Real Deal Report (Football): 2014 AFC South and AFC West Predictions

And we’re back to preview the South and the West with T-4 days until the start of the regular season.  Rest assured that I’ll have the North and the East up before the season starts.  I’ve been delayed by trying to secure a kicker and agonizing about my safety situation.  Seriously?  Cutting Brandian Ross?  Y’all is still NUTS, Oakland!

Finish Reading: Real Deal Report (Football): 2014 AFC South and AFC West Predictions

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts

Owner: Richard Griffith

2013 Record: 11-5 (AFC Champion, Lost Super Bowl)

RDR 2014 Projection: 10-6

The mists... the southern mists... my sight cannot penetrate them...
The mists… the southern mists… my sight cannot penetrate them…

I really don’t like writing about the AFC South. There’s some sort of foggy haze that hangs around the AFC South that makes my predictions even more wrong than usual (and that’s saying something!). Last year, I confidently predicted that the Houston Texans would cruise through the AFC on the way to a Super Bowl Championship. Instead, they finished 6-10, missed the playoffs and lost their owner.

I also predicted a 7-9 finish for the eventual AFC Champions, and wrote the following:

On the flip side of the ball, though, Indy has some question marks. Free agent signings have threatened the playing time of some core franchise veterans, and secondary playmaker Louis Delmas has already had run-ins with his dear friend the injury bug.

Still, if the Colts can bolster their defense, they have the offensive horses (get it? Haha. Horses. Colts. Because a colt is a horse. See? Yeah, I crack myself up…) to compete for a playoff spot.

Bad jokes aside (yeah, those aren’t going away), not only did I completely miss on the Colts overall talent level, I completely missed on the strength of their team. The Colts Offense was only 16th in the league, while the Defense recorded a top 10 finish over the second half of the year and throughout the playoff run.

This year, I once again struggle with where and how to rank GM Richard Griffith’s squad. On the plus side, the Defense returns intact and even better than last year’s playoff unit. The offensive line is scary good, anchored by Patriots Nose Tackle Chris Jones and featuring strong scoring ends Brian Robison and LaMarr Woodley. The linebacking core is full of proven studs, featuring Jerrell Freeman, Brian Orakpo, and the emerging Jason Worilds, as well as the always polarizing Trent Cole. Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard form a high-pedigree, all-rookie cornerback core that should, for all their youth, improve on last year’s CB group. And Louis Delmas and Antoine Bethea are both secure starters who, while not the strength of the defense, should be serviceable. There are no holes on this unit.

How can I question the defending AFC Champion with a defense that solid?

Well, the Offense has taken a step back. Andrew Luck is still the ridiculously talented young Quarterback, lying in wait to seize the “Best QB in football” title from Peyton Manning, and both Reggie Wayne and Julian Edelman should have nice seasons. Beyond that, though, questions abound. Ahmad Bradshaw may or may not have a starting role in Indy, depending on how things go with the biggest bust that everybody still loves, Trent Richardson. Kellen Davis just got hisself cut, leaving Troy Niklas as the starting TE – a nice rookie, but certainly unlikely to take the league by storm. Jarius Wright remains stuck as a WR4 in Minnesota, and Kyle Jusczyk is both a fullback, and, judging by his name, an Alien.

When will Kyle Juszczyk reveal his true form in his quest for domination of the line of scrimmage?
When will Kyle Juszczyk reveal his true form in his quest for domination of the line of scrimmage?

End of the day, I think that the Colts use that defense and a little Luck to defend their title in a weak division. But with the offensive questions on this squad, it’s no sure thing.

 

Houston Texans

Owner: David White

2013 Record: 6-10

RDR 2014 Projection: 9-7

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… well, I endure enough shame from poor predictions that a little more won’t bother me. Yes, I like the Texans again. Like them enough that I predict they pick up the second AFC wild card and give Indy a run for their money at the top of the division.

Why? Because last year’s Texans weren’t as bad as they appeared. They faced the 5th hardest strength of schedule in the entire league, and scored under 100 points less than the Colts throughout the full season, a difference of only about 5 points per game. Also relevant, the Texans can expect a bounce-back year from Matt Schaub (and/or Derek Carr) and Arian Foster (assuming he stays healthy). The Texans can also expect more production from the bottom of their roster, as Falcons Giant Levine Toilolo should become productive, as should rookie RB Carlos Hyde.

On defense, the Texans get Brian Cushing back, and should have a defense that can rival Indy’s, as Cushing joins the best defensive player in football (JJ Watt) and newcomers with real chances to impress, such as Henry Melton (the savior of Soldier Field), Bjoern Werner (He who replaces Robert Mathis), and Whitney Mercilus (He of the best name in Linebacking). The Cornerback group is already solid and should be even better than last year, as Jonathan Cyprien and Desmond Trufant get a year older and a year better, joining established studs Johnathan Joseph and Earl Thomas.

Alien vs. Predator.  Juczczyk vs. Mercilus.  For the AFC South... and then the UNIVERSE!
Alien vs. Predator. Juczczyk vs. Mercilus. For the AFC South… and then the UNIVERSE!

Are there question marks for this team? Absolutely. The injury bug bit hard last year, and it could bite again this year. The Texans youngsters on both sides of the ball might not take the necessary steps forward, and there are guys on the defense (Jameel McClain, Ziggy Hood, and even Melton and Werner) who could play themselves out of a job by seasons end.

But I still like this team (and their schedule!) enough to predict a nine win season and a wild card birth, even simply on regression to the mean.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Owner: Zach Goad

2013 Record: 9-7

RDR 2014 Projection: 6-10

One of a handful of teams to miss the playoffs on a tie-breaker in the AFC’s 9-7 logjam of mediocrity (Great album title, no?), I unfortunately think the Jaguars are going the wrong direction after a surprisingly competitive 2013 campaign.

The AFC South is a division predicated on smashmouth, hard-nosed defensive football, much like the classic NFC Norris in its hey-day.   That’s the “glass half-full” way of looking at it. The other way to look at it would be that most of these teams are not going to be able to find their way to the endzone with a GPS, three seeing-eye dogs, and a Crossing Guard. And that’s assuming they start from the extra point line.

Jacksonville’s Defense is, like the rest of the division, solid. Paul Posluznsky and Mason Foster provide an outstanding anchor in the heart of the defense, and should make approximately 2,892 tackles apiece.  The secondary should be outstanding as the Jaguars follow the divisional blueprint: Established safeties (Kenny Vaccaro and Michael Griffin) along with rising young rookies at CB (David Amerson, Xavier Rhodes, Dwayne Gratz). The defensive line is serviceable, if unspectacular, and the Jaguars should field a competitive defense.

The offense, however, also follows the defensive blueprint – which appears to be for a ramshackle hut with an

MJD...  DMC... LOL WTF?
MJD… DMC… LOL WTF?

outhouse. Indianapolis is the only team in this division with a truly strong Quarterback situation (not a small factor in my title prediction). The rest of the division is relying on youngsters who have yet to really prove they can hang (Locker in Tennessee, Carr in Houston, and EJ Manuel right here). The hype for Manuel, his mobility, and his big arm is high, but results last year were mixed.  The sophomore QB has looked terrible in the pre-season, and Sammy Watkins has shown a surprising affinity for the trainer’s room, making EJ Manuel a substantial question mark for the Jags. Beyond EJ, it’s more of the same. MJD appears to have successfully fought off DMC for the starting acronym role in Oakland – and laid claim to the glorious privilege of averaging 2.4 yards per carry. Miles Austin is the best thing in Cleveland (an indictment of Cleveland more than an endorsement of Austin). And Jordan Todman and Brandon Tate will struggle for playing team and touches on their respective squads.

Could this team over-perform? Absolutely. IF the light comes on for EJ Manuel. IF Gronk actually stays healthy. IF Austin, Malcolm Floyd, and MJD discover the fountain of youth during a fishing expedition to Peru. IF Cecil Shorts has another solid year and doesn’t suddenly realize he plays for Jacksonville. There’s certainly talent here. But I just can’t see enough of these things happening to put Jacksonville back into the playoffs.

So THAT's how Eli turned into a fairy and became bad at football...
So THAT’s how Eli turned into a fairy and became bad at football…

Tennessee Titans

Owner: Bryan Luhrs

2013 Record: 4-12

RDR 2014 Projection: 4-12

You know those high school engineering competitions where promising young nerds build cars and boats and ovens and girlfriends from spare parts? Some unfortunate sponsor lugs random bits of metal, super glue and arts and crafts supplies to the center of a schol cafeteria, and each group tries to duct tape, sauter, and otherwise build something functional from the supplies? It’s super-impressive. A triumph of human ingenuity. But the cars made from such pieces, while impressive, only compete with really terrible cars – Geos, Ugos, Chevys and the like. They don’t really stand a chance on the NASCAR circuit.

