Archive for the ‘ Sports ’ Category

Reevaluating

I try not to overreact to things that go on in football, especially since we’re only a few days removed from the first slate of games. But what we saw from Kansas City against Buffalo (and Indianapolis against Houston) warrants some reconsideration of what I said in my Season Preview.

Houston now has to be the odds on favorite to win the AFC South after realizing just how valuable Peyton Manning is to the Colts. And while the devastating injury to Eric Berry doesn’t change San Diego’s position as AFC West frontrunner, it could possibly change the landscape of spots 2-4 in the division.

Last Sunday’s debacle against Buffalo was pretty disheartening for Chiefs fans all around. If there is one positive to take away from it, the team did have 18 carries for 108 yards. Sure, some of it came in garbage time, but at least they proved that in a closer game, when passing isn’t a complete necessity all of the time, this is still a team that can control the ball and move the chains.

That said, I don’t think it could have gone any worse. Matt Cassel completed a solid percentage of his passes, but 119 yards on 22 completions is unacceptable (and he had 3.3 yards per attempt! An absurdly low number).* Dexter McCluster fumbling on the opening play of the game was even worse. The team was -2 on turnovers, and the front seven looked like a junior varsity squad against Fred Jackson and the Bills’ ground attack. And to add insult to injury (or the other way around I guess), Eric Berry is now out for the year with a torn ACL. Again, I try not to overreact, but seeing all of these deficiencies after one week does not paint a very optimistic picture.

*He’s certainly come a long way, without a doubt. But just seeing Tom Brady operate against the Dolphins Monday night served as a stark reminder of just how long Cassel has to go as well.

Frankly though, I refuse to let one crappy week of football dictate my optimism for this team down the road, which remains extremely high. While, my expectations for this year have been lowered a good amount, I think this injury will really do nothing but good for the team in the long term. The absence of Berry (and Tony Moeaki) will force other players to improve their games at an even higher rate. Kendrick Lewis is no all-pro in the defensive backfield, but now that he is one the best playmakers the Kansas City secondary possesses, it is mostly on him to become a better safety on the fly. What’s more, the front seven will need an improved pass rush from guys like Justin Houston, Tyson Jackson, and Glenn Dorsey, to make it easier on that secondary. If a season’s small hopes are pinned on some of our more talented young players getting better, this is something I can definitely live with…the Chiefs aren’t New England or Pittsburgh yet. 

As far as records go, its not like Berry’s injury will make the Chiefs go from a seven to nine win team to a two to four win team. But there could be just enough extra losses to get a very high draft pick, and a great chance to improve this team even more along with it.* After this season, Cassel will have 3 years left on his contract. Wouldn’t that be the perfect amount of time to let a good young quarterback sit and develop and learn (like Matt Barkley, Kellen Moore, Landry Jones…..or, gasp, Andrew Luck) and be able to take the reins after his contract is up? That sounds like a great situation to me.

*Just to get an idea: Dallas had the 9th pick in the 2011 draft with 6 wins, and Arizona had the 5th pick with as many as 5 wins. Kansas City does not need to lose 14 games to get a special player.

A buddy of mine also presented the idea that if this year turns out as bad as many now think it will, the first reaction of the media and less educated fans will be to call last year’s 10-6 record a fluke. While that will make many of the diehards angry, I doubt too many of the players even care. And if they do, won’t that just motivate them even more for next season? The “nobody believed in us”/”us against the world” mantra has taken teams very far in the past. I wouldn’t mind it at all if the players want to use that next season, or even this season.

Furthermore, Eric Berry may be losing a year of playing time. But he also left college a year early for the NFL. And he doesn’t turn 23 until December, making him even younger than most people would guess. While he won’t be able to physically play the game, this is a chance for him to get the technical/schematic aspects of Romeo Crennel’s system locked down. Yeah, there is definitely no substitution for learning by trial (in this case, with pads and a helmet, and against an offense), but I think there is also something to be said about learning from the sidelines.* And if anything, this will only get him all the more juiced for next season.

*Just ask Aaron Rodgers

I’m sure the biggest concern, though, is how this will affect Berry in the big picture. Well, upon listening to an interview from one of ESPN’s doctors (although, I can’t be sure how good the doctors are that ESPN has for guest spots), I learned that Berry should be a go for the start of training camp next year. Even better, he also noted that 95% of people who suffer ACL injuries like Berry’s go on to make full recoveries; gaining full range and all of the athletic capabilities possessed pre-injury. More than anything, the hardest thing for Berry to get back will be his confidence in planting that leg and making cuts on it, something I doubt he’ll have much of a problem with.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Progress this season won’t mean more wins or a division championship. Because of injuries and a tougher schedule, comparing this season with last season would be like trying to compare Kate Upton with this poor girl. The situations and surrounding circumstances are just different.

In an ideal world, Eric Berry stays healthy and plays the whole season. He continues to improve and he asserts himself as the heir apparent to the likes of Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. But if you are looking for an ideal world, the NFL would probably be last on your list of places to visit. It sucks that he won’t be able to play anymore. It puts even more pressure on the entire team, and especially the secondary, to perform even better than originally expected. But sometimes, the NFL sucks.

It will be difficult for this team to win more than 6 or 7 games (that would have been difficult even if Berry and Moeaki were still healthy). But from the guys that are already on the roster to the guys that will be after April of 2012, to many other factors (WARNING: talking long-term here, something that requires patience, understanding etc)…I just don’t see how this injury doesn’t benefit the Kansas City Chiefs.

WEEK 2 PICKS (Home team in CAPS)

WASHINGTON over Arizona

Philadelphia over ATLANTA

Baltimore over TENNESSEE

BUFFALO over Oakland

GREEN BAY over Carolina

NEW ORLEANS over Chicago

DENVER over Cincinnati

INDIANAPOLIS over Cleveland

Dallas over SAN FRANCISCO

DETROIT over Kansas City

Houston over MIAMI

NEW YORK JETS over Jacksonville

MINNESOTA over Tampa Bay

NEW ENGLAND over San Diego

NEW YORK GIANTS over St. Louis

PITTSBURGH over Seattle

Last Week: 11-5

Overall: 11-5

NFL Season Preview

Editor’s Note: As I said in yesterday’s column, predicting just a single season for a single team presents a seriously thin margin for error. So now just multiply that by 32 and add in all of my award and playoff predictions and that’s what you’re getting today. If even half of these turn out to be “sort of” correct, I will consider today’s deal a success.

Well the football year officially begins in just one day, and I think all of the the lockout business during the summer only hyped it up even more. And as is always the case with the NFL, there is no shortage of storylines. When will Peyton Manning return to the field and return to form? Will Philadelphia be able to live up to the high expectations this year? Can Green Bay defend their championship? How will all of the coaches on the hot seat respond this year? And I would be remiss to not include Cam Newton’s name as well.

Concerning gameplay, I think the most important thing for teams looking to win is continuity from the previous season. That is always important no matter the situation, but this year more than others for the simple fact that there were basically no football activities, practices, etc. for the entire summer. Teams that had low personnel turnover, like Green Bay and Pittsburgh, or the ones that got together for an unusually high amount of player organized workouts, like New Orleans, will benefit the most. Thats not to say it is the end-all-be-all for teams who think they can win now, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.

As far as the win-loss predictions go, I went through every team’s schedule, and went with a pretty quick call on every single game that was played. And to ensure accuracy with records, I didn’t forget to carry games over. To explain, when going through Chicago’s slate of games for example, I put them as Week 9 losers at Philadelphia. When I was finished there, I made sure to go to Philadelphia’s schedule and put them as Week 9 winners against Chicago and so on and so forth for every team. So, without further ado, here are my regular season/playoff/awards thoughts on the 2011-2012 football season.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys 11-5 (4-2) (Division Champion, No. 3 Seed)

Philadelphia Eagles 10-6 (2-4) (Wildcard, No. 6 Seed)

New York Football Giants 8-8 (3-3)

Washington Redskins 5-11 (3-3)

Analysis: I am going all in on the Cowboys this year (as you will see below in the awards section and my playoff predictions) and I don’t think they will disappoint. Jason Garrett is going to prove himself as one of the top play callers in the game, Felix Jones will establish himself as a feature back, and Tony Romo will re-ascend into the top tier level of quarterbacks in the game. The only questions are how fast will the defense be able to adjust to Rob Ryan’s new scheme and how capable this very young and inexperienced offensive line will prove itself to be. The Cowboys could start off a little sluggish given these issues, but I think they will peak at the right time…The Eagles made headlines almost every day after the lockout was lifted, it seemed, with the players they acquired. This team certainly has a lot of talent, but the offensive line is a huge question mark (not to mention, what the hell is/was wrong with Jeremy Maclin?). Pair a possibly shaky line with Michael Vick’s probability of injury, and that is not a recipe for championship level success. The Eagles have a lot of the tools and the talent, and they are getting closer, but this is not their year…The New York Giants could easily win 10 games this year. But with a lot of new faces on the offensive line and an unlucky hoard of season ending injuries to a talented secondary, the Giants just won’t quite have the chops to compete with the big boys this season. The front office should be commended though, on how they have replenished their corps of receivers in the post-Plaxico era. Manningham and Nicks are studs…And Washington is just bad, plain and simple. Rex Grossman is their quarterback. Need I say more?

