It was the best of divisions. It was the worst of divisions. But not the same ones. Different ones. In fact, divisional disparity has been a huge part of RDFL through the first two weeks, with some divisions looking incredible and others struggling to get a single win. As a result, the playoff picture already looks very clear in some areas – and very muddy in others. Particularly in the NFC, there’s been a clear split between the haves and have-nots and the number of playoff slots available already seems limited. The AFC, on the other hand, is a complete muddle, with just about everybody outside of Denver and Miami still in contention.
Tennessee keeps on getting in close games with good teams – and keeps on winning them by the slimmest of margins. One week after knocking off KC by 2 points, the Titans bounce NFC North favorite Detroit by 5 points to move to 4-0. Sam Bradford played well, CJ Anderson had another nice week, and Odell Beckham put in a standard 17 point game, but the story of this game was a 31 point defensive eruption by Ndamukong Suh, who literally shredded people. Even more surprising than his 8 tackles and 1.5 sacks was his lack of standard cheap shots and groin kicks, which kept him in the game to wreak havoc. The Lions benefited from Martellus Bennett’s breakout 25 points, but were let down by their running game, where Ameer Abdullah and Todd Gurley combined for just 10.5 points. The end result? The Titans have a perfect record heading into week 3 and are sitting pretty at the top of a surprisingly strong AFC South. Detroit, at 2-2, remains atop a predictably down NFC North, and should be fine so long as the running game can get going.
Arizona Cardinals 210, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 209:
I did not expect to be sitting here after week 2 talking about how Arizona needed to win that game in the worst way by 1 point over Tampa Bay. This was a team that was expected to already be sipping alcoholic beverages on some beach somewhere regardless of this outcome. But man. Arizona really needed to win this game in the worst way. This was a nailbiter with playoff ramifications. It had heroes (Matt Ryan, Torrey Smith, Joshn Norman), goats (Doug Martin, Lavonte David, Jermaine Gresham), star performances in defeat (Eric Decker, Clive Walford, Von Miller, Aqib “he went to Kansas!” Talib) and in the end, it came down to Johnathan Bullard not being able to make just ONE MORE ASSISTED TACKLE on Monday night football. He needed two. He got one in the first quarter. And then… nothing. Arizona escapes to stay in striking distance of the “more lucky than good” Seahawks. Tampa Bay falls a disappointing two games back of Carolina and Atlanta, albeit with the chance to make up ground with winnable matchups against the Rams and Saints in week 3.
Cleveland Browns: Well, well, well. Take a look at your 3-1 Cleveland Browns. Cleveland dropped 259 points in a week two shelling of divisional rivals Baltimore and Cincinnati. It was an all around outstanding performance by the Browns, who had 12/20 starters go for double figures and 6/20 go for 20+, but nobody over 26 (Isaiah Crowell). It’s the sort of highly-balanced performance the Browns were looking for, and puts them in the catbird seat in what is turning out to be a very winnable decision. Even better, unknowns like Corey Grant and question marks like Crowell, Jordan Poyer, and Marvin Jones are playing well. Could be a very good season in Cleveland.
Atlanta Falcons: So I picked the Falcons to finish DEAD LAST in the NFC South. Oops. Atlanta posted a second consecutive strong week, scoring 237 and knocking off both a competent Oakland Raider squad and a surprisingly game LA Rams team to move to 4-0. Ryan Fitzpatrick looks like the answer (at least for this year) at quarterback. Kelvin Benjamin looks awesome, not overweight. The safety combination of Kemal Ishmael (24) and Tony Jefferson (22) looks worldbeating, and even the temporary loss of Jonathan Stewart and potentially indefinite badness of Mohamed Sanu and Marc Mariani doesn’t appear to be crushing. It’s a long season, and a lot of fantasy football is left for the Falcons, especially in the brutal NFC South – but so far, so good.
The SOUTH and the EAST: Divisional records through two games:
Southern Divisions: 23-9
Eastern Divisions: 19-13 (19-5 without Miami and Washington)
Western Divisions: 12-20
Northern Divisions: 10-22
The Southern divisions look utterly dominant, with Tennessee, Atlanta, and Carolina all undefeated, Indy and Jacksonville at 3-1, and strong teams in Tampa Bay and Houston gamely hanging on at 2-2. The Eastern divisions look even better at the top, with Buffalo, New York, and Philadelphia undefeated and the surprising New England Patriots at 3-1. It is already looking like a pretty good bet that all four wild card teams are going to come from these two divisions.
Honorable Mentions: New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles
The NORTH and the WEST: See the records noted above for the obvious parallel. It actually gets worse than that. The Seattle Seahawks are 3-1 while averaging less than 150 points per game, the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders are struggling with major injuries to key players already, and Denver and Green Bay have struggled just to field legal lineups, let alone win games. If there is a silver lining, it’s that four of the top seven teams in the league in scoring (KC, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Detroit) are from these four divisions. Of course, nobody else is higher than 16. The real problem is wild card jockeying. With East and South division teams compiling stellar records and West and North teams losing games, the need to make up ground to compete for wild cards is already looming large.
New Orleans Saints: What a brutal start for the Saints. A week after scuffling a 1-1, 175 point performance in the inaugural week, the Saints came back with only 164 in week two, and got absolutely blitzed by Tampa Bay and the New York Giants. The good news for New Orleans is that they have the divisional favorites from the East and West off their schedule. The bad news is that they are at 1-3, 3 games out of both the wild card and the divisional race, down in tie-breakers, and just simply not scoring many points. It’s been the offense that has really let New Orleans down thus far. The Saints are a Brees 40 spot from 0-4 – and even with that 40 spot, are ranked 22nd in the league in offense. Jimmy Graham just can’t get going in Seattle, John Nelson is barely even getting looked at, Jeremy Langford has struggled to find running room (and was almost benched for “going down too easy” after week 1), and only Sammie Coates has looked like a “above the expectations” bright spot. Tough sledding for the Aints, who must get this fixed fast. It’s a literal must win in week 3 with divisional rivals TB and Atlanta in town. If things don’t turn around quickly, NO could find itself literally five games back, an almost impossible hole.
Baltimore Ravens: Speaking of good teams in rough spots, what a heart-breaking week for the Ravens! Not only did the Ravens get snowed by divisional rival Cleveland, they dropped a 190-189 point loss by less than HALF a point to the New England Patriots. It all came down to Monday Night Football, where Nelson Agholor outscored Zach Miller by 1.5 points for the Pats to seal it for New England. Baltimore has had the misfortune of facing RDFL’s hardest schedule by a good 50 points (922 points scored against them in 4 games – a 230 point average!), so things should get easier. The bad news, though, is that they are now 3 off the pace, down in the tiebreakers, and only 16th themselves in points scored. The issue is clear for the Ravens – with the exception of Telvin Smith, they’ve really been let down by their defense, which managed only 53 points outside of Telvin’s double deuce.
Dishonorable Mentions: Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Houston Texans, and hard luck teams going 0-2 with point totals in the 190s (New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens).
Week 3 Games of the Week:
Arizona Cardinals vs. Buffalo Bills: Cards-Seahawks doesn’t count yet. I won’t do it. But this one does. Arizona needs a big game against Buffalo, as everyone does. But despite their 4-0 record, the Bills have looked surprisingly beatable this year, and may not have AP available for week 3. A 3-3 start wouldn’t be the end of the world for the Cards, but best to avoid a dud and at least beat Seattle. A 2-0 week and that beach looks just a weak delayed. An 0-2 week and it might be time to worry.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers: This could and should actually read “Every divisional game in the AFC South”, which has an incestuous week of mayhem on tap that should either provide some clarity within the division or muddle it yet further. This is the headliner though, with the 4-0 Falcons sizzling the first two weeks – up against the “yes, we are 4-0 and SOMEHOW NOBODY IS TALKING ABOUT US AGAIN” Carolina Panthers. How do they DO that? There is some sort of cloaking device that prevents anyone from paying attention to them… until it’s too late. Like an invisibility ring. What’s that you say? One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them? Atlanta’s flashier… but you don’t mess with the Dark Lord.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans: We play in a realistic league. It has depth, defense, special teams, formations. Salaries. Cap hits. It’s as real as they get. But sometimes you remember that this league is FANTASY. The fact that JACKSONVILLE is playing TENNESSEE in a game of the week is one such reminder. And yet, these two teams are 7-1 and squaring off for the division lead. It should be a close, interesting game, as both of these teams are in the top 10 in defense. Tennessee has a track record now of winning these. But something tells me Kirk Cousins is about to have himself a very big game…
New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: 4-0 vs. 4-0. National stage. Huge division. For all the marbles. But this still feels like a David vs. Goliath matchup. The Eagles are undefeated despite ranking only 14th in the league in total points with 761 (averaging 190 per game). By contrast, the Giants are just simply breaking people, having scored 1070 points through four points (265+ per game). Yes these two teams are both 4-0. But New York is outscoring Philly by 75 points per game. I don’t see anything changing this week, as the prohibitive super bowl favorites continue their death march through the real deal world.
