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

We round out our 2017 predictions with the North divisions, both of which were pretty exemplary in 2016.  The AFC North provided our best all around race, with all four teams above 500 and in contention throughout most of the season, while the NFC Norris provided our Super Bowl Champion in the Detroit Lions.  Here we go again!

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

 

NFC North

Detroit Lions (11-5): My literal initial exclamation when opening Detroit’s roster for an initial review.  “Oh yeah.  The ()$&#$() Super Bowl champions got $#(&)#$ Tyreek Hill.  Actually, that’s pretty much the cliff notes version of my NFC North predictions.  The Minnesota Vikings are a year away from being scary and the faffing Lions got faffing Tyreek Hill.  Credit where credit’s due – he drafted the guy in the middle rounds of the 2016 draft after the entire rest of the league passed on him twice.  Shame on the rest of us.  But it still sort of seems unfair.

Look, there’s no getting around it.  This roster is loaded once again.  Stafford at QB.  Ameer Abdullah and Todd Gurley due for a bounce back at RB.  Brandin Cooks (now with a Brady!), Tyreek Hill, and Tyler Lockett at WR.  Martellus Bennet at TE.  That’s a starting seven and no mistake.  And that’s before we note that Patrick Mahomes and Marlon Mack are just chilling on the practice squad, waiting to not be picked off by anybody because they are first rounders.  Bleh.

Actual team portrait of Tyreek Hill, who somehow we all let Detroit draft in like the 3rd round or something. ::sigh::

Perhaps a team that has neglected its defense to focus on offense?  Sorry, nope.  Every position group on this team is solid, It starts with a young and brutal D-Line of Chris Jones, Stephon “I’ll get around Tuitt”

Bwahahaha! Come on. That’s funny! Hahaha!

, “Sorry Malik Jackson, I am for real”, Takkarist climbing Mt. Mckinley, and “Oh yeah, I’m Derek Barnett, the first Eagles 1st round pick to be worth a damn in years”.  It moves to a Linebacking group that has Leonard Floyd and Jamie Collins flanking the less impressive but still starting Todd Davis.  And it ends with a powerful secondary that goes at least 5 to 6 deep with Ronald Darby, Darius Slay, Glover Quin, LaMarcus Joyner, and Adoree Jackson.  Even more bleh.

If there’s one place this team could be vulnerable, it’s offensive depth.  It seems like quite a nitpick (and I think it is), but ask poor Buffalo how injuries can shred a star-studded cast at the worst possible time.

UPDATE: He just traded for Eric Decker.  So much for that depth thing.

Still.  It seems a bit of a foregone conclusion.  The ($#)&#$) Super Bowl champs got (#)$*#$ Tyreek Hill.  The NFC North is all but guaranteed, and Detroit has to be considered the odds on favorite to return to the Super Bowl for the first time in RDFL history.  Triple bleh.

 

Green Bay Packers (8-8): This division is BRUTAL.  it could rival the NFC South this year for sheer top to bottom ridiculousness. The Packers aren’t the favorites, and they don’t have Chicago’s sneak up on you panache, but this team could still make some real noise.  Somehow, Green Bay has dodged the full reload and should return with a very solid team.

Kirk Cousins is good.  Davante Adams is good. Carlos Hyde could either lose his job or be a feature back.  Jamison Crowder should become good soon.  Jason Witten is somehow STILL good (if a little overpaid).  Eli Rogers has had a lot of hype and might become good.  Brandon Oliver, Vernon Davis, and Andre Holmes could all contribute. Mario Addison is an underrated beast.  KJ Wright is a god.  Mason Foster isn’t far behind.  Richard Sherman talks a lot and has great hair.  Patrick Chung and Morgan Burnett talk less and aren’t as good, but score more fantasy points.  Domata Peko always plays super well against Kansas City, so in my mind he’s a top 10 DE.

I don’t know, man.  This team isn’t loaded with studs at every position.  There are holes.  But It has enough studs, enough really good players, and enough depth to be seriously competitive.  If this team was in either western division, it would be competing for a playoff spot.  If this team were in either eastern division, it would be competing for a playoff spot.  But you know what?   The NFC North and the NFC South both suck a lot to be in.

When places got overcrowded in the past, people just went west and stole land from the natives. Perhaps Green Bay can move to the East and steal land from Washington? They ain’t winning anything here…

The big danger for Green Bay is no man’s land.  Detroit is not beatable this year.  And with a loaded NFC South and a hungry Philadelphia, it’s not a great year for the wild card either.  But starting next year, Minnesota is going to become a voracious beast and compete too.  Make no mistake, this Green Bay team does have staying power with young assets, and are ahead of schedule on a rebuild – but I worry it is neither young enough, nor old enough.  Of course, I said the same thing about the Houston Texans last year in this column too – and they ended up in the Super Bowl.

 

Chicago Bears (8-8): The monsters of the Midway, however, are lurking in the shadows.  Mark my words.  This team will surprise.  The Bears are like the Grey Men in Robert Jordan’s the Wheel of Time (What?  I’m a sci-fi nerd?  You hadn’t figured that out already?  Deal with it.).  Your eyes run over them.  You don’t really notice they are there.  They seem so… normal.  And then before you know it, they’ve ripped out your innards.  The RDFL Bears of 2017 are like that.

You look over their roster, and they almost look… bad.  I mean.  Brian Hoyer?  Will Tye?  Terrance West?  Cameron Meredith?  Adolphus Washington? Nick Kwiatkowski?  Andrew Adams?  I mean… who?

And then you suddenly realize that Brian Hoyer is working in a Kyle Shanahan offense and throwing to decent receivers.  It dawns on you that Terrance West is the unquestioned feature back on a ground and pound team.  You realize that Devante Parker might be really good, and that Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte may well have one more year in them.  You say “Meredith… Meredith… where have I heard that name… oh yeah, he’s suddenly the Bears #1 receiver…” You don’t realize anything about Will Tye because let’s face it, these aren’t the Lions and they still have holes – there is nothing about Will Tye to realize.

UPDATE: Cameron Meredith is done for the year.  I have therefore moved the poor Bears behind GB.

 

The bears gonna mess you up. You better watch yo back, fool!

But then you move on to the defense and see that Adolphus Washington and Andrew Adams could earn starting roles out of nowhere.  You can’t help but think “twatkowski” and chuckle every time you see Nick Kwiatkowski’s name, so even though he isn’t likely to be that good, he adds value (also, I am not posting a picture of twatkowski).  You note that Akiem Hicks and Kwon Alexander are studs, Kevin Minter is the leader in the center of the Arizona defense, AJ Bouye is good enough you want to shout “booyah!”, and Ron Parker and Da’Norris Searcy are a pair of damn good safeties.  Frostee Rucker, Junior Galette, and LaMarr Houston could have value if things break right, and Terence Newman may have one more good campaign with a pick-six or two left in his ancient frame.  And you start to feel alarm just as the claw slips in and Chicago rips out your innards.

This team isn’t going to dethrone the Lions.  But it’s absolutely going to sneak up on people, and I honestly don’t think a playoff berth is out of the question.  Pay heed to the Bears, my friends, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

Minnesota Vikings (7-9): What do you do when you start off with a franchise team that has AP and very little else?  You store up a bajillion draft picks, you go without a quarterback for three years, you lose a lot of games, and then you draft ALL. THE. PLAYERS.  All of them.

The Vikings are coming to plunder a village near you. Dak Prescott is the franchise quarterback.  Joe Mixon and Duke Johnson provide a bruising one-two out of the backfield.  And Laquon Treadwell, Allen Robinson, and Tyler Boyd make up an intriguing wideout trio, though only Robinson has really reached his potential thus far.  Jace Amaro and Kyle Rudolph are passable TEs, and Minnesota has a lot of practice squad pieces that can hopefully develop into depth.

Somewhat surprisingly given Minnesota’s self-described “lack of knowledge” on the defensive end (::cough:: ringer! ::cough::), the defensive rebuild has gone even better, bringing in guys like Reuben Foster, Myles Garrett, Joey Bosa, Harrison Smith, Vic Beasley, Phillip Gaines, Marcus Peters, Reshad Jones, Kawann Short, and Noah Spence.  A couple veterans like Paul Posluz (I STILL can’t effing spell it!) nky and Eric Kendricks sprinkled in and blam – Minnesota has a spectacular defense.

One more year.  One more year for Dak to move off of game management mode, Laquon Treadwell to develop, Joe Mixon to get through the rookie blues, and Jace Amaro to turn into a player.  One more year for the rookies and young guys. The Vikings have 23 guys on rookie contracts.  One more Wide receiver.  One more year.  And the rebuild will be over.  Over with a capital O and a capital VER.  OVER like in mother effing CRICKET over.  Over like the comb in Donald Trump’s hair over.  Over.  In 2018, the drought ends.

As a northeastern lib who voted for Hillary, I would never get political on a fantasy sports blog. This is completely about Minnesota’s prospects for victory in 2018.  Completely…

 

AFC North

So first, a shout-out.  This division was awesome last year.  For the first time ever, every single team in the division was competitive all the way through.  There was a point late in the season last year where all four teams  were vying for both the playoffs and the division title – and all four teams finished with above 500 records.  It was a really remarkable division wide performance that I didn’t give nearly enough recognition to.  I don’t think it will be quite as good this year, in part because I think Pittsburgh and Baltimore get a bit more separation from the Ohio teams.  But it should still be a chaotic division with some definite potential for mayhem.

Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6): Remember when we were talking about Indianapolis and the LA Chargers?  A quarterback, a defense, and not much else?  And remember how we said it didn’t work?  Well, Pittsburgh is following the same model.  And this is what the model looks like when it works.  Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t stand alone.  He also has Jarvis Landry and Le’Veon Bell.  And the defense isn’t just good.  It’s Grrrreeeaaatttt!

It starts with the linebackers, where Alec Ogletree, Lawrence Timmons, and Tahir Whitehead form a formidable threesome.  Jared Crick, DeForest Buckner, and Brent Urban are a well above average D-line, and the secondary of Byron Maxwell, Sean Davis, Mike Mitchell, Bradley McDougald, and even Jamar Taylor are all very fantasy relevant.  There really are not any critical weaknesses in these positional groups.

This team does have the same challenge as LA and Indy – a drop off in offensive quality.  Roethlisberger is great (if injury prone), Bell is great (if marijuana prone), and Jarvis Landry is sort of great (but possibly prone to Jay Cutler).  After that, though, they have Albert Wilson (he’s a bit of a magic wand), Ju-ju Shuster Smith (he has a bit of a magic name), and the outlaw Jesse James (who is not magic so far as I understand, but can still rob a train like nobody’s business).

