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NFC South Fantasy Preview: All Hail Matt Ryan

Atlanta Falcons: There is not one player that I wanted on my team this year more than Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. So of course in my league, which starts two quarterbacks and awards six points for each TD pass, I waited too long to get Ryan. He and a bunch of other quarterbacks went way earlier than I expected, so I ended up with Jay Cutler and Matt Schaub, but that’s beside the point.

Getting closer to godliness

Getting closer to godliness

In standard leagues, Ryan has the amazing combination of value, upside, talent and excellent surroundings. He is smart, has incredible weapons at his disposal, a running game to keep defenses honest and a completely underrated sixth-round draft average. Besides the fact that his Matty Ice nickname is completely ridiculous — I love it when analysts say he earned it because he’s cool under pressure — Ryan is the perfect fantasy football player.

If you are reading this, you probably know about the “Curse of 370”. Well, Michael Turner reached 376 carries in the regular season. It goes up to 394 if you count the playoffs. I know it was just his first year of being a full-time starter, but I am buying into the curse this season.

Excluding Turner, 22 backs have accumulated 370 carries in a season. Of those 22 RBs, 13 experienced at least a 40 percent decline in rushing yardage in the following season. The entire group averaged 18.4 touchdowns in its 370-carry year. The next season, that touchdown average fell to 9.7. Even worse, three of those 22 running backs tore an ACL the year after 370 carries.

I know that’s a lot of numbers and facts, but it’s just a bunch of reasons why I think Turner won’t match his No. 2 draft position. I would rather have Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Maurice Jones-Drew, DeAngelo Williams, Steven Jackson and maybe even LaDainian Tomlinson. It’s also a reason to absolutely love backup running back Jerious Norwood this season.

Roddy White? Stud and a potential top-5 receiver Tony Gonzalez? Stud … even though spending a fifth-round pick on a tight end is incredibly dumb. Even Michael Jenkins is useful (finally!) and is a nice pick as the first or second receiver for your bench.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Atlanta Falcons are bursting with fantasy goodness. The Bucs’ fantasy prospects popped a long time ago. This is the worst team for fantasy points in the league.

You need these Bucs on your team!

You need these Bucs on your team!

What’s left in this cupboard? Antonio Bryant is the team’s best receiver and probably best playmaker. But he’s extremely hard to trust with Byron Leftwich throwing him the ball. Or Josh Freeman throwing him the ball. Or Josh Johnson throwing him the ball. … Or Josh Johnson throwing him the ball.

Plus, you have to consider that 2008 may have been just a fluke for Bryant. He even told the St. Petersburg Times in July that he doesn’t think he will be able to duplicate his numbers from last year (I don’t have a link, but he said it. Trust me). Bryant has never had a season as good as his 2008 campaign and he won’t be a surprise to any defensive coordinator this year. He should prepare for a lot more double coverage.

Kellen Winslow has a great pedigree and a ton of talent, but you know he’ll always be fighting injuries and if you believe in him this year after everything I just mentioned, you are a braver person than me.

The Bucs have some very nice running backs, but the ridiculous way that head coach Raheem Morris plans to use them this season decimates the fantasy value of them all. At this point, it looks as if Cadillac Williams will play the first two series of each game, followed by Derrick Ward for two series and then Earnest Graham for one series before coming back to Williams. Graham may get some goal-line carries, but so might Cadillac and Derrick Ward, OH FORGET IT!!!!

Look, just do what you can to make sure that you are not involved with any Bucs this season. It’s be a headache that you’ll glad you avoided.

New Orleans Saints: Whew! Back to some good players. Drew Brees is the best fantasy quarterback around these days, no question. He has no injury concerns, about 10 guys who can catch the ball well and is coming off a 5,000-yard season. He’ll be hard-pressed to do that again just because I think the Saints will run it a little more often this season. He’s also being drafted in the first round of many drafts, which I think is too high for any quarterback, but Brees is consistently fantastic.

