Real Deal Basketball Report: Conference Semifinals Predictions and Post-Mortems

CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

EAST

8 MIAMI VS. 5 MILWAUKEE

KA-BOOOOM! TWO UPSETS IN THE EAST! OK, one was a real upset, the other not so much. Miami has done the impossible by taking down a 1 seed as a lowly 8 seed. Blame the lack of daily lineups? Sure. But the Heat gave a hell of a performance. So did Milwaukee. In fact, the two were separated by a measly 2 points in round 1 scoring. So, yeah, I expect this to be a tight one. The Bucks are a team that continues to perplex. Sure, they’ve got Giannis. But the supporting cast is so weird. Elfrid Payton. He gets triple doubles on the regular now? What?! Robert Covington is still playing hero ball? Hmm. The production from those three has been unreal. Serge Ibaka and Thad Young, however, have disappointed over the past few weeks. This team has suddenly become top-heavy, at least in the short term. Miami, meanwhile…I’m just not sold on them. How far can you really go when your best player is Goran Dragic? A lot of their players have struggled lately. In the last two weeks, only two players besides Dragic are scoring 30 PPG or more: Harrison Barnes and Jonas Valanciunas. Miami got by because of those three, a minutes advantage over Atlanta and a couple of Hawks guys sitting out. I don’t know if they’ll get as lucky this time. I’m going with MILWAUKEE to make it to the conference finals.

2 INDIANA VS. 3 CHICAGO

No one can stop Indy, as far as I’m concerned. They got healthy competition from the Cavs last week and still trounced them, scoring the most points of the week by a wide margin. Westbrook is Westbrook. Blake is slipping a bit as of late, but Gobert has been an absolute monster recently. Nobody is happier about Atlanta going down than Indy, because it basically punches their ticket for a second consecutive trip to the finals. Last year, they did it as an underdog. This year they’re the favorites. Getting past Chicago is not exactly a walk in the park, especially with how well Whiteside and Ricky Rubio have been playing lately, but the Pacers are just too good right now to pick against. To sum up: my pick is INDIANA.

WEST

1 NEW ORLEANS VS. 4 PORTLAND

Terrific showing by the Blazers in Round 1. Bad luck for Utah. #VoteDailyLineups. We always knew it was gonna be a close one, and of course Portland came from behind on the final day to take the win and send a division rival packing. The Blazers have got to be confident heading into the semifinals: their opponent, the No. 1 Pelicans, scored almost 300 points fewer in Round 1. New Orleans, meanwhile, should be concerned after putting up the third-lowest point total in the opening week of the postseason. They’re lucky they got that 1 seed; they would have lost to Houston handily, and anyone else in the West apart from Phoenix. They’ll have Jrue Holiday in the starting lineup this week, but will that really be enough to overcome the deficit of points they’ve been missing elsewhere? Bledsoe has been shut down for the rest of the year, making Holiday more of a stopgap than a net addition for the playoffs. In Round 1, all of their players gave at- or near-average performances. In the playoffs, you need more. The same was true for Portland, too, actually, but they’ve got more options they can go to on the bench this week. Hardaway, McConnell, and Afflalo have been playing well lately. And Archie Goodwin signed with Brooklyn out of nowhere, so maybe that turns into something. My pick for this round is still NEW ORLEANS because their talent is more evenly distributed. But I don’t feel particularly good about it.

2 SAN ANTONIO VS. 3 GOLDEN STATE

Last round shows how bad I am at predictions. The Warriors went down by over 100 points on day 2 and had a not insignificant minutes deficit to Sacramento. Not only did they come back to win, they scored the second most points of the week. San Antonio did well enough and fended off a late push from Houston, but it was obvious there were some holes in the lineup. Chandler didn’t play and Jennings, Booker and Dieng underperformed. Evan Turner is back, which should provide a nice boost. The Warriors, meanwhile, are red hot and have no holes. More than half of their starters scored over 40 PPG last week. And their bench looks pretty healthy, too. Screw what I said last week about the Warriors riding Curry to a title last year; this team is damn good. San Antonio is going to need monster performances from their big three in order to win. I don’t think their stars have enough help. I’m picking GOLDEN STATE to make it to the conference finals.

POST-MORTEMS

This is a new feature I’m rolling out. NBA writer Tim Bontemps has been doing these for a couple of seasons. Basically, he breaks down what went wrong with teams as they are eliminated from playoff contention. But there’s no way I would have bothered to calculate exactly who went out when during the season, so I waited until the actual start of the playoffs to do these.

This week I’m just focusing on the teams who missed the playoffs – there would be way too much to write otherwise. I’ll have the eight losers from Round 1 next week.

I’m also going to take a bit more of an optimistic view. Instead of harping on about why these teams fell short, I’ll focus on what they should do in the offseason. Basketball is all about feeling good.

 

OKLAHOMA CITY


Another terrible year, though I do have to point out the Thunder got six times the amount of wins this year as last year, so there was some improvement (I guess). More than enough has been said about this team’s dire situation. This team is still an incredibly long way away from getting back into the playoffs, but there are at least a couple of bright spots here. OKC scrimped together some assets to grab a couple of late picks last offseason, and some may bear fruit. Tyler Ulis has looked awesome now that the Suns are in full tank mode and Bledsoe is being held out. He’s had a 20-point game, a 13 and 13 game and a 17 and 11 game in March. Like I’ve said about this kid in the past, he has a great on his tiny shoulders and he can straight up ball. Hopefully he’s playing himself into a role for the Suns in the future. If there was any coach that would give him a shot, it’s Earl Watson. Furkan Korkmaz remains a mystery but I believe in his upside. The rest of the picks look like busts, unfortunately. But the Thunder have traditionally done well with free agency – they rode Hassan Whiteside to the playoffs two seasons ago – and they’ve got two good ones again in Dewayne Dedmon and Alan Williams. Dedmon’s contract is a bit expensive but he’s always been underrated and is a perfect Spurs guy. Williams is a bit more iffy given his size and physical limitations (read: he’s a fat fatty), but you can’t deny that he’s performed well this season. If OKC can manage more of that – playing it smart in free agency and finding a couple of decent guys in the draft – they’ll be back on the right track.

Expiring contracts: Korkmaz, AJ Hammons, Sheldon McClellan, Sergio Llull, Nicolas Brussino
Draft picks: None

 

ORLANDO

Talk about another “how the mighty have fallen” team. The number 1 seed two years ago, the Magic really fell off a cliff this year when all of their players either got old or became free agents. This roster is a bizarre combination of ancients, misfits and weird rookies. Nene, RJ and Jet are all way too old to consider holding onto. Wilcox and Huestis are not NBA players. The rookie crop – Bender, Zubac, Williams, Ndour, Jackson and Ochefu – are all worthless, minus the two big Euros. The rest? Greg Monroe remains in no man’s land, lost in time as a big guy who can’t play D or shoot from long range (AKA the Jurassic Era). Derrick Favors – what the hell happened to that guy? Tyreke Evans – who the hell knows with that guy at any given circumstance? Ross has some promise in Orlando but Frank Vogel’s rotations are so completely fucked that even that’s not a given. The good news? It means that no one should be considered untouchable in Orlando. Now is the perfect time to make some moves. Some guys should be flipped for any perceivable asset, and some others could fetch a legitimate prize. It’s less about “blowing it up” and more about wiping a bunch of snot and poo off of the mirror so you can take a look at yourself and figure out what to do next. Having two picks in the top four certainly helps. Uncertain times in Orlando – but after a 14-win season, that’s a good thing.

Expiring contracts: Richard Jefferson, Demetrius Jackson, Maurice Ndour, Troy Williams, Daniel Ochefu
Draft picks: #2 (projected), #4 (projected) via NYK

 

BROOKLYN

I will never forgive the guy who owned this team before me, traded the team for picks 2 and 3 in the 2014 draft, and then skipped the draft. I could’ve had Wiggins and Embiid! But I’m really not so bitter about it anymore. I don’t trust myself with draft picks anyway. After more or less whiffing on four top 10 picks (Ingram, Johnson, Hezonja and Cauley-Stein), it’s hard to get excited about having even a high lottery pick again. This was the year that I decided the rebuild can’t take another five years. I swapped picks and prospects for proven talent. It was finally time for me to admit to myself that the likes of Vonleh, Jerian Grant, Rashad Vaughn and a bunch of late first round picks are probably never going to amount to anything. I scrimped together pretty unappealing assets and turned them into OK players. Not ones who will win me a title, but OK ones. Suddenly, I’ve ended up with a lot more players scoring in the 20s and 30s than in the 10s and 20s. Thompson is a keeper. Patty Mills is a free agent, and even if he comes back to the Spurs, he could be the starting PG. Richaun Holmes is a real NBA player, damn it, and I hope he stays on my squad for his whole career. Courtney Lee had a great year and Hollis-Jefferson can definitely reach MKG levels. My one regret? Trading Tyler Johnson for a pick. Oh well. I finished the year on an 8-6 run. Again, not amazing, but I was no longer losing every game by a million points. My hopes for next season? Eight seed. Playoffs. The Atlantic will remain weak, with Boston, New York and Philly trending down or staying the same (I finished with more points scored than Boston and New York, despite the worse record). I’m not sure if I can get to .500, which is the bare minimum of what you’ll need to make the playoffs in the East, but if guys like Hezonja, Stan Johnson and Ingram take a step forward in development, it could happen. Maybe Osman and Zagorac will come over and be decent. I’ll consider whatever I get from my picks to be a bonus. This has been an excruciatingly discouraging rebuild, but I’m finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Just a little.

Expiring contracts: Tyler Zeller
Draft picks: #3 (projected), #15 (from Phoenix)

 

NEW YORK

Under new ownership, the Knicks went from their just-below-mediocre plateau to downright terrible this year. But oddly, that’s a good thing. Move no. 1 was also the team’s best move this year, getting Kristaps Porzingis and giving the franchise some direction for the first time. Unlike the real Knicks, New York is doing the right thing by putting the team’s future in his big Latvian hands. The team has a preposterous seven rookies, and some of them have decent promise. Caris LeVert is looking like a nice player – a good scorer and passer with great size. Thon Maker remains mysterious and interesting and is worth waiting on. The rest? Jake Layman? Henry Ellenson? Georges Niang? Arguably not NBA players. (The jury is out on Brice Johnson because Doc Rivers is a maniac.) The good news is that New York has five first round picks over the next two years, even if three of them will be in the late 20s. Porzingis is only 21, so the clock is ticking very slowly, but it still would be nice to see some real talent developing around him. This is looking like it’s going to be a long rebuild, but at least there’s some intent by the ownership of this team for the first time. Keep an eye out for this team in free agency, too: they’ll have about $70 million to spend, depending on who gets re-signed.

