NCAA Tournament First Weekend Observations

1. Talent prevails.
For all the madness in the first round of the tournament, there are few surprises in the Sweet 16. Of the remaining 16 teams, 12 were ranked in the preseason, and as I wrote last week, the preseason poll is one of the best indicators of talent. Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Gonzaga might seem like surprises, but they were all ranked inside the top 20 before the year. The only teams in the Sweet 16 that weren’t ranked before the year are Oregon, Texas A&M, Miami, and Syracuse – of which, only Syracuse failed to garner any votes for preseason poll.

2. The ACC has 6 teams in the Sweet 16, but only one truly impressive win.
Everyone wants to crown the ACC but look at the draws its teams faced. North Carolina and Virginia were one seeds, so getting to the Sweet 16 for them meant merely meeting their seed expectation. Syracuse, a 10 seed, faced arguably the field’s weakest 7 seed Dayton, before playing the biggest shock of the tournament, 15th seeded Middle Tennessee State. Duke, Maryland, and Notre Dame were all able to reach the Sweet 16 without playing a single digit seed because Yale, Hawaii, and Stephen F. Austin pulled upsets respectively. And for Notre Dame, it took a miracle buzzer-beating tip-in, as well as two dubious calls in the final minute or so, to scrape by Stephen F. Austin.  That leaves us with Miami, who also didn’t have to play a single digit seed, yet was the slight underdog against Wichita State. Miami’s win over Wichita State was the ACC’s only win that was truly impressive. We will see just how dominant the ACC is in the Sweet 16.

3. This might be the year Gonzaga finally makes the Final 4.
For over a decade, people have been waiting for Gonzaga to make a run all the way to the Final 4, from when they had Adam Morrison to when they had Kelly Olynyk. But Mark Few might have his best player ever in Domantas Sabonis, who somehow stayed under the radar all season long, before dominating future top 10 NBA pick Jacob Poeltl of Utah in the 2nd round of the tournament. If the Zags were ever going to make the Final 4, this is the type of year it would happen. There are few stars in this year’s tournament and there is a case to be made that Sabonis is the best big man left in the entire tournament. Kevin Willard called Sabonis the toughest matchup Seton Hall faced all year. Syracuse is as generous a Sweet 16 draw as the Zags could hope for, and neither Virginia nor Iowa State would be as tough as it was facing eventual champ Duke in last year’s Elite 8.

4. Offense, not defense, wins in the NCAA Tournament.
Offense wins games; defense wins championships. At least that’s how the saying goes. But of the remaining Sweet 16 teams, the average offensive efficiency is 14th and the average defensive efficiency is 40th, going by the KenPom numbers. Duke and Notre Dame have sub-100 defenses, and Iowa State’s defense is not much better at 94th in the country. But they have all top 10 offenses to make up for their defensive woes. None of this is to say defense is unimportant or that an elite offense will always carry a poor defense. After all, Michigan State and Kentucky bowed out early, despite being ranked 1st and 3rd respectively in offensive efficiency. However, those are the only two teams with top 10 offenses that are not still playing. Whoever wins it all will probably have a blend of strong offense and defense, but if I had to pick or the other, I’m going with offense.

5. I’m not sold on any of the one seeds.
Every one seed advanced to the Sweet 16, but can anyone remember another time when the top seeds were so deprived of NBA talent? Going by Chad Ford’s top 100 prospects, there might be two future NBA first round picks on this year’s crop of one seeds. He has UNC’s Brice Johnson ranked 29th and UVA’s Malcolm Brogdon 30th. Taking a look back on recent years, that is a very low number. Below is a list of the one seeds by year and what future 1st round picks they had.

Kentucky: Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein
Wisconsin: Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker
Duke: Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones
Villanova: None

Arizona: Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Florida: None
Virginia: Justin Anderson
Wichita State: None

Louisville: Gorgui Dieng
Indiana, Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo
Gonzaga: Kelly Olynyk
Kansas: Ben McLemore

Kentucky: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrance Jones, Marquis Teague
Michigan State: Draymond Green
Syracuse: Dion Waiters, Fab Melo (yes, he was a 1st rounder!)
North Carolina: Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, P.J. Hairston, Kendall Marshall

Ohio State: Jared Sullinger
Kansas: Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson
Pittsburgh: None
Duke: Kyrie Irving, Nolan Smith, Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee

Glancing at the past five seasons, 2014 comes closest in terms of the lack of NBA players on the top seeds. And remember: that year, the championship game was a 7 seed versus an 8 seed. Just because you aren’t loaded with future 1st round picks doesn’t mean you can’t be a very good college team, but in every Sweet 16 matchup featuring a top seed this weekend, you could make the argument that the one seeds are facing more talented teams.

