I'll be rolling out my fantasy rankings this week. First up are the quarterbacks.
1. Tom Brady, Patriots
Good news: He set an NFL-record by throwing for 50 touchdowns last season, and ran for two more while being intercepted just eight times. Not bad. Brady also led the league with 4,806 yards. He still has Randy Moss, Wes Welker and a possible chip on his shoulder after last year's Super Bowl loss. Expect 35-40 touchdowns from the top-ranked QB.
Bad news: Kind of tough to fill this section for Brady, but I’ll do my best. While he’s always been an elite quarterback, Brady hasn’t always been an elite fantasy quarterback. Prior to last season, he had never thrown for more than 28 touchdowns and had eclipsed the 4,000-yard passing mark just once. Owners who draft him and expect Brady to match last year’s numbers could be slightly disappointed. But only slightly.
2. Peyton Manning, Colts
Good news: Manning reached the 4,000-yard mark for the eighth time in nine seasons and also threw for 30-plus touchdowns for the third time in four years. It’s tough to find a more consistent fantasy quarterback over the years than Manning. He’s a lock to be among the top-five players at his position, and he’s never missed a game.
Bad news: Manning is recovering from offseason knee surgery, and while he has yet to practice with the team, he is expected to be ready for the regular-season opener. Another concern is that nobody knows what to expect from Marvin Harrison. That shouldn’t scare you too much though, considering Harrison missed most of last season and Manning still put up good numbers.
3. Tony Romo, Cowboys
Good news: Three quarterbacks threw for over 4,000 yards and 30-plus touchdowns last year. Two have already been listed. Romo is the third. His 36 touchdowns trailed only Brady last year, and his 4,211 yards were third to Brady and Drew Brees. Romo has the weapons in T.O. and Jason Witten to put up monster numbers once again this season.
Bad news: Only three quarterbacks had more interceptions than Romo’s 19 last season. Some have him ranked above Manning, but remember that Romo’s been a starter for less than two full seasons. Manning’s track record gives him a slight edge for the No. 2 spot. By the way, aren’t you glad that I got through writing about Romo without mentioning you-know who?
4. Drew Brees, Saints
Good news: Brees is one of four quarterbacks – Manning, Carson Palmer and Jon Kitna the others – who has thrown for over 4,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. A strong finish -- 13 touchdowns and four interceptions over the final six weeks – allowed him to set career highs with 4,423 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2007. Brees had two touchdowns or more in all but two games after Week 5. No one had more attempts than Brees, who slung it 652 times.
Bad news: As good as he was down the stretch, Brees was equally bad at the start of 2007, throwing one touchdown and nine interceptions during the season’s first four weeks. Other than Marques Colston, New Orleans has question marks in the receiving game, but the addition of Jeremy Shockey should help. Brees threw 18 interceptions in '07, and he’s never had a 30-TD season.
5. Carson Palmer, Bengals
Good news: Most people agree on the top four quarterbacks in some order, but this is where the real arguments begin. In a down year in 2007, Palmer set a career high with 4,131 yards while also throwing 26 touchdowns. Palmer has the tools in T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson to be a very good every-week starter, and he has the upside to be the top-ranked fantasy QB this season. I’m expecting a monster season from him.
Bad news: No one threw more interceptions than Palmer, who was picked off 20 times. He had zero or one touchdown in nine games and had just one multiple-TD game in the season’s final five weeks. Take away his six-TD game in Week 2, and Palmer managed just 20 scores in the other 15 games.
6. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Good news: Only Brady and Romo threw for more touchdowns than Roethlisberger, who found the end zone 32 times and was only picked off 11 times. His 104.1 quarterback rating was second-best in the NFL behind Brady.
Bad news: I love Roethlisberger as a “real-life” quarterback, but he’s getting overrated slightly from a fantasy standpoint this season. The QBs I have ranked above Roethlisberger all have the potential to finish as the top-scoring fantasy quarterback. Roethlisberger doesn’t have that upside. He threw for more than 200 yards just once after Week 10 last season. Thirteen quarterbacks put up higher yardage totals, and 15 QBs attempted more passes. Roethlisberger is a fine fantasy starter, but don’t reach.
7. Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks
Good news: He had more touchdowns than Palmer and as many as Brees last season. Hasselbeck set career bests with 3,966 yards and 28 touchdowns. If he matches those totals, he could be a top-five fantasy option this season.
Bad news: Hasselbeck’s weapons are extremely iffy, but does he ever really have great weapons? I say no. Hasselbeck doesn't have the upside of some of the other quarterbacks in the top 10. He won't carry your team, but he could deliver great value as an every-week starter.
8. Derek Anderson, Browns
Good news: He wasn’t even the starter in Week 1 of 2007, but Anderson burst on to the fantasy scene with 29 touchdowns and 3,787 yards. Anderson has outstanding weapons in Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow and newly acquired Donte Stallworth.
