Real Deal Report: 2016 Predictions: South Divisions

We return for another edition of the Real Deal Report Previews!  This time, I’m in LA (or was, at first draft), frantically typing at a Starbucks while my jet-lagged body marvels that it is somehow still morning.   It is also, 107 degrees.  Therefore, I have elected to preview the Southern division.

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

AFC South

We return today to our contemplation of history by remembering a time in which sports were pure and disciplined.  We remember smash-mouth, three-yards-in-a-pile-of-dust football.  We remember the New Jersey Devils utterly ruining hockey with their BS dump and trap nonsense that totally took all the fun out of the game while at the same time being undeniably effective.  We remember the “raised mound” era of baseball in which ERAs under 2 were commonplace and runs were like gold.  We remember the 20XX Seattle Mariners in which all opposing pitchers had ERAs under 2 and runs were like gold.  We mock the 20XX Seattle Mariners in which all opposing pitchers had ERAs under 2 and runs were like gold.  Oh we mock them.  And oh how we cry.  We cry.

The epic struggle of offense vs. defense in the AFC South.
The epic struggle of offense vs. defense in the AFC South.

In any case, what all of these disparate eras had in common were one single, undeniable trait – nobody could score.  Offenses were inept compared to the powerful defenses that terrorized them.  It was like Mark Sanchez was starting for everybody – ALL. THE. TIME.  We shudder and shake our heads violently to clear them of such disturbing visions.

Welcome, my friends, to the 2016 AFC South – a division of powerful defenses and apathetic, castrated offenses (don’t worry, no images).

Tennessee Titans (10-6):

We begin with Tennessee, another team whose rebuild has seemed to last forever – but who, this humble author believes, has finally turned the corner and will contend for a championship.  We begin with that offensive collossus Odell Beckham Jr. striding across the land and catching everything that moves in his mighty two-finger grip.  We move on with the mostly unproven but filled with potential supporting cast of Teddy Bridgewater, CJ Anderson, Devin Funchess, Dwayne Allen, Mohamed “I’m next to Julio Jones instead of AJ Green, perhaps the curse will be lifted” Sanu, and newcomer Tajae Sharp.  We speak of Justin Hunter, Andre Williams, Kenny Stills, and Wendell Smallwood, and consider them yet more young and fantastic potential.

Oh Ladarius. My Ladarius. Why hast thou become like Ryan Leaf?
Oh Ladarius. My Ladarius. Why hast thou become like Ryan Leaf?

We do not mention the poster child for potential come to naught, Ladarius Green, who was been heir apparent to Antonio Gates since Kennedy’s assassination.  Every year has been his year.  Every year has come and gone.  And now his career stands in jeopardy, a warning to children of the dangers of relying on “potential”.  We do not mention Ladarius Green, and we drink to forget.  We turn our heads away from the horrifying sight, and put it out of our mind.  The young players WILL develop.  The potential WILL become reality.  It must.  Ladarius who?  I HAVE NO SON.

We think also of a ferocious and veteran defense, like all in this nil-nil draw of a division.  Anchored by Mario Edwards and Ndamukong Suh, bolstered by the “I’m so mighty I have an “e” at the end of my name for absolutely NO REASON” Stephone Anthony, and outfielded by the capable McCourty twins (Devin and Jason).  We wonder what the hell is up with a team that has two guys with the last name of “McCourty” and two guys with the first name “Devin” starting for it at the same time.  That’s weird right?  And we conclude by looking at Rookie Scooby Wright, chuckling at his name, and instinctively making the “Scooby-dooby-doo” noise in our heads and fetching our hallucinogens.

And at the end of the day, we realize that Tennessee is about to complete it’s rebuild and win the NFC South.  Unless… unless “LADARIUS” comes to pass for them all…  No.  No.  That won’t happen.  Of course it won’t.  It won’t…

 

Houston Texans (8-8):

Speaking of three yards in a pile of dust, Da Coach loves Da Texans, who seem to have adopted on old school ground and pound philosophy.  Da’meis Winston lines up behind center, and is ready to hand it off over and over and over again to the two best players on offense, David Johnson and Carlos “I’m going to carry the ball 53 times a game this year and then Chip Kelly is going to trade me next year for Ladarius Green and a mesh bag of athletic socks” Hyde.  In all likelihood the best RB tandem in the league, this duo combined with Winston and Donte “I have a hoity-toity name that makes it sound like I could be a count of some random territory in Southern France” Moncrief should keep the Texans competitive.

Hmmm... yes... my name's Donte Moncrief. I live here. With my buddy Earl Thomas. This is a terrible caption and a real stretch. Poor writing indeed.
Hmmm… yes… my name’s Donte Moncrief. I live here. With my buddy Earl Thomas. This is a terrible caption and a real stretch. Poor writing indeed.

Like all the AFC South, this defense should also stay competitive with Chandler Jones and Malcolm Brown joining new draft pick steal Kenny Clark to form a fearsome front-line, and a solid defensive backfield of the flying Jonnies (Joseph and Cyprien) joining Earl “I have a hoity-toity name that it sound like I could be an Earl” Thomas and Desmond Trufant.

The trick for the Texans is going to be their depth.  While Tennessee can bring out starting-caliber players 18 deep, the Texan line-up runs a little thinner. Guys like Angelo Blackson and Damien Swann are not players you want starting for a championship calendar team, and even true stalwarts like Bruce Irvin tend a little cold in fantasy.  It’s less pronounced, but no less dangerous on the offensive side where Jaelen Strong, Levine Toilolo and Chris Hogan need to produce FAR beyond what they have ever produced before.  They may.  But we’ll talk about counting chickens later.

