Friday, August 29, 2014

10 NFL Trends for 2014

Everybody Wants One
10) Four NFL teams are led in receiving yardage by tight ends, as it becomes even more obvious that this is the easiest throw on the field, and an ever-increasing number of failed basketball power forwards find football to be a lucrative second career.

9) The rules about hitting the QB greatly reduce the importance of back-up QBs, to the point where teams start to economize at the position with rooks and free agents.

8) The lack of rules about hitting the RB greatly increases the importance of RB committees, to the point where teams start to pull their best backs with any kind of lopsided score.

7) More kickoffs are returned for touchdowns, as fewer reps covering the play due to touchbacks lead to lapsed coverage schemes

6) The Chip Kelly copycattery kicks in hard, as more teams use quick tempo to limit defensive substitutions and make running plays more effective

5) This is the year where some player scores a TD the defense is trying to give up, then confesses that he did it to make his fantasy owners happy

4) For the first time in forever, ratings go down for more than just terrible MNF match-ups, as offense gets to the point of imbalance, and more and more games let you ship 2 to 3 quarters without missing anything too important

3) Home field advantage continues to diminish, as the Niners have none after their move, and the cost metrics of  going to a game moves crowd composition to affluence over location

2) Average game length creeps further toward 3:30 due to increased replay and penalty consultation, along with the fact that no network is interested in hurrying their highest rated program off the air

1) The extra few players on the practice schedule helps deeper / better organizations, as they are more likely to bring in ready to use extras in the event of injury

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Your Really Might Not Be Worthless 2014 NFC Predictions

My Method
Last year's columns predicted, I kid you not, all kinds of great stuff. Peyton Manning as AFC MVP, Pete Carroll as coach of the year, Eddie Lacy as the NFC Rookie of the Year, stay awaus from Cecil Shorts and Stephen Jackson, seven out of 16 playoff teams and the Super Bowl winner, albeit over Cincy instead of Denver. I liked Chicago too much (defensible given the injury issues), but otherwise everything was skittles and beer. And then the season started, and the fantasy team tanked, and the picks were even worse, with a final record of 120-129-10.

This year, the fantasy team seems better, we've got a much better idea of what a Chip Kelly team will look like, and the Super Bowl teams look even better than they did last year. The odds of a repeat champion have rarely been lower, and the really scary thing about Seattle is that they might not have reached their peak yet. It's looking like a chalk year in the conference to me. But there's four months between now and then, and every NFL team is a handful of injuries away from irrelevance.

But, well, you've got to predict, right? Otherwise you can't prove you are smarter than anyone else. When the very act itself proves that you are dumber...

NFC East

Philadelphia 10-6
New York 8-8
Dallas 7-9
Washington 6-10

The Eagles are a better team in a lot of ways than the 2013 edition. The most profound improvement is on special teams, where the coverage teams are going to be dramatically better, but the defensive secondary should also take a step up with Marlon Jenkins and Nolan Carroll. On the down side will be the offense, which is in a transition era at WR, and with an aging OL that isn't going to stay healthy. Overall depth is better, and the team is closer to the Kelly Ideal of hyper-conditioned compliant players with versatility.

The problem is that while they will be better, the schedule is going to make them look worse, and they didn't do enough to close the gap on the conference's top teams. Winning the division isn't enough; you also need to be a top 2 seed, and in a world with Seattle, New Orleans and Green Bay, not having home field advantage is a total non-starter. There will also be regression on turnover luck, better planning from opponents, and real struggles for QB Nick Foles when the world figures out that single press coverage on the wideouts is the only way to go with this kind of explosive running attack. But this is the only good team in the weakest division in football, and they'll repeat as division champs.

Second place will go to New York, where a good defense and some solid overall talent is being counterfeited by terrible QB play and an elderly coach that's coasting off a couple of fluke SB wins. They'll go as far as QB Eli Manning will prevent let them, which really isn't far enough. Third goes to Dallas, who almost have to be better on defense somehow, and will waste some of the best weapons in the game with an offensive line that won't keep their QB clean. DC will bring up the rear with a stars and scrubs roster with not good enough stars, and scrubs that shouldn't be in the NFL. They'll distract everyone by blaming the QB, because that's what terrible organizations do.

