Pre-Season Fantasy Preview

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A little preface to this absurdly long article: Every year for the past 5 years, I’ve written a 10,000+ word post previewing my fantasy league’s season after our draft. Even though I don’t suspect anyone outside of our league will read the whole thing, I wanted to put it on this site anyway, since I devoted at least 12 hours to it.

As a bonus for reading the whole thing, you can find my NFL Season predictions at the bottom, as well as my top 5 suggested for week 1 if you’re in an eliminator/suicide pool. I’ve been doing the eliminator challenge for half a dozen years, and I have yet to lose in the first 7 weeks of the season. I have also yet to make it beyond week 10, so hopefully I can help you out in the early going and then you can avoid my pitfalls in the middle of the season.

I also make an Upset Pick of the Week in which I pick a team that’s at least a 3.5 point underdog to win outright. I started doing it mid-season last year and ended up going 7-4 outright and 10-1 against the spread.

Duncan’s Packers: 

Roster: Peterson (72), P Manning (44), A Gates (26-K), Mendenhall (18-K), M. Floyd (11), S Rice (7), L Evans (5), Ravens D (5), J Snelling (3), TB Williams (2-K), M Crosby (2), T Gerhart / I Redman / Jam Jones / Garrard / K Walter (1) 

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Mendenhall for $18.

Please don’t interpret this as an endorsement for Mendenhall as a potential league leader in rushing yards, because that’s absolutely not what it is – as a matter of fact, I am operating under the assumption that Mendenhall has a slightly less impressive campaign than he did in 2010 – but considering he’s going for $42 in 10-team auction drafts (which would translate to at least $50 in our league), I can’t even remotely argue with keeping him for less than $20. I’m honestly not intending to curse him here, but of all the running backs in the league, he’s probably the one I’m least worried about suffering from an injury caused by a shortened pre-season, since he’s more of a wrecking ball than a juke box or speed machine. That being the case, it’s safe to assume he’ll finish the season somewhere in the 8-12 range in terms of best fantasy point producing running backs, which would make his value at least 2.5 times his cost.

Best draft-day decision: Nabbing James Jones for $1 at the end of the draft.

I probably couldn’t find the exact quotation if I wanted to, but shortly after the lockout ended, I remember Aaron Rodgers saying something to the tune of “re-signing James Jones is our number one priority.” And at 36 years of age, Donald Driver isn’t getting any younger. Maybe he doesn’t become a deployable fantasy asset for a few weeks, but by the time bye weeks roll around, JJ should be one heck of a fill-in.

Strangest draft-day decision: Breaking the bank with Adrian Peterson.

AP really should have gone for more than he did, so it’s not as if he didn’t get him for decent value, but given the keepers that he kept, Duncan shouldn’t have been in the market for a top-tier RB. By no means am I implying that there is team chemistry in fantasy football; on the contrary, I’m saying that if you already have a top 10 running back and you’ve already spent $26 on a tight end, it makes no sense to invest so much in another running back. Between Mendenhall, Gates, and Purple Jesus, that’s 58% of your budget without a QB or WR. It’s a very nice trio to have, but considering he also went into the draft with the intention of obtaining a top 7 QB…let’s just say Duncan tried to put too many eggs in one basket and was left with $38 to spend on his final 11 roster spots. He could have gotten any other running back for (at least) $15 less, and then had that extra money to spend on a better starting wide receiver tandem than he got.

Team strength: Running backs.

Despite that previous rant, it’s hard to argue with a two-headed monster of Peterson and Mendenhall. There’s certainly nothing on his roster in terms of bye-week depth, though, unless Jason Snelling somehow ends up in a starting role.

Team weakness: Passing game.

Note: As of the conclusion of the draft, wide receiving was Duncan’s weakness. Now that nobody knows what is going on with Peyton Manning’s health, both QB and WR are in dire straits. However, because I don’t want to be the twenty millionth person speculating on Manning’s neck, I’m only focusing on the wide receivers.

I have no idea who Duncan considers his #1 WR…which would be fine if he had a combo of Greg Jennings and Andre Johnson; but instead, he dealt himself a hand full of Malcom Floyd, Sidney Rice, and Mike Williams (TB). I don’t necessarily dislike any of those guys (although, I definitely dislike Rice’s situation in Seattle), but I wouldn’t consider any of them to be anchors to a fantasy WR staff, especially in a 0.5 PPR league. And the problem with starting Malcom Floyd is that it almost deflates Gates’ value on his team, because I have to wonder how often they’ll both have solid days in any given week at the expense of Vincent Jackson.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Peyton Manning’s neck.

The wide receiving is sub-par for sure, but there is always wide receiving to be found on the waiver wire after the first week or two of the regular season (see: Lloyd, Brandon; Austin, Miles; etc.). However, if the best quarterback to ever happen to MasterCard ends up missing a significant portion of the season, I have to question whether Peterson, Mendenhall, and Gates would be enough to carry David Garrard and a weak receiving corps to many victories. But considering Vegas isn’t publishing any odds for the Colts or the AFC South in general (no, seriously, they aren’t), it’s going to be somewhat difficult for me to try to seed this team in our league standings.

My prediction: 11th overall (5th in the NFC)

Travelpiece’s 49ers: 

Roster: L McCoy (54), M Turner (51), D Clark (23), D Bryant (18-K), J Stewart (16), K Kolb (10), J Nelson (7), Chargers D (4), Roy Williams (3), Massaquoi (2), D Mason (2), C McCoy (2-K), B Lloyd (2-K), A Henery / D Murray / J Rodgers (1)

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Brandon Lloyd for $2.

He certainly didn’t have much to choose from, so this was one of the more obvious choices of the pre-season.

Best draft-day decision: Not getting drunk.

By no means am I implying that Travelpiece has a drinking problem; just that he’s been known to make a few questionable fantasy decisions in the late rounds of the draft after a few rounds of the brew. This time around, however, he grabbed a few solid veterans and sleepers near the end of the draft to balance out an already well-rounded starting group of running backs and receivers. I was a little concerned when he spent 59% of his post-keepers budget on McCoy and Turner in the early going, but it seemed to work out.

Strangest draft-day decision: Spending $16 on Jonathan Stewart.

This was easily the position / price range that I least understood over the course of the draft: running backs on the wrong end of a time share going for $10+. I can only assume this is a side effect of upper echelon running backs not going for as much as they should have, leaving many a drafter with extra money to spend on talent that was no longer available. So here we are, talking about a $16 bye week fill-in who only has potential for more value if there is an injury to the starter. Cedric Benson is barely worth $16, and we all know he’s going to get at least 300 carries if he stays healthy, so how does the Daily Show have equal draft day value in what is a best-case-scenario split-backfield for him? Why not spend $1 on Jacquizz Rodgers or DeMarco Murray instead? What? You did? So you have 2 back-up running backs that you got for $1 each and then another back-up running back that you got for $16? Why not put that money towards getting a quarterback with more of a track record for success than Kevin Kolb or Colt McCoy instead? Or at least towards grabbing Ronnie Brown and insuring your $54 investment in LeSean McCoy? I mean, honestly, how did we decide that J Stew is 16 times as valuable as Murray or Rodgers? They’re the same person! Doesn’t anyone notice this?! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

Team strength: Running backs.

Despite that previous rant, I do love the McCoy/Turner combo in the backfield, which affords one the luxury of investing (too much) in guys who are back-up running backs. I don’t love McCoy as much as some people do, as I don’t see him getting many red zone touches. I’d like to point out that I don’t buy into the belief that a running quarterback diminishes the value of a running back (in fact, I think a scrambling QB increases an RB’s value); I just don’t think Shady is a short-field running back, which is why they brought in Ronnie Brown. But he’s still a top ten back, and Turner is a top fifteen guy; and yes, both of those assessments are extremely conservative, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish top 3 and top 8, respectively.

Team weakness: Quarterbacks.

This might very well be the worst QB situation in our league, and it’s definitely in the bottom three. The absurd part is that Travelpiece drafted Kevin Kolb last year too, and I praised him for the decision; but at that time, he was drafted as a bye week guy, as opposed to the starter role he’ll be filling this year. Aside from Larry Fitzgerald, I don’t see who Kolb is going to throw to. And aside from opposing defensive backs, I don’t see who Colt McCoy is going to throw to either. I’ve proven in two of the past four years that you can win this league with an average quarterback, but I don’t foresee either of Travelpiece’s QBs passing for average this season.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Finding a better quarterback.

Maybe Kolb will prove me wrong and be that better quarterback, but I don’t see it happening. And more than with any other position, it’s almost impossible to improve upon your draft choices through free agency at quarterback. So this “hinge” might be a little broken, but if he can sneak into the playoffs and then pilfer a suitable QB in our supplemental draft that needs a better name before it actually happens, anything can happen.

My prediction: 9th overall (4th in the NFC)

Damn’s Bills: 

Roster: S Jackson (55), S Greene (35), E Manning (19), M Ingram (18), F Jackson (15), K Britt (14), M Cassel (8), L Tomlinson (7), M Bush (6), B Pettigrew (6), Cowboys D (4), Sims-Walker (4-K), Manningham (2-K), G Olsen (2-K), J Ford (2), B Cundiff (1)

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Mario Manningham for $2.

This was another case of somebody not having many good keeper options, but having one blatantly obvious one. Manningham really emerged into fantasy relevance last season, and only stands to gain from the departure of Steve Smith 2.0.

Best draft-day decision: Getting the New York Jets backfield for $42.

It’s weird to root for an injury to one of your own players, but if either Greene or Tomlinson goes down for the count, the remaining rusher stands to profit to the tune of top ten RB status from that point forward. They combined for 404 carries in 15 games last year, and it’s not as if the Jets are going to suddenly put the ball in Sanchez’s arm 40+ times per game if one of their backs is out. Unfortunately, until that point in time, it looks like the Jets rushing attack will have a very Carolinian Jonatangelo Willart or Kansas City Thomaal Chones feel for fantasy owners in which you almost have to start both guys, because we all know that if you choose to bench one of them, you’ll bench the one who scores three touchdowns.

Strangest draft-day decision: Investing in the Saints backfield

I’ll go gentle here, because as I recall, Mark Ingram was the second running back he purchased, so maybe he didn’t know that he’d end up with the RB corps that he did. That being said, having only spent $8 on keepers and having well over $100 left to spend on quality running backs that were still available after already investing in Steven Jackson, why would you spend $18 on the rookie running back in a three-headed backfield on a pass-first team? Given the quarterbacks and wide receivers that Damn ended up with, that’s money horribly spent. And at the draft’s conclusion, I look back on his team and either see $33 wasted on Ingram / Fred Jackson or $42 wasted on Greene / Tomlinson, because with the aforementioned Steven Jackson already on his roster, one of those duos is inevitably going to be benched every single week…and that’s just way too much money to be spending on bench guys.

Team strength: Running backs.

All that being said, running backs is clearly the strength of Damn’s team; and rightfully so, considering he spent $15+ on 5 guys during the draft, and 4 of them were running backs. If he hangs on to what he’s got, he’ll certainly never have to worry about bye weeks at this position. Unfortunately, he’ll have to worry about pretty much every week at the other key positions.

Team weakness: Wide receivers

Assuming the flex spot is permanently assigned to a running back (very safe assumption), Damn will only have to worry about playing two WRs per week all season. Manningham will most likely be penciled into one of those spots each week (except for NYG’s bye week, of course), and unless Sims-Walker quickly rediscovers his 2009 form in St. Louis, it looks like Damn will be relying on Kenny Britt, even though he spent as much of the off-season in a gym as he did in a squad car. There are definitely less reliable options at WR, but it just pains me to see that for the extra $19 that was spent on Fred Jackson and Michael Bush who will almost certainly never be used, Kenny Britt could have been upgraded to Reggie Wayne or Wes Welker.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Bartering skills

If you haven’t yet guessed, I strongly suggest that Damn try to turn part of his backfield into a more potent receiving threat. But even if he doesn’t swing any trades, if you believe in Eli Manning (I don’t), he could end up with one of the best teams in the league, so long as he looks deeply into his crystal ball to determine which running backs he should play on which weeks.

