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 😉.
The defending champion Detroit Lions went up against two undefeated teams in Atlanta and Cincinnati – and obliterated them both. Detroit scored 290 points behind 41 points from Todd Gurley (Detroit draft pick), 38 points from Brandin Cooks (Detroit draft pick), 22 points from Tyreek Hill (Detroit draft pick), 26 points from Darius Slay (original franchise), 25 from Glover Quin (original franchise), and 19 points from Adoree Jackson (Detroit draft pick). The Lions would have gone over 300 points had Jackson’s TD return not been called back. Oh. And they beat their undefeated opponents by a cool 183 points.
Not to be outdone, the Buffalo Bills dropped a 298.25 outing on New England and Denver, missing the 300 point mark by a single Anthony Brown tackle. The Bills did it by a well rounded effort – literally 10/20 players scored between 17 and 32 points. Led by, you guessed it, AJ Mother #($&)#(*$ Green (Trade), and supported by Doug Baldwin (Trade), Devonta Freeman (Trade), Rob Gronkowski (Trade), and Tyrod Taylor (Trade). I suspect some of the defensive guys were also trades, but I haven’t done the legwork.
The moral of the story is crystal clear, and twofold.
Detroit and Buffalo are insanely good and the clear favorites to meet in the Super Bowl
DON’T trade Detroit draft picks, and DON’T trade Buffalo players. If you do, you’re a bad person and contributing to the decline of society.
This has been your public service announcement from the competition committee 🙂
Games of the Week:
Atlanta Falcons 239, New Orleans Saints 220: Playoff teams, high scoring, tight games. The Falcons may have lost an impossible game to Detroit, but they did play exceptionally well and needed it to hold off a game New Orleans team and retain control of the NFC South at 4-1. The Falcons got an enormous 38 point burst from Chris Thompson, of all people, and a 19 point game from their kicker to overcome rough games from Jay Ajayi and Kelvin Benjamin. The Saints kept it close via a pair of interceptions from newly acquired Terrance Mitchell, but were undone by a brutal injury to Darren Sproles, a couple of near misses on deep bombs from JJ Nelson, and a strong performance on Monday night from Carson Palmer.
Seattle Seahawks 229, Tennessee Titans 220: This one is simple. A combined 80 points from Russell Wilson and Sterling Shepherd give the Seahawks the victory by the narrowest of margins over AFC contender Tennessee. The Titans got a strong (114 point) defensive game, and had to be feeling gratified as Odell Beckham finally broke out (29 points) and recently acquired Case Keenum justified his acquisition costs with 34 points. The end was brutal, however, as a Giants receiver not named Odell Beckham took a 77 yard score to the house to provide the difference. That’s a rough situation for a Giants fan who also owns the OTHER Giants receiver.
On the Rise:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Every year, we predict the Buccaneers are going to be in the mix. Every year they struggle out of the gate as Carolina, Atlanta, and New Orleans distance themselves… Wait… what’s that you say? Not this year? Not this year. The Bucs just quietly scored 218 points to knock off divisional rival Carolina by 5 and the upstart Vikings by 25. Suddenly Tampa Bay is tied with Atlanta at 4-1 and feeling serious confidence in a disruptive Defense that just dropped 155 points in a well balanced effort where no single player scored less than 8 points and Jadeveon Clowney (finally!) went off for 31. The offense is in rough shape. But if that defense can keep on playing…
Pittsburgh Steelers: What a difference a week makes in Steel City. The Steelers finally found their mojo in week 3, and just in time to go 2-0, knock off the scuffling Houston Texans, and move back into their accustomed position in first place. Same as it ever was. How did it happen? Well, Le’Veon Bell finally showed up, Kenny Britt finally caught a pass, and DeForest Buckner finally made a play. The scary part is that Pittsburgh still only got mediocre games from guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Jarvis Landry. This thing might be on a steady climb.
New York Jets: My my my. One week after being competitive and coming away with nothing to show for it, the Jets got back on the horse and delivered the first multi-win week in FRANCHISE HISTORY. They are now 3-2 and are solidly ensconced in 2nd place in the East. Yes, their opponents in week 3 have a combined 2-8 record. Yes, it was literally ALL from Stefon Diggs (46 points) and DeMario Davis (26). And yes they only scored 172 points. But 2-0! J-E-T-S!
Indianapolis Colts: Gotta go one extra here and give a shout out to Indy, who pulled out a 2-0 week with strong wins over both Cleveland and Baltimore. After a brutal week one offensive performance, the Colts have moved up to a respectable mid-60s offense in both weeks 2 and 3, and investments in guys like Alvin Kamara and Bruce Ellington appear to be paying dividends. It’s probably too much to ask for Indy to climb back into the mix, but a 2-0 week restores the Colts to the ranks of the respectable.
Honorable Mentions: Kansas City Chiefs, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks
Carolina Panthers: What just happened? The 2-1 Panthers were engaged in a pair of close games with divisional rivals Tampa Bay and New Orleans as the Falcons were getting smashed by Detroit. This is Carolina. The result was an inevitable pair of victories which leave them at 4-1, tied for first, and bringing their intimidating moxie to bear against upstart Atlanta. But something happened. Instead of a huge push from DeMarcus Lawrence putting them over the top, it fell just short on Monday night, and the Panthers lost both divisional games by 5 and 7 points respectively. Cam is struggling, the offensive depth isn’t quite there, and the Panthers are suddenly 2-3 and last place. What is going on?
Houston Texans: Speaking of “what is going on”, the Texans have to feel totally shell-shocked. A trendy Super Bowl pick at the beginning of the year, the Texans have scuffled to a 1-4 start, obviously suffering from a Super Bowl hangover. It’s not disaster from any one player, it’s lethargy across the whole roster. The highest individual performance was 15.5 points in week 3, and no offensive player even reached 15. Trevor Siemian is hit or miss, Lamar Miller is mostly getting hit, and the big games of old just aren’t coming. There’s still plenty of time, but with Jacksonville and Tennessee in the last double, Houston needs to get right soon.
The rest of the AFC North: We’ve already talked about Pittsburgh. While the Steelers were rocketing back up the standings, the rest of the league was… struggling. Cleveland, Baltimore, and Cincinnati went a combined 0-6. Cincy fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, scoring only 167 points in twin losses to Detroit and Green Bay. Cleveland also dropped a pair, scoring only 146 in rough losses to Indy (now with an offense!) and Chicago. And not to be outdone, the to point strong Ravens laid a 119 point egg and got crushed by the Colts. Mercy. Three teams who had playoff aspirations from the best division in football just combined to average 144 points a piece. Blech. We’ll see if this fixes itself or not.
Dishonorable Mentions: Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers (attaway, commish squad!)
Week 4 Games of the Week: One more double!
Atlanta Falcons vs. Buffalo Bills: Atlanta scored 240 points and got a loss against the undefeated juggernauts of the NFC, the Detroit Lions, and a strong win against Divisional rival Atlanta. Their reward? A game against the undefeated juggernauts of the AFC, the Buffalo Bills, and a tough game against divisional rival Tampa Bay. No rest for the weary. The Falcons do need Julio Jones to go off to a 70 point tune to have a chance in this one. Buffalo has looked like a different team since week 1, following up a clunky 179 point opener with 264 and 298. Scary.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The upstarts of the AFC South, both sitting pretty at 4-1. That’s sort of where the comparison ends, though, as Atlanta has outscored Tampa Bay by 250 points thus far (50 points per game), and has the #2 point total in the league. Unless Tampa finds its offense real fast (currently 31st in RDFL), Atlanta is going to be alone in first place, even with a potential loss to Buffalo.
New York Giants vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Here’s why. The Bucs don’t just get the Falcons, they also get the Giants, who are quietly turning in their own superb season, going 4-1 and turning in a cool #3 in fantasy points scored. And now they have a Rivers. This could get bad.
Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders: Don’t look now, but Denver is 3-2, just went over 200 points, and now has a Manning who now has a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. Initial predictions had Oakland in the driver’s seat in the AFC West, but the Raiders are a Dez Bryant struggle inch on Monday night away from a loss to Washington and a 1-4 record, while the Broncos are at 3-2 and suddenly look pretty competitive. We shall see.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Los Angeles Rams: I had to do a double check, but you know who else besides the Jets is 3-2 that is never 3-2? The LA Rams. They haven’t played all that well, and lack everything but a quarterback, but they have shots at Seattle and Dallas this week, and a good week could have them at 5-2. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are sitting at 4-1 with games against Indy and the Rams. They’d better win both, though, because the Arizona Cardinals are lurking with games against Washington and San Francisco – the league’s only two winless teams.
Good luck this week, everyone! Enjoy the last double until week 12!
Like any other season of Real Deal Baseball, there have been no shortage of trades. Some teams are loading up (Miami Marlins, New York Yankees), while some are building for next year (Tampa Bay Rays).
With the playoffs around the corner (already?), we are going to focus on moves made in the past month that have the most potential impact for this year’s playoff run. Instead of providing all of the fine details in these trades, we will focus on the players that have the most impact.
Houston gets Khris Davis
In a move that helps Milwaukee replenish some of his prospects, Khris Davis goes to the Astros for Teoscar Hernandez, Jason Martin, and Jake Rogers. The latter two players were then flipped to the Cubs in a deal that brought Ervin Santana back to Milwaukee. Like Tampa Bay, the Brewers definitely have a plan for the playoffs.
New York Yankees get Brian Dozier
The Yankees, for what it’s worth, also acquired Carlos Carrasco, Jarrod Dyson, Miguel Gonzalez, and Brad Ziegler in one large trade. But its Brian Dozier who I see as having the most potential, as Dozier sits as the third best overall fantasy player behind Stanton and Machado over the past 30 days. In this deal, the Yankees sent three prospects for Dozier and a late pick. Dozier could be a difference maker come playoff time, and even right now, in the midst of a tight race with Boston for the division.