NFC North

Green Bay 11-5
Chicago 10-6 *
Detroit 7-9
Minnesota 6-10

The follow of predicting NFL seasons is writ large  in the NFC North, where the division is almost always decided by injuries to the offensive line of Green Bay or Chicago. I'll take Green Bay since their defense has a higher ceiling, and QB Jay Cutler can't seem to stay healthy, but if these conditions reverse, so should the division. As for the Pack, there are additional reasons to take them over the Bears, not including a better home field advantage and more experienced coaching, but it's close.

As for the Bears, there isn't a better WR 1/2 combo, and RB Matt Forte is top shelf as well. But the defense and special teams were terrible last year and might not improve much, and last year's dramatic improvement on the OL might regress. I still think they are going to be a major force in fantasy, if nowhere else. Detroit is trying to instill a new era of discipline and smart play with a new cadaverish-coach (Jim Caldwell, last seen sleep-tanking the Colts to Andrew Luck), but the inmates run this asylum, and aren't going to be here too much longer. Bringing up the rear is Minnesota, who will again prove that you can't win in the NFL without a QB, but will scare the hell out of teams that have to play them. Adrian Peterson is nobody's idea of easy, and Cordarelle Patterson is going to make a lot of noise as well.

NFC South

New Orleans 12-4
Atlanta 10-6
Carolina 8-8
Tampa 5-11

This might be the last best chance for Drew Brees to add a second Super Bowl ring. The running backs are better, the WR corps is deeper, TE Jimmy Graham is healthy, and the defense took a strong step up last year. If they didn't run into turnover trouble, they might have actually taken Seattle out at home, and I really love WR Brandin Cooks. The only trouble is that Brees is 35, has started to show badly in road games, and might not stay healthy. But when they are good, they might be the best team in football. The trick will be to time it for the last six weeks of the year.

Atlanta hit free-fall last year, and while they weren't as good as their record in past years, they weren't as bad last year, either. I'm looking for last gasp years from WR Roddy White and RB Stephen Jackson, a better performance than last year's turnstile OL, and a defense that still can't rush the passer enough to scare good teams. They'll benefit from a surprisingly weak division. Next up will be the very disappointing Panthers, who will demonstrate why defense isn't as consistent from year to year as offense, and will have major issues if QB Cam Newton isn't an MVP candidate... and he's hurt now and has a weak WR corps otherwise, so it's not looking good. Tampa will try to win games by throwing jump balls to huge WRs, and it won't work because that kind of play requires enough time to get the play off.

NFC West

Seattle 13-3
San Francisco 11-5 *
Arizona 7-9
St. Louis 3-13

Last year, this was the best division in football, and this year, it's going to fragment. Seattle is just loaded all over, with a better offensive line, a healthy Percy Harvin, a crazy dangerous Parul Richardson if Harvin isn't available, deeper and more experienced RB work... and that's still the weaker unit to the ridiculously good defense. They aren't as deep as they used to be thanks to free agency, but they are still crazy young, deep and fantastic, and if they get better on the road and stay healthy, they might go undefeated.

San Francisco has all kinds of red flags to them; aging defense, terrible work in pre-season, shakiness about the head coach in the off-season, and a new stadium that will destroy their home field advantage for years to come. (Karmic justice!) I still think they get to the post-season, because QB Colin Kaepernick is a lot better once you give him actual WRs to throw to, and that was the case for the second half of last year, when they were the second-best team in football. If you swapped Kaepernick for Carson Palmer, I'd change the Arizona and San Francisco records, but, um, you can't... and the attempt to overcome Palmer will eventually use up RB Andre Ellington. The defense isn't as young as you'd think, either. St. Louis was going to under-achieve before they lost their QB1,and while the drop from Sam Bradford to Shaun Hill isn't that intense, they still don't have skill players to get it done, especially in this division. Oh, and the home field advantage is horrible.

NFC MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Least Valuable Player: Eli Manning
Fantasy MVP: Matt Forte
NFC Coach of the Year: Sean Payton
All-Pro QB: Rodgers, Kaepernick, Cutler
All-Pro RB: Forte, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson
All-Pro WR: Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall
All-Pro TE: Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis
Defensive Player of the Year: Gerald McCoy
NFC Rookie of the Year: Brandin Cooks

Tomorrow, the AFC and the playoff picks. Y'all come back now, ya hear?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fantasy Football Gamebreakers

Sleepers and busts populate Blogfrica, so I'm going to do something different here. I'm going to point out the handful of players who will decide your league, for good or ill.


