The second season starts Thursday, and the field received a major shakeup this week.
The last three spots were up for grabs, with Dallas, Philly, and New Orleans heavily favored to move on and leaving Chicago watching from home. The predictions would have left the field looking like this:
1. Arizona Cardinals vs. 8. Cincinnati Bengals
2. New England Patriots vs. 7. New Orleans Saints
3. San Diego Chargers vs. 6. Philadelphia Steel Men
4. Carolina Panthers vs. 5. Dallas Cowboys
Boy, did that not happen. Instead, Cincy put up a strong effort behind huge games from the recently MIA Alex Smith and Tyreek Hill to strengthen their record and push them up a few seeds. New Orleans survived an early scare to take down Atlanta. The Steel Men had to sweat until Monday, but used the six players on Monday Night Football to put down a strong challenge from the Washington R-Words.
The big stunner was Carolina upsetting Dallas, leaving the fourth highest scoring team in our league watching from home and wondering what might have been. This upset will not only have major implications for the playoffs, but for the overall Ultimate standings and the run for that sweet, sweet bonus cash. With the Cowboys on the sidelines, the Chicago Bears take their spot and slot in as the 8th seed and will face the juggernaut Cardinals.
With all of the week 13 action, here is the finished bracket:
1. Arizona Cardinals vs. 8. Chicago Bears
2. Carolina Panthers vs. 7. New Orleans Saints
3. New England Patriots vs. 6. Cincinnati Bengals
4. San Diego Chargers vs. 5. Philadelphia Steel Men
Thursday night’s matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints jumpstarts the playoffs for us, and I know we’ll all be watching with baited breath. Let’s congratulate and take a quick look at the teams still alive and their chances for taking the first place Ultimate points, the winner’s purse, and most importantly the title of Ultimate Fantasy Football Champion!
Top Seed & West Division Champion
Arizona Cardinals Jason Clausen
The busiest team this season looks like it’ll end up being the best. It’s no fluke either, as the Cards bring a diverse array of playmakers on both sides of the ball. The defensive line is the scariest in the league, headlined by Defensive MVP candidate Calais Campbell. The offensive is impressive as well, now sporting new acquisition Duke Johnson on top of a bevy of useful flex candidates such as Doug Martin, Bilal Powell, and the brothers Brown (John and Jaron). While Kirk Cousins has shown some holes in recent weeks, that slack has been more than made up by the emergences of Alvin Kamara, Robby Anderson, and the steadying presence of Travis Kelce.
TLDR: This team is good.
The only thing that hold them back is injuries. Martin and stud linebacker Telvin Smith are both dealing with concussions, and starter Deone Bucannon is already out with an ankle injury. Should Cousins get dinged up, Arizona would turn to his last healthy QB, Case Keenum, who is a few bad series away from getting benched for heir-apparent Teddy Bridgewater. There’s a route for a quick exit here, but the Cards get contributions from so many positions that such an outcome is very unlikely. They should be one of the last four alive.
No. 2 Seed & South Division Champion
Carolina Panthers Kyle K
The East Side Atlantic Cats (Editor’s note: No one calls them that) took the reins from a competitive South division and ended the season with the 2nd best record and one of the league’s most imposing offenses. Cam Newton may not look like the MVP he once was on the field, but the numbers don’t care and he is elite in our game thanks to his combo rushing and passing attack. Carolina made two of the biggest free agent moves of the offseason and in-season, nabbing Marshawn Lynch for a mint and getting Dion Lewis at what now looks to be a relative bargain. The Lynch acquisition looked dubious at first, but now that we’re in the playoffs and he’s finally clicking in Oakland, he looks like a bargain for what he’s bringing to the table. On top of that two headed monster at RB, the team brings two explosive Dolphins in Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills. Both can dominate a game single handedly, even with Cutler throwing them the ball.
The defense is similarly loaded with talent, and Carolina gets contributions up and down. Names like Von Miller and Marcus Peters stand out, but lesser valued players such as Lamarcus Joyner, Lorenzo Alexander, Brandon Marshall, and Michael Pierce are pitching in at a strong clip. This unit keeps Carolina’s floor high, ensuring they won’t fall to weaker teams if an offensive player or two goes missing. This strategy has served them well during the regular season, and should make them a tough out.
There are holes here however. While Jack Doyle at TE can bust out once in a while, he’s inconsistent at best and borderline unusable at worst. With just Denver’s Virgil Green to fall back on, Doyle needs to have run of effectiveness that he’s shown is possible, but maybe not altogether likely. Emmanuel Sanders has been injured for what seems like an eternity, and now seems to be struggling with disappearing when he is on the field.
Further, there is the volatility of the Dolphin and Patriot offenses to consider. While Stills and Landry seem to be getting theirs, it would not be surprising to find out that whoever is passing to them just forgets how to run an offense and the two WRs are left contributing very little. Dion Lewis has been very good recently, but the Pats are notoriously fickle when it comes to runners. Lewis could be left unused in favor of Rex Burkhead or James White or someone we’ve never even heard of, and there’d be no warning. It’s not likely, but it’s possible.
No. 3 Seed & East Division Champion
New England Patriots John Keniley
Currently projected to be the top scorer in the league, the Pats are no joke. They sport one of the leagues’ top scoring defenses and feature a quintet of superstars on offense in Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald, Stefon Diggs, and “king of 69” Rob Gronkowski. They have a unique and potent mix of aging stars and stud youngsters, and the key is that their players’ teams seem to know how best to use their assets. The Pats have consistently been tough to beat, but that doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable.
The most glaring weakness is the RB position, where the delayed suspension of Ezekiel Elliott leaves NE without a viable option until the young rusher returns. If Cameron Artis-Payne gives anything at all, it’ll be a welcome surprise. But the team’s starters at the other offensive positions are so good, it’s entirely possible that this team can overcome the loss of their star runner long enough to get him back in the game.
The most important X-factor is Stefon Diggs. Minnesota’s most talented wideout has dealt with soft-tissue injuries all season. If he’s healthy and clicking, he’s one of the best receivers in football and capable of winning a game on his own. If he’s hobbled in any way, the Pats may be looking at an early exit. They’ll also be without star TE Rob Gronkowski for Round 1, leaving Luke Wilson to man the starting spot. That could be a major blow to NE’s championship hopes.
No. 4 Seed
San Diego Chargers Darren Leung
When Philip Rivers overcame early season struggles and turned it on, he single handedly made the real life and fantasy Chargers much more dangerous. Rivers has been the driver of a ridiculously potent San Diego offense. Gordon and a finally healthy Keenan Allen have been unstoppable much of the season, and especially so over the last handful of weeks. Add in solid production from return man Tyler Lockett, Travis Benjamin, and the occasional breakouts of OJ Howard and Derrick Henry, and you have a devastatingly effective offensive unit.
Not to be outdone, San Diego runs out a contender defensive MVP in Melvin Ingram, who is scoring an unreasonable 15.38 ppg from the LB position. Micah Hyde, Eric Weddle, Michael Bennett and Justin Houston have been solid all season. Solomon Thomas, Michael Brockers, and Mark Barron have also enjoyed breakout campaigns. These two units make this team a real contender.
All that effusive praise aside, it’s one of those squads that I wouldn’t be surprised if they sort of all fell off the map at the same time. Ingram aside, would you really be super shocked for Philip Rivers to throw a temper tantrum and just kind of take the whole offensive unit with him? If Rivers has one of his big duds that he’s been known to have every so often, I don’t know that the rest of the unit can recover. It’s an argument veering on the nit picky, but we do have history of this kind of thing happening. These are the pitfalls to tying too much of your success on one real NFL unit. If one goes, you risk the rest following suit.
No. 5 Seed
Philadelphia Steel Men Pedro Nuno Canteiro
Guess who Philly’s best players are? The Steelers Steel Men are fearsome not because of their depth, but because of who sits atop their lineup. While they’re not quite “stars and scrubs”, they’re as close as we have to that strategy in the playoffs. Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, and non-Steeler Joey Bosa certainly cover up a lot of sins. This team’s success has been built on those cornerstones. If they don’t perform, Philly struggles. If they do, Philly is almost unbeatable.
The question of whether or not this roster can win when all the teams are good is certainly up for debate. Running out Dontrelle Inman, Keelan Cole, and Deshazor Everett in the postseason is certainly not ideal. If any of the Steelers struggle *Editor’s note: They play Baltimore in Round 1, this team will face a quick hook.
That said, it’s one of those teams I’m just not comfortable passing over. Their lack of depth is concerning, but I have a feeling that, like the real life team, their output will reflect much more than the sum of their parts.
No. 6 Seed & Midwest Division Champion
Cincinnati Bengals Sean Scampton
The once and former Bungles took advantage of a division a lot of studs and an early season run from QB Alex Smith to take a division title and sneak into the playoffs. They were assumed to be the lowest scoring team in the playoffs until Chicago’s upset, but shouldn’t necessarily be written off. Cincy has some real game changing talent, particularly with their top pair of WRs Tyreek Hill and AJ Green. Those two can go off at any point and generate a huge advantage. Of course, as has been the case at times, they can completely disappear and leave the rest of the team unable to make up the difference.
The squad features a talented if inconsistent defense led by Carlos Dunlap, Vontaze Burfict, Myles Jack, and Keanu Neal. Running back, which has been a black hole all season, has been partially shored up by the hit or miss Alex Collins, and rookie Adam Shaheen has finally been given enough playing time to justify some potential value.
Last week’s performances by Alex Smith and Tyreek Hill show just how dangerous can be. They are capable of putting up big numbers, but have been held back by injuries. It’ll take a truly hot run to overcome the top teams, but perhaps the once Bungles can surprise.
All that said, the Bengals are likely facing a quick end to their postseason, but it’s a team that is built well for the future with superstar Deshaun Watson and a bevy of talented youngsters just starting to reach their potential. Don’t expect them to compete for the title, but don’t be surprised if they steal one early.
No. 7 Seed
New Orleans Saints Ben Pearce
I wrote the Saints up in my last piece as being a surprise that they were in danger of missing the playoffs. It turns out that Dallas was the surprise team bounced, and that means the Saints have a shot at the title. Their roster features one of the steadier RBs this season in Carlos Hyde, a top QB in Drew Brees, and plenty of explosive tools on offense. Brandon Cooks, Cooper Cupp, and Kyle Rudolph have combined to produce at a high level, while Devin Funchess and Charles Clay have emerged as legitimate top options at their positions. This squad has overcome the loss of Julian Edelman and the lost season from top pick Mike Williams with aplomb.
The defense is even better stocked, getting production from surprising names that are taking advantage of their opportunities. No one would have picked this unit as a strength of a potential contender, but here we are touting the efforts of Christian Jones, Jahleel Addae, and the former corpses of Michael Johnson and Kenny Vaccaro. Getting production from unexpected sources is critical, and these guys are proving no fluke. If NO makes noise late, this will be the unit that drives them.
Those names also create some reasonable concern about this team’s ability to compete against the strongest teams. Will these surprise performers be able to keep it up when the games matter most? If the studs perform, it’s possible it won’t matter. New Orleans has a squad that may not be built for a deep run, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they get hot and go on a run.
No. 8 Seed
Chicago Bears Tony Cavezza
The last one to the party also happens to be the lowest scorer on the season. But don’t you dare look past them. Chicago’s squad holds upset potential. The season scoring don’t account for the injuries to critical pieces like QB Jameis Winston, WR Will Fuller, and WR Sterling Shepard. But now, as the playoffs kick off, Winston is back, Will Fuller could be on the field for Round 1, and Alfred Morris has taken over as lead tailback for Dallas in Zeke Elliott’s absence. And this is a squad that can run out a combo of Jordan Howard, Ameer Abdullah, and the always dangerous Tevin Coleman at RB. And don’t forget breakout darling Adam Thielen. Hell, even TE David Njoku is starting to come on late in his rookie season. The offense is for real.
The defense offers less splash, but solid producers like Kyle Fuller, Anthony Zettel, and Justin Simmons have kept the unit from lagging too far behind. Tre’Davious White will likely miss at least Round 1 after Rob Gronkowski attempted to behead him last week, but they have breakout DT DeForest Buckner to lean on. The problem here is that there just isn’t much depth, with Chris Jones, Chris McCain, and Elandon Roberts getting playing time. The core is too banged up to be scary, unfortunately. If Chicago falls in Round 1, it’ll likely be the defense that takes the blame.
The Bears may have snuck in, but they deserve to be here. They overcame early season struggles to take the last spot, and they’ll do everything they can to make Arizona wish it hadn’t grabbed the 1 seed.
No. 1 Arizona Cardinals defeat No. 8 Chicago Bears
No. 2 Carolina Panthers defeat No. 7 New Orleans Saints
No. 3 New England Patriots defeat No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals
No. 5 Philadelphia Steel Men defeat No. 4 San Diego Chargers
As excited as Chicago must be for making the postseason, they run into a buzzsaw in the form of the AZ Cards. The Bears are clicking now, so an upset is not out of the realm of possibility. But I think the Redbirds have enough to get to the next round. Same for New England, whose matchup with Cincinnati currently projects to be the closest. Too much has to go right for the Bengals to take down the mighty Pats.
The other matchups are more interesting. I’m calling San Diego and the no. 2 seed Panthers to fall in upsets. San Diego has a great collection of talent with a mix of expected producers and pleasant surprises, but I have a feeling that the real life Chargers struggle against the Washington R-words. If Chargers like Rivers, Gordon, Allen, and Ingram struggle, SD would need Tyler Lockett, OJ Howard, Derrick Henry, Mark Barron, and Michael Brockers to step up. That’s a good collection of talent, but their production has been spotty. If enough fail to produce, I can see Philly’s roster of game breakers to sneak past the SuperChagers.
I’ll again note that I highlighted NO as a surprise struggler this season. But their win record does not matchup with their point total, and this team can score. I think Drew Brees, Carlos Hyde, and Brandon Cooks have monster games this week. On the other side of the ball, I don’t see Cam Newton and Dion Lewis making their predicted scores, and I think Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, and Marshawn Lynch really struggle despite the matchups. Even production at defense will keep this close, but this is my big upset call.
No. 1 Arizona Cardinals defeat No. 5 Philadelphia Steel Men
No. 7 New Orleans Saints defeat No. 3 New England Patriots
And the Saints keep marching! Some of the analysis for the NO-CAR matchup applies here, with their offensive studs turning it on late (Carlos Hyde especially. That dude is running for a big ole’ contract). On the other hand, New England’s holes may not have been big enough to matter against the Bungles, but they’ll matter against a much stronger opponent.
