Happy New Year’s Eve everyone! As 2015 winds to a close, it seems a fitting time to revisit our riveting 2015 RDFL season. It was a tumultuous season of controversy and close calls, but which concluded with some of the best fantasy football this league has ever seen. I have some crow that I’ve been slowcooking in my crockpot for just this occasion, and I also have some predictions to gloat about it. It’s all here folks…
But first, a huge congratulations to Pedro Canteiro and the Carolina Panthers on their epic 230-220 win over the Buffalo Bills to take home Super Bowl III. The Panthers came on strong the second half of the season, posted three of the top 5 overall point totals, survived sending their two top RBs to the IR, and won the Super Bowl on a day when Cam Newton was not his best. This Super Bowl was all about heroes, goats, and especially, injury replacements. The Bills lost 22 PPG wide receiver to the Injured Reserve and replaced him with Lucky Whitehead. Whitehead scored 2 points, didn’t catch a pass, and lost a fumble. The Panthers lost both starting RBs LeGarrette Blount and Mark Ingram and were forced to Start Tim Hightower. Hightower went off for 35 PPG including 169 offensive yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Game. Set. Match. Right there. Both teams lose a stud to injury. One replacement scores 2. The other scores 35. And that’s all she wrote. Just like how last year a Punter and Albert Wilson prompted the underdog Steelers to victory over the heavily favored Cowboys, Tim Hightower will go down in glory and Lucky Whitehead will become an unfortunate trivia question.
Ironically, for all the star power on both squads, only Hightower and Carolina TE Zach Ertz scored more than 20 points, making the game feel more like a slugfest than the high octane point period we were expecting. That said, 220 points is nothing to scoff at – and definitely would have been in the top 10% of RDFL outputs this year.
End of the day, congratulations to Carolina on an outstanding season, pure resilience, consistency, and a couple beautiful performances just when it mattered most. And to Buffalo, condolences, respect, and a thousand what-ifs. What if AJ Green makes that catch? What if Alshon Jeffery waits one more week to get injured? What if Gronk got in the endzone, Jerry Hughes got that sack, or, above all, what if Jacksonville played defense? It’s a weird game, fantasy football, and both teams should be commended for outstanding seasons.
Seasonal Themes: A few themes regarding this year
Scoring is up: Ten teams scored 3155 points or more this year (followed by a 200 point drop to #11). They were, in order, Buffalo, Kansas City, Carolina, NYG, Detroit, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Oakland, Arizona, and Tampa Bay. That means 10 of the 12 playoff teams averaged ~200 PPG over the course of the season. That’s the magic number to shoot for, folks. Over the course of RDFL, no team has scored over 3000 fantasy points and missed the playoffs. That said, scoring was up this year as we get better and better at building effective teams.
Balance in All Things: Below are the top ten offensive and defensive teams :
Top Ten Offense: NYG, Det, Car, KC, Buff, Cle, Pitt, Oak, NO, GB
Top Ten Defense: Buff, Car, Ari, KC, Ind, NO, Pitt, Det, NYG, TB
Teams in Both: NYG, Det, Buff, Car, KC, NO, Pit
Ironically, of those 7 teams, 6 of them were in the divisional round and all four of the conference championship teams came from their number. To win in RDFL a team must have both a good offense and a good defense. Carolina and Buffalo were both top 5 in offense and 1-2 in defense.
The Passing Game: Of the top 20 highest scoring players, 10 were QBs, 9 were WRs, and only 1 was a RB (Devonta Freeman). The highest scoring defensive player was #29 – and get this – Safety Reshad Jones, who posted an 18.33 PPG average for the NYG, outscoring the likes of Jeremy Maclin, Calvin Johnson, and Greg Olsen. Mercy.
