2017 Real Deal Ultimate Football Playoff Preview

Playoffs?

PLAYOFFS!!!!!

Ok, ok one more

The second season starts Thursday, and the field received a major shakeup this week.
The last three spots were up for grabs, with Dallas, Philly, and New Orleans heavily favored to move on and leaving Chicago watching from home. The predictions would have left the field looking like this:

1. Arizona Cardinals vs. 8. Cincinnati Bengals
2. New England Patriots vs. 7. New Orleans Saints
3. San Diego Chargers vs. 6. Philadelphia Steel Men
4. Carolina Panthers vs. 5. Dallas Cowboys

Boy, did that not happen. Instead, Cincy put up a strong effort behind huge games from the recently MIA Alex Smith and Tyreek Hill to strengthen their record and push them up a few seeds. New Orleans survived an early scare to take down Atlanta. The Steel Men had to sweat until Monday, but used the six players on Monday Night Football to put down a strong challenge from the Washington R-Words.

The big stunner was Carolina upsetting Dallas, leaving the fourth highest scoring team in our league watching from home and wondering what might have been. This upset will not only have major implications for the playoffs, but for the overall Ultimate standings and the run for that sweet, sweet bonus cash. With the Cowboys on the sidelines, the Chicago Bears take their spot and slot in as the 8th seed and will face the juggernaut Cardinals.

With all of the week 13 action, here is the finished bracket:

1. Arizona Cardinals vs. 8. Chicago Bears
2. Carolina Panthers vs. 7. New Orleans Saints
3. New England Patriots vs. 6. Cincinnati Bengals
4. San Diego Chargers vs. 5. Philadelphia Steel Men

Thursday night’s matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints jumpstarts the playoffs for us, and I know we’ll all be watching with baited breath. Let’s congratulate and take a quick look at the teams still alive and their chances for taking the first place Ultimate points, the winner’s purse, and most importantly the title of Ultimate Fantasy Football Champion!

Top Seed & West Division Champion

Arizona Cardinals Jason Clausen

The busiest team this season looks like it’ll end up being the best. It’s no fluke either, as the Cards bring a diverse array of playmakers on both sides of the ball. The defensive line is the scariest in the league, headlined by Defensive MVP candidate Calais Campbell. The offensive is impressive as well, now sporting new acquisition Duke Johnson on top of a bevy of useful flex candidates such as Doug Martin, Bilal Powell, and the brothers Brown (John and Jaron). While Kirk Cousins has shown some holes in recent weeks, that slack has been more than made up by the emergences of Alvin Kamara, Robby Anderson, and the steadying presence of Travis Kelce.

TLDR: This team is good.

The only thing that hold them back is injuries. Martin and stud linebacker Telvin Smith are both dealing with concussions, and starter Deone Bucannon is already out with an ankle injury. Should Cousins get dinged up, Arizona would turn to his last healthy QB, Case Keenum, who is a few bad series away from getting benched for heir-apparent Teddy Bridgewater. There’s a route for a quick exit here, but the Cards get contributions from so many positions that such an outcome is very unlikely. They should be one of the last four alive.

No. 2 Seed & South Division Champion

Carolina Panthers Kyle K

The East Side Atlantic Cats (Editor’s note: No one calls them that) took the reins from a competitive South division and ended the season with the 2nd best record and one of the league’s most imposing offenses. Cam Newton may not look like the MVP he once was on the field, but the numbers don’t care and he is elite in our game thanks to his combo rushing and passing attack. Carolina made two of the biggest free agent moves of the offseason and in-season, nabbing Marshawn Lynch for a mint and getting Dion Lewis at what now looks to be a relative bargain. The Lynch acquisition looked dubious at first, but now that we’re in the playoffs and he’s finally clicking in Oakland, he looks like a bargain for what he’s bringing to the table. On top of that two headed monster at RB, the team brings two explosive Dolphins in Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills. Both can dominate a game single handedly, even with Cutler throwing them the ball.

