Foolish Thoughts: Wherefore art thou Patriots?

These Patriots are clearly not the same team that we expected to see back on the field with Brady’s return.

When New England traded Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders, it proved one thing: Bill Belichick will do anything for a first round draft pick. Draft picks are like crack to him. Belichick cannot refuse. If you gave him enough first round picks, he’d probably give away Tom Brady and his own kidney. Maybe two kidneys.

While that 2011 pick looks delicious right now, the Patriots defense does not. Belichick couldn’t have planned on losing Jerod Mayo in the first game of the season, but he certainly knew that the defense would suffer without Mike Vrabel, traded to Kansas City, and Richard Seymour. The new blood on defense hasn’t found their rhythm yet this season, and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez capitalized on their failings in Week 2.

Belichick seems to have an uncanny ability to find spare parts and plug them in as exact clones of the starters he has in place — *cough* Julian Edelman *cough* — but the team as a whole can’t get back to 2007 form.

Tom Brady hasn’t been getting the same zip on his passes, and the Jets’ Darrelle Revis was an absolute stud against Randy Moss, much like he was against Andre Johnson in Week 1. It might be time to sit your stud wide receiver when he faces the Jets.

Should you abandon your Patriots? No, of course not. As long as they aren’t playing the Jets defense, the Patriots offense should still create fantasy stars.

But if you drafted the New England defense with the expectation that they would enjoy a healthy dose of turnovers once Brady forced opponents into a throwing match, you might need to look for a second option.

Speaking of teams playing out of character
In the midst of the Titans-Texans score-a-thon, it was obvious to everyone watching that Chris Johnson is the Titan’s offense. The Titans rode the wave of that undefeated streak last year off the play of their excellent defense, which has lost the ability to generate a pass rush without Albert Haynesworth and exposed some holes in the secondary.

Maybe Kerry Collins is the problem. Maybe his time has come, or maybe I just give Vince Young too much credit. Without a doubt, the Titans are going to need some creativity on offense.

Maybe they can just direct snap to Chris Johnson and call it a day. My fantasy team would be completely cool with that. Completely.

One rib shy of the rack
Matt Hasselbeck took a big hit that knocked him out of his game this week, but it looks like he’ll be okay. It was just a broken rib, and it’s not like he has a history of injury or anything… Oh, wait, this could be a problem.

Discharged
The Chargers defense lost Shawne Merriman again at the end of yesterday’s game against the Ravens to a groin strain, but the bigger blow was the loss of Jamal Williams this week. Without him in the middle of the defense, the Chargers might run into some trouble.

Are things coming together in a perfect storm for Philip Rivers owners? He just might have to carry the Chargers for a few weeks.

The Wildcat comes to special teams
Maybe that’s why they list Sage Rosenfels as the third quarterback, eh? Sneaky Brad Childress…

Have you seen the Green Bay bomber?
Greg Jennings, where did you go? He checked out of the Bengals game Casper-style, but I don’t think Aaron Rodgers will let that happen again if the Packers want to keep that offense on the right track.

Breaking ankles
With this week’s sprained ankle for Brian Westbrook and last week’s sprained ankle for L.T., we could be looking at a season of Darren Sproles and LeSean McCoy pretty soon. Waiver wire accordingly.

At the closing Bell
Mike Bell may have lost his hold on the running back job in New Orleans by spraining his own MCL Sunday. It was too good to be true, but we’ll have to wait until the final diagnosis to see if Bell was just a two-week waiver wire savior.

Pierre Thomas owners certainly wouldn’t mind Bell being removed from the competition.

Even after two weeks of play, we’re still not quite sure who some of these teams are. Are the Jags the worst team in football? Are the 49ers really going to smashmouth their way to an NFC West title? Is Cadillac Williams a member of the undead, come back to own the running game in Tampa Bay? I guess we’ll see.

As always, the comments are yours.

Foolish Thoughts: They aren’t who we thought they were

Oh, Week 1, you cruel, cruel mistress. Just when we think we have it all figured out, the perfect team, the perfect season, you bring us back to reality.

