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.

 

Real Deal Report: 2016 Predictions: South Divisions

We return for another edition of the Real Deal Report Previews!  This time, I’m in LA (or was, at first draft), frantically typing at a Starbucks while my jet-lagged body marvels that it is somehow still morning.   It is also, 107 degrees.  Therefore, I have elected to preview the Southern division.

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

AFC South

We return today to our contemplation of history by remembering a time in which sports were pure and disciplined.  We remember smash-mouth, three-yards-in-a-pile-of-dust football.  We remember the New Jersey Devils utterly ruining hockey with their BS dump and trap nonsense that totally took all the fun out of the game while at the same time being undeniably effective.  We remember the “raised mound” era of baseball in which ERAs under 2 were commonplace and runs were like gold.  We remember the 20XX Seattle Mariners in which all opposing pitchers had ERAs under 2 and runs were like gold.  We mock the 20XX Seattle Mariners in which all opposing pitchers had ERAs under 2 and runs were like gold.  Oh we mock them.  And oh how we cry.  We cry.

The epic struggle of offense vs. defense in the AFC South.
The epic struggle of offense vs. defense in the AFC South.

In any case, what all of these disparate eras had in common were one single, undeniable trait – nobody could score.  Offenses were inept compared to the powerful defenses that terrorized them.  It was like Mark Sanchez was starting for everybody – ALL. THE. TIME.  We shudder and shake our heads violently to clear them of such disturbing visions.

Welcome, my friends, to the 2016 AFC South – a division of powerful defenses and apathetic, castrated offenses (don’t worry, no images).

Tennessee Titans (10-6):

We begin with Tennessee, another team whose rebuild has seemed to last forever – but who, this humble author believes, has finally turned the corner and will contend for a championship.  We begin with that offensive collossus Odell Beckham Jr. striding across the land and catching everything that moves in his mighty two-finger grip.  We move on with the mostly unproven but filled with potential supporting cast of Teddy Bridgewater, CJ Anderson, Devin Funchess, Dwayne Allen, Mohamed “I’m next to Julio Jones instead of AJ Green, perhaps the curse will be lifted” Sanu, and newcomer Tajae Sharp.  We speak of Justin Hunter, Andre Williams, Kenny Stills, and Wendell Smallwood, and consider them yet more young and fantastic potential.

Oh Ladarius. My Ladarius. Why hast thou become like Ryan Leaf?
Oh Ladarius. My Ladarius. Why hast thou become like Ryan Leaf?

We do not mention the poster child for potential come to naught, Ladarius Green, who was been heir apparent to Antonio Gates since Kennedy’s assassination.  Every year has been his year.  Every year has come and gone.  And now his career stands in jeopardy, a warning to children of the dangers of relying on “potential”.  We do not mention Ladarius Green, and we drink to forget.  We turn our heads away from the horrifying sight, and put it out of our mind.  The young players WILL develop.  The potential WILL become reality.  It must.  Ladarius who?  I HAVE NO SON.

We think also of a ferocious and veteran defense, like all in this nil-nil draw of a division.  Anchored by Mario Edwards and Ndamukong Suh, bolstered by the “I’m so mighty I have an “e” at the end of my name for absolutely NO REASON” Stephone Anthony, and outfielded by the capable McCourty twins (Devin and Jason).  We wonder what the hell is up with a team that has two guys with the last name of “McCourty” and two guys with the first name “Devin” starting for it at the same time.  That’s weird right?  And we conclude by looking at Rookie Scooby Wright, chuckling at his name, and instinctively making the “Scooby-dooby-doo” noise in our heads and fetching our hallucinogens.

And at the end of the day, we realize that Tennessee is about to complete it’s rebuild and win the NFC South.  Unless… unless “LADARIUS” comes to pass for them all…  No.  No.  That won’t happen.  Of course it won’t.  It won’t…

 

Houston Texans (8-8):

Speaking of three yards in a pile of dust, Da Coach loves Da Texans, who seem to have adopted on old school ground and pound philosophy.  Da’meis Winston lines up behind center, and is ready to hand it off over and over and over again to the two best players on offense, David Johnson and Carlos “I’m going to carry the ball 53 times a game this year and then Chip Kelly is going to trade me next year for Ladarius Green and a mesh bag of athletic socks” Hyde.  In all likelihood the best RB tandem in the league, this duo combined with Winston and Donte “I have a hoity-toity name that makes it sound like I could be a count of some random territory in Southern France” Moncrief should keep the Texans competitive.

Hmmm... yes... my name's Donte Moncrief. I live here. With my buddy Earl Thomas. This is a terrible caption and a real stretch. Poor writing indeed.
Hmmm… yes… my name’s Donte Moncrief. I live here. With my buddy Earl Thomas. This is a terrible caption and a real stretch. Poor writing indeed.

Like all the AFC South, this defense should also stay competitive with Chandler Jones and Malcolm Brown joining new draft pick steal Kenny Clark to form a fearsome front-line, and a solid defensive backfield of the flying Jonnies (Joseph and Cyprien) joining Earl “I have a hoity-toity name that it sound like I could be an Earl” Thomas and Desmond Trufant.

The trick for the Texans is going to be their depth.  While Tennessee can bring out starting-caliber players 18 deep, the Texan line-up runs a little thinner. Guys like Angelo Blackson and Damien Swann are not players you want starting for a championship calendar team, and even true stalwarts like Bruce Irvin tend a little cold in fantasy.  It’s less pronounced, but no less dangerous on the offensive side where Jaelen Strong, Levine Toilolo and Chris Hogan need to produce FAR beyond what they have ever produced before.  They may.  But we’ll talk about counting chickens later.

