2017 Real Deal Ultimate Football Playoff Preview

Playoffs?

PLAYOFFS!!!!!

Ok, ok one more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Seed & West Division Champion

Arizona Cardinals Jason Clausen

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

TLDR: This team is good.

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

No. 2 Seed & South Division Champion

Carolina Panthers Kyle K

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

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

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

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

No. 3 Seed & East Division Champion

New England Patriots John Keniley

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

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

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

No. 4 Seed

San Diego Chargers Darren Leung

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

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

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

No. 5 Seed

Philadelphia Steel Men Pedro Nuno Canteiro

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

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

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

No. 6 Seed & Midwest Division Champion

Cincinnati Bengals Sean Scampton

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

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

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

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

No. 7 Seed

New Orleans Saints Ben Pearce

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

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

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

No. 8 Seed

Chicago Bears Tony Cavezza

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

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

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

Predictions

Round 1:

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

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

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

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

Round 2:

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

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

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

2017 Real Deal Ultimate Football Championship:

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

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

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

Real Deal Report: 2016 Predictions: West Divisions

And we’re back for the 3rd of four sets of divisions in our 2016 preview.  Good times will be had by some.  I spent some time in California when I wrote the initial draft, so you’ll forgive me if I default to the Western divisions in honor of my geography.  I’ll finish things up on the East Coast shortly.

Finish Reading: Real Deal Report: 2016 Predictions: West Divisions

AFC West:

Oakland Raiders (9-7):

The Raiders have played a high-risk, high-reward brand of fantasy football since the inauguration.  It’s their style.  And while it hasn’t yet put them over the top, it’s come very close – the unluckiest team of 2015 could have been West division champion EASILY if just a couple of points had swung the other way.  If I recall correctly, they lost something like 3 games in 2015 by margins of less than a couple points.  It was nuts.  At some point that luck has to turn.  And it might be this year.

Your 2016 Oakland Raiders. Range of outcomes: Broken back to smugly eating cheese.
Your 2016 Oakland Raiders. Range of outcomes: Broken back to smugly eating cheese.

But man this squad is risky.  Carson Palmer’s solid.  But after that?  Arian Foster could be a total bust or he could be a top 5 RB again after a veritable year off.  Oakland will also trot out Jay Ajayi – but he’s also quite unproven.  This could be a hell of a tandem – or it could timeshare itself into oblivion.  Eddie Lacy was one of the most disappointing players in the league… but he’s also a contender for top pick if he gets back to form.  Josh Gordon has finally gotten away from the devastating influence of Johnny Manziel and looks to put his extensive suspension experience to work in actual football.  But will his suspension experience transfer to the field?  Possible top 10 WR… possible total bust.  Davante Adams?  Jordan Matthews out of Chip’s offense?  Brandon Coleman?  When DOES Tyler Eifert actually return.  How does he play when he does?  If the offense plays out, Oakland could have two top-5 RBs, 2 top 10 WRs and a top 5 TE.  If it doesn’t, they could literally have Carson Palmer and a squad of ineffective backups and timeshares.  Oakland has wisely handcuffed RB investments, but still.  The range of possible outcomes here is insane.

The defense is really good, but there are still a lot of high-potential low-floor guys here.  Jordan Hicks was spectacular  at LB as a rookie before going out for the year.  Can he stay healthy AND avoid a sophomore slump?   Is he for reelz?  Preston Brown has a huge role due to a Reggie Ragland injury… but he needed a rookie to get injured to get that role.  Can he take advantage?  TJ Carrie is a nice young player, but can he translate that to points?  Is Karl Joseph ready to produce from day #1?

I will say this – on defense, I think the probability of “yes” answers are very high to most of these questions.  This is a team with a good Carson Palmer and a good defense.  Whether or not this is the AFC West division champs is going to depend on the wide range of outcomes with the skill players.  As it always is, the Oakland Raiders should be an funsquad to follow – and a not very fun squad to play.

 

San Diego Chargers (9-7):

As I sit here typing on Ventura Blvd, looking out at the Palm Trees and the Poke-mon-ers, contemplating that noblest and manliest of pursuits that is fantasy football, I think it is possible (even likely) that I am sun-poisoned.  The San Diego Chargers?  Where the HECK did they come from?  This team has been bad since day 1, and did not seem to have a real credible path to excellence as early as last year.  But as I review this division, lest my eyes deceive me, the Chargers have somehow become good.  And not just good, but potentially fantastic – on both sides of the ball.

Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates are back for one more campaign in the sun.  With DeMarco Murray gone and Darren Sproles elderly, Ryan Matthews is all of a sudden the bell-cow back for a new look Eagles team.  Doug Baldwin somehow turned from a mediocre at best WR on a run-first offense into a star.  Travis Benjamin emerged from the Cleveland purgatory of high-potential Wide Receivers come to naught (looking at you Greg Little – which is more than can be said for any of your quarterbacks!) to also become a star.  Jermaine Kearse is not half bad either.  This offense is suddenly, solidly excellent.

On the flip side, the defense strikes me as sneaky-good.  Poor man’s Carolina Panthers sneaky-good.  Beyond DeMarcus Ware, the star-power isn’t there, and Rolando McClain’s “purple drank” hurts pretty significantly.  But the thing that really is compelling about this squad is that everybody is solid.  There’s no real drop off.  They can field a team 11 deep and expect to see starter level outputs from all of them – even if the name recognition isn’t quite star caliber.

Apparently this stuff is not made up. Seems odd to me. Anyway, this stuff really hurts SD's chances.
Apparently this stuff is not made up. Seems odd to me. Anyway, this stuff really hurts SD’s chances.

Here’s the issue for this team – DEPTH.  This is a starting 20 that can compete for the division and a playoff spot.  The issue, though, is that there is literally NOTHING after it.  Jacob Tamme is literally the only piece of value outside of the starting lineup, and that depth is already going to be tested.  There’s no good replacement for DeAngelo Williams if Le’Veon can stay off the ganja, and Stevie Johnson’s season ending injury (rumor has it that he picked a fight with Batman.  The conclusion is unsurprising) means that there’s no backup at either of the other skill positions either.  But it’s worst on defense, where the Chargers are absolutely reeling at Linebacker.  Donald Butler, a past star, was surprisingly cut, Rolando McClain is suspended for the entire regular season, and Pernell McPhee will start the season on the PUP list and miss at least 6 games (9 in real deal land).  That leaves the San Diego with only two starting linebackers – pending any additional injuries.

The 2016 iteration of the San Diego Chargers should be the best one yet.  But every player should live in one of those plastic bubbles that are all the rage in youtube videos (where they roll down the hill and crush stampeding college students), because this team is susceptible to injuries, benchings, and suspensions in a way that very few others are.  Below is what I see as the optimal scenario for your 2016 San Diego Chargers.

 

Kansas City Chiefs (9-7):

The Kansas City Chiefs are in the market for both a good trainer and the fountain of youth.  Possibly both.  Season-ending injuries to starting Linebackers Justin Houston and Reggie Ragland coupled with uncertainties about Jordy Nelson’s return, Jordan Reed’s status (will he get banged up sleep testing posture-pedic mattresses? Touching feathers?  Blowing up balloons?  Cuddling kittens or baby chicks?  Absolutely everything is perilous when you are Jordan Reed), and the capacity of young linemen Caraun Reid and Dante Fowler to start games and make tackles place some question marks around this year’s Chiefs squad.  It’s not just health that’s uncertain for this team, but also roles – where does Giovani Bernard fit in Cincinnati’s backfield tandem with Jeremy Hill?  Will Tavon Austin still get touches in a Jared Goff system – and if he does, can he maintain the # of big plays he made last year?

#thingsthatwillinjurejordanreed
#thingsthatwillinjurejordanreed

Also, can someone please explain to me why Tavon Ausin is NOT returning kickoffs?  Please?!?  I can just picture the conversation.

Coach A: So, we have this guy who goes from 0 to 60 faster than the Flash.  He’s absolutely deadly in open spaces.  Every time he touches it with some room, he is a real threat to take it to the house.  He’s also a super tiny for a receiver, which means he’s not going to win a lot of 50-50 balls.  Hmm.  How can we possibly get him the ball?

Coach B: I have it!  Let’s take our rookie quarterback and have him try to throw passes to him while he’s covered by a guy who is 7 inches taller than he is.  He’ll probably be able to see him.  Or, we can throw telegraphed check passes or hand it off to him and ask him to break tackles with his 73 pound frame.

Coach A: I love it!  It’s foolproof.