Injured Reserve (RDFL Starters Only): Mark Ingram, Keenan Allen, Tyrann Mathieu, Alshon Jeffery, Joe Flacco, Barry Church, Steve Smith, Thomas Rawls, Jimmy Graham, Charles Clay, Robert Woods, Justin Forsett, Eric Weddle, Martellus Bennett, LeVeon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Nolan Carroll, Vincent Jackson, Dion Lewis, Koa Misi, Jordan Hicks, Colin Kaepernick, Ladarius Green, Chris Johnson, Stephon Gilmore, Corey Liuget, Melvin Gordon, Crockett Gilmore, Jamaal Charles, TJ McDonald, CJ Spiller, Dez Bryant, Tony Romo, David Bruton, Marquess Wilson, Carlos Hyde, Clinton McDonald, William Moore, Robert Quinn, Arian Foster, Paul Soliai, Larry Donnell, Antoine Bethea, Alec Ogletree, Matt Bryant, Brandon Flowers, Andrew Hawkins, Derrick Morgan, Rashean Mathis, Nick Folk, Percy Harvin, Justin Hunter, Antrel Rolle, Cameron Wake, Justin Tuck, Kyle Williams, Joe Haden, Dwayne Allen, Akeem Spence, LaMarr Woodley, Jason McCourty, Nate Allen, Jon Beason, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Cody Parkey, Keenan Lewis, Philip Gaines, Reggie Bush, Marquise Goodwin, Ego Ferguson, Paul Richardson, Sam Barrington, Will Smith, Jace Amaro, Kelvin Benjamin, Victor Cruz, Louis Delmas, Matt Elam, Dante Fowler, Jaiquan Jarrett, Arthur Jones, Akeem Jordan, Cameron Lawrence, DeAndre Levy, Ryan Mundy, Jordy Nelson, Niles Paul, Breshad Perriman, Dennis Pitta, Orlando Scandrick, Shaun Suisham, Kevin White, Jarius Winn.
Ninety-three RDFL starters ended the year on IR. Some big names. And that’s not counting nagging injuries, guys who were out for a number of weeks who returned, and backup or spot starters who also went out. It’s safe to assume that you will lose ~3 of your starting 20 players FOR THE YEAR each year, and an additional handful for significant periods of time. Depth matters.
Changing of the Guard: This year saw the decline of a number of perennial powers from the first two years, as Seattle, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Dallas, Philadelphia and Denver all missed the playoffs this year. In their places, we saw new and fresh places in the playoff landscape, such as Tampa Bay, Carolina, Oakland, Tennessee, and Arizona – with Chicago making a concerted push as well.
Cleveland Browns – I picked them to finish last in their division with a 7-9 record. Instead, they made the playoffs with a 9-7 record and finished 11th in total points. I wrote “In a year when most secondaries are going to generate a good 40 points plus per week, the Browns are going to be at a 10-15 point secondary disadvantage in most games this year.” And while the safeties were pretty terrible, CBs Bene Benwikere and Antwon Blake both averaged double figures even after Joe Haden went down for the year. The Browns also hit gold in QB Blake Bortles and got standout surprise performances from Michael Crabtree and Gary Barnidge.
Detroit Lions – I picked them to finish 10-6, lose the division to GB, and maybe get a wild card. Instead, they finished 13-3, won the division by two games, and advanced to the NFC title game where they scored 271 points in a loss. I wrote “But beyond that, it’s question mark city. Ameer Abdullah, Josh Hill, Tre Mason, Brandin Cooks, Tyler Lockett, Todd Gurley, Phillip Dorsett…” and “But after that – the list of young question marks starts: Stephon Tuitt, Ego Ferguson, Tahir Whitehead, Kyle Van Noy, John Jenkins, LaMarcus Joyner…” Well, those questions were effectively answered. Gurley, Lockett, Abdullah and Cooks all put up huge numbers this season on offense and Tuitt, Joyner, and young Ronald Darby answered the bell on defense. At least Van Noy stunk. It was an outstanding season from the Lions, who finished with RDFL’s second most potent offense on the back of those question marks.
Chicago Bears – I picked them to finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs. Instead they finished 11-5 and barely missed the playoffs. Tough luck for the Bears, who nevertheless looked much better than I thought. I wrote “Look, I think the Bears are where they have always been – close enough on paper for Green Bay and Detroit to pay them heed and worry a little bit. But I think they suffer the same fate they always have – the Jay Cutler will dismantle them in the end – just as the Donald will end up being passed by Jeb Bush or somebody. I’m telling you. They have to be family.” So I totally screwed up the Jeb Bush part. But let’s give credit – Cutler, Forte, Marshall and Martavis Bryant were all outstanding, and the Bears offensively way outplayed my expectations.
