By Christopher Harris
September 10, 2006
Am I the only one who thinks Dick Jauron looks like Freddie Mercury?
Perhaps that's not the most incisive comment you'll hear all week, but dang if it isn't spooky. There he is, giving the evil eye to some poor offensive lineman, and all I keep thinking is that he's going to bust out that half-microphone, take a knee, and start singing, "Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?"
(See that? You can trust me: it all comes back to fantasy.)
What did we learn in Week 1? Primarily, I believe we learned that all the blabbering we "experts" do for six months in advance of your fantasy drafts is so much hot air. Three TD receptions for Arizona; a bunch of them have to be either Anquan Boldin or Larry Fitzgerald, right? Wrong. Rams/Broncos game is going to be a barn-burning offensive display, right? Wrong. Steve Smith is the receiver you most want on your team, right?
Let's take a look at the highlights from a truly vexing first week of games:
My friend Craig turned to me in the local drinking establishment where we were watching the early games, and said, "The Madden Curse is real!" Shaun Alexander was decidedly mortal Sunday afternoon, carrying 19 times for 51 yards, no scores, and a fumble lost (in addition to another one he recovered himself). In a lot of leagues, that yielded his owner exactly one fantasy point. Ouch. OT Walter Jones hurt his ankle in the third quarter and returned, but the fact was that Seattle's offensive line didn't look nearly as good as we remembered from '05. Was it Steve Hutchinson? Was it the fact that Darrell Jackson was a bit hobbled? Detroit's defense was super-pumped for much of the game, sacked Matt Hasselbeck five times, blocked two field goals, and shut down Alexander, while Seattle focused its air attack on Terrence Holt, who acquitted himself nicely. The fact was, though, that the winning play in a 9-6 game was executed by Maurice Morris, Alexander's backup, when he ripped off a 17-yard pickup to get Josh Brown in position for the winning kick. Madden Curse, indeed.
Donte' Stallworth (six catches, 141 yards, one score) sure looked good, huh? Squint really hard, and the numbers start to look like No. 81, perhaps? Um, no. Again, don't get carried away. For the most part, Stallworth was covered by the Lewis Sanderses of the world. That will not be the case next week against the Giants. (Then again, with the way Reggie Wayne ran up and down the field against the Giants …)
Anyone else think New England will make Deion Branch an offer on Monday morning? Yeah, me too. Tom Brady was 11-for-23 for 163 yards, a pick, a fumble (for a TD) and two scores. Benjamin Watson was, as many wags had predicted, Brady's top target, but only to the tune of three catches for 50 yards. Reche Caldwell caught two passes but couldn't beat Terrence McGee, Troy Brown caught a TD but isn't even close to worth adding, and Doug Gabriel was inactive. Nice. Brady looked frustrated, out-of-synch, and didn't seem to have many receivers where they were supposed to be.
Speaking of the Patriots, good heavens, Bill Belichick, you're single now, right? Maybe now's not the best time to expand your physique to see if you can fit into a C-cup. And Bill Parcells, I'm assuming you know what you're doing in most areas of your life, but a royal-blue pantsuit? The Tuna looked like Veruca Salt, post-inflation.
Antonio Bryant of San Francisco and Reggie Williams of Jacksonville continue to be two of my least favorite players in the NFL. Williams punked it up good in the Dallas game, jawing with Cowboys, linesmen, cheerleaders and anyone else in earshot. Yes, he caught six passes for 47 yards and a score, but if your league deducts for extraordinarily smelly dreadlocks, you still came out on the negative side. As for Bryant, the Niners were down 10 and trying to drive for a late score when he made a very nice, acrobatic catch falling out of bounds at the Arizona 11. First down. But Bryant, who wound up with four catches for 114 yards, wouldn't let his magnificence go uncommented-upon, and so went to great lengths to inform Arizona corner Eric Green his opinion of himself. He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, the Niners decided to kick a field goal and attempt an onside kick, and a nation of gamblers wept – the spread was 9.5.
