Wednesday, October 18, 2017

2017 Week 7 Fantasy Advice: Is anyone left that isn't injured?

Maybe it's just me, but there seem to be more debilitating injuries to standout stars in reality and fantasy football this year more than ever. Perhaps it's perception overshadowing what seems to be otherwise fairly normal, but after Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone, perception is way stronger than reality. With these injuries piling up, and the league knee deep in bye weeks, these may be the toughest times on these fantasy streets.

Byes: DET, HOU

Start of the Week: QB Matt Ryan (ATL) at NE

Matt Ryan's 2016 season looks like a thing of the past, but some of that form may be recaptured in Sunday night's Super Bowl rematch. The Patriots secondary is not very good, as all passers who have gone against them this season have thrown for more than 300 yards each. Ryan may not be an every week starter anymore, but this week he certainly is.

Who to Start:

QB Dak Prescott (DAL) at SF: Most people coming into the season didn't think of Dak that highly as a fantasy QB, but his performances in the last three games (two of them Cowboy losses) have perhaps changed that opinion. Going up against the putrid 49ers secondary may allow the streak to continue into a fourth straight game of wonderful fantasy form.

RB Mark Ingram (NO) at GB: With Adrian Peterson in Arizona, Ingram has asserted himself even more as the Saints featured running back. He has quietly had a very solid season, and that should continue against a less than stellar Green Bay rush defense that is dealing with a myriad of rough injuries. Alvin Kamara is also a decent flex play.

WR Rishard Matthews (TEN) at CLE: He hasn't been that spectacular in a fantasy sense this season, but almost everyone is worth a gamble against the Browns and whatever it is that they call a secondary. They've given up seven TD's to wideouts this season, and that somehow seems like a low number.

WR Adam Thielen (MIN) vs. BAL: No matter who is healthy at any of the skill positions in Minnesota, Adam Thielen is a heavily targeted man. He hasn't scored a TD this season, yet is a machine, especially in PPR leagues thanks to his targets. Even against a rough-ish matchup in Baltimore, Thielen is worth a gamble.

TE Jimmy Graham (SEA) at NYG: He has not come anywhere close to living up to the hype when he was traded from New Orleans to Seattle. That said, he's been a sneaky decent fantasy play in the last few games for Seattle, and he is again against a Giants defense that cannot defend tight ends.

DEF Carolina at CHI: Mitchell Trubisky may have lead the Bears to a victory in Baltimore, but that wasn't much due to him and the offense. Carolina's defense, even potentially without Luke Kuechly, is a wise fantasy play considering the troubles rookie QB's like Trubisky usually have in these games.

Sit of the Week: QB Jameis Winston (TB) at BUF

I still love Jameis as a fantasy option, but not nursing a shoulder injury, and not on the road against a better than expected Bills secondary this week. The Bills have only given up two TD passes all season in their first five games.

Who to Sit:

QB Philip Rivers (LAC) vs. DEN: The no-fly zone was not the reason Denver stumbled at home against the Giants, holding Eli Manning to almost nothing through the air, as expected. Philip Rivers has never performed well against the Broncos at home in his career, and Denver is likely going to be mad after what happened last Sunday night. This isn't a good recipe.

Any Seattle RB at NYG: The Giants have a bad rushing defense. So why then would I say not to start any Seattle running back (Lacy, Rawls, McKissic)? Because no one knows the running back pecking order in Seattle until it shapes itself out over the course of a few weeks. Even though this is a decent matchup, it's worth avoiding all Seattle running backs until they prove themselves consistently as viable fantasy options.

WR Sammy Watkins (LAR) vs. ARZ LONDON: He is listed on the Rams roster, but you'd be hard-pressed to know that even watching Rams games, where he barely gets targeted, let alone gets meaningful touches. Patrick Peterson will likely match up against him Sunday, which means he might be erased from the stat sheet even further.

WR Martavis Bryant (PIT) vs. CIN: I'm not saying to sit him because he requested a trade and then sloppily backtracked on those comments. I'm saying to hit him because JuJu Smith-Schuster has clearly surpassed him on the depth chart, and because Cincy's defense is underrated against the pass.

TE Martellus Bennett (GB) vs. NO: Tight Ends on teams whose #1 QB's are hurt are always sneaky plays in fantasy land, but even with Aaron Rodgers, Bennett wasn't performing up to expectations. With Brett Hundley under center, this doesn't bode well.

DEF Baltimore at MIN: The Ravens defense has been a solid fantasy option in spite of their injuries and up and down performances, but even with Case Keenum, the Vikings are not a good matchup here. Minnesota's offense is consistent and doesn't make many mistakes, which is not a good combination for opposing fantasy defenses.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Marcus Mariota (TEN) at CLE: On one good leg, Mariota looked quite solid Monday night against the Colts, even if his fantasy numbers didn't show it. Against Cleveland's defense, or lack thereof, Mariota, one week healthier, should fare a lot better.

RB Adrian Peterson (ARZ) vs. LAR LONDON: Mea culpa: all of us who analyze fantasy football whiffed on Peterson last week against the Bucs, big time. While he's probably not hitting the heights from last week against a good Rams defense, he's a viable flex option for sure now that he's established himself as the feature back.

RB Marlon Mack (IND) vs. JAX: For all the talk of how great Jacksonville's defense is, they don't stop the run very well, in their losses that is. It's therefore worth the risk to start the rookie Marlon Mack, who has flashed great potential every time the Colts give him the ball.

Buyer Beware:

RB LeGarrette Blount (PHI) vs. WSH MON: Consistently inconsistent in fantasy land: that's been Blount's story this season. After some rock star performances against the Giants and Chargers, he's been quiet against the Cardinals and Panthers. Washington held him in check in week one, and that could easily happen again on Monday night.

Good luck in Week 7!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

2017 Week 6 Fantasy Advice: At least there's the other football

In one code of football, recent days haven't been very kind to the sport in the country. Thankfully, the this code of football, the one with quarterbacks, running backs and fantasy columns like this one, is still going strong. It has problems too, but there's no argument as to which country in the world is the best at this code football.

On to the fantasy world now and with the injuries that continue to ravage teams, and with bye weeks fully in view, scouring the waiver wire for hidden gems through all the dirt and grime is now an even more important task. There are options available almost everywhere, and there are tough decisions to be made with those players and your lineups. But that's why you read this column, right?

Byes: SEA, BUF, CIN, DAL

Start of the Week: QB DeShaun Watson (HOU) vs. CLE

Watson has been absolutely ripping up league's passing defenses in the last three games. 12 TD's in the last three weeks plus a boatload of yards has meant Watson is now a potential top five QB in fantasy the rest of the way. That will continue against the Browns who have been abysmal defending the pass this season.

Who to Start:

QB Kirk Cousins (WSH) vs. SF: Cousins' start to the season hasn't been quite as great as many would have expected or hoped, however coming off a bye week, this is when Cousins starts to round into form. The 49ers secondary has been hit hard by a litany of less than special QB's this season, including Jacoby Brissett, so Cousins could be in for a big day.

RB Marshawn Lynch (OAK) vs. LAC: The Chargers finally picked up their first win last week, but their rushing defense isn't really the reason why. They're getting ripped up on the ground week after week by all sorts of different backs. This is why Lynch is probably going to go Beast Mode on Sunday.

WR Chris Hogan (NE) at NYJ: Who says Tom Brady didn't ever have a great Julian Edelman replacement? Without Gronk last Thursday, Hogan became Brady's go to receiver, and he delivered. He's a PPR machine, but even in normal leagues his matchup against the Jets is a good one.

WR T.Y Hilton (IND) at TEN MON: It doesn't seem to matter that Andrew Luck isn't throwing him the ball, because he's still had a few monster weeks from a fantasy perspective. In his career, Hilton has destroyed the Titans, including 12 catches for 230 yards last season. That form should continue on Monday.

TE Evan Engram (NYG) at DEN: Eli Manning has to throw the ball to someone, and Engram may be the only warm body left. Denver has not been great at defending the tight end this season, so Engram may thrive while the Giants on the whole do not as their season has gone down the drain.

DEF Atlanta vs. MIA: Jay Cutler threw for less than 100 yards against a pretty poor Titans secondary last week, which should give a rejuvenated and rested Falcons defense something to lick their chops over.

Sit of the Week: QB Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) at KC

If he says he doesn't have it anymore, whether he's joking or not, you may want to believe him. While he's OK enough at home, he's a disaster from a fantasy perspective on the road. The Chiefs defense gave up plenty of yards and points in garbage time, but they may be salivating at their prospects here.

Who to Sit:

QB Philip Rivers (LAC) at OAK: Oakland's defense isn't that great, so why wouldn't you want to start Rivers in this matchup? Rivers hasn't really been able to take advantage of good matchups this season, and he's not been great against the Raiders in his career, especially recently.

RB Adrian Peterson (ARZ) vs. TB: Peterson should now be the feature back in Arizona, which should mean he's a great fantasy option, right? Nope. Arizona's offensive line is horrendous, and the Bucs have a good run stopping defense. There's also the possibility that Peterson is slowly bedded in to Arizona's offense, meaning Andre Ellington may get the bulk of the load early on.

WR Demaryius Thomas (DEN) vs. NYG: Janoris Jenkins is one of the league's best shutdown corners, and the Giants have held all big name opposing wideouts in check this season. Trevor Siemian still hasn't done enough to inspire that much confidence, so Thomas is a risk this week.

WR Randall Cobb (GB) at MIN: Aaron Rodgers in looking in other directions for production at the skill positions, and Cobb's fantasy stock has taken a hit because of it. Cobb only has 12 catches for 131 yards and one TD in four games against the Vikings, and that secondary is no joke either.

TE Jared Cook (OAK) vs. LAC: Whenever a backup QB comes in to the fold, there's always a slight boon for the tight end on that team as a fantasy option because of the safety blanket factor. But with Cook, that's not likely the case this week, whether Manuel or Carr is playing. The Chargers defense has shut down Travis Kelce and Evan Engram already, so shutting down Cook doesn't seem like a big stretch.

