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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oakland Athletics send:
Kansis City Royals send:
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.
In the deal, I sent Dansby Swanson over to Tampa Bay, who set back:
As well as the following prospects:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
So there’s a clear top 6. Chicago is on the rise. How will everyone else keep up?
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!
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!
#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.
#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.
#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.
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
Carolina over Atlanta
New York Giants over Detroit
Buffalo over Houston
Baltimore over Kansas City
New York Giants over Carolina
Baltimore over Buffalo (injuries finally catch up)
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.
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!
Ten games in and 23 teams still have legitimate, solid playoff aspirations. That is not a bad competitive season! It was a bit of a low scoring week 7, with only 8 teams reaching or breaking the 200 point barrier, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some associated drama.
Game of the Week: New England Patriots 206, PIttsburgh Steelers 202
Well, this one definitely lived up to its billing. The outcome was in doubt literally the entire weekend. It wasn’t over until Brock Osweiler staggered home with ten points on Monday night, staving off a combined 12 points by the two Monday night Steeler defenders. When the dust settled, the Patriots had a four point win behind a combined 100 points from Jamison Crowder, Mike Wallace, Frank Gore, and Delanie Walker. Talk about some unexpected gems that have been huge contributors for the Pats! Le’Veon Bell scored 30 in a losing effort for Pittsburgh, and the Steeler defense was outstanding – but without Ben Roethlisberger, a zero at the QB spot was too big to overcome. With the result, the Patriots stay in front of the Wild Card Line at a nice, solid 7-3. The Steelers, meanwhile, fall to 5-5. Still a great team. Still within striking distance. But they need to move soon.
Buffalo Bills: It’s awesome to be undefeated. But in some ways it sort of sucks to be the favorite and go undefeated. Because then you never really rise. You’re always meeting expectations, never exceeding them. So it seems only fitting that this week we recognize the Buffalo Bills for hitting the 10-0 mark behind a quiet, workmanlike, ho-hum 228-98 thrashing of the Miami Dolphins. Buffalo is on track. They’ve scored the most points in the AFC and haven’t lost yet. They haven’t really come anywhere close to losing. Tyrod Taylor has been good at QB. AJ Green and Gronk have been as awesome as expected. Nobody’s even noticed this team hasn’t had AP. The defense routinely hits the century mark even on a bad day. Everything is going according to plan. And that’s a fantastic plan. It’s the best plan. Believe me.
Cleveland Browns: We mentioned last week that it was a week-to-week league, right? Scuffling team? Pair of abysmal performances in a row. Facing the division leader who happens to be on a roll. Tough, right? No problem. Cleveland bounces back with a 197-173 win behind huge games from Mike Evans (31) and Michael Crabtree (25). The Bengals have some uncharacteristic struggles on offense (posting three goose eggs) and Cleveland is back in a tie for first place (and own the tiebreaker in a two-way tie). Now admittedly, the defense remains a problem for the Browns (only 63 total points in week 7 and the last time the defense hit the century mark was in week 2), but things all of a sudden look a whole lot rosier for this somewhat less tortured than it used to be city.
Philadelphia Eagles: I confess that I’ve dogged Philly a bit and haven’t really bought into the hype. The Eagles seemed like a mediocre team excelling against a weak schedule. And to some degree, that’s borne out – Philly has scored the fewest points out of the twelve teams who would currently be in the playoffs. But that’s two straight wins for Philly with solid point totals, and this recent one, a 235-138 pasting of Minnesota, was the third-highest score of the week. Most exciting, question mark guys like Lance Kendricks, Brian Quick, Josh Huff, and, especially, Ty Montgomery, showed up to play this past week and seem to be finding real roles in their respective offenses. Coupled with a pair of consecutive Giant losses, the Eagles stand only a game back (albeit without the tiebreaker) and the unthinkable is an actual possibility.