Matthew Stafford. Not only is he going to make or break your investment in Calvin Johnson, he's either going to deliver top 3 value (inevitably, someone in the Brees-Rodgers-Peyton Manning triumvirate will either get hurt or ineffective, just because three sure bets don't all pay off), or be the guy who flamed out in the second half of 2014 and took teams down hard. My money's on the former, but this is an either/or.

Nick Foles. Guaranteed to throw more picks than 2013, but he's still not going too high as everyone seems to be overplaying the regression card. The NFC East is still a collection of powderpuff defenses, and it's possible that Year 2 will be smoother in some regrets. It's also possible that not having DeSean Jackson packs zones tight enough to make him ordinary, and the OL doesn't do as good of a job at keeping him clean. We know he's not beating teams with his legs.

Tony Romo. I'm scared as hell of a guy with a bad OL and recent back surgery, but there's no denying that he's got weapons and a defense that will make scoring 30 points a game a minimum requirement for victory. This could be a pinball game, or it could be a train wreck.

Jay Cutler. Kind of a safer version of Romo, but with two clear WR1 candidates and a top 5 RB behind him. If you owned Bear QB in 2013, you owned the best fantasy QB numbers (yes, even better than St. Peyton, who eased up a bit at the close). It's possible that he does it again, especially if the defense is another sieve, but his injury history isn't encouraging.

Cam Newton. A routine top 5 finisher at his position, due to his de facto status as Carolina's goal-line RB. This year is scary as hell from a health standpoint, and he's without longtime security blanket WR Steve Smith, but maybe new WRs Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Kelvin Benjamin give him better options.


Eddie Lacy. A first round pick and borderline top 5 selection in serpentine drafts, Lacy is aces on talent, young enough to still have ceiling, and tethered to Aaron Rodgers. But he's also injury prone, hasn't always shown exceptional conditioning, and plays for a team with a good enough idea on offense that a committee could spring up, especially in games where they have leads.

Montee Ball. Peyton Manning's RB is always a good idea... but only if he keeps the job. HC John Fox is partial to committees, and Ball showed enough warts in his rookie year (fumble prone, middling pass protection) that a slow start could make his role less than expected. If he keeps it, he could provide 1,500 yards and 15 TDs, because he's good in the passing game, too.

Andre Ellington. Electric talent with a pro coaching staff, but he's never had RB1 workloads before, plus he's got six games against the meat grinding defenses of Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis. He'll be available in the second, or even third, tier of RB1 candidates, but how he'll perform, no one really knows.

Arian Foster. A long-time history of top-shelf production, the defense could give him short fields, and his handcuff / rival Ben Tate is gone to Cleveland... but the outlook is terrible with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick at the controls, and he's not getting any younger or healthier. I'm staying away, but many will not.

Steven Jackson. He's either going too early based on name recognition, or too late based on everyone liking his handcuff and/or thinking he's completely spent. For now, he's got the RB1 job in a good dome offense, a rebuilt offensive line, and has healthy WRs to keep the sticks moving. I got him for a crazy low price in my auction league, so I'm hoping like hell for over-production, but the chance of total evaporation is not minimal.


Brandon Marshall. The only clear WR1 with a similarly ranked teammate, Marshall has gone from enfant terrible on his third franchise to respected vet. If he keeps the clear alpha dog role, he'll pay off his draft position, but there's a real chance that he gets poached quite a lot by Alshon Jeffery between the 20s, and Martellus Bennett in the red zone.

Randall Cobb. Potentially the NFL's best slot machine, but slot machine has a lot of turnover from year to year, and Cobb's injury history is no longer clean. Jarrett Boykin's work last year also says that if he's not 100%, the team will happily sit and save him for the playoffs, the same way that Seattle did with Percy Harvin. Speaking of...

Percy Harvin. It's not as if Seattle is going to start throwing it all over the yard, not with that defense and running game... but it's not as if the QB is chopped liver either, and when Harvin is right, Seattle might start winning games faster and easier. Especially in head to head leagues, Harvin is going to ruin people, both for and against.