My prediction: 12th overall (7th in the AFC)

Gideon’s Bears: 

Roster: Brady (36-K), B Wells (32), Nicks (22-K), F Jones (22-K), K Moreno (20), J Addai (13), Smith 1.0 (11), K Winslow (8), Eagles D (8), Amendola (7), Meachem / Orton / E Sanders (4), R Gould (2), R Helu (1), Jacoby Jones (1)

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Hakeem Nicks for $22.

Somehow, Hakeem Nicks went from UNC Tight End to injury prone rookie WR to an All-Pro caliber deep threat being drafted among the top six wide receivers; and all in the span of one Plaxico Burress prison sentence. And he’s not even done. Let’s just say he’s 12 to 1 odds to have the most regular season passing yards this season, and I think Vegas is going to pay dearly for that mistake.

Best draft-day decision: Getting Beanie Wells for $32.

For the third consecutive year, I’m buying stock in the Bean. I drafted him in his rookie season and he didn’t suck, but he disappointed me. I believe Nelson got him last season for around $20, and I heralded it as the best pick in the draft, right up until he did nothing again. So why am I a believer, you ask? For the same reason that Ray Rice has become the default #2 overall draft pick: he’s clearly the #1 RB on his own team; something that can only be said about maybe 40% of the backfields in the NFL right now. Hightower high-tailed it to DC, Ryan Williams didn’t even last one pre-season game, and (in theory) the Cardinals will have a much better passing attack than they did last season. If Indianapolis, New England, New Orleans, or San Diego could actually commit to a lead tailback, they would end up being among the best backs in the league, just based on the situation they’re in. Even if Kevin Kolb isn’t the second coming of Kurt Warner, it’s unlikely that opposing defenses will be able to stuff 9 in the box and dare the Cardinals to throw the ball deep; so long as opponents are forced to respect the pass, Beanie should have a great season. And if not, I’m sure I’ll be buying into him again next season regardless, because he’s clearly becoming my fantasy kryptonite.

Strangest draft-day decision: Getting sucked into Steve Smith 1.0 for a 4th consecutive year

Speaking of kryptonite…
The only Carolina Panther who should have gone for more than $5 is DeAngelo Williams, yet Gideon spent $11 on the wide receiver who killed him last season, and seems to always damage his team. By bidding him up to $10 myself, I tried my best to keep him from doing it, but old habits die hard.

Team strength: Running backs.

If you couldn’t tell, I love Beanie Wells this year. I’m also in love with Felix Jones. Once Jason Garrett took over, it didn’t take long for Jones’ long-sought-after potential to finally shine through. With Barber out of town and Romo (hopefully) back to full strength, the Cowboys should be firing on all cylinders with Felix as the primary beneficiary in the back field. That is, until he inevitably pulls his hamstring…like every season…but until then, he’ll be awesome. And while I’m not a big fan of Addai or Moreno, a quick glance around the league rosters tells me you could definitely do worse with your flex spot and with your first running back off the bench. If Roy Helu touches the field, it’s just bonus points for Gideon. (Note: no bonus points will actually be awarded.)

Team weakness: WR depth.

As is usually the case, the team weakness is a caveat of the strangest draft-day decision. Nicks is going to have a special season; I don’t think anyone is arguing against that. Aside from that, though, it’s an aging Steve Smith with a rookie quarterback, and a bunch of guys who are probably going to be the 4th most targeted person in their team’s passing attack; and that’s if they’re lucky. Amendola has the most promise, but I think it’s up to Sims-Walker or Gibson to lose the job. In New Orleans, it’s Russian roulette after Marques Colston. Sanders’ injury appears to have cost him the slot position to Antonio Brown. And I’m done waiting on Jacoby Jones to wake up. They’re all quality guys to start on a bye week or maybe even as a match-ups play once in a while, but I don’t see a reliable #2 fantasy WR on this roster. The irony, of couse, is that Gideon had 5 or 6 stellar wide outs last season and probably would have won the league as a result if it weren’t for Ryan Grant going down in Week 1 and causing him to scramble all season.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Healthy running backs and an emergent wide receiver.

The quarterback, tight end, and defense on Gideon’s team are all arguably top 5 at their positions, so if Beanie and Felix can remain intact, and if one of those wild card wide receivers turns into a comparable every week band-aid; he should have a quality season.

My prediction: 4th overall (2nd in the NFC)

O’Neill’s Buccaneers: 

Roster: Brees (50), Fitzgerald (50), Witten (29), V Jackson (22-K), Packers D (12), Z Miller (10), D Aromashodu (5), D Branch (5), J Charles (4-K), R Gronkowski (3), Hillis (2-K), Rackers / V Young / Rams D (2), J Baldwin (1), C Batch (1)

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Jamaal Charles for $4.

Every time I see keeper prices like this, I want to smack my 2009 self for not setting up keeper prices in such a way that all keepers must cost at least $10. As long as he stays relevant, O’Neill will be able to keep him on his roster for below market value; that is until I boot him out of the league when he fails to come to the draft for a third consecutive season…

Best draft-day decision: Getting Brees and Fitzgerald.

When you don’t know who’s going to be drafting for you and you know you already have a good nucleus of players and a good amount of money to play with, the best strategy is obviously to spend big on big names and plan on fixing the little things later. Regardless of your roster situation, I can’t argue with doling out $50 each for Brees and Fitzgerald. Throw in the fact that he already had 2 starting running backs and a wide receiver, and it becomes an even more impressive move. Save for week 6 when three of his five main guys are on a bye, I find it hard to believe that O’Neill is going to lose a game until Peyton Hillis gets run over by the Madden Bus.

Strangest draft-day decision: Not showing up for a 2nd straight year.

Seriously dude. If you know well in advance that you can’t make it, at least make arrangements to call in for a few hours, or to send someone in your place rather than sending me a list of guys that you want to just give to any warm body that I can find. It’s a lot easier to find a permanent replacement than a last-minute pinch drafter. Just saying.

Team strength: WR/TE.

Between Vincent Jackson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Jason Witten, what’s not to like? They’ll probably all wind up in the top 20 in the NFL in terms of red zone targets and receiving yards.

Team weakness: Quality Depth.

To get the top 6 guys that he got in a 10-team standard league would cost $190.2 based on current averages, so I’m clearly not the only one who would say this is a potent starting bunch. The other 10 guys though? Yikes. O’Neill’s permanent flex player may very well be picked up through free agency before the season even begins. Bye weeks will not be gentle on this team.

Fantasy success hinges upon: No injuries.

Stay healthy and this team probably goes 12-2. Lose Brees, Charles, Hillis, Fitzgerald, V Jax, or Witten for any considerable length of time and that record starts to plummet.

My prediction: 2nd overall (1st in the NFC)

A’s Bengals: 

Roster: Colston (33), J Best (32), Wayne (30), Schaub (28), D Williams (22), S Moss (14), B Edwards (13), AJ Green (7), J Finley (4-K), Al Smith (4), Cad Williams (4), Giants D (2), Ric Williams (2), Law Firm (2-K), Janikowski (2-K), Tebow (1)

Best pre-draft decision: Spending $8 on keepers.

The fact that he kept a kicker should indicate that Kauffman didn’t have a whole lot of stellar options, but the other two guys were steals at their respective prices, so he was able to enter the draft with a good chunk of change and without having to give any thought to tight ends or kickers, which is always a plus. Maybe one of these years I’ll make my team bad enough to have to consider keeping a kicker in the following campaign.

Best draft-day decision: Spreading out money evenly.

Oftentimes, when you enter the draft with a couple of decent keepers and more money than just about anyone else in the room, the temptation is to go out and get a pair or trio of really good guys because you can afford it; but then you end up with the stars and scrubs strategy that I refuse to believe has ever won a league for anyone that didn’t luck into a scrumtrulescent scrub the likes of Michael Vick or Arian Foster. One awesome guy is fine, maybe even two if you’re getting them at good value, but if you’re spending more than 60% of your budget on less than 20% of your team, you’re going to wind up with some glaring holes somewhere. Such is not the case for Kauffman. With a nucleus of Schaub, DeAngelo, Best, Wayne, Colston, and a trio of the Law Firm, Braylon Edwards, or Santana Moss to suffice as a flex, Kauffman has one of the most well-balanced rosters you can hope for in a 14 team league. No one on the team is going to intimidate his opponent, but he’ll routinely and head-scratchingly score over 120 points in a matchup.

Strangest draft-day decision: Investing in Cadillac Williams.

I know it was his last pick of the draft, but what the hell? Why not use that money on Jerome Harrison instead? He’s the better investment unless you already have Steven Jackson, but especially if you already have Jahvid Best. Was it because you already had DeAngelo Williams and Ricky Williams that had to draft another Williams?

Team strength: Wide Receivers.

You can’t ask for much more than 5 #1 wide receivers (even if 3 of them are the #1 WR by default). Reggie Wayne and Marques Colston are respectively the favorite targets of 2 of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and Santana Moss and AJ Green are about the only thing resembling a down-field threat on either of their teams. Braylon Edwards is the wild card, but I think he has a very respectable season.

Team weakness: Running Backs.

I’m not a believer in DeAngelo, even though they just inked him to a big contract. He had a 9 week stretch in 2008 that put him in the fantasy running back pantheon for a while, but he hasn’t done much of anything since then; save for watching Jonathan Stewart score touchdowns. Even if he’s the lead back, as I suspect he is intended to be, is he durable enough to handle the load for 300+ carries? He certainly doesn’t make many receptions out of the backfield, so he needs to get a lot of touches to be worthy of the amount of money needed to spend on a timeshare. And that to the fact that Jahvid Best is about as fragile as a soap bubble, and that I have no clue if BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be part of Belichick’s plans in New England this year, and I’m just generally not impressed with this backfield. It’s well-balanced, but it’s full of guys that I just plain don’t believe in. At the end of the day, I look at this trio of running backs and see 2 #2s and a bye week fill-in.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Matt Schaub.

Though I’m not a big fan of the running backs, I’m sure they will suffice; however, Matt Schaub (via Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels) is going to have to single-handedly provide Kauffman with a big edge every now and then. At the very least, he needs to stay on the field, because I’m pretty sure Kauffman has no interest in playing Tebow or Alex Smith this season. Schaub is currently being drafted as the 7th overall QB (which includes Peyton Manning at #5), and if he actually produces at that level, it should be a great season for this team.

My prediction: 1st overall (1st in the AFC)

Harsh’s Chargers: 

Roster: Jones-Drew (57), J Maclin (28), Hightower (22), S Holmes (19-K), O Daniels (18), M Austin (12-K), R Jennings (11), R Torain (7), J Freeman (6-K), Falcons D (5), Saints D / H Miller / Fitzpatrick / T Choice (3), A Armstrong (1)

Best pre-draft decision: Hanging on to Miles Austin for $12.

He figures to be Romo’s 3rd most targeted receiver (behind Bryant and Witten), but could still very well go for over 1,000 yards and 8-10 TDs. If that’s not worth $12, then I frankly don’t know what is.

Best draft-day decision: Locking up the majority of the Redskins backfield for $29.

I wouldn’t touch a Redskins running back if you paid me…nor a Patriots running back…nor a Saints running back…but if you’re going to get any of them, it only makes sense to handcuff a pair of them and hope for the best. And at least in New England and New Orleans you can talk yourself out of those guys with the assumption that they’ll constantly be throwing the ball so the “feature” running back wouldn’t be that valuable anyway; but if Washington isn’t running the ball on more than 60% of their plays from scrimmage, then I have no clue what they are doing aside from watching Rex Grossman or John Beck running for their lives. If either Hightower or Torain emerges as the feature back, that guy should pair well with MJD as a solid 1-2 rushing punch for Harshbarger. But if Roy Helu emerges as the feature back, then it’s a repeat of last season where Harshbarger ended up on the wrong side of multiple time shares due to an apparent unwillingness to participate in fair trades.

Strangest draft-day decision: Being in town but choosing to do something else instead of showing up.

I rag on O’Neill, but I understand that it’s not exactly a wise financial decision to fly from Kansas to Pittsburgh for a fantasy draft. But actually being in Pittsburgh and going to your girlfriend’s grad school graduation ceremony instead of your fantasy draft? Sack up.

