Real Deal (Football) Report: 2017 Predictions: The West!

We continue our flawless predictions series this year out West, where it is possible that some changes of the guard may be in the offing.

 

NFC West:

Arizona Cardinals (10-6): The interesting part is that last year, the division was much worse comparatively and Arizona should have been a lot more dominant than it was.  But they had some bad luck and inexplicably rough weeks and it ended up being a lot closer than expected.  This year, it’s very possible that the rest of the division could be a lot better and yet the Cardinals still have an almost identical result.  The weirdness of life in RDFL.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: 2017 Predictions: The West!

It’s fitting to start on offense for most teams, because that’s where the biggest vicissitudes occur, but any analysis of the Cardinals has to start with their defense, specifically JJ Watt.  Partnered with Calais Campbell at Defensive End and Jerrell Freeman, Gerald Hodges, Clay Matthews, and Craig Robertson at LB, this team is going to get after the QB.  Get AFTER the QB.  Sack after sack.  The defensive backfield isn’t quite as strong, but DRC and Barry Church are strong pieces, and while Jalen Mills isn’t very good, he should get a ton of opportunities to make tackles in a questionable Eagles secondary.

This division is boring enough I am reduced to posting pictures of ACTUAL football players for a blog about football. Shameful.

Matt Ryan and Shady McCoy headline the offense, and while the rest of the squad isn’t dynamite, it’s passable.  Richard Rodgers should catch both passes and TDs from the TE1 role, and nobody was happier about the Zeke Elliott suspension than Darren McFadden, who should get first look behind Dallas’ mighty line for most of the RDFL season.  Devontae Booker will catch passes, Delanie Walker is a strong off-season addition who should be good for double digit points a game, Kamar Aiken is a capable substitute, and Torrey Smith might have another shot to rebound.

All told, this Arizona squad gets JJ Watt back, is better than it was last year, got some nice breaks in the offseason, made its own breaks with some aggressive trades, and is quietly poised to get back to the playoffs and contend for a bye week with Detroit, New York, and the Titans of the South.  Good offseason, quietly good squad, and damn hard to write a story about.

 

Seattle Seahawks (9-7): The Seahawks were one of last season’s feel good stories, ascending from the depths of an absolute crater to jump out ahead of Arizona early on and remain within striking distance of the division title into the second half of the season.  Emerging from the year into an offseason full of promise, some pundits thought the Seahawks would have a chance to catch Arizona this year and make a return to the playoffs in 2017.

Pundits is a really funny word.

Can they do it this year?  Well, we’ll see. At their potential, the answer is clearly yes.  This team went from Russell Wilson and literally nothing else two years ago to a collection of kluged together players with opportunities in new places.  If all of those players and opportunities pan out, this team could be very, very good.  Now Russell Wilson is joined by (or will be joined by, eventually) Ezekiel Elliott, Travis Kelce, Allen Hurns and Sterling Shephard.  Martavis Bryant returns from suspension to join the team, and Bilal Powell looks like a magnificent free agent acquisition with the Jets’ lack of a passing game and Elliott’s suspension.  Charone Peake should see some throws as well, and guys like C.J. Prosise, Mychal Rivera, and even Adam Shaheen have potential.

Seattle is also back at “starting level” on defense, meaning that every player in the defensive lineup is a legitimate fantasy contributor.  The real question for the Hawks is whether or not the defense will rise to the level of “good”, or simply be passable.  Guys like Bobby Wagner, Janoris Jenkins, Kam Chancellor, Josh Norman, and Mario Edwards suggest good.  Injury question marks around guys like Denzel Perryman, Jimmie Ward, and Markus Golden raise concerns.  But even more than the concerns, this defense seems more “real good” than fantasy good.  Despite their name appeal and excellence on the actual field, some of these guys just don’t put up as many fantasy points as you would expect given name recognition.

Real good is not as good…

 

At the end of the day, whether or not the Seahawks make the jump to playoff team seems to me to come down to adaptability on offense.  How does Bilal Powell do in a pass free Jets offense?  Does Charone Peake take advantage to win playing time?  Does Martavis Bryant return to form as the Steelers #2 after his suspension issues, or is he not the same player he was?  Can CJ Prosise win the starting job in Seattle?  And can a guy like Sterling Shephard make the jump?  If the answer is yes, I think this team has the horses to challenge Arizona.  But I give Arizona the edge because I think they are a surer thing – and because I like that defense a bit better from a fantasy perspective.

…as fantasy good. Sorry Seattle.

San Francisco 49ers (7-9):

Reviewing the 49ers roster feels a bit like riding a carnival roller coaster, ululating between young stars and spectacular players and black holes of nothing-ness.  My brain kept saying “OMG, they have THAT guy?  This team could be awesome!” and then following that up with “oh, but they have no quarterback” or “Sheldon Richardson is a boss-man!” but then “the rest of the defensive line isn’t very good” or “Robert Alford is a fantasy stud” followed by “but the rest of that secondary is pretty bad.”

While most teams rebuild by drafting a broad array of players and watching them grow up together, the 49ers are rebuilding by peaks and valleys.  It’s not so much a matter of letting the young kids grow together as it is plugging in pieces to the weak spots.  It’s snakes and leaders to a tee.

The San Francisco lineup. Also, this game sucked. I have scars from losing at this damn game over and over.. that snake on 98… #)$(*)$#

So what are the snakes and what are the ladders?  I’m so glad you asked.  Because we’re positive here in these parts, let’s start with them ladders!

Ladders:

  • The starting WRs (Corey Coleman and Michael Thomas) are studs.  It’s very possible that SF could have two starting WRs on two strong passing offenses.
  • Tight End –  Potentially resurgent Austin Sea-Faring Jenkins teams with Hunter “Land-lubbing” Henry to form one of the best TE groups in the league, and definitely the best young TE duo in the league
  • Sheldon Richardson – He’s a beastman.  He turns at full moons.  He might be slightly real-life better than fantasy good, but he’s still a beastman.
  • The Linebacking Corps – Hau’oli Kikaha, Manti Te’o, and Ram’ik Wil’s’on (apostrophes intentional.  Ramik’s earned those apostrophes, dammit!) are all fantastic linebackers.  Aaron Lynch, Lorenzo Mauldin, and Sio Moore come off the bench, making this a powerful and overstocked Linebacking group.
  • The Injured Reserve – Quincy Enunwa, Derek Rivers, Malcolm Smith, and Aaron Colvin.  All starters.  All with boss potential.  All done for the year.
Sheldon Richardson, ladies and gentlemen!

Snakes:

  • Quarterback – this is what comes of being a Jets fan.  Scott Tolzien, Bryce Petty, and Christian Hackenberg.  Yeeouch.  That’s the big nasty snake that brings you all the way back to square 2.
  • Running Back – Shane Vereen has been a fantastically underrated PPR RB stud for a long time in this league.  Basically since I was born.  Every year, people get surprised by him.  But this year, without a clear role, he’s not exactly who you want as your #1.  Matt Jones is down to third string, and even having a fullback ain’t going to quite get it done…
  • Most of the secondary – The recently extended Robert Alford is a bulwark, but the rest of the group is going to struggle a bit.  TJ Green is a reserve.  Vontae Davis is meh from a fantasy perspective.
  • Injuries – We listed the IR as a strength, but of course it’s also a weakness, bringing down key players from the receiving corps, the secondary, and D-line.  Four IR visits in training camp is high, and it will handicap everyone.

Sum – sum, this team has some excellent building blocks – but I think the holes and the injuries keep them out for another year.

 

Los Angeles Rams (6-10): If there’s one thing the NFC has been able to brag about since Real Deal’s inception (beyond being the better conference by FAR), it has been consistency at the bottom.  Each and every division has had a dynasty squad with an unrelenting grip on ineptitude.  Washington in the East, Minnesota in the North, Tampa Bay to a lesser extent in the South, and the LA Rams in the West.  In the AFC, only the Jets have had a similar monopoly on last place.  It’s a hard, hard place to be in, and a hard, hard place to get out of.

That said, these LA Rams are showing real signs of life, stockpiling youth and talent on the offensive side of the ball and less talent but more depth on defense.  It’s not quite ready to pay off, but all the signs are there of a team ready to rise.  Marcus Mariota is a franchise QB , and a young receiving corps of Tyrell Williams, Zay Jones, Kenny Stills, and Marqise Goodwin should put real, actual points on the board.  Can you IMAGINE what would happen if Marqise Goodwin ever get a “u”?  Samaje Perrine isn’t necessarily ready to take over the starting job today, but the smart money is on him having it next year.  Jared Cook and Xavier Grimble are passable at Tight End, and if Charles Sims can take the Muscle Hamster’s job, this squad could be legitimately productive.

The defense is a little less young and a little more meh, but it does have some real potential bright spots of its own (T.J. Watt, please stand up).  The rest of the defense is littered with a plethora of high end mediocrity – guys who aren’t going to startle or amaze, but who are absolutely legitimate, decent players who can start on NFL football teams.  Guys like Bob Ayers, Michael Brockers and Cedric Thornton on the line, Nick Perry and Derrick Morgan in the middle, and Marcus Cooper, EJ Gaines, Rodney McCleod and Darian Stewart in the secondary.  There’s not a name on that list that fills anyone with legitimate terror – but every one of those players is qualified to play football.

The Rams guys ain’t quite Sheldon Richardson… but they try hard and they’re kinda cute.

This team needs to learn how to win.  I still think they pick up a 4th place finish, but I think it’s a lot closer than a lot of people think, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Rams finish second.  Things are looking up in Lala land.

Here’s the thing for the West – it’s Arizona’s division this year, but this place is going to be a bloodbath in 2018-2020.  Arizona isn’t collapsing any time soon, but all three of the other teams have trajectories pointed solidly up.  There’s not a Miami level rocketship or an obvious dominant team in the lot, but all have the misfortune to be moving in the right direction at the same time.  The NFC West is going to be boring for one more year, but starting next year, this becomes AFC North level carnage!

 

AFC West:

Oakland Raiders (10-6): Another year, another dogfight.  It’s starpower central out in the Bay Area, as Aaron Rodgers finds Dez Bryant, Jordan Matthews (freed to once again be the only receiver who matters on a team that will need to throw a fair bit), and Tyler Eifert (healthy… for now), with Jonathan Stew Beef coming out of the backfield.  Add to this Karl Joseph taking the heads off of receivers, TJ Ward taking the football off of receivers, and Preston Brown and Jordan Hicks tackling literally everything that moves.

Like its Bay Area brother, San Francisco, though, the Raiders have their own fair share of question marks.  The last two offensive starters are badly unsettled, with third stringer Jalen Richard battling third stringer Donnel Pumphrey, unproven wideout Brandon Coleman, Hall of Fame Game darling Brice Butler, and blocking tight end Benji Watson for the slots.  Of the Raider’s five defensive ends, not one is currently starting for its team.

Oakland is a Jekyll and Hyde team.  The top 5 on offense are fantastic.  After that?  The roster falls off a cliff.  The Linebacking group of Brown, Hicks, Paul Worrilow, Hassan Reddick, and Korey Toomer is one of the best in the league, and the secondary of Joseph, Ward, Sean Smith, and TJ Carrie is likewise excellent.  But the defensive line is in shambles and there’s not much depth at all to back up some injury prone starters.

oohhmmm… we embrace the light and the dark. We embrace the Aaron Rodgers and the Donnell Pumphrey. We bring balance to our chakras, whatever the hell those are…

The Raiders literally do this every year.  They bring a boom and bust group of high end stars with limitless potential and a handful of question marks to the table and ride them right to the border of greatness, without ever quite crossing the line and entering in to the promised land.  Something always keeps them out – the continuing meltdown of Josh Gordon, injures to guys like Eifert and Bryant, underperforming draft picks, or just the absolutely horrific luck of losing three games in a single year by under a point.  Oakland has dealt with it all.  Like Moses actually hitting the rock instead of talking to it, something always seems to go wrong.

It’s a hard roster to predict.  But I never bet against Aaron Rodgers and a great secondary all at the same time.  And to be honest, the Raiders are more than due for a little luck.

 

Kansas City Chiefs (10-6): The Chiefs have been the model of consistency as the only RDFL team to make the playoffs in every year of RDFL’s existence.  But they’ve never been great, never making a Super Bowl and only once truly threatening a berth.  It seems relatively likely that both streaks will continue this year, as Kansas City is once again a solid squad, but once again seems very likely to fall short of excellence – and, if things break the wrong way, could fall very far short.

Alex Smith, whose play is a microcosm of this team, heads a squad of platoon running backs (Wendell Smallwood, Giovani Bernard, Derrick Henry, Rob Kelley), injury prone tight ends (Jordan Reed and AJ Derby), Jordy Nelson (AWESOME!), and questionable receivers (Pierre Garcon, Tavon Austin, Chris Conley, and Randall Cobb).  The defense is likewise strong but vulnerable, with Dante Fowler under arrest, Darron Lee in trouble, Kyle Williams old, and most of the entire Linebacking core (Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson and Reggie Ragland) having sustained season ending injuries within the last two years.

Actual footage of somebody on KC’s defense. Of course, we can’t tell who, because everybody is injured, and this guy has bandages covering his face. That dopey smile makes me think Ragland…

If things go well, one of the RBs will end up feature, Pierre Garcon and Chris Conley become target hogs, Randall Cobb regains his form, Jordan Reed stays healthy, Jordy Nelson stays healthy, the linebackers stay healthy, and the defensive line plays up to expectations, the Chiefs could get over the hump.  But there’s enough question marks here, particularly on the health front, that this team could also fail to make the playoffs for the first time in RDFL’s history.  Split the difference, and we have a war with the Raiders for the AFC West crown and/or a wildcard berth.  Same as it ever was.

