Tom Brady: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
You'd be hard-pressed to find any preseason fantasy-football publication -- from The Sporting News and ESPN the Mag and Fanball.com to Sports Illustrated -- that doesn't have Tom Brady (an NFL-record 50 TDs last year) ranked as the No. 1 QB. That's a given, especially with the mild uncertainty surrounding Peyton Manning's shelved life with the Colts. But among the top 10 FF annuals, there are wide-ranging opinions on slotting Philip Rivers, Vince Young, Matt Schaub, Jake Delhomme and David Garrard (more on him later) for Draft Day.
How to handle this conundrum? Well, you can stick to one magazine and take its pre-draft rankings as gospel ... or you could allow me to crunch the numbers for eight respected publications -- then group the 32 presumed starting quarterbacks in six tiers (based on their average estimates):
Tier 1 (4,400 yards passing and/or 34 TDs)
Tier 2 (4,000 yards passing and/or 28 TDs)
Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer
Tier 3 (3,600 yards and/or 24 TDs)
Ben Roethlisberger, Derek Anderson, Eli Manning, Matt Hasselbeck, Marc Bulger, Jay Cutler, Brett Favre, Philip Rivers
Tier 4 (3,000 yards and/or 18 TDs)
Donovan McNabb, David Garrard, Matt Schaub, Jake Delhomme, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Leinart, Jon Kitna, Vince Young, Jason Campbell
Tier 5 (2,600 yards and 15 TDs)
Trent Edwards, JaMarcus Ruseell, Tarvaris Jackson, Chad Pennington, Alex Smith (big IF)
Tier 6 (Does it really matter how they perform?)
Kyle Boller, Rex Grossman, Brodie Croyle, Jeff Garcia, Chris Redman
1. Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo @ Toronto: How good did Ben Roethlisberger look against the Bills? On his lone interception, he showed excellent mobility, scrambling away from four would-be tacklers, before making the errant toss. All in all, though, it was a stellar night for both quarterbacks -- Roethlisberger (9-11 for 142 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) and Trent Edwards (9-11 for 104 yards and 2 TDs). Edwards' two touchdowns went to tight end Robert Royal (his only two catches, by the way), but I wouldn't read too much into his red-zone touches; at full strength, Marshawn Lynch, Lee Evans (three catches for 55 yards) and skyscraper-rookie James Hardy will score the majority of Buffalo touchdowns this season.
2. Two Steelers rookies, quarterback Dennis Dixon and running back Rashard Mendenhall, were excellent at Rogers Centre, the Bills' home away from home. Dixon had one of the prettiest touchdown runs you'll ever see from a QB. And memo to Mendenhall: I'm happy you're living up to MY billing as NFL Rookie of the Year ... but with each passing game, you keep shooting up the draft boards and, presumably, out of my clutches.
3. Carolina @ Philadelphia: It's rare to find anything of permanence in a preseason game played in torrential rains. However, in this case, I remain impressed with the Panthers' renewed commitment to the run. It's not like Carolina ever became a pass-first, pass-second offense; but now it appears the club has returned to its circa-2003 roots of killing teams (and the clock) with power run after power run. DeAngelo Williams led the way with 32 yards on eight carries.
4. Before you handcuff Brian Westbrook with Correll Buckhalter or Lorenzo Booker in the draft, you might want to consider Tony Hunt as the alternative Eagle. The Penn State product rushed for 79 yards on just five carries -- highlighted by an impressive 51-yard scoring run -- albeit in garbage time.
Reports are coming out of Jacksonville that Dennis Northcutt -- who's never surpassed 62 catches or five touchdowns in his eight-year career -- could be the Jaguars' No. 1 receiver to start the season, given injuries to Jerry Porter, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones' well-chronicled problems with the Arkansas legal system. If this tidbit is even remotely true, there is no way any fantasy owner can justify David Garrard (18 TDs, 3 INTs in 2007) as his No. 1 QB -- at least in standard 8-, 10- or 12-league teams. Even worse, this inefficiency in the passing game could adversely affect the early rushing numbers of Fred Taylor (an outside-shot candidate at reaching 12,000 career yards by season's end) and Maurice-Jones Drew. As a consolation, Jones-Drew should experience an uptick from his career per-game averages of three catches for 27 yards.
Kickers may be the red-headed step-children of fantasy football; but, like it or not, they're still a vital part of the game (and championships). So, if you're playing in a league that rewards kickers three points for field goals 21-39 yards, four points for FGs 40-49 yards and five points for 50-plus-yard FGs ... here's something to consider -- a top-10 listing (plus ties) of the NFL's most prolific kickers from 40-49 yards (the median kicking distance) in the last two seasons. (Note: Kickers Nick Folk (Cowboys) and Mason Crosby (Packers) only played in 2007 as rookies. And Jeff Wilkins, who had 19 total FGs from 40-49 yards during that span with St. Louis, retired in the offseason.)
