Wednesday, September 30, 2015

2015 Week 4 Fantasy Advice

Did you have a good Week 3? Plenty of players put in prime performances, including ones that directly affected fantasy outcomes (naturally, the KC WR jinx broke just when I needed Jeremy Maclin to have a bad game, my luck of course), so it was certainly a week to remember. Now with byes coming into play, more shrewd moves are in order.

Byes: NE, TEN

Editor's Note: No players from the PHI/WSH game will be selected here due to the possibility of Hurricane Joaquin affecting the status of the game.

Who to Start:

QB Cam Newton (CAR) vs. TB: Despite not having his best weapon all season (and for the rest of the season), Newton has been very effecting against Jacksonville, Houston and New Orleans thus far. The Bucs pass defense is not formidable at all, so Newton could be in for another big game on Sunday.

RB Latavius Murray (OAK) vs. CHI: He was certainly a bit underrated heading into the season, but he's not underrated anymore. He could rack up some huge numbers against an extremely porous Bears defense which has already started bloodletting after an 0-3 start.

WR Brandon Marshall (NYJ) vs. MIA LONDON: Despite his rather sluggish start to the season (and self proclaimed worst play in NFL history last week), his matchup against the Dolphins at Wembley is very favorable. The Dolphins can't rush the passer and their secondary has been torched by the like of Kirk Cousins, Blake Bortles and Tyrod Taylor this season.

WR T.Y Hilton (IND) vs. JAX: Andrew Luck's offensive line hasn't been a help to him to start the season, but even if he's hit a bunch, Hilton could still have a huge day against the Jaguars. He's already had big successes against them in his career, and the Jags could be starting a UDFA corner at safety due to a rash of injuries.

TE Tyler Eifert (CIN) vs. KC: Someone on ESPN, can't remember who, called Eifert a "mini-Gronk". While I wouldn't go that far, he has been dominant to start the season for the Bengals. Kansas City has not been good at all on defense the last two weeks against good offenses, so his struggles last week could be forgotten.

DEF Arizona vs. STL: This is almost a gimme at this point. They've been scoring at will, and the Rams offense has looked anemic the last two weeks to say the least.

Who to Sit:

QB Matthew Stafford (DET) vs. SEA MON: He's really become a fantasy poison pill at this point, and facing the Seahawks defense in Seattle makes him a must sit. He then faces Arizona afterwords. The Lions could easily start 0-5.

RB Doug Martin (TB) vs. CAR: Combined with Tampa's own running struggles and running back rotation, the Panthers have given up only 195 rushing yards in three games this season. It's a risk to start Martin on Sunday.

WR Alshon Jeffery (CHI) vs. OAK: Jimmy Clausen is throwing passes to him, and the Bears punted on 10 out of 10 drives last week. Enough said.

WR Jarvis Landry (MIA) vs. NYJ LONDON: He's been the PPR player dujour this season, but even in those leagues he's not a wise play against the Jets. Their secondary has been fantastic this season, and Ryan Tannehill didn't look so good against an equally good Bills defense last week.

TE Kyle Rudolph (MIN) vs. DEN: In the "year of the Tight End", Rudolph hasn't been cashing in quite yet. He's been inconsistent to start the season, and he's facing a Broncos defense on Sunday that hasn't given up a TD to a TE yet this season. Teddy Bridgewater's home vs. road splits aren't encouraging either.

DEF Houston vs. ATL: The Texans defense has been decent enough to start this season, but the Falcons offense has been explosive to match. The Texans might still be able to get after Matt Ryan, but they're still facing Julio Jones.

Three Super Sleepers:

QB Andy Dalton (CIN) vs. KC: Did he turn a corner against the Ravens last week? Maybe, but whatever the status of his "eliteness" is, he is a good fantasy play this week against a Chiefs secondary that is increasingly thin and ragged.

RB Chris Johnson (ARZ) vs. STL: Not the other Johnson who I coincidentally have on my fantasy team, the old CJ2K looked to recapture some of that old magic last week with a great game against San Francisco. He could do that again against a sluggish Rams defense.

WR James Jones (GB) vs. SF: He's not really a sleeper, and I don't think the Giants could have ever gotten this kind of performance out of James Jones, but he's almost a must play now. The 49ers defense is abysmal, and Aaron Rodgers is amazing.

Buyer Beware:

QB Ryan Tannehill (MIA) vs. NYJ London: Last week was a giant step back for Tannehill who had a positive start to his 2015 campaign, and it gets no easier against the Jets at Wembley Stadium.

Good luck in Week 4!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Beyond the Broken Looking Glass

   There is a great tale told by the legendary sports writer Bert Sugar about Babe Ruth, handed down to him by sportswriters from his early day: Sportswriters use to take trains with players to games in those days. One day, on a trip to Chicago, Babe Ruth comes running into the sportswriter's car completely naked, followed by a woman who was equally as naked with a knife in her hand. One writer joked, "well there's another story we're not going to write".

   Sports journalism and fandom has evolved dramatically from that anecdote during the roaring 20's, the supposed "height" of American sports. The collective is far more aware of the issues behind sports, be they social, political, economic, racial or anything to that effect. And with the 24 hour news-cycle, combined with social media platforms giving everybody and anybody a voice, the mixture has brought about some interesting decisions to be made about sports and fandom: what are we to do when sports and the outside world crossover?

  Only 10 years ago did ESPN have a segment on Monday Night Countdown called, "Jacked Up". Back then, big hits were brushed off with little concern for what damage may have been inflicted with these hits.

   Does anybody look at these hits the same way anymore? Can anybody look at these hits the same way anymore? Can anybody not cringe at how these hits are being talked about? It's not necessarily PC culture that has made the world at large so much more sensitive to issues such as concussions in football, or the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, race, gender, etc. in sports, but the result of more education, and more and more people making their voices heard.

