Now that we’re a little bit removed from the draft and the entirety of the night has been able to sink in a little bit, I’ve come to the conclusion that it…was…awesome. Aside from the fact that he couldn’t spell an NFL player’s name any better than I could spell a Russian ballerina’s, I thought Steve-O did an amazing job for us. He came prepared with that macro and everything…I couldn’t have asked for more…unless I was asking for a little more speed in the first couple of rounds…which I did…to no avail. But still, he was awesome, and I’ve already told him I at least owe him a beer. Preferably not a $47 beer from Dave & Buster’s, but a beer nonetheless.

I’m not sure how many people actually utilized the game aspect of D&B’s, but I know a number of people utilized the food/drink aspect, so if nothing else, I think it was more than worth the $25 event fee to have a nice big room with a projector screen and catering for whoever wanted to pay for it. It may very well need to become our new annual tradition. I guess we’ll see where we stand 10-11 months from now…maybe by then we’ll have figured out a way to teleconference the whole damn thing…but given the places we’ve drafted in the past (Kerr lounge, The League living/sitting rooms, one of the Young apartments, etc.) I felt it was a success of epic proportions. I would definitely appreciate feedback from everyone as to whether or not they would be interested in doing it there again next year.

But it’s time to move along, because you’re not here to read about my synopsis of the atmosphere of the draft. You’re here to find out my expert opinion on everyone’s team, and to find out who is going to get the commish’s kiss of death this year. I promised Keith I wouldn’t predict his team to win it all again this year because he thinks it cursed him last year. But I made that promise before the draft, and even though I’ve already started writing this post, I still don’t know who the heck I’ll be ranking where. What I do know is that I’m not trying to write a ten thousand word pre-season post like last season. (It ended up being 12,208. Whoops) And also, instead of going through each team position by position, I’ll be offering up generic categorical opinions. Whatever. You’ll see what I mean.

Since I got in the habit last year of doing inverted rankings, I’ll reveal my predictions from worst to first.

Yelen’s Texans:

Best pre-draft decision: Joining the greatest fantasy football league in the history of mankind.

Seriously dude, you’re going to enjoy the ride. Also, good choice with Steve Smith 2.0.

Best draft-day decision: Picking up Jerricho Cotchery late in the draft for $3.

With Edwards and (eventually) Holmes running deep routes over and over again, Cotchery should quietly put together a solid PPR season over the middle of the field. It’s not like Sanchez has any accuracy on deep balls, or that Braylon Edwards has any ability to catch an accurate pass anyway, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cotchery evolve into the go-to guy for upwards of 90 receptions this season.

Strangest draft-day decision: Making Matthew Stafford his starting quarterback to begin the season.

I approve of picking up Roethlisberger, but you need to at least have a deployable quarterback to start in his place while he’s suspended. Stafford had one great game last season against the Browns, and the rest of the season was a boatload of growing pains. I wouldn’t be too confident in putting him out there for the first 1/3 of the fantasy season against the Bears, Eagles, Vikings, Packers, Rams, and possibly the Giants if Rapistberger’s suspension doesn’t get reduced.

Team strength: Running backs.

It isn’t an impressive strength, but it’s the strength of this team…kind of like how the Seattle Storm are the strength of the WNBA…and I promise I had to look that up. With the injury to Donnie Avery (aka their passing game) the Rams are going to have to rely heavily on Steven Jackson, so he should get a ton of touches, but other teams will be stacking the box all season because they’ll know the Rams have nothing else. From there, I think Yelen has four guys who are going to split carries on their respective teams in a most-optimistic-case scenario. Everyone’s high on Ryan Mathews, but I guarantee Jahvid Best ends up being the offensive rookie of the year, and he went for $13 cheaper than Mathews. Darren Sproles will be a stronger force in this offense than most people seem to believe. Ahmad Bradshaw will be great after Brandon Jacobs suffers his annual injury, but the Giants don’t seem too keen on giving him carries until then, seeing as how he maxed out at 14 carries 3 times last year. Bernard Scott only gets significant touches if Cedric Benson gets hurt again. And Gerhart’s only value is as Peterson’s handcuff.

Team weakness: Quarterbacks.

See: Strangest draft-day decision. I think by the time Roethlisberger is even in game shape, Yelen’s season is already all but finished. At least he’ll have the option to keep him next year for around $21, or the option to trade him to a late-season contender for an even better keeper.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Catching opponents at points of weakness.

Also known as getting lucky. For as much bad luck as Gideon had last year (facing one of the top 3 point producers for the week more often than not), Damn had an equal amount of dumb luck (sitting at 6th in the win-loss column near the end of the year despite sitting at the bottom of the points scored column), so anything can happen, but I have no expectations of doling out $5 to Yelen for leading the league in scoring in any given week.

My prediction: 7th place in the AFC (14th overall)

Montgomery’s Rams:

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Ray Rice for $31.

He’s going for $57 in 10-team auction formats. He’s the #4 overall pick in the majority of snake drafts. I feel like this was the no-brainer of all no-brainers.

Best draft-day decision: Getting Frank Gore.

This was keeper-auction perfection. To buy Ray Rice and Frank Gore in auction this season probably would have cost at least $110, but because he was able to keep Ray Rice for such good value, he was then able to break the bank a little bit with Gore and lock up 2 of the top 5 or 6 running backs for under $90.

Strangest draft-day decision: Toss-up between nominating the majority of the rookies and spending $43 on Calvin Johnson.

If you can’t tell, I know my sports. As a result, there were only three or four times that I needed to figure out exactly who were we bidding on, and all three or four of those times it was because of Montgomery. Monterio Hardesty? Demaryius Thomas? I only knew Dexter McCluster because he’s a Chief. It makes me wonder if Montgomery was loaded up on Adderall and prepared for the draft better than anyone else, or if he was just being really random with his nominations. Either way, we all know Addy was involved. Anyway, I’m pretty sure the strangest move was the Calvin Johnson one, and I promise I’m not just hating on this pick because of how many weeks Megatron burned me last season. This mostly stems directly from the previously mentioned best draft-day decision that Montgomery made. After the Frank Gore purchase, he had spent $107 on two running backs and a defense (I thought about adding a dumbest pre-draft decision tab to each team because of Montgomery’s decision to keep an aging and injured Ravens defense for $20, but I’m already going to severely outdo my ten thousand words from last season as it is). At that point, you’ve got $93 to fill out a quarterback spot, two wide receivers, a flex spot, a tight end, and your entire bench. It’s possible, but you need to use your funds wisely. Spending 46% of your remaining budget on the next pick is not my idea of wise investing. There’s a slim to decent chance he’s worth that amount of money, but from a situational point-of-view, he was left with just $50 to fill out the rest of his roster, and it’s fairly evident in the final product.

Team strength: Running Backs.

I usually like to have more depth at the position, but when you can throw Rice and Gore out there week after week without thinking about, I’m not going to argue with only having one rookie back on the bench. Absolutely no room for injury though. If either, or both guys ends up missing any time aside from the bye weeks, this immediately becomes Montgomery’s Achilles heel. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Frank Gore tore his Achilles tendon? Yes, I am evil for even suggesting that.

Team weakness: Quarterbacks.

