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Fantasy Clicks: Breaking down the '09 NFL schedules

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Recent Fantasy Clicks 4-21-09: Be Like Ike? 4-20-09: The Utlimate Fantasy Catch-22 4-17-09: Cyclist Of The Century 4-15-09: NFL Slices Of Heaven, Part II 4-13-09: All Hail The Check-Swing King 4-10-09: Welcome To Adventureland 4-08-09: NFL Slices Of Heaven 4-06-09: Opening Night Revelations 4-03-09: Draft Night Revelations, Part II 3-30-09: Draft Night Revelations, Part I 3-27-09: Draft Rules To Live By 3-23-09: Catch A Rising Star 3-20-09: Look Out For Pick No. 1 ... and 24 3-18-09: PVR Perfect 3-17-09: Don't Forget About Me 3-13-09: Welcome To Spring Break 3-12-09: LT2 Losing His Charge 3-11-09: Sudden Impact 3-09-09: Hip, Hip ... Hurry Back, A-Rod 3-06-09: Revenge Of The Cyst 3-05-09: A Disappointing Deadline Day 3-04-09: Cosmic Charlie 3-02-09: Aces In The Hole 2-27-09: Depth Perceptions 2-23-09: NFL Combine Revelations 2-20-09: Designated Long Drivers 2-19-09: The Brady Hunch 2-16-09: Seeking Sweet Relief 2-13-09: Sneak peek at an MLB mock draft 2-12-09: Boozer's Snoozer Of A Season 2-11-09: Impossible to ignore 2-9-09: The Secret Life of A-Rod 2-6-09: Pick of the 2B litter 2-5-09: Time for a fantasy bailout 2-4-09: Another winged wonder? 2-2-09: Super Bowl Revelations 1-30-09: Super Bowl Clicks 1-29-09: Aussie Re-Open 1-27-09: Fire sale! 1-26-09: Tim Lincecum vs. the world 1-23-09: The can't-miss kid? 1-22-09: Rip off! 1-20-09: No consolation prizes 1-19-09: Championship Sunday Revelations 1-16-09: Into the great wide open 1-15-09: Chickens, a King and free throws 1-13-09: Grab your Skates 1-12-09: Divisional Playoff Revelations 1-09-09: Playoff horse of a different color 1-07-09: Rocky Mountain Low 1-05-09: Wild Card Revelations 1-02-09: Playoff-A-Palooza

Scheduled Maintenance

Matt Schaub: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

With the draft just three days away, you'd think I would have plenty of juicy nuggets for this week's NFL Clicks. But the sad reality is this: We fantasyland "experts" are essentially in a holding pattern right now, temporarily frozen by the uncertainty of where RBs Knowshon Moreno, Chris "Beanie" Wells, Andre Brown and Connecticut's Donald Brown will end up ... which team will take the Round 1 gamble on Florida's Percy Harvin, even though he's neither a classic between-the-tackles rusher nor precise-route-running slot receiver ... OR which premium offensive tackle will call St. Louis home, presumably with the immediate task of keeping Rams QB Marc Bulger standing upright -- and not lying flat on his back after releasing the ball.

The way I see it, the best way to block out the millions of unanswered questions stemming from this weekend's draft -- also known as the Detroit Lions' annual Super Bowl -- is to simply focus on the known quantities involving the coming season. For starters, here's a fantasy-style breakdown of the 2009 schedule:

Clear Sailing Ahead

These teams should have a minimum of 12 weather-friendly games, which is the first step to predicting fantasy goodness (especially with quarterbacks):

St. Louis (The lone exception is Dec. 6 @ Chicago)
Tampa Bay (Dec. 20 @ Seattle serves as the only hindrance)
Arizona (Only Nov. 8 @ Chicago could be a problem)
Houston (How bad can Buffalo actually be on Nov. 1?)
New Orleans (Maybe, just maybe there'll be crummy weather @ Carolina on Jan. 3)


Detroit (This may be a factor in giving Matthew Stafford a spot start at season's end)
San Diego
San Francisco

Kansas City
New England

Ma Nature's A Fickle Mistress

On the flip side ... these clubs should encounter treacherous weather for at least five games, which often serves as the great equalizer with star quarterbacks in fantasyland (See Tom Brady, Week 15 of 2007 vs. N.Y. Jets):