Pierre Garcon / DeSean Jackson. Both guys are going too early for my tastes -- QB Robert Griffin hasn't looked sharp, and the OL has been a train wreck -- but the most likely event here is that DC Unmentionable recovers against the cupcake division defenses, and Griffin finds a favorite. Garcon was only a WR1 last year on volume, and Jackson has always been boom-bust with shaky second halves, so it's a coin flip. One I won't be taking, but someone's going to win and lose this.

Julian Edelman. If you are right to believe in his talent and last year's production, you will receive Welkerish consistency in the yardage totals, and enough TDs to keep you from bitching too much about QB Tom Brady's red zone habits. If you are right to crap on his output, Danny Amendola finally stays healthy and poaches him, Aaron Dobson develops, Brandon LaFell carves out a role, Rob Gronkowski returns to rule the earth, and so on, and so on. Maybe the guy to own here is actually Brady.


Rob Gronkowski. This category has pretty much been Gronk's for years now. I don't ever see him putting together a truly healthy season again, and his coaching staff is going to try to time it for the playoffs. But when he's right, you've got the only guy that can realistically stand up to Jimmy Graham in a head to head battle.

Julian Thomas. Well, hang on... here's the other guy in the triumvirate, and there's profit potential as well as regression. The profit comes from the possibility that the departure of Eric Decker and Welker's recent concussion opens up more touchdown chances for the man. The regression comes from his occasionally sketchy hands, relative youth and inexperience to football, and basic fact that Peyton Manning likes to spread things around and has new guys to acclimate. You won't get him cheap, but he might outperform the slot.

Jordan Reed. The true Unmentionable to own in the second half of 2013 doesn't have to worry about Fred Davis any more, and bad QB play usually creates opportunities for the TE. But he's also got much more competition for catches this year, and history is littered with guys who can't step up to full-season numbers. I like his talent and situation, but this is far from a sure thing.

Kyle Rudolph. Big skills here, and last year's numbers were solid even with terrible QB play... but that terrible QB play actually helped Rudolph in some ways, since every pass for half a year was a checkdown, and he got a ton of targets. This year, the offense has to be more diversified, which could mean fewer targets, but more shots in the red zone. There's also the inevitability of regime change at QB, so no matter what happens with Rudolph this year, he's always going to be in the news.

Charles Clay. Last year's waiver wire second-tier TE1 has battled injuries in training camp, and is a clear target for regression on the TD catches. On the other hand, new OC Bill Lazor is a tempo pusher with TE love, and QB Ryan Tannehill trusts him. He was the team's best short-yardage back in 2013, which isn't going to happen again in 2014.There's a possibility that this all boils down to the same production, but in dramatically different ways. For my money, I think he's got a great chance to be on a lot of winning teams, but regime change and the injuries also means he could flat out disappear, especially if the OL needs him to stay back and block.

Awful Topical Fantasy Football Team Names

These all fit in the 20 character Yahoo team name limits. Share and enjoy!

> Taney Grand Dragons
> Tampa Too MRSAy
>  E-Cig Suckers
> Hashtag Hashmarks
> Short Cease Fires
> Insane In Da Ukraine
> Ice Bucketeers
> Rescue Fakeouts
>  Koch Bros Presents
> Joe Ferguson Protest
> Arizona Border Def
> DC Name Change Now

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Top 10 Deep Keeper League Players For 2014

Future Stud
First, a quick point. The very best keepers in 2014 are strongly going to resemble the best keepers in 2013. If you've somehow got LeSean McCoy for cheap, he's going to be better than just about everyone else. But he won't come as cheap as these guys. So if your league is deep enough to stash for a gain in 2015... on to the bargain hunting!

10) QB Blake Bortles, Jacksonville

A great story is developing in J-Ville, where second year coach Gus Bradley went 0-8 to start 2013, then went 4-4 down the stretch to become the best team in the AFC South. In pre-season, Bortles has looked like the real deal, getting to second and third progressions, showing arm strength and mobility in the pocket. None of that happens for noob QBs that aren't special. Even better, the Jags' new talent at wideout are actual football players, unlike past years, and the offensive line also resembles football players.

I don't know if he's going to be a top 10 QB -- the defense looks upgraded as well, and Bradley isn't a coach that looks like he's going to dial up 600+ throws a year -- but there's nice steady and boring profit to be made here, especially in 2-QB leagues. And with the teams he'll face in the division, there's going to be some big TD games, too.