Arizona overwhelms a depleted Philly squad which put the rest of its juice into the round 1 upset. Instead of running their Steelers out against a beat up Baltimore D, Roethlisberger and Co. must contend with a real life Pats squad that is getting healthy and playing much more solid defense than in the early season. Unless there’s a huge game coming from George Kittle or Joey Bosa, the Steel Men will fall to the class of the league.
2017 Real Deal Ultimate Football Championship:
No. 1 Arizona Cardinals defeat No. 7 New Orleans Saints
That’s right I’m going chalk! Arizona mortgaged its future for this season, and it’ll pay off with a ring. Arizona’s deep roster and ability to get production from every part of the lineup will overwhelm the Saints’ superstars. It’ll be closer than the Cards want, but they’ll walk away with a well-earned W and the 2017 title.
Ok all, enjoy the postseason slate of games and be sure to send good luck and good-natured ribs to the team of your choice. Don’t forget to get on my case when I get every one of my picks wrong. Have fun!
Playoffs time gents (and/or gals; I realize I don’t know much about some of you)! Let’s dig in!
This week, the last few spots for the second season are up for grabs. Injuries are beginning to stack up for many of us, so what happened during the regular season barely matters anymore. There have been a lot of surprises, so let’s sum up some of the surprisiest surprises and look ahead to who is in the race for the big money!
Surprise No. 1: New Orleans might miss the playoffs
This is nuts to me. Looking at that lineup coming into the season had me scared, with strong depth at critical positions such as RB, TE, WR, DE, and S. All they seemed to need was a healthy season out of ageless wonder Drew Brees and for one of their high draft picks at WR to hit, a box which Cooper Kupp has ably checked.
But as of right now, NO needs to win against Atlanta in order to secure a spot. The Falcons haven’t exactly been a monster this season, but they get Devonta Freeman and Jay Cutler back this week, Julio Jones is looking like Julio Jones again, and, despite a rough sophomore campaign, Vic Beasley could explode for multiple sacks against a potentially overrated Vikings O-line.
It’s not likely that the Dirty Birds win this week, but New Orleans’ roster is so strong that they shouldn’t be in this position. There is no reason to think that the Saints could get hot and run right through to the championship. Teams heading to the postseason will be watching this matchup intently and crossing their fingers for an upset.
Surprise No. 2: Alex Smith is both MVP and LVP
This one hurts me particularly. Alex Smith has somehow gone from the top passer in our game to a total and complete liability that has pundits widely advising the Chiefs to bench Smith in favor of their shiny new toy, Patrick Mahomes. After the disastrous injury to hot new franchise QB Deshaun Watson (then the top scoring QB for the season), Cincinnati consoled themselves by remembering that no. 3 scoring QB Alex Smith was still there. What happened from there is mind-boggling and nearly completely derailed a playoff run for the Bengals.
Smith had been entirely unlike himself early on, which is to say amazing! He was throwing deep, involving a group of athletic freaks like Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt, and providing some of his trademarked scrambling. It was like the potential that made him the 1st overall pick had finally all come together. Then, suddenly it just stopped. If you blinked, you’d realized that the Chiefs are in the middle of a 5 game losing streak. And Smith is a big reason.
In terms of fantasy, this has been brutal for a Bengals team that probably (definitely) was feeling pretty good about itself. Smith was a major reason they opened the season on a tear. But with Watson out and the glaring lack of depth and performance at RB, TE, and DE, it’s not likely that Cincy is primed for a long postseason run. Smith may have gotten them the division title and a playoff berth, but he’ll likely be the prime reason for a quick exit.
Surprise No. 3: New York Jets have the league’s No. 1 ranked offense
No joke. Look at the stats. In our game’s scoring, the overall leader in offensive scoring is the J-E-T-S.
Let’s be clear, there was certainly potential here leading into the season. Carson Wentz showed a little bit last season, Evan Engram and Hunter Henry brings big ceilings at TE, and Davante Adams and Danny Amendola play with Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. But NOBODY thought Wentz would go full Roethlisberger and jump to MVP candidate in year 2. Engram, despite recent struggles, has been a target magnet, and Adams has excelled even in the absence of his all-pro QB.
The biggest surprise, of course, was the reemergence of Adrian Peterson in Arizona. Combine that with a savvy pickup of Buck Allen and other pleasant surprises like Austin Hooper, James White, and Brandon Lafell, and apparently that is the recipe for the league’s best offensive production.
A below average defense may be the Greens’ undoing, but they must be thrilled with the ascension of their franchise QB. A core of Wentz, Adams, Henry, and Engram is a hell of a way to go into next season as they build towards real contention.
Ok, so there were way more shockers this season like huge injuries, big breakouts, and massive disappointments that we’ll highlight at year end, but let’s give out some arbitrary and completely meaningless awards!
The Toronto Bills Award for Most Wheeling and Dealing
Ok, so I’m not listing all the assets that changed hands because mah gawd, but here’s some highlights:
Coming in: Kirk Cousins, Carson Palmer, Duke Johnson Jr.
Going away: Bryce Petty, Jamaal Charles, like all of their draft picks for the next two years.
Zona is going for it this season. It might pay off, too. They currently have scored the most combined points so far and show no signs of slowing down. It’s tough to be critical because how could you have possibly predicted that Carson Palmer was going to go down for the season almost immediately after the Cards acquired him. Giving up two 1s, two 3s, a 5, a 7, and a QB project in Petty total to pickup a starting QB will hurt next year. But if they come home with gold, I’m sure he won’t feel so bad about the loss.
The “Wait, What?” Award for Most Confusing Thing
So, this is weird. When I was researching this, I noticed that Denver is the lowest scoring team in the league at 1,754. Ok, that’s surprising in and of itself with that roster, but sure. Stuff happens, I didn’t go through all of the weeks so I’m sure I’m missing context, but yeah it’s been a tough season.
Then I noticed that Denver has had 2,705 scored against them. That is a point differential of -951. The only other team that comes close to that is Green Bay, and they are 4-10-1. Denver’s record is 6-9.
How in the world did they win 6 games? I went back and looked and I’m just surprised. I don’t have any analysis here. That just made me stop and wonder what the heck happened there.
The Not My MVP but Damned if That Ain’t Surprising
Jared Goff, QB (CLE)
Jared Goff’s mom didn’t think Goff would turn into a competent QB overnight. Not only that, he suddenly looks like he might be a good QB! Anyone that watched Hard Knocks or, I don’t know, any LA Rams games last season thought there was anything to Goff. Stamp “LEAF” on him and toss him into the Pacific, he’s done. Amazingly, that hasn’t been the case.
Goff has been downright impressive, currently ranked as the 12th highest scoring QB in our game. That number was much better, but recent surges by Philip Rivers, Josh McCown and Dak Prescott have pushed him down. He may not be a super duper star worthy of the 1st overall pick, but he went from having no value to being a young QB with potential and a pretty good supporting staff. The Browns have a real asset on their hands just a few months after it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to consider dumping the young man.
The Secret Defensive MVP
Adoree Jackson, CB (NE)
It’s a not so well kept secret that defensive players that bring special teams value are great assets. I called out Adoree Jackson as a great value in the 3rd round of my draft piece. *Editor’s note: Dammit dammit dammit dammit I wanted him so bad!!!!! The Titans drafted him to be a potential shutdown corner and to contribute as a return man. Even if he didn’t blossom as a corner early on, his speed was such that he was going to continue to see field time by virtue of the return game, ensuring consistent value.
Of course, all Jackson did was blossom into a true star corner and a good return man. He’s scored more than 15 points per game, unreal production for a CB in our game. Now, it’s true that corner production tends to be a little inconsistent, and Jackson himself only scored 4.5 points last week as Jacoby Brissett avoided throwing to him all game long. But since he sees the field on special teams, he’ll have more opportunities to make a contribution. I’m sure the juggernaut Pats will have no problem keeping him in the lineup during the postseason.
I’ll be back on a quick turnaround for a playoff preview because this is already like 1,500 words. But first, let’s do a quick look as to what the playoff bracket will probably look like.
(1) Seed and West Division Champion – Arizona Cardinals
(2) Seed and East Division Champion – New England Patriots
(3) Seed – San Diego Chargers
(4) Seed – Carolina Panthers
(5) Seed – Dallas Cowboys
(6) Seed – Philadelphia Steel Men
(7) Seed – New Orleans Saints
(8) Seed and Central Division Champion – Cincinnati Bengals
I expect Cincinnati to lose to Cleveland this week, but win the division by virtue of a tie breaker with Chicago. They’ll likely be served a quick exit, but the rest of the bracket is really interesting. You’ll notice that many of the teams are very evenly matched, meaning we’ll have a nice suspenseful playoff run. Literally any of the top seven seeds could run away with it.
This will seem lame, and I’ll go into it more detail later, but I expect Arizona to come out on top. They have the deepest and most diverse roster, and they should considering all of the moves they made this season. It might sound boring to go chalk and pick the top seed, but the team is largely healthy and has such explosive players that they’re tough to pick against, especially with a cupcake like Cincinnati in round 1.
I’ll hold the rest of my predictions for the next article, but I’m actually predicting a surprise for the final. I’m pumped for the postseason and I think we’ll all be watching intently to see how it all shakes out.
Thanks a bunch everyone! As always, if you have criticism, keep it to yourself 😉.
We’re a month and a half in and things have been really exciting, and I got a column done on time! Let’s dive right in.
Nobody got a hotter start to the season than the Kings, and that’s mostly because nobody got a hotter start than DeMarcus Cousins. The guy has been putting together an absolute beast of a season so far – easily his best yet and the third best in the league behind only James Harden and LeBron James. This team is good…but is it really 21-1 good? Maybe not. Despite owning the best record in the league and playing in a weak Pacific division, the Kings have only scored the sixth most points in the league. They’re a lot closer in terms of points to teams like the Knicks, Bulls and Raptors than they are to the top three teams in scoring so far: the Pelicans, Mavs and Hornets. Sacramento is easily a top team as long as Boogie keeps producing, and Bradley Beal taking yet another big step forward is great news. As with many of the teams we’re used to calling elite in this league, though, depth might be a concern. After Beal, the talent drops off considerably. Barton, Wade, Gay and Mike James are all contributing at decent clips, but I wouldn’t call any of their situations stable. McBuckets has improved as a basketball player, but it’s not translating to fantasy. And Chriss has actually regressed. It will be difficult for the Kings to improve through trade using only their bench assets, but this team could get a lot better in a hurry if they’re willing to part with one of their three likely lottery picks over the next two years. The Kings could go in a lot of different directions, but with Cousins and Beal having their best seasons yet, they should roll the dice and see how far they can go.
My word, has this team looked good. The Blazers would still have a perfect record if it weren’t for a roster violation a few weeks ago. And that’s with DeAndre Jordan and Jimmy Butler taking a step back. Damian Lillard is having an MVP type season, but the real reason for this team’s success is its depth. With six players averaging 30 or more points a game, Portland is one of our league’s deepest squads. If Ibaka starts putting up better numbers, this team looks absolutely deadly. Losing Beverley for the season is a real bummer, but the Blazers had six players better than him anyway, so it’s not a colossal loss. Lillard, DJ and Butler remain the core here, but Portland owes much of its success to a breakout season from Tim Hardaway Jr., he of the much-maligned contract. In New York, THJ has basically become an offense unto himself, essentially by default. With the Knicks playing better than expected, I don’t anticipate Hardaway slowing down at all this year. JJ Redick is having his best season yet. Thad Young has come back to life yet again. The Blazers do have some disappointing pieces on the bench – namely the Cavs duo of Jae Crowder and JR Smith – but this team is still looking like one of the very best.
I have to admit it: I was dead wrong about this team. Granted, I made my predictions about them before the Dwight Howard trade, but still, I was wrong. At almost 33 years old, LeBron James is somehow having his best season ever. And that really is saying something. Dwight has been doing Dwight things. He continues to be much maligned, and he’s not Superman anymore, but the dude is just flat out useful in fantasy. And of course Porzingis has unleashed full unicorn mode this season. With Melo out, Kristaps has taken a monumental step forward in his development and is a sure top-15 player in the league. There is still room for improvement here, as the Knicks are barely above division rivals Toronto and sub-.500 Brooklyn in the scoring standings, but New York has to be pleased with the production it’s gotten from guys like Ulis, Chalmers and Moore. Toronto has its first ever challenger for the Atlantic crown, and it’ll likely be a two-man race over the course of the rest of the season.
Is it possible to have a quiet 20-2 start? If it is, Dallas has done it. With injuries to the Pelicans and Spurs, the Mavs have stormed out to grab this division by the throat in the early goings. After starting the summer off with a bang by (relatively easily) acquiring early MVP frontrunner James Harden, Dallas continued improving by adding players who have had breakout seasons, like Lee, Collison and especially Victor Oladipo, who has become a borderline elite fantasy option. The Mavs finished with the sixth-worst record last year and are now the second-best team in the league in terms of scoring. Talk about a transformation. This has been a masterful turnaround, especially considering how quickly it was done, and it’s leaving teams like New Orleans and San Antonio pretty nervous – especially with their mounting injuries. This team is a title contender.
Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), a lot of teams. This is really the first year where there are a lot of truly bad teams. In the past, there were always three or four bottom feeders, but so far there are five teams who have yet to hit the 5-win mark and three more who are just above that mark. As the years progress, the teams are slowly migrating into three categories: the elite, the .500 teams and the teams all the way at the bottom. Usually it’s pretty rare in this league for a lot of teams to go around .500, but so far we’ve got 10 teams hovering around that mark. It seems to be the natural order of things. The good teams have become a lot better and there are several bona fide super teams this season. The bad teams have gotten worse. So the rest of us really have no other course of action than to suck up the wins from the teams on decline, but still get crushed by the giants of the league. It’s a race to the bottom for anywhere from six to eight teams for one of those sweet high lottery picks. In looking at next year’s draft class, it kind of seems like there’s a clear top five of elite prospects and the talent kind of really falls off after that. My feeling is things are going to get really ugly for some of these teams soon. Godspeed.
WHO’S MAKIN’ MOVES
After auctioning off almost everyone from last year’s record-setting 71-win team for picks, the Hawks just as quickly turned it right back around and began selling off the picks (and injured players) to fill out the roster in an attempt to come back from a 1-10 start. So far it’s worked. They’ve gone 8-3 since. But did they wait too long? And did they get enough value back? The Hawks effectively turned Oladipo, Millsap, Ariza, Reggie Jackson, Tyler Johnson, Lou Williams, Rondo, Redick and Dwight into Thon Maker, Evan Fournier, Draymond Green, Robin Lopez, Derrick Favors, DJ Augustin and KCP – and only two first round picks remain. Nevertheless, it was a bold and admirable decision by Atlanta to defy the tradition of tanking and put up a good fight. The Hawks are now the likeliest candidate to grab one of the East’s last two playoff spots, but they went through a lot of changes to get here. Let’s see how the strategy pans out.