6. How a team does in its conference tournament has no bearing on how it will fare in the NCAA Tournament.
There is a longstanding belief that the conference tournaments are important for teams to build momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament. Think of the 2011 Kemba Walker UConn team. Conversely, we have seen teams in the past who seem to wear themselves out by winning their conference tournament, like the 2006 Gerry McNamara Syracuse team.

Seton Hall entered the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country with a player in Isaiah Whitehead, who was playing as well as anyone. Yet, Seton Hall got waxed by Gonzaga and Whitehead had the worst performance of any player in the first round. Meanwhile, Indiana and Wisconsin lost in the first round of the Big 10 Tournament and have a chance to advance to the Elite 8 this weekend.

NCAA Tournament Thoughts

Where’s all the chaos?
It’s cliché to say the bracket feels harder to pick every year, but can anyone remember a year that seemed so wide open? Last year there were four or five dominant teams, one of which was a historically good team in Kentucky that entered the tournament undefeated. This year it seems like fifteen different teams could go all the way because no team has separated itself from the pack. And yet, almost everybody is picking Michigan State or Kansas. Why, after such a chaotic season, is everyone so bullish on those two teams?

Michigan State is understandable. There is no one better to bet on in March than Tom Izzo. Michigan State almost always outperforms its seed expectation. Either the selection committee habitually underseeds the Spartans – if anything, you would expect the opposite – or Tom Izzo is a March magician. And this year, Izzo has the country’s best player, do-it-all swingman Denzel Valentine, as well as Bryn Forbes who is one of the best shooters in the country. Michigan State is the most popular pick and for good reason.

But Kansas, despite its 30-4 record, is not invincible by any means. We’ve seen Bill Self teams with way more talent breeze through regular season only to stumble early in the tournament. Remember Ali Farokhmanesh? He was the guy from Northern Iowa raining 3s against Kansas in 2010 when they were the top overall seed. That Kansas team was 32-2 entering the tournament and had four future NBA players. No one considered the possibility of that 2010 Kansas team bowing out early. People are treating this year’s Kansas team the same way. Is the rest of the field that weak? Bill Self has had some immensely talented teams but this is not one of them. Their best player Perry Ellis probably will never play in the NBA. They lost by 19 earlier in the year to an Oklahoma State team that finished 12-20.

Beware of the overachievers
When filling out your bracket, there’s a tendency to overemphasize what just happened in the conference tournaments. It’s what is known as recency bias – we assume that what just happened will continue to happen. It’s actually a better idea to take a look at the first poll of the season, not the last. The preseason poll? Yep, that’s the one. It may seem counterintuitive to take more stock in the poll from right after Halloween than the one from a week ago, but the preseason poll is a strong indication of raw talent. It has its flaws, but at its core, it’s the coaches selecting who they think are the 25 most talented teams in the country. Throughout the season, things happen. Players get hurt, teams go through funks, and the poll changes. But that initial marker of talent at the start of the year is still helpful.

What you’ll often see is a team that was ranked highly in the preseason and then struggling in the regular season, only to make what is considered a surprising run in the tournament. Remember Kentucky a few years back? They were ranked first preseason and only earned an 8 seed, but then upset top-seeded undefeated Wichita State on their way to the championship game that they lost to UConn. It’s the case of a massively talented team that underachieved over the course of the year and figured things out right in time for the tournament.

The reverse is just as useful when looking for teams to stay away from. If a team is unranked before the season starts and climbs all the way to a high seed in the tournament, proceed with caution. On the surface it doesn’t make sense because we’re saying: This team won more games than people expected it to during the regular season, so will probably win fewer games than people expect it to in the tournament. The numbers bear this out: Since 2002, only four teams made the Final 4 after entering the season unranked.

This season, several highly seeded teams came out of nowhere. Top seeded Oregon, two seed Xavier, and three seeds West Virginia and Texas A&M all entered the season outside the top 25.



Fantasy Football: Week 10 Recap

Let’s run down some of the big stories in week 10. Julian Edelman broke his foot. The Packers couldn’t score the ball at home against the Lions. The Bears put up 37 points with no help from Alshon Jeffery or Martellus Bennett. Adrian Peterson rushed for over 200 yards. The Redskins scored 47 points. Kirk Cousins had a perfect passer rating. Peyton Manning had a perfectly horrible passer rating. Literally, a 0.0 passer rating. The Cardinals dropped 39 in Seattle. These are just some of the headlines in week 10…

Bills 22, Jets 17
As expected, Thursday night’s matchup was a slugfest throughout. Both teams mostly traded three-and-outs for the first half, with the lone TD coming off a kickoff fumble recovery. The Bills led 12-3 at half – the missing point coming off a missed PAT by Bills kicker Dan Carpenter. The game picked up in the second half, as Karlos Williams capped off the Bills’ opening drive of the half with a 26-yard TD reception. That means Williams continued his now record-tying streak of six straight games with a TD. Though, it was LeSean McCoy who got the bulk of the work in the backfield. For the second straight week, McCoy put up 112 rushing yards, and he also added 47 receiving yards. Those couple of weeks he sat out to get his health right are paying dividends in the home stretch of the fantasy season. The Bill struggled to get much going in the air, as Tyrod Taylor only threw for 158 yards, with the lone TD that went to Williams. That’s partly due to Darrelle Revis blanketing Sammy Watkins all night, holding Watkins to a meager 3 catches for 14 yards. Charles Clay led the way for the Bills in the air, though he only had 52 yards.

