Pre-Season Fantasy Preview

Leave a comment

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

Let the Real Fun Begin

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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 13 NFL & Fantasy Preview

7 Comments

Rough Day to be a Johnson

For Andre, Stevie, and Chris, it was their most talked about weekend of the season, and certainly not in a good way.

Andre
In light of the penalty handed down by the NFL on Monday evening, Andre will be the one dominating the headlines and talking heads programs leading up to the Texans’ Thursday night game against Philadelphia. Unless you’re one of the 26 Texans fans in the world or you’re in the 10% minority of the fantasy football world that owns Andre Johnson, you’re more than likely scratching your head and wondering why he wasn’t penalized further.

In a league that has spent the past several weeks enforcing penalties and fines for headshots, including fining James Harrison over $125,000 thus far for multiple separate incidents of leading with his helmet, Andre Johnson faces no suspension and was fined only $25,000 for ripping off the helmet of an opposing player and going Manny Pacquiao on his face. Do you even realize how insignificant that fine is? Dude makes $5,525,000 per season. $25,000 isn’t even half of one percent of his salary! Percentage-wise, if you make $45,000 per year, that would be a fine of just over $200. Roger Goodell essentially gave Andre Johnson a speeding ticket for an aggravated assault.

While I don’t think the punishment fits the crime, I’m glad he did it. As a wide receiver, Cortland Finnegan’s endgame in every game is to piss you off by any means necessary. Darrelle Revis will piss you off, but that’s because he’s so damn good that you can’t get free from him. Hines Ward has a history of making dirty hits on run blocks, but he’s well-respected around the league nonetheless because he’s been such a great and humble receiver for his entire career. Cortland Finnegan is just a dick who literally wants to be known as the dirtiest player in the league. This is the 3rd time he’s been fined already this season, and all 3 times were for dirty plays. Who isn’t rooting for that guy to get his ass kicked? He deserves no respect.

I’ve been playing a lot of Call of Duty: Black Ops lately, so let me finish the Andre/Finnegan rant with a video gaming metaphor. There are guys that piss you off but they gain your respect because they’re simply better than you are, and then there are those guys who piss you off because they camp in corners with shotguns, use glitches on maps, and incessantly task trash on the microphone. If you met the first in person, you would probably shake his hand, admit defeat, and maybe even form a friendship. If you met the second in person, you would want to punch him in the head, and I’m glad Andre did.

Stevie
Bad things tend to happen to people who insist on using a nickname. From 2003 to 2007, Chad Johnson had at least 87 receptions, 1274 yards, and 7 touchdowns in each season. Since legally changing his name to Ochocinco before the 2008 season, he’s averaged 62.5 receptions, 793.5 yards, and 6.5 TDs. What happened, eight five? Terry “Tank” Johnson and Adam “Pacman” Jones may have had more disciplinary issues than any other players in the league. Michael Vick insisted on being known as Mike…or perhaps it was the other way around…either way, things really hit the fan for him shortly thereafter. And now we have Stevie Johnson.

You see, 2 weeks ago Steve Johnson was one of the better feel good stories in the league: a 7th round draft pick out of Kentucky who spent the past 2 years wasting away on the bench, unable to even crack the starting line-up for one of the worst offensive attacks in the NFL, all of a sudden gets his shot and more than makes the most of it to the tune of roughly 73 yards and a TD per game. But I noticed during the Steelers game that the announcers had begun to call him Stevie, and he promptly went out and dropped 5 passes, including the game winning TD in overtime. What kind of grown man insists on being known as Stevie anyway? Steve Largent. Steve Owen. Steve Van Buren. Steve Young. Those are football names. Stevie Johnson? Sounds like he should be running routes with Buster Davis, catching (zero) passes from Rusty Smith, and throwing blocks for Cadillac Williams and Beanie Wells on a winless team.

However, what’s really disappointing to see is the people poking fun at Stevie’s reaction after the game, in which he cried out to God in anguish. Maybe his tweet was misinterpreted and it was almost certainly ill-advised, but who among us hasn’t blamed a higher power for things even more trivial than this? I’m willing to bet there are atheists who have blamed God for finishing off their already miserable day with a traffic jam. I’m not trying to turn into the “Leave Britney alone” guy, but seriously, leave Stevie alone. If you’ve been on twitter for more than 5 minutes, I’m sure you’ve made some regrettable tweets as well. Rather than harassing him like everyone else, I actually e-mailed him words of encouragement, because that’s clearly what he needed. He needs to be able to put this thing behind him and move onto this week’s game against the Vikings, and so do we.

