Manly House of Football: AFC Preview

To all my friends at the World Championship of Fantasy Football:

It has been my great honor to provide the opening remarks, as well as compete, at the WCOFF in recent years, and I want you all to know I will be joining you again next year. This year, I had a last-minute conflict that I trust you will all respect. Robin and I are in the process of adopting our first child -- a magic and stressful moment for us -- and as the fates would have it, the kickoff of the NFL season coincides with the red zone of our event horizon, and I simply couldn't risk the travel.

I acknowledge the impressive level of expertise I have seen on display at the WCOFF, and as the two-time defending champion of the ESPN fantasy football prime-time special, I want everyone out there who competes in the fantasy football arena to keep your eyes on The Manly House throughout the year for the advice that you won't see replicated in every other FF advisory. Instead, you'll find the kind of contrarian thinking that builds champions.

LOOKING FOR VALUE?

Having drafted in nine different leagues this year at all levels of expertise, I'll give you some names that seem to slip under the radar at the skill positions who I think will give you outstanding punch for your later-round buck:

QB:

EARLIER: DONOVAN MCNABB is slipping, he's offering fantastic value this year.

LATER: REX GROSSMAN -- people are still scared by that Super Bowl, but he put up some huge fantasy weeks last year and he's sitting there crazy late.

BRETT FAVRE -- Nobody wants him! No doubt sick of his retirement mambo, but seriously, at the end of the day, who do you think is going to chuck more TDs this season -- Favre or, say, Matt Schaub?

RB:

EARLIER: Frankly, there isn't any value early -- the RB run in the first three rounds is what it is, and it's more about avoiding the old and infirm here than grabbing value.

LATER: Looking for undisputed No. 1 backs who aren't burdened by a backfield committee? Then you have to roll the dice on some guys who might just come through this year. Perhaps oldies who are sliding -- AHMAN GREEN, JAMAL LEWIS, WARRICK DUNN, even (gulp!) LAMONT JORDAN… Or you can take a shot at the young and disappointing -- CADILLAC WILLIAMS; or the young and stupid -- LENDALE WHITE.

WR:

EARLIER: T.O. is out of favor and sliding a tad, as are DONALD DRIVER, JOEY GALLOWAY, HINES WARD, BERNARD BERRIAN and DEION BRANCH.

LATER: My personal favorite value at WR is DEVERY HENDERSON, but you will also get a late-round shot at all sorts of intriguing gambles, including BRAYLON EDWARDS, DONTE STALLWORTH, KEVIN CURTIS, SANTONIO HOLMES, and WES WELKER.

RANDY MOSS is the biggest enigma -- he is either going waaaay too early, or, if he escapes the third round, slides all the way to the sixth and beyond.

And the unproven flavor of the month is, without a doubt, Packer rookie JAMES JONES -- his stock is rising, as is his draft position.

TE:

EARLIER: While the as-yet unproven VERNON DAVIS is going surprisingly early, value abounds with elite TEs CHRIS COOLEY and KELLEN WINSLOW.

LATER: ALGE CRUMPLER seems to have fallen along with the human formerly known as Mike Vick, even though he could still deliver because he is the outlet valve no matter who is chucking the pigskin. For really late-round value, my personal favorite is Saints TE ERIC JOHNSON -- I promise he'll have some big weekends this year.

Of course, nothing is real until the season kicks off, so with that in mind, let's pick up where we left off earlier in the week, shaggin' and baggin' some of the impressions that caught this ginger-haired dreamer's attention:

MAN-TANGIBLES: AFC EDITION

Unsubstantiated data and opinion, scooped up hot and shot from the hip with extreme prejudice. In other words, if I'm not saying what you're thinking, then you aren't really thinking…

AFC EAST
PATRIOTS

Seymour on the PUP might sting, but let's face it -- the rich get richer, and the 2007 edition of the Pats is a thing to behold. I mean, they've already won a passel of bowls, they are never out of contention, and now they have reloaded to a fair-thee-well.

Suffice it to say any team that lures Randy Moss and, if rumors mean anything, has no qualms about waiving him early on, is doing many things right.

Underdog Saves the Day:
RAVENS OVER BENGALS

(Year to date: 0-0)

It starts with Tom Brady, and trickles down from there, and may the rest of the conference beware. I recently had the occasion to meet Tedy Bruschi's sister, a make-up artist working here in L.A. -- a neighbor of my agent, in fact -- and she was kind enough to invite Robin and I into her home for a visit. It was a lovely night, save for the moment when I spotted an NFL game ball signed and dedicated to her. I picked up the ball, full of reverence, until I saw that it commemorated the Pats' 31-0 victory over my very own Buffalo Bills. Such is life in the AFC East.

The only mystery here is that things look so damn good… might they be this year's red herring?

JETS

Here's your wild card: Mangini has it going on, Thomas Jones might be to the Jets offense what Corey Dillon was to the Pats, and that D is promising. Mangini even seems to be inside Belichick's skull -- I don't know if I've ever been able to say that before. Then again, this weekend we might just see what happens when you poke that bear...

BILLS

They all laughed and made fun with the octogenarian jokes about Levy & Wilson, Part Deux, but it turns out that the Hall of Famer hasn't forgotten how to build a team the right way. Speed, character, and an old-school old soul like rookie Paul Posluszny, who is poised to finally stuff that porous line of scrimmage like a warrior. The offense will take the next step -- don't let the vanilla preseason scheme fool you, J.P. Losman is poised to take the next step, Lee Evans is elite, and Marshawn Lynch will run hard in a way Willis McGahee hasn't since he left Miami.

