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There’s no place like home. Vikings fans (and Randy Moss owners) are hoping that is the case. He had a brilliant start to his career with the Vikings catching 17 TD passes as the Vikings took the league by storm going 15-1 until seeing their dreams dashed by the Dirty Birds aka Atlanta Falcons.
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Moss had 574 catches for 9142 yards and 90 TDs in seven years with the Vikings. He had one decent year and one dud with the Raiders before resurrecting his career with the Patriots. He caught 98 passes for 1493 yards and 23 TD in his first season with the Pats as they went 16-0 before being upset by the New York Giants. He followed that historic season with two more 1000+ yard, 10+ TD seasons. Currently he has nine catches for 139 yards and 3 TDs.
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Brett Favre has long expressed his desire to play with Moss and he finally gets his wish. Both Favre and Moss see their values increase. Percy Harvin will draw less attention and should see his numbers spike as well. Visanthe Shiancoe could see less red zone targets, but he remains a solid low-end TE1. Bernard Berrian becomes an afterthought…not that his play didn’t already make him one.
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For the Patriots, Tom Brady’s numbers take a hit. They’ll get by, but I expect them their offense to look more like the pre-Moss years. Wes Welker will draw the shutdown corners now and will also lose some value. Tight Ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski will be used in more two tight end sets and should see an increase in targets, especially in the red zone for Gronkowsi. Brandon Tate will slide into the starting lineup and becomes a borderline WR3. Julian Edelman should get more looks and become a bye week option in PPR leagues.

The Patriots should continue to be one of the better teams both in fantasy and reality, but they aren’t quite what they once were. Perhaps playing more of an underdog role is what they need.

 

Fantasy Playoffs Schedule:  Somewhat difficult
If the Patriots play like they are capable of, their opponent doesn’t really matter. However, facing the Bears in Chicago (Week 14), the Packers at home (15), and the Bills in Buffalo (16) means they could have three bad weather games in the fantasy playoffs. You should keep that in mind when deciding between Patriot players and someone you consider of equal value.

 

Five Star Fantasy Options
Tom Brady – Brady had a great season (65.7 completion percentage, 4398 yards, 28 TDs, 13 INTs, 96.2 passer rating), especially when you consider he was coming off a serious knee injury. Don’t look for another 50 TD season, but he remains one of the elite QBs in the league.

 

Randy Moss – He’s playing for one last big contract. He can disappear a bit when teams get physical, but you know what you’re getting with Moss. 1000+ yards and 10+ TDs.

 

Four Star Fantasy Options
None

 

Three Star Fantasy Options
Wes Welker – He can move up to four star option if he proves that his knee will be OK. He could also slide down to a two or one star option. It’s a matter of how he recovers, and you won’t know until down the road.

 

Patriots Defense/Special Teams – They always seem to be an opportunistic unit. They have some solid match-ups against the Bills twice (Weeks 3 & 16), the Browns (9), and the Lions (12).

 

Two Star Fantasy Options
Laurence Maroney – I don’t love Maroney, but he’s probably the best option the Patriots have. Draft him for RB depth and ride him if he gets hot.

 

Julian Edelman & Torry Holt – If Welker is slow to recover, Edelman can be used to fill the void. Once Welker is back, Edelman will catch the ball, but consistency will be an issue. I don’t think Holt has anything left in the tank, but Belichick somehow squeezes the last bit of production our of veterans.

 

One Star Fantasy Options
Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and Fred Taylor – Each of them will probably show some value at different points of the season, but you can’t rely on any of them.

 

Taylor Price and Brandon Tate – Keep these guys on your radar, but don’t bother drafting them until they have defined roles.

 

Alge Crumpler, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez – The Patriots have little to offer at TE. Look elsewhere.

 

Click here for additional 2010 NFL Team Previews.

Wes Welker cutting
Image courtesy of Icon SMI

If anyone was ever tailor made for an offense, it’s Wes Welker for the Patriots.  Who loses a Hall of Fame QB in the opening week and hardly misses a beat with a QB that hadn’t started since high school?  Wes Welker, that’s who.  Welker had 112 receptions for 1175 yards with Brady and 111 catches for 1165 yards without him.  The only real difference is the 8 TDs he caught with Brady vs. 3 with Cassel.  I’m still convinced that he could have caught 20 passes in the Super Bowl loss to the Giants, as New York did not have an answer for him. 

The addition of Joey Galloway, who provides another vertical threat can help stretch defense so Welker can work his magic.  He is such a great route runner with amazing hands.  He’s quick, but he’s also shifty, which makes him so tough to defend on quick slants.  He’s even a tough little cat for  his size, taking the hits and popping back up.

