Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014 MLB Postseason Predictions

Right on cue... time for 2014 MLB Postseason Predictions, which never look quite as good as the preseason ones do (see last post). But that doesn't mean I'm not going to try anyway!

AL Wild Card Game: OAK over KC
NL Wild Card Game: SF over PIT

ALDS: Tigers over Orioles in 5
             Angels over A's in 4

NLDS: Nats over Giants in 4
             Cardinals over Dodgers in 5

ALCS: Tigers over Angels in 6

NLCS: Nationals over Cardinals in 5

2014 World Series: Nationals over Tigers in 5

Well, at least I still had the Tigers losing in 5 to someone. Sorry to all Washington Nationals fans for jinxing your team in advance.

2014 MLB Season Predictions in Review

Since I'll fully admit that I'm nothing special, especially when it comes to predictions, it's time for that piece every year where I review my preseason predictions to see how wrong (or right) I was. My MLB predictions have had a decent hit rate over the past few years (I'm also not above stroking my ego when I'm right), so let's see how 2014 fared.

My predicted pre-season division winners were: The Red Sox, Tigers, A's, Nationals, Cardinals and Dodgers. 4 of 6! How about that. The Wild Card Winners in the AL were the Rays and Yankees, and in the NL the Giants and Pirates. I really know my way around the NL, but can never seem to get the AL East right. You win some you lose some. My pre-season World Series predictions was the Cardinals over the Tigers, and while that's still possible and plausible, I don't think it's going to happen. But then again, I didn't think the Tigers would play the Giants in 2012 and they did. Maybe I'm not so bad at this after all.

Time for some award reviews, first the AL: MVP was Mike Trout (no-brainer then and now), Cy Young was David Price (probably not, and plus there has ever been a Cy Young winner traded in-season), Rookie was Masahiro Tanaka (his UCL might be MVP, but Jose Abreu has this locked up), manager was Ned Yost (duh), and HR King was Miguel Cabrera (Jose Abreu again).

NL: MVP was Yadier Molina (3 way race, could even be Clayton Kershaw), Cy Young was Clayton Kershaw (super no-brainer), rookie was Travis D'Arnaud (another Met looks likely to get it in Jake DeGrom), manager was Matt Williams (I'd bet on it), and finally the HR King was Giancarlo Stanton (he did just that, even with a busted face).

Overall, I actually did pretty well with my preseason predictions this year, which is a bit of surprise to my skeptical mind. Now, onto failing with postseason predictions.

Friday, September 26, 2014

What about a Thursday Night game in London...

26-6. 56-14. 45-14. Those are the scores of the last 3 Thursday Night games. Sadly, despite the putrid quality of the games, they'll always outrate everything else on TV that night, even when the baseball playoffs really get into the swing of things. At the risk of the quality of the games, the NFL will stop at nothing to make more money. And this brings us onto the elephant in the room... London.

There will also be 3 games at Wembley Stadium this season, the first of which comes on Sunday. Miami/Oakland, Detroit/Atlanta (going up against Premier League games for the record), and Dallas/Jacksonville are not games that really jump out at you, but the London games never will considering the teams that are willing to voluntarily give up home games. But now, again at the detriment of the quality of the games and the league, the NFL will stop at nothing to increase profits, which means these games are now viability tests to see if London can actually house a full time franchise. Spoiler: it can't.

The expansion of Thursday Night games as well as the expansion of London games are linked together, and are evidence of the same problem. At what point does quality of game finally suppress desire for a few extra pocket stuffers? So long as we watch, that line is at a point where none of us can see it.

With teams playing on short weeks, inevitably the quality of game will suffer. The NFL has noticed this, and in an (feeble) attempt to curtail the quality drop-off, they've only scheduled divisional games on Thursday nights (sans 1 and possibly one other). As has already been obvious, this has done nothing to prevent the inevitable from happening. Yet, we all still watch. October is going to be a fascinating month to watch the evolution of this, as the TNF college football games and more sports begin to vie for your eyeballs, especially baseball.

Wembley has always drawn very good crowds for the London games, despite the fact that they have mainly been duds, and the quality of team is mainly terrible. They've also done well with only 1 or 2 marquee "events" a season, but now with 3, and especially now that they've time shifted a game specifically tailored to the UK audience, it will be fascinating to see how they react. The MIA/OAK game and the DAL/JAX game almost seem meaningless compared to the DET/ATL contest, which will go on at 9:30 AM on the east coast, competing directly with Premier League games on both sides of the pond, and forcing everyone to wake up early to watch their games. Now, while most do this anyway to tailgate, it's different when the game is a glorified road game. The NFL is banking on the soccer crowd to influence the football one, and that's a risky lot to cast.

The decreasing quality, and novelty, of both the TNF and London games are casting a negative eye on the league's increasingly shameless attempt to squeeze every single last penny out of both you the consumer and the advertisers, and at some point that will hit a dramatic brick wall. While this month's fiascos have already damaged the league in their pocketbook, it was never going to put a huge enough dent on the profit reports to cause legitimate change, even if the fear of it has. The outcry from players on Thursday Night games may also do little to change the mood. But London...

That's where the line will be drawn, because under no circumstances is a London NFL franchise viable. That may be finally what cuts the NFL off at the roots. But it doesn't seem that they're going to realize it.

So as we all sat down and marveled at the putrid quality in DC, and will do the same by cracking jokes about the London game, the wheels will begin to turn when it comes to these novelty games and the lack thereof now.

Eventually in the future, we may have a Thursday Night game in London! OK, I don't think the NFL is that stupid.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

2014 Week 4 Fantasy Advice

Any new PR nightmares to speak of? No? Maybe actually talking about football for once this painful month will be just the tonic everyone needs. We're reaching the point in the season where it may be time to tweak your team based on the new risers and duds that always appear at this point. Or, as some others would put it... TIME TO PANIC. But reading this column should help you not do that... in theory.