Chris Ivory, who finished with 135 total yards, lost a fumble on the second drive of the second half, resulting in a field goal that put the Bills ahead 22-3 early in the third quarter. After pulling Ryan Fitzpatrick’s beard for good luck, Brandon Marshall punctuated the Jets’ next series with a 14-yard TD, off of a pick play in the red zone. That play wound up salvaging an otherwise disappointing night from Marshall, who only had three catches for 23 yards. Fitzpatrick struggled for much of the night, throwing two picks, but he still managed an okay final line, with 193 passing yards, 30 rushing yards, and two passing TDs. The only thing more inevitable than Karlos Williams scoring a TD is Eric Decker giving his typical solid yardage and a score. As usual, Decker gave reliable WR2 numbers . In eight games, Decker has 7 TDs. His touchdown cut the Bills lead to 22-17, but that proved to be the last score of the night. Continue reading

Fantasy Football: Week 9 Recap

Between all of the injuries last week and the fact that week 9 is the heaviest bye week of the season, lots of owners were put behind the eight ball this weekend. And if you weren’t before, maybe you are now, after Ben Roethlisberger, LeSean Mccoy, Dion Lewis, and Latavius Murray went down with injuries. Whatever the case may be, another week brought even more craziness. Don’t believe me? Blaine Gabbert outplayed Matt Ryan. The Titans scored 35 points. Antonio Brown had 284 yards! Eddie Lacy resorted to eating teams’ fantasy points! OK, OK, just kidding. Let’s get into all of week 9’s madness.

Bengals 31, Browns 10
Anyone still expecting Andy Dalton to revert to last year’s form should accept the fact that he is one of the top QBs this season. Against the Browns, he added 3 TDs (and zero INTs) to his season total. Much of Dalton’s success seems connected to the emergence of TE Tyler Eifert, who caught all 3 of Dalton’s TD tosses. Eifert leads the league with 9 receiving TDs, and according to Adam Schefter, Eifert’s 9 red zone TDs are the most through the first half of a season in the past 15 years. Think of Eifert like Denver Julius Thomas: the yardage is not eye-popping, but he is a TD machine, who specializes inside the 20s. Just one more interesting bit about Eifert: According to Pro Football Focus, Eifert has the highest run blocking grade of any TE – I know that isn’t rewarded in fantasy, but that only makes him harder to guard, as it isn’t always clear when he’ll get the ball, compared to a TE to only comes in for passing plays.

Unfortunately for the rest of the offense, Eifert’s large share of the red zone pie eats into everyone else’s production. Most noticeably, A.J. Green has struggled to find any consistency. He finished the game with 53 yards, and through 8 games, and he now only has two games over 100 yards. It was actually Marvin Jones who led the Bengals in receiving yards with 78 yards, while third WR Mohamed Sanu scored off a 25 yard reverse. Despite not producing noteworthy numbers, it’s worth keeping tabs on Jeremy Hill, who has at least 15 rushes in three straight games now. The Bengals are not giving up on Hill. They have not abandoned Hill, and he could be a sneaky guy to target before the trade deadline. Meanwhile, backfield counterpart Gio Bernard contributed 84 total yards. This is a loaded offense, and the diffusion of productivity can be frustrating at times, but it’s a good idea to have Bengals shares heading into the fantasy playoffs.

I wish there was as much to say about the Browns as there is for the Bengals. But really, there are only a few guys worth highlighting. Travis Benjamin had a tremendous first third of the season, but his regression is well in motion. For three consecutive weeks now, he has failed to tally 50 yards. Star TE Gary Barnidge also had a disappointing week with just 35 yards to account for, and both Barnidge’s and Benjamin’s low totals are at least partly attributable to Johnny Manziel playing, as Josh McCown sat with a rib injury. Manziel looked good on the Browns lone scoring drive, right before halftime, but he finished the game having completed less than half of his passes. The Browns ground game is completely nonexistent, as I’m sure Isaiah Crowell are well aware by now. But, RB Duke Johnson is intriguing in PPR leagues. The only RBs with more receptions than Johnson are Theo Riddick, Devonta Freeman, and Danny Woodhead. In leagues rewarding receptions, Johnson is a good starter. Continue reading

Fantasy Football: Buy or Sell, Blind Resumés, and Some Interesting Numbers

We’re in the heart of the fantasy season. For many, it’s make or break time, as teams are jockeying for playoff position. Between all of the injuries to studs last week and the fact that this is the heaviest bye week of the year, lots of owners will be forced to trot out less-than-optimal lineups this week. But let’s take a look ahead, now that we are officially halfway through the NFL season and try to forecast what will happen in the second half of the year, with a game of buy or sell.

