2017 Real Deal Ultimate Football Playoff Preview

Playoffs?

PLAYOFFS!!!!!

Ok, ok one more

The second season starts Thursday, and the field received a major shakeup this week.
The last three spots were up for grabs, with Dallas, Philly, and New Orleans heavily favored to move on and leaving Chicago watching from home. The predictions would have left the field looking like this:

1. Arizona Cardinals vs. 8. Cincinnati Bengals
2. New England Patriots vs. 7. New Orleans Saints
3. San Diego Chargers vs. 6. Philadelphia Steel Men
4. Carolina Panthers vs. 5. Dallas Cowboys

Boy, did that not happen. Instead, Cincy put up a strong effort behind huge games from the recently MIA Alex Smith and Tyreek Hill to strengthen their record and push them up a few seeds. New Orleans survived an early scare to take down Atlanta. The Steel Men had to sweat until Monday, but used the six players on Monday Night Football to put down a strong challenge from the Washington R-Words.

The big stunner was Carolina upsetting Dallas, leaving the fourth highest scoring team in our league watching from home and wondering what might have been. This upset will not only have major implications for the playoffs, but for the overall Ultimate standings and the run for that sweet, sweet bonus cash. With the Cowboys on the sidelines, the Chicago Bears take their spot and slot in as the 8th seed and will face the juggernaut Cardinals.

With all of the week 13 action, here is the finished bracket:

1. Arizona Cardinals vs. 8. Chicago Bears
2. Carolina Panthers vs. 7. New Orleans Saints
3. New England Patriots vs. 6. Cincinnati Bengals
4. San Diego Chargers vs. 5. Philadelphia Steel Men

Thursday night’s matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints jumpstarts the playoffs for us, and I know we’ll all be watching with baited breath. Let’s congratulate and take a quick look at the teams still alive and their chances for taking the first place Ultimate points, the winner’s purse, and most importantly the title of Ultimate Fantasy Football Champion!

Top Seed & West Division Champion

Arizona Cardinals Jason Clausen

The busiest team this season looks like it’ll end up being the best. It’s no fluke either, as the Cards bring a diverse array of playmakers on both sides of the ball. The defensive line is the scariest in the league, headlined by Defensive MVP candidate Calais Campbell. The offensive is impressive as well, now sporting new acquisition Duke Johnson on top of a bevy of useful flex candidates such as Doug Martin, Bilal Powell, and the brothers Brown (John and Jaron). While Kirk Cousins has shown some holes in recent weeks, that slack has been more than made up by the emergences of Alvin Kamara, Robby Anderson, and the steadying presence of Travis Kelce.

TLDR: This team is good.

The only thing that hold them back is injuries. Martin and stud linebacker Telvin Smith are both dealing with concussions, and starter Deone Bucannon is already out with an ankle injury. Should Cousins get dinged up, Arizona would turn to his last healthy QB, Case Keenum, who is a few bad series away from getting benched for heir-apparent Teddy Bridgewater. There’s a route for a quick exit here, but the Cards get contributions from so many positions that such an outcome is very unlikely. They should be one of the last four alive.

No. 2 Seed & South Division Champion

Carolina Panthers Kyle K

The East Side Atlantic Cats (Editor’s note: No one calls them that) took the reins from a competitive South division and ended the season with the 2nd best record and one of the league’s most imposing offenses. Cam Newton may not look like the MVP he once was on the field, but the numbers don’t care and he is elite in our game thanks to his combo rushing and passing attack. Carolina made two of the biggest free agent moves of the offseason and in-season, nabbing Marshawn Lynch for a mint and getting Dion Lewis at what now looks to be a relative bargain. The Lynch acquisition looked dubious at first, but now that we’re in the playoffs and he’s finally clicking in Oakland, he looks like a bargain for what he’s bringing to the table. On top of that two headed monster at RB, the team brings two explosive Dolphins in Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills. Both can dominate a game single handedly, even with Cutler throwing them the ball.

The defense is similarly loaded with talent, and Carolina gets contributions up and down. Names like Von Miller and Marcus Peters stand out, but lesser valued players such as Lamarcus Joyner, Lorenzo Alexander, Brandon Marshall, and Michael Pierce are pitching in at a strong clip. This unit keeps Carolina’s floor high, ensuring they won’t fall to weaker teams if an offensive player or two goes missing. This strategy has served them well during the regular season, and should make them a tough out.

There are holes here however. While Jack Doyle at TE can bust out once in a while, he’s inconsistent at best and borderline unusable at worst. With just Denver’s Virgil Green to fall back on, Doyle needs to have run of effectiveness that he’s shown is possible, but maybe not altogether likely. Emmanuel Sanders has been injured for what seems like an eternity, and now seems to be struggling with disappearing when he is on the field.