Who to Start:

QB Philip Rivers (SD) vs. JAX: The Chargers look really good again, and Rivers recapturing some of his late 2000's form is part of the reason. With the Chargers also running out of washed out running backs to sign, Rivers is going to have to throw the ball in order for the Chargers to win. Against the Jaguars, whose defense is at this point an insult to sieves everywhere, Rivers should absolutely thrive.

RB Frank Gore (SF) vs. PHI: After an off week against the very good Cardinals defense, Gore should get right back to eating up yards against the Eagles, who not only looked poor last week against Washington and Alfred Morris but also made Trent Richardson look capable.

WR Julian Edelman (NE) vs. KC MON: While many are moaning the decline of Tom Brady not only as a fantasy QB, his receivers have also struggled in response. But this week, against Kansas City's depleted secondary, Edelman could be in for a bounce back week.

WR Jeremy Maclin (PHI) vs. SF: I'm assuming you were already starting him, but if somehow you weren't, San Francisco's secondary has been unusually bad, especially in the second half, which is a great combination for the Eagles who have only been good on offense in the second half this season.

WR Steve Smith Sr(???) (BAL) vs. CAR: Steve Smith is playing his former team, so if you have him, start him. He's going to be extra motivated Sunday.

TE Martellus Bennett (CHI) vs. GB: Since recommending Antonio Gates is way too obvious at this point, Bennett is a quieter version of the same matchup, in essence. The Packers defense has looked off (especially with Clay Matthews on the injury report), and has already done very well to start this season. Start him here.

DEF Pittsburgh vs. TB: The Steelers look like the Steelers again! They were physically dominant against the outmatched Panthers last Sunday night, and against the Bucs, who were pushed around like a rag-doll against Atlanta, the Steelers should feast again despite being depleted in the linebacking corps.

Who to Sit:

QB Ryan Tannehill (MIA) vs. OAK: Considering Joe Philbin seems lukewarm at best to starting him, that would be proof enough to keep him on your bench. But, the Raiders secondary has actually been halfway decent this season, and they did well to keep Tom Brady in check last week.

RB Reggie Bush (DET) vs. NYJ: Despite a myriad of issues in the secondary, the Jets rush defense is still one of football's best. This does not bode well for Reggie Bush and the Lions, who looked a bit toothless in their last road game in Carolina.

WR T.Y Hilton (IND) vs. TEN: Did you know the Titans have one of the statistically best defenses in football right now? Their record sure wouldn't tell you that. The Colts offense has a lot of weapons to use, and Hilton's has been mainly kept in the holster of late. He might be a dicey play this Sunday.

WR Kelvin Benjamin (CAR) vs. BAL: While right now he's Carolina's best offensive player, the Ravens secondary has been pretty good this season in their 3 divisional games thus far. Benjamin will get extra attention due to the fact that the Panthers have no healthy running backs right now as well.

TE Heath Miller (PIT) vs. TB: Despite what last week might have shown, Tampa's defense is not that bad. Heath Miller, while still effective, isn't the best option available. If you have better ones, you might want to turn in that direction, despite Miller being a good bye week option.

DEF Dallas vs. NO: IT'S A TRAP. IT'S A TRAP.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Kirk Cousins (WSH) vs. NYG THU: You wouldn't be wrong to believe that Kirk Cousins may have a longer future in DC than RG3 right now. The numbers back that up. You also wouldn't be wrong to believe that the Giants defense is probably not as good as they showed last week against Houston either.

RB Matt Asiata (MIN) vs. ATL: Somebody has to run the ball for Minnesota, and Asiata's the next guy up. The Falcons despite their virtues have had trouble stopping the run this season, and you know Norv Turner will want to take pressure off of Teddy Bridgewater in his first start.

WR DeAndre Hopkins (HOU) vs. BUF: The Bills never look right in road games especially on defense, and the best wideout in Houston right now has to be Hopkins, who looks far fresher than Andre Johnson.

Buyer Beware:

QB Cam Newton (CAR) vs. BAL: He took some sort of beating against Pittsburgh, and it doesn't figure to get any better against the Ravens. With the Panthers documented issues at running back, the game might fall into Cam's hands, and that's not necessarily a good thing.

Good Luck in Week 4!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

2014 Week 3 Fantasy Advice

The NFL is still a tire fire inside of a dumpster fire inside of a volcanic eruption, but the games must still be played and therefore there will still be fantasy players to start or sit. Yes, many big names are now exiled to the wonderful world of the exempt list, but football moves on, as I sadly haven't from being at the Jacksonville/Washington game on Sunday. Maybe this will help the acceptance process.

Who to Start:

QB Andrew Luck (IND) vs. JAX: Funny that, playing against the Jaguars is good for opposing players. As much as I loathe saying it, the Jags are a mess especially in the secondary, and despite the fact Jonathan Cyprien will play, Luck is mad. He's mad that his team is 0-2 and is better than the 2-0 Bills, so Luck will light up the humid Jacksonville sky on Sunday.

RB Knile Davis (KC) vs. MIA: With Jamaal Charles out injured, Davis will take the load of the carries. Even though sometimes Andy Reid forgets he has running backs, the Dolphins rush defense in their first 2 games has been... sieve-like, so Davis could have a big outing Sunday.

WR Andre Johnson (HOU) vs. NYG: Even though he didn't do all that much against Washington and Oakland, the Giants await next, and their secondary made Drew Stanton competent for most of the game last Sunday. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a little better than that, so Andre Johnson will do a little better than Michael Floyd did last Sunday.

WR Alshon Jeffrey/Brandon Marshall (CHI) vs. NYJ MON: Both Chicago wideouts are getting healthier, and even unhealthy Marshall had 3 TD's against the 49ers. The Jets secondary is depleted and got torched against Green Bay, so either of these receivers are very good starts.

