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

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NFL Playoff Predictions

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And Then There Were Eight

Aside from the fact that my Chiefs lost, Wild Card Weekend featured a phenomenal slew of games, and I expect more of the same starting this Saturday in Pittsburgh. I went 3-1 last weekend, and probably would have gone 4-0 if the refs had whistled that blatant defensive pass interference against the Jets at the four yard line late in the 4th quarter. My dreams of going 11-0 in the playoffs have ended yet again, but I’ll take a ten win post-season. Here’s who I’m taking this weekend and why:

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-3)

Why 2010 says Pittsburgh will win this game:

These teams are virtually mirror images of each other, so I don’t have much aside from a theory that something is wrong with Flacco. I can’t remember him throwing a deep ball in the past month. Just fewer than 50% of his passing yards in the past five games have gone to tight ends, running backs, and fullbacks; and more often than not, you can’t dink and dunk your way to a win over the Steelers. Flacco has taken 34 sacks in the past ten weeks and Pittsburgh is the last team you want to face when you’re already battered and bruised.

Meanwhile, Roethlisberger seems to get stronger with each injury he takes. He’s averaging 285+ yards per game with an 11/2 TD/INT ratio in the past eight weeks, and has even rushed for two TDs during that span of time. Combine Ben’s resurgence with Flacco’s drop off and the fact that the Steelers both rush the ball and stop the rush much better than the Ravens, and it just feels like the Steelers are bound to win this grudge match.

Why history says Baltimore will lose this game:

– Since expanding to eight divisions in 2002, there have been ten occurrences of division rivals facing off in the playoffs. The home/road split is 50/50, but the Steelers are 3-0 in those games.

– 27 of the past 32 teams to compete for a conference championship finished the regular season 16th or better in the “sacks recorded” category. Baltimore finished the season tied for 27th in sacks.

– 31 of the past 32 teams to make it past the divisional round forced at least 24 turnovers during the regular season. Baltimore only forced 22 this season.

Everything about this game screams Steelers by one possession, so unless you can get great odds on the Steelers winning by exactly three points, your gambling dollars would probably be better off elsewhere. Final prediction: Steelers 20-14.

Seattle @ Chicago (-10)

Why 2010 says Chicago will win this game:

Before you overlook the season the Seahawks had and just assume they’re riding a “nobody believed in us!” wave in light of last week’s game against the Saints, there are a lot of things you need to consider.

First of all, the Bears are a much better team than they were in October when they lost three out of four games, including a game against Seattle. Since their Week 8 bye when Lovie Smith mixed up the offensive line to finally provide a small amount of pass protection for Cutler, the Bears have gone 7-2, with those two losses coming against likely Super Bowl candidates (Green Bay and New England). In October, Cutler was taking 6.3 sacks per game. Since then, he’s taking 2.7 sacks per game, and it’s not as if the Seahawks’ front four has been shutting down opposing quarterbacks.

The Seahawks were 2-6 on the road this season. Yes, one of those two wins came at Chicago three months ago, but that was when Chicago was at the lowest point of their season, and it was the game following the Seahawks’ bye week.

Fast stats: In games in which Matt Forte has 75 or more yards from scrimmage, the Bears are 8-1. In the Bears’ final three games, Forte averaged 139.3 yards from scrimmage per game. The Seahawks allowed just under 120 rushing yards per game during the regular season. On the road, the Seahawks allowed 29.3 points and 395.8 yards per game to their opponents, each of which would be good for worst in the league if they had had the same porous defense at home.

Why history says Seattle will lose this game:

– Going back as far as 1997 before growing weary of digging up old stats, only six teams in the past 14 years have made the playoffs while allowing more points than they’ve scored, and all six of those teams failed to make it to the conference championship game. Not only did the Seahawks get outscored by their opponents this season, but they were outscored by 97 points.

– 31 of the past 32 teams to make it past the divisional round forced at least 24 turnovers during the regular season. Seattle only forced 21 this season.

– The Seahawks have lost seven consecutive road playoff games.

If this game were being played in Seattle or if it were being played three months ago, maybe this is a different story, but the Bears have grown into a legitimate Super Bowl contender over the course of their past nine games, and should have no problem in this one. Final prediction: Bears 34-13.

New York @ New England (-9)

Why 2010 says New England will win this game:

Have you seen them play?! Since losing to Cleveland in Week 9, they’ve won eight straight and have scored at least 31 points in each of those games. They’re winning those games by an average of three touchdowns. In those eight games, they forced 24 turnovers and had more defensive touchdowns (four) than their offense had turnovers (one). Meanwhile, the Jets have barely looked like a playoff team since the 2010 calendar flipped to December. I don’t even need to be reminded that the Patriots beat the Jets by 42 in Foxboro to know that they are the vastly superior team.

Why History says New York will lose this game:

– The NFL MVP has played on Conference Championship Weekend in 19 of the past 23 years. Is anyone still arguing for Vick, Manning, or Rivers over Brady for MVP? Didn’t think so.

– Five of the past eight teams to lead the NFL in scoring during the regular season made it at least as far as the “final four,” and New England outscored every other team by at least 11 touchdowns.

– Teams that spend more time talking shit in the media and on twitter than they spend preparing for the task at hand end up losing the game at least 125% of the time. It’s a scientific fact.

The only real question is whether or not you should lay the points with the Pats. I would. Final prediction: New England 31-20.

Green Bay (+2.5) @ Atlanta

Why 2010 says Green Bay will win this game:

The whole “Matt Ryan is a Greek God at home” angle is being blown completely out of proportion. Four of the Falcons home games this season were against San Francisco, Cincinnati, Arizona, and Carolina, so let’s go ahead and throw those games out to leave Atlanta at 3-1 at home against legitimate competition.

Their one loss came to New Orleans. If LeGarrette Blount doesn’t get stuffed four straight times, Atlanta loses the game against Tampa Bay. If the Falcons don’t get the benefit of three calls on a last minute game-winning drive necessary to come back against a team that had all of about 17 yards in the first half, Atlanta loses the game against Baltimore. That leaves the three point win over Green Bay, and if you think Rodgers and company haven’t been improving since that game, you’re out of your mind.

Keep in mind that going into the season, Green Bay was one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl (please ignore the fact that Dallas was also one of these so-called favorites.) They are peaking right now and are about as healthy as they have been since the pre-season. This game should be a shootout, and in my opinion, Aaron Rodgers is more well-groomed for that type of game than Matt Ryan.

Why History says Atlanta will lose this game:

– In four of the past five years, at least two home teams have lost in the divisional round, and six seeds have won four of the past five games against one seeds. It’s like the 12 seed corollary in March Madness. More often than not, at least one 12 seed ends up winning, and more often than not, at least one team that played on Wild Card weekend ends up playing for a conference championship. If you’re with me on the first three picks, this is the de facto upset game.

– 27 of the past 32 teams to compete for a conference championship finished the regular season 16th or better in the “sacks recorded” category. Atlanta finished the season tied for 20th in sacks.

– Face it, Green Bay @ Chicago is the game Roger Goodell wants to see. Chicago @ Atlanta has about as much allure as San Francisco Giants vs. Texas Rangers did.

Not only does my gut say Green Bay will win this game, but I think it will be a route. My gambling spidey sense says this game is staying at Atl -2.5 just to convince people to put the Falcons in a three team tease at +7.5 with Chicago (pick) and New England (+1.5)…and the obvious three team teasers always fail. Final prediction: Green Bay 41-24.

If you’re playing in a fantasy playoff scramble, here are the players I see as the 4 best options at each position this week (from best to worst, left to right):

QB: Rodgers, Brady, Roethlisberger, Cutler

RB: Turner, Forte, Mendenhall, Green-Ellis

WR: W. Welker, M. Wallace, G. Jennings, M. Williams

TE: T. Heap, H. Miller, R. Gronkowski, T. Gonzalez

Def: Pittsburgh, Chicago, Baltimore, New England

 

Let the Real Fun Begin

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Prepare For a Wild Wild Card Weekend

After a roller coaster of a season, we’ve reached the part of the year which makes 99% of would-be prognosticators hang their heads in shame: looking back on pre-season NFL predictions. I’ve discovered that if I had just repeated my 2009 pre-season NFL predictions as my 2010 pre-season NFL predictions, I would have gotten eight of the twelve playoff teams correct, including five of the division winners.

Instead, I went and made new predictions at the beginning of this season and got seven of the twelve playoff teams correct, only two of which were the correct division winners (Indianapolis and Kansas City). Of the teams that received a first round bye, New England was the only one I even had making the playoffs, and I had them as a wild card team behind the Jets. I could still technically get my Super Bowl prediction right (Green Bay over Indianapolis), but it doesn’t look promising. What an embarrassment. Good thing I don’t have to stick with the picks I made in August, because it’s going to be difficult for Dallas to make it to the NFC Championship game.

