After years of focusing on teamwork and championships, the Patriots have finally come around to the importance of building a high-powered fantasy football machine loaded with potential for huge individual statistics.
They went shopping for a fleet of big-name new receivers who are major upgrades over Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney and the like. And for once they've built a running game around a breakaway youngster instead of a crusty old 30-something.
Throw in Tom Brady, and it all sets up like the best fantasy outfit east of Indianapolis - at least if you ask those who spent high draft picks on Brady, Laurence Maroney, Randy Moss and Donte' Stallworth.
There's only one problem with this great big bandwagon: There are so many question marks that it could turn out some fantasy flops on the scale of a Daniel Snyder shopping spree.
Does Moss have anything left? (He hasn't done much recently, and he's already ailing.) Is Stallworth reliable? (He has an injury and attitude history himself.) Can Maroney hold up? (He missed time last year and had offseason shoulder surgery.) Who catches the most passes? (It could even be Wes Welker.)
Also, New England's nutty coaching staff is known for sniffing out weaknesses and exploiting them over and over again. They may run every down one week and throw every down the next - a great idea for real victories, but costly for fantasy teams.
The only surefire Patriot who looks like he'll produce every single week is Brady, who averaged about 3,700 yards and 24 scores as a starter without ever having much at receiver. Maroney also could be big, but beware counting on those receivers too much.
As you figure out how to acquire Welker without too much embarrassment, here's a look at some players to start in Week 1, some to rest and some long shots who just may pan out:
- Cash in on those Donovan McNabb starts before the bionic knee gives out, even against the Packers' tough pass rush. Last year when the Eagles beat Green Bay he threw for two scores and ran for two.
- Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers try out the new pass-friendly offense against Cleveland, which is sort of like getting a bonus preseason tune-up. He averaged 250 yards and two scores against the Browns last year.
- It's still a little early for the Giants' Eli Manning to start doinking the ball around the field. Historically he remembers where to throw early in the season, and he averages two TDs a game against Dallas.
- Tony Romo is worth a start against the Giants, who had the No. 28 pass defense last year. Romo had five interceptions in two games against the Giants, but that was before he had the composure of a starter who hangs out in Hollywood.
- Detroit's Jon Kitna should get one of the 10 wins he promised in Oakland. The Raiders had the No. 1 pass defense last year, but that was partly because everybody could run on them so didn't bother throwing.
- Could the planets be more aligned for Atlanta's Joey Harrington? For the second straight year he signed on as a backup and wound up starting. Now he opens against the Vikings' pass defense that was the NFL's worst last year.
Please, in the name of Marc Wilson, don't start these guys:
- Vince Young should be great this year, just not against Jacksonville. Last year the Jags held him to one TD and four interceptions in two games, and just 18 yards rushing total.
- If you have the Jets' Chad Pennington, I'm sorry to inform you that you did not draft well. Help yourself by benching him while he hands off to Thomas Jones and gets smooshed by the Patriots' pass defense that yielded only 10 TDs last year.
- Don't start anybody in Washington. Trent Green's age and concussion possibilities make him scary to watch, let alone play. And Jason Campbell is a nicked-up, inexperienced guy with line problems.
- Overthinker Alert: The Chiefs' Larry Johnson may not be in prime condition after missing most of the preseason, and his much-discussed overuse last year could cause him to wear down. But you don't have to be perfect to tear up the Texans, and he's not tired yet.
- Overthinker Alert II: Don't sweat Rudi Johnson against the feared Baltimore defense that allowed just 75 rushing yards a game and five scores on the ground last year. He somehow has four touchdowns in his last four games against the Ravens.
- Travis Henry of Denver gets a shot at revenge against his first team. The Broncos can always run and the Bills can never stop runners, so 150 yards seems a foregone conclusion.
- LaMont Jordan's trying to prove he should hang on to the starting job in Oakland when Dominic Rhodes returns from a four-game suspension. The Lions will probably help him out.
- Speaking of the Lions, Tatum Bell should be able to exploit the Raiders' run defense. He never did much when facing them as a Bronco, but he'll get more carries than catch plenty of passes.
- Carolina's DeShaun Foster was taken after backup DeAngelo Williams in many fantasy drafts, but the Rams' run defense could help his job security. St. Louis gave up 145 rushing yards a game and an NFL-worst 21 TDs last year.
- Ronnie Brown of Miami faces a rotten Washington defense, but he'll also give up some carries to backup Jesse Chatman. (It's never a good sign when you lose time to a player who last scored in 2004.)
- Minnesota's Adrian Peterson is already scary for tacklers, but he may be more frightening for fantasy owners who just don't know how he'll be used. Bench him until you figure it out.
- Washington's Clinton Portis was hardly mentioned in the preseason, but his numerous doctor visits and freshly re-signed 1,000-yard backup were. Sit him until you're sure he's able to go for significant carries.
- Green Bay's Donald Driver is too tough to let a mere foot injury bench him, missing just one game the past five years. Plus, who would Brett Favre throw to? Favre averaged a dozen passes to Driver the last five games of 2006.
- All of Deion Branch's offseason work with Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle should show right away against a Tampa Bay defense that was not at all opposed to touchdown passes last year.
- Anquan Boldin has gone without a score in nine of his past 10 games, but that trend doesn't hold up against the 49ers. He has scored in three of his last four against them.
- Miami's Chris Chambers should end his eight-game boycott of the end zone against what was last year a horrid pass defense. (He may also remind the Redskins why they let Fred Smoot leave the first time.)
- Call me crazy, but I have a hunch the Bears are going to focus on stopping LaDainian Tomlinson. Probably won't work, but the effort should leave Vincent Jackson wide open.
- If Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson can throw at all - and that's still an if - he'll throw often to Bobby Wade. He had five catches and even threw a TD with the starters in a preseason game.
- Even if Randy Moss is healthy, bench him and the 42 other Patriots receivers until you see whether anybody gets the ball more than a couple times a game.
- Detroit rookie Calvin Johnson won't start as he's still figuring out the NFL. When he does get in, he'll face the top pass defense of 2006.
- Bench Matt Jones, Ernest Wilford and whoever else is hanging around in Jacksonville. The QB switch just before the opener is a problem, but the fact that it's so darned easy to run on the Titans will mean few passes.

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