A couple of things:
- The Indianapolis Colts are defending champs. That feels good to say.
- There are plenty of story lines to follow this season once the regular season gets underway – will the Atlanta Falcons pick themselves off the ground after the Michael Vick escapade? Are the New Orleans Saints still America’s team? Can Peyton repeat? Does he have to repeat? How long until Rex Grossman is benched? How long until the Madden curse knocks Vince Young out with a torn ACL? How dominant will the (shudder) Patriots be? How many players will Roger Goodell suspend due to off-the-field problems (currently stands at four – Tank Johnson, Pacman Jones, Chris Henry and Vick)? How many players (and assistant coaches) will he suspend due to steroids and human growth hormones (currently stands at two – Rodney Harrison and Wade Wilson)? And finally, is John Madden still alive?
I’m participating in about 52 fantasy football leagues this year. Now that all of my drafts are complete, I’ve decided to share a brief summary of this experience.
- I officially sold my soul and drafted Tom Brady in nearly every league this year. This is what is wrong with sports; you grow up hating a team and everything they stand for, and as soon as money gets involved – and a few studs for receivers (Stallworth, Moss, Welker) are added to your enemy’s roster - you can’t help yourself but take someone like Brady. He’s going to have a huge year. Needless to say, I wouldn’t blame the football gods for making me lose every single game in every single league this season one bit.
- I don’t have a single Colts’ player in any league. This could be good or bad. This can be good because now I can root for the Colts without any ulterior motives of selfish gain. This could also be bad because I will also be hoping that players on other teams do well. (Note – this has been a struggle for over a year now, but I have decided that I cannot and will not root for a player on my fantasy football team if they’re playing against the Colts on a particular week. This is a harder decision to make than some people realize. I now know one of the reasons why sports-betting is frowned upon.)
- I have LaDainian Tomlinson in two leagues – interpretation – I have the keys to the Corvette on a lot full of Cavaliers. However, I can’t decide if my acquisition of LDT is nullified by the acquisition of Brady. Clearly, I didn’t think this tradeoff through. This is like taking a smoking-hot girl to dinner, only to choose the restaurant in the lobby of a hotel that happens to be hosting a male model convention (if such a thing exists) and watching your girl exit with someone named Djimon. I’ll find out soon enough, I suppose.
Onto the Indianapolis Colts’ 2007-2008 preview – I’m going to run down the list of different areas of this year’s team and grade each group based on a simple F (meaning bad) through A (meaning good) scale to determine how ready the Colts are to defend their crown.
Rushing – Joe Addai returns this year as the sole starter. Last year he backed up Dominic Rhodes, but Rhodes has since split for a bigger pay-day and terrible team in Oakland. Addai is the man this year. He’s expected to be in the top five in the league in rushing yards this season. He’s returning from a 1000 yard rushing season last season (not bad for a rookie backup runner) and will be expected to improve on that number this year. He’s joined in the backfield by the dynamite duo of Kenton Keith and Luke Lawton, two unknowns that aren’t expected to contribute more than a couple of plays here and there so Addai doesn’t burn himself out in three games. (A-)
Passing – This should go unsaid, but I’ll say it anyways – Peyton Manning still plays here. Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne are both healthy and primed for another 1200 yards-a-piece season. The Colts’ first round draft pick comes by the name of Anthony Gonzalez from Ohio State and should fit in quite beautifully in this offense, replacing the injury-prone Brandon Stokely and giving the Colts a solid and consistent slot receiver that proved to be so successful in Manning’s 49-touchdown season in 2004. Tight end Dallas Clark, one of Manning’s favorite targets, is healthy as well, so the air attack is scarily looking better than ever before. (A+)
Offensive Line – In years past, the offensive line has arguably been the best in the league. They ought to be the best in the league. They’re protecting the highest paid football player in the league. With the abrupt departure of Tarik Glenn, the Colts were forced to plug the biggest hole (literally and figuratively) in the dam that is the Indianapolis offensive line. Glenn was a pro-bowler. Peyton Manning has never professionally played with another Left Tackle. Glenn was responsible for protecting Manning’s blind-side. He’s replaced with a rookie out of Arkansas, Tony Ugoh. He didn’t expect to be starting this early in his career, but Ugoh needs to step up right away with one of the biggest responsibilities on the entire roster. Ugoh joins veterans Ryan Lilja, Ryan Diem, Jake Scott and Jeff Saturday on the line charged with not skipping a beat from last year. Manning is one of the fewest sacked QB’s in the league and it is expected to stay that way. (B)
OFFENSE TOTAL – (A-)
Defensive Line – I’m sure I speak for everyone in Indianapolis when I say Corey Simon can kiss our collective anuses. Simon is the guy that was brought on by the Colts to help stop the run in 2005 after Philadelphia dumped him. Turns out, Simon was interested in playing half a season and collecting a huge paycheck ($14 million for 13 games). He sat out the entire 2006 season with an “undisclosed illness.” Reports came out that he was just being lazy and didn’t want to play. Even though he didn’t play a single down in 2006, I’m quite certain he collected his championship ring. He was dropped by the Colts in early August 2007, and recently signed with Tennessee. Good riddance, Douchebag.