Pittsburgh has the talent. And they have the juju. It’s going to be a good year for the Steel City!

Basically, this is what you have to do to be successful.  Rock the defense.  Rock the QB.  Pick up a few studs.  And round out the backside with competent players, not zeros.  The Steelers have the formula, the talent, and the championship pedigree, and I see them back atop with Norris in 2017.

 

Baltimore Ravens (9-7): Baltimore has a fun, fun team.  The type of team you may not necessarily want to have in fantasy, but that you LOVE to watch if you are a 14 year old teenager who loves nothing more than seeing lots of passing touchdowns.  Big arm Joe Flacco  has ZERO running game to speak of, but a cadre of young receiving options who can absolutely fly.  The top four wideouts on this team are Keenan Allen, Amari Cooper, Terrelle Pryor, and Adam Thielen, with even Coby Fleener a solid pass catcher at Tight End.  Can you imagine if the real life Joe Flacco had THAT kind of firepower and weaponry?  I mean, we all know he’d still totally be overpaid and mediocre, but he’d be just slightly less overpaid and mediocre!

It’s fortunate, because as I said, there exists no running game.  Kenneth Dixon was supposed to provide it, but that didn’t work out.  As a result, the top options are Jamaal Williams, Rex Burkhead, Tarik Cohen, and Tim Hightower.  Remember when Baltimore had all the running backs?

It’s a fun squad on defense too. Cliff Avril and Olivier Vernon can both get after the quarterback.  At linebacker, Telvin Smith IS a stud, Terrell Suggs USED to be a stud, and Shaq Lawson WANTS to be a stud.  And the secondary is decent as well, with ball hawking backs like Bradley Roby, Eric Reid, and Lardarius Webb.

Here’s what it’s going to come down to.  The QB is passable.  The defense is good.  There is no such thing as a running back.  And the depth is questionable.  The strength of this team is its quartet of fast young receivers, and it is on them that Baltimore’s fortunes rest.  If they are merely good, this team is a wild card contender.  If they aren’t so good or catch the injury bug, the Ravens could struggle to finish .500.  But if they are great like we all think they could be… the North is well within reach.  We’ll see. With Jay Flacco slinging the rock, what could possibly go wrong?

Baltimore’s hopes rest on these guys… wait… this is actually what came up when I googled talented quartet. I shit you not.

 

Cleveland Browns (8-8): The real NFL has ruined us.  We don’t think of the AFC North as a passing league.  But man, should we ever.  Not only is this division full of close races and competitive times, it has epic firepower.

Let’s recap.

Pittsburgh: Antonio Brown and Jarvis Landry

Baltimore: Keenan Allen, Amari Cooper, Terrelle Pryor, Adam Thielen

Cleveland: Mike Evans, Just as Mike Crabtree, Not quite as Mike Jeremy Maclin, and not at all Mike Marvin Jones.

That’s ten really really strong wide receivers, and I give Cleveland the nod to have the best of the group.  That positions the offense really well.  Blake Bortles may or may not be a productive quarterback for them, but Isaiah Crowell is poised to be a breakout running back this year.  Erik Swoope is a hole at Tight End, and there’s no depth at all to speak of, but the starting offense is the best in the league, pound for pound.

Wide receivers in the AFC North, and on Cleveland specifically.

The trick for Cleveland is that the defense is second tier.  It’s not bad, not like some teams we’ve seen.  The players are decent and for the most part starting caliber.  Brandon WIlliams is a great nose tackle, Karlos Dansby is still an excellent linebacker, and it’s a nice secondary with Jordan Poyer, Tyvon Branch, and Joe Haden, though Haden is one of those fantastically talented real-life guys who doesn’t do quite as well in fantasy.  But there are holes.  And the poor holes have names.  Names like Kyle Emanuel, the 5th round backup who Cleveland is looking to start at LB.  Names like Nate Orchard and Tanoh Kpassagnon, two defense ends you’ve never heard of for good reason.  And names like Ibraheim Campbell, who keeps the secondary from reaching an actual A rating.  It’s not a terrible defense – its just simply not on the same plane as the Steelers and the Ravens – hence the third place rating.

Still, the offense has enough firepower that if things break badly for the other teams in the division, Cleveland could surprise as a playoff team, like it threatened to do for most of last year before being doomed by a brutal back-end schedule.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-11): At first glance, Cincy isn’t as flashy as the rest of the division.   They do have the badly underrated T.Y. Hilton catching passes from the also badly underrated Andy Dalton.  (RDFL is over before the NFL playoffs.  Dalton’s decent during the regular season.  Chill.)   But after that, the offense doesn’t have a whole lot – Rishard Matthews, Virgil Green, Jaron Brown, Jeremy Kerley, Theo Riddick, and Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Slim pickins.  Certainly nothing like the high octane passing attacks they are competing with.

That said, this team is still flashy.  It just comes on defense.  Because the 2017 Bengals have some play-makahs!  Cam Heyward, Dee Ford, Geno Atkins, Vontaze Burfict, Reggie Nelson, Vinnie Rey, and even BJ Goodson.  Sacks and stuffs are coming your way if you are a fan of this team.

So why 5-11 if I like the defense that much?  Well, I really don’t like the offense.  And while I love the playmakers, I’m not sure I love the depth, and I definitely don’t love the secondary.  It’s going to get picked apart.  And you can’t get your secondary picked apart in a division with legendary receiving groups.  (Yes.  I know that doesn’t actually matter in RDFL.  I’m writing a damn sports column.  Didn’t I JUST tell you to chill?  Drink a beer and appreciate the artistry.)  But beyond that, guys like Burfict really haven’t put up a lot of stats from a fantasy perspective, and guys like Dee Ford haven’t put up any stats at all.

Look, it’s distinctly possible I’m too low on the Tiger Cats.  If some of the offensive guys break out, and if the defense plays up and not down, they could definitely mount a challenge.  And I picked them fourth last year and they led the division for half the year before finishing in a three way tie for second at 9-7.  So they could certainly surprise.  But the offense is so weak, and the defense has enough holes… I just don’t see it happening.

Don’t like your predictions? Don’t blame the messenger. Go out and prove me wrong!

 

Anyway, my playoff predictions:

AFC East: Buffalo

AFC North: Pittsburgh

AFC South: Houston

AFC West: Oakland

AFC Wild Card: Kansas City

AFC Wild Card: Baltimore

 

NFC East: NY Giants

NFC North: Detroit

NFC South: Carolina

NFC West: Arizona

NFC Wild Card: Atlanta

NFC Wild Card: Philadelphia

 

AFC Championship: Buffalo over Houston

NFC Championship: Detroit over Arizona

 

Super Bowl: Buffalo over Detroit.   It’s hard to repeat, and the Bills are due for some luck.

 

 

 

The Ultimate Draft: RDU Football 2017

2017 Real Deal Ultimate Football Draft Recap

Alright gents! It’s that time of year! We finally finished nearly two weeks of drafting and now I have to break down all of the madness and hope I don’t lose my hair in the process. While I wrote this more than 4,000-word breakdown, pre-season games happened and situations changed greatly. I make mention to a few but, for the most part, take this as a snapshot of where things stood immediately following the last pick.

The 2017 draft was a deep one, both in the NFL and in Real Deal. Starters were still being drafted in the 5th round, so most teams came away with guys that will help them now and in the future. You don’t have to squint too hard and see this draft as being a massive turning point in the league, especially with some teams working hard to consolidate as much of the talent available now as possible. If this draft turns out to be an all-timer, as some pundits have predicted, the fortunes of this portion of our game could have changed for all of us.
Without further ado, I present my draft grades and evaluation for Real Deal Ultimate Football 2017. I was going to do awards too, but this is already like 4,100 words.
Feel free to agree and email me praises. If you disagree, save it for the chat board ;).

Arizona Cardinals: B-

Best Move: Trading 1.11, 2.11, and 4.11 for Doug Martin, 2.1, and CHI 2018 1st and 3rd round picks

The Cards draft will be ultimately judged by Doug Martin. AZ got very good value in the future picks, not to mention a legitimate starter at a key position. Many are down on Martin this season, and this trade reflects his depressed value. But if Martin returns anywhere near to form once he is reinstated, Zona’s draft will be looked upon very favorably. Kamara at 2.1 could prove to be a good value and several later picks have great upside, but this draft was about Martin.

Atlanta Falcons: A

Best Move: Dalvin Cook at 1.8

I love this draft. I’m super jealous. Getting Dalvin Cook at 8th overall is an unbelievably steal. I would have never expected it to fall that way, but I’m sure ATL is happy it did. And if that wasn’t good enough, Derek Barnett as the 5th pass rusher off the board, Marshon Lattimore and Budda Baker in the 3rd round, and Isaiah McKenzie in the 6th. The pieces are there to build a very successful team in the near future. Well done.

Carolina Panthers: D

Best Move: Malik Hooker could be good enough to make us forget CAR gave up a 5th rounder to move up one spot to get him.

Sorry bruh, but when you go into a draft with 5 picks and come out with only Malik Hooker, a 7th round wideout, and a 2018 3rd, you get a D.

Chicago Bears: B-

Best Move: Tre’Davious White at 3.1

I’m going to keep the commentary on Chicago’s effort to the draft itself, although special mention has to be made to basically compiling a standout defensive unit overnight by dealing 1.1 to TOR. Beyond that move, this is one of the bigger “upside” drafts. That can be said thanks to dealing Doug Martin and future premium picks for what ended up to be Patrick Mahomes, Jamaal Martin, and Dalvin Tomlinson, none of whom will likely make a start in 2017. And David Njoku is the biggest question mark of all, a physical freak who could blossom into the next great TE or fall into the same pit as Johnny Manziel, Justin Gilbert, and all the other failed Browns first rounders. Tre’Davious White in the 3rd was a great value, and there is a metric ton of talent here. But with all that talent comes one of the more risky drafts in the league.

Cincinnati Bengals: B+

Best Move: Deshaun Watson at 1.13

(I’ll keep it brief since this was my draft, but I’m overall happy with how it turned out) Moving up to grab their guy in Watson, especially with Alex Smith living on borrowed time in KC, may turn out to be an inspired move. Allen and Shaheen represent good value where they went, and talented players like Sidney Jones (despite the redshirt season), Tim Williams, and Fabian Moreau further bolster the future prospects of a team looking to compete.

Cleveland Browns: B-

Best Move: Haason Reddick at 2.7

Cleveland was one of the few squads that went chalk, keeping and using all their picks. No future draft capital, but no lost capital this season. CLE used those picks to get solid players up and down the lineup. John Ross is already making waves in Cincinnati, Chris Wormley figures to receive good workload in BAL, and Jordan Willis was a great value in the 4th round. My favorite was the Haason Reddick pick, the rare guy who will provide value in coverage and in the pass rush, was a steal at 2.7. Knocked them down from a “B” to a “B-“ only because they tried to draft CJ Spiller like fourteen times!! LM was very forgiving.