TE Zach Ertz (PHI) vs. WSH: He doesn't really need to be in this column anymore after the first 2 weeks of being recommended. He's developing a rapport with Nick Foles as the latter looks increasingly skittish, and the Washington defense will not nearly play as well as they did last week because Nick Foles isn't Chad Henne.

DEF Indianapolis vs. JAX: Chad Henne. Enough said.

Who to Sit:

QB Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) vs. CAR: The Panthers defense, despite everyone thinking it would fall off a cliff, has been awesome the past 2 weeks. And next up are the Pittsburgh Steelers, who haven't scored a TD in 6 quarters. Also, they've not conceded 2 passing TD's in a game since December of 2012! Please avoid Big Ben on Sunday, and this has nothing to do with the Scottish Independence vote.

RB Frank Gore (SF) vs. ARZ: Even though he's had a decent first couple of games, the Cardinals defense is the best one he'll face thus far, and his recent slate of games against Arizona have not been that good.

WR Eric Decker (NYJ) vs. CHI MON: This is not as much about the matchup as much as it is Eric Decker's nagging hamstring injury. It's tough to wait on game-time decisions, especially Monday Night ones, and the Bears defense looked better last week.

WR Torrey Smith (BAL) vs. CLE: The other Smith on the Ravens is getting most of the targets and the joy, leaving the longer tenured Smith out of luck. And to make matters worse, on Sunday he's going up against Joe Haden, and the Browns have traditionally held him in check in his career.

TE Delanie Walker (TEN) vs. CIN: Last week Walker tore up the Cowboys , and this week he's going up against the Bengals. That's not a good sign. Cincy's defense might be the AFC's best in the young season, and if the Jake Locker of last week shows up... uh oh.

DEF Denver vs. SEA: Denver's D has been up and down so far this season, but don't you think the Seahawks will be a little mad about last week? Just a touch?

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Ryan Tannehill (MIA) vs. KC: If you're deathly afraid of Peyton Manning against the Seahawks (see below), Tannehill might not be a horrible option off the pine. The Chiefs defense made Jake Locker look good already this season, and Tannehill is better than Jake Locker.

RB Bobby Rainey (TB) vs. ATL THU: Even if Doug Martin does play, Rainey has played well enough in the first 2 games in order to probably get the bulk of the carries. Also, the Falcons rush defense has been pushed around against New Orleans and Cincinnati, so it could be another 140+ yard day for Rainey.

TE Dwayne Allen (IND) vs. JAX: The Jaguars linebackers are incapable of covering Tight Ends and that's not changing this week, so Allen could have a monster game while a free agent in many leagues.

Buyer Beware:

QB Peyton Manning (DEN) vs. SEA: You're going to start him, and why wouldn't you? But this is to sow that little seed of doubt in your head that he might not do great things. I benched Aaron Rodgers against the Seahawks knowing that he'd have a nightmare of an evening, and he did, so if you have a good option on the bench, this might be one of the few times where benching Peyton Manning is not a bad idea.

Good Luck in Week 3, and don't make your way on Roger Goodell's exempt list, whatever you do.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

2014 Week 2 Fantasy Advice

As the 2014 edition of the Salem Witch Trials continue aiming at Roger Goodell's job (and rightly so), it is quite hard to remind yourself that there is actually football going on. So if you find yourself feeling terrible that you love a league that may indirectly condone domestic abuse, just remember that as a soccer fan I condone modern slavery and corruption out that would make the Sopranos blush by watching the World Cup.  Oh right, wasn't I supposed to talk about fantasy football...

Who to Start:

QB Colin Kaepernick (SF) vs. CHI: While his passing game is nowhere the quality of what he can do with his feet, he had a solid outing against a porous Dallas secondary last week and with the Bears defense being slightly better and that's being kind, Kaepernick could once again have a massive week.

RB Alfred Morris (WSH) vs. JAX: While last week wasn't a good one for Morris or the entire Washington offense, this game against Jacksonville should fare a little better. Once the D tired, the Jaguars had trouble stopping Sproles and McCoy, and Morris should be able to capitalize on it.

WR Randall Cobb (GB) vs. NYJ: Now while the Jets defense was impressive Sunday against Oakland, it was Oakland. With 10 days to prepare for a Jets secondary minus Dee Milliner, Cobb and Jordy Nelson could both be in for fun afternoons at Lambeau.

WR Michael Floyd (ARZ) vs. NYG: It might be time to say he's the better fantasy wideout of the Floyd-Fitzgerald duo. Certainly seems like the torch has been passed. The Giants secondary was a sieve on Monday night against Detroit, so Floyd could light up the MetLife scoreboards.

TE Zach Ertz (PHI) vs. IND MON: After his big game against the Jaguars, odds are he'll continue his good run into the game against Indianapolis. The Colts were shredded by Julius Thomas, and with Nick Foles appearing to be a little bit more skittish in the pocket, he may look for the safer option more often.

DEF Tampa Bay vs. STL

I can't tell you who will be starting for the Rams at QB, and if that's the case, start the defense they are playing against.

Who to Sit:

QB Tony Romo (DAL) vs. TEN: Despite the fact I don't think the Titans defense is any good, everyone who watched the game against San Francisco saw the decline of a once very solid QB in front of our eyes. He's unstartable at this point, even in 2 QB leagues.

RB Maurice Jones-Drew (OAK) vs. HOU: My old friend... it didn't go well for you against the Jets did it? The odds aren't in your favor against Houston either, whose defense was absolutely suffocating against Washington and figures to do the same in the Black Hole.

WR Victor Cruz (NYG) vs. ARZ: As the Giants offense slowly goes completely horizontal, that won't do any wonders for the fantasy numbers at the skill positions for Big Blue. It doesn't help that Arizona's secondary is one of the best in football either.

WR Mike Wallace (MIA) vs. BUF: After a nice game against the Patriots despite the odds, he's not a great option this week despite the matchup not striking too much fear in me. Why? He's not a particularly reliable option in any road game recently, only going over 50 yards 2 times in his last 8 games away from Sun Life Stadium.

