Fantasy & Reality: The good, bad and ugly

Well, it was better than last year.

Twelve months ago, one out of every 10 or 12 (or so) owners was cursing the good name of Fantasy Football after Tom Brady knee went from structurally sound to dismantled one quarter into the season. No such major injury this year -- Donovan McNabb and Anthony Gonzalez injuries aside, no one major offensive player is expected to miss the next 16 weeks.

In fact, much of Week 1 went according to plan. Prominent Fantasy names like Adrian Peterson, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Greg Jennings and Reggie Wayne held up their ends of the bargain, posting strong Fantasy totals. Unless you started a Texan or a Cardinal, you probably were at least OK with the results of the first Sunday of the season.

Might it be a long year for those owners who invested in Houston's finest or Arizona's elite? It's possible, especially in the wake of both teams struggling to move the ball offensively.

Let's start with the Cardinals, whose best receiver was running back Tim Hightower. That's not a good thing. Doing his best Marshall Faulk impression, Hightower was essentially the only reliable receiver for Kurt Warner to throw to, hauling in 12 passes for 121 yards -- more than Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin combined. Warner said after the game that Hightower was sometimes the only guy he could count on when he went back to pass. That's a tip of the cap to the 49ers' upstart secondary covering Arizona's receivers and pass rush, which forced Warner into throwing sooner than he would have liked. Warner was off target partially because his offensive line didn't give him time to throw darts.

Warner was still off on some of his passes when he did have time, though. His 59.1 completion percentage is even less appealing when you consider the short-area passes Hightower came up with (he was targeted 14 times). Take those away and Warner was 14 of 30. Yuck.

The bad news is the obvious news: If Warner can't improve, then Fitzgerald and Boldin's stats will suffer.

You're in luck if you have Warner in Fantasy play because several surprising Fantasy quarterbacks will likely be available off waivers or via trade for a cheap price. We'll highlight some of those passers later on in this column, and the recommendation is that you pick up one to safeguard yourself against Warner crippling your Fantasy team.

Moving on to Houston, where the story there was more about the rise of the Jets defense than it was the fall of the Texans' offense. We believed all week that the Texans, namely Steve Slaton, would struggle against the Ravens ... oops, I mean Jets' defensive scheme under the coaching of Rex Ryan, and they did. Matt Schaub was baffled, Andre Johnson was blanketed and the Texans all but gave up on using Slaton (nine carries, six in the first half). It also didn't help that Mark Sanchez and the Jets' offense was terrific on third downs and dominated the time of possession.

Should Fantasy owners who have a Texan or two panic? Not just yet. In fact, those of you who don't have Schaub, Slaton or Johnson should feel free to try and buy low on them in case they're owned by jittery league owners. The going doesn't get any easier when they play at a rested Tennessee in Week 2, but at least it's a familiar foe and one they have had some success against in the past (Slaton bombed the Titans for 239 total yards and one score in two games last year, and Johnson had 207 yards and a touchdown in their second '08 meeting).

One more word of warning on Warner and Schaub: Don't forget that they're not locks to play 16 games. Schaub has been hurt every year in Houston and Warner is giving Brett Favre company in the NFL's version of the AARP. What I said for Warner goes for Schaub too: Back him up properly while you still can on the cheap.

Fantasy & Reality

Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) during the week's action.

Fantasy ... Knowshon Moreno is the best running back option in Denver. And a year full of uncertainty surrounding the Broncos' running backs begins. Through one week, the Broncos called 19 run plays vs. 29 pass plays, and chances are the balance between the two will remain uneven as Denver's run defense will force Kyle Orton's hand. Meanwhile, Moreno was bottled up on eight carries and didn't have a catch while Correll Buckhalter did much better with the same amount of reps with a pair of catches. Both are going to be a headache for Fantasy owners for the foreseeable future.

Reality ... The Saints marched and marched and marched and marched and marched and marched over the Lions. That's six marches. I bet you know why. If not, click here. And yes, the Lions are still bad, but the Saints have found a way to be much, much better.

Fantasy ... Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward are risky starts. The Buccaneers gave Cadillac 13 carries and Ward 12, and they still managed to not only post quality statistics, but run past the Cowboys. Williams: 97 yards with a touchdown; Ward: 83 total yards with a score. I might have expected the Bucs to run even more than they did considering their strengths, but these guys did well with their limited touches. Next week they're at Buffalo. They may both put up better numbers!

