2017 Real Deal Dynasty baseball season retrospective and awards

2017 season is a wrap

For a little while, it looked like history would be repeating itself. The Cleveland Indians seemed poised to match the Champion Real Deal Indians,  fresh off a staggering year of utter dominance.  (You’ll recall that both the Real Deal Cubs and MLB Cubs both won last year…) Alas, the upstart Yankees thought otherwise.

Let’s take a quick look back at our season.

First, congratulations to all of our playoff teams: Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals, Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, and Miami Marlins.

And to the final four: Red Sox, Indians, Nationals, Marlins. Finally, to our championship teams, the Nationals and Indians. Before I get to the Indians, a quick shout out to the Nationals. First, the Nationals had to get out of the wildcard round and beat the Dodgers. From there, they had to play my team, the Diamondbacks, the number one National League team for the regular season, and a team that scored a few hundred more points than the Nationals.

The Nationals finished seven games behind the division winner Miami, a team which—after squeaking by the Diamondbacks in Round 2—they had a resounding victory over in the National League Championship round. This Nationals team battled all through the season and to finish second place behind Jeff’s juggernaut of a team was impressive. Cheers! Finish Reading:

In the American League, the Yankees culminated their turnaround season by making it into the playoffs, and even beating the Royals to get into the next round, only to fall to Jeff. The other teams in the AL shouldn’t be unfamiliar to anyone, as the Astros and Red Sox were both back in the playoffs, with Boston beating Houston in round 2 and losing out to Cleveland in the AL Championship. Boston continues to knock at the door of a championship and it would seem that he’s only a few moves and some lucky runs away from getting there.

Now onto the Indians. Perspective: In 2015, the Indians went 6-87.  In 2016, they were 37-56. This year, they went 83-10. So, in two years, a 77-game swing. I am hereby instituting a league-wide rule in which nobody can trade Jeff any players, ever. All kidding aside, what an incredible year, and congratulations to Jeff.

2017 Champions: 83-10

In the rest of the league, there weren’t other “major” developments, aside from some jumps and some drops from 2016 to 2017, some of which will be covered below. Some teams are still in rebuild mode, and some may end up there sooner than later. This offseason is primed to be a very interesting one, for sure, but for now, let’s just get into the awards for this year.

World Series MVP:

This goes to Matt Carpenter, who accounted for the most points for the Indians in their championship scoring period at 33.009, in just 15 AB. In these, Carpenter had 7 hits, 6 runs, 2 RB, and 14 TB.

Matt Carpenter: 2017 Real Deal World Series MVP

Right behind him, though, were Francisco Lindor (31.634 points, 6 RBI, 15 TB), and Trea Turner (30.964 points, 4 RBI, 16 TB.) Also, Jose Quintana’s name should be mentioned, as he accounted for 29.75 points with 9 IP, 10K, 1 QS, in a complete game.

Cleveland’s depth was evident though, as 7 different players scored more than 20 points in this scoring period. DEEP.  

Best trade:

There were a lot of good trades this year—including these four big ones—so having to pick one is difficult. But personally, it felt a bit unfair not to list one of Jeff’s trades this year as the best, given his massive turnaround. And in looking back at all of his move’s including those made in the offseason last year, one stuck out not only for the impact at it on Jeff’s team, but also for the other team.

Jose Abreu: .304/33 HR/102 RBI

The deal was as follows:

Chicago White Sox sends:

Jose Abreu

To

Cleveland Indians

For
Wilmer Difo
JaCoby Jones
Tommy Pham

Prior to this year, Pham’s best fantasy year topped at 114 points. This year he had 554, while Difo had 228 in a utility role, and Jones being more of a flier. Abreu, on the other side, was the Indian’s third best player in terms of overall points. He’s also on 2.16 salary in his 3rd year.

Worst trade:

The worst trade, in my opinion, is the trade that wasn’t made. Based on that, the worst trade this year was from the Philadelphia Phillies, who made zero trades on the year. In looking at this year’s transactions, they appear to be the only team that made no team-to-team trades.

Biggest turnaround:

The turnaround of the Indians is well-documented, and has been the main storyline of the league since before the season even kicked off. A 46-win increase is nothing short of incredible, but for this particular section, I’m going to focus on another impressive turnaround, which is that of the New York Yankees.

Aaron Judge: 52 HR as a rookie

Like the Indians, the Yankees went 37-56 in 2016. In 2017 though, Yankees improved to 69-24. The rise of players like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino helped this turnaround in a massive way, but so did a number of the trades that the team made. This includes the following acquisitions: Brian Dozier, Carlos Carrasco, Jarrod Dyson, Denard Span, David Robertson, Yangervis Solarte, Hanley Ramirez, Brad Hand, and even more than this.

