At this point, it almost feels anticlimactic to play a single week. After getting used to the first few weeks of the year, it seems like our record should change by more than one measly game! But it is singles from here on out, so get used to watching the playoff chase unfold in what seems like agonizingly slow motion.
For some teams (St. Louis, Philly, and Buff leap to mind), that’s a good thing. For other squads (New Orleans, Indy, and the Giants), it seems like a blatant abuse of justice to only get a single win out of a spectacular performance. But there it is.
Game of the Week: New Orleans Saints 240, Dallas Cowboys 234.
How awesome is it that the Game of the Week was really the game of the week? That’s something we’ve seen repeatedly this year – the Prime Time big deal games have lived up to their top billing – and this one was no exception, coming down to a trio of defensive players on Monday night to decide supremacy in the NFC. Or, you could say that it came down to the Punter. Dallas’ offense has been producing at a historic rate so far, with weeks of 95, 145, 139, and 149. That’s disgustingly silly. This week’s defensive effort was a respectable 75. The Saints played a much more balanced game, producing 116 points on offense and 104 on defense. Still, not counting special teams, the Cowboys had the Saints beaten 224-220. Even after including the placekickers, Dallas still led 234-231. So what happened? The Cowboys got a big fat goose egg from Tim Masthay, while the Saints picked up nine points from Mike Scifres.
Yes. That’s what I said. The Cowboys were knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten by their rivals for best team in the NFC by a PUNTER.
New York Giants: Relatively quiet since an opening night showdown with Detroit, the Giants must have been feeling a little bit left out. No longer, as a 261 point explosion gave them high score honors for the week and produced a 110 point divisional win. Long-term, this was also a critical week for the Giants, because it demonstrated that their offense really could keep pace with the big boys. If Eli Manning can transform from the weak link holding the Giants back to a franchise QB who can throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns regularly, the NFC East may not yet be out of reach.
New York Jets: I confess that in absolutely no scenario that my crazy brain concocted when previewing this season did I ever once have the Jets beating Detroit. But not only did they beat the Lions, they scored an extremely respectable 175 points, and did it with only 22 points from the offense. The Jets produced the single best defensive performance of the season to date, and possibly all time, with a 143 point defensive statement. 8/11 defenders scored in double digits, while racking up 64 tackles. Even more encouraging, all four of the Jets franchise players finished with at least 14 points. Gang Green needs to do something about that offense in a hurry, but this week served notice that the Jets are nobody’s pushover.
New Orleans Saints: Remember that time a few weeks ago when the Saints lost by 40 to Pittsburgh and avoided going 0-2 by the same amount of contact required to call defensive holding (In case you were wondering, barely anything). Yeah, those days are gone. The Saints are where we all expected them to be – chilling out atop their conference, already planning for the playoffs, and only looking at the upstart (and possibly soon to be QB-less) Falcons with mild consternation. As expected, it’s been a balanced and consistent effort for the Saints who have scored between 180-240 each week, rank 6th in offense and 5th in defense, and just have the atmosphere of a team that is waiting for the playoffs to really try hard.
Honorable Mention: Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers
Bye Week Performances: Denver 112 over St. Louis 85 and Cincinnati 124 over Seattle 99. I mean, I know it’s bye weeks. I know big, important, irreplaceable franchise guys aren’t playing. But really? 197 and 223 TOTAL points? Three teams outscored these games on their own! A reminder to everyone – bye weeks are PAINFUL. The week’s third and final bye game was not quite so low scoring, but it had its own storyline as the 4-3 Browns fell victim to Arizona’s first win to fall another game behind the Steelers, who seem hell-bent on running away with the division and hiding.
Philadelphia Eagles: More than a few contenders had difficult weeks this week, but we’ll highlight Philly for the simple reason that they have survived so well to this point, toughing out injuries and poor performances. It caught up with them this week in a 124 point stinker, where LeSean McCoy managed only 2 points (and may, in fact, either be hiding in some guy’s basement). The Eagles also got only a single point from DeSean Jackson, put up only 50 total on the offensive end and were barely competitive in a 58 point route by the 49ers. With Dallas continuing to play well and the New York Giants serving notice that they are back, the Eagles need to find answers soon.
Buffalo Bills: There are plenty of deserving teams for this third slot. The Lions can lay a strong claim after losing to the Jets. The Browns dropped a game to Arizona. The Seahawks scored under 100 points on the bye and fell to 4-4. The Rams didn’t even manage that. But Buffalo wins the honors here as they fell from the ranks of the unbeaten with a tentative 166-132 loss to Houston. Don’t get me wrong – the Bills are going to be fine. Nick Foles won’t be held to 3 points very often, AJ Green will be back in the fold next week, and the defense will continue to play well. But it does mean that at the halfway point, we have no unbeaten teams. It’s going to be a fun second half of the season!
Week 5 Games of the Week:
Atlanta Falcons vs. New York Giants. In the “Battle of the Good Teams with Unreliable New York Quarterbacks” division, I present to you the Falcons and the Giants. Both teams are chasing outstanding teams within their own division. Both teams are coming off nice wins. And both teams are gunning for what might be limited NFC wildcard spots. Both teams will be at full strength, too, with minimal bye-week interference to mess up a top flight game. NFC Games of the Week have not disappointed – and I don’t think this one will either.
Buffalo Bills vs. Detroit Lions. While no longer undefeated, the Bills are still an outstanding team, and sitting pretty at 7-1 in the AFC. Detroit, on the other hand, has scuffled to a 4-4 start, struggling through three weeks of surprising mediocrity. Another loss to a tough Buffalo squad here could potentially leave the Lions 2 games back in both the Division and the Wild Card. I still think they figure it out, particularly if Megatron can stay healthy – but they might be well advised to start this week.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Houston Texans. The battle of “Texas” features two teams that couldn’t be more opposite. Dallas has been anything but quiet, rampaging to a 7-1 record and a 2 game lead in the NFC East behind an Offense that Achilles would envy. The Texans have rather quietly ridden a series of solid yet unspectacular performances to a 4-3 record and a tie for the AFC North lead, and the swag points that come from knocking a 7-0 team from the ranks of the unbeaten. On paper, this should be another Dallas cakewalk, but Houston has gotten up for big games and needs this game more than Dallas does. Houston does, however, face a substantial disadvantage in that their QB, Derek Carr, is on bye this week.