The defense is similarly loaded with talent, and Carolina gets contributions up and down. Names like Von Miller and Marcus Peters stand out, but lesser valued players such as Lamarcus Joyner, Lorenzo Alexander, Brandon Marshall, and Michael Pierce are pitching in at a strong clip. This unit keeps Carolina’s floor high, ensuring they won’t fall to weaker teams if an offensive player or two goes missing. This strategy has served them well during the regular season, and should make them a tough out.

There are holes here however. While Jack Doyle at TE can bust out once in a while, he’s inconsistent at best and borderline unusable at worst. With just Denver’s Virgil Green to fall back on, Doyle needs to have run of effectiveness that he’s shown is possible, but maybe not altogether likely. Emmanuel Sanders has been injured for what seems like an eternity, and now seems to be struggling with disappearing when he is on the field.

Further, there is the volatility of the Dolphin and Patriot offenses to consider. While Stills and Landry seem to be getting theirs, it would not be surprising to find out that whoever is passing to them just forgets how to run an offense and the two WRs are left contributing very little. Dion Lewis has been very good recently, but the Pats are notoriously fickle when it comes to runners. Lewis could be left unused in favor of Rex Burkhead or James White or someone we’ve never even heard of, and there’d be no warning. It’s not likely, but it’s possible.

No. 3 Seed & East Division Champion

New England Patriots John Keniley

Currently projected to be the top scorer in the league, the Pats are no joke. They sport one of the leagues’ top scoring defenses and feature a quintet of superstars on offense in Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald, Stefon Diggs, and “king of 69” Rob Gronkowski. They have a unique and potent mix of aging stars and stud youngsters, and the key is that their players’ teams seem to know how best to use their assets. The Pats have consistently been tough to beat, but that doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable.

The most glaring weakness is the RB position, where the delayed suspension of Ezekiel Elliott leaves NE without a viable option until the young rusher returns. If Cameron Artis-Payne gives anything at all, it’ll be a welcome surprise. But the team’s starters at the other offensive positions are so good, it’s entirely possible that this team can overcome the loss of their star runner long enough to get him back in the game.

The most important X-factor is Stefon Diggs. Minnesota’s most talented wideout has dealt with soft-tissue injuries all season. If he’s healthy and clicking, he’s one of the best receivers in football and capable of winning a game on his own. If he’s hobbled in any way, the Pats may be looking at an early exit. They’ll also be without star TE Rob Gronkowski for Round 1, leaving Luke Wilson to man the starting spot. That could be a major blow to NE’s championship hopes.

No. 4 Seed

San Diego Chargers Darren Leung

When Philip Rivers overcame early season struggles and turned it on, he single handedly made the real life and fantasy Chargers much more dangerous. Rivers has been the driver of a ridiculously potent San Diego offense. Gordon and a finally healthy Keenan Allen have been unstoppable much of the season, and especially so over the last handful of weeks. Add in solid production from return man Tyler Lockett, Travis Benjamin, and the occasional breakouts of OJ Howard and Derrick Henry, and you have a devastatingly effective offensive unit.

Not to be outdone, San Diego runs out a contender defensive MVP in Melvin Ingram, who is scoring an unreasonable 15.38 ppg from the LB position. Micah Hyde, Eric Weddle, Michael Bennett and Justin Houston have been solid all season. Solomon Thomas, Michael Brockers, and Mark Barron have also enjoyed breakout campaigns. These two units make this team a real contender.

All that effusive praise aside, it’s one of those squads that I wouldn’t be surprised if they sort of all fell off the map at the same time. Ingram aside, would you really be super shocked for Philip Rivers to throw a temper tantrum and just kind of take the whole offensive unit with him? If Rivers has one of his big duds that he’s been known to have every so often, I don’t know that the rest of the unit can recover. It’s an argument veering on the nit picky, but we do have history of this kind of thing happening. These are the pitfalls to tying too much of your success on one real NFL unit. If one goes, you risk the rest following suit.

No. 5 Seed

Philadelphia Steel Men Pedro Nuno Canteiro

Guess who Philly’s best players are? The Steelers Steel Men are fearsome not because of their depth, but because of who sits atop their lineup. While they’re not quite “stars and scrubs”, they’re as close as we have to that strategy in the playoffs. Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, and non-Steeler Joey Bosa certainly cover up a lot of sins. This team’s success has been built on those cornerstones. If they don’t perform, Philly struggles. If they do, Philly is almost unbeatable.