DEF New York Giants at DEN: This defense was expected to do big things this year, but hasn't, as evidenced by their 0-5 record. Denver's offense is multi-dimensional, and after a bye week of rest, they should be ready to attack a Giants defense that defends the pass OK and not much else.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Cam Newton (CAR) vs. PHI THU: Cam is looking like MVP Cam once again, and that's shown up in his performances. Outside of the game against Arizona, the Eagles secondary has been vulnerable. That may be the case again against a Carolina offense that is starting to stretch its legs.

RB Jay Ajayi (MIA) at ATL: He's a good flex option at this point because of his sub-optimal performances against bad rushing defenses recently, but a good flex option does mean he has potential against an Atlanta rushing defense that hasn't been up to par yet this season.

WR Jaron Brown (ARZ) vs. TB: He's becoming a go-to target for Carson Palmer, and against a weak Bucs secondary, that may bode well for a team that will need to throw the ball to stay competitive.

Buyer Beware:

RB Tarik Cohen (CHI) at BAL: He is a sparkplug that has the potential to break out at any time, but only seems to do so in fits and spurts. The Ravens rushing defense is underrated even with their litany of injuries, so watch out for Cohen here, no matter where he is in your lineup.

Good luck in Week 6, and go American football!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

2017 Week 5 Fantasy Advice: Bye Week Blues

If your fantasy football season hasn't already been derailed by debilitating injuries, poor drafting and most especially, reading into this column, welcome back. It's the point in the season where bye weeks are going to play a major role in how you structure your team, so this column becomes more important than ever, that is if you trust me to give you solid advice in the first place. I don't know why you would, but I like writing these columns so give me some slack.

Byes: ATL, WSH, DEN, NO

Start of the Week: Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ) at PHI

Larry Legend is not the world's best fantasy option on the sinking ship that is Arizona's offense, but this week, he goes up against a meager Eagles secondary that has given up big yards and fantasy points to everyone they've played. If Carson Palmer can stay upright (a big if), he'll target Fitz as he always does, which means he should be in for a big week.

Who to Start:

QB Jameis Winston (TB) vs. NE THU: Who would have ever thought that a Patriots defense would be this anemic and incompetent through a four game stretch? Every team they have played has had a big offensive day against them, and Jameis Winston and his bevy of weapons should have a great time in a short week against this confused New England defense.

RB Carlos Hyde (SF) at IND: In the interest of not making the same mistake with Jay Ajayi I've made the last two weeks (even though his matchup is decent Sunday), let's look elsewhere for options. He hasn't broken out in terms of fantasy scoring, but he's been consistent. That's key against a poor Colts defense, and it may just help the 49ers actually score a touchdown this week.

WR T.Y Hilton (IND) vs. SF: If you drafted him, well you probably expected Andrew Luck to be playing right now and he clearly isn't. But Jacoby Brissett in his three starts hasn't exactly been bad, and against a 49ers defense that has some big holes, so Hilton could once again keep your fantasy numbers above water until Luck returns.

WR Chris Hogan (NE) at TB THU: Neither the Patriots nor the Bucs have been playing great defense this season, either because of injuries or communication issues. On a short week, this favors the offenses, and the Pats offense hasn't exactly been a problem. Hogan may be down on the list of Brady targets, but he has the potential to break out Thursday night.

TE Charles Clay (BUF) at CIN: Clay has been one of the better tight ends in fantasy this season since most all of the good ones outside of Gronk are injured. He's going up against a Bengals defense that hasn't been good against Tight Ends, and without Jordan Matthews, Tyrod Taylor has to throw to someone.

DEF Minnesota at CHI MON: Mitchell Trubisky is making his first career start on Monday night, and he has to go against a Minnesota defense that has been quite stout in spite of the injuries on the other side of the ball. They have a chance to feast on rookie mistakes Monday, making them a good play.

Sit of the Week: QB Russell Wilson (SEA) at LAR

Wilson's viability as a QB1 or even a QB2 has dropped dramatically with each passing season, and this year, he's really struggled in ways that even his biggest detractors couldn't see coming. In his career, he's been really bad against the Rams, especially of late. If you have better options this week, you should use them.

Who to Sit:

QB Jared Goff (LAR) vs. SEA: Though Goff has been excellent in the first four games of the campaign, the Seahawks defense is another test entirely. While their offense has certainly sputtered, the defense, particularly the pass defense, has held up well. Though they are dealing with injury issues, it's hard to trust Goff this week against a Seahawks secondary that has always shut down the Rams.

RB LeGarrette Blount (PHI) vs. ARZ: One of the biggest mistake people make in fantasy is riding a player hard one week after they had a breakout game. Last week in the Philadelphia suburb of Carson, California, Blount had a masterful performance. But following up that performance will be hard, especially with the emergence of Wendell Smallwood and he'll be facing a Cardinals defense that has been stout against non Zeke Elliot backs.

WR Amari Cooper (OAK) vs. BAL: Poor Amari Cooper. Even with Derek Carr throwing him the ball, he's had no success this season, and not only is he going to face the Ravens secondary which has actually been decent this season, E.J Manuel will be throwing him the ball which does not bode well. Sit him (and maybe even Michael Crabtree too).

WR Kelvin Benjamin (CAR) at DET: We may need to put a disclaimer in this column about starting players who just played against New England, because there is a risk with Benjamin here. He was fantastic against the Pats, but the Lions defense has been one of the best all around this season, meaning his assignment on Sunday is much tougher.

TE Jason Witten (DAL) vs. GB: His viability as a fantasy option is slowly starting to dwindle as his performances have done in the last few weeks. The Packers have really been good in shutting him down in their past few meetings, holding him to around four catches, 49 yards and only one TD in the last five games against them.

DEF Jacksonville at PIT: They have been really good this season in terms of sacks, turnovers and TD's, but the Steelers are another animal entirely. They haven't even hit their stride yet on offense and when young defenses get their first test, they often don't pass it.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Alex Smith (KC) at HOU: Do you know that one of the top five QB's in fantasy this season has been Alex Smith? It's true. He's been able to both throw and run the ball very effectively of late, meaning that he can do what most QB's can't do anymore: mix the run and pass effectively. The Texans defense has been gashed at points this season, and the Chiefs offense is not exactly the Titans down a bunch with Matt Cassel under center.

RB Bilal Powell (NYJ) at CLE: Even taking away the flukey 75 yard TD run he had against the Jaguars, Powell had a really solid day at the offense against a team that was supposed to be stout against the run. The Browns are decidely not that in any way, so Powell has a great chance to replicate that success.

WR Randall Cobb (GB) at DAL: While he's still not Aaron Rodger's favorite target, he is now in his second game back from injury and therefore will be more consistent. With the injuries for the Packers up front and at the running back position, Rodgers will be looking to throw more than ever, meaning that Cobb will see his fair share of targets against a Cowboys defense that is underwhelming.

Buyer Beware:

QB DeShaun Watson (HOU) vs. KC: Watson became the first QB in almost 60 years to throw for four TD's and run for one in a game last week, which is incredibly impressive. He is a more than viable QB1 now everywhere, but this week may be a bump in the road against a Kansas City defense that is aggressive and another level than he has faced so far in his young career. You're probably starting him anyway, but he could be in for a fall back to earth.

Good luck in Week 5!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

2017-18 NHL Season Predictions

Continuing a series of posts that aren't really articles, but I have nowhere else to write these things, here you will find my 2017-18 NHL season predictions with the season starting tomorrow, if you can believe that. It really does feel like the season has snuck up on us all out of nowhere, but there are plenty of compelling storylines in this new season, not the least of which includes an expansion team in Las Vegas.

In the NHL, parity reigns supreme, though the Penguins are two time defenders of the Cup. Can they complete the first three-peat in the league since the dynastic Islanders of the early 80's? They certainly have a good chance. But how will they, and the 30 other teams fare, and who will take home the hardware? I don't know why you come here to find answers to these questions, but since you're here...

Metropolitan Division:
1. Pittsburgh
2. Washington
3. Columbus
4. New York Islanders (WC1)
5. New York Rangers (WC2)
6. Carolina
7. Philadelphia
8. New Jersey

The Penguins are not as deep as they have been the last two season as the cap has come back to bite them. But, with Crosby and Malkin (and the return of Kris Letang), they're the class of the deepest division in hockey. The salary cap also pillaged the Caps, but with expectations lightened albeit slightly, maybe that allows them to finally take that long awaited step forward. Columbus needs consistency, but with Artemi Panarin and the core group from last year still there, they have every chance to finally take a concrete step forward.

Uncertainty surrounds the Islanders not only on the ice, but off it too. In spite of all of that, they won't miss Travis Hamonic that much and Jordan Eberle gives John Tavares a dynamic winger he hasn't had with the Isles. That allows them to grab a wild card. While the Rangers don't really have any centers, and King Henrik isn't getting any younger, this team always finds a way to get in the dance, and that will happen again. Everyone's darlings in Carolina (pun intended) will take a big leap forward this season and be a fun team to watch, but something tells me they're not quite there yet.

The Flyers may take a step back before a big step forward next year with their young D and the addition of Nolan Patrick. And while the Devils still don't have a defenseman of note, they have more forwards, so they at least won't be the worst team in the league. They may be close though.

Atlantic Division:
1. Tampa Bay
2. Toronto
3. Montreal
4. Boston
5. Florida
6. Ottawa
7. Buffalo
8. Detroit

Tampa Bay has some bad juju, because if it wasn't for injuries the last two seasons, they may well have won the Cup at least once. With a healthy Steven Stamkos, this team will be on a mission this season. They may end up being the best team in the East. Close behind will be the young and hungry Toronto Maple Leafs, now dealing with the burden of expectations and an accelerated rebuild. They have a fascinating mix of players with a certain Babcock as head coach, and though they're not quite there yet, they're at the very least a playoff team. And notice who they'd play in the playoffs if my predictions come good...