Further, there is the volatility of the Dolphin and Patriot offenses to consider. While Stills and Landry seem to be getting theirs, it would not be surprising to find out that whoever is passing to them just forgets how to run an offense and the two WRs are left contributing very little. Dion Lewis has been very good recently, but the Pats are notoriously fickle when it comes to runners. Lewis could be left unused in favor of Rex Burkhead or James White or someone we’ve never even heard of, and there’d be no warning. It’s not likely, but it’s possible.

No. 3 Seed & East Division Champion

New England Patriots John Keniley

Currently projected to be the top scorer in the league, the Pats are no joke. They sport one of the leagues’ top scoring defenses and feature a quintet of superstars on offense in Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald, Stefon Diggs, and “king of 69” Rob Gronkowski. They have a unique and potent mix of aging stars and stud youngsters, and the key is that their players’ teams seem to know how best to use their assets. The Pats have consistently been tough to beat, but that doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable.

The most glaring weakness is the RB position, where the delayed suspension of Ezekiel Elliott leaves NE without a viable option until the young rusher returns. If Cameron Artis-Payne gives anything at all, it’ll be a welcome surprise. But the team’s starters at the other offensive positions are so good, it’s entirely possible that this team can overcome the loss of their star runner long enough to get him back in the game.

The most important X-factor is Stefon Diggs. Minnesota’s most talented wideout has dealt with soft-tissue injuries all season. If he’s healthy and clicking, he’s one of the best receivers in football and capable of winning a game on his own. If he’s hobbled in any way, the Pats may be looking at an early exit. They’ll also be without star TE Rob Gronkowski for Round 1, leaving Luke Wilson to man the starting spot. That could be a major blow to NE’s championship hopes.

No. 4 Seed

San Diego Chargers Darren Leung

When Philip Rivers overcame early season struggles and turned it on, he single handedly made the real life and fantasy Chargers much more dangerous. Rivers has been the driver of a ridiculously potent San Diego offense. Gordon and a finally healthy Keenan Allen have been unstoppable much of the season, and especially so over the last handful of weeks. Add in solid production from return man Tyler Lockett, Travis Benjamin, and the occasional breakouts of OJ Howard and Derrick Henry, and you have a devastatingly effective offensive unit.

Not to be outdone, San Diego runs out a contender defensive MVP in Melvin Ingram, who is scoring an unreasonable 15.38 ppg from the LB position. Micah Hyde, Eric Weddle, Michael Bennett and Justin Houston have been solid all season. Solomon Thomas, Michael Brockers, and Mark Barron have also enjoyed breakout campaigns. These two units make this team a real contender.

All that effusive praise aside, it’s one of those squads that I wouldn’t be surprised if they sort of all fell off the map at the same time. Ingram aside, would you really be super shocked for Philip Rivers to throw a temper tantrum and just kind of take the whole offensive unit with him? If Rivers has one of his big duds that he’s been known to have every so often, I don’t know that the rest of the unit can recover. It’s an argument veering on the nit picky, but we do have history of this kind of thing happening. These are the pitfalls to tying too much of your success on one real NFL unit. If one goes, you risk the rest following suit.

No. 5 Seed

Philadelphia Steel Men Pedro Nuno Canteiro

Guess who Philly’s best players are? The Steelers Steel Men are fearsome not because of their depth, but because of who sits atop their lineup. While they’re not quite “stars and scrubs”, they’re as close as we have to that strategy in the playoffs. Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, and non-Steeler Joey Bosa certainly cover up a lot of sins. This team’s success has been built on those cornerstones. If they don’t perform, Philly struggles. If they do, Philly is almost unbeatable.

The question of whether or not this roster can win when all the teams are good is certainly up for debate. Running out Dontrelle Inman, Keelan Cole, and Deshazor Everett in the postseason is certainly not ideal. If any of the Steelers struggle *Editor’s note: They play Baltimore in Round 1, this team will face a quick hook.

That said, it’s one of those teams I’m just not comfortable passing over. Their lack of depth is concerning, but I have a feeling that, like the real life team, their output will reflect much more than the sum of their parts.

No. 6 Seed & Midwest Division Champion

Cincinnati Bengals Sean Scampton

The once and former Bungles took advantage of a division a lot of studs and an early season run from QB Alex Smith to take a division title and sneak into the playoffs. They were assumed to be the lowest scoring team in the playoffs until Chicago’s upset, but shouldn’t necessarily be written off. Cincy has some real game changing talent, particularly with their top pair of WRs Tyreek Hill and AJ Green. Those two can go off at any point and generate a huge advantage. Of course, as has been the case at times, they can completely disappear and leave the rest of the team unable to make up the difference.

The squad features a talented if inconsistent defense led by Carlos Dunlap, Vontaze Burfict, Myles Jack, and Keanu Neal. Running back, which has been a black hole all season, has been partially shored up by the hit or miss Alex Collins, and rookie Adam Shaheen has finally been given enough playing time to justify some potential value.

Last week’s performances by Alex Smith and Tyreek Hill show just how dangerous can be. They are capable of putting up big numbers, but have been held back by injuries. It’ll take a truly hot run to overcome the top teams, but perhaps the once Bungles can surprise.

