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Commentary From the Edge - Week 1
Kevin Ratterree
September 5, 2006

The wild and wooly ride of the preseason is behind us, and we are all as children waiting for Christmas morning.  We have drafted our fantasy teams.  We all know they are going to win us a championship.  Our hometown teams are all poised for that Superbowl run.  Everybody is a contender. All is right with the world come Sunday morning.

But reality will slap some in the face with a cruel blow by late Monday night.  If recent history is any indication, one of the players I am heavily invested in will go down with a season ending injury.  Here is a list of the candidates:

Brian Westbrook, Frank Gore, Steve Smith, Donald Driver, Kurt Warner, Nate Burleson, and Wali Lundy.  I drafted all those guys in more than one league, so one of them is going down in week one.  Just a heads up so you will know what is coming.  I'm particularly worried about Westy, since I drafted him on ALL of my teams. 

Speaking of Lundy, welcome to Wali world!  This was one of those rare situations where everything came together just right for a fantasy draft super-sleeper.  Most drafts were concluded before the full realization by the masses that Domanick Davis wasn't a part of the equation, and that Lundy would indeed be named the starter.  I got Lundy in the 10th round or later in 2 of my drafts, and at this point in time he is the starting RB on a team that figures to try to run the ball a bunch.  How does that happen?  Lundy was a sneaky pick because of the uncertainty of the situation, but it seems now that if Kubiaks' faith in him proves well placed, he could end up being the sleeper pick of the year for fantasy drafts.  I certainly was thrilled to get him as a 4th RB that late in drafts.  You just can't beat that kind of potential depth.  In fantasy football, that is like oxygen. 

Kind of makes me feel better about Westbrook's season ending injury next Sunday.  Oops, did I just say that out loud?

Unfortunately for the World Championship Of Fantasy Football crowd, the smoke has cleared somewhat on the Houston RB situation, and Wali will most certainly be drafted much earlier in all drafts that are still to take place.  The Lundy super-sleeper cat is out of the bag.  And the Mike Bell mystery will make or break some WCOFF teams as well.  I would estimate both will be drafted in the 3rd and 4th rounds of WCOFF drafts, a much steeper price than most traditional draft date leagues.  And those are some high stakes picks in the high stake games.  Of course, if you are drafting Lundy in the 4th round at WCOFF, you might feel compelled to handcuff him to Ron Dayne.  And that just can't be good for your team, your state of mind, and the snickers from the draft table.

Shanahan did it again.  If you drafted really early in the preseason, you may have penciled in Ron Dayne as the starter.  Or you may have played the Tatum Bell card.  But as usual, the Denver RB question was answered with (c) None of the above.  The undrafted Mike Bell was thrust up the depth chart and named the starter.  I drafted Mike Bell.  I don't know who the hell he is.  He may be cut from the team by week 3.  But I drafted him anyway.  Why?  The same reason I wait to start doing my taxes until April 13th, or drive around on New Years Eve after the bars close.  Just to stare death in the face and say howdy.

If you had an early draft this year you might have got the shaft in a big way.  It has been a very wild pre-season, with more trades and player movement than I ever remember.  The way the NFL does business is changing.  And along with it, the way we prepare for a draft.  Write your cheat sheets in pencil.  The five weeks leading up to the regular season are like Mr. Toads Wild Ride.  Speaking of which......... 

I wrote a column back in June called 15 players to avoid in your fantasy drafts.  Kurt Warner was on the list.  But I drafted him anyway.  I changed my mind.  It seems reasonable that Warner, for the games he actually plays this season should put up numbers to rival Manning and Palmer.  And when you can get a guy in the 8th round of your draft that puts up the best QB numbers for any given week, that is a value play.  The key to drafting Warner though was back-ups, and I did manage to snag Leinert and Plummer in both leagues I drafted Warner.  He will get hurt just as Ron Dayne will get another chance after he is cut by the Texans.  But I want Warner in my lineup until he limps off the field.  

I told you not to draft Culpepper, and I still stand by that.  I do feel better about him after seeing him run the offense and test the knee.  But where he was drafted in most drafts, I still think he is being a bit overvalued by most.  He isn't going to be asked to do as much as he was in Minnesota, and he has a real shot at succeeding in this system.  But I just don't see him having a big year fantasy-wise.  In my column I said Culpepper will put up average numbers at best, and I still think average is about what he will be.  And taking into account the knee issue, he is still a guy I wanted nothing to do with in my drafts, when I could get Delhomme or Warner after him.

Reggie Bush was also on my list to avoid in re-drafts.  I probably want to back down on that a bit.  It seems McAllister will be able to handle a sufficient amount of the carries, so maybe Bush will not run out of gas down the stretch.  But the team still looks pretty bad, and I still think he will put a few nice games, but he is in a tough spot on that team, and his numbers may suffer as a result.  But there will be a few weeks that he wins some games for some fantasy teams as well.  I would have drafted him this year had I been in a good spot to do so.

