Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2017 Week 17 Fantasy Advice: The Finale (if you're still playing)

We, and by we I mean me, here at Matt's Sports Musings, hope you're playing in a league that doesn't have a championship in Week 17, because that's just not right. But if you're still playing fantasy before we ring in the new year, this is the column for you to read. There are plenty of players who are in critical matchups, and those who may end up having nothing to play for except their careers and immediate futures. That makes for an interesting combination.

Start of the Week: QB Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) vs. CLE

Big Ben is not the fantasy QB he once was, but you'll still see flashes of it against the Browns, a team he has entirely dominated in his career. The only open question is how long will he and the starters play, but he should be able to put in some big numbers against the to be 0-16 Browns before he's wrapped in cotton wool.

Who to Start:

QB Kirk Cousins (WSH) at NYG: Kirk Cousins has been dynamite since Washington was eliminated from playoff contention, largely because Cousins is playing for a future job somewhere. That will continue against the Giants, who can't wait to get on the golf course after the new year.

RB Derrick Henry (TEN) vs. JAX: With DeMarco Murray injured, Henry is going to see the bulk of the carries in a game that means everything for Tennessee. Jacksonville won't be benching any starters in this game, but expect the Titans to rely on why they're in playoff contention to begin with, which is their running game, to win and get in.

WR T.Y Hilton (IND) vs. HOU: There has been no more yo-yo fantasy option this year than T.Y Hilton, who has either had fantastic weeks or terrible ones; no middle. Against what's left of Houston's defense, he should have a fairly good afternoon Sunday to end the season on.

WR Golden Tate (DET) vs. GB: As the Packers defense has suffered mightily from attrition and injuries, opposing teams have feasted on the weaknesses here, especially on the road. Golden Tate, who has struggled in recent weeks, should benefit in a game the Lions will probably want to win more.

TE Antonio Gates (LAC) vs. OAK: Against the Jets last week, Gates looked like the Antonio Gates of a decade ago with a fantastic performance. While a game like that is unlikely, it should be noted that the Raiders have struggled all year defending tight ends, and have probably packed it in for the season themselves.

DEF Baltimore vs. CIN: The Bengals got their prideful good performance out of the way against the Lions at home last week, and will probably be fodder for the Ravens in a must win game for them. They were underwhelming against the Colts, and with everything on the line, that probably won't happen again.

Sit of the Week: QB Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. CAR

If he's not the biggest bust of the year in fantasy football, he's darn close to it. With Carolina having everything to play for, Ryan figures to struggle against a team he's never really solved in his career.

Who to Sit:

QB Jared Goff (LAR) vs. SF: He's someone who figures to potentially get pulled halfway through against the 49ers with the Rams locked into a three or four seed. But even if he plays more than expected, the 49ers defense has looked energized in recent weeks, so he'd be a risky play in a normal week too.

RB Jordan Howard (CHI) at MIN: He put in a good performance last week against the hapless Browns, but that's unlikely to be repeated against a stout Minnesota defense that has given up seven points in the last two games.

WR Amari Cooper (OAK) at LAC: He came out of nowhere last week to make an amazing re-appearance on fantasy wires with a long touchdown and a good game. But against the Chargers stout secondary? That's likely not to be repeated as he only had 28 yards against the Chargers in the first meeting.

WR Kelvin Benjamin (BUF) at MIA: Getting wrongfully robbed by the officials last week aside, Benjamin hasn't quite been up to his best since he was traded to Buffalo. Some of that is injury induced, but the Bills aren't going to rely on the pass to win this week. Miami's defense has been stout at home, too.

TE Cameron Brate (TB) vs. NO: In a such a thin position in the thinnest of weeks, this matchup is not one to turn towards. Brate had a great game against the Packers in Week 13, but has done nothing since. Expect that to continue.

DEF Carolina at ATL: Didn't you say bench Matt Ryan just up the column? Yes I did, but that doesn't also mean that Carolina's defense is a risky play as well. Their defense has not been quite as proficient away from Charlotte, and with Atlanta giving everything for their playoff lives, this is a tough matchup for them.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Jimmy Garoppolo (SF) at LAR: He's the real deal, no doubt. And he should rack up some big numbers Sunday if and when the Rams pull their starters.

QB Patrick Mahomes (KC) at DEN: If you need a stringer for this game, Mahomes isn't going to be a terrible option with the weapons at his disposal. Denver's defense is a shell of itself, and he has one chance to make a statement and this may well be it.

RB Tion Green (DET) vs. GB: In the Lions ever-long quest to find a running back, maybe they've just found a gem in Tion Green, who has made the endzone in a couple of the past few Lions games. He's an exciting stash and grab guy in keeper leagues, but for this week only, he's a fun option to consider.

Buyer Beware:

RB Leonard Fournette (JAX) at TEN: You should believe Doug Marrone at his word when he says he's not benching his starters, but even then, Fournette isn't quite the runner he needs to be with some of the injuries he's carrying. He may well be protected by Marrone and the Jaguars even if the rest of the starters play their normal complement of snaps Sunday in Tennessee.

It was a snap decision to bring back this column after a one year hiatus, but I felt that without a team or a league, it made sense to stay involved with the world of fantasy football this way. If you read the column this year, thanks. I appreciate anyone who took my advice and ran with it. Sorry about missing Week 12, that was a bad goof on my part.

Look out on New Year's Day for my season predictions in review for the NFL, and maybe a column or two on how the playoffs may play out. Good luck in Week 17, and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

2017 Week 16 Fantasy Advice: Championship Weekend

After a season worth of hand-wringing, gut-wrenching decisions, overzealous purchases of fantasy magazines at airport news stands and more, fantasy championship weekend is now here, for most of you at least. Everything you worked so hard for comes down to this, which makes every decision this week so critical. Your pride, and maybe your wallet, will thank you later. That's why this week, you get extra advice. More starts, more sits and more sleepers. Merry Christmas.

Start of the Week: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT) at HOU MON

With Antonio Brown sidelined, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense have to turn somewhere for big plays, and Smith-Schuster has been that player even when Brown was healthy. The matchup against whatever is left of Houston's secondary is incredibly advantageous too. Smith-Schuster is a must start on Christmas afternoon.

Who to Start:

QB Case Keenum (MIN) at GB SAT: He's never been overly amazing in terms of fantasy numbers produced, but he's certainly been productive, and on a consistent basis. The Packers defense has not been up to par all year, and with them now eliminated from the postseason, there could be a letdown in store, setting up Keenum for a big evening.

QB Dak Prescott (DAL) vs. SEA: With Ezekiel Elliot back in the fold, Dallas' offense should be in full stride once again, and it's hard to imagine Dak not reaping some of those rewards against a Seahawks defense that is a shell of itself. They don't have much left, so Prescott could be in for a huge afternoon.

RB Dion Lewis (NE) vs. BUF: Rex Burkhead is injured, which means there is a huge opening for Lewis on fantasy rosters this week to potentially break out in a big way against a Buffalo defense that struggled against New England three weeks ago, and hasn't been great against the run all year.

