Real Deal (Football) Report – 2017 Predictions: The East!

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.

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.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report – 2017 Predictions: The East!

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.

Uhoh. I love this team. It’s been so good I really don’t want to ge here… But if the shoe fits…

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.

Oh how I loved this team. And oh how much pain it brought me. C’mon NYG. Get over the top!

 

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.

Your 2017 Philadelphia Eagles Offense!!!!

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.

Shoot ’em from the trees and you might have a chance.

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.

The NFC East can be a scary place.

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.

The Redskins locker room is filled with motivational nonsense like this.

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.

 

AFC East: 

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.

And this is what’s all over the Bills locker room. Which, actually, is a bit creepy.

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.

Hard Knocks, New England Patriots style!

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.

 

Awww…. the 2017 Dolphins are just so stinkin’ CUTE!!! Yet another reason not to sign Cutler. Don’t let him near children.

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.

Real footage from the NYJ ownership meetings this offseason

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.

Real Deal Dynasty (Football) Predictions: The South!

Season Five y’all.  We’re moving into our fifth season of existence.

And as always, to honor the legacies of those, who have won before, I’ll begin the preview with a reiteration of Super Bowls past.

In 2013, the Green Bay Packers, in their one and only season being run by the immortal Shane Katz, defeated the Indianapolis Colts 186-171.

In 2014, Darren Leung’s Pittsburgh Steelers used clutch catches from one Albert Wilson to knock off the favored Dallas Cowboys 216-206.

In 2015, Pedro Canteiro’s Carolina Panthers quietly assassinated a series of powerhouse squads before finally claiming the Championship over the Buffalo Bills, 232-220.

Then, last year, in 2016, Michael Seraphim’s infamous Detroit Lions mashed through the NFC to overcome the Houston Texans, 200-189.

Finish Reading: Real Deal Dynasty (Football) Predictions: The South!

Four years in the books.  Four different champions.  Eight different Super Bowl participants.  Only one team has made the playoffs in every year of the league’s existence.  This is a tough league to win.  All of which makes this coming year all the more exciting.  Who will win it all in 2017?  And who can possibly wait for the end of the year to find out?

No worries, my friends!  The season is largely unnecessary.  A mere formality.  I’m about to tell you who is going to win.  So pull up a chair and get ready to have your mind filled with brilliant prognostication!  With my 0/4 record of predicting championships and 1/8 run of predicting Super Bowl participants (Buffalo 2015, I see you), you can certainly trust my analysis.

Yes, this is what I do. And what I wear. Don’t judge me.
I sorry. I even sorrier than the guy who gave Brock Osweiler that contract. Well. Maybe not that sorry. But sorry.

But before I get to it, one final apology.  Detroit and Houston both had epic playoff runs last year on the way to Super Bowl glory.  They deserved to be covered, chronicled, an heaped with praise week in and week out.  But I was a slacker last year and did not give either of them the writing or the credit they deserved.  I can’t really fix that now – but please guys, accept my heartfelt apologies for not giving you the column space you both so richly deserved!

On to the predictions – this year, we begin with the South divisions.  I’m pretty sure I haven’t started there before.  But it’s also possible that I think that every year, and have started with them three years running.  Whatever.  I’ll get to everyone, so hold your horses! 🙂

 

 

AFC South:

Houston Texans (11-5): It’s hard to repeat as the AFC Champion.  And in a division as competitive as the AFC South, it may be hard to even get a repeat playoff berth.  But the Texans, my friends, are loaded for the bear.  How so?  Well, the Texans have pursued a startlingly effective strategy I eloquently like to call “Find the scarce resource and hoard the shit out of it”.  In this case, that scarce resource is workhorse running backs.  With the rise of platoons, actual stud workhorse running backs have gone the way of the Dodo bird and the well-paying coal mining job.  You can’t find them.  You can’t bring them back from China. They are extinct.  Except for in Houston.  That’s the one place you can still find a classic RB1.  At one point this off-season, Houston had David Johnson, Jordan Howard, Mike Gillislee, and Carlos Hyde all chilling on the roster.  Even after flipping Hyde for a king’s ransom, the Texans are still sitting on what could be three of the leagues top ten backs, and very likely two of the top five.  That’s silly, and as a liberal, I am well within my rights to demand running back redistribution.

He haz all the running backs of all the shapes and sizes.

The problem for the rest of the league is that the rest of this team is good too.  Jameis Winston looks like a franchise QB, Austin Hooper is poised to break out at Tight End, and while the receiving corps won’t finish among the league’s best, a combination of Chris Hogan, Donte Moncrief, Ted Ginn and Tonic, and Kenny Golladay should get the job done.  Defensively, this time is well set up to stop the pass with an excellent secondary of Jonathan Cyprien, Desmond Trufant, and Earl Thomas anchoring the defensive backfield.  The ancient and oft-injured Brian Cushing is joined in the defensive secondary by the less ancient but still injured Bruce Irvin and the rarely injured but sometimes high Chandler Jones.  It seems complicated.  But it’s a good complicated.  Even the defensive front line, which should be this squad’s weakness, received a solid infusion of talent with Solomon Thomas.

This team isn’t a super team.  It’s not going to death march folks the way we’ve seen with some squads.  But it’s very good.  It lacks weaknesses.  And I anticipate a lot of games where the Texans bring in the jumbo set, hand it off a billion teams, and pound the rest of us to dust.

Tennessee Titans (8-8):

Every year, I declare that Tennessee is an up and coming young team.  Improving.  Young stars.  Getting better and better.  Last year, I thought they were in contention, but potentially a year away.  They got close.  And Houston was supposed to get old, paving the way for the rebuild to become the winner.  Somehow, though, Houston got young instead of getting old.  I’m not sure how that works.  And I’m not sure Tennessee has the horses to get over the top – despite being a better team with increasing star power.

There’s no question that this squad will go as far as Odell Beckham Jr. will take them.  He’s a stud, and one of the best receivers in the game when his head is on straight, finishing second only to Antonio Brown in WR points.  He’ll get some help too, as Sam Bradford is clearly ensconced as the starter in Minnesota and Paul Perkins is set to take over as the unquestioned starter for the Giants.  Ndamukong Suh and Danielle Hunter anchor what should be a vicious, fantastic front line, and the Linebacking group and secondary were solid pieces even before the addition of Jaylon Brown.

That said, I just think there are two many question marks here – still.  Tennessee needs high caliber contributions from guys like Dwayne Allen, Jimmy Smith, Russell Shepard, Tajae Sharp, and Devin Funchess, and outside of the linebacking group, just doesn’t have a lot of depth.  Aside from OBJ, the team also doesn’t have the super high end players that can make up for that lack of depth.

I used to be the up and coming young team, not these $#&)(# in Jacksonville. Where did it all go wrong?

I think this team will be good.  I think it has the potential to be very, very good.  But some how, some way, this squad doesn’t have the same feel of magic I’ve been looking at for the past couple of years – and it will be one of the season’s more intriguing story lines to see if they can recapture it.

Indianapolis Colts (7-9):

Luck… to Edelman…. Touchdown!  Luck… to Edelman… Touchdown!  Luck… uhoh… looks like they have 7 guys covering Edelman…  Luck… uh… throws it away.

That was the 2016 addition of the Colts.  A solid defense, a quarterback who defines franchise, a stud receiver (when not posing for the body issue or fighting Stephon Gilmore), and a whole lot of nothing else.  It’s hard to win with 35 point offensive performances in this league.

Will it be different in 2017?  It could be.  Will Fuller is a oozing with potential.  Err… never mind.  The pundits are saying good things about Troy Niklas, who certainly has the inside track to a starting role.  Deonte Thompson… well.  Ok. I’ll stop.  To make the playoffs, the Colts would need a series of breaks including an injury to Spencer Ware freeing up the massively overpriced Charcandrick West for a starting role, Bruce Ellington surviving both competition and the offensive dead zone that is San Francisco, and rookie additions like Jonnu Smith and Wayne Gallman making unexpected noise.  It’s bleak.

The defense is solid, but a little nondescript.  Landon Collins is fantastic, and anchors a secondary that should be the strength of the defense with both cagey vets like Antoine Bethea and rising youngsters like Eli Apple.  It’s a similar meshing of the old and new inside where the Colts are hoping to coax one more your from the dessicating body of Brian Orakpo while young guns like Blake Martinez continue their rise to prominence.

As I always do, I’m going back and forth on this roster.  It’s got some nice pieces, and some decent depth.  But the offense…. but maybe Gallman and Niklas will be great… but it’s still only four players… but the defense… is it good?  Or decent?  Or bad?  Maybe this team could be sneaky good?  Maybe…  In the end, I think this famous graphic sums up my feelings…

Precisely how I feel about the Colts this year

Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10): The Jagulars (spelling intentional) have become the new Tennessee Titans – full of potential, burgeoning with young talent, and not quite ready to win yet.  If this was 2020, I would be all in on the Jags.  A finally starting Jimmy Garoppolo would be chucking touchdowns to veteran statesman Marqise Lee and all around studs Cooper Kupp and Rashard Higgins, while David Njoku has ascended to a top 5 TE role and Kareem Hunt is a first round pick in normal fantasy drafts.  On defense, guys like Jalen Ramsey and Malik Hooker form a new legion of boom, and Yannick Ngakoue continues to sack everyone who can’t spell his name (which is everyone).  This team looks silly good then.

However, it’s 2017, not 2020.  So Jimmy Garoppolo continues to languish on the bench behind the Darth Vader of

When you google 2020, this is what comes up. What the Jags will be driving to their victory parade?

football, putting up a weekly zero.  Kupp, Higgins, Njoku and Hunt will face depth chart struggles and rookie bumps.  Like Indianapolis, this team has the potential to score an exceptionally small number of offensive points on a weekly basis.  Unlike Indy, this team does not have a starting QB, and Marqise Lee is not Julian Edelman.  There will be growing pains.

That said, Jacksonville is going to be a pain in the arse to play against this year for contenders.  The reason is that defense.  It’s straight up exceptional, and doesn’t need to wait a long time to be so.  We’ve already mentioned Ngakoue, who is a bone fide stud.  But listen to this group of young stars: Ngakoue, Jabaal Sheard, Bud Dupree, CJ Mosley, Linval Joseph Mark Barron, Bashaud Breeland, Jalen Ramsey, Malik Hooker, Kamalei Correa.  That’s without even mentioning Trae Waynes, Obum Gwachum, and Kevin Byard.

