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: Wildcard Recap

And then there were eight.  In a series of solid contests, divisional winners went 4-0 over wild card squads to produce a full chalk advancement and set up some of the games we’ve all been waiting for.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Wildcard Recap

Detroit Lions 216, Philadelphia Eagles 171

Tyler Lockett had 31, Matthew Stafford threw for 28, both the offense and defense broke the century marker, and Detroit cruised to an easy 45 point victory over the Eagles in the wildcard round – though since Lockett played on Monday Night, the victory appeared much more questionable up until that point.  The Eagles were undone on the defensive side of the ball, where not a single player reached double figures.  Combined with a Witten goose egg, it was simply too much for the Eagles to overcome.

Arizona Cardinals 198, Atlanta Falcons 150

The bright lights of the playoffs do strange things to teams.  Atlanta and Cleveland are both teams that are vastly better than they showed in the Wild Card round, leading one to wonder just what sort of first time playoff jitters both teams were experiencing.  Julio Jones came to play with 23 and Jay Ajayi got a respectable 16, but nobody else on the team scored more than 11 points as the Falcons stumble to a quick exit.  Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 4 point whimper will increase the cries for Goff over the off-season.  Arizona, on the other hand, put in a strong, workmanlike performance that shows they know what the playoffs are about and are planning on a long stay.  Shady McCoy led the way with 32, Brandon LaFell snared 22, and the Cardinal offense outscored the Falcon offense by 40, proving to be the difference in the game.

Kansas City Chiefs 244, Cleveland Browns 115

Cleveland’s drama and triumph happened in week 12, when the Browns posted a nice win and won a four team tie-breaker to make their first ever RDFL playoff. It was a huge milestone for what has been a struggling franchise, and a great step on the rise to success.  Coupled with a bye week that away 5 starters and an injury to star receiver Marvin Jones, one could forgive the Browns for just being happy to be there.  The Browns were lifeless from the jump, falling behind 25-9 on Thursday night and staying there.  Both sides of the ball were abysmal as Cleveland posted 48 offensive points and 55 defensive ones on the way to their worst overall performance of the year.  Still, a first ever playoff experience deserves congratulations.  Kansas City, meanwhile, took advantage, feasting on defense.  The front-line trio of Everson Griffen, Kyle Williams, and Dante Fowler combined for 66 defensive points, the defense put up 153, and Jordy Nelson added 31 to make this a convincing route.

Houston Texans 230, New England Patriots 201

The best game of the playoffs was never truly decided until Monday night, as the Houston Texans and New England Patriots both put up strong performances worthy of playoff teams.  New England road strong games on each side of the ball, getting a well rounded 95 on offense and 92 on defense.  Houston countered, however, with a preposterous ground and pound game all weekend long behind a 40 point explosion from David Johnson and a 36 point complement from Jordan Howard.  As a result, Houston outscored the Patriots at RB (Frank Gore and Kenjon Barner) 75-15, more than enough to make up for the difference in the game.  Still, a hugely successful year for the 12-4 Patriots, who would have advanced against 3/4 NFC teams in the Wild Card.

 

Divisional Round Predictions:

Carolina Panthers vs. Arizona Cardinals: This battle of playoff veteran teams also appears pretty one-sided.  The Panthers have the 2nd ranked offense and 6th ranked defense in football, while the Cardinals are on the middle of the list.  Injury concerns do loom for Carolina though, with Luke Kuechly and Kurt Coleman still in the concussion profile, Eddie Royal and Robert Woods suffering from lingering injuries, and whatever the heck is going on with the real life Cam and the Panthers threatening to impinge.  Still, the biggest danger to me is that the Panthers look past the Cardinals this week.  Face to face and at full strength, Arizona would need a repeat from Shady and much more to knock off the Panthers.  But if Carolina turns in a dud, Arizona is absolutely strong enough to capitalize

Prediction: In a startling break from my playoff rule about never predicting Carolina, I pick Carolina.  This is largely because Carolina seems to have their own rule about winning every damn playoff game.

New York Giants vs. Detroit Lions: To my mind, this is the best matchup of the divisional round, and potentially one of the best 2 vs 3 divisional matchups we’ve seen in a long-long time.  The Giants were the best team by far in fantasy points in the regular season, dropping out of the top slot by virtue of a pair of back to back losses against teams like LA playing their hearts out.  Let’s be clear, though – they scored 3775 fantasy points, which is an AVERAGE of more than 230 per game.  When they are on, they are massacring people.  By contrast, the Lions won their division handily, are an outstanding team in their own right, and scored 3219.

Prediction: New York Giants.  It’s hard to vote against Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and the best point total in RDFL.  I’m riding the Giants until Carolina beats them and makes me look bad.

Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans: Here’s where things get interesting.  The red-hot Texans against the wounded but still powerful Bills.  Houston is on a tear, winning some ridiculous number of games in a row (is it 11?) and posting 230 points in a very strong playoff performance.  As Jordan Howard emerges in the Bears backfield as a stud, this team just gets stronger.  Nobody wants to play them, and they are a brutal 12-4 four seed.  At the same time, the Bills injuries are well documented, with Gronk, AP, CJ Prosise, and AJ Green suffering major injuries and Alshon Jeffery suspended.  So does this bode well for an upset?  Hard to say.  Because of that defense.  Just when everyone thought the Bills might be vulnerable, they dropped a 156 point defensive day to combine a still solid 80 points from the offense to score the most points in fantasy in the week #12 double and maintain the #1 seed.  Same old Buffalo.  Wounded?  Yes.  Still fighting?  Absolutely.  This is going to be one heck of a fun game.

Prediction: Houston.  Going out on a limb here and saying Houston is too hot and the injuries are too much.  But man this will be close.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Another one that should be close.  The Baltimore Ravens have not lost since week 3.  This team has done nothing but win, week after week, game after game, opponent after opponent.  Add to that the sudden re-emergence of “good Joe Flacco” and Dennis Pitta, and this is a ferocious team that nobody wants a piece of.  The Ravens make their hay with their #3 ranked offense that could get even better, and feature a complimentary #9 defense.  The Chiefs, meanwhile, are riding high after their wild card round laugher, but will be watching the injury news all week anxiously for updates on Jordan Reed and Tavon Austin.

Prediction: Baltimore.  You don’t go against a team this hot, especially not after seeing what they would have put up last week had they been playing!

Good luck to all, and condolences/congratulations to Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland and New England.

Real Deal (Football) Report: Playoff Predictions 2016

EDIT: I am officially an idiot.  Carolina is the #1 seed in the NFC and NYG is the #2. I have amended my predictions accordingly

The playoffs are here!  It’s crazy!

I’m writing a post!  It’s crazy!  I know, I know.  I’m sorry.  It’s been a rough year, both timewise and otherwise, and my attention has been elsewhere. Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Playoff Predictions 2016

In fairness to myself, I wrote a full and detailed apology, followed by a 3.5 hours treatise analyzing the playoff chances of 16 total teams before the season’s final week, as well as a detailed recap of the previous two.  I clicked save draft.  I shut my computer.  I came back Thanksgiving morning to edit and post and found that I had only the first paragraph.  I was demoralized, and had neither the heart nor the time to duplicate either the apology or the treatise.

So, as they say in Canada, “Sorry ‘boot that that!”

Anyway, ya hosers, thanks for sticking with me, and I am hear to predict the playoffs.  A little drama in the commishing world today, so it’s Thursday night after games have started.  “Sorry ‘boot that.”

In any case, here goes nothing!

NFC Playoffs

#1 – Bye – Carolina Panthers

#2 – Bye – New York Football Giants

#3 Detroit Lions vs. #6 New… wait… Phil… wait.. New Orl!… wait. nope.  It’s Philadelphia.  It’s the Philadelphia Eagles.

After stat correction mayhem featuring the New Orleans Saints vs (ironically) these very same Detroit Lions, the Lions prevail in their final match of the season against the Saints and avoid a rematch, getting the Eagles instead.

It’s worth noting at this point that absolutely nobody has ever gotten more screwed by stat corrections than the New Orleans Saints, who had the only undefeated regular season in real deal history in 2013 – until they lost it in a stat correction the final week of the season.  The constant state of anxiety Saints fans feel about Monday and Tuesday stat changes is downright legit.

The metrics, needless to say, like Detroit in this wildcard matchup.  The Lions are 6 overall in fantasy points, the Eagles 13th.  The Lions have the 7th ranked offense and 13th ranked Defense, while the Eagles are 12th and 18th respectively.  The last time the Eagles outscored the Lions on an individual week was week 9.  Add to all this that the Eagles have four starters questionable with injuries (not even talking about Jamaal Charles) and 10 ppg DT Jurrell Casey on bye.  It’s rough.  The Lions, to be fair, also have a #1 RB in Ameer Abdullah on the IR, and do lose Jaime Collins on bye.  However, with Leonard Floyd returning to practice, it’s a much better week for the Lions, who have played better both all season and the last few weeks.

