NFC North- Minnesota; With the old man in town defenses will have to respect the Vikings passing game and finally take some pressure off of Adrian Peterson, who I expect to be the NFL MVP this season. Favre showed in his Monday night performance that he is still capable of making the throws he needs to, but with any 40 year-old QB injuries are a concern. If the impossible does happen this year and Favreactually has to miss a game both Sage Rosenfels and Tavaris Jackson have shown some glimpses of being decent backups in limited work. Their run-defense is clearly one of the league's best, and while their pass defense ranked just 18th last season in yardage surrendered, they only gave up 15 passing touchdowns, good for 5th in the league. While their are definite doubts about Favre's ability to stay healthy enough to make a playoff run, there is little doubt that the Vikings are the most talented and balanced team in their division. Green Bay should have a big-time turn around after a disappointing 6-10 finish in '08, but the Vikes will hold them off for at least one more year to repeat as division champs.
Stud - Too many to choose from: Who would have expected the NFC North to be fantasy-stud central? Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings and Greg Olsen are all locks to finish in the top 5 at their positions.
Sleeper - Visanthe Shiancoe, Minnesota: Shiancoe quietly had 600 yards receiving and 7 TDs in 2008 with Tavaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte throwing him the ball. Favre knows this offense better than anyone and loves tight ends in the red zone. Shiancoe could see his TD total hit double-digits this year.
Bust - Donald Driver, Green Bay: Driver has been a tremendous role-player for the Pack for several years, but with all of the young talent they have at wide receiver Driver will see his targets decline sharply in '09 and he may even drop out of the starting lineup as Jordy Nelson and James Jones push for playing time.
NFC South- Atlanta;The Falcons hit the jack-pot with every move they made last off-season, hiring the right Head Coach, drafting the right quarterback, and signing the big-time free agent running back. This off-season they continued their success by trading for a future Hall of Famer in Tony Gonzalez. Look for Matt Ryan to make huge strides in his second season at the helm of this loaded offense. Roddy White and Michael Turner look to duplicate their breakout seasons and take this Atlanta offense into elite status. Jerious Norwood provides an excellent change of pace alongside Turner and is one of the best backups at any position in the NFL. Their defense had some success with a bend-but-don't-break mentality, ranking 24th in opponents yardage but 11th in points surrendered. The linebackingcorps took a huge hit in free-agency, losing bothKeith Brooking and Michael Boley. Mike Peterson re-joins Coach Smith from Jacksonville which will lessen the loss of Brooking, but Boley's absence will be felt. The biggest area for improvement on this team will have to come in the secondary, not only because they intercepted just 10 passes last season, but also because they will be playing Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Donovan McNabb and of course twice against Drew Brees. As a team that ran the ball 55% of the time last season they cannot afford to get into many shootouts, so they will be counting on their young group of DBs to step up. Much like last year's Steelers, Atlanta's tough schedule should provide preparation for a playoff run, I see them making the NFC Championship game before their defensive short-comings are exploited.
Stud - Drew Brees, New Orleans: Brees just puts up yardage and TDs every year despite having no defense and several offensive injuries. His quick release prevents him from taking many hits so injury concerns are non-existent.
Sleeper - Jerious Norwood, Atlanta:Michael Turner ran the ball 376 times last year and his bruising style portends an injury at some point. Even if Turner does stay healthy, however, Norwood will still get on the field as a receiver and change of pace back who is capable of taking it the distance every time he touches the ball.
Bust - Reggie Bush, New Orleans: Not that I don't like the former Heisman winner, but when he is used properly he has very little fantasy value outside of PPR leagues. He should score 2-3 times on punt returns and maybe another 3-4 from scrimmage to go with around 1,000-1,100 total yards.
