In the X-Men, Juggernaut was an irresistible, invulnerable helmeted villain who crashed through walls and overwhelmed any physical obstacle. Like Pete Johnson in 1981. But for our purposes here, a juggernaut doesn't need to be either villainous or ground-based. They just need to generate fantasy points. We're ranking NFL offenses 1 through 16. Later in the week, we'll sift through the dregs, 17 through 32, and look for anything useful.
Why go through this exercise? Because in the NFL, it's often the system that makes the fantasy stars. Alternately, a system can make even a supremely talented player irrelevant. Last season Cincinnati's second-leading receiver, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, outscored the combination of the Raiders top two wide receivers, Randy Moss and Ronald Curry. It wasn't really close, either. Houshmandzadeh totaled 155 fantasy points in a standard Yahoo! public league, while Moss and Curry combined for 137.
Find an offense that gains yardage, limits turnovers, and scores touchdowns when it gets inside the 20, and you'll have found a fantasy juggernaut. In general, the skill position players on those teams are the fantasy elite. Draft them. If you can't draft them, trade for them.
Before we rate the juggernaut-ness of each NFL franchise, there are a few things worth noting. First of all, in any of the statistical categories listed in the tables below, you shouldn't care about where an offense ranked. Instead, you should care how a team performed relative to the league mean. Here are the 2006 NFL average team totals for several key categories:
Rushing yards per game: 117.3
Passing yards per game: 204.8
Points per game: 20.7
Red zone possessions: 47.5
Red zone TD: 24.2
If two teams are very close to league-average, rank isn't such a big deal. Things get interesting at the extremes, though.
Also, please keep in mind that our Offensive Juggernaut Index is not the same as an NFL power ranking. We're really not thinking about team defense here at all. The focus is on the fantasy usefulness of a team's offense. Keep this in mind, New England fans. No one's trying to insult you. The Patriots are my Super Bowl XLII favorite, just for the record.
However, they are not the league's preeminent fantasy juggernaut …
The defending Super Bowl champs have last season's top-scoring fantasy quarterback, Peyton Manning (311 fantasy points), the top-scoring fantasy wide receiver, Marvin Harrison (199), and a 24-year-old running back, Joseph Addai (172), who rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2006 as part of a committee. Oh, and they also have last season's third highest-scoring fantasy receiver, Reggie Wayne (181). RB Dominic Rhodes disappeared into the hopeless abyss that is the Oakland Raiders offense during the offseason, but he only averaged 3.4 yards per carry last season anyway. Addai averaged 4.8. Addai has the talent and opportunity to become a top-three fantasy RB. Gonzalez should be an upgrade over Stokley. Dallas Clark is a serviceable fantasy tight end. The Colts scored on 91.9 percent of their red zone possessions last year, making them one of only two teams to top 90 percent. Manning and Harrison are both squarely in the greatest-ever-at-their-position discussion, and Indy's offensive line, anchored by Pro Bowlers Jeff Saturday and Tarik Glenn, is among the league's best. The Colts were one of only four teams with fewer than 20 turnovers last season.
Carson Palmer has erased concerns about the destruction of his knee. Over the past two seasons, he's thrown for 60 touchdowns, 7,871 yards, and only 25 interceptions. His primary receivers, Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson, are exceptional. No reason you shouldn't expect another 2,300-plus yardage season from that combo. Despite losing Steinbach, the Bengals offensive line remains solid. Rudi Johnson has rushed for over 1,300 yards and exactly 12 TDs in each of the past three seasons, though his per-carry yardage slipped to 3.8 in 2006. Auburn running back Kenny Irons was a nice addition, and he's a reasonable handcuff to Johnson. Chris Henry remains eligible to return for the season's second-half.
I recently saw an interview with Palmer in which he said, "Guys know that they're not supposed to get arrested." This seems like an important development for Cincinnati. If the Bengals begin to avoid arrest – it's unreasonable to ask them to stop committing crimes, but they could certainly improve their post-crime elusiveness – they might top the 2008 Juggernaut Index.
Not that anyone noticed, but Marc Bulger actually scored more fantasy points last season (253) than either Carson Palmer (241) or Tom Brady (220). He threw for 4,301 yards, 24 touchdowns, and, incredibly, only eight interceptions. He wasn't even the Rams leading scorer, fantasy-wise. That honor belongs to Steven Jackson (314). Jackson led the NFL in total yards in 2006 with 2,334. The Rams have a pair of brilliant-yet-aging receivers, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, and they've enhanced the passing attack by adding Bennett and McMichael. The only question mark here is the offensive line, although Orlando Pace (triceps) will reportedly be ready by training camp. Take a quick look at that opponents' winning percentage. St. Louis will pile up points in 2007.