Anyone else want to challenge my assertion that Warrick Dunn is a legit fantasy stud waiting to happen? I made a lot of questionable calls in Week 1 (hello, DeShaun Foster!), but Dunn wasn't one of them. Twenty-nine carries for 132 yards smells pretty good right about now, huh? The question, of course, will be whether the little guy can keep it up all year. He only topped 20 carries four times in '05, and he hasn't had as many as 29 carries since Week 16 of 2002. He also ripped off gains of 25, 21, 13 and 18, and looked explosive doing so. Jerious Norwood is still a must-handcuff (he had 10 carries for 66 yards on Sunday), but Dunn looks like a top-10 fantasy player right now.
Speaking of what happened down in Charlotte: blech. The problem was the Panthers offensive line; OT Travelle Wharton left in the second quarter with an injured knee, but really, John Abraham of the Falcons made pretty much anyone Carolina put in there look like Judy Garland. Jake Delhomme was only 21-for-39 for 186 yards and an interception, but was sacked four times (thrice by Abraham), fumbled twice, and was hurried perhaps seven other times. I thought the Panthers could put a crimp in the new Atlanta pass rush by going to Foster early and often, but he only got 15 carries for 54 yards, and DeAngelo Williams didn't have a single carry. Sure, the fact that Steve Smith didn't play (and may be questionable next week, too) hurt, but I can't imagine it'd have made that much difference. The question we'll have to answer going forward is: is Atlanta's defensive front really this good (Grady Jackson was awesome plugging the middle), or is Carolina's o-line really this bad?
Hey, Mike Bell owners. Told you so.
All right, perhaps I'll extrapolate a bit. Tatum Bell? 15 carries for 103 yards (and a lost fumble). Mike Bell? 10 carries for 58 yards and a one-yard score. Now, I'm not saying Mike Bell is without value, and I'm not saying Tatum Bell is an instant fantasy stud. But this is about the ratio I expected this summer, and I'm not changing my tune now. When the Broncos were in serious trouble late and needed a good, long, solid drive, Tatum was in, Mike was out. The short-yardage thing could eventually go Mike's way, and that would definitely muddy the waters. But based on how they each looked Sunday, Tatum is your man.
Arizona's offensive output was as explosive as everyone predicted, but the primary beneficiaries (or at least the TD-scorers) were Troy Walters and Adam Bergen. Huh? Worry not, Cardinal-receiver-investors, Larry Fitzgerald caught his nine balls for 133 yards, and Anquan Boldin caught four for 62 with a sweet six-yard score. The other two passing TDs were freak-show anomalies. Remember Frisman Jackson after Week 1 last year? Ignore, ignore, ignore.
Good thing this Green Bay team is one of the most talented Brett Favre has ever played with. I'd hate to think what the offense would've looked like if they were just moderately talented. Sure, Ahman Green posted 110 yards on 20 carries, but a whole lot of those came with the game already decided, and the Pack trying to skulk out of Dodge. Donald Driver will be of more use as Green Bay struggles to come back from big deficits (he had one catch before halftime, six thereafter). His seven grabs for 96 yards will probably be pretty typical, though it would be nice if they were accompanied by a score.
The Dallas/Jacksonville game was playoff-worthy stuff. Terrell Owens looked very, very sharp, and even had a decent rapport with Frankenstein, er, Drew Bledsoe. If not for a couple of offensive pass interference calls (one on T.O., one on Jason Witten that cancelled a TD), it could've been a different game for Dallas. Still, the Jacksonville defense, even without DT Marcus Stroud for the whole game, created chaos in the middle, and Bledsoe became ever more rattled as the game progressed. Even though I do believe Owens will have a fine year until his team suspends him, I still wouldn't own Bledsoe. For every lovely long throw he makes, there's a short-armed, falling-backwards, across-his-body, with-his-eyes-closed special. On the other side of the ball, don't be fooled by Fred Taylor. Of course he looked good; it was Week 1. 21 hard rushes for 74 yards and a score? Love it. But how long before LaBrandon Toefield and Maurice Jones-Drew are co-starters? Byron Leftwich was good but is still a fantasy backup until further notice. Matt Jones, Ernest Wilford and Reggie Williams kind of cancel one another out.
