In football, every game is crucial. Fantasy baseball owners have the luxury of 162-game seasons and can ignore statistical fluctuations that pop up in the early games; football owners whose season is over after just 17 games (or less) need to analyze trends and surprising results from day one in order to gain an egde on the competition.
The hard part is separating the random statistical bumps and valleys from the useful information. Clearly, counting out Jamal Lewis or Deuce McAllister after just one poor performance would be foolish. Similarly, expecting Jerome Bettis to score three times a week in goal-line situations wouldn’t be wise, either.
Yet we did learn some things from last week’s games. Here’s one observation from each of those contests.
Indianapolis 24 – New England 27
It could be another very frustrating season for owners of any member of the Colts’ receiving corps not named Marvin Harrison. Everybody else will most likely have another season marked by inconsistency as Peyton Manning’s receiver du jour changes from game to game. This week, it was Brandon Stokley who had a big game with four catches for 77 yards and a score while Reggie Wayne had just one reception. Dallas Clark caught a 64-yarder, but Marcus Pollard was next to invisible. Next week? Who knows. Owners of Stokley, Wayne, Clark and Pollard might be rewarded with solid overall numbers, but will need plenty of patience when those players disappear for a week.
Tennessee 17 – Miami 7
Miami’s offense was simply ugly. Hopefully, Lamar Gordon and newly named starting QB AJ Feeley will help; if not, TE Randy McMichael might be the only ‘Phin worth owning this year.
Jacksonville 13 – Buffalo 10
Byron Leftwich’s development probably isn’t as far along as many owners were hoping for. Don’t let his beautiful game-winning drive blind you to the fact that he struggled through much of the contest, making several costly mistakes in the process. So far, he looks like a mid-tier fantasy QB; once he adds experience to his tremendous talent and improves his decision-making, the sky’s the limit, but don’t expect too much too soon.
Baltimore 3 – Cleveland 20
Jeff Garcia might actually be a viable fantasy option at QB. Facing the Ravens’ defense is no easy task, and Garcia was definitely up to the challenge, throwing a nice TD to Quincy Morgan and scrambling into the endzone himself. keep an eye on him – he might just prove the skeptics wrong.
Cincinnati 24 – NY Jets 31
Welcome back, Curtis Martin. Two touchdowns, 196 yards on the ground … not a bad day for a player many were avoiding like the plague on draft day. No, he won’t be a top five fantasy RB every week, but with Chad Pennington back and the Jets’ offense clicking, it looks like owners who snagged him after the likes of Kevan Barlow and Stephen Davis may have found quite a bargain.
Arizona 10 – St. Louis 17
Emmitt Smith might also turn out to be a draft-day bargain. Eighty-seven yards and a score is certainly more than many were expecting from the all-time rushing leader, and that 5.4 yards-per-carry mark is highly encouraging. Arizona will certainly struggle mightily at times, but if you selected Smith in the middle rounds to serve as your #3 RB, you might have the last laugh on those who mocked your pick.
Detroit 20 – Chicago 16
Unless your league is extremely deep, Kevin Jones is not yet a player who should be in your lineup except as a bye-week fill-in. Chicago’s defense had little trouble keeping the rookie in check, and other defenses will be eager to follow suit. Leave him on the pine for now.
San Diego 27 – Houston 20
It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, who the Chargers’ QB is, and what San Diego’s game plan is: LaDainian Tomlinson is a force who will be among this season’s top backs when all is said and done. Oh, wait – we knew that already.
Seattle 21 – New Orleans 7
Seattle’s defense looked very good, but you might not find too many solid options there for your IDP league. Terreal Bierria led the unit with five solo tackles, four assists, a forced fumble and a pass defended, while Grant Wistrom, Anthony Simmons, Ken Hamlin and Marcus Trufant all posted somewhat disappointing numbers. The whole might be more than the sum of the parts here; Seattle should be a better choice than New Orleans as a team defense, but the Saints look like a better source for individual defenders.
Oakland 21 – Pittsburgh 24
Rich Gannon looked solid, but until Oakland finds a way to run the ball, his owners shouldn’t say I-told-you-so just yet. The Raiders gained just 61 yards on the ground, led by Tyrone Wheatley’s 24.
Tampa Bay 10 – Washington 16
Doubts about Clinton Portis can probably be laid aside. Yes, Denver’s line helped him turn into a star, but he looked just fine in his first game for Washington. And while Tampa Bay’s defense might not be as imposing as it used to be, their run defense is no pushover.
Dallas 17 – Minnesota 35
Minnesota’s offense will be lots of fun to watch this year, and there’ll be plenty of touchdowns to go around. Marcus Robinson is worth having on your roster. He’s no Randy Moss, and probably no Santana Moss, either, but with Daunte Culpepper spreading the ball around, he should find the endzone often enough to be well worth owning.
NY Giants 17 – Philadelphia 31
Who said Terrell Owens’s value would drop in Philadelphia?
Atlanta 21 – San Francisco 19
With San Francisco’s offense not exactly making fans forget Joe, Jerry and the gang, Eric Johnson should see plenty of balls thrown his way, no matter who the quarterback is. The 49ers need him to serve not only as a safety valve, but step up and become a key part of the game plan. So far, Johnson has done everything to prove himself up to the challenge.
Kansas City 24 – Denver 34
The Broncos have done it again. The next instant feature back is Quentin Griffin, who blew by Kansas City’s defense to the tune of 156 yards rushing and three TDs. It won’t take many more games like this to dispel all doubts that Griffin is the main man in Denver.
Green Bay 24 – Carolina 14
Carolina’s defense may not be as good as many were expecting based on last year’s performance. The Panthers never found a way to stop Ahman Green, even when they saw the run coming. This might just be an aberration, but it’s a situation that bears watching, not only for owners of the Carolina defense, but also for those deciding whether to start players against Carolina.
Arlo Vander can’t wait to see what we learn from this Sunday’s games.
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