RB Alex Collins (BAL) vs. IND SAT: He didn't impress last week against the putrid Cleveland Browns, but that shouldn't discourage anyone from potentially starting him against the Colts Saturday. Indianapolis' rush defense has been non-existent all year, and Collins has been a good home performer too.

WR Devin Funchess (CAR) vs. TB: Though he didn't do much of anything notable against Green Bay, Tampa is a putrid road team, especially on defense. And his performances since Kelvin Benjamin was traded to Buffalo have been fairly solid except for last week, so go with the trends and Funchess on Sunday.

WR Robert Woods (LAR) at TEN: He was fantastic last week against the Seahawks in his injury return, and he could be in a good spot to replicate that performance against Tennessee. The Titans have not been great of late even against mediocre QB's, so Woods could have a huge day with Jared Goff throwing him the ball.

WR Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ) vs. NYG: While the Cardinals are out of the playoff mix, Fitz isn't going to stop producing, even with Blaine Gabbert as his QB. The Giants make Nick Foles look like Carson Wentz last week, and that's a good sign for Fitz's fantasy potential this weekend.

TE Jimmy Graham (SEA) at DAL: Even though in the two most important games for fantasy owners in recent weeks he went invisible, it's hard to bench Graham this weekend against a Dallas defense that struggles to defend the tight end well. For that alone, Graham should be in your starting lineup.

TE Evan Engram (NYG) at ARZ: He's been the only consistent part of the Giants offense all year when nothing else has been, which means at this thin position, he's a must start. It's not the best matchup, but consistency may be the best play this week instead of matchups.

DEF LA Chargers at NYJ: While the Jets offense wasn't exactly bad in New Orleans last week, it's hard to imagine them having much success against an angry Chargers defense with everything to play for and an extra day to prepare.

DEF Philadelphia vs. OAK MON: The Eagles defense was bad at the Giants last Sunday, but against the Raiders, you have to like their chances. Oakland's offense is inconsistent and turnover prone, so this should make for a fun Christmas night for owners of the Eagles defense.

Sit of the Week: QB Matt Ryan (ATL) at NO

I just can't do it with him, not after the way he played against New Orleans a few weeks ago, and not with the way Atlanta's offense has functioned this year. New Orleans' defense hasn't been great at home this year, but that may be largely a function of who they've played rather than their defense itself.

Who to Sit:

QB Kirk Cousins (WSH) vs. DEN: You have to admire Cousins for his ability to produce at some levels though his entire team around him has collapsed due to injury. But this week, the injuries plus Denver's prideful defense will make for a bad Christmas Eve recipe.

QB Andy Dalton (CIN) vs. DET: After the performances the last few weeks, I don't know if anyone outside of A.J Green on the Bengals is fantasy viable. Certainly against the Lions, who have everything to play for, Dalton isn't on that list of starts, nor should he be.

RB Marshawn Lynch (OAK) at PHI MON: He's been great the last four weeks in fantasy land, with touchdowns and critical carries each game. But the Eagles have not allowed a rushing touchdown at home, and have a penchant for shutting down opposing running backs. Lynch is a hard sell this week in spite of his recent form.

RB Frank Gore (IND) at BAL SAT: Gore is a legendary running back, but with the season well and truly lost for the Colts, it might be time to see what they have in Marlon Mack, so he could see carries and targets siphoned away. It doesn't help that Baltimore's defense is also very tough.

WR Randall Cobb (GB) vs. MIN SAT: He's been playing really great as of late, and is coming off a huge game, though that was with Aaron Rodgers, not Brett Hundley. He's only scored two TD's against the Vikings in nine games against them in his career, and the Hundley factor is a hard one to ignore.

WR Sterling Shepard (NYG) at ARZ: In spite of the odds last week against the Eagles, he had a bonanza of an afternoon. But Arizona's defense has been stout most if not all of this season, especially at home and recently too, so starting Shepard is a risk.

WR Jermaine Kearse (NYJ) vs. LAC: It's hard to imagine the Jets offense finding any rhythm with Bryce Petty, though they did a little against New Orleans. Petty wasn't exactly impressive though, so it's hard to start Kearse this week with that said.

TE Charles Clay (BUF) at NE: He always seems to perform well against Miami because of the "revenge" factor, but New England is considerably against tight ends, and especially so against Clay, because he may be the biggest weapon the Bills have in the passing game, and they always key in on the opponents best weapons.

TE David Njoku (CLE) at CHI: If anyone is watching this game for other reasons that fantasy or gambling, kudos. But in the fantasy world, Njoku is a risky play largely because he has the tendency to disappear from games, and Chicago's defense has been alright at Soldier Field.

DEF Tennessee vs. LAR: The Titans defense is not the reason why the team has suddenly hit the skids in a big way, but they aren't playing up to their potential. Against a Rams offense that has been awesome all year, and really seems to be hitting its stride, this is a tough matchup.

DEF Seattle at DAL: This should be obvious now considering the injuries and attrition, but it should be even more obvious with Zeke Elliot back in the fold for Dallas.

4 Super Sleepers:

QB Nick Foles (PHI) vs. OAK MON: He's a very decent streamer this week after his performance against the Giants, and the Raiders defense is equally porous. There is good potential for Foles here to potentially win someone a big game because of this potential.

QB Tyrod Taylor (BUF) at NE: He's not exactly the best start of the weekend, but he's not a terrible option either. He always puts up decent numbers, so he's not entirely matchup dependant. New England's defense has also not been up to par since the last time these two teams played.

RB Jordan Howard (CHI) vs. CLE: He's been one of the biggest busts all around the world of fantasy football this year, and it may be hard to go back to the well in this the most important of weekends, but it is the Browns. It may just be worth it.

TE Ricky Seals-Jones (ARZ) vs. NYG: Almost anyone on the Cardinals offense this week sans Gabbert is viable because of the matchup, but there's some legitimate potential for Seal-Jones, who even though has been boom or bust recently, there's reason to believe in the boom potential on Sunday.

Buyer Beware:

RB Lamar Miller (HOU) vs. PIT MON: Someone has to do something for the Texans on offense, so it figures to be Miller, right? Well, he's had it rough with all of the attrition on offense, so it's hard to start him against the Steelers, even though their defense is not what it once was.

Merry Christmas, and good luck on Championship Weekend!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

2017 Week 15 Fantasy Advice: Last Chance Saloon

To those of you still alive in your fantasy playoffs, congratulations. But there is now another gauntlet in place. More injuries are creating havoc and chaos, and it's going to take some deft manuevering in order to pull off another win. But you've all done so well to get here, it stands to reason you won't have anything to worry about, right?

Start of the Week: RB Kenyan Drake (MIA) at BUF

First, the Dolphins trade Jay Ajayi. Then, Damien Williams gets hurt. So enter former Crimson Tide star Kenyan Drake, and he's only lit the world of fantasy football on fire. He was so good against both Denver and New England that it's almost impossible to bench him at this point against anyone.

Who to Start:

QB Cam Newton (CAR) vs. GB: Going from facing the Vikings to the Packers is going from fantasy hll to heaven in a week. The Packers defense didn't look up to par against Cleveland, and even in the matchup struggle against Minnesota, Cam played decently both running and throwing.

