Real Deal (Football) Report: Wildcard Recap

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

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

Detroit Lions 216, Philadelphia Eagles 171

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

Arizona Cardinals 198, Atlanta Falcons 150

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

Kansas City Chiefs 244, Cleveland Browns 115

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

Houston Texans 230, New England Patriots 201

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

 

Divisional Round Predictions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 8 Recap

Well, well, well things are starting to get interesting!

Week 8 brought an influx of upsets and surprising results, with a full 7 games that could reasonably be classified as upsets. As a result, both the NFC and AFC wild card spots are getting fascinating.  With just 5 games to go in the season, fully 22 teams remain in striking distance (within 2 games) of a playoff spot, and with the exception of the undefeated 11-0 Bills, not a single one of the divisional races is cleanly decided  It’s going to be fun from here on out!

Game of the Week: Arizona Cardinals 165, Carolina Panthers 160

With apologies to Dallas’ narrow 186-182 squeaker over a suddenly injury ravaged Philadelphia Eagles squad, this one makes the cut both because of how tight the game was, and how substantial the playoff and seeding implications could be in the competitive NFC.  Both teams nearly hit the century mark on defense, didn’t break double figures on special teams, and cruised to disappointing 50something performances on offense.  The difference?  A Practice Squad Poach.  Earlier this week, Devontae Booker was hanging out on the Vikings Practice Squad.  The Cardinals snared him and flipped him into the starting lineup, where he scored 18.5 points.  On a week when Shady McCoy, Richard Rodgers, and Michael Floyd all put up zeroes, Devontae was the difference.  Watch the Practice Squad folks.  It can make or break you!  As a result, the Cardinals move into sole possession of first place for the first time all year while the Panthers fall back into a tie with the hard-charging Falcons.

Teams Rising: 

Dallas Cowboys: Ok, you don’t get game of the week.  But an upset like that deserves a shoutout.  The Cowboys rode 20+ points from Carson Palmer, Davante Adams, and Allan Hurns to barely overcome a 50 point explosion on Carr.  It’s the Cowboys first win since Washington in week 2, and provides some hope that the young core of players that the team has put together via trade this year will make a solid foundation moving forward.

Oakland Raiders: Well now.  This is what happens when Oakland finally gets healthy, eh?  Dez is back.  Tyler Eifert is back. Jonathan Stewart is back.  Aaron Rodgers seems to have recovered from whatever funk was plaguing him early on. The result is a 230-164 obliteration of Tampa Bay, which would have been worse had the Raiders even remembered to start Eifert.  Oakland has very quietly won three straight to move to 6-5 and pull within 1 game of the wild card and 2 games of the division lead in the West.  The Raiders could continue to make some hay with games against Denver and Indy coming, before a brutal stretch of Houston, Buffalo, and Carolina to close the season.

Houston Texans: The Texans are tied for first place.  After a bipolar start to the year, the Texans have now put together four straight victories against decent competition to tie for the AFC South lead.  Their latest win, a 212-184 triumph over the Lions, was no joke either.  Detroit’s a division leader and had a great shot at a playoff bye before this setback.  Even more encouraging, ever player on the Texan offense scored in double figures, and contributions came from a variety of players who had been huge lottery ticket question marks before the season began.  If Mike Gillislee, Austin Hooper, Chris Hogan, Kerry Hyder and John Simon can keep putting up double figure scores for the rest of the season, Houston could be very hard to beat.  Opportunity looms again in week 9 in the form of a showdown with fellow AFC bubbler Cincy.

Honorable Mentions: New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints.
Teams Falling:

Philadelphia Eagles: Yeeouch.  One week after pulling to within a game of the Giants, the Eagles had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week 8.  A four point loss in what should have been a gimme game against the Cowboys.  A significant arrest for Josh Huff.  Derrick Henry outshining DeMarco Murray.  And the Honey Badger out for the rest of the regular season at least.  All that combined with wins by the Giants, Falcons and Saints, and the Eagles are no longer thinking about the division. They are thinking about their wild card life.  On tap, of course, is just what the doctor ordered.  A date with the newly revitalized Giants.

Tennessee Titans: Adversity.  It’s where the stars shine.  It’s where you find out what men are made of.  It’s where heroes are born and goats are immortalized.  It’s where the Tennessee Titans suddenly and unhappily find themselves.  Coming off a vigorous week 6 shelling of the Cleveland Browns, the Titans had a 7-2 record, a 2 game lead in what appeared to be a mediocre division, and with two very winnable games against Indianapolis and Jacksonville coming up.  A two-seed and playoff bye appeared to be clearly in sight.  Ouch.  Two painfully mediocre defeats later, the Titans are now 7-4, tied for first, have not broken 200 points (other than 201 against Cleveland) since week 2, and are only 7th in the AFC in points scored.  The good news for the Titans is that the next three games are against San Diego, Green Bay, and Indianapolis, all below .500 teams, so there’s time to recover.  The bad news is that so were their last two.  We’ll see.

Los Angeles Rams: What’s the best way to follow up a stunning victory over the New York Giants where the whole team shows up and plays well?  A lackluster, uninspired 98 point performance in a total beatdown.  A goose egg from six players who did play and a number of others on bye.  Not a single player hitting 20 and only 5 hitting double digits.  Yeeouch.  Sometimes big wins are catapults.  Sometimes they are flukes.  This one looks like a fluke.

Dishonorable Mentions: Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions.

Oh, and a special dishonorable shout-out to Denver and Green Bye.  Come on guys.  Can you at least try to start a legal lineup on occasion?

 

Games of the Week: 

Arizona Cardinals vs. Chicago Bears: It’s bye week Mayhem for the Bears and Cards!  Arizona is on a hot streak after beating the Panthers, and look to keep it going against the Bears.  After pulling off a trade for Landry Jones, the Bears remain in spitting distance of both the Lions and the NFC Wild Card – but really need a win in week 9 to pull it off.  The bye looks a little more damaging for Zona than for the fighting Butkuses, but injuries may play on even larger role in the outcome.

Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Despite seemingly losing every single week, the Bucs have scored the 7th most points in the NFC, and could ostensibly mount a run.  If so, it has to be now.  The Falcons are looking very good, riding a winning streak and a 245 point performance.  This is their chance to both deep six Tampa Bay’s season and move into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: This rivalry game has lost a little luster as the Steelers have struggled to maintain a legal lineup at times this year, and have had major bad luck with suspensions and injuries at others.  Still, this is a team that is much better than 5-6, and can play anyone tight.  Heck, they can dominate anyone on any given week.  Baltimore is no slouch either, having knocked off the Giants and quietly kept pace with Cleveland and Cincy in the better than expected AFC Norris.  Both teams should be near full strength, which should be a treat for us.

Buffalo Bills vs. Seattle Seahawks: What an utterly bizarre situation this is.  The Buffalo Bills are 11-0, have the AFC East locked up, are cruising towards the #1 overall seed, and have barely even been challenged.  The Seahawks, after a schedule-boosted 6-1 start, have lost four straight to fall to 6-5, and plummet.  Easy, right?  Well, except that the Bills get killed on the bye week.  DeSean Jackson, AJ Green, Rob Gronkowski, Alshon Jeffery, Mason Foster, Deion Buccannon, Tracy Porter, and George Iloka among others are ALL on bye.  The Bills players on bye are better than most TEAMS.  The Seahawks do lose a few players themselves, but nowhere near THAT.  The result being a Fantrax projected Seahawks victory.  How bizarre would that be?

Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Another great matchup that will be heavily influenced by the bye week, the 7-4 and tied for first place Texans square off against the 8-3 and also tied for first place Bengals.  Hard to say who the bye week hurts more, as Cincy loses their QB and some huge defensive pieces, while the Texans keep their QB, but lose David Johnson, Jordan Howard, and some solid defensive pieces in their own right

New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: It’s a week to week league, right?  The Eagles need to hope so.  This is NOT what the doctor ordered for an injured team.  A week ago, Philly might have welcomed this as a chance to knock off the suddenly vulnerable Giants.  Not now.  Now Philly just wants a win to keep pace with the wild card – and will have to do it with no Honey Badger and facing the Giants full lineup.  It’s possible.  But my money is on the Giants.
Good luck this week everybody!  Enjoy game 7!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 7 Recap

Ten games in and 23 teams still have legitimate, solid playoff aspirations.  That is not a bad competitive season!  It was a bit of a low scoring week 7, with only 8 teams reaching or breaking the 200 point barrier, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some associated drama.

