Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2017 Week 17 Fantasy Advice: The Finale (if you're still playing)

We, and by we I mean me, here at Matt's Sports Musings, hope you're playing in a league that doesn't have a championship in Week 17, because that's just not right. But if you're still playing fantasy before we ring in the new year, this is the column for you to read. There are plenty of players who are in critical matchups, and those who may end up having nothing to play for except their careers and immediate futures. That makes for an interesting combination.

Start of the Week: QB Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) vs. CLE

Big Ben is not the fantasy QB he once was, but you'll still see flashes of it against the Browns, a team he has entirely dominated in his career. The only open question is how long will he and the starters play, but he should be able to put in some big numbers against the to be 0-16 Browns before he's wrapped in cotton wool.

Who to Start:

QB Kirk Cousins (WSH) at NYG: Kirk Cousins has been dynamite since Washington was eliminated from playoff contention, largely because Cousins is playing for a future job somewhere. That will continue against the Giants, who can't wait to get on the golf course after the new year.

RB Derrick Henry (TEN) vs. JAX: With DeMarco Murray injured, Henry is going to see the bulk of the carries in a game that means everything for Tennessee. Jacksonville won't be benching any starters in this game, but expect the Titans to rely on why they're in playoff contention to begin with, which is their running game, to win and get in.

WR T.Y Hilton (IND) vs. HOU: There has been no more yo-yo fantasy option this year than T.Y Hilton, who has either had fantastic weeks or terrible ones; no middle. Against what's left of Houston's defense, he should have a fairly good afternoon Sunday to end the season on.

WR Golden Tate (DET) vs. GB: As the Packers defense has suffered mightily from attrition and injuries, opposing teams have feasted on the weaknesses here, especially on the road. Golden Tate, who has struggled in recent weeks, should benefit in a game the Lions will probably want to win more.

TE Antonio Gates (LAC) vs. OAK: Against the Jets last week, Gates looked like the Antonio Gates of a decade ago with a fantastic performance. While a game like that is unlikely, it should be noted that the Raiders have struggled all year defending tight ends, and have probably packed it in for the season themselves.

DEF Baltimore vs. CIN: The Bengals got their prideful good performance out of the way against the Lions at home last week, and will probably be fodder for the Ravens in a must win game for them. They were underwhelming against the Colts, and with everything on the line, that probably won't happen again.

Sit of the Week: QB Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. CAR

If he's not the biggest bust of the year in fantasy football, he's darn close to it. With Carolina having everything to play for, Ryan figures to struggle against a team he's never really solved in his career.

Who to Sit:

QB Jared Goff (LAR) vs. SF: He's someone who figures to potentially get pulled halfway through against the 49ers with the Rams locked into a three or four seed. But even if he plays more than expected, the 49ers defense has looked energized in recent weeks, so he'd be a risky play in a normal week too.

RB Jordan Howard (CHI) at MIN: He put in a good performance last week against the hapless Browns, but that's unlikely to be repeated against a stout Minnesota defense that has given up seven points in the last two games.

WR Amari Cooper (OAK) at LAC: He came out of nowhere last week to make an amazing re-appearance on fantasy wires with a long touchdown and a good game. But against the Chargers stout secondary? That's likely not to be repeated as he only had 28 yards against the Chargers in the first meeting.

WR Kelvin Benjamin (BUF) at MIA: Getting wrongfully robbed by the officials last week aside, Benjamin hasn't quite been up to his best since he was traded to Buffalo. Some of that is injury induced, but the Bills aren't going to rely on the pass to win this week. Miami's defense has been stout at home, too.

TE Cameron Brate (TB) vs. NO: In a such a thin position in the thinnest of weeks, this matchup is not one to turn towards. Brate had a great game against the Packers in Week 13, but has done nothing since. Expect that to continue.

DEF Carolina at ATL: Didn't you say bench Matt Ryan just up the column? Yes I did, but that doesn't also mean that Carolina's defense is a risky play as well. Their defense has not been quite as proficient away from Charlotte, and with Atlanta giving everything for their playoff lives, this is a tough matchup for them.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Jimmy Garoppolo (SF) at LAR: He's the real deal, no doubt. And he should rack up some big numbers Sunday if and when the Rams pull their starters.

QB Patrick Mahomes (KC) at DEN: If you need a stringer for this game, Mahomes isn't going to be a terrible option with the weapons at his disposal. Denver's defense is a shell of itself, and he has one chance to make a statement and this may well be it.

RB Tion Green (DET) vs. GB: In the Lions ever-long quest to find a running back, maybe they've just found a gem in Tion Green, who has made the endzone in a couple of the past few Lions games. He's an exciting stash and grab guy in keeper leagues, but for this week only, he's a fun option to consider.

Buyer Beware:

RB Leonard Fournette (JAX) at TEN: You should believe Doug Marrone at his word when he says he's not benching his starters, but even then, Fournette isn't quite the runner he needs to be with some of the injuries he's carrying. He may well be protected by Marrone and the Jaguars even if the rest of the starters play their normal complement of snaps Sunday in Tennessee.

