With the NFL season right around the corner, there are a lot of questions about to be answered. How will Donovan McNabb perform in Washington? Will T.O. and Ocho-Cinco be able to co-exist in Cincinnati? Will the Saints repeat as champs or will they suffer a hangover from last year’s miracle run? Will the Patriots cheat their way to more wins? And will Ben Roethlisberger be able to go to a year without being accused of sexual assault? Only time will tell.
You, as the fan, have no control on the outcome of a game. However you do have control over the make up of your fantasy team. And I’m here to help.
I have a love/hate relationship with fantasy football. I love the NFL and could watch it all year round. It is hands down the best sport going. However, like some sort of masochist, I am in three fantasy leagues. It took a little bit of time, but I now realize that no matter how much I prepare for a draft, what pick I get, or who I decide to sit or play every week, it won't make a bit of difference. I have been playing fantasy football for ten years and have won three times. 24 total seasons played and only three titles is a cool 12.5% success rate. Congress’s rating isn’t even that low. At least not yet.
Fantasy football requires the same amount of skill, knowledge and ability to win as it does for some Atlantic City, chain-smoking, octogenarian with an oxygen tank to win a million bucks on one pull of a slot machine. So consider the following advice on the same level as someone telling you what quarter to use in the slots.
With that disclaimer out of the way, hold on to your knickers. A lot of hot air based on complete speculation and very little research is about to start blowing in.
For each position I am going to list a generally underrated player I think will be a top performer and one highly-touted guy I think will not be up to snuff.
Pro: Kevin Kolb, Philadelphia Eagles
In two starts and some mop-up duty last year, Kolb threw for 741 yards. Granted one of those starts was against the Chiefs, but the other was against New Orleans and if memory serves they had a good year (highly recommended clip). The Eagles’ receivers are a year more experienced and should give Kolb some nice opportunities for big plays that stretch the field. Plus the Eagles running back situation doesn’t keep defensive coordinators up at night. In other words, they have to throw to win. This should make the Philly receivers happy. That, and they have a guy under center this season that should complete more passes to them than he does to the ground.
Con: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts
Every announcer’s wet dream not named Bret Favre is now 34 years old. In the history of the NFL, only 8 of 44 Super Bowl-winning teams had a quarterback 34 years old or older. Three of them happened in the first five years of the game when it was a much different era. John Elway counts for two more of them and he’s one of the all-time greats who made it to five super bowls in his career. Brad Johnson was 34 when Tampa Bay won in 2002, but let’s be honest, I could have been under center and won that game. Basically what I’m saying is unless you’re John Elway or have Marcus Allen as your running back, you’re not winning the Super Bowl if you’re a 34 year old quarterback. The Colts rely almost entirely on Manning to win. He’s had a great career and has to slow down sooner or later. Can’t get much sooner than 2010.
Pro: Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
In the last eight games of 2009, Charles rushed for 968 yards, had 7 TDs and averaged almost 6 yards a carry. Projecting those stats out to a full season and you have almost 2,000 yards and 14 scores. Not a bad year. Hell it’s not bad if he just repeats those stats. There are a couple of potential red flags for Charles. Number one is Thomas Jones is in town and may steal some touchdowns and carries from him. Number two is that the Chiefs coach is Todd Haley. Last season he let Larry Johnson start over Charles. This is the same Larry Johnson who can’t run more than two yards without running into someone or throwing a drink in their face.
Con: Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers
I think people like this guy only because he’s a Steeler and everyone loves the Steelers. They have six rings. They play hard for a blue-collar city. They ship out wide receivers that fail drugs tests but keep quarterbacks around who you wouldn’t let your daughter be in the same state with. The truth is the Steelers haven’t had a great running game in a few years and are a pass-first squad. Mendenhall got most of the touches last year after not-so-fast-anymore Willie Parker got his annual injury. Mendenhall did fine in 2009 but got shut down by the Browns twice. That’s like losing Best Actor to Keanu Reeves two years in a row. The Steelers lost their best o-lineman for the year already and will be without Ben ‘No Means Yes’ Roethlisberger for four to six games while he serves a suspension for something he should probably be in jail for. That means Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch will be the starting quarterback. If this were the early 2000s those guys could be an issue for opposing defenses. But it’s 2010 so don’t be surprised if some teams just let the Steeler receivers run down the field unguarded just to see if either of those guys can complete a downfield pass. In other words, teams will be eyeing up Mendenhall like Larry King does potential new wives.
Pro: Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens
Derrick Mason is 5’10 and 36 years old. Last season he caught 7 touchdowns and had over 1,000 yards for the Ravens. In his five seasons with Baltimore, Mason has had four 1,000 yard seasons. Anquan Boldin is younger now (29) than Mason was in any of his years with the Ravens. Boldin spent the last few years sharing the field with Larry Fitzgerald, one of the best receivers in the game (more on him later). He still put up Pro-Bowl caliber numbers. Now Boldin is the main target in Baltimore not tied to Marlo Stanfield or Avon Barksdale. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is in his third season and has shown great improvement in his first two seasons. As long as Boldin avoids hits like this, he should be able to push top-5 status at the position.
Con: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
The retirement of Kurt Warner and promotion of Matt Leinart to starting quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals will manifest itself both on the field and off. Warner is a devoutly religious guy who is the father to seven children, two of whom he adopted. Leinart is a poster-boy for the word douchebag who spent time with Paris Hilton and is friends with Nick Lachey. If he has poor judgment on easy things like who he hangs out with, how will he be able to make snap decisions on his blitz reads? More important than their private lives, Kurt Warner had a Hall of Fame career and the only way Leinart gets to the Hall is if he buys a ticket to Canton. Not to mention Leinart is left-handed and aside from Steve Young, Ken Stabler and Boomer Esiason, lefties make for terrible quarterbacks. The most prominent one in recent memory is Michael Vick. To borrow a phrase Vick has heard before, the prosecution rests. Good luck Larry Fitzgerald, you’re going to need it.
If you don’t get Dallas Clark or Antonio Gates don’t worry about grabbing one until you fill up on running backs and wide receivers. There are about ten guys who will put up similar numbers and not cost you an early pick. That being said, Brent Celek is going to be awesome and Chris Cooley is not.
Don’t pick teams that suck. Pick teams that are good. There’s a reason the saying “Defense Wins Championships” exists.
No one on their own teams care about them. Neither should you.
So there we have it. Use this advice, and while you won’t win your league, you may very well not come in last.
In closing, and I believe this sums up the joy and pain of playing fantasy football to a T, my wife calls fantasy football my mistress. After giving it some thought, she couldn’t be more right.
I see it once a week, it regularly takes my money, and somehow I always end up getting fucked.