Look, there’s really potential here.  Toilolo and/or Austin Hooper could start catching lots of touchdowns from Matt Ryan, Brock Osweiler to Jaelen Strong could be a household combination by the end of the season, and Chris Hogan could become Tom Brady’s after-Gronk go too.  It’s possible.  But to my mind, the Titan potential has a better chance of panning out (and more wild cards with the chance to do so) than the Texan potential, which means it all comes back to just how good those running backs are…
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9): 

The Jacksonville Jagulars (that’s how they say it in Winnie the Pooh.  Heffalumps and Woozles steal hunny.  Beware.)  has

The key to everything.
The key to everything.

theyselves a ferocious defense.  Potentially the best defense in a division full of them.  It’s young.  It’s fresh.  It’s ferocious.  It features some of the best players in fantasy football and the best names in fantasy football.  Guys like CJ Mosley at LB, Bashaud Breeland at CB, and Linval Joseph and Jabaal Sheard on the line provide the football skills and serious scoring.  Then there’s this guy called Obum Gwacham, who takes over from, get this, Hau’oli Kikaha.  Seriously.  No joke.  Hau’oli Kikaha got injured.  They replaced him with Obum Gwacham.  My prevailing theory is that absolutely nobody had been able to say the first name, so they just figured “since we’ve just been grunting and making coughing noises and calling out “hey you” with the last guy, may as well just do the same thing with the new guy.

You know you have a good defense when you are beggin folks to take this guy and his luscious hair off your hands...
You know you have a good defense when you are beggin folks to take this guy and his luscious hair off your hands…

Anyway, the defense is really good.  Could be a 100 point defense on a regular basis if it plays to potential.  I mean, when Mark Barron and Donte Whitner are forgotten role players and the GM has been frantically trying to sell Richard Sherman all season like Count Moncrief trying to marry off his sister for political reasons all Game of Thrones style, you know you have a defense that is strong and deep.

The trick is that this team really ain’t going to score no points.  Kirk Cousins is genuinely good.  He has always been great at throwing passes that other players catch.  Now that he’s figured out that he should throw the ball to only guys who look like a McDonalds and are labeled offensively to Native Americans, he’s become borderline unstoppable.  Travis Kelce is also fantastic.  I bitterly resent the day I traded him away.  He’s going to score a LOT of touchdowns.  We can even give this team the benefit of the doubt and assume that Marqise “I have a hoity-toity name that makes it sound like I could be a Marquis of some random town in southern France” Lee will actually do something this year.

But after that?  The lineup is as follows, and I quote “Seth Roberts, Tyler Ervin, Rashard Higgins, Marcedes Lewis, Duron Carter, Tre McBride.”   There is an excellent chance that Odell Beckham Jr. will outscore everyone on this offense but Cousins and Kelce on a fairly regular basis.  Ouch.

Indianapolis Colts (6-10):

Same as it ever was for the Indianapolis Colts.  Fortunately for you, they do NOT have Duke Johnson, so you won’t have to put up with me making the same tired nobility pun.  Unfortunately for Indianapolis, they don’t have Duke Johnson, which means that after Andrew Luck and Julian Edelman, they will be trotting out Bruce Ellington, Charcandrick “no longer starting but still costing 12M” West, Troy Niklas, Chris Johnson, and Will Fuller.

Here’s the thing, this offense could be ok.  But it’s full of question marks.  Will Luck be better?  Will Edelman stay healthy?  Will Bruce Ellington truly take hold of a strong role in a Chip Kelly offense – and can whoever starts at QB get him the ball?  Will Charcandrick West get any touches?  What happened to Troy Niklas’ “c” and “u”?  Did he lose them in a poker game to some rough and tumble mates at a bar while in college?  Will Chris Johnson maintain his resurgence?  Will  Will Fuller get anything done as a rookie?  It’s a lot of questions.  And while some answers may be positive, at least some answers are unlikely to be, and Indy really doesn’t have the depth to sustain any “no” answers.

This guy has Troy Niklas's missing letters. Unfortunately, he does not play for the Colts.
This guy has Troy Niklas’s missing letters. Unfortunately, he does not play for the Colts.

The defense too is a step back from the rest of the division’s stalwarts, possessing a lot of compelling youth, but not enough short-term answers.  Guys like Artie Burns, Eli Apple, Tavon Young, and Shaq Barrett will bolster the team in the future, but will struggle to score points today.  Jerrell Freeman, Brian Orakpo, and Antoine Bethea are all on the wrong side of 30 and even they can only do so much.  Landon Collins is a strong player for the future and present, and Perrish Cox could be the same, so it’s not as if this defense is weak – but it’s also not as exceptional as some of the others in the division.

I have a bad habit of betting against Indy at the beginning of the year, and usually look foolish for doing so.  It could happen again.  If the vets on D have one more great year in the tank and the kids develop quickly… if the opportunity is there in the right places for the young guys… this team could get to a place of being Super Bowl worthy if everything pans out.  I just think it’s more likely that the old guys decline faster and the young guys are a year away… in which case, it could be a long season in the land of Eli Lilly.
NFC South

Now this division is straight up impossible to predict.  Carolina won the Super Bowl and brings back the whole team.  The Saints have a strong but shallow offense and the best defense in the division.  Atlanta is a trendy offensive pick with some star power and some defensive liabilities.  Tampa Bay might well have the best composite team on both sides of the ball – but also may not have a starting QB – or may have two.  It’s a predictor’s nightmare.

