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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How Far is Too Far?

Note from Matt: This isn't necessarily a sports story but since I have nowhere else to put it it's going here. Hopefully that doesn't alienate you from the usual fare of mediocre fantasy advice and occasional thoughtfulness this blog usually provides.

Today there was a horrible tragedy in Ottawa with a shooter on Parliament Hill that killed an off-duty Canadian soldier. It has been an absolutely terrible day for all of Canada, and anyone who knows a good deal of people in the country (me). It's also been a day to reflect on the state of the media because we as consumers had a chance to look at how our neighbors to the north cover a tragedy like this. Us in the United States have a tendency to blow things out of proportion because of "HOT TAKES" and the like, but today is the day that proved that being an adult is sometimes the best way to get people through tragedy. It should not need to be a revelation to say that, but in the modern media world apparently it is, and here's why:

The job of the news media is not telling you what to think; it never has been that. The media tells you what to think about. Why is Ebola especially freaking everyone out senseless right now? The media is droning on and on about it, and doesn't feel the need to stop. While Ebola is a major news story that deserves to be covered, the way it's being covered is farcical, and that's being kind. So naturally, when the story in Ottawa started breaking, many people south of the 49th parallel turned away from US cable news like the plague, which is the correct move.

For example as I am typing this, CNN's lower-third reads as if the attack was a guaranteed terrorist attack, and how is anyone, let alone in Atlanta not Ottawa or Toronto going to know that just 10 hours after the tragedy began to unfold? The authorities in Ottawa and with the government have been especially careful to not jump to any conclusions, even with how many shooters there were/are, and the (Canadian) media has followed suit. That is such a breath of fresh air considering the experiences we have dealing with major tragedies in this country where conclusions and sources are bandied about as if those words have magical powers.

The website "The Daily Beast" might be the most blatant offender of this. The headline is in bold print and says "Terrorist ends Canada's Innocence". Below it, the tag says further, "A gunmen attacked Parliament in an unprecedented attack bringing violence to the very heart of Canadian democracy." That doesn't sound all that bad, but consider earlier today it said that the attack "brought real terrorism to the country for the first time".  Tim Mak of the website wrote the piece that went below it, and I hope he knows that what came above it in the headline and the tag are both patently false, because if he doesn't someone has mislead a lot of people. And what for... page clicks?

Why did CNN and other stations do what they ended up doing for most of the day for? Just a few people to stop on their customary and nonchalant channel scroll because "OMG Terrorism, ISIS AHHHHHHHHHHH"? Why are reputable people doing this to themselves now?

I'm not naive enough to believe that this hasn't been going on for quite a long time and that it hasn't been a massive disservice to every sane human being and been carved open by the John Oliver's and John Stewart's of the world, but today seemingly was my final straw. I could deal with falsities during the Sandy Hook shootings and the Boston Marathon Bombings, but apparently I draw the line at a shooter on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. Then I read an article from the wonderful website Mediabistro, and then it hit me why I finally snapped today: The coverage of the tragedy in Canada is so markedly un-American that it is sickening.

Not just from the newspapers and local stations around Ottawa, but national coverage from Global, CTV and especially the CBC. Peter Mansbridge is unlike those we have now manning the national news desks (aside from Brian Williams), but we did have men like that in the past in Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw. The media world is vastly different now than it was then, but why does it stick in Canada and not here? CBC being the public broadcaster has absolutely nothing to do with it, for the record.

As Mediabistro said and I'll parrot here, Mansbridge was calm, collected, patient and not frenetic, breathless or panicked. There was a point in time when we had anchors like that in this country, but sadly we do not anymore. At one point Mansbridge even asked the many who had tuned in to watch his coverage (about 3 hours straight by the way), "what do we know with certainty right now?" With certainty... that's a phrase you'll never hear Wolf Blitzer saying anytime soon.

Yes, these media companies need to find ways to get viewers so they can get advertising so their heads can stay above water, and this is true for many traditional and new media sources as well, I get that. But the CBC is HEMORRHAGING MONEY. And yet they can still tackle a news story with poise, solemnity and calm without going into a panic or trying to connect dots that don't make any sort of picture. The reason why the CBC and to a lesser extent the other Canadian media outlets can do this and not any American one is not solely because of a cultural difference, and shouldn't ever be said as such. Sure the world has changed here, but it's changed everywhere. If you can train people to think one way, you could certainly train them back too.

