Tomorrow begins free agency. It will kick off a 2 month off-season period full of hand-wringing, anxiety, bitter regret and ridicule. Much like college basketball recruiting, it will make us forget that there is such a thing as a “season” and “games” and a “Super Bowl”. Such things will fade into the background next to the much more critical question of “how does my team look on paper”?
But before we lose sight of such unimportant nonsense as “winning”, I wanted to point out one incontrovertible fact:
Last year, only 1 out of the top 9 teams in Fantasy Points Scored was an AFC squad – Denver, at #3. The AFC’s Super Bowl representative was Indianapolis, coming in at #13. It is also worth noting that Denver came out ridiculously on fire, throwing down 300, 205, and 198 in the three multi-weeks, before fading back to merely being the class of the league – still a strong team, but not an invincible juggernaut.
The NFC boasted the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, the “undefeated / sort of defeated / Fail Mary / replacement refs / how many wins does John Calipari actually have!?!” Saints, the San Francisco 49ers squad that sorta / kinda beat the Saints, last year’s off-season darling Seattle Seahawks, the Philadelphia Fighting (and fantasy point enhancing) Chips, and the ridiculous NFC North.
Not surprisingly, points scored also favors the NFC. The NFC outscored the AFC 44,289-42,068. What does that mean in real terms? A 9 point difference per team per game. NFC teams averaged 173 points per game. AFC teams 164. That’s more than a 5% point difference every single game.
So does this mean that our league is as unbalanced as… ::gasp:: the NBA? Not completely – observe:
9 of the next eleven teams (10-20) were AFC squads
Each league had an equal number of bottom feeders (6 from each conference)
These bottom teams averaged almost exactly the same number of points per game (145 from the NFC, 146 from the AFC).
The two conferences are equal at the bottom. But the top of the NFC is MUCH better than the top of the AFC. Taking only the playoff teams, the point gap DOUBLES to 18 points per team per game, with NFC playoff teams averaging 195 points and AFC playoff teams averaging only 177. Put another way, AFC playoff teams averaged about the same number of points per game as the average NFC team, including the tanking NY Giants.
This year (prior to free-agency, of course), I think we see much of the same thing. I predict that the top six teams in the league will ALL be from the NFC: New Orleans, Green Bay, Seattle, Philadelphia, Detroit and San Francisco, with the Bears and Boys coming after Denver, but before any other AFC teams.
So what does this mean? Parity reigns in the AFC, while there is an enormous gap between the NFC’s haves and have nots. The difference between the NFC’s #8 team (Dallas) and the #11 team (Carolina) was a full 300 points (with Arizona and Washington in between). By contrast, the AFC’s #2-12 teams were ALL within 300 points of each other. the NFC is going to be a dogfight at the top, which it is going to be difficult for the lower echelon to quickly penetrate. But the honor of losing to Denver for a Super Bowl berth can belong to any AFC team that works hard, eats its Wheaties, and avoids the injury bug.
Welcome back to Real Deal Football! Of course, most of you have been back for weeks, setting tags, pulling trades, and desperately trying to figure out which of your marginal players are actually going to get a starting shot this year.
So for you, welcome back to this column. This year, the name will be changed to the Real Deal Report:Questionable Reporting about a Real League. I think that pretty much says it all.
If I write something bad about your team, rejoice, for it probably means you are going to dominate the league (see 2013 Indianapolis Colts). If I write something good about your team, be a little worried (see 2013 Houston Texans), but take it as a compliment anyway.
To kick things off as we all prep for the draft, let’s take a quick look at the work each team has ahead of it in the off-season. To do this, I have divided all 32 teams into very official and professional sounding categories, starting with…
Offseason? Can’t We Just Skip This Part???
Cap Space: 5.73M
2014 Picks: 4-22, 5-27
With just two late round draft picks, 5 MIL in cap space, and few needs, the Seahawks are about as good as they are going to get, barring a nice TE pickup. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that is already pretty darn good, particularly if Escobar starts to take over from an aging Witten.
My Future Was Mortgaged to Pay for Social Security!
Green Bay Packers
Needs: WR, DE, CB
Cap Space: 13.72M
2014 Picks: None
New Packers Owner Matt Minelli knows what it feels like to be a Millennial, as he interits a Super Bowl Champion team with a boatload of War Debt. As a result, Minelli has minimal cap space and no draft picks to address defensive needs, add depth, and hire mafia goons to break Randall Cobb’s knees so Jarret Boykin can start again.