But who am I kidding.  When have I ever been any good at this anyway?  Time to solicit the aid of the stars, owl pellets, and least reliable of all, ESPN analysts.  Let’s start from the top.

Don't mind me. Just plying the tricks of my journalistic trade...
Don’t mind me. Just plying the tricks of my journalistic trade…

New Orleans Saints (10-6):

New Orleans gets the benefit of the doubt because of the starting lineup, a very solid defense, and a history of excellence.  The Saints and Chiefs are the only teams in RDFL to have made the playoffs in every season of the league’s existence, and this team still has all the parts on both sides of the ball.  Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham join forces with newly minted #1 WR Golden Tate to anchor what should be a decent offense, while the defense remains a strength of this team – as it has since day #1.  While the New Orleans secondary is a little porous, the front seven is insane: Jordan Cameron, Rob Ninkovich, Damon Harrison, William Gholston, Kiko Alonso, Anthony Barr, and Brandon Graham.  Mercy.  That’s a 4-3 defense that can GET AFTER the quarterback and generate some points.  As I mentioned, there are some weaker spots in the secondary, but a combination of Malcolm Jenkins and that front seven will mask a lot of coverage weaknesses!

So why am I so hesitant about putting the Saints as the clear-cut #1 here?  Well, first and foremost, because this division is GOOD.  All four teams in this division have star power and the chance to put it all together.  Hell, Carolina is the defending Super Bowl Champions – it’s certainly possible they should be getting the benefit of the doubt!

What could possibly go wrong?
What could possibly go wrong?

More importantly, though, New Orleans needs things to break right.  The Saints don’t have a lot of margin for error.  If Jeremy Langford (he of the 3.3 ypc) loses his starting role to Ka’Deem Carey or Jordan Howard, there’s no real viable replacement on the roster.  If Sammie Coates struggles to replace Martavis Bryant, there’s no real solid replacement at WR.  If the legs fall off Darren Sproles, same story.  If Rob Ninkovich’s injury is longer and more debilitating than expected, the drop-off could be significant depending on how well Nick Fairley plays in his new digs.  At the end of the day, New Orleans is already being forced to start JJ Nelson due to a lack of depth on offense.  If the rest of the team plays to its potential, this should be easily overcome – but if things break badly for the Saints (and many things happen in an RDFL season), this offense could go from excellent to potentially bad.  And given the strength of this division, a bad offense is probably not going to be enough – even with the grade A beef the Saints are running out there on D each week.

 

Carolina Panthers (9-7):

Carolina has to be feeling a little bit like “I win the Super Bowl and all I get is this bloody Tee-shirt?”.  Sorry, man.  If it makes you feel any better, I completely underestimated your team last year because of how it looked on paper, and you made me look like a fool at every turn.  I picked against you in the division, and you won.  I picked against you in the playoffs, and you won.  I picked against you in the Super Bowl, and you won there too.  So, basically, think of it this way – when I pick against you, you win!  So really, you should probably be mailing me a 20 spot for picking you second.

Carolina really has the same strengths and same weaknesses as last year’s team.  The strengths are a fantastic defense headlined by human Robocop Luke Kuechly, edge-rusher extraordinaire Marcell Dareus, and anchored by Patrick Patterson and Kurt Coleman.  This is the same defense that every week put the Panthers over the top and led them to some 300 point games.  It returns largely intact, and is bolstered by the karmic and spiritually uplifting preference of DE Greg Hardy, who is making a cool 12M to cheerlead.  That’s a problem for me.  But aside from that, this defense will be wonderful once again.

12M. For this fool. It is my duty as a media watchdog to shame you for this. Cut him! Cut him now! He is a moral cancer! He will bring you down. Cut him, lest he bring wrath upon you!
12M. For this fool. It is my duty as a media watchdog to shame you for this. Cut him! Cut him now! He is a moral cancer! He will bring you down. Cut him, lest he bring wrath upon you!

Also once again, the offense looks a little underwhelming on paper.  Cam Newton is back to dab and dance his way to victory, all the while fielding complaints about his leadership when they lose and being praised for his maturity as a leader when they win.  Gotta love sports narratives.  Greg Olsen, his favorite target, should put together yet another fantastic campaign.  There’s even an argument that the return of Kelvin Benjamin and the maturation of Cam’s other receivers should lead to an even better campaign for one of the best quarterbacks in Fantasy.

Mark Ingram, who for some reason my mind still can’t fully trust as a running back worthy of starting, should actually put up another solid campaign, as should young guns Willie Snead and Zach Ertz.  One huge question for Carolina is how much juice Steve Smith still has in the tank.  He’s clearly front and center of a bad Baltimore receiving corps, and was on pace for a career year last year before his devastating injury.  But can he maintain a comeback to post solid numbers?  If so, that Carolina offense could suddenly look pretty compelling.  Even if he fades hard (37 year old receivers returning from devastating injuries have that tendency), Robert Woods has looked great in Buffalo by all indications, and Eddie Royal always seems to put up numbers…

Man, I don’t know.  The Panthers have snuck up on me again.  I like them more than I did when I started writing this.  For some reason, it’s very hard for me to vote FOR this team… but the more I look at it, the more I think the Panthers are a legitimate threat to defend their title, at least within the NFC.  Carolina and Indianapolis both do this to me… and I don’t know why.  Something about the owl pellets just doesn’t work when these teams are around.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7):

Man.  This division is tough.  I had to put New Orleans on top given that D and their consistent history of success.  And Carolina brings just about everybody back from a team that just won the stinking Super Bowl.  But man.  The Buccaneers at third?  I LOVE the Buccaneers.  This is a team that I am extremely high on for this year.  In fact, I’m high enough on this team that I would have absolutely no surprise if it was the Bucs representing the NFC in the Super Bowl.