Matt Leinart and Kyle Orton? Are you kidding me? If Leinart ends up being a serviceable fantasy quarterback, I will gladly eat this entire paragraph, because it will doubtlessly result in my boy Fitzgerald having a good year, but there’s a very good reason he’s not even being drafted in the majority of fantasy leagues. Derek Anderson is probably going to end up being the starter in Arizona by week three, and here’s hoping he looks like 2007 Derek Anderson when he does. I actually like Kyle Orton, and I really like him for $1, because I think unlike in Arizona, the addition of a former Cleveland Brown quarterback will serve as motivation for him to step up his game. He wasn’t a great quarterback last year by any means, and the departure of Brandon Marshall can’t possibly help his stock, but he was the starter from day one, and I’m not sure why people think that Brady Quinn or Tim Tebow is going to take that away from him any time soon. I like Orton as a spot starter against the likes of Kansas City, but he’s not a weekly starter by any means, which is exactly the role he’ll be thrust into on this roster.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Health and Luck.

If Gore, Rice, or Megatron get injured in any capacity, Montgomery is done. He’ll be lucky to put up 100 fantasy points in any week as it is. But you never know when luck will strike. Considering the lack of tight end in Cincinnati, Antonio Bryant could very well end up being a black Wes Welker. Demaryius Thomas might end up being a star in Denver, or Golden Tate in Seattle. Maybe age will never catch up to Hines Ward. Maybe Greg Olsen magically breaks the curse that Mike Martz has on tight ends. Maybe Matt Leinart ends up becoming Kurt Warner 2.0. On the flip side, maybe the Bengals follow through on recent rumors and release Antonio Bryant. Maybe Denver and Seattle have the worst passing attacks in their respective West divisions (my assumption). Maybe Hines Ward suffers from the first few weeks without Ben and never really recovers. Who knows? All I know is that I’m expecting the latter half of those possibilities.

My prediction: 7th in the NFC (13th overall)

Travelpiece’s 49ers:

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Vernon Davis for $4.

Do I expect 13 touchdowns again? Not at all. Do I expect his receptions and yards to increase? Marginally. Is an 85 reception, 1050 yard, 7 TD tight end worth $4? All day. Every day.

Best draft-day decision: Grabbing Kevin Kolb for $9.

Travelpiece was the last person to submit his keepers to me because he wanted to wait as long as he could to find out exactly what the hell Brett Favre was going to do, and he decided to keep him in the end. But, I thought it was very wise of him to draft a potential rising star to back-up his fading star. Eventually, age is going to have to catch up with Brett, and I think this is the year, because Minnesota has a hellacious first seven games of the season. By the time the Vikings get to the easier portion of their season, methinks old man Favre will start really feeling like an old man. Enter Kevin Kolb, who may have been waiting in the wings just like Aaron Rodgers for these past couple of seasons. He did manage to compile 300+ yardage games in his two starts last season. I’m not sure what to expect. I would guess both quarterbacks end up underperforming their ESPN-anticipated outputs, but I think they’re both decent gambles. One of them is bound to pay off, and as such, I was glad to see Travelpiece back-up Favre with some potential instead of a McNabb/Leinart/Campbell type guy.

Strangest draft-day decision: Paying $19 for Reggie Bush and letting me have Kevin Smith for $1.

I cannot understand why Reggie Bush habitually goes for way too much money. The ideal roster spot for Reggie Bush is as a spot starter during bye weeks, but it’s virtually impossible to fill out a suitable roster while still paying so much for him; but there’s no other way to get him on your team. Case in point, Travelpiece has DeAngelo Williams, Ochocinco, Reggie Wayne, and then 2 roster spots designated for some combination of Jahvid Best, Reggie Bush, Eddie Royal, and Josh Morgan. And speaking of Jahvid Best, I don’t understand why none of the guys who spent good money for rookie running backs (Best, Mathews, and Spiller) were willing to dedicate any money to purchasing any of the veterans they’re theoretically replacing. Why spend money on back-ups like Westbrook and Norwood when you could’ve had Kevin Smith for the same price? Maybe it’s just me, but in the age of split backfields, I’d rather have a guarantee on my team than a bunch of maybes, which is why I followed up my Matt Forte purchase by paying $7 for Chester Taylor instead of spending $7 on Tim Hightower. It’s not too much of a stretch to propose that Jahvid Best, Brian Westbrook, and Jerious Norwood all see more time on the bench than they see on the field. It’s looking like Best will be the starter, but I’d say there’s at least a 25% chance that none of those three guys end up starting. And it’s definitely wise to assume that outcome is more likely than the outcome in which two of those three end up in feature back roles, an outcome with a probability down around 3%. So if odds are that only one of those three will be worth starting from week to week, why not just grab Kevin Smith and give yourself a 100% chance of having a starter every (non-bye) week?

Team strength: The commonly overlooked positions.

As I said in my intro for Travelpiece’s team, I think Vernon Davis is going to have another stellar season. I think the 49ers defense will benefit greatly from facing Matt Leinart, Matt Hasselbeck, and Sam Bradford six times this season. I even think Robbie Gould was a fancy little purchase, because I have the Bears targeted as one of my sleeper teams this year. Having wrapped those three weekly starting roster spots up for just $8, one would think Travelpiece could have done more with his remaining $192.

Team weakness: Quality depth.

This is basically a string between “Strangest draft-day decision” and “Fantasy success hinges upon,” but it’s worth repeating that even if Eddie Royal repeats his 2008 season with the Broncos and Reggie Bush repeats his 2005 season with the Trojans (neither of which are guarantees or even overwhelmingly likely), Travelpiece still doesn’t have much of anything on the bench to combat injuries and bye weeks. Tell me, Michael, how do you plan to fill out your roster in week six when DeAngelo and Ochocinco are on byes? Or in the following week when Javhid Best and Reggie Wayne endure their bye weeks? Hmm? This is exactly why I tried to load up on one bye week last season and just bite the bullet once rather than having a couple of mid-season weeks where I’m scrambling to even stand a chance.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Sleepers.

Jahvid Best. Kevin Kolb. Eddie Royal. Arrelious Benn. Reggie Bush. Even Brian Westbrook is a sleeper. If even two of those six guys do as well as some of their loftier predictions hope for, they’ll combine with Brett, DeAngelo, Wayne, and Eight Five to form a pretty nice little team. The problem with sleepers is that there’s no promise they’ll wake up, so it’s risky to have more than two on your team.

My prediction: 6th in the NFC (12th overall)

Damn’s Bills:

Best pre-draft decision: Not keeping Roddy White.

I’m not so sure I agree with keeping Jay Cutler or Jason Snelling, and the Mike Sims-Walker choice was almost too obvious to praise. Therefore, I think the best choice was not getting sucked into keeping White. I don’t necessarily think Roddy White is going to have a poor season, but I think Damn was going to keep Sims-Walker and Cutler, and had he given in to the temptation to keep Roddy White, he wouldn’t have had the money to go after the two big names he ended up targeting…whether or not I agree with the stars and scrubs strategy notwithstanding.

Best draft-day decision: Snagging Maurice Jones-Drew.

Considering the discrepancy between talent available and money floating around before the draft, I was absolutely flabbergasted to see MJD only go for $71. Needless to say, after that precedent was set, I wasn’t even remotely surprised to see six people finish the draft with at least $15 still wastefully sitting in their available budget. Realistically, MJD should have gone for $85 or more, and I incorrectly assumed there were enough other people in the league who were aware of that. But, I can’t detract from Damn’s purchase because other people were unprepared, especially since Corey has spreadsheet evidence that Damn was quite prepared. Jones-Drew should safely be a top four running back again this season, and as such, was worth every penny.