Two other notes from a really impressive day for journalism at Canada's public broadcaster: While they were not first in reporting that the Canadian solider shot at the War Memorial was dead, they were certainly by that point right. They had done enough reporting to convince only themselves as journalists that they were right. Just because someone from the Globe and Mail had reported it first didn't mean that Peter Mansbridge had to jump around on TV waving his arms saying "CBC News confirms". The focus of the story was in fact the story, not the people reporting it or the organization they worked for.

We can learn a thing or two from everyone in Canada who reported so well the tragic events of the day today, not just as journalists (as I am), but also as consumers. We can accept news that comes not first to us, but correctly, and news that is reported to us with calm and not a frenetic energy that confers nothing but cluelessness.

An old anchor named Frank Reynolds once said, "let's nail it down, let's get it right". Today showed us how far away us in US media are from doing that on the regular, and how much we have to learn from our friends above 49' North.

2014 Week 8 Fantasy Advice

Are we already halfway through this NFL season? Apparently we are, as I just checked the calendar and it's October 22nd. That's amazing considering this season has felt like it has been going on forever, but that may have something to do with the Jaguars being a partial disaster. 

Byes: NYG, SF

Who to Start: 

QB Russell Wilson (SEA) vs. CAR: Sure the Seahawks are slumping right now, but the Panthers are likely going to play the role of slump-buster on Sunday. The Panthers have allowed more than 37 points in 4 of their last 5 games this season, and the Seahawks offense could desperately use a jolt. Wilson is likely to be a major beneficiary of a secondary in flux.

RB Andre Ellington (ARZ) vs. PHI: As has been proven already this season, the Eagles are an absolute sieve against the run. Andre Ellington has been running at a very high level the last couple of weeks, so combine those two factors and you get a prime fantasy matchup.

WR Golden Tate (DET) vs. ATL: Sans Calvin Johnson, it looks like the Lions haven't missed a beat. Golden Tate has gotten the yards left in the Johnson vacuum, and this Sunday in London he gets to face another absolute sieve in the Falcons defense. Here's another must-start.

WR Mohamed Sanu (CIN) vs. BAL: Even though the Ravens have been stout against the run, their pass defense has been somewhat suspect. Without A.J Green for targets, Sanu could see similar to what he had been getting in the past couple of games (Carolina not Indy), and might have himself a good afternoon.

TE Greg Olsen (CAR) vs. SEA: The Seahawks defense has fallen off from last season's torrid pace, and it's nowhere more evident than in their defending of Tight Ends. It's been poor to say the least. Greg Olsen is one of the best Tight End's in football, so he could be in for a big day in a potential shootout.

DEF Miami vs. JAX: The Jaguars won in spite of a bit of an offensive disaster last week, and Miami's defense on its good days is pretty formidable. This could be a fantasy steal if you need it.

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. DET: This game is not in the Georgia Dome, and Matt Ryan isn't the same quarterback away from the Dome. To add to the worries, the Lions defense is absolutely stout right now as one of the best in football. This has the potential to be an absolute beatdown.

RB Branden Oliver (SD) vs. DEN THU: Denver's rush defense is better at home than it is on the road, and while Oliver has done pretty well in the absence of the rest of San Diego's running backs, this is a tetchy matchup on Thursday night.

WR DeSean Jackson (WSH) vs. DAL MON: He's been up and down all season, partially because of his own form and also because he's had to catch passes from 3 different QB's this season. With Colt McCoy (!!!!!) starting, the concern for Jackson is amplified none the least due to Dallas still having a very good defense.

WR Percy Harvin (NYJ) vs. BUF: Yes, I didn't scratch him from the "Sit" list after he was traded so I apologize, but it doesn't change the fact that Harvin has now gone to a team with a downgrade at QB and is still run first. Starting him is a major gamble.

TE Martellus Bennett (CHI) vs. NE: I didn't want to believe that he was going to go into his usual October swoon, but he has. Since that's happened, and the Patriots are coming off a 10 day break, Bennett is not a good play in Foxborough on Sunday.