THE EAST’S MIDDLE OF THE PACK
In the Eastern Conference, there are six clear playoff teams: Indiana, Charlotte, Chicago, New York, Toronto and Milwaukee. There are another seven that will be fighting for those last two playoff spots: Atlanta, Miami, Washington, Detroit, Brooklyn, Orlando and Philadelphia. That’s right. We’re a month and a half into the season and only two teams in the East are definitely out of the playoff picture: Boston and Cleveland. I don’t think we’ve ever had that happen before. The playoff picture, especially in the East, has always been pretty open and shut pretty much right out of the gate. But this season? Intrigue! There’s so much to dissect here. So now I’ll break off of this segment and rank these seven teams by their likeliness to make the playoffs.
After their in-season quick fix turnaround, the Hawks clearly have the best roster of these teams. No one else in this conversation can really match the output Atlanta will be getting from guys like Green, Fournier and KCP for the rest of the season as presently constructed. I wouldn’t say any team is a lock to make the postseason, but Atlanta is closest.
The Heat should definitely have been a sure playoff team, but they’ve been seriously let down by some new acquisitions like Tyler Johnson, Cody Zeller and the always injured Danilo Gallinari. Mainstays like Valanciunas have been extremely disappointing, as well. I believe Miami still should make the postseason, but it’ll be hard to get there when the team is relying on Goran Dragic and Harrison Barnes to get it done.
I really think Washington would be a shoe-in if Wall was still around, but alas. This team still has so much young talent that is performing way above expectations, chiefly Sabonis and Kuzma. Jrue Holiday has returned to form this season and whether or not he sticks around could determine if the Wizards make the playoffs this year. With some not-yet-totally-developed prospects like Skal, Kennard and even Julius Randle still, along with four first round picks, the Wizards have options.
I would have ranked myself higher if I still had Fournier, but it’s not likely that I’m getting to the playoffs this year with Steven Adams as my best player. Fultz’s injury and Derrick Rose’s disappearing act have kind of sunk the ship, and it’s already too late for me to get a good pick in the summer. Oh well. At least Ingram is looking good. And hey! Gordon Hayward next year!
This team has become a major sleeper and could skyrocket with some more moves. LaMarcus Aldridge has somehow miraculously become a great player again. Will he keep it up when Kawhi comes back? I dunno. But it’s encouraging. Melo might be having his last useful season in fantasy, but he’s still good for now. CP3 is doing the thing where he refuses to try and score, but he’s still great and, from a non-scoring perspective, is having one of the best pure point guard seasons of all time. Seriously, that assist-turnover ratio is insane. But after those three the production falls off a cliff. Brogdon and Crabbe have been decent, but almost everyone else on the roster is scoring in the teens or worse. Philly can get there, but as of now, they’re on the outside looking in.
I don’t think Detroit can quite get there, but if they do, it’ll be because of Lou Williams, and yes, I know that is a truly crazy thing to say. But when other guys are injured like they are on the Clippers, Lou goes nuts. Look at his scoring over the past week or so. This is an official advertisement on behalf of the Pistons to trade Lou for some really nice prize. Detroit has a lot of things laying in wait, chief among them Jahlil Okafor. We’ve all heard the song a million times. He’s really good at a couple of things but can’t get any time with Embiid there and he’d average 20 and 10 on the Bulls and bla bla. The good news for Detroit is that most of their players – Hield, the Portland power forwards, Okafor, Nance, Hernangomez – are looking at an upward trajectory. Not this year, but maybe next year.
The Magic seem to be a bit mired in mediocrity, and there is no depth to speak of. Tyreke Evans is having a great season and Reggie Jackson is back-ish…but that’s pretty much it. Ross, Monroe, Ariza…those guys are all fine, but they’re probably never going to give you more than they’re doing right now. Where does Orlando go from here? They could sell off Evans and Jackson, or they could see what’s out there for Bender if they want to make a playoff run. Could go either way.
And that’s it for this month! Let me know what you think about how this season is going so far.
For a week that had a lot of big games, week 8 sure ended up chalk. There was not a single game in week 8 where a team with a worse record beat a team with a better record. Not one. Not a single upset. The folks fighting upwards broadly missed chances to get back into contention, while the dominant simply reasserted themselves for yet one more week. While it does lead to a dearth of drama, it also helps to crystallize a rapidly forming playoff picture. To the games!
Game of the Week: Detroit Lions 236, Pittsburgh Steelers 210
While an argument can be made for Arizona’s bubble victory over Green Bay as more relevant to the playoffs or Kansas City’s Monday night comeback over Denver as more dramatic, the Lions and Steelers game was the highest scoring game of the week played by two division champions, and featured just enough drama and playoff implications to give it the nod.
After a series of wins that didn’t quite live up to their exacting standards, the Lions will take this one, exploding out of the gate with 27 from Matthew Stafford and Tyler Lockett, 24 from Marvin Jones, and over 100 points from the defense yet again. Much more exciting for Detroit is that who did the scoring. On a day when Tyreek Hill and Brandin Cooks combined for only 13.5 points, and they got a goose egg from TE Charles Clay, it was secondary offensive players who carried the Lions, including a nice 18 point game from ascendant Colts RB Marlon Mack. Cooks and Hill will get theirs. If guys like Mack and Lockett can keep it up, look out.
For Pittsburgh, it was a better effort but still a frustrating defeat. Juju “Tour de France” Smith-Schuster explored for 44 – only to see Jarvis Landry and Le’Veon bell fall off their MVP paces and the bottom of the offensive lineup continue to not perform. You won’t ever argue with 210 points, but Pittsburgh would have loved a win here and fall back to within a game of the “we might not be great, but we never ever go away” Bengals.
One interesting note – no defender on either side scored over 20 points, but both defenses passed the century mark. I think that might be a first!
Teams Rising: Tough to find a lot of risers and fallers in a week where all the favorites won and the underdogs did not, but when have we at the Real Deal Report ever shied away from a challenge?
Cincinnati Bengals: They down. They up. They back. They forth. Come see the amazing “what the hell are they doing”? crazy unpredictable Cincinnati Bengals! After blowing multiple chances to pass Pittsburgh and laying a relative egg during their rivalry game with the Steelers, the Bengals respond not by folding, but by crushing Indianapolis 178-84. The offense continued its putrid stench for Cincinnati with only 41 points, but the defense played nicely, putting in 114 points and led by an 18 point night from Geno Atkins. Coupled with Pittsburgh’s loss, the Bengals somehow find themselves only a half game back yet again, and with another (gulp) opportunity in week 9.
Denver Broncos: Denver has had a rough year. Marshawn Lynch hasn’t really worked out as hoped. Paxton Lynch and Tom Savage both looked like potential starting QBs and then neither were. Dion Lewis has been eclipsed in New England by Mike Gillislee, and the Denver host franchise hasn’t really put up the points. Even McManus has missed field goals. And yet, Denver has been surprisingly competitive, only 43 points back of the Raders for the season. They showed it this weekend. Explosive performances from Jack Doyle (36), DeAndre Washington (22), and Adrian Phillips (22) pushed the Broncos well over 200 points. There are two types of teams with rough records in this league – the “gimme games” who are not competitive at all, and the talented teams that have a great chance to win every week. Denver is in the second category – and are a quarterback and a couple pieces away from being playoff ready.
Buffalo Bills: It’s hard to rise when you are 11-0 and tops in the league. There’s no where to rise from when you are already at the top. But in a week where the favorites all won, it only seems appropriate to honor just how dominant the Bills have been and just how easy they have made it look in cruising to an 11-0 record and clinching the AFC East title in week 11.
The Bills have scored over 200 points every single week except for week 1. With the exception of two games that were within 15 points (one against the Jets and one against Cincy), Buffalo has won every single game on their schedule by 50 or more points, and most by over 75. They lead RDFL with 2634 fantasy points (almost 200 more than second place Detroit), and have both a top 4 offense and top 4 defense.
It’s not easy to dominate as smoothly and easily as the Bills have done this year. It’s unprecedented in our league. Can they go undefeated? Their remaining schedule includes the LA Chargers (should be an easy win), New England (same), those pesky NY Jets, the New Orleans Saints (how ironic would it be if NO knocked them out of the ranks of the unbeaten?) and a week 12 showdown with Alex Smith and the Chiefs.
My prediction: Buffalo goes undefeated.
Honorable Mentions: The NFC South not named Tampa Bay, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Stop me if you’ve heard this theme before. Tampa Bay loses a game they really needed while the entire rest of the NFC South wins. This isn’t the first time this year, and it’s backbreaking. The quarterbackless Bucs offense, hampered by bye weeks, shut down entirely for a 25 point output that did not feature a single double digit performance as the Bucs were smashed by divisional rival Carolina 190-149. The defense, led by Halloween sensation Jadeveon Clowney (24), put up a game fight, but it wasn’t enough. Tampa now finds itself at 5-6, 4 out in the division and two back of both Atlanta and New Orleans for the wild card. They aren’t quite eliminated. But it’s close. Might be time to pack it up again in Florida.
Houston Texans: There is just no way the Texans should be 2-8-1. I still don’t understand it. That team has so much talent. So many good players. I thought they would be Buffalo’s chief rival for the AFC championship. And quite frankly, if I were picking today, I think I might still go with them. That team just looks so good. And yet, somehow, they can’t quite win games. The latest in the disappointing chapter is a 190-172 loss to Seattle where Jameis Winston regressed to 4 points, no single player scored more than 17, and the defense put in 67 total. Blech. Seattle wasn’t much better, but got a combined 110 points from the combination of Russell Wilson, Ezekiel “Is he suspended or not” Elliott, and Travis Kelce. Seattle bounces back from a brutal stat correction loss to the Giants, while Houston continues to wonder what the hell is going on.
Tennessee Titans: Just two short weeks ago, Tennessee was tied with Jacksonville atop the AFC South with a scintillating 7-2 record and a couple of convincing victories. As the old reliable good team in the division, it seemed quite likely that they would outrace Jacksonville for the South and potentially contend for a first round bye. Two weeks later, and the Titans would simply take a playoff berth. It wasn’t so much that they lost to the Giants in week 8 (everybody loses to the Giants). Instead it was how they lost. Under 50 points on offense with Case Keenum as the only double digit scorer. 85 points for the defense which would have been much lower if Jimmy Smith hadn’t taken advantage of the hapless Dolphins for a 50 yard pick six in London. Two straight weeks under 140 points. And only a 1 game cushion now over Oakland and Cincinnati in the Wild Card race. Tennessee can get things back on track. But they are closer to missing the playoffs than they are to a division title at this point.
Dishonorable Mentions: Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns
Week 9 Games of the Week: So fair warning – this week’s games kind of suck in RDFL. Good weekend to check out and take advantage of some family time, because there ain’t much to see in week 9’s slate.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers: Probably the best game of the week, this one pits a pair of rivals against each other. Carolina has a two game lead over both the Falcons and Panthers at this point. With a win this week, that lead would remain a minimum of two over New Orleans and three over Atlanta with only four to go. Put another way, Carolina can come close to clinching this week. A win by Atlanta, however, puts this division right back in reach. Kelvin Benjamin in Buffalo, Jay Ajayi in Philly and Willie Snead back from the dead provide some interesting question marks for key playmakers that will be worth watching also.
Tennessee Titans vs. Baltimore Ravens: As mentioned, Tennessee is trending the wrong direction. Baltimore, while just about dead, is only two games out of the wild card. A win by Baltimore would put them back at 6-6 and within a game of the wild card. The Vikings bye is going to leave Tennessee without a quarterback for this week, but Baltimore will be starting a concussed and ineffective Flacco in addition to other bye week challenges. This should be a slog fest – and one I predict to see Tennessee emerge from.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: And what an obvious set up for the pattern to repeat itself. The Bengals have a chance to take over first place yet again from the Steelers – and failing that, to grab hold of a wild car spot in the AFC. To do so, they have to beat the Jaguars, who suddenly have a pair of QBs. It’s going to be tough. Jacksonsville is at full strength, playing great, and in a position to place the AFC South on lockdown. In the meantime, the Steelers have a winnable game with New England. If the pattern holds, the lead will be extended again.
New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Desperation time for Tampa, contention time for New Orleans. This is a big game for the wild card, and possibly a big game for the divisional race. Thank goodness for the wild and wacky NFC South to provide big games on a week with a major dearth of them. New Orleans will have to adjust to a third string role for Wendell Smallwood, while the Bucs have to get that offense on track and face serious questions about famous Jameis. I hate to say it, but I’m guessing this officially makes the NFC South a three team league.
The rich got richer, the poor got poorer, pecking orders got established, and a few times saw their world lurch in a not so happy direction in week #7. We’re back at the Real Deal Report to break it all down.
Game of the Week: Seattle Seahawks 211 over New York Giants 208
Was there ever a question? The obvious game of the week going into the week lived up to its billing, with the two NFC powerhouses going back and forth with each other all weekend long. For the Giants, the newly acquired Mike Evans dropped a cool 27 to introduce himself to his new franchise, Chris Boswell poured in 19 points from the kicker spot, and only an Aarti Burns zero kept the Giants from going over 100 points on defense. It was much simpler on the Seattle side, where Ezekiel Elliott somehow yet again delayed his suspension and used the opportunity to go off to the tune of 219 all purpose yards and three touchdowns (47 fantasy points). The ironic part about this game? Eddie Jackson, a throw-in CB in the deal that brought Evans to the Giants scored two defensive touchdowns, good for 33 fantasy points. This is in turn 6 more than Mike Evans, and enough to win the game. While I’m certain we’re all convinced that Magic Mike is going to put up crazy points for years to come, the Giants can say they lost his first game as a direct result of the trade.
What are the ramifications? Well, New York has now lost to both Detroit and Seattle, leaving the Lions and Hawks in the clear drivers seats for first round byes, assuming Seattle can hold off a tough Houston squad that always seems to play well against division leaders.
