Don't panic, Peyton Manning owners.
You're season's not over.
You are still undefeated. The playoffs are not a pipe dream.
Look, I'm not going to lie. Losing one of the game's premier signalcallers is a terrible way to start the 2011 fantasy football season, especially now that a second surgery on Manning's neck has been confirmed. He's out a minimum of two months and very likely the entire season.
But this is where a fantasy manager shows what he's capable of. Yes, you're up against it -- but it's time to wipe away the tears, roll up your sleeves and get your team to the playoffs anyway.
Hopefully you read my QB preview that ran at the end of August, which said anyone who takes Manning should also draft Denver's Kyle Orton, Arizona's Kevin Kolb or Kansas City's Matt Cassel. Those three have fairly easy schedules to open the season.
If they are not available in your league, see if you can manipulate a trade for relative peanuts (a fourth RB or fifth WR).
Short of that, you'll have to roll the dice on someone like Kerry Collins, Rex Grossman, Chad Henne or Matt Hasselbeck.
(Hint: Find a way -- any way -- to make a trade).
There are ways to profit here if you are a slick non-Manning owner. If you hold Kolb, Orton, Cassel or another decent backup, dangle a trade offer for a backup RB or third WR.
Or ask for a backup RB and upgrade your defense.
Or get gutsy, especially for those of you in leagues who give just 4 points for passing TDs.
Tony Romo for Calvin Johnson? Tom Brady for Jamaal Charles? Brady for Ray Rice? Brady and a third WR for Ray Rice?
Get creative and maybe you can engineer a deal to a desperate Manning owner that really tips the scales in your favor.
Jacksonville's release of David Garrard obviously bamboozles the Jaguars' offense. And it makes me nervous for all Maurice Jones-Drew owners.
Without a legit passing game, defenses will stack the line more than ever to shut down MJD. He's too good to completely disappear, but he'll also have too many of those 4-6 point games that drive owners nuts.
As fantasy football's popularity continues to mushroom, I'm know many more readers will be following this weekly column. To you, I say welcome aboard and enjoy your first season.
Let me just throw two pieces of advice out there right away:
1. In the first couple of weeks, unless one of your players is facing a superior foe, start the players you drafted first. In other words, don't sit a stud like Baltimore's Ray Rice just because he's playing Pittsburgh.
2. Improve your team as the season goes on. Your roster will almost always look far different at the end of the season from what it looks like now. Learn how your league's waiver-wire process works and identify players who either are coming out of nowhere or appear to be showing promise. Then add them to your team and discard the duds. Trading is another great way to improve a team. Feel free to email me for advice because veteran players love to take advantage of the fresh fish.
Finally, welcome to the Good and Bad bets portion of the column. Here is where I highlight players on the fringe who I think will either help or hurt you in any given week. In other words, Adrian Peterson will never be in the Good Bets and Colt McCoy will never be in the Bad Bets. Putting players like that in those categories is a waste of time since they are always Good and Bad Bets, respectively.
And off we go ...
• Texans RB Ben Tate vs. Indianapolis. This obviously assumes that Arian Foster is out. If that's the case, I like Tate to approach 80 yards and score at least 1 TD.
• Colts QB Kerry Collins at Houston. Hey, why not? The Texans allowed a league-high 33 passing TDs last season. I say Collins hits pay dirt twice.
• Bengals WR A.J. Green at Cleveland. A real boom-or-bust call here. Green gets loose for one big score -- a 55-yarder!
• Giants QB Eli Manning at Washington. Yes, Manning's preseason was awful. Yes, Steve Smith is gone. However, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are awesome targets and the Skins allowed 261 passing yards per game last season. It adds up to a solid opener for the helter-skelter Manning.
• Redskins RB Tim Hightower vs. N.Y. Giants. The G-men's defense is a mess, especially now that they've lost MLB Jonathan Goff.
• Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb and RB Beanie Wells vs. Carolina. Wells runs for 125 and 2 TDs.
• Patriots WR Chad Ochocinco at Miami. Everybody's down on "85" but I say he hangs a 100-yard day on the Dolphins.
• Broncos QB Kyle Orton and WR Brandon Lloyd vs. Oakland. Remember, CB Nnamdi Asomugha is in Philly now. Orton should carve up the Raiders.
• Falcons QB Matt Ryan at Bears. I love Ryan this year, but not Sunday. In six road game last season, Ryan threw 9 TD passes and 6 INTs while averaging just 216 yards through the air. Combine that with the fact the Bears are still solid defensively and you've got a disappointing opener if you own Ryan.
• Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall at Baltimore. OK, it's very unlikely anybody sits Mendenhall. But keep this in mind: In his last four games against the Ravens, Mendenhall has just 255 yards on 85 carries (3.0 average).
• Rams WR Mike Sims-Walker vs. Philadelphia. Facing two of the best cover corners in the league, don't expect much in Week 1 from Sims-Walker.
• Cowboys WR Miles Austin at New York Jets. One website ranks Austin 34th among WRs this week, behind the Bears' Devin Hester and Roy Williams! That's what happens when you make a trip to Revis Island.
• Jets RB Shonn Greene vs. Dallas. Let's make the Jets prove they really plan to use Greene more before blindly putting him into lineups.
• Bills RB Fred Jackson at Kansas City. I can see 75 rushing yards and 20 receiving but the odds of a touchdown are remote.