Real Deal (Football) Report: 2015 Season Recap

Happy New Year’s Eve everyone!  As 2015 winds to a close, it seems a fitting time to revisit our riveting 2015 RDFL season.  It was a tumultuous season of controversy and close calls, but which concluded with some of the best fantasy football this league has ever seen.  I have some crow that I’ve been slowcooking in my crockpot for just this occasion, and I also have some predictions to gloat about it.  It’s all here folks…

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: 2015 Season Recap

But first, a huge congratulations to Pedro Canteiro and the Carolina Panthers on their epic 230-220 win over the Buffalo Bills to take home Super Bowl III.   The Panthers came on strong the second half of the season, posted three of the top 5 overall point totals, survived sending their two top RBs to the IR, and won the Super Bowl on a day when Cam Newton was not his best.  This Super Bowl was all about heroes, goats, and especially, injury replacements.  The Bills lost 22 PPG wide receiver to the Injured Reserve and replaced him with Lucky Whitehead.  Whitehead scored 2 points, didn’t catch a pass, and lost a fumble.  The Panthers lost both starting RBs LeGarrette Blount and Mark Ingram and were forced to Start Tim Hightower.  Hightower went off for 35 PPG including 169 offensive yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Game.  Set.  Match.  Right there.  Both teams lose a stud to injury.  One replacement scores 2.  The other scores 35.  And that’s all she wrote.  Just like how last year a Punter and Albert Wilson prompted the underdog Steelers to victory over the heavily favored Cowboys, Tim Hightower will go down in glory and Lucky Whitehead will become an unfortunate trivia question.

Ironically, for all the star power on both squads, only Hightower and Carolina TE Zach Ertz scored more than 20 points, making the game feel more like a slugfest than the high octane point period we were expecting.  That said, 220 points is nothing to scoff at – and definitely would have been in the top 10% of RDFL outputs this year.

End of the day, congratulations to Carolina on an outstanding season, pure resilience, consistency, and a couple beautiful performances just when it mattered most.  And to Buffalo, condolences, respect, and a thousand what-ifs.  What if AJ Green makes that catch?  What if Alshon Jeffery waits one more week to get injured?  What if Gronk got in the endzone, Jerry Hughes got that sack, or, above all, what if Jacksonville played defense?  It’s a weird game, fantasy football, and both teams should be commended for outstanding seasons.

Seasonal Themes: A few themes regarding this year

Scoring is up:  Ten teams scored 3155 points or more this year (followed by a 200 point drop to #11).  They were, in order, Buffalo, Kansas City, Carolina, NYG, Detroit, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Oakland, Arizona, and Tampa Bay.  That means 10 of the 12 playoff teams averaged ~200 PPG over the course of the season.  That’s the magic number to shoot for, folks.  Over the course of RDFL, no team has scored over 3000 fantasy points and missed the playoffs.  That said, scoring was up this year as we get better and better at building effective teams.

Balance in All Things: Below are the top ten offensive and defensive teams :

Top Ten Offense: NYG, Det, Car, KC, Buff, Cle, Pitt, Oak, NO, GB

Top Ten Defense: Buff, Car, Ari, KC, Ind, NO, Pitt, Det, NYG, TB

Teams in Both: NYG, Det, Buff, Car, KC, NO, Pit

Ironically, of those 7 teams, 6 of them were in the divisional round and all four of the conference championship teams came from their number.  To win in RDFL a team must have both a good offense and a good defense.  Carolina and Buffalo were both top 5 in offense and 1-2 in defense.

The Passing Game: Of the top 20 highest scoring players, 10 were QBs, 9 were WRs, and only 1 was a RB (Devonta Freeman).  The highest scoring defensive player was #29 – and get this – Safety Reshad Jones, who posted an 18.33 PPG average for the NYG, outscoring the likes of Jeremy Maclin, Calvin Johnson, and Greg Olsen.  Mercy.

Injured Reserve (RDFL Starters Only): Mark Ingram, Keenan Allen, Tyrann Mathieu, Alshon Jeffery, Joe Flacco, Barry Church, Steve Smith, Thomas Rawls, Jimmy Graham, Charles Clay, Robert Woods, Justin Forsett, Eric Weddle, Martellus Bennett, LeVeon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Nolan Carroll, Vincent Jackson, Dion Lewis, Koa Misi, Jordan Hicks, Colin Kaepernick, Ladarius Green, Chris Johnson, Stephon Gilmore, Corey Liuget, Melvin Gordon, Crockett Gilmore, Jamaal Charles, TJ McDonald, CJ Spiller, Dez Bryant, Tony Romo, David Bruton, Marquess Wilson, Carlos Hyde, Clinton McDonald, William Moore, Robert Quinn, Arian Foster, Paul Soliai, Larry Donnell, Antoine Bethea, Alec Ogletree, Matt Bryant, Brandon Flowers, Andrew Hawkins, Derrick Morgan, Rashean Mathis, Nick Folk, Percy Harvin, Justin Hunter, Antrel Rolle, Cameron Wake, Justin Tuck, Kyle Williams, Joe Haden, Dwayne Allen, Akeem Spence, LaMarr Woodley, Jason McCourty, Nate Allen, Jon Beason, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Cody Parkey, Keenan Lewis, Philip Gaines, Reggie Bush, Marquise Goodwin, Ego Ferguson, Paul Richardson, Sam Barrington, Will Smith, Jace Amaro, Kelvin Benjamin, Victor Cruz, Louis Delmas, Matt Elam, Dante Fowler, Jaiquan Jarrett, Arthur Jones, Akeem Jordan, Cameron Lawrence, DeAndre Levy, Ryan Mundy, Jordy Nelson, Niles Paul, Breshad Perriman, Dennis Pitta, Orlando Scandrick, Shaun Suisham, Kevin White, Jarius Winn.

Ninety-three RDFL starters ended the year on IR.  Some big names.  And that’s not counting nagging injuries, guys who were out for a number of weeks who returned, and backup or spot starters who also went out.  It’s safe to assume that you will lose ~3 of your starting 20 players FOR THE YEAR each year, and an additional handful for significant periods of time.  Depth matters.

Changing of the Guard: This year saw the decline of a number of perennial powers from the first two years, as Seattle, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Dallas, Philadelphia and Denver all missed the playoffs this year.  In their places, we saw new and fresh places in the playoff landscape, such as Tampa Bay, Carolina, Oakland, Tennessee, and Arizona – with Chicago making a concerted push as well.
Crockpot Crow: 

Cleveland Browns – I picked them to finish last in their division with a 7-9 record.  Instead, they made the playoffs with a 9-7 record and finished 11th in total points.  I wrote “In a year when most secondaries are going to generate a good 40 points plus per week, the Browns are going to be at a 10-15 point secondary disadvantage in most games this year.”  And while the safeties were pretty terrible, CBs Bene Benwikere and Antwon Blake both averaged double figures even after Joe Haden went down for the year.  The Browns also hit gold in QB Blake Bortles and got standout surprise performances from Michael Crabtree and Gary Barnidge.

Detroit Lions – I picked them to finish 10-6, lose the division to GB, and maybe get a wild card.  Instead, they finished 13-3, won the division by two games, and advanced to the NFC title game where they scored 271 points in a loss.  I wrote “But beyond that, it’s question mark city.  Ameer Abdullah,  Josh Hill, Tre Mason, Brandin Cooks, Tyler Lockett, Todd Gurley, Phillip Dorsett…” and “But after that – the list of young question marks starts: Stephon Tuitt, Ego Ferguson, Tahir Whitehead, Kyle Van Noy, John Jenkins, LaMarcus Joyner…”  Well, those questions were effectively answered.  Gurley, Lockett, Abdullah and Cooks all put up huge numbers this season on offense and Tuitt, Joyner, and young Ronald Darby answered the bell on defense.  At least Van Noy stunk.  It was an outstanding season from the Lions, who finished with RDFL’s second most potent offense on the back of those question marks.

Chicago Bears – I picked them to finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs.  Instead they finished 11-5 and barely missed the playoffs.  Tough luck for the Bears, who nevertheless looked much better than I thought.  I wrote “Look, I think the Bears are where they have always been – close enough on paper for Green Bay and Detroit to pay them heed and worry a little bit.  But I think they suffer the same fate they always have – the Jay Cutler will dismantle them in the end – just as the Donald will end up being passed by Jeb Bush or somebody.  I’m telling you.  They have to be family.”  So I totally screwed up the Jeb Bush part.  But let’s give credit – Cutler, Forte, Marshall and Martavis Bryant were all outstanding, and the Bears offensively way outplayed my expectations.

New York Giants – I picked them to finish 9-7, 3rd in the NFC East behind both Dallas and Philly, and to miss the playoffs.  I wrote: “On defense, though… mediocrity.  Not a single defender is projected to score 12 or more points per game, and only 4 guys on the squad are projected into double digits, compared to just about everybody on the Eagles defensive roster.  Sure, guys like Christian Kirksey, Kawann Short, and Brock Vereen could surprise – but honestly, it’s just as likely Prince Amukamura and Jerod Mayo get hurt, or Shamarko Thomas’ production doesn’t materialize.  I think this offense is the best in RDFL.  But I think this defense is decidedly mediocre.  And in a division with the Cowboys and Eagles, I don’t think mediocre gets it done – though a wild card birth is definitely possible if things break right.”

The defense was #9 in the league.  Kawann Short scored 15.1 PPG, Reshad Jones was the best defensive player in RDFL, and Carlos Dunlap, Pacman Jones, Prince Amukamura, and Trumaine Johnson all averaged more than 13 points per game.  And the Eagles and Cowboys both crashed and burned as the Giants cruised to a league best 14-2.  Whoops.

Carolina Panthers – The ULTIMATE in crow.  I picked them to finish 5-11 and dead last in the NFC South.  I assigned only two teams worse predicted records than I did the Panthers.  Carolina won the Super Bowl, finished 4th in Fantasy Points scored, and had the best defense in the entire league.  On their way, they had three of the highest point performances.  How did I get this SO WRONG?  I wrote “Unfortunately, this team lacks both the superstars and the star depth to keep it competitive.  After Cam and Kuech, not a single player is projected to average 13 or more PPG, and only 4 other guys on the active roster are projected to reach double digits.  Zach Ertz is potentially hurt, Marcell Dareus and Greg Hardy start the season suspended, and Robert Woods is unlikely to strike fear into the hearts of opponents.”

Basically, I thought that since this team wasn’t sexy, it wasn’t good.  Dead.  Wrong.  This team was never sexy.  It never had much star power beyond Cam.  What it did have was an absolute cavalcade of very good non-stars averaging between 10-12 per game who showed up to work week in and week out and occasionally dominated.  I wasn’t wrong because they developed stars – I was wrong because all the role players played just a few points better than they expected to, and because guys like Mark Ingram, Willie Snead, and Super Bowl hero Timmy Hightower came out of nowhere to have great seasons and great games – just when Carolina needed them.

 

 

Bragging!

Enough of such things.  What did I actually get right?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  I correctly predicted that Tampa Bay would win the NFC South, Tennessee would win the AFC South, and Arizona would win the AFC West – all surprising changing of the guard picks.  I nailed Buffalo and Pittsburgh repeating as AFC divisional champions, and guessed right on Oakland, Detroit and New Orleans as playoff teams.  I also hit on the Jets, Bengals, Vikings, and Jaguars struggling, and hit perfectly on the order of several divisions.  So not great.  But not all bad either.