Needs: TE, LB, DE, P
Cap Space: 33M
2014 Picks: None
Two theories exist around Denver. One theory suggests that Peyton Manning will eventually grow old and retire. A second argues that he’s actually a horrible mutant cross of Jeff Foxworthy and the undead male lead in a tween paranormal romance. Assuming the first, Denver will be spending money in a full win-now mode – and trying not to think of the future.
Needs: WR, RB, DT, LB
Cap Space: 12.61M
2014 Picks: 4-21, 5-18
True to real life, the Jags are going for it one more time with a collection of aging veterans. Errr. What? EJ Manuel and the Old Folks have some holes this year, but not much to work with to fill holes at skill positions and add some beef to the Defense. The Jags mysterious owner known only as “The Goad” will need to use all his cunning to position the Jags for a run.
Needs: RB/WR, all things Defense, P
Cap Space: 34.72M
2014 Picks: 4-32, 5-8
The Packers don’t have picks. But they won the Super Bowl and don’t have many holes. The Cardinals don’t have picks. But their entire defense is a hole and they missed the playoffs last year. While new owner Nathan Reising must be salivating over that 128th pick, he also has to be wondering what gives. The Cards do have money though, so expect them to be big players in Free Agency, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
But I Don’t Got No Money, Honey!
New England Patriots
Needs: RB, WR
Cap Space: 7.56M
2014 Picks: 2-11, 4-11, 5-11
The Pats could have fit in either of the previous categories (old and out of resources, but pretty much ready to go). They could stand to upgrade at the skill positions, though, and will need to find a way to swing that with little cash. Much like Miami, the lack of resources means that the question marks on the roster are going to need to turn into exclamation marks to get owner Ric Nowinsky a ring.
Needs: TE, RB, DT, WR, K, CB
Cap Space: 7.68M
2014 Picks: 2-6, 3-28, 5-7, 5-28
Tough off-season for the Fish. Old owner Jeff Hemlick took his talents from South Beach to Cleveland, and raised some questions about whether he may have taken Miami’s bank account too. New owner jkeniley faces a host of question marks and lacks the cash or first round picks to address them all directly. If Miami’s young players take the next step, especially at RB, it might not matter. But the lack of resources means they are going to have to.
Takin’ it Easy
Needs: TE, DT
Cap Space: 14.13M
2014 Picks: 1-9, 1-29, 2-9, 3-9, 4-9, 5-9
After a rough year last year, my 2013 Super Bowl pick is sitting pretty. With only a couple of primary needs and 2 1st-round picks, the Texans don’t need to do much to get back into solid attack position. The return of Arian Foster, Brian Cushing and the rest have already done that.
The Chiefs epic quest for mediocrity has continued with a whirlwind of questionable trades this off-season, but the fountain should shut off soon. Without tremendous cap space, gaping holes, or any picks before #60, it may be time for the Chiefs to sit on their hands before another run at 9-7.
Needs: TE, LB
Cap Space: 16.34M
2014 Picks: 1-20, 3-19, 3-20, 4-20
I’m sensing a pattern here. Mid-teens in cap space, acceptable draft situations, and primary need at Tight End. The Bears, Chiefs, and Texans are mirrors of each other this off-season, though the Texans are in the best situation to improve. The Bears particularly need to plug a couple of holes in the center of their defense to get past Green Bay and Detroit.
New Orleans Saints
Needs: WR, P
Cap Space: 16.34M
2014 Picks: 1-30, 2-30, 4-30, 5-30
When you nearly go undefeated and you only have one positional need besides Punter, the off-season becomes golf season. Such is the case for the Crackerman. He’ll almost certainly be in the market for a Wide Receiver, but can sit back and pick off whatever else comes his way. Who Dat gonna beat da Crackerman?
Bonus Prediction for Best Storyline of the Offseason: NO puts in the winning bid on Riley Cooper and trades three guys because of it. Then Fantrax decides three weeks later he actually lost the bid. Detroit is awarded five extra draft picks for this. No one knows why.
Needs: DT, CB, P
Cap Space: 26.93M
2014 Picks: 1-28, 2-24, 4-24, 5-24
Another scary good team without a lot of holes right now. Eagles owner Mike Stagg is in a very very good place to fill all those holes that his team doesn’t have. Watch for some solid spending on the defensive side of the ball, a nice supplemental draft, and another playoff run.