Why the confidence?  Well, it starts in the heart of the defense, where LaVonte David, Von Miller and Clay Matthews form what will almost certainly be the best linebacking core in the league.  Jaye Howard and Gerald McCoy may well be the best DT pairing in the league as well.  And while Darelle Revis and Aqib Talib are clear-cut “better in real life than in fantasy” corners, they are still no slouches.  This isn’t as strong a defense as the Bills and Panthers defenses that carried them to the Super Bowl last year – but it is fantastic nonetheless, and is in the top 5-10 in the league.

And not only can the Bucs defend, but they can CATCH.  Tampa Bay comes into the year intending to go four-wide and do so with Eric Decker, Emmanuel Sanders, Vincent Jackson, and Torrey “I may not be good, but Chip’s going to throw it to me 83 times a game and he made RILEY COOPER good” Smith.  Clive Walford is a TE with some high potential as a 5th pass catcher, and they are joined by by pass-catching Running Back Doug Martin, whose Muscle Hamster nickname is good enough that I don’t even have to give him another one.

Interestingly, Tampa Bay faces huge questions at Quarterback, where they may legitimately have anywhere between 0-2 strong starting quarterbacks, though the trend line is pointing more towards 0 than 2, which is a legitimate concern and a major reason for the third place finish.  By all accounts, Josh McCown has basically lost the QB competition in Cleveland to RGIII, and Blaine Gabbert remains in a bitter struggle with Colin Kaepernick to inherit a role as Chip Kelly’s signal chucker.  It’s hard to say how that contest is going to turn out, but when you are relying on Blaine Gabbert to win anything (and I mean ANYTHING.  A quarterback competition.  A game.  Fricking Yahtzee.  A stuffed bear from one of those carnival games where you have to knock over the bottles.  The claw game at Denny’s…)

It looks so easy... so tempting. And yet it makes fools of us all.
It looks so easy… so tempting. And yet it makes fools of us all.

That reminds me.  When I was in high school, I had a buddy named Dan.  Our posse (yes, I can call them a posse now.  It was 20 years ago.  You can’t tell me it wasn’t.  You weren’t there.) had been up all night and were out at 6am at Denny’s, a high class establishment if ever there was one.  Some of my buddies bet Dan a dollar that he wouldn’t drink the full bottle of Tabasco sauce sitting on the table in front of him.  Dan, being a sleep deprived 17 year old male who knew the value of money, agreed and downed the whole damn thing.  After spending a good chunk of time writhing in agony and drinking way too much Denny’s “chocolate milk” (true substance remains unclear), he triumphantly claimed his dollar – which he immediately spent on two 50 cent attempts at the claw game.  He failed both.  All he had for his trouble was pride and fiery anguish in his bowels which persisted for several days.

I love the Bucs.  I’m high on the team.  But man I feel like Gabbert and McCown are two attempts at a Denny’s claw game, and that anguish in the bowels might be in the cards for a Bucs team that has the potential to win it all – but might not even make the playoffs.

 

Atlanta Falcons (7-9):

There is perhaps no more compelling case to be made for the NFC South as the best division in RDFL 2016 than this 4th place pick for the new and improved Atlanta Falcons (now with a Quarterback!).  This team could win several divisions in this league.  And in truth, it is entirely possible it could win this division.  These four squads are all good and they are all tightly bunched.  And it’s not as if Atlanta would really have to improve that much over last year – burned out of the gate by a brutal start during the early weeks with multiple games, the Falcons never really had a chance to recover, but were not nearly as bad as their record indicated.

Newly minted franchise QB Jared Goff has by all accounts looked good in Ram’s camp, and your devoted author seriously hopes he is the real deal, because somebody needs to get the ball to my man Tavon Austin.  But a rookie QB in a Jeff Fisher system that has Todd Gurley is more of a void-filler than a “light the world on fire for 20ppg” guy.  But y’all, this offense is really compelling. Goff is throwing to Julio Jones, Jeremy Maclin, and Kelvin Benjamin (now with a belly) – and he is handing off to some guy named Jamaal Charles, who, if he can stay healthy, should have another season or two as a top 10 Running Back.  Aside from QB and J-Mail’s hammies, the only real question is at TE, and there Atlanta has loaded up on high potential wild cards like Vance McDonald, Anthony Fasano, and Ryan Griffin.  This should be a strong offense – how good will depend on Goff’s development and the training staff.

The spiritual leader of the defense...
The spiritual leader of the defense…

The defense is also compelling, though honestly still a small notch down from some of the league’s best.  DeAndre Levy and Michael Bennett are great at football, and Brent Grimes’ wife is a ferocious, aggressive tackler who is the vocal leader of this team, but gets flagged for too many unsportsmanlike penalties.  Beyond that, though, there’s a lack of star power on this defense.  Shamarko Thomas?  Daryl Smith?  Captain Munnerlyn?  Good players.  But not stars on the level of TB’s lineback trifecta or guys like Luke Kuechly.