Dallas Cowboys: C

Best Move: Acquiring Sammy Watkins and Alshon Jeffrey (although the cost was huge)

The draft was not a draft for Dallas. The picks that they held for this year and the next two years were deemed of lesser value than the chance to win today. No criticism here, but that’s the truth of the matter. The Cowboys came out of this year’s draft a markedly better team than they were going in. I hate the cost of Sammy Watkins, but they ended up with two big time WR and the top RB in the draft. They will rank highly in the coming season outlook article. But if bad luck strikes, Dallas won’t have the ability to retool in the next two seasons. Championship or bust!

Denver Broncos: C-

Best Move: Ahkello Witherspoon at 4.19

Without a first or second round draft pick, it was going to be tough to make too much noise. But IMO, Denver didn’t end up with a lot of help. Marcus Williams is a talented guy, but isn’t projected to play much early on and may have been a bit of a reach. Ahkello Witherspoon was good value at 4.19. The fact that Denver didn’t come away with a DE, even just for depth, loses them a half grade for me.

Detroit Lions: B-

Best Move: Reuben Foster at 1.16

The Cardiac Cats had an interesting draft. They made a few deals to net them additional draft capital, moving down in the 1st and grabbing two 4s for a 3rd next year. They used that capital to throw a few darts at the board, using the two 4s they got from Carolina to add not one but two QBs. Foster at 1.16 and Rivers at 2.13 were very solid picks and, while he may have been a slight reach, Taylor has a real chance to have an impact in San Francisco. Anzalone is a nice later round pick, and Donnel Pumphrey may be working his way into reps sooner than later. All in all, a nice collection of talent that fits nicely with the rest of the roster, and the PS guys represent a mixed bag of talent without much current opportunity.

Green Bay Packers: C

Best Move: Vince Biegel at 5.10

The Pack went all D with their draft, starting off with Marcus Maye with their first pick at 3.18. They ended up with two safeties, two corners, a linebacker, and a defensive tackle late. No offense, but I wasn’t a fan of their first pick. Marcus Maye certainly has a chance to produce, but safety was the lowest position of need on that side of the ball. Starting corners, including Gareon Conley and GB’s own Kevin King, were still available. They addressed the need in the 4th with Quincy Wilson, but there is less upside there. The Pack didn’t miss entirely though, nabbing a great value in pass rushing LB Vince Biegel in the 5th. Biegel was a value in the real draft as well, and fills a need for depth at the position.

Houston Texans: B-

Best Move: Acquiring Washington’s 2018 1st and 4.17 in exchange for 2.3 and their own 5th in 2018.

Houston’s draft is defined by the decision to deal the third overall pick for CJ Prosise and, most crucially, Blake Bortles. It’s the kind of trade that we’ll be looking at in two or three years and either lauding the Texans for such a bold move… or shaking our heads. There’s not really an in-between. Headliner aside, there were some really savvy moves here (curiously all with the Skins). Trading away 2.3, 4.3, and a 2018 5th for 4.17, Washington’s 2018 1st,3rd, and 2019 5th in two separate deals are the stuff Belichick’s wet dreams are made of. As far as actual players go, there was good value in Taywon Taylor at 3.3, Jake Butt at 4.17, and Tarell Basham at 5.17. All of these players should make an impact immediately, and Taylor even has a chance to make a push for HOU’s flex spot in the near future. I dinged him a half grade because I’m not a fan of Bortles, but if you are a believer consider this a “B+”.

Indianapolis Colts: B+

Best Move: Obi Melifonwu at 2.15

Say this about the Colts’ draft: they were all about this year. Before the draft was over, the Blue Horseshoe had sent two 2018 2nd and 4th rounders, a 2019 3rd , and Rishard Matthews for 1.24, 2.15, 3.9, 3.16, and another five later round picks. That’s quite a haul, and they flexed that muscle. Perine figures to be starting in Washington before long, Taco Charlton is a dynamic talent, and Obi Melifonwu could be the best pick of them all. I also loved getting Kendall Beckwith at 4.9, who enters the season the starting SAM on a dynamic defense in Tampa. Nabbing Teez Tabor all the way at 5.16 feels like icing on the cake. I don’t typically like trading away so many future assets, and I could whine about the value of some of the early rounders, but this is a very solid haul and gives Indy a very talented defense.

Los Angeles Rams: D

Best Move: Acquiring 2015 3rd rounder Chris Conley for 6.18, 6.21, and 7.21… I guess.

No offense to LAR, but this draft looked like it was run by the Rams’ real life brain trust. Granted, there wasn’t a lot to work with here, only coming into the draft with six picks total and just one before the 4th round. But coming away from what looks to be a deep draft with a 3rd string TE, and 3rd string RB, and a pair of 2015 draftees that have yet to look like anything more than rotational players is a tough sell. There were good players with starting roles left on the board, and LAR didn’t come away with any of them. Don’t mean to be rude, but… dude.

New England Patriots: A

Best Move: Myles Garrett at 1.21 (damn it)

I hate New England’s draft. And by “hate it”, I really mean “I love it and wish I did it”. Getting top overall pick Myles freaking Garrett at the 21st overall pick is such a steal it almost makes me mad. That pick going in reminds me of Tampa Bay’s GM telling the story of how every other team was trying to get their pick but they said “screw off” and nabbed O.J. Howard (go Bucs). On top of that killer pick, New England just cherry-picked great value picks. D’Onta Foreman might take the job from Lamar Miller’s corpse as soon as mid-season. Malik Hooker looks like the real deal*. And everyone let out an audible groan when Adoree’ Jackson was finally sniped at 3.5, ending all our dreams of him falling into our laps. Well done (I hate you).

*Note: Doesn’t account for Hooker’s season ending injury. Still a great pick.

New Orleans Saints: C+

Best Move: Cooper Kupp at 2.14

It may not have been a massive need, but New Orleans ensured they’ll run out a good set of WR for the foreseeable future. Mike Williams at 14th overall was a stretch for me, considering it’s possible he’ll miss most of if not all of the season; not to mention that I hate messing with back injuries. But if Williams becomes the guy the Chargers hope, it’ll be the worth the high pick and the redshirt season. Cooper Kupp at 2.14 was a great value, and he’ll likely end up the no. 2 wide out across from Sammy Watkins. Malik McDowell is extremely talented and only fell due to an offseason ATV injury, but he’s great value in the 5th. Evans and Walker didn’t represent good value for me. The biggest problem here is just that most of these guys won’t play much in 2017. Good talent, but will they play enough to be valuable to NO?

New York Giants: B

Best Move: Duke Riley at 4.20

The G-Men needed depth more than anything in this draft. They run out one of the more complete starting lineups in the league. Behind those starters leaves a bit to be desired. So it was pretty clear from 1.20 one that their goal was to find talented guys to fill out the roster at a couple of particularly shallow positions. Curtis Samuel and Carlos Henderson may have both been a little bit of a reach, but they walk into good situations that could improve their stock in a hurry. Jonnu Smith is blocked by Delanie Walker, but if he is as good as advertised could force TEN into two TE sets that would give him a chance to do some damage. It was a tough choice for best move, but I went with Duke Riley over acquiring DRC and a future 3rd. Riley expects to play frequently for a good Falcons D, and LB was one of the greater needs for the Blue. Dawaune Smoot and Trey Hendrickson were also some of my favorite late rounders.

New York Jets: B

Best Move: Evan Engram at 1.10

Jersey picks up TE (but really slot receiver if we’re all being honest with ourselves) Evan Engram with the 10th overall pick and top safety Jamal Adams at 15th. It’s a solid pair of potential playmakers that figure to be heavily involved immediately. Engram figures to hold a little more value than other TE prospects in our game as no expects him to block much. His job will be to line up near the line and be a sort of under slot receiver. To have a guy like that at TE could be very valuable. Gang Green gave up a third 1st to TOR, netting a 2018 4th, a 2019 1st and 3rd, rotational DE Kasim Edebali, and buy low Adrian Peterson. With guys like Myles Garrett still on the board, this was a risk. But if AP turns in a surprise season and that 2019 1st ends up being high, we might have a much more positive opinion of this draft.

Philadelphia Steel Men: B+

Best Move: T.J. Watt at 2.24

Philly gets a huge bump from making one of my favorite picks in the draft: T.J. Watt. To get a guy that brings that much athleticism to the table at 2.24 is beyond a steal. I’m probably playing my hand because I’d love to trade for him, but this was one of the better picks, fits, and values in the whole draft. The rest of the work done by the franchises of the state of Penn was good but not stand out. James Conner is a talented guy but a bit of a reach. Xavier Woods at 3.24 will likely compete for playing time in a weak Dallas secondary. Kittles was a big reach and has to play with Brian Hoyer. All in all, this draft is all about Watt. Philly did end up with some good future draft capital with minimal value lost as well, which bumps this draft up for me.

San Diego Chargers: A

Best Move: Solomon Thomas at 2.5

The Chargers earned their old moniker “Super” with this draft. The fact that they were able to earn one of my few A’s while also reaching for O.J. Howard at 1.4 is a testament to how many great talents and great values they picked up. Solomon Thomas is another one of my favorite picks, and that he was the 4th DE off the board is unreal. Thomas is projected to be a great all-around DE, able to produce points without big sack days. That level of consistency in our game is extremely valuable. To pair him with a guy like Takkarist McKinney, who’ll be more boom or bust, was really smart. Down the draft, Tyus Bowser should be in the running for playing time soon, DeDe Westbrook could be a spark plug for a Philly team that just lost Jordan Matthews, and Rasul Douglas was great value in the 7th. This was solid draft from top to bottom with no wasted picks.

San Francisco 49ers: B-

Best Move: Trading 1.23 in exchange for 2.19, TOR 2018 2nd, and TOR 2019 2nd

The Gold Diggers’ best moves were securing value for future years. In a trio of moves, Frisco came away with an additional 1st and 2nd in 2018, and two more 2nd rounders in 2019. It wasn’t cheap, but those moves were all about building more future value. For a team that expects to compete, this is smart. To a certain extent, the actual picks made were in this line of thinking. There was a clear priority to snag guys that don’t have a clear role now, but are expected to run with the job once they get their hands on it. Joe Williams at 1.12 is the most obvious example, playing behind a sometimes injury-riddled, sometimes ineffective Carlos Hyde. ArDarius Stewart currently has Christian Hackenberg throwing at him, so there’s precious little 2017 value to be had. Chris Godwin was never expected to be any more than the 4th wideout in Tampa. And Charles Harris, although he was a great value pick, will likely be a situational pass rusher ala’ Noah Spence in 2016 and Vic Beasley in 2015. This lack of present value knocks the draft down overall, but this is one of those grades that change big time by the end of 2020.