The Commissioner will be making a guest appearance on the Major League Fantasy Football Radio. You can listen live from the that link any place you can get an internet connection Sunday, September 28th from 11am – 12pm EST. You can call in and ask your game day lineup questions of me or the hosts, EJ Garr and Corey Roberts.
Fantasy Football, like the real thing, is game of inches. Did your Linebacker make that last tackle? Or did the refs call holding and negate the play? Was your TE considered a target on that incompletion, or was it considered a throw-away? Was that high ball that bounced off his fingertips a drop, or simply an incompletion?
It’s only a point deduction for a drop. It’s only a point and a half for that tackle. And it’s only a quarter point for that target. So when we are playing 20 guys a week and scoring 150-200 points, does it really matter?
Ummm… yep. For the case of the most precise score ever, where every single little thing matters, I present to you the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings had a brutal week this week, playing two extremely strong opponents – Detroit and New Orleans. Detroit scored exactly 182 points. And New Orleans scored exactly 183 points. Identical. Comes out in the wash. Not even separated by a single stinking linebacker tackle.
So what did Minnesota do? Bisected them. Scored exactly 182.3. Beat Detroit by THREE-TENTHs of a point and lost to New Orleans by SEVEN-TENTHs. That’s damn near impossible.
And it MATTERS. Minnesota is 2-5. Had they gotten that one, single behind the line of scrimmage reception for zero yards, they would be 3-4 and only one game back in a surprisingly vulnerable NFC North. And had Matthew Stafford thrown for FOUR more yards, the Lions would be 5-2 and alone in first place.
In the AFC, things are even sillier. Baltimore continued its brutal run of luck with a loss to Jacksonville – 154.25 to 153.25. A single addition reception and it’s the Ravens who are 3-4 (and a game out of first place) instead of the Jaguars.
Last week, Tennessee pulled off a win over the Indianapolis Colts by 2.25 points. One more 3 yard completion from Andrew Luck to Reggie Wayne would have won the game for Indy. Instead, the Colts went three and out. Instead of 5-2 and in sole possession of first place, Indy is 4-3 and tied for first, one game ahead of Tennessee, not three.
But perhaps the most ridiculous bout of absurd luck belongs to yours truly. After all my whining last week, my Chiefs pulled out a pair of wins over Oakland and Miami by a COMBINED margin of victory of 1.45 points. Less than a Linebacker tackle COMBINED. With those wins, the Chiefs are 4-3, tied for first place in the West. Without them, they are 2-5, two games behind the rest of the division, and holding on to a top 10 draft pick.
The moral of the story – every target counts. And it’s distinctly possible that when we get to the end of the year, one
team will make the playoffs and another miss – because of a game that ended by less than a point.
On to your regularly scheduled column:
Game of the Week: Dallas 250 – Philadelphia 225. Our NFC heavyweight match-ups do not disappoint. Two weeks after the Giants and Lions went crazy on each other, the Cowboys and Eagles went head-to-head for AFC East dominance. And boy did the Eagles get up for this one. Despite putting up a zero at QB (RGIII injury) and getting only a 2.5 point dud from LeSean “scores like he tips” McCoy, the Eagles put up a 225 point effort behind 27 from DeSean Jackson, 21 from Kyle Fuller, and a cool 40 from Jeremy Maclin. But it wasn’t enough, as Dallas cruised to a dominating 7-0 record behind Devin “Better than Primetime” Hester, a pick-up which most of us scoffed at in the off-season, but which looks prophetic now.
What more can be said about Dallas’ performance so far? Every week this teams does something incredible. The Cowboys have broken 200 every week (207, 273 and 250), lead the league in points by more than 200, are undefeated in the hardest division in football, and just threw down a 138.5 point offensive explosion where every single offensive starter scored in double digits.
The NFC East: Lest we forget in the face of Dallas’ explosion, the entire NFC East has been pretty darn good so far. The top team in scoring? Dallas. The second team in scoring? New York. The third team in scoring? Philadelphia. Yes, that’s right – the NFC East has the TOP THREE teams in the league in scoring. In fact, the Washington Redskins are no slouches either, ranking #16 in fantasy points coming off a 185 point effort. Yes. The division is so ridiculous that the Redskins are in the top HALF of the league in fantasy points scored, but are just 1-6. Not surprisingly, they have the second most points against (1492). Silly good division.
Atlanta Falcons: Very nice week for the Atlanta Falcons, riding a 46.75 point performance from Julio Jones to put the wood on divisional rival Tampa Bay and drop the Pittsburgh Steelers from the realm of the unbeaten. It wasn’t just a one-man show, either, as Martellus Bennett, Zac Stacy, Byron Maxwell and Nate Irving all kicked in strong performances for the suddenly 5-2 Falcons. Atlanta ranks 7th in the league in Fantasy Points scored, and features the third ranked offense. With a game this week against the Cassell-less, AP-less Vikings, the Falcons should take a 6-2 record into a mammoth showdown with the Giants in week 5.
San Francisco 49ers: How do you win a pair of divisional games including one against your arch-rival, move into a tie for first in your division, and score over 200 points when you zero points from your running back position and your 13.7M off-season summoning scores you only eight points? Simple. Get 50 points from your starting receivers (Alshon Jeffery and Michael Crabtree) and 110 points from your defense, including 31 points from Jets defenders Sheldon Richardson and Antonio Allen on Monday night to beat the Seahawks by 8. San Francisco isn’t going away, folks.