It was a snap decision to bring back this column after a one year hiatus, but I felt that without a team or a league, it made sense to stay involved with the world of fantasy football this way. If you read the column this year, thanks. I appreciate anyone who took my advice and ran with it. Sorry about missing Week 12, that was a bad goof on my part.

Look out on New Year's Day for my season predictions in review for the NFL, and maybe a column or two on how the playoffs may play out. Good luck in Week 17, and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

2017 Week 16 Fantasy Advice: Championship Weekend

After a season worth of hand-wringing, gut-wrenching decisions, overzealous purchases of fantasy magazines at airport news stands and more, fantasy championship weekend is now here, for most of you at least. Everything you worked so hard for comes down to this, which makes every decision this week so critical. Your pride, and maybe your wallet, will thank you later. That's why this week, you get extra advice. More starts, more sits and more sleepers. Merry Christmas.

Start of the Week: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT) at HOU MON

With Antonio Brown sidelined, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense have to turn somewhere for big plays, and Smith-Schuster has been that player even when Brown was healthy. The matchup against whatever is left of Houston's secondary is incredibly advantageous too. Smith-Schuster is a must start on Christmas afternoon.

Who to Start:

QB Case Keenum (MIN) at GB SAT: He's never been overly amazing in terms of fantasy numbers produced, but he's certainly been productive, and on a consistent basis. The Packers defense has not been up to par all year, and with them now eliminated from the postseason, there could be a letdown in store, setting up Keenum for a big evening.

QB Dak Prescott (DAL) vs. SEA: With Ezekiel Elliot back in the fold, Dallas' offense should be in full stride once again, and it's hard to imagine Dak not reaping some of those rewards against a Seahawks defense that is a shell of itself. They don't have much left, so Prescott could be in for a huge afternoon.

RB Dion Lewis (NE) vs. BUF: Rex Burkhead is injured, which means there is a huge opening for Lewis on fantasy rosters this week to potentially break out in a big way against a Buffalo defense that struggled against New England three weeks ago, and hasn't been great against the run all year.

RB Alex Collins (BAL) vs. IND SAT: He didn't impress last week against the putrid Cleveland Browns, but that shouldn't discourage anyone from potentially starting him against the Colts Saturday. Indianapolis' rush defense has been non-existent all year, and Collins has been a good home performer too.

WR Devin Funchess (CAR) vs. TB: Though he didn't do much of anything notable against Green Bay, Tampa is a putrid road team, especially on defense. And his performances since Kelvin Benjamin was traded to Buffalo have been fairly solid except for last week, so go with the trends and Funchess on Sunday.

WR Robert Woods (LAR) at TEN: He was fantastic last week against the Seahawks in his injury return, and he could be in a good spot to replicate that performance against Tennessee. The Titans have not been great of late even against mediocre QB's, so Woods could have a huge day with Jared Goff throwing him the ball.

WR Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ) vs. NYG: While the Cardinals are out of the playoff mix, Fitz isn't going to stop producing, even with Blaine Gabbert as his QB. The Giants make Nick Foles look like Carson Wentz last week, and that's a good sign for Fitz's fantasy potential this weekend.

TE Jimmy Graham (SEA) at DAL: Even though in the two most important games for fantasy owners in recent weeks he went invisible, it's hard to bench Graham this weekend against a Dallas defense that struggles to defend the tight end well. For that alone, Graham should be in your starting lineup.

TE Evan Engram (NYG) at ARZ: He's been the only consistent part of the Giants offense all year when nothing else has been, which means at this thin position, he's a must start. It's not the best matchup, but consistency may be the best play this week instead of matchups.

DEF LA Chargers at NYJ: While the Jets offense wasn't exactly bad in New Orleans last week, it's hard to imagine them having much success against an angry Chargers defense with everything to play for and an extra day to prepare.

DEF Philadelphia vs. OAK MON: The Eagles defense was bad at the Giants last Sunday, but against the Raiders, you have to like their chances. Oakland's offense is inconsistent and turnover prone, so this should make for a fun Christmas night for owners of the Eagles defense.

Sit of the Week: QB Matt Ryan (ATL) at NO

I just can't do it with him, not after the way he played against New Orleans a few weeks ago, and not with the way Atlanta's offense has functioned this year. New Orleans' defense hasn't been great at home this year, but that may be largely a function of who they've played rather than their defense itself.

Who to Sit:

QB Kirk Cousins (WSH) vs. DEN: You have to admire Cousins for his ability to produce at some levels though his entire team around him has collapsed due to injury. But this week, the injuries plus Denver's prideful defense will make for a bad Christmas Eve recipe.

QB Andy Dalton (CIN) vs. DET: After the performances the last few weeks, I don't know if anyone outside of A.J Green on the Bengals is fantasy viable. Certainly against the Lions, who have everything to play for, Dalton isn't on that list of starts, nor should he be.

RB Marshawn Lynch (OAK) at PHI MON: He's been great the last four weeks in fantasy land, with touchdowns and critical carries each game. But the Eagles have not allowed a rushing touchdown at home, and have a penchant for shutting down opposing running backs. Lynch is a hard sell this week in spite of his recent form.