9) RB Carlos Hyde, San Francisco

RB Frank Gore, known early in his career for an inability to stay healthy, has shown remarkable durability late. But it can't last forever, which is why the Niners moved on a RB earlier than most in the draft.

Hyde has the quicks and talent to be an actual three-down back, and if you're still worried about getting cuckolded by the perpetually injured Marcus Lattimore, you are really worrying too much. The only downside here is his division, but there's still quality RB2 / third-round value possible in 2015.

8) TE Jace Amaro, New York Jets

Early drops in camp were an issue, but the recent work has been Ditka-esque, and TEs are a bad QB's best friend. Amaro is going to be the kind of TE that never leaves the field due to his blocking prowess, but he's too good in space and traffic to let them keep him down permanently.

If I were a Jet Fan, I'd live a very sad existence... but Amaro's jersey would be the only one I'd pull the trigger on in 2014.

7) QB Ryan Tannehill, Miami

Ready for Nick Foles II? Then step on down to Miami, where new OC Bill Lazor comes from Philly with the same pace of play ideas that changed the world up north. The division is still pretty easy when it comes to a lack of defensive ferocity, and the WR tandem of Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline is surprisingly peppy. Combine that the quality work of TE Charles Clay, an underwhelming running game, an offensive line that has to be better post-Incognito, and his own reasonable athleticism, and you've got serious profit potential from a QB that won't be drafted outside of 2-QB leagues. A Roethlisbergian ceiling awaits.

6) QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta

Take a look at Ryan's 2013, a reviled year where the bloom went off the rose... to the tune of 4,500 yards and 26 TDs. Now, that's without Roddy White, a banged-up Steven Jackson, widespread turmoil on the offensive line, and all of the turnover from injuries. This year, he has to live without safety blanket TE Tony Gonzalez, but he's also got an O-line again, depth at RB, a healthy White, and a last-place schedule. Oh, and the defense is still terrible, and he still plays half of his games in a dome. There's still ceiling here, and if he gets to it, it's 4,800 yards and 30+ TDs. Remember, you aren't drafting last year's numbers.

5) RB Tre Mason, St. Louis

Ignore the happy talk about how Shaun Hill has similar career numbers to Sam Bradford, or how the Rams are going to trade for Mark Sanchez, or sign Kyle Orton, and salvage their year. They aren't, and Hill isn't going to hold up, and even if they did, the Rams are in such a brutal division that it wouldn't matter. And part of the problem is RB1 Zac Stacy, a plodder who only rose to prominence by a few fluke games late in 2013. The club is aware of what they have here, and that's why they invested in Mason, who will be RB1 in 2015... and with an actual QB (either through the draft or free agency, Bradford's done), a fourth-place schedule, and all kinds of clear field ahead.

4) WR Paul Richardson, Seattle

Absolutely stupid speed here, enough to make even the Seattle secondary look bad in camp. He's got a sharp learning curve ahead with the run blocking and the route running, but if you believe Percy Harvin is going to stay healthy, I've got a bridge to sell you... and by 2015, Marshawn Lynch will have slowed down, and Seattle will be trusting QB Russell Wilson with more throws. Richardson isn't going to need many.

3) WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota

Everybody's favorite dark horse speed merchant is the rare hype machine that will live up to the notices. The reason why is (a) his 2013 numbers were unnaturally depressed due to the coaching staff's insane check-down obsession, and (b) the QB work can't be as bad as it was in 2013, especially with Teddy Bridgewater waiting in the wings. (I'm not as sold on Bridgewater, because the team is going to be pretty run-centric, but even that helps Patterson, since he gets a few carries.)

2) WR Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia

The second rounder has impressed in pre-season and training camp, and the men in front of him are injury-prone (Jeremy Maclin) and overrated (Riley Cooper). The catch rate here is strong, he does good work in the running game as a blocker (important in a Chip Kelly offense; it keeps you on the field), and his QB is accurate. WR1 status by 2015, with the potential for 1,200 yards and 10 scores.

1) RB Bryce Brown, Buffalo

RB1 CJ Spiller can't stay healthy, and is about to get expensive. RB2 Fred Jackson harkens back, which isn't anything a RB should do. And Brown is here, impressing the coaching staff, and going to get RB1 carries in a volume system next year. Stash him for a year, and you might wind up with second round value in 2015.