DEF Arizona vs. PHI: The Eagles offense could explode at any time, and despite the run defense being incredibly solid, the pass defense is exploitable. I'm a little nervous about starting the Cardinals despite my reservations about the Eagles as a whole.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Alex Smith (KC) vs. STL: He's been solid if unspectacular all season, which is nice for the Chiefs and their fans but not great for fantasy owners. But the Rams defense has been nothing to write home about all season, so there's a chance for a possible breakthrough in the Battle for Missouri.

RB Lamar Miller (MIA) vs. JAX: He's started to catch fire pretty quickly due to his recent performances against Green Bay and Chicago, and despite the Jaguars doing a pretty good job against the run last week against Cleveland, injuries are starting to take a toll.

WR Sammy Watkins (BUF) vs. NYJ: The hero last week for the Bills has a chance to continue pretty good fantasy form against a Jets secondary that has been absolutely ravaged by injuries.

Buyer Beware:

QB Jay Cutler (CHI) vs. NE: Someone had compared him recently to Jeff George, and I'm starting to buy into those comparisons more. He's become woefully inconsistent, and even though he's not going up against a brutal matchup problem, he can still either have an amazing or completely terrible day. As of now, he's a risky start.

Good Luck in Week 8!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2014 Week 7 Fantasy Advice

Week 7 already? Where has time gone? Since I'm a Jaguars fan, I'm assuming time has gone into a vacuous void of nothingness wondering what it did to deserve such treatment. But I digress.

Byes: PHI, TB

Who to Start:

QB Philip Rivers (SD) vs. KC: I might start a campaign to get him some MVP love, because he's a large part of the reason why the Chargers look so dominant. Remember he's done what he's done with about 70 different centers so far this season. His hot hand will continue against Kansas City, a team he's dominated over his long career.

RB Ben Tate (CLE) vs. JAX: While the Jaguars defense has overall been better the last 3 weeks, it's still a favorable team to put people out against, and Ben Tate is no exception. Even if he lost some carries to Isaiah Crowell, he'll still see the bulk of the touches on Sunday, which means he could be in for a good day at the office.

WR Randall Cobb (GB) vs. CAR: If you're wondering what happened to the once stout Panthers defense, it's probably a good idea to start Cobb against them. The defense has given up 30+ in 3 of their last 4 games, and has been torched through the air numerous times. Cobb might not get the love Jordy Nelson does, but he should get some of the stats this week.

WR Golden Tate (DET) vs. NO: With Calvin Johnson still nursing an injured ankle, Matt Stafford's favorite target is now going to be Golden Tate, which is good news against the porous Saints secondary. The Saints defense is even worse on the road too.

TE Jason Witten (DAL) vs. NYG: Tony Romo's best friend should have another good afternoon against a Giants defense that was just torn apart by Brent Celek and Zach Ertz last week. Witten is starting to find his feet, and that's good news for his fantasy owners.

DEF Seattle vs. STL: This would be obvious if it weren't for what happened last week, but it's Austin Davis against the fearsome Seahawks defense. It's self-explanatory.

Who to Sit:

QB Andy Dalton (CIN) vs. IND: Some of that inconsistency that has flummoxed Bengals fans and neutral observers alike is starting to show up again, especially against good teams. The Colts are a good team. He's thrown 8 TD's and 8 INT's in his last 6 road games. That's worrisome.

RB Ronnie Hillman (DEN) vs. SF: In Montee Ball's absence, Hillman seems to have become the feature back. While that's a nice story, it's not been an easy time for him on the stat sheets. The 49ers are typically stout against the run, so this is a worrying play if you have to make it.

WR Percy Harvin (SEA) vs. STL: I don't want to say I told you so but... I didn't like that trade when it was made and Harvin's done little to dissuade my fears. He's had an incredibly rough start to the season, and the Rams matchup isn't an amazing one either.

WR Pierre Garcon (WSH) vs. TEN: Is everyone asking for RG3 to come back yet? Yes? Maybe he can revive Pierre Garcon when he does. It's going to be hard without the Baylor man for Garcon against the Titans, who have been surprisingly stout against the pass this season. They also have a decent pass rush that will cause Kirk Cousins some problems.