Strangest draft-day decision: Immediately thereafter purchasing Andre Johnson for $65.

I’ve never seen the stars and scrubs strategy win a league, and considering Damn’s roster was filled out with a number of Buffalo Bills, it really seems to me to be the epitome of stars and scrubs. I understand the theory, because I attempted to utilize it last season, but I’ve never seen it work. With MJD and Andre, the best case scenario is that they repeat what they did last season, and with this strategy, you’re stuck banking pretty heavily on the best case scenario. Even if they both have repeat performances, you have to hope that enough of your sleepers and cheapers over-achieve to the point that you’re able to fill out a decent starting line-up throughout the course of the season. I got lucky last year to have Joe Flacco, Pierre Garcon, and Beanie Wells support my investment in MJD and Megatron. Even with those five guys, I was still playing waiver wire roulette to occasionally find lightning in a bottle in the form of Justin Forsett, Arian Foster, and Quinton Ganther. Long story short, I got really, really lucky last season, and still just barely managed to sneak into the playoffs before getting crushed by our eventual league champion. If I had Andre Johnson instead of Calvin Johnson, there’s a decent chance I would’ve won the league, so I suppose it can possibly work, but you really have to hope you’re getting the #1 running back, the #1 wide receiver, and at least respectable production from the rest of the guys that you can’t afford to spend much money on. To me, that sounds like you’re counting on an absurd amount of luck, and that’s coming from someone who may or may not have every intention of setting aside a certain percentage of his paychecks to dedicate to blackjack and betting on sports.

Team strength: Andre Johnson and a couple of hyphens.

Maurice Jones-Drew and Mike Sims-Walker should combine with Andre to put up solid numbers on a weekly basis. If they continue their averages from last season, those three guys would be good for 45 points per week. Certainly nothing to scoff at, but I have to ask where the other 55 points per week will come from in order to give Damn a chance to win on a regular basis.

Team weakness: Depth.

If you hadn’t noticed, I hate the idea of spending 68% of your budget on two players. Because of the keeper aspect of the league, Damn was still able to get another good wide receiver for really cheap, and a respectable quarterback for a debatable price. But after the keepers and the stars, Damn had $49 left to fill out his remaining eleven roster spots, and he wasn’t able to get any other definite starters as a result.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Good healthy seasons from MJD and Andre and a few puzzle pieces falling into several places.

The one thing that I do like on this team is the idea of having Kenny Britt and Justin Gage, because one of them is bound to emerge as the number one guy in Tennessee, but until we find out which one it is, Damn is either stuck playing a guessing game with the Titans or playing a drinking game every time he puts Lee Evans in his starting line-up. Among the list of things I don’t like: having to start Marion Barber on a weekly basis; Jay Cutler; Damn’s chances in week 4, 6, 7, 8, or 9 because of bye weeks for guys he has no choice but to count on; owners in my league who buy engagement rings and then use having to work on a Saturday as an excuse to not be at my draft; any and every player from Buffalo this season. It’s one thing to hope a few pieces fall into place; it’s another thing to hope manna falls from the fantasy skies.

My prediction: 6th in the AFC (11th overall)

O’Neill’s Buccaneers:

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Jamaal Charles.

Let’s take a journey back to 2005. The Kansas City Chiefs wanted so badly for their banged up star to shine again that they ignored the other great guy at their disposal. After about half the season, it became apparent that Priest Holmes could no longer be the guy he once was and it was Larry Johnson’s chance to take over. And he did, to the tune of 9 consecutive 100 yard rushing games with 16 touchdowns to boot. Despite bringing in Michael Bennett the following season, Larry Johnson put together a 16 game season where the totals (not the averages) were very similar to the numbers in his final 9 games of the previous season. Flash forward a couple of years. The Kansas City Chiefs wanted so badly for their banged up (and douchebaggish) star to shine again that they ignored the other great guy at their disposal. After about half the season, it became apparent that Larry Johnson could no longer be the guy he once was and it was Jamaal Charles’ chance to take over. And he did. Maybe not as well as Johnson did in 2005, but well enough that it really made me wonder if our league was about to get anally raped for the next 5 seasons because Charles was available to O’Neill as a $2 keeper. Long story short, I’m not too worried about Thomas Jones, and even if Jones manages to become the starter, O’Neill has him as well.

Best draft-day decision: Being in Kansas.

The team isn’t perfect, but with the help of some nudging from me, my girlfriend, who didn’t prepare at all and has never done a fantasy draft before, did at least as well as O’Neill would have done if he had been there anyway.

Strangest draft-day decision: Making Devin Aromashodu the only “must-have” guy on his list.

I was texting O’Neill a couple of hours before the draft, asking him if there are any guys that I should make sure Emily targets in the draft, and Aromashodu was the only name that came back. I really don’t understand. He said he wanted Cutler, too. When I told him Cutler was a keeper, I gave him a list of McNabb, Ryan, E. Manning, and Kolb as guys who are allegedly comparable to Cutler as exhibited in average draft position, and he said he’d be fine with any of those; it didn’t matter. How can you not care who your starting quarterback is while insisting that you end up with Devin Aromashodu on your roster? But, we all laughed when he spent $40 on Ochocinco at last year’s draft, and O’Neill ended up winning the league. Let’s just say I’m grabbing Aromashodu in any other leagues that I do this year.

Team strength: Wide receivers.

Aromashodu had quite a showing in three of the final four games of last season, but we never saw him before that, so I have absolutely no idea what to expect from him. He might be great; he might be worthless. Either way, I feel O’Neill ended up with the necessary depth at the position to insure against the latter. Randy Moss is Randy Moss. With the Sidney Rice injury, O’Neill lucked his way into some real value with Bernard Berrian. And I think now that they’ve had almost a full year together, Edwards and Sanchez should be on the same page, but of course there’s no promising he can actually catch the ball anyway.

Team weakness: Overall depth.

This is where not being at the draft really hurt O’Neill. Because I had no idea what he was looking for, I played it safe and told Emily to make sure to get the back-ups for the two running backs he had as keepers. So there go two roster spots for insurance rather than potential weekly options. And then, since I was paying more attention to my team than what she was doing, she ended up drafting a back-up TE and a back-up defense. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that in a vacuum, but when you’ve already delegated two roster spots to handcuffs, you really need to target other running backs and wide receivers with those other bench spots. As it stands now, the bye weeks are going to hit O’Neill pretty hard because he has 2 good options at running back, 1 great option at wide receiver, 1 potentially solid wide receiver from Minnesota, 1 back-up running back from Baltimore, 1 wide dropper from New York, and a Devin Aromashodu. And that’s it.

Fantasy success hinges upon: A certain quarterback going all PHILIP RIVERS on opposing defenses without Vincent Jackson.

Rivers was awesome last season. He was one of four quarterbacks with 25+ TDs and less than 10 interceptions. But I had the option to keep him and I decided against it. Why? Well, partially because I had the option to keep Joe Flacco for much cheaper, but also because I don’t like Rivers’ situation this year. If V Jax sits out or gets traded, and if we’re pretending Antonio Gates isn’t a wide receiver, then there isn’t a wide receiver left on that roster that caught more than 2 TDs last season. Call me crazy, but I’m thinking Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee are not good enough to make up for a lack of Vincent Jackson and LaDanian Tomlinson. If Rivers can somehow put up numbers that are even remotely comparable to last season, not only does O’Neill have a shot at repeating as league champion, but I think Philip Rivers ends up on a short list with Tom Brady as quarterbacks of this decade who were able to do the most with nothing; not to be confused with the list of quarterbacks of this decade who were able to make the most money with no talent, which is really just a list full of however many times you feel like writing JaMarcus Russell’s name.