Milwaukee gets Justin Turner, Andrew McCutchen
One of a number of Tampa Bay sell off moves (He seems to have a definitive plan for next year…), this move saw Milwaukee getting Justin Turner, Andrew McCutchen, and a decent reliever in Joe Smith. Tampa Bay’s haul, as expected, was a number of prospects/young players, headlined by Blake Snell. A heavy price, perhaps, but the Brewers now have a combined (at the moment) 975 extra points in their offense, which will help going into the playoffs.
Miami gets Giancarlo Stanton
Okay, so I am cheating a bit here, in that this deal was more than a month ago, but a deal involving Giancarlo Stanton—given the season he is having—should be mentioned here. Over the past 30 days, (as of this moment) Stanton has been the best player in fantasy, averaging nearly a full point more than the next best player (Manny Machado.) He paid a steep price (Yu Darvish, Christian Yelich, and Eddy Rodriguez), but this could be a deal that has huge implications come the playoffs. As the owner of Arizona, I hope not. =)
Other notable acquisitions that could have playoff implications (Sorry if I missed any, but I tried not to):
We now turn our attention towards the rising sun, that mighty land of lobsters, alligators, and attitude. Phase II of our perfect predictions starts now. And we begin, counterintuitively, with the NFC East.
New York Giants (11-5): Same as it ever was. The New York Giants kicked off their RDFL experience with an epic tanking job in 2013 where they finished dead last in Fantasy Points. Since then, they have finished in the top 4 in fantasy points in the entire NFL EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. 2nd in 2014. 4th in 2015. And first in 2016. And yet they have never made it to the Super Bowl.
New York has become the dominant regular season squad that just can’t seem to put it all together for a playoff run. It’s no longer about what happens in the fall for the New York Giants. It’s what happens after the Thanksgiving that matters. And while I still think the Giants will be good enough to win the division, I begin to worry that that the window might be closing.
Let’s start with the passing game. Eli Manning, for all his bizarre fluctuations as a real quarterback, is always fantasy relevant, and this year should be no exception at all with the weapons at his disposal in a McAdoo system and a division bereft of strong secondaries. Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and Larry Fitzgerald make a star-studded trio of receivers, and DeMarco Murray should have at least one more year of powerful running in him.
The defense is not really led by Robert “Come all without, come all within, you’ll not see nothing like the mighty” Quinn, but I needed excuse to use that jingle, and it is stout. Myles Jack anchors the interior, Carlos Dunlap the front line, and Trumaine Johnson plays the role of a strong cover corner. It will be good.
Still, there are holes on this team, for once. Eric Ebron isn’t on par with the rest of the starting offense, and the offense itself lacks depth after the star-studded front lines. On defense, there are actual holes, actual weaknesses in the Giants veneer of power. New York will be relying on guys like Maliek Collins, Trey Flowers, Devon Kennard, Andrew Sendejo, and Josh Jones for meaningful outings in the quest for a Super Bowl. It’s going to be a strong squad some weeks, but I can also see weeks where this team could get well under 200, an almost unheard of result for the past three years.
It’s a strong team. Probably strong enough to win the NFC East yet again. But not the sort of prohibitive favorite we’ve come to expect from Big Blue, and with teams like Detroit, Carolina, and Atlanta trolling the NFC and looking for prey, probably not a favorite to get that elusive Super Bowl berth, much as I think the Giants deserve it. Like the early 2000s Seattle Mariners and the recent Washington Capitals, the New York Real Deal Giants might go down in history as one of the best regular season teams ever and lack hardware to show for their dynasty.
Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): One thing I can guarantee is that the Philadelphia Eagles have zero sympathy. ZERO. They give no fucks.From day #1, two things have been true about the NFC East – the Eagles have been good and the Redskins have been bad. It has just been Philly’s misfortune to be surrounded by dominant squads – first Dallas, and then the Giants. I can tell you this much – the Birds are salivating at any hint of weakness coming from New York, and waiting to pounce at the first sign of trouble. Could it be their year?
Well, yes. It absolutely could. Why? This defense is fan-freaking-tastic. A look at the names is not going to fill anyone with awe, but it goes literally 17 deep with starting players who should play key roles on their respective teams. Ezekiel Ansah, Fletcher Cox, Deion Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Damarious Randall, Connor Barwin, Tashaun Gipson, the Honey Badger – even guys like Eric Rowe coming off the bench. It’s a strong, solid defense and one I expect to hit triple digits on a fairly regular basis. One that should outclass the Giants defense by a significant margin.
The question facing the Eagles is simply this: Can their collection of misfits and ne’erdowells on the offensive end keep pace with the strutting star power of guys like Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and Larry Fitzgerald.
Well… maybe. There are intriguing players here, to be sure. Derek Carr is growing into a bona fide stud, and could match Eli. Taylor Gabriel, Malcolm Mitchell, Ty Montgomery (still with WR eligibility), Spencer Ware, Jamaal Charles, and Tyler Higbee… you look at these names, and on recognition alone, you expect Philly to get laughed out of the stadium. But man. Gabriel’s a nice player. Mitchell’s a nice player. Montgomery might be an RB1. So might Ware. J-Mail might still have a year left. Higbee might explode. Fitzgerald might fade. Hopkins might have another down year. DeMarco might get hurt…
It feels a little bit like the American Revolution. You know damn well the Redcoats SHOULD win. They have every advantage… BUT. BUT. I don’t know.
In all likelihood, the Giant offense smokes Philly’s by 50 points or more every game, it’s not a gap the defense can make up, and the Eagles maintain their bridesmaid streak. But. But…
Dallas Cowboys (7-9): After Philly, this division gets bad in a hurry. After looking at Dallas’ roster for this piece, I had to do a quick double check on Washington’s, because certainly this team is going to finish in last place. But no. Dallas will finish third. Comfortably ahead of the hapless Redskins. And comfortably behind Philadelphia and New York.
The Cowboys are actually on a pretty good track. DeShaun Watson is plugged in at QB for the foreseeable future, and Dalvin Cook as stud RB – taking care of the two hardest positions in Real Deal to find for the long term. Jake Butt is not a sure thing, but could be a franchise TE sooner rather than later as well. After that, though… man. Paul Richardson and Marquess Wilson are two guys who were pretty lustrous when they were drafted, but have lost a lot of that appeal after people saw them actually play. DeMarcus Robinson is probably nearing his ceiling as a filler guy, and Alex Collins seems perennially trapped at 3rd or 4th on the running back depth chart. There’s no depth at all on offense. The cupboard is really, really bare.
Flipping over to the defense reminded me of the scene from Home Alone 2 where Kevin is running through New York at night and freaking out about the bird lady. He screams for a taxi, hops in, and tells the back of the driver’s head “It’s scary out there.” The driver looks back, and resembling nothing so much as a warty ogre, remarks “Ain’t much better in here kid”, at which Kevin screams and runs away. This experience has a double parallel for Dallas. On the one hand, it’s what I think of their chances with Philadelphia (the creepy bird lady) and New York (the ogre in the cab). More relevantly, it was my personal experience when I jumped from the offensive side of the roster to the defensive one. “That offense is scary!”. “Not much better here on defense, kid”.
And it isn’t. Jalen Collins is suspended for 10 games. Which one ups Dominique Easley, who is both injured and out of a job. It’s slim pickings even among the players who are starting. Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne represent the perennial “we’ve never been very good Cowboy Corners” club, and Byron Jones is trying desperately not to slide into that role. John Jenkins could be good up front, but has never had the fantasy productivity you hope for. Anthony Hitchens and Shaq Thompson could be decent at linebacker. But man. Zach Orr is technically retired. Perry Riley’s out of a job. So’s Ricardo Matthews. Corey Graham is on a one year prove it deal as a backup safety. The rest of the defense are unproven rookies without clear paths to significant roles. It’s rough.
Still, this team has some franchise pieces in place, and a clear plan, which is actually pretty exceptional considering where the previous owner left the team following a series of brutal trades in which most of Dallas’ good pieces ended up on the Falcons. It’s a tough road for Dallas, but the team is headed in a good direction.
Washington Redskins (4-12): And yet, with all its holes, with all its challenges, Dallas remains light years ahead of Washington. The Skins have been stuck in neutral essentially since the start of the league, plagued with a brutally strong division and handicapped by both a dearth of franchise talent in the initial draft and by the inaugural owner – who made a really bad win now trade with the Giants that essentially set both teams on their current courses. It’s been a monumental challenge for subsequent and current owners. But the Skins ARE finally on the path. A full rebuild has Washington with no less than four first round picks in 2018, a couple of which should be juicy.
Still, the road up remains long and the path remains challenging for a Washington team that remains brutally bereft of true talent. Colt McCoy is the quarterback. The best player on offense is hands down Terrance Williams. UPDATE: WAS Terrance Williams. He now plays for… you guessed it. The Giants. And besides him, only Tyler Kroft and Ricardo Louis have any sort of potential – and one guy is stuck behind Tyler Eifert while the other plays for the Cleveland Browns. The defense is better, with guys like Ryan Shazier, David Amerson, Xavier Rhodes, Kenny Vaccaro, Chris Smith, and Robert Nkemdiche offering at the very least hope, and in some cases, strong play.
The worm can turn fast in this league, once a team gets some traction. Tennessee rebuilt. Jacksonville is on the path. The Giants sort of did it. The Bills have turned into worldbeaters, albeit more through incredible trading acumen than a true rebuild. The Vikings are about to turn the corner. Miami could be great soon. And Washington is positioned. This young defense could grow into something exceptional over the next year or two. And with four first rounders in 2018, the Skins could be ready for an infusion of talent on offense as well. The Redskins might be approaching that point where they can flip the go switch and finally kick things into gear, just as the Giants finally descend from the mountain.