Buffalo (I hope T.O. can catch balls amidst freezing temps, snow and perilous crosswinds
Cleveland (In bad weather, does it really matter who's QB -- Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson?)
Green Bay
N.Y. Giants
N.Y. Jets

Clip & Save

The following is a comprehensive listing (in five classifications) of which teams have the easiest and hardest schedules during the fantasy playoff period of Weeks 14, 15 and 16. The formula accounts for weather, strength/weakness of opposition and home/away considerations: (It goes without saying ... if you're torn between two QBs come draft day, this could easily be the tiebreaker)

Tier I -- The Easiest
1. Arizona (@ 49ers, @ Lions, vs. Rams -- you won't find a less daunting stretch)
2. Houston (@ Seahawks, @ Rams, vs. Dolphins -- Andre Johnson's time to shine)
3. Tennessee (Three straight home games of Rams, Dolphins, Chargers -- yummers!)

Tier II
1. New Orleans
2. Indianapolis
3. Philadelphia
4. San Francisco

Tier III
1. Pittsburgh
2. New England
3. San Diego
4. N.Y. Giants
5. Dallas
6. Oakland
7. Jacksonville
8. Washington
9. Tampa Bay
10. Cincinnati
11. Kansas City
12. Detroit
13. Seattle
14. St. Louis

Tier IV
1. Green Bay
2. Buffalo
3. Minnesota

4. N.Y. Jets
5. Denver
6. Miami

7. Atlanta
8. Carolina
9. Chicago

Tier V -- The Hardest
1. Cleveland (Brady Quinn would likely struggle in consistently poor weather)
2. Baltimore (Three games in the northeast -- doesn't bode well for Joe Flacco)

Clip & Save, Part II

Citing the above information, here are my current QB starter rankings, from No. 1 (Drew Brees) ... all the way to No. 32 (Josh Johnson/Byron Leftwich):

1. Drew Brees, Saints
2. Tom Brady, Patriots
3. Peyton Manning, Colts
4. Philip Rivers, Chargers
5. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
6. Kurt Warner, Cardinals
7. Donovan McNabb, Eagles (could be top-5 with the addition of OT Jason Peters
8. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
9. Matt Schaub, Texans
10. Trent Edwards, Bills (I'm buying T.O./Lee Evans in '09)
11. Tony Romo, Cowboys (I've already seen the Roy Williams show -- no thanks)
12. Jay Cutler, Bears
13. Matt Ryan, Falcons
14. Matt Cassel, Chiefs
15. Eli Manning, Giants
16. Carson Palmer, Bengals
17. Derek Anderson, Browns
18. Sage Rosenfels, Vikings
19. Jason Campbell, Redskins
20. JaMarcus Russell, Raiders (would rise with Michael Crabtree on board)
21. Kyle Orton, Broncos
22. Daunte Culpepper, Lions
23. Jake Delhomme, Panthers
24. Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks
25. Marc Bulger, Rams
26. Joe Flacco, Ravens
27. Chad Pennington, Dolphins
28. Kellen Clemens, Jets
29. Kerry Collins, Titans
30. Shaun Hill, 49ers
31. David Garrard, Jaguars
32. Josh Johnson/Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers (May the better man win.)

PPR Madness

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SI Recommends

Here are my preseason RB rankings for Points Per Reception leagues, from No. 1 (Brian Westbrook) to No. 32 (Michael Bush). This list could be reshuffled once rookies-to-be Percy Harvin, "Beanie" Wells, Knowshon Moreno, Donald Brown, Shonn Greene, Andre Brown, etc. find definitive homes:

1. Brian Westbrook, Eagles (still the NFL's best 2,200-total-yard threat)
2. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
3. Matt Forte, Bears
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (70 catches is quite doable this season)
5. Michael Turner, Falcons
6. Steven Jackson, Rams
7. Frank Gore, 49ers
8. Reggie Bush, Saints (would be No. 3 or 4 if he wasn't so injury-prone)
9. Marion Barber, Cowboys
10. Chris Johnson, Titans (absolutely unstoppable in the open field)
11. Darren McFadden, Raiders
12. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
13. Darren Sproles, Chargers
14. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
15. Clinton Portis, Redskins
16. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers (will likely move up if at 100 percent this summer)
17. Willie Parker, Steelers
18. Marshawn Lynch, Bills
19. Kevin Smith, Lions
20. Larry Johnson, Chiefs
21. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins
22. Ryan Grant, Packers
23. Pierre Thomas, Saints (It feels like I'm disrespecting him here)
24. Percy Harvin, Yet-to-be-drafted rookie (could dominate in the right system)
25. Steve Slaton, Texans
26. Thomas Jones, Jets
27. Correll Buckhalter, Broncos (has Westbrook-like potential ... now that he's no longer behind him)
28. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
29. Willis McGahee, Ravens
30. Jamal Lewis, Browns
31. Felix Jones, Cowboys
32. Michael Bush, Raiders