Team strength: Wide receivers.

When you enter a draft with Miles Austin and Santonio Holmes as two of your keepers, it would be somewhat difficult to leave that draft without an obvious strength in the wide receiving department. There wasn’t much added to that arsenal in terms of quantity, but, so long as he’s done battling SARS or Sickle Cell Anemia or who knows what, Jeremy Maclin should be a great addition in terms of quality. I’ll never understand how he went for 28 and DeSean Jackson only went for 30, considering Jackson is being taken 20 spots before Maclin in snake drafts, but that’s the beauty of auction drafts.

Team weakness: Quarterback.

Last season, Jaaaash Freeman was one of the most consistent fantasy quarterbacks of all time, scoring between 16 and 22 points for 11 consecutive weeks. Last season, the Buccaneers had one of the easiest schedules of all time, and Freeman had one of the lowest interception rates of all time. I don’t expect a repeat performance, and I don’t expect Ryan Fitzpatrick to be a suitable replacement by the time Harshbarger gives up on Freeman after week 9. It’s going to be a long season’s worth of Saturday nights trying to determine which quarterback is the least dangerous to start on Sunday, but that’s what happens when you spend $9 on QBs.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Rex Grossman.

Sure, Grossman isn’t on his team, but if he’s as ineffective as we suspect he’ll be, then the Redskins will constantly be playing from behind, and the running back situation won’t even matter because they’ll never get to run the ball, and Harshbarger would have to either start Dallas’s back-up running back or one of the Redskins which might as well be a back-up running back at that point, and then he’d realize he’s screwed unless he trades for a better running back, and he’d have to part with one of his quality wide receivers which opens up another hole that needs to be plugged. And…see how it all goes downhill quickly if the Redskins suck? This league CAN be won with 3 good wide receivers, a great running back, a solid but not great quarterback, and a little bit of luck; but it’d be so much less difficult if Washington is able to run the ball. Too bad they have a difficult schedule and probably won’t even compete in at least a half dozen of their games.

My prediction: 10th overall (6th in the AFC)

Dinch-O’s Dolphins: 

Roster: D Jackson (30), M Ryan (30), D Bowe (27), Ju Jones (20), V Davis (18), Benson (18), Jets D (11), D Woodhead (10), M Sanchez (10), J Simpson (6), J Harrison (5), Hoomanawanui (5), Blount (4-K), M Bryant (2), A Collie (2-K), St. Johnson (2-K)

Best pre-draft decision: Letting Steve-O run the show / keeping Blount for $4.

I have nothing but love for Dincher, but that boy does not know how to prepare for a fantasy draft. Seems like every season, he ends up asking me who his keepers should be and who he should be targeting on draft day. Don’t get me wrong, discussing fantasy sports is my favorite pastime, and I’m flattered when people seek my advice on such topics, but simply being asked what you should do is a different ball of wax. I’ll gladly help someone come to a decision, but I don’t want to make it for you…unless I get some of that sweet, sweet prize money if you win. My girlfriend will often ask me who she should play or who she should pick up in our baseball league, but she’s gotten much better, and this is her first year doing fantasy sports. And did I mention she’s a girl? I suppose I just expect more out of any self-respecting man who’s been playing fantasy sports for years. And oh yeah, I like LeGarrette Blount as a $4 keeper.

Best draft-day decision: Picking up DeSean Jackson.

You don’t get any points for his arrogance, but the #1 deep threat on what many project to be the most electrifying offense in the NFL has to be worth at least $30. Considering I bid him up to $29 and then backed out only to finish the draft with an extra $6 leftover, I’m a little upset with myself. But hey, it’s tough to draft a team, be the auctioneer, and drink a few beers without making a few sacrifices. In all seriousness though, DeSean Jackson at 25 to 1 odds to lead the league in receiving yards is calling to me in my sleep.

Strangest draft-day decision: Spending $20 on Julio Jones.

This is a definite instance where I believe the team was damaged by allowing a rookie with minimal sports knowledge to do the draft. If you’re hurting for wide receivers and you really want Julio Jones, then fine, spend upwards of $20 on him. But when you already have DeSean Jackson? And Dwayne Bowe? And Stevie Johnson? And Austin Collie? It’s just way too much money to spend on a rookie at a position you already have covered. But Steve-O didn’t see it that way. Steve-O had co-workers tell him that he had to get Julio Jones. So Steve-O had to get Julio Jones. And now Steve-O’s co-owner is probably wondering why the hell he has half a dozen legitimate wide receivers but nothing much in terms of running backs.

Team strength: Wide receivers.

See: previous paragraph. Quite a collection of wide receivers, but when I see a team like this, I’m reminded of the term “trump poor.” Before the internet, people used to play card games; one of these games was Bridge. In Bridge, it’s not uncommon to have a hand in which you have a number of good cards in one suit, but nothing much to speak of in any of the other suits. So while it initially looks like you’ve got a great hand, you would actually be really weak in play, and probably end up losing the hand if you won the bid. Between Jackson, Bowe, Johnson, Collie, Jones, Woodhead, and Simpson, I see the K, Q, 9, 8, 7, 3, and 2 of spades; Ryan and Sanchez are the K-7 of hearts, Vernon Davis and Hoomanawanui are the J-2 of diamonds, and Blount and Benson are an unprotected queen and jack of clubs. Maybe you can win that hand with a bid of 2 spades and live to fight another die, but I’d be surprised if this team did anything more than barely sneak into the playoffs. Wait, what?

Team weakness: Running backs.

When your #2 running back is getting out of jail a few days before the regular season starts, it can’t possibly be a good omen.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Matt Ryan.

He’s been a very valuable NFL quarterback for the past 2.5 seasons and showed prolonged flashes of fantasy value last season, but can he finally crack into that upper echelon of fantasy greatness? I keep expecting him to emerge as a top 3 or 4 fantasy QB, but it keeps not happening. If this is the year that he steps up to that next level, it might not even matter who the Dinch-O combo starts as their #2 RB, because a top-tiered QB along with Blount and that receiving staff should be more than enough to make it to Week 15.

My prediction: 6th overall (4th in the AFC)

Meyers’ Cowboys: 

Roster: A Rodgers (43-K), R Grant (35), R Mathews (30), M Lynch (20), Ochocinco (20), D Sproles (9), S Bradford (8), H Ward (7), SEA Williams / Heap / Shiancoe / Driver (5), D McNabb (4), Kaeding (2), Bucs D / Texans D (1) 

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Aaron Rodgers for $43.

For the second straight year, Meyers was the only person to only keep one person, and for the second straight year, that person is Aaron Rodgers. If Michael Vick spends any portion of the season on a stretcher, Rodgers unequivocally becomes the most valuable fantasy quarterback. I don’t understand why he didn’t just keep someone like Davone Bess for $2 as well, but I fully endorse the decision regardless.

Best draft-day decision: Getting Sam Bradford for $8.

Just in case the Packers and Rodgers come back down to earth this season, which seems unlikely, considering they’re reintroducing Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley to their team, Sam Bradford is arguably the most ideal back-up QB you can ask for. He’s good enough that you’re not going to sweat it if you need to start him due to an injury, not quite good enough yet that you’d even consider playing the match-ups game between him and an elite QB, and still young enough to really emerge into something special. He had a great rookie campaign, and with upgrades at WR, most expect him to at least repeat that effort against an NFC West that still sucks something fierce. The Rams schedule does get considerably more difficult this season, but it won’t matter for Meyers, because barring a Rodgers disaster scenario, he wouldn’t be playing Bradford more than once all season (and might not even play him at all since McNabb has a considerably more favorable match-up during Rodgers’ bye week). However, I love this pick because I see it as an $8 investment for the option to buy next season for $15, or maybe better, to trade him later this season under that very premise.

Strangest draft-day decision: Investing in injury prone and/or unreliable running backs.

I originally had this just as injury prone, because I was under the assumption that Lynch missed a lot of games, but it turns out he’s only missed 7 games in the past 4 seasons; apparently he was just that forgettable at times. Ryan Grant terrifies me this year. I don’t like drafting anyone returning from injuries that caused them to miss an entire season, let alone a running back, and let alone making him my #1 running back. It appears most people agree with me, because Grant is going 28th among running backs, in between Mark Ingram and Fred Jackson who are borderline flex plays. And James Starks is a very real threat to Grant’s carries, which really makes me wonder why Meyers spent $9 on Darren Sproles instead of spending it on Starks. Ryan Mathews doesn’t exactly appear to be on the lion’s side of a time share in San Diego either. Yet Grant and Mathews went for $35 and $30 while Starks went for $8 and Tolbert was kept for $2. Throw in the $20 that he spent on Lynch, and Meyers dropped $85 on a bunch of maybes. For that same price, he could have had Peterson, Tomlinson, and Javon Ringer. Which trio would you rather have?

Team strength: Quarterback.

Did I mention Aaron Rodgers?

Team weakness: Wide receivers.

Between investing in Aaron Rodgers and his running back corps, Meyers wasn’t left with much to spend on wide receivers. I literally have no idea whether to mock or applaud the $20 Ochocinco purchase. He could finish anywhere in the spectrum of 2007 Randy Moss to 2010 Randy Moss and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least. But if you’re going to be holding a wild card like that, you need to get consistent production from your number two, and I’m sorry, but I don’t consider an aging Hines Ward, a more aging Donald Driver, or Tarvaris Jackson’s #2 WR to be a solid weekly option as your #2 fantasy WR. Even if Eight Five has a career renaissance in New England, I still think there will be a gaping hole at the #2 WR position, as well as the Flex.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Other quarterbacks getting injured.

If Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Drew Brees, Matt Schaub, or Phillip Rivers misses a substantial amount of time, the demand for Sam Bradford will skyrocket, and that demand would just so happen to come from teams that are well endowed with wide receivers. It’s pure evil to wish devastating injuries to another human being, but with several hundred dollars at stake, you gotta do what you gotta do. Just remember that prize money won’t buy your freedom from Hell.

My prediction: 14th overall (7th in the NFC)

Garland’s Giants: 

Roster: Ch Johnson (59-K), Rivers (42), R White (42-K), B Marshall (27), Ro Brown (7), J Ringer (6), Th Jones (5), Do Brown (3), J Graham (2-K), Lions D / J Brown / N Washington / T Young / H Douglas / A Pettis / McCluster (1)

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Jimmy Graham for $2.

What do Kellen Winslow, Brandon Pettigrew, Zach Miller, Owen Daniels, and Tony Gonzalez have in common? They all cost 3 times as much as Jimmy Graham in our draft, and they’ll all finish behind him in terms of fantasy production. Last season, Jimmy Graham, Jeremy Shockey, and David Thomas combined for 102 receptions on 148 targets for 983 yards and 10 TD. With Shockey out of town and Thomas clearly falling behind Graham on the depth chart by the end of last season, Jimmy Graham stands to receive at least 70% of those tight end numbers. 70 receptions for 700 yards and 7 TD would have been good enough for 5th best TE last season. Considering Vernon Davis had just barely more production than that and went for nine times as much at the draft, I’d say this was a pretty good pick up.

Best draft-day decision: Getting Phillip Rivers.

A completion percentage of 65.2-66.0%, 4009-4710 yards, 28-34 TD, 9-13 Int. Rivers has been in that range for 3 consecutive seasons, despite injuries, holdouts, changes at running back, etc. Josh Freeman was absurdly consistent from week to week last season, but I’m not sure what to expect from him this year. I know exactly what to expect from Rivers, and if anything, he’ll exceed those expectations.

Strangest draft-day decision: Getting Phillip Rivers.

The awesome part about auction drafts is that you can get whoever you want, so long as you budget properly. If you want the entire Pittsburgh Steelers starting roster, you can get it. Adrian Peterson’s ownership isn’t decided by drawing names from a hat. But the problem with auctions drafts is that you don’t exactly have 90 seconds per pick to determine how much you’re willing to reach for someone and you frequently end up spending more than you anticipated. Maybe Garland entered the draft with every intention of getting Philip Rivers for $40-$45, but having already spent $59 on a running back that got all of one week’s worth of training camp (strange keeper choice) and another $42 on Roddy White (great keeper choice), I don’t understand how you fit Rivers into your budget without defaulting to the stars and scrubs strategy which never works. I mean, that’s $143 on 3 guys. Yikes.

