Pallister: A midseason (for most) look at the NFL season thus far

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ANALYSIS/OPINION

As an obsessive-compulsive NFL fan with a minor in math geekery, I appreciate that the league has applied the bye in such a way that after eight weeks, half the teams have played eight games and half have played seven. It’s a nice bit of soothing symmetry for people like me, who miss the simplicity of a 16-week season. Anyway, whether the team you root for has played 50 percent of its schedule or 43.75 percent, we’re going to call what follows my midseason column. Enjoy.

• No one has been more valuable than Peyton Manning through the first eight weeks. With 2,919 yards passing and 29 TDs, he’s on pace to shatter the single-season record for each. He’s 10 TDs clear of the No. 2 fantasy quarterback, Drew Brees. He struggled for much of last week’s game against the Redskins and still threw 4 TDs. Every once in a while, a player has a transcendent season, a once-in-a-lifetime run that makes you appreciate his greatness. Amazingly, Manning is in the midst of a second such season — nine years removed from the first. If you were lucky enough to draft him, enjoy the ride to the playoffs.

• Speaking of valuable and transcendent, the most disappointing player so far has to be Adrian Peterson. The No. 1 pick in 99 percent of leagues entering the year after a season in which he rushed for 2,097 yards — the second-highest total in NFL history — the reigning MVP has just 571 yards through seven games. A drop-off was to be expected, but Peterson is on pace to barely surpass 1,300 yards. And even those relatively paltry numbers are skewed by a pretty strong first four games.

In the past three weeks, as the 1-6 Vikings have played mediocre-to-bad quarterback roulette, Peterson is averaging 50 yards and has scored once. If Peterson can’t find his Superman cape, it’s going to continue to be a frustrating season for him and countless fantasy owners.

Peyton Manning in 2013 + Adrian Peterson in 2013 = Drew Brees in 2014. Let me explain. As I mentioned previously, Manning is putting together a once-in-a-lifetime season for the second time. It really is amazing, especially in the context of the few other players who have put together all-time great seasons in recent years. In 2006, LaDainian Tomlinson scored a record 31 total TDs. He was the consensus No. 1 pick the next season, in which he was good but not great; he scored 18 total TDs. He never scored more than 12 in any season thereafter.

In 2007, Tom Brady threw a record 50 TDs (surpassing Manning’s 49 from his first transcendent season). He was the consensus No. 1 pick the next season, which ended in the first half of the first game after he tore an ACL. Brady has put together some great seasons since, but 39 TDs in 2011 is the closest he’s come to his ‘07 production. Then you have Peterson, this year’s consensus No. 1 pick. Even if he averages 150 yards through the next nine games, he still will fall almost 200 yards short of last season’s total. He’ll be lucky to come within 500.

The lesson here is that it’s foolish to bet on any player repeating — or coming close to repeating — jaw-dropping numbers of the previous season. But we do it all the time. Fantasy football drafts are based on such foolishness. Manning was the consensus No. 1 pick in 2005. He threw 21 fewer TDs than the year before. Barring injury, Manning will be the consensus No. 1 pick next year. And he almost certainly will be a relative disappointment.

All of this brings me to Brees, who hasn’t had a single season quite as impressive as Manning in 2004, Tomlinson in 2006, Brady in 2007 or even Aaron Rodgers in 2011. But he has been arguably the most dependable fantasy player in the past few years. He threw 46 TDs in 2011 and 43 in 2012. This season, after last week’s record ninth game of five or more TDs, he’s on pace to throw another 43.

If you draw the No. 1 pick next year, learn from history. Avoid Peyton Manning and draft Drew Brees.

Week 8 Lineup Crime: As reported, Jimmy Graham played limited snaps last week against the Bills. But the Saints tight end scored twice on those 18 snaps. He had as many TDs as the guy I replaced him with, Tyler Eifert, had catches. My margin of defeat? 1.1.

Week 9 Lineup Time: I like Alex Smith, whom many owners will turn to because of byes, to have a big game against a generous Bills pass defense. … Another likely bye-week fill-in, Terrelle Pryor, has a good matchup against the Eagles. In that same game, however, the Raiders defense is a tough matchup for Nick Foles, who returns as the starter. … The Seahawks will get the running game going this week, so don’t even think about sitting Marshawn Lynch. … I like the Ravens defense against Jason Campbell, who wildly exceeded expectations last week.

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