Prediction: Detroit

#4 Arizona Cardinals vs. #5 Atlanta Falcons 

A classic example of the highest seed not necessarily being the better team, the Cardinals cruised through the year to an easy championship in a weak NFC West.  The Falcons faced the exact opposite challenge, warring to a wild card in RDFL’s hardest division.  The metrics in this one all point the Falcons way, though.  Atlanta is 9th in fantasy points scored compared to Arizona’s 16th.  The Falcons also have better offensive and defense metrics, finishing 11th on offense and 6th on defense.  The Cardinals are consistent, coming in at a solid 16th on offense and 15th on defense.  It’s got to be a little hard to win a playoff game when Ryan Fitzpatrick is your quarterback, but that defense is downright excellent and the receiving core of Julio Jones, Kelvin Benjamin, John Brown, and Mohamed Sanu are going to be tough to beat in the playoffs.  Arizona hasn’t scored 200 points since week 2 and hasn’t scored 100 points on either offense or defense since week 4.  Just like in the other NFC playoff game, both the long-term and short-term trends predict an obvious result.

Prediction: Atlanta

 

AFC Playoffs:

#1 – Buffalo Bills (246 patients in week #12 with all those injuries…)

#2 – Baltimore Ravens (nothing like a 12 game winning streak, eh?)

#3 Kansas City Chiefs vs. #6 Cleveland Browns

After winning the tie-breaker of the century through head-to-head victories and a brutal Tennessee Titans collapse down the stretch, and benefiting heavily from Pittsburgh forfeits, the Browns heroically claim the wildcard for a playoff berth… only to have a week #13 wild card round bye.  My goodness. That is stinking horrible, as the Browns are only one of two teams with a scheduling quirk week 13 bye.  It costs them star running back Isaiah Crowell, starting TE Gary Barnidge, and four defensive starters.  Ouch.  Cleveland’s strength all year has been its quietly underrated #4 ranked offense, compensating for a porous (#20 overall) defense.  It’s going to be hard to maintain that without Crowell and Barnidge, but the Browns have been proving people wrong all year.   They’ll need a huge game from their passing attack of Blake Bortles, Marvin Jones, Jeremy Maclin, MIchael Crabtree, and Mike Evans.  The Chiefs, on the other hand, will be without Jordan Reed yet again, but totally avoid byes.  The Chiefs scored the most points in the AFC in the regular season and have a top 6 offense and defense… it’s the sort of game KC should win hands down… but it’s also the sort of game where you almost want to pick Cleveland for just that reason.

Prediction (Oh man I hate to do this to myself!): Kansas City

#4 Houston Texans vs. #5 New England Patriots

A pair of two of the quietest really good teams you will ever see will rematch in the wild card round.  The two hooked up in a nice week 3 game that New England won 211-193 behind 6 defensive takeaways (3 picks, 3 forced fumbles).  Jameis Winston and Carlos Hyde went nuts to keep the Texans close, but couldn’t quite close the gap.  Both teams hang their hats on offense, (Houston #5, New England #9) and try to keep their defenses off the field (New England #17, Houston #21).  New England loses Delanie Walker, their star TE, and Damien Stafford to bye weeks – but its not as much as a curse as it might seem – Cameron Brate, Walker’s replacement, threw down 27 against Houston in week 3.  A repeat of that would not be amiss at all.  Still, Houston has been one of the best teams in the league after a slow start, reeling off a whole passel of wins behind an outstanding offense, and they are totally healthy and facing no bye losses.

Prediction: Houston 

 

For the record, here’s how I expect the playoffs to play out in total:

Wild Card Round:

Detroit over Philadelphia

Atlanta over Arizona

Kansas City over Cleveland

Houston over New England

 

Divisional Round:

Carolina over Atlanta

New York Giants over Detroit

Buffalo over Houston

Baltimore over Kansas City

 

Divisional Championships

New York Giants over Carolina

Baltimore over Buffalo (injuries finally catch up)

 

Super Bowl

New York Giants over Baltimore

 

Good luck in the playoffs everyone!

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 (Report): Wildcard Summary and Divisional Predictions

What a comeback.  What a finish.  At least I think it is finished.  It’s over, right?

In the best playoff game we’ve seen in this league in some time, maybe ever, the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints put on a show for the ages.  After Sunday night’s games, it looked to be New Orleans’ game, in control 231-190.  But Arizona put on a never say die comeback behind 16 points from Barry Church and 18 behind Chris Baker to eke out a 237-236 victory over the New Orleans Saints that was literally not  confirmed until midnight Wednesday when stat corrections locked.  Mercy.

To the recaps!

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Report): Wildcard Summary and Divisional Predictions

Arizona Cardinals 237, New Orleans Saints 236: Game of the week.  Game of the year.  Game of the playoffs.  Whatever you want to call it, this game had absolutely everything.  Both teams scored over 100 points on both offense and defense, both teams got a goose egg from a top defensive contributor (Calais Campbell and Anthony Barr), and both teams got a huge game on offense from an unsung hero (Darren Sproles and Richard Rodgers).  This game also had more swings than a barrel of monkeys.  It looks to be all ‘Zona after Richard Rodgers’ massive hail mary catch and 36 point game.  But then New Orleans stormed back behind Sproles 31 points and Malcolm Jenkins 99 yard pick six of Tom Brady on Sunday afternoon, putting them solidly in control of the game.  Arizona kept pace with 8/11 defensive players scoring in double digits and a big 21 point game from Malcolm Floyd.  But things still looked doubtful for the Cardinals until those big Monday night games gave them the win by the narrowest of margins.  Phew.

