Let's look at the statistical NFL landscape for team performance and note how it impacts fantasy performance before highlighting the key passing stat and making related player recommendations.
We'll begin with offense.
The Broncos are really struggling. They are behind the Rams in red-zone possessions per game and are tied with the Chiefs and Buccaneers. This is not company you want to keep. They're also averaging a half of a rushing touchdown per game. You can't start Knowshon Moreno right now. This is not a big deal for the passing game — though you should only be starting Brandon Marshall from this group. Red-zone possessions is a stat that greatly impacts running backs and kickers.
I have to continue to downgrade Aaron Rodgers and this Packers passing game. Sure, they're putting up numbers now. But we need to look forward, not back. You can't have your quarterback on pace to get sacked 74 times and continue to post good fantasy passing numbers. At some point, Rodgers will get hurt and the Packers passing offense — including all of its receivers — will crumble. Once again, the stat of the week: Green Bay has scored on one drive where Rodgers has been sacked. When he hasn't been sacked, they score about 40 percent of the time.
Looking at the overall offensive numbers, the teams in the top 10 in the index (red-zone possessions per game, third down percentage, yards per rush, yards per pass, sack percentage, rushing touchdowns per game, passing TDs per game) were expected to be good with two exceptions: the Ravens and the Bengals. While Cincy is 16th in yards per rush and 13th in TD rushes per game, do not sell Cedric Benson, who is just as likely to be better going forward in 2009 as he is to get worse.
The worst teams, in order, are the usual suspects: Raiders, Browns, Chiefs, Bills, Redskins, Lions, Bucs, Niners, Rams and Seahawks. I liked the Bills for about five minutes this summer but said to cross all of them off your list when they canned their offensive coordinator the last week of the preseason. Note, though, that the Broncos and Eagles are just outside this bottom 10. I'm shocked that the Eagles are so low. Maybe that's a sample size problem, though this is increasingly unlikely as the season progresses.
Let's quickly look at the defensive top and bottom 10 overall. Same stat categories apply.
Top 10: Broncos, Redskins, Steelers, Jets, Eagles, Cowboys, Colts, Vikings, Patriots and Bengals. (The Bengals are for real, people.)
Bottom 10: Lions, Rams, Browns, Bucs, Titans, Chiefs, Raiders, Jaguars, Bears and Falcons.
By popular request: Teams that have given up the least rushing TDs per game are the Steelers, Vikings, Patriots, Broncos, Cowboys, Packers, Jets, Bengals, Redskins and Eagles.
Most rushing TDs per game: Raiders, Rams, Browns, Bills, Saints, Texans, Giants, Bucs, Dolphins and Titans.
Least passing TDs allowed per game: Colts, Jets, Saints, Bills, Broncos, Redskins, Raiders, Texans, Steelers and Patriots.
Most passing TDs allowed per game: Titans, Lions, Bucs, Bears, Packers, Jaguars, Chiefs, Cardinals, Giants, Cowboys and Vikings.
Consider all this before setting your weekly lineups.
Now for some player picks based on sack-adjusted YPA (yards per passing attempt). The QB upgrades and downgrades below are shorthand for the entire team passing game, including receivers. In the NFL, your passing game and your QB are synonymous.
QBs on teams with a 8.0 or better sack-adjusted YPA: These are the guys who, 80 percent of the time, are in the top five in total TD passes and typically finish with 30 or more. Right now, they are: Drew Brees (8.5), Ben Roethlisberger (8.1), Tony Romo (8.1) and Peyton Manning (8.0). Their foundation for continued excellence is very strong.
QBs on teams with a 7.0 or better sack-adjusted YPA: Better than 7.5 YPA is expected to get you top 10 with about 25-to-30 TD passes. And 7.0 to 7.5 gets you 20-to-25. Here we have Matt Schaub (7.8), Aaron Rodgers (7.8), Philip Rivers (7.8), Tom Brady (7.4), Eli Manning (7.2) and Brett Favre (7.1).
Favre's TD production has generally outperformed his YPA, however. As I implied above, I would be "selling" Rodgers, not "holding" him, because sacks at his extreme level are measured best by physical punishment — not yards.
TD-proficient QBs on teams with a sack-adjusted YPA below 7.0: The foundation for continued excellence for these QBs appears to be weak. We assume that ability measured by all passes is more reliable as a future indicator than ability measured by the handful of passes that happen to go for touchdowns. These "weak foundation" QBs are: Donovan McNabb (6.8), Joe Flacco (6.8), Carson Palmer (6.7), Jay Cutler (6.7), Matt Ryan (6.7) and Kurt Warner (6.5 — yes, it would be slightly higher without Matt Leinart stats, but still not high enough). Of course, all the other QBs are below 7.0, too — often well below. But all of them are already on the "do not start" list we keep in our heads.