My prediction: 5th in the NFC (10th overall)

A’s Bengals:

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Jermichael Finley for $2.

Sudz prepared a fantastic Excel spreadsheet for draft day purposes. Ultimately, Steve-O ended up doing his own thing, but in return for his dedication, I sent A a lengthy e-mail regarding his keeper options. While I don’t usually recommend keeping tight ends, defenses, or kickers, Finley was hands down his best option, which should be self-evident by the fact that he also kept Ryan Longwell.

Best draft-day decision: Not worrying about Percy Harvin’s migraines

I loved this $14 addition on draft day, and it only got better a few days later when Sidney Rice had hip surgery. Brett Favre notoriously spreads the ball around (as if that’s the only thing he’s notorious for), so he doesn’t have Andre Johnson or Randy Moss potential, but even with the Vikings’ difficult schedule, I wouldn’t rule out Favre’s #1 guy turning into a DeSean Jackson type of fantasy point producer. I can’t argue with spending $14 for that kind of potential.

Strangest draft-day decision: Paying $25 for Joseph Addai

If I become more infatuated with Percy Harvin after the draft, then I definitely became less intrigued with Joseph Addai after the draft. Even before his concussion, I was pretty sure Addai would be backing up Donald Brown before the end of the season. I’m not entirely sure what the allure is with Addai. It’s not like Indy runs the ball with any sort of consistency. Even as the primary back last year, Addai just barely averaged 15 carries per game, and that’s taking into account that Indy didn’t play their starters for the final 1.5 games of the regular season. As comparison, everyone felt Matt Forte had a horrible season last year, and he still had more carries, more yards, and more receptions last season, but was $2 cheaper than Addai in this year’s draft. And it’s not like it was a 2009-draft-day-Anquan-Boldin situation in which Addai was one of the last respectable players at his position so his draft price was unnaturally inflated…he was one of the first 20 or so guys drafted. I just don’t get it.

Team strength: Wide receivers.

Meachem’s availability for the regular season seems to be a little bit in jeopardy with the toe injury, but even if he doesn’t see the field for a few weeks, Kauffman’s team should survive just dandily with the likes of Roddy White, Harvin, and Steve Breaston…you know…if Arizona ever decides on a quarterback.

Team weakness: Running backs.

I see a lot of names that had a much higher value once upon a time than they do now. Addai hasn’t had much success since 2007. Jerome Harrison looked great for the last three games of last season, but let’s face it, Bob Menkel could run the ball for 100 yards per game against Kansas City, Oakland, and Jacksonville, and Cleveland went out and spent an early draft pick on Montario Hardesty, so they clearly aren’t sold. Tim Hightower is probably going to lose the battle with Beanie Wells. Tomlinson is going to be unreliable in a back-up role in New York. Even if he beats out Clinton Portis for any carries, Larry Johnson will probably beat up some woman by week 3 and end up out of the league once and for all. And the Buccaneers just cut Derrick Ward. Which two of those six guys do you want to start on a regular basis?

Fantasy success hinges upon: Drew Brees.

He’s more than capable enough to single handedly carry that pu-pu platter of running backs to a couple of victories throughout the season. However, in any week that Brees doesn’t put up great numbers, Kauffman is going to have to pray for miracles, and may even need to say a couple of hail maries in weeks that he does.

My prediction: 5th in the AFC (9th overall)

Harshbarger’s Chargers:

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Matt Schaub for $20.

He really didn’t have too many options, and ended up also keeping the Bengals defense as a result, but this was an obvious decision. He was one of just 4 quarterbacks to eclipse 365 fantasy points last season, none of which went over 400. The prices for those quarterbacks: $50 – Brees. $47 – Manning. $36 – Rodgers (keeper). And Schaub for $20. Like I said, it was an obvious decision.

Best draft-day decision: Repeatedly outbidding me for Greg Jennings.

It would appear that Harshbarger’s plan with wide receivers was to target guys who put up great numbers despite a lack of touchdowns. I’m fairly certain he inadvertently was sucked into bidding on Vincent Jackson, who finished last season with 9 TDs, but his three main guys (Jennings, Welker, and Holmes) had 4, 4, and 5 TDs last year, respectively. I do love me the Greg Jennings, and in retrospect, I am very upset that I let him go at $31.

Strangest draft-day decision: Picking two suspended wide receivers.

Not only did he grab two wide receivers that are suspended to start the season, but he took them back to back, and he took them before he even drafted a running back. Throughout the course of the calendar year, Harshbarger and Gideon are the two people in the league that I end up talking to the most about fantasy, so I was really surprised to see this from him, because I know he knows what he’s doing. Personally, I think either of those guys at that price was definitely worth taking. Holmes is out for 4 weeks, and then his first 3 weeks after suspension are vs. Minnesota, @ Denver, and a bye, so I’m thinking he won’t be much of an option until week 8, but from that point forward, there’s no doubt in my mind that he will outperform Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery. The Vincent Jackson situation just gets murkier by the day, but operating under the assumption that he would miss 3 games and then return as Philip Rivers’ #1 guy, I would’ve said he’s worth that money. But grabbing both of them? It just doesn’t make sense to me; especially when you already have a guy coming back from a major knee injury who might not really catch his stride until a couple of weeks into the season, if at all. I would guess the ideal situation for having either of the suspended wide receivers is one in which you have a great wide receiver (Greg Jennings for example) and a couple of low risk / low reward / low cost guys that can hold you over until the suspended guy comes back (I’m thinking Lee Evans, Steve Breaston, or even Jerricho). I can’t even picture a situation in which you’d want to devote two roster spots to guys who are essentially on the 1 month DL; but I do know the ideal situation is not one in which you’ve spent $111 after getting those guys, and you still haven’t drafted a running back.

Team strength: Passing game.

Despite my recently finished rant about the wide receiver situation, it’s hard to argue with a nucleus of Matt Schaub, Greg Jennings, and Wes Welker. I just don’t see much in terms of depth beyond that.

Team weakness: Running game.

If we were playing a game of Tri-Bond, and you gave me a card with the names Brandon Jacobs, Clinton Portis, and Ronnie Brown, I would have to guess the answer was “running backs that have burned the fantasy world so many times that it’s impossible to trust them again, but we get sucked into paying for them regardless.” Well, Harshbarger has Jacobs and Portis on his team, and they are hands down his two best options at running back, which means he has little choice but to trust them. I was tempted to overlook 2006 and 2009 and pretend that the real Clinton Portis was the guy who ran pretty well in those other six seasons…right up until he sprained his ankle on Friday night. I just can’t trust him ever again. Same goes for Brandon Jacobs. Even in his best statistical season, he didn’t eclipse 1100 yards rushing, and he only played in 13 games. Remember a couple of years ago when Tom Brady and Brian Westbrook were always listed as probable, but you always left them in your roster without any fear? When I see probable next to Jacobs or Portis, I see funnel clouds, and it’s not very promising that after just two pre-season games, they’ve both already been put on the injury reports.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Treading water until week 8.