All that said, the Bengals are likely facing a quick end to their postseason, but it’s a team that is built well for the future with superstar Deshaun Watson and a bevy of talented youngsters just starting to reach their potential. Don’t expect them to compete for the title, but don’t be surprised if they steal one early.

No. 7 Seed

New Orleans Saints Ben Pearce

I wrote the Saints up in my last piece as being a surprise that they were in danger of missing the playoffs. It turns out that Dallas was the surprise team bounced, and that means the Saints have a shot at the title. Their roster features one of the steadier RBs this season in Carlos Hyde, a top QB in Drew Brees, and plenty of explosive tools on offense. Brandon Cooks, Cooper Cupp, and Kyle Rudolph have combined to produce at a high level, while Devin Funchess and Charles Clay have emerged as legitimate top options at their positions. This squad has overcome the loss of Julian Edelman and the lost season from top pick Mike Williams with aplomb.

The defense is even better stocked, getting production from surprising names that are taking advantage of their opportunities. No one would have picked this unit as a strength of a potential contender, but here we are touting the efforts of Christian Jones, Jahleel Addae, and the former corpses of Michael Johnson and Kenny Vaccaro. Getting production from unexpected sources is critical, and these guys are proving no fluke. If NO makes noise late, this will be the unit that drives them.

Those names also create some reasonable concern about this team’s ability to compete against the strongest teams. Will these surprise performers be able to keep it up when the games matter most? If the studs perform, it’s possible it won’t matter. New Orleans has a squad that may not be built for a deep run, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they get hot and go on a run.

No. 8 Seed

Chicago Bears Tony Cavezza

The last one to the party also happens to be the lowest scorer on the season. But don’t you dare look past them. Chicago’s squad holds upset potential. The season scoring don’t account for the injuries to critical pieces like QB Jameis Winston, WR Will Fuller, and WR Sterling Shepard. But now, as the playoffs kick off, Winston is back, Will Fuller could be on the field for Round 1, and Alfred Morris has taken over as lead tailback for Dallas in Zeke Elliott’s absence. And this is a squad that can run out a combo of Jordan Howard, Ameer Abdullah, and the always dangerous Tevin Coleman at RB. And don’t forget breakout darling Adam Thielen. Hell, even TE David Njoku is starting to come on late in his rookie season. The offense is for real.

The defense offers less splash, but solid producers like Kyle Fuller, Anthony Zettel, and Justin Simmons have kept the unit from lagging too far behind. Tre’Davious White will likely miss at least Round 1 after Rob Gronkowski attempted to behead him last week, but they have breakout DT DeForest Buckner to lean on. The problem here is that there just isn’t much depth, with Chris Jones, Chris McCain, and Elandon Roberts getting playing time. The core is too banged up to be scary, unfortunately. If Chicago falls in Round 1, it’ll likely be the defense that takes the blame.

The Bears may have snuck in, but they deserve to be here. They overcame early season struggles to take the last spot, and they’ll do everything they can to make Arizona wish it hadn’t grabbed the 1 seed.

Predictions

Round 1:

No. 1 Arizona Cardinals defeat No. 8 Chicago Bears
No. 2 Carolina Panthers defeat No. 7 New Orleans Saints
No. 3 New England Patriots defeat No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals
No. 5 Philadelphia Steel Men defeat No. 4 San Diego Chargers

As excited as Chicago must be for making the postseason, they run into a buzzsaw in the form of the AZ Cards. The Bears are clicking now, so an upset is not out of the realm of possibility. But I think the Redbirds have enough to get to the next round. Same for New England, whose matchup with Cincinnati currently projects to be the closest. Too much has to go right for the Bengals to take down the mighty Pats.

The other matchups are more interesting. I’m calling San Diego and the no. 2 seed Panthers to fall in upsets. San Diego has a great collection of talent with a mix of expected producers and pleasant surprises, but I have a feeling that the real life Chargers struggle against the Washington R-words. If Chargers like Rivers, Gordon, Allen, and Ingram struggle, SD would need Tyler Lockett, OJ Howard, Derrick Henry, Mark Barron, and Michael Brockers to step up. That’s a good collection of talent, but their production has been spotty. If enough fail to produce, I can see Philly’s roster of game breakers to sneak past the SuperChagers.

I’ll again note that I highlighted NO as a surprise struggler this season. But their win record does not matchup with their point total, and this team can score. I think Drew Brees, Carlos Hyde, and Brandon Cooks have monster games this week. On the other side of the ball, I don’t see Cam Newton and Dion Lewis making their predicted scores, and I think Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, and Marshawn Lynch really struggle despite the matchups. Even production at defense will keep this close, but this is my big upset call.

