Division Previews: Eastern Conference

Basketball is finally almost here!

Let’s get to some predicting. Here, I give my guesses as to how the divisions will end up, and who makes the postseason.

 

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1. TORONTO RAPTORS

Toronto, for the third straight year, is going to walk into a division title just because it’s the only team in this division that isn’t a complete train wreck or deep in a rebuild. Lowry and DeRozan, as in real life, are a fine if not particularly riveting duo. Randolph and Gortat have historically been the leading second-tier contributors for the Raptors, but Gorat is in decline and Randolph is 35 and now coming off the bench in Memphis. And beyond that, Toronto doesn’t have too much going on. Ahead of a bench with no one particularly useful on it, the Raptors will be counting on big production from the likes of Dion Waiters, Patrick Patterson and Omri Casspi, which doesn’t sound too promising for Toronto’s playoff run – especially considering how good some other teams in the East are becoming.

 

2. NEW YORK KNICKS

New York made one of the biggest off-season trades by trading DeAndre Jordan for the younger hometown kid with more potential: Kristaps Porzingis. A great move for the Knicks, which sets a foundation for them to stay relevant down the road in a division with three long-term redevelopers while simultaneously remaining the second best team in the Atlantic. If things go really wrong in the East’s other two divisions, this team might even sniff at a playoff spot – but don’t count on it. A couple of New York’s role players – Patty Mills, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joe Johnson – could help the Knicks spoil some games, and there is a slew of promising rookies also present on the roster. This team could be pretty interesting in a couple of years.

 

3. BROOKLYN NETS

My team would finish dead last in any other division, but here we are in the Atlantic, where sub-mediocrity is just part of the brand. Fantrax projects the Nets to have five players put up 24 points per game or more this season, which is actually more than any other team in the division, even the Raptors. Brooklyn is still very much in rebuild mode, but the lack of competition within the Atlantic might push this team over 35 wins and spoil another chance at a high draft pick.

 

4. BOSTON CELTICS

Boston's playoff odds.
Boston’s playoff odds.

Still a long way to go for the Celtics, too. Russell is a franchise point guard and Winslow will be great for a long time in the NBA, but there are still so many holes on this team. Nurkic, Poeltl, Jones and Anderson are pieces worth holding onto, but you can pretty much scrap the rest of this roster. The Celtics missed out on a high draft pick after a stinker season last year, but they should have another pick in the top 5 next fall.

 

5. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Philly’s new owner has done an admirable job so far of trying to make this team’s future a bit brighter, but for now, this team still stinks. Mudiay will produce fantasy numbers this year, but beyond that, I don’t think any of these players will do anything meaningful this season, except maybe Allen Crabbe. The 76ers had a ton of draft picks this year, but aside from Marquese Chriss, will any of them pan out? I love Diallo’s game, but he’s still a gamble. Brogdon, Papagiannis and Niang are all very low-ceiling, as are other prospects like McDaniels, Bertans and Robinson. Having no 1sts in 2017 hurts this team’s rebuild in a major way and it could be a long few years for the 76ers.

 

 

CENTRAL DIVISION

1. CHICAGO BULLS

I’m not as bullish (pun intended) on this team as I was last year, but I do think they should win the division again. Players 1-8 on this team are all really good, with Asik and Len possibly being exceptions. The rising cap has saved Chicago and given the Bulls a little bit of wiggle room to add some sorely-needed bench depth. Livingston is solid, Abrines could be nice, but I’m not sold on anyone else here. Parsons will be a big addition when he comes back, but when will that be? Regardless, Chicago has the best starting lineup in the Central and should repeat as champs, unless some of Indiana or Milwaukee’s young guys make a big step up this season.

 

2. INDIANA PACERS

Indy shocked the league by making the finals last season, riding hot streaks from its young core. The Pacers don’t have much to worry about – that young core is still the best in the league. However, I do think this team is still a year or two away from sustaining consistent greatness over a full season. A look up and down this roster speaks for itself and I’ve written a ton about this in the past: This is a team built for long-term success. Will they get lucky in the playoffs again?

 

3. MILWAUKEE BUCKS

I was down on the Bucks last season, but recent developments have made this team really interesting – first and foremost, the miraculous emergence of Point Giannis, who might be a top 10 fantasy player this season and is a 21-year-old, 7-foot-tall point forward (NOT A POINT GUARD. STOP SAYING THIS!). Ibaka’s move to Orlando removes him from the role of understudy and will probably make him the focal point on offense for the Magic. Oladipo leaving town will open up a ton of room for Payton to play more effectively and have shooters around him. Solomon Hill will be starting (lol) for the Pelicans. Thad Young will be counted on in Indiana. The Bucks had just one 2nd round pick this year and no more picks until 2018, but fortune may have bought this team a few more good years. The Bucks don’t have many trade pieces to build some depth, which would go a long way, so that limits them a bit this season, but they could make the playoffs.

 

4. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Man, what happened here? Cleveland began this league as the prohibitive favorite. Now? LeBron is still LeBron, but expect him to play a lot less this year now that he’s finally won a title for his hometown team. Melo might be washed. Green is still great, but KD coming to Golden State will probably push him to play center a lot more and thus have the ball in his hands less frequently. And beyond that big three, there’s not a single player I like here. Morris is still a head case and Pachulia is a terrible fit for the Warriors and will probably get phased out pretty quickly. Maybe the big three will be enough to carry Cleveland to the playoffs, but maybe not.

 

5. DETROIT PISTONS

Things are not looking great in Motor City after the Andre Drummond trade. Detroit got a lot of picks out of it, but Jahlil Okafor might never be given a chance to put up numbers again and this team doesn’t have a lot of help elsewhere. There are some intriguing youngsters – Hield, McDermott, Hernangomez, Muhammad, Nance – but they’re all still a number of years away from big production and this team’s best fantasy player is Tristan Thompson. Could be a long season for Detroit.

 

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

1. ATLANTA HAWKS


This is still Atlanta’s division until someone comes and takes it from them. Depth is still this team’s biggest issue, although the new ownership deserves some credit for assembling some at least decent backups. (Last year’s owner, if you’ll recall, rode the league’s best starting 8 [put together by another – nameless – GM] all the way to the league’s best record and a nice cash prize.) Much of the Hawks’ success will be determined by how three big names – Rondo, Howard and Oladipo – perform on their new teams. Paul Millsap is the league’s most underrated player, both in real life and fantasy, and is easily a top-10 all-around, two-way NBA player. Luckily for Atlanta, all three relocations seem for now to be of benefit to the players in question. Atlanta is poised for another good year, but they’ve got to continue sculpting this roster if long-term success is on the agenda.

2. CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Charlotte was the most unexpectedly good team of last season, and there’s a chance they can be even better this year. It’s likely they can even push Atlanta for the division crown and make another deep playoff run. Kemba and Bazemore both had career years last season; they’ll need to keep that up. Capela, Bogut and Kanter all figure to have increased offensive roles in their new situations. Warren and Porter have to develop and produce this year, and many think they will. Bradley and Aminu are rock solid. Anything the Hornets get from Jefferson, Wroten and MCW is gravy. Plus, that salary cap nightmare is finally sorted out – even if it took a leaguewide bailout. Keep an eye on this squad.

