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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
September 7, 2005
Season Ticket
Thur 9 PM Sun 1 PM Sun 1 PM Sun 4 PM Sun 8:30 PM
Sun 1 PM SEA at JAC NYJ at KC STL at SF Mon 9 PM
DEN at MIA CIN at CLE   GB at DET Times ET

Prediction: Tampa Bay 21, Minnesota 27

Here's our chance to see two of the more interesting sights we have not seen in a long time - Tampa Bay with a premier running back and the Vikings without Randy Moss. Both teams come off late season slides in 2004 and the two are akin to mirror images - good offense/bad defense versus bad offense/good defense. But both have worked on their respective weaknesses in the offseason and this is a game to watch to see where they actually stand after their make-overs. Since Tampa Bay was only 1-7 on the road last year, chances are excellent that the Bucs will be standing on the small side of the score board.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0)
1 Sep 11 @MIN 10 Nov 13 WAS
2 Sep 18 BUF 11 Nov 20 @ATL
3 Sep 25 @GBP 12 Nov 27 CHI
4 Oct 2 DET 13 Dec 4 @NOR
5 Oct 9 @NYJ 14 Dec 11 @CAR
6 Oct 16 MIA 15 Dec 17 @NE
7 Open Bye 16 Dec 24 ATL
8 Oct 30 @SFO 17 Jan 1 NOR
9 Nov 6 CAR . . SAT
TBB Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Brian Griese 0 0 250,2
RB Cadillac Williams 80,1 20 0
RB Michael Pittman 10 20 0
TE Anthony Becht 0 10 0
WR Joey Galloway 0 80,1 0
WR Michael Clayton 0 70,1 0
WR Ike Hilliard 0 30 0
PK Matt Bryant 0 FG 3 XP -
Pregame Notes: Brian Griese filled in admirably last season and returns with the confidence of HC Jon Gruden to "get 'er done" this year. The offense was immediately upgraded with the addition of rookie Carnell "Cadillac" Williams who will provide the primary back role to a level perhaps unseen ever on a Gruden offense. Michael Clayton comes off a very successful rookie campaign and Joey Galloway offers a great downfield threat for however many plays he lasts before being injured. Make no mistake - this will be the best offense in Tampa Bay in years.

Quarterback: Brian Griese took the starting spot in week six last season and never looked back. He threw scores in every remaining game including multiple scores in all but three games. He had three 300 yard games. A healthy Galloway and a rushing game to support him, Griese could be even better this season though a running game is just as likely to depress his numbers with a reduced need to throw.

Running Backs: Throughout Gruden's tenure as a head coach in Oakland and Tampa Bay, he had never used a primary runner to any great extent. Simply enough, he never had a player with the potential of Cadillac Williams and has stated repeatedly that Williams is not slated to be "one of the boys" but instead to be "the man" in the Bucs rushing game this year. Williams is a great fit even more when you consider he is adept at catching those short passes that the offense prefers.

That leaves Michael Pittman where he starts every season - just on the outside looking in. What is different this time around is that Pittman is unlikely to perform his annual mid-season "pick up the pieces and rack up fantasy points". Pittman will still be used for spelling Williams and as a natural pass receiving back will almost certainly continue to have some third down role, but the presence of Williams should make Pittman a relative fantasy non-factor this year. There is some word that the duo could be in the backfield at the same time, but that rarely happens in the NFL compared to how often it is suggested.

Wide Receivers: Michael Clayton was turning heads throughout his first training camp and he never let up for the entire season, gaining 1193 yards and seven touchdowns for a tremendous freshman effort. He improved as the season progressed and had four of his scores in the final four weeks. When Joey Galloway returned in week nine onward, Clayton only became better. The question here is how long the fragile Galloway avoids injury.

The Buccaneers also added Ike Hilliard in the offseason and he takes over for the role that Joe Jurevicius never seemed to fill. Chances are Hilliard will be equally adept at not filling it as well.

Tight Ends: The Buccaneers have longed used the tight end position but they only do that about every three games and in ways that are impossible to predict. Anthony Becht is the starter and could be a small factor in the passing game but the team also drafted Alex Smith who should eventually take over as the primary. Since both players are new to the team and the position is so inconsistently used, a few games will be needed to see if there is any reliability in either Becht or Smith.

Match Against the Defense: As with all week one games, it is always difficult to get a handle on what most defenses will be like this season. The Vikings have made many moves in the offseason to shore up what traditionally is one of the worst units in the NFL but they attempt as much every year. Given the points that the offense throws on the board, the defense is typically defending the quick score at the expense of yardage gains in the second half of many games.