TE Travis Kelce (KC) vs. SD: He had been a target machine... until he played San Francisco. The Chargers won't help in the attempt to get him more, since they've been incredibly stout defending Tight Ends for most of the season.

DEF San Francisco vs. DEN: This is another self-explanatory one right here. Even though the 49ers defense is typically stout this season, they're going up against Peyton Manning at Mile High. This does not bode well.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Brian Hoyer (CLE) vs. JAX: The man who has kept Mr. Manziel firmly rooted to the bench has been somewhat of a revelation this season, and he's continued to throw the ball well all season. The Jaguars defense has been playing better, but can still be had against good offenses, of which Cleveland has one.

RB Lamar Miller (MIA) vs. CHI: With Knowshon Moreno on IR, Miller is Miami's #1 option at RB, and this week's matchup against the Bears who have been quite lackluster at home especially on defense is a favorable one.

WR Andre Holmes (OAK) vs. ARZ: He's a big sleeper for you... Andre Holmes. Yes, a Raider has made the cut. Derek Carr threw the ball all over the yard last week, and did a surprisingly good job of it, and while Arizona's defense is stout, it can still be had in the secondary.

Buyer Beware:

QB Cam Newton (CAR) vs. GB: He's been incredibly impressive this season, especially in the face of a distinct lack of playmakers, injuries and a turnstile of an offensive line. But, at Lambeau, all of that may finally catch up with Cam against the Packers. This is a touchy start.

Good Luck in Week 7!

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Rant... Because I Need to Vent

This is not going to be a long, well thought piece using wonderful prose and (mainly) constructive arguments. This is going to be a rant, because I've lost my patience and need to vent. This is the best place for me to do it as well. It may offend some people, but sometimes rants do that. Maybe you think this is nothing more than spewing Hot Takes, and I can't do anything to dissuade you from that. All I can do is put my thoughts out to the public sphere for consumption. Here goes nothing:

Yes, the Florida Panthers attendance tonight was bad. Very bad. Historically bad. I get it. I knew this was going to happen in August. I don't need everyone being vultures on twitter to tell me something I and most sane Florida Panthers fans already knew well in advance. Guess what happens when your team is consistently awful minus one fluke season since the turn of the millennium? People get annoyed, fed up, and stop throwing their money down the drain. Wouldn't you do the same thing?(Toronto is an outlier here)

I admire Panthers SSO's all these years who have had to put up with so much crap from the team, opposing fans, and media (mainly from Canada). How they have been able to stomach it consistently and still go back for more is amazing dedication to blind loyalty. I could only dream of such devotion; I've been at it with the Panthers for 6+ years and I'm now starting to lose my cool. 14 years? You folks are stronger than I'll ever be.

Time for some facts:

1) The Panthers have been papering over the cracks of bad attendance for years. The reason attendance numbers were as high as they were because old ownership gave handouts and subsidized/free tickets to get people in the barn. Can't forget when visiting fans have a field day at BB&T Center, even when they aren't directly advertised to. Old ownership never wanted to admit they had a major problem, even when they were stuck in a vicious cycle of penny-pinching that led them absolutely nowhere.

2) Normally, people won't show up to watch consistently garbage teams. I know this is a foreign concept in places like Edmonton or Toronto, because hockey's the big game in town, but South Florida is the polar opposite of that. Did you see the pictures this weekend from the University of Miami football game? It was a ghost town. Miami and South Florida above all like winners, nothing more, nothing less. Once you lose, the average fan has many other better things to do than watch consistent crap night in and night out. This might not be the case in Toronto or Edmonton or Calgary or even Winnipeg, but it certainly is in Sunrise, and who could blame them for it? The building was full during the playoff run, it was at about 16.5K in the lockout shortened season because the team had just WON. The handouts inflated it sure, but the building will be full when the team wins. Simple. They nearly filled a 20K seat arena at the turn of the millennium with Pavel Bure in tow. It can be done.

