Derek Anderson: AP
Memo to the Cleveland Browns' first team offense: Your next preseason game is August 23. How about showing up this time?
They say you should never pay too much attention to preseason results, and it certainly applies to Monday night's Browns-Giants matchup. It's not only the stats that should be ignored, but also the final score, 37-34, which indicates the Browns were competitive. Those who tuned in know the truth: The Cleveland first-teamers were awful.
Hard to say if the Giants' early dominance was the result of an inspired Big Blue or a completely inept Little Orange. It was probably some of each. The star of the night was Giants' reserve wideout Domenik Hixon, who hauled in four passes for 63 yards and two TDs, then took a free kick 82 yards for another score. What does it mean for fantasy? Not much -- Hixon had a chance to shine because the Giants' three primary receivers, Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer and Steve Smith, were out with an assortment of injuries. Hixon seems worthy of a Giants' roster spot, and he could eventually catch on as Eli Manning's third or fourth wide receiver as the season progresses.
Speaking of Eli, he looked like a poised, Super Bowl-winning quarterback while going 4-for-7 for 52 yards and the two touchdowns to Hixon. An impressive performance considering he was without his top offensive weapons. Winning a Super Bowl appears to agree with Manning, and if he carries this swagger into the regular season he could be in for a big year.
Meanwhile, the inspired Giants shoved the Browns offensive line all over field. Jamal Lewis ran six times for 13 yards, and Osi Umenyiora knocked quarterback Derek Anderson out of the game with an apparent concussion. With five minutes left in the second quarter the Giants led 30-3, and TV man Ron Jaworski said the Browns had run 23 plays for 23 yards, which, if he was correct, perfectly summarizes an abysmal showing.
The Browns turned to celebrity backup Brady Quinn earlier than they planned, but he looked sharp while completing 7-of-12 for 124 yards. The best Browns highlight by far was Quinn's touchdown bomb to Syndric Steptoe, who made a ridiculous circus catch. Other than that, a forgettable night for the Browns.
One of our staff's favorite fantasy sites, Accuscore, has predictions for every Week 1 game. How exactly they arrive at these predictions is a bit of a mystery to me. (I imagine it's a combination of math and gypsies. On second thought, make it attractive gypsies.) Regardless, it's an entertaining read. Eli Manning was solid last night, and the site forecasts another nice day for him when the Giants kick off the season on September 4 against the Redskins. It predicts Manning will throw for 209 yards (Why not 210? Why not 208?) and one touchdown while leading the Giants to a 24-20 win.
Incidentally, Accuscore thinks the Browns will lose a 27-24 heartbreaker to the Cowboys in Week 1.
We're already at the midpoint of preseason games, and several players have recently seen a change in their fantasy value.
On the way up:
Chris Brown, RB, Texans: It's not so much that Brown has been great, but that starter Ahman Green could be cooked. Brown stands first in line to be the primary back if Green isn't ready for the regular season. Speedy rookie Steve Slaton could also work his way into the mix for carries.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: Well, he got on the field this week, so that's a start. The Panthers obviously aren't confident DeAngelo Williams can carry the load, or they wouldn't have used a top pick on the powerful Stewart. (To his credit, Williams is having a strong preseason so far.) Stewart is still recovering from a toe injury, but if healthy, he's primed to be the Panthers' goal line back. At best, he could share the other carries and yards, too.
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: He's going to start the Falcon's third preseason game on Saturday. Of course it's never good to pin your fantasy football hopes on a rookie QB, but it's falling into place for Ryan to be the opening day starter in Atlanta. He's got a gifted wideout in Roddy White and a potentially solid backfield tandem in Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood. You could do worse for a backup QB in fantasy leagues. In fact, I just thought of one.
Kyle Orton, QB, Bears: Now here's a lousy fantasy backup. But on the news that coach Lovie Smith named Orton the Bears' starter, his value climbs. Those three fantasy football players who've held onto Rex Grossman in keeper leagues (that number could be too high) can safely let him go. Meanwhile, Orton, who has a 62.2 passer rating as a starter, is still nearly irrelevant for fantasy heading into the season.
On the way down:
Chad Johnson, WR, Bengals: Ocho cinco took an awkward landing on a hit and will likely miss uno to tres weeks with a shoulder strain. Coach Marvin Lewis said that Johnson's shoulder actually popped out, then right back in, which makes me a little squeamish. He should be ready for Week 1, but don't be surprised if Johnson starts slowly this season.
Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals: Hey, want to play wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals? Get your highlight tape together. As if Johnson's injury isn't bad enough, Palmer's other top target, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, is battling a hamstring injury. Toss in the hamstring problem for incumbent running back Rudi Johnson, and this offense suddenly seems tame. There's talk the team might bring back the notorious Chris Henry, who for all we know could finish the year with more arrests than receptions. Here's hoping Vegas posts odds for this.
Tarvaris Jackson, QB, Vikings: Jackson suffered a sprained MCL in Saturday's game and is expected to miss the rest of preseason. He should be ready for Week 1, but the loss of August reps can only hinder a young, developing quarterback; Jackson needs all the snaps he can get.