RB Frank Gore (IND) at BAL SAT: Gore is a legendary running back, but with the season well and truly lost for the Colts, it might be time to see what they have in Marlon Mack, so he could see carries and targets siphoned away. It doesn't help that Baltimore's defense is also very tough.

WR Randall Cobb (GB) vs. MIN SAT: He's been playing really great as of late, and is coming off a huge game, though that was with Aaron Rodgers, not Brett Hundley. He's only scored two TD's against the Vikings in nine games against them in his career, and the Hundley factor is a hard one to ignore.

WR Sterling Shepard (NYG) at ARZ: In spite of the odds last week against the Eagles, he had a bonanza of an afternoon. But Arizona's defense has been stout most if not all of this season, especially at home and recently too, so starting Shepard is a risk.

WR Jermaine Kearse (NYJ) vs. LAC: It's hard to imagine the Jets offense finding any rhythm with Bryce Petty, though they did a little against New Orleans. Petty wasn't exactly impressive though, so it's hard to start Kearse this week with that said.

TE Charles Clay (BUF) at NE: He always seems to perform well against Miami because of the "revenge" factor, but New England is considerably against tight ends, and especially so against Clay, because he may be the biggest weapon the Bills have in the passing game, and they always key in on the opponents best weapons.

TE David Njoku (CLE) at CHI: If anyone is watching this game for other reasons that fantasy or gambling, kudos. But in the fantasy world, Njoku is a risky play largely because he has the tendency to disappear from games, and Chicago's defense has been alright at Soldier Field.

DEF Tennessee vs. LAR: The Titans defense is not the reason why the team has suddenly hit the skids in a big way, but they aren't playing up to their potential. Against a Rams offense that has been awesome all year, and really seems to be hitting its stride, this is a tough matchup.

DEF Seattle at DAL: This should be obvious now considering the injuries and attrition, but it should be even more obvious with Zeke Elliot back in the fold for Dallas.

4 Super Sleepers:

QB Nick Foles (PHI) vs. OAK MON: He's a very decent streamer this week after his performance against the Giants, and the Raiders defense is equally porous. There is good potential for Foles here to potentially win someone a big game because of this potential.

QB Tyrod Taylor (BUF) at NE: He's not exactly the best start of the weekend, but he's not a terrible option either. He always puts up decent numbers, so he's not entirely matchup dependant. New England's defense has also not been up to par since the last time these two teams played.

RB Jordan Howard (CHI) vs. CLE: He's been one of the biggest busts all around the world of fantasy football this year, and it may be hard to go back to the well in this the most important of weekends, but it is the Browns. It may just be worth it.

TE Ricky Seals-Jones (ARZ) vs. NYG: Almost anyone on the Cardinals offense this week sans Gabbert is viable because of the matchup, but there's some legitimate potential for Seal-Jones, who even though has been boom or bust recently, there's reason to believe in the boom potential on Sunday.

Buyer Beware:

RB Lamar Miller (HOU) vs. PIT MON: Someone has to do something for the Texans on offense, so it figures to be Miller, right? Well, he's had it rough with all of the attrition on offense, so it's hard to start him against the Steelers, even though their defense is not what it once was.

Merry Christmas, and good luck on Championship Weekend!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

2017 Week 15 Fantasy Advice: Last Chance Saloon

To those of you still alive in your fantasy playoffs, congratulations. But there is now another gauntlet in place. More injuries are creating havoc and chaos, and it's going to take some deft manuevering in order to pull off another win. But you've all done so well to get here, it stands to reason you won't have anything to worry about, right?

Start of the Week: RB Kenyan Drake (MIA) at BUF

First, the Dolphins trade Jay Ajayi. Then, Damien Williams gets hurt. So enter former Crimson Tide star Kenyan Drake, and he's only lit the world of fantasy football on fire. He was so good against both Denver and New England that it's almost impossible to bench him at this point against anyone.

Who to Start:

QB Cam Newton (CAR) vs. GB: Going from facing the Vikings to the Packers is going from fantasy hll to heaven in a week. The Packers defense didn't look up to par against Cleveland, and even in the matchup struggle against Minnesota, Cam played decently both running and throwing.

RB Latavius Murray (MIN) vs. CIN: Murray had a rough week against the incredibly stout Panthers defense last Sunday, but that shouldn't be as much of a problem against the patchwork Bengals defense. Jordan Howard broke out of his slump against them last week, and Murray should break out of his brief one Sunday.

WR Josh Gordon (CLE) vs. BAL: He's getting his targets; seven catches on 17 targets is not a bad ratio for someone who is coming off such a long layoff. Gordon is practically a must-start against the Ravens who gave up over 500 yards to Big Ben last Sunday, and are without their best corner in Jimmy Smith.

WR Golden Tate (DET) vs. CHI SAT: It's hard to go against Tate at this point, who is playing some of his best football of the year right now, and has a very favorable matchup against the Bears, who only look good in spurts on defense and rarely do they on the road.

TE Jack Doyle (IND) vs. DEN THU: It was hard for anyone to put up decent numbers on Hoth Sunday, but he did catch a touchdown, which saved his day. The Broncos are not good at defending the tight end, so Doyle as he's been for most of the season is quite a solid option.