Two of his top four wide receivers are out for the first few weeks of the season, so he’ll be forced to play a likely-to-be-rusty Wes Welker and either Fred Taylor or Leon Washington until then. Six of his guys have a week five bye. Four of his guys (including Schaub) have a week seven bye. If Harshbarger is sitting at anything better than 2-5 heading into week 8, I think he still has a shot at the playoffs, so long as Portis hasn’t already suffered his season-ending injury by that point in time.

My prediction: 4th in the AFC (8th overall)

Dincher’s Dolphins:

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Chad Henne for $2.

I can’t exactly praise Dincher for making this decision, since I just told him which three guys to keep, to which he responded “okay sure.” Nevertheless, I like Henne a lot. Considering he was a decent back-up quarterback last year, and he’s had another year of growth and the addition of a legitimate wide receiver, I think he ends up being worth well more than $2.

Best draft-day decision: Picking up Malcom Floyd for $9.

At the time of the draft, we still weren’t really sure what the Vincent Jackson situation was going to be. That isn’t to say we have any better idea about it now, but it’s looking less and less likely that Jackson will even play in San Diego this year, so Floyd may be becoming the de facto #1 wide receiver for the Chargers. And considering the rest of the receiving options on Dincher’s roster, Floyd may be becoming the de facto #1 wide receiver for the fantasy Dolphins. Who knew?

Strangest draft-day decision: Over-paying for Ronnie Brown and Chris Cooley.

Since I made the suggestions to him, I had absolutely no issue with keeping Peterson for $72 and Michael Bush for $8. And even after committing $82 to those guys and a suitable QB in the form of Chad Henne, I was okay with Dincher spending $47 on Peyton Manning, because there’s certainly no guarantee that Henne will be a reliable starter on a weekly basis. But after that point, Dincher was sitting with two starting running backs, two starting quarterbacks, and nothing else aside from $71 to spend. Again, I’m okay with everything up until this point, assuming you intend to spend at least 50% of your remaining budget on quality wide receivers. Instead, Dincher went out and spent $33 of his remaining budget on an oft-injured running back and a tight end. I’m not necessarily saying that $24 for Ronnie Brown and $9 for Chris Cooley is beyond reason, but given his budget and the missing pieces on his roster at the time, Dincher never should have been bidding on a tight end or a running back for more than $5.

Team strength: Quarterbacks.

I don’t think I’m going out on too much of a limb to assume that Dincher might end the season with three of the seven best AFC quarterbacks. Schaub, Manning, Brady, Rivers, Henne, Flacco, and Sanchez. Am I neglecting anyone? Big Ben is missing at least 25% of the season, so he’s automatically eliminated. Clearly no one in our league thinks Matt Cassel is in this group, since he wasn’t even drafted. You could maybe argue Carson Palmer, but I’m not. Odds are, he’ll end up just starting Manning every week except for week seven when he’ll be forced to start Chad Henne, but Dincher should end up with a great option at QB every week throughout the season.

Team weakness: Wide receivers.

Chaz Schilens and Malcom Floyd might end up being useful #1 options out of the AFC West, but there’s really nothing on Dincher’s receiving corps that jumps out at you aside from the overwhelming amount of mediocrity. Neither Kevin Walter, Anthony Gonzalez, nor Roy Williams is even the #3 option on his team, and not even the Kansas City fans among us have any idea what to make of Dexter McCluster. Aside from those names, it’s just the aforementioned Schilens and Floyd who might be the #1 wide receiver on their respective teams, even though neither of them has proven anything whatsoever in the NFL. Methinks a trade is in order.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Finding good luck with wide receivers and avoiding bad luck with running backs.

The latter of these is more important, because if Adrian Peterson gets hurt, Run DMC gets more carries than Michael Bush, and Ronnie Brown plays like Ronnie Brown, then it really doesn’t matter how well Chaz Schilens and Malcom Floyd do. But both things are going to be crucial if Dincher is to have any shot at the playoffs. It’s hard to make the playoffs without a good quarterback, but it’s impossible to make the playoffs if all you have is a good quarterback.

My prediction: 3rd in the AFC (7th overall)

Gideon’s Bears:

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Ryan Grant.

There’s a slightly better than likely chance that, four months from now, I may look back and decide that keeping Hakeem Nicks for half the price of Grant was pure genius. But I’m not totally sold on the kid. If we’re arbitrarily deciding that 70 receiving yards is an average week from a #2 wide receiver, then Nicks only had 3 games last season in which he was better than average, and didn’t have any games in which he caught more than half a dozen balls. I think the odds that this is a break out year for him are about the same as the odds that he breaks a bone and sits out up to half the season. Grant, on the other hand has proven his usefulness to fantasy owners time and again. The only difference between 2008 and 2009 was that he nearly tripled his TD total and stopped fumbling the ball. Unfortunately, touchdowns are unpredictable for a running back behind Aaron Rodgers, because you can usually count on him to throw 3 TDs per game, and Grant doesn’t do a whole lot of receiving, but I think the Packers are going to score on quite the regular basis this season, so Grant will get his.

Best draft-day decision: Getting Tom Brady for $30.

I remain appalled as to how we allowed this to happen. That’s all I can really say on that subject, so I’m adding…

2nd best draft-day decision: Picking up Jacoby Jones for a buck

The projections on this guy are extremely conservative. I think Jones is this year’s Vincent Jackson (2008) or Miles Austin (2009): the guy who comes out of seemingly nowhere and ends the season with over 1,000 receiving yards. I just wish I had come to that conclusion before the draft.

Strangest draft-day decision: Loading up on wide receivers.

The flip side is that I felt Gideon straight up forgot to draft running backs. After grabbing Felix Jones as a second fiddle to Ryan Grant, he didn’t do anything else with the position beside pick up some Ryan Grant insurance and eventually turn a $17 investment in Kevin Faulk into MJD’s back-up. Personally, I think Felix Jones is going to have a pretty decent season, but I wouldn’t be confident enough in it to make him my de facto #2 running back. Even if he does finally break out this year, passes Marion Barber on the depth chart, and avoids pulling a hamstring or something for once in the process, I’m not entirely sure what Gideon plans to do with his roster during weeks four and ten when Dallas and Green Bay are on byes, respectively. Are you really planning on playing Rashad Jennings or Brandon Jackson twice this season? That’s insane. However, no need to fear bye weeks with the receiving corps. Gideon has six wide receivers fully capable of fantasy relevance on a weekly basis. If he doesn’t turn two of them into one good running back before week four, I’m sure he’ll be pretty pissed off to see a 0 next to Brandon Jackson’s name in his starting line-up while Jacoby Jones and TO rack up points on his bench.

Team strength: Quarterbacks.

