Here's five NFL teams that will take a step forward this year, and five that will take a step back.
By RALPH VACCHIANO
No one has ever won an NFL championship in the spring and summer, and no one has ever lost one either. That’s not for lack of trying, of course.
Just ask the “Dream Team” in Philadelphia, or any of the up-and-comers pumping up their chests and thinking about a Super Bowl run. There are probably 32 teams thinking that way at the moment, even though a few of them are clearly braced for a fall.
Will Mike Vick become a fantasy bust this year? The reason we think he will be if you make him a Top 5 drafted QB. Why? Because of trust.
We don’t trust that the 31-year-old will have the kind of year on the ground that he had last season, when he piled up 676 yards and nine scores. Since the 1960s, no quarterback who has rushed for even eight touchdowns in a season has come back to score more than five the next year.
We don’t trust that the career 55 percent passer will repeat his 62.6 percent performance from a year ago. He had eclipsed 55.3 percent passing in a season only one time before last year, and he did not hit last year’s 62.6 percent season mark in any of his final four games of the season.
We don’t trust that Vick’s offensive line has improved enough to keep him comfortable in the pocket, despite the fact that the Eagles need to do all they can to protect their key asset with Vince Young, never having run the West Coast offense, being the next man up.
In the six games after his monster 57.3-point fantasy effort against Washington, Vick attempted more than 38 passes five times — something he had not done in his first six games of the season — and he was intercepted in all but one of the games, fumbled nine times (lost three of them) and had 19 of his 34 sacks.
Did defenses figure him out? Well if they didn’t, they have certainly had nothing but time during this lockout to study all they need to about the new-and-improved Michael Vick.
And we had Vick ranked sixth at QB and 26th overall well before DeSean Jackson decided to hold out and long before knowing of Jeremy Maclin's health issues. These two factors don't help his cause much, either.
Combining all the above with the fact that we also don’t believe he will make it a full 16 games has led us to the following conclusion: Beware of Vick in 2011.
We DO trust the quarterbacks who have done it year in and year out in recent memory more than we trust a player who finally put it together for one season and didn’t even stay healthy in the process.
Our Old Reliables are Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers — all quarterbacks who succeeded with missing pieces last year and have been there at the top year after year.
That five-man group has started 537 of a possible 560 games (95.9 percent) since becoming starters for their respective teams. Of the 23 missed starts by these five, Brady accounts for 15. He tore his ACL and MCL a little over seven minutes into the first game of the 2008 season.
We are willing to take the chance that, while they may score fewer points than Vick, their chances of being upright from Week 1 to Week 16 are much greater than the Philly scrambler’s. Vick, who was incarcerated during the 2007 and 2008 seasons and had to sit the bench in 2009, has started only 77 of a possible 90 regular-season games (85.5 percent) since 2002 and has played a 16-game season only once.
So take the risk if you’d like and waste another pick in the middle of your draft to get some insurance. Meanwhile, we will take the safe, proven bet — pick up a player in that same round who we can use multiple weeks and see who gets to the championship.
WHAT A PHILLY BEAT WRITER SAYS: Q: Vick: Better or worse in 2011? A: Depends which part of the first year you’re comparing him to. Vick put up some ridiculous numbers in wins over Washington and the New York Giants but tailed off at the end of the season as teams began finding ways to blitz him into poor decisions. Best guess: Vick will be steadier in 2011, putting up reliably good numbers without as many extreme highs or lows. Also, expect his rushing totals — Vick had nine of the Eagles’ 18 rushing TDs last year — to be down. One thing Vick and the coaches want is for him to protect his body more.
— Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Inquirer
Here’s how the five QBs we have ranked ahead of Vick have fared when it comes to starting games from the time they ascended to the starting role on their respective teams. Vick has started 77 of 90 games in that time. Player, Years — Starts
Aaron Rodgers, since 2008 — 47 of 48
Philip Rivers, since 2006 — 80 of 80
Peyton Manning, since 2002 — 144 of 144
Drew Brees, since 2002 — 137 of 144
Tom Brady, since 2002 — 129 of 144 Total starts, since 2002 — 537 of 560
Andy Reid doesn't like the Dream Team label, but the roster says otherwise.
By RALPH VACCHIANO
The Philadelphia Eagles made a big free-agency splash over the last two weeks. All that was missing from the first few days of the NFL’s wildest free-agent frenzy was Andy Reid sitting in a television studio, being interviewed by Jim Gray. They could’ve called it “The Decisions” because the Eagles made a lot of them.