Very quietly, the Jags have put together a core of talent on both sides of the ball that could position them to dominate the AFC for years to come.  The defense is ready much earlier than the offense – but that could just mean another high draft pick or two while the young guys develop.

That said, young talent is notoriously unreliable.  Guys you think will be franchise players don’t pan out and randoms ascend to stardom.  Will Jacksonville take Tennessee’s path on an exciting ride to fizzle-city, or actually make the leap?  It will be fun to see, and I like the plan.

 

NFC South:  A word to the wise, the moderately wise, and the dumbass who traded Paul Perkins for Wendell Smallwood straight up (what a fool, that guy!): the NFC South is a brutal division.  I maintain that all four squads last year were playoff caliber, with Atlanta, Carolina, and New Orleans all in possession of Super Bowl Champion rosters.  Not only has this division produced one out of four of our Super Bowl champions, it has also produced the closest thing we’ve seen to an undefeated season (New Orleans) and some of the best divisional races year in, year out.

It’s going to be the same old story this year.

Carolina Panthers (10-6): Never start a land war in Asia.  Never draft a kicker before the last round of a fantasy draft.  Never bet against Carolina.  Remember those three maxims, my son, and you will do well in both life and afterlife.  The Panthers are quiet, unassuming, and deadly.  Like a Canadian Jason Bourne with bruised vocal cords.

Pretty much…

It starts at the top this year, where the great Dabbasaurus Rex is ready for a rebound year, replete with running and passing scores.  It continues on defense, where the linebacking trio of Luke Kuechly, Alex Okafor, and Melvin Ingram should be one of the league’s best.  It continues in proximity to Philadelphia where the recently arrived LeGarrette Blount should grab a feature back role (albeit in a pass driven offense), the recently departed Bennie Logan should dominate up front for KC, and the recently rich Zach Ertz should hopefully get over that sophomore and junior slump and emerge into stardom.

Beyond that, this team has solidity and depth at every position.  Mark Ingram is a strong second back (unless AP steals his job, which I doubt), Fast Willie Snead and Robert “Are we out of the Woods yet?” will provide some excellent receiving options.  Steve Smith and Eddie Royal will even keep Carolina competitive in the retirement home league, and MIchael Floyd and Michael Thomas will keep them competitive in the rehab league.  Carl Lawson and Jamal Adams show that this team still has youth, and the roster on both sides of the ball is filled out with quality players. Depth.  Everywhere.

So what’s the problem?  The lack of sure things and the level of competition.  What if Ingram does lose his job, or end up

What you gotta be, to win the South. Blue nose and all.

in a platoon? What if Ertz is eclipsed by all the Eagles new receivers, Wentz has a sophomore slump, and Doug Peterson inexplicably forgets to hand the ball off to LeGarrette Blount at the goal line?  What if last year was not a fluke for Cam, but the new reality?  What if Kuechly gets inured?  A lot would have to go wrong for Carolina to be a  bad team.  But like the Tony the Tiger challenge, in this division, it’s not enough to be good, you’ve got to be Grrrreeeaaat!

Atlanta Falcons (10-6):

On paper, the Falcons look like the best team in the AFC South.  After repeatedly fleecing the old Cowboys owner in trades, triumphantly drafting Jared Goff, and then somewhat less triumphantly grabbing both Carson Palmer and Mike Glennon to start until Jared Goff starts playing like a quarterback at the level of a Brian Hoyer or Brock Osweiler, the Falcons should be ready to fly.

And I mean fly.  This team packs a silly one-two punch at receiver with Julio Jones and Kelvin Benjamin, and backs that nonsense up with Mohammed Sanu and John Brown.  There’s a lot of speed and a lot of receptions to be had in that wide receiving corps.  Julius “not so caesar-like now” Thomas underwhelmed last year, but is looking to bounce back with his new strategy of “think like a defensive back”.  It apparently doesn’t work to try to catch balls when Blake Bortles is trying to throw it to you, so if you have an interception mindset, it should double your receptions.  If it sticks, he could be good.  Training camp concussions are a concern for Jay Ajayi, and being Eddie Lacy is a concern for Eddie Lacy, but there’s enough firepower and depth here that the offense should be excellent.

A’Shawn Robinson? That’s THE’Shawn Robinson, bitch.

On defense, this team’s strength is in the middle, with Zach Thomas, Christian Kirksey, Thomas Davis, and Sean Lee providing a silly Linebacking group that could also be a law firm (Davis, Thomas, Lee, and Kirksey – Attorneys at Law).  Interestingly enough, all the last names could be first names too, though the guy named Kirksey would probably get made fun of).  There’s also some major beef in the middle of the front line, monsters like Ra’Shede Hageman (warcraft villain), A’Shawn Robinson, Michael Bennett and Clinton McDonald.  The trick is that some of these guys are better at eating blockers than ballcarriers, so actual tackles and points could be harder to come by.  But it’s a big, high potential group of guys.  The secondary could be the Falcs achilles heel.  Brett Grimes is good, but on the downside of his career, the Robinsons (Josh and Patrick) aren’t quite there yet, and aren’t quite good either, and Tony Jefferson faces injury concerns.

End of the day, it should be a high-scoring pass-happy affair when the Falcons play anybody, and I think this could be the year when Atlanta gets over the top.  But I don’t ever bet against Carolina.  That’s not a game you can win.  It’s rigged by the house.  Or the Russians.

New Orleans Saints (7-9): 

Oh N’awlins.  I love your accents.  I love your mysticism, your haunted cemetary tours, your voodoo peoples, your catfish (so, so good!) and your strange housing styles.  I love your team.  I love your QB. And I love what this could look like if everything broke right.

But I do not like your questions marks.  I do not like them Sam I Am.  Not in a division like this.  Not in the mighty South.  Atlanta and Carolina have certainty at key spots, and redundancy behind them just in case.  It’s more layers of redundancy than a Trump speech.  They have good players.  They have the best players.  People tell them all the time they have the best players.

I’ve lost control of this metaphor and I don’t really know what it has to do with the article.

New Orleans, though, is risky. New Orleans is a Casino.  New Orleans is a huge bet on self-driving cars.  And in this division… I can’t take that bet.

So what are the sure things?  Well, Drew Brees is as sure as they come.  And I suppose we can put Golden Tate in that camp as well.  He’s not certain, but signs definitely point to him being a really good bet this year.  Brandon Graham and Jordan Cameron gonna sack some folk.  Malcolm Jenkins will show up with his patented blend of great plays and blown coverages to score fantasy points and receive acclaim for his “leadership.”  James Harrison will be reasonably productive on the field and exceptionally productive saying mean things about Roger Goodell.  And Kiko Alonso will get hurt a couple weeks in.  Dude is as bad as Jordan Reed for that nonsense…

But that’s about where it ends.  There are question marks about literally every other player on the roster, including both the kicker and the punter.  This roster resembles nothing so much as one of those hideous “summer math packets” the teachers used to assign when you were in middle school because it has so many questions.  Those summer-ruining bastards.  And it’s being perpetuated, you know. My 13 year old daughter has a 23 page math packet to do over the summer.  The summer.  There’s a lot of bitter divide in Washington, but can’t we all come together to ban this nonsense?  Literally nobody is in favor of summer homework, and if you are a teacher, and you assign it, you are a bad person and lack moral agency.  Period.

It’s literally the same impossibly happy nightmare face I see in my mind whenever Detroit tries to sell me on a trade for a guy I’ve never heard of. Summer math and that trade offer are both bad! You don’t convince me, demon ice cream face!

Ahem.  Anyway.  Let’s talk about the question marks and associated questions:

  • Darren Sproles: When does your age catch up with you?  It’s chasing you like the wolf in the Duran Duran song, and it wants to eat you.  Also, when does graduating from K-State catch up with you?  That’s a huge negative, and I have no clue how you’ve been a productive member of society with that ball and chain.
  • JJ Nelson: Do you get passes thrown to you this year?  Or nah bro?
  • Jimmy Graham: Can you be good again?
  • Joe Williams: Can you supplant Carlos Hyde?  If not, how do you deal with that?  How do you find the self-esteem to keep going?  Also, do you work at a button factory?
  • CJ F.: Can you finally beat Ryan Griffin?  I thought platoons at running back were bad, but platoons at tight end?  No thank you because fuck it very much.
  • James Connor: How did you get so much hype on a team with Le’Veon Bell?  How? You have a fabulous publicist, my good sir.
  • Sammie Coates: Are you a possible stud, or is your confidence shot to Venezuela?
  • Anthony Barr: Does your coach like you?
  • Steven Nelson: Wait, who are you?  I don’t think I’ve ever heard of you before.
  • Rafael Bush: Will you be productive as a third guy like you have in the past?  Also, how have you been that good and never been a starter for literally your entire career?
  • Andrew Franks: Are you the kicker?
  • Anthony Dixon: Are you my mother?

See? Question marks everywhere.  If things break right (Sammie Coates is a star, Jimmy Graham returns to form, Anthony Barr becomes a boss, CJ Fiedorowicz catches touchdowns, and the various defensive guys I didn’t list because I ran out of pithy questions play up to their potential, this could be a great team and the Saints could return to the top of the division.  But when you have questions against sure things, I’ll go with the sure things.  It’s all about probabilities… which I apparently now do in the summer for fun.  ::SIGH:: I have become that which I hate.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10): Poor, poor Tampa Bay.  This team keeps getting this close to being good, and can’t quite get over the top.  Tampa Bay is to RDFL is what Hillary Clinton is to the presidency.  A favorite for the presidency for like twelve years.  Super closer in two elections.  Wins the popular vote.  Not president. Tampa keeps pulling the same stunt – good team for the last three years.  Strong players.  Good drafts.  Good free agent pickups.  Not quite able to get over the hump.

