2009 fantasy football is coming aoon—a look back at 2008 defenses

Last month we started looking at last season’s statistics for position players in fantasy football land, and today we’ll look at a position many often overlook. That’s fantasy defenses, which can sometimes put up just enough points to earn your team a victory once in a while. It’s always smart to try and grab one of the top units, although as we’ve seen before, things change, sometimes drastically, from year to year with fantasy D’s. Me? I like to grab my defense before my kicker. This list is based on point totals from one of my leagues, so keep in mind that stats vary from year to year.

1. Baltimore Ravens—The Ravens’ defense is perennially awesome, and we’ll find out for sure how much of that was due to former coordinator Rex Ryan, who is now the head honcho for the Jets. Ryan took plenty of players with him too, like LB Bart Scott and S Jim Leonhard, but the Ravens still have Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. Reed just keeps getting better every year, and his sick nose for the ball is one reason the Ravens had a league high 26 picks. They will keep scoring low as always, but their 34 sacks last season isn’t much to get excited about. Bottom line: The Ravens won’t be a number one this year, but are still top 10.

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Which position is the safest bet in the first round?

I was watching one of the many Mel Kiper and Todd McShay arguments on ESPN the other day [video], and Kiper was arguing that if McShay has Matthew Stafford ranked so high (McShay currently has Stafford ranked #8), then he should almost be a no-brainer for the Detroit Lions, who have the #1 overall pick and need a quarterback. McShay isn’t convinced that he’s a so-called “franchise” quarterback, so he says he would go another direction. (For the record, at the time Kiper called McShay “crazy” for having Stafford that high, but now he has the QB ranked #3 on his big board. It’s clear that Kiper’s pure hatred for McShay is causing him to slowly lose his mind.)

Anyway, the debate piqued my interest and got me wondering – when it comes to the first round of the NFL Draft, is one position safer than another? For example, if the Lions have three holes to fill (they have more, but bear with me) – quarterback, linebacker and tackle – and they can’t decide amongst the three players, is one position a safer pick than the other two?

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Broncos sign Brian Dawkins to five-year deal

NFL.com’s Adam Schefter is reporting that the Broncos have reached a deal with free agent safety Brian Dawkins (Eagles) on a five-year, $17 million contract with $7.2 million guaranteed.

Brian DawkinsDenver signs free agent safety Brian Dawkins to a five-year, $17 million deal that includes $7.2 million guaranteed. The contract also has escalators that could boost the value of the deal to $27 million over five years, but the deal also could be voided to two years, $9 million.

Considering Dawkins is already 35 years old, chances are the two-year deal will be the one that comes into play. But even at 35, Dawkins has always remained in fantastic shape and the Broncos landed a true veteran leader. He’s always been one of the classier players in the league and here’s hoping he has a few more productive years left in him.

It’s going to be weird not seeing Dawkins in a Philadelphia uniform next season.

Five ’08 NFL playoff teams with issues heading into ’09

Vinnie Iyer of SportingNews.com did an interesting piece on five NFL playoff teams who have big issues heading into the 2009 season.

Ray Lewis1) Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco has had a great start to his career, but to take the next step as a quarterback, he probably could use a young receiver with No. 1 potential. The more pressing issues, however, are with Baltimore’s backbone, its defense. First, it’ll be a challenge to find a coordinator and play-caller to match Rex Ryan, who left to become head coach of the New York Jets…

2) Philadelphia Eagles. To some extent, the Donovan McNabb question was answered, at least for the ’09 season. His support system may be different, however. Aging offensive tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan will be free agents. Top guard Shawn Andrews will need to come back from back surgery, and also may need to move outside. Backup running back Correll Buckhalter also wants to explore options out of Philadelphia. Defensively, stalwart safety Brian Dawkins could also walk…

3) Carolina Panthers. Will Carolina need to address the quarterback position after Jake Delhomme’s six-turnover fiasco against Arizona in the divisional playoffs? It seems unfair to judge Delhomme on his first truly bad playoff game, when his play and leadership has been huge for the Panthers in the big picture. But still, with his age (34) and the fact he’s just one year removed from major elbow surgery, it might be time to draft a project passer to groom. In addition, Delhomme’s Pro Bowl left tackle, Jordan Gross, can become an unrestricted free agent….

