Thursday, March 22, 2018

What does "Most Valuable Player" mean, anyway?

The definition of "Most Valuable Player" in sports might seem made up and not matter, depending on who you talk to, but considering this award in its many forms is the highest individual honor that can be bestowed upon a player short of going to the Hall of Fame, the definition of this term certainly is paramount. "Most valuable" seems a simple enough two word phrase to parse out. But in those three words, almost anyone can find what they want in them to twist the definition of the phrase to suit an argument about who is either the best player or, by definition, most valuable.

As the debate for the NHL's Hart Trophy this season goes on, and cleaves a divide in the hockey world not seen since the analytics debate, the definiton of the Hart Trophy, the NHL's "most valuable player", wages on with no end in sight. Because the race is so wide open this season, and there are so many candidates based on whatever definition of the "player judged to be most valuable to his team" is to any individual, the debate of what that phrase means has almost superceded the debate over who should actually win the award. Everyone has an opinion, and if you've read the tagline of this blog, that means I actually do too (what a shocker).

Most of this civil war centers around Connor McDavid, the Oilers superstar who has been his usual fantastic self this season, with 90 points in 73 games while his Oilers sputter and stumble to another inevitable draft lottery win. He's behind Kucherov, MacKinnon and Malkin in the Art Ross race, and it's safe to say without McDavid's points, or the way he dominates puck possession with his line on the ice, the Oilers may well be challenging for the moniker of "worst team since the 04-05 lockout", which MacKinnon's Avs had last season locked up. Considering the Oilers historically bad special teams (though McDavid plays a major role in that), McDavid's season looks all that more impressive, particularly when you watch him continue to dominate when he's on the ice without looking at all incredulous or burnt out by playing on a glorified AHL team for the second time in three NHL seasons.

No player has won the Hart when missing the playoffs since 1987-88 when Mario Lemieux lapped the league in winning the scoring race but his Pens missed the postseason by a point. McDavid is going to get nowhere close to that, but with a literal definition of the "most valuable" phrase, McDavid must be considered, right? Certainly. But with so many other potential contenders in this wide open field, with many of them potentially having that Lemieux type season, it seems that McDavid's candidacy has thrown chaos into what normally is a sane debate.

Nathan MacKinnon and Taylor Hall essentially have the same argument for their Hart candidacy: take an incredibly awful team, dominate when on the ice, lead the team in scoring and take moribund teams to playoff contention. MacKinnon's numbers are gaudier with his 91 points as of this writing, and his incredible form recently to take the Avs to almost playoff locks. But Hall is playing on a team with demonstrably less talent, and he's had to do more of the heavy lifting. Both Colorado and New Jersey are not very good puck possession teams at even strength, but with those superstars on the ice, they are at least better. Knowing who votes on the Hart, the PWHA, the player whose team makes the postseason probably ends up taking the lead in the horse race, though what happens if both, or neither, make the playoffs, which is still possible on March 22nd?

Then you have the superstars on loaded teams, like Kucherov and Malkin, who have been absolutely dynamite, but have the benefit of playing on really good teams already, which normally wouldn't matter, however in this weird Hart race, it might matter more than ever this year. Malkin has been uber good, but the Pens seemingly don't miss much when he's off the ice because of that Crosby fellow, and their struggles might be down more to their d-zone and goaltending than anything Malkin et al can't outscore. Tampa is much the same way, so Kucherov's hot start has faded from mind a little.

There are players like Patrice Bergeron who were crazy dominant but injuries derailed part of their season, likely taking them out of the race (which is silly to me because Bergeron would easily be in the conversation without the injury, though his candidacy is much like Malkin and Kucherov's). There are players like Anze Kopitar, who are clearly better than the rest of his team, but the disparity isn't quite the same as it is with MacKinnon and Hall, which also contributes to the idea that he may win the Selke as a "consolation prize". That could hold too for Aleksander Barkov, who is a huge reason why the Panthers have the second best record in hockey since the All-Star break, but he falls into a muddled mesh of the Kopitar and MacKinnon/Hall situations where his team isn't great, but not nearly as bad without him as Hall/MacKinnon, and with Kopitar's ability to easily walk away with the Selke.