New York Giants – I picked them to finish 9-7, 3rd in the NFC East behind both Dallas and Philly, and to miss the playoffs. I wrote: “On defense, though… mediocrity. Not a single defender is projected to score 12 or more points per game, and only 4 guys on the squad are projected into double digits, compared to just about everybody on the Eagles defensive roster. Sure, guys like Christian Kirksey, Kawann Short, and Brock Vereen could surprise – but honestly, it’s just as likely Prince Amukamura and Jerod Mayo get hurt, or Shamarko Thomas’ production doesn’t materialize. I think this offense is the best in RDFL. But I think this defense is decidedly mediocre. And in a division with the Cowboys and Eagles, I don’t think mediocre gets it done – though a wild card birth is definitely possible if things break right.”
The defense was #9 in the league. Kawann Short scored 15.1 PPG, Reshad Jones was the best defensive player in RDFL, and Carlos Dunlap, Pacman Jones, Prince Amukamura, and Trumaine Johnson all averaged more than 13 points per game. And the Eagles and Cowboys both crashed and burned as the Giants cruised to a league best 14-2. Whoops.
Carolina Panthers – The ULTIMATE in crow. I picked them to finish 5-11 and dead last in the NFC South. I assigned only two teams worse predicted records than I did the Panthers. Carolina won the Super Bowl, finished 4th in Fantasy Points scored, and had the best defense in the entire league. On their way, they had three of the highest point performances. How did I get this SO WRONG? I wrote “Unfortunately, this team lacks both the superstars and the star depth to keep it competitive. After Cam and Kuech, not a single player is projected to average 13 or more PPG, and only 4 other guys on the active roster are projected to reach double digits. Zach Ertz is potentially hurt, Marcell Dareus and Greg Hardy start the season suspended, and Robert Woods is unlikely to strike fear into the hearts of opponents.”
Basically, I thought that since this team wasn’t sexy, it wasn’t good. Dead. Wrong. This team was never sexy. It never had much star power beyond Cam. What it did have was an absolute cavalcade of very good non-stars averaging between 10-12 per game who showed up to work week in and week out and occasionally dominated. I wasn’t wrong because they developed stars – I was wrong because all the role players played just a few points better than they expected to, and because guys like Mark Ingram, Willie Snead, and Super Bowl hero Timmy Hightower came out of nowhere to have great seasons and great games – just when Carolina needed them.
Enough of such things. What did I actually get right? Well, I’m glad you asked. I correctly predicted that Tampa Bay would win the NFC South, Tennessee would win the AFC South, and Arizona would win the AFC West – all surprising changing of the guard picks. I nailed Buffalo and Pittsburgh repeating as AFC divisional champions, and guessed right on Oakland, Detroit and New Orleans as playoff teams. I also hit on the Jets, Bengals, Vikings, and Jaguars struggling, and hit perfectly on the order of several divisions. So not great. But not all bad either.
Coach of Year: AJ Sisneros, Buffalo Bills – created an absolute juggernaut and pulled the trigger on blockbuster trades late in the season to set his team up perfectly. A masterwork, ruined only by those meddling kids Alshon Jeffery, Lucky Whitehead, Tim Hightower, and Zach Ertz.
Runners Up: Pedro Canteiro, Carolina Panthers and Matt Minelli, Green Bay Packers. Canteiro won the whole thing behind building a strong defense and some nice substitutions at the end. Minelli made trade after trade to keep his team competitive and afloat after literally everyone on his team got injured, from Jordy Nelson to Tony Romo to the stinkin’ trainer.
Season MVP: Antonio Brown, New York Giants.
Defensive MVP: Reshad Jones, New York Giants (it’s a SWEEP!)
Runner up MVP: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (was dying to put DeAndre Hopkins for a true Giants sweep, but couldn’t do it.
Teams not mentioned much here who should be REALLY excited about next year: Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans
Congratulations on another awesome year everyone, and particularly to our Super Bowl Champion Carolina Panthers!! I’ll be back in the off-season!