I feel like that when I look at Commish Bryan Luhrs’ squad. This team is an actual, functional fantasy football squad, cobbled together from the craziest collection of spare parts this side of Memphis. It runs. It plays. It even has a microwave built into its torso.  It will even win some games and give some of its scarier NFC opponents a run for their money. But when it comes to actually competing for a title, or even a playoff spot, it just won’t go. An engine made of duct tape and Gilberry just won’t compete with Denver’s V-36.

 

Ladies, gentlemen, and Detroit - your 2014 Tennessee Titans!
Ladies, gentlemen, and Detroit – your 2014 Tennessee Titans!

Defensively, I’m not even sure who to call out. You’ve got Duct Tape (Charles Johnson and Zach Brown), Poles (Jason McCourty and Nico Johnson), PVC Pipe (Silvester Williams, Brad Jones), some sort of odd adhesive chemical (Nick Fairley, Wallace Gilberry), and a few genuinely useful pieces like LaRon Landry, David Hawthorne, and Stephon Gilmore. And a whole bunch of spare parts that can’t really fit into the machine (Darius Slay, Kam Wimbley, Jared Crick, etc and so forth).  It’s a defense that should be surprisingly functional. But probably can’t keep pace with the rock-solid squads in the rest of the division.

Offensively, my comparison breaks down. The Titans will run out Jake Locker at QB, throwing to the ultimate spare part, Kenny Britt. However, after that, I’ll choose a different analogy – making wine. Or smelly cheese. Young players Jeremy Hill, Justin Hunter, Ladarius Green, Andre Williams, Dwayne Allen, and Odell Beckham Jr. are all poised to be excellent players, but aren’t there yet. And therein lies the brilliance of Luhr’s plan.

2014 Offense (Bleh): Locker, Hill, Hunter, Green, Williams, Allen, Britt

2015 Offense (Very good): Bortles, Hill, Hunter, Green, Williams, Allen, Beckham

2016 Offense (World-beating): Bortles, Hill, Hunter, Green, Williams, Allen, Beckham

Those sly Titans! All they have to do is run that team out there game after game, let it age like a stinky cheese, and they

Ladies, gentlemen, and Detroit - your 2016 Tennessee Titans!
Ladies, gentlemen, and Detroit – your 2016 Tennessee Titans!

will be good!   Add a few defensive parts with high draft picks… and this team might be a Terminator class robot with a confection oven in its stomach and a gourmet cheese platter.

 

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Owner: Stuart Seraphim

2013 Record: 12-4 (Lost AFC Championship Game)

RDR 2014 Projection: 13-3

Last year, there was the NFC. And then not really much else. The one exception was the Denver Broncos, who exploded out of the gate with a 300 point week one, and rode the arm of Peyton Manning to an easy division title, before being upset by the Colts in the AFC Championship game.

I don’t think anyone quite appreciates how much better than the rest of the AFC Denver was last year. Denver scored the 3rd most points in the league last year, with 3331. The next closest AFC team was Miami, at #10, with 2868. Indianapolis, the team that knocked the Broncos out of the playoffs and took the AFC title, was #13, with 2769. And Kansas City, the closest team to the Broncos within their division, was 14th with 2746.   The Broncos won their division by nearly 600 points, which translates out to almost 40 points per game. They were the best team in their CONFERENCE by almost 30 points per game. That’s dominance. In last year’s AFC, there was Denver. Then there was a long, awkward wait, during which you could go to the concession stand, use the bathroom, and cancel your Comcast subscription. And then there was everybody else.

The rest of the league has narrowed the gap a bit, the Broncos did tail off in the second half a bit, and it is unlikely that the Broncos offense will have a season quite so spectacular. But it was such a wide gap that I see no way the Broncos don’t cruise to another division title and first round bye. They have to be considered the heavy favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

Jeremy Ross.  OMG HE's SUCH A CUTESICLE!
Jeremy Ross. OMG HE’s SUCH A CUTESICLE!

Let’s take a look at the this team. The immortal Godfather of passing glory, Peyton Manning, captains a team that includes Wide-outs Anquan Boldin (PPR monster), Wes Welker (PPR monster when not concussed), Demaryius Thomas (monster in any setting), and Jeremy Ross (Kick returner. He’s cuddly.  A Monsters Inc. kinda monster). Even scarier, the Broncos should be much better at both RB and TE. At RB, Montee Ball should be a certifiable top ten running back this year in PPR. Knowshown Moreno scored a bajillion fantasy points in this offense last year, and Montee (shouldn’t it be Monte? My French lessons suggest that Montee is the feminine form) Ball is much better than Moreno. At TE, the completely mortal Benji Watson will be replaced by either John Carlson or Brandon Bostick, both of whom will be better.

On Defense, however, the Broncos did experience some significant turn-over and were heavy players in free agency, signing EIGHT guys to OFF-FA contracts, including three defensive linemen and three linebackers. As might be expected, all of these guys are talented, but many also have question marks. On the veteran side, Vince Wilfork looks good, but he’s returning from a very challenging injury – will he hold up all year? John Abraham could also carve out a starting role, but is facing a suspension at some point in the season for substance abuse. Malik Jackson and Steven Means are both talented young ends, but both fit the “situational” role more than the starting role, and will need to notch power stats like sacks to really fill up the stat sheet. Calvin Pace and Matt Shaughnessy are also high upside guys and legitimate star power – but it’s fair to wonder if both will truly have a breakout year this year.   The Broncos are also waiting for starters Chris Harris and Jon Beason to return from injury.

So let’s recap. The Broncos destroyed the AFC last year. They looked like the Miami Heat of Real Deal, but without an Indiana Pacers to challenge them. The offense looks even better on paper, though a regression to the mean from guys like Peyton and Demaryius should keep it about where it was last year. The defense is full of upside, but with many question marks.

All told, I don’t think this team is quite as good as it was last year, and I think that several other AFC squads are close enough to threaten (Buffalo, Cincinnati and Indianapolis all come to mind as strong threats) – but the schedule is even easier this year than it was last year, and I say that this is the year the Broncos get to the Super Bowl.

 

Kansas City Chiefs

Owner: Eric Duncan

2013 Record: 9-7 (Lost AFC Wild Card Game)

RDR 2014 Projection: 9-7

Say what you will about the Chiefs – they are tireless and relentless in their insatiable pursuit of mediocrity. Pulling off a startlingly silly 27 trades since the conclusion of last season, the Chiefs have nearly turned over their entire roster – Alex Smith is the only offensive player who was on the Chiefs roster exactly 1 year ago, and only 6 players on defense were on the roster a year ago. That means that out of 32 active slots, 24 of them have been turned over since the beginning of last year (can’t forget the Punter!)

So what does obsessive and uber-handsome GM Eric Duncan have to show for his efforts? Has his team actually improved in this massive overhaul? The answer appears to be no. Last year’s good luck squad squeaked into the playoffs by dint of an incredibly easy schedule and a few lucky breaks. This year’s version should be better, but the schedule should be much harder. Combined, this means that the Chiefs are looking at the same record and same situation as last year – a Wild Card berth.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Chiefs are relying heavily on return yards, with Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin and Jacoby Jones penciled in as offensive starters, and Travaris Cadet functioning as a key reserve. Giovani Bernard should be a top 10 back, particularly in this scoring system, and if Cardinals WR Michael Floyd can truly break-out across from Larry Fitzgerald, this offense could put up some points. The biggest upgrade is at Tight End, where the inept Fred Davis (It is NOT good to be Fred in Brazil, or anywhere else) is replaced by a pair of Air Jordans – Reed and Cameron.

On Defense, the Chiefs are a bit more stable, with six starting spots taken by players on franchise contracts. Everson

Dmitri Patterson and his little dog might be all that stands between humanity and Kyle Juczczyk.
Dmitri Patterson and his little dog might be all that stands between humanity and Kyle Juczczyk.

Griffen and Dontario Poe anchor a decent line, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson and D’Qwell Jackson form a formidable line-backing core, and Eric Berry and Bernard Pollard team up to make a nice franchise safety tandem. Potential holes exist at Defensive End and in the secondary, however, where KC’s depth has been threatened by Dmitri Patterson, who disappeared for 48 hours to save the world from Kyle Juczczyk, only be castigated and cut by a guy with a foot fetish.  It’s a cruel, cruel world.

All told, this team is better than last year, and is loaded with potential breakout players. However, almost every player comes with real question marks, and this team also has the potential to be extremely mediocre. Combined with a much tougher schedule, this team should make the playoffs, but doesn’t have much shot at dethroning the Broncos.