It’s tough.  This is a good team.  No obvious weaknesses and Atlanta’s offensive skill players are

I have no better reason to put Atlanta in this spot.
I have no better reason to put Atlanta in this spot.

really good.  This would be a serious candidate to win the NFC North.  But this is a tough division.  And my hunch is that something goes wrong.  Jamaal Charles is actually closer to done than we think.  None of the Tight Ends pan out.  The defense underwhelms.  Danny Woodhead gets concussed. It’s not really realistic.  The Saints probably have more TRUE question marks.  But they also have a track record with depth and lady luck.  Atlanta’s had a rough go of it.  And my sixth sense just wonders if there’s more of that coming this year…

 

Real Deal Report: 2016 Predictions – North Divisions

Dear friends,

It is 10:21 at night.  I’ve worked 87 hours in the last 8 days and my brain is absolute mush.  What does that mean?  It means that this year’s Real Deal Report predictions are coming at you with ZERO filter.  NONE.  No filter at all.  I thinks it, I types it.  Nothing is off-limits.  Not politics.  Not global issues.  Not the many psychological issues of your beloved league mates.  I calls it like I sees it. Beware.

Finish Reading: Real Deal Report: 2016 Predictions – North Divisions

You know what else it means?  I have absolutely no effective thematic intro to this particular prediction.  Nothing.  I am eating a Chipotle burrito and typing things.  That’s all I got.

We’re starting with the Northern divisions this year.  Why?  I have no idea.  I think I usually start with the East divisions or the West divisions and the North and South end up in the middle.  Flyover divisions.  Not anymore though.  This year, the northern divisions get their due.  And they get their due in the Real Deal Report, largely because they probably aren’t going to get it in the Super Bowl.   What do I mean?

Well.. here come the predictions!

AFC North:

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): A super bowl berth.  Consistent playoff berths.  The Steelers of RDFL are a heck of a lot like the Steelers of the NFL.  Consistently good, oscillating between decent and outstanding, but lacking those trips to the garbage heap the rest of us take.  It’s going to be another good year in fantasy steeltown, and how good depends on Le’Veon Bell’s lawyer. (UPDATE: Le’Veon Bell’s lawyer got him off for week #4 – which is not, it is a shame to say, a double week).

I will note that injustice is evident everywhere in our society, and nowhere is this more true than in the suspensions handed down to key players.  Ray Rice commits an awful and heinous act and is banished from the league forever.  Ben Roethlisberger does the same and gets a suspension.  Josh Gordon fails multiple drug tests and gets banished from the league for years – moreover, he is forced to room with Johnny Manziel, who never ever does his dishes.  Le’Veon Bell fails multiple drug tests and gets… suspensions.  It’s almost like there’s an agreement with the league offices that Pittsburgh guys never get huge suspensions – but throw the book at the rest of the division.  Well, except for Vontaze Burfict.  Who should probably be in jail.

Caption Contest?
Who’s bowling for this over, Mr. Leung?  Hit the Gilli-Danda with the spanking stick!

Anyway.  Pittsburgh has STARS. Fantrax projects the Steelers to have the #3 QB (Big Ben), the #1 RB (Le’Veon Bell), the #4 WR (Jarvis Landry), and the #7 TE (Coby Fleener).  And yes, Coby Fleener should be a huge step up.  The TE who catches passes from Drew Brees is always awesome in fantasy.  A top 5 skill guy at every single position is a spectacular foundation.  The only saving grace for the entire division is that they don’t have Antonio Brown.  Because that would be silly.  Still, the projections are already preposterous.  Fantrax predicts 19ppg for Big Ben, 21 for Le’Veon, 24 for Jarvis, and 13 for Coby.  77ppg from their top four offensive skill players.  And of course, the Wild Card – Mr. Albert Wilson.  Oh, and did I mention that one of the guys we didn’t talk about is TJ Yeldon (the Jacksonville RB who didn’t randomly drive his car into a pond).  That means that the Steelers are likely to hit for the century on offense more often than a bollywood cricket movie.

The Steelers defense lacks the same sense of explosive star power, with the exception of LB Alec Ogletree, but did add DeForest Buckner in a draft day steal.  He’ll be even more of a steal when he gains the DE eligibility he lacked in the draft and which scared off so many owners, including the still bitter yours truly.  Still, the squad has 6 guys projected for double digit points and no true weaknesses, though the secondary could use an upgrade (it’s unclear who Jamar Taylor is and Brad McDougald, Mike  Mitchell, and Byron Maxwell form an uninspiring tandem without a lot of depth).

The Steelers do have some depth issues on both sides of the ball, and don’t seem to this humble author to be in quite the same league as the Fighting AJ Greens over in Buffalo, but this team should walk away with yet another AFC North division title.  Same as it ever was.

Cleveland Browns (9-7):  Wait.  What?  NOT the same as it ever was.

Yes.  Cleveland.  Guys.  This is important.  There is a spiritual change going on in the world today, a spiritual shift that would have been unfathomable in the time of our forefathers.  Something shifted in the heavens over the NBA finals, and nothing will ever be the same again.  We should be expecting bad football movies to be made on par with “Angels in the Outfield” and epic miracles to occur like sea partings, plagues of boils, and RGIII making good decisions with the football.  Well.  Actually.  That’s going too far, even for angels.  Let’s just stick with RGIII not making horrific decisions with the football.

Observe: Le’Bron James actually looked dominant and aggressive.  He rejected Steph Curry.  He mouthed off.  He would have rejected Riley Curry.  Don’t mess with a big man who rides a freaking banana boat.  He pulled out one of the greatest finals ever to knock off the team with the best record in NBA history and bring a world freaking championship to CLEVELAND.

Observe: The Cleveland Indians lead the American League Central and are moving aggressively, poised for a an AL Championship.