TE Antonio Gates (SD) vs. SEA: Despite him still being a very reliable option in weeks when he's not playing the Seahawks, this week he's playing the Seahawks. That's not a good sign.

DEF Minnesota vs. NE: Yes their stat line was incredibly impressive, but that was against Shaun Hill and a QB no one has ever heard of before. I may have been living under a rock for a good while, but I think people have heard of this Tom Brady fella before.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Jake Locker (TEN) vs. DAL: While I still don't think he's any good whatsoever, he's playing Dallas this week, and if there's any fantasy value I'll post to the wall this year, is start every single player playing against the Dallas defense (yes, even the Rams next week).

RB Terrance West (CLE) vs. NO: With Ben Tate out a fortnight (yes I did just write that, sue me), West will get the bulk of the carries going forward. He broke out against Pittsburgh, and the Saints rush defense was a little more than suspect last week against Atlanta.

TE Larry Donnell (NYG) vs. ARZ: As many of my Giants friends had told me before the season started, they had no clue who the starting Tight End would be. They may know the name Larry Donnell now, and some enterprising fantasy players may know him as well. Even though Arizona's defense is very good overall, they struggle to defend Tight End's, and see MNF as proof positive.

Buyer Beware:

WR Roddy White (ATL) vs. CIN: You're more than likely starting him this week if you have him but consider these 2 things: Cincinnati defense was very good last week against Baltimore, and White may be a bit dinged up after that big game against New Orleans. Also, he's not put up great numbers against AFC teams, for what that's worth.

Good Luck in Week 2, and if you have something to say Roger... say it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What's a Commissioner?

Dictionary.com defines this word as "an official chosen by an athletic association to exercise broad administrative or judicial authority". This is important considering what has recently happened in the NFL and NBA and the PR nightmares that have ensued. These men despite being glorified corporate CEO's according to many have been specifically chosen to exercise "broad administrative or judicial authority", and the recent examples from two leagues have shown just how far this definition has been warped and changed over time. Now as Roger Goodell picks up the pieces from his latest PR nightmare, and Adam Silver continues a Spanish Inquisition against racism from the owners he serves, what is the definition of "commissioner" now anyway?

This line of questioning was inspired by a recent Keith Olbermann essay on commissioners, connecting not only to Roger Goodell but also the rumored NHL expansion. Olbermann noted what was said above: that commissioners aren't really commissioners anymore, but corporate CEO's charged with growing their business as much as they can. He simply wants the name to be changed to reflect the new role of a commissioner in today's sports world. This is true, as was his assertion that the original "commissioner" Kennesaw Mt. Landis of baseball was far more wide-reaching in his role back in the 1930's, but the world was wholeheartedly different then. It's wholeheartedly different than it was 10 years ago too. As with everything, the commissioner's role has evolved and it's not a purely sports role anymore. It wasn't with Pete Rozelle when he desperately tried during the 1960's to grow the NFL while competing against the AFL and baseball at the same time. So it's not all about sports anymore, and commissioners now are technically employed by the owners they serve. Except...

Adam Silver in his tenure as NBA head honcho successfully pushed out Donald Sterling thanks to TMZ leaking his disgusting racism in a private conversation (odd how TMZ is the sports moral compass right now *downs gallon of bleach*), and will soon get a second feather in that cap. Harvey Levenson, one of the Hawks controlling partners, self-revealed a racist e-mail he sent to his teams' brass in 2012. By virtue of setting precedent, Adam Silver has in fact become the commissioner Olbermann described in his essay so now the mere uncovering of one in a chain of hundreds of e-mails that had racist undertones has now forced the hand of one of the 126 most powerful men in sports.

So while it took Roger Goodell up until just recently to realize that he's the commissioner and by that he can supersede the CBA his bosses signed with the NFLPA to pass judgment, Adam Silver has exercised it once with an iron fist and has now forced the hand of someone else Big Brother style. George Orwell would be proud. So in this sense the role of the commissioner in sports is not just about growing the business, but also to in fact "exercise broad administrative and judicial authority" along with that. And it's never a case of black or white when it comes to a role as broad and powerful as this one is. But there's a third part to this role that doesn't get talked about nearly enough...

These people are PR gatekeepers. The "successes" of Adam Silver came by circumstance to him, while his predecessor sat on his hands for 25-30 years on the same knowledge that Adam Silver needed about 3 weeks to act upon. Roger Goodell recently indefinitely suspended Ray Rice based on the video that graphically showed Rice knocking out his wife against an elevator bar, and unfortunately he did it because PR dictated he had to. He had already dug his own grave thanks to the first suspension handed out to Rice, and the lack of suspensions handed out to other domestic abusers that played without any sort of negative press, and the other insane suspensions handed out for drug violations, etc. etc. Thanks to public pressure, Goodell had to cover his own behind for PR purposes. He and the Ravens deserve no credit for what they did since it was largely done by circumstance for them due to public pressure when it should have been done immediately. But that's nothing new. Adam Silver despite all the praise essentially did the same thing. Bud Selig's tough stance on steroids and performance-enhancing drugs despite the double standards did the same thing, and the NHL's clever news drops such as burying a concussion lawsuit by announcing a $5.6 billion Canadian TV rights deal is no different. These people are supposed to be masters of PR, and yet their biggest fault is often how poor they are at playing this game.

While the role of commissioner is not what it once was as a pure arbiter of sports to "exercise broad administrative and judicial authority", it is not solely about growing the business. It's about a combination of those things, and how that mixture is spun. Recently, the end product of this entire glutenous mess from all 4 sports has been more often than not terrible. But there is no doubt that it can be improved. Good will isn't a bottomless well flowing with free passes as recent events have shown. As the role of the commissioner has evolved, so should the criticism all these men get on a daily basis. We as a sports populace cannot pigeonhole the role to fit narratives, we must evolve our opinions to meet the situations, just as the commissioners themselves should.