Honorable Mention: St. Louis Rams (win this week and you go to the top of my list!), Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans
Green Bay Packers: They are up! They are down! They are up again! Nope, they are down again! Who are these guys? Are they Super Bowl contenders able to crush divisional rivals without their star running back? Or are they low perennial low 100s underachievers who get blown out even at full strength? The Packers went 0-2 in week #1 with a league low 131 score, 3-0 in week #2 with a league high 275 score, and 0-2 in week #3 with a league low 118 score. Yes, that’s right. The Packers were the WORST team in the league in week #1, the BEST team in the league in week #2, and the WORST team in the league in week #3. What gives? What we do know is that this Jekyll and Hyde squad will have some good days and some bad days – and that’s worse than what was hoped at the beginning of the year.
Chicago Bears: Another NFC Central team with a rough week, the Bears dropped two games behind an offense that managed only 50 points during the week. This is a team with serious depth concerns, as four slots on the offense combined for less than 7 total points. The saving grace for Howard Roher’s squad is that they have mostly stunk against non-conference opponents, going 2-1 against the division and 0-4 against everybody else. Only two games out of first and with Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler not yet having put it all together in the same week, the Bears remain in striking distance. But unless the role players on the team can provide more support for the stars, it may not matter.
Baltimore Ravens: Ooof. If anyone should be furious and bitter at the Fantasy gods at this point, it is the Baltimore
Ravens. After a 2-0 first week, the Ravens have lost five consecutive games – ALL by less than 20 points and three to divisional rivals. Sometimes, it just seems like the universe is an asshat. This week, Jeremy Kerley proved his worth with a 25 point outing, only to have it squandered as Joe Flacco, Keenan Allen, Joique Bell and Mychal Rivera turned in sub-par outings. And to add insult to injury, Dennis Pitta returned to the IR for the second time in two years, joining Ray Rice in the “guys who should have been studs but won’t play this year” category. This Ravens team should play better as the year progresses, and bounced back from a similar record last year to win the division – but definitely face an uphill climb.
Dishonorable Mention: Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings, San Diego Chargers
New England Patriots of the Week: The New England Patriots!
The New England Patriots of the week are the New England Patriots, narrowly beating out the other competitors, the New England Patriots, the New England Patriots, and the New England Patriots. The New England Patriots had a rough week, losing 2 games by less than ten points. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady scored only 16 points for the New England Patriots, while New England Patriots receiver Danny Amendola was only targeted once. The New England Patriots find themselves at 2-5 after the multi-weeks, facing a difficult climb. However, the New England Patriots are the most New England-y, Patriotic team in the league, and if anybody can climb out of the hole, it would be these awesome New England Patriots!
Week #4 Games of the Week:
Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints – The Best Team of This Year vs. the Best Team of Last Year. Can the Cowboys keep up their run of dominance (or, put another way, can they stay healthy?). Can the Saints recover their dominant swagger? This could very easily be an NFC Title Game Preview.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. San Francisco 49ers – The Eagles are the mystery team of the year – they lose RGIII to the IR and just keep winning. LeSean McCoy provides no production – and they just keep winning. This team has proven itself impressively resilient. As has San Francisco, tied for first in the West. This game isn’t about dominance so much as it’s about toughness. The winner of this game may not be the best team in the conference – but it will not be a team anybody wants to face.
New England Patriots vs. that other team that is NOT the New England Patriots, but is playing the New England Patriots: The New England Patriots are playing!
It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. Even in Australia.
I knew it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week when I left for work on Thursday. My drive in was exactly like my Fantasy week. I left for work 20 minutes before I needed to be at the office. I live 10-15 minutes away. As I pulled out, I immediately got stuck behind a school bus. This school bus proceeded to stop at every single corner in my neighborhood, where a similarly poignant scene of epic heartbreak occurred as mothers said goodbye to their Elementary school children.
It tugs on your heartstrings. Little Junior and Mom lean very close together, exchanging heart-felt goodbyes, as if one of them was leaving for a six year assignment to Ethiopia. Mom puts her hand on little Junior’s shoulder, imparting some wise words that will most likely serve as a beacon of guidance for the entirety of his life. Junior solemnly walks towards the bus, turning every few steps to wave good-bye as his mother repeatedly calls out her good-byes and best wishes and somber reminders to make sure his shoes are tied. As the bus slowly (and I mean slowly), pulls away from the curb, Junior waves at Mom from the bus window and Mom follows the bus down the road a few steps, waving forlornly, not sure how she or Junior will make it through the entire six hours until he gets home again. It’s like one of those Hollywood scenes from the first half of the century where someone runs along the tracks to keep pace with a departing train until they run into a pole. Except this time, the bus stopped, cars piling up behind it. Why? Because Junior forgot his lunch. And we all wait another 5 minutes.
I understand the first day. Even the first few. But seriously – we’re going into the third week of the new school year. And I guarantee you that as soon as Mom is out of sight, Junior is running to the back of the bus where he’ll practice swear words and watch inappropriate videos on the iphones that the 3rd graders have. WHY do 3rd graders have iphones?
It took me 15 minutes to get down my street to the main road. And as I turned on to the main road I take to my office, I pulled on right behind a cavalcade of no less than six dump trucks, inching in convoy fashion to the quarry.
My 15 minute commute became 40 and I got to work 20 minutes late. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad drive that presaged a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad fantasy week.
Many teams had terrible, horrible, no good, very bad weeks.
The Oakland Raiders got zero points from Carson Palmer and Tyler Eifert due to injuries. And lost all three games – two by ten points or less.
The Baltimore Ravens got zero points from Knowshon Moreno, who left after only 4 rushing yards, and lost three close games, two in division, all by less than 20 points
The Philadelphia Eagles lost both DeSean Jackson and Robert Griffin III early in their week, possibly for extended periods of time. This coming on the heels of losing Shane Vereen and Jeremy Maclin last year.