Expiring contracts: Joe Harris, KJ McDaniels, Salah Mejri, Tiago Splitter, Brice Johnson, Georges Niang, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rakeem Christmas
Picks: #22 (from Atlanta) and another in the late 20s from San Antonio

 

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Trading a superstar is never fun or easy. It helps when you have two top 10 picks, but I gotta say, the more I look at this draft, the more it looks like there will really only be one, two or three stars in the lottery. The rest look like really, really solid players, but I only see a couple in this draft that are likely franchise-changers. The good news for the Lakers is they have the best shot at the #1 pick. After trading Durant, LA predictably went into a tailspin. Still, there are a few good players on this roster. Clarkson, despite his ludicrous contract, is a decent young guy to have. He should be in the league for a long time. Robin Lopez is as solid, if boring, as ever. Belinelli and Danny Green are decent bench guys to have, but maybe not for a rebuilding team. The Lakers have essentially zero on the roster in terms of young prospects (no, Ron Baker does not count). This means it could be an interesting offseason in Hollywood. They could trade pretty much any player on the roster for a pick or prospect and it would be a good move. So the possibilities are limitless here. It wouldn’t be the worst idea to amass a morass of youngsters and picks and see what sticks a couple of years down the road. First thing’s first, though: OKC has to win the lottery and the Lakers have to nail the pick for this to be a rebuild of any promise.

Expiring contracts: Marco Belinelli, Ron Baker, Chasson Randle
Picks: #1 (projected) from OKC, #6 (projected) from LAC

 

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

A mass exodus of superstars from Los Angeles seems like a weird thing, but here we are. We’ve all talked enough about the trades. So what’s left in Clippertown? Dario Saric has looked awesome – I mean really freaking good – in the last month or so. But how much of that production is going to stick around next season when Simmons and Embiid are back? Depending on how the draft goes for Philly, Saric might be the #5 option offensively for the Sixers. The talent is certainly there, but the opportunity remains shrouded. LA has six other rookies. Do any of them have any promise? Don’t talk to me about Whitehead. TLC could be a nice 3 and D guy, but Justin Anderson really cramps his style and Korkmaz might be coming soon. Wade Baldwin can’t get ahead of a Harrison brother on the depth chart, so that’s all you need to know about him. Deyonta Davis is by far the most promising of the bunch. But, again, will he ever get the opportunity? Josh Richardson is a keeper. But is anyone else? Next year is basically already a lost year for the Clippers since they don’t have their pick, but that’s a good thing for them. It gives them essentially a free year to wait on guys like Davis, Baldwin and Brooklyn castoffs Jerian Grant and Rashad Vaughn to develop. David West, Norris Cole, Aron Baynes and Spencer Hawes should be sent with cash for any conceivable 2nd round pick. The goal for LA now is just to take as many shots as possible and hope that some stick. This is a long-term rebuild, but there’s only one way to go from here, and that’s up.

Expiring contracts: Dario Saric, Isaiah Whitehead, Chinanu Onuaku
Picks: Two in the 20s from Milwaukee and Indiana (potentially #30). It was a potentially fatal mistake getting Indy’s pick and not Philly’s.

 

DALLAS

Nikola Jokic. Nikola. Jokic. NIIIIII. KOOOO. LAAAAA. JOKIC. If Dallas is going to do anything of note in the near future, it’l be because of Nikola Jokic. He’s been the 13th best player in Real Deal over the last two months and he’s a center who gets triple-doubles. From a fantasy perspective, the sky’s the limit for this guy. The rest of the roster is a total mystery. Jae Crowder and Pat Beverley are gone, and now Pau Gasol is here. Nikola Mirotic is looking more and more like a lost cause. Jamal Murray and Nerlens Noel were traded away for a pick. On the other hand, Juancho Hernangomez looks like a real solid player and Seth Curry has flourished under Rick Carlisle. The Mavs love to reward those types of players. Is this team rebuilding or not? They looked like a surefire bottom-three team for most of the season, but Jokic may have messed that up a bit by playing so well down the stretch. Nevertheless, Dallas has two top-seven picks in what everyone is saying is a loaded draft. If the team can nail both selections, they’ll have two studs to partner up with Jokic, and this team could get dangerous quick. I’m keeping my eye on this team in free agency this summer, too, where they’ve been very successful (see: Jokic, Curry).

Expiring contracts: Kyle Anderson, Malcolm Delaney
Picks: #5 (projected) from LAL, #7 (projected)

 

BOSTON

Another bad year for the Celtics, but at least this time we can say they’ve got some real promising players. D’Angelo Russell has become criminally underrated and is one of the most irrationally hated/disrespected players I think I’ve ever seen. Seriously, the kid can play. There’s definitely a lot he can do to get better – his shooting, scoring and passing all need to improve – but you can see the talent. And Jusuf Nurkic has been a monster since being freed from Denver. Remember when he had 28 and 20 with 8 assists? Yeah. The rest of the roster I have little to no confidence in, apart from Justise Winslow. Justin Holiday, Luke Babbitt, Brandon Rush and several others all seem like end-of-the-bench players for contenders, not starters for a rebuilding team. This makes them prime trade candidates. I’d look for Boston to be active on the trade market in a search for young prospects. Picking as low as they’re projected to, you can no longer count on grabbing a star, even in this draft.

Expiring contracts: Jusuf Nurkic, DeAndre Liggins, CJ Watson, Brandon Rush, Malik Beasley
Picks: #8 (projected), #17 (from Houston)

 

MINNESOTA

Kevin Love on the Minnesota Timberwolves is starting to look a lot like Kevin Love on the Minnesota Timberwolves. He remains a very useful player to have, but where’s the talent around him? Aside from maybe Norman Powell and Kelly Oubre, who can you count on to be a part of this team’s future? The Wolves are in dire need of a reboot, and I’m not sure how they’re going to achieve it. One could do a bit of a salesman job in pitching the likes of Omri Casspi, Mike Beasley and Garrett Temple in trades. Whatever picks or prospects they can get for those guys would be a step in the right direction. This could also be a rare case of when trading a superstar might be a good move, if Minnesota can manage to get a good return on him. The team has been adamant in keeping him in the past, but perhaps a second poor season and the departure of Jeff Teague could signal a change of heart. Either way, I’d keep an eye on Minnesota to be making some changes this offseason.

Expiring contracts: Fred VanVleet, Cat Barber
Picks: #9 (projected), #19 (from Sacramento)

 

DETROIT

Detroit is loading up on picks, prospects and reclamation projects, which to me is exactly the move to make after trading Andre Drummond last season. Picking up the likes of Willy Hernangomez, Larry Nance and Sean Kilpatrick were the types of shrewd moves that the Pistons need to continue making. Other youngsters like Buddy Hield, Terry Rozier and Malachi Richardson have shown flashes. This team, to me, is very much in the “wait and see” phase. They’ve done the job of getting younger, and now they just have to see who develops and who doesn’t. I think their one true mistake this season was not selling high on James Johnson – he’s having an unreal season and probably will never match that production again. The first course of action for Detroit is to start scouting some late round picks. But they’re on the right track.

Expiring contracts: Doug McDermott, Spencer Dinwiddie, Noah Vonleh, Malachi Richardson, Thomas Robinson
Picks: Three in the 20s and beyond (maybe) from Toronto, Utah and New Orleans

 

PHILADELPHIA

The new ownership in Philadelphia brings a certain – I think boldness is the correct word – to the 76ers. Despite an overwhelming lack of talent, this is a team that never counted itself out and coasted past a bunch of tankers to a second place finish in the Atlantic. There are some interesting guys here, but none to build a franchise around. Mudiay is looking more and more like a bust. Frank Kaminsky is just a role player. The most interesting parts of this roster are the Detroit pick, followed by Marquese Chriss in a distant second. There are a lot of players in Philly that don’t need to be there, which means a big overhaul could and probably should be in play this summer. The Sixers should also focus on getting more picks, if they can. Dumping Jrue Holiday for a top-10 pick was a great move. Also, Malcolm Brogdon for president.

Expiring contracts: Malcolm Brogdon, Dante Cunningham, Dorian Finney-Smith, Bruno Caboclo
Picks: #10 (projected) from Detroit

 

MEMPHIS

Tradtionally a pretty good team, Memphis was set back this year by big injuries to Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the two Grizzlies kingpins. Props to them for keeping the crew together despite a bad year, and props to them for being one of the few teams left with their two original franchise guys (mine are looooooong gone). Despite career years for Eric Gordon, JaMychal Green and Wayne Ellington, Memphis didn’t stand a chance in the West. In addition to injuries, the Grizzlies have had the misfortune of dealing with the sudden collapse of two players they got a lot of compliments for drafting three years ago in DeMarre Carroll, who looks broken beyond repair, and Jared Sullinger, who is now so fat and bad that even the Suns didn’t want him. With a good offseason, Memphis could be right back in the thick of things, though. Gasol and Conley obviously give them a good place to start. Gordon seems to have finally found his fit in Houston. Recent developments involving Taurean Prince are encouraging. Ante Zizic is apparently beasting in Europe. And Tim Frazier is a legit NBA player (?!?!?!). There’s a lot of dead weight on the roster, but the Grizzlies already have the foundation of a contender. Could be a quick fix.

Expiring contracts: Hollis Thompson, Paul Zipser, Ante Zizic
Picks: #12 (projected)

 

DENVER

Another year, another ho-hum season for Denver. After an exciting end of the first season that saw the team sneak into the playoffs, not much has happened for the Nuggets, despite some really exciting development from the likes of CJ McCollum and Devin Booker. It’s a real shame. With a little attention, this could be a special team. A core of McCollum, Booker, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown is really damn special, but they’re not going to do anything without some help. Brian Roberts is your starting point guard? Really? Josh SMITH is still on the roster? Really?! This team needs to figure out what’s up, and quickly. They’re not good enough to be a contender. They’re not bad enough to consider a total rebuild or get a high pick. Things can change quickly with a little tinkering. But if the Nuggets continue to stagnate, well, expect more of the same.

Expiring contracts: Marcus Smart, Brian Roberts, Guerschon Yabusele, Petr Cornelie
Picks: #13 (projected)

 

WASHINGTON

The Wizards rode an unbelievable hot streak to a title two years ago and have been on a steady decline ever since, going .500 and missing out on the playoffs this season. John Wall is comfortably a top-10 player, and the supporting cast has some really interesting pieces. So why the lack of success? Too many players scoring in the 10s in the starting lineup. Julius Randle and Tyson Chandler can be good pieces on a contender. Washington struck gold twice, it seems, in Skal Labissiere and Yogi Ferrell. I remember before the start of last season, some people had Skal ahead of Ben Simmons. I’m not saying they were right, but it just goes to show you can’t trust John Calipari with making NBA prospects look good (see also: Devin Booker, Jamal Murray). Sabonis Junior has been atrocious this year but there’s no way a kid that smart is a total dud forever. Mike Scott is the easiest amnesty candidate of all time. So there is a lot of promise here: the roster can get a lot better very quickly. Add in three picks and you’re looking OK. Get the rookies in and let deadweights Jeff Green, Wesley Johnson and Luis Scola take a walk. Washington could easily be back in the playoffs next year, even as the East gets better and better.

