Thursday, December 31, 2015

Did You See That: The 2015 Year-End Awards

A New Year's Eve (ish) tradition unlike any other... no, it's not Auld Lang Syne, nor the College Football Playoff Semifinals, it's the Matt's Sports Musings Year End Awards! These awards do not go to the great successes, accomplishments and records broken in the 365 days gone by. These awards are more for the under-appreciated, undervalued and also the underwhelming in 2015. Nobody tried to win them, nobody is getting dressed up to accept them: the 2015 year-end awards!

The "Punters are People Too" Award: Michigan Punter Blake O'Neill

Rich Eisen popularized the phrase "punters are people too", in order to give some love to the nonathletic and foreign on the football field: the punter. The punter is a unique species of athlete and character, particularly if you're Australian or a 3rd round draft pick from Cal. Blake O'Neill during the game against Michigan State had the highest of highs (????) and lowest of lows: an 80 yard punt, and then muffing a snap that lead to one of the craziest finishes in college football history as well as a slightly more epic Sean McDonough voice crack. The good news is, you didn't become an internet meme like shocked Michigan fan guy did. Speaking of memes:

The "Arthur Fonzarelli Award for Shark Jumping Excellence": The Crying Jordan Meme

Once the internet at-large latches on to something, good luck stopping that runaway freight train. The origin of this inane meme isn't even from 2015, but you sure as hell wouldn't know it for all of the times you've seen it. He's been photoshopped on the head of basically everyone, including animals for some reason. At least it was funny... until October. Then, the meme became enshrined on a cake. Even Fonzie is trying to dust off his old jet-ski now. Then again, he probably wouldn't totally screw up how memes is pronounced like Bryce Harper did. (What the hell is a Mehme? Ottoman? Turkish? Drunk?)

The "Is Paul Wall Still Relevant" Award: Tom Herman

As I'm writing this piece out, Herman's Houston Cougars are boatracing the Florida State Seminoles in the Peach Bowl. He promised his team that if they won the American Conference this season, he'd get fitted for a grill. Which he did. Apparently it's 2004 again and I've been transported back in time. Does this mean the Jaguars are somewhat decent again? I'd take that. Not so sure about the 2004 Presidential Race though.

The "What does Hubris mean" Award: Chip Kelly

After his "famous" power-struggle with then Eagles GM Howie Roseman, Kelly won total control of the Eagles franchise on the football side, including player personnel decisions. And he promptly took a team that won the NFC East in 2013 and was close to doing so in 2014 to a dumpster fire in 2015, and he's fallen on his sword because of it. Turns out giving megalomaniacs total control and power isn't a wise idea, Jeff.

The "Subtly Racist Faux Controversies" Award: Jose Bautista's Bat Flip and Cam Newton's Dabbing

If you are old, impressionable, sheltered and white, you may just want to skip over this award. Jose Bautista's bat flip and Cam Newton's dabbing both became faux controversies because apparently in sports you aren't allowed to celebrate doing well. Even the notoriously buttoned up Canadian fans were going bonkers over Jose Bautista's bat flip which probably landed in Mimico. EVEN DON CHERRY APPROVED OF IT. And on the subject of Cam's TD dances, I've already eviscerated Nashville's finest already, so go take a look at that if you haven't already. That lady is probably ringing in the New Year with Owl City, a prayer circle and O'Douls. Avoid that party like the plague.

The "Rich Kotite Award for Coaching Excellence": Jose Mourinho

I guess he got sick of being serenaded with "you're getting sacked in the morning" at every ground he traveled to. Or, he really wanted to have his name misspelled by an overzealous and overeager Manchester United fan on a bootleg scarf. Either way, from champion of England to the butt of jokes across the globe, Jose Mourinho won't be celebrating the New Year on Roman's yacht just outside of Monaco, I'd guess. How do you think that conversation over a glass of champagne would go?

The "Strange Brew" Award: Jake Anderson, UVA Club Hockey Goalie

"Strange Brew" is a film for die-hard hockey fans, wannabee Canadians and Canadians who have absolutely no shame. Jake Anderson is not Canadian (at least that I know of). But, he certainly acted like it here:

 Rivalry game, unruly frat bros and a Keystone Light. The perfect combination.

