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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
Player Projections by Team
Game Predictions Summary
The Huddle
September 6, 2006
Season Ticket
Sunday Late
Sunday night
BAL at TB NO at CLE     SD at OAK

Prediction: BAL 17, TB 23

The Ravens (6-10) start their new season with an aim for better offense while trying to maintain what has historically been a very good defense. The Ravens ranked 10th in points allowed last year while their offense turned in an anemic 25th best in points scored. The Buccaneers (11-5) went through a quarterback change early last season but held on to win the NFC South while featuring the Offensive Rookie of the Year in Carnell Williams. This meeting would have been just another low-scoring defensive affair a few years back but there's the promise of some fireworks for this year.

Baltimore Ravens (0-0)
1 --- @TB 10 --- @TEN
2 --- OAK 11 --- ATL
3 --- @CLE 12 --- PIT
4 --- SD 13 --- @CIN
5 --- @DEN 14 --- @KC
6 --- CAR 15 --- CLE
7 Open Bye 16 --- @PIT
8 --- @NO 17 --- BUF
9 --- CIN - THU MON
BAL at TB Rush Catch Pass
QB Steve McNair 20 0 220,2
RB Jamal Lewis 60 10 0
RB Musa Smith 20 10 0
TE Todd Heap 0 50,1 0
WR Derrick Mason 0 80,1 0
WR Mark Clayton 0 40 0
WR Devard Darling 0 20 0
PK Matt Stover 1 FG 2 XP -
Pregame Notes: The Ravens offense is as promising this year as it has ever been. That's not from the rushing game that continues to feature Jamal Lewis and his quest to find his groove again. The Ravens acquired Steve McNair and without having thrown a pass yet he can already be considered as the best quarterback they have ever had. HC Brian Billick has indicated that the Raven's offense won't be the same old grind it out affair. With McNair already familiar with Derrick Mason and already showing chemistry with Todd Heap, there's plenty of optimism that we're going to have to redefine what the Raven's offense is all about.

Quarterback: Kyle Boller remains with the team but Steve McNair takes the reins and should give new life to the quarterback position in Baltimore that only ranked #23 last year. At the age of 33, McNair is hardly too old for the job though his nagging injuries the past few years had speculations about retirement circulate. In his prime, McNair was usually good for around 3300 yards and 22 passing scores with maybe four more scores rushed in each year. Those sorts of numbers are astronomic considering what the Ravens are used to seeing each season.

Running Backs: Jamal Lewis managed to play 15 games last year but he only totaled 906 yards and averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and scored only four touchdowns. That's a far cry from a short three years ago when he had 2066 rushing yards and scored 14 times. There's optimism that he'll rebound since he has not vacationed behind bars this year and his ankle injury has healed but there's plenty of others that think he's just plain lost a step despite being only 27 years old. Lewis has always faced eight man fronts but this year with McNair may actually have a passing game that the defense has to respect and that can do nothing but help his production.

The Ravens went out and acquired Mike Anderson in the offseason but like so many other ex-Denver backs, he apparently has turned back into a pumpkin when he left the state of Colorado. Musa Smith has been the talk of the camp and there are reasons to believe that not only will Musa Smith take over the back-up spot vacated by Chester Taylor, but that he'll be better than Taylor. Some already consider him better than Lewis and if 2005 (and 2004 for that matter) repeats and Lewis is ineffective or injured, that Musa will step in to be a fantasy gem. Smith is the one to watch in this offense unless Lewis somehow regains his old form.

Wide Receivers: Derrick Mason came to Baltimore last year and the 32 year old wideout comes off yet another solid season of 86 catches for 1073 yards but only three touchdowns - his least in the last six years. Reuniting Mason with McNair has much promise since the duo averaged around 1100 yards and eight scores together in Tennessee. The rookie Mark Clayton had 44 catches for 471 yards and two scores and will no doubt improve with a year under his belt and McNair as his quarterback.

The slot has meant almost nothing in Baltimore but Devard Darling has looked good in the offseason and Clarence Moore remains in contention as well. The rookie Demetrius Williams should work into some playing time as well. And none of them will have any real fantasy value.

Tight Ends: This should be a very exciting year for Todd Heap who has already proven to be one of the elite tight ends in the league and now has Steven McNair as quarterback - perhaps as good as any at using the tight end. Heap already ranked #3 in receptions last year (75) and 5th in yards (855) and that was with a combination of Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright. Whatever "next step up" that Heap can take should happen this year. He already looks like he has been playing with McNair for years.