Round 2:

No. 1 Arizona Cardinals defeat No. 5 Philadelphia Steel Men
No. 7 New Orleans Saints defeat No. 3 New England Patriots

And the Saints keep marching! Some of the analysis for the NO-CAR matchup applies here, with their offensive studs turning it on late (Carlos Hyde especially. That dude is running for a big ole’ contract). On the other hand, New England’s holes may not have been big enough to matter against the Bungles, but they’ll matter against a much stronger opponent.

Arizona overwhelms a depleted Philly squad which put the rest of its juice into the round 1 upset. Instead of running their Steelers out against a beat up Baltimore D, Roethlisberger and Co. must contend with a real life Pats squad that is getting healthy and playing much more solid defense than in the early season. Unless there’s a huge game coming from George Kittle or Joey Bosa, the Steel Men will fall to the class of the league.

2017 Real Deal Ultimate Football Championship:

No. 1 Arizona Cardinals defeat No. 7 New Orleans Saints

That’s right I’m going chalk! Arizona mortgaged its future for this season, and it’ll pay off with a ring. Arizona’s deep roster and ability to get production from every part of the lineup will overwhelm the Saints’ superstars. It’ll be closer than the Cards want, but they’ll walk away with a well-earned W and the 2017 title.

Ok all, enjoy the postseason slate of games and be sure to send good luck and good-natured ribs to the team of your choice. Don’t forget to get on my case when I get every one of my picks wrong. Have fun!

Real Deal (Football) Report: 2014 NFC North and NFC East Predictions

Sorry for the delay everyone!  I’ve been traveling about the Midwest getting rained on in Cleveland and thoroughly enjoying some one-on-one road trip time with my ten year old daughter.  It’s made me neglect my writing.  I’m sorry.  What can I say?  She’s cuter than you all and I like her more than you all 🙂

But I do love you all, and I do love outstanding fantasy squads, and this week’s installment brings us SIX teams that I predict will be in the top ten in the league this year.  The NFC East and NFC North are the best two divisions in football, hands down.  I think the Super Bowl Champion comes from one of these two divisions, and I think that watching these races will be some of the most compelling theatre in our league this year.

Who will win?  I’m so glad you asked…

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: 2014 NFC North and NFC East Predictions

1 PM Edit – I got so confused by how good this league is, that I mistakenly suggested the NFC would have seven play off teams.  The article is now updated to reflect that.  Sincere apologies to Dallas and Chicago.. 🙁

 

Predictions – NFC North:

Detroit Lions

Owner: Michael Seraphim

2013 Record: 9-7

RDR 2014 Projection: 13-3

This prediction may not make me many friends. But I’m a journalist at heart! I report what I see!  Actually, I do market

I can translate when he speaks.  I don't know how.  I was born with it.
I can translate when he speaks. I don’t know how. I was born with it.

research at heart and I have absolutely no journalistic credentials nor integrity. But this is fantasy. Hmm…. since this is fantasy… actually, I’m a superhero with the ability to fly, shoot lasers out of my eyes, predict the future, and actually derive insight from stuff Chris Berman says.   So listen to me on this one, because I say that Detroit is rumblin’, fumblin’ and stumblin’ to an NFC North crown this year.

Seriously? With all those rookies? Yes. Here’s why Detroit scares me, and should scare everyone else too.

First, because the top five on that offense are INSANE. Insane. Like John Rocker insane.  Matthew Stafford. Calvin Johnson. Reggie Bush. Cordarelle Patterson. And Brandin Cooks. Last year, the four of those guys who aren’t rookies combined for 85 points per game. There’s no reason to expect a real regression unless Reggie gets hurt, and Cordarelle Patterson played only a miniscule role in the Vikings’ passing game last year. This year he is STILL the primary return man, but is moving up the depth chart at Wide Receiver with improved skills and a much better Quarterback situation. It is not at all out of the realm of possibility that Cordarelle could equal Calvin Johnson in scoring. His floor is 15 ppg. His ceiling is 30.

And then you add in Cooks, likely to take over the “I line up everywhere because I’m ridiculously fast and dangerous like Percy Harvin, but don’t miss 60% of my games with menstrual cramps like Percy Harvin” role.   That’s a top five that should asily eclipse 100 points every single week. If you get even decent contributions from Cardinal Sankey and Deacon Pettigrew, this offense is competing with Denver for best in the league. And if Sankey somehow busts, Cody Latimer and Kenny Stills (and Nash?) are first off the bench.

The defense is almost as good, and should rival the Saints, Giants and Bucs for best defense in the NFC. A linebacking core of Karlos Dansby, Stephen Tulloch, and breakout Pats starter Jamie Collins joins Ndamukong Suh up front and James Ihedigbo and Mike Mitchell in the back. The vets are joined by a passel of talented rookies and the potential (likely) return of Anthony Spencer. There are more questions on the defense then the offense, but they are question marks that most likely have good answers.

End of the day, the NFC is stacked. Anything can happen. But I have the hard luck Lions (missed the playoffs last year despite finishing 5th in the entire league in points scored) as a good 10-15 points better than the Packers, Saints, and Giants in the race to the Super Bowl.