Observe: The Chicago “Billy Goat named Bartman” Cubs are favored in the National League and running away with the Central division.

Observe: The Cleveland Browns didn’t do stupid ($#*& at the draft.

Next: Wars, and rumors of wars.  Signs in the sky.  Cincinatti getting obliterated by a fiery volcano hurled down from heaven.  The dead rising.  Get ready.

Yes, Dwayne Wade, the waters hath been turned to blood and LeBron hath won without thee. Cleveland rises from the depths, and thou, o favored city, shall go down unto them.
Yes, Dwayne Wade, the waters hath been turned to blood and LeBron hath won without thee. Cleveland rises from the depths, and thou, o favored city, shall go down unto them.

I don’t know what’s going on.  I don’t know how to explain it.  Some prince found true-love’s-first kiss, hence breaking the curse upon the land.  Some prince tried to give an unconscious princess true-love’s first kiss and a pair of muscular swedes beat the tar out of him for being a perverted creep, hence breaking the curse upon the land.  Chris Christie WAS and IS the curse upon the whole damn land, but now he’s out campaigning with Trump and so he can’t manifest.  I don’t know.

But guys.  Cleveland’s viable.  Blake Bortles has hisself an offense that’s the real deal.  Some folks think he’ll be a top 10 QB.  Isaiah Crowell could end up the work-horse stud back in the Browns offense.  Michael Crabtree and Mike Evans are joined by Marvin Jones – who has an inside track to serious work now that Calvin Johnson just happened to retire.  Coincidence?  I think not!  The redoubtable Gary Barnidge is a top 10 TE, and as long as they can find a replacement for the fat, suspended, and now released Karlos Williams, that O could be a force.

Now there are questions in the secondary, where both Bene Benwikere and Joe Haden will start the year on the IR, and where the only non-injured CB has under 100 career points.  But the linebacking core is solid between Karlos (the in-shape Karlos) Dansby and Manti Te’o and the safety play is excellent.

Look, on paper, this team doesn’t have the horses to get past Pittsburgh.  But man.  The times they are a’changin’.  Remember when the Boston Red Sox were the team of futility?  Cleveland man.  They might set the Cuyahoga on fire for actually good reasons this year.

Baltimore Ravens (7-9):

And which will thou be, O Baltimore?  City of promise?  City of peril?  City of pain?  I guess this is what happens when I have no sleep and no filter.  I get biblical.

I don’t really know what to make of Baltimore.  Keenan Allen and Amari Cooper are two of the best young wide-receivers in the league.  These two guys are loaded for the bear, and should both be uber-productive #1 WRs for a solid decade.  It’s a massive built in advantage for the Ravens.  One might label them “the Sons of Thunder”, if one were so inclined.  Telvin Smith provides a similar young, valuable stud presence on D.

The resemblance...
The resemblance…
...is clear.
…is clear.

But man there’s a lot of question marks after that – but some question marks are trending in positive directions.  Joe Flacco, like LeBron and others who have recently been glorified, never quite gets much love, despite winning a super bowl with no offensive weapons and being able to chuck the football a good 200 cubits at a toss.   Will he be exalted?  Or will defensive wrath topple him?

Christine “the archangel” Michael is looking like the surprise favorite in Seattle to replace beastmode.  Fitting, if you ask me.  Terrelle Pryor appears to have been redeemed from his former sins and reborn as a wide receiver – who might actually be a productive one.  Ken Dixon looks good in Baltimore by all accounts, and might ascend to the starting job by the end of the year.  There are others – Mychal Rivera, Kendall Wright, Andre Ellington, Zach Miller, Eric Redi.  Shaq Lawson. Elvis Dumervil.  Kevin Dodd.  All these guys have the potential to be studs, or at least starters.  But mediocrity or worse is also clearly in the cards for each one.

The problem, for me, comes down to the defensive side of the ball.  If we’ve learned nothing over the past couple of years, it is this – the offense looks flashy and fantastic – but it’s those double digit consistent defensive scorers that make good teams great and get mediocre teams into the playoffs.  I just don’t buy the Ravens defense.  The Pass rush is excellent with Cliff Avril, Olivier Vernon, and Dodd and Lawson.  But after all the beef up front, the linebacking core and the secondary are underwhelming.  Greg Toler, Bradley Roby, Lardarius Webb, and Isa Abdul-Quddus (a proper unpronounceable biblical name right there) will all need to step up their game for this squad to contend. I don’t think it’s enough to get them over the hump this year – even with Allen, Cooper and Smith – and even if some of the question marks turn into lightning in a bottle – but who knows?  Perhaps the meek will inherit the earth?

And the fact that I’m referring to the Baltimore Ravens as “meek” shows you perhaps just how much sleep I actually need.

 

Cincinnati Bengals (5-11):  Ok, i’m tired.  So I might be missing something.  It’s possible.  But I can’t see for the life of me how the Cincinnati Bengals are going to score any points.  I also can’t figure out how the heck to spell Cincinnati right the first time.  I AM the Cincinnati franchise in Ultimate, and I still can’t figure out how to spell the darn city!

Anyway, let’s start with what’s good here – a downright serviceable defense.  The Bengals have populated their defense with strong, starter-level guys who play above their skill level in fantasy.  Will Compton.  Erin Henderson.  Patrick Chung.  Reggie Nelson.  Shawn Williams.  And then they are joined by a couple guys who are truly fierce and talented, like Geno Atkins and Cam Heyward.  What it means is that this defense should be able to hold its own with most other defenses.  The trick is that none of the defenders truly rise to the level of star power – everyone is a 10-pointer, nobody is a 15 pointer, which keeps the D from being truly exceptional.  And this team needs an exceptional defense to overcome what is going to be an anemic offense.