  It's no different than watching film, TV, stage or loving art, video games, or any form of popular media today. Do ardent video game fanatics sometimes cringe at the thought of the rampant sexism that pervades that culture, whether the individual is or isn't responsible for some of that? Will someone put down Call of Duty because they are sickened by Gamergate and its deplorable actions?

  Maybe someone reading this is a Mel Gibson fan and loves his filmography, but cannot rationalize that with some of the terrible things he has said in his life and his actions too. Someone reading this might like Chris Brown's music, but absolutely loathe what skeletons he has in his closet.

   Somehow, sports and the outside world stayed mutually exclusive until recently, with the occasional crossover muted and not given the proper time of day that it deserved.

   The vastly different media landscape certainly plays a role, since now it's almost impossible to ignore the off-the-field aspect of athlete's lives, even if they make much of it available to the masses through social media. There still is a feeling the general public doesn't know what these great athletes are like as normal human beings, and our insatiable craving for knowledge combined with the media cycle makes it impossible for human stories such as Ray Rice's or Adrian Peterson's to emerge. Does that change how we as fans reconcile the leagues and teams we spend so much physical and emotional capital on? For some, absolutely.

  The Patrick Kane ongoing legal drama is a black eye to everyone involved, and has made many women and even men too consider what their future relationship should be with the Blackhawks and the NHL for the stand that they have chosen. No one person can tell anyone what they should or shouldn't think and what they should or shouldn't spend capital on, but even in the murky mess that lies beneath the tampered evidence and 140 character lawyers, there is a brightside.

  Has anyone reading this thought about sexual assault in the same way they now do? The issue has been rampant for years and coverage of them, namely finding ways to help victims, has been almost dead silent. I for one am more informed on the issue than I ever have been. The same holds true with domestic violence, the struggle of religion in sports, LGBT activism, and the list goes on.

  Our idealistic view of sports is that it is an escape from the travails of everyday life, when that couldn't be any further from the truth. The line that has been peddled by many of our media forefathers is that sports and politics should not and cannot mix, let alone inhabit the same ecosystem. But when almost every other form of entertainment coalesces and crosses over with the problems blighting the world at any given moment, why were sports the exception?

   If anyone is re-considering their Blackhawks/NHL fandom because of what has or hasn't happened with Patrick Kane, no one can stop you. You're entitled to that viewpoint as I am to say that sports hold a place in society that almost nothing else does: people of differing backgrounds, life experiences and belief systems come together and share a unique and common experience. For many years, it was yelling about whether Patrick Kane fits on Jonathan Toews' wing or something to that effect.

  Now, the same people are talking about sexual assault and the damage it has caused to so many. Some may not be talking about it in a responsible manner, but at least their minds have been opened to the issue where they would never have been otherwise.

  Fandom doesn't exist in a vacuum. I have cheered for morally reprehensible characters in sport before, and I likely will in the future. I will more than likely write or commentate about some in a false light before I know the facts. The ideal world of sports that was perpetrated in the past was nothing more than a lie, and a lie that is almost impossible to shake from our collective minds.

  Do sometimes I wish I didn't like the NFL as much as I do? Sure. Same with soccer. "Love the game, hate FIFA" is a common refrain for a reason. Everyone has those crossroads moments, as they will with every form of entertainment the human experience offers to us. Nothing is clean, nothing is sacred.

 Accepting that will make swallowing the realities of the modern world, therefore allowing complete disgust of Patrick Kane's alleged actions to exist in the same space as fandom for the logo he wears/wore on his chest.

  Our minds being opened allows us the space to talk about the world outside of sports, and gives so many who neglected it (i.e. me) to understand issues facing society and what some of us can do to fix it. The ideal world of sports is a myth that has been thoroughly and thankfully shattered, and beyond the broken glass so many of us have been exposed to a world that is not all milk and honey.

  Without my sports fandom, I would have never been able to even acknowledge that. And for this, I am grateful.

Inspiration for this piece came from Jessica Luther's "Being a Fan" on Fanside, which you can read here.

2015 Week 3 Fantasy Advice

Did you have a good Week 2? More than likely, if you like picking games as I do, your fantasy team did better than your picks did. Survivor pools all experienced mass death, our perception of up is now down, pigs are flying, dogs and cats living together... MASS HYSTERIA. Well, only kind of. Fantasy perceptions are changing rapidly too, so it might be best to keep up with the times.

Who to Start:

QB Russel Wilson (SEA) vs. CHI: This seems fairly obvious, especially considering Wilson was likely one of the first five QB's drafted in your league. But considering many QB matchups this weekend aren't the best, Wilson will have to suffice. It's become fairly obvious as well that the Bears pass defense is a glorified sieve, so Wilson could have a feeding frenzy in the Hawks home opener on Sunday.

RB Latavius Murray (OAK) vs. CLE: His early season numbers haven't been all that impressive, but going up against the Browns on Sunday should help improve that. Their rush defense has been poor to start the season, and Murray should get a decent chunk of carries to ease the pressure on Derek Carr in Oakland's first road game of this season.

WR Sammy Watkins (BUF) vs. MIA: While Tyrod Taylor still scares me at the QB position, Watkins might fight back against that this weekend playing against a Dolphins secondary that is constantly under threat since the front four can't rush the passer even remotely. Watkins also had success against Miami last season.

WR Jarvis Landry (MIA) vs. BUF: On the other side, the Bills secondary hasn't been nearly as good as the front four of Buffalo would suggest. Ryan Tannehill has also had two very solid games on the road to start the year. Landry could continue his breakout this week.

TE Heath Miller (PIT) vs. STL: He's still around, and not only is he still around, he's still doing his thing every week, like clockwork. And he's a free agent in most leagues. The Rams have not dealt with TE's particularly well to open the year, so Miller could be in for another big afternoon.