 

San Diego Chargers

Owner: P. Ackerman

2013 Record: 7-9

RDR 2014 Projection: 6-10

The San Diego Chargers are a team of solid players who have the misfortune to play in a division with Denver. From top to bottom, the word that best describes this team is “decent”. No glaring holes. But very few explosive players. Good enough to be competitive, but probably not good enough to win, even in a watered down AFC.

On offense, Phillip Rivers is a decent quarterback – the closest thing to a star the Chargers have. Ryan Matthews was supposed to be a star – but instead is decent. Antonio Gates once was a star – now he’s only decent. Jacquizz Rodgers and James Jones are the very definition of decent, and even Jermaine Kearse is decent as a seventh man. The one guy I’m having a hard time figuring out is Darrius Heyward-Bey – who was expected to be a star and was never even decent. He doesn’t quite fit the mold. This team is decent from top to bottom – every starter besides Heyward-Bey should get double digit points per game this year. But I’m not sure there’s anyone on this team who gets 20.

On defense, the same story holds true, with the notable exception of linebacker. Corey Liuget, Domata Peko and Shaun Phillips form a decent offensive line, and Nolan Carroll and Robert Mclain (the more motivated and less retirement-prone version of Rolando) should form a nice core secondary along with Eric Weddle, the defensive captain and the only guy on the entire team who is truly far better than mediocre.   The second safety spot is likely to be filled by Jets up-and-comer Calvin Pryor, and if he is who Rex thinks he can be, the secondary could be a very strong suit for the Chargers.

That said, the linebacking core is a mess for the Chargers right now. Kevin Burnett was waived in a recent surprise move, which leaves Donald Butler and Jarvis Jones as the only Linebackers on the roster.   San Diego, meet Atlanta and Arizona. Atlanta and Arizona, meet San Diego. Y’all should talk.   The recent waiving of Alan Branch further hurts the depth of the team, as it means that another DT/LB spot that will need to be filled by a rookie lineman.

This year’s Chargers squad has only one glaring hole. But it also mostly consists of replacement level players. It won’t be as bad in the AFC as it would be in the NFC – but I don’t think those games against the Broncos star-power are going to be much fun.

 

Oakland Raiders

Owner: Nick Tomanelli

2013 Record: 5-11

RDR 2014 Projection: 6-10

One might read this projected record and assume that the Raiders had not gotten any better. Nothing could be further from the truth – it’s just that this improvement may not show up in the Wins column for another year. Make no mistake though – this team is better. And it is poised to be a serious contender in 2015.

It’s on offense that the big names really jump out at you, and where the Raiders will look to make their biggest jump. Carson Palmer should provide real points at an affordable price on offense, as the Raiders won the off-season Free Agency sweepstakes. Hakeem Nicks should also have a real role and a chance to score some serious points. It’s in the future that this receiving core should really shine, though.

2014 starters: Carson Palmer, Eddie Lacy, Nate Burleson, Hakeem Nicks, Tyler Eifert, Jordan Mathews, Andre Holmes. First guy of the bench De’Anthony Thomas.

2015 projected starters: Carson Palmer (same), Eddie Lacy (even better than 2014), Josh Gordon (back from suspension), Hakeem Nicks, Tyler Eifert (even better than 2014), Jordan Mathews (better), Andre Holmes (better). And De’Anthony Thomas (better).

This team may struggle a bit as guys get accustomed to roles in 2014. By 2015, the Raiders should be an offensive machine. And we haven’t even said anything about Practice Squad stash Davante Adams.

Potential... This Raiders team is FULL of potential!
Potential… This Raiders team is FULL of potential!

On defense, this team has some very nice playmakers in Charles Woodson, Nick Roach, and Paul Worrilow, but may struggle outside of the top guys. Lamarr Houston is a nice player, but isn’t worth his contract, and Rey Maualuga and Pat Sims are semi-nice players who play football. The rest of the defense, like the offense, consists of guys looking for their big break or guys looking to produce in their first or second year as a starter – Damontre Moore, Jonathan Hankins, Corey Wootton, Tyvon Branch and Melvin While all fall into these categories. Should these guys find their stride, this Oakland defense could look a lot better by the end of the year than by the beginning.

Oakland GM Nick Tomanelli appears to have his run perfectly timed… He’ll give Manning, Welker, and the Denver oldsters another year or two – but when the sun sets on their empire, he’ll have one of his own to raise.

Back soon with the final two divisions and my playoff picks – in the  meantime, what do you think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know below!

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

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

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

Who will win?  I’m so glad you asked…

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

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

 

Predictions – NFC North:

Detroit Lions

Owner: Michael Seraphim

2013 Record: 9-7

RDR 2014 Projection: 13-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Green Bay Packers

Owner: Matt Minelli

2013 Record: 13-3 (Won Super Bowl)

RDR 2014 Projection: 12-4

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

And I blame it on the draft picks.

 

Chicago Bears

Owner: Howard Roher

2013 Record: 10-6

RDR 2014 Projection: 9-7

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Minnesota Vikings

Owner: Pedro Fiadeiro

2013 Record: 3-13

RDR 2014 Projection: 4-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NFC East

New York Giants

Owner: Chris Adamson

2013 Record: 1-15

RDR 2014 Projection: 12-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Philadelphia Eagles

Owner: Mike Stagg

2013 Record: 12-4

RDR 2014 Projection: 12-4

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

But even then, you can’t forget about…

 

Dallas Cowboys

Owner: Robert Walters

2013 Record: 9-7

RDR 2014 Projection: 10-6

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

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

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

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

 

Washington Redskins

Owner: Matt Finn

2013 Record: 7-9

RDR 2014 Projection: 5-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Deal Report: Sure-to-be Polarizing Pre-Season/Post-Draft Power Rankings

You asked (well, some of you anyway) and you shall receive. Here is a completely legitimate and 100 percent correct ranking of all 30 Real Deal Dynasty NBA teams by me, the bigmouth who owns the Atlanta Hawks. I’m very excited at the prospect of my first writeup here being one that will piss people off. So, without further ado, here you have it: the 2014 Post-Draft Power Rankings.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
PG: Trey Burke
SG: Jodie Meeks
G: Randy Foye
SF: LeBron
PF: Melo
F: Draymond Green
C: Markieff Morris
Flx: Devin Harris
Bench: Zaza Pachulia, Sergey Karasev, Jeremy Evans, Gal Mekel, Jeff Withey

 

We all knew who No. 1 would be. Seriously, who let this guy end up with LeBron AND Melo?! That seemed to be the theme of the draft. Like, who let him pick up Foye and Devin Harris in round 5?! While the Cavs lack a true big man (which makes a difference in this league) other than the heralded Zaza Pachulia, depth on the wings will likely more than make up for it. Dray and Kieff are especially solid picks who I expect to continue to develop (plus, I love me some combo forwards). Meeks, if he can do half of what he did last season in LA, paired with Burke, forms a nice backcourt. The Cavs somehow finagled their way into five draft picks in the first two rounds and put them to good use. Well done. Just like in real life, it’s Eastern Conference Finals or bust for Cleveland.
2. Memphis Grizzlies

PG: Mike Conley
SG: Eric Bledsoe
G: Arron Afflalo
SF: DeMarre Carroll
PF: Jared Sullinger
F: Vinsanity
C: Marc Gasol
Flx: Hollis Thompson
Bench: Shelvin Mack, Chase Budinger, Quincy Pondexter
Up and down, this is just a solid, solid roster. The big question mark right now is Eric Bledsoe, depending on what happens with him, roster-wise, but he should be a good contributor no matter where he goes. I’m looking down the rest of this roster and just thinking every pick was a great one. Sullinger is due for a breakout year. Afflalo is coming off a career season and is probably the No. 1 scoring option in Denver, maybe behind Gallinari. Carroll made big strides last year and is now in his prime. Vince just keeps morphing his game and staying relevant. Shelvin Mack is a definite breakout candidate as long as he stays ahead of Dennis Schroder on the depth chart. Hollis Thompson could be a nice little scoring option for Philly with Thad Young gone. And of course Conley and Gasol are solid. I was tempted to give Memphis the nod at the top rank, but the sheer starpower of LeBron and Melo forced my hand – plus Memphis has a lack of bigs.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Alphabet
G: Ray McCallum
SF: Thad Young
PF: John Henson
F: Glen Rice Jr
C: Iblocka
Flx: Troy Daniels
Bench: Brandon Rush, Lavoy Allen, Justin Hamilton
The Bucks are a team with a lot of interesting young talent. Even guys who you’d think of as “veterans” like Thad Young and Serge Ibaka are still young (26 and 24, respectively). Giannis Antejekdoenspjdbeodpo is one of the players who is the envy of the league right now just for his sheer potential and freakish physical nature alone. Kyrie’s assists are going to go way up now that he actually has talented forwards to pass to, making him a prime candidate for a lot of those coveted double-doubles – even if it means he won’t be a 20 points per game guy anymore. There are a lot of young “project” guys on this team that I think are all going to work out. Henson is monstrous in low post defense, Rice is a Summer League stud, the tiny McCallum has a chance to step in and somewhat replicate a little bit of what Isaiah Thomas did last year, and who can forget Troy Daniels’ playoff heroics? There’s a big knock on this team, and it’s that they don’t have enough true bigs, but Milwaukee more or less had a great draft and now has an awesome foundation not only for the future, but for right now, as well. This team took a lot of risks that I think will all pay off.
4. Los Angeles Lakers