Montreal is on the precipice of a downswing in fortunes, but that's not happening this year. Adding Jonathan Drouin is bold, but their lack of centers and do-si-do with Alex Galchenyuk's position is infuriating. Their defense is also not... fleet of foot, let's say. But, they have Carey Price and with him, a playoff spot is close to assured. Boston has a transition year on their hands as they hand the keys to David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. But there's a bad lack of depth here and not a ton on the horizon. Their future may be brighter than their present, but their present isn't exactly super bright to begin with.

Florida had everything go wrong last year and finished with 80 points. If a few things go right this year, they'll get to about 90, which puts them on the track to stability and contention next year. Ottawa in their second year under Guy Boucher has second season syndrome to deal with (ask the Lightning), and a lack of Erik Karlsson to start the season is not going to help matters. Buffalo will be better with Phil Housley, and Jack Eichel has to start playing up to his hype, right? And for Detroit... well, the arena is nice.

Central:
1. Nashville
2. Dallas
3. Chicago
4. Minnesota (WC1)
5. St. Louis
6. Winnipeg
7. Colorado

This division is arguably the hardest to figure out. Injuries are creating havoc for multiple teams, and others have certain depth problems as well.

Though the Predators have lost James Neal, don't have Ryan Ellis and may not be as deep as they were last year, they're still really good. And remember, they never hit their stride until the playoffs. That won't happen again this year. With Ken Hitchcock behind the bench, an actual goalie and some actual defensemen on the roster, the Stars are primed to make a huge jump forward and could be a serious Cup contender as well. The Blackhawks once again have no depth whatsoever, especially on the blueline and there's little doubt this is the worst Blackhawks roster in about six years. But Alex DeBrincat is really good, and with some cap finagling, they'll get a D from Vegas and suddenly look good again... probably.

Many people have great expectations for the Wild this season in their second year under Bruce Boudreau. However, they have less depth than they once did and that end of season swoon that continued into the postseason is very worrisome. They'll make the postseason, but this team may be closer to purgatory than the Cup. The Blues have been absolutely ravaged by key injuries in camp, and that may derail a promising season, which is a shame because when fully healthy, this team is a sneaky Cup contender.

As for the perennial underachievers on the Manitoba prairies, they need to take a step forward this year and may have an opportunity considering what's ahead of them in the division. But something is holding them back, and it may be a loyalty to players that aren't quite good enough and may never reach their ceilings. It's a shame, but that may be the reality. And as for the Avs, please trade Matt Duchene already.

Pacific:
1. Anaheim
2. Edmonton
3. Calgary
4. San Jose (WC2)
5. Los Angeles
6. Arizona
7. Las Vegas
8. Vancouver

As much as most of the hockey world (see analytics folks on Twitter) dislikes Randy Carlyle, he steered a very good Ducks team through some playoff demons last year before running into the Preds in the Conference Finals. Even though they lost Shea Theodore to Vegas (and the fact that they employ Francois Beauchemin and Kevin Bieksa), that blueline is ridiculously good. And for whatever reason, Carlyle gets the best out of grinders and players who otherwise wouldn't be very good. And with a good goaltending battery of Gibson/Miller, this team is a sure favorite in the West.

Edmonton had their taste last year, and is rightly considered a Cup contender thanks to a certain player that wears 97. And, as shocked as you may be to read this, according to CapFriendly on 10/3, the Oilers have the third lowest cap hit in hockey. That will soon change, but this may be their best chance at the Cup before the inevitable cap ceiling falls on their head. They can easily do it, too.

Down south in Alberta, the Flames may actually have goaltending now, they have a lights out D corps and Jaromir Jagr, so how could they not be considered a favorite? Mike Smith and Eddie Lack may not be quite good enough, and this team hopes it better not run into the Ducks again. In San Jose, there's no Patrick Marleau and a concerning lack of depth. They're close to running out of steam, but this may be their last hurrah, so for this day, they'll make the postseason.

The bottom of the Pacific is not so interesting, but there are some cool stories to be told. LA is trying to remake itself for the modern NHL without changing much of the roster, which means the next few years will be a gargantuan struggle. Arizona suddenly has a very interesting defense group, a fantastic group of young forwards lead by Clayton Keller and perhaps goaltending. This team is a sneaky playoff contender.

Vegas will be better than Vancouver, but saying that is honestly semantics since the Golden Knights are building, and the Canucks are rebuilding.

And here come the playoff predictions:

Conference Quarters:
TB (A1) over NYR (WC2) in 5
PIT (M1) over NYI (WC1) in 6
TOR (A2) over MTL (A3) in 7
WSH (M2) over CBJ (M3) in 6

ANA (P1) over SJ (WC2) in 5
NSH (C1) over MIN (WC1) in 6
EDM (P2) over CGY (P3) in 7
DAL (C2) over CHI (C3) in 5

Conference Semis:
TB (A1) over TOR (A2) in 6
PIT (M1) over WSH (M2) in 7 (I had to)

EDM (P2) over ANA (P1) in 5
DAL (C2) over NSH (C1) in 6

Conference Finals:
TB (A1) over PIT (M1) in 6
EDM (P2) over DAL (C2) in 6

Stanley Cup 2018:

Lightning over Oilers in 6, so once again, Florida prevents Canada from winning a Cup a la 14 years ago.

Awards Predictions:

Hart: Connor McDavid (EDM)
Art Ross: Connor McDavid (EDM)
Calder: Alex DeBrincat (CHI)
Norris: Victor Hedman (TB)
Vezina: Matt Murray (PIT)
Jack Adams: Mike Babcock (TOR)
First Coach Fired (not an award, but hey): Paul Maurice (WPG)

So there you have my 2017-18 NHL season predictions in a post you had to scroll halfway down the page to see all through. But at least you were therefore engaged. Time for hockey!

Monday, October 2, 2017

2017 MLB Predictions in Review (plus Playoff Predictions)

I sadly don't populate this blog with as much #content as I used to for various reasons, but one of the few things I enjoy putting here are pieces in which I look back on my season predictions for multiple leagues. Since we're in October, that means it's time to look back on the predictions I got hilariously wrong for the 2017 baseball season, and there are more than a few. Plus, if you stick around long enough, you'll see my predictions for the 2017 postseason, which should be awesome. Let's all get ready to laugh...

How I predicted the NL East: NYM, WSH, PHI, MIA, ATL
How it ended up: WSH, MIA, ATL, NYM, PHI

Let's just not talk about this, OK?

How I predicted the AL East: BOS, TOR, BAL, NYY, TB
How it ended up: BOS, NYY, TB, TOR, BAL

Behind the Red Sox and Yankees, everyone here was just about the same. The Rays may be on the way up and the O's and Jays could be on the way down, but in 2017, they were about equal. The Yankees rise would have been surprising in March, but hindsight tell us we should have been prepared.

How I predicted the NL Central: CHC, STL, PIT, MIL, CIN
How it ended up: CHC, MIL, STL, PIT, CIN

Milwaukee's run as a contender for a wild card spot to the very end was surprising, but they have a solid foundation to build upon for next season. The Cardinals underperformed again, but with money to spend, that doesn't seem likely in 2018.

How I predicted the AL Central: CLE, DET, KC, CHW, MIN
How it ended up: CLE, MIN, KC, CHW, DET

So the Twins became the first team in baseball history to lose 100 games one season, then make the playoffs the next. Their rise, coupled with their young talent, could establish them in the AL Central for years to come. The White Sox with their massive haul of young talent could be a contender for the playoffs next year as well. As for the Royals and Tigers, it's full on rebuilding time.

How I predicted the NL West: LAD, SF, COL, ARZ, SD
How it ended up: LAD, ARZ, COL, SD, SF

Not many expected the bottom to fall out for the Giants the way it did, nor did many expect the rise of the D'Backs and Rockies. Both, particularly Arizona, have really accelerated rebuilds and each could make some noise against the Dodgers, but they're still the head of the class.

How I predicted the AL West: HOU, SEA, TEX, ANA, OAK
How it ended up: HOU, LAA, SEA, TEX, OAK

Winning the World Series in 2017 looks more than possible for the Astros, who despite a midseason blip were entirely dominant all year. The Angels made a late run after Mike Trout got healthy, and the Mariners once again underperformed expectations badly. Not making that mistake again.

I successfully picked five out six division winners right and out of the 10 playoff teams, six out of 10. Not horrible, could have been better. My preseason World Series pick of Dodgers-Indians seems fairly plausible too, but with the field so wide open, it should be a fascinating postseason.

And now for the wrong awards predictions (thoughts on the picks in parenthesis):

AL MVP: Mike Trout (always safe before the season started, but injury derailed campaign. Should be Altuve)
NL MVP: Corey Seager (not a bad idea, but the Dodgers on the whole were too good as a team for this to come true. Should be Giancarlo because he's a monster, but Arenado and Goldschmidt could win it too. Joey Votto also deserves some love.)
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale (if only the season was cut short a bit, Kluber)
NL Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard (let's just not talk about this one, please. Kershaw and Scherzer, as per usual)
AL Rookie: Andrew Benintendi (he's good, but that Judge guy)
NL Rookie: Dansby Swanson (another one I'd like to forget. Cody Bellinger will win, but if Rhys Hoskins played more games...)
AL Manager: Scott Servais (whoops. AJ Hinch is the favorite, but how could Paul Molitor not get some love?)
NL Manager: Dave Roberts (if the Dodgers didn't slip up, he may have well won it. But Torey Lovullo and Bud Black should be favorites for getting their teams where they did).

And now, since you stuck around in this piece to here, here are your 2017 MLB postseason predictions:

AL Wild Card Game: Yankees over Twins
NL Wild Card Game: D'Backs over Rockies

ALDS: Indians over Yankees in 4
             Astros over Red Sox in 5

NLDS: Dodgers over D'Backs in 4
            Cubs over Nationals in 5

ALCS: Indians over Astros in 7

NLCS: Dodgers over Cubs in 6

2017 World Series: Dodgers over Indians in 6. Can't change what I thought before the season now, can I?

Enjoy the postseason!