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

Game of the Week: New England Patriots 206, PIttsburgh Steelers 202

Well, this one definitely lived up to its billing.  The outcome was in doubt literally the entire weekend.  It wasn’t over until Brock Osweiler staggered home with ten points on Monday night, staving off a combined 12 points by the two Monday night Steeler defenders.  When the dust settled, the Patriots had a four point win behind a combined 100 points from Jamison Crowder, Mike Wallace, Frank Gore, and Delanie Walker.  Talk about some unexpected gems that have been huge contributors for the Pats!  Le’Veon Bell scored 30 in a losing effort for Pittsburgh, and the Steeler defense was outstanding – but without Ben Roethlisberger, a zero at the QB spot was too big to overcome.  With the result, the Patriots stay in front of the Wild Card Line at a nice, solid 7-3.   The Steelers, meanwhile, fall to 5-5.  Still a great team.  Still within striking distance.  But they need to move soon.

 

Teams Rising:

Buffalo Bills: It’s awesome to be undefeated.  But in some ways it sort of sucks to be the favorite and go undefeated.  Because then you never really rise.  You’re always meeting expectations, never exceeding them.  So it seems only fitting that this week we recognize the Buffalo Bills for hitting the 10-0 mark behind a quiet, workmanlike, ho-hum 228-98 thrashing of the Miami Dolphins.  Buffalo is on track.  They’ve scored the most points in the AFC and haven’t lost yet.  They haven’t really come anywhere close to losing.  Tyrod Taylor has been good at QB.  AJ Green and Gronk have been as awesome as expected.  Nobody’s even noticed this team hasn’t had AP.  The defense routinely hits the century mark even on a bad day.  Everything is going according to plan.  And that’s a fantastic plan.  It’s the best plan. Believe me.

Cleveland Browns: We mentioned last week that it was a week-to-week league, right?  Scuffling team?  Pair of abysmal performances in a row.  Facing the division leader who happens to be on a roll.  Tough, right?  No problem.  Cleveland bounces back with a 197-173 win behind huge games from Mike Evans (31) and Michael Crabtree (25).  The Bengals have some uncharacteristic struggles on offense (posting three goose eggs) and Cleveland is back in a tie for first place (and own the tiebreaker in a two-way tie).  Now admittedly, the defense remains a problem for the Browns (only 63 total points in week 7 and the last time the defense hit the century mark was in week 2), but things all of a sudden look a whole lot rosier for this somewhat less tortured than it used to be city.

Philadelphia Eagles: I confess that I’ve dogged Philly a bit and haven’t really bought into the hype.  The Eagles seemed like a mediocre team excelling against a weak schedule.  And to some degree, that’s borne out – Philly has scored the fewest points out of the twelve teams who would currently be in the playoffs.   But that’s two straight wins for Philly with solid point totals, and this recent one, a 235-138 pasting of Minnesota, was the third-highest score of the week.  Most exciting, question mark guys like Lance Kendricks, Brian Quick, Josh Huff, and, especially, Ty Montgomery, showed up to play this past week and seem to be finding real roles in their respective offenses.  Coupled with a pair of consecutive Giant losses, the Eagles stand only a game back (albeit without the tiebreaker) and the unthinkable is an actual possibility.

Honorable Mentions: Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts

Teams Falling:

New York Giants: Speaking of the G-Men, what on earth is going on?  After looking like they might not lose all season, the suddenly vulnerable Giants have lost two straight games, this one to the lowly LA Rams.  In a lot of ways, though, this is simple schedule misfortune and speaks more to the Ravens and Rams than it does to the Giants.  Combined between the two weeks, New York has still averaged over 200ppg – it’s just that the Ravens and Rams have combined for 511.  Way over both of their season averages.  There are genuine concerns for the Giants (again on defense), where only two week seven starters reached double figures.  But they’ll be fine.  This is more a testament to the fantastic game played by the Rams, who got 20+ points from six players.  LA has been knocking on the door, but this was the signature win the program needed.  Now to see if they can build on it.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Yeesh.  After a gift 116-112 win over Minnesota, the Bucs apparently got the message that they could coast and win against lesser competition.  That was the wrong message, and it bit them in a big way in week 7, as the San Francisco 49ers staggered across the finish line in a compellingly ugly 166-161 sloth race.  The Buc defense came to play and put up 122 points behind a 60 point performance from the D-Line of Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaye Howard, Gerald McCoy, and Jadaveon Clowney.  But that offense… something needs to change fast.  It was a 28.5 point “Seahawk-esque” showing for an offense that got legitimate points (14) only from Emmanuel Sanders.  Quarterback issues loom large for the Bucs, and Tampa faces a daunting climb out of the basement in the brutal NFC South.

Tennessee Titans: With a golden opportunity to put away divisional rival Indianapolis for good, the Titans couldn’t muster the juice to get up for the game, struggling to a thoroughly mediocre 216-164 loss.  Both sides of the ball were similarly average, with 72 points on offense and 74 on defense.  The wrong kind of consistency.  Indy won with their characteristically stout defense, but also with a 74 point offensive game – the highest offensive total the Colts have posted since week 1.  As a result, the AFC South falls back into question, with Tennessee maintaining a meager 1 game lead over Houston (who beat Denver) with the Colts hanging gamely around at 5-5.

Dishonorable Mentions: New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars

Games of the Week:

Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers: The good ship Cardinal seems to have righted itself as Arizona has won three straight and caught up to Seattle to restore balance in what had been a bizarre NFC West.  Carolina remains its strong self, though it hasn’t put out a signature performance in a few weeks.  This isn’t necessarily a “need to have it” game for either side – both teams should be fine even with a loss – but it is a bragging rights game and just some good fantasy football between two excellent teams.  Should Arizona win this, it would be a psychological victory declaring their early-season struggles are history.

Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots: This is what you call “a shot at the champ”.  Does Buffalo need this game?  Nope.  Will they win through to top seed and a playoff bye regardless of the outcome?  Sure.  Does New England need this game?  It’s not desperate, but yeah, they could always use more wins.  Nah, this isn’t a “standings game” either.  What this is is is (yep, three is’s in a row and it’s right baby!) a surprisingly game New England team that is getting contributions from unexpected players throwing its best shot at the league bully.  A good game?  Who knows.  A must have?  Not really.  But drama?  Almost certainly.

Detroit Lions vs. Houston Texans: While Detroit calmly and quietly holds on to a two game advantage in the NFC North, beating exactly who they should beat and rarely facing a huge challenge, life has been a topsy turvy roller coaster for Houston.  After a rather uninspiring 150-137 win (still a win!) over the Denver Broncos, the Texans find themselves only a game back of the AFC South crown.  This IS a standings game.  Houston can’t afford a loss here.  Detroit could.  But best not let the Bears get too close…

Indianapolis Colts vs. Kansas City Chiefs: One big win down for Indy, another in the works?  A week after shutting down Tennessee in a must-win game, the Colts get another division leader in the Chiefs.  The key for the Colts will be to maintain their level of offensive play.  That defense can win against just about anybody, so if the offense can continue to score 75, that’s often going to be enough.  It’s been a challenge to point.  Some key pieces are out on both teams, with Indy losing three primary defensive pieces, and the Chiefs likely without Jordan Reed for yet another week and Tavon Austin on bye.

New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks: Now THIS is a standings game.  Both teams sit at a quite respectable 6-4.  Both teams badly need this game.  For New Orleans, it’s a function of a slow start and a tough division.   For Seattle, this is a function of really needing to win A game to slow down a recent funk.  In a big break for the Saints, Russell Wilson looks like he may miss this game, and Sterling Shephard is on bye, so this Seattle offense could look like…  ::haunting music:: last year!  A Halloween special.

Good luck everyone!

Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 6 Recap

We begin this week’s recap with a hearty helping of deliciously foul (fowl!) crow.  Roasted in cinnamon, oregano, and cayenne paper and soaked in pickle juice for extra nastiness.