NFC North

Green Bay Packers 13-3 (6-0) (Division Champion, No.2 Seed)

Detroit Lions 8-8 (2-4)*

Chicago Bears 8-8 (2-4)*

Minnesota Vikings 7-9 (2-4)

*For the tiebreak, the first four steps (head to head, divisional record, win percentage in common games, win percentage in conference games) were unable to determine a winner. The next step was strength of victory, where the Lions edged out the Bears to win 2nd place in the division.

Analysis: Green Bay will run away with what should be a pretty competitive division in spots 2-4. Not to mention they will be even better thanks to getting Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant back after early, season ending injuries from the season before. Not much more needs to be said about the cheeseheads…Detroit is making improvements every season, but their future depends on how healthy Matt Stafford can stay. If he can, I think he’s capable of leading this team to a Super Bowl at some point in his career. I really believe it. This kid has all of the tools and the intangibles…With Julius Peppers, Chicago’s defense became one of the elite units in the game last season. On the other hand, I really don’t like their offensive line or receivers or Mike Martz in general. They just haven’t put the right guys around Jay Cutler, and it will show this year…Minnesota has some really good players, but Donovan McNabb is surely on the downside of his career. Maybe he proves that last season’s fiasco in Washington was only an apparition, but I’m not betting on it. Where he goes this season, so goes Minny.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints 13-3 (4-2) (Division Champion, No. 1 Seed by virtue of Week 1 victory over Green Bay)

Atlanta Falcons 11-5 (5-1) (Wildcard, No. 5 Seed)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7 (3-3)

Carolina Panthers 2-14 (0-6)

Analysis: After last season’s embarrassment to Seattle in the divisional round, I think the Saints, and especially Drew Brees, will come out this season firing on all cylinders (or as Bill Simmons termed it, “Efff you” mode). They will remind all of the people who seemed to forget them that this is one of the truly elite teams in the league. Brees will take this “Efff you” mentality to a whole new level as he plays his way into an MVP award (I think in the same way Tom Brady Efff you’d his way to the honor last year). After that loss to Seattle, and all of the uncharacteristic picks he threw during the season, Brees will want to win badly this year. And we already got a glimpse of that with the passion he exhibited in organzing all of his team’s workouts during the lockout…Atlanta’s record may look worse compared to last year’s, but I think it’ll be more a result from New Orleans’ elevation of play rather than a dropoff in their own. The Falcons are still a no-doubter as one of the best teams in the NFC, you just can’t win 13 games every year. That’s not the way the NFL works…The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of the most promising up-and-comers the league has to offer. Josh Freeman made unexpectedly huge strides in his development and added himself to an incredibly promising crop of young quarterbacks to take the mantle after the Manning’s/Brady’s/Brees’s of the world are gone. Unfortunately Raheem Morris and the Buc’s are caught in a division with two powerhouses. They will be competitive this year, but will not be able to find a way into the playoffs until the Saints drop off…Cam Newton will be starting this season at quarterback for Carolina. Thats all you really need to know. I’m putting the over/under for his completion percentage on the season at 45.

NFC West

St. Louis Rams 9-7 (4-2) (Division Champion, No. 4 Seed)

Arizona Cardinals 7-9 (4-2)

Seattle Seahawks 6-10 (3-3)

San Francisco 49ers 4-12 (1-5)

Analysis: A true abomination of a division. St. Louis will be the team to take advantage of its situation and secure a playoff spot by finishing with a winning record. Sam Bradford is a future superstar and the defense is making strides. The front office needs to prioritize the continued building of the offensive line and receiving corps though…Arizona’s season hinges completely on Kevin Kolb. I think he will be decent enough this year (better down the road) but it won’t be enough to top St. Louis for the division crown. At the same time though, this is a team that could sneak up on some people, especially if Kolb can exceed expectations and Chris (I refuse to call him Beanie) Wells can stay healthy…Seattle’s is coached by Pete Carroll and is quarterbacked by Tarvaris Jackson. That combination has no chance at making the playoffs, which is a shame because their is some intriguing talent at other spots on that roster…College coaches being successful in the NFL is, by general rule of thumb, something that just doesn’t happen. I’ve never believed in it before, but Jim Harbaugh made me think twice. He’s got a shot to become one of the best coaches in the NFL. Unfortunately, it just won’t be this year. Michael Crabtree has been disappointing as a teammate, and Alex Smith is not capable of leading a team to the playoffs. Down the road, this could be a team to watch though. Pat Willis is an absolute monster at linebacker.

NFC Playoffs

Wildcard Round

(5) Falcons def. (4) Rams

(3) Cowboys def. Eagles (6)

Divisional Round

(1) Saints def. (5) Falcons

(3) Cowboys def. (2) Packers

Conference Championship

(3) Cowboys def. (1) Saints

As I said before, I am all in on this Cowboys team. Many people have believed they could break through in the playoffs before and they’ve faltered, but I really like the talent and personnel this team has, and I believe in Tony Romo and Jason Garrett. This could easily blow up in my face, but for now, I’ll see you in Indy Cowboys.

AFC East

New England Patriots 14-2 (5-1) (Division Champion, No. 1 Seed by virture of Week 8 victory over Pittsburgh)

New York Jets 11-5 (5-1) (Wildcard, No. 5 Seed by virture of Week 4 victory over Baltimore)

Buffalo Bills 5-11 (1-5)*

Miami Dolphins 5-11 (1-5)*

*Tiebreak also settled on strength of victory this time around. The fact that the two tiebreaks had to go through so many steps was probably one of the resulting flaws of the way I organized these standings.

Analysis: I think the Patriots are not nearly ready yet to be dethroned from their seat atop the AFC East. This team is just too good and too prepared every week to not win this thing…New York is coming on fast, but until Mark Sanchez can establish himself as a top ten quarterback or Tom Brady gets seriously hurt, this division is all about New England. Despite the circus atmostphere Rex Ryan brought to New York, what he has done to that team with very average quarterback play has been a lot of fun to watch…Chan Gailey does not deserve to be a head coach in the NFL, but one nice thing I can say about him is that he is unusually good at getting points out of mediocre offenses (just look at what he did with Tyler Thigpen in Kansas City). This team has some solid pieces in place, and I think they’ve actually made strides the past year or so, but they still have a long way to go and play in a division with New England and New York. Marcell Dareus is an all-pro waiting to happen though…Miami has a chance to be a train wreck this season. I don’t like any of their running backs, or that offense in general. I haven’t completely lost faith in Chad Henne, but I’m pretty close. I just feel bad for Tony Sparano and the lack of class he was treated with concerning his job status this previous offseason. I think this guy can coach, just not in Miami. He’ll be gone after the season. Probably a good thing though, because this is not a very well run team.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers 13-3 (6-0) (Division Champion, No. 2 Seed)

Baltimore Ravens 11-5 (4-2) (Wildcard, No. 6 Seed)

Cleveland Browns 5-11 (1-5)

Cincinnati Bengals 3-13 (1-5)

Analysis: Similar division make up as the AFC East. Two REALLY good teams, one mediocre team, and a really bad one. The only difference between the Ravens and Steelers this year in the standings will come from their head to head matchups where I have the Pittsburgh sweeping the season series.* Baltimore might have Ray Lewis, but Pittsburgh has the best/most balanced collection of linebackers I have seen in my lifetime (not an exaggeration). You can put Timmons, Farrior, Harrison, and Woodley all as starters on the all-pro team this year and I don’t think you would hear complaints from anyone. Pittsburgh will be one of the favorites to win the AFC championship this year and with that coaching staff and defense (not to mention a VERY underrated offense), its not difficult to see why…Baltimore is a team I’ve always pulled for, but you have to wonder if Joe Flacco can become the man at quarterback the team so desperately needs to win one last Super Bowl for Ray Lewis. You do have to give him credit for all of the road playoff victories he’s pulled off, but Baltimore’s road to the Super Bowl always seems to be going through Pittsburgh. And until they can find a way to beat that team when it really matters, they will never play for the big prize…I like what Cleveland has been doing the last few years as far as completely rebuilding this team can go. These things just take some time, but it appears they may have found a guy in Colt McCoy… Marvin Lewis says that the Bengals will be even better than they were last year. But I’m not sure how that is possible when they are having to replace Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco (even if they are both over the hill) with two rookies. Not to mention they lost their shutdown corner in Jonathan Joseph to Houston. This team will be tough to watch.