Buy or Sell…

Russell Wilson finishes season as top-15 QB?  –  Sell.
At this point, there is very little to be excited about in Seattle’s offense. People understand that Seattle is staying above water because of its defense, but I don’t know that people realize just how porous the offense has been. To put things in perspective, only the 49ers are averaging fewer offensive TDs per game. Marshawn Lynch was missing for a few of those games, but as we saw last week against the Cowboys (when the Seahawks scored 13 points), the Seahawks have struggled to score the ball regardless of who has played.  Through the first half of the year, Wilson has thrown for over 250 yards only twice – one of those times was week 1, when he threw for 251 yards. He has had only one multi-TD game so far – in week 2, he threw for 2 TDs. Everyone knows it’s not Wilson’s arm that makes him a good fantasy QB though. It’s his rushing ability, of course. But his rushing totals have taken a hit as well. Last season, he rushed for 849 yards and 6 TDs. This year, he’s on pace to finish with just over 600 yards. And he has yet to rush for a TD yet. Lastly, Wilson is on pace to throw for the most interceptions in his career. He has 6 INTs through 8 games. Last year he finished with 7 INTs. QB is deep this year, and depending on how deep your league is, there may be better streaming options some weeks, rather than starting Wilson every week. Continue reading

Wizards Game 3: Carmelo and Knicks put away the Wiz in the 4th

For the third game in a row, the Wizards found themselves locked in a tight game late in the fourth quarter. But the Wizards were unable to edge out the rejuvenated Knicks, marking the first loss of the year. Though the game was close throughout, the Wizards did not play particularly well. John Wall and Bradley Beal continued to carry the load, and Drew Gooden gave productive minutes off the bench with three putback tip-ins.

For the most part, the rest of the team struggled. Otto Porter finished with what a stat line that, if you missed the game, would look respectable, but he has shot poorly now in three consecutive games. Much of the Wizards ability to space teams out and run depends on the team’s ability to knock down 3’s. And right now, the only shooter that really worries teams is Beal. Maybe Otto is not a 40% 3-point shooter, like many optimists envisioned. He needs to be able to shoot over 35% though and knock down open corner 3’s – he had a couple against the Knicks with no one around that he missed.

The other two starters, Marcin Gortat and Kris Humphries, offered almost nothing. It’s inexplicable for someone Gortat’s size to only grab five rebounds. At least four or five times throughout the game, either Wall or Porter drove and dished to Gortat in the middle of the paint, only for Gortat to miss or get swatted by Robin Lopez. Meanwhile, it’s time to seriously consider whether Kris Humphries is destined to be a guy who beats up on backups. You know, someone whose energy is his best attribute, who grabs a bunch of rebounds and scraps around. It’s intriguing seeing him stretch his game out behind the arc, but it also just doesn’t seem right seeing him primarily line up 25 feet from the hoop on offense. He is most effective as a banger down low – a guy who makes a living on garbage points and tough rebounds.  Continue reading

Fantasy Football: Week 8 Recap

Here we are at the midpoint of the regular season, and what a brutal Sunday it was. We saw superstar Le’Veon Bell go down with a torn MCL that will cost him the rest of the year. We saw tough-as-nails ironman Steve Smith tear his achilles, ending his season, but hopefully not his career. We saw the ultimate model of consistency Matt Forte suffer a knee injury, though he was at least able to walk off the field on his own. We saw Reggie Bush, who was ready to play a bigger role for the 49ers with Carlos Hyde sidelined with a stress fracture in his foot, suffer a season-ending ACL tear. Underrated handcuff RB Khiry Robinson left Sunday’s game against the Giants with what looked like a serious leg injury. In that same game, TE Larry Donnell was carted off the field with a neck injury. Quietly having a very nice season, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a thumb injury on his non-throwing hand in the first quarter against the Raiders and missed the rest of the game, except for a few plays at the end of the game after replacement QB Geno Smith came out after a hard hit. And, the most violent, frightening injury came in the late afternoon game, when Seahawks WR Ricardo Lockette sustained a concussion off a bone-crushing hit that left him on the ground motionless for several minutes. It initially appeared Lockette might have been paralyzed, but it was  *just* a concussion. Hope he recovers well.