Needs: WR, DE, P
Cap Space: 15.4M
2014 Picks: 1-32, 2-21, 3-2, 3-15, 3-16, 3-30
It’s hard to take it easy when you need at least two solid receivers, are daily lighting incense and conducting animal sacrifices to try and keep Ryan Williams and DeMarco Murray healthy, watching 24-7 to protect Dez Bryant from himself, and have 6 picks in the top 3 rounds. But injury risks aside, the fact of the matter is that Dallas is well-positioned, and GM Robert Walters can use his resources and picks to select for luxury, not deep needs.
The AFC North (Non-Cleveland Edition)
Needs: WR, LB, S, P
Cap Space: 46.8M
2014 Picks: 1-25, 2-25, 4-25, 5-25
Needs: WR, CB, P
Cap Space: 30.98M
2014 Picks: 2-7, 2-13, 3-13, 4-13, 5-13
Needs: WR, DE, LB, S
Cap Space: 34.93M
2014 Picks: 1-15, 2-15, 2-18, 3-17, 5-15
What is it about this division? The entire division played in lockstep last year, and the entire division finds itself in a similar spot this off-season – moderate level of need, substantial cash to spend, and a solid draft situation. The Bengals are probably most “business-ready”, while the Ravens, courtesy of some extremely valuable contracts, have the most money to play with. But expect another competitive year in the AFC Norris.
The AFC North (Cleveland Edition)
Needs: WR, RB, DT, CB, S, K, P
Cap Space: 34.93M
2014 Picks: 1-19, 2-19, 3-8, 4-19, 5-19
Cleveland is in a similar space to the rest of the division in terms of resources – but the list of needs is much longer, particularly with Josh Gordon’s ganja-rocking exploits. New GM Jeff Hemlick abandoned his Miami pent-house for this, and will apply all his tricks, all his magic to make sure that Cleveland stays competitive.
Today’s Theological Paradox: God hates Cleveland. The evidence has been indisputable for decades. But yet the lottery always gives Cleveland the #1 pick. How does this work? Should the Browns expect divine aid? Or divine retribution? Both? Smiting on odd days, miracles on even days? Discuss.
About to Come out of Absolutely Nowhere and Beat the Crap out of the Entire League
Needs: LB, WR, P, CB
Cap Space: 42.88M
2014 Picks: 1-6, 1-11, 2-20, 3-6, 4-6, 5-6
Ever played a board game where you are playing hard against the guys you think are your main threats and then suddenly realize one guy who you weren’t even thinking about is about two turns away from winning? And you try to warn the other players, but they don’t believe you and the guy just sits quietly and smirks at you? Yeah, that’s Buffalo. Take a look at that roster. This isn’t a complete team yet. But not only is it close, but AJ Sisneros is about to go SHOPPING, with his 2 top-11 picks and 40+ Million in cap space. 2014 AFC East Champions and a deep playoff run. You heard it hear first. By the way – anyone else think the logo looks like a cross between the Bison you hunt in Oregon Trail, Blue Man Group, and Cyclops from the X-men with that uni-glass thing that shoots fire lasers? Bad ass.
Lots to Do!
New York Jets
Needs: QB, WR, TE, DT, P
Cap Space: 17.08M
2014 Picks: 1-5, 2-5, 3-5, 3-21, 4-5, 5-5
Tom Alberg’s team has a lot of needs, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, and particularly through the air. Fortunately, that top five pick will almost certainly be a very good player. The bad news is that 17M is a very limited budget to fix all these needs. Expect the Jets to be offensive buyers, but they’ll need to be judicious about their spending.
Needs: TE, RB, WR, DE, CB
Cap Space: 34.52M
2014 Picks: 1-31, 2-2, 3-10, 4-4, 5-14
The last time I evaluated the Colts, I didn’t love their defense. They responded by posting a top ten defense, obliterating me during the regular season, and booting me out of the playoffs. So realize I’m serious when I say I’m hesitant about writing this. But besides Luck, there’s nobody on that offense that scares me, and while the defense is still strong, there are distinct holes. Expect owner Richard Griffith to be a buyer in free agency and make the Colts a force again this year.