*In my opinion, these games have become easily the most fun to watch every year. I love an Indianapolis v. New England game as much as anyone, but now that the Colts are trending downward, Baltimore v. Pittsburgh has become easily the most competitive, brutal game you can possibly find. There is something about seeing guys like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger beat on each other for 3.5 hours that you can’t find anywhere else. The teams have a pretty mutual dislike for one another, and there are hard hits, big plays, and close outcomes every time. Unfortunately, people who like to see 60 points a game should probably stay away. This is old school football at its absolute finest.

Mike Tomlin is just all sorts of awesome

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts 10-6 (4-2) (Division Champion, No. 4 Seed)*

*Gonna hedge again here, but this pick is obviously completely contingent on Peyton Manning playing at the very least 13 or 14 games. Anything less than that and my pick would be Houston to take the division at 9-7 or 10-6.

Houston Texans 9-7 (3-3)

Tennessee Titans 7-9 (2-4)

Jacksonville Jaguars 5-11 (3-3)

Analysis: I am rooting hard for the Texans to finally pull the rug out from under the Colts this season but I just don’t see it happening. I loved the Wade Phillips hire as defensive coordinator, and getting Jonathan Joseph (along with the improvement of 2010 first round pick Kareem Jackson) can really shore up that secondary. But switching from a 4-3 to a base 3-4 defense doesn’t work overnight. Its a process, especially if the guys you’re working with have played in a 4-3 their whole lives (Mario Williams could have a tough time shifting to outside linebacker). Houston is lucky they get Indy week one with Peyton on the sidelines. But the game I am really watching for is Week 16 when the Texans have to play at the Colts. The division, and a playoff spot, could be riding on it. Houston is agonizingly close to putting it together, but until I see a Peyton Manning led team not win a division championship, I am putting my money on him every year. Bank on Gary Kubiak (as well as Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio) losing his job after the season…I like what Tennessee did in getting Matt Hasselbeck, and they may have found a stud in tight end Jared Cook, but I think this team just lacks the overall talent to compete on a weekly basis. Look for them to give a few contenders a run for their money though…Jacksonville’s starter this season is Luke McCown which means game over. Its as easy as that. Although, I think their defense could be sneaky good this year and keep them in a few games. 

AFC West

San Diego Chargers 11-5 (4-2) (Division Champion, No. 3 Seed)

Kansas City Chiefs 8-8 (5-1)

Denver Broncos 5-11 (2-4)

Oakland Raiders 3-13 (1-5)

Analysis: Having the Chargers winning the AFC West was not a difficult call. Despite the Raiders and Broncos are quietly and slowly getting better (despite the five game regression in Oakland I have this year), and the Chiefs developing into a down-the-road contender, this will still be San Diego’s division for the season, and probably the one after it as well. Philip Rivers is one of the best in the business at quarterback, and I think Norv Turner is a little underrated. Chargers take the the division easily…You’ve already heard me talk about Kansas City enough so I’ll stay away from that one…Losing Asomugha obviously hurts Oakland a lot. And the exit of Zach Miller along with Robert Gallery to Seattle doesn’t help things either. Even with all of that, there is some talent that the Raiders can build on. I’m just not sure if I can see this team being competitive until Al Davis cedes control over major personnel decisions (he really does struggle)…After the Josh McDaniels debacle of the last two seasons, I don’t think Denver could have made a better hire than John Fox, one of my favorite coaches in the league. I actually trust John Elway (never thought I would say that in my lifetime) to make some good decisions and he already got off to a good start with their newest draftee, Von Miller (who has been garnering comparisons to Derrick Thomas). Denver doesn’t have a franchise quarterback (sorry Tebow fans but that’s the reality), and they are still 4-5 years away, but things are actually looking up. 4-5 years is kind of a long time though.

AFC Playoffs

Wildcard Round

(6) Ravens def. (3) Chargers

(4) Colts def. (5) Jets

Same matchup as last year (again contingent on a healthy Manning). I know you’re saying, “Well, didn’t New York come in there and win last year? And haven’t the Colts gotten worse and the Jets better since then?” You are right on all accounts. I just don’t see Manning losing again in the manner he did last year. He’s too good and too smart for that. I’m pretty sure at least.

Divisional Round

(2) Steelers def. (6) Ravens

(1) Patriots smoke (4) Colts

For the 3rd time this season, the Ravens cannot overcome Mike Tomlin’s Steel Curtain 2.0. And the Patriots, after last season’s home playoff embarrassment, go into a postseason “Efff you” mode. They are PISSED.

Conference Championship

(1) Patriots smoke (2) Steelers

For some reason, Tom Brady is the only guy in the league who has been able to legitimately figure out that “Stiller” defense over the last few years. It’ll show again here as the Patriots march to another Super Bowl appearance.

Awards

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Mark Ingram (RB) New Orleans Saints

Defensive Rookie of the Year: 1a. Von Miller (LB) Denver Broncos

1b. Marcell Dareus (DL) Buffalo Bills

Comeback Player of the Year: Tony Romo (QB) Dallas Cowboys*

*He may not even be eligible, but what the hell.

Offensive Player of the Year: Ray Rice (RB) Baltimore Ravens

Defensive Player of the Year: DeMarcus Ware (LB) Dallas Cowboys

Coach of the Year: Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys

MVP: Drew Brees (QB) New Orleans Saints

SUPER BOWL

(1) New England Patriots def. (3) Dallas Cowboys

Its hard to believe that when the big game rolls around next February, it will have been 8 years since the Patriots have last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. That is a shockingly long time for me and I think it stops this season. It’s just been too long for this team and they have suffered too many playoff losses in past years (seriously, how have they not won a Super bowl since 2004?!). Belichick and Brady light a collective fire under the team’s ass, they roll through the regular season, the playoffs, and outclass a feel good story in Dallas for an NFL championship. Brady wins his fourth ring and ends the Manning/Brady discussion for good. (Sorry for the jinx Pats fans…and the word count).

Now who’s ready for some football?

LOWEST WORD COUNT EVER!!!!/Kansas City Chiefs Season Preview

Editor’s Note: Predicting anything/everything is a pretty inexact science, especially when it comes to the NFL. Which is why this column is really just an opinion of how I THINK the season will end up for this proud franchise. This doesn’t take into account the injuries which will certainly befall the squad (as they do with every team), games in which the team inexplicably just doesn’t show up, or other situations in which they play over their talent level etc etc.

Back in Kansas City, expectations are pretty high among many fans about this coming season. And why shouldn’t they be? Many of the young players the team was forged around in a rough rebuilding project showed flashes of future stardom*, veterans came together and put up some career years, Todd Haley showed he can be a good coach (not great yet though), and Scott Pioli proved that there is indeed a plan in place to assemble a perennial contender, and that it is going extremely well.

*The absurd amount of alliteration in that sentence was unintended. As was the alliteration in the first sentence of this comment. I’m a wordsmith, deal with it.

And even though the Chiefs simply got outclassed in the playoffs by a very good Baltimore team, a division championship is a division championship (even though it was one of the worst divisions in football last season). I am extremely excited for the future as a Kansas City Chiefs fan. But despite all of the good things that happened last year, I am also tempering my expectations for this coming year.

For me, two teams come to mind when analyzing what is to come in Kansas City: the 2008 Cleveland Browns, and the 2009 Atlanta Falcons. In the season before for these respective teams, each came seemingly from nowhere to win a very good amount of games.* The bar was set very high for the next season, and each team could not withstand the pressure. Cleveland went back to their usual…a losing season, and we saw that the previous year was more of an outlier than anything. Atlanta, on the other hand, went 9-7, a regression for sure, but people still understood this was going to be a very good team down the road (13-3 the next season).

*Atlanta, with a rookie quarterback, went 11-5. Cleveland, with the fact that they are Cleveland and were led by the great Derrick Anderson, went 10-6.

Unfortunately, I believe the Chiefs will suffer from a similar sort of regression this season, and everyone will want to assume that it will be a Cleveland Browns type of deal. A team that was a huge fluke, not very talented, but very lucky. Rather, I think this will be more comparable to the backtracking we saw from Atlanta a few years ago. This is a team on a mission, with a lot to look forward to and a lot of the pieces in place. But its just not quite there yet.

OFFENSE

This is an intriguing situation, because there are players here who will be very good for a very long time. There are young/talented offensive lineman. Dwayne Bowe and Matt Cassel made huge strides. Jamaal Charles established himself as one of the best running backs in the league. And the team made solid, understated signings in fullback Le’Ron McLain, tackle Jared Gaither, and receiver Steve Breaston. 

But for each of those players, there is another player that is a big question mark. Will Jon Asamoah be able to replace Brian Waters at guard? Will the offensive tackles (particularly Barry Richardson) be able to play better than when they were thoroughly outmatched the last two weeks of last season? Can Matt Cassel continue to develop into an above average quarterback/is he even capable of leading a team to a Super Bowl? Will Jon Baldwin grow up? Can Dexter McCluster stay healthy? How will the team respond to the season ending injury to Tony Moeaki?