But it won’t be this year. Like the real world 76ers mired in the Process, long-suffering Skins fans have one more campaign of misery. But there is a hint of dawn on the horizon.
Buffalo Bills (12-4): The Eastern divisions of RDFL are nothing, if not predictable. The last time the Bills didn’t win the AFC East was 2013 – coincidentally, the last time the Giants didn’t win the NFC East. In some ways, the two teams have been mirror images of each other – star studded juggernauts who have monstered through their relative leagues with ease, but have yet to win the Big One. Buffalo, at least, has made a Super Bowl (2015), but both have known the disappointment of having utterly dominant squads, but falling short of the ultimate prize. Buffalo particularly is coming off a brutal conclusion to 2016 where injuries and suspension obliterated their lineup and they were knocked out of the playoffs on a last minute, Monday night 80 yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan with just a few minutes to play. It’s been rough.
Still, the Bills, like the Giants, remain poised for at least one more campaign, and even more than the Giants remain positioned to maintain long-term domination via trading. Miami and New England will pose perennial challenges within the division, and Kansas City, Houston and Pittsburgh continue to pose consistent conference threats, but the Bills remain the cream of the conference – and really deserve a year of good luck.
In all honesty, though, they might not need luck. This team reads like a who’s who list of all-star studs from top to bottom. Adrian Peterson. Devontae Freeman. AJ Green. Rob Gronkowski. Alshon Jeffery. Doug Baldwin. Khalil Mack. Jason Pierre Paul (still with a hand!), Aaron Donald, Navorro Bowman… Even the guys who aren’t big names, like Tyrod Taylor, Anthony Brown, Mike Adams, Jerry Hughes, and George Iloka are good players. And if that wasn’t enough, the Bills have Christian McCaffery and OJ Howard just chilling on their Practice Squad (their Practice Squad!) and six 1st and 2nd round picks in 2019. It’s enough to make someone swear. Detroit – that’s your cue.
If I had to nitpick, it would be to note that the Bills don’t have the kind of depth they did in past years. Where once they could wrangle people into submission with a 15 deep starting defensive core and a flood of solid offensive back-ups, it’s not quite the case here. There may even be a couple holes on defense. But man. That’s such a minor nitpick when you have that kind of star power – and the luxury of having guys like McCaffery and Howard not even PLAY their first year. Silliness. Barring another ridiculous batch of injuries, the Bills should cruise Anthony Davis Kentucky style to yet another AFC East title, and another excellent chance to end that Super Bowl drought.
New England Patriots (9-7): How do they do it? The ultimate “win now” squad, Ric Nowinsky’s Patriots pursue victory every game and every year, building through underpriced veterans with an almost appalling lack of regard for draft picks. It’s the sort of strategy that never works in the NFL and that you constantly expect to lead to cratering and ruin a la Brooklyn Nets even in fantasy. And yet. Every year. There they are. Right there in the playoff hunt, competing for playoff berths and making a royal pesky nuisance of themselves. If not for the dominance of the Bills and a pair of brutal practice squad forfeits a couple years ago, we might be talking about the most unorthodox RDFL dynasty ever.
And somehow, some way, the Patriots are poised to contend again with the most geriatric group of geezers this world has ever seen. Tom Brady is going strong at QB, Frank Gore continues to churn along at RB when most of his peers have forsaken the rock for the wheelchair, and Mike Wallace is an elder statesman at wide receiver after somehow reinventing his entire career. The Patriots have supplemented their veterans with potential value finds and castoffs like Cameron Brate, Nelson Agholor, Lamar Miller, and Charles Clay – and frankly, seem poised to field a really nice offense.
The defense… well, the defense, as always, has holes. It has studs like Eric Berry and Stephon Gilmore in the defensive secondary, and surprisingly fantasy productive guys like Jatavis Brown and Jaylen Watkins. But man does it have some holes as well. Guys like Tyson Alualu, Bronson Kaufusi, Elandon Roberts, Marcus Roberts, and Letroy Guion will have to play above their historical contributions. And that will still leave guys like Brennan Scarlet and Cre’Von LeBlanc to prove that they are actual NFL players and not hokey template characters in a bad remake of “Clue II: Revenge of the Wrench”.
It’s the same blend that has combined to make New England one of the most fun and unpredictable teams in all of Real Deal. A strong, unconventional offense, combined with defensive studs and spare parts that somehow puts it right in the thick of a playoff picture every year. Including 2017.
Miami Dolphins (7-9): That sound you heard when Ryan Tannehill’s knee popped was the mournful wailing of everyone in Miami bemoaning a serious blow to their playoff chances. But what you probably should have heard was relief. This injury gives what could be among the best up and coming offenses in the game another year to develop and, potentially, add another high draft pick to add to the asset stash for when this team is truly ready to compete. Just don’t sign Cutler. Don’t do it. Don’t. Do. It.
Look, if New England is the bizarre beginning of Benjamin Button, Miami is the heartfelt conclusion. Here’s the offense:
Colin Kaepernick. Age: Doesn’t Matter. Status: Blackballed.
Leonard Fournette. Age: 22. Status: Rookie of the Year.
Tevin Coleman. Age: 24. Status: Damn good backup
Breshad Perriman. Age: 23. Status: Hasn’t quite lost his luster.
Kevin White. Age: 25. Status: Ready to rock… if Trubisky pans out, of course.
Jeremy Hill. Age: 24. Status: They drafted a convict to take his job. He cranky.
Sammy Watkins. Age: 24. Status: Blueballed
Corey Davis. Age: 22. Status: Star of the high flying Tennessee Titan passing game. Yeah. You heard me right.
Danny Vitale. Age: 23. Status: I don’t know who this guy is. I think he might have a job because he’s related to DIckie V. I can think of no other reason
Jacoby Brisssett. Age: 23. Status: Balls owned by Bill Belichick, never to be seen again.
Josh Doctson. Age: 24. Status: About to see the magical land of opportunity in Washington
Gerald Everett. Age: 23. Status: Duking it out with the Higbee.
There’s other guys just on offense, but man I’m bored making that list. And seriously? I think it might be obscuring the point. LOOK AT THOSE GUYS. Leo Fournette, Tevin Coleman, Breshad Perriman, Kevin White, Jeremy Hill, Sammy Watkins, Corey Davis, Josh Doctson, Gerald Everett… I mean, are you freaking kidding me? ALL under 25. ALL studs. This is a terrifying array of talent.
Fortunately for all humankind, the defense is just as young, but not the same level of imposing. The starting lineup is strewn with guys like Marcus Smith, Jordan Phillips, Quinten Rollins, and Tony Lippett – younger guys without clear paths to playing time. These folks mingle with players like Vonn Bell, Michael Thomas, and Charles Harris who are the genuine hope of the youth movement and on a parallel track with the offense. Also of concern, the Dolphins are devastated at Linebacker with injuries, with both Trent Williams and Dannell Ellerbe lost for the season and Shane Ray out for the critical multiple-weeks early in the year. Vince Williams is Miami’s only linebacker available for week 1.
End of the story, injuries at major positions on both offense and defense have left glaring holes in Miami’s chances in 2017. But a ridiculous collection of up and coming young talent has Miami poised for the future, if they can pick up just a couple more guys on defense – something another year of mediocrity and high draft picks might allow them to do. Blessings in disguise.
New York Jets (4-12): No blessings and no disguises here. Only brutal, gritty, film noir reality. Like Washington, the poor Jets have been all aboard the struggle bus since year #1. Eerily parallel. A tough division, paired with a dominant team, and saddled with a lack of talent from the franchise draft. Unlike Washington, the Jets have taken a stand pat tactic, rarely trading and gradually building year upon year from strong draft picks and forays into free agency. A more conventional team-building process – neither advanced by strong trades and tanking, or derailed by bad decisions.
It’s not ready to pay off yet. The Jets HAVE talent – a big three of Carson Wentz, Melvin Gordon, and Stefon Diggs is nothing to sneeze at on offense, and it’s much more than a big three on defense: Mo Wilkerson, Demario Davis, Vernon Hargreaves, and HaHa Clinton Dix, just to name a few. Mike Williams would have been a great fourth for the offense if the injury bug hadn’t struck. The problem is that there isn’t enough quantity. And the second problem is that while some of the draft picks have been fantastic, some others like Johnny Manziel have simply not panned out.
There’s definitely talent and hope here beyond the front guys. Rasul Douglas was a canny pick who may see some clear time for the CB-needy Eagles. AJ Klein should catapult to a starting role with the Saints when he gets healthy after being stuck behind Luke Kuechly for years. Vernon Butler, Sharif Floyd, and Leonard Williams are all highly touted young players with potential. Jeff Heuerman has had a lot of buzz for the Broncos at times. But they certainly aren’t ready for yet, and there are no guarantees that the ceiling for any of these guys will be what New York needs.
The Jets need a break. They need a fourth round draft pick to come out of nowhere to become a star. They need to win a blockbuster trade. They need to turn players into assets and assets into players. Because the trajectory is up. But it’s a long slow curve, and it’s not at all clear that the ceiling of that curve ends at the top of the division, not with Buffalo poised to stay good for years to come, New England’s perennial mad wizardry, and an under 25 dolphins roster that is loaded with rocket fuel and about to get launched to the stratosphere. It’s a conundrum.
Guys, this has been a really great season. We’ve had some monster trades, big-time performances, tight divisional races and the formation of some real super-team type squads.
But the one thing that’s been missing? Playoff drama.