3) Every team has attendance issues at some point. Yes, this includes every market whose media is now taking shots at the Panthers. Calgary, Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Colorado... pretty much every single one sans a handful have had these issues in the past. Why are things different now? WINNING. It's very simply. The Bruins, Blackhawks and Penguins are turned things around because they won. So did Calgary. So did Colorado. It's not a hard concept to grasp. I'll also bring up markets like Hartford, Quebec City, and Winnipeg the first time, whose attendance drops were precipitous in the years before the relocation specter became a force. Why did the attendance go up in the years right before the move? Because either the realization that hockey was going away for good hit them hard and told them to get back int the building because they wouldn't have many more chances to see it live at the NHL level, and because it's common too. See the Sonics in their last home game before moving to OKC. Unless you are a handful of markets, complaining about attendance is not something you should do without looking at your own history first. It's not just a Sunbelt thing.

4) No two hockey markets are alike, and thinking that is the case is absolutely foolish and telling yourself blatant lies. Yes, so that means Toronto is different from South Florida, and South Florida is different from Phoenix. I don't understand why this is such a difficult concept to understand, but apparently it is. All markets should be judged against themselves, not against each other because each is unique and cannot be shoe-horned into one set template matching a narrative. Sorry.

I could go into why the team is not likely moving anywhere anytime soon, from Bettman needing the market to the new owners to the lease, but even if I won the argument it would be a Pyrrhic victory. I'd have no energy left to talk about the bad hockey, which is the real problem here. If the team showed signs of winning, the building would fill up. If they actually won, like they did in 2012, the building would be full every night. That's not just a Miami sports market issue (and anyone who knows me knows I say Miami is the worst sports market in the country every time of asking), it's an issue for almost every team who consistently loses. Even if the game-day experience was the best in any sport, it would be like selling a diamond-encrusted dog turd to the masses. It might be covered in diamonds, but... well, you get the idea.

The Panthers are not blameless in this. The vicious cycle of losing and penny-pinching was not started by this ownership group but they have decided to confront the problem head-on instead of ducking from it, and that's admirable. What that means is that nights like tonight will happen again unless they win, and they may continue or even get worse. But this ownership has decided that this plan of action is better than papering over the cracks. I guess the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. I'm not a billionaire like Vinnie Viola is, so I can't tell you for sure whether that is the correct business move or not. It's the plan of action though, and there's not much I can do from 1000 miles away other than go with it.

I wrote this to prevent myself from getting into needless arguments on twitter and ruining endless days of my life from this. I barely have the energy to get into the hockey issues with the Panthers, let alone the off-ice ones. I try to take the high road but it's incredibly hard when you're being attacked from all sides at all times.

I'm not saying the Panthers don't have a problem. They do, and it's a major one. Hopefully, it will get solved, either by hell or high water. But I don't need people constantly spreading propaganda, misinformation and lies at our expense because some unlucky dude on twitter needs to pick on someone to make himself feel better, or some Canadian writer is having a bad day at the office so he needs to troll for page clicks. Everyone needs their whipping boy, so the mob moved from Atlanta to Phoenix and now to Florida. It wasn't fair on the first two fanbases, and it certainly isn't fair now.

This is the last I will speak on the subject, for better or for worse. If you have problems with what I said here, tell me. I'm open for constructive debate and constructive discussion on why the problem exists to begin with, and how it can be fixed. I'm not for burning down straw men.

But I'm not interested in flinging diamond-encrusted dog turds at people from across keyboards and cyberspace anymore.

I dealt with this bull-crap with the Jaguars for many years. I'm tired of it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

2014 Week 6 Fantasy Advice

The doldrums of October are upon us... and by doldrums I mean focusing on playoff baseball and the start of hockey season. But that doesn't mean fantasy football goes away, in fact it gets even more intense.

Byes: KC, NO

Who to Start:

QB Philip Rivers (SD) vs. OAK: Life continues to be great for Rivers and the Chargers despite the fact they've played every center in the history of football. Now, they get to go up against the Oakland Raiders, who if you haven't noticed have a new coach and are a tire fire. He also always does well against the Raiders too.

RB Eddie Lacy (GB) vs. MIA: He has risen from the fantasy depths! Now with 10 days off, he gets to go up against a Miami Dolphin defense that has struggled mightily against the run, especially at home recently.