Free agency, after a short delay, is upon us once more.
Last season’s initial free agency period was way more wild and crazy than even the most optimistic or drunk of us could have even imagined. Hassan Whiteside got $46 million a year. Bobby Covington got north of $20 per. Jordan Clarkson got paid a $32 million a year deal. And two of those guys ended up on the same team!
This year I think will not be as insane. We’re all one year deeper into the league, one year wiser and one year further fed up with our rosters. Seriously, is Mario Hezonja EVER going to get some damn playing time?! On top of that, the free agency pool is not as good as last year’s. You won’t find guys like Whiteside and Clarkson available, even if you did want to overpay them.
So let’s take a look at who’s out there:
– Dewayne Dedmon, a shot blocking monster who I really like as the Spurs’ backup center
– Marcus Thornton, simply for the fact that he can score in spurts and the Wizards have virtually no offense to speak of off the bench
– Paul Pierce, because why not
– Leandro Barbosa, because maybe he’s still got some magic left in there
– Salah Mejri, even though he’s way more useful in real life than in fantasy
10. MICHAEL BEASLEY
Beasley would rank higher on this list if anyone had any faith that he could play a whole season without getting caught smokin’ doobies, or playing like he just smoked a doobie. Last year, after being exiled to China for most of the NBA season, Beasley returned and, you know what, he was pretty decent for the Rockets. In 20 games, he put up over 26 fantasy points per game – more than enough to warrant a bench spot for most contenders and the highest per game output for any available free agent. And none of you would even give me a second round pick for him at the end of last season. Boo! Where Beasley fits on this Rockets team and if he can continue playing at the level he did last spring remains to be seen. The Greasy Beasy will be stuck in the forward rotation behind the likes of Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Domantas Motiejunas and even probably Corey Brewer, plus second-year players Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell are knocking on the door and will be demanding attention sooner rather than later. Could I see Beasley wasting away on the bench and getting DNPed half the time? Yeah. Could I also see someone plunking down a $15 million a year contract on the hopes that he can match last season? Yeah, I could see that too.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Contenders with bench and cap space, Desperate teams telling themselves “But he was the second overall pick!”, Bored teams with cap space, Teams with no depth and no trade bait
9. JAMES ENNIS
James Ennis has been a sexy “deep sleeper” pick by morons who get paid to write fantasy content for Bleacher Report or SB Nation or something because of one good preseason for Miami a few years ago, and somehow still has a lot of that hype around him, but the fact is he’s really not a very good NBA player, like, at all. But Memphis is a good situation for him. Fresh off scoring 16 points per game (real points, not fantasy) for the Pelicans in the spring, Ennis is back with the Grizzlies and reunited with David Fizdale, whom I personally guarantee is about to become a sensation – not for his coaching ability but because of his goober persona and meme-ability. Ennis is a bulky wing player who can shoot from distance and defend 3s and 4s, and that makes him kind of a unique player on the Grizzlies roster as a sort of replacement Jeff Green, who is actually quite bad at shooting from distance and defending 3s and 4s. Ennis is going to have to contend with JaMychal Green for playing time at the stretch 4 spot off the bench, if Fizdale decides his play style will match the Grizzlies guard-heavy roster. Either way, this is going to be a rebuilding year for the Grizzlies, a team whose roster absolutely stinks outside of Conley and Gasol, and that means garbage guys like James Ennis will have an opportunity to shine.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Desperate teams telling themselves “All that hype can’t just be noise!”, Sneaky teams looking for cheap depth
8. THABO SEFOLOSHA
Sefolosha is as steady as he is boring, which is to say he does not inspire intrigue as a basketball player – fantasy or otherwise. Writing these previews I had actually forgotten he’s not still on the Thunder. On the court, you know what you’re getting: pretty good wing defense and the occasional trey. In fantasy, you know what you’re getting: 20-22 fantasy points per game and not much else. Sefolosha’s job is about to be in trouble because they Hawks used the #12 pick to reach for a better, younger version of himself in Taurean Prince from Baylor. Prince is currently #3 on the depth chart at small forward behind Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore, The Once and Future King of Atlanta, Georgia, and is definitely coming for Thabo’s spot. Coach Bud will definitely give the nod to Sefolosha over the rookie to start the year, but it may be in the team’s best interest to start ceding some of Thabo’s minutes to Prince. Both of those guys, though, miss out on opportunities to play a defensive stretch 4 role for Atlanta, because their regular 4, Paul Millsap, also happens to be an ideal stretch 4 offensively and one of the best defensive forwards in the league. So what makes Sefolosha appealing at all? Well, he’s still better than Tim Hardaway Jr. and Bazemore is bound to have some bad games. That’s pretty much it.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Contenders with little cap space, Teams with no depth who want veterans
7. SEAN KILPATRICK
The Real Nets roster is even more of a shambles than The Fake Nets’ one, holy cow. The Barclays Center was an absolute wasteland last season, but one of the few guys to emerge from the bloodbath looking somewhat decent was Sean Kilpatrick – and that’s mostly because Kilpatrick played a fairly big part in creating that bloodbath in the first place. The Nets’ players were allowed to do pretty much whatever the hell they wanted past a certain point in the winter, and much of that involved Kilpatrick running like a lunatic at the basket as soon as he touched leather. That’s pretty much all he offers on a basketball court aside from some spot-up threes, but that might be good enough because he averaged about 30 fantasy points per game when things got really out of hand for the Nets at the end of the season. Things will settle back to normal this season for Kilpatrick with the arrival of some more guards, and it’s likely that Kilpatrick is the third shooting guard for Brooklyn behind Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert, a marvelous glass statue that has come to life and learned to play hoops, or even fourth behind Randy Foye, who is on this team for some reason. But I mean he’s still better than Joe Harris for crying out loud so there’s that.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Young rebuilding teams, Teams with little cap space on the playoff bubble
6. BIG FAT RAYMOND FELTON
On paper, Raymond Felton and I have the exact same body type, right down to the measurables: six-foot-one and two-hundred-and(ahem ahem cough) pounds. The only difference is that Felton is a millionaire athlete and I am writing this at 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday at my desk. Felton is so inconsistent on a year-to-year basis but he had a nice season for Dallas last year – but then again Rick Carlisle can make almost any point guard look good. For the first time in a while, the Clippers have some decent depth and Felton will be playing with guys in the second unit who can actually help him out. Speights and Bass are two big fatties who can shoot from midrange, opening up more floor space for Felton to do whatever it is that he can manage. Add Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce to that unit and you’ve got something interesting, and Doc will surely be relying on that bench unit more this season so as not to overexert his big three. This is probably the last year of that Clippers core, so CP3 and Blake will be well rested for the playoffs. I don’t think much of Felton as a player but he’s better than Austin Rivers.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Teams willing to overspend on a backup point guard and don’t mind if he might stink
5. JARED DUDLEY
A better real-life player than where he appears on this list, Dudley finds himself in a bit of a logjam in Phoenix, competing with minutes at the 3 and 4 with TJ Warren, PJ Tucker and rookie wonderboys Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. Dudley will probably end up starting at the 4, but depending on how fast the Suns go into tank mode, he runs the risk of shrinking into the Kevin Garnett “coach on the bench” role. Dudley will be a great pickup if he maintains consistent minutes.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Contenders looking for a cheapish bench option, Prospectors hoping to pick him up and flip him early
4. SHELVIN MACK
Utah liked Mack enough to get rid of Trey Burke to create more playing time for him, which I guess isn’t saying much because Trey Burke stinks and they basically gave him away for free. Mack figures to slot in as the backup point guard behind George Hill, ahead of the maybe-still-promising Dante Exum, who missed all of last year and wasn’t good as a rookie, and Raul Neto, who is a neat offensive player but defensively you might as well just put a pair of his sneakers there instead of him actually guarding people. Mack is a blazing quick point guard who played really, really well from a fantasy perspective when he got the lion’s share of ballhandling duty for the injury-addled Jazz at the end of last season. He would rank a lot higher on this list if Utah had fewer point guards. Hill is essentially a perfect fit at point for this team, so Mack’s minutes will probably be handed out sparingly. Plus, the Jazz will want to throw Exum out there plenty just to see if he can ever warrant being the #3 pick.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Any team that needs a point guard
3. JERRYD BAYLESS
I think Jerryd Bayless pretty much stinks as a basketball player, yet he’s also somehow underrated. But for now, he’s the only point guard that Philly has outside of undrafted scrubs TJ McConnell and Cat Barber. That means he’s going to play a lot of minutes. It also means he’s going to be basically the only guy who can pass the ball in any given possession besides Ben Simmons, so that means plenty of assists. Whether or not he can cash in on this golden fantasy opportunity remains to be seen, because, like I said, he ain’t that good. His three-point shot is very inconsistent and he’s always struggled when asked to be the primary distributor. Bayless’ potential lies exclusively in the fact that he’s the lone point guard this team really has, not in his ability as a basketball player. But, in fantasy, minutes are usually more important than skill level.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Any team that needs a point guard, but only for one season until Philly drafts a real point guard next summer
2. DAVID WEST
David West is going to make a real difference for some team this year, I am absolutely sure of it. First off, he’s gonna be mad about not winning a ring with the Spurs. Second, he’s going to take all of Speight’s minutes as that scoring big off the bench. Third, he’s going to get even more minutes than that because he can actually play defense, he’s a veteran presence on a deceivingly young Warriors team and the only other options are the goofily named James Michael McAdoo and Kevon Looney. West is going to be asked to do a lot defensively off the bench, but when he plays with any two of Steph, Klay and Durant, he’s going to get some wide open looks and we all know he loves that midrange J. West is someone to watch in this new scenario.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Contenders that need that one more piece for this season
1. MANU GINOBILI
The latest “next up” guy in the “one more season” Spurs oldies rotation, Ginobili can still contribute even at age 47. Manu is one of the smartest basketball players ever and getting to see him play with Pau Gasol, even in their advanced age, will be a thing of beauty this year. We all know what Manu does for a basketball team. For a fantasy team, I think he will still offer a lot in terms of points, assists, steals and threes. Teams should not shy away from a one-year (or two-year? three-year?) rental.