Every year, I have lofty aspirations of going 11-0 against the spread in the playoffs. If memory serves correctly, I’ve never even made it through Wild Card weekend unscathed. Last season, I lost the first game of the playoffs, even though I had Bengals (-3) over Jets pegged as my lock of the weekend. Fortunately, I’ve learned a lot since last January, and I’m ready to start this year off with four winners.

Saturday 4:30 ET: Seattle (+10.5) vs. New Orleans

In 4 of the past 5 seasons, there has been at least one division winner generally perceived as un-deserving of a home game against a superior team that ended up winning that game. In 2006, a 12-4 Jacksonville team went into 10-6 New England and got slaughtered. In 2007, Dallas went into Seattle and Romo’s career as a holder for field goals abruptly ended. In 2009, Saturday proved to be quite a shocker as 9-7 Arizona and 8-8 San Diego held serve at home against 11-5 Atlanta and 12-4 Indianapolis, respectively. And last year, the Cardinals did it again with a somewhat surprising home win over Green Bay. Statistically, none of these games made any sense, and comparatively, this potential upset makes less sense than any of them, but I’m confidently filing this pick under “crazy shit always happens on wild card weekend.”

Score: NO 24-21.

Saturday 8:00 ET: Indianapolis (-2.5) vs. New York

I’m going to throw a lot of stats at you, but here’s the point: the key to the Jets’ success is getting pressure on the quarterback and keeping pressure off of Sanchez.

1) In the four games this season in which they’ve allowed 21+ points (2-2 record), the Jets have averaged just two sacks per game and allowed 2.5 passing TDs per game.

2) Peyton Manning was only sacked once every 43 passing attempts, best among starting QBs, and only trailed Tom Brady in terms of passing TDs this season.

3) Prior to Week 17’s game against Brian Brohm and Levi Brown, the not-as-good-as-advertised Jets pass defense had been allowing three pass TDs for every ball it intercepted.

4) Since starting the season on fire, Mark Sanchez has had a TD/INT ratio of 8/13; and those numbers would be significantly worse if he hadn’t had the luxury of facing the Texans in Week 11.

5) Among the 31 starting quarterbacks who qualified, Mark Sanchez had the 27th best passer rating. Even I don’t know how to calculate passer rating, but when you’re sandwiched between guys like Chad Henne, Matt Hasselbeck, Derek Anderson, and Jimmy Clausen, it can’t be a good thing.

6) The Jets allowed 13.4 points per game at home, but allowed 24.6 points per game on the road.

I could go on, but the moral of the story is that the Jets defense has been over-rated since the day it signed Antonio Cromartie, it has been over-matched on the road, it struggles against QBs who don’t take sacks, and it doesn’t have a quarterback competent enough to make up for its shortcomings. Also, you never bet against Peyton Manning

Score: IND 31-17.

Sunday 1:00 ET: Kansas City (+3) vs. Baltimore

As a Chiefs fan, this is the match-up I was hoping for. Lest you think I’m full of shit and have only in the past few hours talked myself into this pick, here’s the twitter dialogue I had going on December 26th with the only other Chiefs fan I know in the world:

Alex: @kerrancejames for some strange reason, I have a really good feeling about us in the playoffs. Unlike ’03 when we got blasted

Me: @ppbbww I think our best path to the Super Bowl is as a 4 seed against BLT in 1st round and NE in the semis. We can’t run on PIT or NYJ.

Me: @ppbbww But we definitely have some 2007-08 Arizona Cardinals “why not us?!” potential going on. No one will be giving us any chance.

Alex: @kerrancejames if pit is w/o Troy I wouldn’t mind them, but I agree. #chiefswill

Me: @ppbbww there’s no way Troy won’t go in the playoffs, especially if they get a first round bye. I think they’re the best of the AFC 6. #gag

I only added that last tweet as foreshadowing for next week when I pick the Steelers over the Colts regardless of the line.

I like the Chiefs for four major reasons:

1) In games against teams in the top half of the league in rushing yards, the Ravens have allowed over 100 yards per game. Only one of those teams ranked in the top six in rushing (NYJ – 116 rush yards vs. BAL in Week 1), and the Chiefs had the top rushing offense in the NFL by a somewhat considerable margin.

2) Despite getting smoked by Oakland in Week 17, the Chiefs finished the regular season with a home record of 7-1 and an average score of 24 – 14.75. Despite getting to play @ Carolina, the Ravens finished the regular season with a road record of 5-3 and an average score of 21.1 – 17.25.

3) He’s had a great passer rating since starting out the season with a TD/INT ratio of 1/5, but if he’s been on your fantasy team or you live within 50 miles of Baltimore and have been forced to watch all their games, you’ve probably noticed that Flacco hasn’t been as good as his numbers and has taken a lot of sacks leading up to a game against the AFC’s sack leader, Tamba Hali.

4) ESPN will undoubtedly try to sell you on the fact that Cassel has never played in the playoffs and that Flacco has won three road playoff games in his brief career, but he certainly wasn’t responsible for any of those wins. In five career games in the playoffs (all on the road), Flacco’s numbers are 57 completions on 120 attempts (47.5%) for 660 yards, 1 TD, and 6 INT.

Ray Rice has had two amazing games this season and a whole slew of mediocre performances. If the front four can hold him in check, the Chiefs should be able to win a game that may very well have 70+ rush attempts and fewer than 40 pass attempts.

Score: KC 20-17.

Sunday 4:30 ET: Green Bay (+3) @ Philadelphia

After all the stats I’ve been throwing around, this one is just a gut call. I really think it should be a PK, so I’m taking the points. Just for good measure, I’ll add one stat that makes me lean towards Green Bay: Since Week 8, despite losing three games, the Packers have an average margin of victory of 13 points per game, and have held opponents to just 11.6 points per game. Of course, only one of those games was against a team that can score in bunches like the Eagles (New England), but I think the Packers pass D is good enough and opposing teams have been figuring out Michael Vick well enough that they’ll be able to stay in this game just long enough for Aaron Rodgers to do something horribly un-clutch, such as his OT sack/fumble last year in the playoffs.

Score: PHI 28-27.

Fantasy Suggestions

In case you’re doing a playoff scramble (Gridiron Playoff Challenge with ESPN), I’ll let you know who I see as the 5 best options at each position for Wild Card Weekend.

In order from best to “worst”

QB: P. Manning, D. Brees, M. Vick, A. Rodgers, M. Cassel

RB: P. Thomas, J. Charles, L. McCoy, L. Tomlinson, R. Rice

WR: G. Jennings, P. Garcon (Wayne on Revis Island), M. Colston, S. Holmes, D. Bowe

TE: J. Tamme, J. Graham, T. Moeaki, T. Heap, D. Keller

DEF: New Orleans, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Baltimore, Kansas City

 

Week 17 NFL & Fantasy Preview

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It All Comes Down To This

If you’re still playing fantasy football this weekend, I’d like to congratulate you for making it to the championship in a real man’s league. No offense to the leagues that only go through Week 16 because the commissioner got screwed over by starting Peyton Manning in Week 17 one too many times, but playing through the entire regular season is one of the things that makes a fantasy league great. In fact, in honor of the end of the season, here’s my list of the 10 things (in no particular order) that every fantasy league should have:

#1. Week 17 Playoffs

I understand the major argument against it, and that the majority of the complaining this year will come from owners who relied heavily upon Eagles and Patriots to lead them to the championship, but Week 17 should be a requirement in all fantasy leagues because it actually makes you think about your options. I also love Week 17 Championships because it allows everyone in your league one extra week of regular season action. No matter how bad your team is, you should get to play for 14 weeks.

#2. Live Auction Draft

If you’re still doing online snake drafts, you’re missing out on the best part of fantasy football. If you don’t believe me on the Auction part, just try an auction draft next season and see if you don’t refuse to ever do a snake draft again. As far as the Live part is concerned, this past season I got my league set up with the draft day package at Dave & Buster’s, and it was amazing.

No guarantees their deal will stay the same next season, but for a grand total of $25 (less than $2 per person!), we were given our own over-sized room to draft in, a fantasy draft magazine for each person, a 10% discount on all non-alcohol purchases, a $10 game card which you can use at a later date, and probably more than I can’t even remember. I guarantee they make back their money on your alcohol purchases, but look into it for next season. If your draft day isn’t one of the 10 most memorable days of your calendar year, you need a new commissioner.

#3. Free Agent Acquisition Budget

Similar to my auction draft argument, if you don’t believe me, just try it out in one of your leagues next season and see if you don’t get hooked. In the league that I’ve been running for the past 5 years, we’ve tried just about everything with the waiver wire, and FAAB is clearly the way to go. A waiver wire based on inverse order of league standings unfairly benefits owners who get off to a slow start. Having no waiver wire unfairly benefits the people in your league who can wake up or stay up until 4 AM on Tuesday morning. FAAB is by far the fairest free agent acquisition process, especially if your league manager allows FAAB to be incorporated into trades, because someone will inevitably use up all their money by Week 5 and desperately want some more.