Chris
7 carries for 5 yards?! Are you kidding me? Frank Gore BROKE HIS HIP, came back into the game, and carried the ball twice for 9 yards before calling it a season. This is outrageous, and I don’t even have CJ2K on any of my fantasy teams. There is no excuse for putting up Tim Hightower numbers against a defense that had been allowing opposing teams to run for 108 yards per game, especially when it should have been the Chris Johnson show all day with Rusty Smith at quarterback. It’s not as if the Texans jumped out to an insurmountable lead to limit Tennessee’s ability to run the ball; before Houston took a 14-0 lead late in the 2nd quarter, the Titans had given Johnson 3 carries while giving Rusty Smith 10 pass attempts. That is inexcusable. Add this misuse of Chris Johnson to the list of reasons why Jeff Fisher should be fired.

Power Rankings
This may or may not be the last time I post my power rankings this season, but now that we’re entering the final third of the season, the timing feels right.

The Not So Luck-y Division:
32. Carolina

Who would’ve thought that a team would get worse by getting rid of Jake Delhomme? With Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen clearly not working out, this team’s #1 concern heading into next year has to be at quarterback. I have to wonder whether or not they’ll actually take Andrew Luck, though. They need a sure thing, and I’m not so sure they can afford to run the risk of Luck not panning out. I’d love to see a three team trade before the draft…something like the Eagles giving up Kolb and their 1st rounder for the #1 pick and then turning around and dealing it to the Cardinals for Adrian Wilson and a 2nd rounder. I have no idea if it’s even remotely feasible, but Andrew Luck deserves better than Carolina.

Great Receiver; Bad Record:
31. Cincinnati
30. Detroit
29. Buffalo
28. Denver
27. Arizona
26. Dallas

These are the teams making it difficult to gamble this year. The only truly bad team in the league is Carolina. If it weren’t for Dwayne Bowe and Roddy White playing like Jerry Rice and Cris Carter this year, the six best wide receivers in the NFL would arguably be Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, Steve Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, Larry Fitzgerald, and Miles Austin. Any one of those guys can single-handedly change the outcome of the game, and they play on 6 of the 7 teams in the league with the worst record. Look at the lines this week: Cin +7, Det +3.5, Buf +6, Den +8, Dal +5, and Ari +3. How are we supposed to bet against them with any degree of confidence when you just know that one of those guys is going to score a garbage time touchdown to cover the 6 points that 3-8 and 2-9 teams have to get? Brutal.

Fading Fast:
25. Washington
24. Seattle
23. Tennessee
22. Oakland
21. Houston

At one point or another during the course of the season, I had each of these teams ranked in the top 15, but they’ve each been falling apart ever since. Despite how poorly they’ve all been playing, Washington is the only one that’s 2 full games out of 1st place in their division. What a ridiculous season.

Frisky Four Win Squads:
20. San Francisco
19. Cleveland
18. Minnesota

I cannot believe San Francisco is within a game of making the playoffs. You can piss and moan about TCU not getting a shot at the BCS title game, but there are at least a dozen teams that are better than them. You can’t possibly convince me that the 49ers deserve to make the playoffs, which mathematically asserts that they are better than 20 of the other 31 teams in the league. Better than 12 teams? Sure. But there’s no way they’re better than the other 2 teams in this category, and yet it’s virtually impossible for Cleveland or Minnesota to make the playoffs. It’s sad that Minnesota could go 9-7 and would have less of a shot at making the playoffs than the 49ers would if they get to 7-9. Regardless of their personal playoffs picture, each of these teams has the potential to destroy the playoffs hopes of several others, and should all finish out the season with a 3-2 record.

Feel Good Stories:
17. St. Louis
16. Tampa Bay

At this point last year, both of these teams were 1-10. With 5 games left to play, they’ve each already won 4 more games than they did all of last season. In all likelihood, they’ve both been benefitting from an extremely favorable schedule and have been playing a little over their heads, but if you’re not rooting for Sam Bradford and Josh Freeman, I’m not sure what you’re rooting for.

Not Quite There Yet:
15. Miami
14. Jacksonville
13. Kansas City

They each still have a playoff pulse and they each have the pieces to make a run at it, but you just get the feeling that they’re each going to come up a little short. Jacksonville still plays @ Indianapolis. Kansas City still plays @ San Diego. Miami has a lot of ground to make up and still plays @ New England and @ New York Jets. The Chiefs and Jaguars might both finish 10-6 and miss the playoffs. Shame they aren’t in the NFC West.