 

3. MIAMI HEAT

Goran want 2nd place, not 3rd.
Goran want 2nd place, not 3rd.

Miami, largely due to the fierce competitiveness of the division, has always been a team on the cusp of the playoffs. This year, I think the Heat can make a leap forward. There are some nice pieces here, starting with Dragic and Collison, who are literally the only competent point guards on their respective teams and will thus play a lot. Valanciunas may take a big step up this season. Iggy, Crawford, Morris and Fournier are money in the bank. Bogdanovic could be a secret weapon. Given the declining state of the Southeast, Miami may be poised for a nice season. And I’m not even considering Chris Bosh.

4. WASHINGTON WIZARDS


From a championship in season 1 to missing the playoffs last year, the Wizards will finish this season with answers that are currently unknown. Are Wall and Randle a good enough one-two punch to repeat as title contenders? Has the competition in the Southeast cooled off enough for this team to have sustained success? Just how dire is the issue of depth with this team? I take a long look at this team’s rotation players – Andre Roberson and his one career good offensive game, Jeff Green and his inconsistent production, Mike Scott and his $23 million contract, the ghost of Tyson Chandler – and I can’t help but think it’s going to be a long year in the capitol. The Wizards might be on the downswing, and looking back, that Bradley Beal trade hurts if that’s the case (Washington did get three 1sts in the deal, but two of those are already made [the low-ceiling Domantas Sabonis and the what the heck is this guy Skal Labissiere], and the other one is two years away).

5. ORLANDO MAGIC

This team's in so much trouble that they get a watermarked stock photo.
This team’s in so much trouble that they get a watermarked stock photo.

This is a team in crisis mode. Despite a stacked front line, the one-mighty Magic are suddenly staring at an immense uphill battle to reclaim glory for the city of Orlando. One look at the roster is all you need to get a sense of where this franchise is. Orlando will quickly have to flip some pieces for a couple of guards, or they’re staring a Steve Blake – Jason Terry – Kevin Martin – Tayshaun Prince starting lineup dead in the face – and three of those guys aren’t even on an NBA team. Trading high-intrigue pieces like Dragan Bender, Ivica Zubac, Tyreke Evans and some picks may be the only way out of dire straits, unless the Magic decide to hope for the best in free agency this season. There’s a lot of work to be done here, and it’s gotta be done fast.

 

PLAYOFFS

1. ATLANTA

2. CHARLOTTE

3. CHICAGO

4. INDIANA

5. TORONTO

6. MIAMI

7. MILWAUKEE

8. CLEVELAND

Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 6 Recap

We begin this week’s recap with a hearty helping of deliciously foul (fowl!) crow.  Roasted in cinnamon, oregano, and cayenne paper and soaked in pickle juice for extra nastiness.

I wrote last week that the Baltimore Ravens had absolutely NO chance against the Giants and predicted a 100 point win for the G-Men.

Let’s see exactly how that turned out for me:

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 6 Recap

Game of the Week: Baltimore Ravens 267, New York Giants 220

So let’s be clear.  This wasn’t a great game for the Giants.  Easily one of their lowest outputs of the season.  A mere 220 points.  They aught to be ashamed of themselves.  Imagine scoring only 220?  But no.  That’s not it.  This was not a game the Giants lost.  This was a game that the Ravens went out and won handily with an epic 159 point offensive performance.  It wasn’t just that Baltimore scored a ton of points on offense, though.  It was WHO.  An unsung offensive cast exploded!  Christine Michael got 26.  Amari Cooper (ok, he’s sung) got 30.  Terrelle freaking Pryor got 31, and Kendall Wright got 35.  Mercy.  The Ravens are now 6-3, averaging more than 200 points a game, and if the season were to end today, would be in the playoffs – and a team nobody would want to see on the opposing line!

Teams Rising:

Cincinnati Bengals: Time to give the Bengals a little credit as they ascend to sole possession of first place in the AFC North at an absolutely flabbergasting 7-2.  Cincy’s latest triump was an 184-175 win over fellow playoff contender New England.  With Cleveland suddenly scuffling and Pittsburgh suddenly without Ben Roethlisberger just as they Steelers were starting to get hot, it looks increasingly likely that Cincy and Baltimore might need to duke it out for the North division title – and the loser may well grab a wild card.  The Bengals defense was the story in week 6, with 6/11 players scoring in double digits and a 20 point performance by one Zachary Orr.

New Orleans Saints: And boom. The Saints are back!  248-201 over divisional rival and Super Bowl Champ Carolina.  This win puts the Saints in a three way tie for the wildcard with Atlanta and Philadelphia, and, just as importantly, only one game back of Carolina.  After a brutal start, New Orleans is baaaaack.  Fittingly, Drew Brees led the way with an absurd 44 point outing, but was paced by Golden Tate (38) and CJ Fiedorowicz (21) on offense.  The Saints knew they were going to have to find some role players to step up and answer some question marks, and boy did they ever this week.  A pick six from Malcolm Jenkins (28 points) added to the cause, as the Saints overcame 30 points from Cam and 23 from some guy named Nick Bellore.  It’s getting crazy again in the NFC!

Houston Texans: Aight, Houston.  Aight.  I see you. After a cool 226-183 win over divisional rival Indianapolis, the AFC South is starting to sort itself out with Houston and Tennessee gaining a little separation from Indy and Jacksonville.  David Johnson scored 38 points on a three score game and nearly outscored the hapless Colts offense by himself to pace the Texans.  Still, there’s no forgetting a defense where 7 players scored in double figures and an 8th got nine.  Houston’s two-back in the division and still a game out of the Wild Card, so they need to keep on moving, but this is a very nice divisional win for an embattled squad.

Honorable Mentions: Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings.

 

Teams Falling:

Cleveland Browns: Another brutal week for the Browns.  Another loss against a contending time.  Another game where the team simply didn’t look competitive.  Another week where division rivals posted wins to knock them farther back in the race.  46 points on offense with a high score of 10 from Blake Bortles simply isn’t going to be good enough to win most weeks.  Cleveland still leads the AFC North in points scored.  They can still right the ship.  But with Cincy and Baltimore playing as well as they are, they had better do it quickly.

San Diego Chargers: As recently as a couple weeks ago, San Diego looked like they could be a contender in the West, or at least make a solid push for second.  Two losses later, not so much.  The offense failed the Chargers utterly as they managed only 36 points on the offensive side of the ball, and fell to the Denver Broncos (who have suddenly won two in a row!).  At 3-6, the Chargers face a huge hole to climb back into contention, and may not make it this year.

Minnesota Vikings: Yeeouch.  The Vikings have looked better and better this year, posting competitive game after competitive game, but not posting a whole lot of wins.  Well, they got their chance in week 6 as Tampa Bay posted only 116 points.  The problem?  Minnesota posted only 112.  Sure, they had bye issues.  But 45 points on defense is not going to get it done, as everybody not named Andre Branch combined for exactly 32 points.  It’s a culture issue in Minnesota, where the Vikings now have talent – but have to figure out how to win.

