After a few days off, and a check-in on some college football action, we can finally get back to previewing fantasy football. It is what the people want, and it is what the people shall get. This division has potential to be an exciting one, with the Jets and Patriots slugging it out for first place and the Dolphins and Bills trying to claw their way back to respectability. Let’s take a look at what will happen when the dust settles and the last tackle is shed.
1. New England Patriots
No shocker here. The Patriots are the best regular season team in the NFL right now, and they have added a couple of weapons this off-season too (they always seem to, don’t they?) Ok on offense, the Patriots still have Justin Bieber at QB, and he’s the best player in the NFL, so that’s a good start. All Bieber has to do is approach last year’s numbers (3,900 yards, 36 TDs and only 4 INTs) and the Pats will win 10 games on that alone. Bieber Fever again has some solid weapons at his disposal. Welker is back and at 100% (never mind the neck injury last week, walk it off), which is a good start to any offense, and huge for those of us in PPR leagues. If he stays healthy, Welker will catch 120 passes. On the other side, the Patriots aren’t that impressive. Deion Branch did have a bit of a comeback after leaving Seattle, but any time Matt Hasselbeck isn’t throwing you the ball, you’re gonna improve. That being said, Justin Bieber could throw TD passes to me with that Offensive Line and his lesbian hair. What the Pats really need is for new arrival Chad Ochocinco to step up and fill the deep threat void left by Randy Moss’ departure early in the 2010 season, and they will be all set. Bieber’s tight end options are the very talented (and very young) Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. That leaves us with running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who last year gave the Patriots their first 1,000 yard rusher since Corey Dillon in 2004 (with 13 TDs to boot). He helped take a lot of pressure off of Biebs and the passing game, and he’ll do so again this season. According to Yahoo, the Pats had the number 1 ranked defense in the league last year. Their 38 turnovers and six TDs probably had a lot to do with it. Expect more of the same from Belichick’s D in 2011. One note… I am curious to see if Albert Haynesworth will return to form under Belichick. That guy needs a kick in the ass.
My Prediction: 13 wins (2 losses to the Jets, a big 2nd round playoff loss too)
Fantasy Notables: QB Justin Bieber, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez, Defense
Fantasy Sleeper: Chad Ochocinco… If he can learn the Pats offense, and is properly motivated, it’s easy to catch TDs from Justin Bieber all day long.
Fantasy Poison: There really isn’t one on this team, unless Ochocinco, at 33, can’t adjust to the new offense. He’s as close as they come to a fantasy weakness.
2. New York Jets
Every year for the last three (including this pre-season), Fat Rex Ryan has projected and predicted that the Jets would win the Super Bowl. The last two seasons, they only managed to make it to the AFC championship game, losing to the Colts in 2009 (Jan 2010) and the Steelers in 2010 (Jan 2011). I see more of the same for 2011. Mark Sanchez is not a good fantasy football QB. His 3,291 yards and 17 TDs last year were nice for the jets, but not nice for owners on fantasy draft day. Jericho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards are gone, but the Jets did well to replace them with cagey (what does that even mean?) veteran Derrick Mason and former jail bird Plaxico Burress. Despite not catching 1,000 yards last year, Mason remains a consistent pass catcher. Burress has the height and leaping ability to create a lot of red zone match up nightmares. Santonio Holmes remains the number 1 receiving threat on the team and he doesn’t have to serve any suspensions this year (yet), so he should be good to go in 2011. Throw in tight end Dustin Keller (687 yards, 5 TDs), and Sanchez should have a variety of choices when the time comes to throw the football. Shonn Greene might not know how to spell Sean (Shawn also acceptable), but he can run the ball. He should also be the number 1 back in a run-first offense in 2011, so make sure you pick him up on draft day. If you need TDs, Tomlinson is not a bad goal line guy to have either. Nothing really to say about the Jets Defense. They did lose Shaun (also acceptable) Ellis to the hated Patriots, but who cares. Fat Rex will turn his replacement into a defensive whiz and the Jets will be fine.
My Prediction: 12 wins.. AFC Championship here we come! but not the Super Bowl… again.
Fantasy Notables: Shonn Greene, Plaxico Burress (TDs), Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller, Defense
Fantasy Sleepers: Ladanian Tomlinson… the guy knows how to find the end zone in goal line situations.