Look, there’s really potential here.  Toilolo and/or Austin Hooper could start catching lots of touchdowns from Matt Ryan, Brock Osweiler to Jaelen Strong could be a household combination by the end of the season, and Chris Hogan could become Tom Brady’s after-Gronk go too.  It’s possible.  But to my mind, the Titan potential has a better chance of panning out (and more wild cards with the chance to do so) than the Texan potential, which means it all comes back to just how good those running backs are…
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9): 

The Jacksonville Jagulars (that’s how they say it in Winnie the Pooh.  Heffalumps and Woozles steal hunny.  Beware.)  has

The key to everything.
The key to everything.

theyselves a ferocious defense.  Potentially the best defense in a division full of them.  It’s young.  It’s fresh.  It’s ferocious.  It features some of the best players in fantasy football and the best names in fantasy football.  Guys like CJ Mosley at LB, Bashaud Breeland at CB, and Linval Joseph and Jabaal Sheard on the line provide the football skills and serious scoring.  Then there’s this guy called Obum Gwacham, who takes over from, get this, Hau’oli Kikaha.  Seriously.  No joke.  Hau’oli Kikaha got injured.  They replaced him with Obum Gwacham.  My prevailing theory is that absolutely nobody had been able to say the first name, so they just figured “since we’ve just been grunting and making coughing noises and calling out “hey you” with the last guy, may as well just do the same thing with the new guy.

You know you have a good defense when you are beggin folks to take this guy and his luscious hair off your hands...
You know you have a good defense when you are beggin folks to take this guy and his luscious hair off your hands…

Anyway, the defense is really good.  Could be a 100 point defense on a regular basis if it plays to potential.  I mean, when Mark Barron and Donte Whitner are forgotten role players and the GM has been frantically trying to sell Richard Sherman all season like Count Moncrief trying to marry off his sister for political reasons all Game of Thrones style, you know you have a defense that is strong and deep.

The trick is that this team really ain’t going to score no points.  Kirk Cousins is genuinely good.  He has always been great at throwing passes that other players catch.  Now that he’s figured out that he should throw the ball to only guys who look like a McDonalds and are labeled offensively to Native Americans, he’s become borderline unstoppable.  Travis Kelce is also fantastic.  I bitterly resent the day I traded him away.  He’s going to score a LOT of touchdowns.  We can even give this team the benefit of the doubt and assume that Marqise “I have a hoity-toity name that makes it sound like I could be a Marquis of some random town in southern France” Lee will actually do something this year.

But after that?  The lineup is as follows, and I quote “Seth Roberts, Tyler Ervin, Rashard Higgins, Marcedes Lewis, Duron Carter, Tre McBride.”   There is an excellent chance that Odell Beckham Jr. will outscore everyone on this offense but Cousins and Kelce on a fairly regular basis.  Ouch.

Indianapolis Colts (6-10):

Same as it ever was for the Indianapolis Colts.  Fortunately for you, they do NOT have Duke Johnson, so you won’t have to put up with me making the same tired nobility pun.  Unfortunately for Indianapolis, they don’t have Duke Johnson, which means that after Andrew Luck and Julian Edelman, they will be trotting out Bruce Ellington, Charcandrick “no longer starting but still costing 12M” West, Troy Niklas, Chris Johnson, and Will Fuller.

Here’s the thing, this offense could be ok.  But it’s full of question marks.  Will Luck be better?  Will Edelman stay healthy?  Will Bruce Ellington truly take hold of a strong role in a Chip Kelly offense – and can whoever starts at QB get him the ball?  Will Charcandrick West get any touches?  What happened to Troy Niklas’ “c” and “u”?  Did he lose them in a poker game to some rough and tumble mates at a bar while in college?  Will Chris Johnson maintain his resurgence?  Will  Will Fuller get anything done as a rookie?  It’s a lot of questions.  And while some answers may be positive, at least some answers are unlikely to be, and Indy really doesn’t have the depth to sustain any “no” answers.

This guy has Troy Niklas's missing letters. Unfortunately, he does not play for the Colts.
This guy has Troy Niklas’s missing letters. Unfortunately, he does not play for the Colts.

The defense too is a step back from the rest of the division’s stalwarts, possessing a lot of compelling youth, but not enough short-term answers.  Guys like Artie Burns, Eli Apple, Tavon Young, and Shaq Barrett will bolster the team in the future, but will struggle to score points today.  Jerrell Freeman, Brian Orakpo, and Antoine Bethea are all on the wrong side of 30 and even they can only do so much.  Landon Collins is a strong player for the future and present, and Perrish Cox could be the same, so it’s not as if this defense is weak – but it’s also not as exceptional as some of the others in the division.

I have a bad habit of betting against Indy at the beginning of the year, and usually look foolish for doing so.  It could happen again.  If the vets on D have one more great year in the tank and the kids develop quickly… if the opportunity is there in the right places for the young guys… this team could get to a place of being Super Bowl worthy if everything pans out.  I just think it’s more likely that the old guys decline faster and the young guys are a year away… in which case, it could be a long season in the land of Eli Lilly.
NFC South

Now this division is straight up impossible to predict.  Carolina won the Super Bowl and brings back the whole team.  The Saints have a strong but shallow offense and the best defense in the division.  Atlanta is a trendy offensive pick with some star power and some defensive liabilities.  Tampa Bay might well have the best composite team on both sides of the ball – but also may not have a starting QB – or may have two.  It’s a predictor’s nightmare.

