The NFL can be unpredictable, but part of the fun of playing fantasy football is making prognostications on player performances for the upcoming season. With that said, Craig Ellenport, Michael Fabiano and Adam Rank of NFL.com and Scott Engel of RotoExperts.com broke out their crystal balls in this fantasy version of "Over/Under." Each member of our panel will answer 10 statistical-based questions about some of the top fantasy players in the National Football League, and explain their predictions.
Ellenport: UNDER -- I'm not saying Rodgers won't put up huge numbers or that he can't throw for 4,500 yards this season, but the fact of the matter is that he won't need to. He passed for 4,434 yards in 2009, but the running game and the defense will both be improved in 2010. Coach Mike McCarthy's offense will continue to be predicated on the pass, so Rodgers will definitely post more than 4,000 yards passing. But a better team around him means he won't need to match his solid 2009 numbers.
Engel: OVER - While I would not rank Rodgers ahead of Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, he has clearly become one of the top quarterbacks in fantasy football. He has a very good supporting cast on offense, yet what stands out even more is how he has rapidly developed into an all-around passer and offensive leader. Rodgers should be very consistent from a statistical perspective and will not back down from tougher opponents. He will also do a great job of distributing the ball among his various targets.
Fabiano: OVER -- I have Rodgers ranked as the top quarterback in fantasy football on NFL.com, ahead of Brees and Manning> I based that rating on his recent success, and a schedule that must have the Packers quarterback frothing at the mouth. He'll face the Bears (2), Lions (2), Vikings (2), Giants, Eagles, Dolphins and Falcons. All of those teams ranked 13th or worse in terms of allowing the most fantasy points to quarterbacks last season. Rodgers is also well worth a first-round pick in all drafts.
Rank: OVER -- I feel a lot like those people in Dublin, Ireland who can claim that they saw U2 play before the band was famous. I have been high on Rodgers for a long time now. And last year, I went on record saying Rodgers would have more fantasy points than Manning (and he did). So why would I back off Rodgers now? His yardage and touchdown totals have gone up every season since he became an NFL starter. Oh, and his interceptions have gone down as well. Rodgers goes over 4,500 passing yards with ease.
Ellenport: OVER -- Manning has thrown 31-plus touchdown passes in four of the last six seasons, and he's averaged 30.5 touchdowns per year for his career. He showed no signs of slowing down last season -- and there's no indication the Colts will pass any less when inside the red zone in 2010. Some might be worried about the so-called "Curse of the Super Bowl loser," but not me. Manning has a great cast of offensive characters around him and is a virtual guarantee to throw 30-plus touchdowns once again.
Engel: OVER -- As noted in the NFL.com Fantasy Football preview magazine, Manning has thrown 30-plus touchdown passes in three of the past four seasons. I see no good reason for a significant drop-off in his 2010 production. Manning is annually one of the very best fantasy players at his position and is a great regular-season player. Even if he sits out a good portion of the last game or two (which has been the case in recent seasons), the final overall fantasy stats will be very impressive as always.
Fabiano: OVER -- In three of the last four seasons, Manning has thrown for 31 or more touchdowns. The one year he didn't reach the 30-touchdown mark was 2008, when he was coming off knee surgery. Sure, his numbers will fall at some point in his illustrious career, but it won't be this year. Not only does he have a ton of talent around him, but he also faces a favorable schedule that includes games against the Jaguars (2), Titans (2), Chiefs, Eagles and Giants.
Rank: UNDER -- If you believe in curses, jinxes, karma or any other hocus-pocus, you have to believe that Manning is in store for a down year. Super Bowl losers have trended down the following season. Tom Brady, of course, being the most glaring example. He tossed 50 touchdown passes, lost the Super Bowl and then got hurt in Week 1 to miss the entire next year. Just look at Kurt Warner in 2009. He didn't have a bad year, but his numbers were still down. Manning will not reach 30 touchdowns this season.
Ellenport: OVER -- If I said Johnson would rush for 400 fewer yards than he had last year, he'd still check in at 1,606 -- so you can't go wrong with this pick. And one key note: Johnson's numbers were much better last year after Vince Young took over at the quarterback position, because defenses had to account for his immense mobility. Assuming Young keeps his head on straight and is under center for the Titans in Week 1, Johnson gets him for a full 16 games. That could be very scary for opponents.