Before we forget, and the goaltender's union comes after me while we collectively spill bottles and bottles of internet ink, aren't goalies technically the most valuable players to their team every year? The adage, "show me a good goalie and I'll show you a good coach" certainly applies here, but has there been any goalie in this season that fits this description and the idea behind it enough to win the Hart, a la Jose Theodore in 2002? Probably not this year, though the Predators are championing Pekka Rinne's candidacy as they should, and Andrei Vasilevsky's Vezina waltz has found a few hiccups as of late. John Gibson in Anaheim probably deserves a nod for keeping his Ducks team that had more injuries than almost anyone together with his personal spit, gum and scotch tape performances that may well get them into the playoffs, but that's a hard argument to win even at this stage where we know more about how good goalies are and their importance to their teams seems heightened. Connor Hellebuyck deserves at least a nod here, because he's helped backstop a Jets team that obviously needed a save into being one of the best in the league, but with his team, that's another hard argument to parse out.

With all of that said, this "race" is a dumpster fire, even as the entire world of hockey swallows itself debating the definition of the Hart Trophy instead of actually debating who should win the award. A convincing argument could be made for up to maybe 10 players if you wanted to, and most of the hockey world has basically tried to do that already. In other sports, the MVP often goes to the most outstanding player, and in some sports, this award is simply termed "player of the year", which cleans up some of this nonsensical debate to begin with.

Putting all of that and more into a blender, if I had a vote for the Hart trophy this year, this is where I'd probably end up:

Nathan MacKinnon would probably be my number one. His season is every bit as amazing as Connor McDavid's, and while he's doing much the same thing that Taylor Hall is doing in New Jersey, he is taking a worse team in terms of play and elevating them to dominant when he's on the ice. He's also clearly elevating other players too, such as Mikko Rantanen, which is something Taylor Hall and even McDavid have not been able to, even in their spectacular seasons. Hall would be second because of this, and McDavid would be third. Connor McDavid is the best player in hockey, and should not be punished for Peter Chiarelli's sins, but what Hall and MacKinnon are doing is what McDavid in an ideal world should be doing, but because luck and other factors, he's just not able to.

This decision more comes down to rewarding a season that deserves to stand out in hockey history as much as acknowledging the obvious with McDavid. He won the Hart last year with a crazy good season, and will win the award many, many more times in the future. MacKinnon and Hall may not have that luxury. For the record, spots four and five would go to Evgeni Malkin and Anze Kopitar on my imaginary ballot.

The 2017-18 Hart race is the most crowded, confusing and crazy race for this award in years, and this is the way that one big hockey fan and journalist attempts to parse it out. That's what we're all trying to do in the end, using our own prisms and viewfinders to twist this season to our notions of hockey and impressive performances.

Maybe when the NHL had six teams and everyone made the playoffs awarding the Hart trophy was easier, but in a league filled with parity and with new ways of viewing the sport, figuring out who should win hockey's most prodigious award has become a debate that goes beyond hockey itself and more comes about how the sport is viewed from individual pairs of eyeballs.

But no one ever said judging someone's "value" was ever going to be easy.

Friday, March 2, 2018

2018 MLS Season Predictions

In my traditional cheap way of getting content onto this website without exuding much effort, it's time for some 2018 MLS predictions as the season starts this weekend. I'm excited, and a few others are, so where do I think all of these teams are going to slot in during the 2018 season?

Eastern Conference:
1. Toronto FC
3. Atlanta United
4. New York Red Bulls
5. Orlando City
6. Columbus Crew
7. Chicago Fire
8. Philadelphia Union
9. New England Revolution
10. DC United
11. Montreal Impact

Comments: Toronto FC is, and has been, the class of MLS for a few seasons now, and there's no reason to think they won't be again with the adjustments that they've made. They may not win the Supporters Shield again because of CCL focus, but they are the best team in the league and one of the biggest favorites for MLS Cup in recent memory.

NYCFC and Atlanta United both have the ability to challenge TFC atop the East, but both have some notable flaws, being NYCFC's overreliance on David Villa, and ATLU's problems deep in midfield. Both won't have trouble scoring goals, but there are a few notable flaws which may keep them from upsetting the Reds. The Red Bulls have made quality adjustments this offseason and look as if they may have just turned the corner, and Orlando City's huge offseason makeover and desperation to finally make the playoffs will get them in at long last. Columbus, who were inches away from MLS Cup last season, have uncertainty about where they'll be playing in the future over their heads, as well as dealing Meram and Kamara away, leaving them with some big holes, but their style will be good enough to make the postseason.

Western Conference:
1. Seattle Sounders
2. Real Salt Lake
3. Portland Timbers
4. San Jose Earthquakes
5. LA Galaxy
6. Sporting Kansas City
7. Houston Dynamo
8. FC Dallas
9. Vancouver Whitecaps
10. LAFC
11. Colorado Rapids
12. Minnesota United

Comments: While the Sounders are older and lacking Jordan Morris, some CCL evidence shows that they're going to be a-OK, at least barring any other major injuries. They're a favorite in the West, but not the favorite. RSL was the best team in MLS from June on, and their attack has some great potential. They look to make a huge jump this year, as do the LA Galaxy, whose own roster makeover was notable in major ways, and Sigi Schmid has the track record of making teams like this work. Portland has a new manager and a much younger roster, but there are questions about how they play and why Caleb Porter left, leaving the defending regular season champs from the West last year in a little hole.