But who am I kidding.  When have I ever been any good at this anyway?  Time to solicit the aid of the stars, owl pellets, and least reliable of all, ESPN analysts.  Let’s start from the top.

Don't mind me. Just plying the tricks of my journalistic trade...
Don’t mind me. Just plying the tricks of my journalistic trade…

New Orleans Saints (10-6):

New Orleans gets the benefit of the doubt because of the starting lineup, a very solid defense, and a history of excellence.  The Saints and Chiefs are the only teams in RDFL to have made the playoffs in every season of the league’s existence, and this team still has all the parts on both sides of the ball.  Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham join forces with newly minted #1 WR Golden Tate to anchor what should be a decent offense, while the defense remains a strength of this team – as it has since day #1.  While the New Orleans secondary is a little porous, the front seven is insane: Jordan Cameron, Rob Ninkovich, Damon Harrison, William Gholston, Kiko Alonso, Anthony Barr, and Brandon Graham.  Mercy.  That’s a 4-3 defense that can GET AFTER the quarterback and generate some points.  As I mentioned, there are some weaker spots in the secondary, but a combination of Malcolm Jenkins and that front seven will mask a lot of coverage weaknesses!

So why am I so hesitant about putting the Saints as the clear-cut #1 here?  Well, first and foremost, because this division is GOOD.  All four teams in this division have star power and the chance to put it all together.  Hell, Carolina is the defending Super Bowl Champions – it’s certainly possible they should be getting the benefit of the doubt!

What could possibly go wrong?
What could possibly go wrong?

More importantly, though, New Orleans needs things to break right.  The Saints don’t have a lot of margin for error.  If Jeremy Langford (he of the 3.3 ypc) loses his starting role to Ka’Deem Carey or Jordan Howard, there’s no real viable replacement on the roster.  If Sammie Coates struggles to replace Martavis Bryant, there’s no real solid replacement at WR.  If the legs fall off Darren Sproles, same story.  If Rob Ninkovich’s injury is longer and more debilitating than expected, the drop-off could be significant depending on how well Nick Fairley plays in his new digs.  At the end of the day, New Orleans is already being forced to start JJ Nelson due to a lack of depth on offense.  If the rest of the team plays to its potential, this should be easily overcome – but if things break badly for the Saints (and many things happen in an RDFL season), this offense could go from excellent to potentially bad.  And given the strength of this division, a bad offense is probably not going to be enough – even with the grade A beef the Saints are running out there on D each week.

 

Carolina Panthers (9-7):

Carolina has to be feeling a little bit like “I win the Super Bowl and all I get is this bloody Tee-shirt?”.  Sorry, man.  If it makes you feel any better, I completely underestimated your team last year because of how it looked on paper, and you made me look like a fool at every turn.  I picked against you in the division, and you won.  I picked against you in the playoffs, and you won.  I picked against you in the Super Bowl, and you won there too.  So, basically, think of it this way – when I pick against you, you win!  So really, you should probably be mailing me a 20 spot for picking you second.

Carolina really has the same strengths and same weaknesses as last year’s team.  The strengths are a fantastic defense headlined by human Robocop Luke Kuechly, edge-rusher extraordinaire Marcell Dareus, and anchored by Patrick Patterson and Kurt Coleman.  This is the same defense that every week put the Panthers over the top and led them to some 300 point games.  It returns largely intact, and is bolstered by the karmic and spiritually uplifting preference of DE Greg Hardy, who is making a cool 12M to cheerlead.  That’s a problem for me.  But aside from that, this defense will be wonderful once again.

12M. For this fool. It is my duty as a media watchdog to shame you for this. Cut him! Cut him now! He is a moral cancer! He will bring you down. Cut him, lest he bring wrath upon you!
12M. For this fool. It is my duty as a media watchdog to shame you for this. Cut him! Cut him now! He is a moral cancer! He will bring you down. Cut him, lest he bring wrath upon you!

Also once again, the offense looks a little underwhelming on paper.  Cam Newton is back to dab and dance his way to victory, all the while fielding complaints about his leadership when they lose and being praised for his maturity as a leader when they win.  Gotta love sports narratives.  Greg Olsen, his favorite target, should put together yet another fantastic campaign.  There’s even an argument that the return of Kelvin Benjamin and the maturation of Cam’s other receivers should lead to an even better campaign for one of the best quarterbacks in Fantasy.

Mark Ingram, who for some reason my mind still can’t fully trust as a running back worthy of starting, should actually put up another solid campaign, as should young guns Willie Snead and Zach Ertz.  One huge question for Carolina is how much juice Steve Smith still has in the tank.  He’s clearly front and center of a bad Baltimore receiving corps, and was on pace for a career year last year before his devastating injury.  But can he maintain a comeback to post solid numbers?  If so, that Carolina offense could suddenly look pretty compelling.  Even if he fades hard (37 year old receivers returning from devastating injuries have that tendency), Robert Woods has looked great in Buffalo by all indications, and Eddie Royal always seems to put up numbers…

Man, I don’t know.  The Panthers have snuck up on me again.  I like them more than I did when I started writing this.  For some reason, it’s very hard for me to vote FOR this team… but the more I look at it, the more I think the Panthers are a legitimate threat to defend their title, at least within the NFC.  Carolina and Indianapolis both do this to me… and I don’t know why.  Something about the owl pellets just doesn’t work when these teams are around.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7):

Man.  This division is tough.  I had to put New Orleans on top given that D and their consistent history of success.  And Carolina brings just about everybody back from a team that just won the stinking Super Bowl.  But man.  The Buccaneers at third?  I LOVE the Buccaneers.  This is a team that I am extremely high on for this year.  In fact, I’m high enough on this team that I would have absolutely no surprise if it was the Bucs representing the NFC in the Super Bowl.