Team strength: Wide receivers.

Certainly not a lot of quality depth, as evidenced by the 5 WR he took at the end of the draft for $1 each, but behind Roddy White and Brandon Marshall, you don’t need much more than a couple of bye week guys, and theoretically 1 of those 5 scrubs will evolve into a bye week guy by the time they roll around, or at least they’ll be dropped for a better bye week guy. I have a really good feeling about Brandon Marshall this year. I can’t take credit for noticing it (that goes to Bill Barnwell), but if you compare the career arcs of Drew Brees and Chad Henne, one could argue that Henne is going to have a breakout season. And if Henne amounts to anything more than a twitter punchline, Marshall should well be worth the $27 investment…even if it does add up to $170 for Garland’s top 4 draft picks.

Team weakness: Running backs.

If Chris Johnson’s hamstrings hold up for the entire season after no training camp, then I have nothing bad to say about the #1 running back on this team, but I fully expect him to come up lame with some sort of leg injury by week 5. Beyond that though? Dear God. It’s either Thomas Jones or Ronnie Brown as the #2 running back, and the other one as the flex unless one of those $1 wide receivers emerges by halftime of week 1. Did I mention he spent $170 on his first 4 picks? Because it’s pretty obvious here.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Trades and afterthought positions.

If the Lions finally have the breakout season that everyone has been predicting for half a dozen years, and as a result their defense is a top 10 fantasy cash cow, and if the Rams move the ball well enough for Josh Brown to be as relevant as always, then combined with Jimmy Graham, Garland should be in good shape at TE, DEF, and K. And with Rivers, CJ2K, White, and Marshall, he’ll be in good shape at those 4 spots in the roster. But that still leaves the #2 running back and flex positions to fill. Maybe he’ll be able to trade Roddy White for a 75 cent piece and a pair of quarters, because he’s got to get something better than the pennies he currently has at those two roster spots. Figure out how to pull off that trade and I suspect we’ll see Garland in the playoffs once again.

My prediction: 7th overall (3rd in the NFC)

Nelson’s Steelers: 

Roster: Gore (47), Burress / Harvin (21), Spiller (19), Steelers D (16), McFadden (16-K), R Bush (15), J Flacco (13), T Gonzalez (7), M Vick (6-K), M Barber (5), J Shipley (4), M Wallace (4-K), K Hunter (3), An Brown (2), N Folk (1)

Best pre-draft decision: The entire 2010 season.

For a total of $26, Nelson was able to enter this year’s draft with Mike Vick, Darren McFadden, and Mike Wallace. There is literally no chance any of those guys would have gone for less than $30, and I think it would have cost upwards of $140 to get all three of them. That’s more than $100 saved, so he was going into the draft destined to have at least 1.5 times as much value as an average team if he played his cards right. Evidenced by the fact that he’s not my #1 team going into the season, it’s fairly obvious that he didn’t do that.

Best draft-day decision: Lying about how much he would pay for the Steelers defense.

During the draft, getting a good team for myself was a mission that was secondary to making sure that Nelson blew his load in all the wrong places. He swore up and down that he wasn’t going to spend more than $10 on the Steelers defense this season, and yet we got him to go as high as $16. The frustrating part is that based on their schedule, they’ll probably end up being a top 5 defense as always, so at the end of the day, we really just forced a guy with plenty of spending money to lock down one of the few sure things at defense.

Strangest draft-day decision: Paying $76 for the Harvin/Bush/Burress/Spiller combo.

Here’s where Nelson shot himself in the leg: vastly overpaying for 3 guys who have vastly under-produced and a fourth one who just got out of jail. All of a sudden, that big money advantage is gone, and all that he has to show for it is a borderline #2 wide receiver and a trio of potential flex guys that I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. He made the classic mistake of becoming flippant with an exorbitant amount of money and wound up neutralizing his own edge. If you already have a stud QB, RB, and WR for 1/8 of your spending limit, there’s no reason not to leave that draft with another 2 great running backs and another 2 great wide receivers. I thought he was on the right track when he grabbed Gore, but then ended up really getting nothing with his remaining $127. At $1 more than the prices they went for, Nelson could have left the draft with Vick, McFadden, Wallace, Michael Turner ($52), Frank Gore ($47), DeSean Jackson ($31), Owen Daniels ($19), Kenny Britt ($15) and then some collection of leftovers with his remaining $10. The bye weeks probably don’t work out perfectly, but if you do it right and get 3 running backs and 3 wide receivers that you can count on and that all have different bye weeks (not as hard as it sounds), you never have to worry about those cursed bye weeks. And honestly, if you knew you would be able to start 5 of 6 of DMC, Turner, Gore, Wallace, Jackson, and Britt every single week, would it bother you that you just have a bunch of $1 guys on your bench? Absolutely not. But instead of planning his draft properly, Nelson just over spent on the guys that always get over valued because he knew he had the deepest pockets of anyone at the draft. I felt like I was watching a car crash that I intended to orchestrate, but ended up just feeling back for the driver.

Team strength: Runners.

Regardless of that previous paragraph, it’d be impossible to get the head start that he did and then wind up with a terrible team, so he’s definitely in great shape at quarterback and running back. Darren McFadden is the guy that I’m really reaching for in drafts this year (I think he’s a late first rounder), and if he’s fully recovered from the hip injury that ended his 2010 season, I have to think Frank Gore remains an elite back. I wouldn’t want to rely on Reggie Bush or CJ Spiller as my #2 RB, but at the flex position, they shouldn’t do too much damage.

Team weakness: Receivers.

Wallace is a top 10 talent. Without a doubt. But it quickly drops off after that. With McNabb in town (if he can avoid the migraines) Percy Harvin could evolve into a Santana Moss / Torry Holt type of receiver. Emphasis on could, because that’s clearly the belief behind why he’s being drafted as high as he is, but I just can’t seem to talk myself into the hype. McNabb has always been more of a tight end guy, and with nothing better than Bernard Berrian opposite him, I feel like Harvin will be the obvious focus for opposing defenses in the passing game. And frankly, I just don’t think McNabb has it in him anymore. And speaking of guys who haven’t been relevant in fantasy in the past two years, what exactly are we expecting out of Plaxico Burress and Tony Gonzalez? Tony G has been my favorite player for the past decade, but his best years are clearly behind him. His receiving yards and receptions have been plummeting for the past 2 years, and I don’t expect that trend to stop. And don’t even get me started on Burress.

Fantasy success hinges upon: #2 WR.

If Harvin or Burress proves me wrong, this is a championship caliber roster. But I detect weakness at the second WR spot and the flex spot…and we all know there’s no chance in hell that Nelson gets 32 games out of VickFadden.

My prediction: 3rd overall (2nd in the AFC)

Montgomery’s Rams: 

Roster: Ca Johnson (49-K), R Rice (37-K), P Thomas (16), J Knox (15), M Stafford (14), B Jacobs (13), J Cutler (10), Patriots D (9), M Crabtree (8), Bears D (7), P Garcon (7), McGahee (4), Burleson (3), Hartley (3), M Lewis (2-K), A Hernandez (2)

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Ray Rice for $37.

Rice has become somewhat of the de facto #2 overall pick in snake drafts, and I can’t very well argue with that fact. He probably would have gone for close to $65 if he was available, so locking him up at $37 was one of the 5 most valuable keepers in my opinion.

Best draft-day decision: Drafting Matt Stafford.

I made a similar argument elsewhere about Sam Bradford, but Matt Stafford is an ideal back-up QB who could very well become a must-start fantasy QB if he can stay on the field. I honestly don’t know whether Montgomery currently considers Cutler or Stafford to be his #1 QB, but I imagine that within a matter of two weeks, he’ll be relying on the Stafford/Megatron combo to carry him to the Promised Land. (Why is Microsoft Word insisting that I capitalize promised land? It doesn’t even make me capitalize Bible, so why do I need to capitalize a biblical term?)

Strangest draft-day decision: Not getting a solid #2 running back.

This was actually a fairly common occurrence during this year’s draft: Keeping 1 potentially top 10 running back and then seemingly forgetting that we start (at least) two running backs each week. I realize there aren’t 28 desirable running backs in the NFL, so it’s impossible for everyone in our league to put together a favorable tailback combo; but if you enter the draft only needing one more good running back to not stress about that position all season, then do it. We had LeGarrette Blount paired with Cedric Benson, Chris Johnson paired with Thomas Jones, Ahmad Bradshaw paired with James Starks, and now Ray Rice paired with Brandon Jacobs and/or Pierre Thomas. That’s $29 on two guys that will probably receive <40% of his team’s carries that could have been spent on DeAngelo Williams or Tim Hightower, who will likely receive >60% of his team’s carries. Part of me is glad to see strange decisions like this because it improves my odds of winning the league, but the other part makes me wonder what I need to do to teach these kids about fantasy football, because clearly my weekly term-paper-length articles aren’t cutting it.

Team strength: Receivers.

It’s easy to love Calvin Johnson, but I’m not sure I see eye to eye with most people on Johnny Knox. He’s being drafted as the 36th best wide receiver, but I could see him finishing the season in the top 15. That’s right. I said it. Johnny Knox. Top 15. Write it down. And then show it to me at the end of the season so I can look like a complete idiot. Love him or hate him, Jay Cutler is going to throw for 3500+ yards. Greg Olsen is gone, Roy Williams is terrible, and Devin Hester seems determined to never evolve into a real wide receiver. Who’s left? The same Johnny Knox who tied with Matt Forte for the team lead in receptions, tied Greg Olsen for the team lead in receiving TD, had 33% more targets than anyone else, and had 399 more receiving yards than the next best guy. Sounds to me like he’s Cutler’s favorite target. Maybe I’m a little overboard in predicting top 15, but he’s definitely going to be better than 36th.

Team weakness: Running backs.

See: Strangest draft-day decision.

Fantasy success hinges upon: the collective health of Matthew Stafford, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Peyton Manning.

At this point in time, I would guess that Stafford and Manning miss considerable time this season, and that Bradshaw doesn’t miss any, which would really be a cataclysmic blow to Montgomery’s Stafford/Jacobs/Garcon combination. If that happens, I don’t know if Montgomery could win the league even if Cutler/Knox surpassed my lofty expectations. The Bears defense has no chance of repeating its production from last year, nor does Mercedes Lewis with the disaster situation at QB in Jacksonville. So we may very well be looking at Ray Rice and Calvin Johnson as the only value on this team. That being said, I ranked him 13th last year and Montgomery ended up in 1st place for most of the season, so maybe I just can’t get a read on his teams and he’ll dominate the regular season again this year. I doubt it though.

My prediction: 13th overall (6th in the NFC)

Yelen’s Texans: 

Roster: An Johnson (62), G Jennings (56), A Bradshaw (22-K), Roethlisberger (22-K), J Starks (8), T Moeaki (5), A Benn / S Ridley / G Little (4), M Thomas (2-K), Colts D / Bironas / Forsett / Hasselbeck / Breaston / J Gresham (1)

Best pre-draft decision: Keeping Big Ben for $22.

He’s been labeled as injury prone, but aside from that 4 game suspension last season, he’s only missed 3 games in the past 5 seasons. Even in 2008 during his least productive fantasy season, he was good for 3300 yards and 17 TD, which by itself is probably worthy of $22 compared to the “minimal” upgrade to be expected by paying $40+ for some quarterbacks. Then throw in the fact that the Steelers’ out of division games are against the AFC South and NFC West and I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if Roethlisberger surpassed a few career highs and led the league in passer rating this season.

Best draft-day decision: Getting an elite wide receiver.

I love me the Greg Jennings. (Or should I say Greg Jaynings?: http://bit.ly/n60YTc) He’s the #1 wide receiver for the #1 quarterback, he’s perennially underrated, and he put da team on his back, dawg. What’s not to love?

Strangest draft-day decision: Getting a second elite wide receiver.

Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with having two really, really, ridiculously good looking wide receivers on your team, but if you’ve already spent $46 on keepers and $56 on Greg Jennings, you simply can’t dole out another $62 for Andre Johnson unless you’re committed to going all out on your top 5 guys, putting $26 towards your 2nd running back, and filling out the rest of your roster with $1 guys. I don’t really endorse that strategy, but it’s better than trying to evenly distribute $36 on your remaining 11 roster spots, because you’re not going to get any more quality out of $3 guys than you’ll get out of $1 guys.

Team strength: Wide receivers.

If you had Greg Jennings and Andre Johnson on your team and your team’s strength wasn’t wide receivers, I would just hand you my buy-in and hope for better luck next season. The quality doesn’t stop there either. It may be on one of the worst passing attacks in the NFL, but Mike Thomas figures to be the #1 guy in Jacksonville, and there’s a lot of chatter in Cleveland over Greg Little as a potential break out star.

Team weakness: Running backs.

Bradshaw should be solid, but he’s a borderline #1 RB for your team, even in a 14 team league. It doesn’t get any better at #2 with some combination of James Starks / Justin Forsett / Steven Ridley starting out on the wrong end of a time share situation. I know he spent good money on Jennings, but I think I just found the perfect trading partner for Damn’s team. Jennings, Starks, and Little for Shonn Greene, Kenny Britt, and LaDanian Tomlinson? Seems pretty fair to me. Why am I helping 2 of my divisional foes?

Fantasy success hinges upon: Ahmad Bradshaw.

If the above trade or some variation of it does not occur, then Yelen will be sitting on a great quarterback, two of the best wide receivers, theoretically another respectable wide receiver, a massive gaping hole at the #2 RB spot, and Ahmad Bradshaw. You can’t win at fantasy football without at least one really reliable running back. If Bradshaw sputters out of the gate, so will Yelen’s team. If he plows through the competition, it might be more than enough to make up for a sub-sub-par #2 RB. I won this league four years ago with TJ Duckett and Michael Turner (before he was Michael Turner) platooning as my #2 RB. It’s kind of like roto baseball: as long as you’re really solid in 9 of the 10 categories, you can pretty much just not care about steals or saves, whichever one you decide to punt; but if you bottom out in two categories, you’re screwed. So long as Bradshaw doesn’t bottom out, there’s life in this team.

My prediction: 8th overall (5th in the AFC)

Miller’s Chiefs: 

Roster: Romo (37), Forte (29-K), Welker (28), Boldin (27), A Foster (26-K), D Thomas (15), L Moore (10), B Tate (6), C Cooley (4), D Keller / J Hill / G Tate / C Newton (2), Tolbert (2-K), Vikings D / Gostkowski (1)

Best pre-draft decision: Not keeping Dwayne Bowe.

I’m only doing 3 leagues this year, which is probably the least amount that I’ve done since the turn of the millennium, and I already drafted Bowe in one of those leagues. He would have been a $26 keeper, so it’s not like I left him go for no reason, but I came to the realization that, as a Chiefs fan, having him on my roster is either a win-win or lose-lose situation; the first because it’s virtually impossible for the Chiefs to succeed without Bowe doing well, so if my favorite team wins, so does my fantasy team; and the lose-lose is incredibly more likely because the Chiefs have arguably the most difficult schedule in the league. I try to play it safe in fantasy football, and hanging on to Bowe would have felt like closing my eyes and swinging for the fences.

Best draft-day decision: Getting Arian Foster’s handcuff.

The 24 hours following the draft were not promising for my team. As soon as the draft was over, I found out about Welker’s neck injury against the Lions (which appears to be okay). The day after the draft, Foster tweeted that picture of his injured hamstring, which made me really glad that I spent my RB insurance money on Ben Tate instead of Marion Barber. Even if Foster stays healthy, we all know Gary Kubiak is really Mike Shanahan in disguise when it comes to relying on feature backs in consecutive seasons.

Strangest draft-day decision: Being the auctioneer…and drinking.

It broke both of my draft day cardinal rules of not saying much during the draft and not distracting myself during the draft. By the time I took Jason Hill, Golden Tate, and Cam Newton at the end of the draft, I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who could tell I was feeling buzzed. The auctioneer factor kept me from paying close enough attention to my budget, and despite making fun of people for leaving money on the table at last year’s draft, I ended up with more unspent money than anyone this year ($6). The shame of the matter is that I had targeted Kenny Britt, Santana Moss, and in case of emergency Lance Moore as my #3 WR before the draft and I backed out on the first 2 at $13, while I could have combined the $10 I spent on Moore with the $6 I didn’t spend at all and gotten either of them. Such is life.

Team strength: Balance.

It’s 2011. If you aren’t paying attention to bye weeks when you’re drafting, then you probably don’t know what Sabermetrics are either. And I pretty much base my entire draft on bye weeks. If you don’t, you could mess around and wind up with half of your team on a week 5 bye, the other half on a week 6 bye, and then have a bunch of guys who wind up dealing with injuries after their bye weeks anyway. There are 6 bye weeks, so get 3 running backs and 3 wide receivers that have mutually exclusive bye weeks and you’ll be able to fill your 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 RB/WR spot with 5 of those 6 guys all season. Don’t break the bank on any one guy, and all six of them should be reliable enough that you’re not scrambling on the waiver wire or praying for sleepers to wake up. Between Foster, Forte, Tolbert, Boldin, Welker, Lance Moore, and maybe Daniel Thomas, I’ve got 7 guys that won’t intimidate anyone, but that I’d always be willing to play if they’re healthy.

Team weakness: Quality depth.

I like my starting 9. I can live with Lance Moore and Daniel Thomas. I hope I never have to play anyone else.

Fantasy success hinges upon: Tony Romo.

If he’s 2007 or 2009 Tony Romo, I could easily win the league. If he’s 2008 or 2010 Tony Romo, I won’t even sniff the playoffs. It’s really that simple.

My prediction: 5th overall (3rd in the AFC)

NFL predictions:

AFC East: New York Jets (11-5)
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
AFC South: Houston Texans (10-6)
AFC West: San Diego Chargers (11-5)
Wild card: New England Patriots (10-6)
Wild card: Baltimore Ravens (10-6)

NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)
NFC North: Green Bay Packers (12-4)
NFC South: New Orleans Saints (10-6)
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers (8-8)
Wild card: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)
Wild card: Detroit Lions (9-7)

AFC Championship: Pittsburgh over San Diego
NFC Championship: Green Bay over Philadelphia

Super Bowl: Green Bay over Pittsburgh (again)

Typically, these Eliminator picks will come with extensive explanations behind them, but in this case, I feel the previous 20 page season preview will more than suffice.

5th best option: Cleveland over Cincinnati
4th best option: Philadelphia over St. Louis
3rd best option: Houston over Indianapolis
2nd best option: Kansas City over Buffalo
Best option: Arizona over Carolina

Upset pick of the Week: Miami (+5.5) over New England

The Line Between “Fan” and “Criminal” Getting Thinner by the Season

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When one of my favorite teams loses a big game, I’ve been known to do things I’m not proud of. I’ve cried. I’ve thrown remote controls and cell phones. I’ve even punched inanimate objects. But it’s never even crossed my mind to beat the hell out of a supporter of the opposing team.

 

I thought we had reached an all-time low as a nation of fans when that drunk jackass in Cleveland tackled the 8 year old kid in a Jets jersey after their overtime loss. To my amazement, the Dodgers took it to a whole new level last week by putting a Giants fan in a coma following a victory on opening day.

 

Having never traveled west of Las Vegas and suffering from a lifelong addiction to a show that may or may not be based out of Bristol, Connecticut, it’d be difficult for me to argue that I don’t have an East Coast bias. I’ve always been under the impression that the most heated rivalries in sports were those between the Yankees and Red Sox, Duke and North Carolina, Michigan and Ohio State, the Eagles and Giants, and the NHL’s everlasting struggle for TV ratings. Sure, I’ve heard tale of the Dodgers and the Giants hating each other, but until just recently, I didn’t realize that some of the fans were fanatic enough to enact their own rendition of the Green Street Hooligans in the parking lot.

 

During the NFL season, otherwise known as my Before Bleacher Report era, I wrote an article breaking down the seven types of sports fans and asked my readers to determine the category into which they fall. The seven types are: Know-Nothing Party, Eternal Optimist, Rational Realist, Uber-Pessimist, Superstitious Supporter, Conspiracy Theorist, and Loose Cannon. From season to season or even from minute to minute, most of us oscillate between any number of states of fandom; but the Loose Cannons are a “special” breed.

 

This is how I described the group:

 

“These are the fans that decide every September, “I’m going to allow 53 grown men to dictate what frame of mind I’ll be in on a week-to-week basis for the next 17-22 weeks.” If you’re reading this post, I think we can agree we all get a little too involved in something we ultimately have no control over, but I’m talking about the people who are still pissed off at the world on the Thursday following Week 4 for a bad call at the end of the 3rd quarter. I can’t believe we chastised Stevie Johnson for being upset about being the person who actually dropped that ball two weeks ago, but we won’t put people into rehab for some of the things they would do on a weekly basis if they rooted passionately for the Panthers this year. I’ll be the first to admit that I get fired up over sports and video games way more than I should, but give me five minutes and a beer to relax and I’ll do just that. Some of these fans literally terrify me.”

 

I think it’s pretty clear that we have a good number of loose cannons in Los Angeles. And ‘loose’ is the operative word right now, because seven days and a few hospital bills after Brian Stow suffered brain damage from a severe skull fracture, the MLB and police still don’t know who is responsible for the attack.

 

They’ve put up a $100,000 reward for anyone who can lead them to the attackers, but come on; that’s barely enough for good season tickets at Dodger Stadium for one year. We all know that once they find out who is responsible, the family is going to sue the attackers and the Dodgers organization for multiple million dollars, and yet the authorities are only willing to offer two Alex Rodriguez at-bats’ worth of reward money? The time for pinching pennies is not when you trying to find the people responsible for beating a stranger within an inch of his life. My opinion on the matter is that the Dodgers should take all their revenue from beer sales for the weekend and make that the bounty, but we all know that would never happen.

 

A vigil is being held today at the scene of the crime, and the real question in the aftermath of the attack is what can we possibly do to prevent this from happening again?

 

At least a significant percentage of people will argue that they should stop selling alcohol at professional sporting events. Anyone with any knowledge of the finances of baseball would tell you that you might as well just cancel the season if you eliminate revenue from alcohol, because they wouldn’t even be able to afford to pay half the players at that point. Besides, speaking from the experience of going to a college with a dry campus, people can always find ways to get alcohol to where they want it to be, so unless you plan on strip searching everyone in the stadium for flasks, cutting the fans off from $8 beers wouldn’t solve the problem.

 

Others would argue that people should know better than to wear opposing colors, so to speak. If you bring Giants gear to Dodger Stadium or Yankees jerseys to Fenway, you at least have an idea in the back of your mind of what you might be getting into, so it’s a somewhat valid argument. However, people change residences but keep their allegiances, so it isn’t always practical to go see your team play a home game. If you pay the money, you should be able to enjoy the game in support of whichever team you prefer. Unfortunately, some fans don’t see it that way.

 

The only surefire solution is to increase security/visibility in the parking lots. You’ve got probably ten thousand cars parking for $15 apiece. You’re telling me you can’t put some of that $150,000 per game towards paying a couple dozen guys to make sure this never happens again? It doesn’t even have to be every game, because I assure you no one is starting a fanatical altercation during the Nationals/Padres series. But for those ten or twenty games per season (or 81 games in Philadelphia) where you know the fans are going to be more fired up than usual, can we please see some preventive action? Fearing for my life isn’t supposed to be part of America’s National Pastime.

Alumni Battle: Which College Would Put Together the Best NBA Team?

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While attending a Clippers/Wizards game this past weekend, a buddy of mine posed the following question: Can you imagine how good Kentucky would be if they still had John Wall and Eric Bledsoe? Roughly 45 seconds into our four-man four-hour discussion, it was obvious that this needed to be researched and compiled into an article.