Well, it was a painful week in Real Deal for yours truly. I went to bed on Tuesday night celebrating my come from behind victory over Tennessee. I woke up on Wednesday with two drops having been added to Tavon Austin’s stat line, taking a 1.2 point victory and turning it into a 0.8 point defeat. Owwww. With that intro, please forgive any deep-seated pain and/or anguish you might read into my tone – it’s not directed at you. Only the cold, bitter world of Fantasy Football. Welcome back Real Deal 2016, welcome back.
Oh, and as always, please forgive the typos 🙂 My proofing skills are not fantastic when my soul hurts.
New York Giants 280 over Detroit Lions, 235: Two NFC contenders. Three 30 point plus WR (Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown, and Brandin Cooks). And only one winner. This was a game that illustrated the core dynamic of the NFC almost perfectly this year. A game Detroit squad threw everything it had at the Giants, getting huge games from Brandin Cooks (41 points), Ameer Abdullah (24 points), Matt Stafford (30 points), and a 12 point game from each of its three starting LBs. It was a star-studded performance from a Lions team expected to be a serious contender, 236 points being good enough for the 3rd best score of the week. And it wasn’t close to enough. The Giants got double digits from every offensive starter, put up 156 offensive points, and could have SAT Antonio Brown and still beat the 2nd best score in the NFC. Silliness.
On another note, while I won’t address them in the “stock rising” column, it is worth noting that Buffalo got the 2nd best score of the week (261) despite an injured Gronkowski, 5 points from Tyrod Taylor, 9 points from Devonta Freeman, and only 2.5 points from Adrian Peterson. Yes – Gronk, the QB, Devonta Freeman, and AP combined for 16.5 points and Buffalo still got the post points in the AFC by 30.
I felt coming in to this season that all the rest of us were playing for bronze… and there’s nothing that happened in week #1 that has changed my opinion.
Cincinnati Bengals: Well, well, well. Rookie owner. Rough predictions. Game #1 against division giant Pittsburgh. No problem. The Bengals dropped 231 points and beat both the Steelers and the Jets. Theo Riddick (29), Jeremy Kerley (17), and Eli Rogers (19) led the way in the unsung heroes brigade, and the defense rode a trio of 15 point weeks (Geno Atkins, Will Compton, and Shawn Williams to a 102 point week. Great start in Cincinnati. The difficult question now is whether or not that kind of output is sustainable. And it’s just hard to say. Riddick, Kerley, and Rogers all have a path to solid playing time in their respective situations.. and Dalton should be excellent… we’ll just have to see. But great start for the Tigercats!
Atlanta Falcons: What a difference a year makes. The 2015 Falcons stumbled out of the gate after an exciting pre-season. This year’s Falcons did not make a similar mistake. Not only did they start out of the gate at 2-0, but they knocked off division rival Tampa Bay pretty convincingly and got very nice games from question mark players Kelvin Benjamin, Mohamed Sanu, and Julius Thomas. A 10 tackle night from Tony Jefferson paced the defense as both squads went over 100 points in a show of balance. It’s going to get a little tougher schedule wise for the Falcons, but the first week of the season could not have gone much better.
Houston Texans: Speaking of surprise teams that kicked things off about as well as could have been hoped, the Houston Texans stormed out of the gate with a 229 point effort and a pair of convincing 60+ point blowout wins over Chicago and Jacksonville. It was the youngsters getting things done for Houston as Jameis Winston looked fantastic with 25 points, Carlos Hyde and David Johnson genuinely looked like the best running pack tandem in the league, and Donte Moncrief looks poised to take a huge leap forward this year. Aside from Chandler Jones, the D-line play was a little troubling, but that’s the only real dark spot on a banner week one for the Texans.
Honorable Mentions: Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks.
Arizona Cardinals: The Arizona Cardinals are not in first place in the NFC West. Not only are they not in first place, but they are not tied for first place. They are TWO full games out of first place behind the 2-0 Seattle Seahawks. For a team expected to run away with a weak division, that’s a brutal start. Matt Ryan and Shady McCoy did their parts, but it was a bit of a well-rounded egg-laying after that. 3.5 points by Kamar Aiken, 4 by Richard Rodgers, 2.5 by JJ Watt, and an inactive performance pink slip by CJ Spiller, who was cut in favor of Travaris Cadet. Ouch. The good news is that Arizona IS in a weak decision. They have time to bounce back from a bad week, and I still expect this team to win the division – they did, in fact, STILL outscore everyone else in the division by 20. But this was a Cleveland Cavaliers “wake me when it’s the playoffs” type of performance.
Dallas Cowboys: So in my previews, I suggested that Dallas would provide a heavyweight challenge to the NY Giants for NFC East supremacy, and looked like a strong runner-up in the best division in football. I don’t think the Giants liked that. Head to head in week 1, the Giants one by 113 points. The Giants margin of victory over the Cowboys was more than both Denver and Miami scored IN TOTAL. More concerning, Dallas did not look good, posting three defensive zeros on their way to a clunker of a 66 point defensive performance. Dez looked bad. Thomas Rawls didn’t look great. Jordan Cameron gained six yards. Another team that can bounce back, this was NOT the way Dallas needed to start to challenge for the division – and at this point, they need to make some serious strides on defensive to reach .500, let alone think about the division.
The Expected: It’s hard to choose too many other times whose stock is truly falling, because largely the teams who struggled in week one were expected to struggle. Denver laid a 94 point egg that included 9 zeroes and were led in scoring by a linebacker. The Washington Redskins posted a zero, but would have lost both games anyway. The LA Rams struggled to 133 points to undercut Seattle. Not to be outdone, and apparently believing this is fantasy golf, the San Francisco 49ers did them one better and scored only 131 AND lost their QB to the IR besides. Green Bay got 119. Miami got only 108, scoring a legendarily bad 31.5 defensive points. But this group was all EXPECTED to struggle – what it does really reveal is that the competition for the #1 pick this year is going to be HEATED – and there are enough “guaranteed wins” that some 10-6 and 11-5 teams may be left out of the playoffs this year.
Week 2 Games of the Week: As in weak 1, some meaningful divisional games this week in the second double.
Arizona vs. Tampa Bay: Redemption Central. Both teams scuffled to disappointing starts, both teams need bounceback weeks. Tampa Bay needs this one more than Arizona does, but both teams could really use a big win.
Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh: It’s always a big game when these two squads go at it in the AFC, but this one seems like a foregone conclusion. Pittsburgh is good, but Buffalo is historically good, and has some players who are going to be hungry to put up better numbers than in week 1. Buffalo could win this one by 75. And that could still mean that Pittsburgh played well.
Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh: What’s more fun than an unbalanced schedule with division rivals playing each other back to back? When the first game was a startling upset. If the Steelers bounce back, all is normal in the North. But if Cincy can somehow win again, coupled with a probable Pitt loss to Buffalo, the Bengals could be 3 or 4 games up with the tiebreaker after just two weeks.
Dallas vs. New York Giants: Speaking of back-to-backs… we’ll see how this one goes. Dallas doesn’t have to win. But the Cowboys DO need to show progress.
Detroit vs. Tennessee: An intriguing game if ever there was one. The 1-1 Lions looked fantastic in week 1, while Tennessee posted a very solid 2-0 start, squeaking by the Chiefs in a stat correction. This game features two of the most intriguing teams in each conference.