This Gravy Train's Last Stop

Torry Holt: AP

At first blush, the Torry Holt-Jaguars union looks like a match made in heaven. Holt needed to land one last big contract (three years, $20 million), while maintaining his standing as a No. 1 receiving option. For Jacksonville, it's a chance to seriously upgrade a deficient WR corps and to realistically make the playoffs again behind an accomplished pass-catcher who's also a borderline Hall of Famer (although with Cris Carterstill waiting for his Canton invite, what chance does T-Holt have?).

But a closer look reveals this relationship will likely be a case of too little, too late for both parties.

Think about it: From 2000-07, Holt averaged 94 catches, 1,385 receiving yards and eight TDs a season for the high-flying Rams. But last year, while trying to overcome the normal wear-and-tear of age and a balky knee, Holt finished with only 64 catches, 796 yards and three touchdowns. To be fair, Holt (now 33) could be 100 percent this summer and, given his track record of success, has earned the proverbial "free pass" to bounce back from one bad year. But he doesn't have a supporting cast at wide receiver -- unless you count RB Maurice Jones-Drew (62 catches in '08), the forgettable Dennis Northcutt and maybe, just maybe Marcedes Lewis (41 catches, 489 yards last season) at tight end -- and he no longer possesses the explosion to beat unbalanced coverages on every possession. And if the Jaguars had kept Reggie Williams and Matt Jones around, from a football perspective only (Jones' personal problems are well-documented, so commend Jacksonville for taking a stand and dumping him) ... Holt would have made better sense as a No. 2 or 3 wide receiver.

One last thing: Holt rose to bankable prominence while playing on Flubber-like turf (like the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis or Qwest Field in Seattle). On the flip side, he hasn't posted 100-plus receiving yards on natural grass since Nov. 17, 2005 (10 catches, 130 yards, 1 TD at Houston); and Jacksonville just happens to play on lush green grass at its home stadium.

There's no doubt Holt will benefit from the presence of MJD at running back (the reverse is true, as well). But he's already used to playing with a top-flight running back (Marshall Faulk, Steven Jackson) and knows how to execute hundreds of "decoy" pass routes -- all in the name of creating wider rushing lanes for the backfield stud. But factoring in his underwhelming performance from last season, his weary legs and the unwanted pressure of carrying an entire passing attack, I cannot envision Holt being a comfortable lock for anything more than 62 catches, 770 receiving yards and four touchdowns. And that kind of pie-in-the-sky production barely warrants a mid-round pick in fantasyland drafts.

Mock Draft Madness

I may still be riding high as a fantasy football writer, but I'm hardly an expert at forecasting the NFL Draft. Luckily, these Web sites have been busy reading the draft-day leaves for us:

**'s Don Banks
**Great Blue North Draft Report
**CBS Sports
**AOL Fanhouse
**Yahoo! Sports
**NFL Draft Site
**The New NFL Draft Report
**NFL Draft Blitz
**The Football Expert
NFL Draft King

At Last ... Predictions!

Using the time-tested (and old-fogey-NFL-scout-approved) Eye Test, these are my fantasyland creme-de-la-creme picks for the Class of 2009 ... while looking four years into the future:

Come 2013, the top five fantasyland quarterbacks will be ... (in order of greatness)
1. Matthew Stafford, Georgia
2. Mark Sanchez, USC
3. Josh Freeman, Kansas State
4. Rhett Bomar, Sam Houston State
5. Pat White, West Virginia

Come 2013, the top five fantasyland running backs will be ...
1. Shonn Greene, Iowa
2. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
3. LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh
4. Jeremiah Johnson, Oregon
5. Chris "Beanie" Wells, Ohio State

Come 2013, the top five fantasyland wide receivers will be ...
1. Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
2. Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
3. Percy Harvin, Florida
4. Kenny Britt, Rutgers
5. Austin Collie, BYU