All for One and Four for Three?
12. Chicago
11. New York Giants
10. Green Bay
9. Philadelphia

Under the assumption that the NFC West has to send a team to the playoffs and that the Falcons and Saints will occupy the NFC South crown and a wild card spot in one order or the other, here are your four teams fighting for the remaining three NFC playoff spots. Can you pinpoint the city that will be sending thousands of pieces of hate mail to Roger Goodell after their team misses the playoffs despite winning 2 more games than the NFC West champ?

Michael Myers
8. Indianapolis
7. San Diego

No matter what you do to them, they just won’t die, and until proven otherwise, there’s no reason to believe that they won’t survive until the end of the movie.

And the Favorite Is…
6. New Orleans
5. Pittsburgh
4. Atlanta
3. New York Jets
2. Baltimore
1. New England

Each of these teams is getting 7-1 or longer odds to win the Super Bowl, which means that if you’re thoroughly convinced that someone in this group is going to win it all but you don’t know who, just bet $100 on each of them and you’re guaranteed to win at least $200.

Eliminator Suggestions:

With my roommate forgetting to make a pick until after the 1:00 games had started, therefore being forced to rely on the Oakland Raiders, everyone in our group is officially eliminated. But, because I enjoy this segment of the post as much as I do, and on the off chance that I gain a reader who’s still alive and needs some advice, I’m going to keep it going and hopefully improve on my 38-10 record.

#4. Indianapolis over Dallas

Reason for this pick: Peyton Manning defied all odds last week by losing at home, following a loss, on a Sunday night…he never does any of those things, let alone all three of them. There’s no way he lets the Colts lose a 3rd consecutive game. Last week was an anomaly against the hottest team in the league. They’ll bounce back. Colts by 7.

#3. Seattle over Carolina

Reason for this pick: Well, I, uh, found Carolina on the schedule, and just, sort of, you know, picked the other team. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Seahawks by 10.

#2. Philadelphia over Houston

Reason for this pick: Too much drama in Houston, the game means too much to Philadelphia, and against a dreadfully bad secondary, it’s time for Vick to re-enter those MVP discussions. Eagles by 17.

#1. San Diego over Oakland

Reason for this pick: One of the most impressive teams of the past 5 weeks against the worst team of the past 2 weeks. The Raiders are bi-polar, and right now, they’re on a low. Ride it while it’s hot. Chargers by 24.

The Commish’s NFL Upset of the Week:

Cleveland +4.5 over Miami

Thanks to Stevie Wonder’s butter fingers, I missed my upset pick last week, snapping my 6 game winning streak. No matter; I’ll just close the season on a 5 game winning streak. For the second time this season, I’m taking the Browns as my upset pick, and for the second time I’m offering the disclaimer that this pick will be replaced by Washington +7 over the Giants if Jake Delhomme is starting over Colt McCoy. There’s a stat in baseball called VORP that I’ve never taken the time to fully understand, but I believe it measures how much more value you bring to your team by being in the game instead of your replacement player. I assume they can’t really measure this in football because the sample size is 10% what it is in baseball, but I guarantee Colt McCoy would be in the top 5 in the NFL if they did, and he isn’t even yet anywhere near as good as he should be; that’s just how bad Jake Delhomme is. With Colt in there alongside Peyton Hillis, you have someone who can pass efficiently or scramble effectively as the team gradually moves the ball down the field. He’s not going to blow you away or throw many deep balls, but he isn’t going to throw a killer interception either. He makes smart plays to give you the best chance that he can. With Delhomme in there, you’re basically spotting the other team 14+ points because of the brutal interceptions that he throws in every game. With Colt McCoy in there, you can hang with and possibly beat teams with a better record than you. With Jake Delhomme in there, you damn near lose to the Panthers at home.