San Jose will be sneaky good this year and play good soccer, and as the team is far more balanced now, they are a dark horse Cup contender. And Sporting Kansas City with their physicality and defensive posture should have enough to make the postseason again, if just barely, because they always run out of steam by August. This means both Vancouver and Houston will fall out from last year's six teams out West, and FC Dallas, who have fallen off a cliff in the last nine months, may not be able to climb out either. Notably, LAFC will have a season more akin to Minnesota United rather than Atlanta United in year one.

East Champ: Toronto FC
West Champ: Real Salt Lake
MLS Cup 2018 Winner: Toronto FC
Supporters Shield: NYCFC
Open Cup: New York Red Bulls
Golden Boot: David Villa
MVP: Miguel Almiron
Defender OTY: Justen Glad
Goalkeeper OTY: Nick Rimando
Coach OTY: Patrick Vieira
Rookie: Tomas Hilliard-Arce (LA Galaxy)
Newcomer: Carlos Vela

Monday, February 5, 2018

Personal Thoughts on the Eagles winning the Super Bowl

This is more say a journal entry than a formal story, but bear with me on this. 

If you've known me for long enough, you'll know that I don't take too kindly to Philadelphia sports success, despite being born and raised in the Delaware Valley my entire life. I revelled in their high profile failures, particularly the Eagles, and took personal psychic pain when the teams did well. My "hatred" waned as I got older and my life took me away from home, but deep seeded feelings don't usually go away completely, they just subside temporarily.

What made this particular Super Bowl so interesting and conflicting from my personal perspective was the idea that the Eagles could win the Super Bowl, not something I ever particularly wanted to see, against a team that just eliminated my own from a potential first Super Bowl. Would I be against the Patriots, as 95% of neutrals were, or against Philadelphia, as I had been raised to be from generations of family animosity towards Philadelphia sports teams?

The hand-wringing is over now that the Eagles have won, and many people I know are celebrating a feeling I have never experienced, and may never knowing the teams I support. Part of my initial reaction to the Eagles whacking the Vikings in the NFC Championship was happiness that I didn't have to deal with an Eagles/Jaguars Super Bowl, which would have been absolutely awful for me (and probably only me), especially if the Eagles had won, which would have been soul crushing.

The suffering of Philadelphia sports fans, particularly with the Eagles has been well documented, and their escapades have been as well. They haven't created much of a loving feeling among fellow sports fans around the country, and with some of the things that have happened in the past, how could it be any other way?

I'm happy for many of my own friends who have suffered as much as anyone, and weren't necessarily obnoxious about it. They certainly deserve it. If you were someone looking from the outside in, and you didn't know anyone in the way I do, you might not enjoy watching the Eagles be successful as they now are, and that's understandable. For me, it's more regret that the Jaguars had come as close as they had ever come to a Super Bowl, fell short, and then another team beat the Patriots by doing something they didn't have the courage to do, and that team happened to be the Eagles, which irked me more than anything else.

There is mostly a sense of bitterness of watching people who I enjoyed making fun of now enjoy a type of happiness I have never experienced, but came so close to that ends up being the best way I can describe this weird confluence of emotions. Would I have revelled in the failure of the Eagles had they lost? Yeah, but it probably would have been piling on to people who didn't need it, or particularly want to hear from me at that stage. It would have been a mildly twisted sense of sastisfaction that they still couldn't have what I couldn't have, which was my high school logic for rooting against everything Philadelphia sports based.

Good people are happy comes along with the people that I personally loathed being happy, but that is part and parcel of sports fandom. This would have also been the case if the Patriots had won too. My personal biases still color much of what I call fandom outside of my investment in sports media as a profession, but even that line is a bit blurry.

For a region and a city I call home, last night was something so many of them waited a lifetime for and now have, and some of them certainly deserve it. Some don't to be sure, but to take the good with the bad is taking the high road in a situation which if it occurred when I was younger I certainly wouldn't have done. Such is life in sports where we hook emotional well-being and self worth to sports teams we have no control over.

Philly fans: enjoy this. You put the haters in their place for one night and will have it over them for a while. Don't let anyone like me or anyone take this away from you because of the past.

But that doesn't people like me don't harbor a little resentment about it, for one bizarre reason or another.

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!