Matt Hasselbeck: Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI
Did you hear the big rumor about the NFC East? The Cowboys, Redskins, Eagles and Giants -- led by owners Jerry Jones, Daniel Snyder, Jeffrey Lurie and the Mara family -- are threatening to boycott the 2008 season, unless the NFL changes its stance on how many teams from one division can make the playoffs (the current maximum is three). The above thought, while admittedly bogus (just wanted to see if you're paying attention), embodies the balance and relative strength of the NFC East: All four teams could easily finish first or last this season (and somewhere in between), and each club is perceived to be a viable Super Bowl candidate (if not champion). But at least one team, no matter the record, will be left in the cold come January.
SI.com presents an expert-panel list of educated guesses for the coming season ... including the division in which FOX TV analysts Joe Buck and Troy Aikman are contractually obligated to cover every week -- until the end of time:
|NFL 2008 preseason predictions|
1. Kansas City 21 St. Louis 17: Congratulations are in order for Brodie Croyle, aka The Fifth Beatle, for leading the Chiefs to two scoring drives in limited duty. Here's hoping Brodie keeps making me regret passing on Dwayne Bowe as my WR5 in last week's PPR draft, since I already had Tony Gonzalez as my TE1 and because having two Chiefs pass-catchers in fantasyland is an unpardonable sin -- just like adding actor/"Jump The Shark" legend Ted McGinley to the cast of a wildly popular TV show (ahem, Dancing With The Stars).
2. Miami 14 New Orleans 10: I'm really torn about the Dolphins' Ronnie Brown. On one hand, the No. 2 overall pick of the '05 draft looked like his old self in getting 47 yards and 1 TD on Thursday. However, I am stunned the 'Fins had Brown logging meaningless carries against the Saints' third-stringers in the second quarter. In this age of protecting starters (or prominent contributors) in Week 4 of the preseason, Brown got the kind of "scrub treatment" usually reserved for guys who'll be bagging groceries next week (after final cuts) and not someone who led the NFL in rushing after Week 7 last year. It comes down to this: If the Dolphins truly believe Ricky Williams is the real feature back, then by all means trade Ronnie to a franchise that truly needs him -- like Chicago or Detroit.
3. New York Jets 27 Philadelphia 20: I get the feeling that Brian Westbrook will play in all 16 games this season (unless the Eagles have clinched homefield in the NFC by Week 17) ... and Lorenzo Booker will be the main reason for it. Booker -- for those awash in Favre, Pacman, Pennington and McNabb headlines over the summer -- was acquired, via trade with the Dolphins, and could easily become Philly's best backup rusher since the Westbrook era began. On Thursday, Booker rushed for 36 yards and 1 TD and pulled down seven catches for 57 yards. Talk about being PPR-friendly!
4. Cincinnati 27 Indianapolis 7: How to intrepret Rudi Johnson's Did Not Play from the Bengals' rout of the Colts? Either Cincinnati has already agreed, in principle, to deal the veteran tailback (who, until 2007, was seemingly an annual lock for 1,200 rushing yards and 13 TDs) to another team and held Rudi out for injury protection ... or the Bengals simply do not understand how to audition a marketable name for other suitors? Oh dear lord, I hope it's the former. That said, I am blown away by how low Chris Perry and Kenny Watson (763 rushing yards and 7 TDs in '07) have been chosen in fantasy drafts this month. The two backs are destined for big things in '08 -- even if Rudi stays in the Queen City.
In the SI.com & Friends fantasy draft this week (which starts 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 Flex), I took Steve Smith (26th overall) and Brandon Marshall (50th overall) as my two best wideouts. But since neither will be available in Week 1 (suspensions), I must now choose two players from the WR foursome of Lee Evans (vs. SEA), Derrick Mason (@ CIN), Javon Walker (vs. DEN) and 49ers sleeper extraordinaire Josh Morgan (vs. ARI). In the first cut, I'll go with Evans and sit Morgan (even though I'm certain he'll post solid numbers this year). That pits Mason (among the top-10 WR targets last year) against Walker (the Raiders' No. 1 wideout). I'll chime in next week with some online projections for both pass-catchers. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think.
I'm happy for Colts fans everywhere, now that Tony Dungy believes Peyton Manning will start in Week 1 vs. the Bears. But I also feel for owners, who face the unenviable task of starting either Peyton or an accomplished fantasy backup next week -- like Donovan McNabb or Jon Kitna. Whom to choose? When it comes to Week 1 deliberations, I always take the attitude of "Play Your Studs" ... unless they're still walking funny after bursa-sac surgery.
Ever dreamt of playing fantasy football against a Hall of Fame safety, Sports Illustrated football writer, Major League Baseball general manager, world-renowned swimsuit model, professional poker player or best-selling author -- to name a few? SI.com, in conjunction with Facebook, will welcome someone into its 2008 Celebrity Fantasy League where one lucky fan matches weekly wits, from Draft Day to the Fantasy Bowl, with Ronnie Lott, Peter King, Oakland A's GM Billy Beane, supermodel Brooklyn Decker, poker great Phil Gordon and Michael Lewis, author of the sabremetrician-friendly book, Moneyball. Time's running out, though, so click here and register today! As a consolation prize for the contest non-winners, you can create new leagues and develop newer rivals on the new SI/Facebook fantasy game.