I wrote last week that the Baltimore Ravens had absolutely NO chance against the Giants and predicted a 100 point win for the G-Men.

Let’s see exactly how that turned out for me:

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 6 Recap

Game of the Week: Baltimore Ravens 267, New York Giants 220

So let’s be clear.  This wasn’t a great game for the Giants.  Easily one of their lowest outputs of the season.  A mere 220 points.  They aught to be ashamed of themselves.  Imagine scoring only 220?  But no.  That’s not it.  This was not a game the Giants lost.  This was a game that the Ravens went out and won handily with an epic 159 point offensive performance.  It wasn’t just that Baltimore scored a ton of points on offense, though.  It was WHO.  An unsung offensive cast exploded!  Christine Michael got 26.  Amari Cooper (ok, he’s sung) got 30.  Terrelle freaking Pryor got 31, and Kendall Wright got 35.  Mercy.  The Ravens are now 6-3, averaging more than 200 points a game, and if the season were to end today, would be in the playoffs – and a team nobody would want to see on the opposing line!

Teams Rising:

Cincinnati Bengals: Time to give the Bengals a little credit as they ascend to sole possession of first place in the AFC North at an absolutely flabbergasting 7-2.  Cincy’s latest triump was an 184-175 win over fellow playoff contender New England.  With Cleveland suddenly scuffling and Pittsburgh suddenly without Ben Roethlisberger just as they Steelers were starting to get hot, it looks increasingly likely that Cincy and Baltimore might need to duke it out for the North division title – and the loser may well grab a wild card.  The Bengals defense was the story in week 6, with 6/11 players scoring in double digits and a 20 point performance by one Zachary Orr.

New Orleans Saints: And boom. The Saints are back!  248-201 over divisional rival and Super Bowl Champ Carolina.  This win puts the Saints in a three way tie for the wildcard with Atlanta and Philadelphia, and, just as importantly, only one game back of Carolina.  After a brutal start, New Orleans is baaaaack.  Fittingly, Drew Brees led the way with an absurd 44 point outing, but was paced by Golden Tate (38) and CJ Fiedorowicz (21) on offense.  The Saints knew they were going to have to find some role players to step up and answer some question marks, and boy did they ever this week.  A pick six from Malcolm Jenkins (28 points) added to the cause, as the Saints overcame 30 points from Cam and 23 from some guy named Nick Bellore.  It’s getting crazy again in the NFC!

Houston Texans: Aight, Houston.  Aight.  I see you. After a cool 226-183 win over divisional rival Indianapolis, the AFC South is starting to sort itself out with Houston and Tennessee gaining a little separation from Indy and Jacksonville.  David Johnson scored 38 points on a three score game and nearly outscored the hapless Colts offense by himself to pace the Texans.  Still, there’s no forgetting a defense where 7 players scored in double figures and an 8th got nine.  Houston’s two-back in the division and still a game out of the Wild Card, so they need to keep on moving, but this is a very nice divisional win for an embattled squad.

Honorable Mentions: Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings.

 

Teams Falling:

Cleveland Browns: Another brutal week for the Browns.  Another loss against a contending time.  Another game where the team simply didn’t look competitive.  Another week where division rivals posted wins to knock them farther back in the race.  46 points on offense with a high score of 10 from Blake Bortles simply isn’t going to be good enough to win most weeks.  Cleveland still leads the AFC North in points scored.  They can still right the ship.  But with Cincy and Baltimore playing as well as they are, they had better do it quickly.

San Diego Chargers: As recently as a couple weeks ago, San Diego looked like they could be a contender in the West, or at least make a solid push for second.  Two losses later, not so much.  The offense failed the Chargers utterly as they managed only 36 points on the offensive side of the ball, and fell to the Denver Broncos (who have suddenly won two in a row!).  At 3-6, the Chargers face a huge hole to climb back into contention, and may not make it this year.

Minnesota Vikings: Yeeouch.  The Vikings have looked better and better this year, posting competitive game after competitive game, but not posting a whole lot of wins.  Well, they got their chance in week 6 as Tampa Bay posted only 116 points.  The problem?  Minnesota posted only 112.  Sure, they had bye issues.  But 45 points on defense is not going to get it done, as everybody not named Andre Branch combined for exactly 32 points.  It’s a culture issue in Minnesota, where the Vikings now have talent – but have to figure out how to win.

Dishonorable Mentions: Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars

 

Week 7 Games of the Week:

Welp, unless we get some upsets, this could be another rough week for good games, unfortunately!  Only four that really seem to me to feature much competition.  But some should be excellent.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns:  It’s a week to week league.  One week you can be on the top of the world, only to come brutally crashing back to earth the next.  Or you can be on the outs, facing a lost season, only to bounce back, dominate, and right the ship.  Right now, big Mo (that’s momentum) is all on the side of Cincinnati, and the Bengals are poised to knock out their rivals with a brutal hook.  But Cleveland isn’t done yet.  And this could be the game that rights the Browns ship.  Lots at stake in the battle of Ohio.  We’ll see who prevails

Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans: This is what you call a run away and hide game.  A win by the Titans would move them to 8-2, keep them solidly in control of the AFC South regardless of what Houston does, and pretty much put a nail in the punchless Colts coffin.  Of course, see the above about a week-to-week league.  If the Colts win, all of a sudden the South is right back in play.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. New Orleans Saints: The Chiefs are smarting from a 3 point loss to the Raiders and losing an opportunity to put their own division away.  No time for woundlicking though, because the high-octane, rejuvenated Saints come roaring into town fresh off their demolition of the Panthers.  Both teams are close to full strength, so this game should tell us a lot about the relative prospects of each team – and things are going to be looking pretty rosy for the winner.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots: A tough and tricky game for two teams who need to rebound.  After a nine point loss to Cincy, New England has fallen three games behind the unbeaten Bills and into a tie for the wild card.  They need some wins to stay afloat, particularly given the competitive AFC landscape.  The Steelers, after a brutal start without Le’Veon Bell, have rediscovered their world-beating mojo and posted several fantastic wins.  Of course, they also just lost their quarterback.  How will Pittsburgh fare in a non-Ben world?  Both teams need this win.  Only one will get it.  Drama in the AFC Wild Card!

 

Good luck this week everyone!

 

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 5 Recap

Ok y’all, that sucked. Week 5 sucked.  We all, in week 5, collectively sucked.  And I think we all need to come together as a league and vow to try harder and do better.  Because honestly, that was really, seriously terrible.

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

First off, there were NO good games.  Zero.  I can’t even pick a game of the week because this week’s games were so damn bad.  Do I pick New England’s uninspiring 166-141 snoozefest against Cleveland where both teams underperformed their season averages massively (not on a bye week)?  Do I choose San Diego’s almost sort of maybe kind of exciting 179-162 Monday night triumph over the Raidres because it had the most drama (not all that much) and pulled the two squads into a 3-5 tie in the standings?  Denver’s 174-140 upset of a cornswaggled Atlanta franchise for its first win?  Buffalo’s utterly irrelevant 227-181 win over the Rams because it had the most points?  I’ve literally got nothing, y’all.  That was the WORST set of games I’ve ever seen.

And frankly, we all sucked as well as being noncompetitive.  There were literally only FOUR teams that broke 200 points (Buffalo, Pittsburgh, the Giants, and, surprisingly, Chicago).  FOUR.  With the exception of the always fantastic Giants, the highest point total was 227.  17/32 teams (more than half the league) scored 166 points or less.  There were two games (only two!) where both teams scored more than that.  I could go on.

Consider this the equivalent of an expletive filled Rex Ryan-esque freakout.  There’s no excuse.  Do better.  Play better.  Be better.  Or I’ll be the first mother-effer out of here!*

Game of the week: NONE.  No game of the week.   Y’all don’t deserve a game of the week.  No participation trophies just for showing up.  Damn millennials.
Teams Rising:

Chicago Bears: Gotta give credit where credit is due.  The Bears break the 200 point threshold and are one of the few teams that didn’t embarrass us.  They played above their season average and beat a decent Indianapolis team to get back up to .500 and keep pace with the Lions.  Great game by Brian Hoyer.  Great game by Brandon Marshall.  Great game by the un-concussed Kevin Minter.  There’s more to be done, but this was a step in the right direction.