The Chargers put up obscene numbers in 2006, though most of them belonged to one player, LaDainian Tomlinson. He ran for 28 touchdowns, caught three, and threw for two. He was almost singularly responsible for San Diego's 95.2 red zone scoring percentage, the best rate in the NFL. Sure, Philip Rivers had a Pro Bowl season (3,388 yards passing, 22 TD, nine INT) and Antonio Gates was – and is – the best receiving tight end in football. But San Diego's incredible offensive performance in 2006 was really about LT. Tomlinson totaled 410 fantasy points. Only 18 players eclipsed 200 fantasy points last season; LT essentially did it twice. It's just not reasonable to expect him to duplicate the effort in 2007, but he could score 10 fewer touchdowns and still be the best fantasy RB. The Chargers offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, took the Dolphins head coaching job, and head coach Marty Schottenheimer was replaced by Norv Turner. I'd rate the Chargers offensive line the best in the NFL. I wouldn't rate their wide receivers particularly high, though. However, Vincent Jackson is everyone's sleeper, and first-round pick Craig Davis was a nice add.
What?! Still no Patriots?!
Nope, not yet. The Saints just edge them. New Orleans led the NFL in passing yards and total yards-per-game (391.5) last season. Drew Brees (261 points) trailed only Manning in fantasy QB scoring in 2006. Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and rookie Robert Meachem are the three draftable receivers, though Meachem is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. Joe Horn is gone, but it's like he was never there. Reggie Bush scored seven touchdowns in the final five games of 2006, and should be his normal explosive self in 2007. In points-per-reception leagues, he should be a first round pick. Deuce McAllister (1,057 yards rushing and 10 TDs in 2007) is still around, too. The Saints offensive line was very good last season, which came as a bit of a surprise. Note the .484 opponents' winning percentage.
Once again, just so we're clear: I think the Patriots are going to the Super Bowl. They're going to be nearly everyone's pick, too. I also think that Randy Moss can be great again, not merely good. He's scored double-digit touchdowns six times during his career, and he's gone over 100 receptions twice. He can also whip up a magical strawberry-banana smoothie. I don't necessarily expect Week 1 dominance from the Pats, though. There are lots of new pieces here, and some of them are notoriously fragile and/or volatile. The three teams atop the Juggernaut Index haven't had such dramatic changes in the skill positions. Tom Brady is a startlingly consistent fantasy quarterback, of course, and it would be no surprise if he matched his career-best 2005 totals (4,110 yards, 26 TD, 249 fantasy points) this season. Laurence Maroney, if fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery and if he can handle a full-time workload, could be a great fantasy back.
Key Offensive Additions: Jason Garrett, G Leonard Davis
Key Offensive Subtractions: Bill Parcels
I think we're all plenty happy that Drew Bledsoe can't torment us any longer. The Cowboys have all kinds of talent at the skill positions: Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn and Patrick Crayton at WR, Jason Witten at TE, and Marion Barber III and Julius Jones at RB. The biggest questions are whether Tony Romo can be great again – and maybe throw INTs at a less Bledsoian rate – and just how much better the offensive line can be with Leonard Davis. Spectacularly large Chicagoan Flozell Adams, a three-time Pro Bowler, is still there. The Cowboys were fourth in the NFL in points-per-game in 2006, but head coach Wade Phillips and coordinator Jason Garrett weren't really responsible for that.
Ah, zone-blocking. There was a time when a peg-legged Matt Suhey could've run for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns with this team. The offensive line still figures to be extremely good, and Travis Henry could have an extraordinary year. Jay Cutler averaged roughly 200 yards, two TDs and one INT in his five games last season. Expect a less conservative approach with the young QB this year, and look for Javon Walker to benefit. Tony Scheffler was clearly Cutler's preferred end zone target at the end of 2006, but Daniel Graham signed a serious contract that suggests serious looks and receptions.
Donovan McNabb, who totaled 200 fantasy points in only half a season in 2006, seems to be having a successful rehab. He was in the MVP discussion before the ACL injury. His post-injury mobility remains a significant question. Brian Westbrook was sensational last year, gaining 1,916 yards combined rushing and receiving, and scoring 11 touchdowns. The Eagles' offensive line, led by Pro Bowl G Shawn Andrews, is one of the NFL's best. Stallworth is no small loss, though third-year WR Reggie Brown had 816 yards and eight TDs in 2006. Curtis could be a nice late-round pick, and keeper league owners should take a late flier on Kolb, a rookie QB from Houston. He threw for 3,809 yards with a completion percentage of 67.6 in his senior year. LJ. Smith is still recovering from hernia surgery, and might not be fully ready at the beginning of training camp.
. 10. Seattle Seahawks
Mike Holmgren recently told the Associated Press, "There is nothing wrong with Shaun Alexander." No lingering foot issues, no nothin'. He might end up being one of the better mid- or late-first round bargains on draft day. This guy had 16 or more total TDs every year from 2001 to 2005. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (shoulder) recently told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Right now I'm not strong." Keep following this storyline. The Seahawks clearly lost some weapons in the passing game, though optimistic projections for D.J. Hackett abound. This remains a very good offensive line. Left tackle Walter Jones reportedly had a medley of offseason surgeries; he'll need to be his usual freakish self for Alexander to return to top-tier RB status.