The only downside to FAAB is that you can’t make emergency pick-ups at 12:55 on Sunday afternoon if one of your key guys ends up not playing, but if you spent the entire season waiting until Sunday afternoon to find out whether or not you needed to replace Antonio Gates, you probably didn’t make the playoffs anyway. I set my league’s FAAB up so that it processes every Wednesday and Saturday at 11 PM EST, and we didn’t seem to have any problems.

#4. A Fair and Dedicated League Manager

You don’t need someone who writes a weekly several thousand word blog post about the NFL, but trying to play in a fantasy league with a commissioner who doesn’t know or care what he’s doing is like trying to ride a ship without a captain. It’s also crucial that you don’t have a douche bag for a league manager. With the position comes a lot of power and a lot of responsibility. If your commissioner changes league rules mid-season or vetoes trades for no good reason, it’s time to overthrow the dictator.

#5. 12 or 14 Teams

Anything less than 12 teams results in everyone having an all-star team; anything more than 14 teams results in someone having to play Carson Palmer on a regular basis. This rule transcends football and applies to all fantasy sports: the number of teams in your fantasy league should equal roughly 40% of the number of teams in the actual league your scoring is based upon. I have no idea how fantasy Nascar, Golf, or Soccer works, but I’m willing to bet this rule applies to them as well.

#6. Fractional Points

There’s no good reason why 9 rushing yards should count for 0 points while the 10th counts for a full point. In my league this season, we had multiple games decided by less than half a point. Every single yard should matter, even if it’s the negative rushing yard or two that your quarterback tallies in the box score by taking knees at the end of the game.

#7. A Group of Friends

Having a close knit group of friends in your fantasy league makes it more fun, usually means more communication/trading, and it keeps everyone in the league honest. I usually end up playing in at least half a dozen leagues each season, but the only one I ever pay more than 5 minutes of attention to per week is the league I’m in with my college buddies. It’s just more enjoyable when you play against people you know.

#8. Keepers

The number of keepers and the price for keeping them is open for debate, but if you want to keep your league together for multiple seasons and if you want more than 25% of your owners to care about the league beyond Week 10, you need to have keepers. The solution I’ve come up with for an auction keeper league is that you keep guys based on the price they were drafted at the previous season with a tier-based tax imposed to keep guys from drafting Peyton Hillis for $1 and then keeping him for that price for the next 8 years. It’s a bit complicated, but that’s the joy of being a commissioner with a BS degree in Mathematics.

#9. Stat Categories That Make Sense

I highly doubt we’ll ever agree on a standard scoring system, but it’s important that your league doesn’t have ridiculous stat categories. Yes, it is every owner’s responsibility to understand the scoring system before the draft, but there’s no reason that a guy like Devin Hester or Jacoby Ford should be a top 10 option at WR. If you want return yards to count, then petition ESPN to add the option for a KR/PR roster spot next season.

#10. Money on the Line

It’s a simple fact of life: if you want people to care about something, make them put money on it. I prefer to have 60% of the pot reserved for the league champion and the other 40% rewarded throughout the season for highest score each week, best regular season record, and a few other random things determined before the season begins. It gives every owner something to play for every week.

Bonus: Negative QB points for INT Returns

If this ever becomes an option, you have to make it part of your league. There’s no way an end-of-the-game-hail-mary-interception should count against a fantasy QB just as much as a Pick Six does. I’ve been arguing this point all season to no avail, but I will continue to fight the good fight.

Week 17 Rules to Live By

If you haven’t yet figured it out, setting your fantasy roster is all about playing the odds, and this is true in Week 17 more so than any other. I have 5 rules to follow in Week 17. Undoubtedly, there are a few guys who will break these rules, but I would rather play it safe than try to find the outliers.

Rule #1: Don’t play starters from teams that have clinched a specific playoff spot.

Usually this applies to much more than 2 teams, but as much as you can help it, you don’t want to play Eagles (NFC #3) or Patriots (AFC #1), so if I have options, I’m avoiding McCoy, Maclin, Celek, Brady, Law Firm, Woodhead, Welker, and Gronkowski.

Rule #2: Don’t play banged up guys from teams that have nothing to play for.

This applies to Eagles, Patriots, and players from the 16 teams that are eliminated from the playoffs. If I have other viable options, I wouldn’t want to play the following guys who are questionable or doubtful as of Thursday: Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Owen Daniels, Jonathan Stewart, Knowshon Moreno, Jermaine Gresham, Malcom Floyd, Deion Branch, Jahvid Best, Jon Kitna, Aaron Hernandez, Peyton Hillis, Anthony Dixon, Antonio Gates, DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick, Darren McFadden, Anthony Fasano, Brett Favre, Ben Watson, Roy Williams, Drew Stanton, or David Nelson.

Rule #3: Play as many guys fighting for a playoff spot as you can.

If there were still several weeks to be played, you maybe consider benching Aaron Rodgers against the Bears, but in Week 17 he’s easily a top 5 option at QB along with the Manning brothers, Joe Flacco, and Sam Bradford. Yes, Week 17 fantasy football is a completely different ball game. If I extend it to the 10 best options at QB, it would include Brees, Rivers, Grossman, Freeman, and Big Ben, so I’m not necessarily suggesting you play Bradford over any of those guys, but I propose you have to think about it because of the urgency with which my Top 5 are playing against poor pass defenses. When in doubt, go with the guy you absolutely know will be in the game in the 4th quarter (barring injury).

Rule #4: Don’t bank on guys who have been back-ups all season.

Rashad Jennings didn’t do a damn thing last week against a terrible defense, and I consider him one of the better back-ups in the league. I know it’s somehow tempting to get cute with guys like Chaz Whitehurst, Trent Edwards, or more likely Kevin Kolb, but it’s much safer to play a guy who has been taking snaps all season. Maybe Michael Vick’s back-up outscores a guy like Jason Campbell or Chad Henne, but I’d rather have the guys with 300+ pass attempts playing in grudge matches with division rivals.

Rule #5: Don’t Over Think It.

I’m sure you have money on the line, but your hair is much more valuable than your league’s grand prize, so don’t tear it all out trying to decide which Mike Williams you should play (Tampa Bay’s, for the record). Celebrate the New Year with a loved one and just sit back on Sunday and see what happens, knowing that you never had any control over the number of touches Matt Forte gets.

Eliminator Suggestions

There are 562 people left in ESPN’s Eliminator Challenge, and I don’t even have that many readers, so I highly doubt any of you are relying upon this for survival, but I’ve come this far, so I might as well give it one more week. I went 1-3 last week. I legitimately think that’s the first time I was below .500 since the beginning of last season. How terribly disappointing. I’m now 47-17 for the season and would need to go 4-0 this week just to get back to 75% on the season. Doesn’t seem overwhelmingly promising when you consider this is historically the 2nd most unpredictable weekend of the entire season.

#4. New York Jets over Buffalo

Despite recently winning a game in Pittsburgh, the Jets are limping into the playoffs on legs and feet so badly crippled that even Rex Ryan wouldn’t touch them. They need this game for the sake of their own confidence.

#3. Indianapolis over Tennessee

Peyton Manning hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2001. He isn’t exactly the most clutch playoff QB of all-time, but he almost always gets them there, and won’t fail to do so in this game.

#2. Baltimore over Cincinnati

The Bengals beat the Ravens back in Week 2. You probably don’t remember that, but I guarantee Ray Lewis and company do. There’s no way the Ravens come out flat at home in a revenge game with a shot at a first round bye.

#1. Atlanta over Carolina

It’s rather amusing that because Atlanta lost on Monday night, they’re now favored by at least 10 more points than they would have been if they won. Win a game at home against the worst team in the NFL and you clinch home-field advantage through the NFC championship? I’ll take that team any day.

The Commish’s NFL Upset of the Week

Chicago (+10) over Green Bay

Okay, I don’t actually think the Bears will win this game, but I just wanted to point out how absurd this line is, and the fact that I’m still not going to put any money on it because Week 17 is that unpredictable. Good luck to all in your Championship games and in your favorite teams’ playoff games, unless your favorite team is playing against my Chiefs. Happy New Year!

 

Week 16 NFL & Fantasy Preview

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MVP Candidates, Playoff Picture, Starts & Sits, Eliminator Picks, and more…

While you were watching the amazing game between the Eagles and Giants, I was stuck in the DC market with the Redskins game on Fox, so naturally, I watched the entirety of the Jaguars/Colts game on CBS. After seeing Austin Collie suffer his 3rd concussion in 7 weeks, my first thought was “God damn it, Reggie Ray!” If you’ve never been drunk enough to sit through “Not Another Teen Movie” on Comedy Central at 2:00 in the morning, you frankly aren’t missing much. It’s essentially a less comical spin-off of the “Scary Movie” franchise, but instead of making fun of horror movies, it’s a parody of cheesy films about high school. I only bring it up because there’s a character in the movie named Reggie Ray whose sole purpose in the film is to suffer concussions. Here’s a brief clip from the film. I’ll warn you: the audio isn’t synched properly, there’s some profanity, and there may or may not be some exposed breasts. 