Carolina Panthers 262, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 192: It’s really hard to beat a really good team like Carolina three times.  Especially when they mad about it, and determined to show the world that they ain’t no Wild Card team.  Tampa Bay played fine (192 is nothing to scoff at), but this was all about Carolina showing up and posting the best score of any playoff team.  Cam’s 40 was a huge performance, and Olsen’s 27 were nice, but every other performance was repeatable and sustainable.  This was not a fluke.  It was a well-balanced offensive and defensive showing and a rather systemic elimination of a league rival.  Sustainable.  For Tampa Bay, it was not even Gabbert’s fault, as the 9ers QB threw for 25 fantasy points.  Instead, it was enough zeros and threes and really low scores to keep them from being competitive.  Outstanding year.  But Carolina’s a juggernaut.

Pittsburgh Steelers 218, Cleveland Browns 182: Another game with multiple twists and turns, this game featured some pretty spectactular QB play on both sides.  The apparently invincible Ben Roethlisberger was on the field and chucking it everywhere on his way to 38 points.  Not to be outdone, though, Blake Bortles was just as impressive with a 36 point afternoon.  Pittsburgh’s running game was… hehehe “On fleek” against the Browns, with 28 from D-Willy and 23 from TJ Yeldon.  Le’Veon who?  But Cleveland also got nice games from their receiving core of Crabtree, Evans, and Jones.  At the end of the day, though, it was a defensive meltdown for the Browns who managed only 58 defensive points and saw only one guy hit double figures, compared to 94 for the Steelers.  A nice season for Cleveland that had the chance to go farther – and another game closer to defending the title for the Steelers.

Oakland Raiders 187, Tennessee Titans 159:  A workmanlike, unremarkable performance from the Raiders proved to be enough to overcome the fighting Odell Beckhams of Tennessee.  Carson Palmer chipped in 27 and they got enough decent outings from their supporting cast to win.  By contrast, the Titans got 35 from Odell and 23 from Stephone Anthony – but almost nothing from anyone else.  An unpredictable team this year, the Titans move to the off-season much as they entered the season – chalk full of young talent and just waiting for enough of it to crystallize to make a run.  Time to build on the post-season appearance.  For Oakland, the Raiders now advance to face the herculean task of slowing down Buffalo’s juggernaut.

Divisional Predictions:

New York Giants over Carolina Panthers: Ok, so I feel honor bound to stick with my original pick of the Giants in this game, but I am no longer anywhere near certain of that.  Despite a couple dips at the end of the regular season, Carolina looks to be in fine form and more than capable of putting up something in the mid-200s week in and week out.  The Giants, on the other hand, haven’t broken 200 since week 10 and appear to be scuffling a little bit.  They are still the #1 seed in the NFC and have the best record in RDFL for a reason – but they need that reason to show up this weekend.  The problem for New York has been a downtick in their defensive production, and I’m not sure I see that changing.  Antonio Brown can go off for 100 on any given night, and DeAndre Hopkins is in the same boat, but beyond that the Giants have a number of question marks.  The Panthers have a lot fewer question marks and appear more consistent, but the loss of Mark Ingram hurts big time and they simply don’t have the star power besides Cam to match NYG.  To me, this game is simple.  If Hopkins and Brown have huge games, the Giants advance.  If they don’t, it’s the Panthers.

Detroit Lions over Arizona Cardinals: It’s all chalk in the NFC.  Arizona put on an outstanding show to survive New Orleans, but needed a lot of players to go well above their seasonal averages to get it done.  Take away Richard Rodgers and his improbable hail mary and this team looks a lot more beatable (though, one could argue that JJ Watt might just pick up some of that slack)!  To me, though, the question marks in this game are less about Arizona and more about Detroit.  Todd Gurley.  Calvin Johnson.  Matthew Stafford.  Brandin Cooks.  If those guys go off, Detroit should win.  But all of them have had curiously down weeks at times, including a 4 point effort from Gurley in week 13 on Detroit’s bye.  We’ll see.  I think the stars come out to play just fine for Detroit this week, and that Arizona comes back to earth after an emotional victory.  But would I shocked to see it go the other way?  Nope.