Thursday, September 28, 2017

2017 Week 4 Fantasy Advice: The Column that proves we all know nothing

Something that is a guarantee in fantasy football is that you can meticulously plan out all of your moves, draft strategies and lineups, but reality is often times way weirder than fantasy. Take a couple of fantasy defenses from Baltimore and Tampa. They had, on paper, very favorable matchups which should have been gimmes for them in a fantasy sense. But... nope. But as we reach the quarter pole of the season, more trends from this season will become crystallized, allowing you to make better decisions going forward. Or, at the very least, be tricked less.

Start of the Week: RB Jay Ajayi (MIA) vs. NO LONDON:

Didn't his matchup against the Jets last week look so promising? Well, it was one of week three's best tricks. He was awful against the Jets, but the question will be can he take another promising matchup here against the Saints in London and reverse last week's dud? One would hope so. If Ajayi can't do what he needs to do here, then it may be time to start asking questions.

Who to Start:

QB Marcus Mariota (TEN) at HOU: The Texans secondary is a mish-mash of injuries and bad luck through the first three games of 2017, and they were lit up by Tom Brady last week. Mariota has been one of the more reliable fantasy QB's through the early part of this season, and that should likely continue against this rough Texas secondary.

RB Joe Mixon (CIN) at CLE: Finally, it seems that Mixon is getting the bulk of the workload in the crowded Bengals backfield. While he's not a RB1 at this point, he is decent number two or flex option against Cleveland, whose defense hasn't stopped anybody this season.

WR DeAndre Hopkins (HOU) vs. TEN: Logic would suggest that this Titans-Texans game will be a defensive slugfest, but it will likely be the exact opposite. Hopkins has been lethal against the Titans in his career, including a nine catch, 238 yard, two TD performance a few years ago. Tennessee's defense has given up fantasy points to wideouts this season at a bigger clip than expected, so Hopkins is a solid option here.

WR Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ) vs. SF: Hopefully Fitz doesn't think about retiring anytime soon if he can continue to put in performances like he did Monday night against Dallas. He has owned the 49ers in his career, and if Kyle Shanahan's defense plays like it did against the Rams, Fitz will go off again.

TE Kyle Rudolph (MIN) vs. DET: The tight end position has been awful this year in fantasy, so even for a player like Rudolph, whose production has declined the first three weeks of the season, it's hard to bench him against the Lions even with QB uncertainty. Evan Engram had a good game against them two weeks ago when the Lions had a lot of road defending to do.

DEF Seattle vs. IND: Jacoby Brissett hasn't exactly been bad for the Colts this season, but heading into Seattle to play a defense that got bullied last week who needs a strong performance badly is probably a sure bet. Even with Brissett, teams have been able to find success against the Colts backups before.

Sit of the Week: QB Jameis Winston (TB) vs. NYG

Winston is still not a bad fantasy option down the line, but this week against the Giants, he might be a desperation play at best. For everything the Giants haven't done well, they have played well against opposing signal callers, holding down Prescott, Stafford and Wentz already this season.

Who to Sit:

QB Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) at BAL: He is a horrible fantasy option away from home against almost every team at this point in his career, and going up against a motivated Ravens team in a rivalry game doesn't bode well for him if he can't set poor defenses like Cleveland's and Chicago's alight.

RB Ameer Abdullah (DET) at MIN: In spite of the Lions increased focus on running the football, Abdullah hasn't quite met expectations. 46 carries for 163 yards and six catches for 50 yards won't cut it. The Vikings defense has been stout this season, especially at home, so Abdullah, despite his draft position, is a risky play.

WR Amari Cooper (OAK) at DEN: Where did Amari Cooper, and the entire Raiders offense, go last week in Washington? They almost entirely disappeared, and going up against that "no-fly zone" in Denver, Cooper could be in big trouble. In four career starts against Denver, Cooper only has 14 catches for 142 yards and one TD. This bodes poorly for him on Sunday.

WR Terrelle Pryor (WSH) at KC MON: Before the season, I had my concerns about Pryor as a viable high end WR2. His successes last year with Cleveland seemed like a brief flash more than anything else, and though he's getting his targets, he's not producing for fantasy owners. Marcus Peters lining up on the other side of him on Monday won't make his owners feel any better, I'd bet.

TE Julius Thomas (MIA) vs. NO LONDON: Remember when Julius Thomas and Adam Gase worked together in Denver? Thomas was one of the most dominant tight ends in football. Through two games, Thomas has only 42 receiving yards and has been targeted eight times total. Even though the Saints defense is awful, with Thomas, you should still be in wait and see mode.

DEF Tennessee at HOU: Even though the Titans D looks like a good matchup on paper against a rookie QB, DeShaun Watson isn't just any rookie. He's looked solid in his first two starts, and the Titans have been prone to giving up yards and points.

Three Super Sleepers:

QB Carson Palmer (ARZ) vs. SF: He's still so feast and famine that it's hard to recommend starting him, but if you're in a pinch and in a two QB league for example and need another quick fix option, Palmer against the 49ers isn't exactly a bad one. Over the long haul, the 49ers defense is likely to look more like it did against the Rams than the Seahawks, so Palmer has a chance this week to be quite successful.

RB Chris Carson (SEA) vs. IND: He's starting to get his fair share of touches and looks, but the concern with Seattle running backs is the offensive line they're playing behind. But against the Colts, there should be a little bit of a reprieve for Carson, because the Colts can't really stop anyone right now.

WR Keenan Allen (LAC) vs. PHI: The Eagles secondary is banged up, and while Allen hasn't quite hit the heights many of us expected him to quite yet, the Eagles secondary could be a decent tonic for those problems.

Buyer Beware:

RB Leonard Fournette (JAX) vs. NYJ: Fournette has gotten his touches and his touchdowns, but not a ton of yards. He has 199 yards on 57 carries, good for only 3.5 yards a carry. Eight catches for 66 yards doesn't exactly make up for that. The Jets defense was surprisingly stout against Miami, and you know they'll key in to stop Fournette as best they can as that might be their only chance of success. You're likely starting Fournette if you have him, but know the risks if you do.

Good luck in Week 4!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

2017 Week 3 Fantasy Advice: The Column that injured your highest draft picks

Bad football, ratings are down and your highest of draft picks are all injured: seems like quite the flying start for most of us in the world of fantasy football. The good news is that things can only go up from here, right? This column always expects the worst, and for good reason (have you read it since 2010? That'll tell you), so be prepared for more debilitating injuries, nine carry, eight yard games for Ezekiel Elliot and offensively bad QB play.

And no, these opening paragraphs for this column are not ripping off Matthew Berry's fantasy show in any way. This column has been around longer than Berry's attempt to make a fantasy football version of Pee Wee's Playhouse (you're awesome Matt).

Start of the Week: QB Derek Carr (OAK) at WSH

Somehow, Derek Carr was not as highly regarded in the world of fantasy as he probably should have been, and his first two performances this season have been excellent. Washington's secondary looked OK against Jared Goff, but struggled against Carson Wentz and the Eagles in Week 1, and Carr is better than both of those QB's and then some. He is one of the best QB options this week.

Who to Start:

QB Matthew Stafford (DET) vs. ATL: The Falcons defense is still very good, but without Vic Beasley they lack a little of that extra punch. Stafford is also a far better QB at home than he is on the road as well. His decision making has looked quite a bit better in 2017, which means debilitating and dumb interceptions are on the way down. Even though at first glance this matchup isn't wonderful, it's one worth considering.

RB Carlos Hyde (SF) vs. LAR THU: Hyde was able to break through a bit against a stout Seahawks defense, and that is saying something. Since the 49ers have very few legitimate options, they'll turn to Hyde to create something, and odds are against the Rams, who were destroyed on the ground last week by Washington, there's a chance Hyde has a breakout game.

WR Kelvin Benjamin (CAR) vs. NO: Carolina's offense has been... poor to say the least, but if there's any week where they can and will break out, it'll be this week against the absolutely pathetic Saints defense. Benjamin should see an uptick in production with Greg Olsen out, and most everyone on the Panthers offense figures to be good fantasy plays this week.

WR Keenan Allen (LAC) vs. KC: It's good to see Keenan Allen looking healthy and at his best after his injuries last season, and he's taking the majority of the snaps and seeing a healthy number of targets. In spite of what you may think, the Chiefs do give up fantasy points to wide receivers at a decent clip, and Allen will get his action this Sunday as the best option for the StubHub Chargers on offense.

TE Zach Ertz (PHI) vs. NYG: Ertz has been one of the league's most solid tight ends for a good while now, but he's never gotten the pub he deserves for being one of the better PPR options at tight end. He's seeing plenty of love from Carson Wentz, and his start to the season is no fluke. The Giants have linebacker issues, which will lead to issues defending tight ends, so Ertz figures to be in the spotlight on Sunday.

DEF Baltimore vs. JAX LONDON: This should have been obvious before, but any defense playing against the Jaguars (except maybe the Jets) is a wonderful fantasy play because Blake Bortles is Blake Bortles. The Ravens defense is also a machine, which helps.

Sit of the Week: QB Russell Wilson (SEA) at TEN

I've always thought Russell Wilson was a better fantasy option than most people, but my opinion on that is slowly changing as I cringe watching the Seahawks offense and their horrible offensive line. Tennessee's defense is a machine and underrated, so with the Seahawks offensive troubles, Wilson is someone you should avoid this week if you can.

Who to Sit:

QB Jameis Winston (TB) at MIN: I love Jameis just as much if not more as a fantasy option than even Russell Wilson. But with last week's season debut, it was mainly academic for my fantasy crush since the Bucs crushed the Bears. This week, it's a less than stellar matchup that might hurt Jameis in Minnesota, since the Vikings defense did a number on both Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger.

RB Joe Mixon (CIN) at GB: Backfields with three options are always riddles to figure out, and if you own Joe Mixon, that riddle is not yet solved. He's splitting snaps with Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill, and it beats me to figure out who is the workhouse, handcuff, etc. We keep saying that eventually it will be Mixon's time, but that time evidently isn't now.