RB Latavius Murray (MIN) vs. CIN: Murray had a rough week against the incredibly stout Panthers defense last Sunday, but that shouldn't be as much of a problem against the patchwork Bengals defense. Jordan Howard broke out of his slump against them last week, and Murray should break out of his brief one Sunday.

WR Josh Gordon (CLE) vs. BAL: He's getting his targets; seven catches on 17 targets is not a bad ratio for someone who is coming off such a long layoff. Gordon is practically a must-start against the Ravens who gave up over 500 yards to Big Ben last Sunday, and are without their best corner in Jimmy Smith.

WR Golden Tate (DET) vs. CHI SAT: It's hard to go against Tate at this point, who is playing some of his best football of the year right now, and has a very favorable matchup against the Bears, who only look good in spurts on defense and rarely do they on the road.

TE Jack Doyle (IND) vs. DEN THU: It was hard for anyone to put up decent numbers on Hoth Sunday, but he did catch a touchdown, which saved his day. The Broncos are not good at defending the tight end, so Doyle as he's been for most of the season is quite a solid option.

DEF New Orleans vs. NYJ: Bryce Petty. Long week to prepare. Enough said.

Sit of the Week: WR Robby Anderson (NYJ) at NO

He had been one of the best receivers in fantasy football for the entirety of the season, however without Josh McCown, that status has taken a major hit. He also threw up a major stinker in Denver last weekend, and the Saints are going to key in on him as the only offensive weapon for the Jets. Avoid him.

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) at TB MON: It's hard to trust Matt Ryan in fantasy at this point, which should have been an observation made far earlier in the season, but here we are in Week 15 and Ryan may still be getting undeserved starts. The Bucs defense is far better at home than it has been on the road, and Ryan has been poor this year, so avoid Ryan in this huge week.

RB Doug Martin (TB) vs. ATL MON: Get a case of fumble-itis and watch your touches and snaps go down: a tried and true formula. This is what happened to Martin against the Lions as Peyton Barber has started to pick up more and more carries by the week. Martin is probably one to avoid this week.

WR Cooper Kupp (LAR) at SEA: Kupp has been such a fun player to watch this year, especially if you own him in fantasy land. But this week against Seattle is going to be tough. Not only is Robert Woods potentially returning, but the Seahawks are going to be quite angry after what happened in Jacksonville. This is a recipe for trouble for the LA Rams.

WR DeVante Parker (MIA) at BUF: He's up there with Matt Ryan in terms of the biggest fantasy busts of the season, as his targets have gone down dramatically and the Dolphins have turned more to the run in recent weeks. Buffalo's defense has been stout at home, so it's another good time to keep Parker on your bench.

TE Eric Ebron (DET) vs. CHI SAT: He's been almost invisible in fantasy all year, and then, naturally, he has one of his best games of the year against the Bucs. But that probably won't continue against the Bears, who are surprisingly adept at defending tight ends, for what that's worth.

DEF Pittsburgh vs. NE: This should be pretty obvious, but it'll be made more obvious by the fact that the Patriots offense will not look anywhere near as bad as they did on Monday night, and the Steelers gave up 38 to the Ravens, who aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Dak Prescott (DAL) at OAK: It has become tough to start Dak in recent weeks because of the injuries and absences for the Cowboys. But the in the last two games, the Cowboys and Dak seem to be turning a corner. That should be good news against the Raiders, who have been awful in the secondary all year.

RB Derrick Henry (TEN) at SF: It's been a rough few weeks for the Titans offense, as not only has Marcus Mariota struggled, but the entire offense has with him. Derrick Henry has maybe been the only bright spot, but even he has found the going tough recently. Against the 49ers, who haven't been the best against the run this year, Henry though may be a viable flex play with his ability to grab touchdowns.

WR Michael Crabtree (OAK) vs. DAL: Crabtree needs to have a huge game if the Raiders are to pull off the upset and keep their playoff hopes alive. It's a tough ask, but Dallas' secondary hasn't been the best all year, even though they've played better of late against lesser NFC East opposition.

Buyer Beware:

QB Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) vs. NE: He had his third career 500 yard passing game last week, and when he's been called upon to perform, he always has. But that performance seems like an outlier to me, because naturally the Patriots always play the best players incredibly well, and in this game of great import, Ben's fantasy potential is certainly more limited than ever.

Good Luck in Week 15!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

2017 Week 14 Fantasy Advice: Playoffs? Don't talk about Playoffs

But alas, we have to, vaguely appropriate headline. The fantasy playoffs are now here for most of us which means everything we invested so heavily in time, toil, cash and potentially embarassing wagers is now on the line. It means everything now which means it's time to agonize over all the decisions that can and will decide seasons. It's serious business.

Start of the Week: QB Alex Smith (KC) vs. OAK

The Chiefs are in total free-fall, and Alex Smith was a large part of that in November. But his game against the Jets should inspire confidence, at least for his fantasy owners, that he's coming back around to his performances in September once again. If he can do it against anyone, it's the Raiders. Their secondary is one of the worst in football, so if there's a time for him to look like the Alex Smith of September, it's now.

Who to Start:

QB Philip Rivers (LAC) vs. WSH: Old reliable Philip Rivers is still putting up big numbers in spite of his growing age and the lack of home fans he plays in front of. Against Washington on Sunday, there is bound to be another good performance against what's left of their secondary.

RB Lamar Miller (HOU) vs. SF: Yes, the 49ers shut down what should have been a sure-fire fantasy started in Jordan Howard last week, but even the Texans with Tom Savage have more offensive rhythm than Chicago does right now. The only people watching this game will fantasy owners of Texans (and a few 49ers) as well as gamblers, but the stakes are always high for someone.

WR Josh Gordon (CLE) vs. GB: In his first football game in three years, he was targeted 11 times and caught four passes. Green Bay's secondary isn't great, and if the first game was any guide, Gordon will get plenty of passes thrown his way on Sunday, meaning his numbers should match his targets.

WR Michael Crabtree (OAK) at KC: Motivated player coming off a suspension against a team that can't defend the pass with their best corner suspended? Sign me up. Crabtree might be the best fantasy play the entire week with this confluence of circumstances on top of Kansas City's defense which has completely cratered.

TE Evan Engram (NYG) vs. DAL: In spite of the circus that is the New York Giants, Evan Engram has become of the best in a bad position in fantasy football. With Geno Smith he managed to rack up some impressive numbers, and against a mediocre Dallas defense, the trend should continue.

DEF New England at MIA MON: You were probably starting them anyway considering their mid-season renaissance, and against Miami the matchup is even more favorable. The Dolphins turn the ball over a ton even in their best games, and this doesn't look to be shaping out as one of their best games.

Sit of the Week: QB Cam Newton (CAR) vs. MIN

This is such a hard decision to make because if you drafted him, you probably invested a lot in him. But if you have a better option, say Derek Carr, Josh McCown or maybe even Brett Hundley, it might be worth sitting him against the stingiest of stingy defenses, Minnesota. They lock down everyone, and Cam has never been the best against the league's best defenses.