Reality ... Jay Cutler needs help. OK, I'll admit that Cutler's gun slinging ways put a big hurt on Chicago's chances of winning at Green Bay. There was one series of passes where the Packers would have had interceptions on back-to-back plays before coming up with the pick on the third consecutive play. But his completion percentage was awful and he didn't make much use of two of his best receivers: Greg Olsen (one catch) and Matt Forte (no catches). This was the fear when Cutler was traded to Chicago -- that the Bears' offense wasn't creative enough for him. Not only is it not creative, but it's lacking proven talent at receiver. Might be a long year for Cutler.

Fantasy ... Ray Rice is the only good running back in Baltimore. You had to love seeing the Ravens use their three-headed running back attack to perfection against the Chiefs. Rice was the primary gasher, but once he got near the end zone he gave way to Le'Ron McClain. And once he saw a heavy amount of carries, he let Willis McGahee take over. McGahee saw most of his work late in the game as he was more of a clock killer than a featured back. I'd still rank Rice ahead of McGahee and both ahead of McClain, but in matchups where the Ravens will pound the rock a lot, all three might have a role in Fantasy.

Reality ... Will 2009 look like 2007 for Steve Smith. Like everyone else, including those within the Panthers organization in charge of signing the checks, we figured Jake Delhomme would shake off the postseason meltdown he had last January and play like we expected him to. D'oh. Now there's some legitimate concern over how he'll play this season, and whether or not Smith can deliver big totals in spite of Delhomme. The Panthers have a tough schedule, too. It might be a lot like 2007 for Smitty. It does help that he was targeted 13 times against the Eagles, though.

Strategy session

Which of the Week 1 surprise quarterbacks are for real?

Considering the rib injury to Donovan McNabb, the duds from Kurt Warner and Matt Schaub and the absence of Matt Cassel, backup quarterbacks will be trendy pickups off waivers this week. Here are some good ones for Fantasy owners to at least consider:

Kerry Collins, Titans ... I think he's for real, which is to say the Titans' passing offense is for real. They have a good offensive line and a threatening run game to play off of. For them to be good, Justin Gage and Kenny Britt need to keep being productive. For them to be even better, Nate Washington needs to get healthy and play well too. They also have an athletic tight end in Jared Cook who might eventually develop into an outlet for Collins to lean on, plus Chris Johnson and LenDale White can catch the ball. They play in a division with beatable secondaries, too.

Joe Flacco, Ravens ... Flacco had a tremendous debut against the Chiefs, and certainly Kansas City was surprised to see him drop back and pass over 40 times. He didn't try that many passes in a single game last year, but last year was his first year. What's happening here is something called "progression" -- the team is giving Flacco an opportunity to get off the leash and make some plays. Getting help from Mark Clayton and Todd Heap certainly helped in Week 1 -- that needs to continue, as does the Ravens' willingness to throw. I imagine Flacco will be a matchup option in Fantasy this year.

Shaun Hill, 49ers ... I've liked Hill for years and it's nice to see him win against the NFC Champions. His stats were about as thrilling as an infomercial but he'll get the opportunity to improve. Hill lacks elite receivers, which is a strike against him, but he's in an average division, has a good schedule, can run with the ball as needed and otherwise can be a good Fantasy passer you can sneak on to rosters.

Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers ... Lefty is at the bottom of our No. 2 quarterback wish list, but you've got to admire his 276-yard, one-touchdown, no-turnover effort against the Cowboys. He surely made the coaching staff look good, and he spread the ball around and played within a fairly safe game plan. More than half of his completions went to tight ends and running backs, though -- that's a red flag. And again, the Bucs have the Bills in Week 2.

Brady Quinn, Browns ... I liked Quinn's effort against the Vikings. He and Braylon Edwards hooked up on a long touchdown that was called back when Edwards went out of bounds before making the grab, but that's the kind of stuff we might see as the weeks roll by. Remember, the Browns aren't expected to be strong defensively (that's an understatement after Peterson's 180 rush yards and three touchdowns) and their run game won't be a strength, so Quinn's arm will be working overtime this year.