DEF New Orleans vs. NYJ: Bryce Petty. Long week to prepare. Enough said.

Sit of the Week: WR Robby Anderson (NYJ) at NO

He had been one of the best receivers in fantasy football for the entirety of the season, however without Josh McCown, that status has taken a major hit. He also threw up a major stinker in Denver last weekend, and the Saints are going to key in on him as the only offensive weapon for the Jets. Avoid him.

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) at TB MON: It's hard to trust Matt Ryan in fantasy at this point, which should have been an observation made far earlier in the season, but here we are in Week 15 and Ryan may still be getting undeserved starts. The Bucs defense is far better at home than it has been on the road, and Ryan has been poor this year, so avoid Ryan in this huge week.

RB Doug Martin (TB) vs. ATL MON: Get a case of fumble-itis and watch your touches and snaps go down: a tried and true formula. This is what happened to Martin against the Lions as Peyton Barber has started to pick up more and more carries by the week. Martin is probably one to avoid this week.

WR Cooper Kupp (LAR) at SEA: Kupp has been such a fun player to watch this year, especially if you own him in fantasy land. But this week against Seattle is going to be tough. Not only is Robert Woods potentially returning, but the Seahawks are going to be quite angry after what happened in Jacksonville. This is a recipe for trouble for the LA Rams.

WR DeVante Parker (MIA) at BUF: He's up there with Matt Ryan in terms of the biggest fantasy busts of the season, as his targets have gone down dramatically and the Dolphins have turned more to the run in recent weeks. Buffalo's defense has been stout at home, so it's another good time to keep Parker on your bench.

TE Eric Ebron (DET) vs. CHI SAT: He's been almost invisible in fantasy all year, and then, naturally, he has one of his best games of the year against the Bucs. But that probably won't continue against the Bears, who are surprisingly adept at defending tight ends, for what that's worth.

DEF Pittsburgh vs. NE: This should be pretty obvious, but it'll be made more obvious by the fact that the Patriots offense will not look anywhere near as bad as they did on Monday night, and the Steelers gave up 38 to the Ravens, who aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Dak Prescott (DAL) at OAK: It has become tough to start Dak in recent weeks because of the injuries and absences for the Cowboys. But the in the last two games, the Cowboys and Dak seem to be turning a corner. That should be good news against the Raiders, who have been awful in the secondary all year.

RB Derrick Henry (TEN) at SF: It's been a rough few weeks for the Titans offense, as not only has Marcus Mariota struggled, but the entire offense has with him. Derrick Henry has maybe been the only bright spot, but even he has found the going tough recently. Against the 49ers, who haven't been the best against the run this year, Henry though may be a viable flex play with his ability to grab touchdowns.

WR Michael Crabtree (OAK) vs. DAL: Crabtree needs to have a huge game if the Raiders are to pull off the upset and keep their playoff hopes alive. It's a tough ask, but Dallas' secondary hasn't been the best all year, even though they've played better of late against lesser NFC East opposition.

Buyer Beware:

QB Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) vs. NE: He had his third career 500 yard passing game last week, and when he's been called upon to perform, he always has. But that performance seems like an outlier to me, because naturally the Patriots always play the best players incredibly well, and in this game of great import, Ben's fantasy potential is certainly more limited than ever.

Good Luck in Week 15!


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

2017 Week 14 Fantasy Advice: Playoffs? Don't talk about Playoffs

But alas, we have to, vaguely appropriate headline. The fantasy playoffs are now here for most of us which means everything we invested so heavily in time, toil, cash and potentially embarassing wagers is now on the line. It means everything now which means it's time to agonize over all the decisions that can and will decide seasons. It's serious business.

Start of the Week: QB Alex Smith (KC) vs. OAK

The Chiefs are in total free-fall, and Alex Smith was a large part of that in November. But his game against the Jets should inspire confidence, at least for his fantasy owners, that he's coming back around to his performances in September once again. If he can do it against anyone, it's the Raiders. Their secondary is one of the worst in football, so if there's a time for him to look like the Alex Smith of September, it's now.

Who to Start:

QB Philip Rivers (LAC) vs. WSH: Old reliable Philip Rivers is still putting up big numbers in spite of his growing age and the lack of home fans he plays in front of. Against Washington on Sunday, there is bound to be another good performance against what's left of their secondary.

RB Lamar Miller (HOU) vs. SF: Yes, the 49ers shut down what should have been a sure-fire fantasy started in Jordan Howard last week, but even the Texans with Tom Savage have more offensive rhythm than Chicago does right now. The only people watching this game will fantasy owners of Texans (and a few 49ers) as well as gamblers, but the stakes are always high for someone.

WR Josh Gordon (CLE) vs. GB: In his first football game in three years, he was targeted 11 times and caught four passes. Green Bay's secondary isn't great, and if the first game was any guide, Gordon will get plenty of passes thrown his way on Sunday, meaning his numbers should match his targets.

WR Michael Crabtree (OAK) at KC: Motivated player coming off a suspension against a team that can't defend the pass with their best corner suspended? Sign me up. Crabtree might be the best fantasy play the entire week with this confluence of circumstances on top of Kansas City's defense which has completely cratered.