WR Marvin Jones (DET) vs. ATL: He's quickly losing favor to Kenny Golladay both in reality and in fantasy terms as the Lions begin to turn away from him as the primary receiver. He does have a touchdown and has played a ton of snaps, but that isn't turning into fantasy production. Desmond Trufant also makes for a tough matchup too.

WR Sammy Watkins (LAR) at SF THU: After trading all of that capital to acquire Watkins from Buffalo, the Rams have done precisely nothing with him and he's been surpassed as a fantasy option by rookie Cooper Kupp. The 49ers defense has been tougher than expected early in the season, so keep Watkins away from any starting lineup everywhere.

TE Tyler Eifert (CIN) at GB: A friend of mine who owns Eifert texted me earlier in the week, "I'm done with his BS". While I might not go that far, his injuries are problematic, and this is hurting a player who is so very good when he does play, but heading into Green Bay with the injuries he's carrying, it's seriously hard to start him.

An alternative option at TE since I don't like recommending starting or sitting two players from the same team: David Njoku (CLE). Only four targets thus far this season as he grows into the offense, and that growing process is still in its infancy.

DEF Houston at NE: Houston's fantasy defense looked great in Cincy last Thursday, but the Patriots are not the Bengals, and Tom Brady is certainly not Andy Dalton.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Cam Newton (CAR) vs. NO: I'm concerned about his health, his offensive line and his sudden lack of Greg Olsen. But for this week, he's worth a flyer against the Saints, who as this column has already mentioned essentially doesn't play defense.

RB "Buck" Allen (BAL) vs. JAX LONDON: While he's still splitting carries and touches to an extent with Terrance West, he's starting to take on more of the workload. As the Ravens inevitably wear out the Jaguars defense since they'll be on the field a ton, Allen has a chance to do what Derrick Henry did last week: eat up points as the game wears on.

DEF Indianapolis vs. CLE: This has the makings of a very ugly game between two 0-2 teams with no QB's. Even Cleveland's defense is not a terrible fantasy option, but the Colts are probably a slightly better idea, considering they weren't all that bad against Arizona last week.

Buyer Beware:

WR DeAndre Hopkins (HOU) at NE: If you have Hopkins, you're probably starting him because you drafted him as WR1. But, the Patriots will do what they always do: scheme to take your best player away in every way possible. DeAndre Hopkins has looked good in the six quarters of football he's played at times, but at the Patriots is another challenge entirely, which means Hopkins will have troubles too.

Good luck in Week 3!


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

2017 Week 2 Fantasy Advice: The Column is coming for your Brains

It's not dead yet, and I'm not talking about your team if you drafted David Johnson #1 overall. No, this column is still going after it made its triumphant return from the dead last week. Week 1 in every NFL season is ripe for overreaction, and certainly this column will likely be guilty of it at points, but we pride ourselves (and by we I mean me and my imaginary fantasy friends) on brevity and calmness of mind and process. So as this column chugs along, trying to eat other ones like it alive, remember that there are 16 weeks of football left, and plenty more overreactions to come.

Quick aside: We're probably not going to recommend any players against the Jets in this column, because that would be too obvious. We have to work for our meager page clicks here. 

Start of the Week: Doug Baldwin (SEA) vs. SF

He was only targeted four times last week against the Packers, but that was largely because Wilson was running for his life against a resurgent Packers defense. Baldwin will certainly see more targets against the 49ers, who will be up for a tougher challenge this week on the road against a non-rusty QB.

Who to Start:

QB Jameis Winston (TB) vs. CHI: I am a huge Jameis Winston fan in fantasy, and will be riding on his shoulders all year. The Bears defense played up against the Falcons last weekend, but isn't that impressive. Winston and his cadre of weapons should be primed for success in their delayed season opener this weekend.

RB Dalvin Cook (MIN) vs. PIT: Anyone who can break a record originally held by Adrian Peterson is doing something right, and that's what Cook did Monday night against the Saints. The Steelers on the road are a step up in class, however that defense wasn't at its best against the Browns and may not have Stephon Tuitt for a bit.

WR Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ) at IND: Yes, he and the Cardinals were bad last weekend in Detroit. But this week, they're facing the appalling bad Colts who handed Jared Goff the best game of his young career, and that says way more about the Colts than it does Goff. Without David Johnson, the Cardinals will lean more on the regulars and old faces like Fitz to guide them through, and this is a plum matchup for that.

WR Tyreek Hill (KC) vs. PHI: He will continue to rack up points, especially in PPR leagues, if he can come anywhere close to replicating his performance against the Patriots last Thursday. The Eagles won't have Ronald Darby, which makes this matchup even better for Hill and Alex Smith.

TE Delanie Walker (TEN) at JAX: While the Jaguars defense was amazing last week, Houston tight ends (three of them) still performed relatively well. Walker has also played well against the Jaguars in the past, and its not likely the Jaguars are going to match their performance against Houston against a better Titans team. Walker is a sneaky play this week that could pay off big.

DEF Baltimore vs. CLE: Since we're not in the business of telling you the obvious: start whoever is playing against the Jets, how about the Ravens? They shut out the Bengals, and even though they've dealt with some tough injuries on that side of the ball, they are a very talented yet underrated unit. Hosting a rookie QB is a fantastic matchup for the Ravens.

Sit of the Week: Frank Gore (IND) vs. ARZ

Gore defied time and logic last season, but with the carries and touches he's sharing with Robert Turbin and rookie Marlon Mack, that doesn't help his cause this season. Even with the Colts trotting out either Scott Tolzien or Jacoby Brissett this weekend and needing to rely on the run, Gore is a big risk.

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Stafford (DET) at NYG MON: While the Giants weren't impressive last weekend, it wasn't their defense that was the problem. And though Stafford lit up the Cardinals secondary, the Giants defense is a sterner test and may show us more about Stafford and the Lions offense this time around.

RB Tarik Cohen (CHI) at TB: Cohen played so well last week as a spell for Jordan Howard, so naturally he's a good play down the lineup this week, right? Well, consider Tampa's defense a sterner test than Atlanta's, and that it's still somewhat unclear how touches will be divvied up between he and Howard. Cohen will be good in fantasy, maybe even next week, but this week, perhaps not.

WR Sammy Watkins (LAR) vs. WSH: Should you be worried that Watkins saw fewer snaps than both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp? Maybe. Should you be even more worried that Watkins is going up against Josh Norman, who is still very good at his job? Probably more so.

WR Kenny Golladay (DET) at NYG MON: Normally, I wouldn't put two players from the same team in this portion of the column, however Golladay is a prime case of buying high, especially when his exploits are now on tape. The Giants will key in on the rookie as a prime player to take away, and so expect his numbers to fall this week.

TE Jordan Reed (WSH) at LAR: Reed is still not 100% healthy, which is a problem. The Rams defense also has confidence, which itself is a problem. And the Washington offense is also not quite in gear yet, which is likely the biggest problem Reed faces at the Coliseum on Sunday.

DEF Minnesota at PIT: The Vikings have an insanely talented defense that is one of the best units in football. However, even those best units will struggle against the Steelers offense, which though not at its best, still gave Antonio Brown 182 yards receiving. As they start to mesh and click, even the best defenses will need to be weary.

3 Super Sleepers:
QB Sam Bradford (MIN) at PIT: Is Sam Bradford a good and viable fantasy option after last year's disaster? Certainly the early returns from Monday night are encouraging. And he gets to face another less than stellar defense in Pittsburgh, with plenty of offensive weapons and confidence. If you lack a better option, Bradford isn't a bad choice.

RB Javorius "Buck" Allen (BAL) vs. CLE: With Danny Woodhead out for half of the season, it'll be a mixture of the other Buck in Baltimore and Terrance West to split touches. While Allen may not be the number one, he's shown explosive potential in the past and is certainly a possibility this week and for the immediate fantasy future.

WR Chris Hogan (NE) at NO: The Patriots offense won't struggle like it did against the Chiefs again. The Saints defense is also very bad. So Hogan, who has to see more looks with the injuries to the Pats receivers, will likely be successful.

Buyer Beware:

QB Kirk Cousins (WSH) at LAR: He was a relatively decent QB1 prospect this summer, but the performance against the Eagles left a lot to be desired. He's not particularly a great option this week, but remember, once is an accident, twice is a trend. If there's another poor performance on the cards for Cousins in LA, the future may start looking bleaker for him as a fantasy play.

Good luck in Week 2!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

2017 Week 1 Fantasy Advice: the Zombie Column Returns!

For the first six NFL seasons on the blog, I wrote a weekly fantasy advice column not just as a passion project, but also because of my love of fantasy football that kept growing through time. I'd bet almost half the posts on this blog are fantasy columns. Last year, I didn't write one because I thought I'd be too busy with a job to write it again. That wasn't true, and it's also not true this year. It's also a place for me to scratch my fantasy itch because I don't have a team or a league this year because I have no friends. But that doesn't mean I can't help the few who read this blog with fantasy advice they may or may not need. The column has returned, so let's get back to work.

Start of the Week: QB Marcus Mariota (TEN) vs. OAK

Mariota will finally have a full compliment of healthy receivers for this game, and looked to show no ill effects of his injury from the tail end of last season. He faces a Raiders secondary that isn't as good as you'd think, especially with the injury to David Amerson. It also wouldn't be a shock to see the Titans begin to throw the ball more than they have despite the success of "exotic smashmouth".

Who to Start:

QB Carson Palmer (ARZ) at DET: Thanks to injuries to Andrew Luck and hurricane enforced bye weeks, Palmer is a good stopgap if you need one. He has a healthy receiving corps, David Johnson, and faces a less than stellar Detroit defense. He always has bust potential too, but the boom potential this week is exciting.

RB Dalvin Cook (MIN) vs. NO MON: He's been less heralded than his fellow rookie RB's in Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, but he has the potential to be quite a solid option all season, depending on how he and Latavius Murray split touches. Regardless of how many he gets on Monday, the Saints defense is one almost every opposing offense will have success against, so Cook could get his career in fantasy off to a great start.