The question of whether or not this roster can win when all the teams are good is certainly up for debate. Running out Dontrelle Inman, Keelan Cole, and Deshazor Everett in the postseason is certainly not ideal. If any of the Steelers struggle *Editor’s note: They play Baltimore in Round 1, this team will face a quick hook.

That said, it’s one of those teams I’m just not comfortable passing over. Their lack of depth is concerning, but I have a feeling that, like the real life team, their output will reflect much more than the sum of their parts.

No. 6 Seed & Midwest Division Champion

Cincinnati Bengals Sean Scampton

The once and former Bungles took advantage of a division a lot of studs and an early season run from QB Alex Smith to take a division title and sneak into the playoffs. They were assumed to be the lowest scoring team in the playoffs until Chicago’s upset, but shouldn’t necessarily be written off. Cincy has some real game changing talent, particularly with their top pair of WRs Tyreek Hill and AJ Green. Those two can go off at any point and generate a huge advantage. Of course, as has been the case at times, they can completely disappear and leave the rest of the team unable to make up the difference.

The squad features a talented if inconsistent defense led by Carlos Dunlap, Vontaze Burfict, Myles Jack, and Keanu Neal. Running back, which has been a black hole all season, has been partially shored up by the hit or miss Alex Collins, and rookie Adam Shaheen has finally been given enough playing time to justify some potential value.

Last week’s performances by Alex Smith and Tyreek Hill show just how dangerous can be. They are capable of putting up big numbers, but have been held back by injuries. It’ll take a truly hot run to overcome the top teams, but perhaps the once Bungles can surprise.

All that said, the Bengals are likely facing a quick end to their postseason, but it’s a team that is built well for the future with superstar Deshaun Watson and a bevy of talented youngsters just starting to reach their potential. Don’t expect them to compete for the title, but don’t be surprised if they steal one early.

No. 7 Seed

New Orleans Saints Ben Pearce

I wrote the Saints up in my last piece as being a surprise that they were in danger of missing the playoffs. It turns out that Dallas was the surprise team bounced, and that means the Saints have a shot at the title. Their roster features one of the steadier RBs this season in Carlos Hyde, a top QB in Drew Brees, and plenty of explosive tools on offense. Brandon Cooks, Cooper Cupp, and Kyle Rudolph have combined to produce at a high level, while Devin Funchess and Charles Clay have emerged as legitimate top options at their positions. This squad has overcome the loss of Julian Edelman and the lost season from top pick Mike Williams with aplomb.

The defense is even better stocked, getting production from surprising names that are taking advantage of their opportunities. No one would have picked this unit as a strength of a potential contender, but here we are touting the efforts of Christian Jones, Jahleel Addae, and the former corpses of Michael Johnson and Kenny Vaccaro. Getting production from unexpected sources is critical, and these guys are proving no fluke. If NO makes noise late, this will be the unit that drives them.

Those names also create some reasonable concern about this team’s ability to compete against the strongest teams. Will these surprise performers be able to keep it up when the games matter most? If the studs perform, it’s possible it won’t matter. New Orleans has a squad that may not be built for a deep run, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they get hot and go on a run.

No. 8 Seed

Chicago Bears Tony Cavezza

The last one to the party also happens to be the lowest scorer on the season. But don’t you dare look past them. Chicago’s squad holds upset potential. The season scoring don’t account for the injuries to critical pieces like QB Jameis Winston, WR Will Fuller, and WR Sterling Shepard. But now, as the playoffs kick off, Winston is back, Will Fuller could be on the field for Round 1, and Alfred Morris has taken over as lead tailback for Dallas in Zeke Elliott’s absence. And this is a squad that can run out a combo of Jordan Howard, Ameer Abdullah, and the always dangerous Tevin Coleman at RB. And don’t forget breakout darling Adam Thielen. Hell, even TE David Njoku is starting to come on late in his rookie season. The offense is for real.