As masters of PR they can change the focus when they want to. They might want to get on that soon.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

2014 NFL Season Predictions

It's time for that annual piece which inevitably I regret everything I put here and end up embarrassed for the entire sports-loving populace with my sham of a prediction set... I would say that if I was really bad at this, but I like to think I'm somewhat decent at predicting the future, at least in the NFL's case. So as a new season turns, it's time to see whether I need to open the review column in January with the first or second sentence.

AFC East: 1. NE 12-4 2. NYJ 9-7 3. MIA 7-9 4. BUF 5-11

The Patriots winning the AFC East? Why it might not even be that special anymore. The Jets have more offensive weapons and a strong enough front 7 to compete for a wild card spot, the Dolphins will flounder once again and Joe Philbin's job may be on the line, while Bills fans continue to wonder what they did with that lucky Blockbuster card of theirs from 1999...

AFC North: 1. BAL 10-6 2. CIN 9-7 3. PIT 8-8 4. CLE 4-12

The Ravens retooled offense should help out a defense that underachieved somewhat last season in order to get them back into the playoffs. While the Bengals may be the most complete team in the division on paper, something about them scares me off... may have to do with Andy Dalton's contract. The Steelers are slowly working their way out of cap hell, but it'll take longer to do so, and the Browns season will be over when Lebron takes the court at the Q again.

AFC South: 1. IND 11-5 2. JAX 7-9 3. TEN 6-10 4. HOU 5-11

The Colts may have the AFC's best record because of this division and the fact that their schedule overall is a joke. How far they go in the postseason is another question. Jacksonville will improve from last season no matter how many games Blake Bortles plays, while the Titans will finally learn that Jake Locker isn't the answer and the Texans' answer may still be playing in college.

AFC West: 1. DEN 12-4 2. SD 9-7 3. KC 7-9 4. OAK 4-12

The Broncos have maybe this year and next to win a Super Bowl before their cap comes crushing their dreams to bits, and this year may test their mettle effectively because of a brutal schedule. The Chargers surprised last season and may make the playoffs again, but dramatic improvement hasn't been shown. The Chiefs are primed for a big slide, while the Raiders hope Derek Carr doesn't end up like David in more ways than one.

NFC East: 1. PHI 11-5 2. NYG 8-8 3. DAL 6-10 4. WSH 5-11

The Eagles win this division easily because they are the team with the smallest sideshow around them. The Giants' revolves around their inept offense, the Cowboys' revolves around their hilarious lack of defense, and the Washington's revolves around everything that isn't football.

NFC North: 1. GB 11-5 2. CHI 10-6 3. DET 7-9 4. MIN 5-11

The Packers should they stay healthy are a Super Bowl contender again, mainly because their defense has finally improved after years of stagnation. The Bears may end up being a twilight zone team because while their offense is scary good, their defense is equally scary because it's so crappy. The same can be said for the Lions, and while the novelty of the Vikings have outdoor home games excites, Teddy Bridgewater can't because he'll be on the bench for too long.

NFC South: 1. NO 12-4 2. ATL 9-7 3. CAR 7-9 4. TB 7-9

Since no one ever repeats as the NFC South champ, the Saints will win it this year because they didn't a year ago. And it also may have to do with something relating to them possibly being the most balanced team in the league on both sides of the ball, too. The Falcons won't nearly be as bad as they were last year because they are actually healthy now, while the Panthers won't be as good as they were a year ago because they for some reason deliberately got worse (the cap might have something to do with that). The Bucs have LED clocks for uniforms, and still they have no QB because Josh McCown won't be that amazing outside of Mark Trestman's shadow.

NFC West: 1. SF 12-4 2. SEA 11-5 3. ARZ 10-6 4. STL 7-9

Remember when the winner of this division had 7 wins? Neither do I, and apparently neither do any of the teams because they are all loaded. The 49ers will have to battle defensive attrition early, but they should have the horses to do so. The Seahawks will regress slightly because of not only a Super Bowl hangover but some of the key pieces from last year are now somewhere else. Arizona has to be the best team to not make the playoffs in recent times, and they may repeat the feat again, while the Rams have no QB but an insanely good defense, which in this division doesn't bode very well.

AFC Playoffs: 1. NE 2. DEN 3. IND 4. BAL 5. CIN 6. NYJ
NFC Playoffs: 1. SF 2. NO 3. GB 4. PHI 5. SEA 6. CHI

AFC Playoffs:

Wild Card Round: 4. BAL over 5. CIN
                             3. IND over 6. NYJ

Divisional Round:  1. NE over 4. BAL
                             3. IND over 2. DEN

AFC Title Game:  1. NE over 3. IND

NFC Playoffs:

Wild Card Round:   5. SEA over 4. PHI
                               3. GB over 6. CHI

Divisional Round:    1. SF over 5. SEA
                              2. NO over 3. GB

NFC Title Game:   2. NO over 1. SF

Super Bowl: XLIX: New England over New Orleans


MVP: Andrew Luck
Defensive Player of the Year: Clay Matthews
OROY: Brandin Cooks
DROY: Ryan Shazier
Coach of the Year: Chuck Pagano

So let's see how these hold up...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

2014 Week 1 Fantasy Advice

It's baaaaaaaaaaaaack. My sixth (!!!!!!!) year of writing fantasy columns begins with a fascinating Week 1 of false dreams and false hopes since everyone has an equal shot of making the Super Bowl going into this week. Yes, that means my Jacksonville Jaguars have just as good a shot to win it all as the New Orleans Saints do the day I type this. This will all be very different by Sunday at 4, but let me dream for a little bit.

Who to Start:

QB Colin Kaepernick (SF) vs. DAL: Even though it is incumbent on Kaepernick to improve his passing skills for the 49ers to win the Super Bowl this year, this week will make many wonder if someone had just been hit on the head when they said that. The Cowboys defense this year will end up being an insult to sieves, so anyone going up against him is a must-start. Include Kaepernick here.