The Kansas City Chiefs lost both starting TEs named Jordan for the week, and lost both Eric Berry and Tavon Austin in the first quarter, losing all three games, two by less than fifteen points.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost both Doug Martin and Gerald McCoy to extended injuries, and got zero points from both. The Bucs lost all three games.
It was a terrible, horrible, no good very bad week!
It wasn’t a bad week for everyone, though. For some teams, it was an incredible, wonderful, all good, super perfect week!
The San Diego Chargers were playing the offense destroying Seattle Seahawks, but somehow got three touchdown passes from Philip Rivers to Antonio “Am I seriously not in a retirement home YET” Gates to win all three games and move to the top of the AFC West. Last time Gates caught three touchdowns in a game? Never. He caught four all of last YEAR.
The Dallas Cowboys rode a combined 100 points from Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Delanie Walker to a 273 point week and a trio of blowout wins.
The Green Bay Packers lost Jamaal Charles, but got 90 points from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson alone and 140 points from their defense, to score 275 points and cruise to a triple victory.
The Denver Broncos played without Wes Welker and DeAngelo Williams and scored only 166.5 points… but faced teams that scored 156, 157, and 161 (the lowest combined opponent total of any team in the league) to eek out three ultra-close victories and rebound from an 0-2 start.
The Buffalo Bills lost A.J. #($)&(*#. Green., but still rode a 100 point defense performance to three victories, including a three point squeaker over divisional rival New England, who lost Marcedes Lewis in game, and got only 9 points from Tom Brady and a measly target from Danny Amendola.
It’s Fantasy Football, my friends! Crazy things happen! And when Crazy things happen on a triple week… it gets EXTRA crazy.
Green Bay Packers: After a brutal first week, where the Packers scored only 130 points and avoiding going 0-2 only by dint of forfeit, there were some hard questions being raised in GB. Those are gone now, as GB won the week with a 275 point outburst keyed by Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson, and a defensive explosion, led by a 30 point effort from Chandler Jones, possibly the highest scoring end game in RDFL’s history. More to the point, they obliterated division challenger Detroit by more than 100, crushed the Jets in the most lopsided game in RDFL history, 275-98, and bounced back to sole possession of first place in the NFC North. In Yeti vs. Sasquatch, the Packers post a divisive first round victory.
Dallas Cowboys: The Detroit Lions. The New York Giants. The Seattle Seahawks. The Green Bay Packers. The Philadelphia Eagles. The New Orleans Saints. After all the talk flying around about the NFC powerhouses, not a single one of them is 5-0. That honor belongs only to Dallas in the NFC. The Cowboys absolutely monstered their three opponents with a crushing all around performance from everybody but Romo. Walker, Bryant and Murray led the charge, but role playing starters Dexter McCluster and Terrance West combined for 30 points of their own, and defensive guys who are not huge names chipped in double digit performances to pace the Cowboys. This team looks poised to strike from the shadows and take the entire conference, particularly with RGIII going down for the Eagles.
Buffalo Bills: And who is undefeated in the AFC. It’s the Bills. Surely it’s because of A.J. #(&$)(#*. Green.!? Nope. Even with Green injured, the Bills served notice that they are a powerful, well-rounded team, scoring 196 around a big, fat zero from AJ, and posting three critical conference wins. With the rest of the AFC in shambles, the Bills already have a three game hold on a playoff spot, and don’t show any signs of slowing up.
Honorable Mentions: San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans
Kansas City Chiefs: Not only did the Chiefs drop a trio of games, including a pair to divisional rivals Denver and San Diego, they also lost Tavon Austin and Eric Berry to potentially long-term injury. With the Air Jordan TEs (Cameron and Reed) already both out for a while, and Derrick Johnson gone for the season, the Chiefs are already running into major depth issues, and face tough Miami and Oakland squads in another double – while likely short-handed at multiple positions. A 2-3 hole is recoverable. A 2-5 hole could end the season before it begins.
Indianapolis Colts: Another AFC playoff contender with a rough week, the Colts had the misfortune to run into Dallas in one of their games, and the Eagles in another, losing both handily. The most brutal aspect of the week, though, was a 1.75 point loss to the Tennessee Titans. Had Andrew luck simply completed a single 3 yard pass to Reggie Wayne on the Colts final drive on MNF against the Eagles defense, the Colts could have salvaged a game. Instead, they went three and out and the Colts face an uphill climb even within their division, falling two back of the Texans. Of perhaps greater concern, the Colts defense managed only 50 points in week 2, a mark that will need to improve if the playoffs remain a goal.
Detroit Lions: Thud. That’s the sound of the best team in week #1 returning to earth with a crash. One week after a high-flying, emotional win, the Lions dropped from 275 points to 158, receiving negative points from Brandon Pettigrew and not having a single player score 20 or more. Even more, the Lions lost both divisional games to the Bears and Packers, and survived the Panthers to avoid an 0-3 week by a single MNF ball thrown badly behind a wide open Zach Ertz. While still 3-2, weeks like this certainly take some air out of the Lions world-beating sails.
Dishonorable Mentions: Baltimore Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets
One more double before we get in to the added nuttiness of bye-weeks and singles. Can this coming week possibly be weirder than this one? Absolutely!
Detroit over New York Giants: Mercy sakes alive, I don’t want to play either Detroit or the Giants! EVER. In what could very easily be a preview of the NFC Championship Game, and possibly the highest scoring game we see all year, the Lions and Giants staged an epic week 1 battle worthy of the ages. This game was punch for punch and blow for blow. The Giants struck hard with an insane 136 point defensive effort, getting double digit fantasy points from EIGHT out of 11 starters. Entirely unintimidated, Detroit threw down 70 points from the secondary alone. Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins dropped a combined 50 for the Giants. Megatron nearly matched it on his own, with a silly 45 point outburst.