More of the same, this year, unfortunately, as the division has stayed strong, but Tampa Bay has taken steps back.  Doug Martin is facing threats to his job.  Vincent Jackson isn’t on a roster anymore.  Josh McCown plays for the Jets. Alfred Morris and Jermaine Gresham have successfully recovered from idiopathic bouts of talent, and the roster, tragically, has Blaine Gabbert on it.  Jadaveon Clowney is a bit of a bust and Chris Conte is losing his job to JJ Wilcox.

The defense is still going to be fantastic.  Any squad with Lavonte David and Von Miller starting next to each other is going to be absolutely ferocious.  Gerald McCoy is still a good player with a good personality, and Aqib Talib is still a good player with a bad personality.  The defense is going to put up points, and the offense is going to be much better than say, Indy and Jacksonville.  But in this ridiculous division, I just don’t think it’s enough.  Not by a long shot.  I like Tampa Bay, and I keep rooting for them.  But end of the day, it will not be Tampa Bay atop the South for another division.  It’s a conspiracy!

Oppressing the Ukraine and keeping TB out of the playoffs since 2013.

Bloody Russians.

 

 

Real Deal (Football) Report: Wildcard Recap

And then there were eight.  In a series of solid contests, divisional winners went 4-0 over wild card squads to produce a full chalk advancement and set up some of the games we’ve all been waiting for.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Wildcard Recap

Detroit Lions 216, Philadelphia Eagles 171

Tyler Lockett had 31, Matthew Stafford threw for 28, both the offense and defense broke the century marker, and Detroit cruised to an easy 45 point victory over the Eagles in the wildcard round – though since Lockett played on Monday Night, the victory appeared much more questionable up until that point.  The Eagles were undone on the defensive side of the ball, where not a single player reached double figures.  Combined with a Witten goose egg, it was simply too much for the Eagles to overcome.

Arizona Cardinals 198, Atlanta Falcons 150

The bright lights of the playoffs do strange things to teams.  Atlanta and Cleveland are both teams that are vastly better than they showed in the Wild Card round, leading one to wonder just what sort of first time playoff jitters both teams were experiencing.  Julio Jones came to play with 23 and Jay Ajayi got a respectable 16, but nobody else on the team scored more than 11 points as the Falcons stumble to a quick exit.  Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 4 point whimper will increase the cries for Goff over the off-season.  Arizona, on the other hand, put in a strong, workmanlike performance that shows they know what the playoffs are about and are planning on a long stay.  Shady McCoy led the way with 32, Brandon LaFell snared 22, and the Cardinal offense outscored the Falcon offense by 40, proving to be the difference in the game.

Kansas City Chiefs 244, Cleveland Browns 115

Cleveland’s drama and triumph happened in week 12, when the Browns posted a nice win and won a four team tie-breaker to make their first ever RDFL playoff. It was a huge milestone for what has been a struggling franchise, and a great step on the rise to success.  Coupled with a bye week that away 5 starters and an injury to star receiver Marvin Jones, one could forgive the Browns for just being happy to be there.  The Browns were lifeless from the jump, falling behind 25-9 on Thursday night and staying there.  Both sides of the ball were abysmal as Cleveland posted 48 offensive points and 55 defensive ones on the way to their worst overall performance of the year.  Still, a first ever playoff experience deserves congratulations.  Kansas City, meanwhile, took advantage, feasting on defense.  The front-line trio of Everson Griffen, Kyle Williams, and Dante Fowler combined for 66 defensive points, the defense put up 153, and Jordy Nelson added 31 to make this a convincing route.

Houston Texans 230, New England Patriots 201

The best game of the playoffs was never truly decided until Monday night, as the Houston Texans and New England Patriots both put up strong performances worthy of playoff teams.  New England road strong games on each side of the ball, getting a well rounded 95 on offense and 92 on defense.  Houston countered, however, with a preposterous ground and pound game all weekend long behind a 40 point explosion from David Johnson and a 36 point complement from Jordan Howard.  As a result, Houston outscored the Patriots at RB (Frank Gore and Kenjon Barner) 75-15, more than enough to make up for the difference in the game.  Still, a hugely successful year for the 12-4 Patriots, who would have advanced against 3/4 NFC teams in the Wild Card.

 

Divisional Round Predictions:

Carolina Panthers vs. Arizona Cardinals: This battle of playoff veteran teams also appears pretty one-sided.  The Panthers have the 2nd ranked offense and 6th ranked defense in football, while the Cardinals are on the middle of the list.  Injury concerns do loom for Carolina though, with Luke Kuechly and Kurt Coleman still in the concussion profile, Eddie Royal and Robert Woods suffering from lingering injuries, and whatever the heck is going on with the real life Cam and the Panthers threatening to impinge.  Still, the biggest danger to me is that the Panthers look past the Cardinals this week.  Face to face and at full strength, Arizona would need a repeat from Shady and much more to knock off the Panthers.  But if Carolina turns in a dud, Arizona is absolutely strong enough to capitalize

Prediction: In a startling break from my playoff rule about never predicting Carolina, I pick Carolina.  This is largely because Carolina seems to have their own rule about winning every damn playoff game.

New York Giants vs. Detroit Lions: To my mind, this is the best matchup of the divisional round, and potentially one of the best 2 vs 3 divisional matchups we’ve seen in a long-long time.  The Giants were the best team by far in fantasy points in the regular season, dropping out of the top slot by virtue of a pair of back to back losses against teams like LA playing their hearts out.  Let’s be clear, though – they scored 3775 fantasy points, which is an AVERAGE of more than 230 per game.  When they are on, they are massacring people.  By contrast, the Lions won their division handily, are an outstanding team in their own right, and scored 3219.

Prediction: New York Giants.  It’s hard to vote against Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and the best point total in RDFL.  I’m riding the Giants until Carolina beats them and makes me look bad.

Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans: Here’s where things get interesting.  The red-hot Texans against the wounded but still powerful Bills.  Houston is on a tear, winning some ridiculous number of games in a row (is it 11?) and posting 230 points in a very strong playoff performance.  As Jordan Howard emerges in the Bears backfield as a stud, this team just gets stronger.  Nobody wants to play them, and they are a brutal 12-4 four seed.  At the same time, the Bills injuries are well documented, with Gronk, AP, CJ Prosise, and AJ Green suffering major injuries and Alshon Jeffery suspended.  So does this bode well for an upset?  Hard to say.  Because of that defense.  Just when everyone thought the Bills might be vulnerable, they dropped a 156 point defensive day to combine a still solid 80 points from the offense to score the most points in fantasy in the week #12 double and maintain the #1 seed.  Same old Buffalo.  Wounded?  Yes.  Still fighting?  Absolutely.  This is going to be one heck of a fun game.

Prediction: Houston.  Going out on a limb here and saying Houston is too hot and the injuries are too much.  But man this will be close.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Another one that should be close.  The Baltimore Ravens have not lost since week 3.  This team has done nothing but win, week after week, game after game, opponent after opponent.  Add to that the sudden re-emergence of “good Joe Flacco” and Dennis Pitta, and this is a ferocious team that nobody wants a piece of.  The Ravens make their hay with their #3 ranked offense that could get even better, and feature a complimentary #9 defense.  The Chiefs, meanwhile, are riding high after their wild card round laugher, but will be watching the injury news all week anxiously for updates on Jordan Reed and Tavon Austin.

Prediction: Baltimore.  You don’t go against a team this hot, especially not after seeing what they would have put up last week had they been playing!

Good luck to all, and condolences/congratulations to Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland and New England.

Real Deal (Football) Report: Playoff Predictions 2016

EDIT: I am officially an idiot.  Carolina is the #1 seed in the NFC and NYG is the #2. I have amended my predictions accordingly

The playoffs are here!  It’s crazy!

I’m writing a post!  It’s crazy!  I know, I know.  I’m sorry.  It’s been a rough year, both timewise and otherwise, and my attention has been elsewhere. Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Playoff Predictions 2016

In fairness to myself, I wrote a full and detailed apology, followed by a 3.5 hours treatise analyzing the playoff chances of 16 total teams before the season’s final week, as well as a detailed recap of the previous two.  I clicked save draft.  I shut my computer.  I came back Thanksgiving morning to edit and post and found that I had only the first paragraph.  I was demoralized, and had neither the heart nor the time to duplicate either the apology or the treatise.

So, as they say in Canada, “Sorry ‘boot that that!”

Anyway, ya hosers, thanks for sticking with me, and I am hear to predict the playoffs.  A little drama in the commishing world today, so it’s Thursday night after games have started.  “Sorry ‘boot that.”

In any case, here goes nothing!

NFC Playoffs

#1 – Bye – Carolina Panthers

#2 – Bye – New York Football Giants

#3 Detroit Lions vs. #6 New… wait… Phil… wait.. New Orl!… wait. nope.  It’s Philadelphia.  It’s the Philadelphia Eagles.

After stat correction mayhem featuring the New Orleans Saints vs (ironically) these very same Detroit Lions, the Lions prevail in their final match of the season against the Saints and avoid a rematch, getting the Eagles instead.

It’s worth noting at this point that absolutely nobody has ever gotten more screwed by stat corrections than the New Orleans Saints, who had the only undefeated regular season in real deal history in 2013 – until they lost it in a stat correction the final week of the season.  The constant state of anxiety Saints fans feel about Monday and Tuesday stat changes is downright legit.

The metrics, needless to say, like Detroit in this wildcard matchup.  The Lions are 6 overall in fantasy points, the Eagles 13th.  The Lions have the 7th ranked offense and 13th ranked Defense, while the Eagles are 12th and 18th respectively.  The last time the Eagles outscored the Lions on an individual week was week 9.  Add to all this that the Eagles have four starters questionable with injuries (not even talking about Jamaal Charles) and 10 ppg DT Jurrell Casey on bye.  It’s rough.  The Lions, to be fair, also have a #1 RB in Ameer Abdullah on the IR, and do lose Jaime Collins on bye.  However, with Leonard Floyd returning to practice, it’s a much better week for the Lions, who have played better both all season and the last few weeks.