TE Evan Engram (NYG) vs. DAL: In spite of the circus that is the New York Giants, Evan Engram has become of the best in a bad position in fantasy football. With Geno Smith he managed to rack up some impressive numbers, and against a mediocre Dallas defense, the trend should continue.

DEF New England at MIA MON: You were probably starting them anyway considering their mid-season renaissance, and against Miami the matchup is even more favorable. The Dolphins turn the ball over a ton even in their best games, and this doesn't look to be shaping out as one of their best games.

Sit of the Week: QB Cam Newton (CAR) vs. MIN

This is such a hard decision to make because if you drafted him, you probably invested a lot in him. But if you have a better option, say Derek Carr, Josh McCown or maybe even Brett Hundley, it might be worth sitting him against the stingiest of stingy defenses, Minnesota. They lock down everyone, and Cam has never been the best against the league's best defenses.

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. NO THU: I personally didn't think Ryan would have as bad a season fantasy wise as he's had, but he's certainly one of the biggest busts in the fantasy season for sure. New Orleans even with injuries has a very solid defense, and in the biggest game of Atlanta's season, relying on Ryan is a mistake.

RB Ameer Abdullah (DET) at TB: I smell a platoon growing in Detroit, not just featuring Abdullah but also Theo Riddick and newcomer Tion Green, who had a good game last week in Baltimore. Tampa's defense is better at home than on the road, but the platoon effect will doom Abdullah this week.

WR Marqise Lee (JAX) vs. SEA: Jaguars fans nicknamed Lee "Albino Tiger" early in his career because of his penchant not only for injuries, but also to disappear in key moments in games. Even though Seattle's secondary is banged up, it's still Seattle, and it's hard to imagine Lee doing as well as he did against the hapless Colts against Seattle.

WR Jordy Nelson (GB) at CLE: Even against the porous Browns, it's hard to trust Jordy Nelson who can't get targets or yards with Brett Hundley at QB. Hold on for one more week with Nelson, because when a certain #12 returns, the trends will get better, but for this week, Nelson is a sit.

TE Jared Cook (OAK) at KC: He's consistently inconsistent, made more frustrating with a bad performance against the Giants who couldn't defend tight ends. Kansas City can at least defend these players with a little effectiveness, so Cook may be too inconsistent to start in these big games.

DEF Baltimore at PIT: Defense like Philly and Carolina have very ugly matchups even though they've been good fantasy units of late, but the matchup to avoid the most is Baltimore. Though their defense is stellar, they lost Jimmy Smith, and will be going up against an incredibly motivated Steelers team at home. The combination here does not bode well for the Ravens.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Jimmy Garoppolo (SF) at HOU: He wasn't exactly amazing in Chicago last week, but he didn't have to be to win. And watching Houston's defense lose all its steam in recent weeks makes this matchup all the more intriguing. If you need someone because of other matchup issues, Jimmy G may be the guy.

RB Alfred Morris (DAL) at NYG: While he's no Zeke, he's been very serviceable in his absense. Against the Giants, who as documented couldn't stop a high school team right now, he's not a bad option in a RB3/Flex position if you need it.

TE Jack Doyle (IND) at BUF: In a bad position with no depth, you have to go with the guys that got you there, and that means Jack Doyle. He threw up a stinker in Jacksonville last week, but he can't do that in two consecutive weeks, right?

Buyer Beware:

RB Leonard Fournette (JAX) vs. SEA: You're going to start him if you have him, that's obvious. But, his ankle injury is really causing him some issues in the last two weeks. He's rushed for less than 70 yards combined against Arizona and Indy, and take away his TD and he'd have thrown two straight big time duds up. That's been his trend recently, and it's concerning. He's also not faced a defense like Seattle's in over two months, so how he'll perform here, and how his team will perform here, is an open question.

Good luck in Week 14!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Brief thoughts on the World Cup draw

Since I have nowhere else to put these thoughts, and I wanted to write them down, here are some brief mental notes from this morning's World Cup draw and who may end up as favorites, disappointments, or surprises.

Group A: Russia has to be pretty ecstatic with the draw they were handed. They didn't have a full strength squad in the Confederations Cup, but even if they did their life woud have been fairly difficult. With Saudi Arabia and Egypt, they should be able with the home advantage to overcome them, though Egypt with players like Mo Salah and others could be tricky. Uruguay are clear favorites even after underwhelming in their last three major tournaments.

Group B: Spain and Portugal being matched up with each other should provide great fireworks, especially since that game is the third match of the tournament. This game will decide who wins the group and finishes second. Morocco and Iran are great stories in making the tournament, but they don't have much to celebrate with this draw.

Group C: France's assemblage of talent is second to none, in fact, they're the most talented team in the draw. Their group should be of no trouble to them with Peru, Australia and Denmark. The race for second is fascinating as each team has pluses and minuses. Australia has spirit, but no manager, Peru has no World Cup experience and Denmark has Christian Eriksen, but beyond that not much. My Tottenham leanings are biasing me to Denmark, but the race for second here is going to be immensely entertaining.

