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Stu Rosenberg on Fantasy Football

To the members of fantasy nation who had visions of 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards dancing in their heads upon drafting fifth Beatle and future president Tom Brady, I offer my profound condolences.

Allow me also to offer up the names of a few signal callers who might not re-write history, but who might be able to soften the blow of losing the NFL's reigning MVP for all of the 2008 season.

And what better place to start than with Brady's understudy in New England ...

1. Matt Cassel, Patriots — Cassel, a seventh-round draft pick out of USC (where he backed up Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart) in 2005, had attempted just 39 passes in three NFL seasons before going 13 of 18 for 152 yards, including a 10-yard scoring strike to Randy Moss, after spelling an injured Brady midway through the first quarter in last Sunday's season-opening 17-10 victory over the Chiefs.

Cassel isn't Brady, but he does inherit the same talented supporting cast — namely receivers Moss and Wes Welker, tight end Benjamin Watson and running backs Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris — that Brady led within seconds of an undefeated season and fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy in seven years.

Cassel hasn't started a game of any kind since 1999, when he was a senior at Chatworth High School in the San Fernando Valley, but he knows the system, surely has learned a few tricks while serving under the master, and showed against Kansas City that the Patriots might not be as bad off as folks might think. Don't forget that Brady was once an anonymous backup himself.

2. Trent Edwards, Bills — The former Stanford standout was a favorite of the late Bill Walsh, and he's rapidly become a favorite of fans in Buffalo who hope they've seen the last of J.P. Losman.

Edwards showed his meddle as a rookie last season while completing 56.1 percent of his passes for 1,630 yards and seven TDs in 10 games, and he got his sophomore NFL season off to a rousing start by going 19 of 30 for 215 yards and a TD in the Bills' stunning 34-10 victory in Seattle over the Seahawks.

Smart and athletic, Edwards is surrounded by talent at receiver (Lee Evans) and running back (Marshawn Lynch), and he's more than capable of delivering a 20-plus TD, 3,000-plus yard campaign for Buffalo.

3. Chad Pennington, Dolphins — Sure, the arm isn't what it used to be, but Pennington remains a more than serviceable NFL starting quarterback, as evidenced by his 26-for-43, 251-yard, 2-TD performance in Miami's season-opening 20-14 loss to the Jets.

With an improved running game and the emergence of receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and tight end Anthony Fasano among others as pass-catching threats, Pennington should be able to put up decent numbers on a weekly basis in Miami.

4. Matt Ryan, Falcons -- The former Boston College star's first professional pass was a 62-yard TD completion to Michael Jenkins and the highlight of a 9-for-13, 161-yard NFL debut in the Falcons' 34-21 victory over the Lions.

Having weapons like running back Michael Turner, who set Atlanta's single-game rushing record with 220 yards on 22 carries against Detroit, and veteran wideouts Jenkins and Roddy White at his disposal will help keep pressure off Ryan, who is a big-time sleeper, but one with big-time potential.

5. Kyle Orton, Bears — OK, we're reaching here. Heck, it took Orton three years to beat out Rex Grossman for Chicago's starting gig, but he didn't look half bad in going 13 of 21 for 150 yards in the Bears' 29-13 victory over the Colts. In fact, Orton looked downright comfortable and poised in the pocket.

Though Orton won't be asked to do much more than manage the offense, the former Purdue star can wing it. To that end, he does have a pair of sure-handed tight ends in Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen to whom he can throw to underneath coverages, a gamebreaker in Devin Hester with whom he can stretch defenses, and rookie Matt Forte appears to be everything Cedric Benson was supposed to be as a running back drafted high in the first round.

Orton could very easily, very quietly enjoy a nice little season and shouldn't be ruled out as an option, albeit one born out of desperation.

6. J.T. O'Sullivan, 49ers — Optimists view O'Sullivan as the star of the sequel to the feel-good story of 1999 that was Kurt Warner, while pessimists have already lumped him in with the Tim Rattays and Jim Druckenmillers of lost years past.

O'Sullivan's first outing as San Francisco's starter hardly made anyone forget Joe Montana, Steve Young or even Elvis Grbac, but his job is safe with Alex Smith no longer in the picture.

He knows the offense, he won't get crushed under the weight of expectations because there aren't any, and O'Sullivan does have folks around him in Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Isaac Bruce who can make him look good even when the rest of the free world knows better.

He's a George Costanza pick if ever there was one, but O'Sullivan could not only surprise, he could actually help.

We're No. 2 — Thanks to 138 yards and a career-best 3 TDs from Willie Parker, we scored the second-most points in Week 1 and enter Week 2 just eight points out of first. Shootouts between the Cowboys and Eagles and Steelers and Browns are this week's order.

Our Week 2 lineup — QB: Tony Romo (vs. Eagles); RB: Willie Parker (at Browns) and Earnest Graham (vs. Falcons); WR: Torry "The Whole Nine Yards" Holt (vs. Giants) and Chris Chambers (at Broncos); TE: Jason Witten (vs. Eagles); K: Nick Folk (vs. Eagles), D/ST: Steelers (at Browns).

Stu Rosenberg's fantasy sports column runs Fridays. He can be reached at srosenberg@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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