It really is a whole new season, isn't it?
Tom Brady is hurt and out for the season. Vince Young is not as unlucky, but he's out for several weeks. Kurt Warner is handed the reins of an offense with two receivers any club would call a No. 1 option and can't get to 200 yards. Donovan McNabb has a rookie and two former undrafted players at his disposal and turns them all into 100-yard receivers. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, both rookies making their first NFL start in their first NFL game, not only lead their teams to victories, but also look good doing it. All of that while Marc Bulger, Matt Hasselbeck and Carson Palmer look like, well, rookies.
And that's just the quarterbacks.
Michael Turner played like LaDainian Tomlinson, LaDainian Tomlinson played like Fred Taylor, and Fred Taylor played like a fullback. Then again, it depends on the fullback, because Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain had more yards on the ground than Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Steven Jackson.
|Do yourself a favor and grab Patrick Crayton if he's available on your waiver wire. (US Presswire)|
However, there is a very noticeable constant left over from 2007: The Cowboys are incredible.
In fact, with Marion Barber working full time (and even when he wasn't), they're better than they were last year.
Facing what was considered an up-and-coming defense in the Browns, the Cowboys laid down one of the most one-sided wins of Week 1 (the Eagles, who the 'Boys play next week, also had one, as did the Steelers). Cleveland, which is sadly my AFC Super Bowl pick, couldn't move the ball well against the Dallas defense, and certainly couldn't touch quarterback Tony Romo thanks to the fortress his offensive line provided for him on every play. Marion Barber also steamrolled the Browns with several powerful runs and a pair of goal-line plunges with the help of that beefy line. And when he was out, rookie Felix Jones was doing the same. Covering Dallas' receivers? Forget about it -- if they double-teamed Terrell Owens, Romo could flick the ball to either Witten or Patrick Crayton. It was a lose-lose proposition for the Browns on every snap the Cowboys had.
Aside from Romo's lone mistake, a pass intercepted in the end zone late in the third quarter, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett called a perfect game and the Cowboys were flawless. It was such a convincing victory. It reminds me of the Patriots from last year, minus the rubbing it in when the game was out of hand.
Take a look at Dallas' schedule from last season. The three losses included running into the Patriots' buzzsaw and losing inconsequential games vs. Philadelphia in Week 15 and at Washington in Week 17. True, the club ran into some tough contests along the way (at Buffalo in Week 5, at Detroit in Week 14), but by and large, they were a very good offensive team.
This year, they're better.
Now I'm not stating the obvious here and calling the Dallas offense prolific. I'm calling them amazing. I'm putting them on the pedestal -- they are head, shoulders and knee ligaments ahead of the Patriots (now) and everyone else in the NFL. This is the team to beat, and they're going to be very, very difficult to hold under 21 points. So long as the offensive line stays healthy, so long as their running game packs a punch and so long as Romo doesn't inadvertently try to give a game away. The schedule is certainly in their favor: They play the NFC West and AFC North teams this season, along with the Buccaneers and Packers.
The Fantasy lesson here is to start picking up pieces of the Cowboys' puzzle. Trading for their big stars will cost you (you woulda coulda shoulda drafted 'em), but targeting Patrick Crayton or Felix Jones might not come too pricey (assuming Barber is healthy). Even aiming for the Cowboys DST or kicker Nick Folk isn't a bad call. It's not early enough to start considering deals. Just ask the guy who lost Tom Brady for the season.
Fantasy & Reality
Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) during the week's action.
Fantasy: Peyton Manning's knee injury isn't a big deal. In time, this will be a reality, but Manning looked rusty, missing on 19 pass attempts and getting 5.24 yards per attempt vs. the Bears. I think losing Dallas Clark to an injury early in the game also played a role, along with the pressure the Bears put on Manning. Surprising performance? Sure, but Manning won't let you down.
Reality: Jason Campbell's got a lot of work to do. In fact, the entire Redskins' offense has a lot of work to do. Give some credit to the Giants, and maybe they were hyped up playing in front of the home crowd for the first time since Super Bowl XLII, but Campbell looked awful. Nothing like the passer we saw early in the preseason against vanilla defenses. He needs better protection, too. If he stumbles against the Saints, he'll be deserving of a one-way ticket to the waiver wire.
Fantasy: Joey Galloway owns the Saints. The theory had a chance -- the Bucs threw 41 times against New Orleans, with Galloway targeted 13 of those 41 times. He still wound up with six catches, which isn't bad, but the 56 yards wasn't overwhelming. He's also on the brink of being "just a guy" for Fantasy purposes, particularly if the Bucs spread the ball around to Ike Hilliard and Antonio Bryant.