 

Green Bay Packers

Owner: Matt Minelli

2013 Record: 13-3 (Won Super Bowl)

RDR 2014 Projection: 12-4

Yes, I definitely think the NFC North is a powerful league. And I think the battle between Green Bay and Detroit for the league will rival only the NFC East in pure intrigue this year. The difference is going to come down to one thing and one thing only: Draft Picks. Detroit came into this year with more than 20 draft picks, many of them early. Green Bay had two late round picks. It doesn’t matter at the top. But it’s going to matter in terms of depth, injuries, and final starters – which is why I give the slight edge to Detroit in this titanic struggle of legendary northern sasquatches.

 

Detroit vs. Green Bay.  Sasquatch vs. Yeti.  Settled on the Frozen Tundra...  I can't wait!
Detroit vs. Green Bay. Sasquatch vs. Yeti. Settled on the Frozen Tundra… I can’t wait!

Green Bay boasts the best QB-WR-RB combo in RDFL, pairing Aaron Rodgers with Jamaal Charles and Jordy Nelson for a trio that could average 70 points all by themselves. This ridiculous trio is joined by eternally under-rated PPR maven Danny Woodhead and last year’s breakout Tight End, Mr. Charles Clay (who I believe is one of the characters you can murder with a candlestick in Clue).

Where Green Bay falls off the pace a tiny bit is in their depth. Where Detroit loaded up this off-season on stud draft picks like Bishop Sankey and Brandin Cooks, previous Green Bay owner Shane Katz mortgaged those draft picks and that depth on last year’s title run, forcing incoming owner Matt Minelli to run out the like of Jarrett Boykin, AJ Jenkins, Kris Durham or Robert Meachem at the last two starter spots. The drop off is simply more noticeable.

It’s a similar story on the defensive side of the ball. The top of the defense, with guys like AJ Hawk, Daryl Smith, Morgan Burnett, and Chandler Jones will be an absolute force. But the Packers will also need to start guys like Barry Cofield, David Bass, and Alfonzo Dennard to round out the defense.

It’s going to come down to a simple question – rookies vs. veterans. Who will perform better? Will Detroit’s touted rookie class flip the division to the Pride of Michigan? Or will the veteran acquisitions that the Packers have brought in step up their game and outperform Detroit on their way to another title? I think the Packers are going to be an outstanding team and are one of five or so legitimate super bowl Contenders. But I give the slightest of edges to Detroit.

And I blame it on the draft picks.

 

Chicago Bears

Owner: Howard Roher

2013 Record: 10-6

RDR 2014 Projection: 9-7

If I were Bears owner Howard Roher, I would be inspired to either break something, or try to take my talents to Cleveland. Or Miami. Or really anywhere but my own division. After a brutal finish to last year where they missed the playoffs in a tie-breaker with Carolina (who won multiple games by less than a single point, by the way), the Bears are eying a scarily similar possibility this year.  With Green Bay and Philadelphia set to grab the two NFC wildcards, the Bears may be looking at another year on the outside – along with the similar tough luck Cowboys.

Here’s what you need to know about the Bears – they are Green Bay – but with even less depth. Cutler, Forte and Brandon Marshall can hold their own with anybody as a top three. But Jerome Simpson and Brian Hartline won’t inspire much fear in the opposition, and seeing Tim Wright starting at TE opposite might actually inspire the opposition.  It’s almost like seeing Mark Sanchez at QB for the other team – total confidence boost.  I think Martavis Bryant is going to have a really nice year, and this is going to be a really strong offense. But compared to the ridiculous scoring machines that are Green Bay and Detroit, it’s only third in the division.
The same is true on the defensive side of the ball, where Lance Briggs, Da’Norris Searcy, and Charles Tillman join Joe

Unlike Chris Berman, I have no idea what this means.  But it's still bad ass.
Unlike Chris Berman, I have no idea what this means. But it’s still bad ass.

Vellano and up-and-coming linebacking stud Kevin Minter as likely double digit performers. But after that – question marks. Does Julius Peppers still have it? Is Junior Galette really the best a man can get?  Even a junior man?   Can Terrance Brooks or Bacarri “Bacardi” Rambo (seriously, I need him to start tackling and become good, because Bacardi Rambo is probably the coolest NFL name EVER. Or at least since Will Clarke) step up at safety? Good on the top – questions on the bottom. That’s Chicago’s story again this year.

 

The other thing to note about the Bears is that this Bears core is getting long in the tooth. Every Franchise player with the exception of the newly franchised Vellano and Matt Forte is 30 or older, and Matt Forte is 28, which is about 35 in Running Back Years. This team has one, maybe two more years before this core needs significant adjustments. How the Bears play it, and how they compete in this division will be a fascinating story of 2014.