WR Sammy Watkins (LAR) vs. IND: I don't trust Jared Goff yet, and neither should you. But, Sammy Watkins has experience putting up numbers with less than stellar QB in Buffalo, so even with questions over who is throwing him the ball, the Colts defense without Vontae Davis poor defending the pass. Watkins should get off to a great start with the Rams.

WR Martavis Bryant (PIT) at CLE: The Steelers have so many weapons on offense that the biggest problem for fantasy players might be deciphering how the love gets spread around. Bryant, now back from a season-long suspension, figures to get plenty of looks from Big Ben and should be very successful against the Browns, who still don't have a good secondary.

TE Jason Witten (DAL) vs. NYG: He's not a number one fantasy tight end anymore, but he always seems to do well against the Giants, no matter how good their defense is. As teams key in on Dak, Zeke and Dez, Witten will occupy the soft spots in defensive schemes which will offer him the chance to be a decent fantasy option all season.

DEF Houston vs. JAX: Start every team's defense when they play against the Jaguars. This should be obvious from last year, and Houston's defense has the trio of Clowney, Watt and Mercilus on the field together for the first time ever. They could make some big noise on Sunday.

Sit of the Week: Joe Mixon (CIN) vs. BAL

Mixon has quite the crowded backfield to sort through before inevitably becoming the starter, but that day isn't going to be on Sunday against a stout Ravens defense. Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard will siphon touches from Mixon, and the Ravens defense looks to be one of the sneaky good units in football. Mixon's time will come, but not right now.

Who to Sit:

QB Philip Rivers (LAC) at DEN MON: Rivers could end up being fantastic this season, but he's never played well against the Broncos. He's only had one dynamite fantasy outing in the last six games against Denver dating back to 2014, and even though his receiving corps is healthy, Denver's D is still fairly stout despite a fair amount of attrition. Avoid Rivers for now.

RB Leonard Fournette (JAX) at HOU: Fournette could still be really good this season, and should be a contender for offensive rookie of the year despite the Jaguars ineptitude. But his offensive line is a mess, and he's likely not 100% healed from that foot injury. No Jags RB has scored against the Texans since 2013.

WR T.Y Hilton (IND) at LAR: Scott Tolzien is starting at QB, which makes T.Y Hilton a very dangerous fantasy play. Hilton only had three catches for 54 yards last season in Tolzien's lone start, and only has 630 yards in 10 career games without Luck playing. Hilton is so talented, but he may be QB dependent, making him a dangerous fantasy play.

WR Dez Bryant (DAL) vs. NYG: Another player you probably drafted fairly high, but has risk written all over him.  The Giants always seem to defend Dez well, but his numbers weren't what many expected from him last season, particularly against Big Blue. If you have Bryant, you're probably starting him, though beware what could be some troubles ahead.

TE Eric Ebron (DET) vs. ARZ: The Cardinals always defend tight ends well, and it's also tough to play a player coming off a hamstring injury as Ebron is. He's also not proven enough as a fantasy option to play him in a brutal matchup.

DEF Kansas City at NE THU: This seems inevitable, but because the Chiefs D is so good, you may start them anyway. But don't. Tonight is the Pats show, and while the Chiefs D will be really good the rest of the way, the start of their season could be plenty rough.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Sam Bradford (MIN) vs. NO MON: Even Sam Bradford is a worthy fantasy play against the Saints defense, which is seemingly getting worse with each passing season. If you have a Luck or Winston problem, Bradford could be a great stopgap.

RB Adrian Peterson (NO) at MIN MON: The Saints backfield is a crowded one with Mark Ingram getting the majority of touches in all likelihood, but with Peterson embracing the revenge game angle in ways many players don't, watch for him to be a sneaky flex play. Don't be surprised if he goes off.

TE C.J Fiedorowicz (HOU) vs. JAX: Tom Savage will need a safety blanket, and his number one tight end could be the guy against the Jaguars. Jacksonville has never defended the tight end well, and Fiedorowicz could easily benefit this week. He's a deep sleeper, but not a bad play either.

Buyer Beware: QB Dak Prescott (DAL) vs. NYG

I love Dak. He was so great as a rookie running and passing the ball, but not only did he struggle against the Giants, he's a prime regression candidate because of his running successes. Dak will have plenty of time to improve his play, but the Giants D has flummoxed the Cowboys in recent year. Dak is not the best start this week, especially if you have better options.

Welcome back this wonderful column, and enjoy the start of the football season.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

2017 NFL Season Predictions

After an offseason of dull and inane non-stories, controversies and mindless talk of the Patriots going 16-0, the new NFL season is upon us. At long last, we can talk about controversies and mindless non-stories on the field instead of off it. We can obsess over the minutae of our fantasy teams (except me, because I have no friends and no league), marvel at how good some of the league's standard bearers are, and laugh at the dumpster fires once again instead of saying how we're going to do these thing. So, below you'll find this blog's official NFL season predictions for the eighth consecutive season. Let's get down to business:

AFC East:

1. Patriots 13-3
2. Dolphins 7-9
3. Bills 5-11
4. Jets 3-13

There should not be any surprises here. Though the Patriots have lost Julian Edelman for the season, they are still insanely deep and have Tom Brady. The talk of 16-0 was premature and ridiculous, but this team is dynastic for a reason. They go into the season as favorites to repeat for good reason. What the Dolphins did last season to make the playoffs was impressive, but to pull off the same feat with the injuries they've suffered, playing 16 straight weeks and yes, Jay Cutler would be a testament to Adam Gase and that front office that just isn't there.

In Buffalo, they're looking towards a future with Josh Rosen, Josh Allen or Sam Darnold and not with Tyrod Taylor after their bizarre training camp trades, and Sean McDermott's comments that LeSean McCoy could play every snap this season don't inspire much confidence. 1999 will still be a halcyon year for Bills fans. And as for the Jets... the less said, the better (I don't predict records better than 13-3 or 3-13, for the record).

NFC East:

1. Cowboys 11-5
2. Giants 10-6
3. Eagles 8-8
4. Washington 7-9

The NFC's toughest division looks at this point to shape up much the same way it did a season ago, with the Cowboys as standard bearers and everyone else following suit. While Dallas won't be quite as good a year ago thanks to a talent drain on the offensive line and on defense, they have Dak, Zeke, Dez and the league's best offensive line anyway.  The Giants defense figures to be impressive, even though their best player is not one of their big free agent signings of past years. Their offensive issues remain basically the same as in past years, but they should have enough to contend for a wild card spot regardless.

In Philadelphia, Carson Wentz should improve, as should the Eagles defense, especially the secondary. But they still have more room to grow, which will become apparent multiple times this season. But this team has good upside and it wouldn't be a shock to see them contending in December. Washington, two years removed from winning the NFC East, have the major Kirk Cousins questions hanging over the head, uncertainty at the skill positions after all the transition there and the nagging feeling that the franchise is on the edge of falling off the tracks. That derails what could be a playoff contending season for them.

AFC North:

1. Pittsburgh 12-4
2. Cincinnati 9-7
3. Baltimore 7-9
4. Cleveland 4-12

These aren't your father's Steelers. Suspect on defense in spots, but home to potentially the league's most dynamic offense, the Steelers were AFC runners up last season and figure to be major contenders again; perhaps New England's toughest test. The schedule is favorable too. If the defense takes the next step, and that's a big if, they could pip the Pats to the AFC post. In Cincy, Marvin Lewis still has his job, and the Bengals have been reloading through the draft as best they can. In John Ross and Joe Mixon, they have potential impact rookies to join with their established core, and the schedule is also favorable. But there are offensive line questions and the lingering doubts about whether Lewis is long in the tooth as a head coach remain. They won't be as bad as they were a season ago, but the playoffs may be just out of reach.

Joe Flacco is healthy enough for Week 1, which is great news for the Ravens, but their offense still leaves a whole lot to be desired. While the defense may be enough to keep them in contention for a while, it can't carry an offensively challenged team to the playoffs. There simply hasn't been enough investment and talent identification on that side of the ball. And in Cleveland, there is hope, but a lot of it won't be seen this season. They'll have their moments, but the best they can hope for by Lake Erie is that this rebuild will at long last be the successful one.

NFC North:

1. Green Bay 12-4
2. Minnesota 8-8
3. Detroit 7-9
4. Chicago 5-11

The Packers are the Packers, and whether they can make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2011 falls on their defense. Aaron Rodgers makes everyone around him better, but can his play elevate Green Bay's somewhat suspect defense? With Sam Bradford at QB, the Vikings are the definition of OK. With Teddy Bridgewater they had upward momentum, but that all slammed shut last year. They have decent playmakers on the offensive side of the ball and a solid defense, but nothing that stands out in a competitive NFC.

Detroit has the highest paid QB in NFL history and... not much else. They made the playoffs last year but that came because they were preposterously good in close games, and if there isn't a sure sign of regression, that may be the closest there is. And in Chicago, Mitchell Trubisky will be starting by the end of November, which isn't going to be bad for a team in transition that will rely heavily on Jordan Howard to shoulder the offensive load with Cameron Meredith shelved for the season.

AFC South:

1. Tennessee 11-5
2. Houston 9-7
3. Indianapolis 7-9
4. Jacksonville 4-12

This is the time for the Titans to wrest control of the AFC South. They have the best (and healthiest) QB in the division, an offensive identity and style and an improving defense. Mariota's week 16 injury only temporarily stopped their momentum. It's hard to see them not winning this division this year. Houston will be motivated by Hurricane Harvey's devastating impact on their city, and with J.J Watt healthy, they will certainly have the defense to back it up. But because of starting Tom Savage, and Lamar Miller showing signs of wear and tear, they won't have enough to beat Tennessee, but will be a wild card contender.

The Colts have so badly bungled Andrew Luck's health, new GM or not that its frankly insulting to a player of his caliber. The offensive line, a huge area of concern, looks no better than it did last season meaning that when Luck comes back, he won't be able to stand upright and find a bevy of impressive weapons. As for the Jaguars, Blake Bortles is a bust and his ineptitude will overshadow how good the defense could be and how much Leonard Fournette will run the ball.