Group D: The race for second here is also going to be fairly fun. Iceland have the world rooting for them, Croatia have a great collection of talent, especially in midfield, and Nigeria have been able to perform on this stage before. Argentina are obviously favorites, but Croatia are a sneaky team to look out for if they get their act together. Going forward, they are a delightful watch, and that should be enough to get them beyond Iceland and Nigeria.

Group E: Brazil shouldn't have much to fear with their draw, however the race for second here will also be entertaining and between three evenly matched teams. Serbia has more talented than Switzerland and Costa Rica, but both of these teams have the experience and organization required. It's hard to overlook Costa Rica, but something tells me this Serbia team has an ace up their sleeve.

Group F: Germany and Mexico will see each other again, and that doesn't bode well for Mexico at all. Germany are defending champions, and they shouldn't have much to fear here, although Sweden and Mexico could give them a run. Sweden have the organization but no gamebreakers, unless the prodigal Zlatan returns. South Korea are always a difficult team to play against in this tournament setting, but they don't have very much to offer.

Group G: Two great collections of talent with underwhelming managers meet with Belgium and England pitted against each other, and while both should have no issues advancing, their aspirations are set much higher. Tunisia and Panama are wonderful squads to see in the draw, but there presence is as much as they will offer.

Group H: Not much stands out for this group, but top to bottom it is well balanced. Poland have a Lewandowski sized advantage over everyone else, but do not count out quarterfinalists from 2014 Colombia and what they could potentially offer, and Senegal are not a bad side either. In their only other World Cup appearance, they went to the quarterfinals.

If I was forced to make predictions today, the teams that I'd have advancing would be:

Group A: Uruguay, Russia
Group B: Spain, Portugal
Group C: France, Denmark
Group D: Argentina, Croatia
Group E: Brazil, Serbia
Group F: Germany, Mexico
Group G: Belgium, England
Group H: Colombia, Poland

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

2017 Week 13 Fantasy Advice: Mea Culpa

So you may have noticed last week there was no fantasy column (for those of you that even care to click on this blog anymore). That was not some grand editorial statement about the NFL and its problems, it was just me getting lost in the Thanksgiving shuffle. And I paid dearly for the mistake... take a wild guess as to how. Anyway, the past is the past. And because this week is the start of the fantasy football playoffs for some of you, or perhaps the last week of the regular season for the rest, we're going with extra help this week. Extra recommendations as to who to start and sit, and a little more than you normally get here are on the way. Not just because last week I had the brainfart of all brainfarts, but I feel I owe you as December has come and the business end of the fantasy season has too.

Start of the Week: QB Philip Rivers (LAC) vs. CLE

He showed on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys that he's still got it, and now that he and his team have found their stride, there isn't much stopping them. Certainly, it won't be the Browns defense that does that, even though their defense has played a little bit better of late.

Who to Start:

QB Kirk Cousins (WSH) at DAL THU: Lost in how lost the Cowboys offense looks without Zeke Elliot is how lost the defense has looked all season, especially now that their main offensive gameplan has gone out the window. Even though Cousins struggled in the first meeting between the two in the slop, this game is indoors, and Cousins has been good against Dallas in the past.

QB Tyrod Taylor (BUF) vs. NE: Why the hell did Sean McDermott bench him, again? No one in the world has any clue, and it would be particularly like the Bills for that Chargers game to cost them a playoff spot. Regardless, the game against the Pats is favorable for Taylor even though New England's defense has rounded into form. If you need a streamer this week, he may be a great option.

RB Jamaal Williams (GB) vs. TB: Even though every single Packers running back is hurt, it's hard to not start the last one left standing this weekend against the Bucs. He'll get plenty of volume in terms of snaps and touches, and the Bucs were gashed last week by Tevin Coleman. In the "Bay of Pigs", expect Williams to sail through with good fantasy numbers.

RB Jordan Howard (CHI) vs. SF: He was on the wrong end of a lopsided score when the Bears got levelled by the Eagles. But don't fear. The 49ers are not the Eagles, and therefore Howard should be able to establish himself on the ground. He has been a bit feast or famine fantasy-wise, but this should be a feast week.

WR Robby Anderson (NYJ) vs. KC: He's come out of nowhere to be an incredibly viable WR2 in most leagues because of his big play ability, but he's also getting plenty of short yardage catches too. Kansas City's defense has fallen off a cliff, so Anderson is a must start this weekend.

WR Cooper Kupp (LAR) at ARZ: Starting him should be pretty obvious at this point, as he's lest matchup dependant than ever, especially after a monster performance against New Orleans. Arizona's defense played well last week, but the Rams offense is another level compared to Blake Bortles.

WR Devin Funchess (CAR) at NO: Who said the Panthers made a bad move in trading Kelvin Benjamin? OK, I did, but that doesn't change the fact that Funchess since that move has been awesome in fantasy land. New Orleans' secondary is ravaged by injury, so Funchess could have another monster outing.

TE Julius Thomas (MIA) vs. DEN: It's not really a "revenge game" at this point in Thomas' career, a few years removed from Denver, but he is playing a lot better of late as Matt Moore has turned to him as a safety blanket. The Broncos have also struggled to defend tight ends this season, so this is a promising matchup for Thomas.