There were other smaller injuries throughout the day. After scoring a TD, Keenan Allen left the game with back spasms. Teammate Ladarius Green left the game as well, with an ankle injury in the first quarter. Calvin Johnson also exited early with an ankle injury, though he may have returned if the game wasn’t a blowout. Kendall Wright suffered a knee injury, and rounding out the injuries, last week’s out-of-nowhere sensation RB Orleans Darkwa left today’s game early with a back injury.

Now that we covered today’s fantasy infirmary, let’s get into what happened today (and Thursday).

Patriots 37, Dolphins 7
This was a “Dion game”… and an Edelman game… and a Gronkowski game… and a Brady game. The Pats picked the Dolphins apart. Tom Brady is in a class by himself right now, and there is arguably no safer fantasy asset than Brady. He was flawless – over 350 yards, 4 TDs, and no turnovers. By extension, Brady’s favorite targets are some of the more reliable fantasy options. Rob Gronkowski surpassed 100 yards for the second straight game and fourth time this season. He scored a TD as well and is on pace to score 14 TDs this season. After a rare quiet game (stuck on Revis Island) last weekend, Julian Edelman scored a couple TDs to go with 81 yards. Almost all of that came in the 4th quarter, but it’s worth noting he had a TD taken away earlier in the game because of a penalty on a teammate. After missing last week with an abdomen injury, Dion Lewis put on a clinic out of the backfield, catching for almost 100 yards and a TD. Meanwhile RB counterpart LeGarrette Blount finished with 72 rushing yards, but no TD. It can still be difficult knowing when to start Blount, but for now, there seem to be two scenarios where he is a must-start: 1) When the opponent has an especially weak running defense, and 2) When there is serious blowout potential. The Pats blew out the Dolphins, so you would expect this to be type of game where Blount would be more productive. But he still ran fine. Danny Amendola faded out of relevance with Lewis and Lafell back and Edelman’s finger not out of whack. Fellow WR Brandon Lafell added a meager 47 yards, but he should only improve with more reps. Continue reading

Wizards Game 2: Barrage of 3’s in the fourth quarter propel Wiz past Buckss

For the second straight game, the Wizards played a subpar game and still managed to come away with the win. For most of the game, the Wizards looked lackluster on both ends of the court, but things started to click in the fourth quarter. Or shots just started dropping. Really, there is a difference between an offense firing on all cylinders and a team just getting ridiculously hot out of nowhere. It would be misleading to attribute to the fourth quarter offensive outburst to ‘pace and space.’ Some of the seven threes made by the team in the fourth definitely were a result of pushing the ball, but there were also several contested threes that you would never count on going in.

Regardless of the “how”, the Wizards are now 2-0 for the first time since 2005 – that seems like a long time even for the most cynical, jaded Wizards fans – and beat two underrated teams on the road. This was a gutsy win that, until the fourth quarter, seemed like a total no-show from the entire team. The Bucks got ahead to a 12 point lead midway through the first quarter and held a double digit lead for the remainder of the first. The first quarter was filled with much of the same sloppy play that plagued the Wizards in the season opener in Orlando. John Wall, despite the awesome numbers and clutch play, continues to jump the pass way too often. He did so six times in the first quarter, and those are the plays most frequently responsible for his turnovers.  Continue reading

Wizards Game 1: Wiz win season opener in dramatic final minute against Magic

For the first time in the Randy Wittman, there is intrigue and excitement over how the Wizards will play. All preseason long, the Wizards have promised a “Pace and Space” approach – something a little closer to what the Warriors dominated the NBA with last season. It is a shift towards small ball, surrounding arguably the fastest player in the NBA, John Wall, with three shooters and a big man. This, rather than the conventional lineup with two big men, Marcin Gortat and Nene last season, both of whom do not have range extending to the 3-point line. It’s a game plan that, ideally, utilize’s John Wall’s blazing speed better. When shots go up, the wings leak out and Wall races down court, putting constant pressure on defenses and opening up for 3-point barrages from Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, and whoever else fills the wing.

For all of the excitement surrounding the Wizards’ new look in the preseason, the season opener in Orlando felt like a preseason game. Both teams were sloppy. Beal opened the game with back to back turnovers, and then Kris Humphries followed suit with a turnover of his own. Though sometimes out of control, Wall mostly steadied the team through the first quarter, responsible for 14 of the team’s first 16 points, with eight points and two assists. The Wizards sprinted ahead to an 18-9 lead in part to hot shooting from deep from Bradley Beal, who finished the first quarter with 13 points off of 5-9 shooting. But the quarter ended with the Wizards holding a single bucket advantage, as the Magic rallied behind their latest two lottery picks, Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja. The second quarter showcased a little bit of the good and bad of the “Pace and Space.” Kris Humphries, who for his career is 2-6 from behind the arc, hit a corner 3! That is a new dimension to his game, as he knocked down 10-28 3’s in the preseason. The other bright spot of the second quarter was newcomer Gary Neal’s productivity. The career journeyman has made a living in the NBA as a scorer, and he knocked in three baskets off the bench to keep the Wiz above water. It’s clear that it will take time for the team to figure out when to push the ball and when not to. The Wizards had seven turnovers in the half, and the increased pace coincided with recklessness. That is a symptom of playing fast, though John Wooden said: “play quick, but don’t hurry.” The Wizards look hurried getting the ball down floor, and it will take time before Wall and the rest of the team figure out when the break is not on. Continue reading