Come 2013, the top five fantasyland tight ends will be ...
1. Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State
2. Chase Coffman, Missouri
3. Cornelius Ingram, Florida
4. Connor Barwin, Cincinnati
5. Travis Beckum, Wisconsin

Let History Be Our Guide

Since this is Draft Week ... here's a list of the top-7 draft classes since 1977 (one per franchise -- which explains why the 49ers' 1981 rookie ensemble, starring Ronnie Lott, regrettably isn't featured in the countdown):

#1 -- 1986 San Francisco 49ers (numbers below represent order taken by team)
1 Larry Roberts, DE Alabama
2 Tom Rathman, RB Nebraska
3 Tim McKyer, DB Texas-Arlington
4 John Taylor, WR Delaware State
5 Charles Haley DE James Madison
6 Steve Wallace, OT Auburn
7 Kevin Fagan, DT Miami (FL)
9 Don Griffin, DB Middle Tennessee State

Summary: Niners mastermind Bill Walsh continually traded down with teams and acquired more picks. (He didn't make his first choice, Larry Roberts, until the 39th slot.) With value picks, he landed two future O-line starters (Steve Wallace/Kevin Fagan), two playmaking defensive backs (Tim McKyer, Don Griffin), the only receiver in NFL history to register two 90-yard-plus TD catches in the same game (John Taylor), the only five-time Super Bowl champion in NFL history (Charles Haley) and the archetypal fullback for the West Coast offense (Tom Rathman). Well played!

#2 -- 1991 Dallas Cowboys
1 Russell Maryland, DT Miami (FL)
2 Alvin Harper, WR Tennessee
3 Kelvin Pritchett, DT Mississippi (traded to Detroit)
4 Dixon Edwards, LB Michigan State
5 Godfrey Miles, LB Florida
7 Erik Williams, OT Central State (OH)
8 Curvin Richards, RB Pittsburgh
9 Bill Musgrave, QB Oregon
12 Darrick Brownlow, LB Illinois
14 Leon Lett, DT Emporia State
18 Larry Brown, DB Texas Christian

Summary: Jimmy Johnson pulled phenomenal coups in taking Erik Williams (four Pro Bowls), Leon Lett (two Pro Bowls) and Super Bowl XXIX MVP Larry Brown -- with none coming before Round 3. His prior selections of Russell Maryland, Alvin Harper, Dixon Edwards, Godfrey Miles and Darrick Brownlow were all frontline contributors. Even Hill, Musgrave and Richards had moderate success as NFL survivors.

#3 -- 1983 Chicago Bears
1 Jimbo Covert, OT Pittsburgh
2 Willie Gault, WR Tennessee
3 Mike Richardson, DB Arizona State
4 Dave Duerson, DB Notre Dame
5 Tom Thayer, C Notre Dame
7 Richard Dent, DE Tennessee State
8 Mark Bortz, G Iowa

Summary: Ever wonder how the Bears captured seven NFC Central titles between 1984 and 1991? Sure, Chicago already had Walter Payton, Jim McMahon, Mike Singletary, Dan Hampton and, of course, coach Mike Ditka. But the club's development rocketed off the success of the '83 class -- which produced six starters and one reserve (Mike Richardson) for the Bears' 1985 championship team. The crown jewel was Dent, who amassed 137.5 sacks in 15 seasons and served as the perfect "rush end" for Buddy Ryan's feared "46" defense.

#4 -- 1981 Washington Redskins
1 Mark May, OT Pittsburgh
2 Russ Grimm, C Pittsburgh (moved to guard in the pros)
3 Tom Flick, QB Washington
4 Dexter Manley, DE Oklahoma State
7 Charlie Brown, WR South Carolina State
8 Darryl Grant, OG Rice
12 Clint Didier, TE Portland State

Summary: Let this class be a lesson for all GMs teetering back-and-forth on whom to take come draft day: When in doubt, build up the trenches. With three of their first four picks, the prudent Redskins grabbed Mark May (one Pro Bowl, two Super Bowl rings), Russ Grimm (four Pro Bowls, two Super Bowl rings and a member of the All-Decade Team for the '90s) and Dexter Manley (97.5 career sacks). Charlie Brown made two Pro Bowls, collected 3,548 total receiving yards (in just six seasons) and played a major role on the Redskins' juggernaut teams of 1982 and '83 (two Super Bowls, one championship). Flick was a four-year NFL survivor. Clint Didier was a steal as Washington's last pick. He would finish with only 141 career catches and 21 TDs; but here's a little tidbit: Didier always seemed to be a Cowboys killer -- the best kind of Redskins role player.