Obviously, that’s a lot of nitpicking. This offense has a lot more going for it than the majority of teams, but there are still some problems that need to be solved.

DEFENSE

This is the side of the ball that is most exciting for me. Drafting Eric Berry a season ago could pay the same franchise-changing dividends that came about when Carl Peterson drafted Derrick Thomas in 1989. Tamba Hali developed into one the leagues premier sackmasters. Derrick Johnson began to harness the serious amount of talent that made him a first round pick not long ago. And Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr showed why this secondary will be the stingiest in all of football very soon.

Again though, questions arise. Kelly Gregg was a very solid signing at nose tackle, but the rest of the defensive line is a bit iffy at this point. Can Glenn Dorsey continue to get better? Can Tyson Jackson do anything to indicate why he was drafted in the first round 2 years ago?* Will anyone step up at the other two linebacker spots? Can Andy Studebaker be an adequate replacement for Mike Vrabel? Will Kendrick Lewis be the safety valve at free safety that Eric Berry needs in order to make plays?

*If it means anything, I think he will. The development for highly drafted defensive ends takes a lot more time than fans would like.

Clearly, these are some pretty legitimate issues. But I think they will be more easily solved than some of the problems we have on offense. This could be a stretch here, but this defense has a chance to be one of the best in the NFL for the next ten years, bringing back shades of the team seen at Arrowhead Stadium in the mid-1990’s. But the questions always remain, no matter what side of the ball we’re talking about. Here are some more concrete predictions on how this year will end up.

Week 1: home against Buffalo. W (1-0)

Week 2: at Detroit. L (1-1)

Week 3: at San Diego. L (1-2)

Week 4: home against Minnesota. W (2-2)

Week 5: at Indianapolis. L (2-3)

Week 6: BYE

Week 7: at Oakland. W (3-3)

Week 8: home against San Diego. W (4-3)

Week 9: home against Miami. W (5-3)

Week 10: home against Denver. W (6-3)

Week 11: at New England. L (6-4)

Week 12: home against Pittsburgh. L (6-5)

Week 13: at Chicago. L (6-6)

Week 14: at New York (Jets). L (6-7) 

Week 15: home against Green Bay. L (6-8)

Week 16: home against Oakland. W (7-8)

Week 17: at Denver. W (8-8)

After picking each of these games, and looking through the final results, I figured that this outcome is not very likely. I think a final record of 8-8 is certainly feasable (the team will win somewhere between six and nine, MAYBE ten games this year), but the way this has worked out just won’t happen. I don’t think I have ever seen a four game winning streak followed by a five game losing streak capped off with a two game winning streak. Schedules are just too unpredictable. And a 5-1 division record could be a little ambitious.

Some key games that could really go either way are @Detroit, Minnesota, @Indianapolis, @Oakland, San Diego, Miami (this is a classic trap game), @Chicago, and @Denver. Putting half the schedule down for a “key games” section may be a little cowardly of me, but I truly believe that all of these games can go in either direction, and how the team does in these eight will determine whether or not they are playing postseason football.*

*Just to get a sense here, I have them going 5-3 in these games and it will still not be enough for a playoff berth.

 The obvious thing here though, is that the schedule this year is a great deal harder than last year’s, meaning that the team could make significant strides in the personnel department, and still finish with a worse result, which I believe is exactly what will happen. Yeah, there are some gimme’s on the slate that the team should absolutely win. But I fear that there are far too many more games that the Chiefs should definitely lose (weeks 11-15 are absolutely brutal) or games that are complete toss-ups (meaning we’d have to win a very high percentage of games decided by seven points or less).

I am looking forward very much to seeing what kind of improvements the players can make this season, and also how the team stacks up against the toughest competition and best model franchises the league has to offer (we will get many chances to see this). But the one thing people need to remember is that progress doesn’t mean a better record than the previous season or another division championship. That would be too superficial (plus I would be absolutely shocked if anyone other than the San Diego Chargers won the AFC West). For the 2011-2012 Kansas City Chiefs, progress means taking that one last step backward, before taking a leap forward.

Sleepers and Poopers Part Two

Now for the final segment of our 3 part fantasy series. Rather than saying this is a team full of outright busts, it is really more a team consisting of players I am looking to avoid. A lot of these players will still submit some very productive seasons. But based on where they are being drafted, I believe the costs to acquire them will far outweigh the numbers I believe they are going to produce.

2011-12 ALL-POOPER TEAM (same format as the last two days)

QB: Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles. This was a pretty close call between Vick and Manning, but something tells me that Manning will find a way to get on the field for the season opener. I really don’t have very much against Vick, hell, he helped carry one of my teams to a fantasy championship (and a hefty prize) last season. I just don’t think people realize the type of punishment his body takes because of the style of football he plays. If you could tell me that Michael Vick would play even 15 games at the level he played at last year, I would have to think about taking him with the top pick in the draft. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t think he will be able to register a full season or play at the all-pro standard he submitted last year. Even if you subtracted every single one of his rushing attempts, his style of passing attracts an unusual amount of hits in the pocket. Now, when you add in his greatest strength (his ability to scramble), his body takes a true pounding every game. Moreover, it seemed apparent that defenses began to figure him out towards the end of last year. His TD/INT Ratio in his first seven games was an astounding 11:0. In his last six games (including his wild card loss to Green Bay), it was a more human 11:7. He also started getting sacked at a higher rate and fumbling the ball more to boot. I am completely OK with Vick being in that elite class for quarterbacks this season. His talent and the weapons around him are too tantalizing to ignore. But with the way he was trending towards the end of last season, coupled with the logical health risks that come with his style of play, the price tag he is commanding this season is too high for me.

Team Reserve: Peyton Manning

RB: Arian Foster, Houston Texans. Like Vick, this is another case of a very talented player who will likely produce at a pretty high level this season. I just don’t think it will be terribly close to the incredible marks he set last year.* The aggravated hamstring (althought I’m sure he will be fine) isn’t doing much to calm my fears. And I don’t want to put too much stock into Vonta Leach when determining the first round of a fantasy draft, but the numbers simply do not lie (refer to my paragraph on Ray Rice in Monday’s column). Maybe he won’t lose a yard per carry like other running backs who lost an all-pro fullback, but some regression on his averages is a very reasonable thing to expect. Moreover, while there is no contesting that Foster will be receiving the overwhelming majority of the work out of the backfield, the return of Ben Tate has been interesting to say the least. If you will recall, Tate was a 2nd round pick out of Auburn in 2010 and went on to suffer a season ending injury before the season began a year ago. He is now fully rehabilitated and has been earning the praise from his coach not only for his running ability, but his pass protection too. Again, Foster is the man in this situation. But if he needs a breather, or needs to have some limited carries because of that hamstring, Tate sounds like the right guy to come in and steal some production.** Make no mistake, Foster will produce some good numbers this season, and will be an asset to any team who owns him. But at what cost? For me, his ADP (the highest of any player in all of Yahoo!) is too high for me to be taking that kind of risk. You can have Vick and Foster. I’ll stick with the likes of Rivers and Peterson.

*Guys I would rather have than Foster this season: Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, and Ray Rice. Maybe even Chris Johnson and Rashard Mendenhall (not even joking on the last one).

 **Recall, if you will, Rashad Jennings’ expanded role for the Jacksonville Jaguars last year. For anyone who owned Maurice Jones-Drew like I did, Jennings’ name is not one you relish hearing. I think Tate could have a very similar impact on Foster’s numbers this season.

RB: Ryan Matthews, San Diego Chargers. I really could have put any of the reserves below in this spot, but because Matthews is in such a concrete time share (one in which he will not be having the goal line carries), he takes the cake. This is a shame, because he has made some good strides this preseason and might be the best running back in this group. That said, Mike Tolbert is going to be getting somewhere around 40% of the workload plus a pretty good amount of touchdowns, which does not bode well for the Fresno Kid. Matthews could stay healthy all season and be no more than MAYBE a flex option. This kind of value is not what I’m looking for from a running back that is being drafted in most leagues as a RB2 option. If Tolbert were to get hurt at all, than Matthews immediately becomes a pretty valuable commodity, but I’m not taking those chances. I like the talent of Ryan Matthews quite a bit, but he just isn’t in a situation conducive to being a fantasy star. Not yet at least.