Expiring contracts: Julius Randle, Jameer Nelson, Wesley Johnson, Shabazz Napier, Diamond Stone
Picks: #14 (projected), #17 (from Cleveland), one pick in the late 20s (from Golden State)

 

Real Deal Basketball Report: Round 1 Playoff Predictions

Guys, this has been a really great season. We’ve had some monster trades, big-time performances, tight divisional races and the formation of some real super-team type squads.

But the one thing that’s been missing? Playoff drama.

Let’s be real: We’ve known who the playoff teams would be since, like, early December. There is such a massive divide between the good teams and the bad teams in this league that it’s actually a little bit ridiculous. There are only two teams with records even CLOSE to .500: Washington and Phoenix, and Phoenix only because they blew their team up a month ago. The biggest trend in this league by far is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Ho hum.

But anyway. The playoffs are here! Let’s break it down.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. ATLANTA VS. 8. MIAMI

This could be a very interesting 1-8 matchup, which is sort of an oxymoron. Atlanta has proved that the most important thing to have in this league is depth, riding a tidal wave of nine 30+ PPG scorers to a Real Deal record 71 wins. So their victory over the lowly 8 seed should be a sure thing, right? Not so fast. Riding high off of the acquisition of Harrison “Not Empty Stats” Barnes, this new-look Miami team has seven players who score 30 or more PPG – incidentally, the same amount of players the Hawks have at that mark over the past month. The main difference between the two? Atlanta has two star-level players, or near it, in Millsap and Howard. They’ve given near 50 points apiece pretty consistently across the season. Throw in the fact that Miami’s best player, Goran Dragic, is dealing with one of the ugliest looking face injuries I’ve seen in basketball and I think the Hawks can wrap this one up pretty handily. The Heat do have a slight minutes advantage this week, but I’m still giving it to ATLANTA.

 

2. INDIANA VS. 7. CLEVELAND

A Central Division clash! Westbrook vs. LeBron! Actually, there’s not much to say about these two teams apart from what I’ve been saying about them for a while now. Indiana is a super team with the potential to become a dynasty. Cleveland has three awesome players and 11 crappy ones. The Pacers, who have been at or near the top in scoring since acquiring Griffin and Westbrook, will win this matchup in a landslide. Sadly, March LeBron is not Playoffs LeBron. One thing to watch as a potential Achilles’ heel for Indy as the playoffs go on: the dismal lack of depth. If one of their starters goes out next week, they could be in trouble. And that’s with Dante Exum and his 14 PPG already in the starting 8. Still, though, my pick is INDIANA.

 

3. CHICAGO VS. 6 CHARLOTTE

Oh boy. It’s been a bad luck season for the Bulls. I’ll start with the most obvious thing, and that’s Kevin Durant and his 57 PPG sitting out injured. Add in the announcement of Chandler Parson’s knee busting again after lineups were set, meaning Chicago is playing 7 on 8 before the action really even begins. This is a team that should’ve done better. Difficult to say, considering they’re behind only the untouchable Hawks and super team Pacers in the East, but the Bulls were as low as the 6 seed just yesterday afternoon. They’ve been fending off the Bucks (somehow?!) in the Central all season and has recently been going through the eating-of-dust of the aforementioned Pacers in the Central. Durant wasn’t supposed to get hurt. Tobias Harris was supposed to become a leading scorer for Detroit. Aaron Gordon was supposed to play power forward all season, but Frank Vogel and his asinine lineups ruined that, too (trust me, I’ve been there). Oh, and which team are they up against in the first round of the playoffs? A red-hot Charlotte team that comfortably scored the most points in the league last week. The Hornets are a sort of Hawks-lite-ish team in that they’re deep but lack a true superstar. Kemba is the closest thing they have, but that’s OK when the supporting cast includes Avery Bradley, Otto Porter, Clint Capela and Enes Kanter, all of whom are having their best seasons. Chicagos’ bad luck continues and they’ll become the first upset of Round 1 so far, falling to CHARLOTTE.

 

4. TORONTO VS. 5. MILWAUKEE

Now that seedings are based on record first and not division titles, Toronto no longer automatically slots into the 3 seed, but luckily for them they’ve only fallen one spot. This is a team that’s a bit on its heels at the moment, losing their best player in Kyle Lowry. They’ve still got some competent talent, enjoying meaningful production from DeRozan, Gortat, Teague, Randolph and the no-longer-a-piece-of-crap-apparently Dion Waiters. In some cases, that’s enough to win a playoff series against a lower seed. Milwaukee, somehow, hung near the top of the Central all season long despite only having five truly good players (the same amount Toronto currently has) in Giannis, Ibaka, Payton, Young and Sir Robert Covington. This season, Toronto had the single easiest schedule in the league. Milwaukee’s difficulty of schedule was right in the middle of the pack at the 13th hardest. The teams finished 11th and 13th in total scoring. So your guess is really as good as anyone’s in this situation. I’ll give the slight edge to Milwaukee here. The Bucks have Giannis. And the Raptors are missing Lowry badly. So, yeah, the pick is MILWAUKEE, a team that continues to hang on.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. NEW ORLEANS VS. 8. PHOENIX

Nothing to see here, folks. This would’ve been a hell of a matchup if Phoenix still had Westbrook and Thomas. IT is back to burn his old team with Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, Eric Bledsoe and company to help. NEW ORLEANS in a landslide, featuring Jrue Holiday next week.

 

2. SAN ANTONIO VS. 7. HOUSTON

Another fairly uninteresting matchup. San Antonio is the top scoring team in the league and is starting to get healthy again with Lin and soon Turner coming back to support Kawhi, KAT and Drummond. Houston, who had their regular season wins record broken this year, has James Harden and not much else. In terms of the playoff teams, the Rockets were second to last in scoring, ahead of only Phoenix. As one of the few teams in the league without an abundance of cap room, this offseason will be a meaningful one for Houston. The pick is SAN ANTONIO.

 

3. GOLDEN STATE VS. 6. SACRAMENTO

This is a tricky matchup. Golden State are the reigning champs, but in hindsight, it’s starting to feel like the Dubs rode Curry all the way to the title last year. That’s not really an option anymore. Curry is putting out a whole 10 PPG fewer than he did last year. The supporting cast remains strong, but those 10 points missing from your top guy do matter. The Warriors are enjoying a great second-year jump from Myles Turner, but Klay Thompson and Brook Lopez have both declined ever so slightly from last year. On the other hand, JJ Barea is coming back just in time, and Bojan Bogdanovic has somehow had some amazing games since arriving in DC. Sacramento has had one heck of a weird season. After losing Rudy Gay for the season, it looked for a bit like the Kings were throwing in the towel as they struggled to keep up with the West’s best. Dirk was shipped out of town. But then something miraculous happened: the Kings acquired Chris Paul, perhaps the best point guard of his generation, for basically free. And Chris Paul came back from injury and resumed normal Chris Paul Activities, keeping the Kings alive and allowing the team to lock up the 6 seed and avoiding a dreaded matchup with New Orleans or San Antonio. Look, Golden State has been the better team consistently over the course of the season, but Sacramento has a real chance here. And that’s where I stopped writing before the Monday night games started, which kind of ruined by prediction. So, yeah, the Kings have a 100-point lead and a minutes advantage. The winner is SACRAMENTO.

 

4. PORTLAND VS. 5. UTAH

This is the only possible way this could have ended up. The preseason favorites to take the Northwest, Utah could only watch as the red-hot Blazers tore through the first month or so of the season, building a lead that looked at points to be insurmountable. This led the Jazz to do some tinkering, acquiring Al Horford, Cody Zeller and Nikola Vucevic to shore up the frontcourt positions and give Hayward some help. Utah came roaring back, reclaiming the top spot on the division. The arms race continued and Portland brought in Dirk, Jae Crowder and Pat Beverley to add to a squad that sorely lacked depth. These two teams were neck and neck for the longest time, but in the end it was the Blazers who came out on top to lock up the 4 seed…only to face the team they’d been fending off all year long. This is my favorite matchup of Round 1. These are two teams that are just very, very solid from 1-8. I expect this to come down to the wire, but I’m giving the edge here to the team that can hope for some superstar performances from Damian Lillard and Jimmy Butler: PORTLAND.

 

One interesting note in all of this: Kyle O’Quinn will likely be claimed off waivers this week by a playoff team. If he’s plucked by a team that advances to the next round, he could be a difference maker. Keep an eye on that.

So that’s it! Enjoy Round 1! And let me know your predictions too!

Real Deal Basketball Report: All-Star 2017 Recap

After a pretty quiet December, many teams in this league experienced significant changes in fortune during the first month and a half of 2017. If 2016 was a fairly dull year for the league as a whole, it’s looking like 2017 is shaping up to be quite an interesting one. Let’s take a closer look.

 

THE CLIPPERS FINALLY BEGIN THE REBUILD

The LA Clippers have had a rough go of it from the inception of the league. Armed with two superstars in Chris Paul (a top three point guard of all time in this humble reporter’s opinion) and Blake Griffin (a mega-talented but oft-injured unicorn who finished third in MVP voting a few years ago), the Clips were somehow never able to build a good team around them. For a while, their third best player was Kyle Korver. Much like the real Clippers, LA never put it all together to achieve any real success.

At nearly 30 games under .500 in a top-heavy Pacific Division with no playoff appearances in three years and with precisely two good players and no promising ones (OK fine, maybe Josh Richardson), blowing this team up and starting from scratch was probably the correct move. And so Blake and CP3 were gone. Let’s dive deep on these trades.

LAC receives: Dario Saric, Deyonta Davis and the Pacers’ 1st round pick
IND receives: Blake Griffin

I hated this trade at first and can guarantee you that the Clippers had at least one better offer than this. But the more I think about it, the less atrocious it seems. Look, a 50-point player is extremely rare and make no mistake: the return here should have been greater. But you can understand why the Clippers liked what they got.

Saric is putting together a really nice rookie season and will only get better once Ilyasova clears out. He looks like an important piece for the future of the Sixers and will have lots of opportunity to do some good things in a lineup featuring Embiid, Simmons and whatever point guard Philly drafts this summer. He’s a guy I can see averaging something like 15-17 points, 6-8 rebounds and 4-5 assists in his prime.

Deyonta Davis was probably a lottery-level talent in this rookie class (granted, it’s looking like the weakest draft in at least a decade) but fell to the second round because he’s so unpolished. He’s definitely a prospect, but he’s noted more for his defense than anything, which doesn’t often translate into fantasy relevance. And the Grizzlies aren’t exactly known for throwing young players into the mix right away – or even within the first like five years. He’s buried behind ZBo, JaMychal Green and Jarell Martin, though Green is a free agent this summer and Memphis won’t be able to afford a new contract for him, so there’s that.

The Indy pick will be like #25 at best because the Pacers got so much better because of this trade. Picks are always nice, but the talent in this draft falls off monumentally after like the 15th pick, and Indy ain’t finishing in the lottery.