 

I’m not usually a fan of impractical debates – I would much rather argue about NCAA Bubble teams, fantasy football sleepers, or who is the greatest player/team of all time – but given the time of year, I found myself getting hopelessly sucked into this one.

 

The concept is pretty simple: if current NBA players teamed up based on the college that they “graduated” from, which school would make the best all-around team? Obviously, this debate excludes the Kobes and LeBrons of the world who went straight from high school to the pros.

 

Also, in order to qualify for the debate, you have to at least be able to put together a five man roster. Unfortunately, that excludes guys like Stephen Curry and Steve Nash, because they would single-handedly be representing Davidson and Santa Clara.

 

After combing through NBA rosters for over an hour, I was left with 19 colleges that met the specifications. Stick with me through the first few half-hearted slides. I saved my more long-winded breakdowns for the top twelve schools. Going from worst to best, what follows is how I would rank those teams.

 

#19. USC

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

SG: DeMar DeRozan

SG: Nick Young

SG: OJ Mayo

F: Taj Gibson

PF: Brian Scalabrine

 

Bench: None

 

Ignoring the fact that their inability to field a bench player would require Big Red to be their center for the entirety of the game, you get the feeling that within one quarter of playing together, DeRozan, Young, and Mayo would get in a three way fist fight over who gets to be the primary ball handler. I’m sure they would be fun to watch, but their complete lack of height and depth makes them the lowest ranked team.

 

 

#18. Stanford

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

G: Landry Fields

SG: Josh Childress

C: Brook Lopez

C: Robin Lopez

C: Jason Collins

 

Bench: Jarron Collins – C.

 

In terms of size and scoring threats, Stanford would be USC’s polar opposite, but I can’t in good faith rank the Lopez twins behind Brian Scalabrine. The Trojans would probably shoot threes 80% of the time and maybe hit 40% of them, but the Cardinal would just lob it inside again and again, taking 90% of their shots from inside the paint, and making 90% of them. Nothing fancy about their game, but you can never have too many seven-footers.

 

 

#17. Marquette

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

SG: Dwyane Wade

G: Wesley Matthews

G: Jerel McNeal

SF: Steve Novak

F: Lazar Hayward

 

Bench: None.

 

If Wade and Matthews had anything on the bench, or so much as a supporting cast better than the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion, the Golden Eagles would be seeded much higher than this. As it is, I find it hard to imagine that two shooting guards could carry a team to many victories, even if one of those shooting guards is arguably the greatest player in this entire discussion.

 

 

#16. Ohio State

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Mike Conley

SG: Michael Redd

SG: Daequan Cook

SG: Evan Turner

C: Kosta Koufos

 

Bench: Byron Mullens – C.

 

Permanent Injured Reserve: Greg Oden – C.

 

Even if you wanted to pretend that Greg Oden is healthy for this hypothetical tournament, the Buckeyes would still be completely void of forwards. A good center and four oversized guards might work at the collegiate level, but in most NBA games, a 6’9” forward would be hitting ten foot jumpers over Turner and Redd all night.

 

 

#15. Washington

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Nate Robinson

SG: Brandon Roy

SF: Quincy Pondexter

F: Jon Brockman

C: Spencer Hawes

 

Bench: None.

 

Finally, we have a traditional starting line-up! We know Brandon Roy is incredibly talented, and we know Nate Robinson is incredibly spunky. Say what you will about the three big guys, but I think they’re all talented guys who still have developing to do at the professional level. They may have less recognizable names than most of the bigger schools, but thus far, the Huskies would have the most complete team that we’ve seen.

 

 

#14. Georgia Tech

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Jarrett Jack

PG: Will Bynum

SG: Anthony Morrow

F: Thaddeus Young

PF: Chris Bosh

 

Bench: Gani Lawal – F. Derrick Favors – PF.

 

Favors has an incredibly bright future in the NBA, but the argument is who would put the best looking team on the floor tonight. Therefore I have to ask: Aside from Chris Bosh – who just spent the last seven years proving to us that he can’t single-handedly carry a team to relevance – is there anything you really like about this team? At best, the rest of the starting line-up is slightly above average at their respective positions.

 

Personally, I think Jarrett Jack could be a special talent if he wasn’t behind Chris Paul on the Hornets’ depth chart, but for the time being, it’s tough to argue that the Yellow Jackets would actually be able to accomplish more on the court than the rest of the teams ahead of them.

 

 

#13. Memphis

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Derrick Rose

G: Tyreke Evans

SF: Chris Douglas-Roberts

SF: Shawne Williams

PF: Earl Barron

 

Bench: Joey Dorsey – PF. Elliot Williams – G.

 

It pains me to seed the MVP-in-the-making this low, but as was the case for Dwyane Wade and Marquette, after the superstar’s above average sidekick at the guard position, there isn’t a whole lot to be desired. CDR showed an occasional flash of brilliance during his days with the Nets, but that’s about it.

 

In other news, Rose, Evans, and Williams would have carried Memphis to an undefeated season this year if it weren’t for the one and done phenomenon. And people have the audacity to wonder why college basketball isn’t what it used to be.

 

 

#12. Kansas

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

G: Kirk Hinrich

SG: Brandon Rush

SF: Paul Pierce

PF: Drew Gooden

PF: Nick Collison

 

Bench: Mario Chalmers – PG. Xavier Henry – SG. Julian Wright – SF. Darrell Arthur – PF. Darnell Jackson – PF. Cole Aldrich – C.

 

There’s an awful lot of depth on this Jayhawk squad, but, in my opinion, not all that much quality. Without a doubt, Paul Pierce is one of the best and most underappreciated guys in the NBA in the past decade, and he would certainly add that “it” factor that every good team needs in order to be great.

However, PP’s starting to get up there in years, and on the other end of the spectrum it feels like their entire bench has been in the NBA for all of thirty seconds.

 

Gooden is still a quality forward, but it feels like Collison never gained nearly the relevance in the NBA that he had in college, Rush hasn’t really emerged in the league yet, and I’ve always thought that Kirk Hinrich was in a constant state of flux between the 1- and 2-guard positions.

 

Seriously, I’m willing to bet that if I asked a hundred NBA fans, thirty would say Hinrich is a shooting guard, thirty would say he’s a point guard, and the rest would decide he’s a hybrid guard or something of the sort. I also bet that out of those hundred people, none of them would say he’s in the top 25 in the league at whichever position that decide he plays.

 

 

#11. Syracuse

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Jonny Flynn

SF: Carmelo Anthony

SF: Wesley Johnson

SF: Donte Greene

PF: Hakim Warrick

 

Bench: Andy Rautins – G. Etan Thomas – C.

 

Without doing another hour’s worth of research, I’m assuming that the Orange has the youngest team and that they would fly up and down the court faster than any other team on this list. Melo doesn’t quite have an all-star supporting cast, but it’s a slightly better-rounded group than Wade or Rose would receive.

 

Despite being relatively turnover prone thus far in his career, I see Jonny Flynn directing this cast better than “Inception” mastermind Christopher Nolan. And I think Hakim Warrick would play a good supporting role if he were finally placed on a roster with a lead actor.

 

Aside from the complete lack of quality depth, the main problem with this Syracuse squad is that Johnson and Greene didn’t spend enough time in college and are still in the development process in the NBA. I understand that staying in school isn’t cool anymore, but Donte Greene should be finishing up his senior year under Jim Boeheim rather than spending his third straight year obscurely wasting away in Sacramento.

 

This team is dripping with potential and Carmelo sauce, and would probably be near the top of this list after another year or two in the oven, but there are too many question marks to warrant putting this team in the top ten.

 

#10. Wake Forest

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Chris Paul

G: Jeff Teague

SF: Josh Howard

SF: Al-Farouq Aminu

C: Tim Duncan

 

Bench: Ishmael Smith – PG. James Johnson – SF. Darius Songaila – PF.

 

I don’t care how much it seems like Duncan has dropped off since last season, there’s no chance in hell the Chris Paul / Tim Duncan duo was missing the top ten. If there was a way to quantitatively measure Basketball IQ, you would be hard pressed to find higher scores than the ones that these two guys would record. Teague and Aminu haven’t amounted to much of anything yet, but if you put me on the floor with Paul and Duncan, I could probably score 10 ppg, and I never even played high school varsity hoops.

 

 

#9. LSU

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

G: Marcus Thornton

PF: Brandon Bass

PF: Tyrus Thomas

PF: Glen Davis

C: Shaquille O’Neal

 

Bench: Garrett Temple – G. Anthony Randolph – PF.

 

If only this debate was about guys at the height of their game. Unfortunately, LSU would be playing with 2011 Shaquille O’Neal, which is only good for a dozen minutes of slightly above average play from a big man on a good night.

 

Marcus Thornton is a good guard who is already rapidly evolving into a legitimate all-star, but I’m not fully convinced he would thrive as the only perimeter player on the roster.

 

Reservations about the guard and center aside, you have to love the three-headed monster of Bass/Thomas/Davis. One more threat at the guard position or five less years on Shaq’s odometer and the Tigers would be a top five team, even without much in terms of depth.

 

 

#8. Florida

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

SG: Corey Brewer

SG: Mike Miller

PF: David Lee

PF: Al Horford

C: Joakim Noah

 

Bench: Jason Williams – PG. Matt Bonner – PF. Udonis Haslem – PF. Marreese Speights – C.

 

Talk about quality height! I can’t remember any other time when Udonis Haslem would have been considered the fourth or fifth best big man on the team. In theory, Florida would outrebound most of the other teams on this list by at least a three to one margin.

 

Unfortunately, their own rebound to assist ratio would end up being roughly twenty to one. It’s a shame Jason Williams hasn’t been worth mentioning since 2008, because this Gator team is one quality ball distributor away from greatness.

 

 

#7. Duke

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

SG: JJ Redick

SF: Grant Hill

SF: Luol Deng

PF: Carlos Boozer

PF: Elton Brand

 

Bench: Chris Duhon – PG. Dahntay Jones – SG. Gerald Henderson – G. Mike Dunleavy – SF. Shane Battier – SF. Corey Maggette – SF. Josh McRoberts – PF. Shelden Williams – PF.

 

It would definitely increase Duke’s seed if we were including the coaches in seeding these teams, but unfortunately the carousels at some of these colleges makes that downright impossible. Krzyzewski’s leadership aside, the Dukies come in as the seventh best team despite having no one to fill the traditional one or five on the floor.

 

As a diehard Blue Devils fan, I wasn’t the least bit surprised to find a complete lack of serviceable point guards on this list, considering our best point guards of the past twenty years are either coaching or still recovering from career shattering motorcycle accidents.

 

The lack of a pure center was not too shocking either, as I still wake up at night in cold sweats following visions of Nick Horvath, Eric Meek, Taymon Domzalski, and Greg Newton walking to the scorer’s table in crunch time.

 

But if you think highly of power forwards who have the ability to hit short jumpers or perimeter threats who would walk through fire to take a charge, then this is definitely the squad for you!

 

 

#6. Texas

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: DJ Augustin

SG: Daniel Gibson

SF: Maurice Evans

SF: Kevin Durant

PF: LaMarcus Aldridge

 

Bench: TJ Ford – PG. Royal Ivey – PG. Avery Bradley – SG. Damion James – SF. Dexter Pittman – C.

 

If only that fifth man was better than Maurice Evans / Damion James! DJ Augustin is certainly no Russell Westbrook, but Kendrick Perkins is no LaMarcus Aldridge. If the Thunder have the sixth best team in the NBA, the Longhorns would certainly have the sixth best team in this argument, even without a fifth quality player.

 

 

#5. North Carolina

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Raymond Felton

SG: Vince Carter

SF: Marvin Williams

PF: Antawn Jamison

C: Brendan Haywood

 

Bench: Ty Lawson – PG. Wayne Ellington – G. Brandon Wright – PF. Ed Davis – PF. Tyler Hansbrough – PF.

 

The 2010-11 per 48 minute statistics for the starting five on this Tar Heels team adds up to 99.2 points, 42.5 rebounds, and 19.8 assists per game. The 2010-11 Miami Heat average 101.7 points, 42.4 rebounds, and 19.6 assists per game.