Andy Dalton's expression as the pass rush closes in...
Andy Dalton’s expression as the pass rush closes in…

Look, the last time someone with flaming red hair got THIS little support was in the Christmas Story when Ralphie beat up Farkus and his toadie weakly tried to pull him off before running screaming to his mother.  Andy Dalton is Scott Farkus.  That poor guy is about to get beat up by a snot-nosed kid in classes and a pudgy snowsuit because he’s got no. where. to. go. with. the. football.   The excitement of who is going to emerge as Dalton’s number one target features such worthies as Crockett Gilmore, Rishard Matthews, Jeremy Kerley, and Theo Riddick.  It’s a collection of serviceable role players – the kind of guys who round out the Steelers bench or maybe even get that coveted bye-week replacement start, but should not be starting for a competitive team.  Which leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that the Bengals might not be a competitive team this year.

In fact, the Bengals haven’t really been competitive since AJ Green left town…. Perhaps that’s the new curse if the Browns are entering into a fresh season of blessing…  Watch out for that fiery mountain, y’all… and if you should flee Cleveland, don’t look back lest ye be turned into a pillar of salt…

 

NFC North

Detroit Lions (10-6): The division of champions has fallen on hard times, y’all.  Between Green Bay and Detroit, this division has had a pre-season Super Bowl contender (or two) in every season RDFL has been in existence.  The first year, they even won the darn thing.  The star power (rookie and veteran) has been top of the line, and with the exception of Minnesota’s long and arduous rebuild, this has always been an outstanding division.

It’s a down year, friends.  Even in Detroit, where the Lions are the clear favorites, the trend line is sideways at best.  Calvin Johnson has ridden off into the sunset, taking with him the Lion’s biggest star and built in day #1 advantage, and the drop-off from Megatron to Phillip “Hot Rod at best.  At BEST.” Dorsett is a big one.

From this...
From this…
...to that. Retirement comes for us all.
…to that. Retirement comes for us all.

The Lions are still going to be a strong team, by far the strongest in the North.  Matthew Stafford has not retired, and while he won’t have Megatron to throw to, he’ll still throw.  A lot.  Some suspect that his numbers will even improve when he isn’t trying to forcefeed CJ in quadruple coverage 11 times a day.  With the exception of Dorsett who is merely good, the receiving corps of Tyler Lockett, Brandin Cooks, and Martellus Bennett (in New England, a place that seems to have a good read on how to use a TE) is outstanding.  The two-headed monster of Todd Gurley and Ameer Abdullah is one of the best running back tandems in the league.  And any defense that is led by Jamie Collins and Mario Williams can’t be bad.  With all that, this team isn’t losing to a diminished GB, a not quite over the hump Chicago, or a still 1.5 years and a QB away Minnesota.

That said, to really compete, Detroit needs a lot of question marks to flash.  This is the hallmark of the Lions strategy year after year – rely on upside guys to hit.  Sometimes it works (Cooks, Lockett, Collins, Abdullah, etc.).  Sometimes, it doesn’t (we hear Bishop Sankey is on pace to score his tenth career fantasy point sometime this year!).  But it remains the Lions strategy, particularly on defense, where guys like Todd Davis, Kyle Van Noy, Stephon Tuitt, Tre Boston, Nickell Robey, A’Shawn Robinson, and Tyrunn Walker will need to go above and beyond to get Detroit out of the first round of the playoffs.

 

Chicago Bears (8-8):

Ahh Chicago.  The Belgium of RDFL.  A timeless land surrounded by rising and falling great powers, never becoming one of those great powers itself, but never being crushed by them either.  Simply maintaining decency, and possibly chocolate, while battles for domination pass by its sleepy hamlet.

The Bears wave merrily as Green Bay plummets by it, having fallen off a cliff, exhausted by its quest to maintain NFC dominance.  They chuckle in awe and not a little bit of mortification as those crazy Lions ping-pong around them, one week way up, the next week way down, living vicariously through the thrill ride that never touches their tranquil fantasy existence.  They salute and watch with intrigue as the long desolate Vikings erupt from the bowels of the earth and soar towards championships, their star ascendant.  The world changes around them as teams rise and fall.  But for the Bears… life is as it always is.  Tomorrow’s tomorrow will be the same as Yesterday’s yesterday.  Just as the Shy-towners like it.

 

Chicago is not like the one who wore pants.

The Bears, as one would suspect, boast a balanced offense and defense.  The team is both old (Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Terence Newman, Desmond Bryant, Tamba Hali), and young (Kwon Alexander, Adolphus Washington, Markus Wheaton, DeVante Parker).  There is a decent-caliber starting player at almost every single position (except you, Ronnie Hillman – you suck), but besides Kwon (who I always want to call Tron), there is a distinct lack of starpower.   Every defensive starter is projected for at least 7 ppg.  Only one (the aforementioned Tron) is projected for double digits.  On “O”, every player is projected for double digits (except you, Ronnie Hillman – you suck), but only the ageless but name-duplicated Brandon Marshall is projected for a star-level performance.