Seattle Seahawks: B+

Best Move: Christian McCaffery at 1.2

There may have been no bigger need met in this draft than McCaffery going to the largely RB-less Seahawks. The versatile back was in play for the 1st overall pick, and many of us even expected him to be gone before 2. But Seattle happily scooped up one of the most dynamic talents to come into the league. He walks into a fabulous situation too, with a former MVP quarterback and an option/short pass driven offense that is money in our game. Seattle followed that up by trading back into the first round and snagging potential stud linebacker Jarrad Davis from Detroit. Jabril Peppers, the positionless dynamo, went 2.2. This is a tough pick to evaluate, since we really don’t know where he’s going to settle. Right now, he’s a utility player in the truest sense. This pick may end up being brilliant, as Peppers has the speed and athleticism to produce whenever he’s on the field. He also may end up like a pitcher who hits really well: great for the real team, but not helpful for fantasy. In the meantime, I’m choosing to look at it as a smart pick. He’ll eventually settle somewhere on the field, and watch out when he does.

Tennessee Titans: C+

Best Move: JuJu Schuster-Smith at 2.9

I adjusted this write-up after learning of Spencer Ware’s likely season ending knee injury on Friday. I won’t be redoing my grade or evaluation much, but the massive swing in opinion on Kareem Hunt has to be addressed. When the once and future Oilers made this pick, I didn’t like it. A backup RB, even one who has a shot to take the job by midseason from a largely effective veteran, at 1.9 isn’t a great pick. But now that Hunt likely walks into the starting lineup, the pick looks pretty good. I maintain that I didn’t like the pick, but I can’t deny that Tennessee is sitting pretty with their 1st rounder. Schuster-Smith, whom the Steelers love and will get time in the slot next two Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, was a great value at 2.9. He’s the kind of the guy that can have a bonkers year and take home the rookie crown. The rest of the Titans’ draft was ok, but no one really got me or their home team’s fan base excited.

Toronto Bills: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Best Move: Ummm… Mixon at 1.5? King at 3.22? I don’t know really.

I could write 3,000 words on this draft and still not have time to address everything that happened. I simply can’t break down this whole draft. I think one of the best summaries of what Toronto did here is by looking at their remaining picks in 2018 and 2019. Go ahead and look! I’ll wait. You’ll see there is one, single, lonely first rounder in 2018. Only the late Al Davis knows what it’s like to go this all-in on anything (those things by the way were speed in the draft and well done prime rib). We should’ve all known that this was going to be different right from the jump, when Corey Davis became the surprise 1.1. I had about seven guys I thought could go 1, and Davis wasn’t on the list. Mixon at 1.5 wasn’t a big reach considering how he’s viewed in fantasy circles, but if you say you expected Zay Jones to go in the top 10, you’re either lying or your Toronto’s owner. Trubisky at 18th, Marlon Mack at 23rd, Everett at 2.6, there were so many picks that I didn’t see coming. What compounds on the confusion is that the whole future was leveraged for these picks. All that said, there were some great values here. Kevin King and Gareon Conley in the back of the 3rd were great picks. And building a team in this way may have cost a ton in draft capital, but Toronto should have close to the most salary space going into the season and next off-season, giving them a huge leg up in acquiring big contracts and signing free agents. It seems to me that Toronto felt their team needed a systemic overhaul, and boy did they get it. I didn’t get it, but I’m routinely wrong. This could be mad, this could be genius, I don’t know. I do know this was easily the most fun draft of them all.

Washington Redskins: B(?)

Best Move: Acquired 1.3 in exchange for Blake Bortles and C.J. Prosise

Ok, deep breath. There’s a lot to break down here. Washington had the second busiest draft of the year, just behind our friends north of the border. The R-Words brought in a lot of talent, some I liked, some I didn’t, and some that will never actually score points for them. I’ll start with their best move, and that was acquiring 1.3 for Bortles and Prosise. Bortle’s struggles in the preseason make this look even better, and potential 1st overall pick Leonard Fournette being there makes it look unreal. But then Fournette was dealt along with Vontae Davis and Thomas Rawls for a Reshad Jones, Duke Johnson Jr., Zach Brown, and Xavier Rhodes. Turning around and dealing a selection he got just a week prior for more value was impressive, but time will tell if the haul it brought will have been worth a potential franchise player at a position that seems to always be in demand. Beyond these deals, the D.C.s brought in big talents in Golladay and Gallman, and strong values like Tanoh Kpassagnon, Shaq Griffin, and Larry Ogunjobi. They also ended up dealing a number of future picks, including next year’s 1st and 2nd rounders. I wish I had the time to break down each and every move, but all in all Washington used assets they deemed expendable to completely rebuild a much nastier defense, making them a team to fear in 2017.

Well, that’s all I have for this season’s football rookie draft. We’ll be doing season predictions soon. The moral of the story is: rejoice, for football has returned!

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

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

 

NFC West:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Pundits is a really funny word.

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

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

Real good is not as good…

 

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

…as fantasy good. Sorry Seattle.

San Francisco 49ers (7-9):

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

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

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

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

Ladders:

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

Snakes:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

AFC West:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

NFC East:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Your 2017 Philadelphia Eagles Offense!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The NFC East can be a scary place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

AFC East: 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Hard Knocks, New England Patriots style!

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Real footage from the NYJ ownership meetings this offseason

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

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

Real Deal Dynasty (Football) Predictions: The South!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

AFC South:

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

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

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

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

Tennessee Titans (8-8):

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

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

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

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

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

Indianapolis Colts (7-9):

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

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

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

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

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

Precisely how I feel about the Colts this year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Pretty much…

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

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

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

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

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

Atlanta Falcons (10-6):

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

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

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

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

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

New Orleans Saints (7-9): 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Bloody Russians.

 

 

Five teams defying preseason expectations

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Deal (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 Report: 2016 Predictions: East Divisions

Just in the nick of time, we reach our last and final divisional preview of the 2016 year.  The East.

The East is a Beast.  Seems like that’s always the way in RDFL.  There are ALWAYS Super Bowl contenders from an Eastern division.  Dallas a couple of years ago.  Buffalo last year.  Could this be the year when two Eastern teams make a run?  It’s a definite possibility.

Finish Reading: Real Deal Report: 2016 Predictions: East Divisions

AFC East:

Buffalo Bills (13-3):

Super Bowl favorites, right here.  And I don’t think it’s even close.  This team is loaded for the bear.  Great offense.  Great defense.  Favorable schedule.  This is a stacked squad.  The curse of AJ Green favors it.  Super Bowl tested last year, and coming off disappointment against Carolina, there’s a hunger for vengeance that I see carrying this team over the top.  Most years I waffle.  Not this one.  Clear and obvious Super Bowl champs, right here.

Preparation... Contemplation... This year... there is no wide right...
Preparation… Contemplation… This year… there is no wide right…

I mean, look at this team.  Tyrod Taylor averaged 19.16 ppg last year – comparable to Aaron Rodgers, who averaged 19.36.  Adrian Peterson and Devonta Freeman are the starting backfield.  AJ Green and Alshon Jeffery join DeSean Jackson in a loaded WR group.  And Rob Gronkowski, the TE to smash all TEs, will also haul in a lot of TDs.  Victor Cruz, and CJ Prosise are coming off the bench.  Man it’s weird to jump from the NFC West to the Bills.  Fantrax projects this offense to average 120 points per week, and I personally think that could be low, depending on what guys like DJax and Devonta Freeman actually put up.

Defense is the same story, possibly even better.  Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald on the line?  And a handless JPP (science has shown that when your hands are taken away, your other senses are amplified.  JPP is going to hunt QBs with sonar and an acute sense of smell).  That’s a top 5 player at both ends and tackle.  Navorro Bowman and Brandon Marshall (the linebacker) join Mason Foster at LB, though the surprising loss of Manny Lawson hurts this group a little.  The secondary has old veterans (Mike Adams and Tracy Porter) joining young and hungry backs like Deone Buccanon and George Iloka.  While the group is a little light at CB depending on the play of Leodis McKelvin, it is still a fantastic young secondary group.

Put another way, this team has no apparent weaknesses.  Every starting slot should put up starter to above average caliber numbers, with the possible exception of a single CB slot.  There’s depth at most positions to cover injuries, and I see it as very realistic that this team averages somewhere in the 230-250 range on non bye weeks.  Barring a number of serious injuries, I think this team is unstoppable and death marches to the Super Bowl a la Kentucky in the Anthony Davis era.

Miami Dolphins (8-8):

A quick glance at the Dolphins IR right now tells the whole story of their season.  Sammy Watkins.  Breshad Perriman.  Josh Doctson.  All three are unlikely to STAY on the IR.  In fact, all three are most likely to be fully healthy early in the year, joining Kevin White, Niles Paul, and Chris Conley as targets for gunslinger Ryan Tannehill.  No, the question isn’t injuries for this group – the question is simply how good can they be?  Watkins is really the only proven player of the bunch, and even he has yet to live up to his lofty price tag as a very early first round pick – which could mean great things if he can finally hit that potential.

One good WR... two good WR... wait WTF? That last one just put Jordan Reed on the IR!
One good WR… two good WR… wait WTF? That last one just put Jordan Reed on the IR!

But man, the rest of the skill players: Breshad Perriman.  Josh Doctson.  Kevin White.  Chris Conley.  Tevin Coleman.  Talk about a group of highly heralded young guns who haven’t quite gotten their chance yet.  If all those guys hit, LOOK. OUT.  And if Jordan Reed should happen to get injured eating jello and Niles Paul takes over… this offense could be extremely impressive.  Of course, the questions always remain when relying on so many young, unproven players.  There’s an old saying in Sweden – don’t count your chickens.  It makes you seem rude and arrogant, particularly when you have lots of chickens.  And it might inspire someone bitter and jealous because they have less chickens to dress up like Zorro, sneak into your chicken coop, and strike down your chickens with a crowbar vividly painted to resemble a coyote.  So yeah.  That saying was made for situations like this.  Sorry to be cliche.

