2017 Real Deal Ultimate Football Playoff Preview

Playoffs?

PLAYOFFS!!!!!

Ok, ok one more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Seed & West Division Champion

Arizona Cardinals Jason Clausen

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

TLDR: This team is good.

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

No. 2 Seed & South Division Champion

Carolina Panthers Kyle K

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

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

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

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

No. 3 Seed & East Division Champion

New England Patriots John Keniley

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

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

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

No. 4 Seed

San Diego Chargers Darren Leung

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

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

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

No. 5 Seed

Philadelphia Steel Men Pedro Nuno Canteiro

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

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

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

No. 6 Seed & Midwest Division Champion

Cincinnati Bengals Sean Scampton

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

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

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

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

No. 7 Seed

New Orleans Saints Ben Pearce

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

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

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

No. 8 Seed

Chicago Bears Tony Cavezza

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

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

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

Predictions

Round 1:

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

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

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

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

Round 2:

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

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

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

2017 Real Deal Ultimate Football Championship:

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

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

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

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 8 Recap

For a week that had a lot of big games, week 8 sure ended up chalk.  There was not a single game in week 8 where a team with a worse record beat a team with a better record.  Not one.  Not a single upset.  The folks fighting upwards broadly missed chances to get back into contention, while the dominant simply reasserted themselves for yet one more week.  While it does lead to a dearth of drama, it also helps to crystallize a rapidly forming playoff picture.  To the games!

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 8 Recap

Game of the Week: Detroit Lions 236, Pittsburgh Steelers 210

While an argument can be made for Arizona’s bubble victory over Green Bay as more relevant to the playoffs or Kansas City’s Monday night comeback over Denver as more dramatic, the Lions and Steelers game was the highest scoring game of the week played by two division champions, and featured just enough drama and playoff implications to give it the nod.

After a series of wins that didn’t quite live up to their exacting standards, the Lions will take this one, exploding out of the gate with 27 from Matthew Stafford and Tyler Lockett, 24 from Marvin Jones, and over 100 points from the defense yet again.  Much more exciting for Detroit is that who did the scoring.  On a day when Tyreek Hill and Brandin Cooks combined for only 13.5 points, and they got a goose egg from TE Charles Clay, it was secondary offensive players who carried the Lions, including a nice 18 point game from ascendant Colts RB Marlon Mack.  Cooks and Hill will get theirs.  If guys like Mack and Lockett can keep it up, look out.

For Pittsburgh, it was a better effort but still a frustrating defeat.  Juju “Tour de France” Smith-Schuster explored for 44 – only to see Jarvis Landry and Le’Veon bell fall off their MVP paces and the bottom of the offensive lineup continue to not perform.  You won’t ever argue with 210 points, but Pittsburgh would have loved a win here and fall back to within a game of the “we might not be great, but we never ever go away” Bengals.

One interesting note – no defender on either side scored over 20 points, but both defenses passed the century mark.  I think that might be a first!

 

Teams Rising: Tough to find a lot of risers and fallers in a week where all the favorites won and the underdogs did not, but when have we at the Real Deal Report ever shied away from a challenge?

Cincinnati Bengals: They down.  They up.  They back.  They forth.  Come see the amazing “what the hell are they doing”?  crazy unpredictable Cincinnati Bengals!  After blowing multiple chances to pass Pittsburgh and laying a relative egg during their rivalry game with the Steelers, the Bengals respond not by folding, but by crushing Indianapolis 178-84. The offense continued its putrid stench for Cincinnati with only 41 points, but the defense played nicely, putting in 114 points and led by an 18 point night from Geno Atkins.  Coupled with Pittsburgh’s loss, the Bengals somehow find themselves only a half game back yet again, and with another (gulp) opportunity in week 9.

Denver Broncos: Denver has had a rough year.  Marshawn Lynch hasn’t really worked out as hoped.  Paxton Lynch and Tom Savage both looked like potential starting QBs and then neither were.  Dion Lewis has been eclipsed in New England by Mike Gillislee, and the Denver host franchise hasn’t really put up the points.  Even McManus has missed field goals.  And yet, Denver has been surprisingly competitive, only 43 points back of the Raders for the season.  They showed it this weekend.  Explosive performances from Jack Doyle (36), DeAndre Washington (22), and Adrian Phillips (22) pushed the Broncos well over 200 points.  There are two types of teams with rough records in this league – the “gimme games” who are not competitive at all, and the talented teams that have a great chance to win every week.  Denver is in the second category – and are a quarterback and a couple pieces away from being playoff ready.

Buffalo Bills: It’s hard to rise when you are 11-0 and tops in the league.  There’s no where to rise from when you are already at the top.  But in a week where the favorites all won, it only seems appropriate to honor just how dominant the Bills have been and just how easy they have made it look in cruising to an 11-0 record and clinching the AFC East title in week 11.

The Bills have scored over 200 points every single week except for week 1.  With the exception of two games that were within 15 points (one against the Jets and one against Cincy), Buffalo has won every single game on their schedule by 50 or more points, and most by over 75.  They lead RDFL with 2634 fantasy points (almost 200 more than second place Detroit), and have both a top 4 offense and top 4 defense.

It’s not easy to dominate as smoothly and easily as the Bills have done this year.  It’s unprecedented in our league.  Can they go undefeated?  Their remaining schedule includes the LA Chargers (should be an easy win), New England (same), those pesky NY Jets, the New Orleans Saints (how ironic would it be if NO knocked them out of the ranks of the unbeaten?) and a week 12 showdown with Alex Smith and the Chiefs.

My prediction: Buffalo goes undefeated.

Honorable Mentions: The NFC South not named Tampa Bay, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals

Teams Falling:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Stop me if you’ve heard this theme before.  Tampa Bay loses a game they really needed while the entire rest of the NFC South wins.  This isn’t the first time this year, and it’s backbreaking.  The quarterbackless Bucs offense, hampered by bye weeks, shut down entirely for a 25 point output that did not feature a single double digit performance as the Bucs were smashed by divisional rival Carolina 190-149.  The defense, led by Halloween sensation Jadeveon Clowney (24), put up a game fight, but it wasn’t enough.  Tampa now finds itself at 5-6, 4 out in the division and two back of both Atlanta and New Orleans for the wild card.  They aren’t quite eliminated.  But it’s close.  Might be time to pack it up again in Florida.

Houston Texans: There is just no way the Texans should be 2-8-1.  I still don’t understand it.  That team has so much talent.  So many good players.  I thought they would be Buffalo’s chief rival for the AFC championship.  And quite frankly, if I were picking today, I think I might still go with them.  That team just looks so good.  And yet, somehow, they can’t quite win games.  The latest in the disappointing chapter is a 190-172 loss to Seattle where Jameis Winston regressed to 4 points, no single player scored more than 17, and the defense put in 67 total.  Blech.  Seattle wasn’t much better, but got a combined 110 points from the combination of Russell Wilson, Ezekiel “Is he suspended or not” Elliott, and Travis Kelce.  Seattle bounces back from a brutal stat correction loss to the Giants, while Houston continues to wonder what the hell is going on.

Tennessee Titans: Just two short weeks ago, Tennessee was tied with Jacksonville atop the AFC South with a scintillating 7-2 record and a couple of convincing victories.  As the old reliable good team in the division, it seemed quite likely that they would outrace Jacksonville for the South and potentially contend for a first round bye.  Two weeks later, and the Titans would simply take a playoff berth.  It wasn’t so much that they lost to the Giants in week 8 (everybody loses to the Giants).  Instead it was how they lost.  Under 50 points on offense with Case Keenum as the only double digit scorer.  85 points for the defense which would have been much lower if Jimmy Smith hadn’t taken advantage of the hapless Dolphins for a 50 yard pick six in London.  Two straight weeks under 140 points.  And only a 1 game cushion now over Oakland and Cincinnati in the Wild Card race.  Tennessee can get things back on track.  But they are closer to missing the playoffs than they are to a division title at this point.

Dishonorable Mentions: Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns

 

Week 9 Games of the Week: So fair warning – this week’s games kind of suck in RDFL.  Good weekend to check out and take advantage of some family time, because there ain’t much to see in week 9’s slate.

Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers: Probably the best game of the week, this one pits a pair of rivals against each other.  Carolina has a two game lead over both the Falcons and Panthers at this point.  With a win this week, that lead would remain a minimum of two over New Orleans and three over Atlanta with only four to go.  Put another way, Carolina can come close to clinching this week.  A win by Atlanta, however, puts this division right back in reach.  Kelvin Benjamin in Buffalo, Jay Ajayi in Philly and Willie Snead back from the dead provide some interesting question marks for key playmakers that will be worth watching also.

