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. We began at No. 32, the NFL's least useful franchise (Oakland), and we're working our way toward the elite teams. These ranks are astonishingly accurate and highly collectible. Please enjoy them responsibly.
20. Buffalo Bills
For years, Terrell Owens(notes) has been a high-maintenance player in real life, but a very low-maintenance player for fantasy purposes. You've simply started him every week, without regard to match-ups, meteorological conditions or off-field controversy. Owens has delivered at least 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in seven of the past nine seasons. In a disappointing '08 campaign in Dallas, he still finished with 1,052 yards and 10 TDs.
T.O. is an all-time great, no question. He has earned his cereal box.
Even though he's 35, Owens remains one of the most gifted athletes in the NFL and one of the league's most skilled receivers. Drops are a small issue -- he led the NFC in '08 -- but his weaknesses are relatively few and his strengths are at the top of the charts. Entering 2009, the default position of NFL analysts seems to be that T.O. will be outstanding this year because it's his first with Buffalo and the honeymoon period with Owens is traditionally pleasant.
But my primary worry with him has nothing to do with his contentedness -- in fact, I'm fairly sure the honeymoon will end immediately after the first three-catch, zero-TD performance. No, I've buried T.O. in my receiver ranks (No. 19) because Trent Edwards(notes), his new quarterback, has yet to demonstrate that he can direct a fantasy juggernaut.
Edwards clearly improved in his second season, of course. He passed the eye test -- especially early, as the Bills got off to a 5-1 start -- and he performed better in every meaningful statistical category. Edwards' passer-rating (85.4), completion percentage (65.5) and yards-per-attempt (7.2) all increased significantly. But in the end, when the dust (and snow) settled, Edwards had thrown just 11 TD passes. Unless you believe T.O. will receive 90 percent of the receiving workload, the productivity of the passing game has to be a concern. Edwards' next 300-yard effort will be his first; he had just one multiple-touchdown game via the air last season.
Offensive coordinator Turk Schonert plans to go no-huddle frequently in '09, increasing Edwards' responsibilities. The offensive line is a sketchy group now that Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters(notes) is gone, but Edwards has never had better receiving weapons at his disposal. With T.O. on the field, Lee Evans(notes) should find himself with more inviting individual match-ups. Rookie tight end Shawn Nelson(notes) is a serious threat, too, though not draft-worthy in standard fantasy leagues, considering the depth at the position.
Bottom line: Edwards needs to make a massive statistical leap in order for Owens and Evans to retain their value. We know he's a smart quarterback and a competent game manager...but for fantasy purposes, I'd take an idiot gunslinger almost every time.
The Bills' running game? Yeah, that's a complicated pileup. Marshawn Lynch(notes) will be suspended for the first three weeks of the season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy (but never its personal awesomeness policy). "I’m going to be the biggest cheerleader Buffalo has seen in a while," he says.
Careful, Beast Mode, or you'll cheer Fred Jackson(notes) into a much more substantial role. Jackson will be the Bills' starting running back in Weeks 1-3. He brings receiving skills and a 4.6 career YPC to the position. Veteran Dominic Rhodes(notes) is squarely behind Jackson on the depth chart, though he'll see the field plenty while Lynch is out.
I've found it difficult to draft Lynch as a starting fantasy back for two reasons: 1) His ceiling is limited by Jackson's presence, and 2) you can't begin your season 0-3 and expect to make the playoffs. Lynch is currently No. 20 in our composite running back ranks, but I'm somewhat less enthusiastic. There's no way I'd pass on Knowshon Moreno(notes) or Darren McFadden(notes) in favor of Lynch.
Other Bills notes: Kicker Rian Lindell(notes) had a nice year (124 points), thanks in part to the offense's relative inefficiency in the red zone (see above). ... Not for the first time, I really like LB Paul Posluszny(notes) in IDP leagues. DE Aaron Schobel(notes) made the IDP spreadsheet, too. ... For more Bills discussion, pay a visit to Buffalo Rumblings. Here's a slice on Edwards from Thursday's practice recap: "He still seems a little hesitant to make the throws, and on more than one occasion the ball wasn't in a spot where the receiver could make the catch. ... If there's a negative about Trent, it's that he's still trying to hit the perfect play (at least in practice). ... The positives: he looks extremely comfortable running the no-huddle, and he looks quite calm in the pocket. His feet aren't as happy as they have been the past couple of seasons." There's more there. Read on.
Earlier Juggernaut posts: 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.
Photo via AP Images