WR Alshon Jeffrey (CHI) vs. ATL: Another example of a tire fire of a defense, the Falcons have been horrendous on that side of the ball this season. The Bears, despite the fact that they have a great ability to shoot themselves in the foot, should be able to get plenty of yards on offense, especially Alshon Jeffrey.

WR Emmanuel Sanders (DEN) vs. NYJ: He is a target machine for Peyton Manning right now, even if he hasn't scored TD's yet. But against the Jets, that streak might end because the Jets secondary is injured and also pretty bad regardless.

TE Delanie Walker (TEN) vs. JAX: Aside from the fact that the Jaguars can never defend against Tight Ends, other things work in his favor. Namely, that Zach Mettenberger may be starting on Sunday and will need a safety blanket.

DEF Denver vs. NYJ: It's the Jets and Geno Smith.

Who to Sit:

QB Cam Newton (CAR) vs. CIN: Despite his renaissance last week against Chicago, his lot will get much tougher next week against Cincy, whose defense is still the class of the AFC despite what happened on Sunday Night. He's also taken some sort of beating too.

RB Zac Stacy (STL) vs. SF MON: Not only is he a little dinged up heading into this Monday Night showdown, the 49ers have shut him down completely in past meetings with the Rams. Also, the 49ers still have an amazing rush defense.

WR Cordarrelle Paterson (MIN) vs. DET: He's been a total bust this season fantasy wise, and even with Teddy Bridgewater back under center, the matchup is not favorable against the surprisingly strong Detroit defense.

WR Sammy Watkins (BUF) vs. NE: He's been consistent if unspectacular this season, but even with that said, the Patriots secondary has been nearly lock-down this season, and Watkins will be matched up against a certain Revis fellow, who is still really good at man-to-man coverage.

TE Martellus Bennett (CHI) vs. ATL: Is the October swoon beginning? It didn't look promising last week, and the Falcons, despite their overall defensive woes, have defended against Tight Ends well this season.

DEF Dallas vs. SEA: Even if the Seahawks offense hasn't been a juggernaut by any means, this matchup is still sketchy for a Cowboys defense who hasn't been tested like this on the road yet.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Brian Hoyer (CLE) vs. PIT: The Browns are comeback specialists this season, and their offensive output has been jumping upwards as a result. With the Steelers defense being banged up and not the Steel Curtain of old, Hoyer could have another big game.

RB Andre Williams (NYG) vs. PHI: The Eagles can't stop the run, and with Rashad Jennings on the shelf, Williams could see himself thrust into a major fantasy spotlight.

DEF Green Bay vs. MIA: When the Dolphins have faced interesting defenses, they've looked ugly. The Packers defense has looked better overall recently, so this could be an interesting play this week.

Buyer Beware:

QB Kirk Cousins (WSH) vs. ARZ: Kirk Cousins hasn't been that terrible, and sure Arizona's defense was torched by Peyton Manning last week, but this matchup still could be pretty ugly. I'd be worried about having to start him if you do.

Good Luck in Week 6!


2014-15 NHL Season Predictions

Hello out there, we're on the... no I will not quote Stomping Tom anymore but hockey is starting so he has to be invoked. Sorry. But that shouldn't get you too down because the NHL season is starting today! The game is as healthy as its ever been, allowing us to spend our entire summer thinking about whether high rollers at the Wynn in Vegas want to see the Florida Panthers play the Las Vegas Wranglers (sic), or whether everyone must bow down to the impressive might of CORSI. But now the game on the ice has returned, so it's time to make some predictions. These are sure to fail, since I'm making them, but who isn't excited to see the game back again? Let's get to it...

Metropolitan Division:

1. Pittsburgh
2. Washington
3. New York Rangers
4. New Jersey Devils*
5. New York Islanders*
6. Columbus Blue Jackets
7. Philadelphia Flyers
8. Carolina Hurricanes

Everyone agrees on 1st place and 8th place in the Metro division. After that, it's a crapshoot. 2-7 could end up in any order, and each can have a legitimate justification. The Capitals should be better defensively because of their new bench boss, but can they rely on solely Alex Ovechkin's goals and strength through the middle? I think they can, but that's largely due to everyone else being more meh than they are. The Rangers are weaker than they were a year ago, but they're still good enough to avoid a Wild Card spot. The Islanders and Devils both have their issues scoring, but improvements on the blue line and in net for the Islanders and Mr. Schneider actually playing will propel those teams into the playoffs. I worry about Columbus' depth sans Nathan Horton, and Ryan Johansen's pre-season holdout will affect his form in the first portion of the season. The Flyers are on a precipice waiting to fall, and Carolina's injury woes are already brutal. Paging Mr. McDavid's reps?