DEF Seattle vs. CHI: Another one that's obvious, but Jimmy Clausen. That is all.

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Stafford (DET) vs. DEN: Stafford's start to the season has been fairly emblematic of his entire career to this point, which doesn't bode well when he plays against the Broncos. Their secondary has been the best in football the first two weeks of the season, nevermind the fearsome pass rush.

RB Doug Martin (TB) vs. HOU: He wasn't even a great option to begin with, and the Texans have started off the season very strong against opposing running backs. He normally would only be good enough to merit flex consideration, but this weekend it's not even worth it.

WR Brandin Cooks (NO) vs. CAR: Not only will he be going up against Josh Norman, one of the NFL's best corners, he might be catching balls from Luke McCown and not Drew Brees, which should strike fear into the hearts of his fantasy owners everywhere.

WR Roddy White (ATL) vs. DAL: This is in no way a suggestion to sit Julio Jones, who will have his big day regardless of how good Dallas' secondary is, but White will have considerably more trouble producing. Even if Jones is somehow taken out of the game by Brandon Flowers, White's still not in line for a huge afternoon.

TE Zach Ertz (PHI) vs. NYJ: The Jets defense has been incredibly stingy to start the new season, and the Eagles offense has been...well...offensive. Even though Ertz has been the Eagles most targeted receiver once already, the Jets will probably take care of that without much incident.

DEF St. Louis vs. PIT: Le'Veon Bell is back for Pittsburgh. That's not good for the Rams, who looked rather pedestrian against a far worse Washington team last Sunday.

Three Super Sleepers:

QB Marcus Mariota (TEN) vs. IND: Even though I still think the Titans are not a good football team, and the more likely Mariota performance of his first two will be last week's edition instead of the Tampa one, the matchup against Indy isn't a terrible one. He's available in plenty of leagues too.

RB Jonathan Stewart (CAR) vs. NO: He hasn't been spectacular this season, but then again, neither has the Saints defense. Figure to see Stewart break out on Sunday.

WR Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ) vs. SF: His early season resurgence is somewhat surprising considering his diminished returns the past couple of seasons. But that should be easy to replicate against a 49ers secondary that was sliced and diced by Pittsburgh last Sunday.

Buyer Beware:

QB Andy Dalton (CIN) vs. BAL: Good start aside, and terrible Ravens defense aside, would you really trust Dalton in a stage like this? Moreover, can you really trust the Bengals in a game like this despite every bit of evidence from the first two weeks?

Good Luck in Week 3!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Fanduel to be a Draftking

    Watching the NFL this weekend, an ad for Draftkings or Fanduel might have flashed across your purview while you were reloading on chips or Rolling Rock. If somehow you missed these ads, you were either watching Redzone (good decision) or suffered through a strong bout of narcolepsy. These ads are as ubiquitous as the Vikings-Bengals-Eagles-Steelers-Cowboys family... and have attracted attention from many different pairs of eyes... and these aren't necessarily admiring glances.

    Fantasy sports have gone from just fantasy football, to fantasy basketball/baseball/hockey/soccer, to survivor pools, to reverse survivor pools, to daily fantasy and now even hourly fantasy and who knows what's next... announcer fantasy, or maybe even political fantasy (Pick your lineup of congressmen and see who votes "yay" on this bill to raise the debt ceiling!). But are these truly games of skill, or shrewd ways of getting around the country's supremely restrictive sports gambling laws?

   The popularity of sports in this country is inherently tied in with gambling, legal or not. The ease with which any average Joe can place a bet on football is why the NFL is the titan on Mount Olympus standing over every other sport around the world. The tide is turning on legalized sports gambling in this country outside of Vegas and Dover Downs, but not fast enough for Fanduel and Draftkings, who have notable investors from all across the spectrum. They can hand out millions of dollars in prizes weekly to those who show the most nous in picking fantasy players not just for a season, but for a week, with a budget. The NFL is one of the staunchest opponents of sports gambling, and yet complictly allows something one step away from in the gambling gene pool.

  Both companies spent nearly $27 million in advertising last week alone, and this doesn't include the numerous teams that both have hooked up with, which totals over half of the NFL's 32 franchises. Fantasy sports are exempted from sports gambling laws, but NJ Rep Frank Pallone doesn't believe these games should. And despite the companies, and leagues, claims that these are games of skill, the odds don't portend that.

    Bloomberg indicates that the odds are inherently stacked against you in winning the big prizes, much like they are at almost all casino games, and they are as much "games of skill" as predicting whether Mike Evans or Torrey Smith will have a better day at the office. These games almost fall into the same category as online poker, and those are having an equally tough time gaining mainstream acceptance.

   Whatever daily fantasy is under the eyes of the law, it is just another branch of the larger argument into legalizing sports gambling in this country. New Jersey has tried legalizing it repeatedly in order to raise funds for its beleaguered casinos and racetracks, and have been thwarted at every attempt. Regulated sports gambling across the country could be a major source of revenue with little cost, including taxes (which are not part of the equation for Daily Fantasy games). How legal these sites and games are could well be an indicator as to how a larger sports gambling debate across all folds will go.

   It has taken this country years to move small steps in reforming and regulating casinos and gambling. There are still states in this country that do not have lotteries, let alone casinos, online gambling such as poker and the like and even fewer places have legalized sports betting. It may take years for the red tape and tangled legalities to untwist and unwind, but the larger war is once again being fought with a proxy, and daily fantasy is today's flavor of choice.

   At some point, the worm will turn on sports gambling in this country as it has almost everywhere else in the world, especially in the UK. Daily Fantasy is going to be one of the first battlegrounds in a larger, more public debate.

   Until then, enjoy being bombarded with a blitz of daily fantasy ads almost everywhere eyes can be drawn to. Maybe you'll be one of the lucky ones who could cash out on a Tony Romo fourth quarter comeback.