Jacksonville Jaguars: I’m not entirely sure WHERE to put the Jaguars on this list. On one hand, the Jaguars just keep on hunting. In a brutal game where both starting quarterbacks (Cutler and Palmer) sustained potentially career ending injuries, Jacksonville gutted out a gritty 192-186 win over the scuffling yet competitive Colts and their 56 million dollar man. As you might expect with a game that levels both starting QBs, it was a defensive struggle, with the teams combining for 249 defensive points. Game ball goes to safety Kevin Byard, who intercepted 3 passes, provided 26 points, and was almost certainly the difference in the game. Coupled with a Titans loss, the Jags go to 8-2 and move into sole possession of first place in the South – and get a chance to add to their lead in week 8 against the Rams while the Titans get an angry Giants team (now with a Mike Evans!).
On the other hand, Jacksonville no longer has a quarter back, as Jimmy “GaroMarco” Garoppolo and some guy named Kyle Sloter are the only other QBs on the roster. Despite an 8-2 record, a top 3 point total in the AFC, and first place in the division, it’s a hard life without a quarterback. We’ll see if the Jags can survive – they have everything else this year.
Pittsburgh Steelers: And, after all that, same as it ever was in the AFC North. The Steelers recover from a tough week 6 loss to smash the Bengals by 40 in their week 8 showdown behind the now expected mighty games from Le’Veon Bell and Jarvis Landry. Just as hopeful for the yellow and black, the bottom four on their offense contributed a combined 35 points, which is the sort of production they need to see going forward. DeForest Buckner scored 22 to pace an underwhelming defensive performance. The Steelers are now, somehow, sitting at 6-3-1, a game and a half up on Cincy and with the tiebreaker. Same as it ever was.
Minnesota Vikings: Every week, the Vikings get mightier. One week after going off for 213 in a win over Green Bay, the Vikings decided they liked it so much that they up and did it again, this time for 233 (good for second highest point total of the week) and obliterated the reeling Baltimore Ravens by almost 100. Dak was his usual self with 29, but as always, it was that absurd Minnesota defense that scored 129 points despite a zero from Paul Pos (I still can’t spell his last name) lusjalkdsyaisuasdny. Here’s the thing. From dead and buried at 1-6, the Vikings have now won three straight to move to 4-6 – only two games out of the wild card and with 6 to go. It’s a long shot, but the Southern monsters do have this habit of beating each other up, and if the defense keeps putting up these kind of point totals… a run is possible.
Honorable Mentions: Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It is very hard to be in the best division in RDFL. It’s even harder when everybody else in that division wins and you lose. It’s yet harder when that loss drops you into last place and out of the wild card. And it’s hardest when you score only 47 points in a lackluster loss to a beatable Cardinals team. Josh McCown did his part with 24 fantasy points, and so did Von Miller and LaVonte David, who combined for 17 tackles, 2 sacks, and a pair of fumbles. But just about nobody else did theirs. The Bucs get Carolina this week, and so need to shake this one off in a hurry. Only one game out of the wildcard, they can’t afford another less.
Tennessee Titans: Similar story for Tennessee, who did not hold up their rivalry bargain with the Jaguars. While Jacksonville was gutting out a win with an injured quarterback, the Titans were riding Case Keenum (5 points) to a positively early-season Colts-esque 29 point offensive day. The offense only added 67, and I kid you not, the leading scorer for Tennessee was kicker Ryan Succop, with 14. Smoked by hapless Cleveland (now with an Eddie Jackson!), Tennessee now gets a brutal game against the Giants, and faces the very real possibility of being two games back in the division with five games to go.
Cincinnati Bengals: Yet another opportunity squandered for the Bengals, who seem to like big games about the same amount as Donald Trump likes telling the truth, Bernie Sanders supporters like paying for things, and politicians everywhere like being classy, upstanding individuals without ulterior motives. (See what I did there, by the way? I offended both Trump and Bernie, and so nobody can be mad at me for partisanship! Bwahaha). Also, the common thread is that they don’t. At all. With a chance to yet again seize control of the division, Cincy mailed in a 150 point duffel bag of used Kleenex and lost by 40. Sticking with this week’s theme, it was bad offense (under 50 total points) that did in the Bengals, and, just like with Tennessee, their kicker was very nearly the leading scorer (Harrison Butker, whose name I will eventually make fun of, got 14 – while Derrick Kindred barely eeked him out with 14.5). Cincy is still in the race, but they need to figure it out very, very quickly as time (and opportunities) are beginning to run out.
Dishonorable Mentions: Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, LA Rams
Week 8 Games of the Week: This is a week with quite a few excellent games to choose from, many of which will have bearings on key playoff races.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Green Bay Packers: The Cardinals just won’t say die. Coming off middling victories over Philadelphia and Tampa Bay in consecutive elimination games, the Cards have made up exactly zero ground on the high-flying Seahawks, but find themselves only a game out of the wild card race. Green Bay is only two out, despite a very disappointing season. Yet again, the winner shall have hope. What Arizona will not have is a full contingent of players, with no less than 14 players on bye this week. Can they gut out yet another W?
Buffalo Bills vs. Oakland Raiders: The next unfortunate victim to try and put a crimp in Buffalo’s perfect season is the Oakland Raiders. And Buffalo is NOT what Oakland needs. At 6-4, the Raiders are clinging precariously to the last AFC playoff spot and seeking to stave off challenges from the Jets and Bengals, both sitting at 5-5. The Raiders will have to get it down without their quarterback as well, with the Packers on bye. I don’t love their chances
New York Jets vs. Atlanta Falcons: The New York Jets are playing a game with real playoff indications in week #8! This is exciting stuff, and should send hope to teams like Washington, Dallas, Miami and San Francisco. It can happen! Unfortunately for the Jets, they get a 6-4 Falcons team with a lot to play for, and who just dropped 228 for the third highest point total of week #7. The saving grace? Bye weeks again. The Falcons lose John Brown, TE Evan Engram, and QB Jared Goff for week 8, while the Jets are all aboard the Wentz Wagon and ready to ride it to a winning record.
Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: After a tumultous first ten games, Carolina finds itself atop the NFC South at 8-2, with a little distance over 6-4 New Orleans and Atlanta, and by only two games over the 5-5 Buccaneers. A win by Carolina would help to put a little distance between them and missing the playoffs, while a Tampa Bay win throws this division back into a wide open jumble that all four teams can win. Not as much bye week turbulence in this one, which means advantage Carolina – the Panthers are outscoring the Bucs by an average of 30 points per game so far this year.
Detroit Lions vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Another epic class between divisional leaders, as the Steelers face off against the Lions. Having reasserted their hold on the AFC North, Pittsburgh now faces one of the highest scoring teams in RDFL while the Bengals get Indy. It’s very possible that next week could see another half game margin. Detroit, meanwhile, seeks to put a little distance between themselves and the Giants for that first round bye. Despite both team’s status, Detroit has a pretty clear edge, having outscored Pittsburgh 2200-1900 through the first ten weeks of the year.
Houston Texans vs. Seattle Seahawks: Yes, Houston is 2-7-1. No I have NO IDEA how that is possible. A couple of illegal lineups early in the year hurt their record, and a couple of inexplicably rough performances buried them in a very deep hole. But man has this team gotten up for big games. In week 5, they tied Kansas City 196 even, giving the Chiefs their only record blemish. In week 7, they dropped 228 points in a shellacking of Cleveland. Last week, they looked for all the world like they were going to knock off the mighty Lions before Derek Barnett took the game back with a pair of second half sacks on Monday Night Football and gave the Lions the lead 208-196. Houston is 2-7-1, yes. But this team is WAY better than that record indicates, and this has ALL the indicators of a trap game for the Seahawks, coming off an emotional win over New York. I’m picking Houston for the upset here.
New York Giants vs. Tennessee Titans: Speaking of them thar G-Men, this angry team comes home to face the Tennessee Titans after only their second loss of the year. New York doesn’t really need this game all that badly. They face no challenges within the division, as the Eagles remain a full three games behind and New York has the tiebreaker. But Tennessee needs it in the worst way as they seek to avoid falling two games back of Jacksonville in the AFC South. They are not all that likely to get it, with their entire special teams on bye. The Titans need a herculean effort to get back on track in this one.
Week 6 will go down in history as the week where nothing all that exciting happened. More likely, it will not go down in history because nothing all that exciting happened. There were two games within ten points of one another (Oakland won one of them!) and one had scores in the 130s and the other in the 160s. There was only one real playoff worthy upset, though a couple of others fell a little short. Only 2 times scored more than 221 points. It was a whole lot of meh. Broadly, week 6 continued a number of trends we’ve seen all year, and continued to set the stage for a series of vicious second half playoff battles.
Game of the Week: Philadelphia Eagles 221 over Carolina Panthers 205
This game was the exception. The hands down game of the week. Two strong efforts, a close game, and a stunning upset. Carolina was looking golden as the 7-1 division leader of the AFC South and Philly was reeling, having just lost a pseudo-elimination game to the Cardinals. This one should have been a forgone conclusion. It was not. Mark Ingram, freed from the shadow of Adrian Peterson, exploded for 33 points, Zach Ertz caught a pair of touchdowns, and some guy named Matt Judon picked up 14 total tackles and two sacks to bring the Eagles defense well over 100. It was enough to overcome an incredible 161 point defensive day from Carolina (9/11 defensive guys in double digits, 3 in the 20s) because Carolina’s offense went flatter than we’ve ever seen it before, totalling only 38 points and without a double digit scorer. Does this change much? Well, not for Philly. They are still too far behind and Matt Judon is not going to do that every week. For Carolina though? If this is an offensive trend rather than an outlier, that division is still really hard. The double stat correction victory in week 4 is looking more and more critical.
Teams Rising: Atlanta Falcons: It’s been a rough couple weeks in Atlanta, where the 4-1 Falcons had lost three straight to fall to 4-4 and into last place in the NFC South. A get well game with the hapless Dolphins was just what the doctor ordered. The Falcons spread it around nicely on offense, as every skill position player scored between 14-20 points. On defense, they picked off three passes, including the game ceiling pick six from A’Shawn Robinson in the wild Detroit-New Orleans game. It was an obliteration of 130 points over Miami, and earned the Falcons high points honors. I’m sure Atlanta would have rather held off their 251 point outburst for a more competitive game, but it still serves notice that the Falcons are an excellent team, a contender in the South, and can beat anyone on any given week.
Minnesota Vikings: For a long time this year, it seemed as if it would be the same as it ever was for the Vikings. Their strong young offense and strong young defense wasn’t coming through, and when they were coming through, it was resulting in close losses rather than wins. Suddenly, however, Minnesota has put together two consecutive 200 point games resulting in two consecutive victories over divisional opponents – first Chicago and now Green Bay. It was the defense that carried the day, with 5 turnovers, 3.5 sacks, and 47 total tackles. Jerick McKinnon is showing that he can play Dalvin Cook too, Taywan Taylor grabbed a deep touchdown, and Laquon Treadwell hit double digits in points. It’s not enough to save the season this year most likely, but the rebuild appears to be taking shape after all!
New York Jets: Speaking of another team exceeding expectations, the Jets were expected to be the laughing stock of the AFC East, and instead have been competitive every single week. They have lost only one game by more than 15 points all year (and that was a game in which the Jags went off for 256) and have moved into sole possession of second place by virtue of a 70 point thrashing off the Patriots. It was a hot and heavy rushing attack for the Jets, who combined for 62 points from Melvin Gordon and Chris Ivory and linked to 96 defensive points. The Jets still have holes on offense (outside of Wentz, Gordon, and Ivory, the other four guys scored a combined 15 points), and have no chance of catching Buffalo. But they have made something true of Gang Green for the first time in RDFL history – the Jets are no pushover.
Honorable Mentions: Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans
Teams Falling: Arizona Cardinals: Welp. Arizona faced a twin elimination games in weeks 5-6. A chance to prove that their underwhelming season to point was a blip and separate themselves from the also rans. After sluggishly sleepwalking to a 158-146 win over the Eagles in week 5, they followed suit with another entirely uninspiring performance in week 6, this time losing 175-147 to fellow bubbler Tampa Bay. Oof. This week’s problems are typical of Arizona’s season – a 40 point offensive dud rendered big defensive games from Chris Baker, Calais Campbell and Craig Robertson meaningless. Arizona is 23rd in the league in total offense, now 4 games back of Seattle with 7 games to go, and just can’t seem to get the car out of second gear.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals keep turning in excellent performances to surprise everyone and put themselves in striking distance of a divisional crown. And then somehow botch the strike. After playing Buffalo close in week 5, Cincy had the perfect setup- a game with a heavily bye and injury ravaged Seattle Seahawks team coupled with a Steelers loss. The Bengals were perfectly set up to move into first place in the North. Instead, the bye week offense mustered only 60, only 6/20 players reached double figures, and the Bengals couldn’t capitalize, falling 168-163 to a gritty Seattle team and the returning excellence of Pharoh Cooper. The door isn’t entirely closed, though, as Cincy gets Pittsburgh in week 7, with the winner in sole possession of first place.
Pittsburgh Steelers: It was the best of players and it was the worst of players for the Steelers on Sunday, as it seemingly has been all year long. Le’Veon Bell put in his best performance to date, scoring 38, and Jarvis Landry chipped in 23 of his own. Lawrence Timmons, Allen Bailey, Sean Davis and DeForest Buckner played with their traditional excellence. But the Steelers were undone by FIVE zeros (Jesse James, Kenny Britt, Albert Wilson, Byron Maxwell and Pierre Desir), and five more plowers who scored 5 points or fewer. It’s hard to win when half your lineup scores five points or less, even with Le’Veon Bell. Despite all that, Pittsburgh remains a half game up in their division and the chance to put some distance between themselves and the Bengals.
Dishonorable Mentions: Washington Redskins, LA Rams
Week 7 Games of the Week:
Buffalo Bills vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: As a reward for their elimination game win against Arizona, the Bucs get to play Buffalo, the only team in RDFL without a tie or a loss to blemish their record – and whose fantasy point total suggests that they’ve been every bit as good as their record suggests. Good luck. The Bills bring their #3 ranked offense to face the Bucs #31 ranked offense. And that stat tells you all you need to know about this matchup.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ye olde grudge match. Both Cincy and Pittsburgh scuffled a bit in week #6, but one of them is going to make it right in week #7. In a quirk of fun scheduling, these teams won’t play their rubber match until week #12, so the winner is going to have the tie breaker and an edge in the division for the rest of the year. The question for both teams is simple. For Pittsburgh, can it get enough contributions from it’s supporting cast? For Cincy, which team is going to show up? The one that took the mighty Bills to the wire in week 5? Or the one that lay down to Seattle in week 6?