What? You thought I was going to say wide receivers after that last rant? Unfortunately, you can have too much of a good thing in fantasy sports. I would rather be desperately searching for that next break-out guy on a weekly basis rather than struggling to decide which of your stud players to bench on a weekly basis. It’s just gut-wrenching when you start over-analyzing each decision you make and then somehow end up inexplicably benching and expletively screaming at DeSean Jackson when he has his best game of the season one week after his worst game of the season. If he keeps all six of those wide receivers for the entire season, I guarantee there are no more than three weeks in which he actually starts the 3-player combination that would have given him the most points. Eventually that shit wears on your self-confidence as a fantasy owner. As someone who dropped Dallas Braden three days before his perfect game and intentionally benched Brandon Morrow during his 1-hit 17-strikeout game this season, I can vouch that too much of a good thing can drive you insane. However, I think Gideon’s quarterback situation is perfect. Brady is a great guy to confidently start every week, Brady’s bye week is the one week of the season you would ever actually consider starting Sam Bradford (@DET), and Alex Smith can mature in relative obscurity on Gideon’s bench into an amazing keeper for years to come at a 2011 price of $4. Will there be a week or two this season in which Gideon agonizes because Alex Smith significantly outscores Tom Brady? Possibly. But I can’t foresee him losing any sleep over trying to decide which QB to start in any given week.

Team weakness: Running back depth.

See: Strangest draft-day decision. Also, it doesn’t help that Gideon didn’t dedicate any roster spots to a back-up tight end, defense, or kicker while drafting a tight end and defense with identical bye weeks. He’s either going to have to just eat a couple of zeroes in those roster spots or drop two of his bench guys to fill the week four voids. I certainly wouldn’t advise dropping Winslow or the Cowboys D, because I’ll snatch them both up in a heartbeat.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Felix Jones and/or the barter system

If Felix ends up on the wrong side of a time share with Marion Barber again, then Gideon is going to need to fill two running back roster slots through some combination of free agent acquisitions, trades, and a season-ending injury to MJD. He has the expendable pieces on his roster to make it happen, but only under the right conditions. If you take a quick look through the “Team strength” sections for each team, there aren’t too many teams with an abundance of running backs, so the asking price might be high. In fact, I think I might have the only roster in the league with a potentially starting running back to spare, but I really don’t have much of a need for wide receivers. Gideon better start casting voodoo spells on Maurice Jones-Drew…

My prediction: 4th in the NFC (6th overall)

Nelson’s Steelers:

Best pre-draft decision: Mike the man Wallace

$2 for a certified downfield threat entering his second year in the NFL? I’d make that purchase every day. It’s just a shame that no one on the team will be able to get the ball to him until Ben comes back. But considering he’ll only cost $4 to keep next year, I love it.

Best draft-day decision: Drafting Beanie Wells

I had the choice to keep the Bean on my team for $20, but I didn’t bite, and now I’m mad. Nelson was able to lock him up for $23, and considering how much money was magically still floating around at the end of the draft, I think it ended up being a steal. The knock on Wells has been that he’s not as good of a pass-catcher out of the backfield as Tim Hightower (a 63 to 12 discrepancy in receptions last season), but consequently, the knock on Leinart is that he’s a horrible quarterback. Wells clearly emerged as the number one running back, whereas Hightower was the best catching back. I fully expect a shift in the pass/run game in Arizona in the favor of the running backs. Considering they’ll be running the ball more often and that they get to face the Seahawks and Rams four times a year, Beanie Wells may very well be a top 10 fantasy running back by season’s end. I’m going to throw up.

Strangest draft-day decision: Spending $11 on Run DMC instead of getting CJ Spiller’s handcuff.

Either handcuff. I don’t even care. Hell, Nelson could have had both. Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch went for a total of $12, and Nelson instead spent $11 on an injury-prone guy who’s only run for more than 75 yards in a game once in his career…and that was in week 2 of the 2008 season…and it was against the Chiefs…and he also fumbled twice in that game. What is the sex appeal with Darren McFadden? Dude couldn’t even beat out Justin Fargas for carries. Do you even know where Justin Fargas is anymore? No? I’ll enlighten you. He’s 3rd on the depth chart in Denver. So, in summary, you just spent $11 for someone who isn’t even as good as the guy who’s 3rd on the depth chart in Denver, but you wouldn’t spend any money to insure your $21 investment in CJ Spiller? You had $19 leftover at the end of the draft! How do you justify that?!

Team strength: Wide receivers.

In an eight or ten team league, Colston isn’t a bona fide #1 WR, just because Drew Brees spreads the ball around too much to make him reliable for double digit fantasy points on a weekly basis. In a 14-team league, though, I think he’s a serviceable anchor to a wide receiving corps, and when the rest of the group consists of Joshua Cribbs, Derrick Mason, and “The Man,” it’s a pretty solid corps. My concern is that Nelson will ruin the strength of his team by playing the wrong guys. With the exception of bye weeks, he should be throwing out a line-up of Shonn Greene, Beanie Wells, Marques Colston, Joshua Cribbs, and Mike Wallace on a weekly basis. But I know he’ll be tempted to get Nate Washington in there once in a while, or he’ll try to put Derrick Mason in there on the wrong week, or get sucked into CJ Spiller or Run DMC as the flex guy instead of Cribbs. Maybe Alex Shaver and myself are the only ones, but if you can’t tell, I think Josh Cribbs is a top 25 WR, and was an absolute steal for $7.

Team weakness: Quarterbacks.

I can’t argue with keeping Vince Young for $2. Any time you can lock up a guaranteed NFL starter for less than $5, you have to do it. But I absolutely do not want Vince Young as my starting fantasy quarterback. Michael Vick was a bit of a random end of the draft pick up, so for $3, I’m not going to gripe about it. What I don’t like about this quarterback situation is that Carson Palmer is the de facto #1 guy on Nelson’s team. I can understand being sucked into the allure of the additions of Terrell Owens and Antonio Bryant, but the Bengals are a run-first team, and that isn’t about to change. Palmer took nearly every snap for the Bengals last season and still only attempted 466 passes. As comparison, Peyton Manning threw the ball 571 times, and he barely even played in the last 2 games of the regular season. Even Joe Flacco threw the ball 33 more times than Carson Palmer, and we all know the Ravens are a run first team, so what does that say about the Bengals? I think Palmer is a great guy to have on your roster…as a back-up quarterback…that you pay maybe $9 for (kind of like I did for Donovan McNabb). Let’s just put it this way: Nelson has a couple of excellent bye-week quarterbacks, but no one that will make you feel confident in your decision at 1:05 on a Sunday afternoon, knowing that you could have potentially played the other guy instead. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re basing your quarterback decision on the defense your quarterbacks are going against on a weekly basis. Trust me, I’ve been in that position for the past 2 years, and it’s looking like I’ll be in it again.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Jason Witten scoring touchdowns.

Among tight ends last season, Witten was 2nd in receptions, 3rd in yards, and tied with 16 others for 24th in touchdowns. As comparison, Spencer Havner made 7 receptions for 4 touchdowns last year, as compared to Jason Witten’s 94 receptions for 2. Dallas is going to have an awesome season, and he’s going to catch at least 4 balls per game, but if you can’t count on him to score at least half a dozen touchdowns, then you really wasted $16.

My prediction: 2nd in the AFC (5th overall)

Meyer’s Cowboys:

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Aaron Rodgers, and only Aaron Rodgers.

The guy is going to be the 2nd best fantasy quarterback in the NFL; possibly the best. Locking him down for $36 was brilliant, because he would’ve gone for at least $10 more in the draft. And I know Meyers was tempted to keep Sammy Morris for $26, but he took a leap of faith in letting him go. The good news is he could still spend $20 in Free Agent Acquisition Budget to pick him up mid-season.

Best draft-day decision: Aside from knowing Damn’s spreadsheet and intentionally bidding up MJD and Andre Johnson to his max? Getting Fred Jackson for one-third the price of CJ Spiller.

