JUST THINK ABOUT ALL THAT WOULDN'T HAVE HAPPENED IF THE LOCKOUT HAD CANCELED THE 2011 SEASON: NO TEBOWING. NO GRONKING. NO CAM NEWTON BREAKOUT. NO 1,000-YARD PASSING GAME BETWEEN MATTHEW STAFFORD (520) AND MATT FLYNN (480). IF THE SCHEDULE HAD BEEN WIPED OUT, PEYTON MANNING NOT ONLY WOULD'VE remained tied with Eli Manning in Super Bowl rings, he'd probably still be a Colt.
The Saints wouldn't have rewritten the record books, with the most yards of any team in NFL history (7,474), nor would Drew Brees or Darren Sproles have set the single-season records for passing (5,476) and all-purpose yards (2,696), respectively.
No team was a bigger statistical gold mine than New Orleans, so the off-season's bounty scandal could rock fantasy owners. It is clearly the No. 1 fantasy story line heading into 2012.
BOUNTYGATE'S EFFECT ON FANTASY
IN MARCH ALL EYES WERE ON THE CRESCENT CITY WHEN news broke about a bounty system that the New Orleans defense had in place for years. A league investigation found the scheme was hatched by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and called for members of his unit to receive cash rewards for big hits that targeted opposing players.
Faced with growing evidence of the potentially catastrophic effects of such hits as well as the coaching staff's blatant disregard for league rules and ownership's repeated warnings to stop the practice, commissioner Roger Goodell came down hard. Those punished the most severely were Williams, a 22-year NFL veteran coach who was banished from the league indefinitely; Jonathan Vilma, a defensive captain, suspended for the entire 2012 season (in early May he appealed his suspension); and, most important to the fantasy football world, coach Sean Payton, the mastermind of the record-setting offense, also suspended for the year.
Losing an offensive mind like Payton's is a setback that would sink most teams, but New Orleans is in a unique position to handle this. The team was forced to play without its usual play-caller last season after Payton broke his left knee during a sideline collision. In the next game, against the Colts, coordinator Pete Carmichael took over the play-calling and directed the team to the most points (62) in an NFL game since 1985 and the most in team history. (He and Payton shared play-calling duties the rest of the season.)
Working with Brees for the 11th straight season, Carmichael, who was an offensive assistant under Marty Schottenheimer in San Diego and came to New Orleans at the same time as Brees, in 2006, is completely in sync with the All-Pro quarterback. Because of that there should be little noticeable change in the production of Brees, Sproles, tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Marques Colston. And with the departure of Robert Meachem via free agency, Lance Moore will see an uptick in his stats. The fleur-de-lis will continue as a symbol of fantasy prosperity.