4) Indianapolis Colts. Tony Dungy and general manager Bill Polian were hoping for a smooth coaching transition with Jim Caldwell taking over, but it hasn’t been necessarily easy in the early going. Offensive coordinator Tom Moore, 70, and offensive line coach Howard Mudd, 66, nearly opted to follow Dungy into retirement. Defensive coordinator Ron Meeks flat-out resigned on Tuesday, and Caldwell fired special teams coach Russ Pernell. Caldwell isn’t a Dungy clone — there will be a different feel around the team….

5) New York Giants. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo left to be head coach of the Rams, and there’s a chance offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride gets the same gig with the Raiders. The unit that Gilbride may leave behind has plenty of issues…

Iyer goes into more detail on every team, so check out the entire piece.

I agree on all of Iyer’s takes, although these problems are nothing new for any playoff team. Good teams have their coordinators stripped from them to become head coaches in other cities. Star players in contract years bolt for bigger paydays elsewhere, while other standouts get another year older or slower.

All five of the above teams have the potential to face major change and that’s what makes them a risk not to make a repeat playoff appearance next year. The most interesting team is the Ravens because they have so many questions to answer about their defense, which has been their identity the past eight or nine years.

Six Pack of Observations: Eagles at Giants

Here are six quick-hit thoughts on the Eagles’ 23-11 divisional round playoff victory over the Giants.

1. Don’t be shocked – the writing was on the wall for the Giants.
There’s no question that this was an upset; No. 1 seeds rarely fall in the divisional round, although ironically both the Giants and Titans did just that this weekend. But while this was considered an upset, an Eagle victory was hardly shocking. The Giants haven’t played a complete game since beating the Redskins in Week 13, the absence of Plaxico Burress severely hurt Eli Manning and the passing game over the past month, and the Eagles were just flat out a bad matchup for Big Blue. Throw in the fact that Philly beat the Giants in East Rutherford in Week 14 and this upset was in the making as soon as the Eagles knocked off the Vikings last Sunday.

2. Plaxico Burress’s selfishness cost his team in the end.
I don’t care what the players or coaches say – not having Burress killed the Giants’ passing game and destroyed their overall offensive balance. New York was able to move the ball effectively on the ground against the Eagles but when it came down to the Giants making a play in the passing game, they couldn’t. Obviously a lot of that falls on Eli Manning’s shoulders, but it’s hard to make plays when your receivers can’t get create separation with the defenders. Burress cost his team dearly because he didn’t care enough about his teammates or his profession to not carry a loaded weapon into a club. The Giants should part ways with this selfish idiot in the offseason and rid themselves of this massive distraction.

3. Confidence is a scary thing.
The Eagles have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the NFL this season but when they play with confidence and momentum, they’re hard to beat. They’ve always been one of those teams (like the Ravens and Steelers) that have played with swagger. And when their opponents can’t mount up and punch them in the mouth right out of the gates, the Eagles gain confidence throughout the course of the game. That’s what happened today. The Giants held the ball longer, gained more total yards and had fewer penalties than the Eagles. But they never took control of the game and you just had the feeling that once the Eagles built a two-possession lead, the Giants wouldn’t recover. And they didn’t.

4. Donovan McNabb finally has another playmaker.
In both of their playoff wins, rookie DeSean Jackson has made big plays. Last week he had a huge punt return to set the Eagles up with great field position against the Vikings and today, his 48-yard reception essentially put the final dagger in the backs of the Giants. With a little more maturity, Jackson could develop into one of the best playmakers in the NFL. For now, he’s been an outstanding addition to the Eagles’ offense and he’s making up for the lack of postseason production by Brian Westbrook. There’s no doubt McNabb loves what Jackson has brought to the table and the veteran QB finally has weapon in the passing game again.

5. Stop it with the respect card.
I love Brian Dawkins. Love him. I think he has easily been one of the best safeties over the past decade and his leadership is unrivaled. But his on-field interview at the end of the game where he cried (literally) about the Eagles not getting any respect was ridiculous. The “respect card” is a tired act in sports and players need to stop using that as their go-to after games. No Brian, not everyone in the free world thought the Eagles could beat the defending Super Bowl champs on their home field. (Although for the record, I did.) Get over it.

6. Gary Myers screwed the Giants.
Local columnists should learn to play things a little more conservatively after Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Gary Myers of the New York Daily News jinxed their teams this postseason. Bradley predicted a Falcon win before their Wild Card game last Saturday in Arizona and earlier this week, Myers so boastfully claimed that there was no way the Eagles would beat the Giants on Sunday. Word to the wise for Philly and Arizona newspaper columnists – stay away from predictions next week.

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