Team Reserves: Cedric Benson, BenJarvus “The Law Firm” Green-Ellis, Jahvid Best, Daniel Thomas

WR: Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs. As much as it hurts me to say, this was a pretty easy call. For all of the strides Bowe made on the field and in the locker room last season, there is NO WAY he can sustain the kind of production that made him one of the highest scoring receivers in the game. He did some great things but the numbers are a little flukey. 15 touchdowns on only 72 receptions is an absurd number, and one that he will not come close to replicating this season. Yahoo! currently has him ranked 15th at his position going into the season, but his ADP of 37 is just too high. Maybe I’m wrong (he is going into his age 27 year, so he has that going for him), but I think all of this increased attention on him and the team, coupled with a schedule chalk full of difficult opposing defenses will make it too difficult for him to even be a legit, every week WR2 option. I think he will serve as a microcosm of his team this season. More on that in my Chiefs season preview though.

WR: Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers. I don’t know about you guys, but doesn’t it seem like there is always something wrong with Vincent Jackson? Granted, he has had a couple very good seasons, but nothing yet that warrants his current ADP of 31. I actually wouldn’t mind him being a WR2 on my team, but a lot of people are drafting him as their top receiving threat, and that is not leaving their teams in a good spot. You certainly cannot deny the deep ball connection he has with Phillip Rivers. But in a PPR league like mine, that is almost a detriment.* For me, the consistency isn’t there to explain how high he is going in drafts. Again, this isn’t a case of me avoiding a player alltogether. If I can get him at the right time and at the right price, I’d welcome him on my squad. But at the price he would cost my team the way he’s currently being drafted, he’s too big a risk.

*I’ll take the points where I can get them, but the high volume reception guys will always be more valuable in PPR leagues than the deep ball threats like DeSean Jackson, Vincent Jackson, and the like.

Team Reserves: Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Marshall, Reggie Wayne

TE: Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons. This was easily the most painful addition to the squad of any player. Tony Gonzalez is not only the greatest fantasy football tight end of all time, but the greatest tight end in football history. Period. A first ballot HOF without any question. As far as football purposes go (I mean, like, real football…on a field), he’s one of the better tight ends in the game. But for our intents and purposes, his contributions have been growing less and less for consecutive seasons. Age, it seems, is finally beginning to catch up to Tony the Tiger, and the addition of Julio Jones into the Falcons’ offensive mix will certainly hurt the amount of times Matt Ryan looks his way. The facts are facts. Last year was his first since 2002 to average below 50 yards receiving per game. That almost never happens to T-Gon. Now, if my regular TE1 is on a bye week, Tony is the first guy I’m looking to add via the waiver wire. The only problem is, he won’t be there because he’ll have been previously chosen in the draft, and the fact of the matter is that this tight end class is too deep for that. There are way too many options that present much more upside.* Again, in the right setting, Gonzalez could find a way to contribute on fantasy teams. As of now though, his cost is too high. I am really hoping that he proves me wrong this year and takes a big step toward being the first tight end ever with 100 touchdown catches. But I’m not betting on it.

*If this is any indication, in my reasonably crude power rankings, Gonzalez ranks somewhere in the teens.

Team Reserves: Dallas Clark, Zach Miller

DEF: Baltimore Ravens. As I said yesterday, when selecting someone for your team, at any position, you need to be careful that you’re not selecting based on reputation rather what that commodity has done the last few years. That warning can apply to Tony Gonzalez for people who are picking him to be a TE1, and I also think it applies to people drafting Baltimore to be an every week starting defense. For real football purposes, this is still a pretty good defense. But as some of their best players continue to age, this unit has started to show cracks in the real and fantasy world. This is a team that actually dropped to 10th among defenses in fantasy points last season, yet Yahoo! has them projected as their second best defense and people are drafting them as the fifth best defense in all of fantasy. Under the right context (against average to bad offenses), this is a good defense to employ. And for the criteria I just used in the previous sentence, maybe that means they’re a decent start ten weeks out of the season. But that is not what the people drafting them so highly are expecting. There are a lot of solid options out there this season that I think will have better, more consistent seasons than this Baltimore unit. I am a huge fan of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed (a fan of the whole team for that matter). But this is just another case where the cost to acquire a player or team outweighs the future benefits.

Team Reserve: Not really a reserve necessary for this spot.

And that concludes my fantasy preview for the season. To hedge one more time, there is a good chance that a lot of these picks in the last few days will totally blow up in my face. But if I can even get a few right, than this just might have been worth it. Sometime later this week/early next week, look for a season preview of my Kansas City Chiefs (may split it to two parts). And the day before regular season football begins next week, look for an NFL-wide season preview of what I believe is to come this football year. Go football, go America.

Sleepers and Poopers Part One

Editors Note: Apologies to anyone offended/annoyed by the word poop. For me, it has never stopped being funny, so I continue to use it at least once a day. Moreover, after finishing my ALL-SLEEPERS team and looking at the word count, I figured I didn’t want to give you guys more than you could digest in one day (because I have NEVER done that before. Ever.). Which is why you will be finding just sleepers in today’s column, while the excrementary players will have their very own column tomorrow. That is all.

Now down to business.

2011-12 ALL SLEEPER TEAM (Same format as yesterday)

QB: Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns. This pick could be a bit of a stretch, but as far as rookie campaigns go, what Doc McCoy did last year was as impressive as I ever could have expected. A half decent QB Rating and a 60% completion is no small feat for an NFL first timer. Obviously, the expectations are tempered. If he continues to improve, and some skill guys on that offense step up this season, there’s a chance he could be a solid QB2 in most leagues (at the very least a spot starter when he has a juicy matchup…again I’m hedging here). It also helps that he’ll heap on 2-3 points per game from his rushing alone. I wanted to choose Mark Sanchez very badly. Third year guy, improved rating, improved TD-INT Ratio, but the completion percentage was still well below average and his December (read: fantasy playoff time) splits are just plain awful. And Matt Stafford isn’t really much of a sleeper, as the amount of hype he’s received this off-season has left him just a tad over-priced. Plus even a tight bearhug has a minor chance of reinjuring that shoulder. Sanchez and Stafford are high profile guys, and McCoy fits the definition of a true sleeper.

Team Reserves: Kyle Orton (who is being drafted WAYYYYYY too low)

RB: Tim Hightower, Washington Redskins. No matter what kind of list you’re putting a Mike Shanahan coached running back on, its a huge risk. But for the purposes of this blog, thats a risk I’m willing to take. With Roy Helu slowly slipping out of fantasy relevance (never say never though), Tim Hightower has secured the drivers seat to take the lions share of carries in this backfield. He is averaging over 6.5 yards per carry this preseason and is playing for a coach who’s zone-blocking scheme breeds successful running backs like clockwork (for how long they are successful is a different story entirely). Hightower proved during his time in Arizona that he can be useful catching balls out of the backfield (always a handy skill) and is quite the bargain (Low 100’s ADP) for the kind of return you could be getting. Again this is classic case of huge risk/huge reward, but thats what sleepers are usually all about anyways. CAUTION: This is still Mike Shanahan we are talking about here. If I were you, I would keep an eye on the entire Redskins’ stable of backs throughout the year, just to be safe.

RB: Delone Carter, Indianapolis Colts. On one hand this guy is third on the running back depth chart. On the other hand, the two backs in front of him are the underwhelming/injury prone Joseph Addai and Donald Brown. There is the chance that those two guys stay healthy and are productive albeit in a time share. There is also a pretty decent chance that they both get hurt (I’m not kidding), and Carter takes the reins as the lead back. Addai and Brown will both be drafted relatively low because they are splitting carries, but what I can also tell you is that if either one of them would be getting 70-80% of the workload, that player would be a top 40 draft pick (the kind of value Carter may very well have at some point this season). Moreover, Carter is tough, durable, and an excellent between the tackles runner (read: goal line carries). So if you can get that kind of potential value from a guy who will likely go undrafted in most leagues, why not nab him and stash him? If things work out, you are a genius and will ride him into the fantasy playoffs. If not, its only a late round pick. For me it boils down to a crapload of things going in the pro column, and Joseph Addai and Donald Brown in the con column. Thats about it.

Team Reserves: Beanie Wells, James Starks

WR: Danny Amendola, St. Louis Rams. Not too many people know this guy’s name, but he had 85 receptions last year. 85! Thats a lot. Unfortunately, 689 yards and 3 touchdowns is not. But in a PPR league (and especially one that includes return yards like mine, despite the new crappy rule) there is still some value to be had from those numbers. He has exceptional hands, and has a year under his belt building a great rapport with Sam Bradford. On the other hand, a lot of people said that the addition of Josh McDaniels to the Broncos a few years ago (McDaniels is now in St. Louis, which is why I’m throwing this tidbit out there) would make Eddie Royal a beast out of the slot (like what he did with Wes Welker in New England), and that didn’t exactly work out. But for a guy that is going behind Randy Moss in most drafts (he is retired people), I think he is certainly worth taking a later round flier on. Again, the yardage and touchdowns marks are ugly considering all of those receptions. But if you can get a guy who had 85 catches (85!!) this late in a draft, I think its absolutely worth the risk. Hey maybe, some of those receptions start turning into touchdowns or he makes a few guys miss in the open field throughout the course of the season. Furthermore, the improvements Sam Bradford will have made in his game this offseason should only have a postive impact on the numbers for Danny Boy. I think this is a low risk, high upside pick. And those are a rare thing in this game.