PG: Linsanity
SG: Dion Waiters
G: Ben McLemore
SF: Gerald Green
PF: Kevin Durant
F: Jordan Hill
C: Roy “Playoffs” Hibbert
Flx: Marco Belinelli
Bench: Norris Cole’s Flat Top, Big Baby, Ian Mahinmi, Jimmer Fredette, Nick Collison
The Lakers did the impossible and acquired Kevin Durant in a trade. Just wow. Not only that, but they managed to build a solid roster around him. LA kept the right two players in Hill and Lin; Hill should get more playing time can be a good 10-and-10 guy. LA also has two talented young scorers at the two-guard spot in Waiters and McLemore, and Green is also a very good pickup considering how far he fell in the draft. There are also a number of wild card type players on this squad in Hibbert (will he step up with Paul George out?), Belinelli (will he be the prime beneficiary of the inevitable Manu Ginobili DNPs?), Cole (what if Chalmers and Shabazz Napier both crap out?) and Big Baby Davis (seriously, what IS this guy?). Los Angeles is a high-potential team with a nice combination of effective, in-their-prime players and young talents.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Tony Allen
G: Jarrett Jack
SF: Corey Brewer
PF: Kevin Love
F: ZBo
C: Nikola Pekovic
Flx: Matt Barnes

Bench: Austin Rivers, Caron Butler

Well, taking a flyer on the Wolves paid off as Kevin Love will remain in Minnesota, at least in Real Deal. Love was far and away the best player in this format last year, but how will his change of scenery impact his box scores?imgres
His scoring will obviously take a hit playing with LeBron, Kyrie and Waiters, but he’s still the best rebounder on the team – so don’t expect too much of a plunge and expect plenty of double-doubles. Combine him with ZBo and Pekovic and Minnesota has the best frontcourt trio in this league. Teague is solid and good for the occasional double-double. Jack, though his contract is expensive, will probably improve from last year in Brooklyn. Tony Allen, Corey Brewer and Matt Barnes are all decent wing players, and Rivers is worth taking a chance on. No. 5 might be a bit high for this team, but that trio of bigs is hard to ignore.
6. Portland Trail Blazers

PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Jimmy Buckets
G: Tony Snell
SF: Terrence Ross
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
F: “How Could You Be” Mo Harkless
C: JaVale McGee
Flx: Tiago Splitter

Bench: Prof. Andre Miller, Quincy Miller, Tony Mitchell, Alexey Shved

Lillard and LMA provide a great foundation for this team, and Portland used the draft to acquire even more young talent. Butler and Ross are simply a fantastic duo on the wings, as both are due for increased production this season. Harkless is in a bit of a logjam with all of the forwards Orlando has but seems to have command on the starting spot at SF. Snell is reportedly much improved. The big question marks for Portland are in the frontcourt. McGee could be great, but the Shaqtin’ a Fool All-Star could also be a complete zero again this year, even if he’s healthy. And although Splitter has a hold on the starting job for now, I can see the Spurs sliding Tim Duncan over to center to give Boris Diaw and Kyle Anderson more playing time. Plus, he’s a pretty poor rebounder for a 7-footer. Still, though, LMA and Lillard are both dynamite and the rest of the group has enough potential to warrant the No. 6 spot.
7. Los Angeles Clippers

PG: CP3
SG: Courtney Lee
G: Kyle Korver
SF: Anthony Bennett
PF: Blake “TV” Griffin
F: Spencer Hawes
C: Sammy Dalembert
Flx: Aaron Brooks, Anthony Tolliver, Jamaal Franklin, Aron Baynes
Both LA teams in the top 10! Even with CP3 and Blake Griffin, I think this team kind of slipped under people’s radars. When healthy, both of those guys are absolute studs, and LA picked up a lot of interesting role players as well. We all know Hawes took fantasy hoops by storm last season, and even in a diminished role he’ll still get good playing time under Doc Rivers because of the Clippers’ lack of depth at center. Dalembert is a potential 10-and-10 guy on a lot of nights, if he doesn’t get tired. Aaron Brooks could do what DJ Augustin did in Chicago, leading an awesome second unit for the Bulls if Thibs plays him and Kirk Hinrich together. The Anthony Bennett pick looks like an ingenious one now that he’ll actually be able to play for a coach who will let him play more than 5 minutes a game. And Korver and Courtney Lee are two underrated shooters who can still contribute. LA has a really good squad here – No. 7 might actually be too low.
8. Atlanta Hawks

PG: Reggie Jackson
SG: JJ Redick
G: Shaun Livingston
SF: MKG
PF: Al Horford
F: Paul Millsap
C: Dwight
Flx: Jason Smith

Bench: Nikola Mirotic, Nate Rob, Damjan Rudez Yeah, you knew it was coming eventually. So what if I’m biased? If they all stay healthy, the trio of Dwight, Horford and Trillsap is one to truly be feared. Of course, health is the biggest question for my team. I have a ton of guys – Redick, Livingston, Horford, Howard, Jason Smith, Nate Robinson – with significant injury history. But if everything falls into place, this is a good squad. A combination of not supremely old veterans (Howard, Horford, Millsap, Smith, Robinson, Redick) and young talents (Mirotic, Reggie Jackson, MKG) puts Atlanta in a pretty good spot right now and for the future. Go ahead, laugh all you want!

9. Miami Heat

PG: Darren Collison
SG: Goran Dragic
G: Alec “Not Trey” Burks
SF: Iggy
PF: Bosh
F: Marvin Williams
C: Jonas Valanciunas
Flx: Brandan Wright

Bench: Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike “Dunder Mifflin” Scott I must admit, I’m not as high on this Heat team as a lot of other people seem to be. The talent is there, but I project many of these guys to be in diminished roles with key additions to their teams, including Dragic (Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Ennis and the newly-established diva Bledsoe), Alec Burks (Dante Exum, Rodney Hood), Marvin Williams (Noah Vonleh, plus Cody Zeller is already there), Brandan Wright (Tyson Chandler, Ivan Johnson), and Mike Scott (the return of Horford). Darren Collison was a good pick, but also one I thought was overrated by some people. He has the starting job, but he’s always been an erratic player and Ray McCallum is knocking on the door after having a great April/May. Iguodala is a shadow of himself (at least in fantasy) with a bad contract. The bright spots on this team are Bosh and Valanciunas, who will both take a big step up this season, and Bojan Bogdanovic, who I think will shine when Kirilenko inevitably gets hurt. Like I said, the talent is there, but there are too many question marks for me to rank Miami any higher (though No. 9 is pretty darn good).

10. Phoenix Suns

PG: Westbrook
SG: Brandon Knight
G: Isaiah “Not Isiah Thomas” Thomas
SF: Xavier Henry
PF: Taj Gibson
F: Kris “Kardashian” Humphries
C: Amir Johnson
Flx: Rodney Stuckey

Bench: Jeff Taylor, Shawne Williams, Jon Leuer, Mike Miller

Mike Miller controversy aside mike_miller, Phoenix has assembled a great team. Pulling off a trade for Westbrook was absolutely brilliant and probably a necessary move to stay competitive given the whole not-being-able-to-keep-Eric-Bledsoe situation. Phoenix capitalized on a few guys that fell way too far in the draft – Taj Gibson and Amir Johnson, specifically – and filled out the roster with guys who I think will really perform. Someone has to do all the scoring in Indiana, and I think Stuckey will carry a lot of that load. Humphries has an awful contract, but I expect him to put up New Jersey-esque numbers once Nene inevitably goes down with an injury. A lot of Phoenix’s success will hinge on Brandon Knight and what kind of role he plays under Jason Kidd, but the Suns are overall a really solid group.
11. Sacramento Kings

PG: Jamal Crawford
SG: Kobe
G: Jordan “Kobe” Farmar
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: DeMarcus Cousins
F: CJ Miles
C: Robin Lopez
Flx: Henry Sims
Bench: Luke Babbitt

This is a team with moxie, folks. Taking Kobe in round 3 was probably the biggest surprise of the draft. You have to respect the no-fear, win-now attitude. Who knows what Kobe will be this year? Boogie Cousins was a top-3 player last season and the dynamic duo have a very nice supporting cast of shooters. Gay was very effective in Sacramento last year and Robin Lopez flourished in his new role in Portland. This team also lacks depth due to skipping out on a few picks late in the draft, but still has some cap space to sign a couple of free agents. A lot of this team’s success is going to hinge on Kobe – Sacramento invested a top pick and nearly half of its salary cap in him – but if it pays off, it’ll pay off big. Kings are perhaps the ultimate wild card in this league.

