With training camp less than two weeks away, the serious fantasy footballer has no doubt already pored through countless projections, profiles and predictions. Odds are, many of them were quite useful. But whereas projections, profiles and predictions strive to guess the most likely outcome, we all know a player’s season rarely follows a straight line.
With Best Case/Worst Case, we won’t predict the most likely outcome, but instead ask: What if everything goes right? What if it all goes wrong?
1. Aaron Rodgers
Best Case: Rodgers continues to make history his mistress, racking up more historic numbers during the regular season before finishing 2012 the way many thought he’d end 2011: as a two-time Super Bowl champion.
Worst Case: Greg Jennings gets old in a hurry, Jordy Nelson regresses and Randall Cobb doesn’t take the next step as Rodgers suffers his third concussion in three years. He passes for “just” 4,000 yards.
2. Cam Newton
Best Case: Coming off a rookie campaign that was literally historic, Newton makes like Dan Marino and takes the Panthers to the Super Bowl as a sophomore. Along the way, he posts numbers that make early-2000s Michael Vick blush.
Worst Case: Even Newton’s increased reliance on his legs can’t stop his inevitable rushing touchdown regression, while his passing numbers don’t take a step forward thanks to his receiver corps taking a step back.
3. Tom Brady
Best Case: Gisele nods approvingly as Wes Welker catches the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLVII, capping off Brady’s second consecutive 5,000-yard campaign in style.
Worst Case: Years of nagging injuries begin to take their toll while a more crowded receiver corps doesn’t equal a better receiver corps. Brady shows his first signs of football mortality as talk of flipping Ryan Mallett for future considerations suddenly dies down.
4. Drew Brees
Best Case: Brees makes the hand-wringing over his lost coach and offseason program look silly as he becomes the first player in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards three times.
Worst Case: Brees isn’t lost without Sean Payton, but uninspired, passing for less than 4,400 yards for just the second time since arriving in New Orleans.
5. Matthew Stafford
Best Case: Commanding the pocket like Kurt Warner in his prime, Stafford leads the league in every meaningful passing category as he becomes the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl since Ben Roethlisberger.
Worst Case: Questions about Stafford’s durability come out of hibernation after an early-season shoulder injury nags him well into December. The Lions finish third in the AFC North.
6. Michael Vick
Best Case: A career marred by pretty much anything you can think of finally reaches its feel-good crescendo, as Vick holds his lunch down on the game-winning drive of Super Bowl XLVII. He throws for 4,000 yards while narrowly missing his second 1,000-yard campaign on the ground.
Worst Case: 2011 was just the warm up for a season where Vick’s 32-year-old body completely breaks down, leaving many Eagles fans to wonder why the future wasn’t addressed more aggressively than Nick Foles.
7. Tony Romo
Best Case: Amani Toomer’s contrarian ramblings prove prophetic, as Romo not only posts his typically elite numbers, but rallies the Cowboys in the waning minutes of the NFC Championship Game. Dallas reaches its first Super Bowl since the Clinton Administration.
Worst Case: The schadenfreude over Romo’s Week 1 dagger pick in New York crashes Twitter, and privately seals owner Jerry Jones’ opinion of his franchise quarterback: we need to do better.
8. Eli Manning
Best Case: Eli finds the 67 yards he was missing in 2011, throwing for over 5,000 as he leads the Giants to the NFC’s No. 1 seed in the defense of their second title in five seasons.
Worst Case: Manning regresses along with Victor Cruz, and though he still throws for over 4,000 yards and 30 scores, he reminds everybody why it was once a question whether he was elite or not.
9. Peyton Manning
Best Case: The best neck surgery can buy doesn’t tense up in the blustery Rocky Mountain wind, as Manning throws for his customary 4,300 yards and 30 scores in turning the Broncos into a Super Bowl contender.
Worst Case: Flattened by John Abraham on the Georgia Dome’s carpet in Week 2, Manning’s faith in his neck doesn’t get a chance to be shaken: his career is ended on the spot.
10. Matt Ryan
Best Case: Ryan finally starts to elevate the play of those around him, breaking through the 4,500-yard and 30-touchdown barriers as he’s the primary reason Atlanta snaps its four-game playoff skid.
Worst Case: It becomes plainly apparent that Ryan is little more than a glorified game-manager, forcing Atlanta to revive its abandoned “ground-and-pound” philosophy in the offseason.
11. Philip Rivers
Best Case: The real Rivers — the one that posted a 16:6 TD:INT ratio over his final eight games last season — shows up, guiding the Bolts back to the playoffs, and fantasy owners back to the promised land.
Worst Case: Silva was right — Rivers’ 2011 wasn’t an aberration, but the beginning of the end of his peak. Robert Meachem proves woefully inadequate as a Vincent Jackson replacement.
12. Ben Roethlisberger
Best Case: Roethlisberger is actually helped — not hurt — by the arrival of Todd Haley’s sophisticated attack, and throws for a career-high 4,500 yards thanks in large part to the league’s best trio of young wideouts.
Worst Case: A frustrated Mike Wallace misses the majority of camp, and Ben and Haley’s relationship quickly frays as a Steelers offense lacking a legitimate ground game stalls out early.
13. Robert Griffin III
Best Case: With better wheels and a stronger arm, RGIII proves to be a mini-Cam Newton as a rookie, putting the Redskins back in contention even quicker than Dan Snyder dreamed possible.
Worst Case: Shaken by a host of early crushing hits on his slight frame, RGIII gets the yips, and is more Jimmy Clausen than Cam.
14. Jay Cutler
Best Case: Invigorated by the arrival of Brandon Marshall and departure of Mike Martz, Cutler puts it all together in his fourth season in the Windy City, taking the Bears back to the NFC Championship Game while producing like a fantasy QB1 for the first time since 2008.
Worst Case: Marshall is as temperamental as ever while Mike Tice and Jeremy Bates prove unprepared to coordinate an NFL offense. Talk-show callers are bringing up Cutler’s 2011 NFC Title Game injury on a daily basis by mid-October.
15. Carson Palmer
Best Case: Saved from new OC Greg Knapp’s run-heavy system by budding superstar Denarius Moore, Palmer is allowed to let it fly more than anyone predicted during his age-32 campaign. He produces at a high-end QB2 level.
Worst Case: Knapp pounds the ground into the stone age, while Palmer’s arm strength and mobility limitations are more glaring than ever. GM Reggie McKenzie cries himself to sleep every night thinking about the trade Hue Jackson made in October 2011.
16. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Best Case: Fitzpatrick starts hot like he did in 2010 and ‘11, only this time he stays hot, finally mastering Chan Gailey’s aggressive and creative system as he flirts with QB1 status.
Worst Case: No Bills wideout steps up opposite Stevie Johnson, while both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller light it up on the ground. The Bills add quarterback competition in the offseason.