In the end, Detroit got powerful contributions from its young receivers (27 points from Cordarelle Patterson and 23 from Brandin Cooks) and Eli Manning proved once again that he is the weakest link on a team with championship aspirations, scoring only 6 points to Matthew Stafford’s 34. The Lions scored the most points in the entire week, the Giants the second most, and Detroit staked an early claim to NFC domination – and the Giants set the rest of the league on notice that they intend to play Detroit again – in the NFC Title Game.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Who feels colossally stupid now? Yeah. That would be me. Who predicted the Pittsburgh would finish 4-12? Me. Who decisively blasted one of last year’s best teams by over 40 points? That would be Darren Leung’s Steelers squad. What Happened? DeAngelo Hall and Troy Polamalu looked positively young, for starters, scoring 13 and 20 points respectively. But more importantly, Big Ben Roethlisberger (25), Le’Veon Bell (35), and Markus Wheaton (17) went crazy. Can the team expect more than 100 points each week from their big Franchise Five (Roethlisberger, Bell, Wheaton, Timmons, and Polamalu)? Unlikely. But Pittsburgh has made it quite clear that they plan to be a competitor in the North this year, even if regression to the mean occurs.
The AFC North in General: Which division scored the most points this week? By far? That would be the north, where every single team topped the 200 point mark in week one. The Steelers we’ve already discussed, the Ravens rode a highly balanced, 116 point offensive performance to a pair of wins, and the Bengals and Browns both rode startlingly strong offensive performances to point totals over 200. Initial predictions had the AFC North competitive because it was so bad. If initial returns hold true, it might be competitive because all four teams are so good! I expect some regression, but a very strong opening statement for the much maligned North!
Buffalo Bills: What did I say would happen in the pre-season? Nick Foles would throw a bomb to A.J. #()&$#*(. Green. A.J. #($&)#(*. Green. Would catch it in traffic for a massive touchdown. And because nobody was paying attention to Julius Thomas, he would catch a half-dozen touchdowns too. Yep. The two star pass-catchers combined for some highlight reel plays, four touchdowns, and 70 points to lead the Bills to an impressive 2-0 start. It wasn’t so much the 2-0 start that gets Buffalo this designation, but the 250 point effort AJ Sisnero’s team put out. This team will not be an easy win for anybody.
Honorable Mentions: Detroit (GotW), NYG (GotW), Carolina
NFC Dominance: AFC teams emerged from week 1 18-14. Which, of course, means NFC teams finished 14-18. So much for NFC domination. Very few of the losses the NFC took were truly bad losses (though a few come close), but if not for a couple of lucky bounces and an illegal roster, last year’s two best teams, New Orleans and Green Bay, might find themselves 0-2. It’s only the first week. But it’s a trend that bears watching.
New Orleans Saints: Well, I guess we can cancel the post-season show. New Orleans unbeaten run in 2014 didn’t last quite so long as its run in 2013, as the Saints were bounced decisively by Pittsburgh 225-182, and survived Atlanta by only 3. A 182 point performance is nothing to scoff at for Craig Ackerman’s squad, but the week did raise some red flags. Keshawn Martin laid a goose egg, raising questions about the Saints offensive depth, and the vaunted Saints Defense, the class of the league last year, managed only 76 points total, with no player scoring more than 11.5 points. I still say the Saints win the South, but they would be well advised to make hay in week 2 against Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland. How will this team respond to adversity?
Denver Broncos: Talk about knowingly cursing myself. I looked for absolutely any way NOT to put the Broncos in this section of the week. They play my beloved Chiefs again in week #2, and I know that writing about them here will ensure that Peyton Manning throws about 9 touchdowns to Demaryius Thomas and they explode in week 2. But it was a concerning effort for the Broncos, who scored only 151 points in a pair of losses in which they were never really competitive. The Commissioner’s Office has hid the weekly scores from last year (and will later claim to have never seen them when TMZ posts them somewhere), so I can’t check for sure, but I don’t know if the Broncos EVER scored this few points last year. The defense struggled in particular – aside from Rahim Moore and his brace of interceptions, the defense scored a total of only 46 points. My reigning pick for the AFC title needs a bounce-back in week 2 (which, for the record, I think they get).
Week 2 Games to Watch:
Dallas vs. Indianapolis: Two threats in their respective conferences coming off quiet 2-0 starts in what should be an outstanding divisional battle – and one with potential playoff implications down the line.
Green Bay vs. Detroit: Having dispatched the Giants and the Bears, the Lions turn their explosive attention to the defending Super Bowl Champions and look to grab hold of the NFC North early. The Packers themselves are reeling a bit, having scored only 130 points (week #1’s second lowest point total). They’ll need to right their offensive ship to avoid falling way back in the North race.
Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh: An epic clash of undefeated squads… yes, I’m writing that about Baltimore and Pittsburgh, who will tangle for an early lead in the AFC North.
Buffalo vs. Miami: Same deal – a divisional clash between a pair of 2-0 rivals. Buffalo had best watch out, though. Miami now comes with a kicker, and a tight end. And if Niles Paul can score as many points as he makes millions (6.16), Miami might have something going with this bizarre “full lineup” concept.
The AFC North was last year’s pick’ em division, with all four teams finishing within a game of each other. Interestingly, the division this year should not be as close, with Cleveland taking a step back and Pittsburgh gutting their squad to build for the future.
Cincinnati and Baltimore have emerged from the off-season carnage neck and neck, which should set up an outstanding divisional race. Despite the off-season loss of A.J. #($)&#*(&. Green (Who. will. be. spoken. of. this. way. all. year.), I predict the Bengals to win the North for two reasons – the schedule and the defense.