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. NO THU: I personally didn't think Ryan would have as bad a season fantasy wise as he's had, but he's certainly one of the biggest busts in the fantasy season for sure. New Orleans even with injuries has a very solid defense, and in the biggest game of Atlanta's season, relying on Ryan is a mistake.

RB Ameer Abdullah (DET) at TB: I smell a platoon growing in Detroit, not just featuring Abdullah but also Theo Riddick and newcomer Tion Green, who had a good game last week in Baltimore. Tampa's defense is better at home than on the road, but the platoon effect will doom Abdullah this week.

WR Marqise Lee (JAX) vs. SEA: Jaguars fans nicknamed Lee "Albino Tiger" early in his career because of his penchant not only for injuries, but also to disappear in key moments in games. Even though Seattle's secondary is banged up, it's still Seattle, and it's hard to imagine Lee doing as well as he did against the hapless Colts against Seattle.

WR Jordy Nelson (GB) at CLE: Even against the porous Browns, it's hard to trust Jordy Nelson who can't get targets or yards with Brett Hundley at QB. Hold on for one more week with Nelson, because when a certain #12 returns, the trends will get better, but for this week, Nelson is a sit.

TE Jared Cook (OAK) at KC: He's consistently inconsistent, made more frustrating with a bad performance against the Giants who couldn't defend tight ends. Kansas City can at least defend these players with a little effectiveness, so Cook may be too inconsistent to start in these big games.

DEF Baltimore at PIT: Defense like Philly and Carolina have very ugly matchups even though they've been good fantasy units of late, but the matchup to avoid the most is Baltimore. Though their defense is stellar, they lost Jimmy Smith, and will be going up against an incredibly motivated Steelers team at home. The combination here does not bode well for the Ravens.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Jimmy Garoppolo (SF) at HOU: He wasn't exactly amazing in Chicago last week, but he didn't have to be to win. And watching Houston's defense lose all its steam in recent weeks makes this matchup all the more intriguing. If you need someone because of other matchup issues, Jimmy G may be the guy.

RB Alfred Morris (DAL) at NYG: While he's no Zeke, he's been very serviceable in his absense. Against the Giants, who as documented couldn't stop a high school team right now, he's not a bad option in a RB3/Flex position if you need it.

TE Jack Doyle (IND) at BUF: In a bad position with no depth, you have to go with the guys that got you there, and that means Jack Doyle. He threw up a stinker in Jacksonville last week, but he can't do that in two consecutive weeks, right?

Buyer Beware:

RB Leonard Fournette (JAX) vs. SEA: You're going to start him if you have him, that's obvious. But, his ankle injury is really causing him some issues in the last two weeks. He's rushed for less than 70 yards combined against Arizona and Indy, and take away his TD and he'd have thrown two straight big time duds up. That's been his trend recently, and it's concerning. He's also not faced a defense like Seattle's in over two months, so how he'll perform here, and how his team will perform here, is an open question.

Good luck in Week 14!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Brief thoughts on the World Cup draw

Since I have nowhere else to put these thoughts, and I wanted to write them down, here are some brief mental notes from this morning's World Cup draw and who may end up as favorites, disappointments, or surprises.

Group A: Russia has to be pretty ecstatic with the draw they were handed. They didn't have a full strength squad in the Confederations Cup, but even if they did their life woud have been fairly difficult. With Saudi Arabia and Egypt, they should be able with the home advantage to overcome them, though Egypt with players like Mo Salah and others could be tricky. Uruguay are clear favorites even after underwhelming in their last three major tournaments.

Group B: Spain and Portugal being matched up with each other should provide great fireworks, especially since that game is the third match of the tournament. This game will decide who wins the group and finishes second. Morocco and Iran are great stories in making the tournament, but they don't have much to celebrate with this draw.

Group C: France's assemblage of talent is second to none, in fact, they're the most talented team in the draw. Their group should be of no trouble to them with Peru, Australia and Denmark. The race for second is fascinating as each team has pluses and minuses. Australia has spirit, but no manager, Peru has no World Cup experience and Denmark has Christian Eriksen, but beyond that not much. My Tottenham leanings are biasing me to Denmark, but the race for second here is going to be immensely entertaining.

Group D: The race for second here is also going to be fairly fun. Iceland have the world rooting for them, Croatia have a great collection of talent, especially in midfield, and Nigeria have been able to perform on this stage before. Argentina are obviously favorites, but Croatia are a sneaky team to look out for if they get their act together. Going forward, they are a delightful watch, and that should be enough to get them beyond Iceland and Nigeria.

Group E: Brazil shouldn't have much to fear with their draw, however the race for second here will also be entertaining and between three evenly matched teams. Serbia has more talented than Switzerland and Costa Rica, but both of these teams have the experience and organization required. It's hard to overlook Costa Rica, but something tells me this Serbia team has an ace up their sleeve.

Group F: Germany and Mexico will see each other again, and that doesn't bode well for Mexico at all. Germany are defending champions, and they shouldn't have much to fear here, although Sweden and Mexico could give them a run. Sweden have the organization but no gamebreakers, unless the prodigal Zlatan returns. South Korea are always a difficult team to play against in this tournament setting, but they don't have very much to offer.

Group G: Two great collections of talent with underwhelming managers meet with Belgium and England pitted against each other, and while both should have no issues advancing, their aspirations are set much higher. Tunisia and Panama are wonderful squads to see in the draw, but there presence is as much as they will offer.

Group H: Not much stands out for this group, but top to bottom it is well balanced. Poland have a Lewandowski sized advantage over everyone else, but do not count out quarterfinalists from 2014 Colombia and what they could potentially offer, and Senegal are not a bad side either. In their only other World Cup appearance, they went to the quarterfinals.

If I was forced to make predictions today, the teams that I'd have advancing would be:

Group A: Uruguay, Russia
Group B: Spain, Portugal
Group C: France, Denmark
Group D: Argentina, Croatia
Group E: Brazil, Serbia
Group F: Germany, Mexico
Group G: Belgium, England
Group H: Colombia, Poland

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

2017 Week 13 Fantasy Advice: Mea Culpa

So you may have noticed last week there was no fantasy column (for those of you that even care to click on this blog anymore). That was not some grand editorial statement about the NFL and its problems, it was just me getting lost in the Thanksgiving shuffle. And I paid dearly for the mistake... take a wild guess as to how. Anyway, the past is the past. And because this week is the start of the fantasy football playoffs for some of you, or perhaps the last week of the regular season for the rest, we're going with extra help this week. Extra recommendations as to who to start and sit, and a little more than you normally get here are on the way. Not just because last week I had the brainfart of all brainfarts, but I feel I owe you as December has come and the business end of the fantasy season has too.

Start of the Week: QB Philip Rivers (LAC) vs. CLE

He showed on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys that he's still got it, and now that he and his team have found their stride, there isn't much stopping them. Certainly, it won't be the Browns defense that does that, even though their defense has played a little bit better of late.