   But, if all else fails, that $2 entry fee could have been spent in way worse places.

For further reading on Daily Fantasy, check out:

ThinkProgress: Here
The New York Times: Here
Bloomberg: Here


2015 Week 2 Fantasy Advice

Did you have a good Week 1? Most probably didn't, either because they failed to cash in on DraftKings or Fanduel, or because most of the NFL was a Benny Hill sketch on offense last weekend. Drawing major conclusions from Week 1 is a dangerous game, but you have all probably done that already. I'm here to try to at least attempt to dissuade you from some of those glittering new assumptions.

Who to Start:

QB Carson Palmer (ARZ) vs. CHI: He started off 2015 on a high note by having a good game against the Saints, and his Week 2 matchup is equally favorable against the porous Bears secondary. He might even be on the waiver wire in your league, so get on that if you haven't already.

RB Carlos Hyde (SF) vs. PIT: Frank who? Hyde had a very solid debut as the 49er feature back against Minnesota, and while Pittsburgh's run defense wasn't terrible, they did make Dion Lewis look far too comfortable more often than they didn't. Hyde could be an interesting play on Sunday.

WR Brandin Cooks (NO) vs. TB: I picked him to win OROY last year, and that didn't end too well for me. He did lead the Saints in targets last Sunday, even if he didn't put up many points. But if you saw what happened to the Bucs secondary against Marcus Mariota, Drew Brees, and Cooks by extension, should be licking their chops.

WR Jordan Matthews (PHI) vs. DAL: Ugly drop in crunch time aside, Matthews had 10 catches for over 100 yards against the Falcons, which was to be expected but he did reward fantasy owners (me) well for their faith in him. The Cowboys defense has injuries and holes in it, so despite the successes they had against the Giants, don't expect them to continue.

TE Martellus Bennett (CHI) vs. ARZ: Is it September still? *checks calendar* It is? So that must mean Martellus Bennett did had a great game because reasons? *checks box score* He did? So I guess that must mean Bennett should be starting if you have him this week.

DEF Miami vs. JAX: The Jaguars offense looked like the same old, same old against Carolina who were without Luke Kuechly for half of the game. The Dolphins defense looked quite stout in Washington, and held the Jaguars in check in the same matchup last season. Expect that form to continue on Sunday.

Who to Sit:

QB Matthew Stafford (DET) vs. MIN: He'll throw for plenty of yards, and plenty of interceptions as per usual in almost every game he plays in from now on, which means as a fantasy option he's less than viable. He's also struggled recently against Minnesota, making the option of starting him even less appealing.

RB Frank Gore (IND) vs. NYJ MON: His first start in Colts blue and white didn't end so well, did it? Buffalo's run defense is normally stout, and so is the New York Jets front. They held whoever was lined up at RB for Cleveland in check Sunday, and there's no reason to think that they won't do that again against Indy.

WR Amari Cooper (OAK) vs. BAL: My pick for OROY this year got off to a rocky start, thanks in large part to the injury to Derek Carr. Even if he's healthy, Carr won't likely be at 100%, meaning Cooper will either be seeing targets from a hampered Carr or Matt McGloin. The Ravens defense looked good against Denver, so against Oakland...

WR Kendall Wright (TEN) vs. CLE: ALERT. ALERT. The Titans are not as good as advertised last week! Even though they may beat the hapless Browns, they are going up against one of the league's most underrated secondaries, and Wright may be matched up against Joe Haden. ABORT MISSION.

TE Owen Daniels (DEN) vs. KC THU: He and Gary Kubiak should go together hand-in-hand, but they didn't at all against Baltimore. The Chiefs defense is incredibly stout, and with all of the worries about Peyton Manning's arm, Daniels could be in for another tough night.

DEF Buffalo vs. NE: This should be obvious, but in case it isn't: The Patriots are going to get their points regardless of who they play against. Tom Brady is also really good against the Bills, so proceed with caution in this mathup.

Three Super Sleepers:

QB Colin Kaepernick (SF) vs. PIT: Even though many have surmised that the 49er downfall is imminent, it didn't look like it Monday night. The offense should at least hold up its end of the bargain against a well publicized poor Pittsburgh defense.

RB Tevin Coleman (ATL) vs. NYG: The start to his career went pretty decently against the Eagles rush defense. The Giants rush defense is worse, so Coleman could be in for an even better day. The only proviso is that he could split carries with Devonta Freeman, so keep that in mind.

DEF Tennessee vs. CLE: This unit is still really, really bad on paper. Their first two games won't prove that however, because they've played a rookie QB and Jonathan Gridiron in their first two games. This matchup could be fun.

Buyer Beware:

QB Peyton Manning (DEN) vs. KC THU: The scuttlebutt now around NFL circles is all about whether Peyton is past it now. His arm strength was a question before, now it's even more of a question after the Week 1 stinker he put up against Baltimore. The Chiefs defense is also notably stout, so that compounds the problem even more. While I'm not willing to call time on his career just yet, his fantasy career is far more open to stuffing into a coffin. If you have a better matchup, I'd advise going with that if you can.

Good luck in Week 2!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

2015 Week 1 Fantasy Advice

    The column that never sleeps because it only hibernates from the end of December to the beginning of September... The Wednesday staple in your life you couldn't go without and for some reason you felt like there was a hole in your day... The column that has very few original thoughts save for the opening ramble like this... it's the Matt's Sports Musings Fantasy Football Column! Now with its own website tag! In existence since 2009, and maybe not any further beyond this season... let's begin the seventh season of fantasy football ramblings from someone who has only won his league once in nine years playing fantasy football!

Who to Start:

QB Tom Brady (NE) vs. PIT THU: It seems obvious. In fact, it seems too obvious. But don't you think Brady is going to have a little bit of extra juice for this game due to the circumstances? Not only is his playing the Steelers defense, which is uncharacteristically porous, Tom Brady has been dynamite against Pittsburgh even when their defense was respectable, throwing for an average of 331 yards per game and 18 TD's against them in his career.