The big gamble is the defense -- it is crazy small and crazy fast. An all or nothing bet, but I have a bad feeling they are still going to be a running game's dream come true.

In other words, it's still a building project -- soon, soon. Maybe not in '07, but soon. It's hard that the latest rebuilding effort follows a series of failed regimes, but here's to Marv for finally dong it right and not trying to build the team with New England's discarded former stars, but rather through he draft.

On a personal note, I also have to kick major love to Losman, who not only bought a house in my old neighborhood in downtown Buffalo -- literally one block away from the house I grew up in -- but he has galvanized the city to clean up it's neglected, yet beautiful inner city. I am trying to remember the last time a major Buffalo pro athlete eschewed the suburbs for the magic of the city itself, and this kid is on to something I have been preaching for years. Buffalo may be a punchline to those who don't know any better, but the city is an architectural gem with the nicest neighbors you could ever dream of, and I am pulling for a kid who landed in my hometown all the way from California and gets it.

DOLPHINS

The defense may have a great year or two left, but this offense is in transition and this team is a mess. Until further notice, Miami is a city where you go to party all night on Saturday and then sleep through the game.

P.S. -- remember when those Auburn backs both went so high in the same draft? Ronnie Brown better pick it up this year, or he and Cadillac Williams are officially busts No. 1 and No. 1-A.

AFC NORTH
RAVENS

Despite Cleveland's continued growing pains, welcome to the toughest division in the NFL. The Ravens were my sleeper Super Bowl pick last year; this year they are on everyone's grid. So much for the element of surprise, but they are a force. Steve McNair has a year of this system under his belt, Mark Clayton is ready to emerge, and the D? Are we kids or what?

FANTASY NOTE: Believe it or not, I just participated in a draft in which McGahee went with the No. 2 overall pick. Crazy enough, but anyone who picks him anywhere in the first round is in for a rude awakening. I have seen every carry he's had in the NFL, and I can honestly say he never excited me once. Hell, even Shaud Williams made my heart beat fast… It ain't the line, it's a lack of heart. You have been warned -- this one will sting FF owners like Cadillac Williams stung you when you picked him with a top 10 pick in '06.

STEELERS

At the risk of blaspheming a great coach like Bill Cowher, my ample gut tells me the Steelers are going go out there refreshed and will kick some serious ass. Mike Tomlin made the Vikings D a force, so imagine what he can do with the Steelers' talent? Willie Parker is for real, and this year Big Ben takes it to another level.

BENGALS

Offense for days, defense… ? Not so much, and you can't win this division without a defense, which is a shame, because a fully healthy Carson Palmer is going to put on an incredible show this year.

BROWNS

Keep pumping on that old well handle and one of these days the water will come… just not this year. Can't wait to see if Quinn can keep it up when he takes the over the starting job around Week 6. But the big question is who do you think is coaching here in '08 -- John Fox?

AFC SOUTH
COLTS

An offensive machine for the ages, but one year removed from the top of Lombardi Mountain, their defense is in serious trouble. Booger is gone (it's just fun to write that!) and he was the big element that made them playoff-tough last year. Bob Sanders is dinged up, Cato June is in Tampa. You can run on the Colts for days now. No way they make it back to the big dance, but they'll scare the crap out of everyone along the way.

TITANS

The team we all underestimate -- yet consider the amazing work Jeff Fisher did with these youngsters in the second half of '06: Here's your weird and wooly wild card. Even LenDale White is showing signs of getting it together. Ten wins? Five wins? You be the judge. But I'll tell you what: Give Vince Young a dominant wide receiver and you are looking at the breakout team in '08.

TEXANS

Time to show something, and I think this offense might just turn the corner. It's hard to trust a team that has never delivered, but I got a hunch things finally get on the good foot in Houston. Or at least the good-er foot…

JAGUARS

Nothing new, nothing to say they make the playoffs. All run, no pass makes Jack a dull boy. I know they're solid, but whoop-dee-freakin'-doo -- I am not feelin' it.

AFC WEST
CHARGERS

One of the elite three just got a new head coach -- the same head coach who has led two other teams to abject nothingness. Everyone has something to prove here, although they can't miss Marty come playoff time, so what the hell…

BRONCOS

Travis Henry will go ballistic here, hopefully enough to take his mind off all those child support payments, and that child QB. Jay Cutler can only hope to replicate what Philip Rivers did last year -- but wait, that didn't get it done, did it? I like the Simeon Rice signing -- at least he isn't a former Brown, which means he actually knows how to get to the quarterback!

RAIDERS

Now here is a defense that played so hard last year, even when all hope was lost from week one, that I was shocked Rob Ryan didn't get the head coaching job. If Lane Kiffin can awaken the worst offense the NFL has seen in a decade (moving Robert Gallery to guard is a start), then there is nowhere but up for the Raiders. They always say the difference between the good and the bad in the NFL is a matter of inches -- here's the perfect case study.

CHIEFS

The most one-dimensional team in the NFL finally can't deny the O-line isn't what it once was, and that's all they ever had. I see a big fall from relative grace in K.C.

GUN-TO-THE-HEAD SUPER BOWL PREDICTION:
SAINTS 24, RAVENS 17

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