The NFC promises to provide plenty of interesting storylines this season. The defending Super Bowl champs (the Giants) reside here. The current stars of HBO's Hard Knocks (the Cowboys) are hanging out in this conference. And a team which believed a future Hall of Fame QB who finished second in the MVP voting last season wasn't good enough to start for them (the Packers) will be battling here as well.
The storylines are everywhere, but what are the most pertinent questions facing each of these teams this season? Let's take a look.
Can Tony Romo lead the Cowboys to the promised land?
He's dating Jessica Simpson. He's the pride and joy of Burlington, Wis. Romo appears to have it all but he's yet to step up and lead the Cowboys in the playoffs. A fumbled snap on a field-goal attempt two years ago and a meltdown against the Giants last season left Romo and the Cowboys on the outside looking in while others cashed in during the postseason. Romo has plenty of talent, great weapons to work with and Dallas has one of the league's most improved defenses. Romo's a glamour boy but this is the season he needs to prove he can be a big-time winner in the playoffs.
Will Eli Manning shed his second-half fantasy fades?
Manning quieted a lot of critics with a strong run to the Super Bowl championship last season. But he still needs to prove to fantasy owners he can be a consistent performer. He has struggled in the second half of every season and that has fantasy owners concerned he may be more hype than production when they need him most. Manning is being ranked as a top-10 QB in many circles, but to finish there he needs to show the calm authority he displayed in the playoffs and Super Bowl last year is a sign of what he'll do for the entire 16-game schedule in 2008.
Can Donovan McNabb stay healthy?
No. McNabb hasn't played an entire season since '03 and he has missed a combined 15 games the past three years. When healthy, he's an elite fantasy QB. But the problem is you know he won't make it through a full season, so if you draft him, you have to take a strong backup QB earlier than you otherwise might want to so you're covered when injury strikes McNabb. And injury will strike him again this season. Count on it.
Do the Redskins have any WRs worth pursuing on draft day?
Not really. Santana Moss is the perpetual tease. He'll put up some huge games, then vanish for several more and get injured for a few others. He can't be trusted, and I'd only consider him as a WR3 if there were no other interesting options available. Antwaan Randle El looked like an NFL wide receiver for the first time in his career last season but he's not a strong fantasy option even in really large leagues. The two rookies (Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly) look like they will struggle to adjust to the NFL this season and aren't worthy of consideration in redraft leagues.
Does it matter who starts for the Bears?
Frankly, Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton are awful. No matter who wins the job to open the season, it's a safe bet the other one will get a chance to start at some point. This offense is dreadful and it starts with two of the weakest starting QB options in the league. I can't think of a single reason why either of these guys would be drafted in any fantasy league this year unless you're in a league which has a mandatory rule you have to draft someone named Rex or Kyle.
Is Kevin Smith the real deal?
Plenty of rookie RBs are getting a lot of hype this season, but Smith is flying way under the radar. The reports out of camp have been positive, but I keep having this nagging feeling that Smith is this year's Brandon Jackson. A mediocre at best RB thrust into a starting role and will end up being a disappointment. I think he's a little better than Jackson but I'm not very optimistic he'll deliver anything more than decent RB3 production. Proceed with caution.
Can Aaron Rodgers make Packers fans forget Brett Favre?
Good luck with that one, Aaron. Rodgers has not looked very good in the early stages of camp and the preseason and if he struggles out of the gate, the heat will be turned up considerably. The Packers have Super Bowl aspirations this season but they cannot afford mediocrity or worse at the QB position. Rodgers will struggle -- all first-time starting QBs do -- but the Packers cannot afford to have him struggle a lot. If he does, their season will be over.
Is Adrian Peterson the No. 2 RB in fantasy this year?
He's ultra-talented, but as long as Chester Taylor remains in the picture, and as long as Peterson isn't a big factor in the passing game, it will be tough for Peterson to make a strong run at the No. 1 spot in RB scoring, much less finish No. 2. If you're in a PPR league, his value takes a hit. He makes a great RB1, but he isn't the slam-dunk No. 2 pick in drafts many have made him out to be this season.
Will Michael Turner be a valuable fantasy RB?
You bet. Yes this is a rocky situation as the Falcons are rebuilding. But Turner can play. He torched the Colts in the second preseason game and brings power and solid speed to the position. The Falcons lavished Turner with a $34.5 million deal in the offseason and he'll reward his fantasy owners with Top 20 production this season.
Is Jake Delhomme healthy?
So far, so good for Delhomme as he attempts to return from Tommy John surgery. He was off to a blistering start last season before getting hurt and he's always been a fantasy QB who flew way under the radar but delivered quality production. Even without Steve Smith for the first two games, Delhomme is looking good if he can remain healthy. The best part is you can get him late in drafts right now as your backup, and he's one of the few backup QBs with legitimate top-10 potential. That's great value.
Is Reggie Bush going to live up to his hype?
Bush failed to take a step forward in his second season in '07 but he still finished as a top 15 RB in most Pont-Per-Reception formats. So while he may be frustrating Saints fans, he's giving fantasy owners in those leagues plenty of production. The best part about Bush is he's a great value pick in PPR leagues right now as you can grab him at the end of the second round. I'm starting to have my doubts he'll live up to all of the potential bestowed upon him when he entered the league, but it's hard to ignore the fact he will catch 80-plus passes a season if he can stay healthy. And in fantasy leagues, it's all about production.
Was Earnest Graham's '07 production a mirage?
Nope. Graham isn't a big-time talent by any means but he showed last season he can give the Bucs quality production as both a runner and receiver. Warrick Dunn will steal plenty of receptions but he's no longer a viable everydown RB, so Graham will be the man in Tampa Bay. He's another RB who has represented great value in drafts all year long and I expect that to continue leading up to the start of the season. He has top-10 potential and you can often get him in the fourth or fifth round of drafts. You can't go wrong with that.
Will Matt Leinart or KurtWarner start at QB?
The smart money says Leinart will open as the starter, and Warner will finish the season with the job. This may be Leinart's last chance to show the Cardinals he can be their QB. So far he's been a disappointment while Warner showed last season he still has the stuff to put up some major numbers. The Cardinals would be better off giving Warner the job, but they have made a huge financial commitment to Leinart and have to give him every opportunity to succeed. I, however, expect him to fail once again.
St. Louis Rams
Is Steven Jackson's holdout a concern?
Very much so. We saw last season with Larry Johnson that a prolonged holdout for an elite RB on a bad team can have disastrous consequences for fantasy owners. Jackson is in a similar situation. He's very talented, but the Rams are a mess, and the longer this drags on the more difficult it will be to draft him in the first round. I had him ranked as a top 4 RB prior to camp, but at this point I'd be reluctant to draft him in the top 10. There's just too much risk involved.
Who will be the 49ers' starting QB?
Who cares? Honestly, as bad as the Bears' QBs are, this group may be worse. Alex Smith is flaming out so badly he could lose his job to J.T. O'Sullivan. Mike Martz has worked magic with every starting QB he's ever had but this is the year his magic runs out.
Is Matt Hasselbeck still a quality fantasy starting QB?
I'm a big Hasselbeck fan, but he'll have his work cut out for him this season. With Bobby Engram out for two months; Deion Branch possibly out until late in the season and a suspect running game, Hasselbeck is lacking big-time weapons and that has dropped him from an underrated fantasy starter to a serviceable backup. He has the talent to surprise, but you shouldn't draft him as your starter hoping that he will.