Engel: UNDER -- Johnson is still going to be a terrific fantasy option, but he won't quite approach last year's totals. Defenses are going to start preparing for him like never before, and the Titans still doesn't have enough offensive weaponry around him to compensate. Plus, the Titans don't have a true change-of-pace back to ease enough of Johnson's workload. He might be over-watched (defensively) and overworked (offensively) in 2010, and a few disappointing outings would not be shocking at all.
Fabiano: UNDER -- I said it at the end of last season and I'll say it now -- Johnson has no chance to duplicate the yardage totals he produced in 2009. The proof is in the numbers of the previous five runners to rush for 2,000-plus yards in a season. None of them broke the 1,500-yard mark the following season and only one (Barry Sanders) even came close. Not only will Johnson not rush for 1,600 yards, but he might not even be the consensus top pick in fantasy drafts if he holds out of training camp.
Rank: UNDER -- Again, the numbers do not lie. As I pointed out back in early June, runners coming off a 2,000-yard rushing season do not come close to matching those numbers the following year. And we are talking about some of the greats of the game like O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson and Sanders. In fact, no running back has ever reached 1,500 yards after rushing for 2,000 yards the following year. And there is also a potential holdout looming, too. Johnson will be under 1,600 rushing yards. No question.
Ellenport: UNDER -- I don't think Peterson will be drastically under 15 total touchdowns, and I still see him as the first or second overall pick in just about every fantasy draft this season. But there are too many weapons in that Vikings offense for A.D. to hit the mark. Brett Favre (who I think will be back) has a bunch of guys to keep happy in the passing game -- himself included. Plus, until Peterson fixes his fumbling issues, why wouldn't the Vikings throw rookie Toby Gerhart into the goal-line mix?
Engel: UNDER -- Peterson will come close to this overall touchdown total, but I don't think he hits it. It would not be a major surprise to see Gerhart swipe away a few goal-line chances, as the Vikings change things up and send their franchise player diving into less pile-ups to reduce wear and tear. The Vikings passing game is also becoming much more diverse, so the team will throw confidently in the red and green zones again this year. Peterson will record double-digit scores, but not 15 total.
Fabiano: OVER -- I'm going against the opinions of the rest of the panel and say that Peterson will surpass the 15-touchdown mark. With that said, much depends on the status of Favre. If the old gunslinger decides not to come back, Peterson will see his touchdown totals fall. But if he is once again under center for the Vikings, as I expect him to be, Peterson should be a touchdown machine. Gerhart could take some opportunities away, but not enough to put a major dent into A.D.'s overall numbers.
Rank: UNDER -- Peterson has topped 15 total touchdowns only once in his NFL career, scoring a career-high 18 times in 2009. While I don't expect a huge drop off, he is likely to be under that total. Peterson has scored only one receiving touchdown in his three-year career, and I don't expect that to improve this season. Especially with the addition of Toby Gerhart, who will be involved in the passing game and steal carries near the goal line to keep Peterson just under 15 touchdowns this year.
Ellenport: OVER -- This is a bit of a risky prediction given Jackson's offseason back surgery, but he did top 1,300 yards on the ground last year when he was banged up for a good portion of the year. What's more, he was surrounded by a completely inept cast on offense. The Rams will continue to struggle in that aspect of their game, but they should get just enough improvement from the offensive line and from rookie Sam Bradford to at least help Jackson remain one of the most dangerous runners in the NFL.
Engel: OVER -- Jackson performed very admirably last season as the Rams' lone offensive threat, and he is going to do much the same in 2010. He is still clearly the primary offensive playmaker, yet he does not back down from multiple defenders and still gets his yardage. By midseason, Bradford will make defenses respect the passing game a bit more. When that happens, Jackson will benefit. Even if the gang-tackling continues, he'll fight hard for every yard. He may even score a few more times than he did in 2009.
Fabiano: OVER -- Let me be clear on this one -- I think Jackson is a major risk as a first-round pick due to the fact that he's coming off back surgery and plays in an offense with no real support. He also doesn't have a solid handcuff if injuries occur. But Jackson's saving grace is a schedule that includes games against the Seahawks (2), Saints, Panthers, Buccaneers, Lions and the AFC West. I think he'll barely get past the 1,300-yard mark, but his touchdown totals could leave something to be desired...again.
Rank: UNDER - Jackson had back surgery during the offseason. U2 had to cancel a tour because Bono had back surgery, and the singer has a better supporting cast. St. Louis has little to no offensive weapons outside of the veteran back. The addition of Bradford will help -- in about three years from now. But the Rams looking at a long season. Expect Jackson to pull the Al Czervik at some point and shut it down. Rushing for 1,000 yards seems to be a better question, because he will not come close to 1,300.