Yes, this week we had football — real NFL football. Football that counted! But we also saw how the offseason, that tricky devil that fills in the gap between the Super Bowl and the next weekend we care about, deceives us. Those positive, uplifting stories melt away when Jake Delhomme throws more picks than Aerosmith, and the St. Louis Rams fail to notch a single point against an NFC West opponent.

It’s sobering, if sober is your thing, to see your team come back down to earth. Well, back down to earth if you weren’t starting Drew Brees. If you have Brees, you get to look like a genius this week. And we all hate you. Oh, and you too, Adrian Peterson owners. No one liked that you got the first pick anyway, and now, they get to build on that grudge when A.P. blows up in the first week.

There are only a few people who can tell you exactly how they are going to beat you and then do it right before your eyes — Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Steve Jobs come to mind. None of them are football players. At the end of the day, any team could stop one individual player from playing their game in a given week. It just so happens that giving your opponent an entire offseason to prepare tends to really give them a great game plan against your offensive stars.

But such is fantasy football. If knowing what you were doing allowed you to draft a perfect team every time, for every week, the game wouldn’t allow trades, and trades are really where you make your name in fantasy football. After Week 1 scores are recorded, the real men — and real women — assess their teams, hedge their offseason bets and acquire some new talent if the opportunity arises. We now know how things have changed, and we’re not in hot water just yet.

And yes, I know you’re not scared yet if you own Brees or Adrian Peterson, but you’ll see other teams catch you unaware if you let a Week 1 victory convince you that your team is perfect. Your bench is rarely perfect, but you can make it better a little bit at a time every week.

Jay Cutler obviously watched too much Jake Delhomme game film this week. He tried to do too much, but I think his picks were more an indication of how well-prepared Green Bay’s defense was, even having changed schemes this offseason. The Packers don’t look like they’re still learning, and they lost the “sleeper defense” tag that some had put on them this preseason.

Aaron Rodgers, for all the offensive success the Packers had this preseason, was also a surprisingly disappointing fantasy start this week. If not for those late game moves, he would have been a killer. But I guess only Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler and Matt Schaub were killers this week.

As a side story to Brees’ touchdown-machine performance, Reggie Bush couldn’t hold onto the ball against the Lions, even after the most work he’s ever done in the offseason. Bad sign for Bush owners.

Steven Jackson had me going for a bit with his whole Web series about how he is the greatest running back ever to touch the ground. Apparently, the camera adds 10 yards, and there were only six cameras on him in the Seattle game. Maybe he’ll fare better when he’s not facing what some say is “the best linebacking corps in the NFL,” but after disliking him this offseason, he isn’t helping his case.

There would be no quarterback controversy in Philadelphia as long as Donovan McNabb stayed healthy, but he cracked a rib against Carolina just in time to cause a scare. If he can’t get back on the field or gets injured again early this season, the Vick chants in Philadelphia might get louder.

It was almost too predictable that Anthony Gonzalez, the player who might have gathered the most “nice pick” comments in your fantasy draft this season, got injured in his Week 1 start against Jacksonville. He’ll sit out at least the next two weeks, but he could miss up to six weeks with his strained knee ligament.

Only two of my fantasy teams ran away with it this Sunday. I have two on the fence going into Monday night, and one that is going to need some overhaul this week. It’s good to have you back, football, and now the real fun begins.

Stay tuned for more this week as we’ll try to fix your Week 1 woes. Tonight, we get to see the Patriots, Bills, Chargers and Raiders take the field. Best of luck if you’re on the Monday night bubble. I’m looking for a nice night for Randy Moss.

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

Guest Post: Three RBBCs to Target in Fantasy Football Drafts

This second guest post comes to us all the way across the pond from Ross Mooring of Never Kick a Gift Horse in the Teeth. This article is a follow up to his first guest post on three RBBCs to avoid in your drafts this season.