 

Coach of Year: AJ Sisneros, Buffalo Bills – created an absolute juggernaut and pulled the trigger on blockbuster trades late in the season to set his team up perfectly.  A masterwork, ruined only by those meddling kids Alshon Jeffery, Lucky Whitehead, Tim Hightower, and Zach Ertz.

Runners Up: Pedro Canteiro, Carolina Panthers and Matt Minelli, Green Bay Packers.  Canteiro won the whole thing behind building a strong defense and some nice substitutions at the end.  Minelli made trade after trade to keep his team competitive and afloat after literally everyone on his team got injured, from Jordy Nelson to Tony Romo to the stinkin’ trainer.

Season MVP: Antonio Brown, New York Giants.

Defensive MVP: Reshad Jones, New York Giants (it’s a SWEEP!)

Runner up MVP: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (was dying to put DeAndre Hopkins for a true Giants sweep, but couldn’t do it.

Teams not mentioned much here who should be REALLY excited about next year: Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans

Congratulations on another awesome year everyone, and particularly to our Super Bowl Champion Carolina Panthers!!  I’ll be back in the off-season!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Super Bowl Preview

We’re here again!  The Super Bowl.  And what a doozy it is shaping up to be.  I don’t think there are enough superlatives to talk about the performances that Carolina and Buffalo put up to get here.  This game is going to be absolutely epic!  So let’s get to the previews (made slightly late by the depredations of Santa Claus and that neo-pagan ritual of Christmas!)

But before we do, a quick look back to the previous years!

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Super Bowl Preview

2013: Green Bay Packers over Indianapolis Colts

2014: Pittsburgh Steelers over Dallas Cowboys

2015: Buffalo Bills versus Carolina Panthers

 

Divisional Championship Recap:

Good.  Lord.  Guys, I don’t think you realize quite how legendary this week was.   Carolina’s 309 points is the highest score this year in RDFL.  It is only the fourth 300+ point game in RDFL history and only the second one this year.  Note the top five scoring games of this season below.  See a common theme emerging?

#1 Carolina 309 (Division Championship)

#2 Kansas City 304 (Week 2)

#3 Carolina 294 (Week 3)

#4 Buffalo 284 (Division Championship)

#5 Carolina 281 (Week 8)

 

Detroit, on the other hand, scored 271 points and finished in the TOP TEN point totals in all of RDFL this year.  Yes, that’s right, the Division Championship round featured three of the top ten point outputs in the entire year.

Also for comparison, before this week, there was ONE game this entire year where the two teams combined for 500+ points (Carolina 281, Indy 222, week 8) – total points, 503.  Totals for the two divisional games:

Carolina 309, Detroit 271: Total points 580

Buffalo 284, Kansas City 223: Total points 507

Yes, that’s right.  The two division championship games happen to be the two single highest scoring games of the ENTIRE SEASON.  #1 and #2. Carolina and Detroit had the highest scoring joint output of the entire season.  By SEVENTY-THREE points.

Due to the scoring changes implemented after last year, I don’t have historical point totals or even standings available to me for previous years, but I am 99% certain that this is the highest combined scoring game in the history of our league – by a wide margin.  I am also confident that Detroit has the highest score ever in a loss – again by a wide margin.  The game in and of itself is noteworthy.  For it to be a divisional championship is INSANE.  For the OTHER divisional championship game to be historic in and of itself is crazier.  This wasn’t just an epic game or week, this was standard deviations above the normal historical, and something I don’t think we’ll see again for years, if we ever do.

Take a moment to appreciate it, folks.  This was special.

Carolina Panthers 309, Detroit Lions 271:  So how did it happen?  Well, twenty-seven of the forty players playing scored in double figures, so it is really hard to figure out how to discuss this game.  Detroit’s team wins almost any other game this year.  So we can’t just look at mediocre performances.  They didn’t exist.  Instead, we look for performances that were merely good, or merely exceptional.  And the place we have to look is Detroit’s defense.  Both offenses were nuts.  Carolina scored 144 between 47 from Cam himself, while Detroit paced that with 141 behind 37 from Brandin Cooks and 27 from Tyler Locket and Ameer Abdullah.  But Detroit’s defense only put up a very strong 119, while the Panthers unloaded with 147 points.  Even there, it is difficult to pick out true areas of difference – incremental points across the board.  Seven players in double figures for Carolina versus six for Detroit.  Two players in the 20s (Luke Kuechly and DeMarcus Lawrence) for Carolina versus just one for Detroit (Jaime Collins).  Three players with three points or less for Detroit vs. only 1 for Carolina.  This was two excellent teams duking it out – with one just being a little bit more dominant on defense and special teams.

Buffalo Bills 284, Kansas City Chiefs 223:  Speaking of a defensive horsewhipping, this was an absolutely historic performance by the Bills defense.  Possibly the best defensive performance in the history of RDFL.  The Bills big name offense actually struggled a bit, putting up only 93 points (compared to 110 by KC), but the Bills dominated the defensive side of the game 163-90 to post a historically good score and make sure the game wasn’t ever really in doubt.  Led by 30 points from Deone Buccanon, the Bills also got 20 spots from Aaron Donald and Navarro Bowman, 18s from Brandon Marshall and Mike Adams, and not a single player below 7.  By contrast, the Chiefs managed only 3 players in double figures and nobody above 17.5.  This is worth appreciating about Buffalo – for all the big name trades GM AJ Sisneros has pulled off for offensive players like Gronk, AJ Green, Alshon Jeffery and AP, this team has built it’s league-high point totals and championship run on defense.  In its two playoff wins, Buffalo’s defense has combined for 311 points (163+148).  In that span, Carolina has the second best defensive at 272 (147+125).  A lesson for the team builders out there – offensive names are flashy, but THIS is how you create consistent, historic teams – with defense.

On to the Super Bowl!

Quarterback:  Cam Newton Vs. Tyrod Taylor

Tyrod Taylor has been a huge find for the Bills this year, and has put up very nice QB numbers (~20 points per game).  He’s a big reason the Bills are where they are.  But Cam has been special.  He’s scored 345 points, averages 25 per game, and is 2nd in total points behind only Tom Brady.  And after 47 in the divisional championships, he’s playing some of the best ball of his life.

Advantage: Carolina – and it’s not close.

Running Backs: Tim Hightower and Cameron Artis-Payne vs. Adrian Peterson and Devonta Freeman.  

Seriously?  One of the things that makes Carolina’s greatness all the more impressive is a quick look at their IR, wherein live LeGarrette Blount, Mark Ingram, and Steve Smith.  The Panthers are definitely hurting at RB, while Buffalo’s big late-season trade brought in some serious players at RB.  This looks like (and is) an egregious no contest.  Still, last week’s dud by AP (only 6 points) meant that Buffalo won the RB edge by only 13 points.  They need a much wider victory than that to win the week, as this is likely their greatest advantage – the ground game.  Time for AP to shine.

Advantage: Buffalo (by the combined philosophical amount of Scott Norwood’s misses – a lot)

Wide Receivers: AJ Green, Alshon Jeffery, and TJ Jones vs. Brandon LaFell and Willie Snead

Not the sort of wide receiving corps you expect to see from historically great teams, eh?  AJ and Alshon are clearly the names that stand out here, and they have been as good as advertised, finishing 10th and 14th among WRs from a PPG perspective.  TJ Jones, on the other hand, has been as bad as expected.  Buffalo has really needed just that one more guy to round out the offense, and TJ will go down as the irrelevant footnote of trivia (who was the “other” WR on that legendary Bills team of 2015?).  On the other hand, Carolina’s receivers have been solid but unsung.  Willie Snead has quietly emerged as a top 40 WR, and well, yeah, Brandon LaFell is just kinda meh.  Can’t really make a case for him.

Advantage: Buffalo

Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski vs. Greg Olsen and Zach Ertz

Very strong positional group here.  In fact, Gronk and Olsen are the top two scorers at TE this year, with Ertz back at 13.  While Gronk gets all the accolades, Greg Olsen has quietly and consistently stayed very close to him (271 vs. 253) total points for the year.  Gronk’s games missed makes the PPG difference significant (21 vs. 18).  Ertz has played well in both playoff games after a relatively mediocre regular season, but isn’t in the same league.

Advantage: Tie (Gronk is a little better than Olsen, but it’s close, and Ertz makes up the difference

Defensive Line: Jerry Hughes, Jason Pierre-Paul and Aaron Donald vs. Greg Hardy, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Marcell Dareus

Two strong positional groups here, with every one of the six players averaging in double figures (this will be a common refrain as we go through the defensive groupings).  The difference here is Aaron Donald, who has been an absolutely MAN all year, as evidenced by his 20 point outburst in the playoffs.  His 17 PPG makes him the best DT in the league by three full points over Kawann short and a full six points better than Dareus, a solid DT in his own right.

Advantage: Buffalo

Linebackers: Navarro Bowman, Khalil Mack, Brandon Marshall and Dannell Ellerbe vs. Melvin Ingram, Luke Kuechly and Alex Okafor

An interesting setup here.  Luke Kuechly leads the league at LB (and DP overall) with his 19.3 PPG and is an absolute monster, tackling everything that moves.  Melvin Ingram is also a strong linebacker, though Alex Okafor is definitely a weak link as we range across two probowl defenses.  On the other end, Navorro Bowman has been averaging 15 ppg all year, Khalil Mack has averaged 16 ppg (higher if you throw out his first two starts of the year), and both Marshall and Ellerbe are excellent double digit linebackers.

Advantage: Buffalo (Kuechly’s dominance cancels out Mack and Bowman, but Ellerbe and Marshall hold a significant edge over Ingram and Okafor).

Secondary: Ricardo Allen, Leodis McKelvin, Deone Buccanon and Mike Adams vs. Patrick Peterson, Jason Verrett, Will Allen, Kurt Coleman, and Jerraud Powers

Both of these teams rely heavily on their safety play to bolster Cornerback Groups that are surprisingly mediocre for those defenses.  None of the 5 CBs (Allen, McKelvin, Peterson, Verrett and Powers) have reached double figure averages for the year, but all four of the safeties have.  Kurt Coleman and Will Allen have played surprisingly well for relatively unsung safeties, combined for 23 PPG, but it’s been Buffalo’s duo of Buccanon and Mike Adams who have provided a powerful old/young punch.  Both average over 14ppg and Adams has 5 picks while Buccanon is about to go over 100 tackles for the year.

Advantage: Buffalo

Special Teams: Steven Gostkowski and Jordan Berry vs. Chris Boswell and Brad Nortman

Remember when Josh Scobee was missing everything for the Steelers early this year?  Chris Boswell was the eventual solution, and what a solution he has been, making almost everything and making this a high profile kicking game.  The #1 and #2 kickers in RDFL from a PPG perspective?  You guessed it – Gostkowski and Boswell at 11ppg each.  The punters are a bit more nondescript, both finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack.  But even in the Special Teams part of the game, both of these two teams have been excellent.

Advantage: Tie

Overall Verdict: Carolina has been a silly good team.  Silly good.  They have one of the best quarterbacks in the league, an outstanding well-rounded defensive, strong special teams, strong TE play, and an admirable consistency that makes the Panthers a historically good RDFL team.  They one three out of the top five scoring periods this year (including the highest), and have demonstrated that they have a VERY high floor and an even higher ceiling.  Even major injuries to key players don’t seem to be able to slow them down.  There’s every reason to believe that the Panthers have what it takes to hoist the RDFL Lombardi Trophy.

