IT'S BEEN SAID(in these pages, as a matter of fact) that there are two givens in the NFL:David (the Titans receiver), and Panthers running back DeShaun Foster's gettinghurt. Everything else is pure guesswork. But the 2006 NFL season has come intofocus thanks to Fantasy Plus's football-shaped crystal ball. If you look intoit, this is what you'll see:
Is there such athing as a steal in the first round? Sure there is. Bengals running back RudiJohnson will rush for 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns and have a better seasonthan at least one of the Big Three of Shaun Alexander, Larry Johnson andLaDainian Tomlinson. (Bet on Tomlinson's being the one that Rudi Johnsonoutplays.) As a bargain, Rams running back Steven Jackson will not be farbehind Rudi Johnson.
> The biggestdraft-day steal will be the Patriots' Laurence Maroney, who'll rush for 1,100yards and 12 touchdowns, be named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year over fellowrunning backs Reggie Bush of the Saints and DeAngelo Williams of the Panthers,and make fantasy owners who passed on him utter some naughty words. Bush willhave a decent season--1,200 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns--andESPN will show every one of his touches from the season opener against theBrowns within the first five minutes of NFL PrimeTime. Williams's shiftinessand speed will be too enticing for Carolina to keep him on the bench,regardless of the veteran Foster's health.
> TheCardinals' Larry Fitzgerald will lead the league in receptions, pushing 110,but the Bengals' Chad Johnson will top him in yards, touchdowns and creativeend zone celebrations, rewarding those who rate him as the No. 1 receiver.
September 10, 2006
> Thesecond-best draft-day bargain will be Bengals quarterback Carson (My Knee IsFine) Palmer, who will pass for 3,500 yards and 33 touchdowns and lead theleague's most prolific offense. But Palmer will not win the league's MVP award.That will go to Peyton Manning after a 4,000-yard, 35-touchdown season for aColts team that will finish with the AFC's best record.
> Manning'sbrother Eli, however, will be a better draft-day bargain than his sibling,bouncing back from last year's rough second half. The Redskins aging gunner,Mark Brunell, will not be so fortunate.
> The leftshoulder of Redskins running back Clinton Portis, which he partially dislocatedin the preseason opener, will bother him the entire year, making him a seriousliability--and making Monday mornings in Washington much less entertaining. ButPortis's injury will not make T.J. Duckett a viable fantasy starter, even inthe largest leagues.
> By halftimeof Week 2 Cardinals running back Edgerrin James will wonder why he leftIndianapolis and the Colts' brutally efficient offensive line. James will beone of the biggest disappointments of 2006.
> TerrellOwens and Hines Ward, who have hamstring problems, will wrestle with theirinjuries all season and not put up numbers worthy of elite fantasy receivers. Abad hammy to a wideout is the equivalent of Kryptonite to Superman.
> Twelvetight ends--Chris Cooley, Alge Crumpler, Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates, TonyGonzalez, Todd Heap, Randy McMichael, Heath Miller, Jeremy Shockey, Ben Troupe,Ben Watson and Jason Witten--will have at least six touchdown grabs (only sevenhad that many last season), making 2006 the Year of the Tight End. Miller willchallenge Gates for the TD lead at the position.
> The firstquarterback to lose his job will be the Bears' Rex Grossman, who will not startmore than four games. Neither will running back Cedric Benson. Brian Griese hasoutperformed Grossman in camp, and in the locker room the Bears support ThomasJones over Benson.
> New Lionsquarterback Jon Kitna will throw 20 touchdown passes. Twelve of those will goto wideout Roy Williams.
> Titansrookie quarterback Vince Young will have more rushing touchdowns than passingtouchdowns, but he'll have even more interceptions. And he'll start more gamesthan fellow rookie signal-callers Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler, who will combinefor a big fat zero.
> ThePatriots will have a 4,000-yard passer (Tom Brady) but no 1,000-yardreceivers.
> By the endof the season Drew Carter, Tim Carter, Doug Gabriel, Greg Jennings, Wali Lundy,Jerious Norwood, LaBrandon Toefield and Michael Turner will be on a fantasyroster in your league.
> The biggestdraft bust will be Portis, in a close call over James.
> The fantasyMVP will be Larry Johnson, who will prove that he can run for an entire seasonthe way he ran for the last nine games of 2005. Take a bow, all you LJowners.
> And onelast prediction: DeShaun Foster, bless his heart, will get hurt.
The Bills' J.P. Losman will throw 16 TD passes and 16 interceptions. Half ofhis touchdowns will go to Lee Evans.
Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich--and fantasy owners who have him--will missJimmy Smith. A lot.
With Jerome Bettis gone, the Steelers' Willie Parker will run for 12touchdowns, up from four in '05.
In the Broncos' cloudy running back situation, Mike Bell will emerge as thego-to back and a viable fantasy starter.
In the Titans' cloudy running back situation, no one will emerge as a go-toback or a viable fantasy starter.
The Defensive Rookie of the Year will come from the Texans, but it will be LBDeMeco Ryans, not Mario Williams.
Finally playing with a quarterback who can consistently deliver the ball,Dolphins wideout CHRIS CHAMBERS will move into the elite of fantasy receiverswith a second straight huge season (1,250 yards, 12 TDs).
Falcons receiver Roddy White (700 yards, six TDs) will not have the breakoutseason that pundits are expecting.
The only Jet worth owning will be wide receiver Laveranues Coles, who willapproach 1,000 yards with six TDs.
Saving kickers for last, per fantasy policy: The most productive foot willbelong to the Bengals' Shayne Graham.
PREDICTIONS FORWEEK 1
Eli Manning will have more passing yards than brother Peyton, but Peyton'sColts will beat Eli's Giants--barely.
The Lions' Kevin Jones will not rush for 80 yards against the Seahawks and willfail to be a factor in the fourth quarter.
The Seahawks' Shaun Alexander will outrush Jones by 80 yards and will sit outmuch of the fourth quarter.
The player whom fantasy owners will scramble to pick up after Week 1: Texansrookie running back WALI LUNDY, whose one-cut-and-go running style fits wellwith new coach Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme. Lundy is the starter nowthat Domanick Davis will miss the entire season because of complications withhis surgically repaired left knee. The runner-up to Lundy? San Franciscoreceiver Antonio Bryant, whom coaches believe is tougher than his predecessor,Brandon Lloyd. The 49ers will have to air it out this season in order to staycompetitive.
The Packers will be shut out by the Bears' defense, the start of a very longyear for Brett Favre.
The Jaguars will be shut out by the Cowboys' defense, the start of a very goodyear for the Dallas D.
Brian Westbrook will show no ill effects from his sprained foot, but theEagles' star will be Donovan McNabb.
Lee Evans will have a 100-yard game against the Patriots, with many of theyards coming in garbage time.
Larry Fitzgerald will have 100 receiving yards against the 49ers. So willteammate Anquan Boldin.
The Week 1 fantasy MVP: The Bengals' Rudi Johnson, who will roll to 140 yardsand three touchdowns.
Get the latest NFL news, plus ratings for all fantasy football positions anddaily injury updates at SI.com/fantasy.