Reality: The pound-the-rock Lions got pounded. Badly. What a bad start for Lions coach Rod Marinelli. Not only did he preach all offseason about how much his club was going to run, but he took pride in the defense he built over the summer, particularly the defensive line. In one game, the Falcons completely blew them apart, thanks in part to awful tackling by the guys in Honolulu Blue. How else can you explain Turner's 220 rush yards and Jerious Norwood's 93 rush yards? The Packers will attack next week -- will the Lions be ready?
Fantasy: Willie Parker doesn't score touchdowns. What a relief it must have been for Parker to score three times in one week after scoring two touchdowns all of 2007. And we knew he'd score more than two TDs, but not in the first game! Best yet, Parker's three scores all came inside the Texans 20, and two from inside the Texans 5. Rashard Mendenhall's up-and-down preseason pushed him into being coddled while Parker handles the majority of the work. Suddenly, anyone who drafted Parker is looking good. He'll do it again next week at Cleveland, too.
Reality: The Bengals and Rams' defenses are awful. OK, Cincinnati: How in the world do you let a tall, lanky rookie quarterback run 38 yards for a touchdown?! Are your defenders' feet buried in cement? And what about fullback Le'Ron McClain getting 86 yards on 19 carries? That's embarrassing.
And the Rams, who are awful outdoors, had no chance against the Eagles. I can understand a defense allowing a 100-yard receiver. Two is rare on the same team in the same game. But three?! That's a pretty glaring indictment of your secondary. Hank Baskett's 90-yard touchdown catch wasn't exactly a great feat by Philly as it was a display of crummy defensive work by St. Louis.
Get it in your head now: Tennessee plays at Cincinnati and the Giants visit the Rams in Week 2.
I drafted Tom Brady. Now what?
Losing your top pick to injury is the second-worst thing that could happen to a Fantasy owner (the worst is having your top pick play like junk all season and you start him each week because you took him early). But the good news is that the season is young and all owners have time to turn it around.
Assuming you don't have a quality backup already on the roster, or even if you do, let's start with the obvious. Plan A: Pick up Matt Cassel. While he'll deliver 300-yard games like Alex Rodriguez delivers clutch hits, he should still post good enough stats. That's all you can ask for now. Good enough. He won't be asked to or be able to replicate what Brady did last season, but any quarterback who throws to Randy Moss and Wes Welker -- even in a balanced attack -- is worth owning.
But let's say you're too low on the waiver wire claim list and can't get Cassel. Or, you manage to claim Cassel off of waivers anyway. Enter Plan B: Consider a trade for a quarterback. Aiming for a stud like Romo or Drew Brees isn't the way to go. Instead, focus on three quarterbacks who came on strong late in the preseason on our rank list: Brett Favre, Jay Cutler and Kurt Warner. In most leagues, both were drafted as part of a platoon; Warner might have been drafted as a backup. Cutler, who isn't expected to have a good game at Oakland, could be had on the cheap, as could Warner following a sub par (for him) game at San Francisco. Favre's price tag might be high depending on who in your league owns him. All three passers have potential to post 300-yard games (better than Cassel) and create some good stat lines for your team.
Some owners might whiff on Cassel and can't work the phones in a trade. Enter Plan C: Hammer the waiver wire. Of the quarterbacks owned in less than 50 percent of CBSSports.com leagues on Monday, only three look palatable: Chad Pennington, Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Ryan. Damon Huard and Kerry Collins are stop-gap options as well, but unreliable for the rest of the season. The suggestion here is to create a platoon between one of the first three quarterbacks listed and one of the other two, preferably Huard, who has some potential for big games because of receivers Dwayne Bowe and Tony Gonzalez.
Brutal, I know. But this is the reality that Brady owners face now, particularly if a backup wasn't drafted. Which conveniently brings us to ...
Does Brady's injury prove that drafting a QB early is a big mistake?
A lot of veteran Fantasy owners are laughing in the faces of Brady owners this morning, as if to say 'That's what you get for drafting a quarterback in the first round.' That's totally lame.
By merely participating in Fantasy Football, you accept the risk that players you believe in and have on your team can get hurt. Part of the game, right? It can happen to anybody. Even Tom Brady.
There was and still is nothing wrong with taking a quarterback in Round 1. Brady owners this year might not do it again because it will prove to be a year-long hassle to replace him, but it was a good plan to spend a valuable draft pick on a passing quarterback in a passing league.
