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Wednesday, 03 September 2008 13:30
NFL Headline News

 Belichick's silence brings fantasy angst
AP GRAPHIC FANTASY FOOTBALL LOGO
By JOHN McFARLAND
Associated Press Writer
Here's one thing fantasy football players have in common with everyone involved with the real NFL as the 2008 season kicks off: New England coach Bill Belichick is about to drive them crazy.
A lot of fantasy football players staked their drafts this summer on the notion that the Patriots would continue the ridiculous aerial attack that saw Tom Brady fire an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes, including a league-record 23 to Randy Moss.
Meanwhile, other fantasy owners reasoned that a violent overcorrection is Belichick's only response to last year's failure to go 19-0, drafting Laurence Maroney based on the idea the Pats will feed him against defenses loaded with pass-fearing defensive backs. After all, Maroney averaged 100 yards and ran for four TDs in New England's final three games.
Did any of these fantasy players base their strategy on anything Belichick said? Nope. Anything he hinted at? Probably not. Anything from assistants who accidentally uttered sounds in public? Surely not. Like everybody outside the Patriots' cone of silence, they just guessed. And there'll be a lot more guessing when the season begins.
Fortunately, it's a fairly easy guess because all Pats should start for every fantasy team. Just get used to plugging them into the lineup without a shred of meaningful information on injuries or anything else.
As you dust off that always-fashionable sleeveless sweat shirt, here's a look at some players to start in Week 1, some to rest and some long shots who just may pan out:
QUARTERBACKS:
A SAFE BET
-It's a strange NFL world when there's even a need to discuss whether Peyton Manning's worth a fantasy start, but not so strange that you should consider benching him. Manning's a football robot programmed to never miss a start, and his knee rehab's gone well.
-It's a stranger NFL world when Brett Favre's not a Packer. He may have a good handle on only a handful of the Jets' passing plays, but how many does he really need against the overhauled Dolphins coming off a one-win season?
-The wheels seem to be flying off the Bengals' once-proud offense, but the once-proud Ravens defense has been on blocks for a while so don't panic yet about that high draft pick used for the broken-nosed Carson Palmer.
-Speaking of AFC North quarterbacks with recent head injuries, stick with Cleveland's Derek Anderson against Dallas despite his recent concussion. The Cowboys pass defense is rough, but this seems like a big-time shootout.
-Everybody in Arizona suddenly has a clear head, realizing it's better to have a really old and square QB who can throw touchdowns than a really cute and cool young one who can't. So make like the Cards and start Kurt Warner (the old square).
TAKE A SHOT
-If J.T. O'Sullivan really is your fantasy starter in Week 1, then, well, uh, welcome to the exciting world of fantasy football. Yet even a fantasy rookie could luck out this week, as O'Sullivan faces an Arizona defense probably not all that different from those preseason lineups he faced.
BACK AWAY SLOWLY AND NOBODY GETS HURT
Please, in the name of Matt Cassel, don't start these guys:
-Matt Hasselbeck has no receivers and has had a stiff back that's kept him out most the preseason. He says his back feels fine, but that's before a 2,100-mile plane ride to Buffalo and a few encounters with the Bills' beefed up line.
-Can the Rams' Marc Bulger really stay upright behind a flimsy line that's blocking the always blitz-crazy Eagles? He may check in with the trainers earlier than usual, with T Orlando Pace still hurting and two other linemen already on the IR.
-Matt Schaub has been installed as an early favorite as the first Texan to limp away from the field in Pittsburgh, edging out Ahman Green and Andre Johnson.
---
RUNNING BACKS
ALL DAY LONG
-Overthinker Alert: Yes, Kansas City's high-mileage monster Larry Johnson probably will break down again this year, but not already. And a lot of those New England defenders aren't getting any younger.
-Overthinker Alert II: Steven Jackson might be out of game shape after his holdout, facing a rough defense with no real offensive line and still learning the Rams' newest offense, but he's still way too good to bench.
-Atlanta's Michael Turner gets his first crack as a starter against a Detroit defense that's supposed to be improved, but still allowed more TDs rushing last year than anybody but Oakland. He also has a rookie QB who'll be more than happy to hand off just about every play.
-Seems like the feared rookie won't steal so many of Willie Parker's carries in Pittsburgh after all. (Not yet, anyhow.) Parker's still the main guy facing a Texans defense that was fairly easy to run on last year.
-Chris Perry's been the poster child for breakable NFL backs, missing 26 of his 48 career games, but he's been impressive in the preseason and is the main guy with Rudi Johnson's departure. Should get lots of dumpoff passes with Bengals receivers hurting, as well.
HE COULD FIND A SEAM
-Dude, Ricky Williams has been like totally stoked this summer in Miami. And the Bill Parcells administration just might give him more carries early on to show Ronnie Brown a thing or two about getting injured.
RED FLAGS
-It's tough for backs with two good hamstrings to do much on the Vikings' run defense (NFL-best 74 yards a game last year), so bench the one-hammied Ryan Grant. He's practiced just a few times since his big season last year.
-Remember, you drafted Raiders rookie Darren McFadden for the long haul. Sit him until you get a better feel for how long Justin Fargas gets the sympathy title of veteran starter. (Chester Taylor didn't keep it long in Minnesota last year.)
-Chicago's Matt Forte, a popular rookie pick in fantasy drafts, will likewise be popular with unblocked Colts defensive linemen. They'll bring friends, too, who won't have to bother much with the Bears' ``passing game.''
---
WIDE RECEIVERS
THROW HIM THE DARN BALL!
-Overthinker Alert: Don't bench Braylon Edwards despite his chopped-up foot, banged-up QB and a Dallas secondary full of big names. You just don't bench a guy coming off 16 scores.
-It's a race against time, so cash in on all the starts you can from Houston's Andre Johnson before he gets hurt. And don't sweat Schaub's looming injury much, since backup Sage Rosenfels knows how to wing it to Johnson.
-Who knows how much 36-year-old Marvin Harrison has in his comeback from knee injury, but surely he has enough for a few rehab-room highlights with Manning. The Bears' defense (27th against the pass last year) is a far cry from the unit Harrison faced in the 2006 Super Bowl.
-Anquan Boldin may be mad at his team about his contract, but he's happy with them for the Warner move. And he's kind of pleased with NFL schedulemakers for aiding his 2009 job search by offering up the Niners in the opener.
-Chris Chambers was solid after settling in with the Chargers last year. He faces an improved Carolina defense, but eight or nine of those guys will be following LaDainian Tomlinson around.
MAYBE THROW HIM THE DARN BALL?
-Eagles Reggie Brown and DeSean Jackson both could put up decent numbers. McNabb always starts strong, Brian Westbrook can't score all the touchdowns, and last we saw the Rams they were giving up 41 points a game in their final three of 2007.
SHOW HIM THE DARN BENCH
-Atlanta's Roddy White may be this year's Drew Bennett. Even if he doesn't vanish like Bennett did after his sole 1,200-yard season, it's a bit much to expect much from his rookie quarterback in the opener.
-Packers receivers essentially have a rookie QB as well, and Aaron Rodgers is sure to be googly-eyed and panicked while fleeing from Minnesota's Jared Allen and Kevin Williams.
-Consider this a public service announcement for anybody who drafted without realizing Carolina's Steve Smith is suspended for the first two games and Denver's Brandon Marshall is out for the opener. (If you missed that, you also may need this advice: Don't start them this week.)
 

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