Far be it from me to praise the drafting of any Buffalo Bill this year, but when you consider that CJ Spiller went for $21 and Meyers was able to grab Jackson for $7, I have to at least commend the decision. Spiller went for three times as much money, but the worst case scenario in this situation is that Jackson comes back a couple of weeks into the season and ends up in a time-share with Spiller. Keep in mind how horrendous the Bills passing game will be (a la the Carolina Panthers over the past couple of seasons), and you have to assume getting 40% of the carries on that team is just as good as 60% on any other. You know, if any running back on that team can get any blocking whatsoever.

Strangest draft-day decision: Paying $36 for Shady.

When Montgomery decided to not spend the $15 to keep McCoy, I thought he was out of his mind, especially considering he spent $20 to keep the Ravens defense. But I understood the decision, because I think the Eagles in general are going to have a less than stellar season, but even if he had a solid team behind him, Shady ain’t Westbrook. In my mind, he’s probably worth about $20, but I wouldn’t personally spend it. But $36? I couldn’t believe it.

Team strength: Quarterbacks.

I’ve already slightly gushed about Rodgers, but I love the Matt Moore pick up too. He’s on my short list of QB sleepers, and considering he’ll be going up against the Buccaneers during Green Bay’s bye week, he’s more than worth keeping on the roster. I especially like Moore’s price, because if he has any sort of success whatsoever in 2010, he’ll only cost $6 to keep in 2011.

Team weakness: Wide Receivers.

If the Seattle Seahawks aren’t even thrilled to have DJ Husmanzadda as their #1 WR, I can’t imagine Meyers is thrilled about it either. (Sidebar: Why did anyone ever think he could be a #1 wide receiver somewhere? Remember when Wes Welker was on the Dolphins? Dude was a sweet punt returner, but not much else. He shows up in New England and now he’s worth $30 as a keeper even though he’s coming back from a major injury? Sure, part of it has to do with the fact that Tom Brady is awesome and whoever the Dolphins quarterbacks may have been while he was in Miami were atrocious, but it’s mostly because he now had a deep threat on the opposite side of the field in the form of Randy Moss and he was free to make his bread and butter as a possession receiver. Who’s Yo Momma is the same way, only we’re seeing it go the opposite way. Being opposite Eight Five was the best possible scenario for him. If the Seahawks end up bringing in Vincent Jackson, I think How-sha-ma-zilly might return to fantasy relevance and totally be worth the $17 playing one hell of a second fiddle like he used to. Even at that, V Jax is suspended for the first couple of games, and probably wouldn’t gel with Hasselbeck until next season. But Houshmanzadeh (yes, I actually can spell it) as a #1 guy in the NFL? He’s worthless.) You could look past a lack of a solid number one if you’ve at least got two or three number twos, but I just don’t see anything there. Heyward-Bey might have a little promise with the addition of Campbell, but I’m pretty sure the Raiders have already given up on him (see: Walker, Javon; Curry, Ronald; Porter, Jerry). Davone Bess has potential as a bye week guy, because he’s probably good for 4 catches for 50 yards a game, but you don’t want that in a starter. The Bears have mentioned possibly just making Hester a return man again, and I wasn’t even aware Jason Avant was still in the NFL. So Houshmanzadeh is the de facto #1 WR on Meyers’ team, and the #2 spot is a battle between Hester and Heyward-Bey? Yikes. Dude, I’ve got Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss riding my pine. Hit me up with a trade offer.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Michael Turner’s ankle.

Yes, the wide receiver situation is dismal, but borderline suitable wide receivers are a dime a dozen (or $12 a dozen?) on the waiver wire every year. Meyers can replace Jason Avant with this year’s Miles Austin or Mike Sims-Walker and he’ll be just fine. If Michael Turner stays healthy, that is. You see, if the guy you spent 33% of your auction draft money on, the guy you’re counting on running for 1600 yards and scoring 16 touchdowns, the guy who actually made Matt Ryan look good two years ago….if that guy misses six games again and craps all over your fantasy heart, there’s no recovering from that. However, this particular commissioner was the only reason Turner ended up going for more than $60, so my continual bidding would seem to indicate I believe in him. Either that, or I was just drunk with the excitement over making my first draft purchase of the night. I’m leaning towards the former, though. I think he’s going to bounce back, but will it be enough to bounce Meyers out of the basement of this league that he’s been dwelling in for three straight years?

My prediction: 3rd in the NFC (4th overall)

Garland’s Giants:

Best pre-draft decision: Drafting in 2009?

It’s a hard knock life when you have to throw Andre Johnson back to the wolves in order to keep Chris Johnson, Jonathan Stewart, and Brandon Marshall. He may have had the least amount of money to play with on draft day, but from a talent stand point, nobody’s starting three even remotely approached Garland’s.

Best draft-day decision: Chilling. And chilling. And chilling.

I think we were a good 50 picks into the draft before I even made the verbal observation that Garland hadn’t purchased anyone yet. I had a mental suspicion before the draft that that’s exactly how he would play it. By keeping a solid nucleus, he was able to sit back and watch everyone else throw money at the stars before filling out his roster with low-risk, medium-reward role players. Ricky Williams and Darren Sproles aren’t the two running backs I would have spent my $27 on, but I can’t very well argue with those guys when you’ve already got CJ and The Daily Show in your starting line-up.

Strangest draft-day decision: Drafting the Cleveland Browns defense.

When my strongest objection to your draft is the defense you chose, you know I approve of the team you have, but com’n…the Brownies? You couldn’t have done better than that? I mean, the Broncos are still on the waiver wire. How does that happen? They allowed 30 or more points in a game seven times last season, and only held an opponent under 16 three times. And it’s not as if the teams that scored against them were offensive juggernauts (Kansas City, Detroit, Baltimore, and Chicago to name a few). Plus, they just barely averaged one turnover per game. Take out the Steelers game when they recovered three fumbles, and they’re at exactly one turnover per game. The only team with fewer turnovers was Washington. Josh Cribbs’ potential kick return TDs can’t possibly be worth all the otherwise disappointment that the Browns defense will cause.

Team strength: Tough to say.

Just like Garland, this team is solid all over the place. Great depth at wide receiver (Crabtree, Robinson, and Massaquoi aren’t great, but any #1 WR is worth having on a roster in a 14-team league), suitable back-ups to solid starting running backs (and a smart handcuff grab in the form of LeGarrette Blount), even the back-up quarterback is going up against a poor defense on the starting quarterback’s bye week. What’s not to love?

Team weakness: Tight end.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t believe that Owen Daniels is ready. Nobody bounces back ten months after a torn ACL. Nobody. Oh, he’ll play, because Joel Dreessen wasn’t exactly a stellar replacement to finish the 2009 season, but I think it’s foolish to assume he’ll come right back into form as the guy who was on pace for some 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last season pre-injury.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Not getting screwed in the playoffs.

Garland was unequivocally the best team last year, but got boned at the end of the year. I can’t possibly imagine a team this solid failing to make the playoffs, but if anything can happen during the regular season, absolutely anything can happen after week 14.

My prediction: 2nd in the NFC (3rd overall)

Miller’s Chiefs:

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Pierre Garcon.

He might not even end up starting for my team more than once or twice unless he puts together an entire season of games like weeks 9-13 from last season, but for $2, how could I pass up the guy who was going to be my #2/3 WR until Dwayne Bowe and Santana Moss fell into my lap?