My second thought was that this guy’s career is effectively finished. Troy Aikman and Steve Young had about as many concussions as they had touchdown passes in their hall of fame caliber careers, but when it comes to injury risks, there’s a fine line between throwing the ball and having it thrown to you. Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me; Knock me out of a game three times with head injuries in a span of two months, and I’ll be hesitant to get hung out to dry on any ball ever again. Austin Collie will be back, and maybe even yet this season, but will he ever be as good as he was for the first half of the year? Unless he’s the bravest son of a bitch to ever lace up a pair of cleats, he’s bound to be a little gun shy for the rest of his career, is he not? The shame of the matter is that his multiple injuries have nothing to do with the “headhunter” hits that the league has been cracking down on. There’s nothing that the league can do to prevent these fluke injuries aside from reverting to the 30s, or whenever the hell it was that forward passes were illegal. It’s good to see they’re penalizing and fining the cheap shots, but don’t be surprised if one of these inadvertent knees to the helmet results in a nationally televised death on the field within the next year or two.

MVP Candidates

I need to update the list of MVP candidates that I compiled in my Week 12 preview. Back then, I was able to come up with a dozen guys who could conceivably win the MVP if all the right pieces fell into place. Five weeks later, it might be a stretch to consider more than 2 guys for the award, but I think the following 8 guys still have at least a remote possibility of winning it. The major criterion that I use is that he must be the most valuable player to his playoff team. At season’s end, this one requirement will narrow down the maximum possible number of MVP candidates to 12, and usually single-handedly ends up narrowing it down to 9 or fewer candidates. Is there one player from a team like the Bears, Jaguars, Jets, Giants, or (insert NFC West winner) that ten voters would unanimously agree the team could not win without? I highly doubt it. If you can’t decide whether Julius Peppers or Brian Urlacher is the most important player in Chicago, how can you consider either of them for most valuable player in the league?

Once it’s down to a list of less than a dozen possible candidates, the way to determine the rightful winner is by deciding which team would be most screwed if you replace the MVP candidate with a below average player at his position and put that team on a neutral field against an above average defense. Spoiler alert: all the candidates are QBs, so for argument’s sake, let’s say the QB in consideration is replaced by Carson Palmer and the team is placed on a neutral field against the Miami Dolphins. Whose team suffers the most? Using that logic, I’ve narrowed it down to these 8 guys:

”Game Managers” who won’t win the award, but whose teams would be sub .500 without them

#8. Joe Flacco (280/451, 3395 yards, 23 TD, 8 INT)

When the most recent player news update puts the following spin on him, he’s not exactly the best player in the league, but it’s worth mentioning that he’s had a solid season: “At this point we know what Flacco is; a steady performer who fares much better when he isn’t forced to be the focal point of the offense.”

#7. Matt Cassel (227/383, 2687 yards, 24 TD, 5 INT)

Two years ago, I was furious that we gave this guy a $60+ million contract, and I still wasn’t much of a fan of his until just recently, but Cassel has quietly put together a solid season. The Chiefs had 67 yards of total offense without him a week ago. This past Sunday, 11 days after an appendectomy, he leads them to a 14 point road victory against a team fighting for a playoff spot. It may be a homer pick, but they’re clearly a worse team without him in the game, and he has the 2nd best TD/INT ratio in the NFL.

#6. Matt Ryan (320/510, 3321 yards, 25 TD, 9 INT)

He’s having the type of year I think most of us expected him to have last year, and he’s leading one of the 2 best teams in the league, but I think he’s a fairly average quarterback. His overall stats and consistency are comparable to Josh Freeman’s, which is far from a negative statement, but it’s also far from MVP worthy. If the Falcons weren’t 12-2, he wouldn’t even be in the consideration.

Guys with stats that demonstrate their team’s lack of a rushing attack

#5. Drew Brees (391/571, 4122 yards, 31 TD, 19 INT)

The Saints are nothing without him, but he’s thrown way too many interceptions.

#4. Philip Rivers (309/464, 4141 yards, 29 TD, 11 INT)

I still don’t think he deserves it at all, but if he plays phenomenally in their final 2 games and they get a little help from Kansas City to sneak into the playoffs, something needs to be said for the guy who single-handedly kept them in the playoff hunt while averaging nearly 9 yards per pass attempt. You put Carson Palmer on that team with Malcom Floyd and Legadu Naanee and they’d be 3-11 at best.

#3. Peyton Manning (407/608, 4257 yards, 28 TD, 15 INT)

I saw a graphic during the first half of the Colts/Jaguars game that said Peyton Manning had passed his previous career high in passing attempts for the season. That’s jaw dropping stuff. He’s played in every single game since the start of the 1998 season. He’s thrown for 4000+ yards in 11 of the past 12 seasons. He’s had one of the best regular season careers for a QB in NFL history…and less than 85% of the way through this season, he’s already surpassed his career high in passing attempts. To put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of Kobe Bryant setting a new career high in field goal attempts during the 69th game of their 82 game season. You expect me to believe that Carson Palmer could effectively replace Peyton Manning in a season where he’s busting his ass like never before? He’s going to finish the season with his lowest passer rating in almost a decade, but if he can carry this broken and battered team into the playoffs again, it might be the most impressive season of his career.

Legitimate Candidates

#2. Michael Vick (208/329, 2755 yards, 20 TD, 5 INT ; 613 rush yards, 8 TD)

Believe me, I know the arguments against him, because before Week 12 I was completely opposed to the idea of him winning the MVP. But I’ve been converted. It’s absurd that every pro-Vick argument has to begin with “If you can ignore his off-the-field issues,” but if we can ignore that Kobe raped that girl in Colorado (2 Kobe references in 1 NFL blog post?), I think we can begin to forgive Vick too. I understand that he’s at the top of your 10 Most Wanted list if you’re involved with PETA or are in any way more obsessed with dogs than you are with the NFL, but he’s made life changes, and from an on-the-field standpoint, it’s impossible to deny that he’s one of the two most valuable players in the league. Before Week 12, I made a list of ifs that Vick had to fulfill throughout the rest of the season in order to even be considered for the award. So long as he doesn’t get injured or completely shit the bed against the Vikings and/or Cowboys, he will have passed all those tests with flying colors. He’ll have only played for 74% of Philadelphia’s season if he finishes it out uninjured, but his 74% has been better than the vast majority of others’ 100%. There’s no chance in hell the Eagles are 10-4 without him.

#1. Tom Brady (299/449, 3561 yards, 31 TD, 4 INT)

As I said 4 weeks ago: “The ideal description of an MVP: Best player on the best team in the league; a team that would probably be out of the playoff picture without him.” Since then, he’s beaten solid pass defenses like the Jets, Bears, and Packers by merely averaging nearly 40 points per game without throwing a single interception. He’s been damn near perfect this season and remains the best candidate for league MVP unless something crazy happens.

Playoff Picture

As I promised at the end of last week’s post, here are the playoff scenarios with 2 weeks to go. Half of the league is very simple, and a good portion of the rest of the league controls its own destiny to make the playoffs, but it’s the 6 teams who basically need to win out and get some help that make things interesting.

Clinched a playoff spot (4):
Atlanta
Chicago
New England
Pittsburgh

Clinches a playoff spot by winning 1 of final 2 games (4):
Philadelphia
New Orleans
Baltimore
New York Jets

Clinches a playoff spot by winning both remaining games (6):
New York Giants
St. Louis
Seattle
Green Bay
Kansas City
Indianapolis

Potential Spoilers (6):
Jacksonville – Win AFC South if they win one game and Indianapolis loses both remaining games OR win both games and Indianapolis loses one game. Also could earn wild card berth with 2 wins, 1 loss by Chargers, and 2 losses by either Baltimore or New York Jets.
San Diego – Win AFC West if they win one game and Kansas City loses both remaining games OR win both games and Kansas City loses one game. Also could earn wild card berth with 2 wins and 2 losses by Baltimore.
Oakland – Must win remaining games AND have Kansas City lose remaining games AND San Diego lose a game.
Tennessee – Must win remaining games AND have Jacksonville lose remaining games AND Indianapolis lose remaining games.
San Francisco – Must win remaining games AND have St. Louis beat Seattle OR Seattle lose to Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay – Must win remaining games AND have New Orleans lose to Atlanta OR New York Giants lose remaining games AND Green Bay lose to Chicago.

Better luck next year (12):
Washington
Dallas
Minnesota
Detroit
Carolina
Arizona
Miami
Buffalo
Cleveland
Cincinnati
Houston
Denver

A Rock and a Hard Place

Here’s a new segment before I wrap up with my eliminator and upset picks. I’ll go through each game on the schedule for Week 16 and suggest one player that’s usually a starter but you maybe consider benching if you have a plethora of options and one player you maybe consider playing if you’re in a bind.