Fantasy Football: Recapping Everything from Week 7

Week 7 is Monday night’s matchup away from being in the books, and that means we’re gearing up for the second half of the fantasy season. Though many matchups may still hinge on what happens tonight between the Cardinals and Ravens, in many leagues, some teams are starting to realize their season is a few weeks from ending, while others are starting to look ahead to the playoff stretch run.

Seahawks 20, 49ers 3
The window to buy low on Marshawn Lynch may be closed after his first great performance of the season, racking up 122 yards and a TD. Seattle’s offense still doesn’t look completely in sync, and Russell Wilson had a few uncharacteristic INTs, off of some poor decisions, but at least Lynch looks like a safe bet to return to RB1 form for the rest of the year. There are still more questions than answers when it comes to Jimmy Graham though, whose usage and involvement seems to fluctuate weekly. More often than not, it seems that Graham is not involved enough. Owning any Seattle pass-catcher is risky business.

Elsewhere, Carlos Hyde looks doomed being on a bad team that frequently has to abandon the running game. There’s not much blame to put on Hyde’s shoulders – he is in a barren offense, and Colin Kaepernick’s weaknesses look more glaring by the game. Anquan Boldin can be a nice flex start most weeks since he’s Kaepernick’s top target, but there is not a whole lot of upside tied to anyone on this offense.

Jaguars 34, Bills 31
Just when everyone was ready to jump aboard the Blake Bortles fantasy bandwagon, he turns in his first fantasy clunker since the season opener. Bortles had been terrific in fantasy for the past six weeks, but game flow really limited his opportunities this week. The Jags raced ahead to a 27-3 lead on the Bills, scoring two defensive TDs. For much of the second and third quarters, Bortles was mostly handing the ball off to T.J. Yeldon, who had his most productive day as a pro and his second career game eclipsing the century mark. Yeldon should have had an even more impressive day, if not for the coaching staff inexplicably giving Toby Gerhart four (unsuccessful) cracks from the one yard line. Despite the lead, which eventually evaporated partly because of ultra-conservative play-calling, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns both had nice fantasy outings. Robinson is fully breaking out this season and looks locked in as a WR1 for the rest of the year. Something to the tune of 1500 yards and 10 TDs seems about right for Robinson. Hurns, on the other hand, was mostly absent, before corralling the game-winning TD with under a minute to play, salvaging what would have been an epic collapse by the Jaguars and a total dud of a fantasy performance by Hurns. Lastly, the most disappointing performance of any fantasy starter on either team came from Julius Thomas, who looked like an integral part of the Jaguars offense last week. Thomas had only one catch for four yards – good for a fantasy doughnut in standard leagues. Continue reading

Fantasy Football: Digging Into the Numbers

Let’s take a look at some interesting fantasy numbers through the first six weeks of the year…

This is Amari Cooper’s average depth per target, which puts him ahead of only eight qualifying WRs in the league right now. The only legitimate WR below Cooper here is Jarvis Landry. Coming into the season, the knock on Landry was his lack of explosiveness – he was merely a possession WR who moved the chains, but did not break big plays. Much of that could be attributed to Miami’s ultra conservative offense. But it is a frustrating number for Cooper, who we know has deep play ability, as displayed in week 2 with his 68-yard deep bomb. Michael Crabtree has five more targets than Cooper this year and his average depth of target is almost double Cooper’s. In addition, Cooper has only one redzone target this year. All of this limits Cooper’s upside if the Raiders either won’t or can’t take deep shots to him. Coupled with that is the fact that Cooper will face a difficult slate the rest of the year with two matchups against the Chargers (3rd vs WRs) and games against: the Jets (9th vs WRs), Vikings (8th vs WRs), Packers (6th vs WRs), and Broncos (1st vs WRs). From here on out, Cooper only has a few plus-rated matchups.

That is how many RBs have more catches than Mark Ingram right now. For the record, those RBs are Theo Riddick and Devonta Freeman. Despite a paltry 3.5 YPC so far, Ingram is having a reliably productive fantasy season, especially in PPR leagues, being the goal line back and, for the first time in his career, the primary receiving RB on the Saints. Everyone expected C.J. Spiller to play the Darren Sproles role this season, but so far Mark Ingram is handling both roles: primary runner and catcher out of the backfield. Last season, Ingram had 29 receptions in 13 games. So far this season, he has 27 receptions.