Atlantic Division:

1. Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Boston Bruins
3. Montreal Canadiens
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Florida Panthers
6. Toronto Maple Leafs
7. Ottawa Senators
8. Buffalo Sabres

The Lightning are going to be the sexy pick this year, not only because of a healthy Steven Stamkos, but because of a young team that is on the rise and growing together. It doesn't hurt that they have a stalwart in net and the improvements they have made to a fledgling defense corps and to their bottom 6 were impressive. The Bruins cap hell forced them to shed important players from last year, which mean their defense will take a big hit this season. Montreal will probably take a step back from last because of circumstances, but the team anchored by Price and Subban will be the class of Canada at least. The Red Wings injuries, lack of depth, and overall massive turnover will lead to them missing the playoffs for the first time in an eternity, and might also signal the end of Mike Babcock in Detroit as well. 5-7 could honestly be in any order, although I think Ottawa are closer to Buffalo than they are Toronto, while those same Leafs will be wondering when Randy Carlyle gets the axe and the Panthers will improve dramatically, but enough to make the postseason yet (enough to keep Dale Tallon's job though).

Central Division:

1. Chicago Blackhawks
2. St. Louis Blues
3. Minnesota Wild
4. Dallas Stars*
5. Colorado Avalanche
6. Nashville Predators
7. Winnipeg Jets

The Blackhawks and Blues are once again the class of the division here, even though both still have some unattended problems. Chicago has to wonder whether Brad Richards will do well enough against Western Conference center depth to propel the Hawks back into the Final, and St. Louis has to hope that either Jake Allen or Brian Elliot take the goaltending reigns and run with 'em. But both have dynamic Top 6's, lockdown defense corps, and great leadership. The Wild may have some issues in net and with their defense, but that Top 9 is scary, and should be enough to propel them into the postseason. The same can be said with Dallas, who will be the NHL's most fun team to watch this season, and despite the green-ness of the blueliners, Lindy Ruff will make them work, just like he's done with every other young defense corps he's dealt with. The shocker here is Colorado, who for some reason got deliberately slower when their team is based on speed and quick puck movement. Semyon Varlamov won't stand on his head like he did a year ago, and those possession numbers are incredibly scary. They can't allow as many shots as they did, but I fear they will again. Nashville doesn't have the center depth to compete in the Western Conference, and Winnipeg is being patient for something... what that something is I don't know.

Pacific Division:

1. Anaheim Ducks
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. San Jose Sharks
4. Vancouver Canucks*
5. Arizona (nee Phoenix) Coyotes
6. Edmonton Oilers
7. Calgary Flames

This one's pretty self-explanatory. Despite the Ducks never pulling it off in April or May, they always do from October-March, where the Kings seem to not care just so long as they get in. San Jose might have had a train-wreck of an offseason when they signed John Scott, but they're still good enough to at least get it. Vancouver will be better because they have actual goaltending now, and a coach that seems to understand that you can't have the Sedins killing penalties. Arizona will have a new name, but not necessarily new fortunes. Edmonton's young kids will grow up, but not fast enough to challenge for the postseason just yet, and Calgary... keep Connor's number on speed-dial.

Playoff Predictions:

Eastern Conference:

TB over NYI in 5
MTL over BOS in 7
PIT over NJ in 6
WSH over NYR in 6

TB over MTL in 7
WSH over PIT in 6

TB over WSH in 5

Western Conference:

ANA over VAN in 6
LA over SJ in 5
CHI over DAL in 6
STL over MIN in 5

LA over ANA in 6
STL over CHI in 7

LA over STL in 5

2015 Stanley Cup Final:

LA over TB in 6 (Highly original)

Awards Predictions:

Hart Trophy; Steven Stamkos
Vezina: Tuukka Rask
Norris: Alex Pietrangelo
Calder: Jonathan Drouin
Selke: Anze Kopitar
Jack Adams: Willie Desjardins

There you have it. I did predict the Kings winning the Cup prior to last season, so that has to be something, right? Let's just drop the puck already.