RB Latavius Murray (OAK) vs. CIN: The Raiders offense is going to be more dynamic than one might expect this season, and Murray is going to be a large part of any successes. Jack Del Rio coached teams love to run the football, and Murray is going up against a Bengals defense sans Vontaze Burfict that wasn't amazing at stopping the run last season.

WR Jordan Matthews (PHI) vs. ATL MON: Though many have concerns about Sam Bradford's health, and for good reason, when he's healthy, every single Eagles offensive player could be a fantasy gold mine. He's a deep threat and also a threat to have 10+ catches in any game. The Falcons defense is improved, but it's nowhere near where it needs to be to keep Chip Kelly's madness in check.

WR Davante Adams (GB) vs. CHI: Aaron Rodgers is going to have to throw to someone this season, and Adams may as well be one of his prime targets. Without Jordy Nelson, the Packers are going to need to find someone else to ease the load, and Adams may well be a solid choice against a Bears defense that may as well be saloon doors.

TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TB) vs. TEN: Jameis Winston is going to use his TE often this season, as rookie QB's tend to do. Seferian-Jenkins was a pleasant surprise for a bad Bucs team last season, and with a steadier hand at QB, he could be a nice sleeper this season across the board. It also helps that the Titans defense may be historically bad, too.

DEF New York Jets vs. CLE: Despite their offensive, well, calamities, Todd Bowles is a defensive guru, and he's inherited a unit with plenty of talent to work with. It might not get much better facing a Browns offense with Josh McCown at QB and a bevy of injured skill position players. This could be a feast for the Jets D.

Who to Sit:

QB Alex Smith (KC) vs. HOU: He's not someone you should be starting in any league unless it has 20 teams or is two QB's, but he's a risky play in any event. The Texans defense is still very, very solid, and it shouldn't be lost on anyone that the Chiefs did not have a WR catch a TD pass last season.

RB Frank Gore (IND-!!!!!!) vs. BUF: The change of colors from red and gold to blue and white is pretty stark for Frank Gore, but he still figures to have a pretty good season. It might not start early though, as the Bills defense is one of the stingiest in the NFL, especially against the run. And ever since Edgerrin James left for Arizona, the Colts successes with RB's have been... limited, to be kind.

WR Sammy Watkins (BUF) vs. IND: Until proven otherwise, Tyrod Taylor is going to be a fantasy drain on Bills receivers. He hasn't proven otherwise yet, so avoid Sammy Watkins.

WR Steve Smith (BAL) vs. DEN: He faded down the stretch last season, which isn't all that surprising considering his age. A fast start is unlikely this season against a Broncos secondary that was sneakily one of the best in football all of last season.

TE Vernon Davis (SF) vs. MIN MON: Vernon Davis must have been so frustrating to his fantasy owners last season, as his form and pedigree almost vanished overnight. The Vikings gave up only four TD's to opposing TE's last season, so this is matchup that is one to steer clear of Monday night.

DEF Dallas vs. NYG: Despite the Cowboys ability to rush the passer, and the return of the perpetually injured Sean Lee, the Sunday night game figures to be a shootout whatever way it ends up. Even though they may have a good season in the end, it might not start that way.

Three Super Sleepers:

QB Ryan Tannehill (MIA) vs. WSH: Tannehill is going to have to take the next step if the Dolphins are going to move from playoff contender to playoff team. He has the weapons to work with on offense, so it looks like that step may be possible. In Washington, he'll be facing a particularly bad defense, although that is the least among their worries.

TE Jordan Cameron (WSH) vs. MIA: He's basically the only DC TE left standing, which is good news considering Miami struggled defending TE's last season. Kirk Cousins is going to need a safe pair of hands to throw the ball to, and Cameron's paws are perfect for the purpose.

DEF Kansas City vs. HOU: Eric Berry is back after defeating cancer, Justin Houston is still Justin Houston, and the Texans don't have Arian Foster, a wide receiver of note outside of DeAndre Hopkins, and Brian Hoyer at QB. Advantage: Chiefs.

Buyer Beware:

QB Russel Wilson (SEA) vs. STL: If you own him, you'll probably start him regardless of what I say here. But consider this: wasn't the scuttlebutt recently focused on how scary the Rams front seven is? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that's changed. And lest we forget, the Seahawks lost in St. Louis last season. This is a trickier than expected matchup for the defending NFC Champs.

Good Luck in Week 1 and happy football season to you all!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

From Bruce Wayne to the Joker

    Vince McMahon is blushing at the heel-turn from Matt Harvey today. If baseball was the WWE, maybe it wouldn't be as shocking or as tough of a gut-punch to see someone so beloved turn heel on a dime in the middle of a pennant race. And even after he threw a temper-tantrum once the Mets announced they were going to a six man rotation in order to preserve his innings, and he pouted once his start was skipped in Colorado... he drops a bomb on his team in the middle of a pennant race just before their biggest series in seven years.

   Matt Harvey was a shining beacon in the darkness of the existence of the New York Mets when he emerged onto the scene in 2013. Starting the All-Star game at Citi Field and plunking a Yankee turned him into a Mets cult hero as he was being recognized as one of the game's bright up-and-coming pitchers of record. Then, as soon as the light was shining so bright as to illuminate the whole of the Gotham skyline, it was put out when he needed Tommy John surgery. That was a gut punch unlike any Mets fans had seen since the infamous collapses.

   Now back this season, combined with the rest of the Mets bevy of young arms, it looked as if it was time for Harvey to resume his charge to being a New York darling. He may not have been the Mets beacon of hope as he was two years prior, but he still was an anchor on a rotation that was primed to become one of the best in baseball. He was fuming that the Mets considered a six man rotation to begin with, and were even thinking of skipping his starts, because he wanted to fight through the stigma of innings limits. He perceived Tommy John Surgery as a minor inconvenience and was going to treat it as such. But now? He's rolled over and played dead.