Kansas City vs. Oakland: Rivalry game here, and important to start. Both teams picked up needed wins in week 1, but also suffered hard losses. Both want to come out of the doubles in pole position, and this game will go a long ways towards establishing who leads and who chases.
Kansas City vs. Houston: The Texans roared out of the gate at 2-0 and have another big week ahead, with games against KC and Indy. This is a real “is Houston for real?” week.
New Orleans vs. Tampa Bay: Two southern contenders, two teams that already need to make up ground on 2-0 Atlanta and Carolina. There’s just no let-up in this division all the way through, and a wise squad won’t fall too many behind the division leaders.
As baseball is wrapping up and football kicks off this week, dynasty basketball off-season activities begin in September. Our unique 30 team full dynasty league features salaries, contracts, extensions, amnesty clause and many other NBA-like features. We are entering our 3rd season and about to begin our free agency period this month and our 2 round Rookie draft in October. You can get all the extensive details about our league by reading our Constitution. We need one replacement owner to take over a rebuilding Philadelphia Sixers team that has two 1st round picks including #3 overall. Here is what the team looks like and keep in mind it is a 30 team league…
Just in the nick of time, we reach our last and final divisional preview of the 2016 year. The East.
The East is a Beast. Seems like that’s always the way in RDFL. There are ALWAYS Super Bowl contenders from an Eastern division. Dallas a couple of years ago. Buffalo last year. Could this be the year when two Eastern teams make a run? It’s a definite possibility.
Super Bowl favorites, right here. And I don’t think it’s even close. This team is loaded for the bear. Great offense. Great defense. Favorable schedule. This is a stacked squad. The curse of AJ Green favors it. Super Bowl tested last year, and coming off disappointment against Carolina, there’s a hunger for vengeance that I see carrying this team over the top. Most years I waffle. Not this one. Clear and obvious Super Bowl champs, right here.
I mean, look at this team. Tyrod Taylor averaged 19.16 ppg last year – comparable to Aaron Rodgers, who averaged 19.36. Adrian Peterson and Devonta Freeman are the starting backfield. AJ Green and Alshon Jeffery join DeSean Jackson in a loaded WR group. And Rob Gronkowski, the TE to smash all TEs, will also haul in a lot of TDs. Victor Cruz, and CJ Prosise are coming off the bench. Man it’s weird to jump from the NFC West to the Bills. Fantrax projects this offense to average 120 points per week, and I personally think that could be low, depending on what guys like DJax and Devonta Freeman actually put up.
Defense is the same story, possibly even better. Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald on the line? And a handless JPP (science has shown that when your hands are taken away, your other senses are amplified. JPP is going to hunt QBs with sonar and an acute sense of smell). That’s a top 5 player at both ends and tackle. Navorro Bowman and Brandon Marshall (the linebacker) join Mason Foster at LB, though the surprising loss of Manny Lawson hurts this group a little. The secondary has old veterans (Mike Adams and Tracy Porter) joining young and hungry backs like Deone Buccanon and George Iloka. While the group is a little light at CB depending on the play of Leodis McKelvin, it is still a fantastic young secondary group.
Put another way, this team has no apparent weaknesses. Every starting slot should put up starter to above average caliber numbers, with the possible exception of a single CB slot. There’s depth at most positions to cover injuries, and I see it as very realistic that this team averages somewhere in the 230-250 range on non bye weeks. Barring a number of serious injuries, I think this team is unstoppable and death marches to the Super Bowl a la Kentucky in the Anthony Davis era.
Miami Dolphins (8-8):
A quick glance at the Dolphins IR right now tells the whole story of their season. Sammy Watkins. Breshad Perriman. Josh Doctson. All three are unlikely to STAY on the IR. In fact, all three are most likely to be fully healthy early in the year, joining Kevin White, Niles Paul, and Chris Conley as targets for gunslinger Ryan Tannehill. No, the question isn’t injuries for this group – the question is simply how good can they be? Watkins is really the only proven player of the bunch, and even he has yet to live up to his lofty price tag as a very early first round pick – which could mean great things if he can finally hit that potential.
But man, the rest of the skill players: Breshad Perriman. Josh Doctson. Kevin White. Chris Conley. Tevin Coleman. Talk about a group of highly heralded young guns who haven’t quite gotten their chance yet. If all those guys hit, LOOK. OUT. And if Jordan Reed should happen to get injured eating jello and Niles Paul takes over… this offense could be extremely impressive. Of course, the questions always remain when relying on so many young, unproven players. There’s an old saying in Sweden – don’t count your chickens. It makes you seem rude and arrogant, particularly when you have lots of chickens. And it might inspire someone bitter and jealous because they have less chickens to dress up like Zorro, sneak into your chicken coop, and strike down your chickens with a crowbar vividly painted to resemble a coyote. So yeah. That saying was made for situations like this. Sorry to be cliche.
Defense is tough to figure out for this squad, particularly with suspensions and injury issues causing real problems up front. Randy Gregory’s suspension and subsequent rehab opened the door for Vance Walker… who promptly tore his ACL. Which left the door wide open for Dion Jordan – who has no timetable to resume football activity. This leaves Miami with one, single active defensive end – Marcus Smith. The jury is still out on whether Marcus Smith is actually active. In fact, he’s shown SO little in his time as a first round pick, that the jury remains out on whether he is a Marcus or a Smith or even a living being at all. Some think he’s a statue. Some an ent. Who can truly say? It’s a bad situation up front. The linebacking corps and secondary are better, with Dannelle Ellerbe, Perry Riley, Trent Murphy, and Shane Ray teaming up with Alterraun Verner, DJ Swearinger, and Kevin Johnson to form a serviceable defense. Still, it’s hard to see this group being particularly outstanding, even if it can get its pass rush sorted out.
End of the day, I don’t think this iteration of the Dolphins has much chance at the league crown under any circumstances. Buffalo is too good and the Fins defense is too porous. However, the volume of young talent at WR bodes really well for this team in the years to come – and I think is enough to get them to .500 this season.
New York Jets (7-9):
Another team that has dwelt in the shadows for years for whom I expect a big jump, the Jets take the leap in these predictions towards .500 and should compete for a (distant) second place in the AL East. The team’s chances recently took a big leap forward with the trade of Sam Bradford and the news that Carson Wentz will start from day one, removing one of the major holes. A number of pieces also remain in place, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, where New York almost, but not quite, qualifies as a powerhouse.
The strength of the Jets defense is up front, where ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams join Sharrif Floyd for a strong front three. Promising rookie Vernon Butler stands behind Floyd and could easily force himself into the mix at some point this season. The 3-4 defense boasts a cadre of strong linebackers, including DeMario Davis, David Harris, AJ Klein, and rookie Jordan Jenkins. What Klein, Jenkins, and additional rookie Eli Harold will be able to produce isn’t crystal clear, but Davis and Harris are strong enough in their own right to make this LB group formidable. The secondary also boasts some nice pieces, both veteran and rookie, with newcomer Vernon Hargraves, thought by some to be the best corner in the draft, joining Ha-ha Clinton Dix and Brandon Flowers. All told, this defense isn’t good enough to challenge Buffalo’s, but it should be downright solid.
The Jets could have some trouble scoring points, however. New York will rely on the ground game behind Melvin Gordon and Chris Ivory, both of whom have the potential to put together very strong years (and both of whom I happen to believe in). 2015 revelation Stefon Diggs joins the party as well, and Bilal Powell may be surprisingly capable in the backfield. Besides Wentz, the key question for New York is what they can expect from guys like Luke Willson (he of the extra L), Jeff Heuerman, Jared Abbrederis (yet another Rodgers option with potential – there’s like 93 of those guys), and Rod Streater, another guy who has flashed but really come to naught. I think this team will struggle to score points, but I do think the arrow is pointed up, particularly when Wentz really starts to develop and with another year of picks under their belts.
New England Patriots (6-10):
The Patriots have an interesting collection of players – all of whom have some potential, but few of whom are sure fire stars. Interestingly, they also have a glut of talent at the TE positional group, and a middling defense, which I think is what leaves them just behind the Jets in the east.
The best word to describe the offensive group is intriguing. Brock Osweiler is relatively unproven, but a starter with some very decent weapons who will be given every chance to put up big numbers. Frank Gore looks better than he has in years, and should be ready to put up a very solid final campaign. Jamison Crowder flashed in 2015, but could get buried on a deep Redskins receiver depth chart, particularly with the arrival of much heralded prospect Josh Doctson. Mike Wallace is a household name from his days in Pittsburgh, but its not clear whether he’ll look more like his productive old self or more like his unproductive new self. Duke Johnson might be a 3rd down back or a stud starter, and DeAndrew White, Kolby Listenbee and Danny Amendola will duke it out for the final WR spot. Shane Vereen also finds himself on the depth list, illustrating just how deep this team is in mid-level quality.