Needs: QB, WR, DE, LB, P
Cap Space: 29.94M
2014 Picks: 1-24, 2-31, 4-10, 5-10, 5-29
Washington needs a LB – but more than a LB, they need some Wide-outs and a Quarterback. The pieces in place on the offense (Jordan Reed, Alf, Celek, Ellington, and Pierre the Little Boy) are strong enough that a couple top receivers could put them in contention in a very tough division.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Needs: QB, WR, DE, LB, P
Cap Space: 10.87M
2014 Picks: 1-14, 2-14, 3-14, 3-29
Where to put the Bucs? Lots of needs. No money. Nice draft picks. They don’t really fit into any category, and could go a number of different directions depending on how “The waterman” wants to play it. Is Glennon the QB of the future? Or are the Bucs looking to draft one? Do the Bucs build on defense or on offense? Go for it now, or build for the future? Fascinating times in Tampa Bay.
Needs: QB, WR, DE, LB
Cap Space: 32.1M
2014 Picks: 1-10, 2-1, 2-4, 3-4, 5-4
Don’t look now, but Pedro Fiadeiro’s Vikings may be major players in free agency, with three top 40 picks, a hefty spending account, and a desperate need for something (anything!) resembling an offense. Expect the Vikes to stock up on young, offensive talent and plug enough gaps to contend.
Wheeling and Dealing? You So Crazy.
San Diego Chargers
Needs: RB, WR, LB, DT, S, K
Cap Space: 29.18M
2014 Picks: 1-12, 2-12, 3-12, 4-12, 5-12
Needs: RB, WR, LB, DT, S, K
Cap Space: 30.51M
2014 Picks: 1-26, 2-26, 2-29, 3-26, 4-26, 5-26
San Francisco 49ers
Needs: WR, CB, S
Cap Space: 26.76M
2014 Picks: 1-23, 2-23, 3-23, 4-23, 5-23
St. Louis Rams
Needs: RB, WR, LB, DE, S, P
Cap Space: 18.13M
2014 Picks: 1-3, 2-3, 3-3, 4-3, 5-3
“Why all this rushing around? This frantic swapping of players and picks? Fantasy Football is a simple game. You end the season. You have your picks. You have your money. You have your players. Why you not happy? Why you not content? Only evil can come of this flurry of ill-considered transactions and talent greed. Take your picks. Take your players. Make your picks. Reflect on our fantasy forefathers. It was good enough for them – why can’t it be good enough for you?”
None of these three teams are in a bad spot, though the 9ers have the fewest needs. The Rams have the best picks -but also the lowest remaining money and most holes to fill.
I Got a Fever… and the Only Cure is More Draft Picks!
Needs: RB, WR, LB, DT, S, K
Cap Space: 2.18M
2014 Picks: 1-7, 1-22, 1-27, 2-27, 3-27, 3-32
Quick trivia question. Which team currently sits closest to the salary cap? If you guessed the Titans before reading this, you are lying like Manziel saying he’s cool as a backup. While the commish will have to jettison some deadweight to pay for his expensive draft picks, three first rounders and 6 picks in the first three should supplement Tennessee’s youth movement nicely.
A big welcome back to owner Chris Adamson! The rest of you may remember spotting him last year at the franchise draft. He was the guy who traded for a bunch of future picks and then disappeared into the mountains while his team was repeatedly thrashed. Some say he pursued yoga and achieved a higher state of consciousness. Others that he devoted himself to ballroom dancing. Still others that he was abducted by aliens and forced to do their laundry. It doesn’t matter now, as Adamson is back and poised to infuse his team with a massive jolt of young talent.
IMPORTANT EDIT: I am told that Mr. Adamson is a new owner. If this is true, a warm welcome! But I wonder… aliens can change a man…
The Falcons need some speed in the secondary – and another playmaker on offense never hurts. And they have the picks to do it. Two picks in the top 18 with another six picks to follow that means that the Falcons will be looking to make some major noise in the draft.
In a rare case of Supply meets Demand, Raiders owner Nick Tomanelli needs a lot of stuff – on both sides of the ball. At the same time, he also has the resources to get a lot of stuff, both in the draft and free agency. The Raiders are likely a year away from Super Bowl contention, but this off-season will likely result in a much-improved Raiders franchise, particularly on offense.
Ultra-active Lions owner Michael Seraphim is poised to be the biggest buyer of the off-season, with an absolute embarrassment of riches at his disposal. One of the most educated owners in the league, there’s nobody better positioned to maximize their value. Of course, the Lions need to buy literally an entire defense – but the resources are there to get a very good one.
Thanks for reading everyone – I’ll be back once free agency is done to recap and get us all prepped for the draft! Good luck in free agency!