Who to Start:

QB Kirk Cousins (WSH) at DAL THU: Lost in how lost the Cowboys offense looks without Zeke Elliot is how lost the defense has looked all season, especially now that their main offensive gameplan has gone out the window. Even though Cousins struggled in the first meeting between the two in the slop, this game is indoors, and Cousins has been good against Dallas in the past.

QB Tyrod Taylor (BUF) vs. NE: Why the hell did Sean McDermott bench him, again? No one in the world has any clue, and it would be particularly like the Bills for that Chargers game to cost them a playoff spot. Regardless, the game against the Pats is favorable for Taylor even though New England's defense has rounded into form. If you need a streamer this week, he may be a great option.

RB Jamaal Williams (GB) vs. TB: Even though every single Packers running back is hurt, it's hard to not start the last one left standing this weekend against the Bucs. He'll get plenty of volume in terms of snaps and touches, and the Bucs were gashed last week by Tevin Coleman. In the "Bay of Pigs", expect Williams to sail through with good fantasy numbers.

RB Jordan Howard (CHI) vs. SF: He was on the wrong end of a lopsided score when the Bears got levelled by the Eagles. But don't fear. The 49ers are not the Eagles, and therefore Howard should be able to establish himself on the ground. He has been a bit feast or famine fantasy-wise, but this should be a feast week.

WR Robby Anderson (NYJ) vs. KC: He's come out of nowhere to be an incredibly viable WR2 in most leagues because of his big play ability, but he's also getting plenty of short yardage catches too. Kansas City's defense has fallen off a cliff, so Anderson is a must start this weekend.

WR Cooper Kupp (LAR) at ARZ: Starting him should be pretty obvious at this point, as he's lest matchup dependant than ever, especially after a monster performance against New Orleans. Arizona's defense played well last week, but the Rams offense is another level compared to Blake Bortles.

WR Devin Funchess (CAR) at NO: Who said the Panthers made a bad move in trading Kelvin Benjamin? OK, I did, but that doesn't change the fact that Funchess since that move has been awesome in fantasy land. New Orleans' secondary is ravaged by injury, so Funchess could have another monster outing.

TE Julius Thomas (MIA) vs. DEN: It's not really a "revenge game" at this point in Thomas' career, a few years removed from Denver, but he is playing a lot better of late as Matt Moore has turned to him as a safety blanket. The Broncos have also struggled to defend tight ends this season, so this is a promising matchup for Thomas.

TE Jared Cook (OAK) vs. NYG: The Giants are laughably bad at almost everything, but especially defending opposing tight ends. Cook hasn't done much of late, but this should be the week where that changes.

DEF Tennessee vs. HOU: This defense hasn't been very flashy, but has been incredibly solid of late. That doesn't necessarily bode well in fantasy land, but this week it could against Tom Savage and the turnover happy Texans.

DEF LA Rams at ARZ: Arizona's offense looked remarkably solid last week, but consider the revenge game factor and then some of what has occurred doesn't look so surprising. This week, the Rams defense is a much more formidable test.

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

Ben's performance against the banged up Packers at home left a lot to be desired, and now he has to head out on the road where he does not play well. The Bengals also tend to hold him in check in the Queen City, so he's not someone to risk starting Monday night.

Who to Sit:

QB Matthew Stafford (DET) at BAL: How serious his ankle injury is or not, this is not a good matchup for Stafford and the Lions. Baltimore's defense is seriously underrated even though they haven't beaten anyone good, so Stafford's penchant for making a few mistakes could cost him here.

QB Alex Smith (KC) at NYJ: It's not as if the Jets defense is that amazing to be fair, but Alex Smith has been downright awful the last four weeks, which makes him someone to avoid starting in fantasy everywhere this week. Until he proves that he's back on target, you can't assume that he is.

All Eagles running backs at SEA: Each and every one of them. Running back by committee is a fantasy player's worst nightmare, and the Eagles are firmly in running back by committee territory. So for owners of Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement et al, don't bother.

RB Jerick McKinnon (MIN) at ATL: It seems that Latavius Murray is taking over more of the snaps in the Minnesota backfield of late, which is not a good sign at all. Because of this, even against a less than impressive Atlanta defense, avoid starting McKinnon this week. He's a flex play at best.

WR Emmanuel Sanders (DEN) at MIA: He's had one notable fantasy performance this season and that's it. Considering the Broncos QB situation is a tire fire, it's hard to start any Bronco on offense this week, even against the Dolphins, and Sanders falls into that category.

WR Martavis Bryant (PIT) at CIN MON: He had a wonderful performance against Green Bay, but that was against a weakened defense and without JuJu Smith-Schuster stealing targets from him. The Bengals defense isn't any slouch either, so Bryant may be someone to avoid on Monday.

WR DeVante Parker (MIA) vs. DEN: He was pegged to be a breakout fantasy star this season, and that hasn't quite panned out the way that everyone hoped. Against a still stout Denver secondary, and with Matt Moore as the signal caller, there's not a lot of hope here for fantasy owners.

TE Cameron Brate (TB) at GB: He's losing targets to OJ Howard rapidly, and his snaps are decreasing as well. This is not a good combination, especially with a bad matchup against Green Bay on the cards.

TE Tyler Kroft (CIN) vs. PIT MON: As a matchup starter, Kroft has been a really valuable fantasy asset of late, but that has been very matchup dependant. And Pittsburgh's defense, well it's not a good matchup for opposing tight ends.

DEF Buffalo vs. NE: You'd know better at this point to start any defense against Tom Brady and company, but you may be tempted after what Buffalo did last week. You shouldn't be.

DEF Carolina at NO: Playing the Jets and the Saints are entirely different propositions from a fantasy perspective, and that is certainly the case when considering the Panthers defense. It's not as if they're a terrible option, but they're not a great one either.

4 Super Sleepers:

QB Brett Hundley (GB) vs. TB: You know what, he played a lot better last Sunday in Pittsburgh than many of us expected him too. That's a good sign going against the porous Tampa Bay defense, which has been way worse than expected. If you need a streamer and are desperate, Hundley isn't a terrible option.

RB Orleans Darkwa (NYG) at OAK: We're plumbing the depths at this point, but with Geno Smith at QB, Giants running backs suddenly become an OK fantasy option. It's not exactly something I entirely recommend, but it's not a terrible option if you're desperate either.

WR Corey Davis (TEN) vs. HOU: Tennessee's offense has been brutal from a fantasy perspective this season outside of the running backs, but perhaps this is the week they find their feet again. Houston's defense has been very poor of late, so it may be high time for Mariota et al to kick it into gear.

TE Vernon Davis (WSH) at DAL THU: Without Jordan Reed, Kirk Cousins has been turning to Vernon Davis more often, and that's a positive sign heading into the Thursday night game in Dallas. Not exactly the best option, but in a pinch, Davis could give you just what you need.

Buyer Beware:

QB Derek Carr (OAK) vs. NYG: Against the hapless Giants, you should be starting every Raider, right? Well not necessarily. The Giants defense has been fairly OK against Kansas City and Washington of late, so it's not exactly a crazy strong matchup for the Raiders and Carr in spite of what you may think.