Dishonorable Mentions: Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars

 

Week 7 Games of the Week:

Welp, unless we get some upsets, this could be another rough week for good games, unfortunately!  Only four that really seem to me to feature much competition.  But some should be excellent.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns:  It’s a week to week league.  One week you can be on the top of the world, only to come brutally crashing back to earth the next.  Or you can be on the outs, facing a lost season, only to bounce back, dominate, and right the ship.  Right now, big Mo (that’s momentum) is all on the side of Cincinnati, and the Bengals are poised to knock out their rivals with a brutal hook.  But Cleveland isn’t done yet.  And this could be the game that rights the Browns ship.  Lots at stake in the battle of Ohio.  We’ll see who prevails

Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans: This is what you call a run away and hide game.  A win by the Titans would move them to 8-2, keep them solidly in control of the AFC South regardless of what Houston does, and pretty much put a nail in the punchless Colts coffin.  Of course, see the above about a week-to-week league.  If the Colts win, all of a sudden the South is right back in play.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. New Orleans Saints: The Chiefs are smarting from a 3 point loss to the Raiders and losing an opportunity to put their own division away.  No time for woundlicking though, because the high-octane, rejuvenated Saints come roaring into town fresh off their demolition of the Panthers.  Both teams are close to full strength, so this game should tell us a lot about the relative prospects of each team – and things are going to be looking pretty rosy for the winner.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots: A tough and tricky game for two teams who need to rebound.  After a nine point loss to Cincy, New England has fallen three games behind the unbeaten Bills and into a tie for the wild card.  They need some wins to stay afloat, particularly given the competitive AFC landscape.  The Steelers, after a brutal start without Le’Veon Bell, have rediscovered their world-beating mojo and posted several fantastic wins.  Of course, they also just lost their quarterback.  How will Pittsburgh fare in a non-Ben world?  Both teams need this win.  Only one will get it.  Drama in the AFC Wild Card!

 

Good luck this week everyone!

 

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 5 Recap

Ok y’all, that sucked. Week 5 sucked.  We all, in week 5, collectively sucked.  And I think we all need to come together as a league and vow to try harder and do better.  Because honestly, that was really, seriously terrible.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 5 Recap

First off, there were NO good games.  Zero.  I can’t even pick a game of the week because this week’s games were so damn bad.  Do I pick New England’s uninspiring 166-141 snoozefest against Cleveland where both teams underperformed their season averages massively (not on a bye week)?  Do I choose San Diego’s almost sort of maybe kind of exciting 179-162 Monday night triumph over the Raidres because it had the most drama (not all that much) and pulled the two squads into a 3-5 tie in the standings?  Denver’s 174-140 upset of a cornswaggled Atlanta franchise for its first win?  Buffalo’s utterly irrelevant 227-181 win over the Rams because it had the most points?  I’ve literally got nothing, y’all.  That was the WORST set of games I’ve ever seen.

And frankly, we all sucked as well as being noncompetitive.  There were literally only FOUR teams that broke 200 points (Buffalo, Pittsburgh, the Giants, and, surprisingly, Chicago).  FOUR.  With the exception of the always fantastic Giants, the highest point total was 227.  17/32 teams (more than half the league) scored 166 points or less.  There were two games (only two!) where both teams scored more than that.  I could go on.

Consider this the equivalent of an expletive filled Rex Ryan-esque freakout.  There’s no excuse.  Do better.  Play better.  Be better.  Or I’ll be the first mother-effer out of here!*

Game of the week: NONE.  No game of the week.   Y’all don’t deserve a game of the week.  No participation trophies just for showing up.  Damn millennials.
Teams Rising:

Chicago Bears: Gotta give credit where credit is due.  The Bears break the 200 point threshold and are one of the few teams that didn’t embarrass us.  They played above their season average and beat a decent Indianapolis team to get back up to .500 and keep pace with the Lions.  Great game by Brian Hoyer.  Great game by Brandon Marshall.  Great game by the un-concussed Kevin Minter.  There’s more to be done, but this was a step in the right direction.

Denver Broncos: So that’s one team that is off the schneid!  After being epically terrible for the first weeks of the season, the Broncos came out and knocked off Atlanta, scoring more points than well over half the league and actually looking like a competitive squad.  Paxton Lynch to Demaryius Thomas looks like it could be a thing, and that Cole Beasley pickup is looking very shrewd.

New Orleans Saints: Rumors of the Saints demise have been greatly exaggerated it seems.  After “thud” performances from Tampa and Atlanta and a win over the beatable but 6-1 Seahawks, the Saints are suddenly tied for second at 5-3 – and more importantly, tied for a wild card birth.  It’s hard to get too excited about a 171 point win where Sammie Coates (38) and Kiko Alonso (21) made up literally more than a third of their points.  But the Saints have to be thrilled at where they sit after having struggled this year.

Sort of honorable mention: Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers

 

Teams Falling: 

Cleveland Browns: Man.  I don’t know if the Indians stole the Browns mojo to use against Boston, but damn that was a thud performance when the Browns could least afford it.  Not only did Cleveland lose 166-141 to wild card rival New England, they scored a grand total of 52 points, had their lowest output of the season by 50 points and saw all three of their divisional rivals notch key wins.  Suddenly in second place in a hard-charging division, Cleveland has to hope this was an abberation as they face a tough game with the Titans.

Seattle Seahawks: They are who we thought they were.  It seems unfair to say that about a 6-2 team.  But frankly, this team could be 2-6 based on their points outputs and just laid a 132 point egg in a need-to-win game.  They’ve lost to every good team they’ve played, and the next time they play a team that is under .500 is NEVER.  Literally.  Every single team they play for the rest of the year, with the exception of Tampa Bay in week 12, is over .500, and Tampa is 4-4.  It’s about to get bad, folks, and I think there’s a serious chance the Hawks don’t win another game all year.  Sell, sell, sell and sell some more.

Atlanta Falcons: You are in a tough division.  You’ve just scored 282 points to whack the defending Super Bowl champions.  You’re one back in the division and feeling good about yourself.  Your all world receiver has just posted a 70 spot.  And you have the winless, hapless, punchless Denver Broncos coming up.  Complacency?  Guess just a little bit.  The Falcons posted the most uninspired performance since Trump’s first debate, getting handled by the winless Broncos by 35 points.  Julio Jones scored 5.5 points, the highest scoring player had 17 points, and Eddie Lacy might be injured.  Bottom line – the Falcons have the talent to beat anyone.  But they have the talent to lose to anyone on any given night too.  And in a division like the NFC South, you HAVE to beat the Broncos.

Really dishonorable mentions: Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts, and anybody picking anybody besides Buffalo or NYG in this year’s Super Bowl.

Ok guys, here’s our chance.  A few decent games this week.  Let’s do better!  REDEMPTION!

Week 6 Games of the Week: 

Atlanta Falcons vs. Seattle Seahawks: Umm… errr… angry, good, Atlanta team.  Revealed Seattle team… Ummm.. Nope.  Atlanta.  By 150.

Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Giants: Baltimore has looked really good, and now we get to see a powerhouse battle of… No.  Stop it.  C’mon.  Just stop.  Giants by 100.

Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints: Interesting battle here.  Carolina still looks fantastic at 7-1, and I’m inclined to think they put the skids to New Orleans’ resurgence.  The Saints have gotten wins and not points, and they could run into a buzz-saw here, particularly if Cam is back.  But this wouldn’t shock me if it went the other way.

Chicago Bears vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ok, maybe I’m reaching a little bit, but it’s possible.  A pair of 4-4 teams wavering on the edge of contention.  The winner could ostensibly move within a game of the division.  The loser could be in some trouble.  Nicely, both teams look pretty close to full strength for this one, so may the best team win!

Cincinnati Bengals vs. New England Patriots: Now this is an interesting matchup.  The Patriots have gotten a lot of love in cruising to 6-2 and the first wildcard spot in the AFC behind a revamped offense and a better than expected defense.  The Bengals have likewise surprised, leading the AFC North at 6-2 and having scored over 1600 points, averaging over 200 per game.  The jury is still out on both squads, but the winner is going to have a very serious case to be not just a surprise team, but a force to be reckoned with in the AFC.

Cleveland Browns vs. Tennessee Titans: Yet another fantastic matchup in what will hopefully be a bounceback week for them.  The Titans are another 6-2 team in first place in the AFC South, while the Browns seek to bounce back from an uncharacteristic dud of a week 5 performance.  The pressure is on Cleveland here, due to the rough week 5 and the strong division, but the Browns have also outscored the Titans by 250 points, so we’ll see where this one falls.  I like the Browns to bounce back with Bortles returning from bye.

Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts: Another “war of the desperate”, both the Texans and Colts have lacked consistency this year, ping-ponging between nice wins and bad losses.  Both teams are sitting mired at 4-4, though interestingly enough, the Texans have scored only 9 points less than the 6-2 Titans this year.  While I’d usually go with Houston, one key development in this week’s game is that the Texans lose Jameis Winston to the bye.  I think Indy sneaks this one out.

Good luck this week everyone!  Let’s all score 200 – except for Oakland 😉

 

Real Deal Report: 2016 Draft Recap

So, this is a little bit late, I apologize. But I do actually have an excuse because I moved to a new state at the beginning of the month and the job search has been priority one. Taking a break today to do this.

With the 2016 draft complete, it’s time to sit back and get ready for the season after a long few months of no NBA basketball. But first, let’s take a quick look back at all 60 picks from the weekend’s draft.

Last year, I gave draft grades to teams, but there were too many that either had like 10 picks or no picks at all. So this year I’m grading pick by pick.

 

1. New Orleans Pelicans: Ben Simmons
Grade: A
Even with the news that Simmons is going to miss two months or more, this was the obvious pick. Simmons is a potential generational talent and could be the best player in the NBA in five years. He’s ideal from a fantasy perspective, too, because of his ability to rack up triple doubles. Adding Simmons to a base foundation of Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and Joel Embiid gives New Orleans a crop of potential mega-stars – that is, if they can all stay healthy and reach their potential.

2. Brooklyn Nets: Brandon Ingram
Grade: A
This was also an obvious pick. Ingram is rail thin and will get bullied in his rookie season, but he’s the best pure scorer in this draft and I don’t think the Durant comparisons are too far off base. Ingram becomes the centerpiece for a team whose supporting cast is slowly becoming better and better.

3. Indiana Pacers: Kris Dunn
Grade: A
Yet another obvious pick. Dunn is an ideal replacement for Mudiay and clearly the third best player in this draft. He’s also someone who can step in right away and start producing results for a Pacers team that made the finals last year after finishing dead last in year one. Even if Thibs hates rookies, it’s only a matter of time before Dunn replaces Rubio as the starting PG for the Timberwolves, which is coincidentally a young team rapidly on the rise just like these Pacers.

4. Detroit Pistons: Buddy Hield
Grade: A-
I’ll be honest: at first, I hated this pick. I think Hield is supremely overrated as a basketball player and that he can’t do much besides shoot. But the more I thought about it, the more the pick grew on me. The Pelicans are going to be a disaster again this season so they’ll be bound to let Hield loose and see what they’ve got in him. Clearing out Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson will leave a lot of 3s open for Hield.

5. Orlando Magic: Dragan Bender
Grade: A-
I’m actually one of the few people that doesn’t think Bender needs a few more years of development before he can make an impact. His basketball IQ is NBA-level already and his skills are pretty advanced for a teenager. But I hate, hate, hate his situation. Drafting Bender and Chriss just seems like a careless experiment to see who their future PF will be. Neither of them can play any other position yet – Bender because he’s too slim and weak to play C and Chriss because his defense is horrendous. Outside of Simmons and Ingram, I think Bender has the most potential in this draft class, but I was a bit surprised to see Orlando pick him over someone who will make a more immediate impact.

6. Dallas Mavericks: Jamal Murray
Grade: A
There were four guys at the top of this draft that I thought stood out as the players with the most potential by a wide margin over the rest of the class: Simmons, Ingram, Bender and Murray. This kid can straight up ball, folks, and he has confidence in spades and the ability to score in bunches. The Nuggets have a great young guard rotation with Mudiay and Harris starting and Murray and Barton behind them. I’m not convinced Murray and Barton can coexist because their usage is so similar, and I’m also not convinced that Murray can ever be a point guard in this league. But Murray has star written all over him, and those guys usually figure out a way to succeed. Great pick by Dallas.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder: Denzel Valentine
Grade: C
A bit of a reach. The Bulls are going to be a mess that is going to take a long time to figure out, and I’m not sure here Valentine ultimately settles in. Hoiberg will love his high basketball IQ and passing ability from anywhere on the court, but his ceiling as a fantasy player is limited and he has a lot of guys ahead of him on the depth chart. For an OKC team that is rebuilding from the ground up, I respect the decision to go for a solid player here rather than a high-risk, high reward type, but there were guys on the board who would’ve been a better choice, I think.

8. New York Knicks: Thon Maker
Grade: B+
The enigma! Is he 19 or 35? It might not matter because he may end up being the starting center for the Bucks on opening night. We all remember this kid (adult?) from his insane mixtape a few years ago, but unfortunately he hasn’t really progressed much in terms of skills since then. Maker remains, for the most part, a soul that occupies an ideal basketball body but just doesn’t quite know how to play the game. Jason Kidd doesn’t exactly strike me as a top-notch talent development guy, but there’s no question that Maker fits in with the Bucks’ wacky all-limbs lineup. Maker’s potential is sky-high, but it actually has to start manifesting itself pretty soon or this is not such a great pick. For now, given his potential, I think it was an all right choice.

9. Denver Nuggets: Jaylen Brown
Grade: A-
Brown also kind of fits the mold of having supreme talent with not so supreme basketball skills and IQ. He is a phenomenal athlete but at this point he can’t do much beyond driving to the bucket, and even then his finishing is pretty subpar. He finds himself in a perfect situation in Boston, where Brad Stevens will have time to mold and teach him.