Why the confidence?  Well, it starts in the heart of the defense, where LaVonte David, Von Miller and Clay Matthews form what will almost certainly be the best linebacking core in the league.  Jaye Howard and Gerald McCoy may well be the best DT pairing in the league as well.  And while Darelle Revis and Aqib Talib are clear-cut “better in real life than in fantasy” corners, they are still no slouches.  This isn’t as strong a defense as the Bills and Panthers defenses that carried them to the Super Bowl last year – but it is fantastic nonetheless, and is in the top 5-10 in the league.

And not only can the Bucs defend, but they can CATCH.  Tampa Bay comes into the year intending to go four-wide and do so with Eric Decker, Emmanuel Sanders, Vincent Jackson, and Torrey “I may not be good, but Chip’s going to throw it to me 83 times a game and he made RILEY COOPER good” Smith.  Clive Walford is a TE with some high potential as a 5th pass catcher, and they are joined by by pass-catching Running Back Doug Martin, whose Muscle Hamster nickname is good enough that I don’t even have to give him another one.

Interestingly, Tampa Bay faces huge questions at Quarterback, where they may legitimately have anywhere between 0-2 strong starting quarterbacks, though the trend line is pointing more towards 0 than 2, which is a legitimate concern and a major reason for the third place finish.  By all accounts, Josh McCown has basically lost the QB competition in Cleveland to RGIII, and Blaine Gabbert remains in a bitter struggle with Colin Kaepernick to inherit a role as Chip Kelly’s signal chucker.  It’s hard to say how that contest is going to turn out, but when you are relying on Blaine Gabbert to win anything (and I mean ANYTHING.  A quarterback competition.  A game.  Fricking Yahtzee.  A stuffed bear from one of those carnival games where you have to knock over the bottles.  The claw game at Denny’s…)

It looks so easy... so tempting. And yet it makes fools of us all.
It looks so easy… so tempting. And yet it makes fools of us all.

That reminds me.  When I was in high school, I had a buddy named Dan.  Our posse (yes, I can call them a posse now.  It was 20 years ago.  You can’t tell me it wasn’t.  You weren’t there.) had been up all night and were out at 6am at Denny’s, a high class establishment if ever there was one.  Some of my buddies bet Dan a dollar that he wouldn’t drink the full bottle of Tabasco sauce sitting on the table in front of him.  Dan, being a sleep deprived 17 year old male who knew the value of money, agreed and downed the whole damn thing.  After spending a good chunk of time writhing in agony and drinking way too much Denny’s “chocolate milk” (true substance remains unclear), he triumphantly claimed his dollar – which he immediately spent on two 50 cent attempts at the claw game.  He failed both.  All he had for his trouble was pride and fiery anguish in his bowels which persisted for several days.

I love the Bucs.  I’m high on the team.  But man I feel like Gabbert and McCown are two attempts at a Denny’s claw game, and that anguish in the bowels might be in the cards for a Bucs team that has the potential to win it all – but might not even make the playoffs.

 

Atlanta Falcons (7-9):

There is perhaps no more compelling case to be made for the NFC South as the best division in RDFL 2016 than this 4th place pick for the new and improved Atlanta Falcons (now with a Quarterback!).  This team could win several divisions in this league.  And in truth, it is entirely possible it could win this division.  These four squads are all good and they are all tightly bunched.  And it’s not as if Atlanta would really have to improve that much over last year – burned out of the gate by a brutal start during the early weeks with multiple games, the Falcons never really had a chance to recover, but were not nearly as bad as their record indicated.

Newly minted franchise QB Jared Goff has by all accounts looked good in Ram’s camp, and your devoted author seriously hopes he is the real deal, because somebody needs to get the ball to my man Tavon Austin.  But a rookie QB in a Jeff Fisher system that has Todd Gurley is more of a void-filler than a “light the world on fire for 20ppg” guy.  But y’all, this offense is really compelling. Goff is throwing to Julio Jones, Jeremy Maclin, and Kelvin Benjamin (now with a belly) – and he is handing off to some guy named Jamaal Charles, who, if he can stay healthy, should have another season or two as a top 10 Running Back.  Aside from QB and J-Mail’s hammies, the only real question is at TE, and there Atlanta has loaded up on high potential wild cards like Vance McDonald, Anthony Fasano, and Ryan Griffin.  This should be a strong offense – how good will depend on Goff’s development and the training staff.

The spiritual leader of the defense...
The spiritual leader of the defense…

The defense is also compelling, though honestly still a small notch down from some of the league’s best.  DeAndre Levy and Michael Bennett are great at football, and Brent Grimes’ wife is a ferocious, aggressive tackler who is the vocal leader of this team, but gets flagged for too many unsportsmanlike penalties.  Beyond that, though, there’s a lack of star power on this defense.  Shamarko Thomas?  Daryl Smith?  Captain Munnerlyn?  Good players.  But not stars on the level of TB’s lineback trifecta or guys like Luke Kuechly.