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders: The Raiders finally got lucky in a close game, picking off the Chargers by a single point at home to survive a crushing first half injury to Aaron Rodgers. As a result, they remain in Wild Card position with a nice 6-3 record. Their game with the Chiefs is a must win for the division, as a loss would leave them 3.5 games back with six to play, and would be nice to have for the wild card as well. A lot is riding on Hundley’s shoulders – and something should be send to commend the Raiders for having Hundley ready to step in.
Seattle Seahawks vs. New York Giants: Along with the Bengals/Steelers, this is my true game of the week. The 8-1 New York Giants. vs the 8-1 Seattle Seahawks. Both teams have long since run away and hid in their respective decisions, but both playoff byes (Detroit, Seattle, and the Giants are all 8-1, only two can get byes) and bragging rights are at stake. For the Giants, a win would give them victories over both Detroit and Seattle and basically assure them the #1 seed in the playoffs. For the overachieving Seahawks, a signature win over the Giants would serve as major validation for a team that still can’t quite believe it’s lofty record. It’s hard to pick against the Giants here, particularly with the addition of Mike Evans, though the reinstatement of Ezekiel Elliott is a nice counter.
New Orleans Saints vs. Green Bay Packers: Does this count? I mean, sure. The 4-5 Packers have been a decent team and are not entirely out of the muddied NFC Wildcard picture. The even better New Orleans Saints are in the thick of both the Wildcard and NFC South races (which may quite possibly be synonymous – it’s possible, even likely, that both wild cards in the NFC come out of the South this year). New Orleans, coming off a tough loss to Detroit but boasting a top ten defense should win this one. But Green Bay has a solid chance to beat them. And that event could make everyone 5-5 and throw even more mud in the NFC playoff picture.
2017 Real Deal Dynasty baseball season retrospective and awards
For a little while, it looked like history would be repeating itself. The Cleveland Indians seemed poised to match the Champion Real Deal Indians, fresh off a staggering year of utter dominance. (You’ll recall that both the Real Deal Cubs and MLB Cubs both won last year…) Alas, the upstart Yankees thought otherwise.
Let’s take a quick look back at our season.
First, congratulations to all of our playoff teams: Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals, Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, and Miami Marlins.
And to the final four: Red Sox, Indians, Nationals, Marlins. Finally, to our championship teams, the Nationals and Indians. Before I get to the Indians, a quick shout out to the Nationals. First, the Nationals had to get out of the wildcard round and beat the Dodgers. From there, they had to play my team, the Diamondbacks, the number one National League team for the regular season, and a team that scored a few hundred more points than the Nationals.
The Nationals finished seven games behind the division winner Miami, a team which—after squeaking by the Diamondbacks in Round 2—they had a resounding victory over in the National League Championship round. This Nationals team battled all through the season and to finish second place behind Jeff’s juggernaut of a team was impressive. Cheers! Finish Reading:
In the American League, the Yankees culminated their turnaround season by making it into the playoffs, and even beating the Royals to get into the next round, only to fall to Jeff. The other teams in the AL shouldn’t be unfamiliar to anyone, as the Astros and Red Sox were both back in the playoffs, with Boston beating Houston in round 2 and losing out to Cleveland in the AL Championship. Boston continues to knock at the door of a championship and it would seem that he’s only a few moves and some lucky runs away from getting there.
Now onto the Indians. Perspective: In 2015, the Indians went 6-87. In 2016, they were 37-56. This year, they went 83-10. So, in two years, a 77-game swing. I am hereby instituting a league-wide rule in which nobody can trade Jeff any players, ever. All kidding aside, what an incredible year, and congratulations to Jeff.
In the rest of the league, there weren’t other “major” developments, aside from some jumps and some drops from 2016 to 2017, some of which will be covered below. Some teams are still in rebuild mode, and some may end up there sooner than later. This offseason is primed to be a very interesting one, for sure, but for now, let’s just get into the awards for this year.
World Series MVP:
This goes to Matt Carpenter, who accounted for the most points for the Indians in their championship scoring period at 33.009, in just 15 AB. In these, Carpenter had 7 hits, 6 runs, 2 RB, and 14 TB.
Right behind him, though, were Francisco Lindor (31.634 points, 6 RBI, 15 TB), and Trea Turner (30.964 points, 4 RBI, 16 TB.) Also, Jose Quintana’s name should be mentioned, as he accounted for 29.75 points with 9 IP, 10K, 1 QS, in a complete game.
Cleveland’s depth was evident though, as 7 different players scored more than 20 points in this scoring period. DEEP.
There were a lot of good trades this year—including these four big ones—so having to pick one is difficult. But personally, it felt a bit unfair not to list one of Jeff’s trades this year as the best, given his massive turnaround. And in looking back at all of his move’s including those made in the offseason last year, one stuck out not only for the impact at it on Jeff’s team, but also for the other team.
The deal was as follows:
Chicago White Sox sends:
Prior to this year, Pham’s best fantasy year topped at 114 points. This year he had 554, while Difo had 228 in a utility role, and Jones being more of a flier. Abreu, on the other side, was the Indian’s third best player in terms of overall points. He’s also on 2.16 salary in his 3rd year.
The worst trade, in my opinion, is the trade that wasn’t made. Based on that, the worst trade this year was from the Philadelphia Phillies, who made zero trades on the year. In looking at this year’s transactions, they appear to be the only team that made no team-to-team trades.
The turnaround of the Indians is well-documented, and has been the main storyline of the league since before the season even kicked off. A 46-win increase is nothing short of incredible, but for this particular section, I’m going to focus on another impressive turnaround, which is that of the New York Yankees.
Like the Indians, the Yankees went 37-56 in 2016. In 2017 though, Yankees improved to 69-24. The rise of players like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino helped this turnaround in a massive way, but so did a number of the trades that the team made. This includes the following acquisitions: Brian Dozier, Carlos Carrasco, Jarrod Dyson, Denard Span, David Robertson, Yangervis Solarte, Hanley Ramirez, Brad Hand, and even more than this.
This is all to say that, even if you are low-to-middling team, a turnaround can be made quickly if you have some good young talent and a willingness to get aggressive on the trade market, which seems to be a main factor in determining success and ultimately winning this league. Just ask Jeff.
Last year I took I look at the overall standings and for one reason or another, the 23,000 point-level seemed to be a benchmark for success. Nine teams reached this plateau this year, including (in reverse order): Washington, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Boston, Milwaukee, New York (Y), Miami, Houston, and Cleveland. Of those nine teams, eight made the playoffs. A solid indicator of success.
(Note: The only teams that made the playoffs that did not reach 23,000 were Kansas City at 22,506 and the Los Angeles Dodgers at 20,712.)
Who will be next year’s Cleveland? Well, here is an interesting thing to consider, if only just for fun. Both the Indians and the Yankees were 37-56 last year, and both teams made impressive turnarounds. This year, there were a number of teams that finished around this mark. This includes: Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins, and the Oakland Athletics. Could one of these teams be the next big turnaround next year, or will it be another team has been making moves with an eye toward the future.
Since this league began, the champions have been the Miami Marlins, the Milwaukee Brewers (two years in a row), the Chicago Cubs, and the Cleveland Indians. There have been a number of powerhouse teams, or teams on the rise, that in recent years can’t seem to get over the hump, though. This includes, first and foremost, the Boston Red Sox, but also teams like the Houston Astros, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Kansas City Royals. Can Boston finally win a world series? Can Arizona make a playoff run? These are things to monitor going into the 2018 season.
Overall this year, it’s been a fun league with very little drama, if any. I hope that you all come back to join us in 2018 with an eye toward denying any past champion a repeat opportunity.
I am terrified to write this post on a Tuesday night. The last time I wrote a post on a Tuesday night it congratulated New Orleans and Tampa Bay and wondered what was happening with Carolina – only to have seven points in DeMarcus Lawrence stat corrections render my post ridiculous the following day.
As I write this, 8/16 (50%!) games are within 15 points, 4/16 (25%!) are within 5 points, and a ridiculous 3/16 games are within a SINGLE point. All three involve potential playoff teams. Man. It’s great for excitement and tight games, but man it’s weird to be waiting for a single stat correction to decide all of our fates.
First, it’s HARD to be undefeated. Detroit and Buffalo had cruised through their schedules to point, obliterating all comers, and KC had taken advantage of a favorable schedule to cruise to 7-0 as well. Detroit was obliterated by Carolina. Buffalo took a punch from Cincy and barely surprised, and KC, for now, survived Houston by half a point on stat corrections.
Second, I say it every few weeks, but Oakland literally has the worst luck of any fantasy team ever – year after year. This week? After holding a comfortable lead over Baltimore heading into Monday night, the Raiders lost it in the third quarter when an errant Mitch Trubisky passed bounced through the open hands of what should have been a sure interception and ricocheted directly to Zach Miller in the endzone. At present reckoning, the Raiders have lost by a point. After a league leading number of losses by less than 10 points last year, the Raiders have already lost two games this year by that amount.
Third, parity is dead. Regrettably, the league is separating itself neatly (much like American society) into clearly delineated lines of have and have-not. Only a single decision (the mighty NFC South) has three teams at .500 and above. Only a single division (the mighty NFC South) has three teams within two games of the lead. And only two divisions (The AFC North and South) have two teams within a game of first place. Beyond that, a look across the league reveals a tale of division leaders running away, clear wild card teams, and teams competing for the first draft pick.
AFC East: Buffalo @8-0, no other team closer than 3-5.
AFC West: KC @8-0, Oakland at 5-3, nobody else better than 3-5
NFC East: NYG @7-1, nobody else better than 3-5
NFC North: Detroit @7-1, nobody else better than 4-4
NFC West: Seattle @7-1, nobody else better than 4-4
Competitive games. But not competitive seasons.
Game of the Week:
Buffalo Bills 234, Cincinnati Bengals 222: For a long time on Sunday, it looked like all three undefeated teams would go down to defeat. The Bengals rode 35 points from TY Hilton and 32 from the Burfict Storm to take a lead over the Bills. Buffalo punched back with 130 points from it’s defense, and in the irony to top all ironies, survived Cincy’s upset bid behind 42 points from AJ Mother ()&#$*(#$ Green – traded to Buffalo from Cincinnati for the immortal Da’Rick Rogers and a late first rounder. Youch. Buffalo stays undefeated, but a game Cincy team served notice that it is not going away any time soon. And potentially not any time late.
Jacksonville Jaguars: And that would be how you announce that you have staying power. After a pair of strong performances to get into first place, the Jags stay there with a convincing 230-201 win over resurgent Pittsburgh. As it has been all year, the defense powered the Jags to the tune of 135 points. Even more remarkable, though, is that the offense has gone from liability to at least moderately credible. Kareem Hunt, David Njoku, and Cooper Kupp make this one of the strongest draft classes in real deal, as Kupp and Hunt may well be the two best rookie skill players of the draft. Danny Amendola has also proved to be a strong role player and turned in 22 points. Jacksonville is playing some great football and at 6-2, could be very hard to beat. For the Steelers… well, 5 interceptions from the QB will doom just about anyone, but when you can put up over 200 points with that? And can point to Le’Veon and Jarvis Landry both on track? Pittsburgh will be just fine.
Minnesota Vikings: Now that’s the sort of game the Vikings were expecting a lot more of. 30 points from Dak Prescott, 18 from Kyle Rudolph, 17 from Duke Johnson, and 115 defensive points where 8/11 players got into double figures and Reshad Jones scored 27. That’s what Minnesota has been expecting. Why haven’t they gotten more of it? The can’t miss draft picks are missing. Another zero for consensus top 10 pick Laquon Treadwell mixes with a solid but uninspiring 12 for consensus top 10 pick Joe Mixon. The Vikings are close. is this the start of putting it all together in Minnesota?
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts looked hung out to dry in the pre-season. Luck was injured. Edelman was gone for the year. The offense looked historically bad. The defense looked like the epitome of mediocrity. After a 197-162 dousing of the 49ers, the Colts are all of a sudden sitting at 4-4, just one game out of the wild card, and actually in contention for the playoffs. The offensive players, particularly guys like Kamara and Gallman have been better than expected. The defense has risen above mediocre to become downright good (especially in a consistent secondary that averages in double figures), and the schedule hasn’t been fantastic. A sterner test awaits this week in Tennessee, but Luck is back soon… if they can hold off until then..
Detroit Lions: When you are the consensus NFC Super Bowl pick and expected to death march through the conference slate, this counts as a thud. 170 points in an uninspired 65 point loss where only two players on the team (Tyreek Hill and Leonard Floyd) broke 20. If this wasn’t fantasy, I’d point to the coaching and how hard it is to maintain motivation over the long season. Look, Detroit is going to be fine. I still think they are the Super Bowl favorites. But this was a chink in their facade of invulnerability, and a huge boost to the prestige of Carolina, who rode 23 points from rookie RB Aaron Jones to a 234 point performance and, potentially, home field advantage throughout the postseason.
LA Rams: Welp. Fair or not, when you haven’t been a competitive team for a long team, when you start to string together good games, you have to go out and prove it in a show me game. Not so much. The Rams showed us they don’t quite belong after laying a 40 point offensive egg – of which 22/40 points came from Marqise Goodwin. Besides him, only two guys hit double digits as the Rams rode Marcus Mariota’s injury to a brutal 118 points, and left a winnable game against division rival Seattle on the table. Now at 4-4 and behind on the tiebreaker, LA faces a likely insurmountable climb back towards contention.
Philadelphia Eagles: It was a game effort from the Birds of 2017, but it simply wasn’t to be. Injuries to Derek Carr and Ty Montgomery have scuttled a once promising season for Philadelphia, but just as much the rest of the offensive cast never quite showed up. The Eagles are 29th in the league in total offense, and trailing such worthies as Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco. A 3-5 record and four game deficit against the league leading Giants is too much to overcome, and the Eagles have wisely turned their attention to 2018 – and hopefully scoring some points.
Dishonorable Mentions: New York Jets, Green Bay Packers
Games of the Week:
Arizona Cardinals vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Last week’s game against Philadelphia was an elimination game for the scuffling Cardinals. And while the red birds eliminated the green ones, it can’t be said that they passed the test with flying colors. Even if they are colorful birds. It’s more like the colors crawled morosely over the ground and staggered drunkenly across the finish line about two hours after the race officially ended. Coupled with a win, it was decidedly inconclusive. So they get another shot. Arizona gets Tampa, whose season mojo has completely changed after their devastating stat correction loss to Carolina. Instead of 4-1, the Bucs are now 4-4 and in last place, with their season in serious danger of slipping away. Like Arizona – Philly last week, the winner of this game lives to fight another day. The loser… well… doesn’t. Arizona gets Matt Ryan back from the bye, but loses Shady McCoy. It could be tough.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Cincinnati Bengals: The Seahawks get a chance to continue to run away and hide in their division, while the Bengals reward for playing Buffalo so tightly is a date with the 7-1 Seahawks. The Bengals remain an enigma – only 14th in fantasy points, mediocre on offense, mediocre on defense, and forced to start Ryan Fitspatrick at QB – and yet only a half game out in the AFC North. Seattle, on the other hand, makes no secret of it’s secret sauce – offense. Though the bye week, and the subsequent loss of a lot of starters on both teams makes this one a lot more questionable than it otherwise would be. Even strength, I go Seattle. On a bye? Tough to say.
Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints: New Orleans may be the only team approaching Oakland for sheer bad luck. Denied an undefeated season by stat correction, denied a victory over Carolina and the division lead by stat correction, the Saints now have the good fortune of catching Detroit coming off it’s first loss in a long, long time. The Lions will be vengeful, bitter, and fired up. The Saints will be without Jimmy Graham, Darqueze Dennard, and Jeff Heath. Doh.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans: Tennessee enters an obvious trap game with decidedly mixed feelings. On the one hand, they are solidly 6-2 and boast a top 10 defense. On the other hand, they just lose OBJ for the year and are somehow tied with a high-flying Jacksonville Jaguars team that has come out of nowhere to give aggressive challenge. Indy wasn’t supposed to compete with Indy. But Indy has been competing with other teams. The Titans should win this game. Need to win this game. But in their first contest without OBJ? And still down Sam Bradford? This one has will require some serious mental fortitude.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs: One of the few old fashioned battles between division leaders happening in an underwhelming week 6 slate, Pittsburgh is in the midst of a rather brutal slate of games (Baltimore, New Orleans, Jacksonville, KC, Cincinnati, Detroit). How’s that for a tough six game sled? 1-2 thus far, and facing a stern challenge from the rival Bengals, Pittsburgh can’t afford to overlook the Chiefs this week. Fortunately, neither team is particularly burdened by bye weeks, meaning that this should be a fun one!
I guess the question here is…WHY?! The Hawks won 71 games last year – the most in the history of the league – and then inexplicably blew the roster to smithereens. I just don’t get it. Sure, picks are nice. But isn’t winning nicer? Maybe the Hawks felt like their success was unsustainable, but I don’t know. That team had been very good since the beginning. It was built for present and long-term success. There weren’t cap issues. I just…don’t get it. Looking at the Hawks roster, it’s clear that the team is trying to lose as many games as possible this year. The guard and flex spots have intentionally been left empty. There is only one player on the bench, and it’s Kevon Looney. Atlanta has been trying like mad to move Dwight Howard (he’s available for a future first-round pick, in case you haven’t heard). And there’s really not much more to be said about this team. They’re racing to the bottom. That being said, they did manage to win just about all of the trades they made this summer. And there’s no denying they’re set up for the future. But still. They won 71 games last year!
Key additions: Derrick Favors
Key subtractions: An entire 71-win roster
What we thought was going to become the D’Angelo Russell/Justise Winslow team has suddenly become the Jusuf Nurkic team. If he can keep up any semblance of what he showed in limited time in Portland this spring, the Celtics have themselves a stud. This team, formerly one of the league’s very worst, is slowly getting better. De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo will be awesome, but maybe not right away. Two of my favorite guys in this year’s draft, but they’re blocked by George Hill (probably just for this season) and Hassan Whiteside (admittedly a much bigger mountain to climb). We’ll see if Russell can turn his career around as the de facto primary scorer/playmaker in Brooklyn. Winslow should continue to develop and become a key cog in Miami. Montrezl Harrell landed in a perfect spot for a bigger role with the Clippers. The team is still devoid of quality depth, but the slow and steady progress here among the youngsters is definitely worth noting.
Key additions: De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo
Key subtractions: none
Three years ago, this was a team that had a chance to draft Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, but instead ended up with Noah Vonleh and PJ Hairston. This was the team of Deron Williams, of Thomas Robinson, of Ed Davis and John Jenkins. It was an absolute dog. So when I took it over, I traded every single player I could. Steven Adams is the only remainder from that old regime. I picked up three top-ten picks in 2015 and whiffed on all of them, although Willie Cauley-Stein looked awesome to close out the season last spring and maybe he’ll keep it up with Boogie gone for good. As a result, the team was so bad that I got the #2 pick in 2016, landing Brandon Ingram, who was also terrible. Each of the last two years were about two things: 1. Acquiring as many assets for the future as possible, and 2. Making a ton of small moves to claw my way back up from the wasteland this team has been mired in since the inception of the league. For years, it was about planting seeds (WCS, Ingram, maybe Stanley Johnson, maybe Cedi Osman) and carefully plucking unwanted role players away from other teams using cash and picks (Patty Mills, Richaun Holmes, even Derrick Rose) in the hopes that I would someday land a crown jewel to put on top of the pile of garbage. That day finally came when Markelle Fultz fell to the second pick (and don’t get me wrong, I love Lonzo Ball, but Fultz has all the makings of a franchise talent). Finally! It has been and continues to be a very slow rebuild, but one can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel here. The full lineup, for the first time, actually looks promising and it could even be decent. These Nets will be one of many teams competing for the final playoff seed in the Rast and the right to get smoked by Indiana and lose out on being in the lottery. I would bet on this team to finish in second place in the division. And that’s the point where I need to stop writing because otherwise I’ll end up putting some evil jinx on my team.
Charlotte has been a good team for a while now with no real path to the division title. But with the Hawks evaporating themselves, the Hornets are primed and ready to win the title – it’ll be between them and Miami. The key thing for this team is depth. This is a DEEP team with four quality players riding the pine and Harry Giles in waiting to add to that eventually (hopefully). Kemba Walker is obviously the main man here. He just continues to get better and better. I’m excited to see what he can do with not one, but two true pick-and-roll centers in Dwight (if they can finally get him to do it) and Cody Zeller. Bazemore and Bradley are poised for their biggest seasons yet because of the sheer lack of talent around them. I think Porter and Warren both take another step forward this year and we’ll be looking at both of them as major contributors to this team’s success. Clint Capela is going to go nuts playing with CP3 – think of the lobs! – and Kanter will continue to eat second-string bigs off the bench for the Knicks (unless they are stupid enough to start him). Overall, this is just a very solid, well-composed team. They might be the third best team in the East behind Indiana and our next team…
Key additions: Harry Giles
Key subtractions: Ian Clark
Will this finally be the year for Chicago? Each year, it seems like something has gone terribly wrong and they underperformed. Most recently it was the Kevin Durant injury. Missing 20 games last year really hurt this team. But at full force, and somehow under the salary cap, the Bulls are contenders. Whiteside, in the final year of his absurd contract, is no longer a novelty player and is now legitimately probably the best fantasy center in the league outside of KAT and Boogie. Wiggins’ scoring might take a hit with Butler in town, but I think he’s much more suited to being the third banana and having some of that pressure lifted off of him will improve his game overall. Rubio really improved last year and is entering his prime. Being in Utah could be really good for him. To really reach the pinnacle, the Bulls are going to need Aaron Gordon and Tobias Harris to realize their potential. They’ve skirted by on potential promise for a while now; it’s time for them to show what they’re really made of. But even if they don’t this team has depth in spades. Juancho, Livingston, Abrines, Pondexter and White should be useful this year. Anything Chicago gets from Stephenson and Parsons is just gravy. This team is poised for big success this season. But…we’ve got to talk about the cap situation. It’s precarious at best. The Bulls picked up $19 million in cap space through pick swaps and the Derrick Rose salary dump and are still only $2 million clear of the limit. Parsons, at $3 million, is going to need to come off IR soon, which will immediately put them over. Add Abrines and White from the minors and Pondexter, whenever he’s clear, and the team is now about $7 million over. Abrines can only stay in the minors for 14 more games, but white can hang for more than half the season. Chicago is going to have to get creative to get back under. It definitely makes the Tyler Zeller contract a head-scratcher.
Key additions: A whole chunk of cash
Key subtractions: Derrick Rose
This is one case where the rebuild was definitely called for. The team had two aging stars in LeBron and Melo, and beyond Draymond Green and Markieff Morris, not a ton else. Morris and Green are still young enough and on friendly contracts to be part of the tail end of a rebuild, so there wan’t a huge need to trade them away. The Cavs turned LeBron and Melo into four first round picks, which in turn turned into Dennis Smith Jr., Jayson Tatum and Zach Collins. Those are three tremendously talented prospects and well worth the return for Cleveland, considering where they’re at right now. Smith is the best athlete to enter the NBA in a long time. His one mistake was going to NC State and playing for the worst college basketball coach of all time. Mysteriously, the same “where’s the defense? he can’t win” dum-dum arguments that Markelle Fultz mostly avoided in Washington buried Smith, which was unfair and resulted in him falling all the way to the Mavs with the ninth pick, where he is almost sure to take the torch from Dirk as Dallas’ next lovable franchise player. He’s a favorite to win Rookie of the Year and my personal favorite from this year’s draft. I would have taken him at #2 if Fultz weren’t there. Tatum and Collins are buried on their team’s depth charts, but both are excellent long-term bets. And I don’t think it’ll take long for Tatum to prove he’s better than Jaylen Brown. The rest of this roster is not very noteworthy. I think Joe Ingles will have an awesome year and will be an enticing trade asset on an expiring contract. Cleveland is definitely preparing for the future here.
Key additions: Dennis Smith Jr., Jayson Tatum, Zach Collins
Key subtractions: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony
Clearly through with being a lottery team, Dallas shocked the league by acquiring James Harden in one of the final superstar trades we might be seeing for a little while. Best of all, the Mavs didn’t have to pay a king’s ransom to get him. Pair him with the magical Nikola Jokic and suddenly you’ve got a playoff contender. This team has a really interesting “Island of Misfit Toys” quality to it, but I think it works for them. There are a lot of nontraditional but still really useful players here. Oladipo will be option 1B for a terrible Pacers team, which means he’ll probably score 20 PPG. Ilyasova is one of the few people on the Hawks who’s played professional basketball for a living before. The Other Curry should flourish (update: never mind :() in a more off-ball role this season under Carlisle, the guard whisperer. Hernangomez the Younger, #CallWillieUp and Kuzminskas are sneaky-useful players for a playoff team. And Tony Allen might start at small forward for the Pelicans! This is an exciting team and definitely one to watch.
Key additions: James Harden, Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova
Key subtractions: Nikola Mirotic
I really think this team just needed some TLC over the past couple of years. I mean, seriously, why were Josh Smith and Danny Granger on this roster for so long? The new Nuggets owner has gotten off to a nice start, starting to clear out some of the cobwebs and skeletons from this team. You look at the top four on this roster – Marcus Smart, Devin Booker, Gary Harris and Jaylen Brown – and you think, hey, that’s a really nice young team. But it kind of falls off from there. Booker looks like a star in the making, and Harris remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA – he might be the best young two-way shooting guard in the league outside of Klay Thompson (who still counts as young I suppose). Flipping CJ McCollum for him and Ntilikina was a nice move. Frank is a highly interesting prospect and worth taking a shot on. Markkanen fell in the draft and was a nice scoop. Add all that to their weird mix of big men – Olynyk, Arthur, Faried and Muscala – and you have a really interesting, really weird team. It’s definitely not bad. I think with some more tweaks it could even challenge for a playoff spot. This is a team I’m going to be keeping a close eye on this season and if the rookies turn out well (they’re both getting a lot of playing time, to be sure), this could be a bit of a dark horse team. Stay tuned.
Key additions: Gary Harris, Frank Ntilikina, Lauri Markkanen
Key subtractions: CJ McCollum
Detroit is another interesting team, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. There are a lot of players to like here. James Johnson is the MMA Renaissance man who had his best season ever at age 30 after almost being out of the league. Jahlil Okafor is a redemption story waiting to happen. He’s still a damn good scorer. Just needs a better situation. Ish Smith could very well continue to outperform Reggie Jackson. Willy Hernangomez is a bright spot on a Knicks team going all in on its youth. Lou Williams is a sixth man of the year candidate. All of these players are extremely useful. But it’s pretty obvious what this team is missing: star power. There’s really no hope of anyone on the roster becoming a star or anything above a good starter, which you obviously need to win in this league. By no means is this a bad team – it’s just not particularly great, either. With some smart trades and picks, this team is looking noticeably better than a year ago. It’s possible they could make a playoff run if everything breaks right, but this team is kind of looking like it’ll be stuck in purgatory this season.
Ho hum. Another year, another run to the Finals for Golden State. It’s hard to write an offseason recap for this team because they did precisely zero this summer, which was by no means a bad idea. This is a roster that’s still built to win and win for a long time. Curry, Klay, Lopez, Middleton – all still great players. And Turner will be better than ever as the Pacers’ main man. The Warriors will again be one of the toughest teams in the West. It’s worth pointing out that a bit more quality depth would be nice (JJ Barea doesn’t belong in the starting lineup for a championship contender), but I suppose that would just be nitpicking. Look for the Warriors to win a top seed in the West and advance far in the playoffs again this season.
Key additions: none
Key subtractions: none
Houston started the offseason with a bang by slamming the biggest fist in the world on the reset button, dealing James Harden, the second-highest scorer in the league for the past two seasons (I think?) for picks 6 and 8, Nikola Mirotic, Pat McCaw and Lavoy Allen. Kind of an underwhelming return, no? And on the first day of the offseason? Yes, it would have been underwhelming if the dealing had ended there. But we know Pedro better than that. The #6 pick turned into the #9 pick, the #34 pick and a future first from a team that will be in the lottery next year. The #8 pick turned into the #10 pick and ANOTHER future first from ANOTHER team that will be in the lottery next year. And then the #9 pick turned into the #18 pick and YET ANOTHER future first. Now THAT is how you trade down, folks. A masterclass draft day performance, to be sure. Sure, the roster looks a bit depressing now, but don’t be too surprised if Houston is rolling out Michael Porter, Marvin Bagley AND Luka Doncic this time next year. But for now, this roster is bad. Outside of Wes Mathews, Marvin Williams, Mirotic, Tristan Thompson and the brilliant Donovan Mitchell (a major steal at pick 10), this roster looks more like the second page of the waiver wire than it does an NBA team. The Rockets will be bottom feeders this season, but it might not take them long at all to turn it back around.