So basically this trade amounts to Griffin for Saric and two mumbled prayers. I’m shocked that this trade happened without the Philly pick. Or without any of the Pacers’ million other young prospects with actual promise. No Exum? No Lyles? No Garry Harris? Just Deyonta Davis?

I’ll refrain for now from talking any more about how this affects the Clippers and instead talk about how this affects Indiana and the East, because that’s more interesting.

The Pacers instantly just became the second-best team in the East. Atlanta has to be nervous. And the rest of the contenders in the East are now focusing on the #3 seed, because that’s as high as any of them will get. The Pacers have just acquired their best player mid-season, which is alarming to say the least for all competitors. This team now has a four-headed monster of Griffin, George, Gobert and Westbrook (more on that later) that rivals the top-heavy Spurs and Pelicans, but the Pacers also enjoy decent depth about 10 players deep. Their strategy must now be to trade Dunn for a player who can help now and Exum for whatever they can get.

This spells trouble for Chicago, who should have been the favorites to win the Central. That roster, even with Kevin Durant, just has too many holes to keep pace (pun intended) with Indiana. And somehow they’re even behind the Bucks now. Time to re-jigger.

Atlanta has just been so good so far that their spot atop the East probably remains safe. But can they really beat Indy in the Eastern finals? It’ll be a hell of a matchup. Both teams need to stay healthy.

And now the other trade:

LAC receives: Isaiah Whitehead, Wade Baldwin IV and the Bucks’ 1st round pick
SAC receives: Chris Paul

As a commissioner in this league I do feel obligated to censor myself here. Enough has been said about this trade. The only things left to say are 1. Congrats, Kings and 2. We’ll all be keeping a close eye on how many All-Star games Whitehead plays in.

 

NEW LEADER IN THE WILD WILD WEST

For forever, it seemed like the Spurs would lock down the Southwest Division with New Orleans just behind. But the Pelicans have been getting hotter and hotter thanks in large part to Joel Embiid, the Living Meme, and the Spurs have fallen off just a little bit and actually look just a little bit thin, especially with recent injuries.

Over the past month, New Orleans has five players averaging 40 points or more per game. The trio of Davis, Embiid (when healthy) and Bledsoe alone give you almost 170 points a night. And the team just got even better by acquiring Nerlens Noel and Jamal Murray for a pick. Sure, let’s just give this team every single young and talented player in the NBA. AND Ben Simmons hasn’t even played yet – and for all we know he could become the best player on this team. AND they’re $30 million under the cap. AND they have a lottery pick this year, and two more next year. Jesus. The more I look at this roster the more I just want to quit because this team will be one of the two or three best teams in the league for at least the next 10 years. The one worry right now, of course, is centered on the health of Embiid’s knee. How much longer will he be out?

So what happened to the Spurs? Well, it’s really not that anything happened to them, per se – it’s more that good things happened to the teams around them. The Spurs have been very quiet in the trade market this year, and why wouldn’t you be when you have Kawhi, Drummond and Towns? But the problem for the Spurs is depth. Wilson Chandler isn’t good enough to be your fourth-best player if you want to win a championship. Teams like the Pelicans, Trail Blazers and Warriors have added more pieces to build up some depth while the Spurs have remained stagnant. San Antonio has a strong top eight, but if one or two of their stars isn’t playing more than one game in a given period, this team is beatable. With Lin out there is no bench to speak of here. They’re still in prime position in the West to advance to the conference finals, but a real danger exists that New Orleans will leave them in the dust, or that another playoff team with a big three like Portland or Utah could surprise them early.

 

INDIANA: BACK WITH A VENGEANCE

There will be no Finals loss hangover for the Pacers, it appears, as the team has reloaded with Griffin and Russell Westbrook, who is currently putting together one of the best statistical seasons of the past 25 years. Let’s examine this trade because I’ve already gushed enough about this Indy team. (OK, one more: I’ve never seen a team add two absolute ringers like this before, ever.)

IND receives: Westbrook, Brandon Knight and (somehow also?!) Phoenix’s 2018 1st round pick
PHX receives: Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker and Kris Dunn

I think the one thing we’ve learned (or really I guess we still haven’t) is that you should never, ever trade a superstar. There’s a reason it doesn’t happen in the real NBA. The return is almost never anything close to equal value and is almost always done because the player says he wants to leave town – but our players don’t get a choice in free agency. We saw what happened when OKC traded Durant and Westbrook. We saw the Durant trade earlier this year. We saw the Clippers trades. And now this.

I will say that this trade is the closest to equal value for a superstar that we’ve seen so far, but Indiana still wins this by a mile. Westbrook scores over 70 PPG. End of story. If I’m trading Westbrook, it means I’m rebuilding, and there’s no way I’m including pot sweeteners like Knight and my own pick next year, which, for Phoenix, looks like it could be in the lottery. Still, the return pieces are actually worthwhile. Parker played at an All-Star level this season, but one wonders how he’ll bounce back from a second torn ACL in three seasons. The reports are that he’s looking at a 12-month rehab period, so not only is he done for the rest of this season, but also for the majority of next season, as well. LaVine is another ACL tear victim, and was putting together a great campaign in his own right. He’s another question mark in terms of how he’ll play post-surgery: his game is so dependent on his explosiveness and athleticism, and some guys are never the same after a serious knee injury. For Dunn, I’ll just say this: the jury is basically still out on him, but in my opinion he’s looked like basically the worst player in the NBA this season and his lack of polish for a soon-to-be 23-year-old who spent three years in college hoops is kind of shocking.

 

PLAYOFF SEEDS SETTLING

It’s pretty much all but settled at this point which teams are in. Let’s take a look at the current order:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

  1. New Orleans
  2. San Antonio
  3. Golden State
  4. Utah
  5. Portland
  6. Sacramento
  7. Houston
  8. Phoenix

EASTERN CONFERENCE

  1. Atlanta
  2. Indiana
  3. Toronto
  4. Milwaukee
  5. Charlotte
  6. Chicago
  7. Miami
  8. Cleveland

I wrote “In the hunt” for both conferences but then there were no teams to put there. These are your 16 playoff teams, folks. Lock it up and prepare accordingly. See the rest of you (or whoever owns your picks) in the lottery.

 

ALL-STAR SELECTIONS

All-Star Weekend is almost here! Let’s get hype and pick the Real Deal All-Star team for the 2016-17 season. (To decide these lists I just looked at who’s scored the most points. Nice and easy.)

EAST

STARTERS

G: Russell Westbrook, IND
G: John Wall, WAS
F: Kevin Durant, CHI
F: Giannis Antetokuonmpo, MIL
F: LeBron James, CLE

RESERVES

Hassan Whiteside, CHI; Kyle Lowry, TOR; Rudy Gobert, IND; Kemba Walker, CHA; Carmelo Anthony, CLE; Draymond Green, CLE; Paul Millsap, ATL

A few interesting notes here: 1. Cleveland, a bottom seed in the playoffs, has three All-Stars. Atlanta, comfortably the best team in the league, barely has one. See, people, depth is important! There is also only one All-Star from a non-playoff team (Wall) and only two teams besides Cleveland have more than one All-Star (Chicago and Indiana).

WEST

STARTERS

G: James Harden, HOU
G: Stephen Curry, GS
F: DeMarcus Cousins, SAC
F: Anthony Davis, NO
F: Karl-Anthony Towns, SA

RESERVES

Andre Drummond, SA; Isaiah Thomas, PHO; Eric Bledsoe, NO; Jimmy Butler, POR; DeAndre Jordan, POR; Marc Gasol, MEM; Kawhi Leonard, SA

Seven of the 12 All-Stars belong to just three teams: New Orleans, San Antonio and Portland. Utah is the only playoff team without an All-Star. And Marc Gasol is the only All-Star not on a playoff team.

Real Deal Ultimate 3 Sport League Recruiting New Owners

If you are a dynasty sports nut…

we have a year around league that might interest you. Real Deal Ultimate features 3 sports in 1 league. Each sport has their own page where you manage your rosters but you complete against the same owners/GMs in all 3 sports as you own one team from each sport that is or has been historically associated with a city/metro area. This is 24 City League with a $200 yearly buy-in. It may seem like a lot but it includes all three sports as well as bonuses awarded to the top performers overall. Only $100 is due up front to get started as the 2nd half is due this Summer. Our calendar year runs from Jan 1st thru Dec 31st and we have a few open cities heading into 2017, our 3rd season, starting with Baseball. 

 

If there is a sport that you don’t know as well, we have several cities that are co-owned that split up the GM duties as well as the buy-in. If you don’t have anyone to go in with, we can connect you with GMs that can manage a sport for you as the sole owner if needed. The Constitution is currently under review, but I would be happy to send the 2016 document to anyone that inquires. Just a warning, the Constitution is no joke, it spans 57 pages of reading enjoyment. 

Real Deal Basketball Report: December 2016 Recap

December was a fairly quiet month. A few notable trades, a few minor changes in the standings, but no major excitement. Let’s take a look at the biggest stories from this month.

ORLANDO GIVES IN

Not that it was entirely their choice given how thin their roster was and how poorly they started, but the Magic are officially out of it this season after trading Vucevic and Gasol, two cornerstones of the team that was the best in the East in the league’s inaugural season two years ago. Let’s break down the two biggest trade of the month, both centered around the Orlando rebuild.

ORL receives: Derrick Favors and Utah’s 2018 1st round pick
UTAH receives: Nikola Vucevic and Orlando’s 2018 2nd round pick

This deal was essentially Vuc for Favors and a 1st round pick, making Orlando the clear long-term winner in this trade.

Vucevic’s role in the disastrously confusing Magic rotation is becoming more and more mysterious by the day, and he may not even end the season on the Magic roster (although that might be a good thing). He’s still a very productive player in this league because he averages a double-double (barely), but it’s worth noting that he’s scoring 5 or 6 fewer points per game than each of the last two seasons and is playing under 30 minutes a night for the first time since his rookie year. Still, again, he averages over 40 PPG so there can’t really be many complaints about this acquisition.

None of this, of course, is to say that Favors is any better. In fact, he’s been horrific this season and has missed a ton of games, and I’m sure Utah is glad to wash his hands of this player and not have to worry about wondering if he can ever put together a full good season. His minutes have been cut by about a third this year and there are questions if he can play PF next to Rudy Gobert, who, along with Gordon Hayward, is Utah’s most important player. This has forced him to occupy a backup role behind Gobert while Boris Diaw and the younger Trey Lyles, who fits the profile of a modern 4 much better than Favors does with his floor spacing ability. Still, Favors is just 25 and is on a very friendly contract. He’s one of the most inconsistent players in the NBA, but when he’s on, he’s on.

ORL receives: Terrence Ross, Demetrius Jackson, New York’s 2017 1st round pick
POR receives: Pau Gasol

This is a trade that makes sense for both sides, although Portland will miss Ross as a depth option. In Gasol, the Blazers get an aging and expensive star whose production is at its lowest ever.

However, they also get a significant talent upgrade. Gasol still gets double-doubles regularly and is unquestionably an upgrade in the starting eight over Ross. This was a good trade for the surging Blazers in their race for a top playoff seed, but one has to wonder if there were better options out there.