RB Zac Stacy (STL) vs. MIN: Even though he has competition in the backfield with Benny Cunningham, with Shaun Hill under center the Rams figure to run the ball more. The Vikings run defense wasn't anything special last year, so Stacy may just have a solid outing on Sunday.

WR Victor Cruz (NYG) vs. DET MON: Despite the fact that Eli Manning is a scary proposition in fantasy and on the field, it doesn't change the fact that the Lions have no secondary, so Victor Cruz may have an amazing game by default. Cruz is a solid option despite the popular reservations.

WR Cordarelle Paterson (MIN) vs. STL: He's going to have a breakout season this year, as the final 4 weeks of last season proved. The Rams despite their incredibly scary front 7 had trouble defending opposing wideouts last season, so Paterson could have a monster afternoon.

TE Jordan Cameron (CLE) vs. PIT: Minus Josh Gordon, Brian Hoyer is going to need to throw the ball to someone. Jordan Cameron is the most reliable someone on the Browns roster right now. Despite the Steelers defense being improved, Cameron could still have a big game on Sunday.

DEF Philadelphia vs. JAX: Since Chad Henne is starting and not Blake Bortles, the Eagles defense will have a nice cushy opening to the season before facing Andrew Luck next Monday night.

Who to Sit:

QB Philip Rivers (SD) vs. ARZ MON: He had an amazing resurgence in fantasy and on the field last season, but despite his relatively good value, the matchup against Arizona is not good. The Cardinals defense was quietly one of the best in football last season, and that makes this one a troubling play.

RB Bishop Sankey (TEN) vs. KC: He may end up becoming the starter by the end of the season for the Titans, but as of right now he's not. Even if the Chiefs are primed for a regression by season's end, Sankey won't be able to reap the rewards for that.

WR Mike Wallace (MIA) vs. NE: Some may forget that Darrelle Revis is actually a Patriot now, and as we all know that means bad things in fantasy land for the receivers going up against him. First on the rack this season: Mike Wallace.

WR DeSean Jackson (WSH) vs. HOU: In the Eagles offense, Jackson was an amazing prospect. For the Washington Washington's... probably not. Robert Griffin III has struggled in preseason, and Jackson is still learning a new offense. Despite going up against a poor secondary, Jackson won't be one to start this weekend.

TE Eric Ebron (DET) vs. NYG MON: Despite his great measurables, rookie Tight Ends are always scary fantasy plays because it usually takes them longer to bed in with the offense than other ones. He also has to compete with Christian Fauria as well.

DEF Houston vs. WSH: The Texans defense is overrated. The end.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Geno Smith (NYJ) vs. OAK: He now has actual offensive weapons to work with, and his performance last year was better than advertised despite the turnovers. So Smith going up against the 2007 all-pro team on defense in 2014 could be in for a good game.

RB Mark Ingram (NO) vs. ATL: He now looks to be on the top of the Saints depth chart, and despite the fact he has 2 other good backs to compete with, the matchup against Atlanta is surprisingly favorable.

DEF Chicago vs. BUF: Despite the fact that this defense is incredibly scary every other week as a fantasy option, the Bills offense is equally as scary. Maybe not any other week, but this week it might not be a bad play.

Buyer Beware:

RB Maurice Jones-Drew (OAK (!!!!!!!!!)) vs. NYJ: He's a Raider now! I know, I'm surprised too. This matchup against the Jets might make him remember sadly some of the amazing(ly awful) Jaguars offenses he played on recently, with the Jets defense being as good as it is up front.

Good Luck in Week 1 and happy football season!

Monday, September 1, 2014

2014-15 Premier League Transfer Window Recap/Predictions

Since the transfer window hilariously ends after the season starts, I try to hold off on final predictions until the window shuts, which it now has. A record amount of cash has been spent, and big names have come and gone. Now we can finally recount and reflect, and prognosticate. The order is going from worst to first, so that you actually read the whole way through.

20. Burnley

The Premier League newboys made no bones about the fact that they don't spend funny money on players, and while that's a nice philosophy to have, the club has to compete with many clubs that do. So their window, which brought in some lower quality Premier League players like Marvin Sordell, Steven Reid, George Boyd and Matthew Taylor, is not inspiring. They've proven to be tough already at Turf Moor, but they're going to have to find a way to scalp games on the road against relegation rivals and this squad doesn't suggest that they can. It would be a great story if they stayed up, but it's highly unlikely.

19. Crystal Palace

If they were able to keep hold of Tony Pulis, then they would not be down in the bottom 3. His importance to their turnaround last season was nothing short of immense, and had he stayed there would have been a solid platform on which to build. Now Neil Warnock is in charge, and his last spell in the league didn't go so well. The team isn't really that talented, and Pulis got the best out of them. I have my doubts that Warnock can do the same despite the re-introduction of Wilfried Zaha. The squad has quality in spots with players like Joe Ledley, Dwight Gayle, Marouane Chamakh and now James McArthur, but their manager was the difference last year, and it will be again, but in the wrong direction this time.

18. QPR

What would deadline day be without Harry Redknapp and his in-car interviews? Apparently not much to Sky Sports since they didn't have one today, but old 'Arry was just as busy as ever. He signed former Spurs players of his in Sandro and Niko Kranjcar, and some quality from Serie A in Edu Vargas and Mauricio Isla earlier in the window. Yes the Rio Ferdinand signing was/is hilarious, but it's a Harry special and who doesn't love those? So why are they here? Glenn Hoddle's 3-5-2, which QPR can't play with this personnel. Their 3 centerbacks are slow and old, and the wingbacks aren't good enough natural defenders. They also lack quality up top behind Austin and Vargas, which is a shame since their midfield is very good. Unfortunately, that won't be good enough to keep them up.