Los Angeles Chargers (6-10):  LA Chargers.  Yeah, I’m not getting used to that.  It’s going to be a rough year for the Chargers as they get used to their new digs.  It’s going to be a relatively rough year for the Chargers in fantasy as well.  This team is led, as always, by their eternal lord and god, Philip Rivers, who has helmed their team since the words “groovy” and “swell” were invented.  And he has a nice defense to help him along this year.

The Chargers are a stingy unit that should absolutely get after people.  Taco Charlton is a great pick and joins an absolutely vicious defensive line which already had Cameron Wake, Corey Liuget, and Margus Hunt, as well as the great “nope, I’m not even going to try to spell it”.  The secondary  is excellent as well, with Eric Weddle, Calvin Pryor, Prince Amukamura (angling to murder his father and become King), Robert McClain, and Budda Baker all angling for key roles and putting up the points – and that’s not even counting Deone Bucannon, who should be back with a vengeance.  Things fall down a bit at LB (Spencer Paysinger and Benardrick McKinney ain’t quite all that and a bag o’ chips – no chips to be seen, not even pringles), but its still an excellent defense overall.

A new city calls for a new logo. I propose this one for the Chargers!

The offense, though… less so much.  After Rivers, there is Travis Benjamin… and then a whole lot of the opposite of serene tacos.  More like stressed out tofu salads.  Ryan Matthews is in a better position than usual because he’s not an injury risk… but that’s because he doesn’t have a job.  The running back with the closest thing to an opportunity is Troymaine Pope.  Antonio Gates is still alive and back for more, but has certainly lost a step and Gavin Escobar hasn’t picked one up.  The lackluster receiving group of Stevie Johnson, Jermaine Kearse, and Justin Hunter isn’t saving anyone.

Oh C’mon. Troymaine is the most sensible Pope name in years.

It’s not a bad Chargers team – it has a decent defense.  But the 2017 edition of LA reminds me of the last few editions of Indy – a quarterback, a solid defense, and an offense that could average 30 a week.  It’s enough to be competitive and annoying many weeks – but not enough to contend for a division championship.

Denver Broncos (6-10): Joining the Chargers in the “teams that are solid enough to be competitive, but not strong enough to win a division” division are the Denver Broncos.  The Broncos do have some really promising puzzle pieces, but their hopes took a major hit when Paxton Lynch lost the starting job.  it’s hard to compete in this league without a starting QB.

Essentially, the Broncos are the anti-chargers (I guess this makes them the run-away-at-a-fast-pacers?  The routers?  The brave, brave, brave, sir robins?  You tell me.).  If you combined the two teams, you’d have an unstoppable team.  The Chargers have a great QB, the Broncos have a benchwarmer.  The Broncos have solid offensive playmakers like Demaryius Thomas, Jack Doyle, Marshawn Lynch, and DeSean Jackson… the Chargers don’t.  The Chargers have a fantastic defensive line and an excellent secondary but struggle at linebacker… the Broncos have a fantastic linebacking trio of Ahmad Brooks, Danny Trevathan, and Kyle Van Noy, with Preston Smith at backup, but struggle on the line and have Chris Harris Jr and not a whole lot else in the secondary.  I sincerely hope these teams don’t join forces.

Ladies and gents, I give you your 2017 Denver anti-chargers!

Which team do I think is going to play better?  Well, the name appeal gives the edge to the Broncos – it’s hard to bet against Demaryius, DeSean, Beast Mode, and Jack Doyle, particularly when guys like Cole Beasley, DeAndre Washington, and Jeff Janis are providing a modicum of production behind them.  So that’s my temptation.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last few years in this league, it is that the better defense usually wins.  Indy is competitive every year with Luck and a defense.  Teams like Buffalo, Pittsburgh, the Giants, the Chiefs, and even the Lions have won their divisions with defense.  There’s just more players and more consistency over a 12 week, 16 game season.  Combined with that Paxton Lynch shaped zero at Quarterback, I think Denver faces at least one more year in the cellar – not a pleasant prospect for a team that doesn’t own either its first or second round picks in 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Real Deal (Football) Report – 2017 Predictions: The East!

We now turn our attention towards the rising sun, that mighty land of lobsters, alligators, and attitude.  Phase II of our perfect predictions starts now.  And we begin, counterintuitively, with the NFC East.

NFC East:

New York Giants (11-5): Same as it ever was.  The New York Giants kicked off their RDFL experience with an epic tanking job in 2013 where they finished dead last in Fantasy Points.  Since then, they have finished in the top 4 in fantasy points in the entire NFL EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.  2nd in 2014.  4th in 2015.  And first in 2016.  And yet they have never made it to the Super Bowl.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report – 2017 Predictions: The East!

New York has become the dominant regular season squad that just can’t seem to put it all together for a playoff run.  It’s no longer about what happens in the fall for the New York Giants.  It’s what happens after the Thanksgiving that matters. And while I still think the Giants will be good enough to win the division, I begin to worry that that the window might be closing.

Uhoh. I love this team. It’s been so good I really don’t want to ge here… But if the shoe fits…

Let’s start with the passing game.  Eli Manning, for all his bizarre fluctuations as a real quarterback, is always fantasy relevant, and this year should be no exception at all with the weapons at his disposal in a McAdoo system and a division bereft of strong secondaries.  Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and Larry Fitzgerald make a star-studded trio of receivers, and DeMarco Murray should have at least one more year of powerful running in him.

The defense is not really led by Robert “Come all without, come all within, you’ll not see nothing like the mighty” Quinn, but I needed excuse to use that jingle, and it is stout.  Myles Jack anchors the interior, Carlos Dunlap the front line, and Trumaine Johnson plays the role of a strong cover corner.  It will be good.

Still, there are holes on this team, for once.  Eric Ebron isn’t on par with the rest of the starting offense, and the offense itself lacks depth after the star-studded front lines.  On defense, there are actual holes, actual weaknesses in the Giants veneer of power.  New York will be relying on guys like Maliek Collins, Trey Flowers, Devon Kennard, Andrew Sendejo, and Josh Jones for meaningful outings in the quest for a Super Bowl.  It’s going to be a strong squad some weeks, but I can also see weeks where this team could get well under 200, an almost unheard of result for the past three years.

It’s a strong team.  Probably strong enough to win the NFC East yet again.  But not the sort of prohibitive favorite we’ve come to expect from Big Blue, and with teams like Detroit, Carolina, and Atlanta trolling the NFC and looking for prey, probably not a favorite to get that elusive Super Bowl berth, much as I think the Giants deserve it.  Like the early 2000s Seattle Mariners and the recent Washington Capitals, the New York Real Deal Giants might go down in history as one of the best regular season teams ever and lack hardware to show for their dynasty.

Oh how I loved this team. And oh how much pain it brought me. C’mon NYG. Get over the top!

 

Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): One thing I can guarantee is that the Philadelphia Eagles have zero sympathy.  ZERO. They give no fucks.  From day #1, two things have been true about the NFC East – the Eagles have been good and the Redskins have been bad.  It has just been Philly’s misfortune to be surrounded by dominant squads – first Dallas, and then the Giants.  I can tell you this much – the Birds are salivating at any hint of weakness coming from New York, and waiting to pounce at the first sign of trouble.  Could it be their year?

Well, yes.  It absolutely could.  Why?  This defense is fan-freaking-tastic.  A look at the names is not going to fill anyone with awe, but it goes literally 17 deep with starting players who should play key roles on their respective teams. Ezekiel Ansah, Fletcher Cox, Deion Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Damarious Randall, Connor Barwin, Tashaun Gipson, the Honey Badger – even guys like Eric Rowe coming off the bench.  It’s a strong, solid defense and one I expect to hit triple digits on a fairly regular basis.  One that should outclass the Giants defense by a significant margin.

Your 2017 Philadelphia Eagles Offense!!!!

The question facing the Eagles is simply this: Can their collection of misfits and ne’erdowells on the offensive end keep pace with the strutting star power of guys like Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and Larry Fitzgerald.

Well… maybe.  There are intriguing players here, to be sure.  Derek Carr is growing into a bona fide stud, and could match Eli.  Taylor Gabriel, Malcolm Mitchell, Ty Montgomery (still with WR eligibility), Spencer Ware, Jamaal Charles, and Tyler Higbee… you look at these names, and on recognition alone, you expect Philly to get laughed out of the stadium.  But man.  Gabriel’s a nice player.  Mitchell’s a nice player.  Montgomery might be an RB1. So might Ware.  J-Mail might still have a year left.  Higbee might explode.  Fitzgerald might fade.  Hopkins might have another down year.  DeMarco might get hurt…

It feels a little bit like the American Revolution.  You know damn well the Redcoats SHOULD win.  They have every advantage… BUT.  BUT.  I don’t know.

Shoot ’em from the trees and you might have a chance.

In all likelihood, the Giant offense smokes Philly’s by 50 points or more every game, it’s not a gap the defense can make up, and the Eagles maintain their bridesmaid streak.  But.  But…

 

Dallas Cowboys (7-9): After Philly, this division gets bad in a hurry.  After looking at Dallas’ roster for this piece, I had to do a quick double check on Washington’s, because certainly this team is going to finish in last place.  But no.  Dallas will finish third.  Comfortably ahead of the hapless Redskins.  And comfortably behind Philadelphia and New York.

The Cowboys are actually on a pretty good track.  DeShaun Watson is plugged in at QB for the foreseeable future, and Dalvin Cook as stud RB – taking care of the two hardest positions in Real Deal to find for the long term.  Jake Butt is not a sure thing, but could be a franchise TE sooner rather than later as well.  After that, though… man.  Paul Richardson and Marquess Wilson are two guys who were pretty lustrous when they were drafted, but have lost a lot of that appeal after people saw them actually play.  DeMarcus Robinson is probably nearing his ceiling as a filler guy, and Alex Collins seems perennially trapped at 3rd or 4th on the running back depth chart.  There’s no depth at all on offense.  The cupboard is really, really bare.

The NFC East can be a scary place.

Flipping over to the defense reminded me of the scene from Home Alone 2 where Kevin is running through New York at night and freaking out about the bird lady.  He screams for a taxi, hops in, and tells the back of the driver’s head “It’s scary out there.”  The driver looks back, and resembling nothing so much as a warty ogre, remarks “Ain’t much better in here kid”, at which Kevin screams and runs away.  This experience has a double parallel for Dallas.  On the one hand, it’s what I think of their chances with Philadelphia (the creepy bird lady) and New York (the ogre in the cab).  More relevantly, it was my personal experience when I jumped from the offensive side of the roster to the defensive one.  “That offense is scary!”.  “Not much better here on defense, kid”.

And it isn’t.  Jalen Collins is suspended for 10 games.  Which one ups Dominique Easley, who is both injured and out of a job.  It’s slim pickings even among the players who are starting.  Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne represent the perennial “we’ve never been very good Cowboy Corners” club, and Byron Jones is trying desperately not to slide into that role.  John Jenkins could be good up front, but has never had the fantasy productivity you hope for.  Anthony Hitchens and Shaq Thompson could be decent at linebacker.  But man.  Zach Orr is technically retired.  Perry Riley’s out of a job.  So’s Ricardo Matthews.  Corey Graham is on a one year prove it deal as a backup safety.  The rest of the defense are unproven rookies without clear paths to significant roles.  It’s rough.

Still, this team has some franchise pieces in place, and a clear plan, which is actually pretty exceptional considering where the previous owner left the team following a series of brutal trades in which most of Dallas’ good pieces ended up on the Falcons.  It’s a tough road for Dallas, but the team is headed in a good direction.

Washington Redskins (4-12): And yet, with all its holes, with all its challenges, Dallas remains light years ahead of Washington.  The Skins have been stuck in neutral essentially since the start of the league, plagued with a brutally strong division and handicapped by both a dearth of franchise talent in the initial draft and by the inaugural owner – who made a really bad win now trade with the Giants that essentially set both teams on their current courses.  It’s been a monumental challenge for subsequent and current owners.  But the Skins ARE finally on the path.  A full rebuild has Washington with no less than four first round picks in 2018, a couple of which should be juicy.

Still, the road up remains long and the path remains challenging for a Washington team that remains brutally bereft of true talent.  Colt McCoy is the quarterback.  The best player on offense is hands down Terrance Williams.  UPDATE: WAS Terrance Williams.  He now plays for… you guessed it.  The Giants.  And besides him, only Tyler Kroft and Ricardo Louis have any sort of potential – and one guy is stuck behind Tyler Eifert while the other plays for the Cleveland Browns.  The defense is better, with guys like Ryan Shazier, David Amerson, Xavier Rhodes, Kenny Vaccaro, Chris Smith, and Robert Nkemdiche offering at the very least hope, and in some cases, strong play.

The worm can turn fast in this league, once a team gets some traction.  Tennessee rebuilt.  Jacksonville is on the path.  The Giants sort of did it.  The Bills have turned into worldbeaters, albeit more through incredible trading acumen than a true rebuild.  The Vikings are about to turn the corner.  Miami could be great soon.  And Washington is positioned.  This young defense could grow into something exceptional over the next year or two.  And with four first rounders in 2018, the Skins could be ready for an infusion of talent on offense as well.  The Redskins might be approaching that point where they can flip the go switch and finally kick things into gear, just as the Giants finally descend from the mountain.

