For the most part fantasy football owners have a deep-seated streak of pessimism stemming from a past bout of bad luck. Most have a good reason, whether it was losing a top pick like Tom Brady to a freak injury in the first game of the 2008 season, having a running back lose his job due to the meteoric rise of a teammate or simply picking a player who was not worth their draft position. So we decided to beat you to the punch (to the gut) and diagnose the worst-case scenario for the Top 25 players in the 2012 SI Fantasy Football Preview Issue, available on newsstands now. Obviously, for each player a severe, season-ending malady is the true worst-case scenario, but short of that, here are plausible circumstances that could render each superstar fantasy player a bust. This week we're covering players 1 through 10. Next week it'll be 11 through 25. Naysayers rejoice.
1. Ray Rice, RB, Ravens. There's always a chance of a letdown when a player signs a rich contract like Rice's five-year, $40-million deal with Baltimore. But I'd be more worried about wear and tear on a back who's endured 350 touches each of the last two years and is backed up only by rookie Bernard Pierce and bruising Anthony Allen.
2. LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles. Last season's "Dream Team" fiasco should prove that it's dangerous to expect too much from the Eagles, although McCoy is about as iron-clad a stud as there is. However, if Michael Vick ends up channeling his inner runner and sets his sights more on running than passing -- especially in the Red Zone -- then McCoy's value will take a big hit.
3. Arian Foster, RB, Texans. There are a few red flags with arguably the league's best running back (when fully healthy). Foster has a history of bad hamstrings and has just one full 16-game schedule to his credit. Also clouding the picture is the presence of possibly the league's best backup running back, Ben Tate, who's around and ready to step up, either in a timeshare or a preserve-Foster-for-the-playoffs situation.
4. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers. It seems like the Packers haven't had a strong running game since Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor and Elijah Pitts were creating clouds of dust all over the NFL. It's possible that James Starks will be relied upon to carry more of a load for the offense in an effort to alleviate some pressure on an overworked defense. It's also possible that Greg Jennings' '11 slump was not an anomaly, Jermichael Finley's career curve could be trending downward and Jordy Nelson isn't as good as his insane 15-touchdown performance last year made him out to be.
5. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots. Tom Terrific is the poster child for injuries that destroy fantasy seasons and he certainly won't miss the departed Chad (85 en Español) Johnson. Stevan Ridley looks great early in camp and could be a factor for the Patriots this season, cutting into Brady's passing yardage. The last time a Pats' back ran more than 325 times was when Corey Dillon gained 1,635 yards with 12 TDs in 2004. That year Brady threw for just 3,692 yards and 28 TDs. Also, having a defense that allowed a league-worst 428.4 yards from scrimmage per game can't sit well with Bill Belichick. The one way to remedy that is to hold the ball longer on offense with more emphasis on running.
6. Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions. The Madden Curse is just one of the factors that could end up plaguing Johnson, far and away the league's wide best receiver. Another is the fragility of quarterback Matthew Stafford, a possible complete lack of a running game and the emergence of Titus Young, Ryan Broyles and Brandon Pettigrew to share more of the passing game load.
7. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks. Off the field issues have plagued Lynch once again as his pending DUI case makes him vulnerable to league suspension. He's also someone who wore out his welcome with the Bills and the honeymoon could be over in Seattle just as quickly as a result of any incident or clash with the coaching staff. Don't sleep on running back Robert Turbin, who could push Lynch for carries much like Fred Jackson did in Buffalo.
8. Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions. The breakout quarterback of 2011 managed to more than double his career games played total, going from 13 through his first two seasons all the way to 29 after finally completing a slate. Many teams that take a big step forward like the Lions did in 2011 inevitably take a step back the following season. Stafford will have to avoid complacency and any feeling of invincibility. Already lacking a reliable running back, if Megatron goes down, all bets are off.
9. Drew Brees, QB, Saints. The heart and soul of the Big Easy sports scene goes into the 2012 season promoting a Saints vs. the world attitude because of the suspensions handed down by the league as part of the infamous Bounty-Gate. The biggest loss from the New Orleans attack is head coach Sean Payton and his creative play-calling, although Brees is capable of calling plays and setting up game plans as well as any quarterback in the league. How big an impact remains to be seen. Also, it's hard to overlook New Orleans' impressive crop of running backs (Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Darren Sproles), who if all remain healthy, could demand that the Saints run the ball more than in recent seasons.
10. Cam Newton, QB, Panthers. Newton took the league by storm, putting up a mind-boggling 299.1 passing yards with 11 passing touchdowns in his first eight NFL games. The second eight games were a little more in line with the expectations for most rookies, with 207.3 yards per contest and 10 touchdowns. Did the league catch up with him, and if so, do the Panthers have enough offensive firepower surrounding him to make the necessary adjustments?