Orlando, on the other hand, gets a nice haul for a player they might have considered amnestying in the offseason. Ross remains an overall disappointment, but this year Dwayne Casey has found a very nice role for him. He’s playing fewer minutes but scoring more, and he’s finally shooting over 40% from three. Demetrius Jackson probably doesn’t amount to much more than a throw-in, but there was a point before the draft when many scouts projected he’d go in the lottery. He has talent but he’s in a terrible roster situation in Boston. Someone to keep an eye on and a nice lotto ticket for the Magic. The main piece here is the Knicks’ pick, which is almost guaranteed to be in the lottery, and this is possibly the most stacked draft class since 2003.

Overall, Orlando probably wins both trades. In the long run, Vuc for Favors might end up being a total wash, so Orlando wins because they get a pick out of it. Gasol only has a few years left at best and all three pieces the Magic got back for him have interesting potential. However, both Portland and Utah get significantly better this season because of these trades, and now they’re tied for first place in the Northwest with neither showing signs of slowing down. The drama!

 

PLAYOFF SPOTS SOLIDIFYING

We’re only two months in, but most of the playoff spots look to be locked down.

Especially in the West. There are exactly eight teams – San Antonio, New Orleans, Golden State, Portland, Utah, Houston, Phoenix and Sacramento – with winning records, and the rest are 10 games under .500 or worse.

So it’s basically a race for seeding at this point, with the Spurs remaining the favorites to end up on top – although they’ve been slipping a bit lately and the Pelicans are just one game behind. Man, what a race: Towns, Kawhi and Drummond vs. Davis, Kyrie and Embiid with Aldridge and Bledsoe playing major supporting roles for New Orleans. Whatever the order, they will likely end up 1 and 2.

Odds are Golden State will win the division and lock up the #3 spot, with Portland and Utah battling it out for the Northwest and ending up at 4 and 5.

That leaves the Kings, Suns and Rockets to duke it out for the last three spots. Sacramento in particular seems like they’re one or two good players away, now that Dirk is back, from challenging Golden State and surpassing the rest, including the Northwest duo.

In the East, things are a bit trickier (but not by much). There are nine teams with winning records, and all have decent arguments to make the postseason.

Let’s start with the locks. Toronto is in by default. Indiana, Chicago and Milwaukee (leading the division out of nowhere) are all too talented to miss, as are Atlanta and Charlotte.

That leaves two spots for Miami, Cleveland and Washington. All three of these teams are tough to project; all three could be a lot better with some TLC.

Cleveland has three amazing players in LeBron, Melo and Draymond – but, as I’ve been harping on them for for a year now, there is literally no other interesting player on the roster besides Morris.

Washington is in a similar situation, but only John Wall is playing at an elite level right now with Randle producing fairly nicely, as well. Things are extremely bad when you’re in the playoff hunt and Andre Roberson is your third best player.

Miami’s squad is by far the deepest, but one has to wonder how much success you can really achieve when Goran Dragic is your clear best player.

If I had to pick right now, I’d say Washington is the odd man out.

The rest of the inter-conference and inter-division races are way too close to call, especially Atlanta vs. Charlotte and the three-headed monster in the Central.

 

WISH LISTS

I think I did a new year’s resolution for each team last year or the year before, so why not make it an annual thing? Except a lot of teams are in a position where they don’t really need to actively change anything, so this year we’re getting holiday wish lists instead.

ATLANTA: Redick and Jackson have to get better for the Hawks to remain a title contender. They’re each struggling for very different reasons.
BOSTON: Nurkic gets traded away from the Nuggets and becomes a 10-10 starter.
BROOKLYN: The three dud top-10 picks from last year – Johnson, Hezonja and Cauley-Stein – get their damn acts together and earn some playing time.
CHARLOTTE: Atlanta gets bit by the injury bug.
CHICAGO: Aaron Gordon stops playing small forward 🙁
CLEVELAND: LeBron starts playing 48 minutes a game.
DALLAS: NERLENS NOEL GETS TRADED LITERALLY ANYWHERE
DENVER: A five-man bench mysteriously appears
DETROIT: JAHLIL OKAFOR GETS TRADED LITERALLY ANYWHERE
GOLDEN STATE: Barea gets healthy and returns to his regular mischief.
HOUSTON: Get transferred to the Atlantic.
INDIANA: Philly tanks.
LA CLIPPERS: Blake Griffin is unaffected by the surgery.
LA LAKERS: Blake Griffin is never the same after the surgery.
MEMPHIS: Flip Frazier, Gordon and Carroll for better long-term assets.
MIAMI: Dragic doesn’t get traded.
MILWAUKEE: Ibaka’s latest surge is not a fluke and he becomes an elite two-way player again.
MINNESOTA: Get massive hauls for Teague and Love.
NEW ORLEANS: The entire team makes it through the season with no injuries.
NEW YORK: Flip prospects and picks for win-now players and make a surprise playoff push.
OKLAHOMA CITY: Find out which prospects are worth keeping. Trade the rest and get into the 2017 draft in any capacity.
ORLANDO: Trade Nene, Tucker, etc. for literally anything.
PHILADELPHIA: Mudiay gets his act together.
PHOENIX: Knight gets traded, Westbrook averages a quintuple-double.
PORTLAND: The one or two more necessary trades are made and a title contender is confirmed.
SACRAMENTO: Dirk and Burks return to form.
SAN ANTONIO: Lin gets healthy for good and Chandler doesn’t get traded.
TORONTO: A move is made that simultaneously cuts salary and enables Beasley and Casspi to sit.
UTAH: Cody Zeller starts rebounding.
WASHINGTON: Everyone besides Wall and Randle move on and new youth comes in.

2016 Real Deal Dynasty baseball season retrospective and awards

With the 2016 Real Deal baseball season in the rear view, let’s take a look back at the year, which was dominated early and often by just a handful of teams.

2016 culminated in Red Sox vs. Cubs, with the Cubs emerging

First, congratulations to all of those who won money this year, led by the championship-winning Chicago Cubs and runner-up Boston Red Sox. And well done to the division winners, the Houston Astros, Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Miami Marlins, as well as the Cubs and Red Sox. Lastly, a tip of the cap to the wild card teams, the Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, Texas Rangers, and Kansas City Royals.

Real Deal World Series MVP Asdrubal Cabrera

Finish Reading: 2016 Real Deal Dynasty baseball season retrospective and awards

To start, I’ll discuss the divisional races a bit. As a result of team building strategy, patience, luck, and whatever else you’d consider in terms of what makes a fantasy team successful; most divisions were not that close. In fact, four out of the six division winners won by double digit wins: Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, and Houston Astros. In addition, the Cubs won their division by 9, though noting this may not be all that fair, since the runner up Milwaukee had the fifth most wins in the league, and the third most points.

That leaves just the AL Central, which was an interesting to follow in terms of the battle between Kansas City and Detroit. Interestingly enough, the Tigers won the division on the last day of the year despite having scored less points (20,780 vs 21,294) oveall. This was a fun division to watch and should be next year as well, with Cleveland stacking up, a new owner in Minnesota, and a White Sox team that is also making moves in an effort to improve upon 2015’s last place finish.

Despite not being all that close in terms of wins, the NL East was still competitive, as the second place Nationals—a wildcard playoff team—still had 31 wins in the division compared to Miami’s 39, while also scoring more than 23,000 points, a number that I will touch on later in this article. Despite a vast improvement in Philadephia, going from 17 wins to 45, that seems to still be a team that is in the process of rebuilding. The Mets, on the other hand, had a tough go of it, as they went down in wins from 67 (A 1st place finish in 2015), to 45 in 2016. Much like the real-life counterpart, these Mets were bit with injuries to a number of key players.

Unlike last year in the NL West, where the top three teams were within 7 games and less than 1,000 points of one another, this year was not as close. The Arizona Diamondbacks (My team, if anyone is wondering), led the pack with 20 more wins than the second place Dodgers, as well as nearly 4,500 points. Still, things can change quickly, and as I work to get under budget for 2017, nothing is taken for granted.

Next we go over to the juggernaut-led NL Central, which had the highest scoring team, the Cubs, and the third-highest scoring team, the Brewers. While the Brewers were once again a dominant force, the Cubs were something else this year. At 83-10, the best record in the league, the Cubs were also tied for second with Houston (Behind Boston) for division record, at 44-4, while also scoring the most points in the league by 1,365 points. More on the Cubs later, but the two-headed monster at the top of the division didn’t leave much room for the Cardinals, Reds, or Pirates, all of which fell under the .500 mark while failing to reach 19,000 points for the year. Looking torward the future though, let’s not count any of these teams out. If you take a look at the jump that Cincinatti made from 2015-2016 (more on this later), there is room for optimism going into 2017.

Shifting back over to the AL, where the AL East was among the least competitive division in 2015. To put it into perspective, the second-place Rays sold off major MLB-level talent and a slew of prospects all for one top 5 prospect (more on this deal later), and yet still somehow almost made the playoffs. But it’s not really the Rays we should be talking about here, in terms of 2015, as the Boston Red Sox once again had a dominant season, running through the competition all the way until he fell to the Cubs—the second year in a row in which Boston had made the finals, only to fall short. Will 2017 be his year?

Lastly, we had the AL West, which had one of the league’s two 80-game winners in Houston, leading the pack. Behind them was the Texas Rangers, also a 2015 playoff team, who despite having 16 less wins that the division leader, was not a team to be taken lightly. In fact, Texas made it into the playoffs and managed to beat KC in the opening round, then upset rival Houston by less than 4 points in the second round, only to fall to Boston Round 3. Still, an impressive season by both teams. The other teams in the division, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Seattle, will look to improve upon disappointing seasons in 2015.

At this point, I’d like to give out a few different awards from the season. I took a look back at the season from a high level and reached these conclusions, so do try your best to not get mad at me for them!

Let’s get started.

Best trade:

Jonathan Villar likes this

Oakland Athletics send:

Jonathan Villar
Travis Blankenhorn

Kansis City Royals send:

Jorge Bonifacio
Tyler Mahle
Preston Tucker
Mark Canha

For my money, the best trade of the year, and one that helped Kansas City make it into the playoffs. At $1.2 and having scored more than 552 points on the year, Villar may be one of the top value-output players in the league, this side of Mookie Betts.

I should be clear in stating that I think this trade was a win for KC. From the Oakland side, I don’t really understand it is as much, as he received 0 prospects from the top 100. Jorge Bonifacio looks like a decent prospect and is ranked #2 in the KC system, whild Tyler Mahle is likely the second best player coming back in the deal, and he is #7 ranked in the Astros system. Villar, on the other hand, was the 25th ranked overall player last year.

That said, prospect rankings are not necessarily gospel, so who knows, maybe this trade looks nice for both teams this year or soon. But in looking right now, it’s a clear win for the Royals.

Biggest /most controversial trade:

I hate to involve myself in any of these superlative mentions, but I would say that this was most likely, in fact, the biggest and perhaps most controversial trade, given the amount of players.