But this Buffalo team is arguably the best team in RDFL history.  They have held a wire to wire advantage in fantasy points scored all year long, they have the best defense in the league and, in all likelihood, in the history of the league, and their big name offense has not even really played to its potential yet.  Every positional group is outstanding and has serious star power, right down to the kicker.  Going through the position groups and looking player by player, it is very hard to find an area outside of QB where Buffalo doesn’t at least hold its own, and in most cases has a serious advantage – hard to do when compared to a team of Carolina’s caliber!

Carolina has thrived in the underdog role all year, and definitely has the chops to pull it off.  But on paper, there’s no way to look at this game and not see the Buffalo Bills as the favorites to bring home their first RDFL Super Bowl.

Prediction: Buffalo Bills 244, Carolina Panthers 227

Real Deal (Football) Report: Divisional Recap and Championship Preview

And then there were four.

Not a particularly competitive divisional round, as every game was decided by at least 28 points.  But a week of excellent fantasy football, as every team but one broke the 200 point barrier, and the sole exception scored 194.  Every winning team scored at least 228 points, and every team is projected to score over 200 points in the divisional championship round.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Divisional Recap and Championship Preview

Divisional Recaps:

Detroit Lions 237, Arizona Cardinals 209: Despite a strong Thursday night start by Michael Floyd (25 points) for Arizona , this game came down to Detroit’s offensive firepower.  Both teams scored 108 points on defense and were within 5 of each other on special teams, but Detroit outscored Arizona on offense by 30.  It was the youth movement too, with Todd Gurley justifying his first overall selection by coming up big in the playoffs with 32 points, and Tyler Lockett joining him for a 30 spot.  Arizona, on the other hand, was let down by its offensive big names, with Matt Ryan and CJ Spiller producing only 4 points apiece, and Richard Rodgers crashing back to earth after his Wild Card Hail Mary catch.  The Cardinals had a memorable and dominant run through the NFC West and as large a turn around from one year to the next as we’ve ever seen in RDFL, but underperformance by big players down the stretch doomed the Cardinals against the Detroit powerhouse.

Carolina Panthers 246, New York Giants 209: No Mark Ingram?  No problem for the Carolina Panthers who posted the second highest score of the week and nearly broke 250 against the Giants.  Cam and Willie Mays Snead both broke 20 points for the Panthers, but it was really a defensive and special teams story.  Chris Boswell posted 18 points for Carolina and 7 defenders scored in double digits (though not one scored more than 20) as the Panthers posted 126 defensive points.  Once again, the Panthers posted the sort of sustainable, workmanlike dominance that has kept them under the radar all season – not a single player scored more than 24 points, though 14/20 active players scored nine or more.  The Giants got a great game from Eli Manning (31) and a couple of standout defensive performances from Kawann Short (2 forced fumbles, a recovery and 3 sacks) and Trumaine Johnson (Pick six) to keep it respectable.  However, I wrote that the game would came down to whether Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins played like stars – and they did not – combining for a respectable but not worldbeating 28 points.  A disappointing finish for the Giants, who were the NFC’s dominant juggernaut for most of the year, but faded a little down the stretch.

Buffalo Bills 277, Oakland Raiders 204: Enter the team that has taken the mantle of juggernaut and Super Bowl favorite from the Giants – the Buffalo Bills.  Mercy.  Strong games from the Bills’ offensive stalwarts, with AJ Green and Alshon Jeffery combining for 58 parts on the way to 114 offensive points (if Antonio and DeAndre equal that, the Giants win), but it was the Mack Attack and the rest of the Bills defense that made this game such a blowout.  Mack led all defensive scorers with 32 points, but nobody else on the team scored less than six points as the Bills came very close to breaking the 150 point defensive barrier – a bit like Mach 3 in Real Deal.  This game was never really very close for all that Oakland played well behind a resurgent Eddie Lacy (24) and a sometimes dominant Lamarr Houston.  The Bills advance to the AFC Championship game with the well deserved favorite label, while the Raiders move to the off-season encouraged by their first RDFL playoff appearance and looking to add more offensive pieces to mount a true challenge next season.

Kansas City Chiefs 228, Pittsburgh Steelers 194: And down go the defending champions, in what had to be an extremely frustrating game for the Steelers, who simply had a collective bad game all at once.  It was reminiscent of the Steelers mid-season losing streak, where, for whatever reason, the whole team simply underachieved as a unit.  You kept waiting for the trademark Pittsburgh explosion… and it just never came.  By the time Jarvis Landry finally blew up for 33 points on Monday night, it was too little too late.  Big Ben scored just 9 points, only one defensive player scored over 11, and the daunting Steel Curtain defense didn’t break 100.  This team will be great again next year with the return of Le’Veon Bell and (hopefully) a full year of healthy Roethlisberger.  But this wasn’t the way they wanted their title defense to end.  For Kansas City, the Chiefs got huge games out of Jordan Reed (33) and D’Qwell Jackson (26) which covered up otherwise middling offensive and defensive performance.  The Chiefs, one of only two teams in RDFL (New Orleans is the other) to make the playoffs in every year of the league’s existence, face the Buffalo juggernaut as their reward.

Championship Game Predictions: I’m 7-1 so far, so trust me on what I’m about to say next…

Carolina Panthers over Detroit Lions: Why do I do it?  Every week I write about how impressive the Panthers have been.  Every week I note that they have flown under the radar due to a slow start to the season, a lack of flashy players, and owner Pedro Canteiro’s soft spoken style.  And every week I’m lulled to sleep by it myself and pick against them.  Not again.  Carolina has scored the most fantasy points in the NFC, ranks 3rd overall in RDFL in total offense and second overall in total defense.  They have 16 players who average double digit points per game (and that is not including anyone on IR), and Cam Newton is capable of dropping a 40 spot on any given night.  The Panthers have had some rough luck at RB with Ingram and Blount going down on consecutive weeks, and the roster looks nowhere near as good as Detroit’s when you just consider the eye test – but this is a solid football team that will quietly put up 240 again.  A machine.

Detroit, on the other hand, is a wildcard of variability.  Todd Gurley can throw down 32 as he did last week against the Cardinals.  Or he can score 4.  The Matt Stafford to Calvin Johnson can produce 3 or 4 touchdown passes in a given week – or it can look like it did early in the season when the Lions were scuffling.  Tyler Lockett (30 or bust).  Zach Miller.  Ameer Abdullah.  Brandin Cooks.  The offense has a MASSIVE range of true outcomes on any given week.  The defense is vastly more stable, largely because few of Detroit’s defenders rely on the big play for their stats and points.  The Detroit defense is a tackling, pass-defending machine – but is only 10th overall on defense, well back of the Panthers.

Carolina wins if: Cam Newton has an enormous game, they get a serviceable performance from spot starting RB Tim Hightower, and/or the rest of the team can continue its inexorable consistency.

Detroit wins if: The offense blows up the way it is capable of doing.

 

Buffalo Bills over Kansas City Chiefs: I just keep looking at Buffalo’s roster and I just keep reciting the names on offense.  Tyrod Taylor, followed by AJ Green, Alshon Jeffery, Adrian Peterson, Rob Gronkowski and Devonta Freeman.  That is insane.  That’s a championship team in a standard ten team league.  In the 32 team Real Deal format, it is so far beyond absurd that it is barely comprehensible.  The Bills just posted 277 points in one of the best playoff performances ever (if not the best ever) and only got 114 from THAT group.  They got 147 from their defense.  It could be said that offensive group under-performed and they STILL hit 277.   The Bills are #1 in overall fantasy points (which they did WITHOUT Freeman and AP for most of the year) and #1 in overall defense by a wide margin.  They haven’t lost since week 4 (NYG) and haven’t come particularly close to doing so either.  Gronk is getting healthier by the day, and this team just has that look about it…

Kansas City has played second fiddle to the Bills throughout the season – much like one of those younger Gronkowski brothers who played in the NFL for half a second but whose first name you have totally forgotten right now.  Second in total RDFL fantasy points.  Second seed in the AFC.  Only loss since week #2 directly to Buffalo.  The Chiefs have a strong team on both offense and defense, but have enough holes (particularly in the running game, where Frank Gore and Gio Bernard are not Adrian Peterson and Devonta Freeman) that this one should not be terribly close.  Buffalo continues to play Mario, Kansas City stays as Luigi – and tries not to end up as Toad.

Buffalo Wins If: Yeah.  Not if.  We’ll just change this to Buffalo wins.

Kansas City Wins If: Buffalo forfeits.  Tavon Austin returns multiple kickoffs for touchdowns and Buffalo experiences Oakland Raider syndrome, with multiple in game injuries.

Good luck to everyone still in it!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 12 Recap and Playoff Predictions

This week, at the conclusion of the regular season, we take this time to honor three teams.  Three teams who deserved to be in the playoffs, but to whom we must now bid adieu.

The Chicago Bears finished the season 11-5 and ended the season on an eight game winning streak.  They did everything within their power to decide their fate – including a 220 point week 12 performance and wins over both Tampa Bay and Green Bay.  They traded for Ronnie Hillman down the stretch to bolster their chances and finished with the 10th best record in RDFL, second in the NFC North.  However, the Bears miss the playoffs on a points tie-breaker to the equally scorching New Orleans Saints.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 12 Recap and Playoff Predictions

The New England Patriots finish the year 9-7, losing a tie-breaker to the Cleveland Browns on points for the 6th and final wild card spot in the AFC.  However, the Patriots lost two games to forfeit that they had won due to a practice squad violation and would ostensibly have finished 11-5 – the top wild card in the AFC.

The Baltimore Ravens began the year 8-3 and found themselves in control of the AFC East.  However, a devastating injury to Keenan Allen combined with a couple of tight losses and a concussion to Joe Flacco down the stretch proved too much to overcome, as the Ravens lost their last five games – including a week 12 loss to eventual Wild Card winner Cleveland by 2.5 points.  Yes, that’s right.  The Baltimore Ravens missed the playoffs by 2.5 points – with both their best WR and starting QB out with injuries.

Fantasy football isn’t fair.  And only the winners advance, regardless of the reason.  But before we move into playoff predictions, it seemed fitting to mention three teams that missed the playoffs – but who have every reason to deserve a spot.  We honor you, Chicago, New England, and Baltimore.

Game of the Week: Buffalo Bills 258, Kansas City Chiefs 235 – Interestingly, the game of the week had nothing to do with making the playoffs.  But Buffalo and Kansas City came into the game as the top two teams in the AFC and with the top two point totals.  This game did not disappoint.  AP went off for 39.  So Jeremy Maclin went off for 40.  Back and forth it went, until the defense of the Bills came through with six players in double figures and edged out the Chiefs for the #1 seed in the AFC.

Other Noteworthy Performances:

Cleveland Browns: Karma.  At long last.  The cursed franchise benefits from the curse.  Despite getting no points from the Running Back position, the Browns got a monster performance from Blake Bortles and a big day from Gary Barnidge when it mattered most.  Even more important, Karlos Dansby’s pick six on Monday Night Football, coupled with major injuries to the Ravens, saved Cleveland’s season in a 184-182 win.  Mercy.  The Cleveland Browns are back in the playoffs, as Jeff Hemlick has now taken two franchises to the postseason.