Honorable Mentions: Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts
New York Giants: Speaking of the G-Men, what on earth is going on? After looking like they might not lose all season, the suddenly vulnerable Giants have lost two straight games, this one to the lowly LA Rams. In a lot of ways, though, this is simple schedule misfortune and speaks more to the Ravens and Rams than it does to the Giants. Combined between the two weeks, New York has still averaged over 200ppg – it’s just that the Ravens and Rams have combined for 511. Way over both of their season averages. There are genuine concerns for the Giants (again on defense), where only two week seven starters reached double figures. But they’ll be fine. This is more a testament to the fantastic game played by the Rams, who got 20+ points from six players. LA has been knocking on the door, but this was the signature win the program needed. Now to see if they can build on it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Yeesh. After a gift 116-112 win over Minnesota, the Bucs apparently got the message that they could coast and win against lesser competition. That was the wrong message, and it bit them in a big way in week 7, as the San Francisco 49ers staggered across the finish line in a compellingly ugly 166-161 sloth race. The Buc defense came to play and put up 122 points behind a 60 point performance from the D-Line of Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaye Howard, Gerald McCoy, and Jadaveon Clowney. But that offense… something needs to change fast. It was a 28.5 point “Seahawk-esque” showing for an offense that got legitimate points (14) only from Emmanuel Sanders. Quarterback issues loom large for the Bucs, and Tampa faces a daunting climb out of the basement in the brutal NFC South.
Tennessee Titans: With a golden opportunity to put away divisional rival Indianapolis for good, the Titans couldn’t muster the juice to get up for the game, struggling to a thoroughly mediocre 216-164 loss. Both sides of the ball were similarly average, with 72 points on offense and 74 on defense. The wrong kind of consistency. Indy won with their characteristically stout defense, but also with a 74 point offensive game – the highest offensive total the Colts have posted since week 1. As a result, the AFC South falls back into question, with Tennessee maintaining a meager 1 game lead over Houston (who beat Denver) with the Colts hanging gamely around at 5-5.
Dishonorable Mentions: New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars
Games of the Week:
Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers: The good ship Cardinal seems to have righted itself as Arizona has won three straight and caught up to Seattle to restore balance in what had been a bizarre NFC West. Carolina remains its strong self, though it hasn’t put out a signature performance in a few weeks. This isn’t necessarily a “need to have it” game for either side – both teams should be fine even with a loss – but it is a bragging rights game and just some good fantasy football between two excellent teams. Should Arizona win this, it would be a psychological victory declaring their early-season struggles are history.
Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots: This is what you call “a shot at the champ”. Does Buffalo need this game? Nope. Will they win through to top seed and a playoff bye regardless of the outcome? Sure. Does New England need this game? It’s not desperate, but yeah, they could always use more wins. Nah, this isn’t a “standings game” either. What this is is is (yep, three is’s in a row and it’s right baby!) a surprisingly game New England team that is getting contributions from unexpected players throwing its best shot at the league bully. A good game? Who knows. A must have? Not really. But drama? Almost certainly.
Detroit Lions vs. Houston Texans: While Detroit calmly and quietly holds on to a two game advantage in the NFC North, beating exactly who they should beat and rarely facing a huge challenge, life has been a topsy turvy roller coaster for Houston. After a rather uninspiring 150-137 win (still a win!) over the Denver Broncos, the Texans find themselves only a game back of the AFC South crown. This IS a standings game. Houston can’t afford a loss here. Detroit could. But best not let the Bears get too close…
Indianapolis Colts vs. Kansas City Chiefs: One big win down for Indy, another in the works? A week after shutting down Tennessee in a must-win game, the Colts get another division leader in the Chiefs. The key for the Colts will be to maintain their level of offensive play. That defense can win against just about anybody, so if the offense can continue to score 75, that’s often going to be enough. It’s been a challenge to point. Some key pieces are out on both teams, with Indy losing three primary defensive pieces, and the Chiefs likely without Jordan Reed for yet another week and Tavon Austin on bye.
New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks: Now THIS is a standings game. Both teams sit at a quite respectable 6-4. Both teams badly need this game. For New Orleans, it’s a function of a slow start and a tough division. For Seattle, this is a function of really needing to win A game to slow down a recent funk. In a big break for the Saints, Russell Wilson looks like he may miss this game, and Sterling Shephard is on bye, so this Seattle offense could look like… ::haunting music:: last year! A Halloween special.
This division is all Utah’s. Every player in the starting eight should be good for at least 30 points a game once Hayward and Zeller are back in full health. There are no star players here – the boring but always solid Horford and Hayward are probably as close as the Jazz get to that – but that doesn’t matter with depth like the type that Utah enjoys. This is a team that could finish very high in the West thanks to weak in-division competition.
2. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Don’t look now, but this team might be a playoff contender. Reaping the benefits of the Aldridge trade, Portland already has a nice young core of Lillard and Butler. The acquisition of DeAndre Jordan means this team is in win-now mode, and with four 1sts next year, there are plenty of trade chips. Portland could use some more help in the supporting cast, which is pretty lacking outside of Rodney Hood. Regardless of what changes might be forthcoming for the Blazers, this is a team on the rise, and the decline of other teams in this division makes them a playoffs dark horse.
3. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
A team no longer in the business of winning division championships, the Wolves are looking for ways to get into the postseason again. Armed with a solid if not astounding core of Kevin Love and Jeff Teague, Minnesota has a lot on its roster in terms of end of the bench guys, but the supporting cast just isn’t anything special, or even average, at this point. Barring an unexpected surge from someone else, Minnesota’s third-best player this season will be either Jared Dudley or Jose Calderon. That’s just not good enough. Fortunately, though, Minnesota has some options here. If they decide to make a run, there are assets to be traded, including one of the two first round picks it owns and intriguing youngsters like the Powells and Kelly Oubre. If, however, they decide to hold off, there are plenty of veterans to auction off for picks and younger, cheaper guys. As presently constructed, the Wolves are just an ok team, but there’s a lot of flexibility here.
4. DENVER NUGGETS
Denver is about five good players away from being a contender, but what’s there is pretty good – at least in the backcourt. A trio of Booker, Smart and McCollum is a set-and-forget for at least the next 10 seasons at the top of the order. Beyond that, however, the Nuggets are lacking. Jaylen Brown, while exciting, is a total unknown as an NBA players. Faried may no longer be a double-double machine in Denver as the team continues to slowly phase him out. Horford’s arrival in Beantown mercifully sends Olynyk to the bench, and the talented Motiejunas is buried and unhappy in Houston. The entire bench could be cut and this team really wouldn’t be missing anything. This team is on the right track, but still very much in development.
5. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The once-mighty Thunder are still reeling from a woeful 2015-16 season, during which OKC won just 1 single game. The Durant and Westbrook trades allowed OKC one season of success before rearing their ugly heads; now, it will take years for the Thunder to dig themselves out of this hole and become relevant again. The prognosis for 2016-17 remains grim, but the good news is that things are trending up – even if only a little bit. After a nice draft this month, the Thunder now have a young group that includes Bobby Portis, Tyler Ulis, Denzel Valentine, Furkan Korkmaz, Kay Felder and Cam Payne. None of those guys will develop into top players on a championship team, but it’s something. OKC’s mission this season is to get some more picks – they have no 1st rounders for the next two years and no picks at all next fall, which threatens to stall the rebuild significantly.
1. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
After taking over this team midway through the league’s first season, the Spurs lucked into the first pick and Karl-Anthony Towns, who is the best first overall pick since LeBron James. Combine KAT with Kawhi and Drummond and you have a lethal trio that should easily average 150 points per game by themselves. And even beyond those three, there’s a lot else to like here. Lin will be the showrunner for the Nets this season. Turner is a weird fit in Portland, but I can see it working. Dieng and Biyombo will collect double-doubles. Jennings and Booker are nice players to have on the bench. The Spurs are one of three teams I see vying for the top spot in the West.
2. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
After two seasons of lying in wait, it’s finally time for the Pelicans to have a good season. Kyrie and AD have long been the cornerstone pieces of this franchise, and with midseason additions Eric Bledsoe and LaMarcus Aldridge, this team is looking really dangerous. The starting eight is rounded out by two high-upside players in Embiid (finally!) and MKG, and two very solid guards in Manu and CoJo. Plus, there’s Ben Simmons – but who knows if he’ll actually play this season. This team’s biggest problem will be injuries. AD is already banged up. I mentioned Simmons already. Bledsoe, MKG and Kyrie have all missed a lot of games over the past two years. And Embiid hasn’t played basketball in two years. If everything comes together, this team could be unstoppable. But that might be a big “if.”
3. HOUSTON ROCKETS
The Rockets finishing this low is no knock on them. The Southwest is by far the toughest division in the league this year and the two teams above them have just a little bit more juice. This is still a great team led by James Harden, who’s my MVP pick this season. I do have a few concerns about the rest of this team, however, though they are small. Can Deron Williams still be good? Will Barnes be a complete train wreck as a primary option? Will having three starters from the same team (Dallas) hurt the Rockets fantasy-wise? Will Joakim Noah stay healthy? Will Mozgov play under Luke Walton? Will anyone on the bench aside from Henderson contribute anything of consequence? I do think the Rockets will be just fine, but there are enough things about this roster that make me wonder if they can stay on top.
4. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
I never know what to say about this team because it’s always been so solid, and it appears they’ll remain so. It just sucks for them that the rest of this division is so good. The Grizzlies would be an easy playoff team in the East, but in the West’s Southwest Division, this team is going to take a pounding from the other top-tier teams. Injuries hampered their campaign last season, and now they’re without Eric Bledose, who’s off playing for a division rival. Still, much like the real Grizzlies, a team backed by Marc Gasol and Mike Conley should do pretty well. For Memphis to do really well, Carroll and Gordon are going to have to stay healthy and Green and Frazier will have to flourish in their new starting roles. Don’t know if I see any of that happening.
5. DALLAS MAVERICKS
I really hate ranking Dallas last, but the fact is that the Southwest is absolutely stacked. This team has a lot of really good young players like Noel, Crowder, Jokic and Mirotic, but there are too many unknowns in the starting eight for me to say that the Mavs will realistically be any better than San Antonio, New Orleans, Houston or Memphis. A backcourt of Seth Curry, James Ennis and Patrick McCaw doesn’t do much for me. Dallas might be able to make some moves, but more likely they just might have to ride out a long season.
1. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
There’s a lot of reason to think that the Warriors’ title defense will be pretty successful: namely, Steph Curry. Sure, he’ll score less, but with KD in town Curry will pile on more assists because Durant will make good on all the buckets Barnes would miss. He probably won’t score 30 a game anymore, but maybe he’ll average close to 10 assists. Klay’s value takes a hit with KD in town, but the rest of the starters can make up for that dip. KCP should have a big year as Detroit’s primary outside shooter, Plumlee continues to grow as a player, Teletovic will give much-needed spacing to Jason Kidd’s Bucks, Lopez is the only legitimate NBA player on the Nets, and Turner should make that next step sometime this season. The Middleton injury is a huge blow, and Golden State truly has no bench right now, but I don’t think that’s enough to stop them from emerging from the Pacific on top.
2. SACRAMENTO KINGS
The Kings might really need this year to be a big one. It’s the last time, probably, that they can count on Dirk and Wade to put up big numbers. They’re in great shape for this year, but it’s time to take the next step. Boogie is the kingpin for what should be a great team, and the supporting cast is quite good. Barton and Dellavedova were great pickups. Beal, if healthy, should continue to be very useful. Rudy Gay is a good fantasy player and that’s all I’ll say there. The bench, however, is seriously weak until Burks comes back. Sacramento might have to bulk up in order to stay near the top of the West, but either way, with Cousins in the middle, this is one of the league’s best teams.
3. PHOENIX SUNS
Russell Westbrook is going to absolutely light the world on fire this year, and that’s great news for the Suns, who might have the first player since the Big O to average a triple double (even if Westbrook’s come in the form of points, turnovers and missed 3s). Russ is truly where this team begins and ends: how successful the Suns are this year depends on how good he is. The rest of the squad, led by Thomas, Knight, Deng and a few decent bigs, can keep the Suns afloat if something goes wrong, but Russ is the key to this team reaching its full potential.
4. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Clippers are an interesting team. Much like the real Clippers, this might have to be this team’s last year rolling Blake and CP3 before some changes are made. Several off-season moves – such as their trade of next year’s pick and the signing of David West – send a message to the league that this team wants to win now. With this roster, I actually can see LA making some noise this year; the dynamic duo is backed by a slew of vets that include Korver, Frye, West and Lee, all of whom should produce reasonably this year. Josh Richardson is all that the team has in terms of youth, unless Luwawu or Onuaku have big rookie years out of nowhere. There’s a lot to like here – but there’s a lot more to like in Oakland, Sacramento and Phoenix.
5. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
How can a team that has Kevin Durant continue to underperform? I’m telling you, man, depth really matters in this league. The blockbuster deal that sent KD to LA ended up being a killer for both sides as the Lakers continue to struggle to put the right pieces around their superstar, whose fantasy value is taking a hit, by the way, playing next to Steph and Klay. Robin Lopez might end up being the Lakers’ second-best player. Tony Parker is still ok but has been declining for about five years. DRose could be a revelation in New York, or he could be a disaster. Nobody else on this team offers meaningful production. If I’m the Lakers, I try to get young quickly without letting go of Durant and start building an army, because this division is not getting any easier.
Let’s get to some predicting. Here, I give my guesses as to how the divisions will end up, and who makes the postseason.