The "NFL has too much Power and Influence" Award: Luke McCown's Verizon Commercial

Since when did backup QB's not named Tebow get commercial time? Apparently Luke McCown earned it because... he's not Josh and playing in Cleveland? He's not Cade McNown? He won a game starting for the Jaguars once that nobody outside of me remembers happening? Verizon is really desperate? An ad executive was drunk?

And finally...

The "Uniform Promotions Gone Badly Wrong" Award: The Bakersfield Condors "50 Shades of Grey" Uniforms

Let nothing more need be said.
Your trophies are in the mail. No refunds.

2015 Week 17 Fantasy Advice

Wait, you mean there is a week of fantasy football after Championship Sunday? Yes, some leagues do play in Week 17, and they need some love too. So here is a tribute to those who forget to set their lineups in Week 17 when they've drank too much champagne beforehand.

Who to Start:

QB Matthew Stafford (DET) vs. CHI: He's been very goo of late, especially after the change at offensive coordinator. Too bad the Lions have been practically irrelevant since then, but for fantasy owners he is quite relevant. His matchup against the Bears weak secondary is also pretty good Sunday as well (other starts: Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan)

RB Todd Gurley (STL) vs. SEA: In a terrible matchup, Gurley performed admirably, and far better than expected. His season has been up and down for St. Louis, but that should change against the 49ers who are nothing more than a folding lawn chair at this point (other starts: Tim Hightower, DeAngelo Williams, Frank Gore)

WR A.J Green (CIN) vs. BAL: This is still fairly obvious despite the presence of A.J McCarron, but Green has always torched the Baltimore Ravens whenever they play each other. He had 227 yards and two TD's against the Ravens in Week 3, and the Ravens had their moment in the sun last week against Pittsburgh.

WR Martavis Bryant (PIT) vs. CLE: Yes, he had a massive dud last week which probably killed some hopes and dreams last Sunday, but the matchup against Cleveland is still pretty favorable, especially since the Steelers are going to be fairly desperate for a win here (other sits: Eric Decker, Jordan Matthews, Ted Ginn)

TE Zach Ertz (PHI) vs. NYG: He has been one of the best TE's in fantasy football recently, and you could do worse starting him against the fairly pathetic Giants defense, who are even worse against TE's than you might imagine (other starts: Gary Barnidge, Delanie Walker, Travis Kelce)

DEF Denver vs. SD: The Broncos need a win, and the Chargers don't have many players left on offense. The Broncos held San Diego to three points in Week 13, and there's no reason to think that they can't put up a similar performance this week (other starts: Rams, Bengals, Texans)

Who to Sit:

QB Kirk Cousins (WSH) vs. DAL: Your NFC East Champion Washington Potatoes! They are the only team in the playoffs who are locked into their seed, and even though Jay Gruden has said that he will play his starters, Cousins was flummoxed by Dallas in Week 13 so the combination is worrying when everything is on the line (other sits: Philip Rivers, Ryan Tannehill, Tyrod Taylor)

RB Jeremy Hill (CIN) vs. BAL: Touchdowns are obviously very good in fantasy football, but yardage also definitely helps too, and Hill doesn't get those. The Ravens basically held him in check in Week 3, and there's no reason to think they won't do that again (other sits: Latavius Murray, Darren McFadden, Lamar Miller)

WR Sammy Watkins (BUF) vs. NYJ: He was shut down by Dallas last week, and the Jets secondary and Revis Island is still pretty good, and he only had 14 yards when the two teams met in Week 10.

WR Mike Evans (TB) vs. CAR: This is the last time I'm going to get a chance to mention his name in this column this season, but I'm excited to do it again: JOSH. NORMAN. Even if he didn't have a good game against the Falcons last week (other sits: Randall Cobb, DeSean Jackson, T.Y Hilton)

TE Jordan Cameron (MIA) vs. NE: This matchup is nice on paper, but Cameron has been tough to trust this season for fantasy owners and since Week 17 means everything is on the line, it's certainly tough to trust him here (other sits: Jason Witten, Jordan Reed, Heath Miller)

DEF Philadelphia vs. NYG: They have a Top 10 fantasy defense, but would you trust them without a coach, without motivation, and on the road in Week 17? (other sits: Bills, Cardinals, Vikings)

Three Super Sleepers:

QB Brian Hoyer (HOU) vs. JAX: Hoyer is returning this Sunday and even though Houston practically has the division wrapped up, he needs to get some form heading into the playoffs. The Jaguars secondary is the perfect way to round into shape, as last week's evidence against Drew Brees shows.