Tennessee Titans vs. Baltimore Ravens: As mentioned, Tennessee is trending the wrong direction.  Baltimore, while just about dead, is only two games out of the wild card.  A win by Baltimore would put them back at 6-6 and within a game of the wild card.  The Vikings bye is going to leave Tennessee without a quarterback for this week, but Baltimore will be starting a concussed and ineffective Flacco in addition to other bye week challenges.  This should be a slog fest – and one I predict to see Tennessee emerge from.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: And what an obvious set up for the pattern to repeat itself.  The Bengals have a chance to take over first place yet again from the Steelers – and failing that, to grab hold of a wild car spot in the AFC.  To do so, they have to beat the Jaguars, who suddenly have a pair of QBs.  It’s going to be tough.  Jacksonsville is at full strength, playing great, and in a position to place the AFC South on lockdown.  In the meantime, the Steelers have a winnable game with New England.  If the pattern holds, the lead will be extended again.

New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Desperation time for Tampa, contention time for New Orleans.  This is a big game for the wild card, and possibly a big game for the divisional race.  Thank goodness for the wild and wacky NFC South to provide big games on a week with a major dearth of them.  New Orleans will have to adjust to a third string role for Wendell Smallwood, while the Bucs have to get that offense on track and face serious questions about famous Jameis.  I hate to say it, but I’m guessing this officially makes the NFC South a three team league.

Good luck this week, friends!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 7 Recap

The rich got richer, the poor got poorer, pecking orders got established, and a few times saw their world lurch in a not so happy direction in week #7.  We’re back at the Real Deal Report to break it all down.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 7 Recap

Game of the Week: Seattle Seahawks 211 over New York Giants 208

Was there ever a question?  The obvious game of the week going into the week lived up to its billing, with the two NFC powerhouses going back and forth with each other all weekend long.  For the Giants, the newly acquired Mike Evans dropped a cool 27 to introduce himself to his new franchise, Chris Boswell poured in 19 points from the kicker spot, and only an Aarti Burns zero kept the Giants from going over 100 points on defense.  It was much simpler on the Seattle side, where Ezekiel Elliott somehow yet again delayed his suspension and used the opportunity to go off to the tune of 219 all purpose yards and three touchdowns (47 fantasy points).  The ironic part about this game?  Eddie Jackson, a throw-in CB in the deal that brought Evans to the Giants scored two defensive touchdowns, good for 33 fantasy points.  This is in turn 6 more than Mike Evans, and enough to win the game.  While I’m certain we’re all convinced that Magic Mike is going to put up crazy points for years to come, the Giants can say they lost his first game as a direct result of the trade.

What are the ramifications?  Well, New York has now lost to both Detroit and Seattle, leaving the Lions and Hawks in the clear drivers seats for first round byes, assuming Seattle can hold off a tough Houston squad that always seems to play well against division leaders.

 

Teams Rising: 

Jacksonville Jaguars: I’m not entirely sure WHERE to put the Jaguars on this list.  On one hand, the Jaguars just keep on hunting.  In a brutal game where both starting quarterbacks (Cutler and Palmer) sustained potentially career ending injuries, Jacksonville gutted out a gritty 192-186 win over the scuffling yet competitive Colts and their 56 million dollar man.  As you might expect with a game that levels both starting QBs, it was a defensive struggle, with the teams combining for 249 defensive points.  Game ball goes to safety Kevin Byard, who intercepted 3 passes, provided 26 points, and was almost certainly the difference in the game.  Coupled with a Titans loss, the Jags go to 8-2 and move into sole possession of first place in the South – and get a chance to add to their lead in week 8 against the Rams while the Titans get an angry Giants team (now with a Mike Evans!).

On the other hand, Jacksonville no longer has a quarter back, as Jimmy “GaroMarco” Garoppolo and some guy named Kyle Sloter are the only other QBs on the roster. Despite an 8-2 record, a top 3 point total in the AFC, and first place in the division, it’s a hard life without a quarterback.   We’ll see if the Jags can survive – they have everything else this year.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers: And, after all that, same as it ever was in the AFC North.  The Steelers recover from a tough week 6 loss to smash the Bengals by 40 in their week 8 showdown behind the now expected mighty games from Le’Veon Bell and Jarvis Landry.  Just as hopeful for the yellow and black, the bottom four on their offense contributed a combined 35 points, which is the sort of production they need to see going forward.  DeForest Buckner scored 22 to pace an underwhelming defensive performance.  The Steelers are now, somehow, sitting at 6-3-1, a game and a half up on Cincy and with the tiebreaker.  Same as it ever was.

 

Minnesota Vikings: Every week, the Vikings get mightier.  One week after going off for 213 in a win over Green Bay, the Vikings decided they liked it so much that they up and did it again, this time for 233 (good for second highest point total of the week) and obliterated the reeling Baltimore Ravens by almost 100.  Dak was his usual self with 29, but as always, it was that absurd Minnesota defense that scored 129 points despite a zero from Paul Pos (I still can’t spell his last name) lusjalkdsyaisuasdny.  Here’s the thing.  From dead and buried at 1-6, the Vikings have now won three straight to move to 4-6 – only two games out of the wild card and with 6 to go. It’s a long shot, but the Southern monsters do have this habit of beating each other up, and if the defense keeps putting up these kind of point totals… a run is possible.

Honorable Mentions: Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints

 

Teams Falling:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It is very hard to be in the best division in RDFL.  It’s even harder when everybody else in that division wins and you lose.  It’s yet harder when that loss drops you into last place and out of the wild card.  And it’s hardest when you score only 47 points in a lackluster loss to a beatable Cardinals team.  Josh McCown did his part with 24 fantasy points, and so did Von Miller and LaVonte David, who combined for 17 tackles, 2 sacks, and a pair of fumbles.  But just about nobody else did theirs.  The Bucs get Carolina this week, and so need to shake this one off in a hurry.  Only one game out of the wildcard, they can’t afford another less.

Tennessee Titans: Similar story for Tennessee, who did not hold up their rivalry bargain with the Jaguars.  While Jacksonville was gutting out a win with an injured quarterback, the Titans were riding Case Keenum (5 points) to a positively early-season Colts-esque 29 point offensive day. The offense only added 67, and I kid you not, the leading scorer for Tennessee was kicker Ryan Succop, with 14.  Smoked by hapless Cleveland (now with an Eddie Jackson!), Tennessee now gets a brutal game against the Giants, and faces the very real possibility of being two games back in the division with five games to go.

Cincinnati Bengals: Yet another opportunity squandered for the Bengals, who seem to like big games about the same amount as Donald Trump likes telling the truth, Bernie Sanders supporters like paying for things, and politicians everywhere like being classy, upstanding individuals without ulterior motives.  (See what I did there, by the way?  I offended both Trump and Bernie, and so nobody can be mad at me for partisanship!  Bwahaha).  Also, the common thread is that they don’t.  At all.  With a chance to yet again seize control of the division, Cincy mailed in a 150 point duffel bag of used Kleenex and lost by 40.  Sticking with this week’s theme, it was bad offense (under 50 total points) that did in the Bengals, and, just like with Tennessee, their kicker was very nearly the leading scorer (Harrison Butker, whose name I will eventually make fun of, got 14 – while Derrick Kindred barely eeked him out with 14.5).  Cincy is still in the race, but they need to figure it out very, very quickly as time (and opportunities) are beginning to run out.

Dishonorable Mentions: Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, LA Rams

 

Week 8 Games of the Week: This is a week with quite a few excellent games to choose from, many of which will have bearings on key playoff races.

Arizona Cardinals vs. Green Bay Packers: The Cardinals just won’t say die. Coming off middling victories over Philadelphia and Tampa Bay in consecutive elimination games, the Cards have made up exactly zero ground on the high-flying Seahawks, but find themselves only a game out of the wild card race.  Green Bay is only two out, despite a very disappointing season.  Yet again, the winner shall have hope.  What Arizona will not have is a full contingent of players, with no less than 14 players on bye this week.  Can they gut out yet another W?

Buffalo Bills vs. Oakland Raiders: The next unfortunate victim to try and put a crimp in Buffalo’s perfect season is the Oakland Raiders.  And Buffalo is NOT what Oakland needs.  At 6-4, the Raiders are clinging precariously to the last AFC playoff spot and seeking to stave off challenges from the Jets and Bengals, both sitting at 5-5.   The Raiders will have to get it down without their quarterback as well, with the Packers on bye.  I don’t love their chances

New York Jets vs. Atlanta Falcons: The New York Jets are playing a game with real playoff indications in week #8!  This is exciting stuff, and should send hope to teams like Washington, Dallas, Miami and San Francisco.  It can happen!  Unfortunately for the Jets, they get a 6-4 Falcons team with a lot to play for, and who just dropped 228 for the third highest point total of week #7.  The saving grace?  Bye weeks again.  The Falcons lose John Brown, TE Evan Engram, and QB Jared Goff for week 8, while the Jets are all aboard the Wentz Wagon and ready to ride it to a winning record.

Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: After a tumultous first ten games, Carolina finds itself atop the NFC South at 8-2, with a little distance over 6-4 New Orleans and Atlanta, and by only two games over the 5-5 Buccaneers.  A win by Carolina would help to put a little distance between them and missing the playoffs, while a Tampa Bay win throws this division back into a wide open jumble that all four teams can win. Not as much bye week turbulence in this one, which means advantage Carolina – the Panthers are outscoring the Bucs by an average of 30 points per game so far this year.