WR: James Jones, Green Bay Packers. I’ve been keeping an eye on this guy for awhile now (he’s the most exciting big play guy in the game that nobody knows about), and with the diminshing skills/production of an aging Donald Driver, I think Jones will be the one to benefit from the increased role in this vaunted offense.* Jones has seen an improvement in his numbers between the last 3 seasons, can take the top off of a defense (big play waiting to happen), and is now entering the magical age 27 year for wide receivers. Great value too (currently ranked 59th on Yahoo! among WR’s). A lot of things seem to be adding up here. The hands have been an issue, and have been the biggest road block for playing time, so hopefully he can correct that problem. Assuming he can supplant Driver on the depth chart, Jones could be a very interesting late round pick/waiver wire addition for any team in need of receiving help.

*To be honest, it could just as easily be Jordy Nelson, but I just think James Jones brings a little more to the table. Regardless, keep an eye on both.

Team Reserves: Earl Bennett, Andre Roberts, Mike Thomas (not an overwhelming offense in Jacksonville, but a No. 1 receiver is a No. 1 receiver)

TE: Dustin Keller, New York Jets. Just another one of the tight end combine freaks coming out of college. this dude has been putting up some sneaky solid numbers in his first 3 seasons as a pro. I am expecting a bit of a progression this season. Being a young quarterback’s safety blanket over the middle is always a bonus, and if Mark Sanchez can improve on his numbers at all (year 3 for a quarterback, I’m banking on him doing just that), Keller should see a spike in his own. The exit of Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery (and the addition of the less superior Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason), should also have a positive impact on the number of targets Keller receives throughout the season. He is currently being drafted 19th among tight ends, and I am expecting  him to be a borderline weekly starter at the very least. If things go according to plan? He will be entrenched as a legit TE1 option in all 10-12 team leagues. Two last tidbits. Of all the WR/TE options on the New York Jets entire team, he has easily the most seasons of experience with his quarterback. Second, he is entering the magical age 27 year for a receiver folks! If that doesn’t send you over the edge, I’m not sure what will.

Team Reserves: Greg Olsen, Brandon Pettigrew (who I also love this year if Stafford can stay healthy).

DEF: Atlanta Falcons. This category was a little harder to figure out, as I’m judging an entire side of the ball, rather than just a player. Despite these massive difficulties, I came out on the other side with the Atlanta Falcons. For a team that finished 9th overall in fantasy scoring (this could differ a little from league to league, considering the subtle nuances each commissioner may like to employ) and actually got better this offseason,* it is a little puzzling to understand why Yahoo! has them projected to finish 14th overall among defenses and why they have the fifth worst ADP in fantasy leagues (that makes literally no sense at all). This just doesn’t add up for me. At the very worst case, this is a defense that can be employed when they are going against a poor offense. If they live up to its billing of talent (and there is plenty), they could easily become a weekly starter in all leagues. Name brand defenses (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and the like) are always nice stalwarts to have on a fantasy squad. But that can be a dangerous game to play when a teams reputation exceeds its prowess on the field. In my league last year, Atlanta actually scored 5 more points throughout the season than the fantasy legend Raven defense. And yet the Ravens are being drafted MUCH higher than the Falcons. All I’m saying is that judging a defense on name alone doesn’t work (Pittsburgh is probably the only exception), and is probably why this defense has slid so undeservingly far down the rankings.

Team Reserve: Dallas Cowboys

*With the addition of Ray Edwards on the defensive line and the development of key young players like Brent Grimes, Curtis Lofton, Sean Weatherspoon, and William Moore.

2 days in a row with a column. I’m coming for you DiMaggio. Anyways, thanks again for stopping by, and I’ll see you guys tomorrow with my fecal All-Americans.

Fantasy Preview

Well, I can’t say I didn’t warn you. The lack of things I felt like writing about, coupled with the fact that I am a generally lazy person, created a perfect drought of material, resulting in my nearly two month hiatus from blogging. Rest assured though, with the MLB playoffs and the opening of the 11-12 NFL season just around the corner, I should be pretty busy.

To help apologize for my long absence (to the few of you who noticed), I will be doing a lot more work in the coming weeks (read: several columns in the next couple weeks…yeah im shocked too). Hopefully that should keep everyone busy until I decide to start being lazy again. Most of what I will be doing for the foreseeable future will be football related, and I figured I should start off my run of columns with something fantasy* related. And to open things up, I will begin today’s post in the same manner that every single NFL game is opened up, with our national anthem (nevermind that the video takes place at an NBA all-star game).

*I’m just trying to cope with the devastation of being officially eliminated from playoff contention in my fantasy baseball league yesterday. It’s almost like raising a puppy for five months (thats how long the fantasy regular season is). You put in so much work with it, you end up getting a little too attached, and you know that someday its going to be a great dog, once it learns how to stop shitting all over everything. But just when it starts to turn things around, it runs away. And you never see it again. Not quite that intense but something like that.

Now obviously, Whitney’s Super Bowl or Jimi Hendrix’ guitar only anthem may be more iconic. But for me, this just takes the cake without a doubt. From the way he sang it to the way the background music was arranged, Marvin Gaye made this national anthem his bitch, and there is something to be said for that. The way he sings “broad stripes” really just says it all. And can you actually hear some of the people just losing their minds in the background? I mean, if we’re going to talk about cultural impact, this man’s voice is responsible for the existence of tens of thousands of people today (think about that for a second). Now that is impact. But I digress.

As we trudge through the final weeks of the preseason*, that means that we are officially in draft season. And I figured, why not throw a few players out there that present some serious value, serious upside (sleepers), or serious downside (poopers). So on that note we will now begin the first of my two part series, the first part being…

*Crisp Collection‘s own Ryan McCarthy made the brilliant point that watching preseason football is like trying to drink a nonalcoholic beer. There’s just no point.

2011-12 ALL-VALUE TEAM (1 QB, 2 WR, 2RB, 1 TE, 1 DEF, usual scoring, with points per reception as well)

The thing to keep in mind here is that all of these players I’m mentioning are well known commodities to the fantasy universe. More than anything, this is kind of a sleeper list for established stars. Relative to where they are being drafted, I believe all of these players could perform well above the standards set on them by the uncleansed fantasy serfs of the world. Note: doing a FLEX category or a kicker just seemed like more work than I was willing to put in. With kickers, find someone who kicks for a good offense. Rinse, repeat.

QB: Anthony Romo, Dallas Cowboys. Im bullish on pretty much the entire Cowboy team this year (as you will find out in my league-wide season preview coming soon), and Tony Romo is no exception. The field for elite quarterbacks this year is considered seven deep (Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Vick, Manning, Rivers, Romo, and Cassel….kidding on the last one), so why not go for the guy who is usually being drafted last among these 7 giants, when he could easily pace the entire quarterback field? I love this offense, and Jason Garrett proved to us after taking the reins that good things happen when you emphasize the run first and let the pass develop from there. Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee actually put up some solid numbers last year while Romo was hurt. Now imagine the type of stats an above average quarterback can put up getting to play for this team. Obviously, health has to be a major concern. But Romo’s toys are too lethal to ignore. Not too many quarterbacks can boast Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Felix Jones as weapons. Quarterback is a deep field with good secondary choices this year. Drafting Romo and getting some quality insurance from Joe Flacco and the like shouldn’t be too difficult.

Team Reserve: Matt Ryan

RB: Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens. I am a huge RayRay 2.0 believer this year and while this definitely isn’t an under the radar choice, I still believe he is being drafted too low (Yahoo! projects him to have the 4th most points among RB’s, his ADP is 6.4). While those are generous figures, I think he is ready to take the running back crown and pace his position for the season. The exodus of Willis McGahee certainly helps and the addition of Ricky Williams is not as big of a deal as people think. Rice is the man in Baltimore, and he will be seeing a lot more of the goal line this season. And obviously, the amount of receptions he gets in a PPR league is just huge. The offensive line is young in a few spots but I think it’ll patch together quite nicely. But with all of the above, I don’t think it would be enough to push Rice-aroni to the top overall RB spot, which is why I will now present to you my ace-in-the-hole: Vonta Leach. You may not know his name (even though he was voted to the all-pro team last season), but I’m sure you’ve heard of Arian Foster, the man Leach paved all of those gaping holes for last season. I think the additioin of Vonta Leach to the Baltimore Ravens will pay huge dividends for Rice, and he will be ready to take advantage. Don’t think a good blocking fullback is a big deal? Check out Larry Johnson after 2006* or LaDainian Tomlinson after 2007.*

*When Tony Richardson and Lorenzo Neal left their respective teams via free agency. Also look at the statistics of the running backs the year they receive a good blocking fullback to play behind. It’s a big deal folks.

