Leading up to the games this past Sunday, 9 out of 12 playoff spots were already spoken for as playoff teams and hopeless squads rested their marquee players leaving only a handful of games that actually meant anything. ESPN provided us with a very nice playoff scenario breakdown that can be seen here: http://espn.go.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/34515/week-17-playoff-scenarios. When all was said and done, we were left with New Orleans vs Seattle, Jets vs Indy, Baltimore vs KC and Green Bay vs Philly in the wildcard round with the Steelers, Patriots, Falcons and Bears earning byes.
Seattle earned the title of the best of the worst with a 16-6 victory over the St Louis Rams to win the NFC West. The 7-9 ‘Hawks will host the 11-5 reigning Super Bowl Champs in what will most certainly be a beatdown of epic proportions. Odds makers opened the line at -10.5, but it might as well be -17. I haven’t seen a meaningful game this lopsided since the 1994 WWF title match featuring Bob Backlund vs Diesel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGoQWNElahg. While this game won’t be over in 8 seconds, I foresee Cool Brees and company heading to the locker room at halftime with a comfortable lead as they coast to victory.
Aside from the Green Bay vs Philly matchup (both teams 10-6), every home team’s record is worse than the visiting wild-card squad in the opening round. I can’t be the only person who sees a glaring problem with this. I admit that winning your division is important and teams should be rewarded with a playoff spot, but THAT’S ALL. Playoff seeding and home field advantage should be awarded by record. New Orleans won 25% of all regular season games more than Seattle, yet they will be on the road. This is an injustice that should be changed in the future but will most likely just be another item on the laundry list of what’s wrong with the NFL. For America’s greatest league, there are a lot of things that need fixing: ludicrous hard-hit fines, celebration penalties (although it’s worse in NCAA), allowing Playboy models to blackmail future first ballot Hall of Famers… the list goes on.
For the fantasy enthusiasts all of Week 17’s games meant absolutely nothing. If you are in a league that counts the final regular season games I’d recommend leaving it next year after you give the commissioner an atomic wedgie. Although your 2011 drafts are about 8 months away, it’s never too early to start thinking about the future.
Michael Vick is a QB and RB in one. His production when starting was off the charts. If your league rewards 6 points for passing touchdowns, take him first overall in 2010. 4 points per passing TD, take him 2nd behind Arian Foster. You’ll be glad you did.
Aaron Rodgers proved he’s no fluke with yet another productive season. 3922 yards 28 TD passing and 356 yards 4 TD rushing was very solid. He’s a top 5 QB and is basically a toss up between Brady, Manning and Brees. After Vick goes early first round, these 4 guys will go late 1st early 2nd round in 6 points per passing TD leagues, 2nd to early 3rd in 4 point leagues. If you’re in position to do so, let someone else grab the first 3 and take whoever falls to you.
Tom Brady showed why he’s got rings and may be on his way to another in 2011. He’s a stud. It doesn’t matter who he’s throwing to, he’s going to put up huge numbers when Healthy. Just another 3900 yard 36 TD, 4 rushing TD year for the overgrown Justin Bieber. I expect him to top 4000 yards and have about the same amount of total TDs in 2011.
Peyton Manning will be a first ballot Hall of Famer when he hangs up his cleats, but don’t expect that any time soon. Manning has plenty of elite years left as he throws the ball like you’re not allowed to run in the NFL. 4700 yards 33 TDs, expect the same in 2011.
Phillip Rivers was our favorite QB this year for producing awesome stats with no one but Antonio Gates to throw to. The rag-tag receiving corps San Diego was forced to roll with this year was a challenge and Rivers stepped up. He’ll have Vincent Jackson back next year and should see his TD total increase by about 5. He’s very close to the top 5, and by this time next year don’t be surprised if he puts up top 3 numbers in 2011. Rivers will be drafted around where Matt Schaub was in 2010 but will actually live up to expectations.
Drew Brees rounds out our studs from 2010. After the top 6, there was a significant drop off in production for QBs. He is a top tier player who you can rely on, no matter who he’s throwing to. Expect something similar to the 4620 yard 33 TD season he had in 2010 for next year.
Josh Freeman finished the year on a tear and really made a name for himself. He threw for 5 TDs in Week 16, and that’s the kind of guy you want on your squad. I have him ranked about 10th out of all QBs going into 2011 worth a mid round pick in your draft if you miss out on the top 6.
Matt Ryan was the epitome of consistency for QBs in 2010; the only problem is he was only consistently slightly above average. He never really blew up for a monster game and doesn’t throw for a ton of yards, yet he finished the season as the 8th best QB. I firmly believe you will not win a fantasy championship with Matt Ryan as your starter as he’ll cost you a mid round pick in 2011. Go for one of the top 6 guys or wait until the late rounds. You’re better off with Kyle Orton or Eli Manning.