10. Philadelphia 76ers: Marquese Chriss
Grade: A
This is a good pick based on potential alone. The most explosive player in the draft, Chriss is yet another guy who has yet to put it all together and play basketball properly. He’s got time in Phoenix, but it’s worth monitoring this guy and seeing if anything happens there this season. His ceiling may be Shawn Kemp, but his floor is Thomas Robinson.

11. Washington Wizards: Domantas Sabonis
Grade: A-
Would have liked to see the Wizards go for a wing player here, where they need help the most, but adding a presence as solid as Sabonis to their transforming core seems like a good move. Much like the real Wizards, Washington surprisingly plummeted out of the playoffs and suddenly doesn’t have much talent on the roster besides Wall and Beal (OK, and Julius Randle). Sabonis doesn’t strike me as an ace fantasy player, but this is far from the worst pick so far.

12. Dallas Mavericks: Juancho Hernangomez
Grade: A
Juancho Man Randy Savage will probably end up being the Nuggets’ backup 4 to start the year, and could quickly become the starter if Denver trades Faried. A skilled stretch 4 with good all-around talent, Hernangomez would be a nice fit anywhere.

13. Sacramento Kings: Wade Baldwin
Grade: A
Being Mike Conley’s understudy will be great for Wade Baldwin, who runs the risk of becoming just a defensive specialist if he doesn’t have the chance to learn to play offense. It might behoove him to become a 2 and play alongside Conley, taking over the Tony Allen role. Either way, this guy is a monster physically for a guard and a really fun player to watch. Memphis kind of seemed like his destiny to keep the grit and grind alive for one more year.

14. Boston Celtics: Jakob Poeltl
Grade: B-
I don’t like this pick and I don’t like Poeltl as a player. Watch his game against Sabonis in the NCAA Tournament to see why. I think Poeltl’s ceiling is pretty low and I don’t see him getting a lot of playing time in Toronto, at least right away.

15. New York Knicks: Caris LeVert
Grade: B-
At this point in the draft, all of the actual good players were gone, so any pick looks like a reach here, but this one was a bit of a head-scratcher. Caris LeVert is made of glass and, despite what you hear from most analysts, does not have lottery talent. He’s an old school style player that doesn’t fit ideally in the modern NBA and Brooklyn isn’t exactly the most nurturing environment. Maybe this pick pans out, but for now I don’t see it.

16. Memphis Grizzlies: Taurean Prince
Grade: B+
I like this pick for Memphis. It gives them another DeMarre Carroll type player and is just overall very solid. Fits in well with the rest of the Grizzlies’ squad of solid but not flashy players.

17. New York Knicks: Henry Ellenson
Grade: B
Will Henry Ellenson ever make it in the NBA? I’m not sure. His skills are enticing – a legit 7 footer who can shoot threes is always of interest – but his defense will likely never be NBA level and his game has a long way to go. This pick was purely a prospective one for New York, as Ellenson isn’t going to get any playing time this year in Detroit behind Harris, Morris, Leuer, Drummond, Baynes and Boban.

18. Orlando Magic: Ivica Zubac
Grade: A+
One of the best picks in this year’s draft. Zubac is already a tenacious post player and a solid defender down low who will grow into a perfect player to complement the Lakers’ young big trio of Ingram, Russell and Randle. I would have taken Zubac in the top 10, and for Orlando to get him here at 18 was a coup. Luke Walton won’t hesitate to put this guy in ahead of Tarik Black and Timo Mozgov (seriously, why is this guy on this team?).

19. Oklahoma City Thunder: Tyler Ulis
Grade: A
I freaking love this pick by OKC. Ulis is a straight up baller who would have been a top 5 player in this year’s draft if he wasn’t 5’8″. His height didn’t stop him in college, but it will obviously be a greater obstacle in the NBA. Still, Ulis is a terrifically smart basketball player who’s lightning quick and is a phenomenal passer and floor general who can also shoot threes. Ulis will have a long and successful NBA career.

20. Los Angeles Clippers: Timothe Luwawu-Caborrot
Grade: B-
I’m not a huge fan of Luwawu. His game has a long way to go and he may never surpass a Thabo Sefolosha type of role. He also has the misfortune of being stuck in the Philly logjam behind Covington, Henderson, Grant, Thompson and Stauskas. A lot of people think he can turn into a very nice three-and-D guy, but I just don’t see it.

21. Houston Rockets: Jake Layman
Grade: D
The first pick in this draft that really took me by surprise. Layman may not even make Portland’s roster and was a mid second round pick. There are rumblings that Layman can eventually turn into a Chandler Parsons type, but I think that’s a longshot. If he does make the roster, there aren’t really any minutes for him behind Turner, Crabbe, Aminu, Harkless, Davis and Vonleh. I think Houston would have been better off trading this pick to help shore up its thinning bench.

22. Sacramento Kings: DeAndre Bembry
Grade: B
A safe pick, if not an inspired one. Bembry was a late riser in the draft this year and is probably not a first round talent, but he does figure to be a solid bench piece. Sort of a poor man’s Denzel Valentine, he can do a little bit of everything including passing, shooting and rebounding. There were definitely worse things to do with this pick.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves: Damian Jones
Grade: A-
Nice grab for the Wolves here. Jones is a really nice defensive center who probably won’t be asked to do much this year, but could find his way into some playing time if Zaza doesn’t work out (he kind of doesn’t fit what the Warriors are all about), McGee stinks as usual and Varejao gets hurt (he will). He’ll grow into a really good backup center in time.

24. San Antonio Spurs: Dejounte Murray
Grade: A
I really like this choice by the Spurs, who are a guard away from title contention. Not that Murray is that guard, but it’s a nice gamble: low-risk, high reward. If anyone can make use of Murray’s wild game, it’s Popovich.

25. Philadelphia 76ers: Cheick Diallo
Grade: A+
Home run of a pick. Diallo has always had lottery talent, but because he didn’t fit in Bill Self’s system, the entire NBA forgot about him. Sure, he looked horrible at Kansas, but the physical profile is there. He’s an explosive leaper who shows a ton of promise as a shot blocker and rim runner, but one thing many people don’t know about him is that he also has a pretty sweet short range jumper that’s in development. Diallo was the definition of post-hype sleeper in this year’s draft and I think he’s a great piece.

26. Dallas Mavericks: Patrick McCaw
Grade: A+
Great pick. Golden State quietly lost significant guard depth this offseason, so there’s a good chance McCaw plays a lot – especially when the Warriors are winning by 40 at halftime. McCaw is a smart defensive 2 guard who can handle the ball a bit and could emerge as a garbage time king, especially if he improves his jumper.

27. Washington Wizards: Skal Labissiere
Grade: B
I had hope that there was still something left for Labissiere’s potential until he got drafted by Sacramento. Now, I think you can more or less scratch him off. The guy looked clueless on the basketball court in Kentucky, despite (or maybe because of) people calling him a better prospect than Ben Simmons this time last year. There were a few guys Washington could’ve taken here that would provide more immediate help, but this is still an ok value pick if you believe in Skal still.