Buffalo Bills over Oakland Raiders: Every year in college basketball, announcers start the year talking about how “there is no great team this year.”  Then, come March, somebody death marches through the NCAA tournament, takes the crown, and suddenly there is a great team.  I tend to think that team in RDFL this year is Buffalo.  While not always blowing people out flashily like Carolina, NYG, or even Detroit, the Bills have systematically made the 200 point marker their floor, quietly blown all comers away, and traded for Adrian Peterson coming down the stretch.  The Bills are starting Tyrod Taylor, Adrian Peterson, AJ Green, Devonta Freeman, Rob Gronkowski, Alshon Jeffery, and Kenbrell Thompkins (which one of these is not like the others?!) against Carson Palmer, Late Eddie Lacy, Old James Jones, Hit or Miss Jordan Matthews, young Davante Adams, Ben “Elementary my Dear” Watson, and Brandon No Nickname Coleman.  That second lineup isn’t bad.  But it’s a bit like the JV team vs. the pros.  It’s been a tough, resilient year for the Raiders, who have overcome a lot of adversity to make a playoff run and reach this spot.  But this game goes to the Bills.  And it’s not going to be close.

Pittsburgh Steelers over Kansas City Chiefs: Same as it ever was in the AFC.  The truth is that these two teams are pretty evenly matched.  But Pittsburgh has recovered from its slump, found its stride, and has a healthy starting QB and a healthy, productive running back tandem doing serious damage.  They also lost their regular season matchup to the Chiefs and are hungry for revenge.  On the flip side, the Chiefs face the game with a slumping Pierre Garcon and potentially without both defensive leader Justin Houston and cornerback William Gay – and may be forced to start a 2-3 point CB in a divisional matchup.  These two teams are evenly matched – but all the intangibles point to a Pittsburgh explosion – and a Pittsburgh / Buffalo rematch in the AFC title game – though, of course, maybe I’m just writing that to give my guys bulletin board material…

Good luck to all those still in it, and congratulations on a great season to New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, and Cleveland.

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 – Super Bowl Preview

I have a mixed opinion personally on last week’s results.  On the one hand, I went 2-0 and totally nailed who was going to the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, it means that the Super Bowl now consists of two teams that I picked to miss the playoffs and finish either 3rd (Dallas) or last (Pittsburgh) in their own divisions.

In one, minor way, last week validated my awesome predictive powers.  In another, deeper way it pointed out just how terrible I am at this.  So keep that in mind as we move into prediction mode.

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

First, last weeks results.

Pittsburgh Steelers 202, Buffalo Bills 183

This game ended up being closer than it seemed.  Pittsburgh decisively won the offensive matchup 115-53 behind big games from Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell, Jarvis Landry, and Markus Wheaton.  Buffalo responded with defensive dominance, winning 109-61.  With special teams about even, Buffalo’s defensive dominance just wasn’t quite a match for Pittsburgh’s offensive advantage.

The thing that looms largest over this game, though, are the men who didn’t play – Mr. Nicholas Foles and Mr. Julio Jones.  The Bills got 4 points from Kyle Orton at the quarterback position, and 4.5 points from Philly Brown at the W/R flex spot.  If Foles and Julio Jones both play and get 15 points (league average for a QB and well below Julio’s per game average), The Bills are advancing to the Super Bowl.

Here’s the other thing that looms large, though.  ALBERT WILSON.  He contributed a key ten points and a million intangibles on the way to a Pittsburgh victory.

I’ll say more about Pittsburgh in predicting the Super Bowl, but want to congratulate Buffalo on an outstanding season and some aggressive trading to put themselves in position to almost make a Super Bowl.  Congrats Buffalo!  I selfishly hope you’ll regress next year… but kinda doubt it!

Dallas Cowboys 226, Green Bay Packers 159

I didn’t think this one was going to be close.  And it wasn’t.  Though in this case, it wasn’t really Green Bay’s fault, but a stroke of severe misfortune that Aaron Rodgers was inexplicably stymied for the first time all year by a Buffalo Bills defense that didn’t allow him a single touchdown.  It was a game effort by the Packers, but when Aaron Rodgers and Jamaal Charles combine for 11.5 total fantasy points and not a single player scores more than 20, it’s going to be hard to when too many games.  Just a bad time of year to suffer an inexplicable dud from their studs.

Dallas, meanwhile, cruised to the win behind a 138 point offensive outburst featuring franchise man Dez Bryant and much maligned off-season trade Devin Hester.  Congratulations to Green Bay for waiting until the NFC Championship game of year two to suffer their first ever elimination, and best of luck to the Packers next year – given the stars on this team in their prime, I’m guessing they’ll be back and be a force for a long time to come.

Onto the Super Bowl… For both Pittsburgh and Dallas, these championship games were coronations of sorts.  Both teams have been clearly the best teams in their respective conferences going back to week one.  Dallas faced some stiff competition from the New York Giants, while Pittsburgh surrendered the #1 seed to the Bills down the stretch, but at the end of the day, both the eye test and the points scored metric labeled these two teams as the best in their conferences.  Both squads are loaded with playmakers on both offense and defense, and just as importantly, both teams have risen to play their best fantasy football in big games.  This will be a spectacular Super Bowl, and I can’t wait to see how the dust settles.