   Stephen Strasburg had a well-publicized innings limit for the Nationals in 2012 after he recovered from Tommy John Surgery. His agent, like Matt Harvey, is Scott Boras. Unlike Harvey's 180 innings limit, which seemed to come out of nowhere, Strasburg's was public well before the season started. Davey Johnson was well aware of it, and so was Mike Rizzo. Strasburg was shut down for the season on September 8 of that year, and to this day hasn't been the same pitcher.

  Harvey wasn't nearly as dynamite as in 2013, and figured to probably not be the Mets Game One starter in the NLDS should they have advanced that far, but even as a third starter, he'd be better than almost any in the postseason. He made his name as a fighter; a feisty character that would embrace the challenge of being a big star in New York and helping a deprived franchise return to glory. He displayed that feistiness all season long when it became clear the Mets were trying to preserve his arm. But all of that has been washed away in two days, at the worst possible time. This public capitulation comes just weeks after he sparred about having his start skipped in Colorado, but he ultimately relented since he wanted to pitch in September, or so it seemed.

   Innings limits are inherently arbitrary. Naturally, Harvey wants to preserve as much of his future earnings as possible, which makes eve more sense seeing who his agent is. Innings can come in many different shapes and forms, so limiting to any number seems futile on the surface. But if there was/is an innings limit imposed by Dr. James Andrews, then why not mention at the start of the season and at least fight the battle in March, not September? Sandy Alderson said there was no innings limit in February and that Harvey could pitch up to 200 innings including the postseason. So where did this come from? If Harvey had been injured with the Mets over-exerting him, than the front office would be lambasted. Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson would be the covers of every backpage of every tabloid. Instead, Harvey decided to take tomatoes and vitriol himself.

   Boras and Harvey have legitimate concerns about that elbow in question, as they should. They have every right to want to preserve future earning ability. But these are battles and debates that shouldn't take place in September. And if Harvey is truly hurting, he needs to come out and say it bluntly, not just for himself but for Boras and the Mets too. If he won't say it and he isn't 100%, then someone from the front office needs to say it. But if he was hurting, then why would the front office be so vehement in fighting back publicly against Boras' proclamation? Somehow, the Mets became the innocent deer in the headlights out of a position where it looked like they couldn't win no matter where they turned.

   The Mets can fight through this in all likelihood; not just in the pennant race but into the postseason if they get there because of their rotation depth. But make no mistake: this is a sucker punch that so few expected, and certainly blindsided everyone. Somehow, the AAA offense, the trade that wasn't that caused a lifetime Met to cry on the field and the ongoing payroll concerns have been topped. Teams cannot bank on future successes and assume they are coming. Every chance has to be taken like it's their last. The Mets want to win now because they may not get this chance again. Matt Harvey may not have this chance again, but he certainly thinks he'll have more. What does his manager think of these quotes, what do his teammates think of these quotes, let alone the media and fans?

   The pitcher who pitches through bleeding episodes and made his name trying to be larger than life has sunken into the same shadows he once cast over the city he easily could have ruled.

   And since every single baseball follower is quoting this famous phrase today, why shouldn't I?

  "You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

Friday, September 4, 2015

2015 NFL Season Predictions

After an offseason filled with talk about deflated balls, deflated balls and more deflated balls, it's nice to talk about inflated ones for once. The NFL's golden season begins with hopefully (for their sake) far fewer off the field bits of hilarity meant for South Park and talk almost exclusively about the game on the field. And if you've read my MLB season predictions for this past year, you'll be aware that what you see below might not mean much if anything at all. Get hyped.

NFC East: 1) DAL 11-5 2) PHI 9-7 3) NYG 8-8 4) WSH 4-12

It's entirely conceivable that the Eagles run away with this division like they may run away from their opponents with their offensive pace. Their defense is light years better than it was a season ago, many thanks to the Seahawks connections now percolating in the secondary. The biggest question is still Sam Bradford and his durability. If the offense puts him in harm's way, the Eagles season could go down the drain in a millisecond. Dallas is a more consistent team even though their lack of running game is a concern. Defensively they should be solid, and they're more likely to be consistent. The Giants lack of any defense will outweigh their ability to throw the ball to Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham and in Washington... does anyone have a sitcom laugh track I could borrow?

AFC East: 1) NE 12-4 2) MIA 9-7 3) NYJ 8-8 4) BUF 8-8

Now that Tom Brady isn't suspended for the first four games of the season... he and Bill Belichick may rain hellfire on the entirety of their schedule. Sure their secondary is markedly worse than it was a season ago, but no one doubts the ability of the Patriots staff to mend that quickly. And so long as Tom Brady has his weapons on offense, they'll be too much for everyone else. The Dolphins have a stellar defensive line, underrated QB and the potential to break out at long last. But it's coaching that holds them back. Todd Bowles has been dealt a shaky hand already, which will put the Jets too far behind the eight-ball to succeed this season. Ground and pound can work in theory, but the Bills have already been hit with numerous injuries to key players. And does anyone seriously believe in Tyrod Taylor?

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

In spite of Jordy Nelson's injury, the Packers still are favorites in this division. Even with the competition getting better behind them, the division title will still stay in Green Bay because Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers. So long as the Packers have him, they'll be eternal division favorites. The Lions have some adjustments to make on defense, but a unit that was surprisingly one of the league's best last season will still be good enough to keep Detroit in the playoff hunt. With Adrian Peterson back, the Vikings could well be the apple of everyone's eye, especially if Teddy Bridgewater takes the next step towards greatness. And for the Bears, the quicker Jay Cutler is out of that building, the better, but the biggest problems may be on defense. Yeesh.