28. Oklahoma City Thunder: Kay Felder
Grade: A+
Another pick by OKC that I absolutely love. Like Ulis, Felder would be a lottery talent if he wasn’t such a li’l guy. Unlike Ulis, however, Felder possesses immense athleticism and explosiveness: he posted the second highest vertical leap EVER in the history of the combine at 44 inches. That’s almost four freaking feet in the air and like a foot and a half lower than the top of his head. Beyond that, he’s also a smart player and a good floor general. And beyond that, he’s poised to be Cleveland’s backup PG this year. Terrific selection by OKC. Plus, have you ever seen this guy dribble a basketball? It’s awesome. He like slams it into the ground with each dribble like he’s mad at it. He looks like this dude:

29. Indiana Pacers: Deyonta Davis
Grade: A+
Slam dunk of a pick. Davis is perhaps the best defensive player in the draft class but fell to round 2 because he underperformed at Michigan State. He should have been drafted a lot higher and I’m surprised he fell so far in this draft, too.

30. Toronto Raptors: Pascal Siakam
Grade: B
Siakam is one of those African dudes with amazing athletic skills that only started playing basketball when he was like 16. Despite that, he shows pretty good fundamentals, but his game is definitely still centered around his hustle and athleticism. Toronto is really hurting for a PF with Patterson and Sullinger as their only options right now, so they might be hoping to get something from Siakam soon, but his skill level right now is more suited for the D League.

31. Detroit Pistons: Malcolm Brogdon
Grade: B
Brogdon is a really solid player, especially defensively, but I’m not high on him as a fantasy player; he may never be more than a defensive stopper. Still, though, his basketball IQ is top notch – that combined with his defense will get him on the court for this inexperienced Bucks team. Overall a decent selection.

32. Brooklyn Nets: Isaiah Whitehead
Grade: A
The Nets apparently loved this guy so much that they traded up for him, and their guard situation is so bleak that he will probably be on the floor a lot this season. His competition – Greivis Vasquez, Randy Foye, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Sean Kilpatrick, Yogi Farrell and Chase Budinger – don’t exactly put fear in one’s heart. With good coaching, he can carve out a career for himself as a volume bench scorer.

33. Philadelphia 76ers: Georges Niang
Grade: C+
Rumor has it that the Pacers want to use Niang this season, but I don’t buy it. He’s a low ceiling guy who will make the roster, but I really don’t see him playing much. He’s slow and unathletic, which is kind of the opposite direction the Pacers are moving in, but he can shoot 3s which is always good. A second rounder is never going to make or break a team’s future but I think there were better guys here.

34. New York Knicks: Brice Johnson
Grade: A
Really nice value pick. Doc Rivers might have no choice to play this guy because of his elite rebounding skills, even with veterans Mbah a Moute and Bass in front of him. The Clippers’ likely tendency to go small might push him further down the pine, but Johnson will eventually be a rotation player somewhere.

35. Boston Celtics: Malik Beasley
Grade: A-
I don’t know how the hell Beasley gets any playing time this year, but he’s a good prospect. In the right situation he can become a useful 3 and D guard.

36. Los Angeles Clippers: Chinanu Onuaku
Grade: B
Not a bad pick. Onuaku is a classic defense-first energy big. He’s a significantly undersized center with raw (read: bad) offensive skills, so there’s a chance he might not stick on a roster in the NBA, but if he can run, D’Antoni might give him a shot. Plus, he shoots his free throws grandma style:

37. Los Angeles Lakers: Ron Baker
Grade: B+
Baker is a longshot to make it in the NBA from a talent perspective, but actually seems poised to make the Knicks roster. My guess is that Baker will fall somewhere between Linsanity and whatever it was that Jimmer Fredette did for the Knicks that one time.

38. Philadelphia 76ers: Georgios Papagiannis
Grade: C+
This was a throwaway pick for the Kings, but it’s just whatever for Philly. Papagiannis should have gone undrafted and has no NBA talent to speak of beyond his monstrous size.

39. Denver Nuggets: Guerschon Yabusele
Grade: A+
Five years from now, I think Yabusele could be one of the best 10 players from this draft. The dude is an animal. Unfortunately he’ll spend this season overseas. He’s a bruiser with an elite build and physicality, and possesses a nice jumper and even flashes some ball handling skills, even as most of his game is in development. One of my favorite picks in this draft.

40. Toronto Raptors: Fred Van Vleet
Grade: D
Toronto’s next pick was so good, but this one was very much not so. Van Vleet has looked terrible in preseason and is the fifth point guard for Toronto at this point behind Lowry, Joseph and Delon Wright and Brady Heslip, although even that doesn’t really matter because no PG plays beyond Joseph. I’ll be surprised if he makes the Raptors’ final roster.

41. Toronto Raptors: Furkan Korkmaz
Grade: A+
How the hell did this guy fall so far? A lottery talent for sure, and at 18, he’s got lots of room to grow. When he comes to the NBA, he’ll be a lights-out shooter, and he’s also a pretty good athlete. A middle-class version of Mario Hezonja.

42. Toronto Raptors: Ante Zizic
Grade: A
Another nice value pick. Zizic balled out in the Adriatic League last season and is pegged for another season abroad. Great stash guy.

43. Brooklyn Nets: Malachi Richardson
Grade: B
Richardson’s game is all over the place, and he probably only went in the first round because of his tournament performance, but I think this was an ok pick based on value. The Kings roster is a crime against basketball so there’s plenty of room to carve out a role.

44. Washington Wizards: Diamond Stone
Grade: B-
Diamond Stone is a lot like Greg Monroe: a small-ish center who doesn’t defend, doesn’t rebound very well and doesn’t score outside the paint. In other words, a dinosaur. And we all know Doc Rivers doesn’t let rookies play. Many considered Stone a first round talent, but I think the game may have just passed him by. We’ll see.

45. Oklahoma City Thunder: AJ Hammons
Grade: A
Another ace pick by OKC. I freaking love Hammons as a prospect. He’s 23 already, but this dude is a monster physically and can eventually become a starting-level center for a defensive-minded team. Really nice rebounder and shot blocker with an elite physical profile.

46. Memphis Grizzlies: Paul Zipser
Grade: A-
Really nice pick. Zipser has borderline first round talent but fell because he’s 22 and from Europe. Chicago actually gave him a guaranteed deal, so he’ll be on the roster, but I doubt he plays much. From a value perspective, though, this was a good pick.

47. Milwaukee Bucks: Michael Gbinije
Grade: C+
Gbinije is an extremely physical and athletic kid, but he’s already 24 and has no discernable basketball skills, although Syracuse tried using him as a ballhandler with mixed results. A D League stash for now, but I’m not sure he’s a guy who pans out.

48. Portland Trail Blazers: Isaiah Cousins
Grade: A-
I like this pick. Sacramento’s other PGs are Ty Lawson, Jordan Farmar and the suspended Darren Collison. Cousins is nothing special but he could end up getting minutes.

49. Indiana Pacers: Zhou Qi
Grade: A
Love this pick. Qi is another guy with questions about his real age, but I think this guy is super talented and may have star potential. A mobile big who can shoot 3s and block shots, Qi needs to bulk up before he can play in the NBA but I think he can eventually become a bigger, faster Channing Frye who can protect the rim. Qi is a first round talent in my book and I would have drafted him at 1.22 if I didn’t end up trading that pick.