Chester Taylor was on my list to avoid, and I really haven't seen any reason to change my mind.  Taylor has been one of the most heavily debated players of the preseason.  Some think he will be the next Priest Holmes.  But he looked decidedly un-Priestly in the limited action I saw him in.  Taylor supporters are sure that he will turn it on when the real action begins.  I'm from Missouri.  Show me Chester.  Prove me wrong.  Will I still be waiting mid-season?  Yeah, I still think this guy will be less than advertised.

I have also changed my thinking on the Drew Bledsoe and Terrell Owens picks. I think there is probably about a 20% chance that the Cowboys blow up this season.  But I also believe there is about a 50% chance they could play in the NFC title game.  Bledsoe and Owens were not players I strived to get during these drafts.  But at the point at which each was actually drafted  I think the risk to reward ratio was acceptable for each.

As for the season ahead, I am having a hard time putting my finger on my Superbowl picks.  From the NFC I would be shocked if any team except the Panthers, Seahawks, or Cowboys represent in the Superbowl.  In the AFC is really where I am lost.  It would be easy to pick the Colts, but after last seasons fiasco in the playoffs I have finally come to the realization that the Colts just aren't going to get there.  They may be the best team to never make it to the big game, but that is all they are. 

I like the Bengals and the Broncos, but I don't have a lot of confidence in either team winning the conference.  I have a strange feeling that a team will rise up and challenge for supremacy in the AFC.  I like the Dolphins this year.  They should be better defensively.  They are better at QB.  And they have a schedule that looks to me to be quite favorable.  I'm not ready to anoint them just yet, but Saban has this team on the fast track to success, and it might come as early as this season if the key pieces hold together.  As always in the NFL, as in fantasy, it's all about the injuries.

So, since I am dead tired of predicting a Colts Superbowl and being wrong every year, I will remove the curse and pick the dark horse Miami Dolphins from the AFC.  With that pick I avoid looking like an idiot for not getting off the Colts wagon yet again, and if it pans out I'm one of the few people outside of Miami that goes with the Fish.  All upside and no downside with that pick.  Unfortunately, whatever team from the AFC emerges will lose to the Carolina Panthers in the Superbowl.  Mark it down.  This is the year.  The NFC is taking it back.

Well, I have talked about the good, now let's talk about the bad.  I have never done this before, but I am going to do a preseason ranking of the Misery Index.  But first:

Crazy as Hell Pick of the Week

Alright kids, it's time for some gaming NFL style.  Please keep in mind that betting against the spread in week one of the NFL season is about as foolish as betting on preseason exhibitions .  I always advise people to take it easy for week one.  I know you have been champing at the bit to place an NFL bet, but keep your powder dry.  It is a long season, and in week one you just don't have enough solid data to help you decide where the betting bargains are.  Fluky things happen in week one.  Some of them become trends, but many are an aberration that will be forgotten by mid-season.  So with that in mind, and no clear values on the board, I will simply choose to handicap the very first game of the season between the Steelers and the Dolphins. 

This is a pick all for me.  I have issues with the Steelers.  They made me look like an idiot during their Superbowl run.  I am on a 4 game losing streak betting against the Steelers.  But that is all in the past, and a new season is beginning.  Roethlisberger proved that he is a "smash-mouth" quarterback alright.  I don't know many guys that could do a face plant in a mid-size compact, and strap on a helmet a couple of weeks later, but big Ben has done just that.  But now Ben's body is attacking him from within.   Bettis is gone, as is Randle El.  So the team enters the season with a new look, but the same philosophy.  Run Run Run.  Defense Defense Defense.  The Steelers went 5-3 at home last season, but that included a 3 point loss to the Patriots, and an overtime loss to the Jags.  They are always one of the toughest teams in the league at home.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins lost their first 3 road games last year, and lost each by 6 or more points.  And two of those teams were the Jets and the Bills.  Later in the year they were shut out in Cleveland 22-0.  This is a team that struggles on the road at times.  Though they did post some nice road wins late last year.   But now they come into the frenzied house of the league champions for a nationally televised game to kick off the season.  Tough spot.  The Steelers were a 4 point favorite before Roethlisberger had his appendix plucked.  My sportsbook is apparently too chicken Schlitz to put a number on this game now.  But I am going to assume that the books kick it down to a 1 point spread with Batch behind center.   Basically a pick'em game.  What can I say?  A already told you that I think the Dolphins have a chance to win the AFC this year.  And if that is going to be the case, a victory in the champs house would certainly be a good way to announce your intentions to the world.  I think the Dolphins are primed for a big upset to start the season.    Steelers -1.

Misery Index

10: Cowboys:  Fans of the big D have experienced Owens interruptus this preseason.  If Geriatric Jones wanted someone to ride the stationary bike for the preseason, he probably could have got Lance Armstrong or that other testosterone jamming bike dude a whole lot cheaper about now.  To his credit, Parcells kept from blowing a gasket, and kept "the player" from doing the same.  "The player" magically healed his hamstring after Parcells revealed he couldn't start "a player" that he hasn't seen practice.  So for now it appears the powder keg that is the Cowboys remains unfired.  However "the player" did manage to make himself quite happy by keeping his name in the headlines, and on the lips of sports broadcasters for the duration of the preseason.  But to be perfectly fair, skipping preseason has become a tradition among some star players, especially receivers.  And a hammy is probably the easiest excuse, and many times a legitimate excuse.  "The player" would seem confident he can step into the lineup with virtually no game experience with his quarterback and still produce.  Maybe when the season kicks off the talking heads will have something else to comment on besides the fact that "the player" is a giant ass.  Maybe.