It’s tough.  This is a good team.  No obvious weaknesses and Atlanta’s offensive skill players are

I have no better reason to put Atlanta in this spot.
I have no better reason to put Atlanta in this spot.

really good.  This would be a serious candidate to win the NFC North.  But this is a tough division.  And my hunch is that something goes wrong.  Jamaal Charles is actually closer to done than we think.  None of the Tight Ends pan out.  The defense underwhelms.  Danny Woodhead gets concussed. It’s not really realistic.  The Saints probably have more TRUE question marks.  But they also have a track record with depth and lady luck.  Atlanta’s had a rough go of it.  And my sixth sense just wonders if there’s more of that coming this year…

 

Real Deal Report: 2016 Predictions – North Divisions

Dear friends,

It is 10:21 at night.  I’ve worked 87 hours in the last 8 days and my brain is absolute mush.  What does that mean?  It means that this year’s Real Deal Report predictions are coming at you with ZERO filter.  NONE.  No filter at all.  I thinks it, I types it.  Nothing is off-limits.  Not politics.  Not global issues.  Not the many psychological issues of your beloved league mates.  I calls it like I sees it. Beware.

Finish Reading: Real Deal Report: 2016 Predictions – North Divisions

You know what else it means?  I have absolutely no effective thematic intro to this particular prediction.  Nothing.  I am eating a Chipotle burrito and typing things.  That’s all I got.

We’re starting with the Northern divisions this year.  Why?  I have no idea.  I think I usually start with the East divisions or the West divisions and the North and South end up in the middle.  Flyover divisions.  Not anymore though.  This year, the northern divisions get their due.  And they get their due in the Real Deal Report, largely because they probably aren’t going to get it in the Super Bowl.   What do I mean?

Well.. here come the predictions!

AFC North:

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): A super bowl berth.  Consistent playoff berths.  The Steelers of RDFL are a heck of a lot like the Steelers of the NFL.  Consistently good, oscillating between decent and outstanding, but lacking those trips to the garbage heap the rest of us take.  It’s going to be another good year in fantasy steeltown, and how good depends on Le’Veon Bell’s lawyer. (UPDATE: Le’Veon Bell’s lawyer got him off for week #4 – which is not, it is a shame to say, a double week).

I will note that injustice is evident everywhere in our society, and nowhere is this more true than in the suspensions handed down to key players.  Ray Rice commits an awful and heinous act and is banished from the league forever.  Ben Roethlisberger does the same and gets a suspension.  Josh Gordon fails multiple drug tests and gets banished from the league for years – moreover, he is forced to room with Johnny Manziel, who never ever does his dishes.  Le’Veon Bell fails multiple drug tests and gets… suspensions.  It’s almost like there’s an agreement with the league offices that Pittsburgh guys never get huge suspensions – but throw the book at the rest of the division.  Well, except for Vontaze Burfict.  Who should probably be in jail.

Caption Contest?
Who’s bowling for this over, Mr. Leung?  Hit the Gilli-Danda with the spanking stick!

Anyway.  Pittsburgh has STARS. Fantrax projects the Steelers to have the #3 QB (Big Ben), the #1 RB (Le’Veon Bell), the #4 WR (Jarvis Landry), and the #7 TE (Coby Fleener).  And yes, Coby Fleener should be a huge step up.  The TE who catches passes from Drew Brees is always awesome in fantasy.  A top 5 skill guy at every single position is a spectacular foundation.  The only saving grace for the entire division is that they don’t have Antonio Brown.  Because that would be silly.  Still, the projections are already preposterous.  Fantrax predicts 19ppg for Big Ben, 21 for Le’Veon, 24 for Jarvis, and 13 for Coby.  77ppg from their top four offensive skill players.  And of course, the Wild Card – Mr. Albert Wilson.  Oh, and did I mention that one of the guys we didn’t talk about is TJ Yeldon (the Jacksonville RB who didn’t randomly drive his car into a pond).  That means that the Steelers are likely to hit for the century on offense more often than a bollywood cricket movie.

The Steelers defense lacks the same sense of explosive star power, with the exception of LB Alec Ogletree, but did add DeForest Buckner in a draft day steal.  He’ll be even more of a steal when he gains the DE eligibility he lacked in the draft and which scared off so many owners, including the still bitter yours truly.  Still, the squad has 6 guys projected for double digit points and no true weaknesses, though the secondary could use an upgrade (it’s unclear who Jamar Taylor is and Brad McDougald, Mike  Mitchell, and Byron Maxwell form an uninspiring tandem without a lot of depth).

The Steelers do have some depth issues on both sides of the ball, and don’t seem to this humble author to be in quite the same league as the Fighting AJ Greens over in Buffalo, but this team should walk away with yet another AFC North division title.  Same as it ever was.

Cleveland Browns (9-7):  Wait.  What?  NOT the same as it ever was.

Yes.  Cleveland.  Guys.  This is important.  There is a spiritual change going on in the world today, a spiritual shift that would have been unfathomable in the time of our forefathers.  Something shifted in the heavens over the NBA finals, and nothing will ever be the same again.  We should be expecting bad football movies to be made on par with “Angels in the Outfield” and epic miracles to occur like sea partings, plagues of boils, and RGIII making good decisions with the football.  Well.  Actually.  That’s going too far, even for angels.  Let’s just stick with RGIII not making horrific decisions with the football.

Observe: Le’Bron James actually looked dominant and aggressive.  He rejected Steph Curry.  He mouthed off.  He would have rejected Riley Curry.  Don’t mess with a big man who rides a freaking banana boat.  He pulled out one of the greatest finals ever to knock off the team with the best record in NBA history and bring a world freaking championship to CLEVELAND.