Right now, Jordan Cameron’s reeling in 48% of his targets, which is better than only three TEs in the league. That is partially related to the fact that Cameron has the second highest average depth per target of any TE. Still, it’s not a good sign for Cameron owners when he’s not even catching half of his targets. This makes him more of a boom or bust TE most weeks with his value hinging on whether he snags a long catch or not. Continue reading

Differentiating Yourself in Large Tournaments

I have yet to write about daily fantasy sports, so bear with me as I put down some thoughts to paper here…

When there a fewer games, as is the case in the playoffs, it is harder to create a unique lineup. But to succeed in a large tournament, it’s necessary to separate yourself from the masses. That can be especially difficult if you do not want to entirely fade the chalk plays. For example, in the Wild Card round Antonio Brown was owned by more than half of the field, but given the ugly slate of low scoring games, it was almost impossible not to play Brown. Let’s get into some of the ways you can give your team a different look.

Playing Two Tight Ends
This strategy was incredibly profitable last week. Anyone who rostered Jordan Reed and Travis Kelce had a significant leg up on the competition. Most players flex a running back or wide receiver, so by simply rostering a tight end, you separate yourself. The same type of roster construction could pay dividends this weekend, with both Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen available. Both players will probably be highly owned, Olsen more than Gronkowski I would bet, but the ownership of them together will be much smaller.  Continue reading

Fantasy Football: Week 13 Recap

The final week of the fantasy regular season can be a cruel and cold reminder of how little control we really have. You can do all your homework and make informed decisions and still stand no chance. Sometimes, there really is nothing you can do. For some of you, Eddie Lacy’s no-show on Thursday night ended your season. But how were you supposed to know he missed curfew the night before the game? What about Richard Rodgers. He had as many yards, thanks to a Hail Mary, on Thursday, as he had in the previous six games combined. What are you supposed to do if that’s what keeps you from the playoffs?

Some of you went up against the Eagles defense this weekend. Even with the Patriots being decimated by injuries, they are the Patriots: they have Brady and Belichick, and anyone who bets against those guys is insane. The Eagles defense had negative points the past two weeks. But against the Patriots, they had 24 points because they had a punt return for a touchdown, a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, and a pick six. Or you started Jarvis Landry against a bottom five pass defense and he gave you zero standard points… You made the right decision. You just got really unlucky.

I could go on. The point is, there’s only so much you can do. Sometimes you can make every right decision, and it still doesn’t matter.  Continue reading

Fantasy Football: Week 12 Recap

Week 12 is always one of the funnest weeks in the fantasy calendar. The week’s slate begins on Thanksgiving, which is one of the best football days of the year, and it is the second to last week of the regular season (for most leagues), so some games end up being de-facto playoff games.

Lions 45, Eagles 14
The highest scoring game of Turkey Day featured season-best games from Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson, and the entire Lions offense as a whole. Stafford tossed 5 touchdowns, three of which went to Megatron, along with 337 yards. It was a creampuff matchup for Calvin against the Eagles, who came into the game conceding the second most fantasy points to wide receivers. Also, Calvin came into the game with the most receiving touchdowns on Thanksgiving in league history (of course, the Lions play on Thanksgiving every year). The other two scores went to reception magnets Golden Tate and Theo Riddick, who had 7 catches for 50 yards and 5 catches for 62 yards respectively. Rookie running back Ameer Abdullah had a career game, finishing with 16 carries for 63 yards, both career highs. Also out of the backfield, Joique Bell had 82 total yards and a score late in the game.

It was a brutal day all around for the Eagles. There was no bright spot in the game that those who want Chip Kelly gone will point to at the end of the season. Mark Sanchez threw for a yard short of 200 with 2 touchdowns and a fumble. Brent Celek and Jordan Matthews were the recipients of those touchdowns, with Matthews finding the end zone with three minutes to play, as the Eagles trailed 45-7. DeMarco Murray had one of his weakest games of the year, as game flow prevented the Eagles from running the ball much. Murray had 14 carries for 30 yards and no receiving yards.  Continue reading

Fantasy Football: What Are We Thankful For?

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, so it’s time to start considering what us fantasy degenerates are thankful for. Whether you’ve already secured a playoff berth or you’re relegated to playing spoiler, there is plenty to be thankful for. But this is not to simply highlight who’s had a great season and who’s had a horrible season. You don’t need me to tell you to be thankful for Devonta Freeman and DeAndre Hopkins. So the day before the big feast, let’s get right into it, listing what we are thankful for, beginning with the abstract.