Ronnie Brown, RB, Dolphins: He's day-to-day with a sprained thumb. It's not a good sign for Brown, nine months removed from major knee surgery, who must now deal with an entirely new injury.
David Bergman: SI
It's been written that the tried and true method of drafting running backs in each of the first two rounds is no longer necessarily the best strategy. The culprit is of course the trend of the running back by committee (see the Panthers, Giants, Bucs, Vikings, Steelers and Raiders). So if you're not taking a running back in each of the first two rounds, quarterback (and wide receiver) is the place to turn. Who are the quarterbacks poised for the biggest seasons? One man's opinion:
1) Tom Brady, Patriots: Fresh off a 50-TD season, I'd set the over/under for TD passes this year at 39. Which would still be fantastic.
2) Peyton Manning, Colts: Touchdown passes the last five years: 31, 31, 28, 49, 29. Games missed: zero.
3) Tony Romo, Cowboys: The offense is once again loaded, and Romo, if you can believe it, was the second-highest scorer in standard fantasy formats last year
4) Drew Brees, Saints: Tight end Jeremy Shockey comes to town -- I seem to remember Brees once clicked pretty well with a certain tight end in San Diego, too ...
5) Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Mike Tomlin's Steelers sling it more than the old Bill Cowher regime ever did. Roethlisberger took a big step last year with 31 TDs and more than 3,100 yards.
6) Carson Palmer, Bengals: You want to rank him higher. Then you re-read the "Fortunes Falling" section from above.
7) Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks: He's back at practice 10 days after his back tightened up. I'm not worried ... yet.
8) David Garrard, Jaguars: He's cool, efficient, runs a little and won't turn the ball over. My pick for the biggest breakout of '08.
9) Derek Anderson, Browns: Last year was great overall, but there were signs near the end of the year that the league was catching up with him.
10) Brett Favre, Jets: Why not? He's coming off one of his best seasons, and he certainly didn't look like a 38-year-old quarterback in his preseason opener. I don't expect consistency, but the Jets' have talented playmakers. He can still be a bona fide fantasy starter.
My colleague and fantasy savant Jay Clemons has written extensively about using tiers in draft strategy. For my money, I agree that Brady and Manning deserve their own level, with the next three picks in tier two. My third tier would have at least six or seven quarterbacks, meaning if you miss on the first five signal-callers, I'd wait until the mid-to-late rounds to finally draft a QB.
Incidentally, I'd put Jay Cutler, a popular sleeper pick, 11th. Just not sold on his ability to be consistent. Last year he threw more than one touchdown in a game just five times. He's also primed for a slow start without his primary receiver Brandon Marshall, who's suspended for three games for general lawlessness (aka, violating the NFL's player conduct policy).
If you have HBO, I hope you're tuning in to Hard Knocks, the behind-the-scenes series that chronicles Cowboys' training camp. My favorite moment so far was in the debut episode, when T.O. first rolls into the Cowboy housing complex. One of his teammates, perched on a balcony, yells down to ask Owens how much he weighs. While goading Owens, the teammate hollers, "Two-what? Two-what?" Owens replies, "Too sexy." It's not the least bit fantasy relevant, but it kind of makes you want to draft T.O. for your team a little bit more, right?
Over the last three seasons, LaDainian Tomlinson handily leads the NFL in total touchdowns with 67, including 31 in 2006. But who's the NFL's second-leading touchdown maker since 2005?
TJust one quick taste of baseball today, but it goes down as smoothly as green, death-flavored NyQuil. Rangers' second baseman Ian Kinsler has been nothing short of fantasy gold for owners this season. Those owners might be catatonic in their cubicles today after learning the news that Kinsler has a sports hernia, and is could face season-ending surgery. The fantasy MVP -- if not AL MVP -- candidate was leading the majors with 165 hits, and was batting .319 with 26 steals. Ramon Vazquez will slide over from third base to platoon at second with Triple-A call-up Joaquin Arias. Gruesome.
Despite hitting paydirt just three times last season, Larry Johnson is still second in the NFL with 42 touchdowns since 2005.
Ever dreamt of playing fantasy football against a Hall of Fame safety, Sports Illustrated football writer, Major League Baseball general manager, world-renowned swimsuit model, professional poker player or best-selling author -- to name a few? SI.com, in conjunction with Facebook, will welcome someone into its 2008 Celebrity Fantasy League where one lucky fan matches weekly wits, from Draft Day to the Fantasy Bowl, with Ronnie Lott, Peter King, Oakland A's GM Billy Beane, supermodel Brooklyn Decker, poker great Phil Gordon and Michael Lewis, author of the sabremetrician-friendly book, Moneyball. Time's running out, though, so click here and register today! As a consolation prize for the contest non-winners, you can create new leagues and develop newer rivals on the new SI/Facebook fantasy game.
At long last, SI.com has a fantasy football game, complete with all of the drafts, waiver wires, stats and analysis you need. Take the grand tour here and sign up a league. Heck, sign up two leagues if you want. We'll be waiting.