Philip Rivers: AP
Hope you saw the game last night, where the San Diego Chargers outlasted the Seattle Seahawks 18-17 in a Super Bowl preview.
Hey, I've got to sell this game somehow. After all, for fantasy purposes, the biggest impact player on each team, Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck and Chargers all-world rusher LaDainian Tomlinson, sat out. Hasselbeck has a cranky back, but still phoned in during the television broadcast to say that he'll be ready for the opener. Tomlinson, according to reports, was simply held out for precautionary reasons. No worries here.
Despite the sitting stars, we learned a few things about both teams. For Seattle, Nate Burleson is going to be the team's most fantasy-relevant receiver until either Bobby Engram or Deion Branch returns from injury. On the opening series Burleson made a nice grab, bounced off a would-be tackle and took it 68 yards to the house. He'll start the season healthy and the team's clear No. 1 threat. In the backfield, Maurice Morris got a surprise start and ripped off a few nice runs, finishing with five carries for 31 yards. Fellow running back Julius Jones hobbled off the field in the first quarter, re-entered a few plays later, and was generally mediocre while finishing with eight carries for 30 yards. (To recap, I'm not drafting Jones in any of my leagues. It's not personal. I just think he's going to be the fantasy equivalent of this.)
For the Chargers, with L.T. out the focus was on one player, quarterbackPhilip Rivers. Teams are going to stack the line all year in an effort to stop Tomlinson, so it will fall to Rivers to make defenses pay. Despite a nice night on Monday, it's still hard to see Rivers rebounding from offseason knee surgery to take a big step forward as a passer. I expect something similar to last year's numbers, making Rivers a backup in fantasy leagues.
The other guy that caught my eye, as Seahawks defenders struggled to catch him, was jitterbug running back Darren Sproles, who finished with 102 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries. At 5-6, 181 pounds, Sproles will probably never be an every-down rusher in the NFL, but if you own L.T., Sproles is the guy you need to take at the end of the draft to protect your investment. If L.T. ever does miss time, rookie masher Jacob Hester would be the goal-line back and spell Sproles. Hester also looked pretty good Monday night while rumbling nine times for 21 yards and a score.
Perhaps the most volatile position this preseason has been wide receiver, where several top players are coping with nagging injuries, or faced with unhealthy quarterbacks. Consequently this list has become fluid just as fantasy draft season heats up.
1) Randy Moss, Patriots. Oh, sure, Tom Brady is suffering from a mysterious foot injury, but there's no reason to believe the Pats' QB won't be ready for opening day -- yet.
2) Terrell Owens, Cowboys. Hard to believe T.O. has the least amount of drama of anyone on this list. Also, in case you were wondering, he continues to be utterly transcendent on HBO's Hard Knocks.
3) Reggie Wayne, Colts. He's clearly The Guy in Indy, but this ranking could quickly plummet if Peyton Manning doesn't return from knee surgery in top form.
4) Marques Colston, Saints. Colston's battling a rib injury, but all systems are go for the regular season. The arrival of Jeremy Shockey should only help free the dynamic Colston for more deep throws.
5) Andre Johnson, Texans. Looking close to healthy just in time for the regular season. This offense has the potential for fireworks, and I wouldn't be surprised if Johnson finishes the year No. 2 behind Moss among all WRs.
6) Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals. Matt Leinart stunk on Saturday, essentially handing the starting gig to the not-yet-fossilized Kurt Warner and boosting Fitz's stock in process.
7) Braylon Edwards, Browns. Still on the shelf healing a stupid cut on his foot. QB Derek Anderson, is also dinged. Edwards could have a great year, but the stars aren't exactly lining up.
8) Torry Holt, Rams. Last year Holt finished with the quietest 93 receptions, 1,189 yards and seven TDs you'll ever see. The Rams offense should be much better in '08.
9) Santonio Holmes, Steelers. What's a top 10 list without at least one surprise? Holmes enters his third year with a blossoming quarterback and all the breakout potential in the world.