 

Minnesota Vikings

Owner: Pedro Fiadeiro

2013 Record: 3-13

RDR 2014 Projection: 4-12

You know who hates his life? Adrian Peterson. The guy is a certifiable stud. Now if I have super powers, this man has SUPER powers. He can not only draw insight from something Chris Berman says, he can lay hands on the man, impart some blessing, and probably actually MAKE Chris Berman insightful. Hell, he could probably make DICK VITALE insightful if he wanted. All while running for 2,000 yards, putting Chris Johnson in time-out, and rehabbing from a bad case of the gout in every extremity. He took Christian Ponder to the playoffs, for crying out loud!

But he can’t take this team to the playoffs. Not in this division. Not in this conference.

It’s a shame, really. Pedro Fiadeiro’s squad is actually much improved from last year – but the record probably won’t show it. The improvement starts on offense, where AP is joined by Quarterback Matt Cassell, who (assuming he keeps his starting job for a while) should put up competitive numbers. Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph should also improve, primarily because Matt’s first name is not Christian, his last name is not Ponder, and he can throw a football at least somewhat accurately. This group will be joined by a solid rookie crop including Allen Robinson, Jace Amaro, and Kelvin Benjamin.

Remember what I said about Chicago getting older? Well, I believe in this Vikings team long-term.  Give this group another couple of years to grow around the young talent on this squad and the Vikings could be startlingly competitive come 2016. Of course, by then it will be too late for AP…

I vote for the Vikings... but too late for AP.
I vote for the Vikings… but too late for AP.

The Vikings defense is actually quite solid, particularly in the secondary, where the Williams brothers, Serena and Venus, err… Cary and Tramon, join stud safety Harrison Smith and serviceable sidekick MD Jennings. This group should average double digits per person per game.   Chad Greenway and Jared Allen should be their studly selves, Paul Kruger is a nice fourth LB, Jonathan Bostic should take a step forward, and Andre Branch should see more playing time now that Jason Babin has gone to play for Sexy Rexy.

All told, the offense is young – but not bad. And the defense is sneak-up-on-you-and-shiv-you-in-the-side-with-a-sharpened-waffle-cone good. But the primary story in Minnesota is going to revolve around AP – does he toil forever in vain, only to see his dreams realized when he is no longer a part of this saga? Or will he go to a contender to hasten the rebuild? Only time will tell.

 

NFC East

New York Giants

Owner: Chris Adamson

2013 Record: 1-15

RDR 2014 Projection: 12-4

Last year, the New York Giants were the laughingstock of the league. Actually, they weren’t really a laughingstock. Mostly, we all just ignored them unless we saw them on our schedule. Then, we rejoiced and celebrated by drinking wine, partying with friends, and eating Sir Robin’s minstrels. This team was an epic disaster, trading away franchise players and starter picks for rookie picks. In the off-season, the original owner who began the rebuild left, and a new owner took over who we all expected to pursue a long, slow build with all those picks.

New owner Chris Adamson flashed that plan a Johnny Manziel caliber-bird, and immediately started trading pick after

That's what I think of you, "rebuilding"!
That’s what I think of you, “rebuilding”!

pick after pick for player after player after player. Gone are Darius Reynaud, Jeff Maehl, Brandon Pettigrew, Marcel Reese, and Brian Spurlock. Replacing them are Rashad Jennings, Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, Torrey Smith, CJ Spiller and DeAndre Hopkins. And that’s not even counting ‘slammin Sammy Watkins, he of the corked hands.

The transformation on Defense has been just as compelling, with fresh blood at every position in the form of Akiem Hicks at DE, Justin Smith at DT, a completely new linebacking core headlined by Jarod Mayo, Patrick Willis and incoming stud Chris Kirksey, William Gay at CB, and safeties Stevie Brown and Ryan Mundy. When all is said and done, the only position that hasn’t changed for the Giants is Quarterback, where Eli Manning returns to stink up the joint and pose the most significant threat to the Giants achieving their dreams.

So now that the dust is settled, how good is this team? Did Adamson really do enough to turn a one win team into a division champion? A stacked NFC East division champion, at that? Wow that’s tough. I have Dallas, the Giants and the Eagles all within ten points per game of each other, and each team has question marks. I think it’s legitimately possible that the NFC East has three playoff teams.

I give the Giants the slightest of edges – and here’s why – they have the best guys first off the bench. While the Eagles have an equally insane starting line-up, and the Cowboys have more overall roster depth, the the Giants can bring in guys like CJ Spiller and Sammy Watkins as first off the bench – and I think that depth, particularly on offense, gives them just enough to edge past Philadelphia and Dallas.

 

Philadelphia Eagles

Owner: Mike Stagg

2013 Record: 12-4

RDR 2014 Projection: 12-4

Did I mention that the NFC North and NFC East are sick leagues? In the North, Detroit and Green Bay are legitimate super bowl competitors, the Bears are an excellent team, and the Vikings are quietly under-rated. It’s even WORSE in the NFC East. I just listed that ridiculous Giant roster, purchased with a mother-load of 1st round picks. But the Eagles are just as good. Last year’s division champs finished 12-4 and scored the 4th most points in football with 3127. And that was WITHOUT Jeremy Maclin for the entire year and Shane Vereen out for most of it.