Let’s talk about the defense first, which I see as being the best in the AFC – bar none. This defense has certifiable studs at every position, boasting a ridiculous line of Cameron Heyward, Geno Atkins, and Michael Johnson. Studs Vontaze Burfict and Tamba Hali anchor the linebacking core, and Ryan Clark and Reggie Nelson form a very nice safety brigade. There are a few questions at the back end of the defense, with Dee Ford, John Hughes and Mike Jenkins all somewhat questionable as to their impact, but the Bengals also boast some nice defensive depth, and if the back end starters don’t do what they need to, Buster Skrine, Steve McClendon, Derrick Shelby, and George Wilson will all have something to say.
The Offense will not be as good as the defense, particularly without A.J. #)&$*#(. Green., but it should be good enough to compete, particularly in a watered down Norris. Andy Dalton folds like a lawn chair in the playoffs, but is an under-rated fantasy QB throughout the regular season, particularly with all the weapons he has around him, (not the least of which being A.J. #()&$*#()&$. Green. Ben Tate and Chris Johnson form a nice backfield tandem for this team, Jermaine Gresham remains a nice tight end, and Andrew Hawkins, Harry Douglas and Marqise Lee (who would have guessed HE would be the last man standing in Survivor: Jacksonville WR edition) form a passable WR group.
I don’t think this is a great team, but I do think the potential for a great defense is there. And a great defense, combined with a passable offense, should be enough to give the title to Bengals. Even without A.J. (#)$*&#(. Green.
Owner: Matt “Next Level Fantasy” ?????
2013 Record: 9-7
RDR 2014 Projection: 9-7
It will probably be up to the Saints to decide the AFC North. Both Baltimore and Cincinnati face New Orleans in the last two weeks of the season. Baltimore also has to face Dallas to close out the year, while the Bengals draw the Texans. I think this division comes down to those final two weeks – making for some stretch intrigue for the rest of us!
Last year’s Ravens came back from the dead to finish with an outstanding 2nd half of 2013 – largely by finding excellent value contracts – signing Keenan Allen, Jeremy Kerley, Mychal Rivera and Knowhson Moreno all for well under Franchise Value. These cheap contracts provide the money for Baltimore to sign or keep more expensive players like Kendall Wright, Joique Bell, and Lardarius Webb. Add to that, Baltimore should see much better seasons this year from two key positions – tight end and running back. Last year, the Ravens lost their star TE Dennis Pitta in training camp, and star RB Ray Rice to pure incompetence. This year, Pitta is completely healthy, and good reports abound about Rice, who should be a major factor after returning from his two game suspension. This team definitely has the offense to carry the North.
There are question marks on Defense, however, particularly in the secondary. Eric Reid will play a nice safety, and Lardarius Webb, while overpaid, should hold up at least moderately well at CB. But after that? Neither Jimmy Wilson nor Andrew Sendejo is likely to be much of an answer at S, and the same goes for Greg Toler and Nickell Robey. The Ravens may have to hope that Safety Will Hill returns to grab the starting spot with both hands to avoid a meltdown in the secondary. The defense does get stronger up front, with Suggs, Dumervil, Vincent Rey and Brooks Reed making a formidable linebacking core, and Haloti Ngata and Vernon Olivier anchoring what should be an outstanding Defensive Line. With the glaring holes in the secondary, I don’t see this defense as being quite as good as Cincinnati’s, but if Ravens can find answers in their defensive backfield, they have the offensive horses to knock off the Bengals and make the playoffs for consecutive years.
Owner: Darren Leung
2013 Record: 8-8
RDR 2014 Projection: 4-12
You have to give Steelers owner Darren Leung credit. He saw the writing on the wall, decided that he didn’t want a
mediocre team, and blew the whole thing up. As a result, this team looks like the home-front of a country at war – all the players in their primes are gone, leaving only the young, the elderly, and the infirm.
Gone are Antonio Brown, Gerald McCoy, Nate Irving, Heath Miller, Eric Walden and William Gay. In are rookies Jarvis Landry, Damien Williams, and Prince Shembo. Le’Veon Bell remains, as does elder statesman Big Ben Roethlisberger, on a team that is in full scale rebuild. What it leaves is an offense with pieces and potential, but not much firepower, and a strong young defense. Good enough to be competitive, but not good enough to win a lot of games –yet.
On offense, Roethlisberger and Bell are the only truly strong players. Anthony Fasano at Tight End and Doug Baldwin at wide-out are solid veterans, but not stars. Other offensive starters Damien Williams, Jarvis Landry and Markus Wheaton will fight for both touches and consistency. No two ways about it – unless things break right for the Steelers, this team will rival Arizona and St. Louis for least productive offenses in the league.
The defense will be better. In fact, the defense could be downright good, while staying young, forming a foundation for the Steelers over the next few years. At each position, Leung’s squad blends savvy veterans (or old men, if it goes wrong) with upcoming youngsters (or kids, if it goes wrong). On the line, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kyle Williams will be joined by Jurrell Casey, Datone Jones, and Derek Wolfe. On the line, the cagey Lawrence Timmons will be supported by sophomore stud Alec Ogletree and rookie standout Prince Shembo. And in the secondary, elder statesman Troy Polamalu will support the development of Cortez Allen, Robert Lester, and Robert Blanton. In addition, the Steelers are deep with defensive reserves.
While their defense should keep them close in many games, it is going to be hard for Big Ben and Le’Veon “For Whom the Bell Tolls 4:20” to carry everyone, and the Steelers should take a major step back this year. That said, you have to applaud Leung for not being satisfied with the status quo and having the courage to tear things down and rebuild. If things break right for his rookies, it may not be too long before today’s toddlers take the Steelers back to the playoffs.
Owner: Jeff Hemlick
2013 Record: 9-7
RDR 2014 Projection: 4-12
You have to admire Browns owner Jeff Hemlick. In a decision of passion, he jumped from Miami to Cleveland in the off-season, paving the way for LeBron James with a heartfelt display of loyalty. He immediately took a team that nobody thought would compete, and made serious moves to make them a competitor in the off-season. One admires it so much that it is difficult for your loyal writer to cast cold water on his dreams… but it has to be done.