Being Patient
There are many instances where being patient is a slow and steady path to the bottom of the standings. Sometimes, being patient is just a euphemism for being risk-averse and overly cautious. That is not the patience we are celebrating here. Rather, let’s take a look at some players whose early, uninspiring play led owners to panic and cut bait too early. Lamar Miller had 37 carries in the first month of the season, and most owners realized it was Joe Philbin who was the problem. As long as Miller’s workload increased, so too would his value. He was efficient – just way underutilized. Sure enough, the Dolphins canned Philbin after an embarrassing string of losses, the interim coach Dan Campbell committed to running the ball, and Miller never looked back. He’s now a top 5 running back for those who were patient with him. Continue reading

Fantasy Football: Week 11 Recap

This was a rough week in fantasy. A list of some of the guys who flopped this week: Gronk, Devonta (injury), Amari Cooper, Allen Hurns, T.Y. Hilton, Chris Ivory, everyone on the Chargers, Lamar Miller (it’s not his fault!), and Charcanderick West (injury). The scores were probably lower in most leagues this week, so let’s see what went wrong.

Jaguars 19, Titans 13
An underwhelming game all around. The Jaguars have been a remarkably consistent fantasy situation this season, but as is often the case, the Thursday night game was sloppy. Blake Bortles had his second straight subpar game, throwing for 242 yards and a touchdown, along with two turnovers. His rest of season schedule is promising enough that he should remain locked in your starting lineup. The Allen Bros – aren’t they great? – curiously saw few targets in the first half. Allen Robinson had 113 yards, but his counterpart Allen Hurns, perhaps limited by his abdomen injury, was held to his worst game of the season with three catches for 19 yards. Hurns only received four targets, which is tied for the least he has gotten all year. The lone score went to Julius Thomas, who could see an uptick in red zone usage, if Hurns’ time on the field is more limited as he plays through injury. Out of the backfield, T.J. Yeldon had 82 total yards. He is nothing if not consistent, and he is reliable to get about 20 touches every game.

Considering the Titans put up a mere 13 points, it’s surprising that there were three usable fantasy performances. Marcus Mariota rushed for a TD and threw for 231 yards. Good for 18 fantasy points. His main target…. Actually his only target, Delanie Walker, had his highest yardage of the year with 109 yards. Because of how weak Tennessee’s receivers are, Walker is one of the more reliable tight ends in fantasy. He is not in the Gronk, Eifert, Olsen, Barnidge tier, but he may be the next best. Yes, better than Kelce. Maybe not more talented than Kelce, but Walker is more consistent. He has seven games over 50 yards this year, and Kelce has just five. The last real contributor to the Titans’ bumbling offense is rookie running back Antonio Andrews, whose high usage keeps him flex-able most weeks.  Continue reading

Power Ranking the NFL QBs

This has been a funky year for quarterbacks. We knew Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers were the class of the league, but what happened to Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson? Luck has dealt with nagging injuries and Wilson’s line is a mess, but still. And Peyton… He looked bad at the end of last year, but did anyone think he’d look this bad? I mean, nine touchdowns and 16 interceptions? What about Andy Dalton and Cam Newton. Did people expect their teams to be undefeated at the season’s midpoint, both firmly entrenched in the MVP race? See! It really has been a mess, so let’s figure out: If you were ranking quarterbacks, according to who you’d want to be leading your team for the rest of the year, how would it go?

44. Jimmy Clausen

43. Zach Mettenberger
42. Ryan Mallett
No matter how you judge a QB, these guys finish last. Winning? The three of them are a combined 3-23 as starters (Clausen is 1-11, Mettenberger, and Mallett would be worse than 2-4 if his alarm clock worked). Stats? Not one of them has thrown for more TDs than INTs in his career. Personality? If anything separates these guys from the rest of the bad QBs in the NFL, it’s that they generally rub you the wrong way. For Clausen and Mettenberger, they just look annoying. Mallett does too, but he takes it a step further with the type of toxic behavior usually sapped out of most perennial clipboard-holders. The only reason to be excited if these guys are on the field is if you’re starting the opposing defense in fantasy.

41. E.J. Manuel
40. Geno Smith
Neither of the first two QBs taken in the 2013 Draft is a legitimate NFL starter. Through 2.5 years in the league, both guys have been benched by their respective teams. In the NFL, once a young QB gets the starting gig, he usually only has two years to prove his worth. After that, if you haven’t shown that you’re definitely a starter in the league, your team will start looking elsewhere. And in both cases, even before that two year window was over, we knew who they were: guys, who cannot be counted on to win games in the NFL. Neither QB has ever had a winning season. Geno is 11-18 as a starter, and Manuel is 6-10. Their starting days in the NFL are over – seriously, can you imagine any starting QB in the NFL getting sucker punched by a teammate? – and it is crystal clear that Manuel and Smith were busts. Continue reading