The defense offers less splash, but solid producers like Kyle Fuller, Anthony Zettel, and Justin Simmons have kept the unit from lagging too far behind. Tre’Davious White will likely miss at least Round 1 after Rob Gronkowski attempted to behead him last week, but they have breakout DT DeForest Buckner to lean on. The problem here is that there just isn’t much depth, with Chris Jones, Chris McCain, and Elandon Roberts getting playing time. The core is too banged up to be scary, unfortunately. If Chicago falls in Round 1, it’ll likely be the defense that takes the blame.

The Bears may have snuck in, but they deserve to be here. They overcame early season struggles to take the last spot, and they’ll do everything they can to make Arizona wish it hadn’t grabbed the 1 seed.

Predictions

Round 1:

No. 1 Arizona Cardinals defeat No. 8 Chicago Bears
No. 2 Carolina Panthers defeat No. 7 New Orleans Saints
No. 3 New England Patriots defeat No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals
No. 5 Philadelphia Steel Men defeat No. 4 San Diego Chargers

As excited as Chicago must be for making the postseason, they run into a buzzsaw in the form of the AZ Cards. The Bears are clicking now, so an upset is not out of the realm of possibility. But I think the Redbirds have enough to get to the next round. Same for New England, whose matchup with Cincinnati currently projects to be the closest. Too much has to go right for the Bengals to take down the mighty Pats.

The other matchups are more interesting. I’m calling San Diego and the no. 2 seed Panthers to fall in upsets. San Diego has a great collection of talent with a mix of expected producers and pleasant surprises, but I have a feeling that the real life Chargers struggle against the Washington R-words. If Chargers like Rivers, Gordon, Allen, and Ingram struggle, SD would need Tyler Lockett, OJ Howard, Derrick Henry, Mark Barron, and Michael Brockers to step up. That’s a good collection of talent, but their production has been spotty. If enough fail to produce, I can see Philly’s roster of game breakers to sneak past the SuperChagers.

I’ll again note that I highlighted NO as a surprise struggler this season. But their win record does not matchup with their point total, and this team can score. I think Drew Brees, Carlos Hyde, and Brandon Cooks have monster games this week. On the other side of the ball, I don’t see Cam Newton and Dion Lewis making their predicted scores, and I think Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, and Marshawn Lynch really struggle despite the matchups. Even production at defense will keep this close, but this is my big upset call.

Round 2:

No. 1 Arizona Cardinals defeat No. 5 Philadelphia Steel Men
No. 7 New Orleans Saints defeat No. 3 New England Patriots

And the Saints keep marching! Some of the analysis for the NO-CAR matchup applies here, with their offensive studs turning it on late (Carlos Hyde especially. That dude is running for a big ole’ contract). On the other hand, New England’s holes may not have been big enough to matter against the Bungles, but they’ll matter against a much stronger opponent.

Arizona overwhelms a depleted Philly squad which put the rest of its juice into the round 1 upset. Instead of running their Steelers out against a beat up Baltimore D, Roethlisberger and Co. must contend with a real life Pats squad that is getting healthy and playing much more solid defense than in the early season. Unless there’s a huge game coming from George Kittle or Joey Bosa, the Steel Men will fall to the class of the league.

2017 Real Deal Ultimate Football Championship:

No. 1 Arizona Cardinals defeat No. 7 New Orleans Saints

That’s right I’m going chalk! Arizona mortgaged its future for this season, and it’ll pay off with a ring. Arizona’s deep roster and ability to get production from every part of the lineup will overwhelm the Saints’ superstars. It’ll be closer than the Cards want, but they’ll walk away with a well-earned W and the 2017 title.

Ok all, enjoy the postseason slate of games and be sure to send good luck and good-natured ribs to the team of your choice. Don’t forget to get on my case when I get every one of my picks wrong. Have fun!

Playoffs Time!!! Real Deal Ultimate Football 2017

Playoffs time gents (and/or gals; I realize I don’t know much about some of you)! Let’s dig in!

This week, the last few spots for the second season are up for grabs. Injuries are beginning to stack up for many of us, so what happened during the regular season barely matters anymore. There have been a lot of surprises, so let’s sum up some of the surprisiest surprises and look ahead to who is in the race for the big money!