Let me take a brief diversion to expound briefly upon a point of philosophy inspired by our dear friend Mike Wallace. Reinventing oneself is not always good. This is a message of hope for those of you currently undergoing mid or quarterlife crises – don’t leave your wives, abandon your children, change careers, and become a fish and chips vendor underneath the Blue Water Bridge. Yes, it’s an awesome bridge. Yes, your family is probably being a pain in your keester, and yes, being a fish and chips vendor sounds awesome. I get it. But be like Steve Smith. When you start to suck, stay the course. You’ll suck for a few years and then, if you just stick with it, you’ll be awesome again! Don’t be like Mike Wallace. He reinvented himself right onto the waiver wire and now spends his days disappointing fantasy football players. Which is what your fish and chips will do. And probably give them the runs. Which is something Mike Wallace might also do. Cautionary tale. Don’t be Mike Wallace. Stay you. Research shows your quality of life will begin to improve in your 50s and go up until around 80 or so. So your best is ahead of you. Very unlike Mike Wallace.
Interestingly, the strength of this team is really its unsung group of Tight Ends. Delanie Walker continues to be an absolutely boss, while Cameron Brate is apparently stealing much more highly rated Austin-Sefarian Jenkin’s job. Maxx Williams, 2015’s highest rated TE prospect is waiting in the wings, and even guys like CJ Uzomah have some potential, particularly with Tyler Eifert’s absence. It’s a fascinating group that could potentially produce three bona fide stars – which might help to generate depth elsewhere.
The “quantity over quality” problem rears its head again on the defensive side, where the Patriots boast a large number of intriguing players with talent, but not a whole lot of sure things. Stephon Gilmore is an undeniably excellent corner, and William Jackson will be good as well when he recovers from his injuries, but after that, there’s a whole lot of sparks, flares, and fire starters, but no blazes: Bronson Kaufusi, Akeem Ayers, Kelvin Sheppard, Bobby Richardson, Mo Alexander, Letroy Guion, Alan Branch, Jatavis Brown, Erik Walden, Zach Sanchez, Shareece Wright, Ed Reynolds, Duke Williams – so many players, so much hope, so little shining gold. If New England could start 30 players per week instead of 22, I’d be much higher on this team’s chances. As it is, I think the lack of star power, particularly on defense, keeps this team out of the playoffs for another year.
Ok. So I’ve kept politics out of these posts purposefully. Which has been hard. Because that’s where all the best jokes live. But it’s a Saturday morning at draft time, I’m drinking coffee, and it seems both relevant and obligatory. I’ve hit the Olympics. I’ve made Cleveland jokes. I’ve referenced AJ Green. I’ve talked about other sports. I’ve hit Game of Thrones. I’ve made literally all the obligatory sportswriter references except politics. So I figure I’m kinda obligated to in this last section here.
Full disclosure – I’m a bleeding heart northeastern liberal with most of what that entails. I’m elitist, largely incompetent with any tool that is not a computer, believe that “education” is a magic wand you can just point at shit to magically make it better, and that nobody is ever responsible for anything in their lives and that it’s all the system’s fault. Lose your phone? It’s the system! Lose your license from repeated reckless driving? Damn system. Lose to anybody from the NFC West? Man, dude, you suck. It’s not the system. There’s no hope for you. I also thoroughly love to bash the man while cheerfully doing research work in support of pharmaceutical and medical device companies. I have an epic mancrush on Bernie Sanders and an equally great abhorrence for the Donald, who, as a Canadian by birth, I believe to be Don Cherry’s evil twin. It all just makes it that much sadder to me. Look what you could have been, Mr. Trump! You could have worn ridiculous suits with that combover and produced Rock ’em Sock ’em Hockey #23! All that potential. And you threw it away. ::sigh::
So let’s talk about politics. NFC East politics. East coast, back-room, dark-alley politics. You’ve got the Giants and those crazy New York values in a dead heat with Dallas. The reddest of the red against the bluest of the blue in an epic struggle for dominance of potentially not just the division, but the entire NFC. The Southern champs may have something to say about that, but man oh man these two teams are good. And just like on the national scene, Philadelphia comes in third, blue collar bitter about not having the spotlight, but not quite having the horses to make a stir on the national scene. And, of course, as always, Washington doesn’t get a vote.
New York Giants (12-4):
Just like on the national scene too, it’s New York that’s up in my crude, very unhelpful and non-predictive model. The G-men got a post-convention bounce when it was revealed that not only would Eric Ebron not miss the entire year, he potentially wouldn’t miss any time at all – a huge bonus for the Giants who not only lack a quality backup for the Detroit tight end, but lack ANY back up at all, and not a whole lot of draft capital to trade for one either.
The fact that Ebron will be fully available cements this offense as spectacular. Led by Antonio Brown, the clearcut PPR champion of the world and the Michael Phelps / Bill Clinton equivalent of unbeatable. Possibly it’s cupping. Possibly it’s an infatuation with balloons. In any case, Antonio Brown has been the leading fantasy point-getter each of the past two seasons (blowing 500 points out of the water last year) and is expected to do so again. Joining him is 2015’s #4 leading scorer, DeAndre Hopkins. Eli Manning is a strong quarterback with some strong weapons in OBJ and Sterling Shepard, and DeMarco Murray is ensconced at the head of a committee of aging Running Backs.
Despite the sheer power of those players, there are some real concerns about age and corruption on this squad (again, a parallel! See how I’m forcing this! It’s completely unnatural and obviously contrived, but I’m making it work!). The Giants have a wealth of talent at Running Back, but literally ALL of it could lose its job by the midpoint of the season. DeMarco Murray faces incumbent Derick Henry, Justin Forsett and Rashad Jennings face a plethora of young competition and that nagging voice whispering in the backs of their minds “Wake up. You are a backup! A Backup! You’re not a starter. You imposter. You’re not this good at football. One day, one day soon everyone is going to figure out that you’re pretending to be a starting RB. And then they are all going to laugh at you and you’ll be back on the sidelines where you belong!”
Editor’s Note: Between drafting this and publication, this very scenario played out for Justin Forsett. Rashad Jenning’s time is coming too.
Facing such challenges within and without, can any of the three last the year? It’s a concern. The other concern is Terrance Williams, who has been expected to break out for literally years… but may not actually ever do so. I mean, he is feeling Cole Beasley breathing down his neck…
The defense, though, is flat out good. And frankly, doesn’t have all that many question marks. It’s a notable upgrade on years past, and, to my mind, what gives them the division. Call it the ground game. Which is a terrible parallel. Because the running game IS the ground game. But I was using the running game for the “Hillary’s old” parallel. So I can’t use it again here. Dammit guys, this is HARD. Yes, yes, I KNOW that’s what she said. Shut up. You were totally thinking it.
Ahem. Sorry. Anyway. The defense. Robert Quinn, Carlos Dunlap, and Kawann Short form a top 5 defensive line, with Charles Johnson coming off the bench. It’s very solid. Pacman Jones (“I can’t cover, but look at those Kickoff return points pile up at the CB position!”) joins Prince Amukamura, Reshad Jones, Andrew Sendejo, and Trumaine Johnson in a permanent and excellent nickel. The LBs need a little work, particularly that long-awaited step forward from Arthur Brown, but Dont’a Hightower gives this team a solid presence in the middle (like Chris Christie – that dude has a solid presence in his middle fo’ sure) and it should be enough to fill out what should be an excellent defense.
Look, end of the day, it’s star power. There’s questions about running backs, questions about Terrence Williams, and questions about Linebackers. There’s questions about Benghazi and questions about emails. But the built in advantage of having an Antonio Brown and a De’Andre Hopkins is pretty significant. Antonio Brown averaged 32 ppg last year. DeAndre Hopkins averaged 25. A stud offensive player breaks the 20 point barrier. A good starting caliber player breaks 15. Just having the two of those guys in the lineup is literally like adding somewhere between a starting caliber WR and a stud caliber WR for FREE. Even if Terrance Williams WERE to throw up a zero each game, they have him covered. Everything they get from Williams and Ebron is basically gravy. It’s a huge advantage, and to my mind is the reason that the Giants eventually win this division – and the NFC – and is the best shot this league has at keeping the Bills from hosting the Fantasy Lombardi trophy.
Which makes me wonder, actually – what is a Fantasy Lombardi trophy? Discuss.
Dallas Cowboys (10-6):
So look. Dallas CAN win. It’s possible. If the economy tanks. Or Eric Ebron’s knee tanks. Or an act of terrorism takes out Antonio Brown all Tanya Harding style, Dallas could be right there. This team is flat out good, particularly on offense, but with enough defensive chops to get into the playoffs and make it a prohibitive second. But I don’t think the Cowboys can win. The star power isn’t quite starry enough and the question marks are a little bit too question-y. It would take everything to break right for this squad to reclaim the Division Title and the Super Bowl.