TE Jared Cook (OAK) vs. NYG: The Giants are laughably bad at almost everything, but especially defending opposing tight ends. Cook hasn't done much of late, but this should be the week where that changes.

DEF Tennessee vs. HOU: This defense hasn't been very flashy, but has been incredibly solid of late. That doesn't necessarily bode well in fantasy land, but this week it could against Tom Savage and the turnover happy Texans.

DEF LA Rams at ARZ: Arizona's offense looked remarkably solid last week, but consider the revenge game factor and then some of what has occurred doesn't look so surprising. This week, the Rams defense is a much more formidable test.

Sit of the Week: QB Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) at CIN MON

Ben's performance against the banged up Packers at home left a lot to be desired, and now he has to head out on the road where he does not play well. The Bengals also tend to hold him in check in the Queen City, so he's not someone to risk starting Monday night.

Who to Sit:

QB Matthew Stafford (DET) at BAL: How serious his ankle injury is or not, this is not a good matchup for Stafford and the Lions. Baltimore's defense is seriously underrated even though they haven't beaten anyone good, so Stafford's penchant for making a few mistakes could cost him here.

QB Alex Smith (KC) at NYJ: It's not as if the Jets defense is that amazing to be fair, but Alex Smith has been downright awful the last four weeks, which makes him someone to avoid starting in fantasy everywhere this week. Until he proves that he's back on target, you can't assume that he is.

All Eagles running backs at SEA: Each and every one of them. Running back by committee is a fantasy player's worst nightmare, and the Eagles are firmly in running back by committee territory. So for owners of Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement et al, don't bother.

RB Jerick McKinnon (MIN) at ATL: It seems that Latavius Murray is taking over more of the snaps in the Minnesota backfield of late, which is not a good sign at all. Because of this, even against a less than impressive Atlanta defense, avoid starting McKinnon this week. He's a flex play at best.

WR Emmanuel Sanders (DEN) at MIA: He's had one notable fantasy performance this season and that's it. Considering the Broncos QB situation is a tire fire, it's hard to start any Bronco on offense this week, even against the Dolphins, and Sanders falls into that category.

WR Martavis Bryant (PIT) at CIN MON: He had a wonderful performance against Green Bay, but that was against a weakened defense and without JuJu Smith-Schuster stealing targets from him. The Bengals defense isn't any slouch either, so Bryant may be someone to avoid on Monday.

WR DeVante Parker (MIA) vs. DEN: He was pegged to be a breakout fantasy star this season, and that hasn't quite panned out the way that everyone hoped. Against a still stout Denver secondary, and with Matt Moore as the signal caller, there's not a lot of hope here for fantasy owners.

TE Cameron Brate (TB) at GB: He's losing targets to OJ Howard rapidly, and his snaps are decreasing as well. This is not a good combination, especially with a bad matchup against Green Bay on the cards.

TE Tyler Kroft (CIN) vs. PIT MON: As a matchup starter, Kroft has been a really valuable fantasy asset of late, but that has been very matchup dependant. And Pittsburgh's defense, well it's not a good matchup for opposing tight ends.

DEF Buffalo vs. NE: You'd know better at this point to start any defense against Tom Brady and company, but you may be tempted after what Buffalo did last week. You shouldn't be.

DEF Carolina at NO: Playing the Jets and the Saints are entirely different propositions from a fantasy perspective, and that is certainly the case when considering the Panthers defense. It's not as if they're a terrible option, but they're not a great one either.

4 Super Sleepers:

QB Brett Hundley (GB) vs. TB: You know what, he played a lot better last Sunday in Pittsburgh than many of us expected him too. That's a good sign going against the porous Tampa Bay defense, which has been way worse than expected. If you need a streamer and are desperate, Hundley isn't a terrible option.

RB Orleans Darkwa (NYG) at OAK: We're plumbing the depths at this point, but with Geno Smith at QB, Giants running backs suddenly become an OK fantasy option. It's not exactly something I entirely recommend, but it's not a terrible option if you're desperate either.

WR Corey Davis (TEN) vs. HOU: Tennessee's offense has been brutal from a fantasy perspective this season outside of the running backs, but perhaps this is the week they find their feet again. Houston's defense has been very poor of late, so it may be high time for Mariota et al to kick it into gear.

TE Vernon Davis (WSH) at DAL THU: Without Jordan Reed, Kirk Cousins has been turning to Vernon Davis more often, and that's a positive sign heading into the Thursday night game in Dallas. Not exactly the best option, but in a pinch, Davis could give you just what you need.

Buyer Beware:

QB Derek Carr (OAK) vs. NYG: Against the hapless Giants, you should be starting every Raider, right? Well not necessarily. The Giants defense has been fairly OK against Kansas City and Washington of late, so it's not exactly a crazy strong matchup for the Raiders and Carr in spite of what you may think.

Good luck in Week 13, and sorry for the brain cramp last week!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

2017 Week 11 Fantasy Advice: Celebrity Brain Crash

The NFL season in which the actual football has taken a back seat is chugging along as we get closer and closer to the fantasy playoffs, and as the bye weeks mercifully end and it doesn't seem like as many injuries to big name players can derail your season (since many of them are already out), is progress going to be made for fantasy happiness? And if you're wondering why the title of this piece is "Celebrity Brain Crash", I just got through watching an episode of The Grand Tour and the title makes as much sense here as it did in that show.