Prediction: Detroit

#4 Arizona Cardinals vs. #5 Atlanta Falcons 

A classic example of the highest seed not necessarily being the better team, the Cardinals cruised through the year to an easy championship in a weak NFC West.  The Falcons faced the exact opposite challenge, warring to a wild card in RDFL’s hardest division.  The metrics in this one all point the Falcons way, though.  Atlanta is 9th in fantasy points scored compared to Arizona’s 16th.  The Falcons also have better offensive and defense metrics, finishing 11th on offense and 6th on defense.  The Cardinals are consistent, coming in at a solid 16th on offense and 15th on defense.  It’s got to be a little hard to win a playoff game when Ryan Fitzpatrick is your quarterback, but that defense is downright excellent and the receiving core of Julio Jones, Kelvin Benjamin, John Brown, and Mohamed Sanu are going to be tough to beat in the playoffs.  Arizona hasn’t scored 200 points since week 2 and hasn’t scored 100 points on either offense or defense since week 4.  Just like in the other NFC playoff game, both the long-term and short-term trends predict an obvious result.

Prediction: Atlanta

 

AFC Playoffs:

#1 – Buffalo Bills (246 patients in week #12 with all those injuries…)

#2 – Baltimore Ravens (nothing like a 12 game winning streak, eh?)

#3 Kansas City Chiefs vs. #6 Cleveland Browns

After winning the tie-breaker of the century through head-to-head victories and a brutal Tennessee Titans collapse down the stretch, and benefiting heavily from Pittsburgh forfeits, the Browns heroically claim the wildcard for a playoff berth… only to have a week #13 wild card round bye.  My goodness. That is stinking horrible, as the Browns are only one of two teams with a scheduling quirk week 13 bye.  It costs them star running back Isaiah Crowell, starting TE Gary Barnidge, and four defensive starters.  Ouch.  Cleveland’s strength all year has been its quietly underrated #4 ranked offense, compensating for a porous (#20 overall) defense.  It’s going to be hard to maintain that without Crowell and Barnidge, but the Browns have been proving people wrong all year.   They’ll need a huge game from their passing attack of Blake Bortles, Marvin Jones, Jeremy Maclin, MIchael Crabtree, and Mike Evans.  The Chiefs, on the other hand, will be without Jordan Reed yet again, but totally avoid byes.  The Chiefs scored the most points in the AFC in the regular season and have a top 6 offense and defense… it’s the sort of game KC should win hands down… but it’s also the sort of game where you almost want to pick Cleveland for just that reason.

Prediction (Oh man I hate to do this to myself!): Kansas City

#4 Houston Texans vs. #5 New England Patriots

A pair of two of the quietest really good teams you will ever see will rematch in the wild card round.  The two hooked up in a nice week 3 game that New England won 211-193 behind 6 defensive takeaways (3 picks, 3 forced fumbles).  Jameis Winston and Carlos Hyde went nuts to keep the Texans close, but couldn’t quite close the gap.  Both teams hang their hats on offense, (Houston #5, New England #9) and try to keep their defenses off the field (New England #17, Houston #21).  New England loses Delanie Walker, their star TE, and Damien Stafford to bye weeks – but its not as much as a curse as it might seem – Cameron Brate, Walker’s replacement, threw down 27 against Houston in week 3.  A repeat of that would not be amiss at all.  Still, Houston has been one of the best teams in the league after a slow start, reeling off a whole passel of wins behind an outstanding offense, and they are totally healthy and facing no bye losses.

Prediction: Houston 

 

For the record, here’s how I expect the playoffs to play out in total:

Wild Card Round:

Detroit over Philadelphia

Atlanta over Arizona

Kansas City over Cleveland

Houston over New England

 

Divisional Round:

Carolina over Atlanta

New York Giants over Detroit

Buffalo over Houston

Baltimore over Kansas City

 

Divisional Championships

New York Giants over Carolina

Baltimore over Buffalo (injuries finally catch up)

 

Super Bowl

New York Giants over Baltimore

 

Good luck in the playoffs everyone!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 8 Recap

Well, well, well things are starting to get interesting!

Week 8 brought an influx of upsets and surprising results, with a full 7 games that could reasonably be classified as upsets. As a result, both the NFC and AFC wild card spots are getting fascinating.  With just 5 games to go in the season, fully 22 teams remain in striking distance (within 2 games) of a playoff spot, and with the exception of the undefeated 11-0 Bills, not a single one of the divisional races is cleanly decided  It’s going to be fun from here on out!

Game of the Week: Arizona Cardinals 165, Carolina Panthers 160

With apologies to Dallas’ narrow 186-182 squeaker over a suddenly injury ravaged Philadelphia Eagles squad, this one makes the cut both because of how tight the game was, and how substantial the playoff and seeding implications could be in the competitive NFC.  Both teams nearly hit the century mark on defense, didn’t break double figures on special teams, and cruised to disappointing 50something performances on offense.  The difference?  A Practice Squad Poach.  Earlier this week, Devontae Booker was hanging out on the Vikings Practice Squad.  The Cardinals snared him and flipped him into the starting lineup, where he scored 18.5 points.  On a week when Shady McCoy, Richard Rodgers, and Michael Floyd all put up zeroes, Devontae was the difference.  Watch the Practice Squad folks.  It can make or break you!  As a result, the Cardinals move into sole possession of first place for the first time all year while the Panthers fall back into a tie with the hard-charging Falcons.

Teams Rising: 

Dallas Cowboys: Ok, you don’t get game of the week.  But an upset like that deserves a shoutout.  The Cowboys rode 20+ points from Carson Palmer, Davante Adams, and Allan Hurns to barely overcome a 50 point explosion on Carr.  It’s the Cowboys first win since Washington in week 2, and provides some hope that the young core of players that the team has put together via trade this year will make a solid foundation moving forward.

Oakland Raiders: Well now.  This is what happens when Oakland finally gets healthy, eh?  Dez is back.  Tyler Eifert is back. Jonathan Stewart is back.  Aaron Rodgers seems to have recovered from whatever funk was plaguing him early on. The result is a 230-164 obliteration of Tampa Bay, which would have been worse had the Raiders even remembered to start Eifert.  Oakland has very quietly won three straight to move to 6-5 and pull within 1 game of the wild card and 2 games of the division lead in the West.  The Raiders could continue to make some hay with games against Denver and Indy coming, before a brutal stretch of Houston, Buffalo, and Carolina to close the season.

Houston Texans: The Texans are tied for first place.  After a bipolar start to the year, the Texans have now put together four straight victories against decent competition to tie for the AFC South lead.  Their latest win, a 212-184 triumph over the Lions, was no joke either.  Detroit’s a division leader and had a great shot at a playoff bye before this setback.  Even more encouraging, ever player on the Texan offense scored in double figures, and contributions came from a variety of players who had been huge lottery ticket question marks before the season began.  If Mike Gillislee, Austin Hooper, Chris Hogan, Kerry Hyder and John Simon can keep putting up double figure scores for the rest of the season, Houston could be very hard to beat.  Opportunity looms again in week 9 in the form of a showdown with fellow AFC bubbler Cincy.

Honorable Mentions: New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints.
Teams Falling:

Philadelphia Eagles: Yeeouch.  One week after pulling to within a game of the Giants, the Eagles had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week 8.  A four point loss in what should have been a gimme game against the Cowboys.  A significant arrest for Josh Huff.  Derrick Henry outshining DeMarco Murray.  And the Honey Badger out for the rest of the regular season at least.  All that combined with wins by the Giants, Falcons and Saints, and the Eagles are no longer thinking about the division. They are thinking about their wild card life.  On tap, of course, is just what the doctor ordered.  A date with the newly revitalized Giants.

Tennessee Titans: Adversity.  It’s where the stars shine.  It’s where you find out what men are made of.  It’s where heroes are born and goats are immortalized.  It’s where the Tennessee Titans suddenly and unhappily find themselves.  Coming off a vigorous week 6 shelling of the Cleveland Browns, the Titans had a 7-2 record, a 2 game lead in what appeared to be a mediocre division, and with two very winnable games against Indianapolis and Jacksonville coming up.  A two-seed and playoff bye appeared to be clearly in sight.  Ouch.  Two painfully mediocre defeats later, the Titans are now 7-4, tied for first, have not broken 200 points (other than 201 against Cleveland) since week 2, and are only 7th in the AFC in points scored.  The good news for the Titans is that the next three games are against San Diego, Green Bay, and Indianapolis, all below .500 teams, so there’s time to recover.  The bad news is that so were their last two.  We’ll see.

Los Angeles Rams: What’s the best way to follow up a stunning victory over the New York Giants where the whole team shows up and plays well?  A lackluster, uninspired 98 point performance in a total beatdown.  A goose egg from six players who did play and a number of others on bye.  Not a single player hitting 20 and only 5 hitting double digits.  Yeeouch.  Sometimes big wins are catapults.  Sometimes they are flukes.  This one looks like a fluke.

Dishonorable Mentions: Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions.

Oh, and a special dishonorable shout-out to Denver and Green Bye.  Come on guys.  Can you at least try to start a legal lineup on occasion?

 

Games of the Week: 

Arizona Cardinals vs. Chicago Bears: It’s bye week Mayhem for the Bears and Cards!  Arizona is on a hot streak after beating the Panthers, and look to keep it going against the Bears.  After pulling off a trade for Landry Jones, the Bears remain in spitting distance of both the Lions and the NFC Wild Card – but really need a win in week 9 to pull it off.  The bye looks a little more damaging for Zona than for the fighting Butkuses, but injuries may play on even larger role in the outcome.

Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Despite seemingly losing every single week, the Bucs have scored the 7th most points in the NFC, and could ostensibly mount a run.  If so, it has to be now.  The Falcons are looking very good, riding a winning streak and a 245 point performance.  This is their chance to both deep six Tampa Bay’s season and move into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: This rivalry game has lost a little luster as the Steelers have struggled to maintain a legal lineup at times this year, and have had major bad luck with suspensions and injuries at others.  Still, this is a team that is much better than 5-6, and can play anyone tight.  Heck, they can dominate anyone on any given week.  Baltimore is no slouch either, having knocked off the Giants and quietly kept pace with Cleveland and Cincy in the better than expected AFC Norris.  Both teams should be near full strength, which should be a treat for us.