Detroit Lions vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Another epic class between divisional leaders, as the Steelers face off against the Lions.  Having reasserted their hold on the AFC North, Pittsburgh now faces one of the highest scoring teams in RDFL while the Bengals get Indy.  It’s very possible that next week could see another half game margin.  Detroit, meanwhile, seeks to put a little distance between themselves and the Giants for that first round bye.  Despite both team’s status, Detroit has a pretty clear edge, having outscored Pittsburgh 2200-1900 through the first ten weeks of the year.

Houston Texans vs. Seattle Seahawks: Yes, Houston is 2-7-1.  No I have NO IDEA how that is possible.  A couple of illegal lineups early in the year hurt their record, and a couple of inexplicably rough performances buried them in a very deep hole. But man has this team gotten up for big games.  In week 5, they tied Kansas City 196 even, giving the Chiefs their only record blemish.  In week 7, they dropped 228 points in a shellacking of Cleveland.  Last week, they looked for all the world like they were going to knock off the mighty Lions before Derek Barnett took the game back with a pair of second half sacks on Monday Night Football and gave the Lions the lead 208-196.  Houston is 2-7-1, yes.  But this team is WAY better than that record indicates, and this has ALL the indicators of a trap game for the Seahawks, coming off an emotional win over New York.  I’m picking Houston for the upset here.

New York Giants vs. Tennessee Titans: Speaking of them thar G-Men, this angry team comes home to face the Tennessee Titans after only their second loss of the year.  New York doesn’t really need this game all that badly.  They face no challenges within the division, as the Eagles remain a full three games behind and New York has the tiebreaker.  But Tennessee needs it in the worst way as they seek to avoid falling two games back of Jacksonville in the AFC South.  They are not all that likely to get it, with their entire special teams on bye.  The Titans need a herculean effort to get back on track in this one.

 

Good luck everyone!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 6 Recaps!

Week 6 will go down in history as the week where nothing all that exciting happened. More likely, it will not go down in history because nothing all that exciting happened.  There were two games within ten points of one another (Oakland won one of them!) and one had scores in the 130s and the other in the 160s.  There was only one real playoff worthy upset, though a couple of others fell a little short.  Only 2 times scored more than 221 points.  It was a whole lot of meh.  Broadly, week 6 continued a number of trends we’ve seen all year, and continued to set the stage for a series of vicious second half playoff battles.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 6 Recaps!

Game of the Week: Philadelphia Eagles 221 over Carolina Panthers 205

This game was the exception.  The hands down game of the week.  Two strong efforts, a close game, and a stunning upset.  Carolina was looking golden as the 7-1 division leader of the AFC South and Philly was reeling, having just lost a pseudo-elimination game to the Cardinals.  This one should have been a forgone conclusion.  It was not.  Mark Ingram, freed from the shadow of Adrian Peterson, exploded for 33 points, Zach Ertz caught a pair of touchdowns, and some guy named Matt Judon picked up 14 total tackles and two sacks to bring the Eagles defense well over 100.  It was enough to overcome an incredible 161 point defensive day from Carolina (9/11 defensive guys in double digits, 3 in the 20s) because Carolina’s offense went flatter than we’ve ever seen it before, totalling only 38 points and without a double digit scorer.  Does this change much?   Well, not for Philly.  They are still too far behind and Matt Judon is not going to do that every week.  For Carolina though?  If this is an offensive trend rather than an outlier, that division is still really hard.  The double stat correction victory in week 4 is looking more and more critical.

 

Teams Rising:
Atlanta Falcons: It’s been a rough couple weeks in Atlanta, where the 4-1 Falcons had lost three straight to fall to 4-4 and into last place in the NFC South.  A get well game with the hapless Dolphins was just what the doctor ordered.   The Falcons spread it around nicely on offense, as every skill position player scored between 14-20 points.  On defense, they picked off three passes, including the game ceiling pick six from A’Shawn Robinson in the wild Detroit-New Orleans game.  It was an obliteration of 130 points over Miami, and earned the Falcons high points honors.  I’m sure Atlanta would have rather held off their 251 point outburst for a more competitive game, but it still serves notice that the Falcons are an excellent team, a contender in the South, and can beat anyone on any given week.

Minnesota Vikings: For a long time this year, it seemed as if it would be the same as it ever was for the Vikings.  Their strong young offense and strong young defense wasn’t coming through, and when they were coming through, it was resulting in close losses rather than wins.  Suddenly, however, Minnesota has put together two consecutive 200 point games resulting in two consecutive victories over divisional opponents – first Chicago and now Green Bay.  It was the defense that carried the day, with 5 turnovers, 3.5 sacks, and 47 total tackles.  Jerick McKinnon is showing that he can play Dalvin Cook too, Taywan Taylor grabbed a deep touchdown, and Laquon Treadwell hit double digits in points.  It’s not enough to save the season this year most likely, but the rebuild appears to be taking shape after all!

New York Jets: Speaking of another team exceeding expectations, the Jets were expected to be the laughing stock of the AFC East, and instead have been competitive every single week.  They have lost only one game by more than 15 points all year (and that was a game in which the Jags went off for 256) and have moved into sole possession of second place by virtue of a 70 point thrashing off the Patriots.  It was a hot and heavy rushing attack for the Jets, who combined for 62 points from Melvin Gordon and Chris Ivory and linked to 96 defensive points.  The Jets still have holes on offense (outside of Wentz, Gordon, and Ivory, the other four guys scored a combined 15 points), and have no chance of catching Buffalo.  But they have made something true of Gang Green for the first time in RDFL history – the Jets are no pushover.

Honorable Mentions: Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans

 

Teams Falling:
Arizona Cardinals: Welp.  Arizona faced a twin elimination games in weeks 5-6.  A chance to prove that their underwhelming season to point was a blip and separate themselves from the also rans.  After sluggishly sleepwalking to a 158-146 win over the Eagles in week 5, they followed suit with another entirely uninspiring performance in week 6, this time losing 175-147 to fellow bubbler Tampa Bay.  Oof.  This week’s problems are typical of Arizona’s season – a 40 point offensive dud rendered big defensive games from Chris Baker, Calais Campbell and Craig Robertson meaningless.  Arizona is 23rd in the league in total offense, now 4 games back of Seattle with 7 games to go, and just can’t seem to get the car out of second gear.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals keep turning in excellent performances to surprise everyone and put themselves in striking distance of a divisional crown.  And then somehow botch the strike.  After playing Buffalo close in week 5, Cincy had the perfect setup- a game with a heavily bye and injury ravaged Seattle Seahawks team coupled with a Steelers loss.  The Bengals were perfectly set up to move into first place in the North.  Instead, the bye week offense mustered only 60, only 6/20 players reached double figures, and the Bengals couldn’t capitalize, falling 168-163 to a gritty Seattle team and the returning excellence of Pharoh Cooper.  The door isn’t entirely closed, though, as Cincy gets Pittsburgh in week 7, with the winner in sole possession of first place.

Pittsburgh Steelers: It was the best of players and it was the worst of players for the Steelers on Sunday, as it seemingly has been all year long.  Le’Veon Bell put in his best performance to date, scoring 38, and Jarvis Landry chipped in 23 of his own.   Lawrence Timmons, Allen Bailey, Sean Davis and DeForest Buckner played with their traditional excellence.  But the Steelers were undone by FIVE zeros (Jesse James, Kenny Britt, Albert Wilson, Byron Maxwell and Pierre Desir), and five more plowers who scored 5 points or fewer.  It’s hard to win when half your lineup scores five points or less, even with Le’Veon Bell.  Despite all that, Pittsburgh remains a half game up in their division and the chance to put some distance between themselves and the Bengals.

Dishonorable Mentions: Washington Redskins, LA Rams

 

Week 7 Games of the Week:

Buffalo Bills vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: As a reward for their elimination game win against Arizona, the Bucs get to play Buffalo, the only team in RDFL without a tie or a loss to blemish their record – and whose fantasy point total suggests that they’ve been every bit as good as their record suggests.  Good luck.  The Bills bring their #3 ranked offense to face the Bucs #31 ranked offense.  And that stat tells you all you need to know about this matchup.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ye olde grudge match.  Both Cincy and Pittsburgh scuffled a bit in week #6, but one of them is going to make it right in week #7.  In a quirk of fun scheduling, these teams won’t play their rubber match until week #12, so the winner is going to have the tie breaker and an edge in the division for the rest of the year.  The question for both teams is simple.  For Pittsburgh, can it get enough contributions from it’s supporting cast?  For Cincy, which team is going to show up?  The one that took the mighty Bills to the wire in week 5?  Or the one that lay down to Seattle in week 6?

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders: The Raiders finally got lucky in a close game, picking off the Chargers by a single point at home to survive a crushing first half injury to Aaron Rodgers.  As a result, they remain in Wild Card position with a nice 6-3 record.  Their game with the Chiefs is a must win for the division, as a loss would leave them 3.5 games back with six to play, and would be nice to have for the wild card as well.  A lot is riding on Hundley’s shoulders – and something should be send to commend the Raiders for having Hundley ready to step in.