Carolina @ Pittsburgh

Maybe Bench: Jonathan Stewart. The Steelers have the #1 Rush D in the NFL, and no other team is even close to them. I don’t care if it’s Chris Johnson or Arian Foster, you at least consider benching any running back against the Steelers. If you have 2 other starting running backs on your roster, you probably shouldn’t play Stewart.
Maybe Play: Emmanuel Sanders. 13 targets this past week against the Jets? He even had Revis on him for some of those plays. He’s quietly become a Davone Bess type of slot receiver for the Steelers, and considering he used to be a kick returner, you know he’s got the speed to score if he gets the ball in his hands. In 3 of the 4 weeks before they shut down John Skelton, Carolina had been allowing #3 WR options like Houshmanzadeh, Robiskie, and Morrah to put up some of their best numbers of the season, so I like Sanders. For what it’s worth, each of the past 2 weeks, I’ve gone all-in on a wide receiver on Thursday night: Pierre Garcon (6 receptions for 93 yards and 2 TDs) and Vincent Jackson (5 receptions for 112 yards and 3 TDs); and this is where I’m planting my flag this Thursday.

Dallas @ Arizona

Maybe Bench: All Cardinal running back options. You’re probably pissed off at all of them after horrific games this past week against an awful Panthers D, but the Cowboys will stack the box and make Skelton beat them, so I don’t know how they do any better this weekend.
Maybe Play: Tashard Choice. He received slightly more carries and targets than Felix Jones this past weekend, and I think the Cowboys will continue to phase Felix out of the picture in order to make sure he doesn’t suffer some sort of catastrophic injury. And for the record, you want the #1 RB option vs. Arizona.

New England @ Buffalo

Maybe Bench: Deion Branch. You can’t bench Brady or Welker because they’re Brady and Welker, but if you have a flex option comparable to Branch, I would go with him, because against an awful Bills rush D, it should be a Law Firm and Woodhead kind of day.
Maybe Play: Ryan Fitzpatrick. Matt Flynn reminded us that New England’s pass D isn’t all that great, and Fitzpatrick played reasonably well against them back in Week 3.

New York Jets @ Chicago

Maybe Bench: Ladanian Tomlinson. Hasn’t scored a TD since week 6, and Chicago has the 2nd best rush D in the league.
Maybe Play: Greg Olsen. The Jets have allowed a TD to opposing TE in 4 of their past 7 games. It’s not overwhelmingly promising, but I frankly wouldn’t be playing anyone on either of these teams aside from their D/ST if I can help it.

Baltimore @ Cleveland

Maybe Bench: Joe Flacco. He isn’t as good on the road as he is at home, and the Browns have really been shutting down opposing quarterbacks for the past month.
Maybe Play: Ben Watson. He was the most targeted receiver in McCoy’s return, and opposing tight ends have been having their way with Baltimore for the past month.

Tennessee @ Kansas City

Maybe Bench: Thomas Jones. Trust me. He peaked in weeks 2-7 and hasn’t done much of anything since, aside from a few vulture TDs. He still gets tons of touches for unknown reasons, but he’s hardly a viable fantasy option against anything resembling an average rush D.
Maybe Play: Kenny Britt. Collins targeted him 9 times last week and didn’t even look anyone else’s way more than 4 times. He’s got the opportunities and athleticism to make a significant impact in this game.

San Francisco @ St. Louis

Maybe Bench: Steven Jackson. When they played in Week 10, Jackson had one of the best games for a running back against the 49ers this season. However, they haven’t allowed an individual to rush for 100 yards against them yet this season. You’d have to have a few really good options in order to even consider benching him, but he’s maybe the 13th best RB best option this week.
Maybe Play: Danny Amendola. The 49ers are pretty weak against the pass, and Amendola has the most targets and receptions of anyone on the Rams roster by a significant margin.

Detroit @ Miami

Maybe Bench: Brandon Pettigrew. Aside from the major gaffe against Ben Watson and Jake Delhomme, the Dolphins have been fairly solid against TE all season, and Pettigrew’s only received 3 targets in each of the past 2 games.
Maybe Play: Detroit’s D/ST. Chad Henne isn’t very good, and Miami hasn’t been running the ball anywhere near as well as they should.

Washington @ Jacksonville

Maybe Bench: ??? I can’t in good faith recommend benching any regular fantasy starts in this game, since both defenses are awful.
Maybe Play: David Garrard. The Redskins secondary was actually doing relatively well for the past month until Kitna went for 300 yards and 2 TDs against them. Something isn’t quite right with MJD, so the Jaguars should put their playoff hopes on Garrard’s arm on a regular basis against Washington.

Indianapolis @ Oakland

Maybe Bench: Zach Miller. He’s shown signs of life in the past two weeks, but really hasn’t done much of anything since Week 7. I don’t know why owners are constantly tempted to start him.
Maybe Play: Donald Brown. They run the ball less than most teams in the NFL, but he ran it well last week against the Jaguars, and the Raiders rush defense is far from the best.

Houston @ Denver

Maybe Bench: Knowshon Moreno. No guarantees he even plays anyway, but the Texans’ defense has been pretty respectable against the rush this season.
Maybe Play: Tim Tebow. You’d have to be pretty desperate, but playing any starting QB against the Houston Texans is a pretty smart desperation move.

San Diego @ Cincinnati

Maybe Bench: Everyone in Cincinnati’s pass game. Hopefully you’re not dumb enough to start Palmer anyway, but you can’t trust any Bengals wide receivers to do anything this week. The Chargers are allowing fewer than 1 passing TD per game, and have held 8 of their 15 opponents under 200 passing yards. I guarantee there is much better potential on your waiver wire.
Maybe Play: Cedric Benson. I imagine most experts will be down on Benson this week and with good reason. Yes, the Chargers rush defense is solid, but Benson had relatively good games at home against the Steelers and Ravens. He is evidently one of those rare running backs with interesting home/road splits. In 7 games on the road, Benson has rushed for 338 yards (48 per game) and 2 TDs. In 7 games at home, Benson has rushed for 668 yards (95 per game) and 5 TDs. Since the Bengals are playing at home, he might be worth a flex start, or even a #2 RB if you’re hurting.

New York Giants @ Green Bay

Maybe Bench: Eli Manning. Green Bay has been relatively shutting down opposing quarterbacks for 2 months now, and in what is bound to be a frigid game, I imagine the Giants will rely rather heavily on Brahmad Bracobs to carry the load. I just don’t see a whole lot of upside with Eli this week.
Maybe Play: Donald Driver. The Giants have a good pass D, but the yardage that they allow primarily goes to opposing wide receivers. If Rodgers is back, I think Jennings should be a safe play, and Driver is a sneaky one.

Seattle @ Tampa Bay

Maybe Bench: Kellen Winslow. For all their faults, the Seahawks are in the top third of the league in defending opposing tight ends…and it’s not as if Kellen Winslow has been a must-start this season anyway.
Maybe Play: Marshawn Lynch. I think he’s a decent #2 RB option this week against a Bucs rush defense that has allowed at least 88 rushing yards in all but 1 game this season, and that has allowed 180+ rushing yards in back to back weeks against teams in the bottom third of the league at rushing. I think you want the guy getting the bulk of the carries against that front four.

Minnesota @ Philadelphia

Maybe Bench: Both defenses. This seems like another high scoring game, especially for the Eagles. Each defense probably ends up getting negative points.
Maybe Play: Visanthe Shiancoe. Philly has allowed opposing tight ends to haul in 10 TDs this season. He’s been worthless for the majority of the season, but he might do something on Sunday night.

New Orleans @ Atlanta

Maybe Bench: Any and all Saints running backs. I don’t trust any of them to actually get a majority of the carries, and the Falcons rush D is slightly above average anyway.
Maybe Play: Jimmy Graham. With the running backs likely to have a rough day and the Falcons secondary about as pass friendly as Steve Nash, virtually every Saints receiving option is worth consideration, including the tight end that made two touchdown grabs this past weekend.

Eliminator Suggestions

I went 3-1 for what feels like the 7th consecutive week, and I’m now 46-14 for the season. If you’ve been basing your eliminator life on my picks, there’s a remote possibility you’re still alive. If you’ve been making parlay bets based on my picks, I almost certainly owe you a lot of money. Having just broken down the playoff scenarios and determined some starts and sits for each game on the NFL slate, I think I’m pretty well prepared and long overdue for a 4-0 week.

#4. Jacksonville over Washington

Don’t be fooled by Rex Grossman’s performance last week; that was the first time Washington scored more than 20 points since that fateful Monday night that Vick destroyed them. Garrard and Jones-Drew against the Redskins’ last place defense should be more than enough to keep Jacksonville in the playoff picture. Jaguars 31-17.