Tennessee Titans: How do you get into the playoffs in the AFC South?  Act like you want to be there.  After a tepid period, the Tennessee Titans came out with a 204 point performance, led by 34 from CJ Anderson and 38 from the already immortal Odell Beckham Jr.  That was enough to edge Oakland 204-203 (the poor Raiders, despite their playoff spot and 10-6 record, could THIS easily have been 14-2) and more importantly, bounce Houston 204-159.  Couple with Indianapolis losses, the Titans move into the playoffs at a semi-respectable 8-8 – and get another shot at the self-same Raiders.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Talk about making a statement, the Steelers were having none of this whole “Wild Card” nonsense, and threw down 273 points behind 35 from Big Ben and 46 from Jarvis Landry.  The rest of the league is on notice that the Steelers long losing streak is officially history – and the defending champions are back and ready for the playoffs. Like some of LeBron’s old Heat teams, the regular season got a little boring for these guys… but they are now in the playoffs and ready to defend their title against all comers.

Wild Card Round Predictions:

Onto what happens next!

Carolina Panthers (5) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4): It is extremely hard to beat a team three times in a season.  It’s even harder to beat a team three times in the same season when they are the third ranked team by points and outscored you 3500-3150 (more than 20 points per game).  It’s especially hard to do so when your starting QB for the matchup is Blaine Gabbert.  Tampa Bay deserves major props for winning the best division in Real Deal, finishing 12-4, and capturing the three seed in the playoffs.  But Carolina is due for a win here, and unless either the Muscle Hamster goes crazy or the defense makes some huge plays, it’s Carolina’s turn for a win.  Blaine Gabbert just ain’t going to get it done.

Pittsburgh Steelers (3) over Cleveland Browns (6): This one feels like the classic case of a savvy, veteran team on a mission vs. a team that is just happy to be here.  With all props to the Browns for surviving to make the playoffs, Blake Bortles won’t score 25 every night, Karlos Williams may not play, and while Ben Roethlisberger may well be out too, the Steelers are still capable of posting a monster night – particularly as their offensive players get almost universally favorable matchups against porous defenses.  The curse on the Cuyahoga is broken, but it will take a complete reversal of fortune to get the Browns to the second round.

Arizona Cardinals (3) over New Orleans Saints (6): In all honesty, this was by far the toughest game of the four to pick, and I went back and forth several times.  The Saints have been better than the Cardinals recently (though the Cardinals have been a little better overall) and last week’s struggles were particularly concerning for Arizona.  Drew Brees and the Saints offense has more spark in them than they did early in the season as well, though last week’s slump was disconcerting.  At the end of the day, though, my gut is that Arizona has their fluke performances out of the way – they can’t get that few points again from the likes of Matt Ryan, Danny Woodhead, and Michael Floyd – can they?  And at the same time, the Saints have won so many consecutive games that they are due for a dud – I think it happens this week and the Cardinals move on.

Oakland Raiders (5) over Tennessee Titans (4): We don’t do Pythagoreans here in RDFL, but if I was to look at the entire league, I can’t think of a team that is more underseeded than Oakland – and I can’t think of a team that is more overseeded than Tennessee.  The Titans sneak into the playoffs at 8-8 over multiple teams with better records, barely made it to 8-8, and needed spectacular performances of 35+ points from multiple players to do it.  The Raiders finished comfortably at 10-6, could EASILY have been 14-2, and scored the 8th most points in RDFL despite significant injuries to Eddie Lacy and Davante Adams.  More to the point, they have everyone back healthy, Eddie Lacy is finally looking something like an NFL running back again, and they want revenge on the Titans for last week’s two point defeat.  Oakland can make the Super Bowl in the AFC, they are that good.  And I don’t think Tennessee stands in their way.

Good luck in the playoffs everyone who is still alive!

Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 11 Recap

Crunch time baby!  Turkey Day, Trade Deadline, and Judgment Day, all rolled into one glorious weekend!  And this year, we have a double.  Just as excitingly, there are still 20 of 32 teams with a shot at a playoff berth, 4 of 8 divisions are still up for grabs, and even the games between teams not in contentions are spectacular.  Forget the actual NFL and its fake whistles and boring nonsense and predictability (Protip: New England wins).  Instead, this weekend your eyes should be on the RDFL!

But first, week #11!

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 11 Recap

Game of the Week: New Orleans Saints 201, Cleveland Browns 183

With apologies to the Bills and Patriots who had a closer matchup in a divisional rivalry, what set this game apart was the massive playoff ramifications for both teams and the incredibly close finish – driven by a monster Monday night from Rob Ninkovich and a disappointing evening from Karlos Williams in that same Monday night.   This game emphasized once again that the Cleveland. Browns. Are. Cursed.  Another strong performance that came down to the wire.  55 Combined points between Rob Ninkovich and Damon Harrison.  And still another blown opportunity to knock off a high profile team.  Cleveland gets another shot this week at Baltimore… but man would it have been nice to have this one.  On the flip side, New Orleans keeps pace with Chicago in the NFC in the mad charge for the wildcard – and possibly sets itself up to challenge for the division title.

Rising:

Oakland Raiders: There was a time, not so long ago, when the Raiders seemed to have been knocked outside of the playoff picture by three brutally close bad luck losses.  My have those times changed.  After a 216-166 victory over Detroit, Oakland adds another high profile scalp to its belt and possesses an inside track to the wildcard, with a game in hand and only Tennessee and San Diego left on the schedule.  A double victory would give the 11-5 Raiders the first wild card spot – which would result in a Wild Card Game against the winner of the AFC South.  Exactly what the doctor ordered for a team that is finally healthy, boasts arguably the best Linebacking Corps in the league in Paul Worrilow, Preston Brown, Dontae Hightower and Christian Jones, and can put up 216 on Detroit even on a major off-day for Jordan Matthews.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Yeah, the other team in the NFC South. You know, the one that started the year 9-0?  The one we haven’t talked much about with Carolina’s obscene point totals and New Orleans’ hard charge at the wildcard?  The one that just beat Philadelphia 229-148 to move to 11-3, retake the lead in the AFC South, and put itself in position for a potential bye week?  Yeah.  The Bucs, baby!  38 from Doug Martin (yep, only 38 this time) and 31 from LaVonte David will do that.  But with two offensive goose eggs, this wasn’t exactly a fluke performance.  The Bucs get Chicago and Indianapolis in the closing week, and have an ENORMOUS range of outcomes, from #2 seed in the NFC and a bye in the playoffs if everything breaks right to missing the playoffs entirely on a tiebreaker if the chips fall wrong.

New York Giants: Could have gone a few directions here, but I’ll give it to NYG, who put a nice bye week exclamation point on their season to move to 13-1 and basically seal up the NFC’s top seed (with games against Minnesota and Washington to end the year, one loss is unlikely while two is unfathomable).  It’s hard to say this team is truly “rising” since they’ve occupied a slot like this most of the year, but coupled with losses by both Detroit and Arizona, this gives the Giants the separation that the standings and statistics have always suggested they had.  The fact that the victory was over Pittsburgh and featured another monster DeAndre Hopkins performance is only the icing on the cake.

Honorable Mentions: Washington Redskins (217-194 over Carolina in a spoiler shocker!), the AFC South (convincing wins by Tennessee, Houston, and Indianapolis all in the same week!), Green Bay and Chicago (ah, ah, ah, ah, Stayin’ Alive!), and Cincinnati (How ironic is it that it’s the BENGALS who finally beat Arizona)?

 

Falling:

Carolina Panthers: Going into Week 11, the last time the Carolina Panthers had lost was week 4, to Tampa Bay.   The last time the Washington Redskins had won in a non-forfeit was week 7 – also, against Tampa Bay.  The Panthers were in a tie for the NFC South lead with Tampa Bay while the Redskins were duking it out with Dallas for the NFC East Cellar.  The Panthers were 4th in points scored.  The Redskins were 20th.  Easy win, right?  That’s why we play the fantasy games.  Five Redskins defensive players scored over 15 points and nobody on the panthers offense besides Cam Newtown did the same.  The result?  The Panthers surrender the division lead to (you guessed it) Tampa Bay, and now must fight for their playoff lives, only one ahead of both Chicago and New Orleans for the first wild card.  Fortunately, Carolina concludes its season with Dallas and Atlanta, a pair of disappointed 4-10 teams who have been even worse lately after giving up on playoff runs.  Carolina should be just fine, but it was a tough week nonetheless.

Baltimore Ravens: Mercy.  I thought that Keenan Allen injury was going to hurt Baltimore.  But I didn’t expect it to hurt quite THIS much.  Before the Keenan Allen injury, the Ravens were 8-3 and averaging 195 points per game.  Since the Keenan Allen injury, they are 0-3, averaging 146 points per game, and have brutal losses to St. Louis and Jacksonville (as well as Arizona).  What was once a promising season is teetering on the brink.  Add to that the devastating injury to the Immortan Joe Flacco, and the Warboys are in more trouble than a warlike desert nomad driving a Geo Prism.  But!  There is a place for redemption.  With week 12 matchups against BOTH Pittsburgh and Cleveland, the Ravens can finish strong and win the division with a strong performance.  Baltimore is 0-1 against both of its division rivals this year, so a double victory is critical for a playoff spot.  And to get that double victory, they somehow need to find a way to score actual points.

Jacksonville Jaguars: For serious?  Win three straight to move into contention for a division championship, make a trade, and then not update lineup from the trade for a game with a division rival and so forfeit both the game and pretty much any chance at the division?  Yeeouch.  Enough said.

Dishonorable Mention: Detroit Lions, San Diego Chargers (that trade with Atlanta is looking increasingly painful),  Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks
Games of the Week: 

Alright, my friends!  Let’s let bygones be bygones.  Grab some turkey and pull yourself up a chair, because we got some doozies this week!  There are 32 games this week. TWENTY-ONE of them matter for playoff purposes.  And most of the others are relevant in the just as heated battle to the bottom for the top picks.  (BTW – I’ll note it here.  DON’T TANK!!!  We are watching.  We have eyes everywhere.  We will see you.  We will catch you.  We will take your driver’s license, strap you to a chair clockwork orange style with toothpicks to hold your eyes open and force you to watch an hour of soap opera reruns for every point you forfeit.  The top pick isn’t worth it.  Field your best lineup.  It’s the right thing to do, and maintains the integrity of the league.)

Anyway, it’s going to be awesome!  Here’s la creme de la creme!

Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs:  East vs. West.  12-2 vs. 12-2.  #1 and #2 in Fantasy Points Scored in the Season.  Last loss by either team: Week 3.  Winner takes the #1 seed in the AFC and home field advantage in a prospective AFC title game showdown.  Good times y’all.  Good times.  Best possible outcome?  Gronk gets injured again.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns: Biggest game of the week.  Winner of this game has a REAL good shot at the second wild card spot in the AFC behind Oakland.  Loser has a real good shot at going home.  Both teams are scuffling, with Baltimore having lost three in a row and Cleveland having dropped a pair.  Cleveland has looked better recently, and this is setting up to break very nicely for the Browns… but the CURSE.  By all rights, Cleveland should win with Flacco and Allen on the shelf.  And that’s exactly why you wonder if this is the week Amari Cooper pulls an Antonio Brown, Joique Bell runs wild on Turkey Day, or Vinnie Rey takes a pair of pick-sixes to the house…

Chicago Bears vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Another fantastic game, there is a LOT of wildcard juice and implications around this one for both teams.  The Bucs seem to have the better resume here and leaking that incriminating picture of Manziel partying on his bye week was a stroke of genius for TB, who now gets Jake McCown back.  It’s hard to pick against the Bears, especially when they are playing a GB defense that has been fabulously porous… but it’s also hard to trust Jay Cutler on Thanksgiving.  I think Tampa Bay wins this one and puts a serious dent in Chicago’s playoff hopes.