Seattle Seahawks vs. New York Giants: Along with the Bengals/Steelers, this is my true game of the week.  The 8-1 New York Giants. vs the 8-1 Seattle Seahawks.  Both teams have long since run away and hid in their respective decisions, but both playoff byes (Detroit, Seattle, and the Giants are all 8-1, only two can get byes) and bragging rights are at stake.  For the Giants, a win would give them victories over both Detroit and Seattle and basically assure them the #1 seed in the playoffs.  For the overachieving Seahawks, a signature win over the Giants would serve as major validation for a team that still can’t quite believe it’s lofty record.  It’s hard to pick against the Giants here, particularly with the addition of Mike Evans, though the reinstatement of Ezekiel Elliott is a nice counter.

New Orleans Saints vs. Green Bay Packers: Does this count?  I mean, sure.  The 4-5 Packers have been a decent team and are not entirely out of the muddied NFC Wildcard picture.  The even better New Orleans Saints are in the thick of both the Wildcard and NFC South races (which may quite possibly be synonymous – it’s possible, even likely, that both wild cards in the NFC come out of the South this year).  New Orleans, coming off a tough loss to Detroit but boasting a top ten defense should win this one.  But Green Bay has a solid chance to beat them.  And that event could make everyone 5-5 and throw even more mud in the NFC playoff picture.

Good luck in week 7 everyone!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 5 Recap

I am terrified to write this post on a Tuesday night.  The last time I wrote a post on a Tuesday night it congratulated New Orleans and Tampa Bay and wondered what was happening with Carolina – only to have seven points in DeMarcus Lawrence stat corrections render my post ridiculous the following day.

As I write this, 8/16 (50%!) games are within 15 points, 4/16 (25%!) are within 5 points, and a ridiculous 3/16 games are within a SINGLE point.  All three involve potential playoff teams.  Man.  It’s great for excitement and tight games, but man it’s weird to be waiting for a single stat correction to decide all of our fates.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 5 Recap

Meanwhile, what did the week show us?

First, it’s HARD to be undefeated.  Detroit and Buffalo had cruised through their schedules to point, obliterating all comers, and KC had taken advantage of a favorable schedule to cruise to 7-0 as well.  Detroit was obliterated by Carolina.  Buffalo took a punch from Cincy and barely surprised, and KC, for now, survived Houston by half a point on stat corrections.

Second, I say it every few weeks, but Oakland literally has the worst luck of any fantasy team ever – year after year.  This week?  After holding a comfortable lead over Baltimore heading into Monday night, the Raiders lost it in the third quarter when an errant Mitch Trubisky passed bounced through the open hands of what should have been a sure interception and ricocheted directly to Zach Miller in the endzone.  At present reckoning, the Raiders have lost by a point.  After a league leading number of losses by less than 10 points last year, the Raiders have already lost two games this year by that amount.

Third, parity is dead.  Regrettably, the league is separating itself neatly (much like American society) into clearly delineated lines of have and have-not.  Only a single decision (the mighty NFC South) has three teams at .500 and above. Only a single division (the mighty NFC South) has three teams within two games of the lead.  And only two divisions (The AFC North and South) have two teams within a game of first place.  Beyond that, a look across the league reveals a tale of division leaders running away, clear wild card teams, and teams competing for the first draft pick.

AFC East: Buffalo @8-0, no other team closer than 3-5.

AFC West: KC @8-0, Oakland at 5-3, nobody else better than 3-5

NFC East: NYG @7-1, nobody else better than 3-5

NFC North: Detroit @7-1, nobody else better than 4-4

NFC West: Seattle @7-1, nobody else better than 4-4

Competitive games.  But not competitive seasons.

Game of the Week:

Buffalo Bills 234, Cincinnati Bengals 222: For a long time on Sunday, it looked like all three undefeated teams would go down to defeat.  The Bengals rode 35 points from TY Hilton and 32 from the Burfict Storm to take a lead over the Bills.  Buffalo punched back with 130 points from it’s defense, and in the irony to top all ironies, survived Cincy’s upset bid behind 42 points from AJ Mother ()&#$*(#$ Green – traded to Buffalo from Cincinnati for the immortal Da’Rick Rogers and a late first rounder.  Youch.  Buffalo stays undefeated, but a game Cincy team served notice that it is not going away any time soon.  And potentially not any time late.

 

Teams Rising: 

Jacksonville Jaguars: And that would be how you announce that you have staying power.  After a pair of strong performances to get into first place, the Jags stay there with a convincing 230-201 win over resurgent Pittsburgh.  As it has been all year, the defense powered the Jags to the tune of 135 points.  Even more remarkable, though, is that the offense has gone from liability to at least moderately credible.  Kareem Hunt, David Njoku, and Cooper Kupp make this one of the strongest draft classes in real deal, as Kupp and Hunt may well be the two best rookie skill players of the draft.  Danny Amendola has also proved to be a strong role player and turned in 22 points.  Jacksonville is playing some great football and at 6-2, could be very hard to beat.  For the Steelers… well, 5 interceptions from the QB will doom just about anyone, but when you can put up over 200 points with that?  And can point to Le’Veon and Jarvis Landry both on track?  Pittsburgh will be just fine.

Minnesota Vikings: Now that’s the sort of game the Vikings were expecting a lot more of.  30 points from Dak Prescott, 18 from Kyle Rudolph, 17 from Duke Johnson, and 115 defensive points where 8/11 players got into double figures and Reshad Jones scored 27.  That’s what Minnesota has been expecting.  Why haven’t they gotten more of it?  The can’t miss draft picks are missing.  Another zero for consensus top 10 pick Laquon Treadwell mixes with a solid but uninspiring 12 for consensus top 10 pick Joe Mixon.  The Vikings are close.  is this the start of putting it all together in Minnesota?

Indianapolis Colts: The Colts looked hung out to dry in the pre-season.  Luck was injured.  Edelman was gone for the year.  The offense looked historically bad.  The defense looked like the epitome of mediocrity.  After a 197-162 dousing of the 49ers, the Colts are all of a sudden sitting at 4-4, just one game out of the wild card, and actually in contention for the playoffs.  The offensive players, particularly guys like Kamara and Gallman have been better than expected.  The defense has risen above mediocre to become downright good (especially in a consistent secondary that averages in double figures), and the schedule hasn’t been fantastic.  A sterner test awaits this week in Tennessee, but Luck is back soon… if they can hold off until then..

Honorable Mentions: Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers

 

Teams Falling:

Detroit Lions: When you are the consensus NFC Super Bowl pick and expected to death march through the conference slate, this counts as a thud.  170 points in an uninspired 65 point loss where only two players on the team (Tyreek Hill and Leonard Floyd) broke 20.  If this wasn’t fantasy, I’d point to the coaching and how hard it is to maintain motivation over the long season.  Look, Detroit is going to be fine.  I still think they are the Super Bowl favorites.  But this was a chink in their facade of invulnerability, and a huge boost to the prestige of Carolina, who rode 23 points from rookie RB Aaron Jones to a 234 point performance and, potentially, home field advantage throughout the postseason.

LA Rams: Welp.  Fair or not, when you haven’t been a competitive team for a long team, when you start to string together good games, you have to go out and prove it in a show me game.  Not so much.  The Rams showed us they don’t quite belong after laying a 40 point offensive egg – of which 22/40 points came from Marqise Goodwin.  Besides him, only two guys hit double digits as the Rams rode Marcus Mariota’s injury to a brutal 118 points, and left a winnable game against division rival Seattle on the table.  Now at 4-4 and behind on the tiebreaker, LA faces a likely insurmountable climb back towards contention.

Philadelphia Eagles: It was a game effort from the Birds of 2017, but it simply wasn’t to be.  Injuries to Derek Carr and Ty Montgomery have scuttled a once promising season for Philadelphia, but just as much the rest of the offensive cast never quite showed up.  The Eagles are 29th in the league in total offense, and trailing such worthies as Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco.  A 3-5 record and four game deficit against the league leading Giants is too much to overcome, and the Eagles have wisely turned their attention to 2018 – and hopefully scoring some points.

Dishonorable Mentions: New York Jets, Green Bay Packers

Games of the Week:

Arizona Cardinals vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Last week’s game against Philadelphia was an elimination game for the scuffling Cardinals.  And while the red birds eliminated the green ones, it can’t be said that they passed the test with flying colors.  Even if they are colorful birds.  It’s more like the colors crawled morosely over the ground and staggered drunkenly across the finish line about two hours after the race officially ended. Coupled with a win, it was decidedly inconclusive.  So they get another shot.  Arizona gets Tampa, whose season mojo has completely changed after their devastating stat correction loss to Carolina.  Instead of 4-1, the Bucs are now 4-4 and in last place, with their season in serious danger of slipping away.  Like Arizona – Philly last week, the winner of this game lives to fight another day.  The loser… well… doesn’t.  Arizona gets Matt Ryan back from the bye, but loses Shady McCoy.  It could be tough.