#3.Philadelphia over Minnesota

Philadelphia fans are getting cockier than Boston/New England fans were from 2002-2008 and I would love nothing more than to see them lose this game, but there’s simply no chance the Vikings win a game in Philly without any real QB. They just don’t have the pieces necessary to outscore Michael Vick. Eagles 41-24.

#2. San Diego over Cincinnati

If the Chiefs win at 1:00, the Chargers will desperately need this win to keep their playoff hopes alive. If the Chiefs lose at 1:00, the Chargers will be playing their asses to try to take over first place in the AFC West with one game left to play. Either way, the urgency on the Chargers sideline will astronomically outweigh the Bengals’ desire to win a game for a coach that won’t be back next season. Chargers 35-14.

#1. Pittsburgh over Carolina

For the 2nd straight week, I’ve got the Thursday night game pegged as the most predictably lopsided game of the week. The Steelers move one step closer to locking up a first round bye with a victory, and the Panthers just won the only game left on their schedule that they had any chance of winning (unless Atlanta beats New Orleans and decides to rest their entire team because they’ll have already clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and Carolina somehow wins that game 3-0.) On top of what the teams have to play for, Carolina can’t throw the ball and Pittsburgh doesn’t let anyone run the ball. The only question is whether or not the Steelers will cover the 13.5 point spread. Steelers 38-13.

The Commish’s NFL Upset Special

Cleveland +3.5 over Baltimore

So what if it doesn’t meet my 4 point underdog standard? It’s still a significant upset at this point in the season. I like Colt McCoy, Peyton Hillis, and the Browns defense to keep Ray Rice from getting into any sort of fantasy playoff rhythm. It should be a tight, low-scoring game, and for whatever reason, I think Colt McCoy avoids committing the costly turnover. Browns 17-14.

Week 15 NFL & Fantasy Preview

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Fantasy Pick Ups Du Jour

On September 8th, 1992, I woke up at 7:00 AM, showered, got dressed, ate some French toast, posed for way too many pictures in front of the house, and left for my very first day of kindergarten. Since then, I’ve been blessed enough to finish high school, graduate from college, and spend a year and a half working for the man. Two days before my first day of kindergarten, Brett Favre embarked on a journey that finally came to a close this past weekend. Say what you want about him (who hasn’t?), but when this wild ride mercifully comes to an end and all the dust settles, Favre will go down as one of the most memorable quarterbacks of all time. Maybe these past 5 years have permanently tainted his legacy, and maybe we need these next 5 years to forget about him until he gets inducted into the hall of fame, but there’s little doubt that he will be one of those guys that we end up telling our grandchildren about. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think we’ll miss him when he’s gone for good. At the very least, ESPN and John Madden will. 

Aside from the streak coming to an end, it was a fairly uneventful weekend. Considering the Sal Alosi tripping scandal is the only other thing in the NFL that anyone seems interested in talking about, I’m going to use this time to look ahead to Week 15 and beyond. If you’re in a bind and need to make a desperation play; if your roster is full of Patriots who won’t be playing the last 2 weeks of the season, or if you have the roster space to grab someone “just in case;” here are 25 guys owned in less than 25% of leagues that could play a key role in the fantasy playoffs:

25 Under 25

Mike Thomas (24.8%)

He certainly didn’t do you any favors if you played him last week, but with 2 games remaining against the worst pass defenses in the league, he’s likely to redeem himself down the stretch.

Tony Moeaki (23.9%)

If Cassel’s (lack of) appendix keeps him out of any more games, his value plummets considerably, but if Cassel is back, there’s a good chance Moeaki ends up as a top 10 TE the rest of the way.

Tashard Choice (22.3%)
Jon Kitna (18.4%)

Their season is finished, so it’s highly unlikely Romo will make an end-of-season cameo, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cowboys shut down Felix Jones in the near future to avoid any sort of devastating knee injuries. Dallas is still playing for Garrett’s job, however, and scoring fairly well in the process, so these replacements should have considerable value.

Louis Murphy (21.3%)
Jacoby Ford (11.9%)
Jason Campbell (6.7%)

I don’t exactly foresee the Raiders making a run to the playoffs, and if they do, it will probably make Darren McFadden owners very happy, but with slim playoff hopes and games remaining against Denver, Indianapolis, and Kansas City, I think the passing game should have a decent three week stretch.

Keiland Williams (17.4%)

Ryan Torain has proven himself about as capable of staying on the field as Reggie Bush. And even if Torain somehow makes it through the next 3 weeks, Keiland figures to get some work as a 3rd down back.

Jeff Reed (15.0%)

He hasn’t missed a field goal since the Steelers cut him. Interestingly enough, Suisham (2.3%) hasn’t missed since the Steelers signed him.

Matt Hasselbeck (14.3%)

Who he’ll be throwing to is anybody’s best guess, but with the NFC West still completely up for grabs and absolutely no one in Seattle who can reliably rush the ball, there are much worse QB options. That reminds me…

Anthony Dixon (9.3%)
Alex Smith (6.7%)
Josh Morgan (2.5%)

You don’t want any of these guys this week against the Chargers, but if your playoffs go into week 16 and 17, they should score liberally against the Rams and Cardinals. Morgan’s value increases from worthless to slightly less than worthless with Alex Smith being back, because he might accidentally score a touchdown, but the Anthony Dixon recommendation isn’t completely based in dumb luck, as he and Westbrook have been perfectly splitting touches the past 2 weeks.

Rashad Jennings (13.2%)

He has a touchdown and at least 50 yards in each of the past 3 weeks, but you want to pick him up on the off chance that the Jaguars beat the Colts this weekend, clinch the AFC South, and rest Maurice Jones-Drew for the final two weeks of the season. And trust me, you want the guy getting the bulk of the carries against the Redskins and Texans.

Cardinals D/ST (12.4%)

They’re a top 5 option against the Panthers this weekend, and they’re at least a reasonable play in the final two weeks against Dallas and San Francisco.

Mohamed Massaquoi (10.0%)

Kind of sad that he’s the 2nd best fantasy option in Cleveland at this point, but he stands to score at least once or twice in a slew of games in which the Browns will be primarily playing from behind.

Billy Cundiff (9.6%)

He’s hit 15 of 16 field goals since Week 4. At least he’s a better option than Rob Bironas these days.

Jordan Shipley (4.0%)

There are very few slot receivers in the league that you can count on, but if you’re desperate for 3 catches for 25 yards and a slim chance at a touchdown, Shipley’s your man.

Blair White (3.5%)
Javarris James (2.8%)

If Austin Collie continues to miss games, White and James continue to be worth starting in virtually all formats, as the Colts are fighting for a playoff spot instead of backing into one for the first time in several seasons.

Anthony Armstrong (3.4%)

He’s led the Redskins in receiving yards in 4 of their past 6 games, so you can probably rely on him to get at least half a dozen targets. Whether he does anything with them is a different story.

Bo Scaife (3.3%)
Kerry Collins (1.3%)

Collins has thrown for 8 TDs this season, and Scaife has been on the receiving end of 3 of them. Ed Dickson didn’t do a thing against the Texans last week, and they’re STILL allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends. Both are solid options this weekend, and may very well have some value in their final games against Indianapolis and Kansas City.

Earl Bennett (2.7%)

Picking a Bears wide receiver is like trying to pick a Packers running back, but if you insist on owning someone facing the Vikings, Jets, and Packers to finish the season, I think you’re better off with Earl Bennett than Johnny Knox.

Eliminator Suggestions:

If you’re still alive in your suicide pool, it’s hardly thanks to me. After another 3-1 week, my record for the season is now 43-13. It’s not great, but it’s damn sure good enough to win the NFC West. I went off the board from my suggestions this past week because I had already used the best four and ended up lucking out a win with the Jaguars. Three of these four picks are sure to win, and I hope you’re able to avoid the dud.

#4. Indianapolis over Jacksonville

This marks the 5th time I’ve recommended the Colts in this section under the “Peyton Manning won’t let them lose this game” theory. I’m pretty sure they’ve lost every time I put them in here, and considering the Colts have knocked my Chiefs out of the playoffs in 3 of our past 4 trips to the playoffs (which encompasses 16 years of sadness), I’d be perfectly happy if I were jinxing them. But seriously, there’s no way the Colts lose this game, right? They’re effectively eliminated from the playoffs if they lose this game. If Peyton can’t pull it together for this one, I’ll have to start wondering whether or not he’ll break Favre’s streak. Colts 30-24.

#3. Atlanta over Seattle

Strange but true: Only 2 of Seattle’s 13 games have been decided by less than 12 points, each of which was an early season win over a team which has evolved into a legitimate contender (San Diego and Chicago). The moral of that story is that in more than the majority of their games, they’ve either been blown out or they’ve won in blow out fashion. Do you honestly think they’ll blow out the Falcons? (Sidebar: I’m sure Atlanta is well aware that if they lose this game, there’s a strong possibility they’ll be going back on the road with a 12-4 record to Seattle on wild card weekend to face the 8-8 Seahawks. Forget helmet to helmet hits, this is the problem Goodell should have fixed mid-season.) Falcons 28-14.