Fantasy League Standings

#1. Miller’s Chiefs (9-3) 1498 points
#2. Montgomery’s Rams (8-4) 1299 points
#3. Garland’s Giants (8-4) 1246 points
#4. Meyers’ Cowboys (7-5) 1280 points
#5. Nelson’s Steelers (7-5) 1278 points
#6. Duncan’s Packers (6-6) 1321 points
~~~~~~~~~~Playoff Cut Line~~~~~~~~~~
#7. Gideon’s Bears (6-6) 1268 points
#8. Harshbarger’s Chargers (6-6) 1155 points
#9. A’s Bengals (5-7) 1325 points
#10. O’Neill’s Buccaneers (5-7) 1299 points
#11. Yelen’s Texans (5-7) 1033 points
#12. Dincher’s Dolphins (4-8) 1321 points
#13. Travelpiece’s 49ers (4-8) 1230 points
#14. Damn’s Bills (4-8) 979 points

With 2 games left in our regular season, 5 teams with 7+ wins, and 2 of the 6-6 teams playing each other next week, it’s been determined that it will take at least a 7-7 record to make the playoffs, and it’s still reasonably possible that 1 team with an 8-6 record would finish on the outside looking in. That being the case, Dincher, Travelpiece, and Damn have each officially been eliminated from the playoffs, and I’m the only one to have clinched a playoff spot. Kauffman, O’Neill, and Yelen are 1 loss away from elimination, Montgomery and Garland are a win away from a playoff spot, and our other 5 teams are hovering right in the middle where anything can happen. I’ll be interested to see if any of the 10 teams fighting for the final 5 spots will be offering great keeper options to Damn or Dincher in exchange for a maximum of 5 weeks worth of great guys who are almost certainly too expensive to keep next year, like Peyton Manning, Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson, or Andre Johnson. I’d be perfectly content with not having to worry about facing any of those names in the playoffs. I doubt anyone makes a move this week, but next week when we’ll probably have 4 or 5 teams fighting for 1 or 2 spots, I bet a couple of those guys start making some serious offers, and I can almost guarantee there will be some ridiculous trade accepted that I’ll have to veto.

Instead of upsets or blowouts, I’ll just be breaking down…

The Most Important Games of the Week

3rd Most Important: Montgomery’s Rams (8-4) vs. Garland’s Giants (8-4)

Projected Line-Ups:

StL: Orton, Rice, Ivory, Moore, Megatron, Ward, Keller, Bears D, Crosby

Vs.

NYG: E. Manning, CJ2K, S. Jackson, Maclin, Bryant, Marshall, Graham, Rams D, Akers

What’s on the Line:
The winner clinches a playoff spot and enters the driver’s seat for 1st place in the NFC and an all-important 1st round bye in the playoffs. But it’s definitely possible that the loser clinches a playoff spot as well, which is why this game has a lot of appeal, but isn’t really important to the other 12 teams in the league.

Montgomery:
With his win over Harshbarger last week, Montgomery broke his 3 game losing streak, but Frank Gore suffered a broken hip. He’s been mostly playing without his 2nd best wide receiver for the past several weeks, and will now be without his best running back for the rest of his season, however much longer it may last. Talk about a team stumbling to the finish line. But because he jumped out to a 7-1 record, he still has a shot at a first round bye. This would be the equivalent of the Steelers having the #2 seed in the AFC without Mendenhall and Hines Ward. Does that team win a conference semi game against San Diego, New York, Baltimore, or Indianapolis? Maybe, but they’re a severe underdog to make the Super Bowl. Anyway, the only way he misses out on the playoffs at this point is if he loses his remaining games, Harshbarger wins his remaining games and outscores Montgomery by 144 in the process, and several other things happen. He can limp into the playoffs, but I don’t see how he limps his way to the championship, so there’s a good chance I just found the strongest candidate for a MJD trade, because his team is all of a sudden a force to be reckoned with again if he’s able to fill the hole left by Frank Gore.

Garland:
By the way, with Eli Manning, Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin all going up against bottom 5 defenses, there’s a good chance Garland leads the league in scoring this week, and an even better chance that he wins this game in landslide fashion.

Final:
NFC Champ NYG: 157-102.

2nd Most Important: Miller’s Chiefs (9-3) vs. Harshbarger’s Chargers (6-6)

Projected Line-Ups:

KC: Flacco, Foster, Moreno, Forte, Bowe, Fitzgerald, Gonzalez, Jets D, Bryant

Vs.

SD: Freeman, Jacobs, Blount, Stevie J, Welker, Jennings, Moeaki, Cardinals D, Scobee

What’s on the Line:
A KC win officially locks up the AFC regular season championship and a first round bye, and considering my 200 point cushion over the other 2 guys who could potentially get to 10 wins, all but clinches 1st place in the regular season and the $20 prize that comes with it. It would also effectively eliminate Harshbarger from playoff contention, or at the very least make it impossible for an 8 win team to miss the playoffs.
A Harshbarger win would leave first place in the league up for grabs until next weekend and would keep him alive in the playoff race despite starting the season 2-4, just like the actual Chargers.

Miller:
#1. As has been the case for the majority of the season, I’ll be relying on Arian Foster to carry me to victory, and since the Texans play on Thursday night, I’ll know early whether or not I have a good shot at winning this one.