This is all to say that, even if you are low-to-middling team, a turnaround can be made quickly if you have some good young talent and a willingness to get aggressive on the trade market, which seems to be a main factor in determining success and ultimately winning this league. Just ask Jeff.

23,000 club

Last year I took I look at the overall standings and for one reason or another, the 23,000 point-level seemed to be a benchmark for success. Nine teams reached this plateau this year, including (in reverse order): Washington, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Boston, Milwaukee, New York (Y), Miami, Houston, and Cleveland. Of those nine teams, eight made the playoffs. A solid indicator of success.

(Note: The only teams that made the playoffs that did not reach 23,000 were Kansas City at 22,506 and the Los Angeles Dodgers at 20,712.)

Closing

Who will be next year’s Cleveland? Well, here is an interesting thing to consider, if only just for fun. Both the Indians and the Yankees were 37-56 last year, and both teams made impressive turnarounds. This year, there were a number of teams that finished around this mark. This includes: Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins, and the Oakland Athletics. Could one of these teams be the next big turnaround next year, or will it be another team has been making moves with an eye toward the future.

Since this league began, the champions have been the Miami Marlins, the Milwaukee Brewers (two years in a row), the Chicago Cubs, and the Cleveland Indians. There have been a number of powerhouse teams, or teams on the rise, that in recent years can’t seem to get over the hump, though. This includes, first and foremost, the Boston Red Sox, but also teams like the Houston Astros, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Kansas City Royals. Can Boston finally win a world series? Can Arizona make a playoff run? These are things to monitor going into the 2018 season.

Overall this year, it’s been a fun league with very little drama, if any. I hope that you all come back to join us in 2018 with an eye toward denying any past champion a repeat opportunity.

Thanks!

Jimmy
(Arizona Diamondbacks)

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: Conference Championships

Chalk.  Chalk.  More Chalk.

Four games and four top seeds advanced.  No upsets.  No surprises.  The only painful thing is that we say goodbye to the New York Giants, a team who by any objective measurement, deserved to be here.  Beyond them?  I have no quibble with any of the teams in the final four.  No flukes.  Everybody left belongs.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Conference Championships

The divisionals didn’t have much drama this time – but they did have some seriously explosive performances.  Here’s hoping for more of those – and maybe some more drama.  As Cleveland GM Jeff Hemlick noted “I am really excited about these matchups and I’m not even playing!”.

If we learned anything this week, it is the importance of the big player in playoff games.  A team of decent players can go far, particularly over the course of the regular season when consistency matters.  But the story of these divisional playoffs was the explosive player.  You can chart the wins and losses by the players who went off – and those who didn’t.

Observe:

Buffalo (Julio Jones 64 and A.J. (#)$&#(&$. Green 56) over Indianapolis (Julian Edelman 38)

Pittsburgh (Le’Veon Bell 59) over Kansas City (none)

Dallas (DeMarco Murray 48) over New York (none)

Green Bay (Jordy Nelson 42) over Philadelphia (none)

Every winning team had at least one player go off for more than 40. No losing team did.  More than anything, it was franchise explosions that dictated games this week – and after Jamaal Charles carried Green Bay to a Championship last year, I’m sensing a trend.

On to what happened in the divisionals:

Buffalo Bills 277 over Indianapolis Colts 208

This, my friends, is why you make blockbuster trades at the end of the season and why you give up massive amounts of future potential to win it all now.  Buffalo gave up a king’s ransom in picks and future players for Julio Jones and Arian Foster.  Want to guess how many points those two put up this week?  90.  A combined 90.  Replace those two guys with bad performances by replacement players… and this could have gone a different way.  It’s also worth calling out the value of trades in general.  A.J. $#)(&*&#(. Green + Julio Jones combined for over 120 fantasy points on 22 catches, 480 yards and two touchdowns.  Neither A.J. #$)&#(*$. Green nor Julio Jones was on the Buffalo Bills one year ago.  Ironic.

The Colts also got some outstanding performances from big time players, with Julian Edelman going for 38 to make a game of it on Sunday night.  It was a “fall back to earth” moment for the rest of the offense, though, which mustered only 26 points aside from Edelman and Andrew Luck.

Pittsburgh Steelers 254 over Kansas City Chiefs 191

Every year, I pick somebody in my pre-season predictions to do poorly.  Every year, that team knocks me out of the playoffs in a vengeance game.  Last year it was the Colts, who took exception to my characterization of their defense.  This year, it was the Steelers, who I picked to finish 4-12.  Next year, it could be you…

This time, it was franchise guys Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger who paced the Steel Curtain, combining for 91 points.  Ironically, they only had a combined 19 by halftime of their game, doing 72 points of damage in the second half and putting this game on ice early on Sunday.