12. San Antonio Spurs

PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Kawhi Leonard
G: Trevor Ariza
SF: James Ennis
PF: Tim Duncan
F: Nerlens Noel
C: Kosta Koufos
Flx: Kyle O’Quinn
Bench: Steve Nash, Jae Crowder, Quincy Acy
This is a strong squad, but I wouldn’t call it elite. There are a lot of guys here who you look at and say, “Yeah, that was a really good pick,” but there’s no denying that there’s just something missing from this team to put it over the top. Kawhi is one of the most dynamic young players in the NBA and the Spurs are lucky to have him. James Ennis and Nerlens are also fantastic pickups – but in the NBA, they are basically unknowns. Both are risks – especially going for Nerlens in round one – but both ones that will probably pay off. I think Ariza will fall off a lot from last year, and Duncan at this age is always a question mark. I just don’t know how long he can keep it up, but then again people started saying that years ago. This team probably should be in the top 10, but there are just a few iffy things here. Overall, though, a great team.
13. Toronto Drakes Raptors
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: DeMar DeRozan
G: Jameer Nelson
SF: Swaggy P
PF: David West
F: 2Pat
C: Marcin Gortat
Flx: Lou Williams
Bench: Manu Ginobili, DeJuan Blair, Chuck Hayes, Vitor Faverani, The Ghost of James Anderson

I think it’s admirable that this team is trying to acquire as many Raptors as he can. Good luck trying to get Valanciunas, though. This was one of those teams that was able to keep two really good players and have a lot of cap space. Toronto flexed its wallet with West and Ginobili, both of whom I think will have good years. West is now the No. 1 guy in Indiana – I still have no idea why he fell as far in the draft as he did. I expect 16-18 points and close to 10 rebounds. Gortat and Swaggy P are also very nice pickups that will make a real difference on this team. Maybe No. 13 is too low for this team, but then again…he’ll find out eventually. Right? 152063287_Rockets_Nuggets_Ellwood_163

14. Houston Rockets
PG: Bricky Rubio
SG: James Harden
G: Rio
SF: Wes Matthews
PF: Harrison Barnes
F: Boris Diaw
C: Timofey Mozgov
Flx: Marcus “Is Also a” Morris
Bench: Marcus Thornton, Mo Williams, Birdman, Marquis Teague, Festus Ezeli, Lucas Nogueira, Tibor Pleiss
These middle teams are really hard to rank – 10-15 could be pretty interchangeable – but I see the Rockets trending more toward mediocrity than greatness. Houston has a lot of great guards – Harden, Rubio, Matthews – but a lack of presence in the frontcourt will be an issue. It’ll be hard to compete with Diaw and Mozgov as your starting bigs, and especially in the stacked West, I don’t see the Rockets making the playoffs. I really, really love the pickups of Birdman, Ezeli and Nogueira, though. This team is deep – one of the deepest in the league – but I have a feeling that quality is going to go further than quantity in Real Deal basketball.
15. Orlando Magic

PG: Victor Oladipo
SG: PJ “Super Extreme” Tucker
G: Evan Fournier
SF: Mike Dunleavy
PF: Greg Monroe
F: Nikola Vucevic
C: Pau Gasol
Flx: Nene
Bench: Kirk Hinrich, Chris Kaman, Alan Anderson, Pablo Prigioni, Reggie Evans
Orlando surprised everyone by taking Monroe first overall, but on thinking about it, the pick made sense. It left the Magic with still a ton of cap space, which enabled the team to pick up guys like Pau Gasol and Nene later on without even sniffing at their contracts. Oladipo and Vucevic are two terrific young players who are only going to continue to get better and better. Dunleavy and Tucker may be out of jobs come January or so due to new faces on their teams, but Orlando’s strong bench should make up for it somewhat. The Magic have one of the best bench squads in the league and a pretty good starting rotation. I see them as a playoff team.
16. Utah Jazz

PG: George Hill
SG: Nic Batum
G: Gordon Hayward
SF: Danilo Gallinari
PF: Ryan Anderson
F: James Johnson
C: Derrick Favors
Flx: Gary Neal
Bench: Alexis Ajinca, Will Bynum, Andre Roberson, Pero Antic, Patty Mills
I really like this team, but I just don’t see the necessary star power to lift this team into the playoffs – especially in a stacked West. Hayward, Batum, Anderson and Favors are all obviously great, but none of them are what I’d call elite. This team will also run into some trouble due to its lack of true bigs. Patty Mills will be a nice little boost in February, but by then I fear it might be too late. This team has a lot of shooters (read: white guys), 1264016716-whitebasketballteamand it’s tough to rank a team with so many good talents in the bottom half, but this team’s lack of versatility and depth in the frontcourt will end up being an issue for Utah. They’ll miss the playoffs, but just barely.

17. Dallas Mavericks
PG: Monta Ellis
SG: Lantz Stephenson
G: Tony Parker
SF: Chandler Parsons
PF: Tyler Hansbrough
F: Icons8-Ios7-Messaging-SadIcons8-Ios7-Messaging-SadIcons8-Ios7-Messaging-Sad-1Sad-face
C: Andy Varejao
Flx: Grevis Vasquez

Bench: Shane Larkin Dallas goofed in a couple of major ways. First, they cannot currently fill out their roster and there are two open spots in the starting eight. Second, the team must drop Thanasis. ANTETOKOUNMPO_THANASIS While these two transgressions are worthy of dropping this team a long way, Dallas does have a lot of really good pieces here and actually quite a strong group of players at the top. The Mavs are super deep at the guard spots (even if this dude keeps calling him Montell Ellis) – like probably deepest in the league. Another problem this team has is that its only reliable big man is Varejao, and I use the word “reliable” loosely because he gets injured all the time. This is a weird team that had a chance to be a lot better, but we’ll see how the season plays out.

18. Detroit Pistons

PG: Brandon Jennings
SG: Gerald Henderson
G: Raymond Felton
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
PF: Tristan Thompon
F: Jeff Adrien
C: Andre Drummond
Flx: Thabo Sefolosha
Bench: Prince Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Jonas Jerekbo, Casper Ware
A lot of guys in crowded situations here. Felton has to compete with Nelson and Harris, Henderson just lost his gig to Lance Stephenson, Aminu will have to fight for time against Crowder, Jefferson, Parsons and Eric Griffin, Thompson just lost his spot to Love, Adrien will contend with Jones, Dorsey and Powell, and Sefolosha is stuck behind Korver, Bazemore and Carroll. Still, though, the Pistons have a double-double machine in Drummond and another double-double guy in Jennings. In the East, it’s good enough for the playoffs. But this is more a team of role players and bench guys than anything – solid, but not world-beaters.
19. Denver Nuggets

PG: Ty Lawson
SG: CJ McCollum
G: Brian Roberts
SF: Josh Smith
PF: Manimal
F: Big Bad KG
C: Olynyk
Flx: Danny Granger
Bench: Donatas Motiejuanas, Darrell Arthur, Beno Udrih, Jorge Gutierrez
There are a lot of draft picks I liked here and some I really wasn’t a fan of (KG, Granger, Smith). Lawson and Faried are a great setup, and Denver added some nice role players, but I don’t see this team as being elite. Pretty good, but not good enough for a playoff run. The Nuggets are just kind of missing something. If they had one superstar, maybe they’d be a great team, but for now they look slightly better than mediocre. I think overall Denver’s biggest problem is that it reached too early on prospects (McCollum, Olynyk, D-Mo).
20. Oklahoma City Thunder

PG: Jose Calderon
SG: Kevin Martin
G: Matthew Dellavedova
SF: Luol Deng
PF: McBob
F: Tobias Harris
C: David Lee
Flx: Paul Pierce
Bench: Gorgui Dieng, Carl Landry, Isaiah Canaan, Reggie Bullock, Ricky Ledo
I’ll say this: it takes some kind of confidence to take OKC with the first pick in the franchise draft and then trade away both of your franchise players, especially when they’re KD and Westbrook. To me, giving away those guys just isn’t worth it. Instead of having a team built around KD and Westbrook, it’s now built around Deng and David Lee. Definitely a downgrade. Also quite a few reaches in the draft – Dieng, McRoberts and Landry come to mind. A couple of nice late-round picks somewhat redeem the Thunder (Calderon, Pierce, Dellavedova), but I ultimately don’t see much in this team.
21. Brooklyn Nets