 

So why am I not more blown away by UNC? Because Carter and Haywood don’t play anywhere near 48 minutes per game. They could play with absolutely anyone for the first 15-20 minutes, but eventually Wayne Ellington and Tyler Hansbrough are going to end up in the game, and that’s where the teams ranked ahead of them would be able to capitalize.

 

Not to mention, Brendan Haywood has never been an ideal big man, and he’s now serving his tenth year in the association. So long as he’s seven feet tall and can jog up and down the court, he’ll have a job somewhere, but as was the case with Kirk Hinrich, there are at least 25 guys at his position that you would rather have on your team.

 

Much like Syracuse, North Carolina fields a team that would almost certainly be better a few years from now when the three forwards on the bench and the Lawson/Felton duo have reached their full potential. I have a feeling I’m undervaluing them because I can already see they’d be better in the future, but the Tar Heels would easily be the best “long-odds” team to put your pennies on if these schools were playing in a tournament.

 

 

#4. Arizona

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Gilbert Arenas

SG: Jason Terry

SG: Andre Iguodala

SF: Richard Jefferson

C: Channing Frye

 

Bench: Mike Bibby – PG. Jerryd Bayless – PG. Mustafa Shakur – PG. Chase Budinger – SF. Luke Walton – SF. Jordan Hill – F.

 

To be perfectly honest, this is the one team in the top twelve that I hadn’t thought of before doing the research – probably because every member of its theoretical starting five was already in the league before I graduated from high school – but it turns out they would field a pretty solid team.

 

Most likely, no one blows you away in a good way, but more importantly, no one blows you away in a bad way. As we enter the Final Four, we’re finally blessed with breaking down teams without any real weakness. Sure, they’re the definition of slightly above average across the board, but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Even as guys like Jefferson, Terry, and Arenas enter into into the denouement of their career, this starting five is easily the strongest chain we’ve encountered yet, and it’s hard to argue with Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger coming off the bench.

 

 

#3. UCLA

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Baron Davis

PG: Darren Collison

SG: Russell Westbrook

SF: Trevor Ariza

PF: Kevin Love

 

Bench: Jordan Farmar – PG. Earl Watson – PG. Jrue Holliday – PG. Aaron Afflalo – SG. Jason Kapono – SF. Matt Barnes – SF. Luc Richard Mbah a Boute – SF, Ryan Hollins – C. Dan Gadzuric – C.

 

For the purposes of this argument, I’m assuming Baron Davis would be happy and competitive on this team, as opposed to being the Baron Davis who plays like he’s been chain-swallow twinkies during TV timeouts when he’s unhappy.

 

Considering they played in three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08, it’s not surprising to see how deep this team runs with guys who have been in the league for less than half a decade. (Speaking of which, I still can’t believe Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love lost to Memphis in 2008.)

 

Despite how impeccable their guard play would be, and despite how well Kevin Love fills the lane and crashes the boards, I fear this team would just be a little too small to hang with the big boys.

 

 

#2. Kentucky

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Rajon Rondo

PG: John Wall

SF: Tayshaun Prince

PF: DeMarcus Cousins

C: Chuck Hayes

 

Bench: Eric Bledsoe – PG. Keith Bogans – SG. Jodie Meeks – G. Daniel Orton – PF. Patrick Patterson – PF. Jamaal Magloire – C. Nazr Mohammed – C.

 

I debated putting the Wildcats anywhere between #1 and #6 before finally settling on this spot. Maybe I was a little too excited about the prospect of seeing two of the three best point guards in the Eastern Conference on the same team, but I think my gaiety is justified. Andray Blatche wouldn’t even start on most teams, but with John Wall he’s averaging 16 points per game. Imagine what he could do for guys like Prince and Cousins!

 

Even better, with Rondo at the helm, Wall would be able to fully embrace the scorer within. The double R may have one of the worst jump shots in the league, but he still routinely scores in double figures while creating countless opportunities for those around him.

 

How do you game plan against this team? We haven’t even yet mentioned that Rondo and Prince are members of all-NBA defensive teams and that Chuck Hayes arguably should be on one as well, and it was already difficult to imagine putting together a more solid team than this.

 

You can’t score against them and you can’t stop them from scoring. So why aren’t they ranked #1?

 

I would argue that the quality of Kentucky’s bench doesn’t even remotely compare to the bench of the #1 team, which would frankly put together a top ten team from its reserves. Aside from that, trying to separate the top half dozen teams has been like splitting hairs.

 

 

#1. Connecticut

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

SG: Ray Allen

SG: Richard Hamilton

SF: Caron Butler

SF: Rudy Gay

C: Emeka Okafor

 

Bench: Ben Gordon – SG. AJ Price – G. Jeff Adrien – F. Charlie Villanueva – PF. Hilton Armstrong – C. Hasheem Thabeet – C.

 

The Huskies are easily the most well-rounded, battle-tested team in this debate. Like Arizona, there’s no one that particularly blows you away, but in this case, the entire starting line-up and the first two guys off the bench (Gordon and Villanueva) are all considerably above average at their position.

 

Using the same theory that I used for North Carolina, the starting five on this team would average 111.6 points per game, but unlike the Tar Heels, there’s more than enough quality depth on UConn’s bench to keep from necessitating anywhere near that much play from any individual player.

 

I’m sure fans of the other 18 schools will argue that the lack of a true point guard should eliminate them from consideration for the #1 overall seed, but I guarantee Ray Allen could make do. Aside from a handful of guys like Rondo, Nash, and Calderon, the sport is gravitating away from the pass-first point guard anyway. Just look at the player of the year candidates in the college game this year: Walker, Smith, and Fredette are the primary ball-handler as well as primary scorer for each of their respective schools.

 

As I previously argued, Chris Paul and Tim Duncan would bring a lot of basketball IQ to Wake Forest’s team, but I strongly doubt you could find a starting five with a higher average BB IQ than this Connecticut group.

 

Maybe they would get knocked out of a March Madness type of tournament, but in a best-of-7 series, I’m taking Connecticut over every other college.

 

Final Bracketology

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FINAL TOURNEY PROJECTION (assuming no Penn State miracle)

1. Ohio State, Kansas, Duke, Pitt

2. Notre Dame, North Carolina, Texas, San Diego State

3. BYU, Kentucky, Purdue, Connecticut

4. Louisville, Wisconsin, Syracuse, Florida

5. Arizona, Xavier, Kansas State, St. John’s

6. West Virginia, Old Dominion, Cincinnati, Washington

7. Texas A&M, George Mason, Utah State, Temple

8. Gonzaga, UNLV, Richmond, Vanderbilt

9. Georgetown, Missouri, Florida State, Michigan

10. Marquette, Butler, Memphis, UCLA

11. Villanova, Clemson, Michigan State, Colorado

12. Virginia Tech, Illinois, Penn State/Tennessee, Georgia/USC

13. Oakland, Akron, Belmont, Indiana State

14. Princeton, Wofford, Long Island, Bucknell

15. Morehead State, St. Peter’s, Hampton, Northern Colorado

16. UNC-Asheville, Alabama State, UC Santa Barbera, Boston, Arkansas Little-Rock, Texas – San Antonio

First 4 out:

Alabama, Saint Mary’s, Harvard, Boston College

March 12 Bracketology

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My Projection of the Tourney Seeds Following All of Friday’s Games:

1. Ohio State, Kansas, North Carolina, Pitt

2. Notre Dame, Duke, Texas, BYU

3. San Diego State, Florida, Louisville, Purdue

4. Connecticut, Wisconsin, Syracuse, Arizona

5. Kentucky, Texas A&M, Temple, St. John’s

6. Xavier, Old Dominion, Cincinnati, Kansas State

7. West Virginia, George Mason, Utah State, Washington

8. Gonzaga, UNLV, Michigan, Missouri

9. Georgetown, Vanderbilt, Florida State, Richmond

10. Marquette, Butler, Memphis, UCLA

11. Villanova, Clemson, Michigan State, Colorado

12. Virginia Tech, Alabama, Illinois/Tennessee, Georgia/Saint Mary’s

13. Oakland, Kent State, Harvard, Indiana State

14. Belmont, Wofford, Long Beach State, Bucknell

15. Morehead State, McNeese State, Long Island, Northern Colorado

16. UNC-Asheville, Alabama State, Hampton, Boston, St. Peter’s, Arkansas Little-Rock

Dancing Dozen: What These 25 Teams Need to Do to Grab the Last 12 At-Large Bids.

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For 25 teams desperately wanting to play Cinderella this year, there are roughly 72 hours before the clock strikes midnight and their carriage turns into an NIT-bound pumpkin.

 

Before I bore you with the Bubble Math that everyone skips right past anyway, I’ll let you know that I will be eliminating 2-3 teams per day on twitter (@kerrancejames) until we’re left with the field of 68. I’ve been doing this since February 8th, and I’ve done this for each of the past two seasons, in each of which I ended up correctly predicting all but one team that made it into the tournament.

 

If you’re looking for a certain team and you can’t find them on this list, you can safely assume they are already a lock or have already been eliminated. If you’re not sure whether your team has been locked or eliminated, your time would be better spent re-evaluating their resume, but you could also ask me via comment or twitter.

 

There are 33 teams that I have already decided are locks to make the tournament. Eight of those teams should end up receiving the automatic berth by winning their conference tournament. Emphasis on “should.” For every Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia that inexplicably wins their conference championship, another bubble bursts.

 

Assuming eight of those teams actually do win their conference tournament, 25 of the 37 at-large bids have already gone to teams that are considered locks. My spreadsheet indicates 25 teams left fighting for the last 12 at-large bids. Below, you’ll find what each of them needs to do in order to fit into a glass slipper.

 

 

Teams Who Just Need to Avoid Disaster:

 

UCLA

(22-9, 13-5 in Pac-10, 13-3 in last 16.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. BYU, vs. Arizona, vs. St. John’s.

Three Worst Losses: Vs. Montana, vs. Virginia Commonwealth, @ California.

 

Washington

(20-10, 11-7 in Pac-10, 5-6 in last 11.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Arizona, swept UCLA, @ USC.

Three Worst Losses: Swept by Washington State, @ Oregon State, @ Oregon.

 

As was the case last year, the Pac-10 seems to have collectively limped its way into March. I think the Bruins are in great shape, and probably just need to show up against Oregon tonight in order to guarantee a tournament invite; something that looked extremely improbable when they started the season 3-4.

 

Washington has easily been one of the most enjoyable teams to watch this season, and it would be a crying shame if they were unable to play on the grand stage. They are one of the most fast-paced teams in the nation, but I’m willing to bet that a lot of my fellow east-coasters can only recall one highlight from a Washington game, and that’s the one with Derrick Williams swatting Darnell Grant’s last second shot into the 27th row. With a win over Washington State tonight (a game that will likely end at around 2:00 AM EST), the Huskies can rest assured that they will sneak into the field for a 2nd straight year. A loss will leave things severely up in the air, especially if Wazzu, USC, or Cal can make a deep run in this conference tourney, because it’s unlikely that the Pac-10 gets four bids this year, and Washington would be the odd man out.

 

 

Illinois

(19-12, 9-9 in Big 10, 6-9 in last 15.)

Three Best Wins: vs. Wisconsin, vs. North Carolina, @ Minnesota.

Three Worst Losses: vs. Illinois-Chicago, @ Indiana, @ Northwestern.

 

Michigan

(19-12, 9-9 in Big 10, 8-3 in last 11.)

Three Best Wins: @ Michigan State, @ Clemson, @ Minnesota.

Three Worst Losses: vs. UTEP, @ Indiana, @ Northwestern.

 

The Illini and Wolverines face off against each other in the 2nd round of the Big Ten tournament. Regardless of what you think of their resumes, in this particular season, I think we can all agree that the winner of that game will lock up a spot in the Big Dance while the loser likely sweats out Selection Sunday.

 

In my mind, Michigan needs this game way more than Illinois does. If fellow bubble teams Michigan State, Clemson, and Penn State  all fail to make the tournament, Michigan will end up having only one win over a tourney-bound team (Oakland)…maybe a 2nd one if Harvard beats Princeton on Saturday, but I think you get the point. The best thing about Michigan’s resume right now is that they’re actually winning games down the stretch, which not very many other teams on this watch can claim as fact.