Now here's some food for thought: What if LaDainian Tomlinson's Week 1 toe injury went from a minor tweak to something that forced him out for the season? Would he be any easier to replace? Of course not. In fact, he'd be harder to replace! A standard Fantasy league starts two running backs, if not three, and owners draft at least five rushers each. Try swimming through the leftover talent pool at running back after Week 1. At least there are always quarterbacks who start and take every snap on the waiver wire each week, even if they're not expected to do very well. They'll give you something. Owners who lose a rusher in Week 1 might have to lean on ... here's his name again ... someone like Le'Ron McClain for the short term. I'll take the quarterback off the waiver wire over the running back off the waiver wire any day.
I addressed McNabb in my Four Downs column following Sunday's games. I think he should be put up on the trading block and dangled in front of the desperate Brady owners across the country. His value is plenty high. Of course, that doesn't mean I'd trade for him. McNabb has some good receivers, and a solid season is probably ahead of him, but he's not going to give us 300 yards every week, including Week 2 at Dallas.
Turner also had a heck of a coming-out party against the Lions, but I think his game had more to do with the opponent rather than the player. I think Turner has 100-yard potential each week, including at Tampa Bay in Week 2, but if you can swap him for a first-round talent like Clinton Portis or Larry Johnson, I'd give it some real thought.
Of course, I'm the guy who said trade Randy Moss after Week 1 last season. Moss went on to score more receiving touchdowns than anyone else in the NFL last year. So, obviously, expect McNabb and Turner to be on their way to MVP-type seasons and disregard everything I just wrote.
All right, fine, if you do decide to entertain trades, make sure you get something really solid for McNabb and Turner. Sheesh, it's not like I said trade Randy Moss for a kicker or something ...
• I'd be remiss if I didn't give some Monday kudos to Jake Delhomme, who led the Panthers to a stunning last-play-of-the-game win over the Chargers in San Diego. Delhomme kept Carolina in the game and threw a perfect dart into double coverage to tight end Dante Rosario in the back of the end zone with no time left to win it. If there were any doubters about Delhomme's arm after the preseason, they've been silenced now.
• Rosario, by the way, might be this season's Chris Baker/Steve Heiden after his seven-catch, 96-yard, one-TD game against the Bolts. In two weeks, he'll be a nobody again when Steve Smith is back and occupying most of Delhomme's attention.
• Philip Rivers: Three touchdowns and nobody is talking about it. He hit all of his big-time receivers for scores. Hey, if you just lost Brady (and are still reading this), this is another quarterback you can trade for.
• Jacksonville was crushed yesterday. No one on that team looked like themselves. How could the Jags get away from running the ball? It's their best strength on offense. The Bills will carve up that game film and try to force David Garrard into throwing much like the Titans did. Based on how Buffalo looked against Seattle, it's not going to be easy for the Jaguars' duo.
• I don't trust Kerry Collins, but I do trust Damon Huard. Both of them are suspect passers that are capable of three-interception games. The difference? The receiving corps -- Kansas City's has upside; Tennessee's is barely decent.
• I'm a company man all the way (Katie Couric, you go girl!), but even I was kind of surprised with all the plugs for the new CBS Scene restaurant during the Chiefs-Patriots game. And I get it, they want to show off for the New England audience and try to get people into the restaurant. It's Marketing 101. But they had food in the booth, mentions every quarter, and anytime the Patriots did something positive, they took a shot into the restaurant to get their tepid, time-delayed reaction. I was just waiting for Dan Dierdorf to say, "Oh boy, after that knee injury, Tom Brady will have lots of time to eat at the delectable CBS Scene. Golly, he'll love the CSI:NY ribs and How I Met Your Mother martini!"
• CBS has a restaurant in Foxboro and we don't even have a cafeteria in our building. We have a vendateria. It's fancy. We have Big Tex cinnamon rolls and plantain chips.
• Dear CBS: Please don't fire me for the aforementioned statements. Or not let me into the CBS Scene if I'm ever in Foxboro. Just, uh, ix-nay on the ugs-play.
• I knew Matt Forte would be good, but I didn't think he'd be 123-yard, one-touchdown, sink-the-Colts good.
• If the Bengals mope through the entire season and finish with an awful record, then Marvin Lewis needs to go, and Chad Whatshisnametoday should follow. I can't wait to write the blog on how I'd fix the Bengals ... but I won't write it until they go 7-9. Bottom line: There's no reason why that offense can't score 21 points per game.
Do you have a question for Dave? Send your thoughts to DMFantasyFootball@cbs.com and we'll post the best responses. Be sure to put Attn: Fantasy & Reality in the subject field. Include your full name, hometown and state.