Coach C: What about returning kickoffs?  That way, he would catch the ball in space and could get acceleration…

Coach A: That’s absurd.  Go sit in the corner.  You’re such a damn fool you probably think zebras are real animals and not just what line judges look like when you get concussed!

The Chiefs should be a good team – Alex Smith is a serviceable scrambler, and the pass-catching group of Nelson, Austin, Reed, Randall Cobb and Pierre Garcon should put up some points.  There are starting caliber defenders at every position and even in the absence of Houston and Ragland, the linebacking core of D’Qwell Jackson, KJ Wright, and Derrick Johnson should be strong for one more year.  Everson Griffen and Fowler should form a strong pass rush, and newcomers Corey Graham and Malcolm Butler should bolster what was a flagging secondary.  The trick isn’t whether the Chiefs will contend – they will – it’s whether they will win.  And while the chances are there, Oakland has a higher ceiling and San Diego’s starting twenty may have a lower floor.  Only time will tell if the Chiefs can get back to the playoffs for the 4th consecutive season.

Denver Broncos (6-10):

The post-Peyton era is alive and well for the Denver Broncos, who are faced with a bit of a “reload and see what we have” year.  Paxton Lynch is safely ensconced as the Franchise QB of the future, and Demaryius Thomas is going to be a stud no matter who is throwing him the ball.  And frankly, the defense the Broncos can trot out this year is going to be surprisingly good for a team that’s gotten a “focus on the offense” rap.  Guys like Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, George Johnson, Duke Ihenacho, VInce Wilfork, Chris Harris Jr. and Rahim Moore are going to keep this year’s Broncos competitive in a lot of games.  And there are young players coming up for this team, with Javon Hargraves, DeAndre Washington and Paxton Lynch portending a promising future.

Anquan Boldin (bottom, second from left) seeks to recapture the glories of his rookie year and lead Denver back to the playoffs...
Anquan Boldin (bottom, second from left) seeks to recapture the glories of his rookie year and lead Denver back to the playoffs…

But the 2016 edition of the Flying Elways is going to feature one prominent question every game they play.  Can they score?  Demaryius can.  Dion Lewis cannot.  The reason being that he’s injured.  It makes it hard.  And after that?  Anquan Boldin just celebrated his 93rd birthday, and while he can still make some grabs as a possession receiver, particularly in a Lions lineup seeking to fill the Calvin Johnson void, there’s a real question of just how many catches he can still make.  Jeff Janis is fighting with what seems like about 62 other promising young receivers to be a tertiary option for Aaron Rodgers.  DeAndre Washington should catch some passes, but isn’t likely to have a starting role as a rookie, and there’s no real TE to speak of.  It’s a very real possibility that the Broncos could run out a team with a zero from QB, Nick Vannett, Cole Beasley and Jeff Janis on a regular basis.  That would make it very hard to get it done in what is shaping up to be a surprisingly competitive AFC West.

 

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals (11-5):  “I don’t have to outrun the bear.  I only have to outrun you.”  That should be Arizona’s motto this year.  But actually, there’s no bear.  There’s more like a chubby little chimpanzee with a stick.   Basically, it’s like that old “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing” program where you are driving a car and you have to win by typing a certain number of words per minute.  The super-fast typers would set it to like 70 to train for careers in clerical work.  The slackers would set it to about 20 wpm so they could hunt and peck and not have to learn.  That’s sort of what it’s like for Arizona this year.  The pace car is set to about 12 wpm.  So Arizona could field a football team consisting of nothing but pygmy otters and lepers and still win the division by about 5 games.  Below is a video detailing what I expect the NFC West division race to look like.  The dude is Arizona.  Unfortunately, I can’t embed this one, but watch it anyway.

http://features.aol.com/video/furious-tortoise-chases-after-man-slowly

This year, Arizona runs away with the division largely by virtue of not having a serious of massive, gaping holes big enough you could drive a tractor-trailer through at major skill positions.  Matt Ryan and Shady McCoy give some solid star power on the offensive front, and the defense is good, bordering on excellent, particularly up front.  The combination of Calais Campbell and JJ Watt are set to average nearly 30ppg from the Defensive End position alone – which is a very nice built in competitive advantage.  An extremely strong secondary (Barry Church, TJ McDonald and Rashad Johnson at Safety, with Josh Norman and DRC doing the covering) should also put up a lot of points.  It’s an interesting defensive strategy by Arizona, which has built up a surplus of strength at positions of scarcity (DE and S) throughout the league.  Where most teams are scraping by for capable starters, Arizona has loaded up at these positions to bolster a good but not great, linebacking corps.