Houston Texans vs. Tennessee Titans: This just in – somebody ACTUALLY has to win the AFC South.  Seriously.  I know that’s shocking.  But seriously.  It will actually have a winner after this week.  Indianapolis, Houston, and Tennessee are all still in contention, and this is the only game pitting the two teams against each other.   Let’s talk tiebreakers.  Indy gets Miami and Tampa Bay.  Houston gets Tennessee and New Orleans.  Tennessee gets Houston and Oakland.  Tennessee and Indy have split.  Both Tennessee and Indy have beat Houston.  Through a bizarre scheduling quirk, Houston and Indy only play once.  This means that there is an absurdly large quantity of playoff outcomes depending on who beats who this week and, if there’s a tie, whether it is a 3 way tie or a 2 way tie.  Tennessee is in the best shape.  Beat Houston and that win probability goes way, way up.

Other Great Games with Playoff Spot Ramifications: Arizona vs. Green Bay, Atlanta vs. Carolina, Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh, Carolina vs. Dallas, Chicago vs. Green Bay, Cleveland vs. Kansas City, Houston vs. New Orleans, Indianapolis vs. Miami, Indianapolis vs. Tampa Bay, Jacksonville vs. New Orleans, Oakland vs. San Diego, Oakland vs. Tennessee, Pittsburgh vs. Seattle.

Other Great Games with Seeding Ramifications: Arizona vs. San Francisco, Buffalo vs. Dallas, Detroit vs. San Francisco, Detroit vs. Philadelphia, Minnesota vs. New York Giants, Washington vs. New York Giants

Yep.  It’s gonna be fun!  Good luck this week everyone – especially those of you with playoff berths on the line!

Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 10 Recap

That was… close.  Week 10 was highlighted by a number of close contests and photo finishes, many with playoff implications.

Three games with playoff bearings were decided by less than 5 points, and another two contests were within 25 points of each other.  We also saw a few startling upsets that cast the playoff picture into further disarray.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 10 Recap

Game of the Week: Pittsburgh Steelers 201, Cleveland Browns 197.

Cleveland. Is. Cursed.  The Browns had a clear shot to take out their division rivals.  Le’Veon Bell on the shelf.  Ben Roethlisberger on the shelf.  And since the Steelers only had Vick and Roethlisberger on the roster, it was a zero from the quarterback spot for the Beleaguered boys from the Steel City.  Instead, out goes Landry Jones in quarter #1.  In comes an injured Roethlisberger as an injury replacement.  The Steelers are one of about 2% of fantasy football teams in the universe who had him playing… and Ka-blam.  Thirty-three fantasy points later and the Steelers are back on top of the AFC’s weirdest division and the Browns face a must win final three against a brutal schedule.  Mercy.  You know the curse is alive and well when your divisional rival lobs a guy into the QB spot he KNOWS is getting a zero just to have a legal lineup and that guy scores 30 points and is the reason you lose the game – and possibly the season.  CURSED.

Combined with the Jacksonville’s startling 3 point upset of the Ravens, the gimpy Steelers move into sole possession of first place in the North.  WIth a sure loss (NYG) and a surer win (SEA), the Steelers season-ending matchup with Baltimore looms large.

Rising:

Oakland Raiders: No team improved its playoff positioning more this week than the Raiders.  Sitting as the fourth-ranked AFC wildcard team, the Raiders dodged a NASCAR style crash in front of them as the Patriots forfeited two games and both Cleveland and Baltimore lost in heartbreakers.  The result being that the Raiders vault the Patriots and move into a tie with the Browns and Ravens.  Once a long shot, the Raiders are now the top pick for the top wild card spot and a Wild Card Date with the AFC South Champion.  This team deserved some luck after their well documented misfortunes, and they just got it in spades.  With Detroit looming in week 11, this favorite status may be the equivalent of being first in a Republican Primary poll – but it is much better than where Oakland found itself a week ago.

Jacksonville Jaguars: And here come the hard-charging Jaguars with an exceptional three game winning streak!  And I do mean exceptional.  Sure, the Jags have only beat Washington, the Jets, and Baltimore.  And sure 173 points is their highest point total throughout that stretch.  But three games is the LONGEST winning streak by ANY team in the AFC South.  And at 4-8-1, the Jags find themselves only a half game out of first place.  Now the Jags only average 124 points per game, so it is quite a long shot.  But stranger things have happened…

Chicago Bears: Speaking of winning streaks from unexpected places, here come Da Bears!   Led by Martavis Bryant (38 points), the Bears laid a 219-132 smackdown on the Rams to move into 8-5 and stay tied with New Orleans for the second and final wild card spot.  It’s still a tough battle, as Tampa Bay’s win means that it’s likely EITHER New Orleans OR Chicago, not both.  Still, that elusive playoff berth is within sight as the Bears get an easy matchup with the Peyton-less Broncos before their big final week chance against Tampa Bay and Green Bay.  No guarantees.  But “win and in” is a distinct possibility.

Honorable Mentions: Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts

 

Falling:

Baltimore Ravens: I’ve already discussed Cleveland, so I’ll leave them out of this conversation.  But it was a tough week for Baltimore who lost a game they really needed to win 173-170 to Jacksonville.  It’s obvious that the Keenan Allen injury is hurting this team, as his replacement, Chris Gragg, put up a goose egg.  Any production from that position and Baltimore wins this game.  The loss is tough – as is the fact that it is hard to see where that production is going to come from in the future – barring some sort of major trade, 65 point offensive performances look like they are hear to stay.  Still, like many other teams, the Ravens have control of their own destiny.  A win against St. Louis would bring them a week 12 chance against both Cleveland and Pittsburgh.  A double victory would bring a playoff spot.  Still, at this point, its hard to foresee a double victory as the Ravens scuffle towards the finish line.

Green Bay Packers:  It was a tough, valiant, resilient season for the Pack, who overcame injury after injury after injury to contend hard for a playoff spot.  But man what a brutal year.  If you take a look at any other contender and took away their quarterback, best running back, and best wide receiver, I can’t think of a single team that wouldn’t be devastated.  Kudos to the Packers.  But it wasn’t to be.  The injuries caught up with GB in a 212-160 loss to Detroit, knocking the Packers a game back of both Chicago and New Orleans in the NFC Wild Card.  With only one slot up for grabs, it would take flawless football for Green Bay to sneak in, though a dual with Chicago looms in the season finale.  First, though, a trap game with feisty Minnesota before showdowns with Zona and Chicago.  The Pack need a huge Thanksgiving.

Houston Texans: Sometimes you’re the windshield.  Sometimes you get 1.5 points TOTAL from 4/7 offensive players and fall by three points to the long-since eliminated Cincinnati Bengals, falling into fourth place in the worst division in football as the Jaguars pass you on the outside.  Yeeouch.  Nobody is out of the race in the South, especially  not when your defense can put up 120 a week like the Texans just did.  But like Baltimore and fellow AFC South bubbler Indianapolis, its hard to see where the offense is going to come from to make a run – and there are all of a sudden a LOT of teams for the Texans to catch.  The Texans need to beat a suddenly tough Jets team (180 points in week 10) and then beat both Tennessee and New Orleans in Week 12.

Dishonorable Mentions: New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings, the Practice Squad

 

Games of the Week: Ok.  So I’ll level with you all.  Week 11 is going to kind of suck.  Not a lot of great games this week.  Lots of tune ups and blow outs and trap games.  But stick with us.  And I promise you the week 12 double games over Thanksgiving are going to be FANTASTIC.  The smorgasbord of week 12 rivalry and divisional contender games with huge playoff impacts is massive.  So slog through this week.  And get ready for a day of turkey and judgment in the week to come!

Cleveland Browns vs. New Orleans Saints: Who done let them dawgs out in the Bayou?  This could be a fun wild card survival game as both teams jockey for position in their respective conferences – on their BYE weeks.  Mercy.  Hard to say which way the bye weeks swing things.  It costs Cleveland more overall players – but it costs New Orleans Drew Brees – the gamechanging gunslinger himself.  Smart money is on New Orleans, but maybe Cleveland’s got a karma debt from this past weekend…

New York Giants vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Once a Super Bowl preview, injuries have made this one a little less fantastic.  This is an opportunity for Pittsburgh – if they can steal a win against the Giants, it will put them into fantastic position going into the Thanksgiving double.  But it’s also a big game for the Giants, who, despite their dominance, have not yet locked up a playoff bye and find both Detroit and Arizona slavering at their heels, and Carolina/TB only a little behind.  It still looks like the Giants’ conference to lose… but they cannot afford a misstep.

Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots: Another game that has lost a little luster, this one looked like a major showdown, particularly after New England seemingly knocked off the Giants.  After a double Practice Squad forfeit, the Patriots themselves are fighting for their lives and likely need to win out to have a shot at a playoff berth.  Which means they need to beat the Bills.  Easier said then done, as the ultra-consistent Bills posted yet another 200 point game and look for all the world like they might run the table clear into the Super Bowl.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans:  Get ready for this EPIC divisional showdown between two teams with a combined record of 9-16-1!  It just don’t get better than this!  Why is this game here?  Because if the Jaguars win, it is ENTIRELY POSSIBLE that they could find themselves in first place.  I don’t think it happens – Jacksonville is due for a dud and the Titans are looking hungry for a win – but it could.  And that would be hilarious.

Detroit Lions vs. Oakland Raiders: Hooo mama.  Speaking of teams who are trying to steal a win before Thanksgiving, this is exactly where the Raiders find themselves.  In some ways, this is the mirror image of the NYG / Pitt contest – Oakland is fighting for its playoff life while the Lions are looking to edge out Arizona for that elusive bye.  Already possessing the head-to-head tiebreaker, Detroit simply needs to take care of business from here on out.

Good luck this week everyone – and let’s look forward to some week 12 mayhem next week.  And public service announcement – CHECK YOUR PRACTICE SQUADS AND FRANCHISE GUYS.

Real Deal Report (Football) Week 9 Recap

And now we have chaos.

The AFC North is re-knotted in a three way tie for the division lead.  Four AFC teams are even at 8-4, and at least one of them will miss the playoffs.  Tampa Bay and Carolina are now tied for the AFC South division lead.  Chicago, New Orleans and Green Bay have surged past 6-6 Philadelphia into a 7-5 tie for the second NFC wild card spot.  It’s even tense in the bad divisions, where Indianapolis and Houston remain within a game of mighty 5-7 Tennessee for the AFC South, and the hard charging Jacksonville Jaguars are making a move on the outside at 3-8-1… LOL.  It’s crunch time with four games to go, and we have more races than we can shake a stick at here at the Real Deal Report.

Finish Reading: Real Deal Report (Football) Week 9 Recap

Game of the Week:

Pittsburgh Steelers 217, Oakland Raiders 211: Finally, a game of the week worth its salt.  This one had everything.  Epic performances by two desperate teams.  Drama.  Luck.  Huge plays.  Comebacks and thwarted comebacks.  Even a little bit of controversy.  The Steelers traded what seemed to some like spare parts for D’Angelo Williams to replace Le’Veon Bell shortly before the game, and D-Willy went OFF to the tune of 47 points.  Coupled with yet another brutal early injury to Eddie Lacy, who scored in negative points, and things looked solidly in hand for Pittsbrugh.  Or not so solidly.  Sunday night catapulted the Raiders back into contention, as Jordan Hicks took a pick six to the house en route for 29 points and Jordan Matthews caught a 41 yard touchdown strike in OT, pulling the Raiders within just a few points.   The comeback was not to be, however, as Josh Lambo nailed a pair of field goals on Sunday night to stave off Oakland, and Pittsburgh moved back into a tie for first place.