We take an in-depth look at the Eagles chances at making a Super Bowl run this year.
In the Andy Reid era, which has endured into its fourth presidential term, the Eagles have been no strangers to startling personnel moves. Reid broke from his usual way of doing things by going after Terrell Owens in 2004, then stunned the football world by taking a chance on Michael Vick in 2009.
Welcome to the second round of the Worst Sports Owners Tournament. We're down to 16 of the craziest owners ever. Some won, but spent other people's money like drunken sailors to do it. Some lost, and made themselves look like spoiled children in doing so. Your mission, should you be brave and intelligent enough to accept it, is to decide which is a more grievous offense.
Where should you draft Jeremy Maclin in your fantasy football league?
With the no-news emerging about the Philadelphia Eagles' Jeremy Maclin's mystery illness that's plagued him for the last five months, it's hard to tell where he should go in your fantasy football draft.
• Inside the Locker Room
With Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer
Can LeSean McCoy approach old Brian Westbrook fantasy numbers?
McCoy certainly showed he has the ability to put up very good numbers, but the perfect storm that created Westbrook’s garish stats just isn’t there. Westbrook was used as the primary check-down receiver because the Eagles lacked a difference-making tight end. And for most of his tenure, Westbrook was the best wideout option on the team. So he was used the way the Eagles use DeSean Jackson now — to stretch the field or on short screens. Simply put, McCoy is one of several potent weapons, where Westbrook was often the lone serious threat.
Has DeSean Jackson maxed out or is there another gear left?
This is a question that will go a long way toward deciding the Eagles’ fate in the next few years, since Jackson is due a big long-term contract. He is still a threat to score from anywhere on the field. At the same time, though, defenses have learned that he can be neutralized at times with physical play. The emergence of Jeremy Maclin as a reliable target also means fewer throws in Jackson’s direction.
Will Brent Celek ever be a reliable fantasy tight end starter with Vick at QB?
That’s a tough call. Celek took a plunge last season as Vick took over the starting job from Kevin Kolb. But there was more at work than the QB change. Celek played through injuries, including a painful hand injury that led to some drops. Meanwhile, with defenses trying every possible blitz to slow down Vick, Celek was called on to block more often than in the past. So 2011 should be telling.
Vick: Better or worse in 2011?
Depends which part of the first year you’re comparing him to. Vick put up some ridiculous numbers in wins over Washington and the New York Giants but tailed off at the end of the season as teams began finding ways to blitz him into poor decisions. Best guess: Vick will be steadier in 2011, putting up reliably good numbers without as many extreme highs or lows. Also, expect his rushing totals — Vick had nine of the Eagles’ 18 rushing TDs last year — to be down. One thing Vick and the coaches want is for him to protect his body more.
• Fantasy Playoff Run — Weeks 14-16: @MIA, NYJ, @DAL
Miami and New York were both top-10 defenses in fantasy points allowed, while Dallas was 28th. The Jets did surrender 26.7 points per game to WRs and 17.6 per game to QBs last season. So if Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy can get hot vs. the Jets, a trip to Dallas is enticing, since last year’s matchup saw Vick throw for 270 yards and two TDs, McCoy rush for 149 and Jackson catch four balls for 210 and a TD.
• Athlon Best Bets
Sleeper: Jason Avant, WR Deep-Sleeper: Riley Cooper, WR Overvalued: Michael Vick, QB Top Rookie: Alex Henery, K Bounce-Back: Vince Young, QB Top IDP: Trent Cole, DL
• Try to Avoid
Brent Celek, TE
The Eagles’ offense under Michael Vick rarely features the tight end. One year removed from a stellar 2009 season, Celek saw 34 fewer targets in 2010. WAIT UNTIL: 20th RD
• Draft Class Fantasy Impact
The Eagles are set at the skill positions and at quarterback, which allowed most of the draft attention to fall to the offensive line and adding depth to the defense. Even though he’s a rookie, Henery could be a viable fantasy kicker as he is replacing fantasy football’s most consistent kicker over the last three seasons in David Akers.
The NFL’s quarterback landscape has seen considerable changes since the lockout ended.
Kevin Kolb, Cardinals
Arizona traded away 2008 first-round pick (No. 16 overall) and 25-year-old Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie along with its 2012 second-round pick to acquire the young gun with seven career starts under his belt.