Best draft-day decision: Grabbing Cadillac Williams for $11.

As one of the last starting running backs left on the board, I was surprised how little action there was for Ol’ Carnell. There’s nothing sexy about him, but much like you never pass up a car that starts and runs for less than $1000, you can’t pass up a back that starts and runs for less than $15. In my opinion, the Bucs are one of only thirteen teams in the NFL that are starting the regular season without a reasonable likelihood of a time share. Prices for those 12 running backs? Adrian Peterson – $72(keeper). Maurice Jones-Drew – $71. Michael Turner – $66. Frank Gore – $56. Steven Jackson – $55(keeper). Chris Johnson – $54(keeper). LeSean McCoy – $36. Cedric Benson – $36. Ryan Grant – $31(keeper). Ray Rice – $31(keeper). Matt Forte – $23(mine). Rashard Mendenhall – $12(keeper). Cadillac Williams – $11(mine). I’ll take it.

Strangest draft-day decision: Spending $18 on Arian Foster.

Not that it was necessarily a bad idea because he’s looking like the starter, and at that point in time, it was readily apparent that I was going to have money left over, but even as it was happening, I couldn’t believe I was paying that much for a guy I could have kept for $2. Nothing like a 900% inflation on something that isn’t even a guarantee.

Team strength: Quality depth.

I have two starting quarterbacks, two definitely starting running backs, two probably starting running backs, two back up running backs who will regularly see the field, three #1 wide receivers, a Pierre Garcon, and a partridge in a pear tree. With the exception of Arian Foster and Kevin Smith (both of which I grabbed near the end of the draft and sort of stopped paying attention to byes), and Matt Forte and Chester Taylor (handcuff), I don’t even have any bye week combos at a position. Not only do I have solid depth, but I diversified myself against bye weeks pretty effectively, if I may say so myself.

Team weakness: Intimidation

With the exception of Larry Fitzgerald, who most people are down on this year, there’s no one on the roster that jumps out at you as that guy you’re rooting against as a fantasy opponent. (The irony is that I wanted Greg Jennings instead of Fitzgerald to begin with, and while Jennings consistently performs at a high level, nobody seems to respect him from a fantasy perspective.) It’s almost the polar opposite of the stars and scrubs strategy that I ended up attempting to embrace last year. This year, I spent between $14-$24 on 5 guys, whereas I don’t think I had anyone in that range last season. As comparison, Damn went with that stars and scrubs strategy this year, and only purchased one guy between $14-$24 (in fact, you could expand that range to $12-$64, and he still only had one person that qualifies. I’m basically counting on solid averages throughout the course of the season.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Larry Fitzgerald

If he’s a top ten wide receiver with a couple of eye-popping games, I make the playoffs easily and could conceivably win the league. If the Derek Anderson / Matt Leinart combination drops him from the elite, I might struggle. It’s as simple as that. Obviously, I think he’ll succeed, or else I wouldn’t have paid more than twice as much for him as I did for anyone else on my roster.

My prediction: 1st in the AFC (2nd overall)

Duncan’s Packers:

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Miles Austin for $6.

I have no idea where this guy came from, but after he became a starter, he was good for 11+ fantasy points in 10 of 12 games. As I’ve already stated at one point or another, I think Dallas has a great year, and I’m not exactly terrified of the Dez Bryant selection. If Austin isn’t worth at least five times his keeper price at year end, I will be shocked.

Best draft-day decision: Drafting Tony Romo.

Rarely do I approve of drafting the QB/WR combo. There are four exceptions to the rule: Brady and Moss, Manning and Wayne, Rodgers and Jennings, and Romo and Austin. I don’t even like Schaub and Johnson or Brees and (insert Saints receiver). That’s how strict I am. But I like the other four because there are enough options on the team to make sure the quarterback rarely has a bad game, but you know that the #1 guy is going to get the lion’s share of the balls. I think Schaub and Johnson sneak into this category this year with the emergence of Jacoby Jones, but for now, Schaub has no one else to throw to. And yes, that is my way of saying Owen Daniels is not fully recovered from the ACL injury. But I digress. I love Romo and Austin. I was outraged that Brady only went for $30. I was equally appalled that Romo only went for $32. Move over Manning and Brady; I think Romo is the #3 fantasy QB this season.

Strangest draft-day decision: Insuring the $12 Mendenhall investment instead of the $36 Benson investment.

I’m splitting hairs at this point because I think Duncan had a terrific draft, and I realize that Mendenhall is worth as much as, if not more than Benson is. But in my opinion, Benson is the bigger risk, both in terms of injury and in terms of the potential to be replaced by his back-up. I wouldn’t say I’m knocking the decision to pick up Mewelde Moore for $4 so much as I’m knocking the decision to get Laurence Maroney for $6 instead of Bernard Scott. You can’t even make the bye week argument because the Patriots and Steelers have the same bye week, and three of Duncan’s five wide receivers share a bye week, so he clearly wasn’t paying much attention to that. And you definitely can’t make the argument that Laurence Maroney is worth the money. There’s no rhyme or reason to the running game in New England. My guess for the touches breakdown: Maroney – 30%. Taylor – 25%. Faulk – 20%. Green-Ellis – 10%. Morris – 10%. Taylor – 3%. Brady – 2%. I’d rather insure my running back than take a stab at someone whose upside is an 800 yard season.

Team strength: Wide receivers.

This changes a bit with the loss of Sidney Rice for the first several weeks of the season, but at the conclusion of the draft, this was definitely Duncan’s forte. I love Miles Austin, I hope I end up loving Anquan Boldin, I think Johnny Knox ends up being the best wide receiver option in Chicago (which may or may not be saying much), and I think Mike Williams ends up being the best wide receiver in Tampa Bay (which almost certainly isn’t saying much). But in a 14-team league, it’s tough to end up with 4 guys who may very well be the go-to receiver on their respective teams.

Team weakness: None.

Aside from my previous griping about Laurence Maroney, there’s nothing not to like about this team. You could maybe make the argument that the Vikings defense will struggle at times against New Orleans, Dallas, New England, and Green Bay, but I’m not overly concerned. They play 4 of those 5 games in the first 7 games of their season, so even if they stumble a bit out of the gates, they should still put up good numbers throughout the course of the season. Let’s just say I’m not at all surprised that Duncan ended up with such a solid team after he kept Mendenhall, Austin, and Sidney Rice and still had $180 to spend in the draft.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Dallas…and avoiding the Commish Kiss of Death

Obviously I’m enamored with Dallas, so I don’t expect the first one to be an issue. However, every year after the draft, I end up falling in love with one of the teams in our league, and they either get hit with an injury bug, or they just get screwed over week after week after week. Avoiding that will be key.

My prediction: 1st in the NFC (League champion)

My NFL predictions for shits and giggles:

Bold inclusions: Kansas City and Detroit
Bold omissions: San Diego and Minnesota

NFC:
East – Dallas
North – Green Bay
South – New Orleans
West – San Francisco
Wild Card – New York Giants, Detroit

NFC Championship: Green Bay over Dallas

AFC:
East – New York Jets
North – Baltimore
South – Indianapolis
West – Kansas City
Wild Card – New England, Houston

AFC Championship: Indianapolis over New York

Super Bowl: Green Bay over Indianapolis

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