Dansby Swanson

In the deal, I sent Dansby Swanson over to Tampa Bay, who set back:

  • Zack Greinke
  • Chris Davis
  • Shawn Kelley
  • Christian Bethancourt
  • Johnny Giavotella

As well as the following prospects:

  • German Marquez
  • Andrew Velazquez
  • Jomar Reyes
  • Jake Fraley
  • Dustin Fowler
  • Chris Betts

Now, to put this deal into perspective, Malcolm and I were engaged in trade talks for a while before it got to this. I basically told him I wasn’t going to trade Swanson to him, but he countered with a deal that I just could not refuse.

If you boil this down, I’ve already dropped Bethancourt and Giavotella, and I traded Chris Davis last year for Todd Frazier, who I traded this year for catching prospect Austin Hedges and Jedd Gyorko. I also plan to keep Greinke. But in return, Malcolm has (what we both believe to be) a young, cheap, cornerstone player at a premium position. Yes, it looked big on the surface, and it was, but ultimately, we both though it to be more than fair.

Least active trader:

This award goes to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who made 0 in-season trades, and only one offseason trade that involved the swapping of draft picks. Still, this is a team that won 55 games last year, so maybe with a few strategic moves, they will be right back in the thick of things in 2017.

Most active trader:

This goes to the New York Yankees. Christian Tobler, who took over in 2015, made a whopping 59 trades. This includes activations of players from the minors to majors, but upon closer look, a vast majority of these moves are actual trades. In 2015, the team was 8-85, and this year, 37-56. A 29-game improvement is a big one, and these moves played a big role in that.

How many more games can the Yankees win this year?

Biggest turnaround:

Speaking of big turnarounds, nobody had a bigger one than the Cincinnati Reds, who went from 3-90 in 2015 to 37-56 in 2016.

This was also a team that made a good deal of trades last year. Again, can the rebuild project continue, and gain momentum into 2017? Time will tell.

23,000 club

Lastly, I wanted to recognize the teams that scored 23,000 or more. I chose this number because all teams reaching this mark won money, and were right at the top of the standings throughout basically the entire season. Whether or not this number will be a similar benchmark for 2017 is yet to be seen, but there is no denying that the following teams, which all scored 23,000 or more, had success this year: Cubs, Astros, Brewers, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Nationals.

Closing

In terms of making predictions for next year, that will come in a separate article later in the offseason. This article was meant to provide a year-in-review type of retrospective, and to hopefully motivate teams who are either looking to repeat upon past success, or to achieve it for the first time.

Regardless of which category you fall into, the 2016 season is now over, and we are looking into 2017 with new hope and optimism. Good luck to everyone in their offseason preparations, and thanks for a great year.

We’re onto 2017.

Jimmy Carroll (Arizona Diamondbacks)

Real Deal (Football) Report: Wildcard Recap

And then there were eight.  In a series of solid contests, divisional winners went 4-0 over wild card squads to produce a full chalk advancement and set up some of the games we’ve all been waiting for.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Wildcard Recap

Detroit Lions 216, Philadelphia Eagles 171

Tyler Lockett had 31, Matthew Stafford threw for 28, both the offense and defense broke the century marker, and Detroit cruised to an easy 45 point victory over the Eagles in the wildcard round – though since Lockett played on Monday Night, the victory appeared much more questionable up until that point.  The Eagles were undone on the defensive side of the ball, where not a single player reached double figures.  Combined with a Witten goose egg, it was simply too much for the Eagles to overcome.

Arizona Cardinals 198, Atlanta Falcons 150

The bright lights of the playoffs do strange things to teams.  Atlanta and Cleveland are both teams that are vastly better than they showed in the Wild Card round, leading one to wonder just what sort of first time playoff jitters both teams were experiencing.  Julio Jones came to play with 23 and Jay Ajayi got a respectable 16, but nobody else on the team scored more than 11 points as the Falcons stumble to a quick exit.  Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 4 point whimper will increase the cries for Goff over the off-season.  Arizona, on the other hand, put in a strong, workmanlike performance that shows they know what the playoffs are about and are planning on a long stay.  Shady McCoy led the way with 32, Brandon LaFell snared 22, and the Cardinal offense outscored the Falcon offense by 40, proving to be the difference in the game.

Kansas City Chiefs 244, Cleveland Browns 115

Cleveland’s drama and triumph happened in week 12, when the Browns posted a nice win and won a four team tie-breaker to make their first ever RDFL playoff. It was a huge milestone for what has been a struggling franchise, and a great step on the rise to success.  Coupled with a bye week that away 5 starters and an injury to star receiver Marvin Jones, one could forgive the Browns for just being happy to be there.  The Browns were lifeless from the jump, falling behind 25-9 on Thursday night and staying there.  Both sides of the ball were abysmal as Cleveland posted 48 offensive points and 55 defensive ones on the way to their worst overall performance of the year.  Still, a first ever playoff experience deserves congratulations.  Kansas City, meanwhile, took advantage, feasting on defense.  The front-line trio of Everson Griffen, Kyle Williams, and Dante Fowler combined for 66 defensive points, the defense put up 153, and Jordy Nelson added 31 to make this a convincing route.

Houston Texans 230, New England Patriots 201

The best game of the playoffs was never truly decided until Monday night, as the Houston Texans and New England Patriots both put up strong performances worthy of playoff teams.  New England road strong games on each side of the ball, getting a well rounded 95 on offense and 92 on defense.  Houston countered, however, with a preposterous ground and pound game all weekend long behind a 40 point explosion from David Johnson and a 36 point complement from Jordan Howard.  As a result, Houston outscored the Patriots at RB (Frank Gore and Kenjon Barner) 75-15, more than enough to make up for the difference in the game.  Still, a hugely successful year for the 12-4 Patriots, who would have advanced against 3/4 NFC teams in the Wild Card.

 

Divisional Round Predictions:

Carolina Panthers vs. Arizona Cardinals: This battle of playoff veteran teams also appears pretty one-sided.  The Panthers have the 2nd ranked offense and 6th ranked defense in football, while the Cardinals are on the middle of the list.  Injury concerns do loom for Carolina though, with Luke Kuechly and Kurt Coleman still in the concussion profile, Eddie Royal and Robert Woods suffering from lingering injuries, and whatever the heck is going on with the real life Cam and the Panthers threatening to impinge.  Still, the biggest danger to me is that the Panthers look past the Cardinals this week.  Face to face and at full strength, Arizona would need a repeat from Shady and much more to knock off the Panthers.  But if Carolina turns in a dud, Arizona is absolutely strong enough to capitalize

Prediction: In a startling break from my playoff rule about never predicting Carolina, I pick Carolina.  This is largely because Carolina seems to have their own rule about winning every damn playoff game.

New York Giants vs. Detroit Lions: To my mind, this is the best matchup of the divisional round, and potentially one of the best 2 vs 3 divisional matchups we’ve seen in a long-long time.  The Giants were the best team by far in fantasy points in the regular season, dropping out of the top slot by virtue of a pair of back to back losses against teams like LA playing their hearts out.  Let’s be clear, though – they scored 3775 fantasy points, which is an AVERAGE of more than 230 per game.  When they are on, they are massacring people.  By contrast, the Lions won their division handily, are an outstanding team in their own right, and scored 3219.

Prediction: New York Giants.  It’s hard to vote against Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and the best point total in RDFL.  I’m riding the Giants until Carolina beats them and makes me look bad.

Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans: Here’s where things get interesting.  The red-hot Texans against the wounded but still powerful Bills.  Houston is on a tear, winning some ridiculous number of games in a row (is it 11?) and posting 230 points in a very strong playoff performance.  As Jordan Howard emerges in the Bears backfield as a stud, this team just gets stronger.  Nobody wants to play them, and they are a brutal 12-4 four seed.  At the same time, the Bills injuries are well documented, with Gronk, AP, CJ Prosise, and AJ Green suffering major injuries and Alshon Jeffery suspended.  So does this bode well for an upset?  Hard to say.  Because of that defense.  Just when everyone thought the Bills might be vulnerable, they dropped a 156 point defensive day to combine a still solid 80 points from the offense to score the most points in fantasy in the week #12 double and maintain the #1 seed.  Same old Buffalo.  Wounded?  Yes.  Still fighting?  Absolutely.  This is going to be one heck of a fun game.

Prediction: Houston.  Going out on a limb here and saying Houston is too hot and the injuries are too much.  But man this will be close.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Another one that should be close.  The Baltimore Ravens have not lost since week 3.  This team has done nothing but win, week after week, game after game, opponent after opponent.  Add to that the sudden re-emergence of “good Joe Flacco” and Dennis Pitta, and this is a ferocious team that nobody wants a piece of.  The Ravens make their hay with their #3 ranked offense that could get even better, and feature a complimentary #9 defense.  The Chiefs, meanwhile, are riding high after their wild card round laugher, but will be watching the injury news all week anxiously for updates on Jordan Reed and Tavon Austin.

Prediction: Baltimore.  You don’t go against a team this hot, especially not after seeing what they would have put up last week had they been playing!

Good luck to all, and condolences/congratulations to Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland and New England.

Real Deal Basketball Report: November 2016 Recap

One month in and this season has already been a doozy. We’ve had blockbuster trades, surprise teams and it’s actually looking like the playoff races in both conferences are going to be tight right down until the end.

 

TOP HEAVY…

There are three players that stand head and shoulders above the rest in Real Deal this season: Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Anthony Davis.

Westbrook is averaging an absolutely ridiculous 75.5 PPG. Hey, getting a triple-double every night will do that for you in this league. Westbrook’s silly usage rate of over 38% is the highest ever – EVER! – since the 2005-06 Kobe Bryant season. OKC has literally no other options offensively so I suppose it makes sense. Funnily enough, Russ’ blatant stat-padding is hurting his real-life team while helping out the Real Deal Suns in a major way. Aside from Westbrook, IT and Taj Gibson (yeah, that guy still), the Suns have little else to speak of in terms of production this year. The loss of a surprisingly resurgent Nick Young for the next few weeks will surely have Phoenix thinking of making a move to stay afloat in the Pacific, which is a bloodbath of a three-team race (sorry, LA teams). The Suns have scored the fifth-most points so far this season, but they lag behind in the overall standings, where they’re in 11th place (fifth in the West) and trail the Warriors by a couple of games.

Anthony Davis has been one of the many reasons that the Pelicans have surged from fringe playoff team to championship contender, averaging a cool 71 PPG. If he keeps up his averages – 32 PPG and 11 RPG – he’ll be the first NBA player to have a 30-point, 10-rebound season since Karl Malone in 1989-90. That’s pretty damn cool. The Pelicans – in a neck-and-neck race for the Southwest crown with San Antonio’s three-headed monster Kawhi, Drummond and Towns, are all healthy for the first time since the inception of the league and are accordingly firing on all cylinders. Davis is leading a behemoth of a team also comprised of Kyrie Irving, Eric Bledsoe and the Resplendent African Meme known as Joel Embiid, all averaging over 40 PPG. A second tier led by Aldridge and MKG are helping New Orleans to the third-highest point total thus far.