Look… the AFC North is wide open enough that anybody can win it. If a whole lot of things break right, it could even be
the Browns. But there’s no Kevin Love coming to help out this team. And no Kyrie Irving already there. And quite frankly, no LeBron coming. This is, in many ways, more like the homecoming of Brian Scalabrine – great for morale, but maybe not enough to put the product on the court over the top.
The offense does have some upside. Josh McCown and Brian Hoyer both have the weapons to put up points – but both have histories suggesting they may not. Aaron Dobson, Andre Roberts, and Donnie Avery are all classic WR3’s – they each have some upside, particularly Dobson, but it would be a surprise if any of them hit WR1 territory this year. Denard Robinson also has some potential, and some speed. But he also went to Michigan… Hail, hail to Michigan, the Cesspool of the west. And while TE Scott Chandler is a nice player who can catch some touchdowns, EJ Manuel may throw very few this year. In all, the offense is decent – but would need a lot of breaks (and Kevin Love) to be better than that.
The defense… much the same. Aside from the outstanding (and routinely under-rated) safety TJ Ward, LB DeAndre Levy is the only real standout on the roster. The Browns boast decent players in Joplo Bartu, Joe Haden (much better in real life than in Fantasy), and Ahtyba Rubin, as well as guys with breakout potential (Barkevious Mingo and Brandon Williams). They also have players with demonstrated, long-standing, and admirable commitments to mediocrity (Ropati Pitoitua, Patrick Robinson and Jeff Heath).
This team has been well-built. It started the off-season with some gaping holes, and no longer has any real holes. But while this team lacks holes, it also lacks star-power, and both the offense and defense will be hard-pressed to produce excellence – making a playoff spot a long shot for this feel good team.
Owner: AJ Sisnero
2013 Record: 4-12
RDR 2014 Projection: 9-7
So when we think about turnarounds in the off-season, we think about the NY Fantasy Football Giants. But the Buffalo Bills are a close second. After a miserable 4-12 campaign last year, the Bills have remade their team through a series of blockbuster trades.
Let’s illustrate the difference in Buffalo’s offense through a comparison:
2013 Typical Play: Some guy at QB gives the ball to CJ Spiller. Spiller vomits.
2014 Typical Play: Nick Foles (27 TDs, 2 Ints, throwing screen passes to Shady McCoy and Darren Sproles and taking 922 snaps per game) takes the snap and hands off to Stevan Ridley, who promptly fumbles and gets benched. Trent Richardson gingerly and hesitantly recovers the fumble, prompting pundits to discourse for hours on how tough he is. Trent tosses it back to Foles, who then throws a 72 yard touchdown bomb to A.J. Mother. (#&)$#*()W. Green, who catches it in a crowd of 7 defenders. Brian Quick and Stevie Johnson applaud. Julius Thomas catches another touchdown since everybody has completely forgotten about him AGAIN. And Justin Blackmon gets high and robs somebody.
Much better production.
The defense is also much better, led by an expensive, deep, and all-around outstanding defensive line: Mario Williams, JPP, Jason Hatcher, Michael Brockers, and the newly signed and starting George Selvie. The linebacking core of Keith Rivers, Arthur Brown and Khalil Mack is young, talented and hungry. And the secondary, while not strong, is anchored by Jairus Byrd, an all-pro safety of the highest caliber.
Buffalo has some holes for sure – Nick Foles may regress a bit from 27/2, Stevan Ridley may not play nearly as many snaps, and Trent Richardson might not actually be a good RB. Stevie Johnson and Brian Quick may or may not see much work on their respective squads. But the combination of offense and defense should be enough, as I see it, to put Buffalo above New England (nice offense, less defense) and Miami (close competitor, harder schedule), and the Jets (better than last year, but still not a strong team) and get the Bills to the playoffs. But it’s going to be another dogfight.
Owner: JKeniley, the Dudhunter
2013 Record: 12-4
RDR 2014 Projection: 8-8
It’s been a tough off-season for the South Beachers – they lost owner Jeff Hemlick to Cleveland. They lost LeBron James to Cleveland. Hell, it wouldn’t shock me if all the New Jersey retirees fly north to Cleveland and skinny dip in the mighty Cuyahoga this winter!
Last year, the Dolphins cruised to an AFC East title in 2013 based on the strength of their 5th ranked defense. The offense struggled a bit, finishing only 15th and routinely suffering major power outages. This year, I actually like the offense, as a number of its pieces seem ready to breakout. Ryan Tannehill is in what might be a make or break year for him, and another year of familiarity with Mike Wallace should make that connection stronger. Wallace is joined in the receiving core by Dwayne Harris, Terrance Williams, Nick Toon, and TY Hilton. Hilton should take the next step to becoming a stud, Dwayne Harris is the Cowboys return man (and with that defense, they should be receiving a LOT of kickoffs), and Terrance Williams is Romo’s undisputable #2 receiver, which should make him a key 2014 breakout. Nick Toon’s breakout is more questionable, but certainly not out of the question. That said, the Dolphins don’t have a single tight end on the roster beyond AC Leonard, and posting a goose egg each week isn’t a good strategy for winning divisions.
The defense is much better, anchored as it was last year by DE’s Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn. Rookie Jerry Attaochu will join a completely franchise linebacking core including anointed Washington Linebacker Perry Riley as well as Dolphins stalwarts Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler. The Dolphins also make hay with their franchise core in the secondary, as Reshad Jones anchors what should be a very young, but talented secondary.
End of the day, it’s going to be an extremely close call between Miami and Buffalo (and possibly New England as well) – and it’s going to come down to the question marks on both sides. If Terrance Williams, TY Hilton, and Ryan Tannehill play up to their potential (or if the Dolphins can swing a deal for a strong TE), I think that Miami wins the division. If Foles plays like a star, and one or both of the Bills running backs plays up to their potential, then I think Buffalo does. If both teams play? Then we could see both in the playoffs, displacing the Texans or Chiefs from the wild card.