Onto the predictions… I’ll go position by position and pick my edge…

Quarterback:

Tony Romo vs. Ben Roethlisberger

Edge: Pittsburgh

Both of these guys are good, and it is hard to bet against Romo, particularly after what he just did to the Eagles, and particularly with DeMarco Murray out and against a relatively porous Colts pass defense (Roethlisberger, for what it is worth, gets the Chiefs).  I think, though, that we encounter a familiar frenemy on Sunday in the old Tony Romo.  Consider – he’ll be at home in December with a playoff berth on the line and with DeMarco Murray out.  Who really thinks he’s not going to throw a ton of interceptions?  I think Big Ben has a tough day in KC throwing downfield, but gets his points on checkdown passes to Le’Veon “I think I might go for 50 again” Bell.

Running Backs:

Lamar Miller vs. Le’Veon Bell

Edge: Pittsburgh

Oooof.  This should have been a battle of superstar running backs.  Le’Veon Bell and DeMarco Murray have been the best RBs in the league all year – and it is not surprising that the two biggest stud backs are the biggest reasons these two teams are here today.  But with DeMarco almost certainly out with a screw in his hand, Dallas will have to turn to Lamar Miller, who has been decidedly inconsistent.  Miller does not have a 100 yard running game yet this year, and has not broken 20 points a game yet this year.  Le’Veon, on the other hand, has broken 20 more often than he has not and has not gone for less than 30 points in a game since LeGarrette Blount was released.  Make no mistake, the step down from DeMarco to Lamar is huge, and this is Pittsburgh’s biggest advantage.

Wide Receivers:

Dez Bryant, Pierre Garcon, Devin Hester and John Brown vs. Markus Wheaton, Jarvis Landry, Doug Baldwin, and Albert Wilson

Edge: Dallas

Whatever edge Pittsburgh gains from the Running Back spot, Dallas gets back in the passing game, as Bryant, Garcon and Hester are all capable of going off for huge games on any given day.  Even John Brown is averaging 10 points a game, and is capable of breaking one deep – though Ryan Lindley will almost certainly prove a giant wet blanket filled with led weights to his value.  On the Steeler side of things, these receivers have been some of Pittsburgh’s greatest surprises.  Everyone knew that Roethlisberger and Bell were going to be good.  But nobody expected (or at least not me!) that Markus Wheaton, Jarvis Landry and Doug “I define unremarkable” Baldwin would do what they have (combined to average over 40 ppg together).  And, of course.  ALBERT WILSON.  He’s the wild card.  He affects gravity.  Physics and Math stop working when he’s around.  Dez Bryant might catch 6 touchdowns and still score fewer fantasy points than Doug Baldwin – even if Baldwin only catches one pass.  These are the sorts of things that happen around Albert Wilson.

But, if normalcy holds, the WR position is a big strength for Dallas, who futures current superstars compared to Pittsburgh’s future ones.

Tight End:

Delanie Walker vs. Larry Donnell

Edge: Dallas

Larry Donnell has been a very good Tight End this year.  But he has also been a very touchdown dependent tight end this year.  More to the point, it has been five full weeks since he has scored in double digit fantasy points – coincidentally, the last time he caught a touchdown.  Delanie Walker, meanwhile, has produced whenever he has been healthy, and faces a very nice match-up this week.  Once again, I expect the current star to outperform the future one.  Of course, Donnell could catch three touchdowns again…

Defensive Line:

Chris Clemons, DeMarcus Ware, Andre Jones, Sen’Derrick Marks vs. Tyrone Crawford, Datone Jones, Jurrell Casey, and Kyle Williams

Edge: Pittsburgh

Both teams play a 4-3, an interesting point not lost on me as I consider roster construction for next year.  And neither team has a tremendously strong front four.  Pittsburgh’s squad is very strong in the center with Jurrell Casey and Kyle Williams eating up tackles, but weaker on the sides where Crawford and Jones combine to average only 10 points per game.  Dallas is a little bit more well-rounded, but even Sen’Derrick Marks lacks the potential upside and stud potential of Casey and Williams.  If Williams plays, that is.  Pittsburgh cannot afford another goose egg from him here – he must make his presence felt.