NFC South:

1. Atlanta 11-5
2. Tampa Bay 10-6
3. Carolina 8-8
4. New Orleans 6-10

Can Atlanta overcome the usual Super Bowl hangover and then all of the 28-3 jokes to get back to the promised land? They're saying all the right things, and they certainly have the offense to do it, but the defense looks to be solid as well. In a division with many other question marks, they seem to be the most sure thing. After watching Hard Knocks, how can you not be excited to drink the Bucs Kool-aid? Jameis Winston and his offensive weapons look to be primed to take the next step, and the defense is no slouch either. They're a for sure playoff contender, and they could easily get there too and win the division.

Carolina and their new run focused offense has a chance to be successful, but this is not the team that went 15-1 two seasons ago. They have a chance to recapture some of that magic perhaps, but some of that momentum feels a bit left in the pages of history. And in New Orleans, its up to Drew Brees to keep a team with a sinking offense and a horrendous defense afloat, and this may be the season when the Saints run out of gas.

AFC West:

1. Oakland 11-5
2. Kansas City 11-5
3. LA Chargers 8-8
4. Denver 7-9

So many think that the Raiders won't have the luck or the guile to win the AFC West, but I disagree. Derek Carr will be more motivated than ever, and the defense while having some holes, is coached by Jack Del Rio who is quite the defense coach. Their schedule is a major impediment, and being a lame duck team also doesn't help. Kansas City has the stability of Andy Reid, Alex Smith and a ferocious defense to overcome the loss of Spencer Ware, but perhaps not quite enough to win the division.

Many think this is finally the year for the Chargers to be healthy and live up to their potential under Anthony Lynn, but the team has some unfortunate injury luck that never seems to leave them and some units that leave a lot to be desired, particularly their linebacking group without Denzel Perryman. And they're playing in a MLS stadium. They should not be allowed to host a NFL playoff game at StubHub Center. As for the Super Bowl 50 champions, they are feeling the squeeze of the salary cap and age curves, as well as Paxton Lynch not panning out the way so many hoped he would. Trevor Siemian is not inspiring. A lack of Wade Phillips calling the defensive plays will also hurt, as will a brutal schedule.

NFC West:

1. Seattle 12-4
2. Arizona 9-7
3. LA Rams 6-10
4. San Francisco 4-12

Adding Sheldon Richardson to that fearsome defensive line only makes the Seahawks even better, but much of this season falls on the shoulders, legs and arms of Russell Wilson, and he seems ready to take control once again, that is, if his offensive line keeps him upright. They have all the tools to be incredibly competitive in a wide open NFC. Arizona is going with a old west last chance saloon season for Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and company, and in the wild west, anything can happen. In this case, it means the Cardinals fall just short of the playoffs thanks to Carson Palmer showing his age. David Johnson can't do it all.

The Rams will improve this season, but not a whole lot. Todd Gurley and Sammy Watkins will be a big part of that, but Jared Goff is still a major question mark, and the Aaron Donald holdout will loom over them all season. The 49ers have a good plan in place, and seemingly the right people to execute it, but no players yet to do so.

Playoff Predictions:

AFC:

1. New England 13-3
2. Pittsburgh 12-4
3. Tennessee 11-5
4. Oakland 11-5
5. Kansas City 11-5
6. Cincinnati 9-7 (beats Houston in Week 2)

AFC Wild Cards: 3. Tennessee over 6. Cincinnati
                               5. Kansas City over 4. Oakland

AFC Divisional Round: 1. New England over 5. Kansas City
                                         2. Pittsburgh over 3. Tennessee

AFC Championship: 1. New England over 2. Pittsburgh

NFC:

1. Green Bay 12-4
2. Seattle 12-4
3. Atlanta 11-5
4. Dallas 11-5
5. New York Giants 10-6
6. Tampa Bay 10-6

NFC Wild Cards: 3. Atlanta over 6. Tampa Bay
                                5. New York Giants over 4. Dallas

NFC Divisional Round: 1. Green Bay over 5. New York Giants
                                          2. Seattle over 3. Atlanta

NFC Championship Game: 2. Seattle over 1. Green Bay

Super Bowl 52: New England over Seattle, 27-20.

Award Predictions:

MVP: Tom Brady (NE)
OPOY: Le'Veon Bell (PIT)
DPOY: J.J Watt (HOU)
Coach: Dirk Koetter (TB)
Offensive Rookie: Christian McCaffrey (CAR)
Defensive Rookie: Myles Garrett (CLE, hope he's healthy)
Comeback: J.J Watt (HOU, could it be anyone else?)

Most of my season predictions don't go so well, but the league feels so stratified now that I'm more confident than ever in these picks. That will be my demise come January, inevitably.

Let's stop talking about football, and instead, let's watch football.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

2017-18 Premier League Predictions post Transfer Deadline

   Three weeks ago, I wrote a Premier League predictions piece with plenty of transfer window to come. Because the transfer window ends after each team has played a few games, it meant that teams weren't as complete as they would be. Now, the transfer window has slammed shut, Big Ben isn't chiming anymore (but that was already the case), and Jim White has been cryogenically until this time next year. It's time to take a look at the Premier League as all of the transfer dust has settled.

Relegation:

20. Brighton and Hove Albion
19. Burnley
18. Huddersfield Town

No changes to this group despite Huddersfield and Burnley getting off to surprising starts. Brighton have made a bunch of moves, but their squad still lacks Premier League quality in many places. Burnley were incredibly lucky in their first two road fixtures, and that luck isn't likely to continue into the future, though they seem to have adequately replaced Andre Gray. And though Huddersfield is off to a flying start, it stands to reason that the better teams in the league will expose their frailties. None of their late transfer business really changes their place in the table.

Relegation fodder:

17. Crystal Palace (were 16th initially)
16. Newcastle United (were 11th initially)
15. Swansea City (were 17th initially)
14. Watford (were 14th initially)

Crystal Palace's transfer window was pretty shocking, and their start to the campaign was equally so. Frank De Boer is under pressure and though the Eagles will adapt to his system eventually you'd think, will he be around to see that happen? Newcastle had more transfer window drama and their squad is still very thin in places (see left back), but Rafa has enough there to keep them just out of the relegation places. Swansea's place is more secure after adding in Renato Sanches on loan, but also bringing back Wilfried Bony will help them replace the goals they lost when Fernando Llorente moved to Spurs. And Watford continued their trend of bringing in a hoard of players they'll probably never use, but their start to the season ensures that they're probably safe again. Marco Silva has the managerial talent and young Richarlison is quite the find.

Safe, but not secure:

13. Bournemouth (were 11th initially)
12. West Ham United (were 9th initially)
11. Stoke City (were 13th initially)

Bournemouth's start to the season is concerning, but they still have the attacking ability and the manager to get them out of their little funk, though it is concerning to see that they haven't really strengthened the squad outside of bringing in Jermain Defoe as a reserve. They should be OK though. The same is likely the case with West Ham, though Slaven Bilic is under immense pressure with his team looking quite poor. They haven't played a home game yet though, and they started slow last year though eventually got it right. Stoke City is so weird, because they seem to have stagnated but with shrewd additions like Jese and Eric Maxim Choupo-Mouting, they should be good enough to steer clear of the relegation mire, though again, that stagnation is a concerning prospect.

Best of the Rest:

10. West Bromwich Albion (were 14th initially)
9. Leicester City
8. Southampton
7. Everton 

How does Tony Pulis pull off what he manages to pull off? Signing Grzegorz Krychowiak on loan from PSG is a masterstroke, as is getting the highly touted Oliver Burke. Once they get 40 points, they will head to the beach until next season, but they could easily hit that Pulis magic number way sooner than in past years. No changes for Leicester, Saints or Everton despite their flurry of activity. Leicester somehow managed to hold onto Riyad Mahrez against the odds, and have given Arsenal and United good tests at their grounds already. Combine that with their ability to easily dispatch teams below them, they're a mid-table team easy. Southampton also somehow kept Virgil Van Dijk and strengthened their defense too with Wesley Hoedt. Mauricio Pellegrino is a good manager too, so Saints are going to continue to chug along as they always do, despite players and managers being rotated through almost interchangeably. And for Everton, in spite of their bonanza of a window, they haven't done enough to broach the top six and with Ross Barkley still at Goodison Park, there's unfinished drama ahead.

The Sky Six:

6. Arsenal (were 4th initially)

What a mess of a window. Here is their transfer window summarized in one tweet:
That's no good. Even though they brought in Alexandre Lacazette, that's fixing a problem that didn't exist, and they didn't strengthen elsewhere. Many of the same problems they've had for years still remain, and though they kept Alexis Sanchez, he's likely to leave on a free next summer. There wasn't much foresight or a plan this summer for Arsenal, and though they shifted out plenty of deadweight, they have more holes than they did a year ago. Problems are afoot at the Emirates.

5. Tottenham Hotspur

They did make transfer moves eventually, in fact they made five of them. They remade their depth options along the backline in signing Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth, replaced Kyle Walker with Serge Aurier and added Fernando Llorente in an odd move to get goals from the striker position behind Harry Kane. But they are still not exactly deep behind their best XI, and they will be tested in big ways on all fronts this year, and there's still the matter of that Wembley mental block. They need great form from players like Moussa Sissoko, Georges Kevin N'Koudou and a healthy Erik Lamela to replicate what they did last year, and as of this point that seems unlikely.

4. Liverpool (were 6th initially)

There is no team outside of Manchester United that has been more impressive starting their campaign than Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp always knows how to get Liverpool humming against the best teams, and their demolition of Arsenal was incredibly impressive. Adding Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the mix is also good business for sure. However, the squad is still imbalanced towards attack, they have a purportedly unhappy Phillipe Coutinho in the squad and they never perform as they should against the league's worst teams. They have a chance to really grow this season, but that growth could still be stunted by problems of their own making.

3. Chelsea (were 2nd initially)

Chelsea's shocking opening day loss to Burnley at home has been mitigated by their wins against Spurs and Everton, but there's still something not right about this squad. It's thin in many places, especially striker, and their late additions in the forms of Davide Zappacosta and Danny Drinkwater aren't exactly inspiring. They're not in danger of falling out of the Champions League picture, but they are in danger of being lapped by the two Manchester clubs for the title because their squad is just not deep enough. However, Eden Hazard's return is something to keep an eye on.