1. TORONTO RAPTORS
Toronto, for the third straight year, is going to walk into a division title just because it’s the only team in this division that isn’t a complete train wreck or deep in a rebuild. Lowry and DeRozan, as in real life, are a fine if not particularly riveting duo. Randolph and Gortat have historically been the leading second-tier contributors for the Raptors, but Gorat is in decline and Randolph is 35 and now coming off the bench in Memphis. And beyond that, Toronto doesn’t have too much going on. Ahead of a bench with no one particularly useful on it, the Raptors will be counting on big production from the likes of Dion Waiters, Patrick Patterson and Omri Casspi, which doesn’t sound too promising for Toronto’s playoff run – especially considering how good some other teams in the East are becoming.
2. NEW YORK KNICKS
New York made one of the biggest off-season trades by trading DeAndre Jordan for the younger hometown kid with more potential: Kristaps Porzingis. A great move for the Knicks, which sets a foundation for them to stay relevant down the road in a division with three long-term redevelopers while simultaneously remaining the second best team in the Atlantic. If things go really wrong in the East’s other two divisions, this team might even sniff at a playoff spot – but don’t count on it. A couple of New York’s role players – Patty Mills, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joe Johnson – could help the Knicks spoil some games, and there is a slew of promising rookies also present on the roster. This team could be pretty interesting in a couple of years.
3. BROOKLYN NETS
My team would finish dead last in any other division, but here we are in the Atlantic, where sub-mediocrity is just part of the brand. Fantrax projects the Nets to have five players put up 24 points per game or more this season, which is actually more than any other team in the division, even the Raptors. Brooklyn is still very much in rebuild mode, but the lack of competition within the Atlantic might push this team over 35 wins and spoil another chance at a high draft pick.
4. BOSTON CELTICS
Still a long way to go for the Celtics, too. Russell is a franchise point guard and Winslow will be great for a long time in the NBA, but there are still so many holes on this team. Nurkic, Poeltl, Jones and Anderson are pieces worth holding onto, but you can pretty much scrap the rest of this roster. The Celtics missed out on a high draft pick after a stinker season last year, but they should have another pick in the top 5 next fall.
5. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Philly’s new owner has done an admirable job so far of trying to make this team’s future a bit brighter, but for now, this team still stinks. Mudiay will produce fantasy numbers this year, but beyond that, I don’t think any of these players will do anything meaningful this season, except maybe Allen Crabbe. The 76ers had a ton of draft picks this year, but aside from Marquese Chriss, will any of them pan out? I love Diallo’s game, but he’s still a gamble. Brogdon, Papagiannis and Niang are all very low-ceiling, as are other prospects like McDaniels, Bertans and Robinson. Having no 1sts in 2017 hurts this team’s rebuild in a major way and it could be a long few years for the 76ers.
1. CHICAGO BULLS
I’m not as bullish (pun intended) on this team as I was last year, but I do think they should win the division again. Players 1-8 on this team are all really good, with Asik and Len possibly being exceptions. The rising cap has saved Chicago and given the Bulls a little bit of wiggle room to add some sorely-needed bench depth. Livingston is solid, Abrines could be nice, but I’m not sold on anyone else here. Parsons will be a big addition when he comes back, but when will that be? Regardless, Chicago has the best starting lineup in the Central and should repeat as champs, unless some of Indiana or Milwaukee’s young guys make a big step up this season.
2. INDIANA PACERS
Indy shocked the league by making the finals last season, riding hot streaks from its young core. The Pacers don’t have much to worry about – that young core is still the best in the league. However, I do think this team is still a year or two away from sustaining consistent greatness over a full season. A look up and down this roster speaks for itself and I’ve written a ton about this in the past: This is a team built for long-term success. Will they get lucky in the playoffs again?
3. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
I was down on the Bucks last season, but recent developments have made this team really interesting – first and foremost, the miraculous emergence of Point Giannis, who might be a top 10 fantasy player this season and is a 21-year-old, 7-foot-tall point forward (NOT A POINT GUARD. STOP SAYING THIS!). Ibaka’s move to Orlando removes him from the role of understudy and will probably make him the focal point on offense for the Magic. Oladipo leaving town will open up a ton of room for Payton to play more effectively and have shooters around him. Solomon Hill will be starting (lol) for the Pelicans. Thad Young will be counted on in Indiana. The Bucks had just one 2nd round pick this year and no more picks until 2018, but fortune may have bought this team a few more good years. The Bucks don’t have many trade pieces to build some depth, which would go a long way, so that limits them a bit this season, but they could make the playoffs.
4. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Man, what happened here? Cleveland began this league as the prohibitive favorite. Now? LeBron is still LeBron, but expect him to play a lot less this year now that he’s finally won a title for his hometown team. Melo might be washed. Green is still great, but KD coming to Golden State will probably push him to play center a lot more and thus have the ball in his hands less frequently. And beyond that big three, there’s not a single player I like here. Morris is still a head case and Pachulia is a terrible fit for the Warriors and will probably get phased out pretty quickly. Maybe the big three will be enough to carry Cleveland to the playoffs, but maybe not.
5. DETROIT PISTONS
Things are not looking great in Motor City after the Andre Drummond trade. Detroit got a lot of picks out of it, but Jahlil Okafor might never be given a chance to put up numbers again and this team doesn’t have a lot of help elsewhere. There are some intriguing youngsters – Hield, McDermott, Hernangomez, Muhammad, Nance – but they’re all still a number of years away from big production and this team’s best fantasy player is Tristan Thompson. Could be a long season for Detroit.
1. ATLANTA HAWKS
This is still Atlanta’s division until someone comes and takes it from them. Depth is still this team’s biggest issue, although the new ownership deserves some credit for assembling some at least decent backups. (Last year’s owner, if you’ll recall, rode the league’s best starting 8 [put together by another – nameless – GM] all the way to the league’s best record and a nice cash prize.) Much of the Hawks’ success will be determined by how three big names – Rondo, Howard and Oladipo – perform on their new teams. Paul Millsap is the league’s most underrated player, both in real life and fantasy, and is easily a top-10 all-around, two-way NBA player. Luckily for Atlanta, all three relocations seem for now to be of benefit to the players in question. Atlanta is poised for another good year, but they’ve got to continue sculpting this roster if long-term success is on the agenda.
2. CHARLOTTE HORNETS
Charlotte was the most unexpectedly good team of last season, and there’s a chance they can be even better this year. It’s likely they can even push Atlanta for the division crown and make another deep playoff run. Kemba and Bazemore both had career years last season; they’ll need to keep that up. Capela, Bogut and Kanter all figure to have increased offensive roles in their new situations. Warren and Porter have to develop and produce this year, and many think they will. Bradley and Aminu are rock solid. Anything the Hornets get from Jefferson, Wroten and MCW is gravy. Plus, that salary cap nightmare is finally sorted out – even if it took a leaguewide bailout. Keep an eye on this squad.
3. MIAMI HEAT
Miami, largely due to the fierce competitiveness of the division, has always been a team on the cusp of the playoffs. This year, I think the Heat can make a leap forward. There are some nice pieces here, starting with Dragic and Collison, who are literally the only competent point guards on their respective teams and will thus play a lot. Valanciunas may take a big step up this season. Iggy, Crawford, Morris and Fournier are money in the bank. Bogdanovic could be a secret weapon. Given the declining state of the Southeast, Miami may be poised for a nice season. And I’m not even considering Chris Bosh.
4. WASHINGTON WIZARDS
From a championship in season 1 to missing the playoffs last year, the Wizards will finish this season with answers that are currently unknown. Are Wall and Randle a good enough one-two punch to repeat as title contenders? Has the competition in the Southeast cooled off enough for this team to have sustained success? Just how dire is the issue of depth with this team? I take a long look at this team’s rotation players – Andre Roberson and his one career good offensive game, Jeff Green and his inconsistent production, Mike Scott and his $23 million contract, the ghost of Tyson Chandler – and I can’t help but think it’s going to be a long year in the capitol. The Wizards might be on the downswing, and looking back, that Bradley Beal trade hurts if that’s the case (Washington did get three 1sts in the deal, but two of those are already made [the low-ceiling Domantas Sabonis and the what the heck is this guy Skal Labissiere], and the other one is two years away).
5. ORLANDO MAGIC
This is a team in crisis mode. Despite a stacked front line, the one-mighty Magic are suddenly staring at an immense uphill battle to reclaim glory for the city of Orlando. One look at the roster is all you need to get a sense of where this franchise is. Orlando will quickly have to flip some pieces for a couple of guards, or they’re staring a Steve Blake – Jason Terry – Kevin Martin – Tayshaun Prince starting lineup dead in the face – and three of those guys aren’t even on an NBA team. Trading high-intrigue pieces like Dragan Bender, Ivica Zubac, Tyreke Evans and some picks may be the only way out of dire straits, unless the Magic decide to hope for the best in free agency this season. There’s a lot of work to be done here, and it’s gotta be done fast.