Grady Sizemore: AP
Switching gears to baseball ... I know the Cleveland Indians have a rich, illustrious history. But I've got to think that Grady Sizemore has a chance to someday eclipse Hall of Famer Tris Speaker on the franchise's list of Greatest Trades in History. In 2002, Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens came to the Tribe from the Expos' organization (now the Nationals) for rotund ace Bartolo Colon in a pre-trade-deadline deal for the ages. How dominant have Sizemore (31 HRs, 83 RBIs, 82 runs and 34 steals) and Lee (19-2, 2.43 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 145/27 K-to-BB ratio) been this year? They could easily go 2-3 in the AL MVP voting (behind Rangers wunderkind Josh Hamilton); or better yet, Sizemore and Lee could bring home MVP and Cy Young hardware (although it'd take a miracle to unseat Hamilton).
Before you get inundated with information about Sept. 1 call-ups from the minors, there are still plenty of underrated starters on the mixed-league waiver wires, including some key pieces to fantasy titles -- assuming you act now. To wit: SI.com presents a list of the 10 starting pitchers with the best combination of ERA and WHIP in the last 30 days. We're essentially talking about starters with at least 24 innings since July 29 (and Toronto's Jesse Litsch, whose prodigous numbers of late cannot be ignored).
1. Huroki Kuroda, Dodgers, (2.10 ERA, 0.79 WHIP)
2. Brian Moehler, Astros (2.95 WHIP, 1.17 WHIP)
3. Kevin Millwood, Rangers (2.78 ERA, 1.19 WHIP)
4. Joe Blanton, Phillies (3.00 ERA, 1.23 WHIP)
5. Anthony Reyes, Indians (2.22 ERA, 1.36 WHIP)
6. Jeff Karstens, Pirates (3.48 ERA, 1.23 WHIP)
7. Jason Marquis, Cubs (3.90 ERA, 1.23 WHIP)
8. Dallas Braden, Athletics (3.90 ERA, 1.20 WHIP)
9. Jesse Litsch, Blue Jays (0.00 ERA, 1.08 WHIP in 13 innings)
10. Barry Zito, Giants (3.78 ERA, 1.16 WHIP)
Unless you're a loyal subscriber to the Orioles' and Rangers' official team sites, you probably didn't know that Adam (Don't Confuse Me With 'Pacman') Jones and David Murphy will likely come off the DL on Monday (Sept. 1). For AL-only owners knee-deep in roto-style pennant races, this is major news. Jones, one of the centerpieces of the Erik Bedard trade to Seattle, has raised his average from .245 to .279 since June 1 (.326 in his last 31 games) and was flying high off a one-HR, three-hit, five-RBI night on July 28, before suffering a broken foot. And prior to Murphy's knee injury (while colliding at home plate with Yanks catcher Pudge Rodriguez), he was a genuine candidate for AL Rookie of the Year, racking up 15 HRs, 74 RBI, 64 runs and seven steals. It goes without saying, AL owners should rush to grab 'em both.
Speaking of the Indians ... who holds the franchise record for most RBIs in one season? (Hint: Think outfielder)
In search of an unheralded Friday spot starter for your fantasy lineup, one who may bring glory in wins, ERA and WHIP -- if for just one night? It was bound to happen sooner or later ... but I'm going to go with Diamondbacks pitcher Doug Davis for a second time this season -- an unprecedented act for this segment. At first blush, Davis's numbers in the last 30 days (5.68 ERA, 1.55 WHIP) don't inspire much confidence; however, I am buoyed by his 18/4 K-to-BB ratio in his last three outings (18 innings), a span that includes three or less runs allowed each time. What's more, he's just five days removed from a superb start against the playoff-contending Marlins (3 runs, 8 Ks, 0 walks in 7 innings) ... and he's got a date with the rival Dodgers, kicking off the biggest NL West series of the season.
Manny Ramirez holds the Indians' single-season mark with 165 RBIs in 1999, a year in which Cleveland went 97-65 and won the AL Central by a stunning 21.5 games.
The NL East and NL West races are a real mess right now, huh? Luckily, the good people at AccuScore.com have fired up The Big Computer (again) ... and determined the D'backs will outlast the Dodgers and the Mets will clip the Phillies -- thus joining the Cubs (Central winners) and Brewers (Wild Card) in the NL playoffs. The schizophrenic Phillies and Dodgers, reassembled on the foundation of Manny Being Manny (as comical as that seems), come up short by one game in Accuscore's estimates ... how excruciating! Anyway, here are the final projected standings:
1. Cubs (99-63)
2. Mets (89-73)
3. Diamondbacks (84-78)
4. Brewers (93-69)
The Rest: Phillies (88-74), Marlins (85-77), Dodgers (83-79), Astros (81-81), Rockies (76-86)
That I am happy to see some Webbies finally posting public apologies to Steve Bartman, for erroneously blaming him for the Cubs' Game 6 meltdown in the 2003 NLCS (and subsequent defeat to the Marlins in Game 7 -- even though he wasn't at Wrigley Field). This mea culpa was prompted by Moises Alou's five-years-too-late rationalization that Bartman -- innocently sitting in the left-field stands that warm October evening, and not too far from where Ferris and Cameron sat in Ferris Bueller's Day Off -- did not ruin the club's title chances with that infamous FOUL ball. I commend Alou for his belated concession; but in my mind, the city of Chicago -- namely politicans, actors and idiot fans (you know who you are) -- still owes Bartman a big-time 'We're sorry!' for creating/demonizing an unworthy scapegoat. Until that occurs, I hope the Curse of the Billy Goat carries over to 2009.
At long last, SI.com has a fantasy football game, complete with all of the drafts, waiver wires, stats and analysis you need. Take the grand tour here and sign up a league. Heck, sign up two leagues if you want. We'll be waiting.