Good luck in Week 13, and sorry for the brain cramp last week!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

2017 Week 11 Fantasy Advice: Celebrity Brain Crash

The NFL season in which the actual football has taken a back seat is chugging along as we get closer and closer to the fantasy playoffs, and as the bye weeks mercifully end and it doesn't seem like as many injuries to big name players can derail your season (since many of them are already out), is progress going to be made for fantasy happiness? And if you're wondering why the title of this piece is "Celebrity Brain Crash", I just got through watching an episode of The Grand Tour and the title makes as much sense here as it did in that show.


Start of the Week: QB Alex Smith (KC) at NYG

Alex Smith is an underrated fantasy QB against almost everyone, but against the Giants who, sorry to all Giants fans, have quit, especially on defense, Smith could be in for a huge game on Sunday afternoon.

Who to Start:

QB Drew Brees (NO) vs. WSH: As the Saints are officially a ground and pound team now, you may be wondering why he's a great fantasy starter this week. For one, Washington's defense has been torched by pretty much everyone this season through the air, and it stands to reason that they'll try to sell out and stop the run to force Drew Brees to beat them, which he will then likely do.

RB Jordan Howard (CHI) vs. DET: He's certainly not been the fantasy option many of us expected him to be, and he's been held to single digit points in most everywhere the past few weeks. However, if the Lions gave up a big fantasy day to Isaiah Crowell of the Browns, Howard at least has a shot here.

WR Jarvis Landry (MIA) vs. TB: He's been a solid PPR option all season for his owners in spite of the Dolphins QB malaise, and it seems every now and again he and DeVante Parker pop off for a big game or two. That could come this week against the Bucs and their far worse than expected defense.

WR Sterling Shepard (NYG) vs. KC: Despite the Giants being garbage, Eli Manning has to throw it to someone, and Shepard has been the guy of late. Kansas City's secondary is not as impressive as you might think, and also consider the garbage time potential here: it could be immense!

TE Vernon Davis (WSH) at NO: Amazingly, Davis still has it. Even against brutal matchups on paper, he's chipped in big games against both Seattle and Minnesota. The Saints matchup is similar, but once is accident, twice is a trend, three times...?

DEF LA Chargers vs. BUF: Not only does this Chargers defense get to face a rookie in Nathan Peterman making his first start, on the road, the defense hasn't been why the team has lost this year. They rush the passer well, force turnovers and last week kept Leonard Fournette in check. This is a great matchup this week.

Sit of the Week: WR Jordy Nelson (GB) vs. BAL

He was my "Buyer Beware" last week, and many places had him as a must sit. I wasn't willing to go that far considering his draft position and ability to overcome tough matchups in the past. But now, until proven otherwise, you can't play Nelson with Brett Hundley at QB, even though he's improved recently. Baltimore's defense is also fairly stout.

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) at SEA MON: Seattle's defense is dinged up, but it's still the Seahawks at home, and with Matt Ryan's numbers this year underwhelming massively, starting him this week is a big risk, even though with Freeman's injury, he may be relied on more.

RB Lamar Miller (HOU) vs. ARZ: When teams know your QB situation is a mess, they sell out to stotp the run at all costs. Miller has faced that the last two weeks without DeShaun Watson running the offense. It'll happen this week against Arizona, who have a stout defense against the run.

WR Sammy Watkins (LAR) at MIN: Watkins has finally awaken from his fantasy slumber! But he may unfortunately slip back to earlier form this week against Xavier Rhodes and that ferocious Vikings defense. In his other road game against a defense like Minnesota, in Jacksonville, he was invisible.

WR Kelvin Benjamin (BUF) at LAC: Benjamin can't be trusted now that the QB switch in Buffalo has occurred. Until proven otherwise, and against a very solid Chargers defense, it's not a good time to be an owner of Kelvin Benjamin.

TE Coby Fleener (NO) vs. WSH: Fleener has a fantasic matchup on paper this week, but there is one problem: he's not a good blocker, and the Saints are a run first offense. Thanks to Michael Fabiano of NFL Media for this nugget: he's played in only 27% of offensive snaps for New Orleans in the last four games. Avoid.

DEF Dallas vs. PHI: No Sean Lee, and facing Carson Wentz equals a bad combination for the Cowboys defense this week in both reality and for fantasy owners. They weren't exactly bad last week, but from fantasy perspective "not bad" from defenses isn't quite good enough at this time of year.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Jay Cutler (MIA) vs. TB: It's hard to start Cutler at all, but with a favorable matchup this week, it might be worth the risk. The Bucs defense played well last week against Josh McCown, but has struggled mightily against just about everyone else.

WR Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ) at HOU: He's here and not in the "start" portion of the piece because of the QB uncertainty, but even with that, the Texans defense is a mess, and Fitz should easily pounce on that.

DEF Atlanta at SEA MON: On paper, facing Russell Wilson and the Seahawks at home is not a good matchup. So why have the Falcons defense here? Well, the Seahawks can't run the ball, their offensive line is a mess, and the Falcons defense has to be feeling confident after that show they put on against the Cowboys. There is a chance this is a sneaky good play in spite of the odds this week.

Buyer Beware:

QB Jared Goff (LAR) at MIN: It's impossible to not love the way Goff and the Rams offense has evolved this season, but they haven't been at their best against the best defensives such as Seattle's and Jacksonville's. Minnesota's defense is up there, so starting Goff with that in mind is a risk.

Good luck in Week 11!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

2017 Week 10 Fantasy Advice: Halfway Done

As we are now beyond the halfway point of the NFL season, and well beyond the halfway point of the fantasy season, you may be wondering to yourself how we got here. Through numerous injuries to critical fantasy players, a generally mediocre standard of play and jumping through fantasy hula hoops, we're here now. We're still dealing with the last few bye weeks, but more notably the injuries and the bad play, but don't worry now, it's kinda almost done... sort of.


Start of the Week: RB Jordan Howard (CHI) vs. GB

You probably drafted him very highly, and have been conflicted with mixed feelings on him all year. It's been week-to-week with Howard, but this week is looking up against a Packers team that has been defensively quite weak away from home. The Bears offense is centered on Howard and what he can do, but this may be the week he finally gets back into form.

Who to Start:

QB Matthew Stafford (DET) vs. CLE: "Anyone against the Browns" becomes the name of the game here, as Stafford, who hasn't really lit it up all year, might finally find the ways and means to do so against the horrific Browns defense who pretty much can't do anything right.

RB Carlos Hyde (SF) vs. NYG: He was on point for players in a PPR league last week, having his best game of the season. The Giants can't do anything right at this point other than showing up at the stadium on time, meaning Hyde might put together back-to-back dynamic performances.

WR Adam Thielen (MIN) at WSH: With injuries elsewhere on the offense, Thielen has stepped up to become a true PPR machine. But even in standard leagues, his game at Washington is favorable. Slot receivers do fairly well against DC, and it stands to reason form holds again here.

WR Robby Anderson (NYJ) at TB: Yep, a Jets wideout is a good fantasy play this week. Who would have ever imagined that in August? Anderson has been playing the best of all Jets receivers of late, and his game in Tampa against the poorer than expected Bucs defense is very favorable.