Bad news: Of all the players I’ve listed so far, Anderson is the biggest risk. He faltered towards the end of last season, throwing five interceptions over the final two weeks. Overall, Anderson was picked off 19 times, and he had the lowest completion percentage (56.5) of any quarterback who ranked in the top 10 in touchdowns. Make sure you get a good QB2 if Anderson is your starter.
9. Donovan McNabb, Eagles
Good news: You might not be aware, but Andy Reid likes to throw the football. McNabb threw for 3,324 yards last season to go along with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions even though he really only played in 13 full games.
Bad news: McNabb asked for playmakers in the offseason, but he didn't mean playmakers on offense. Of course not. Anyway, McNabb doesn’t have the weapons in the passing game that many of the quarterbacks above him have. Throw in the fact that he’s missed 15 games over the past three seasons, and you better make sure you have a good backup plan if McNabb’s your starter.
10. David Garrard, Jaguars
Good news: He may not be as flashy as some of the other quarterbacks, but I love Garrard’s value this season. He threw 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions in 12 games last season, compiling a QB rating of 102.2 (only Brady and Roethlisberger were rated higher). Garrard came on strong towards the end of 2007, tossing 12 touchdowns in weeks 11-16.
Bad news: Garrard had zero 300-yard games in 2007, and he doesn't have great weapons. Reggie Williams was the team's leading receiver last season with 38 catches for 629 yards. Jacksonville did add Jerry Porter in the offseason.
11. Jay Cutler, Broncos
He showed flashes in his first full year as a starter, throwing for 3,497 yards and 20 touchdowns. Cutler could be a year away from being an every-week fantasy starter, especially considering his top weapon, Brandon Marshall, has been suspended for the season’s first three games.
12. Brett Favre, Jets
Favre re-emerged as a fantasy quarterback last season, throwing for 4,155 yards, 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Of course, circumstances could be different in New York, and no one knows how Favre will connect with the Jets receivers before the season starts. Still, New York worked to improve the offensive line in the offseason, and I think Favre has decent weapons.
13. Marc Bulger, Rams
Bulger is one of the toughest QBs to project. Everything went wrong for him last year, as he averaged fewer than 200 yards per game, tossed 11 touchdowns and was picked off 15 times. Bulger also missed four games due to injury. In 2006, however, he was great, throwing for 4,301 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. While I don’t expect his numbers to be as bad as last year, they won’t resemble his 2006 stats either. Bulger is a very risky pick.
14. Philip Rivers, Chargers
The Chargers have scored rushing touchdowns on 38 percent of their red zone opportunities in the last three years, according to ESPN. That’s the highest percentage of any team in the NFL. Rivers threw for fewer than 200 yards in four of San Diego’s final five games last year. With LT in the backfield, he won’t be given the opportunity to put up monster fantasy numbers, but he can be valuable in a platoon situation.
15. Eli Manning, Giants
Among the 13 quarterbacks who threw for 20-plus touchdowns last year, none had a worse completion percentage (56.1) than Manning. And no quarterback in the NFL threw more interceptions (20). Of course, none of this matters in real life because Manning won a Super Bowl. In fantasy however, you pretty much know what you’re getting from Manning: decent yardage numbers, around 24 TDs, and a lot of interceptions. He's a situational starter.
16. Matt Schaub, Texans
In the games he played, Schaub put up strong yardage numbers, and he completed more than 66 percent of his passes in his first season in Houston. If wide receiver Andre Johnson and Schaub can stay healthy for the whole season, they have the talent to form one of the better fantasy combinations in the NFL.
17. Matt Leinart/Kurt Warner, Cardinals
I realize it's a bit odd to list quarterbacks together like this, but hear me out. No starter has been named as of these rankings, but whoever wins the No. 1 job has the weapons in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to put up big numbers. Leinart played in only five games last season, and didn’t do much of anything from a fantasy standpoint, but he has to show some improvement, doesn't he? Warner, meanwhile, was fantastic, throwing for 27 touchdowns and 3,417 yards.
18. Jake Delhomme, Panthers
He’s 33-years old and coming off elbow surgery. Not exciting from a fantasy perspective. The Panthers added D.J. Hackett and Muhsin Muhammad in the offseason, but Steve Smith will be out for the first two games.
19. Jon Kitna, Lions
He’s put up back-to-back 4,000-plus yard seasons, but Mike Martz is now gone so those totals seem likely to go down this season. Kitna has 39 touchdowns and 42 interceptions during the past two years. He has weapons in Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson but should be used only as a situational starter.
20. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Everyone tries to analyze Rodgers' one half of action last year against the Cowboys, but the truth is his 2008 season cannot be projected by those 26 passes. Rodgers has had plenty of time to learn in Green Bay, and has talented weapons in Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and Donald Lee. The Packers gave up only 19 sacks last season, third-best in the NFL.