Surprise No. 1: New Orleans might miss the playoffs

This is nuts to me. Looking at that lineup coming into the season had me scared, with strong depth at critical positions such as RB, TE, WR, DE, and S. All they seemed to need was a healthy season out of ageless wonder Drew Brees and for one of their high draft picks at WR to hit, a box which Cooper Kupp has ably checked.

But as of right now, NO needs to win against Atlanta in order to secure a spot. The Falcons haven’t exactly been a monster this season, but they get Devonta Freeman and Jay Cutler back this week, Julio Jones is looking like Julio Jones again, and, despite a rough sophomore campaign, Vic Beasley could explode for multiple sacks against a potentially overrated Vikings O-line.

It’s not likely that the Dirty Birds win this week, but New Orleans’ roster is so strong that they shouldn’t be in this position. There is no reason to think that the Saints could get hot and run right through to the championship. Teams heading to the postseason will be watching this matchup intently and crossing their fingers for an upset.

Surprise No. 2: Alex Smith is both MVP and LVP

This one hurts me particularly. Alex Smith has somehow gone from the top passer in our game to a total and complete liability that has pundits widely advising the Chiefs to bench Smith in favor of their shiny new toy, Patrick Mahomes. After the disastrous injury to hot new franchise QB Deshaun Watson (then the top scoring QB for the season), Cincinnati consoled themselves by remembering that no. 3 scoring QB Alex Smith was still there. What happened from there is mind-boggling and nearly completely derailed a playoff run for the Bengals.

Smith had been entirely unlike himself early on, which is to say amazing! He was throwing deep, involving a group of athletic freaks like Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt, and providing some of his trademarked scrambling. It was like the potential that made him the 1st overall pick had finally all come together. Then, suddenly it just stopped. If you blinked, you’d realized that the Chiefs are in the middle of a 5 game losing streak. And Smith is a big reason.

In terms of fantasy, this has been brutal for a Bengals team that probably (definitely) was feeling pretty good about itself. Smith was a major reason they opened the season on a tear. But with Watson out and the glaring lack of depth and performance at RB, TE, and DE, it’s not likely that Cincy is primed for a long postseason run. Smith may have gotten them the division title and a playoff berth, but he’ll likely be the prime reason for a quick exit.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – DECEMBER 13: Quincy Enunwa #81 of the New York Jets celebrates after a tackle in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans during their game at MetLife Stadium on December 13, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Surprise No. 3: New York Jets have the league’s No. 1 ranked offense

No joke. Look at the stats. In our game’s scoring, the overall leader in offensive scoring is the J-E-T-S.

Let’s be clear, there was certainly potential here leading into the season. Carson Wentz showed a little bit last season, Evan Engram and Hunter Henry brings big ceilings at TE, and Davante Adams and Danny Amendola play with Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. But NOBODY thought Wentz would go full Roethlisberger and jump to MVP candidate in year 2. Engram, despite recent struggles, has been a target magnet, and Adams has excelled even in the absence of his all-pro QB.

The biggest surprise, of course, was the reemergence of Adrian Peterson in Arizona. Combine that with a savvy pickup of Buck Allen and other pleasant surprises like Austin Hooper, James White, and Brandon Lafell, and apparently that is the recipe for the league’s best offensive production.

A below average defense may be the Greens’ undoing, but they must be thrilled with the ascension of their franchise QB. A core of Wentz, Adams, Henry, and Engram is a hell of a way to go into next season as they build towards real contention.

Ok, so there were way more shockers this season like huge injuries, big breakouts, and massive disappointments that we’ll highlight at year end, but let’s give out some arbitrary and completely meaningless awards!

The Toronto Bills Award for Most Wheeling and Dealing

Arizona Cardinals

Ok, so I’m not listing all the assets that changed hands because mah gawd, but here’s some highlights:

Coming in: Kirk Cousins, Carson Palmer, Duke Johnson Jr.

Going away: Bryce Petty, Jamaal Charles, like all of their draft picks for the next two years.

Zona is going for it this season. It might pay off, too. They currently have scored the most combined points so far and show no signs of slowing down. It’s tough to be critical because how could you have possibly predicted that Carson Palmer was going to go down for the season almost immediately after the Cards acquired him. Giving up two 1s, two 3s, a 5, a 7, and a QB project in Petty total to pickup a starting QB will hurt next year. But if they come home with gold, I’m sure he won’t feel so bad about the loss.