17. West Bromwich Albion

Until a Pulis meltdown, Albion were prime candidates to go down. They're still not good by any means, but now there are clearly 3 teams worse than them. Their signings didn't inspire much confidence and they still don't, but adding players like Silvestre Varela, Georgios Samaras and Sebastian Blanco add a little spice to an otherwise dull, predictable squad. Alan Irvine hasn't proven to be as tactically inept as Sheffield Wednesday supporters led me on to believe... yet, at least. They'll need good performances from their somewhat older back 4 throughout the season, and the goals to come from not only record signing Brown Ideye, but also Saido Berahino and the other new signings. If they hold up at the back, they may just squeak it out and stay up.

16. Leicester City

They've already proven to be a scrappy bunch with the draws against Everton and Arsenal, and that was until they signed Esteban Cambiasso. He will provide amazing leadership and grit in the middle of the park, which the Foxes weren't necessarily lacking before, but he'll add to it. Their strength has and will continue to be wide play, and that's already shown itself to be true with players like Mahrez, Knockaert and Albrighton. If they can continue to get goals from Ulloa and a few from their other strikers, they'll have no issue staying up. In that process, the King Power Stadium will be a difficult place to go and take 3 points from. They were, and still are the best of the promoted lot.

15. Aston Villa

Despite their flying start, they'll have a good chunk of bumpy moments. Most of the signings from past windows which had some promise haven't panned out, so a small army of players are now out on loan from Villa Park. The ones they've brought in don't inspire much confidence at all, but the cohesion of the remaining squad will be important to their survival. Mainly, the fact that they haven't sold Ron Vlaar is proof enough that they'll stay up, even with a struggle. Carlos Sanchez and Aly Cissokho aren't bad players, but they're nothing compared to what other clubs around them have done. Paul Lambert will keep them up, but just, and since that's where Villa have been since he took over, where is the progress?

14. Sunderland

The Black Cats won't be in nearly as big a hole as they were a year ago, but the squad still has some obvious deficiencies. The midfield has good grit and toughness with players like Jack Rodwell in tow, and has good creativity in wide areas with players like Ricky Alvarez and Emanuele Giacherrini, but the defense still leaves something to be desired despite the fact they've improved it. Sebastian Coates and Patrick Van Aanholt are good players, but are they amazing by Premier League standards? No. Their issues are going to come up front, with striking issues still prevalent, and exacerbated with no Fabio Borini. The midfield will likely provide enough goals, and their defense will be nowhere near as bad as it was under Paolo Di Canio, but the squad could certainly be better than it is. Maybe we'll even have a Danny Graham sighting at some point this season... but for Sunderland supporters hopefully there isn't.

13. Hull City

Hey big spender... Who knew they'd be so active in securing some quality players on deadline day to add to an already solid squad. Abel Hernandez, Gaston Ramirez, Mo Diame, and even Hatem Ben Arfa are all quality additions to a squad that did lack it at points last season and in the early points of this one. With the lack of major outgoings as well (Boyd and Long being the notables), Hull now find themselves with a very solid backbone that allowed them to take some unusual risks, and they may well pay off. Hull's 3-5-2 has actually worked once in awhile (cough Mr. Van Gaal cough), and the additions will help out since their midfield did need a little more guile in it. Without the Europa League distractions, Hull will likely find themselves well secure in their Premier League status, and further cement themselves in the top flight.

12. Stoke City

The transition from sparker (Pulis) to Sparky has gone pretty well in the Potteries thus far. Now in his second year in charge, Mark Hughes continues to blend the old and the new pretty well, and his squad shows it. There are still Pulis players in there such as Steven N'Zonzi, Charlie Adam and Ryan Shawcross, but I doubt under Pulis Stoke would have signed 2 players from Barcelona. Also, Mame Diouf has already proven to be a good player up front, and with the likes of Bojan, Peter Odemwinge, Victor Moses and Peter Crouch around him, Stoke do have a pretty formidable attack. Where could they slip up? The defense isn't all that deep, and there is a lack of true creativity in the middle of the park. Also, there is early season hilarious inconsistency, especially in struggling to beat 10 man Hull and Villa at home, yet going to the Etihad and winning. Expect that to continue.

11. Swansea City

What a start to the season for the Swans. 3 wins out of 3, and they looked pretty comfortable in doing so. Despite the exodus of Spanish players, Swansea's style is firmly entrenched, and seeing players like Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge have success has to be good news for England supporters (why hasn't Dyer gotten a call-up yet is beyond me). They've added considerately in spots, like buying Fede Fernandez from Napoli, and getting back Gylfi Sigurdsson who will fit in better at Swansea than he did at Spurs. And they still have Wilfried Bony, and that's crucial. Their other additions are solid, and Garry Monk is starting to come into his own as a manager. They won't continue this torrid pace, but they'll certainly not have the struggle they did a year ago.

10. West Ham United

Finally they bought different types of players! Mauro Zarate, Enner Valencia, Carl Jenkinson, ALEX SONG (!!!!!). West Ham are trying desperately to get out of the old Big Sam stereotypes, even if he insists on starting Carlton Cole alongside Mauro Zarate. Adding Morgan Amalfitano should add a little creative spark to a midfield that was all bite and no bark. The difference between them being garbage and them challenging for Europe will be the players that have been around for awhile stepping their game up, and avoiding cataclysmic disasters like the ones against Spurs and Southampton. They now have the squad to do it, but can Big Sam push the Hammers on further up?

9. Newcastle United

Last summer the question was "why didn't Mike Ashley back Alan Pardew"? He didn't, and after Newcastle's great start they naturally fell off a cliff after Yohan Cabaye was sold. This summer Pardew has been backed with some quality additions such as Remy Cabella, Siem De Jong, Emmanuel Riviere among others, and he's also seen the emergence of a young player like Rolando Aarons who has already made his impact felt. And getting the cancer that was/is Hatem Ben Arfa out of that dressing room can only help. If only Newcastle's back 4 was any good... and their manager... Since those 2 things haven't really changed yet, Newcastle's ceiling is just where it was before, and that has to be frustrating to the St. James' Park faithful.