Defense is tough to figure out for this squad, particularly with suspensions and injury issues causing real problems up front.  Randy Gregory’s suspension and subsequent rehab opened the door for Vance Walker… who promptly tore his ACL.  Which left the door wide open for Dion Jordan – who has no timetable to resume football activity.  This leaves Miami with one, single active defensive end – Marcus Smith.  The jury is still out on whether Marcus Smith is actually active.  In fact, he’s shown SO little in his time as a first round pick, that the jury remains out on whether he is a Marcus or a Smith or even a living being at all.  Some think he’s a statue.  Some an ent.  Who can truly say?  It’s a bad situation up front.  The linebacking corps and secondary are better, with Dannelle Ellerbe, Perry Riley, Trent Murphy, and Shane Ray teaming up with Alterraun Verner, DJ Swearinger, and Kevin Johnson to form a serviceable defense.  Still, it’s hard to see this group being particularly outstanding, even if it can get its pass rush sorted out.

End of the day, I don’t think this iteration of the Dolphins has much chance at the league crown under any circumstances.  Buffalo is too good and the Fins defense is too porous.  However, the volume of young talent at WR bodes really well for this team in the years to come – and I think is enough to get them to .500 this season.

New York Jets (7-9):

Another team that has dwelt in the shadows for years for whom I expect a big jump, the Jets take the leap in these predictions towards .500 and should compete for a (distant) second place in the AL East.  The team’s chances recently took a big leap forward with the trade of Sam Bradford and the news that Carson Wentz will start from day one, removing one of the major holes.  A number of pieces also remain in place, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, where New York almost, but not quite, qualifies as a powerhouse.

Wentz. The great QB hope of the Jets. Sort of like Mark Sanchez used to be...
Wentz. The great QB hope of the Jets. Sort of like Mark Sanchez used to be…

The strength of the Jets defense is up front, where ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams join Sharrif Floyd for a strong front three.  Promising rookie Vernon Butler stands behind Floyd and could easily force himself into the mix at some point this season.  The 3-4 defense boasts a cadre of strong linebackers, including DeMario Davis, David Harris, AJ Klein, and rookie Jordan Jenkins.  What Klein, Jenkins, and additional rookie Eli Harold will be able to produce isn’t crystal clear, but Davis and Harris are strong enough in their own right to make this LB group formidable.  The secondary also boasts some nice pieces, both veteran and rookie, with newcomer Vernon Hargraves, thought by some to be the best corner in the draft, joining Ha-ha Clinton Dix and Brandon Flowers.  All told, this defense isn’t good enough to challenge Buffalo’s, but it should be downright solid.

The Jets could have some trouble scoring points, however.  New York will rely on the ground game behind Melvin Gordon and Chris Ivory, both of whom have the potential to put together very strong years (and both of whom I happen to believe in).  2015 revelation Stefon Diggs joins the party as well, and Bilal Powell may be surprisingly capable in the backfield.  Besides Wentz, the key question for New York is what they can expect from guys like Luke Willson (he of the extra L), Jeff Heuerman, Jared Abbrederis (yet another Rodgers option with potential – there’s like 93 of those guys), and Rod Streater, another guy who has flashed but really come to naught.  I think this team will struggle to score points, but I do think the arrow is pointed up, particularly when Wentz really starts to develop and with another year of picks under their belts.

New England Patriots (6-10):

The Patriots have an interesting collection of players – all of whom have some potential, but few of whom are sure fire stars.  Interestingly, they also have a glut of talent at the TE positional group, and a middling defense, which I think is what leaves them just behind the Jets in the east.

The best word to describe the offensive group is intriguing.  Brock Osweiler is relatively unproven, but a starter with some very decent weapons who will be given every chance to put up big numbers.  Frank Gore looks better than he has in years, and should be ready to put up a very solid final campaign.  Jamison Crowder flashed in 2015, but could get buried on a deep Redskins receiver depth chart, particularly with the arrival of much heralded prospect Josh Doctson.  Mike Wallace is a household name from his days in Pittsburgh, but its not clear whether he’ll look more like his productive old self or more like his unproductive new self.  Duke Johnson might be a 3rd down back or a stud starter, and DeAndrew White, Kolby Listenbee and Danny Amendola will duke it out for the final WR spot.  Shane Vereen also finds himself on the depth list, illustrating just how deep this team is in mid-level quality.

Let me take a brief diversion to expound briefly upon a point of philosophy inspired by our dear friend Mike Wallace. Reinventing oneself is not always good.  This is a message of hope for those of you currently undergoing mid or quarterlife crises – don’t leave your wives, abandon your children, change careers, and become a fish and chips vendor underneath the Blue Water Bridge.  Yes, it’s an awesome bridge.  Yes, your family is probably being a pain in your keester, and yes, being a fish and chips vendor sounds awesome.  I get it.  But be like Steve Smith.  When you start to suck, stay the course.  You’ll suck for a few years and then, if you just stick with it, you’ll be awesome again!  Don’t be like Mike Wallace.  He reinvented himself right onto the waiver wire and now spends his days disappointing fantasy football players.  Which is what your fish and chips will do.   And probably give them the runs.  Which is something Mike Wallace might also do.  Cautionary tale.  Don’t be Mike Wallace.  Stay you.  Research shows your quality of life will begin to improve in your 50s and go up until around 80 or so.  So your best is ahead of you.  Very unlike Mike Wallace.

Mike Wallace tried to be a Unicorn. He did not succeed.
Mike Wallace tried to be a Unicorn. He did not succeed.

Interestingly, the strength of this team is really its unsung group of Tight Ends.  Delanie Walker continues to be an absolutely boss, while Cameron Brate is apparently stealing much more highly rated Austin-Sefarian Jenkin’s job.  Maxx Williams, 2015’s highest rated TE prospect is waiting in the wings, and even guys like CJ Uzomah have some potential, particularly with Tyler Eifert’s absence.  It’s a fascinating group that could potentially produce three bona fide stars – which might help to generate depth elsewhere.

The “quantity over quality” problem rears its head again on the defensive side, where the Patriots boast a large number of intriguing players with talent, but not a whole lot of sure things.  Stephon Gilmore is an undeniably excellent corner, and William Jackson will be good as well when he recovers from his injuries, but after that, there’s a whole lot of sparks, flares, and fire starters, but no blazes: Bronson Kaufusi, Akeem Ayers, Kelvin Sheppard, Bobby Richardson, Mo Alexander, Letroy Guion, Alan Branch, Jatavis Brown, Erik Walden, Zach Sanchez, Shareece Wright, Ed Reynolds, Duke Williams – so many players, so much hope, so little shining gold.  If New England could start 30 players per week instead of 22, I’d be much higher on this team’s chances.  As it is, I think the lack of star power, particularly on defense, keeps this team out of the playoffs for another year.

 

NFC East:

Ok.  So I’ve kept politics out of these posts purposefully.  Which has been hard.  Because that’s where all the best jokes live.  But it’s a Saturday morning at draft time, I’m drinking coffee, and it seems both relevant and obligatory.  I’ve hit the Olympics.  I’ve made Cleveland jokes.  I’ve referenced AJ Green.  I’ve talked about other sports.  I’ve hit Game of Thrones.  I’ve made literally all the obligatory sportswriter references except politics.  So I figure I’m kinda obligated to in this last section here.

Less hair, more class...
Donald #1.  Less hair.  More class…

Full disclosure – I’m a bleeding heart northeastern liberal with most of what that entails.  I’m elitist, largely incompetent with any tool that is not a computer, believe that “education” is a magic wand you can just point at shit to magically make it better, and that nobody is ever responsible for anything in their lives and that it’s all the system’s fault.  Lose your phone?  It’s the system!  Lose your license from repeated reckless driving?  Damn system.  Lose to anybody from the NFC West?  Man, dude, you suck.  It’s not the system.  There’s no hope for you.  I also thoroughly love to bash the man while cheerfully doing research work in support of pharmaceutical and medical device companies.  I have an epic mancrush on Bernie Sanders and an equally great abhorrence for the Donald, who, as a Canadian by birth, I believe to be Don Cherry’s evil twin.  It all just makes it that much sadder to me.  Look what you could have been, Mr. Trump!  You could have worn ridiculous suits with that combover and produced Rock ’em Sock ’em Hockey #23!  All that potential.  And you threw it away.  ::sigh::

Donald #2. More hair, less class.
Donald #2. More hair.  Less class.

So let’s talk about politics.  NFC East politics.  East coast, back-room, dark-alley politics.  You’ve got the Giants and those crazy New York values in a dead heat with Dallas.  The reddest of the red against the bluest of the blue in an epic struggle for dominance of potentially not just the division, but the entire NFC.  The Southern champs may have something to say about that, but man oh man these two teams are good.  And just like on the national scene, Philadelphia comes in third, blue collar bitter about not having the spotlight, but not quite having the horses to make a stir on the national scene.  And, of course, as always, Washington doesn’t get a vote.

New York Giants (12-4):

Just like on the national scene too, it’s New York that’s up in my crude, very unhelpful and non-predictive model.  The G-men got a post-convention bounce when it was revealed that not only would Eric Ebron not miss the entire year, he potentially wouldn’t miss any time at all – a huge bonus for the Giants who not only lack a quality backup for the Detroit tight end, but lack ANY back up at all, and not a whole lot of draft capital to trade for one either.

The fact that Ebron will be fully available cements this offense as spectacular.  Led by Antonio Brown, the clearcut PPR champion of the world and the Michael Phelps / Bill Clinton equivalent of unbeatable.  Possibly it’s cupping.  Possibly it’s an infatuation with balloons.  In any case, Antonio Brown has been the leading fantasy point-getter each of the past two seasons (blowing 500 points out of the water last year) and is expected to do so again.  Joining him is 2015’s #4 leading scorer, DeAndre Hopkins.  Eli Manning is a strong quarterback with some strong weapons in OBJ and Sterling Shepard, and DeMarco Murray is ensconced at the head of a committee of aging Running Backs.

Age (left) and Corruption (right) are real issues for the New York Giants this year...
Age (left) and Corruption (right) are real issues for the New York Giants this year…

Despite the sheer power of those players, there are some real concerns about age and corruption on this squad (again, a parallel!  See how I’m forcing this!  It’s completely unnatural and obviously contrived, but I’m making it work!).  The Giants have a wealth of talent at Running Back, but literally ALL of it could lose its job by the midpoint of the season.  DeMarco Murray faces incumbent Derick Henry, Justin Forsett and Rashad Jennings face a plethora of young competition and that nagging voice whispering in the backs of their minds “Wake up.  You are a backup!  A Backup!  You’re not a starter.  You imposter.  You’re not this good at football.  One day, one day soon everyone is going to figure out that you’re pretending to be a starting RB.  And then they are all going to laugh at you and you’ll be back on the sidelines where you belong!”

Editor’s Note: Between drafting this and publication, this very scenario played out for Justin Forsett.  Rashad Jenning’s time is coming too.