The “Wait, What?” Award for Most Confusing Thing

Denver Broncos

So, this is weird. When I was researching this, I noticed that Denver is the lowest scoring team in the league at 1,754. Ok, that’s surprising in and of itself with that roster, but sure. Stuff happens, I didn’t go through all of the weeks so I’m sure I’m missing context, but yeah it’s been a tough season.

Then I noticed that Denver has had 2,705 scored against them. That is a point differential of -951. The only other team that comes close to that is Green Bay, and they are 4-10-1. Denver’s record is 6-9.

How in the world did they win 6 games? I went back and looked and I’m just surprised. I don’t have any analysis here. That just made me stop and wonder what the heck happened there.

The Not My MVP but Damned if That Ain’t Surprising

Jared Goff, QB (CLE)

Jared Goff’s mom didn’t think Goff would turn into a competent QB overnight. Not only that, he suddenly looks like he might be a good QB! Anyone that watched Hard Knocks or, I don’t know, any LA Rams games last season thought there was anything to Goff. Stamp “LEAF” on him and toss him into the Pacific, he’s done. Amazingly, that hasn’t been the case.

Goff has been downright impressive, currently ranked as the 12th highest scoring QB in our game. That number was much better, but recent surges by Philip Rivers, Josh McCown and Dak Prescott have pushed him down. He may not be a super duper star worthy of the 1st overall pick, but he went from having no value to being a young QB with potential and a pretty good supporting staff. The Browns have a real asset on their hands just a few months after it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to consider dumping the young man.

The Secret Defensive MVP

Adoree Jackson, CB (NE)

It’s a not so well kept secret that defensive players that bring special teams value are great assets. I called out Adoree Jackson as a great value in the 3rd round of my draft piece. *Editor’s note: Dammit dammit dammit dammit I wanted him so bad!!!!! The Titans drafted him to be a potential shutdown corner and to contribute as a return man. Even if he didn’t blossom as a corner early on, his speed was such that he was going to continue to see field time by virtue of the return game, ensuring consistent value.

Of course, all Jackson did was blossom into a true star corner and a good return man. He’s scored more than 15 points per game, unreal production for a CB in our game. Now, it’s true that corner production tends to be a little inconsistent, and Jackson himself only scored 4.5 points last week as Jacoby Brissett avoided throwing to him all game long. But since he sees the field on special teams, he’ll have more opportunities to make a contribution. I’m sure the juggernaut Pats will have no problem keeping him in the lineup during the postseason.

I’ll be back on a quick turnaround for a playoff preview because this is already like 1,500 words. But first, let’s do a quick look as to what the playoff bracket will probably look like.

(1) Seed and West Division Champion – Arizona Cardinals
(2) Seed and East Division Champion – New England Patriots
(3) Seed – San Diego Chargers
(4) Seed – Carolina Panthers
(5) Seed – Dallas Cowboys
(6) Seed – Philadelphia Steel Men
(7) Seed – New Orleans Saints
(8) Seed and Central Division Champion – Cincinnati Bengals

I expect Cincinnati to lose to Cleveland this week, but win the division by virtue of a tie breaker with Chicago. They’ll likely be served a quick exit, but the rest of the bracket is really interesting. You’ll notice that many of the teams are very evenly matched, meaning we’ll have a nice suspenseful playoff run. Literally any of the top seven seeds could run away with it.

This will seem lame, and I’ll go into it more detail later, but I expect Arizona to come out on top. They have the deepest and most diverse roster, and they should considering all of the moves they made this season. It might sound boring to go chalk and pick the top seed, but the team is largely healthy and has such explosive players that they’re tough to pick against, especially with a cupcake like Cincinnati in round 1.

I’ll hold the rest of my predictions for the next article, but I’m actually predicting a surprise for the final. I’m pumped for the postseason and I think we’ll all be watching intently to see how it all shakes out.
Thanks a bunch everyone! As always, if you have criticism, keep it to yourself 😉.