Ellenport: OVER -- On one hand, the Cardinals will feature a stronger running game and be led by a shakier quarterback (Matt Leinart instead of Warner). On the other hand, Fitzgerald will catch some of the passes that went to departed wideout Anquan Boldin in the past. So if things balance out, he should still score better than 10 touchdowns regardless of who's under center. Also, keep him mind that Fitzgerald has recorded 35 touchdown catches (an average of 11.6) in the last three seasons.
Engel: UNDER -- Without Warner at the helm, the Cardinals pass attack won't be as effective. That means fewer opportunities for the team to get into scoring position. The team is also expected to rely more on Beanie Wells, Tim Hightower and the running game, so coach Ken Whisenhunt won't hesitate to punch the ball with a running back near the end zone more often. Fitzgerald might be targeted a lot more with Boldin now in Baltimore, but he might do a lot more of his damage outside of the scoring area.
Fabiano: EVEN -- I think Fitzgerald will score exactly 10 touchdowns in 2010. That's a decrease compared to last season's total (13), not to mention his average from the last three years (11.6). That slight drop in numbers is due to the fact that Fitzgerald no longer has Warner at the helm of the offense. The new quarterback, Leinart, is a downgrade at the position but will still look to his top wideout often. Some might disagree, but I still see Fitzgerald as one of the two best fantasy receivers in the NFL.
Rank: UNDER -- Fitzgerald has notched at least 10 touchdowns in four of his six NFL seasons, but Warner was the primary quarterback. So nobody is more bummed to see Warner retire than Fitzgerald. That's not to say he can't have similar success with Leinart, though. Think about it, you are a young quarterback struggling to make it in the NFL -- who are you going to throw to? But the emergence of Wells and Hightower means fewer red zone opportunities for Fitzgerald, who will not have over 10 touchdowns in 2010.
Ellenport: OVER -- I'll say it here and now that Johnson will lead the NFL in receiving yards in 2010. That's right, I think Megatron will be the top wideout in terms of yards. He comes back healthy in 2010 with a young gunslinger of a quarterback in Matthew Stafford, who is ready to have a breakout season. The Lions have enough weapons to keep defenses honest, and they're still not good enough to avoid some games where they'll have to pass a lot late in games. Bank on it -- Johnson is poised for a monster year.
Engel: OVER -- I think Stafford will continue to progress at the quarterback position, and as he does, his top receiver will benefit even more. The Lions will also still play from behind often despite their offseason improvements, and that can only help Johnson's overall numbers. When they are involved in tight games, he will be a prime playmaker as well. The Lions made an effort to surround Johnson with better playmakers this offseason, and you will see the results in his 2010 fantasy numbers.
Fabiano: OVER -- It's no shock that everyone on the panel sees Megatron going over the 1,200-yard mark. Last season was no more than a bump in the road for the talented wideout, as he dealt with knee problems and was double- and triple-teamed on a regular basis. With Stafford developing and the duo of Nate Burleson and Tony Scheffler in the offense to keep defenses honest, Johnson is going to see more than his share of targets in the Lions' pass attack. I think he's well worth a second-round draft pick.
Rank: OVER -- Most fantasy football enthusiasts would agree that Johnson struggled in 2009, and he still nearly had 1,000 receiving yards. I think he'll be back this season. The biggest key is the addition of Burleson, whose ability to beat man coverage means that teams cannot roll up a safety to double Johnson. That's huge. Plus, the Lions will have a somewhat credible running game, thanks to first-round pick Best. With Stafford budding as a fantasy star, Johnson will easily clear 1,200 yards.
Randy Moss - over/under 10 TDs
Ellenport: OVER -- I was all set to predict a down year for Moss. But aside from those two years in Oakland -- when he wasn't really playing anyway -- Moss has scored 10-plus touchdowns in nine of 10 NFL seasons. He had 13 scoring grabs last year in what was perceived as an average season by Moss' standards. So chances are he can sleepwalk his way to 11 touchdowns in an offense that will continue to throw the football. I expect that Moss will remain one of the better wide receivers in fantasy football.
Engel: OVER -- Moss might be getting a little long in the tooth, but he remains a scoring machine. Tom Brady could be even better this year than he was last season, and that means Moss is a safe bet for 10-plus touchdowns as a prominent part of the offense. Brady makes the most of the talents of every one of his pass-catchers, and Moss is still his top playmaker without question. He remains a strong fantasy option and is showing no significant signs of decline yet, so don't be afraid to take Moss on draft day.