What do I mean? Well, it’s a tale of two Trumaine’s. New York’s Trumaine, Johnson, is a starting caliber player and will serve in a Nickel back role for the Giants this year. Dallas’ Trumaine, McBride, just got himself cut. Like Trumaine McBride, Dallas will need to replace injured, released and suspended players who were expected to play a key role – Chris Clemons and Jeremiah Ratliff up front, and possibly Sio Moore inside, depending on his health situation. There are solid replacements for sure – Akiem Hicks, Jordan Jenkins and Brandon Carr should slot in ably, though the DE situation still feels a little light to me. And certainly there’s no need to fret over players like Devin Hester and Roddy White on offense, or elsewhere on defense where the linebacking core of Moore, Rey Maualuga, Jasper Brinkley, Thomas Davis, and Sean Lee should be outstanding. But it still makes the situation just a little more tenuous.
As is so often the case, though, it’s on offense where the biggest potential and biggest question marks lie. Aaron Rodgers should be his usually fantastic self, particularly with Jordy Nelson back in the fold. But after that, it’s a series of potentially spectacular players with major question marks. Thomas Rawls is in position to be the #1 option on a run first squad – but is facing major competition to even hold on to the starting role, from Alex Collins, Christine Michael, and CJ Prosise. Jeremy Hill likewise could put up another top 5 rushing season, but his unforced fumbling errors could leave him in the doghouse with voters – and his coach. Dez Bryant’s a stud, but has had his share of injury issues and hasn’t shown the ability to overcome a poor QB situation – which makes him a little less durable than Antonio Brown. Allen Hurns is another one who just seems to produce out of sheer lack of knowledge that he’s not a very good player. It might catch up with him in the form of Marqise Lee this year. John Brown’s a speedster who could be a star, and both Jordan Cameron has tons of potential at TE – but neither one is a sure thing.
I’m not trying to be harsh on Dallas. They’ve run a bold, aggressive team-building campaign and have put together a really nice squad. I like the players on offense and I like some of the players on defense. If everyone pans out, the Cowboys can definitely one. But a lot has to go right to catch a team as good as the Giants. We’ll see.
Philadelphia Eagles (7-9):
I’ll be the first person to tell you that this team does not deserve to be 7-9. It’s a solid squad with some good players. But this is a brutal division, and the hard truth is that just as Philly doesn’t quite compare to New York as a metropolitan area, it’s the same situation in RDFL.
Let’s start with what does work for the Eagles – the hard nosed, physical defense. You’ve seen that over and over again. Some teams (and it seems like some divisions) pay attention to the defensive side of the football. Those teams and divisions are routinely better than teams with outstanding offense and a hoard of 6-pointers on defense. It’s critical in RDFL, as evidenced by just about every team that went to the playoffs last year. And the NFC East gets that. Philadelphia gets that. Remember the Giants D-Line? Philly’s is better, with Ezekiel Ansah, Fletcher Cox, and Jurrell Casey putting it a solid #2 in RDFL, behind only the ridiculous pairing of JJ Watt and Aaron Donald in Arizona. Connor Barwin and Mychal Kendricks join stud rookie Deion Jones and potential beneficiary of the “Purple Drank” suspension of Rolando McClain, Anthony Hitchens. The secondary is excellent too, anchored by the newly wealthy Honey Badger and rising stars Kyle Fuller, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Tashaun Gipson. This defense is good enough to keep even Damarious Randall on the bench. It’s a 100 point a week defense.
On the flip side, Derek Carr and Latavius Murray are both strong, young, players. Even if Latavius is threatened for catches by DeAndre Washington, he should still put up RB1 numbers in a way that DMC never reliably could. And Carr should simply continue to get better. Jason Witten probably has one more good year in him as Dak Prescott’s security blanket. Even Stew Beef, a young 29 from perennial timeshare status should put up solid starting running back numbers, if not stud numbers. There is a STEEP drop-off after the top four, though, with Philly needing to rely on starting level contributions from Josh Huff, Malcolm Mitchell, Lance Kendricks, Larry Donnell, or Chris Thompson. But still, a serviceable offense combined with an outstanding defense.
So why not the love? Why 7-9? It’s that Star Power thing again. The issue is really this. Even the solid guys, like Murray, Stew Beef, and Witten are all going to produce starting caliber efforts – 15ppg or so generously. That means it would take more than three of them having outstanding days to equal the top two on NYG. And then it really does go down from there. The offense is serviceable, but it puts Philly in an approximately 30-50 point hole just about every game against the division leaders – which is hard for a defense to make up. I could make a case for 8-8 if they play well outside the division. But it’s a tough road to hoe for a Philly team that has struggled to crack the top of what has been the best division in RDFL cumulatively since it’s inception.
Washington Redskins (4-12):
Washington DC never gets to vote. Ever. Districting gives it a measly single vote in the electoral college. There’s no Senate presence. Residents feel that nobody cares about them – they host the pols – but the pols don’t listen. The cost of living in DC is obscenely high, rivaling cities like Manhattan, making it difficult to get ahead. And you’re not allowed to build anything more than 5 stories off the ground to avoid overshadowing the important monuments and such. And on the football side of things, you have Dan Snyder as an owner, a legacy of Shanahans, and more drama about your nickname than competing for the playoffs. It’s rough.
It’s rough in RDFL too. Probably even rougher than in real life. There’s no quarterback, with EJ Manuel and Christian Hackenburg duking it out for the coveted prime benchwarmer role. The immortal Larry Fitzgerald continues to stave off father time to provide the only offensive firepower on the squad.
Editor’s note: Erp. Now he’s gone. No firepower.
And after that? Denard Robinson (who drove his car into the purple drank). Brandon Tate (nope, not the good Tate with opportunity – the not good Tate without much opportunity). Tyler Kroft (I’m only here until the better Bengals TE named Tyler shows up). Adam Humphries (who? No, seriously. I can’t even make a sarcastic remark because I don’t know who this fool is). Cecil Shorts III (Dude, lose the “III”. You aren’t allowed to have roman numerals after your name while you are this far down on the depth chart. It’s pretentious. You can have your III back when you start catching passes. Maybe you can have some pants then too. It’s going to be fall, dude. You’ll be cold in shorts.)
This is an offense that belongs in the NFC West. But unfortunately for Washington, it is in the NFC East. What that means is that instead of being pseudo-competitive with 30 points offensive weeks, this team is going to get obliterated in divisional matchups.
Things look better on defense. But not better enough to matter. And like many teams, Washington has a difficult situation on its hands, with some of its best defensive players aging. Paul P (still can’t spell his name. Still not willing to try) anchors a linebacking group that is the strength of this team, supported by Ryan Shazier, JT Thomas, and the once more employed Stephen Tulloch. The secondary is also excellent (which it has to be, in this division), with rags to riches story David Amerson playing alongside Xavier Rhodes, Kenny Vaccaro, Michael Griffin, and the still good DeAngelo Hall. The line is a mess, though, with self-styled philosophy hipster Robert Nkemdiche already the best player, and no real worthy starters.
The defense is better than the offense – but it is still the worst defense in the division by a significant margin. Worse for Washington, DeAngelo Hall and DJ Pauly P. are nearing the end of the careers, leaving the defensive without a true youth movement, though Savier Rhodes and Ryan Shazier do provide some potential. It’s a tough spot to be for the Redskins, who need to translate some of their aging stars into draft picks and future potential – but face a brutal year in a serious contender for the best division in football.
PLAYOFFS BONUS SECTION:
AFC East Champion: Buffalo Bills
AFC North Champion: Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC West Champion: Oakland Raiders
AFC South Champion: Tennessee Titans
AFC Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs
AFC Wild Card: Cleveland Browns
AFC Championship Game: Buffalo vs. Tennessee
AFC Champion: Buffalo Bills
NFC East Champion: New York Giants
NFC North Champion: Detroit Lions
NFC West Champion: Arizona Cardinals
NFC South Champion: New Orleans Saints
NFC Wild Card: Carolina Panthers
NFC Wild Card: Dallas Cowboys
NFC Championship Game: New York Giants vs. New Orleans Saints
NFC Champions: New York Giants
Super Bowl Champions: Buffalo Bills
Good luck everyone! 2016 is year #4 of RDFL. Here’s to the best one yet!
And we’re back for the 3rd of four sets of divisions in our 2016 preview. Good times will be had by some. I spent some time in California when I wrote the initial draft, so you’ll forgive me if I default to the Western divisions in honor of my geography. I’ll finish things up on the East Coast shortly.
The Raiders have played a high-risk, high-reward brand of fantasy football since the inauguration. It’s their style. And while it hasn’t yet put them over the top, it’s come very close – the unluckiest team of 2015 could have been West division champion EASILY if just a couple of points had swung the other way. If I recall correctly, they lost something like 3 games in 2015 by margins of less than a couple points. It was nuts. At some point that luck has to turn. And it might be this year.