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

2014 Week 5 Fantasy Advice

Amazingly, we are already 1/4th of the way through this new season, and we can draw a few conclusions. First, the Oakland Raiders are a tire fire. Second, we know almost nothing else about this season. Third, my fantasy team is a bit of a disaster. But, none of those should preclude you from still reading this advice column.

Byes: MIA, OAK

Who to Start:

QB Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) vs. JAX: New rule until stated otherwise: Start everyone against the Jaguars defense. The Jaguars secondary is still getting torched constantly, even if they looked better in spurts last week. Big Ben should therefore be able to rebound against this secondary that has giant holes in it.

RB Rashad Jennings (NYG) vs. ATL: What happened to the Falcons defense, especially away from home? They've allowed 8 rushing TD's already this season, and have the worst rushing defense in the NFL. Rashad Jennings has had 10 days off to prepare for this as well, so Jennings is an absolute must-start.

WR Percy Harvin (SEA) vs. WSH MON: Even though I'm not a large fan of his in terms of reality and fantasy, Harvin is a great option for Monday Night considering how awful Washington's defense looks, especially considering how banged up they are and how bad they are against the pass.

WR Keenan Allen (SD) vs. NYJ: Always good to wake up your season when you play against Jacksonville. Now that Allen has awoken from his early season slumber, he should have even more success against the Jets secondary which may not have many healthy players left.

TE Martellus Bennett (CHI) vs. CAR: It's October, so that means usually Bennett's numbers fall off a cliff. Until that happens this year, he's still way worth starting, especially against the Panthers defense which has looked unusually porous in their last 2 games.

DEF Philadelphia vs. STL: Despite the fact that the Eagles defense is not very good, the Rams are even worse offensively, especially through the air. Austin Davis should not embolden fear in anyone, especially the Eagles defense who needs a good game badly to right the ship.

Who to Sit:

QB Tom Brady (NE) vs. CIN; This is not that earth-shattering anymore, especially considering what happened Monday Night in Kansas City. Now, the Pats get to face the best defense in the AFC, so Brady's struggles could continue to mount.

RB C.J Spiller (BUF) vs. DET: Did you know right now that the Detroit Lions have the best defense overall in the NFL right now? Now that you do, you should consider benching Spiller against that same defense, especially considering how his numbers have tailed off considerably this season (especially considering might be my new crutch phrase).

WR Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ) vs. DEN: He's not the same Larry Fitzgerald of old anymore, and with Michael Floyd surpassing him, his numbers will surely decrease. Even though Denver's defense isn't all that awe inspiring, Fitzgerald isn't a great start at Mile High on Sunday.

WR Eric Decker (NYJ) vs. SD: Funny what happens once you leave the comfy arms of Peyton Manning, eh? Decker has rightly struggled this season, and the Chargers defense, especially their secondary, is a more formidable unit than advertised. Good luck Geno.

TE Jason Witten (DAL) vs. HOU: Houston's defense has been really, really good this season (even though they've beaten nobody worth their salt), especially against Tight Ends, so Witten is a dicey play this weekend.

DEF Arizona vs. DEN: This should be fairly obvious, even though Arizona's defense is one of the best in football right now.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Jay Cutler (CHI) vs. CAR: Odd how Cutler can go so Jekyll and Hyde every single week, although I think Jekyll is coming out this week against the Panthers sudden sieve of a defense. Although he's a sleeper because it could easily go the other way.

RB Matt Asiata (MIN) vs. GB THU: Peterson who? This has as much to do with Green Bay's defense struggling against the run as it has with last week's performance, which may be an aberration because it was against Atlanta.

DEF Dallas vs. HOU: The Texans offense has been pretty woeful this season, and hey, Dallas' defense has been pretty good this season! They might not be a bad option.

Buyer Beware:

QB Nick Foles (PHI) vs. STL: He's taken some beating this season, and now that weakened offensive line (plus Lane Johnson) will have to deal with the fearsome foursome that is this new Rams front 4. It might not be a good weekend for Foles.

Good Luck in Week 5!