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Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Engel Eye: Super Bowl review

By Scott Engel
ESPN.com

Here is a look at some key performances from Super Bowl XLII from the fantasy perspective. I'll give you my views on significant outings that will affect your fantasy strategies for the 2008 season.

Eli Manning: The final numbers would be good enough for fantasy purposes in a regular-season game. The Super Bowl MVP finished with 255 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception. That would translate into 16 fantasy points in ESPN standard scoring. In the regular season, Manning surpassed 15 fantasy points in a game only once, and he registered double figures only three times after Week 7. Yet Manning obviously was a different quarterback from the regular-season finale on. He scored 25 points in Week 17 against New England, then threw six touchdowns and only one interception in the postseason. That one pick, of course, went off the hands of Steve Smith in the Super Bowl, so you can't blame it on Manning's making questionable decisions as he often did during the regular season.

Manning's improved decision-making and great presence of mind in pressure situations during the Giants' championship run definitely boost his fantasy appeal for 2008. Manning turned a corner in his career in the past five games, with both performances against the Patriots being major pivotal points. In the first meeting, he began his rise to newfound respect and certain stardom with four touchdown passes. In the Super Bowl, his amazing performance on the winning drive, most notably his ability to escape what seemed like a sure sack and complete what is now known as "The Catch II" to David Tyree, showed he no longer will be rattled when it counts the most. Manning is a new quarterback, not the same one who frustrated his owners in the 2007 fantasy season. If the Patriots weren't able to unnerve him in the biggest game of his life at crunch time, he's not going to back down when opponents give him more respect and devise game plans to stop him much more often than they did in the past. Manning's flood of timely completions and lack of turnovers in the playoffs definitely boost him into my top-10 quarterbacks for next season. He isn't a top-5 fantasy quarterback yet, but he is on his way. Once he plays at a high level for a full season, his value will skyrocket.

For now, my top-10 fantasy quarterbacks for 2008 are: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Carson Palmer, Derek Anderson, Matt Hasselbeck, Brett Favre, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger. The quarterback position is looking healthier for next season, as David Garrard and Donovan McNabb are certainly worthy of top-10 consideration, Marc Bulger will deliver a quality campaign, and Philip Rivers will have his true breakthrough season.

Tom Brady: He threw for 266 yards and one touchdown, with no completions of more than 20 yards. That's a 14-point fantasy performance from a guy who scored fewer than 15 fantasy points only once in the regular season. Although his controversial ankle injury might have affected his accuracy and velocity on deep balls, and occasionally limited his ability to move around in the pocket, even a fully healthy Brady would not have performed much better against a Giants defense that dominated his offensive line. The New York secondary also bottled up every receiver other than Wes Welker for most of the game.

Next season, opponents certainly will use the film of the Super Bowl as the ultimate textbook on how to contain the New England offense. In the final six games of the season, including the playoffs, Brady threw 11 touchdown passes, a figure he matched in just two games in Weeks 6 and 7 of the season. He threw for 300-plus yards only once in the final six games. Brady threw for more than 300 yards five times in six games between the sixth and 12th weeks of the regular season (bye week included).

Opponents certainly defended the deep ball better late in the regular season and the playoffs, which raises concerns about Brady's 2008 outlook. Will Brady be overvalued as a first-round pick next season? That depends on where you take him. I wouldn't pick him first overall, as I don't expect him to come close to 50 touchdown passes again. Yet Brady and the Patriots will make the adjustments needed to excel on offense again next season, and an improved Laurence Maroney will add more balance to the New England offense. I expect Randy Moss to return next season, and New England still will torch a lot of the lesser teams on its regular-season schedule, especially when it faces AFC East opponents.

New England still will have a very deep and fearsome receiving crew, and Brady will be highly motivated to dominate after the Super Bowl loss. I still give him the slight nod over Peyton Manning, and I fully expect Brady to throw 35 touchdown passes. I'm looking for another outstanding year, even if it's not on par with his historic 2007 season. Brady and the Patriots will learn some hard lessons from his "down" performances in the final six games and come back with new wrinkles and a vengeance. Still, I'd rather go with LaDainian Tomlinson first overall, and I will strongly consider taking Adrian Peterson, Joseph Addai, Brian Westbrook or any other "safe" or high-upside running back ahead of him.

As I said, the quarterback position is looking good for '08, and there will be a lot of running backs who raise significant questions next season, so I would like to have one of the very best. I would not take Brady in the top four overall. I saw many fantasy teams win a championship without him in 2007, and although a guy like Peterson still must perform consistently, the upside is amazing and I cannot pass on him and ignore the thought that I could still get a very good quarterback in the second round.

Steve Smith: He caught five passes for 50 yards in the Super Bowl and proved to be a very dependable possession receiver on key downs for the Giants in their five-game run to glory. There were some drops, but Smith showed a heck of a lot of promise and should be even more reliable with more experience. Amani Toomer will be 34 next season and will be in the final year of his current contract. Smith is Toomer's heir apparent as a smooth, trustworthy target, and his ascension to a more prominent role in the offense should begin next season. He won't be a fantasy starter yet, as New York won't rush him into more responsibility too quickly, but he will be worth the gamble as a late-rounder in case injuries elevate him in the pecking order. He is a very good keeper-league player in formats that allow for several holdovers and is a lock to retain in dynasty leagues.

David Tyree: His 32-yard reception is being hailed in the New York area as possibly the most electrifying feat since John Starks dunked on Michael Jordan. It's an amazing catch I only seem able to replicate on the Nintendo Wii version of Madden football. Yet the memorable reception certainly will make Tyree a late-round pick of many less-experienced fantasy players next season. If you live in Giants country, some unprepared owner is going to make him the silly "homer" pick in the late rounds. It will make for a good laugh. Tyree might make some important receptions for the Giants in 2008, but he'll be too low on the depth chart to make a statistical impact.

Laurence Maroney: He was held to 36 rushing yards on 14 carries in the Super Bowl, but it was also his sixth consecutive game with a touchdown run, including the regular season. He also had four 100-yard games during that span. Maroney improved significantly as an inside runner late in the season and in the playoffs, and he will have his real breakthrough season in 2008. He will be a fine third-round pick.

More observations: The Giants' path to the title reminded me of a run to a fantasy football championship. Just like in fantasy, one team caught fire at the most important time of the season, knocking off the team that dominated for most of the year. … Plaxico Burress caught his first touchdown of the postseason against New England, but we all know how he played through injuries all season, and he'll be a top-10 fantasy receiver next season, barring any more problems. … Moss also caught his first postseason touchdown in the Super Bowl, and you can bet on another outstanding season from him in 2008, even if he doesn't approach 20 touchdown receptions. … Welker finished a good postseason with 11 catches for 103 yards and will be an ideal No. 2 fantasy receiver in '08, possibly even a No. 1 guy in points-per-reception leagues. … Kevin Boss caught a 45-yard pass in the Super Bowl, but the expected return of Jeremy Shockey next season will severely limit his initial value.

Scott Engel is a football analyst for ESPN Fantasy Games.