 

Illinois has been struggling to say the least, but at least they can point to wins over highly touted teams like Wisconsin and North Carolina. That being said, I’m sure the committee won’t be too thrilled if they finish the season losing ten out of sixteen, and also have a HORRIBLE loss to Illinois-Chicago.

 

Nevertheless, the formula is simple for both of these teams: win one game and you’re in.

 

 

Richmond

(24-7, 13-3 in A-10, 11-2 in last 13.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Purdue, vs. Virginia Commonwealth, @ Duquesne.

Three Worst Losses: Vs. Bucknell, @ Iona, vs. Georgia Tech.

 

Richmond has quietly put together a solid resume, and could almost assuredly even stomach a loss to Rhode Island on Friday on its way to the field of 68. Aside from that November win over Purdue, there isn’t too much meat in the wins category, but 13-3 in the A-10 is nothing to scoff at. If you ask me, they’re pretty much a lock to lose in the first round of the tournament, but they’re also pretty much a lock to get there.

 

Clemson

(20-10, 9-7 in ACC, 7-6 in last 13.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Florida State, @ Miami, vs. Virginia Tech.

Three Worst Losses: @ Virginia, @ North Carolina State, vs. Michigan.

 

As mediocre as the middle of the pack may be, you know the ACC is going to send at least four teams to the tournament, and for the time being, Clemson holds that golden ticket. There’s nothing to love or hate about their resume, unless you choose to love or hate the complete lack of signature wins or detrimental losses. Odds are their game against Boston College in the 2nd round of the ACC tourney will have the same consequences as the Illinois/Michigan game in the Big Ten, but considering they hold the regular season victory over BC, I like Clemson’s chances.

Utah State

(28-3, 15-1 in WAC, 23-1 in last 24.)

Three Best Wins: @ Saint Mary’s, @ Boise State, @ Hawaii.

Three Worst Losses: @ Idaho, @ Georgetown, @ BYU.

 

A USU loss in the WAC tournament would be a disaster for at least a dozen teams, including itself.
All I see on their resume is one good win, one ugly loss, and four months of otherwise non-impactful wins and losses. Before their BracketBusters win at Saint Mary’s, we were all but ready to write them off as needing to win their conference tournament to get in. I would strongly prefer it if they just went ahead and won the damn thing, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m curious to see what would happen if they lost.

 

Teams Squarely on the Bubble:

 

Georgia

(20-10, 9-7 in SEC, 6-4 in last 10.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Kentucky, @ Tennessee, vs. Colorado.

Three Worst Losses: @ Alabama, Vs. Tennessee, vs. Xavier

 

Alabama

(20-10, 12-4 in SEC, 10-4 in last 14.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Kentucky, @ Tennessee, @ Mississippi State.

Three Worst Losses: Vs. Saint Peter’s, vs. Iowa, vs. Seton Hall.

 

If Georgia can take care of Auburn this afternoon, the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide are slated to face off again for the 2nd time in less than a week. See: Illinois/Michigan or Clemson/Boston College for how I expect the result of that game to impact their selection status. Considering the SEC tourney is being played in Georgia, they should be able to take care of business.

Virginia Tech

(19-10, 9-7 in ACC, 9-5 in last 14.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Duke, vs. Florida State, vs. Penn State.

Three Worst Losses: Swept by Virginia, @ Georgia Tech, swept by Boston College.

 

Ho hum. Virginia Tech is trying to play its way out of the tournament again. They really can’t afford to lose to Georgia Tech today, and they’d sleep a lot better on Selection Sunday Eve if they were able to knock off Florida State in the 2nd round. Having been swept by BC in the regular season, they’ll probably have to make it further than the Eagles do, considering six bids for the ACC seems a little absurd this year.

Colorado

(20-12, 8-8 in Big 12, 6-8 in last 14.)

Three Best Wins: vs. Texas, vs. Missouri, swept Kansas State.

Three Worst Losses: @ San Francisco, @ Harvard, @ Iowa State.

 

By narrowly beating Iowa State yesterday, Colorado kept its hopes alive, which is something that cannot be said for Nebraska or Baylor after crushing defeats. They have been so close to playing their way out so many times, but with those wins over Texas, Missouri, and a regular season sweep of Kansas State, I find it hard to believe that the committee would leave out Colorado while sending a similarly middling resume such as Michigan’s to the tournament.

Michigan State

(17-13, 9-9 in Big 10, 5-8 in last 13.)

Three Best Wins: vs. Wisconsin, vs. Washington, swept Minnesota.

Three Worst Losses: @ Iowa, vs. Michigan, @ Penn State.

 

From being ranked 2nd in the preseason to holding on for dear life, I don’t think anyone saw this kind of season coming for Sparty. You can’t ever count out Izzo, though. It might have to come earlier than usual, but MSU always ends up winning a few more games than you expect them to in March. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get through Iowa and Purdue, which would be good news for them, because they just might need both games to get in.

 

Teams Who Still Need Help:

 

Boston College

(19-11, 9-7 in ACC, 6-7 in last 13.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Texas A&M, @ Virginia Tech, vs. Providence.

Three Worst Losses: Vs. Yale, vs. Harvard, swept by Miami.

 

They may have a record extremely similar to that of Virginia Tech, and they may have swept the Hokies in the regular season, but I think they’re worse off / more desperate. At least Virginia Tech has a gigantically quality win over Duke. When I look at Boston College’s resume, I feel like I’m looking at Richmond’s, only with significantly more losses. The Eagles had one quality win way back in November, and since then have gone 0-4 against the best teams in the ACC. Needless to say, if they drop this first round game against Wake Forest, they are NIT-bound. I think they absolutely have to beat Clemson to go dancing, and might even need to knock off UNC to feel really safe.

Oklahoma State

(19-12, 6-10 in Big 12, 5-8 in last 13.)

Three Best Wins: vs. Missouri, vs. Kansas State, vs. Alabama.

Three Worst Losses: vs. Virginia Tech, @ Texas Tech, @ Oklahoma.

 

The loss to Oklahoma to close the season was somewhat catastrophic, but they could more than make up for it with a win over Kansas today. Their conference record is a huge blemish on the resume, but if they add a win over the Jayhawks, there are definitely worse 20-12 resumes out there still in consideration. A loss today would certainly end their season though.

Colorado State

(19-11, 9-7 in MWC, 4-5 in last 9.)

Three Best Wins: @ UNLV, vs. Southern Mississippi, vs. New Mexico.

Three Worst Losses: Vs. Sam Houston State, vs. Hampton, @ Air Force.

New Mexico

(20-11, 8-8 in MWC, 7-4 in last 11.)

Three Best Wins: @ BYU, vs. BYU, vs. Colorado State.

Three Worst Losses: @ Wyoming, swept by Utah, vs. Northern Iowa.

 

The formula is pretty simple for these Mountain West bubble teams: win the game against each other + beat BYU = go dancing. Unlike the Illinois/Michigan and Clemson/Boston College games, the loser can consider itself eliminated while the winner almost assuredly still has work to do.

UAB

(22-7, 12-4 in C-USA, 11-3 in last 14.)

Three Best Wins: @ Arkansas, vs. UTEP, vs. Virginia Commonwealth.

Three Worst Losses: @ Tulsa, vs. Southern Mississippi, @ Arizona State.

Memphis

(22-9, 10-6 in C-USA, 6-5 in last 11.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Gonzaga, @ UAB, swept Southern Mississippi.

Three Worst Losses: @ Rice, vs. Tulsa, @ Southern Methodist.

UTEP

(23-8, 11-5 in C-USA, 6-4 in last 10.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Michigan, vs. Memphis, vs. Texas Tech.

Three Worst Losses: @ East Carolina, vs. Central Florida, vs. Georgia Tech.

 

America’s conference is still looking a lot like a one-bid league, but with Big 12 teams dropping like flies and a bunch of other mediocre teams guaranteed to lose games today, it just might be possible that C-USA gets two bids if two of these three teams face off in the conference final. That’s still a long way from a reality, and depends heavily on UTEP getting there since Memphis and UAB would face each other in the semifinals, but it’s still a possibility.

Penn State

(16-13, 9-9 in Big 10, 6-7 in last 13.)

Three Best Wins: vs. Wisconsin, vs. Michigan State, @ Minnesota.

Three Worst Losses: vs. Maine, vs. Maryland, @ Mississippi.

 

I can’t believe it either, but the Nittany Lions still have an outside shot at an at-large bid. Sadly for Happy Valley, they are pretty abysmal away from home, so a deep run in Indianapolis is unlikely, but assuming it includes wins over Indiana, Wisconsin, and possibly Purdue, we might see a 19-14 team in the tournament.

Washington State

(19-11, 9-9 in Pac-10, 5-6 in last 11.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Gonzaga, swept Washington, vs. Baylor.

Three Worst Losses: @ Arizona State, vs. Stanford, vs. Butler.

USC

(18-13, 10-8 in Pac-10, 8-5 in last 13.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Texas, vs. Arizona, @ Tennessee.

Three Worst Losses: Vs. Rider, vs. Bradley, @ TCU.

 

For each of these middle-of-the-road Pac-10 darlings, it might take two more wins to get in, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if both of them pulled it off. For Wazzu, it would result in a three game season sweep over Washington, which would have meant a lot more back in January, but it still counts for something. Beating UCLA after finishing off that sweep would certainly push them into the field. And if USC were to add a second win over Arizona to a resume that already features a win over Texas, they would also probably have enough firepower to sneak in.

Tennessee

(18-13, 8-8 in SEC, 3-6 in last 9.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Villanova, @ Vanderbilt.

Three Worst Losses: Vs. College of Charleston, vs. Oakland, vs. Charlotte.

 

The Volunteers just keep losing games, and that early season win over Villanova just keeps getting less and less valuable. They absolutely have to beat Arkansas tonight, and probably need to beat Florida tomorrow in order to have a realistic shot. But if you aren’t sleeping on Tom Izzo, then you aren’t sleeping on Bruce Pearl either.

Saint Mary’s

(24-8, 11-3 in WCC, 2-4 in last 6.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. St. John’s, @ Gonzaga, vs. Mississippi State.

Three Worst Losses: @ San Diego, @ Portland, vs. Gonzaga.

Virginia Commonwealth

(23-11, 12-6 CAA, 5-6 in last 11.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. UCLA, @ Old Dominion, @ Wichita State.

Three Worst Losses: @ Northeastern, @ Georgia State, @ South Florida.

 

Welcome to the prayer zone. Maybe you still like Missouri State or Coastal Carolina, but these are the two teams who have already been eliminated from their conference tournaments and need to hope beyond hope that a good number of teams on the bubble do the same in the very near future. Thanks to a better record and bigger wins, Saint Mary’s is in much better shape than VCU, but having lost four of their last six games, they can’t possibly feel too safe, no matter what Joey Brackets says about  their seeding. If VCU is able to sneak in, it wouldn’t be the first time the CAA sent three teams to the tournament, and last time that third team made a run all the way to the Final Four.

March 6th Bracketology

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1. Kansas, Ohio State, Pitt, Notre Dame

2. Duke, North Carolina, Purdue, Texas

3. BYU, San Diego State, Syracuse, Florida

4. Wisconsin, Louisville, Arizona, Xavier

5. Cincinnati, St. John’s, Texas A&M, Connecticut

6. Utah State, Kansas State, Kentucky, Old Dominion

7. Missouri, Villanova, UNLV, West Virginia

8. UCLA, Georgetown, Temple, Gonzaga

9. George Mason, Florida State, Illinois, Vanderbilt

10. Richmond, UAB, Butler, Michigan

11. Tennessee, Washington, Clemson, Georgia

12. Michigan State, Boston College, Colorado/Marquette, Saint Mary’s/Virginia Tech

13. Indiana State, Belmont, Princeton, Bucknell

14. Montana, Oakland, Charleston, Miami (Ohio)

15. Morehead State, UNC-Asheville, Long Beach State, Vermont

16. Texas Southern, Saint Peter’s, Long Island, Bethune Cookman, Western Kentucky, McNeese State

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