Facing such challenges within and without, can any of the three last the year?  It’s a concern.  The other concern is Terrance Williams, who has been expected to break out for literally years… but may not actually ever do so.  I mean, he is feeling Cole Beasley breathing down his neck…

The defense, though, is flat out good.  And frankly, doesn’t have all that many question marks.  It’s a notable upgrade on years past, and, to my mind, what gives them the division.  Call it the ground game.  Which is a terrible parallel.  Because the running game IS the ground game.  But I was using the running game for the “Hillary’s old” parallel.  So I can’t use it again here.  Dammit guys, this is HARD.  Yes, yes, I KNOW that’s what she said.  Shut up.  You were totally thinking it.

Ahem.  Sorry.  Anyway.  The defense.  Robert Quinn, Carlos Dunlap, and Kawann Short form a top 5 defensive line, with Charles Johnson coming off the bench.  It’s very solid.  Pacman Jones (“I can’t cover, but look at those Kickoff return points pile up at the CB position!”) joins Prince Amukamura, Reshad Jones, Andrew Sendejo, and Trumaine Johnson in a permanent and excellent nickel.  The LBs need a little work, particularly that long-awaited step forward from Arthur Brown, but Dont’a Hightower gives this team a solid presence in the middle (like Chris Christie – that dude has a solid presence in his middle fo’ sure) and it should be enough to fill out what should be an excellent defense.

Look, end of the day, it’s star power.  There’s questions about running backs, questions about Terrence Williams, and questions about Linebackers.  There’s questions about Benghazi and questions about emails.  But the built in advantage of having an Antonio Brown and a De’Andre Hopkins is pretty significant.  Antonio Brown averaged 32 ppg last year.  DeAndre Hopkins averaged 25.  A stud offensive player breaks the 20 point barrier.  A good starting caliber player breaks 15.  Just having the two of those guys in the lineup is literally like adding somewhere between a starting caliber WR and a stud caliber WR for FREE.  Even if Terrance Williams WERE to throw up a zero each game, they have him covered.  Everything they get from Williams and Ebron is basically gravy.  It’s a huge advantage, and to my mind is the reason that the Giants eventually win this division – and the NFC – and is the best shot this league has at keeping the Bills from hosting the Fantasy Lombardi trophy.

Which makes me wonder, actually – what is a Fantasy Lombardi trophy?  Discuss.

Dallas Cowboys (10-6):

So look.  Dallas CAN win.  It’s possible.  If the economy tanks.  Or Eric Ebron’s knee tanks.  Or an act of terrorism takes out Antonio Brown all Tanya Harding style, Dallas could be right there.  This team is flat out good, particularly on offense, but with enough defensive chops to get into the playoffs and make it a prohibitive second.  But I don’t think the Cowboys can win.  The star power isn’t quite starry enough and the question marks are a little bit too question-y.  It would take everything to break right for this squad to reclaim the Division Title and the Super Bowl.

Dallas optimal strategy for 2016: Hire this guy...
Dallas optimal strategy for 2016: Hire this guy…

What do I mean?  Well, it’s a tale of two Trumaine’s.  New York’s Trumaine, Johnson, is a starting caliber player and will serve in a Nickel back role for the Giants this year.  Dallas’ Trumaine, McBride, just got himself cut.  Like Trumaine McBride, Dallas will need to replace injured, released and suspended players who were expected to play a key role – Chris Clemons and Jeremiah Ratliff up front, and possibly Sio Moore inside, depending on his health situation.  There are solid replacements for sure – Akiem Hicks, Jordan Jenkins and Brandon Carr should slot in ably, though the DE situation still feels a little light to me.  And certainly there’s no need to fret over players like Devin Hester and Roddy White on offense, or elsewhere on defense where the linebacking core of Moore, Rey Maualuga, Jasper Brinkley, Thomas Davis, and Sean Lee should be outstanding.  But it still makes the situation just a little more tenuous.

As is so often the case, though, it’s on offense where the biggest potential and biggest question marks lie.  Aaron Rodgers should be his usually fantastic self, particularly with Jordy Nelson back in the fold.  But after that, it’s a series of potentially spectacular players with major question marks.  Thomas Rawls is in position to be the #1 option on a run first squad – but is facing major competition to even hold on to the starting role, from Alex Collins, Christine Michael, and CJ Prosise.  Jeremy Hill likewise could put up another top 5 rushing season, but his unforced fumbling errors could leave him in the doghouse with voters – and his coach.  Dez Bryant’s a stud, but has had his share of injury issues and hasn’t shown the ability to overcome a poor QB situation – which makes him a little less durable than Antonio Brown.  Allen Hurns is another one who just seems to produce out of sheer lack of knowledge that he’s not a very good player.  It might catch up with him in the form of Marqise Lee this year.  John Brown’s a speedster who could be a star, and both Jordan Cameron has tons of potential at TE – but neither one is a sure thing.

...to hurt this guy.
…to hurt this guy.

I’m not trying to be harsh on Dallas.  They’ve run a bold, aggressive team-building campaign and have put together a really nice squad.  I like the players on offense and I like some of the players on defense.  If everyone pans out, the Cowboys can definitely one.  But a lot has to go right to catch a team as good as the Giants.  We’ll see.

Philadelphia Eagles (7-9):

I’ll be the first person to tell you that this team does not deserve to be 7-9.  It’s a solid squad with some good players.  But this is a brutal division, and the hard truth is that just as Philly doesn’t quite compare to New York as a metropolitan area, it’s the same situation in RDFL.

This is hitchbot. After traveling around the world, it was smashed in Philadelphia. A little like the Eagles playoff hopes...
This is hitchbot. After traveling around the world, it was smashed in Philadelphia. A little like the Eagles playoff hopes…

Let’s start with what does work for the Eagles – the hard nosed, physical defense.  You’ve seen that over and over again.  Some teams (and it seems like some divisions) pay attention to the defensive side of the football.  Those teams and divisions are routinely better than teams with outstanding offense and a hoard of 6-pointers on defense.  It’s critical in RDFL, as evidenced by just about every team that went to the playoffs last year.  And the NFC East gets that.  Philadelphia gets that.  Remember the Giants D-Line?  Philly’s is better, with Ezekiel Ansah, Fletcher Cox, and Jurrell Casey putting it a solid #2 in RDFL, behind only the ridiculous pairing of JJ Watt and Aaron Donald in Arizona.  Connor Barwin and Mychal Kendricks join stud rookie Deion Jones and potential beneficiary of  the “Purple Drank” suspension of Rolando McClain, Anthony Hitchens.  The secondary is excellent too, anchored by the  newly wealthy Honey Badger and rising stars Kyle Fuller, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Tashaun Gipson.  This defense is good enough to keep even Damarious Randall on the bench.  It’s a 100 point a week defense.

On the flip side, Derek Carr and Latavius Murray are both strong, young, players.  Even if Latavius is threatened for catches by DeAndre Washington, he should still put up RB1 numbers in a way that DMC never reliably could.  And Carr should simply continue to get better.  Jason Witten probably has one more good year in him as Dak Prescott’s security blanket.  Even Stew Beef, a young 29 from perennial timeshare status should put up solid starting running back numbers, if not stud numbers.   There is a STEEP drop-off after the top four, though, with Philly needing to rely on starting level contributions from Josh Huff, Malcolm Mitchell, Lance Kendricks, Larry Donnell, or Chris Thompson.  But still, a serviceable offense combined with an outstanding defense.

So why not the love?  Why 7-9?  It’s that Star Power thing again.  The issue is really this.  Even the solid guys, like Murray, Stew Beef, and Witten are all going to produce starting caliber efforts – 15ppg or so generously.  That means it would take more than three of them having outstanding days to equal the top two on NYG. And then it really does go down from there.  The offense is serviceable, but it puts Philly in an approximately 30-50 point hole just about every game against the division leaders – which is hard for a defense to make up.  I could make a case for 8-8 if they play well outside the division.  But it’s a tough road to hoe for a Philly team that has struggled to crack the top of what has been the best division in RDFL cumulatively since it’s inception.

Washington Redskins (4-12):

Washington DC never gets to vote.  Ever.  Districting gives it a measly single vote in the electoral college.  There’s no Senate presence.  Residents feel that nobody cares about them – they host the pols – but the pols don’t listen.  The cost of living in DC is obscenely high, rivaling cities like Manhattan, making it difficult to get ahead.  And you’re not allowed to build anything more than 5 stories off the ground to avoid overshadowing the important monuments and such.  And on the football side of things, you have Dan Snyder as an owner, a legacy of Shanahans, and more drama about your nickname than competing for the playoffs.  It’s rough.

Washington to the East. This guy to the White House. If you're betting, put your money on this guy.
Washington to the East. This guy to the White House. If you’re betting, put your money on this guy.

It’s rough in RDFL too.  Probably even rougher than in real life.  There’s no quarterback, with EJ Manuel and Christian Hackenburg duking it out for the coveted prime benchwarmer role.  The immortal Larry Fitzgerald continues to stave off father time to provide the only offensive firepower on the squad.

Editor’s note: Erp.  Now he’s gone.  No firepower.

And after that?  Denard Robinson (who drove his car into the purple drank).  Brandon Tate (nope, not the good Tate with opportunity – the not good Tate without much opportunity).  Tyler Kroft (I’m only here until the better Bengals TE named Tyler shows up).  Adam Humphries (who?  No, seriously.  I can’t even make a sarcastic remark because I don’t know who this fool is).  Cecil Shorts III (Dude, lose the “III”.  You aren’t allowed to have roman numerals after your name while you are this far down on the depth chart.  It’s pretentious.  You can have your III back when you start catching passes.  Maybe you can have some pants then too.  It’s going to be fall, dude.  You’ll be cold in shorts.)

This is an offense that belongs in the NFC West.  But unfortunately for Washington, it is in the NFC East.  What that means is that instead of being pseudo-competitive with 30 points offensive weeks, this team is going to get obliterated in divisional matchups.

Things look better on defense.  But not better enough to matter.  And like  many teams, Washington has a difficult situation on its hands, with some of its best defensive players aging.   Paul P (still can’t spell his name.  Still not willing to try) anchors a linebacking group that is the strength of this team, supported by Ryan Shazier, JT Thomas, and the once more employed Stephen Tulloch.  The secondary is also excellent (which it has to be, in this division), with rags to riches story David Amerson playing alongside Xavier Rhodes, Kenny Vaccaro, Michael Griffin, and the still good DeAngelo Hall.  The line is a mess, though, with self-styled philosophy hipster Robert Nkemdiche already the best player, and no real worthy starters.