Match Against the Defense: This opening game will be a major test for the new passing game of the Ravens since the Bucs were top ten in against all passing categories last year and will be playing in Tampa Bay. But the Bucs were only about average against running backs which matches up with the Ravens who were only average (at best) in rushing last year. Expect a mediocre game from Lewis here in a very tough place to play and watch to see how much he is spelled for some clue as to how they intend to use Musa Smith.

McNair faces a defense that kept most opponents below 200 yards last year and should be at least as good or even better this season. The question here is if the Buccaneers can get an early lead to force the throw more by the Ravens. With no real game film to go by of McNair as a Raven, expect McNair to open with a better than average game against the Bucs, ending with around 220 yards and two scores. Some may come in trash time but they count all the same.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0)
1 --- BAL 10 --- @CAR
2 --- @ATL 11 --- WAS
3 --- CAR 12 --- @DAL
4 Open Bye 13 --- @PIT
5 --- @NO 14 --- ATL
6 --- CIN 15 --- @CHI
7 --- PHI 16 --- @CLE
8 --- @NYG 17 --- SEA
9 --- NO - MON THU
TBB vs BAL Rush Catch Pass
QB Chris Simms 0 0 190,1
RB Cadillac Williams 100,1 30 0
TE Alex Smith 0 20 0
WR Joey Galloway 0 60,1 0
WR Michael Clayton 0 50 0
WR Ike Hilliard 0 20 0
PK Matt Bryant 3 FG 2 XP -

Pregame Notes: The Buccaneers won the NFC South last year on the basis of a great defense - ranked 8th in points allowed - and a surprisingly good rushing game by the rookie Cadillac Williams when he was healthy. When Brian Griese went down in week six last year, Chris Simms stepped in and the team never missed a beat. This is a promising season once again or the Buccaneers with both Cadillac and Simms entering their second seasons as starters and Galloway trying to hold on to the most surprising performance of all.

Quarterback: Chris Simms did not start a game until week eight last year but ended with a very respectable 2035 yards and ten touchdowns. He had several monster games and yet had five games with less than 160 passing yards. The best news in that - most of his great games came against divisional rivals of New Orleans and Atlanta. Simms has almost nothing in rushing yards each week and his production was a very inconsistent affair but for this week it will be interesting since a strong defense was almost always a lock for sub-par game.

Running Backs: Cadillac Williams comes off an Offensive Rookie of the Year season when he turned in 1178 rushing yards and six scores while missing all of two games and playing injured in about four others. When Cadillac was healthy, he almost always had a big game and ended with six games over 100 yards. He's an explosive runner that is slated to be more involved in the passing game this year as well but his only question to be answered is durability.

Michael Pittman remains the #2 back but whenever Williams is fully healthy, Pittman received little more than a token carry or two each week. His fantasy value now is almost nil other than for the Williams owner.

Wide Receivers: To say that the 35 year old Joey Galloway had a surprising season last year is an understatement. After 11 years in the league, Galloway turned in a career high 1287 yards and ten scores which was pretty much double anything he had done in the previous six years. It's not unheard of for a wideout to have a monster year at the end of their career (ask Muhsin Muhammad) but the notion that he will continue to "breakout" seems shared by no one. Michael Clayton had a very down sophomore season thanks in no small part to battling various injuries for the entire season and missing most of the 2005 preseason healing up from a knee surgery. He's back to health this year and should get back to the fine start he had as a rookie though the offense has changed quite a bit since 2004 with both Cadillac and Simms there now.

David Boston has made the team and has not had his annual season ending injury yet. Hope springs eternal but until Boston shows up in a game, Ike Hilliard is the #3 wideout of note.

Tight Ends: A normal Gruden offense would produce big games by varying tight ends in years past with no rhyme or reason to who or when a tight end would go off. Last year - pretty much just Alex Smith who had 41 catches for 367 yards and two scores that both came in week one. Otherwise, no tight end scored all year as they were busy blocking for Cadillac. Anthony Becht remains as the primary blocking tight end and Doug Jolley was just acquired to reunite with Jon Gruden as both came from Oakland originally.

Match Against the Defense: The Ravens defense may not be quite the stifling unit it once was but it is still plenty good and ranked top ten in most categories last year. On the road in Tampa Bay is a big test and Cadillac has hardly been touched this summer in preparation for the season. Expect him to start out very well and look to see just how much more he is used in the passing game as that could really spike his fantasy value upwards.

Simms was inconsistent last year but should be better in 2006 against a defense that likely would have rattled him in 2005. It's hard to expect much more than an average game here from him so expect a balanced attack that favors no particular receiver but should score at least once through the air. The big question here is all about how well Cadillac runs, and how well the Bucs defense does to allow Cadillac even more opportunities. Since Simms has never thrown a touchdown to Clayton, Galloway has to be the most likely to score.