Linebackers

Thomas Davis, Sio Moore and Daryl Smith vs. Alec Ogletree, Prince Shembo and Lawrence Timmons

Edge: Dallas

This is if Sio Moore plays.  Dallas very quietly put together a ravenous and rapacious group of tackle mavens who have combined to average 35 fantasy points per game – and combined for 291 tackles.  291.  Already.  On the other side of the ball, Alec Ogletree and Lawrence Timmons have largely matched them on the outside, though their tackle counts have not been quite impressive.  But Prince Shembo does not yet have a starting role, and the 7-8 point drop off between Shembo and Moore gives the edge to the Cowboys – if he plays…

Secondary

AJ Bouye, Bradley Fletcher, Tony Jefferson and Antrel Rolle vs. Antoine Cason, Darrin Walls, Mike Mitchell and Troy Polamalu

Edge: Dallas

The Cowboys have hit on the secret to an effective secondary – draft a bunch of crappy cornerbacks who are going to get thrown at a lot – and reap the rewards of the tackles.  Then, grab some hard-hitting, fast-talking safeties who can hawk the ball and take off a guy’s head.  These guys aren’t the best group in the league, but they are good for 40-45 points per week, and combine with the other parts to give the Cowboys a consistent bajillion tackles a week and 100+ fantasy points.  The scary part about the Cowboys defense is that, since it is so tackle-heavy, it is not as subject to the big-play vicissitudes that other defenses encounter.  Instead, it is a consistent force for evil in our fallen world.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has a patchwork, bend and hopefully don’t break defense cobbled together from aging veterans like Polamalu.  Many of these guys don’t even start, but get sufficient coverage time to log significant points.  Antoine Cason is a classic example – listed as a third stringer by Fantrax (well done, Fantrax, well done!), Cason averages ~11 points a game for a league minimum salary.  It is on the backs of such plebeians that Pittsburgh has built its empire.  But once again… the Steelers are no longer facing the goblins of the AFC – now they face the dragons of the NFC.  And the faithful citizens with pitchforks may get eaten alive.

Special Teams:

Dan Bailey and Tim Masthay vs. Shaun Suisham and Drew Butler

Edge: Pittsburgh

Both of these teams have similar situations – strong kickers (their teams score a lot) and questionable punting situations.  Dallas, in fact, lost one of its few games this year because Masthay dropped a goose egg.  And that’s why the edge goes decisively to Pittsburgh here.  There are games where Green Bay simply doesn’t punt.  And following their humiliating offensive performance against Buffalo, I expect this to be one.  And on the other side, I expect the Cardinals to play a field position game (that’s a nice way of saying “play terribly and punt a lot”) with Ryan Lindley getting the start.  Butler will simply get more opportunities

PREDICTION: Dallas Cowboys 208 over Pittsburgh Steelers 193

Even without DeMarco Murray, I have the Cowboys.  I think they have a decisive edge on the defensive side of the ball and should win that battle by a good 20-25 points over the Steelers patchwork defense.  The two teams are evenly matched on offense, but while I see Le’Veon Bell having a very good game against Kansas City, I don’t see him having a great game.  And without a 40 pointer, I just don’t think it will be enough to overcome the Dallas defense and passing game.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Albert Wilson can turn the tide of a lot of things, and Murray’s absence makes this a much closer game than I would have predicted.  But I think the best team in the league proves it one more time, and the Dallas Cowboys take home a Super Bowl – while the Steelers grab pole position to win it all next year with its young stars one year older.

Good luck to both teams this weekend, and congratulations for making it this far!

 

 

 

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!!!!

 

 

Real Deal (Football) Report – Divisional Round Playoff Predictions

And then there were eight.  Four games.  Four winners.  Four go home.  But now things change.  Now the big boys come out to play.  Well, NYG was already playing.  But now Dallas, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay come on the scene.  No more flag football.  No more of that plastic basketball hoop five feet off the ground nonsense.  No more bumper bowling. Now it gets REAL.

I was 2-2 last week.  That’s better than I usually do – so I hope to go 2-2 again.  Always set your goals high, kids.  When you’re predicting, you always want to do exactly as well as random chance.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report – Divisional Round Playoff Predictions

So last week’s games:

Kansas City Chiefs 225 – Oakland Raiders 180

Oakland’s hot hand carried the Raiders to another respectable performance – but not quite a victory, ending a strong late-season run.  It looked like things were going to be different when Jordan Matthews was catching everything that moved early on Thanksgiving, but the offense slowed down enough to allow the Chiefs to squeak through.   Big plays on defense turned out to the key in this one, as the Chiefs defense blocked punts, scored multiple touchdowns, and had 4 defensive players achieve nearly 20 points days.

Indianapolis Colts 194 – Denver Broncos 137

Thud.  It happens to all of us.  And it always sucks.  Always.  No exceptions.  It’s the worst feeling to play strong all year – and then lay an egg in round one of the playoffs.  Sympathy cards to the Broncos.  The Broncos only got moderate performances from sometime studs Manning, Welker, Thomas, and Boldin.  But it was their defense that really let them down, turning in only a pathetic 35 point performance in which only one player scoring more than 5 points.  Brutal.  On the other side of the ball, Indiana cruised to the win with a 41 point explosion from Andrew Luck and a workmanlike day-at-the-office from everyone else.