Denver Broncos: So that’s one team that is off the schneid!  After being epically terrible for the first weeks of the season, the Broncos came out and knocked off Atlanta, scoring more points than well over half the league and actually looking like a competitive squad.  Paxton Lynch to Demaryius Thomas looks like it could be a thing, and that Cole Beasley pickup is looking very shrewd.

New Orleans Saints: Rumors of the Saints demise have been greatly exaggerated it seems.  After “thud” performances from Tampa and Atlanta and a win over the beatable but 6-1 Seahawks, the Saints are suddenly tied for second at 5-3 – and more importantly, tied for a wild card birth.  It’s hard to get too excited about a 171 point win where Sammie Coates (38) and Kiko Alonso (21) made up literally more than a third of their points.  But the Saints have to be thrilled at where they sit after having struggled this year.

Sort of honorable mention: Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers

 

Teams Falling: 

Cleveland Browns: Man.  I don’t know if the Indians stole the Browns mojo to use against Boston, but damn that was a thud performance when the Browns could least afford it.  Not only did Cleveland lose 166-141 to wild card rival New England, they scored a grand total of 52 points, had their lowest output of the season by 50 points and saw all three of their divisional rivals notch key wins.  Suddenly in second place in a hard-charging division, Cleveland has to hope this was an abberation as they face a tough game with the Titans.

Seattle Seahawks: They are who we thought they were.  It seems unfair to say that about a 6-2 team.  But frankly, this team could be 2-6 based on their points outputs and just laid a 132 point egg in a need-to-win game.  They’ve lost to every good team they’ve played, and the next time they play a team that is under .500 is NEVER.  Literally.  Every single team they play for the rest of the year, with the exception of Tampa Bay in week 12, is over .500, and Tampa is 4-4.  It’s about to get bad, folks, and I think there’s a serious chance the Hawks don’t win another game all year.  Sell, sell, sell and sell some more.

Atlanta Falcons: You are in a tough division.  You’ve just scored 282 points to whack the defending Super Bowl champions.  You’re one back in the division and feeling good about yourself.  Your all world receiver has just posted a 70 spot.  And you have the winless, hapless, punchless Denver Broncos coming up.  Complacency?  Guess just a little bit.  The Falcons posted the most uninspired performance since Trump’s first debate, getting handled by the winless Broncos by 35 points.  Julio Jones scored 5.5 points, the highest scoring player had 17 points, and Eddie Lacy might be injured.  Bottom line – the Falcons have the talent to beat anyone.  But they have the talent to lose to anyone on any given night too.  And in a division like the NFC South, you HAVE to beat the Broncos.

Really dishonorable mentions: Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts, and anybody picking anybody besides Buffalo or NYG in this year’s Super Bowl.

Ok guys, here’s our chance.  A few decent games this week.  Let’s do better!  REDEMPTION!

Week 6 Games of the Week: 

Atlanta Falcons vs. Seattle Seahawks: Umm… errr… angry, good, Atlanta team.  Revealed Seattle team… Ummm.. Nope.  Atlanta.  By 150.

Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Giants: Baltimore has looked really good, and now we get to see a powerhouse battle of… No.  Stop it.  C’mon.  Just stop.  Giants by 100.

Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints: Interesting battle here.  Carolina still looks fantastic at 7-1, and I’m inclined to think they put the skids to New Orleans’ resurgence.  The Saints have gotten wins and not points, and they could run into a buzz-saw here, particularly if Cam is back.  But this wouldn’t shock me if it went the other way.

Chicago Bears vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ok, maybe I’m reaching a little bit, but it’s possible.  A pair of 4-4 teams wavering on the edge of contention.  The winner could ostensibly move within a game of the division.  The loser could be in some trouble.  Nicely, both teams look pretty close to full strength for this one, so may the best team win!

Cincinnati Bengals vs. New England Patriots: Now this is an interesting matchup.  The Patriots have gotten a lot of love in cruising to 6-2 and the first wildcard spot in the AFC behind a revamped offense and a better than expected defense.  The Bengals have likewise surprised, leading the AFC North at 6-2 and having scored over 1600 points, averaging over 200 per game.  The jury is still out on both squads, but the winner is going to have a very serious case to be not just a surprise team, but a force to be reckoned with in the AFC.

Cleveland Browns vs. Tennessee Titans: Yet another fantastic matchup in what will hopefully be a bounceback week for them.  The Titans are another 6-2 team in first place in the AFC South, while the Browns seek to bounce back from an uncharacteristic dud of a week 5 performance.  The pressure is on Cleveland here, due to the rough week 5 and the strong division, but the Browns have also outscored the Titans by 250 points, so we’ll see where this one falls.  I like the Browns to bounce back with Bortles returning from bye.

Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts: Another “war of the desperate”, both the Texans and Colts have lacked consistency this year, ping-ponging between nice wins and bad losses.  Both teams are sitting mired at 4-4, though interestingly enough, the Texans have scored only 9 points less than the 6-2 Titans this year.  While I’d usually go with Houston, one key development in this week’s game is that the Texans lose Jameis Winston to the bye.  I think Indy sneaks this one out.

Good luck this week everyone!  Let’s all score 200 – except for Oakland 😉

 

2016 Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 4 Recap

I am a terrible person.  I have no excuse.  I failed you last week.  No recap!  And it was a double.  A double.  And I gave you no recap!

I deserve to have Chip Kelly as my coach!  I deserve to have Aaron Rodgers as a father looking down on me for every incompletion with that smirk of his!  I deserve to be sat on by Chris Christie dressed as a clown!

To none do I owe my heartfelt apologies than Ric Nowinsky and his New England Patriots, who threw down a beautiful 2-0 week 3 to move to 5-1.  You should have been my first team rising and I failed you.  I’m so sorry.

This week, it’s Saturday and it’s quick and dirty.  But ya know what, at least it’s something.

Finish Reading: 2016 Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 4 Recap

With no further ado!

Game of the week: Atlanta Falcons 281, Carolina Panthers 269

Was there ever any doubt?  This was one hell of a game!  Carolina had SIX players score more than 20 points in this one – the ageless Eddie Royal, the even more ageless Steve Smith Sr, the still aging Greg Olsen, Mark Ingram, Luke Kuechly (of course), and Kurt Coleman.  They scored 147 on offense, 116 on defense, and put in the #2 score of the week.  And lost by 12.  How?  Well, there’s the obvious answer – Julio Jones scored 73 points on THREE-HUNDRED YARDS receiving.  They literally forgot to cover that fool.  But that’s not the full answer.  The rest of Atlanta’s offense scored only 45 points, leaving the offensive output at 117 – 30 left than Carolina’s.  WITH JULIO.  So what gives?  Defense? Clinton McDonald got 29, Zach Brown got 34, and the kicker/punter combination of Hauschka and Ryan grabbed 24.  On the Carolina side?  5 special teams points combined.  Julio Jones is a boss.  But special teams was this game.  Carolina falls to a still invulnerable 6-1, while Atlanta bounces back from a brutal week 3 to stay in the chase at 5-2.

Teams Rising:

Pittsburgh Steelers:  When you are used to winning the division, it’s weird to start 2-4.  Well, the Steelers put a stop to that nonsense in week #5 with the third highest point total at 252 in a shellacking of Kansas City.  Huge offensive numbers, Le’Veon Bell back in the lineup, Ben Roethlisberger throwing for numbers again, and the defense is clicking for 120 point weeks.  Cleveland and Cincinnati jumped out to big leads in the North and just keep winning – but this week gave notice that the Steelers will not simply go quietly into the night.

Seattle Seahawks: This is still PURE illusion.  PURE illusion.  The Hawks have scored a TOTAL of 1151 points.  This would be good for 4th place in every other NFC division.  However, due to some nice luck and a stunningly easy schedule, Seattle is 6-1 and firmly in control of the NFC West.  This past week’s 151-117 win over the Jets said more about a struggling New York team than it did for the Seahawks.  But when you are 6-1, you have to get a mention!  Also, Zeke Elliott continues to look good and justify the #1 overall pick the Hawks spent on him.