WR Reuben Randle (NYG) vs. PHI: There could and probably should be a ton of points scored in the matchup to avoid playing the Rams in London next season, and Randle should benefit from that, even though he did next to nothing last Sunday in Minnesota.

TE Zach Miller (CHI) vs. DET: Former Jaguars legend Zach Miller has become a bonafide fantasy Tight End as the season has evolved, and the matchup against the poor Lions defense is a nice one to imprint some memories for drafts next August.

Buyer Beware:

QB Carson Palmer (ARZ) vs. SEA: He has been the architect of a fantastic offense this season, and he did have a great game against Seattle in Week 10, but consider this before Week 17: Arizona's motivation is there but won't be nearly as present because of their thumping of Green Bay last week, and preserving Palmer for the playoffs is of the utmost precedence.

Good Luck in Week 17, and happy new year! This is the seventh consecutive season I've written this fantasy football column, and I hope you've been given a little smidgen of advice that has helped you this season. This may or may not be the last season I write this column, so if it is the last one hopefully the many of these posts on this blog over the last six years have been helpful to you and has done something to enrich your Wednesdays/Thursdays. Have a great and healthy 2016!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Week 16 Fantasy Advice

'Twas the night before the fantasy football Championship Sunday and all through the land... this writer can't rhyme worth a damn so he's not going to even try to fake it. It's pretty apparent what the significance is of this week if you weren't aware, and if you're not in any important games... take heed in that you can watch Redzone without worrying about Charcandrick West, I guess.

Who to Start:

QB Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) vs. BAL: Do the Ravens have anyone left that feels remotely like a Baltimore Raven defender? The answer is probably not. The Steelers have torched just about everybody through the air this season, including defenses far better than Baltimore's, which means Big Ben could have big day on Championship Sunday (other starts: Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins (SAT), Teddy Bridgewater)

RB Doug Martin (TB) vs. CHI: He hasn't lit up the stat sheets all that much of late, but the Bears defense has been susceptible to big games on the ground, so Martin, who is one of the NFL's leading rushers, could have a decent day out on Sunday (other starts: David Johnson, Latavius Murray (THU), Frank Gore)

WR DeAndre Hopkins (HOU) vs. TEN: Despite the Texans QB uncertainty, Nuk could be in for a big day anyway against the porous Titans secondary. He had a big game against Tennessee in Week 8, so even with the QB questions, Hopkins is still a good play.

WR DeSean Jackson (WSH) vs. PHI SAT: Revenge games are the best, forever and for always. Jackson is always capable of busting a big play, and not only does it help that the Eagles secondary is bad and injured, Jackson should be extra motivated against his former team to make the play that propels Washington to an NFC East title (other starts: Martavis Bryant, Jarvis Landry, Jeremy Maclin)

TE Benjamin Watson (NO) vs. JAX: He's quietly done a very good job in replacing Jimmy Graham down by the Bayou, and he's been playing really well of late. This week he's going up against the Jaguars who are one of the worst teams in the league at defending against the Tight End, so another big day for Watson is probably in the offing (other starts: Antonio Gates (THU), Zach Ertz (SAT), Gary Barnidge)

DEF Kansas City vs. CLE: Johnny Football against the red hot, surging and opportunistic Kansas City defense with the playoffs on the line. Sign me up (other starts: HOU, PIT, CAR).

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. CAR: He was decent last week in Jacksonville, but Carolina is another animal entirely (yes Panthers and Jaguars are similar, what of it?). He barely mustered five fantasy points last time out against the Panthers, and it's hard to imagine him doing any better this time around (other sits: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyrod Taylor, Brock Osweiler (MON))

RB Eddie Lacy (GB) vs. ARZ: Running back carousels are always difficult to parse out, and Green Bay's certainly has been one worth avoiding to prevent whiplash and dizziness. Arizona is tough against the run, so Lacy is one to dodge on Championship Sunday (other sits: DeMarco Murray (SAT-Duh), Chris Ivory, Ronnie Hillman)

WR Dez Bryant (DAL) vs. BUF: Kellen Moore. It doesn't matter that the Bills secondary has been iffy.

