After examining a look at questions surrounding the AFC’s teams, let’s move right along and take a look at key issues in the NFC:
Q: Can The Sheriff turn one of the most pathetic fantasy situations in the NFL into a respectable crop of fantasy studs, not to mention win a few games this year?
A: Yes he can. Dennis Green was criticized here in Minnesota as “never able to win the big one.” However, looking back on the painful Vikings’ history in big games both before and after Green, the heat he took may not be justified. After all, he got the Purple to the postseason seemingly every year and had the foresight to draft Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper, both players whom “experts” said the Vikings didn’t need. Good news for Larry Fitzgerald and Josh McCown.
Fantasy owners can expect Fitzgerald to provide stability and be a big play threat, with last year’s first rounder Bryant Johnson opperating in the slot. As a Vikings fan, I don’t even want to be reminded of Nate Poole. Unlike many experts, I think Josh McCown will succeed under Green and might actually be a servicable fantasy QB as early as this year, a sleeper in my book.
Of course, a swift return by Boldin and some semblance of a running game would help.
Q: Is all the talk of Michael Vick toning down his scrambling and becoming more of a pocket passer a concern for fantasy owners?
A: Uhh…duh! A Michael Vick who doesn’t run is like Tim Allen without slapstick. However, I do think some of the reports that Vick will become a pocket passer now are blown entiely out of proportion. There is no way a player like Vick will completely morph his game just because of an injury suffered a year ago. I think he does have to be smarter about his running and utilize his arm more, but only to a point, because his legs are what sets him apart of all the rest of the quarterbacks in the league. That said, I still think Culpepper, McNabb, Manning, and maybe Hasselbeck make better picks this year.
Q: How reliable is the talk that DeShaun Foster have a bigger role this season because of his performance during the playoffs last year?
A: Consider it reliable. Stephen Davis was banged up towards the end of last year, and Foster performed admirably during his absense. This season, look for Foster to be used on third downs because of his superior receiving skills, and also as a change-of-pace back. Don’t be too concerned about Foster vulturing too many carries away from Davis, though. For one thing, it’s always good to keep a back like Davis fresh. Plus, Davis will retain the all-important goaline duties. However, fantasy owners should pay close attention to the deteriorating offense line situation. Davis is still among the second-tier RBs along with the likes of Barlow, Barber, and Bennett. And if Davis goes down to injury for any length of time, look for Foster to star.
Q: Can Thomas Jones be a productive fantasy back in Chicago?
A: I think he can. He showed flashes of brilliance at times during his tenure in Tampa, and Lovie Smith has publicly stated that he wants to incorporate an offense similar to those of St. Louis and Kansas City this year. That is very good news for a back like Jones, who can run, catch, and line up as a receiver at times. If he can be play a role similar to Marhsall Faulk or Priest Holmes in the Chicago offense, Jones could emerge as a solid #2 back for owners.
Q: With Eddie George in Dallas, what’s in store for Julius Jones?
A: Despite the heat the ‘Boys took for not taking Steven Jackson or Kevin Jones, I think grabbing Julius Jones was a smart move. Bill Parcells liked him from the beginning, and the words he used to describe Jones were similar to those he said about a young Curtis Martin back in the day. (Ahh, the days when Curtis Martin was good … Sorry, done day-dreaming). Jones has plenty of talent and should fit into the Tuna’s system well. Look for Jones to be a solid #3 RB by the end of this season.
Q: Is Joey Harrington finally going to prove he was worth a high draft pick, with the supporting cast he has to work with now?
A: He better. Roy Williams was arguably the top wide receiver prospect this year. Team him up with the best rookie WR from last year and speedy Az Hakim, and Harrington has some pretty impressive weapons at his disposal. Throw in a blue-chip running back and an improving offensive line, and Harrington could be on the verge of a breakout season. I expect there to be some growing pains, but this will be Harrington’s best year by far. Draft him before Jake Plummer, Jake Delhomme, or Mark Brunell.
Green Bay Packers
Q: The receiver situation was a mess last year. Who will emerge as the #1 this time around?
A: Javon Walker, without question. Robert Ferguson showed flashes of brilliance last season, but not to the extent of Walker. Brett Favre seemed to click with Walker, especially towards the end of the season. Walker scored nine times, and his yardage will certainly improve this year. A 1,000-yard season wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Q: What can we expect from Marcus Robinson this year, and what will the RB situation look like?
A: Robinson will finally provide some help for Randy Moss for the first time since Cris Carter left. Look for Robinson to eclipse his 2003 numbers and be a solid #3 WR for fantasy owners. Somewhere around 800 yards and six or seven scores is what I’m looking for from Robinson this year.