Seattle Seahawks vs. Cincinnati Bengals: The Seahawks get a chance to continue to run away and hide in their division, while the Bengals reward for playing Buffalo so tightly is a date with the 7-1 Seahawks.  The Bengals remain an enigma – only 14th in fantasy points, mediocre on offense, mediocre on defense, and forced to start Ryan Fitspatrick at QB – and yet only a half game out in the AFC North.  Seattle, on the other hand, makes no secret of it’s secret sauce – offense.  Though the bye week, and the subsequent loss of a lot of starters on both teams makes this one a lot more questionable than it otherwise would be.  Even strength, I go Seattle.  On a bye?  Tough to say.

Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints: New Orleans may be the only team approaching Oakland for sheer bad luck.  Denied an undefeated season by stat correction, denied a victory over Carolina and the division lead by stat correction, the Saints now have the good fortune of catching Detroit coming off it’s first loss in a long, long time.  The Lions will be vengeful, bitter, and fired up.  The Saints will be without Jimmy Graham, Darqueze Dennard, and Jeff Heath.  Doh.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans: Tennessee enters an obvious trap game with decidedly mixed feelings.  On the one hand, they are solidly 6-2 and boast a top 10 defense.  On the other hand, they just lose OBJ for the year and are somehow tied with a high-flying Jacksonville Jaguars team that has come out of nowhere to give aggressive challenge.  Indy wasn’t supposed to compete with Indy.  But Indy has been competing with other teams.  The Titans should win this game.  Need to win this game.  But in their first contest without OBJ? And still down Sam Bradford?  This one has will require some serious mental fortitude.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs: One of the few old fashioned battles between division leaders happening in an underwhelming week 6 slate, Pittsburgh is in the midst of a rather brutal slate of games (Baltimore, New Orleans, Jacksonville, KC, Cincinnati, Detroit).  How’s that for a tough six game sled?  1-2 thus far, and facing a stern challenge from the rival Bengals, Pittsburgh can’t afford to overlook the Chiefs this week.  Fortunately, neither team is particularly burdened by bye weeks, meaning that this should be a fun one!

Good luck in week 6 everybody!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 4 Recap

The doubles are now behind us, and the relentless plod of the season begins.  It feels like we just kicked off, but with 7 games spread across the first four weeks, the midway point of the season is just about upon us.  It’s been a surprising and fantastic start for some (Seattle, Jacksonville, Cincinnati), a forgettable disaster for others (Houston, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago), and exactly the walk in the park joyride we expected for still others (Buffalo, Detroit, NY Giants).

So what happened in the last of the doubles?  And which teams fates are sealed as we hit football season flyover country?  Glad you asked.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 4 Recap

Game of the Week:

Buffalo Bills 221, Atlanta Falcons 157: This season has had some fantastic fantasy football games.  Week 4 had none of them.  This is literally the best one I could find.  We didn’t have a single game this week where both teams broke 200, and only Buff vs. Atlanta and NYG over Tampa had two good teams with one scoring 200.  Ouch.  In any case, this one was the waxing we worried it might be.  Julio Jones, hampered by injury, scored only 7 points, but even had he added another zero to his point total (as he is wont to do), it wouldn’t have mattered.  The Bills picked up a cool 120 points on defense, led by Khalil Mack with 26, and Atlanta had only one player over 20 (the quarterback).  The Bills are now sitting pretty with a three game lead in the East, while the Falcons are in a tailspin after dropping three straight.

 

Teams Rising:

Seattle Seahawks: How about dem Hawks?  It’s pretty easy to dominate when you get 37 points from Bilal Powell, like the Seahawks did last week in a dual thumping of the Colts and Rams.  Ezekiel Elliott is back on track (30), Russell Wilson is putting up points like he’s supposed to (26), Travis Kelce is the star tight end the Seahawks envisioned (27) and the offense put up a 150 point game.  With the win over the Rams and a double loss by the Cardinals, the Seahawks are now 6-1 and have a two game lead in the AFC West, with the tiebreaker.  The turnaround is here.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Look who just won’t go away?  The Jaguars won the week with a 256 point total, which included, I kid you not, 164 points on defense.  Besides slackers Kareem Jackson (4.5) and Jalen Ramsey (9), every person on the Jags defense hit double figures in a week that netted 6 turnovers, 6 sacks, 6 passes defensed, 3 stuffs, and a cool 62 tackles.  After a pair of weeks under 200, the Jags are back in a big way, and in first place in the AFC South.

Kansas City Chiefs: Very quietly, the Chiefs are the other undefeated team in Real Deal.  7-0 and in first place in the West, the Chiefs have a top five offense, a top five defense, top 5 in total points, and the #2 QB in all of Real Deal, the Gunslingah himself, Alex Smith.  The Chiefs now have a 270 point and a 240 point week to their name.  Cue the inevitable thrashing this week at Houston.

Honorable Mention: Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants

 

Teams Falling:

Cleveland Browns: Well, that came apart rather quickly.  Back to back weeks with 146 and 139 points yields four straight losses, a 1-5-1 record, and time to think about next work.  On the docket, getting Mike Evans some help – Cleveland scored only 48 points on Sunday – 20 came from Evans.  Jeremy Maclin, Marvin Jones, and Isaiah Crowell need to pick up the pace, or Cleveland is cruising towards a top 5 pick.

Atlanta Falcons: Speaking of coming apart quickly, the Falcons have got to be spinning around wondering what the hell just happened.  Two weeks ago they were 3-0, in first place in the hardest division in football, and looking like absolute worldbeaters.  After a 156 point dud where neither offense nor defense got over 75 points, the Falcons have dropped three straight games to fall to 4-3 and into their accustomed spot gazing up at the Panthers.  Schedule has something to do with it, as the Falcons have faced both Buffalo and Detroit in those three games.  Atlanta will be fine.  But it would have been nice to have that dud on a single week.

Arizona Cardinals: This was NOT how Arizona envisioned their season.  Not 3-4.  Not in third place.  Not three games behind a startlingly good Seahawks team, and CERTAINLY not putting a 132 point stinker in a double loss to San Francisco and Washington – they of the combined 0-12 record against everybody else.  47 points on offense, only four players on the team in double digits, and the dubious distinction of being the first team ever in RDFL history to lose to two teams with a 0 in the quarterback spot in the same week.  Ouch.  Week 4’s game against the Eagles is desperation city.

Honorable Mention: New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles

 

Games of the Week:

Arizona Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Two teams with playoff aspirations.  Two teams with 3-4 records.  Two teams with a combined 1-7 record in the past two weeks. Two games with three game deficits in their divisions. And two teams with a desperate chip on their shoulder.  It’s go time.  The winner of this week’s deathmatch gets back to .500 and respectability.  The loser falls, in all probability, 4 games back in their division after 8 games and can essentially kiss the season goodbye.

Buffalo Bills vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Not so much a game as a scheduled whooping, this game nonetheless features a combined record of 12-2 and two distinct playoff hopefuls.  That’s where the similarities end.  Buffalo has scored more than 500 more points than Cincy, averaging ~75 more points per GAME.  Buffalo has a top 3 offense and a top 3 defense.  The Bengals are 15th and 16th respectively.  TY Hilton is still without luck.  I don’t know.  I’m not going to try.  It’s a game of the week in name, but I’m not sure I’d watch this one.

Detroit Lions vs. Carolina Panthers: This one?  This one I’d watch.  The 7-0 Super Bowl Champion Detroit Lions face the 6-1 Super Bowl Champion Carolina Panthers.  This one has history, rivalry, and outstanding play.  The stats say that the mighty Lions are the clear favorite.  But Detroit is streaky.  When they are good, they are 290 points invincible.  Last week?  Carolina would have won.  And Carolina, the little team that could, always seems to find a way to win – even if it takes a stat correction of 7 hurries from a Monday game to do it.  Detroit should win.  But Carolina is spooky.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: An unexpected battle of division leaders, both teams are hotter than a bizarre combination of Zoolander and DeShaun Watson right now.  The Steelers have gone 5-1 the last three weeks to reclaim the AFC North.  Even better, Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell are getting back to their old selves.  The Jaguars are using a ridiculous defense to go on the rampage.  A win for Pittsburgh and the AFC looks the same as it ever was, with the Steelers way out in front of the North and the South a clumsy muddle.  A win for Pittsburgh, and suddenly Jacksonville is legitimately scary.

Seattle Seahawks vs. Los Angeles Rams:  Seattle vs. Arizona goes the common wisdom.  The Cardinals will right the ship and it will go down to the last week in the season.  The Los Angeles Rams, however, are in second place, and sit between the two NFC West bird squadrons.  The Seahawks have been much better (1474 fantasy points to 1216) and have the much better offense (2nd in the league vs. 19th).  And if Marcus Mariota doesn’t play… well, let’s just say there’s a reason we all subscribe to common wisdom.  But that’s why they play the games.  A win for Seattle combined with an Arizona loss and the Seahawks have officially ran away and hid.  But a Rams win?  We’re one game apart with an LA tiebreaker.  I don’t think it happens.  But stranger things certainly have.