Let’s be real: We’ve known who the playoff teams would be since, like, early December. There is such a massive divide between the good teams and the bad teams in this league that it’s actually a little bit ridiculous. There are only two teams with records even CLOSE to .500: Washington and Phoenix, and Phoenix only because they blew their team up a month ago. The biggest trend in this league by far is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Ho hum.
But anyway. The playoffs are here! Let’s break it down.
1. ATLANTA VS. 8. MIAMI
This could be a very interesting 1-8 matchup, which is sort of an oxymoron. Atlanta has proved that the most important thing to have in this league is depth, riding a tidal wave of nine 30+ PPG scorers to a Real Deal record 71 wins. So their victory over the lowly 8 seed should be a sure thing, right? Not so fast. Riding high off of the acquisition of Harrison “Not Empty Stats” Barnes, this new-look Miami team has seven players who score 30 or more PPG – incidentally, the same amount of players the Hawks have at that mark over the past month. The main difference between the two? Atlanta has two star-level players, or near it, in Millsap and Howard. They’ve given near 50 points apiece pretty consistently across the season. Throw in the fact that Miami’s best player, Goran Dragic, is dealing with one of the ugliest looking face injuries I’ve seen in basketball and I think the Hawks can wrap this one up pretty handily. The Heat do have a slight minutes advantage this week, but I’m still giving it to ATLANTA.
2. INDIANA VS. 7. CLEVELAND
A Central Division clash! Westbrook vs. LeBron! Actually, there’s not much to say about these two teams apart from what I’ve been saying about them for a while now. Indiana is a super team with the potential to become a dynasty. Cleveland has three awesome players and 11 crappy ones. The Pacers, who have been at or near the top in scoring since acquiring Griffin and Westbrook, will win this matchup in a landslide. Sadly, March LeBron is not Playoffs LeBron. One thing to watch as a potential Achilles’ heel for Indy as the playoffs go on: the dismal lack of depth. If one of their starters goes out next week, they could be in trouble. And that’s with Dante Exum and his 14 PPG already in the starting 8. Still, though, my pick is INDIANA.
3. CHICAGO VS. 6 CHARLOTTE
Oh boy. It’s been a bad luck season for the Bulls. I’ll start with the most obvious thing, and that’s Kevin Durant and his 57 PPG sitting out injured. Add in the announcement of Chandler Parson’s knee busting again after lineups were set, meaning Chicago is playing 7 on 8 before the action really even begins. This is a team that should’ve done better. Difficult to say, considering they’re behind only the untouchable Hawks and super team Pacers in the East, but the Bulls were as low as the 6 seed just yesterday afternoon. They’ve been fending off the Bucks (somehow?!) in the Central all season and has recently been going through the eating-of-dust of the aforementioned Pacers in the Central. Durant wasn’t supposed to get hurt. Tobias Harris was supposed to become a leading scorer for Detroit. Aaron Gordon was supposed to play power forward all season, but Frank Vogel and his asinine lineups ruined that, too (trust me, I’ve been there). Oh, and which team are they up against in the first round of the playoffs? A red-hot Charlotte team that comfortably scored the most points in the league last week. The Hornets are a sort of Hawks-lite-ish team in that they’re deep but lack a true superstar. Kemba is the closest thing they have, but that’s OK when the supporting cast includes Avery Bradley, Otto Porter, Clint Capela and Enes Kanter, all of whom are having their best seasons. Chicagos’ bad luck continues and they’ll become the first upset of Round 1 so far, falling to CHARLOTTE.
4. TORONTO VS. 5. MILWAUKEE
Now that seedings are based on record first and not division titles, Toronto no longer automatically slots into the 3 seed, but luckily for them they’ve only fallen one spot. This is a team that’s a bit on its heels at the moment, losing their best player in Kyle Lowry. They’ve still got some competent talent, enjoying meaningful production from DeRozan, Gortat, Teague, Randolph and the no-longer-a-piece-of-crap-apparently Dion Waiters. In some cases, that’s enough to win a playoff series against a lower seed. Milwaukee, somehow, hung near the top of the Central all season long despite only having five truly good players (the same amount Toronto currently has) in Giannis, Ibaka, Payton, Young and Sir Robert Covington. This season, Toronto had the single easiest schedule in the league. Milwaukee’s difficulty of schedule was right in the middle of the pack at the 13th hardest. The teams finished 11th and 13th in total scoring. So your guess is really as good as anyone’s in this situation. I’ll give the slight edge to Milwaukee here. The Bucks have Giannis. And the Raptors are missing Lowry badly. So, yeah, the pick is MILWAUKEE, a team that continues to hang on.
1. NEW ORLEANS VS. 8. PHOENIX
Nothing to see here, folks. This would’ve been a hell of a matchup if Phoenix still had Westbrook and Thomas. IT is back to burn his old team with Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, Eric Bledsoe and company to help. NEW ORLEANS in a landslide, featuring Jrue Holiday next week.
2. SAN ANTONIO VS. 7. HOUSTON
Another fairly uninteresting matchup. San Antonio is the top scoring team in the league and is starting to get healthy again with Lin and soon Turner coming back to support Kawhi, KAT and Drummond. Houston, who had their regular season wins record broken this year, has James Harden and not much else. In terms of the playoff teams, the Rockets were second to last in scoring, ahead of only Phoenix. As one of the few teams in the league without an abundance of cap room, this offseason will be a meaningful one for Houston. The pick is SAN ANTONIO.
3. GOLDEN STATE VS. 6. SACRAMENTO
This is a tricky matchup. Golden State are the reigning champs, but in hindsight, it’s starting to feel like the Dubs rode Curry all the way to the title last year. That’s not really an option anymore. Curry is putting out a whole 10 PPG fewer than he did last year. The supporting cast remains strong, but those 10 points missing from your top guy do matter. The Warriors are enjoying a great second-year jump from Myles Turner, but Klay Thompson and Brook Lopez have both declined ever so slightly from last year. On the other hand, JJ Barea is coming back just in time, and Bojan Bogdanovic has somehow had some amazing games since arriving in DC. Sacramento has had one heck of a weird season. After losing Rudy Gay for the season, it looked for a bit like the Kings were throwing in the towel as they struggled to keep up with the West’s best. Dirk was shipped out of town. But then something miraculous happened: the Kings acquired Chris Paul, perhaps the best point guard of his generation, for basically free. And Chris Paul came back from injury and resumed normal Chris Paul Activities, keeping the Kings alive and allowing the team to lock up the 6 seed and avoiding a dreaded matchup with New Orleans or San Antonio. Look, Golden State has been the better team consistently over the course of the season, but Sacramento has a real chance here. And that’s where I stopped writing before the Monday night games started, which kind of ruined by prediction. So, yeah, the Kings have a 100-point lead and a minutes advantage. The winner is SACRAMENTO.
4. PORTLAND VS. 5. UTAH
This is the only possible way this could have ended up. The preseason favorites to take the Northwest, Utah could only watch as the red-hot Blazers tore through the first month or so of the season, building a lead that looked at points to be insurmountable. This led the Jazz to do some tinkering, acquiring Al Horford, Cody Zeller and Nikola Vucevic to shore up the frontcourt positions and give Hayward some help. Utah came roaring back, reclaiming the top spot on the division. The arms race continued and Portland brought in Dirk, Jae Crowder and Pat Beverley to add to a squad that sorely lacked depth. These two teams were neck and neck for the longest time, but in the end it was the Blazers who came out on top to lock up the 4 seed…only to face the team they’d been fending off all year long. This is my favorite matchup of Round 1. These are two teams that are just very, very solid from 1-8. I expect this to come down to the wire, but I’m giving the edge here to the team that can hope for some superstar performances from Damian Lillard and Jimmy Butler: PORTLAND.
One interesting note in all of this: Kyle O’Quinn will likely be claimed off waivers this week by a playoff team. If he’s plucked by a team that advances to the next round, he could be a difference maker. Keep an eye on that.
So that’s it! Enjoy Round 1! And let me know your predictions too!
we have a year around league that might interest you. Real Deal Ultimate features 3 sports in 1 league. Each sport has their own page where you manage your rosters but you complete against the same owners/GMs in all 3 sports as you own one team from each sport that is or has been historically associated with a city/metro area. This is 24 City League with a $200 yearly buy-in. It may seem like a lot but it includes all three sports as well as bonuses awarded to the top performers overall. Only $100 is due up front to get started as the 2nd half is due this Summer. Our calendar year runs from Jan 1st thru Dec 31st and we have a few open cities heading into 2017, our 3rd season, starting with Baseball.
If there is a sport that you don’t know as well, we have several cities that are co-owned that split up the GM duties as well as the buy-in. If you don’t have anyone to go in with, we can connect you with GMs that can manage a sport for you as the sole owner if needed. The Constitution is currently under review, but I would be happy to send the 2016 document to anyone that inquires. Just a warning, the Constitution is no joke, it spans 57 pages of reading enjoyment.
Game of the Week: Baltimore Ravens 267, New York Giants 220
So let’s be clear. This wasn’t a great game for the Giants. Easily one of their lowest outputs of the season. A mere 220 points. They aught to be ashamed of themselves. Imagine scoring only 220? But no. That’s not it. This was not a game the Giants lost. This was a game that the Ravens went out and won handily with an epic 159 point offensive performance. It wasn’t just that Baltimore scored a ton of points on offense, though. It was WHO. An unsung offensive cast exploded! Christine Michael got 26. Amari Cooper (ok, he’s sung) got 30. Terrelle freaking Pryor got 31, and Kendall Wright got 35. Mercy. The Ravens are now 6-3, averaging more than 200 points a game, and if the season were to end today, would be in the playoffs – and a team nobody would want to see on the opposing line!