RB: Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys. Another Cowboy here but I couldn’t resist. As I said above, Jason Garrett showed last year that as head coach, his first priority is establishing the run, which would seem to fit Jones’ skill set relatively well (he is a running back). Marion Barber and his touchdown thieving ways are now gone, and Tashard Choice hasn’t done enough in camp to show that he can steal 40% of Felix the Cat’s workload. Make no mistake, Jones is the guy in this backfield, and given the kind of offense he’s playing in and the kind of coaching he’s playing for, his high 80’s ADP (currently 27th among RB’s) seems a bit low for me. If I’m assembling a squad in a 10-12 team league, Felix Jones as a certifiable RB2 stud is absolutely fine with me. If you can put him as a FLEX option every week, its an outright steal.

Team Reserves: Ryan Grant and Steven Jackson

WR: Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers. Like the field for quarterbacks, there is a general consensus on the elite options at wide receiver this year and the list is five deep. It consists of my mancrush, Andre Johnson, Calvin “MegaTron” Johnson, Larrald Fitzgerald (that one was a bit of a stretch), Roddy White, and Hakeem Nicks. That’s fine and dandy, but what to do after that? Look no further than Mike Wallace. His prediction to amass over 2000 yards receiving this season is a little ambitious, but at least we know he’ll be trying. For me, Wallace making this value team is as simple as receivers I don’t like nearly as much (Greg Jennings, Miles Austin, Reggie Wayne) going in front of him. Reggie is starting to get up there and if Peyton’s health situation is even a little iffy, Wayne’s stock should plummet. Even with a totally healthy Manning, I think we’d see some regression in Reginald’s numbers this year regardless. I think Jennings is also a regression candidate. And with Dez Bryant now entrenched as a legit #2 WR for Dallas, Miles Austin will be seeing less looks as the season progresses (I think he’ll put up similar numbers to last year’s campaign). I like the connection Wallace established with Big Ben last season, and of the four second-tier WR’s mentioned in the last few sentences, I think Wallace is easily the best bet to ascend to elite status.

WR: Mario Manningham, New York Giants. I’ve liked this guy since he was in college (probably pulled a groin when the Giants, and not my Chiefs, drafted him a few years ago) and he has shown the ability to be one of the best #2 wideouts in the league. He has already put up some very intriguing numbers in the last two seasons, and with the departure of Steve Smith and the absence of a true pass-catching tight end on the roster, Manningham (and Hakeem Nicks as well) should see a decent spike in the amount of times they are targeted throughout the game. Look for Manningham to assert himself this season as a very solid WR2 (WR3 at the very least…always have to hedge just in case) option in all 10-12 team fantasy leagues. I like him over guys that are going several picks ahead of him such as Sydney Rice or Austin Collie. I also like him over guys that are going several rounds ahead of him such as Brandon Marshall, Jeremy Maclin, and Dwayne Bowe.

Team Reserves: Wes Welker and Santonio Holmes

TE: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints. This guy is an absolute freak athlete (played basketball at Miami (FL)) but is still very raw (only 2 seasons of football under his belt, one in college and the other in New Orleans). That aside, he started developing a very nice rapport with Drew Brees towards the end of the season, and if that offense is any indicator, this guy is an easy pick, with high upside, to be a TE1 in all fantasy formats. Sean Payton and Brees love to spread the wealth in their system. And while this philosophy is absolutely a detriment to the wide receivers there (see: Devery Henderson, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem), I think it plays right in the soft hands of Jimmy “Moonlight” Graham. I should just stop on the nicknames. Owen Daniels and Dallas Clark are going ahead of this guy in most Yahoo! drafts. But if it came down to those three, I’m going with Graham.

Team Reserve: Kellen Winslow

DEF: San Diego Chargers. This is a squad that finished last year 8th in points allowed, tied for 2nd in sacks (the cheapest way to get a guaranteed couple points every week), 4th in rushing defense, 1st in passing defense, and 1st in total defense (yards allowed per game). They have an improved secondary, spent a first round pick on a defensive lineman, and hopefully have a better special teams unit (at least it can’t get any worse than last year), and yet they are being drafted as the 11th best fantasy defense? Something just doesn’t add up here to me. I think they will exceed that draft day value and then some.

Team Reserve: New York Giants

Again, sorry for the prolonged work stoppage. Going to make it up to you guys over the next few weeks with all of the NFL, Kansas City Chiefs, and fantasy information you could possibly need. I’ll see you guys tomorrow when I go through my ALL-SLEEPER (actual sleepers this time) and ALL-POOPER teams.

NBA Draft Running Diary

Editors Note: Found out just this morning that Simmons also did a run-through of the draft. So apologies in advance if there are any similarities in what you read (apart from writing an entire recap of the draft in the same exact format of course). Had I known in advance he’d be doing this, I probably wouldn’t have done it myself. But times are tough, and this was the last big sporting event I could think of since its just baseball for the rest of summer. And I have no idea what I will be doing with that.

Going into this draft, I tried to figure out what there was to be excited about. It didn’t take me long to realize that this draft was low on talent, low on driving storylines, and very low in the intrigue department. With all that in mind, I naturally assumed this would be a great time to do a running diary.

But there were a few things I wanted to watch out for as the draft commensed.

1. What would the Minnesota Timberwolves do? This is a team that has been truly awful in the draft ever since David Kahn took over most of the personnel decision making. If you think I’m wrong, just look at what they did with their 2009 draft. Going in, they were in desperate need of a point guard. And thankfully they had the 5th, 6th, and 19th overall picks to address it at some point. Great! What do they do? They take Ricky Rubio (averaging single digit points per game in Europe), Johnny Flynn (awful), and Ty Lawson (no longer with the team). Three 1st round picks, three point guards. What?! I’ve been hooked ever since. Before the draft, the consensus was that they would take Derrick Williams, an athletic combo forward (too small to play the 4, not skilled enough to play the 3). Keep that in mind when we get to their pick.

2. I will be on pins and needles hoping Utah sacks up and takes Jimmer with their second 1st round pick (12th overall). If it happens, I will seriously buy NBA league pass to watch all of their games. It’s great the for the fan base…college hero gets drafted by local team. And more importantly, it’s great for me. Gordon Hayward and Jimmer Fredette on the court at the same time? I think my head would explode.

3. The Over/Under on how many times Jay Bilas mentions a players “wingspan.” His hotword used to be upside, but now he concerns himself with how long a players arms are. Let’s see here, I think I’ll set the number at 10.5 and I’m taking the over.

4. Something happening I could actually write about. Not optimistic. With that in mind, lets get to it.

6.30: Commercial for the DVD release of Nic Cage’s movie “Season of the Witch.” No punchline necessary.

6.33: David Stern receiving some very hearty boo’s as he makes his entrance to announce the Cav’s are on the clock. Not a bad start.

6.36: Stu Scott wonders aloud if “There is any pressure being taken with the top overall pick in the draft.” Ummm yeah? This would begin a pattern of some very astute observations from Scott, who may have dropped more random, useless facts on me than anyone ever before. Almost making this draft worth watching. Almost.  

6.37: Fact: If the consensus top two players in this draft, Williams and Kyrie Irving, are “maybe all-stars down the road,” its not a good draft.

6.40: Cleveland takes Duke’s Irving. He’s the best player in the draft, he won’t have to start right away. Good things. He’ll be an adequate starter in the league in 2-3 years. Leave it to Cleveland to get the top pick (and the 4th overall too) in the worst draft in recent memory. The city of Cleveland may now douse its collective self in acid.

6.45: Timberwolves take Derrick Williams. Really just bad luck. He was the best player available, so not very much shame in picking him. The problem is, they already have Michael Beasley, Anthony Tolliver, Anthony Randolph, and Martell Webster.

6.46: Bilas: “He’s 6’8″ but with a wingspan of 7’1″, so bottoms up everybody.” Not sure what that last part means, but thats 1 for everyone scoring at home.

I would later find out that this was an blatant reference to an NBA draft drinking game, one in which everyone must take a drink every time the term “wingspan” is said. Devastated I didn’t know about it earlier. 40 bro points for Bilas.

6.49: Scott: “Our colleague, Jon Gruden said he could play tight end in the NFL.” That had to be a pretty big factor with how GM’s evaluated him.

6.50: Utah takes Enes Kanter. Like the pick, could use a center of the future to let Al Jefferson get back to his natural position at power forward. Trading stars is tough, but you have to give Kevin O’Connor credit for the Deron Williams trade. Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, Kanter, a 2012 1st round pick, and cash? That’s as good as it gets in that situation.

6.52: Scott: “This guy wants to be a WWE wrestler after his basketball days are over.” Thanks for that.