Good luck this week everyone!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 3 Recap

If last week was the story of close games and parity, this week was the story of two dominant teams that absolutely look like the Super Bowl favorites we thought they were.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 3 Recap

The defending champion Detroit Lions went up against two undefeated teams in Atlanta and Cincinnati – and obliterated them both.  Detroit scored 290 points behind 41 points from Todd Gurley (Detroit draft pick), 38 points from Brandin Cooks (Detroit draft pick), 22 points from Tyreek Hill (Detroit draft pick), 26 points from Darius Slay (original franchise), 25 from Glover Quin (original franchise), and 19 points from Adoree Jackson (Detroit draft pick).  The Lions would have gone over 300 points had Jackson’s TD return not been called back.  Oh.  And they beat their undefeated opponents by a cool 183 points.

Not to be outdone, the Buffalo Bills dropped a 298.25 outing on New England and Denver, missing the 300 point mark by a single Anthony Brown tackle.  The Bills did it by a well rounded effort – literally 10/20 players scored between 17 and 32 points.  Led by, you guessed it, AJ Mother #($&)#(*$ Green (Trade), and supported by Doug Baldwin (Trade), Devonta Freeman (Trade), Rob Gronkowski (Trade), and Tyrod Taylor (Trade).  I suspect some of the defensive guys were also trades, but I haven’t done the legwork.

The moral of the story is crystal clear, and twofold.

  1. Detroit and Buffalo are insanely good and the clear favorites to meet in the Super Bowl
  2. DON’T trade Detroit draft picks, and DON’T trade Buffalo players.  If you do, you’re a bad person and contributing to the decline of society.

This has been your public service announcement from the competition committee 🙂

Games of the Week:

Atlanta Falcons 239, New Orleans Saints 220: Playoff teams, high scoring, tight games.  The Falcons may have lost an impossible game to Detroit, but they did play exceptionally well and needed it to hold off a game New Orleans team and retain control of the NFC South at 4-1.  The Falcons got an enormous 38 point burst from Chris Thompson, of all people, and a 19 point game from their kicker to overcome rough games from Jay Ajayi and Kelvin Benjamin.  The Saints kept it close via a pair of interceptions from newly acquired Terrance Mitchell, but were undone by a brutal injury to Darren Sproles, a couple of near misses on deep bombs from JJ Nelson, and a strong performance on Monday night from Carson Palmer.

Seattle Seahawks 229, Tennessee Titans 220: This one is simple.  A combined 80 points from Russell Wilson and Sterling Shepherd give the Seahawks the victory by the narrowest of margins over AFC contender Tennessee.  The Titans got a strong (114 point) defensive game, and had to be feeling gratified as Odell Beckham finally broke out (29 points) and recently acquired Case Keenum justified his acquisition costs with 34 points.  The end was brutal, however, as a Giants receiver not named Odell Beckham took a 77 yard score to the house to provide the difference.  That’s a rough situation for a Giants fan who also owns the OTHER Giants receiver.

 

On the Rise:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Every year, we predict the Buccaneers are going to be in the mix.  Every year they struggle out of the gate as Carolina, Atlanta, and New Orleans distance themselves… Wait… what’s that you say?  Not this year?  Not this year.  The Bucs just quietly scored 218 points to knock off divisional rival Carolina by 5 and the upstart Vikings by 25.  Suddenly Tampa Bay is tied with Atlanta at 4-1 and feeling serious confidence in a disruptive Defense that just dropped 155 points in a well balanced effort where no single player scored less than 8 points and Jadeveon Clowney (finally!) went off for 31.  The offense is in rough shape.  But if that defense can keep on playing…

Pittsburgh Steelers: What a difference a week makes in Steel City.  The Steelers finally found their mojo in week 3, and just in time to go 2-0, knock off the scuffling Houston Texans, and move back into their accustomed position in first place.  Same as it ever was.  How did it happen?  Well, Le’Veon Bell finally showed up, Kenny Britt finally caught a pass, and DeForest Buckner finally made a play.  The scary part is that Pittsburgh still only got mediocre games from guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Jarvis Landry.  This thing might be on a steady climb.

New York Jets: My my my.  One week after being competitive and coming away with nothing to show for it, the Jets got back on the horse and delivered the first multi-win week in FRANCHISE HISTORY.  They are now 3-2 and are solidly ensconced in 2nd place in the East.  Yes, their opponents in week 3 have a combined 2-8 record.  Yes, it was literally ALL from Stefon Diggs (46 points) and DeMario Davis (26).  And yes they only scored 172 points.  But 2-0!  J-E-T-S!

Indianapolis Colts: Gotta go one extra here and give a shout out to Indy, who pulled out a 2-0 week with strong wins over both Cleveland and Baltimore.  After a brutal week one offensive performance, the Colts have moved up to a respectable mid-60s offense in both weeks 2 and 3, and investments in guys like Alvin Kamara and Bruce Ellington appear to be paying dividends.  It’s probably too much to ask for Indy to climb back into the mix, but a 2-0 week restores the Colts to the ranks of the respectable.

Honorable Mentions: Kansas City Chiefs, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks

Sliding Down:

Carolina Panthers: What just happened?  The 2-1 Panthers were engaged in a pair of close games with divisional rivals Tampa Bay and New Orleans as the Falcons were getting smashed by Detroit.  This is Carolina.  The result was an inevitable pair of victories which leave them at 4-1, tied for first, and bringing their intimidating moxie to bear against upstart Atlanta.  But something happened.  Instead of a huge push from DeMarcus Lawrence putting them over the top, it fell just short on Monday night, and the Panthers lost both divisional games by 5 and 7 points respectively.  Cam is struggling, the offensive depth isn’t quite there, and the Panthers are suddenly 2-3 and last place.  What is going on?

Houston Texans: Speaking of “what is going on”, the Texans have to feel totally shell-shocked.  A trendy Super Bowl pick at the beginning of the year, the Texans have scuffled to a 1-4 start, obviously suffering from a Super Bowl hangover.  It’s not disaster from any one player, it’s lethargy across the whole roster.  The highest individual performance was 15.5 points in week 3, and no offensive player even reached 15.  Trevor Siemian is hit or miss, Lamar Miller is mostly getting hit, and the big games of old just aren’t coming.  There’s still plenty of time, but with Jacksonville and Tennessee in the last double, Houston needs to get right soon.

The rest of the AFC North: We’ve already talked about Pittsburgh.  While the Steelers were rocketing back up the standings, the rest of the league was… struggling.  Cleveland, Baltimore, and Cincinnati went a combined 0-6.  Cincy fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, scoring only 167 points in twin losses to Detroit and Green Bay.  Cleveland also dropped a pair, scoring only 146 in rough losses to Indy (now with an offense!) and Chicago.  And not to be outdone, the to point strong Ravens laid a 119 point egg and got crushed by the Colts.  Mercy.  Three teams who had playoff aspirations from the best division in football just combined to average 144 points a piece.  Blech.  We’ll see if this fixes itself or not.

Dishonorable Mentions: Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers (attaway, commish squad!)

 

Week 4 Games of the Week: One more double!

Atlanta Falcons vs. Buffalo Bills: Atlanta scored 240 points and got a loss against the undefeated juggernauts of the NFC, the Detroit Lions, and a strong win against Divisional rival Atlanta.  Their reward?  A game against the undefeated juggernauts of the AFC, the Buffalo Bills, and a tough game against divisional rival Tampa Bay.  No rest for the weary.  The Falcons do need Julio Jones to go off to a 70 point tune to have a chance in this one.  Buffalo has looked like a different team since week 1, following up a clunky 179 point opener with 264 and 298.  Scary.

Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The upstarts of the AFC South, both sitting pretty at 4-1.  That’s sort of where the comparison ends, though, as Atlanta has outscored Tampa Bay by 250 points thus far (50 points per game), and has the #2 point total in the league.  Unless Tampa finds its offense real fast (currently 31st in RDFL), Atlanta is going to be alone in first place, even with a potential loss to Buffalo.

New York Giants vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Here’s why.  The Bucs don’t just get the Falcons, they also get the Giants, who are quietly turning in their own superb season, going 4-1 and turning in a cool #3 in fantasy points scored.  And now they have a Rivers.  This could get bad.

Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders: Don’t look now, but Denver is 3-2, just went over 200 points, and now has a Manning who now has a healthy Odell Beckham Jr.  Initial predictions had Oakland in the driver’s seat in the AFC West, but the Raiders are a Dez Bryant struggle inch on Monday night away from a loss to Washington and a 1-4 record, while the Broncos are at 3-2 and suddenly look pretty competitive.  We shall see.