Harden, however, might not be enough to save the sinking ship that is the Rockets, despite averaging just under 70 PPG all on his own. It’s been a slow descent into mediocrity for Houston, who had the best record in the league two seasons ago, were the fifth seed in the West last year and are now fighting to get into the postseason this year. As things stand, the Rockets sit at 16th place – bang average – in the league and 8th in the West. Is it possible that Harden’s 28 PPG, 12 APG and 7 RPG won’t be enough for the playoffs? Aside from Harrison Barnes, the least efficient 20 PPG scorer in NBA history (needs citation), the rest of the team has been a disappointment.

 

…BOTTOM HEAVY

There are some teams that truly stink in this league, even if it was expected.

I’ll start with my own team. It stinks. Every single one of my sophomore players (Richaun Holmes excluded) have fallen on their faces and might never be good. None of my rookies are being given a shot, either. And the only players on my team who don’t fall into either category are Steven Adams, Noah Vonleh, Tyler Zeller and two Euro stash guys. Oy. This rebuild is going to take longer than I thought.

Such is the same in OKC, where the Thunder are still in for a hell of a fight to dig this team out of the trenches sometime this decade. There’s not much else to say, unfortunately: OKC is in dead last in every possible measurement and haven’t even scored half as many points this season as the 29th-place Nets. No one on this roster plays more than 14 minutes per game, and, to add insult to injury (or is that the other way around?), Jerryd Bayless got banged up just three games in.

Dallas has only won three games all year, but they have had to deal with the league’s fifth-toughest schedule. The Mavs became a lot younger this offseason than I think most people realized, and that’s probably part of why they’re struggling. Pair that with disappointing output from Mirotic, Crowder, Jokic and Noel’s injury, take away the draft pick and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

What the hell happened to Orlando? This team won the East easily in the inaugural season of Real Deal and now they’re 3-19. In some ways, this was sort of The Roster That Time Forgot. And by that I mean that their only good players at the end of last season were Vucevic and Pau Gasol, and no pieces of consequence were added. Greg Monroe was the #1 overall pick in the Real Deal expansion draft and now he has evaporated into thin air. Tyreke is still hurt (surprise surprise). Bender and Zubac are too young. And the rest of the team is made up of the ghosts of Jason Terry, Nene and a bunch of nobodies. It’s a good thing the Magic kept their pick this year as visions of Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson and Harry Giles dance in their dreams like sad sugarplum fairies.

 

PORTLAND RISING

It took a while, but the Blazers are finally as good as they should have been in the first place. They lead the division fairly comfortably and sit at third in the West, a big jump from the first two seasons of Real Deal. The Porzingis-for-DeAndre trade still doesn’t make a ton of sense long-term, but it’s pretty much a wash at this point, especially with how good the rest of the team has been. Dame continues to be a bona fide superstar (good thing defense doesn’t count), and Jimmy Butler is carefully building his case as an MVP candidate. We’re still waiting on certain guys (Rodney Hood) to make that next step, and are close to giving up on several more (Terrence Ross, Meyers Leonard, Sauce Castillo). Portland is off to a rip-roaring start, but they might notice some teams catching up quickly if they don’t fill out the rest of this roster with players getting at least 30 PPG. Roy Hibbert and his 16 PPG aren’t good enough to start for a team that wants to compete for a title.

 

KD TO CHICAGO AND ITS IMPACT ON THE EAST

In the biggest blockbuster since year one of Real Deal, Kevin Durant was shipped off to the Windy City to help the Bulls rise to the top of the Central, Real Deal’s most competitive division this year, and ultimately knock off Atlanta and Charlotte for top spot in the conference.

To fully appreciate the significance of this trade, we need to rewind two years and change back in time, when KD and Westbrook both left OKC, changing the climate of the Western Conference for the next five years or more. Westbrook went to a Phoenix team that was utterly mediocre in year one, but has become a major threat in the West. The same has not been true in LA, where KD’s team has struggled.

In dynasty leagues, it’s almost never a good idea to trade sure-thing, proven superstars. We all know what happened to OKC after trading away the reigning NBA MVP. But for the Lakers, the return looks slightly more promising (and I mean very slightly, but still pretty bad considering how valuable Durant is). Jordan Clarkson and two lottery picks in a stacked draft, including the odds-on favorite for the #1 overall selection, is fair enough.

But the real story is how KD impacts his new team, the Chicago Bulls. Chicago had been putting together a decent year on the back of Hassan Whiteside and his 17 points and 15 rebounds per game. But given how competitive the Central has been this year, paired with disappointing output from guys like Rubio, Gordon and Harris, it was time to make a big move – and the Bulls made the biggest one possible.

Chicago might be the favorites to win the Central now, and that’s no short order. The Indiana Core of Young Super Mutants led by Paul George, the grizzled, 26-year-old veteran of the team, still holds bragging rights and sits atop the division fresh off a finals appearance – and to be honest, this team looks like an engine that won’t slow down for the next decade or so. Jason Kidd unleashing the hell on earth that is Giannis Antetokuonmpo at point guard in NBA basketball games has vaulted the Milwaukee Bucks out of anonymity and they’re right in the thick of things, too. Even the duds of the division are not to be brushed off. Cleveland still has LeBron, Dray and Melo, even if they have nothing else, and the surprisingly scrappy Pistons are enjoying great seasons from the scrap heap of NBA players like Ish Smith and Sean Kilpatrick. Oh, and no team in the division has a losing record.

But what might be even more interesting than the division race is how this newly ultra-powered Bulls team will fare against the other top competitors in the East; namely, Atlanta and Charlotte. Both of those teams roll eight or nine deep with players who score 30 or more points per game. They’re also both 18-4, two games above Chicago, and are 2nd and 5th overall in points scored.

Now the top of the East is an arms race. Are Atlanta or Charlotte threatened enough by the Bulls to make a move? Each team has enough young talent to attempt to wrestle a star way from a team who might want to blow it up as the season goes on.

If the season ended today, the playoff seedings would look like this:

  1. Atlanta (18-4)
  2. Charlotte (18-4)
  3. Toronto (17-5)
  4. Indiana (16-6)
  5. Chicago (16-6)
  6. Milwaukee (15-7)
  7. Miami (12-10)
  8. Cleveland (12-10)

So there’s a clear top 6. Chicago is on the rise. How will everyone else keep up?

 

SHOUT OUTS

Some shout outs to teams and players I didn’t get to cover this month:

Shout out to the Raptors. Gotta give it up to them, because even though they play in a trash division and have enjoyed the fourth easiest schedule, they’re still 17-5 and are 9th overall in points. DeMar DeRozan has played like an MVP and Kyle Lowry has looked really good lately after a putrid start. And it’s awesome seeing Vince Carter playing good basketball again.

Shout out to the San Antonio Spurs, who are the league’s best team so far at 20-2 and #1 in overall points. KAT, Kawhi and Drummond are a built-in 150 points per game and that’s enough to propel this team into at least the Conference Finals.

Shout out to Kevin Love. He’s playing his best ball in years and the Cavs have finally figured out how to play him with LeBron and Kyrie. Just get a team around him, Minny!

Shout out to Chris Paul, my choice for MVP this season until about a week ago.

Shout out to Joel Embiid for being the only rookie worth a damn this year (and he wasn’t even drafted this season).

Shout out to Kemba Walker, perhaps the most underrated player in the league.

Shout out to Otto Porter for finally being good.

Shout out to those of us trying to make trades in this league!

And that’s it. See you in January.

Real Deal (Football) Report: Playoff Predictions 2016

EDIT: I am officially an idiot.  Carolina is the #1 seed in the NFC and NYG is the #2. I have amended my predictions accordingly

The playoffs are here!  It’s crazy!

I’m writing a post!  It’s crazy!  I know, I know.  I’m sorry.  It’s been a rough year, both timewise and otherwise, and my attention has been elsewhere. Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Playoff Predictions 2016

In fairness to myself, I wrote a full and detailed apology, followed by a 3.5 hours treatise analyzing the playoff chances of 16 total teams before the season’s final week, as well as a detailed recap of the previous two.  I clicked save draft.  I shut my computer.  I came back Thanksgiving morning to edit and post and found that I had only the first paragraph.  I was demoralized, and had neither the heart nor the time to duplicate either the apology or the treatise.

So, as they say in Canada, “Sorry ‘boot that that!”

Anyway, ya hosers, thanks for sticking with me, and I am hear to predict the playoffs.  A little drama in the commishing world today, so it’s Thursday night after games have started.  “Sorry ‘boot that.”

In any case, here goes nothing!

NFC Playoffs

#1 – Bye – Carolina Panthers

#2 – Bye – New York Football Giants

#3 Detroit Lions vs. #6 New… wait… Phil… wait.. New Orl!… wait. nope.  It’s Philadelphia.  It’s the Philadelphia Eagles.

After stat correction mayhem featuring the New Orleans Saints vs (ironically) these very same Detroit Lions, the Lions prevail in their final match of the season against the Saints and avoid a rematch, getting the Eagles instead.

It’s worth noting at this point that absolutely nobody has ever gotten more screwed by stat corrections than the New Orleans Saints, who had the only undefeated regular season in real deal history in 2013 – until they lost it in a stat correction the final week of the season.  The constant state of anxiety Saints fans feel about Monday and Tuesday stat changes is downright legit.

The metrics, needless to say, like Detroit in this wildcard matchup.  The Lions are 6 overall in fantasy points, the Eagles 13th.  The Lions have the 7th ranked offense and 13th ranked Defense, while the Eagles are 12th and 18th respectively.  The last time the Eagles outscored the Lions on an individual week was week 9.  Add to all this that the Eagles have four starters questionable with injuries (not even talking about Jamaal Charles) and 10 ppg DT Jurrell Casey on bye.  It’s rough.  The Lions, to be fair, also have a #1 RB in Ameer Abdullah on the IR, and do lose Jaime Collins on bye.  However, with Leonard Floyd returning to practice, it’s a much better week for the Lions, who have played better both all season and the last few weeks.

Prediction: Detroit

#4 Arizona Cardinals vs. #5 Atlanta Falcons 

A classic example of the highest seed not necessarily being the better team, the Cardinals cruised through the year to an easy championship in a weak NFC West.  The Falcons faced the exact opposite challenge, warring to a wild card in RDFL’s hardest division.  The metrics in this one all point the Falcons way, though.  Atlanta is 9th in fantasy points scored compared to Arizona’s 16th.  The Falcons also have better offensive and defense metrics, finishing 11th on offense and 6th on defense.  The Cardinals are consistent, coming in at a solid 16th on offense and 15th on defense.  It’s got to be a little hard to win a playoff game when Ryan Fitzpatrick is your quarterback, but that defense is downright excellent and the receiving core of Julio Jones, Kelvin Benjamin, John Brown, and Mohamed Sanu are going to be tough to beat in the playoffs.  Arizona hasn’t scored 200 points since week 2 and hasn’t scored 100 points on either offense or defense since week 4.  Just like in the other NFC playoff game, both the long-term and short-term trends predict an obvious result.