Key additions: Donovan Mitchell, Tony Parker, Tristan Thompson, Nikola Mirotic, P I C K S
Key subtractions: James Harden, Evan Fournier
The Pacers are favorites to repeat and win another title this season, but I won’t say that they are the prohibitive favorites. They have the best top eight of any team in the league, and it’s not close. But there are enough dings against this team that I’m not ready to crown them just yet. The first is that there’s no way Westbrook is as good as he was last season. Paul George and Melo will have to eat into his scoring and rebounding. He’s another year older and smarter, and with an MVP trophy on his mantle, the chip on his shoulder that has defined his career so far has filled in a bit. Paul George moves from Indy to OKC, and in so doing becomes the #2 or maybe even #3 option on offense. Dennis Schroeder has become the Atlanta Hawks’ only NBA basketball player, but he’s already gotten himself into trouble. He may miss time, he may not, but the distraction could impact his on-court performance. And right after signing a fat max contract! Blake Griffin will finally have a chance to step out of CP3’s shadow. He’s excelled without CP3 before and he could very well do it again. Remember a few years ago when he finished third in MVP voting? That player is still in there, somewhere. But the injury concerns and questions about his declining athleticism are worrying. But the bottom line is that all the players I’ve just named are elite, and that’s basically the end of the story: This is a damn good team. The best in the league. And whoever wants to win the title will likely have to go through them.
Key additions: CJ McCollum
Key subtractions: Gary Harris
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Clippers remain fully in wait-and-see mode with an armada of “maybe, but probaby not” players like Jerian Grant, Rashad Vaughn, Isaiah Whitehad, Deyonta Davis, Wade Baldwin, etc. We simply don’t know if any of those guys will be useful yet. So the only real analysis to do here is to take a look at their draft picks from this summer. LA had five late-first, early-second round picks, and in order for the dumpings of Blake and CP3 to yield any value whatsoever, the Clips need for one or more of these picks to be a home run. And to be completely honest, while none of these picks strike me as really swinging for the fences, I cannot argue with any of them. LA did a really terrific job of selecting players that are likely to strick around in the league for a while as role players. Josh Hart. Sindarius Thornwell. Jordan Bell. Those are guys you know are going to have 15+-year careers. Semi Ojeleye is a 3-and-D guy who isn’t actually good at 3 or D, but I still think he was a tremendous value pick in the second round. And Jawun Evans was one of the big steals here. Give that guy an extra few inches and he instantly becomes a lottery talent. Terrific passer, good scorer and can really lead a team. A true “floor general” type. Reminds of a mini Chris Paul, which would be an extremely fitting turnout for this team – if that is how it turns out. Nik Stauskas was an interesting signing. Maybe it will have impact, maybe it won’t. For a team with nothing to fight for for a couple more years, it was at least worth a shot. And Dario Saric looked tremendous down the stretch, but that was when he was basically the only power forward on the roster. With Ben Simmons ready to go and the 76ers inexplicably signing big man after big man, his minutes might be going down drastically. The Clippers are starting to get back on the right track. And at least they’ve got their own pick this year.
Key additions: Nik Stauskas
Key subtractions: none
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Sometimes the stars just align. Such was the case for these Lakers, who ended up with franchise star-in-the-making Lonzo Ball. Look, we know about all the hype; and his crazy dad; and how his brothers are way worse at basketball than him, and how that’s going to be a storyline for the next 5-7 years; and his weird jumpshot; and his dumb thing with the sneakers; and all the Summer League hype, how bad he was in the first game, how good he was in all the others, the triple doubles, the chemistry with the other dudes, the throwing the ball all over the court, how he was the Summer League MVP; how he’s the next great Laker, and move over Kobe Bryant, here comes LeBron James next summer and Westbrook and Paul George too; and all of that nonsense. Is Lonzo a good basketball player? Yes. Is he a good fantasy player? Well, maybe. Assists and rebounds will be there. Steals and blocks, too. But will he score enough to warrant being taken first overall? We’ll see. Either way, I don’t think he’ll be a bust at all. I like prospects with one skill that they’re already really, really good at. De’Aaron Fox has his elite speed. Luke Kennard has his jumper. Dennis Smith Jr. can jump out the gym. And Lonzo? Lonzo enters the league and immediately becomes one of the NBA’s five best passers. It’s an elite skill, and it’s something he can definitely build his game around it. His teammates will love him for it, and Luke Walton will know how to use him. Maybe that’s too much about Lonzo Ball, but this is the only exciting player on the roster. I love Isaac as much as the next guy, but again, I don’t know if he’s ever going to be an elite fantasy player. I hope so though because he is fun as hell to watch and it’s about time one of the Magic picks panned out (yes, I am still bitter about Hezonja). Lopez, Green and Belinelli will be serviceable guys and should be easily flipped for picks or prospects. Glenn Robinson is a good candidate for a big jump in production. (Update: never mind.) Apart from that? Not much to talk about. But LA got themselves a good one in Lonzo Ball. The future of the franchise, much like in real life, is on his shoulders.
Key additions: Lonzo Ball, Jonathan Isaac
Key subtractions: none
The fate of the Memphis Grizzlies, in real life and in this league, rests on the shoulders of its two stars: Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Injuries to those two was enough to knock Memphis out of the playoffs last year, but this is a team that can bounce back with some more tinkering. Gordon, Green and Prince are going to be key, but none are good enough to emerge as major support for the two big guys on the top of this roster. This team has loaded up on picks and prospects, which gives them room to play and flexibility for however their season goes. With the window closing for Conley and Gasol, though, it might be time to make a decision. Can the youth and picks be used as leverage to build a more competitive team? Or will Memphis decide that Conley and Gasol’s time is up and send them away to build for the future? The Grizzlies are a team that could make the playoffs, or end up with a top 10 pick. It’s a wide range of outcomes and it makes this team interesting and worth paying attention to. We’ll see how it shakes out – but personally, I’m inclined to believe this team is more likely to get better than get worse.
Key additions: none
Key subtractions: none
Miami made some nice moves this summer, bringing in some dependable veteran presence. Johnson and Zeller are guys that will be two of the best bench players in the NBA this season. Pau Gasol, somehow, is still quite good (at least for fantasy purposes). All of them are nice additions to the usual crew that includes Goran Dragic, Jonas Valanciunas and Harrison Barnes. Miami is a lot like their division rival Hornets: Lots of good players here, but none that you think will explode and kill you during a weekly scoring period. There is absolutely nothing to dislike about this squad, but there is a limit to how great they can be until Valanciunas, Barnes and Zeller take that next step forward. There are a lot of nice little players on the bench, too, that can be swapped in in a pinch, like Crawford, Speights and Kuzminskas. Even Joakim Noah might be OK? Feels weird to say, but he wasn’t completely useless in fantasy last season (just in real life). Miami will be a playoff team this season, likely grabbing a middle seed.
Key subtractions: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Darren Collison
Milwaukee has a really nice, really young foundation in Rodney Hood, Elfrid Payton and the man many think is a future MVP in Giannis Antetokuonmpo. The Bucks rode a hot streak from Payton into the playoffs last season, but this year things could be a bit different. Ibaka and Young are gone, replaced with younger players in Hood and Mo Harkless. Robert Covington is a player I think is tremendous and very underrated, but he could see a decline in production this year with all the influx of talent and bodies in Philly. Knowing how their seasons usually go, though, I wouldn’t bet against him. Delon Wright and Bebe Nogueira are two guys getting ready to step up for the Raptors, and how well they do will make a big difference for this Milwaukee team. Felicio could be a nice player with the mass exodus out of Chicago. All of this adds up to a decent team. Not a world beater. An OK chance to make the playoffs. The East is weaker and that will make it easier for them to get in. But I get the feeling that this roster could change as the season goes on.
Key additions: Rodney Hood
Key subtractions: Serge Ibaka, Thad Young
The Wolves have been on the decline for a couple of years now, but with a good draft, they could bounce back quickly. Jackson and Collins are both capable of putting up big numbers right away. But of course the biggest key for Minnesota is Kevin Love, who will probably see a big increase in production this season with Kyrie gone and IT on the shelf. Sprinkle in some role players like Kelly Oubre and Norman Powell and you’ve got the start of something interesting. The rest of the roster, though, is made up mostly of players that could be found on the waiver wire. That’s not to say that they’re all bad – I actually like most of them. But we just haven’t seen the production out of any of them that makes me confident that the Wolves will be a great team this year. Minnesota will be on the outside looking in this season, but they’re lurking.
Key additions: Josh Jackson, John Collins
Key subtractions: none
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Surprisingly, I don’t really have a lot of new things to say about this team. Obviously, it’s brimming with talent. AD. Kyrie. IT. Embiid. Bledsoe. Simmons. If it all comes together, this team’s potential is through the roof, and if all goes right, this is the best team in the league. The problem with the Pelicans, though, is injuries. Last year, we finally got to see what this team looked like at almost full health. Simmons missed the entire year and Bledsoe crapped out at the end, but AD and Kyrie stayed healthy all year and Thomas came in late and continued to kill. We finally got some sprinklings of Embiid, and he looked like a superstar. I look up and down this roster, and for almost every single guy, I say to myself, “Ooh, this guy’s good!” followed immediately by “…if he can stay healthy.” Kyrie famously missed pretty much his entire college year and has never played more than 72 games in a season (last year). Davis had never reached 70 games until last year. Dirk is a nice addition, but he’s ancient and only played 54 games last year. I don’t think Embiid will ever play more than 60 games in a full season, even if he’s fully healthy the entire time, because of the way the Sixers have managed him. We’ve yet to see Simmons play an NBA game, and IT and Batum are ALREADY out for significant portions of the season. Look, I don’t mean to crap on this team. It’s good. REALLY good. They won 67 games last season and were the second-highest scoring team in the league, only about 50 points behind the Hawks. There are five guys on this squad that have a chance to finish among the top 50 players. But this team is going to need to get a lucky break here or there to repeat that kind of success.
Key additions: Dirk Nowitzki, Nic Batum, Ben Simmons
Key subtractions: Jrue Holiday, LaMarcus Aldridge
NEW YORK KNICKS
When building a team, LeBron James and Kristaps Porzingis are two very good places to start. But when your third-best player is Solomon Hill, and he’s out for half the season, does it really matter? (OK, maybe Malik Monk will be the third-best player, but still.) The rest of this roster is barren. The remainder of the Knicks fit into three categories: interesting, high-potential youngsters (Maker, Bogdanovic), a collection of misfits (Chalmers, Beasley) and very young outcasts with an outside shot of becoming useful NBA players (McDermott, Ennis, Ellenson, Jackson, Harrison and so on). I can understand swapping a high lottery pick for a superstar, but when that superstar is turning 33 this year and his running mate is a full decade younger, one has to wonder what purpose it serves having him on board. And then one thinks about it for a few seconds and realizes it serves two purposes. The Knicks are going to win some games this year solely by virtue of Mr. James, which will 1. Be very annoying to a lot of other teams (good) and 2. Cost New York dearly in what might be the final year of the lottery standings as we know them and cause them to miss out on a franchise-altering player to pair with Porzingis for the long haul, much in the way that that opportunity was passed over by acquiring LeBron in the first place (less good). The Knicks had a ton of picks and went ham in free agency, and right now they’ll have to cut at least four players before Oct. 17. This is a weird team, folks. I’m really not sure if they’re better than any other team in the Atlantic, even with LeBron. The depth is just nonexistent. The Knicks are sort of chasing two ends of the same stick: Win now with LeBron, and stock up on rookies and young guys, hoping a few pan out. This team is hard to predict, but I don’t think they’ll be very good this season. But at the same time, it’s hard to hate too much on a team with a top two that can square off against anyone else’s top two in the league. We’ll see.
Key additions: LeBron James, Malik Monk
Key subtractions: none
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
This team keeps trading away its picks. At least this time they got LaMarcus Aldridge…but he’s 32 and quickly becoming a shell of himself. But, you know, with the way some other teams are already throwing their seasons into the incinerator, the Thunder might actually not be the worst team in the league this season for the first time since year one. There are some bona fide, promising NBA players and prospects here. Tyler Ulis was a magician when he finally got some playing time, and we all know Bledsoe is either on his way out soon or likely to get injured. Alan Williams is something and was a ton of fun to watch late last year. (Update: never mind.) Teodosic will be fun, but he’s 30 and that contract is hideous. Dedmon will probably start for the Hawks, at least for a bit. Bayless might play? Eh. Maybe I was getting a bit ahead of myself. But still, there is some progress to be noticed here. It’s not total doom and gloom anymore.
Key additions: LaMarcus Aldridge, Milos Teodosic
Key subtractions: none
This team is looking a lot better than a year ago, when they played themselves into a top 5 pick. The additions of Millsap, Jackson and Ariza are much welcomed and should vault the Magic into the playoffs conversation, especially because there is a huge vacuum for wins that’s opened up with the Hawks coming apart. Millsap is exactly the type of guy who seems like he’ll have his best season at age 32, and it helps that he’s playing in what’s likely to be the league’s #2 offense. There is a good amount of nice players here, but Orlando is another team that is missing a star and won’t be able to get to the next level without one. The big X factor here is Tyreke Evans, who is probably on his last chance to actually become a good NBA player. If it works, Orlando could make the postseason. If not? Then I don’t think this team does very well. It’s a risk, but one worth hanging your hat on if you’re the Magic. With the Cavs and Hawks bowing out, there are only five sure-thing playoff teams in the East. The Magic could be one of the ones competing for a spot.
Key additions: Paul Millsap, Trevor Ariza, Reggie Jackson
Key subtractions: Derrick Favors
To me, this team is a lot like the Knicks. One aging star and a bunch of questions. Melo, now in OKC, will be the third scoring option as opposed to the leading man. The Melo trade was as difficult to understand as the LeBron one. It cost them two first-round picks, one of which turned into Donovan Mitchell, and the only thing it will do for the 76ers is put them further away from a top pick in 2018. In fairness, the rest of the roster shakes out a little better than New York’s. This team will not be taking the division crown from Toronto, but it could sneak into second place by default. This is a roster that is unlikely to make the playoffs, but there are some useful players here. Malcolm Brogdon is certainly one of them, but at nearly 25, he’s probably already close to his ceiling. Crabbe, Kaminsky, Simmons and Boban are nice guys to have as depth, but obviously none are world beaters. Maybe Marquese Chriss makes big strides this year, but he is still extremely raw. He’s a nice lottery ticket. Jarrett Allen has nice potential and will get a lot of minutes off the bat. Cheick Diallo is a guy I really like; his offense looked much improved in Summer League and he should be the first big off the bench for the Pelicans. Beyond that, things get ugly. Mudiay, Hezonja, and Young are all certified busts. I doubt Malachi Richardson, Bruno Caboclo or any one of Philly’s second-round picks pan out. It’s a confusing team. I’m not sure which direction it’s heading it. The 76ers could finish anywhere from second to fifth in the division and I wouldn’t be surprised.