Seattle Seahawks vs. Los Angeles Rams: I had to do a double check, but you know who else besides the Jets is 3-2 that is never 3-2?  The LA Rams.  They haven’t played all that well, and lack everything but a quarterback, but they have shots at Seattle and Dallas this week, and a good week could have them at 5-2.  Meanwhile, the Seahawks are sitting at 4-1 with games against Indy and the Rams.  They’d better win both, though, because the Arizona Cardinals are lurking with games against Washington and San Francisco – the league’s only two winless teams.

Good luck this week, everyone!  Enjoy the last double until week 12!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 2 Recap

A boring week that was NOT.

Twelve games finished with margins of less than 15 points, including 3 with less than 5, and a good half-dozen games were in doubt until Monday night’s final whistle, some of them outstanding.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 2 Recap

Games of the Week: I genuinely can’t choose between these.

Detroit Lions 214, New York Giants 208: Speaking of Monday night showdowns, this one came down to the wire because the Monday night game WAS the franchise game.  And for a possible NFC Championship game preview, this one didn’t disappoint. Todd Gurley and Tyler Lockett went off for the Lions, cancelling out rough games from the Lions stars, and Chris Jones went nuts with two forced fumbles, a pick, and three sacks.  The Lions showed much better balance (12/20 in double digits) but lacked any standout performances (no player with 20 or more points).  You can point to DeMarco Murray’s early exit as the difference in this one.  But to me, this one was Darius Slay, who was everywhere on Monday night (20 points).  A couple less tackles and passes defensed also means a few more points for Eli… and we’re looking at a different outcome.

Cleveland Browns 212, Baltimore Ravens 210: The Ravens are the best 1-2 team I’ve ever seen.  After shelling the Bengals in week one only to lose the game to forfeit due to some random guy I’ve never heard of on the practice squad (check your squads, people!), the Ravens scored over 210 again only to lose by two points to another division rival.  Instead of 3-0 in the division, the Ravens are 1-2 by 2 points and a PS blip.  Oof.  As before, a solid 108 point defensive performance keyed Baltimore, while the equally tough Browns were galvanized by a 34 point, 3 touchdown extravaganza from 2015’s overpriced stud of the year, Michael Crabtree.  Remember back when we thought a double digit salary was outrageous for a FA pickup?  O the halcyon days of innocence.  Ironically, this one too came down to Monday night.  The Ravens, trailing after Sunday, picked up a predictably strong 13.5 point game from Olivier Vernon.  But TE Jerrell Adams has ONE single catch all year long.  It was on Monday night.  It went for 38 yards.  It was worth 4.5 points.  And Cleveland knocks off it’s rival.

Green Bay Packers 215, Cleveland Browns 212: The “Dear lord you threaded that needle so perfectly you should be a kicker!” award goes to Cleveland this week, who managed to win by 2 and lose by 3 in the same exact week.  The runner up goes to the Raiders, who managed to win by 7 and lose by 3.  In this one, Carlos Hyde, Davante Adams and Jason Witten all went over 20 to cue a surprisingly good offensive attack.  The Pack, at 2-1, are a game back of Detroit and looking really strong to start off the season.

Teams Rising:

Atlanta Falcons: This could be the year the Falcons break through in the brutal NFC South.  A 3-0 start and the highest week #2 point total has the Falcons strongly atop the division after a nice 207-204 win over New Orleans.  The Falcs are getting strong contributions up and down their offense.  Julio and Jay Ajayi are getting theirs, but guys like Chris Thompson (28 points) and Mohammed Sanu (14 points) are moving this team from strong to dangerous.

Cincinnati Bengals: The 3-0 squads in our league fall into three categories.  Detroit and Buffalo (ho hum.  Wake me when something surprising happens).  Kansas City and Atlanta (good teams, but a little surprising – expect a loss soon).  And Cincinnati.  WTF?  After a forfeit win in week #1, the Bengals followed up their good fortune with a 2-0 week, knocking off Chicago and Houston to move into first place in the AFC North by a full game and a half.  That’s surprising.  Cincy’s office has been mediocre at best (42 and 63 points in the first two weeks) but their defense has been stellar (110 and 114 points) despite only two total turnovers all year.  They need some playmakers on offense to score points badly, but if Andy Dalton can ever get going and Andrew Luck can ever come back to save TY Hilton, this team could be a legitimate contender.

New York Jets: It feels a little odd to call out a 1-2 team as rising, but it’s worth noting that the New York football Jets have been downright competitive in the first two weeks.  Their two losses have been to Buffalo by 14 and to the Oakland Raiders by 7.  They also smoked the Broncos and are 7th in the AFC in points scored.  Carson Wentz, Melvin Gordon, and Stefon Diggs, the young offensive triumvirate, look good, and the defense has been strong as expected.  Signs of LIFE for the perennially beaten down green machine.

Honorable Mentions: Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks

 

Teams Falling: 

Houston Texans: Real Deal Report curse? The Texans have losses to Jacksonville and Cincinnati and have only beaten the lowly 49ers to kick off the year, and have had only 3 two point games so far this year.  Problems?  Not really.  1-2 is not how the Texans wanted to start, and Jacksonville and Cincy were certainly not games they had fingered on their calendar as losses.  But it’s not even close to the end of the world.  They’ve scored a lot of points (209 and 187) – it’s just that their opponents have played out of their minds.  Jacksonville followed up their 233 point week 1 effort with a 57 point drop in week 2, and Cincy’s week 2 score was 35 points higher than their week 1 score.  That’s bad luck, not bad play.  Rough week, not great, but Houston will be fine.

Carolina Panthers: What is going on?  I feel like Admiral Akbar.  This has to be a trap.  The second I put this down, Carolina is going to run off 13 straight wins and make me feel like a complete fool.  And 2-1 with a loss to Buffalo is not what one usually thinks of as falling.  But Carolina has looked… mediocre.  168 points in week #2 following up an under 200 in week #1 as well.  And if their loss was to Buffalo, their wins have been over SF and Minnesota – who have combined to go 0-6. With the Falcons playing out of their minds and both New Orleans and Tampa Bay looking strong, that’s not going to be good enough for Panthera.  The problem has been on offense.  Zach Ertz has been dynamite.  Cam Newton and Mark Ingram have been disappointingly mediocre.  And the rest of the offense has been an epic disaster.  Take this Sunday, for instance.  Ertz had 17.  Newtown had 11.  Ingram had 12.  And Campanaro, Woods, Blount, and Olsen combined for 6.75 points.  With Olsen out for a while, we’ll have to see where this goes.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Back to earth with a thud.  After that 233 point clubbing of Houston in week #1, the Jags returned to earth on Sunday, dropping games to both the Seahawks and Titans.  There’s no shame in a 176 point double loss to two playoff contenders, but it will do nothing to dispel perceptions that week 1 was a mirage.  The QB situation continues to plague the Jags (hey, that rhymes!).  They got a zero from their signal caller position on Sunday.  A 20 point QB and Jacksonville is 3-0 and reading a very different column.

Dishonorable Mentions: New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins

 

Week 3 Games of the Week:

Arizona Cardinals vs. New York Giants:  2-1.  Check.  Super Bowl Contenders.  Check.  Chip on their shoulder.  Check.  Stiff challenges within their own divisions.  Check.  Arizona and New York enter week 3 in similar places.  Good teams, fine outlooks, one tough loss, and no desire to drop another game. The Giants are hoping like crazy that DeMarco Murray can return, and are hoping even more that their acquisition of Philip Rivers pays dividends after watching Eli struggle.

Atlanta Falcons vs. Detroit Lions: Ka-boom!  3-0 meets 3-0 as the Lions continue their early-season gauntlet of death with a trip to Falcon-land.  Atlanta, meanwhile, gets both Detroit and New Orleans in a tough week.  If the Falcons can go 2-0, they will have initially announced themselves.  1-1 and they are still looking pretty good.  0-2 and they are suddenly looking up again.  It’s a hard conference.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Detroit Lions: The other 3-0 vs. 3-0 matchup.  I almost missed it, but Cincinnati is 3-0.  It seems unlikely they’ll stay that way.

New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: The NFC East is at stake in this clash.  Both teams are cranky after narrow losses in week 2, but both teams have brutal double games this week and the team that can channel that frustration into a vicious bout of scoring vengeance will seize the driver’s seat for a division title.

Tennessee Titans vs. Seattle Seahawks: An intriguing under the radar game between two first place teams, this is one I’m going to be watching very closely.  Bradford’s health is in question, and will have a big impact on this game.  The reason I’m interested is that both teams have gone 2-1 despite rough starts to the year for key stars.  When guys like Russell Wilson, Zeke Elliott, and the entire NYG offense (Perkins, OBJ and Shepherd are all here), these two teams could get even better.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Houston Texans: I had this one marked on the calendar as a possible AFC Title showdown preview.  It’s lost a lot of it’s luster, as the two teams stagger in at 2-3-1.  But I still believe that both of those teams are really good.  The winner of this one gets some mojo back, while the loser is left searching for answers.  The Steelers badly need for Big Ben and Le’Veon Bell to get back on track.