WR A.J Green (CIN) vs. DEN MON: It's hard to trust any great receiver with a backup QB tossing them the rock (see the above for proof positive), and this is especially true against good defenses. Denver's defense is still rock solid even in the face of last week's evidence, so Green is a risky play with everything on the line (other sits: Tavon Austin, Julio Jones, Anquan Boldin)

TE Travis Kelce (KC) vs. CLE: In Andy Reid's offenses, one would expect the Tight End to be wildly successful. Kelce has been... but not recently. The Browns have been tough on the position this season, and even though there is little depth here across the board, this is still a risky play (other sits: Heath Miller, Jason Witten, Jordan Cameron)

DEF New York Jets vs. NE: It should be apparent why they are here, and even with the Pats hamstrung on offense a bit, a matchup against them in fantasy-land is never a good thing (other sits: GB, STL, MIN)

Three Super Sleepers:

QB Drew Brees (NO) vs. JAX: He's a must start if he's healthy... so if he's here, he must not be. In fantasy championships, it's hard to risk injured players, and even though it would be a shock if he sat, it's a risk to play him even in the face of a very tasty matchup. He's a sleeper because he may or may not play, but if he does, watch out.

RB Lamar Miller (MIA) vs. IND: It's been hard to trust the Dolphins RB this season because of some inconsistencies, but this week those should not be present against the Colts, who look toothless up front and against the run, as they have recently.

WR Kamar Aiken (BAL) vs. PIT: It's Jimmy Clausen, but Aiken has found a way to put up numbers in the face of the guy throwing him the ball. Pittsburgh's defense is still really bad, so Aiken could be a sneaky Championship decider on Sunday.

Buyer Beware:

QB Aaron Rodgers (GB) vs. ARZ: It's usually impossible to sit someone like Rodgers, especially in Week 16. But if you have someone with a better matchup, it may be worth considering. The Cardinals defense even without the Honey Badger is fierce, and Rodgers has struggled of late, especially away from Lambeau. Buyer beware.

Good Luck in Week 16 and your fantasy championships and have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2015 Week 15 Fantasy Advice

Fantasy playoffs are now no doubt here, so it's winner take all for all the marbles, all the cash and all of the pride. You've got one shot left to make a statement; to prove yourself, so you'd best take it. Even though my successes this season were limited, I'll take psychic pride in knowing someone else did really well with my help.

Who to Start:

QB Russell Wilson (SEA) vs. CLE: I would put Carson Palmer here, but I thought that would be too obvious. Is there a QB hotter in the league right now than Wilson? He's been dialed in, not making mistakes, and now gets to face the Browns secondary without Joe Haden. Must-start (other starts: Carson Palmer, Matt Stafford (MON), Philip Rivers)

RB David Johnson (ARZ) vs. PHI: With all of the injuries and shuffling in the Cardinals backfield, Johnson has come out on top, and has taken advantage of his new-found focus in the Cardinals offense. The Eagles defense has been pretty terrible of late, so Johnson could end up becoming a fantasy playoffs hero (other starts: DeAngelo Williams, Lamar Miller, Chris Ivory (SAT))

WR DeAndre Hopkins (HOU) vs. IND: It's a large unknown right now as to who will be tossing him the rock on Sunday in Indianapolis. Yes, that does affect his fantasy status. But it's hard to bench him anyway, especially against a Colts team that just gave up 51 (!!!!!!!!!!) to Jacksonville.