8. Southampton

So the mass fire-sale that coincided with Mauricio Pochettino heading to London meant that the Saints were in deep trouble right? Guess not. Ronald Koeman has already shown some great things with his style, and now he has players to prove it. He didn't have to sell Morgan Schneiderlin or Jay Rodriguez (yet), and he's brought in quality players like Dusan Tadic, Toby Alderweireld, and Saido Mane (who is sneaky good by the way). The clarion calls from Saints faithful to buy players finally were heard, and Southampton may now have a better squad than they did all of last season, which is hard to imagine. There aren't as many young players involved as before, but the few that are there are still very good and will have an impact. All is looking up roses on the South Coast again after a dreary few months at sea.

7. Everton

Last year was such a fun one at Goodison Park thanks to Roberto Martinez, his tactics, and the way young players developed under his tutelage. This season has started a little different, especially since his defense has been incredibly leaky already, and the business has been less than stellar. Despite the greatness that was spending 28 million pounds to permanently buy Romelu Lukaku, their squad is still thin in other areas, and that will be tested dearly this season with a tough Europa League group ahead of them. The back 4 hasn't really been addressed, and if the issues with Distin/Jagielka continue, then problems could seriously mount. Injuries haven't helped, especially to players like Ross Barkley who added another dimension last season. The success of last season unfortunately looks fleeting.

6. Tottenham

Last season's transfer window was all about the big bucks spent in replacing Gareth Bale, and then laughing at Spurs because only one of the players had a good season. Mauricio Pochettino's job is to get the best out of them (which he has already started to do), and have the club playing a consistent style for once. The first 5 games under his watch have already shown that to be the case. The signings have addressed the need for depth at the back, and they are all very solid and can prove dividends immediately, as Eric Dier already has. Benjamin Stambouli should add the pressing capabilities that Pochettino wants in his midfield 2, and the other defenders are all players with room to improve. Their is a lack of depth at striker, and just a step down in quality of signing compared to the 5 teams above them, but this was a season Spurs needed to build on with a new manager regardless of whether the signings were awesome or not. 6th and a cup run will be enough to tide Spurs fans over, and the signs are already positive.

5. Manchester United

(Insert obligatory United can't play 3-5-2 joke here). So yes, early on the tactical system for Louis Van Gaal hasn't worked, and it will take time for the new players to bed in and understand a vastly different tactical system than those customary in England. So long as Tom Cleverly isn't starting, then United is probably going to be fine. They've spent truckloads of money bringing in quality like with Falcao, Daley Blind and Angel Di Maria, and while their attack now looks frightening once it clicks, the back 4 is still a big question mark especially if the system stays. The thought of Phil Jones in a back 3 is still frightening. It is also hilarious to see players like Anderson and Marouane Fellaini at the club when players like Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa have left, but them's the breaks. It will take Van Gaal some time to bed in the big money new boys, and while many supporters and media folk may not let him, it is imperative that they do. Unfortunately that process will hinder their chances of an immediate return to the Champions League, but the process is what's key this season above all else.

4. Arsenal

Arsenal finishing 4th? What a surprise. Their signings this summer have shown their new financial clout, especially in getting a quality player like Alexis Sanchez and another solid striker in Danny Welbeck, who will help offset the loss of Olivier Giroud. But the main issues for Arsenal still exist, and haven't been addressed. They still have no defensive midfielder of note, and it's already bitten them in their first 3 PL games this season. They have next to no depth along the back 4, with only 6 first-team defenders available, and given Arsenal's injury record that number won't be 6 for long. Those issues are what keep Arsenal from being a title contender, and keep them rooted in 4th. The attack is scary, and the defense is just as scary. Arsenal can't be content with the same old same old every year despite now ending their trophy drought... right?

3. Liverpool

At first I was skeptical about their spending spree in replacing Luis Suarez, but the early signs have been positive. Despite the fact that Steven Gerrard is a holding midfielder for Brenden Rodgers and that is a disaster waiting to happen, the other signings have been effective thus far. Mario Balotelli provides a solid complement to Daniel Sturridge, and the fullback signings have already proven to be great thus far. Dejan Lovren improves their centerback corps, and the other players are young ones that can and will improve under a great manager. The lack of a holding midfielder and top class goalkeeper are still issues, and the extra fixtures will put this newly enlarged squad under the microscope, but if there's any manager that can pull this off it would be Brenden Rodgers. While the title seems a bit out of their grasp, it should be fun to watch Liverpool play again.

2. Manchester City

The defending champions looked every bit like ones in their first 2 games. In their 3rd? Not so much. That being said they've already done great business adding to an already impressively deep squad, especially with Fernado who looks to be a coup for 12 million pounds. The midfield is still strong in spots and creative in others, and with Stevan Jovetic looking to have improved dramatically, City can now expect goals from 3 very talented forwards. Even though the squad looks thin in some spots overall, they are still incredibly deep and will make a run in every competition they are in. A goal for this season has to be improving their Champions League lot, which may be hard in a brutal group, but Manuel Pellegrini should be able to pull it off. But one team is still a touch better, and they were a year ago aside from one thing...

1. Chelsea

Jose Mourinho spent all of last season trying to convince everyone Chelsea couldn't win the title, and in the end he was right, even though he shouldn't have been. Already we've seen one of his points proven, and that's with Diego Costa being a relative coup already. Their forward line is better now too with Torres and Eto'o gone for Costa and Loic Remy, and in adding Cesc Fabregas they've made an already stacked midfield even more ridiculous. There is quality everywhere, and the 6 goal outburst against Everton shows what they are capable of. They need to win trophies this season, and the early signs are that they will be favored to do so at every turn.

So these are the predictions, and hopefully they go better than last year. And hopefully Jose Mourinho doesn't respond to this with more mindgames... don't think I could take any more than he dished out last season.