TE Hunter Henry (LAC) at JAX: The Jaguars have the league's most fearsome pass defense, which means they'd also shut down tight ends too, right? Not quite. Tyler Kroft had a decent game last week even with only a few targets, and Henry could perform similarly on Sunday.

DEF LA Rams vs. HOU: Tom Savage ain't DeShaun Watson, that's for sure.

Sit of the Week: RB Ameer Abdullah (DET) vs. CLE

For everything the Browns do wrong, they are very good at stopping the run, and that has been true all season. Abdullah could have had a huge game Monday night against Green Bay, but fumble-itis wrecked those chances, and he could still be in the doghouse come Sunday. Matchup and form do not favor the Lions RB here.

Who to Sit:

QB Kirk Cousins (WSH) vs. MIN: Despite his heroics last week against Seattle, he and the Washington offense still struggled mightily down almost all of their bullets. Minnesota's defense may be even better, meaning Cousins is pretty much a must sit this week.

RB Aaron Jones (GB) at CHI: The dreaded split backfield has appeared in Green Bay, with Jones and Montgomery exchanging touches with no good way to know who will get more week-to-week. The Bears aren't very good, but their defense has been strong at home It's hard to recommend Jones or Montgomery this week.

WR Kelvin Benjamin (BUF) vs. NO: He will make his Bills debut against the Saints, which means he'll be Tyrod Taylor's number one target. That's good. However, in his five career games against New Orleans, he's averaged 38 yards per game and only reeled in one TD. And that was against a historically bad Saints defense.

WR Will Fuller (HOU) at LAR: It was a fun few weeks when DeShaun Watson was the QB for the Texans for the NFL world and for Will Fuller. But with Tom Savage, let's just say no one is enjoying life nearly as much. And the Rams defense is infinitely better than that of the Colts, so Fuller's fortunes are going downhill, fast.

TE Julius Thomas (MIA) at CAR MON: Don't go fantasy chasing, my friends. Thomas had a great game against the Raiders, but his performance in the prior four games combined didn't match what he did against the Raiders, so expecting a repeat of that performance let's just say is unlikely.

DEF Denver vs. NE: Is the shine off the Broncos defense? Perhaps. They have too much to do now to carry that incredibly poor offense, and that doesn't bode well against the Patriots Sunday night. It's hard to sit them, but it may be high time to consider it.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Eli Manning (NYG) at SF: I know, I know. But we're talking strictly matchups here, and let's be honest, the 49ers are not very good at playing football. You'd have to be really digging deep to start Eli here, but it's not the worst option out there this week.

RB Derrick Henry (TEN) vs. CIN: With DeMarco Murray nursing a knee injury, Henry becomes more viable as a fantasy option. The Bengals rush defense didn't do a great job stopping backups against the Jaguars last week, so Henry could be in for a big day on Sunday as well.

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT) at IND: As he celebrates finally getting his driver's license, he should show it on the field by potentially putting in a great performance against the Colts. He's clearly the second WR on the Steeler depth chart now, and that's positive for him against the Colts who aren't really the greatest at playing defense.

Buyer Beware:

WR Jordy Nelson (GB) at CHI: You can't really sit him at this point because of the draft capital you invested, but with Brett Hundley moving the offense along at a snail's pace, there's not much else left to say. The Bears defense is also stingy at home, and this is not a good combination.

Good luck in Week 10!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

2017 Week 9 Fantasy Advice: Halfway done already?

Halfway through an NFL season of brutal injuries, some intriguing trades and more than a few surprises and your fantasy team probably doesn't look all that much like what it did when you drafted it in the summer. That's not surprising, but it does offer questions about the rest of this season, and time is running out to make meaningful changes to your roster and make the decisions that will push your team over the top. So what happens now as the calendar turns to November?


Start of the Week: Lamar Miller (HOU) vs. IND

Seattle's rushing defense is good enough to stop just about everybody in the league from being successful, but the same can't be said for the Colts defense. Miller, who has feasted on the Colts in his career, likely will do the same against a defense that gave up a big game to Joe Mixon last week.

Who to Start:

QB Drew Brees (NO) vs. TB: His fantasy numbers haven't exactly lit up your screens like you'd expect Drew Brees to do in the last couple of games, but against the Bucs defense which is nowhere near where anyone expected it to be, that could change, and probably will change.

RB Aaron Jones (GB) vs. DET MON: In the ever changing environment of Green Bay's offense without Aaron Rodgers, another Aaron, Aaron Jones, impressed against the Saints two weeks ago. The Lions aren't exactly a stout rush defense, so the fear of him splitting touches with Ty Montgomery isn't exactly too worrisome.

WR Dez Bryant (DAL) vs. KC: He couldn't get out of Josh Norman's shadow last week, which was salso somewhat weather induced, but this week he should get out of that shadow against the Chiefs. The Cowboys may need to rely on the arm of Dak Prescott without Ezekiel Elliot, and Bryant should feature prominently against a weak Chiefs secondary.

WR Devin Funchess (CAR) vs. ATL: Cam Newton will have throw to someone after Kelvin Benjamin was dealt to Buffalo, and Funchess seems to be that target. Atlanta's secondary has been really underwhelming this season, and if you need a bye week option, Funchess could be a really good one. He may even be on the waiver wire in some leagues.

TE Jack Doyle (IND) at HOU: He's a really good fantasy matchup, what can I say? In a position where there is little depth, starting Doyle is almost a must, especially in six team bye weeks. Houston's defense is weak and was torched by Jimmy Graham last week, so Doyle could have another positive game.

DEF LA Rams at NYG: The Rams have one of the better fantasy defenses and real defenses, so even travelling cross-country, they're a must start against the Giants who can't put any together on offense with or without most of their receivers.

Sit of the Week: RB Marshawn Lynch (OAK) at MIA

Here's another player who I said certainly wasn't worth it in fantasy, and he's been really poor in his last few games, missing almost the entire game against KC included. Miami's defense has been fairly stout against the run, Thursday against the Ravens excluded, so Lynch is someone to avoid this week.

Who to Sit:

QB Marcus Mariota (TEN) vs. BAL: Though he should be more healed from his hamstring injury than he was against Indianapolis or Cleveland, this matchup against the Ravens defense is not favorable at all. They've been stout against opposing QB's all season, which means healthy or not, Mariota is a big risk this weekend.

RB Alex Collints (BAL) at TEN: He had a great outing last Thursday against Miami, but starting him doesn't make a ton of sense against the Titans. They're stout at home defensively, and the Ravens backfield is heavily rotated, and keep in mind, Danny Woodhead could be returning soon.

WR T.Y Hilton (IND) at HOU: He's posted basically all of his fantasy points in home games against the 49ers and Browns, who, if I remember correctly, have a combined zero wins. Even though the Texans defense is not very good, it's hard to trust Hilton until he consistently proves that he can get back to old form again.

WR Pierre Garcon (SF) vs. ARZ: It was a rough day for him against the Eagles, and things may not get much better against the Cardinals and Patrick Peterson. And there's no Jimmy G throwing to him, at least not yet.