Marques Colston had his 2008 season abbreviated when he tore a thumb ligament in week one and missed five games. And really, he didn’t get back to being himself until week 10. He also had microfracture knee surgery in January. But he has looked healthy this preseason and the coaches are backing up up that observation. Colston is a guy that is getting drafted in the fourth round, but he can produce second-round numbers if he stays healthy in this offense.

There is only so many receptions to be made for the Saints. Lance Moore was great in Colston’s absence, but I don’t think it was any coincidence that Moore’s production waned while a healthy Colston racked up 438 yards and four touchdowns in the season’s final five weeks. Moore is a good slot receiver, but I think he will be a small bust this season. Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem will hold some value in this explosive operation, but only as a desperate bye-week play. They have the skills to accumulate a day’s worth of production in one deep ball.

Jeremy Shockey is always a buzz name, which is weird for a guy who has never played 16 games in a season, didn’t catch a touchdown last season and has never had more than 900 yards in any season. In this offense, there will be opportunities, but like I said, there are only so many chances to produce. In the pecking order, Shockey is probably Brees’ fifth target behind Colston, Moore, Bush and Thomas.

He's hoping to come at defenses soon

He's hoping to come at defenses soon

The most interesting part of the Saints’ attack this year is their running game. Pierre Thomas is going to be the No. 1 guy, but he’s not exactly off to the most promising start. Thomas is a guy who can run inside and outside, take the goal-line touches and catch passes. He is a very valuable player since he’s being drafted in the third or fourth round, but if isn’t ready to go this week, Mike Bell, not Reggie Bush, will start for the Saints. In fact, Bell might be on the field for some more of those short-yardage situations even when Thomas is healthy. If he’s still available in your league, make note of this: He shouldn’t be.

Bush is a fine selection for a PPR league, but it’s pretty obvious by now that if he carries the ball 15-20 times a game, he is going to get hurt. He is being selected on his name value and astounding athleticism, but he is never going to be the fantasy player we all imagined in 2005. Maybe I am just bitter after he completely flamed out last year while on my team, but I have a feeling that Bell might have more fantasy points this year from Bush. Just call it a bold (stupid?) prediction.

Carolina Panthers: I wasn’t a big fan of DeAngelo Williams at the beginning of this month. I was avoiding him if I had a top-10 pick. But Jonathan Stewart has been sidelined with an Achilles injury that has bothered him since June and DeAngelo has looked unstoppable at times this preseason. He’s not going to score 20 touchdowns again, but you should expect 14-16 total scores with 1,400 total yards.

It's looking like only one half of this combination is going to be fun to own this season

It's looking like only one half of this combination is going to be fun to own this season

Stewart has said that he will be ready for Philadelphia this Sunday, but the fact remains that he hasn’t even practiced since Aug. 11. He may be out of shape, he may be rusty. But even if Stewart plays this weekend, which seems unlikely, he shouldn’t be trusted for a few weeks or until he shows us that he’s back to his 2008 form.

Jake Delhomme doesn’t have much to work with on the outside other than Steve Smith and Mushin Muhammad. Or in other words, just Steve Smith. Smith can go up and get anything despite being just 5-foot-9. He is incredibly hard to bring down despite being 185 pounds. He’s tough and he doesn’t take any crap from anyone, even if they are on his team.

Delhomme may be a dead-arm QB and Muhammad doesn’t offer much attention-grabbing help, but even when Delhomme missed most of 2007, Smith still put up a 1,000-yard season with seven touchdowns. He doesn’t have as much upside as a Roddy White, but he is a top-five WR for a reason: He always gets the job done.

Delhomme and Muhammad, on the other hand, should be avoided. I guess “Moose” is a decent bench option and Delhomme can be your No. 3 or 4 QB, but that’s really the most you want out of them. This team could use a productive tight end to expand the offense. But that’s not happening any time soon is it, Dante Rosario?

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