This year, Stagg’s reloaded Eagles will have a full year of RGIII and get Maclin and Vereen back totally healthy. New draft pick Austin-Sefarian Jenkins replaces Lance Kendricks at the final flex, and rookie Kyle Fuller will bolster an already solid Defense.

I feel stupid for not knowing this... but who IS the real Slim Shady?  Eminem?  LeSean McCoy?  Darrell Arthur?  Please, please just STAND UP so we can all go home!
I feel stupid for not knowing this… but who IS the real Slim Shady? Eminem? LeSean McCoy? Darrell Arthur? Please, please just STAND UP so we can all go home!

And did I mention Shady McCoy is on this football team?

 

The offensive starting lineup the Eagles can trot out can compete with anyone – if everyone stays healthy and plays to potential. But to me, this team has more questions on offense than the Giants and slightly less depth. Will RGIII stay healthy and return to form? Will DeSean Jackson play as well away from Chip Kelly’s video game offense? Will Jeremy Maclin return to form after a brutal season-ending injury? Will Shane Vereen keep his role in the evil Bill Belichick’s ever-shifting backfield? And what about the drop-off after the starting eight? Where the Giants can trot out Sammy Watkins and CJ Spiller, the Eagles top back-ups are Kenbrell Thompkins, DuJuan Harris and Lance Kendricks – serviceable certainly, but not the same caliber of stud.

Stagg’s squad might make up for it on defense, though, particularly in the secondary, where Tyrann Mathieu and Tashaun Gipson make up the most opportunistic, ball-hawking safety pair in the league. These guys are bloody ruthless. I tossed an apple core towards my trash can the other day and Gipson intercepted the damn thing and returned it to the kitchen for a touchdown. And I saw the Honey Badger absolutely deck a four year old girl who was trying to leave her pre-school time-out without permission. These guys are everywhere. And while the rest of the defense doesn’t boast a lot of big names, there’s a ton of breakout potential this year – Fletcher Cox, Ziggy Ansah, Chris Long, Kyle Fuller – it’s a who’s who list of potential breakout players, especially up front.

In short – lots of questions. In one model, Philly’s offensive stars all shine, their break-outs go crazy Great Escape style, and they blow everybody else out of the division. In another scenario, though, injuries hit hard, the break-outs stay mediocre, and the Eagles finish third in the east and miss the playoffs – even with that sick-nasty line-up. The truth will likely fall somewhere in the middle – and who can say it will be enough to win the division? I think Philly and New York split their regular season series, finish with the same record, and the Giants win on a points tie-breaker.

But even then, you can’t forget about…

 

Dallas Cowboys

Owner: Robert Walters

2013 Record: 9-7

RDR 2014 Projection: 10-6

Watching this off-season, you had to feel bad for the Eagles. Stagg’s squad started the off-season head and shoulders above the competition with a great team expected to get even better with the return of key players from injury. However, both Dallas and NYG took substantial leaps forward. Instead of a cake walk to the playoffs, the Eagles face a three-way dogfight with New York and Dallas.

We talked about New York’s flashy off-season already. But while Dallas’ off-season makeover was more subtle, it was equally effective. The addition of Dexter McCluster to the big three of Romo, Murray and Bryant adds another guy with the potential to score substantial points from both the RB and WR positions.   McCluster also highlights an important offensive strength for the Cowboys – versatility. While the Cowboy offense does not run seven deep with studs, it does have multiple upside guys at every position. Chris Thompson, Terrance West and Lamar Miller join Murray to form the deepest backfeld in the league, the ‘Boys have a pair of viable tight-ends in Garrett Graham and Delanie Walker, and a pair of secondary receivers to mix and match with. This depth, combined with McCluster’s versatility, should allow Dallas owner Robert Walters to pick his match-ups week-to-week and maximize his talent.

Walters has also significantly upgraded the defense – again in ways that have flown under the radar. The secondary especially should show substantial improvement this year.  Gone are Richard Marshall and Darian Stewart, replaced by Bradley Fletcher and Antrel Rolle – both of whom should provide improvements of at least 4-5 ppg. While the loss of Jurrell Casey will sting, Walters has done a nice job of plugging defensive holes in free agency, bringing in AJ Klein, Chris Clemons, Jerrell Powe and Audie Cole. This defense is both better and deeper than last year.

Compared to Philly (Maclin and Vereen back) and the massive overhaul undergone by the Giants, the Cowboys don’t seem to have done a lot. But at 9-7 last year, Walters’ squad didn’t need to. This team has suddenly become very deep, and upgraded itself at key positions. I don’t think the Cowboys have the firepower to overcome the explosive teams ahead of it in the division – but they are arguably the deepest team in the division, and should injuries strike key players, this team will be lying in wait. Even if neither Philly nor the Giants stumble, the Cowboys could challenge Green Bay for the second wild card.