The only other possible conclusion is that Oakland somehow offended a shaman with mad voodoo skills.  The Raiders have now lost three games by a handful of points, all in weeks when Eddie Lacy went down in the first quarter, and that they almost certainly would have won had he finished – or possibly even been injured the day before so he could have been subbed.  Instead of a 10-2 record and a possible top seed in the AFC, the Raiders now most likely need to win out to secure a playoff berth.

Rising:

NFC Wild Card Outsiders: Chicago and New Orleans both took care of business in week 9 to move to 7-5 and pass the Eagles and tie the Packers for the second wild card.  New Orleans looked particularly impressive in a 223-159 shelling of the Tennessee  Titans.   Drew Brees has returned to monster form for the Saints, Jeremy Langford has slotted in nicely, and the defense has returned to that of previous years.  While catching Carolina is probably a tall order, New Orleans is looking like the favorite for the last NFC wild card slot.

AFC Wild Card Outsiders: New England and Cleveland are the two most surprising teams in the AFC wildcard picture this year, and both were showing signs of weakness coming into this week, leading some to speculate whether they were falling off the pace a little bit.  Not so much.  Cleveland dropped 262 points in Cincinnati behind a 145 point offensive day.  The trade for Michael Crabtree (35 points) looks inspired, Antwon Blake (24) continues to be an absolute stud in the secondary, and Blake Bortles (31) and Mike Evans (26) both look well worth prices paid for them.  The Patriots were also impressive in a 213-128 beating of the Redskins.  Delanie Walker won’t put down 32 every night, but Tyrod Taylor’s return and LeSean McCoy’s inaugural start both bode extremely well for the Patriots.  Both teams will face a fight to the finish.

New York Giants: Welcome to the land of the clinched, sir.  Welcome to the playoffs.  With an 11-1 record and an insurmountable 5 game lead over the 6-6 Eagles,  the Giants join the Arizona Cardinals as the only two teams to have officially clinched their divisions.  And they did it in style, mauling fellow NFC division leader Tampa Bay 273-151 behind 72 – yes, SEVENTY-TWO points from Antonio Brown.  On the one hand, one of the best ever RDFL fantasy performances. On the other hand, New York would have beat a 9-2 team by 50 had Antonio pulled an Eddie Lacy.  Not sure which is more impressive.  In any case, the Giants are still the team to beat in the NFC, and in all of RDFL.

Honorable Mention: Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars (only 1.5 back!), St. Louis Rams, Dallas Cowboys

 

Falling:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ouch.  That thud you hear was the Bucs not showing up for a big game and getting smashed.  That panicky gasping sound is the Tampa Bay fans realizing that the Carolina Juggernaut just caught them (and is top 3 in fantasy points), the rejuvenated Saints are only two back, and while all four of their final games (Dallas, Chicago, Philly and Indy) are winnable, not one of them is a gimme.  It all comes down to which Bucs team we see down the stretch – the one that torched scoreboards on the route to a flawless start, or the recent Bucs who get 5 points combined from it’s QB and 2 RB positions?

Philadelphia Eagles: We’ve already talked about Oakland’s miserable luck.  Philly hasn’t been quite so unfortunate, but the effect has been similar.  The Eagles posted five zeroes this weekend, lack a quarterback, and just saw Shady McCoy have his best game of the year – for another team.  As if that weren’t enough, they ran smack dab into a Dallas unit that just scored its highest point total in weeks.  The Eagles are on life support at this point, a game back of Green Bay, New Orleans, and Chicago – all fighting for a single playoff spot.  The Eagles do have winnable games with Miami and Washington on the docket, but also face Detroit and Tampa Bay, and probably need to win out to have a chance at a playoff spot.  Hard to do without a quarterback.

The AFC South: Anybody want this division?  A week after the Titans post a nice win to take control of the division, they fall back to earth in a 223-159 loss to the Saints.  It wasn’t a shameful loss.  But it simply wasn’t impressive either, and the Titans fail to take any momentum out of their week 8 victory.  In the meantime, Indy gets beat 181-157 by the Denver Broncos ( who were 4-7 going into the game) and Houston mustered only 107 points in a bye week loss to Detroit.  This riveting 5-7, 4-8, 4-8 race got more interesting though, as the Jacksonville Jaguars mustered a 147-110 victory over the equally hapless Jets to move to 3-8-1.  Like Mike Huckabee, they somehow have to be considered a real candidate for the division despite having absolutely no wins anywhere.  Mercy.

Seattle Seahawks: Ok.  I have to throw this one in.  The Seattle Seahawks just set the RDFL non-forfeit record for fewest points in a game at 27.8 points.  Twenty INDIVIDUAL PLAYERS outscored the Seahawks in week 9.  That’s right.  Twenty individual players outscored Seattle’s ENTIRE TEAM.   They were: Antonio Brown, DeAngelo Williams, Marcus Mariota, Aaron Rodgers, Sammy Watkins, Drew Brees, Cole Beasley, Michael Crabtree, Jordan Matthews, Alshon Jeffery, Linval Joseph, Lamar Miller, Julio Jones, Cam Newton, Delanie Walker, Blake Bortles, Tyler Eifert, Jordan Hicks, Adrian Peterson, and Tyler Eifert.

Let that sink in.  The entire Seahawks team was outscored by COLE BEASLEY.

SMH.

Dishonorable Mention: Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers
Games of the Week:

Carolina Panthers vs. Tennessee Titans: It’s hard to pick against Carolina in this one.  They have looked spectacular in recent weeks and are 3rd in overall fantasy points, 2nd in offense and 2nd in defense.  And they have a full roster against the Titans who will be down at least a tight end.

Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers big reward for surviving Oakland, breaking their losing streak and moving back into a tie for first place?  Another HUGE game against one of the teams they are tied with – without a QB.  Meanwhile the Browns come off their stellar performance and kick off a concluding schedule of hell that includes four consecutive playoff contenders with a combined record of 33-15.

Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers: Everything is set up for Detroit to clinch the NFC North championship in this game and deliver a major blow to Green Bay’s playoff hopes.  The Lions are back from bye and at full strength and catch the already depleted Colts with three starters on bye, including stud receiver TY Hilton.  Still, Green Bay’s forte all year has been resilience.  They’ll need to cash in on it big time to stay alive in week 10.

New York Giants vs. New England Patriots: Whichever teams make it in from the AFC are going to be battle tested, that’s sure.  While Cleveland and Pittsburgh duke it out with each other and Baltimore licks its wounds from a quirky SECOND game against the Arizona Cardinals, New England gets the best team in RDFL in the Giants.  Both teams are at full strength… which would seem to favor the Giants.
Remaining Schedules for Playoff Bubble Teams:

New England (8-4): NYG, Buff, Den, NYJ

Cleveland (8-4): Pitt, NO, Bal, KC

Pittsburgh (8-4): Cle, NYG, Bal, Sea

Baltimore (8-4): Jax, StL, Cle, Pitt

Oakland (7-5): Minn, Det, Tenn, SD

Tennessee (5-7): Car, Jax, Hou, Oak

Indianapolis (4-8): SF, Atl, TB, Mia

Houston (4-8): Cin, NYJ, NO, Tenn

Jacksonville (3-8-1): Nope. I can’t.  You have to get to 4 wins before you count as a playoff bubble team.  I just can’t.

Philadelphia (6-6): Mia, TB, Det, Was

Green Bay (7-5): Det, Minn, Ari, Chi

Chicago (7-5): StL, Den, GB, TB

Tampa Bay (9-3): Dal, Phi, Chi, Ind

Carolina (9-3): Tenn, Was, Atl, Dal

New Orleans (7-5): Was, Cle, Hou, Jax
Safe teams I did not include: Buffalo, KC, NYG, Detroit, Arizona

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 8 Recap

Wowweee, what a terrible week for injuries.  Steve Smith, Le’Veon Bell, Matt Forte and Keenan Allen highlight this week’s list of the lost – and it’s been particularly devastating for RDFL’s contenders, as Bell, Forte, and Allen are all playing critical roles on teams fighting for their playoff lives.  It’s mayhem in the standings too, where both wildcard races are absolutely heating up, with nine teams fighting for four positions (only three if Carolina keeps running away and hiding with 280 point weeks).  And with only five more games to go, each game counts for a ton.  Add in teams like San Diego, Miami and Dallas who have underperformed relative to their records and are gunning to play spoiler, and you have the recipe for Mayhem.  Or at least that’s All-State’s stand.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 8 Recap

Game of the Week: 

New Orleans Saints 212, New York Giants 189: I’m violating my rule of only picking games where both teams scored over 200.  The only one that would qualify would be Carolina over Indy, and while Carolina deserves mad props for their win, a 60 point blowout doesn’t qualify as a classic.  So enter the Saints over the Giants, notable both for the closeness of the game and also for it ending the chances of an unbeaten season.  Ironically, it is the New Orleans Saints (a stat correction away from an unbeaten season themselves two years ago) who knock the Giants from their lofty perch this season behind a monster 58 point performance from Drew Brees and a 23 point Monday night outing from Roman Harper – the difference in the game.  Don’t look new, but the Saints have risen to 6-5 and lurk only one back of the Green Bay Gimp Squad for the second wild card along with Philadelphia and the also rising Chicago Bears.

Rising:

Carolina Panthers: They don’t get the game of the week, but they do deserve props after hanging 281 points on the Colts. Willy Snead and his 30 points were nice, but it was the 156 point defensive effort (I believe highest defensive score this season) that was the truly impressive piece.   Nine out of eleven Panther defenders scored in double figures (with rounding) and Luke Kuechly led the way with 34 points in Carolina’s romp.  At this point, the Panthers have to be considered the favorites in the NFC South despite their one game deficit to the Buccaneers.  They are 4th in RDFL in fantasy points, have the 2nd ranked offense, and the 3rd ranked defense.  Moreover, the Panthers appear to be getting better while the Bucs are losing steam.  In any case, the fighting Cammies now have a 2 game cushion for a wildcard spot and appear to be getting better and better each week.

Chicago Bears: Don’t look now, but here come Da’ Bears!  After a nice 80 point monstering of divisional rival Minnesota, the Bears are now 6-5 and only one game out of it in the Wildcard, trailing their other divisional rival Green Bay.  Things have gotten better for Chicago with the return of Jay Cutler, who scored 19 points, and while the loss of Matt Forte hurts, the Bears can feel fortunate that he didn’t sustain a season ending injury.   Even more encouraging, the Bears face a trio of very winnable games (San Diego, St. Louis, and Denver) before ending the season with shots at both Green Bay and Tampa Bay.  If Chicago can take care of business the next three weeks and get Matt Forte back for the finale, it is very possible this team could finish 10-6 or 11-5 and take the wild card quite handily.

Baltimore Ravens: This was a tough one.  On the one hand, the Ravens pulled out a nice 200-142 win over the pesky Chargers and took sole possession of first place in the AFC North.  On the other hand, they suffered arguably the most grievous injury of any team when Keenan Allen was placed on injured reserve.  While RB losses like Le’Veon Bell and Matt Forte look more damaging on the surface, no player meant more to his team than Keenan Allen – and no player will cause a more drastic drop off in PPGs.  Allen averaged a full 25 points per game, and there is just over a full 20 point drop off to the only possible replacement, Eric Weems.  This isn’t a matter of nice depth substitution – the Ravens lose a full 20ppg with this injury.  And now they get to try to hold onto their divisional lead against the Arizona Cardinals.  Still, it was a nice win and nice to be in sole possession of first place in such a tough division.  But man, the cost.