PG: D-Will
SG: Tyreke Evans
G: Ish Smith
SF: Iman Shumpert
PF: Ed Davis
F: Thomas Robinson
C: Brook Lopez
Flx: Steven Adams
Bench: Ryan Kelly, CJ Watson, John Jenkins
I’ll say this about the Nets: they have a lot more draft picks in Real Deal than in the NBA, and that’s a good thing because this team needs to hit a couple of home runs on rookies. As a Nets fan myself, I have to say I hate Deron Williams and think his career is over, but Brooklyn didn’t have much of a choice but to keep him. Hopefully Lopez will bounce back and resume his status as the best offensive center in the NBA. The guy simply imposed his will on teams last year before breaking his foot. Robinson, Davis and Adams are two nice young guys to add depth to the frontcourt, and Evans I think will have a big year this year. In a really weak East, this team is good enough to make the playoffs, but just barely. This team is also in a position to get both Parker and Embiid, which obviously is pretty good I guess. The Nets just might make something out of themselves this year. And if not, they’ve got a decent setup for the future.
22. Chicago Bulls

PG: D-Rose
SG: Eric Gordon
G: Archie Goodwin
SF: Kirilenko
PF: Omer Asik
F: Tyler Zeller
C: Alex Len
Flx: Joakim Noah
Bench: Chris Copeland, Livio Jean-Charles
Even with a healthy Derrick Rose, I see the Bulls on the outside looking in in the playoff picture. Noah is one of the most solid dudes in the NBA and Asik should return to his nightly double-doubles now that he’s out from under Dwight’s shadow, but the rest of the team is kind of a mess. Eric Gordon can’t stay healthy and has a brutal contract. Archie Goodwin is stuck behind Dragic, Thomas, probably Bledsoe, Tyler Ennis, Gerald Green and PJ Tucker. Alex Len is a total unknown and also an injury risk. Zeller is a permanent scrub and will lose a lot of playing time to the quickly-developing Faverani and Olynyk. Maybe Rose will be good enough to carry them into a possible 8th seed, but I don’t see it. Maybe things go right for this team, though. Maybe Kirilenko has a bounceback year. Maybe Copeland does well filling in for George. Maybe Jean-Charles turns into something. Maybe this is Gordon’s year after all, or Len’s. We’ll see, Bulls. We’ll see.
23. New Orleans Pelicans

PG: Jrue Holiday
SG: Jared Dudley
G: Cory Joseph
SF: Ersan Ilyasova
PF: Larry Sanders
F: Andrea Bargnani
C: Anthony Davis
Flx: Dorell Wright
Bench: Shabazz Muhammad, Kostas Papanikolaou, Nick Calathes, Austin Daye
I really don’t like ranking a team with AD on it this low, but I felt I had to. This team had some late-round picks I really liked (Joseph, Muhammad), but the picks in the earlier rounds were puzzling. Ilyasova is the league’s ultimate “fool me once” player and Sanders is a total wild card who had one good season. We all know AD is the next superstar in the NBA, but other than Holiday, I don’t know if his supporting cast will be enough to get things done. Plus, Bargnani.
24. Golden State Warriors

PG: Steph Curry
SG: KCP
G: Klay Thompson
SF: #Fearza
PF: Mason Plumlee
F: Khris Middleton
C: Amar’e “Contract” Stoudemire
Flx: Jason Thompson
Bench: JJ Barea, Jerryd Bayless, Anthony Randolph, Marreese Speights
There were some gutsy picks here, most notably Plumlee in the first round and Stoudemire in any round. With a solid foundation like Steph and Klay, Golden State could have been a win-now team while also building for the future. Instead, the Warriors opted for prospects and, as a result, have only a few players that can make a significant impact this year. As a Nets fan myself, I’ll be rooting for Mirza and Plumdog to make big improvements in 2014, but I just don’t know how much I can see it. KCP is an afterthought in Detroit’s suddenly-crowded backcourt and Middleton is being booted by Jabari Parker, so I don’t see much coming from any of those guys. Thompson might turn out to be a sneaky good pick. Now that Quincy Acy is gone, his only real competition for playing time is Carl Landry (no, Reggie Evans doesn’t count). This is a “who knows” type of team, but one that I don’t see making much noise in 2014.
25. Washington Wizards

PG: John Wall
SG: Bradley Beal
G: DWade
SF: Wes Johnson
PF: Luis Scola
F: Alonzo Gee
C: Tyson Chandler
Flx: OJ Mayo
Bench: Udonis Haslem, Brandon Davies
It’s truly difficult to rank a backcourt as talented as Washington’s this low, but there are glaring issues elsewhere for the Wizards. Wall and Beal are about as good a 1-2 punch as you’ll find at PG and SG, but the supporting cast is fairly weak. D-Wade is only getting older, and his knees doubly so. Scola, even with George’s injury, will remain a low-impact guy in the second unit. Mayo has been an utter bum in Milwaukee. Chandler should be solid, at least maybe for this year, but other than him, this team doesn’t have a true bruising big and that hurts in this league.
26. Charlotte Hornets

PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Avery Bradley
G: Tony Wroten
SF: Otto Porter Jr.
PF: Big Al
F: Martell Webster
C: Enes Kanter
Flx: Andrew Bogut
Bench: Bismack Biyombo, Perry Jones, Arnett Moultrie
There are good pieces here – Kemba, Big Al, Wroten, Avery Bradley – but this team is not deep and there were a few questionable picks. Al, Bradley, Kanter, Otto Porter and Bogut all have injury histories, so there’s risk there. Plus, there was the infamous instant regret after taking Porter in round 3. Biyombo is pretty much a complete bust now and Webster is going to miss the first couple months, and even when he comes back, does he have a job in Washington’s rotation? I do like the Wroten pick a lot, though – nobody on the Sixers is as pure a scorer as he is. If these pieces turn out to perform, I’ll be completely wrong about this team. Unfortunately, I just don’t see the whole season going by without a lot of injuries to the Hornets.
27. Philadephia 76ers

PG: MCW
SG: Anthony Morrow
G: Luke Ridnour
SF: Danny Green
PF: Channing Frye
F: Chris Johnson
C: Dirk
Flx: Wilson Chandler
Bench: Robert Sacre, Will Barton, Elliot Williams, Nemanja Nedovic, Cole Aldrich
Losing that first round pick hurts. Period. In a 30-team league, it’s going to be impossible to recover from that, at least this season. I did question keeping Thad Young over Nerlens Noel at the time, but Philly did get a nice haul in trading him away. Very shrewd move. This is not a complete team, but there are some good players here. Dirk, even now in his swan song years, is a great player, and Wilson Chandler and Anthony Morrow are really nice role players on this squad. The rest of the team, though, is questionable.
28. New York Knicks

PG: Patrick Beverly
SG: Tim Hardaway Jr
G: Joe Jesus
SF: JR Smith
PF: Miles Plumlee
F: Cody Zeller
C: DeAndre Jordan
Flx: Carlos Boozer
Bench: Nate Wolters, Trevor Booker, Andrew Nicholson, Jeff Ayres, Victor Claver
A puzzling team, to say the least. The decision to ditch Melo, a top-10 player in this league, in order to keep chuckers JR Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr., was a head-scratcher. It became even more of a head-scratcher when the Knicks drafted Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer for a total of over $36 million a year – especially when New York booted Melo for having a pricy contract and being 30 years old (Joe and Carlos are 33 and 32, for those keeping score). But remember what they always say: you get what you pay for, unless you’re paying for Joe Johnson. Still, New York did salvage some nice picks in this draft. DeAndre Jordan is obviously a great player in this league, and Miles Plumlee and Patrick Beverly were both terrific pickups on cheap deals. The strategy here was inconsistent, but there are some nice pieces here. Could’ve been a top 15 team with Melo, who New York didn’t even get anything back for via a trade.
29. Boston Celtics

PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Jeff Green
G: Kyle Singler
SF: Derrick Williams
PF: Terrence Jones
F: Brandon Bass
C: JJ Hickson
Flx: Steve Blake
Bench: Phil Pressey, DJ Augustin, Drew Gooden
Boston as a franchise was a perplexing pick at No. 4 overall. Rondo is a big question mark and Green had a pretty awful season last year. The best pick by the Celtics was Terrence Jones, but other than that, I don’t see too much here. Brandon Bass is really nothing special. Neither is Singler. Derrick Williams is a dud and Hickson is logjammed in a stacked Denver frontcourt with Faried, Mozgov, McGee, Nurkic and Darrell Arthur all clamoring for minutes. Boston also has just one rookie pick – the 27th overall. From my perspective, at least, the outlook is grim for the Celtics this year. Plus his pick got skipped for seemingly no reason, which was definitely a bummer.
30. Indiana Pacers

PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Jeremy Lamb
G: Carrick Felix
SF: Solomon Hill
PF: Meyers Leonard
F:
C: Rudy Gobert
Flx: Mike Muscala
Bench: hope?
Brutal. What crappy luck to start off ownership of this team. My condolences go out to Indy, but the Pacers did the right thing by going into full-on tank mode. Indiana now owns 5 rookie picks, including the first overall. Will it be Jabari or Wiggins? Perhaps Indy will complete the tank and go for Embiid? Any of them would pair nicely with a healthy Paul George in 2015. There are also a couple of good prospects here – namely Lamb and Gobert. If the Pacers do well in the rookie draft, they have a great future – but for now, this team is the bottom of the barrel.
images
And that makes this the projected playoff bracket:
EAST
1. Cleveland v. 8. Brooklyn
2. Milwaukee v. 7 Pistons
3. Atlanta v. 6. Orlando
4. Miami v. 5. Toronto
WEST
1. Memphis v. 8. San Antonio
2. Lakers v. 7. Sacramento
3. Minnesota v. 6. Phoenix
4. Portland v. 5. Clippers
So once again the West is a LOT better than the East. Just like in real life. Houston, Dallas and Utah will just miss the cutoff, according to my extremely scientific and precise calculations. They’d be the 5 and 6 seeds in the East, respectively. Oof.
There you have it. Again, completely legitimate and everything. But, of course, your comments are welcome and encouraged. Let me know how wrong I am!

Real Deal Report: 2014 Predictions – NFC South and NFC West

Are you ready for some football?  This is the time of year when I become irrationally excited about football.  I salivate for those first pre-season games.  I sit in front of the TV, rubbing my hands together, excited to learn all I can from the Hall of Fame game and other pre-season games.  I’m on the edge of my seat as the starting QB hands the ball off three times and then goes to the bench.  I drink in those snaps like a man dying of thirst drinks Miller Light.

Finish Reading: Real Deal Report: 2014 Predictions – NFC South and NFC West

I suspend disbelief and pretend that I can actually learn something from those snaps.  That I can actually tell

Here's to you sir.  Welcome back.  For now.
Here’s to you sir. Welcome back. For now.

something about what’s going to happen about the season from the Hall of Fame Game (besides that Chris Collinsworth will annoy me before the season is over – that’s ironclad prophesy that never disappoints).

In the same vein, I present to you year #2 of the Real Deal Reports predictions!  This is the time where I pretend I know what I’m talking about and guess what will happen during the year.

But this year, as an added bonus, I’m KEEPING TRACK!  So we’ll see how close I got at the end of the year (Prediction: not close), and who underachieved and overachieved the most.

Since everything always starts with the AFC East, we’re going in the reverse order this year, beginning with the NFC West and South.  I’ll aim to post a pair of divisions pseudo-weekly until the season starts, ending with predictions for playoffs, players of the year, fantasy rookies of the year, and random nonsense.

So without further ado, here we go!

Predictions – NFC South:

New Orleans Saints

Owner Craig Ackerman

2013 Record: 15-1 (Lost NFC Championship Game)

RDR 2014 Projection: 13-3

It’s been a devastating off-season in the Bayou. Kiko Alonso goes down for the year. Robert Mathis is suspended for the first four games. Mardi Gras isn’t happening right now.  And these developments lead to question marks for the loaded Saints – can Khiry Robinson step up as both returner and back? Can Keshawn Martin, Nate Washington, and Golden Tate really be enough to win a championship? Who really invented the Po’boy?  Why hasn’t it caught on outside of New Orleans as the best damn sandwich around?

http://blogs.buffalobills.com/2013/09/30/from-the-fans-thelegendofkikoalonso/
Kiko got injured because he wanted to win with his mind.  #thelegendofkikoalonso http://blogs.buffalobills.com/2013/09/30/from-the-fans-thelegendofkikoalonso/

Who cares?!? The Saints, with much the same cast, scored the most points in the league last year with 3665, outscoring Super Bowl Champion Green Bay by more than 300 points. Let me put that in context – New Orleans averaged more than 20 POINTS PER GAME more than the next closest team. For reference, by the way – the league average was 2700. Which means that the Saints outscored an average team by more than SIXTY points per game.

So what do all these questions and disasters mean? That New Orleans may need until after the 3rd week of real time to wrap up a first week bye in the playoffs. The only question that remains for the Saints is this – can they win the whole thing this time?

Big props to owner Craig Ackerman for his outstanding defensive acumen. He laid the foundation last year with defensive draft picks and free-agent pick-ups, and is at it again this year, grabbing defensive bargains in Clinton McDonald, Sealiver Siliga, and Rafael Bush.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Owner: Waterman

2013 Record: 8-8

RDR 2014 Projection: 10-6

Tampa Bay is the early leader for “Most likely to get completely screwed by playing in the NFC”, taking over the title from the 2013 Lions. This is a good team. On offense, expect a bounce back for the Muscle Hamster and big years from Vincent Jackson and Peyton Manning’s latest boy-toy, Emmanuel Sanders. Tampa’s four franchise defenders (Lavonte David, Mark Barron, Dashon Goldson, and Adrian Clayborn) combined for 52 points per game last year. The worst starter of the bunch? Darrelle Revis. And the Bucs only got stronger, spending a first round pick on Jadaveon Clowney and bringing in 12 PPG stud defensive tackle Gerald McCoy?  Make no mistake, this is an AFC playoff team with or without a strong year from Mike Glennon.

But the NFC is not the AFC. One reason is because one has an N in front of the FC and the other has an A. That’s actually the biggest reason. But the other is because one is spectacular and the other is terrible.

Check it (you can tell I’m big-time now because I’m linking to my own stuff!): http://www.realdealdynasty.com/?p=149 Don’t worry. I’m totally cool if you all want to tell the ladies you knew me when.

The problem is that even with a big year from Glennon, the Bucs are boxed in like Tony Stewart at every NASCAR race he doesn’t win. Except that the Bucs are ACTUALLY boxed in and Stewart just whines that he is. New Orleans is winning this division. And that leaves Tampa Bay competing with at least 5 of Dallas, NYG, Philly, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, San Francisco, and Seattle for two playoff spots. It’s a tall order, and I can’t see it happening. Everybody say hello to the Phoenix Suns of RDFL.

 

Atlanta Falcons

Owner: Zach Wydick

2013 Record: 1-15

RDR 2014 Projection: 7-9

A big welcome aboard to new owner Zach Wydick, who has done some nice work with the Falcons this off-season.   This Falcons team is going to be a LOT better than last year’s edition. For one, Julio Jones and Roddy White are likely to play football. Geno Smith will be better (unless Vick takes the job from him), Larry Fitzgerald will be better (unless Michael Floyd takes over from him), Chris Polk should rack up the yards in Philly (unless Shady McCoy gets 83 carries per game), and Zac Stacy should be a workhorse in St. Louis (unless Tre Mason takes his job).

The defense should also see improvement. Akiem Hicks is a monster in the making (see below for some pre-season footage of Akiem Hicks), Shea McClellin might FINALLY take that step, and the Falcons front seven should compete with anyone in football, even with Sean Weatherspoon already done for the year.

It’s a much better team. But it’s not better enough to go from worst to a playoff berth, particularly not in this divison and this conference. A second place finish is possible for this team, and it wouldn’t shock me if the Falcons are more competitive than anyone expects – but 8-8 is the ceiling as the Falcons begin the long climb back to fantasy relevance.

 

Carolina Panthers

Owner: Pedro Canteiro

2013 Record: 10-6

RDR 2014 Projection: 6-10

Carolina was spectacular in tight games last year, eeking out multiple contests by less than a single point. Unfortunately, this 10-6 record masked a 19th place finish in both offensive points and defensive points, suggesting that no team outscored its Pythagorean Expectation (threw that in for you baseball junkies) more than Carolina. Can Carolina’s luck hold up? Signs point to no. Atlanta is going to be better this year, and nobody else is going to be worse.

The Panthers are strong at the top both offensively and defensively with Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly, but the drop off is steep after that.   Only two other players on the entire roster averaged more than 12 PPG last year, and one of them, Marcell Dareus, is embroiled in legal troubles for crashing his Jaguar into a tree. This, of course, was quite silly – the Jaguars are more than capable of crashing themselves without Dareus’s help (see Gabbert, Blaine; Blackmon, Justin; and Sanders, Ace for reference).  In truth, the only surprising thing about Dareus’ crash was that he was not high.

