September 04, 2009
The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. We're interested in yards and points here. These ranks are astonishingly accurate and highly collectible. Please enjoy them responsibly.
It's back to normal for the Patriots now that Tom Brady(notes) is back in the saddle. We'll get lots of passing numbers here, lots of backfield headaches and lots of vague comments when it comes to injuries and personnel decisions. We're all used to the ways of Camp Belichick by now.
Brady did everything fantasy owners wanted to see over the summer and with that he‘s settled in as the clear No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback on just about everyone's board. Brady usually takes most of the preseason off but not this year; the Pats let him play in three games, take hits, get his pocket awareness back. The results were what you'd expect from midseason Brady (26-for-42, 307 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT), and although there was a brief scare when Albert Haynesworth(notes) piled into the quarterback's shoulder, all the Brady news filtering out of New England over the last week has been positive. The Pats are prepared to open the year with rookie Brian Hoyer backing up Brady, and that tells you all you need to know about the health of the main guy.
Randy Moss(notes) should return to fantasy prominence now that Brady has returned. Moss played the good soldier through the Matt Cassel(notes) interlude last year – the wideout never pouted or quit – but it was clear Moss and Cassel never got on the same page. Deep passes to No. 81, forget it. Red-zone chemistry, they never had it. Moss had a spring in his step all during the summer (he looks like a player poised to score 15 or more times again) and Moss didn't blow off the exhibitions, picking up a pair of touchdowns and 90 yards in New England's second preseason game. Add it all up and this is someone you can consider in the late first round of most leagues, and he better not slip past the second.
Wes Welker(notes) has been arguably the NFL's most reliable wideout over the last two seasons – no receiver has a higher catch-to-target rate – but he's a bit of a question mark entering the year. It's a Belichickian Dilemma all the way – Welker has an undisclosed injury, the team won't discuss it, and there's no definitive word on the receiver's status for Week 1. I'm stubbornly keeping Welker inside my Top 15 for now, but your own sense of risk/reward ratios will make the decision for you. A healthy Welker would have little trouble getting 90-100 catches at minimum, and the Brady return should push him closer to 6-8 scores, as opposed to the three he settled for last year.
Forget trying to make sense of this backfield, it's a matrix none of us can decipher. The Patriots have been a committee team for most of the decade anyway, and this year they have five backs to potentially mix and match with: Fred Taylor(notes), Laurence Maroney(notes), Kevin Faulk(notes), Sammy Morris(notes) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis(notes).
Faulk is the easiest player of the group to get a handle on; he's the third-down back (in part for his pass-catching, in part for his pass blocking). But the Patriots realize his workload limitations and it's almost impossible to concoct a scenario where Faulk turns into a featured back and gets even 15 touches every week. Consider him a nifty PPR/flex play in deeper leagues but that's it.
Taylor is the biggest name in the mix but it's hard to expect the world from a 33-year-old back. He didn't do a lot in his limited preseason action, rushing 14 times for 46 yards. It's hard to figure the Patriots think all that much of Maroney, given usage patterns in recent years and context clues. He finished the preseason with 36 yards on 16 attempts. Look for both of these guys to get a handful of starts in any event, with early success and flow of the game determining who's still on the field in the second half.
Green-Ellis was the player of note in the meaningless final preseason game Thursday, rushing 29 times for 125 yards and three scores against a collection of Giants scrubs. He's in the same situation as last year; injuries need to come about before he'll get any appreciable time. There have been whispers that Green-Ellis was about to pass Morris (who was hurt most of camp) on the depth chart, but the Pats haven't come out with anything definitive on that yet. Hey, there's a shocker.
Patriots Patter: Chris Baker(notes) is running with the starters at tight end and might be able to sneak his way to five or more touchdowns. Ben Watson was nicked up for most of camp and he's never developed into the downfield threat that many expected a couple of years ago; for the moment he's currently running with the 3s, behind Baker and David Thomas(notes) and it's no guarantee Watson will make the club. … Joey Galloway(notes) still has respectable skills at age 37, but the Patriots have yet to make it clear if he'll even be playing over Greg Lewis as the No. 3 receiver. … Stephen Gostkowski(notes) has the leg to make them from 50-plus but the Patriots don't opt for a lot of long kicks; he's attempted just two in his three-year career, and everyone remembers that Belichick curiously passed on a 48-yard field goal attempt in the Super Bowl loss two seasons back. … If you're playing Kreskin with your fantasy playoff planning, New England has a reasonable schedule down the stretch, getting Carolina, Buffalo and Jacksonville in Weeks 14-16. The always-enjoyable matchup with the Colts comes in Week 10.
Earlier Juggernauts: 32) Oakland, 31) Cleveland, 30) St. Louis, 29) Miami, 28) NY Jets, 27) Baltimore, 26) Washington, 25) San Francisco, 24) Tampa Bay, 23) Kansas City, 22) Detroit, 21) Seattle, 20) Buffalo, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Jacksonville, 17) New York Giants, 16) Tennessee, 15) Pittsburgh, 14) Denver, 13) Chicago, 12) Minnesota, 11) Arizona, 10) Green Bay, 9) Dallas, 8) Carolina, 7) Atlanta, 6) Indianapolis, 5) San Diego.