Honorable Mentions: New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Tennessee Titans

 

Falling:

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mercy sakes alive, what a horrible week for the Steelers.  Not only do the defending champs mail it in in an uninspired 166-145 loss to the Bengals to fall out of first place, and not only have the Steelers lost three straight in the first time in forever, but they also lost Le’Veon Bell, the hero of last year’s Super Bowl team and one of the very best RBs on the league.  The subs behind him are a little better than Baltimore’s, but not by a lot, and this loss hurts.  More concerning, though, is that the Steelers have to figure out how to get the rest of their team to play better – and fast.  The slide from 7-1 to 7-4 has come with a 145 point performance in a loss to Cincinnati and a 147 point performance in a loss to Arizona.  That won’t cut it with the upcoming schedule – Oakland, Cleveland, NYG and Baltimore, with a cupcake finale at Seattle.  If NYG is an assumed loss and Seattle is an assumed win, that means that Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes will likely come down to three games against other AFC playoff contenders Oakland, Cleveland and Baltimore.  These next two weeks will be critical.  A pair of wins and the 9-4 Steelers have hamstrung their wildcard competition.  But two bad weeks and the 7-6 Steelers would have to win out (against NYG at that) and hope for some luck.

New England Patriots: Just when everyone was getting ready to believe in New England and hop on the bandwagon, something like this happens.  The Patriots get rolled by an energized Miami team looking to play spoiler.  The Patriot defense totally dropped the ball in Miami’s 199-157 win, scoring only 68 points with only two double digit performances.  That’s been the knock on this team all along, as the Patriots are the 7th rated offensive team in the league, but only the 24th rated defensive team.  At 7-4, the Patriots are locked with Cleveland, Baltimore, and Oakland in a four way battle for only two playoff spots.  The schedule the rest of the way holds no surprises, though.  Games with Buffalo and the New York Giants should be losses, while games with Washington, the Jets, and Denver should be clear wins.  This would put the Patriots at 10-6.  Enough for a wild card?  Hard to say.  Best bet would be to knock off one of the juggernauts to rest easy… but easier said than done.  New England is a classic bubble team right now.

Philadelphia Eagles: It’s hard to call a team “Falling” after losing handily to the Bills.  Everybody loses handily to the Bills.  But the Eagles have now lost their last three games, averaged 168 points per game in that span, and just lost their quarterback to benching.  The defense is still very competitive, but the offense is a bit of a mess right now, and not only is Philly trailing the Packers and watching Carolina pull away, they are also facing fresh new wild card competition in the likes of New Orleans and Chicago.  Things are looking very dicey for the Birds, who need to go at least 4-1 against Dallas, Miami, Washington, Tampa Bay, and Detroit.  It’s doable.  But not easy.  Not easy at all.

Edit: Big trade!  I have no idea how much it helps or not.  But hey, a QB!

Dishonorable Mentions: Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Washington Redskins

 

Games of the Week:

Arizona Cardinals vs. Baltimore Ravens: I don’t even know how to talk about this anymore.  Over the past three weeks, Arizona has beaten Cleveland, Pittsburgh and already Baltimore once.  Now, Arizona gets Baltimore AGAIN.  And they get Baltimore trying to figure out how to deal with the loss of Keenan Allen.  On the one hand, the Cards are due to lose a game.  On the other hand, they do seem to have the North’s number and this is a shorthanded Ravens squad.

Carolina Panthers vs. Green Bay Packers: A possible NFC Wildcard preview featuring the current #5 and #6 seeds in the NFC, this can be considered a seeding game.   On the other hand, though, this could be considered a “let’s sow major chaos in the NFC game.”  If Carolina should win (which seems fairly safe based on the Panthers level of play), it has the potential to toss the NFC into a FOUR way tie for the final wild card spot.  While injury plagued Green Bay would love nothing more than to knot things up with Carolina, the fan in me says “yes, please!” to the possible mayhem.

New York Giants vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This game has the look of a pair of powerhouses looking to right their ships.  After suffering their first loss, the Giants are trying to get back to their winning ways.  And after a rather pedestrian 142-126 win over the trade-depleted Falcons, Tampa is trying to stave off Carolina in the division.  Smart money is on the Giants with DeMarco Murray back from Bye and Tampa Bay facing a hole host of problems on offense, from QB McCown’s injury status to Owen Daniels demotion behind Vernon Davis.

Oakland Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: I had this one circled at the beginning of the year, but I thought it might be for a playoff Bye week, not a wild card spot.  Oakland pulled off a nice bounceback 222 point performance to beat the Jets last week and stay on pace, but both teams need this win in the worst way, as the loser will likely find themselves on the outside looking in at the AFC playoff picture.  We’ve already talked about the loss of Le’Veon Bell for Pittsburgh, but things are looking up in Oakland, where Benjamin Watson looks like a worldbeater at Tight End and Davante Adams is finally back for the Raiders.

Good luck this week everyone!  And get ready for Mayhem!

Real Deal (Football) Report Recap Week #5

So I took my bye week earlier in the year than I usually prefer to – my sincere apologies about that!  It’s been for very good reasons (or bad ones, depending on your take) – something in the realm of 105 hours of work in the span of 7 business days.  Yech.

But we’re back to recap week #5 just in time for week #6.  And as we often see at the midway point, teams are settling into clear “have” and “have not” buckets.  By my highly scientific calculations we have 9 AFC times with a legitimate shot at the playoffs and 7 NFC teams.  That also means that there are 16 teams that have basically been eliminated – half the league.

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

AFC Teams with a shot: Buffalo, New England, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, Oakland

AFC Teams with little shot: Miami, NY Jets, Cincinnati, Houston, Jacksonville, Denver, San Diego

NFC Teams with a shot: NY Giants, Philadelphia, Detroit, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Arizona

In truth, it’s worse in the NFC where the four divisions have already basically wrapped up.  The Giants, Detroit, Tampa, and Arizona are going to win their divisions.  And Philly, Green Bay, and Carolina are competing for two playoff spots.

So, there will be a lot of drama… but also a lot of meaningless games moving forward. Here’s hoping next year that there’s more competitive balance across the league!

Game of the week: Ummm…. I’m going to give it to you straight.  Last week was possibly the most underwhelming, boring, and uncaptivating week in the history of RDFL.  There was only one game where both teams scored over 200 points (Pitts 234 – SD 209), and one of those teams was 0-8 prior.  The closest score was 18 points (GB 142 over St. Louis 124).  We had a couple of divisional games (Oak 205-Den 169, Cle 225-Bal 149, Ind 170-Hou 147), and a division leader matchup (Det 197-Ari 172).  Anyone find any of those particularly compelling?  Me either.  No dramatic close finishes.  No great games.  Meh.  NO GAME OF THE WEEK!  DO BETTER!!!!!

Teams Rising:

New England Patriots: So I’ll be honest.  I did not expect at the beginning of the year that one of the teams that would be competing strongly for an AFC playoff spot would be New England.  And if you had told me that they would have beaten Dallas by SEVENTY, I would have laughed you out of the room.  But there they are.  5-3.  One game back in the East and tied for the second wild card spot, coolly obliterating the reigning NFC Champions.  Tyrod Taylor (22), Devonta Freeman (39!), Thomas Rawls (31) and Jamison Crowder (19) led the way.  The Patriots moves don’t always make sense on the surface, but finding these gems is strong work.  Now the question is, can the young guys keep it going into playoff town?  Particularly as Beast Mode returns and Tyrod seeks to hold onto the Buffalo QB gig?

Cleveland Browns: Welcome to the portion of the show where I eat crow.  Again. I feel like I eat crow every week.  I must like the stuff.  Cleveland was a team that I saw competing for the AFC North basement.  Instead, like New England, they just busted out a strong performance to obliterate a competitive team – in this case a competitor in their own division.  Cleveland’s 225-149 shellacking of the Ravens came behind Gary Barnidge (33), Blake Bortles (30), and Isaiah Crowell (15), another set of rising folks entering into nice situations.  I tend to think that Cleveland’s game is a little less replicable than New England’s – but that their Baltimore win is a little more impressive.

Indianapolis Colts: Every.  Single.   Year.  Every year I say I just can’t see it for Indy.  Every single year they end up at the top of their division.  I don’t get it.  It doesn’t make sense.  I cannot figure out how on earth the Colts are scoring any points.  But voila.  After a 170-147 win over Houston with Andrew Luck putting up a nice, purdy goose egg, the Colts are in familiar territory, a game up on Tennessee in the AFC “Does anybody want to win this?  Anybody at all?” division.  Julian Edelman continues to put up insane numbers, and the defense is keeping the Colts in it.  If New England, Cleveland, and Indianapolis all make the playoffs, I will… well… let’s be real here.  I won’t do anything differently.  I already know I’m no good at this prediction nonsense, but I’m honored to be constantly wrong for your reading pleasure!

Honorable Mention: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, New York Giants

Teams Falling:

Baltimore Ravens: Karma.  Regression to the Mean.  Whatever you want to call it, it’s hitting Baltimore right in the face.  And by face, I mean fantasy scoreboard.  After being the luckiest of teams in its 6-0 start, the Ravens have run out of luck the last couple of weeks and hit an absolute luck wall in week 5. You can argue that it was a bye-week blitz for Baltimore, who only played 17 players in their loss to Cleveland, but after back to back divisional losses and a downward scoring trend, the Ravens really need a bounceback game to stave off all of the AFC’s wildcard hopefuls who are chomping at their heels.

Denver Broncos: Denver has stayed near the top of the AFC West all season, and has been a perennially good team since the founding of the league.  But Manning’s decline and the Broncos in RDFL seem to be happening in lockstop.  Besides Anquan Boldin’s 29 pointer, the once high powered Denver offense managed only 26 points against division rival Oakland.  What’s worse, the Broncos fall a game back of the wild card and to third in the West, and are only 19th in total fantasy points.   Denver’s point totals by week thus far this season are: 150, 212, 136, 158, 169.  Week 2 is looking like the anomaly rather than the trend, and the Broncos don’t get any favors from the schedule – the next time they play one of the 15 other eliminated teams is Chicago in week 11.

Arizona Cardinals: I could definitely go other directions here (New Orleans and Atlanta both leap to mind), but I’m going to stick with a team that I still think is a lock for the division – largely because I’m not sure when I’m going to talk about them for the rest of the year.  The 6-2 Cardinals have already clinched their division with a massive talent gap over SF, St. Louis, and Seattle, all rebuilding squads.  But they are also a solid two games back now of the rest of the undefeated NFC power players.  6-2.  #4 seed.  It’s basically already a done deal for the Cardinals.  Not a bad place to be.  But they had a chance for more this week against Detroit and a benched Matthew Stafford, but couldn’t get it done, despite the triumphant return of Arian Foster to fantasy relevance.  The Cardinals scored only 162 points and had too many zeroes in the lineup for anyone’s comfort.  Arizona will have a few more shots at relevance as they run the AFC North gauntlet the next four weeks (Pitts, Cleveland, and two vs. Baltimore), but their shot at a bye may already be history.

Dishonorable Mentions: New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, and Parity

 

Games of the Week: Can it get better this week?  Here’s hoping!