Michael Bennett will be the starter in Minnesota once he returns. He will get the bulk of the carries, with Moe Williams probably taking over goal-line duty again, and Onterrio Smith thrown in as a change-of pace.
New Orleans Saints
Q: Will Joe Horn continue to be the Saints’ #1 WR this season?
A: Donte Stallworth, Jerome Pathon, and rookie Devery Henderson are the other members of the receiving corps in New Orleans. While Horn is getting older, he should still be the best bet for fantasy success among the Saints’ receivers. Stallworth, who has been inconsistent, to say the least, will rebound this season if he can stay healthy.
New York Giants
Q: Can Kurt Warner revive his career in New York?
A: I think he can. If the Giants are smart, they’ll let Warner start for the whole year, with Eli Manning learning from the sidelines. If that is the case, Warner could be a solid sleeper at QB. He has good receivers, including Tiki Barber out of the backfield and Jeremy Shockey as a big target up the middle. Don’t anchor your team with him, but Warner is going to be a fantasy starter this year.
Q: Will Terrell Owens, one of the biggest offseason acquisitions in the league, produce like he did during his golden years in San Francisco?
A: T.O. is an amazing talent. In Philly, he will have a star quarterback chucking the rock to him, and he will be the focal point of the offense with the likes of Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell as his receiving partners. I think T.O. could be in for a monster year.
San Francisco 49ers
Q: Who the heck is going to catch passes in this offense? I can’t even name their top 3 WRs! (Reminds you of San Diego, doesn’t it?)
A: Brandon Lloyd, Rashaun Woods, Cedrick Wilson, and Curtis Conway, not exactly a collection of Pro Bowlers, will be Tim Rattay’s targets. But Woods impressed the staff at camp, and Brandon Llyod caught that pass against Seattle last season (if you don’t know the pass I’m talking about, see if you can find a tape – it’s worth the effort). I think Woods will eventually emerge from the pack, even though he is third on the depth chart as of now. He is the most polished, precise route runner, and has the best hands out of anyone in this group.
Q: Is Koren Robinson going to remind fantasy owners why they drafted him so early last year?
A: Every great offense in recent years has had at least two receiving threats. The ‘98 Vikings had Carter, Reed, and Moss. The ‘99-present Rams had Holt and Bruce. The Chiefs had Priest and Gonzo catching passes. The 2004 Seattle Seahawks need both Darrell Jackson and K-Rob to be effective this year. Robinson was extremely disappointing in 2003, but I think he will bounce back. However, I expect Jackson to be the primary target in the offense. Look for Robinson to barely eclipse 1,000 yards, but don’t be surprised if he only scores a few times.
St. Louis Rams
Q: Can Torry Holt continue to find the end zone this year?
A: Holt has been a great yardage receiver ever since he entered the league, but it wasn’t until last year when he started scoring touchdowns that he joined the elite fantasy receivers. With Isaac Bruce declining with age, I see no reason why Holt should fail to duplicate last year’s numbers. Holt will again be one of fantasy football’s best WRs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Q: Is the Tampa defense useless for fantasy purposes following the departures of Warren Sapp, Dwayne Rudd, and John Lynch?
A: No. Monty Kiffin’s system was so successful because it utilized speed, pressure, and smarts. And while Sapp, Lynch, Rudd and others helped that system work, their loss shouldn’t be as devastating as it might seem at first glance. With Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, and Ronde Barber to help the newcomers learn the ropes, the Bucs’ defense will remain solid this year. They are no longer a top three choice for fantasy owners, but Tampa Bay will get you good value after the Baltimores and New Englands of the world are gone.
Q: What can we expect from Clinton Portis and Mark Brunell?
A: The ‘Skins have one of the more underrated WR corps in the league with Laveranues Coles, Rod Gardner, Taylor Jacobs, and Darnarian McCants. Mark Brunell is also very undervalued following his recent years in Jacksonville, when he often had little help on offense. Brunell could be in the top half of the fantasy QBs and might be a decent sleeper this year.
As for Portis, he has the talent to be the second-best back in the league next to LaDainian Tomlinson, so expect good things from him this year. Washington has surrounded Brunell and Portis with a solid offensive line and good position players, and is hoping for big results.
Lifelong Viking fan Andrew Scherber had to be restrained from bad-mouthing the Packers in this article. His thoughts on the AFC can be found here; he himself can be found in the Forums, where he posts as scherber830.
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