Buffalo Bills vs. Seattle Seahawks: What an utterly bizarre situation this is.  The Buffalo Bills are 11-0, have the AFC East locked up, are cruising towards the #1 overall seed, and have barely even been challenged.  The Seahawks, after a schedule-boosted 6-1 start, have lost four straight to fall to 6-5, and plummet.  Easy, right?  Well, except that the Bills get killed on the bye week.  DeSean Jackson, AJ Green, Rob Gronkowski, Alshon Jeffery, Mason Foster, Deion Buccannon, Tracy Porter, and George Iloka among others are ALL on bye.  The Bills players on bye are better than most TEAMS.  The Seahawks do lose a few players themselves, but nowhere near THAT.  The result being a Fantrax projected Seahawks victory.  How bizarre would that be?

Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Another great matchup that will be heavily influenced by the bye week, the 7-4 and tied for first place Texans square off against the 8-3 and also tied for first place Bengals.  Hard to say who the bye week hurts more, as Cincy loses their QB and some huge defensive pieces, while the Texans keep their QB, but lose David Johnson, Jordan Howard, and some solid defensive pieces in their own right

New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: It’s a week to week league, right?  The Eagles need to hope so.  This is NOT what the doctor ordered for an injured team.  A week ago, Philly might have welcomed this as a chance to knock off the suddenly vulnerable Giants.  Not now.  Now Philly just wants a win to keep pace with the wild card – and will have to do it with no Honey Badger and facing the Giants full lineup.  It’s possible.  But my money is on the Giants.
Good luck this week everybody!  Enjoy game 7!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 7 Recap

Ten games in and 23 teams still have legitimate, solid playoff aspirations.  That is not a bad competitive season!  It was a bit of a low scoring week 7, with only 8 teams reaching or breaking the 200 point barrier, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some associated drama.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 7 Recap

Game of the Week: New England Patriots 206, PIttsburgh Steelers 202

Well, this one definitely lived up to its billing.  The outcome was in doubt literally the entire weekend.  It wasn’t over until Brock Osweiler staggered home with ten points on Monday night, staving off a combined 12 points by the two Monday night Steeler defenders.  When the dust settled, the Patriots had a four point win behind a combined 100 points from Jamison Crowder, Mike Wallace, Frank Gore, and Delanie Walker.  Talk about some unexpected gems that have been huge contributors for the Pats!  Le’Veon Bell scored 30 in a losing effort for Pittsburgh, and the Steeler defense was outstanding – but without Ben Roethlisberger, a zero at the QB spot was too big to overcome.  With the result, the Patriots stay in front of the Wild Card Line at a nice, solid 7-3.   The Steelers, meanwhile, fall to 5-5.  Still a great team.  Still within striking distance.  But they need to move soon.

 

Teams Rising:

Buffalo Bills: It’s awesome to be undefeated.  But in some ways it sort of sucks to be the favorite and go undefeated.  Because then you never really rise.  You’re always meeting expectations, never exceeding them.  So it seems only fitting that this week we recognize the Buffalo Bills for hitting the 10-0 mark behind a quiet, workmanlike, ho-hum 228-98 thrashing of the Miami Dolphins.  Buffalo is on track.  They’ve scored the most points in the AFC and haven’t lost yet.  They haven’t really come anywhere close to losing.  Tyrod Taylor has been good at QB.  AJ Green and Gronk have been as awesome as expected.  Nobody’s even noticed this team hasn’t had AP.  The defense routinely hits the century mark even on a bad day.  Everything is going according to plan.  And that’s a fantastic plan.  It’s the best plan. Believe me.

Cleveland Browns: We mentioned last week that it was a week-to-week league, right?  Scuffling team?  Pair of abysmal performances in a row.  Facing the division leader who happens to be on a roll.  Tough, right?  No problem.  Cleveland bounces back with a 197-173 win behind huge games from Mike Evans (31) and Michael Crabtree (25).  The Bengals have some uncharacteristic struggles on offense (posting three goose eggs) and Cleveland is back in a tie for first place (and own the tiebreaker in a two-way tie).  Now admittedly, the defense remains a problem for the Browns (only 63 total points in week 7 and the last time the defense hit the century mark was in week 2), but things all of a sudden look a whole lot rosier for this somewhat less tortured than it used to be city.

Philadelphia Eagles: I confess that I’ve dogged Philly a bit and haven’t really bought into the hype.  The Eagles seemed like a mediocre team excelling against a weak schedule.  And to some degree, that’s borne out – Philly has scored the fewest points out of the twelve teams who would currently be in the playoffs.   But that’s two straight wins for Philly with solid point totals, and this recent one, a 235-138 pasting of Minnesota, was the third-highest score of the week.  Most exciting, question mark guys like Lance Kendricks, Brian Quick, Josh Huff, and, especially, Ty Montgomery, showed up to play this past week and seem to be finding real roles in their respective offenses.  Coupled with a pair of consecutive Giant losses, the Eagles stand only a game back (albeit without the tiebreaker) and the unthinkable is an actual possibility.

Honorable Mentions: Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts

Teams Falling:

New York Giants: Speaking of the G-Men, what on earth is going on?  After looking like they might not lose all season, the suddenly vulnerable Giants have lost two straight games, this one to the lowly LA Rams.  In a lot of ways, though, this is simple schedule misfortune and speaks more to the Ravens and Rams than it does to the Giants.  Combined between the two weeks, New York has still averaged over 200ppg – it’s just that the Ravens and Rams have combined for 511.  Way over both of their season averages.  There are genuine concerns for the Giants (again on defense), where only two week seven starters reached double figures.  But they’ll be fine.  This is more a testament to the fantastic game played by the Rams, who got 20+ points from six players.  LA has been knocking on the door, but this was the signature win the program needed.  Now to see if they can build on it.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Yeesh.  After a gift 116-112 win over Minnesota, the Bucs apparently got the message that they could coast and win against lesser competition.  That was the wrong message, and it bit them in a big way in week 7, as the San Francisco 49ers staggered across the finish line in a compellingly ugly 166-161 sloth race.  The Buc defense came to play and put up 122 points behind a 60 point performance from the D-Line of Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaye Howard, Gerald McCoy, and Jadaveon Clowney.  But that offense… something needs to change fast.  It was a 28.5 point “Seahawk-esque” showing for an offense that got legitimate points (14) only from Emmanuel Sanders.  Quarterback issues loom large for the Bucs, and Tampa faces a daunting climb out of the basement in the brutal NFC South.

Tennessee Titans: With a golden opportunity to put away divisional rival Indianapolis for good, the Titans couldn’t muster the juice to get up for the game, struggling to a thoroughly mediocre 216-164 loss.  Both sides of the ball were similarly average, with 72 points on offense and 74 on defense.  The wrong kind of consistency.  Indy won with their characteristically stout defense, but also with a 74 point offensive game – the highest offensive total the Colts have posted since week 1.  As a result, the AFC South falls back into question, with Tennessee maintaining a meager 1 game lead over Houston (who beat Denver) with the Colts hanging gamely around at 5-5.

Dishonorable Mentions: New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars

Games of the Week:

Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers: The good ship Cardinal seems to have righted itself as Arizona has won three straight and caught up to Seattle to restore balance in what had been a bizarre NFC West.  Carolina remains its strong self, though it hasn’t put out a signature performance in a few weeks.  This isn’t necessarily a “need to have it” game for either side – both teams should be fine even with a loss – but it is a bragging rights game and just some good fantasy football between two excellent teams.  Should Arizona win this, it would be a psychological victory declaring their early-season struggles are history.

Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots: This is what you call “a shot at the champ”.  Does Buffalo need this game?  Nope.  Will they win through to top seed and a playoff bye regardless of the outcome?  Sure.  Does New England need this game?  It’s not desperate, but yeah, they could always use more wins.  Nah, this isn’t a “standings game” either.  What this is is is (yep, three is’s in a row and it’s right baby!) a surprisingly game New England team that is getting contributions from unexpected players throwing its best shot at the league bully.  A good game?  Who knows.  A must have?  Not really.  But drama?  Almost certainly.

Detroit Lions vs. Houston Texans: While Detroit calmly and quietly holds on to a two game advantage in the NFC North, beating exactly who they should beat and rarely facing a huge challenge, life has been a topsy turvy roller coaster for Houston.  After a rather uninspiring 150-137 win (still a win!) over the Denver Broncos, the Texans find themselves only a game back of the AFC South crown.  This IS a standings game.  Houston can’t afford a loss here.  Detroit could.  But best not let the Bears get too close…

Indianapolis Colts vs. Kansas City Chiefs: One big win down for Indy, another in the works?  A week after shutting down Tennessee in a must-win game, the Colts get another division leader in the Chiefs.  The key for the Colts will be to maintain their level of offensive play.  That defense can win against just about anybody, so if the offense can continue to score 75, that’s often going to be enough.  It’s been a challenge to point.  Some key pieces are out on both teams, with Indy losing three primary defensive pieces, and the Chiefs likely without Jordan Reed for yet another week and Tavon Austin on bye.

New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks: Now THIS is a standings game.  Both teams sit at a quite respectable 6-4.  Both teams badly need this game.  For New Orleans, it’s a function of a slow start and a tough division.   For Seattle, this is a function of really needing to win A game to slow down a recent funk.  In a big break for the Saints, Russell Wilson looks like he may miss this game, and Sterling Shephard is on bye, so this Seattle offense could look like…  ::haunting music:: last year!  A Halloween special.

Good luck everyone!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 5 Recap

Ok y’all, that sucked. Week 5 sucked.  We all, in week 5, collectively sucked.  And I think we all need to come together as a league and vow to try harder and do better.  Because honestly, that was really, seriously terrible.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 5 Recap

First off, there were NO good games.  Zero.  I can’t even pick a game of the week because this week’s games were so damn bad.  Do I pick New England’s uninspiring 166-141 snoozefest against Cleveland where both teams underperformed their season averages massively (not on a bye week)?  Do I choose San Diego’s almost sort of maybe kind of exciting 179-162 Monday night triumph over the Raidres because it had the most drama (not all that much) and pulled the two squads into a 3-5 tie in the standings?  Denver’s 174-140 upset of a cornswaggled Atlanta franchise for its first win?  Buffalo’s utterly irrelevant 227-181 win over the Rams because it had the most points?  I’ve literally got nothing, y’all.  That was the WORST set of games I’ve ever seen.