Good luck everyone, and play more close games.  Be like Oakland (all three games by 7 points or less).  And send Oakland heart medication.  We like the guy and want him to stick around!

Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 1 Recap

Week one, in the books.  It was a rough, weird week.  There are only a few teams feeling on the top of the world.  Some are troubled but confident.  And others are feeling that same impending sense of panic you get when you live in New York City during a disaster movie.  For a one bye-week with the relative health the beginning of the season brings, this week posted some brutal scores with very few 200 point performances.  A couple of quick quarterback hooks and bad injuries compound things further.

Here at the report, the general take is this: Don’t overreact to week 1.   Fortunately, for all that it’s the first week, it means even less this year than in most years because it is only a single week rather than our typical inaugural double.  Things will bet back to normal soon.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 1 Recap

That said, there are some teams who have a reason to panic.  I’m here to break it down for you.

Game of the Week: Detroit Lions 227 over Arizona Cardinals 201

Good game.  The eventual NFC West champ vs. the eventual NFC North champ.  Aside from the Giants, the two highest scores in the NFC.  Same as it ever was.  And what was the difference?  35.4 points from Tyreek Hill.  Did I mention in the off-season that the Super Bowl Champions got Tyreek Hill?  Look, this was a really excellent game.  Both teams played really well.  You could say that a pair of close misses to Torrey Smith and a zero to Run DMC were the game, but you could also say that 25 points from Jalen Mills kept the Cardinals in it.  In the end, this was a hard fought game where both teams came to play and the Lions demonstrated why they are the team to beat in the NFC – too many weapons who can have a big game any given week.

Legitimate Surprises

LA Rams: The Rams are going to have trouble scoring.  This is absolutely true.  But TJ Watt is the real deal, the rest of the defense stepped up as well, and young receivers like Zay Jones are going to improve as the year goes on.  LA isn’t going to be a great team this year, but that defense showed me it has staying power, and I like this team to absolute irritate the competitors and maybe even still a game or two as the year goes on.

Smoke and Mirrors:

Jacksonville Jaguars: Hidden behind the week’s biggest update, a thrashing of the Super Bowl contending Houston Texans, is how the Jaguars got there.  Kareem Hunt’s 52 points aren’t going to happen everybody.  Nor is the defense, however stout, going to intercept two passes (including a Ryan Kerrigan pick six), force two fumbles, and pick off another one.  It’s good news that Cooper Kupp and Danny Amendola look like they are going to be targeted heavily, and Marqise Lee may see more targets with Allen Robinson’s injury, but this is still a team without a quarterback and that I expect to return to earth next week.

 Kansas City Chiefs: Yes the Chiefs led week #1 in scoring in an obliteration of the Patriots.  But look a little deeper and you’ll see that huge chunks of it came from a 33 point outing by Alex Smith, a combined 66 points from its Linebackers, and a Fumble returned for a TD by a defensive lineman.  Where did it not come from?  Running back, safety, and WR4.  The Chiefs can’t expect repeat performances on the plus side, and the things they needed verdicts on all came back negative.  A twin challenge at division rival Oakland and NFC contender Philadelphia loom.

Chill, you’ll be Fine

Houston Texans: David Johnson out 2-3 months is rough.  Painful.  But all told?  No team is better equipped to handle a loss to a stud RB than Houston.  Jacksonville had a buzzsaw week.  Chris Hogan will play better, the defense will generate more big plays (only 1 sack and 1 turnover for a group that accumulated 41 combined tackles), and DJ will be back.  If anything, Austin Hooper’s big day has to be an encouraging sign of things to come, even if it all came on only two catches.  It’s never good to lose week one, never good to lose a stud back, and never good to drop a divisional game. But the Texans will be fine, and this game won’t matter in the least come week 1 of the playoffs.

Oakland Raiders: Frustrating start for the Raiders, who drop a winnable home game to Tennessee to open a tough schedule.  And yes, there are concerns at the back end of the offense, where guys like Jalen Richard and Benjamin Watson did nothing to justify the Raiders faith in them.  But Oakland’s week 1 challenges are more like Houston’s – 1 sack and 1 turnover combined among starting defensive players getting a lot of minutes – that’s going to improve by regression to the mean.  And guys like Tyler Eifert, Dez Bryant, and Jordan Matthews are going to get theirs.  Dropping a game they should have won by a narrow margin hurts, but Oakland will be fine.

Reason to panic

Chicago Bears: That won’t get it done.  The offense didn’t look sneaky for the Bears.  It looked ordinary, or worse.  Four points for Hoyer.  3 for Brandon Marshall.  6 for Gresham.  7 for Forte.  Nothing for Wheaton.  Only Terrance West lived up to his billing.  The scary part is that these don’t seem like natural reversions.  Hoyer and the SF offense looked like the disaster we’ve come to expect, Brandon Marshall and Eli aren’t even reading the same book, let alone getting close to the same page, Gresham is what he is, and Forte is old and in a platoon.  To their credit, the Bears are addressing their issues, bringing in Emmanuel Sanders to replace the injured Cameron Meredith.  But they can’t be happy in Halas Hall about how week 1 played out.

Indianapolis Colts: Ye gods. Indy has had scoring problems for the last three years.  Their offense has depended on two players – Andrew Luck and Julian Edelman.  And, of course, where do the injuries strike?  Edelman is gone for the year.  Nobody knows what’s up with Luck.  And in their absence.  Mercy.  The Colts managed a TOTAL of 20 offensive points, with more than half (10.5) coming from Alvin Kamara.  To be clear, no less than 51 individual PLAYERS scored more points than the entire Colts offense put together.  If we remove Kamara, this number jumps to 280, including 4 punters.  Yes, 280 individual players (almost ten per team!), including 4 punters, scored more points than 6 of the colts top 7 offensive players combined.  This isn’t getting better until (if!) Luck gets back, and even then, it’s not getting good.  This could be the worst offensive team in RDFL history by a wide margin.

Pittsburgh Steelers: So this will get better.  Roethlisberger will score more than 16 points.  Le’Veon Bell will return to his stud form.  And if we’re talking about starting defensive squads missing out on the big play by luck, the Steelers D put together 34 tackles without a single turnover or sack.  It will get a bit better.  But enough better?  The defensive question marks weren’t answered, the secondary looks mediocre, Fournette’s performance relegated even a healthy Yeldon to handcuff status, and with the exception of lone bright spot Jesse James, the supporting offensive cast doesn’t look like it will have much opportunity.  Things will get a lot better for the Steelers than they were in week 1, but winning the AFC North suddenly no longer seems like a sure thing.

Officially Mixed:

New England Patriots: On the one hand, the news on offense was really good.  Charles Clay asserted himself well and Nelson Agholor had a breakout day.  James White is going to be involved on the Patriots offense, and Mike Gillislee is on pace for a bajillion touchdowns.  Despite down days for the geriatric duo of Brady and Gore, this team looks like it could put up a lot of points.  On the flip side, the defense has proved itself sustainably terrible, with only three double digit performances, a pair of zeros, and Eric Berry lost for the year.  The Pats are legit.  But that defense will keep them from being a true threat to the Bills.

 

Big Games in Week #2:

Buffalo Bills vs. Carolina Panthers: Possible Super Bowl Preview?  In week #2?  Yes please.  Both the Bills and the Panthers took care of week #1 business as expected, but less overwhelmingly than either felt comfortable with, especially Buffalo.  Now they meet each other in a game that is both showdown and get-right game.  The winner feels great.  The loser suddenly has some questions.

Detroit Lions vs. New York Giants: I love double weeks!  Week #2 has a couple of doozies.  This is a potential NFC Championship game showdown – and much more of a clash, as both Detroit and New York put up strong week #1 performances.  The loser here doesn’t have question marks.  But the winner has the inside track to top seed in the NFC playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns: Of course there’s a big game in the AFC North.  There’s ALWAYS a big game in the AFC North because all the teams are in convention.  And here we go.  Baltimore looked more impressive in week 1 (pre-forfeit), but Cleveland had the bigger win, knocking off Pittsburgh.  Whichever team takes this game will grab early control of the North race, pending Cincinnati’s results.  A bit like saying “will have sprinted to the lead at the half mile mark of the marathon”, but hey.  It’s a lead.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders: Divisional showdown #1 between KC and Oakland comes in week 2, with the winner likely taking control of the AFC West race.  KC looked like the better team in week one, but a reversal in week 2 could have the Raiders up by a game with a tiebreaker in hand.

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

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

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

 

NFC North

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

AFC North

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Let’s recap.

Pittsburgh: Antonio Brown and Jarvis Landry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Anyway, my playoff predictions:

AFC East: Buffalo

AFC North: Pittsburgh

AFC South: Houston

AFC West: Oakland

AFC Wild Card: Kansas City

AFC Wild Card: Baltimore

 

NFC East: NY Giants

NFC North: Detroit

NFC South: Carolina

NFC West: Arizona

NFC Wild Card: Atlanta

NFC Wild Card: Philadelphia

 

AFC Championship: Buffalo over Houston

NFC Championship: Detroit over Arizona

 

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