New England Patriots: I owe this one to the Patriots.  Not for this week, which was a tough drop to the still undefeated Buffalo Bills, but for last week, a 2-0 performance with 211 points and wins over the Jets and Texans.  The Patriots remain in the thick of of the playoff race at 5-2, and unsung and unexpected heroes like Cameron Brate, Jamison Crowder, and even Frank Gore continue to keep the Patriots in the AFC Wild Card hunt.  I don’t expect this to be the last time New England is here.

Honorable Mention: Buffalo Bills, New York Giants, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals

 

Teams Falling:

Dallas Cowboys: Welp, the wheels have officially fallen off in Big D.  A 1-6 start has resulted in a full-scale tear-down and rebuild for the Cowboys.  In are picks and young players who can help for the future.  Out are Aaron Rodgers, Thomas Davis, and Jeremy Maclin.  It’s going to be a long, long year in Dallas who has gone from divisional competitor to total tear down – but hopefully the infusion of youth and talent will lead to good things for a long time to come.

Houston Texans: It’s been a rough few weeks for the Texans, who hung steady early on before a disappointing pair of weeks has knocked them well back in divisional competition.  The latest heartbreak was a 4 point set back to the Tennessee Titans.  Instead of moving into the division lead, the Texans now find themselves two back, albeit with a winnable game against the Texans upcoming.  What makes it all the more painful is the Texans got only a half point combined from Chris Hogan and Vance McDonald – a decent game by either one and they are in first place.

Competition: The state of the league’s competitive balance is down, as are great games.  On the one hand, teams like Buffalo, Carolina, and New York are absolutely dominant.  On the other, there are five teams with 1-6 or 0-7 records, and most of them (Denver, Green Bay, Washington and Miami) have not even come close to winning a game.  While the league has had dominant teams over the past few years, it has lacked the “gimme games” we are seeing this year.  Here’s hoping that we can see some significant improvement in the drama level as the season moves forward.

Dishonorable Mention: Everybody mentioned above, NY Jets, LA Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars, LA Rams.

 

Games of the Week, Week 5: 

Cleveland Browns vs. New England Patriots: A battle of two 5-2 teams in contention for AFC playoff spots, this game is suddenly very, very relevant.  It doesn’t contain the same drama as the real life struggle of Tom Brady’s return, but it does feature a series of some of the most underrated and overperforming players in the league (Mike Wallace, Marvin Jones, Cameron Brate, Michael Crabtree, Frank Gore) – and come on, when else are you going to see a matchup between two playoff favorites featuring a QB battle between Geno Smith and Brock Osweiler?

Detroit Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Philly has bounced back nicely from a brief slump to maintain strong contention for an NFC wildcard spot with a pair of recent wins.  The Lions continue to coast nicely through the NFC North.  In fact, there’s a very good chance these two squads could end up playing in a first round Wild Card game.  To my mind, this one is going to come down to the Defenses, and whether Detroit’s franchise players can make Carson Wentz look like more of a rookie.  Advantage goes to Detroit in this one, as Philadelphia has genuinely struggled to score points despite the gaudy record.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: It’s another matchup of potential playoff teams as KC takes on Jacksonville.  Both teams are missing key bye-week pieces (Travis Kelce for the Jags, Alex Smith and Derrick Johnson for the Chiefs), but this one should also come down to which defense can play best.  Both teams had disappointing week 4’s and are looking for major bouncebacks.

New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks: This could be a “for real” game for the Seahawks, who have cruised through one of the league’s easiest schedules to 6-1.  After a brutal start to the season, the Saints have started to show some life in recent weeks, and could be Seattle’s most potent challenger to date.  A lot rides on this for both teams – if Seattle can win this, they could show that they are truly for real.  In the more likely case, New Orleans gets the “W” and positions itself to try and make a run at Atlanta and Carolina – who may already be too far ahead and too good to catch.

2016 Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 2 Recap

It was the best of divisions.  It was the worst of divisions.  But not the same ones.  Different ones.  In fact, divisional disparity has been a huge part of RDFL through the first two weeks, with some divisions looking incredible and others struggling to get a single win.  As a result, the playoff picture already looks very clear in some areas – and very muddy in others.  Particularly in the NFC, there’s been a clear split between the haves and have-nots and the number of playoff slots available already seems limited.  The AFC, on the other hand, is a complete muddle, with just about everybody outside of Denver and Miami still in contention.

Finish Reading: 2016 Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 2 Recap

Games of the Week:

Tennessee Titans 202, Detroit Lions 197

Tennessee keeps on getting in close games with good teams – and keeps on winning them by the slimmest of margins.  One week after knocking off KC by 2 points, the Titans bounce NFC North favorite Detroit by 5 points to move to 4-0.  Sam Bradford played well, CJ Anderson had another nice week, and Odell Beckham put in a standard 17 point game, but the story of this game was a 31 point defensive eruption by Ndamukong Suh, who literally shredded people.  Even more surprising than his 8 tackles and 1.5 sacks was his lack of standard cheap shots and groin kicks, which kept him in the game to wreak havoc.  The Lions benefited from Martellus Bennett’s breakout 25 points, but were let down by their running game, where Ameer Abdullah and Todd Gurley combined for just 10.5 points.  The end result?  The Titans have a perfect record heading into week 3 and are sitting pretty at the top of a surprisingly strong AFC South.  Detroit, at 2-2, remains atop a predictably down NFC North, and should be fine so long as the running game can get going.

Arizona Cardinals 210, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 209: 

I did not expect to be sitting here after week 2 talking about how Arizona needed to win that game in the worst way by 1 point over Tampa Bay.  This was a team that was expected to already be sipping alcoholic beverages on some beach somewhere regardless of this outcome.  But man.  Arizona really needed to win this game in the worst way.  This was a nailbiter with playoff ramifications.  It had heroes (Matt Ryan, Torrey Smith, Joshn Norman), goats (Doug Martin, Lavonte David, Jermaine Gresham), star performances in defeat (Eric Decker, Clive Walford, Von Miller, Aqib “he went to Kansas!” Talib) and in the end, it came down to Johnathan Bullard not being able to make just ONE MORE ASSISTED TACKLE on Monday night football.  He needed two.  He got one in the first quarter.  And then… nothing.  Arizona escapes to stay in striking distance of the “more lucky than good” Seahawks.  Tampa Bay falls a disappointing two games back of Carolina and Atlanta, albeit with the chance to make up ground with winnable matchups against the Rams and Saints in week 3.

Rising:

Cleveland Browns: Well, well, well.  Take a look at your 3-1 Cleveland Browns.  Cleveland dropped 259 points in a week two shelling of divisional rivals Baltimore and Cincinnati.  It was an all around outstanding performance by the Browns, who had 12/20 starters go for double figures and 6/20 go for 20+, but nobody over 26 (Isaiah Crowell).  It’s the sort of highly-balanced performance the Browns were looking for, and puts them in the catbird seat in what is turning out to be a very winnable decision.  Even better, unknowns like Corey Grant and question marks like Crowell, Jordan Poyer, and Marvin Jones are playing well.  Could be a very good season in Cleveland.

Atlanta Falcons:  So I picked the Falcons to finish DEAD LAST in the NFC South.  Oops.  Atlanta posted a second consecutive strong week, scoring 237 and knocking off both a competent Oakland Raider squad and a surprisingly game LA Rams team to move to 4-0.  Ryan Fitzpatrick looks like the answer (at least for this year) at quarterback.  Kelvin Benjamin looks awesome, not overweight.  The safety combination of Kemal Ishmael (24) and Tony Jefferson (22) looks worldbeating, and even the temporary loss of Jonathan Stewart and potentially indefinite badness of Mohamed Sanu and Marc Mariani doesn’t appear to be crushing.  It’s a long season, and a lot of fantasy football is left for the Falcons, especially in the brutal NFC South – but so far, so good.

The SOUTH and the EAST:  Divisional records through two games:

Southern Divisions: 23-9

Eastern Divisions: 19-13 (19-5 without Miami and Washington)

Western Divisions: 12-20

Northern Divisions: 10-22

The Southern divisions look utterly dominant, with Tennessee, Atlanta, and Carolina all undefeated, Indy and Jacksonville at 3-1, and strong teams in Tampa Bay and Houston gamely hanging on at 2-2.  The Eastern divisions look even better at the top, with Buffalo, New York, and Philadelphia undefeated and the surprising New England Patriots at 3-1.  It is already looking like a pretty good bet that all four wild card teams are going to come from these two divisions.