10) T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Bengals. Chad Johnson's shoulder injury further cements Housh's status as the guy you want in Cincy. But he's also battling his own hamstring problem (or is he?), and could get off to a slow start. He's hanging on to my 10th spot by a thread.
For today's trivia question we'll continue with those volatile fantasy wide receivers. Using a standard scoring league (one point for every 10 yards, six points per TD) as a model, how many times since 2000 has the NFL's two highest-scoring receivers repeated as fantasy's top duo the following season? And who were they?
James Hardy: Jerome Davis/Icon SMI
It's fun to draft rookies. Even though it's often little more than a crapshoot, it's cool to have unpredictable, sexy names littered on your roster heading into the season. This year's draft class is loaded with rookies who will be called on to fill big roles. But who will be the biggest difference-makers? Pigskinaddiction.com ranks every rookie top to bottom for the upcoming season. Their biggest surprise might be Bills rookie WR James Hardy at No. 7 overall -- rookie receivers rarely make much of an impact (except for this one). Will Hardy be any different?
Too little time between picks can be a drag in fantasy drafts. If you're unable to assemble your league in a man-room for a boozy, draft party (still the best option), you're probably going to end up drafting in some sort of online lobby. In this format you might get a minute or two between picks, all while praying your high-speed internet doesn't glitch and select Jon Kitna (whom I despise) in Round 1. I've had many friends screw up picks thanks to faulty Internet.
This week I learned of an alternative. A group of my former colleagues have a league where the draft allows for 12 hours between picks. (I think they started Round 1 a couple of weeks ago). When a pick is made, that person sends a league-wide email, and the next person is on the clock -- with 12 hours to pick before being skipped. Not a bad way to involve folks without high-speed, or to make the draft even more dramatic (and filled with vindictive e-mail trash talk.) Do you have a fun, interesting twist on your league draft? Drop me an email, and I'll print the best ideas in a future column.
A fantasy repeat of top two receivers has occurred just once this millennium, in 2001 and 2002, when Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens finished 1-2 in fantasy points among wide receivers. Incidentally, since Harrison in '02, no wide receiver has gone back-to-back in the top spot. (The rundown of the highest scoring WRs: Randy Moss in '03; Mushin Muhammad in 04; Steve Smith in '05; Marvin Harrison in '06; Randy Moss in '07)
So, do you still feel good about picking Randy Moss in the first round this year? Yeah, me too?
Relax, this headline is a joke. I love baseball, but this is a football-focused column because so many drafts will take place in the coming days. Regardless, there were a few interesting baseball notes from the past 24 hours. First, the Twins plucked reliever Eddie Guardado off waivers from the Rangers and will use him in middle relief. Everyday Eddie was closing in Texas, a role will now likely fall to Frank Francisco. If you need saves, go get him.
Also, Mets No. 3 starter John Maine was placed on the 15-day DL with a bone spur in his shoulder and could miss the rest of the season. Maine spent time on the DL earlier this month, so his fantasy owners are probably used to life without him.
We've got a few intriguing matchups for Tuesday night. The Red Sox play the Yankees, with Tim Wakefield facing Andy Pettitte in New York. I'm interested to see how Wakefield's knuckleball flutters in his first game back from the 15-day DL. And if he's on your fantasy team, no, I wouldn't start him tonight.
Also in the AL, two of the league's big guns square off when Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays face James Shields and the AL East-leading Rays. Both pitchers are extremely efficient, and don't be surprised if this one's over in about two-and-a-half hours. Obviously, each of these guys should be active in your fantasy lineup at all times.
A final note from the AL: Be sure to activate all of your Indians, as the Tigers will trot out newbie Chris Lambert tonight to face Cy Young candidateCliff Lee. Yikes.
In the National League, Pedro Martinez has looked good since coming off the DL earlier this month (3.16 ERA in five starts). He'll face the Phillies at the Citizens Bank Park launching pad. He's a risky play, but of course, he's also an exciting one.
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.