6.56: Cleveland takes Tristan Thompson from Texas. A bit of a surprise here, thought they would take the Lithuanian guy with a big last name. But not really a problem with it, maybe he develops into an all-star down the road. Having watched Texas all year, it wasn’t difficult to tell that this guy has a lot of talent.

7.02: Toronto takes…the Lithuanian guy with a big last name! Don’t know anything about him. Someone says a poor man’s Pau Gasol. Hmmmm. Fran Fraschilla: “If you like Arvydas Sabonas, you have to like this guy.” I’m sold.

7.05: Vladimir Putin is REALLY struggling with his English in this interview. When asked how his game is like Chris Bosh’s (he previously had said he was similar to him), he responded, “I have not so strong body.” Right on the money.

7.05: Stu Scott wonders what type of player Washington should be looking for to “get good, quickly.” There is no such player in this draft.

7.06: Washington takes Jan Vesely. Don’t know anything about this guy either, but he makes out with his girlfriend when his name is called, great stuff. The highlight clip ESPN is showing of him is actually astounding. I’m not kidding. Sideline reporter says many call him the European Blake Griffin, to which he responds, “He is the American Jan Vesely.” The balls on this one!

7.09: Sideline reporter: “We’ll try to get you into a slam dunk contest one of these days.” Vesely: “OK, thank you.”

7.11: Sacramento, picking for Charlotte, selects Bismack Biyombo. Based on name alone, this guy is all sorts of awesome.

7.12: With all these foreign players being taken, Bilas isn’t getting any opportunities to tell me the wingspans of any players. More Americans!

7.14: Bismack is interviewed. Sounds a lot like this…

7.19: Detroit selects Brandon Knight. I don’t know what this means for the franchise. I don’t care.

7.22: Almost fell asleep. BISMACK BIYOMBOOOOOOO! Am now awake.

7.25: Charlotte selects Kemba Walker. I won’t question this guys heart. But not sure if he will ever be a starter in the NBA. Charlotte has made a habit of drafting really good college players with little upside.* For anyone who isn’t sure, thats not how you build a winner in the NBA.

*A few hours later I revised this sentiment and now believe he will be the next Jason Terry. Is it mainly because they are both black, look generally alike, played on college teams that experienced somewhat unlikely success, and are the same body type? Maybe. But who’s to say that 5 years down the road, Kemba doesn’t develop into a knockdown 3 point shooter and irrational confidence guy? Don’t let me down Kemba.

7.28: Milwaukee, picking for Sacramento, selects Jimmer. I may now light myself on fire. Angry with Utah for not trying to trade up.

7.35: Golden State selects Klay Thompson. Apart from spelling his own name incorrectly, I do like the pick. A good body for an NBA 2 guard. On a side note, his father also spells his name incorrectly: Mychal.

7.40: My Mom comes down and tells me to check on Bear’s (yup, we named our dog Bear) scrotum. Not unreasonable since he was neutered a few days ago. A little perturbing nonetheless.

7.41: Utah takes Grandview’s own Alec Burks. Got to love representing the Kansas City area, glad to see him get drafted in the lottery. Utah has to be one of the drafts biggest winners. 12 picks in and Bilas has given me just one wingspan reference. My Over/Under number not looking so great.

7.47-7.55: Phoenix and Houston select Markieff and Marcus Morris back-to-back. An interesting storyline for a night lacking very many. The Morii’s crew make fools of themselves celebrating when they are both drafted.

7.50: Always a source of high comedy, Marcus, when asked how he will deal with having to be away from his brother for the first time ever, notes he will send Markieff, “some flowers or some fruit.” Interesting strategy.

7.57: Marcus notes that the Rockets don’t have a scoring 4. Must have forgotten about the scoring 4 they had last year (Luis Scola).

8.01: Indiana selects Kawhi Leonard. This draft is about as compelling as making sure sure my dog’s scrotum is OK. For those of you who are curious, it looks like a normal dog scrotum right now.

8.02: Bilas notes that his wingspan is 7’3″ despite a height of 6’7″. We’re back on track with our 2nd wingspan call!

8.03: Based on his interview, I’m not sure Leonard didn’t smoke some weed before the draft.

8.07: Philly selects Nikola Vucevic. Just gonna flat out say this guy doesn’t have an overly bright future in the NBA. Scott: “He’s got a foreign name but a USC Trojan game.” Droppin rhymes on our collective ass.

8.09: Scott notes that Vucevic has a considerable wingspan, Bilas seething in the corner that a wingspan call was stolen from him.

8.09: The Knicks are up. Is Spike Lee really at the draft? THIS draft? Really?!?!

8.12: The awkwardness with which Stu Scott is directing this show has to be seen to be believed.

8.13: Knicks take Iman Shumpert. Forgot he was even eligible to be drafted. Spike looks incredulous. The New York Knicks everybody!

8.14: Feeling like an idiot for placing the wingspan number all the way at 10.5, I’m gonna need a miracle. Should I hedge?

8.18: Wizards take Chris Singleton. If a guy plays great defense, he’ll always have something to fall back on. Bilas: “He stands about 6’9″ but with his arms plays 7’1″.” Thats our third one of the night, hoping things pick up. Love the new Wizards logo/jerseys. If it is possible to get better in this draft, I think Washington did it.

8.20: Stu mentions that he has promised his mother he will go back to Florida State to earn his degree. He’s really settled into a nice rhythm now.

8.22: ESPN recaps a 3-way trade between Charlotte, Sacramento, and Milwaukee. Again, I decide that checking my dogs scrotum would be a better use of my time. It looks great. Charlotte takes Tobias Harris. Bilas says he has a 6’11” wingspan. Making a comeback here!

8.30: Minnesota at 20, selects Lapinski Gregorovitch (something like that). The book on this guy is that he needs to get tougher and care more. Sounds like a winner to me.

8.35: Portland selects Duke’s Nolan Smith. A bit of a headscratcher. Not sure I care though. Stuart mentions that he has a tattoo of his father’s face on his arm.

8.42: Denver selects Kenny Faried. Like it a lot. Don’t really see how a pick like this fails. When you’re in the bottom of the first round, you’re usually only looking for a rotation type of player. No one will criticize a team for blowing a late round pick anyways. And I think we learned a few years ago when San Antonio stole DeJuan Blair in the second round, there is always a place in the league for a high-energy, high-motor, bulk rebounding big guy. Good pickup.

8.45: ESPN shows a clip of the lottery-hopefuls banging drum sticks on a make shift drum set (made of pots and pans) to Rolling in the Deep. Are they trying to make these players look like 3 year olds? Does this accomplish anything? What is going on right now?

8.49: Good comedy from listening to David Stern try to pronounce Nikola Mirotic (Houston’s pick at 23) in an Eastern European accent.

8.53: OKC gets Reggie Jackson of Boston College…who has a wingspan of 7 feet according to Jay! Bilas is now on fire and we are almost in range to hitting our number. Celts on the clock.

8.55: Scott: “From Boston College to the Boston Celtics!” Stuart didn’t put any preparation into this draft. I wouldn’t have either.

8.56: Budwieser commercial almost made me cry. Awesome. Celtics pick MarShon Brooks from Providence. Maybe he pans out, but who is going to play center for them next season?

8.57: Bilas observes that Brooks has a 7’1″ wingspan. He is really hitting his stride. For those scoring at home, we have reached 6 wingspan calls. For those playing the game, you’re probably feeling pretty decent by now (depending on the drink of choice and amount of ingestion per “sip” of course).

9.03: Defending champs select Jordan Hamilton. Very talented. They need a future 3, and he could maybe develop into that type of guy.

To finish: New Jersey takes JaJuan Johnson for Boston. Minnesota continues to trade for late 1st round picks and a bunch of 2nd rounders. Not sure how this helps the team. Spurs take an undervalued Cory Joseph. Fans give an especially loud round of boos to Stern, and the Bulls cap off the first round with the selection of Jimmy Butler. As soon as Adam Silver walks out to call the 2nd round, fans erupt and start AD-AM SIL-VER chants, clearly making fun of him right to his face. Which makes sense when you realize he looks like one of the cone heads.

Final thoughts: Very boring draft. Which made it a very bad decision to try and do a running diary on it. Which is my excuse for when you feel like you just wasted 20 minutes of your time reading this.

Also interesting to note that Kansas guard Josh Selby did not get selected in the 1st round (didn’t go until the end of the 2nd). It just illustrates how the NBA’s 1-year rule really needs to go away. College basketball didn’t need him, he didn’t need college basketball, and it ended up costing him millions of dollars in the end. And now, he may not even make an NBA roster next season. If a player can play right out of high school, let him. But if you go to college, it has to be a 2 year commitment. It’s that simple.

Man, what a crappy draft. And Bilas only made 6 wingspan calls? I’m not sure if anybody wins.

Final Grades: Stuart Scott – A

Jay Bilas – C

ESPN – F+

Bear’s Scrotum – a solid B-