Observe: The Cleveland Indians lead the American League Central and are moving aggressively, poised for a an AL Championship.

Observe: The Chicago “Billy Goat named Bartman” Cubs are favored in the National League and running away with the Central division.

Observe: The Cleveland Browns didn’t do stupid ($#*& at the draft.

Next: Wars, and rumors of wars.  Signs in the sky.  Cincinatti getting obliterated by a fiery volcano hurled down from heaven.  The dead rising.  Get ready.

Yes, Dwayne Wade, the waters hath been turned to blood and LeBron hath won without thee. Cleveland rises from the depths, and thou, o favored city, shall go down unto them.
Yes, Dwayne Wade, the waters hath been turned to blood and LeBron hath won without thee. Cleveland rises from the depths, and thou, o favored city, shall go down unto them.

I don’t know what’s going on.  I don’t know how to explain it.  Some prince found true-love’s-first kiss, hence breaking the curse upon the land.  Some prince tried to give an unconscious princess true-love’s first kiss and a pair of muscular swedes beat the tar out of him for being a perverted creep, hence breaking the curse upon the land.  Chris Christie WAS and IS the curse upon the whole damn land, but now he’s out campaigning with Trump and so he can’t manifest.  I don’t know.

But guys.  Cleveland’s viable.  Blake Bortles has hisself an offense that’s the real deal.  Some folks think he’ll be a top 10 QB.  Isaiah Crowell could end up the work-horse stud back in the Browns offense.  Michael Crabtree and Mike Evans are joined by Marvin Jones – who has an inside track to serious work now that Calvin Johnson just happened to retire.  Coincidence?  I think not!  The redoubtable Gary Barnidge is a top 10 TE, and as long as they can find a replacement for the fat, suspended, and now released Karlos Williams, that O could be a force.

Now there are questions in the secondary, where both Bene Benwikere and Joe Haden will start the year on the IR, and where the only non-injured CB has under 100 career points.  But the linebacking core is solid between Karlos (the in-shape Karlos) Dansby and Manti Te’o and the safety play is excellent.

Look, on paper, this team doesn’t have the horses to get past Pittsburgh.  But man.  The times they are a’changin’.  Remember when the Boston Red Sox were the team of futility?  Cleveland man.  They might set the Cuyahoga on fire for actually good reasons this year.

Baltimore Ravens (7-9):

And which will thou be, O Baltimore?  City of promise?  City of peril?  City of pain?  I guess this is what happens when I have no sleep and no filter.  I get biblical.

I don’t really know what to make of Baltimore.  Keenan Allen and Amari Cooper are two of the best young wide-receivers in the league.  These two guys are loaded for the bear, and should both be uber-productive #1 WRs for a solid decade.  It’s a massive built in advantage for the Ravens.  One might label them “the Sons of Thunder”, if one were so inclined.  Telvin Smith provides a similar young, valuable stud presence on D.

The resemblance...
The resemblance…
...is clear.
…is clear.

But man there’s a lot of question marks after that – but some question marks are trending in positive directions.  Joe Flacco, like LeBron and others who have recently been glorified, never quite gets much love, despite winning a super bowl with no offensive weapons and being able to chuck the football a good 200 cubits at a toss.   Will he be exalted?  Or will defensive wrath topple him?

Christine “the archangel” Michael is looking like the surprise favorite in Seattle to replace beastmode.  Fitting, if you ask me.  Terrelle Pryor appears to have been redeemed from his former sins and reborn as a wide receiver – who might actually be a productive one.  Ken Dixon looks good in Baltimore by all accounts, and might ascend to the starting job by the end of the year.  There are others – Mychal Rivera, Kendall Wright, Andre Ellington, Zach Miller, Eric Redi.  Shaq Lawson. Elvis Dumervil.  Kevin Dodd.  All these guys have the potential to be studs, or at least starters.  But mediocrity or worse is also clearly in the cards for each one.

The problem, for me, comes down to the defensive side of the ball.  If we’ve learned nothing over the past couple of years, it is this – the offense looks flashy and fantastic – but it’s those double digit consistent defensive scorers that make good teams great and get mediocre teams into the playoffs.  I just don’t buy the Ravens defense.  The Pass rush is excellent with Cliff Avril, Olivier Vernon, and Dodd and Lawson.  But after all the beef up front, the linebacking core and the secondary are underwhelming.  Greg Toler, Bradley Roby, Lardarius Webb, and Isa Abdul-Quddus (a proper unpronounceable biblical name right there) will all need to step up their game for this squad to contend. I don’t think it’s enough to get them over the hump this year – even with Allen, Cooper and Smith – and even if some of the question marks turn into lightning in a bottle – but who knows?  Perhaps the meek will inherit the earth?

And the fact that I’m referring to the Baltimore Ravens as “meek” shows you perhaps just how much sleep I actually need.

 

Cincinnati Bengals (5-11):  Ok, i’m tired.  So I might be missing something.  It’s possible.  But I can’t see for the life of me how the Cincinnati Bengals are going to score any points.  I also can’t figure out how the heck to spell Cincinnati right the first time.  I AM the Cincinnati franchise in Ultimate, and I still can’t figure out how to spell the darn city!