TE Martellus Bennett (GB) vs. DET MON: He says this will be his last NFL season, and unfortunately for people who put fantasy stock in him, he's playing like it. It's been a rough season for him, with or without Aaron Rodgers, and that doesn't bode well even against the Lions.

DEF Denver at PHI: The Broncos defense is still dominant and dynamic, however with the pressure their offense puts them under, it makes for long days at the office, and that probably continues against the reloaded Eagles offense.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Jared Goff (LAR) at NYG: The Giants defense, especially in the secondary, is nothing to sneeze at. But at some point with the lack of offense they have, they'll break down, and that will allow Goff to find some success. He's not the best option this week, but he does have a good chance to succeed.

RB Kenyan Drake (MIA) vs. OAK: Who will get the ball in the backfield with Jay Ajayi now in Philadelphia? That seems to be Drake, and while he might be best as a flex play this week, he has a promising matchup against Oakland to potentially exploit. He could be a decent stash and grab, since the Dolphins will need someone to run the ball.

WR Will Fuller (HOU) vs. IND: Not exactly a volume receiver, but he does put up huge numbers each and every week it seems, and that's hard to ignore and avoid. The Colts really can't do much right now in terms of defense, so Fuller, who has exploded onto the scene when DeShaun Watson took over, is another decent play this week.

Buyer Beware:

QB Derek Carr (OAK) at MIA: He put up bigger stat lines than you would have thought in the last couple of games, but it hasn't really changed his fantasy viability, which is to say there isn't much. He's not really a good matchup play even in a week when there are six byes.

Good luck in Week 9!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

2017 Wee 8 Fantasy Advice: the Columns that keep content on this blog

Fantasy football maybe this year more than ever has just been a slog. So many injuries to key players, and not many superstar surprises emerging have combined for this to just be a brutal year. And now we're in the worst part of said brutal year: the six team bye weeks. You'll be stretched thinner than ever, and seasons can be made or broken at this time of year too. Being prepared is key, and in these weeks of all weeks, you can be really caught off guard.


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

Seattle's offense has been so dicey fantasy, that normally reliable options such as Baldwin fell on hard times to start the season. But he's start to emerge from that fog after a series of good games, and the matchup against Houston is very promising. The Texans defense is thin and not very good in the secondary, which makes Baldwin highly appealing.

Who to Start:

QB Cam Newton (CAR) at TB: It's really hard to peg Cam as a fantasy QB. Some weeks, like against the Pats, he's gangbusters. And then last week against Chicago, he's very poor. Tampa's defense is nowhere near where anyone expected it would be, so this offers up an opportunity in a thin week for some success.

RB Jordan Howard (CHI) at NO: He hasn't met his lofty expectations this year, and plenty of that has to do with the tire fire that has been the Bears offense, but teams are starting to learn how to defend Howard as well. He still gets his touches though, and that is key against a Saints defense that while it's getting better, still gave up a big day to Aaron Jones last week.

WR Keenan Allen (LAC) at NE: Where has he gone in recent weeks? His slide in the fantasy realm is concerning, but there is promise against New England this week. While their defense looked much better against Atlanta, for this column until further notice, it's still twice is a trend, not once, so to speak.

WR Adam Thielen (MIN) vs. CLE LONDON: Without Stefon Diggs, Thielen has really been the focal point of Minnesota's offense. He's not scoring touchdowns, but with the targets he's getting, he's reeling in plenty of catches and yards. The Browns are such a good matchup for everyone, that it's hard to not start Thielen even in a thin week.

TE Jason Witten (DAL) at WSH: He finally popped up after a few weeks in fantasy hibernation, and with a favorable matchup in Washington on hand, his fantasy good spell may just continue into another week. Tight End has been such a dicey proposition in fantasy land this year, this may just be a solid option.

DEF Minnesota vs. CLE LONDON: While they didn't rack up points against the Ravens last week, it's the Browns. If they don't light it up this week, when will they?

Sit of the Week: QB Matthew Stafford (DET) vs. PIT

Stafford has been inconsistent this year, and next, he gets to face the stiffening Steelers defense that has been locking down just about all opposing QB's in their way. Stafford is a dicey play even in a thin week like this one.

Who to Sit:

QB Josh McCown (NYJ) vs. ATL: So you may be thinking to yourself: Josh McCown, a good fantasy QB? Yep, he's actually been one of the bigger surprises this season, especially late. This Atlanta defense isn't the unit it used to be, but it's still pretty impressive, so if you need a flyer this week, there may be better ones available.

RB Lamar Miller (HOU) at SEA: Miller has been decent this season in running and catching for Houston, but no matchup for opposing running backs is ever favorable against the Seahawks. Plus, D'Onta Foreman is starting to emerge as a legit handcuff too. 

WR Terrelle Pryor (WSH) vs. DAL: I don't want to say I told you so, but before the season, I was telling everyone who would listen that Pryor was a very risky high draft pick for many reasons, the least of which was that I wasn't sold on him as a wideout yet. And lo and behold, he's been quite bad this season, which means even against a bad Dallas secondary, it's hard to recommend starting him over Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder. 

WR DeSean Jackson (TB) vs. CAR: He's been hit or miss this season for the Bucs, which isn't what many of us expected to see. Carolina's secondary hasn't been the reason why they're losing of late, so Jackson, who struggled a touch in Buffalo last Sunday, could struggle again here.

TE Jack Doyle (IND) at CIN: As the only player on the Colts who is really fantasy viable anymore week to week, it's hard to bench him in a thin week at a thin position. Yet, the Bengals have given up one TD to tight ends in six games, so Doyle may have to face more trouble this week.

DEF Denver at KC MON: Denver's defense is not the reason why the Broncos are struggling, but at Kansas City on a Monday night does not bode well for the Broncos, especially if their offense continues to struggle as it has been the last few weeks.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Case Keenum (MIN) vs. CLE LONDON: Yep, another random fantasy option like him who could be great in a six team bye week. As stated elsewhere in this piece, and everywhere else in the world, the Browns are terrible at football, so if you need a one week flyer, he's a fantastic option.

RB Christian McCaffrey (CAR) at TB: I'll admit, I loved McCaffrey coming out as a fantasy option this year because of his ability to catch the ball from the backfield and add something different to this running game. But, it hasn't panned out that way, not even close to that. However, if he can't succeed against this Tampa defense on Sunday, he may be banished to flex play only for the rest of the way.

WR Mohamed Sanu (ATL) at NYJ: He, like all Falcons, was quiet last week in in Foxborough against the Pats, but he could see a decent uptick this week against the Jets, who gave up big chunks of yards and fantasy points to Matt Moore last week.

Buyer Beware:

WR Demaryius Thomas (DEN) at KC MON: The matchup on paper is favorable here for one of the highest drafted wideouts in fantasy land this year, but with the way the Broncos offense is sputtering, and the game on the whole that they are facing, I'm very skeptical of Thomas this week in spite of the week, and matchup.

Good luck in Week 8!

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?


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.


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.

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.

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!