#2. I’m a little concerned with Flacco against the Steelers on Sunday night because the Steelers have a great defense and Flacco hasn’t exactly had much success in prime time games in his brief career, but his TD/INT ratio at home this season is 10/1, so much like Matt Ryan, I have to presume I can continue to count on him at home until proven otherwise.
#3. There’s no way Forte repeats his Week 1 performance against the Lions, but against the 30th ranked fantasy rush defense, it’s hard to believe he completely lets me down and scores less than 10 points, as he has already done 5 times this season. ESPN’s projection of 90 rushing yards, 3 receptions for 30 yards and a TD is surprisingly about what I’m expecting as well. Very rarely do we agree.
#4. Is there any way to stop Dwayne Bowe? Dear Lord.
#5. -3 for the Jets D? They must be factoring in the great field position the Pats will inevitably have all night since Sanchez can’t throw in the cold or the wind and they’re calling for both in Boston on Monday night.

Harshbarger:
#1. Welker or Holmes? Given what I just said about Sanchez and the way Brady’s been playing the past 3 or 4 weeks, I would lean towards Welker. But because he waited on him through the 4 game suspension, because he’s been playing well for the past 4 weeks, because he never takes my advice, and because he still feels some weird Pittsburgh connection to Santonio Holmes, I’m sure he’ll play him, and I’ll be glad.
#2. Josh Freeman is projected for more points than he’s scored yet this season, and against a respectable Falcons D. If he’s going to venture outside of the 16.3-21.9 fantasy point range he’s been in for 8 consecutive weeks, I think he’ll go low.
#3. Please refer to any other post in which I’ve written about Harshbarger’s team for my thoughts on his pathetic running back situation. A word to the wise in future seasons: if you’re going to focus on either running backs or wide receivers during the draft and just deal with the others in free agency, it’s been obvious for years that you bank on running backs and hope on wide receivers. Considering the scarcity of good running backs and the intrinsic inconsistency of the wide receiver position, I don’t understand why the best running backs are only marginally more valued on draft day than the best wide receivers.
#4. Whether he plays the Raiders against the Chargers or the Cardinals against the Rams, at least I can count on Harshbarger’s D to play as poorly as mine is projected to.
#5. If I lose because of Tony Moeaki, you better believe I’ll be thankful…and also surprised.

Final:
Even though I always seem to make the playoffs, I think after this 133-97 victory, this will be my first 10 win season in our league’s 5 year history.

Most Important Game: Gideon’s Bears (6-6) vs. O’Neill’s Buccaneers (5-7)

Projected Line-Ups:

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

Vs.

TB: Rivers, Charles, Hillis, T. Jones, Amendola, S. Moss, Tamme, Giants D, Tynes

What’s on the Line:
A Gideon win eliminates O’Neill and keeps him in control of his own destiny en route to next week’s showdown with Duncan.
An O’Neill win keeps his slim playoff hopes alive, damages but doesn’t quite destroy Gideon’s playoff hopes, and further opens the door for Harshbarger or Kauffman to sneak into the playoffs if they win out.

Gideon:
QB. Brady might be working with a short field for most of the night and have a good looking game with mediocre passing yards, or he could end up being victimized by the Jets defense.
RB. Brandon Jackson should be heavily involved in salting away a big win over the 49ers, or he could end up being shut down by a 49ers defense that held the Cardinals to 13 rushing yards. Goodson’s been good, but he’s increasingly splitting carries with Stewart and may very well be taken out of any game by the end of the 1st quarter if the Panthers are getting crushed.
WR. Steve Smith hasn’t been Steve Smith in a game yet this season and Jacoby Ford has been as unpredictable as the rest of Oakland.

O’Neill:
QB. Everyone is in love with Philip Rivers, but we saw last week what happens to his fantasy numbers if the Chargers get out to a big lead before he’s predominantly involved in the touchdowns, and with the Chargers favored by 2 touchdowns this week, his effectiveness may be neutralized.
RB. I love Kansas City’s running backs and Denver’s rush defense is awful, but what happens if the Broncos miraculously jump out to a 35-0 lead against us again? (By the way, if there’s any team in the league that shouldn’t be deferring to the second half when they win the coin toss, it’s the Chiefs, and yet Haley continuously does it. Between that and our unabashed and indefensible commitment to Thomas Jones, I’ve grown frustrated with some of the decision making on this 7-4 squad because I know it’s going to cost us a crucial game down the stretch)
WR. Neither Moss is reliable for anything other than frustration. Who could have guessed before the season began that Amendola would be starting on this roster?

Result:
Anything can happen. I legitimately have no idea what to expect, aside from a great game from Peyton Hillis and a solid game from LeSean McCoy, which all but guarantees they’ll both play miserably. The only prediction I’ll make is that I end up paying more attention to this game on Sunday than any other in our league, including my own.