Robbie Gould, Bears (24 field goals)
Jason Hanson, Lions (18 field goals)
Kris Brown, Texans (18 field goals)
Josh Scobee, Jaguars (17 field goals)
Josh Brown (now with Rams -- 15)
Neil Rackers, Cardinals (15)
Jason Elam (now with Falcons -- 15)
Nate Kaeding, Chargers (14)
John Kasay, Panthers (14)
Matt Stover, Ravens (14)
Ryan Longwell, Vikings (14)
I'd buy the significance of this QB duel in the regular season. But in mid-August, each signal-caller should only see the field for one quarter, maximum. Johnson, on the other hand, should get at least 12 touches (either run or pass), which means he'll have 12 chances to top last week's jaw-dropping 66-yard TD run against the Rams -- one of the fastest long scores you'll ever see.
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.
Steven Jackson: Joe Robbins/Getty Images
I have my first of five fantasy drafts on Saturday. This league, featuring a few media types from my hometown of Detroit, has some crazy rules: The draft order changes each round by drawing (meaning I could theoretically have the first pick for Rounds 1 through 16) and defenses/special teams need not apply. Obviously, I'm hoping to get a top-2 pick in Round 1, so I can take LaDainian Tomlinson or Adrian Peterson. But, for the sake of argument, let's pretend I'll duplicate my draft slot from last year -- No. 5. With LT, AP, Brian Westbrook and Joseph Addai likely off the board, I would confidently stride to the podium and announce ... Steven Jackson! Why Jackson? Holdout or no holdout, I'm convinced the man is absolutely driven to rebound from a middling performance (for him, at least) in 2007. And we're talking about a bull-rushing, tackle-breaking, pass-catching fiend who's averaged 1,458 yards from scrimmage and nine TDs in his first four seasons.
Switching gears to baseball ... this one comes courtesy of Fox Sports Radio's Ben Maller, my favorite overnight talk-show host: Can you name the only two Major League Baseball franchises to neither have a 100-win- nor 100-loss season? Scroll down for the answer.
In search of an unheralded Friday spot starter for your fantasy lineup, one who may bring glory in Ks, ERA and WHIP -- if for just one night? Look no further than Cincinnati's Bronson Arroyo, who has three wins and a 27-to-7 K/BB ratio in the last 30 days, while posting strong ERA (3.78) and WHIP numbers (1.02). Charting his previous five starts, Arroyo has allowed three runs or less four times. And at home for the season, Arroyo has limited opposing hitters to a .248 average, while registering 52 Ks against only 22 walks. What's more, Arroyo and the Reds get a prime chance to push a division foe, the Cardinals, further back in the NL Wild Card race.
The only two teams in MLB history to never post a 100-win season or 100-loss campaign are the Angels and Rockies.
Sure, the new 'Batman' movie is on track to break all-time records in theaters, trumping Leonardo DiCaprio's breakout vehicle, Titanic. (Ironically, I have not seen either film.) But going back to June, before TDK hit theaters, if you would've asked Angels fans living in celebrity-obsessed Southern California, "What's the bigger lock -- a) 'Batman' becoming an all-time Top 5 movie or b) Francisco Rodriguez bolting the team at season's end?" ... even the most myopic Angels honk or K-Rod admirer would've quickly answered 'B.'
So, what gives? Why aren't the Angels making a hard-target push to keep K-Rod (a three-time All-Star at just 26) in SoCal for the next five or six seasons, especially when he's on pace to break -- or shatter -- Bobby Thigpen's record for most saves in a season? The short answer, of course, is money, since K-Rod (46 saves, 2.86 ERA this season) may be seeking a multiyear deal at, say, $17 million per season. The long answer comes in the form of set-up reliever Jose Arredondo, aka The Next K-Rod (fingers crossed).
Is it premature to lump Arredondo with one of the most prolific closers of all time? You bet. The comparison may even serve as an insult to Rodriguez, as well. But looking at the numbers, there are remarkable similarities between Rodriguez, circa 2003 (his first full season in the bigs), and Arredondo in 2008:
Francisco Rodriguez -- 2003
Height/Weight: 6'0, 185
W/L record: 8-3; 95 Ks and 35 walks in 86 innings; 2 saves; 3.03 ERA and 0.99 WHIP
Jose Arredondo -- 2008
Height/Weight: 6'0, 175
W/L record: 4-0; 32 Ks and 13 walks in 39 innings; 0.92 ERA and 0.99 WHIP
The verdict: Assuming K-Rod is playing elsewhere in '09, Arredondo has the potential to post 32-36 saves on the contending Angels, with a 2.31 ERA and 1.19 WHIP next season (comparable numbers to K-Rod's first season as Anaheim's closer in 2004).
That, in this high-tech age of FieldTurf and "Flubber" fields, I am shocked the Steelers and Eagles still play on natural grass in their respective stadiums. To play on grass in Southern California -- like at The Rose Bowl -- is one thing, but it's only August and the Heniz Field and Lincoln Financial Field surfaces are already in their unplayable-in-December state. Seriously, what's the holdup in installing FieldTurf at both places?
Watching Carolina-Philadelphia battle on The Linc's chewed-up field last night (granted, it was pouring rain; but that's no excuse) was brutal, for sure. But nothing could ever supplant the nausea surrounding the Steelers' 3-0 home win against the Dolphins last year -- in a setting more fitting for the University of Michigan's famous Mud Bowl ... or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Hounds Of The Baskerville" than football. Hmmm ... maybe this is why I should recommend trading Big Ben or Santonio Holmes by late October -- before The Moors (or Moops) kick in.
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