AFC North: 1) PIT 10-6 2) BAL 10-6 3) CIN 9-7 4) CLE 5-11

This might be the NFL's toughest division to predict. Any one of three teams could easily come out on top. The Steelers are not the Steel Curtain Steelers of old thanks to an electrifying offense that can still do massive damage even in the early weeks of the season when the offense will be shorthanded. If the defense is passable, they win the division. Both the Ravens and Bengals are solid if unspectacular, although the Bengals perpetually being one year away doesn't elicit much confidence. It seems that the Ravens despite their drafting prowess might have just a little too much to replace this season to win the division, which once again will come down to Steelers/Ravens games to decide it. And in Cleveland well... wait on the Cavs.

NFC South: 1) ATL 9-7 2) CAR 8-8 3) NO 7-9 4) TB 6-10

Remember what I said about the AFC North just above? Scratch that. The NFC South is the toughest division to forecast. Carolina was the favorite thanks to their improving defense and streamlined offense, but then Kelvin Benjamin was lost for the season. The receiving corps are incredibly unproven, and Jonathan Stewart is still made of glass. The Saints no longer have Jimmy Graham and underwent some serious changes in an attempt to stay fresh, but their overpayment of some players in free agency has hamstrung the bottom end of the roster, and there just might not be enough across the board. Jameis Winston and the Bucs will have some growing pains, but there is promise for the future in Tampa Bay. The first team to nine wins may well snatch the division, and right now the quickest to that punch may well be Dan Quinn's Falcons. He has a revitalized defense to tune up, and still has Julio Jones and Roddy White as weapons for Matt Ryan. Honestly, picking teams out of a hat might be a more effective process than what I've just tried to do.

AFC South: 1) IND 13-3 2) HOU 8-8 3) JAX 7-9 4) TEN 4-12

In contrast to the last two divisions, which were very difficult to predict, this one is the exact opposite. The Colts may well wrap up the division officially in November. They have no challengers, and an easy schedule to fatten up their record for possible home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. Andrew Luck has lead the Colts to consistent playoff improvements in each of his three seasons, so is the Super Bowl next? Quite possibly. There are problem spots for sure, especially on the offensive line and some spots on defense, but this division won't challenge them. Houston has the defense for sure, but Brian Hoyer as your QB, no Arian Foster because of injury and almost no weapons at receiver or TE to speak of? I don't care if JJ Watt is Superman, he can't do it all on his own. So many are predicting doom and gloom for Jacksonville, and maybe it is my eternal optimism, but if Blake Bortles improves even slightly the Jags will double their win total. They are still young almost everywhere, but if they can find a bit of a pass rush they may be fun to watch. The Titans are perpetually three years away, and Marcus Mariota has plenty of work to do to get this team into even respectability this season with a lack of weapons on offense and a porous defense on the other side.

NFC West: 1) SEA 12-4 2) ARZ 10-6 3) STL 8-8 4) SF 5-11

Even without Kam Chancellor and some of their other important pieces, the Seahawks are still the NFC pace setters. Somehow, they may be even better on offense with Jimmy Graham in the fold, and Russel Wilson isn't just a game manager, if you were concerned. The offensive line might bite them down the line, but even with a tough schedule, that seems unlikely until the bitter end. Arizona was the best team in football last season when Carson Palmer was healthy, so it makes sense to say that with him healthy now the Cardinals will be back? That offensive line is very concerning, and the defense is naturally going to take a step back with attrition on the coaching staff and on the field. But they are still a playoff contender for sure. The Rams are going to finally get a chance to see what all of their supposedly impressive drafting has done for them if Nick Foles gives them enough on offense. They may pound other teams into the dirt, but if Foles can't lead the offense, it'll be another typical Jeff Fisher season. Don't count the 49ers out, however. Out of the race for the #1 overall pick, that is. What an absolute tire fire. It's quite possible that the last biggest exodus humanity has ever seen was the biblical Exodus story.

AFC West:

1) DEN 11-5 2) KC 9-7 3) SD 9-7 4) OAK 5-11

Denver is going to have some stiff competition for the division this year. Both San Diego and Kansas City have good chances to knock the Broncos off their perch. Gary Kubiak might not be the best coach, but he should help stabilize a team that seemed to wobble a bit towards the end of last season. Don't sleep on that defense either, especially after how they shut down Seattle and Houston in early preseason games. Speaking of defense, the Kansas City Chiefs have it in spades, especially with Justin Houston anchoring the pass rush, which can be frightening. They can truly win this division, but many if's have to become yes'. Namely, they need to see if Alex Smith can throw TD's to wide receivers, and if his offensive line can keep him upright. Andy Reid's teams seem the epitome of solid if unspectacular, but if the stars align, they could be truly spectacular this season. The Chargers once again left it late last season and nearly made another postseason run out of it, but fell short. Philip Rivers is becoming ageless, and he still is one of the NFL's most solid QB's, even if everyone forgets that. If Melvin Gordon gives them any semblance of a running game, the balance on offense could be lethal. The defense too is not bad, but has more questions than Kansas City. In Oakland, usually the Raiders are discounted almost immediately, but there are signs for optimism. Jack Del Rio is the epitome of an Oakland Raider: gritty, tough, grizzly, and patient. He has a promising young QB in Derek Carr, a flashy young receiver Amari Cooper who is ready to explode, and Khalil Mack, a linebacker that is a true throwback to when the Raiders were feared around the league. There will be struggles, but they could surprise anyone they play this season.

