If you've played fantasy long enough, then you probably have a favorite team — not a favorite real-life team, like Green Bay or Pittsburgh or whoever, but a favorite fantasy roster. Maybe it was your first team, maybe it was your tenth. But at some point, back in the day, you developed an unhealthy, unnatural affection for a specific collection of fantasy assets ... and perhaps you still think about them way too often. Like, if it were feasible, you'd gather together the fellas from that long-ago fantasy team for annual reunions.
For me, that group was the '95 Flaming Moes. As manager, I nailed every draft pick that season, made killer trades and pick-ups, assembled a near-perfect roster for the scoring settings. And then I still lost in the title round, because Jerry Rice had basically the greatest game in the history of his position, on Monday night. Jerk.
But let's not discuss that ugly final chapter for the '95 Moes. Instead, let's take look at the key names from an almost-always-triumphant roster: Emmitt Smith (25 TDs in '95), Marshall Faulk (14), Herman Moore (14 and 123 REC), Jeff George (24 and 4,143 yards) and Eric Metcalf (8 and 104 REC).
I mean ... c'mon. That group right there is a fantasy machine. YOU ARE TREMBLING AT THE SIGHT OF THOSE NAMES.
And we're not even done. The Moes of '95 also featured a trio of Bengals, the squad's orange and black backbone: Jeff Blake, Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott. Those were my guys.
Blake threw for 3,822 yards and 28 touchdowns that season, back when those were considered excellent numbers. Pickens was a monster by the standards of any era, catching 99 balls for 1,234 yards and 17 scores. (He was also a quirky dude, with questionable eating habits). Darnay was mostly a bench player for fantasy purposes (821 yards), a guy who was targeted on countless deep shots and occasionally caught them. But I kept Scott on the roster because it just felt right having the complete three-pack of Bengals.
So yeah, in a 10-team, two-quarterback league, the Moes were routinely starting Blake, George, Emmitt, Faulk, Moore, Pickens and Metcalf — and most of those guys were having career-years.
That's pretty badass, insofar as a fantasy roster can be "badass." Seriously, that team should go straight to Canton. Grown men wept to see the Moes on the schedule. We were a furiously spinning buzzsaw of fantasy dominance, always scoring, always hitting the yardage bonuses.
LOOK ON MY ROSTER, YE MIGHTY, AND DESPAIR.
Naturally, it was in '95 that I really developed a fondness for Cincinnati. I won't go so far as to call myself a fan, but I'm definitely a sympathizer. I owned Blake in the two seasons when it was a good idea, and in several more when it wasn't. Later, I invested in Peter Warrick, Jon Kitna, Rudi Johnson, Chad Johnson, TJ Houshmandzadeh, Carson Palmer, Chris Perry (which, looking back, was stupid), Kenny Watson, and pretty much any other Bengals player you could find on a cheat sheet. I always went back to this team, just hoping to recapture the Blake-Pickens-Scott magic.
Yeah, I had to tap out during the Cedric Benson years, because he and I have a deeper, more painful history. Ced is out of the picture now, though, so there's nothing to complicate my relationship with Cincinnati. I'm back on board. Let's do this thing, together. Just like old times.
Still ... I don't think I'm quite buying the running game just yet. Not this year. Sorry. Benson was replaced by free agent acquisition BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a no-frills, no-fumbles running back coming off a pair of double-digit touchdown seasons in New England. We obviously can't use last year's TDs to predict this year's production for Green-Ellis, however, because he's joining an offense that won't light up the scoreboard quite like the Pats. (No shame in that, of course). The Law Firm should be in line for 200-plus carries at an ordinary clip (think 3.9-4.2 YPC), plus goal line opportunities. That can help you, but it doesn't necessarily justify BJGE's top-50 price tag (ADP 47.4). When his name is next up in the running back queue, I've routinely taken a receiver or QB. Green-Ellis wasn't used much in the passing game in New England and doesn't figure to see many targets with the Bengals, so he should get a PPR downgrade.
Bernard Scott is still in town, and there had been off-season speculation that he could force a full committee arrangement. Unfortunately, he's sidelined with an arm/hand injury of unknown severity at the moment. Sounds like Scott could be down for weeks, not merely days, though no one is commenting, per the instructions of head coach Marvin Lewis. In any case, Scott had an ugly year in 2011 (3.4 YPC), so I wasn't going to give you a hard sell on him regardless of his health status.