The offense is sketchier, but actually has a lot of potential.  The jury is still out on whether or not Kamar Aiken, is, in fact, good at football.  Signs seem to be pointing up for him, though, and he may well be the most productive Ravens receiver this year.  The jury does, however, seem to have returned a verdict on Reuben Randle (not good enough for football. Let’s hope he can type!). Michael Floyd continues to be “on the edge of a breakout year” (for the record, I think he gets it) and both Brandon LaFell and Richard Rodgers have solid opportunities on their respective teams.

End of the day, I’m probably being too hard on the poor Cardinals.  They are going to win this division by six games again – not just because they are the best of a bunch of bad teams – but because they are a legitimately good team.  Lock this one up, it is in the bag.

Seattle Seahawks (7-9): 

Being the second best team in the NFC West is a little bit like being the second best quarterback the Browns have had in the last 25 years.  It’s not exactly much of an honor.  That said, let’s take a second to stop and appreciate what the Seahawks have accomplished in terms of a quick rebuild.  One year after selling literally everything, the Hawks are already rebuilding to the point where I expect them to finish SECOND in their division.  Now, keep in mind that doesn’t mean a lot.  But it is a nice step forward for the rebuilding Hawks.

It’s going to be a show me year for a lot of the young and promising players, starting with #1 overall pick Ezekiel Elliott, who joins Sterling Shepard as high class weapons for Russell Wilson, who literally had NO weapons last year.  He had so few weapons that not even Ryan Lochte could have claimed to feel threatened by meeting him in a dark alley (he could, however, have seriously injured Jordan Reed).

This year, Shepard and Elliott alone should provide some rejuvenation for the offense – and for many years to come.  With the notable exception of Tight End (where MyCole Pruitt really shouldn’t be anybody’s Cole Pruitt, he’s just not good enough to want), the Seahawks offense is actually filled with some promising young players – Paul Richardson is an absolutely gunner (runs like Usain bolt – though it is unclear how that will work for him to catch passes, as he tops out at 4’3” wearing wooden dutch platform shoes).  Pharoh Cooper may find a role in the highly unsettled group of Goff-targets.  Alex Collins is pushing for a role in a suddenly Beast-less Seattle backfield, though the re-emergence of pre-season hero Christine Michael puts a little doubt on that. Long and short, there’s young talent on the offensive side of the ball, though most of it will take some time to really develop.

Like Virginia, Seattle is rebuilding. A couple more lawnchairs and contention is in sight!
Like Virginia, Seattle is rebuilding. A couple more lawn chairs and contention is in sight!

There’s young talent on the other side of the ball too, though not quite to the same extent.  Most notably, rookie Kamali Correa (not Kai’oahu’injured’guy, though the names are confusing) joins Denzel Perryman and Bobby Wagner to form a powerhouse linebacking corner.   Other young guns with promise include Kenneth Acker, Deon Bush, and Jihad Ward, who join other young guns without promise (looking at you, Cassius Marsh) and stabilizing veterans in Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor.  The Legion of Boom this is not, but good enough to be second in this division?  Absolutely.  Just as exciting for the Seahawks are another trifecta of first round picks (all coming potentially in the top half of the first round) to help complete the rebuild.  This team still needs another year to get really good – but its on the right trajectory

San Francisco 49ers (6-10):

So I will say this for the 9ers – this is a team that could surprise.   It’s an intriguing plan that’s been put into place, and it could certainly pay off – just like Oakland, this team seems to have captured the bay area penchant for high risk, high reward players.  Unlike Oakland though, I have more concerns about these risks – and I’m not sure there are enough sure things to warrant quite as much optimism.

San Francisco's season may depend on this man right here. Yup. Putting it that way makes me nervous too.
San Francisco’s season may depend on this man right here. Yup. Putting it that way makes me nervous too.

For one, it all starts with the dynamic QB to WR1 duo that every team covets to score major points.  RGIII to Corey Coleman.  How the heck do you evaluate this pairing?  By all accounts, RGIII has looked pretty excellent in camp (dude even SLID the other night – Dayumm!  Times, they are a-changin’) and pretty mediocre in the preseason.  And also by all accounts (this is actually probably an overstatement, as there are a LOT of accounts.  The internet causes accounts to proliferate and everybody has a different one.  It’s kind of like Olympians filing police reports.  Ooh.  Lochte-burn), Corey Coleman is the real deal.  But man.  Coleman is a rookie.  RGIII is a multi-bust.  It’s Cleveland.  This could be a 20/20ppg pairing and the foundation of a better than expected offense.  But the bust chances seem high too.  Just hard to evaluate.