It’s now time to look at the running-back-by-committees (RBBC) that fantasy owners should try to monopolize in drafts this year. In most cases, fantasy players should study RBBC situations and draft only the favorites to receive the most carries when the time is right, but some teams possess running backs who collectively are undervalued or that, when drafted together, increase the value and reliability of those players.

Dallas Cowboys

A fit (well, fitter) Marion Barber is a surefire fantasy workhorse. One of the toughest running backs in the game, Barber is not only a threat on the goal line but also receiving out of the backfield. He will get every yard available.

MBIII has shockingly been falling to the beginning of the third round in 12-team drafts, mainly because of the presence of Felix Jones. This fall makes Barber an absolute steal given his propensity to carry the rock into the end zone on a weekly basis.

Jones still represents draft value at the very end of the sixth round, but here’s the clincher: the two of them offer different skill sets, don’t mutually deplete fantasy value very much and will be given enough touches to produce fantasy points.

Barber cannot carry the ball 25 times per game without breaking down while Jones is a threat in space, not in short-yardage situations. Take both with glee, and if you smell an injury, Tashard Choice won’t be waiver-wire fodder for long.

Indianapolis Colts

I’m making a joke, right? The Colts’ backfield, the very same backfield that struggled immensely in 2008, is one of the top three to target in 2009? Yes, it is!

Last year, not only did Joseph Addai have injury problems, but so did three of his offensive linemen and Peyton Manning. All have returned to good health this season. One must remember that Indianapolis is an offensive machine — always has been, always will be. At least while Manning is around…

Between Addai and rookie Donald Brown, we either have one back who will produce RB1 stat lines or two backs who will post RB2 and RB3 numbers. At the very worst, drafting both guarantees you will have insurance against an Addai injury.

You can wait on taking a second back through the first three or even four rounds — yes, Addai has been falling that far (ADP: 5.08!) — and secure the most undervalued RBBC in all of football in the sixth or seventh round.

Just make sure you don’t get arrested for robbery at the end of the year.

San Diego Chargers

The word on the grapevine is that last year was an offensive hiccup for San Diego, not in terms of total output but in the fact that the Chargers succeeded by passing the football and not running it.

With an improved defense (Shawne Merriman single-handedly improves this unit), why not control the game by slowing it down on the ground and letting Philip Rivers air it out with play action when necessary?

With LaDainian Tomlinson hitting the big 3-0 and Darren Sproles not yet a seasoned pro, one could be forgiven for doubting them, but L.T. is a once-in-a-decade back. A single season of wear and tear is not going to bring him down. A pick in the latter half of the first round — anywhere after that is a steal — represents value.

The kicker is that Sproles, who is playing under a franchise tag, is not going until late in the eighth round. If you’re in the right draft slot, take them both and sleep well knowing you have guaranteed yourself some big production at running back.

And one more bonus RBBC…

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Editor’s Note: Tampa Bay was originally the third team to target until recent news revealed the 2-2-1 split they plan to use with Earnest Graham, Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams. Take these words as you will now that we know this committee will be very divided...

Tampa Bay is one of a couple of backfields that will be drafted late, mainly because of the lack of standout names but also because the statistical ceiling isn’t quite as sexy as it is elsewhere.

Make no mistake, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham will consistently notch points for fantasy owners in 2009 — the former with the bulk of the carries and the latter with the bulk of the touchdowns.

The advantage of this RBBC is that Tampa Bay does not have much of a passing game to hang its hat on. Antonio Bryant is unpredictable and potentially unreliable, and the same could be said of Kellen Winslow and his health issues. On top of that, the quarterback situation is confusing, and there seems to be little reason for Raheem Morris to do anything but lean on the run.

Ward has been drafted right at the end of the fourth round (steal), and Graham has seen his number called as late as the end of the tenth round (bigger steal!).

Do you agree or disagree with Ross on these RBBCs to target? As always, the comments are yours. Read more of Ross’ writing at Never Kick a Gift Horse in the Teeth.