The Redskins locker room is filled with motivational nonsense like this.

But it won’t be this year.  Like the real world 76ers mired in the Process, long-suffering Skins fans have one more campaign of misery.  But there is a hint of dawn on the horizon.

 

AFC East: 

Buffalo Bills (12-4): The Eastern divisions of RDFL are nothing, if not predictable.  The last time the Bills didn’t win the AFC East was 2013 – coincidentally, the last time the Giants didn’t win the NFC East. In some ways, the two teams have been mirror images of each other – star studded juggernauts who have monstered through their relative leagues with ease, but have yet to win the Big One.  Buffalo, at least, has made a Super Bowl (2015), but both have known the disappointment of having utterly dominant squads, but falling short of the ultimate prize.  Buffalo particularly is coming off a brutal conclusion to 2016 where injuries and suspension obliterated their lineup and they were knocked out of the playoffs on a last minute, Monday night 80 yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan with just a few minutes to play.  It’s been rough.

Still, the Bills, like the Giants, remain poised for at least one more campaign, and even more than the Giants remain positioned to maintain long-term domination via trading.  Miami and New England will pose perennial challenges within the division, and Kansas City, Houston and Pittsburgh continue to pose consistent conference threats, but the Bills remain the cream of the conference – and really deserve a year of good luck.

In all honesty, though, they might not need luck.  This team reads like a who’s who list of all-star studs from top to bottom.  Adrian Peterson.  Devontae Freeman.  AJ Green.  Rob Gronkowski.  Alshon Jeffery.  Doug Baldwin.  Khalil Mack. Jason Pierre Paul (still with a hand!), Aaron Donald, Navorro Bowman…  Even the guys who aren’t big names, like Tyrod Taylor, Anthony Brown, Mike Adams, Jerry Hughes, and George Iloka are good players.  And if that wasn’t enough, the Bills have Christian McCaffery and OJ Howard just chilling on their Practice Squad (their Practice Squad!) and six 1st and 2nd round picks in 2019.  It’s enough to make someone swear.  Detroit – that’s your cue.

And this is what’s all over the Bills locker room. Which, actually, is a bit creepy.

If I had to nitpick, it would be to note that the Bills don’t have the kind of depth they did in past years.  Where once they could wrangle people into submission with a 15 deep starting defensive core and a flood of solid offensive back-ups, it’s not quite the case here.  There may even be a couple holes on defense.  But man.  That’s such a minor nitpick when you have that kind of star power – and the luxury of having guys like McCaffery and Howard not even PLAY their first year.  Silliness.  Barring another ridiculous batch of injuries, the Bills should cruise Anthony Davis Kentucky style to yet another AFC East title, and another excellent chance to end that Super Bowl drought.

 

New England Patriots (9-7): How do they do it?  The ultimate “win now” squad, Ric Nowinsky’s Patriots pursue victory every game and every year, building through underpriced veterans with an almost appalling lack of regard for draft picks.  It’s the sort of strategy that never works in the NFL and that you constantly expect to lead to cratering and ruin a la Brooklyn Nets even in fantasy.  And yet.  Every year.  There they are.  Right there in the playoff hunt, competing for playoff berths and making a royal pesky nuisance of themselves.  If not for the dominance of the Bills and a pair of brutal practice squad forfeits a couple years ago, we might be talking about the most unorthodox RDFL dynasty ever.

And somehow, some way, the Patriots are poised to contend again with the most geriatric group of geezers this world has ever seen.  Tom Brady is going strong at QB, Frank Gore continues to churn along at RB when most of his peers have forsaken the rock for the wheelchair, and Mike Wallace is an elder statesman at wide receiver after somehow reinventing his entire career.  The Patriots have supplemented their veterans with potential value finds and castoffs like Cameron Brate, Nelson Agholor, Lamar Miller, and Charles Clay – and frankly, seem poised to field a really nice offense.

Hard Knocks, New England Patriots style!

The defense… well, the defense, as always, has holes.  It has studs like Eric Berry and Stephon Gilmore in the defensive secondary, and surprisingly fantasy productive guys like Jatavis Brown and Jaylen Watkins.  But man does it have some holes as well.  Guys like Tyson Alualu, Bronson Kaufusi, Elandon Roberts, Marcus Roberts, and Letroy Guion will have to play above their historical contributions.  And that will still leave guys like Brennan Scarlet and Cre’Von LeBlanc to prove that they are actual NFL players and not hokey template characters in a bad remake of “Clue II: Revenge of the Wrench”.

It’s the same blend that has combined to make New England one of the most fun and unpredictable teams in all of Real Deal.  A strong, unconventional offense, combined with defensive studs and spare parts that somehow puts it right in the thick of a playoff picture every year.  Including 2017.

 

Miami Dolphins (7-9): That sound you heard when Ryan Tannehill’s knee popped was the mournful wailing of everyone in Miami bemoaning a serious blow to their playoff chances.  But what you probably should have heard was relief.  This injury gives what could be among the best up and coming offenses in the game another year to develop and, potentially, add another high draft pick to add to the asset stash for when this team is truly ready to compete.  Just don’t sign Cutler.  Don’t do it.  Don’t.  Do.  It.

Look, if New England is the bizarre beginning of Benjamin Button, Miami is the heartfelt conclusion.   Here’s the offense:

  • Colin Kaepernick.  Age: Doesn’t Matter.  Status: Blackballed.
  • Leonard Fournette.  Age: 22.  Status: Rookie of the Year.
  • Tevin Coleman. Age: 24.  Status: Damn good backup
  • Breshad Perriman. Age: 23.  Status: Hasn’t quite lost his luster.
  • Kevin White. Age: 25. Status: Ready to rock… if Trubisky pans out, of course.
  • Jeremy Hill.  Age: 24.  Status: They drafted a convict to take his job.  He cranky.
  • Sammy Watkins.  Age: 24.  Status: Blueballed
  • Corey Davis. Age: 22.  Status: Star of the high flying Tennessee Titan passing game.  Yeah.  You heard me right.
  • Danny Vitale.  Age: 23.  Status: I don’t know who this guy is.  I think he might have a job because he’s related to DIckie V.  I can think of no other reason
  • Jacoby Brisssett.  Age: 23.  Status: Balls owned by Bill Belichick, never to be seen again.
  • Josh Doctson. Age: 24.  Status: About to see the magical land of opportunity in Washington
  • Gerald Everett. Age: 23.  Status: Duking it out with the Higbee.

There’s other guys just on offense, but man I’m bored making that list.  And seriously?  I think it might be obscuring the point.  LOOK AT THOSE GUYS.  Leo Fournette, Tevin Coleman, Breshad Perriman, Kevin White, Jeremy Hill, Sammy Watkins, Corey Davis, Josh Doctson, Gerald Everett… I mean, are you freaking kidding me?  ALL under 25.  ALL studs.  This is a terrifying array of talent.

 

Awww…. the 2017 Dolphins are just so stinkin’ CUTE!!! Yet another reason not to sign Cutler. Don’t let him near children.

Fortunately for all humankind, the defense is just as young, but not the same level of imposing.  The starting lineup is strewn with guys like Marcus Smith, Jordan Phillips, Quinten Rollins, and Tony Lippett – younger guys without clear paths to playing time.  These folks mingle with players like Vonn Bell, Michael Thomas, and Charles Harris who are the genuine hope of the youth movement and on a parallel track with the offense.  Also of concern, the Dolphins are devastated at Linebacker with injuries, with both Trent Williams and Dannell Ellerbe lost for the season and Shane Ray out for the critical multiple-weeks early in the year.  Vince Williams is Miami’s only linebacker available for week 1.

End of the story, injuries at major positions on both offense and defense have left glaring holes in Miami’s chances in 2017.  But a ridiculous collection of up and coming young talent has Miami poised for the future, if they can pick up just a couple more guys on defense – something another year of mediocrity and high draft picks might allow them to do.  Blessings in disguise.

 

New York Jets (4-12): No blessings and no disguises here.  Only brutal, gritty, film noir reality.  Like Washington, the poor Jets have been all aboard the struggle bus since year #1.  Eerily parallel.  A tough division, paired with a dominant team, and saddled with a lack of talent from the franchise draft.  Unlike Washington, the Jets have taken a stand pat tactic, rarely trading and gradually building year upon year from strong draft picks and forays into free agency.  A more conventional team-building process – neither advanced by strong trades and tanking, or derailed by bad decisions.

It’s not ready to pay off yet.  The Jets HAVE talent – a big three of Carson Wentz, Melvin Gordon, and Stefon Diggs is nothing to sneeze at on offense, and it’s much more than a big three on defense: Mo Wilkerson, Demario Davis, Vernon Hargreaves, and HaHa Clinton Dix, just to name a few.  Mike Williams would have been a great fourth for the offense if the injury bug hadn’t struck.  The problem is that there isn’t enough quantity.  And the second problem is that while some of the draft picks have been fantastic, some others like Johnny Manziel have simply not panned out.

Real footage from the NYJ ownership meetings this offseason

There’s definitely talent and hope here beyond the front guys.  Rasul Douglas was a canny pick who may see some clear time for the CB-needy Eagles.  AJ Klein should catapult to a starting role with the Saints when he gets healthy after being stuck behind Luke Kuechly for years.  Vernon Butler, Sharif Floyd, and Leonard Williams are all highly touted young players with potential.  Jeff Heuerman has had a lot of buzz for the Broncos at times.  But they certainly aren’t ready for yet, and there are no guarantees that the ceiling for any of these guys will be what New York needs.

The Jets need a break.  They need a fourth round draft pick to come out of nowhere to become a star.  They need to win a blockbuster trade.  They need to turn players into assets and assets into players.  Because the trajectory is up.  But it’s a long slow curve, and it’s not at all clear that the ceiling of that curve ends at the top of the division, not with Buffalo poised to stay good for years to come, New England’s perennial mad wizardry, and an under 25 dolphins roster that is loaded with rocket fuel and about to get launched to the stratosphere.  It’s a conundrum.

Real Deal Dynasty (Football) Predictions: The South!

Season Five y’all.  We’re moving into our fifth season of existence.

And as always, to honor the legacies of those, who have won before, I’ll begin the preview with a reiteration of Super Bowls past.

In 2013, the Green Bay Packers, in their one and only season being run by the immortal Shane Katz, defeated the Indianapolis Colts 186-171.

In 2014, Darren Leung’s Pittsburgh Steelers used clutch catches from one Albert Wilson to knock off the favored Dallas Cowboys 216-206.

In 2015, Pedro Canteiro’s Carolina Panthers quietly assassinated a series of powerhouse squads before finally claiming the Championship over the Buffalo Bills, 232-220.

Then, last year, in 2016, Michael Seraphim’s infamous Detroit Lions mashed through the NFC to overcome the Houston Texans, 200-189.

Finish Reading: Real Deal Dynasty (Football) Predictions: The South!

Four years in the books.  Four different champions.  Eight different Super Bowl participants.  Only one team has made the playoffs in every year of the league’s existence.  This is a tough league to win.  All of which makes this coming year all the more exciting.  Who will win it all in 2017?  And who can possibly wait for the end of the year to find out?

No worries, my friends!  The season is largely unnecessary.  A mere formality.  I’m about to tell you who is going to win.  So pull up a chair and get ready to have your mind filled with brilliant prognostication!  With my 0/4 record of predicting championships and 1/8 run of predicting Super Bowl participants (Buffalo 2015, I see you), you can certainly trust my analysis.

Yes, this is what I do. And what I wear. Don’t judge me.
I sorry. I even sorrier than the guy who gave Brock Osweiler that contract. Well. Maybe not that sorry. But sorry.

But before I get to it, one final apology.  Detroit and Houston both had epic playoff runs last year on the way to Super Bowl glory.  They deserved to be covered, chronicled, an heaped with praise week in and week out.  But I was a slacker last year and did not give either of them the writing or the credit they deserved.  I can’t really fix that now – but please guys, accept my heartfelt apologies for not giving you the column space you both so richly deserved!

On to the predictions – this year, we begin with the South divisions.  I’m pretty sure I haven’t started there before.  But it’s also possible that I think that every year, and have started with them three years running.  Whatever.  I’ll get to everyone, so hold your horses! 🙂

 

 

AFC South:

Houston Texans (11-5): It’s hard to repeat as the AFC Champion.  And in a division as competitive as the AFC South, it may be hard to even get a repeat playoff berth.  But the Texans, my friends, are loaded for the bear.  How so?  Well, the Texans have pursued a startlingly effective strategy I eloquently like to call “Find the scarce resource and hoard the shit out of it”.  In this case, that scarce resource is workhorse running backs.  With the rise of platoons, actual stud workhorse running backs have gone the way of the Dodo bird and the well-paying coal mining job.  You can’t find them.  You can’t bring them back from China. They are extinct.  Except for in Houston.  That’s the one place you can still find a classic RB1.  At one point this off-season, Houston had David Johnson, Jordan Howard, Mike Gillislee, and Carlos Hyde all chilling on the roster.  Even after flipping Hyde for a king’s ransom, the Texans are still sitting on what could be three of the leagues top ten backs, and very likely two of the top five.  That’s silly, and as a liberal, I am well within my rights to demand running back redistribution.

He haz all the running backs of all the shapes and sizes.

