Monday, September 7, 2009

Final preseason column: Last-minute do’s and don’ts

T-minus three days, and counting…

That’s how long we have until Kerry Collins electrifies the NFL with a 400-yard, five-touchdown shellacking of the Steelers, exposing Pittsburgh’s defense as a fraud and signaling his assault on Tom Brady’s 50-TD season record.

Would you believe 20 scoring tosses for Collins?

Perhaps five screen passes to Chris Johnson and a goal-line sneak against the Cardinals in Week 12?

Indeed, the interminable wait for the 2009 NFL regular season can generate all sorts of crazy notions. But rather than fooling ourselves into thinking the Collins-to-Nate Washington tandem will usher in a record-breaking passing era in Tennessee, let’s use our time more productively, shall we?

Here are a handful of last-minute do’s and don’ts to consider as the clock ticks down to Thursday night’s kickoff.

Don’t: Get in premature trade mode. Judging by the flurry of questions I’ve fielded on the radio and via email over the past few days, many of you are itching to make a move – any move – because you can’t stand staring at your stagnant roster. Relax, my friend, and admire the team you prepared so hard to assemble. Stop second-guessing yourself and give your squad the chance to perform for at least a couple weeks before you engage in serious trade talks.

Do: Trade Jamal Lewis while you can. So there’s an exception to every rule. Lewis is on borrowed time as the Browns’ starter, and could be supplanted by dynamic rookie James Davis any minute. Before Minnesota holds the aging veteran to 28 yards on 15 carries in the opener, deal him to an unsuspecting competitor in need of RB depth. And if Davis is somehow still available, grab him now. I said now! As in, stop reading this and go get him!

Don’t: Use a first-round pick on Steve Slaton. For those yet to draft, be aware that Chris Brown has been tagged as Houston’s short-yardage and goal-line back. This was the well-documented risk associated with drafting Slaton, and head coach Gary Kubiak recently confirmed it to be legitimate. If you already have Slaton, console yourself with the knowledge that Brown can blow out a knee simply doing jumping jacks, so his threat to your top back’s production may be short-lived.

Do: Scan your opponents’ rosters to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Consider sending a casual shot across a competitor’s bow to the effect of “Wow, you sure have some nice WR depth, but what are you going to do with those RBs?” Don’t propose a trade yet; just let him stew a bit on your words. After a week or so, when it’s clear that his backs aren’t cutting the mustard, you can follow-up with a “friendly solution” to his dilemma.

Don’t: Buy the Michael Vick hype. Vick was one of the most frustrating (read: inconsistent) fantasy quarterbacks when he was the top dog in Atlanta. What on Earth makes people think he can deliver starter-worthy production as a backup QB/gadget player three years later? Unless you can somehow designate him as a receiver, he’ll never amass enough points to become a legitimate fantasy quarterback.

Do: Watch the injury reports. Several fantasy stars, and stars-in-waiting, are still nursing ailments of varying severity. A number of them – including Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, Matt Schaub, Maurice Jones-Drew, Brian Westbrook, Anquan Boldin and even Donnie Avery – are on track to suit up and perform well out of the gates. Others, such as Matt Cassel, Pierre Thomas, Knowshon Moreno, Kevin Walter, Antonio Bryant and Wes Welker, are less certain. Make sure you have a Plan B in place should any of your starters need a little extra rest to begin the season.

Don’t: Choke your girlfriend. See Merriman, Shawne. This advice should be followed year-round.

Do: Invest in the Red Zone package. First, this is not a paid endorsement. Second, I don’t want to exaggerate, but I’m starting to believe that God had the Red Zone Channel in mind when He told us to rest on the seventh day. Created by DirecTV (or possibly by the Almighty Himself) to eliminate the scourge of “remote control thumb,” the RZC magically transports the viewer between concurrent games to the one where scoring is most imminent. You’ll wonder how you ever enjoyed Sunday afternoons without it.

Don’t: Forget to set your lineup for Thursday’s matchup. In what is likely to be a defensive showcase, the Steelers-Titans tilt kicks off the ’09 season. Make sure Chris Johnson, Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward and both defenses are in your starting lineup. And now that head coach Mike Tomlin has emphatically declared Willie Parker to be the Steelers’ feature back – no committee or goal-line encroaching from the underachieving Rashard Mendenhall – lock Fast Willie in your starting column as well.

Do: Keep an eye out for this year’s breakout receiver. Seemingly every season, a little-known wide receiver (often a rookie) emerges from nowhere in Week 1 and proceeds to have an outstanding year. In 2008, Eddie Royal caught many (who weren’t reading this column) by surprise. Marques Colston and Anquan Boldin got off to similar fast starts after being ignored in most preseason drafts. Malcolm Kelly, Troy Williamson, Jeremy Maclin and Greg Camarillo are solid candidates to be this year’s breakout sensation. And don’t be surprised when Packers tight end Jermichael Finley bursts onto the fantasy radar against the Bears.

Don’t: Work late on Thursday. You’ve got more important things to do.

Do: Sign up for my Twitter feeds. I’ll “tweet” all the important game-day actives and inactives and other late-breaking news you need to make the most informed lineup decisions each weekend. Fear not…if I can figure out Twitter, you can too. Tweet with me @ladd_biro.

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