The defense is better than the offense – but it is still the worst defense in the division by a significant margin.  Worse for Washington, DeAngelo Hall and DJ Pauly P.  are nearing the end of the careers, leaving the defensive without a true youth movement, though Savier Rhodes and Ryan Shazier do provide some potential.   It’s a tough spot to be for the Redskins, who need to translate some of their aging stars into draft picks and future potential – but face a brutal year in a serious contender for the best division in football.

 

PLAYOFFS BONUS SECTION: 

AFC East Champion: Buffalo Bills

AFC North Champion: Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC West Champion: Oakland Raiders

AFC South Champion: Tennessee Titans

AFC Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs

AFC Wild Card: Cleveland Browns

AFC Championship Game: Buffalo vs. Tennessee

AFC Champion: Buffalo Bills

 

NFC East Champion: New York Giants

NFC North Champion: Detroit Lions

NFC West Champion: Arizona Cardinals

NFC South Champion: New Orleans Saints

NFC Wild Card: Carolina Panthers

NFC Wild Card: Dallas Cowboys

NFC Championship Game: New York Giants vs. New Orleans Saints

NFC Champions: New York Giants

 

Super Bowl Champions: Buffalo Bills

 

Good luck everyone!  2016 is year #4 of RDFL.  Here’s to the best one yet!

 

 

Real Deal Report: 2016 Predictions: West Divisions

And we’re back for the 3rd of four sets of divisions in our 2016 preview.  Good times will be had by some.  I spent some time in California when I wrote the initial draft, so you’ll forgive me if I default to the Western divisions in honor of my geography.  I’ll finish things up on the East Coast shortly.

Finish Reading: Real Deal Report: 2016 Predictions: West Divisions

AFC West:

Oakland Raiders (9-7):

The Raiders have played a high-risk, high-reward brand of fantasy football since the inauguration.  It’s their style.  And while it hasn’t yet put them over the top, it’s come very close – the unluckiest team of 2015 could have been West division champion EASILY if just a couple of points had swung the other way.  If I recall correctly, they lost something like 3 games in 2015 by margins of less than a couple points.  It was nuts.  At some point that luck has to turn.  And it might be this year.

Your 2016 Oakland Raiders. Range of outcomes: Broken back to smugly eating cheese.
Your 2016 Oakland Raiders. Range of outcomes: Broken back to smugly eating cheese.

But man this squad is risky.  Carson Palmer’s solid.  But after that?  Arian Foster could be a total bust or he could be a top 5 RB again after a veritable year off.  Oakland will also trot out Jay Ajayi – but he’s also quite unproven.  This could be a hell of a tandem – or it could timeshare itself into oblivion.  Eddie Lacy was one of the most disappointing players in the league… but he’s also a contender for top pick if he gets back to form.  Josh Gordon has finally gotten away from the devastating influence of Johnny Manziel and looks to put his extensive suspension experience to work in actual football.  But will his suspension experience transfer to the field?  Possible top 10 WR… possible total bust.  Davante Adams?  Jordan Matthews out of Chip’s offense?  Brandon Coleman?  When DOES Tyler Eifert actually return.  How does he play when he does?  If the offense plays out, Oakland could have two top-5 RBs, 2 top 10 WRs and a top 5 TE.  If it doesn’t, they could literally have Carson Palmer and a squad of ineffective backups and timeshares.  Oakland has wisely handcuffed RB investments, but still.  The range of possible outcomes here is insane.

The defense is really good, but there are still a lot of high-potential low-floor guys here.  Jordan Hicks was spectacular  at LB as a rookie before going out for the year.  Can he stay healthy AND avoid a sophomore slump?   Is he for reelz?  Preston Brown has a huge role due to a Reggie Ragland injury… but he needed a rookie to get injured to get that role.  Can he take advantage?  TJ Carrie is a nice young player, but can he translate that to points?  Is Karl Joseph ready to produce from day #1?

I will say this – on defense, I think the probability of “yes” answers are very high to most of these questions.  This is a team with a good Carson Palmer and a good defense.  Whether or not this is the AFC West division champs is going to depend on the wide range of outcomes with the skill players.  As it always is, the Oakland Raiders should be an funsquad to follow – and a not very fun squad to play.

 

San Diego Chargers (9-7):

As I sit here typing on Ventura Blvd, looking out at the Palm Trees and the Poke-mon-ers, contemplating that noblest and manliest of pursuits that is fantasy football, I think it is possible (even likely) that I am sun-poisoned.  The San Diego Chargers?  Where the HECK did they come from?  This team has been bad since day 1, and did not seem to have a real credible path to excellence as early as last year.  But as I review this division, lest my eyes deceive me, the Chargers have somehow become good.  And not just good, but potentially fantastic – on both sides of the ball.

Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates are back for one more campaign in the sun.  With DeMarco Murray gone and Darren Sproles elderly, Ryan Matthews is all of a sudden the bell-cow back for a new look Eagles team.  Doug Baldwin somehow turned from a mediocre at best WR on a run-first offense into a star.  Travis Benjamin emerged from the Cleveland purgatory of high-potential Wide Receivers come to naught (looking at you Greg Little – which is more than can be said for any of your quarterbacks!) to also become a star.  Jermaine Kearse is not half bad either.  This offense is suddenly, solidly excellent.

On the flip side, the defense strikes me as sneaky-good.  Poor man’s Carolina Panthers sneaky-good.  Beyond DeMarcus Ware, the star-power isn’t there, and Rolando McClain’s “purple drank” hurts pretty significantly.  But the thing that really is compelling about this squad is that everybody is solid.  There’s no real drop off.  They can field a team 11 deep and expect to see starter level outputs from all of them – even if the name recognition isn’t quite star caliber.

Apparently this stuff is not made up. Seems odd to me. Anyway, this stuff really hurts SD's chances.
Apparently this stuff is not made up. Seems odd to me. Anyway, this stuff really hurts SD’s chances.

Here’s the issue for this team – DEPTH.  This is a starting 20 that can compete for the division and a playoff spot.  The issue, though, is that there is literally NOTHING after it.  Jacob Tamme is literally the only piece of value outside of the starting lineup, and that depth is already going to be tested.  There’s no good replacement for DeAngelo Williams if Le’Veon can stay off the ganja, and Stevie Johnson’s season ending injury (rumor has it that he picked a fight with Batman.  The conclusion is unsurprising) means that there’s no backup at either of the other skill positions either.  But it’s worst on defense, where the Chargers are absolutely reeling at Linebacker.  Donald Butler, a past star, was surprisingly cut, Rolando McClain is suspended for the entire regular season, and Pernell McPhee will start the season on the PUP list and miss at least 6 games (9 in real deal land).  That leaves the San Diego with only two starting linebackers – pending any additional injuries.

The 2016 iteration of the San Diego Chargers should be the best one yet.  But every player should live in one of those plastic bubbles that are all the rage in youtube videos (where they roll down the hill and crush stampeding college students), because this team is susceptible to injuries, benchings, and suspensions in a way that very few others are.  Below is what I see as the optimal scenario for your 2016 San Diego Chargers.

 

Kansas City Chiefs (9-7):

The Kansas City Chiefs are in the market for both a good trainer and the fountain of youth.  Possibly both.  Season-ending injuries to starting Linebackers Justin Houston and Reggie Ragland coupled with uncertainties about Jordy Nelson’s return, Jordan Reed’s status (will he get banged up sleep testing posture-pedic mattresses? Touching feathers?  Blowing up balloons?  Cuddling kittens or baby chicks?  Absolutely everything is perilous when you are Jordan Reed), and the capacity of young linemen Caraun Reid and Dante Fowler to start games and make tackles place some question marks around this year’s Chiefs squad.  It’s not just health that’s uncertain for this team, but also roles – where does Giovani Bernard fit in Cincinnati’s backfield tandem with Jeremy Hill?  Will Tavon Austin still get touches in a Jared Goff system – and if he does, can he maintain the # of big plays he made last year?

#thingsthatwillinjurejordanreed
#thingsthatwillinjurejordanreed

Also, can someone please explain to me why Tavon Ausin is NOT returning kickoffs?  Please?!?  I can just picture the conversation.

Coach A: So, we have this guy who goes from 0 to 60 faster than the Flash.  He’s absolutely deadly in open spaces.  Every time he touches it with some room, he is a real threat to take it to the house.  He’s also a super tiny for a receiver, which means he’s not going to win a lot of 50-50 balls.  Hmm.  How can we possibly get him the ball?

Coach B: I have it!  Let’s take our rookie quarterback and have him try to throw passes to him while he’s covered by a guy who is 7 inches taller than he is.  He’ll probably be able to see him.  Or, we can throw telegraphed check passes or hand it off to him and ask him to break tackles with his 73 pound frame.

Coach A: I love it!  It’s foolproof.

Coach C: What about returning kickoffs?  That way, he would catch the ball in space and could get acceleration…

Coach A: That’s absurd.  Go sit in the corner.  You’re such a damn fool you probably think zebras are real animals and not just what line judges look like when you get concussed!

The Chiefs should be a good team – Alex Smith is a serviceable scrambler, and the pass-catching group of Nelson, Austin, Reed, Randall Cobb and Pierre Garcon should put up some points.  There are starting caliber defenders at every position and even in the absence of Houston and Ragland, the linebacking core of D’Qwell Jackson, KJ Wright, and Derrick Johnson should be strong for one more year.  Everson Griffen and Fowler should form a strong pass rush, and newcomers Corey Graham and Malcolm Butler should bolster what was a flagging secondary.  The trick isn’t whether the Chiefs will contend – they will – it’s whether they will win.  And while the chances are there, Oakland has a higher ceiling and San Diego’s starting twenty may have a lower floor.  Only time will tell if the Chiefs can get back to the playoffs for the 4th consecutive season.

Denver Broncos (6-10):

The post-Peyton era is alive and well for the Denver Broncos, who are faced with a bit of a “reload and see what we have” year.  Paxton Lynch is safely ensconced as the Franchise QB of the future, and Demaryius Thomas is going to be a stud no matter who is throwing him the ball.  And frankly, the defense the Broncos can trot out this year is going to be surprisingly good for a team that’s gotten a “focus on the offense” rap.  Guys like Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, George Johnson, Duke Ihenacho, VInce Wilfork, Chris Harris Jr. and Rahim Moore are going to keep this year’s Broncos competitive in a lot of games.  And there are young players coming up for this team, with Javon Hargraves, DeAndre Washington and Paxton Lynch portending a promising future.