Welker is a solid WR2, especially in PPR leagues.  He’ll likely go in the fifth round in standard leagues and as early as the third round in PPR leagues since he catches so many passes.  I see a 110 reception, 1100 yard, 6 TD season for Welker.

New England just missed the playoffs last year at 11-5 despite losing their franchise player Tom Brady early on Opening Day.  Matt Cassel filled in admirably and received the franchise tag.  The Pats may be holding onto Matt in case Brady is ready or they could be looking to deal him and made sure he wouldn’t get away without compensation.  I don’t need to tell you the Patriots are pretty hush hush.  Laurence Maroney should be back, but it remains to be seen if he can stay healthy.  Sammy Morris will also be in the mix.  At this point, Morris is probably the RB I’d select first in a fantasy draft.  LaMont Jordan is a free agent, and likely won’t return.  Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis will round out the RB position.  FB Heath Evans is also a Free Agent, but I suspect he’s re-signed.  He’s a protypical Patriots player.  Randy Moss and Wes Welker will lead the WRs once again.  Jabar Gaffney is an Unrestricted Free Agent.  Knowing the way the Pats operate, he’ll likely have to leave money on the table to return.  Ben Watson returns at TE.  Offensively the Pats will probably make minor adjustments and draft guys that fit their system.

S Rodney Harrison is a question mark.  He’s a Free Agent, but at his age it might be best for the Patriots to close the door on him.  They have done well in recent drafts with LB Jerod Mayo and S Brandon Meriweather.  They once again need to get younger at LB and add some talent in their secondary.  The return of Adalius Thomas will help, but they are going to need to add some Pass Rushers.  They were middle-of-the road with 31.  It will be intersting to see how they operate without Scott Pioli, but I think they will be able to make the adjustment and continue to thrive.

KFFL Free Agent Tracker:

Pos Player Name FA Status Previous Team Current Team
RB LaMont Jordan UFA New England Patriots Free Agent
FB Heath Evans UFA New England Patriots Free Agent
WR Jabar Gaffney UFA New England Patriots Free Agent
P Chris Hanson UFA New England Patriots Free Agent
P Tom Malone Re-signed New England Patriots New England Patriots
OG Russ Hochstein UFA New England Patriots Free Agent
OG Barry Stokes UFA New England Patriots Free Agent
OT Wesley Britt RFA New England Patriots Free Agent
C Lonie Paxton UFA New England Patriots Free Agent
C Ryan Wendell Re-signed New England Patriots New England Patriots
DL Titus Adams Re-signed New England Patriots New England Patriots
DL Angelo Craig Re-signed New England Patriots New England Patriots
DL Darrell Robertson Re-signed New England Patriots New England Patriots
DL Kenny Smith UFA New England Patriots Free Agent
LB Eric Alexander RFA New England Patriots Free Agent
LB Ryan Claridge UFA New England Patriots Free Agent
LB Larry Izzo UFA New England Patriots Free Agent
LB Pierre Woods RFA New England Patriots Free Agent
CB Deltha O’Neal UFA New England Patriots Free Agent
CB Lewis Sanders UFA New England Patriots Free Agent
SS Rodney Harrison UFA New England Patriots Free Agent
SS James Sanders UFA New England Patriots Free Agent
SS Tank Williams UFA New England Patriots Free Agent

I’m going to look at the matchups each week and pick five fantasy starters that could be in for a tough week.  Here’s who could have trouble out of the gates.

Quarterback
Matt Cassel
- So you snatched up Matt Cassel from the waiver wire when Brady went down.  If he were playing at home, perhaps you could plug him in.  He gets to face the Jets on the road though.  Not the simplest of tasks.  Often you see somebody replace the starter with great success only to find that magic hard to duplicate.  Judging by his preason performance, he still has a long way to go.
Stat Line: 16 of 23 for 165 yards

Running Backs
Kevin Smith
-  Smith had 80 total yards and a TD.  Solid rookie debut.  He gets to play at home next week, but he’s facing Green Bay instead of Atlanta.  He’ll find quite a difference between the Defenses.  His second NFL game won’t be nearly as successful.
Stat Line:  10 carries for 40 yards, 4 catches for 21 yards

Chris Perry - If he thought Baltimore made his life tough, Tennessee could be even more difficult against the run.  They are playing at home, but until Cincinnati gets their passing game going it will be difficult to run.
Stat Line:  21 carries for 64 yards, TD