50. Los Angeles Lakers: Ben Bentil
Grade: B
Solid grab here. Bentil is an extremely foolhardy player but does have some talent. He’s a D Leaguer for now but could turn into a bench piece some day.

51. Minnesota Timberwolves: Alex Poythress
Grade: C
Poythress has proven at this point that he doesn’t hold any promise as an NBA player.

52. Cleveland Cavaliers: Gary Payton II
Grade: B
I don’t think The Mitten will pan out in the NBA, but it was worth taking him on potential alone.

53. Minnesota Timberwolves: Cat Barber
Grade: A+
Barber is the biggest sleeper in this draft. This guy might immediately challenge John Wall to claim the title of NBA’s fastest player if he sticks on the roster, which is looking fairly likely. Cat’s game is reminiscent of Ish Smith’s, and we all know how well that went fantasy-wise when Smith was a Sixer. Barber might have to spend some time in the D League, but I really hope Philly gives this guy a shot. I think he can turn into a useful bench scorer in the NBA.

54. Toronto Raptors: Drew Crawford
Grade: F
This pick ended up getting dropped anyway so I don’t mind saying it was the worst one in this draft. A 26-year-old from Northwestern doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

55. Charlotte Hornets: Joel Bolomboy
Grade: A
Bolomboy figures to be kind of a poor man’s Kenneth Faried in the NBA, and the Jazz seem like a good fit. It’s doubtful he’ll play much for Utah but I still like this pick based on his ability to run and rebound.

56. Portland Trail Blazers: Demetrius Jackson
Grade: A
Late in the NCAA season, scout were saying Jackson was a lottery pick. But then he fell to the 2nd round. Jackson ended up in a terrible situation in Boston behind Thomas, Smart, Bradley and Terry Rozier but remains a very good prospect with elite speed, exposiveness and scoring ability. Great value pick, even if it takes a few years for him to end up in a better spot.

57. Denver Nuggets: Petr Cornelie
Grade: B
No complaints about this pick. Cornelie is a sort of fringe NBA guy but has decent potential. Will probably spend the next few years overseas.

58. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jameel Warney
Grade: B-
Warney is an ok pick here, but it probably would have been better for the rebuilding OKC to grab someone younger with a bit more potential instead of a senior from a small school.

59. Indiana Pacers: Gracin Bakumanya
Grade: B
Full disclosure: I have no idea who this guy is. But he’s 19, 6’11” and has a 7’3″ wingspan. So that’s what the picks in the late 2nd are all about: just take a guy on pure potential. If it doesn’t work out, no biggie.

60. Brooklyn Nets: Stephen Zimmerman
Grade: A
Did people just forget about this guy because his name is at the end of the alphabet? He’s a 7-foot 20-year-old with a 9’1″ standing reach and was a top-10 high school recruit who can shoot 3s and block shots. No idea how this guy almost went undrafted, and I’m happy to have him.

2016 Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 4 Recap

I am a terrible person.  I have no excuse.  I failed you last week.  No recap!  And it was a double.  A double.  And I gave you no recap!

I deserve to have Chip Kelly as my coach!  I deserve to have Aaron Rodgers as a father looking down on me for every incompletion with that smirk of his!  I deserve to be sat on by Chris Christie dressed as a clown!

To none do I owe my heartfelt apologies than Ric Nowinsky and his New England Patriots, who threw down a beautiful 2-0 week 3 to move to 5-1.  You should have been my first team rising and I failed you.  I’m so sorry.

This week, it’s Saturday and it’s quick and dirty.  But ya know what, at least it’s something.

Finish Reading: 2016 Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 4 Recap

With no further ado!

Game of the week: Atlanta Falcons 281, Carolina Panthers 269

Was there ever any doubt?  This was one hell of a game!  Carolina had SIX players score more than 20 points in this one – the ageless Eddie Royal, the even more ageless Steve Smith Sr, the still aging Greg Olsen, Mark Ingram, Luke Kuechly (of course), and Kurt Coleman.  They scored 147 on offense, 116 on defense, and put in the #2 score of the week.  And lost by 12.  How?  Well, there’s the obvious answer – Julio Jones scored 73 points on THREE-HUNDRED YARDS receiving.  They literally forgot to cover that fool.  But that’s not the full answer.  The rest of Atlanta’s offense scored only 45 points, leaving the offensive output at 117 – 30 left than Carolina’s.  WITH JULIO.  So what gives?  Defense? Clinton McDonald got 29, Zach Brown got 34, and the kicker/punter combination of Hauschka and Ryan grabbed 24.  On the Carolina side?  5 special teams points combined.  Julio Jones is a boss.  But special teams was this game.  Carolina falls to a still invulnerable 6-1, while Atlanta bounces back from a brutal week 3 to stay in the chase at 5-2.

Teams Rising:

Pittsburgh Steelers:  When you are used to winning the division, it’s weird to start 2-4.  Well, the Steelers put a stop to that nonsense in week #5 with the third highest point total at 252 in a shellacking of Kansas City.  Huge offensive numbers, Le’Veon Bell back in the lineup, Ben Roethlisberger throwing for numbers again, and the defense is clicking for 120 point weeks.  Cleveland and Cincinnati jumped out to big leads in the North and just keep winning – but this week gave notice that the Steelers will not simply go quietly into the night.

Seattle Seahawks: This is still PURE illusion.  PURE illusion.  The Hawks have scored a TOTAL of 1151 points.  This would be good for 4th place in every other NFC division.  However, due to some nice luck and a stunningly easy schedule, Seattle is 6-1 and firmly in control of the NFC West.  This past week’s 151-117 win over the Jets said more about a struggling New York team than it did for the Seahawks.  But when you are 6-1, you have to get a mention!  Also, Zeke Elliott continues to look good and justify the #1 overall pick the Hawks spent on him.

New England Patriots: I owe this one to the Patriots.  Not for this week, which was a tough drop to the still undefeated Buffalo Bills, but for last week, a 2-0 performance with 211 points and wins over the Jets and Texans.  The Patriots remain in the thick of of the playoff race at 5-2, and unsung and unexpected heroes like Cameron Brate, Jamison Crowder, and even Frank Gore continue to keep the Patriots in the AFC Wild Card hunt.  I don’t expect this to be the last time New England is here.

Honorable Mention: Buffalo Bills, New York Giants, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals

 

Teams Falling:

Dallas Cowboys: Welp, the wheels have officially fallen off in Big D.  A 1-6 start has resulted in a full-scale tear-down and rebuild for the Cowboys.  In are picks and young players who can help for the future.  Out are Aaron Rodgers, Thomas Davis, and Jeremy Maclin.  It’s going to be a long, long year in Dallas who has gone from divisional competitor to total tear down – but hopefully the infusion of youth and talent will lead to good things for a long time to come.

