September 02, 2008
The Juggernaut Index is our annual attempt to rank every NFL team for fantasy purposes. We're not concerned with real-life wins and losses here, only fantasy potential. These rankings are not to be questioned.
And yes, we're discussing these final three teams after most of you have drafted. We've taken this approach because fantasy owners already know their Colts, Patriots and Cowboys. At this point in the Index, it's basically a barroom argument with injury updates.
Last season, the Patriots were as close to perfect as any NFL team we're ever likely to see.
They scored the most points (36.8 PPG), gained the most yards (411.3), committed the fewest turnovers (15), and they had the best scoring-percentage inside the red zone (.944). This season, all the essential skill position players return, and New England faces the league's easiest schedule (.387).
But as Bill Belichick is fond of saying, and his drones are fond of repeating, each year is different.
If you're expecting Tom Brady to deliver 4800 passing yards and 40-plus touchdowns every season now that he has Randy Moss at his disposal -- or if you're thinking Moss will deliver 1500 yards and 20 TDs now that he has Brady -- then you've set yourself up for disappointment.
Only 11 quarterbacks in NFL history have managed to throw as many as 35 TD passes in a single season, and only 13 players have had more than 15 touchdown receptions. Those are huge numbers. If Brady and Moss reach those levels in 2008, they will have again produced two of the all-time seasons.
Yet if they "only" reach 35 and 15, many of you will demand to know what went wrong.
Don't expect Brady and Moss to repeat what they did in 2007. And don't expect another 145-target, 112-reception effort from Wes Welker. Last year was an other-worldly, record-shattering season; this year will be different, and every team in the AFC East has improved.
Still...New England should be spectacular for fantasy purposes.
Brady and Moss are the top-ranked players at their positions, and there are no dissenters among the Yahoo! experts. If you took 10 touchdowns away from each of them, they'd still be top-tier players. They've earned their ADPs (6.0 for Brady, 7.1 for Moss). The Patriots are, of course, the only team that offers two players who are routinely selected within the first eight picks in fantasy drafts.
If you're worried about anything as a Brady owner, it's injuries -- and we're not referring to the foot issue that sidelined him during the preseason. Brady says he'll be ready for Week 1, and no one seriously doubts him.
No, the injuries that should concern fantasy owners involve offensive linemen. We'll turn to the Patriots Team Report for details:
All-Pro left tackle Matt Light missed the bulk of camp with an undisclosed injury. Starting right guard Stephen Neal started camp on PUP and will be lost for at least the first six weeks of the regular season ... Throw in injuries to backups Ryan O’Callaghan (IR), Billy Yates and Russ Hochstein and the Patriots’ line was a patch-work effort throughout the preseason.
Brady spent most of 2007 living inside an impenetrable 6'4", 1500-pound wall. (The wall crumbled in February, largely due to the efforts of Justin Tuck). The protection Brady enjoyed during the regular season was absurd. It enabled all those unhurried bombs to Moss, and the almost casual first-down strikes to Jabar Gaffney and Welker. It would not be unreasonable to expect more pressure on Brady this season, and less resistance.
The health of the offensive line, of course, is not just a small detail in the running game. Laurence Maroney was a fantasy disappointment in 2007, but New England actually had a very good team rushing attack (115.6 YPG, 4.1 YPC, 17 TDs). Maroney was terrific in the playoffs, finding the end zone in every game while carrying 61 times for 280 yards against three exceptional defenses (Jacksonville, San Diego, New York). He also scored all six of his regular season touchdowns after the Pats' Week 10 bye.
If any Patriot has been a bargain in '08 drafts, it's Maroney. His Yahoo! ADP is 32.3, making him the 15th running back selected in a typical league. There's little doubt that he has the skills of a first-round back. Maroney was limited last season by a groin injury, a job-share situation with Sammy Morris, and the Patriots' tendency to put the ball in the air, even in goal-line situations. Benjamin Watson had six TDs in '07; Kyle Brady and Mike Vrabel each had two.
The 31-year-old Morris has returned from a nasty injury, and you can expect him to poach carries. He's the Maroney handcuff, not LaMont Jordan or Kevin Faulk. (Faulk, by the way, will be suspended for the season-opening blowout of Kansas City).
Here's one final bit of propaganda on the New England ground game, via the Daily News Tribune:
With Laurence Maroney's emergence down the stretch last year, Sammy Morris healthy and LaMont Jordan added to the mix, the Pats should have a better running game and a more balanced attack this year.
Balance isn't what Brady owners are looking for, but it's an interesting word for those who've drafted Maroney in Round 4.
The New England defense is third in our preseason ranks, and they should obviously be a great play against the Brodie Croyle-led Chiefs in Week 1. The loss of Asante Samuel clearly hurts, but other key pieces remain from a defense that totaled 174 fantasy points last year. The best IDP options are Adalius Thomas, Vrabel, and rookie Jerod Mayo.
And with that, we're finally down to one...
2007 New England team stats
Rushing: 115.6 Y/G
Passing: 295.7 Y/G
Points per game: 36.8
Red Zone possessions and TDs: 72, 50
'08 Schedule strength: .387
The rest of the Index...
32) Chicago, 31) Tennessee, 30) San Francisco, 29) Miami, 28) Baltimore, 27) NY Jets, 26) Oakland, 25) Tampa Bay, 24) Atlanta, 23) Houston, 22) Kansas City, 21) Buffalo, 20) Carolina, 19) Detroit, 18) Seattle, 17) Denver, 16) Washington, 15) St. Louis, 14) Minnesota, 13) Arizona, 12) Jacksonville, 11) Cincinnati, 10) Philadelphia, 9) Pittsburgh, 8) Green Bay, 7) NY Giants, 6) Cleveland, 5) New Orleans, 4) San Diego, 3) Indianapolis, 2) New England, 1) Dallas
Photos via Getty Images