2. Manchester United (were 3rd initially)

No one has been more impressive to start the season than the Red Devils. Nemanja Matic has freed up Paul Pogba to be Paul Pogba, and Romelu Lukaku is finishing the chances that United didn't finish last year. How they perform against the best teams in the league is another story entirely, but they could easily build up a huge head of steam going forward in advance of big games to come. The squad could use some improvement at the back, but everywhere else they look incredibly deep and incredibly imposing. Jose's second year magic might make its way to Old Trafford this campaign.

1. Manchester City

In spite of all of the moves made below them, and the distinct lack of Alexis Sanchez in sky blue, City remain favorites for the title. Their attack is devastating going forward as already evidenced, and with the fixes at the fullback positions, the squad is certainly more balanced. However, they may not have as much depth as they'd like, especially at centerback, which is a concern. But when Pep's team is playing a full flow, no one is beating them. And what may be terrifying is that City haven't come anywhere close to showing their best yet.

With the transfer window shut, the season can truly begin. There is plenty to be excited about for almost every team come the return of the Premier League, so now that the moves have been made and everyone's phones are down, let's get to the football.

Friday, August 11, 2017

2017-18 Premier League Predictions (thus far)

      The 2017-18 Premier League season is upon us, which means it is invariably time for predictions. Making Premier League predictions at this time of the year is actually quite difficult, because clubs have not finished their transfer activities as of yet, and dramatic shifts in squad composition can often change the narrative and predictions. Because of this, the predictions here will be updated in a further post when the transfer window shuts at the end of the month, but until then these are the official Matt's Sports Musings Premier League predictions, at least for the next 21 days.

20. Brighton & Hove Albion

It is great to see the Seagulls in the top flight for the first time in 35 years, and with Chris Hughton, they have an experienced manager who will help them through the grind that is a top flight season. But they don't have the quality in their squad to compete realistically with their relegation rivals, even though they are now investing more money. It will be a short, but sweet return for Brighton in the top flight.

19. Burnley

Burnley found a way to stay up last year by being remarkably effective at Turf Moor and almost discounting their road form entirely. But this season, after selling Michael Keane and Andre Gray, they will be in some serious trouble because that home form isn't necessarily replicable, and their squad is weaker than it was a season ago. Sean Dyche is a great manager, but he'll have to perform some miracles to keep the Clarets up this year.

18. Huddersfield Town

David Wagner is a great younger manager that will become easy to like and admire, thanks to his Jurgen Klopp similarities. His Terries will play a brand of football much like a Terrier; aggressive, exciting if a bit out of control at times. Their budget is small, but they've made smart additions in order to give themselves a fighting chance to stay up. The likelihood is that they won't, but at least they'll be easy on the eyes in their first top flight campaign since 1972.

17. Swansea City

After much managerial turmoil last season, Paul Clement helped to stabilize a Swansea team that needed direction or else they'd be heading down. They got it in the nick of time. They have strengthened that much, and to this point they still have Gylfi Sigurdsson in one of the summer's most protracted transfer sagas. They have questions just about everywhere on the pitch, but fewer questions seemingly than the three clubs below them.

16. Crystal Palace

After another Big Sam rescue job, Palace are still kicking in the Premier League despite coming ever-so-close to going down. Frank De Boer comes in to replace Big Sam and he has some career rehabilitation to do after a disastrous spell at Inter. He's only brought in three players, two of them on loan, and the squad still has some sore spots that need to be addressed. But if he can get the best out of Christian Benteke, Palace should be able to survive another turbulent season at the bottom of the table.

15. Watford

A club no stranger to turmoil in the dugout and the dressing room, Watford again went with more changes when they hired Marco Silva and invested heavily in English talent this summer. With the additions of Nathaniel Chalobah, Will Hughes and Andre Gray, the club is trying to give Marco Silva more to work with than they did the previous manager, Walter Mazzarri. Silva has shown good tactical acumen before, and with a much deeper squad than he had at Hull, he should be able to do enough to keep Watford safe.

14. West Bromwich Albion

Once they hit 40 points, the magic number for Premier League safety, they usually switch off, and that's what happened to Tony Pulis' squad last year. This year, the same should hold true. They won't be in any real relegation danger, but they're not a top half squad either. They'll be defensively stout, scalp a few surprising wins against the big boys and do what they're supposed to do to maintain survival, but no more.

13. Stoke City

Stokealona is dead, folks. The Potters haven't invested much in new signings, and got rid of Marko Arnautovic to West Ham, leaving the squad a little bereft of quality and feeling quite stale. Mark Hughes is one of the managers who easily could be the first to be sacked because the club has quite clearly plateaued. They won't be relegated, but they need freshening up. A slow start might do enough to spark a change.

12. Newcastle United

Mike Ashley and company took a risk investing the way they did in the Championship last year, and it paid off as they won back immediate promotion. There is still an incredible amount of tension in the boardroom, but with Rafa Benitez's calming influence on a fairly decent squad, the Magpies should be able to stay up with relative ease. But, it's Newcastle, and nothing comes certain at St. James' Park.

11. Bournemouth

What Eddie Howe has done with this club is well and truly remarkable, especially considering their top flight debut was only three years ago. They've invested wisely, for the most part, and they've kept a hold of a good chunk of their squad and their growing manager too. While they haven't made too many changes this summer, the core of their squad should be plenty good enough to avoid the relegation dogfight and maybe even finish in the top half, again.

10. West Ham United

Slaven Bilic has not done much to inspire confidence recently. His team was relegation fodder at the start of last season, and the improvements this year don't really fix their defensive and tactical woes, in spite of bringing in Joe Hart. Chicharito and Marko Arnautovic should add more vigor in their attack, but it's unlikely they change the paradigm which West Ham is stuck in.

9. Leicester City

After last season's crash back to earth, Leicester should be under reasonable expectations this season. They've added smartly in some areas, but they still lack depth in others and their squad is bloated. Leicester unperformed their underlying numbers under Claudio Ranieri and then overperformed them under Craig Shakespeare. Somewhere in the middle is where this team lies, and that's probably in the 9-12 range.

8. Southampton

Saints always manage to recruit interesting managers, and Mauricio Pellegrino is another one. They've somehow kept Virgil Van Dijk despite his insistence in wanting to leave, and otherwise the squad is pretty much the same as it was a year ago. With a fresh manager and a host of players who could use an uptick in performance, Saints will win the title of "best of the rest", once again.

7. Everton

Selling Romelu Lukaku was a big deal. Bringing back in Wayne Rooney was also a big deal. There have been charges that Everton haven't invested their money wisely this summer, but this writer thinks they have. Michael Keane, Jordan Pickford and Sandro Ramirez were all smart buys, but they don't change the underlying issues that Everton faces. In the "Sky 7", they're firmly in seventh, waiting for the opportunity to pounce on someone else's mistakes.

6. Liverpool

A healthy Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah should make a very dynamic attack even more dynamic this season. Their issues up front have been fixed with Roberto Firmino playing as the furthest forward forward, alleviating the need for an out-and-out striker. But, their defensive issues remain, and there is still a nagging concern that Jurgen Klopp's team won't be able to perform the way that they should against lesser teams. There's also the Champions League, which adds extra stress to their squad which always has injury issues. They haven't done quite enough to improve based on what their rivals above them have done.

5. Spurs

They have a very, very good squad already, and only sold Kyle Walker this summer. However, they still haven't added anyone, and despite Mauricio Pochettino's insistence that new recruits are on the way, they haven't come in time for the start of the season. With their injury problems and many players who are unknowns, that could dig Spurs a hole that will be difficult to dig out of. Under Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs have also been notoriously slow starters, which is a problem, especially considering Chelsea comes to Wembley the second week of the season. Until they make the requisite additions to a squad crying out for them, they can only be placed here.

4. Arsenal

Here is Arsenal, back in their natural position of fourth. Alexandre Lacazette is a good player, but there are questions to whether he is a good replacement for Olivier Giroud up front and addresses a need. Sead Kolasinac is a useful player, but the squad still has the same issues that it has had for many years, and it remains to be seen whether the new 3-5-2 formation will be enough to prevent the staleness that has usually defined Arsenal in recent years. If Liverpool or Spurs make improvements in the market, then Arsenal is facing another year without Champions League football.


3. Manchester United

They've spent a huge amount of money to sign three big names, who should help the balance of their squad tremendously. Romelu Lukaku is certainly worth the money, Nemanja Matic fills a hole in midfield, and Victor Lindelof should help stabilize the back four. But the squad also has plenty of deadwood in it and needs freshening up in itself, and in comparison to what their Manchester rivals have done, it seems that they need to do more. They can easily win the title, but they still have to do more, it seems to be true favorites.

2. Chelsea

They have added smartly to their squad in the spine of the team. However, it still seems, according to Antonio Conte, that the squad needs depth in key places and he's right. It's amazing to think how their prodigious academy cannot seemingly produce players good enough for the first team, and that should alleviate their need to buy, but it hasn't. And without that depth, they are not title favorites. Adding in European football to the mix is going to stress the thin squad even more, and it will take some shrewd work by Conte and the technical staff to make the additions necessary to see if Chelsea can become the first team to repeat as Premier League champions in a decade.

1. Manchester City

City has spent an exorbitant amount of money to fix the ills in the squad, and they seemingly have worked wonders. Benjamin Mendy, Danilo and Kyle Walker are all incredibly important additions to fix the fullback spots, and Bernardo Silva makes a dynamic attack even more dynamic. A full season of Gabriel Jesus and his prodigious talent is also a mouth-watering prospect. The squad still has holes and deadwood that needs to be shifted out, but if the preseason is any guide, City should be favorites for the title as things stand.

So here are the predictions and projections for the 2017-18 season, which could easily be blown up depending on the changes teams make in the transfer window. But Premier League soccer is back, and it's time to stop playing Football Manager and instead play actual football.