The problem for the rest of the league is that the rest of this team is good too.  Jameis Winston looks like a franchise QB, Austin Hooper is poised to break out at Tight End, and while the receiving corps won’t finish among the league’s best, a combination of Chris Hogan, Donte Moncrief, Ted Ginn and Tonic, and Kenny Golladay should get the job done.  Defensively, this time is well set up to stop the pass with an excellent secondary of Jonathan Cyprien, Desmond Trufant, and Earl Thomas anchoring the defensive backfield.  The ancient and oft-injured Brian Cushing is joined in the defensive secondary by the less ancient but still injured Bruce Irvin and the rarely injured but sometimes high Chandler Jones.  It seems complicated.  But it’s a good complicated.  Even the defensive front line, which should be this squad’s weakness, received a solid infusion of talent with Solomon Thomas.

This team isn’t a super team.  It’s not going to death march folks the way we’ve seen with some squads.  But it’s very good.  It lacks weaknesses.  And I anticipate a lot of games where the Texans bring in the jumbo set, hand it off a billion teams, and pound the rest of us to dust.

Tennessee Titans (8-8):

Every year, I declare that Tennessee is an up and coming young team.  Improving.  Young stars.  Getting better and better.  Last year, I thought they were in contention, but potentially a year away.  They got close.  And Houston was supposed to get old, paving the way for the rebuild to become the winner.  Somehow, though, Houston got young instead of getting old.  I’m not sure how that works.  And I’m not sure Tennessee has the horses to get over the top – despite being a better team with increasing star power.

There’s no question that this squad will go as far as Odell Beckham Jr. will take them.  He’s a stud, and one of the best receivers in the game when his head is on straight, finishing second only to Antonio Brown in WR points.  He’ll get some help too, as Sam Bradford is clearly ensconced as the starter in Minnesota and Paul Perkins is set to take over as the unquestioned starter for the Giants.  Ndamukong Suh and Danielle Hunter anchor what should be a vicious, fantastic front line, and the Linebacking group and secondary were solid pieces even before the addition of Jaylon Brown.

That said, I just think there are two many question marks here – still.  Tennessee needs high caliber contributions from guys like Dwayne Allen, Jimmy Smith, Russell Shepard, Tajae Sharp, and Devin Funchess, and outside of the linebacking group, just doesn’t have a lot of depth.  Aside from OBJ, the team also doesn’t have the super high end players that can make up for that lack of depth.

I used to be the up and coming young team, not these $#&)(# in Jacksonville. Where did it all go wrong?

I think this team will be good.  I think it has the potential to be very, very good.  But some how, some way, this squad doesn’t have the same feel of magic I’ve been looking at for the past couple of years – and it will be one of the season’s more intriguing story lines to see if they can recapture it.

Indianapolis Colts (7-9):

Luck… to Edelman…. Touchdown!  Luck… to Edelman… Touchdown!  Luck… uhoh… looks like they have 7 guys covering Edelman…  Luck… uh… throws it away.

That was the 2016 addition of the Colts.  A solid defense, a quarterback who defines franchise, a stud receiver (when not posing for the body issue or fighting Stephon Gilmore), and a whole lot of nothing else.  It’s hard to win with 35 point offensive performances in this league.

Will it be different in 2017?  It could be.  Will Fuller is a oozing with potential.  Err… never mind.  The pundits are saying good things about Troy Niklas, who certainly has the inside track to a starting role.  Deonte Thompson… well.  Ok. I’ll stop.  To make the playoffs, the Colts would need a series of breaks including an injury to Spencer Ware freeing up the massively overpriced Charcandrick West for a starting role, Bruce Ellington surviving both competition and the offensive dead zone that is San Francisco, and rookie additions like Jonnu Smith and Wayne Gallman making unexpected noise.  It’s bleak.

The defense is solid, but a little nondescript.  Landon Collins is fantastic, and anchors a secondary that should be the strength of the defense with both cagey vets like Antoine Bethea and rising youngsters like Eli Apple.  It’s a similar meshing of the old and new inside where the Colts are hoping to coax one more your from the dessicating body of Brian Orakpo while young guns like Blake Martinez continue their rise to prominence.

As I always do, I’m going back and forth on this roster.  It’s got some nice pieces, and some decent depth.  But the offense…. but maybe Gallman and Niklas will be great… but it’s still only four players… but the defense… is it good?  Or decent?  Or bad?  Maybe this team could be sneaky good?  Maybe…  In the end, I think this famous graphic sums up my feelings…

Precisely how I feel about the Colts this year

Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10): The Jagulars (spelling intentional) have become the new Tennessee Titans – full of potential, burgeoning with young talent, and not quite ready to win yet.  If this was 2020, I would be all in on the Jags.  A finally starting Jimmy Garoppolo would be chucking touchdowns to veteran statesman Marqise Lee and all around studs Cooper Kupp and Rashard Higgins, while David Njoku has ascended to a top 5 TE role and Kareem Hunt is a first round pick in normal fantasy drafts.  On defense, guys like Jalen Ramsey and Malik Hooker form a new legion of boom, and Yannick Ngakoue continues to sack everyone who can’t spell his name (which is everyone).  This team looks silly good then.

However, it’s 2017, not 2020.  So Jimmy Garoppolo continues to languish on the bench behind the Darth Vader of

When you google 2020, this is what comes up. What the Jags will be driving to their victory parade?

football, putting up a weekly zero.  Kupp, Higgins, Njoku and Hunt will face depth chart struggles and rookie bumps.  Like Indianapolis, this team has the potential to score an exceptionally small number of offensive points on a weekly basis.  Unlike Indy, this team does not have a starting QB, and Marqise Lee is not Julian Edelman.  There will be growing pains.

That said, Jacksonville is going to be a pain in the arse to play against this year for contenders.  The reason is that defense.  It’s straight up exceptional, and doesn’t need to wait a long time to be so.  We’ve already mentioned Ngakoue, who is a bone fide stud.  But listen to this group of young stars: Ngakoue, Jabaal Sheard, Bud Dupree, CJ Mosley, Linval Joseph Mark Barron, Bashaud Breeland, Jalen Ramsey, Malik Hooker, Kamalei Correa.  That’s without even mentioning Trae Waynes, Obum Gwachum, and Kevin Byard.

Very quietly, the Jags have put together a core of talent on both sides of the ball that could position them to dominate the AFC for years to come.  The defense is ready much earlier than the offense – but that could just mean another high draft pick or two while the young guys develop.

That said, young talent is notoriously unreliable.  Guys you think will be franchise players don’t pan out and randoms ascend to stardom.  Will Jacksonville take Tennessee’s path on an exciting ride to fizzle-city, or actually make the leap?  It will be fun to see, and I like the plan.

 

NFC South:  A word to the wise, the moderately wise, and the dumbass who traded Paul Perkins for Wendell Smallwood straight up (what a fool, that guy!): the NFC South is a brutal division.  I maintain that all four squads last year were playoff caliber, with Atlanta, Carolina, and New Orleans all in possession of Super Bowl Champion rosters.  Not only has this division produced one out of four of our Super Bowl champions, it has also produced the closest thing we’ve seen to an undefeated season (New Orleans) and some of the best divisional races year in, year out.

It’s going to be the same old story this year.

Carolina Panthers (10-6): Never start a land war in Asia.  Never draft a kicker before the last round of a fantasy draft.  Never bet against Carolina.  Remember those three maxims, my son, and you will do well in both life and afterlife.  The Panthers are quiet, unassuming, and deadly.  Like a Canadian Jason Bourne with bruised vocal cords.

Pretty much…

It starts at the top this year, where the great Dabbasaurus Rex is ready for a rebound year, replete with running and passing scores.  It continues on defense, where the linebacking trio of Luke Kuechly, Alex Okafor, and Melvin Ingram should be one of the league’s best.  It continues in proximity to Philadelphia where the recently arrived LeGarrette Blount should grab a feature back role (albeit in a pass driven offense), the recently departed Bennie Logan should dominate up front for KC, and the recently rich Zach Ertz should hopefully get over that sophomore and junior slump and emerge into stardom.

Beyond that, this team has solidity and depth at every position.  Mark Ingram is a strong second back (unless AP steals his job, which I doubt), Fast Willie Snead and Robert “Are we out of the Woods yet?” will provide some excellent receiving options.  Steve Smith and Eddie Royal will even keep Carolina competitive in the retirement home league, and MIchael Floyd and Michael Thomas will keep them competitive in the rehab league.  Carl Lawson and Jamal Adams show that this team still has youth, and the roster on both sides of the ball is filled out with quality players. Depth.  Everywhere.

So what’s the problem?  The lack of sure things and the level of competition.  What if Ingram does lose his job, or end up

What you gotta be, to win the South. Blue nose and all.

in a platoon? What if Ertz is eclipsed by all the Eagles new receivers, Wentz has a sophomore slump, and Doug Peterson inexplicably forgets to hand the ball off to LeGarrette Blount at the goal line?  What if last year was not a fluke for Cam, but the new reality?  What if Kuechly gets inured?  A lot would have to go wrong for Carolina to be a  bad team.  But like the Tony the Tiger challenge, in this division, it’s not enough to be good, you’ve got to be Grrrreeeaaat!

Atlanta Falcons (10-6):

On paper, the Falcons look like the best team in the AFC South.  After repeatedly fleecing the old Cowboys owner in trades, triumphantly drafting Jared Goff, and then somewhat less triumphantly grabbing both Carson Palmer and Mike Glennon to start until Jared Goff starts playing like a quarterback at the level of a Brian Hoyer or Brock Osweiler, the Falcons should be ready to fly.

And I mean fly.  This team packs a silly one-two punch at receiver with Julio Jones and Kelvin Benjamin, and backs that nonsense up with Mohammed Sanu and John Brown.  There’s a lot of speed and a lot of receptions to be had in that wide receiving corps.  Julius “not so caesar-like now” Thomas underwhelmed last year, but is looking to bounce back with his new strategy of “think like a defensive back”.  It apparently doesn’t work to try to catch balls when Blake Bortles is trying to throw it to you, so if you have an interception mindset, it should double your receptions.  If it sticks, he could be good.  Training camp concussions are a concern for Jay Ajayi, and being Eddie Lacy is a concern for Eddie Lacy, but there’s enough firepower and depth here that the offense should be excellent.

A’Shawn Robinson? That’s THE’Shawn Robinson, bitch.

On defense, this team’s strength is in the middle, with Zach Thomas, Christian Kirksey, Thomas Davis, and Sean Lee providing a silly Linebacking group that could also be a law firm (Davis, Thomas, Lee, and Kirksey – Attorneys at Law).  Interestingly enough, all the last names could be first names too, though the guy named Kirksey would probably get made fun of).  There’s also some major beef in the middle of the front line, monsters like Ra’Shede Hageman (warcraft villain), A’Shawn Robinson, Michael Bennett and Clinton McDonald.  The trick is that some of these guys are better at eating blockers than ballcarriers, so actual tackles and points could be harder to come by.  But it’s a big, high potential group of guys.  The secondary could be the Falcs achilles heel.  Brett Grimes is good, but on the downside of his career, the Robinsons (Josh and Patrick) aren’t quite there yet, and aren’t quite good either, and Tony Jefferson faces injury concerns.

End of the day, it should be a high-scoring pass-happy affair when the Falcons play anybody, and I think this could be the year when Atlanta gets over the top.  But I don’t ever bet against Carolina.  That’s not a game you can win.  It’s rigged by the house.  Or the Russians.

New Orleans Saints (7-9): 

Oh N’awlins.  I love your accents.  I love your mysticism, your haunted cemetary tours, your voodoo peoples, your catfish (so, so good!) and your strange housing styles.  I love your team.  I love your QB. And I love what this could look like if everything broke right.

But I do not like your questions marks.  I do not like them Sam I Am.  Not in a division like this.  Not in the mighty South.  Atlanta and Carolina have certainty at key spots, and redundancy behind them just in case.  It’s more layers of redundancy than a Trump speech.  They have good players.  They have the best players.  People tell them all the time they have the best players.

I’ve lost control of this metaphor and I don’t really know what it has to do with the article.

New Orleans, though, is risky. New Orleans is a Casino.  New Orleans is a huge bet on self-driving cars.  And in this division… I can’t take that bet.

So what are the sure things?  Well, Drew Brees is as sure as they come.  And I suppose we can put Golden Tate in that camp as well.  He’s not certain, but signs definitely point to him being a really good bet this year.  Brandon Graham and Jordan Cameron gonna sack some folk.  Malcolm Jenkins will show up with his patented blend of great plays and blown coverages to score fantasy points and receive acclaim for his “leadership.”  James Harrison will be reasonably productive on the field and exceptionally productive saying mean things about Roger Goodell.  And Kiko Alonso will get hurt a couple weeks in.  Dude is as bad as Jordan Reed for that nonsense…

But that’s about where it ends.  There are question marks about literally every other player on the roster, including both the kicker and the punter.  This roster resembles nothing so much as one of those hideous “summer math packets” the teachers used to assign when you were in middle school because it has so many questions.  Those summer-ruining bastards.  And it’s being perpetuated, you know. My 13 year old daughter has a 23 page math packet to do over the summer.  The summer.  There’s a lot of bitter divide in Washington, but can’t we all come together to ban this nonsense?  Literally nobody is in favor of summer homework, and if you are a teacher, and you assign it, you are a bad person and lack moral agency.  Period.