WR Sammy Watkins (BUF) vs. WSH: Watkins has been consistent this season when Tyrod Taylor is throwing him the ball, and that should continue this Sunday in Washington against a secondary that is starting to get quite banged up (other starts: John Brown, Danny Amendola, Jeremy Maclin)

TE Gary Barnidge (CLE) vs. SEA: The matchup against the Seahawks is actually quite favorable for Tight Ends, much to the surprise of many. With Johnny Football under center, Barnidge has actually seen his targets and catches go up, so he could be in for a sneaky good day on Sunday (other starts: Richard Rodgers, Ben Watson (MON), Eric Ebron (MNF))

DEF Kansas City vs. BAL: Does anyone know who the Ravens have on offense anymore? Neither do I (other starts: SEA, NE, CIN)

Who to Sit:

QB Eli Manning (NYG) vs. CAR: The rollercoaster season had another up on Monday night against Miami, but Carolina's defense is an entirely different animal. Josh Norman, that pass rush, and Eli's general inconsistency make it hard to push for him to start (other sits: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston (THU))

RB DeMarco Murray (PHI) vs. ARZ: All that money for a fourth string job in the crowded Eagles backfield. Us owners of Murray's should have seen the forest through the trees, but we were blind. To make matters even worse, the matchup against Arizona is ugly too (other sits: Darren McFadden, Javorius Allen, Ronnie Hillman)

WR Dez Bryant (DAL) vs. NYJ SAT: Since Matt Cassel has returned to the Dallas hot seat, Dez's production has fallen off a cliff. And with the Jets still posing a stiff defense on the other side, it's hard to start him in any circumstances considering the fantasy playoffs are all or nothing.

WR Randall Cobb (GB) vs. OAK: It's been a rough ride for Cobb recently in fantasy-land, and last week even though not amazing was his best performance in quite some time. The Raiders defense is better than you'd expect, so Cobb is another mark in the sit column this week (other sits: Mike Evans (THU), Brandin Cooks (MON), Amari Cooper)

TE Delanie Walker (TEN) vs. NE: A permanent fixture in the "start" portion of this column recently, he's found himself here this week. Why? The Pats take away your best playmaker consistently, and the Titans in lack of others... you know the drill (other sits: Travis Kelce, Jason Witten, Kyle Rudolph)

DEF Minnesota vs. CHI: The Vikings defense has struggled in recent weeks thanks to all of their injuries, and even though Chicago can usually be quite a favorable matchup, it's still a risky play considering the circumstances this week (other sits: PHI, BAL, DET)

Three Super Sleepers:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. JAX: Yes, he's been incredibly awful of late. Yes, the Falcons are in a tailspin. But Ryan is going up against a Jacksonville defense that is inconsistent at best. They were dominant a week ago but gave up 31 points to a Chargers team that has since scored 6, and then gave up 42 to the Titans who have since scored 8.

RB Bilal Powell (NYJ) vs. DAL SAT: The only holdup in playing Powell has to be the rotation in the backfield with Chris Ivory. Powell was potent against the Titans last Sunday, so this week it could be an iffy start, but against a Dallas defense that gave up nearly 250 rushing yards to Green Bay, Powell will probably be fine.

WR T.Y Hilton (IND) vs. HOU: The QB question is a large one here too, just like with DeAndre Hopkins on the other side, but with the Texans defense being as poor as it is, it's hard to bench Hilton all things considered, even if Charlie Whitehurst starts.

Buyer Beware:

WR Odell Beckham (NYG) vs. CAR: You can't sit ODB, you just can't. I know, but it's Josh Norman, he shuts down everybody in his path. The only one he didn't shut down was Hopkins because the Texans chucked it to him at every opportunity. This is a tough call obviously, but as the title says, buyer beware.

Good Luck in Week 15 and in the Playoffs!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

2015 Week 14 Fantasy Advice

      Did you have a lucky Week 13? Fantasy playoffs are either starting already, or about to, so even though this intro is basically the same from last week's column, but the importance of the commentary remains. There is (probably) money at stake here, and reputations to go with it!

Who to Start:

QB Tyrod Taylor (BUF) vs. PHI: Despite what Tom Brady's performance might otherwise indicate, the Eagles secondary is still pretty abysmal. That Patriots game feels like the exception rather than the rule, and Tyrod Taylor should feast on that. Now that he has his full complement of weapons back, Taylor should have another big day at the office (other starts: Carson Palmer (THU), Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston)

RB Lamar Miller (MIA) vs. NYG MON: With the way Ryan Tannehill has struggled recently, common sense would dictate that the Dolphins try to run the ball more. They really should against the Giants, who have one of the worst rush defenses in the league (other starts: Thomas Rawls, Jonathan Stewart, Shaun Draughn)

WR Alshon Jeffery (CHI) vs. WSH: Even though he hasn't hit the endzone since Week 8, keep the faith folks. This matchup against Washington is pretty favorable, and even more so since this game is in Chicago and not Landover. 

