You know that little void in your life that appeared on or around Dec. 28, 2009? The one you tried to fill with playoff pools and NCAA brackets? The one you forgot about a little bit every time Joey Votto hit a home run or Felix Hernandez shut down an opponent, but knew you could never completely get out of your mind? Well my new friends, Thursday night that void disappears. The Vikings and Saints usher in the 2010 NFL and fantasy football seasons. You really couldn't ask for much more from a fantasy perspective than these two teams offer to start the season.
We'll see two players widely recognized as the best at their position (Adrian Peterson and Drew Brees); a running back with top-five potential if his coach would just let him handle goal-line duties (Pierre Thomas); a receiver who has racked up 168 catches for 2,276 yards and 20 touchdowns in his last two fully healthy seasons (Marques Colston); and an offensive line that surrendered the fourth-fewest sacks (Saints, 20) last season against a defense that racked up the most sacks in the league (Vikings, 48). Throw in likely starters Robert Meachem, Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe, the usually entertaining, always preening Brett Favre, an opportunistic Saints defense that had 39 takeaways and an astounding eight touchdowns last season and two teams with Super Bowl aspirations, and we've got a recipe for one of the most exciting season openers in recent memory. And it all happens Thursday night. Finally.
With that in mind, what can we expect all the fantasy-relevant guys to show us?
Adrian Peterson shows why he deserved to keep the top spot on the draft board, even after Chris Johnson ran into the record books last season. With Sidney Rice (hip) out, Harvin an unknown due to his migraine issues and Favre already dealing with a balky ankle, the Vikings should lean on Peterson early and often. Owners who opted for Johnson over All Day will have 72 hours to agonize over the choice they made before their guy takes the field against the Raiders.
Drew Brees shows why he's just Drew Brees. Out of all these "shows why" sections, I wrote this one last. The other ones came to me pretty quickly, but every time I came to Brees I couldn't think of anything to say. And maybe that says everything about America's Favorite Quarterback. He's a passing machine. He pumps out 300-yard, four-touchdown games with the greatest of ease. He's a near-lock to complete 65 percent of his passes. He wins games and helps rejuvenate cities. He probably kisses babies and saves kittens from tall trees in his spare time. Fantasy football has changed in the last five years, but there's always been a certain comfort in having that stud quarterback in your lineup every single week. Brees is the stud of studs.
Marques Colston shows why he's not a top-10 receiver, with help from Robert Meachem. Colston is the No. 1 receiver in arguably the league's best offense. He's a rock-solid option when healthy. We all know Brees doesn't rely on just one receiver (any announcer will tell you that. I promise. Just give him some time.) But what many do not realize is that Meachem outperformed Colston over the second half of last season. Starting in Week 9, Meachem went on to produce 38 catches for 524 yards and seven touchdowns. Colston had 34 receptions for 523 yards and three touchdowns. Meachem's 16 yards per catch were eighth-most for all receivers with at least 40 receptions. He had three catches for at least 40 yards, and another three that went between 36 and 39 yards. Translation: Meachem is deadly on the deep ball. Throw in Thomas and there just aren't enough passes to go around. Colston is great, and I'd love him as my second receiver, but he'll finish the year outside the top-10.
Pierre Thomas shows his immense potential, but Sean Payton limits it. Anyone who invested a pick in Thomas had to do so with the expectation that Payton would broaden the talented back's role in the offense. I'm not saying Thomas wasn't valuable in his place in the running back pecking order. In fact, he's a guy I targeted in my drafts and auctions. But until Payton shows us he's ready to give the goal-line keys to the PT Cruiser, his ceiling remains limited. Thomas will make a few plays Thursday night that will make fans "oooh" and "aaah," but one- and two-yard plunges at the goal-line are a whole lot more valuable than highlight reel plays in fantasy.
Brett Favre shows why last year was his final successful fantasy season. He'll be 41 the second week of October. His ankle is already acting up. He's likely without his best receiver for the first six weeks of the season. He's one of the toughest players in NFL history and one of the last guys to count out, but the ride can't carry on forever. The consecutive games streak makes Favre a risky play as the season wears on. Even if his body might need a week or two off, will he be able to admit it? And if he can't, are you sure you want him starting for your team? I don't, especially in leagues that penalize for interceptions. He's nothing more than a high-end fantasy backup.
Percy Harvin shows why he's such a maddening player to own and Bernard Berrian shows why you should have paid him more attention at the draft table. Harvin is one of the league's most electric players. He's similar to DeSean Jackson in that he's a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and the Vikings get the ball in his hands in a variety of ways. With Rice sidelined, Harvin seems like a slam dunk for more opportunities. And just when he reels you in, the migraines come back. I'm not predicting any migraine-related problems in Week 1, but you know it's going to crop up at some point this season. And with that, the electricity is out.
Meanwhile, Berrian stands to gain the most from Rice's hip injury. Remember, Berrian had 964 yards and seven touchdowns just two years ago with Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson as his quarterbacks. The role of No. 1 receiver may fall to Harvin, but Berrian will likely fill Rice's role in the offense. If you slept on him, you'll regret it come Thursday night. If you happen to own Berrian in any leagues, attempt to sell high the moment the opportunity presents itself. Rice won't be out forever, and is a good bet to be back by Week 6.