Matt Schaub had a tough year. All of his weapons were injured throughout the season and Arian Foster was taking up yards running all over the place. He cost managers a 3rd round pick in 2010 and played like an 8th round pick. Take the average in 2011 and shoot for mid 5th round or later.
Eli Manning played well when he wasn’t throwing the ball to the other team. 25 interceptions is miserable, no matter how many TDs you throw. He’s found a love connection with Hakeem Nicks that I see continuing in 2011. He’ll likely take better care of the ball next year and is a solid 7th or 8th round pick.
Carson Palmer was the most volatile QB in the league this year. One week he’ll get you 30 points, the next 6 and there’s no rhyme or reason to it. Stay away from Palmer, avoid him like the plague.
Arian Foster (HOU RB) is your new fantasy football king. He was in a tier of his own for RBs in 2010 averaging 138 total yards and 1.1 TDs per game. He should be going top 2 in all leagues next year and not a pick less. I expect his ADP to be around 1.2, although don’t be surprised if he’s not the #1 overall fantasy producer in 2011. That title should go to Michael Vick or our #2 RB on this list.
Adrian Peterson is Mr. Consistent as far as top tier RBs goes. With 1639 total yards and 13 TDs in 2011 AP had another stellar season this year and should be the 2nd or 3rd overall pick next year. Book him for top 5 overall production as he’s the surest thing in the 2011 draft.
Jamaal Charles had the best year out of any RB in a true running back by committee system. While he only found paydirt 8 times, he went off for 1935 total yards. Expect at least 10 TDs in 2011 while Charles flirts with 2000+ total yards for this mid first round pick.
Waiver wire addition of the year Peyton Hillis blew up in 2010 for 1654 yards and 13 TDs. Those are awesome numbers that lucky owners got for basically nothing. The guy is an absolute bulldozer and is worth a 3rd round pick… just don’t expect him to fall that far.
Chris Johnson was the consensus #1 overall pick in 2010 but fell short of his astronomical expectations. Owners can’t complain about the 1609 yards and 12 TDs, though. Those are still solid numbers and CJ is still a first round pick. Toss up between CJ and Charles after Foster, Vick and AP.
The closest RB to megastud Foster per game was the value pick of the year Darren McFadden. Chosen around 100th overall in most leagues, McFadden went off in 2010 for 128 total yards and .7 TDs per game. Although his stats are padded by some huge plays, it’s safe to say that McFadden has officially arrived and should be an early 2nd round pick in 2011.
For PPR leagues, LeSean McCoy was simply awesome. He likely cost you a pick anywhere between the 3rd and 5th round but he produced like a late first rounder. 1672 yards and 9 TDs with only 1 FL is solid. He’s a late first, early second round pick in 2011.
Rashard Mendenhall was a TD machine in 2010 but very inconsistent. 1 Week he’d give you 150 yards 2 TDs, the next 60 yards 0 TDs. He’s still a very solid player who will go off the board in the late first round this summer.
Ray Rice had owners moaning and groaning all year, until the fantasy playoffs that is. If you somehow made it to the post season with Rice on your roster, you most likely found yourself in the ‘ship or even taking the pot down. Rice is a solid mid first round pick in 2011 that I have ranked just behind Charles and CJ.
Michael “The Burner” Turner also showed up come fantasy playoff time but it was too little too late. He had a career high 12 receptions this year, 1456 yards and 12 TDs. Solid by anyone’s standards, but he’s not on my first round radar. He’ll go early 2nd round in 2011.
Matt Forte was also a solid value pick as the 2009 disappointment rebounded for a productive year. He slid to rounds 5-7 after being a top 5 pick the previous year. While he hasn’t earned that top 5 billing back, he’s going to be a solid late 2nd, 3rd round pick in 2011.
Maurice Jones-Drew was another high draft pick that gave owners headaches. 1641 yards and 7 TDs sounds great, but this guy went 3rd overall in most drafts and missed the pivotal Week 16 game. I blame his lack of top 10 production on injuries and the fact that the Jaguars suck. MJD will go between picks 6 through 10 in all drafts next year and should have a slightly better campaign this time around.
Brandon Lloyd came out of nowhere to have a career year and finished atop the rankings for wideouts. 77 receptions, 1448 yards and 11 TDs came as a result of Denver sucking and airing it out as they found themselves playing catch-up for most of the season. While Lloyd had much of his success with Orton under center, he faired pretty well with Tim Tebow as well. I fear a Sims-Walker-like follow up in 2011 for Lloyd as prior to 2010 his best year was a 733 yard 5 TD performance in 2005. Lloyds career averages are 27 receptions 433 yards and 3 TDs per 16 game season* (adjusted for missed games). I’m not going all in on this guy after 1 big year. He’ll be drafted as early as the late 2nd round in some leagues, 3rd in most, but I’d wait to see if he falls to the 4th to pull the trigger.