#5 -- 1996 Baltimore Ravens
1 Jonathan Ogden, OT UCLA
2 Ray Lewis, LB Miami (FL)
4 Jermaine Lewis, WR Maryland

Summary: The Ravens' inaugural draft class lacks quality depth, for sure. But what's to debate? Ray Lewis (10 Pro Bowls, six-time All Pro, two Defensive Player of the Year awards and one Super Bowl title) and Jonathan Ogden (11-time Pro Bowler at left tackle and one Super Bowl ring) are lead-pipe-cinch Hall of Famers. Plus, Jermaine Lewis was a solid receiver/kick returner for 10 seasons.

#6 -- 1995 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1 Warren Sapp, DT Miami (FL)
2 Derrick Brooks, LB Florida State
5 Clifton Abraham, DB Florida State

Summary: Do the NFL legacies of Melvin Johnson, Jerry Wilson, Wardell Rouse, Steve Ingram and Jeffrey Rodgers -- Tampa Bay's other selections in '95 -- really even matter to Bucs fans? That spring, the club grabbed Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp -- easily the Nos. 2 and 3 best defenders in franchise history and odds-on choices for the Hall of Fame. (Lee Roy Selmon, the lone Tampa Bay player in the Hall, owns the top spot.) And thanks to Sapp, Brooks, John Lynch, Jon Gruden, Monte Kiffin, et al, the Buccaneers also won a Super Bowl in 2002.

#7 -- 2004 San Diego Chargers
1 Philip Rivers, (Eli Manning trade) QB North Carolina State
2 Igor Olshansky, DT Oregon
3 Nate Kaeding, K Iowa
4 Nick Hardwick, C Purdue
5 Shaun Phillips, DE Purdue
7 Michael Turner, RB Northern Illinois
10 Shane Olivea, OT Ohio State

Summary: The '04 class looks better and better each year. Shane Olivea and Nick Hardwick are starters on the offensive line. Shaun Phillips and Igor Olshansky are premier components to one of the NFL's best defenses. Michael Turner was once a supreme backup runner to LaDainian Tomlinson ... and now, on the heels of amassing 1,699 rushing yards with Atlanta in '08, he might be the No. 2 RB drafted in fantasyland this summer (behind Adrian Peterson, of course). Nate Kaeding is one of the league's most prolific kickers. Last but not least, Philip Rivers (4,009 yards passing, 34 TDs in '08) could someday make Chargers fans forget about Hall of Famer Dan Fouts (admittedly ambitious thinking). Here's a bonus: the famous Rivers-Eli Manning swap in 2004 (warranting extra picks) subsequently led to the drafting of Shawne Merriman in 2005.

I Cannot Leave Without Asking ...

... How is it possible that Charley Casserly is spending his days as a top-notch analyst for The NFL Network and NOT running a franchise right now? The man played a significant role in building/shaping the Redskins' three Super Bowl-winning teams (1982, 1987, 1991) and then accelerated the Texans' playoff timetable with a remarkable 2006 draft -- just days before he would leave the club on, ahem, his own volition. Now, if Casserly is permanently retired as a team executive and wants to spend the next 10-15 years enjoying the club-med lifestyle of TV land, then more power to him. After all, I certainly enjoy his cutting-edge insight and anecdotes of drafts gone by. But if he longs for one more chance at transforming a down-and-out club into a championship contender, then he definitely deserves another opportunity to show his stuff. God knows the city of Houston will owe him a debt of gratitude this winter ... just seconds after the Texans clinch their first postseason berth.

Casserly's 2006 Draft
1 Mario Williams DE North Carolina State (better pick than Reggie Bush and Vince Young)
2 DeMeco Ryans LB Alabama (perhaps a top-7 linebacker right now)
3 Charles Spencer OT Pittsburgh (now with the Jaguars)
4 Eric Winston OT Miami (FL) (formidable starter for years to come)
5 Owen Daniels TE Wisconsin (arguably Matt Schaub's second-favorite target)
6 Wali Lundy RB Virginia

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