Visanthe Shiancoe shows why the tight end pool has never been deeper. According to Mock Draft Central, Shiancoe is currently the 10th tight end off the board in an average fantasy draft. This is a guy who had 566 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. That alone would normally make him higher on nearly all draft boards. What's more, Favre threw at least six touchdown passes in a season to Mark Chmura (twice), Keith Jackson, Bubba Franks (three times) and Donald Lee. However, I've got no problem with seven of the nine tight ends going before Shiancoe (looking at you, Owen Daniels and Zach Miller). We've never had such a boon of talent at the tight end position, something the 10th-ranked tight end, according to ADP, will show us Thursday night.
As for the game itself, no defending champion has lost the Thursday season-opener since the Super Bowl champ started playing in the game in 2004. That streak doesn't end this year. Saints 31, Vikings 17.
This year marks the ninth season the NFL plays its first game on the Thursday before the first full Sunday slate. I was hoping it was the 10th so we could look back at the decade that was, but Paul Tagliabue didn't respond to the letter I wrote him back in 2001. But a nine-year retrospective isn't too bad, is it? That's what I thought. Here's a look at the best fantasy performances from the Thursday season-openers since its inception in '02.
Quarterback:Tom Brady, Sept. 9, 2004 -- Coming off the Patriots' second Super Bowl victory in three years, Brady threw for 335 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-24 win over the Colts, continuing the one-sidedness of his matchups with Peyton Manning.
Honorable mention: Brady and Kerry Collins on Sept. 8, 2005 -- Brady threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns while Collins totaled 265 yards and three scores in the Patriots 30-20 win over the Raiders.
Running back:Joseph Addai, Sept. 6, 2007 -- Addai had 23 carries for 118 yards and a touchdown and added three catches for 25 yards as the defending champion Colts crushed the Saints, 41-10.
Honorable mention:Edgerrin James piled up 142 rushing yards on 30 carries and caught three passes for 29 yards in the Colts 2004 loss to the Patriots. Corey Dillon found the end zone twice and grounded out 63 yards in the Pats' 2005 win over the Raiders.
Wide receiver:Randy Moss, Sept. 8, 2005 and Santonio Holmes, Sept. 10, 2009 -- In one of his few productive games as a Raider, Moss hauled in five receptions for 130 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown, in the Raiders' aforementioned 30-20 loss to the Patriots. Meanwhile, Super Bowl XLIII hero Holmes caught nine passes for 131 yards and a touchdown as the Steelers beat the Titans, 13-10. Another note from that game: Chris Johnson ran for just 57 yards on 15 carries, meaning he had 1,949 rushing yards in the season's final 15 games.
Honorable mention:Plaxico Burress had 10 catches for 133 yards in the Giants' 2008 win over the Redskins.
Tight end: After winning one of the more boring Super Bowls in recent memory, the Steelers, behind Charlie Batch, kicked off the '06 season by beating the Dolphins, 28-17. Heath Miller capped the game with an 87-yard touchdown from Chaz.
Defense: For all you IDP fools out there, John Abraham had six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble as his Jets fell to the Redskins 16-13 on Sept. 4, 2003. Troy Polamalu notched 10 tackles, picked off a pass and forced a fumble in the Steelers' 2006 win over the Dolphins. And Jamie Winborn rolled up 12 tackles and a sack as the 49ers beat the Giants in the inaugural Thursday night season opener way back on Sept. 5, 2002. We love to come full circle here at Fantasy Clicks.
With this my last chance to talk to you before our first non-stop Sunday, I thought I'd make some season-long fantasy predictions in this space. I'll either refer you all back to these in December (if they're good) or quietly forget them, as you all will, too, if they're bad.
Stud (Tops at his position, assuming standard scoring): Aaron RodgersDud (Must be considered top-15 at his position entering season): Kevin KolbWhere'd he come from?!?!:Matthew Stafford
Stud: Adrian PetersonDud: Cedric BensonWhere'd he come from?!?!:Ahmad Bradshaw
Stud: Andre JohnsonDud: DeSean Jackson (In case you can't tell, I'm not buying the Eagles this year)Where'd he come from?!?!:Mike Wallace
Stud: Jermichael FinleyDud: Jason Witten (not that he'll be bad, he'll just fall short of expectations)Where'd he come from?!?!:Jermaine Gresham
Funny you should ask because I'd love to take this chance to introduce myself. After all, everyone wants to trust the people from whom they take their fantasy advice. As you may have noticed (but probably didn't) at the top of the article, my name is Michael Beller. I grew up just outside Chicago and currently reside in Washington, D.C. I'm a die-hard Bears and Wisconsin Badgers fan, but that will never color my analysis (and feel free to call me out if it does). I cut my teeth as a fantasy newbie in the late-1990s and remember devising trades for Germane Crowell during his glorious 1999 season. I've been playing fantasy football for 13 years, exactly half of my life. I believe fantasy football is like a language. The younger you start learning it, the better you are at it. I believe in grabbing running backs and receivers early and often and taking a pair of quarterbacks in the middle-to-late rounds. I earned my status as a fantasy expert while writing for RotoWire.com in college, which I did for four years. Now you know me. At least as far as fantasy football is concerned.