WR Eric Decker (NYJ) vs. TEN: Decker has been consistent if not entirely that flashy this season, and that form should continue against the Titans at home this week. The Titans have been torn asunder by almost everyone they have played through the air recently, including allowing the Jaguars to set numerous franchise records in the process last week (other starts: Martavis Bryant, Mike Evans, Doug Baldwin)

TE Travis Kelce (KC) vs. SD: Thin position in fantasy terms means those who haven't been consistent or have iffy matchups often get favor. Kelce has the former of those two vices, and since the matchup against the Chargers is favorable considering the injuries on San Diego's defense, it's hard to say no to Kelce on Sunday (other starts: Delanie Walker, Jordan Reed, Eric Ebron)

DEF Detroit vs. STL: The Lions haven't been a great fantasy defense this season, but they're going up against Case Keenum and the Rams this week, which means that the Lions after being a poor option all year now has a little hope on its side (other starts: GB, CAR, DEN)

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. CAR: His wildly inconsistent performances have been reason enough to bench the former BC Eagle, but this week he goes up against a team he's had next to no success against: Carolina. Sure the Panthers D was knocked down a peg in New Orleans, but this is still the best defense in the league for a reason (other sits: Matthew Stafford, Marcus Mariota, Derek Carr)

RB Eddie Lacy (GB) vs. DAL: We're reaching a point in fantasy circles where the Packers backfield is becoming the same sort of fantasy minefield that the Patriots backfield once was. Figuring out who is going to get the bulk of the carries feels like solving the mystery of the universe. Therefore, even with a decent matchup, avoid Lacy if you can (other sits: Javorius Allen, Latavius Murray, LeGarrette Blount)

WR Amari Cooper (OAK) vs. DEN: He's had a great season no doubt, and should be in the offensive rookie of the year conversation. But with Derek Carr's form dropping off a cliff of late, and Coop being matched up against Aqib Talib on Sunday, this is a risky play. Cooper had only 47 yards in the first meeting between these two in October.

WR Stefon Diggs (MIN) vs. ARZ THU: I hate putting Stef here because I bleed the Maryland flag, but the Vikings pass offense is so inconsistent and usually punchless, and Stef will be shadowed by a certain honey badger on Thursday night. Honey Badgers are a little bit more potent than Diamondback Terrapins, at least in this instance (other sits: Julio Jones, DeSean Jackson, Randall Cobb)

TE Jason Witten (DAL) vs. GB: Do you trust Matt Cassel? I don't (other sits: Benjamin Watson, Zach Ertz, Charles Clay)

DEF Houston vs. NE: Their dominant streak has come to an end, and they suddenly look more vulnerable than they have at any point since early on in the season. The Patriots might be dinged up on offense, but they are bad matchup no matter what (other sits: MIN, PHI, MIA)

Three Super Sleepers:

QB Matt Hasslebeck (IND) vs. JAX: He says he's healthy, but even if he was 85% effective he'd still likely throw for 300+ yards against the sieve that is the Jaguars secondary of late. They can't rush the passer, so Hasslebeck will likely come out with few grass stains on his jersey and a big day at the office too.

RB David Johnson (ARZ) vs. MIN THU: With all of the injuries in the Cardinals backfield, and on the Vikings defense, David Johnson could be staring down the barrel at another solid performance when fantasy owners need it most. 

TE Scott Chandler (NE) vs. HOU: The matchup isn't amazing on paper, but his rapport with Tom Brady has to be improving. He'll see his fair share of targets for sure, and he should start turning those into yards and fantasy points.

Buyer Beware:

RB Jeremy Hill (CIN) vs. PIT: He's been great the last three weeks, so why would he be here? He hasn't been that great against the Steelers in his career; 69 yards per game in three games without a touchdown. Even though Pittsburgh's defense hasn't been great this season, buyer beware.

