Tyree next year? I got your answers.

Eli Manning – QB New York Giants

With the final offensive drive for the Giants, Eli Manning looked like a superb quarterback, but Eli didn’t get hot enough to be worthy of starting until the playoffs.

Manning had just three noteworthy performances during the regular season:

  • Week 1 against the Cowboys: 4 TDs, 1 INT, 312 yards
  • Week 6 against Atlanta: 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 1 FUM, 303 yards
  • Week 17 against the Patriots: 4 TDs, 1 INT, 1 FUM, 251 yards

These three games include both of Manning’s 300-yard performances and his “breakout” showing before playoffs in week 17 against the Patriots. His week 6 performance was plagued by his 2 INTs and a fumble.

Overall, throughout the regular season, Manning averaged 13 points per game in standard scoring. That isn’t worthy of starting these days when some quarterbacks are pushing 40+ points each game like one *ahem* Tom Brady.

Move Manning up on your cheatsheets just a smidge, but be cautious of him. He can play at a higher level as he showed in the playoffs, but he will probably return to form with INTs and fumbles in 2008 until he finds his system again. I wouldn’t touch him in 2008.

David Tyree/Steve Smith – WR New York Giants

As for Tyree, are you crazy? Tyree will probably disappear into the Giants offense next season. His catch in the Super Bowl will go down as one of the best, but where was he all season long?

Keep your eye on Steve Smith who emerged late in the 2007 season as a solid target for Manning. With Amani Toomer aging, it could be Smith that takes the role opposite Plaxico Burress.

Both Tyree and Smith could start the season on your watch list in 2008 at wide receiver.

Tom Brady, QB New England Patriots

Some say the injury that Brady sustained against the San Diego Chargers still plagued him in the Super Bowl. Regardless, he didn’t have that winning touch he showed all season.

Tom Brady should have been pegged down a few spots for 2008 simply because he can’t post back-to-back phenom seasons. With his performance in the Super Bowl, all NFL teams now see how to break his system and beat the Patriots. Expect him to drop a few more spots for 2008 as far as the overall draft ranking are considered, but he is still a top 5 QB and probably the top QB heading into 2008. He is likely to be taken first round in many leagues, and he rightfully should be as long as Randy Moss and his other key weapons stay.

Randy Moss, WR New England Patriots

Randy Moss showed he is not too old to dominate in this league. While he won’t have the production he did this season now that the secret is out for how to beat the Brady-to-Moss connection, Moss should still have a productive year next season. He’s the receiver to beat for 2008 and should be drafted first unless someone has a real obsession with Reggie Wayne.

Wes Welker, WR New England Patriots

Wes Welker‘s stock rose during his Super Bowl performance. If he had been utilized even more, the Patriots might have moved the ball better.

Now that the system is out there to beat the Patriots, the Patriots response should be to use Welker more in the middle and under those big routes Donte Stallworth and Randy Moss are running. He will likely be undervalued again next year, but be sure to keep your eye on him and take him–especially if you can get him at a low cost. I would rank him among the top 20 receivers and maybe even among the top 15.

The Giants defense

The real winners of this game were the Giants defense. With Justin Tuck leading the charge, they sacked Tom Brady more than any other team has this season. The defensive line of the Giants was absolutely dominant.

Look for them to keep their dominance next season. Even if Manning starts cold, the Giants defense–as long as they don’t lose their coordinator–will continue to rule the line and create some turnovers. I would put them high on the list of defenses to take early in the draft in 2008.

If you are wondering about your draft strategy for 2008 and where you should start taking your QBs and WRs after the lack of RB performance in 2007, subscribe to our feed and catch the updates this offseason. If you so choose, you can even subscribe by email, and that’s classy.