Wide Receiver
Wes Welker
- Randy Moss is a freak that can go up and get a ball no matter who threw it to him.  Welker, on the other hand, relies more on timing patterns and quick hits.  That’s an area that Tom Brady was extremely good at.  Cassel knows the system, but knowing and doing are two different things.
Stat Line:  7 catches for 72 yards

Torry Holt - The Rams looked like absolute garbage against the Eagles.  They are going home, but the road has been kind to the New York Giants of late.  They put a lot of pressure on the Quarterback which doesn’t bode well for Marc Bulger, Torry Holt, and the rest of the passing attack for the Rams.  It appears the “Greatest Show on Turf” isn’t making a reprisal.
Stat Line:  6 catches for 76 yards, TD

The Patriots will look to avoid the Super Bowl hangover. I expect a different mentality for the Patriots starting from the top down. With Spygate in their rearview mirror, the Patriots can focus on football. They will no longer feel the need to hang forty points on their opponents. They don’t have to justify their dominance in a manner that in the end could have led to their demise. When you pass as often as they did, it puts a lot of pressure on their offensive line. They never really established their rushing attack, and it ultimately failed them when they needed it the most. Look for them to be more committed to the run to wear defenses down to win the time of possession battle and keep their defense off the field.

In the Passing game, I don’t see as many deep routes. They will utilize more quick slant routes and timing patterns. They will also use more screen plays as LaMont Jordan has joined Kevin Faulk to give the Pats a pair of capable receivers out of the backfield. If you look back to the Super Bowl, this is what worked. Wes Welker could not be accounted for. To this day I contend that if short passes to Welker caught 20 passes that day, in essence making him the focus your ball-control rather than the RBs who couldn’t shake loose, the outcome may have been different. They truly had no answer for Welker. Obviously you can’t subject Welker to that sort of pounding all season long so Gaffney, the backs, and Benjamin Watson will have to get more in the mix. When defense try and shut down the underneath routes is when Randy Moss and Tom Brady will exploit them over the top.

Defensively the lost some leaders, but the Patriots’ M.O. is to replace those pieces and move on without much of a hitch. I feel they will be up for the challenge. I see Jered Mayo being a big playmaker for the Pats. If the Offense can control the clock keeping this unit fresh, I feel they can be one of the best defensive units in the league.

The Patriots won’t complete another perfect regular season. They’ll drop a couple of games along the way (including one to the Jets). They will win their divison as well as a first round bye. They will return to the Super Bowl, only this time they’ll leave a happier crew.

Fantasy-wise I don’t see the Patriots being as dominant.  Tom Brady and Randy Moss won’t come near their 2007 production.  Sorry, those numbers were historic, and won’t be approached any time soon.  This doesn’t mean they won’t be top end players at their respective positons, it just means they won’t be breaking any records htis year.  I even see Welker taking a small step back in terms of production.  I see increased production for Laurence Maroney and Chad Jackson, assuming they can stay healthy.  The tough thing about being a Patriots owner is you may not get much from them in the Fantasy Playoffs.  Keep that in mind when assembling your team.

Second Tier WRs
We’ve profiled the Big Dog WRs,  now it’s time to examine the next wave of wideouts.  These will most likely be your 2nd or 3rd WRs depending on your league size and your draft stratgey.  They are solid wideouts, but not quite the caliber of the Big Dogs.

Brandon Marshall – The only thing that kept Brandon Marshall from runnin’ with the Big Dogs is his maturity, or lack thereof.  Numbers are numbers though and he went for over 1300 yards and 7 TDs last year.  If he can avoid fast food bags, he should have another solid year.  He’s the one 2nd Tier WR that’s most likely to be a Big Dog.

Wes Welker – When the Patriots offense is clicking, there really is no answer for Welker.  I still think if he caught 20+ passes in the Super Bowl the outcome would have been different.  The Giants had no answer for him.  112 catches last year.  That’s amazing.  I think he can catch more if that’s what the Defenses present to TB. 

Anquan Boldin – Boldin took a step back in yardage last year, but his TD production went up.  He caught a career high 9 TDs depsite missing 4 games.  If he gets steady QB play again this year he’ll produce with the best of them.

Greg Jennings – Jennings was awesome last year.  He had 12 TDs and nearly 1000 yards.  Of course, Brett Favre was throwing to him.  I couldn’t quite justify making him a Big Dog without his favorite gunslinger.  He scored in 10 of the 13 games he played in last year.

Roy Williams – Roy took a major step back from the 1300 yard 2006 season he produced.  That doesn’t mean he can’t return there though.  He needs to prove he can stay healthy and he’ll be a heck of a value come draft day.

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