Anyway, let’s start with what’s good here – a downright serviceable defense.  The Bengals have populated their defense with strong, starter-level guys who play above their skill level in fantasy.  Will Compton.  Erin Henderson.  Patrick Chung.  Reggie Nelson.  Shawn Williams.  And then they are joined by a couple guys who are truly fierce and talented, like Geno Atkins and Cam Heyward.  What it means is that this defense should be able to hold its own with most other defenses.  The trick is that none of the defenders truly rise to the level of star power – everyone is a 10-pointer, nobody is a 15 pointer, which keeps the D from being truly exceptional.  And this team needs an exceptional defense to overcome what is going to be an anemic offense.

Andy Dalton's expression as the pass rush closes in...
Andy Dalton’s expression as the pass rush closes in…

Look, the last time someone with flaming red hair got THIS little support was in the Christmas Story when Ralphie beat up Farkus and his toadie weakly tried to pull him off before running screaming to his mother.  Andy Dalton is Scott Farkus.  That poor guy is about to get beat up by a snot-nosed kid in classes and a pudgy snowsuit because he’s got no. where. to. go. with. the. football.   The excitement of who is going to emerge as Dalton’s number one target features such worthies as Crockett Gilmore, Rishard Matthews, Jeremy Kerley, and Theo Riddick.  It’s a collection of serviceable role players – the kind of guys who round out the Steelers bench or maybe even get that coveted bye-week replacement start, but should not be starting for a competitive team.  Which leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that the Bengals might not be a competitive team this year.

In fact, the Bengals haven’t really been competitive since AJ Green left town…. Perhaps that’s the new curse if the Browns are entering into a fresh season of blessing…  Watch out for that fiery mountain, y’all… and if you should flee Cleveland, don’t look back lest ye be turned into a pillar of salt…

 

NFC North

Detroit Lions (10-6): The division of champions has fallen on hard times, y’all.  Between Green Bay and Detroit, this division has had a pre-season Super Bowl contender (or two) in every season RDFL has been in existence.  The first year, they even won the darn thing.  The star power (rookie and veteran) has been top of the line, and with the exception of Minnesota’s long and arduous rebuild, this has always been an outstanding division.

It’s a down year, friends.  Even in Detroit, where the Lions are the clear favorites, the trend line is sideways at best.  Calvin Johnson has ridden off into the sunset, taking with him the Lion’s biggest star and built in day #1 advantage, and the drop-off from Megatron to Phillip “Hot Rod at best.  At BEST.” Dorsett is a big one.

From this...
From this…
...to that. Retirement comes for us all.
…to that. Retirement comes for us all.

The Lions are still going to be a strong team, by far the strongest in the North.  Matthew Stafford has not retired, and while he won’t have Megatron to throw to, he’ll still throw.  A lot.  Some suspect that his numbers will even improve when he isn’t trying to forcefeed CJ in quadruple coverage 11 times a day.  With the exception of Dorsett who is merely good, the receiving corps of Tyler Lockett, Brandin Cooks, and Martellus Bennett (in New England, a place that seems to have a good read on how to use a TE) is outstanding.  The two-headed monster of Todd Gurley and Ameer Abdullah is one of the best running back tandems in the league.  And any defense that is led by Jamie Collins and Mario Williams can’t be bad.  With all that, this team isn’t losing to a diminished GB, a not quite over the hump Chicago, or a still 1.5 years and a QB away Minnesota.

That said, to really compete, Detroit needs a lot of question marks to flash.  This is the hallmark of the Lions strategy year after year – rely on upside guys to hit.  Sometimes it works (Cooks, Lockett, Collins, Abdullah, etc.).  Sometimes, it doesn’t (we hear Bishop Sankey is on pace to score his tenth career fantasy point sometime this year!).  But it remains the Lions strategy, particularly on defense, where guys like Todd Davis, Kyle Van Noy, Stephon Tuitt, Tre Boston, Nickell Robey, A’Shawn Robinson, and Tyrunn Walker will need to go above and beyond to get Detroit out of the first round of the playoffs.

 

Chicago Bears (8-8):

Ahh Chicago.  The Belgium of RDFL.  A timeless land surrounded by rising and falling great powers, never becoming one of those great powers itself, but never being crushed by them either.  Simply maintaining decency, and possibly chocolate, while battles for domination pass by its sleepy hamlet.

The Bears wave merrily as Green Bay plummets by it, having fallen off a cliff, exhausted by its quest to maintain NFC dominance.  They chuckle in awe and not a little bit of mortification as those crazy Lions ping-pong around them, one week way up, the next week way down, living vicariously through the thrill ride that never touches their tranquil fantasy existence.  They salute and watch with intrigue as the long desolate Vikings erupt from the bowels of the earth and soar towards championships, their star ascendant.  The world changes around them as teams rise and fall.  But for the Bears… life is as it always is.  Tomorrow’s tomorrow will be the same as Yesterday’s yesterday.  Just as the Shy-towners like it.

 

Chicago is not like the one who wore pants.

The Bears, as one would suspect, boast a balanced offense and defense.  The team is both old (Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Terence Newman, Desmond Bryant, Tamba Hali), and young (Kwon Alexander, Adolphus Washington, Markus Wheaton, DeVante Parker).  There is a decent-caliber starting player at almost every single position (except you, Ronnie Hillman – you suck), but besides Kwon (who I always want to call Tron), there is a distinct lack of starpower.   Every defensive starter is projected for at least 7 ppg.  Only one (the aforementioned Tron) is projected for double digits.  On “O”, every player is projected for double digits (except you, Ronnie Hillman – you suck), but only the ageless but name-duplicated Brandon Marshall is projected for a star-level performance.