Fabiano: OVER -- Can someone please explain to me why some people are down on Moss? He finished second in fantasy points among wide receivers on NFL.com last season, and it's not like he's ancient at the age of 33. Moss has one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game throwing him the football, and the fact that he's in a contract year just adds to his motivation. Sure, he'll have to face Darrelle Revis twice -- but he did score on him last season. I say Moss has at least one more solid season left.
Rank: OVER -- The worst thing you can do to Moss is underestimate him. And people seem to be counting him out this year, which is a bad idea. Moss has scored at least 11 touchdowns in his three seasons with the Patriots, and it is reasonable to expect that trend to continue in his contract year. Moss is angling for one last mega deal, which equals fantasy gold. A motivated Moss is nearly unstoppable. While the Patriots do have to ponder his long-term value, fantasy enthusiasts get the benefit of cashing in.
Dallas Clark - over/under 1,000 yards
Ellenport: UNDER -- Clark caught 100 passes last season and was still just barely over the 1,000-yard mark (1,106). He'll still be Mr. Clutch for the Colts' offense and a very popular option in the pass attack for Manning, but it won't take much spreading of the wealth to wide receivers Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie to eat into Clark's yardage total. He'll remain one of the top tight ends in fantasy football, but Clark's best season (in terms of yardage totals) came in 2009.
Engel: OVER -- Manning will have another superb statistical season, and that means Clark will once again be the top tight end in all fantasy football leagues. The future Hall-of-Fame quarterback does a great job of spreading the ball around, and he has an outstanding on-field relationship with Clark. The Iowa product can challenge defenses anywhere on the field, and his ability to pad on yardage after catches will continue to boost his numbers. I'm expect a second consecutive 1,000-yard campaign.
Fabiano: UNDER -- I'll say Clark will go under the 1,000-yard mark, but just barely. If Anthony Gonzalez is back from his injury woes -- and coach Jim Caldwell has said he will be in time for training camp -- there are going to be fewer targets to be spread around in the pass attack. Also keep in mind that last season was the first time Clark has had a 1,000-plus yards, and his average yardage since 2007 is 856. Clark is one of the top fantasy tight ends, but another 1,000 yards is tough to predict.
Rank: UNDER -- Clark topped 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career in 2009, but I don't think that will happen again. Teams coming off a Super Bowl loss -- as previously mentioned in the case of Manning -- do not do as well the following year. The numbers are there. Clark will continue to be one of the top fantasy tight ends, but do not expect another 1,000-yard receiving season. He's more likely to fall into the 800-900 yard range with all of the talent in the Colts' pass attack.
Ellenport: UNDER -- Alex Smith certainly developed a nice rapport with Davis last season, but he'll get stud wide receiver Michael Crabtree for a full season in 2010. Smith will also play behind an improved offensive line and should benefit from a defense that will lead to more of an emphasis on the ground attack. That means a lot of Frank Gore as well. In my humble opinion, there is no way Davis can match his numbers from a year ago. In fact, fantasy owners should expect his stats to fall in 2010.
Engel: UNDER -- Davis will just miss double figures in scores, yet he might become more dependable as a pass-catcher outside of the red zone. The 49ers offense is becoming more balanced around him, and defenses will pay when they assign too much attention in the scoring area. Davis will be one of the very best players at his position from a fantasy perspective, but the Niners will be asked to prove they have other significant scoring targets. Overall, he's still a strong No. 1 option for owners.
Fabiano: UNDER -- One of the best draft bargains of the 2009 fantasy season, Davis recorded career bests across the board including an impressive 13 touchdowns. That was more than he had his previous three NFL seasons combined. That's part of the reason I doubt he can score in double digits again. Another reason is the expected emergence of Michael Crabtree, who will no doubt take at least some red-zone targets away. Davis remains an attractive fantasy option, but he won't duplicate his 2009 totals again.
Rank: UNDER -- Davis came out of nowhere to become a fantasy superstar last season, fulfilling his promise by scoring 13 touchdowns. That capped an amazing turnaround that saw Davis go from being humiliated on the sidelines by coach Mike Singletary, to becoming one of his captains. Davis will continue to be one of the top tight ends in fantasy football, but to expect 10-plus touchdowns is not realistic. Expect Crabtree to get into the mix to knock Davis' touchdown totals down this year.