 

Washington Redskins

Owner: Matt Finn

2013 Record: 7-9

RDR 2014 Projection: 5-11

Ok… well, maybe I feel worse for new owner Matt Finn than I do for Philly. Nothing like coming into what is arguably the best division in football with a new team and finding that your four team division consists of three super bowl contenders and you. Moreover your starting QB has left to become a third-stringer, your second best receiver is Aldrick Robinson, half your defense has retired, and Alfred Morris suffers more than any other single player from a PPR scoring system that rewards big plays.

Washington experiences the classic and beloved story of the Morris and the Hare.  But with our league's scoring, the hare wins.
Washington experiences the classic and beloved story of the Morris and the Hare. But with our league’s scoring, the hare wins.

So what’s a new owner to do? Courageously fill holes and build for the future. Rather than launch into a tanking frenzy, Finn has approached the off-season deliberately and with purpose, filling the QB hole with Ryan Fitzpatrick and flipping concussion-risk star Jordan Reed to fill multiple holes on the defense. Pierre Garcon should be even better with DeSean Jackson to stretch the field and open things up for him underneath, Andre Ellington and Brent Celek should be decent complements to Morris this year, and Travis Kelce should be a high-upside replacement for Reed. This is a solid, under the radar offensive squad with some potential for upside if things break right.

On the other side of the ball, holes have been plugged but question marks remain, particularly in the center of the field and up-front. Linval Joseph and Ray McDonald anchor Washington’s new 3-4 look this year, and will provide some strong push up the middle. However, the outsides of the line are less imposing, as both Antonio Smith and Derrick Morgan should have secure starting roles, but have historically struggled to put up serious points, particularly Smith. Morgan has a higher upside – provided he can learn a new position in Tennessee. It is Middle Linebacker where the biggest questions will arise for Washington.

Rolando McClain will look to replace Sean Lee at middle linebacker, which I think is actually a great fit. Here’s why.

Rumors suggest that talks are heating up between Tampa Bay and Favre... putting some real pressure on McClain to retire again soon.
Rumors suggest that talks are heating up between Tampa Bay and Brett Favre… putting some real pressure on McClain to retire again soon.

Sean Lee is one of the all-time leaders when measured by the new and advanced sabermetric of IR/16 – number of trips to the injured reserve per 16 games. It is difficult to replace a player with such a historically great achievement, but Rolando McClain is currently third all-time in a similarly prestigious statistic – R/16 – number of retirements per 16 games. McClain trails only Brett Favre and Michael Jordan in this category, and will look to gain on these two greats by retiring again at least once this season.

CJ Mosley is the other question mark in the middle. As a rookie with great potential, he is likely to become a mainstay on this defense. But to ask McClain and Mosley to man the middle in a brutal NFC East is asking too much. The Redskins are doing a nice job building for the future, but they will take an inevitable step back this year as the Cowboys and Giants step forward.

Oh… and guys – the basketball league just got started with their initial power rankings – and they got 15 comments in less than 24 hours!  We’re getting put to shame by dudes who love watching tall guys in short shorts!  Let’s get some trash-talk going in the comments section!

Only YOU can post in the comments section!  Well... actually... anybody can.  But YOU should!
Only YOU can post in the comments section! Well… actually… anybody can. But YOU should!

“Alluhring Strategy” The ‘Futures’ in Now: What to Make of Pitching Performances in the Futures Game

What did you think about the pitching performances in last weekend’s Futures Game. Other than two big swings, the pitchers ruled the day. Click here to read my take on what to make of a few pitching prospects moving forward after the exposure on the big stage of Target Field in Part 1 of my Futures Game Recap.

 

“Alluhring Strategy” The ‘Futures’ is Now: US Team Players to Watch

In this week’s article, I take a look at a few prospects on the US Futures Game team that you might be interested in. If you need some names to stash for Deep Keeper leagues or dynasty leagues, you want to read about these guys. Click here for link to original article.

Real Deal Look at the MLB Draft: National League Analysis

Click here for part two of my MLB Draft recap. I take a look at some of the highlights and question marks of this year’s draft from the National League perspective and how it relates to your future dynasty teams. For more analysis, I will be on Major League Fantasy Sports Radio again on Monday, June 23 1pm EST to go a little deeper with hosts EJ and Corey.

Real Deal take on the MLB Draft: Major League Fantasy Sports Radio Guest Appearance

The Commish was a guest on Major League Fantasy Sports Radio today breaking down how the American League teams did in the MLB draft. Click this link to check out podcast of the live show that aired today. You can tune in every Monday at 1pm EST to catch the live broadcast.

“Alluhring Strategy” MLB Draft Recap – AL Style

Click here for my latest piece for MajorLeagueFantasySports.com on the recent MLB draft from a fantasy sports perspective. You can catch even more analysis of the draft when I am a guest on Major League Fantasy Sports Radio, Monday June 16th, 1pm EST.