Good Luck in Week 14!  

Monday, December 7, 2015

Bowling For Soup

During the whitewash of a typical NFL Sunday, 80 teams found out what bowl game they'll take part in to end the 2015 campaign. There is plenty of excitement in matchups such as Florida/Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, Iowa making its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1992, Ohio State/Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, and the list could go on. But buried (or not buried) were the announcements of other bowls, such as the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, the AutoNation Cure Bowl, the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl... some of these names sound as if Jimmy Fallon made them up. 

Not only are three 5-7 teams bowl participants this season because not enough teams won six games, but Colorado State and Nevada are playing each other in the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl. If that sound strange to you, it's because it should; these teams are Mountain West conference mates, though they did not play this season. Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson is not pleased with the outcome, despite all his attempts to prevent it. "It is a travesty the Mountain West has been forced into this situation. Clearly, the system is broken." 

Commissioner Thompson is 100% correct. Three teams with sub .500 records in a bowl game should raise alarm, but two team in the same conference playing each other even in a world where conferences are too big to begin with is a bridge too far. But, he can do nothing to stop even more bowls from being created to cash in on this simple truth: even the stupidest and most useless of bowls matching two teams that four years ago were in FCS makes money hand over fist. The crowds may be sparse, but because its football, its free ratings money rolling in for ESPN. 

Is there any coincidence that a bowl created so Sinclair's American Sports Network syndication arm could get a slice of the bowl pie is under the microscope like the Arizona Bowl is? Is there any coincidence that CBS Sports Network's first bowl, the Cure Bowl, pits 6-6 Georgia State (who needed a win on the final Saturday of the season to become bowl eligible) against 5-7 San Jose State? There is no reason for ESPN's complete and total monopoly on meaningless meandering exhibitions of mediocre football, but the solution is breaking it up, not adding more bowls to the mix.

One of the popular narratives permeating this Christmas season is how ESPN is hemorrhaging subscribers, which means they are losing money (although they make it back in spades through advertising and subscriber fees). So free money, as these bowl games are, will be multiplying just for that reason, since ESPN and the suits know that people will watch because its football, and Americans just can't get enough football, even if it's Louisiana Tech vs. Arkansas State. Teams like those two deserve to be rewarded for their good seasons, but if bowl games are sliced even by one third, 7-5 "Power 5" teams will be taken over 9-3 "Group of 5 teams" every time.

It's a catch 22 for not only those teams, but bowl organizers (ESPN themselves in many an occasion) who probably can see the writing on the wall, but are kept on life support because of the money they make, though not necessarily for themselves. And so long as the checks keep flowing in like rainwater, the bowl games are going nowhere, despite protestations to this sad state of affairs.

The ideal number of bowl games seems to be around 25, with maybe 18-19 on ESPN/ABC and the rest spread around to FOX/CBS/NBC and their cable networks. They deserve as much of a piece of the pie as ESPN does, as they do contribute in large ways to the greater college football product. But as the number of bowls increases, the number of bowls ESPN swallows whole will increase too. 

The players, coaches, bowl organizers, cable networks are all beneficiaries to a business that seems too big to fail, and the only ones who are losers seem to be the keyboard warriors (me) who see this outgrowth as unnecessary excess capitalizing on our insatiable appetite for football, even when being starved of Bulldogs vs. Red Wolves would do us as a collective a little good in becoming healthier sports fan.

Bowl season needs Weight Watchers, and we need a bit of a football detox. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

2015 Week 13 Fantasy Advice

Did you have a good Week 12 and Thanksgiving? Now that you have woken up from your stuffing and tryptophan induced coma, it's time to get yourself ready for the playoffs that lie ahead. For some, they have already started. For others, this is your last chance to get in and/or jockey for position, so making the right calls this week is more critical than ever.