#2. Tampa Bay over Detroit

Josh Freeman is 0-5 against teams with winning records, and 8-0 against teams with losing records. The Lions definitely have a losing record…and they’ll be starting Drew Stanton again. Sometimes it’s just that simple. Bucs 31-6

#1. San Diego over San Francisco

I don’t know what the power ranking “experts” are looking at when they rank San Diego 12th, but I have them 3rd right now. You may think that’s crazy, but if you put them on a neutral field against any team other than New England or Atlanta, they’re absolutely the favorite right now, are they not? You could argue that against the Steelers, Eagles, or Giants it would be a toss-up, but they’re at least a top 6 team. If it weren’t for a few special team screw ups early in the season, they could be sitting at 11-2 or better right now. You want to put that team at home against an NFC West team and not spot the NFC West team 30 points? Ridiculous. Chargers by 9 might be the easiest bet of the entire season. Chargers 42-10.

The Commish’s NFL Upset of the Week

Buffalo (+5) over Miami

This pick didn’t work out so well last week with the Vikings getting routed by the Giants, but I’m still well over .500 with these picks on the season, and it seems like I’ve been picking the Bills in half of those games. I have no idea how the Dolphins beat the Jets while averaging less than 2.5 yards per play, but that won’t fly against the Bills. Stevie Johnson has been fairly invisible since dropping that ball against the Steelers, but I think he makes a grand re-appearance in Miami this weekend against a Dolphins team that simply doesn’t win games at home. It should be a low scoring game as these teams rank worst and 3rd worst in the AFC in scoring, but I like the Bills to win by a Lindell boot. Bills 20-17.

Check back next week when I’ll break down the NFL playoff scenarios with 2 games remaining, and hopefully have something more interesting to write about than a strength and conditioning coach’s knee.

Week 14 NFL & Fantasy Preview

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Which Type of Fan Are You?

By my count, there are seven groups into which you can categorize every sports fan. Most fan bases tend to oscillate between several of these states from week to week or season to season, but they ultimately fall somewhere on this spectrum: 

Apathetic / Know-Nothing Party
It bothers me that I even have to include this group on my list of fans, yet we have to reserve a spot for the people who claim to have an infatuation for a certain team when they’re doing well but couldn’t even tell you who their starting quarterback is if you held a gun to their head. I respect the people who tell you up front they don’t really follow the sport intensely and they simply support a specific team for their geographic location or the color of their jerseys in the same manner that I respect the girl at the bar who confesses to being in a committed relationship before you start pumping drinks into her. But I have no respect for the guy who acts like the biggest fan of a team but couldn’t even contribute to a conversation about said team. If I ever open my own sports bar, you’ll be required to pass a sports IQ test in order to qualify for prime seating.

Eternal Optimist
This is the group you just have to feel bad for. They tend to say things like “If we win out and the Patriots lose the rest of their games…” or “If our kick returner gets it going…” or “Just wait until next season when…” or “Clausen looked great in the pre-season!” These are the fans that keep track of moral victories and don’t understand the concept of rooting for draft position. But God bless them, because without the eternal optimists, the Lions, Browns, Panthers, and Bills wouldn’t have sold a single season ticket in the past decade.

Rational Realist
Commonly and incorrectly labeled as pessimists, these are the fans that recognize their team’s strengths and weaknesses and formulate their expectations accordingly. What separates this group from the optimists and the pessimists is that they hope for the best for their team, whereas the others can’t help but expect either the best or the worst. In my experience, this is the group that tends to know their team in and out and at the very least is capable of carrying on a conversation about a number of the key players on other teams throughout the league. While they inevitably waver between optimism and pessimism, these are the fans you would want to strike up a conversation with at a sports bar, which is convenient, because most of the regulars at your local sports bar would fall into this category.

Uber-Pessimist
You may know them as Doomsday Theorists, but this is the group that always expects something to go wrong. Scholars have yet to agree upon the source of this wide-spread self-flagellation. It seems most prevalent among teams with a history of playoff futility and stomach punches (Scott Norwood, Earnest Byner, Gary Anderson, Kevin Dyson, Tuck Rule/Immaculate Reception), but it has also been known to inexplicably afflict fan bases of successful franchises, such as the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees. Whatever the cause of their pain, watching a game with these fans is more insufferable than talking to a recently heartbroken friend. All they want to talk about is how things went horribly wrong, how they should have seen it coming, and how they’ll never know true love again. Until their favorite team makes it through an entire season without losing a game or giving up a point, they’ll always expect the worst.

Loose Cannon
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 don’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.

Superstitious Supporter
Whether you’re willing to admit it or not, so long as you don’t fall in the Know-Nothing Party, we all have a little bit of this in our blood. I wear the same Dante Hall jersey every week and only wash it after the luck has run out (and after 3 straight wins, it’s probably getting a little gross). If my team is on a hot streak, I would wet my pants before I got up to use the bathroom, because we all know that would ruin their mojo. I’m sure there are other things I’ve done out of superstition, but this is the first season in a while that has been worth rooting for, so it’s difficult to remember. And I think I’m relatively low-key with my superstitions compared to others. Some people in this category are out of control. I’ve known people to perform the exact same ritual for weeks on end to the point that they were unwilling to watch the game with me or even invite me into their home on game-day because it isn’t part of their routine. Did I mention that these people have absolutely no control over what happens on the field? Don’t tell that to them though. They’re the reason their team has a winning record, and you can’t prove otherwise.

Conspiracy Theorist
We’ve all made jokes about refs with an agenda or the league being fixed, but most of us don’t actually believe any of that. However, it seems that every year there’s one team whose fan base legitimately believes that the NFL wants nothing more than to see them fall apart at the seams. This year, those fans reside in Western Pennsylvania.

The irony of the matter is that going into this season without their star QB, many fans in Pittsburgh were in uber-pessimist mode despite winning 2 of the last 5 super bowls. Now we’re 75% of the way through the season, they’re somehow sitting at 9-3, and all their fans can talk about is how unfair it is that Harrison gets fined and no one else does. Before the most important win of their entire regular season had even drawn to a close, the texts and tweets demanding fines and suspensions for Ngata and McClain were already flying in. I’m sick of hearing statements that start out “If Harrison had made either of those hits…” because if Harrison HAD made either of those hits, Ben would have a concussion and Heath Miller would be dead.

It seems as though Harrison has finally started to turn a corner, though, because he made a perfectly legal hit on Flacco on Sunday night. It was textbook. And I guarantee the people who dole out the fines were watching it like a proud papa who handed out plenty of spankings as his kids were growing up. He still has some headhunter tendencies, but if he continues to play how he has the past few weeks, the fines should stop rolling in. But even if they don’t stop, they really aren’t having any effect on his bank account. $125,000 out of $13,357,280 isn’t exactly a life-altering penalty. Maybe they are making an example of Harrison, but maybe they’re doing it because he can handle it.

Should the hits on Roethlisberger and Miller have been penalties and/or fines? My honest opinion on the matter is that Ben brings it upon himself by being so resilient. You have to beat the hell out of him in order to sack him, and the refs know that. They can’t treat him the same way they treat a guy like Peyton Manning who trips over his own happy feet on the way to a sack sometimes. Just look at how difficult it was to bring Ben down on that 1st and goal play when he was wrapped up but got away from Suggs and flung the ball away. That’s a sack on any other quarterback in the league…not just because any other quarterback would go down, but because any other quarterback would have been whistled down before then. On the Broncos’ last drive against the Chiefs on Sunday, Kyle Orton was wrapped up and was able to fling the ball out, seemingly from behind his back before he went down. Moreno caught the ball and was on his way to some legit yardage before the refs whistled the play dead and ruled it a sack. I’m almost positive they don’t blow that play dead against the Steelers, because if the refs are biased towards the Steelers in any fashion, it’s that they give Ben the benefit of the doubt with his ability to get out of a defender’s grasp. Inevitably, he’s going to take shots to the head and the refs are going to miss them.

Regarding the hit on Heath Miller, that’s a solid, legal hit if Miller can keep his feet under him, but because he was falling to his knees as the hit was coming, he ended up taking a shot to the helmet. That’s the ridiculous thing about trying to enforce these rules. Especially on the quarterbacks, the defenders are limited to such a small allowable target zone, and that zone is constantly moving and changing. Remember when Anquan Boldin had his nasal cavity destroyed by a helmet to helmet hit because he was falling down as the defender tried to hit him in the chest? Shit like that just happens. It certainly was a vicious shot though. Did you see the way Baltimore immediately signaled for someone on Pittsburgh’s sideline to come to Miller’s aid? His capa was damn near detated from his body. In honor of the recent Harry Potter movie’s release, henceforth, I propose we refer to him as Nearly Headless Heath.

