A fast start out of the fantasy gate will raise the optimism of owners anywhere. A fumble in the opening weeks however, like a 0-2 beginning blemish, can serve to make even the most ebullient among us feel sour about our chances of making the playoffs.
There have been a lot of fantasy football disappointments early in the season – Andre Johnson, Jamal Lewis and even Peyton Manning spring to mind – but perhaps no group of underachievers is so collectively pooled as the ones in the NFC North, or as Chris Berman from ESPN insists, The “Norris” Division. Before the games counted, fantasy owners had a lot to like from this quartet of teams.
The optimism was rampant about the Vikings. Sure they didn’t have Randy Moss anymore, but how was that going to matter with Nate Burleson and rookie Troy Williamson ready to follow in his footsteps? The Packers offense would be back with a vengeance, and even better for fantasy purposes if the defense ended up dead on arrival. Three number one wideouts were supposed to jumpstart the Detroit offense, no matter whether Joey Harrington would remain the starter. Big things were obviously expected from Chicago’s ground game and in particular Cedric Benson, because even though he held out for so long he kept being drafted rounds before Thomas Jones.
Sadly for those owners who selected a number of the stars on these squads, things did not work out in weeks one and two as expected. The Vikings and Packers are both 0-2, the best receiver on Detroit’s roster so far is import Marcus Pollard, and though the Bears obliterated their Motown nemesis last weekend, they could not create a thing the week before against the Redskins. So, on to a review of the major flops from the four teams:
The Top Perpetrators
Vikings – Daunte Culpepper: After a poor game to start the season, Pep couldn’t talk his way out of a paper bag against the Bengals, throwing five interceptions. It isn’t so bad that Cincinnati tilted the Vikings defense like a pinball machine, but that the Vikings could not get any offense of their own going was disturbing. With eight interceptions on the season, compared to exactly NO passing touchdowns, Culpepper is a Billy-sized fantasy goat so far, and his owners are going to be very gruff if he doesn’t turn it around soon.
Packers – Ahman Green: Green’s 56-yard rushing average is not going to cut it for those who selected him in the early rounds of a draft or paid a lot for him at auction. So far his production does not seem to be entirely his fault, as he is averaging 4.0 yards/carry, but has only received 28 totes. Unfortunately, he also hasn’t scored a touchdown. Not a promising beginning.
Lions – Kevin Jones: Green’s running back colleague has gained fewer yards on more carries and also does not have a score to show for the season. Through two games, this is the Jones in the league that is not keeping up. Fellow sophomore Julius has 174 yards and a score while Thomas Jones has racked up 170 yards with three touchdowns for those few owners who had the faith to count on him for production.
Bears – Cedric Benson: This is what happens to holdouts – depth-chart disfavor. When Benson made the poor decision to hold out for all eternity, Thomas Jones had his opportunity to excel. Jones has earned his playing time, and if the Bears keep winning with defense and a run game, Benson will be benching it, if not for all eternity, at least until the Bears hit a string of tough run defenses.
Packers – Javon Walker: This is also what happens to holdouts – injuries. I hear some of you beginning to interject that I shouldn’t include an injured player on this list. Tell that to the thousands of fantasy owners who were counting on Walker to be their number one fantasy receiver.
Vikings – Nate Burleson: Yet to break 50 yards receiving in a game this year, Burleson has not done his fantasy owners any favors. Needless to say, he has not replaced Moss in the offense. And on top of that he may now be hindered by his own injury.
Lions – Joey Harrington: Harrington’s three touchdown passes aren’t bad (only seven quarterbacks have thrown for more so far) but his five interceptions already rank second behind Culpepper’s rank effort. The fact that he looked so lost against Chicago is not a good sign that the potential powerhouse offense is going to produce this season.
Bears – None: The Bears have been surprising, if not ultra productive in other areas. No one expected anything of Kyle Orton or the Bears’ receivers other than Muhammad, and since he has 140 yards and a score he is doing just fine so far.
Will these grounded gridiron stars right themselves soon? Don’t count on a resurrection from the Packers or Lions. Over the next three weeks Green Bay plays Tampa Bay, Carolina and New Orleans. Ahman Green will have a tough go and even Brett Favre will likely struggle. Detroit has two weeks to get over the beating they received from the Bears, but then face more beatings against Tampa Bay and Baltimore. Kevin Jones will be hard-pressed for yards against the Ravens and the passing game could crash and burn versus the Buccaneers. Chicago faces Cincinnati and Cleveland over the next three weeks, so Thomas Jones will probably hold back Benson at least through those games. The Minnesota passing game will face Mike McKenzie of the Saints and DeAngelo Hall of the Falcons. Not a recipe for success.
Keep in mind though that even in this disappointment, it would not be prudent to panic and sell low on these NFC North players. It is better to suffer a while, losing perhaps a few games, rather than deal them away at this time when you will get next to nothing in return. If you give up on your superstars early you are nearly guaranteed a full season of losses.
Hire Joe Levit for corporate or client appreciation events at fantasyfootballspeaker.com. His fantasy football columns appear on SI.com and thehuddle.com. Joe, a PFWA and FSWA member, writes about the NFL for patriotsinsider.com and is a fantasy football analyst on radio. He is the creator of the Sleeper League and FF Hold ‘em League concepts.