It’s literally the same impossibly happy nightmare face I see in my mind whenever Detroit tries to sell me on a trade for a guy I’ve never heard of. Summer math and that trade offer are both bad! You don’t convince me, demon ice cream face!

Ahem.  Anyway.  Let’s talk about the question marks and associated questions:

  • Darren Sproles: When does your age catch up with you?  It’s chasing you like the wolf in the Duran Duran song, and it wants to eat you.  Also, when does graduating from K-State catch up with you?  That’s a huge negative, and I have no clue how you’ve been a productive member of society with that ball and chain.
  • JJ Nelson: Do you get passes thrown to you this year?  Or nah bro?
  • Jimmy Graham: Can you be good again?
  • Joe Williams: Can you supplant Carlos Hyde?  If not, how do you deal with that?  How do you find the self-esteem to keep going?  Also, do you work at a button factory?
  • CJ F.: Can you finally beat Ryan Griffin?  I thought platoons at running back were bad, but platoons at tight end?  No thank you because fuck it very much.
  • James Connor: How did you get so much hype on a team with Le’Veon Bell?  How? You have a fabulous publicist, my good sir.
  • Sammie Coates: Are you a possible stud, or is your confidence shot to Venezuela?
  • Anthony Barr: Does your coach like you?
  • Steven Nelson: Wait, who are you?  I don’t think I’ve ever heard of you before.
  • Rafael Bush: Will you be productive as a third guy like you have in the past?  Also, how have you been that good and never been a starter for literally your entire career?
  • Andrew Franks: Are you the kicker?
  • Anthony Dixon: Are you my mother?

See? Question marks everywhere.  If things break right (Sammie Coates is a star, Jimmy Graham returns to form, Anthony Barr becomes a boss, CJ Fiedorowicz catches touchdowns, and the various defensive guys I didn’t list because I ran out of pithy questions play up to their potential, this could be a great team and the Saints could return to the top of the division.  But when you have questions against sure things, I’ll go with the sure things.  It’s all about probabilities… which I apparently now do in the summer for fun.  ::SIGH:: I have become that which I hate.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10): Poor, poor Tampa Bay.  This team keeps getting this close to being good, and can’t quite get over the top.  Tampa Bay is to RDFL is what Hillary Clinton is to the presidency.  A favorite for the presidency for like twelve years.  Super closer in two elections.  Wins the popular vote.  Not president. Tampa keeps pulling the same stunt – good team for the last three years.  Strong players.  Good drafts.  Good free agent pickups.  Not quite able to get over the hump.

More of the same, this year, unfortunately, as the division has stayed strong, but Tampa Bay has taken steps back.  Doug Martin is facing threats to his job.  Vincent Jackson isn’t on a roster anymore.  Josh McCown plays for the Jets. Alfred Morris and Jermaine Gresham have successfully recovered from idiopathic bouts of talent, and the roster, tragically, has Blaine Gabbert on it.  Jadaveon Clowney is a bit of a bust and Chris Conte is losing his job to JJ Wilcox.

The defense is still going to be fantastic.  Any squad with Lavonte David and Von Miller starting next to each other is going to be absolutely ferocious.  Gerald McCoy is still a good player with a good personality, and Aqib Talib is still a good player with a bad personality.  The defense is going to put up points, and the offense is going to be much better than say, Indy and Jacksonville.  But in this ridiculous division, I just don’t think it’s enough.  Not by a long shot.  I like Tampa Bay, and I keep rooting for them.  But end of the day, it will not be Tampa Bay atop the South for another division.  It’s a conspiracy!

Oppressing the Ukraine and keeping TB out of the playoffs since 2013.

Bloody Russians.

 

 

Three teams under-performing so far in 2017

On the flip side of teams outperforming their preseason rankings are a number of teams that, so far, aren’t living up to their respective expectations. Some are less drastic than others, but let’s take a look at three teams that aren’t perhaps where they expected to be in July.

  1. Detroit Tigers (30-28, 15th place).

Going into the season, Detroit was ranked 10th overall, so sitting at 15th isn’t too drastic a fall. That said, this is a team that was a playoff team and a division winner in 2016. So to be sitting at 3rd place in your own division is slightly disappointing. Things can change though, so let’s see where the Tigers are in about a month.

2. New York Mets (21-37, 19th place).

Heading into 2017, the New York Mets were ranked 12th, just ahead of the current 4th place Marlins. At this point, I cited the team’s offensive depth. At the time, Jason Heyward, Gerardo Parra, Michael Brantley, and Brett Lawrie were all on the team’s bench. Parra is hurt, Lawrie is not on an MLB roster, Heyward got hurt for a while, and even though Brantley has been playing well, he also got hurt. He is getting nice contributions from Renfroe, Simmons, JBJ, Realmuto, DeGrom, and Fulmer, but has been hurt by injuries to players like Hernandez, Syndergaard, and Harvey. However, he now has a healthy Matz, and with some luck with players like Lugo and Felix, maybe his pitching staff could look a lot better.

  1. Chicago Cubs (36-22, 13th place).

So, yeah, the Cubs are still very good. But they won it all last year and were ranked #2 going into the season. I wouldn’t say there is anything glaring that stands out as to why the Cubs aren’t quite as dominate this year. They did trade away players like Carlos Carrasco and Hanley Ramirez, but there is still plenty of talent. There are a lot of injuries on the pitching staff too, with expected key contributors like Kyle Hendricks, Mark Melancon, Tyler Thornburg, and Ryan Dull on the DL. So despite being in 2nd place in his division (with the Cardinals looming behind), the Cubs probably aren’t a team to count out.

Note: I went with three since I really couldn’t come up with five. These aren’t as drastic as the overperforming teams, but I still thought it would be worthwhile to point out, or to at least get a conversation going.

Five teams defying preseason expectations

Maligned as it may be—particularly by owners in areas with high populations of Cubans—the preseason power rankings were rather accurate. Out of the predicted top 15 from the preseason, 9 teams are currently sitting in the “actual” top 15: Yankees, Marlins, Royals, Astros, Indians, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Cubs, and Brewers. Not bad. That said, the predictions certainly have their outliers in the form of teams that are both defying expectations, and failing to meet them.

Here are the five teams that are defying the expectations most drastically thus far:

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers (25-15, 348 points)

 

This isn’t as drastic a difference as the other teams, but in the preseason, the Dodgers were ranked #18, and as of now, they sit at #12 overall. The preseason prognosis suggested that they team may be negatively impacted by starting three players that were currently in the minors, but the team added Aaron Hicks and saw some timely call-ups, so they find themselves with a winning record as we approach the summer.

  1. Colorado Rockies (24-16, 9454.779 points)

Projected to be the 22nd best team this preseason, the Rockies are currently sitting in 15th overall. As noted in the preseason, though, the pitching staff is still lacking. A very strong offense led by Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, and Eduardo Nunez has propelled them to a winning record, however. If you factor in a ‘bounce back’ from Trevor Story, there is no reason to believe that the Rockies won’t be able to win plenty of games throughout the season.

  1. Miami Marlins (34-6, 11092.757 points)

For whatever reason, the preseason points projections had the Marlins at #13. Right now, they are the #4 overall team, and #2 in points overall. As I pointed out this preseason though, the Marlins were a lot likely to be in the top 5-10 than they were outside of it by the mid-season, and here they are. Barring injuries, I expect Miami to stay here for the remainder of the season, being led by someone pretending to be Ryan Zimmerman, Corey Seager, Christian Yelich, Mark Reynolds, Dee Gordon, and of course, Mike Trout, when he returns.

  1. New York Yankees (28-12, 10651 points)

Preseason rankings had the Yankees sitting at #14 overall, but here they are #6, and one of only 7 teams to score 10,000 points or more at this point in the year. Last year, the Yankees made 59 mostly non minor-to-majors trades. Players acquired in these deals that are currently helping the team sit just outside of the top 5 include Justin Upton, Chris Carter, and Brandon Phillips. Goes to show that if you have the ammo and you think you can make a run, go ahead and trade those picks and prospects!

  1. St. Louis Cardinals (25-16, 9232.787 points)

Sometimes, the predictions are way off. The Cardinals were predicted to be the 7th-worst team in the league in the preseason, but here they are, battling for playoff position, at #10 overall, at 25-15. Preseason notes indicate that the Cardinals had too many rookies in starting positions, and that the pitching staff was too thin. In looking at the roster now, all the starting positions have players that are active and scoring points (some more than others, granted). That said, the staff still looks thin, but once healthy, the Cardinals have a lot of depth on offense to either make up for it, or to trade for some pitching help. Consider this, if these players get healthy, between his current DL and bench he has: Marwin Gonzalez, Kolten Wong, Martin Prado, and Yasmany Tomas.

Real Deal Report: Moneyball – American League East Preview

2017 Real Deal Moneyball Preview & Predictions: American League East

Ah, Opening Week of Baseball! This is arguably my favorite time of year. This marks the true start of Spring and the realization of our last four months of drafting, trading and overbidding for free agents. I’m going to attempt to provide some interesting reading this season as long as my time permits. At least to start the season, I wanted to take a few weeks to preview the season and make some predictions. So during the month of April, I will be breaking down one division at a time and offering some predictions for the season. Should this have been done in the off-season? Probably, but I was too damn busy and now that the season has started, I figured I’d give us some things to argue about. I won’t be using early season results to impact my previews, but past season stats and off-season trends to hopefully spark some lively debate on the chat boards and perhaps generate a trading frenzy.

 

 

Best of the American League East

Best Lineup – Boston Red Sox

 

This was a tough call. It was difficult not to put a lineup with Edwin Encarnacion, Joey Bats, Josh Donaldson and Tulo as the best in the division. TOR won over 100 games last season and their offense had much to do with that. I give the nod to BOS because their lineup is

Killer B’s look to carry the Moneyball Red Sox in 2017 and beyond

longer, overall younger and deeper with productive reserves.

There is not much production expected from the catching position, but the infield can hang with anyone. At 1B, Hanley Ramirez had a resurgence last season and reached the 30 HR, 100 RBI plateau after two tough seasons. At age 33, he won’t be running like he did for the Marlins, but he can still hit and now a full time DH in real life, he should rake again this year. 2B is a solid Logan Forsythe who should see a boost hitting in that Dodgers lineup IRL compared to Tampa. At 3B is Eduardo Nunez who broke out as a full time player after being cast off by the Yankees a few years back. Now and All-star caliber player that can hit and could pitch in on the wSB category. Finally at SS is young stud Xander Bogaerts. The 24-year-old will contribute in all offensive categories except ISO. Infield depth include Mark Reynolds, Jimmy Paredes, Justin Smoak, Scooter Gennett and Luis Valbuena. All these guys can fill in for short injury stints, but will be exposed in some categories if active every day.

Starting outfield features two of the best young players in ALL of baseball. Mookie Betts  should be an MVP candidate and Andrew Benintendi likely wins the AL Rookie of the Year. Both should be Sabremetric monsters. Betts had an incredible 4.7 RC27 with a K/9 of only .11. Benintendi has all the tools to contribute in every category as well. Mark Trumbo should provide power production and was a better Moneyball performer than I expected. He could meet or exceed .350 wOBP, .850 OPS, .250 ISO, and 3.50 RC27. That’s pretty damn productive. Rounding out the OF corp are usually part-timers Matt Joyce and Jarrod Dyson. Both these guys are expected to see higher At Bats that usual but will still sit somewhat regularly against southpaws. 

It is important to note that BOS also has uber prospect Yoan Moncada and Top 20 spec, Bradley Zimmer waiting in the wings. Both should be in the Majors by the All-Star break.

The scariest thing about this lineup, is that other than old guys HanRam and Trumbo, all the rest of their sluggers make under $2M and under club control for several years.

 

Best Rotation – Toronto Blue Jays

 

The defending AL East Champs weren’t just carried by offense, they had a decent rotation for this league. Looking at the teams in this division, they pretty much all have strong #1 and # 2

Not quite these guys, but TOR has the best rotation in the division

starters and most have a decent #3. After that the SP depth dries up with the exception of two teams. I nearly but the NYY here but there are way too many question marks regarding health and productivity to give them the nod. Toronto actually has a legitimate five man rotation which is quite feat in a league this deep. 

 

  1. Marcus Stroman
  2. Aaron Sanchez
  3. R.A. Dickey
  4. Ivan Nova
  5. Brandon McCarthy

 

McCarthy is always an injury risk but the other four should be able to go 175+ innings and give some consistency to the rotation. There isn’t any SP depth on this team and there isn’t any prospects close to the Majors on his Farm. Perhaps the TOR owner will flip some of his highly regarded hitting prospects to sure give depth to the best starting five in the division.

 

Best Bullpen – Boston Red Sox

 

We head back to Fenway for the AL East top ‘pen. It is built in the image of a true MLB ‘pen and will be the strength of the best pitching staff this season.

 

  • CL – Seung Hwa Oh

    The Moneyball Red Sox don’t have this problem
  • 8th – Koji Uehara
  • 7th – Hector Neris
  • LHS – Brett Cecil
  • MID – *Carson Smith
  • MID – Antonio Bastardo
  • MID – Heath Hembree
  • LR – Bryan Mitchell

 

In a league were meeting the five minimum RP requirement is a struggle for some owners, BOS breaks out a bullpen staff with eight productive pitchers. Carson Smith is projected to return in June and will solidify and already deep bullpen that could feature 5-6 guys with 10+ K/9. 