One quick aside to the Steelers conspiracy theorists before I jump into my picks for the week: if you honestly believe the NFL is out to get you and that Goodell wants nothing more than to see Pittsburgh fail, I dare you to propose your theory to fans in Seattle (Super Bowl XL) or Miami (Roethlisberger’s fumble in week 7).

Eliminator Suggestions:

The really disappointing thing about my eliminator suggestions from last week is that my straight predictions were 12-3 on the week, but 2 of those 3 losses were among the 4 games I suggested for the challenge. I can’t believe the Colts have lost 3 straight games. Has that even happened since Peyton’s rookie season? And how do the Chargers get swept by a team that scored a total of 20 points in the previous 2 weeks combined? And both of those teams lost at home? Unheard of. I hope you all took the Eagles with me. After that pathetic week, I’m now 40-12 on the season, and my number one pick went down for the 2nd time. Guess I’ll have to give better justifications for my picks this week in order to regain your trust.

#4. Saints over Rams

They’ve had their share of last second victories, they’ve allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the league, and after their impressive playoff run last season, they’re in position to win the whole thing this year. No, I’m not talking about the New York Jets. Has a 9-3 defending Super Bowl champion ever gotten less publicity? When the Jets win last second games, everyone worships Sanchez; when the Saints win last second games, everyone talks about defenders biting on hard counts, wide receivers fumbling balls, and cornerbacks who should’ve just taken a knee after their interception. It hardly seems fair. The irony is that if the Jets were playing the Rams at home, they’d be the consensus #1 pick, but as it stands, the Saints barely crack the top 4. With games left against Atlanta, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay, the Saints absolutely need this game, because 9-7 isn’t going to cut it, and I’m guessing Tampa Bay is the only team left on their schedule that they’ll beat. Saints by 4.

#3. Chargers over Chiefs

They lost to the Raiders last week because they were thinking about this game, and you can’t convince me otherwise. So long as they have a playoff pulse, I’m legally obligated to assume the Chargers will find a way to make the playoffs, and if they lose this game, they’re officially eliminated. Ergo, Chargers by 7.

#2. Jets over Dolphins

The Jets held Carson Palmer to 135 yards, a TD, and 2 interceptions on Thanksgiving, and that’s arguably the only terrible quarterback they’ve faced thus far. Can’t wait to see what they do against Chad Henne in the aftermath of his 3 interception day against the Brownies. I’m only mildly concerned about this being a trap game in between road battles with the 2 best teams in the AFC. Jets by 13.

#1. Steelers vs. Bengals

Remember when the Bengals were 2-1? Wow. You know you’ve reached rock bottom when I don’t even recommend a 10-2 team playing against a 1-11 team and yet think that your loss is the most inevitable thing of the entire weekend. What are the odds that T.Ocho starts just bringing reality show cameras into the huddle with them and/or that Marvin Lewis gets fired during halftime. Steelers by 20

The Commish’s NFL Upset of the week

Minnesota over New York Giants

Teams I’m recommending in this segment (which have to be underdogs by at least 4 points) have now won outright in 7 of the past 8 weeks, and would be 8 for 8 if Stevie Johnson hangs onto that ball. At the very least, I’m on an 8 game winning streak of teams covering the spread.

There isn’t a line on this one yet because of the Favre injury, but I have to assume it’ll be Giants by 4.5. The Giants victimize teams that can’t pass block and can’t defend the pass and they struggle against teams who are at least average in those categories. In fact, the only teams that they’ve beaten that are in the better half of the league in sacks allowed are Detroit and Dallas, and both of those games ended up being wins most likely because they knocked the opposing starting quarterback out of the game. Even at that, Drew Stanton damn near pulled that game out, and Jon Kitna beat them the next time they faced off. Well, even with Favre taking stupid sacks, the Vikings are still 12th in the league in sacks allowed, and their passing defense is in the top half of the league as well. Leslie Frazier has rejuvenated this team, and playing at home against a shorthanded Giants passing attack, I think the Vikings and Adrian Peterson should be able to pull off the upset.

Fantasy League Standings:

#1. Miller’s Chiefs (9-4) 1607
#2. Garland’s Giants (9-4) 1327.4
#3. Nelson’s Steelers (8-5) 1398.3
#4. Montgomery’s Rams (8-5) 1371.4
#5. Meyers’ Cowboys (8-5) 1369.7
#6. Duncan’s Packers (7-6) 1421.8
~~~~~~~~~~Playoff Cut Line~~~~~~~~~~
#7. Gideon’s Bears (7-6) 1388.1
#8. Harshbarger’s Chargers (7-6) 1286.9
#9. A’S BENGALS (6-7) 1446.3
#10. O’NEILL’S BUCCANEERS (5-8) 1399.1
#11. YELEN’S TEXANS (5-8) 1114.6
#12. DINCHER’S DOLPHINS (4-9) 1441.2
#13. TRAVELPIECE’S 49ERS (4-9) 1304.3
#14. DAMN’S BILLS (4-9) 1064.8

Clinched Playoffs
ELIMINATED FROM PLAYOFFS

Since I was unable to outscore Harshbarger this past weekend, there are still mathematical possibilities that get him into the playoffs, but they are highly unlikely. That being the case, it effectively all comes down to one game:

The Most Important Regular Season Game in the History of Our League:

Duncan’s Packers (7-6) vs. Gideon’s Bears (7-6)

Projected Line-Ups:

GB: Cassel, MJD, Mendenhall, Mi. Williams (TB), Welker, Knox, Gates, Vikings D, Rackers

Vs.

Chi: Brady, B. Jackson, McCoy, Nicks, Smith 1.0, Ford, Winslow, Chargers D, Bironas

There’s only one game of importance this week, and the shame of the matter is that it won’t even be a close one. When I started writing this post, this was looking like a pretty intriguing game, as each owner was going to have 3 or 4 real question marks / weaknesses. But now, in light of recent garbage trades (which have 110% convinced me that the trade deadline needs to be at least 2 weeks earlier next season), Duncan is down to one weakness and one questionable starter which would become a weakness if he doesn’t play; meanwhile, Gideon worked hard all season through trades and free agency to put together a playoff worthy roster to the point that he was unable to capitalize on the late deadline and will inevitably fall just short of the playoffs, as always seems to be the case for him.

Since this is the only game I’m breaking down, I’ll give you 10 reasons why this will be a cakewalk for Duncan.

#1. MJD.

The hyphen is only projected to get 20 points, but I find that laughable. At home, where he’s tallied 3 games of 25+ fantasy points this season, against a horrible Raiders rush defense…I don’t see how he goes for less than 28. Dude had 19 points this past weekend and didn’t even score a touchdown. You can count on him for 2 this weekend.

#2. James Starks.

You would think having a running back against the 30th ranked Lions rush defense would be a great omen, but Brandon Jackson has apparently been replaced by James Starks. Considering he lost Ryan Grant to an injury and he’s been losing Jackson to John Kuhn and now James Starks all season, I think we have a pretty good idea of the luck that Gideon has had this season.

#3. Mike Williams.

The stats on the Redskins secondary aren’t as pathetic as they were a week ago, considering they allowed the Giants to run all over them and Eli barely had to throw the ball, but they’re still really bad. Mike Williams has had at least 4 receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown in each of his 4 games against the notably awful secondaries of Atlanta (31st, twice), Cincinnati (26th), and Arizona (22nd). Considering Tampa Bay lost some offensive linemen this week and probably won’t be able to run the ball much, I’m sure they’ll be throwing most of the day. Washington (28th) won’t be able to contain him or Jaash Freeman.

#4. Hakeem Nicks.

Even if he plays, he’ll be a little gimpy, and it’s not as if the Vikings have a horrible secondary.

#5. Anquan Boldin.

The Texans have given up at least 30 fantasy points to opposing wide receivers in all but 3 games this season, and in 2 of those games, Rusty Smith and Bruce Gradkowski were throwing the ball. It’s going to be a great day for Flacco and Boldin owners.

#6. Jacoby Ford.

1 reception for 4 yards last week? Yes, it was a touchdown, but this guy is completely unreliable, especially in a league that awards no points for kick return yards.

#7. Wes Welker.

Not that I necessarily expect all that much out of Welker against the Bears, but considering Gideon will be starting Tom Brady, it’s like Welker’s points have a 2x multiplier, because it essentially erases some of Brady’s numbers…and he’s certainly been looking Welker’s way a lot in the past 4 weeks.

#8. Rob Bironas.

The Titans haven’t been scoring at all in the past 2 weeks, so why would you want their kicker on your team?

#9. Rashard Mendenhall.

Dude ran at will against the Bengals in Week 9, and with Ben banged up and it getting much colder in Pittsburgh, I’m sure they’ll rely on him to carry the load again this time around.

#10. Prognostication.

I predicted Duncan to win the league in the pre-season. And I mean, there’s no way he doesn’t win this game, so he’s well on his way.

Final: GB 179-84.

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