NFC East - Dallas; There is one thing you can say about the Cowboys; they rarely do what is expected. Most counted them out in year-one of the Wade Phillips era and they went 13-3. Then when they were favored to contend in the NFC they missed the playoffs completely. So this season, with all of the questions about Phillips' leadership, Romo's late season break-downs and Roy Williams' ability (or lack thereof) to be a #1 receiver I expect the unexpected from from Dallas. Tony Romo has proven, at least in the regular season, that he can win games and put up big numbers. In just 39 NFL starts he already has 80 TD passes. Yes, many of those were to the departed Terrell Owens, but his propensity for drops also may have cost Romo a few scores as well. Also don't forget that Jason Witten has lead this team in receptions the last two seasons and Roy Williams, when healthy, has been a star. Dallas will get a boost in their running game this year as they use Felix Jones and Tashard Choice to keep Marion Barber fresh and healthy. The trio combined for over 2,200 total yards last season despite rampant injuries. Coach Phillips decided not to replace displaced defense coordinator Brian Stewart and will coach the defense himself. The emergence of Bradie James as a play-maker and leader after Phillips took over the defensive playcalling fills the void in Dallas' defense. Look for James to break-out even more in 2009 as NFL Defensive player of the year. Philadelphia will be the Cowboys' main rivals this season because of the Giants lack of down-field receiving threats. New York's offensive numbers as a whole were noticeably worse sans Burress and they stumbled down the stretch. The Eagles rebuilt offensive line will provide Donovan McNabb plenty of time to spread the ball around to the bevy of offensive weapons he now has. The Eagles are a lock to make the playoffs in the mediocre NFC, the only question is will it be as division champs or a wildcard team? The Cowboys and Eagles are the two best teams in the NFC, so with the 'Boys narrowly taking the division and gaining home field advantage in the playoffs they will advance to Super Bowl 44.
Stud - Clinton Portis, Washington: Even with his injury concerns, Portis has averaged at least 1,500 total yards and 9 TDs in all but one of his 7 NFL seasons. Even in 2006 when he missed half the season he had 700 total yards and 7 TDs.
Sleeper - Brent Celek, Philadelphia: So many good tight ends this year, two make my sleeper list. Celek exploded in the playoffs last season and now with LJ Smith gone he will be the starter. The Eagles don't have great red zone receivers and Andy Reid loves to throw the ball from close range. Celek could easily go over 500 yards and score 6-8 TDs on an explosive offense.
Bust - Brandon Jacobs, NY Giants: I am expecting a huge drop-off from the G-Men this season without Plaxico Burress commanding attention downfield. Add that to Jacobs' health issues and he is just too risky for his ADP of around 18.
NFC West - San Fransisco;What?!? What a minute, the 49ersare terrible aren't they? How could they unseat the Super Bowl runners-up? This is admittedly a bit of a reach, but in the crazy, unpredictable NFL you have to pick some underdogs. New Coach Mike Singletary infused his passion for the game into this team in the second half of last year and they were able to win five of their final seven to finish just two games behind Arizona for the top spot. Remember that Monday night game the two played withthe botched goal-line call as time expired? That ended up being the decisive game for the NFC West. With Shaun Hill playing the full season at quarterback, over 2,000 yards, 15 total TD's and 5 wins in just 8 starts, and a new offensive philosophy more conducive to Frank Gore's talents the offense should be much better in '09. Add to that Singletary's prowess on the defensive side of the ball, the '49ers D went from surrendering 339 yards per game under Mike Nolan down to 315 under Singletary, and fans in Frisco will have plenty to cheer about come January. The Cards had a miracle run last year that nobody expected, but this year they will have history as well as prognosticators against them. Of the past 10 Super Bowl losers, all but two have failed to make the playoffs the following year. This goes beyond coincidence to point out the mental and physical toll making a championship run but coming up short takes on a team. Also Seattle will be much better than last season but adjusting to a new coaching staff and praying Matt Hasselbeck can stay healthy will prevent any serious competition.
Stud - Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals:Larry Fitzgerald led all wide receivers in total fantasy points last season, but Boldin led all receivers in fantasy points-per-game. Even if Warner does go down, Matt Leinart will perform capably.
Sleeper - Nate Burleson, Seattle: With TJ Houshmandzedah taking attention on the short routes, Nate Burleson could have a big year as the deep threat. In 2007 Burleson scored 11 total TDs, but an injury early in '08 has put him out of the minds of most fantasy owners.
Bust - Donnie Avery, St. Louis:The sexy sleeper pick early in august now not only has his own injury to worry about, but Marc Bulger's as well.