While even more speculative than many other games, you have to assume that the Vikings have not manufactured a top defense in just a matter of months with a couple of free agents. Look for Cadillac to finally get the significant playing time he has been saved for during the summer and he should have some success against a defense that was bottom ten in virtually every positional category last year. This game could end up to be one of the better scoring this week. Minnesota has upgraded the secondary and should no longer be quite the sieve of 2004, but first week out in a game that should post some good points? Griese, Clayton and Galloway should be safe starts in spite of the lack of concrete 2005 stats to go by.

Minnesota Vikings (0-0)
1 Sep 11 TBB 10 Nov 13 @NYG
2 Sep 18 @CIN 11 Nov 21 @GBP
3 Sep 25 NOR 12 Nov 27 CLE
4 Oct 2 @ATL 13 Dec 4 @DET
5 Open Bye 14 Dec 11 STL
6 Oct 16 @CHI 15 Dec 18 PIT
7 Oct 23 GBP 16 Dec 25 @BAL
8 Oct 30 @CAR 17 Jan 1 CHI
9 Nov 6 DET . . MON
MIN Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Daunte Culpepper 20,1 0 260,2
RB Michael Bennett 60 20 0
TE Jermaine Wiggins 0 30,1 0
WR Nate Burleson 0 90,1 0
WR Marcus Robinson 0 20 0
WR Troy Williamson 0 40 0
WR Travis Taylor 0 50 0
PK Paul Edinger 3 FG 3 XP -

Pregame Notes: This season the Vikings get to answer the age old question - which comes first, the quarterback or the receiver? While conventional wisdom had Culpepper knocked down a peg or two with Randy Moss gone, the reality is that overall this could be an even better receiving crew in total - and a much harder one to defend. Add in a rushing game that looks to be no less open for problems and the Vikes could be slinging points better than ever this season.

Quarterback: While the world went ga-ga over Peyton Manning last year, Daunte Culpepper was actually assembling a better fantasy season in most leagues. His combined 5,123 yards rushing and passing set an NFL record. Now that Moss is gone, there is no question who defines this team. Culpepper may be without Moss this year, but with Nate Burleson, Travis Taylor, Marcus Robinson, Troy Williamson and eventually maybe even Koren Robinson - he has plenty of targets to hit.

Running Backs: The Vikings are saying that they are committed to running the ball this year, but no coach ever says they plan on getting their backs injured and resorting to a "throw like hell" attack (though a few probably should). Michael Bennett is the starter and he's in the final year of his contract with money and a career hanging on this season. He's taken counsel from Robert Smith on how to be a Vikings back that is not always injured and has taken precautions to help his health. That means he only strained his neck once during training camp.

Mewelde Moore became the #2 when Onterrio Smith lost the "it's just a beer bong " argument and ended up suspended. With the durability issues of Bennett well known, Moore seems like a lock for at least some meaningful playing time this year. The rookie Ciatrick Fason has not done much to impress or move from his de facto #3 spot but the way the Vikings usually go, they may get down to him eventually.

As always Moe Williams provides third down duty, though he had minimal use last season as he winds down his career.

Wide Receivers: While much of the focus has been on the loss of Randy Moss, the 2005 crew with Culpepper throwing could be a major surprise. Nate Burleson enters his third season having already broken out in 2004 with 1006 yards and nine touchdowns. Marcus Robinson and Travis Taylor compete at split end while the speedy rookie Troy Williamson is available for stretching defenses and eventually at least a #2 role in a season or two. The Vikings also added Koren "Party" Robinson which gives them four first round wideouts on the team, if Koren can stay around long enough to remain on the team and contribute.

This is a very good crew with high potential considering the quarterback. Unfortunately fantasy fans may have the same problem as defensive coordinators - which one is the one to focus on each week?

Tight Ends: As if Culpepper needed yet more options, Jermaine Wiggins mans the H-back spot that produced 705 yards and four scores last year and Jim Kleinsasser returns to the tight end role that netted him 401 yards and four scores in 2003 before he spent 2004 on injured reserve. These next few games will indicate if Kleinsasser will cut into Wiggins numbers, but safest bet is that the H-back position is already working well while Kleinsasser is a better blocker.

Match Against the Defense: While the Buccaneers no longer have the elite defense of a few years ago, the unit is still better than average and just barely made it into the top ten in every "defense against position" category in 2004. That 1-7 road record from last year happened for a reason - they were not nearly as good away from home though they had three dome games last year and are not unfamiliar playing "inside". Expect that Bennett only has a moderate game rushing and hope he remains healthy enough for the Cincy matchup next week. This game will be decided through the air and Tampa Bay gave up monster games to Trent Green and Jake Delhomme on the road last year. This is a definite game to watch because a much more concrete picture of both offenses will come out of it. Week one is typically higher scoring for those good offenses and the Vikings passing attack should prove to be more than the Bucs can handle.