Byes: CAR, NYJ, IND, SF

Start of the Week: QB Alex Smith (KC) at NYG

Alex Smith is an underrated fantasy QB against almost everyone, but against the Giants who, sorry to all Giants fans, have quit, especially on defense, Smith could be in for a huge game on Sunday afternoon.

Who to Start:

QB Drew Brees (NO) vs. WSH: As the Saints are officially a ground and pound team now, you may be wondering why he's a great fantasy starter this week. For one, Washington's defense has been torched by pretty much everyone this season through the air, and it stands to reason that they'll try to sell out and stop the run to force Drew Brees to beat them, which he will then likely do.

RB Jordan Howard (CHI) vs. DET: He's certainly not been the fantasy option many of us expected him to be, and he's been held to single digit points in most everywhere the past few weeks. However, if the Lions gave up a big fantasy day to Isaiah Crowell of the Browns, Howard at least has a shot here.

WR Jarvis Landry (MIA) vs. TB: He's been a solid PPR option all season for his owners in spite of the Dolphins QB malaise, and it seems every now and again he and DeVante Parker pop off for a big game or two. That could come this week against the Bucs and their far worse than expected defense.

WR Sterling Shepard (NYG) vs. KC: Despite the Giants being garbage, Eli Manning has to throw it to someone, and Shepard has been the guy of late. Kansas City's secondary is not as impressive as you might think, and also consider the garbage time potential here: it could be immense!

TE Vernon Davis (WSH) at NO: Amazingly, Davis still has it. Even against brutal matchups on paper, he's chipped in big games against both Seattle and Minnesota. The Saints matchup is similar, but once is accident, twice is a trend, three times...?

DEF LA Chargers vs. BUF: Not only does this Chargers defense get to face a rookie in Nathan Peterman making his first start, on the road, the defense hasn't been why the team has lost this year. They rush the passer well, force turnovers and last week kept Leonard Fournette in check. This is a great matchup this week.

Sit of the Week: WR Jordy Nelson (GB) vs. BAL

He was my "Buyer Beware" last week, and many places had him as a must sit. I wasn't willing to go that far considering his draft position and ability to overcome tough matchups in the past. But now, until proven otherwise, you can't play Nelson with Brett Hundley at QB, even though he's improved recently. Baltimore's defense is also fairly stout.

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) at SEA MON: Seattle's defense is dinged up, but it's still the Seahawks at home, and with Matt Ryan's numbers this year underwhelming massively, starting him this week is a big risk, even though with Freeman's injury, he may be relied on more.

RB Lamar Miller (HOU) vs. ARZ: When teams know your QB situation is a mess, they sell out to stotp the run at all costs. Miller has faced that the last two weeks without DeShaun Watson running the offense. It'll happen this week against Arizona, who have a stout defense against the run.

WR Sammy Watkins (LAR) at MIN: Watkins has finally awaken from his fantasy slumber! But he may unfortunately slip back to earlier form this week against Xavier Rhodes and that ferocious Vikings defense. In his other road game against a defense like Minnesota, in Jacksonville, he was invisible.

WR Kelvin Benjamin (BUF) at LAC: Benjamin can't be trusted now that the QB switch in Buffalo has occurred. Until proven otherwise, and against a very solid Chargers defense, it's not a good time to be an owner of Kelvin Benjamin.

TE Coby Fleener (NO) vs. WSH: Fleener has a fantasic matchup on paper this week, but there is one problem: he's not a good blocker, and the Saints are a run first offense. Thanks to Michael Fabiano of NFL Media for this nugget: he's played in only 27% of offensive snaps for New Orleans in the last four games. Avoid.

DEF Dallas vs. PHI: No Sean Lee, and facing Carson Wentz equals a bad combination for the Cowboys defense this week in both reality and for fantasy owners. They weren't exactly bad last week, but from fantasy perspective "not bad" from defenses isn't quite good enough at this time of year.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Jay Cutler (MIA) vs. TB: It's hard to start Cutler at all, but with a favorable matchup this week, it might be worth the risk. The Bucs defense played well last week against Josh McCown, but has struggled mightily against just about everyone else.

WR Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ) at HOU: He's here and not in the "start" portion of the piece because of the QB uncertainty, but even with that, the Texans defense is a mess, and Fitz should easily pounce on that.

DEF Atlanta at SEA MON: On paper, facing Russell Wilson and the Seahawks at home is not a good matchup. So why have the Falcons defense here? Well, the Seahawks can't run the ball, their offensive line is a mess, and the Falcons defense has to be feeling confident after that show they put on against the Cowboys. There is a chance this is a sneaky good play in spite of the odds this week.

Buyer Beware:

QB Jared Goff (LAR) at MIN: It's impossible to not love the way Goff and the Rams offense has evolved this season, but they haven't been at their best against the best defensives such as Seattle's and Jacksonville's. Minnesota's defense is up there, so starting Goff with that in mind is a risk.

Good luck in Week 11!