Key Offensive Additions: Mike Tomlin, TE Matt Spaeth
Key Offensive Subtractions: Bill Cowher
Ben Roethlisberger stunk last year. Not many fantasy owners relied on him, so it probably wasn't a factor in your leagues. But man, he stunk: 75.4 rating, 18 TD, 23 INT. Sure seems like he'll be throwing a lot in 2007, too. As Yahoo!'s Charles Robinson reported in May, the Steelers are likely to use more three- and four-receiver sets on first and second down. Seems like a smart thing to do with famously fast Willie Parker in the backfield and a group of talented receivers, including Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. But can Roethlisberger avoid being such a spaz? As a second quarterback, though, he's a nice speculative pick.
12. New York Giants
That's about as key a subtraction as a team can have. Tiki Barber left the Giants backfield to join the cast of, like, "The View" or something. In his final NFL season, Barber ran for 1,662 yards. The biggest question facing the Giants is whether some combination of Brandon Jacobs and Droughns can approximate that effort. The Giants run-block well, so Jacobs could be a very good second RB in fantasy leagues, and he's someone you can get in the seventh or eight round in public leagues – his ADP is 73.6. Plaxico Burress is worth owning; Amani Toomer, not so much. Toomer is inevitably drafted in the last round, though. USC rookie Steve Smith might enter the picture at some point. Eli Manning had six multi-INT games last season, en route to 18. That has to improve if the offense is going to crack the Juggernaut top 10 in 2008.
They knew they needed to address the offensive line, and they've certainly tried. Top pick Levi Brown should help the running game, as will tackle Mike Gandy. Edgerrin James was nearly un-ownable last year. He averaged 3.4 yards per carry and scored only six touchdowns. The passing game wasn't so bad, though. Expect improvement from 24-year-old Matt Leinart, who, rumor has it, is seriously outraged that he's ranked behind Kevin Jones on Brandon Funston's Big(ger) Board. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are as talented as any of the WR duos at the top of the Index.
14. Chicago Bears
The Bears scored a remarkable number of points on defense and special teams last season. They returned three punts, two kickoffs, one interception, two fumbles, and a missed field goal for TDs. That has a lot to do with why they averaged 26.7 points-per-game. It certainly wasn't all Rex Grossman. The Bears QB was alternately productive and atrocious. He had five games with three or more interceptions, and seven multi-TD games. At least part of his problem, it seems to me, is that Grossman is merely a normal-sized human. He's listed at only 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds. People of that size live and work among us; they aren't usually playing in the NFL unless they kick. The Bears can't ask him to win too many games, and you can't really ask him to start for your fantasy team. He needs to improve on that 54.6 completion percentage and slash his turnovers. Easy to say, tough for a wee QB to do. Olsen was a nice addition for the Bears. The departure of Jones is a blow, but Cedric Benson was very good in a job-share situation last year: 157 carries, 647 yards, 4.1 Y/A, six TD. The Bears offensive line has, rather quietly, been one of the team's biggest strengths.
The Jacksonville running game gets them a spot in the top half of the Juggernaut Index … barely. But when one of your "key additions" is Dennis Northcutt, your passing game might be in trouble. The Jaguars have an excellent line, a pair of dynamic running backs in Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, and … well, that's what they have. They're rumored to have interest in Daunte Culpepper. Whoever quarterbacks this team will still be throwing to Reggie Williams, Ernest Wilford, and Matt Jones. Running back Greg Jones is a good final-round flier in deep leagues. Jones-Drew had 16 total touchdowns and a 5.7 yard-per-carry average last season.
16. Detroit Lions
Jon Kitna recently declared that he thinks the Lions will win lots and lots of football games in 2007. How many? "I'll keep to myself what I think we actually will win," he told a Detroit radio station. "But it's more than 10 games." There's maybe a post-concussion thing happening here. The reason for Kitna's optimism? "I don't like putting a lot of pressure on people, but Calvin Johnson, to me, will have about the same impact that Reggie Bush had in New Orleans." Or that Lech Walesa had in Poland. Or that gamma rays had in Dr. Banner. Or that sugar had in cake. Or that … you get the idea. Jon Kitna (hearts) Calvin Johnson.
And Johnson is great. Roy Williams is pretty good, too. The Lions passing attack gained lots of yards last season, and set up lots of field goals. Those are fine, but they aren't what you're really looking for. Kitna turned the ball over 31 times, which has to change if the Lions are going to win, say, seven games. Ideally, fantasy owners will avoid the three-headed RB mess here. Johnson, Williams, Kitna and K Jason Hanson are clearly draft-worthy. Kevin Jones is reportedly stunned to learn that he's ahead of Matt Leinart on the Big(ger) Board.