Philadelphia Eagles 250 – Seattle Seahawks 151

This was a good old-fashioned ham-smacking!  I don’t even know what a ham-smacking is, but you have to admit, it’s a pretty darn applicable term for this one.  Put in more descriptive language, Philadelphia played really well, Seattle played bad.   The Eagles scored over 100 points on both offense and defense, despite a combined 4.5 points from Colin Kaepernick and Shane Vereen.  Coby Fleener lead the way with 35, and 3 other players on the offense averaged over 20 points.  On Seattle’s side of the ball, it was just a very blah performance.  Big time players step up in big time games… and simply nobody stepped up, as the Seahawks did not produce a single 20 point game.  Eric Decker (4), Jason Witten (1.5), and the entire Defensive Line (5 points combined) were the true goats.

New York Giants 281 – New Orleans Saints 214

HULK SMASH!!!!!  Welcome to the playoffs, New York Giants.  They’ve been good all year.  But this week the offense ripped off its shirt, turned into a giant green monster, and literally dismembered a solid Saints quad limb-by-limb.  Mercy.  The offense scored 192 points behind an insane 61 points by DeAndre Hopkins, who went off for 238 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  The obliteration was so bad that Heath Miller’s 20 point performance seemed positively mediocre.  Highest point total on offense EVER, and highest point total by any team this season.  The Giants have announced their arrival with an incredible game – and as a reward, get a rematch with the archrival Cowboys.  The Saints actually played quite a strong game featuring a 28 point defensive explosion by Cameron Jordan and breaking the 200 point barrier easily.  But against New York this week, there was simply no chance.

Divisional Round Predictions:

Buffalo Bills over Indianapolis Colts

So a couple weeks ago, I would have said something different here.  Buffalo hasn’t quite been the same team the second half of the season, and came into the playoffs scuffling a bit.  But then they pulled off a blockbuster trade, brought in Arian Foster and Julio Jones, and gave themselves a needed shot in the arm.  I don’t think they have enough to get over the top at Pittsburgh.  But I do think Julio and Arian perform well enough to get past the Colts, who beat a scuffling Broncos team on a Luck explosion.  I think the Colts play better as a team than they did last week.  But I think Luck turns in only a good game (18 or so) and think Julio and Arian turn out to be blockbuster in the playoffs as the Bills advance.

Pittsburgh Steelers over Kansas City Chiefs

This is a total vengeance game for the Steelers, after I picked them to go 4-12 and chill in the basement all year.  Pittsburgh, led by Le’Veon “I am ridiculously insane in a PPR league now that LeGarrette Blount has gotten kicked off his 84th team” Bell, is an absolute juggernaut.  The defense is strong.  Young players like Markus Wheaton and Jarvis Landry have had time to develop.  And this team is not rolling over for anybody.  Until New York or Dallas rip their arms off.  The Chiefs made it past Oakland on the strength of big plays and defensive touchdowns.  That doesn’t happen two weeks in a row.  This one might be close, but Darren Leung and the Steel City move on.

New York Giants over Dallas Cowboys

My God, what a game.  This should be the Super Bowl.  They should just stop the season and agree to award the title to the winner of this one.  It is an absolute travesty of justice that the two best teams in the league meet in the quarterfinals.  These two teams have easily been the strongest all year, and it hasn’t been close.  So many studs.  So many big players.  So many points.  An intra-division rivalry.  This one is going to be CLOSE.  And it is going to be high-scoring.

I’ll be honest, I have no clue who wins it.  Anybody, and I mean anybody, on either team’s offense is capable of going off for 50 points on any given night, like DeAndre Hopkins just did.  Here’s the thing.  You can’t pick against somebody who just threw down 281 points.  So I’m picking the upset, DESPITE the fact that Dallas is playing the Bears and Romo and DeMarco will almost certainly bounce back.  And EVEN DESPITE the fact that Eli Manning is playing Quarterback for the Giants.  The Giants are just so hot right now.  They are hotter than Zoolander.  I could easily be wrong.  But WHAT.  A.  GAME.

Green Bay Packers over Philadelphia Eagles

So I picked against Philadelphia last week when signs pointed to them winning.  And so, of course, they won.  Well, I’m doing it again.  You don’t pick against the champs.  Somebody has to beat the champs.  Here’s what I think.  Jamaal Charles is going for 50 this week.  Just like he did a year ago.  And the Eagles come off their big win at Dallas with a huge thud against Seattle.  Maclin catches nothing.  Shady gets stuffed.  And Russell Wilson doesn’t turn the ball over.  I still think its close.   But I think Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson against a suspect Falcons secondary brings Green Bay within a game of back-to-back Super Bowls.

Good luck everybody!!!