 

Best Farm System – New York Yankees

 

TOR has definitely build up the farm on the offensive side but most of their top prospects are far away from impact in the Majors. NYY on the other hand, was three rookies on their 25 Man roster now (Swanson, Judge, Montas) with another handful of the fifteen Top 100 prospects in AA or higher. You could list an entire lineup and rotation with the top prospects in this organization.

 

  • C – Tom Murphy, Zack Collins
  • 1B – Chris Shaw, Rowdy Tellez
  • 2B – Jorge Mateo
  • SS – Dansby Swanson, Gleyber Torres
  • 3B – Jeimer Candelario
  • OF – Aaron Judge, Blake Rutherford, Kyle Lewis
  • SP – Frankie Montas, Grant Holmes, Triston McKenzie, Justus Sheffield, Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka

 

Final Standing Predictions

 

  1. *Toronto Blue Jays 90 – 48
  2. New York Yankees 78 – 60 
  3. Tampa Bay Rays 73 – 65
  4. Boston Red Sox 70 – 68
  5. Baltimore Orioles 66 – 72

 

I peg TOR to repeat easily with approximately the same winning percentage as last year. The projected records are based on the new 138 game schedule. They will likely be the only team to represent the AL East despite an overall strong division. NYY takes a huge stride as their moves throughout last season already begin paying off with a jump from last to 2nd. They have enough offense to be competitive in hitting categories and they could have seven SP if everything breaks right during the season which keeps them competitive in pitching categories. It likely won’t be enough to earn a playoff spot, but gets them close. TB has another decent season, but they don’t have enough pitching or hitting depth this season. If DeLeon and Honeywell reach the Majors and stick, that could give them a boost. BOS has the best lineup AND the best bullpen so why are the just over .500? They likely will be penalized every week for failing to reach pitching GS minimums, otherwise they would contend for the devision with TOR. There are a few nice pieces in BAL, but the core hitters outside of Machado are getting older and the rotation is short. They can compete with many teams but will split too many weeks to make up for the weeks they get clobbered by the top teams in the league. 

 

Final Thoughts

 

Should be a fun year in this division where the 2nd thru 5th teams cannibalize one another to ensure only the top team makes the post-season. Hopefully there is significant wheeling and dealing to totally screw up these predictions. Who really cares what I think…let’s hear your thoughts on the Moneyball AL East this season!!!

 


Bryan Luhrs

Real Deal Dynasty Sports
Owner, League Developer & Executive Commissioner
 
Major League Fantasy Sports
Writer & Contributor
 
 

RDUD_logo_fRDMB_logo_f

2017 Real Deal Dynasty Baseball Preseason Power Rankings: Top 10

  1. Detroit Tigers

Starting out the top 10 for us is the Detroit Tigers, a 2016 playoff team and division winner. The Tigers have only made minor moves thus far, shipping out Matt Holliday for draft picks, as well as some swapping of draft picks. That said, he is carrying a talented roster into this season, so maybe he hasn’t seen the need to shake things up too much. On offense, carrying the load will be Miguel Cabrera, a healthy Nick Castellanos (who is having a nice spring), Victor Martinez, Brad Miller, Rajai Davis and Curtis Granderson. Dexter Fowler is no slouch either, and another step forward from Javier Baez would be huge. There is some promise in the pitching staff too, though there is one open spot, and two spots occupied by minors’ players. Still, he’s got Scherzer, Verland, Salazar, and Dyson. I think Norris takes a step forward this year too. Plus, if Boyd can put forth some improvements, things are looking pretty good for a team that may only be a few acquisitions (free agency or trade), away from another run.

  1. Washington Nationals

Last year, the Nationals were a wildcard team, coming in second place in the division to perennial powerhouse Miami. They were also a team that eclipsed that elusive 23,000 mark, which was a number that netted all teams who hit it a cash reward last year. The Nationals come back this year with a strong team. In the offseason, the Nationals made a few moves, highlighted by a major deal in which he sent AJ Ramos, Adam Jones, a 5th round pick, and Danny Duffy to the Braves for the 1st overall pick, which brought him Carlos Santana. This is in addition to an offense that has a good mix of talent and promise, with names like Anthony Rendon, Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, and Jurickson Profar. Some nice names on this pitching staff, too. I like Jon Gray taking the next step, and he’s got Strasburg, Britton, Kimbrel. Smyly’s injury doesn’t help, and Ryu hasn’t been the same for a while, but he could be a dark horse to have a nice year. Promising prospect Gioloto is in the minors too, though he hasn’t matched up to the hype that’s surrounded him for a while just yet. Overall, probably a team that has ammo to be a top scoring team again this year.

Finish Reading: 2017 Real Deal Dynasty Baseball Preseason Power Rankings: Top 10

  1. Tampa Bay Rays

Surprise, surprise. The Rays were in one of the least competitive divisions in the league last year. Even after selling off a number of pieces in that Dansby Swanson deal (with me), he still almost made the playoffs. Tampa has been crazy busy this offseason. (Seriously, go check out the trade history for this season). Major or notable acquisitions include Ian Kinsler (who he just traded to me for Johnny Cueto, by the way), John Lackey, Brian Dozier, Addison Reed, and David Freese. Make no mistake, this (like most teams), will be a team carried by its offense. In addition to Dozier and Swanson, and led by Mookie Betts, the team also has Andrew McCutcheon, Howie Kendrick, Nori Aoki, and some bit players who will help too. In addition to Cueto and Lackey, the staff has guys that will help, like Odorizzi, Colome, and to a lesser extent, Boxberger, Gallardo, and Gibson. Miranda, with the injury of Smyly, has the chance to pitch his way into the permanent rotation. He could end up being a nice player that would really help the Rays in their efforts to go on a run and make the playoffs this year.

  1. Texas Rangers

Another team that has made a ton of transactions this offseason, having acquired players lik, Lorenzo Cain, Masahiro Tanaka, Ken Giles, Dan Straily, Kendall Graveman, Drew Pomeranz, Jeurys Familia, Jorge Soler, and prospects like Josh Bell and Anderson Espinoza. The rather-deep offense includes Travis d’Arnaud, Mike Napoli, Starlin Castro, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, and Kendrys Morales, as well as bench players like Wilmer Flores, Adeiny Hechavarria, Soler, Delino Deshields (acquired this year), and Steven Souza. Some serious depth. The pitching staff will rely heavily on new guys Tanaka, Giles, and Familia, but will also get contributions from Straily, Casilla, Graveman, and Buchholz. Looks like a team that benefit by adding another starter, but whether or not they do, this team will be putting up points again in 2017.

  1. Houston Astros

The Astros, another 23,000-point club from last year and a team that went 44-4 in their division, bring back a stacked lineup. Jose Altuve, Chris Davis, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Adam Duvall, Yoenis Cespedes, and George Springer. Whoa. On top of this, they added Yuli Gurriel and Danny Duffy. Pitchers for the Astros, one of only two teams to win 80-plus games last year, include Chris Archer, Gio Gonzalez, Lance McCullers (breakout?), and David Robertson, but still has plenty of guys that will contribute, like Gregerson, Devenski, and Guerra. I don’t see any reason why the Astros won’t once again be one of the top scoring teams in the league—poised to go on another deep playoff run, and possibly ready to unseat Boston in the AL.

  1. Cleveland Indians

You all know the story by now. Jeff’s movements have been the main offseason story line. Let’s take a look at some of his main acquisitions: Jonathan Lucroy, Jose Abreu, Jose Quintana, Chris Sale, Jake Arrieta, Hector Neris, Aroldis Chapman, and Edwin Encarnacion. Whoa. Who else is on the offense you ask? How about Trea Turner, Francisco Lindor, Nomar Mazara, Tyler Naquin, Max Kepler, and a stashed Wilson Ramos on the bench. On the pitching side, joining the aforementioned pitchers are guys who will contribute, like Joe Ross, Brandon Maurer, etc. This has to be the quickest turnaround we’ve seen in this league right? I’d tell Boston, and maybe the NL too, to watch out for Cleveland come later this year.

  1. Arizona Diamondbacks

A little odd to do your own team’s preview, but here we go. I’ve made a few offseason moves that are worth mentioning, having moved Adam Eaton and Joe Blanton for Asdrubal Cabrera and Francisco Rodriguez; then Todd Frazier for Austin Hedges and Jedd Gyorko (who I flipped for Robert Gsellman), then Archie Bradley, Bryan Shaw, and a pick for Andrew Miller. Then I moved Hector Rondon for Brad Brach, Greinke for Bauer in a salary dump, and Johnny Cueto for Ian Kinsler. In addition to the players mentioned before, I’ve got Goldschmidt, Lamb, Desmond, Pollock, Cruz, Solarte, and Inciarte. Even moving Cueto, I think the staff looks solid. Carlos Martinez, Tanner Roark, Tyler Skaggs, Shawn Kelley, Fernando Rodney, Jason Grilli, and Drew Storen. Desmond is already injured, and there are a few question marks in guys like Skaggs, Storen, K-Rod, and possibly Roark, as well as Hedges and Pollock, but I do feel confident in my ability to make it back to the playoffs. From there, I may need some luck, some moves, or some breakouts.

  1. Boston Red Sox

        

Two out of the last three seasons, Boston has made it to the championship round. Could this be the year they finally win it all? Let’s have a look at their chances. First, the offseason moves. Boston acquired catching prospect Jorge Alfaro by moving Jonathan Lucroy, and also acquired Archie Bradley, Bryan Shaw, and a prospect for Andrew Miller. Other notable additions include Steven Wright, JD Martinez, Brian McCann, and Miguel Sano. Some nice offseason moves, for sure. Looks like a powerful offense, with guys like Xander Bogaerts, Evan Longoria, Joey Votto, Andrew Benentendi, joining those other players. But there aren’t really holes in the offense, as they round out the roster with Odubel Herrera, Mitch Moreland, and Chris Young (With Blake Swihart waiting in the wings.) He probably needs another pitcher or two, but the staff looks good. Rick Porcello, Jameson Taillon, David Price, Patrick Corbin, Edwin Diaz, Joe Kelly (who will have sneaky good value early), as well as Wade Miley and the other players mentioned above, will all contribute this year. In total, I expect Boston to be competing with Cleveland, Houston, and so on, come the end of the year.

  1. Chicago Cubs

The reigning champions aren’t number one? They probably should be, but still, I am strictly going off of the point projection system that was developed. Will Chicago repeat this year? Well, they have as good a chance as any team to win it all this year. Notable offseason acquisitions include Adam Eaton, Neftali Feliz, and Tyler Thornburg. So maybe not an overly busy offseason, but maybe they didn’t need to make too many moves. This is an offense that boasts Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Hanley Ramirez, Ben Zobrist, Logan Forsythe, Stephen Vogt, Denard Span, and Addison Russell. Then on the bench, he’s got Luis Valbuena, Seth Smith, and Josh Phegley. Deep. That’s more than 650 points (from 2016) on the bench. The pitching staff is strong, too. Jon Lester, Carlos Carrasco, Mark Melancon, and Kyle Hendricks anchor the staff, but every other pitcher will be contributing points too, with names like Joe Blanton, Ryan Dull, Jason Vargas, and Kyle Barraclough. On paper, they are as strong a team as any, and barring any major injuries, should be right in the thick of the race later this year.

  1. Milwaukee Brewers

       

Last year, the Brewers didn’t even win their division. It’s fun to point out, only because even though this is true, they still had the fifth most wins in the league, and the third most points (eclipsing the 23,000-point mark.) It doesn’t look like this year is going to be a letdown for Milwaukee, either. Notable offseason additions include Kole Calhoun, Blake Snell, and Francisco Liriano. If you want to talk about having a deep team, how about the fact that this guy has Troy Tulowitzki on his bench, along with Keon Broxton and Tom Murphy. Then on the rest of his offense, he has Evan Gattis, Travis Shaw, Josh Donaldson, Jonathan Schoop, Jhonny Peralta, Khris Davis, Marcell Ozuna, Jose Bautista, and the players mentioned above. Over to the pitching staff, where a group of Toronto pitchers are leading the way: Aaron Sanchez, JA Happ, Robert Osuna, and Marco Estrada. He’s also got Jeremy Hellickson, Rich Hill, and others who will help throughout the year. And you know that Tony has more moves up his sleeve. Just try to make sure you don’t end up scratching your head, wondering how he got your best player for so little.

 

Real Deal Basketball Report: The Finals

NBA FINALS

INDIANA VS GOLDEN STATE

A rematch? Seriously?! BORING!
OK, maybe not that boring. The Warriors won comfortably last year against a 7 seed that went on a run to the finals. But this year’s Pacers are different and this is shaping up to be a really great matchup. We’ve got Steph vs. Westbrook!
Seriously, I don’t really know how anybody else is supposed to win the title for the next three years. If Westbrook keeps getting the greenest light, the longest leash, the highest usage of all time and total compliance from his teammates to pad his stats (see below), there’s no stopping Indiana for the foreseeable future. Blake Griffin. Rudy Gobert. Paul George. Seriously, Paul freaking George is this team’s fourth best player. They’ve been on a tear since the big trades. And Indy still has a lottery pick. Ugh.