Houston Texans: It’s been a rough few weeks for the Texans, who hung steady early on before a disappointing pair of weeks has knocked them well back in divisional competition.  The latest heartbreak was a 4 point set back to the Tennessee Titans.  Instead of moving into the division lead, the Texans now find themselves two back, albeit with a winnable game against the Texans upcoming.  What makes it all the more painful is the Texans got only a half point combined from Chris Hogan and Vance McDonald – a decent game by either one and they are in first place.

Competition: The state of the league’s competitive balance is down, as are great games.  On the one hand, teams like Buffalo, Carolina, and New York are absolutely dominant.  On the other, there are five teams with 1-6 or 0-7 records, and most of them (Denver, Green Bay, Washington and Miami) have not even come close to winning a game.  While the league has had dominant teams over the past few years, it has lacked the “gimme games” we are seeing this year.  Here’s hoping that we can see some significant improvement in the drama level as the season moves forward.

Dishonorable Mention: Everybody mentioned above, NY Jets, LA Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars, LA Rams.

 

Games of the Week, Week 5: 

Cleveland Browns vs. New England Patriots: A battle of two 5-2 teams in contention for AFC playoff spots, this game is suddenly very, very relevant.  It doesn’t contain the same drama as the real life struggle of Tom Brady’s return, but it does feature a series of some of the most underrated and overperforming players in the league (Mike Wallace, Marvin Jones, Cameron Brate, Michael Crabtree, Frank Gore) – and come on, when else are you going to see a matchup between two playoff favorites featuring a QB battle between Geno Smith and Brock Osweiler?

Detroit Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Philly has bounced back nicely from a brief slump to maintain strong contention for an NFC wildcard spot with a pair of recent wins.  The Lions continue to coast nicely through the NFC North.  In fact, there’s a very good chance these two squads could end up playing in a first round Wild Card game.  To my mind, this one is going to come down to the Defenses, and whether Detroit’s franchise players can make Carson Wentz look like more of a rookie.  Advantage goes to Detroit in this one, as Philadelphia has genuinely struggled to score points despite the gaudy record.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: It’s another matchup of potential playoff teams as KC takes on Jacksonville.  Both teams are missing key bye-week pieces (Travis Kelce for the Jags, Alex Smith and Derrick Johnson for the Chiefs), but this one should also come down to which defense can play best.  Both teams had disappointing week 4’s and are looking for major bouncebacks.

New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks: This could be a “for real” game for the Seahawks, who have cruised through one of the league’s easiest schedules to 6-1.  After a brutal start to the season, the Saints have started to show some life in recent weeks, and could be Seattle’s most potent challenger to date.  A lot rides on this for both teams – if Seattle can win this, they could show that they are truly for real.  In the more likely case, New Orleans gets the “W” and positions itself to try and make a run at Atlanta and Carolina – who may already be too far ahead and too good to catch.

2016 Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 2 Recap

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.

Finish Reading: 2016 Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 2 Recap

Games of the Week:

Tennessee Titans 202, Detroit Lions 197

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.

Rising:

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

 

Falling: 

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 2016: The Best Available

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:

HONORABLE MENTIONS

– 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

Damn is that a bigass head.
Damn is that a bigass head.
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.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Smart contending teams

2016 Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 1 Recap

Yeeouch.

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.

Finish Reading: 2016 Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 1 Recap

Game of the week: 

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.

 

Stock Rising:

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.

 

Stock Falling:

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.

Good luck in week #2 everyone!

One Team Available in Real Deal Dynasty Basketball!!!

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…

 

Player

Pos Move Name Status Sal Con FPts FP/G
PG
Williams, Lou PG,SG,GLAL Active 5,225,000 2017 1960.84 29.27
SG
Green, Danny SG,G,SF,FSA  Active 3,762,500 2018 1854.21 23.47
G
Morrow, Anthony SG,G,SF,FOKC Active 1,027,424 2017 717.3 10.55
SF
Muhammad, Shabazz SG,G,SF,FMIN  Active 1,887,120 2016 1654.25 20.17
PF
Kaminsky, Frank PF,F,CCHA  Active 1,742,400 2018 1694.45 20.92
F
Robinson, Thomas PF,F,C(N/A)   Active 3,526,440 2017 1270.56 17.9
C
Biyombo, Bismack PF,F,CORL  Active 3,049,920 2016 2176.99 26.55
Flx
Grant, Jerami SF,PF,FPHI  Active 9,222,000 2018 2202.29 28.6
Tokoto, J.P. SF,F(N/A)  Reserve 750,000 2016 0 0
Chandler, Wilson SG,G,SF,FDEN   Reserve 6,344,164 2019 0 0
Sacre, Robert C(N/A)   Reserve 788,872 2016 299.01 11.96
Early, Cleanthony SF,FNY  Reserve 893,500 2017 109.23 6.43
Looney, Kevon PF,FGS   Reserve 750,000 2016 28.57 5.71
McGary, Mitch PF,F,COKC   Reserve 1,082,200 2017 72.06 3.6
Reserve spot(s) available: Limited by Max Players on Team
Inj Res spot(s) available: 2
Minors spot(s) available: 2
Totals 14039.76 20.83 674 13642:06 457 5,110 719 1,919 2,638 713 343 449 607 21
Active:  8     Reserve:  6

Draft Picks

Year Picks (for current season, after draft order is finalized, picks are shown as Round-Pick, Round-Pick, …)
2016 1-3, 1-25, 2-3, 2-13
2017 1, 2, 2 (ORL)
2018 1, 2
Salary   Used: $40,051,540     Remaining: $51,091,460      Cap: $91,143,000
      Free Agent Budget Remaining: $91,143,000

 

 

 

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Real Deal Report: 2016 Predictions: East Divisions

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.

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

AFC East:

Buffalo Bills (13-3):

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.

Preparation... Contemplation... This year... there is no wide right...
Preparation… Contemplation… This year… there is no wide right…

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.

One good WR... two good WR... wait WTF? That last one just put Jordan Reed on the IR!
One good WR… two good WR… wait WTF? That last one just put Jordan Reed on the IR!

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.

Wentz. The great QB hope of the Jets. Sort of like Mark Sanchez used to be...
Wentz. The great QB hope of the Jets. Sort of like Mark Sanchez used to be…

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.

Mike Wallace tried to be a Unicorn. He did not succeed.
Mike Wallace tried to be a Unicorn. He did not succeed.

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.

 

NFC East:

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.

Less hair, more class...
Donald #1.  Less hair.  More class…

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::

Donald #2. More hair, less class.
Donald #2. More hair.  Less class.

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.

Age (left) and Corruption (right) are real issues for the New York Giants this year...
Age (left) and Corruption (right) are real issues for the New York Giants this year…

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.

Dallas optimal strategy for 2016: Hire this guy...
Dallas optimal strategy for 2016: Hire this guy…

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.

...to hurt this guy.
…to hurt this guy.

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.

This is hitchbot. After traveling around the world, it was smashed in Philadelphia. A little like the Eagles playoff hopes...
This is hitchbot. After traveling around the world, it was smashed in Philadelphia. A little like the Eagles playoff hopes…

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.

Washington to the East. This guy to the White House. If you're betting, put your money on this guy.
Washington to the East. This guy to the White House. If you’re betting, put your money on this guy.

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!