Dwayne Bowe was simply awesome the 2nd half of the season. Aside from getting blanked vs Denver in week 13 (Champ Bailey was the shut-down corner of the year) and a miserable game against San Diego Week 14, Bowe was going off for 150 yard 2 TD games left and right. A 153 yard 1 TD Week 16 performance capped off a year placing Bowe among the league’s elite WR. Target Bowe in the late 2nd, early 3rd round in 2011.
Roddy White is the best receiver in the NFL. He’s consistent, has big play capability and will only get better and better for the foreseeable future. He’s knocked Andre Johnson off the podium and should be the first WR off the board in 2011, which should be about 8th or 9th overall.
Greg Jennings started off slow in 2010 but got hot later in the year. When you’ve got an elite quarterback throwing to you, you’re going to produce as a WR1. I’m a fan of Jennings but he’s no Roddy, Calvin or Andre. He should be drafted at the tail end of the 2nd round.
Mike Wallace is on the rise. The speedy WR from Pittsburgh may be the fastest player in the league (although DeSean Jackson and Chris Johnson may have something to say about that). This guy’s stock is on the up and up and I’m not afraid to reach for him as early as the late 2nd round in 2011.
Calvin Johnson is a beast. If he was on a team with an elite quarterback he’d be a lock for 1400 yards 15 TDs. He’s in the elite tier with Roddy and Andre and should be drafted as such in the early 2nd round.
Hakeem Nicks exploded this year as Eli Manning’s #1 receiver. While Steve Smith was the projected WR1, Nicks really emerged as the go to guy in New York. Injuries aside, I like what Nicks brings to the table as a 3rd or 4th round draft pick.
Andre Johnson was hobbled by injuries all year and will have off season ankle surgery. He’s expected to make a full recovery as it is only arthroscopic and not structural or ligament damage. He’ll return in 2011 as an Elite receiver who I have ranked right after Roddy and Calvin. Early 2nd round pick.
Reggie Wayne is very consistent. He’s the best receiver on a team with an elite quarterback, which translates to solid production. A safe late 2nd round pick in 2011.
Stevie Johnson is another player who exploded in 2010. He emerged as the go-to guy in Buffalo and had some big plays (and dropped passes, for that matter). He wasn’t the same player after the Pittsburgh game in which he dropped a wide open game winner in the end zone. I can’t bank on this guy as a WR1 but he should make a solid WR2 pick in the 4th round.
DeSean Jackson is a threat to score a touchdown on any play at any given time. His speed reminds me of the roadrunner cartoons as when he finds some open field there’s no defensive player in the league that can catch him. The only way to slow Jackson down is to hit him at the line and that’s no easy task. Aim for Jackson in the early 3rd round.
Miles Austin was Romo’s favorite target. Not the case for Kitna, who favored rookie receiver Dez Bryant. With Romo back under center in 2011, expect his love affair with Austin to resume although Bryant may steal some receptions. The 3rd round is a safe place to target Miles.
Jason Witten was a reception machine out of necessity in Big D. Backup quarterbacks LOVE to dump the ball off to the TE. 94 receptions 1002 yards 9 TDs are huge numbers so don’t expect a repeat in 2011. I have him ranked behind Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis going into next year, with Gates being the only player worth a 4th or 5th round draft pick. He’ll go in the 5th, but should really be a 6th round guy.
Antonio Gates was a beast until the injury bug caught up with him. With no true WR1, P Riv looked Gates’ way early and often. He’s the best TE out there and is well worth the early 5th round pick if he falls there.
Vernon Davis emerged as a solid TE in 2009 and kept the momentum up in 2010. He’s your next best bet after Gates as Mr. Click-Clack gets the job done in San Fran. He’ll fly off the board shortly after Gates, but the separation should be about a full round.
Marcedes Lewis had a career year as the TD magnet scored 10 times on the season. I’m calling this a flash in the pan year as Lewis averaged about 2 TDs per season leading up to 2010. Lower your 2011 expectations to 5 TDs in 2010 as Lewis is nowhere near elite and should only be picked in the very late rounds.
Rob Gronkowski is another TD magnet that began to emerge as Brady’s favorite end zone target as the season went on. He won’t blow you away with huge yardage games, but he’s going to be scoring again in 2011. Not in the company of Witten, Gates or Davis but should be one of the first TEs off the board in the late rounds.
Kellen Winslow, Chris Cooley, Tony Gonzalez, Dustin Keller, Zach Miller, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Pettigrew, Ben Watson and Jacob Tamme are all in a cluster of decent TEs. Tony G is no longer elite as the future HOFer is a season or two away from retirement. Tamme was awesome as Dallas Clark’s replacement, but with Clark back in 2011 he becomes worthless. If you don’t get Gates, VD or Witten DO NOT waste a mid-round pick on a TE. Your final 3 picks should be TE/DEF/K as once the top 3 are gone TEs are a dime a dozen.
That wraps up Hook’s 2011 preview. After the NFL draft I’ll post a 2011 fantasy player rankings for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy the playoffs and feel free to post comments.