There are few things we can count on in this crazy game called fantasy football.  But for those of you like who like Hondas, the Bears are your team.  Brandon Marshall will be great.  Ronnie Hillman will suck.  And the Bears will finish around .500.  Tomorrow is as Yesterday, passing on into time immemorial…

Minnesota Vikings (6-10):  

There’s a fantastic scene towards the end of Naked Gun where the villain is deservedly run over by a steamroller.  In the scene, the villain turns and sees the steam roller coming from about 100 yards away, moving impossibly slowly, slower than a sleeping sloth can crawl.  I mean, moving Peyton-Manning-avoiding-the-rush slow.  The villain has more than enough time to step out of the way.  Heck, he could make it to Fiji on a stage coach by the time the steamroller gets to his location.  But he doesn’t.  He just screams in terror for about 30 seconds, occasionally refilling his breath to continue screaming, before being eventually crushed by the steamroller.

In our analogy, the Minnesota Vikings are the steamroller, the rest of the league is the villain.  Minnesota has been rebuilding since the Dawn of Time.  The Vikings long-term strategy was firmly in place when the first dynasties rose in ancient China.  Hell, the only major setback the rebuild has experienced was when that damn meteor took out the dinosaurs and eliminated some nicely developing draft picks.  Dude, they had this Stegosaurus on defense who could GET TO the quarterback.  I mean, that tail was CRAZY!

Patience. Patience. This is but a minor setback.
Patience. Patience. This is but a minor setback.

Finally, though, finally the team appears to be on the upswing.  Pick after pick after top half of the first round pick has been sunk into this team, filling it with more talent than anybody this side of Buffalo.  And now that talent is starting to grow…

It’s starts with the wide-outs: Dorial Green Beckham, Allen Robinson, Nelson Agholor, Tyler Boyd, and Laquon Treadwell could be scary good together.  Jace Amaro and Kyle Rudolph are solid at TE.  Derrick Henry and Devontae Booker are chomping at the bit to replace Alfred Blue.  All they lack is a good quarterback and one more year of development…

On defense, the embarrassment of riches is the same – Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Myles Jack, Vic Beasley, Harrison Smith, Marcus Peters, Jonathan Bostic, Vinny Curry – the young riches are outstanding.  And the Vikings have six more selections in the first two rounds of the 2017 draft to add to the embarrassment of riches.

They aren’t there  yet.  They lack just a little more maturity.  And a quarterback.  But they are coming.  Inevitably.  Inexorably.  Invincibly.  And there’s very little the rest of the league can do to stop them.  Fantasy Football hasn’t looked this exciting and promising in Minnesota since the late Cretaceous.

The question now becomes what happens first – do the Vikings find a quarterback?  Or does another extinction level event render such questions moot?  That apocalypse in Ohio seems very concerning right about now…

The only thing that can stop the Vikings now... if they can just find a QB...
The only thing that can stop the Vikings now… if they can just find a QB…

 

Green Bay Packers (6-10):

Keeping to the ancient dynasties and timeless civilizations theme, it is always painful when dynasties fall.  Usually, the ruling power oppresses and dominates its neighbors, enslaving them and crushing them into the dust with a tyrannical hand.  Decay, corruption, and complacency sets in.  The empire decays from the inside.  It clamps down harder, trading away youth for veterans to desperately hang on to its dominant place in society.  Until, finally, the rebellion is too strong and too violent, the infrastructure too strained to withstand.  The empire falls.  Chaos reigns.  And like in the French Revolution, the Persian overthrow of the Babylonians, and the ejection of colonial powers from Africa – it does not go well for the ousted tyrants.

Such is the place that the Green Bay Packers find themselves in 2016.

 

For the frozen tundra of Green Bay hath fallen to ruin...
For the frozen tundra of Green Bay hath fallen to ruin…

Oh it was a glorious heyday.  A Super Bowl.  Division Championships.  Constant contention.  Constant relevance.  The golden years of the Green Bay Packers will go down in history.  But, all things (except maybe Chicago and/or the curse of AJ Green) must end.  And Green Bay must now chart a new and humbler course – with a new and humbler roster.

It’s not that the Packers don’t still have good players – they clearly do with the likes of Tom Brady, Lamar Miller, TY Hilton, and Morgan Burnett – it’s just that they don’t have nearly as many, the ones they do have are stars, not super-stars, and the one super-star they do have is suspended for the first EIGHT games of the real deal season – yep, that’s what makes 4 game suspensions hurt quite a bit more in RDFL than they do in real life.

Andre Johnson and Marshawn Lynch fondly reminisce about the glory days...
Andre Johnson and Marshawn Lynch fondly reminisce about the glory days…

Beyond that, it’s a major step down to role players like Knile Davis and Dwayne Harris.  While other teams like Minnesota and Detroit re-load with power-house rookies, Green Bay’s roster is replete with fossils like Andre Johnson, Vernon Davis, and Marshawn Lynch, memories of a bygone era that has sadly passed us by.

The trend is less palpable on the defensive side, where Aldon Smith could provide a notable boost to the team’s prospects.  No, here the issue isn’t age so much as lack of depth.  Green Bay currently has only twelve players on defense, and only one is projected for double digits – Morgan Burnett at 10.75.  I believe a couple of these players could be better than advertised, but it still projects to be a long season for the Pack.  And with only a 5th round draft pick next year, the Packers could face a long and daunting rebuild.  Probably not as long as Minnesota’s… But long.

 

 

 

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

And then there were four.

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

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

Divisional Recaps:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Good luck to everyone still in it!