The line is anchored by Dwight Freeney, who needs to step up in a big way this year(after just signing a $72 million contract) after a 2006 season that didn’t bring the same numbers that Colts fans have been used to for the past couple of years. He’s joined on the line by Robert Mathis, Rahim Brock and rookie Ed Johnson who replaces Anthony McFarland after he went down to injury in training camp. The loss of McFarland is a concern for the Colts, seeing as how they had one of the worst rushing defenses in the league last year. (C)
Linebackers - The ever revolving door of above average linebackers continued to spin this offseason with the loss of Cato June. That makes three solid linebackers (Mike Peterson, David Thornton, June) in the last six years to leave the Colts because the team couldn’t afford to keep them. That leaves Rob Morris, Gary Brackett and Freddy Keiaho at the helm of the defense. Morris helped save the season last year with his stellar performance in last year’s postseason. Brackett is steady, and Keiaho is unproven. In my opinion, this part of the team (other than the dismal Special Teams) has the most question marks going into the season. (D+)
Defensive Backs – As the linebackers have gotten weaker in the offseason, the Colts’ DBs have definitely improved from last year. Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson are definite improvements over the often overmatched Jason David and the rickety Nick Harper of last year. Joining them in the backfield is Antoine Bethea and superman Bob Sanders, who is campaigning for the “guy most likely to kill someone on the football field.” He’s a human missile. If he can stay healthy this season, which is highly unlikely with his style of play, the DB’s should be in decent shape. (C)
DEFENSE FINAL GRADE – (C)
Special Teams – Kicking: the best still wears blue (Vinatieri). Punting: trusty Hunter Smith has the easiest job in the NFL punting for the most potent offense in the league. Coverage: This team was one of the worst kick and punt coverage teams in the league last year. It’ll be interesting to see how they perform this year without major improvements in personnel in the offseason. I’d like to grade this group higher because of Vinatieri, but not even he can make up for the atrocious performance of the collective group. (F)
Coaching – Who doesn’t like Tony Dungy? This might be his last season, and he hasn’t lost the fire. Not much to write here, except I can’t wait to see all of the stories about how Tony Dungy was the first black coach to coach a season following a Superbowl victory. That’s really interesting. I had no idea he was black. (A)
FINAL 2007 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS GRADE – (B+)
We all know that a B+ is good enough to win the rotten division the Colts play in (Titans, Jaguars, Texans). I look at it this way: if every team is an average of a (C), then the Colts are clearly above average, which proves to be the case year after year. Plus I weighted the Special Teams grade a bit because they’re not on the field more than a few plays per game. Instead of representing 25% of the grade, they now represent about 10-15% of the final grade.
So I will be at the Colts’ opening game against the Saints. I will be watching every televised game on Sunday. It is time. Football season has arrived. I just pray the football gods are gentle this year and forgive my apparent secret man-crush on Tom Brady.