New England Patriots
Owner: Ric Nowinsky
2013 Record: 7-9
RDR 2014 Projection: 8-8
Dammit Ric. No sooner do I draft a whole post about this team having a nice offense, but no defense, and Owner Nowinsky goes out and trades for half a defense, requiring a re-write and a re-evaluation. Darn GM’s. Always thinking about their teams. Where’s the consideration for the journalists? No respect for my age or my station…
It started out as a quiet off-season in New England. The Patriots weren’t picking guys up and weren’t trading. And then, the draft showed up. And offense-loving GM Ric Nowinsky exploded into the off-season, wheeling and dealing picks and players as if they were baseball cards. When all was said and done, the Patriots looked completely different than the 2013 edition, with their QB of the future, an interesting offense for today… and a Defense even the Browns could score on.
On offense, the Pats have both depth and power. Led by the immortal Tom Brady, the Patriots will start the equally immortal Frank Gore at RB1, and the decidedly more mortal Darren McFadden at RB2. The receiving core has some nice pieces in Danny Amendola, Dwayne Bowe, and perhaps the most exciting, Mohamed Sanu. #($)&*#()$#! I mean Quinton Patton. Errr… but he’s not really exciting. Let’s try this “and least likely to skinny dip in the Cuyahoga, Quinton Patton.” And Marcedes Lewis / Zach Miller (I hate my life) will be serviceable at TE. Just as impressive, the Patriots have already set up young replacements for their aging veterans, with Teddy Bridgewater waiting in the wings to replace Tom Brady, and Alfred Blue sitting behind Frank Gore. This is going to be a solid offense this year, and should remain a good offense in the future.
Defense, however… is another story. The best thing that can be said about it is that most of the players starting on it will be starting for their respective NFL squads. Most of them. The Linebacking core is the strength of this team, with Larry Foote, Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Parys Haralson, and Nigel Bradham. It’s a good group. But there are no superstars, and I’m not even sure any of them average double digit points per game (though Foote is the most likely of the group). And it’s downhill from there. Arthur Jones is a nice End, but not a superstar, Stansly Maponga’s time has not yet come, and it is highly debatable that William Hayes ever had a time. Marcus Gilchrist is a nice Corner and Devin McCourty is probably the best player on the defense, but Corey Graham and Mike Adams will likely not even start. There’s little depth here either, with only 3 defensive replacements.
Look at all that wasted prose. It was such beautiful prose too. It took me at least three minutes to write and spellcheck all that. And all of it. Gone. Wiped out like Roger Goodell’s credibility. Shot like Lance Armstrong’s reputation. Obliterated like Jim Irsay on weekday evenings. ::sigh:: A moment of silence, please.
To the present! Through a series of recent movies, the Patriots have put together a respectable defense. Charles Johnson, Stephon Gilmore and LaRon Landry bolster the line and the secondary, and the addition of Kamerion Wimbley adds some needed depth, particularly if the buzz he’s receiving is accurate. The Linebacking core can afford to lose Bradham given the depth around him, and the upgrades at other positions more than make up for it. Mike Adams may even start, with the injury to Delano Howell. There are still gaps, particularly up front, and the defense still lacks both depth and star power – but it is nowhere near the gaping hole it was just two days ago. Strong work by GM Nowinsky.
So where does all this leave us? Owner Nowinsky makes an absolute habit of surprising people with teams that play better on the field than they look on paper. He’s crazy like a fox. Or maybe a Bobcat. Those things are downright vicious (except in Charlotte. There, they were pretty cuddly before they turned into giant insects). And I think that he’s done enough to give the AFC East a divisional race to rival the NFC Powerhouses in intrigue, if not in talent. I still say New England finishes third this year. But I like where this team is going – and I would not be shocked if they took the division – or a playoff spot.
New York Jets
Owner: Tom Alberg
2013 Record: 4-12
RDR 2014 Projection: 4-12
It’s going to be another rough year in the Big Apple. The Jets invested heavily in hope for the future in the draft, snaring prized QB prospect Johnny Manziel. Owner Tom Alberg will hope that Manziel (it sort of seems right that he ends up in NY, doesn’t it?) can lead the Jets to the promised land. But in the meantime, the Jets will be forced to start Christian Ponder at QB – who is not, in fact, starting at QB.
The rest of the Jets offense this year will not be much better. Toby Gerhart will start at running back with Steven Jackson. While both could have very nice years, Toby Gerhart is not a star. He’s Toby Gerhart. Much like his namesake from Shining Time Station, Gerhart is a nice role player, but not cut out to be a star or a starter. Steven Jackson was a star in the past, but has come down and come down hard. Well past 30, does SJax have one more swan-song season left in him? The Jets need him to, badly. Beyond the RBs, the passing game will be non-existent. Ponder’s a gaping hole at QB and Stephen Hill has been cut. Beyond Rod Streater, in line to be the Raiders #1, the Jets will run out some combination of Lance Moore, Josh Morgan, Jeff Cumberland, Junior Hemingway, Luke Willson, and Santonio Holmes. Much like the NFL Jets of last year, this team lacks both a quarterback and weapons.
Better on defense? Absolutely. But primarily at Franchise positions. Muhammad Wilkerson, Demario Davis, David Harris, and Dawan Landry are all going to be strong fantasy producers this year. The Jets also have some very nice complementary pieces in Brandon Flowers, Sharrif Floyd, DJ Williams, and Tyson Jackson.
Here’s the problem – the defense isn’t spectacular enough to make up for all the zeros the Jets are going to put up on offense. Johnny Manziel may well save this franchise. But it’s not going to be this year, and he’s going to need some weapons to do it.