And frankly, we all sucked as well as being noncompetitive.  There were literally only FOUR teams that broke 200 points (Buffalo, Pittsburgh, the Giants, and, surprisingly, Chicago).  FOUR.  With the exception of the always fantastic Giants, the highest point total was 227.  17/32 teams (more than half the league) scored 166 points or less.  There were two games (only two!) where both teams scored more than that.  I could go on.

Consider this the equivalent of an expletive filled Rex Ryan-esque freakout.  There’s no excuse.  Do better.  Play better.  Be better.  Or I’ll be the first mother-effer out of here!*

Game of the week: NONE.  No game of the week.   Y’all don’t deserve a game of the week.  No participation trophies just for showing up.  Damn millennials.
Teams Rising:

Chicago Bears: Gotta give credit where credit is due.  The Bears break the 200 point threshold and are one of the few teams that didn’t embarrass us.  They played above their season average and beat a decent Indianapolis team to get back up to .500 and keep pace with the Lions.  Great game by Brian Hoyer.  Great game by Brandon Marshall.  Great game by the un-concussed Kevin Minter.  There’s more to be done, but this was a step in the right direction.

Denver Broncos: So that’s one team that is off the schneid!  After being epically terrible for the first weeks of the season, the Broncos came out and knocked off Atlanta, scoring more points than well over half the league and actually looking like a competitive squad.  Paxton Lynch to Demaryius Thomas looks like it could be a thing, and that Cole Beasley pickup is looking very shrewd.

New Orleans Saints: Rumors of the Saints demise have been greatly exaggerated it seems.  After “thud” performances from Tampa and Atlanta and a win over the beatable but 6-1 Seahawks, the Saints are suddenly tied for second at 5-3 – and more importantly, tied for a wild card birth.  It’s hard to get too excited about a 171 point win where Sammie Coates (38) and Kiko Alonso (21) made up literally more than a third of their points.  But the Saints have to be thrilled at where they sit after having struggled this year.

Sort of honorable mention: Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers

 

Teams Falling: 

Cleveland Browns: Man.  I don’t know if the Indians stole the Browns mojo to use against Boston, but damn that was a thud performance when the Browns could least afford it.  Not only did Cleveland lose 166-141 to wild card rival New England, they scored a grand total of 52 points, had their lowest output of the season by 50 points and saw all three of their divisional rivals notch key wins.  Suddenly in second place in a hard-charging division, Cleveland has to hope this was an abberation as they face a tough game with the Titans.

Seattle Seahawks: They are who we thought they were.  It seems unfair to say that about a 6-2 team.  But frankly, this team could be 2-6 based on their points outputs and just laid a 132 point egg in a need-to-win game.  They’ve lost to every good team they’ve played, and the next time they play a team that is under .500 is NEVER.  Literally.  Every single team they play for the rest of the year, with the exception of Tampa Bay in week 12, is over .500, and Tampa is 4-4.  It’s about to get bad, folks, and I think there’s a serious chance the Hawks don’t win another game all year.  Sell, sell, sell and sell some more.

Atlanta Falcons: You are in a tough division.  You’ve just scored 282 points to whack the defending Super Bowl champions.  You’re one back in the division and feeling good about yourself.  Your all world receiver has just posted a 70 spot.  And you have the winless, hapless, punchless Denver Broncos coming up.  Complacency?  Guess just a little bit.  The Falcons posted the most uninspired performance since Trump’s first debate, getting handled by the winless Broncos by 35 points.  Julio Jones scored 5.5 points, the highest scoring player had 17 points, and Eddie Lacy might be injured.  Bottom line – the Falcons have the talent to beat anyone.  But they have the talent to lose to anyone on any given night too.  And in a division like the NFC South, you HAVE to beat the Broncos.

Really dishonorable mentions: Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts, and anybody picking anybody besides Buffalo or NYG in this year’s Super Bowl.

Ok guys, here’s our chance.  A few decent games this week.  Let’s do better!  REDEMPTION!

Week 6 Games of the Week: 

Atlanta Falcons vs. Seattle Seahawks: Umm… errr… angry, good, Atlanta team.  Revealed Seattle team… Ummm.. Nope.  Atlanta.  By 150.

Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Giants: Baltimore has looked really good, and now we get to see a powerhouse battle of… No.  Stop it.  C’mon.  Just stop.  Giants by 100.

Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints: Interesting battle here.  Carolina still looks fantastic at 7-1, and I’m inclined to think they put the skids to New Orleans’ resurgence.  The Saints have gotten wins and not points, and they could run into a buzz-saw here, particularly if Cam is back.  But this wouldn’t shock me if it went the other way.

Chicago Bears vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ok, maybe I’m reaching a little bit, but it’s possible.  A pair of 4-4 teams wavering on the edge of contention.  The winner could ostensibly move within a game of the division.  The loser could be in some trouble.  Nicely, both teams look pretty close to full strength for this one, so may the best team win!

Cincinnati Bengals vs. New England Patriots: Now this is an interesting matchup.  The Patriots have gotten a lot of love in cruising to 6-2 and the first wildcard spot in the AFC behind a revamped offense and a better than expected defense.  The Bengals have likewise surprised, leading the AFC North at 6-2 and having scored over 1600 points, averaging over 200 per game.  The jury is still out on both squads, but the winner is going to have a very serious case to be not just a surprise team, but a force to be reckoned with in the AFC.

Cleveland Browns vs. Tennessee Titans: Yet another fantastic matchup in what will hopefully be a bounceback week for them.  The Titans are another 6-2 team in first place in the AFC South, while the Browns seek to bounce back from an uncharacteristic dud of a week 5 performance.  The pressure is on Cleveland here, due to the rough week 5 and the strong division, but the Browns have also outscored the Titans by 250 points, so we’ll see where this one falls.  I like the Browns to bounce back with Bortles returning from bye.

Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts: Another “war of the desperate”, both the Texans and Colts have lacked consistency this year, ping-ponging between nice wins and bad losses.  Both teams are sitting mired at 4-4, though interestingly enough, the Texans have scored only 9 points less than the 6-2 Titans this year.  While I’d usually go with Houston, one key development in this week’s game is that the Texans lose Jameis Winston to the bye.  I think Indy sneaks this one out.

Good luck this week everyone!  Let’s all score 200 – except for Oakland 😉

 

2016 Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 4 Recap

I am a terrible person.  I have no excuse.  I failed you last week.  No recap!  And it was a double.  A double.  And I gave you no recap!

I deserve to have Chip Kelly as my coach!  I deserve to have Aaron Rodgers as a father looking down on me for every incompletion with that smirk of his!  I deserve to be sat on by Chris Christie dressed as a clown!

To none do I owe my heartfelt apologies than Ric Nowinsky and his New England Patriots, who threw down a beautiful 2-0 week 3 to move to 5-1.  You should have been my first team rising and I failed you.  I’m so sorry.

This week, it’s Saturday and it’s quick and dirty.  But ya know what, at least it’s something.

Finish Reading: 2016 Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 4 Recap

With no further ado!

Game of the week: Atlanta Falcons 281, Carolina Panthers 269

Was there ever any doubt?  This was one hell of a game!  Carolina had SIX players score more than 20 points in this one – the ageless Eddie Royal, the even more ageless Steve Smith Sr, the still aging Greg Olsen, Mark Ingram, Luke Kuechly (of course), and Kurt Coleman.  They scored 147 on offense, 116 on defense, and put in the #2 score of the week.  And lost by 12.  How?  Well, there’s the obvious answer – Julio Jones scored 73 points on THREE-HUNDRED YARDS receiving.  They literally forgot to cover that fool.  But that’s not the full answer.  The rest of Atlanta’s offense scored only 45 points, leaving the offensive output at 117 – 30 left than Carolina’s.  WITH JULIO.  So what gives?  Defense? Clinton McDonald got 29, Zach Brown got 34, and the kicker/punter combination of Hauschka and Ryan grabbed 24.  On the Carolina side?  5 special teams points combined.  Julio Jones is a boss.  But special teams was this game.  Carolina falls to a still invulnerable 6-1, while Atlanta bounces back from a brutal week 3 to stay in the chase at 5-2.

Teams Rising:

Pittsburgh Steelers:  When you are used to winning the division, it’s weird to start 2-4.  Well, the Steelers put a stop to that nonsense in week #5 with the third highest point total at 252 in a shellacking of Kansas City.  Huge offensive numbers, Le’Veon Bell back in the lineup, Ben Roethlisberger throwing for numbers again, and the defense is clicking for 120 point weeks.  Cleveland and Cincinnati jumped out to big leads in the North and just keep winning – but this week gave notice that the Steelers will not simply go quietly into the night.

Seattle Seahawks: This is still PURE illusion.  PURE illusion.  The Hawks have scored a TOTAL of 1151 points.  This would be good for 4th place in every other NFC division.  However, due to some nice luck and a stunningly easy schedule, Seattle is 6-1 and firmly in control of the NFC West.  This past week’s 151-117 win over the Jets said more about a struggling New York team than it did for the Seahawks.  But when you are 6-1, you have to get a mention!  Also, Zeke Elliott continues to look good and justify the #1 overall pick the Hawks spent on him.

New England Patriots: I owe this one to the Patriots.  Not for this week, which was a tough drop to the still undefeated Buffalo Bills, but for last week, a 2-0 performance with 211 points and wins over the Jets and Texans.  The Patriots remain in the thick of of the playoff race at 5-2, and unsung and unexpected heroes like Cameron Brate, Jamison Crowder, and even Frank Gore continue to keep the Patriots in the AFC Wild Card hunt.  I don’t expect this to be the last time New England is here.

Honorable Mention: Buffalo Bills, New York Giants, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals

 

Teams Falling:

Dallas Cowboys: Welp, the wheels have officially fallen off in Big D.  A 1-6 start has resulted in a full-scale tear-down and rebuild for the Cowboys.  In are picks and young players who can help for the future.  Out are Aaron Rodgers, Thomas Davis, and Jeremy Maclin.  It’s going to be a long, long year in Dallas who has gone from divisional competitor to total tear down – but hopefully the infusion of youth and talent will lead to good things for a long time to come.