But man this squad is risky. Carson Palmer’s solid. But after that? Arian Foster could be a total bust or he could be a top 5 RB again after a veritable year off. Oakland will also trot out Jay Ajayi – but he’s also quite unproven. This could be a hell of a tandem – or it could timeshare itself into oblivion. Eddie Lacy was one of the most disappointing players in the league… but he’s also a contender for top pick if he gets back to form. Josh Gordon has finally gotten away from the devastating influence of Johnny Manziel and looks to put his extensive suspension experience to work in actual football. But will his suspension experience transfer to the field? Possible top 10 WR… possible total bust. Davante Adams? Jordan Matthews out of Chip’s offense? Brandon Coleman? When DOES Tyler Eifert actually return. How does he play when he does? If the offense plays out, Oakland could have two top-5 RBs, 2 top 10 WRs and a top 5 TE. If it doesn’t, they could literally have Carson Palmer and a squad of ineffective backups and timeshares. Oakland has wisely handcuffed RB investments, but still. The range of possible outcomes here is insane.
The defense is really good, but there are still a lot of high-potential low-floor guys here. Jordan Hicks was spectacular at LB as a rookie before going out for the year. Can he stay healthy AND avoid a sophomore slump? Is he for reelz? Preston Brown has a huge role due to a Reggie Ragland injury… but he needed a rookie to get injured to get that role. Can he take advantage? TJ Carrie is a nice young player, but can he translate that to points? Is Karl Joseph ready to produce from day #1?
I will say this – on defense, I think the probability of “yes” answers are very high to most of these questions. This is a team with a good Carson Palmer and a good defense. Whether or not this is the AFC West division champs is going to depend on the wide range of outcomes with the skill players. As it always is, the Oakland Raiders should be an funsquad to follow – and a not very fun squad to play.
San Diego Chargers (9-7):
As I sit here typing on Ventura Blvd, looking out at the Palm Trees and the Poke-mon-ers, contemplating that noblest and manliest of pursuits that is fantasy football, I think it is possible (even likely) that I am sun-poisoned. The San Diego Chargers? Where the HECK did they come from? This team has been bad since day 1, and did not seem to have a real credible path to excellence as early as last year. But as I review this division, lest my eyes deceive me, the Chargers have somehow become good. And not just good, but potentially fantastic – on both sides of the ball.
Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates are back for one more campaign in the sun. With DeMarco Murray gone and Darren Sproles elderly, Ryan Matthews is all of a sudden the bell-cow back for a new look Eagles team. Doug Baldwin somehow turned from a mediocre at best WR on a run-first offense into a star. Travis Benjamin emerged from the Cleveland purgatory of high-potential Wide Receivers come to naught (looking at you Greg Little – which is more than can be said for any of your quarterbacks!) to also become a star. Jermaine Kearse is not half bad either. This offense is suddenly, solidly excellent.
On the flip side, the defense strikes me as sneaky-good. Poor man’s Carolina Panthers sneaky-good. Beyond DeMarcus Ware, the star-power isn’t there, and Rolando McClain’s “purple drank” hurts pretty significantly. But the thing that really is compelling about this squad is that everybody is solid. There’s no real drop off. They can field a team 11 deep and expect to see starter level outputs from all of them – even if the name recognition isn’t quite star caliber.
Here’s the issue for this team – DEPTH. This is a starting 20 that can compete for the division and a playoff spot. The issue, though, is that there is literally NOTHING after it. Jacob Tamme is literally the only piece of value outside of the starting lineup, and that depth is already going to be tested. There’s no good replacement for DeAngelo Williams if Le’Veon can stay off the ganja, and Stevie Johnson’s season ending injury (rumor has it that he picked a fight with Batman. The conclusion is unsurprising) means that there’s no backup at either of the other skill positions either. But it’s worst on defense, where the Chargers are absolutely reeling at Linebacker. Donald Butler, a past star, was surprisingly cut, Rolando McClain is suspended for the entire regular season, and Pernell McPhee will start the season on the PUP list and miss at least 6 games (9 in real deal land). That leaves the San Diego with only two starting linebackers – pending any additional injuries.
The 2016 iteration of the San Diego Chargers should be the best one yet. But every player should live in one of those plastic bubbles that are all the rage in youtube videos (where they roll down the hill and crush stampeding college students), because this team is susceptible to injuries, benchings, and suspensions in a way that very few others are. Below is what I see as the optimal scenario for your 2016 San Diego Chargers.
Kansas City Chiefs (9-7):
The Kansas City Chiefs are in the market for both a good trainer and the fountain of youth. Possibly both. Season-ending injuries to starting Linebackers Justin Houston and Reggie Ragland coupled with uncertainties about Jordy Nelson’s return, Jordan Reed’s status (will he get banged up sleep testing posture-pedic mattresses? Touching feathers? Blowing up balloons? Cuddling kittens or baby chicks? Absolutely everything is perilous when you are Jordan Reed), and the capacity of young linemen Caraun Reid and Dante Fowler to start games and make tackles place some question marks around this year’s Chiefs squad. It’s not just health that’s uncertain for this team, but also roles – where does Giovani Bernard fit in Cincinnati’s backfield tandem with Jeremy Hill? Will Tavon Austin still get touches in a Jared Goff system – and if he does, can he maintain the # of big plays he made last year?
Also, can someone please explain to me why Tavon Ausin is NOT returning kickoffs? Please?!? I can just picture the conversation.
Coach A: So, we have this guy who goes from 0 to 60 faster than the Flash. He’s absolutely deadly in open spaces. Every time he touches it with some room, he is a real threat to take it to the house. He’s also a super tiny for a receiver, which means he’s not going to win a lot of 50-50 balls. Hmm. How can we possibly get him the ball?
Coach B: I have it! Let’s take our rookie quarterback and have him try to throw passes to him while he’s covered by a guy who is 7 inches taller than he is. He’ll probably be able to see him. Or, we can throw telegraphed check passes or hand it off to him and ask him to break tackles with his 73 pound frame.
Coach A: I love it! It’s foolproof.
Coach C: What about returning kickoffs? That way, he would catch the ball in space and could get acceleration…
Coach A: That’s absurd. Go sit in the corner. You’re such a damn fool you probably think zebras are real animals and not just what line judges look like when you get concussed!
The Chiefs should be a good team – Alex Smith is a serviceable scrambler, and the pass-catching group of Nelson, Austin, Reed, Randall Cobb and Pierre Garcon should put up some points. There are starting caliber defenders at every position and even in the absence of Houston and Ragland, the linebacking core of D’Qwell Jackson, KJ Wright, and Derrick Johnson should be strong for one more year. Everson Griffen and Fowler should form a strong pass rush, and newcomers Corey Graham and Malcolm Butler should bolster what was a flagging secondary. The trick isn’t whether the Chiefs will contend – they will – it’s whether they will win. And while the chances are there, Oakland has a higher ceiling and San Diego’s starting twenty may have a lower floor. Only time will tell if the Chiefs can get back to the playoffs for the 4th consecutive season.
Denver Broncos (6-10):
The post-Peyton era is alive and well for the Denver Broncos, who are faced with a bit of a “reload and see what we have” year. Paxton Lynch is safely ensconced as the Franchise QB of the future, and Demaryius Thomas is going to be a stud no matter who is throwing him the ball. And frankly, the defense the Broncos can trot out this year is going to be surprisingly good for a team that’s gotten a “focus on the offense” rap. Guys like Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, George Johnson, Duke Ihenacho, VInce Wilfork, Chris Harris Jr. and Rahim Moore are going to keep this year’s Broncos competitive in a lot of games. And there are young players coming up for this team, with Javon Hargraves, DeAndre Washington and Paxton Lynch portending a promising future.
But the 2016 edition of the Flying Elways is going to feature one prominent question every game they play. Can they score? Demaryius can. Dion Lewis cannot. The reason being that he’s injured. It makes it hard. And after that? Anquan Boldin just celebrated his 93rd birthday, and while he can still make some grabs as a possession receiver, particularly in a Lions lineup seeking to fill the Calvin Johnson void, there’s a real question of just how many catches he can still make. Jeff Janis is fighting with what seems like about 62 other promising young receivers to be a tertiary option for Aaron Rodgers. DeAndre Washington should catch some passes, but isn’t likely to have a starting role as a rookie, and there’s no real TE to speak of. It’s a very real possibility that the Broncos could run out a team with a zero from QB, Nick Vannett, Cole Beasley and Jeff Janis on a regular basis. That would make it very hard to get it done in what is shaping up to be a surprisingly competitive AFC West.