Despite what Joe Buck and Troy Aikman said, Jags' CB Rashean Mathis had a very good game almost from the start while guarding Owens. Sure, T.O. caught two balls right away, but after that, he caught five passes for 59 yards, one of which, the lovely 21-yard TD, came against a zone defense that looked suspiciously like a Prevent, with Jacksonville winning 24-10 late. Mathis also led the team with six tackles, picked off a pass, and knocked down another. He's got the potential to be really, really good.
Be on the lookout for Marion Barber. The few times he got the ball, he looked like he had an entirely different gear from Julius Jones.
Speaking of entirely different gears … how about that Laurence Maroney, eh? Corey Dillon owners, you are officially on notice. Maroney got 17 carries to Dillon's 16, and racked up 86 yards to Dillon's 73. And when New England had to have it near the end of the game? Maroney was in. That whistle you hear in the background is a changing of the guard.
Chad Pennington? Meet Laveranues Coles. Laveranues Coles? Remember this little blond guy? Boy, those two looked like men among boys in Nashville. Coles notched eight catches for 153 yards, and while I'm trying not to get carried away because this is Tennessee, I'm just about ready to call him an every-week starter. Pennington threw for 319 yards and two scores (none to Coles, alas), and made all the throws except the super-deep laser shot, which is something the kid simply doesn't have in his arsenal. I'm probably not playing him next week against New England, but he's got potential. Meanwhile, Jerricho Cotchery probably isn't worth playing just yet, but it's now absolutely clear he's passed Justin McCareins on the Jets' depth chart, and he caught six passes for 65 yards and a score on Sunday (and another TD was called back). The Jets probably won't spend a ton of time in the red zone, but when they do, Pennington seems to look for Cotchery.
Thanks for playing, Mike Vanderjagt. Or, actually, thanks for not playing. The multi-million-dollar, "most-accurate-kicker-ever" didn't make the trip to Jacksonville, and his replacement, Shaun Suisham, doinked an easy kick. Doh.
Jake Plummer looked like the ol' Snake in the Jones Dome. The Broncos committed five turnovers in their debacle, and three of them were Plummer INTs. St. Louis moved the ball pretty well (320 total yards), but couldn't score a touchdown if Sela Ward and the House All-Stars were playing defense. Steven Jackson owners beware.
Carson Palmer's Knee: 1. Trent Green's Head: 0.
Jeff Wilkins hit six field goals. John Carney hit four. Josh Brown hit three, and had two blocked. John Kasay made a 46-yarder and a 54-yarder. It's like I've been saying for years: fantasy football really is all about place-kicking.
Okay, so let's all take a nice big breath and not worry so much about who the starting or goal-line running back is in Houston, okay? Yes, there will be weeks where you'll be glad to know Wali Lundy's name. (Namely, um, 10/29 against Tennessee.) But this offensive line did not obtain some sort of magical Gary Kubiak makeover. It's still either young or stinky, and in places both young and stinky.
Who looks more like a schmuck? DeAngelo Hall, for calling out Steve Smith? Steve Smith for telling the media he was going to toast Hall? Keyshawn Johnson for saying he was going to "abuse" Hall in Smith's place, and then running out and catching four passes for 40 yards? When in doubt, people, always go with Keyshawn's schmuckhood. It's in a league of its own.
Editor's Note: Due to technical difficulties beyond their control, Yahoo! Sports fantasy experts Christopher Harris and Brad Evans have had great difficulty receiving your emails over the past week. Christopher and Brad regret not having gotten back to you, but the problems are being addressed, and they promise they'll respond to your questions and comments once the technical troubles are resolved.
Christopher Harris is a Fantasy Sports Writers Association award-winning columnist and beagle-owner who has written about fantasy sports for SportsIllustrated.com, NBA.com, and TalentedMrRoto.com. Send Christopher a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Sunday, Sep 10, 2006 11:40 pm, EDT
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