- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The NFL season starts Thursday, which spares me from the obligatory advice column. And that’s a good thing because fantasy football advice is much like relationship advice. No one really knows what they’re talking about, and success is more dumb luck than anything.

I’ve never bought a significant other an appliance for a special occasion, but I have drafted a defense in the fourth round. I’ve won multiple league championships, but I inexplicably made a “Beep, Beep” noise one night when my pregnant wife scooted backward on the bed. Success and stupidity are intertwined.

With that in mind, and in honor of my wife’s favorite player, John Elway (hoping this negates the “Beep, Beep” mention), here are seven observations on the upcoming season. Let’s hope most of them do not turn out to be the fantasy equivalent of an anniversary vacuum cleaner.

• If you drafted Michael Vick, you better have a good backup. The quarterback’s reckless style of play and the Eagles’ porous offensive line guarantee he will get hurt at some point. Not to mention defenders will be looking to make their bones by getting after the league’s newest $100 million man. The leader of the “Dream Team” will be in every defensive coordinator’s crosshairs. Also, if you drafted Michael Vick, you’ll never meet our pug.

• Ray Rice will not disappoint this year. With legendary touchdown vulture Willis McGahee now in Denver, the hard-running Raven will reach the end zone at least 10 times and lead the league in yards from scrimmage. If he starts slow, don’t worry. If you passed on him in the draft, swing a trade. Trust me. Would a guy who once protected Stan Humphries in a keeper league steer you wrong?

• I don’t like Jamal Charles. Not personally; never met the man. I just think it’s going to be tough for him to live up to the expectations. He’s ranked as the No. 2 running back by ESPN. But he benefited greatly last year from being under the radar (Thomas Jones started the season as the primary back) and from Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe taking the pressure off him with career years. The Chiefs looked terrible during the preseason, and I don’t think that’s a fluke. Then again, I once selected Marion Butts and Ricky Ervins as my starting running backs.

• Roddy White will end up being That Guy this year. The one fantasy owners will be kicking themselves for bypassing. It would not surprise me to see the Falcons receiver lead the league in touchdowns. Matt Ryan threw the ball 42 times in the first half of a preseason game two weeks ago, and Atlanta didn’t trade up for Julio Jones to give Michael Turner the ball 400 times. White will be the prime beneficiary of a team that’s ready to take the next step - at least offensively. In case you didn’t know, White is a big fan of Michael Vick, so he, too, is on the list of people not invited to our pug’s next birthday; he’ll be 6.

• My big hunch is that Mark Ingram is going to have a HUGE year. The Saints rookie is not particularly big, fast or elusive. But neither was Walter Payton. Actually, he reminds me of Emmitt Smith, another intangibles guy. Comparisons aside, a tough runner on a prolific offense is bound to score his share of touchdowns. This prediction is brought to you by a guy who was smart enough to take a flier on Kurt Warner in a 1999 fantasy draft, but dumb enough to trade him for Antonio Freeman six weeks into that MVP season.

• Don’t believe the Matt Stafford hype. Even if he can stay healthy, the offense is too unbalanced for him to be a consistent fantasy producer. Yes, Calvin Johnson is great, and Nate Burleson is sneaky good. But the Lions can’t run the ball. That means Stafford is always a target, and it’s why the odds of him making it through 16 games are roughly the same as the chance that drafting Koren Robinson in the third round would prove successful. Yes, I did that.

• Tim Hightower will have the first significant fantasy season from a Redskin in years, becoming the latest running back to benefit from Mike Shanahan’s system. He’s no Terrell Davis, but with the coach needing to take the pressure off flighty starter Rex Grossman, and the offensive line performing much better than expected, he could have the type of season that Mike Anderson did in 2000: 1,487 yards, 15 TDs. Fun fact: Hightower played college ball in Richmond, the birthplace of our pug.