But anyway. Let’s do something I did two years ago in the finals when it was too close to call and break down the individual matchups.
POINT GUARD: Steph Curry vs. Dennis Schroeder. Curry takes this one. Two-time MVP. Been on fire with KD out.
SHOOTING GUARD: Klay Thompson vs. Gary Harris. No contest. I love Harris’ game and how he’s developed this year but Thompson is just better and somehow manages to score 20 points a game even when he plays like trash.
GUARD: JJ Barea vs. Russell Westbrook. Moving right along.
SMALL FORWARD: Khris Middleton vs. Paul George. This one is actually interesting. George would be the obvious pick here, but Middleton has been terrific since coming back from injury and especially lately. PG13’s production is just overall better, though, so he gets the nod here.
POWER FORWARD: Myles Turner vs. Blake Griffin. Both great players. But we all know it’s Griffin.
FORWARD: Andre Iguodala vs. David Lee. Two very different players, but Lee is a bit player in San Antonio and Iggy is filling in for Kevin Durant. Advantage Iggy.
CENTER: Brook Lopez vs. Rudy Gobert. Lopez has been really good this season, starring as The Only Player On Rhe Nets Who Can Play Basketball, but Rudy Gobert’s ascension this season especially has been monumental. The guy’s a monster. Advantage Indy.
FLEX: Bojan Bogdanovic vs. David Nwaba. Yikes. David Who?
So that gives each team four advantages a piece. Buuuuuut Westbrook is playing four games this week. That’s a bonus 75 points right there, and that’s probably enough to give INDIANA the win and its first Real Deal NBA championship. Congrats to the two finalists.
Let me just take this moment to say again that I think this was our best year yet. Lots of intrigue this season, lots of action on the trade market and I think our participation was close to 100% this time. Thanks for a great year, everyone, and thanks for reading.

POST-MORTEMS

MIAMI

Miami did something we’ve never seen before and might not see again for a long time in taking down a #1 seed as the bottom seed in the playoffs. That’s awesome. But in round 2, they lost to the team that scored the second-worst point total by over 100 points. The Heat are a team that, each year, seems like they’re still fighting for a playoff position at the end of the season – but they’ve made it in consistently. We haven’t seen them take that next step, but at the same time, this is a team that finished 20 games above .500 this season. It’s a good team. The path to greatness isn’t particularly difficult to see. There are only two contracts on the roster worth more than $7.5 million a year, Chris Bosh and Joakim Noah, and they’re both amnesty candidates, opening up even more cap room. Miami has both of its first round picks over the next two seasons, and most of its important players are either still quite young (Harrison Barnes, KCP, Jonas Valanciunas) or still in their prime (Goran Dragic, Marcus Morris). As presently constituted, this is a pretty run-of-the-mill low-seed playoff team. But things in the East are shifting. Atlanta is not as infallible as previously perceived. Chicago is facing tough contract/cap situations (more on that later). With some smart moves, Miami can easily pass the likes of Milwaukee, Cleveland and Toronto and pull even with a team like Charlotte. The path is there, even if it’s a bit shrouded.
Expiring contracts: Marcus Morris, Austin Rivers, Brandan Wright, Raul Neto
Picks: #23

CHICAGO

This team is going to have major cap trouble next year, even after jettisoning the Jordan Clarkson contract. Whiteside is still on the books at $46.5 million for one more year, eating up nearly half of the cap, and the Bulls will owe costly extensions to Wiggins and Gordon if they want to keep them. Still, this is a team that is still built to win now. Assuming the Bulls find a way to keep at least Wiggins and Gordon, they should be a top three team in the East again next year. Having Durant out for the playoffs was a massive blow, and I wonder how things would have played out if he were in the lineup. With Indiana’s resurgence, Chicago has won its last division title for a while, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still an elite team. Whiteside, however expensive, is still terrific. Ricky Rubio looks amazing under Thibs. Even Derrick Rose was a fairly reliable contributor (as long as you weren’t actually watching the games), and youngsters like Tobias Harris (yeah, he’s still only 24 somehow) can continue to grow. The most interesting thing about Chicago for me this offseason – besides the contract situations – is what they do with Lance Stephenson and Chandler Parsons. Do the Bulls hold onto them and hope they bounce back? Or do they trade them to another team that thinks they will?
Expiring contracts: Andrew Wiggins, Aaron Gordon, Tony Snell, Alex Len, Reggie Williams
Picks: #24

SAN ANTONIO

With all of the injuries they had this year, the Spurs were kind of like the West’s version of the Cavs (three stars and little help elsewhere), except they’re way more sustainable and projectable. Despite scoring the most points during the regular season, this team really begins and ends with the big three of Kawhi Leonard, Karl Towns and Andre Drummond. The Spurs had a mixed experience with good luck and bad this season. Wilson Chandler and Trevor Booker both had career years, but Jeremy Lin and Evan Turner missed big chunks of the season out injured. Kawhi looks like an MVP and KAT made the next step forward, but Drummond regressed. It’s really a shame everything didn’t click at the same time for this team, but at the same time it’s kind of hard to feel bad for them when they started things off with Kawhi and fell into the #1 pick, which happened to turn into a generational big man. Make no mistake: this team will be back with a vengeance next season. With no meaningful expiring contracts and healthy cap space, I’m expecting this team to do some minor re-tooling and remain a top 3 seed in the West.

Expiring contracts: Kosta Koufos, Tyler Ennis, Nicola Laprovittola
Picks: none

NEW ORLEANS

For a long time, the Pelicans were a sleeping giant. I complained about them constantly, pointing out all of the assets they had that they could be using to be a contender. After two mediocre years, the beast finally stirred as New Orleans claimed the West’s top seed. Finally, the team with Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving made the freaking playoffs already. This has very much been a work in progress: over the past two seasons, star after star was brought in. LaMarcus Aldridge and Eric Bledsoe last year. Isaiah Thomas and Jrue Holiday this year. Joel Embiid became a living meme, but also a really good basketball player in the 12 minutes he played this season. MKG and Taj Gibson are terrific role players for this team. And Ben Simmons will play (lol, maybe) next season. The scariest part about this team? They’re still so freaking young. AD is 24. Kyrie just turned 25. Embiid just turned 23. Simmons will be 21 at the start of next season. Even Bledsoe and Thomas are still in their prime at 27 and 28, respectively. Like their rival Spurs, New Orleans fell victim to some poorly-timed injuries. They could have won it all this year. But they’ll be back next season.
Expiring contracts: Joel Embiid, Reggie Bullock
Picks: none

MILWAUKEE

The Bucks defied my expectations all year long. I ranked them as a borderline playoff team in my preseason rankings, but they were a good 5th seed and made it all the way to the conference finals. I’ve trashed this team’s strength of schedule enough; it’s time to give credit where credit is due. I did not expect Giannis to be this good this quickly. And the dude is still only 22. Elfrid Payton transformed from a can’t-shoot, can’t-actually-really-do-anything point guard into someone who has nearly averaged a triple double over the last month (?!?!?!?!?!). Serge Ibaka is still good, and so is Thad Young, kinda. Delon Wright looks legit. It’s a shame Lord Bob missed most of the playoffs – that guy is for real. Bebe Nogueira’s development has been encouraging. The Bucks will return with a solid core next season, but a lack of picks and fairly modest cap room will limit how much better this team can get. Ultimately, though, the sky’s the limit when you’ve got Giannis. This is a team to keep an eye on after an improbably, really fun to watch conference finals run. They were just no match for Indiana.
Expiring contracts: Elfird Payton, Solomon Hill, Semaj Christon, Treveon Graham, Michael Gbinije
Picks: none

PORTLAND

Hell of a year for the Blazers, due majorly in part to some majorly beneficial trades. This team went from selling off LaMarcus Aldridge for picks to reaching the conference finals. Well done. Utah was my pick to win the division before the season, and Portland started off by trading Porzingis for DeAndre Jordan, so my expectations weren’t extremely high for this team. The Blazers started off red hot, fell behind Utah for a stretch, and roared back at the end of the year to win the title and ride a hot streak to the finals. Damian Lillard has fallen out of favor a bit in some circles but was still dominant this season. Jimmy Butler was phenomenal and the Blazers will be keeping an eye on where he goes this summer. Jordan was an upgrade over Porzingis, at least for this year. I worried about this team’s depth at the start of the year, but now it’s one of the deeper squads in the league. Terrence Ross, Meyers Leonard and two picks turned into Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki. Then Pau Gasol and a pick turned into Jae Crowder, Tim Hardaway and Pat Beverley. Portland is probably the team that improved the most over the course of the season (except Indiana), evidenced by their thrilling playoffs run. The Blazers won’t have to do much this offseason; they’ll come into next year with three 50 PPG players, a solid supporting cast and developing youngsters like Rodney Hood, Mo Harkless and Hardaway.
Expiring contracts: Rodney Hood, Nik Stauskas
Picks: #28

2017 Real Deal Dynasty Baseball Preseason Power Rankings: 20-11

This posted is continued from page 1, rankings 30-21.

  1. Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore needs a 1st baseman. This is the first thing I noticed when looking at the team. First base is a position that can represent a fantasy cornerstone player.  (See Miguel Cabrera, Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, etc.) Without one, it will be hard. There are a few bright spots on the offense though, with DJ LeMahieu and Stephen Piscotty. The rest of the outfield should be decent, but probably not quite strong enough. On the pitching side, it’s hard not like Gausman going into the year, especially on that contract. Bundy could be a break-through, too, but I feel like I have been saying this for years. Overall there is some talent, but it feels like a stretch to say this team will be competing this year, especially in that division.

  1. Philadelphia Phillies

Philly is a team that has yet to make any moves this year, which is curious. On offense, Pedroia, Franco, and Trumbo are good bets to be solid consistent producers. Franco could even be someone who could improve drastically. Rupp is someone I like this year too, at a thin position. The rest of the offense is more of a question mark. Hernandez and Joseph, if they progress, could be nice. Bourn, Werth, Guyer, and Lowrie, not as exciting, though they will at least provide some points, unlike some teams who have rookies or injured players in these slots.  For the arms, not much stands out beyond Hamels and Watson, though I do think that Greg Holland has the chance to be a steal, and would make for excellent trade bait, or a good keeper. Nova should be okay too, but is a little expensive. In fact, this team is more than $20 over the limit, so moves already have to be made. In summary, probably not a staff that can be a huge difference maker.

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers

       

On first glance, I notice that this is certainly a team with talent, but there are also three minor league players in starting positions. This helps in terms of fielding a compliant roster, but that’s about it. Still: Manny Machado, Jose Ramirez, Clayton Kershaw, and to a lesser extent, Adrian Gonzalez, Yadier Molina, and maybe even Puig and Duda, who knows. There are some guys I like on that staff that could be sneaky good, too. Walker (NL now…could be in for a big year), Baez, Strop, Ottavino, and in particular, Matt Moore. Still, there are some holes on the roster in the form of those minor leaguers. And if a team is going to be carried by its offense, that outfield isn’t all that intimidating. Don’t sleep on the Dodgers, though. There’s a large farm system, with some good names. Trades or call-ups could change this team’s outlook, as obvious as that may sound. Though he would have to make some changes, after not making a single trade in 2016. Finish Reading: 2017 Real Deal Dynasty Baseball Preseason Power Rankings: 20-11

  1. Toronto Blue Jays

Starting with the offense, this is a pretty solid roster. Not really a glaring hole, but aside from Carpenter and Polanco, there are some question marks. Will Buxton will emerge? Will Vargas reach his power potential? Can Reyes still play at a high level? I’m willing to guess that for at least one of these, the answer will be yes. On the pitching side, there are certainly some steady contributors. For one, I am a believer in Marcus Stroman, and think he comes back strong this year. Manaea is another player I like to take a jump this year too. The bullpen is unspectacular, but there are players that will contribute. Keep an eye on Cam Bedrosian, who has been lights out this spring. His name is one that could be a lot more popular come mid-season. Lastly, this is another deep farm system, with multiple top-100 prospects, which provides hope for the help in the future, or ammo for in-season trades for a more immediate run.

  1. San Francisco Giants

The future down we get, the more you see a “complete team.” And by that I mean literally, a team with all spots filled. In every spot on this offense, there are players that are going to contribute consistent points, or will at least be given the opportunity to do so on a regular or semi-regular basis. Some more (Posey, Seager, Pence), than others (Mahtook, Jay, Smoak), but still, points are points. In looking at the pitching staff, your eyes may first go to Bumgarner. Hard not to. But Ian Kenndy, and then bullpen names like Jeffress, Madson, and Strickland should put up some good points. And maybe Keuchel has a year closer to 2015, or at least better than 2016. Of note here, too, is the fact that the Giants also have plenty of players in the farm system.

  1. Atlanta Braves

I think this could be a sneaky good offense. Let’s start with the obvious contributors: Wieters, Pujols, Jones, Kemp. But what about Thames, Haniger, Polanco, and maybe even Saladino? You’ll also have some decent contributions from Gomez and Garcia. Could potentially be a deeper offense than it seems, if one of those aforementioned question marks can break out. Regarding the pitching staff, though, this isn’t as much depth. Sure, Teheran and Ramos will offer plenty of points, but some of the other names are quite average, Dickey, Garcia, Koehler, or even just not very good, Peralta, Knebel. German Marquez could be a nice sleeper though. Not a bad minors’ system here, either, with top 100 names like Albies, Allard, and Anderson in the mix.