Zach Ertz will take another step forward in Chip Kelly’s high octane offense and Brandon LaFell may become a weapon for Brady – but the Panthers need massive leaps forward from up and coming defenders Bennie Logan, Mike DeVito, and Melvin Ingram and a lot of things to break right to compete for a playoff spot this year.

 

Predictions – NFC West:

Seattle Seahawks

Owner: TJ Bucciero

2013 Record: 11-5 (Lost NFC Divisional Game)

RDR 2014 Projection: 12-4

 

The Seahawks motto for the 2014 off-season can be summed up as “Speak softly and carry a loaded roster.” Few teams have made less noise than the Seahawks, and the moves the Hawks have made have been targeted and efficient. What helps is that much of the roster is poised to step up and improve on strong 2013 campaigns that almost got Seattle to an NFC crown.

On offense, Eric Decker has moved from Peyton’s third option to Geno’s first, which should keep him from falling too far off a cliff in value. Percy Harvin will add tremendous value just by staying on the field, and Marques Colston and Beast Mode should be their reliable selves. The only hole was at tight-end. Enter Jason Witten, brought over in a trade with Arizona. This offense is going to be both high-flying and very expensive. If, for some reason they don’t compete, keeping this group together next year could be a real concern. Don’t expect that to happen, though – this team should be on cruise control in the NFC West.

The one area for owner TJ Bucciero to address is the middle of the defense, which could be a MAJOR problem area for Seattle. The release of Erin Henderson means that the Seahawk linebacking core consists of Bobby Wagner and not much else. And while Wagner is an absolute stud, he can’t play three positions himself. Shayne Skov and Yawin Smallwood may become nice players down the road… but they are not going to help a contender contend this year. The Seahawks need linebacker help in the worst way possible – but with the surplus of linebackers hanging out on other squads right now, they should be able to shore up their lack of defensive depth before the season starts, and be a force in the NFC yet again.

 

San Francisco 49ers

Owner: Steve Peterson

2013 Record: 11-5 (Lost NFC Wild Card Game)

RDR 2014 Projection: 7-9

This is how the schedule feels about the 49ers.  I blame Riley.
This is how the schedule feels about the 49ers. I blame Riley.

Who is Steve Peterson? Who is the masked man behind the San Francisco 49ers? We know four things. He generally seems to be an affable, intelligent, stand-up kinda guy. Second, he was the man who derailed New Orleans undefeated run via Fantrax Shennanigans. Third, he signed Riley “Spawn of Satan” Cooper to the Contract of Darkness (13.66M). And lastly… the schedule HATES him. I mean HATES him.   We’re talking Hatfield – McCoy hatred. We’re talking the kind of hatred the Burger King has for the redhead in the Wendy’s commercial for rejecting him because he’s creepy (which he absolutely is). We’re approaching the way we all feel about Mondays kind of hatred.

The 49ers play New Orleans, Dallas, Denver, Philly, Chicago, Kansas City, Seattle twice, and, through a scheduling quirk (the only two teams to share a bye week and playing each other during the season), the remade Giants twice. That’s a nonsensically difficult schedule. Call it Karma. Call it Fate. Call it whatever you want. I call it the factor that is going to keep SF out of the playoffs this year.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a bad team. Colin Kaepernick, Vernon Davis, Alshon Jeffery, Riley Cooper, and Michael Crabtree will provide plenty of firepower on offense. And a defense anchored by Sheldon Richardson and Aldon Smith is not going to be bad. But this team is YOUNG, and in all likelihood, is primed for a future run, not a present one.

The three best running backs on the roster are rookies (Tre Mason, Ka’Deem Carey, and James White) and none are guaranteed a starting role. Navorro Bowman won’t contribute this year, and strong defensive draftees like Steve Crichton and Preston Brown are also rookies. This is a talented team – but it’s not a team that is ready to compete in a loaded NFC with a deadly schedule.

 

St. Louis Rams

Owner: Gary Megibbon

2013 Record: 2-14

RDR 2014 Projection: 4-12

Everybody expects an NFC West dogfight between Seattle and San Francisco. In the pros. In RDFL. I don’t. I think San Francisco has too much youth and too difficult a schedule to truly challenge Seattle this year. But I do think there’s an NFC West battle to monitor – and that’s between the Rams and the Cardinals for the dubious honor of possessing the worst offense in RDFL.

I give the Cardinals the slight edge in that fight, but the Rams are not far behind. Sam Bradford is the best thing about

Vance McDonald is a guy... eee iii eee iii ooo
Vance McDonald is a guy… eee iii eee iii ooo

this offense. Say that again with me.  SAM BRADFORD is the BEST thing about this offense.  And I can probably stop right there. Rumors suggest that this might be the year that Sam Bradford finally breaks out. That said, I distinctly remember a game in 1990 where San Francisco defender Dana Stubblefield famously commented “Same old Rams. Same old sorry ass Rams.” I believe Sam Bradford was expected to break out that year too. It’s not happening. And after that? Knile Davis is a year or two away from starting. Brandon Gibson and Chris Givens are middling wide-outs who may or may not ascend past #3 on their respective depth charts. Vance McDonald is… errr… Yeah. Vance McDonald is… a guy. And the Law Firm is about to get disbarred from the league.  Get it?  Hah.  Disbarred?  Because his nickname is the Law Firm.  I crack myself up.

I think Bradford to Jared Cook is worth a couple of touchdowns. But not enough to win too many games.

Things are looking up on the defensive side of the ball for the fighting Megibbons, as a strong secondary joins linebacking stud James Laurinitis to anchor a nice back half of the defense.  The secondary also boasts surprising depth, with both Cortland Finnegan and likely Colts starter Delano Howell coming off the bench. It’s the front of the Rams D that will determine whether this team is a push-over or competitive. Last year, linebacking talents Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Sammy Acho, and Nick Perry all severely underachieved. A bounceback year from any or all of them would do wonders for Rams. And on the line, Odrick, Thornton and Robert Ayers are all question marks, with outcomes ranging from stars to substitutes.

End of the day – the Rams defense will be competitive. But the offense is going to be genuinely bad. And in a tough NFC, that’s not a recipe for wins.

 

Arizona Cardinals

Owner: Nathan Reising

2013 Record: 9-7

RDR 2014 Projection: 4-12

Speaking of snake-bit, new Cardinals owner Nathan Reising has to be wishing he moved to a place with fewer rattlesnakes. It seems like they are hanging out all over his house, just waiting to bite him every single time he makes a move.

New Cardinals owner Nathan Reising's ownership experience
New Cardinals owner Nathan Reising’s ownership experience

Reising took over a depleted Cardinals roster that lacked both players and draft picks, and promptly began to rebuild, flipping pieces and moving veterans for youth and picks. In a mad shopping spree, he picked up about 93 players in free agency, and has been able to effectively move them. Gone are Jason Witten and Jacoby Jones, and in are Ace Sanders, Kendall Reyes, Richard Rodgers, Wesley Woodyard, and host of free-agents. Supported by up and coming players ready to break out like Reuben Randle and Bernard Pierce, and anchored by stars like Calais Campbell and Matt Ryan, the Cardinals could have been a competitive team.

But those damn snakes. No sooner had he arrived than Ace Sanders got high, got caught, and left football for rehab. Ray Rice got three smacks with a wet noodle for his heinous crimes and will miss only two games, limiting Bernard Pierce’s breakout potential. And one time super-sleeper Denarius Moore somehow finds himself on the roster bubble, behind such worthies and stalwarts as Rod Streater, Andre Holmes, and the immortal James Jones (I’m dead serious – I’m pretty sure this is the same James Jones from those books about the Wild West – you know, robbing banks and stuff.  I think he might be a god.  A very weak and irrelevant god).

What does this mean? Beyond Matt Ryan and Reuben Randle, nobody on the offense is guaranteed a starting role, and most are not even in competition for one. Unless injuries clear some paths, this offense is likely to be the worst in the league, making it hard to compete in a loaded NFC.

Like in St. Louis, things look much better on the defensive side of the ball, where a number of savvy free-agent pick-ups and trades have transformed this team. Calais Campbell leads the front-liners, and is joined by newcomers Wesley Woodyard in the linebacking core and Barry Church in the secondary. Additionally free agent pick-ups Quinton Dial, Terrance Knighton, Geno Hayes, Spencer Paysinger and Tramaine Brock should all play meaningful minutes. It’s not going to be one of the best defenses of the league, but it will be competitive.

 

What do you all think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Flame away in the comments section – would love to hear what YOU think about what’s going to happen this year!