Cincinnati Bengals: Time to give the Bengals a little credit as they ascend to sole possession of first place in the AFC North at an absolutely flabbergasting 7-2. Cincy’s latest triump was an 184-175 win over fellow playoff contender New England. With Cleveland suddenly scuffling and Pittsburgh suddenly without Ben Roethlisberger just as they Steelers were starting to get hot, it looks increasingly likely that Cincy and Baltimore might need to duke it out for the North division title – and the loser may well grab a wild card. The Bengals defense was the story in week 6, with 6/11 players scoring in double digits and a 20 point performance by one Zachary Orr.
New Orleans Saints: And boom. The Saints are back! 248-201 over divisional rival and Super Bowl Champ Carolina. This win puts the Saints in a three way tie for the wildcard with Atlanta and Philadelphia, and, just as importantly, only one game back of Carolina. After a brutal start, New Orleans is baaaaack. Fittingly, Drew Brees led the way with an absurd 44 point outing, but was paced by Golden Tate (38) and CJ Fiedorowicz (21) on offense. The Saints knew they were going to have to find some role players to step up and answer some question marks, and boy did they ever this week. A pick six from Malcolm Jenkins (28 points) added to the cause, as the Saints overcame 30 points from Cam and 23 from some guy named Nick Bellore. It’s getting crazy again in the NFC!
Houston Texans: Aight, Houston. Aight. I see you. After a cool 226-183 win over divisional rival Indianapolis, the AFC South is starting to sort itself out with Houston and Tennessee gaining a little separation from Indy and Jacksonville. David Johnson scored 38 points on a three score game and nearly outscored the hapless Colts offense by himself to pace the Texans. Still, there’s no forgetting a defense where 7 players scored in double figures and an 8th got nine. Houston’s two-back in the division and still a game out of the Wild Card, so they need to keep on moving, but this is a very nice divisional win for an embattled squad.
Honorable Mentions: Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings.
Cleveland Browns: Another brutal week for the Browns. Another loss against a contending time. Another game where the team simply didn’t look competitive. Another week where division rivals posted wins to knock them farther back in the race. 46 points on offense with a high score of 10 from Blake Bortles simply isn’t going to be good enough to win most weeks. Cleveland still leads the AFC North in points scored. They can still right the ship. But with Cincy and Baltimore playing as well as they are, they had better do it quickly.
San Diego Chargers: As recently as a couple weeks ago, San Diego looked like they could be a contender in the West, or at least make a solid push for second. Two losses later, not so much. The offense failed the Chargers utterly as they managed only 36 points on the offensive side of the ball, and fell to the Denver Broncos (who have suddenly won two in a row!). At 3-6, the Chargers face a huge hole to climb back into contention, and may not make it this year.
Minnesota Vikings: Yeeouch. The Vikings have looked better and better this year, posting competitive game after competitive game, but not posting a whole lot of wins. Well, they got their chance in week 6 as Tampa Bay posted only 116 points. The problem? Minnesota posted only 112. Sure, they had bye issues. But 45 points on defense is not going to get it done, as everybody not named Andre Branch combined for exactly 32 points. It’s a culture issue in Minnesota, where the Vikings now have talent – but have to figure out how to win.
Dishonorable Mentions: Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 7 Games of the Week:
Welp, unless we get some upsets, this could be another rough week for good games, unfortunately! Only four that really seem to me to feature much competition. But some should be excellent.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns: It’s a week to week league. One week you can be on the top of the world, only to come brutally crashing back to earth the next. Or you can be on the outs, facing a lost season, only to bounce back, dominate, and right the ship. Right now, big Mo (that’s momentum) is all on the side of Cincinnati, and the Bengals are poised to knock out their rivals with a brutal hook. But Cleveland isn’t done yet. And this could be the game that rights the Browns ship. Lots at stake in the battle of Ohio. We’ll see who prevails
Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans: This is what you call a run away and hide game. A win by the Titans would move them to 8-2, keep them solidly in control of the AFC South regardless of what Houston does, and pretty much put a nail in the punchless Colts coffin. Of course, see the above about a week-to-week league. If the Colts win, all of a sudden the South is right back in play.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. New Orleans Saints: The Chiefs are smarting from a 3 point loss to the Raiders and losing an opportunity to put their own division away. No time for woundlicking though, because the high-octane, rejuvenated Saints come roaring into town fresh off their demolition of the Panthers. Both teams are close to full strength, so this game should tell us a lot about the relative prospects of each team – and things are going to be looking pretty rosy for the winner.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots: A tough and tricky game for two teams who need to rebound. After a nine point loss to Cincy, New England has fallen three games behind the unbeaten Bills and into a tie for the wild card. They need some wins to stay afloat, particularly given the competitive AFC landscape. The Steelers, after a brutal start without Le’Veon Bell, have rediscovered their world-beating mojo and posted several fantastic wins. Of course, they also just lost their quarterback. How will Pittsburgh fare in a non-Ben world? Both teams need this win. Only one will get it. Drama in the AFC Wild Card!
Last year, everything went wrong in Phoenix. Just injury after injury. And still, they hung around and almost made the playoffs. This year, things should be different. I’m in on the Suns this year. Westbrook at stretches last year looked like the best player to ever even sniff a basketball, and I like him to continue in beast mode this season with a healthy KD back and making him even better. Partnering him with Knight and IT gives Phoenix perhaps the best backcourt in Real Deal. Davis, Gibson, Kelly and especially Johnson give the Suns a pretty good frontcourt, too, albeit lacking in starpower. Stuckey is a terrific guy to have on your bench. And Langston Galloway continues to be a thing. I still believe Phoenix needs one more star – preferably a big – to push them over the top, but right now I feel good about their chances to be a lot better this year. You can’t count on luck – good or bad – two years in a row.
9.LOS ANGELES LAKERS
I might be overrating the Lakers here at 9, given how many question marks there are around this team, but I think this will be Kevin Durant’s career year. He’s motivated to win a title as OKC’s window closes. He’s eager to re-establish himself after a lost season. And he’s in a contract year gearing up to sign the biggest free agency deal ever. If all goes well, he will be the best player in fantasy outside of Anthony Davis. The squad surrounding him is more iffy. Dirk looked like an absolute geezer in the playoffs and I wonder how long he can realistically stay on the court for a Mavs team that looks pretty bad. Tony Parker has looked awful of late – his speed, which was one of the main components of his game, is fading fast. McLemore, Green and Hill could go one of two ways – either flourish in a new role/system or regress to league average or worse. On the other hand, the bench is a deep one with Kaman, Belinelli, Larkin and Cole all capable players. I especially like Belinelli this year and I think he’s the guard to own out of Sacramento. Meyers Leonard in a pick and pop with Damian Lillard will be exceptional, so that’s another bright spot. The Lakers are in for a better year than last just because of Durant actually playing this time, but it might be too late with Parker and Nowitzki falling off a cliff. Los Angeles might have to make a big move to stay in the hunt.
8. DALLAS MAVERICKS
Dallas paid big for Nerlens Noel and Rodney Hood – perhaps too big. Both are cheap, young and very talented, but the Mavs have now tied up so much of an investment of their future in bringing these two players in that they NEED them to contribute. I love Nerlens this year (A double-double with 2 blocks, 2 steals maybe?) and Hood will break out this season, but the price of admission on this attraction may have been too much. This is not to say that Dallas will be totally screwed if those two don’t pan out, because the rest of this team is still quite good. I think this will be the year that Derrick Rose alters his game so that he can actually stay on the court – this is Chicago’s last shot at making the finals with this group, so there’s incentive for him to stick around this year. Ellis will thrive in Indiana’s new offense and has a great chance to score 20+ per game. I like Hibbert to have a mini-bounceback year in Byron Scott’s old-school (read: stale) system, and O’Quinn may finally get a chance to prove himself. Crowder got way overrated this offseason and Jokic is still a mystery, but I’m more optimistic about him. The bench is young and intriguing, but I hesitate to say any of them are reliable. The Mavs made a lot of moves this offseason in an attempt to win now. This team is good, but is it actually good enough to win now?
7. UTAH JAZZ
I’m pretty high on this Jazz team. This is the year that I’m all in on them as the best team in the Northwest and I think their success will be highly sustainable. This will be the year that Gordon Hayward finally gets recognized as an All-Star and his all-around game will be a boon for his fantasy status as he grows into his role as the undisputed leader and best player in Utah. Derrick Favors was an absolute monster to close out last season and I expect much more of the same, especially because I think Gobert is getting way too much hype. George Hill continues to be an underrated fantasy player (is it because of his boring name or because he got traded for Kawhi Leonard?). Gallo will have an enormous year as the best offensive player by a mile in Denver. Ryan Anderson will be better than last year because he can’t possibly be worse. And I told you guys Humphries will be better than Nene this year! The depth is a problem for now, but it will be less so when Shumpert and Ajinca come back and Bjelica gets his butt up from the minors. Utah will be a division winner this year and maybe even a dark horse title contender.
6. ORLANDO MAGIC
Any team whose fate is in the hands of Kobe Bryant is a team that’s hard to peg down, but there are two things that make me feel okay ranking the Magic this high: 1. Just look how well they did last year, and 2. There are a lot of other really good players not named Bryant. I have my concerns about Gasol just given his age, but I actually think he’ll be fine. He’s a good fit in the Hoiberg offense, even if it means less usage. Word is it’ll be Mirotic starting alongside him instead of Gibson or Noah, and that’s very good for Orlando since it means he’ll still be able to grab as many boards as he wants. Monroe will be the offensive cornerstone in Milwaukee, so he should only get better. Oladipo just keeps getting better and better and Vucevic is an automatic double double machine. The bench is filled with cheap, dependable vets. But Nene is trash – Humphries is the PF to own from Washington and his lazy attitude and inconsistent play might see him fall out of Wittman’s favor for good. His massive salary is a big prohibitor in a potential trade and it could unfortunately bog down this team. Even despite that handicap, Orlando fields a very good and fairly deep roster. They should be a top team in the East once again.
5. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
It always kind of bugs me how little I have to write about this team, but it’s so solid and not much has changed. Gasol, Conley and Bledsoe will all continue to do their thang in leading this squad, and DeMarre Carroll will thrive as one of only a few competent players in Toronto. Having Ellington, Sullinger and Shelvin Mack in the starting lineup scares me a bit, but this team is still top-heavy enough to just make the top 5 just a hair above Orlando. I do fear that the Grizzlies will fall off unless they can make some adjustments to improve the bottom of the roster, either through free agency or a trade, but I wouldn’t bet against them.
4. ATLANTA HAWKS
I have the Hawks just beating out Orlando for the division crown, although their offseason was a massive disappointment. With shaky depth (actually, zero depth), the Hawks waited until basically the last minute to bring in some bench players (actually, one bench player) – and it cost them the team’s two best young players, including Nikola Mirotic, who is one of the best values in the league at minimum salary. Still, despite all that, the Hawks have the best starting eight in the league, top to bottom, and it’s not particularly close. I just worry a lot about injuries. Howard, Horford, Ilyasova and Rondo all have troubling injury histories. This team could derail fast if injuries start to pile up. Luckily, the Hawks have two first round picks for next fall, which are very tradeable assets should they need to use them in that way. Atlanta could have pushed for no. 1 overall and mounted a real title chase this season, but I wonder if they missed the train.
3. CHICAGO BULLS
I remember earlier in the offseason when I was praising Chicago for having such a cheap young roster. So affordable! I said. So sustainable! Well, that all went out the window in a hurry when the Bulls spent their life’s savings on Hassan Whiteside and Jordan Clarkson, making them the first and third richest players in Real Deal. That Kobe contract doesn’t look half bad now (just kidding, it still does). I have my questions about Whiteside – is he even good, for instance – but I do like Clarkson and think he’ll have the best season in the Lakers backcourt. Do I like him for $27 million a year? No. But I do like him. Even if you take those two guys out – and I think you very well could – this Bulls team is still very deep and very good. They’re my odds-on favorite to make it out of the East this year. Wiggins, Rubio, Harris, Parsons, Len and Gordon are all terrific young talents that will all be contributing right away. Combine that with a bench made up of Stephenson, Asik, Goodwin, McBob and Livingston, and you’re talking about the best bench in the league, no question. I think those two signings were a huge mistake, but the one thing that prevents it from being a total catastrophe is the fact that the rest of the roster is so young and so cheap. Chicago just didn’t need to throw down that kind of cash. It prohibits flexibility in the future and I doubt either will be the deciding factor in pushing them over the top. Still, I really like this Bulls team and expect them to be the best team in the East.
2. HOUSTON ROCKETS
At first, I thought Houston and Memphis would be neck-and-neck this year, but the more I think on it, the more I like the Rockets to once again win the toughest division in Real Deal with relative ease in the Battle of the Dueling Pedros. This team is deeper and has more top-quality talent than any other team in the West. The Rockets begin and end with James Harden, and I think he will have another MVP-type season. Houston is the team I think will have the best regular season in the NBA and that bodes well for Harden as a fantasy player. Surround him with useful guys like Barnes, Noah, Williams, Diaw, Ezeli and Chalmers – plus Mo Williams and Timo Mozgov at the minimum salary (!!!) – and you’ve got yourself a winner here. Anything Wes Matthews can give is a bonus. Houston is set up for success again this season.
1. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
The Dubs are comfortably the best team in this league. Granted, the team was dealt an amazing starting hand of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson at discount deals. Still, though, the roster constructed around them was impressive. Golden State elected to go young from the get-go, and it looks like it will start paying off right about now. Middleton, KCP and Plumlee all figure to have bigger roles this year, and Myles Turner is looking like he could come strong out of the gate. Brook Lopez was a good pickup in the summer and the bench is made up of a bunch of decent and reliable players. Everything about this team just screams “trending up” to me. They’re my pick to win it all.
Separation. The first three weeks of the Real Deal Football season are critical to establish separation and pecking order. Since they are all double weeks, we’re now nearly halfway through the regular season, and we’ve eliminated some teams from contention already, while other teams are most of the way to a division title. In some ways, it is a merciful system because teams know early on whether to focus on contending or rebuilding. In other ways, it is a vicious system because a couple bad weeks early on (always a crapshoot in fantasy sports, particularly with injuries) really can do major damage to an otherwise good team’s shot at contention.
That said, it is only 6 games in, and most teams still have a decent shot to make up some ground in what will now turn in to a long season. So settle in, assume marathon pace, and enjoy the ride.
Games of the Week: Yes, that’s right, games. You always get premium content here at the Real Deal Report, and lots of it. And man did we have some games this week. Three amazing games, all between good teams with playoff hopes, all where both teams scored over 200 points, and all decided by 7 points or less. You can’t get better than that!
Cincinnati Bengals 226, Pittsburgh Steelers 219: This could also fall in the “are you freaking kidding me?” category for Pittsburgh. The Bengals got a stunning 118 points from Andy Dalton (37), Theo Riddick (18), Rishard Matthews (34), and Chris Johnson (29). And 15 more from some guy named Will Compton who apparently plays linebacker. I mean, are you freaking kidding me? And they STILL would have won except that Big Ben Roethlisberger went down early in the game with a sprained MCL and deep bone bruise which will keep him out for 4-8 weeks. Are you freaking kidding me? The net result is that the Steelers lose for the first time in something like 10 or 11 weeks and fall a game behind the startlingly lucky Baltimore Ravens in the North. Man.
Cleveland Browns 217, Oakland Raiders 213: Another significant upset in the AFC and another game where much of the scoring came from very surprising places. The difference being that in this game, it ALL came from very surprising places. The upstart Cleveland Browns set a franchise record for points to knock off the Raiders, paced by 26 points from Gary Barnidge, 22 from Marvin Jones, 19 from Karlos Williams and 24 from Nose Tackle Brandon Williams. Not to be outdone, the Raiders (still missing Eddie Lacy), got 35 points from the inestimable Preston Brown, 25 from Nose Tackle John Jenkins (those nose tackles!) and 34 from James Jones, who nearly combined with James Starks to bring the Raiders all the way back from a massive deficit on Monday night. In the end, however, Oakland couldn’t overcome key injuries and dud performances from Tyler Eifert (-0.25 points on an overruled touchdown catch) and 0.5 points from Davante Adams, who couldn’t seem to make up his mind about his health. Oakland deserves to be 6-0. Instead they are 3-3. Fantasy football really is brutal sometimes.
New Orleans Saints 206, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 205: This could have been an absolutely horrible week for the Saints, after the Carolina Panthers exploded out of nowhere to hang 295 on them. A double divisional loss on top of a difficult start could have put the Saints in a major hole. Instead, they found a way to survive a furious Monday night comeback attempt by Tampa Bay, who posted 45.5 defensive points on Monday night (27 from Jaye Howard!) with a Sam Shields interception of their own. Like the real life Eagles, they were nudged to victory by a massive Darren Sproles punt return for a TD, and, some might say even better, Jimmy Graham actually got footballs thrown in his general direction. For the Bucs, it was a missed opportunity, as Torrey Smith, Alfred Morris, Von Miller, Darrelle Revis, and Doug Miller COMBINED for less than ten points. The Bucs are still in the lead. But the Saints aren’t dead. And that has to be scary for both Tampa and Carolina.
Kansas City Chiefs: Look, I hate to do this. But I need ONE week to celebrate. I mean, my team scored freaking 304 points, I won two games by 140+ points, and vaulted into first place in the division. It can’t possibly go anywhere but downhill from here. So I’m going to give the Chiefs props. 38 from Cobb. 32 (and a WR TD!) from Maclin. 22 from Gore. 18 from Jordan Reed, who has stayed healthy for THREE CONSECUTIVE WEEKS. 23 from Everson Griffen. A combined 31 from Rashean Mathis and Brandon Carr!?! It was a perfect storm week for the Chiefs, who now have the most points scored in RDFL by a significant margin and a one game lead in their division. It can’t last. But damn it feels good!
Carolina Panthers: Speaking of rising teams and perfect storms… I mean, Damn. This was one hell of an offensive explosion, as the Panthers set the league record for offensive points in a week with 191. Yep. One hundred and ninety-one! It was so ridiculous that 27 from LeGarrette Blount and 21 from Mark Ingram didn’t even seem noteworthy because they get 56 from Steve “I’m 63 years old and somehow STILL better than Dwayne Bowe has EVER been” Smith and 41 from Greg Olsen. The sad part is that Zach Ertz and Robert Woods combined for only 14 fantasy points when their respective NFL teams scored 65 points. Can you imagine the score if this had gone off? Like with KC, this isn’t sustainable. But also like KC, the Panthers are suddenly at 4-2 with some key divisional notches in their belts.
Indianapolis Colts: It appears I spoke too soon. Just after I called out the Colts for abysmal early season play and suggested that cold, hard reality was setting in, they go 2-0 within division and rattle off a 218 point week. The offense still stunk outside of Luck and Edelman, but the defense turned in a nice 137 point performance behind Dwight Lowery (28). 6/11 players posted double figures, and the Colts are back at .500. They still can’t score. But they might not need to in a division that suddenly looks wide, wide, wide open. The problem is that the division has Brandon Weeden throwing it the football. So even though it might be wide open, you wonder who is going to win it.