Fantasy Poison: Mark Sanchez. Again, he’s a good leader on the field, but that won’t win you fantasy football.
3. Buffalo Bills
That’s right Bills fans! This is finally the year your team barely beats out the Dolphins and doesn’t finish last in the division! That being said, there aren’t many bright spots on this team. One of the surprise bright spots (my fantasy team thanks him) last season was QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. The 29 year old came out of the black hole that has been the Bills QB position since Drew Bledsoe left, to start thirteen games, and he performed well above expectations. He threw for 3,000 yards and 23 Tds in those thirteen games, including 382 yards and 4 TDs in an OT loss to the Ravens in week seven and 316 yards and 4 TDs in a win against the Bungles in week eleven. Breakout WR Steve Johnson was a huge part of Fitzpatrick’s run, catching 82 passes for 1,073 yards and 10 TDs in 13 starts. Lee Evans’ departure means that one of Donald Jones, Roscoe Parrish or David Nelson will have to step up at WR in 2011. 6’7″ 268 lb waiver wire pickup Scott Chandler will get the chance to be an every day tight end that he couldn’t get in Dallas. He’s a big target, which could help get him a lot of touches. Fred Jackson will be the every day running back for the Bills from the get go in 2011 after Marshawn Lynch was traded away last season. In 13 starts last season (I swear the Bills played 16 games last year), Jackson ran for 927 yards and 5 TDs, so it will be nice to see what he can do with 16 starts this season. If Jackson gets injured, and CJ Spiller doesn’t live up to his first round promise, it could be a long year. Defensively, the Bills are nothing special, coming in at 29th in the Yahoo fantasy rankings. Too many points in the air (407 allowed overall) and not enough turnovers (22) will spell doom for them again in 2011.
My Prediction: 6 Wins. They won 4 games last year with 3 OT losses and lost two other games by five points or less. With a little better luck, 6 is possible.
Fantasy Notables: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson
Fantasy Sleeper: WR Donald Jones or TE Scott Chandler… one of these guys will step up to help Fitzy and Johnson.
Fantasy Poison: That Defense has to go.
4. Miami Dolphins
Apologies in advance to my friend Joe, because it’s gonna be a long winter in South Beach. Chad Henne is pretty much on his last legs in Miami. After a solid rookie year in 2009, the Michigan product failed to build on that in 2010. He ended the season with more interceptions than TDs (19 to 15) and didn’t connect with WR Brandon Marshall as well as the coaches and front office people thought he would. That being said, Marshall remains a solid fantasy option, as he did catch 86 passes for 1,014 yards (only 3TDs though). On the other side, Brian Hartline has big play potential, and Devon Bess caught 79 passes in the slot last year. They should put up similar seasons in 2011, but someone has to start getting in the end zone. Tight End Anthony Fasano won’t do much, unfortunately, but he did put up a career high 528 yards last year, so he could be a good bye-week option. The running game will change big time in 2011. The Dolphins lost both parts of their two-headed running attack this off-season, when both Ronnie Brown (Eagles) and Ricky Williams (Ravens) signed elsewhere. They did make a bit of a splash (see what I did there?) by trading for Reggie Bush though, which should help. Bush will definitely help out the passing game, but how will he do as a feature back with Miami? This is the opportunity he never got (some say failed to earn) in New Orleans. Also, will his frail old lady body be able to handle the increased workload (he missed time with knee injuries and a broken leg the last three seasons)? The Dolphins are going to find out in 2011. The Dolphins Defense allowed under 20 PPG last season, but their 19 forced turnovers were pretty pathetic, and so they ranked 25th in the Yahoo rankings. Jason Taylor is back, but that won’t help.
My Prediction: 5 wins, and a new coach and QB for 2012.
Fantasy Notables: Reggie Bush, Brandon Marshall, Devon Bess
Fantasy Sleeper: Can Larry Johnson come back if Reggie Bush gets hurt again? Probably not, but it would be a good story.
Fantasy Poison: Chad Henne… I don’t think the kid has it.
Brady image courtesy of: Splashnews.com
Burress image courtesy of: http://bossip.com
Fitzpatrick image courtesy of: AP Photo/David Duprey
Bush image courtesy of: AP Photo/J. Pat Carter