There are few things we can count on in this crazy game called fantasy football.  But for those of you like who like Hondas, the Bears are your team.  Brandon Marshall will be great.  Ronnie Hillman will suck.  And the Bears will finish around .500.  Tomorrow is as Yesterday, passing on into time immemorial…

Minnesota Vikings (6-10):  

There’s a fantastic scene towards the end of Naked Gun where the villain is deservedly run over by a steamroller.  In the scene, the villain turns and sees the steam roller coming from about 100 yards away, moving impossibly slowly, slower than a sleeping sloth can crawl.  I mean, moving Peyton-Manning-avoiding-the-rush slow.  The villain has more than enough time to step out of the way.  Heck, he could make it to Fiji on a stage coach by the time the steamroller gets to his location.  But he doesn’t.  He just screams in terror for about 30 seconds, occasionally refilling his breath to continue screaming, before being eventually crushed by the steamroller.

In our analogy, the Minnesota Vikings are the steamroller, the rest of the league is the villain.  Minnesota has been rebuilding since the Dawn of Time.  The Vikings long-term strategy was firmly in place when the first dynasties rose in ancient China.  Hell, the only major setback the rebuild has experienced was when that damn meteor took out the dinosaurs and eliminated some nicely developing draft picks.  Dude, they had this Stegosaurus on defense who could GET TO the quarterback.  I mean, that tail was CRAZY!

Patience. Patience. This is but a minor setback.
Patience. Patience. This is but a minor setback.

Finally, though, finally the team appears to be on the upswing.  Pick after pick after top half of the first round pick has been sunk into this team, filling it with more talent than anybody this side of Buffalo.  And now that talent is starting to grow…

It’s starts with the wide-outs: Dorial Green Beckham, Allen Robinson, Nelson Agholor, Tyler Boyd, and Laquon Treadwell could be scary good together.  Jace Amaro and Kyle Rudolph are solid at TE.  Derrick Henry and Devontae Booker are chomping at the bit to replace Alfred Blue.  All they lack is a good quarterback and one more year of development…

On defense, the embarrassment of riches is the same – Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Myles Jack, Vic Beasley, Harrison Smith, Marcus Peters, Jonathan Bostic, Vinny Curry – the young riches are outstanding.  And the Vikings have six more selections in the first two rounds of the 2017 draft to add to the embarrassment of riches.

They aren’t there  yet.  They lack just a little more maturity.  And a quarterback.  But they are coming.  Inevitably.  Inexorably.  Invincibly.  And there’s very little the rest of the league can do to stop them.  Fantasy Football hasn’t looked this exciting and promising in Minnesota since the late Cretaceous.

The question now becomes what happens first – do the Vikings find a quarterback?  Or does another extinction level event render such questions moot?  That apocalypse in Ohio seems very concerning right about now…

The only thing that can stop the Vikings now... if they can just find a QB...
The only thing that can stop the Vikings now… if they can just find a QB…

 

Green Bay Packers (6-10):

Keeping to the ancient dynasties and timeless civilizations theme, it is always painful when dynasties fall.  Usually, the ruling power oppresses and dominates its neighbors, enslaving them and crushing them into the dust with a tyrannical hand.  Decay, corruption, and complacency sets in.  The empire decays from the inside.  It clamps down harder, trading away youth for veterans to desperately hang on to its dominant place in society.  Until, finally, the rebellion is too strong and too violent, the infrastructure too strained to withstand.  The empire falls.  Chaos reigns.  And like in the French Revolution, the Persian overthrow of the Babylonians, and the ejection of colonial powers from Africa – it does not go well for the ousted tyrants.

Such is the place that the Green Bay Packers find themselves in 2016.

 

For the frozen tundra of Green Bay hath fallen to ruin...
For the frozen tundra of Green Bay hath fallen to ruin…

Oh it was a glorious heyday.  A Super Bowl.  Division Championships.  Constant contention.  Constant relevance.  The golden years of the Green Bay Packers will go down in history.  But, all things (except maybe Chicago and/or the curse of AJ Green) must end.  And Green Bay must now chart a new and humbler course – with a new and humbler roster.

It’s not that the Packers don’t still have good players – they clearly do with the likes of Tom Brady, Lamar Miller, TY Hilton, and Morgan Burnett – it’s just that they don’t have nearly as many, the ones they do have are stars, not super-stars, and the one super-star they do have is suspended for the first EIGHT games of the real deal season – yep, that’s what makes 4 game suspensions hurt quite a bit more in RDFL than they do in real life.

Andre Johnson and Marshawn Lynch fondly reminisce about the glory days...
Andre Johnson and Marshawn Lynch fondly reminisce about the glory days…

Beyond that, it’s a major step down to role players like Knile Davis and Dwayne Harris.  While other teams like Minnesota and Detroit re-load with power-house rookies, Green Bay’s roster is replete with fossils like Andre Johnson, Vernon Davis, and Marshawn Lynch, memories of a bygone era that has sadly passed us by.

The trend is less palpable on the defensive side, where Aldon Smith could provide a notable boost to the team’s prospects.  No, here the issue isn’t age so much as lack of depth.  Green Bay currently has only twelve players on defense, and only one is projected for double digits – Morgan Burnett at 10.75.  I believe a couple of these players could be better than advertised, but it still projects to be a long season for the Pack.  And with only a 5th round draft pick next year, the Packers could face a long and daunting rebuild.  Probably not as long as Minnesota’s… But long.

 

 

 

Openings in Real Deal Dynasty Basketball

We are opening up our off-season activities on September 1st and there are a few open teams for this extremely deep and advanced 30 Team NBA franchise league. If interested, please take time to read the League Constitution and fill out the owner application to be considered for one of the open teams.

 

Real Deal Dynasty Basketball Constitution

 

Real Deal Dynasty Basketball Owner Application