Honorable Mentions: New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles

 

Falling: 

The NORTH and the WEST: See the records noted above for the obvious parallel.  It actually gets worse than that.  The Seattle Seahawks are 3-1 while averaging less than 150 points per game, the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders are struggling with major injuries to key players already, and Denver and Green Bay have struggled just to field legal lineups, let alone win games.  If there is a silver lining, it’s that four of the top seven teams in the league in scoring (KC, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Detroit) are from these four divisions.  Of course, nobody else is higher than 16.  The real problem is wild card jockeying.  With East and South division teams compiling stellar records and West and North teams losing games, the need to make up ground to compete for wild cards is already looming large.

New Orleans Saints: What a brutal start for the Saints.  A week after scuffling a 1-1, 175 point performance in the inaugural week, the Saints came back with only 164 in week two, and got absolutely blitzed by Tampa Bay and the New York Giants.  The good news for New Orleans is that they have the divisional favorites from the East and West off their schedule.  The bad news is that they are at 1-3, 3 games out of both the wild card and the divisional race, down in tie-breakers, and just simply not scoring many points.  It’s been the offense that has really let New Orleans down thus far.  The Saints are a Brees 40 spot from 0-4 – and even with that 40 spot, are ranked 22nd in the league in offense.  Jimmy Graham just can’t get going in Seattle, John Nelson is barely even getting looked at, Jeremy Langford has struggled to find running room (and was almost benched for “going down too easy” after week 1), and only Sammie Coates has looked like a “above the expectations” bright spot.  Tough sledding for the Aints, who must get this fixed fast.  It’s a literal must win in week 3 with divisional rivals TB and Atlanta in town.  If things don’t turn around quickly, NO could find itself literally five games back, an almost impossible hole.

Baltimore Ravens: Speaking of good teams in rough spots, what a heart-breaking week for the Ravens!  Not only did the Ravens get snowed by divisional rival Cleveland, they dropped a 190-189 point loss by less than HALF a point to the New England Patriots.  It all came down to Monday Night Football, where Nelson Agholor outscored Zach Miller by 1.5 points for the Pats to seal it for New England.  Baltimore has had the misfortune of facing RDFL’s hardest schedule by a good 50 points (922 points scored against them in 4 games – a 230 point average!), so things should get easier.   The bad news, though, is that they are now 3 off the pace, down in the tiebreakers, and only 16th themselves in points scored.  The issue is clear for the Ravens – with the exception of Telvin Smith, they’ve really been let down by their defense, which managed only 53 points outside of Telvin’s double deuce.

Dishonorable Mentions: Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Houston Texans, and hard luck teams going 0-2 with point totals in the 190s (New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens).

 

Week 3 Games of the Week:

Arizona Cardinals vs. Buffalo Bills: Cards-Seahawks doesn’t count yet.  I won’t do it.  But this one does.  Arizona needs a big game against Buffalo, as everyone does.  But despite their 4-0 record, the Bills have looked surprisingly beatable this year, and may not have AP available for week 3.  A 3-3 start wouldn’t be the end of the world for the Cards, but best to avoid a dud and at least beat Seattle.  A 2-0 week and that beach looks just a weak delayed.  An 0-2 week and it  might be time to worry.

Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers: This could and should actually read “Every divisional game in the AFC South”, which has an incestuous week of mayhem on tap that should either provide some clarity within the division or muddle it yet further.  This is the headliner though, with the 4-0 Falcons sizzling the first two weeks – up against the “yes, we are 4-0 and SOMEHOW NOBODY IS TALKING ABOUT US AGAIN” Carolina Panthers.  How do they DO that?  There is some sort of cloaking device that prevents anyone from paying attention to them… until it’s too late.  Like an invisibility ring.  What’s that you say?  One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them? Atlanta’s flashier…  but you don’t mess with the Dark Lord.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans: We play in a realistic league.  It has depth, defense, special teams, formations.  Salaries. Cap hits.  It’s as real as they get.  But sometimes you remember that this league is FANTASY.  The fact that JACKSONVILLE is playing TENNESSEE in a game of the week is one such reminder.  And yet, these two teams are 7-1 and squaring off for the division lead.  It should be a close, interesting game, as both of these teams are in the top 10 in defense.  Tennessee has a track record now of winning these.  But something tells me Kirk Cousins is about to have himself a very big game…

New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: 4-0 vs. 4-0.  National stage.  Huge division.  For all the marbles.  But this still feels like a David vs. Goliath matchup.  The Eagles are undefeated despite ranking only 14th in the league in total points with 761 (averaging 190 per game).  By contrast, the Giants are just simply breaking people, having scored 1070 points through four points (265+ per game).  Yes these two teams are both 4-0.  But New York is outscoring Philly by 75 points per game.  I don’t see anything changing this week, as the prohibitive super bowl favorites continue their death march through the real deal world.

2016 Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 1 Recap

Yeeouch.

Well, it was a painful week in Real Deal for yours truly.  I went to bed on Tuesday night celebrating my come from behind victory over Tennessee.  I woke up on Wednesday with two drops having been added to Tavon Austin’s stat line, taking a 1.2 point victory and turning it into a 0.8 point defeat.  Owwww.   With that intro, please forgive any deep-seated pain and/or anguish you might read into my tone – it’s not directed at you.  Only the cold, bitter world of Fantasy Football.  Welcome back Real Deal 2016, welcome back.

Oh, and as always, please forgive the typos 🙂  My proofing skills are not fantastic when my soul hurts.

Finish Reading: 2016 Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 1 Recap

Game of the week: 

New York Giants 280 over Detroit Lions, 235: Two NFC contenders.  Three 30 point plus WR (Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown, and Brandin Cooks).  And only one winner.   This was a game that illustrated the core dynamic of the NFC almost perfectly this year.  A game Detroit squad threw everything it had at the Giants, getting huge games from Brandin Cooks (41 points), Ameer Abdullah (24 points), Matt Stafford (30 points), and a 12 point game from each of its three starting LBs.  It was a star-studded performance from a Lions team expected to be a serious contender, 236 points being good enough for the 3rd best score of the week.  And it wasn’t close to enough.  The Giants got double digits from every offensive starter, put up 156 offensive points, and could have SAT Antonio Brown and still beat the 2nd best score in the NFC.  Silliness.

On another note, while I won’t address them in the “stock rising” column, it is worth noting that Buffalo got the 2nd best score of the week (261) despite an injured Gronkowski, 5 points from Tyrod Taylor, 9 points from Devonta Freeman, and only 2.5 points from Adrian Peterson.  Yes – Gronk, the QB, Devonta Freeman, and AP combined for 16.5 points and Buffalo still got the post points in the AFC by 30.

I felt coming in to this season that all the rest of us were playing for bronze… and there’s nothing that happened in week #1 that has changed my opinion.

 

Stock Rising:

Cincinnati Bengals: Well, well, well.  Rookie owner.  Rough predictions.  Game #1 against division giant Pittsburgh. No problem.  The Bengals dropped 231 points and beat both the Steelers and the Jets.  Theo Riddick (29), Jeremy Kerley (17), and Eli Rogers (19) led the way in the unsung heroes brigade, and the defense rode a trio of 15 point weeks (Geno Atkins, Will Compton, and Shawn Williams to a 102 point week.  Great start in Cincinnati.  The difficult question now is whether or not that kind of output is sustainable.  And it’s just hard to say.  Riddick, Kerley, and Rogers all have a path to solid playing time in their respective situations.. and Dalton should be excellent… we’ll just have to see.  But great start for the Tigercats!

Atlanta Falcons: What a difference a year makes.  The 2015 Falcons stumbled out of the gate after an exciting pre-season.  This year’s Falcons did not make a similar mistake.   Not only did they start out of the gate at 2-0, but they knocked off division rival Tampa Bay pretty convincingly and got very nice games from question mark players Kelvin Benjamin, Mohamed Sanu, and Julius Thomas.  A 10 tackle night from Tony Jefferson paced the defense as both squads went over 100 points in a show of balance.  It’s going to get a little tougher schedule wise for the Falcons, but the first week of the season could not have gone much better.