NFC Playoff Order: 1) SEA 2) DAL 3) GB 4) ATL 5) DET 6) ARZ

AFC Playoff Order: 1) IND 2) NE 3) DEN 4) PIT 5) BAL 6) KC

NFC Playoffs: 3) GB over 6) ARZ
                        5) DET over 4) ATL

                        1) SEA over 5) DET
                        3) GB over 2) DAL

                        3) GB over 1) SEA

AFC Playoffs:  3) DEN over KC
                         5) BAL over 4) PIT

                         1) IND over 5) BAL
                         2) NE over 3) DEN

                         1) IND over 2) NE

Super Bowl 50: Green Bay over Indianapolis

Awards Predictions:

MVP: Andrew Luck (IND). It's his time.
OPOY: Ben Roethlisberger (PIT). These aren't your father's Pittsburgh Steelers anymore.
DPOY: J.J Watt (HOU). He's the only reason that team is worth watching.
OROY: Amari Cooper (OAK). He and Derek Carr are going to be fun to watch this season and next, wherever they end up playing.
DROY: Vic Beasley (ATL). His emergence might be a large part of the reason Atlanta outsluggs the rest of the NFC South.
Coach: Mike Zimmer (MIN). His team won't make the playoffs in my predictions, but their improvement has been steady and considerate. The Vikings are the preseason darlings of so many for a reason.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Harsh Realities of Modern Football

        The transfer window has slammed shut and across Europe, many supporters are probably angry. Angry that their club didn't sign the player they had their eyes locked to, angry that their club didn't sign anyone to begin with, or spend enough money... supporters are angry. They are really angry in North London, no matter if you wear red or blue. Or at least it seems that way, if one uses the official supporters trusts as evidence.

       The Gunners Supporters Trust is angry because of the lack of transfer activity. The Tottenham Supporters Trust is angry because of the lack of cover in certain areas of the squad due to presumed penny pinching. It is wonderful that these groups exist to provide a bridge between clubs and fans because those bridges had worn down and fallen into the river of cash below long ago. But while they provide a useful service, both of these public bouts of whining seem like they are missing the point.

      Football is a global game now; one flush with cash that means Tottenham kits are not only seen in N17 but New Delhi, New York and New Zealand, and someone in Helsinki can be just as big of an Arsenal supporter as someone at Highbury. And even if it seems forgotten, football is a game directly affected by money, and whoever has more of it is likely to win. Even in the hyper-competitive Premier League where even sides like Stoke City can sign established internationals, money talks. These supporters groups act as if it doesn't.

     With the scares of Leeds United and Portsmouth well entrenched in the minds of football executives around, and even in Europe with FFP, chairmen and boards have even more of a job to do than they used to. With the playing field in England as level as any because of TV cash, money can be spent almost freely because more clubs are swimming Scrooge McDuck style in pools of gold. Clubs aren't just what their name suggests anymore. They're multi-billion dollar enterprises with global brands to maintain and financial status to cling on to. The race for the Champions League is so important because cash, specifically player wages, drive outcomes. Sure, clubs like Southampton and Crystal Palace can punch above their weight, and Sunderland and the QPR's of the world can fail despite their wage bills, but the order of how much a club pays its players is likely how the table will likely crystallize.

  Spurs were sixth in the wage table last season, Arsenal were fourth. Accepting for deviations, that is likely the ballpark where these clubs will finish this season. And the next, and the one following that. The Gunners Supporters Trust wrote, "Arsenal have built a strong squad and just one or two more good additions would have strengthened the chances of winning a first title in 11 years. No one wants Arsenal to buy players just for the sake of it, but we do want to see money invested to make the club stronger." But isn't that exactly what you're asking for? Sign players to make the club better, no matter the cost because we know you're sitting on piles of cash?

   Clubs are finding new ways to invest money, particularly on facilities and academies in order to compete with the cash that every club now possesses. It's not as sexy as spending 55 million pounds to sign Edinson Cavani, but it is arguably more sustainable, and a sounder business practice. But naturally, fans don't want to hear that. Are these supporters trusts acting then in the best interest of fans, or as a sounding board for the loudest, angriest and most vocal of them, even if they just want to be heard?

   Tottenham are a great example of how a big club can be financially sound and still compete on the highest level year in and year out. However, Daniel Levy and the board know the club cannot take the next step until the play in a larger stadium, which they are building towards. Until then, the club cannot spend on wages in the same way their Top 4 rivals can, and therefore they will not make the Champions League unless someone above them screws up in a catastrophic way. But in the heat of the moment on transfer deadline day, fans don't want to hear that. They want to hear why Saido Berahino isn't holding up a Spurs kit at Spurs Lodge, and why another midfielder wasn't bought. The average fan doesn't want to hear about how wages drive outcomes, they want to believe in the individual glory of their club.

   That's not in their best interests. Educated supporters are the best kind of supporters. They understand the realities of modern football while not forgetting why football is where it is to begin with. It is the game of the working class hero; escapism from the dregs of the day-to-day life of the common man, which is how the foundations of today's global behemoth were built. Would White Hart Lane be empty, as the Spurs Supporters Trust suggests, if the team wasn't where it is now? Of course not, that's why there is a waiting list thousands of names long.

   Naturally, these groups forget the most important item of all: winning cures all ills. Would these groups be complaining if their clubs started their respective seasons faster? Probably not.

   Supporters Trusts and official supporters groups are critical in today's game in order to maintain the links between clubs and supporters. It is critical that supporters of all ilk understand why the club does its business the way it does. But that doesn't mean the club should beg to the whims of moody fans who just want to see money spent to satisfy their own narcissistic goals of being able to brag in the pub. There is a reason why fans are fans and those in power have it.

   These groups can provide a great service to everyone involved in football, but they should not be empty ears to vent to when a club doesn't sign the right player, or any at all. There is a reason why business was done the way it was, and it probably doesn't jive with what someone with 50 followers on twitter thinks, and for good reasons.

   In sports there is a saying: "If you listen to the fans, you'll likely end up sitting with them." Maybe someone at these supporters trust should take heed of this. The picture will become clearer that way.