Arizona Cardinals (11-5): “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I only have to outrun you.” That should be Arizona’s motto this year. But actually, there’s no bear. There’s more like a chubby little chimpanzee with a stick. Basically, it’s like that old “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing” program where you are driving a car and you have to win by typing a certain number of words per minute. The super-fast typers would set it to like 70 to train for careers in clerical work. The slackers would set it to about 20 wpm so they could hunt and peck and not have to learn. That’s sort of what it’s like for Arizona this year. The pace car is set to about 12 wpm. So Arizona could field a football team consisting of nothing but pygmy otters and lepers and still win the division by about 5 games. Below is a video detailing what I expect the NFC West division race to look like. The dude is Arizona. Unfortunately, I can’t embed this one, but watch it anyway.
This year, Arizona runs away with the division largely by virtue of not having a serious of massive, gaping holes big enough you could drive a tractor-trailer through at major skill positions. Matt Ryan and Shady McCoy give some solid star power on the offensive front, and the defense is good, bordering on excellent, particularly up front. The combination of Calais Campbell and JJ Watt are set to average nearly 30ppg from the Defensive End position alone – which is a very nice built in competitive advantage. An extremely strong secondary (Barry Church, TJ McDonald and Rashad Johnson at Safety, with Josh Norman and DRC doing the covering) should also put up a lot of points. It’s an interesting defensive strategy by Arizona, which has built up a surplus of strength at positions of scarcity (DE and S) throughout the league. Where most teams are scraping by for capable starters, Arizona has loaded up at these positions to bolster a good but not great, linebacking corps.
The offense is sketchier, but actually has a lot of potential. The jury is still out on whether or not Kamar Aiken, is, in fact, good at football. Signs seem to be pointing up for him, though, and he may well be the most productive Ravens receiver this year. The jury does, however, seem to have returned a verdict on Reuben Randle (not good enough for football. Let’s hope he can type!). Michael Floyd continues to be “on the edge of a breakout year” (for the record, I think he gets it) and both Brandon LaFell and Richard Rodgers have solid opportunities on their respective teams.
End of the day, I’m probably being too hard on the poor Cardinals. They are going to win this division by six games again – not just because they are the best of a bunch of bad teams – but because they are a legitimately good team. Lock this one up, it is in the bag.
Seattle Seahawks (7-9):
Being the second best team in the NFC West is a little bit like being the second best quarterback the Browns have had in the last 25 years. It’s not exactly much of an honor. That said, let’s take a second to stop and appreciate what the Seahawks have accomplished in terms of a quick rebuild. One year after selling literally everything, the Hawks are already rebuilding to the point where I expect them to finish SECOND in their division. Now, keep in mind that doesn’t mean a lot. But it is a nice step forward for the rebuilding Hawks.
It’s going to be a show me year for a lot of the young and promising players, starting with #1 overall pick Ezekiel Elliott, who joins Sterling Shepard as high class weapons for Russell Wilson, who literally had NO weapons last year. He had so few weapons that not even Ryan Lochte could have claimed to feel threatened by meeting him in a dark alley (he could, however, have seriously injured Jordan Reed).
This year, Shepard and Elliott alone should provide some rejuvenation for the offense – and for many years to come. With the notable exception of Tight End (where MyCole Pruitt really shouldn’t be anybody’s Cole Pruitt, he’s just not good enough to want), the Seahawks offense is actually filled with some promising young players – Paul Richardson is an absolutely gunner (runs like Usain bolt – though it is unclear how that will work for him to catch passes, as he tops out at 4’3” wearing wooden dutch platform shoes). Pharoh Cooper may find a role in the highly unsettled group of Goff-targets. Alex Collins is pushing for a role in a suddenly Beast-less Seattle backfield, though the re-emergence of pre-season hero Christine Michael puts a little doubt on that. Long and short, there’s young talent on the offensive side of the ball, though most of it will take some time to really develop.
There’s young talent on the other side of the ball too, though not quite to the same extent. Most notably, rookie Kamali Correa (not Kai’oahu’injured’guy, though the names are confusing) joins Denzel Perryman and Bobby Wagner to form a powerhouse linebacking corner. Other young guns with promise include Kenneth Acker, Deon Bush, and Jihad Ward, who join other young guns without promise (looking at you, Cassius Marsh) and stabilizing veterans in Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor. The Legion of Boom this is not, but good enough to be second in this division? Absolutely. Just as exciting for the Seahawks are another trifecta of first round picks (all coming potentially in the top half of the first round) to help complete the rebuild. This team still needs another year to get really good – but its on the right trajectory
San Francisco 49ers (6-10):
So I will say this for the 9ers – this is a team that could surprise. It’s an intriguing plan that’s been put into place, and it could certainly pay off – just like Oakland, this team seems to have captured the bay area penchant for high risk, high reward players. Unlike Oakland though, I have more concerns about these risks – and I’m not sure there are enough sure things to warrant quite as much optimism.
For one, it all starts with the dynamic QB to WR1 duo that every team covets to score major points. RGIII to Corey Coleman. How the heck do you evaluate this pairing? By all accounts, RGIII has looked pretty excellent in camp (dude even SLID the other night – Dayumm! Times, they are a-changin’) and pretty mediocre in the preseason. And also by all accounts (this is actually probably an overstatement, as there are a LOT of accounts. The internet causes accounts to proliferate and everybody has a different one. It’s kind of like Olympians filing police reports. Ooh. Lochte-burn), Corey Coleman is the real deal. But man. Coleman is a rookie. RGIII is a multi-bust. It’s Cleveland. This could be a 20/20ppg pairing and the foundation of a better than expected offense. But the bust chances seem high too. Just hard to evaluate.
It’s like that all the way down the roster. Michael Thomas could catch a lot of Drew Brees passes (there are usually lots of them), or he could be confused for various other Mike Thomas’ and disappear. Austin Seafaring-Jenkins could be the stud we’ve been expecting for years, or he could lose his job to his landlubbing counterpart, Cameron the Brate. Similar story for Matt Jones. Hunter Henry is a very promising TE for the long-term of this team, but he’s also a rookie TE – who traditionally don’t do very much. D-liners Benson Mayowa and Erik Armstead may or may not be all the way back from injury. Slick Willie Young and Duron Harmon’s roles are up in the air in the secondary (or were, before the trade), and it remains to be seen how much the SF IDPers will see statistical bounces due to the preposterous number of snaps Chip Kelly (and his minions Blaine and Colin) will make them play on the field.
The trick for me is that none of these risks feel great for 2016. I like Corey Coleman, and to a real degree RGIII. I like Armstead. But I like Brate over Jenkins, Mike Thomas as a role-player, not a starter, Matt Jones to time share, and Hunter Henry to be a rookie. I don’t like Slick Willie Young. And even if all these risks were to pan out, I think a second place divisional finish is the ceiling for this squad. I don’t doubt that this team can play way ahead of where I expect them to be – and the pieces are there for a nice dynasty squad (oh, and Sheldon Richardson is a vengeful Aztec deity), but my prediction is a 3rd place finish for this team.
Los Angeles Rams (5-11):
The only thing with less dignity than the acronym LARM is potentially going to be the LARM offense this year. Unfortunately, that is going to undercut what could actually be a surprisingly decent defense to keep this team at the bottom of the NFC West pecking order.
In many ways, the Rams seem to be in the same place that the Seahawks were last year, but with a better defense and fewer draft picks. There’s promising young quarterback Marcus Mariota – and not a whole lot else. Interestingly, the Rams second best player on offense is another quarterback – Slammin’ Sammy Bradford. After that? Well, Chris Sims could be ok with the Muscle Hamster’s sloppy seconds. But man. Cordarelle Patterson and Bishop Sankey are two high-profile rookies who have busted HARD looking to resurrect their careers away from the Detroit spotlight. It’s hard to see either one doing it. Sankey has already been cut, along with starting WR Chris Givens. Jared Cook has been a breakout threat forever, but he’ll be about the 11th option on the Packers. Darrius Heyward Bay is another high-profile bust who has shown occasional flashes, but looks stuck behind Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton in Martavis Bryant’s absence. Moritz Boehringer should bring in six or seven German fans, but not nearly as many footballs. And Jeff Cumberland, always a favorite of this author, is both injured and not actually very good at scoring fantasy points, despite his sheer awesomeness. That offense is going to STRUGGLE, a la Seattle 2015.
It’s a shame, because the offense is going to undercut what should be a very nice defense. The Rams have some real riches in the secondary, with Senquez Golson, Rodney McCleod, Janoris Jenkins, Darian Stewart, Marcus Cooper, and EJ Gaines all looking starting caliber. Bob Ayers Jr. and Cedric Thornton provide some nice power up front, and James Laurinitis and Nick Perry are no slouches in the middle, though the Linebacking corps is weaker than either the front-line or the outfield.
End of the day, it’s possible that the defense is enough to put this team up to a third or even a second place finish if things break right. But that offense is going to hamstring this team’s ceiling and keep them in contention for a top five pick throughout the year. The tough part for the Rams is that that pick will be their only real draft asset of value for next year unless a QB can be flipped or they can turn some of that secondary depth into draft capital. It’s a rebuild in SoCal, but it’s not looking like a fast one.