Houston Texans: Speaking of surprise teams that kicked things off about as well as could have been hoped, the Houston Texans stormed out of the gate with a 229 point effort and a pair of convincing 60+ point blowout wins over Chicago and Jacksonville.  It was the youngsters getting things done for Houston as Jameis Winston looked fantastic with 25 points, Carlos Hyde and David Johnson genuinely looked like the best running pack tandem in the league, and Donte Moncrief looks poised to take a huge leap forward this year.  Aside from Chandler Jones, the D-line play was a little troubling, but that’s the only real dark spot on a banner week one for the Texans.

Honorable Mentions: Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks.

 

Stock Falling:

Arizona Cardinals: The Arizona Cardinals are not in first place in the NFC West.  Not only are they not in first place, but they are not tied for first place.  They are TWO full games out of first place behind the 2-0 Seattle Seahawks.  For a team expected to run away with a weak division, that’s a brutal start.  Matt Ryan and Shady McCoy did their parts, but it was a bit of a well-rounded egg-laying after that.  3.5 points by Kamar Aiken, 4 by Richard Rodgers, 2.5 by JJ Watt, and an inactive performance pink slip by CJ Spiller, who was cut in favor of Travaris Cadet.  Ouch.  The good news is that Arizona IS in a weak decision.  They have time to bounce back from a bad week, and I still expect this team to win the division – they did, in fact, STILL outscore everyone else in the division by 20.  But this was a Cleveland Cavaliers “wake me when it’s the playoffs” type of performance.

Dallas Cowboys: So in my previews, I suggested that Dallas would provide a heavyweight challenge to the NY Giants for NFC East supremacy, and looked like a strong runner-up in the best division in football.  I don’t think the Giants liked that.  Head to head in week 1, the Giants one by 113 points.  The Giants margin of victory over the Cowboys was more than both Denver and Miami scored IN TOTAL.  More concerning, Dallas did not look good, posting three defensive zeros on their way to a clunker of a 66 point defensive performance.  Dez looked bad. Thomas Rawls didn’t look great.  Jordan Cameron gained six yards.  Another team that can bounce back, this was NOT the way Dallas needed to start to challenge for the division – and at this point, they need to make some serious strides on defensive to reach .500, let alone think about the division.

The Expected: It’s hard to choose too many other times whose stock is truly falling, because largely the teams who struggled in week one were expected to struggle.  Denver laid a 94 point egg that included 9 zeroes and were led in scoring by a linebacker.  The Washington Redskins posted a zero, but would have lost both games anyway.  The LA Rams struggled to 133 points to undercut Seattle.  Not to be outdone, and apparently believing this is fantasy golf, the San Francisco 49ers did them one better and scored only 131 AND lost their QB to the IR besides.  Green Bay got 119.  Miami got only 108, scoring a legendarily bad 31.5 defensive points.  But this group was all EXPECTED to struggle – what it does really reveal is that the competition for the #1 pick this year is going to be HEATED – and there are enough “guaranteed wins” that some 10-6 and 11-5 teams may be left out of the playoffs this year.

Week 2 Games of the Week: As in weak 1, some meaningful divisional games this week in the second double.

Arizona vs. Tampa Bay: Redemption Central.  Both teams scuffled to disappointing starts, both teams need bounceback weeks.  Tampa Bay needs this one more than Arizona does, but both teams could really use a big win.

Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh: It’s always a big game when these two squads go at it in the AFC, but this one seems like a foregone conclusion.  Pittsburgh is good, but Buffalo is historically good, and has some players who are going to be hungry to put up better numbers than in week 1.  Buffalo could win this one by 75.  And that could still mean that Pittsburgh played well.

Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh: What’s more fun than an unbalanced schedule with division rivals playing each other back to back?  When the first game was a startling upset.  If the Steelers bounce back, all is normal in the North.  But if Cincy can somehow win again, coupled with a probable Pitt loss to Buffalo, the Bengals could be 3 or 4 games up with the tiebreaker after just two weeks.

Dallas vs. New York Giants: Speaking of back-to-backs… we’ll see how this one goes.  Dallas doesn’t have to win.  But the Cowboys DO need to show progress.

Detroit vs. Tennessee: An intriguing game if ever there was one.  The 1-1 Lions looked fantastic in week 1, while Tennessee posted a very solid 2-0 start, squeaking by the Chiefs in a stat correction.  This game features two of the most intriguing teams in each conference.

Kansas City vs. Oakland: Rivalry game here, and important to start.  Both teams picked up needed wins in week 1, but also suffered hard losses.  Both want to come out of the doubles in pole position, and this game will go a long ways towards establishing who leads and who chases.

Kansas City vs. Houston: The Texans roared out of the gate at 2-0 and have another big week ahead, with games against KC and Indy.  This is a real “is Houston for real?” week.

New Orleans vs. Tampa Bay: Two southern contenders, two teams that already need to make up ground on 2-0 Atlanta and Carolina.  There’s just no let-up in this division all the way through, and a wise squad won’t fall too many behind the division leaders.

Good luck in week #2 everyone!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Super Bowl Preview

We’re here again!  The Super Bowl.  And what a doozy it is shaping up to be.  I don’t think there are enough superlatives to talk about the performances that Carolina and Buffalo put up to get here.  This game is going to be absolutely epic!  So let’s get to the previews (made slightly late by the depredations of Santa Claus and that neo-pagan ritual of Christmas!)

But before we do, a quick look back to the previous years!

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

2013: Green Bay Packers over Indianapolis Colts

2014: Pittsburgh Steelers over Dallas Cowboys

2015: Buffalo Bills versus Carolina Panthers

 

Divisional Championship Recap:

Good.  Lord.  Guys, I don’t think you realize quite how legendary this week was.   Carolina’s 309 points is the highest score this year in RDFL.  It is only the fourth 300+ point game in RDFL history and only the second one this year.  Note the top five scoring games of this season below.  See a common theme emerging?

#1 Carolina 309 (Division Championship)

#2 Kansas City 304 (Week 2)

#3 Carolina 294 (Week 3)

#4 Buffalo 284 (Division Championship)

#5 Carolina 281 (Week 8)

 

Detroit, on the other hand, scored 271 points and finished in the TOP TEN point totals in all of RDFL this year.  Yes, that’s right, the Division Championship round featured three of the top ten point outputs in the entire year.

Also for comparison, before this week, there was ONE game this entire year where the two teams combined for 500+ points (Carolina 281, Indy 222, week 8) – total points, 503.  Totals for the two divisional games:

Carolina 309, Detroit 271: Total points 580

Buffalo 284, Kansas City 223: Total points 507

Yes, that’s right.  The two division championship games happen to be the two single highest scoring games of the ENTIRE SEASON.  #1 and #2. Carolina and Detroit had the highest scoring joint output of the entire season.  By SEVENTY-THREE points.

Due to the scoring changes implemented after last year, I don’t have historical point totals or even standings available to me for previous years, but I am 99% certain that this is the highest combined scoring game in the history of our league – by a wide margin.  I am also confident that Detroit has the highest score ever in a loss – again by a wide margin.  The game in and of itself is noteworthy.  For it to be a divisional championship is INSANE.  For the OTHER divisional championship game to be historic in and of itself is crazier.  This wasn’t just an epic game or week, this was standard deviations above the normal historical, and something I don’t think we’ll see again for years, if we ever do.

Take a moment to appreciate it, folks.  This was special.

Carolina Panthers 309, Detroit Lions 271:  So how did it happen?  Well, twenty-seven of the forty players playing scored in double figures, so it is really hard to figure out how to discuss this game.  Detroit’s team wins almost any other game this year.  So we can’t just look at mediocre performances.  They didn’t exist.  Instead, we look for performances that were merely good, or merely exceptional.  And the place we have to look is Detroit’s defense.  Both offenses were nuts.  Carolina scored 144 between 47 from Cam himself, while Detroit paced that with 141 behind 37 from Brandin Cooks and 27 from Tyler Locket and Ameer Abdullah.  But Detroit’s defense only put up a very strong 119, while the Panthers unloaded with 147 points.  Even there, it is difficult to pick out true areas of difference – incremental points across the board.  Seven players in double figures for Carolina versus six for Detroit.  Two players in the 20s (Luke Kuechly and DeMarcus Lawrence) for Carolina versus just one for Detroit (Jaime Collins).  Three players with three points or less for Detroit vs. only 1 for Carolina.  This was two excellent teams duking it out – with one just being a little bit more dominant on defense and special teams.