And now that we've dispatched with the backfield, we can get to the fun stuff: Cincinnati's passing attack. This group is led by a pair of players who earned Pro-Bowl recognition last year, in their first NFL seasons — QB Andy Dalton, receiver AJ Green.
Dalton actually delivered one of the better all-time rookie quarterback campaigns in 2011, not that anyone noticed since we were all too busy raving about Cam. He became one of only four passers in NFL history to reach 3,200 yards and 20 TDs in their first seasons (the others being Peyton Manning, Jim Kelly and Newton. It's good company). He has mobility, vision, poise and enough arm, and he completed 58.1 percent of his throws last year while tossing just 13 picks. If you want to argue that the interception total could have been higher, fine. I'll concede. There were some near misses, plus he threw three in the playoff loss at Houston. But this is a solid young quarterback with an outstanding collegiate resume, and he's tied to Green for the foreseeable future. You couldn't possibly have expected more from his debut season in OC Jay Gruden's offense, not in a locked-out year. Fantasy-wise, I like him as a QB2 with benefits.
Dalton is dirt-cheap at the draft table, so you're not risking much when you take him (ADP 127.1, QB18). And again: He's gonna throw approximately 130 passes in the direction of this dude in 2012. Dalton's situation is nice.
Green has all the tools and traits you want in a No. 1 receiver — speed, size (6-foot-4), hands, ball skills — and he made a bunch of highlight-quality plays as a rookie, finishing with 1,057 yards on 65 catches. He had the full attention of opposing defenses all year, too. We're drafting him as the seventh WR overall, just after Brandon Marshall and before Wes Welker, and I don't have any real complaints with that ADP. Green looks like a star, a guy we'll be targeting in the early rounds over multiple seasons. He has the talent required to deliver a vintage Pickens stat line. I'm in. When I've had a top-of-draft pick in mocks, I've usually taken him at the Round 2/3 turn.
Brandon Tate is listed as a starting receiver on Cincy's initial depth chart, in advance of Friday's preseason opener. (Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell have both moved on, you'll recall, to Minnesota and Denver). Tate is a fourth-year player who apprenticed in New England, a guy you'll target in return-yardage leagues. I'm not ready to call him the favorite to emerge as the Bengals' second-most targeted wideout, however. Rutgers rookie Mohamed Sanu is battling, and there's been some nice off-season buzz on Armon Binns. And Jordan Shipley is back in business, too, returning from ACL surgery. This paragraph will now end, and we still haven't mentioned a player who's going to be drafted in standard-sized fantasy leagues.
Tight end Jermaine Gresham quietly snuck into the Pro Bowl last year, following a 596-yard, six-TD season. Gresham has the skill-set needed to vault a tier or two — he was ridiculous as a collegiate player at Oklahoma — and he'll likely be this team's No. 2 option in the passing game. He was used primarily as a short-range option last season, but the target total was nice (92). This is a player I'll target later in drafts, if I whiff on the early-round TE options (and another owner snakes Jacob Tamme).
Mike Zimmer's defense had a good-not-great year for fantasy owners in 2011, finishing No. 12 in the year-end ranks. This group was a top-10 unit in terms of yards and points allowed (316.3, 20.2), however. You'll use 'em based on match-up friendliness, and they happen to open the season with a string of not-so-intimidating foes. In Weeks 2-6, the Bengals face Cleveland twice, plus Washington, Jacksonville and Miami. There aren't any must-draft IDPs here, but DB Reggie Nelson (85 tackles), LB Thomas Howard (99), LB Rey Maualuga (88 in 13 games) and DE Carlos Dunlap (10.0 sacks in 2010) could all find their way onto fantasy rosters.
And that's that, Bengal lovers. This should be a fun team for a few years — although perhaps not this fun...
2011 team stats: 21.5 PPG (NFL rank 18), 111.1 rush YPG (19), 219.2 pass YPG (21), 27.09 yards/drive (21), 0.100 turnovers/drive (4)
Previous Juggernaut posts: 32. Miami, 31. St. Louis, 30. Indianapolis, 29. Jacksonville, 28. Cleveland, 27. Arizona, 26. Seattle, 25. Minnesota, 24. Tampa Bay, 23. Buffalo, 22. New York Jets, 21. Washington, 20. Oakland, 19. San Francisco, 18. Kansas City