Mark Sanchez, Jets ... Sanchez will be picked up in every league this week. Is he worth it? Absolutely. Poised beyond his years, Sanchez did a nice job picking apart the Texans' secondary and staying clean in the pocket. He doesn't have great receivers but he sure made Jerricho Cotchery look like his pre-2008 self, and Dustin Keller will be a weekly asset too. Again, as far as No. 2 passers go, you could do worse.

Parting shots

• Last year it was Tom Brady. This year it's Brian Urlacher with a dislocated wrist. He's out for the year after one half of play. I'm not sure what the Bears will do on defense, but I do know that if they can't replace him properly, their run defense will be terrible. My suggestion? See if Derrick Brooks can still run -- I'm sure he can still tackle. He's familiar with the scheme and he might fit in on the outside while Lance Briggs moves inside.

• Aaron Rodgers' Week 1 was sort of a letdown, no?

• Kevin Kolb would be my last-ditch replacement for McNabb for Week 2 against the Saints. But I like Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy to get a glut of work to take some pressure off of Kolb.

• That said, I was impressed with the Saints defense, even if it was against the rookie-led Lions offense.

• So much for Torry Holt still playing well indoors on turf. The Jacksonville passing offense was exactly what we thought it was: mediocre, at best. Holt didn't look quick at all.

• Know who did look quick? Mario Manningham of the Giants. I like him as a potential sleeper following his limited time in Week 1. He had three catches; Domenik Hixon had one.

• Not a good start for Clinton Portis. He should rough up the Rams in Week 2. And speaking of the Rams ... U-G-L-Y. Defense looked so-so, offense looked so-so awful. Gonna be a long year for poor Steven Jackson, who will face 12 in the box on every snap.

• If I hear "JAAAAACKPOT!" one more time I'm going to chuck my television through a window. And I really like Jim Breuer. I actually feel sorry for him for making that ad.

• Think Tony Romo misses Terrell Owens? For a few minutes against the Bucs it looked like he might. Then he remembered how to throw the football and he put up career-best totals. What a huge positive that game was for him, his Fantasy owners and the Cowboys.

• By the way, Miles Austin looks a little larger this season. I mean that in a good way.

• Anyone who picks up Brandon Stokley on the merit of his 87-yard, one-touchdown "performance" can play in a Fantasy league with me anytime. Really, leave him on waivers and don't trust him to do "this" each week. Catching a tipped pass and running down the field for a last-second touchdown doesn't happen every day in the NFL.

• Percy Harvin had three catches, two carries and a touchdown in his first pro game. I've got a feeling he's only going to get better as creative coach Brad Childress finds ways to exploit him against defenses.

• You're still the best, Michael Jordan.

• I never announced my playoff picks, an annual tradition in comedic futility. I locked in my picks on Thursday morning, and they're sort of funny to read even after just a week because of what happened. But in case you didn't know, I spend time every preseason picking every single regular-season game and coming up with division winners and wild cards, then projecting those games.

I have New England winning the AFC East, Pittsburgh taking the AFC North, Indianapolis getting the AFC South and the Chargers landing the AFC West. Both wild cards will come out of the South: Tennessee and Houston.

In the NFC, give me the Eagles in the NFC East, the Vikings in the NFC North, the Saints in the NFC South and the Cardinals to repeat out of the NFC West. And like the AFC's wild cards, both NFC wild cards will come out of the same division: Green Bay and Chicago claim them.

In Super Bowl XLIV, I have Minnesota playing San Diego. I know, it means Brett Favre gets his shot at a storybook ending after all, and that makes me feel a little ill, but the rest of that team is so good (Exhibit A: Week 1) that they can make it there with their weak schedule. And as for the Bolts -- remember, I'm the guy who thinks LaDainian Tomlinson regresses a little bit in 2009. Like Favre and the Vikes, the Bolts make it there but not because of L.T.

Know what all of this really means? That the Jets and Falcons will meet in Miami in February.

Dave is ready to either laugh at, ignore or answer your Fantasy questions/comments/complaints. Drop him a line at dmfantasyfootball@cbs.com. If you do write him, be sure to put Attn: Fantasy & Reality in the subject field and include your full name, hometown and state. Or, if you'd rather use something cool like Twitter to follow someone dorky like Dave, find him @daverichard. Just don't dislocate his wrist.