Houston Texans: It’s been a rough few weeks for the Texans, who hung steady early on before a disappointing pair of weeks has knocked them well back in divisional competition.  The latest heartbreak was a 4 point set back to the Tennessee Titans.  Instead of moving into the division lead, the Texans now find themselves two back, albeit with a winnable game against the Texans upcoming.  What makes it all the more painful is the Texans got only a half point combined from Chris Hogan and Vance McDonald – a decent game by either one and they are in first place.

Competition: The state of the league’s competitive balance is down, as are great games.  On the one hand, teams like Buffalo, Carolina, and New York are absolutely dominant.  On the other, there are five teams with 1-6 or 0-7 records, and most of them (Denver, Green Bay, Washington and Miami) have not even come close to winning a game.  While the league has had dominant teams over the past few years, it has lacked the “gimme games” we are seeing this year.  Here’s hoping that we can see some significant improvement in the drama level as the season moves forward.

Dishonorable Mention: Everybody mentioned above, NY Jets, LA Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars, LA Rams.

 

Games of the Week, Week 5: 

Cleveland Browns vs. New England Patriots: A battle of two 5-2 teams in contention for AFC playoff spots, this game is suddenly very, very relevant.  It doesn’t contain the same drama as the real life struggle of Tom Brady’s return, but it does feature a series of some of the most underrated and overperforming players in the league (Mike Wallace, Marvin Jones, Cameron Brate, Michael Crabtree, Frank Gore) – and come on, when else are you going to see a matchup between two playoff favorites featuring a QB battle between Geno Smith and Brock Osweiler?

Detroit Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Philly has bounced back nicely from a brief slump to maintain strong contention for an NFC wildcard spot with a pair of recent wins.  The Lions continue to coast nicely through the NFC North.  In fact, there’s a very good chance these two squads could end up playing in a first round Wild Card game.  To my mind, this one is going to come down to the Defenses, and whether Detroit’s franchise players can make Carson Wentz look like more of a rookie.  Advantage goes to Detroit in this one, as Philadelphia has genuinely struggled to score points despite the gaudy record.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: It’s another matchup of potential playoff teams as KC takes on Jacksonville.  Both teams are missing key bye-week pieces (Travis Kelce for the Jags, Alex Smith and Derrick Johnson for the Chiefs), but this one should also come down to which defense can play best.  Both teams had disappointing week 4’s and are looking for major bouncebacks.

New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks: This could be a “for real” game for the Seahawks, who have cruised through one of the league’s easiest schedules to 6-1.  After a brutal start to the season, the Saints have started to show some life in recent weeks, and could be Seattle’s most potent challenger to date.  A lot rides on this for both teams – if Seattle can win this, they could show that they are truly for real.  In the more likely case, New Orleans gets the “W” and positions itself to try and make a run at Atlanta and Carolina – who may already be too far ahead and too good to catch.

2016 Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 2 Recap

It was the best of divisions.  It was the worst of divisions.  But not the same ones.  Different ones.  In fact, divisional disparity has been a huge part of RDFL through the first two weeks, with some divisions looking incredible and others struggling to get a single win.  As a result, the playoff picture already looks very clear in some areas – and very muddy in others.  Particularly in the NFC, there’s been a clear split between the haves and have-nots and the number of playoff slots available already seems limited.  The AFC, on the other hand, is a complete muddle, with just about everybody outside of Denver and Miami still in contention.

Finish Reading: 2016 Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 2 Recap

Games of the Week:

Tennessee Titans 202, Detroit Lions 197

Tennessee keeps on getting in close games with good teams – and keeps on winning them by the slimmest of margins.  One week after knocking off KC by 2 points, the Titans bounce NFC North favorite Detroit by 5 points to move to 4-0.  Sam Bradford played well, CJ Anderson had another nice week, and Odell Beckham put in a standard 17 point game, but the story of this game was a 31 point defensive eruption by Ndamukong Suh, who literally shredded people.  Even more surprising than his 8 tackles and 1.5 sacks was his lack of standard cheap shots and groin kicks, which kept him in the game to wreak havoc.  The Lions benefited from Martellus Bennett’s breakout 25 points, but were let down by their running game, where Ameer Abdullah and Todd Gurley combined for just 10.5 points.  The end result?  The Titans have a perfect record heading into week 3 and are sitting pretty at the top of a surprisingly strong AFC South.  Detroit, at 2-2, remains atop a predictably down NFC North, and should be fine so long as the running game can get going.

Arizona Cardinals 210, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 209: 

I did not expect to be sitting here after week 2 talking about how Arizona needed to win that game in the worst way by 1 point over Tampa Bay.  This was a team that was expected to already be sipping alcoholic beverages on some beach somewhere regardless of this outcome.  But man.  Arizona really needed to win this game in the worst way.  This was a nailbiter with playoff ramifications.  It had heroes (Matt Ryan, Torrey Smith, Joshn Norman), goats (Doug Martin, Lavonte David, Jermaine Gresham), star performances in defeat (Eric Decker, Clive Walford, Von Miller, Aqib “he went to Kansas!” Talib) and in the end, it came down to Johnathan Bullard not being able to make just ONE MORE ASSISTED TACKLE on Monday night football.  He needed two.  He got one in the first quarter.  And then… nothing.  Arizona escapes to stay in striking distance of the “more lucky than good” Seahawks.  Tampa Bay falls a disappointing two games back of Carolina and Atlanta, albeit with the chance to make up ground with winnable matchups against the Rams and Saints in week 3.

Rising:

Cleveland Browns: Well, well, well.  Take a look at your 3-1 Cleveland Browns.  Cleveland dropped 259 points in a week two shelling of divisional rivals Baltimore and Cincinnati.  It was an all around outstanding performance by the Browns, who had 12/20 starters go for double figures and 6/20 go for 20+, but nobody over 26 (Isaiah Crowell).  It’s the sort of highly-balanced performance the Browns were looking for, and puts them in the catbird seat in what is turning out to be a very winnable decision.  Even better, unknowns like Corey Grant and question marks like Crowell, Jordan Poyer, and Marvin Jones are playing well.  Could be a very good season in Cleveland.

Atlanta Falcons:  So I picked the Falcons to finish DEAD LAST in the NFC South.  Oops.  Atlanta posted a second consecutive strong week, scoring 237 and knocking off both a competent Oakland Raider squad and a surprisingly game LA Rams team to move to 4-0.  Ryan Fitzpatrick looks like the answer (at least for this year) at quarterback.  Kelvin Benjamin looks awesome, not overweight.  The safety combination of Kemal Ishmael (24) and Tony Jefferson (22) looks worldbeating, and even the temporary loss of Jonathan Stewart and potentially indefinite badness of Mohamed Sanu and Marc Mariani doesn’t appear to be crushing.  It’s a long season, and a lot of fantasy football is left for the Falcons, especially in the brutal NFC South – but so far, so good.

The SOUTH and the EAST:  Divisional records through two games:

Southern Divisions: 23-9

Eastern Divisions: 19-13 (19-5 without Miami and Washington)

Western Divisions: 12-20

Northern Divisions: 10-22

The Southern divisions look utterly dominant, with Tennessee, Atlanta, and Carolina all undefeated, Indy and Jacksonville at 3-1, and strong teams in Tampa Bay and Houston gamely hanging on at 2-2.  The Eastern divisions look even better at the top, with Buffalo, New York, and Philadelphia undefeated and the surprising New England Patriots at 3-1.  It is already looking like a pretty good bet that all four wild card teams are going to come from these two divisions.

Honorable Mentions: New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles

 

Falling: 

The NORTH and the WEST: See the records noted above for the obvious parallel.  It actually gets worse than that.  The Seattle Seahawks are 3-1 while averaging less than 150 points per game, the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders are struggling with major injuries to key players already, and Denver and Green Bay have struggled just to field legal lineups, let alone win games.  If there is a silver lining, it’s that four of the top seven teams in the league in scoring (KC, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Detroit) are from these four divisions.  Of course, nobody else is higher than 16.  The real problem is wild card jockeying.  With East and South division teams compiling stellar records and West and North teams losing games, the need to make up ground to compete for wild cards is already looming large.

New Orleans Saints: What a brutal start for the Saints.  A week after scuffling a 1-1, 175 point performance in the inaugural week, the Saints came back with only 164 in week two, and got absolutely blitzed by Tampa Bay and the New York Giants.  The good news for New Orleans is that they have the divisional favorites from the East and West off their schedule.  The bad news is that they are at 1-3, 3 games out of both the wild card and the divisional race, down in tie-breakers, and just simply not scoring many points.  It’s been the offense that has really let New Orleans down thus far.  The Saints are a Brees 40 spot from 0-4 – and even with that 40 spot, are ranked 22nd in the league in offense.  Jimmy Graham just can’t get going in Seattle, John Nelson is barely even getting looked at, Jeremy Langford has struggled to find running room (and was almost benched for “going down too easy” after week 1), and only Sammie Coates has looked like a “above the expectations” bright spot.  Tough sledding for the Aints, who must get this fixed fast.  It’s a literal must win in week 3 with divisional rivals TB and Atlanta in town.  If things don’t turn around quickly, NO could find itself literally five games back, an almost impossible hole.

Baltimore Ravens: Speaking of good teams in rough spots, what a heart-breaking week for the Ravens!  Not only did the Ravens get snowed by divisional rival Cleveland, they dropped a 190-189 point loss by less than HALF a point to the New England Patriots.  It all came down to Monday Night Football, where Nelson Agholor outscored Zach Miller by 1.5 points for the Pats to seal it for New England.  Baltimore has had the misfortune of facing RDFL’s hardest schedule by a good 50 points (922 points scored against them in 4 games – a 230 point average!), so things should get easier.   The bad news, though, is that they are now 3 off the pace, down in the tiebreakers, and only 16th themselves in points scored.  The issue is clear for the Ravens – with the exception of Telvin Smith, they’ve really been let down by their defense, which managed only 53 points outside of Telvin’s double deuce.

Dishonorable Mentions: Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Houston Texans, and hard luck teams going 0-2 with point totals in the 190s (New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens).