Anquan Boldin (bottom, second from left) seeks to recapture the glories of his rookie year and lead Denver back to the playoffs...
Anquan Boldin (bottom, second from left) seeks to recapture the glories of his rookie year and lead Denver back to the playoffs…

But the 2016 edition of the Flying Elways is going to feature one prominent question every game they play.  Can they score?  Demaryius can.  Dion Lewis cannot.  The reason being that he’s injured.  It makes it hard.  And after that?  Anquan Boldin just celebrated his 93rd birthday, and while he can still make some grabs as a possession receiver, particularly in a Lions lineup seeking to fill the Calvin Johnson void, there’s a real question of just how many catches he can still make.  Jeff Janis is fighting with what seems like about 62 other promising young receivers to be a tertiary option for Aaron Rodgers.  DeAndre Washington should catch some passes, but isn’t likely to have a starting role as a rookie, and there’s no real TE to speak of.  It’s a very real possibility that the Broncos could run out a team with a zero from QB, Nick Vannett, Cole Beasley and Jeff Janis on a regular basis.  That would make it very hard to get it done in what is shaping up to be a surprisingly competitive AFC West.

 

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals (11-5):  “I don’t have to outrun the bear.  I only have to outrun you.”  That should be Arizona’s motto this year.  But actually, there’s no bear.  There’s more like a chubby little chimpanzee with a stick.   Basically, it’s like that old “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing” program where you are driving a car and you have to win by typing a certain number of words per minute.  The super-fast typers would set it to like 70 to train for careers in clerical work.  The slackers would set it to about 20 wpm so they could hunt and peck and not have to learn.  That’s sort of what it’s like for Arizona this year.  The pace car is set to about 12 wpm.  So Arizona could field a football team consisting of nothing but pygmy otters and lepers and still win the division by about 5 games.  Below is a video detailing what I expect the NFC West division race to look like.  The dude is Arizona.  Unfortunately, I can’t embed this one, but watch it anyway.

http://features.aol.com/video/furious-tortoise-chases-after-man-slowly

This year, Arizona runs away with the division largely by virtue of not having a serious of massive, gaping holes big enough you could drive a tractor-trailer through at major skill positions.  Matt Ryan and Shady McCoy give some solid star power on the offensive front, and the defense is good, bordering on excellent, particularly up front.  The combination of Calais Campbell and JJ Watt are set to average nearly 30ppg from the Defensive End position alone – which is a very nice built in competitive advantage.  An extremely strong secondary (Barry Church, TJ McDonald and Rashad Johnson at Safety, with Josh Norman and DRC doing the covering) should also put up a lot of points.  It’s an interesting defensive strategy by Arizona, which has built up a surplus of strength at positions of scarcity (DE and S) throughout the league.  Where most teams are scraping by for capable starters, Arizona has loaded up at these positions to bolster a good but not great, linebacking corps.

The offense is sketchier, but actually has a lot of potential.  The jury is still out on whether or not Kamar Aiken, is, in fact, good at football.  Signs seem to be pointing up for him, though, and he may well be the most productive Ravens receiver this year.  The jury does, however, seem to have returned a verdict on Reuben Randle (not good enough for football. Let’s hope he can type!). Michael Floyd continues to be “on the edge of a breakout year” (for the record, I think he gets it) and both Brandon LaFell and Richard Rodgers have solid opportunities on their respective teams.

End of the day, I’m probably being too hard on the poor Cardinals.  They are going to win this division by six games again – not just because they are the best of a bunch of bad teams – but because they are a legitimately good team.  Lock this one up, it is in the bag.

Seattle Seahawks (7-9): 

Being the second best team in the NFC West is a little bit like being the second best quarterback the Browns have had in the last 25 years.  It’s not exactly much of an honor.  That said, let’s take a second to stop and appreciate what the Seahawks have accomplished in terms of a quick rebuild.  One year after selling literally everything, the Hawks are already rebuilding to the point where I expect them to finish SECOND in their division.  Now, keep in mind that doesn’t mean a lot.  But it is a nice step forward for the rebuilding Hawks.

It’s going to be a show me year for a lot of the young and promising players, starting with #1 overall pick Ezekiel Elliott, who joins Sterling Shepard as high class weapons for Russell Wilson, who literally had NO weapons last year.  He had so few weapons that not even Ryan Lochte could have claimed to feel threatened by meeting him in a dark alley (he could, however, have seriously injured Jordan Reed).

This year, Shepard and Elliott alone should provide some rejuvenation for the offense – and for many years to come.  With the notable exception of Tight End (where MyCole Pruitt really shouldn’t be anybody’s Cole Pruitt, he’s just not good enough to want), the Seahawks offense is actually filled with some promising young players – Paul Richardson is an absolutely gunner (runs like Usain bolt – though it is unclear how that will work for him to catch passes, as he tops out at 4’3” wearing wooden dutch platform shoes).  Pharoh Cooper may find a role in the highly unsettled group of Goff-targets.  Alex Collins is pushing for a role in a suddenly Beast-less Seattle backfield, though the re-emergence of pre-season hero Christine Michael puts a little doubt on that. Long and short, there’s young talent on the offensive side of the ball, though most of it will take some time to really develop.

Like Virginia, Seattle is rebuilding. A couple more lawnchairs and contention is in sight!
Like Virginia, Seattle is rebuilding. A couple more lawn chairs and contention is in sight!

There’s young talent on the other side of the ball too, though not quite to the same extent.  Most notably, rookie Kamali Correa (not Kai’oahu’injured’guy, though the names are confusing) joins Denzel Perryman and Bobby Wagner to form a powerhouse linebacking corner.   Other young guns with promise include Kenneth Acker, Deon Bush, and Jihad Ward, who join other young guns without promise (looking at you, Cassius Marsh) and stabilizing veterans in Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor.  The Legion of Boom this is not, but good enough to be second in this division?  Absolutely.  Just as exciting for the Seahawks are another trifecta of first round picks (all coming potentially in the top half of the first round) to help complete the rebuild.  This team still needs another year to get really good – but its on the right trajectory

San Francisco 49ers (6-10):

So I will say this for the 9ers – this is a team that could surprise.   It’s an intriguing plan that’s been put into place, and it could certainly pay off – just like Oakland, this team seems to have captured the bay area penchant for high risk, high reward players.  Unlike Oakland though, I have more concerns about these risks – and I’m not sure there are enough sure things to warrant quite as much optimism.

San Francisco's season may depend on this man right here. Yup. Putting it that way makes me nervous too.
San Francisco’s season may depend on this man right here. Yup. Putting it that way makes me nervous too.

For one, it all starts with the dynamic QB to WR1 duo that every team covets to score major points.  RGIII to Corey Coleman.  How the heck do you evaluate this pairing?  By all accounts, RGIII has looked pretty excellent in camp (dude even SLID the other night – Dayumm!  Times, they are a-changin’) and pretty mediocre in the preseason.  And also by all accounts (this is actually probably an overstatement, as there are a LOT of accounts.  The internet causes accounts to proliferate and everybody has a different one.  It’s kind of like Olympians filing police reports.  Ooh.  Lochte-burn), Corey Coleman is the real deal.  But man.  Coleman is a rookie.  RGIII is a multi-bust.  It’s Cleveland.  This could be a 20/20ppg pairing and the foundation of a better than expected offense.  But the bust chances seem high too.  Just hard to evaluate.

It’s like that all the way down the roster.  Michael Thomas could catch a lot of Drew Brees passes (there are usually lots of them), or he could be confused for various other Mike Thomas’ and disappear.  Austin Seafaring-Jenkins could be the stud we’ve been expecting for years, or he could lose his job to his landlubbing counterpart, Cameron the Brate.  Similar story for Matt Jones.  Hunter Henry is a very promising TE for the long-term of this team, but he’s also a rookie TE – who traditionally don’t do very much.  D-liners Benson Mayowa and Erik Armstead may or may not be all the way back from injury.  Slick Willie Young and Duron Harmon’s roles are up in the air in the secondary (or were, before the trade), and it remains to be seen how much the SF IDPers will see statistical bounces due to the preposterous number of snaps Chip Kelly (and his minions Blaine and Colin) will make them play on the field.

The trick for me is that none of these risks feel great for 2016.  I like Corey Coleman, and to a real degree RGIII.  I like Armstead.  But I like Brate over Jenkins, Mike Thomas as a role-player, not a starter, Matt Jones to time share, and Hunter Henry to be a rookie.  I don’t like Slick Willie Young.  And even if all these risks were to pan out, I think a second place divisional finish is the ceiling for this squad.  I don’t doubt that this team can play way ahead of where I expect them to be – and the pieces are there for a nice dynasty squad (oh, and Sheldon Richardson is a vengeful Aztec deity), but my prediction is a 3rd place finish for this team.

Los Angeles Rams (5-11):

The only thing with less dignity than the acronym LARM is potentially going to be the LARM offense this year.  Unfortunately, that is going to undercut what could actually be a surprisingly decent defense to keep this team at the bottom of the NFC West pecking order.

So when you google LARM, this comes up. It seems fitting.
So when you google LARM, this comes up. It seems fitting.

In many ways, the Rams seem to be in the same place that the Seahawks were last year, but with a better defense and fewer draft picks.  There’s promising young quarterback Marcus Mariota – and not a whole lot else.  Interestingly, the Rams second best player on offense is another quarterback – Slammin’ Sammy Bradford.  After that?  Well, Chris Sims could be ok with the Muscle Hamster’s sloppy seconds.  But man.  Cordarelle Patterson and Bishop Sankey are two high-profile rookies who have busted HARD looking to resurrect their careers away from the Detroit spotlight.  It’s hard to see either one doing it.  Sankey has already been cut, along with starting WR Chris Givens.  Jared Cook has been a breakout threat forever, but he’ll be about the 11th option on the Packers.  Darrius Heyward Bay is another high-profile bust who has shown occasional flashes, but looks stuck behind Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton in Martavis Bryant’s absence.  Moritz Boehringer should bring in six or seven German fans, but not nearly as many footballs.  And Jeff Cumberland, always a favorite of this author, is both injured and not actually very good at scoring fantasy points, despite his sheer awesomeness.  That offense is going to STRUGGLE, a la Seattle 2015.

It’s a shame, because the offense is going to undercut what should be a very nice defense.  The Rams have some real riches in the secondary, with Senquez Golson, Rodney McCleod, Janoris Jenkins, Darian Stewart, Marcus Cooper, and EJ Gaines all looking starting caliber.  Bob Ayers Jr. and Cedric Thornton provide some nice power up front, and James Laurinitis and Nick Perry are no slouches in the middle, though the Linebacking corps is weaker than either the front-line or the outfield.

End of the day, it’s possible that the defense is enough to put this team up to a third or even a second place finish if things break right.  But that offense is going to hamstring this team’s ceiling and keep them in contention for a top five pick throughout the year.  The tough part for the Rams is that that pick will be their only real draft asset of value for next year unless a QB can be flipped or they can turn some of that secondary depth into draft capital.  It’s a rebuild in SoCal, but it’s not looking like a fast one.