Prediction: Atlanta

 

AFC Playoffs:

#1 – Buffalo Bills (246 patients in week #12 with all those injuries…)

#2 – Baltimore Ravens (nothing like a 12 game winning streak, eh?)

#3 Kansas City Chiefs vs. #6 Cleveland Browns

After winning the tie-breaker of the century through head-to-head victories and a brutal Tennessee Titans collapse down the stretch, and benefiting heavily from Pittsburgh forfeits, the Browns heroically claim the wildcard for a playoff berth… only to have a week #13 wild card round bye.  My goodness. That is stinking horrible, as the Browns are only one of two teams with a scheduling quirk week 13 bye.  It costs them star running back Isaiah Crowell, starting TE Gary Barnidge, and four defensive starters.  Ouch.  Cleveland’s strength all year has been its quietly underrated #4 ranked offense, compensating for a porous (#20 overall) defense.  It’s going to be hard to maintain that without Crowell and Barnidge, but the Browns have been proving people wrong all year.   They’ll need a huge game from their passing attack of Blake Bortles, Marvin Jones, Jeremy Maclin, MIchael Crabtree, and Mike Evans.  The Chiefs, on the other hand, will be without Jordan Reed yet again, but totally avoid byes.  The Chiefs scored the most points in the AFC in the regular season and have a top 6 offense and defense… it’s the sort of game KC should win hands down… but it’s also the sort of game where you almost want to pick Cleveland for just that reason.

Prediction (Oh man I hate to do this to myself!): Kansas City

#4 Houston Texans vs. #5 New England Patriots

A pair of two of the quietest really good teams you will ever see will rematch in the wild card round.  The two hooked up in a nice week 3 game that New England won 211-193 behind 6 defensive takeaways (3 picks, 3 forced fumbles).  Jameis Winston and Carlos Hyde went nuts to keep the Texans close, but couldn’t quite close the gap.  Both teams hang their hats on offense, (Houston #5, New England #9) and try to keep their defenses off the field (New England #17, Houston #21).  New England loses Delanie Walker, their star TE, and Damien Stafford to bye weeks – but its not as much as a curse as it might seem – Cameron Brate, Walker’s replacement, threw down 27 against Houston in week 3.  A repeat of that would not be amiss at all.  Still, Houston has been one of the best teams in the league after a slow start, reeling off a whole passel of wins behind an outstanding offense, and they are totally healthy and facing no bye losses.

Prediction: Houston 

 

For the record, here’s how I expect the playoffs to play out in total:

Wild Card Round:

Detroit over Philadelphia

Atlanta over Arizona

Kansas City over Cleveland

Houston over New England

 

Divisional Round:

Carolina over Atlanta

New York Giants over Detroit

Buffalo over Houston

Baltimore over Kansas City

 

Divisional Championships

New York Giants over Carolina

Baltimore over Buffalo (injuries finally catch up)

 

Super Bowl

New York Giants over Baltimore

 

Good luck in the playoffs everyone!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 8 Recap

Well, well, well things are starting to get interesting!

Week 8 brought an influx of upsets and surprising results, with a full 7 games that could reasonably be classified as upsets. As a result, both the NFC and AFC wild card spots are getting fascinating.  With just 5 games to go in the season, fully 22 teams remain in striking distance (within 2 games) of a playoff spot, and with the exception of the undefeated 11-0 Bills, not a single one of the divisional races is cleanly decided  It’s going to be fun from here on out!

Game of the Week: Arizona Cardinals 165, Carolina Panthers 160

With apologies to Dallas’ narrow 186-182 squeaker over a suddenly injury ravaged Philadelphia Eagles squad, this one makes the cut both because of how tight the game was, and how substantial the playoff and seeding implications could be in the competitive NFC.  Both teams nearly hit the century mark on defense, didn’t break double figures on special teams, and cruised to disappointing 50something performances on offense.  The difference?  A Practice Squad Poach.  Earlier this week, Devontae Booker was hanging out on the Vikings Practice Squad.  The Cardinals snared him and flipped him into the starting lineup, where he scored 18.5 points.  On a week when Shady McCoy, Richard Rodgers, and Michael Floyd all put up zeroes, Devontae was the difference.  Watch the Practice Squad folks.  It can make or break you!  As a result, the Cardinals move into sole possession of first place for the first time all year while the Panthers fall back into a tie with the hard-charging Falcons.

Teams Rising: 

Dallas Cowboys: Ok, you don’t get game of the week.  But an upset like that deserves a shoutout.  The Cowboys rode 20+ points from Carson Palmer, Davante Adams, and Allan Hurns to barely overcome a 50 point explosion on Carr.  It’s the Cowboys first win since Washington in week 2, and provides some hope that the young core of players that the team has put together via trade this year will make a solid foundation moving forward.

Oakland Raiders: Well now.  This is what happens when Oakland finally gets healthy, eh?  Dez is back.  Tyler Eifert is back. Jonathan Stewart is back.  Aaron Rodgers seems to have recovered from whatever funk was plaguing him early on. The result is a 230-164 obliteration of Tampa Bay, which would have been worse had the Raiders even remembered to start Eifert.  Oakland has very quietly won three straight to move to 6-5 and pull within 1 game of the wild card and 2 games of the division lead in the West.  The Raiders could continue to make some hay with games against Denver and Indy coming, before a brutal stretch of Houston, Buffalo, and Carolina to close the season.

Houston Texans: The Texans are tied for first place.  After a bipolar start to the year, the Texans have now put together four straight victories against decent competition to tie for the AFC South lead.  Their latest win, a 212-184 triumph over the Lions, was no joke either.  Detroit’s a division leader and had a great shot at a playoff bye before this setback.  Even more encouraging, ever player on the Texan offense scored in double figures, and contributions came from a variety of players who had been huge lottery ticket question marks before the season began.  If Mike Gillislee, Austin Hooper, Chris Hogan, Kerry Hyder and John Simon can keep putting up double figure scores for the rest of the season, Houston could be very hard to beat.  Opportunity looms again in week 9 in the form of a showdown with fellow AFC bubbler Cincy.

Honorable Mentions: New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints.
Teams Falling:

Philadelphia Eagles: Yeeouch.  One week after pulling to within a game of the Giants, the Eagles had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week 8.  A four point loss in what should have been a gimme game against the Cowboys.  A significant arrest for Josh Huff.  Derrick Henry outshining DeMarco Murray.  And the Honey Badger out for the rest of the regular season at least.  All that combined with wins by the Giants, Falcons and Saints, and the Eagles are no longer thinking about the division. They are thinking about their wild card life.  On tap, of course, is just what the doctor ordered.  A date with the newly revitalized Giants.

Tennessee Titans: Adversity.  It’s where the stars shine.  It’s where you find out what men are made of.  It’s where heroes are born and goats are immortalized.  It’s where the Tennessee Titans suddenly and unhappily find themselves.  Coming off a vigorous week 6 shelling of the Cleveland Browns, the Titans had a 7-2 record, a 2 game lead in what appeared to be a mediocre division, and with two very winnable games against Indianapolis and Jacksonville coming up.  A two-seed and playoff bye appeared to be clearly in sight.  Ouch.  Two painfully mediocre defeats later, the Titans are now 7-4, tied for first, have not broken 200 points (other than 201 against Cleveland) since week 2, and are only 7th in the AFC in points scored.  The good news for the Titans is that the next three games are against San Diego, Green Bay, and Indianapolis, all below .500 teams, so there’s time to recover.  The bad news is that so were their last two.  We’ll see.

Los Angeles Rams: What’s the best way to follow up a stunning victory over the New York Giants where the whole team shows up and plays well?  A lackluster, uninspired 98 point performance in a total beatdown.  A goose egg from six players who did play and a number of others on bye.  Not a single player hitting 20 and only 5 hitting double digits.  Yeeouch.  Sometimes big wins are catapults.  Sometimes they are flukes.  This one looks like a fluke.

Dishonorable Mentions: Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions.

Oh, and a special dishonorable shout-out to Denver and Green Bye.  Come on guys.  Can you at least try to start a legal lineup on occasion?

 

Games of the Week: 

Arizona Cardinals vs. Chicago Bears: It’s bye week Mayhem for the Bears and Cards!  Arizona is on a hot streak after beating the Panthers, and look to keep it going against the Bears.  After pulling off a trade for Landry Jones, the Bears remain in spitting distance of both the Lions and the NFC Wild Card – but really need a win in week 9 to pull it off.  The bye looks a little more damaging for Zona than for the fighting Butkuses, but injuries may play on even larger role in the outcome.

Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Despite seemingly losing every single week, the Bucs have scored the 7th most points in the NFC, and could ostensibly mount a run.  If so, it has to be now.  The Falcons are looking very good, riding a winning streak and a 245 point performance.  This is their chance to both deep six Tampa Bay’s season and move into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: This rivalry game has lost a little luster as the Steelers have struggled to maintain a legal lineup at times this year, and have had major bad luck with suspensions and injuries at others.  Still, this is a team that is much better than 5-6, and can play anyone tight.  Heck, they can dominate anyone on any given week.  Baltimore is no slouch either, having knocked off the Giants and quietly kept pace with Cleveland and Cincy in the better than expected AFC Norris.  Both teams should be near full strength, which should be a treat for us.

Buffalo Bills vs. Seattle Seahawks: What an utterly bizarre situation this is.  The Buffalo Bills are 11-0, have the AFC East locked up, are cruising towards the #1 overall seed, and have barely even been challenged.  The Seahawks, after a schedule-boosted 6-1 start, have lost four straight to fall to 6-5, and plummet.  Easy, right?  Well, except that the Bills get killed on the bye week.  DeSean Jackson, AJ Green, Rob Gronkowski, Alshon Jeffery, Mason Foster, Deion Buccannon, Tracy Porter, and George Iloka among others are ALL on bye.  The Bills players on bye are better than most TEAMS.  The Seahawks do lose a few players themselves, but nowhere near THAT.  The result being a Fantrax projected Seahawks victory.  How bizarre would that be?

Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Another great matchup that will be heavily influenced by the bye week, the 7-4 and tied for first place Texans square off against the 8-3 and also tied for first place Bengals.  Hard to say who the bye week hurts more, as Cincy loses their QB and some huge defensive pieces, while the Texans keep their QB, but lose David Johnson, Jordan Howard, and some solid defensive pieces in their own right

New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: It’s a week to week league, right?  The Eagles need to hope so.  This is NOT what the doctor ordered for an injured team.  A week ago, Philly might have welcomed this as a chance to knock off the suddenly vulnerable Giants.  Not now.  Now Philly just wants a win to keep pace with the wild card – and will have to do it with no Honey Badger and facing the Giants full lineup.  It’s possible.  But my money is on the Giants.
Good luck this week everybody!  Enjoy game 7!