 

Week 3 Games of the Week:

Arizona Cardinals vs. Buffalo Bills: Cards-Seahawks doesn’t count yet.  I won’t do it.  But this one does.  Arizona needs a big game against Buffalo, as everyone does.  But despite their 4-0 record, the Bills have looked surprisingly beatable this year, and may not have AP available for week 3.  A 3-3 start wouldn’t be the end of the world for the Cards, but best to avoid a dud and at least beat Seattle.  A 2-0 week and that beach looks just a weak delayed.  An 0-2 week and it  might be time to worry.

Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers: This could and should actually read “Every divisional game in the AFC South”, which has an incestuous week of mayhem on tap that should either provide some clarity within the division or muddle it yet further.  This is the headliner though, with the 4-0 Falcons sizzling the first two weeks – up against the “yes, we are 4-0 and SOMEHOW NOBODY IS TALKING ABOUT US AGAIN” Carolina Panthers.  How do they DO that?  There is some sort of cloaking device that prevents anyone from paying attention to them… until it’s too late.  Like an invisibility ring.  What’s that you say?  One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them? Atlanta’s flashier…  but you don’t mess with the Dark Lord.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans: We play in a realistic league.  It has depth, defense, special teams, formations.  Salaries. Cap hits.  It’s as real as they get.  But sometimes you remember that this league is FANTASY.  The fact that JACKSONVILLE is playing TENNESSEE in a game of the week is one such reminder.  And yet, these two teams are 7-1 and squaring off for the division lead.  It should be a close, interesting game, as both of these teams are in the top 10 in defense.  Tennessee has a track record now of winning these.  But something tells me Kirk Cousins is about to have himself a very big game…

New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: 4-0 vs. 4-0.  National stage.  Huge division.  For all the marbles.  But this still feels like a David vs. Goliath matchup.  The Eagles are undefeated despite ranking only 14th in the league in total points with 761 (averaging 190 per game).  By contrast, the Giants are just simply breaking people, having scored 1070 points through four points (265+ per game).  Yes these two teams are both 4-0.  But New York is outscoring Philly by 75 points per game.  I don’t see anything changing this week, as the prohibitive super bowl favorites continue their death march through the real deal world.

2016 Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 1 Recap

Yeeouch.

Well, it was a painful week in Real Deal for yours truly.  I went to bed on Tuesday night celebrating my come from behind victory over Tennessee.  I woke up on Wednesday with two drops having been added to Tavon Austin’s stat line, taking a 1.2 point victory and turning it into a 0.8 point defeat.  Owwww.   With that intro, please forgive any deep-seated pain and/or anguish you might read into my tone – it’s not directed at you.  Only the cold, bitter world of Fantasy Football.  Welcome back Real Deal 2016, welcome back.

Oh, and as always, please forgive the typos 🙂  My proofing skills are not fantastic when my soul hurts.

Finish Reading: 2016 Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 1 Recap

Game of the week: 

New York Giants 280 over Detroit Lions, 235: Two NFC contenders.  Three 30 point plus WR (Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown, and Brandin Cooks).  And only one winner.   This was a game that illustrated the core dynamic of the NFC almost perfectly this year.  A game Detroit squad threw everything it had at the Giants, getting huge games from Brandin Cooks (41 points), Ameer Abdullah (24 points), Matt Stafford (30 points), and a 12 point game from each of its three starting LBs.  It was a star-studded performance from a Lions team expected to be a serious contender, 236 points being good enough for the 3rd best score of the week.  And it wasn’t close to enough.  The Giants got double digits from every offensive starter, put up 156 offensive points, and could have SAT Antonio Brown and still beat the 2nd best score in the NFC.  Silliness.

On another note, while I won’t address them in the “stock rising” column, it is worth noting that Buffalo got the 2nd best score of the week (261) despite an injured Gronkowski, 5 points from Tyrod Taylor, 9 points from Devonta Freeman, and only 2.5 points from Adrian Peterson.  Yes – Gronk, the QB, Devonta Freeman, and AP combined for 16.5 points and Buffalo still got the post points in the AFC by 30.

I felt coming in to this season that all the rest of us were playing for bronze… and there’s nothing that happened in week #1 that has changed my opinion.

 

Stock Rising:

Cincinnati Bengals: Well, well, well.  Rookie owner.  Rough predictions.  Game #1 against division giant Pittsburgh. No problem.  The Bengals dropped 231 points and beat both the Steelers and the Jets.  Theo Riddick (29), Jeremy Kerley (17), and Eli Rogers (19) led the way in the unsung heroes brigade, and the defense rode a trio of 15 point weeks (Geno Atkins, Will Compton, and Shawn Williams to a 102 point week.  Great start in Cincinnati.  The difficult question now is whether or not that kind of output is sustainable.  And it’s just hard to say.  Riddick, Kerley, and Rogers all have a path to solid playing time in their respective situations.. and Dalton should be excellent… we’ll just have to see.  But great start for the Tigercats!

Atlanta Falcons: What a difference a year makes.  The 2015 Falcons stumbled out of the gate after an exciting pre-season.  This year’s Falcons did not make a similar mistake.   Not only did they start out of the gate at 2-0, but they knocked off division rival Tampa Bay pretty convincingly and got very nice games from question mark players Kelvin Benjamin, Mohamed Sanu, and Julius Thomas.  A 10 tackle night from Tony Jefferson paced the defense as both squads went over 100 points in a show of balance.  It’s going to get a little tougher schedule wise for the Falcons, but the first week of the season could not have gone much better.

Houston Texans: Speaking of surprise teams that kicked things off about as well as could have been hoped, the Houston Texans stormed out of the gate with a 229 point effort and a pair of convincing 60+ point blowout wins over Chicago and Jacksonville.  It was the youngsters getting things done for Houston as Jameis Winston looked fantastic with 25 points, Carlos Hyde and David Johnson genuinely looked like the best running pack tandem in the league, and Donte Moncrief looks poised to take a huge leap forward this year.  Aside from Chandler Jones, the D-line play was a little troubling, but that’s the only real dark spot on a banner week one for the Texans.

Honorable Mentions: Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks.

 

Stock Falling:

Arizona Cardinals: The Arizona Cardinals are not in first place in the NFC West.  Not only are they not in first place, but they are not tied for first place.  They are TWO full games out of first place behind the 2-0 Seattle Seahawks.  For a team expected to run away with a weak division, that’s a brutal start.  Matt Ryan and Shady McCoy did their parts, but it was a bit of a well-rounded egg-laying after that.  3.5 points by Kamar Aiken, 4 by Richard Rodgers, 2.5 by JJ Watt, and an inactive performance pink slip by CJ Spiller, who was cut in favor of Travaris Cadet.  Ouch.  The good news is that Arizona IS in a weak decision.  They have time to bounce back from a bad week, and I still expect this team to win the division – they did, in fact, STILL outscore everyone else in the division by 20.  But this was a Cleveland Cavaliers “wake me when it’s the playoffs” type of performance.

Dallas Cowboys: So in my previews, I suggested that Dallas would provide a heavyweight challenge to the NY Giants for NFC East supremacy, and looked like a strong runner-up in the best division in football.  I don’t think the Giants liked that.  Head to head in week 1, the Giants one by 113 points.  The Giants margin of victory over the Cowboys was more than both Denver and Miami scored IN TOTAL.  More concerning, Dallas did not look good, posting three defensive zeros on their way to a clunker of a 66 point defensive performance.  Dez looked bad. Thomas Rawls didn’t look great.  Jordan Cameron gained six yards.  Another team that can bounce back, this was NOT the way Dallas needed to start to challenge for the division – and at this point, they need to make some serious strides on defensive to reach .500, let alone think about the division.

The Expected: It’s hard to choose too many other times whose stock is truly falling, because largely the teams who struggled in week one were expected to struggle.  Denver laid a 94 point egg that included 9 zeroes and were led in scoring by a linebacker.  The Washington Redskins posted a zero, but would have lost both games anyway.  The LA Rams struggled to 133 points to undercut Seattle.  Not to be outdone, and apparently believing this is fantasy golf, the San Francisco 49ers did them one better and scored only 131 AND lost their QB to the IR besides.  Green Bay got 119.  Miami got only 108, scoring a legendarily bad 31.5 defensive points.  But this group was all EXPECTED to struggle – what it does really reveal is that the competition for the #1 pick this year is going to be HEATED – and there are enough “guaranteed wins” that some 10-6 and 11-5 teams may be left out of the playoffs this year.

Week 2 Games of the Week: As in weak 1, some meaningful divisional games this week in the second double.

Arizona vs. Tampa Bay: Redemption Central.  Both teams scuffled to disappointing starts, both teams need bounceback weeks.  Tampa Bay needs this one more than Arizona does, but both teams could really use a big win.

Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh: It’s always a big game when these two squads go at it in the AFC, but this one seems like a foregone conclusion.  Pittsburgh is good, but Buffalo is historically good, and has some players who are going to be hungry to put up better numbers than in week 1.  Buffalo could win this one by 75.  And that could still mean that Pittsburgh played well.

Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh: What’s more fun than an unbalanced schedule with division rivals playing each other back to back?  When the first game was a startling upset.  If the Steelers bounce back, all is normal in the North.  But if Cincy can somehow win again, coupled with a probable Pitt loss to Buffalo, the Bengals could be 3 or 4 games up with the tiebreaker after just two weeks.

Dallas vs. New York Giants: Speaking of back-to-backs… we’ll see how this one goes.  Dallas doesn’t have to win.  But the Cowboys DO need to show progress.

Detroit vs. Tennessee: An intriguing game if ever there was one.  The 1-1 Lions looked fantastic in week 1, while Tennessee posted a very solid 2-0 start, squeaking by the Chiefs in a stat correction.  This game features two of the most intriguing teams in each conference.

Kansas City vs. Oakland: Rivalry game here, and important to start.  Both teams picked up needed wins in week 1, but also suffered hard losses.  Both want to come out of the doubles in pole position, and this game will go a long ways towards establishing who leads and who chases.

Kansas City vs. Houston: The Texans roared out of the gate at 2-0 and have another big week ahead, with games against KC and Indy.  This is a real “is Houston for real?” week.

New Orleans vs. Tampa Bay: Two southern contenders, two teams that already need to make up ground on 2-0 Atlanta and Carolina.  There’s just no let-up in this division all the way through, and a wise squad won’t fall too many behind the division leaders.

Good luck in week #2 everyone!