New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Or, otherwise known as “When the Giants officially win the AFC East.”  That’s not a knock on Philly by any stretch of the imagination.  But the Giants have played the role of “massacre all comers”, Philly is coming off a couple of merely fair performances, and Jason Witten is chilling out on his bye week.

Arizona Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Cardinals get another chance to knock off a division powerhouse, albeit one in the AFC when they play the Steelers this week.  Pittsburgh is doing just fine riding Le’Veon Bell to an inevitably victorious conclusion and don’t seem particularly vulnerable, even with Ben Roethlisberger out.  They will have a short-handed defense due to the bye, but can Arizona muster the firepower to prove its record is a function of true talent and not a weak division?

Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots: I am not going to watch this game because it is going to make me feel like a dope, but this is a very real game with very real playoff implications for both teams.  The logistics of this game favor the Colts, as New England faces life temporarily without Tyrod Taylor, and potentially without Thomas Rawls if Marshawn Lynch truly can make it back.   Moreover, Andrew Luck should be back for Indianapolis and should have to throw quite a bit against the Patriots.  Moreover, while NE is losing players, the Colts added Charcandrick West on a massive 10+ million salary.  Big game, with the tangibles trending towards Indy.

Oakland Raiders vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Two Bays.  Only one winner.  Tampa Bay doesn’t need this game nearly as much as Oakland does, but would certainly like to keep the streak going.  This game is fascinating as it features a bye week game between two teams who rely very little on their franchise players to put up points.  Oakland still leads in the star power department, but has struggled to put together breakout performances.  The Raiders are also lacking their entire special teams for this one.

Good luck in week 6 everyone!

 

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week #3 Recap

Separation.  The first three weeks of the Real Deal Football season are critical to establish separation and pecking order.  Since they are all double weeks, we’re now nearly halfway through the regular season, and we’ve eliminated some teams from contention already, while other teams are most of the way to a division title.   In some ways, it is a merciful system because teams know early on whether to focus on contending or rebuilding.  In other ways, it is a vicious system because a couple bad weeks early on (always a crapshoot in fantasy sports, particularly with injuries) really can do major damage to an otherwise good team’s shot at contention.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week #3 Recap

That said, it is only 6 games in, and most teams still have a decent shot to make up some ground in what will now turn in to a long season.  So settle in, assume marathon pace, and enjoy the ride.

Games of the Week: Yes, that’s right, games.  You always get premium content here at the Real Deal Report, and lots of it.  And man did we have some games this week.  Three amazing games, all between good teams with playoff hopes, all where both teams scored over 200 points, and all decided by 7 points or less.  You can’t get better than that!

Cincinnati Bengals 226, Pittsburgh Steelers 219: This could also fall in the “are you freaking kidding me?” category for Pittsburgh.  The Bengals got a stunning 118 points from Andy Dalton (37), Theo Riddick (18), Rishard Matthews (34), and Chris Johnson (29).  And 15 more from some guy named Will Compton who apparently plays linebacker.  I mean, are you freaking kidding me?  And they STILL would have won except that Big Ben Roethlisberger went down early in the game with a sprained MCL and deep bone bruise which will keep him out for 4-8 weeks.  Are you freaking kidding me?  The net result is that the Steelers lose for the first time in something like 10 or 11 weeks and fall a game behind the startlingly lucky Baltimore Ravens in the North.  Man.

Cleveland Browns 217, Oakland Raiders 213: Another significant upset in the AFC and another game where much of the scoring came from very surprising places.  The difference being that in this game, it ALL came from very surprising places.  The upstart Cleveland Browns set a franchise record for points to knock off the Raiders, paced by 26 points from Gary Barnidge, 22 from Marvin Jones, 19 from Karlos Williams and 24 from Nose Tackle Brandon Williams.  Not to be outdone, the Raiders (still missing Eddie Lacy), got 35 points from the inestimable Preston Brown, 25 from Nose Tackle John Jenkins (those nose tackles!) and 34 from James Jones, who nearly combined with James Starks to bring the Raiders all the way back from a massive deficit on Monday night.  In the end, however, Oakland couldn’t overcome key injuries and dud performances from Tyler Eifert (-0.25 points on an overruled touchdown catch) and 0.5 points from Davante Adams, who couldn’t seem to make up his mind about his health.  Oakland deserves to be 6-0.  Instead they are 3-3.  Fantasy football really is brutal sometimes.

New Orleans Saints 206, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 205: This could have been an absolutely horrible week for the Saints, after the Carolina Panthers exploded out of nowhere to hang 295 on them.  A double divisional loss on top of a difficult start could have put the Saints in a major hole.  Instead, they found a way to survive a furious Monday night comeback attempt by Tampa Bay, who posted 45.5 defensive points on Monday night (27 from Jaye Howard!) with a Sam Shields interception of their own.  Like the real life Eagles, they were nudged to victory by a massive Darren Sproles punt return for a TD, and, some might say even better, Jimmy Graham actually got footballs thrown in his general direction.  For the Bucs, it was a missed opportunity, as Torrey Smith, Alfred Morris, Von Miller, Darrelle Revis, and Doug Miller COMBINED for less than ten points.  The Bucs are still in the lead.  But the Saints aren’t dead.  And that has to be scary for both Tampa and Carolina.

Rising Teams:

Kansas City Chiefs: Look, I hate to do this.  But I need ONE week to celebrate.  I mean, my team scored freaking 304 points, I won two games by 140+ points, and vaulted into first place in the division.  It can’t possibly go anywhere but downhill from here.  So I’m going to give the Chiefs props.  38 from Cobb.  32 (and a WR TD!) from Maclin.  22 from Gore.  18 from Jordan Reed, who has stayed healthy for THREE CONSECUTIVE WEEKS.  23 from Everson Griffen.  A combined 31 from Rashean Mathis and Brandon Carr!?!  It was a perfect storm week for the Chiefs, who now have the most points scored in RDFL by a significant margin and a one game lead in their division.  It can’t last.  But damn it feels good!

Carolina Panthers: Speaking of rising teams and perfect storms… I mean, Damn.  This was one hell of an offensive explosion, as the Panthers set the league record for offensive points in a week with 191.  Yep.  One hundred and ninety-one!  It was so ridiculous that 27 from LeGarrette Blount and 21 from Mark Ingram didn’t even seem noteworthy because they get 56 from Steve “I’m 63 years old and somehow STILL better than Dwayne Bowe has EVER been” Smith and 41 from Greg Olsen.  The sad part is that Zach Ertz and Robert Woods combined for only 14 fantasy points when their respective NFL teams scored 65 points.  Can you imagine the score if this had gone off?  Like with KC, this isn’t sustainable.  But also like KC, the Panthers are suddenly at 4-2 with some key divisional notches in their belts.

Indianapolis Colts: It appears I spoke too soon.  Just after I called out the Colts for abysmal early season play and suggested that cold, hard reality was setting in, they go 2-0 within division and rattle off a 218 point week.  The offense still stunk outside of Luck and Edelman, but the defense turned in a nice 137 point performance behind Dwight Lowery (28).  6/11 players posted double figures, and the Colts are back at .500.  They still can’t score.  But they might not need to in a division that suddenly looks wide, wide, wide open.  The problem is that the division has Brandon Weeden throwing it the football.  So even though it might be wide open, you wonder who is going to win it.

Honorable Mention: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions (again), Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens (again), Cleveland Browns

Teams Falling:

Tennessee Titans: They say that one of the difficulties facing young teams is learning how to win.  There’s a stability to veteran, championship caliber squads that younger teams sometimes simply lack.  Exhibit A: The Tennessee Titans.  How do you react to moving into sole possession of first place in the division?  Not by scoring 131 points and getting blitzed by the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts – a combined 3-7 besides these games.   The game was a brutal reminder that this team is still young and inconsistent – there will be days that the rising stars will score 131 on offense alone.  And then there will be days like this.  The division, as we’ve noted, is still winnable.  But these were two games the Titans really could have used.

Green Bay Packers: Ok… Green Bay is in trouble.  This team has scuffled in the past and had the occasional bad week in years past.  But they’ve always bounced back quickly.  After getting blown out by KC and dropping a moderately close game to Dallas, the Packers find themselves at 2-4, 4 games behind the high-flying Lions in the division and two games out of the wildcard race.  Quarterback has been a disaster for Green Bay all year, and DeMarco Murray’s injury situation hasn’t helped at all.  I suspect Green Bay will be a decent team when the injuries get cleaned up – but at this point, it may almost be too late in a tough NFC.

Houston Texans:  At 2-2, with some decent performances on the first two weeks, the Texans were a solid tweener squad.  A pair of wins and a nice week could have vaulted them into contention in the winnable AFC South.  Instead, Houston showed its true colors with a 125 point stink bomb that dropped it to 2-4 and strongly suggests that the Texans are more pretender than contender.  The loss exposed a few of Houston’s fatal flaws (namely a lack of offensive contributors when Hyde and Jameis aren’t contributing) and a lack of depth on the Defensive side.  It could be argued that a great game from Joseph Randle would have helped things had he been in the starting lineup.  But Houston simply doesn’t have enough weapons to compete until Carlos Hyde, Jameis Winston, Donte Moncrief, and others are really ready to step up to the plate – something that looks much more likely to happen next year than this year.

Honorable Mention: Pittsburgh Steelers (Roethlisberger), Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos

 

Games of the Week:

Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: It’s been a LONG time since Pittsburgh has looked up at anyone in the standings, and it is not a stretch to say that the Steelers have looked like the better team, scoring 60 more points than Baltimore and doing it without Le’Veon Bell for the first two weeks of the year.  But Baltimore has been undeniably good even as it has also been undeniably lucky – and the Ravens catch their rivals without a Quarterback.  This still feels like the Steelers division, but if Baltimore can capitalize and take a 2 game lead with the tiebreaker…

New York Giants vs. Buffalo Bills: Ka-boom.  Now this is a game.  The 6-0 Giants vs. the 5-1 Bills.   An in-state rivalry with possible super bowl ramifications.  The G-Men have been one of the best teams in the league so far, but the Bills are coming off a 275 point romp behind 60 points from A. J. Mother. ($)&#*()$#. Green.  Man that guy comes up every week!  He won’t do THAT every week, but with Latavius Murray and Derek Carr playing as well as they have been, they may not need to.  The Giants face QB uncertainty for almost all of their big receivers, with Romo and Roethlisberger out, Luck potentially out, and whoever starts for the Texans not being very good.  Should be an interesting show!

Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Back to division rivalries, this should be a good one.  The league leading Buccaneers were 1.5 measly points away from an unblemished perfect record and a two game lead in the division.  Instead, the Panthers, riding high after an insane week, can catch them with a win this week.  The Bucs need more from Josh  McCown to hold off Johnny Football, and also need guys like Alfred Morris to do much more than they’ve been doing.  For their part, the Panthers seek to prove that last week’s explosion wasn’t a fluke – particularly guys like Steve Smith and Mark Ingram

New Orleans Saints vs. Dallas Cowboys: The battle of scuffling powerhouses takes place in the Lone Star state this weekend as struggling Dallas meets struggling New Orleans.  Both teams were expected to contend for a Super Bowl berth this year, and while neither team has been bad… neither team has quite appeared to be that good, either.  This game could revolve around Drew Brees, who is uncertain for this week’s matchup.  The winner will be well-positioned to keep pace in the fight for a playoff berth, while the loser might find itself in some more serious trouble.

Good luck everyone!  And whether you are buying or selling, enjoy the unpredictable marathon that is RDFL!  Who knows?  Maybe your team will make like a superhuman Kenyan and win!