The Chiefs got a breakout game from Tavon Austin and a characteristically solid performance from Randall Cobb, but simply lacked the defensive big plays to keep pace with Le’Veon Bell’s explosion.

Dallas Cowboys 207 over New York Giants 179

Well.  It wasn’t what I was hoping for.  But it was enough.  I was expecting a titanic clash with both teams finishing in the upper 200s in a fantasy football contest that would set a gold standard for the ages in terms of drama and performance.  Instead, Dallas barely eclipsed 200 and the Giants didn’t even get there, in a somewhat sloppy game that never quite lived up to its billing – and was never quite in doubt.  DeMarco Murray and his 40 total touches and 48 fantasy points put the Cowboys ahead big on Thursday – and the Giants never got within spitting distance after that.  The Giants defense fell off big-time, posting only 71 points, and while the offense still scored over 100, it just didn’t get the explosive, 40+ point performance that carried all of our playoff winners.  The Cowboys did, from their main stud all year, and move on to the conference championship game with a relative dud out of the way.

Green Bay Packers 206 over Philadelphia Eagles 158

This was a back and forth dogfight in the cold that eventually revolved around the big player – just like every other playoff win.  It started off in Green Bay’s favor, as Jamaal Charles went off for more than 20 points and two touchdowns in the first half of his game.  It tilted back towards Philadelphia as Andy Reid forgot JMail existed in the second half and nobody else on Green Bay’s team did much of anything, while the Philadelphia defense put up 90 points, catapulting the Eagles into a decent lead.  It all came down to how many points Green Bay could score on a Monday night showdown against Atlanta.  And score Green Bay did, netting a 42 point performance from Jordy Nelson to go along with 33 from Rogers and 24 from Morgan Burnett.

This game was closer than the score appeared, but has to count as a massive disappointment for the Philadelphia Eagles, who struggled across the board and managed only 53 offensive points.  Green Bay actually struggled in similar fashion, but was bailed out by the Fantasy Rodgers to Nelson connection.

 

Conference Championship Picks

Pittsburgh Steelers over Buffalo Bills

So the danger with lightning is that it is hard for it to strike two weeks in a row, and even harder for it to strike three weeks in a row.  Buffalo’s stars detonated in the divisional round, and if they do that again, obviously they will advance.  But I don’t think it will happen.  Julio Jones may be slowed with an injury, and will almost certainly be quadruple-covered.  A.J. #($)&&#*$ Green gets the equally immortal Joe Haden, who has proven to be the one man who can really slow him down and take away his expletive.  And while Julius Thomas is back, Denver’s ability to get it to him against San Diego’s defense is a question.  I think the Bills score a lot of points (Kerwynn Williams is under-rated and they really do have a lot of guys who could go off, including Arian Foster), but I also think Pittsburgh is a fantastic team that can win without those explosions.

Besides.  Pittsburgh has an Albert Wilson.  And the first rule of fantasy is that you never pick against any team that has an Albert Wilson.  Ever.  More than that, Pittsburgh finished the year with an average of over 200 points.  This team has a great offense, a great defense, and is very very hungry.  I think Buffalo’s stars fall back to earth, and that while the game is high-scoring and close, I think Pittsburgh advances… on the shoulders of Albert Wilson.

Dallas Cowboys over Green Bay Packers

Much as I hate picking against the defending champs, I have no choice here.  I don’t think this game is close.  Dallas is coming off an uncharacteristically mediocre performance.  And I think this team has saved something.  I think Dallas absolutely explodes this week.  I’m predicting 250.  And Green Bay… well, the question there is the Charles factor.  Green Bay has staggered around a bit, struggling on defense and struggling with offensive depth.  Jordy and A-Rod bailed them out last week, and I think those performances will remain good, if not spectacular.  Really, I think it comes down to this.  If Jamaal Charles goes for more than 40 (which he is prone to doing in championship games), Green Bay pulls the pseudo-upset.  If he does not, it’s Dallas all the way.

In truth, my gut is screaming that it’s going to be Dallas and it is not going to be close.  Perhaps that’s because I think it is only fitting that the best team all year in both leagues gets to play for the title.  But more because I just feel the anticipation in the air and think this is a week for the ages.  I think DeMarco, Tony and Dez avenge themselves against a reeling Eagles team.  I think Devin Hester takes one to the house.  I think the real Delanie Walker returns to the tune of ten catches against Sexy Rexy’s pack of goons.  And I think Dallas takes it to the house on defense at least once.

But you can never count on JMail and those Packers…  They’ve never lost a playoff game yet…

Good luck everybody!!!!