August 20, 2010

For those who don't have time to consume every word of the expansive Fantasy Football Preview, we'd like to present the 5-Minute Guide to Fantasy Football, in five parts. Think of it as a Reader's Digest approach to fantasy domination. Herewith, a quick look at kickers and defenses.

Garrett Hartley, Saints

His first start late last year saw him make the winning field goal in overtime to beat the Redskins 33-30, and Hartley has been making high pressure kicks ever since for the world champs. Gearing up for his first full season kicking for the Saints, Hartley has the advantage of playing in a dome and plays for arguably the league's most high-octane offense, which gave its kickers nearly six scoring opportunities a game last season. Hartley has just scratched the surface of his potential in his new full-time role.

Matt Prater, Broncos

In the grand fantasy tradition of the Broncos and fantasy football great Jason Elam, it never hurts to kick in the mile-high air, and Prater benefitted by making eight field goals from 40-49 yards and two more from 50+. A slow starter last season, he finished on a tear by hitting 18 of 19 field goal attempts to end 2009 and should only get better.

Robbie Gould, Bears

A solid fantasy starter, Gould usually averages in the mid-20s for field goal attempts and is pretty accurate, making 86 percent of his attempts in 2009. All of that's about to change with Mike Martz's wide-open pass-happy offense in town. Gould owners will cash in on points when the Bears move the ball at will, but bog down inside the 20, allowing for plenty more field goal chances.

Adam Vinatieri, Colts

Despite playing in a dome with a great offense, time is just about up for the 38-year old. Last year hip and knee surgery saddled him most of the year and his leg strength isn't what it used to be. Colts kickers also don't have a great recent history of fantasy scoring, as the offense has been almost too efficient in the red zone, limiting field goal opportunities.

Kris Brown, Texans

After making a career-low 65.6 percent of his kicks, Brown was a mess last season despite playing on a pretty good Houston offense. He will have to hold off free agent Neil Rackers to keep his job.

Rian Lindell, Bills

Nothing against Lindell, who made 85 percent of his kicks last year, but his team doesn't do him many favors. Not only is the Buffalo weather an obstacle for fantasy scoring, but the Bills' anemic offense doesn't help either. It's hard to score when your team ranked 30th in total yards per game.

Jay Feely, Cardinals

Even with a new QB, Arizona has enough skill players such as Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Beanie Wells to move the ball, especially against the defenses in the NFC West. Thanks to the slight downgrade from a possible Hall of Famer in Kurt Warner to unproven Matt Leinart, more field goals and fewer extra points could be in the offing for Feely to make his desert debut.

Nick Folk, Jets

Sure, he suffered a fall from grace in Dallas by missing 10 field goals last year, but with a new team comes a fresh start for the 2007 Pro Bowler. Folk joins a loaded offense that in 2009 was tied for second in the NFL with 36 field goal attempts.

David Buehler, Cowboys

If the team's former kickoff specialist can keep them long and straight down the fairway, Buehler has a chance to score big-time points in Big D. Off-season workouts with John Carney and Chris Boniol probably didn't hurt either.

San Francisco 49ers

Fantasy football's top-scoring defense last year is young and only getting better. Defense-first HC Mike Singletary's charges ranked first in fumble recoveries, third in sacks and fourth in points allowed per game. Switching to a 3-4 scheme, Justin Smith was still sharp on the D-line and MLB Patrick Willis is a force of nature. On returns, new addition Ted Ginn will be a huge factor.

Cincinnati Bengals

A young crew up of up-and-comers had a Top-5 defense last season and has room to grow in 2010. The pass rush will get a nice boost with DE Antwan Odom back healthy and rookie end Carlos Dunlap of Florida in the mix.

San Diego Chargers

First-year defensive coordinator Ron Rivera improved the pass defense from 31st to 11th in 2009. While cornerback Antonio Cromartie was shipped out, playmakers like CBs Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason and LBs Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips are solid. Darren Sproles adds some spice to the return game.

New York Giants

It wasn't that long ago that Big Blue boasted arguably the best pass rush in the league, seemingly year in and year out. But last year this unit allowed 427 points -- third most in the NFL, and gave up 40 points five times.

Carolina Panthers

For a team that couldn't stop the run to begin with, in 2009 (22nd in rushing yards) losing DE Julius Peppers and his 81 career sacks among an exodus of quality defensive starters (Damione Lewis, Na'il Diggs, Hollis Thomas) is going to be rough. A young group with some key pieces to build around (Jon Beason, etc.), the Panthers have plenty of holes to patch, especially on the defensive line.

New England Patriots

Getting long in the teeth is never easy for a one-time near-dynasty. What made things harder was the spate of injuries to the Pats' younger standouts like Jerod Mayo last year. More of a pass rush is needed from this aging unit in transition.

Arizona Cardinals

On the surface it might be a hard sell, especially when your last memory is the Cards allowing 90 combined playoff points in two games. Despite free agency losses, Arizona is still mostly the same team that racked up 43 sacks last season and plays in a lackluster NFC West with an easy 2010 schedule.

Miami Dolphins

Mike Nolan is the new defensive coordinator in Miami after working wonders with the Broncos last season. He'll have free agent jewel Karlos Dansby to build around at LB and have promising sophomore corners Vontae Davis and Sean Smith who showed flashes as rookies.

Chicago Bears

New DC Rod Marinelli's head coaching credentials might be indefensible (ask Lions fans) but he knows his defense, from his days as the DL coach in Tampa Bay. The first-year coordinator doesn't have to be great as long as the Bears stay relatively injury-free for once. Chicago will be helped by the return of LB Brian Urlacher and DL Tommie Harris while newly acquired Julius Peppers could be its best end since Richard Dent.

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