  1. New York Yankees

Last year, the Yankees made 59 trades, most of which were non minor-to-majors moves. The team improved from 8-85 to 37-56 last year. Expect another jump this year. Since last season, the Yankees have acquired, among other assets, Justin Upton, Chris Carter, Brandon Phillips, Eduardo Rodrigez, Brandon Finnegan, Mike Montgomery, and Jerad Eickhoff. He also has a healthy Greg Bird for 2016, a player that many people look at as capable of having a star-turning breakout season. In his active minors, he has some players that could help soon, too, in guys like Aaron Judge and Jose De Leon, as well as guys that can help now, like Eduardo Rodriguez. Other certain players, if they pan out, could end up helping too. Names like Severino, Refsnyder, Mitchell. Still, even by slotting in Rodriguez, Severino, Holder, and Mitchell, there will be two open roster spots to fill. Free agency is looming though, so things should pan out. A solid roster coupled with a breakout season or two could help to improve the Yankees, a team on the upswing, once again.

  1. Miami Marlins

Last year, the Marlins made to the NL Championship against the Cubs, but ultimately fell short. Since then, the team has moved Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, Neftali Feliz, Steven Wright, Shelby Miller, Eduardo Rodriguez, JT Realmuto, Rougned Odor, Addison Reed, Francisco Liriano, and David Freese. In those deals, he’s added, among others, Corey Kluber, Yu Darvish, Shin-soo Choo, Nathan Karns, Chris Owings, CJ Cron, Dee Gordon, and Jeff Samardzija. Points prediction wise, the system didn’t seem to favor these moves, but knowing Miami, there are multiple moves to be made. Not to mention, this is a team has Mike Trout, Dee Gordon, Corey Seager, Christian Yelich, in addition to some of the other names mentioned above. I’m trying to steer clear of predictions here, but I am guessing that Miami’s mid-season power ranking is going to be a bit lower on the list. (That is, closer to the top 5-10.)

  1. New York Mets

Check out the offensive depth here. Some teams don’t have full rosters. The Mets have Jason Heyward, Gerardo Parra, Michael Brantley, and Brett Lawrie on their bench, along with a few others. The roster, aside from (promising) rookie Hunter Renfroe, all contributed more than 200 points last season. When healthy, Matt Duffy should be a nice player, too. Beltran, Pederson, Realmuto, and Simmons will put up steady points all year. To the pitching staff we go, where deGrom, Syndergaard, and Matz (if healthy) will anchor the starters. Will Hernandez improve like Verlander, or will he slide more? That determination will have an impact on this team, for sure. Harvey is hitting 97 MPH on the gun too…. The relievers are less impressive than the rest of the team, though he does have Gsellman as an RP available, along with Seth Lugo, who could be decent.  The Mets regressed from 2015 to 2016, but we could see and upswing this year if people stay healthy.

  1. Kansas City Royals

The last of the middle group is the Royals, who were a playoff team last year. Looks like the team is poised to once again put up points, with a roster that includes Wil Myers, Robinson Cano, Yasmani Grandal, Jackie Bradley Jr, Jonathan Villar, Jay Bruce, and a healthy Mike Moustakas. If the Royals are going to make another run, though, they will be relying quite heavily on the offense. This a staff that, if we are looking at last year’s numbers, only has two players that eclipsed 200 points, both of which are relievers (Will Harris and Kenley Jansen, the latter of which should once again put up monster numbers, to be fair.) Maybe a Robbie Ray breakout season could assist here, otherwise the Royals will be looking to acquire pitchers, or just stack up an already formidable offense to win games.

Conference Finals predictions and Post-Mortems for round 1 exits

CONFERENCE FINALS

EAST

2 INDIANA VS 5 MILWAUKEE

If you had told me at the start of the playoffs that the Bucks would be in the Conference Finals, I would have had a difficult time just adjusting to the humanity of that statement. But here we are. Milwaukee surprised me all throughout the season and twice now in the playoffs. I don’t want to say it’s been an easy road for the Bucks, but they’ve faced the teams that had the second-lowest (Toronto) and lowest (Miami) scores in rounds 1 and 2, respectively. They would have lost against any other team in the Conference Semifinals. Facing Indiana, the highest scoring team of round 1 and the second highest scoring team of round 2, will be a rude awakening to say the least. Elfrid Payton has been amazing lately, but Indiana’s starting PG is Russell Westbrook. Ibaka is another really good player, but Indiana has Blake Griffin at PF. Robert Covington has done some really impressive stuff in the past few weeks, but Indiana’s got Paul George on the wing. You see where I’m going with this. And I haven’t even mentioned Rudy Gobert and the 63 PPG he’s averaging over the past two weeks. The pick is INDIANA.

WEST

3 GOLDEN STATE VS 4 PORTLAND

The Warriors survive a late push from the Spurs to face a red hot Portland team that absolutely shalacked the top-seeded Pelicans. I am afraid to face the Blazers at this point. After their big end-of-season trade, this team has been nuts. They were four points away from cracking 1,000 in round 1 and beat the top seed by multiple hundreds of points. Pretty damn scary. Lillard, Butler and Jordan have all been playing great ball as of late and the boosts provided by new additions Jae Crowder, Tim Hardaway and Pat Beverley are making a big difference. Even Dirk is playing well! Golden State has looked really good, as well, obviously, taking down the Kings and Spurs. Everyone on this team that you would expect to play well has really done so. Iguodala and Plumlee were letdowns last week, but the Warriors do have options on the bench and can certainly tinker more than most teams left in the playoffs. I think how Golden State sets its lineup could be the deciding factor. These two teams have had really difficult paths to the Conference Finals and this week is going to be a true bloodbath. Whoever wins this matchup will truly deserve to win the title. Will it be a rematch of last year? Golden State vs. Indiana? Could be. But I’m picking PORTLAND to win.

POST-MORTEMS

PHOENIX

We all know where this team is going. Or do we? After a pretty dominant start to the season, things got a bit rickety as other teams in the West got better and the Suns stayed the same. Then the Westbrook trade happened and Phoenix’s fate was sealed. They would still make the playoffs – that much was clear – but whatever else happened for the remainder of the year was a writeoff. That theme rang true again when Isiah Thomas was traded. Now, the Suns have a crop of legitimate young talent (Kris Dunn stinks like abandoned turds and does not count as a member of this group). Nerlens Noel looks like the Mavs’ center of present and future. Jamal Murray has been coming along very nicely and Mudiay is toast. Parker and LaVine, the ACL twins, were great this season before being injured. I do have concerns about them. For Parker, it’s his second ACL tear in three seasons. Not pretty. And LaVine’s game relies so much on his explosion and athleticism. Does the injury change him? There are some decent role players on this team, too, like Swaggy P and Etwaun Moore. Do the Suns make it back to the playoffs next year? I really don’t think so. I’d pick Memphis or Dallas (or Denver if they get a new owner) to take their spot. But when it comes to rebuilding, there are certainly worse starting spots than what the Suns are currently working with.
Draft picks: None
Expiring contracts: Jabari Parker, Zach LaVine, Ed Davis, Leandro Barbosa, Marshall Plumlee

HOUSTON

Time may be running out for this team to put together a good squad around James Harden. The Rockets were the best team in the league two seasons ago, a decent playoff team last year and pretty damn mediocre this season. They would have missed the playoffs comfortably if they were in the East. Aside from Hardens’ MVP type season, this team was really nothing special. Trading Harrison Barnes was a questionable move, at least for the long term. Marvin Williams and Evan Fournier are fine for a short-term playoff run, but the former is at his peak and over 30 and the latter plays in Orlando, where his role can change completely at any given second. Barnes is the type of player this team should be looking to keep: young, controllable and unquestionably the #1 option on his team. This team is aging quickly in the starting lineup and lacking in quality on the bench. Things have been on a steady decline and, unless the makeup of this team changes, it’s looking like the Rockets could be a .500 team or worse next season. Without any 1st round picks, Houston will really have to be aggressive in free agency this summer. Harden will be 28 next season, right in the height of his prime. Clock’s ticking.
Draft picks: None
Expiring contracts: Marvin Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Seraphin

CLEVELAND

The song remains the same for the Cavs. Three very good players, one Markieff Morris and the rest is negligible. Cleveland can probably count on those first four to wiggle them into at least one more postseason, but after that, who knows? Next season might finally be the year that Carmelo gets traded, or flat out just refuses to play for the Knicks, or maybe they just flat out refuse to play him. Who knows. You can count on LeBron and Green for the foreseeable future. Morris, I don’t know. Part of me just does not trust that dude as far as I could throw him (maybe like 2.5 feet?), but the other part of me thinks his role as a scorer/rebounder for Washington is slowly growing. One thing’s for sure: Cleveland needs to stop trading draft picks so that they can replenish the talent around their stars. No one else on the team is really worth two turds, save maybe Zaza. The Cavs have two more seasons on the contracts of their big four. Will they be able to put together a decent team around them? Time will tell.
Draft picks: None
Expiring contracts: Zaza Pachulia, DJ Augustin, Devin Harris, Randy Foye

SACRAMENTO

Sacramento arrived at a crossroads midseason and managed to turn things around quite well. They’re looking at another playoff season next year with a core of Cousins, CP3, Bradley Beal and Rudy Gay. My two big worries about this team are 1. Dwyane Wade and 2. cap space. Wade was so up and down this season, ending with a broken elbow. He will probably opt out of Chicago this offseason. Where does he go from there? Would some team really give him $25 million to be a #1 option like he probably wants? I seriously doubt it. Does he take less money to join a playoff team? Perhaps the Clippers if Redick leaves in the summer? Look, we all know we’ve seen the best of DWade and it’s only downhill from here. But the dropoff from this season to next could be drastic. And the cap space situation: when Wade and Gay come off IR, the Kings will be over cap by a couple million. They can get back under by letting Matt Barnes walk, and maybe Meyers Leonard is an amnesty candidate. Still, this leaves the team with little options to improve outside of the trade market. This team is damn lucky that Boogie is on such a cheap contract. Even if nothing changes at all, the Kings are probably still top 6 in the West next year.
Picks: None
Expiring contracts: Matthew Dellavedova, Matt Barnes, Kyle O’Quinn, Jordan Crawford

CHARLOTTE

This is a team in need of a star, and their lack of one showed in the playoffs. There’s really no need to pick apart this team: it’s solid. Even with Bazemore disappointing, this is a solid team 1-8. Charlotte’s going to be fine no matter what they do, but trading for a ringer could be a strategy they pursue. Unfortunately for them, the market for available superstars kind of oversaturated and evaporated during this season. Still, though, even if they do nothing, this is a really good young team. Kemba, Bradley, Porter, Capela, Warren and Kanter are all terrific young players that this team can sit back and watch grow. The big question is who gets amnestied this summer between Andrew Bogut and Jarnell Stokes.
Picks: #19
Expiring contracts: TJ Warren, Al-Farouq Aminu, Ian Clark, Joel Bolomboy, Rakeem Christmas

TORONTO

The Raptors will be psyched to get Lowry back next season and they’ll hope he and DeRozan will be just as great as they were this year. A few questions linger for the real-life Raptors, mainly centered around Serge Ibaka. Will he re-sign? And if so, how will be gel with Lowry? Fortunately for the Real Deal Raps, I don’t think it matters much. Last time Ibaka was third fiddle to two ball dominators, he turned into a complete ghost, but KD and Westbrook still got theirs. Jeff Teague was a great add and just had his best season ever. With Waiters playing out of his mind, Toronto looks like it might have the best backcourt in the East. Down low, however, there are questions. Unlike the real NBA, bigs matter a ton in this league. Guards don’t get double-doubles, but centers do. While he was still very effective this year, Zach Randolph moved to the bench for Memphis and will be 36 next season. Gortat had one of his best seasons this year, but again, he’s 33 and sometimes it really feels like Scott Brooks looks for excuses not to play him. Expect Toronto to be in the market for a big during the summer. For Toronto, there’s no need to be concerned. They’re still a lock for the Atlantic Division title for at least one more year.
Expiring contracts: Troy Daniels, Derrick Jones, Larry Sanders
Picks: None

UTAH

Utah has four players who average 40 or more PPG and still lost in the first round. Yeah. That’s how tough the top of the West is. I really don’t have much to say about this team except, “Better luck next time.” Utah won’t have to change much to be competitive again next year. They’ll have an open roster spot or two, depending on what they do with Plumlee, so I think the Jazz are a prime candidate to go all-out on the best player in free agency this summer, whoever that is. The Jazz are sort of like the Western version of Atlanta: really deep, but no true superstar (though maybe Hayward can become that guy).
Expiring contracts: Alexis Ajinca
Picks: None

ATLANTA

What can you say about your team if you go 71-11, setting the league record for most wins in a season, and go out in round 1 of the playoffs? Beyond campaigning as hard as possible for daily lineups, not much. In breaking down the upset loss, it’s easy to point to last-minute injuries and a games played disadvantage. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see that Atlanta was down in minutes to Miami by 50 total minutes over the entire week. If the minutes were even, would Atlanta have won? Yes. The Hawks lost by less than 60 points. It would’ve been close, but it probably would have been a win. But hold on a minute – shouldn’t a 1 seed be able to take care of an 8 seed, even if they’re at a slight minutes disadvantage? Therein lies Atlanta’s fatal flaw. The Hawks have built a roster of 15 very good players. But could you really call any of them stars? Can you count on any of them to get you 120 points in a given week in the playoffs? For years, we’ve been studying how important depth is vs. having just a couple of stars. And until now, the depth truthers have looked like they have the more compelling argument. Now, it looks like the Hawks might need to sacrifice some of their healthy depth for a star. It’s a tall order, but we’ve seen that it can prevent them from reaching the next level. Regardless, the Hawks will be a contender out of the East next season.
Expiring contracts: Lou Williams, Tony Allen
Picks: None