Key additions: Carmelo Anthony
Key subtractions: none
Not much to say about Phoenix as they enter their first full rebuilding season. LaVine, Parker and Noel give them a terrific starting foundation, assuming the first two can bounce back to full strength off of ACL tears and Noel can be smart enough to keep himself on the court. Jamal Murray might be the most exciting prospect of all. The dude can flat out score the rock and Denver views him as untouchable, which is an encouraging sign. Kris Dunn…well, who knows. He was horrible last year as a 23-year-old rookie. But let’s see what the Bulls do with him. I think he can at least be good on defense. Kay Felder and Brandon Paul are worth taking shots on. One of the best things going for this team is that they still have a lot of useful veterans, which gives them flexibility. If things go better than expected with the injury rehabs and development of the young guys, those vets help them get back to being good a lot sooner. And if things don’t go according to plan, there are eight useful depth players that can be flipped for picks. As far as rebuilds go, the Suns have the tools and assets to make it a good one.
Key additions: none
Key subtractions: none
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
The West remains brutally difficult at the top, and Portland is a team that can hang with any competitor. Much improved last season, the Blazers made it all the way to the Conference Finals and will look to get back there next spring. Every acquisition Portland has made over the last two seasons – Jordan, Crowder, Beverley, Hardaway Jr. and now Ibaka and Young – has been a great one. Ibaka should be back to his old self as a comfortable third option in Toronto with two ball-dominant players like he was in OKC. Jimmy Butler finally has some good teammates. I’m not sure Jordan remains as effective without CP3, but between Griffin and Teodosic there’ll be enough lobs to keep him going. Crowder and Beverley are perfect fits on their new teams, and Hardaway Jr. should see a big boost being the primary backcourt scorer in New York. Thad Young is still somehow just 29 and always finds a way to be effective. Like a lot of the upper-echelon teams, depth might be a problem. The bench is empty beyond Afflalo and McConnell. But this team is still one of the best in the West.
Key additions: Serge Ibaka, Thad Young
Key subtractions: Rodney Hood
I’m excited to see what this team can do with a full season with Chris Paul. That Boogie-CP3 duo is the best one-two punch in this league, outside of maybe Harden and Jokic. But beyond those two? It’s actually more shaky that you might think. If everything goes right, this is a certain top-three team in the West. If not? Things could get a bit sour. Bradley Beal is a fine third player, but there are always going to be injury concerns. Dwyane Wade? The Cavs roster is looking for Frankenstein than Super Team each day, and Wade is perhaps the worst fit out of anyone on the team. But he’s still D Wade, I guess. Rudy Gay in San Antonio is really interesting. He totally does not fit there, but maybe Pop can turn his game around. Still, much of Gay’s value comes from his scoring, which figures to take a massive hit with the Spurs. Will Barton and Dellavedova are both solid, but again, their roles are shrinking. This team is quite good. That duo is going to win them a lot of games. But there some moves to be made here to make this team a title contender.
Key additions: none
Key subtractions: none
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Same as it ever was. This team has Towns, Kawhi and Drummond. Game over for most opponents. The depth behind those three stars got a lot better last year, and some key additions/developments have them looking good again. Kilpatrick’s contract is a bit pricey, but he’s an electric scorer and is playing on a team that is trying super hard not to tank. Even with Crabbe, LeVert, Russell and Lin ahead of him, Kilpatrick is going to find ways to be effective. Wilson Chandler is about as steady as they come, when healthy, and he’s finally on a good team again that will get him plenty of looks on a top offense. Gorgui Dieng is secretly perhaps the biggest key to success for Minnesota – his defense is so important to that team. If he can hold Taj Gibson off for enough time, he’s going to be good. Booker’s role is diminishing, but he’s still an important energy/rebounds guy off the bench. Evan Turner will always find a way to get stats. Lin looked awesome when he played last year, but now he’s missing his favorite pick-and-roll/pop buddy with Lopez gone. I still think he’ll have a good year and could lead the Nets in scoring. There are even some intriguing young guys here. Dejounte Murray, with Parker out, could see himself as the starting point guard for the Spurs. Dakari Johnson, well-seasoned from his years in the D-League, could be the backup center in OKC with Kanter gone. This team is very good and will likely be fighting tooth and nail with New Orleans in the Southwest again, with Dallas sure to be close, as well.
Key additions: none
Key subtractions: none
It was a pretty quiet offseason for the Raptors, which is fine because they’re one of the few teams in the league that can pretty much set an alarm for the spring and sleep through the regular season because they’re a lock to make the playoffs in this division. Lowry and DeRozan continue to be the key for this team. Dion Waiters has finally found a home. Gortat still has a year or two left of automatic double-doubles. Teague had his best year every last season, but he’s now effectively the fourth option on his new team and I think Jimmy Butler will be touching the basketball a lot more than he will. And rounding out this team is some quality depth, if a bit boring. But for this team, I think that’s great. I have to give this team a shout out for the small offseason moves they made. Buying Kennedy Meeks for cash. Bringing in Mbah a Moute for pocket change. The signings of Dudley, McDaniels and Asik. None of those guys are great players, obviously, but they provide cheap, quality, proven depth. It’s the little things like that that keep a team going. Toronto is still comfortably ahead of the rest of the division and a sure playoff team for the fourth straight year.
Key additions: none
Key subtractions: none
Utah is another one of those good teams that didn’t do much in the offseason that I don’t have much to say about. I like the Holiday-Batum swap for Utah; point guard was a position of weakness and addressing it was a big priority. Batum is in decline and Holiday, while missing out on some assists thanks to pass hog (is that even a thing?) Rondo, but I think he’ll flourish as the Pelicans’ only wing player who can score. This team still needs some depth and could use a couple more forwards, but that top eight is nothing to be messed with. The Jazz are a certain playoff team again this year, but I think Portland has finally pulled ahead of them as the best team in that division. A lot of this team’s success is going to depend on how Hayward adjust from Boston, moving from a Utah role where he was maybe the only good scorer and de facto second point guard to a Celtics one where he’ll be playing with one of the most selfish point guards in the NBA. KCP was a terrific pickup and didn’t cost them much. I do worry about depth here, and about the redundancy of having three Celtics forwards in the starting eight. But overall, this team is still rock solid.
Key additions: Jrue Holiday
Key subtractions: Nic Batum
Despite winning the championship in year one, and despite having John Wall, this team is reeling and in danger of serious regression. One of the few middle-of-the-road teams last season, the Wizards might be left in the dust as other teams around them continue to improve. Don’t get me wrong: Despite that, there is actually a lot to like about this team. Wall is a top-ten player. Skal and Yogi were diamonds in the rough and awesome finds last season. Kennard is the best shooter from this year’s draft, supremely underrated athletically and will be a steal from the middle of the first round. We’ve all heard the Julius “in the best shape of his life” Randle stories, and I’m optimistic about him, too. Sabonis, though still a pretty bad NBA player, will be given plenty of room to play in Indiana. Tyson Chandler is still the only real center in Phoenix (OK, never mind, Len just signed his deal, but still). Kuzma. Oh mama does he look good. Where did this guy come from? Is it just Summer League/preseason hype? Or is he actually a good prospect? We’ll see…but damn he’s looked good. But what the team truly lacks is that “oomph” behind Wall. All of the above guys mentioned here are really nice, but not going to move the needle in the arms-race nature of this league. The difficulty in assessing this team lies in the question, “OK, so there are pieces here, but the team is not a contender. What do you do to improve the situation?” And the answer, I think, might just be to stand pat and wait. And that’s fine. It’s what I’ve been doing for the past two-plus years now. Give the Wizards a bit and they just might win another title. In the meantime, they could even make the playoffs now in the weakened East.
Key additions: Luke Kennard
Key subtractions: none
I think I also usually do playoff predictions each year, so here we go:
(Jeez, the West was tougher than I thought. It feels like 1-7 is a pick ’em.)
The doubles are now behind us, and the relentless plod of the season begins. It feels like we just kicked off, but with 7 games spread across the first four weeks, the midway point of the season is just about upon us. It’s been a surprising and fantastic start for some (Seattle, Jacksonville, Cincinnati), a forgettable disaster for others (Houston, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago), and exactly the walk in the park joyride we expected for still others (Buffalo, Detroit, NY Giants).
So what happened in the last of the doubles? And which teams fates are sealed as we hit football season flyover country? Glad you asked.
Buffalo Bills 221, Atlanta Falcons 157: This season has had some fantastic fantasy football games. Week 4 had none of them. This is literally the best one I could find. We didn’t have a single game this week where both teams broke 200, and only Buff vs. Atlanta and NYG over Tampa had two good teams with one scoring 200. Ouch. In any case, this one was the waxing we worried it might be. Julio Jones, hampered by injury, scored only 7 points, but even had he added another zero to his point total (as he is wont to do), it wouldn’t have mattered. The Bills picked up a cool 120 points on defense, led by Khalil Mack with 26, and Atlanta had only one player over 20 (the quarterback). The Bills are now sitting pretty with a three game lead in the East, while the Falcons are in a tailspin after dropping three straight.
Seattle Seahawks: How about dem Hawks? It’s pretty easy to dominate when you get 37 points from Bilal Powell, like the Seahawks did last week in a dual thumping of the Colts and Rams. Ezekiel Elliott is back on track (30), Russell Wilson is putting up points like he’s supposed to (26), Travis Kelce is the star tight end the Seahawks envisioned (27) and the offense put up a 150 point game. With the win over the Rams and a double loss by the Cardinals, the Seahawks are now 6-1 and have a two game lead in the AFC West, with the tiebreaker. The turnaround is here.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Look who just won’t go away? The Jaguars won the week with a 256 point total, which included, I kid you not, 164 points on defense. Besides slackers Kareem Jackson (4.5) and Jalen Ramsey (9), every person on the Jags defense hit double figures in a week that netted 6 turnovers, 6 sacks, 6 passes defensed, 3 stuffs, and a cool 62 tackles. After a pair of weeks under 200, the Jags are back in a big way, and in first place in the AFC South.
Kansas City Chiefs: Very quietly, the Chiefs are the other undefeated team in Real Deal. 7-0 and in first place in the West, the Chiefs have a top five offense, a top five defense, top 5 in total points, and the #2 QB in all of Real Deal, the Gunslingah himself, Alex Smith. The Chiefs now have a 270 point and a 240 point week to their name. Cue the inevitable thrashing this week at Houston.
Honorable Mention: Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants
Cleveland Browns: Well, that came apart rather quickly. Back to back weeks with 146 and 139 points yields four straight losses, a 1-5-1 record, and time to think about next work. On the docket, getting Mike Evans some help – Cleveland scored only 48 points on Sunday – 20 came from Evans. Jeremy Maclin, Marvin Jones, and Isaiah Crowell need to pick up the pace, or Cleveland is cruising towards a top 5 pick.
Atlanta Falcons: Speaking of coming apart quickly, the Falcons have got to be spinning around wondering what the hell just happened. Two weeks ago they were 3-0, in first place in the hardest division in football, and looking like absolute worldbeaters. After a 156 point dud where neither offense nor defense got over 75 points, the Falcons have dropped three straight games to fall to 4-3 and into their accustomed spot gazing up at the Panthers. Schedule has something to do with it, as the Falcons have faced both Buffalo and Detroit in those three games. Atlanta will be fine. But it would have been nice to have that dud on a single week.
Arizona Cardinals: This was NOT how Arizona envisioned their season. Not 3-4. Not in third place. Not three games behind a startlingly good Seahawks team, and CERTAINLY not putting a 132 point stinker in a double loss to San Francisco and Washington – they of the combined 0-12 record against everybody else. 47 points on offense, only four players on the team in double digits, and the dubious distinction of being the first team ever in RDFL history to lose to two teams with a 0 in the quarterback spot in the same week. Ouch. Week 4’s game against the Eagles is desperation city.
Honorable Mention: New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles
Games of the Week:
Arizona Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Two teams with playoff aspirations. Two teams with 3-4 records. Two teams with a combined 1-7 record in the past two weeks. Two games with three game deficits in their divisions. And two teams with a desperate chip on their shoulder. It’s go time. The winner of this week’s deathmatch gets back to .500 and respectability. The loser falls, in all probability, 4 games back in their division after 8 games and can essentially kiss the season goodbye.
Buffalo Bills vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Not so much a game as a scheduled whooping, this game nonetheless features a combined record of 12-2 and two distinct playoff hopefuls. That’s where the similarities end. Buffalo has scored more than 500 more points than Cincy, averaging ~75 more points per GAME. Buffalo has a top 3 offense and a top 3 defense. The Bengals are 15th and 16th respectively. TY Hilton is still without luck. I don’t know. I’m not going to try. It’s a game of the week in name, but I’m not sure I’d watch this one.
Detroit Lions vs. Carolina Panthers: This one? This one I’d watch. The 7-0 Super Bowl Champion Detroit Lions face the 6-1 Super Bowl Champion Carolina Panthers. This one has history, rivalry, and outstanding play. The stats say that the mighty Lions are the clear favorite. But Detroit is streaky. When they are good, they are 290 points invincible. Last week? Carolina would have won. And Carolina, the little team that could, always seems to find a way to win – even if it takes a stat correction of 7 hurries from a Monday game to do it. Detroit should win. But Carolina is spooky.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: An unexpected battle of division leaders, both teams are hotter than a bizarre combination of Zoolander and DeShaun Watson right now. The Steelers have gone 5-1 the last three weeks to reclaim the AFC North. Even better, Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell are getting back to their old selves. The Jaguars are using a ridiculous defense to go on the rampage. A win for Pittsburgh and the AFC looks the same as it ever was, with the Steelers way out in front of the North and the South a clumsy muddle. A win for Pittsburgh, and suddenly Jacksonville is legitimately scary.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Los Angeles Rams: Seattle vs. Arizona goes the common wisdom. The Cardinals will right the ship and it will go down to the last week in the season. The Los Angeles Rams, however, are in second place, and sit between the two NFC West bird squadrons. The Seahawks have been much better (1474 fantasy points to 1216) and have the much better offense (2nd in the league vs. 19th). And if Marcus Mariota doesn’t play… well, let’s just say there’s a reason we all subscribe to common wisdom. But that’s why they play the games. A win for Seattle combined with an Arizona loss and the Seahawks have officially ran away and hid. But a Rams win? We’re one game apart with an LA tiebreaker. I don’t think it happens. But stranger things certainly have.