Buffalo Bills 284, Kansas City Chiefs 223:  Speaking of a defensive horsewhipping, this was an absolutely historic performance by the Bills defense.  Possibly the best defensive performance in the history of RDFL.  The Bills big name offense actually struggled a bit, putting up only 93 points (compared to 110 by KC), but the Bills dominated the defensive side of the game 163-90 to post a historically good score and make sure the game wasn’t ever really in doubt.  Led by 30 points from Deone Buccanon, the Bills also got 20 spots from Aaron Donald and Navarro Bowman, 18s from Brandon Marshall and Mike Adams, and not a single player below 7.  By contrast, the Chiefs managed only 3 players in double figures and nobody above 17.5.  This is worth appreciating about Buffalo – for all the big name trades GM AJ Sisneros has pulled off for offensive players like Gronk, AJ Green, Alshon Jeffery and AP, this team has built it’s league-high point totals and championship run on defense.  In its two playoff wins, Buffalo’s defense has combined for 311 points (163+148).  In that span, Carolina has the second best defensive at 272 (147+125).  A lesson for the team builders out there – offensive names are flashy, but THIS is how you create consistent, historic teams – with defense.

On to the Super Bowl!

Quarterback:  Cam Newton Vs. Tyrod Taylor

Tyrod Taylor has been a huge find for the Bills this year, and has put up very nice QB numbers (~20 points per game).  He’s a big reason the Bills are where they are.  But Cam has been special.  He’s scored 345 points, averages 25 per game, and is 2nd in total points behind only Tom Brady.  And after 47 in the divisional championships, he’s playing some of the best ball of his life.

Advantage: Carolina – and it’s not close.

Running Backs: Tim Hightower and Cameron Artis-Payne vs. Adrian Peterson and Devonta Freeman.  

Seriously?  One of the things that makes Carolina’s greatness all the more impressive is a quick look at their IR, wherein live LeGarrette Blount, Mark Ingram, and Steve Smith.  The Panthers are definitely hurting at RB, while Buffalo’s big late-season trade brought in some serious players at RB.  This looks like (and is) an egregious no contest.  Still, last week’s dud by AP (only 6 points) meant that Buffalo won the RB edge by only 13 points.  They need a much wider victory than that to win the week, as this is likely their greatest advantage – the ground game.  Time for AP to shine.

Advantage: Buffalo (by the combined philosophical amount of Scott Norwood’s misses – a lot)

Wide Receivers: AJ Green, Alshon Jeffery, and TJ Jones vs. Brandon LaFell and Willie Snead

Not the sort of wide receiving corps you expect to see from historically great teams, eh?  AJ and Alshon are clearly the names that stand out here, and they have been as good as advertised, finishing 10th and 14th among WRs from a PPG perspective.  TJ Jones, on the other hand, has been as bad as expected.  Buffalo has really needed just that one more guy to round out the offense, and TJ will go down as the irrelevant footnote of trivia (who was the “other” WR on that legendary Bills team of 2015?).  On the other hand, Carolina’s receivers have been solid but unsung.  Willie Snead has quietly emerged as a top 40 WR, and well, yeah, Brandon LaFell is just kinda meh.  Can’t really make a case for him.

Advantage: Buffalo

Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski vs. Greg Olsen and Zach Ertz

Very strong positional group here.  In fact, Gronk and Olsen are the top two scorers at TE this year, with Ertz back at 13.  While Gronk gets all the accolades, Greg Olsen has quietly and consistently stayed very close to him (271 vs. 253) total points for the year.  Gronk’s games missed makes the PPG difference significant (21 vs. 18).  Ertz has played well in both playoff games after a relatively mediocre regular season, but isn’t in the same league.

Advantage: Tie (Gronk is a little better than Olsen, but it’s close, and Ertz makes up the difference

Defensive Line: Jerry Hughes, Jason Pierre-Paul and Aaron Donald vs. Greg Hardy, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Marcell Dareus

Two strong positional groups here, with every one of the six players averaging in double figures (this will be a common refrain as we go through the defensive groupings).  The difference here is Aaron Donald, who has been an absolutely MAN all year, as evidenced by his 20 point outburst in the playoffs.  His 17 PPG makes him the best DT in the league by three full points over Kawann short and a full six points better than Dareus, a solid DT in his own right.

Advantage: Buffalo

Linebackers: Navarro Bowman, Khalil Mack, Brandon Marshall and Dannell Ellerbe vs. Melvin Ingram, Luke Kuechly and Alex Okafor

An interesting setup here.  Luke Kuechly leads the league at LB (and DP overall) with his 19.3 PPG and is an absolute monster, tackling everything that moves.  Melvin Ingram is also a strong linebacker, though Alex Okafor is definitely a weak link as we range across two probowl defenses.  On the other end, Navorro Bowman has been averaging 15 ppg all year, Khalil Mack has averaged 16 ppg (higher if you throw out his first two starts of the year), and both Marshall and Ellerbe are excellent double digit linebackers.

Advantage: Buffalo (Kuechly’s dominance cancels out Mack and Bowman, but Ellerbe and Marshall hold a significant edge over Ingram and Okafor).

Secondary: Ricardo Allen, Leodis McKelvin, Deone Buccanon and Mike Adams vs. Patrick Peterson, Jason Verrett, Will Allen, Kurt Coleman, and Jerraud Powers

Both of these teams rely heavily on their safety play to bolster Cornerback Groups that are surprisingly mediocre for those defenses.  None of the 5 CBs (Allen, McKelvin, Peterson, Verrett and Powers) have reached double figure averages for the year, but all four of the safeties have.  Kurt Coleman and Will Allen have played surprisingly well for relatively unsung safeties, combined for 23 PPG, but it’s been Buffalo’s duo of Buccanon and Mike Adams who have provided a powerful old/young punch.  Both average over 14ppg and Adams has 5 picks while Buccanon is about to go over 100 tackles for the year.

Advantage: Buffalo

Special Teams: Steven Gostkowski and Jordan Berry vs. Chris Boswell and Brad Nortman

Remember when Josh Scobee was missing everything for the Steelers early this year?  Chris Boswell was the eventual solution, and what a solution he has been, making almost everything and making this a high profile kicking game.  The #1 and #2 kickers in RDFL from a PPG perspective?  You guessed it – Gostkowski and Boswell at 11ppg each.  The punters are a bit more nondescript, both finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack.  But even in the Special Teams part of the game, both of these two teams have been excellent.

Advantage: Tie

Overall Verdict: Carolina has been a silly good team.  Silly good.  They have one of the best quarterbacks in the league, an outstanding well-rounded defensive, strong special teams, strong TE play, and an admirable consistency that makes the Panthers a historically good RDFL team.  They one three out of the top five scoring periods this year (including the highest), and have demonstrated that they have a VERY high floor and an even higher ceiling.  Even major injuries to key players don’t seem to be able to slow them down.  There’s every reason to believe that the Panthers have what it takes to hoist the RDFL Lombardi Trophy.

But this Buffalo team is arguably the best team in RDFL history.  They have held a wire to wire advantage in fantasy points scored all year long, they have the best defense in the league and, in all likelihood, in the history of the league, and their big name offense has not even really played to its potential yet.  Every positional group is outstanding and has serious star power, right down to the kicker.  Going through the position groups and looking player by player, it is very hard to find an area outside of QB where Buffalo doesn’t at least hold its own, and in most cases has a serious advantage – hard to do when compared to a team of Carolina’s caliber!

Carolina has thrived in the underdog role all year, and definitely has the chops to pull it off.  But on paper, there’s no way to look at this game and not see the Buffalo Bills as the favorites to bring home their first RDFL Super Bowl.

Prediction: Buffalo Bills 244, Carolina Panthers 227

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

And then there were four.

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

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

Divisional Recaps:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Good luck to everyone still in it!