Who to Start:

QB Cam Newton (CAR) vs. NO: Not only is Cam red hot and playing the best football of his career, now he gets to go against the wet tissue paper that is the New Orleans pass defense. Superman has been dabbing all over the Saints in recent meetings, and there is no reason to think that he won't be able to do it again (other starts: Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Andy Dalton)

RB Matt Forte (CHI) vs. SF: He wasn't awe inspiring against the Packers on Thanksgiving night, and many are worried about how touches and plays will be split with him and rookie Jeremy Langford, the matchup against San Francisco is quite favorable for both of them. There isn't much risk in starting either the veteran or the rookie on Sunday (other starts: Jonathan Stewart, LeGarrette Blount, Doug Martin)

WR Jarvis Landry (MIA) vs. BAL: Hello PPR Superstar. Last week, thanks mainly to garbage time, he went off for 13 catches and 165 yards, and this was against the stout Jets defense. Next up, the Ravens secondary that is depleted by injuries and gave up big plays to Josh McCown and Austin Davis on Monday night.

WR T.Y Hilton (IND) vs. PIT: He hasn't been great of late, but the performance against the Bucs could awaken him down the stretch when the Colts need him most. The Steelers secondary was torched for five touchdowns against by Seattle last week, and even with the aging Matt Hasslebeck starting, Hilton could have another huge game (other starts: Alshon Jeffery, Martavis Bryant, Michael Crabtree)

TE Delanie Walker (TEN) vs. JAX: He went for over 100 yards in the first meeting between the two teams this season, and repeatedly the Jaguars have shown that they cannot defend Tight Ends. Marcus Mariota doesn't have the weapons on the outside to challenge even a bad Jags secondary, so Walker could have another big afternoon (other starts: Kyle Rudolph, Greg Olsen, Coby Fleener)

DEF Cincinnati vs. CLE: Austin Davis is starting. Need we say more? (other starts: ARZ, DEN, CHI).

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. TB: Some of his throws recently have been beyond head-scratching and have gone into "should the Falcons bench him" territory. Now even though in reality that wouldn't be a wise decision, in fantasy you absolutely should bench him considering Tampa's pass defense has improved and due to his inconsistencies (other sits: Russell Wilson, Tyrod Taylor, Brian Hoyer)

RB Latavius Murray (OAK) vs. KC: Kansas City's defense has been very solid against the run all season, and while there aren't many options left at the running back position, Murray is a risky play on Sunday due to this (other sits: T.J Yeldon, Eddie Lacy (THU), Frank Gore)

WR Brandin Cooks (NO) vs. CAR: Josh. Norman.

WR Stefon Diggs (MIN) vs. SEA: Even though Seattle's formerly fearsome pass defense isn't quite what it used to be, they can still shut down opposing signal callers and pass offenses especially those prone to it like Minnesota's, which means the former Terp is not necessarily the best option (other sits: Jordan Matthews, Doug Baldwin, Mike Evans)

TE Jason Witten (DAL) vs. WSH MON: The Matt Cassell factor here obviously comes in to play, but he's not the elite fantasy Tight End he once was, and the Washington defense is way better at FedEx Field than it is on the road (other sits: Zach Ertz, Benjamin Watson, Martellus Bennett)

DEF St. Louis vs. ARZ: The Cardinals offense on the road is not the same as it is at home, but the Rams defense has dropped off a cliff from a fantasy perspective. They're now a very risky proposition (other sits: PHI, NYJ, BUF).

Three Super Sleepers:

QB Marcus Mariota (TEN) vs. JAX: When these teams met a couple of weeks ago, he was very solid all night long. He wasn't incredibly effective, but this week facing next to no pass rush and a secondary that was torched against San Diego he could be in for a better day than even the first Thursday night.

RB Javorius Allen (BAL) vs. MIA: The center of the Ravens no-name brigade on offense, he could be in for a big game because he is the focal point of the offense going up against a woeful Miami defense.

WR Danny Amendola (NE) vs. PHI: While his health might not be in the best of shape, he's going to be one of the more reliable of the few weapons Tom Brady has left, and the Eagles defense is still a sieve.

Buyer Beware:

WR Sammy Watkins (BUF) vs. HOU: He can take the top off of almost any defense, but the Houston defense has been insanely good since getting their tails kicked by Miami in late October. In fact, they've allowed only two touchdowns since then in four games! Watkins is a major risk on Sunday even though he's become an almost assured start every week.

Good Luck in Week 13!