Honorable Mention: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions (again), Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens (again), Cleveland Browns
Tennessee Titans: They say that one of the difficulties facing young teams is learning how to win. There’s a stability to veteran, championship caliber squads that younger teams sometimes simply lack. Exhibit A: The Tennessee Titans. How do you react to moving into sole possession of first place in the division? Not by scoring 131 points and getting blitzed by the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts – a combined 3-7 besides these games. The game was a brutal reminder that this team is still young and inconsistent – there will be days that the rising stars will score 131 on offense alone. And then there will be days like this. The division, as we’ve noted, is still winnable. But these were two games the Titans really could have used.
Green Bay Packers: Ok… Green Bay is in trouble. This team has scuffled in the past and had the occasional bad week in years past. But they’ve always bounced back quickly. After getting blown out by KC and dropping a moderately close game to Dallas, the Packers find themselves at 2-4, 4 games behind the high-flying Lions in the division and two games out of the wildcard race. Quarterback has been a disaster for Green Bay all year, and DeMarco Murray’s injury situation hasn’t helped at all. I suspect Green Bay will be a decent team when the injuries get cleaned up – but at this point, it may almost be too late in a tough NFC.
Houston Texans: At 2-2, with some decent performances on the first two weeks, the Texans were a solid tweener squad. A pair of wins and a nice week could have vaulted them into contention in the winnable AFC South. Instead, Houston showed its true colors with a 125 point stink bomb that dropped it to 2-4 and strongly suggests that the Texans are more pretender than contender. The loss exposed a few of Houston’s fatal flaws (namely a lack of offensive contributors when Hyde and Jameis aren’t contributing) and a lack of depth on the Defensive side. It could be argued that a great game from Joseph Randle would have helped things had he been in the starting lineup. But Houston simply doesn’t have enough weapons to compete until Carlos Hyde, Jameis Winston, Donte Moncrief, and others are really ready to step up to the plate – something that looks much more likely to happen next year than this year.
Honorable Mention: Pittsburgh Steelers (Roethlisberger), Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos
Games of the Week:
Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: It’s been a LONG time since Pittsburgh has looked up at anyone in the standings, and it is not a stretch to say that the Steelers have looked like the better team, scoring 60 more points than Baltimore and doing it without Le’Veon Bell for the first two weeks of the year. But Baltimore has been undeniably good even as it has also been undeniably lucky – and the Ravens catch their rivals without a Quarterback. This still feels like the Steelers division, but if Baltimore can capitalize and take a 2 game lead with the tiebreaker…
New York Giants vs. Buffalo Bills: Ka-boom. Now this is a game. The 6-0 Giants vs. the 5-1 Bills. An in-state rivalry with possible super bowl ramifications. The G-Men have been one of the best teams in the league so far, but the Bills are coming off a 275 point romp behind 60 points from A. J. Mother. ($)&#*()$#. Green. Man that guy comes up every week! He won’t do THAT every week, but with Latavius Murray and Derek Carr playing as well as they have been, they may not need to. The Giants face QB uncertainty for almost all of their big receivers, with Romo and Roethlisberger out, Luck potentially out, and whoever starts for the Texans not being very good. Should be an interesting show!
Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Back to division rivalries, this should be a good one. The league leading Buccaneers were 1.5 measly points away from an unblemished perfect record and a two game lead in the division. Instead, the Panthers, riding high after an insane week, can catch them with a win this week. The Bucs need more from Josh McCown to hold off Johnny Football, and also need guys like Alfred Morris to do much more than they’ve been doing. For their part, the Panthers seek to prove that last week’s explosion wasn’t a fluke – particularly guys like Steve Smith and Mark Ingram
New Orleans Saints vs. Dallas Cowboys: The battle of scuffling powerhouses takes place in the Lone Star state this weekend as struggling Dallas meets struggling New Orleans. Both teams were expected to contend for a Super Bowl berth this year, and while neither team has been bad… neither team has quite appeared to be that good, either. This game could revolve around Drew Brees, who is uncertain for this week’s matchup. The winner will be well-positioned to keep pace in the fight for a playoff berth, while the loser might find itself in some more serious trouble.
Good luck everyone! And whether you are buying or selling, enjoy the unpredictable marathon that is RDFL! Who knows? Maybe your team will make like a superhuman Kenyan and win!
Just a couple more days and the season starts! Welcome back to season #3 of RDFL!
In our inaugural season, the Green Bay Packers made some blockbuster trades down the stretch to capture the Super Bowl.
In year #2, the Pittsburgh Steelers rode breakout performances from franchise stars and got clutch punting (the ultimate equalizer!) when it mattered most to knock off the high-powered Dallas Cowboys. And because Albert Wilson.
Who will it be in year #3? In any scenario, it is going to be awesome!
Before we start the previews, a quick note on these previews. They are going to be horribly wrong. More wrong than sacrificing Poland to avoid world war II. More wrong than Roger Goodell on everything he touches. Almost as wrong as boy bands. So don’t be offended if I pick you for a poor record or hopeful if I pick you for a good one. I’m like Blinkin in Robin Hood Men in Tights. A blind man standing watch. Guessing.
So with that said, my authoritative, certain to be right predictions for the 2015 RDFL season!
Welcome, my friends, to the AFC “meh”. I hereby call this division the soft underbelly of the AFC. A division that is full of teams on a slightly downhill trend (Indianapolis), rising teams that aren’t there yet (Tennessee and Houston), and the Jacksonville Jaguars, engaged in an epic and tragic struggle for a playoff spot. Ever on the edge of the promised land. But never tasting it’s beautiful fruit.
Tennessee Titans (9-7):
When you’re the Commish, you can afford to play the long game. You can afford to while away years of team, stockpiling draft picks and trading young quarterbacks for even more draft picks. Magnanimously acting like the non-threatening wise old father figure of the league, while building a poisonous viper that can eradicate all comers and be a dynasty for years to come. Year #1 was a miserable basement experience for the rebuilding Titans. The second year Titans showed flashes of what was to come before falling off the pace in the second half of the season. But now it is year #3. And while it is not quite time for glory… it is time for the fighting Luhrs to make the leap to relevance – a place it seems unlikely they will leave for a LONG, LONG time. Like the amount of time it has been since anybody cared about Techno. That long.
Look at this offense:
– QB – Teddy Bridgewater – Rising Stud. 2nd Year.
– RB – CJ Anderson – Already Stud. 3rd Year.
– WR – Odell “Spikes in ma gloves” Beckham – Already Stud. 2nd Year.
– TE – Ladarius Green – Got some serious potential. 4th Year (even though it seems like we’ve been waiting for him to replace Antonio Gates since the Jefferson Airplane was a thing.)
– RB – Tevin Coleman – Got some serious potential. Just named the starter. 1st Year.
– WR – Devin Funchess – Got some serious potential. And a route to playing time now that Kelvin Benjamin is down. 1st Year.
Total Salary: 22.59 M.
Under Contract for: Fricking Ever
Also chillin’ on the bench: Andre Williams, Justin Hunter, Mohammed Sanu, Dwayne Allen
Now THAT is how you build a team from scratch.
The defense is neither so young nor so cheap, but is headlined up the middle by Ndamukong Suh, and boasts a quad of stud linebackers in Nigel Bradham, Zach Brown, Stephone Anthony, and Jelani Jenkins.
All told, the Titans are 20M under the cap and ready for relevance.
Now that said, I still think these boys are a year away. This is a nice team, but the young guys and the secondary have enough holes and non-studs that I don’t predict a monster, dominant year quite yet. But imagine next year. After Coleman has a year under his belt as a starting RB, Funchess is locked in with Cam and is not drawing double teams, Stills has established himself as a top Tanne-hillian target, and Ladarius Green has FINALLY inherited his role as starting TE after like a 30 year apprenticeship to Elijah… errr… Antonio Gates. It’s going to be scary, people. Scary.
Indianapolis Colts (8-8)
Every year I pick against Indy. And every year he makes me eat my words by blowing my predictions out of the water. So the Colts will probably go 12-4 this year and make me eat my words. AGAIN. But in all honesty, that’s why I have the Colts 2nd.
Let’s start with what the Colts do have – LUCK.
Strengths: Andrew LUCK. Dude is awesome. Julian Edelman. Dude is somehow, also, awesome. Jerrell Freeman and Danny Lansanah are bosses defensively. And there is some nice young talent on this team that could develop. And that safety core of Antoine Bethea and Landon Collins is an outstanding duo.
Weaknesses: This team is loaded with quantity over quality. Aside from the guys I have already mentioned, Indianapolis currently has 38 offensive / defensive players on the main roster. Total projected 2015 fantasy points per game (by Fantrax projections): 59. That means 1.55 points per game per player aside from the Awesome Six. That’s going to be hard to win many games with, even if luck scores a billion.
Now that doesn’t mean the roster doesn’t have some nice pieces on it – it does. Bruce Ellington and Dri Archer have
some promise. Reggie Wayne just got signed. Ahmad Bradshaw still exists. Seyi Ajirotutu has an awesome name. There are some very promising young defenders (Darqueze Dennard, Jonathan Massaquoi, Justin Gilbert and Brian Robison all come to mind).
So I think the Colts have some nice pieces. And I think any time you have Andrew Luck, you are either contending or reloading. But I think this is a reloading year after a couple very nice playoff runs for Indy.
Houston Texans (7-9)
Another team with some nice young pieces building up for the future, the Texans have made some aggressive moves over the past couple of seasons to get rid of core veterans like JJ Watt, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson and purposely get younger. In their places come QB of the future Jameis Winston, RB of the future Carlos Hyde, and potential future talent in Donte Moncrief, and Levine Toilolo.
Unlikely Indianapolis, the Texans have substantially more depth – players like Joseph Randle, Chris Hogan, and Ted Ginn are not going to make or break a roster, but they will contribute substantial points. And the defensive depth is much stronger. Both Indianapolis and Houston boast extremely strong secondaries, but the Texans are stronger up front, keyed by Chandler Jones (though the lack of a second Defensive End is a major concern following JJ Watt’s departure) and have a strong linebacking core.