It’s like that all the way down the roster.  Michael Thomas could catch a lot of Drew Brees passes (there are usually lots of them), or he could be confused for various other Mike Thomas’ and disappear.  Austin Seafaring-Jenkins could be the stud we’ve been expecting for years, or he could lose his job to his landlubbing counterpart, Cameron the Brate.  Similar story for Matt Jones.  Hunter Henry is a very promising TE for the long-term of this team, but he’s also a rookie TE – who traditionally don’t do very much.  D-liners Benson Mayowa and Erik Armstead may or may not be all the way back from injury.  Slick Willie Young and Duron Harmon’s roles are up in the air in the secondary (or were, before the trade), and it remains to be seen how much the SF IDPers will see statistical bounces due to the preposterous number of snaps Chip Kelly (and his minions Blaine and Colin) will make them play on the field.

The trick for me is that none of these risks feel great for 2016.  I like Corey Coleman, and to a real degree RGIII.  I like Armstead.  But I like Brate over Jenkins, Mike Thomas as a role-player, not a starter, Matt Jones to time share, and Hunter Henry to be a rookie.  I don’t like Slick Willie Young.  And even if all these risks were to pan out, I think a second place divisional finish is the ceiling for this squad.  I don’t doubt that this team can play way ahead of where I expect them to be – and the pieces are there for a nice dynasty squad (oh, and Sheldon Richardson is a vengeful Aztec deity), but my prediction is a 3rd place finish for this team.

Los Angeles Rams (5-11):

The only thing with less dignity than the acronym LARM is potentially going to be the LARM offense this year.  Unfortunately, that is going to undercut what could actually be a surprisingly decent defense to keep this team at the bottom of the NFC West pecking order.

So when you google LARM, this comes up. It seems fitting.
So when you google LARM, this comes up. It seems fitting.

In many ways, the Rams seem to be in the same place that the Seahawks were last year, but with a better defense and fewer draft picks.  There’s promising young quarterback Marcus Mariota – and not a whole lot else.  Interestingly, the Rams second best player on offense is another quarterback – Slammin’ Sammy Bradford.  After that?  Well, Chris Sims could be ok with the Muscle Hamster’s sloppy seconds.  But man.  Cordarelle Patterson and Bishop Sankey are two high-profile rookies who have busted HARD looking to resurrect their careers away from the Detroit spotlight.  It’s hard to see either one doing it.  Sankey has already been cut, along with starting WR Chris Givens.  Jared Cook has been a breakout threat forever, but he’ll be about the 11th option on the Packers.  Darrius Heyward Bay is another high-profile bust who has shown occasional flashes, but looks stuck behind Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton in Martavis Bryant’s absence.  Moritz Boehringer should bring in six or seven German fans, but not nearly as many footballs.  And Jeff Cumberland, always a favorite of this author, is both injured and not actually very good at scoring fantasy points, despite his sheer awesomeness.  That offense is going to STRUGGLE, a la Seattle 2015.

It’s a shame, because the offense is going to undercut what should be a very nice defense.  The Rams have some real riches in the secondary, with Senquez Golson, Rodney McCleod, Janoris Jenkins, Darian Stewart, Marcus Cooper, and EJ Gaines all looking starting caliber.  Bob Ayers Jr. and Cedric Thornton provide some nice power up front, and James Laurinitis and Nick Perry are no slouches in the middle, though the Linebacking corps is weaker than either the front-line or the outfield.

End of the day, it’s possible that the defense is enough to put this team up to a third or even a second place finish if things break right.  But that offense is going to hamstring this team’s ceiling and keep them in contention for a top five pick throughout the year.  The tough part for the Rams is that that pick will be their only real draft asset of value for next year unless a QB can be flipped or they can turn some of that secondary depth into draft capital.  It’s a rebuild in SoCal, but it’s not looking like a fast one.

 

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

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

 

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

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

Real Deal Look at the MLB Draft: National League Analysis

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

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

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

“Alluhring Strategy” MLB Draft Recap – AL Style

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