9: Patriots:  Key personnel and coaches are missing from the team that took the crown 2 years ago.  Unless Branch comes back into the fold, this team will have a receiving corps that even the Kansas City Chiefs can snicker at.  Brady was a high dollar draft pick in fantasy leagues, but nobody is quite sure where his 4000 passing yards will be ending up this season.  Somehow it just doesn't all add up.  Yet, with Belichick at the reins, I do not feel the need to dig a grave for this franchise.  The coach seems to do it with mirrors every season, and in the end this one will probably be no different.  But at this point there sure are a lot of questions about who will be catching all these passes Brady will throw.  Vinatieri isn't there to pull them out of the fire any more, and that is reason enough for Pats fans to panic.  If you are a Pats fan, you have to be just a little bit uneasy about how the team jettisoned their most dependable receiver, and God-like kicker.  It seems to me like the Maroney / Watson show had better be a good one.

8: Redskins:  A couple of months ago it seemed here was a lot of optimism for the Redskins.  Then, Portis got hurt on a meaningless play in a meaningless game.  The pre-season was a disaster.  The team looks lost.  Brunell is 62 years old and held together with duct tape.  His knees sound like a walnut huller when he passes by.  And the 'Skins schedule looks brutal.  Did I mention they are playing in the toughest division in football?  Yeah, I think it's time to welcome back our old friends the Redskins to the Misery Index.     

7: Browns:  With a green behind the ears quarterback taking the reins, it seems unlikely the Browns are in for anything less than a brutal season.  Things were looking up during the off-season as the team made moves to strengthen a weak offensive front.  But fate spat on the Browns (as we have become accustomed to) and their plans have all gone up in smoke.  Though they did show some sparks of life late last season, this team still has a long way to go before they escape the basement of their division.  And the mojo seems to be pointed in the wrong direction.

6: Texans:  Fans are still scratching their heads over the Reggie Bush deal.  But they did what they thought was right.  Did the organization not know Domanick Davis was toast?  Would they have drafted Bush, had they known Davis would miss the season?  Probably not.  Kubiak has this guy named Wali, and he is going to plug him in.  He was a lot cheaper than Bush, and that's the way Kubiak rolls.  And maybe it was the right move in the long run.  Maybe Wali will be a big star in his own right.  But that move will be questioned over the course of the next several years as to whether they made a mistake on a "once in a decade player" or not.  For now though, the Texans appear to be in good hands (if the preseason was any indication), and this is a team that is headed in the right direction.  And this time I mean it.  I think.  Well, I'm pretty sure.....actually, let me get back to you on that one.............................

5: Packers:  Favre kept the masses in suspense long past what would have been best for the organization, then according to Favre decided to stay based on a vote from his family.  Here's how I see this shaking out. Favre came back to have fun, but losing 42-10 is not fun.  Losing 42-39 is not exactly fun but it is a lot closer.  Favre is strapping it on to wing the ball.   And that is what he is going to do.  He will pass for 4000 yards and Driver will get 1400 (if Favre doesn't get bulldozed by a defensive front somewhere along the line.)  But the team? Favre has a chance to repeat last years 29 INT's and that is a mountain a team cannot climb.  Even the most talented bunch he has ever played with.  

4: 49ers:  Alex Smith to the rescue?  If last seasons 11 touchdown passes (only one for Smith in 7 starts) aren't exceeded, this team is in line for another high draft pick. 

3: Jets:  Oh man this is going to be great.  Pennington is going to keep trying it until his arm actually leaves it's socket and goes flying across the field.  Add to that the 5 man running back by committee the Jets will see through the course of the year, and a general lack of talent overall, and you have the makings of a team that could rival the 1976 Buccaneers.  God help you if you were forced to draft any offensive player from this team.

2: Titans:  I don't know quite what to say.  Yes I do.  Kerry Collins is your quarterback.  The Raiders cut him loose, and you scooped him up like someone else's doggy doo on the sidewalk.  And not a very attractive dog either.  Boy, that was a stunner.  And a move like that would normally get you the top spot in the Index......if not for...............(drumroll)

1: Raiders:  The very fact that you even let Jeff George through the front doors shows that desperation and mental instability are running rampant through your organization.  It is also an automatic number one ranking in the Misery Index.  Yeah, I know your team won some games in pre-season.  And if preseason counted the Raiders might end up with 7 wins this year.  But it doesn't.  Someone needs to grab Al baby and give him a good shake, maybe see if you can slap him back into 2006.  The poor devil thinks it's 1996.  The Raiders might not end up with the worst record in the league this year, but if they do, they certainly got it the old fashioned way.  They earned it.