While I’m not very optimistic on the Texans prospects this year (I think only one team makes it to the playoffs from the South), I am fascinated to see where Houston goes. The Watt for Winston trade left the team with some very nice young pieces on offense, but with some holes – and some nice but older pieces on defense – also with some holes. Depending on which direction they go, Houston could flip pieces and picks to fill holes and make a mad dash for the title in a soft division. Or they could try to sell off stronger veteran defensive pieces for picks and younger players and try to join Tennessee as the rebuilding future of the league.
In any case, they don’t want to end up like…
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)
This is unfair. Jacksonville has been a perennial playoff contender and made some very shrewd moves and trades over the last couple of years. They have a functional roster to contend yet again this year if some things break right. Aside from Tennessee, they have the fewest holes in the division. And the veteran nature of the team means that the Jags are likely to be far more consistent than the Titans – it would not surprise me at all to see Jacksonville as the 9-7 squad atop the league this year. So why not more love?
Well, I think that Jacksonville has fallen into the perennial “8th seed in the East” trap. Making the playoffs year in and year out, but never quite getting over the hump for a super bowl run, or bottoming out for a try at some franchise players and the rebuild. As a result, I’m concerned that this squad has the makings of 7-9 to 9-7 for years to come, staying a respectable 2nd place in the division while the other teams ebb and flow around it. Tennessee has a plan that is about to vault it past the Jaguars. Houston has options for a plan. And Indianapolis has had two years of good success and Andrew Luck to reload around. What is the Jags identity? Where are they going? These questions keep me up at night (or they would if I didn’t sleep because of worries about other people’s fantasy football teams).
So how about the team itself? Again, a concerning mix of young and old. On the veteran side, Martellus Bennett, Larry Fitzgerald and Austin Miles are joined by Cecil Shorts to form a nice core of proven offensive playmakers. Unfortunately, Larry and Austin are both on the back end of their careers and while Shorts and Bennett are still young, Shorts is no sure thing in his new environment. On defense, Paul Pos:LKJFKLSLSDJsky (that’s as well as you’d spell it too – back off!) is joined by guys like Michael Bennett, Kroy Biermann, Mason Foster, Jasper Brinkley, and Michael Griffin. Solid veteran defenders forming a nice core.
But then the young? EJ Manuel, Denard Robinson, Dion Sims, Tyler Kroft, Dwayne Gratz, and David Amerson are the type of guys who haven’t yet made it big in the league – and are just the sorts of unproven, not quite yet there type of players that may or may not produce – and that you don’t want to have to rely on to field a championship caliber team.
There are some spectacular building blocks on this squad, particularly in the secondary (sensing a pattern in this division?), where Xavier Rhodes and Kenny Vaccaro form a tag team that is both dynamic and youthful, and I can see things falling together in a way that allows the Jags to make a real run this year. But my concern is the same as for Houston right now – by the time the young guys have proven themselves and are ready to commit, the old guys are on the decline or injured or out of prime production – and it’s back to bandaids like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Austin Miles instead of a core patiently built for success.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7):
Really? The Buccaneers? Really? With Josh McCOWN at QB? Yup. Why? Because the Bucs have assembled an array of skill players that I really do think can bring them straight into contention for their long-coveted NFC South crown.
Look at this:
– RBs: Alfred Morris and Doug Martin. Everybody has forgotten about the Muscle Hamster. But this is the same insane guy who tore up the PPR world his rookie year before a sophomore slump. This says he’ll be back as a contributing RB1 this year in Real Deal.
– WRs: Vincent Jackson. Emmanuel Sanders. Percy Harvin, Eric Decker, Torrey Smith. Yes I know that none of those names are sexy, sure-fire top option WRs. And yes I know that they each have serious question marks. But TB doesn’t need all FIVE to pan out. He just needs THREE to pan out.
– TEs: Owen Daniels, Clive Walford. This is the spot, along with QB, that I have the greatest concern for the Bucs offense. Owen Daniels ostensibly has a fantastic shot at catching passes from Peyton Manning and replacing Julius Thomas as a top 5 TE. But I’m just not sure I buy it. There are other TEs on that roster, other mouths to feed, and a running offense that is going to put an absolute premium on blocking. And counting on Clive year #1… it’s a question mark spot for sure.
The defensive starting roster reads like a who’s who of defensive superstars from around the league: Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Clay Matthews, Von Miller, Darrelle Revis, Aqib Talib… Now a lot of these guys aren’t quite as good in fantasy as they are in real life (here’s looking at you, Revis!), but some are MUCH better (hello Gerry McCoy), and some, like David and Miller, are just about right. There are some holes (DE) and depth could be tested (in the secondary), but this team has some serious star power at key positions. If guys like McCown, Owen Daniels, and Chris Canty pan out, this could absolutely be the year in Tampa.
New Orleans Saints (9-7)
May as well call this squad “Drew Brees and Dear goodness that DEFENSE”. This team has taken steps back from the inaugural squad that nearly went undefeated, mostly on the offensive side of the ball. Darren Sproles is one of 19 starting caliber running backs in Philly and is unlikely to do quite as much special teams damage this time around. Jimmy Graham is in Seattle, where he will almost certainly be targeted at the goal line with many one yard passes that will be intercepted – or at least not catch quite so many balls. And the rest of the offense is… well… football players. Not much to write home about here. In fact, some weeks, I think the Saints are going to be downright ANEMIC on offense some weeks, particularly if those nasty rumors about Drew Brees demise turn out to be slightly more than rumors.
But that beautiful defense… it starts up front where the Saints have the best starting D-Line in Real Deal, pairing Jordan Cameron and Rob Ninkovich with Damon Harrison for a trio projected to score 33 PPG over the course of the season. Kiko Alonso and Anthony Barr anchor the middle, and the secondary is strong too – and deep, with DRC slated in as a reserve. Fantrax projects this defense to AVERAGE about 118 points per game when it is on the field together – and I think that is conservative. It is HARD to score over 100 points on defense and lose a game in this league. If the Saints can get anything from that offense…
But can they? Khiry Robinson, Preston Parker, Golden Tate, Nate Washington, Jeremy Langford, Sammi Coates, CJ Fiedorowicz, James Jones. If a couple of those guys (I think Jones and Tate are the most likely options) can break out and have nice seasons, I think the Saints maintain their hold on the crown on the back of that defense. But if not… I think there’s grief in the Bayou this year.
Atlanta Falcons (9-7)
::Sigh:: This decision was so much easier to predict before Judge Berman pilloried Roger Goodell and demonstrated conclusively that Tom Brady is invincible.
What to do with the Atlanta Falcons. On the one hand, I think this team, on paper, could easily win the division. Julio Jones and Roddy White, paired with Julius Thomas and Marshawn Lynch, and flanked by Doug Baldwin and Dexy’s Midnight McClusters should do some SERIOUS damage.
That said, the defense has some stud players (DeAndre Levy) and some nice up and comers (Ra’Shede Hagemen, Shaq Thompson, Malcolm Butler), but is nowhere near the level of New Orleans and even Tampa Bay. So that’s a knock back.
But the real issue is the injuries for the Falcons. Over the first three weeks, the Falcons play Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, the New York Giants, Carolina and Dallas. New Orleans, NYG, Philly and Dallas were spectacular teams last year, and I don’t see them being easy outs this year either. You’ve seen what I wrote about Tampa Bay, and here’s a spoiler – I don’t see Carolina being any slouches either.
Julius Thomas and Roddy White have both gone under the knife this preseason, and while both are expected back in time for week #1… if they miss time or start the season limited… well, let’s just say that you can’t win an RDFL division title in the first three weeks. But you can lose one. There are also concerning red flags hanging out next to Levy, Hageman, Shaq Thompson, and Brooks Reed. I would have been really freaked out had this team had no QB for that entire period.
However, with Tom Brady back, I amend my prediction. The flying Falcs go 9-7 and end in a ridiculous tie-breaker situation for a playoff berth that literally gives us all heart attacks.
Carolina Panthers (5-11)
Another team I feel like deserves a better record and a better placement. And frankly, if Carolina played in the AFC South, I’d be pushing them as a potential division winner. But it’s tougher here. Tougher conference. Tougher division. Tougher schedule. The NFC is for big boys. And Carolina may have the bad luck to be the littlest big boy on the block.
That’s not to say the Panthers don’t have weapons. Cam Newton crashes into trucks and plays Rugby – and it’s the trucks what gets hurt. Luke Kuechly sacks everything that moves. I’m dead serious. If it moves. He sacks it. He’s like a freaking T-Rex from Jurassic Park. I’m so serious right now. Don’t move a muscle. Not a muscle. Don’t so much as reach for the mouse to scroll down. If you do, Luke Kuechly is going to sack you. And take your house and your car and your job and that bag of snacks you are eating. And you don’t come back from that.
These studs are joined by Mark “I’m so confused as to whether this guy is actually good or not” Ingram, Steve “Swan Song” Smith Jr., Melvin Ingram (not a very good linebacker, but Mark Ingram’s younger brother in the State Farm commercials), and arguably the best TE duo in the league with Greg Olsen and Zach Ertz.
Unfortunately, this team lacks both the superstars and the star depth to keep it competitive. After Cam and Kuech, not a single player is projected to average 13 or more PPG, and only 4 other guys on the active roster are projected to reach double digits. Zach Ertz is potentially hurt, Marcell Dareus and Greg Hardy start the season suspended, and Robert Woods is unlikely to strike fear into the hearts of opponents.
It’s not a bad team this year in Carolina. But I don’t see it as good enough to compete in a loaded NFC. Not so loaded AFC, sure. But loaded NFC South? Cam’s playing spoiler this year.